Most of conventional education, at both the K-12 and university level, is profoundly inefficient and wrong-headed. Although most of my experience is of American educational institutions, I have some experience with educational institutions in Chile, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Senegal, and Rwanda, and sadly I find the educational institutions in those nations to be even more problematic than are American educational institutions. In my conversations with people from around the world I find that although there are small, interesting experimental educational programs and institutions around the world that provide at least partial exceptions to the generalizations that I will make here, there are no large scale exceptions anywhere on earth. By and large, our existing educational institutions around the world are out-dated legacy systems that need to be replaced by fundamentally new institutions.
There are many thousands of great educators at all levels and in all institutions; it is not their fault that they are functioning in a flawed system – except insofar as they reflexively defend the institutions as they exist today.
In order to create an educational system capable of improving the happiness and well-being of humanity, we need to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, government involvement in education at all levels, as well as government restrictions on the free pursuit of whatever occupation one desires. Government financing and regulation of education at all levels prevents the emergence of the more authentic, humane, and effective forms of education that we need. Thus around the world we need to move towards a principled separation of school and state, occupation and state, and research and state.
The primary reason why most people believe that the government must provide education is in order to ensure that the poor receive an education. There are four strategies for achieving such a goal without direct government funding of education:
1. Tuition tax credits, in which parents may deduct the amount paid for private school tuition from their taxes and corporations, foundations, and other philanthropic donors may likewise deduct from their taxes tuition paid on behalf of poor students to attend private schools. The potential difficult with tuition tax credits is that government may choose to define what counts as a “school” and thereby limit innovation.
2. Citizen’s Dividends, in which each citizen of a nation receives a certain amount which they may then spend as they choose. In the U.S. we already spend nearly $30,000 on every person below the poverty line. Instead of spending such amounts, most of which is wasted, the poor would be better off receiving cash directly and choosing how they would spend it.
3. Finance education by means of land value gains in private communities or Free Cities: Insofar as good schools add value to a community, it may be possible to finance, or partially finance, education by means of the land value gain contributed to a particular community.
4. Pure free market approach, with philanthropic support to ensure broad-based participation. At the university level, elite colleges typically have such large endowments that they can afford to give adequate financial aid to any student who wants to attend. The same is true for the most elite prep schools, which aggressively recruit highly qualified minority students. In the U.S. there have been numerous private scholarship programs for poor students even in the absence of tuition tax credits. A purely private society would soon become wealthy enough to provide every child with a vastly better education than is available to most poor children in government schools today.
As we gradually eliminate the quasi-monopoly of government schools (see my article “Why We Don’t Have a Silicon Valley of Education”) we will see better and better schools, and gradually advocates for the poor will insist that they have access to private education – as some are already doing (see here and here, for example, and this book for the existing case for school choice for the poor). At some point people will be horrified that we had ever forced generations of young people into government schools, much as they are currently horrified by the thought of 19th century child factory labor.
For many people the separation of state and school, and state and occupation, will be an unfamiliar and sometimes frightening world. As it turns out, the only way to create a world in which all ten billion human beings on earth are likely to live vibrant, fulfilled lives is one in which we eliminate the role of government in education and government-enforced occupational licensing at all levels.