Five ways schools destroy children’s freedom (and what to do about it)

Via The Daily Bell

Parenting for Freedom article series: This is the fourth in a series of articles that analyzes how freedom-loving people can align their parenting with their political philosophy, and how doing so will allow ideas about personal liberty to carry on to the next generation.

If you’re a freedom-loving parent, you’re probably doing all you can to give your children autonomy in their own lives. You’re treating them well in the present. But you’re also looking to the long-term goals of raising self-reliant adults who desire freedom for themselves and others. When your kids are with you, you treat them with respect and love.

But what other influence is undermining your message?

The answer: institutionalized schooling.

By their very design, schools restrict the freedoms of individuals to encourage conformity and obedience. Our public school model has its origin in Prussia, the defunct German kingdom that promoted universal schooling beginning in the late 17th century. The goal was not education, but social engineering. Dr. Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College, wrote in his book, Free to Learn:

“The primary educational concern of leaders in government and industry was not to make people literate, but to gain control over what people read, what they thought, and how they behaved. Secular leaders in education promoted the idea that if the state controlled the schools, and if children were required by law to attend those schools, then the state could shape each new generation of citizens into ideal patriots and workers.”(p. 60)

Throughout the 19th century, countries across Europe enacted compulsory education in state-run institutions. In America, it all started in my home state of Massachusetts with Horace Mann. In 1852 he led the charge to require attendance in “free” community schools for all children ages 8 to 14 for at least 12 weeks per year.

Now, with attendance laws requiring more like 36 weeks per year for children ages 6 to 16, schools have much more time to destroy a child’s freedom. Here are five ways they do it.

  1. Compulsory attendance. I’ve already addressed this, but it bears repeating. Children are by law forced to go to school and have no choice in the matter. They are effectively prisoners in their institution for 30 hours each week, subject to truancy charges if they miss too many days of school. That makes everything else they are subject to in school even more egregious, since a child cannot opt out of the system without support from a parent.


  1. They cannot choose what to study. There is little room for individual preferences in schools, where standardization of content is key. John Taylor Gattowas New York State Teacher of the Year in 1991, but later resigned and became a vocal critic of schools. In his essay “The Six Lesson Schoolteacher,” Gatto says that schools teach children to be dependent on others to deliver knowledge to them, rather than seeking out knowledge themselves:

“. . . I determine what curriculum you will study. (Rather, I enforce decisions transmitted by the people who pay me). This power lets me separate good kids from bad kids instantly. Good kids do the tasks I appoint with a minimum of conflict and a decent show of enthusiasm. Of the millions of things of value to learn, I decide what few we have time for. The choices are mine. Curiosity has no important place in my work, only conformity.”


  1. Forced association. There is no escape from the other students in a child’s class or from the teacher. Each child must remain in his classroom. He must speak when spoken to by the teacher and other authority figures. And he must work with other students when instructed to. While educators bemoan the incessant bullying among students, the young victims have nowhere to run.


  1. Lack of bodily autonomy. Children in schools are subject to the whims of authority figures in matters concerning their own body. They must ask permission to go to the bathroom; there is a certain time for eating, talking, and working. They can be punished for getting up from their seat or for socializing with a peer.


  1. Their property is not their own. Schools claim the right to search students’ backpacks and lockers, and to confiscate items they deem illicit.

The public school system is the worst example of these freedom-sapping practices because it has the added distinction of being funded by theft — taxation. But many private schools also follow a similar structure. One “expert,” the teacher, delivers information to the captive students. Their job is to sit, listen, and parrot back the information to prove they have learned. Those who fail to comply will face punishment.

Troubling results

What are the results of this schooling? According to Gray, young people feel less in control of their lives than in any other point in recent history. The Internal-External Locus of Control Scale measures this perception.  Developed by psychologist Julien Rotter in the 1950s, the scale determines whether people believe they mostly control what happens to them in life (internal locus of control) or whether it is external forces (external locus of control). Between 1960 to 2002, children and college students were increasingly likely to believe in an external locus of control. The average young person in 2002 was more external-leaning than 80 percent of youths in the 1960s.

Gray attributes this to a decline in free play among children. Among the reasons? Longer school hours starting at younger ages, more homework, and more adult-led extracurriculars. Gray also notes that mental illness and suicide among children are skyrocketing. Since 1950, the U.S. rate of suicide for children under 15 has quadrupled. He says that this troubling finding makes sense. Anxiety and depression correlates with a person’s feeling of not having control over his or her life.

