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How do libertarians believe the education system should work in a libertarian state?

So, first, the libertarian disclaimer:

An authoritarian can tell you the specific details of the plan that he intends to impose upon you. A libertarian cannot: the libertarian is ethically opposed to forcing you to accept any plan, even his, against your will.

The libertarian instead champions peaceful evolution. A large variety of currently unknown, upstart innovators will continually offer you a wide range of new schooling options. You (not some ruler) will select your preferred solution for your child from the offerings.

Which innovative alternatives will be created and which ones you will choose at any particular point of time in the future is inherently unknowable. Thus the libertarian is at a minor disadvantage relative to offering fine details of a plan.

The libertarian’s overall advantage, however, is enormous — should you be wise enough to embrace liberty: you will have vastly more alternatives as well as the freedom to choose amongst them according to your preferences. (In fact, we note for our authoritarian friends, you could voluntarily choose the authoritarian’s plan, if it turned out that you voluntarily preferred his plan relative to the rich array of alternative offerings from other people. Unfortunately, giving you the choice to voluntarily select his offering never appears good enough for our authoritarian friends. 🙂

Thus, while admitting that we cannot see the future, here’s a glimpse of some of the major players, their roles, and the dimensions that I think they are likely to be competing on to provide you with new schooling choices for your child …

The Players

Children: School is supposed to be for the benefit of children. Too often, adults not facing any competition unconsciously gravitate the purpose of their school to serve their own needs. As Albert Shanker, head of American Federation of Teachers, famously said,

When school children start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of school children

In a libertarian society:

  • Children will have many more options available to them,
  • Their strengths, weaknesses, passions, interests, and learning styles will be taken more into consideration,
  • They will be given many more opportunities to express their preferences and have them satisfied.
  • They each will be better served by more targeted, specialized, and customized schooling

Parents: The parent will be the primary decision maker for their child. As the slogan of my old organization touted:

Parents Decide: My child? My money? My decision!

In the vast majority of cases, the parent:
– Knows her child best,
– Cares the most about her child
– Notices changes in her child more quickly
– Remembers the most history about her child
– Can monitor her child over the long run
– Will be paying for the schooling
– Is most willing to sacrifice her interests for her child’s
– Has the most invested in the success of her child
– Would bear much of the costs and heartache should the schooling fail
– Will be happiest should the schooling succeed

The rare cases where this is not true can be handled as exceptions, and not as the rule. (You’ll note that authoritarians often turn this around, insisting that we sacrifice the interests of the vast majority of children for the supposed benefit of a small minority of children, whom, it turns out, the authoritarian still doesn’t serve well.)

Parents will not need to make decisions alone; they’ll have many advisors supporting them. But the person principally in the driver’s seat will be the parent — no longer the politician, the bureaucrat, the union, or any of the other adults attempting to personally profit from schooling.

Advisors: Advisors will have greater roles in the future. They’ll advise parents, schools, and teachers. Advice to parents will include:

  • Psychometricians, who will develop better tools to measure your child’s differential abilities, strengths, weaknesses, passions
  • School industry advisors, who will know the strengths and weaknesses of the various alternatives currently available and will help you match your particular, unique child to the best offering for your child
  • Subject matter experts, who will be able to suggest replacing math method #23 with math method #49, because #49 turns out to be a better match for how your child actually learns math.
  • School certifiers, who will rate the various new schools based on characteristics important to parents and/or teachers: a Baptist rating, a social justice rating, a black lives matter rating, a business preparation rating, a college preparedness rating, a values rating, a Total Child rating, etc.

Teachers: As with students, the abilities, interests, strengths, and weaknesses of teachers will be more carefully assessed, and teachers will find closer matches for themselves amongst a far greater variety of schooling alternatives.

No longer will so many teachers leave because they do not fit into the one-size-fits-few government bureaucracy schooling system. Instead, teachers will find those teaching environments that better match their needs and abilities, allowing them to better share their unique gifts with students who can most profit from their unique set of skills.

Salaries of teachers will vary quite a bit, and will depend on supply of teachers with specific skills, and on parents’ demand for those skills.

