The Failure of State-Sponsored Schooling

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The common argument in the libertarian movement against public schools is that they fail to educate our children. Actually, according to this argument, public schooling is like any monopolized business: expensive, inefficient, and utterly unable to provide the services wanted and needed.

This is true, public schooling doesn’t work. But the proof of this is not the thousands of kids managing to go through nine or twelve years of schooling without even learning how to read and write. The proof of the failure of the whole schooling system, i.e. not only the public schools but also the private schools operating in a government controlled and licensed environment, is the small number of radicals managing to escape the brainwashing of centralized school plans.

This argument can much easier be dismissed by public school enthusiasts, but it is nevertheless the more important. Yes, public and state-controlled schools fail to educate our children and make them understand whatever it is "we" want them to understand. But the state school system is not solely intended to provide knowledge to the unknowing and ignorant, it is to provide a certain set of values and beliefs that benefit the ruling class.

The former is obviously failing, but does not provide a real argument against the political control of schooling and education. The problems and shortcomings, at least according to average Joe logic, can be solved and corrected through investing more tax money to increase the number of teachers educating in our schools. The logic isn’t that bad, even though it essentially disregards what we know of economic organization and production. If the problem can be attributed to not having a sufficient number of (fill in the blank) available, then more money should obviously be able to correct this "shortage."

It doesn’t make sense to say that the solution to something not being fully able to produce what we want, that there is a certain lack of resources to fulfill the aims, is to abolish the whole system. People generally don’t think this way — if something doesn’t work fully, then a little more effort/a little more money/one more chance can make it work. No one would take the car to the junkyard if it isn’t working — we first try to fix it.

It is true that this is what we have been doing with public schooling and the public schooling system for quite a while, but it still doesn’t work. But the system is not used by the same but different people — the people seeing the problems now are not the same as the ones who saw problems a decade ago. So we must be able to fix the problems of schooling, it is argued, by simply investing a little more money or provide yet another couple of laws. Just like a little more money was the solution to the problem for people a decade ago. The logic is not all that bad.

But look at it in another way: what about the students who do learn what the schools set out to teach them? Among those students it is safe to say that many of them were different, that they had different thoughts and values and experiences when they first went to school. Is that true when they nine or twelve years later have been educated? Too often the answer to this question is "no."

Ask anyone about democracy or rights or the state and it is obvious that something has happened to these people. Most of them, as I have argued in another article, blindly repeat the dogma of our era: democracy is superior, democracy is the only good system in a society, democracy works, democracy is every man and woman’s right. But what is democracy? Most people are unable to answer this question — "it has to do with voting."

The heterogeneous beliefs of kids going to school at the age of six or seven (or whatever) are literally untraceable when the same kids nine or twelve years later have been educated. Of course, there are differences in political views; but those differences are simply a matter of "how much more" state we "need," never the opposite and the question Why? is not asked and not even considered.

So the schooling system has essentially worked — this should be fairly obvious. But it hasn’t worked in full — there are some people who manage to go through the seemingly endless years of "education" only to end up almost the same except for having learned how to read and write. They somehow manage to keep their thoughts and values, and develop their own ideas on how the world should be without being heavily influenced by the state school system.

This is the true failure of the schooling system, and this failure is a reason politicians want to make public schooling "better." The radicals, if you will, are not only proof that the schooling system isn’t bulletproof; they are also, simply through existing, showing the horrors of public schooling: that most kids end up essentially the same when "educated."

The latter is the most important fact we can stress. "What about the radicals?" How come there is no middle ground between the big chunk of mainstream democracy hailers and the radicals? How come there isn’t more diversity in values and opinions? Why are there so very few people asking the so important question "Why"?

It is no doubt true that public schooling, be it schools run directly or indirectly by the state, throughout the western and other parts of the world has failed. But the failure is not only evident in the few people who do not want and do not need education, or in the few people who need more help to understand that which most people seem to think is "extremely important." The real failure is evident in the existence of radicals, and that existence is not only a threat to government — it is also an efficient means to make the public understand what government schools are all about.

All we need to do is pose the right questions.

Per Bylund [send him mail] is a Ph.D. student in economics at the University of Missouri—Columbia and the founder of Anarchism.net. Visit his website www.PerBylund.com or his blog where he comments on this article and more.

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