Education is the cornerstone of progress. It is essential to the survival and success of any society. Thomas Jefferson said famously, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and what never will be.” Since very early on in the history of the United States of America, there has been a public education system. The Constitution makes no mention of education, because it was intended to be an implied responsibility of the state and local governments. This begs the question: How does the U.S. legitimately justify its enormous Federal Department of Education? Aside from its questionable legal standing, our current system is rife with bureaucracy, waste, poor results, and massive student loan debt- to name just a few of the countless horrific symptoms brought on by modern policies. Upon examining the issue of education, it is crucial to strike at the root of the problem. As such, the government’s role in education will be scrutinized. How much should we be relying on government for the precious responsibility of education? Furthermore, we may come to find that education would be better off with no government involvement at all.
In our modern society, formal education has transformed into something that is seen as being essential to survival. In the past, the formality of one’s education did not matter nearly as much. An employer was mostly unconcerned with what kind of diploma you had, so long as you were a hard, competent worker who was able to learn through experience. For better or worse, the paradigm has shifted. Now a formal education is the primary criterion emphasized in the employment process. Doors no longer open for someone without diplomas. In many cases, a person’s job application will be thrown away at the sight of no formal education, without any consideration of how else this person may have become uniquely qualified. It is important to acknowledge the role that education plays in economic survival in order to understand why it is so crucial that the system be rethought entirely.
When education’s primary purpose in society is to serve as the meeting of a requirement for employment, many far more valuable purposes of education either take a back seat or are directly contradicted. For example, true education is meant to foster the ability to think critically. Students can hardly be expected to think critically in an environment where deviation from the standards that government sets is met with punishment and bad grades. When you rely on the government for your education (and thus your livelihood), you are not exactly in a position where being critical of the government is seen as a worthwhile cause. True education fosters unique, independent thought. There is no room for this type of thought in the modern standardized and regulated classroom. In our current system, conformity to these standards is rewarded far more often than instances of bold individualism are. Teachers are forced to gear their lessons to “passing the test” rather than to actually imparting knowledge and cognitive skills in their students. As a result, it is questionable how much actual learning is taking place.
Another misunderstood function of education is the development of a work ethic. When a student’s work ethic is developed from such a young age by the standards that government imposes, there is very little chance that this student will ever break out of the underlying mentality of, “The government says that I need to make these sacrifices in order to survive, therefore I have no choice but to do so according to its will.” The attitude stays with the student throughout life, and opens the door for the enormous welfare/warfare state. Would anyone argue that a slave who is unable to question his master does better work than the free man who chooses to work voluntarily and has the ability to experiment with different jobs and methods if he questions the ones he is presently involved with? History and logic prove that such an idea is ludicrous. If this is the case, then a work ethic that is based on achieving real value is far superior to one that is based on meeting unquestionable mandates. Far too often it is mistakenly believed that working hard on something valueless or counterproductive is actually a valuable and productive practice. It follows that huge amounts of time, energy, and brainpower are completely wasted on “working hard”, with no regard for what actual value is being produced by such a process, other than labor itself. These are hardly the types of conditions with which a free society of productive individuals should be satisfied.
Our current educational system is not only problematic from a philosophical standpoint, but also from a legal standpoint. Education is not a responsibility that is granted to the federal government anywhere in the Constitution. Rather, it is an implied power that is reserved to the states under the Tenth Amendment. Therefore, the 1979 creation of the Federal Department of Education is completely unconstitutional. It is easy to see why Congress sought such a monopoly over the education of the entire nation. The idea was that if education was handled by the states, which often allowed for the local city and county governments to have the most say, there was bound to be disparities in the results from state to state. It is no surprise that the federal government would conclude that they could fix things by adding more regulation and throwing more tax money at it.
