Beginnings of Home Schooling (20)

By Gary North (, June 25, 2019

Remnant Review

In a free society, an individual is allowed to withdraw from the establishment, whatever the establishment is.

The freedom to withdraw is the essence of freedom. It is the legal right of the individual to say no personally, as long as he is willing to bear the costs of saying no.

The problem is, reformers rarely come to us in the name of our right to say no and withdraw. They come in the name of capturing political power, and then using the state to force our opinions down the throats of the public.

They tell us that some elite group has gained control of the government. These nefarious people are forcing their views down our throats.

Usually, this assessment is correct. This is exactly what has happened. This is what state power is all about. But then the reformer says that we owe it to ourselves, to the nation, and the world to organize into a political action group in order to capture the top-down hierarchical state system that the other elite group has used to shove its views down our throats.

When people hear the siren song of capturing agencies of government power, they are tempted to believe that this strategy will liberate them. They never think about the obvious, namely, that the problem is not who runs the agencies; the problem is that the agencies exist. When the agencies exist, there will be competition for getting into control of the agencies. Power mirrors power seekers. This was the thesis of F. A. Hayek in his chapter in The Road to Serfdom (1944), “Why the Worst Get on Top.” They understand the use of power. They are systematic in their quest for power. They are ruthless in their quest for power.


I think this is most obvious in the case of tax-supported education. For over 60 years, I have heard conservatives demanding an overhaul of the public schools. They come in the name of conservative principles, or so they tell us. They say that the public schools have been captured by one or another elite group. They want us to organize the special interest group to recapture the public schools, state-by-state.

This is a totally utopian goal. The public schools have always been controlled by elites. The whole point of the public schools was to give the elite control over the content of the education.

In English-speaking North America, this goes back to 1642, when the Puritans of Massachusetts mandated the creation of schools in each town. They did it in the name of making certain that the children were indoctrinated in the theology of Puritanism. It was an early case of the church-state alliance. Here is the text of the law, which was published by the colony in 1648. The title of the publication: The Book of the General Lawes and Libertyes Concerning the Inhabitants of the Massachusets Collected Out of the Records of the General Court for the Several Years Wherein They Were Made and Established. It has been reprinted by the Liberty Fund here.

For as much as the good education of children is of singular behoof and benefit to any Common-wealth; and wher as many parents & masters are too indulgent and negligent of their duty in that kinde. It is therefore ordered that the Selectmen of every town, in the severall precincts and quarters where they dwell, shall have a vigilant eye over their brethren & neighbours, to see, first that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families as not to indeavour to teach by themselves or others, their children & apprentices so much learning as may inable them perfectly to read the english tongue, & knowledge of the Capital laws: upon penaltie of twentie shillings for each neglect therin. Also that all masters of families doe once a week (at the least) catechize their children and servants in the grounds & principles of Religion, & if any be unable to doe so much: that then at the least they procure such children or apprentices to learn some short orthodox catechism without book, that they may be able to answer unto the questions that shall be propounded to them out of such catechism by their parents or masters or any of the Selectmen when they shall call them to a tryall of what they have learned in this kinde.

This law established the equivalent of what is known today as Child Protective Services. It had the power to remove the children from their parents and turn them over to foster parents.

And further that all parents and masters do breed & bring up their children & apprentices in some honest lawful calling, labour or imploymet, either in husbandry, or some other trade profitable for themselves, and the Common-wealth if they will not or cannot train them up in learning to fit them for higher imployments. And if any of the Selectmen after admonition by them given such masters of families shal finde them still negligent of their dutie in the particulars aforementioned, wherby children and servants become rude, stubborn & unruly; the said Selectmen with the help of two Magistrates, or the next County court for that Shire, shall take such children or apprentices from them & place them with some masters for years (boyes till they come to twenty-one, and girls eighteen years of age compleat) which will more strictly look unto, and force them to submit unto government according to the rules of this order, if by fair means and former instructions they will not be drawn unto it. [1642]

This law did not persuade parents to conform. So, a replacement law was passed in 1647. It created tax-supported schools. It was done in the name of anti-Catholicism, but without mentioning Catholicism.

It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these later times by perswading from the use of Tongues, that so at least the true sense and meaning of the Original might be clowded with false glosses of Saint-seeming-deceivers; and that Learning may not be buried in the graves of our fore-fathers in Church and Commonwealth, the Lord assisting our indeavours: it is therfore ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof;

That everie Township in this Jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to the number of fifty Householders shall then forthwith appoint one within their Town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read, whose wages shall be paid either by the Parents or Masters of such children, or by the Inhabitants in general by way of supply, as the major part of those that order the prudentials of the Town shall appoint. Provided that those which send their children be not oppressed by paying much more then they can have them taught for in other Towns.

