May 02, 2020

The Myth that Americans Were Poorly Educated before Mass Government Schooling

Early America had widespread literacy and a vibrant culture of learning.

Parents the world over are dealing with massive adjustments in their children’s education that they could not have anticipated just three months ago. To one degree or another, pandemic-induced school closures are creating the “mass homeschooling” that FEE’s senior education fellow Kerry McDonald predicted two months ago. Who knows, with millions of youngsters absent from government school classrooms, maybe education will become as good as it was before the government ever got involved.

“What?” you exclaim! “Wasn’t education lousy or non-existent before government mandated it, provided it, and subsidized it? That’s what my government schoolteachers assured me so it must be true,” you say!

The fact is, at least in early America, education was better and more widespread than most people today realize or were ever told. Sometimes it wasn’t “book learning” but it was functional and built for the world most young people confronted at the time. Even without laptops and swimming pools, and on a fraction of what government schools spend today, Americans were a surprisingly learned people in our first hundred years.

I was reminded a few days ago of the amazing achievements of early American education while reading the enthralling book by bestselling author Stephen Mansfield, Lincoln’s Battle With God: A President’s Struggle With Faith and What It Meant for America. It traces the spiritual journey of America’s 16th president—from fiery atheist to one whose last words to his wife on that tragic evening at Ford’s Theater were a promise to “visit the Holy Land and see those places hallowed by the footsteps of the Savior.”

In a moment, I’ll cite a revealing, extended passage from Mansfield’s book but first, I’d like to offer some excellent, related works that come mostly from FEE’s own archives.

In 1983, Robert A. Peterson’s "Education in Colonial America" revealed some stunning facts and figures. “The Federalist Papers, which are seldom read or understood today even in our universities,” explains Peterson, “were written for and read by the common man. Literacy rates were as high or higher than they are today.” Incredibly, “A study conducted in 1800 by DuPont de Nemours revealed that only four in a thousand Americans were unable to read and write legibly” [emphasis mine].

Well into the 19th Century, writes Susan Alder in "Education in America," "parents did not even consider that the civil government in any way had the responsibility or should assume the responsibility of providing for the education of children." Only one state (Massachusetts) even had compulsory schooling laws before the Civil War, yet literacy rates were among the highest in our history.

Great Britain experienced similar trends. In 1996, Edwin West wrote in "The Spread of Education Before Compulsion in Britain and America in the Nineteenth Century" that “when national compulsion was enacted ([in 1880], over 95 percent of fifteen-year-olds were literate.” More than a century later, “40 percent of 21-year-olds in the United Kingdom admit[ted] to difficulties with writing and spelling.”

Laws against the education of black slaves date back to as early as 1740, but the desire to read proved too strong to prevent its steady growth even under bondage. For purposes of religious instruction, it was not uncommon for slaves to be taught reading but not writing. Many taught themselves to write, or learned to do so with the help of others willing to flout the law. Government efforts to outlaw the education of blacks in the Old South may not have been much more effective than today’s drug laws. If you wanted it, you could find it.

Estimates of the literacy rate among slaves on the eve of the Civil War range from 10 to 20 percent. By 1880, nearly 40 percent of southern blacks were literate. In 1910, half a century before the federal government involved itself in K-12 funding, black literacy exceeded 70 percent and was comparable to that of whites.

Daniel Lattier explained in a 2016 article titled "Did Public Schools Really Improve American Literacy?" that a government school system is no guarantee that young people will actually learn to read and write well. He cites the shocking findings of a study conducted by the US Department of Education: “32 million of American adults are illiterate, 21 percent read below a 5th grade level, and 19 percent of high school graduates are functionally illiterate, which means they can’t read well enough to manage daily living and perform tasks required by many jobs.”

Compulsory government schools were not established in America because of some widely-perceived failure of private education, which makes it both erroneous and self-serving for the government school establishment to propagate the myth that Americans would be illiterate without them.

