All Commentary
Monday, January 1, 1973

Valueless Education

Mr. Colvard teaches at Clairemont High School in San Diego.

We can create an entertaining kind of excitement in the classroom talking about the great government-financed swindles of history: the Mississippi Bubble of Louis XIV and the South Seas Company of George I. We hold students’ interest as we tell about the larcenous grabbing of railroad subsidies by California’s Big Four. We can join with students to denounce the government partnerships which puffed up a utilities balloon for Samuel Instill and financed the invisible storage tanks of Billie Sol Estes. “The art of government,” Voltaire said, “consists in taking as much money as possible from one class of citizens to give to the other.” We support that, insofar as it does not touch our own enterprise.

In or outside the classroom we teachers ignore the bureaucratic beams which are in our own eyes. As an integral part of a government bureaucracy, we excuse our Federal dependency and even enhance the role of government’s intervention in our schools. The National Education Association, in the true spirit of Parkinson’s Law, actively lobbies for a cabinet post — Secretary of Education. We blandly ignore the widespread taxpayers’ votes which have turned down educators’ bond proposals election after election. We might consider the possibility that their votes are expressions of “no-confidence” in our programs and that American taxpayers may believe that they have been conned into investing in America’s fastest growing bubble company — public education.

In favoring our security over freedom and the equality of mass performance over individual excellence, we are systematically undermining the fundamental concept of a free market economy. The thrust of our policies has been to place the public school systems among the liabilities rather than among the assets of the wealth of the nation. A fair question might be this: Should public education be allowed to go the way of the stage coach and canal boat? Henry Hazlitt noted: “It is just as necessary to the health of a dynamic economy that dying industries be allowed to die as that growing industries be allowed to grow.” A case could be made for rendering out what is valueless in educating the nation’s youth.

Premises Stated

To paraphrase Leonard Read, the Freeman reader has a right to know my biases. Certainly I favor education. Long years of classroom teaching in public schools have whitened my hair, thickened the lenses in my bifocals, and rounded my shoulders. I am proud of my work and I have a solid respect for the great majority of my co-workers. I can not objectively appraise the superintendents, associates and assistants in my business. They keep their own counsel. Nor can I speak for the educational directors, specialists and consultants. They seem to meet and confer with others at their hierarchical level. Meanwhile, in the classrooms across the nation we teachers and our students are trying to do the best we can with what we have. We don’t do what we do well enough, however. The most charitable thing that can be said for us is that we are in conflict and are confused about our purpose and our far goals. A harsher indictment would be that we are effectively conditioning our students for purposeless living in a valueless society.

Students are not given freedom in our structured programming to exercise the principle of choice, to grow toward maturity in value judgment. The late Abraham H. Maslow wrote that education of youth, if it has purpose beyond the custodial, must be concerned with man’s final values:

… Questions: What is the good life? What is the good man? The good woman? What is the good society and what is my relation to it? What are my obligations to society? What is best for my children? What is justice? Truth? Virtue? What is my relation to nature, to death, to aging, to pain, to illness? What is my responsibility to my brothers? Who are my brothers? What shall I be loyal to? What must I be ready to die for?

We have encouraged our youth to “do it if it feels good.” We have avoided fixed values. It would seem that our primary aim has become bigness. We expand our programs wildly to maintain our position in claiming financial and legislative support from an expanding government.

An old folk song runs through my brain. It begins with, “There was an old lady who swallowed a fly, I don’t know why she swallowed the fly….” To get rid of the fly she, according to the song, swallowed in turn a spider to swallow the fly, a bird, a cat, a dog, a cow, and then, a horse. The song ends abruptly with, “she’s dead, of course.” As teachers we note apprehensively that mushrooming problems in public education have progressed far beyond the “fly” stage, and we fear we are approaching the year of the “horse”. An uncomfortable feeling prevails that successive decades of American educators have jumped down the pedagogic gullet in search of an illusive fly which is becoming more and more enveloped in the hierarchical bowels of birds and cats and other misplaced instructional innovations. Even among educators we need to place a limit on gullibility.

Thomas Paine wrote these lines in The American Crisis No. 1, December 23, 1776:

… What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; tis dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.


