There is a base level of education to which society is justified in requiring children to be educated. This is justified by the need to:

  • Protect society as a whole from an uneducated mob;
  • Protect society from ignorant individuals;
  • Protect children from neglect.

The fact that society requires a base level of education does not obligate society to pay for it, no more than society requiring vehicles to have properly maintained brakes requires society to pay for brake pads.

To protect society from an uneducated mob

Experience hath shewn, that even under the best forms, those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny; and it is believed that the most effectual means of preventing this would be, to illuminate, as far as practicable, the minds of the people at large.

—Thomas Jefferson. “A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge,” 1779.

It was the uneducated mob and uneducated soldiers who acted as Julius Caesar’s pliant tools and enabled him to install himself and his line as tyrants. To the mob, motivated by the grain dole and lavish games, and the soldiery motivated by plunder and pay, their ancient constitution was meaningless. Without an understanding of history and good government, a society is doomed to become easy prey for demagogues.

To protect society from ignorant individuals

Adolescents with no education have no prospects, those with no prospects quickly turn to crime, and crime leads to prison. There they receive the most corrupt of all educations. Those who receive this default education represent a clear danger to society, which the society is justified in apprehending.

To protect children from neglect

Children have a right to a minimum level of education from those who bring them into the world. Society does not owe it to them, but society is entitled to enforce it on their behalf.

Content of the base curriculum

The objects of the base curriculum determine its character and limits. These objects were outlined by Thomas Jefferson:

  • To give to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business.
  • To enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts, in writing.
  • To improve, by reading, his morals and faculties.
  • To understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either.
  • To know his rights; to exercise with order and justice those he retains; to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor, and judgment.
  • And, in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed. (Report of the Commissioners for the University of Virginia, August 4, 1818.)


Children need to be able to read, comprehend and compose the written word. This allows them to become self-educating, and thus able to continually improve their own prospects.

Numeracy & computer skills

Numeracy, which includes the ability to perform basic calculations in a spreadsheet, is necessary to manage personal finances and these days to maintain even the most rudimentary employment.

Personal finances

The existence of pay-day loans, credit cards, store cards, slot machines, consumer loans, and the elderly destitute is testament to the woeful ignorance of personal finances that torments the underclass of modern society. People are expected to feed themselves, clothe themselves, house themselves, bring up and educate children, all without committing crimes—yet they receive no instruction in the management of personal finances. We do not put young adults into cars without instruction and then charge them with dangerous driving—neither should parents put children into the world without giving them an understanding of basic personal finances.


The law should not be the preserve of an elite caste of lawyers but rather it should be the common knowledge of all. A basic level of legal knowledge necessary for proper functioning in society requires an understanding of:

  • Criminal law–through a clause-by-clause review of the local criminal code;
  • Contract law—basic principles;
  • Torts law—basic principles and examples to encourage students to think about the damage they could cause others before they act;
  • Statute law—rules of interpretation and how to research statute law on the Internet;
  • Case law—basic principles and how to research case law on the Internet;
  • Constitutional law—including the hierarchy of laws, the limits of government, the concept of rights, and a clause-by-clause review of their own country’s constitutions;
  • The court system—hierarchy of courts, the distinction between criminal and civil jurisdiction, the trial processes, and the appeal process.

Good government

All children should have a basic knowledge of the principles of good government with particular emphasis on the rule of law, checks and balances, the United States Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. These should be set in a historical context with particular reference to the freedom and tyranny of the Athenians, the democratic and constitutional achievements of the Roman Republic and how they threw it all away, the despotism and failure of the Roman Empire, the doom and depravity of the Dark Ages, the constitutional achievements of the English-speaking peoples culminating in the American Revolution, the salutary lessons of the French Revolution, Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and Socialist Britain.

The non-compulsory component of the curriculum

Educators in a free market respond to the demands of students and parents. Students and parents are motivated by their own values and the requirements of universities and employers. This process, whereby people make their own choices and exercise their own judgement, is known as freedom. The process whereby government makes choices for people and decides for them what is in their best interests is known as tyranny.

Implementing the base curriculum

The need for public exams on the base curriculum

Compliance with the base curriculum should be examined annually, and if the minimum standards are not being attained, the government should intervene. Otherwise it is the prerogative of parents to educate their own children as they see fit. Parents are entitled to send their children to a religious school, performing arts school, science school, boarding school, global-warming school, military school, local school, or to home school them.

Children who do not make the grade

Children who do not reach minimum standards on core-curriculum examinations require investigation. The government should not treat the problem as a failing of the school, but rather as a problem relating to the individual child. For the market to function properly, parents must have an incentive to move their children if academic standards are not up to scratch.

If a child is repeatedly failing base curriculum examinations, the government has the right to send the child to a privately-run base curriculum intensive school of its own choice—and the parents should be required to pay the cost. If they cannot afford the fees, then the state should foot the bill and garnish their wages until the debt is paid off.

As long as it takes

Just because an adolescent is temperamental and rebellious, society does not hand him a driver’s license when he fails his driving exam—the reason is that he might harm others. Likewise, an uneducated child cannot be turned loose on the world to join gangs, deal drugs, mug people at gunpoint, and to create offspring with the same vicious tendencies— simply because he is temperamental and rebellious and fails his exams. Instead society should persevere. However, once the child reaches the age of eighteen the cost of his remedial education should be charged to his own account.

Universities and colleges

The market should determine which universities should be opened and closed, what should be taught, and how much should be charged. The government should have no role. Government-run universities should be sold off or rolled into charitable trusts.

This article is an extract from the book ‘Principles of Good Government’ by Matthew Bransgrove