David R. Henderson  

Free the Children

Selfish Reasons to Have Mor... Agnostics for Pacifism...

I mentioned in an earlier post that I had listed, in my book, The Joy of Freedom: An Economist's Odyssey, five ways you could free your child and other people's children from government. Here's what I wrote in 2001:

Just as those who advocated abolishing slavery didn't have to wait until governments did so, but instead could free their own slaves, you too can free some child slaves.
1. Remove your child from the clutches of government. Send him or her to a private school, either a pricey one or one of the religious schools where tuition typically ranges between $2,000 and $4,000. Or consider home-schooling your child.
2. If you home-school, combine with other home-schoolers to take advantage of division of labor. You might teach six children math while another parent teaches them English. In some states, it's illegal to teach other parents' children, which should make you wonder about the motives of the government-schoolers who support that law. If it is illegal in your state, challenge the law⎯see number 5 above. [This refers to an earlier part of the book.] And while you're challenging the law, it can be a good idea to ignore the law. While doing so, you'll be teaching your children an eloquent lesson in civil disobedience. We hear so much about Rosa Parks, an ordinary woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who had the courage to break the local law requiring segregation. We need, at least occasionally, to have as much courage as she had.
3. If you don't have kids, but want to educate people, put out your shingle as a tutor, free-of-charge.
4. If you don't want to spend your own time, but want kids to get education, donate to another family so that they can send their child to private school.
5. Get your child a computer and that other window on the worldwide web of learning⎯a library card.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (24 to date)
Scott writes:

I see one misstep here. How does giving your children a public library card free them from government?

ThomasL writes:

My view on (5) is a bit unconventional. I am all for having a computer and kids learning how it works and how to use it... except never for traditional school work.

I think computers are wonderful tools, and that educational options are available because of them that it was never even imagined could be at the fingertips of an individual before. Taking only gutenberg.org, Google Books, and Liberty Fund's own the Portable Library of Economics and Liberty as examples, more information is freely available than could be digested in a lifetime of study.

But, there is another computerized advancement that symbolizes my feelings on computers when used directly for teaching: they are too much like chess programs with an all to welcome 'hint' key right there in the corner whenever you get into a tight spot.

To learn, I think it is better to play "for real" and lose than to get told the right answer every time.

If (5) were changed from computer to 'eBook Reader', I would be in agreement with it 100% .

John Jenkins writes:

The library isn't compulsory?

tim writes:

I have a problem with the basic premise that public education is "enslaving" kids and private schools are inherently better. Where is the data to support this?

My public high school was excellent. I had opportunities for independent study and internships. Both I took advantage of. The one I live near now is also excellent and has a wide variety of programs.

And "home-schooling" (something I do support) has largely been hijacked by the religious crowd who decry the secular nature of public schools. So the vast majority of materials are developed for that market.

We should be encouraging diversity in education. Mentorships, internships, school choice, independent study, apprenticeships, etc and not a one-choice fits all strategy.


I would say forgo the library card all together - unless you live in a very large city - most libraries - in this day and age - are not worth the land they sit on.

CBBB writes:

Sometimes I want to agree with you libertarians but when you start comparing sending children to public school with chattel slavery and Jim Crow laws you're just back to looking like a bunch of raving lunatics.

I guess life's gotten too comfortable for some - we have a bunch of upper middle-class white guys thinking by teaching math to a bunch of their upper-middle class white friends' kids they're on par with Rosa Parks.

Anthony Jacobs writes:

CBBB, our daughter goes to an unabashedly Christian school (of the Mere Christianity type), that takes students of any stripe and creed (as long as they are respectful of the culture of the school), regardless of their parent's ability to pay the asked-for tuition. They are making a difference at that school. Not all public schools are bad, but the institutional nature of the beast and the vested money interests in them (school bus manufacturers, text book publishers, teachers unions etc.) ought to be the subject of much scrutiny.

Regarding public libraries--yes, it would be good if there were private libraries to fill this role, and no doubt there would be if government had not taken them over (Carnegie libraries, anyone?). I've introduced our high school age child to using the Regent's school library in our city, but private universities no doubt allow for use by the general public, perhaps at a price. It's hard to imagine a world where government doesn't provide certain services, but we should have the bravery of imagination to think that it would be possible for the private sector to provide these cultural amenities.

shecky writes:


My schooling was very similar to your harrowing experience. The cruelty faced by other students, and sometimes, by faculty, was nothing less than barbaric at times. Sadly, there was no valor in victimhood. As they say, shit rolls down hill, and the recipient of one abuse often had no reservation turning round and heaping comparable abuse on the next kid down the pecking order once the opportunity arose. Interestingly, this was in a religious, well regarded, private school. My parents worked extra hard for 12+ years in order that I benefit from a fine rigorous Catholic foundation, only so I could find that I had no real advantage compared over my peers in college, had a more limited curriculum, and ended up an atheist to boot (but that's another story entirely, much to my Mom's dismay).

