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Objectivists advocate for the full privatization of public schools and education. However the deplorable state of public schools is limited only to some public school systems. Wouldn't a better solution be to to pool and spread school funding more evenly?

asked Feb 26 '11 at 17:20

Fareed's gravatar image


edited Feb 27 '11 at 10:25

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Here is a sentence-by-sentence commentary on this question.

Objectivists advocate for the full privatization of public schools and education.

Correct, but not because of "the deplorable state of public schools...." Objectivism advocates the complete "separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church." [Excerpted in The Ayn Rand Lexicon, topic "Capitalism," originally from VOS, Chap. 1 (TOE).] "State" means the power of retaliatory physical force; "economics" includes schools.

However the deplorable state of public schools is limited only to some public school systems.

In a free market, bad businesses go out of business; their "funding" is reduced, not increased. Education is no different in principle. Like all other forms of production and trade, education certainly is an important activity. Schools that perform well should be rewarded (by the judgments of parents willing to send their children to those schools and pay the tuition), and schools that perform poorly should be allowed to fail (for lack of customers).

Wouldn't a better solution be to to[sic] pool and spread school funding more evenly?

"Pool and spread" means penalizing good schools by reducing their funding so that bad schools can be rewarded with more funding. That is a perfect moral inversion -- penalizing the good for being good, and rewarding the bad for being bad. For more insight into what a proper approach to education should consist of, and thus what standard should be used to judge how good or bad a school is, refer to the entry on "Education" in The Ayn Rand Lexicon.

If there is an implicit claim here that bad schools are bad only because they receive less funding than good schools, that is a highly dubious premise that is routinely assumed and sometimes even expressed explicitly by defenders of government funded and government controlled schools. Schools need to function within their financial means. (If they are prevented from doing so by government requirements to admit more students, then the focus of political discussion should be on reforming those government mandates.)

"Pool and spread" also suggests the view that "society" is paramount, and individuals exist only to serve "society" (through the taxes they pay, for example). Objectivism rejects that view of "society" versus individuals.

There are numerous other references in the literature of Objectivism regarding education. The Lexicon "Education" topic mentioned above includes a very brief excerpt from a very long article by Ayn Rand ("The Comprachicos") that provides a penetrating critique of modern education. Ayn Rand's writings also include a proposal for tax credits for education (as an interim step toward reform), allowing parents the option to use their own taxes to help pay for the cost of private schools instead of having to send that money to the government for public school funding. See The Voice of Reason, Chap. 23.

Is it really best to privatize all government schools?

(Note: This is an edited version of the short form of the question. Refer to the editing history for the original formulation and my original response to it. The edited version still raises the issue of "best" for whom and by what standard. which has been covered by some good discussion in the comments. I have now edited my own original comments to match more closely the revised short form of the question.)

It is often suggested or claimed by defenders of government funded, government controlled schools that privatizing the schools is motivated primarily by a negative evaluation of them (which, in turn, allegedly isn't the schools' fault because they are "under funded"). The text of the question attempts to challenge the imputed claim that all schools are bad, suggesting that the ones that aren't should not be penalized by being privatized.

This view misrepresents the position of free-market advocates and the reality of what life under a free market would actually be like. A free market in education would greatly improve all schools that are able to meet the demands of their customers. Converting a school (or school system) to privately funded and privately operated is not a penalty for the schools at all, but a huge benefit. It would make the schools better, not worse, more responsive to their customers and, over time, more efficient at meeting the expectations of their customers. Schools funded by government, and controlled by government entities such as various elected or appointed school boards, severely disconnect the schools from the wishes of parents, despite any efforts to incorporate "parent input" into the deliberation and decision-making processes of the government authorities.

answered Feb 27 '11 at 00:07

Ideas%20for%20Life's gravatar image

Ideas for Life ♦

edited Feb 28 '11 at 01:53

Great answer. We need more answers done in this fashion. The point by point breakdown and evaluation really serves to make your criticism clear.

(Mar 07 '11 at 12:47) Colin MacDonald ♦ Colin%20MacDonald's gravatar image

Even if one were to grant that there are some public school systems that have succeeded, the moral status of a policy is not determined by its success or failure. One could more easily go on and on about the many failures of the public school system, and its role in creating a fundamentally anti-conceptual population, as opposed to talking about its successes.

But let's not fall into the same anti-conceptual trap -- rather, the public school system is immoral because fundamentally education is a personal choice, either direct or delegated to parents in the case of children who are not yet capable of making that choice themselves.

