Anti-schooling activism

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Anti-schooling activism or radical education reform seeks to abolish compulsory schooling laws.


Teaching as political control[edit]

Benjamin Disraeli, during a speech in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom in June 1839 remarked:[1]

"Wherever is found what is called a paternal government, there is found state education. It has been found that the best way to insure implicit obedience is to commence tyranny in the nursery."

A non-curriculum, non-instructional method of teaching was advocated by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner in their book Teaching as a Subversive Activity. In inquiry education students are encouraged to ask questions which are meaningful to them, and which do not necessarily have easy answers; teachers are encouraged to avoid giving answers.[2]

Philosopher Herbert Spencer argues the despotism inherent in education:

For what is meant by saying that a government ought to educate the people? Why should they be educated? What is the education for? Clearly, to fit the people for social life — to make them good citizens. And who is to say what are good citizens? The government: there is no other judge. And who is to say how these good citizens may be made? The government: there is no other judge. Hence the proposition is convertible into this — a government ought to mold children into good citizens…. It must first form for itself a definite conception of a pattern citizen; and, having done this, must elaborate such system of discipline as seems best calculated to produce citizens after that pattern. This system of discipline it is bound to enforce to the uttermost. For if it does otherwise, it allows men to become different from what in its judgment they should become, and therefore fails in that duty it is charged to fulfill.[3]

Murray N. Rothbard argues that the history of the drive for compulsory schooling is not guided by altruism, but by a desire to coerce the population into a mold desired by the Establishment.

John Caldwell Holt asserts that youths should have the right to control and direct their own learning, and that the current compulsory schooling system violates a basic fundamental right of humans: the right to decide what enters our minds. He thinks that freedom of learning is part of freedom of thought, even more fundamental a human right than freedom of speech. He especially states that forced schooling, regardless of whether the student is learning anything whatsoever, or if the student could more effectively learn elsewhere in different ways, is a gross violation of civil liberties (Holt, 1974).

Nathaniel Branden adduces government should not be permitted to remove children forcibly from their homes, with or without the parents' consent, and subject the children to educational training and procedures of which the parents may or may not approve. He also claims that citizens should not have their wealth expropriated to support an educational system which they may or may not sanction, and to pay for the education of children who are not their own. He claims this must be true for anyone who understands and is consistently committed to the principle of individual rights. He asserts that the disgracefully low level of education in America today is the predictable result of a state-controlled school system, and that the solution is to bring the field of education into the marketplace.[4]


"Over-education" is the phenomenon in which individuals feel burdened or oppressed by the weight of their education. A good education is something prized in nearly all cultures, but education can be felt as an obstacle to happiness, and may contribute to mental health problems.[5]

Sometimes this term relates to the problem of employing people with higher education. For example, some employers avoid hiring people with doctoral degrees, because they find the presence of someone more educated than themselves a potential threat to their own position, or because they believe the person will be dissatisfied with the work or salary.

Over-education is a theme in the Unabomber Manifesto.

The corruption of children - Rousseau[edit]

Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in his book Emile: or, On Education that all children are perfectly designed organisms, ready to learn from their surroundings so as to grow into virtuous adults, but due to the malign influence of corrupt society, they often fail to do so. Rousseau advocated an educational method which consisted of removing the child from society—for example, to a country home—and alternately conditioning him through changes to environment and setting traps and puzzles for him to solve or overcome.

Rousseau was unusual in that he recognized and addressed the potential of a problem of legitimation for teaching. He advocated that adults always be truthful with children, and in particular that they never hide the fact that the basis for their authority in teaching was purely one of physical coercion: "I'm bigger than you." Once children reached the age of reason, at about 12, they would be engaged as free individuals in the ongoing process of their own.

Individuality - Bloom, Nietzsche[edit]

Allan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind is a critique of the contemporary university and how Bloom sees it as failing its students. To a great extent, Bloom's criticism revolves around his belief that the Great Books of Western Thought have been devalued as a source of wisdom. Martha Nussbaum and Harry V. Jaffa both argued that Bloom was deeply influenced by Friedrich Nietzsche,[6] who in the 19th century wrote:

There are no educators. As a thinker, one should speak only of self-education. The education of youth by others is either an experiment, conducted on one as yet unknown and unknowable, or a leveling on principle, to make the new character, whatever it may be, conform to the habits and customs that prevail[7]

In the 1940s, the English writer and critic Herbert Read wrote:

Mankind is naturally differentiated into many types, and to press all these types into the same mold must inevitably lead to distortions and repressions. Schools should be of many kinds, following different methods and catering for different dispositions. It might be argued that even a totalitarian state must recognize this principle but the truth is that differentiation is an organic process, the spontaneous and roving associations of individuals for particular purposes. To divide and segregate is not the same as to join and aggregate. It is just the opposite process. The whole structure of education as the natural process we have envisaged, falls to pieces if we attempt to make that structure … artificial. [8]

Grading - Illich[edit]

In Deschooling Society, Ivan Illich calls for the disestablishment of schools. He claims that schooling confuses teaching with learning, grades with education, diplomas with competence, attendance with attainment, and, especially, process with substance. He writes that schools do not reward real achievement, only processes. Schools inhibit a person’s will and ability to self-learn, ultimately resulting in psychological impotence. He claims that forced schooling perverts the victims’ natural inclination to grow and learn and replaces it with the demand for instruction. Further, the current model of schooling, replete with credentials, betrays the value of a self-taught individual. Moreover, institutionalized schooling seeks to quantify the unquantifiable – human growth.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "EDUCATION—ADJOURNED DEBATE". Millbank Systems. 23 February 2014. Retrieved 23 February 2014. 
  2. ^ Postman, Neil, and Weingartner, Charles (1969), Teaching as a Subversive Activity, Dell, New York, NY.
  3. ^ Spencer,Herbert. Social Statics, p. 297.
  4. ^ Branden, N. (1963). Public Education, Should Education be Compulsory and Tax Supported, as it is Today? Chapter 5, Common Fallacies About Capitalism, Ayn Rand, Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, p. 89.
  5. ^ "psychologytoday.". Retrieved 2009-03-05. 
  6. ^ Nussbaum, Martha. "Undemocratic Vistas," New York Review of Books 34, no.17 (5 November 1987)
  7. ^ as cited in NIETZSCHE, by Walter Kaufmann, (1954) The Viking Press, New York
  8. ^ Herbert Read, The Education of Free Men (London: Freedom Press, 1944), pp. 27 — 28.