I couldn’t help but smile and shake my head this morning as I read two articles about public-schooling reform in California. Both appeared in the Los Angeles Times. One is an editorial taking the California recall election candidates to task for not coming up with a reform plan that will finally — finally! — fix California’s public schools. The other article is by a woman who disagrees with most everything conservative gubernatorial candidate Larry Elder stands for but is supporting him anyway because of his support for “school choice.”
Why did I smile and shake my head? Because it just amazes me how there are still people in life who honestly believe that there is some reform out there just waiting to be discovered that will finally — finally! — fix public (i.e., government) schooling.
It ain’t gonna happen. Ever! There is no reform that will ever fix this dysfunctional system. Anyone who thinks there is living in la la land. They are deluding themselves.
Keep in mind that public schooling is a system run by the government. That’s what school boards are — government entities. The teachers and administrators are government employees. The textbooks and curricula are set by state government bureaucrats. The school buildings and school buses are owned by government. Participation is achieved through compulsory-attendance laws, which are enforced through the threat of incarceration of parents who dare to resist. Funding is through the coercive apparatus of taxation. Recalcitrant students are put on drugs until they get their minds “straight.”
What better formula for a disaster than that? In fact, public schooling can easily be described as army-lite, given its extreme similarities to how the army is organized and run. Both systems are based on principles of regimentation, coercion, conformity, and obedience to orders. Both rely on memorization and regurgitation to establish standards for learning.
When does the government ever run a good program? With public schooling, the situation is aggravated by the fact that it is a socialist system, given that it is founded on the socialist principle of central planning. It is not a coincidence that such socialist countries as Cuba, North Korea, China, and Vietnam all have public (i.e., government) schooling systems, just as the United States does. When have you ever seen a socialist system work?
And then there are the endless arguments, debates, and fights over how to run the public-school systems. Should there be uniforms or not? Should there be homework or not? Should there be vocational courses or not? Should there be prayers or not? Should there be the Pledge of Allegiance or not? Should there be charter schools or not? Should there be school vouchers or not? Should there be critical race theory or not?
And of course, there are now the Covid fights taking place. Should there be mask mandates or not? Should there be mandatory vaccines or not? Should there be healthcare education or not?
Needless to say, conservatives leap into these fights. This has been perfectly demonstrated in the last 18 months, as conservatives have spent most of their waking hours fighting over whether there should be mandatory vaccines and mandatory mask-wearing in public schools.
All that is fine and good for public-school reformers. They honestly believe that it’s important to reform the public-school system and so they devote their lives trying to doing so, even while convincing themselves that there is some magic reform that will finally — finally! — fix this dysfunctional system.
But make no mistake about it. Their battles are not over freedom, no matter how much conservatives say they are. Even if conservatives were to prevail, for example, in the Covid fight by ending mask mandates and vaccine mandates in public schools, it would still not mean freedom in a genuine sense. It would only mean that socialism has been reformed by conservative reformers.
As a libertarian, I have absolutely no interest in telling the state how to run its socialist schooling system (or, for that matter, its socialist healthcare system). My quest is a free society. If I spend my time fighting over mask-wearing requirements and vaccine mandates in the public schools, that doesn’t get me any closer to a free society.
A genuinely free society necessarily entails the separation of school and state, just as a genuinely free society necessarily entails the separation of church and state (and, for that matter, healthcare and state). That means the end of all state involvement in education. It means the end of the state’s socialist schooling system. It means a total free market in education.
In order to achieve that free society, we need a critical mass of people who understand and favor educational liberty. To arrive at that critical mass, it is necessary for us libertarians to continue raising people’s vision to a higher level — a level that goes beyond socialist reform — a level that explains the principles of a genuinely free society.
I say: Let’s leave reform of socialism to conservatives. Let us libertarians continue adhering and advancing a higher standard — one that raises people’s vision to the principles of a genuinely free society. That is the goal of The Future of Freedom Foundation.