Report From an Enfettered Isle

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It's
amazing what conversations one has on the hunting field. You meet
all walks of life and get to discuss particular and peculiar interests
— especially so in the form of hunting I follow: beagling. Since
we follow on foot and walk, rest, and run, as we each see fit, there
is plenty of time for conversation and chatter as well as for meditation.
Except for when we comment on the potential ban hanging over this
idyllic and ancient past-time, politics is avoided. In the presently
muddy and miry fields of England, it's not really brought up — it
is so irrelevant when one is confronted with the flow of
the land stretching ahead over the valleys and wolds (hills), as
the sun streaks through billowy clouds, and as the hounds find the
scent and produce a cascading operatic euphony that echoes around
the valley and coverts. To bring politics into our conversation
is like when you're looking up at the immensity of space and floating
on fascinating contemplations of life and some one says, u2018Tom Cruise
is starring in a new film, you know.' You feel that being brought
back to such human trivia is so trifling that it pains you to re-orient
your consciousness. But into politics I was drawn.

Not
intentionally — although I am a persistently political, or I should
say, philosophical animal, for I do like to check others' beliefs
and premises and above all to get them to think. I attempt
to do this diplomatically and of course appropriately as one should,
but there we were crossing and slipping over a wonderfully soggy
and sloping grass field conversing with a newcomer, when the usual
question of my profession came up. I explained that I had been a
university lecturer and in recent years taught in the state school
system, but now I was tutoring privately which permitted flexibility
for pursuing some writing projects. After a while, Tennyson (it's
the done thing to veil characters, counties, and towns in hunting
literature) asked whether I was not, u2018in the words of Radio Four
presenters [our State-owned news station] pandering to the upper-middle
classes in their desire to constantly improve their children?'

Into
politics we fell — well, indirectly so, since this was a
question about my career. But it did feel like being jolted back
to earth. I explained that although I disparage class notions, all
my pupils come from, if anything, upper-working class backgrounds;
they are pupils who are failing or not getting along well in the
state school system and their parents work hard to get extra help
for them. He asked again whether I thought that private tutoring
was justifiable — not in an aggressive manner but curiously so,
which warranted a good reply. When I explained that I thought all
education ought to be private and completely liberalised, and that
parents ought to pay for the education of the children they beget,
I think he was rather taken aback. To say the least. Houseman, who
knows my views, said Tennyson looked as if he had never heard such
a proposition before. Tennyson seemed quite entertained by it. u2018Don't
you think that's a taboo, though?' he asked tentatively. u2018Absolutely
— all the more to think about it and discuss it!' Houseman then
pointed out the inconsistency in the present government's approach
to education: up to the age of 18 it is free (for those who sacrifice
their children to the great behemoth of the state sector, which
swallows up 90% of educational resources), but then at the university
level they expect students and their families to pay — because it
is good for them, improves their career prospects, it's a great
personal investment, etc. An inconsistency that Houseman thought
rather amusing: the government does not expect families to pay for
their education up till 18, because presumably the schools have
got nothing to do with bettering their minds, improving their occupational
prospects, etc. We continued in this vein for a while, till Tennyson
declared that he had gone to private school, and that he had always
been made to play it down, avoid acknowledging it, or even to feel
ashamed of it. It's not an unusual disposition amongst the privately
educated here: my fiancée also felt the same. As the State
has a monopoly on education (and it's difficult to avoid the State
if you seek a career in education), those who u2018teach teachers' the
criteria for their pathetic licence are disparaging of those whose
parents acted responsibly and paid for their children's education.
(Needless to say, but the same education u2018specialists' are also
vehemently deprecating of any teachers or pupils who hunt.) As one
who survived the state system, I told Tennyson that he should be
proud of his education and of his parents for being so responsible.
He seemed rather refreshed by the conversation we were having, and
on we walked in search of Hern, our huntsman, and the fading echoes
of the hounds' music somewhere over the horizon and another hedge-line.

