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The Washington Times
November 9, 1999

Amateurs, not experts, should run U.S. society

By Michael Farris
The Washington Times
November 9, 1999

Amateurs built the ark. Experts built the Titanic. That says quite a lot, doesn’t it? Home-schoolers are amateur educators, and the experts—well, you get the point without need for further elaboration.

I recently attended a seminar sponsored by the Federalist Society concerning the constitutional doctrine of separation of powers. Half of the sessions were taught by Justice Antonin Scalia of the Supreme Court. Justice Scalia’s review of the history of a certain tendency in our government gave me an insight into the historical significance of the home-schooling movement.

In the age of Woodrow Wilson, great faith in scientific experts arose. It was thought such experts could bring the United States to a better life in virtually every field of endeavor, including government.

The application of this theory to government gave rise to the administrative state, in which we began to trust sensitive policy questions to such independent government agencies as the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Reserve and the Federal Communications Commission.

Though experts in those agencies may make wise policy on occasion, the difficulty in a self-governing society is that there is no way for the public to remove the agencies’ officers if we become dissatisfied with their policy choices. Of course, the growth and scope of such agencies clearly are contrary to the intent of the Founding Fathers, who expected the legislative, executive and judicial branches to follow the structure specified in the Constitution.

If we were to follow the plan of the Constitution, it would be impossible for Congress to enact all the rules needed to run a modern administrative state. There simply are more rules and regulations on the books than Congress possibly could consider and enact.

Also in the Wilson era, the educational practices of America began to be reshaped in accord with the same fundamental faith in scientific experts. One-room schools were abandoned. Smaller school districts where parents had a great deal of control were consolidated into larger and larger amalgamations. Educational bureaucracies filled with experts became more prominent and centralized.

It is time to ask whether we have been well-served by this worshipful adherence to the views of scientific experts. The huge proliferation of the administrative state has not resulted in utopia or even efficiency. The average tax burden on families in the age of Woodrow Wilson was nowhere near the levels we struggle with today.

Government saps our national and personal wealth in a manner that proves the fundamental error of governance by the expert. Equally important is the fundamental loss of freedom that comes from living in an overregulated society.

But the failure of the administrative state is perhaps best demonstrated in the arena of education. Schools are bigger, and textbooks are slicker; money spent on education is higher, yet students cannot read, write, calculate or reason from history at a level that comes even close to the standards set by American schools before the scientific experts took over.

Though it is difficult to demonstrate what our government would be like if we threw out the experts who control our businesses and economy in a centralized government, home-schooling provides a useful example that proves the superiority of freedom.

The academic success of home-schooling amateurs is a standing rebuke of centralization and the experts who have created a Titanic-size system with the disaster that goes with it. This is not to say that either schools or government should be abandoned. It is, however, strong evidence that self-government works best in both arenas.

We should reclaim the true meaning of the Constitution and demand that all lawmaking bodies be held directly accountable to the people through the ballot box. Public schools should be reorganized fundamentally so that local school boards responsible to parents and taxpayers alone have plenary control.

The theory of governance by administrative experts has taken our government and our schools to the brink of disaster and financial ruin. Let’s fire the builders of the Titanic and bring back the days when ordinary people are given control of their destiny.

Michael Farris is the father of 10 home-schooled children and president of the
Home School Legal Defense Association

Copyright 2000 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of The Washington Times. Visit our web site at