Another eloquent beat down on Santorum’s education luncacy

This one comes from Timothy Noah at The New Republic:

At a weekend appearance in Ohio, Rick Santorum said this about public education, according to the New York Times:

“[T]he idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools [italics mine], is anachronistic. It goes back to the time of industrialization of America when people came off the farms where they did home-school or have the little neighborhood school, and into these big factories, so we built equal factories called public schools. And while those factories as we all know in Ohio and Pennsylvania have fundamentally changed, the factory school has not.”Where to begin? The idea that the government should be running schools goes back to the nation’s founding. Its principal advocate was Thomas Jefferson, who proposed (in Notes on the State of Virginia) that every child be entitled to three years of schooling free of charge (after that, parents had to pay). Horace Mann acted and expanded on Jefferson’s idea starting in the 1830s through his energetic advocacy of publicly-funded education. Mann was appalled by the quality of the “little neighborhood schools” that Santorum rhapsodizes about and he fought to raise standards for the teaching profession and to abolish religious sectarianism from public schools. Prior to the 20th century more than 90 percent of American teenagers didn’t go to high school, and whatever “home schooling” they received on the farm was typically limited to learning how to tend animals and plant and harvest crops. Young people were lucky to have a parent who could even read the Bible; as late as 1870 fully 20 percent of the adult U.S. population couldn’t read or write. Even if a farmer or his wife were literate, where was he or she supposed to find the time to teach the children much of anything? Education was, by and large, a luxury for the rich.

The spread of government-funded high schools during the first half of the 20th century, far from violating some pastoral ideal of the little red schoolhouse, made it possible for the first time for most Americans to receive any kind of education at all. With electrification and the rise of other technologies, a high school education became essential not only to holding many factory jobs but also, with the rise of new agricultural techniques, to managing a farm. America’s emergence as the world’s richest and most powerful nation would have been impossible without the spread of government-funded, government-regulated education to raise the skill levels of its workers. To pine for the days before public education became a practical reality is to pine for an America held back by mass ignorance and mass illiteracy. Santorum might as well say he’s opposed to knowledge itself. It’s absolutely stupefying that a major presidential candidate would evangelize against education in this fashion.


  1. tbrookside

    February 21, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    In 2009, 14% of American adults could not read or write.

    If the entire state expenditure on education between 1870 and 2009 only managed to move the adult illiteracy rate from 20% to 14%, then state education sucks.

  2. Rob Schofield

    February 21, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Uh…I agree with you that the U.S. still has plenty of work to do in this area and that many technically “literate” Americans have reading problems,but your 14% figure is simply incorrect. And your implication that we would better off without a public education system is downright ludicrous.

  3. Yessah, Nossah

    February 21, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    tbrookside, source your statement “In 2009, 14% of American adults could not read or write” please, just for curiosity’s sake.

  4. M Hooper

    February 21, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    “Education was, by and large, a luxury for the rich.”
    And so shall it be again if Sanctorum and his cronies get their way. Only the children of favored Republicans will be educated. The rest of us will be drones in service to the fit rulers, all Republicans. It’s the plan of The New World Order.
    Google Jeff Sharlet and read his books explaining how we got in this mess and who are the people running the show.

  5. gregflynn

    February 21, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    tbrookside, in trying to be smart about literacy it helps to get some facts right. Those are two different measures of illiteracy.

    The 1870 measure was:
    Percentage of persons 14 years old and over who were illiterate (unable to read or write in any language)

    The current measure is defined differently:
    The specific measure chosen to estimate [low] literacy at the state and county levels on this website is the percentage of adults lacking Basic Prose Literacy Skills (BPLS). The literacy of adults who lack BPLS ranges from being unable to read and understand any written information in English to being able to locate easily identifiable information in short, commonplace prose text, but nothing more advanced.

  6. jim

    February 22, 2012 at 7:02 am

    Stories about education and literacy should have carefully proofread headlines, no?

  7. Home School Information

    February 23, 2012 at 8:27 pm

    Thanks on your marvelous posting on home schooling! I truly enjoyed reading it, you can be a great author. I will remember to bookmark your blog and will come back later in life. I want to encourage you to continue your great posts on the importance of education, have a nice morning!

Check Also

BREAKING: New analysis shows GOP tax plan would be “devastating” to North Carolina nonprofits

This is usually the time of year during ...

Top Stories from NCPW

  • News
  • Commentary

The controversy over “Silent Sam,” the Confederate monument on UNC’s Chapel Hill campus, has been ra [...]

North Carolina tries to mine its swine and deal with a poop problem that keeps piling up A blanket o [...]

This story is part of "Peak Pig," an examination of the hog industry co-published with Env [...]

Few issues in the North Carolina’s contentious policy wars have been more consistently front and cen [...]

Five years ago, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a jaw-dropping civil rights lawsuit again [...]

Will Burr and Tillis really vote for this? For much of the 20th Century, one of the labels that Amer [...]

President Trump and Congressional Republicans aim to rebrand enormous tax cuts for the wealthiest ho [...]

20—number of years since a bipartisan coalition in Congress passed the Children’s Health Insurance P [...]

Spotlight on Journalism

We invite you to join a special celebration of investigative journalism! The evening will feature Mike Rezendes, a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe Spotlight Team known for their coverage of the cover-up of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Tickets available NOW!

Spotlight On Journalism

This event will benefit NC Policy Watch, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center. Sponsorship opportunities available now!

Featured | Special Projects

NC Budget 2017
The maze of the NC Budget is complex. Follow the stories to follow the money.
Read more

NC Redistricting 2017
New map, new districts, new lawmakers. Here’s what you need to know about gerrymandering in NC.
Read more