Two centuries later, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts established the first state Department of Education in 1837. In 1833, the state finally had abolished its established church. It was the last state to do this. After this, it no longer paid Congregational ministers to perform their tasks. Yet within four years, a new state church was established. It was run by a Unitarian lawyer, Horace Mann. He became the first great promoter of tax funded education in America. Wikipedia describes Mann.

It was not until he was appointed Secretary in 1837 of the newly created Massachusetts Board of Education that he began the work which was to place him in the foremost rank of American educators. On entering on his duties, he withdrew from all other professional or business engagements and from politics.

He held this position, and worked with a remarkable intensity, holding teachers’ conventions, delivering numerous lectures and addresses, carrying on an extensive correspondence, and introducing numerous reforms. Mann persuaded his fellow modernizers, especially those in the Whig Party, to legislate tax-supported elementary public education in their states and to feminize the teaching force. Most northern states adopted one version or another of the system he established in Massachusetts, especially the program for “normal schools” to train professional teachers.

He was elected to Congress in 1848.


The call to reform the public schools is inherently a call to keep the state strong. It is the call to use coercion in the name of liberty. It goes back to Horace Mann.

the public should no longer remain ignorant;
that such education should be paid for, controlled, and sustained by an interested public;
that this education will be best provided in schools that embrace children from a variety of backgrounds;
that this education must be non-sectarian;
that this education must be taught using the tenets of a free society; and
that education should be provided by well-trained, professional teachers.

These are not the tenets of a free society. These are the tenets of the state-controlled society.

The enormous success of Horace Mann’s vision is seen in the fact that conservatives today accept his fundamental principles. They accept the public schools. They accept the idea that the state has the right to extract money through the threat of coercion from families that are committed to a particular worldview to fund schools that will systematically teach their children to reject that worldview. They believe in neutral education, which is a myth. It was a myth first promoted in the Prussian schools, where Horace Mann visited in 1843, and returned home to promote that vision of education.


It is inherent in the nature of tax-funded education that an elite group wants to control the next generation. It does so by control of the educational establishment.

The solution to this is not the capture of the public school bureaucracy. The solution to it is the defunding of all education. All of it. In the classic words of Eliza Doolittle, in response to her father’s request for money, “Not a brass farthing.”

The public school system truly is America’s only established church. The likelihood of being able to persuade the public to cut off all farthings to the public schools is essentially zero.

There has been much greater liberty in the United States for parents to pull out of the system than in most European countries. But the cost of doing so has always been so high that only a tiny fraction of American parents has done this. They’ve usually done it for religious reasons.

Today, with online education, parents can pull their children out for very little money. If they use the Khan Academy, it costs them nothing except time. Nevertheless, fewer than 2 million children are homeschooled. By comparison, total enrollment in tax-funded schools is in the range of 57 million.

Until people are willing to fund their own children’s educations, there will not be a successful movement to defund the public schools. Until people realize that they are victims of the public school system, they will not resist them politically.

The educational solution is not a reform movement to capture the instruments of power. The solution is to withdraw support from those institutions. In the case of education, it has to begin with homeschooling and private education. But private education is expensive. Only the elite can afford it. Not many families can afford $8,000 to $20,000 a year per child to send their children to brick-and-mortar schools. But they can afford homeschooling.


The solution to the monopoly of the United States Postal Service is the de-funding of the USPS. But this will take time.

It begins with secession. This has taken place. It began with email, which was followed by texting. Today, there is no economic justification for the USPS. People have grown used to it. It is an ancient institution. But people are no longer dependent on it. If it disappeared tomorrow, hardly anybody would notice. They would get less junk mail, which I like to think of as opportunity mail. But I am in the opportunity mail business. The USPS works for me. But I would be glad to vote for a candidate running for Congress whose only promise was this: “Cut the funding to zero of the USPS.” The trouble is, nobody could be elected if that was the heart of his platform. But it would be a good touchstone of his commitment to limited government.

The Internet is an engine of freedom. It lets us secede from the monopolies established by the state. People do this to benefit themselves economically, never thinking about the fact that they are undermining the economic justification and therefore the political legitimacy of the modern state.

Here is my reform slogan: Secede and De-Fund, Not Capture.

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