Rothbard and the Importance of Freedom in Education


In his monograph on public education, Education: Free and Compulsory, Murray Rothbard writes:

The idea that the school should not simply teach subjects, but should educate the “whole child” in all phases of life, is obviously an attempt to arrogate to the State all the functions of the home. It is an attempt to accomplish the molding of the child without actually seizing him as in the plans of Plato. … Unquestionably, the effect of all this is to foster dependence of the individual on the group and on the State.

By:  Ryan McMaken

This article first appeared at

These words were featured today in the National Catholic Register as part of an analysis of a new report on global educational freedom. The report, titled Index of Freedom of Education 2015/16 attempts to rank freedom based on the ability of private persons to create and manage an independent and non-governmental school.

The US is ranked at 17th behind Ireland (1st), Denmark (5th), Chile (7th), and Australia (15th).

These rankings should be approached with some caution since the methodology appears to award “freedom points,” if you will, to systems that employ government-subsidized private schools for a large share of education. Moreover, it’s unclear to what extent curriculum at these government-financed “private” institutions are regulated. For example, during the administration of socialist José Zapatero in Spain (2004–2011), Zapatero pushed through a government mandate of “citizenship education” which the Council of Europe had lobbied for, and was designed to indoctrinate children into the values of the Spanish state.

Not surprisingly, the Catholic Church in Spain opposed the measure as pro-government, anti-religious propaganda.

In this, one might argue that the Spaniards were just getting caught up to the Germans who today still defend their Nazi-era ban on homeschooling, claiming that without state control of education, people might actually come to diverse and non-government-approved conclusions about ideology, religion, economics, science, and other topics. Apparently, for the German state, that sort of thing isn’t to be tolerated.

Certainly, it seems that the Index of Freedom of Education would take the German ban into account, but would the Spanish mandate for “citizenship education” be covered? That remains unclear.

The report is right, however, that at the core of freedom in education is the issue of diversity and competition in educational institutions.

Ron Paul explained this in his book on education, and in this interview. As is so often the case, the key to freedom in education is to just respect ordinary property rights, since education is something people value, and people will use their property to create educational institutions and provide educational services. The more states control the creation or management of non-government educational institutions, the less freedom of education there will be, and thus less freedom in thought, ideology, religion, and speech as well.

This article first appeared at