Gray says:

“”We have created a world in which children must suppress their natural instincts to take charge of their own education and, instead, mindlessly follow paths to nowhere laid out for them by adults. We have created a world that is literally driving many young people crazy and leaving many others unable to develop the confidence and skills required for adult responsibility.” (p.19)

Children who spend their youth in institutionalized schools can only grow up to be freedom-loving the way a moth loves a fire. They are attracted to its light but are so unfamiliar with it that they risk their own destruction by approaching it.

If we want our children to grow up to desire freedom and use it constructively, they have to practice using it as a kid. If we want them to respect the freedom of others, we have to respect their freedom.

So often, adults perpetuate the mistreatment done to them as a child. The abused son grows up to hit his own kids; the daughter of an alcoholic develops a drinking problem herself. This is true on an individual level, but also on a societal level. The generations of adults alive today mostly attended public schools where they had little freedom. Then they foisted the same misery on their children, because they, like so many well-schooled people, learned the lessons of conformity and obedience. Going to school is what the authorities demand. It must be necessary for a happy, successful life.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can break the cycle.

What to do instead

How do you reclaim freedom for your children? First, ask them if they want to be in school. If they say no, get them out.

Gatto believed homeschooling was the best alternative to institutionalized schooling when he wrote his “Six Lesson Schoolteacher” essay. But at the time, he wasn’t too hopeful about its chances.

“But the near impossibility of these things for the shattered families of the poor, and for too many on the fringes of the economic middle class, foretell that the disaster of Six-Lesson Schools is likely to continue,” he says despairingly.

I imagine he is more sanguine now, as homeschooling is likely the fastest-growing form of education in the United States. According to the National Home Education Research Institute, the number of homeschooled children is growing at a rate of 2 to 8 percent per year.

Approximately 2.3 million children are homeschooled, and your child could be one of them. If you try homeschooling, don’t jump right into a boxed curriculum to recreate “school at home.” Give your child time and space to enjoy the freedom he or she could never experience in school.

Another option is an alternative school. These are growing in popularity and can provide supervision for children while giving them autonomy. Gray extols Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts, which his own son attended. At the school, there are no classes or curriculum. Students are free to use the buildings and grounds to explore and learn, without a single lesson forced on them. The school was the first of its kind when it was founded in 1968, but many schools across the country have followed its model.

Gray says his study of adults who attended Sudbury Valley School as children show they have no problem earning a living or functioning in society. They freed themselves from the institutions that purported to be necessary for “success” in life. Yet despite — or because of — their lack of schooling, they are doing well.

Gray says graduates report success in four areas in particular, which they attribute to their time at the school. They are: being responsible and self-directed; having high motivation in further education and careers; having unique skills and deep knowledge; and having a lack of fear of authority figures (Free to Learn, p. 94-96).

The Alliance for Self-Directed Education, is compiling a resource directory to help freedom-loving parents and their kids find the perfect fit for them. The database will include schools, co-ops, camps, makerspaces, adventure playgrounds and other resources that support self-directed education.

Some kids enjoy school, and they might even learn something there. But the knowledge gained comes at a cost of 13,000 hours of childhood. Those are 13,000 lessons that what a child wants to do, what he or she deems worthy of time and study, is not as important as what the state demands. For alternative schooling families, or for homeschooling families like my own, our children’s freedom is more important.


Stuck on Zero Fri, 01/12/2018 - 12:10 Permalink

Worst of all is confining little boys to a chair for six hours of boring classroom instruction, watching them squirm, and then declaring them to be ADHD so that you can dope them up.

bshirley1968 cheka Sat, 01/13/2018 - 10:25 Permalink

You are a teacher, right? Married to one?

It's not a school. It's an indoctrination facility. You learned well because you completely missed the real point.

There is not enough time and space to cover all the ills and evils of the public school system. I will say I believe it is the number ONE problem and cause of our problems in this country today. Generation after generation of little socialist commies taught to follow orders rather that taught how to think. We have 3 boys that were all home schooled. Wouldn't have done it any other way. They do have trouble merging into society because their peers are just state educated, zombie, yes-men. Try finding a potential wife that is not an institutionalized zombie. One that will agree that your children don't need to go be and do like all the other children. It's not easy.

