Andrew Cohen is out with a piece: “Should I favor the Abolition of Public Schools (or State-School Separationism)?” The answer for a libertarian is quite simple – it shouldn’t take more than a moment’s thought for anyone who abides by the NAP; however, Andy – writing for the bleeding brain libertarian site – will not allow for such a simple conclusion (you will find he can’t even bring himself to offer a conclusion; probably because his bleeding brain doesn’t like the answer).
I have further reason for doubt given Andy’s stance on another issue of significance (an issue I never even thought was an issue until I read about it on a site with the word “libertarian” in it; go figure) – a proposed state role to license parents. Here again, a libertarian shouldn’t have to spend much brain power to understand the answer to the question and the dangers posed by the alternative. He endorses parent licensing. I am as dumbfounded today as I was about a year ago when I first came across his ramblings on the topic. How on earth (but there, I have already answered my question) can any self-described libertarian even ask such a question?
I have been staring on and off at Andy’s piece for a few days – what a mess being stirred up by left-libertarians. I wonder if it is a game – see how many people fall for a more and more bastardized version of libertarianism, thereby diluting the message. Like Andy and his buddies sit around with their wine spritzers and laugh: “can you believe those bozos take seriously the notion that libertarian thought has room for the state to license parenting? What a bunch of losers. Oh, can you pass a few more of those scrumptious little mushroom pinwheels this way, please?”
But, for some reason, I don’t believe it is a joke for Andy and some of the rest – I think they are actually serious. So, while I hesitated on addressing this garbage, here I am; I find it actually fun on occasion to poke a stick at nonsense.
Is there such a thing as a libertarian education policy?
Yes. It is the responsibility of the parents (although Rothbard and
Block might disagree). [*** See Note Below]
I have always been partial to J.S. Mill’s suggestion that (a) people should be allowed to educate their children how they wish subject only to the caveat that the government will test the children, periodically, to see that they know certain essentials (what the essentials and how often they should be tested can be left to the side) and (b) government can provide some schools for those who want or need such.
It cannot be “left to the side.” If government does the testing, government will decide what is taught. The state will educate your children. What a Hitlerian concept.
More and more, though, I find myself drawn to a strict abolition of state administered education.
Don’t be fooled by this pleasant line – it is a trap.
(Nothing I say here argues directly against state funding of education.) (Emphasis in original)
Why does the wine spritzer crowd not live in the real world? Hasn’t Andy heard of the golden rule? He who holds the gold makes the rules. Does Andy think the government will fund and not have a say?
So what can he possibly mean when he says he finds himself against state administered education, but not state funding and state testing? (See Leon Festinger for a description of this mental condition.)
One common argument for state schooling (I am referring to universal state administered primary education) relies on its supposed necessity to creating good citizens. This claim seems implausible;
Again, don’t be fooled. Andy seems to have a habit of baiting the reader with a libertarian-sounding position, only to…well, read on:
…there are clearly other methods of making good citizens, including private schools and home schools where the teachers (or parent-teachers) are well prepared.
I get nervous around the term “good citizens.” To me, a good citizen is one who generally follows the NAP; it will be beneficial if he also demonstrates critical thinking abilities. I expect little more.
But Henry David Thoreau captured what is meant by most when he wrote that men who serve the state making "no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense...are commonly esteemed good citizens." This is what bothers me about the term – because this is what I come across in any conversation on the topic: vote, obey the government, support the troops, taxes are the price we pay for a civil society, I want my blankie, blah, blah, blah.
Further, the evolution of this term as viewed through the lens of a child passing through the state-funded brainwashing system can be described as follows:
Through their early school years, children usually continue to think in apolitical terms of their citizenship, expressing loyalty by their desire to remain in their country due to an attachment to its beauty, wildlife, and good people. By age twelve or thirteen, they begin referring more to political qualities, such as the nature and values of the regime. High school seniors define the good citizen primarily in political terms.
In other words, children – before years of government funded indoctrination – have a pretty good feel for a proper meaning of the term; it is apolitical. By the time they are done with twelve years of government-tested brainwashing, it is all political. Question anything done by the government, and you will be pummeled with “Don’t you love your country? Why do you hate your country?”
