In a comment Ram wrote, “What are your thoughts on governments (or quasi government bodies) deciding what subjects should be taught in schools. For physical and social sciences, yes, I could think of market deciding it. But specifically what about languages? Can a government decide? But again, if we leave it to the market, some languages may not survive. I find it abhorrent that in some Indian states one could complete schooling all the way until Grade 12 without learning the local language.”
TL;DR version: Government should never get into any aspect of education — funding and running schools, dictating content, etc. That’s the job of parents, and if necessary, the job of society. Regarding languages, people decide what survives and what doesn’t. It’s a pity when a language dies but the use of force to keep a dying language alive cannot be morally justified.
The fundamental principle I subscribe to is that of self-ownership, from which follows the notion of personal responsibility. But if one denies the basic axiom of self-ownership, then one is compelled to admit that someone else owns the self, and therefore the person cannot be held responsible for anything, and therefore everything regarding the person becomes the responsibility of the owner.
Assuming that the self-ownership axiom is admitted, let’s proceed to examine the idea of a government.
Government is an institution (one among many) that is collectively created to serve some functions that is supposed to be in the interests of the people that comprise the collective. The functions of governments differ among societies since societies differ in their culture, goals, capacities, etc. A society of free people would admit a kind of government that differs from the government of non-free people.
Let’s recall what Edward R Murrow (1908 – 1965), the legendary American journalist said. “A nation of sheep will beget a government of wolves.” Governments are creations of the underlying society and thus are functionally related to the nature of the society.
In a free society, the people, individually and collectively, assume the responsibility for themselves and what’s theirs. Being free naturally implies that they are free to give up whatever freedoms they freely choose to, and assign the associated responsibilities to others, including governmental institutions.
Let’s assume here that a certain free society retains all conceivable freedoms and the responsibilities that flow from them. What then is the role of the government in such a free society? The answer is straightforward: to prevent the use of any force between and among the people through the enforcement of laws that prohibit coercion. That’s all, and nothing else.
Parents are Responsible for Children
With that preamble, we are ready to address that part of the question related to the matter of what should be taught in schools for the education of children. Children are the responsibility of parents. Therefore it is the parents’ duty and their sole prerogative to decided what their children should learn, and where and how they will learn. It is not anybody else’s business what the child learns other than his parents’. The government of a free society certainly has no justification to interfere in the right of parents to decide what the children learn.
That is the principle but is empty of any content or directions on how to operationalize the education of children. It leaves a lot of room for the precise form and functioning of the financing and provisioning of education. The choice ranges from home-schooling to private institutional schooling to public institutional schooling.
Now it is true that “public institutional schooling” (public schools) is usually equated with government schools but the equation is only incidental and nothing compels it to be so. Public schools don’t necessarily have to be run by the government. They could as well be in the domain of organizations that are funded and controlled by the parents who have an interest in educating their children in public institutions.
It is usually the case that governments run public schools and finance them through taxation. But that’s not dictated by any unalterable law of nature. The reasons why governments do run public education are many, the primary reason being that it allows the government to brainwash children into believing whatever the government wants people to believe. Catch them young and with the proper indoctrination they will become obedient citizens.
Indoctrinating the Children
As an aside, here is a short list of doctrines that children are force-fed by the government in government-controlled educational institutions (including private schools):
- Government is always the answer to all of society’s problems
- Government is never at fault for any of society’s problems
- The government’s sole purpose is the “public good”
- Nationalism is good
- Joining the army is noble
- Democracy justifies all the powers that the government usurps for itself
- All laws passed by the government are good because the people freely elected the legislators
- It’s the government’s responsibility to feed, clothe, house, educate, and medicate people
- The government will decide what you can, cannot and must do
- It’s the government’s responsibility to redress all social imbalances and ensure equality among the people
- Without the government’s intervention in every aspect of life from the cradle to cremation, society would collapse into chaos
Recent additions to those doctrines
- Climate change is anthropogenic
- Global warming is threatening the planet
- CO2 will kill us all
Education is Not the Government’s Business
Alright, now that that rant is out of the way, here’s my take on the issues that Ram raises.
Government has no business to dictate to anyone what children should learn. (The corollary follows: government should not unilaterally decide to run schools and force people to pay for schools that they are not willing to send their children to.) That’s the job of the parents.
If the parents are unable, then they have to admit their incapacity and hand over the education of their children to others who would decide. In short, “I don’t know what my child should learn. You please take this job. And here’s the money I will pay you to do it.” So if a set of parents want that their children to be taught by the government, then they should approach the government with money in hand. Note that this is a “market solution” — the people who want public schooling, pay for it with their own money, and the government provides what the people are willing to buy. It’s no different from parents sending their children to private schools.
Now to the matter of languages. Recall Ram wrote,
“…what about languages? Can a government decide? But again, if we leave it to the market, some languages may not survive. I find it abhorrent that in some Indian states one could complete schooling all the way until Grade 12 without learning the local language.”
The principle I would consistently apply is of non-coercion. It’s true that some languages may not survive. So what are the alternatives.
- They die
- They are kept alive by government mandate
- They are kept alive by those who find the idea of a language dying abhorrent, and they do so by funding the continued survival of the language with their own money
Option 2 is clearly out of the question as a viable means in a free society. It is easy to see why if you consistently apply the principle of non-coercion. I leave it to the interested reader. Or perhaps for another post.