Sunday, November 9, 2014

 Bridging the gap between "Left"  and  "Right"

The Power of Social Principles

I. Why is our US Government Plagued by Gridlock?

The political gridlock in Washington is rendering our country more and more ungovernable and leading to a dangerous polarization of political forces. To overcome it, we will need to look at the driving forces behind the tug-of-war inherent in our two-party system. For underlying this tug of war of competing political interests lies a conflict which has not yet been fully appreciated: the conflict between two of the great ideals upon which our nation was founded, ideals that we hold to be self-evident, that we feel very strongly about and are willing to fight for: Freedom and Equality.

Freedom and Equality need not conflict. Freedom of speech is not at all incompatible with Equality before the law. But there are areas where we disagree, often quite passionately, about which of these ideals should apply. And this confusion about where these ideals apply is one of the main sources of the polarization we are experiencing in our country today.

As principles, Freedom and Equality are in some ways polar opposites. Freedom unleashes potential – whether creative or destructive, self-centered or selfless, good or bad. This potential radiates out into the world and transforms it. Freedom of thought has no apparent immediate effect upon the surrounding world. Freedom of speech or of the press has more; and the Freedom to drive a car, to develop an industry or to deploy a powerful weapon can have tremendous material impact. The principle of Equality, on the other hand, is often employed as a counterforce to limit Freedom when it impinges on what we feel to be the rights of others. Thus democratic elections were instituted to limit the power of government. Equality before the law, enhanced by civil rights, protects the weak from the overbearing power of the strong. In sum: Freedom is necessary for the unfolding of creative human capacities and is essential to a flourishing cultural life, while Equality is necessary in communal life and has its rightful place in legal and governmental affairs.

How do the ideals of Freedom and Equality play themselves out in our current political polarization?

Republicans feel strongly about Freedom: they want to reduce government to a minimum so that they can exercise their Freedom to the fullest possible extent, unimpeded by government regulation. They abhor socialism because they see it as the abdication of their personal Freedom to a “nanny state.” They especially dislike governmental control of areas such as education, health care, and business. Republicans identify with rugged individualism and value entrepreneurial Freedom, initiative, ingenuity, independence, and hard work.

Democrats, on the other hand, tend to be deeply committed to the ideal of Equality. They are adamant about achieving equal rights for all human beings, regardless of their differences. Democrats want to make sure that justice prevails and the dignity and welfare of the weak and vulnerable are protected. They stand up for workers’ rights, universal access to education and health care, and the protection of the environment. They therefore call for government regulation. They feel strongly that all children should have the same chances in life and should therefore receive the same – or at least an equivalent – education. For similar reasons, most Democrats would prefer a single-payer, universal health care system administered by the government.

There can be no disagreement that Freedom must prevail in such areas as art, science, religion, and journalism. Nor is there any disagreement about the importance of civil rights, Equality before the law, and a just legal system. So there are actually broad areas where Democrats and Republicans agree. There are, however, areas where the principles of Freedom and Equality seem to collide, and it is especially in these areas where the two parties play on the hopes and fears of their constituents to gain political power. There is nothing like confusion and demagoguery to generate emotional polarization, and nothing like clarity and certainty to dispel it.

Let us take a closer look at education. Today, perhaps more than ever, it is recognized that the future of society depends on the quality of education. Yet there is little agreement on how education should be conducted. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that both ideals – Freedom and Equality – play strongly into the field of education. Freedom is essential to education in at least two ways:

In a free society, all parents should have the Freedom to choose the type of education they want for their children. In a post-communist, post national-socialist – i.e., post-totalitarian – era it is simply no longer tenable to argue that the government should determine the education children receive. Government-run education runs counter to the principle that the people should determine their government and not vice versa. That the content and methods of education should be determined by any kind of external authority is incompatible with the feelings of emancipated, freedom-loving modern human beings. Just as there should be Freedom of speech, Freedom to attend a church, to espouse a philosophy, or to read particular books, thus parents should have a choice as to how their children are educated.

The second aspect of education where Freedom should prevail as a matter of course is in teaching. In free democratic societies government officials do not determine the work of artists, pastors, scientists and journalists, nor should they determine what or how teachers teach. Just as artists need to be free to develop their work, so should teachers be free to form their own curriculum, to set their own standards, and to choose their teaching methods. State mandated curricula and teaching methods degrade the teaching profession and undermine the creativity and initiative of teachers. We do not allow bureaucrats to run our businesses, nor should we allow them to run our schools. In the past, public education, overseen by locally elected school boards, contributed greatly to our society. Today, however, public education is increasingly determined by national and even international standards – by centralized government authority, imposed from above and enforced through testing – a system that stifles creativity and initiative. The ones who suffer the most under this system are the children and teachers who are unable to unfold their creative potential.

