It’s one of my most deeply held convictions, and I believe it’s also a universal one. We all know it instinctively:
We ought to leave the world a better place than we found it.
At the very least, we should leave our children and grandchildren with the same good experiences and opportunities we had.
Build Back Bidenism
That’s the thought that came to mind when I saw a recent statement from Joe Biden. “The fact is 12 years of education is no longer enough to compete in the 21st Century,” he said. “That’s why my Build Back Better Agenda will guarantee four additional years of public education for every person in America – two years of pre-school and two years of free community college.”
When you and I spend our energies building up a heritage for our children, it’s a beautiful thing. But when the head of the government’s executive branch says he has an “agenda” that will “guarantee” two years of pre-school and two years of “free” community college, it’s another thing entirely.
The Feds Are Coming for Your Kids
In fact, let’s just say it straight: It means agents of the state are coming to take over. In particular, they’re coming to take over two things: Americans’ earliest childhood years, and the most formative years of their young adulthood.
Speaking for myself, those were four of the best years of my life. And I won’t keep quiet while government bureaucrats plot to rob our posterity of those wonderful years.
Growing Up Free
By the grace of God, I didn’t spend my pre-school years in a pre-school.
My father left with the Army when I was three years old. While my teen mom worked as a waitress, I was left to my own devices along with my little brother. All I remember about my life from three to five is a world of boundless horizons and endless adventure.
I got a lot out of those years of stalking Nazi forces with “rifles” pulled from fallen tree branches, outwitting neighborhood spies, and sailing on an ocean of pavement while my brother and I took turns walking the plank.
Packed Like a Sardine in a Government School
But then came my K-12 education. It was miserable.
By third grade I was already ditching classes regularly to revisit the world I’d grown to love before entering the system. I’d wander around in the prairie behind my house and let my imagination run wild. It was worth the punishments I got at school. To a kid like me, school was already a kind of punishment itself.
Toward the end of middle school I cut out even more often. But by then I was starting to trade in rocks and sticks for books and artwork. I loitered in bookstores and museums. By high school, I attended classes less than half the time, and I dropped out at the age of 17 to join the Army.
The Joy of Community … College!
A few years later, after I served, I found my first good experience in formal American education. I signed up for classes at Leeward Community College on the West side of Oahu, Hawaii.
There, I finally excelled.
It was easy to stay inspired and diligent at Leeward. I was surrounded by such unique, energetic, and creative people.
The Finest People on Earth
My classmates included wise older men leaving behind decades of labor on now-defunct plantations to study for a new line of work. Ambitious new migrants, excited and determined to make their way in America. Veterans, heroes, single moms, and escapees from authoritarian regimes. Some went on to become brilliant media figures, and thoughtful, dedicated elected officials.
The school’s culinary program made the best breakfast I ever had. I miss those mornings of “Loco moco,” and passion-orange-guava juice.
I can honestly say that my community college education made everything I’ve accomplished possible. The books I’ve written, the movies I’ve produced, my apostolate: none of that would have happened without it.
Men and Women with Skin in the Game
I later came to understand what made the magic of Leeward Community College possible in the first place: Skin in the game. That’s right, it cost us something to attend. Not much (I paid off my community college debt in two years!) but enough to represent a real and personal commitment.
And that little barrier to entry proved to be a path to freedom. After all, it meant that everyone at Leeward was there because he really wanted to be there. How different from my public high school, where so many were only in class because they were compelled to be. More importantly, our skin in the college game meant that we related to one another differently: as mutual caretakers of a shared world. A world in which we each were buying a real share.
A Diploma Is Not a Food Stamp
That was a magic you can’t manufacture or plan from the outside. By definition, it was a magic that happens in the absence of the sort of enforced provision that Biden has in mind. A magic that came from us, the students investing our talents and time.
Throughout my life ever since, I’ve learned to look for and find that magic in many other wonderful communities throughout the world. It always comes from real people making real gambles with their lives.
Parents, Not Pedagogues
And as a husband and father, I also learned that nowhere is this magic more present than in the family. And I’ve made sure my children got a good start playing with sticks and enjoying their own years of endless adventure.
It’s thanks to the four most beautiful and formative years of my life that I can see the danger in the Biden administration’s plans.
Preparing the way for our descendants isn’t some static, abstract objective that bureaucrats can blueprint, graph, and “guarantee” through the machinery of a state.
Free Persons, Not Army Ants
No, the task of bettering our world belongs to us. To ordinary individuals and families who know firsthand our own dreams and desires, and those of our children.
History has shown that authorities and systems of government are no match for the natural genius of free individuals, families, and communities. In fact, one of the most brilliant things about America’s founding was our constitutional principle of providing the framework and stability of the rule of law, while leaving most of society’s flourishing in the hands of the people.
Now, in a time of tumult and rapid change, we can’t afford to forget what America’s political order has given to us as a heritage. Nor how well it’s worked for us, and how poorly things will go for future Americans if we allow it to be snuffed out.
Jason Jones is a senior contributor to The Stream. He is a film producer, author, activist and human rights worker.