Market Education: The Unknown History
Leef, George C., Freeman
Market Education: The Unknown History by Andrew J. Coulson
Transaction Publishers and the Social Philosophy and Policy Center 1999 430 pages
$54.95 cloth; $24.95 paperback
Reviewed by George C. Leef
The most pernicious of all the widely held modern beliefs is that education must be provided by the state. "Education is an entitlement!" say nearly all politicians and members of the vast education establishment. Few challenge that assertion. The inseparability of school and state is almost as much a given as the separation of church and state.
In this book Andrew Coulson takes dead aim at that belief. Coulson, senior research associate at the Social Philosophy and Policy Center, is a computer software engineer who developed a strong interest in educational history and policy. Market Education: The Unknown History is the product of his research. It's a strong case for letting the free market work in education.
Coulson's historical overview of educational history is extremely beneficial. Government education is so widely assumed to be the only possibility that many will be surprised to learn there have been places and times when government kept out entirely. The author's contrast between Athens and Sparta in ancient Greece is illustrative.
In Athens, Coulson writes, "with the exception of two years of military training, the state played no role in schooling." That, of course, did not mean an uneducated populace. Just as Athenians managed to feed, clothe, and house themselves without any government action, so did they educate themselves. Parents paid monthly tuition for the education of their children at whichever of the numerous private schools they preferred. Schools could survive only by offering educational services parents found sufficiently valuable to pay for. Education was not an "entitlement," and wasn't "equal," but Coulson states that even the poorest families were consumers in the education market.
Education was not static in Athens. "Each step in the evolution of Athenian society was matched by a corresponding change or expansion in the offerings of educators," Coulson writes. No government planning agency existed to decide what subjects must be taught and who was permitted to teach them. The result of this laissez-faire approach was a civilization that far surpassed any other in the ancient world. Athens was the intellectual center of the Mediterranean, a wellspring of genius in science, mathematics, philosophy, literature, and more. All those brilliant thinkers working in a culture that esteemed learning-and not a government school to be found!
In contrast, Sparta established a government education monopoly to ensure the preservation of the collectivist/militarist philosophy of Lycurgus and later rulers. …