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Public Education, and the Fight Against Indoctrination

Why do the supporters of public schools so abhor the idea of free choice and competition in the education industry? One of the more often-heard reasons is that allowing parents to send their children to alternative schools or to homeschool presents the unbearable risk of indoctrination. Indoctrinated children grow up to be dysfunctional members of society, so it is incumbent upon the rest of society to intervene and provide children with a standard, unbiased, and robust education, which the state is uniquely able to facilitate.

This concern by public school proponents about the risk of indoctrination seems oddly contrived, however, considering the ideology that informs public education policy prescriptions in the first place. The whole premise of public schooling is the instillation of knowledge not according to professional consensus, the scientific method, or the power of creative destruction, but according to ordained dogma of a political majority. This fact may sometimes be obscured by the implicit trust we have for our “professional” education bureaucracy, but remember that the bureaucrats are always appointed by the politicians.

That elections determine what we teach in school is an inherent volatility of public education which the system’s proponents are shockingly quick to tolerate. Does it not bother them, for example, that while evolution is currently the predominant theory of human origins taught in public science classrooms, it is possible—even likely, in certain localities—that a shift in the political winds could grant the power of crafting education policy to those who believe in the propriety of creationism as an alternative scientific theory? Having a free market in education would alleviate this volatility by allowing those who disagree to extricate their children from schools with such curricula and pursue alternative methods of schooling. Yet those who favor public schooling—a few on the right, but mostly on the left—abhor the idea of letting parents choose for themselves what kind of education their kids receive.

Why would people concerned with the education of their children expose themselves to such unnecessary risk? Why would they endlessly and restlessly struggle for control over education policy?

The explanation is simple: Public school proponents are not only concerned with the education of their own children—they are also concerned with the education of everyone else’s. As much as parents would love the freedom to teach their own children according to their own values and beliefs, having that freedom necessarily means granting it to others; but that means some parents could teach their children views which others find disagreeable. The only way for parents to have their cake and eat it too is the creation of compulsory public education, so that a majority of parents—busybodies—may teach their kids as they please while denying that same right to those without political power.

Paradoxically, their reliance on state power in the education sector displays both arrogance and diffidence simultaneously. So confident are they in the infallibility of their own ideas that they feel compelled to impress them upon all children in the pursuance of comprehensive and effective societal education, yet so insecure are they about the same ideas that they refuse to let their teaching methods and curricula stand alone in a free market without the aid of government force.

This paradox may be resolved, perhaps, by assuming that the individual consumers of education are too stupid to recognize infallible ideas, and that force is the only way to achieve proper education. If this is the case, however, then the ideas being forced upon people need not be valid or true, and consumers (voters) would have no way of holding education officials accountable for not providing true and valid curricula in the schools anyway.

Regardless of the particular rationale used to defend public schooling, we should ask ourselves—based on actions rather than words—who truly seems more worried about indoctrination? Those who believe in a competition of curricula and ideas, or those who seek to impose upon everyone else what they sincerely believe must always and forever be the correct worldview?