Just as our founding fathers insisted that there be a separation of church and state, thus we today need to insist that there be a separation of education and state.

On the other hand, as most Democrats will attest, the ideal of Equality also has its place in education: every child has a right to an education, and when it comes to rights, all people are, or should be, equal. Education, like safety, food, shelter, or health care, is something all human beings need in order to live a dignified existence. No one should be deprived of a good education because they are unable to afford it or because of their race or gender. It is therefore the duty of society to ensure that all children – and young people – have equal access to education. Does the principle that each young person has equal educational rights necessarily conflict with the Freedoms outlined above – the Freedom of parents to choose their child’s school or of young people to choose a course of study at a college or university? Does the equal right to an education mean that all education must be equal: that all teachers are constrained to teach the same curriculum?

Education is expensive, and in order to guarantee Freedom of choice (i.e., equal opportunity), sufficient funding for education would have to be provided for parents with children or young people who would otherwise not be able to afford it. This could be in the form of an education voucher that would go to the school of their choice. Teachers, however, would be free to work with like-minded colleagues in independent schools where they could unfold their initiative and creativity.

Thus both the ideal of Freedom and the ideal of Equality could be upheld with regard to education. Of course innumerable details would have to be worked out to realize what has just been described in bold strokes. But unless we begin to think about, and implement, the fundamental principles at work in our society we will remain mired in gridlock because we have failed to bring conscious discernment to the problems that confront us. Freedom and Equality are powerful ideals and unleash powerful emotional forces in our society. And if we fail to become fully conscious of how these ideals apply in areas such as education, these forces will continue to wreak havoc.

If the principle of Freedom were realized as indicated above, Republicans would be happy because education would be liberated from governmental control. And Democrats would also be happy because, for the first time in the history of our country, all children would have an equal right and equal opportunity to enjoy a good education. Poor children would no longer be forced to attend mediocre public schools while rich children attend the best private schools.

The situation is similar when it comes to health care. For some – typically Republicans – Freedom is paramount: the Freedom of patients to choose their doctors and therapies, and the Freedom of doctors to practice their profession without governmental interference. For others – typically Democrats – equal access to health care is of primary concern. As with education, the important thing is to recognize the fundamental validity of both demands and then to act accordingly. 
 Just as when designing a car, one must work with the laws of mechanics, thus in designing an educational system or a health care system, one must work with the ideal principles inherent in these systems. And just as ignoring the laws of mechanics will lead to dysfunctional cars and dangerous accidents, so will ignoring fundamental principles of social life lead to human strife, suffering and political gridlock. 

(Author of this essay not known, reprinted without permission)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Saving Childhood / "Basic School"

Memorandum for a Basic Pedagogy of Doing.
Dr. Peter Guttenhöfer, 2011
On our beautiful earth, nature is at risk. Flowers and animals disappear from the planet, everybody talks about the climate.
But something else is at risk: childhood.
In every country of the world the pressure on children is increasing: school enrollment is gradually being moved to an earlier age, governmental curriculum is enforced for the first ten years of life, reading is taught at the age of three, competition is being intensified among the children, lots of tests, classes become more intellectual, less movement, no arts, no playing.
At home: family structures are breaking down, stressed parents, unemployment, poverty, children sitting alone in front of the screen, computer games. Even the rich people’s children are poor!
Let us do some necessary steps to preserve childhood! Let us give our children at least 10 years of childhood! Only this way will they be able to have enough fantasy to reshape life on earth in a new and better way when they become adults. Because we're dealing with the earth and the youth forces of the earth.
The whole idea of “School” must be re-thought anew! Schools, where children can live, play and work in such a way that their natural gift of imagination can turn into creative fantasy. We need schools where they can live without pressure or fear thus being happy while they learn and grow healthy.
1.) School endangers childhood
The civilization that has spread from Western Europe across the world is hostile to childhood. Life in the cities clearly shows this fact: every unsupervised movement of a child is a danger to his life. Playing is forbidden. All that matters is the unlimited self-fulfillment of the adult person in every material aspect of his being on earth. Childhood and old age are nothing more than annoying, inevitable side-effects.
Childhood has to be useful. As soon as a child shows the first signs of having its own imagination, governmental regulations intervene: compulsory school attendance for all children. The tendency worldwide is now to anticipate compulsory school enrollment to the fifth year of life. Economic cost-profit thinking drives educational processes, both regarding the organization as well as the contents. It is a known fact that all over the world most teachers are underpaid; to the children's unhappiness is added that of their teachers. This leads to the default antipathy between teachers and students.
The child is still seen as an object of socialization, not as the subject of its own upbringing. It is still not regarded as a person who has the right of free development and education, but as a person who must attend school. The truth is that the duty lies in the hands of the adults; when it is born, the child steps into his own rights.
This new consciousness is expressed in the 1989 UN-Convention on the Rights of Children that has been signed by almost every nation in the world.

