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Throw the State Out of School

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In the latest attempt to reform the public schools, President Clinton is calling for national educational standards and national testing of public school students. But Joseph A. Califano, president National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, said that national standars won’t do any good because of all the drugs in public schools. A survey recently conducted by Califano’s center found that drugs were more common in public schools than in the surrounding neighborhood. Forty-one percent of the high school students surveyed said that they had seen drugs sold at their school. “Until we get drugs out of our schools, we’re not going to have the kind of quality education that everybody dreams about,” said Mr. Califano.

But there is a better method of achieving educational quality than standards, testing, and ridding public schools of drugs: Repeal compulsory school attendance laws, repeal school taxes, and end all state involvement in education.

It would be difficult to find a better model of socialistic central planning than public schooling-whether one examines this institution in Cuba, North Korea, China, or the United States. (Yes, all these countries have public schooling.) In every instance, there is a government board of officials-either elected or appointed-planning, in a top-down fashion, the educational activities of thousands or millions of children. Whether at a national, state, or local level, the planners are guilty of what Nobel laureate Friedrich Hayek called a “pretense of knowledge”-the assumption that they possess the requisite knowledge to plan the diverse educational needs and interests of each individual child.

In all of these countries, mandatory school-attendance laws require parents to surrender their children to the state to be taught government-approved doctrine by government-approved schoolteachers using government-approved textbooks. In those areas where private schools and home-schooling are permitted, the education must be licensed or approved by the political authorities.

Coercion also underlies the funding mechanism for public schooling. The state taxes everyone-even those who don’t have children-to finance this massive governmental undertaking. Where is the morality of forcibly taking money from one person to feather the nest of someone else?

The results of public schooling are as predictable as they are with all other socialistic schemes. Most would agree that the product is shoddy. The worst part, though, is what the system does to children. Every child begins with an awe of the universe and with an insatiable love of learning. Children badger parents endlessly with repetitions of “Why?” and voraciously soak up knowledge. But by the time of graduation from public school 12 years later, all too many students have had all of that knocked out of them. Most public school graduates hate to read; they hate to question; they hate the joy of learning. The fortunate ones are those who, despite their years in public schools, are able to recapture that sense of awe and wonder and that love of learning that they had as youngsters.

Why not repeal compulsory school-attendance laws and school taxes and end all governmental involvement in education? Why not leave education to the free market-as we do with the production of food, clothing, religion and other important parts of our lives? The free market always produces the best of everything. It would undoubtedly produce the finest education imaginable.

Just think: thousands of educational entrepreneurs would be vying and competing for parents’ business-the vital business of educating their children-in the same way that thousands of businesses cater to the other vital needs in their lives. The diversity of educational products would be limited only be the imagination. And parents would finally have the freedom of deciding the best educational vehicle for each of their children.

What about the poor? Throughout American history, the more affluent members of society have helped to finance the educational needs of those at the bottom of the economic ladder. All that is needed is a little more confidence in the voluntary charitable inclinations within people and a little less faith in the coercive apparatus of the state.

The only way to achieve the educational quality that all children morally deserve is through the separation of school and state. Americans should lead the world out of this socialistic morass by throwing the state out of school.

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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.