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In last week’s article, I maintained that America’s greatness stemmed from three unique factors:

  1. The Bill of Rights, which managed to keep the U.S. government relatively small for its first hundred years.

  2. A respect for voluntary association, allowing each individual to make his own decisions – rather than allowing politicians to force their beliefs and tastes upon the individual.

  3. The free market, which brought us the greatest prosperity the world has ever known.

Unfortunately, all three of these factors have been diminished greatly over the past hundred years or so. Today, America is coasting on its past success – and it offers nothing that can’t be found in many countries of the world.

How did this happen?

Teaching children to be good citizens

Of course, many elements contributed to America’s decline. But I believe the most important by far is government schooling.

  • Why should we expect teachers employed by the government to show our children the importance of limiting government?

  • Why should we expect children forced by law to go to school to see the importance of voluntary association?

  • Why should we expect teachers who work for a monopoly institution to teach our children how the free market works?

We shouldn’t be surprised that our children are taught to believe that government saved America from the Great Depression, that only government can protect the environment, that government prevents private companies from running roughshod over us, that government ended segregation and racial injustice (when government caused these things in the first place).

Harry Browne’s school days

Most of my schooling took place at government schools in Los Angeles in the 1940s.

Schools were academically more proficient then. Despite being a poor student, I learned a great deal about history, geography, good English, literature, music and math – information I still use today.

Fortunately, the teachers didn’t waste classroom time urging me to badger my parents to recycle, or inspiring me to march in protest parades, or encouraging me to believe I knew the answers to all the world’s problems.

But despite my good academic education, I learned nothing about the Bill of Rights, voluntary association nor the free market. Quite the opposite: I was taught all the ways government can overcome the supposed defects of freedom.

Not surprisingly, I graduated from high school as a left-wing liberal. It took about 5 years of self-education before my native individualism converted me into a libertarian. And it was another 5 years or so before I fully appreciated the Bill of Rights, voluntary association and the free market.

Your own experience may be somewhat similar.

Government can’t reform education

What can we do about American education?

The first step is to realize that no government program can solve a problem caused by government’s participation. You simply can’t reform government schools. Whether promoted by a Democrat or Republican, every “reform” is bound to make the situation worse.

“School choice,” for example, will inevitably let government bureaucrats control private schools that want to get on the government dole – just as college subsidies have. And there are no “safeguards” you can enact that won’t be discarded over time.

True reform

Only one reform will improve education: Get government completely out of education – and repeal the property taxes that pay for government schools. Then you will control your children’s education.

What about children whose parents can’t afford a private school? There undoubtedly are more than enough generous people in America to take care of every poor child – especially when those generous people no longer have to pay school taxes.

Even if private donations couldn’t take care of every child, should we abandon freedom just so poor children can get a terrible education?

What to do?

If you have children, here are two things that can help them:

  1. Support the Alliance for Separation of School & State, which is working to get government completely out of education.

  2. Find a good private school for your children. Money spent for good schooling will help your children far more than anything else you can buy. If necessary, supplement their learning with family discussions about the Bill of Rights, voluntary association and the free market. And give them a basic understanding of economics – to help them be more successful when they earn their own living. If you can’t find a good school, consider home-schooling.

Getting government out of education isn’t a panacea that will cure every problem of society. But curing any problem of society will be a steep, uphill battle so long as our children are taught by government employees.

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