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Educational Coercion and Aberrant Behavior


Central to all the solutions to aberrant behavior in America’s public schools is that public schooling is the unquestionable “given.” That is, the continued existence of public schooling itself is accepted without question and is viewed as a central element around which the solutions must revolve.

But what if public schooling (or more accurately, “government schooling”) itself is a central cause of violent and self-destructive behavior among young people? If so, wouldn’t that require us to reevaluate our thinking about how to reduce such behavior in the future?

Consider what teachers in public schools teach their students about the meaning of human freedom. Day after day, year after year, they teach that the United States is a free country; and implicit in their concept of freedom are such governmental programs as public schooling, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, economic regulations, income taxation, subsidies, subsidized education, welfare, trade and immigration controls, and a national highway system. After all, let’s not forget that Franklin D. Roosevelt, who is extolled in public-school textbooks as one of America’s greatest presidents, included among his four freedoms “freedom from want” and “freedom from fear.”

But this official, government-taught meaning of “freedom” is deceptive. True freedom is the opposite of political paternalism and governmental control of peaceful activity.

Consider the irony that the two students who committed the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado were emulating Adolf Hitler and his fellow National Socialists in Germany. What did Hitler and the Nazis stand for with respect to public policy? You guessed it – public schooling, Social Security, national health care, economic regulations, a national highway system, and the other features of modern-day socialistic life in the United States that American public-school personnel bill as “freedom” to their students.

Americans students are taught that public schooling is, in fact, the backbone of a free society. If that’s true, then why is public schooling Fidel Castro’s proudest socialist accomplishment in communist Cuba?

The truth is that public schooling is the very essence of coercion, not freedom. Compulsory-school attendance laws ensure a steady supply of coerced customers, and school taxes ensure a steady supply of coerced funding. Every year, the state effectively seizes every child of six years or older and removes him to a government institution, where he is required to learn government-approved doctrine from a government-approved teacher using government-approved textbooks. (While homeschooling and private schools are options, most parents, for one reason or another, do not pursue either one.) Every year, people continue to be forced to fund all of this, even if they don’t have any children in the system.

Why should we expect that every single child will respond well to being ripped away from his family environment at an arbitrary age to ride a school bus to a state institution where he is required to sit in a hard wooden chair and listen to some state-certified teacher drone on about subjects that change every hour with the ring of a bell?

If a student has the temerity to show his boredom or anxiety with the rigid, bureaucratic, state-school conformity, school officials diagnose him with attention deficit disorder and, in the midst of a “drug-free school zone,” prescribe the drug Ritalin to correct his deficient mindset. Later, the student will be categorized as a slow learner, emotionally disabled, or below average. After all, if most young people can adjust to educational coercion and become well-behaved, conforming, model student citizens, why can’t every child do so?

How can all of this educational coercion, deception, and perversion of reality not have a deep psychological effect on at least some children, especially those who suffer from both an abusive home life and an abusive government schooling system? Perhaps the worst part of all this is that when some students naturally recoil against the system of government schooling – the way that Mozart or Thoreau might have done – they are taught to believe that something is wrong with them rather than with the system itself.

If public schooling – with all of its coercion, abuse, dishonesty, and distortion of reality – is indeed a major cause of aberrant behavior among young people, then shouldn’t we throw the state out of school and restore education to the family and the free market?

The Future of Freedom Foundation published Separating School & State: How to Liberate America’s Families by Sheldon Richman.

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    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.