But we can only fully realize the ideals therein formulated when we fully acknowledge what Janusz Korczak has said:
The child doesn’t only become a human being, it is a human being!”
The current debate about child-abuse has brought to light the fact that in those hideous individual cases, a deeper layer of life is brought to the surface , in which unpurified instincts and egoism create a dangerous mixture with the basic instinct of our modern civilization which is the need to take possession of everything. The effects of this deep layer are expressed, among others, in the worldwide despotic pedagogy, in the style of the school buildings, in the lack of flexibility in school timetables; in a word: a regular day of school.
To acknowledge the child as a subject of his self-education is hard enough, but the idea has finally reached mankind. A next step towards change, the direction of which is shown in the following Rudolf Steiner’s quote, is necessary:
Every education is self-education and we as teachers and educators are only the surroundings of the child educating itself.”
To adapt these surroundings to what the child needs in order to develop fruitfully, would mean, for every adult, a deeply-rooted transformation of living and thinking habits. Civilization would have to be remodeled from the foundations up.
The starting point is the following principle: teachers and children work and learn together. Children of our age don’t accept the “master” anymore, and are even less willing to accept to be isolated from real life all day long through timetables and school rooms. In the best – or worst – case they submit to it. From 12 years on they start to defend themselves. Problems that come along are defined as problems of discipline. But the truth is that it is in the very child's nature to desire to be active, but the school of the modern time prevents the child from being productively active.
The child’s will is projected towards activity; teachers and educators shall therefrom derive the program for their self-education. Rudolf Steiner’s pedagogy was originally based upon the fact that the teacher is a learner and does not necessarily have to be an academically educated pedagogue. Today we can add: Teachers must be workers. To put it the other way round: why are farmers and craftsmen not involved in the process of education and upbringing? The typical teacher today is a person who is released from productive work at the costs of society in order to concentrate on educating children. Even the children themselves are freed from any kind of work to have time for learning. In rich countries this situation is ideally supposed to last up to the age of 25 or 30. That economies cannot pay for it becomes slowly visible. That it is an important contributor to the ruin of the earth has become clear only to a few.
School today is the result of the cultural processes in Middle Europe over the last 250 years, which during their course have brought about the fragmentation of life processes. This fragmentation is painfully visible in the fact that learning and working, playing and working, craftsmanship and education, childhood and industrial societies, rural and urban life have been fully separated from each other. Today school is a place where children become alienated from life. Dispositions are artificial and the so-called “motivation” of students is nothing more than the coercion deriving from the need to pass exams and to earn the related qualifications. This is hostile to children because the child is a being of the present which experiences its sense of existence directly in a spiritual-sensitive way, and not through an envisaged future or by any representation of gaining some competences.

2.) Transformation of school: But how must school be to represent today's children environment? Novalis showed the way in his fragment “Paedagogik”:
Education of children, like the training of an apprentice, by them gradually taking part in the activities of adults, and not through direct education.”
The educating adults must be busy! But not busy in the direct education of children, but busy with work that originates from life's needs. This also includes writing, reading, calculating, and singing. And how does the apprentice learn? In the first seven years by imitation, in the second seven years by following the adult's model. This creates images of adults working meaningfully, whose work is worth being imitated and the model followed, because the adults express themselves in visible activities, in movements of arms and legs reasonably conducted. And the genius of the child who lives in the environment of such occupations is seen in the process of practicing its self-education by imitating and following the model of adults. This we call play.
Occupations worth imitating are farming and gardening, craftsmanship and domestic economy, where "food" is produced through the transformation of substances and which, unfortunately are not part of the educational field called “school”. Rudolf Steiner has introduced them in the field of teaching; this is one of the distinctive features of Waldorf education. But especially in these fields is mankind becoming increasingly aware that a reductionistic view of the world and the egoistic striving for profits lead to the destruction of the fundamentals of life. This can already be seen in the catastrophic impact of industrialized farming on soil and landscape, on bees, on the quality of our food etc., it is shown in the torture of our animals, in the dying of our woods.
The destruction of ecological systems and the dangers of climate change wake us up and demand new strategies. Here ideas come together: adults turn back to the earth und abandon the idea of endlessly growing profits and massive livestock breeding; the respect for our fellow creatures who are willing to serve us becomes the guideline for our decisions. And they take the children with them! They don’t confine them in Kindergartens, nurseries, schoolrooms, but they work together with the adults, the younger ones playing, the older ones gradually participating in the activities that the grown-ups do, as Novalis wrote. We feel the need for a new curriculum. We see a new ranking of subjects as main and side subjects, and the worldwide Holy Cows of the mastery of the mother tongue, of national literature and mathematics are ranked at the same level as the new main subjects of farming and craftsmanship.
An ideal surrounding for this kind of education would be a farm. But the farm itself needs a deep-rooted modification and renewal, if it is supposed to be a
complete surrounding” (Goethe, Pädagogische Provinz)
for the self-educating child and, at the same time, support the farmers that live and work in it. So, we don’t mean a "school farm" but a community of working people who, by devoting themselves to biologic-dynamic farming, want to regain the juvenile forces of the earth itself. Again no direct education which is disadvised by Novalis, but the integration of the child into this working environment, where it can live in the adult’s stream of will. The schoolroom also belongs to this environment, but changed in its form. Outer and inner rooms become together a complete surrounding. The way this can be created in detail depends on many conditions and cannot be discussed here.
It is obvious that the ideas mentioned here point to one specific direction where the ideal is to be guessed and should be searched. But it would be reality blindness, to expect that biologic-dynamic farming could also save pedagogy.
Two ideas lead us further:
1.“A farm” would be the ideal surrounding but is not a condition. “School” has developed mainly in urban areas and so it has to be substantially transformed inside the urban civilization. Urban civilization itself, as previously said, needs to be redesigned, and this can only be achieved through a completely new way of educating children and is a process that will take decades or even centuries.
2.Under the current political, social and cultural conditions of most countries of the world, this change in pedagogic paradigms can only be thought if we are willing to transform the "school" into a learning place where children, at first in small scale, grow up to become fully capable of forming the future.

