A libertarian inclined blog for teachers and learners of all ages. Comments, emails and links to other educational stuff welcome.

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Next entry: Perverse incentives
Previous entry: Some stay-at-home dads do badly
Saturday November 24 2007

I am immediately rediscovering one of the best things about specialist blogging, which is that I am immediately coming across more people whom I disagree with, writing about that same specialisation.  Richard Craig, for instance:

The IPPR report had shown categorically that “faith schools” are socially unrepresentative of the areas that they serve and that they covertly select pupils to screen out disadvantaged and badly behaved pupils.

Craig says that these faith schools should accept whoever is allocated to them, and not discriminate.  But, quite apart from anything else, what about their faith?  Aren’t they even to be allowed to pick, say, the children of devout Christians, for example, over the children of devout atheists who likewise want to cherry pick, by grabbing the good education but setting aside the God stuff?  Why should Christians be made to submit to such arrangements?

My prejudice is that all worthwhile institutions screen out people they don’t want, and that most of them are quite open about this, because it is perfectly acceptable to all, if often also hurtful and frustrating to the unlucky ones screened out, that they should do this.  How else can these institutions set about accomplishing their purposes and keep the people who are already enthusiastic participants happy and productive?  But schools are widely talked about as not things that should be allowed to discriminate in whom they accept.  Instead, they are regarded as parts of a national system which any educator participates in, as a sort of public servant, subject to national supervision.  If you an educator, you can’t be allowed to pick and choose your pupils, because that will upset the national system.  Cherries may not be picked, because rotting cherries must - must - be rescued, and absolutely not left to rot.  Each school must scoop up all the pupils in their allocated area or category.  No child must be left behind.  I believe that I do understand the logic of this.

But I don’t agree with it.  I see the “national system” of education working best if it instead becomes the aggregate of everyone involved doing only what they consent to.  Schools should not have to accept pupils they don’t like the look of.  Teachers should not have to teach pupils they can’t be doing with.  Pupils who dislike particular teachers shouldn’t have to submit to them.  Most of all, nobody making and acting on these judgments should be obliged by anything other than their own interest in being thought reasonable to explain or justify such decisions before they take effect, any more than I have to explain why I avoid a particular shop or restaurant because I don’t fancy the look of it.  This is how the national adult economy works, and, compared to the “national system” - i.e. the bad national system - bits where the consent principle isn’t followed and where everyone just does as they are told (or at least goes through some of the motions of that), consent world works quite well.  Yes, the lower reaches of consent world are pretty horrible.  But the lower reaches of those bad national system arrangements are at least as bad, and the average level of accomplishment, by the middle ranks, of bad, non-consenting national systems is woeful compared to the average achievements of the consenting bits of the world.  All the progress these days, all the quality increases, price cutting, market expanding, excitement generating stuff is being done in consent world, along with lots of failure and disappointment of course.  Large swathes of the bad, unconsenting national education system we now have are a demoralised slough of despond by comparison.

Many faith schools now operate mostly outside this slough of despond.  Long may that continue.

As to the other common objection to faith schools, that they may be inculcating and spreading a toxic and threatening faith, well, the answer to that is not to pervert the entire education system just so that these particular toxic schools may be disinfected.  Particular toxic faith schools should be dealt with as the special cases that they are.  Further acts of discrimination are required, in other words, between toxic and non-toxic.  If the principles that are proclaimed while toxic faith schools are being detoxified also mean that other non-toxic faith schools have to be shut down or otherwise unnecessarily intruded upon, then further work is needed on those principles.