Ron Paul, Distinguished Counselor to the Mises Institute, recently released his new book The School Revolution: A New Answer for Our Broken Education System. Dr. Paul spoke with us about his new book and how decentralization, competition, and online instruction are revolutionizing education.
Mises Institute: Your books in the past have tended to address issues such as hard money, private property, and central banking. Why are you now looking at education?
Ron Paul: People during the presidential campaigns spoke of a Ron Paul Revolution. But without a revolution in education, there can be no Revolution. If people get to learn about the freedom philosophy only in caricature, if at all, and they never get exposed to the Austrian economists, it will be difficult to impossible to sustain our present momentum over the long term.
Don’t misunderstand me: I am thrilled at our progress and more optimistic than I have ever been. But as for the long term, I am concerned all this excitement could fizzle if the infrastructure doesn’t exist to keep it going. And that means we can’t ignore education.
MI: How would you describe your own education? How has the state changed the way that we are educated now compared to then?
RP: I was fairly happy with my education. I went to a public school, yes, but in fairness it was about as good as a government institution can be: we had full local control, no fashionable but silly pedagogy was forced on us, and the students came from solid family backgrounds. We had our troublemakers, but really none of the pathologies we encounter so often today.
MI: You mention Leonard Read more than once in your book. How has he shaped your views of education and freedom?
RP: From Leonard Read, whom I greatly admired, I took a commitment to educating the public in the principles of liberty at every opportunity. Leonard couldn’t have imagined the opportunities we’d have today — with the Internet, homeschooling, and the extraordinary combination of the Internet and homeschooling.
MI: Are online resources for education making it easier for people to educate themselves and others?
RP: That’s putting it mildly! Having the great works of the great thinkers of our tradition, plus articles, speeches, books, and materials of all kinds at our fingertips, simply astonishes me. Even without an organized curriculum to guide someone, anyone who craves knowledge will find it. That’s how so many people wind up discovering the Mises Institute, isn’t it?
I’m managing a lot of projects these days. In some ways I’m busier than I was when I was in Congress. But what could be more important than handing on the great, life-changing ideas of liberty to future generations, and giving these students the educations you and I could only have dreamed of getting?
The curriculum I’ve designed (RonPaulCurriculum.com), and which I refer to in the book, is more than just history and economics, though. It’s math and the sciences, it’s literature, it’s writing, it’s public speaking, it’s learning how to start your own business, and above all, it’s learning how to learn. All of these are skills that will serve a young person well. If a substantial number of libertarian young people have these skills, I believe things begin to change.
MI: How can competition in education provide a better experience for students?
RP: The same way competition in anything provides a better experience for consumers. Competition in education is going to be especially fierce. If the government’s schools are spending $10,000 to $15,000 per student annually, and I can get students a better education for, say $750, how does their business model survive? Inertia, to be sure, but with state and local budgets under increasing strain, how does business as usual persist in education for much longer?
MI: You clearly take a positive view of homeschooling in the book. But when it comes time to go to college, won’t students need some kind of formal certification from an accredited school?
RP: These days, with homeschooling more and more mainstream, and with the academic skills of so many homeschooled students no longer seriously in question, colleges are less strict about this. Someone with strong standardized test scores, or who gets college credit via CLEP exams, has proven the merits both of his curriculum and of himself. My own homeschool curriculum, the Ron Paul Curriculum, makes passing the CLEP exams a priority. This is a feather in the student’s academic cap, and it’s a ton of money in the parents’ wallets when a student can skip courses, or even whole grades.
MI: Even with all the growth in homeschooling, the vast majority of students still go to public schools. So is it possible to make a difference with so many still receiving conventional, state-directed education?
RP: We don’t need to convince everyone. Most people take no interest in the issues that drive you and me. We need to persuade a dedicated minority. We need to reach the intellectual leaders of tomorrow from our ranks. If even 5 percent of the American public were truly conversant with the great thinkers and classics of the freedom philosophy, it would be a very, very different situation.
Remember, too, that the transmission of news and information is becoming decentralized. One no longer has to be part of the media establishment in order to get a hearing and even a following. I am looking to train the coming generations of libertarians to take up this role. That way, we can have an influence out of proportion to our numbers.
One last thing, if I may: I think many parents who like the idea of homeschooling lack the confidence to do it. That’s an understandable fear. Few parents feel comfortable with the idea of answering their children’s questions about calculus and physics. I explain in The School Revolution why this problem need not be insuperable. Parents can get their children a top-notch education without themselves having to do much teaching in the upper grades, or hire expensive tutors.
We are living through a period of rapid change, in so many areas of life. The mode of education may be the most important of these changes. We need to be ahead of the curve. That’s why I wrote this book.