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Education: Free & Compulsory Paperback – August 15, 1999
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It is also apparent from this discussion that if school attendance is made compulsory, it stamps out individuality and parental control. The title points out the contradiction in "free and compulsory education" quite poignantly. This was a popular line of communists and socialists in the nineteenth century. The irony is that when education is forced, there can be no freedom. Rothbard could have made this point more explicit and discussed how control over the minds of the young is the first step for the state to take control of society.
Historical examples are strong, but general principle and philosophy are lacking, and this is quite disappointing for a Rothbard book. He usually integrates a good mix of principle and example to illustrate a clear and consistent point. If you're interested in the history of compulsory education, read this. If you're looking for a discussion of the problems with state education, there are better choices.
Basically "to force into schools children who have little or no aptitude for instruction at all (prevents the education of a child) ... It so happens that among the variety of human ability there is a large number of subnormal children, children who are not receptive to instruction ... To force these children to be exposed to schooling, as the State does almost everywhere, is a criminal offense to their natures. ... the instruction has almost no effect on these children, many of whose hours of life are simply wasted because of the State's decree. .. to dragoon them into a school for a formative decade of their lives, to force them to attend classes in which they have no interest or ability, is to warp their entire personalities." Don't think these kids should just be left alone, no. They get education alright.
"The passion for leveling an enforced equality proclaims: this is good; let every child be forced to learn about 'life' and be forced to associate with the lowest types of humanity. The envy and hatred toward the potentiality of the better and superior child is apparent in this position."
It's true that when Libertarians talk about Freedom they really mean it. Ideas may seem a little over the top, but if you think honestly about them you have to admit that philosophically they are as right as 2+2 are 4.
In this little and very readable book you will find a little history of State compulsion in education in Europe (where all things evil originated -so to say) and finally how it got implemented in America. The simple and clear way he puts things clear and lays responsibilities for the state of education is something truly to be thankful for. You get to know more about education in this little book than reading many politicized/biased propaganda by America's educationists. A plague.
Like any good social theorist, Rothbard begins with the individual and attempts to answer some fundamental questions concerning children and education. First, education is always a lifelong process. It starts at birth and continues through the whole of life. Learning and acquiring new skills develop naturally as a child matures and comes into contact with new people and new experiences. It is folly to regard "formal" education as the only kind. Second, the people best able to judge the abilities and needs of the child are his parents. It is individual, one-on-one instruction that is ideal since it can be fully tailored to meet the requirements of the child. Parents also have a natural affection and concern for their own children. No one would expect communal or public parenting to offer as much nurturance and support as traditional families, so why should public education be any different? Furthermore, Rothbard points out that human diversity (or inequality) is an essential feature of social life. Some kids are born dumb, others smart. Some might show remarkable aptitude in math, others in poetry or music. However, when you gather a great number of children together and expect them to master the same material with the same ability you are asking for trouble. The dullards will never be able to master even the most elementary subjects, so compulsory education forces them to waste their years in public facilities, while the brightest are never able to harness their full potential since the class must keep pace with the lowest denominator. It is a lose-lose situation.
Not content to just show the inadequacy of public schooling, Rothbard provides a scintillating narrative of how and why compulsory schooling has arisen. It made its first leap onto the stage with the rise of the Protestant Reformation -- Luther and Calvin were dogged statists who felt compulsory schooling was necessary to combat vice and sin. Not coincidentally, the growth of the Prussian state and compulsory schooling went hand in hand. A second, and far more relevant cause, was the spread of egalitarianism that came in the wake of the French Revolution, and made its presence felt in the writings of Robert Owen, a Utopian, who desired the absolute equalization of human life, and felt that compulsory education was the first important step. This spirit still animates the discourse to this day when modern "educationalists" claim "all children are equally educable" and differences in achievement reflect disparities in commitment and funding. This remarkably naive view of human nature does grave harm to all children and is exorbitantly wasteful. (Education is our most costly transfer payment).
Our relentless drive to improve education and "open the doors to all Americans" will only be met with excuses and failed promises. To take one example, look at the trend in many college campuses these days. Many required courses in humanities, literature, and the classics are being replaced by faddish preoccupations and base political agendas. Despite an alleged "blossoming" of diverse curricula in such things as "Chicano Studies", "Women's Studies", "Cultural Pluralism" and all the rest, these classes show an obscene and naked conformity. Does it surprise us that the common element running through all these "studies" is a visceral antagonism against free-markets and a virtual deification of state activity? Compulsory schooling has made the state the most popular institution in society and our students some of the dumbest. Rothbard shows how all this is not mere happenstance and that if we ever wish to improve education it must begin with an aggressive campaign against state managed schools.
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