Thursday, December 18, 2014

Choice vs. Liberty in Education

If you've ever doubted that the fight for liberty requires a major educational campaign, consider the following.

In the discussion generated by my comments to the article NJ Catholic schools fight to keep doors open as future dims, there were several replies implying that government schools aren’t rights-violating or coercive because everyone has a “choice” not to send their child to government schools, or can choose their public schools through their choice of where to live.

For example, bayshore lady wrote, “Anyone who doesn't like the public schools is allowed to send their kids to any other schools they choose, if that school will accept them, and pay for it themselves.” I replied:

First, a parent has a right to choose private education, including homeschooling. It is not up to government to give permission (to "allow" it).

Second, that same parent has a fundamental right to use his own money as she sees fit. The two rights are linked. To say a parent has a right to school choice but not to spending choice is no choice at all for most parents.

kmop wrote “You already have a choice.  You get to choose where you live.”

This issue requires further elaboration.

These correspondents equate liberty with choice. But the essence of liberty is to be free to act and choose according to your own judgement without coercive interference from others, including government officials. The essence of freedom and individual rights is the absence of the initiation of physical force in human relationships. Government-granted “choice” is not freedom. “Choice” only in areas where government chooses not to initiate coercion and violate your rights is not freedom.

Freedom of choice is an aspect of liberty. Choice, as such, is not the essence of liberty. People living under dictatorships can have choice. Permission to choose can be rescinded at any time for whatever reason. Rights are inalienable, and cannot be violated by your neighbors, “society,” or the government. If a government forces you to orient your choices around its coercion—such as school taxes and truancy laws—you do not have real choice or real liberty. You are simply a subject of the state.

If you have to send your child to a government approved school based on your address, and are forced to pay taxes to support them no matter what, the “freedom” to “to send their kids to any other schools they choose . . . and pay for it themselves” is a cruel joke. Government schools are not laws of nature, impossible to alter. They are a man-made injustice that can and should be abolished. Short of abolition, my tax credit plan would move us nicely toward more liberty in education.

The premise that liberty is only what is allowed by government is a hallmark of statism; the system that subordinates individuals’ lives and wealth to government. The government’s proper job is to identify rights-violating behavior (robbery, rape, murder, fraud, extortion, etc.) and proscribe those actions through objective laws that prescribe appropriate penalties and restitution to the victims. Government proscribes only actions that violate the rights of others, and is forbidden by constitutional law to become a rights-violator. It is not up to government to determine what you are allowed to do. It is up to government to determine what you can’t do, based on the principle of individual rights. Apart from objectively defined rights-violating actions, individuals are free to act. These correspondents highlight the importance of philosophy. Only when people are educated on the true nature of individual rights and limited, rights-protecting government will we be able to reverse the statist trend and advance toward a fully free society.

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