Mike Swadling of this parish is Vice Chair of Governors at Winterbourne Nursery and Infant School in Thornton Heath, Croydon. Many of us have found lockdown hard, too many of us have failed to put the time to good use, but one local school has used this period to good effect.
“Founded in 1906, Winterbourne Nursery and Infants School sits on a site with separate Junior Boys and Girls schools. The last remaining single-sex, state-funded junior schools in the country. Whilst the schools often cooperate they remain very much independent schools, with their own staff, heads, budgets and governors”
“ensure compliance with required regulations and the good governance of public resources. Following much hard work over the previous year the school received a commendable ‘Substantial Assurance’ audit”
“Teachers provide a warm, nurturing start to each day with a live online session. They give clear guidance and support to pupils and parents about the day’s learning tasks.”
“This past year has been a challenge for everyone, some of us have used the time to set goals, many of us have failed to achieve them, but one local school, Winterbourne Nursery and Infants, can rightly say, its whole community should be proud of its journey of self-improvement”
Dan Liddicott Libertarian writer, podcaster and political candidate, writes about state schooling.
Has lockdown proven we don’t actually need state schooling? That there are better ways of getting an education rather than rely on the government?
Putting the criticisms and worry generated by the state response to missed exams aside, for now, this is likely the start of a long conversation. But let’s begin by considering this briefly. It’s worth noting that our present system of education was invented in the 1800s to meet a very specific need – an obedient and trained population, discouraged of original independent thinking, with teaching limited to those licensed by the state delivering a standardised curriculum – designed in the industrial revolution and built on the Prussian model which wanted obedient soldiers as the end product.
Award winning teacher John Taylor Gatto wrote:
“In the long history of the human race, until the mid-19th century, no such institution as universal forced schooling (following a government design) ever occurred, because the idea is so ridiculous on its face.” (1)
Education expert Sir Ken Robinson, wrote:
“One size does not fit all. Some of the most brilliant, creative people I know did not do well at school. Many of them didn’t really discover what they could do—and who they really were—until they’d left school and recovered from their education.” (2)
In spite of the challenges lockdown posed, I can’t help thinking it perhaps offered more educational opportunities than barriers for those who wanted to seize them. Individuals were finally free – during ‘school hours’ – to pursue education and learning of things that resonated with their interests, passions and inclinations, rather than the ‘one size fails to fit all’ standardised curriculum.
As Kerry McDonald, of the Foundation for Economic Education put it:
“The vast technological platform that is now at our fingertips makes self-education accessible to all. It also makes clunkier forms of learning, like sitting passively in a classroom memorizing and regurgitating information from textbooks and a predetermined curriculum, seem passé at best. …Humans have an instinctual drive to learn and are able to learn an incredible amount of knowledge and skill in their earliest years. This natural curiosity continues into adulthood, but is often dulled by a forced system of education that prioritizes schooling over learning. The ability to self-educate can be schooled out of us, leaving us dependent on others to be taught. Technology changes the relationship between teaching and learning. It empowers the learner, supports the rapid change of knowledge creation, and lets the learner decide what to learn, when, and from whom. Learners may still choose to be taught, but their teachers work for them.” (1)
Is it just possible, that classroom learning designed over a century ago is an anachronism? Has lockdown shown we don’t need school – except perhaps on a superficial level, as a place to put our kids while parents work? Has the government response to the lack of exams demonstrated even they are not essential – do skills and knowledge matter more than grades? Certainly many graduates of 2020 will be proving that to future employers and Universities without any exams at all.
But what do you think? Can we do without the state school system? Is real education better achieved by technology? Is classroom schooling an out of date throwback to bygone era? Could genuine education leave schooling behind?
References taken from: (1) Boyack, Connor. Skip College: Launch Your Career Without Debt, Distractions, or a Degree. (2) Robinson, Ken. The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything.
The task of the educator, whether they be for primary or academia, is to bring quality and qualified information to those who seek to not only engage with truth, but build their ability to function with higher detail and to further the expansion of the knowledge they have gained.
But this function of education, has been stifled by government interference. It should come as no surprise, that the modern format of most school systems were formatted around the era of the workhouse, and were shaped and standardised to fit the model of the workhouse; you are taught in the same manner, the methods are regimented, the process is regulated, and the system is standardised.
The desire to have a publicly funded education system is a sorely faulty one. The government is a centralised legal monopoly of force, and due to its central, top down approach, it cannot comprehend a complex system of education; it has to standardise teaching methods, qualification methods, and ultimately treats students (in our current subject case, children) as projects to be socially engineered to whatever type of citizen the government wishes to govern over, and it is with great thanks to a regimented system of schooling that the children are in a perfect position for moulding, rather than educating, (who reading this remembers when they were in school the way they were “taught” to multiply and the “two 2s are 4, three 2’s are 6” regimented style of teaching?)
This is not to say this method does not help any in an absolutist sense, there will be individuals who benefit from a teaching method of this kind, but a one size fits all education system, does nothing to improve the capabilities of those who learn best via other methods. This is why we should not only hold respect for parents who choose to home school their children, but encourage parents who can see their child is not making any gains from their education to teach at home; the parent knows their child better than any bureaucrat, teachers union, or politician. The parent knows how to talk to their child in order for them to understand something, whether that subject be simple or complex, in a manner which the child can best grasp at their development stage.
However, those who are kept within the regimented education system who do not benefit from it, will be left behind, unable to truly explore their potential. Even those who may benefit from this method, or are able to get by, will face little challenge and will be held back.
School is not meant to keep you in an immobile, easy to handle position, it is meant to enlighten you on unknown knowledge or challenge your held knowledge and expand it.
