Notes From an Enfettered Isle Education, Education, Education

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(Firstly
an apology and appeal: I reply to all emails I receive, but
last month I accidentally deleted a bunch of spam and replies —
there were a few very interesting ones on novel writing that I was
leaving for a more relaxing time to reply: if you wrote, please
re-send, sorry!!)

Whilst
musing around the garden under the relatively sweltering heat of
a truly impressive English summer that's led to a run on air-conditioners
on this green and usually pleasantly damp isle, I thought I should
compile an archive of something I look at each day that irks my
soul and irritates my professional wisdom: namely, reports on education.

In
the early days BB — Before Blair — our Beloved Leader (now sunning
himself in Barbados for his well earned holiday away from the growing
hatred at home) raised his multi-coloured standard for the election
battle and cried aloud, u2018Education, Education, Education.' An interesting
mantra but of the style we have come to expect from our Favoured
Leader (or should that be Leiter?) So each day, I have considered
making a report on what's been happening to education in Blairdom.
After all, if you say something three times, something magical usually
happens — ah, the essence of modern spin.

But
then so often I shrug and then proceed with more entertaining things
like weeding. There's so much to criticize! Where to start? Well,
each day, after enjoying the pleasures of this site and an essay
or two on Mises.org, I check
the omnipresent Blair Broadcasting
Corporation
for up-to-date national news on the web, and each
day my eye creeps down the page to see what the latest education
headlines are. Two days were sufficient: a book could be written
on the problems in state education and many lewrockwell contributors
provide a sufficiency as it is, so I shall keep my thoughts to three
subjects to mirror Blair's u2018education, education, education.'

7th
August.

"Universities
campaign for top-ups."

This
refers to the nominally u2018independent' universities seeking the right
to charge students higher fees. I say nominally, because we only
have one private university — Buckingham. All the rest depend on
the state for a good proportion of their income and are suffering
as a result.

One
of the great steps Blair can be quietly congratulated for is the
introduction of a flat tuition fee payable by most students. Blair
be praised! Prior to the introduction of tuition fees (max. 1100),
students enjoyed free tuition and even, in my day, received a grant
to go to university in those wonderfully elitist good old days when
only 8% of us secured a place at university through hard graft and
good A-level results. Nonetheless, quite aware of my privilege,
I used to campaign for student loans back then — to the confusion,
bemusement, and even anger of my peers who thought students should
also be paid to doss around in the holidays too. Back then, in the
feisty days of Thatcher's Britain, universities were more u2018nominally
independent' than they are today. But as government funding has
increased and the number of universities expanded and upwards of
30% of each generation now drift into university u2018to get a degree'
as they quip (get? get? like get a new dress or pair of sunglasses?),
the quality of UK degrees has fallen to pander to the wilfully ignorant
and indolent. Student numbers have increased and are expected to
rise to 50% (even die-hard lefties shake their head at the prospect),
but, of course, the numbers of lecturers and general funding levels
have not increased correspondingly. What do they expect when the
government holds the purse, and demand and supply do not operate?

Dissecting
the article, we find that Professor Crewe is heading a group to
lobby the government and educate the public on why students need
to pay more for their higher education. Fine: but no mention of
permitting the market to enter the equation. Universities want 5000
a year. The Government will probably allow 2500.

No
free market here. No one is suggesting — Blair forbid! — that each
university or each department may set its own tuition rate and pay
its professors according to what its students pay them. But why
not? Immanuel Kant — so respected by the left but so fond of commerce
— argued for teachers to be paid according to the number of pupils
they attracted. Now, contrast that with a lecturer on a fixed salary,
set by collective, national bargaining between the unions and government
— the student does not come into the deal whatsoever. Not surprisingly,
we have a lot of lecturers who would be serving themselves and the
market better by taking up different occupations as well as serious
capital depletion on campuses.

All
quiet on the education front until Monday 11th August.

Growing
Calls for Post-Exam Applications.

Now
this is an interesting one — a meagre element of common sense in
a centralised structure?

Presented
by the opposition parties (Liberal and Conservative), their proposal
amounts to allowing 18 year olds to know their A-level results before
applying to universities. It would save a lot of time and effort
knowing that if you received two As, a C and a D overall, you could
apply to X,Y,Z universities and not bother with alpha and beta.
Teachers favour the idea too. I've helped pupils fill in their university
clearing forms (guess what — we have a centralised clearing system
for university places) and the whole process is nerve-wracking for
the students, who are making important decisions on where to apply
whilst they are in the stressful final furlong of exams.