In contrast, my children have many times the opportunity I had, going to public schools, in an environment far more civil than what I had to endure. It's not even close. There are several reasons why. But the point I'm getting at is that freeing my children from government in the ways you suggest, for the sake of of freeing them from government, is a brainless symbolic act that's not likely to actually benefit my children. When the government is detrimental to people it's supposed to help, the alternative to opting out is doing as I, and many other parents in the district have done: get involved to ensure that the system is improved. Libertarian credibility be damned. Reasonable people can take matters seriously enough without stamping their feet in a libertarian tantrum.

David R. Henderson writes:

Scott asks, "How does giving your children a public library card free them from government?"
Good point. It's a matter of degree. When you go to the library, no one makes you stay. And they don't force you to go to the library.
Projecting just a little, aren't you? Nowhere did I mention giving free tutoring only to "upper middle class white kids." Jeez.
And the government uses the same threat against parents that the Montgomery government used against Rosa Parks: the threat of jail. Friends of mine--yes, one of them well above upper middle class--tell me that jail sucks.

Seth writes:

"How does giving your children a public library card free them from government?"

@Scott - How does giving them a library card, even to a government funded library, put them in the "clutches of government?" It doesn't.

@CBBB - The point, if you care to know it, is that you don't have to wait for government to change to make changes for yourself.

In Hawaii, no statute requires that homeschooling instruction occur between 0800 and 1430. Parents can extend daycare to age 18 and homeschool in the evening.
Another suggestion: read O. Henry's "The Ransom of Red Chief" and have your kid read it also, then encourage your kid to drop out in school. Study Gandhi's principle of satyagraha--non-violent non-cooperation with evil. Just tell your kid to read his own books and ignore the teachers. Tell the school you support this and that you intend to take the GED as soon as possible and apply to a community college. No one will care what your highschool transcript looks like after you get a BS and have a job history.

jc writes:

My town wanted to raise my taxes $50 a year for a library. I voted no. So did most other people. We now have a somewhat private library. It's on public property that was already there but it was stocked by private people. So, it can work when the government doesn't crowd out private contributions. What were the going to build it for anyway? Data is going online.

John Jenkins writes:

When I was in law school, I represented a woman through the legal clinic who had been charged with failing to make sure her daughter went to school. The D.A. intern who had the case (a law student like me) did not care that the woman had surgery for thyroid cancer and was on a course of chemotherapy at the time in question, so was unable to do much more each day than see her daughter off to school, while the daughter was intercepting messages about the daughter's attendance. His response to that was: "that's why we have child protective services." Yes, I almost punched him (I have a temper; sue me).

I was able to get the charges dismissed by the judge in the case, who had more good sense than the intern, but that woman was facing a fine and real jail time for something that shouldn't even be a crime. The threat is real.

N.B. That little prick of an intern failed the bar the first time he took it. I don't know if he ever passed, but I admit to a little twinge of glee when I found out he failed.

ATF writes:

Regarding the homeschooling division of labor point — in my experience (I was homeschooled and have many friends who homeschool), the sort of thing David describes goes on a lot.

In my own case, I took all of my high school mathematics from a friend of my family who is a biochemist, and who homeschooled her children and offered classes in high school biology and chemistry, and mathematics through precalculus, to small groups of other homeschoolers. Similarly, I was able to take high school English classes from a retired teacher who had homeschooled her children and offered courses to small groups of other kids, and a couple science classes from a biologist who homeschooled his kids.

This sort of thing is quite common with high school material. In fact, I suspect that homeschooling done exclusively in the home by the parents is fairly rare past junior high.

Scott writes:

But from a hardcore libertarian point of view, the library is funded with tax dollars coercively taken from the hapless public. You don't have to listen to NPR either but the same principle would apply.

DCordeiro writes:

ATF has it exactly correct. Parents playing teacher is the exception to the rule and an image conjured up by people who have only experienced institutional schools.

There are many tocquevillian groups that have sprung up where talented adults (sometimes parents) teach a collection of eager students about a subject for which they have a passion.

A good example are Math Circles. Traditional math instruction in this country is as awful as we think and is careful to avoid any discrete math topics until college (when most students have been so demoralized by the death march to Calculus that they drop out).

Math Circles are supplementary programs springing up around the country to fill this gap. They are a cultural transplant from Eastern Europe where they bridged the gap between young students and real mathematics and problem solving. These programs are offered completely free or at a nominal charge to their participants. More information and a directory of local math circles can be found here: http://www.mathcircles.org

fundamentalist writes:

It doesn't matter if you protect them from the guv during K-12; college will make them slaves again. The only recourse is to talk to your kids and give them an alternative to state worship.

