Evolving Thoughts

Evolution, culture, philosophy and chocolate! John Wilkins' continuing struggle to come to terms with impermanence... "Humanus sum, nihil humanum a me alienum puto" - Terence

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

How to destroy public education

The pinup boy for unfettered competition, Alan Fels, has predicted that a voucher system such as is often proposed in America by neo-conservatives to allow parents to move from public to private schools without (much) extra to pay, will "revolutionise" Australian secondary education.

It most certainly will. It will effectively gut public schools and allow private schools to do whatever they like secure in the knowledge they are regarded as better than the rest. Educational standards will surely slip rapidly.

What is the underlying rationale for this? Usually it is posed in terms of parental choice and not having to pay twice - once through taxation for education, once through fees - if one chooses to send a child to a private school. But this, like all totally individualistic accounts of social interaction, fails to recognise that even those who send their kids to private schools benefit from living in a society which is broadly educated to a good standard. This was one of the reasons why we instituted a universal education system in the first place, and one of the reasons that the west did so well economically.

Moreover, it is now known that many initial sets of conditions can drive a "free market" to ruin, both in biology and society. One of the most well-known of these is the Tragedy of the Commons, from a paper by Garret Hardin by that title; others are known to game theory. This is not new, either - these results are 40 years old. So why do some "economists" persist in claiming that a free market is an unqualified good thing?

The Law of Unintended Consequences is always operating. Why do the ideologically driven fail to see that? [Did I just answer my own question?]