What is it about today's school system that so many find unsatisfactory? Why have so many generations of reformers failed to improve the educational system, and, indeed, caused it to degenerate further and further into an ever declining level of mediocrity?
In this radical and scholarly monograph, out of print for two decades and restored according to the author's original, Murray N. Rothbard identifies the crucial feature of our educational system that dooms it to fail: at every level, from financing to attendance, the system relies on compulsion instead of voluntary consent.
Certain consequences follow. The curriculum is politicized to reflect the ideological priorities of the regime in power. Standards are continually dumbed down to accommodate the least common denominator. The brightest children are not permitted to achieve their potential, the special- needs of individual children are neglected, and the mid-level learners become little more than cogs in a machine. The teachers themselves are hamstrung by a political apparatus that watches their every move.
Rothbard explores the history of compulsory schooling to show that none of this is accident. The state has long used compulsory schooling, backed by egalitarian ideology, as a means of citizen control. In contrast, a market-based system of schools would adhere to a purely voluntary ethic, financed with private funds, and administered entirely by private enterprise.
An interesting feature of this book is its promotion of individual, or home, schooling, long before the current popularity of the practice.
As Kevin Ryan of Boston University points out in the introduction, if education reform is ever to bring about fundamental change, it will have to begin with a complete rethinking of public schooling that Rothbard offers here.
“Formal instruction, therefore, deals with the body of knowledge on certain definite subjects. These subjects are: first of all, reading, so that the child has a superb tool for future acquisition of knowledge, and as a later corollary, the various "language arts" such as spelling and grammar. Writing is another powerful key in the child's mental development. After these tools are mastered, instruction naturally proceeds in logical development: reading to be spent on such subjects as the world's natural laws (natural science); the record of man's development, his ends and actions (history, geography); and later the "moral sciences" of human behavior (economics, politics, philosophy, psychology); and man's imaginative studies of man (literature). Writing branches out into essays on these various subjects, and into composition. A third elementary tool of great power is arithmetic, beginning with simple numbers and leading up into more developed branches of mathematics. Of these fundamental subjects, reading is of first importance, and for this learning of the alphabet is the primary and logical tool.”
Murray N. Rothbard
Murray Newton Rothbard (March 2, 1926 – January 7, 1995) was an American author and economist of the Austrian School who helped define capitalist libertarianism and popularized a form of free-market anarchism he termed "anarcho-capitalism." Rothbard wrote over twenty books and is considered a centrally important figure in the American libertarian movement.
Building on the Austrian School's concept of spontaneous order, support for a free market in money production and condemnation of central planning, Rothbard advocated abolition of coercive government control of society and the economy. He considered the monopoly force of government the greatest danger to liberty and the long-term well-being of the populace, labeling the state as nothing but a "gang of thieves writ large"—the locus of the most immoral, grasping and unscrupulous individuals in any society.
Rothbard concluded that all services provided by monopoly governments could be provided more efficiently by the private sector. He viewed many regulations and laws ostensibly promulgated for the "public interest" as self-interested power grabs by scheming government bureaucrats engaging in dangerously unfettered self-aggrandizement, as they were not subject to market disciplines. Rothbard held that there were inefficiencies involved with government services and asserted that market disciplines would eliminate them, if the services could be provided by competition in the private sector.
Rothbard was equally condemning of state corporatism, criticizing many instances where business elites co-opted government's monopoly power so as to influence laws and regulatory policy in a manner benefiting them at the expense of their competitive rivals.
He argued that taxation represents coercive theft on a grand scale, and "a compulsory monopoly of force" prohibiting the more efficient voluntary procurement of defense and judicial services from competing suppliers. He also considered central banking and fractional reserve banking under a monopoly fiat money system a form of state-sponsored, legalized financial fraud, antithetical to libertarian principles and ethics. Rothbard opposed military, political, and economic interventionism in the affairs of other nations.