They told me if we have school choice, there'd be Nazi schools. And they were right! Sort of.
I’m talking with one of the teachers and I ask why she left the Swedish state school system.
“Because of the chaos,” she says. “There is no discipline. The students do what they want. They listen to their iPods and mobiles in class.”
My eyes open wide. “They have their mobiles out in lessons?”
She nods. “Yes. There is nothing the teacher can do about it. There are no punishments like detention in Sweden....”
I frown. “But here, it’s different, yes?”
She nods. “Oh yes. Here we’re all about order. They call us the Nazi school.”
This conversation, which took place in a voucher-funded private school, is illuminating. It illustrates a problem at the core of official state schooling: the enrollment of a child in a government school is not a mutually voluntary act.
All our (legal) interactions in civil society and within the free enterprise system are mutually voluntary. People choose their own churches, grocery stores, and clubs -- and those organizations choose them. Fail to abide by the code of conduct of the establishment, and you're out. Everyone knows this, and expulsions are rare as a result. We seek out others who share common goals or values because we all benefit from our interactions.
This is not the case under official state school systems. Everyone is compelled to pay for state schooling and so there is intense economic pressure to send one's children to the state schools. The state schools, in turn, are constrained in the extent to which they can establish rules of conduct for attendance. State school attendance is not truly voluntary for either party.
Not surprisingly, this compromises the value of the interactions. State schools often can't do everything they think is necessary to fulfill their mission, and parents often find the schools unresponsive to their needs and demands.
Moving education back toward the mutually voluntary sector, as Sweden has done with its private school choice program, has freed up each school to establish its own clear rules of conduct and has freed up parents to choose the kinds of schools best suited to their children. Some prefer permissiveness and others order and each family can get what it's looking for without having to impose its preferences on others. The system isn't perfect, but its advantages over the U.S. status quo are obvious.