The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

Monday, November 10, 2008

Is Compulsory Education the Problem?

Thanks to those who’ve commented on my first post with their thoughtful and pithy remarks! Governmentally-controlled, compulsory education is a significant source of today’s educational problems, from kindergarten through graduate school.

Interestingly, in the highly influential book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, Richard Hofstadter quotes Horace Mann, complaining about the problems of public education: “…more than eleven-twelfths of all the children in the reading-classes in our schools do not understand the meaning of the words they read.” “…the schools have retrograded within the last generation or half generation in regard to orthography.” According to Mann, wealthier parents typically gave up on the public schools and sent their children to private institutions.

Mann was writing in 1837. Shocking, how similar his complaints are to those today. But then, the bureaucracy of public education, wherein the provider and the customer are not aligned in their self-interest, works against the student’s needs. In his book, Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism: Educational Theory for a Free Market in Education by Jerry Kirkpatrick fruitfully applies Ludwig von Mises principles of bureaucracy to the problem and makes sense of some of the seemingly senseless aspects of public education.

However, I know many people who were fairly well educated in public schools of the 50’s and 60’s, and earlier. Even today, many Chinese, Serbian, and Somalian immigrant children manage to learn a tremendous amount attending public schools, even Chicago public schools. These students often go on to challenging college programs and achieve professional success.

Clearly, government-run schooling is a part of the problem, but not the whole story.

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