Academia has long been thought of as the “marketplace of ideas,” the arena where truth may be pursued through dispassionate discourse and openness to competing views. Yet higher education in America has moved a great distance from this ideal and its practice and into arenas of collectivist indoctrination.

Too many of our colleges and universities have become cloistered “hothouses” of bias and intolerance––schools of closed-mindedness. Everywhere we look these institutions are dominated by “political correctness,” the common theme of which is disdain and disapproval of the American traditions of individualism, free enterprise, and constitutionally limited government.

The Closed Mind of a Socialist Academia

No amount of criticism or doubt from outside those hallowed halls seems to affect either the professors or the administrators, who claim to be the stewards of the younger generation placed in their intellectual and moral care. Indeed, more often than not, they demonstrate contempt for those who challenge their entitlement to mentor and mold our sons and daughters as they think fit. Their conduct shows that they consider themselves answerable to no one but themselves.

This should not be surprising considering the special, indeed, unique environment in which they operate. The vast majority of America’s colleges and universities have become insular islands of “academic socialism.” They are either directly owned and operated by government, or if they are “private,” they have become so dependent on government loans, scholarships, and research grants that they have little real interaction with the wider remaining private-sector society.

Regardless of the lack of intellectual merit or usefulness of what is often taught in fields such as history, political science, economics, sociology, and literature, the faculties at these schools are protected from any negative feedback. Their salaries at state institutions are paid through tax dollars; their jobs are secured through lifetime tenure; and the content of their courses are judged as good or bad only by themselves. Any doubts about or dissent against how and what they teach is responded to with shouts of “academic freedom.” That phrase has become a mantra to ward off the demons: those of us who may not agree with the “wisdom” they wish to “share” with our children.

Government funding, of course, comes from tax dollars expropriated from the hard-earned income of the American citizenry. Parents are therefore left with fewer financial resources with which to send their children to educational institutions outside the net of state sponsorship and control. Furthermore, the lure of less-expensive state-funded and state-subsidized colleges and universities creates a perverse incentive for parents to send their young to these politically funded schools.

Monopolizing the Minds of Young People

The damage from all this goes far beyond wasting the taxpayers’ dollars in guaranteeing these academics their annual incomes. It means that the future of America is predominantly placed in their hands. The vast majority of young men and women pass through their educational processing. They mold how our sons and daughters see and think about politics, economics, history, moral philosophy, and social institutions.

To put it bluntly, they push our children through an intellectual sieve of collectivism; as a result, these young people leave college with no proper and vital understanding of freedom, self-responsibility, and the character and value of a free society. They enter adulthood unaware of the noble and courageous struggle that was carried on over the centuries in the Western world to establish the legacy of liberty and prosperity that too many of us take for granted.

What applies to government spending on higher education of course applies no less to government spending on K–12 schooling as well. Indeed, it can be argued that government’s influence at this level is even more disturbing, since these are the most impressionable years, when young minds are shaped by core ideas about their world. Whether it is sex education or conceptions about the environment or even the basic capacity to read and write, the grammar- and high-school years can leave a mark on young men and women for the rest of their lives.

Freeing Minds from “K” through High School

It is not surprising, therefore, that public-school teachers and administrators are opposed to private competitive education during these formative years. Not only would it wrest from them near-monopoly control over the minds of America’s youth, but a free market in education would also show the disastrous job the state system has done in preparing the next generation for earning a living in the global economy.

Compare that with the marketplace of everyday commerce, where the sellers of ideas and the products that embody them must demonstrate their value to the buying public. Sellers must prove that what is being offered is worth the price being asked. If they fail to do so, their clientele drifts away; their market share declines; and their incomes decrease. If a seller does not mend his ways, those who more effectively serve consumers will finally drive him out of business.

In a free market, the private seller cannot shout “producer freedom” and claim the right to be protected from the disapproval of his customers. In the free economy there is neither tenure nor government-guaranteed income. Every producer and seller is ultimately answerable to those he serves.

This is what makes competition a mechanism for fostering innovation and excellence. Every day, in every way, sellers must constantly try to stay ahead of their rivals in the marketplace. And they cannot forget that new entrants could come into their corner of the market, apply their creative abilities to better serve the consuming public, and earn some of the potential profits from doing so.

