A blupete Essay Index Button

"On The State of Provincial Education"

"A sound mind in a sound body is a short but full description of a happy state in this world. ... The only fence against the world is a thorough knowledge of it."
(John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, 1693.)

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> GO TO TABLE OF CONTENTS.

1. Introduction 2. The Importance of Education
3. A Public Education 4. The State of Provincial Education
5. A Short Legislative History 6. The State as Parent
7. Private Education 8. Conclusion
9. Notes

1. Introduction:-

A headline in a local newspaper reads: "Canada's education system will send a million more illiterate young people into the working world by the end of the 1990s unless there are fundamental changes, the Economic of Council of Canada said Wednesday." The situation, plain and simple, is this: we are not getting a proper return on our tax money; but worse still, we are turning our young loose into a work market without a proper education, loose, to face a work market that is technically demanding and international in scope. For this we will dearly pay.

Here in Nova Scotia our provincial legislature appointed a committee to consider and give a report on the state of education. On March 31st, 1992, the Select Committee on Education handed down its report. Being a citizen who supports the system and a citizen with grand-children in the system; I read this report; two volumes of it.

It seems to me that right on the heels of the report the newspapers seem to fill up, - not with commentary about the report - but rather with the "news" that our government was out of money and had no practical means to raise more; and, thus, education was one area, of the many, that was going to feel the pinch of fiscal restraint. School board after school board, in meeting after meeting, let loose with their sad tale, especially to those in the system, - there would just have to be cuts in the educational budget. Now, before proceeding any further, I should confess: I am not an "educational expert";1 not a teacher; nor an educational administrator;2 nor am I on the government payroll, - in any way. If I were to match any of these descriptions, it's not likely that I would be writing this paper. I am a business man who deals principally in coffee and advise.

2. The Importance of Education

The delicate tools necessary for our intellectual workshop are acquired by schooling.3 I suspect that our best tools are picked up rather automatically, but if there is to be outside intervention, then, best it be done early, as the human mind matures all too rapidly.

"Children, it has been my experience, are not consumed with anxiety to learn anything; least of all has it ever crossed their minds that they must learn English. And how shall we teach it to them, when the few of us who have begun to know that it is but, a tissue of accommodations, a thing with which order, method, and all that the developing mind first apprehends and rests upon have nothing to do - in a word, a kind of miraculous flowering of man's still unconscious wisdom, preserved to us as a compensation for our many blunderings, as a reward for our patience in confusion and our fundamental faith in life?"4

Education might be defined as a social process by which, in addition to knowledge, skills and beliefs, attitudes and ideas of the previous generations are transmitted to the new generation, is a process which is necessary for the maintenance, achievement and development of man in society.5 This definition assumes a biological view of society, one that grows and evolves with each new generation depending on the growth of previous generations.

We all come into this world pretty green, and, from the start, we are obliged to turn to others; and while we need a lot of help when we are young, nature, it would seem, has compensated by building into the young a susceptibility to learning. So, no matter what one's view is of what an educational system should be, most will agree, best to start in while young. And what is the first lesson to be? What each individual needs to know is the difference between what is naturally right and what is naturally wrong. And the second lesson to be learned, is, that the individual is better off doing what is naturally right: - I talk of morals. How does one teach morals? This is an old dilemma, the teaching of virtue. It is a dilemma largely because virtue is unseizable. Virtue is, as Selincourt put it, "an influence permeating and proceeding from the whole man, an atmosphere."6 Virtue is instilled likely by repeated admonitions, a process of inculcation, beginning at the mother's knee and to be continued by all those with whom the child has close connections, and this would certainly include the child's teachers.

It takes a "good" teacher, one possessed of great skills and a flair for presentation of the subject; it is particularly difficult when the subject is morals or virtue. This surely must always have been the case, but pity the teacher who today must daily compete for the child's attention. We, adult and child alike, find ourselves in a vast market where the "culture manufacturers" provide an immediate and sensual gratification to all comers. "Popular culture imprisons the imagination and the power of reflection through repeated and graphic assaults that stress themes of consumption and pleasure. In our day, the television news becomes the thirty-minute encapsulation of the sensational and the absurd. Best sellers are judged by their mass appeal that, translated, means their gratuitous levels of sex and violence, or for the more refined, their ability to provide instant diets, instant management, and instant therapy."7

