Saturday, December 18, 2010

Freedom for Schools

All right, I'm a bit late with my first return post. I just didn't have any inspiration yesterday evening. I still don't right now, so I'm going to have to force it.

It has just suddenly occurred to me to write about state-funded education.

State-funded education sucks. At best it does a poorer job than the free market could do unhindered, and at worst it is actively indoctrinating children with a statist-authoritarian world-view. I don't know about you, but I'm not at all thrilled about that.

First, let's pretend that the State schools are not indoctrinating children. The trouble here is that the government is crowding out a market-driven alternative. Consumers must be permitted to make choices about what goods they will consume. Otherwise the market cannot function. There is a market for education, just like every other good or service. Private schools mostly cater to the upper class, because they are able to present a niche market not currently fulfilled by government schools. There's nothing at all wrong with that, but the fact is that there isn't enough private alternatives. Without state schools, we would see the same upper class private schools, as well as less expensive schools catering to the blue collar working class, and absolutely everything in between. It is also entirely natural to suggest that there would be a variety of non-profit and not-for-profit schools that would be dedicated to providing heavily discounted, and even free education to poor families. Non profit schools would of course be financed by churches, wealthy philanthropists (this is not farfetched, as there are plenty of philanthropists around already, and there would be even more without our punitive government taxation regime), and corporate sponsors (again, a very realistic expectation).

Second, without government intervention, the quality of educators would steadily increase. Yes, there are good teachers out there now. I'm a product of the public schooling system in Canada, and I met enough of them. The problem is that there aren't enough. Performance is not rewarded under our system. Creativity and initiative are not rewarded. What is rewarded is experience. The union system, which is not a product of the free market, but rather a government-backed extortionist system, makes it quite literally impossible to punish poor performance of teachers, especially "experienced" teachers. A teacher who has been in the system for any moderate amount of time is nearly impossible to fire, barring something extraordinary like sexual abuse or theft, so no matter how awful they are as teachers, they move through the system and end up "experienced", at which point they quite possibly become administrators. We can only hope that as administrators they have less and less access to the educating aspect of their jobs.
In a market-driven education system, quality teachers would be rewarded with higher pay, better positions, and better working conditions. Poor teachers would receive lower pay, lower positions, and may be fired if their performance is considered lacking. Performance would be judged by a combination of grades, student feedback, and parent feedback. It would be within the best interests of both the schools and the parents to have in place objective criteria for evaluation, and steps would be taken to ensure that dishonest teachers could not "game the system", which is quite common in my own experience. I've heard stories of teachers changing low marks, disallowing certain lower performing students from writing standardized tests, etc..
Under this system, higher performing students may well be offered discounted tuition or scholarships to attend more elite schools, as their performance would reflect well on the teachers and the school itself. Lower performing students would not be neglected. They would simply enrol in a lower tier school, or in an alternative specialized program that caters to their particular difficulties.
Of course I haven't even mentioned homeschooling, which is a perfectly acceptable choice. In a free system we would see a greater number of homeschooling collectives which would pool resources and talents and capital, to teach their children on their own, or in some cases hire private tutors.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, is the fact that the State is currently in complete control of curriculum. In Canada it is illegal to attempt to circumvent this system; even homeschoolers are forced to abide by the arbitrary State-mandated lessons. Do you think the State is going to teach in a fair and objective manner when it comes to its own actions? To expect honesty from the systems that have without exception lied and cheated and defrauded their subjects since their inception is ludicrous. Is the State going to sanction lessons that expose central banking for the fraud-driven counterfeiter that it is? Will the State ever present legitimate free-market economics in a fair light? I hadn't even heard of Mises, Hayek, Rothbard, et. al. until about this time last year. My school education started with Adam Smith, then immediately launched into how well Keynes and Friedman corrected the poor ignorant radical that he was. Our State sponsored lesson plans never once touched upon the problems inherent in the command-economy systems. In fact I distinctly remember the Soviet economy being presented as a tradeoff between stability (under the communist system) and uneven high profits (in a capitalist system). Well the only thing stable about the Soviet economy was that you knew exactly how expensive the goods were, even when there were none on the shelves, and there hadn't been for weeks at a time. In fact the most stable thing is probably that there were no goods on the shelf in the first place.
State curriculum indoctrinates students to accept without question the coercive power of the government. It indoctrinates students to accept the central banks, and war after war after war, and arbitrary tyrannical laws as the price that is paid for "freedom", or "security". In fact, we are every single day sacrificing our freedom and our security to a State which cares only about lining its pockets and lording over its subjects. We're never going to be taught any alternative lessons though. Not if the State is in charge.

It's very hard to want freedom when Big Brother tells you that you've already got it. It's hard to want to live outside the influence of the State when the State tells you day after day that your life depends upon its benevolent intervention. It's especially hard when you tell the children these things every day from the age of about five to eighteen, or even upwards of twenty five and twenty six for master's and PhD students. Where is the critical thinking? Where is the personal initiative? The State thinks for us, until we choose to live otherwise.


  1. If we begin thinking for ourselves we're likely to come up with conflicting opinions and revealing their warts to others.

    Nice post honey!

  2. One problem with rewarding performance is how it's evaluated. In FL, for instance, performance is tied to how students do on the FCAT. This goes for the students and the teachers and the school. If a student is passing the grade but doesn't pass the FCAT, the child might not pass the grade after all (there's an appeals process to it). Then you get principals insisting that teachers must teach to the FCAT only. Yes, teachers can sometimes move to other positions at other schools to get out of this, but something to consider. I'm not opposed to looking at teacher performance, just stating that it shouldn't be tied to just one thing. I think what you said about looking at student & parent feedback is a good consideration.

    Oh, and the national curriculum is one reason I'm choosing to home educate now that I'm in England. We can't afford the one private Catholic school in our city, and I'd rather not go with the publicly funded ones that have to use the national curriculum. Not the only reason I'm going to home ed, but it's a consideration. But that's crazy that even home educators have to follow the national curriculum there! It's only publicly funded schools here that have to do so, and the Tories are considering doing away with that, if I remember correctly (one thing I can agree with them on).