The Institute for Economic Affairs has a tempting offer of a book entitled Government Failure: E.G. West on Education. Edited by James Tooley and James Stanfield. You get the general idea when you see that the book contains chapters on William Godwin and J. S. Mill. Indeed it is said that West's thinking on education was inspirational for Milton and Rose Friedman.
If you don't fancy shelling out the £12 plus, you can view at the above as a PDF; or you could get a used copy from Amazon, though they've bumped up the second hand price a bit since the book was referenced on a UK HE listserv.
Below some tempting snippets:
"Most persons agree that children need the protection of the law against potential abuse by parents. But evidence shows that only a small minority of parents turn out ot be delinquent. In practice it is very seldom indeed that governments remove children from their family home. At the end of the 1980s fewer than two children per ten thousand below the age of eighteen were under state care in the USA or in England and Wales. That is less than two-hundredths of a percent. (Becker and Murphy, 1988)
It can thus reasonably be assumed that the vast majority of parents are altruistic towards their children, so that, for instance they will not neglect their food, clothing or shelter. Yet if these necessities were to be provided today on the same basis as education they would be available free of charge. Indeed, there would be laws for compulsory and universal eating and higher taxes to pay for children' free food at the nearest local authority kitchens or shops.
But it is only in the last century and a quarter that this kind of asymmetry of treatment has emerged. This essay will accordingly look at the history of the subject to enquire to what extent the altruism of typical parents extended to education as well as to other necessities before governments intervened.
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The Literacy Record
The pre-1870 record of educational outputs such as literacy was even more impressive than the numbers of children in school, and this presents an even more serious problem to typical authors of social histories.
On my calculations (West 1978), in 1880, when national compulsion was enacted, over 95% of fifteen year olds were literate. This should be compared to the fact that over a century later 40 percent of 21 year olds in the UK admit to difficulties with writing and spelling. (Central Statistical Office 1995)".