What Is the Purpose of Education in a Free Society?


This conference examined the purposes of education in a free society, exploring its past and looking toward the future. Main topics included the changing views of education’s purpose, from ancient philosophers to current thinkers; contrasting views (among classical theorists, Marxists, progressives, and traditionalists) regarding the education of American youth; and profoundly differing views of the relationship between education, individual liberty, and the state.


From Liberty Fund

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (vol. 1)

by By Adam Smith
Edited by R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner
William B. Todd, Textual Editor

First published in 1776, the year in which the American Revolution officially began, Smith’s Wealth of Nations sparked a revolution of its own. In it Smith analyzes the major elements of political economy, from market pricing and the division of labor to monetary, tax, trade, and other government policies that…

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Additional Readings

Burleigh, Anne Husted, eds. Education in a Free Society, Indianapolis: LibertyPress, 1973.

Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by J.A.K. Thomson. London: Penguin Books, 2004.

Freire, Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Continuum International Publishing, 1993.

Friedman, Milton. Liberty and Learning: Milton Friedman's Voucher Idea at Fifty. Edited by Robert C. Enlow and Lenore T. Ealy. Washington D.C.: Cato Institute, 2006.

Murray, Charles. Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality. New York City: Crown Forum, 2008.

Plato. The Republic (Second Edition). Translated by Desmond Lee. London: Penguin Group, 2003.

Ravitch, Diane. Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform. New York City: Simon and Schuster, 2001.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. Emile: or On Education. Translated by Allan Bloom. New York: Basic Books, 1979.

Spring, Joel. A Primer of Libertarian Education. New York: Free Life Editions, 1975. (accessed ).

West, E. G. Education and the State: A Study in Political Economy. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1994.

West, E. G. “Liberty and Education: John Stuart Mill's Dilemma.” Philosophy (The Journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy) (April 1965): 129-142.