What Might Have Been - What Might Be
By Carl Watner
[Editor's Note: The following
article is the "Introduction" to my anthology, HOMESCHOOLING:
A HOPE FOR AMERICA (2010). This 258 page softcover book is available
from The Voluntaryists for $20.00 postpaid to US addresses, $25 elsewhere.]
responsibility of parents for the education of their children is deeply
rooted in the spirit and history of America. In his book, IS PUBLIC
EDUCATION NECESSARY?, Samuel Blumenfeld points out that there was no
mention of education, much less "public/government" education
in either the Declaration of Independence or the federal Constitution.
Even if one were to argue that education fell within the jurisdiction
of the states, rather than the national government, one is hard pressed
to explain why only two of the constitutions of the original thirteen
colonies (Pennsylvania and North Carolina) mentioned the subject. This
absence of concern for what is today deemed to be one of the most central
of government functions (both on the federal and state levels) is not
too hard to explain.
Education, both before and after the American Revolution, was certainly
not the responsibility of governments. The educational backgrounds of
the signers of the Declaration and Constitution attest to the richness
and diversity of the voluntary educational environment of the time.
Their schooling encompassed "every conceivable combination of parental,
church, apprenticeship, school, tutorial, and self-education."
As Blumenfeld observes: "George Washington was educated by his
father and half-brother, Benjamin Franklin was taught to read by his
father and attended a private school for writing and arithmetic,"
and "Thomas Jefferson studied Latin and Greek under a tutor."
 Charles Dabney, in his book UNIVERSAL EDUCATION IN THE SOUTH, reports
that "a great advance in educational enterprises of a private and
ecclesiastical character followed" the years after the American
Revolution. "The wealthy established private schools. Academies
and colleges were started wherever a few pupils could be gathered together
and teachers found. A new ideal of education was in the making, ...
."  In 1798, Joseph Lancaster opened his first free school in
London, England, followed by its spread to New York City in 1805. 
In short, the "men who founded the United States were educated
under the freest conditions possible" and it would have been strange
to most of them, indeed, to think that government should have been a
provider of education. 
is our ideal, the "what might have been" for American education,
and our hope for what might be. Yet, as every 21st Century reader knows,
educational freedom in America has been nearly destroyed, so much so
that even the validity of homeschooling has been challenged in many
states. This collection of eclectic articles from THE VOLUNTARYIST,
which has been published since 1982, is designed to make you think
about educational freedom and political statism. It takes the following
points for its main theme:
... Government schools are
paid for by compulsory taxes. (Why is it assumed that the majority of
parents would not willingly pay for their children's education? Why
are they presumed guilty? At the very least, if taxes must be collected
to pay for public schools, why not collect them only from those who
refuse to educate their children and necessitate such schools?)
... Government schools depend
on the coercion of compulsory attendance laws. (Why is it assumed that
the majority of parents would not willingly educate their children?
Why are they presumed guilty? At the very least, why not apply compulsory
attendance laws only to those parents who refuse to educate their children?
To teachers and state educators we ask: Do you think nobody would willingly
entrust their children to you? Why do you have to collect your pupils
by compulsion?) 
... Before the advent of government
schools, parents were primarily responsible for the education of their
... The home has always been
the main place where education occurred; and the parents
were often the primary instructors of their children.
... Although restricted
by every conceivable law and political regulation, it is the natural
and common law right of the parents to direct the education of their
... Parents have a moral duty
to educate their offspring. However, a child has no right to an education.
(The common law held it as no offense for a parent not to educate his
... Government schools are
designed to indoctrinate students in statolatry, in the worship of the
State as the provider of all 'good' things. (A tax-supported educational
system is the life-like representative of the totalitarian state.)
... Someone or some institution
must control the child. (Shall we have a free society with parental
control of the child's education or an authoritarian society with state-controlled
... If there is any hope for
America as a beacon of liberty and freedom it is to be found in home
does voluntaryism relate to education? Voluntaryism is the philosophic
doctrine that all the affairs of mankind should be voluntary. No one
has the right to force another peaceful person to act as he or she wishes.