"Real life is becoming indistinguishable from the movies. The sound film, far surpassing the theater of illusion, leaves no room for imagination or reflection on the part of the audience, who is unable to respond within the structure of the film, yet deviate from its precise detail without losing the thread of the story; hence the film forces its victims to equate it directly with reality....sustained thought is out of the question if the spectator is not to mix the relentless rush of facts. Even though the effort required for his response is semi-automatic, no scope is left for the imagination."8
The question before us is, what is the importance of education? One goal, as Foster states in his book, is to produce reasonable citizens, ones that "can be convinced by evidence." Or as another author puts it: "The central public function of schooling in a liberal state is the democratic distribution of rationality."9 In his work Paul Kurtz says:
"In our view, education should be the essential method of building humane, free, and democratic societies. The aims of education are many: the transmission of knowledge; training for occupations, careers, and democratic citizenship; and the encouragement of moral growth. Among its vital purposes should also be an attempt to develop the capacity for critical intelligence in both the individual and the community.
Unfortunately, the schools are today being increasingly replaced by the mass media as the primary institutions of public information and education. Although the electronic media provide unparalleled opportunities for extending cultural enrichment and enjoyment, and powerful learning opportunities, there has been a serious misdirection of their purposes. In totalitarian societies, the media serve as the vehicle of propaganda and indoctrination. In democratic societies television, radio, films, and mass publishing too often cater to the lowest common denominator and have became banal wastelands. ... We believe that television directors and producers have an obligation to redress the balance and revise their programming."
The essential answer to any question usually comes out of its definition. Considering the definition set out at the first of this section, then, we might say, essentially, that education is a socialization process. Is this best achieved: By public education? By private education? Or, By a combination of both, with one being favored over the other?

3. Public Education

So what are the arguments for putting education into the hands of government? If not the impossible goal that every one should be educated, then, at least, the goal of equal educational opportunity for all; or, another way of putting it, to make education readily available to all. With this, I have no problem; my problem, is with the assumption that this goal is best served with a system that provides "free" public education.

The assumption has been that if the state does not make "free" education readily available, many of our young will not be educated, an assumption that may not hold up in these modern times. A further assumption is that with "free" public education that our children will be educated, an assumption that is not being borne out by the statistics. Parents, and there has been little variance over time, at least those who possess a sense of parental responsibility (most all parents), would like to see that their children get the educational basics, whatever they may be. If children were to get more then just the basics, would depend, I suggest, on whether the parents had the time, the money,11 and the interest. Interest being, in my opinion, the most important commodity. Having a lack of interest in education, - parent or student, but more the student - is the single greatest prohibition to it.

Other reasons that might be stated in support of public education are as follows: to allow for all citizens through the "democratic process" to have a say in the educational process; to insure that the education of our young takes place in an atmosphere which is conducive to learning; that only the best teachers be employed in the education of our young; and to see that education takes place in safe surroundings. Anyone might agree, in respect to our young, that these are necessary goals for any educational system; but, the question is, which system comes the closest to meeting these goals? Is it a public school system: - ask yourself.

Assuming for the moment, that it is only a public school system which provides a mechanism for all to have input (school boards have only recently become elected bodies), do people avail themselves of such a mechanism?

"In administrative thought in particular, and in society in general, the substantive questions are not questions at all - they are givens. Citizens have limited input into how the system is conducted, in terms of such issues as distribution of wealth and the development of policy. Administration service as a means for implementing policies established by elite decision-makers and demanded by technological imperatives, rather than as a guide for involving all citizens in the democratic determination of ends."12

The fact of the matter is that most all of us, including parents, have handed off our individual responsibilities to make decisions in regards to education (and in this age of over government, - most every thing else too, it seems). The public school system is not run by the public, it is run by bureaucrats who are continually trying to seek a consensus; that which does get done in the public school system gets done because it has been watered down to the lowest common denominator; pap is fed to the public, to the teachers, to the parents and to the students.

"Imagine that you're either the referee, coach, player, or spectator at an unconventional soccer match: the field for the game is round; there are several goals scattered haphazardly around the circular field; people can enter and leave the game whenever they want to; they can throw balls in whenever they want; they can say "that's my goal" whenever they want to, as many times as they want to, and for as many goals as they want to; the entire game takes place on a sloped field; and the game is played as if it makes sense...
If you now substitute in that example principals for referees, teachers for coaches, students for players, parents for spectators, and schooling for soccer, you have an equally unconventional depiction of school organizations."
Does this Carrollian description describe our education system here in Nova Scotia? I do not know, but the cost and, sadly, the results of our educational system could certainly be used to support the proposition. The proof is in the pudding.

