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Ayn Rand world: public schools



Statue of Atlas, that became the cover illustration for Atlas Shrugged. Is the Third Option a variation on this theme?

The Ayn Rand world has no room for public schools. They indoctrinate instead of educating, and far from protecting rights, often violate them.

The Ayn Rand case against public schools

Ayn Rand herself said little about public schools per se. She said, often scathingly, that most schools do not properly teach children about their own moral worth. In Atlas Shrugged she poured contempt on teachers who taught pupils to conform instead of standing up for justice or their rights. But she said little about public schools directly.

But in one essay (“Man’s Rights”), she directly criticized the Democratic Party for its 1960 platform. In that platform the Democrats mentioned eight “rights” that President Franklin D. Roosevelt said that every person should expect from society. Those were not rights at all, but entitlements: a job, “adequate” pay, guaranteed security, “a decent home,” “adequate protection from economic fears,” and—the key—health care and education.

A single question added to each of [these guarantees] would make the issue clear: At whose expense?

In other words: these are goods and services. Someone has to make them or do them. None of these have anything to do with protecting real rights, and protecting people from one another.

Today, The Ayn Rand Institute says volumes about public schools (and colleges and universities), and why free citizens should abolish them. Thomas A. Bowden, in 2008, condemned a California appellate judge for saying that children are State property. Of course, “State property” is a misnomer anyway; anything that the State holds is a common, not the property of any one person. The point here is that children are no one’s property or common. The adults who have responsibility for children are the parents or guardians, not the government.

The specific context of Bowden’s remarks is worse than the usual context of “an entitlement from the State that other taxpayers must pay for.” The defendant-appellant in that case chose to home-school her children, and a judge said that she may not do this. Why? Because

allowing every person to make his own standards on matters of conduct in which society as a whole has important interests

would lead somehow to social chaos.

Matters of conduct?

What “matters of conduct” do interest society? CNAV can name at least five: do not murder, cheat, steal, lie, or covet. What irony! These are the last five of the Ten Commandments. But public schools must not teach anything called “The Ten Commandments.” That would break “separation of church and state.” (Yet in California, no one in authority objects to blending mosque and state. But CNAV digresses.) Furthermore, public school teachers teach their pupils to covet, both in lessons and by example.

Public schools do not work

School books in a public school

A stack of school books with an apple on top.

The most important reason that any parent wants to home-school his or her children is that the public schools have failed. Trade media for the public school “industry” admits as much. In 2011, according to School Library Journal, only thirty-two percent of Americans graduating from high school were proficient in math, and thirty-one percent proficient in reading. These figures come from a Harvard University study.

Detractors of American freedom often cite figures like these. But this study looked at all American students, most of whom graduated from public schools. The Harvard team broke their sample down by race, but not by public schools v. private schools or home-schooling. They took no interest in schooling other than public schools, schooling that might give better results.

By what authority?

But more important than whether public schools work or not, is: by what authority does government keep a school? Ayn Rand focused on one problem only: schooling is a service. Student and teacher (or parent and teacher) decide together, by mutual consent, how much that service is worth. When government does any service, it decides what it is worth. (And often it decides that a school needs more administrators, and secretaries for the same, than teachers.)

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The California court opinion that Thomas Bowden objected to, illustrates a worse problem. When the government teaches your children, it decides what to teach. Basic subjects like math and reading present little controversy, other than how well the schools teach math and reading. But when teaching the “Social Studies,” and even science, teachers can and do distort reality and social memory. Adolf Hitler perfected the art of distorting social memory, and using government schools to do it. So, too, did Josef Stalin and Mao Zedong. Barack Hussein Obama and his “czars” learned their own lessons well.

A different opinion

CNAV does differ with the Ayn Rand Institute in one critical area that confused even Ayn Rand herself. Her apologists would like to forget that she once said to her then young lover and “intellectual heir,” Nathaniel Branden,

After all, the theory of evolution is only a hypothesis.

She was correct. The theory of evolution is “only” a hypothesis, and one with fundamental flaws. That the Ayn Rand Institute still believes in it today is a tragic error on their part. That error of course follows from a more fundamental error: they believe that the universe began in pure chance. But Ayn Rand herself condemned those who say that “catastrophes are a matter of pure chance,” and emphasized cause-and-effect in everything she wrote, fiction or non-fiction.

