MCViewPoint

Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Privatize Education – Econlib

Posted by M. C. on January 3, 2022

What is going on here? What is going on is that when it comes to public education, the children and their guardians, the parents, are simply not “customers.” Rather, they are wards of the state.

https://www.econlib.org/privatize-education/

By Walter Block

In the view of Terry McAuliffe, former Virginia Gubernatorial candidate: “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

According to Mary-Michelle Upson Hirschoff, a professor at the Indiana University School of Law, it is not even clear that parents have an unambiguous right to have their children excused from instruction they regard as objectionable. She states: “The curriculum of a public school in a democratic system of government is necessarily a subject of political debate. These controversies dramatize the inherent tension between the interests of the state and the interests of the parents in shaping the child’s development.”

And what is the position of Randi Weingarten, the head of the American Federation of Teachers? She declared war on “culture warriors” who are “bullying teachers.” She elaborated: “But culture warriors are labeling any discussion of race, racism or discrimination as CRT to try to make it toxic. They are bullying teachers and trying to stop us from teaching students accurate history.” She opposed those who want to “limit learning and stoke fears about our public schools.”

Whatever happened to the axiom, “the customer is always right?” This is a basic foundational premise which operates all throughout the private economy. The customer wants to purchase new dungarees with holes in them that look ten years old? All the buyers need to do is snap their fingers and their wish is the command of the business sector. Do they want electronic vehicles? Entrepreneurs hasten to provide them. The same with computers instead of typewriters; cell phones in place of land line telephones and cameras; “roughage” instead of food that makes life worth living. They like large groceries instead of mom and pop stores, or, electronic shopping? Again their wishes are sovereign. “The customer is king” might well be the motto of the capitalist system.

Why is this not working in education? Why are there millions of parents outraged with what their children are being taught? The problem is so serious that Attorney General Merrick Garland has felt the need to involve the Federal Bureau of Investigation to quell these protests.

What is going on here? What is going on is that when it comes to public education, the children and their guardians, the parents, are simply not “customers.” Rather, they are wards of the state. Yes, their taxes finance public schooling, but they simply have no say in what goes on there, any more than they have control over other gigantic government bureaucracies. Wait, I spoke too quickly. They do have the ballot box. But this power can be implemented only every two or four years, and mainly impacts politicians, and only very, very indirectly, tenured bureaucrats in the teachers’ unions.

Instead of begging, pleading, complaining about the corrupt miseducation intellectually crippling their children, they should transfer their children to private schools. Why do they not do that? It is simple. Then, they would have to pay twice over, once through taxes for the “education” of other children in public schools, and a second time, directly, for their own kids’ private education.

How did this system get started? Public schooling began in most of the country in the late 19th century. It was initiated, mainly, by Protestants who wished to rid the country of the supposed evils of Popery and Catholicism. They did not have the power to ban private schools of the latter. They did the next best thing from their perspective: forced parents who patronized them to pay twice over. They were unscrupulous, but good economists; they knew that demand curves slope in a downward direction. Force the Catholics to pay double, and a lot of the impetus of Catholic education would be lost.

So, parents unhappy with woke public education being crammed down the throats of their children have a natural constituency: Catholics. And in addition Jews and members of other religion groups who also provide private education.

Forced school busing was beat back by massive numbers of outraged parents, and this latest attempt to impose political correctness can also meet the same fate, if the non “customers” can but become organized instead of limiting themselves to sporadic protests.


Walter E. Block is Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola University New Orleans and is co-author of An Austro-Libertarian Critique of Public Choice (with Thomas DiLorenzo).

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