Most people don’t believe that governments must fully monopolize the provision of education, but they do believe government must ensure education is provided for through subsidies and regulations.
I couldn’t disagree more. Government support for education actively undermines valuable learning and is the greatest threat to real education. Just like government support for the arts is harmful to art, so too is government support for education harmful to education. Education is too valuable to be tainted by the state.
In PTB spirit, this post is not about philosophical arguments on education and the state, nor is it about pragmatic policy prescriptions. Looking to policy reform is the source of the problem, not the solution. The solution is the creative construction of market alternatives.
This is a personal issue for me, as my own intellectual and career journey led me to the creation of an alternative to traditional higher education, which is the last stop on the government education conveyor belt.
There are two reasons I think market alternatives to bloated, bureaucratized colleges and universities are a powerful and important part of pressing the button.
First, they help individuals better achieve their goals, live free, and create value. Like all voluntary transactions, they literally create more freedom and build civil society with every profitable exchange. Anytime someone goes from a government supported service to a market alternative, it’s a win for freedom.
Second, they dismantle the linchpin of the Collective Interpretive Framework (CIF) for the state. Governments don’t exist because people think they are good or efficient, they exist because people believe them necessary. A market alternative to the higher ed system is a thread that, once pulled, begins to unravel the entire CIF upon which government is based.
More than a mixed market
It’s often assumed, even by free-market radicals, that higher education is a great example of a market in education. When contrasted to K-12 education, it certainly looks more market-like. But it’s not a market. It’s a flabby, rigged game full of puffed up pomp, sloshing with taxpayer dollars, propped by threats of violence (via monopolized credentialing and licensing regimes). It hides behind tax status and subsidies, terrified to come into the light of free and open competition.
To truly press the button requires more than private providers divvying up government money and mandates with do-gooder platitudes. It requires direct market alternatives, accountable to customers via profit and loss, not protected and made stagnant by regulations.
The crumbling CIF
A market alternative to any quasi-government service creates a freer world by weaning people off state dependency. But the future of higher ed – now that college is dead – bodes well for a free society on a much deeper level. Sure, it changes individual lives for the better, but it also changes life itself.
Why do people go to college? There is only one reason: to get a piece of paper they think is a ticket to a job. Every other reason given is false, as evidenced by the fact that every aspect of college besides the piece of government approved paper could be had for free, but everyone pays tuition.
Alternatives like Praxis prove you can get a better job faster and cheaper with less pain and headache and fewer bad habits picked up along the way. All you need to do to prove something is possible is to show it already exists. Most people think a good career without college is impossible unless you are a burger flipper or Bill Gates. Alternatives blow this silly myth out of the water not with arguments, but results. Young people creating great careers without the Ivory Tower.
On down the line
Once the myth that the only way to make a career is with a degree gets smashed, something else happens. What’s the point of high school? To get into college. But if you don’t need college…
What’s the point of kindergarten and compulsory education in general? To set kids up with the proper deference to experts and memorized facts to get the test scores that let them get the AP classes that help them get into college so they can get the career….
Oh boy. The entire industrial education machine is built around the myth of the necessity of rubber stamps from Official Institutions to live any kind of decent life. Without the need for college as the capstone, all the steps leading to it start to look pretty pointless.
Education itself is re-assessed. If classrooms aren’t helping people get good jobs at age 20, what are they doing at age 12? Does success in the world require all the stuff crammed in classrooms at all? Is it creating more barriers than stepping stones?
The real blow to the myth of authority
Since pretty much everyone unthinkingly plugs into the education conveyor belt for highly practical reasons – they think they’ll be poor losers without it – when counter-examples blossom, non-ideological people stop caring so much about government’s version of education.
This is a dangerous scenario for the state. The state-justifying CIF cannot survive on rational argument or demonstrated effectiveness. It relies on a deep self-hating authority-seeking disposition that’s antithetical to curious, independent, exploratory human nature. Kids don’t naturally believe they’ll kill themselves and each other absent Leviathan. The idea has to be beaten into their heads by panicked adults through contrived control, reward, punishment, and book reports on Lord of The Flies.
The more parents realize school isn’t helping their kid succeed, the more of them will opt out. If kids opt out of school, they’ll grow up without state functionaries conditioning them into an authoritarian mindset. A kid who’s raised in freedom won’t even need to read libertarian philosophy to be offended by the idea that they should ask anyone’s permission to go to the bathroom.
The CIF is based on a complex web of things people believe cannot be done without the state. Education might be the most important piece in the entire framework. It cultivates a belief in the necessity of authority from the earliest age, with constant re-enforcement.
People don’t accept it because they think it’s good or efficient, but because they’ve been led to believe success can’t be had without it. These days, it’s all geared towards graduating college. Reveal the uselessness of the degree light at the end of the education tunnel, and the whole tunnel begins to feel more like a cell.