One funny contradiction that I often run into is the fact that I am writing libertarian articles at a school run and funded by the government. West Chester University, as a state school, receives subsidies from the state government which allows it to keep its tuition prices lower than those of private universities.
The fact that I grew up going to a public school and that I chose to come here, rather than a private institution, may be a point in favor for the government provision of education. However, I will make the case that if government had no involvement in education, things would most certainly be much better.
First, there is the simple issue of the Department of Education and how it manages the funding of states education budgets. State governments fund their education systems with state taxes, but the federal Department of Education doesn’t just fund themselves with federal income taxes.
In fact, the Department of Education actually leaves state education departments with less money! The DOE gives each state about 11 cents for every dollar they spend; however, they also take 16 cents back to fund themselves!
If we were to completely get rid of the DOE, a policy which Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson favors, schools like West Chester, or maybe your public primary schools, would actually have more money! That five percent difference in funding could make a huge difference for public schools, perhaps even allowing room for arts programs which have been in so much decline.
The issue of money goes beyond the DOE, however. Since the ’70s, college tuition rates have increased at almost five times the rate of inflation! Now even state schools like West Chester are a financial burden that many cannot afford despite government subsidization. A hot political issue is whether or not to expand federal student loans so that more people can afford to go to college—a policy supported by Hillary Clinton, for example.
However, this would only exacerbate the issue, because it’s the expansion of student loans that put us in this situation in the first place. As the U.S. government started offering loans to college students, colleges started to raise their tuition. Since anybody who applies can get a federal student loan, colleges can charge whatever they want, since potential students will just apply for credit to compensate for the new price.
This causes a huge backfire when students graduate and enter our crappy economy, lucky to make enough to get by, let alone cover the interest on their ballooning student debt. As horrible as it sounds initially, scrapping the federal student loan would likely cause college tuition to plummet practically overnight.
Here’s the big question: Why should we maintain our current model of education at all? Education, in a philosophical sense, is supposed to be the creation of your Self, where you can pursue all of your interests, expand your mind with information that benefits you and train yourself to think critically.
However, from a policy perspective, most people think of it as job training. Government bureaucrats want to make sure people go through the schooling process with a certain prescribed set of skills that will allow them to get some sort of degree and find employment. While employment is certainly a concern, this way of thinking has completely derailed the purpose of education.
From the first grade, when we are young absorbent sponges of information, we are funnelled into a system, which we are required by law to attend, to study four subjects in a strictly compartmentalized and hierarchical fashion. We must take a standardized test every other week so that the bureaucrats can make sure we’re learning the skills they want us to learn.
Worse yet, after learning these prescribed skills, we are asked to focus our energies in the pursuit of one niche subject, a major, to get a degree which will give us access to a strictly defined set of jobs, where we will work until we retire—though in this economy, more likely until we die. These degrees we worked so hard for may not even be of any actual help due to the lack of practical application of material in our classrooms.
The main issue with this system is that other people decide how you can best devote your energy and passion. Gov. Tom Wolf knows that if you just stick with his program, you’ll be the most efficient economic utility you can be.
However, your true interests may not align with this plan, and so the tests you take and the degrees you don’t get will label you a failure. If you could choose where you want to direct your interest, you will likely be better at whatever that is than you will be at remembering algebraic formulas.
So, without government to fund it, without anyone forcing you to do it and without any strictly defined guidelines which will dictate your learning experience, how would anything get done? The answer lies in free schooling.
Free schooling is a radical form of education that has existed for a long time. I should note that free schooling does not necessarily mean no one pays for it, although many communists practice this mode of schooling and thus do not charge cash. Free schooling is a decentralized network of skills and knowledge which are shared outside of a compulsory institutionalized setting.
Instead of being required by law to attend school and learn a certain set of information, those with the information congregate and work on an equal level with those seeking the information, and the educators guide the learners.
Let’s say, for example, a local community in my ideal libertarian society has a free school. Young kids, those who would go to kindergarten in our current society, would not be forced to attend; however, those who wish to learn would be sent to the free school to get the information they seek.
One child might love space, and they may want to ask someone about space and learn about it. This child might then be given a book on space by the teacher, specifically designed for their age group, which can give them interesting information that will appeal to them.
This book could incorporate the history of the study of space, such as Galileo, or the mathematics involved in the path of planets rotating around the sun at a very basic level. This child would probably be excited to come back to school, instead of dreading it every morning! They would not be burdened with information that will not strike at whatever makes them tick and can instead pursue their own passion while still being guided to the secondary information that is important to understand beyond strictly astronomy.
Local communities would set up and manage these networks themselves, cooperating within the community instead of handing over money to some far-away bureaucrats to make the decisions for them.
People would naturally pursue that which they love most and would devote their energy to in their daily work. People would less likely be stuck in jobs doing narrowly specialized work and instead be communicating with others who gravitated towards other unique fields of interest to bring ideas to the table that our current school system cannot prepare us for.
People might be trained to do jobs, but not at the expense of their passions and their desire to learn.
If anything, a system which actually rewards people learning what they want to learn might make this world a happier, wealthier and less stressful place.
Alexander Habbart is a second-year student majoring in economics, math, and finance. He can be reached at AH855514@wcupa.edu.