As Kerry McDonald wrote in "Public Schools Were Designed to Indoctrinate Immigrants," the prime motivation for government schooling was something much less benign than a fear of illiteracy. Her remarkable 2019 book, Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom, explains the viable, self-directed alternatives that far outclass the standardized, test-driven, massively expensive and politicized government schooling of today.

If you’re looking for a good history of how America traveled the path of literacy to a national education crisis, you can find it in a recent, well-documented book by Justin Spears and associates, titled Failure: The History and Results of America’s School System. The way in which government short-changes parents, teachers, and students is heart-breaking.

I promised to share a passage from Stephen Mansfield’s book, so now I am pleased to deliver it. Read it carefully, and let it soak in:

We should remember that the early English settlers in the New World left England accompanied by fears that they would pursue their “errand into the wilderness” and become barbarians in the process. Loved ones at home wondered how a people could cross an ocean and live in the wild without losing the literacy, the learning, and the faith that defined them. The early colonists came determined to defy these fears. They brought books, printing presses, and teachers with them and made the founding of schools a priority. Puritans founded Boston in 1630 and established Harvard College within six years. After ten years they had already printed the first book in the colonies, the Bay Psalm Book. Many more would follow. The American colonists were so devoted to education—inspired as they were by their Protestant insistence upon biblical literacy and by their hope of converting and educating the natives—that they created a near-miraculous culture of learning.

This was achieved through an educational free market. Colonial society offered “Dame schools,” Latin grammar schools, tutors for hire, what would today be called “home schools,” church schools, schools for the poor, and colleges for the gifted and well-to-do. Enveloping these institutions of learning was a wider culture that prized knowledge as an aid to godliness. Books were cherished and well-read. A respected minister might have thousands of them. Sermons were long and learned. Newspapers were devoured, and elevated discussion of ideas filled taverns and parlors. Citizens formed gatherings for the “improvement of the mind”—debate societies and reading clubs and even sewing circles at which the latest books from England were read.

The intellectual achievements of colonial America were astonishing. Lawrence Cremin, dean of American education historians, estimated the literacy rate of the period at between 80 and 90 percent. Benjamin Franklin taught himself five languages and was not thought exceptional. Jefferson taught himself half a dozen, including Arabic. George Washington was unceasingly embarrassed by his lack of formal education, and yet readers of his journals today marvel at his intellect and wonder why he ever felt insecure. It was nothing for a man—or in some cases a woman—to learn algebra, geometry, navigation, science, logic, grammar, and history entirely through self-education. A seminarian was usually required to know Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French and German just to begin his studies, instruction which might take place in a log classroom and on a dirt floor.

This culture of learning spilled over onto the American frontier. Though pioneers routinely moved beyond the reach of even basic education, as soon as the first buildings of a town were erected, so too, were voluntary societies to foster intellectual life. Aside from schools for the young, there were debate societies, discussion groups, lyceums, lecture associations, political clubs, and always, Bible societies. The level of learning these groups encouraged was astounding. The language of Shakespeare and classical literature—at the least Virgil, Plutarch, Cicero, and Homer—so permeated the letters and journals of frontier Americans that modern readers have difficulty understanding that generation’s literary metaphors. This meant that even a rustic Western settlement could serve as a kind of informal frontier university for the aspiring. It is precisely this legacy and passion for learning that shaped young Abraham Lincoln during his six years in New Salem.

Not bad for a society that hardly even knew what a government school was for generations, wouldn’t you say? Why should we blindly assume today that we couldn’t possibly get along without government schools? Instead, we should be studying how remarkable it was that we did so well without them.

When I think of the many ways that government deceives us into its embrace, one in particular really stands out: It seeks to convince us how helpless we would be without it. It tells us we can’t do this, we can’t do that, that government possesses magical powers beyond those of mere mortals and that yes, we’d be dumb as dirt and as destitute as drifters if we didn’t put it in charge of one thing or another.

When it comes to education, Americans really should know better. Maybe one positive outcome of the virus pandemic is that they will rediscover that they don’t need government schools as much as the government told them they do. In fact, we never did.

