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Book Review: Separating School & State: How to Liberate America’s Families

Separating School & State: How to Liberate America’s Families

Sheldon Richman
The Future of Freedom Foundation, 1994

Public schools are a great intrusion on liberty. Attendance is compulsory, as is paying for the public schools. Could the government devise a better way to expand its influence? “Despite the claim of moral neutrality, public education is linked to a particular set of values, namely, the values of the modern welfare, or social-service state. Those values include moral agnosticism (erroneously called tolerance), government activism, egalitarianism, ‘welfare rights’ to taxpayer largess, collectivism, and a watered-down version of socialism that looks much like the economic theory of the 1930s known as fascism.

“Liberty is more precious than education,” said the Voluntaryist Richard Hamilton. “We love education, but there are things which we love better.” This is an important theme of this book, and one that seems lost on most members of the public, and most politicians too, for that matter. Because a person is opposed to the near-monopoly that government has on schools, it does not follow that the person doesn’t value education.

Many people propose vouchers as a way to let parents send their children to private schools. But Richman warns against relying on vouchers as a solution to the problem of government control of education. It is likely, he says, that private schools will have to meet many of the standards that public schools do, thereby regulating private schools like public schools. Further, vouchers don’t change the fundamental problem in education, which is government financing of it.

What should be done, Richman says, is to end all government involvement in education. End all taxes that pay for education. Repeal all compulsory attendance laws. Open education to the creativity of the market and entrepreneurs. We do not know what would happen if this were to take place. But that’s part of the magic of markets and competition: new ideas and products are invented that are beyond the imagination of the present.

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