Education: Free & Compulsory?

Mind control is often described as some nefarious method or technology by which individuals are forced to accept certain ideas. Not only is there a particular absence of intellectual curiosity, but one’s very perception of reality is usually obfuscated beyond empirical skepticism. Government monopolies further exacerbate this problem, for their initiatory force coerces people to do that which they would otherwise not do of their own accord.



European schooling became seduced by the Prussian educational style, which embraced authoritarian indoctrination. Rothbard explains that:


“These beginnings were carried forward by… Frederick the Great, who vigorously reasserted the principle of compulsory attendance in the state schools, and established the flourishing national system, particularly in his Landschulreglement of 1763. What were the goals that animated Frederick the Great? Again, a fervent belief in absolute despotism, although this was supposed to be ‘enlightened’… He was particularly fond of the army, spent public funds freely upon it, and inculcated especially constant drill and the strictest discipline.”


Perhaps Frederick’s affection for the army is just a coincidence with relation to his insistence on truancy laws:


“Furthermore, there were stringent laws obliging parents to send their children to the schools. Children must attend the schools between the ages of seven and fourteen, and no excuses were permitted except physical inability or absolute idiocy. Parents of truants were warned, and finally punished by fines, or by civil disabilities, and as a last resort, the child was taken from its parents and educated and reared by the local authorities.”


I wonder if Frederick ever reallocated those truancy fines towards his military? Even so, I’d hope that the European intelligentsia recognized the just authority of parents over their own children:


“The compulsory state system already developed was grist for the totalitarian mill. At the base of totalitarianism and compulsory education is the idea that children belong to the State rather than to their parents. One of the leading promoters of that idea in Europe was the famous Marquis de Sade, who insisted that children are the property of the State.”


Well, so much for a “family values” argument. If some degenerate womanizer expresses unmitigated reverence for the government over that of the family unit, then that would explain a whole lot about him, wouldn’t it? When combined with the Lutheran insistence on theocratic nonsense being shoved down children’s throats, then this would suggest that the advocates of European government schooling were a match made in hell.

Surely, though, that’s just a European problem on the other side of the pond, and therefore something like that couldn’t possibly affect us here in America, right? Wrong:


“In the majority of American colonies, education was in the English tradition, i.e., voluntary parental education, with the only public schools being those established for poor families free to make use of the facilities. This system originated in the Middle and in the Southern colonies. The crucial exception was New England, the sparkplug of the collectivist educational system in America. In contrast to the other colonies, New England was dominated by the Calvinist tradition, among the English Puritans who settled Massachusetts, and later the other New England colonies. The ruthless and ascetic Puritans who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony were eager to adopt the Calvinist plan of compulsory education in order to insure the creation of good Calvinists and the suppression of any possible dissent. Only a year after its first set of particular laws, the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1642 enacted a compulsory literacy law for all children. Furthermore, whenever the state officials judged that the parents or guardians were unfit or unable to take care of the children properly, the state could seize the children and apprentice them to the state appointees, who would give them the required instruction.”


Ah, there’s that religious zealotry again, nearly always trying to use the coercive power of the State to further proselytize their faith. I wonder if perhaps there is a faux “equality” agenda coupled with this scheme:


“As early as 1785, the Rev. Jeremy Belknap, preaching before the New Hampshire General Court, advocated equal and compulsory education for all, emphasizing that the children belong to the State and not to their parents. The influential Benjamin Rush wanted general education in order to establish a uniform, homogeneous, and egalitarian nation….Furthermore, the spirit of the schools had changed from philanthropy to the poor to something which all children were induced to attend. By 1850, every state had a network of free public schools.”


Just as the Puritans stripped Quaker women down to their waists and forced them to run the gauntlet, these educational monopolists are copying the blueprint for authoritarian schooling from their European counterparts. Whether it be on religious or secular grounds, men like Jeremy Belknap and the Marquis de Sade seem all too eager to promote statism in order to advance their own ends at the expense of future generations.

In light of Dr. Benjamin Rush’s preference for such a monopoly, would it be wise to ask at this point as to what was the Founding Fathers’ overall republican attitude towards education? Dr. Rothbard tells us that:


“It is important to consider the goals of the establishment of public schools, particularly since professional educators were the prime force in both the establishment of free common schools and of compulsory instruction. In the first place, the desire for public schools by such quasi-libertarians as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine was based on a belief that republican government is best suited for well-schooled citizens, and that the government should make such institutions available for those too poor to afford them privately. Certainly, many of those who advocated the establishment of public schools did it simply for this reason.”


So, what began with the best of intentions eventually (or perhaps inevitably) gave rise to the modern “public” school apparatus, which too many children today suffer under:


“Thus, we see that a new element has been introduced into the old use of compulsory education on behalf of State absolutism. A second goal is absolute equality and uniformity, and a compulsory school system was seen by Owen and Wright to be ideally suited to this task. First, the habits and minds and feelings of all the children must be molded into absolute equality; and then the nation will be ripe for the final step of equalization of property and incomes by means of State coercion.”


Doesn’t this insistence on forced “equality” sound reminiscent of the tenth plank of the communist manifesto? Maybe the Founders didn’t intend their (genuinely) public schools to go down this path:


“It is evident that the common enthusiasm for equality is, in the fundamental sense, anti-human. It tends to repress the flowering of individual personality and diversity, and civilization itself; it is a drive toward savage uniformity. Since abilities and interests are naturally diverse, a drive toward making people equal in all or most respects is necessarily a leveling downward. It is a drive against development of talent, genius, variety, and reasoning power. Since it negates the very principles of human life and human growth, the creed of equality and uniformity is a creed of death and destruction.”


