Who has the right and the power to educate your children?

Eustace Davie is a director of the Free Market Foundation and author of Unchain the child

For interviews: 


The views expressed in the article are the author's and not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation.

This article may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author.

The FMF is an independent, non-profit, public benefit organisation, created in 1975 by pro-free market business and civil society national bodies to work for
a non-racial, free and prosperous South Africa.
As a policy organisation it promotes sound economic policies and the principles
of good law. As a think tank it seeks and puts forward solutions to some of the country's most pressing problems: unemployment, poverty, growth, education, health care, electricity supply, and more. The FMF was instrumental in the post-apartheid negotiations and directly influenced the Constitutional Commission to include the property
rights clause: a critical cornerstone of economic freedom.

+27 11 884 0270 
PO Box 4056, Cramerview 2060

This article was first published by City Press on 14 November 2022

Who has the right and the power to educate your children?

The answer to the question posed in the title to this article should be: “Their parents, of course!” Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Check on the education of children in most countries and you will find that legislation has been adopted that usurps the rights and powers of parents. All with the best of intentions, of course. South African families should be protected by the Bill of Rights from infringement of their control over their children’s education, but that constitutional protection has been “overlooked”. A thorough investigation and analysis is likely to find that family rights are in fact being infringed.
Having an education system dominated by the service providers and their labour unions does not bode well for the quality of service provided by teachers and administrators in the employ of the government. Whether they are in the public or private sector, to ensure the maintenance of high-quality work, service providers need incentives to encourage them to excel.
In the private sector, employees expect to face challenges in satisfying clients. They are consequently alert to the necessity of maintaining and increasing the quality of services they provide to customers. The objective is always to attract more business and to ensure that the firm does not lose any of the customers it already has. If private sector employees were to believe that they had guaranteed customers who were compelled by law, or some other extraordinary circumstance, to purchase services from them, and only them, the management would have difficulty in ensuring that the quality of service and customer relations did not decline.
There is no reason why the Department of Education should not use the same competitive principles as those employed in private sector businesses, including those providing education, in ensuring that government schools maintain a high level of service in their dealings with their young customers.
Competition can be introduced between government schools by having the money follow the student, to incentivise government sector education employees to maintain a high quality of service to their young customers. If government schools providing a better service to their customers (parents and their children) were to attract them away from government school competitors, the money-following-the-child system would reward the teachers and administrators in the higher performing government schools at the expense of the non-performing schools. The money following the child system, would then encourage all government schools to maintain higher quality teaching so as not to lose customers. Actuaries could do the calculations for the apportionment of funds to achieve the greatest positive result from the implementation of the follow-the child principle.
Compulsory schooling, introduced in the United Kingdom and United States in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, with the laudable intention of increasing educational opportunities for young people, but it in fact did the opposite. In its absence, parents and children would be sovereign consumers of learning, services, selecting the education programme that best suits the interests and abilities of each child from a vast array of available alternatives. Instead, they have become the victims of monolithic systems that deny choices and transfers decision-making over education to politicians and government officials.
Compulsory schooling laws have prevented the educational environment from evolving to keep pace with developments in the wider community. Yet countries around the world have persisted with compulsion despite the appalling and well-documented failures of their schooling systems – failures that are a direct, predictable, and inevitable consequence of centralised control.
There is no purpose in adding to the already voluminous literature on the failings of government-provided education. However, there is every reason to write about their root cause, and to speculate about what would happen if that cause, “compulsion” was to be abolished by general consent. We can predict with certainty that young people’s education would quickly become an exciting, innovative, and competitive market.
Compulsory schooling laws are not benign. They prevent the development of alternative educational opportunities and deprive parents and their children, by force, of what should be their right alone, control over children’s education. The average parent does not think too much about the question of compulsion. They intend sending their child to school anyway so they comply without a problem. It is only when something about their child does not fit in the “mould” of the “average” student that problems arise. It could be religion, ill-health, philosophy, physical, disability, low intelligence, high intelligence, special aptitude or skill, abusive nature, timidity, or other potential reasons that lead parents to decide that a school is not a suitable option.
In such circumstances parents come face to face with the full implications of the compulsory schooling law. They find that the purpose of the legislation is not to ensure that their children receive an adequate education but to ensure that they receive the kind of education prescribed by the educational bureaucracy.
Why do the world’s children not have the benefit of interesting and inspiring teaching from the first day of school? How is it for schooling to continue failing so badly when there are so many good ideas about the way in which knowledge can be imparted to young people? Why are young people not offered learning experiences consisting of wonderful challenging and exciting processes? Why is it that schooling appears to fail so badly, leaving large numbers of people functionally illiterate in the world’s most advanced countries, when schooling is costing their taxpayers huge and increasing amounts of money?
The most general explanation is that governments tend to believe, despite persistent failures, that education is a function that forms part of their domain and that they can use threats and force to impose their will upon the population. A ludicrous example is a decision taken by the British education department as recently as 2006 to force its will upon young British people who were staying away from school.
The BBC news asked the question: “Why do British students dislike school so much and stay away from school in such numbers that the education department installed an electronic surveillance system and other control measures costing £995 million since 1997, a costly move that appears to have failed to control truancy? A further £560 million is earmarked for spending in 2005 and 2006 to deal with the problem.”
Physicist Albert Einstein, had this to say about the education systems: It is, in fact, nothing short of a miracle that the modern methods of instruction have not yet strangled the holy curiosity of inquiry: for this delicate plant, aside from stimulation, stands mostly in need of freedom, without this it goes to ruin without fail, it is a very grave mistake to think that the enjoyment of seeing and searching can be promoted by means of coercion an a sense of duty.    

Help FMF promote the rule of law, personal liberty, and economic freedom become an individual member / donor HERE ... become a corporate member / donor HERE