Voluntaryism comes about naturally if no one does anything to prevent
it. Voluntaryism was a term that originated in the early 1800s in England
to identify those who advocated voluntary, as opposed to State, support
of religion. It was later extended to those who opposed the coercive
collection of taxes. Ultimately, those who shared this position realized
that government would probably receive little revenue if it did not
threaten jail time or confiscation of property to collect its taxes.
In short, voluntaryists question the legitimacy of coercive political
government because it initiates violence against those who would decline
its protection because they want none, or would provide their own protection,
or hire some other organization to provide them with protection. Furthermore,
by its monopolization of services, government violates the rights of
those individuals or groups of individuals who might choose to offer
competing services to those offered by the government. Many voluntaryists
see a parallel between government churches and government schools. If
it is not proper to support a State church by compulsory attendance
laws and coercive taxes, why should it be proper to support State schools
in a similar manner? Why is one's spiritual health any less important
than one's educational development? 
a free society, no one owes anybody else food, shelter, clothing, medical
care, or spiritual or intellectual growth. Respect for individual rights
means that some may have more than they need, some less, but each person
is or should be secure in what is theirs. Only then, whether they have
lots or little, may they be disposed to be charitable or miserly with
what they have. Voluntaryism in education follows from each person's
self-ownership and rightful control of their property. Parents
nurture their children. Teachers, tutors, and masters of apprentices
offer their services. No coercive outside agency tells parents when,
and where, and what and how to teach. This lack of any centralized agency
directing education permits a tremendous variety of what to teach,
as well as how to teach. Voluntaryism does not guarantee success, but
it does allow for each family to experiment and find out what is best
for them. Voluntaryism does not exhibit the one-size fits all approach
of government schooling. There is nothing to prevent what works for
one family to be imitated and copied, while a government monopoly almost
assures us that mediocrity will rule. Parental-directed schooling, unlike
government schooling, is not dominated by political considerations and
compromises between competing interests and radically different constituencies.
teaching and teachers are laden with values and beliefs.  Education
can never be free of dogma. This is an inescapable fact of reality.
Thus the question becomes: "Would one rather have a single educational
monopolist deciding what is taught and how it is taught, or would one
rather have each individual parent and family decide what they will
teach or have taught to their children?" Family indoctrination
may be just as thorough and enslaving as state indoctrination, but that
situation would be far better than if "a universal education agency"
were to have indoctrinated everybody in its dogma. As one advocate
of diversity in indoctrination explained: if different families indoctrinate
in different dogmas, "the dogmatic, indoctrinated product of one
family's indoctrination will grow up to profess a different dogma than
that of another family's indoctrinated offspring. Then, in social interactions
among the various indoctrinated, differences of belief and lack of universality
of dogma will become apparent to all, undermining in many the felt necessity
of the dogmatic beliefs they were trained to hold." The fact that
no monopolist can instill its dogma on a captive audience insures that
whatever dogmas are taught will clash in a manner that will make many
question their beliefs and lead them to rectify their mistaken beliefs,
if they come to that conclusion. But "people in a society where
universal indoctrination has been practiced would be less likely to
discover the inhibition on their freedom since everyone, everywhere
will attest to the putatively obvious truth of everything that person
believes."  And in a society where government directs the people's
education it is a certainty that the people will be taught that voluntaryism
in education is dangerous and that government education is best. Who
could imagine the government criticizing itself?
it is readily apparent that the public school is a tool of the State,
an idea going back at least as far as Plato. Those who direct the schools
"control a character-producing institution" that is an instrument
of the "ruling elite to maintain and enhance their power."
 Public education is simply one of the primary means of molding
American children into tax-paying, law-abiding American adults, who
rarely question the nature and legitimacy of their own government. As
Jonathan Kozol notes: "The first and primary function of the U.
S. public schools is not to educate good people, but good citizens.
It is the function which we call in enemy nations state indoctrination."
