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Separation of Education and State

November 2, 2010

The purpose of education is to train young people how to use their minds—to use their capacity to think and reason. A proper education provides students with knowledge of the facts, and more importantly, knowledge of how to gain new facts in order to live and pursue values.

Public education, by definition, cannot meet the goals of a proper education. Because the state funds public schools, it not only provides the facilities housing the students but it determines the content taught in them. As such, children in such schools learn what the state determines they should learn—with all of the ideological biases that advocates of public schooling endorse. Under state-subsidized schooling, students don’t necessarily learn facts, and how to acquire new knowledge; they learn state-sanctioned facts, and state-sanctioned methods of acquiring knowledge.

Any influence by the state over education corrupts its goals, and therefore the ability of its graduates to think and reason. Only a full separation of education and state allows for parents to choose how best to equip their children to function in the world. Anything less is a violation of the parents’, and child’s, rights.

Q&A with Ayn Rand

What is the purpose of education?
The only purpose of education is to teach a student how to live his life—by developing his mind and equipping him to deal with reality. The training he needs is theoretical, i.e., conceptual. He has to be taught to think, to understand, to integrate, to prove. He has to be taught the essentials of the knowledge discovered in the past—and he has to be equipped to acquire further knowledge by his own effort.

“The Comprachicos,” Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution

Is there a right to education?

Jobs, food, clothing, recreation (!), homes, medical care, education, etc., do not grow in nature. These are man-made values—goods and services produced by men. Who is to provide them?

If some men are entitled by right to the products of the work of others, it means that those others are deprived of rights and condemned to slave labor.

Any alleged “right” of one man, which necessitates the violation of the rights of another, is not and cannot be a right.

No man can have a right to impose an unchosen obligation, an unrewarded duty or an involuntary servitude on another man. There can be no such thing as “the right to enslave.”

A right does not include the material implementation of that right by other men; it includes only the freedom to earn that implementation by one’s own effort.

Observe, in this context, the intellectual precision of the Founding Fathers: they spoke of the right to the pursuit of happiness—not of the right to happiness. It means that a man has the right to take the actions he deems necessary to achieve his happiness; it does not mean that others must make him happy.

The right to life means that a man has the right to support his life by his own work (on any economic level, as high as his ability will carry him); it does not mean that others must provide him with the necessities of life.

The right to property means that a man has the right to take the economic actions necessary to earn property, to use it and to dispose of it; it does not mean that others must provide him with property.

The right of free speech means that a man has the right to express his ideas without danger of suppression, interference or punitive action by the government. It does not mean that others must provide him with a lecture hall, a radio station or a printing press through which to express his ideas.

Any undertaking that involves more than one man, requires the voluntary consent of every participant. Every one of them has the right to make his own decision, but none has the right to force his decision on the others.

There is no such thing as “a right to a job”—there is only the right of free trade, that is: a man’s right to take a job if another man chooses to hire him. There is no “right to a home,” only the right of free trade: the right to build a home or to buy it. There are no “rights to a ‘fair’ wage or a ‘fair’ price” if no one chooses to pay it, to hire a man or to buy his product. There are no “rights of consumers” to milk, shoes, movies or champagne if no producers choose to manufacture such items (there is only the right to manufacture them oneself). There are no “rights” of special groups, there are no “rights of farmers, of workers, of businessmen, of employees, of employers, of the old, of the young, of the unborn.” There are only the Rights of Man—rights possessed by every individual man and by all men as individuals.

“Man’s Rights,” The Virtue of Selfishness

Scholarships . . . are offered to assist ability, to reward intelligence, to encourage the pursuit of knowledge, to further achievement—not to support incompetence.

If a brilliant child’s parents cannot send him through college (or if he has no parents), it is not a moral default on their part or his. It is not the fault of “society,” of course, and he cannot demand the right to be educated at someone else’s expense; he must be prepared to work his way through school, if necessary. But this is the proper area for voluntary assistance. If some private person or organization offers to help him, in recognition of his ability, and thus to save him years of struggle—he has the moral right to accept.