Alex J. writes:

He's not comparing sending children to public schools to Jim Crow laws. He's comparing laws forbidding certain kinds of education to Jim Crow laws. Teaching kids isn't like being Rosa Parks. Being fined or imprisoned for teaching is akin to being Rosa Parks.

Floccina writes:

The problem is that if you choose to not sending your child to Government schools that has insignificant or no impact on how much taxes you pay. So the value of your private education minus the value of what the Government must be more than what you pay to send educate your child. That is a steep hill to climb. I sent my children to private schools mostly for religious reasons.

My suggestion:

Still unrealistic but perhaps less unrealistic than convincing our neighbors to vote to do away with Government schools is to try and convince them to vote to directly charge the rich and middle class parents full cost for sending their children to Government schools.

Shangwen writes:

David, I love the fact that EconLog has somehow become a radicalized Home Ec blog this week.

Although I agree that comparing compulsory government schooling (or at least compulsory schooling with heavy government crowd-out on the private market) to slavery is a real strain, I do think that the present system suppresses innovation and allows parents to distance themselves from understanding the learning and growth of their own children.

I have some good memories of school, some harrowing ones like yours, but in the long run I think the ones that really indict the system are those many, many memories of sitting in class and thinking "huh"?

I know that kids can't be expected to see the big picture behind every lesson; my problem is that I think this continues, in much more wasteful and damaging form, in universities, where adherence to useless learning is still so common. Anyone who ever took the standard lessons on pricing securities knows exactly what I'm talking about.

(Shangwen): "...comparing compulsory government schooling (or at least compulsory schooling with heavy government crowd-out on the private market) to slavery is a real strain."

Compulsory, unpaid labor is slavery. That's my definition. What's yours? In the US, students labor, unpaid, as windowdressing in a massive make-work program for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel.

CBBB writes:

I know he's comparing the laws requiring public schooling to Jim Crow laws - that's what I think is ridiculous and hysterical. You really shouldn't comparing a broad-based set of laws and discriminatory practices which encompassed public lynchings, terrorism, and arson to sending kids to public school IN ANY WAY.

Comments like Malcolm Kirkpatrick's above show how deranged some libertarians are - they LITERALLY believe their children are being subjected to exactly the same conditions as 19th century chattel slaves. When the advocates of your position start believing that it is morally correct to equate kids doing algebra homework to slavery your guys can't be taken seriously.

There's also a huge number of problems of having a purely private anything-goes education system. It may be all very well and good if your kids can be taught math and science by a biochemist but that's not the reality for most people. Of course you don't explicit say you're only in favor of upper-middle-class white kids getting educated but let's be realistic here; who really benefits from this anything-goes purely private education system?

David R. Henderson writes:

CBBB keeps missing the issue. The comparison is not between Jim Crow laws and "sending kids to public school." It's between Jim Crow laws and parents being threatened with jail sentences if their kids don't show up for school. So what is similar is the extreme sanctions used.

CBBB writes:

You literally called them "child slaves" in your post. Is that equivalent? Are children attending public school REALLY equivalent in any way to child slaves?
It's hyperbole of the highest kind.

(CBBB): "Comments like Malcolm Kirkpatrick's above show how deranged..."

Yo' momma.

(CBBB): "...some libertarians are..."

I'm neither a libertarian nor a Libertarian.

(CBBB): "...they LITERALLY believe their children are being subjected to exactly the same conditions as 19th century chattel slaves."

How 'bout dealing with what people say instead of what you (preposterously) suppose they believe? That would be considerate.

(CBBB): "When the advocates of your position start believing that it is morally correct to equate kids doing algebra homework to slavery your guys can't be taken seriously."

Compulsory, unpaid labor is slavery. That's my definition. What's yours? How does compulsory attendance at school (corvee labor) NOT qualify?

Theories are tools. If they work, we accept them. The (trivial) theory that compulsory attendance is slavery explains quite a lot. That's the usual test of a theory.

Albert Einstein
"Force and Fear Have No Place in Education"

To me the worst thing seems to be for a school principally to work with methods of fear, force and artificial authority. Such treatment destroys the sound sentiments, the sincerity and self-confidence of the pupil. It produces the submissive subject. . . It is comparatively simple to keep the school free from this worst of all evils. Give into the power of the teacher the fewest possible coercive measures, so that the only source of the pupil's respect for the teacher is the human and intellectual qualities of the latter.

Albert Einstein
"Autobiographical Notes"
__Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist__, Paul Schilpp, ed. (1951), pp. 17-19
It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet entirely strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry; for this delicate little plant, aside from stimulation, stands mainly in need of freedom; without this it goes to wreck and ruin without fail. It is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion and a sense of duty. To the contrary, I believe it would be possible to rob even a healthy beast of prey of its voraciousness, if it were possible, with the aid of a whip, to force the beast to devour continuously, even when not hungry, especially if the food, handed out under such coercion, were to be selected accordingly.

Comments for this entry have been closed
Return to top