Reformists would likely mention at this point that depoliticizing education is the solution to everything wrong with the government schools; yet, how can that be when the bureaucracy is intrinsically aiding and abetting the problem in the first place? As Rothbard points out:


“The government bureaucracy has fostered Civil Service as an extraordinarily powerful tool of entrenchment and permanent domination. Tyranny by majority vote may be unpleasant enough, but at least if the rulers are subject to democratic checks, they have to please the majority of the voters. But government officials who cannot be voted out at the next election are not subject to any democratic check whatever. They are permanent tyrants. ‘Taking something out of politics’ by putting it under Civil Service certainly does ‘increase the morale’ of the bureaucracy. It elevates them into near-perpetual absolute rulers in their sphere of activity. The fact that teachers are under Civil Service is one of the most damning indictments against the American compulsory system of today.”


This makes a whole lot of sense when you also consider the pernicious effects that the teachers’ unions have on “public policy” decisions by the legislative branch of government; consider also the ubiquity of the administrative agencies.

Who is most harmed by these authoritarian educational policies? Consider Rothbard’s comparison of John Stuart Mill with Herbert Spencer on this topic:


“Mill’s argument for compelling education was successfully refuted by Spencer in Social Statics. Mill had asserted that in education the consumer does not know what is best for him, and that therefore the government is justified in intervening. Yet, as Spencer points out, this has been the excuse for almost every exercise in State tyranny. The only proper test of worth is the judgment of the consumer who actually uses the product. And the State’s judgment is bound to be governed by its own despotic interests.”


Okay, but that begs the question as to who the “consumer” in question is; as far as I can tell, it could only be either parents, children, or both. Rothbard upheld parental rights over children:


“Obviously, the worst injustice is the prevention of parental teaching of their own children. Parental instruction conforms to the ideal arrangement. It is, first of all, individualized instruction, the teacher dealing directly with the unique child, and addressing himself to his capabilities and interests. Second, what people can know the aptitudes and personality of the child better than his own parents? The parents’ daily familiarity with, and love for, their children, renders them uniquely qualified to give the child the formal instruction necessary. Here the child receives individual attention for his own personality. No one is as qualified as the parent to know how much or at what pace he should teach the child, what the child’s requirements are for freedom or guidance, etc.”


Put another way, a parent’s natural authority over their own child directly benefits the child’s own self-determination (or at least, more often than not). Aren’t private schools just as good as homeschooling, though? Rothbard says:


“The effect of the State’s compulsory schooling laws is not only to repress the growth of specialized, partly individualized, private schools for the needs of various types of children. It also prevents the education of the child by the people who, in many respects, are best qualified—his parents. The effect is also to force into schools children who have little or no aptitude for instruction at all.”


This would seem to indicate that Rothbard thinks of private schools as compromised institutions, and as such, have been rendered ineffective and impotent by the State. Although, what exactly is the issue being contested here? Rothbard explains that:


“The issue which has been joined in the past and in the present is: shall there be a free society with parental control, or a despotism with State control? We shall see the logical development of the idea of State encroachment and control. America, for example, began, for the most part, with a system of either completely private or with philanthropic schools. Then, in the nineteenth century, the concept of public education changed subtly, until everybody was urged to go to the public school, and private schools were accused of being divisive. Finally, the State imposed compulsory education on the people, either forcing children to go to public schools or else setting up arbitrary standards for private schools. Parental instruction was frowned on. Thus, the State has been warring with parents for control over their children.” [emphasis added]


Little by little, statists used the Fabian socialist methods of legislation, propaganda, and social engineering to fundamentally alter the American way of life away from the principles of liberty to their radical utopian society under the boot of absolute government.

Murray Rothbard’s Education: Free & Compulsory is the best comprehensive argument I’ve read against the government monopoly “service” of “public” education. Rothbard perfectly lays out why government schooling violates the non-coercion principle, which was something that Charlotte Iserbyt and even John Gatto conveniently left out in their own respective polemics. As Rothbard pointed out:


“One of the best ways of regarding the problem of compulsory education is to think of the almost exact analogy in the area of that other great educational medium—the newspaper. What would we think of a proposal for the government, Federal or State, to use the taxpayers’ money to set up a nationwide chain of public newspapers, and compel all people, or all children, to read them? What would we think furthermore of the government’s outlawing all other newspapers, or indeed outlawing all newspapers that do not come up to the ‘standards’ of what a government commission thinks children ought to read? Such a proposal would be generally regarded with horror in America, and yet this is exactly the sort of regime that the government has established in the sphere of scholastic instruction.”


If it is absurd to give legitimacy to, say, the corporate mainstream media cartel, then why on God’s green earth would anyone do the same with government monopolized schooling? I think it high time more of us pay heed to Dr. Rothbard’s observations regarding statist indoctrination, for if we neglect to teach the next generation the principles of liberty through truly free market educational services, then any long-term attempts by us to restore our liberty (or otherwise abolish this despotism) might as well become a lost cause.

This entry was posted in Literature Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Education: Free & Compulsory?

  1. JoJo says:

    *starts clapping*

    Fucking SPOT ON.

    I am really enjoying reading your stuff, stumbled onto this blog earlier yesterday. Love the links that go everywhere for more of that edju-ma-cation. 🙂

    • Kyle Rearden says:

      Thanks. For more (remedial) education, I’d suggest you visit the “Library” page for my recommended reading list, which I update whenever a good book I’ve reviewed deserves to be mentioned. Should you be more (or equally) interested in action, then you’d best visit the “Getting Started” page, which I similarly update as well.

  2. Pingback: Statist Vultures and the Demise of Liberty, Part 2 - Liberty Under Attack

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s