It is clear why so many teachers, professors, and administrators show such hostility to business and market competition. And it is no wonder that they despise the profit-and-loss system. To advocate a real marketplace of ideas would threaten their protected government-subsidized utopian, ivory-tower existence. Defeating “educational socialism,” as I call it, will require effort to escape the government’s control of schooling. A growing number of parents in the United States are undertaking that effort, as demonstrated by the expanding attendance at private schools around the country and the increasing numbers of parents who incur the personal and family sacrifices to home-school their sons and daughters. Having lost all confidence in the government schooling system, they have taken more direct responsibility for their children’s education.

Privatizing the “Public Schools” for Better Education

What is needed is a radical change, and in my opinion, this means the denationalization, the full and complete privatization of schooling from kindergarten through graduate education.

Grammar and junior and high schools could be privatized any number of ways. One method might be to offer a school to the existing teaching and related staff, for them, in other words, to have the school transferred to them as shareholders of the school in which they have been working.

Another is to put schools up for auction, either as stand-alone schools, or as possible establishments in a chain of schools bought up by a particular company. They could run them directly or offer, to then resell them as franchises under the logo of the mother company.

This would immediately start to bring in the signals and incentives of any other types of business enterprises concerning current and prospective profitability in offering education that retains or attracts students and their parents.

Matching Selling Schools would be Tax Cuts

Simultaneous with the any of these privatization methods, once schools are out of government hands, the property and related taxes that had been collected to financially support them as “public schools” should be immediately be repealed.

This would help provide the financial wherewithal for parents and families to more easily have the financial means to pay directly for the tuition costs of sending their child or children to school.

At the same time, as these schools, one after the other, now passed into the private sector forces of competition would be set loose and in motion that over time would work to bring about innovations in the curricula, the facilities and the cost structure that would result in better learning environments with efficiencies that would make schooling increasingly more affordable.

Would all schools offer the same exact quality of education and comparable facilities? Most likely that would not be the case. But that is the situation now, but at least with privatized schools in a market-based environment all the supply-side incentives would be in the direction of improvements in the types and qualities of the schooling and education offered.  This is certainly not the case in too many school districts around the country under our current system of socialized, government schooling.

Greater excellence in teaching at these schools will be dramatically enhanced, again, over time, if there is also the abolition of education degree certification to be allowed to teach at the high school and under levels. Allow the market to find and select the qualified teachers for the young people of the nation, and not the teachers’ unions and state bureaucracies that have their own financial and political agendas as work.

Make Colleges and Universities Really Private and Market-Based

Colleges and universities should be taken off the federal and state financial gravy trains at taxpayers’ expense, as well. Parents and students would soon know the real cost and value of an education at various institutions of higher learning, rather than the current illusions created through government subsidies and grants of one type or another.

State owned and operated colleges and universities could be privatized along the same lines as suggested for kindergarten through high school. And existing “private” colleges and universities would no longer receive federal and state monies, either.

And as government colleges and universities were sold off and grants and subsidies were ended for existing private institutions, the relevant taxes should be repealed, putting that money back in the pockets of those who earned it, so they might have better financial means to cover the actual costs of their sons and daughters going on for higher education, if they so chose.

Privatized Schooling Would End Political Correctness

I would suggest that if schools were privatized in this manner and had to provide education reflecting what parents and students actually wanted and thought worth paying a price for, a large amount of the “political correctness” and ideologically driven courses would soon be replaced with classes and subjects reflecting things much closer to a far more traditional education.

When parents and students have to pay more directly and fully for the credit hours for each class taken, I personally doubt that as many leftist, collectivist, “touchy-feely,” courses will have the enrollments that tax-funding enables to be offered and faculty salaries to be paid to those doing the teaching of them.

Education will be more consumer driven in terms of useful and desired content and delivery of knowledge than being “producer driven” in terms of what ideologically motivated faculty and administrators want to indoctrinate young minds with taxpayers’ compulsorily collected monies to fund it.

Will the world of education change over night, Of course not, but the institutional incentives and competitive forces will have been set loose that we take for granted as the engines of innovative improvements in so many other areas of life.

This will, at the end of the day, be most important and valuable to those harmed and abused the most by our current system of educational socialism. Free market capitalism will “deliver the goods” here and in more and better qualities and varieties over time, just in every other walk of life in which the competitive forces of supply and demand are allowed to work.

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Dr. Richard M. Ebeling is the recently appointed BB&T Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Free Enterprise Leadership at The Citadel. He was formerly professor of Economics at Northwood University, president of The Foundation for Economic Education (2003–2008), was the Ludwig von Mises Professor of Economics at Hillsdale College (1988–2003) in Hillsdale, Michigan, and served as vice president of academic affairs for The Future of Freedom Foundation (1989–2003).