What could be more destructive and dysfunctional than public schooling? Let’s cut through the facade of parents’ voluntarily taking their children to the school bus each morning or dropping them off at school for their wonderful, cheerful, bright day of learning. The real reason parents do this is simple: If they don’t do it, the state will seize the child and place him into the state institution for mandatory “education.” If the parents continue to resist, the children will be taken away from them permanently. Under public schooling, then, the child is coercively taken from his family and forced into a state institution to receive government-approved doctrine from government-approved schoolteachers using government-approved textbooks.
Some children respond very well to the process. They’re the types that sit in the front row, all dressed up, holding their shiny apples for the teacher, hanging on every word the teacher says, and lobbying to become class monitor. (They’re the ones who grow up to be IRS agents, DEA officials, and U.S. attorneys.)
But what about the rest of us? You know, the ones who got B’s in conduct — the ones who forged our parents’ signature on the registration card so that our absent notes would not be questioned — the ones who skipped class to go shoot pool — the ones who went to student-council conventions to avoid attending class — the ones who wouldn’t be caught dead being a class monitor? The school administrators tried to convince us that something was wrong with us rather than with them and their beloved system.
We were the rebels, the radicals, the slow learners, or whatever. After all, what could be worse (in the minds of the authorities) than not wanting to sit all day long in hard wooden chairs and listen to some boring state-certified teacher drone on about some dull subject about which he knew virtually nothing? Thank goodness there was no Ritalin when I was forced to participate in their beloved system! (Of course, that’s one drug that’s okay to distribute to minors because it assists in the “reeducation” of those difficult students who don’t fit the authorities’ cookie-cutter molds.)
The entire thrust of public schooling is the creation of the “good citizen” through conformity, memorization, and obedience. Deviate from the rules and pay the price!
Try to be yourself in a public school. Try to dream your own dreams. Try to study what you want to study. Try to follow your own star. Try to develop your own mind. Try to pursue the passion that burns within your heart and soul. Try it. The public-school authorities will punish you. They will coerce you. They will mold you. They will drug you. They will do whatever is necessary to reeducate you until you become one of them.
How could a system like this not create massive dysfunctionalities in society? And herein lies the terrible irony. While public-school teachers and administrators continually preach that good citizenship means “Just say no” to drugs, their distorted, mangled system creates the internal conditions that later manifest themselves through addictive and self-destructive behavior.
The situation is compounded by what can be called the “life of the lie.” Ask any psychiatrist what will happen if a person lives a conflicted life — a life of the lie. He will tell you that, inevitably, the falsehood will manifest itself in some dysfunctional way.
What do public-school people tell schoolchildren day after day, year after year, for 12 long years? That America is freedom. That ours is a free-enterprise system. That capitalism proved superior to socialism. That students should thank god (the state) that they’re free, especially when not everyone in the world is free.
And lest they forget the message, students are required to stand up every morning and pledge allegiance to a nation where there is “liberty and justice for all.”
How can people actually be considered free when children are seized by state officials when they reach the age of six and are removed to a state institution to learn state-approved doctrine from state-approved schoolteachers using state-approved textbooks? When the state controls how much of people’s income they are permitted to keep? When the state decides what occupations they can enter? When the state decides what parts of their lives will be regulated? When the state decides which countries they can visit? When the state punishes them for putting bad things in their mouth even though they are 40 years old?
Why are Cubans considered unfree when, for the past 30 years, they have had the following: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public housing, public works, public spending, trade restrictions, travel rules, immigration controls, economic regulations, drug laws, income taxation, a central bank, and gun control?
Why are 20th-century Americans considered free when, for the past 30 years, they too have had all of these things?
Why were 19th-century Americans considered free when they had none of these things?
Questions like these can never be asked in a public school because they are so threatening to the established order. The authoritarian mind-set in the public-school environment is so powerful that it overwhelms everything else. Let me give you some examples.
When I was in the 7th grade, the school newspaper, The Lion’s Roar , was the most boring publication that any person could ever read in his life. Of course, that is not surprising since it was the official school newspaper — the one that was approved by the sponsor and the principal. A friend and I started up an alternative paper entitled The Weekly Bore . It was not long before our sales exceeded those of the school newspaper. School officials were not amused. The principal gave us dirty looks. Teachers bad-mouthed us (even though we sometimes caught them reading our paper). While no formal order was given to us to shut our operation down, there wasn’t much doubt that we were engaging in a frowned-upon activity.