 John Taylor Gatto expands on this theme calling government schools
WEAPONS OF MASS INSTRUCTION:
public education in this country ... was useful in creating not only
a harmless electorate and a servile labor force but also a virtual herd
of mindless consumers. In time a great number of industrial titans came
to recognize the enormous profits to be had by cultivating and tending
such a herd via public education, ... . School trains children to be
employees and consumers. ... [W]ake up to what our schools really are:
laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the
habits and attitudes that corporate [and political] society demand...
. [I]ts real purpose is to turn them into servants. 
homeschooling parents have been challenged in court for violating the
state's education law, rarely are the educational achievements of their
children called into question. The accomplishments of the children (whether
they have met the state requirements for their grade levels or not)
are usually beside the point. The welfare of the child is not the concern
of the State. The courts do not consider how well the child is educated,
but only whether or not the child is receiving a government-approved
education and if the appropriate rules and regulations were followed.
 If the State were truly concerned with neglected and illiterate
children, it would take corrective action to save those children its
own educational system has failed to teach to read or write.
is likely that some children receive a worse education under a government
regime than they would in the absence of political laws. This is consistent
with the nature of government intervention. Even from the point of view
of its supporters, government action often makes conditions worse than
before it interfered. If we examine the "Six Political Illusions"
enunciated by James L. Payne we can begin to understand how this happens:
1. Since government has no
funds of its own, "money spent on government programs must be taken
from citizens who have good and useful purposes for their own funds.
Therefore, all government spending programs injure these good and useful
2. Government is based on the
exercise of physical force to accomplish its ends. "Its taxes and
regulations rely on the threat of inflicting physical harm on those
who do not cooperate."
3. Government programs "have
high overhead costs. Goods or services provided through a tax and spend
system end up costing several times as much as they would if citizens
obtained these goods or services directly" on the market.
4. "Money is only one
factor in success. If the motivation and abilities of recipients are
not suitable ... government spending will be useless, or can do more
harm than good."
5. "Government has no
superior wisdom. Government officials are ordinary people, as prone
to bias, intolerance, greed, and error as anyone" else.
6. Government would have us
think that it is a problem-solving institution, but it cannot duplicate
the "the creative actions of individuals, families, neighborhoods,
groups, and businesses. Problem-solving efforts by government almost
invariably impair the energy and capacity of the voluntary sphere."
is easy to see how every one of these illusions applies to government
education, and why voluntaryists are more concerned with the means than
the ends. Voluntaryists understand Mahatma Gandhi's insight that "if
one takes care of the means, the end will take care of itself."
If they rely on voluntaryism and don't use coercion to educate their
children, they not only set their children a moral, non-violent example
(not relying on tax funds which are forcibly collected), but they generally
do at least as good, if not a much better, practical job of preparing
their children for life than the State. Voluntaryism has no formal
guidelines that will dictate what kinds of education will take place
in a free society. So long as the means are peaceful, respectful of
self-ownership and property titles, the ends cannot be criticized from
the voluntaryist perspective. This is not to imply that the only standard
of judging human behavior is whether or not it is voluntary. Certainly
some behavior may be irrational, vicious, immoral, religious, irreligious,
(etc., etc.) but the first question the voluntaryist asks is: Is it
truly voluntary? This is why the voluntaryist objects to government
provision of dispute settlement, police services, schools, etc. Such
services may be essential to human survival, but it is not essential
that they be provided by government on a coercive basis. There
is no logical, epistemological, or societal justification for forcing
goods or services upon unwilling customers. The political attempts of
2009-2010 to impose universal national healthcare is just the latest
government-mandated service being forced upon people (those who have
to pay taxes to support other people's medical care, and those who would
prefer to make provisions for their own healthcare).
