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: I am having what the Americans call a learning experience
Previous entry: Exclusions overturned
Tuesday March 18 2008

I have been remiss in keeping up with the Adam Smith Institute Blog of late, having recently discovered that I have not even had it on my blogroll here, this being because I used to write for it but then stopped writing for it and took it away from the “other blogs I write for” list, but then omitted to add it to the regular blogroll.

There have recently been two more specifically educational postings by Madsen Pirie in his Common Errors series, namely this:

“A university or college education is a public good that society should pay for.”

... and this:

“Schooling should seek to make children equal.”

But the latest Common Error ...

“Freedom is all very well for the strong, but the poor and the weak come off worse without the state services.”

... also has a strong educational vibe to it.  Quote:

It is not just the “strong” who benefit from freedom. Most people benefit by giving effect to preferences and having competitors struggling to supply them. Everyone benefits by the improvement which innovations and new types of service bring when the service is private. It might be the strong who take the lead in demanding better services, but the improvements made as a result usually spread down to benefit others. It is the discriminating customers who improve the product, but everyone gains from the improvement. Even those who know nothing about electronics have their products improved by the actions of those who do.

There is good reason to suppose that if the poor and weak were given the same type of choices that others have, they would get better services than those doled out to them under universal state provision. Choice of schools, as in Sweden, leads to improvement in education and in parental satisfaction. Choice in healthcare would achieve similar improvement.

I am more than ever convinced that if the entire state education system were to drop dead tomorrow morning, that would be a great improvement for some people immediately, for many people in a few weeks, for most people in a few months, and for almost everyone in a few years.  After a decade, the results would be miraculous.  Some of the money saved should be spent on more policemen and more temporary prisons and juvenile detention centres, and in a perfect world, the rest of the money no longer wasted would be knocked off the income tax.  But even if the money no longer wasted was instead spent on something more frivolous, less well-meaning, and hence merely less harmful than state education, like jobs for the otherwise unfrocked bureaucrats doing absolutely nothing but write bitter reports for each other to read and snarl about, that would still be a great improvement for the rest of us.

I had extreme difficulty posting this.  The final result kept insisting on removing one of the fallacies, for no reason whatever.  I fiddled about a bit (a lot really), in a way which may have annoyed RSS feed users a bit (a lot), and now it seems to work.  Don’t ask me what the f**k was going on.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 18 March 2008

Looking at those links with quote marks in, I suspect an errant quote mark.

Anyway, this:  “It might be the strong who take the lead in demanding better services, but the improvements made as a result usually spread down to benefit others.”

is exactly what I’ve been reading lately from Hayek.

Posted by Rob Fisher on 18 March 2008

I don’t see quite how you get from “choice-based funding for state education, as used in Sweden, would lead to more efficient teaching” to “abolishing the entire state education system and not replacing it with anything would be better than leaving it intact”.

At the moment, the UK is 99%+ literate in terms of basic literacy (writing your own name, reading warning signs...) and 80% in terms of “functional literacy” (being able to read and comment on a blog post, for example). What’s your mechanism for maintaining (never mind improving on) these standards in the absence of any state infrastructure or funding?

[bonus question: if adolescent boys from poor families no longer undergo any education at all and are not obliged or encouraged to go to school or college, will this offset the impact of crime on your proposed spending on more policemen and prisons?]

Posted by john b on 19 March 2008

john b

Thanks for the comment, much appreciated, as are just about all comments here, now, what with there being so few as yet.

I could answer at length, but instead I just say: what’s your mechanism?  Things are now bumping along at a lower educational level than fifty years ago, probably getting worse.  The state is not “maintaining” much right now.  The average level is about static, but in my opinion, the private sector is doing more and better and the state sector is getting worse.

If it’s true that basic literacy is necessary to earn any kind of living in Britain now, and it is, then a free competition between the best methods of achieving this would be an improvement on the lottery people face now.

As for how I got from Madsen’s point about Sweden to my point about a total free market, well, I just went back to his previous paragraph, which is about a free market rather than any kind of Swedish semi-market.

Put it like this.  If, to take Madsen Pirie’s excellent example, electronic music machines were now a nationalised industry, they’d be a primitive mess compared to what we actually have now.  If I then said let’s have a total free market and just scrap the state system, you might then be saying what’s my mechanism for improving things?, and how can standards be maintained?, and your implication about that would be wrong also.

But the main thing is: I’m expressing opinions here rather than trying to prove them to someone who doesn’t share them.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait on 20 March 2008

john b:

24% of children leaving English primary schools are innumerate, according to government figures. The figures for illiteracy are about 6% of all children, 10% of boys. No matter how much money and legislation is thrown at the problem, the outcomes don’t seem to improve. In fact, I suspect that the more central government intervenes, the worse the results are.

Figures on home education - a completely unfunded and almost unregulated area of education - show home-educated children outperforming their schooled peers significantly. “Socio-economic class is not an indicator of achievement levels: whilst the home-educated children outscored their school counterparts, those from lower socio-economic groups outperformed their middle class peers.” [Rothermel 2002]

“No publicly funded schooling” does not equate to “no education”. It’s perfectly possible for children to get a good education outside school, and there’s every reason to think that this would be more effective than the current model, particularly for the children who currently emerge from school at the bottom of the pile.

Posted by Heidi on 20 March 2008

We now have the incredible opportunity for universal school choice by calling upon Sen. John McCain, an ardent school choice advocate, to sponsor the Civil Rights Act for Equal Educational Opportunity to require the states to provide equitable educational funding for children in public and non-public schools, while respecting the liberty of schools in hiring and provision of services. He can be reached at 202-224-3121.

Posted by Israel on 20 March 2008

@Israel - um, do know this blog is kinda British, right?

@Brian - it’s amazing how much more efficient home education is. I’m amazed that anyone who doesn’t have to sends their children to primary school.

Posted by Ruth on 25 March 2008
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