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Abolish Public Schools: Ron Paul's Education Proposal

Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

Do you have an eight-year-old child? Is your son or daughter currently being educated by a teacher, in a school? If so, you are a failure as a parent, and as an American. You need to quit your job (or if you are a man, tell your wife to quit her job) and teach your child at home. By “teach,” I mean have your child read a lot of books and watch YouTube videos on his or her own. 

So says Ron Paul in his new book, The School Revolution.

The last three decades have been difficult for people with deeply conservative views on education. Ronald Reagan sold out the movement by embracing the recommendations of the seminal 1983 report A Nation at Risk, which called for stronger academic standards in public schools. Implicit in the report was the legitimacy of public schools and standards imposed by a government of some kind. This began an unbroken chain of presidents calling for more government funding, along with tougher standards, tests, and school accountability. Both Bushes pursued this agenda, along with Clinton and Obama too.

But recent years have seen once-marginalized notions of citizenship and government gain popularity. Ideas previously regarded as too weird or retrograde for respectable conversation have infiltrated mainstream politics. Manifestos that might have been relegated to the odd web page or pamphlet are now being published as books that people actually read. Which brings us to The School Revolution.

Ron Paul does not believe in federal funding of schools. Or state funding. Or any funding, because Ron Paul does not believes in “schools” as we know them today. Schools are part of the state, the state (by definition) wants to steal your freedom, and freedom is a good thing. So state schools indoctrinate children to believe in the state, a belief they carry to adulthood, at which point they enroll their children in state schools, and the cycle of serfdom begins anew. The logic of The School Revolution reaches no higher levels of complexity.

This view represents one side in a “180-year war” over education, says Paul. (Or 150 years—he uses both numbers interchangeably. Perhaps something important happened during the Zachary Taylor administration?) The war has been long, and his side has been losing the whole time. But he is undaunted—in many ways, this is the essence of Ron Paul—because the only thing standing between him and victory is the collective realization among parents that morality obligates them to take responsibility for educating their children at home.

Who will do this educating? “Usually the mother,” he says. Paul concedes that this will probably result in significant lost family income. But he reminds us that work involves expenses for taxes and travel and “wardrobes,” because apparently it is still 1975 and working women need to buy suits with big floppy bows or something. Still, Paul allows that it will be a sacrifice. Are you the kind of person who is willing to sacrifice for your children, or aren’t you? Besides, homeschooling is a lot cheaper than it used to be because, YouTube. And the Internet. All the great educational materials you’ll ever need can be had online for free, or relatively low prices, such as the $50 currently being charged for courses at 

Are you worried that, like most people, you have received no teacher training of any kind? Don’t be. Ron Paul believes that, starting in the fourth grade—certainly no later than the sixth grade—students should learn on their own. If they need help, it’s best to ask other students. No teachers are required. “Just a desk; some inexpensive supplies; maybe a few textbooks, or maybe none, if the program is entirely digital and online, the way mine is.” Because freedom is a good thing, you see, and to be free you can’t rely on other people. Self-reliance is everything. “The parent who demands that his child be given special attention by a high school teacher,” says Paul, “is making a big mistake.”

The School Revolution is a short book and as such contains an impressive number of errors, derived from some combination of omission, commission, and faulty logic. To take one example, Paul says that the state school indoctrination machine has been aided by liberally biased textbooks. “A standard textbook may cost as much as $500,000 to produce. This has helped keep conservatives and libertarians from producing systematic teaching materials…” If only some conservative group, somewhere, had $500,000 to spend. Or was able to elect conservatives to state school boards that put conservative textbooks in public schools. 

Paul denounces the encroachment of federal control over education, yet at no point acknowledges why this occurred. The word “desegregation” does not appear in The School Revolution, nor “special education” or “students with disabilities.” Nor “poverty,” except when asserting that capitalism does not cause poverty, and when locating poverty alongside global warming, multiculturalism, gender politics, and other “politically correct” ideas. (Students can avoid these ideas by purchasing the Ron Paul curriculum. Send emails to for details.) Of course, not everyone supports desegregation. Some lament that, “The political system demands white integration, while allowing black segregation.” That’s from a 1993 issue of the Ron Paul Survival Report, a series of newsletter that Paul published in the ’80s and ’90s.

Paul explains that, ever since the ‘60s, “there is no agreement on the content” of education. He seems unaware that 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted Common Core standards—or that said standards are most violently opposed by his fellow libertarians. He says that “In the case of tax-funded education, the high prices are concealed from the voters. It is not clear what the cost per child is any given district.” The precise cost can be found in a detailed, publicly-available database maintained by the U.S. Department of Education. Paul also says “It is not clear what percentage of the total budget goes to administration, as contrasted with classroom teaching.” The same database has exactly this information. Perhaps because it is government data, it does not count. 

Paul’s sense of the public school system appears to be formed primarily by hazy nostalgia and popular culture. He attended public school near Pittsburgh in the 1930s and ’40s—a place where, somehow, there were “no dropouts.” (Only half of American 17-year olds graduated from high school in 1940, compared to four in five today.) The “huge school districts” that he now deplores didn’t exist back then, says Paul. There were more than 7 million people living in New York City, many attending public school, on the day he was born. “These days,” Paul says, “the public schools have become the equivalent of drug emporiums.” Homeschooled children, by contrast, “will not be tempted by sellers of illegal drugs,” because apparently illegal drugs are available nowhere outside of the local schoolyard. To support his assertion that public schools offer little other than busywork, he cites the 1984 Nick Nolte movie Teachers.

Paul’s misguided philosophy is rooted in a radically simplistic view of education. To him, education is just a matter of assigning students books to read and papers to write, using an “ideologically safe” curriculum. He deplores educators who “assume that the parents are not competent to be the sole providers of education.” But parents aren’t competent to be the sole providers of many important things. Ron Paul is an Ob-Gyn with an M.D. from Duke University. Does he think babies should be delivered by people who learned everything they know from books and YouTube?

But the Ron Paul school revolution actually does make sense in one particular way. His plan is explicitly designed to catch students on the cusp of adolescence and direct them toward an isolated learning experience focused exclusively on reading, writing, and debate, with no exposure to heterodox views. He is aiming for the Atlas Shrugged window, when young people have an excess of conviction and a deficit of experience, when they are more clever than wise. His program will shield students from the evils of liberalism and, worse, Keynesianism, and train them to argue their cause with facility and zeal. It is a plan for the mass creation of crackpot autodidacts who are impervious to any evidence that contradicts their simple worldviews.  

It is, in other words, a perfect educational program for people who want their children to grow up to be just like Ron Paul. If you don’t, stick with teachers and schools. 

Kevin Carey directs the education policy program at the New America Foundation. Follow @kevincarey1.