6 February 2008


The topic of educational conscription in PMQs:

Do you believe in education till 18? the PM responded.
Do you want A-levels in the long term? asked Cameron.
Do you believe in education till 18? said the PM.
Why won't you give me a straight answer?! from DC.
All very dignified. Not. But at least the subject this group blog has now moved to the very top table of politics!

5 February 2008

Research and experience

Was it Orwell who said the best books are the ones that tell you what you already know? You could say the same about research and experience; it's always nice when the former confirms the latter. Chris Dillow has some here.

4 February 2008

Parlance Musing

Leaving aside for the moment the morality of forcing young people to attend courses or training they neither want nor need, does educational coercion actually exist and if so why?

No one would argue that the law says your children have to go to school until the age of sixteen. In practice the chances of a parent falling foul of the law are extremely low. A law which is not enforced is no law at all.
Never having thought about this issue very much until recently I had always presumed educational coercion was originally aimed at that minority of parents who do not value education and would not force their children to attend.
There are a number of problems with this, of course. The law is aimed at all parents and yet the majority would send their children to school anyway. What's the point of threatening people who are only too happy to do what you want anyway? Secondly, the minority who do not value education are probably members of the "poor" and therefore as far as our political masters are concerned, not responsible for their own actions, hence the ineffective enforcement. I know of only one person in my area who was ever imprisoned for failing to send her kids to school and this was after literally years of warnings, visits from officials and threats. She knew she was unlikely to be held responsible for her children's truancy and frankly did not expect to be. Thirdly, you can force a child to attend, but you can't make it learn. All that will happen is that it will disrupt education for those who do wish to do well. So not only is educational coercion a bad idea, on the whole, but in practice it only applies to those who already do send their kids to school. If coercion doesn't help the children of the poor what is it really for?

Utilitarian arguments appear to be being used to justify the present proposals, "equipping our young people with the right skills" etc. This argument needs turning on its head. There is no evidence that coercion makes any difference at all in fact it is probably counter-productive. The absence of disruptive and disaffected influences in the classroom are bound to have a beneficial effect on the majority of pupils.

Then there is the question of the often appalling quality of state education and the morality of forcing people to attend. Why is it so bad? The Gray Monk may give us a clue:

"One of Labour's favourite "Think Tanks" has just published a report I would find risible, if it were not for the fact that it is intellectually and morally insulting - quite apart from the fact that it is so blatantly twisted against anything English, or for that matter, "British". The thrust of the report is that our history is so shameful we should not teach it to our children, that they should, instead, be taught about everyone else's history and how noble and good they were as they struggled to overcome our evil doings.

As I said, insulting and frankly anti-British."

Read the rest here. I would only add, why should our children be forced to put up with this type of mendacious crap?

Why is coercion persisted with? Simple. Lust for power, empire building and a desire for monopoly supply. It was ever thus. Here is the Superintendent of Public Instruction in New York, commenting in 1871, on the proposal to make school attendance compulsory:

"It is palpable that the prominent defect, that calls for speedy reformation, is not incomplete attendance, but poor teaching…. I speak of the needed improvement in the particular mentioned, in comparison with compulsion, as a means of securing attendance; and I contend, that, before sending out ministers of the law to force children to school, we should place genuine teachers in the school room to attract them ... the improvement in question should be made before resorting to the doubtful experiment of compulsion. It cannot be done suddenly by legislation."

Naturally the Superintendent did not get his way. Much easier for teachers and officials to make attendance mandatory than to make schools attractive and useful enough to make parents want to send their children there and for the children to want to go.

The real reason then, for educational conscription is the desire for monopoly and control. This is why independent schools are regularly threatened with the withdrawal of their charitable status or even outright abolition. The problem is state control and coercion so what we need, obviously, is more state control and coercion. And what will we need when these latest proposals turn out to be another expensive failure? More state control and coercion, of course. What next? Newborn babies being taken from there mothers for their own good perhaps? Oh no, that's already starting to happen isn't it...?

*We don't have a secondary school in my town anymore That is, it's called something else now. Something much more important sounding. Can you guess? Here's a clue: Parlance Musing (8,6) anag. First correct answer gets to punch Alan Johnson on the nose while I hold him down. Luckily our political masters think some traditions are worth preserving. The education's still crap.