Despite significant attention from political scientists to the topic of state-building, a disconnect remains between two sets of scholarly claims both backed with indirect evidence: on the one hand, some scholars see state-building as an inherently conflictual process, in which outcomes are determined both by the state’s effort and by the resistance to that effort from society. On the other, many elements of state-building involve the provision of public goods, which are often seen to be something eagerly sought by societal actors. The problem is that we are challenged by our inability to separate the effectiveness of state-building practices from the social terrain on which they are imposed. What we need is a way to observe the effects of state efforts and societal resistance separately. This paper breaks new ground by disentangling these factors, focusing on educational development, where scholarship is especially torn between a view of schooling as access to human capital that communities want, and schooling as an imposition of centralization and homogeneity at the cost of erasing local culture and disrupting family-level economic practices and community-level social hierarchies.