Thursday, 14 April 2005

Education Policy - Brash has still got it wrong

Don Brash has released National’s education policy to the outrage of all the people who need to be outraged, and to the applause of those like David Farrar and the Education Forum that you’d expect to applaud. The Libertarianz, caught between, have called it a ‘yawner.’

Which prompts me to answer a question libertarians are often asked: How does the libertarian view of public education differ from those of conservatives or liberals? Good question, and with just a hint of over-generalisation let me answer it.

THE LIBERAL VIEW: The liberal view is that all that is wrong with public education can be fixed with more money, better staff-student ratios, greater control of curriculum, more qualified teachers and more paperwork. (I joke about the latter, of course.)

The result of several generations of liberal education policies have however been high levels of “functional illiteracy” and innumeracy, dripping-wet political correctness, central planning of curricula and lots more paperwork – not to mention a failing examination system and degrees being awarded in air-hostessing. None of this has aroused liberals to question their thinking however; their prescription for their failure is more of the same.

THE CONSERVATIVE VIEW: The view of conservatives is that public education needs to be made more efficient. With more efficiency, delivery of education will be better. This is essentially the thrust of National’s new policy: greater efficiencies bringing better education.

THE LIBERTARIAN VIEW: Libertarians disagree. Libertarians maintain that public education is all too efficient: it is ruthlessly efficient at delivering the government’s chosen values. And so it has – we now have several generations who are culturally safe and politically correct ‘good citizens,’ forty-two percent of whom however are ‘functionally illiterate’ and unable to read a bus timetable or operate a simple appliance (see the 1996 International Adult Literacy Survey for the sad details - not unfortunately online).

Previously the government's chosen values included banning the speaking of Maori in schools; this is now of course compulsory, as is the teaching of the ordained versions of Te Tiriti and the inculcation of the ideas of multiculturalism and the inferiority of western culture. Sadly, there is too little time left for reading, and when there is whole language teaching ensures little of this is achieved anyway.

The government's recently chosen values are "fairness, opportunity and security." We know that because Helen Clark said so. Orwell would have recognised these words, as you might in the rigid orthodoxies of what passes for teacher education here. "What happens in our schools is a very big part of shaping the future of New Zealand," says Ms Clark in the same speech, acknowledging that this is the way to make subjects out of citizens.

Libertarians agree with Ms Clark's statement, which is precisely why we want governments away from the schools and away from control of curricula. Both Liberals and conservatives endorse state control of schools and of curricula, and they both seek to be the state. By contrast, Libertarians maintain that a complete separation of school and state is needed for the same reason we have a separation between church and state.

Do you see the difference now?


  1. Nationals policies of education during the 90's (when I went to school) aren't really that dissimilar to the view you attribute to the liberals.

    I spent more time in the 3rd and 4th form learning about injustices to Maori, injustices to Chinese gold mining immigrants and injustices to women than I did learning anything worthwhile.

  2. I doubt many do see the difference - that is the problem. Sowell's book "Inside American Education" is good.

  3. The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto really lays it out. It shows the differences between a highly educated society and a schooled society. The book is online at the above link.

  4. Thanks for your comments.

    Robin, you said: "Nationals policies of education during the 90's (when I went to school) aren't really that dissimilar to the view you attribute to the liberals."

    True enough, because it is the liberals who are the Tooheys in charge of the curriculum. The conservatives just want to deliver that curriculum more efficiently.

    Ruth, I agree that not many do see the difference, and no doubt will continue not to no matter how many articles they read. After all, most people have already become subjects, haven't they?

    Thanks Lucyna for the Gatto recommendation - I hoped someone would point out that book. His first book 'Dumbing Us Down' is also superb, and a much easier read for the generation that has been dumbed down.



  5. I always found bus timetables very difficult to read. I don't think they are a fair measure of functional literacy. ;-)

  6. There is another Conservative position on public education held in the UK and the US.

    That public education is not very good and therefore the Government should help subsidise children to attend private schools instead.

  7. Marcus, you said: " There is another Conservative position on public education held in the UK and the US," and I think you confuse conservative and Conservative views.

    However, the point is still the same: the Conservative argument for private schools (or public schools as theyr'e confusingly called in Britain) is taht they are more efficient in delivering education. Which education? The one whose curriculum is chosen by the Government.

  8. BB you said: " I always found bus timetables very difficult to read."

    Which just goes to show how well PhD study prepares one for the wider world. :-)


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