Many consider the education of the future generations to be one of the most important responsibilities of any society. I have already shown you that education leads to less crime and less poverty. It can also lead to less sickness, less depression, healthier marriages, and longer lives. Even pre-school education has a proven positive net effect both on the individual and on society as a whole. It would seem irrefutable that education is the foundation on which any successful thriving society must be built.
Perhaps that is why so many, when confronted with the idea of a stateless society ask, but what of the children? How would they be educated? Who would fund their education? Without compulsory education, how could we be sure they would receive any at all?
It is the fundamental duty of society, in the eyes of many, to provide for the education of the young, and without the constant threat of state violence, how could we possibly fulfill that duty? That is what I hope to answer. I will provide you with some evidence of how education was provided before compulsory government education, and show you how it is provided now. I will offer some ideas of how it could be provided in the absence of the state, and some on how it would be funded. It is my hope that even if you fail to fully accept the ideas I will present, you will at least be opened to the idea that the government is not the only answer to the question of how education can be provided, and that in fact, it is a poor provider which has failed our children in every way.
I have already conceded the need for a good education. Even the very poor education which our children receive under the compulsory government school system can be shown to increase longevity, wages, and mental health, and decrease poverty and incidences of destructive behavior. I will not argue against the positive role education plays in the lives of everyone who is blessed with it, nor will I effort to convince you that anyone would be better off without it. Some would argue that education isn't for everyone, I strongly disagree. Regardless of the career path a person chooses, be they inventor, author, or garbage collector, an education can only serve to improve their quality of life. Certainly, the world needs garbage collectors, but I would rather live in a world where they are well read men of reason. No one's quality of life is diminished by expanding their mind and increasing their potential.
The fear that without the state many would go uneducated is based in large part on faulty reasoning and fear mongering, both of which I argue are encouraged and propagated by the state. It is based in the misconception that prior to compulsory government education, only those privileged and wealthy few had access to education, and that the vast majority of boys and girls were unlettered and ignorant. This is simply untrue.
In prehistoric man education was generally passed through oral tradition. Men and women were generally grouped in small, nomadic communities, and information was transmitted from generation to generation through poetry, dance, song, and practice. Children were taught all the skills they needed by example. It was a system which relied heavily on apprenticeship and immersion.
With the advent of animal husbandry and crop domestication communities began to move away from hunting and gathering and towards settled communities based around an agricultural economy. While this resulted in more stable social and technological advances, it also resulted in a move away from a system of economic egalitarianism, where each member of a society was required to know all the basic skills to survive and had equal access to resources, to one of specialization and division of labors, where different members of the society developed a range of unique skill sets specific to their role in the community. This also made it more difficult for the full range of necessary skills to be translated to the next generation through oral tradition, and so with the advent of written languages in roughly 3500 BCE, information could now be transmitted through the written word and specific knowledge could be taught individually to those members of the community who required it. Over time this would lead to knowledge being concentrated in libraries and institutions of learning, where interested students could have access to an ever growing collection of knowledge.
In some parts of the ancient world education was reserved for those in service to the state, or the very wealthy, while in other countries some degree of basic education became generally widespread. As time would go on, vocational education and basic knowledge would become more and more the responsibility of the family and the employer, while higher education was available to those who could afford it.
During the middle ages education was closely related to the activities of the local religious organizations. Whether in Asia, Europe, or the Middle East, it was primarily those religious leaders who were charged with the education of the young. Much education took place in Buddhist temples, or Mosques, or Churches, and was heavily influenced by the local religious traditions of the teachers. Much of what we think of today with regards to institutions of higher learning comes from this period in history. During this time, education became available to more and more people, both as a consequence of its growing importance in society, and due to the increasing economic power of the people brought on by advances in technology and trade.
Around the 16th century, countries throughout Europe and Asia began to institute laws regarding compulsory education. While many of these laws called for the universal education of children, they did not initially require that the educational institutions to be provided by the state. In fact, many of these laws required that communities establish private schools which were to be funded by tuition funds.
Even after the general institution of compulsory education, most education remained private. In America, it wasn't until the mid to late 19th century that universal government schooling became the law throughout the country. Today, while the majority of the education in America is provided by the state, a growing percentage of students are being educated in alternative school settings, including private schools, charter schools, and home schooling.
I offer you this brief history of education so that you can see that it has not traditionally been the state which educated children. Traditionally it has been provided, either for profit or charity, by communities, religious institutions, families, and employers. It is only in the last few hundred years that it has even been mandated by the state, and only for slightly more than a hundred that it has been provided by the state, and even then only in the first world.
But what was the quality of schooling before compulsory education? What opportunities were available to parents who wished to educate their children? What was the literacy rate and education level of the population at large? What did society look like before the state took over the education of the youth?
And what has society looked like since?