3.) Small is Beautiful What a human learns in his first years of life - and how he learns it - is extremely important to shape the course of life. We will not consider here the first three years of life, as we wish every child on earth to grow up at least in this first period of life within a loving family. That this wish is not a reality for hundreds of thousands of children leads into a new area of difficulties, that in connection with the considerations given cannot as well be dealt with herein.
This is about drawing a draft picture of a learning place where the child can live, learn and blossom from the 4th to the 10th year of life; a sketch of "school", in which three years of Kindergarten and four years of school establish a continuum of seven years. At the end of this development phase the child has reached a stage where, according to modern "salutogenesis" research, it is equipped with the "basic tools" of the faculties of coherence (inner connection with the world) and resilience (the power to acknowledge and overcome obstacles).
At this stage in childhood development, which is pictorially called “Rubikon” in the anthroposophic anthropology, the child has established to some extent its individual biological, emotional and spiritual health which are the source of power that enables it to manage the crisis of the following years and of life in general.
If a child is allowed to grow up, at least to the above mentioned age, in an atmosphere in which the "free unfolding of his personality", as is required by the fundamental law, has had the possibility and the time to take place, it will be fit for the challenges to come. Within this period, that comprises 3 years of Kindergarten and four years of "school", learning need not be ruled by governmental performance standards. It is thinkable that the children's performance structure in the 4th year of school is adapted to governmental guidelines to allow them to move to any other school without problems. (In many countries there is also the possibility of “home-schooling” for the primary school period). At least the first three years of school could be freely devised, and certainly the three years before school starts.
This 7-year period that we are presently considering, should be strictly structured according to the psychological development of the child and the pedagogic points of view. Especially during the transition from Kindergarten to school can we follow distinctive developments of individual children; this would lead to a structure which could ease a little the problems caused by the early school enrollment that is being promoted all over the world. We comply with the required school attendance but the details of the pedagogic methods are freely definable.
In many places on earth, where social, economic or cultural conditions are adverse to the establishment of a governmental system, or even a multi-articulated school system, such small "schools" should be established with little means: not every teacher and educator needs an academic background; on the contrary, completely different competences are also required other than only those that can be acquired by attending Universities or teacher seminars. We don't have to think at expensive school buildings; no large teacher council, which quarrels to exhaustion in the conflicts of group dynamics, financial aspects, organization and school administration remain manageable. In a word: Small is beautiful, according to the world famous book by E.F. Schumacher, 1973.
In some countries – mainly in the southern hemisphere – school politics carries on what colonialism did, even if it is considered to be over: to implant the European and American way of living and thinking into the young souls of peoples which are politically free but often badly shaken in their identity. The leading elites of those peoples send their children to “International schools” or to the boarding schools of their former colonial masters; primary schools are conceivably badly equipped and structure their curricula according to European requirements which, as is well known, also carry with them a “hidden curriculum” whose world conception is equally as far away from modern scientific cognition as it is from the still surviving wisdom of peoples living in a traditional way. 
A significant contribution to the acquisition of a new identity is only possible through careful consideration of their own cultural and spiritual roots, of their own language, of the surrounding landscape, etc. But this today is only possible in the first few years of school, trying to avoid excessive conflicts with the school authorities in charge in each country. In higher grades it is about adapting the students to the present social system of society into which they are to integrate. This is what governments have to do. Also this thought devises the prospect of a small school. 
4.) Basic School In those seven years it's about allowing childhood to blossom, individual health to develop, create the foundations of general education and to practice work. Waldorf-pedagogy, which is spreading all over the world since the last 90 years, works, starting from the anthroposophical knowledge of man given by Rudolf Steiner, on the anthropological and methodological principles of this assignment. Besides the development of intelligence and the unfolding of the child's soul, special focus is given on the development of his willpower. According to the basic ideas of elementary pedagogy that are discussed herein, Waldorf-pedagogy shows its need to be further developed. Looking at the children’s needs and led by the question: “What do the children of today need to know in 30 years?” this shows us our tasks which are presented in paragraph 2.). To change curricular contents and methods in the secondary and high school confronts us with the obstacles that were mentioned before. The first 4 years of school and the Kindergarten are, as previously said, the most modifiable.
The full beauty and depth of Waldorf pedagogy already unfolds itself in the first four years; work and play flow one into the other, the world contents reveal themselves through images; children and teachers co-operate to the formation of a destiny community, in which there is no competition but where mutual help is practiced. In every sixth grade new problems arise, because the children’s relationship with the world and with other people constitutionally changes at the age of 12. Basic School could also be prolonged into the 5th grade, depending on the possibilities and
circumstances of the location and the people. But work in the 6th grade would be determined by completely new didactical and methodological guidelines. For this reason Basic School should only last for the first 4, maximum 5 years of school. To this new school form also belong, as previously said, three years of Kindergarten for a total of 7 or 8 years altogether.
Thus we have the picture of a minimal form of "school" that offers a complete pedagogic proposal for children between 4 and 10 years of age. It is not a fragment of a regular school, not "just" a primary school, but a new complete institution, which means the creation of a new learning place for children of the mentioned age. It can be established with relatively low financial means and manpower; the responsibility for a possible further path of education of single children can only lie in the hands of those who offer the means for it. In order to imagine such a Basic School we must abandon the idea of a Waldorf school that takes twelve years of education, and focus on the powers and competences which are at hand in times of childhood crisis. The small "schools" will become seeds for completely new learning places, whose detailed image we still lack the fantasy to conceive. We want to build rescue islands for childhood and therefore also for mankind's ability to use its fantasy.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

