Greg Lindsay, “Where has the choice gone …,” freeEnterprise, April, 1975, pp. 6-7. Thanks to John Zube and his Libertarian Microfiche Publishing.

What more than a few words of sympathy can be offered to alleviate the concern of parents who feel that the standards of their children’s education — their free education — are steadily declining?

What words of encouragement can you offer the worried parents who come to you with complaints about a teacher who just cannot control his classes (why do they need controlling? — another question), or having one political conviction or another, feels it is his duty to help the minds of his young charges to see the glory in his utopian ideas? What realistic alternative can now be offered to the parents of children whose teachers are plainly incompetent or perhaps have some quaint idea that his pupils should live the truths of the violence and sexual intent of the outside world in the cosy, controlled comfort of the classroom?

A good case study is the recent Murphy incident within the N.S.W. State teaching service. Murphy, an English teacher at Kirrawee High School in Sydney was suspended from duty and charged with improper and disgraceful conduct, based on a number of events, the truth of which depends on who was relating them. As it was, the teeth of the Department’s case fell out one by one when Murphy was defended by the N.S.W. Teachers’ Federation (at a cost of $10,000), but this is not the point in question. What matters is the lack of alternatives for parents who consider that their child is not being fairly treated. Some parents may consider that the teacher is entitled to do what he wishes. Some may not — then what of their rights?

Private schools? Are they at present any real alternative? I don’t think so. Particularly if parents are looking for something altogether different. Most non-government schools (and I stress most, not all), are little different from government schools, save maybe for smaller class sizes and then only for the lucky or well-healed school. There is no guarantee that the standards of service offered will be any better at all — quite likely it will be a good deal worse, and, of course, they are still bound by the state controlled curriculum.

Even if the parents did opt for a non-government school, most of them will severely deprive themselves financially for their children’s education, paying in effect two sets of fees for the privilege of rejecting state education.

The state does not require a man to have the same house or the same car as the next man, and in fact if he is industrious enough or arranges his priorities in such a way that enables him to choose the best available, then he is welcome to it. If he doesn’t like his sports club, then he is not compelled to stay, nor is he compelled to assist in payment of the membership fees of those who do like it there. He can join another or, if he feels so inclined, start one of his own. Where, then, is the justice and a sense of fair play in a system that tells a man who is just unable to afford extra fees for a private school under the present arrangement, that if he wants a better education for his children, then he must sell up his house and maybe change his job so that he can now move to an area in which the government schools might be superior. In effect, this is the result of school zoning, but why change in any case, one zone is as good as another — or so they tell us. This is not striving for excellence in education, but the sort of mediocrity that a socialist state demands.

In reality, of course, the difference between one zone and another can often be quite alarming, making the theory of equality in education nothing more than words.

It is quite easy to find people who will support centralised state controlled education. Their reasons are not often very sound. Most have known no other system at all — “it has always been so, so why then should it change?” Yes, why.

A short look at the history of education will show indeed that this has not always been so.

And this short look at history will also show rather dangerous precedents for terrifying contingencies, even well within recent memory.

If the object of any government (wittingly or unwittingly) is to create a “great” and strong state, all pulling together for the common good, all aiming for the same prosperity for all, then a system of tax-supported, compulsory state education for the children of the state, is perhaps one of the easiest methods of achieving this end — Hitler did it, Napoleon did it … the list goes on.

People who value freedom (and who doesn’t? — just tell me) should value the right to select an educational opportunity for their children and for themselves, but those opportunities are fast dwindling to one only: the state.

What chance does a non-government school have in the face of massive government spending in education?

Sure, spend some money. Why not? It must only improve standards in education to the betterment of all — “Shouldn’t it?” we might well ask. Characteristically though, the opposite is happening.

It is apparent now, that skill in basic areas of learning such as spelling, arithmetic and reading exhibit difficulty for an increasing number of school leavers. Simply spending money is not the answer needed for the vexing question of declining educational standards.

No, if sanity is to be brought back into the sphere of education, then alternative, private education must be allowed to at least compete on an equal footing with state education.

Parents and students, when you are next faced with an incompetent teacher, a teacher whose methods you deplore, a teacher who insists on passing over what you consider to be fallacious or dangerous information, a school in which the facilities are dirty, dangerous or just downright ugly, a learning situation that is so boring, so colourless as to assist you to lose all vestiges of creativity and interest in anything new — then ask yourself just what are the alternatives.

Education by the state is not just, it is not free and, most of all, it is not in the interests of those being educated — it serves the purposes of the state only. That is their justification ultimately for the imposition of their coercive educational institutions.

Future articles will deal with types of private education, the ways that they may be financed, the history and immorality of compulsory education, particularly with reference to Australia, and why there is no justification for free education, especially at the tertiary level.