Why do modern states provide free state schools? The obvious answer – that education is important and should therefore be provided to everyone – can’t be right. After all, food is even more important than education, yet governments generally leave the production and provision of food to the market.
Nor does it help to say that state schools are about making sure that the children of the poor receive an education. Most children who attend state schools do not come from poor families and parents who could easily afford to pay for a private school still get to send their children to free state schools. If it were just about helping the poor, governments would simply give them money directly or give them vouchers to allow them to send their children to privately provided schools.
A more reasonable explanation is that the purpose of state schools is propaganda. It is to shape the hearts and minds of the coming generation and to instill in them whatever values and beliefs government elites desire in their citizenry. Thus, schools in monarchies aim to turn their pupils into monarchists, republican schools into republicans, communist schools into communists, National Socialist schools into National Socialists, and democratic schools seek to turn children into democrats. In short, state schools are instruments of propaganda.
Obviously state schools also teach their pupils much useful knowledge and many valuable skills, so propaganda is not the only purpose of state schools. But since such learning would also take place in private schools and at home in a system without public education, we have to conclude that the primary reason for schools being run and funded by the government is indoctrination. Of course not all forms of indoctrination are harmful and not all the values and beliefs taught in state schools are wrong or pernicious.
What I am concerned with is that public education cuts down on the diversity of ideas. If nearly everyone in a given society is taught a particular set of values and beliefs, questioning this concensus becomes difficult and errors and flaws are less likely to be corrected. A healthy and intellectually productive society needs an open dialogue between diverse ideas. Cutting down on the diversity of ideas hampers the productive process of exchange and debate and thereby impedes progress.