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Conservatives Favor Competitive Socialism in Education

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An excellent example of how differently libertarians and conservatives view the concepts of freedom and free markets with respect to the area of education appears in an article entitled “The Twinkification of American Education” by John Zmirak, which is posted on the website of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a longtime conservative organization. Zmirak is a conservative himself as well as a devout Catholic whose articles on religion often appear in Catholic publications.

Zmirak is upset over a proposal called Common Core, an educational proposal that, he says, will place all high-school education under the control of the federal government. The program, he says, will “homogenize high school education in America, and impose on our nation’s schools a narrow, blinkered, biased set of standards.” He adds: “More dangerous than the actual content of the standards in the Common Core is the precedent it sets by creating a centralized, federal curriculum for every student in the country.”

Zmirak compares the proposal to France, where the French national government imposes one set of education standards on the entire nation. In France, he writes, “the educations received by students in every region are as identical as hundreds of thousands of Twinkies.”

Quoting conservative writer Phyllis Schlafly, “It’s not only public schools that must obey the fed’s dictates. Common Core will control the curriculum of charter schools, private schools, religious schools, Catholic schools, and homeschooling.”

So, what’s wrong with the point that Zmirak is making? What’s wrong is that while he recognizes the problem of educational socialism at a national level, he is blind to the problem of educational socialism at the state and local level.

In fact, Zmirak actually extols public (i.e., government) schooling: He writes: “Currently, thousands of school boards across the country impose a wide array of quite different curricula, while myriad private schools and homeschooling parents march to the beat of many different drummers.”

Even worse, he honestly believes that such a system constitutes “liberty”: He states: “Our Revolution was fought in defense of local liberties, of the rights of each state and its citizens against the claims of a single, exacting sovereign.” This is especially amusing because Zmirak takes proponents of Common Core to task for describing their proposal with such terms as “economic competitiveness.”

How are libertarians different? Libertarians not only oppose federal control over education, we oppose all government control over education. We favor a complete separation of school and state, just as our ancestors separated church and state. We endorse a total free-market educational system, one in which the state plays no role whatsoever in educational activity, just as it plays no role in religious activity.

What is public schooling? It’s nothing more than educational socialism, albeit at a state or local level. The fact that a local school board or a state board of education is in charge of education is no different, in principle, from an educational system in which the federal government is in charge of education. It simply means that the socialism is taking place at the state and local level rather than at the federal level.

Let’s not forget that public schooling is founded on force. The state not only forces parents to subject their children to a state-approved “education” (read: indoctrination), it also forcibly takes money from people, including those who don’t have children in school, in order to pay for children’s schooling. How can an educational system founded on force be reconciled with moral and religious values? If we had a system of public churching modeled after our system of public schooling, could we reconcile that system with moral and religious values?

The public schooling system is not the marvel of free-market competitiveness that Zmirak thinks it is. When the state or local government is setting the educational curriculum, determining the textbooks, and deciding criteria for hiring teachers, the result is a system that pumps out multitudes of indoctrinated Twinkies who end up convinced that American socialism is “freedom and free enterprise.”

Why won’t conservatives join up with us libertarians and come out in favor of a free-market educational system? Because they believe in educational socialism, so long as it is run by state and local bureaucrats, rather than federal ones, and so long as the socialism is couched in terms of “liberty.” That’s why their arguments against federal educational programs like Common Core are inevitably based on expediency, not on principle, and certainly not on genuine principles of freedom and free markets.

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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.