Returning
home though, I checked the news and discovered that the government
has new plans for our universities. Guess what? The State controls
most of our higher educational institutions. At the higher levels
of academia and of human thought, we find the big fat plodding Jabba
the Hutt of the State. And since it has interfered in funding, it
has increasingly interfered with teaching. So, although well qualified
to teach in a British University (one academic book, another to
be completed this year, one edited academic book, several articles
and reviews, active speaker at professional philosophical conferences,
etc.) I would not go near this State-infested industry: and I'm
not averse to letting all I chat to know my feelings on the score.

In
1997 the Labour regime introduced tuition fees. Great — a step in
the right direction you'd think, but of course that was a nationally
imposed price for higher education and a price that was well below
the market rate (~$1500). Professorial producer interest groups
were moaning of under-funding, but being generally of a leftish
persuasion, they did not mean under-funding on the part of their
student consumers but by the taxpayer. The producer interest group
has continued to complain: and it certainly does have a case. Since
the State has encroached, the infrastructure and resources available
for students has declined, the salaries of professors has relatively
fallen, while student numbers has increased as a result of government
directives to aim for 50% inclusion rates (it was at 12% in the
1980s); and the once great and independent Universities and Colleges
of Oxford, Cambridge, St. Andrews, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen,
etc., have had to suffer the ignominy of the pedantic, bureaucratic,
box-ticking enema of ‘Quality Assessment Exercises.’ This is when
professors and bureaucrats from other (often inferior) universities
deign to evaluate their teaching methods. I have warned a few Oxbridge
professors about this: u2018You wait,' I've said, u2018till some clip-board
toting bearded mediocrity from Nonentity University comes and evaluates
your extempore orations and flourishes on the historical flows and
characters of the 17th century that leave the lecture
hall mesmerised and overawed, and complains that you didn't use
Powerpoint.' They've laughed. But it's coming. (I've enjoyed the
experience at the high school level — I didn't use an overhead projector.)

Since
Czar Blair took over, his government has swung several sharp political
axes at the elite universities demanding that they increase their
uptake of poorer people and even commenting on particular decisions
not to admit certain students. Interestingly, many of the Cabinet
and top Labour advisers have enjoyed a private education and attendance
at the elite universities. And just as writers on these pages like
to note how, when in power, such socialists enjoy nobbling the chances
of the present poor to catch up and advance by imposing progressive
taxes on income, so too do the Labour advisers wish to undermine
the chances of the children of poor folk to get a decent education
by forging a comprehensive-style higher education industry. (Here,
State schools are often called comprehensive — comprehensive in
incompetence and waste certainly.)

Are
we surprised to hear that before the introduction of government
grants for tuition and maintenance in the 1960s, Oxford and Cambridge
actively sought bright pupils from poor backgrounds in a centuries'
old tradition of scouring the land for active minds? But that stopped
once the then Labour government meddled.

The
news tonight was that students will be expected to pay for their
higher education after they graduate: then they will be charged
maybe $5000 for the privilege of wasting untold tens of thousands
of taxpayers' money. Now, libertarians know how governments work
and how they work in education: and States do become rather predictable
don't they? … Well, following this compromising offer to the professors
to inject more cash into the universities, you've probably guessed
it already, the Education Minister demanded that they accept more
students of the government's choosing. Ho-hum for us libertarians
who study the principles of intervention, but you can imagine the
growing backlash and surprise over the weekend amongst those
who do not. Students will be furious — because, after all, a great
many of them presently enjoy a vastly subsidized three years' waste
at others' expense, and now they are being asked to contribute to
reducing some of that waste. Professors will again be shocked at
this grand intrusion into their decision-making. Oh, but they lost
that freedom long ago when they accepted the government's funds.
Another reason I could not bear to be part of that machine.

