The problem is the monopoly that schooling has gained over education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, approximately 97 percent of kids go through traditional schooling (as opposed to homeschooling or unschooling), and just over 90 percent of those attend government schools. That is to say, there is basically one accepted way to educate kids today: school them.
Given the relatively poor performance of American students on international achievement tests, you would think schooling might receive a second look. Quite the opposite, actually. It is instead made mandatory, and taxpayers are forced to subsidize it. This begs the question: Why would the government continue to propagate a system that produces such questionable results? The answer lies in their motives, and their motives are best understood by reviewing a brief history of compulsory schooling.
Roots in Germany
The earliest ancestor to our system of government-mandated schooling comes from 16th-century Germany. Martin Luther was a fierce advocate for state-mandated public schooling, not because he wanted kids to become educated, but because he wanted them to become educated in the ways of Lutheranism. Luther was resourceful and understood the power of the state in his quest to reform Jews, Catholics, and other non-believers. No less significant was fellow reformist John Calvin, who also advocated heavily for forced schooling. Calvin was particularly influential among the later Puritans of New England (Rothbard, 1979).
Considering compulsory schooling has such deep roots in Germany, it should be no surprise that the precursor to our American government school system came directly from the German state of Prussia. In 1807, fresh off a humiliating defeat by the French during the War of the Fourth Coalition, the Germans instituted a series of vast, sweeping societal reforms. Key within this movement was education reform, and one of the most influential educational reformers in Germany at the time was a man named Johann Gottlieb Fichte. Like Luther before him, Fichte saw compulsory schooling as a tool to indoctrinate kids, not educate them. Fichte describes his aim for Germany’s “new education” this way: