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Chapter 26: Education in a Free Society - Dane Starbuck, The Goodriches: An American Family 
The Goodriches: An American Family (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2001).
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Education in a Free Society
Tenure is not needed by the competent and, hence, shields only the incompetent. We are not dissuaded from this position by any arguments with reference to so-called academic freedom. We simply do not believe in academic freedom. We do believe in the idea that each man should be free to say what he will; but we don’t believe that any one has the right to say what he will and be paid for the saying of it by someone else who doesn’t wish to so pay him! In this sense, academic freedom is, in fact, a denial of freedom—the freedom of each man to expend his resources on only those uses that he sees fit—including the choice of sources of learning.
benjamin a. rogge and pierre f. goodrich, “Education in a Free Society”
If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.
Letter from Thomas Jefferson to Colonel Charles Yancey, January 6, 1816
In recent years, no topic, with the possible exception of health care, has been discussed in the United States with greater interest and intensity than educational reform. City and community school boards are hotbeds of virulent debates about educational change; politicians at the local, state, and national levels have joined the fray in suggesting various policy changes. Few proposals, however, have seriously challenged the radical vision of Pierre Goodrich, the recommendations he began making more than forty years ago. Probably Goodrich’s most important contribution in this area is his understanding of the important role that education plays in shaping character and citizenship.
Goodrich’s private passion for learning evolved into a public involvement with the educational process beginning in the mid 1940s. By that time, he had already served as a trustee of Wabash College for several years. These years of experience had convinced him that the traditional liberal arts college was sorely in need of a deeper understanding of its role in influencing society. Moreover, Goodrich recognized the necessity for greater participation and direction on the part of the college’s governing body, a direction he was eager to provide.
Goodrich also saw the need to create greater adult educational opportunities. He believed that education must extend beyond the classroom and into the homes of average citizens. Because of that belief, he took on the quiet leadership of such organizations as the Great Books Foundation, the China Institute of America, the Foundation for Economic Education, and the Institute for Humane Studies, which have been discussed in earlier chapters. His association with these organizations, as well as his friendships with scholars, reactivated his own education.
During the last thirty years of his life, Goodrich gave substantial thought to educational questions. From a philosophical perspective, his thinking culminated into the drafts of two documents: the “Education Memorandum,” and a paper he wrote jointly with Benjamin A. Rogge, “Education in a Free Society.”1
If it is true that human liberty is becoming more encroached upon by government, Goodrich asserted, then “it is worth looking at what part education may or may not play” in this process.2 Goodrich saw education as part of a broader political, economic, philosophical, and religious framework. According to Goodrich, understanding education’s proper role in this overarching framework is imperative in achieving and maintaining a society of free individuals. In his writings, he attempted to prove his point through a series of propositions about human nature that were, in his mind at least, indisputable.
First, because human society is made up of ignorant and imperfect individuals, man is prevented from fully understanding the universe or the “infinite creator.” Since man possesses powers of observation and reason, however, he can assume that there is order in the universe and an infinite creator. Using these limited attributes, man is able to discern other human qualities, such as the capacity to reason, the ability to learn through the senses, and the possession of emotions and will.3
Second, man must accept that he was created fallible and with limitations. Such fallibility and shortcomings tend to mitigate the good and accentuate the bad; at the very least, imperfect man is incapable of creating a perfect society, “and the choice is not between good and bad, or perfect and imperfect, . . . but between two or more imperfections.”4
Goodrich next explains that, given man’s imperfections, it would be oppressive, “utterly illogical,” and sheer folly to believe that giving even the most able men power over less able men would produce a better situation.5 All men are ignorant, proclaimed Goodrich. The fact that some are marginally less ignorant than others does not mean that they should decide for others. Rather, each man can be educated to decide for himself what is best for him, given his own knowledge of his desires and corresponding obligations.
