Paul Tractenberg’s turgid screed, “Let’s get real about education in New Jersey,” criticized me for challenging the assertions he made in a recent Record op-ed defending the current school aid formula. He also claims I live in “eccentric parallel universe.”
In my “eccentric universe,” individual liberty would be supreme not the courts, legislature, the president or governor; free enterprise would create sustainable prosperity; taxes would not exist or be so low no one would complain ever again about property taxes, sales taxes, income taxes, etc.; a vibrant nonprofit sector would replace the welfare state and provide social services to the disabled, the poor, and others at a fraction of the cost today; TSA agents would not violate our fourth amendment rights at the nation’s airports; the Federal Reserve would not continuously debase the dollar; the federal government would not perpetuate two Ponzi schemes, Social Security and Medicare; the military-industrial complex would be abolished; and, finally, education would not be based on the Prussian compulsory model that Mr. Tractenberg worships.
If Mr. Tractenberg fancies himself as the “anti-Sabrin,” then we know where he stands: he is an unapologetic supporter of statism—big government uber alles. He also is a legal positivist, namely, someone who believes that the state’s rulings are sacrosanct, especially by a “supreme court.”
In contrast, the natural law position, which I advocate, requires that the law be consistent with our “natural rights.” The founders asserted in the Declaration of Independence that there are self-evident truths, which preceded the establishment of a government, and the Bill of Rights codified these fundamental rights. In short, nowhere did the founders express the idea that the redistribution of income is a legitimate use of government power.
Putting aside the condescending, sanctimonious, and patronizing tone of his attack on my analysis of the school funding formula, Mr. Tractenberg makes this egregious statement:
“In Sabrin’s parallel universe, the idea that wealthy individuals and communities should be expected to contribute to the state’s general welfare is anathema.” In Tractenberg’s world, taxes are “contributions.” Mangling the English language is usually done by comedians and actors.
Taxes are involuntary exchanges. Governments use their monopoly power to tax their citizens for so-called public goods, but in reality, the amount of taxes people pay and the size of government we have does not reflect what the people want. If government spending does reflect what the people want, the populace would voluntarily support all expenditures with their “contributions.” The public does not desire the current level of government spending is evident by the fact that people have to be coerced to pay for the welfare-warfare state, especially public education.
As far as education is concerned, I have embraced the ideas found in Bastiat’s The Law, who made this comment more than 160 years ago: “You say: ‘There are persons who lack education,’ and you turn to the law. But the law is not, in itself, a torch of learning which shines its light abroad. The law extends over a society where some persons have knowledge and others do not; where some citizens need to learn, and others can teach. In this matter of education, the law has only two alternatives: It can permit this transaction of teaching-and-learning to operate freely and without the use of force, or it can force human wills in this matter by taking from some of them enough to pay the teachers who are appointed by government to instruct others, without charge. But in this second case, the law commits legal plunder by violating liberty and property.”
In addition, as Sheldon Richman pointed out in another essay: “Why are there public schools? When the government decided to help poor people buy food, it didn’t build state grocery stores. It issued food stamps that are used at private stores. The point is not that food stamps are a proper government function, but that funding and provision are distinct issues. Why did the state take on the provision of education? It was not because children were going uneducated … As Jack High and Jerome Ellig of George Mason University have written, ‘Private education was widely demanded in the late 18th and 19th centuries in Great Britain and America. The private supply of education was highly responsive to that demand, with the consequence that large numbers of children from all classes of society received several years of education.’ ” (Emphasis added in the original.)
Moreover, John Taylor Gatto, New York State Teacher of the Year (1991) and author of several books on public education who retired after thirty-one years as a New York City teacher wrote: “Government schooling is the most radical adventure in history. It kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood and by teaching disrespect for home and parents… In 30 years of teaching kids rich and poor I almost never met a learning disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted and talented one either. Like all school categories, these are sacred myths, created by human imagination. They derive from questionable values we never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling…
“How much more evidence is necessary? Good schools don’t need more money or a longer year; they need real free-market choices, variety that speaks to every need and runs risks. We don’t need a national curriculum or national testing either. Both initiatives arise from ignorance of how people learn or deliberate indifference to it…”
Mr. Tractenberg, a co-founder of the Education Law Center, should be one of the most elated persons in New Jersey. After many decades of litigation, the ELC has convinced the Supreme Court to order tens of billions of additional aid to flow to schools in Newark, Paterson, Jersey City, Asbury Park, Camden and the other so-called Abbott districts. Now with the new aid formula, more taxpayers’ dollars flow to non-Abbott districts as well. However, he claims more money is required as per the state’s own statutes.
Never mind that the Supreme Court overstepped its authority more than three decades ago by ordering the state to amend the constitution to create a state income tax. The New Jersey State Constitution clearly gives the power of the purse to the Legislature to establish the funding formulas for aid to counties, municipalities and school districts, a fact that Tractenberg did not address in his essay. In other words, according to Tractenberg’s legal positivist view of the law and the courts, the New Jersey Supreme Court should have deferred to the Legislature its authority to allocate school aid.
Critics of public education are demonized for a variety of reasons, usually by invoking the race card. In short, if someone opposes taxpayers’ money being sent to urban school districts, then ipso facto that is prima facie evidence that racism is the overriding motive, because most of the students are children of color.
As Bastiat observed, “Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.” In short, education is much too important for politicians, bureaucrats, unions, the courts and lawyers to squabble about. We need less litigation and more education in and out of the classroom. In the final analysis, parents and teachers should be the primary educators in our society. In addition, parents have the moral responsibility for their children—not others–because they brought them into the world.
As long as taxpayers’ dollars are at the heart of public education debate and unstable social conditions continue to exit in inner city neighborhoods, we will miss the opportunity for real education reform. We need to create a create a culture of education in urban areas, an indispensable factor that is necessary for children to learn and become productive individuals and financially independent adults. Until we reach this goal, no amount of money will better educate inner city children.
Our current culture, which is embraced by individuals across the political spectrum and socioeconomic classes, can be summed up succinctly: “From each according to his ability to each according to his needs.” Although Karl Marx has been dead for nearly 130 years, his ideas live on in the minds of the well meaning but naive Paul Tractenbergs of the world.