I would like to point out that a big issue in the civil war was the northern states push for mandatory public schools. Look it up. Public schools came about after the northern aggression. They were modeled after the European, socialist school system. If you can't look back now and see how the state has used the public school system to indoctrinate the next generation of slaves, then they truly did a good job indoctrinating your ass.

In reply to by cheka

TheGardener Stuck on Zero Sat, 01/13/2018 - 15:04 Permalink

What a hell of an article ! The forever made silenced part of me got a supporting voice !

"They are: being responsible and self-directed; having high motivation in further education and careers; having unique skills and deep knowledge; and having a lack of fear of authority figures "

That`s me to a dot ! I survived the freaking public school system as a marked young man but just about survived because I was too clever to start with and questioned every their suspicious moves in indoctrination. They started speaking and I raised my hand fully knowing what they were about to line and out and lie away. Frontrunning BS propaganda schooling gave me an edge for life. Makes your brain running much faster and well in advance before the good followers give a nod to what is being instructed.

Brecht famously said he commenced schooling without furthering much the wisdom of his educators. Being told that in advance by my anti-authoritarian parents I think I did make my teachers better. In retrospect they probably admired me, not sure whether I was an agent provocateur or a genuine a little too smart alien like son of party officials they should not dare to mess with.

I did do time as a political prisoner in Eastern Europe but guess what follows me up

in nightmares ? Doing time in the school system !

In reply to by Stuck on Zero

T830 Fri, 01/12/2018 - 12:29 Permalink

Interesting thoughts.  My wife has been a teacher for about 5 years now and is on the brink of quitting her profession.  She feels like a babysitter, and doesn't actually teach anything.  They just follow "testing prep" curriculum and are evaluated on how well their children plan on the tests.  That is not education, it is social indoctrination as outlined above. 

I'm not sure what I want to do for our children.  I felt like I learned a good amount through private school 3rd-8th grade.  High school taught me (some)  discipline, physical and mental, but overall I felt it was a waste of time.  I remember graduating senior year and saying I didn't learn anything that year.  A whole year of my life down the drain.  I spent more time doing my girlfriend's (now wife) homework so we could spend more time together.  It is such a shame to waste a youth's time, forcing them to conform to do things they will never look back or use in their lifetime.


 I don't understand the 13,000 hours part at the end...that equates to roughly 1.5 years.  I think it should be closer to 14 years for American students, assuming K-12th grade.

JibjeResearch T830 Fri, 01/12/2018 - 12:53 Permalink

I understand her feeling.  I have children at school.  If they learn how to read/write/math (K-12), then it's good enough because I know what they really need in life. 


High School is not needed.  Basic reading/writing/Math up to algebra should be done up to 8th grade.  After that.., children should be specialized in something that they enjoy doing.  The future is not about a jack of all trade, but 1 or 2 gifted skill/knowledge.  Education is a life long learning.  This way should be the way forward.

In reply to by T830

JibjeResearch Trader200K Sat, 01/13/2018 - 13:51 Permalink


From my experience... reading/writing/math are the basic.  They just need to be good enough to understand each other.  Beyond that depends on the job/career.

STEM subjects should be given to those who want it because they can go far with it.

Math is basic by mean of doing number calculation.  But, math is also doing concept calculation.  This is advanced stuff.  Math people understand life/universe better than nonMath people...


Just my 2cents... :)

In reply to by Trader200K

TheGardener JibjeResearch Sat, 01/13/2018 - 15:12 Permalink

Unfortunately I don`t have children but have been giving special training to dogs

and enlisted humans alike. Basic reading/writing/math curriculum would take me less a day

than walking the dog and have them fully proficient after maximum 2 years.

And that is we all expect now from a prospecting employee at the least but many fail

on that very basic level. Lock them up with the sheep and they might be better fit to vote and all else this very modern society demands of her citizens...


In reply to by JibjeResearch

T830 besnook Fri, 01/12/2018 - 13:04 Permalink

Sweetie, I understand the straight time calculation of it...but that doesn't include the countless hours spent doing pointless homework outside of school and on weekends.


Schooling doesn't just involve time spent within the confines of the building...your "career" as a student through childhood consumes the majority of your free time.  I don't see it as only 13,000 hours.

In reply to by besnook

besnook T830 Fri, 01/12/2018 - 13:01 Permalink

teachers have to share the blame. they could use the power of their union for something more than pay and benefits by actually challenging the system to make it easier for children to learn. the current system chases good teachers out of the profession while rewarding bad teachers by not making them responsible for standards of their profession like other professions do. teachers are the only profession that blames their clients for their failure.