Therefore, education is essential in eliminating the need to have some make decisions for others. It plays the important role of helping “the individual develop the capacity to think in the realm of ideals and make choices of imperfections with relation to [these] ideals.”6 In short, education should make man more adept at reasoning about the imperfect choices he has. In this sense, man is more free because he is basing decisions more on reason and less on ignorance and emotion.7
Goodrich proceeds to state what he believes are the limitations of education: “Even the best of all possible [educational] arrangements cannot make man into God or into a saint—or even into a good, decent human being. To be educated in the sense we have in mind here is something, perhaps a very important something, but it is not the alpha and the omega of human existence.”8
Thus, instead of elevating education as the be all and end all of humanity, Goodrich believed that the purpose of education is much less lofty. In fact, he did not believe education has any one purpose. The state’s attempt to impose one on the individual negates the very freedoms that proper education should embrace: “Whether the individual pursues an education for the sheer delight in learning or to acquire knowledge for personal decision-making and action or to better serve his God—or even to do no more than flaunt his learning before others—the choice of purpose (as well as means) is his and not society’s.”9
Goodrich recognized that the importance of knowledge in making decisions about the desirability of freedom creates an apparent paradox: “How will a citizenry not deliberately educated in the ways of freedom be able to withstand the constant temptations and pressures to abandon freedom in the hope of some transient advantage? In other words, does the survival of the free society require that its citizens be unfree in at least one area, the area of education?”10
To these questions, Goodrich and Rogge’s answer is that the best way to ensure that the student is educated in the virtues of freedom is to have society as a political unit have nothing to do with education: society should not provide education with subsidies (including tax relief), or operate any education programs, or coerce participation in such programs. Agents paid by the state are least likely to promote individual freedom, because of the “temptation to turn education to the purposes of expanding state power (and, hence, their own power), rather than of restricting and limiting that power.”11
Critique of the Modern Educational Institution
Goodrich often spoke and wrote about the limits of formal education. Because he viewed education in its broadest sense—something beyond the validation of college degrees and the certification of specialties—he knew that obtaining the imprint of higher education’s approval did not automatically produce intelligence, skill, or wisdom. Moreover, he believed that literacy alone (that is, the mere technical ability to read) was as likely to be used to manipulate people’s thinking as to promote independent thought; this is especially so when propaganda is the primary source material available to the reader or listener.12
Goodrich was especially critical of the lecture format used in most high schools and colleges, and the reliance upon textbooks. He believed that both the lecture system and textbooks created a “false sense of infallibility.” For that reason, Goodrich believed that primarily students should use original texts such as those used by the Great Books Foundation. Moreover, Goodrich believed that, under the existing system of grades and degrees, the professor is part of “the corrupting tendency inherent in the relationship between himself, as the expounder, and the student who seeks credit and advancement under the bureaucratic power of which the professor is an official.”13
Furthermore, Goodrich believed that insufficient weight is given to the student’s ability to educate himself with the help of others, while excessive concern is given to techniques, bureaucratic departmentalization, and formalities. He stated that focusing on the latter has handicapped the student’s ability to think cogently and independently. He also believed that they have made the education process more inefficient and irresponsible.14 “‘Education’ is something that happens within an individual. No matter how formally educational the setting or the process, if nothing happens to the supposed learner, nothing educational has taken place.”15
Goodrich and Rogge were also critical of the public financing of education. They specifically challenged the alleged spillover of benefits coming from the supposed advantage of a better-educated citizenry and the importance of education in developing equal opportunity. They believed that a coerced system of funding accomplished neither of these “benefits.”16
Moreover, Goodrich believed that many of the true impediments to equality of opportunity, especially as they relate to career opportunities, are false in nature or created, ironically, by the state itself by the imposition of credentialism. He and Rogge write: “Much of the apparent relationship between schooling and income either does not establish causation or reflects state action that has required degrees and diplomas as cards of admission to various careers.”17
Furthermore, the very importance of education in shaping an individual’s understanding is exactly why Goodrich adamantly opposed government involvement with education, including financing it. Goodrich and Rogge argued, “To the collectivist we say, if you insist on controlling something, make it the peanut-butter or hula-hoop industries, but for God’s sake don’t mess with our young people’s minds!”18
Goodrich also recognized that the state’s encroachment into educational matters significantly impedes the teaching of the most important elements of a child’s life—virtue and character. These aspects are intimately related to moral and religious values that generally cannot be taught under our current system, which demands a rigid separation of church and state. Writing, in the late 1960s, at a time of great political and social turbulence on America’s campuses, Goodrich was especially critical of the way institutions of higher learning intentionally hide the social and political philosophies of their faculties:
