I used to work as a teacher before changing career. Here is a short video from John Stossel to introduce today’s post:

Education in the US and UK is a vexed question. The answer of the Left is to keep private business out of education, to throw more money at the system, and to insist on theoretical models that treat children as objects to be manipulated, rather than human beings with free will. Whenever the Conservative government raises the suggestion of bringing back Grammar Schools, the suggestion is met with opprobrium and charges that such a system hurts the poor – when in fact such schools allow intelligent children from poorer backgrounds to learn skills that will aid their social mobility.

Education, because it involves humans, needs to be understood holistically, not just in economic terms (although they are relevant). One of the reasons why the free market is relevant to this debate is because humans are individuals, with individual needs. Given this fundamental fact, a one-size-fits-all approach is inappropriate. Parents need to be able to find schools that are right for their children’s needs.

A common response to this objection is that the vast majority of parents cannot afford private schools – but this view suffers from a certain myopia. My friend, James Tooley, Professor of Education at Newcastle University, has devoted his life to setting up low-cost private schools in developing nations, following a Damascus Road revelation about this matter in Hyderabad, India.

His research and other interviews are worth exploring in depth: they are eye-opening.

Where education is perceived to be a right, that someone else must pay for, the principle, “familiarity breeds contempt”, will follow. This causes further harm, because it makes many students passive: rather than seeing themselves as collaborating with teachers to learn the material, they expect the teacher to do all the work. This general attitude is a root cause of educational stagnation, and can be attributed to the conceptual decoupling of education from economic and social progress. Teachers who impress upon their students that they must work hard to make it in a competitive, free market world tend to produce better motivation in their students than those who give the impression that “everything will work out in the end”.

This problem is compounded by a corporate culture that insists on university degrees for access to a variety of white collar jobs. This mechanism compels many people to become burdened with debt pursuing degrees in the hope of obtaining those jobs, only to be met with scarcity and competition that neither school nor university has prepared them for. As this pattern becomes common knowledge, it turns into discouragement at school level as students ask themselves, “Why bother? I won’t make it anyway.” Fatalism is corrosive to social and economic progress. Far better to have more flexibility in companies, with students encouraged to consider a variety of options beside university, including low-cost business skill colleges. If I were running, for example, a chain of bakeries, I would rather have a “graduate” on my staff who had been trained in a variety of skills that were pertinent to business: elementary contract and corporate law; writing succinct reports; interpreting budgets; negotiation with third parties; etc. This would make the worker more valuable to me, because I know that I could not only put him into a particular role, but could also use him in other places in the event of restructuring, and bring him up to speed with some additional training.

The length of this post prohibits a full analysis of the problem – I invite readers to place more factors in the comments below – but there is one more point I would like to raise, namely the way in which schools are constrained when dealing with disruptive children. Most people seem to expect state schools to take problematic children, come what may. They think that teachers can work wonders to turn all of these children around. But here is the problem: every minute a teacher spends on one-to-one work with this child is a minute not spent on the rest of the class: what about the rights of the other children?