An Extremely Depressing Onion Article
Local first-grader Connor Bolduc, 6, experienced the first inkling of a coming lifetime of existential dread Monday upon recognizing his cruel destiny to participate in compulsory education for the better part of the next two decades, sources reported.
Shortly after his mommy, homemaker Ellen Bolduc, 31, assured him that he would be able to resume playtime "when school lets out," Connor's innocent brain only then began to work out the implication of that sentence to its inevitable, soul-crushing conclusion.
Although I'm always surprised by the number of otherwise "plumb-line" libertarians that support public schools, libertarians are well aware of the evils of compulsory education. On the other hand, libertarians are often hypocritical of the problems with schools as we know them and the concept of schooling itself. Schooling provides a good example of the importance of "thick libertarianism", the claim that libertarianism must incorporate contextual social and cultural values in its analysis.
We should not assume that education in a free market would look like our present private and public schools minus the hobbling regulatory restrictions.
Rad Geek explains how statism has a deeply pernicious effect on the internal culture and institutional structure of schools:
One of the worst things about so-called "public education," i.e. government-controlled schooling, is that students are forced into an institution that they consistently find unpleasant and boring, whether or not the individual student thinks that it's worth the trouble. That fact, combined with the fact that the victims are all young and many of them are poor or black or otherwise marked as "at-risk youth" in need of special surveillance and control, naturally and systematically corrupts the way that the school relates to its students. It leads administrators and political decision-makers to focus on restraining the unruly behavior of the coerced students, by making authority, control, "security," and "discipline" top priorities. In practice this means monitoring, intimidation, and coercion. These facts in turn result in attitudes and institutional practices throughout State schools that are often hard to distinguish from those prevailing in a prison camp.
The causal relationship also goes the other way. The hierarchical, authoritarian, and ultimately unproductive, structure of schools and the education they provide shapes political outcomes. Mencken writes,
The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all, it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else.
A primary outcome of education as it is presently constituted is to turn naturally independent, self-sufficent, entrepreneurial, human beings into efficent wage slaves for the state monopoly capitalist system and obedient subjects for the total state. While private schools are usually less culpable than public schools in this regard, they still operate within the same environment and are conditioned to the demands and expectations of this system by the demands of employers, parents, and legislators.
In the absence of statism, we can only assume that schools would look completely different. In fact, I suspect that that schools would be unable to compete efficently with alternative forms of education in a liberated society. David Friedman appears to be at least one person who has been succesful "unschooling" some of his children. I highly recommend his posts on the subject:
The Case for Unschooling
Home Unschooling: Theory
Home Unschooling: Practice