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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Public School Indoctrination


Yesterday, I blogged about the indoctrination that is an inherent part of any government school system, whether in Cuba, the U.S., England, North Korea, or any other country. Government officials have a vested interest in ensuring a citizenry that accepts the official version of things and a citizenry that is compliant, obedient, and supportive of the government. Over a period of many years, people’s mindsets are molded to encourage them as adults to let off steam by carping about the foibles and inefficiencies of politicians and bureaucrats but never to challenge, in a fundamental sense, the role that government plays in people’s lives.

Let’s compare the public school systems in Cuba and the United States. They are similar in the fact that governments in both countries own and operate the systems. Children who attend the schools are there because the law has mandated their attendance. The schoolteachers and administrators are government personnel. Whether at a national, state, or local level, the textbooks must be approved by the government and the curriculum is set by the government. In both countries, attendance is “free.”

Of course, that doesn’t mean that the indoctrination is the same in both countries. In Cuba, for example, it is ingrained in schoolchildren that the CIA, with its program of assassination, torture, and regime change, is a force for evil in the world. In the United States, Americans schoolchildren are taught that the CIA is a force for good in the world and that it is essential to the national security of the country.

It would be difficult to find a better example of a purely socialist program than public (i.e., government) schooling, especially given its central-planning features. Thus, it’s not a coincidence that Cuba’s public-school system is the pride and joy of Fidel Castro, one of the world’s most ardent devotees of socialism.

Interestingly, while public schooling is also the pride and joy of Americans, most of them have no idea that America’s public school systems are socialist in nature, which itself is a testament to the success of the indoctrination that takes place in the institution. From the first grade to the twelfth, Americans are taught that public schooling is one of the core features of America’s “free enterprise system.”

An even better testament to the power of indoctrination in public schooling, however, is the conviction that it instills in students that socialist programs are essential to society. A good example of this phenomenon occurs in the health-care debate. Whenever libertarians suggest that the solution to the health-care crisis is simply to repeal Medicare and Medicaid, health-care regulations, and medical-licensure laws, most Americans go ballistic. Without Medicare and Medicaid, the poor and the elderly would die from lack of medical care, they cry. Without regulations and medical licensure, quacks would be conducting brain surgery on people, they say. Free markets are fine but not in such an important area as health care, they claim.

How have people arrived at such deeply held convictions? Take a wild guess!

Oh, by the way, national health care in Cuba is also a pride and joy of Fidel Castro.

Perhaps the best example though of the power of indoctrination in public schooling is with respect to the very idea of public schooling itself. Whenever libertarians suggest that this entire socialist system should be junked, that school and state should be separated, and that a total free market in education should be established, statists go haywire. Free enterprise is great, they say again, but not in an important area like education. Why, how would the poor get educated without public schooling? they ask. With a free market in education, we’d quickly end up with a nation of dumb, illiterate people, they say.

Another example of what public schooling has done to instill a faith in socialism and to damage people’s faith in freedom and free markets is with respect to the overall welfare state itself. Whenever libertarians call for a repeal, not a reform, of this immoral and destructive way of life, statists respond, “Without the welfare state, the poor would die in the streets.”

Of course, that’s ludicrous, especially given that free markets are the means by which the poor are able to maintain increasingly higher standards of living. For example, compare a nun here in the United States who has taken a vow of poverty with a nun in Guatemala who has done the same. The nun here will have a much nicer standard of living as a result of the positive economic spillover that inevitably takes place in a wealthier society.

An important prerequisite to getting America back on the right track is a restoration of people’s faith in freedom and free markets and an understanding of why socialism is so immoral and destructive. Fortunately, what public schooling has done to inculcate a love for socialism and to inculcate doubts about freedom and free markets is reversible. Libertarians are proof positive of that.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.