Opening the Trapdoor

There are a number of forces pushing against the persistence of public education as a unifying institution, some new and some old:

  • the collapse of birthrates,
  • tottering local and state budgets
  • the shift of political economy towards health care and transfers to older people
  • a diminishment of broader social cohesion, including national and regional identity
  • exit of well-educated women into other professions
  • a consumer mentality towards services from parents
  • increasing fear of litigation from schools
  • the extremes of social justice ideology, that tends to assert that education is for “them” and not “us”
  • a technocratic insistence that all human problems can be resolved simply as a matter of data and quantity
  • increasingly powerful and immersive technology, against which in person experiences struggle to compete
  • incoherence around what kinds of skills, values and knowledge the culture thinks it is worthwhile for children to acquire.

Against all these forces, the main resistance was simply that parents expected public schools to exist, for their own benefit as well as their kids’, and were willing to pay quite a bit in political and personal terms for them to continue to do so. Like a group of actors standing unaware on a stage trapdoor , the forces pulling downward can grow with only a bit of creak in the boards until suddenly the trapdoor is opened and down Hansel and Gretel and Rumpelstiltskin and Don Giovanni all fall.

The decision this fall to keep American schools closed and to shift to remote learning, even in areas with a contained epidemic, opened up the trapdoor, and I have a feeling that school districts and teachers’ unions will have a hard time henceforth keeping it closed.

3 thoughts on “Opening the Trapdoor

  1. Presumably this will open opportunities for Charter Schools, parochial schools, “Classical Schools”, etc. which would be rather good.

    Additionally, “public education” has been a “unifying institution” in theory more than in practice for a long time now. The main beneficiaries of that belief has been the teachers unions and assorted grifters.


    1. Perhaps! I don’t have any strong intuition about what comes next. Rapidly declining birthrates along with tenuous finances will put pressure on all those (organized) alternatives as well. Admittedly, Catholic schools’ problems are multivalent, but I was told that over 10 percent of one large state’s Catholic schools closed permanently this Spring, following the shutdowns.


  2. A comment on an essay from long ago in terms of internet commentary timescale is likely a ridiculous endeavor, but here I am. I was extremely frustrated that the republicans and Trump never leaned into enabling homeschooling throughout the pandemic. It might be better for people to naturally discover the trapdoor on their own without partisan tribalism attaching to it however given the democrats/left necessity to control education for the $, ideological propaganda and paid foot soldiers from the public sector unions I think the right missed a gigantic opportunity with pushing educational alternatives into the mainstream. With the billions given to teachers unions under the guise of covid mediation it is criminal malpractice that republicans didn’t demand gobs of $ for voucher programs.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s