Charles Murray: Do we need the Dept of Education? (Part 1)

Another great article from Hillsdale College. Today we look at the Dept of Education. This is a three part series from Charles Murray. Here is part one:

January 2012

Charles Murray
American Enterprise Institute

Do We Need the Department of Education?

Charles Murray is the W.H. Brady Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. He received his B.A. in history at Harvard University and his Ph.D. in political science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has written for numerous newspapers and journals, including the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, and National Review. His books include Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980, What It Means to Be a Libertarian, and Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality. His new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010, will be published at the end of January.

The following is adapted from a speech delivered in Atlanta, Georgia, on October 28, 2011, at a conference on “Markets, Government, and the Common Good,” sponsored by Hillsdale College’s Center for the Study of Monetary Systems and Free Enterprise.

THE CASE FOR the Department of Education could rest on one or more of three legs: its constitutional appropriateness, the existence of serious problems in education that could be solved only at the federal level, and/or its track record since it came into being. Let us consider these in order.

(1) Is the Department of Education constitutional?

At the time the Constitution was written, education was not even considered a function of local government, let alone the federal government. But the shakiness of the Department of Education’s constitutionality goes beyond that. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution enumerates the things over which Congress has the power to legislate. Not only does the list not include education, there is no plausible rationale for squeezing education in under the commerce clause. I’m sure the Supreme Court found a rationale, but it cannot have been plausible.

On a more philosophical level, the framers of America’s limited government had a broad allegiance to what Catholics call the principle of subsidiarity. In the secular world, the principle of subsidiarity means that local government should do only those things that individuals cannot do for themselves, state government should do only those things that local governments cannot do, and the federal government should do only those things that the individual states cannot do. Education is something that individuals acting alone and cooperatively can do, let alone something local or state governments can do.

I should be explicit about my own animus in this regard. I don’t think the Department of Education is constitutionally legitimate, let alone appropriate. I would favor abolishing it even if, on a pragmatic level, it had improved American education. But I am in a small minority on that point, so let’s move on to the pragmatic questions.

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