Among many conservatives and opponents of public-funded education in general, there is the idea that government schools are bad because they are conveyor belts of indoctrination; that the state, by means of forcibly exercising a coercive monopoly in the field of education, conscripts the minds of children and stamps them with the insignia of state propaganda. In effect, the brains of children are cognitively nationalized. This is indeed true, but it is not just the case with government schools. The same propaganda and doctrinal philosophies which are simply idea pathogens also infect private education as well and, more importantly, private institutions that also receive government aid. Our private schools today are as WOKE and as progressive in the regressive sense as any left-wing public school that teaches hatred of and disdain for America, individualism, capitalism, self-reliance, and the religious traditions of others.
I would suggest that mind-conscription is incidental, and that it is made possible by a deeper philosophic issue that few grapple with in a consistent manner. The state can only have a coercive monopoly on education and, a fortiori, enforce doctrinal ideas on children if a basic idea is left unchallenged in our society. The idea is that we are responsible for the procreative choices that other people make. This idea codified into a principle results in the fiscal enslavement of people into supporting the reproductive choices others made for themselves which they then penalize others for as a natural right.
Public education is tax-funded education, which means that parents are made to understand that they are not responsible for educating their own children. Society as a whole shall assume the responsibility of paying for the education of your children. Why not pay for their cribs, diapers and birthday cakes? Why specifically should we support the reproductive choices others have made in the educational realm?
Are the procreative choices that we make in life the responsibility of others, or are they our own? Do we have a constitutional or natural right to have children we cannot afford to maintain? Is it a form of child neglect to bring more children into the world than you can afford to support? When you have children, is it fair to expect your neighbors to bear in the financial responsibility of raising them when they may have decided not to have any, or to have just one, or two, or just the exact number their budget can afford over the course of a lifetime? You who have sacrificed and planned your lives carefully and are already in debt and sending your own children to school – by what moral right would anyone dare tell you that you have a duty to finance a stranger’s education?
The answer given has a utilitarian upshot to it. People will say that each child brought into the world constitutes a social good for society in general.
When asked what is meant by “social good,” progressives and even conservatives often mean that which serves “the public interest.” When asked to define the public interest, they fumble and mumble and twist themselves like linguistic pretzels into all orders of moral conundrums. Society is nothing more than the sum of all individual persons. Therefore, any reference to the public good first would have to refer logically to what is the good of each individual person. The answer to this presupposes the question: how do we know what that good is?
One of the glorious achievements of this country, and one that has appealed to millions the world over, is that here we get to choose a conception of the good for ourselves. For some, it is having a family, for others it is pursuing a career or devoting one’s life to a specialized hobby, service to others, traveling —you name it. There are as many conceptions of the good as there are persons to imagine them for themselves. And, in the United States of America, the state has no business imposing its or any conception of the good on you or deciding, a priori, what your conception of the good is. It leaves you free to choose your own notion of the good, so long as in doing so, you do not violate the individual rights of others. Any notion of the public good foisted on individuals means that a group of people has decided that their interests and their conception of the good should be the sum of the good of all members of society. It is an act of tyranny because it overrides your conscience and takes away your indubitable capacity to decide what the good is for you personally. If your conscience is overridden, then its judgments are neutered and your capacity to act on them are stymied and deeply compromised. You are paralyzed and cannot do anything about any moral malfeasance committed against you.
There is also the lie. A stranger’s child cannot possibly be a “good” for me in the deepest and widest sense of the term. I can respect the intrinsic dignity of the child and acknowledge her or his inviolable moral worth. But the child cannot be a value to me in the meaningful sense of what a value is, and how we choose our values.
It is an act of great presumption to suggest that the masses of children born each day do or ought to constitute a social good for the rest of society. Those children are a good for their parents, and the families into which they are born. The fact that so many children grow up to be social ballasts, drags on society, and sadly, perhaps should never have been brought into the world—makes a total mockery of the concept of the universal value of all persons’ procreative choices as “social goods” to society. This is a ghastly idea; but it is the idea on which not just public-funded education for government schools gains its justification and legitimacy, but the philosophic premise and edifice on which the entire welfare state rests its case.
When individuals decide to cut through the moral morass and identify the unnamed principle that justifies public education, then we will have a wholesale rejection of government schools—and much of the welfare state in general. To announce to all persons that when they decide to have a child, they and they alone are responsible for the entire upkeep and support of that child, and that there is no sustainable moral principle that could secure societal support of everyone’s procreative choices is a daring moral act. If some people believe they are their brother’s keeper—a principle that if taken to its logical terminus and applied consistently would leave a human being financially bereft and physically depleted—then they are free to be their brother’s keeper. However, a personal or religious belief as such ought never be elevated to the level of public policy.
Few seem willing to question this assumed natural right that everyone should have children—as if human beings were farm animals or biologically cyclical jungle beasts. Why is the framing narrative predicated on an absence of clear and hard thinking (children just happen to be born, mostly unplanned, and that is all right)? Homeownership and car ownership and yacht ownership are not for everyone. They may be out of the fiscal reach of some people.
So are children. There is no mawkishly unsentimental way to look at the issue. If one cannot afford to properly raise a child, one must make the rational and moral decision not to have one. Until people who make irresponsible choices are held accountable by those who do make rational choices all the evils ascribed to government schools will continue unabated. Folks will continue to identify incidental reasons why such schools are improper, evading the simple and obvious reason that is so close at hand. “Legalized theft” is justified to finance the irrational choices of others.
Jason D. Hill is professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago specializing in ethics, social and political philosophy, American foreign policy, and moral psychology. He is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center. Dr. Hill is the author of five books, including “What Do White Americans Owe Black People: Racial Justice in the Age of Post-Oppression.” Follow him on Twitter @JasonDhill6.