Freedom or Equality

Last week I had dinner with old friends. My friends, who send their teenager to a private Catholic school at great cost even though they are not religious, tell me that they would support a law forcing all parents to send their kids to public schools. That way, they reason, there would be more support for public schools, so the schools would improve, so deprived kids would get a better start in life, so the country would become "more equal." It did not phase them when I suggested that the only way to get equality was for God to enforce it or to have a Tyrant do it. So what? As one of them put it, "We liberals are for equality of opportunity; it's the Republicans who are for freedom."

BTW, I do not accuse these folks of hypocrisy. Their position is collectivist, so until all are forced out of private schools and homeschooling they are free to do what they think best for their son. They argue for a new system while navigating the one they find themselves in.

I oppose their position on practical and principled grounds. I do not believe that creating a monolithic monopoly is the way to get creativity, innovation, and excellence.

But even if this scheme could work, and granting the importance of finding a solution to the dropout, failure, and illiteracy problem of so many of our young people, I would oppose the plan on principle. For the State to tell parents that the raising and educating of the young is no longer their responsibility but rather that of the State itself, seems far more totalitarian than liberal to me. A liberalism that goes this far has lost a claim to its own name!

Aristotle did think that the family cannot do the complete job of educating the young and that the polis must help. After all, "Man is a social animal" so experience outside the family is necessary for the good life. We need public schools. But we also need alternative schools, too, if the right to the pursuit of happiness is to have any meaning.