Another example. A couple of years ago, a free-market foundation in Houston arranged for me to deliver a lecture to a debate club at a government high school in Houston. The day before the lecture, we held a seminar on libertarianism that was open to the general public. It was attended by the parents of a student at the high school.
The next morning, “everything” hit the fan! The sponsor of the club at the high school that was sponsoring the lecture telephoned the foundation program director and me to say that the principal had received a call from the superintendent who had heard that a speaker was going to lecture on drug legalization and the abolition of public schools.
We sent the following message back up the chain of command: “The lecture will cover the virtues of the free-enterprise system. Should we cancel it? If not, we would like everyone to attend, including the principal, the superintendent, the school board, and the disgruntled parents.” We were certain that none of them would want to take the responsibility for censoring or canceling a free-enterprise lecture, especially since there were lots of students who were looking forward to attending.
The lecture took place after school hours. About 75 students attended, as well as the complaining parents. I did not mention any of the controversy and limited my remarks to the libertarian philosophy. After I delivered my lecture, I called for discussion. One student raised his hand and asked, “Why are so many parents threatened by libertarian ideas? Is this what old age does to a person?” Before I could answer, another student said, “The exchange of ideas never hurt anyone — it’s the only way to arrive at truth.” The complaining parents remained silent throughout the meeting. (I wondered whether their daughter, who was also in attendance, came close to dying of embarrassment; I know I would have if my parents had done something like that!)
A third example. I was recently invited to give a lecture to a libertarian club at a public high school for advanced students. I asked the student who invited me, “Are you sure that this is okay, because public-school people don’t like students being exposed to libertarianism?” He said: “Who cares whether they like it? It’s our club.” (Music to my ears!)
There were about 20 students in attendance. I began my lecture on the principles of libertarianism, showed how the United States had been founded on libertarian principles, and how Americans of our time had abandoned those principles with things like public schooling, drug laws, welfare, and the like. I spoke for about 25 minutes and then opened it up for discussion. Hands went up like crazy. “What about the Industrial Revolution?” “What about antitrust laws?” “How would the poor receive an education?” Debates and arguments broke out among the students. It was a teacher’s dream!
All of sudden, a loud voice screamed out from the back of the room. It came from a schoolteacher who was in his mid 50s. “This is the most unbelievable nonsense I’ve ever heard.” He began ranting and raving about how ridiculous libertarianism was. Every one of us was stunned. There was a palpable silence in the room. All of the intellectual excitement had come to a screeching halt. Finally, the man, in a tantrum, picked up his books and yelled, “I’m getting out of here. I won’t listen to another word of this nonsense.” He appeared somewhat surprised that no one was following him, so he quietly returned to his seat and didn’t say another word. But his authoritarian reaction to new ideas had stifled the discussion. The intellectual excitement had disappeared with his outburst.
This is what public-school students face every single day. Challenge — question — oppose — and slowly, but surely, the wheels of the state system will grind you into submission. By the time the state finishes with you at the age of 18, you will hate to challenge and you will hate to learn. But you will love to obey and you will love to memorize.
All sense of childhood awe of the universe will have been pounded out of you. You will have learned to accept what the authorities tell you. You will have lost your individuality. You will have abandoned your visions and dreams. You will have lost your uniqueness — your sense of being one of a kind.
But don’t despair — for you will have become their ideal: the good little model citizen who does what he’s ordered and accepts what he’s told.
And you will continue to repeat the popular mantras designed to maintain control over your life and fortune. “Of course, I favor the war on drugs. I’m against drug abuse.” Never mind the reality of the drug war — murders, gang wars, robberies, muggings, thefts, burglaries, corruption, and ever-increasing drug abuse. What matters is not reality but rather the illusion produced by the memorized line.
They will have captured your mind.
How could a system like this not produce a nation of dysfunctional people? The essence of life is to discover what you were born to do. Each one of us was created different. Each of us has his own talents, his own abilities, his own loves, his own interests. Each of us was born for a special, unique, individualistic purpose.
But public schooling grinds all of this out of people. Is it any wonder that so many individuals, after having to spend 12 of their formative years in this meat grinder, live lives of what Thoreau called “quiet desperation,” just waiting out the years until they die? They lack the strength — the fortitude — the will — to break free of what was done to them in the name of educating them. The state screwed them over, and the damage, in all too many cases, has proved permanent.