Now,
who is the Education Minister? Charles Clarke: Cambridge graduate.
Hmm. Interesting scent. Hey, he did some teaching once as a part-time
maths lecturer at a (government funded) further education place.
Whooeey. Then, like many MPs in this country, he describes his previous
career as "Management Consultancy." Uhuh. Then he became
a full-time politician advising the mighty scabrous satraps of the
Labour Party. Dare I mention that he earned an Economics/Maths degree
from Cambridge? Keynes's university and still Keynesian from its
output too. From Clarke's voting record, he's anti-hunt and pro-war:
not surprising in this land of increasingly Prussian-Hegelian politics,
gobbledegook and interference. But we mustn't assume Cambridge only
produces socialists: both Tennyson and Houseman, my fellow hunt-followers
are Cambridge chaps. And it has its own beagle pack.

If
the Education Minister has his way, the fragile remnants of academic
freedom shall be lost in this once highly cultured land. The Universities
will go the same way as the comprehensives (and they have to be
experienced to believe how dire things can get under socialism).
We can expect centrally controlled directives on admissions, courses,
and tutors (who will need to study for a licence to lecture). And
… oh, one can see it already … a National Higher Education Curriculum
that will incorporate compulsory EU Citizenship courses.

I've
already u2018shrugged' from the embarrassing direction that the Universities
are headed: others, who are less politically or philosophically
aware, will passively follow suit as the bureaucratic intrusions
into their teaching and research increase and the student body becomes
even more academically undisciplined and unprepared and generally
unmotivated. The older professors will hang on in there to enjoy
their retirement benefits, but the younger and talented ones will
seep away. Bless 'em all, as Vera Lynn once sang in the war. The
government will react to the brain drain by mandating all post-graduates
to do a few years draft in University teaching: it's on the cards
for high school teachers: so many who earn a teaching certificate
do not teach; and it was almost a fact for medical consultants whom
the government tried to enslave into giving seven years' service
to the National Health Scam — here the government had to back down,
for what would it do if the top brains in medicine suddenly started
migrating in droves? Teachers and professors can do so, after all
they don't really do anything important, but consultants from the
prized National Health Disservice? No way. So the government will
be on the lookout for an easier target to enslave: education.

Periodically,
I hear of plans afoot in the elite Universities to secede from the
State and to charge their own fees. Oh, let's hope they've got the
guts! But so many Judases have been bought by the State to crucify
freedom that it's hard to remain optimistic. Many of us over here
wonder who actually won the last war? The Allies may have won all
the battles, but as Mises and Hayek were wont to point out, the
more important war was to be waged for the idea of freedom. On my
reckoning the Prussians have taken over; on my fiance's, the lunatics
have taken over the asylum. Freedom has suffered but the repercussions
are increasingly evident.

In
the face of escalating interference, is it any wonder that many
people I speak to on the hunting fields and off — poor and rich
— are seriously considering migrating from this enfettered isle?
A neighbour has left for Spain. Another couple are seriously considering
France. Increasing numbers of Brits are purchasing property around
Europe and in Florida to escape the politics and advancing Prussian
socialism. I escape it for the day on the hunting fields. But the
government is seeking to ban hunting. So I return to earth and to
politics. My competition in private tutoring is a State sponsored
and controlled monopoly which eats up $75bn and rising each year
and barely produces a viable product. I have a niche market of parents
who are willing to pay privately, of course, but my fiancée
often asks whether we should stay. Well, does anybody know of a
new New England we may all come to?

January
20, 2003

Alexander
Moseley [send
him mail
] has lectured and tutored in American, Canadian and
British Universities. He spent the last two years sampling the State-run
comprehensive system in the UK and now teaches privately. He and
his fiancée have formed a partnership, Classical Foundations,
to teach music and other subjects privately one-to-one in their
area. Dr. Moseley is an avid exponent of the ideals Rothbard outlines
in his Education:
Free & Compulsory
. His book, A
Philosophy of War
, was recently published by Algora, New
York.


     

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