Education and the Individual

By Michael Kleen.
Exclusive to STR
In the intellectual battlefield, libertarians, individualists, and anti-Statists have frequently neglected the subject of childhood education (1-8th Grades) and the intellectual development of children. Because of the laissez faire nature of our philosophy, we are more willing to leave those matters up to parents or to the individuals themselves. Statists, however, have no qualms about investing resources (their own and others’) in molding, indoctrinating, and creating dependence in future generations. It is crucial, then, for us to not neglect this subject and to clearly define and promote our own educational values.
Today, in the United States, childhood education is at the whim of two competing ideas: what is called (derogatively) the “factory model,” and the “child-centered” approach. The difference between the two, however, is in their method and not their purpose. Picture a typical classroom with rows of desks, bells announcing the end of periods, and a teacher lecturing at the chalkboard, and you have the factory model. Child-centered theorists argue that the factory model stifles creativity, discourages working with others, and promotes excessive focus on competition and grades. Some, like Kirsten Olson (author of Wounded by School) and Parker J. Palmer, believe the factory model even emotionally and spiritually injures students.
So far, while it has made some inroads in individual classrooms and is the reigning paradigm in university education programs, the child-centered approach has yet to come close to replacing the factory model as the dominant educational method in public or private schools. The child-centered approach, however, remains—at its heart—about educating children for particular ends. Its proponents are not fundamentally opposed to the public education system—they simply want to impose their own vision on that system. Many, like William Ayers (former Weather Underground leader and current professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago), seek to use public education and the child-centered approach as arms of their own political battles.
Neither “factory” nor child-centered methods challenge the fundamental purpose of public education, which is to remake the individual into an instrument of the State. As a Catholic school will work to instill Catholic values in its students, it should not come as any surprise that a State-run school will promote Statist values, no matter what the method of education.
An individualist recognizes the inherent danger of an education program controlled by the State. Anyone who controls the State schools controls, to a large degree, what children will learn. Thanks to mandatory education laws, parents must surrender their children to these institutions, where they will be molded in any way the State sees fit. That is why countries like Germany have worked so hard to stamp out homeschooling. Any schooling that takes place outside State-approved parameters is a threat. Luckily, in the United States, we still have some options.
Since the raison d'être of State-controlled education is clear, we must also be clear. A child who is raised, or educated, to act as an individual must be instilled with the spirit of critical thinking, familial and self responsibility, the importance of private property, freedom of conscience, and contract theory, et al. It seems clear that education must return to the basics of a free society, since so much of that philosophy has been pushed to the margins, if it is taught at all. Always, the individual (as a social unit), with his or her accompanying rights and responsibilities, should be set at the center of childhood education.
Individual education does not mean indulging a child’s every whim. More often than not, it is important for the individual to learn what he or she cannot do, and that he or she will sometimes need to shoulder burdens or work for the well being of others. We are against servitude to the State—not against altruism, self-sacrifice, hard work, charity, or good will. Statists argue that if we are for the individual then we must be in favor of selfishness or indifference to the suffering of others. That is simply not the case, and in fact, education for the individual would reflect that reality.
It cannot be denied that a child’s formative years are of the utmost importance for instilling values of any sort, yet libertarians, individualists, and anti-Statists have all but yielded the educational realm to their opponents. This will be our undoing. If we do not focus on the problem of education, and promote the values of individuality, self-responsibility, and self-respect in education, we will certainly lose this battle for the hearts and minds of future generations.

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Michael Kleen's picture
Columns on STR: 36

Michael Kleen is the Editor-in-Chief of Untimely Meditations, publisher of Black Oak Presents, and proprietor of Black Oak Media. He holds a M.A. in History and a M.S. in Education, and is the author of Statism and its Discontents, a collection of columns on the topics of Statism, liberty, and their conflict. His columns have appeared in a variety of publications and websites, including Strike-the-Root.


trajanslovechild's picture

Nice article always. The teachers unions are killing public education, and betraying the very children they feign to protect. Kids today are being socially engineered by former terrorists (like Ayers), but God forbid they learn about the Bill of Rights or the Constitution. Good stuff brother!

Paul's picture

"It cannot be denied that a child’s formative years are of the utmost importance for instilling values of any sort, yet libertarians, individualists, and anti-Statists have all but yielded the educational realm to their opponents."

Do you really think so? I don't have that impression. For example, the man who started the Advocates for Self Government (which hosts the "world's smallest political quiz") was Marshall Fritz, who also founded the Separation of School & State Alliance, tremendously influential in getting people to start questioning the state's role in education.

