Yesterday, I began an essay on formal education purely for fun. I went wild–to the point of exposing the worst of my sexist and racist views. Today, I went through what I’d written and took the racism and sexism out–but not only left a good many abominably politically-incorrect opinions in it, but added to them. The result, which is still only a rough draft of the beginning of a fairly full essay, I hope, follows:
The Function of Formal Education: a Nastily Elitist View
I love knowledge, but I also love freedom, genuine freedom, by which I mean maximal appropriate personal freedom, or the freedom to do whatever I want to do so long as I do not physically encroach on someone else’s private property against his will except to prevent such an encroachment on my own private property (which I define as all material objects I legitimately own and my physical body) or to respond legally to the results of such an encroachment (to take back a stolen computer, for instance). To give a partial reasonably full definition which should suffice for my purposes here. My love of knowledge keeps me from being as hostile to America’s system of compulsory formal education as my love of freedom constantly tries to drive me to. It also will prevent me from scaring off 99.9% of the potential readers of this essay by arguing that no American parent should be forced to send his kid to some school, or even to force home schooling on him instead.
I have no doubt that many teachers and others involved with the running of schools share my love of knowledge, though I’d be surprised if more than one in a thousand of the teachers, or one in ten thousand of the administrators, gave it the value I do, and therefore deemed it close to being the sole proper aim of any school, or even a school’s highest aim. Be that as it may, formal education is America’s true state religion. Hence, my arguing that it should be abolished would be a waste of time. Better that I ignore my love of freedom, and use this essay to show how to go about making that will forever be forced on us better, something it would seem just about e very feels the need to do.
(Note: I’m afraid I’m unable to keep myself from saying one more thing that will horribly antagonize any leftist reading this: in the final analysis, I don’t think it matters what kind of system of formal education we have: regardless of how bad our schools are, those with the right genes will find ways to learn what they need to lead productive lives; and regardless of how good our schools are, those with the wrong genes won’t. The majority with neither the right nor the wrong genes will readily enough take the many simple jobs those with the right genes are too intelligent to be good at. Meanwhile, most of us without the wrong genes will have sufficient innate empathy to support a substantial imbecile class, even without being forced to as we are now.)
The first point I need to make concerns something I think very few of the huge number of articles currently being written on this subject bother with, or—it they do—spend more than a paragraph or two on: it is “what should the goals of a system of formal education be?” My impression is that the answer to this is assumed to be: to give students the knowledge they need to lead fulfilled lives in our society, be good citizens, and slide smoothly into various properly-regulated holes (implicitly-regulated if not explicitly) in the country’s economy they’ll be paid to fill.
Having assumed this answer, the writers concerned will generally pick one of the three goals to berate as being over-emphasized at the expense of one or both of the other two, or to bewail how under-emphasized some goal is because of the foolish over-emphasis of one or both of the other two. Rather than get into any of the inane solutions such articles then present to their authors’ perceived defects in our schools, I am going to try to tackle the question anew, beginning with a fact other commentators are either unaware of or discount as unimportant: the fact that schools at present have more than the three goals indicated, each of them important. Hence, all of them must be addressed.
Here’s one obvious goal: to free parents of their children for over six hours a day. Two more that leftists will not want to hear about: to give positions of power to busybodies (I’m thinking of teachers and school administrators much more concerned with instilling their moral standards into their charges than imparting any kind of worthwhile knowledge), and provide a source of high income for union organizers. Closely related is the goal of providing work for government overseers of education. One other goal is to help the country’s economy by providing a huge market for books and other educational materials, some of them superfluous, many of them of only partial value (I’m thinking of the many preposterously expensive hardbound books students are given that most of them pretty much ignore, and that are unnecessarily large and expensively-packaged).
I forgot one other quite important goal: to provide jobs for teachers, school administrators, and centralized administrators (the most preposterously over-paid and superfluous of the system’s parasites). I was a high-school substitute teacher for fourteen years and come from a family that’s almost always had a teacher in it, including my sister and her husband, and I found almost all the ones I’ve known to be good people dedicated to their jobs; but I’m tired of continually hearing how underpaid they are. (When I retired as a sub, I was taking in ten dollars an hour, with no benefits—and quite content with that. But I never had a wife or automobile to support, so was able to get by on a low income; moreover, except for a period in my life when I lost a lot of money investing in a nowhere-going career as a visual poet that led, finally, to severe credit-card debt I still haven’t worked my way out of although a wealthy friend has helped me financially, I’ve always tried to do something Americans no longer seem expected to: live within my means.)
My real problem with how much teachers make is my problem with what all government workers make: they get paid, basically, for time in grade—although many bureaucrats get paid for ability to pass tests, as well; very few of them get paid for performance. Some schools do manage to weed out the ones they believe to be under-performing but without very intelligent ways of determining under-performance. This topic I will return to later in my essay. My main point is that individual teachers are as accountable as they should be. Even less accountable are individual schools. Least accountable are entire systems of schools.
To be fair, however, school systems are accountable to the voters of their communities, who ultimately decide how much their local governments can steal from property owners for the use on the schools. This is not much accountability—because the average American voter is far too ignorant of what schools are doing with the huge sums of money squandered on them, and indoctrinated with the educational establishment’s crap about how much formal education repays tax-payers by providing them with tomorrow’s doctors, for instance (I like and admire my own doctors, but not one of them has deducted the taxes I paid for his education from what he billed me; aside from that, I believe almost everyone learns a lot more that he will go on to use in his vocation outside schools than in them, and has to unlearn a lot of what was forced on him in schools).
Obviously, how much a school system contributes to the greater good is a highly debatable matter. I don’t expect very many to agree with me on it. What I hope a fair number of those reading this will agree to, however, is that it is a debatable question, and depends on what a given individual considers the greater good.
Which brings us back to the goals of schools. The over-all goal has to be to make a contribution to what most people would agree is the greater good of society. My way of dealing with how schools should do this is to go back to my list of the goals I say all institutions of formal education have (with some fascinating additions):
1. to give students the knowledge they need to lead fulfilled lives in our society
2. to make good citizens of students
3. to help students to slide smoothly into various properly-regulated holes (implicitly-regulated if not explicitly) in the country’s economy they’ll be paid to fill upon graduation.
4. to free parents of their children for over six hours a day
5. to give positions of power to busybodies (I’m thinking of those teachers and school administrators much more concerned with instilling their moral standards into their charges than imparting any kind of knowledge
6. provide a source of high income for union organizers
7. provide work for government overseers of education
8. to help the country’s economy by providing a huge market for books and other educational materials, and–of course–the construction industry, and many other industries
9. to provide jobs for teachers, school administrators, and centralized administrators (the most preposterously over-paid and superfluous of the system’s parasites)
10. to help pederasts meet suitable marital partners
11. to make dangerous sages like Socrates was easier to keep track of.
12. to more readily identify those of superior intelligence before they become dangerous sages
13. to give politicians something to fight over and persuade citizens to give them more funds and power to oversee
14. to give halfwits a basis for believing their children can get somewhere in spite of being the children of halfwits
15. to facilitate licensing, and–therefore–facilitate possibly the government’s most important function: assuring that credentials rather than accomplishments will be materially rewarded in America