Don’t you think we’re already way past the point where diminishing returns of replacing human activity with automated activity kicked in? Most people are just not that smart, they can’t all be designers and scientists (or can’t be made smart quickly, it is not important which is true as practical results are similar in both cases), and it appears to me that we, the societies of the developed countries, don’t know how to employ these people.
Libertarianism assumes the presence of many cultural conditions that cannot exist without pervasive free education. A Libertarian society would therefore lack the necessary pre-conditions of a Libertarian society.
Let’s accept for the sake of argument that we need people to be educated. That no more requires “pervasive free education” provided by the state, than we need “pervasive free food” to prevent us starving, or “pervasive free petrol” to move around. If something is that important, people will pay for it.
Ah, but private education is expensive – thousands of pounds a year. Yes and no. Because state education is free, private education is mostly aimed at those who aren’t too worried about price. But there are a lot of exceptions. Tens of thousands of children in the UK get private tutoring in addition to their schooling, and I’m aware of a number of cases where one hour a week of tutoring (at a cost of £25 or so) is enough to move a pupil from bottom of class to top of class in one or two subjects.
James Bartholemew claims that in the mid 19th century, before state education was introduced in Britain, “over 95%” of children got 5-7 years of education, mostly at charitable free or low-cost schools. I’d like to see his source for that, but I’ll probably have to buy his book, which I’ve never got round to doing.
(5-7 years isn’t a lot by modern standards, but it’s as much as was needed at that time. We’re a lot richer now, and could pay for more education if it were efficient and beneficial).
Modern education, as I’ve mentioned before, is expensive because it’s based around the idea of looking after the children, all day, every day. That’s for good reason, but not any reason to do with education. If you were trying to make most efficient use of teaching resources, rather than just allowing parents to go to work, six or seven hours a week would be sufficient for children to keep up the same standard as they currently do at school.
Of course, if we were to move to a cheap, efficient market-based education system, we would be left with the problem of what our children were to do all day. I would favour them working, at least from the age of 12 or so, but there are in fact many possibilities. We have a nasty coordination problem at the moment. Because everyone who cares about their children’s safety sends them to school, if they are not there, they are on their own, and at some risk. As long as children are together, doing something with some kind of adults involved, they are at least as safe as they are at today’s state schools.
Lord Puttnam says that we may be damaging children by allowing them to grow up in virtual worlds.
I agree entirely. Childhood is where children learn to be adults. Putting them in a fake environment away from real adult humans denies them the chance to adapt to the real world.
However, Puttnam seems to be hung up on something to do with computer games. I’m much more concerned about schools.
Rather than inflict my own clumsy prose on you all, here’s Paul Graham:
If I could go back and give my thirteen year old self some advice, the main thing I’d tell him would be to stick his head up and look around. I didn’t really grasp it at the time, but the whole world we lived in was as fake as a Twinkie. Not just school, but the entire town. Why do people move to suburbia? To have kids! So no wonder it seemed boring and sterile. The whole place was a giant nursery, an artificial town created explicitly for the purpose of breeding children.
Where I grew up, it felt as if there was nowhere to go, and nothing to do. This was no accident. Suburbs are deliberately designed to exclude the outside world, because it contains things that could endanger children.
And as for the schools, they were just holding pens within this fake world. Officially the purpose of schools is to teach kids. In fact their primary purpose is to keep kids locked up in one place for a big chunk of the day so adults can get things done. And I have no problem with this: in a specialized industrial society, it would be a disaster to have kids running around loose.
What bothers me is not that the kids are kept in prisons, but that (a) they aren’t told about it, and (b) the prisons are run mostly by the inmates. Kids are sent off to spend six years memorizing meaningless facts in a world ruled by a caste of giants who run after an oblong brown ball, as if this were the most natural thing in the world. And if they balk at this surreal cocktail, they’re called misfits.
Read the whole thing. I want to rant on about this, but there isn’t a single thing I can say that Graham doesn’t say better.
It is a frustration of mine that whenever I start to talk to anyone about education, the conversation always seems to turn to schools. Schools are pretty much irrelevant to education. Schools are for babysitting, social conditioning and political indoctrination – valuable functions in many cases, of course, but not much to do with education.
Recognition of this fact seems to be beginning to build. See this piece in the Washington Post arguing that Americans, who learn exceptionally little at school, learn well after school. See also The Overselling of Higher Education
I happened to read a novel the other day set in 190x Spain. I didn’t know anything about the period – Spain was a complete blank to me from Napoleon to the Civil War. I happened to spend an hour or two poking about on Wikipedia, and I chatted about it with my wife in the evening. I now know as much about the period as if I had spent half a term on it at age 14. (True, what I “know” is not 100% reliable – but in my experience that is as much the case for secondary school lessons as it is for Wikipedia).
In my first article, I wrote that:
… there are many political battles in various European countries which appear to be between “native” Europeans and Muslim immigrants. In fact, these political issues are argued between left and right within the native political community, with the immigrants themselves as interested but largely powerless bystanders.
At first glance, this backs up Wretchard’s point about Europe abandoning its Christian roots, but there is more to the story than meets the eye.
First, Islington Council is about as representative of European culture as the UC Berkely Student Government is of America. James Kempton, the “children spokesman” who was quoted in the story, was elected to the council with 1129 votes, on a turnout of 29%. Local government in Britain is a complete joke; with virtually no powers, elections are treated purely as opinion polls on the national government, and corruption and incompetence are rife. The current Islington council is moderate compared to its predecessors, who declared Islington a “nuclear free zone”, and were notable mainly for running children’s homes in which the children were routinely sexually abused by staff. (In a sick twist, the leader of the council at the time is now “Minster for Children” in Tony Blair’s government).
Second, this story is really about the state education system in Britain. The government does such an appalling job of running schools that atheist parents all over the country are turning up to church to qualify their children for church-run schools. The ideal for a parent is a school that is paid for by the state (so they don’t have to pay), but run by the church, to protect it from the malign influence of the state system. The school in question is one of those. Because it is a decent school, the local authority wants to claim it as theirs, whereas the Church of England, which has made it a decent school, doesn’t see why it shouldn’t get the credit. Hence the argument over the name. The people who would supposedly be “offended” by the school being called the “St Mary Magdalene Church of England Primary School” are nowhere to be seen.
Update: Of course, this sort of thing is not seen here as “typically European”, it is rather seen as importation of American-style political correctness. There is some truth in this, as this post The War On Christmas on Chigago Boyz shows.