Wednesday, August 16, 2006


Milton Friedman, one of America's most respected and reviled educational reform advocates, attended public schools himself. You'd think the fact that he went on to win the Nobel Prize in economics would mellow him on the subject. It hasn't. "The schooling system was in much better shape 50 years ago than it is now," says Friedman, his voice as confident as reinforced concrete.

A big fan of freedom, Friedman objects to public schools on principle, arguing - as he says most classic liberals once did - that government involvement by nature decreases individual liberty. But it's the decline of schooling at the practical level, especially for the poor, that seems to exasperate him.

Friedman puts much of the blame on centralization. "When I went to elementary school, a long, long time ago in the 1920s, there were about 150,000 school districts in the United States," he says. "Today there are fewer than 15,000, and the population is more than twice as large." Centralization was caused by urbanization and in turn caused bureaucratization. For that, and much more, he blames teachers unions.

Throughout our talk, Friedman uses the phrase "your friends in the teachers union." This amuses me because, while I do have many friends who belong to teachers unions, my conversations with A.J. Duffy, the cocky president of United Teachers Los Angeles, usually end with him screaming. Months ago, when I told Duffy I was going to visit Friedman, he smirked. "I don't think public education can work on the profit paradigm," he said. "It's ludicrous."

Friedman takes the opposite view. At heart, he remains a pure capitalist. He would like to see government get out of schooling entirely. As a pragmatist, he figures that if the government must spend money on education, it should give it to parents to spend, on private schools if they wish. This approach is usually called a voucher system, and armies of think-tank scholars have cranked out tons of studies supporting all sides of the issue since Friedman injected it into the debate in his 1955 article "The Role of Government in Education."

None of that has clouded Friedman's clarity. "The fundamental thing that's wrong with our present setup of elementary and secondary schooling is that it's a case in which the government is subsidizing a product," he says. "If you subsidize the producers, as we do in schooling, they have every incentive to have a status quo, and a non-progressive system, because they are a monopoly." Friedman finds it unfair that a mother who sends her child to private school should also have to pay to educate children whose parents send them to public school - an injustice made more egregious in his view by the fact that the private school mom probably has more money and so has already paid more in taxes.

But he is just as ticked off by what he sees as the great unfairness to poor kids. "It's very clear that the people who suffer most in our present system are people in the slums - blacks, Hispanics, the poor, the underclass." When I ask him about the "achievement gap" separating low-scoring black and Latino students from better-scoring whites and Asians, he blames my "friends in the union." "They are running a system that maximizes the gap in performance. . . Tell me, where is the gap between the poor and rich wider than it is in schooling? A more sensible education system, one that is based on the market, would stave off the division of this country into haves and have-nots; it would make for a more egalitarian society because you'd have more equal opportunities for education."

But how would overburdened minimum-wage workers be expected to find the time to research a slew of school options, I ask - hearing the patronizing tone of my question as it crosses my lips. "Who's in a better position?" Friedman asks. As a fairly well-informed parent, I can't bring myself to say "the experts," so I move on to money.

Jonathan Kozol, author of "Savage Inequalities" and other books of education journalism, has noted that the parents who whine that "throwing money at education" doesn't solve the problem are usually those spending $15,000 or $30,000 a year to send their kids to private schools. I ask Friedman about the obvious implications of that. "In the last 10 years, the amount spent per child on schooling has more than doubled after allowing for inflation. There's been absolutely no improvement as far as I can see in the quality of education. . . . The system you have is like a sponge. It will absorb the extra money. Because the incentives are wrong. "Would you really rather have your automobile produced by a government agency? Do you really prefer the post office to FedEx? Why do people have this irrational attachment to a socialist system?"

Friedman says that Americans have benefited enormously from free market competition in virtually every other part of their lives. He thinks it's a matter of time before consumers demand the same right to choose how their children's minds will be nourished as they do in deciding what food to feed them. Charter schools allow a measure of choice, he says, in part because they are largely unencumbered by unreasonable union requirements, but he already sees organized labor stalking teachers at those schools. "Vouchers," he says, "should have been a Democratic proposal. I don't think the unions can continue to succeed in making it an act of faith that if you're a Democrat you're against vouchers. That's resting on a pile of straw. "It's not going to last. It's impossible, really, literally impossible for me to conceive that you can keep on sticking to this failing system, this terrible system that does so much injustice."


Former Leftist leader slams fake history

Some historians have been guilty of "political correctness" in romanticising nomadic Aboriginal life before the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, according to former NSW premier, Bob Carr. Speaking last night on ABC radio's Sunday Profile program, Mr Carr said that some historians had "eliminated unattractive features of nomadic life of our accounts of pre-1788 Australia" out of a desire to avoid offending Aborigines.

Mr Carr's comments come just days before a national summit on history teaching in schools, revisiting the decade-long culture and history war over how Australia views its past. He will take part in the summit, along with others such as leading conservative historian Geoffrey Blainey, who coined the phrase "black armband" view of history - for the views that lament Australia's past rather than recognising its achievements.

In an article in the Education supplement of The Age today, Professor Blainey says that Australia is one of the success stories of modern history. "You would not gain that impression if you read some books used in schools and universities," he writes. Professor Blainey said too many university courses taught "handkerchief-size" topics based on lecturers' own research, rather than broader areas that might be helpful to future history teachers.

Thursday's summit comes in the wake of Howard Government criticism of the way history is taught in schools. In this year's Australia Day address, Prime Minister John Howard called for "root and branch renewal" of the way history is taught. Last month, Education Minister Julie Bishop called for a renaissance in the area, arguing there was too much political bias and too few pivotal dates and facts were taught.

Mr Carr, who made studying Australian history compulsory for secondary school pupils during his time as premier, also said last night that history was not just a matter of dates and facts. "History should . have controversy and confusion and argument and bloodshed," he said. "Haven't you got to know that Australia once had a White Australia policy? And that it was changed?"

Professor Blainey told The Age that historians were more conscious of how they viewed the past than a decade ago. "(Historian) Keith Windschuttle's writing has shown that the people who were most interested in the areas he was writing had too much agreement amongst themselves, therefore tended to run a line, which . was stronger than the evidence supported," Professor Blainey said. Mr Windschuttle has claimed that the frontier massacres of Tasmanian Aborigines were exaggerated.

But Monash University historian Bain Attwood said it was unhelpful to frame the history summit around "black armband history" or the history wars. "This (summit) is an attempt to put the history wars aside," he said. "Anybody who does not put those history wars aside, including Geoffrey Blainey, is not contributing to the process."



For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

Comments? Email me here. For times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site (viewable even in China!) here. My home page is here


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is high time to abolish public schools. It is contrary to a free market to have the government control an entire market (students K-12 under compulsory education) while attempting to subordinate competition through onerous regulation.

Why not let the public schools compete? I tell you why. They'd go out of business!

Like this group says, "Abolish Compulsory Education!"