Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Am I a Hypocrite for Teaching Public School?

I'm pretty open with my belief that the lack of student/parent choice in American education is detrimental. Everyday I have students in class who attend because they are legally forced to. As you can guess, learning is not something easily done by force of law. If you want to teach high school, and I do, there are also few options for educators. So am I a traitor to my libertarianism for being a cog in a machine I don't fully support? Economist David Henderson says no while defending his colleague (and in turn me):
I was re-reading and pondering Ayn Rand and started to conclude that I shouldn't go back to [teaching] college and receive government funds. Then I realized that by that same principle, I shouldn't walk on government-funded streets. Then I realized that government had its hand in so many things that I couldn't live a normal life (and, indeed, probably couldn't even live--think of getting food or going to work without going on government roads or sidewalks) without using many things funded by government. That caused me to, as Ayn Rand liked to say, "check my premises."

I would take advantage of these things that government funds but never let those funds stop me from criticizing government when I thought it was wrong and would NEVER advocate funding of those things government did that I thought were wrong.
As one commenter put it, I am not excused from the costs of government (taxation, regulation, etc), so I should not be excused from the benefits either:
I don't see anything inconsistent in simultaneously advocating against a policy and accepting the benefits of that policy should you happen to be outvoted. To declare otherwise is to create a social order in which being principled means being a sucker.


  1. "Then I realized that government had its hand in so many things that I couldn't live a normal life (and, indeed, probably couldn't even live--think of getting food or going to work without going on government roads or sidewalks) without using many things funded by government."

    I'm not sure you're exempt on those grounds, because while it would be very difficult not to eat FDA approved food or walk on government streets, deciding to become a public school teacher is a deliberate choice you made. There are many private schools that need teachers.

    Not to accuse you of hypocrisy. I have no problem with you being a public school teacher because I support public school to a certain extent. I also respect that as you have said, you are starting to realize how impractical many of your more radical libertarian ideas are to implement. I would just encourage you to follow this train of thought a bit more. You could have chosen to teach at a private school, but you chose not to. Do you really believe public school has no benefit over private school? What do you believe?


  2. Amike2:54 PM

    You're not a hypocrite, Harrison. (Okay, maybe you are, but not for this.) If the purpose of libertarianism is to promote personal autonomy, then it behooves the libertarian to support public education--which (when it's done right) instills the values, skills and basic knowledge necessary for individuals to BE autonomous in well as the fellow-feeling, civic virtue, and PUBLIC-spiritedness that's necessary for people to coexist in an interdependent (and diverse) community in the absence of a strong or intrusive government.

    You can get this from private schools too, but not universally: if you want to maximize autonomy across the board--and maintain social cohesion--and put some teeth behind the ideal of social mobility in a free-market society--there needs to be some mechanism by which a certain amount (and a certain kind) of education is guaranteed to all. (The part about social cohesion is more important than it sounds--and I imagine public schools would be a better vehicle for that than private schools. I don't know, but I'd like to see data on early-capitalist societies--were class uprisings more common in societies without a viable public school system? That makes logical sense to me, but I have no idea if it's true.)

    I'm actually reading a few books about this right now--books that argue, from a classical-liberal perspective, that public education is not only acceptable but absolutely necessary. Meira Levinson, "The Demands of Liberal Education," Eamonn Callan, "Creating Citizens"--and then of course there's a whole literature on education and classical liberalism dating back through John Dewey to the Founders. (There's a reason why people like Jefferson and Franklin went so far out of their way to establish schools.)

  3. Amike, just want to say I really enjoy your comments. Do you have a blog? I'd love to read it if you do.

    Harrison, great post by the way. Love the introspection.

  4. Justin,

    88% of students attend public school in America. Imagine trying to get a job where you are morally obligated to not work at 9 out 10 companies.

    Also, it's not that I think my libertarian ideas are impractical in application. It's that I think they are improbable politically. I realize that they are not what most voters want.

