Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Six soundbites for educational freedom

Here are some soundbite-sized answers to six of the most common education questions and some references:

1) How would the poor be educated in a libertarian society, when all schools are private?

In a libertarian society, the poor would not have to pay school taxes through their rent. This money could be used to send their children to private schools, which cost half as much as public ones, and would be even more economical without today’s government regulation.

Today, the poor are forced into ghetto schools because their parents seldom have enough money to pay both property taxes and tuition. Because attendance is compulsory, troublemakers disrupt classes and learning is difficult.

Traditionally, the poor have been the strongest champions of choice programs, which force educators to teach well or go out of business. In Harlem, school choice increased the number of children reading at their grade level from 15% to 64%. (1) Such dramatic results show that the poor can learn when given a choice.

2) Private schools work great for the average student, but how about the difficult ones?

Private schools can specialize to help students at any level. One private institution specializes in students who are about to drop out and boasts an 85% graduation rate. (2) Not bad, considering that none of these students were likely to graduate otherwise!

3) If attendance weren’t mandatory, very few children would go to school.

History suggests otherwise. In the early 1800s, a survey in Boston found that 90% of the school-age children were enrolled, even though attendance was not compulsory and public schooling was not widespread. (3) At that time, the U.S. was considered the most literate nation in the world! We learned more when we weren’t forced to do so!

4) If education isn’t compulsory, children whose parents don’t care about education won’t go to school. They’ll grow up to be hoodlums, so society will end up paying in the long run.

The most significant factor in a student’s success is the home atmosphere. If the parents aren’t supportive, chances are that their children would only disrupt the classroom and learn next to nothing if they were forced to attend. Why penalize the students who want to learn?

5) As a public school teacher, I’m much better paid than I would be in a private school and I like it that way.

Instead of being limited to union-scale wages, teachers in a libertarian society will have unlimited potential. The teachers could own and operate the schools they work in, rather than being just employees. Because education in a libertarian society would utilize the latest technology for routine lectures, teachers could spend their time teaching. Teachers who excel could help design teaching videos and computer programs for their school, state, or nation and receive the royalties, of course!

6) Public schools aren’t perfect, but private ones aren’t that much better!

If private schools aren’t that great, why are public school teachers twice as likely as other parents to send their children to one?

SOURCE. (See the original for references)

What education needs

Not more government

As an antidote to the blather masquerading on MSNBC this week as serious discussion of education, I prescribe the wisdom of Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), the English classical-liberal political philosopher, scientist, and religious Dissenter. In An Essay on the First Principles of Government, and on the Nature of Political, Civil, and Religious Liberty (1768), Priestley argued for a free and spontaneous education environment. For him education must be left to free individuals precisely because no one can know in advance — or once and for all — what forms of pedagogy are best. (The chapter is titled “In what manner an authoritative code of education would affect political and civil liberty.”)

In the manner of F. A. Hayek, Priestley’s writing on education emphasized the trial-and-error nature of discovery — the need for competitive experimentation from many quarters, indeed, for “unbounded liberty, and even caprice.” What a great phrase!

Here’s what he says:

“[O]f all arts [including education], those stand the fairest chance of being brought to perfection, in which there is opportunity of making the most experiments and trials, and in which there are the greatest number and variety of persons employed in making them.… The reason is, that the operations of the human mind are slow; a number of false hypotheses and conclusions always precede the right one; and in every art, manual or liberal, a number of awkward attempts are made, before we are able to execute any thing which will bear to be shown as a master-piece in its kind; so that to establish the methods and processes of any art, before it have arrived to a state of perfection (of which no man can be a judge) is to fix it in its infancy, to perpetuate every thing that is inconvenient and awkward in it, and to cut off its future growth and improvement. And to establish the methods and processes of any art when it has arrived to perfection is superfluous. It will then recommend and establish itself.

“Now I appeal to any person whether any plan of education, which has yet been put in execution in this kingdom, be so perfect as that the establishing of it by authority would not obstruct the great ends of education; or even whether the united genius of man could, at present, form so perfect a plan. Every man who is experienced in the business of education well knows, that the art is in its infancy; but advancing, it is hoped, apace to a state of manhood. In this condition, it requires the aid of every circumstance favourable to its natural growth, and dreads nothing so much as being confined and cramped by the unseasonable hand of power. To put it (in its present imperfect state) into the hands of the civil magistrate, in order to fix the mode of it, would be like fixing the dress of a child, and forbidding its cloaths ever to be made wider or larger.”