4. The State of Provincial Education

At the first of this paper I pointed to the Economic Council of Canada, and its opinion as to the sad state of our educational system. Some of us have been theorizing about the benefits of public education for quite some time now, but only recently are we able to add up some concrete figures, such that we might now test the theoretical benefits and the real costs14 of a publicly run educational system. But, - what of the facts.

"-- All generous minds have a horror of what are commonly called 'facts.' They are the brute beasts of the intellectual domain. Who does not know fellows that always have an ill-conditioned fact or two which they lead after them into decent company like so many bull-dogs, ready to let slip at every ingenious suggestion, or convenient generalization, or pleasant fancy?"15
The following propositions will be supported by the 1992 report of the provincially appointed committee, the Select Committee on Education, the committee to which we first referred in this paper; see, in particular, volume II.

1. Literacy:-
Nova Scotians are much like the rest of Canadians, 15% of all adults between 16 and 69 cannot either read or get beyond a familiar word in a simple text; 37% cannot meet most everyday reading skills. (Appendix K of report.) In the numbers department, we Nova Scotians are dragging behind the rest of our fellow Canadians, 21% have low "Numeracy Skills," compared to the Canadian average, an unimpressive 14%. (Appendix L of report.)
2. Withdrawal:-
In considering all the students enrolled in grades 10 to 12, for the school year 1990/91, approximately 11% of the males withdrew (Halifax takes the award at 17.5%); 9% for female.
3. Costs:-
The City of Halifax leads, it pays for education at the rate of $311 per person (every one living within its boundaries); Dartmouth is at $232; the rest of the District School Boards are far behind, with third place going to Queens at $113, and the majority of the rest under $100. On average, 20% of all the taxes raised by the cities and Municipalities (as opposed to the towns which on average are less at 10%) is spent on education. (Municipalities raise their money mostly through property taxes.) On average we spent, year 1990, $4,217 on each pupil (compare this to $2,506 in 1982, an 168.3% increase); Richmond leads the way at $5,238, followed by Halifax at $5,227, Dartmouth is at $4,469, Halifax Co./Bedford is at $3,932, and the low district is Yarmouth at $3,783.

The question of cost of our existing educational system (because our young are, either; not educated, or mis-educated) can only be fully added up by taking a broader look. A shocking number of adults cannot read or write. Our court dockets might be considered a barometer of social unrest; the dockets get longer and longer, especially in our criminal and family courts.

5. A Short Legislative History

An old "sailin' salt" from Lunenburg once gave me a quick lesson in navigation: "Look here Young Fella', if you wan'ta know where ya' be, know where ya' been." True enough; and so next, a short historical review of the statutory development of "free" and compulsory public education.

As is always necessary, if one is to get a prospective on any law as it now exists in Canada, one must examine English history. "Mandatory" and "free" education came about as a result of legislative intervention. I suspect that the development of school legislation both in England and in Canada, during the 19th century, did not run in parallel; Canada, like the faithful colony it was for the first two thirds of the century, took its lead from the mother country; she could have no better example.16

The first experiments in public education were tried in Scotland. A statute was passed (James IV., 1494) which required "all freeholders of substance to send their heirs to school until they had 'perfect Latin.'" Though some Englishmen saw no need for making laws in the area of public education, the English law makers were impressed enough with the legislative steps taken in foreign countries, such that, in 1870 the School Act was passed by the British parliament. This act was carried by the liberal statesman and cabinet member, the Right Honourable, William Edward Forster (1819-86). Forster was born of Quaker parentage, and at one point had involvement with the Quaker relief fund, established to bring relief to those who were suffering from the Irish famine of 1845.

Forster's act embodied three principles new to English public education: the compulsory attendance of children at school, a representative local authority, and a compulsory local rate. The whole of England for the purposes of the Act was divided into school districts, in towns the municipal borough being the unit and in the country the civil parish. Where accommodation for elementary scholars was insufficient, school boards, in the boroughs chosen by the town council, and in the country by the vestry, would be elected, charged with the duty of providing elementary education and empowered to levy a rate for the purpose. The expenses of the school boards were to be borne in equal proportions by the state, the local rate, and the parents of the scholars. Free schools might be established in very poor districts, and in any district the fees of very poor parents might be paid by the board. An important point was left to the discretion of the local authority, whether in their district education should be made compulsory, and by the famous Cowper-Temple Clause, which the government accepted as an amendment, it was provided that no catechism or other distinctive denominational formulary should be taught in any board school, and that no voluntary school should receive assistance from the rates. In November the first school board for London was elected by ballot, and a woman, Dr. Elizabeth Garrett, headed the poll.

Lord Sandon, vice-president of the education committee in Disraeli's ministry, in 1876, carried an Act of great importance in the history of elementary education. This measure carried to a further stage the principle of compulsion.17

Thus, in England, by 1870, legislation was put into place the object of which was to put a school within the reach of every child.18 "Between 1870 and 1890 the average school attendance rose from one and a quarter million to four and a half millions, while the cost per child was doubled. In 1880 primary education was made compulsory for all, and in 1891 it was offered free of all expense."19 One should not conclude, however, that schooling did not exist before the state took it over. Vastly more important than the existence of "Schools of Industry for paupers, and an occasional Dame's School, where children still too small to be useful in industry learnt to sit still and sometimes to read," there existed, - and it is indeed unfortunate it does not exist to a greater degree these days - the apprenticeship system, a system "vital to the training and discipline of boys and youths."20 It is true that prior to 1870 there was no "large half-educated class," but "the intellectual and literary standard of our ancestors was in some respects higher than our own. Though comparatively little was read, most of what was read was a value. The latter-day flood of newspapers, magazines and indifferent novels had not yet come to submerge literature and provide substitutes for thought and taste. Bad books had not yet driven out good ones. The modern as well as the ancient classics held a much greater place in the national consciousness than to-day."21

The earliest statute in Nova Scotia, that I was able to find, was that to be found in the 1766 statute book. Prospective schoolmasters were to be examined by a Minister of the Church of England, it was he who determined whether or not "the morals and good conduct" of the candidate measured up, and, if so, then, upon the teacher taking an "oath of allegiance and supremacy," a teaching license would be issued. In 1780 we can see where public money was first provided for the payment of teachers salaries; where there was forty scholars, the teacher would be allowed yearly sum of £100, and a further sum, £50, for an assistant where the number of students exceeded forty.

By 1811 we see the legislation stretching out to over two pages (the Education Act these days goes on and on to over 50 pages, at least, and as many more for regulations). This act allowed that "inhabitants, being freeholders, having an income in real or personal estate" may assemble annually for the purpose of voting and/or raising money so that the "youth [in the district] may be taught Orthography, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic." The school district would hire a schoolmaster out of the money so raised and, by the Act, the Trustees were "required to use their best endeavours to cause the youth to regularly attend" and they are further required to "visit and inspect the said Schools at least twice each year." Where, in the way specified, money was raised for public education then it was legislatively required that "the scholars shall be taught free from all expense whatever, other than their own books and stationary, and individual proportion of fuel."22

Our current Education Act takes its shape from an act which can be seen in the 1884 statutes. Created were: the Council of Public Instruction, the Office of the Superintendent of Education, the Provincial Board of Examiners, the Boards of School Commissioners and Boards of Trustees. The duties of these Boards and offices, for the first time, were set forth including, also, the duties of teachers.23 It is in this act that we see, for the very first time, that education is to be "free." Education was to be "free" to all persons resident, five years of age and upwards, but only to those "who may wish to attend school." That it be mandatory that all children are to attend school, was something left for the determination of each school district. If, at the annual school meeting "two thirds of the qualified voters present" vote that there should be compulsory attendance, then, in which case, the legislation provided for fines to be levied against the parents who do not send their young children off to school.

6. The State as Parent

As a general proposition, I will say that our public school system has too easily allowed many individuals to abdicate their parental responsibilities; our public school system, whatever else it may be, has become a sitting service, and to the extent that it does not perform its role in the education of our young, - an expensive sitting service. That any system run by government is an expensive system, is a proposition on which I am able to elaborate on and to defend if necessary, but I must leave it and take it up another day; the point I wish to make here is that any system which splits interest and responsibility apart is likely one that simply is not going to work, no matter the cost.24 I submit that the basics in education are to be taught by parents and, indeed, can only be taught by parents. There exists an ever growing social problem, all about us, there, to be inherited; it comes about when the state takes over the responsibility for events which can only be governed by the individuals who have a specific interest in the outcome of these events. The public education system, like so many government run programs, alleviates the necessity for the individual to see to himself and to his family. Though many children have parents who refuse to leave their education totally in the hands of government, many unlucky children have parents who either naively believe the public school system is educating their young, or who are careless (in which case it does not matter much which educational system is in place). So, my point is: the public school system has diminished parental responsibility. This point was made years ago by Sir Leslie Stephen (1832-1904), Virginia Woolf's father: ... the fatal error ... was that the gratuitous system would diminish the sentiment of parental responsibility. To bring a child into the world was to incur a grave responsibility, and no action of the State should tend to obscure the fact. But to relieve a parent from the cost of his children's schooling would most emphatically diminish his motives for forethought.25 I quote from B. H. Alford's essay on "Free Education," where a correspondent from New Zealand said:

"[The citizens, the voters] look to the government for help, and such legislation in the name of progress shifts the centre of gravity in the moral world from the parent to the State - slowly but surely undermining the foundation of national life by the deterioration of the unit of the family."26
And, now, I must move on to the main thrust of my paper, which is that education can only be invigorated by one force, and one force only, the same force that invigorates all of our life forces: - the forces of the market place. I should say, before proceeding, that it is not as if private education in this province has been outlawed: it has not, but, unlike health services (another important social institution that is in a sad state of disrepair) while subject to complying with publicly set standards (as it should be), one can set up a private school. On setting up a private school, however, one will be faced with competition which is 100% subsidized by the tax payers; parents (I am told a disproportionate number of school teachers do this) who send their children off to private schools pay twice, once through their taxes and again to the private schools.

7. Private Education

To have a government is to endow certain men with the right to use force. To achieve social peace, notwithstanding its dangers, we need government. To explore the dangers of, and to list the corrupting influences of government would bring us much beyond the limits of this paper (try my essay "On Government"); sufficient to say, and the bloody pages of history will support the proposition: - best to leave government out of as many things as you possibly can. Is the State in any better position of knowing what is best, as opposed to the persons who compose the State? The case to be made out, is not why government should get out of the business of education; but, rather, why they should be involved, in the first place? The question is (and hardly can we think it be a closed question, given the current state of affairs): should government be involved in education, at all;27 and, if so, to what degree should the involvement be?

At the first of this essay I made referred to Selincourt's description of children as being something less than anxious learners, that at an early age we see "a kind of miraculous flowering of man's still unconscious wisdom." To this, we can now add:

"The English, without knowing what they were about, have in a singular degree preserved it [the mind] whole. Our usual name for this wholeness is simply common sense. Respecting Nature instead of "humiliating" her, watching facts as they are instead of demonstrating what they must and shall be, we have built up our Constitution, our Empire, and all those astonishing combinations of the theoretically senseless and the practically sane and sound which everywhere go by the name of English. Our conclusion is that this quality of the English mind, which we call common, has nothing common about it at all; it is a rarity, and it is of priceless value."28
Earlier we dealt with the notion of government, qua, parent; how government has usurped the role of the parent; and how, because of the inculcation process that is required, it cannot "teach" such things as: - tradition, culture, morals and ethics. What is required, and more urgently so as our situation worsens, is a process by which individuals become empowered (students, parents, and teachers); the people themselves can teach the young; government cannot.
"The child has been brought up as part of the small community called a home; there he has learnt what submission to authority means, through being subject to his parents; there he has learnt what co-operation means, through living with elder and with younger members of the family."29
It is through family and family alone that a person learns in childhood how to deal with the burdens of living, and in particular of living within a civilization: including the burdens of disciplined work, responsibility, risk-taking, saving, honesty, the honouring of promises, and alike. An impersonal group, such as government is not up to any of this. "Personal education," therefore, can only come through family units; and yet, government involvement, - not just in education, but rather in the broader social welfare system - as we have already pointed out, is, in many situations, destructive of the family unit.

But, of course, education, if our children are to be made ready for the modern competitive world, must go beyond that which an average family can provide.30 And so, it is likely desirable that a standard school system should be publicly supported; but not with the size of the curriculum that now exists, nor at the expense of free choice.31

There is a new movement, a relatively new one, starting to make itself felt, the educational choice movement. It has arisen spontaneously from the grass roots; from those among us, mostly parents, who can see the problems in the present system; and, further, can see that the resolution, by the very nature of the problem, cannot come from within, but can only come from without the system. The movement seeks fundamental reform of the educational system. It offers up some interesting solutions, solutions that extend from the outright privatization of education to those that would involve market orientated solutions such as contracting out instruction, vouchers, home schooling, franchised learning centers, and alike.

A final set of dilemmas has to do with what children bring to school and how they are to be treated once there. One concerns the distribution of teacher resources. Should all children be given equal resources (time, attention, etc.)? Or, should we focus more of our scarce resources on the less talented, in order to bring them up to standards? Or, should we focus more on the talented students, in order for them to reach their full potential? (Incidently, the same question arises in regard to the distribution of justice.) Should classroom rules be applied uniformly without regard to the differing circumstances of each child, or should family background, economic factors, and other sociological influences be considered? Should a teacher stress a common culture or ethnic differences and subculture consciousness?