What Matters 2020: Coronavirus edition

Margaret Talev

Photo collage of newspaper clippings from New York, Nepal, Spain and Mexico City feature health worker, journalist, young girl, relative in a hospital and cutout of a red virus in the middle.

Photo Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Noam Galai, Jamie McCarthy, Josep Lago/AFP, Alfredo Estrella/AFP, and Narayan Maharjan/NurPhoto, all via Getty Images

Axios launched our "What Matters 2020" series this year to focus on seven issues that will define the nation's future no matter who wins in November. 

The big picture: The impact of the coronavirus pandemic will spread far beyond the most pressing issues we face now — lives lost and economic disruption — to drive debates on all of these longer term topics. Go deeper with the Axios subject matter experts to explore each one.


The COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing policies it demands have made human workers both potential victims and vectors of disease, Axios' Bryan Walsh reports.

  • As a result, we're likely to see an acceleration of the trend towards greater automation in the workplace — with industrial robots and AI agents online.
  • Experts' views range on how dramatic the impacts may be.
  • Our thought bubble: If this results in human workers losing jobs to machines, as many experts expect, it could worsen an already terrible recession.
  • "If we don't embrace the opportunities for re-skilling workers, there is a chance here for serious social unrest, on the level of the Great Depression," said Michael Lotito, co-chair of the Littler law firm's Workplace Policy Institute.


There's a misinformation crisis surrounding the coronavirus pandemic — and it's driving research on how to tackle misinformation that may serve as a roadmap for other episodes moving forward, Axios' Sara Fischer writes.

  • She breaks down some of those strategies and discussions here.
  • Be smart: President Trump has been at the center of much of this controversy himself, and that has created challenges for a range of players, from government doctors and health experts to governors, mayors, news organizations and social media companies.

Health care costs

The coronavirus has put the holes in the U.S. health care system on display, Axios' Sam Baker reports.

  • Millions of people have lost their health insurance as they’ve lost their jobs. And though the government has stepped in to cover the cost of coronavirus care, that’s no help to people with chronic conditions, or who get sick with anything else. 
  • A slow recovery will leave many of those people at risk for a long time.
  • All of the things that have made the U.S. system such a burden before — an industry chasing profits first, a patchwork system of coverage that varies from state to state and employer to employer, backwards incentives that put patients at the greatest risk just when they can least afford it  — are working against us now, too.


The coronavirus has unraveled Washington's bipartisan consensus on China, per Axios' Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian.

  • Until now, there was general agreement among leading Republicans and Democrats that America's policy must address China's hard authoritarian turn. Now they're split over Republicans' efforts to blame China for the pandemic.
  • The pandemic also has further fractured the U.S.-China relationship, escalating tensions to levels not seen in decades.
  • It has put pressure on China to improve its image, resulting in a campaign to provide medical supplies to countries fighting an outbreak — but also in Beijing adopting Russian-style disinformation tactics on a global scale.

Climate change

As the pandemic has overshadowed most other news, climate change has receded somewhat from its perch as a rising political topic, per Axios' Amy Harder.

  • At the same time, a number of scientists and advocacy groups have sought to address questions or raise awareness about potential connections between major environmental disturbances and the evolution of future viruses or patients' ability to fight them.
  • Expect climate change to be a key part of larger arguments Joe Biden makes against Trump, including accusing him of disavowing science of all kinds and calling for clean energy to drive an economic recovery if he wins in November. 
  • The other side: We’ve already seen a glimpse of how Trump will respond: his campaign released a statement recently suggesting Biden is belittling the pandemic by linking it to climate change.


Countries with strong job protections and welfare states have had many fewer struggles than the U.S. when it comes to keeping workers employed, so that they can go immediately back to work when lockdowns are lifted, per Axios' Felix Salmon.

  • This crisis has exposed a key weakness of laissez-faire capitalism and at-will employment.
  • Our economy will take a long time to recover.
  • The big picture: As we've been reporting and as our Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index has been showing each week, the pandemic has turned inequality into a comorbidity. Better-off Americans are still getting paid and are free to work from home, while the poor are forced to either risk going out to work or lose their jobs.


