It's fairly common for conservative political candidates to support eliminating the federal Department of Education. But in California, tea party darling and congressional candidate David Harmer has gone further. He's advocated eliminating public schools entirely and returning education to "the way things worked through the first century of American nationhood," when educational opportunities for poor people, African-Americans, women, the disabled, and others were, to say the least, extremely limited.
Harmer, the son of former California Lt. Gov. John Harmer, could soon be taking his anti-public school views to Washington. Nate Silver, the New York Times' polling guru, gives Harmer a 54.7 percent chance of ousting two-term Democrat Jerry McNerney in California's 11th Congressional District. So far, Harmer's views on education haven't become a major issue in the race. (Dem attacks have focused on his work for a credit card company accused of predatory lending, as well as his later work for JPMorgan Chase.) But Harmer's views on education--he's referred to public schools as "socialism in education"--are far from mainstream. They don't align with those of his own party's gubernatorial candidate: In her final debate against former Gov. Jerry Brown, Meg Whitman advocated strengthening California's public schools.
That's the opposite position from the that Harmer took in 2000, when he published a lengthy op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle titled, "Abolish the Public Schools." In that Chronicle piece, Harmer argues that "government should exit the business of running and funding schools." He contends that would allow for "quantum leaps in educational quality and opportunity" and notes that he's simply pushing for a return to "the way things worked through the first century of American nationhood." Here's how he describes the wondrous world of early American education: