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Education for a Conquered Nation

Declining test scores. Illiterate, spiritless, and passive graduates who have little motivation to find a job or succeed. Youngsters with no skills to compete in the marketplace. This is the tragic record of American public education, after billions of dollars and 127 years of direct federal funding.

The results seem more appropriate for a rebellious Soviet-bloc satellite nation, where Moscow wants to break its freedom-loving spirit.

And in fact this is exactly the starting point for Washington's initial impulse to aid schooling. Civil war. Massive destruction. Enormous casualties, higher than World War II. Bitter hatred and the spirit of vendetta by the victorious North over the conquered Confederate enemy. And that spirit, through the law, lives on today. This is not absurd. The political malice of the 1860's has long since been buried in human terms. But not in the law, which has a strange life of its own. It has an unswerving trajectory that can go on indefinitely without deflecting from its original mandate, even when that purpose is long extinct.

This is the case now. Children of the I980's are being given an education that was deemed appropriate for an 1860's Confederate child. We will never recover from our literacy tailspin until we perceive this and understand Uncle Sam's original motive for aiding schools.

The Morrill Act

Washington...

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