Obama’s education plan suggests we need more federalism

I was reading DRJ’s post over at Patterico about Obama’s new education plan, and was met with yet another reason with why our top-down government is, well, a poor substitute for the represenational democracy the Founders intended. But first, from the AP:

The president… wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go.

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell (the rest of the article is full of fluff interviews with kids and an apology (using the traditional definition) for Obama’s statements). The reasonings are based almost entirely on low-income students. Basically, year-round school sessions and staying open until 7 would benefit them far more than high income students, who tend to have higher parental involvement and are more likely to be involved in extra-curricular activities.

Now, I’m not going to argue whether or not this is a good idea for lower income students or if this addresses the root causes, or if we should be doing something else on education, or anything else (read DRJ’s post, or Alex’s post at Race 4 2012, if you’d like some discussion on those topics). Let’s assume, for the moment, that the idea is at least debatable. Let’s also assume, for the moment, that funding for these projects is not an issue (big assumption, I know, but bear with me).

We all tend to agree that education is important. We all tend to want control over how we educate our kids. While people may disagree with how much freedom a parent should have in controlling their child’s education, we all tend to agree that they should have a strong say in the matter.

Now, with that said, did anyone vote for (or against) Obama based on his views on the length of a school year or the hours in which it is open? Seeing as I don’t remember this issue being mentioned at all during the campaign, I’m guessing the number is much closer to zero than it is to 100 million. We voted based on the economy, on foreign policy, and other hot button issues. This tiny specific issue on education did not register at all. Nor did it register with our votes on the members of Congress.

Do the voters and supporters of Obama necessarily support this plan? Sure, there’s probably a fair amount of overlap. But probably not enough to make it a majority. Do the voters and supporters of Congress support this plan? Did anyone take this into account when they voted? And, given the high profile topics of health care, the stimulus package, cap&trade, Afghanistan, etc, is this going to be factored into the 2010 or 2012 races? I find that highly unlikely.

And if not, then where is the mandate for this? We didn’t elect our national leaders to try to change the school system like this. So if there’s no voter mandate, where does the rationale for this move come from? How is it any different from being imposed from on high in a dictatorship?

The answer, of course, is that this is the sort of tradeoff you get in a republican (not the party) system of government. Since direct democracy is impractical, we elect leaders who we trust to make the right decisions. Unfortunately, the more decisions there are, the less likely you are to trust the leader in all of them. Thus, you have to prioritize, and you get saddled with decisions you don’t like. For the perspective of the voter, this is a negative side effect of republicanism.

From the perspective of the political elite, however, this is a bonus. Because of this bug, the political elite can impose their own will on the people regardless of what the people want as long as the people don’t prioritize the issue highly. This is why we still have lots of pork regardless of how unpopular it is. The more issues we have our leaders deal with, the more issues they can deal with on their own without voter input. After all, the voters aren’t going to elect the guy from the other party just on this tiny little issue, so why should they care what the people think?

So if we the people truly want control over the government, we need to eliminate as many of these decisions as possible. That’s one of the big reasons for limited government. But, at the risk of upsetting libertarians, let’s assume for the moment that public education is a neccessity, in which case eliminating those decisions entirely is out of the question. So what do you do now?

The answer is, paradoxically, bigger government. Or, more accurately, more leaders. This is where federalism comes into play. When it comes to the national government, ideas about how to teach our children tend to fall by the wayside compared to foreign policy or taxes or the economy and the like. But on the local government, this is exactly the sort of thing that takes priority. We care about our everyday issues when it comes to the local government, because they have little or no power over the big issues. A mayor or the member of the school board or whatever can and would be held accountable for a decision such as this, as it would undoubtedly be one of the biggest decisions they would make. And since it’s one of their biggest decisions, it would be the basis of our votes for them. Hence, parents would still be in control of their children’s education. The government would still be responsive to the will of the people.

This would also have the added bonus of not having a “one size fits all” strategy. As previously stated, this proposal might be good for some communities but bad for others. Rather than make a large subset of the population suffer by imposing one’s will on the entire nation, each individual community can decide what would work best.

But hey, that makes too much sense. And that would require the federal government to voluntarily limit their power, so we can forget about that ever happening. If we only had a document that laid out the abilities and limitations of the federal government…

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