Schooling has long seemed to be a basic function of the government. The mainstream political outlook accepts this as a fact of life, along with the police, military, and healthcare. The age of state control makes it seem clear that they should have control over the upbringing of the children. This view, though, is misguided. The state’s control and influence on education started as a monstrous attack on property rights and continue today as a form of state indoctrination.
To understand the idea of public education, one must look all the way back to the early 1800’s. During the first half of the 19th century, particularly the 20’s and 30’s, social reform and discipline was becoming commonplace among the average American family. The spread of new and original American ideas, along with the growth of the factory system and the impending industrial revolution, caused society at large to begin to look for a mechanism for creating “good citizens.”
This idea of proper citizenry needed a way to take root in American society, and what better way to do this than through education. Before the 1820’s, education was lacking for most of the nation. Upper-class families could pay for their children to go to private schools, and the poorer Americans in some places had the leisure of local school funding. Aside from in New England, though, this schooling for the poor was not widespread.
Someone saw this issue and looked to solve it. This someone is regarded commonly as the father of public education: Horace Mann of Massachusetts. In 1837, his action led to the passage of legislation creating the full funding of public education for localities from the national level. Mann saw children as clay and teachers as artists, so the responsibility of the public schools would be to mold these children morally and turn them into the aforementioned proper citizens.
This development was met with opposition from the upper class and others who believed in private property. They did not understand why they were obligated to fund the education of the poor against their will, but this was subdued for the most part when argued that it was for the common good. Horace Mann’s defense rested on the idea of a commonwealth, which is inclusive of the property of all Americans.
The property of this commonwealth is pledged for the education of all its youth, up to such a point as will save them from poverty and vice, and prepare them for the adequate performance of their social and civil duties.
This idea, though, is misguided. One of the core, if not the most important, tenets of libertarian theory is the idea of private property and the property ethic. Mann’s idea that we are not the sole owners of our property, but rather members of a collective commonwealth of property, is in direct opposition to this core libertarian idea. The intent of this article is not to articulate the proof for private property, nor the fallacies of the collectivists, but rather show schooling’s opposition to these libertarian beliefs. An article on the fallacies of this collectivist way of thinking can be found here.
This violation of property rights is not where the negative impacts of public schooling end, though. The effect of the school’s model on the child should be found much more disturbing. This increase in public education was, in a way, and effort to replace the family of a child and put the moral upbringing of the child into the hands of the state. The intent of this was to provide a moral upbringing for immigrant children who did not have cohesive family units, but the state effectively displaced the role of the family across the board in this process.
The problem with this is its impediment to the child’s development. Murray Rothbard’s article titled The Danger of “Public” Education, which can be found here brings up quite a few of the issues with this public school destruction of the family unit. Rothbard begins by making clear that ownership of the child’s upbringing lies between two parties, which are the parents and the state. In modern America, the state has mandated all children must participate in schooling in some form. That is the state’s seizure of control over the child.
While, of course, a parent can enroll their child in a private school or homeschool, the vast majority of children are in public school, because the easiest way out of being forced to send your child to school is sending them to the free one. The incentive structure is built to get children sent to public schools.
A parent, more often than not, has the interests of the child at heart. This is not the case with the state. The state’s very being rests on violence and compulsion. It cannot exist without stealing from the citizenry, and in the case of schools, children would not be there if it were not for the threat of force. Horace Mann’s idea of the school as an institution of moral upbringing is logically impossible, for the state could not exist without the execution of widespread immoral action.
Furthermore, collectivism is the base doctrine of state-sponsored schooling. Its very inception was based on the excuse of a commonwealth of property, and the collective ownership of the children through a public government’s compulsion makes a doctrine contrary to the ideals of individualism inevitable. Uniformity of teachings made necessary by an increasing student population also reinforces this collectivist doctrine.
Although it is logically impossible, public schools could not instill moral virtues by any stretch of the imagination. The increasing number of students make deep interpersonal relationships between the school staff and students nearly impossible. Rothbard eloquently puts it as follows: “The result has been a tendency to regard every child as equal to every other child, as deserving equal treatment, and to impose complete uniformity in the classroom.”
Because the state cannot begin to cultivate a moral crop inside the students, it has decided to do what it sees as the next best thing: make good citizens. As you will remember from the beginning of the article this idea of the proper citizenry was one of the major things that caused the rise of national public education. Of course, a “good citizen” is a good American, who loves the flag, loves the troops, backs the blue, and stands for the pledge of allegiance.
This model “patriot” is the idea that schools now promote. They get the kids to be excited about America, through various means. From a very young age, pro-American ideas and activities are arranged and practiced. The pledge of the allegiance is said widely across America, and while not explicitly compulsory, students say it, nearly every day. This repetition seeps into a student’s mind. They sincerely believe that they pledge their allegiance to a republic in the promotion of liberty and justice for all, with no understanding of the concept of liberty or justice. The state itself is the ultimate violation of both of these ideas. A government rests on the unjust seizure of your property and thrives off of restricting your liberty.
The repetition of this pledge forces students to equate liberty and justice with the government, ultimately resulting in an unquestioning following of government. It now gets away with a mass surveillance state, the taking of innocent people’s wealth, monetary control, and what now seem like endless wars.
Horace Mann’s public schools were founded on a misunderstanding of property rights and a failure to grasp the immorality of the state. While it cannot, in its collectivist state, promote morality, it can promote model citizenry, which takes the form of mindless American. And it does.
This article was originally published on 71 Republic.