The virus is having a widely disparate impact on different racial and ethnic communities — with a potentially transformative reach on Generation Z, and lasting implications for immigration policy, per Axios' Stef Kight.

  • Racial disparities: Racial and ethnic minority communities are being hit worse than white populations, according to a Brookings Institution data analysis. It found that the size of a county's white population was inversely correlated to infection and death rate from COVID-19.
  • Gen Z: The virus is transforming the political beliefs and economic prospects of Generation Z, as Axios has reported. The youngest generation is now beginning to graduate into a workforce that no longer has jobs or internships for them.
  • Immigration: In addition to Trump administration policies restricting immigration flows because of the virus, immigration also could slow because of the economic downturn in the U.S. caused by the virus. This comes as the many cities and states increasingly rely on immigration for population growth

Beijing's bullying has ruined its relationship with Sweden


A series of diplomatic incidents has undone decades of work building Sweden-China relations.

Why it matters: Beijing's bullying behavior is a test case in how China treats less powerful countries that refuse to submit to its demands.

What's happening: Rising distrust has led Sweden to shut down cultural exchanges and other long-standing agreements.

  • Gothenburg, the second-largest city in Sweden, canceled its friendship city agreement with Shanghai, which was first signed 34 years ago. Several other cities, including Västerås, Luleå and Linköping, have also ended their relationships with Chinese cities.
  • Sweden closed all of its Confucius Institutes, a Chinese government-funded program that sets up Chinese language and culture centers in foreign universities but which has come under scrutiny for censoring discussion of topics that Beijing considers sensitive.

Background: The breakdown in relations began in 2015, when Chinese authorities kidnapped Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen known for publishing books on sensitive Chinese political topics, and held him without trial for years.

  • The Swedish government expressed outrage in February when a Chinese court announced that Gui had renounced his Swedish citizenship on a supposedly voluntary basis and then sentenced him to 10 years in prison.
  • The case demonstrated a blatant disregard for international norms of citizenship and the rights of foreign governments to protect their citizens.
  • “It is not okay to interfere with what the Swedish government does,” Foreign Minister Ann Linde said at the time.

The Chinese ambassador to Sweden has threatened Swedish media outlets who reported critically on China, and he implicitly threatened anyone who opposed Beijing.

  • “We treat our friends with fine wine, but for our enemies, we have shotguns," said the ambassador on Swedish public radio in November 2019.
The bottom line: The Chinese Communist Party has hailed China's rise as a kinder, gentler world power that will deal with all countries with respect. But so far, its treatment of some smaller nations is not reassuring.

Talk By Prof. Naela Quadri Baloch: Balochistan, History, Politics and Destiny

Pragna Bharati is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.

♦️ Topic: Balochistan, History, Politics and Destiny
Time: May 2, 2020 06:00 PM India

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Dr Naela Qadri Baloch is a Balochistan freedom fighter, Writer, Film maker, Feminist, President of World Baloch Women's Forum and activist in Exile. She is the Chairperson of Balochistan National Congress fighting for liberation. 
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ISI suspected to be behind killing of Baloch journalist in Sweden.

Current Balochistan

Numerous poltical activists and human rights activists including journalist have expressed serious concerns over the killing of Sajid Hussain Baloch.

According to details, Dead body of Baloch journalist Sajid Hussain, who went missing from Sweden, had been found death on Friday. Mr. Hussain’s body has been recovered from a river in Upsalla.

Sajid Hussain Baloch was missing since 2nd March 2020 from Upsalla Sweden, where he had moved to a student accommodation.

Sajid Hussain Baloch, who had worked with various Pakistani mainstream media outlets, moved to Sweden in 2017 as a refugee.

