Must You Smear?

Over at Flypaper, Liam Julian has started a Quick and the Ed Watch, a quest to expose every bit of hyperbole that comes out of the blog belonging to the think tank Education Sector. Well, we at Cato have had our own share of run-ins with those fine folks, and Kevin Carey’s response to my current Cato Policy Report cover story shows why.

Carey has chosen to use my piece as the latest exhibit in his case to prove that there’s a “libertarian conspiracy to destroy public education,” and he writes with the tone of a man convinced he’s got me and the conspiracy on our way to death row:

there really are people out there who simply want to dismantle the entire enterprise….People like Neil [sic] McCluskey…who recently published a new policy brief explaining why public education is intrinsically un-American. Again, that’s not bloggerly snark, it’s the actual thesis: McCluskey believes that public education is a “fundamentally flawed–and un-American–institution” and a later subhead describes “Public Schooling’s Un-American Ideals.”

Maybe I should blame myself for this. I did write that public schooling is a “fundamentally flawed—and un-American—institution.” Of course, Carey asserts that I said public education is the problem. Apparently, I didn’t make a clear enough distinction between the two. So when I wrote, for instance, that we should “end public schooling and return to public education….Ensure that the poor can access education, but let parents decide how and where their children will be educated,” I was obviously being too verbose. Who could read that and know that I’m against government-dominated, take-what-we-give-you public schooling, while I favor empowering all parents to themselves pursue good education for their children? And why does Carey fail to address any of the substance of what I wrote, like data showing that early-American education worked for broad swaths of people, or quotes demonstrating that social control has been the aim of many public-schooling advocates? I guess I should have written something much shorter, or done a YouTube video, or written a Haiku, or something.

Actually, I’m starting to think this isn’t my fault at all. The problem is that Carey is trying to do what far too many public-schooling defenders resort to when presented with reasoned critiques of their favorite institution: smear the messenger, and try to keep the substance of the message from seeing even the slightest light of day.

Sadly, Carey’s blatant disregard for the distinction I drew between public schooling and public education, and even his failure to consider any of my major points or evidence, isn’t what ends up taking the sorry cake. The lowest point is his effort to equate opposing government-dominated schooling with supporting propertied-class privilege, disenfranchised women, and all sorts of other inequalities that Carey knows weren’t the products of a free education system, but rather legally—read: government—imposed constrictions. And I might add that public schooling systems segregated African-Americans well into the 20th Century and treated lots of minority groups as second-class citizens. I would never use this, though, to blow off defenders of public schooling as somehow being neo-segregationists. That’s just not how we in “the libertarian conspiracy to destroy public education” roll.