Michael Kleen's picture

I think there has been some effort made, but I would question how "tremendously influential" any of these organizations have been. The homeschooling movement is growing, but its overall effect is minimal. I wish libertarians spent even a quarter as much time and energy on the subject of education as they do on economics.

Suverans2's picture

"We" are not against altruism?

altruism noun ...2. Ethics the doctrine that the general welfare of society is the proper goal of an individual's actions ~

These indoctrination centers do teach the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, at least their version of them. What they avoid, like the plague, because it would "strike at the root" of the state agenda, is teaching, especially from an early age, a rational understanding of our Natural Rights and the responsibilities that accompany them.

"Among the natural rights of the colonists [of all men] are these: first, a right to life; secondly, to liberty; thirdly to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can." ~ Samuel Adams (Sept. 1722 - Oct. 1803)

These indoctrination centers also fail to teach, (for the same reason stated above), that the only way one can lawfully lose his natural rights is through forfeiture; it is the penalty for not recognizing and respecting the natural rights of others.

"Attack another’s rights and you destroy your own." ~ John Jay Chapman

Michael Kleen's picture

Do you not agree that promoting the liberty of the individual and the maintenance of his or her inalienable rights is conductive to the general welfare of society? We do not live alone on an island - we live in a society and we depend upon each other for our welfare - therefore as individuals we must frequently take into consideration how our actions affect others

Suverans2's picture

"What is the moral code of altruism? The basic principle of altruism is that man has no right to exist for his own sake, that service to others is the only justification of his existence, and that self-sacrifice is his highest moral duty, virtue and value.

Do not confuse altruism with kindness, good will or respect for the rights of others. These are not primaries, but consequences, which, in fact, altruism makes impossible. The irreducible primary of altruism, the basic absolute, is self-sacrifice—which means; self-immolation, self-abnegation, self-denial, self-destruction—which means: the self as a standard of evil, the selfless as a standard of the good." ~ Excerpted from the Ayn Rand Lexicon

Read more on altruism here:

Michael Kleen's picture

I think Rand's view of the subject is particularly extreme and perhaps even misanthropic. But in any regards, you can rest assured that I was not using the term "altruism" in a way that endorses those extreme interpretations.

Suverans2's picture

"Do you not agree that promoting the liberty of the individual and the maintenance of his or her inalienable rights is conductive[sic] to the general welfare of society?" ~ Michael Kleen

Yes, Michael, I do agree that promoting the liberty of the individual and the maintenance of his or her inalienable, [i.e. natural rights], is conducive to the general welfare of society, but I do not believe that promoting altruism, defined as "selflessness", which is precisely what the collectivists do, is "conducive to the general welfare of society". This is why Ayn Rand's view seemed extreme.

" is important for the individual to learn...that he or she will sometimes need to shoulder burdens or work for the well being of others". ~ Michael Kleen

Yes, but what you describe there is not altruism, at least not as it is understood today, i.e. "selflessness", because by working for the well-being of others, he knows, perhaps way down deep inside, that he is helping himSELF.

"First, they came for the Jews. But I was not a Jew, so I did not speak up.

Then they came for the communists.
But I was not a communist, so I did not speak up.

Then they came for the trade unionists.
But I was not a trade unionist, so I did not speak up.

And when they came FOR ME,
there was no one left to speak out FOR ME." ~ (attributed to) Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

tzo's picture

Individual liberty does indeed contribute to the general welfare of a society. The focus is individual liberty, and the benefit is to both the individual and society.

Of course one should take others into account when making decisions about what actions to take, but only to the extent that by considering others he will personally benefit. Do unto others...

Altruism is a selfless concern for others, which is the opposite of individual liberty. When the focus shifts to serving society instead of serving the self, both the self and society lose.

Self and society are part of the equation when making decisions, but the self must be worth more in that equation. The selflessness implied by the word "altruism" makes me not like that word very much.

B.R. Merrick's picture

"The focus is individual liberty, and the benefit is to both the individual and society."

Indeed, when the individual focuses on the self, one of the first feelings confronted will probably be loneliness. This will lead to seeking out relationships, which leads quite naturally to anything and everything else that is good about life.

1. Volition
2. Relationships
3. Wealth
4. Life

Conversely, as I stated in "Coercion Is Death," coercion, of which Rand's definition of altruism is a part, leads to the death of the above four phenomena directly, immediately, and in that order (unless all four happen at once). Good article. Man, I HATED school.