Baloch National Movement Chairman Khalil Baloch has said that the death of missing exiled Baloch journalist Sajid Hussain has shocked us deeply. This is an irreparable national loss for us. We are deeply disappointed by the Swedish police and authorities. Sajid Hussain’s death has sounded alarm bells for thousands of exiled Baloch. Even in a so-called civilized country, the lives of oppressed Baloch are not safe.

A pro-freedom student organization from Balochistan, BSO-Azad stated on its official twitter account that Cheif Editor of Balochistan time SajidHussain is no longer missing. His dead body was recovered from Uppsala, Sweden. The organization calls on Human Rights Institutions that they must give assurance by their immediate action that Baloch people who are living in exile are safe or they’ll be found dead as Sajid.


Dr. Allah Nizar Baloch, head of Balochistan Liberation Front, an armed organization, shared a video of ex Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf in his tweet with a caption saying, “Swedish authorities must trace all the links behind his two month’s disappearance that lead to his untimely death. Musharraf’s words should be included & analyzed in the investigation.”

In the video Ex-Army Chief of Pakistan, General Musharraf says in an interview that targeting anti state people in exile is pro-active diplomacy.

Whereas, Gulzar Imam, leader of another armed organization, Baloch Republican Army, said in a tweet, “Sajid Hussain has been assassinated by the ISI, as he was a journalist for highlighting the Baloch cause in global media. International agencies should investigate and expose Sajid’s killers”.

Meanwhile, spokesperson of the Baloch National Movement (BNM), Hammal Haider, told ANI news, “We are deeply saddened by the demise of prominent Baloch intellectual and writer Sajid Hussain. His death is indeed a loss of a great mind for the people of Balochistan. Due to his straightforwardness, he was loved among all journalistic, literary and political circles.”

He said, “After this incident, we have serious concerns about our members and other Baloch refugees living in the West.”

Fareeda Baloch, sister of Missing Rashid Hussain in a tweet said that Sajid Hussain’s dead body found. it’s sad and terrifying to hear that Baloch activists are not secure even in foreign countries. Is there any place for Baloch activists to live without any fear? likewise Sajid, my brother is also missing from UAE since December 2018.

On 26th December 2018, Rashid Hussain’s family said that he was abducted by Emirati officials in UAE, where he was living in exile since August 2017.

However, after the six months of alleged abduction of Mr. Hussain, the Pakistani TV channels aired news claiming that he was arrested in UAE on request of Pakistani authorities and has been deported to Pakistan in collaboration with Interpol.

Mr. Hussain was never produced in front of the court and on 16th April 2020, after a year and a half, a Pakistani court declared him an absconder. This is surprising as media channels in Pakistan had claimed that Rashid was already under detention of Pakistani authorities.

VBMP leader Mama Qadeer Baloch has said in tweet that It is a sad news for us, renowned Journalist Sajid Hussain, the chief editor of @BaluchistanTime is no more among us.
His dead body was discovered from a river in Uppsala, Sweden.The unfortunate death of Sajid left a vacuum in Baloch Society which will take years to be filled.

Tarek Fateh a journalist and author, said in a comment on twitter, “The body of Baloch journalist #SajidHussain who was missing in Sweden has been found in a river. One more victim of Pakistan #ISI’s hit squads. How many #Balochistan youth will Islamabad & the #Pakistan Army to satisfy their bloodlust?”

Many journalists covering Balochistan have been targeted allegedly by Pakistani authorities in past too, however, the disappearance and now death of a leading Baloch media figure in a European country has raised serious concerns

May 01, 2020

Arms control on life support

Axios World
By Dave Lawler ·Apr 30, 2020

Missile with a question mark contrail

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser / Axios


There are three truly existential threats to humanity: pandemics, climate change and nuclear weapons.

Why it matters: COVID-19 has rightfully absorbed the world's attention and will for months to come. But the last treaty constraining the world’s largest nuclear arsenals is set to expire in nine months.

Where things stand: The Trump administration has expressed little urgency over the looming expiration of New START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which comes two weeks after the next presidential inauguration on Feb. 5.