Recently Professors William Ebenstein and Edward Mill published American Government in the Twentieth Century. Dr. Ebenstein has lived under two extremes of socialism, the Nazi control of the means of production and the Communist ownership. His is a profound gratitude to America. His text’s chapter, “Democracy and the Free-Market Economy” reflects his feeling. I asked a colleague how he had presented this chapter’s concepts to his students. He said, “It was a riot. I let the class comedian in each section read it aloud. The kids broke up laughing over the American housewife pushing her cart in the supermarket being called a reincarnation of the goddess of liberty. When the kids got to the’crap’ about customer sovereignty they were about ready to hold a demonstration in the cafeteria.”

“My class thought the description of the market system was especially well presented,” I told him. “Strictly right-wing,” he said.

John Maynard Keynes gave us this truism: “Economics is not everything.” He went on to say, “… Do not let us over-estimate the importance of the economic or sacrifice to its supposed necessities other matters of greater and more permanent significance.” Keynes’ thesis was that individual economic freedoms must give way to the collective need in the planning of a welfare state. Professor B. F. Skinner calls the desire for freedom a “fetish” and Herbert Marcuse notes in One Dimensional Man that independence is overrated:

Freedom of enterprise was from the beginning not altogether a blessing. As the liberty to work or starve, it spelled toil, insecurity, and fear for the vast majority of the population. If the individual were no longer compelled to prove himself on the market, as a free economic subject, the disappearance of this kind of freedom would be one of the greatest achievements of civilization.

Traditionally in public education we have vocally set major importance on individual liberties. Our property in freedom and our freedom to own property we have asserted, and many of us firmly believe, is the foundation of our economic system. We would that each man become an independent participant in a market, that he be free to determine where and for whom he shall work and what and from whom he shall buy. We believe in the maximum freedom for every man.

The President’s Commission on National Goals stated in their 1960 report that:

.. Schools and institutions of higher education… have a particular responsibility to ensure freedom of expression by students, faculty and administrators alike. We must bring up young men and women to believe in the individual and to act upon that belief. There are subtle and powerful pressures toward conformity in the economic, social, and political world. They must be resisted so that differences of taste and opinion will remain a constructive force in improving our society.

The Urge to Conform

In a curious kind of logic the drive toward alienation from our society is unimaginative and collective. The matron in a New Yorker cartoon a few years ago looked at her husband who was wearing sandals, jeans, granny glasses and a beard and asked: “Do you have to be a non-conformist like everybody else?” On the campus and from the pulpit the phrase “materialistic capitalism” is spouted by liberal scholars and clergymen with the caustic distaste that was, in the McCarthy era, reserved for the term “atheistic communism.” The mouthing of political economic labels, however, does not indicate an adherence to a principle.

For a teacher to talk realistically with students about socialism and the welfare state may appear as foolhardy as it would be for a politician to denounce motherhood or for a minister to advocate sin. The trend in our teaching, directly and indirectly, is toward favoring some form of socialist economy.

There is a wry comfort for some of us in knowing our ideological counterparts around the globe have their troubles too. In Czechoslovakia educational leaders complained in the official party newspaper, Rude Pravo, last year that children learn in schools that socialism is good, but the free enterprise ideas they hear at home confuse them. “The school gives the children a materialist, atheistic, world outlook, but in the family there is still a belief in God and churchgoing.”

The freedom of an American has three fundamental limits: (1) the regulations of organized society, (2) the rights of other individuals, and (3) the capacity of the individual. Within these dimensions each individual in the nation has every right to reach as high as he is able. Obviously such a concept of individual freedom would demolish the myth of mass equality and the belief in community ownership which are the stock in trade of slave masters and slaves, of despots and dependents.

Early Warning

A quarter century before Robert Owen established his fanciful experiment in community brotherhood at New Harmony, Indiana and almost three centuries before Karl Marx published Capital, John Adams warned the nation against leveling schemes:

Debts would be abolished first; taxes laid heavy on the rich, and not at all on the others; and at last a downright equal division of everything be demanded and voted. The idle, the vicious, the intemperate, would rush into the utmost extravagance of debauchery, sell and spend all their share, and then demand a new division of those who purchased from them. The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.

There is a terrible paradox for us, as teachers, to proclaim a declaration of independence. We are as a profession among the most devoted adherents of what Ayn Rand calls “the cult of depravity and impotence.” We fear to test ourselves or our ideas in the market place. We claim the benefits of weakness: tenure in office so that we need not compete, and compulsory attendance for students so that we are ensured a monopoly. We pay lip service to individual freedom, but we join with the economically non-productive who claim welfare rights, and the politically privileged who demand subsidies. If the concept of freedom is cloudy to us, it becomes virtually impossible to clarify our value judgment for our students. This point may be clarified by the explanation which is said to be overheard in Warsaw. “Under Capitalism man exploits man; under Socialism it’s just the opposite.”