Most college administrations have found it desirable . . . not to emphasize the fact that on their campuses the students will be confronted by faculties far more liberal or left-wing than the prevailing point of view among parents, trustees, taxpayers, and donors. In how many college catalogs do you find prospective students and their parents given any information on the social philosophies to which the student is exposed on that campus? Do they say, “Send your son to College X and he will be taught by 5 Marxist, burn-down-the-buildings activists, 15 non-Marxist, just-seize-the-buildings activists, 100 left-of-center modern liberals, 10 Ripon Society Republicans, and 2 eccentric conservatives just reaching retirement age”? As Professor George Stigler of the University of Chicago has said, “ . . . the typical university catalogue would never stop Diogenes in his search for an honest man.”19
Goodrich was also critical of how the academic system of job protection, embodied in the concepts of tenure and academic freedom, promulgates questionable integrity and mediocrity. He believed that these protections allow academics to teach and publish freely without being accountable for the consequences of their ideas. He debunks the idea of academic freedom. Goodrich and Rogge claimed that the very notion has developed out of a confusion between natural rights (individual liberties such as private property and freedom of speech and religion) and man-made rights (for example, a “right” to health care or education).20
Thus, to Goodrich, the guise of academic freedom has allowed nondisclosure by colleges about what they are doing. Moreover, it has allowed faculties to insulate themselves from the discipline and harsh realities of the marketplace. In his general criticisms of the modern university, Goodrich would have agreed very much with Martin Anderson, a Hoover Institution Fellow, who wrote in his 1992 book Impostors in the Temple:
The academic intellectuals enjoy most of the material dreams of any socialist—a guaranteed job for life (tenure), excellent working conditions, recreation facilities, subsidized housing, and generous pensions. Professors do not have to worry about the whims of a tyrannical boss who might fire them. The only people to whom they answer, the only ones who effectively judge them are—other professors. Through the custom of “peer review,” they have evolved a unique system in which they essentially judge themselves.21
Moreover, Goodrich was critical about the in loco parentis role that many colleges assume. As a partial result, colleges perform poorly their true mission—educating minds.22 He also believed that too much importance on the part of trustees and administrators is given to fund raising, buildings, athletics, and the sponsoring of other noneducational functions, such as college fraternities and dances. Correspondingly, Goodrich believed that too little attention is given to assessing “professors, their standing, integrity, the beliefs they hold and on an honest disclosure of these things.”23
Goodrich believed that a “free educational society contemplates a multiplicity of educational institutions.”24 Therefore, although he had in mind what he believed would be an ideal college (one in which individuals would come to be committed to a free society), he recognized that in a free educational marketplace, consumers might or might not select his ideal as their ideal.25
Goodrich’s ideal college would be private and for-profit. “School departments which have become bureaus and power-seeking devices” would be eliminated, as well as courses and divisions.26 He would also do away with grades and degrees.27 The educational format would be composed of three main elements: (1) individual study by students, (2) seminars on assigned readings, and (3) lectures delivered by the faculty or visiting lecturers.28 Students could study for as long as they chose, so long as they did not disrupt the studies of others.
Faculty members would serve at the pleasure of the administration (as at-will employees), and their income would be directly related to their effectiveness in teaching (although worthwhile research activities could add to their remuneration). Thus, if professors were not successful in attracting students to their seminars or were not otherwise contributing to the stated goals of the college, they could be fired, could have their salaries decreased, and so forth.29 Finally, in Goodrich’s ideal college, trustees would have a much greater degree of control in directing school policy than they do in the traditional liberal arts college. One of Goodrich’s strongest criticisms about existing institutions of higher learning is that power is too diffusely spread among such various factions as administrators, alumni, donors, faculty, state regulators, student government, and trustees. As a result, it is difficult to know who is the real decision maker and is therefore accountable.30
Goodrich’s examination of the pitfalls of higher education came from an interesting perspective, that of a free-market businessman and a trustee of a small, all-male liberal arts college. Such a perspective offered a unique opportunity for insight, but no doubt it also limited his appreciation for the multiplicity of backgrounds and perspectives that exist at large state-supported universities.
Goodrich had served as a trustee for thirty years, during the full tenures of three Wabash College presidents and the partial terms of two others.31 He had seen many educational fads come and go. His criticisms were not aimed at superficial academic matters, nor were they even aimed at weightier ones such as whether a curriculum should center on the literature of primarily Western culture (selections from Goodrich’s Basic Memorandum reading list strongly suggest that he thought they should). Rather, his criticisms went to the very core of institutional and noninstitutional learning.
