Saturday, May 26, 2012

Free Education

It's all in how you understand the adjective.

Many in Quebec are pushing for tuition-free education.

I am pushing for government-free education.

Never thought I'd end up here, having been socialistically educated.

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Frederick the Great, totalitarian par excellent.
One generation's truth is sometimes totally missed by another. Most education has been government-free over the millenia. In this age of so-called democratic freedom one might be surprised to realize that one doesn't enjoy a fraction of the freedoms that a citizen of Rome did, for instance, yes, oppressive Imperial Rome. For instance, the freedom to learn what and how one desired. No, the freedom wasn't limitless but it was certainly freer than today - by a long shot. Astronomically. So, how is it that Western Democracies are so inconsistent in this - that they exalt the freedom of the press, but not the freedom of education? I respond by saying that we are currently experiencing a domino-effect, one that began with the circumvention of freedom in education.

When was educational freedom circumvented? It was never totally free, I repeat, not even in the minds of the most 'free-thinking' Enlightenment figures, like Voltaire, etc. The first big problem was endemic to the initial rejection of church-run education: it was a new arrangement of sovereign and philosophe, typified by Voltaire, on the one side, and Frederick of Prussia, on the other. Voltaire's famous History of Charles XII of Sweden indicates very clearly how both sides had in mind how education was to be used to further the totalitarian pretensions of the state. In every case - England, France, Germany, Russia, education was sponsored, not out of abstract love of the good or the true, but to make the state more powerful. People were pawns in this. So, in other words, state-run educational systems are extension of totalitarianism. This three hundred year history has seem some darker moments and some lighter moments, but the progress has been relentless and the greatest casualties, truth and freedom. The fact that all Western States have very fixed limits for variation in education seems to argue that the contemporary state depends upon uniformity. I don't this is strictly speaking the case, but inertia is a powerful thing.

I think we need to recognize that the state can only interfere with education, never aid it. People were made for freedom, and the state merely to facilitate that from egregious violations, usually from external, hostile forces.

Going back to the history lesson. I recall how universal education was sold in my Canadian history textbook in grade twelve. People like George Brown and so on were heralded as heroes. I say, rather, that they are villains. Universal is always unilateral and homogeneous. Whereas the Romans permitted Platonic, Peripatetic, Stoic, Epicurean, Jewish and other conceptions of pedagogy, our system does not.

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Voltaire, best bud with all the totalitarians of his time.
People should have the freedom not to contribute to the state. Here is where some of you who have been sympathetic to me so far will part company. Hear me out. Education should not be treated according to the dictates of an industrialized economy, but rather, according to the dictates of the good of the human person. But this is a harder thing to plan for - and don't bureaucrats love to plan! It is easier to figure out what curriculum will make good workers for the industrialized economy, but to make good human beings - that is far trickier. We need freedom to discover the best way - and the government won't permit that.

Few would doubt that our system of education is poor, appallingly poor. When a single-mother can teach her child to read, write and calculate better in her basement than an entire, monolithic system supported by billions of dollars can, that is appalling, and yet we see this time and again. The fact that the only argument that is consistently made against homeschooling is how is comes up short in terms of the socializing aspect is not an argument against it at all. In other words, it is granted that a mother on her own can bring about better results than a billion-dollar system.

But that the system is poor does not deal with my objection to it. It could be good. Maybe. Let's say that it was, and by good I mean that it taught the 3-Rs well. Say that was so.

Even if it were effective, the cost is too great. I don't mean money (it is it is also too expensive), no, I mean the cost to freedom. Let me say it again, our modern states would not permit Socrates, Jesus, Plato, Buddha, Zeno, and Aristotle to do their thing. In Germany parents who would send their kids to any of the above-mentioned would be thrown in jail - as in Canada, so would people who went to Jesus' school (because of His teaching on marriage, among other things).

The state has come too far to permit rivals, like Siddhartha or any one else who wanted to discover a better way.

Maybe next post should be about the cost to virtue - particular to civic virtue - of this totalitarian kind of education.

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