Gary North (www.garynorth.com) – June 22, 2015
In every society, there is some institution that functions as the society’s church. This means that there is a priesthood. It may not be called a priesthood, but it functions as every national priesthood always has. Every priesthood works in conjunction with the established social order.
In the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution, the revolutionaries had to make war against both church and state. Church and state were allied, so the successful revolution against the state had to involve a revolution against the church.
The American Revolution was a revolution against the Church of England. The best book on this is Mitre and Scepter (Oxford University Press, 1962), by Carl Bridenbaugh. There was never much academic criticism of the book, but it never got much publicity, even in graduate schools. The author was a well-respected colonial historian. I heard about it from Rushdoony in 1963, not from my professors, yet colonial America was my major area of concentration.
In modern American society, there is no question what the priesthood is: the public school bureaucracy. The public school teachers constitute a priesthood. There is a common worldview/confession. There are sanctions imposed, both positive and negative. There are rites of passage. There is hierarchy.
I don’t think there is any other public institution that has comparable support from the voters. There is never-ending funding for the public schools. There are lots of cries for reform of the public schools, but the thought that the public schools should be stripped of all funding is unacceptable. The disestablishment of the churches in New England came late, and it was a long fight to achieve this. The public schools immediately replaced the old ecclesiastical establishments.
So, if we are going to talk about the central religious institution of the modern world, we have to talk about the public schools. This is true in every nation.
THE KHAN ACADEMY
Anything that undermines the public schools undermines the religious establishment, and it also undermines the state. This is why the Khan Academy constitutes the greatest single revolutionary force in the world today. I don’t think anything else comes close.
The Khan Academy is premised on this fact: somebody with no formal academic training or certification was able to come into the market, and with the full support of the American establishment, gain an international student body of 10 million students. Nothing like this has ever happened before.
Salman Khan is not a revolutionary. He is not a leftist. He is a product of MIT and the Harvard Business School. I suspect that he is a Keynesian, but he is not a radical Keynesian. Within the spectrum of American political opinion, I think he’s probably closer to conservatives than to liberal Democrats. But his ideology is not the issue. The central issue is this: his lack of certification. As somebody completely outside the academic establishment, he has created the largest school in history. He then gained support from Bill Gates. Basically, the Common Core curriculum crowd came to him for certification. He didn’t need to go to the educational establishment to gain certification. It was the other way around.
He says that he wants his curriculum in the public schools, but even if he gets this, it is still a revolutionary project. He has come into the schools on his terms. They need him; he does not need them. He comes with his own independent curriculum. He did not ask for certification. He never took a class in education. He has no interest in any kind of establishment educational methodology. He is in charge; the educational bureaucrats are not.
This really is a revolution, institutionally speaking. He has established the fundamental principle, namely, that somebody with no educational certification is the best educator in the world. This is difficult for the public school bureaucrats to swallow, but they have apparently swallowed it. The best schools are using the Khan Academy in the classroom. This violates the entire ideology of public education. A nonprofessional has invaded the public schools, and he is establishing the standards of excellence within the classroom. This was unthinkable a decade ago.
This means that the public school monopoly has been broken in principle. It means that education in theory has been freed from any kind of institutional control or ideological posturing by the public school bureaucrats. Single-handedly, he has overturned the fundamental premise of modern education. He offers education without certification. It means he is outside the bureaucracy. This means that he has broken the priesthood. Nobody is talking about this in public, but that is what he is done. Educationally, neither the emperor nor the priesthood has any clothes.
This has been done without any kind of systematic ideology. He just stumbled into this. He had no agenda. That is what is so amazing about this. If it had not been for the World Wide Web, it could not have happened. But the World Wide Web is not part of a hierarchy. It is not part of a priesthood. This is why it is so revolutionary. It is technologically truly revolutionary, but it is also revolutionary in the sense of the absence of any hierarchy. The NSA monitors it; the NSA does not control it.
He has already undermined what might be regarded as the cachet of public education. He has single-handedly overturned the idea that any certification is necessary in the field of K-12 education. He makes noises about becoming supplemental to the public schools, but that is either self-delusion or simply public relations. He is an invader. Nobody else has ever invaded the public schools before. This is the first case of it. He is invading the very best of the public schools. He is invading the schools in Silicon Valley. There is no way a boondocks high school is going to be believed if it claims that it offers a better educational program than Khan Academy.
Let us assume that Moore’s law continues for another 40 years, with or without silicon chips. What will the public schools be bringing to the table? As I’ve said, the Ivy League universities will not be bringing anything to the table. If an Ivy League university cannot compete with a $1000 computer, then how will the public schools compete?
The public schools will become nothing more than a tax-supported babysitting operation. There is no way that, in 2055, anybody is going to believe that some B-average student out of some state university has the capability of teaching children better than online education taught by the very best teachers in the world.
