WorldSys: Austrian Home Study Course, Week 25

READINGS: “Education: Free and Compulsory” by Murray Rothbard

1 How does Rothbard describe a person’s education, starting from infancy?

As a process of maturing into the full stature of a human being, which means developing the powers of reason which are our uniquely human endowment. Especially in infancy and early childhood this happens ceaselessly, every waking hour.

Education is not simply time spent in a school.

2 In what sense is everyone “self-educated”?

All the ideas, values, judgments, and tastes a person acquires are formed through their own mental faculty. They must follow the logic, examine the evidence, perceive facts directly, and assimilate it all into a body knowledge with their own memory and their own reason.

They may have access to teachers and institutions, books, the internet, a scholarly friend network, but learning still happens between their ears and nowhere else. Hence they are ‘self-educated’.

3 What is the use of formal instruction?

To help a child develop specifically intellectual faculties. Social education probably isn’t necessary — a child will learn how to relate to others in the process of interacting with their friends and family. But geometry, history, grammar, and things like that are best learned in an institutional setting where the materials can be gathered and errors corrected by a teacher or peer.

4 In what limited sense is “equality among men” beneficial?

Everyone should have the opportunity to develop themselves to the fullest extent possible in the absence of violence. This does not mean everyone will end up in the same place, or ever close to it, for human beings are radically unequal in their character, intelligence, tastes, talents, and ambition. But an ‘equality before the law’ is the only sensible basis for a social order.

5 What is the problem with imposing uniform curricula for all students of a particular age?

Children differ enormously in their educational requirements, and imposing ‘uniform curricula’ on them belies this fact.

6 How does the State infringe on parental authority?

Even private schools and home schools are forced to conform to what the State considers appropriate educational standards. This infringes upon the right of parents to teach their children as they see fit.

7 Are State schools benign so long as private schools exist as alternatives?

The existence of a private-school alternative does nothing for the children in State schools, and at any rate all the private schools I’m aware of still have to conform to the State-mandate standards. All in all private schools don’t do much to ensure parental sovereignty or justice.

8 What was the role of Luther in European State education?

Luther was one of the driving forces in early efforts to establish compulsory public schools. Because of letters he wrote and arguments he made the first modern public schools were established in Germany in 1524, becoming the model for later such institutions. Luther went on to create the “Saxony School Plan”, which became a kind of blueprint for state schools throughout Protestant Germany and bore many of the hallmarks of their modern ancestors: compulsory attendance, vast records kept on pupils, fines against truancy, etc.

9 Which European State was the first to have compulsory education?

Gotha, in Germany, though Prussia was the first to have a national public education system (NOTE: there is great historical overlap between Prussia and Germany, so perhaps Gotha was in Prussia; I’m not sure, and the text isn’t specific)

10 Did Napoleon favor State control of Education?

He did, and worked to institute a State-wide public schooling system.

11 Why do totalitarian governments wish to control education?

It should be obvious: one could scarcely endeavor to contrive a mechanism of control more total than having a citizen delivered into one’s hands by law as a child and then having near-daily access to them until they reach adulthood.

In my experience the hardest sort of people to reach are not those who have thought deeply about communism, democracy, and capitalism before deciding against the market order; it’s those incredible products of public schooling which are completely, utterly incapable of even beginning to take the first step towards conceiving of a truth besides the one taught them in high school and reinforced on the news. It is passing unlikely that you could even get such a person to consider the possibility that, say, roads could be provisioned by the private sector or that the FDA is a net social and economic negative.

More often than not the words of my thorough, exhaustively-cited arguments have literally not even registered in their minds.

12 Was education always a compulsory affair in the American colonies?

Most of the American colonies embraced a model of private, parental education in the English tradition. The exception was New England; the Massachusetts Bay Colony adopted the compulsory Calvinist school model for the express purpose of breeding good Calvinists. With the passage of a 1642 law that colony made it permissible for the State to seize children whom it judged to not be receiving the education which, in its eyes, they ought to be receiving.

This is the same absolutist government which made church attendance mandatory and church membership a prerequisite for enfranchisement. That such a place furnished the template for future compulsory public schools in the other colonies should give one pause.

13 What was Thomas Jefferson’s (mixed) position on government schooling?

Jefferson believed in having free public schooling provided by the government for the poor but squarely rejected compulsion.

14 Which two groups were the major forces behind compulsory education in the U.S.?

A network of professional societies and advocacy groups coupled to a number of journals pushing compulsory public schooling. In point of fact both were powered by individuals like Calvin Stowe and Horace Mann who constituted a tightly knit group of educationists working towards placing responsibility for instructing children squarely in the hands of the State.

15 What was the role of Horace Mann?

He began as the editor of an educationist journal called “Common School” and went on to become secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education, where his annual reports began to have more and more influence. He was a prominent figure among advocates for public schooling; though this group did not endorse compulsory schooling they went to great lengths to encourage public schools as the prime equalizing force of Republican society while deliberately disparaging private ones.

16 How could a free market provide effective education for poor children?

It’s important to bear in mind before grappling with this question that, as with all things, schooling on the market would be much cheaper than a public alternative. With that having been said, poor families could take out loans for their children’s educations, investors might back especially promising children in exchange for some percentage of future earnings, there would probably be scholarship programs in place, successful private schools might offer education to poor families at steeply-discounted or even waived rates, or there might be free schools offered in the same way that many hospitals offer free clinics.

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