Has the Department of Education achieved its desired goals? If its goals were to increase the cost of education across the board, while diminishing quality and results, all while fostering a massive debt crisis, then the Department of Education has been a wild success! The premise behind nationalizing education is inherently flawed and logically baffling. The schools are not performing as well as they could be, so the solution is to put the responsibility in the hands of Washington, D.C. bureaucrats? Surely they are insightful enough to be able to truly understand that what is best for little Timmy in a poor rural town in Montana is also exactly the same policy that works best for little Johnny on the Upper West Side of New York City. In reality, the problem had not been that children were being given too much unique attention and that teachers’ methods were too independent. Rather, it was quite the opposite. Classroom sizes were growing and post-World War II faith in government solutions had resulted in greater standardization and overreach on the part of the states [Friedman, 150-158]. When this bigger-government approach failed, it was decided that an even bigger government program had to take over. The results have been predictably horrific. [Williams]
When issues like these become subjects of big-government, it is inevitable that politics and corruption will take hold, and quickly take precedence over an actual increase in value. Politicians who are in charge of education win elections by appealing to people’s emotions rather than to their logic. Therefore it follows that politicians will inevitably adopt policies that appear to be “proactive” in “caring” about education. In other words, it is rare to see a candidate campaign successfully with the platform of “The government cares too much about education.” Even if they do make it into office and try to institute a policy of decentralization, it is far more politically expedient for an opponent to point out how cruel it was for this man to cut funding for school programs. Consequentially, spending increases at the expense of the taxpayer and the students’ education.
Government spending actually has a directly correlative adverse effect on the entire education system. If the point of government involvement in education is to make everyone better off in their pursuit of a future livelihood, then the Department of Education’s consistent policy of subsidies and loans accomplishes the exact opposite of its stated mission. The next economic disaster will undoubtedly be the fault of the Department of Education: the student loan bubble. In recent years, this idea that “everyone deserves to go to college” has resulted in everyone getting loans to go to college from the Department of Education. When the Department of Education subsidizes student loans, it effectively allows universities to charge more in tuition. It works like this: More people want to go to college. More students have a source for borrowing money (regardless of whether or not they should truly be able to take out such loans); colleges raise their tuition rates to match the students’ newly inflated demand; greater loans are needed to deal with these higher prices; colleges raise their tuitions again; the cycle repeats and exacerbates itself over time. [Woods] [Pope]
As the cost of education inevitably increases, the value of a degree is not increasing with it. Since more people are getting diplomas, each individual diploma becomes less precious. This is the basic principle of inflation. So just because the amount of money in the system is increasing, it does not follow that the quality of professors and educational institutions needs to improve in order to justify the increasing prices. Finding a job after graduation, due to the inflated number of students now floating through this system, is becoming increasingly less certain. Since all the student loan policy is doing is creating an inflationary bubble, students are being faced with massive loan debt and are lacking the massive ability to pay it back. The more these policies are allowed to take hold, the worse this debt crisis is going to become. Eventually, all of these students will be forced to default on their loans. At this point, the government will print even more money and increase taxes even further to try to offset these costs. This is a disastrous policy that will lead to the downfall of our entire economy, much like the Weimar Republic. [von Mises, 193-203]
The solution to all of these problems exists in the free market. This does not mean quasi-free market approaches such as selective vouchers. The true solution is to allow schools to compete with one another and to dismantle the current accepted structure. Perhaps at the Kindergarten through high school level, the factory-model of education would be proven outdated and grossly inefficient. Maybe it would also be realized that students no longer need a summer vacation in order to work on their family farms in Brooklyn and Chicago. We will never find out if we continue down this path of Orwellian government monopoly on education. The first step would be to abolish the Department of Education. This would put an immediate end to the exacerbation of the student loan bubble. It would also put would-be tax money back in the hands of parents, who would be able to have more control over how their children get educated.
Over time, if government became as uninvolved as possible in education, the quality would increase drastically due to competition and the appreciation of actual value rather than perceived political value. When subjected to the free market, schools would be held far more accountable for their quality and efficiency. Waste, which is a staple of our bureaucratic system, would be combatted for the sake of being able to compete effectively and keep costs down. In our current system, in order to get more funding, your school has to produce poor results. To a politician or bureaucrat, this is a sure sign of needing more money. By contrast, the free market incentivizes success. The better your school performs in the free market, the greater the demand will be, and the more economically viable your school will become. As far as higher education goes, fewer people will be able to go to college. However, the amount of people who were truly in a place to afford college without becoming a debt prisoner would stay the same. As a result, bachelor degrees will start getting their value back, as will high school degrees, and so forth down the line. At the rate we’re currently going, students will not be able to find post-graduation jobs unless they go to graduate school. Then once everyone starts getting loans to go to graduate school, it will eventually become necessary that everyone goes to some kind of post-grad school and spends even more time and money, with no regard to whether this is truly valuable and necessary in comparison to alternatives. This cycle would continue and get worse.
