Education and the Individual
By Michael Kleen
September 10, 2010
In the intellectual battlefield, libertarians, individualists, and anti-Statists have frequently neglected the subject of childhood education (1-8th Grades) and the intellectual development of children. Because of the laissez faire nature of our philosophy, we are more willing to leave those matters up to parents or to the individuals themselves. Statists, however, have no qualms about investing resources (their own and others’) in molding, indoctrinating, and creating dependence in future generations. It is crucial, then, for us to not neglect this subject and to clearly define and promote our own educational values.
Today, in the United States, childhood education is at the whim of two competing ideas: what is called (derogatively) the “factory model,” and the “child-centered” approach. The difference between the two, however, is in their method and not their purpose. Picture a typical classroom with rows of desks, bells announcing the end of periods, and a teacher lecturing at the chalkboard, and you have the factory model. Child-centered theorists argue that the factory model stifles creativity, discourages working with others, and promotes excessive focus on competition and grades. Some, like Kirsten Olson (author of Wounded by School) and Parker J. Palmer, believe the factory model even emotionally and spiritually injures students.
So far, while it has made some inroads in individual classrooms and is the reigning paradigm in university education programs, the child-centered approach has yet to come close to replacing the factory model as the dominant educational method in public or private schools. The child-centered approach, however, remains—at its heart—about educating children for particular ends. Its proponents are not fundamentally opposed to the public education system—they simply want to impose their own vision on that system. Many, like William Ayers (former Weather Underground leader and current professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago), seek to use public education and the child-centered approach as arms of their own political battles.
Neither “factory” nor child-centered methods challenge the fundamental purpose of public education, which is to remake the individual into an instrument of the State. As a Catholic school will work to instill Catholic values in its students, it should not come as any surprise that a State-run school will promote Statist values, no matter what the method of education.
An individualist recognizes the inherent danger of an education program controlled by the State. Anyone who controls the State schools controls, to a large degree, what children will learn. Thanks to mandatory education laws, parents must surrender their children to these institutions, where they will be molded in any way the State sees fit. That is why countries like Germany have worked so hard to stamp out homeschooling. Any schooling that takes place outside State-approved parameters is a threat. Luckily, in the United States, we still have some options.
Since the raison d’être of State-controlled education is clear, we must also be clear. A child who is raised, or educated, to act as an individual must be instilled with the spirit of critical thinking, familial and self responsibility, the importance of private property, freedom of conscience, and contract theory, et al. It seems clear that education must return to the basics of a free society, since so much of that philosophy has been pushed to the margins, if it is taught at all. Always, the individual (as a social unit), with his or her accompanying rights and responsibilities, should be set at the center of childhood education.
Individual education does not mean indulging a child’s every whim. More often than not, it is important for the individual to learn what he or she cannot do, and that he or she will sometimes need to shoulder burdens or work for the well being of others. We are against servitude to the State—not against altruism, self-sacrifice, hard work, charity, or good will. Statists argue that if we are for the individual then we must be in favor of selfishness or indifference to the suffering of others. That is simply not the case, and in fact, education for the individual would reflect that reality.
It cannot be denied that a child’s formative years are of the utmost importance for instilling values of any sort, yet libertarians, individualists, and anti-Statists have all but yielded the educational realm to their opponents. This will be our undoing. If we do not focus on the problem of education, and promote the values of individuality, self-responsibility, and self-respect in education, we will certainly lose this battle for the hearts and minds of future generations.