John Wesley Powell - On the division of labor

Out of Wallace Stegener's book: “Beyond the hundredth meridian”

John Wesley Powell, Ethnologist and Geologist, Instrumental to the mapping and opening of the American west, belongs to the the first american ecologists with a holistic all encompassing vision, had society heeded his recommendations we would have avoided the immense disasters of the dustbowl caused by the uncontrolled settling of the arid west.

He advocated planed land use according to ecological, sustainable and social considerations.

On division of labor he wrote in 1878 “From Savagery to Barbarism” :

“By the division of labor men have become interdependent, so that every man works for some other man. To the extent that cluster has progressed beyond the planed occupied by the brute, man has ceased to work directly to himself and come to work directly for others and indirectly for himself. He struggles directly to benefit other, that he may indirectly but ultimately benefit himself........

For the glasses which I wear, mines where worked in California, and railroads constructed across the continent to transport the products of those mines to the manufacturers in the east. For the bits of steel on the bow, mines where worked in Michigan, smelting works in Chicago..... Merchant houses and banking houses were rendered necessary. Many men where employed in producing and bringing that little instrument to me. As I sit in my library to read a book, I open the pages with a paper cutter, the ivory of which was obtained through the employment o a tribe of African elephant hunters. The paper on which my book is printed was made of the rags saved by the beggars of Italy..... If all of the men who have worked for me, directly and indirectly for the past ten years, and who are now scattered through the four quarters of the earth, where marshaled on the plain outside of the city, organized and equipped for war, I could march to the proudest capital of the world and the armies of Europe could not withstand me. I am the master of all the world. But during all my life I have worked for other men, and thus I am every man's servant; so are we all – servants to many masters and masters of many servants. It is thus that men are gradually becoming organized into the vast body-politic, every one striving to serve his fellow man and all working for the common welfare. Thus the enmity of man to man is appeased, and men live and labor for one another; individualism is transmuted into socialism, egoism into altruism, and man is lifted above the brute to an immeasurable height.........

A objective and early observation, which makes it obvious that today nobody is self-sufficient and can work for himself, a fact which is hidden by our misguided concept of labor as a commodity.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Embracing alternative schooling

From Blog

“Classically Liberal” of September 17, 2007

Why atheists, humanists and libertarians should embrace alternative schooling.

