Today Smith moves from the roots of state education to the history of its critics. He begins the series with a discussion of Joseph Priestley, the Englishman who discovered oxygen.
Revisionist works on the history of education are of uneven value, to say the least. Some blame the problems of American education on “capitalism” – that ever-popular bogeyman of restless intellectuals. For example, in Schooling in Capitalist America (1976), Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis throw everything except the proverbial kitchen sink at the feet of capitalism, including “drugs, suicide, mental instability, personal insecurity, predatory sexuality, depression, loneliness, bigotry, and hatred….” This is alarming news, indeed, but it is at least good to know that such problems do not exist in noncapitalistic societies. (Only academics could get away with this kind of Marxian claptrap.)
Even among the better revisionist works we find a troubling omission: Most pay scant attention, if any, to the libertarian critics of state schooling who flourished during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Yet these advocates of free-market education – or “Voluntaryists,” as they called themselves in nineteenth-century Britain – predicted that governmental control of education would result in precisely those problems that revisionists later complained about.