Free market education: the fail.

Yesterday I posted a super-bloated overlong post: The failure of conservatism. (That’s what happens when I allow myself to write unedited in stream-of-consciousness–which is every time, really.) I railed against the ideas of free market capitalism and libertarian, objectivist anarchy in the modern world. I briefly mentioned public education as part of “the commons,” a service that everyone in a society benefits from either directly or indirectly, and it gets privatized at the risk of harming society.

Well, today, “carr2d2” on the SkepChick blog posted an article that addresses that very topic:

She reasonably questions the libertarian belief that parents should totally determine the way, why, how, and when a child is educated. carr2d2 asks:

We were looking at the children’s education as a function of the parents’ freedom.  At what point does a parent’s right to raise their child as they see fit (or, as some argue, their freedom to not pay taxes) infringe upon that child’s right to live a healthy life, relatively untainted by abuse?  Don’t we owe it to all our kids to give them as equal a shot as is possible at success?

This topic spawned a great comment thread with wonderful observation like this snippet from AgnosticOracle:

If we look at periods and places where there was no public education the vast majority of working class people didn’t get educated. It isn’t merely a question of fairness to the child. There are externalities of education that benefit society as a whole. Carl Sagan’s father was a garment worker. Without public education there is a good chance the world would have lost out on his genius.
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It is a benefit not only to the child but to society at large to educate children well. This is especially true if you want a functioning democracy. While we may wish to give the parents the right to teach the child what they want, we shouldn’t give them the right to deny them education. For instance, a parent shouldn’t be able to choose not to teach their daughters math and science.

He, and most commentors, have it exactly right. A parent isn’t imbued with special wisdom simply because they can procreate. They certainly have a wide range of rights along with their responsibilities, but the minimal education of the people who are going to be participating in society is everyone’s concern–not just the parents. The libertarian mindset, like I implied in yesterday’s post, was perfectly reasonable when people can and did live in a such a way as to not have to interact or participate in society at large. but we, as Americans and a human race, have developed far beyond any reasonable concept of isolationism and selfish individualism.

The education of my children directly affects your and your childrens’ lives–you want to be assured that my kids have a certain basic level of education, no? In a libertarian paradise, there’s no guarantee that anyone you interact with doesn’t have a skewed and flawed education, if any. Would you want to live in that kind of wild west in an age in which our health and lives and lifestyle is so delicately balanced on a web of dynamic social interactivity?