In reply to by T830

BlueGreen besnook Fri, 01/12/2018 - 13:16 Permalink

sort of ish- 

As you say, the 'system' selects for bad teachers.  It's up to us at the local level to vote out the ridiculous school boards and legislators who have no real understanding of human behavior and replace those who are spreading the harmful (to individuals and society) 'mind viruses' with 'normal' folks

In reply to by besnook

Utopia Planitia BlueGreen Fri, 01/12/2018 - 13:51 Permalink

The 'system' selects for teachers who will execute the bidding of the Teacher's Union.  Public school is not about 'teaching' anything.  It has not been for a very long time.  It is about implementing the objectives of the Teacher's Union (and by extension the demonrat party).

Teachers who fit that requirement will invariably be low-quality teachers. Because there is no intention of them being "teachers".

I am glad to have graduated long enough ago that this was only a minor impediment to me/siblings/friends rather than the overriding theme as it is today. Parents who today put their children in public school are choosing to hamstring them for eternity.

In reply to by BlueGreen

cheka Utopia Planitia Sat, 01/13/2018 - 02:29 Permalink

teachers unions are only in the communist states.  the vast majority of states dont have them -- nor the high pay/benefits

if you want an enemy  - go straight to the dept of education.  they control what teachers teach.  they have also made a long list of laws that advantage everyone except the good, hard-working students.  the good students get fcked over by all of these laws.  and it's no accident


In reply to by Utopia Planitia

rwe2late besnook Sat, 01/13/2018 - 10:19 Permalink

 Teachers are government employees,

and their "unions" (like for all government employees),

are prohibited by law from striking or addressing other

issues than pay and benefits.

The power of all unions has been increasingly curtailed and

gutted by restrictive laws ever since the days of the Wobblies.

In reply to by besnook

TemporarySecurity T830 Sat, 01/13/2018 - 11:41 Permalink

Rather than teaching the three R's they are now teaching the 4 S's, Secularism, Socialism, Sexuality and Social justice.

The author was correct in calling it social indoctrination and your wife cannot change it from inside.  Have her leave and come up with a way to teach outside the system.

We all need to petition the end of public funding of any education or at least vouchers.

In reply to by T830

Rex Andrus Fri, 01/12/2018 - 12:34 Permalink

The first thing to do is drastically shorten the school day, leaving the psychos no time to indoctrinate. With at will online teacher access, 2 hours is more than enough. 1 hour will probably do. This leaves the parents and their children plenty of time to organize voluntary social development activities. Just imagine the savings. As an added bonus pussyhats will be suiciding in droves. Winning!

besnook Fri, 01/12/2018 - 12:43 Permalink

all you have to do to get children to learn is to reward them with an opportunity to not go to school if they learn how to read, write and do math at their grade level and/or let them go ahead on their own so they can graduate early. just this little reward exercise would make the usa kids the smartest in the world.

TheGardener besnook Sat, 01/13/2018 - 15:41 Permalink

Children need peers and peer pressure to grow up straight. What any your village could probably provide your non community might not be able to come forth with.

I was raised on a school yard self structured worth by the inmate children.

Pretty tough place to compete based on seniority and on full force physical strength you could muster and come up with to make a stand.

I made my stand against impossible to defeat villains of sorts.

In reply to by besnook

boattrash JibjeResearch Fri, 01/12/2018 - 13:37 Permalink

JR, I'll take it a step farther and say that, sending your kids to Govt. Schools is pretty much the Equiv of child abuse.

As an "absent parent" due to my work, we pulled ours out of the system and did the home schooling route. the only regret we have is not doing it sooner.

Had I been there, I'd likely be doing time for defending one of the most brilliant minds I've ever known, against a system that is so outdated, inept, and doomed to failure, (yet reliant upon Fed, State,and Union grift, that it makes me want to puke and shit simultaneously).

Despite college, our son just completed his first partial year of work at a $30,000 profit. Completely off-topic to any "school teachings" that he had forced upon him.

I still apologize for the 8 years of Gov School I made him endure....Rant Off

In reply to by JibjeResearch

tripletail Fri, 01/12/2018 - 16:14 Permalink

If a parent can homeschool, they must for the sake of their children. US education is just that poor. We homeschooled our son, who graduated from HS at the age of 15. He currently plans to become an electrician. We shall see. Meanwhile he's already working at a nearby grocery store.