Political Cartoon by Libertas Institute.
Education is a service that the vast majority of people value. Because it is such a highly valued service, many people feel that only government can be trusted to deliver it to all the children. Not only is government basically a monopoly provider in many places, but it requires all children to be enrolled in school. All this necessitates multiple violations of the non-aggression principle. First, government education is funded by taxation, which is a form of theft. Second, the government can put competitors out of business, which violates the rights of alternative education providers. Third, the government mandates that all children be in school, which violates either the rights of the children, the rights of the parents, or both. This terrible situation must be addressed.
The principles of liberty demand the abolition of taxes. It's a very simple concept. I don't have the right to threaten you to obtain your money. You don't have the right to threaten me to obtain my money. The mafia doesn't have the right to threaten anyone to obtain money. The government doesn't have the right to threaten anyone to obtain money. The government doesn't magically have the rights to do something that individuals don't have the right to do. Taxes, even taxes for education, are theft. It doesn't matter how you dress it up. It doesn't matter how many times you say, "It's for the children". Taxes are a form of robbery and nobody has a duty to pay them. Education must be paid for by alternative, non-coercive means. What means? I'll leave that up to you to decide.
In a free society any individual or business should be free to provide any service to any individual. This is fundamental to voluntary association. Education services are no different. Nobody should have the right to shut down a business because it is not aligned with the status quo. If you look closely there are non-government schools for pretty much anything: Karate, music, gymnastics, etc. But for some reason when a school decides to teach academics, depending on where it is, it must go through a tedious, bureaucratic nightmare in order to abide by state standards. Schools are businesses. They deliver knowledge in return for payment. Any business should be free to do whatever they wish, provided that nobody is forcing someone to do something.
Most states, if not all, have compulsory education laws. Anyone who believes we live in a free country should make sure they read that right. It is compulsory. You could even call it an "individual mandate" for kids (it's never too early to learn that the government has complete authority over you, right?) . Yes, in the United States of America every child is required by law to attend school. These laws, by the way, started long before any Obamacare mandates. The public school apologists claim that education is compulsory for the good of society. But if you accept the notions of national, collective, and societal goals, you might just be a communist. Or a fascist. Take your pick. You know what else is for the good of society? Food! I would argue that food is more important than education since, you know, you can't really survive without food. Should we nationalize food production? Should we make laws mandating food consumption? Should we put people in jail for not eating? Should we cut off national funding to states that aren't eating according to national standards? No! We don't do those things because they would be silly and they would violate the rights of individuals. I propose that we abolish compulsory education for the exact same reasons.
Many people simply cannot admit that another system of education could work. I shall attempt to describe how a world without public education would function. In a free society, education would simply be one service among all the other services in the world. The same people who value it right now would value it in a free society. That would not change. A market of competing schools would emerge and every school would be a business. Every school would want to enroll as many students as possible in order to maximize profit. We have competitive markets today that provide countless goods and services so it is not hard to imagine a competitive education system if you try. Just as the prices of car insurance, dry cleaning, and pizza delivery are always fair and affordable, so would be the price of education. There is nothing magical about education that would make it prohibitively expensive in a free market. Schools that attempt to charge too much for their services would lose customers to lower-cost alternatives. Some argue that this tendency towards low prices would lower the quality of the education being provided. Today people go into the market and purchase many items whose cost is constantly going down and they are, for the most part, satisfied with the cost and quality of those items. Education would be the same. High quality, not just low cost, is the constant endeavor of the market. People also argue that only the rich would be able to afford high-quality education. Well the rich can already afford high-quality education. That's just part of life. If you are jealous of the rich in today's world, that will never change, no matter what system of government we use and no matter what kind of market we have.
A very attractive thing about free-market education is the innovation we would see. Different schools, in order to attract customers, would try different educational methods and theories. Each method would be judged on its results, namely, the performance of the students. Parents who were dissatisfied with their children's progress would fire the school and go to another education provider. Free-market education would basically enable the best ideas to rise to the surface and eventually permeate the entire education world. Innovation would be constant, just as it is in other markets. Today's education market punishes innovation because government money is needed to operate and government money can only be awarded by adhering to old and worn-out ideas.
Many parents have differing views on what education actually looks like. A free society would enable parents to act on those views. To some parents, education looks like sitting quietly in a classroom for hours on end each day. To other parents, education looks like a child using self-directed learning to pursue what he is interested in. To others it looks like field trips every day. To others it looks like a child being an apprentice to their parents. As a teacher I am already taught to differentiate instruction according to each student's needs but I can only differentiate to a certain extent. A free society would simply allow for maximum differentiated instruction and I believe that the children who are being neglected today would be able to get the help they need.
I often find it necessary to tell people that I adhere to deontological (natural-rights) libertarianism as opposed to consequentialist libertarianism. That means that I advocate for policies, not necessarily because I believe they will lead to better outcomes, but because it's the right thing to do, since those policies would eliminate or reduce coercion. However, I also believe that we would see better outcomes after doing the right thing. So it is with education. I propose these things because we must try to eliminate coercion and force in our educational institutions. It just has the added bonus (some would say the natural result) of being a far better system of education.