To Goodrich’s credit, he recognized that the blame for the fundamental problems plaguing colleges and universities cannot be placed solely on the backs of professors. As Martin Anderson observes, between 1960 and 1975, an additional eight million students poured into American colleges and universities. This caused the hiring of 352,000 new faculty members and led to a predictable watering down of standards. Relatively easy access to tenure during that period accelerated the teaching profession’s alienation from the marketplace and severed any tie between power and accountability. As a result, professors have had to answer little to parents, alumni, and regents.32
Anderson further observes (a point Goodrich made more than forty years before in the earliest version of the “Education Memorandum”)33 that the group that bears most responsibility for the current sorry state of higher education is that of the men and women who constitute the governing boards of colleges and universities, the trustees and regents. Goodrich noted that “college trustees, as the product of present day education, are not prepared to consider these problems with a critical educational background and to assume the responsibility which is their responsibility.”34
Goodrich believed that education should be treated no differently from any other business endeavor for which a natural market exists (note that he titled his earliest writing about education a memorandum, a business document used to convey internal communication). He wanted to eliminate educational subsidies (today, many state institutions receive as much as 60 percent of their budget from government) and the protection of tenure. As to so-called academic freedom, Goodrich thought it an ill-founded right. He fervently embraced the idea that the Constitution protects every person’s right to free speech, but, just as deeply, believed it does not protect a person’s right to an occupation.35
In many ways, Goodrich’s views on education were the most important of all his philosophical beliefs. He believed that only if the critical role of education in society is properly understood could education help to produce a liberated and responsible citizenry. Without this proper understanding, man was doomed to dependency and unsound decision making.
It is doubtful, however, that Goodrich’s model would do anything but allow limited groups (those who already value education) to thrive. If state educational subsidies were totally removed, especially at the primary level, could children from poor areas ever hope to have an opportunity to enter into mainstream society? Proponents of school choice argue that the only sector of society that has a full choice of educational options today is the affluent. Giving rich and poor the same subsidy (for example, through a voucher system), advocates argue, would make it possible for parents and students to choose their own schools. Goodrich, however, apparently opposed any state subsidy, no matter how it was distributed. If that is the case, then, given Goodrich’s own observations about man’s weak and fallible nature, would individuals voluntarily, without state financial incentives, assist those who are most in need of quality instruction? This is a difficult question that neither Goodrich nor Rogge seems to address.
[1. ]Pierre F. Goodrich, “Education Memorandum” (May 12, 1969); Anne Husted Burleigh, ed., Education in a Free Society (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1973). Goodrich and Rogge’s paper was published in a collection of essays with the same title. It served as the position paper for a Liberty Fund seminar attended by leading scholars, educators, and business people. The seminar was held at Liberty Fund headquarters in Indianapolis from March 28 to March 31, 1971. Besides “Education in a Free Society,” other essays presented by scholars included “Reason of University” (Gottfried Dietze); “The Revitalized College: A Model” (Russell Kirk); “The Political Economy of Modern Universities” (Henry G. Manne); and “Authority, Power, and the University” (Stephen J. Tonsor). A fifth essay, “The Lost Tools of Learning,” by British writer Dorothy L. Sayers, was included in the published collection.
[2. ]“Education Memorandum,” p. 7.
[3. ]Ibid., pp. 8–10.
[4. ]Ibid., p. 11.
[6. ]Ibid., p. 6.
[7. ]Goodrich acknowledges, however, that even this proposition has its pitfalls and provides an incomplete explanation for man’s often errant behavior. Goodrich recognizes the challenge of the so-called Faust myth: “we cannot be comfortable with the assumption that the knowledgeable man will also be the noble or virtuous man. In fact, in the Faust myth, it is precisely the most learned who is most susceptible to the temptations of the Devil, to the lure of temporal power over others. (It is tempting to explain the behavior of many modern intellectuals in somewhat this way.)” (Education in a Free Society, p. 59)
[8. ]Ibid., pp. 59–60.
[9. ]Ibid., p. 62.
[10. ]Ibid., p. 63.
[11. ]Ibid., pp. 64–65. Who then is to decide? Clearly, an adult student should be able to decide what kind of educational arrangement he or she will pursue and for what purpose. Although he recognized the problems that could arise, Goodrich believed that the parents of minor students, not the “all-wise agents of the state,” should make those decisions for their children. This belief flies in the face of well-known utopian schemes advanced by the likes of Plato, Fourier, Robert Owen, B. F. Skinner, and Mao. They all advocated that children should be taken from their parents at an early age so that their upbringing could be controlled by the state, not the foolish and primitive family circle (ibid., p. 67).
[12. ]See Goodrich, “Education Memorandum,” p. 21; see also Goodrich’s memorandum regarding his discussion with F. A. Hayek, dated May 13, 1960. Goodrich writes: We discussed the question of whether there was any explanation why people could not by their intellect achieve a vicarious understanding of these problems through reading and thinking. He had no explanation of it except he thought it generally was true. The fact is he really does not have much confidence in general education as such in the sense that he thinks the American people expect far too much of it. He arrives, apparently partly by experience as well as reason, at the view I have held for some time, that mere literacy is a very efficient tool for dictatorship control. . . . (Pierre F. Goodrich Collection, box 1, F. A. Hayek folder, Archives, Hoover Institution)
[13. ]Goodrich, “Education Memorandum,” p. 26.