First, and most fundamentally, education must be a personal choice because the standard of morality is one's life. If one is to live life to the best of one's ability, one must be free to make one's own decisions. There can be few fields in which this freedom to choose is more important than in education itself -- the field in which one learns how to live life by gaining knowledge about reality, and developing the ability to reason in order to prosper in that reality.

Secondly, the use of government force to extract value from some, in order to benefit others, is immoral regardless of the reason.

Therefore public education in any form is fundamentally incompatible with government. Ayn Rand's essay The Nature of Government, while not talking specifically about education, expands further on these ideas.

answered Feb 26 '11 at 19:09

Raman's gravatar image

Raman ♦

edited Feb 26 '11 at 23:57

Good answer Raman. Even more fundamental to the 'the end does not justify the means' argument is the fact that value must be taken at the point of a gun, from one individual in order to educate another, in a public school system. This must be resolved before anything else is approached.

(Feb 26 '11 at 19:28) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

For children, education is a NEED -- about as important as food. This is an important point, as people will object to the suggestion of a completely private education system with the argument that "no public education" somehow means parents could "choose to NOT educate their children." The fact that the government doesn't provide "free" food for all children, doesn't mean that parents are free to neglect their children and make them live without proper nutrition! The same neglect situation -- and response to protect a child -- would apply if parents failed to educate their children properly.

(Feb 26 '11 at 23:37) Joe Egan Joe%20Egan's gravatar image

@Raman: A free society does not mean one without (scientifically/rationally based) standards. I don't think one can really argue that a child-protection branch of government stepping in and protecting a child not receiving some basic standard of education, is somehow violating parents' rights. Parents' rights to live self-destructively stops when their choices harm their children. I think the field of psychology knows enough about cognitive development in children to develop reasonable standards to determine if parents' education choices are harming their children.

(Feb 27 '11 at 10:39) Joe Egan Joe%20Egan's gravatar image

@rationaljenn: Child neglect happens when parents don't have sufficiently rational "standards and values." Certainly you would agree that parents doing something like locking a small child in a closet preventing the social interaction needed to develop proper language skills is NOT just "not meeting" some "societal standard"? How would not teaching reading and writing skills be any different? Children (especially young ones) have a natural appetite for learning; if they "resist" certain education attempts we start looking for deeper physical or psychological problems.

(Feb 27 '11 at 14:34) Joe Egan Joe%20Egan's gravatar image

@Joe Taking your logic to its end, who would step in in the case of a starving parent not being able to feed its child? Who will pay to feed it? And what is the crime? Is intent the standard by which we criminalize the parents of a starving child?

(Feb 28 '11 at 08:05) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

@rationaljenn & Raman: I'm not saying "government bureaucrats" would be creating/dictating standards parents would have to meet -- just as there are not nutritional/physical health standards "preemptively" written that children have to meet. In a system of completely private schools, the government would be REACTIVE. Just as now with physical health neglect, it would be health care professionals, teachers, neighbors, family or friends who would be the initiators of action against parents suspected of neglect in meeting the educational requirements of their children.

(Feb 28 '11 at 08:47) Joe Egan Joe%20Egan's gravatar image

@dreadrocksean: The action of taking children from parents who have not intentionally caused harm to their children and placing the children into foster care (preferably with other family members) where they can have their needs met, is NOT currently "criminalizing" the parents. Child custody cases are normally only civil legal action against parents -- with the child (through guardianship) effectively "bringing the action" against the parent(s). I am not suggesting changing this civil action to a criminal one!

(Feb 28 '11 at 08:59) Joe Egan Joe%20Egan's gravatar image

rationaljenn posted: >>Physical neglect/abuse is hard enough to determine. Educational/cognitive neglect/abuse I think is nearly impossible<< Not every case is (or would be) "cut and dry," but the medical professions (including psychology/psychiatry) are pretty good at determining neglect issues. rationaljenn posted: >>Kids do not have a right to perfect parents.<< I'm not suggesting "perfect parents" -- law has what is call a "reasonable man" standard in examining such issues; it doesn't use a "perfect man" standard as you seem to be suggesting would be needed.

(Feb 28 '11 at 09:16) Joe Egan Joe%20Egan's gravatar image

@Joe Many of your statements are based upon what you are NOT suggesting. We are in an Objectivist forum and should strive to keep our respective arguments objective. They should also be rational, which means- they should stand up to ALL known reality. If your posits contains holes in their logic, they will manifest themselves in contradiction and result in your exception based arguments. Let us scrutinize the fundamental premises we hold. 1/ A child does not own the right to its own life. 2/ The parent or guardian owns it. The definition of this ownership is the core of this discussion.

