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Public Schooling Teaches Deference to Authority


Following up on my blog post of yesterday regarding public schooling, yesterday’s New York Times had a really interesting article about public schooling in Thailand that demonstrated perfectly the real purpose of this socialistic program—to produce good little citizens who loyally defer to the authority of the government. Through of a system of imposed regimentation and conformity over a period of many years, the state is able to produce malleable mindsets within people that mold themselves to whatever government officials say, mindsets that are unable and unwilling to engage in independent, critical thinking when it comes to major government policies.

Public schooling is actually army-lite. Here in the United States, at the age of six every child is effectively drafted into the government’s educational system. Every child is mandated to subject himself to a government-approved education. If he fails to do so, his parents go to jail or even have their children taken away from them.

Most American children respond to the state’s compulsory-attendance laws by dutifully reporting to the government institutions known as public schools. Of course, we call them public schools but they are really government schools. They are owned and operated by local and state governmental bureaucracies.

Wealthy Americans are able to send their children to private schools. There, state control is not as direct as it is in public schools, but the control is still there nonetheless. Private schools can operate only with a license issued by the state. If the state yanks the license, the school goes out of business. Thus, most private schools must ensure that their overall educational framework meets the demands and expectations of the state.

Homeschooled students have the best chance to develop an independent mindset. But even then, in many states the homeschooling curriculum and methods are subject to state supervision and control. If the state doesn’t approve of how the student is developing, it will order the child to report to a government-approved school.

The Times’ article about public schooling in Thailand explains the true nature of public schooling:

In Thai schools, a drill sergeant’s dream of regimentation rooted in the military dictatorships of the past, discipline and enforced deference prevail.

At a public school in this industrial Bangkok suburb, teachers wield bamboo canes and reprimand students for long hair, ordering it sheared on the spot. Students are inspected for dirty fingernails, colored socks or any other violation of the school dress code.

“At a fundamental level, students should have the same appearance,” said Arun Wanpen, the vice principal, who presided over the morning ceremony one recent school day. A sea of uniformed students with close-cropped black hair (no dyed hair is allowed) sang the national anthem, recited a Buddhist incantation and repeated a pledge to sacrifice their lives for the nation, love the king and “not cause any trouble.”

What’s fascinating is that there are some Thai students who are rising up and challenging the system, must as libertarians challenge public schooling here in the United States. According to the article,

Yet as the legacy of military rule fades, some students are rising up and challenging, with some success, a system that stresses unquestioned obedience….

Late last year, a freethinking Thai high school student, Nethiwit Chotpatpaisan, who goes by the nickname Frank, started a Facebook campaign calling for the abolition of the “mechanistic” education system….

“School is like a factory that manufactures identical people,” he said one recent morning at his school, Nawaminthrachinuthit Triam Udomsuksa Pattanakarn, the same school where Mr. Arun is vice principal.

Frank described the teachers there as “dictators” who order students to “bow, bow, bow” and never to contradict them.

Sompong Jitradub, an education expert in Thailand made an observation about Thai public-school students that easily applies to public-school students in the United States as well: “All they do is memorize. They never think critically. They never exchange opinions.”

One of the students rebelling against the system is 16-year-old Nutcha Piboonwatthana, who self-declared mission is “getting Thai girls, who are trained from an early age to be deferential, to be more adventurous.” She said, “Girls think inside the box. They are very good at studying. I just want the girls to realize there is a world outside of school.”

What is exciting is that clearly these students are achieving the same type of “breakthrough” that characterizes American libertarians. I’m not suggesting, of course, that they have embraced libertarianism. The probability is that they haven’t even heard of it. But they are clearly breaking free of the state’s indoctrination to which children are subjected in public schools.

In fact, these students are what might be the called public-school failure stories. They’re challenging the very system that the state uses to indoctrinate students. They’re doing what people would learn to do in a free-market educational system, one in which there is no state involvement at all. They’re asking questions, they’re challenging, they’re engaging in critical thinking. And that is awesome!


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.