Andy wants good citizens. I can guess what he means given his position on parental licensing.
He goes on to list a couple of other arguments for state schooling. But what about arguments against? He begins by offering his definition of libertarianism – truly helpful:
On my own, perhaps non-standard, form of libertarianism, government action is only permissible to prevent or rectify harms.
Non-standard is an understatement. On planet bleeding heart, I guess this can be the definition. The planet is populated with the children of the aforementioned Leon Festinger – able to hold and believe two conflicting thoughts at one time. Because a government powerful enough to rectify harms (harms as Andy will come to define these, to be rectified via the enforcement of positive rights) by definition must be powerful enough to cause harm.
So, my question: does a state schooling system help prevent or rectify harms? If it does, it may be permissible on my scheme. If it doesn’t, its [sic] not and I should wholeheartedly commit myself to abolitionism.
Even applying the wrong standard, let’s see if Andy can come up with the right answer – a stopped clock and all that. For this, he provides the most convoluted example – an example of one state intervention after another, with one state-induced violation of property rights after another, thereby resulting in harm – all in defense of the position that the state has a role to rectify the harm caused by the state.
To make a long story short, Andy concludes that state schooling does “help prevent or rectify harms.” Therefore, he can only endorse the abolition of state schools if it is demonstrated that they are not efficient:
I’ll end by merely saying that if state schools are not efficient—I don’t say most efficient—providers of the means to rectify the harm, I will be left without any reason to endorse their continued existence. If it’s shown decisively that they are not efficient providers thereof, I’ll wholeheartedly embrace the abolition of state administered education (as already noted, I leave to the side state funding of education).
The burden of proof is placed on those who want to shrink the state. The argument completely ignores the Hitlerian brainwashing inherent – to varying degrees – in all state funded and state tested school programs. The argument enshrines positive rights – not a problem for left-libertarians but incompatible with libertarian theory nonetheless.
But once again – to demonstrate my good nature and good will toward intellectual adolescents like Andy, I will do the simple work for him – something he, for some reason, was unable to do in his article (because, after writing 1300 words, he couldn’t spend three minutes to answer his own question – the question that was the entire point of his post).
So, let’s get to “decisively…not efficient providers” – Andy’s criteria, not mine:
Figures in the Statistical Abstract of the United States show that we are spending $11,749 per pupil per year in the U.S. public schools, grades pre-K through 12. That’s an average…. That $11,749 is a lot more than the $7,848 private school pre-K through 12 national spending norm. It’s also a lot more than the $7,171 median tuition at four-year public colleges. Plus $11,749 is much less than what’s really being spent. (Emphasis added)
In March the Cato Institute issued a report on the cost of public schools. Policy analyst Adam Schaeffer made a detailed examination of the budgets of 18 school districts in the five largest U.S. metro areas and the District of Columbia. He found that school districts were understating their per-pupil spending by between 23 and 90 percent. (Emphasis added)
Schaeffer calculated that Los Angeles, which claims $19,000 per-pupil spending, actually spends $25,000. The New York metropolitan area admits to a per-pupil average of $18,700, but the true cost is about $26,900. The District of Columbia’s per-pupil outlay is claimed to be $17,542. The real number is an astonishing $28,170—155 percent more than the average tuition at the famously pricey private academies of the capital region.
Perhaps Andy can spend a minute or two looking up average test scores, graduation rates, and college enrollment for both private and public schools. I won’t bother.
On a libertarian basis alone, the answer to Andy’s question can and must be a resounding yes – not just for abolishing the state administration of education but equally important the state funding of education. On the efficiency question, I am willing to bet that public school students are not twice as bright, twice as likely to graduate, twice as likely to enroll in college as their private school counterparts – a necessary rate given the difference in cost. Andy, wanna bet?
However, Andy might be right given his objective of producing “good citizens” as the term is commonly understood; state-funded schools are very efficient at producing these.
*** Walter Block objected. See here.
*** Walter Block objected. See here.