So even the Ayn Rand Institute should re-learn the lesson that Ayn Rand tried to re-teach the world, quoting Aristotle:

The same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject in the same respect.

Or as Ayn Rand herself put it:

Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you find yourself facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong.

This is another installment in the Ayn Rand World series.

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Terry A. Hurlbut has been a student of politics, philosophy, and science for more than 35 years. He is a graduate of Yale College and has served as a physician-level laboratory administrator in a 250-bed community hospital. He also is a serious student of the Bible, is conversant in its two primary original languages, and has followed the creation-science movement closely since 1993.

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Nathan Bickel

Great concise commentary! Nice explanatory video!

This whole issue of government attempting to dictate for parents their children’s’ education is a perfect illustration of government out of control. And, it is common knowledge (though often denied in liberal circles) that when government has its hooks in the education process, they control and indoctrinate. And they don’t stop there. They expand their nefarious, malevolent and destructive influence, persecuting home schooling.

A primary example of indoctrination by public taxpayer funded schools is the teaching of pseudo science, – specifically, evolution – which, essentially erodes family and traditional society. It is anti God and anti Christian. Such, (I’m convinced) is what the founding and framing fathers of our nation never envisioned would happen.

A huge step in the long process of rebuilding our USA would be to abolish the czarist controlled Department of Education. Less control and regulations need to be the modus operandi for not only the federal level, but states as well.

I’ve always stated that public schools are the breeding grounds for liberals, who oppose traditional Conservative values, which have built this great country. What liberals cannot accomplish with elections, they accomplish with public school indoctrination, (brainwashing). Else, how can one logically explain the liberal amoral and immoral judges who continually rule against parental rights and conservative traditional values? Those judges and weak-kneed political leaders (for the most part) are all products of the public school assembly line (type) “once size fits all” nation destroying industry.

Pastor emeritus Nathan Bickel


Terry, it’s worth mentioning that your superior at Conservapedia has called Ayn Rand’s philosophy “wrong” – (

How can you justify your position in the light of such a put-down from a superior editor?


In which case I apologise. It’s odd that it always seems to be his contributions that stay on the front page, though, and that his edits remain unchallenged on the Ayn Rand page.


“Public schools indoctrinate, they don’t educate”

Tell me, how is that any different from your colleague Andrew Schlafly’s home-school classes, in which he openly teaches his students his anti-Obama, anti-UN, anti-science, anti-Democrat, anti-history points of view? Not to mention his treatment of girls as inferior beings.

Or wait, let me guess. If you indoctrinate children to what you believe, then it’s ok.

And you still seem to live a fairy land where parents can afford to a) send their children to private schools, or b) have one parent stay home and educate them – assuming the parent has the necessary skills, of course.

All I see is a lot of moaning about a fictional fairy land, and not one solution to a real problem.

Maybe it’s time you pinched yourself. After all, you’re never going to be a John Galt, paying for only what you use, whilst those less fortunate suffer.

Fergus Mason

“Government indoctrination is acceptable; private indoctrination is not.”

Depends. Teaching children to be anti-Hitler is certainly good; teaching them that E=mc^2 is “liberal claptrap” most definitely isn’t.

[…] “Ayn Rand World: Public Schools – […]

[…] government schools, nor government hospitals, […]


To expand on Fergus’ point, the issue is not that parents are ultimately responsible for their children, or that they shouldn’t have the freedom to imprint their values and worldviews on them if they feel it’s in their best interest. Sadly, this leads to many people getting poor starts in life that some never recover from, but that’s a tradeoff of freedom.

The issue, Terry, is that there are some subjects that are not subject to personal bias, like math, and when minimum standards are not applied then all of society suffers. We’re competing in a global economy where other nations are churning out skilled engineers and scientists, and also do better in basic skills testing. They don’t accomplish this by deregulating and privatizing education, they do it by setting higher performance standards and having more accountability in their public school systems.

I grew up in New York City, and experienced some of the worst of what cronyism and tenure-without-performance-accountability can produce. On the other hand, my current township of South Brunswick, NJ, runs an excellent school system that delivers tremendous value for my tax dollar. I still feel the administration at the district level is too bloated (the salaries at that level are unacceptable), but in the schools themselves I have nothing but praise for dedicated individuals who really partner with the parents.