25 Centuries of Socialism

I seek no quarrel with those whose conviction it is that individual freedom is a burden from which they would be relieved. I do not, however, wish them to relieve me of my freedom because they believe that my freedom should seem onerous to me.

The renouncing of personal independence, and absolute obedience to law, has been the keystone of twenty-five hundred years of socialism. The “philosopher kings” of Plato, the “general will” of Rousseau, the “co-operation” of Robert Owen, the “Welfare State” of Bismarck all lead to what the socialist novelist George Orwell pointed out as the basic feature of socialism: a totalitarian and terroristic nightmare. There is neither a collective conscience nor a collective responsibility. The purge trials of Moscow, the extermination camps at Auschwitz, and the peoples’ court at Peking are ultimate examples of socialism following its collective dream.

Ironically, it is the “good” socialists who pose the threat to individual freedom in America. In spite, of Marxian agitators like Herbert Marcuse and activists like Angela Davis, American institutions have little to fear from Marxism. The great danger is the relentless drive for a Utopia of Fabian Socialism as it is permeated through the Skinner Box of public education. It was the promise of Sidney Webb that “the inevitability of gradualism” will save the world from the evils of capitalism.

Fabians of the 1880′s, as the society was formed, would support no violent overthrow of government, no seizure of political power. They would form a socialist elite to reconstruct society “in accordance with the highest moral possibilities.” They would remake man in their image through education, by planting doubt as to the political capacity of the average man, and by teaching him to look to a social elite for direction. The national state, according to the Fabians, was a machine which they could take over and use to promote the general welfare.

Goals Achieved

A measure of the Fabians’ success may be gauged by noting their goals as stated in the 1880′s: social security; compulsory insurance managed by the state; minimum wage laws; progressive taxation on income and inheritance. The Fabian Essays of 1889, edited by R. H. S. Crossman, were writings by comfortable and patient men and women willing to use existing political machinery to achieve their social solutions in a far distance — years, decades, centuries.

The Fabians preferred John Stuart Mill over Karl Marx. They chose evolution over revolution. As summarized in the Fourteenth Edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, “… the impact of Fabianism has been through the gradual permeation of Fabian ideas among teachers, civil servants, politicians, trade union officials and others in influential positions.” Fabian Socialists’ goal was not public ownership of all industry, “but a planned economy in which public and private ownership exist together.”

The name of a thing changes, but the thing remains. Today the term “Fabianism” is virtually unknown while its principles are being widely espoused by today’s educators under the concept of “the general welfare.” Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the rise in individual freedom was a continuous and spectacular phenomenon. During this century the trend has reversed itself, and the concept of Jeffersonian Democracy seems about as archaic to many Americans as the belief in the divine right of kings. It is now the collective right of the welfare state which holds primacy.

A Way of Life

The Swedish economist, Gunnar Myrdal, has observed Americans of this century as objectively as did the French aristocrat, Alexis de Tocqueville, during the nineteenth. In Beyond the Welfare State Myrdal points out to us that socialism, whatever else we may choose to call it, is now our way of life:

The sanctity of private property rights to do what one pleases with a piece of land; or the right to keep all, except a nominal tax charge, of one’s income and wealth for private consumption or investment; the freedom to enter upon any profession one wants at one’s own risk; the right of the employer to negotiate individually with his workers, to pay the smallest salary he can for the job, and to hire and fire whom he wants, when he wants; or the right of the worker to leave the shop as and when he desires; indeed, the free choice to own, acquire, and dispose, to work or to rest, to invest, to trade, to move — all these time-honored individual liberties are gradually eaten away by the controls of organized society.

At all levels in our national educational bureaucracy are those who firmly avow and actively foster the principles of Marx and Mao. Others favor the benefits of collective responsibility. Idealists preach “brotherhood” and the commune as the way of life. They search for a new philosophy of hedonism in a mass surrendering of reason and of living by emotion. They would drop out of competitive social systems and return to a pastoral and primitive world. These lovable and not so lovable “fringes” in our schools have only modest and fluctuating followings. But those who continue the fourth generation exposition of Fabian principles are malevolently corrosive.

