We talk of how we are going to improve public education, what subjects to teach or not in public education, or how to teach certain subjects in public education. Rarely do we talk about the issue all of these questions presuppose: whether to have public education or whether it is the best way to educate children. If nothing else – and there IS plenty else – Murray Rothbard’s short essay “Education: Free and Compulsory” serves to offer up the seldom heard argument against public compulsory education.
There are roughly three arguments used in this book, each taking up about a third of the book:
The first section talks about pedagogical reasons why public compulsory education is not an ideal. Every child, it is noted, has different capacities, interests, and proclivities. Some are bright in mathematics and like bookish knowledge. Others are more creatively inclined, have no aptitude for math altogether, and are more comfortable with hands-on things. Others may really have no ability for academic kinds of knowledge whatever, but could be best served by technical training.
Public education, of course, is the antithesis of this: by its nature, it is standardizing and “averagizing” (in that, for numerical reasons, compulsory universal education cannot focus on differences, but only similarities). Additionally, public compulsory education ensures that students are not schooled in what their talents/interests are, or what their parents want them to learn, but rather what the state believes they should learn. (Why must high schoolers understand Algebra II? Because the government says it is a good idea.) (more…)