(Feb 28 '11 at 09:30) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

@Joe (cont.) Ownership grants the right to use and/or dispose of as whimmed. (my new word). This is obviously not the case with a child. A guardian is only granted the right to guide the child's life which is in escrow until its adulthood. It is obvious that the guardian can only guide within his means, physically, cognitively and materially. By assuming a set of standards, below which a guardian is deemed criminal, is subjective at its core. After the child is taken away, will another adult be initially forced upon to provide for it? Your argument suggests that you are judging subjectively.

(Feb 28 '11 at 09:39) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

@dread: This forum does not lend itself to the sort of argument you suggest. It is just structured for brief comment.

As for your suggestion: "A child does not own the right to its own life....The parent or guardian owns it..."

Children do MOST CERTAINLY have a RIGHT to their own lives -- they cannot express their "self-ownership" status in all cases. If a parent refuses to respect the self-ownership nature of a child, criminal prosecution or civil action (by the child through guardianship) is the response depending upon the nature of the infraction against the child.

(Feb 28 '11 at 09:56) Joe Egan Joe%20Egan's gravatar image

Question for dreadrocksean: You commented that "they [argument] should stand up to ALL reality."

How can there be more than one reality?

(Feb 28 '11 at 10:00) Joe Egan Joe%20Egan's gravatar image

"Because they are unable to support themselves by reason, we cannot extend this right to infants..in a clear and straightforward manner.. An infant, for example, may possess a developing rational faculty, but he cannot use it to support his life.. to offer him the full right to life and liberty is to consign him to death. The "right to life" of an infant..amounts to little more than an entitlement not to be harmed or killed by force. Such a "right" does not prevent the infant from being manhandled, vaccinated, diapered, restrained, washed,..without the slightest rational consent."

(Feb 28 '11 at 10:26) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

For the full article - http://www.atlassociety.org/abortion - William R Thomas

(Feb 28 '11 at 10:27) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

This could easily have been deduced amongst us using simple deduction from our already accepted premises. A child CANNOT have a right to its own life in a proper society. It is illogical if we care for it. I will concede the borderline case of starvation but certainly not such a higher level of existence as education.

(Feb 28 '11 at 10:30) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

rationaljenn puts it quite well. I think, dread, you want to examine how you are defining the word "right." Most simply defined, "right" is a "just claim" -- when we say a person (I find it interesting you use "it" for a child) has a "right to his life" we are simply designating ownership -- which is different than evaluating a persons ABILITY to maintain his own life. Children, the mentally ill, and in some cases physically ill people, may not have the ability to maintain their own life, but they still "own themselves" under the law.

(Feb 28 '11 at 10:48) Joe Egan Joe%20Egan's gravatar image

@ rationaljenn If you read one of my earlier entries, you will see that I said exactly that. I used the word 'escrow'. We are not discussing here the best way to raise a child. The article I linked to is the general Objectivist view of this topic and indeed is fundamental to the argument of more controversial topics as abortion. What you are throwing up for grabs is the fundamental concept - 'right'. You speak of the 'handing over' of rights. From who? And by what right? Do you mean 'responsibility' instead of 'right'? Let us not fall into the trap of finding a means to justify the end.

(Feb 28 '11 at 11:01) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

@Joe I am glad that you introduced this. In the particular case of an adult human incapable of supporting his own life due to physical/mental handicaps, though he does own a right to his own life, notice that no one else can be penalized for not taking care of him - which is the topic of this discussion.

(Feb 28 '11 at 11:03) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

@jenn I know, the love/hate relationship with the character limit:-) You are abusing the word 'right' though. Everything is built upon its clear understanding and therefore cannot progress until is. Ayn Rand stated at a Q&A at Ford Hall that children do not have rights. Though I am not a Randian and indeed question everything she puts forward as I seek truth, this answer is consistent with ALL REALITY (insert 'OF' between them if you're Joe). I have since learned that I should disagree with her with extreme caution. The only area that I remain in disagreement with her is the game Chess.

(Feb 28 '11 at 11:23) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

".., in the sense that the child has the right to life, and liberty and the pursuit of happiness, except that all those rights are based on a man's rational knowledge and understanding. An infant cannot earn his own sustenance, nor can a child exercise his rights and know what the pursuit of happiness means, nor know what freedom is and how to use it. All human rights depend on his nature as a rational being."