Incidentally,
our pupils seem to be examined every year these days — a parent
of a six year old, whom I teach privately, related her fears of
Standard Assessment Results: kids — standard?? Crikey, who dreamt
that one up? When I was young, not so many moons ago, we actually
were allowed to enjoy childhood; we weren't tested according to
national scores until we were on the brink of leaving school at
16. But that's all changed in the mass production Soviet-style education
system we possess today. Back to the proposal: wonderful, given
the system.

But
will it be implemented? Well, let me make a short digression and
take up the third element to this article.

They
have to pitch this idea to an Education
Minister
who thinks that: "The idea that you can learn
about the world sitting in your study just reading books is not
quite right" and that study for its own sake is a "bit
dodgy."

As
a Cambridge educated Mathematician and Economist, this may seem
a strange theory to hold: maths and economics are both logical,
armchair studies requiring deductive reasoning. (See Mises's Ultimate
Foundation of Economic Science
.) Study for its own sake
prepares and exercises the mind; it broadens the mind's curriculum
to permit the all important potential for unforeseen connections
across the sciences and arts that in turn may generate revolutionary
theories or artistic movements. The greatest minds were not channelled
into vocational studies designed by bureaucrats on what they think
would suit the future work force; they possessed a broad foundation
of knowledge, often studied disparate subjects for their own sake,
that gave them a vast and deep mental capital upon which to draw
for their own, necessarily chronologically and logically later
application.

My
beagling
friend
, Houseman, made a poignant comment that we can draw much
from in this regard. Schools try to make physics, say, u2018interesting'.
His retort, as a one time Cambridge PhD post-doc atomic physics
researcher who's presently trying to enlighten me on alpha-particles
and thereby blowing my mind, his retort — spluttered out in indignation
– was: "Physics is interesting. You don't have to make
it so." Quite. In the hands of the right teachers any
subject draws one in — we are, as Aristotle noted somewhere (and
if anyone knows where please let me know, I'm forever trying to
rediscover the quotation!), we are innately curious. We have a burning
desire to know and to understand — even if it is just for its own
sake. Only … well, only that schools are so damn good at killing
that instinct, that we forget that children burn with the eternal
why that does not require an application or a possible job
attached to it or some pathetic excuse, easily seen through by kids
of course, that u2018this will be good for them one day' with those
wonderfully attractive eyes u2018trust me, I work for the government'.

Take
modern languages as another instance. The government has decreed
that all pupils of all state schools (the state possesses even the
mainstream economists' definition of a monopoly in education) should
be taught a modern language to the age of 16.

The
waste I have seen is diabolical. In one exam room, I saw three hundred
or so pupils about to take an exam in something most of them disliked
so intensely that the fiery atmosphere could have caused books to
spontaneously ignite. The body language of so many teenagers would
have provided useful sociological research for anyone interested
in the effects of mass production education. Then they were offered
dictionaries to help them with their paper. Two or three had actually
spent the equivalent of ten bucks to buy their own — the rest put
up their hands waiting for the all-providing, all-loving state to
present them with knowledge and answers. But without grammar skills,
these pupils knew not whether they were looking at a verb or an
adjective, or what tense the sentence was in. Many of the questions
were multi-guess. Such arcane skills as learning grammatical rules
have been rejected in order to teach a language that would allow
the pupils to u2018get by' or u2018communicate in a foreign language': the
language level would embarrass even the most basic tourist guides,
for that is all, after five or more years of French study, these
pupils could muster. I won't mention music, as that will anger my
fiancée, who's enjoying a few weeks off from being frustrated
with the annihilating music education received at schools.

We
can admit that some of the teens rebelled against having to study
a subject; but most came out despising foreign languages because,
in the effort to make them u2018interesting' (memorising how to ask
for a double room with a shower — very useful for teens; what your
family did last weekend — the kind of questions that titillate six
year olds maybe) all interest in studying any foreign language
was obliterated. Education Minister Charles Clark wants more — like
many, he believes an education should be for a purpose that leads
to a specific range of (government u2018careers-service' concocted)
jobs. Note: no careers library I've been in explains to a budding
sixteen-year-old how to enter kennel work for hunting hounds, ride
horses, or be a gamekeeper though.

The
headlines each day strain with disappointments and failure; and
in most articles, the presumption is made to pray to Blair and his
minions to make things better. Few question the wisdom that the
state should get out of education on moral as well as economic grounds.
But my fellow countrymen do not have long to worry. It's on the
cards: a European-wide Euro-curriculum, designed by the French and
Germans to teach all the children of Europe to love (one day he's
bound to be) President Blair and to be prepared to work for the
good of Europe.

Watch
this space.

August
13, 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
. He is the author of A
Philosophy of War
and the novel Wither
This Land
.


        
        

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