The point is that there are economies of scale and other benefits to having public schools that a collection of private institutions will have trouble matching. The key to success is treating grade-school education like a business rather than a university, throw out tenure, and drive for performance based on reasonable metrics (instead of the current focus on standardized testing that directs a month of time to test-pre instead of actual learning).

It’s telling that your essay dodges the issue of standards as well. Your concern is that standards = indoctrination, but you make it so black-and-white that you ignore the problems that come from a lack of standards as well.

Let’s go back to Andrew Schlafly as an example. He’s a colleague of yours, and you admire him. You’re also a senior administrator on his site Conservapedia, which he uses as a platform to support the homeschool classes he teaches.

– The man teaches American history classes which deny that Triangular Trade existed.

– For a long time, he denied that Vikings arrived at North America before Columbus, and went so far as to accuse the people who discovered the evidence in Canada of planting it there.

– The science pages there dismiss the existence of black holes.

– He claims the theory of relativity to be nonsense because in his mind it somehow equates to moral relativity.

– He calls e=mc2 “liberal claptrap”, and supports that by stating that “Eating a pound of cake does not cause one’s energy to increase by the speed of light squared.”

And since the content of Conservapedia is not subject to any peer review Schlafly doesn’t agree with, this is presented as truthful in his “trustworthy encyclopedia”. Even when other administrators disagree with these views they leave this nonsense stand, because challenging Schlafly gets you booted from the site. So people put their integrity and concern for education in a blind trust, and play along with Schlafly so they can access Conservapedia’s audience for their own purposes.

You can debate whether certain aspects of history should or shouldn’t be taught from a certain perspective, but some topics, like relativity and e=mc2 in physics, are so well-established by experimental proof that teaching to Schlafly’s standards is a step backwards for child’s education.

And yet, Schlafly is paid as an instructor to promote these and similar views to children, who will be competing for employment at some point. Schlafly is allied with CNaV and other groups that don’t want any government standards or oversight imposed on how parents can teach their children.

So in an Ayn Rand world, I suppose the free market will decide what educational standards should be met, and based on trends in the global economy, it’s clear that the bar in science and technology is being raised elsewhere. If you want to go in the direction of Tennessee and have teachers bringing their religious agendas into science class, if you want to stay silent as an administrator while Schlafly writes nonsense into an encyclopedia for homeschoolers, that’s your perogative.

Or you could take a trip to South Brunswick’s Elementary, Middle, and High Schools, and see what well-run government schools following standards set by experts are capable of.


Fair enough – education is a service. However, the government provides it by the will of the people, and if a better system was proposed, the people have every right to move to the new system. Dismantling the current system without a replacement is not a solution, however.

Also consider the dismal track record of many “for profit” colleges and training institutions. Free-market forces drove many of these schools to focus on enrollment and shareholder returns over the quality & usefulness of their offered services to the students. Then they partnered with lenders to offer easy credit as a win-win for the education and finance sectors, leaving many graduates with heavy loan debt and insufficient skills to earn he money to repay them.

You can talk about the free market providing ratings agencies to inform buyers before they pay for a school, but we saw by example how effective private ratings agencies like S&P and Moodys were at informing consumers about the financial markets they were supposed to be trusted advisors for.

I believe there is a proper role for the government, by the consent of the governed, to provide services that benefit all of society without the conflicts of interest that free-market forces can generate in some circumstances. Basic education is one of them, because an educated population and workforce benefits everyone. Properly executed, it also offers economies of scale that beat a fragmented market, and leave more net funds available for investment. What needs to change is our perception that we don’t control our own schools or education system – the government and the school boards report to the voters, and if we as the shareholders choose to be uninvolved it’s our own fault.

I also agree with you that the use of standards in this country has been a failure. However, that’s a call to fix the standards systems, not eliminate them. A vacuum is not a solution.

And speaking of standards, you’ve sidestepped my comments and examples about some of Andrew Schlafly’s educational positions and standards. Do you agree that he is correct about each of the examples above? If not, and considering that you’re a senior administrator of a Conservative Christian educational resource that uses “Trustworthy” in it’s motto, what are you doing to correct it?

[…] not all school are public schools even today. (Nor need any public school exist.) Streets and roads were not always public even in […]

[…] probably a follower (at least indirectly) of Ayn Rand. So take that reasoning to its conclusion. Rand didn’t even think public schools should exist. Until we abolish public schools and live in an objectivist utopia, then, there are just some times […]


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