Thursday, December 16, 2010

"All Great State Systems Stupefy"

Issue 11 reprints an article about a 19th century Voluntaryist, Auberon Herbert that originally appeared in THE LIBERTARIAN REVIEW in February of 1979. The editors of The Voluntaryist preface this article by saying they have their differences with him but nevertheless he made contributions to voluntaryism.

I don’t know what these differences are and during the first part of the article, I wasn’t sure I was going to like what he says on education because in his early life Herbert supported legislation for state education.

But he obviously changed his views on this issue tremendously. I took a look at one of his written publications, THE RIGHT AND WRONG OF COMPULSION BY THE STATE, and found some very interesting thoughts on compulsion in education.

In this book, he reprints a letter published in a British newspaper, The Newcastle Chronicle. (The title of this post is a quote from this letter.)

In this letter, he makes a great case for ending compulsion in education. It’s amazing and sad that so many points made in this letter are the same points people are still trying to make today here in America.

I found the following excerpt particularly interesting - he makes the point that compulsion in education might be leading to even worse situations for children than working in the factories (which as you probably know was a big concern at the time):
“It [the State] regulated the labour of children by its Factory Acts (of the defects of which I cannot speak to-day) in order presently to invent a system of its own, so contrived that it should especially aggravate the great danger of the present day, the tendency to nervous disease; a system that, just because its effects are so much more subtle, so much less easily perceived, so much less exposed to the wrath of public opinion, so effectually disguised in the cloak of a great public advantage, that it may possibly prove in the end far the greater of those two rival evils,—I mean, over-pressure in work and over-pressure in education.

…Unfortunately, if the principle be, as I myself believe, utterly and detestably wrong, the costs of the mistake will not be paid by those who have invented and worked the machine, but by those whose approval and consent has never been looked upon as a valid part of the business, and within whose scope of action and responsibility the measure never was placed. The penalty will be paid in the after happiness of the children.”

So there he was, so long ago, trying to help people see that no one is paying attention to the damage the compulsory school system can do to children. He sounds like a 19th century version of education reformer John Holt, whose writings were instrumental in the development of my philosophy on education and learning.

There are many more points and warnings about the dangers of compulsory schooling within this letter. Go read it and learn. (The letter is in the Appendix which begins on page 74.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Apropos of this discussion is John Taylor Gatto's book The Underground History of American Education, which is now available free onling: .

Government education is not about imparting knowledge and teaching skills, it's about turning out compliant followers to be cannon fodder and cubicle fodder.