Monday, November 25, 2002


Brian Micklethwaite is one of the Samizdata team. He has been interested in educational policy for a long time. I remember discussing such matters with him when I was in London in the 70s and 80s. The latest expression of that interest is a new blog devoted entirely to a discussion of educational policy.

His basic dilemma seems to be how to reconcile his strong libertarian principles with some rather conservative instincts about what an education should consist of. For instance, in response to a recent post of mine, he ended up concluding that a �Prussian� system of education has some merit!

I think Brian is crucifying himself unnecessarily, however. There is indeed a continuum of schools from �Prussian� to �permissive� but that is not the usual choice parents have. I can speak only of Australia from experience but certainly here most schools would be around the middle of the continuum. And in the grand old Anglo-Saxon tradition of compromise, I think that is a good place to be. Kids are not allowed to run riot nor are they oppressed.

Another issue Brian has is whether education should be compulsory. I think any libertarian would argue that it should not be compulsory but it is going to be compulsory forever and a day as far as I can see so the only issue that interests me is how to live with that. And maximizing parental choice seems to be the libertarian way to go there.

The USA is now just beginning to use �vouchers� to maximize educational choice but there is huge resistance to it. The Australian system is less purist but achieves something of the same ends with only token resistance. Here the Federal government simply gives subsidies to private schools -- subsidies that come pretty close to what is spent per pupil on government schools. So I send my son to a private school and it costs me a fairly token sum. So �choice� CAN be achieved within the existing system and I am happy to live in one country that has achieved a degree of choice.

Brian also has some grumbles about the bad effect of TV watching and computer games on education but he seems to be rethinking that one in the light of recent evidence that both are beneficial.

The big issue, however, is educational standards and there seems to be a widespread consensus on the conservative side of politics that standards are low almost everywhere these days -- a consensus in which Brian seems to participate. I do too. Education has definitely been �dumbed down� by our Left-leaning educators in recent decades.

The irony of this is that it is those for whom the Leftists claim �compassion� who are most hurt by this. Bright kids will do well in any system. My 15-year-old son, for instance, has written his first novel and dips into Homer from time to time -- and he was NOT taught to do those things at school! Nor did I suggest those things to him either. He just has an enquiring and creative mind.

But average kids who need to be LED into more intellectual effort just do not seem to get that these days. So the Leftists have, as usual, betrayed those they purport to help. I think parental activism is the only cure there. �Vegie� education is all that less gifted kids will get unless parents do start to protest in some way. (In case �vegie� is a solely Australian expression, what I mean is that the kids will be treated at about the level of vegetables).



This might be a bit obscure for many of my readers so I will make it brief:

Philosophers have long argued over how we decide that something "is good" or "ought" to be done. In particular, they obsess over whether we can derive an "ought" statement from an "is" statement. One Good Turn is cogitating on this at the moment and has some suggestions about how conservatives derive "ought" statements.

I had a paper published in one of the academic journals in 1981 that addressed that issue. In it, I looked at the view that "good", "right" and "ought" statements are all essentially pious frauds. They attempt to pass off personal preferences as if they were objective properties. So in the end there IS no real or separate "ought" or "good" or "right" -- only personal recommendations.

I see such a view of values as VERY consistent with the sort of skeptical view of the world that seems to underly conservatism. So conservatives just LIKE individual liberty. They do not feel the need to justify that liking by reference to something else -- though they can of course point out many consequences of it that they would expect to be widely popular.

Ray, J.J. (1981) The morals of attitudes. Journal of Social Psychology 115, 227-235.



Poor old Aaron Oakley! In his post of 23rd he once again goes to the trouble of setting out in some detail what is wrong with the various Greenie calls for use of "renewable" energy sources. He just does not seem to realize the depth of Greenie dishonesty:

Two of the most "renewable" sources of electricity are hydro-electric power and windmills. Yet hydroelectric power involves building dams and we know what a scenic HORROR Greenies think they are. Greenie activism has just about brought a complete halt to dam building worldwide. And windmill farms have come under attack too recently for ruining the scenery wherever they are located: They are "Visual pollution". Aaron just does not seem to realize that NOTHING will EVER make the Greenies happy. You cannot argue with them because we are not dealing with reasonable people there. Greenies are Luddites who just hate the whole modern world -- and nothing will change that.

I guess Aaron must be trying to persuade members of the public who may simply have been taken in by the Greenies. I hope that I can make some small contribution to that also.



I put up a link recently (22nd.) to an unusual claim that Japan is doing much better than we think. China hand is not very convinced by the argument and another of my economically sophisticated correspondents disagrees vigorously also.


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