"... how much participation can teachers have in the administration of the school? how much participation can parents and students have? who evaluates and for what purpose? is the role of administration collegial or authority centered? The area of the curriculum brings up similar problems; is the school oriented to basic skills, advanced skills, social skills? should the curricula be teacher made or nationally distributed? should student evaluation be based on teacher assessment or standardized tests? ... Should the schools be oriented to ameliorate the so-called deficits that some students bring with them, or should they see different cultures and groups as strengths? Should schools be seen as agents of change, oriented to the creation of a more just society, or as socializers that adapt the young to the current social structure?"32
The resolutions to these dilemmas are not to be found by the workings of a select group, we try and we try, one tortuous meeting after another; the resolutions to these dilemmas can only be found in the educational market.

As professional educators have taken over, control by parents has weakened. In addition, the function assigned to schools has changed. They are still expected to teach the three R's and to transmit common values. In addition, however, schools are now regarded as means of promoting social mobility, racial integration, and other objectives only distantly related to their fundamental task.33

So, I submit, if there is to be public schools, there only need to be ones at an elementary level: reading (I mean reading well), writing (I mean writing reasonably well), and arithmetic (more is required than a passing knowledge of adding and subtraction, higher levels must be achieved, and, in addition, a working knowledge of elementary accounting principles, and further, and most certainly, a working knowledge of computers). Have twelve grades, if it suits, but after age sixteen they should be let loose out into the cruel world; at that age, it is generally where they want to be, anyway. In such elementary matters private schools may compete, and, in addition, where the demand exists, private schools would branch out into other "educational" areas, whether it be religious instruction to basket weaving, strictly according to individual choice. A wonderful diversity, without any social arguments, would emerge; - diversity always arises in a market system. So that every child will have an equal opportunity to participate in this diverse market system, the state would give a voucher, graduated to age, for every child, beginning at, say, the child's second year of age; the parent or parents can then trade it in, to any "school" they like, from one supplying something not much more than a simple sitting service, to one that is prepared to go into advance quantum theory, - parents' choice; they just pay the voucher and what ever extra the school of the parents choosing may want to charge. An argument from any person that some children, in such a system, will not get a proper education, is not, given what our existing system is currently turning out, an acceptable argument against such a free market voucher system.

It is important that children receive an education; though it should not outrank the necessity to keep them fed, dry and warm. There is no good reason to think we, collectively as a group, should legislatively bind ourselves to universally provide education at the expense of the state, anymore then we should be bound to universally provide free food, or free clothes, or free housing, or free whatever. There are those, of course, among us who believe all such things should come for nothing, but these people, no matter how laudable their ideals may be, live in a dream world. The real world is that life is a burden for most all of us; and with parenthood comes the parental responsibility of providing for their offspring, and where they cannot do so, then the charitable institutions of society are there to take on the job, which should, of necessity, for the working of the whole, bring on great shame to disabled parents. "They [socialists] see the unequal distribution of this life's advantages; they perceive that superior education accounts for most of these advantages; they fancy that by making education more general they shall succeed in distributing these advantages, and especially wealth, more equally."34

8. Conclusion

Plainly we are required to move beyond our existing educational system, and in so doing it is hoped that we will leave behind a mode of thinking inherited from those with roots in the misty dark ages when everything was a mystery.

"In adapting our old educational system to our new vision, a lot of cargo will have to be jettisoned - once noble but now mouldering myths, shiny but useless aphorisms, Utopian but unfounded speculations, nasty projections of our prejudices and repressions. Thus, man was not created in his present form a few thousand years ago. Mankind is not descended from Adam and Eve, or any other single couple. Children are not born with a load of original sin derived from the Fall, nor with a tabula rasa of a mind ready to be inscribed with what ever message educators wish. There never was a Golden age, nor a Noble Savage. There are no pure races, nor any Superior or Master Races. Mind and Body are not separate entities. There are no absolutes of truth or virtue, only possibilities of greater knowledge and fuller perfection."35
Whatever it is that we expect of our educational system, it cannot take care of our babies, that we must leave in the hands of the parents; nor can we expect that it will provide the essential seasoning which all young adults require, this we must leave to their employers. One's expectations of any educational system can be clarified and delimited by the realization that there is a difference between what might be described as instruction or training, versus, those activities that help form character in a human being.

