Government School Follies
Tibor R. Machan
France, England, Germany, and who knows which other countries are in deep dodo because of the impossibility of supporting both multiculturalism and state school policies. The former is in fact a corollary of individual liberty—in a free country one may practice whatever cultural practice one wants, provided others’ rights aren’t violated. Thus, wearing a black veil—niqab—should not be banned, while, of course, female circumcision should, the former being a peaceful if unusual while the latter a violent practice. The latter are the policies enforced in government schools which simply could not exist in a free country. But since they exist in early all countries, including in the free West, the conflict is unavoidable.
Educational administrators have their idea of what, for example, is proper dress in schools, for a variety of reasons, some of which may be a bit loony, some quite sound. Parents, however, ought to be free to send their children to schools with administration policies of which they approve. Not all children require identical school practices and shopping among them is what freedom is about. A free market in education would make this possible.
What makes educational diversity, along with diversity of school rules, nearly impossible is the policy of government—or “public”—education that is anything but free in the important sense of that term. (Of course, it isn’t free even in the sense of being cost-less to those who have to send their kids there; they pay in property taxes and in the loss of other opportunities for educating their kids.) Such education is coercive and imposes extensive uniformity in an area where just the opposite is most fruitful, namely, where alternative approaches to education should be competing and experimenting.
But when government runs something that it should not run, such as education (as well as such obviously diverse elements of culture as museums, concert halls, theaters, athletic competitions), the problem will inevitably surface that some citizens will be put upon while others will want their ways to be imposed on all. Everyone will want to control the "public" turf so his or her way will be the one size that will be imposed on everyone else. This is akin to how in some countries different religions fight for the public square.
In a fully free country there would be innumerable types and kinds of educational institutions. Many would be similar, but quite a few would be unique, different from most. Some would admit children whose parents want them to get mainly religious instructions, others those whose parents would not want this but focus mostly on science; some would go to schools with extensive athletic programs, others to one’s where the arts are emphasized. Some would be Roman Catholic, some Muslim, some Hindu, some completely secular—you get the idea.
The same would be the case with various other cultural institutions that have been conquered by government—actually, that are relics of the supposedly obsolete monarchical system or modern tyrannies where the royal head's or dictator's entourage could call the shots about nearly everything. Museums, for example, have to struggle with the artistic sensibilities of those who manage them versus the will of the public being taxed to fund them. And when one side wins, the others becomes alienated and this characterizes much of the cultural and political atmosphere.
Instead education, the arts, and the rest should be dealt with the way religion is, at least largely, in America. Everyone gets to go to his or her own church or temple or synagogue, with no one having to pay for it and encounter unwanted rituals, practices, customs, and sermons. This is, of course, only possible in a society that respects the fundamental right to private property, a right that implies both the exit option and the authority to keep those who are unwelcome outside. But because there are thousands of alternatives to choose from, conflicts can be avoided far more effectively than when government, making policies for all about matters that are highly diverse and involved deep seated human differences, tries to administer matters at everyone’s expense.
No doubt, this idea will immediately meet with the lament, “But what will happen to the poor?” No one seems to worry that there are poor people who must confront the issue when it comes to religion—some religions are poorly and some are richly supported and funded in free countries. And despite how important millions of people believe religions is in people’s lives, few, at least in American, cry for government funding and administration of their churches.
It is high time to extend the revolution toward a fully free society into the area of education and apply the principle there that is well accepted in religion—the separation of it from government. Aside from according with the principle of individual rights, it would also promote just peace and reasonable tolerance.