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The Future of Freedom is the Truth of the Past Lessons in Propaganda from Government Education

The Future of Freedom is the Truth of the Past Lessons in Propaganda from Government Education

By: Stefan Molyneux


By Stefan Molyneux, MA
Host of Freedomain Radio, the largest and most popular philosophy show in the world.

Stefan has created an MP3 file of this article and a Video


“A general State education is a mere contrivance for molding people to be exactly like one another; and as the mold in which it casts them is that which pleases the dominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, an aristocracy, or a majority of the existing generation; in proportion as it is efficient and successful‎, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by a natural tendency to one over the body.”

John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859


“The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”

Abraham Lincoln



Try asking a web site for directions without typing in a starting point. The web page will rightly tell you that this is impossible. If you are lost on the ocean, you cannot plot a course for Tahiti.

In a famous chapter from George Orwell’s “1984,” Winston Smith tries asking an old man what life was like before socialism, but can extract only scraps and faded scenes from the ancient man’s broken recollections.

In order to seal you in slavery, your government must pretend that you were never free. It must shatter your true history into facile propaganda, into fairy tales that endlessly repeat the fantasy that your political leaders rescued you from the scary chaos of liberty.

The murder of memory is the first crime of the State " and the source and sustenance of all its other crimes.

Why do we believe this propaganda, these fairy tales?

I submit that it is to avoid the knowledge of our own enslavement.

Most people’s beliefs are ex post facto justifications for the after-effects of brute power. Almost no one wants to pay taxes " otherwise, why force them? " but because we are compelled to, we find solace in pretending that our tax money does great and necessary good in society " and comfort ourselves with the lie that without taxes, charity, benevolence and civilization itself would collapse.

The history-killing Statist argument goes like this:

·        ‘X’ is required

·        We are forced to do ‘X’

·        Without force, ‘X’ would not exist

For example:

·        The poor need help

·        We are forced to help the poor

·        If we were not forced to help the poor, the poor would not be helped

You can plug all sorts of Statist programs into this equation. Helping the poor, the old, the sick, opposing drug use and illiteracy, protecting the environment, and so on " they all fit.

The true madness of this equation is easy to see if we plug in defunct Statist programs such as slavery:

·        We need food

·        Slaves must be forced to grow food

·        Without slavery, there will be no food


·        We need families

·        People must be forced to get married

·        Without forced marriage, there would be no families

One of the most destructive uses of this mad syllogism is this:

·        Children need education

·        We must force children into government schools, and force everyone to pay

·        If we do not force everyone, children " and particularly poor children " will not be educated

To sustain this fairy tale, the State must bury the true history of free and voluntary education " which inevitably gives rise to the following syllogism:

·        Children are now forced into State schools, and everyone is forced to pay for them

·        In the past, children were not forced into State schools, and no one was forced to pay for education

·        Therefore, the imposition of force in the case of education must have occurred because in the past, children were not being educated.

A false corollary of this is:

·        Children can only be educated through government force

·        Therefore anyone opposed to government force is opposed to the education of children

This is the same logic as:

·        Food can only be grown by slaves

·        Therefore anyone opposed to slavery must want universal starvation

This fallacy is beyond ridiculous " which is why it must be so often repeated, since absurd statements gain credibility only through repetition " which is easy to see once we plug other arguments into the equation:

·        Slaves are forced to work

·        In the past, slaves were not forced to work

·        Therefore, slavery exists because slaves did not work before slavery

Or, in the case of a warrior forcibly taking a bride:

·        I forced this woman to marry me

·        Before I forced her to marry me, she was unmarried

·        Therefore, if I did not force her, she never would have gotten married

If the Dentist Is Drilling, There Must Have Been a Cavity!

In the realm of education, the generally-held fantasy is that State schools were imposed to address terrible deficiencies in instruction, particularly among the poor. This belief is so tenacious that no amount of genuine scholarship seems able to dislodge it (as is so often the case with Stockholm Syndrome justifications).

For example:

·        If you tell fans of State education that literacy was higher before government schools were inflicted " and has been declining ever since " they will dismiss you.

·        If you tell them that neither parents nor children expressed any real dissatisfaction with voluntary schools before governments took over education, they will dismiss you.

·        If you tell them that the stated goal of government education was the social, economic and political control of the population " particularly religious minorities such as Catholics " they will dismiss you.

·        If you tell them that bitter enemies of freedom such as Marx, Hitler and Stalin continually demanded and achieved more and more State control over the education of children, they will dismiss you.

·        If you remind them that one of the greatest advocates for compulsory attendance laws was the Ku Klux Klan, they will dismiss you.

