It shouldn’t surprise anyone that America’s public school systems are in perpetual crisis. That’s what socialism does. It produces crises or what the economist Ludwig von Mises called “planned chaos.”
It would be difficult to find a better model for socialism than public schooling. We call it “public schooling” but the more accurate name would be government schooling. This is a government program from top to bottom. The schoolteachers and administrators are government employees. The government provides the textbooks and establishes the curriculum. The government enacts compulsory school-attendance laws, which are enforced on parents through threats of incarceration and fine. To fund its operations, the government forcibly takes money from people through taxation.
The system is run in a top-down, command and control manner, much like the army. In fact, public schooling can easily be described as army-lite. Students are taught to memorize and regurgitate. Information is pounded into them. Education is measured by tests. Students are indoctrinated with the importance of deferring to authority, obeying orders, and complying with regulations, just like in the army.
Every child is born with a natural love of learning and an awe of the universe. You can see that on the looks of children from 0-6 years of age. Their eyes are wide open, absorbing everything they see. When they learn to talk, their favorite word soon becomes “Why?” which they use to bedevil their parents.
By the time kids graduate from high school, most of them hate education, including reading, and can’t wait to get out of school. The natural love of learning that characterized them when they were young has been smashed out of them in the highly regimented, army-like environment of public schooling. The ability to question, challenge, and critically think is as absent as it is in a soldier in boot camp.
It is no surprise that public schooling is also found in countries like Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, and China. Those are countries whose overall system is based on socialism.
There is but one solution to the public-schooling morass: a separation of school and state, just as our ancestors separated church and state. That would be the end of all government involvement in education, just as separating church and state meant the end of all government involvement in religion.
No more compulsory-attendance laws. No more school taxes. No more government textbooks. No more government school buildings. No more government involvement in education at all.
In other words, a total free-market in education. The free market produces the best of everything. It would do that in education.
What about the poor? The free market would provide the best educational services to the poor. That would consist of a combination of entrepreneurs competing for business at that economic level and wealthier people providing scholarships and fellowships to those needing help.
How do we achieve educational liberty? By reaching a critical mass of people who see the virtues and benefits of it and who demand it. How do we arrive at that critical mass? By consistently making the case for educational liberty. If people don’t hear the case for educational freedom, how can we expect them to consider it?
Although conservatives understand the damage that public schooling does to children, they threw in the towel on educational liberty a long time ago. Their solution was to adopt a socialist program called school vouchers as a way to deal with educational socialism.
The voucher program uses the force of government to take money from people to whom it belongs and give it to people to whom it doesn’t belong. That’s classic socialist seizure and redistribution of wealth. Conservatives say that the end justifies the means.
In the early days of the voucher program, conservatives argued that the program would “gradually” lead to the demise of public schooling. That was a pipe dream from Day 1. In fact, the voucher program does the opposite. It more deeply embeds the state in education by putting private schools on the voucher dole and subjects them to the government regulation that comes with vouchers.
In fact, voucher proponents today no longer argue that vouchers will “gradually” lead to educational liberty. Their principal argument in favor of vouchers is that vouchers will strengthen the public school system through “choice” and “competition.”
The last thing you’ll ever see a voucher proponent doing is making the case for the separation of school and state. By making the case for vouchers, they cause people to think at a lower level — at the level of using socialism to combat socialism — rather than at a higher level of educational liberty.
Let us libertarians leave socialist educational reform to conservatives. Let us continue standing for freedom and free markets. Let us continue making the case for educational liberty through the separation of school and state.