(Feb 28 '11 at 11:25) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

"Therefore the child has to wait until he has developed his mind and acquired enough knowledge to be able to come into full independent exercise of his rights. While he is a child, he has to be supported by his parents." Neither he nor I nor you nor Nature gives him any choice about it, or rather none of us can do anything because this is a fact of nature. Proclaiming some kind of right of childhood isn't going to create those rights. Rights are a concept based on reality."

(Feb 28 '11 at 11:25) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

" Therefore a parent would not have the right to starve his child, to neglect him, to injure him physically or to kill him. There the government has to protect the child just like any other citizen. But the child cannot claim for himself the rights of an adult, simply because he is not able, he is not competent to exercise them. He has to depend on his parents, and if he doesn't like them, then run away from home as early as you can earn your living, if the government will permit it."

(Feb 28 '11 at 11:25) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

Raman, you are expanding, unnecessarily for understanding here, on the definition for the word "rights." The idea of a person having "a right (just claim) over his own life" is the primary concept. From that idea (one of self-ownership) it follows that a person also has rights to ACT to sustain his life. But again, the "right to act" and having the ABILITY to, are two different things. I hear your "no one can be penalized" comments; how to deal with those who cannot truly fend for themselves (children, mentally ill, etc.) is a problem civilized society needs to evaluate/solve.

(Feb 28 '11 at 11:29) Joe Egan Joe%20Egan's gravatar image

@Joe Previously you criticized my description of the use of this forum. Certainly non Objectivists use this as a place to learn more about the philosophy. However you are moderator given the privilege of answering questions on behalf of Objectivism. Indeed, if you sway from it, you may be subject to suspension. The accepted truth amongst leading Objectivists is that a child has a right to LIFE and not its corollaries, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness. This would exclude from criminal action, anything pertaining to a child's formal education.

(Feb 28 '11 at 11:37) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

@Jenn I'm on your page here. What you are describing is the fundamental right to LIFE as distinct from its corollaries. This right prohibits anyone from harming or killing him. There is where the legislature ends. The corollaries, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness belong only to rational beings of which the child is not one. Before birth, the child does not even have a right to the basic one- LIFE.

I have enjoyed the conversation also.

(Feb 28 '11 at 11:50) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

Interesting argument: It sounds like I've been told to "shut up" by "dread" or I may be suspended. I don't like threats, but the contradiction in the phrase, "The accepted truth amongst leading Objectivists..." is actually so funny I'll have to stick around for a bit more!

(Feb 28 '11 at 11:52) Joe Egan Joe%20Egan's gravatar image

@Raman You are definitely correct. A proper society may well wipe out any of those instances to begin with. But until then, this is a topic that WILL hinder that proper society from forming in the first place. A friend of mine, a doctor and a very logically minded person, loves to have philosophical discussions. He refused to continue in this direction after understanding that we, the Objectivists, purport a system of 100% private ownership, which included only private schools. This was the deal breaker for him and since then would not even entertain any further discussion.

(Feb 28 '11 at 11:54) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

This is where I see Leonard Peikoff contradicting himself. On one end he does not recognize a child's right past mere LIFE, that he should not be harmed or killed by the initiation of force. Yet on the other hand, he maintains that not educating a child in the 3 R's is a violation. Then he goes on to say that if the other parent cannot educate his child, then he should give him to a foster home or another parent. The end to that logic does not point objectively and specifically at the perpetrator of the crime. Are other parents/ foster establishments obligated in turn?

(Feb 28 '11 at 11:58) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

According to Ayn Rand, the ONLY way a right can be violated is by the initial use of force. That would have to be redefined to place the withholding of education as a violation of rights. Given that a child has a right to life, starving him or neglecting to give him what he basically needs to stay alive, food, shelter, water, etc., seeing that he is in your care, should be a violation of his rights. Past this, what is the standard? Peikoff already stated that the government should have no say in the content of his education. I only see contradiction. I stick with Ayn Rand on this.

(Feb 28 '11 at 12:03) dreadrocksean dreadrocksean's gravatar image

All: I copied the comment thread before I deleted my comments as Greg requested. If you'd like a copy of it for your reference, send me an email.

(Feb 28 '11 at 12:41) rationaljenn ♦ rationaljenn's gravatar image
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Asked: Feb 26 '11 at 17:20

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Last updated: Mar 07 '11 at 12:47