These are the social issues with the public, government provided school system, and these do connect to long term economic issues, such as due to their being zero choice with education alongside it being mandatory up to the age of 18 (it was 16 when I was younger, that’s how old I am), young people end up leaving the school system with no work experience, making it almost impossible to acquire the most basic of jobs, leading to an influx of higher education applications in order to acquire even no skill to low skill work; but we will delve into higher education later. This also leads to people entering permanent long term work at later stages in life, causing the retirement age to face a need of increasing.
But what about the purely economic?
This is where the government formula can be best seen; a monopoly on force, plus an assumed consent to take resources from private citizens, alongside an assumed value on behalf of the individual from the top down, creates an economically and socially stagnated school system.
In order for any transaction to increase value, it must be voluntary and consensual. It must also serve a need which the individual who holds said need wishes to satisfy via the relationship between the use value and exchange value of all parties involved.
Economics is all about human action, choice, and the outcomes of these choices; a public education system completely erodes choice, because the individual has no say as to where their resource (money) goes; even if the parent doesn’t value or places a low value on the education that is being given to their child which could arise for various reasons, such as unsatisfactory quality, it not meeting the educational needs of the child, lack of religious elements; all of these and others can decrees the overall, subjective value the parent holds for said school. Yet the parent is forced to pay for the school via their taxes, as well as the entire system as a whole.
In most of our everyday lives, operating in the world of commerce, if you are unsatisfied with a product you pay for on a regular basis, you can cease further transactions and search for a good which provides use value to you for the duration of time required for it to satisfy your need. Or in another instance, if there is a product which serves no value to you, or if there is an industry which produces economic goods which do not serve any need to you, and therefore no use value, you are under no obligation to enact any transaction or give any money to said industry or purchase any product; with public education on the other hand, that is not the case. A government run and owned education system holds a legal monopoly, and regardless how many people hold no value to it, it will continue to receive funds via forced extraction; taxation.
This legal monopoly creates no incentive for improvement or to consider what the customers (i.e. the citizen) values, and ends with a system which faces no risk; solely relying on the (forced) selflessness of others to provide quality (it is entertaining that we are told constantly that human beings are selfish and evil, yet we persist in creating publicly funded industries which rely on humans selflessly devoting themselves to others via sacrifice of their value and being idealised angels).
Do not misunderstand this as an attack on teachers, the problem isn’t with teachers, as most enter this roles because they have a passion for working with children and young adults; they love passing on knowledge or they are dedicated to a particular subject (maths, English, history, economics etc.) and the teaching of the subject is an added bonus, the attack and criticism is directed towards the education system, not those who are at the end of the system. It is the standardisation, regimentation and regulation of schooling; the format which has been chosen for each individual on their behalf with the magic of assumed consent, and the legal monopoly of the school system, which creates these rigid environments for both teachers and students; if the teachers have little to no wriggle room for methods, because it doesn’t “fit”, then ultimately it is children who suffer, and all of this boils down due to a lack of real choice.
So how can we solve this problem? How can we create school choice?
I would propose the solution to be very simple; markets.
We should focus on the complete privatisation of the school system, and the establishing of a school voucher program.
Education is an economic good, and like all economic goods it requires the pricing system to determine how to allocate resources, and how to calculate choices based on demand (prices are determined by the equilibrium of consumer demand and producer supply; which allows the consumer to calculate an economic goods use value and the producer to calculate its exchange value).
A private, market education would allow education providers to supply schooling models, methods, and qualifications which parents actually valued; in a market we all vote through the price mechanism, if a school is producing outputs which large numbers of parents do not value, that school will lose out on income and have to adjust to programs that are valued. An additional measure should be considered, that being, adding a “pay-per-package” aspect to schooling. What I mean by this I will explain:
Suppose you have a child and you wish to send them to a private school which specialises in teaching methods best suited for your child; this could be a hands-on approach, a focus on exams, strong levels of independence for students or a greater emphasis on interactions with teachers. The school teaches Maths, English, History, Art, Science, Geography, Cooking and Religious Studies; Maths and English are mandatory subjects, as they are required not just for any and all jobs, but for the child to be able to make basic functions in the real world, all others are optional. Under a pay-per-package system, the parent would be able to choose which subject(s) they value for their child’s growth. A parent could decide they’d rather teach cooking at home as they can supervise much better, and so would not purchase the cooking classes. Or, if the family isn’t religious they could decide to not purchase the religious studies. This system would ensure parents are truly having what they value for their child’s growth provided, and only paying for what they consent to, and what they actually value.
Many would ask how are parents expected to pay for this type of schooling, and this is where a voucher system comes into play.
The voucher system would act as a money substitute, being valued to the equivalent of a certain amount of money, to ensure children from poor households are able to obtain an education. The voucher would be an anonymous program, meaning only the voucher holder and the head of the school, will know who is in use of vouchers; this would ensure children are not ostracized for using or not using a voucher or money.
A voucher program should only be seen as a temporary measure during a transfer period from the public system to a private system; if a voucher system is kept as a permanent aspect, then it runs the risk of causing more demand than there is supply, resulting in prices rising very rapidly, disincentivizing schools from finding ways to lower costs (since like higher education, they’d be guaranteed in getting the money and so would face no incentive for cost reductions) or a combination of both.
After said period schools would be free to create their owns payment options and special offers. These could be in the form of a subscription basis, pay-per-package, a pay-per-class program, a pay in advance program for couples about to start a family as to reserve a place for their child, or the school in question could run its own voucher program for children in care or who are disabled.
In the end, we need to recognise that education is one of the most important things in this would, and the last people we should want running it, are those who face no cost or risk for bad choices on behalf of others, resulting in those people suffering due to the decisions of others.
The very heart of the education issue, should be held on the principle of freedom of choice.