Slave-Based Schooling, Back in Session

If you want a pizza, you pick up the phone. If you need a pair of shoes, you snag one at the outlet mall or order online. These are free-market goods, available in endless variety, quality, and price, all produced for you and me.

But let’s say you want your child to get an education. That’s not so easy. If it is legal, you can teach him or her at home, and make serious sacrifices in the process. If you want to put the child in a classroom, your choices are more limited. None of them are great.

Public solutions are paid for, but come with other kinds of high costs, sometime intolerable ones. But the private schools are no panacea: You pay yet again, sometimes high, and many are modeled on the public schools. Private tutoring can break the bank.

The problem of elementary and secondary education is gigantic and sometimes insurmountable. Most parents accept the least-bad solution and hope for the best. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it does not. Mostly, we can’t know for sure, because we’ll never know what opportunities they will miss.

Two types of compulsion are at the heart of school: taxes and mandatory attendance laws. They have been with us for more than a century. Guns aren’t allowed in school, but the government’s guns rule the whole system: taxes, truant officers, social workers, a vast administrative apparatus, labor unions, endless regulations, political manipulation.

It’s all very tragic, and the kids are the major victims.

Can you imagine how wonderful the world would be had the government never gotten involved? In course of one hundred years, the delivery of food and clothing and communication has improved to an astonishing extent. And school? Yes, we have great digital tools. But look at the physical structures, the yellow buses, the same desks, the ever higher costs, the droning teacher, the politics, the one-size-fits-all curriculum.

Where is the creativity? Where is the consumer sovereignty? Where is the dynamism and choice? What we’ve come to expect from markets is smothered in what is essentially a slave-based model.

How did we get here, and what is the hidden philosophy behind it all? That is the subject of this week’s e-book from the Laissez Faire Club: Education: Free and Compulsory, by Murray N. Rothbard. Robert Murphy writes the introduction, and I have my own editorial preface.

With school returning in the fall season, and a new generation of students starting to seriously wonder what it’s all good for, it’s a good time to examine Rothbard’s fascinating reconstruction of the history.