Free Market Education? You've Got to Be Off Your Trolley!

January 12, 2007

In the freedom movement, we cannot help but notice an overly statist mentality within contemporary Western society. When discussing free market options with others, we are usually countered with questions like "Well what about the roads?" or "What about the schools?' Well yes, what about the schools? Government doesn't work. No anarcho-capitalist, or libertarian in general, needs to be told that. So, since government doesn't work, the logical extension of such a principle is that state education has to be bunk, too. And yes indeed, state education IS bunk. In my country (the United Kingdom), mandatory state education runs from ages 5-16 and culminates in the acquisition of GCSE's (General Certificate of Secondary Education or Highers in Scotland). Pupils aged over 16 can either seek employment, study for A/AS/A2 levels or undertake vocational qualifications. Those who achieve good A level results can then apply for university. State education in Britain is governed by the National Curriculum, a guide for schools and colleges pertaining to the subject matter of lessons. And when I was in school, the "National Curriculum" failed to teach me anything of value in relation to my life as an adult (yes, I know this experience rings true of many libertarians). All of the knowledge I apply and value today, be it in political philosophy, economics, law, finance, etc. I learnt away from school. I recall that in infant school, I was taught how to grow cress in a bowl. Of course, teaching children about nitrates, photosynthesis and osmosis aren't more beneficial in the teaching of plant physiology than making kids pot plants . . . . Henry David Thoreau did indeed state that too few people were (and today sadly are) striking the root. Well, in regards to government education, I propose that this "root" too be struck. The entire tree of government education has to be felled, post haste! How the children can be taught Naturally, government doesn't educate our children to any reasonable standard of academic competence. In the UK, a great proportion of students leaves high school without basic proficiency in Math or English. And the average Joe still believes that government is efficient? Of course, the British "National Curriculum" is essentially a collation of the viewpoints of civil service bureaucrats from Whitehall. Its actual content is not formulated on the basis of popular demand or any pressing desire from the electorate. If the purpose of educating children is to prepare them to healthily function in adult life, then we should teach them skills wholly relevant to adult life. Without a centralised National Curriculum, a free market would determine the subject content of lessons. And, since schools in the stateless society would be private business concerns, such institutions would cater to consumer demand. Good and attentive parents would, you'd imagine, want their children to learn fundamental English skills, arithmetic, etc. In this sense, schools would prosper by teaching children rudimentary skills of comprehension, spelling, vocabulary, addition, subtraction, division, etc. In regards to more advanced teaching, schools can then offer instruction in economics, politics, finance, budgeting and other skills necessary in adult life. In this respect, the National Curriculum fails since it enables 'one-size-fits-all' teaching. Children are not receiving a balanced view of the world around them, nor will they value the product of their time in state education. The free market also produces other benefits. Parents could also send their children to schools based upon their own personal values. Granted, faith schools (for one) already exist, to some degree. The free market, as always, would provide choice to the consumer. Could schools teaching controversial and offensive subject matter be established in the stateless society? In theory, yes. Still, the free market would play a role in curtailing the number of pupils such schools would attract. Imagine if a school teaching Nazism was created. Evidently, Nazism is an ideology that advocates the initiation of force against specific groups of people. The fact that, in a stateless society, the initiation of force is prohibited would ensure one could "think" Nazi thoughts but not act on them. Also, one must account for the negative "PR" associated with such ideologies in Western society, which may deter parents from sending their children to such establishments. To be fair, Tony Blair's Labour government (when not acting as poodle to US President Bush) has encouraged schools to specialise in certain areas. Nevertheless, governmental force is being used to maintain these schools, since they remain part of the state system. Total privatisation of the state education sector is needed, not some petty attempt to apply pseudo-market forces to the system. The needs of industry It's often stated within mainstream economics that a well-educated workforce is a prosperous and productive one. Even politicians have jumped onto this bandwagon. The Labour government of Tony Blair has called for 50% of young people to attend university, in order for Britain to realise the challenges of the contemporary globalised world. Well, how would the stateless society deal with this? Again, we revert to the free market. If businesses are in need of specific skills, then entrepreneurs will create the supply to meet such demands. Imagine that the economy was in need of more computer programmers. Private business concerns, unhindered by endless state regulation, would be free to create courses that trained people to be programmers. Why can't Microsoft or Dell found technological schools, which teach skills that are a necessity in the economy? It would be a boon, as companies would be teaching talents needed directly by industry. In Britain, business pressure groups are continually bemoaning the government for not teaching pupils competencies required in business. The answer is simple; remove the regulations on business so people can be free to satisfy the demands of consumers and businesses. All that is required, in this instance, is a business-friendly environment.

Conclusion The National Curriculum is a consequence of the continual trend towards larger and more intrusive government, which exists in virtually every Western country today. And if, or when, this man becomes PM, then the trend shall only be continued. But as I stated earlier, I shall endeavour to continually "strike the root" of state education, in spite of the Blair (or Brown?) government's persistent force.

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Christopher Awuku lives in the UK and works in the voluntary/community sector.  He runs a market anarchist blog at