Yesterday I reported on the role of fundamentalist extremism in causing a rise in the number, and loudness, of atheists in America. This was inspired by an article in the Washington Post on the new atheists. A second article on the topic has now appeared in the Post as part of a series of article on beliefs about religion.

The growth of atheism among young people is truly astounding. I have believed, for a couple of years now, that American fundamentalists were in trouble. They have overreached for power and they were too closely identified with Bush. They were pissing off a lot of people including other Christians and they were, as the saying goes, cruising for a bruising. And they are getting it.

In the 1980s about 11% of young people, ages 18 to 25, in Pew survey identified themselves as atheists, non-believers, agnostic or as having no religion. A follow up Pew poll that would have been done toward the end of last year said that the number had risen to 20%. The Post article mentions a recent Barna survey on religious beliefs and says “one in four four adults ages 18 to 22 describes themselves as having no faith.”

If the Barna survey is correct that means the increase in self-identified atheists, among the young, is continuing at a rather astounding pace. I remember reading a New York Times piece on the social/camming network, Stickam, which is mainly occupied by young people. I read a few articles on the site and similar ones and then browsed through the site. I randomly read the “profiles” which users left for themselves. And I remember being surprised by the number of users, mostly young, who described themselves as atheists.

The article also mentioned another phenomenon based on classical liberal principles -- the rise of alternative schooling. And that is the main thrust of what I have to write about today. The Post said that “charter schools based on humanist principles have opened in New York City and Florida” in recent years along with summer camps for kids of atheists. The alternative education principle is one I have promoted here. Too many non-conservatives, mainly progressives, have seen alternative, non-state education as a means of pushing religion and other Religious Right values.

But last February, when Utah passed a state-wide voucher system (now being opposed heavily by the self-serving teacher’s unions), I wrote:

I would like to see good quality, secular, private schools teaching kids. Instead of bitching about private education mainly being run by religious groups secular liberals need to open their own schools. Consider this my friends on the Left. You can have a school where you don’t have to turn over the ID data to the military for recruitment asyou do with state schools. You can have a school where you don’t have to have some fundamentalist nutter come in with his version of sex education -- as you do in the public schools. You don’t have to worry about some board of education forcing theology on you in the form of so-called Intelligent Design.
The non-believing community ought to be embracing alternative schooling. Oddly, for decades, they were the leaders in the field. Until the late 1960s alternative education in America, outside the Catholic school system, was almost entirely operated by humanists, progressives and secularists. But when racial integration became prominent thousands of “Christian” schools were created in order to continue segregation.

Unfortunately most people have notoriously short memories. They don’t remember the work of Ivan Illich in his book Deschooling Society. It goes much further back than that. Joseph Neef founded three humanist oriented schools in the US between the years 1809 and 1827. Montessori began her first school in 1907, and Rudolf Steiner started his first school in 1919. By the 50s, 60s and 70s the alternative education movement was dominated by people like Paul Goodman, John Holt, Jonathan Kozol and Illich.

All this was forgotten by the tsunami of “Christian” segregated schools that rose up almost overnight. And in reaction to that non-conservatives clung to the state education system. The problem for them is the problem for the Religious Right today. The state is a cumbersome leviathan that creates chaos and conflict wherever it goes. If there is a job to be done they will screw it up. To have one’s ideas associated with the perpetual destruction imposed by big government is the kiss of death.

Decent, humanist schools are possible. And with various voucher programs where funding follows the students good, secular schools can be created much more easily than ever before. And it can be done without the artificial conflict created by monopolistic education. In addition such schools can't be controlled centrally by some third-rate Texas politician and changed from above. Sex education, courses I would support in a private school, became abstinence courses across the US because of the now heavily centralized, and federally funded, nature of education. This couldn't happen nearly as easily with a decentralized network of humanist schools.

I suspect one of the great tragedies of libertarian politics in recent years has be the Quixotic political campaigns for candidates with little, or no, chance of winning. These campaigns act like black holes that suck up and destroy vast financial resources and activists leaving nothing in their wake to speak of. A campaign that consumes millions of dollars, and in a few times will end, eats up enough funding to open several alternative, libertarian-oriented, secular schools. That money would not only fund them but allow them to be tuition free for years. Of course if tuition is charged the schools would could go on a lot longer.

Bob LeFevre was closer to the mark than most modern libertarians when he founded Freedom School in 1957. But instead of only educating adults he should have expanded into all ages and opened an alternative schooling system. Considering that some of his teachers included Rose Wilder Lane, Milton Friedman, Leonard Reader, Gordon Tullock, Bruno Leoni, Ludwig von Mises, and Frank Chodorov -- what a school it would have been, even if they only gave guest lectures now and then.

Any group that wants to change a culture has to change minds. Political campaigns are short-term, sound bites. They reflect already existing views, they don’t create them. They follow trends, they don’t start them. What starts trends is the minds of people changing. And that is an educational process and politics is poor at educating anyone.