in a free society is the responsibility of every parent. Some parents
will be irresponsible. Some will be responsible for the education of
their own children. Others may choose to become responsible for the
education of children that are not their own. That is the beauty of
freedom. Each person must inevitably make their own choice, or choose
to make none at all (though indeed, they have no choice; reality will
make it for them if they fail to make a choice themselves). The
kind of character we develop individually goes far in determining what
kind of collective society we shall have. But after all is said and
done, the only thing we, individually, can do is "to present society
with one improved unit." As Albert Jay Nock put it, "Ages
of experience testify that the only way society can be improved is by
the individualist method; ... that is, the method of each one doing
his best to improve one."  This is the quiet or patient way
of changing society because it concentrates upon bettering the character
of men and women as individuals. As the individual units change, the
improvement in society will take care of itself. In other words, if
one takes care of the means, the end will take care of itself.
better description of homeschooling could one pen?
VOLUNTARYIST insight into education offers a unique and seldom
heard point of view about children, schooling, and the State. Many of
these essays may make you fume but please let them help you think through
the issues. But above all else, as Shakespeare wrote: "To thine
own self be true: And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst
not then be false to any man."
 Samuel L. Blumenfeld, IS
PUBLIC EDUCATION NECESSARY?, Old Greenwich: The Devin-Adair Company,
1981, pp. 20-21.
 Charles Dabney, UNIVERSAL
EDUCATION IN THE SOUTH, Volume I: From the Beginnings to 1900, Chapel
Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1936, p. 3.
 Erica Carle, "Education
Without Taxation," THE FREEMAN, March 1962, pp. 48-55 at pp. 48
 Blumenfeld, op. cit., p.
 Murray Rothbard, EDUCATION,
FREE AND COMPULSORY: THE INDIVIDUAL'S EDUCATION, Wichita: Center for
Independent Education, 1972, p. 17 citing Isabel Paterson, THE GOD OF
THE MACHINE. See Chapter XXI of the Caxton Printers edition, 1964, p.
 Robert P. Baker, "Statute
Law and Judicial Interpretation," in William F. Rickenbacker (editor),
THE TWELVE YEAR SENTENCE, LaSalle: Open Court, 1974, pp. 97-135 at p.
 Rothbard, op. cit., p.
 Ibid., p. 11.
 See Herbert Spencer, THE
PROPER SPHERE OF GOVERNMENT (a series of twelve letters published in
THE NONCONFORMIST, beginning June 1842, and reprinted as pamphlet in
1843). Especially see the conclusion to Letter VIII. Available on the
worldwide web in the Library of Economics and Liberty at http://www.econlib.org/library/LFBooks/Spencer/spnMvS6.html.
 Gerrit H. Wormhoudt, "Supreme
Court Decisions," in William F. Rickenbacker (editor), THE TWELVE
YEAR SENTENCE, LaSalle: Open Court, 1974, pp. 61-94 at p. 81.
 J. Roger Lee, "Limits
on Universal Education," in Tibor R. Machan (editor), EDUCATION
IN A FREE SOCIETY, Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, 2000, pp. 1-25
at pp. 23-24.
 Joel H. Spring, "Sociological
and Political Ruminations," in William F. Rickenbacker (editor),
THE TWELVE YEAR SENTENCE, LaSalle: Open Court, 1974, pp. 139-159 at
 Jonathan Kozol, THE NIGHT
IS DARK AND I AM FAR FROM HOME, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1975,
 John Taylor Gatto,
WEAPONS OF MASS INSTRUCTION: A School Teacher's Journey Through the
Dark World of Compulsory Schooling, Gabriola Island: New Society Publishers,
2009, pp. xix-xx, and p. xxii. Gatto admonishes: "School trains
children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders
and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your
own to think critically and independently." (p. xxii) After reciting
many success stories of 'unschooled' but educated children, he concludes
"that genius [among children] is common as dirt. We suppress genius
because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated
men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them
manage themselves." (p. xxiii)
 Baker, op. cit., pp. 130-131.
 James L. Payne, SIX POLITICAL
ILLUSIONS, privately distributed manuscript dated November 19, 2009.
See Chapter VII, p. 107.
 Albert Jay Nock, MEMOIRS
OF A SUPERFLUOUS MAN, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1943, p. 307.