Educational freedom as a motor of human potential

Many academics consider that the market economy, better known as capitalism, is a necessary condition to make democracy possible. Branson (1991) argues that, although not all progress in the market economy depends on education, it has always served political functions and has affected the future character of the community and the State. Branson adds that the United States has placed its trust in the public education system to form good and productive citizens, reduce racial and religious prejudice, eradicate poverty and strengthen friendly ties with other nations;1 however, public education in the US has failed in three of these areas (forming good and productive citizens, reducing racial and religious prejudice, and eradicating poverty). Although politicians in the US have trusted that education is one of the fundamental instruments to achieve greater economic competence and social awareness, the results have been different.

According to Branson, it is fundamental that citizens be educated in the essential concepts and operation of constitutional government and market economies. This way, people could count on basic knowledge about the functioning of politics and the economy, for better economic decision-making and for when exercising their right to vote. Not having knowledge of these issues limits people to judge ideas, policies, proposals, etc. (Quigley & Bahmueller, 1991). When people are oblivious to economic and political issues, they are not provided with the essential tools to combat and escape ignorance (Branson, 1991).

In 1977, the Joint Council on Economic Education - today the Council for Economic Education (CEE) - brought together a group of economists, political scientists, and experts in theories of child development and learning to develop a master's guide on studies in economics, for elementary and high school students (Branson, 1991). The guide, according to Branson, had positive results in teaching economics in American schools for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade.

Learning these topics can help students to:

  • Reflect on the effects of their decisions in the short and long term.
  • Distinguish the connection between their personal interests and social goals.
  • Understand how decision-making is carried out in the individual and social context of a mixed market economy.
  • Analyze the impact of public policies and events around social goals such as freedom, efficiency and equity.

For Quigley and Bahmueller (1991), the goal of education should be that "students can participate competently and responsibly in monitoring and influencing public policy".2 This requires that school curricula be diversified to reduce government control over the education provided to students; and that they develop the necessary skills to encourage free and healthy markets, as well as the progress of the nation. Stevenson and Baker (1991) found that “within decentralized national government structures, there is greater variation in the implementation of curricula in classrooms and a greater influence of a variety of local factors on implementation.”3 In some countries, responses such as the above have been supported by reorganizing the executive branch of government and ensuring citizen participation at the national, regional, and local levels in educational decision-making on academic curricula through effective decentralization programs.4

Wolfram (2018) recommends a transition from centrally planned education to one based on the market economy. When the government is the one who decides the subjects taught in schools, innovation and productivity are discouraged. At the same time, we must consider that there are populations whose needs are different from others, so it does not seem appropriate to educate everyone on the same subjects and use the same methodology. The US educational system should include education that provides students with knowledge and tools that equip them to better understand the social, economic, and political issues of the day. An alternative proposed by Wolfram to improve the level of innovation and competitiveness of the current educational system is the use of charter schools.5 Charter schools are a public education system run independently by nonprofit organizations, community boards, and others, and whose curricula tend to be more diverse than those run by the government.

Former US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos argued in this regard, appearing to agree with Wolfram, that “by expanding educational freedom, students can move out of the one-size-fits-all system and learn in ways that will unlock their full potential. They deserve it. Parents demand it. And it is the only way to bring about the change our country desperately needs."6

1 Branson, M. S. (1991). The education of citizens in a market economy and its relationship to a free society. Center for Civic Education. 

2 Quigley, C. N., & Bahmueller, C. F. (Eds.). (1991). Civitas: A framework for civic education. Center for Civic Education.

3 Stevenson, D. L., & Baker, D. P. (1991). State control of the curriculum and classroom instruction. Sociology of education, 1-10.

4 Astiz, M. F., Wiseman, A. W., & Baker, D. P. (2002). Slouching towards decentralization: Consequences of globalization for curricular control in national education systems. Comparative Education Review46(1), 66-88. 

5 Wolfram, G. (2018). Make public education a market economy – not a socialist one. Educational Week.

6 Richert, K. (2019). The ‘nation’s report card:’ Two very different reactions. Idaho Ed News. Recuperado de 

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