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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Separate School & State, Even at the Local Level

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Why won’t conservatives ever go to the root of the statist problems that face our nation? A good example involves education, an area that most conservatives will admit has long been mired in crisis. Yet, all that conservatives end up doing is dancing around the problem, as they do in so many other areas where statism produces crises.

I generally avoid listening to talk radio because I find it so boring. Leftist talk radio does nothing but extol the virtues of the socialism and the welfare state, despite the manifest economic harm they have done to society, especially the poor. Moreover, with Obama’s embrace of President Bush’s infringements on civil liberties and imperialist foreign policy, most liberal talk-show hosts have gone silent in these areas out of some sense of misguided political loyalty.

But conservative talk shows are just as boring, not so much because their mantras and analyses are wrong but because they are never able to take their principles to their logical conclusion. The hosts will exclaim how “pro-free enterprise” they are and they’ll show how the free market is superior to socialism. But then comes their solution, and that’s where they’ll put you to sleep. Their solution inevitable is, “The system needs reform” or “We have to get Republicans into office so that they can run government like a business.”

I was listening to a conservative talk radio show the other day. The topic was whether public schools should be providing free breakfast and lunch for poorer children. The host was arguing the standard conservative mantras. “It is not the business of the state to be feeding children! That is the responsibility of parents!”

There were two guests on the show, a conservative and a liberal. The conservative agreed with the host. The liberal argued that helping the poor was a societal responsibility and suggested that without the free meals, the children of poor families would be suffering serious malnutrition.

Not one single time did the conservatives challenge the liberal on the basic point of coercion — that it’s morally wrong to force people to care for others. Just because there might be a moral, religious, or ethical duty to help the poor doesn’t mean that it’s okay to force people to do so. Whether to help the poor or not should left entirely to the realm of freedom of choice.

But what was most frustrating was that the conservatives could not see the real issue, which was the proverbial elephant in the room. They could see that it isn’t the role of government to be feeding people but they had a total blind spot on what is just as big an issue, if not bigger: Why should it be the business of government to be educating people, including children?

Boiled down to its essence, the conservatives and liberals on that talk show were debating how public (i.e., government) schools should be run. Should there be free meals in public schools or not?

Why not instead to the root of the problem: Should there be public schools? In other words, why get bogged down over how to run statist enterprises? Why not challenge the existence of statist enterprises themselves?

At the risk of belaboring the obvious, with no public schools the issue of whether there should be free meals provided in public schools disintegrates.

One of the favorite campaign positions in Republican presidential campaigns is to call for the abolition of the federal Department of Education (even though once they’re in office they decide against it). Republicans correctly claim that the federal government has no legitimate or constitutional authority to be involving itself in education. They want to return authority over education completely to the states or localities.

But notice that that doesn’t get to the heart of the matter — the mandatory, state-provided, or state-monitored educational system known as public schooling. The real solution is simply to free the education market from all government control, including at the local level.

That would mean the repeal of all compulsory-attendance laws and the abolition of all school taxes. The school districts would divest themselves of ownership of the school buildings and dissolve the school districts themselves. People would be free to have their children educated in the manner they deemed best. Entrepreneurs would be free to offer whatever educational vehicles they desired to consumers.

Public schooling, even at the local level, is really nothing more than a socialist enterprise, which conservatives claim to oppose. It is a system that is based on central planning, coercive attendance, and mandatory funding. Its methodology is based on memorization and rote learning. The regimentation that is inherent to the system produces mindsets of deference to authority, mindsets that end up accepting the premises of the established order and that end up just trying to reform or fix it.

Most everyone acknowledges that the free market provides the best of everything. Compared to socialist enterprises, the free market provides superior products and services at lower cost. It would do the same in the field of education.

Most parents want only the best for their children. That’s in fact why many parents, including President Obama and his wife Michelle, refuse to send their children into the public-school system. Why not let children have the very best education possible? That can only happen in a free-market educational environment, one in which we separate school and state just as our ancestors separated church and state.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.