·        If you remind them that a free market society cannot long survive when its children are indoctrinated in a socialistic educational system, they will dismiss you.

The reason for this blindness is simple:

When universal force is used to “solve” a “problem,” the original “problem” " even if entirely imaginary " grows and grows in people’s imaginations.

The “reasoning” goes like this:

If universal state violence was the best and only possible solution, the original problem must have been truly awful! If the forced nationalization of an entire industry such as education was required, imagine how bad education had to be to require such a drastic step!

This completely ignores the possibility that the takeover was simply an expansionistic abuse of State power.

If a woman is savagely beaten by her husband, would we say that she must have been really bad to deserve such a punishment? Or that slaves must have been incredibly lazy, because they had to be violently forced to work? Or that there must have been something funny going on with all those witches in Salem, otherwise why would they have been burned at the stake?

Of course not!

This kind of nonsense can go on forever, of course, and it seems ridiculous when we put other arguments through the standard equation " but once you understand the true history of American education, the current propaganda will seem equally foolish.

…And this, my friends, is what they call a “solution”…

American schools were forcibly taken over by the State around 1840 " beforehand, in the populated areas of the Northern US " as well as all of New England " literacy rates were between 91 and 94%! (In Canada, according to contemporary reports, “by 1867, most people… were more or less literate,” and, “nearly every town or village must already have had its Grammar School.”)

This literacy rate has been steadily falling ever since, despite staggering increases in funding and technology, and significant decreases in class size.

How has State education “solved” or “improved” those historically high literacy rates?

In the world of the government, these are what are called “improvements”:

·        1 in 5 students now carries a weapon to school " 1 in 36 a gun!

·        Nearly half of all students in major US cities drop out of high school.

·        Every day an average of 7,200 students drop out of school " that is 13 million children fleeing State schools every year.

·        In Canada " very similar to the US " 7% of Ontario dropouts were “A” students, while 46% had been “B” students, and 45% say they are dropping out because they basically hate school.

·        More than 32 million adults in the US " 14% of the population " have very low literacy skills. Many of them cannot read anything more challenging than a simple children’s book with pictures. (Naturally, there is no literacy requirement for voting.)

·        42 million American adults can’t read at all; 50 million can only read at a fourth or fifth grade level. The number of adults classified as functionally illiterate increases by about 2.25 million each year.

·        20% of high school seniors can be classified as being functionally illiterate at the time they graduate " after over 15,000 hours of State “education.”

·        75% of unemployed adults have difficulty reading and writing at a basic level. 7 in 10 adults in prison perform at the lowest literacy levels. 85% of all juvenile offenders are functionally or marginally illiterate. Almost all were forced to go to government schools for many years.

·        The percentage of American children who are able to read well hasn’t improved at all in the last 25 years, despite a near tripling of educational funding and a significant reduction in class size.

Unless early 19th century schools were continually on fire, or underwater, or filled with noxious gases, it's hard to conceive of how the above could ever be called an “improvement.”

When You Don't Know What You Don't Know…

Some people ask how financial institutions are able to get away with ripping off the entire population through predatory lending and endless bailouts " the answer lies in the almost complete financial illiteracy of the average American. From an article in the “New Yorker”:

“The depth of our financial ignorance is startling. In recent years, Annamaria Lusardi, an economist at Dartmouth and the head of the Financial Literacy Center, has conducted extensive studies of what Americans know about finance. It’s depressing work. Almost half of those surveyed couldn’t answer two questions about inflation and interest rates correctly, and slightly more sophisticated topics baffle a majority of people. Many people don’t know the terms of their mortgage or the interest rate they’re paying. And, at a time when we’re borrowing more than ever, most Americans can’t explain what compound interest is.”

Ah, but at least a country with 700 military bases overseas is chock full of people with a good knowledge of geography, right?

Not so much. Eleven percent of young Americans couldn’t even locate the US on a map. Almost a third had no idea where the Pacific Ocean was; 58% could not find Japan, 65% could not find France, and 69% could not locate the United Kingdom. Fewer than 15% could find Israel or Iraq.

Almost a third insisted that the population of the United States was between one and two billion, rather than around 300 million.

Also, even though educational standards have declined since government schools came into being, only about a third of eighth graders currently score at or above the proficient level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in Reading (32%), Mathematics (34%), or Science (29%). (Imagine giving them a grammar or math test from 1840!)

Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently admitted that 82% of public schools could be labeled “failing” under “No Child Left Behind” specifications. What was his solution? Kill the program and return the money to taxpayers, or expand its funding? You only get one guess.