The value of scholarships is that they offer an ambitious youth a gift of time when he needs it most: at the beginning.

“The Question of Scholarships,” The Voice of Reason

Should the government provide scholarships and grants to students and researchers?

The fundamental evil of government grants is the fact that men are forced to pay for the support of ideas diametrically opposed to their own. This is a profound violation of an individual’s integrity and conscience. It is viciously wrong to take the money of rational men for the support of B. F. Skinner—or vice versa. The Constitution forbids a governmental establishment of religion, properly regarding it as a violation of individual rights. Since a man’s beliefs are protected from the intrusion of force, the same principle should protect his reasoned convictions and forbid governmental establishments in the field of thought.

“The Establishing of an Establishment,” Philosophy: Who Needs It

The profiteers of government grants are usually among the loudest protesters against “the tyranny of money”: science and the culture, they cry, must be liberated from the arbitrary private power of the rich. But there is this difference: the rich can neither buy an entire nation nor force one single individual. If a rich man chooses to support cultural activities, he can do so only on a very limited scale, and he bears the consequences of his actions. If he does not use his judgment, but merely indulges his irrational whims, he achieves the opposite of his intention: his projects and his protégés are ignored or despised in their professions, and no amount of money will buy him any influence over the culture. Like vanity publishing, his venture remains a private waste without any wider significance. The culture is protected from him by three invincible elements: choice, variety, competition. If he loses his money in foolish ventures, he hurts no one but himself. And, above all: the money he spends is his own; it is not extorted by force from unwilling victims.

“The Establishing of an Establishment,” Philosophy: Who Needs It

It is generally known that most universities now depend on government research projects as one of their major sources of income. The government grants to those “Senior” researchers establish every recipient as an unofficially official power. It is his influence—his ideas, his theories, his preferences in faculty hiring—that will come to dominate the school, in a silent, unadmitted way. What debt-ridden college administrator would dare antagonize the carrier of the bonanza?

“The Establishing of an Establishment,” Philosophy: Who Needs It

Why is the distribution of government grants inherently unjust?

[T]he terms of the situation actually forbid an honest official to use his own judgment. He is supposed to be “impartial” and “fair”—while considering awards in the social sciences. An official who does not have some knowledge and some convictions in this field, has no moral right to be a public official. Yet the kind of “fairness” demanded of him means that he must suspend, ignore or evade his own convictions (these would be challenged as “prejudices” or “censorship”) and proceed to dispose of large sums of public money, with incalculable consequences for the future of the country—without judging the nature of the recipients’ ideas, i.e., without using any judgment whatever.

The awarders may hide behind the notion that, in choosing recognized “leaders,” they are acting “democratically” and rewarding men chosen by the public. But there is no “democracy” in this field. Science and the mind do not work by vote or by consensus. The best-known is not necessarily the best (nor is the least-known, for that matter). Since no rational standards are applicable, the awarders’ method leads to concern with personalities, not ideas; pull, not merit; “prestige,” not truth. The result is: rule by press agents.

“The Establishing of an Establishment,” Philosophy: Who Needs It

How would Washington bureaucrats—or Congressmen, for that matter—know which scientist to encourage, . .? The safest method is to choose men who have achieved some sort of reputation. Whether their reputation is deserved or not, whether their achievements are valid or not, whether they rose by merit, pull, publicity or accident, are questions which the awarders do not and cannot consider. When personal judgment is inoperative (or forbidden), men’s first concern is not how to choose, but how to justify their choice. This will necessarily prompt committee members, bureaucrats and politicians to gravitate toward “prestigious names.” The result is to help establish those already established—i.e., to entrench the status quo.