[14. ]Ibid., p. 24.
[15. ]Burleigh, Education in a Free Society, p. 57.
[16. ]Ibid., p. 73. Specifically, Goodrich and Rogge refuted the contention that the Cs should be forced to pay for the education of the Bs because, otherwise, the Bs would not have an equal chance in the race of life. Goodrich’s response to this argument was that because individual abilities are so variable it is impossible for individuals to start as equals, let alone end up as equals. To guarantee equality of opportunity would require the state to intervene on a continual basis to ensure a level playing field. This assurance of equality, from both a philosophical and a practical viewpoint, could be accomplished only through continuous state intervention that coerced compliance and would negate, not further, freedom. “The only equality that is consistent with freedom is equality before the law” (ibid., p. 74).
[17. ]Ibid., p. 75.
[18. ]Ibid., p. 83. Goodrich believed that hypocrisy prevails in our state-supported education system. If government were to tax people so that Catholic or Lutheran teachings must (or even could) be taught in the churches and the schools (as is the case in many western European nations), the average American would be up in arms. This is so because the idea of the separation of religion and state is ingrained in our minds and is believed to be memorialized in our Constitution. Regarding education, Goodrich could not understand why taxpayers were required to finance teachers and professors who teach Marxism, socialism, or other creeds condemning free society. To Goodrich, this distinction made little sense, and he thought the best solution was to eliminate public education subsidies.
[19. ]Ibid., p. 79 (quoting, in part, George Stigler, “The Intellectual and the Market Place,” Selected Paper, No. 3, Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago, February 1967, p. 7).
[20. ]Goodrich wrote: To impose on the individual entering the relationship of teaching through being hired by any given college, restrictions and responsibilities, including the right to dismiss him, is an entirely different matter from restrictions on individual liberty apart from such employment. . . . “This confusion between individual freedom and academic freedom—the success with which teachers and their power-seeking organizations have confused the human liberty of the individual to seek truth and exercise free will—especially freedom from the state—has been the cloak behind which individuals have indulged in irresponsibility, undeveloped reason, insufficient education, irrational activity, the arrogance of infallibility, and personal and collective power.” (“Education Memorandum,” pp. 32–33)
[21. ]Impostors in the Temple (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992), p. 14.
[22. ]Burleigh, Education in a Free Society, pp. 91–92.
[23. ]Ibid., p. 40.
[24. ]“Education Memorandum,” p. 21.
[25. ]Burleigh, Education in a Free Society, pp. 82–83.
[26. ]“Education Memorandum,” p. 24.
[27. ]Burleigh, Education in a Free Society, pp. 90–91. Goodrich believed that the opportunity for students who were inclined to be evaluated could be provided by having them pay extra to write papers and take exams and have them evaluated.
[28. ]Ibid., p. 88.
[30. ]Ibid., pp. 86–87.
[31. ]The three college presidents during whose tenures Goodrich served as a trustee were Frank Sparks (1941–56), Byron Trippet (1956–65), and Paul Cook (1966–68). Goodrich also served as a trustee when George Kendall was acting president (1940–41) and during the first year of Thaddeus Seymour’s tenure as president (1968–69).
[32. ]Anderson, Impostors in the Temple, pp. 34–35; see also Richard Armey, “Socialism on Campus” (review of Impostors in the Temple), Wall Street Journal, August 19, 1992, sec. A, p. 10, col. 1.
[33. ]Goodrich’s earliest draft of the “Education Memorandum” was written in 1951. In a May 1952 draft, Goodrich emphasized the importance of leadership by trustees. At that time, he had already lamented the lack of preparedness of most trustees in assuming their rightful responsibility. See May 26, 1952, draft of “Education Memorandum,” chap. 7, p. 7 (Pierre F. Goodrich file, Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.).
[34. ]“Education Memorandum,” p. 35. With trustees and regents unwilling to assume their proper roles of authority, current congressman Richard Armey argues that “faculty and administrators are instead left to regulate themselves, with the outcome similar to what one might expect if a parent allows a child to run free in a candy store. Mr. Anderson’s point is that universities are big business and must have a similar command structure.” Armey, “Socialism on Campus.”
[35. ]Goodrich shared this view with former Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who observed when sitting on the highest court of Massachusetts, “[A policeman] may have a constitutional right to talk politics, but he has no constitutional right to be a policeman.” McAuliffe v. Mayor of New Bedford, 155 Mass. 216, 29 N.E. 517 (1892).