Cliff Slater's Second Opinion


School, state need separation


We would scoff at the thought of a government having a monopoly on manufacturing our clothing. We intuitively know that such a government monopoly would lead to a drab sameness; it would result in those old baggy Russian suits or Mao jackets. Instead, we choose the lower prices, better quality and vast differentiation in color and styling that a competitive marketplace provides.

So, why do we not feel the same way about government having a monopoly on public education? We allow government a monolithic control of taxpayer-funded schools and the result is little different from what it would do with clothing. The cost is high, the quality is mediocre and the education our children get is one-size-fits-all.

Our cost of public education is the highest in the world and climbing. In Hawaii, we spend--even allowing for inflation--50% more per child than we did 20 years ago (1) yet test scores have declined.

The quality of our public education is mediocre and getting worse. We recently got an F for our schools’ climate.(2) That this government provided service performs poorly should not be surprising. Education is a personal service and quality service is typically found only in small establishments. We do not look for fine food in institutional kitchens and we can just imagine the result of government having a monopoly on hair salons.

Nor should we expect educational differentiation in government schooling. When governments provides services they are usually of the dull sameness whether it be clothing, public transportation or the provision of welfare. Differentiation is more typically the result of competitive businesses struggling to distinguish themselves from the herd. In contrast, bureaucrats usually struggle to be indistinguishable from the herd. No wonder our schools have been described as, "the collective farms of education."

Less obvious are the other reasons why we should separate School and State. The Constitution forbids the "establishment of religion" since it would ensure the state's control of our very beliefs. But we have become used to the state's control of our children's beliefs and we do not think too much about it.

It is about time we did.

Our teachers are a dedicated, underpaid (3), selfless group—for the most part. That said, we have to remember that most teachers have usually spent their entire careers in government. They have gone to government schools and government-controlled colleges and universities. Then they have returned to teach in our government schools.

Teachers usually have little experience in the marketplace. That is, offering products or services for which people voluntarily exchange their money. Thus, Hawaii's children usually learn little about the primary forces driving the marketplace such as the relationship between supply, demand and price.

Instead, they learn a great deal of mythinformation: myth masquerading as information. They learn about the Evils of the Industrial Revolution, about the Robber Barons and about how Government and the Unions saved us from the Perils of Unbridled Capitalism. They learn that the Depression was a business failure rescued only by the government's New Deal, that War is good for business, that Competition is Destructive and that only the Minimum Wage law prevents business from paying good people nothing.

Such gross misunderstandings of our economy by students causes much harm as they become voters. They tend to vote on a total misunderstanding of basic economic principles. For this reason alone, we need more separation of School and State.

We can achieve most of this separation with publicly funded charter schools run by teachers and parents.


  1. Source for student costs. See Schmitt, Robert C. Historical Statistics of Hawaii, University Press of Hawaii, 1977, p. 218, and the 1997 State Data Book available online at: (Education section, table 03.15).
  2. F for School Climate given by Education Week’s Quality Counts ’99 Report. Available at:
  3. Allowing for Honolulu inflation, teachers today are paid far less than before they were unionized in the early 1970’s. See above tables or the author's compilation of them at: If you wish to have the original complete spreadsheet right click on:

Then use one of the "save as" options that pops up to save it to your own disk. It will unzip as an Excel file named, teacher3.xls