  • The treaty limits the long-range nuclear weapons programs of the U.S. and Russia, and it's verified through regular inspections.
  • It was signed in 2010 to replace the 1991 START and could be extended for up to five years by mutual assent (congressional approval is not necessary).
  • Russia had previously called for renegotiation, but it's now urging for an extension without preconditions.
  • The U.S. wants to negotiate a new deal instead, but time is running out.

The Trump administration has three primary concerns about extending New START, according to Frank Klotz, the former U.S. Department of Energy undersecretary for nuclear security (2014–2018).

  1. It doesn’t cover tactical nuclear weapons. Russia has more short-range, lower-yield weapons and more ways to deliver them.
  2. It doesn’t cover the new nuclear delivery systems Russia is currently developing.
  3. It doesn’t constrain China, which is significantly expanding its nuclear capabilities.

The third point looms largest for the Trump administration.

  • The administration is concerned that extending New START would undermine its hopes of a trilateral deal involving China, Foreign Policy reports citing a State Department document.
  • Marshall Billingslea, Trump's newly appointed special envoy for arms control, has been tasked with inking a new deal that restricts both of America's "great power" competitors.

Between the lines: China has no intention and little incentive to join such a deal, Rose Gottemoeller, the lead U.S. negotiator on New START, said Wednesday at an event hosted by the Arms Control Association.

  • By the numbers: The U.S. and Russia together have an estimated 91% of the world’s nuclear warheads, and both countries have 20 times as many as China.
  • Gottemoeller agrees that China should be brought into the arms control framework and that there are thorny issues to be discussed around tactical nuclear weapons and missile defense systems (a top Russian concern).
  • But she contends that they can’t possibly be negotiated before February — particularly amid a pandemic and U.S. general election.

On the one hand: Some China hawks see little reason to agree to an arms control deal that does not involve America’s biggest geopolitical adversary.

On the other: Adm. Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, says New START provides “continuous stability in an increasingly uncertain world."

  • The worst-case scenario, Mullen says, is an "arms race that none of us can afford.”

Sajid Hussain: Swedish police find body of missing Pakistani journalist



Image copyrightRSFSajid Hussain (family photo)
Image captionSajid Hussain (family photo)

Police in Sweden say they have found the body of Pakistani journalist, two months after he went missing.

Sajid Hussain, the editor of an ethnic Baloch news website, fled Pakistan in 2012 after getting death threats and was granted political asylum in Sweden.

A press freedom charity had suggested Pakistani intelligence was behind Hussain's disappearance in early March.

But a Swedish police spokesman told the BBC their initial investigation did not suggest any foul play in the death.

Hussain, who was 39, was last seen boarding a train in Stockholm on his way to the city of Uppsala on 2 March, according to the press freedom charity Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

He was to collect the keys to a new flat but he did not get off the train in Uppsala, RSF said, quoting police. The charity said it was possible he had been abducted "at the behest of a Pakistani intelligence agency".

In Pakistan, Hussain had been writing about enforced disappearances and organised crime in the country's Balochistan province, which has witnessed a long-running nationalist insurgency.

Hussain's wife, Shehnaz told the Pakistan newspaper Dawn that before fleeing for Sweden, her husband had sensed he was being followed. As well as writing about forced disappearances, he had exposed a drug kingpin in Pakistan.

“Then some people broke into his house in Quetta when he was out investigating a story," she said. "They took away his laptop and other papers too. After that he left Pakistan in Septem­ber 2012 and never came back.”

Pakistan is considered one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. It ranked 142nd out of 180 countries in the 2019 RSF Press Freedom Index.

Balochistan, in the west of Pakistan, has been the scene of a long-running nationalist insurgency. The Pakistani military has been accused of torturing and "disappearing" dissidents. Insurgent groups have also killed members of non-Baloch ethnic groups.

Online newspaper the Balochistan Times, for which Hussain was chief editor, reported his disappearance to Swedish police on 3 March. Relatives told Dawn they had waited two weeks before expressing their fears, in case he had gone into isolation because of the coronavirus outbreak