Why Must They
Politicians and their Pet 'Free Education'
Everywhere in the "modern, developed nations" of the West, the governments preach about 'free education.' But in what sense do they mean that it is free? This rhetoric is as political as any other. "Free schools" and "Free education" might be listed in the achievements of a nation by some education minister. It is similar as when a president calls the nation's charter "a free constitution," or when a lawmaker calls parliament or congress "a free legislature." In these contexts, the word "free" has lost any meaning. And if it was not ridiculous enough, politicians would probably apply it to everything. We would become a nation of "free prisons," "free police," and "free military." But to apply the word "free" to public schools today would be just as absurd and unjust.
Free, as in the Student?
Could they possibly mean that these government schools are free as in the students are free to participate as they would like? Of course not. There is not one single child in school who is there because it is their choice. The choice was already made by the legislators. "Free education," means that the children are free to go to school, but not free to leave -- just as a convict is "free" to enter prison, but not free to leave. At no point was the child ever consulted about their future and what they may like to do. It was decided before they were born and by laws passed by people they'll never meet.
Those children who do not attend school will have warrants issued for their arrest, which are carried out by a "special subdivision" of the police -- truancy officers. But they should simply be called for what they have been for the past century: political police. They do not fulfill the law, as per their obligations, but they make sure that everyone listens without interrupting when the government speaks.
This subdivision of police can call upon the judicial branch of government at any time. Judges will arrest and imprison parents who do not enforce the iron hand of discipline for school attendance. Even as old as age 18, the so-called "age of consent," a student is not free to leave their high school, and they will be arrested, charged, and imprisoned for dropping out. [*1]
Free, as in the School?
It is not free in terms of the individual student, but is it free in terms of the school? Is the learning institution an autonomous and self-governing organization? Does it respect the rights and liberties of its professional members and participants? No to all of these. The school is obedient to its superiors in the government. Its curriculum and its lessons must conform to the standards set by the state. The facts taught, and how they are taught, are prescribed for every teacher, as though the state was a physician diagnosing and curing the disease of independence.
Can the schools organize themselves according to whatever principles of their choosing? Can learning institutions, both kindergarten and universities, decide what is taught, how it is taught, or to explain why it is taught? These questions have all been resolved by the government, and the school has no freedom from the state. The university and the college, alike, are both soldiers under the obedience of a general. They obey the orders handed to them. Again, education is not free and the school is not free. They are tied to the orders of a master, as the children in the classrooms are.
Free, as in Available to All?
The school may not be free for its participants, the students, or for its workers, the teachers. But perhaps, in an attempt to find some way that schools are "free," some might say that there is no cost. It is true that they do not ask you for a cash advance the moment that you walk through the school doors. However, this is going a long way from saying that they are "free" and are not paid for by the people.
Every school is erected with the public tax funds and every teacher's paycheck is provided by the people's income and spending. The common workers did not just provide the money that is in those teachers' paychecks -- but they also provided the food, the housing, and the luxury that those teachers intend to spend their paychecks on. The state did not provide anything, except regulations, laws, and their enforcement. Where the people themselves built the school and provided for the teachers, it is for the state to determine how that school runs and how those teachers educate. The farmer provides the bread, the politician provides the laws concerning how to eat it.
The Social Cost of Mandatory Schooling
Let us assume, though, that the state were able to create a functioning educational system without any contribution or efforts of the people -- even though this may be impossible. If it were free, as in fully available to all, is there still not a grave social cost in the experiment? Aren't the teachers' and professors sacrificing their right to conscience, when they teach what the state demands because that's who is paying? Aren't they sacrificing their heart and mind, if they can be bought in terms of what they believe is valuable education?
Then, too, we must consider the fate of the solitary student, who is completely dependent in terms of social, economic, and personal needs. They are thrown into a situation which gives them no choice, in whether to participate or not, or even how to participate. The student who shows the greatest enthusiasm for calculus and physics will still be forced to learn the recorder for three years. The student who may potentially cure cancer might fail gym class, preventing them from advancing toward knowledge of organic chemistry. Even if schooling were free, the student and the teacher are selling their liberty to the state. The price cannot be too high, either, because those who must wear chains can possess little of their own.
*1. I have personally seen these cases prosecuted when I myself was sitting in the New Orleans, parish courthouse waiting to make my own defense case, in 2003.