November 17, 2004
Less is Good, Nothing is Better: Sean Gabb on How the State Can Improve British Education

SeanGabb.jpgSean Gabb's latest Free Life Commentary, Number 128, is up. It is an uncompromising attack on the entire principle and practice of State Education. Sean describes the present mess, and concludes:

The only answer is to get the state entirely out of education. The education budget should not be expanded, or its administration reformed. It should simply be abolished. That £49 billion - now, I believe, £63 billion - should be handed back to the people in tax cuts; and these should be directed at the poorest taxpayers. The schools should be sold off or given away, and the bureaucrats be made redundant. The people should then be left to arrange by themselves for the education of their children.

The argument that parents would not or could not do this falls flat on any inspection of the third world, where parents make often heavy sacrifices and choose often highly effective schemes of education. There is also the experience of our own past. A generation ago, E.G. West showed how growing numbers of working class people in the 19th century paid for and supervised the education of their children. The beginning of state education in 1870 should be seen as ruling class coup against an independent sector that looked set to marginalise its legitimation ideology. And that reaction was promoted on the basis of fraudulent statistics.

Left to themselves, it is inconceivable that parents would not do substantially better than those presently in charge of state education. How they might do this is for them to decide. Some would pay for a conventional independent education. Some would send their children to schools run by their ministers of religion, or by charitable bodies. Some would educate their children at home. Many do this already, by the way; and Paula Rothermel of Durham University caused a stir in 2002, when she looked at a sample of children educated at home and found they performed consistently better in standard tests than schoolchildren - indeed, she found that the children of people like bus drivers and shop assistants were receiving a better education than those committed to the care of state-certified teachers. Parents could hardly do worse than the present arraignments manage. They could easily do better.

This is not a "left" or a "right" wing cause. It is about allowing children to get an education which is not directed to moulding them to believe as suits the convenience of their betters, and which really will enable them to make the best of their own lives.

Such are precisely my opinions. The only reason I do not belabour my readers here every day with such views quite as relentlessly as I might (aside from the fact that this would make this blog even duller), is that opinions is all that they would be, coming from me. I have very little direct experience of what Britain's education system is like in reality (although I am now beginning to acquire it). Sean Gabb, on the other hand, has taught for the last several years in one of the less stellar (i.e. not one of these) of London's universities, and daily confronts both what the products of Britain's state education system are like, and, equally important, how those products compare with the products of the education systems in other countries. When he compares, for example, the English fluency of young English people with that of young African people (as he does earlier in this piece), he has actual direct knowledge on which to base such comparisons.

On the other hand, Sean has been an uncompromising libertarian for just about as long as I have know him, and this is a case of prejudices refined and informed, rather than merely deduced from his relatively recent day-by-day experiences as an educator. Sean, like me, is predisposed to judge state actions to be, on the whole, bad, and the actions of free people to be, on the whole, good. Some would say that such prejudices render our particular views on education nearly worthless. I would say (and I'm sure Sean also) that if you do not have such prejudices, you should.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 09:43 PM
Category: Politics