July 2019

Libertarians tend to support school choice. But for whom? In the voucher model, parents may choose among various private schooling options for their children and designate their vouchers to the schools they’ve selected.

But what if school itself is a matter of choice? And what does it look like when students and parents choose unstructured learning instead? Is this unconventional choice an option that libertarians should prefer? Perhaps: much about the conventional experience of primary and secondary schooling is the product of bureaucratization and standardization—and much of that comes directly from state involvement in education.

So what is the relationship between libertarian politics and unstructured schooling? How seriously should libertarians take the idea of scrapping school as we know it, and replacing it with child-directed learning?

Our lead essayist this month is education policy writer and unschooling advocate Kerry McDonald, who argues that we should indeed rethink conventional schooling. While each of the respondents is to some degree sympathetic to unstructured learning, the question we’re focusing on this month may still divide them to some degree: Is being open to unstructured learning implicit in the recognition of children’s rights, if only as an option? Joining us to discuss the question will be Corey DeAngelis, Director of School Choice at the Reason Foundation; author and educator Michael Strong; and Professor Kevin Currie-Knight of East Carolina University. Each will write an essay, and conversation will continue through the end of the month. Comments will be open for one month as well, and readers are invited to join the discussion.

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Lead Essay

  • Kerry McDonald says that those who care about liberty should give unschooling a look. Structured education with a fixed curriculum and standardized testing is the product of a bureaucratized system. But children are spontaneous learners, says McDonald, and they do best when adults give opportunities and support rather than structure and evaluation.

Response Essays

  • Kevin Currie-Knight is a libertarian. He also likes unschooling. But, he says, it’s a mistake to conflate them; either view should stand or fall on its own—political liberty for adults might be the best choice, but this doesn’t imply that unstructured learning is best for children. And unstructured learning may be best for children without implying much of anything about the adult world of politics. While his personal answer to each of these is “yes,” the two are independent questions in his view.

Coming Up

Essays by Corey DeAngelis, and Michael Strong. Conversation through the end of the month.