Had Thomas Jefferson realized how expansive this nation would grow to be, I am positive that he would feel extremely uncomfortable with the idea of mandatory government-run education. What Jefferson saw was a vulnerable nation that was experiencing precious freedom for the first time. He saw that it was necessary that people learn the values of liberty and that society was able to progress. Jefferson’s advocacy of state-run (not federally-run) government education in Virginia was motivated by these principles. [McCluskey] At the time, that may have been a responsible solution for such a small-scale operation. However, it has come to bear that the larger this nation grows, the more drastically government solutions fail. It is clear that in order to truly preserve liberty, we must abolish a system that is only able to exist off money stolen from citizens through taxation and in return produces mind-numbed debt slaves. While I am certain that the optimal solution lies in no government involvement in education at all, for now it must be realized that decentralization would be the best possible first step. As we decentralize, the nation will become more economically efficient and the crisis of having to educate the poor would become far less of a challenge. If we democratically vote to ensure that some of our tax money goes to educating the poor, why wouldn’t the free market democratically allocate resources accordingly, without the obstacles of political bureaucracy and waste that are currently in place? The issue of education is very intricate and every aspect of it needs to be scrutinized in order for true improvement to take hold. What is most important is that this issue be examined with logic and evidence rather than appealing to emotion and politics. If this nation was meant to be free, so should education be- from the shackles of government.
McCluskey, Neal. “On Federal Education, Think Progress Should Think Harder.” Cato @ Liberty. Cato Institute, 28 Dec. 2010. Web. 26 Apr. 2012. <http://www.cato-at-liberty.org/on-federal-education-think-progress-should-think-harder/>.
Pope, Justin. “Student Loans: The Next Bubble?” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 11 June 2011. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/06/student-loans-the-next-bu_n_1078730.html>.
Von Mises, Ludwig. “IX. The Weimar Republic and Its Collapse.” Omnipotent Government, the Rise of the Total State and Total War. New Haven: Yale UP, 1944. Print.
“Why Should Congress Abolish the Federal Role in Education?” HSLDA: Homeschooling Advocates. National Center for Home Education, 12 Jan. 2000. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <http://www.hslda.org/docs/nche/000000/00000063.asp>.
Williams, Walter E. “Education.” Creators.com. Creators Syndicate, 16 Sept. 2009. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. <http://www.creators.com/opinion/walter-williams/education.html>.
Woods, Thomas. “The Student Loan Racket: Ron Paul Right Again.” TomWoods.com.
Tom Woods, 23 Oct. 2011. Web. 21 Apr. 2012. <http://www.tomwoods.com/blog/the-student-loan-racket-ron-paul-right-again/>.
I just can’t find heartfelt principles behind what he has written. I just don’t think he loves liberty the way most of us do. It seems like he loves it because he figured out a way to justify it, thus serving his own egotistical ends. This is partially influenced by what Rothbard had to say about him. Any thoughts?
It would save a lot of time and money, and we’d end up with the same policies regardless.
This morning, I was walking to the train station on my way to school. On my way there, I witnessed the epitome of bureaucratic waste. There were two men standing next to a parked gas guzzler. On the side of the truck were the words “Pardon us while we put up street signs.” I proceeded to watch them remove a stop sign, dig another hole, and replace it with AN IDENTICAL STOP SIGN. Except this stop sign was a few feet taller, so now the overhanging tree actually was able to slightly obstruct the visibility of the sign. This is our tax dollars at work. We pay people to remove good things and replace them with a more expensive, less efficient thing.
They did the same thing with the street name signs. Instead of “AMBOY RD”, my block’s street sign now reads “Amboy Rd”. That project costed the city $2 million. Maybe if we could have passed on that waste of money, we could have used that $2 million to cut the bridge tolls a few bucks rather than raising them. Mind you, all of the bridges connected to Staten Island have been paid off for YEARS. I don’t have to point out how wrong this is. Nor is it anything but blatantly obvious that these two instances are a minuscule drop-in-the-bucket in terms of what government spends its stolen money on. Millions of dollars, probably billions of dollars, being completely and irrevocably wasted, at the taxpayer’s expense- but don’t worry, they’re “creating jobs”. Disgusting.
