Education Free and Compulsory is a collection of three articles written by Murray Rothbard in 1971 about the origins of compulsory public education, as well as the moral and practical cases against it.
Rothbard begins by noting that each person is self-educated to some degree, as education is not limited to formal schooling, but is also formed by everyday experience. He then states the fundamental limitation of formal schooling: it can teach children a subject of study, but it cannot teach them to think. It can only give students the tools they need to be able to think more effectively. Next, Rothbard points out that any imposition of uniformity does not bring the lowest people up; instead, it smashes the highest people down. This is an aggressive act against the brightest students, as resources that would in a free society be used to help the brightest students achieve greatness are instead squandered on the least capable children, who will likely be unproductive members of society no matter what is done to educate them. Rothbard deduces that where instruction is necessary, the instruction is always best done on an individual basis and is usually best done by a child’s parents.
The next two chapters explore the historical origins of public education, beginning with its origins in ancient Greece and Rome. Next, Rothbard observes that education was relatively a private, free market affair in the Middle Ages. He then discusses the modern form of public education, which began with the Lutheran and Calvinist models of religious indoctrination, advanced to the Prussian model of statist indoctrination, and was forced upon American children during the Progressive Era.
While the book is a useful historical guide, it lacks some of the philosophy and libertarian principle that Rothbard’s writings are known for. And at under 100 pages, Education Free and Compulsory is a rather terse treatment of the subject. While any fan of Rothbard will enjoy the book, anyone who is looking for an exhaustive treatment of the issue should look elsewhere.