The worst part of it is the fact that this method of selection is not confined to the cowardly or the corrupt, that the honest official is obliged to use it. The method is forced on him by the terms of the situation. To pass an informed, independent judgment on the value of every applicant or project in every field of science, an official would have to be a universal scholar. If he consults “experts” in the field, the dilemma remains: either he has to be a scholar who knows which experts to consult—or he has to surrender his judgment to men trained by the very professors he is supposed to judge. The awarding of grants to famous “leaders,” therefore, appears to him as the only fair policy—on the premise that “somebody made them famous, somebody knows, even if I don’t.”

(If the officials attempted to by-pass the “leaders” and give grants to promising beginners, the injustice and irrationality of the situation would be so much worse that most of them have the good sense not to attempt it. If universal scholarship is required to judge the value of the actual in every field, nothing short of omniscience would be required to judge the value of the potential—as various privately sponsored contests to discover future talent, even in limited fields, have amply demonstrated.)

“The Establishing of an Establishment,” Philosophy: Who Needs It

How do government grants inhibit intellectual freedom and influence the ideas taught at universities?

It is generally known that most universities now depend on government research projects as one of their major sources of income. The government grants to those “Senior” researchers establish every recipient as an unofficially official power. It is his influence—his ideas, his theories, his preferences in faculty hiring—that will come to dominate the school, in a silent, unadmitted way. What debt-ridden college administrator would dare antagonize the carrier of the bonanza?

“The Establishing of an Establishment,” Philosophy: Who Needs It

Is it morally proper to accept scholarships, private or public?

I shall hasten to answer: “Yes“—then proceed to explain and qualify it. There are many confusions on these issues, created by the influence and implications of the altruist morality.

There is nothing wrong in accepting private scholarships. The fact that a man has no claim on others (i.e., that it is not their moral duty to help him and that he cannot demand their help as his right) does not preclude or prohibit good will among men and does not make it immoral to offer or to accept voluntary, non-sacrificial assistance.
A different principle and different considerations are involved in the case of public (i.e., governmental) scholarships. The right to accept them rests on the right of the victims to the property (or some part of it) which was taken from them by force.
The recipient of a public scholarship is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism. Those who advocate public scholarships, have no right to them; those who oppose them, have. If this sounds like a paradox, the fault lies in the moral contradictions of welfare statism, not in its victims.
Since there is no such thing as the right of some men to vote away the rights of others, and no such thing as the right of the government to seize the property of some men for the unearned benefit of others—the advocates and supporters of the welfare state are morally guilty of robbing their opponents, and the fact that the robbery is legalized makes it morally worse, not better. The victims do not have to add self-inflicted martyrdom to the injury done to them by others; they do not have to let the looters profit doubly, by letting them distribute the money exclusively to the parasites who clamored for it. Whenever the welfare-state laws offer them some small restitution, the victims should take it . . . .
The same moral principles and considerations apply to the issue of government research grants.
The growth of the welfare state is approaching the stage where virtually the only money available for scientific research will be government money. (The disastrous effects of this situation and the disgraceful state of government-sponsored science are apparent already, but that is a different subject. We are concerned here only with the moral dilemma of scientists.) Taxation is destroying private resources, while government money is flooding and taking over the field of research.
In these conditions, a scientist is morally justified in accepting government grants—so long as he opposes all forms of welfare statism. As in the case of scholarship-recipients, a scientist does not have to add self-martyrdom to the injustices he suffers.
“The Question of Scholarships,” The Voice of Reason

Is public education a success?

Of all the government undertakings, none has failed so disastrously as public education. The scope, the depth, and the evidence of this failure are observable all around us. To name three of its obvious symptoms: drug addiction among the young (which is an attempt to escape the unbearable state of a mind unable to cope with existence)—functional illiteracy (the inability of the average high-school or college graduate to speak English, i.e., to speak or write coherently)—student violence (which means that students have not learned what savages know to some minimal extent: the impracticality and immorality of resorting to physical force).

“Tax-Credits For Education,” The Voice of Reason

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One Comment leave one →
  1. November 2, 2010 3:38

    From a school teacher…

    Interesting thoughts. I haven’t “digested” them all, but you’ve perked my interest in what Ayn Rand had to say about education. Thanks for sharing.

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