Death by Ignorance

When the education system and military fail, what will you do?

The Associated Press recently reported:

Nearly one-fourth [23%] of the students who try to join the U.S. Army fail its entrance exam, painting a grim picture of an education system that produces graduates who can’t answer basic math, science and reading questions, according to a new study released Tuesday.


U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said:

Too many of our high school students are not graduating ready to begin college or a career — and many are not eligible to serve in our armed forces. I am deeply troubled by the national security burden created by America’s underperforming education system.

Two major federal government agencies admit that:

  • Our children are not receiving a quality education;
  • Our military is at risk of failing to provide for our defense.
  • Government threatens our national security through its inability to provide services paid for by our taxes.

Some folks persist with the myth that government will fix itself, but the Supreme Court defines another reality.

DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services

A young boy experienced “a series of beatings by his father,” and filed multiple complaints with county social services. They repeatedly left the boy with his father, who “finally beat him so severely that he suffered permanent brain damage, and was rendered profoundly retarded,” resulting in a law suit against the county. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled:

  • “A State’s failure to protect an individual against private violence … imposes no duty on the State to provide members of the general public with adequate protective services.”
  • “There is no merit to petitioner’s contention that the State’s knowledge of his danger and expressions of willingness to protect him against that danger established a ‘special relationship’ giving rise to an affirmative constitutional duty to protect.”

Town of Castle Rock, Colorado v. Gonzales

A mother of three young children obtained a restraining order against her violent estranged husband. He kidnapped and murdered the children, after which she sued the police department. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled:

  • Police services are a government “benefit” that is not legally obligated to protect victims.
  • Restraining orders create no special relationship with police entitling victims to protection.

In addition, the Supreme Court is yet another government entity that has declared that they have no legal requirement to function in your best interest.

The Department of Education (DOE) spends over $160B of our tax dollars: $63.7B in discretionary appropriations plus $96.8B in “bailout” money. There are additional billions spent by states, and billions more in property taxes for local school districts. (For example, the Texas Education Agency spent about $26B in 2009.)

The AP article reported that 25% of high school graduates are obese, making them ineligible for military service. This affords an opportunity to highlight one of the most successful functions of government: the opportunity to exploit crises in order to expand.

Some of the blame for child obesity rests with the public school system. For years, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has been remonstrating about unhealthy foods in school vending machines. Poor eating leads to obesity, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, causes illnesses like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and osteoarthritis. (Here’s another federal bureaucracy pointing out the public education system’s general failure to help our children.)


Sixth time’s the charm?

For two years, the Obama administration “voiced their support for healthier school food,” but they and the Democratic-controlled Congress didn’t accomplish anything until the last minute. In March 2009, CSPI announced that Democrats were taking action to improve children’s nutrition in public schools: California Representative Lynn Woolsey’s new bill — H.R. 1324, the Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act of 2009 “would get junk foods out of schools once and for all.” It died in subcommittee.*

In May 2009, New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman introduced S. 1060, the Obesity Prevention, Treatment, and Research Act of 2009, stating: “Food and beverage advertisers are estimated to spend [up to $12B] per year to target children and youth.” It died in committee.

In June 2009, Representative Joe Sestak authored H.R. 2690, the School Meal Enhancement Act of 2009. It died in committee.

The same month, Colorado Senator Bill Bennett offered S. 1293, the Enhancing Child Health with Automatic School Meal Enrollment Act of 2009. It died in committee.

In September 2009, CSPI supported legislation by New York Representative Carolyn McCarthy addressing their concerns over junk food in schools. McCarthy’s H.R. 5431, the Start Healthy Habits Early Act, died in subcommittee.

It wasn’t until December 2010, curiously after voters fired the Democrats in the November elections, that S. 3307, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, became law. This allegedly will address vending machine in schools. However, while there appears to be broad support for addressing childhood obesity, most Americans oppose food bans and don’t think it’s the government’s business to regulate what we eat. Considering the history of failure and the utter lack of accountability consistently affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court, such skepticism is justified.


Meanwhile, rather than wait for government to do something, many school districts made improvements. For example, a University of Minnesota study found that 330 public school districts had been offering healthy food for the last five years and “did not see a falloff in demand.” This highlights the benefits of local control, where schools respond to their tax-paying constituents.

All this political drama over school nutrition serves to distract constituents from the fact that public schools fail to educate. But it does create an opportunity to grow the DOE: More laws to implement and enforce means more personnel, more office space, computers, etc. The projected 2011 DOE budget is about $3B higher, perhaps reflecting this fact. Considering this process of transferring your wealth and power to the government, it’s reasonable to expect an eventual expansion of this program to include punishing parents who don’t get with the new program. After all, it’s for the children.

From 1990-2006, Agribusiness spent 31% of their total campaign contributions on Democrats ($120M out of $392M). For the 2008 and 2010 cycles, this increased to 39% ($22M of $57M). Also, since passage of McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform in 2002, Democrats have garnered an increasing share of business contributions, 55.9% in 2008 and 55.6% in 2010.

This is all further evidence that the government has no obligation to serve you — though they seem to do well by their corporate donors — because there are no consequences for failing the people. Perhaps it’s time to inject free market dynamics via school choice? Capitalism’s built-in feedback system of mutual self-interest between buyers and sellers offers a chance to enforce consequences via profit and loss.


* All bills available by number at the Library of Congress’s THOMAS website.



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