23 Aug 2010

Separation of School and State

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[Editor’s Note: This begins a series of short blog posts that I am writing as part of an ad campaign to bolster interest in the Mises Academy among homeschoolers. Regular Free Advice readers will see that these posts–which will run over the next three weeks–are aimed at a much broader audience.]

Today my wife and I met with our son’s kindergarten teacher. We are sending him to a pricey private school, but we think it is worth it. It’s not a status thing; this school really offers an environment we think will be great for our son.

It later occurred to me that sending a child to school is one of the most personal and serious decisions a family can make. For all the reasons that Americans strongly believe in separation of Church and State, they should also endorse separation of school and State.

On spiritual matters, the basic civil bargain runs like this: I promise not to use the force of law to make you (pretend to) believe in my religion, so long as you promise not to do the same to me. My freedom of conscience is very important to me, and I would never want to risk losing that in a society where the majority can enforce its religious views on the minority. I say this, even if my religious views are currently in the majority.

The same ought to hold for schooling. Even though I am a born again Christian, it would offend me if the government passed a law saying every child had to read the Bible, and go to church. But by the same token, it offends me that politicians dare to pass laws saying which biology and mathematics textbooks my child must read, and that he must go to school for a large portion of his life.

Whatever argument the modern American liberal could use to defend government intervention in schooling, could also be used to defend government intervention in religious matters. Of course it would be awful if the vast majority of parents were fools and didn’t educate their kids. But by the same token, it would be awful (in my mind) if the vast majority of parents raised their kids to believe there was no God, and that all of the universe in its majesty is really just a big coincidence.

It would be one thing if the government did a good job in the area of schooling. But of course, it fails miserably here too. That is why so many parents have embraced the homeschool movement, because it is the only way to protect their children from State-engineered propaganda.

For a superb analysis of the free market versus the government in matters of education–and note that education is different from schooling–see Murray Rothbard’s “Education: Free and Compulsory.”

10 Responses to “Separation of School and State”

  1. y says:


    I was just wondering if you guys had also considered homeschooling, or if that wasn’t an option for you. do you think homeschooling is a good option, in you opinion?

  2. geoih says:

    Other than the most basic skills, all teaching is done from some certain point of view which is biased toward that point of view. I have no more desire to have my children taught from the point of view of Christian superstition, than I do of having them taught from the point of view of socialist superstition. So, I support a separation of school and state, as long as the separation is total.

  3. Savannah Liston says:

    I’m homeschooled, and am absolutely thrilled about the Mises Academy, and am planning to take a course online either this fall or next semester. I’m a homeschooler who does things the unorthodox way (not going to college…would rather take courses online or on my own), so the Mises Academy fits perfectly into the style of learning that I enjoy. I’m spreading the word about the Academy to everyone I can, it is a great opportunity and so affordable as well.

  4. Daniel Hewitt says:

    Yeah, my wife and I could not make private school for our girl fit into our budget, so she is off to public school in a few weeks. We’ll consider homeschooling when the baby is a bit older, and perhaps someday in the far future they will be at the Mises Academy attending Bob Murphy’s lecture.

  5. Brian S says:


    Have you talked with Tim Lambert or Debra Medina? There are 300K homeschool kids in Texas and an endorsement by either of these guys could help big time. I have heard that Debra was actually at the Ft. Worth Mises Circle you spoke at.

    • bobmurphy says:

      I haven’t “reached out” to them, no. I’ll look into it.

  6. ADA says:

    It should be also pointed out that government compulsory schooling cannot be reconciled with freedom of speech. I don’t know why libertarians don’t point this out more often.

    Although private schools and home schooling is generally allowed, the government is still achieving an effective censorship on education by financially constraining most parents to send their children to public schools, as well as regulating private schools.

    If “Liberals” don’t buy this, the analogy should be made to newspapers. Have a compulsory government run newspaper that all citizens are forced to finance. Allow for the sake of some alleged freedom, “private” competition that must seek a government license to operate, and have its content regulated for some “minimum” standards. Would the “Liberal” consider such a system compatible with “freedom of the press”?

  7. Austrianbanker says:

    Home schooling is banned in two countries in Europe. Sweden just banned it in July this year and the other is Germany where it was banned in 1938 by AH.

  8. Ana says:

    We educate our two boys at home. There are a lot of resources for even the youngest Libertarians. What Ever Happened to Penny Candy? Jonathan Gullible. Milton Friedman (four ways to spend money) on YouTube. Stossel in the Classroom . How the World Works. The Philosophy of Liberty. The Fallacy Detective. The Little Red Hen. Farmer Duck. Aesop. Teach your children well. And early.

  9. mario rizzo says:

    I just saw Joel Klein, the NYC school’s chancellor, on TV. He says “we” need to spend “our” edication dollar more wisely and “we” need national standards so that there won’t be bad schools anywhere. Not a word about privatization, vouchers, tuition tax credits or anything that might introduce real competition and accountability into primary/secondary education. I wonder if he favors government run farms to produce food of the “highest quality.”