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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

John Stuart Mill and Rick Santorum agree: what is going on here?


In 1859, John Stuart Mill, an important English philosopher wrote this about education: 
If the government would make up its mind to require for every child a good education, it might save itself the trouble of providing one. It might leave to parents to obtain the education where and how they pleased, and content itself with helping to pay the school fees of the poorer classes of children, and defraying the entire school expenses of those who have no one else to pay for them. The objections which are urged with reason against State education, do not apply to the enforcement of education by the State, but to the State's taking upon itself to direct that education: which is a totally different thing. That the whole or any large part of the education of the people should be in State hands, I go as far as any one in deprecating. All that has been said of the importance of individuality of character, and diversity in opinions and modes of conduct, involves, as of the same unspeakable importance, diversity of education. A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government. 
Yesterday, It was reported in the New York Times, that Rick Santorum,
 said the idea of schools run by the federal government or by state governments was “anachronistic.”
The Times article goes on to say that:
But it was the latest in a series of comments by the former Pennsylvania senator — who is tied in polls in the critical Ohio and Michigan primary contests — suggesting that he takes a dim view of public schooling. He and his wife home-schooled their children.
For the first 150 years, most presidents home-schooled their children at the White House, he said. “Where did they come up that public education and bigger education bureaucracies was the rule in America? Parents educated their children, because it’s their responsibility to educate their children.”
“Yes the government can help,” Mr. Santorum added. “But the idea that the federal government should be running schools, frankly much less that the state government should be running schools, is anachronistic. It goes back to the time of industrialization of America when people came off the farms where they did home-school or have the little neighborhood school, and into these big factories, so we built equal factories called public schools. And while those factories as we all know in Ohio and Pennsylvania have fundamentally changed, the factory school has not.”
Now, I cannot say that I am a big fan of Rick Santorum (or truth be told any of the other candidates for President.) Presidential candidates tend to agree with each other about education when they are not simply lying about it.
Here is Barack Obama on the campaign trail four years ago:
And don't tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend most of the year preparing him to fill in a few bubbles on a standardized test.  I don't want teachers to the -- teaching to the test. I don't want them uninspired and I don't want our students uninspired. 
He doesn’t want students taking tests all day, eh? He has a  funny way of showing it.
And here he is later on in the same speech actually quoting me (without mentioning my name):
We'll teach our students not only math and science, but teamwork and critical thinking and communication skills, because that's how we'll make sure they're prepared for today's workplace.
Of course presidential candidates have never been too keen on the truth, so why am I surprised he never did any of this?
But I am surprised by Sanatorium because he seems to actually mean it. He homeschools his own kids after all. So the real question is just how crazy an idea is this? Should the government get out of the eduction business?
To think about this correctly one has only to ask if countries run by dictators or by religious authorities would ever consider getting out of the education business? You can’t have a Communist country without an education system that teaches why your country is right and all other countries are wrong. You can’t really imagine that Iran isn’t controlling every word taught in their schools. Well, so are we. In a real democracy the government does not run the schools, nor produce the tests. The government must simply require as J.S. Mill said, that every child be educated.
While people who believe in democracy hold up the schools of Stalin or Hitler as the very paradigm of education gone wrong,  somehow we still think the government should be in charge of education. Here is my favorite quote by Mark Twain.
In the first place, God made idiots. That was for practice. Then he made school boards. 

Government run schools are not a good idea. There is always a truth being taught whether that truth is importance of algebra and what passes for science or whether it is the proper things to believe about our leaders.  Schools feel and look like factories and prisons because children and being made to conform and forced to be there.  
We need to re-think education. The first step is re-thinking the role of government in education. Santorum is right about this and I am pleased to see a presidential candidate raise the real issues in education. Of course, the Media make fun of him for raising these issue simply because they cannot conceive of any alternative to government run education. (Possibly because they all attended government run schools that taught them the truth.) The media needs to get smarter so the conversation about education can get smarter. 

1 comment:

gfrblxt said...

I am so conflicted about this. On the one hand, I understand the idea of wanting to stay away from education organized by large political units, be they federal (or state!) governments; on the other hand, I have a real issue with the idea that the education that a student will receive will be determined solely by their geographic location. I'm not going to claim that that's not what occurs now (i.e., a student in Canarsie vs. a student in Ridgewood, NJ), but the idea that a local school board could decide, for example, to teach creationism instead of evolution, or some weird variant of history, really bothers me.

I guess, in my heart, the idea that the "market" as opposed to "government" deciding what students should really learn is troubling to me. Don't we know enough, by now, to at least agree on some things that students should all learn by some age (say 16), regardless of income level or location? And if we don't, shouldn't we admit that?

Finally, apropos homeschooling - the social fabric of our country is pretty frayed at the moment. Are you really arguing that we'd be better off if everyone was homeschooled? Or is there some other method of developing a common culture that is detached from formal education? That might be an interesting mental exercise.