Just over a week ago, Britain’s Labour Party passed a motion to abolish private schools at its party conference. Should Labour gain a majority in the election that looks to be happening in the coming months, a sea change in the British education system is looming.
For some context, around 2,500 independent schools educate around 7% of Britain’s students, more than 600,000 in total. Under Labour’s proposal, these schools’ charitable status would be revoked and their land and assets would be seized and “redistributed.” These schools and the pupils that attend them would be “integrated” into the state system.
This is, obviously, a terrible idea. As far as I can tell, Labour has no plans to cope with this influx of students or to pay for their continuing education after whatever windfall from the confiscation of the schools’ property runs dry.
But pointing out the practical problems of this crusade is a bit like pointing out a continuity error in Battlefield Earth, there are bigger issues at hand.Today In: Leadership
This is an illiberal power grab aimed at hurting people that Labour’s far-left faction despises. Even though, as it should be pointed out, prominent Labour leaders have had no issue sending their own children to independent schools in the past or attended such schools themselves, they think that too many people in power graduated from or send their children to independent schools. Thus they must be destroyed.
It is crazy to have to say this in 2019, but forcibly confiscating the private property of institutions that have fallen out of political favor is wrong. It should send chills down all our spines. If folks are so concerned with the pernicious influence of independent schools on politics, don’t vote for people who went to them. That is how a liberal society responds to an institution it dislikes. It doesn’t expropriate its assets.
Maybe we shouldn’t care about this. Maybe it is just a quirky policy from a party desperate to rise from the polling doldrums. If they can’t gain ground on the party that has made Brexit a multi-year rolling shamble, should we really be too worried about their views? Maybe not.
But there are broader, equally illiberal forces across the world that are looking to oppose private schooling. As I covered in my interview with OIDEL’s Ignasi Grau earlier this summer, the UN has set private schools in its sights. Rather than celebrating more diverse and pluralistic education systems, some want to snuff them out.
To those petty tyrants, I’d like to point to the arguments contained in a nearly 100-year-old court case decided by the United States Supreme Court.
In 1925’s Pierce v. Society of Sisters the court ruled unanimously against an Oregon law that looked to do the same thing that Labour and their fellow travelers are hoping to do today. The law had been championed by organizations like the Ku Klux Klan and (in an ironic twist for those who follow the politics of Brexit and Northern Ireland) the Orange Order. Catholics, rather than the wealthy, were the target. But the policy prescription was the same.
In striking down that law, Justice James C. McReynolds argued:
Parents have the right to raise their children the way they best see fit. Their religion doesn’t negate that, nor does their wealth. Yes, this means that parents will often make decisions with which we might disagree. That is part of living in a liberal society. Pluralism, not authoritarianism, is the way forward.
An illiberal tide is rising around the world. The right-wing variety is ascendant, but the left-wing variety is lurking in the shadows. Those of us committed to the fundamental liberal proposition of individual rights should fight against both with full hearts.
This piece first ran in a slightly different form here at Forbes.com.