L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 183, July 22, 2002
"I'VE SEEN THE FUTURE BROTHER; IT IS MURDER"
The Demise of Public Schools? You’d Better Hope So!
Exclusive to TLE
Mark Lamoree's article, "Public Schools", was certainly thought provoking, and I agree with him on a number of points. However, I believe some of his points are incorrect or that he doesn't think through the problems enough in a libertarian fashion.
He proposes that we have a voucher system. He also proposes that government should have no say in running the schools. These two are at odds with each other. As long as the government controls the flow of money, it will attempt to control the way that money is spent (which is true not only of education). Always.
Furthermore, if the government is in effect giving us back our own money in the form of vouchers or tax credits, it must be asked why we need the middle man in the first place. Firstly, the government will no doubt want its cut (simply for shuffling our money). Secondly, government inefficiency and bureaucracy will further reduce what it does give back. The only reason I can see for having the middleman is the redistribution of wealth, and that certainly isn't libertarianism!
Mr Lamoree then goes on to claim: "Public schools were originally established because it was supposed that an illiterate populace was not a viable foundation for a democratic republic."
This also is not true. The modern educational system originated after Napoleon. Prussia, having had the proverbial kicked out of it, decided it needed to create a society more conducive to fighting a war. As such, educational theorists set about organising the model for such a society, starting with school. Guess who went to Germany to study under these theorists? That's right, many of the most prominent American educational theorists of the latter half of the nineteenth century.
I certainly agree with his broad categorisation of students into "... those who are not educated by the public schools ... and those who are the unwilling targets of social and political engineering ..."
However, that's about where my agreement ends. Children in the first category are not condemned to a lifecycle of poverty that will repeat itself for the next generation. If they so choose, they can study harder and make it through, as difficult as this might seem. Then again, it's not difficult really. To make a rather broad generalisation, that's what Asians do. Furthermore, without education, one can still become an entrepreneur. That's what my father (who left school at sixteen to become a motor mechanic) did. He's now a multi- millionaire (despite the best efforts of government) and one of the most widely read men I know. Aside from all that though, people can afford private schools. My parents were middle class when they sent their two children to private school. We didn't wear the latest fashion, go on holidays or eat out at restaurants (this isn't turning into a story of what a deprived childhood I had, because it was pretty cool still). My parents worked long hours. At my school, I wasn't the exception to the rule. In fact, I was a little wealthier than average. There were a lot of Vietnamese kids at my school. Some of them came to Australia with nothing and their parents couldn't even speak English. Their parents worked hard. They worked hard. Now they're doctors.
Of course, all of this ignores one really important point. If the government didn't steal half of what you earn, you'd be able to send your children to private schools that were more efficient in every possible way. Alternatively, only one parent would have to work, and home schooling would be an option. My parents have never been a burden on the public system in any way, yet what has the government provided to them for all the millions it has leached over their lives?
I agree that public schools have a definite left tilt. I know this first hand. As a substitute teacher, I see it on a daily basis. At university, I was often the only one in my classes arguing against Stalinist indoctrination of children with whatever this week's PC agenda is. Of course, I've also suffered (on both sides of the desk) the opposite in private schools, but at least they're subject to free choice with regard to employment and participation.
I would add though, that public schools also have another, hidden agenda of social and political engineering. There is a subtle indoctrination of children into being obedient to, and dependent upon, big government, as well as the same for large corporations. The latter is true more so in American schools where corporations often produce or sponsor the textbooks used. I'm sure everyone has heard the story of the school sponsored by one of the two big soft drink companies that had an official day where students had to produce mock merchandise and advertisements for said company. When one student fronted wearing a t-shirt for the rival, he was suspended from school.
I'm not saying that consumerism is inherently bad, but when it's getting its claws that far into education, that early, it's a real worry. As I see it, indoctrination into the corporate state is as much a threat to liberty and the development of critical, free thinking as indoctrination into the welfare-warfare state (although there is considerable overlap between the two anyway). Once again, this bizarre situation arises from the fact that the government bleeds the parents so badly (and then wastes their money) that they are forced to sell the souls of their children to big corporations for an education.
As for the example of children who don't fit the traditional system, there are two points. Firstly, what is an average student anyway? There's no such thing. Basically, it's just about degrees of separation from the arbitrary benchmark. Once you get into it, even two kids who both like the same subjects and get the same marks may have radically different needs and wants. Public schools don't just fail the outliers- they fail the norm too! Secondly, with regards to any child, it gets back to economics. If the public system were dismantled, along with the taxation system, then under a free market system, the parents and children themselves would be better able to find the appropriate educational niche.
Further from this, if the government didn't control schools, then they'd also be able to refuse certain clientele (perhaps at their own financial peril, but I think quite the opposite). Schools would be safer. Discipline wouldn't be a problem. A school that could demonstrate academic results, safety, and a lack of serious disruption in the learning environment (which are all related) would have parents falling over themselves to get their kids on the roll. Students would learn and teachers would teach. As it is, the public system is creche for big kids. In addition, because such schools would be more efficient at the process of education, they would become more efficient financially. They could either pass this on in terms of reduced fees, or increase the quality of education even further (by employing more staff or buying more equipment).
To harp on a little, probably my greatest complaint about the public education system is the fact that I have no recourse to discipline (and I'm not talking about corporal punishment here, which I received at school and believe is ineffective). I see it also frustrates the hell out of the students who are there to learn. However, we both know there's nothing I can do about it. If I had my way, after x number of strikes, the habitually disruptive would be out of there, never to return to my class.
As it is, I'm looking to get myself into private education overseas and I'm also looking towards the demise of the public system. That might not be that far off in my state of Victoria. Around 30% of students now attend non-governmental schools (everything from very strict, religious schools to very different schools such as Steiner) and that number is exploding. Private school kids occupy higher education almost exclusively. Parents know it too, further accelerating the move away from public education. Many others bemoan all this as the destruction of society. I see it as our only hope.