The education system in America is based on government policies regarding what children should know and be able to do at certain ages. The educational practices therein include requiring students to sit still, walk in straight lines, be quiet, memorize facts, and most importantly — pass standardized tests. The system applies canned instructional programs to what it designates as appropriately grouped students, and often makes no room for the unique gifts each learner has or the challenges each one faces. The lesson learned by students early on is that there is one path to success in life — education by institution, and if you don’t quite fit the student mold or you deviate from the stillness, straight lines, or quietness — you are a problem. It is time that Americans reject this model and embrace new ideas for education.
Education is a political talking point every four years when presidential hopefuls make promises to parents and communities about how they will provide what they believe to be best “for the children.” From the absolute failure of No Child Left Behind under George W. Bush, to the carrot of Universal Pre-K frequently dangled by President Biden, there always seems to be a talking head in Washington arrogant enough to claim he knows how to meet the educational needs of every child in the country.
These foolish ideas are commonplace among modern-day politicians. The entire foundation upon which education in America is built was first laid by Horace Mann, a politician and education reformer. Mann argued that uniform public education was the best way to turn unruly American children into compliant, well-behaved citizens. He saw education mostly as an opportunity to form habits that children would carry into adulthood. The school system he helped create heavily favored uniformity and replicability, as the second industrial revolution was bringing about the kinds of jobs that required the same. Lumping students into groups, rather than treating them as individual learners with different aptitudes and needs, became the norm. It wasn’t long before Mann’s system of education was widely adopted across the nation.
While there have been some notable changes in the last century, far too much of education today — and certainly public education — still follows this incredibly outdated approach. Children in America aren’t taught how to learn, they’re taught how to conform. The mark of a good student is one who arrives punctually, follows routines set for them, sits quietly waiting for instruction, regurgitates information, and performs tasks well enough to pass a test, demonstrating mastery of certain skills along the expected timeline, based on “age-appropriate” curriculum. A predictable and conformed student looks like the best student. While it perhaps could have been argued that this was the most likely path to success in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, it is simply an archaic and failing model today.
In today’s world, predictability and conformity are programmed into and expected from machines. It is the unique, the unexpected, the anomalous, and not the predictable that is leading the way to the future. Innovation, creativity, ingenuity, mold-breaking — these are what we should be cultivating through educational opportunities. To do so, educators and creators of educational material must be innovative, ingenious, and non-conformist.
Libertarians are often accused of opposing public education merely out of blind hatred for the government. That simply doesn’t cover it. While it does stand to reason that those of us who don’t trust the government to manage our healthcare or our money would also not trust the government to educate our kids, it is so much more than that. We have watched — as educators, as parents, as students, as employers — the public school system waste resources, traumatize students, frustrate families, and fail us all. And it gets worse and worse as the years go by, and as more money is poured into it.
As Libertarians, at a minimum, we want to remove barriers to school choice, and put the financial resources stripped from Americans through school taxes back into their hands to help fund their own educational choices. We want the government to get out of the way as educational experts, innovators, and creators bring us new, different, and better platforms, methods, tools, and materials for learning. We want students to have safe, appropriate, peaceful, non-punitive, non-coercive educational environments in which to develop relationships with peers and skills for life-long learning.
We support school choice because educators and students should be able to work directly with each other to establish their own standards, timelines, and costs. We support school choice because it promotes competition, which breeds innovation, cost-effectiveness, and better outcomes for students — which means better outcomes for us all.
Libertarian Platform, 2.12 Education
“Education is best provided by the free market, achieving greater quality, accountability, and efficiency with more diversity of choice. Recognizing that the education of children is a parental responsibility, we would restore authority to parents to determine the education of their children, without interference from government. Parents should have control of and responsibility for all funds expended for their children’s education.”