    That said, I don't hate public schools. I think giving everyone in our country a basic education is a worthy goal. If given the opportunity, I probably wouldn't eliminate government's role in public schools. I'd probably privatize them all, but give each student a voucher.

  5. Amike,

    Although I agree one of the benefits of libertarianism is personal autonomy, I'm not sure that's the main goal. Though I care strongly about encouraging learning and hard work, I'm not trying to push students to have "fellow-feeling, civic virtue, and PUBLIC-spiritedness". See this old post entitled: We Need More Political Apathy. I don't think being a good citizen requires a good understanding of civics. I think a good citizen works hard, and takes care of his community. There are plenty of people who can't read who do that better than I do.

    Although i don't evidence to prove (or refute) this statement, I don't think a free market is more successful with a public education. However, your comment is very intriguing.

    Like Justin, I am regularly impressed with your comments and appreciate your input. Perhaps after you finish your books and formulate an idea you could grace us with a guest post. Unless of course you have some secret blog out there I don't know about.

  6. No, sorry, no blog yet. Well, okay:, but there are only two substantive posts and neither of them are really political. Yet.

    I agree with your point about civic virtue and political apathy, Harrison--I didn't mean that a 'good citizen' necessarily needs to be involved in politics. But a 'good citizen' does need to be aware of his/her community, feel connected to it, and work to improve it or take care of it. And that does require education, though not necessarily public education. The only 'community' we INSTINCTIVELY feel connected to is our immediate family, and maybe the neighborhood of people we relate to directly on a day-to-day basis; anything larger than that and we've got to be TAUGHT to feel a connection. Why do we feel more connected to an "American" in North Dakota than a "Canadian" in Manitoba? Why do we feel connected to the North Dakotan at all, for that matter, since we'll never actually meet him? Because we've been taught, somewhere along the line, that that distinction is meaningful, that that identity matters. And we NEED to believe that if we're going to give our time and energy to 'taking care' of the larger community--so there has to be some mechanism(s), in a free society, to generate that belief. Popular culture? Public education? Private education? Churches? Political rhetoric? Could come from any or all of those sources, but it's definitely got to come from somewhere. That's all I meant.

  7. What you're saying makes sense if you want to create a strong sense of nationalism. I'm just not so sure I do.

  8. Being aware of your community is not nationalism, it's education. Thinking your national community is superior to everyone else's is nationalism.

  9. Oh and maybe it's just because my dad's a private school principal who is always looking for teachers (ok it is just because of that), but I don't think finding a private teaching job is incredibly difficult. Have you tried?

  10. Being aware of your community is education? I don't think schools are responsible for involvement in one's community. That seems like exclusively a parent's job.

    And nationalism doesn't necessarily mean you think you're better. Here's the Wikipedia definition: involves a strong identification of one's social identity with that of a nation or state.

    And you're right, I didn't really look very hard at private schools, pay being the main reason. Private school teachers make $10-15,000 less than public school teachers. I'm rationally poorer, not rationally impoverished.

  11. Education is limited to schools. Your parents teaching you is education. As Mark Twain said, "I never let my schooling interfere with my education."

    Wikipedia is not fundamental truth. I believe that's too broad a definition of nationalism.

    Private schools do pay less, but my dad's teachers are not impoverished. So you chose money over your beliefs, eh? ;)

  12. Crud. That first sentence should be "education is NOT limited to schools."

    BTW I don't really think you care more about money than your beliefs, I'm not accusing you of that. I think maybe you're starting to come around on public education. :)

  13. Yes, I am at least partially choosing money over my beliefs. But as the original post stated, I don't think there is anything wrong with that.

  14. As a homeschool mom who has the luxurious option of providing something other than coercive education, I don't think you're a hypocrite. Ideals must be balanced with reality - and the reality is that there are a ton of kids out there who need the creativity and enthusiasm of Harrison Brookie. Just don't slap them, ok?


You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.