If any teacher believes that her school is not teaching correctly, she may leave for one of the many other schools, or create her own school, possibly in conjunction with teachers who share her teaching philosophy.

Great teachers can leverage their abilities through virtual and non-real-time teaching, allowing the rise of super-star teachers earning millions of dollars[1] .

Suppliers: Given a much greater breadth of types of schooling, the variety of suppliers for each subject area will increase enormously. No longer will there be a virtual monopoly on, say, math textbooks due to the government monopoly on textbook ordering[2] .

Suppliers will innovate to create next generation subject material (beyond text books), and quite different approaches to teaching each subject will be created and will allow customization of approach with the child,

School Philosophers: A new set of “How Should We School”philosophers will arise to design entirely new models of schooling. They will be motivated by the possibility of actually implementing their ideas, now that libertarians have broken the government monopoly. Imagine legions of new thinkers, the modern day counterparts of Maria Montessori, John Taylor Gatto, A.S. Neill, Rudolf Steiner, Daniel Greenberg, John Holt, Paul Goodman, Ivan Illich, Paulo Freire, Jidda Krishnamurti.

School Integrators: School integrators and entrepreneurs will select a combination of school models, curriculum suppliers, teachers, and children segments that they think they will be able to most impact. The combinations of possibilities approaches infinity, and it will be these actors’ job to determine which combination to try out.

School Investors: Investors who agree with the goals, methods, implementation, and administration of a new school will risk their own capital to create the school. These investors differ from taxpayers in that they choose which schools to invest in and which schools to avoid, depending on their interests, their values, and their assessment of your demand. They will require the schools to meet specific targets — that they individually set. And there will be management and funding consequences for poor performance. As opposed to today, many schools will close when they fail to satisfy you, the customer, and be replaced by new offerings.

Charities: A variety of charities will arise to offer new learning opportunities for different subpopulations that people care about. They will differ from today’s government bureaucracy in that they will be voluntarily funded, and thus much more interested in producing and demonstrating the greatest value for their targeted student for the least cost.

Dimensions of Competition

The new types of schools will compete on a much broader set of dimensions:

  • Location: In a single building? In a shared building? At the child’s home? At a community center? On a bus? In businesses? Dispersed throughout a city? Dispersed throughout the world?
  • Partnerships: Museums; libraries; societies; businesses; interest groups; churches; sister schools; hacker spaces; arts studios; laboratories; meet-ups.
  • Homogeneity vs. Diversity: Learning style? Gender? Race? Culture? Religion? Ability level? Politics? Attitude towards business? IQ ranges? Aptitude tests?
  • Schooling Goals: College prep? Business prep? Entrepreneurship? Government prep? Trade prep? Military prep? Arts prep? Renaissance man? Math & Science? Self-Exploration? Child-Led?
  • Connection to Community: Internships? Apprenticeships? Partnering with seniors? Isolated from the community? Service projects?
  • Presentation Modes: In-person? Computer aided? virtual? self-study? virtual reality?
  • Customization vs. Lock-Step: Subjects are taught to a group? To an individual student?
  • Holistic vs. Disparate: Coursework is divided into subjects; Integrated into a single project
  • Hours of Operation: Days of week; weekend; hours of day; hours of night; Vacations? Summer? You set your schedule? Business hours?
  • Integration with Home: Parents kept at arm’s length; parents learn alongside child; parents teach their child
  • Values: Value-free; religious values; leverage values (perseverance, focus, etc.); traditional values
  • Meta-Skills: “How to learn”; “how to live”; “Memorize this”; “Test taking skills”
  • Politics: SJW; leftist; rightist; libertarian; socialist
  • Attitude towards commerce: “all business is evil”; “entrepreneurship”; “how to sell anything”; “how to create wealth”; “how to create value”; “How to run business for the good of society”
  • Learning styles: Experiential; auditory; visual;

Revolutionary Solutions

Let’s put some of these things together into possible offerings….