Friday, February 11, 2011

7 Lesson School Teacher

The 7 Lesson School Teacher by John Taylor Gatto

Call me Mr. Gatto, please. Twenty-six years ago, having nothing better to do at the time, I tried my hand at schoolteaching. The license I hold certifies that I am an instructor of English language and English literature, but that isn't what I do at all. I don't teach English, I teach school - and I win awards doing it.

Teaching means different things in different places, but seven lessons are universally taught Harlem to Hollywood Hills. They constitute a national curriculum you pay more for in more ways than you can imagine, so you might as well know what it is. You are at liberty, of course, to regard these lessons any way you like, but believe me when I say I intend no irony in this presentation. These are the things I teach, these are the things you pay me to teach. Make of them what you will:

7 Lessons Confusion

A lady named Kathy wrote this to me from Dubois, Indiana the other day:

"What big ideas are important to little kids? Well, the biggest idea I think they need is that what they are learning isn't idiosyncratic - that this is some system to it all and it's not just raining down on them as they helplessly absorb. That's the task, to understand, to make coherent."

Kathy has it wrong. The first lesson I teach is confusion. Everything I teach is out of context... I teach the unrelating of everything. I teach disconnections. I teach too much: the orbiting of planets, the law of large numbers, slavery, adjectives, architectural drawing, dance, gymnasium, choral singing, assemblies, surprise guests, fire drills, computer languages, parent's nights, staff-development days, pull-out programs, guidance with strangers you may never see again, standardized tests, age-segregation unlike anything seen in the outside world... what do any of these things have to do with each other?

Even in the best schools a close examination of curriculum and its sequences turns up a lack of coherence, full of internal contradictions. Fortunately the children have no words to define the panic and anger they feel at constant violations of natural order and sequence fobbed off on them as quality in education. The logic of the school-mind is that it is better to leave school with a tool kit of superficial jargon derived from economics, sociology, natural science and so on than to leave with one genuine enthusiasm. But quality in education entails learning about something in depth. Confusion is thrust upon kids by too many strange adults, each working alone with only the thinnest relationship with each other, pretending for the most part, to an expertise they do not possess.

Meaning, not disconnected facts, is what sane human beings seek, and education is a set of codes for processing raw facts into meaning. Behind the patchwork quilt of school sequences, and the school obsession with facts and theories the age-old human search lies well concealed. This is harder to see in elementary school where the hierarchy of school experience seems to make better sense because the good-natured simple relationship of "let's do this" and "let's do that now" is just assumed to mean something and the clientele has not yet consciously discerned how little substance is behind the play and pretense.

Think of all the great natural sequences like learning to walk and learning to talk, following the progression of light from sunrise to sunset, witnessing the ancient procedures of a farm, a smithy, or a shoemaker, watching your mother prepare a Thanksgiving feast - all of the parts are in perfect harmony with each other, each action justifies itself and illuminates the past and future. School sequences aren't like that, not inside a single class and not among the total menu of daily classes. School sequences are crazy. There is no particular reason for any of them, nothing that bears close scrutiny. Few teachers would dare to teach the tools whereby dogmas of a school or a teacher could be criticized since everything must be accepted. School subjects are learned, if they can be learned, like children learn the catechism or memorize the 39 articles of Anglicanism. I teach the un-relating of everything, an infinite fragmentation the opposite of cohesion; what I do is more related to television programming than to making a scheme of order. In a world where home is only a ghost because both parents work or because too many moves or too many job changes or too much ambition or something else has left everybody too confused to stay in a family relation I teach you how to accept confusion as your destiny. That's the first lesson I teach.

Class Position

The second lesson I teach is your class position. I teach that you must stay in class where you belong. I don't know who decides that my kids belong there but that's not my business. The children are numbered so that if any get away they can be returned to the right class. Over the years the variety of ways children are numbered has increased dramatically, until it is hard to see the human being plainly under the burden of numbers he carries. Numbering children is a big and very profitable business, though what the strategy is designed to accomplish is elusive. I don't even know why parents would allow it to be done to their kid without a fight.

In any case, again, that's not my business. My job is to make them like it, being locked in together with children who bear numbers like their own. Or at the least endure it like good sports. If I do my job well, the kids can't even imagine themselves somewhere else because I've shown how to envy and fear the better classes and how to have contempt for the dumb classes. Under this efficient discipline the class mostly polices itself into good marching order. That's the real lesson of any rigged competition like school. You come to know your place.