Some of the most intimidatingly smart people who inspired me to start this blog happen to be individuals who were born with a sexual preference that is different than mine. It just goes to show you that the ideas of liberty and the rejection of the state’s authority is an issue that pertains to ALL of us because we are each individual human beings who should never be legally subject to the authoritative force of some other human being without our voluntary consent.
Normally I wouldn’t even point something like this out, because the emphasis of traits that are conditional to one’s birth should be irrelevant in our discussions of justice; everyone should be absolutely equal under the law regardless of these uncontrollable factors. However, I feel as though there is a unique type of courage that it takes for gay libertarians, in a time when the sympathy towards their cause has grown largely due to left-wing movements, to move out of the typical neo-liberal paradigm and to be able to advocate for their rights from a different purview. You have to be pretty brave to come out of the closet to begin with. To then have the wherewithal to recognize that there is a cause out there that doesn’t take the typical approach of the rest of the gay-rights movement, and then to champion it as passionately as they have, I think is really a sentiment to gay libertarians’ moral righteousness. The big-tent, individualist equal rights argument is the most morally fortuitous position to take in the pursuit of equality for any discriminated group. I think that’s why I’m so excited to have a hand in taking up that fight with them.
Do you agree with the "basic libertarian punishment theory"? That eye for an eye kind of thing? What do you think about that? Do you agree with that ideology?
Justice is a key facet in any free society. Being that it is such an important virtue for a society to have, the means of attaining it really must be scrutinized to an exhausting extent. So many cases are conditional and circumstantially unique. Justice needs to be able to maintain its integrity, strength and clarity while also being able to apply itself appropriately to each specific instance.
The “eye for an eye” libertarian approach (I’m sure you’re aware that using that phrase oversimplifies the idea, but that is the most succinct phrasal summation I could think of as well) has a morally suitable end-goal. I would hope that all institutes of justice would have the same intent in handling crime and punishment. I agree with the libertarian philosophy because I see the true purpose of justice as making restitution for a violation of another person’s freedom. I don’t believe that “setting precedents” or “teaching them a lesson” have any valid place in legal proceedings. These practices are contrary to the true purpose of justice (which is to ensure and protect freedom) and have proven to be very slippery slopes. It has to be recognized that every individual’s existence is as sacred as her neighbor’s. No exceptions can ever be made for the sake of legal intimidation or to make some kind of statement. The law is the law; and if it is well-legislated, it should be clear enough to speak for itself, rendering “precedents” useless.
To sum this up, a punishment should serve one purpose: to attempt to make just restitution to the victims of a crime. The court should see to it that the responsibility for this restitution lie solely in the hands of the guilty party. I can expound on this, and if you’d like me to, please don’t hesitate to ask.
In the case of murder, it would logically follow that if a man kills your brother, you have the right to kill the murderer. However, it would be against my belief in the inherent culpability of man- his insufficient ability to ever be so certain of anything that it would justify ending another human life. The death penalty is a step that cannot be undone. It is certainly true that even without capital punishment, incredibly harsh sentences may be errantly exacted and could cause undo amounts of suffering on the part of an innocent or partially-innocent person. This is why I believe that such brutal forms of punishment should be implemented only after passing tests of the utmost scrutiny, if not eliminated altogether. Because in reality, the potential for suffering that could result from an innocent man being in solitary confinement or being tortured should certainly outweigh any feeling of satisfaction that the prosecution seeks to achieve from such brutal punishments. Once again, the fallibility of man’s judgement needs to be given as much credence as possible in every situation. With an elimination of the death penalty and the extremely judicious use of cruel punitive measures, we serve to not eliminate, but at the very least to reduce the possible repercussions of a fatal human misjudgment.
It is going to take many years of proper education and an overall increase in awareness for these ideas, which aren’t exactly customary, to start to make sense to enough people that it could be actually implemented and regarded as truly “just” and “fair”. The majority of us just assume that the state knows best how to punish people and that any other way of approaching it is loony. Hopefully with the spread of the internet, awareness of our current system’s horrific, overreaching flaws will spread, and more people will be motivated to think of ways to make our justice system truly just.