  1. Sydney attends a “School Without Walls” She interns at a business in the mornings three days a week, helps at an retirement home one night a week, and meets in real life with classmates two afternoons a week for a group project. She meets her advisor on Fridays. And she has a virtual meeting with other students who are part of a similar internship in other parts of the country every week. The rest of her studies are computer-based at home where she studies topics that are associated with her work. She takes virtual reality classes with four of the best teachers in the world. Her virtual reality labs allow her to practice applying her lessons in simulated real-life situations similar to her work environment.
  2. Jonathon is working as part of a team designing new products. This is his third project and he hopes his team is onto something. They have conducted the market research which shows that consumers are quite interested in this offering — a new jetpack for the student on the go. The sponsoring company will be reviewing their business plan in three weeks. If they like it, Jonathon will be taking the next four months to work with a team to build a prototype of the jet pack.
  3. Nathanial is taking part in an immersive fiction class. He reads and listens to classics as well as those stories told in podcasts and written on fiction sites. He writes about 20 hours a week — a variety of formats, including screenplays. He publishes in general one short fiction every couple of weeks to his group of student writers who critique his work, and he theirs. His work has been up-voted twice to be shared to other writers in his county, and once was released to the entire state. He is hoping his current short story might go even further. At the end of this, his third class, he’ll have completed his complete draft of a 150 page science fiction book. His writing advisor corrects his work in non-real time and he meets with her twice a week by computer to discuss new skills.
  4. Janice participates on the Europe Train School. The trainload of students travel to various cities, towns, and rural areas, studying the region’s architecture, history, scientific discoveries, culture, customs, commerce, language, and art. In each city, they are immersed into the culture via service projects and short apprenticeships. The accommodations on their train car are Spartan but she is learning about people and living in a different society every week.
  5. Frank attends a school in a large building with 1000 other students, but no two students take the same course at the same time. What they study depends on their interests. The children learn on their own with customized courseware overseen by distance learning teachers. They advance on their own pace, depending on their abilities. Daily group activities allow the students to take off their headsets for games and group projects. A major emphasis is ethics and politics which are debated weekly.
  6. Angelique is following a classical education program. She works closely with other classical students and parents in a co-op study program. She is studying ancient philosophers — reading them in Greek and in Latin. A major emphasis has been rhetoric where they practice on convincing one another using logical rules and eloquence. She is also studying science and math by reading the original works and replicating the original proofs. Her literature is composed of all classics, heavily footnoted leading to science, commerce, language, and history side voyages. Her parents explore the material with her, sometimes helping her and sometimes just learning with her. The entire community of students and parents are considered co-learners, with different members leading at different times, principally depending on their mastery of the material. Angelique is hoping to lead the next Euclidian proof; she knows it cold.

To repeat the caveat, what will actually be offered in the future, and how it will be offered can only be determined by the interaction and creative of future innovators, future teachers, future investors, future charities, future integrators, future suppliers, the parents, and the children themselves —everyone working together voluntarily, consensually, and peacefully exploring the rich possibility of this space.

A libertarian society simply gives everyone the freedom to create whatever it is that they want most — without a bully telling them what they must and must not do.

A Note on “Education” versus “Schooling”
* The OP asked for “education system”. This is a common error made by people who assume that a government can school children sufficiently to educate them.

The difference between schooling and education is massive. For example, you are educating yourself right now through your independent exploration of the world via Quora. Contrast this with government-imposed schooling — taking your tax dollars and compelling your children to attend mind-numbing and counterproductive indoctrination classes segregated from the real-world and taught by teachers who do not know how to survive in that world without government coercing their paychecks.

As Mark Twain quipped: “Don’t let schooling interfere with your education.”

I write here only of schooling. Your education will be much more rich and varied, and likely will be much more attuned to your true needs and much more under your control.

Moving more towards full-time education, rather than imposed schooling, would be the direction that I suspect future schooling will head, when we remove government from controlling us.

See related:

Schooling and Indoctrination Essays by Dennis

Table of Contents for Dennis’ Libertarian Essays


[1] The Teacher With A $4 Million Salary

[2] How Texas Inflicts Bad Textbooks on Us