I got the following mail from my most cherished reader.
Ontario teachers are threatening to strike for more money when the rest of us haven’t seen a decent raise in 20 years. In fact, the average Canadian has seen his and her disposable incomes nose dive in the past decade due to lost employment, huge price increases, higher taxes and massive government overspending. Yet these out-of-touch fat cats, these purveyors of the worst education Canada has ever suffered, these over-paid, progressive manipulators of young minds, these shills for deviant life style movements and green socialism propagandists, these poster children for lousy education themselves, these unionists – are using little children as expendable pawns in their power plays … once again. How many times have we seen this happen and how many more times will we endure it?
Here is how I would handle them. The School system is dysfunctional and defunct so we’re closing the doors; that’s it. The corporation has failed, its bankrupt and we’re shutting down. All those parasites are out of work. In bankruptcy, we’ll restructure, reorganize and de-unionize. In a few weeks, we will open a new corporation for education under new management with a new commitment to real teaching and real learning and, just to show there are no hard feelings, we’ll allow all those who used to be in the teaching profession to apply for positions. We will select employees on the basis of merit; not tenure. Each community will elect members of the local school boards and parents will monitor their progress with the option to turf any bureaucrat who doesn’t function on behalf of the community simply through a ballot of non-confidence.
Kids who don’t work on their grades will fail. Kids who are better athletes will win and those who are physically inept will lose. There will be no more first and last winners, no more sliding through thirteen years of kindergarten, elementary school and high school without being functionally literate. Kids will spend their time in schools learning real history, math, geography and real facts. Children won’t spend most of their time being programmed to be good little socialists — they’ll be able to make that decision for themselves because they will have actually learned how to think.
There you have it … all fixed.
There you have it. Another conflict. Although the assessment is perfect, I cannot agree with the suggested solution. In my last two posts I hinted at the problem of polarized political stances. That they are, well, polarizing. That they make true communication impossible because both sides just keep repeating their ideology driven yawning points. That the debate is mostly about politics. In this case, differing visions about education. About the way the system should be organized and how it should function. Even if the most visible are the harmful effects of the second, we should only focus on the first.
No matter how much I am a fan of conservative teaching methods, I would not want to foist them on unwilling liberals the way they are willing to rape my life with their screwed up ideas. I want to be better than that, I want to be better than them. The debate should not be about whose vision should prevail but that no particular vision should be forced on anybody. Suggesting a different structure, different goals and different methods can only bog us down in endless arguments about the merits of each approach.
Freedom and choice is all we need for a better world. The higher value of my vision should prevail in the test of reality, not of political power.
I do not want to convince anybody that my way is better, I just want to have the freedom to do things my way.
I could talk a lot about what I consider a good education. I would start with Dorothy Sayers wonderful essay about the medieval system.
I would continue with my own ideas about the subjects and their proportions and the important points of the curriculum as I would like to see them but my ideas about education should not be the subject of this discussion.
I asked a Montessori school teacher about the method and how does it compare to other methods when it comes to outcome. She surprised me with the honesty of her response. She explained that it works well in lower grades but loses out to other methods in high school. The Montessori method is at least as much anti-thetic to the ideas above as the public school system. Should we ban it? How about other methods practiced in some private schools? If some parents would like to raise sensitive children sheltered from any ugly competition, should we prevent them from raising their kids the way they see fit? If some parents want government bureaucrats to make decisions about the extracurricular activities of their children, shouldn’t we let them?
This teachers’ strike (as any other) should NOT be approached as an opportunity to point out all the problems with the existing system, not as an opportunity to suggest a different way but to simply point out that the system is not working. It does not make anybody happy. The teachers are not happy (that is why they strike) the parents are not happy and the kids are not getting an education, but we should be careful what we suggest as a replacement system.
Nobody should select teachers but the school principal, the “CEO” of the free market educational enterprise. His selection criteria should be based on the demands of his market, the quality of the service he is supposed to provide and his reputation. It should be the job of the parent to find the school that best suits his ideas about what a good education should be like.
Nobody should tell teachers what to teach and how beyond the contract that they signed spelling it out, the contract that should represent the philosophy and the expectations of the particular school where they are working.
What should be in that contract should be none of our business – as long as we are free to choose between several options.
Our quest should be simple: freedom of choice.
The problem with the system is not simply the outcome but the attitude that inevitably leads to it. The notion that the state knows best, the notion that the primary function of schools is to create good citizens. I highly recommend Rothbard’s “Education, free and compulsory” (this link is to a free .PDF version) It helped me to refine my views on the subject, it may do the same to you. I started reading it already as a firm supporter of voucher type systems but I did not question the compulsory aspect. I came away from it agreeing with him that compulsion is the foundation of the problem that all others spring from.
The main problem we have is not the ideology infestation, but what makes it possible, the twisted monopoly of the state over the system. I said twisted because it is not true that the system has no element of freedom. We can send our children to private schools as long as we are willing and able to pay for their education twice. Once to the public system, once to the one that will actually get them educated. Private schools are doing fine. The children of the 1% who can afford them are doing fine. It is the rest of us who get screwed by the overpaid, unionized minions of the distributor class. That is the problem that needs to be solved.
What makes arguing with the supporters of the status quo (the pinkos) difficult is their righteous arrogance and their adamant denial of conflict of interest.
The unions argue at every single strike that they are actually doing this for the children. You cannot expect proper devotion from underpaid teachers and staff.
Their arguments for the public system came down to roughly this:
Some people are just too stupid to make the right decisions for their children and ‘our’ children (‘us’ meaning society in the context) are just too precious for us to allow this to happen. Some schools would even teach creationism for God’s sake!
Once the people who think that anybody disagreeing with them is stupid get the power of monopoly, they will, of course, promote a world view suggesting that everybody who disagrees with them is stupid.
They would also argue that we cannot allow an entirely free systems for the same reason: parents are stupid and some charlatans operating really bad schools could dupe them.
THAT IS the attitude we need to fight. The arrogant condescension, the righteous oppression.
While I do agree with Rothbard, in the end, I would be willing to compromise in supporting an unconditional voucher system with government set standards and payment for it based on tax dollars. It is not a very libertarian idea but it is one that we may have a chance to ‘sell’ to the general public. It is one that’s difficult to argue against. All we need to argue for is competition. The right to choose.
An unconditional voucher system is ALL we need. Anybody who wishes to keep his child in the public school system should be welcome to do so. Any teacher who wants to be a member of a union should be free to join. The only thing we should oppose is the fact that this system (or any system) is forced on us.
The beauty of the free market is that it can change everything without forcing change on anybody.
Our fight should not be with the teachers, but with our friends, neighbours and families convincing them that the world would not fall apart if those of us who are willing to make choices would be allowed to make them and to support us politically when we ask for such rights.