What’s the purpose of state regulations? We’re told that the state has to regulate various things to protect the public’s health and safety. We’re also told that regulations protect us from being cheated. But governments prove every day that their regulations aren’t about protecting us. Instead, they’re all about politicians and bureaucrats maintaining control over the world around us.
The latest example comes from Minnesota, where state education bureaucrats told a free online education website that it’s illegal for the site to make its courses available — for free, remember — to the people of the state.
You see, there’s a state law that requires any college operating in the state to get permission from the state. The bureaucrats at the state’s Office of Higher Education informed Coursera (and possibly other free online providers) that it’s illegal for them to offer courses to people in Minnesota.
What is Coursera? It’s part of a growing movement that’s making world-class university courses available online for free to whoever wants them. (Take a look at the list of 33 schools that make some of their classes available through Coursera.) Just to emphasize this again, the people taking these online course pay nothing. They have access to great educational opportunities that other people pay thousands of dollars for.
But because the system isn’t set up as state education bureaucrats envisioned it, they don’t like it. They want to shut it down. They want to take the choice away from people who are getting a tremendous value for free. This isn’t about protection. This is about control.
After there was a tremendous public outcry late last week following the story in the Chronicle of Higher Education, state bureaucrats backpedaled and pretended that they hadn’t done what they’d clearly done. The director of the Office in Charge of Making Your Education Decisions issued a statement saying that he didn’t see any reason for registration of such free offerings and that he would work with the state Legislature to modify the law to make that clear.
If the story hadn’t been posted to Reddit last Thursday night and gone viral with ridicule of the state, would officials have taken the same position? I don’t think so. I’m pretty sure they’d still be standing on the notion that “this is what the law says,” regardless of the effect their actions had on people in the real world. Why? Because that’s what bureaucrats and politicians do. They control people. They protect their turf. They use their power and make sure that you respect it.
This brings to mind the question of what the purpose of regulation really is, and it also brings to mind the question of what purpose education is supposed to serve. It’s clear to me that regulation is all about control. It’s equally clear to me that the state school system that’s been used in this country for the last century or more is ultimately about control, too, and it’s operated by well-intentioned people who don’t understand that they’re stifling children and preparing them for an industrial age economy that no longer exists.
Seth Godin has a great 16-minute talk that I saw over the weekend that suggests that the education system in this country is all about teaching kids to obey and respect authority figures. I strongly recommend his talk, so I’ll embed it below. He talks about how businesses wanted obedient workers, and he’s right. He doesn’t mention, though, that government has had a strong stake in obedient citizens, too, which is why we’ve been indoctrinated to believe that “public education” is the only way to become an educated person.
The state of Minnesota tried to ban its citizens from having access to free, high-quality education, all because it was being offered in a way that the state didn’t control or approve. We’re fortunate that the bureaucrats were ridiculed into backing down this time, but their basic agenda hasn’t changed.
Politicians and bureaucrats believe we’re too stupid to think for ourselves. They don’t believe we have the right to make our own decisions. They don’t think we have the right to voluntarily deal with the people we choose to deal with. As with everything else, they believe they have the right and responsibility to control us.
The future of education isn’t about determining which methods work best or what kind of curriculum should be required or how teachers are going to be evaluated. The real future of education is forcing politicians and bureaucrats to quit controlling us. It’s about us reclaiming our fundamental right to make our own decisions about what we want to learn and how we want to do it.
In other words, it’s all about whether we own ourselves or the state owns us.
Note: As an experiment, I’m making an audio version version of this article available below. This is just a recording test with a new microphone. Although I’d like to launch a podcast when I figure out a format that works, I don’t anticipate regularly recording articles.