Equality of opportunity to an education is for society a primary objective. Though much depends on the meaning of the word education, it can hardly be said that our present system has achieved this dearly held objective. It does not even come close! The bloody flag of equal opportunity hangs frayed and limp above an educational field littered with ideals and expensive governmental mechanisms, which are now so many wrecks strewn about, and which, because of a dried up government treasury, will soon be turned into a stack of smoldering smithereens. Do I exaggerate: remember, please, that I write about a system where upwards to 17.5%36 of the students dropout! - about a system which has "educated" a population, a population of which 37% cannot meet most everyday reading skills! It is time for a change.


Found this material Helpful?



1 "Expert": - one who knows more and more about less and less. In my field I deal with them regularly. An "expert" is often needed in a court case, so to cancel out the other guy's "expert."

2 "Partly for the purpose of defense and partly for the purpose of gaining status the leaders in administration claimed the label "scientific" for their accounting procedures. They were not equipped through their training to ask or answer the really basic questions in education. But they were energetic, capable men and they rushed into the vacuum that existed and built an empire of professional courses on a foundation of sand." Wm. Foster, Paradigms and Promises (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1986), at p. 17, in quoting R. Callahan, Education and the Cult of Efficiency (University of Chicago Press). Foster continues, at p. 18, and writes that most of the "scientific" models of administration, - the ones studied in our universities - are positive ones; he (Foster) attacks these positivist models as inadequate in that they fail to consider "the many social, cultural, and educational issues in our society." Positivism is a school of thought first developed by Auguste Comte and was in turn advanced by John Stuart Mill, the followers of this school believe in the progress of mankind toward a superior state of civilization, all of which might be accomplished by the "science" of sociology. Those who subscribe to the tenets of logical positivism believe that "values, ethics, and morality would simply become matters of assertion or preference." Whatever one's assertion or preference might be in these areas, it can be demonstrated by historical fact that the values that human beings hold, "good" or "bad," come about through a slow inculcation process, over generations, usually by the medium of the family unit, through tradition and culture. It is likely that a child cannot be "schooled" in such things; at any rate, our school administrators are adverse to getting too involved in such things. The reason for this is that modern educational administrative theory is a "science." Though, like any science, it is to be value free and objective. "There is no place for ethical assertions in the body of science." (See Herbert Simon, the father of "administrative science," his work Administrative Behaviour (1947) as cited and quoted by Foster at p. 43.) Before coming to any conclusions in this area one should read the works of the philosopher, Sir Karl Popper; and the Nobel prize winning economist, F. A. Hayek.

3 The two terms "education" and "schooling" are not synonymous. One pertains to enlightenment or understanding, the other to discipline and training. Not all education is schooling, and not all schooling is education. In some cases, an education does not take long, however, most of us spend a lifetime schooling ourselves. Many educated people are not schooled.

4 Basil De Selincourt (1876-?) "The English Secret," to be found at p. 302 in Selected Modern English Essays (Oxford University Press, 1927), p. 304-5.

5 These words are borrowed from Sir Julian Huxley, who continues: "Much of education in this broad sense is unorganized, acquired through press and radio and public meetings or through self-education." [Evolutionary Humanism (Buffalo, N.Y.: Prometheus, 1992), p. 117.]

6 Selincourt, op. cit., p. 306.

7 Foster, op. cit., p. 88.

8 M. Horkheimer and T. W. Adorno, as quoted and cited by Foster, op. cit., at p. 88.

9 Foster, op. cit., p. 21.

10 Paul Kurtz, A Secular Humanist Declaration (Free Inquiry, 1980), p. 22-23.

11 The great inventors and producers of the nineteenth century, as a reading of history will show, came from the poor families.

12 Foster, op. cit., p. 64.

13 K. Weick, "Educational Organizations as Loosely Coupled Systems," Administrative science Quarterly 21(1):1-19; as quoted by Foster, op. cit., p. 129-130.

14 One must not only count the millions and millions of dollars of our tax money spent, but also the costs which everyday make itself more heavily felt: an uneducated public, hard economic times, and social unrest.

15 Oliver Wendell Holmes's Autocrat of The Breakfast-Table.

16 The English constitution -- being the sum total of English laws and traditions, a catalogue of which does not exist -- has been, at one time or another, the envy of all countries; it evolved; it did not come folded in a number of legislative edicts.

17 R. P. Farley, "Education"; to be found at p. 273 in The Growth of Political Liberty (1921); Ernest Rhys, Ed.; (Dent, Everyman's Lib., n.d.) pp. 273-4.