Uncertain Future

Priestley is making what should be an elementary point. No matter how far advanced the methods of education are (and who would say they are advanced at all?), no one knows what might be discovered tomorrow or who might discover it. To the extent a coercive bureaucracy controls education we cut ourselves off from tomorrow’s discoveries, since we have no idea who may come up with them or how. Bureaucracies are protectionist and ultimately conservative in the sense that they are not eager to encourage boat-rockers. We find the opposite conditions in a freed market in which anyone may to take a shot at launching a new idea on a large scale or small — and consumers (parents in this case) are free to try it or ignore it.

In a word, what government deprives education of is entrepreneurship, and by implication, competition.

“I may add, in this place,” Priestley wrote, “that, if we argue from the analogy of education to other arts which are most similar to it, we can never expect to see human nature, about which it is employed, brought to perfection, but in consequence of indulging unbounded liberty, and even caprice in conducting it” (emphasis added). He went on:

“From new, and seemingly irregular methods of education, perhaps something extraordinary and uncommonly great may spring. At least there would be a fair chance for such productions; and if something odd and excentric should, now and then, arise from this unbounded liberty of education, the various business of human life may afford proper spheres for such excentric geniuses.

“Education, taken in its most extensive sense, is properly that which makes the man. One method of education, therefore, would only produce one kind of men; but the great excellence of human nature consists in the variety of which it is capable. Instead, then, of endeavouring, by uniform and fixed systems of education, to keep mankind always the same, let us give free scope to every thing which may bid fair for introducing more variety among us.

As if it weren’t already clear, Priestley was no friend of government regulation of education:

“I wish it could not be said, that the business of education is already under too many legal restraints. Let these be removed, and a few more fair experiments made of the different methods of conducting it, before the legislature think proper to interfere any more with it; and by that time, it is hoped, they will see no reason to interfere at all. The business would be conducted to much better purpose, even in favour of their own views, if those views were just and honourable, than it would be under any arbitrary regulations whatever.”

In other words: Laissez faire!


Grammar for graduates: British building society [Thrift] hires teacher to improve recruits' written English

Bosses at a building society are so concerned about workers’ written English that they are giving them grammar lessons, it has emerged. The Leeds Building Society realised it had a problem when senior executives looked at internal reports produced by recent graduates and couldn’t understand them.

Managers feared that badly written letters would irritate its customers – many of whom are part of a generation well-schooled in the three Rs. If staff could misplace a comma in a letter, they might also misplace a figure, they worried.

And so, the 135-year-old firm, one of Britain’s oldest financial institutions, has recruited a retired A-level English teacher to give staff a proper grounding in traditional grammar and punctuation.

Staff of all ages have joined the classes, which cover punctuation, parts of speech, sentences, paragraph construction and concise writing, the building society said. It denied standards had slipped, but one manager said: ‘The executives could not understand the reports being sent to them.’

Kim Rebecchi, sales and marketing director, said: ‘We felt that, while the standard of formal English within the society was strong, our employees are from very varied and diverse educational backgrounds, as well as being from many different age groups.

‘This means that, while style and quality are good and broadly the same, there are some areas for improvement and we particularly wanted to create a more formal and consistent approach to our writing, focusing on clarity and brevity.’

Four sessions have been laid on for 20 staff by a teacher in Leeds. Mrs Rebecchi added that the sessions had proved ‘thought-provoking’ and sparked ‘healthy debate’.

The building society, founded in 1875, is among growing numbers of firms offering training in the three Rs to recruits from school and college. About one in five employers run some form of remedial training, according to the CBI.

Even teaching assistants at a primary school in Havant, near Portsmouth, are to be given English lessons, it has emerged, after criticism from inspectors. Ofsted warned their poor grammar and use of slang set a bad example to pupils at Trosnant Junior School.

Meanwhile, a series of industry bosses have questioned the calibre of jobseekers. Sir Terry Leahy, Tesco’s chief executive, has warned that standards were ‘still woefully low in too many schools’ and Sir Stuart Rose, Marks & Spencer’s boss, said too many school-leavers ‘cannot do reading... cannot do arithmetic... cannot do writing’. Sir Michael Rake, BT’s chairman, said education standards were a ‘disgrace’ after receiving applications from ‘illiterate’ school-leavers.

Critics claim teachers and lecturers fail to correct rigorously students’ slips. They also say exams and syllabuses don’t put enough emphasis on standards of English.

Last year, separate research found that British students have a worse grasp of English than many from overseas. A study at Imperial College London found British undergraduates made three times more grammatical and spelling errors than counterparts from Singapore, China and Indonesia, who count English as their second language.

Dr Bernard Lamb, who did the research, said: ‘We need to raise the very poor standards of English of the home students by more demanding syllabuses and exams, more explicit teaching and examining of English (including grammar, spelling and punctuation), and by consistent and constructive correction of errors.’


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