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Book Review: Separating School & State

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Separating School & State: How to Liberate America’s Families by Sheldon Richman (Fairfax, Virginia: The Future of Freedom Foundation, 1994); 128 pages; $22.95 hardcover; $14.95 softcover.

This is a thrilling book. Although there have been several powerful books on the education crisis, this one ventures where few have dared to go before. In Separating School & State , Sheldon Richman mounts the most fundamental challenge yet to the government school monopoly, and he provides an exhilarating vision of how much better off everyone will be with 100 percent private, voluntary schools.

First of all, a shocker: contrary to complaints that government schools have declined, Mr. Richman shows they are doing exactly what they are supposed to do. He traces the horrifying history of government schools from ancient Sparta to Martin Luther, Prussia’s Frederick William III, Horace Mann, John Dewey, and contemporary apologists, whose avowed aim has been to suppress individual initiative and support the state. He shows how government schools undermine families, promote politically correct propaganda, provoke social conflict, and throttle independent thinking, because that is what they were designed to do.

Mr. Richman shows how from the very beginning, defenders of individual liberty understood the evil implications of government school taxes and compulsory school attendance laws — the pillars of government schooling. He shares important insights from such heroes as Josiah Warren, William Youmans, Joseph Priestly, William Godwin, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Herbert Spencer, Maria Montessori, H.L. Menken, Isabel Paterson, Frank Chodorov, John Holt, and John Taylor Gatto.

Mr. Richman shows how none of today’s best-known educational reforms — government charter schools, contracting out, and vouchers — address the evil consequences of compulsion. He makes an elegant case for totally separating education from the state, which means abolishing government school taxes and compulsory school attendance laws, so that individuals will be completely free to pursue education that best serves their needs. Richman affirms that parents are far more highly motivated than bureaucrats to help children succeed.

This review appeared in the January 1995 catalog of Laissez Faire Books, the world’s largest selection of books on liberty, 842 Howard St., San Francisco, CA 94103 (tel. 1-800-326-0996). Reprinted by permission.

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    Jim Powell is policy advisor to the Future of Freedom Foundation and a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He is the author of "FDR’s Folly", "Bully Boy", "Wilson’s War", "Greatest Emancipations", "The Triumph of Liberty" and other books.