18 Now, it maybe that the law makers had the public good in mind when education was first made "free" and compulsory, but, in the process, narrower interests were served. "Though the arguments were all pitched in terms of the public interest, much of the support of teachers and administrators for the public school movement derived from a narrow self-interest. They expected to enjoy greater certainty of employment, greater assurance that their salaries would be paid, and a greater degree of control if government rather than parents were immediate paymaster. ... government takeover ... resulted from pressure by teachers, administrators, and well-meaning intellectuals, rather than parents." (Professor West in his study, Education and the State, as referred to by the Friedmans (Milton & Rose) at footnote #10, Chapter 6, Free To Choose (New York: Avon, 1981). West "concludes that the government takeover reduced the quality and diversity of schooling.")

19 See George Macaulay Trevelyan's British History in the Nineteenth Century (1782-1901), p. 354.

20 Trevelyan, op. cit., p. 28.

21 Trevelyan, op. cit., p. 28.

22 By 1832 the Board of Commissioners were charged with the responsibility within its district to purchase "School Books, Pens, Paper, Pencils, Slates and Ink for the use of Poor Children." Otherwise, it is expected that the parents and teachers should supply their own. It is interesting to note that while teachers might be obliged to provide their own teaching materials, they were, it would seem, treated as a privileged lot; - a licensed teacher, while employed "shall be exempted from the performance of statute labour on the highways and from militia duty, from serving in any town office or on juries, and from the payment of all rates."

23 In light the social problems with which we are faced today, certain of these legislated duties are of interest, and in particular: the teacher was to "inculcate by precept and example a respect for religion and the principles of Christian morality, and the highest regard to truth, justice, love of country, loyalty, humanity, benevolence, sobriety, industry, frugality, chastity, temperance, and all other virtues" [74 (5)]; and to "reimburse the trustees for any destruction of school property ... [74 (8)]." Another obligation was imposed on the teacher by 1900: "Appropriate instruction shall be regularly given in all public schools as to the nature of all alcoholic drinks and narcotics, including tobacco, and special instructions as to their effect upon the human system shall be given in connection with the subjects of physiology and hygiene. Such instruction shall be given orally, to pupils unable to read, from a suitable text-book in the hands of the teacher, and to all other pupils from such text-book, in the hands of the pupils, as is from time to time prescribed by the Council [Council of Public Instruction]."

24 I mean this in the market or property sense; it is in the nature of man to take responsibility for a situation in which he has an interest. While we all have a general interest in an educated population, it is the parent and the child which has the primary interest in education, therefore the primary responsibility must be left to them. Even if the state could educate our young (and there is good evidence it cannot) the process will not work when responsibility is taken out of the hands of the parents and the children.

25 As quoted by B. H. Alford, "Free Education"; to be found at p. 261 in A Plea for Liberty, An Argument Against Socialism and Socialistic Legislation (New York: Appleton, 1891), p. 268.

26 Alford, op. cit., p. 270-1.

27 One need only look to the history books to see numerous examples where the state, in the name of education, has attempted to "adjust" the character of individual members.

28 Selincourt, op. cit., p. 309-10.

29 Alford, op. cit., p. 267.

30 In this high-tech age much learning can take place, right in the home. Each family, particularly where there are school aged children should have, after food and shelter, a communicating computer equipped with a CD-ROM drive. There then could be one teacher in a central spot, in this new age, who could keep track of a number students with her "server computer." Teachers, like the VON, could pay visits where necessary, or the children could be pulled in one week out of every four. It seems to me that this approach should cut out three quarters of the existing school rooms. This approach does not deal with the "baby sitting" function, nor, well enough, with the "socializing" function of the existing system; but maybe these functions should be treated in a separate manner, maybe each area should have fun centers which offer facilities so that kids can do what they want to do, facilities which do not exist under the banner of an educational institution and which would function without all the high paid administrative and educational "experts."

31 It is to be remember that public schools are subsidized by our tax dollars 100%, and private schools are not.

32 Foster, op. cit., p. 26.

33 The Friedmans, op. cit., p. 140.

34 Alford, op. cit., p. 266-7.

35 Huxley, op. cit., p. 123.

36 This is a percentage to all male students in Halifax city enrolled in grades 10 to 12, for the school year 1990/91; see above under the section entitled "The State of Provincial Education."

[Essays, First Series]
[Essays, Second Series]
[Essays, Third Series]
[Essays, Fourth Series]
[Subject Index]

2016 (2021)

Peter Landry