Why Are American Taxpayers Forced to Subsidize and Support the Prussian Education System?

Published June 13, 2024

In the 19th century, the United States started adopting the Prussian education system that covers primary school to university education. It is a government-supported and government-controlled system of education. While some alternative education systems are not forbidden, they face unfair competition from the Prussian education system as its institutions are either partially or fully financed by taxpayer money and favored by government laws and regulations. This system has dominated education in the United States for more than a century—not because of the quality of education it provides, but because of financial and legal privileges granted by federal, state, and local governments. Even private schools are not free from the influence of this system, as they rely on teachers educated in universities of the Prussian system.

Favoring an education system of any one group of people is against the principles on which the United States is founded. Favoring an education system that is extremely anti-American makes even less sense. By instituting the government-controlled education system and exporting it to many countries, the new Prussians have been able to distort the teaching of history, leading to inappropriate praise of the new Prussian rulers and similar groups and inappropriate criticism of anyone who do not share their views.

The United States was created from the existing states in America by uniting them and adopting the principles of individual freedom and limited government. It even went farther than the Roman Republic: while, in the Roman Republic, the institution of king was abolished, in the United States, all inherited titles were abolished. The state was supposed to serve the people in the United States; in the new Prussia, people serve the state and the rulers of the state.

The Prussian education system was created by the rulers of the new Prussia. These rulers were people from a few ethnic groups who chose to come to the old Prussia and nearby countries to kill, rob, and subjugate the local people, using their religion as an excuse. This self-selection made these people unfavorably different from the average representatives of their ethnic groups. The new-Prussian interpretation of the Judeo-Christian tradition seemed to be that the forgiveness of sins was for them while obeying and turning the other cheek was for their victims. Sometimes, the new Prussia was described as an army with a country rather than a country with an army. Not surprisingly, the new Prussia was a major center of fascism (national socialism) and communism (international socialism)—two of the most extreme forms of statism that had no respect for individual human beings and together were successful at killing more people than any other two groups in human history.

The Prussian education system is not the first attempt in history for the rulers of a country to try to control what people think and believe. However, this is the first such system that became very successful at perpetuating itself and expanding to other countries as their rulers and aspiring rulers tried to help themselves to get into power and remain in power.

Recognizing the poor and deteriorating quality of education, recently, some US states started giving parents more freedom in choosing how to use taxpayer money for primary through high school education of their children, reducing the privileges of the Prussian education system. Unfortunately, these are only small steps in improving education. Moreover, there is even less talk about reducing and eliminating the privileges of the universities of the Prussian education system. However, the education system cannot be repaired without addressing the problems of the universities that currently produce most scientists and educators.

People often do not realize how far the Prussian university system is from the free-market system. For example, some people hope that competition among universities can improve the quality of universities. However, universities, especially state universities, are not facing free market competition. They receive significant support from state and federal governments, with politicians and bureaucrats deciding how much they get. Thus, politicians and bureaucrats are their customers that they need to please. Moreover, universities do not have owners who care about the long-term value of the universities. Instead, they are ruled by university administration and committees of faculty members who have their own interests and wrong incentives.

Another characteristic of universities that is attractive to some people is their democratic administration, where many decisions are made by vote. Universities have done a good job at replacing in people’s minds the ideals of individual freedom and voluntary relationships between people with democracy. However, at best, democracy where decisions are made by vote is a dictatorship of majority—it is not fair to minorities. In practice, it becomes a rule of those who are the best at lying and manipulating public opinion. In the chapter “Why the Worst Get on Top” in The Road to Serfdom (1944), Frederick A. Hayek describes in detail why the worst get into power in government-run systems even when they at first try to be democratic.

The attempts to improve the Prussian university system in the United States through government support of accreditation agencies for universities only hastened the deterioration of the system. Accreditation agencies are not truly private institutions as they rely on government and university support. They only made universities more bureaucratic and made university administration jobs less attractive to honest and intelligent people, leading to further deterioration.

There are no good reasons to let governments control the education of children. Very few (if any) people would claim that bureaucrats and politicians care more about children than the parents of those children. Very few (if any) people would claim that bureaucrats and politicians are more honest than most people. Unfortunately, the leaders of the Prussian education system did a good job at promoting themselves and teaching multiple generations that they should obey authority figures and government-approved scientists. However, those who hope to benefit from the new Prussian system by joining and serving the ruling classes may want to study history more carefully. Different groups of the intellectual descendants of the new Prussians support each other only as long as they do not think that they can gain power or stay in power by themselves. Two good examples come from communists and fascists. Less than ten years after taking control over Russia and creating the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, communists started killing each other even at the very top of their hierarchy. Communists and fascists, the two socialist groups that were friendly to each other in the early days of their existence, started killing each other en masse during the Second World War. It is not a good idea to support such people.

The government’s role in education should be the same as its proper role in other industries. Government should protect people from the initiation of force (and fraud) and enforce contracts into which people voluntarily enter. Government should not tell people how to run their business or try to run that business. Moreover, governments should not forbid alternative business forms like education through apprenticeships, nor should they grant any financial or legal privileges to any education or other institutions. Education is a very important industry. It should be protected from the abuse by politicians and bureaucrats and left to the most effective and efficient system: free markets. Regrettably, the Prussian education system contributed significantly to helping people to forget that trying to earn money by engaging in voluntary business relations with other people (including in education) is a laudable goal but trying to control other people lives by using government power is not.