Say What You Believe

Teachers who believe in the merits of the market system need to clarify their own value systems. When Jesus asked, “who is a neighbor?” his parable pointed clearly to a significant fact — that an individual, not a collective society, had come to another individual’s assistance. We hear the rhetorical question: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” and we have been altruistically conditioned to respond with “yes.” The answer should be “no.” When Cain posed this weasel-worded question, rather than state a forthright answer, he had never been expected under the Hebraic Code to provide for his brother’s welfare. He’d just been expected to contain his envy and to refrain from murder.

Our task as teachers who believe in the free market is what Albert Jay Nock called an “Isaiah’s Job.” To paraphrase the words of Nock, there are in the Nation’s classrooms many teachers who believe in the value of individual freedom. “They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can….”

Thoreau noted that “public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion.” It is the values of the individual teacher, what he thinks of himself and in what respect he holds his students, that determine his classroom goals. There are powerful drives toward mediocrity. Only as free individuals can we reverse the course of history.

We can depict the role of American capitalism for what it is —the moral, non-material base of our freedoms. Professor Peter Viereck wrote in The Unadjusted Man:

Private property educates its possessors in the moral qualities of sturdy independence, sense of responsibility, and the training of judgment and character brought whenever free choice is exercised in any field, including the economic field. It is these moral qualities, not the gluttonous material ones that have historically associated the rise of personal liberty with the rise of personal property.

It was the fundamental faith of a century of freedom-seekers from Locke to Jefferson that freedom for property would in the end result in liberties for men. During the decade before 1776 Colonial newspapers carried the motto on their masthead: “THE UNITED VOICE OF ALL HIS MAJESTY’S FREE AND LOYAL SUBJECTS IN AMERICA — LIBERTY AND PROPERTY, AND NO STAMPS.” Conversely, the emotive nihilistic feeling of valueless ness which permeates the minds of floundering youth in the 1970′s is summed up in the lyrics of a popular song, “… freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose….” Freedom in teaching and in learning is more than an idea; it is a skill which will eventually disappear if it is not used.

Any true teacher, whatever his political bias, would take issue with critics of the 1972 Oldsmobile who based their criticism on the embryonic malfunctioning of the 1902 production model. Yet in hundreds of classrooms across the nation there is a continuing denouncement of laissez faire. Conclusions are formed against capitalism because of the monopoly policies of Jay Gould and the “watered stock” sold by Daniel Drew. Surely we need not continue fighting the moldering ghosts of Henry C. Frick and George Pullman in this age of polyesters and jets.

Man Is Evolving

Capitalism is by historical standards still a young force. It is yet unpatterned and largely experimental. It is still creating and evolving. Its value systems are those of freedoms, individualists, and responsibilities. The philosopher Teilhard de Chardin saw man as nature’s phenomenon, “the ascending arrow of the great biological synthesis.” No teacher would restrain creativity and aspiration. “Man’s chief purpose is the creation and preservation of values,” stated Lewis Mumford. “That is what gives meaning to our civilization, and the participation in this is what gives significance, ultimately, to the individual human life.”

Socialist dogma of envious and vitriolic criticism toward American Capitalism labels it “Social Darwinism.” Their frustrated name-calling should be a major source of our renewed confidence in our adoption of freedom of choice as Man’s greatest value. “Social Darwinism,” like “laissez faire” is not a term for which individualists need apologize. Man evolves in accordance with his freedoms. The great lesson that Darwin gave us is that man has not evolved. He is evolving.



Value and Exchange

For almost two thousand years economic investigation was handicapped by the common notion that economic exchange is fair only as long as each party gets exactly as much as he gives the other. This notion of equality in exchange even permeated the writings of the classical economists.

Back in the 1870′s the Englishman Jevons, the Swiss Walras, and the Austrian Menger irrefutably exploded this philosophical foundation. The Austrian School, especially, built a new foundation on the cognition that economic exchange results from a difference in individual valuations, not from an equality of costs. According to Menger, “the principle that leads men to exchange is the same principle that guides them in their economic activity as a whole; it is the endeavor to insure the greatest possible satisfaction of their wants.” Exchange comes to an end as soon as one party to the exchange should judge both goods of equal value.

HANS F. SENNHOLZ, “The Formation and Function of Prices”