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200 Years of Opposing Public Schools

Written By: Sheldon Richman  |  Posted: Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

As an antidote to the blather masquerading on MSNBC this week as serious discussion of education, I prescribe the wisdom of Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), the English classical-liberal political philosopher, scientist, and religious Dissenter. In An Essay on the First Principles of Government, and on the Nature of Political, Civil, and Religious Liberty (1768), Priestley argued for a free and spontaneous education environment. For him education must be left to free individuals precisely because no one can know in advance - or once and for all - what forms of pedagogy are best. (The chapter is titled "In what manner an authoritative code of education would affect political and civil liberty.")

In the manner of F. A. Hayek, Priestley's writing on education emphasized the trial-and-error nature of discovery - the need for competitive experimentation from many quarters, indeed, for "unbounded liberty, and even caprice." What a great phrase!
Here's what he says:

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