Government schools are non-market entities. The government enforces attendance, curriculum and financing. Praxeologically (looking at the logical implications of human action), compulsory attendance is abduction, compulsory curriculum is indoctrination and compulsory financing is theft.1
Being abducted, indoctrinated and stolen off is not to everyone's liking. I for one don't like it; I reckon school sucks. I'm not alone. The libertarian journalist, H.L. Mencken, among others, came to the same conclusion:
School-days, I believe, are the unhappiest in the whole span of human existence. They are full of dull, unintelligible tasks, new and unpleasant ordinances, brutal violations of common sense and common decency. It doesn't take a reasonably bright boy long to discover that most of what is rammed into him is nonsense, and that no one cares very much whether he learns it or not. His parents, unless they are infantile in mind, tend to be bored by his lessons and labors, and are unable to conceal the fact from his sharp eyes. His first teachers he views simply as disagreeable policeman. His later ones he usually sets down quite accurately as asses… It would be hard enough for a grown man, with alcohol and cynicism aiding him, to endure such society. To a growing boy it is torture.
There should be more sympathy for school-children. The idea that they are happy is of a piece with the idea that the lobster in the pot is happy. They are, in more ways than one, the worst and most pathetic victims of the complex of inanities and cruelties called [democracy].2
The crap-filled syllabus, the teachers who know and have read bugger-all – i.e., don't want to learn – I could cope with; I just wouldn't go. But when government forces me to attend, that is going too far and there I draw the line. You may accuse me of being narrow-minded, an adherent of some weird form of logic, oppositionally defiant (or having other "mental disorders"), fascistically adversarial, whatever; I've heard it all before.
Hey Mr. government school supporter, answer this: can I steal your children off you – only for about six hours a day – so that I can teach them what I know is best for them? You won’t have to pay – directly – for it, you won't need to do anything but send them away, and I'll do the rest. Along with the help of the expert panel of educators I have employed and approved of, I will make your child a tip-top citizen. Don't worry, you don't need to answer, it's a rhetorical question, you don't really have a choice, I'm going to take your kids away from you no matter what you think: for your own good, of course.
Most objections to this are based on the fact that I do not represent the majority, like democratic government is meant to. This is otherwise known as false patriotism or shallow utilitarianism. But despite how commonplace this view is; it is incorrect. Legitimacy is in no way dependent on the volume of people who think a certain way. Logic is of a different category to number.
"What about intent? As long as I do things with good intentions, all will be well." Nope. As C.S. Lewis put it:
Of all tyrannies a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. They may be more likely to go to Heaven yet at the same time likelier to make a Hell of earth. This very kindness stings with intolerable insult. To be "cured" against one's will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level of those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals.3
This also explains the rampant epidemic of ADHD and depression among school students these days. There needs to be a new kind of infantile, imbecilic, domesticated creature of the state, in order to appreciate the goodness of government schooling: a new socialist man.
Teachers have no freedom to teach what they want. They are not allowed to talk about politics and must teach the government syllabus. Of what use they are, I don't know. Their strong unions are probably the only reason why computers have not yet superseded them. Living in what is nowadays called democracy, the syllabus caters to all sorts of obsessive moral busybodies, aiming always at either the lowest common denominator or some outrageous upholding of the status quo.
[T]he teaching process, as commonly observed, has nothing to do with the investigation and establishment of facts… Its sole purpose is to cram the pupils, as rapidly and painlessly as possible, with the largest conceivable outfit of current axioms, in all departments of human thought – to make the pupil a good citizen, which is to say, a citizen differing as little as possible, in positive knowledge and habits of mind, from all other citizens. In other words, it is the mission of the pedagogue, not to make his students think, but to make them think right, and the more nearly his own mind pulsates with the great ebbs and flows of popular delusion and emotion, the more admirably he performs his function. He may be an ass, but that is surely no demerit in a man paid to make an ass of his [students].
[The best student] is simply one has put out of his mind all doubts and questionings, and who accepts instantly, and as incontrovertible gospel, the whole body of official doctrine of his day, whatever it may be and how often it may change. The instant he challenges it, no matter how timorously and academically, he ceases by that much to be a [good student].4
Libertarians should make their foremost objective to dismantle the bullshit that is taught at school and used in its defense. In effect, it serves as a brainwashing system to the protection racket we live under. As "force is always on the side of the governed, the governors have nothing to support them but opinion."5 "It is therefore the inhabitants themselves who permit, or, rather, bring about their own subjection, since by ceasing to submit they would put an end to their servitude."6 Even if you claim the syllabus does not teach myths – which it does – the very existence of government schooling is enough to communicate the incorrect message anyway. As Murray Rothbard said: "The very fact that a government school exists and is therefore presumed to be good, teaches its little charges the virtues of government ownership, regardless of what is formally taught in textbooks."7
- From Benjamin Marks, Archipelagos of Educational Chaos. Upcoming in JLS
- H.L. Mencken, "Travail," Baltimore Evening Sun, Oct. 8, 1928. Reprinted in A Mencken Chrestomathy (New York: Vintage Books, 1982) pg 308309.
- Quoted in Murray Rothbard, The Ethics of Liberty. (New York: New York University Press, 2002) pg 95.
- H.L. Mencken, "Bearers of the Torch," Baltimore Evening Sun, March 12, 1923. Reprinted in A Mencken Chrestomathy (New York: Vintage Books, 1982) pg 316.
- David Hume, Essay, Moral, Political, and Literary. (Indianapolis, IN.: Liberty Fund, 1987) Part I, Essay IV.
- tienne de la Botie, The Politics of Obedience. (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1984) pg 46.
- Murray Rothbard, Man, Economy, and State with Power and Market. (Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute, 2004) pg 1271, footnote 13. See also pg 95.
October 20, 2004