The only justification of the school system now is that it provides a place to warehouse students during the day. The parents can both go off to work and earn dual incomes. The only way that the schools are going to be able to maintain the illusion that they are providing the best education is for them to bring in competitors from the private sector, meaning competitors to Khan Academy. There is no way that the public schools are ever going to produce a popular curriculum that is ideologically controlled by public school administrators. They are too stodgy. They are too much geared to the past. If they could have done it, they would have done it. They don’t have the best and the brightest on their faculties. They have the academic rejects. They have the people who were able to get through the easiest bachelor degree programs in the American educational system. Everybody knows this. Everybody knows that the faculties of the public school systems are second-rate academically.
Moore’s law is not going to stop. The extension of Moore’s law is the greatest single threat to the public school system that has ever come into existence. Moore’s law is going to decentralize education. The best and brightest will not be inside the public schools. They will be outside. They will not be certified. They will not need certification. They will not need much money.
In the year 2055, every parent with a college degree will know that the best educational resources are online. These resources will not be in the classroom, unless the classroom has plugged into the completely independent online educational programs that will be available on the Web. This means that every parent will know that his child can be homeschooled. There would be no decline in the quality of the curriculum materials. Every parent will know that the public schools are simply babysitting establishments.
Once it is clear that the public schools are simply babysitting establishments, then it will be much easier to gain budget cuts in the local school system. People will know that the student-teacher ratio can double or even triple with no decline in quality. It will then be sports teams that make the political difference. The public will probably vote to pay for sports teams, but the parents who want the best educations for their children will pull their kids out of the public schools. They will not want their children to be subjected to the hierarchical structure that has run the public schools for a century: hoodlums and certifiably second-rate teachers. The public school systems are represented accurately in Back to the Future (1985). The public school systems are a combination of Biff and the vice principal.
July 3 marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Back to the Future. This is 30 years after 1955. I will probably write a special article on this. The older we get, the more we need time markers. Old people are always saying something like this: “Why, it has been as long since that happened, as it was from the time of something else up to that point.” This is always some kind of wake-up call to the fact that the clock is ticking. “Why, it just seems like yesterday.” Yes, it does.
The schools in 2055 are not going to be like the schools today. The computer revolution by that time will have taken over education. Moore’s law will not be able to be resisted for another 30 years.
THE POST OFFICE
I see this in much the same way as I see the Post Office. The American Post Office has always been a monopoly. That goes back to before the Revolution, when Benjamin Franklin was the Postmaster for the city of Philadelphia. That led indirectly to the American Revolution. There was a communication system that could be used by the Sons of Liberty. Here is the story.
Postmaster General Elliott Benger added to Franklin’s duties by making him comptroller, with financial oversight for nearby Post Offices. Franklin lobbied the British to succeed Benger when his health failed and, with Virginia’s William Hunter, was named joint postmaster general for the Crown on August 10, 1753.
Franklin surveyed post roads and Post Offices, introduced a simple accounting method for postmasters, and had riders carry mail both night and day. He encouraged postmasters to establish the penny post where letters not called for at the Post Office were delivered for a penny. Remembering his experience with the Gazette, Franklin mandated delivery of all newspapers for a small fee. His efforts contributed to the Crown’s first North American profit in 1760.
In 1757, while serving as joint postmaster general, Franklin went to London to represent Pennsylvania’s government. In 1763, back in the colonies, he traveled 1,600 miles surveying post roads and Post Offices from Virginia to New England.
In 1764, Franklin returned to London, where he represented the interests of several colonial governments. In 1774, judged too sympathetic to the colonies, he was dismissed as joint postmaster general.
Back on American soil in 1775, Franklin served as a member of the Second Continental Congress, which appointed him Postmaster General on July 26 of that year. With an annual salary of $1,000 and $340 for a secretary and comptroller, Franklin was responsible for all Post Offices from Massachusetts to Georgia and had authority to hire postmasters as necessary.
This system was unchallenged until Federal Express finally began to break it. Then came UPS. Then came email. All of this came out of the free market. All of the previous battles against the monopoly, which had been conducted in terms of ideology, had failed. But, without fanfare, and without ideology, the free market overturned the Post Office. It now has little effect in any of our lives.
The Khan Academy is the equivalent in academic circles of what Federal Express was in terms of postal services. Very quietly, it is undermining the system.
There is no groundswell of opposition to the public schools today. The conservative movement has always accepted the public schools. A few reformers have promised to reform the public schools, but this has all come to nothing. The libertarians talk a good line, but it is the same story. They want the dual incomes, and they fully understand the public school system is a free babysitting service. They have to pay for the service, so they use it. Any thought that the Tea Party is going to move to private education based on ideology is silly. I understand this market. There is no looming exodus from the public schools by the libertarians. Libertarians don’t believe in free lunches, but if a free lunches are provided, and there is no escape from the taxation, they take advantage of them. So do conservatives.
The public schools will not be undermined by the ideology of conservatism or libertarianism. They will be undermined by the Khan Academy and its competitors. It is already happening. It is slow, but it is sure. Moore’s law guarantees the replacement of the hierarchy of the public school system.