Photo credit: IIP Photo Archive via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

The Department of Education Is Ruining US Schools. It’s Time to End It.


There is a bill awaiting the 115th United States Congress, H.R. 899, which calls for an end to our dreadful U.S. Department of Education. The elegant simplicity of this bill is obvious. H.R. 899 is stated in its entirety as: “The Department of Education shall terminate on December 31, 2018.” If brevity is indeed the soul of wit, then this is amongst the wittiest of bills. H.R. 899 is a bill whose condition is devoutly to be wished, for the constitutionality of the Department of Education is more than just a little questionable; it is unconstitutional by definition.

A vital point of constitutional procedure is that truly none of the three branches of our federal government carry the constitutional range of authority to educate our children. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution articulates seventeen powers of the legislative branch, but none of those concern education. Article 2, Section 2 enumerates several powers of the executive branch but makes no mention of education. Education was never intended to be under the purview of the federal government.

A glance at the Tenth Amendment shows that all other administrative functions not enumerated in the above sections are to be left to the “states or to the people.” It ought to have been clear from the beginning that the federal government was never meant to be the“teacher” to this nation — which makes the U.S. Department of Education a gross overreach. Created in 1979, it employs around 4,400 people with an annual budget of about $68 billion. This conglomeration serves as a beacon to the false notion that money and centralized authority hold the potential to ameliorate our deteriorating educational system. But, as experience now shows, they do not!

If a global core is to follow the Common Core, then the termination of the U.S. Department of Education in favor of state departments is the first step on a journey of a thousand miles back to local authority over education which ought to be guided first by the principle of subsidiarity.

The principle of organization called subsidiarity expresses the truth that matters ought to be dealt with at the most local level of competent authority, as opposed to local issues being determined by a centralized authority. The U.S. Department of Education is a prime example of how we ignore this most vital organizing principle because we disregard the truth that the formal cause of an education is love. Parents have a natural tendency and capacity to love the truth for their children and thereby have special graces and abilities to form the intellects and wills of their children. This capacity is greatly diminished in souls outside the family — even teachers — if their service lies with the state instead of the family.

There is no real substitute for the love parents have for their children. In rightly ordered communities, it is indeed possible to have excellent teachers in excellent schools, but a precondition for this is that teachers subordinate their aims to the aims of the family and work in partnership with them to lead children to be formed in truth, goodness and beauty. The tendency of the state is to subordinate the role of the parents to external concerns, not of formation, but of information. The love of truth is replaced by the love of test scores, which is a devastating blow to the intellect and will of a child. Our government has appropriated the duty of parents to educate their children. A proper educational program has been replaced with a utilitarian program at odds with the aims of the well-ordered home.

Not only is the U.S. Department of Education dismally unconstitutional, its tendency towards self-empowerment and drive towards efficiency is at cross purposes with an authentic education. And yet, it holds the hearts and minds of our children captive to social and utilitarian concerns that usurp the authority of parents in an attempt to achieve what is undesirable in the good home. Our founders recognized the truth that education begins in the home and flows into local communities by the nature and character of local families — not by the authoritative fiat of centralized power. This truth has been obscured by generations of inappropriate deference to “educational  experts” and professional consensus at the expense of sound educational principles.

Local school boards and even local community members have been conditioned by empty educational practices for so long that we have lost sight of how we ought to educate our children. Nonetheless, in order to begin recovering this vision, ending the U.S. Department of Education must be pursued as the first step. Just as love is the formal cause of an education, education is the formal cause of a nation, and we will either love truth to our edification or love test scores to our detriment.

It’s time for Americans to choose truth over test scores. The U.S. Department of Education must go!

Photo credit: IIP Photo Archive via Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg

Steven Jonathan Rummelsburg is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project, a writer in residence and teacher of philosophy and theology at Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta. He is also a senior contributor to The Imaginative Conservative and has written for numerous venues on matters of faith, culture and education.

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