“Head Start” has cost $166 billion since 1965, despite many studies proving that most of the money was wasted, and did not help poor kids gain or keep any improvements. Recently, its funding was increased by over $2 billion.

People respond to incentives " when you pay people for failure, you tend to get more failure.

America spends over $150,000 per student between the first and the 12th grade " nearly 3 times as much as it did in 1970. Between 1960 and 1985, the ratio of students to teachers in public schools fell by almost 30%. As is always the case with government programs, more money, more resources and more people means more and more catastrophic results.

Economist Thomas Sowell notes that Scholastic Achievement Test scores are significantly lower now than 30 years ago, and that the vocabulary of the average student contains half as many words as it did in 1945.

Is it because teachers are underpaid? Not in Canada, where teachers earned 80% of the manufacturing wage in 1950, and now earn over 50% more than the basic manufacturing wage.


Why are so many people unemployed? Well, unemployment is closely linked to illiteracy. More than 40% of working-age Canadians lack the necessary basic literacy skills required to successfully participate in the labor market.

In the US:

·        43% of people with the lowest literacy skills live in poverty.

·        17% of people with the lowest literacy skills receive food stamps.

·        70% of people with the lowest literacy skills have no full or part-time job.

Literacy rates have also stagnated or fallen during a period in history when job requirements have grown. One reason US manufacturing jobs have vanished is that in 1950, 60% of manufacturing jobs were unskilled " a number that plunged to 15% in subsequent decades.

The American Management Association reported that over 40% of job applicants lacked the basic reading, writing, and math skills needed to do the manufacturing jobs they wanted. In a recent survey, 90% of US manufacturers reported a shortage of qualified workers in at least one job category.

After over a century and a half of government controlled and enforced “education,” the situation has become completely unrecoverable.

As Pulitzer prize-winning author Chris Hedges has noted in his book “Empire of Illusion”:

“A third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives, and neither do 42% of college graduates. In 2007, 80% of the families in the United States did not buy or read a book… The Princeton Review analyzed transcripts of the Gore-Bush debates of 2000, the Clinton-Bush-Perot debates of 1992, the Kennedy-Nixon debate of 1960, and the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858. It reviewed these transcripts using a standard vocabulary test that indicates the minimum educational standards needed for a reader to grasp the text. In the Lincoln-Douglas debates, Lincoln spoke at the educational level of an 11th grader, and Douglas addressed the crowd using a vocabulary suitable for a high school graduate. In the Kennedy-Nixon debate, the candidates spoke in a language accessible to 10th-graders. In the 1992 debates, Clinton spoke at a seventh grade level, while Bush spoke at a sixth grade level, as did Perot. During the 2000 debates, Bush spoke at a sixth grade level and Gore at a high seventh-grade level.”

How long before Presidential debates are performed with hand puppets, singalongs and bouncing balls?


The decay of the mind and spirit that arises from universal compulsion is truly the greatest tragedy of Statism. It is not so much that our bodies are taxed, but that we slowly refuse to tax our minds. As the inevitably awful results of compulsion rise to the foreground for all but the most willfully self-blinded to see, the young no longer believe in the ideals of their society, hold their elders in contempt for their mealy-mouthed hypocrisies, and view with bottomless cynicism the social rules that they're supposed to follow.

As education, income and opportunities for the young fall away, the oldest social compact between generations " obey your elders, and receive the benefits " disintegrates as well. Generations that used to benefit each other " the vitality and creativity of the young combined with the savings and wisdom of the old " now glare at each other with skeptical and distrustful eyes. “Why should we pay for your retirement?” “Why should we pay for your postgraduate degree?”

The greatest tragedy of Statism is its destruction of communal trust, and the rupture of cooperation among those with beneficial differences, such as old and young, rich and poor, leaders and followers.

When we have locked our young year after year in dangerous prisons of State indoctrination, and sold them into future serfdom for the sake of political bribery in the moment, will they really listen to us when we tell them to be good, to defer gratification, to work hard, when we have no rewards left to offer them " neither financial nor spiritual?

Of course not.

We must abandon our illusions of Statist benevolence " not to save ourselves from the State, but from each other - from the festering resentments and predations that inevitably grow among citizens clawing and biting for crumbs from the political table.

The future of freedom is the freedom of the young, and the freedom of the young depends on the old abandoning their illusions.

I leave the last word to the great poet W.H. Auden, in the hopes that his prophecy about the 20th century proves false in the 21st:

We would rather be ruined than changed;

We would rather die in our dread

Than climb the cross of the moment

And let our illusions die.


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