In spite of the overall class blueprint which assume that 99 percent of the kids are in their class to stay, I nevertheless make a public effort to exhort children to higher levels of test success, hinting at eventual transfer from the lower class as a reward. I frequently insinuate that the day will come when an employer will hire them on the basis of test scores and grades, even though my own experience is that employers are rightly indifferent to such things. I never lie outright, but I've come to see that truth and schoolteaching are, at bottom, incompatible just as Socrates said they were thousands of years ago. The lesson of numbered classes is that everyone has a proper place in they pyramid and that there is no way out of your class except by number magic. Until that happens you must stay where you are put.


The third lesson I teach kids is indifference. I teach children not to care about anything too much, even though they want to make it appear that they do. How I do this is very subtle. I do it by demanding that they become totally involved in my lessons, jumping up and down in their seats with anticipation, competing vigorously with each other for my favor. It's heartwarming when they do that, it impresses everyone, even me. When I'm at my best I plan lessons very carefully in order to produce this show of enthusiasm. But when the bell rings I insist that they stop whatever it is that we've been working on and proceed quickly to the next work station. They must turn on and off like a light switch. Nothing important is ever finished in my class, nor in any other class I know of. Students never have a complete experience except on the installment plan.

Indeed, the lesson of the bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything? Years of bells will condition all but the strongest to a world that can no longer offer important work to do. Bells are the secret logic of schooltime; their argument is inexorable. Bells destroy the past and future, converting every interval into a sameness, as an abstract map makes every living mountain and river the same even though they are not. Bells inoculate each undertaking with indifference.

Emotional Dependency

The fourth lesson I teach is emotional dependency. By stars and red checks, smiles and frowns, prizes, honors and disgraces I teach you to surrender your will to the predestined chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld by any authority, without appeal because rights do not exist inside a school, not even the right of free speech, the Supreme Court has so ruled, unless school authorities say they do. As a schoolteacher I intervene in many personal decisions, issuing a Pass for those I deem legitimate, or initiating a disciplinary confrontation for behavior that threatens my control. Individuality is constantly trying to assert itself among children and teenagers so my judgments come thick and fast. Individuality is a contradiction of class theory, a curse to all systems of classification. Here are some common ways it shows up: children sneak away for a private moment in the toilet on the pretext of moving their bowels; they trick me out of a private instant in the hallway on the grounds that they need water. I know they don't but I allow them to deceive me because this conditions they to depend on my favors. Sometimes free will appears right in front of me in children angry, depressed or happy by things outside my ken; rights in such things cannot be recognized by schoolteachers, only privileges which can be withdrawn, hostages to good behavior.

Intellectual Dependency

The fifth lesson I teach is intellectual dependency. Good people wait for a teacher to tell them what to do. It is the most important lesson, that we must wait for other people, better trained than ourselves, to make the meanings of our lives. The expert makes all the important choices; only I can determine what you must study, or rather, only the people who pay me can make those decisions which I enforce. If I'm told that evolution is fact instead of a theory I transmit that as ordered, punishing deviants who resist what I have been to think.

This power to control what children will think lets me separate successful students from failures very easily. Successful children do the thinking I appoint them with a minimum of resistance and decent show of enthusiasm. Of the millions of things of value to study, I decide what few we have time for, or it is decided by my faceless employer. The choices are his, why should I argue? Curiosity has no important place in my work, only conformity.

Bad kids fight this, of course, even though they lack the concepts to know what they are fighting, struggling to make decisions for themselves about what they will learn and when they will learn it. How can we allow that and survive as schoolteachers? Fortunately there are procedures to break the will of those who resist; it is more difficult, naturally, if the kid has respectable parents who come to his aid, but that happens less and less in spite of the bad reputation of schools. Nobody in the middle class I ever met actually believes that their kid's school is one of the bad ones. Not a single parent in 26 years of teaching. That's amazing and probably the best testimony to what happens to families when mother and father have been well-schooled themselves, learning the seven lessons.

Good people wait for an expert to tell them what to do. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that our entire economy depends upon this lesson being learned. Think of what would fall apart if kids weren't trained to be dependent:

The social-service businesses could hardly survive, they would vanish I think, into the recent historical limbo out of which they arose. Counselors and therapists would look on in horror as the supply of psychic invalids vanished. Commercial entertainment of all sorts, including television, would wither as people learned again how to make their own fun. Restaurants, prepared-food and a whole host of other assorted food services would be drastically down-sized if people returned to making their own meals rather than depending on strangers to plant, pick, chop and cook for them. Much of modern law, medicine, and engineering would go, too, the clothing business and schoolteaching as well, unless a guaranteed supply of helpless people poured out of our schools each year.

Provisional Self-Esteem

The sixth lesson I teach is provisional self-esteem. If you've ever tried to wrestle a kid into line whose parents have convinced him to believe they'll love him in spite of anything, you know how impossible it is to make self-confident spirits conform. Our world wouldn't survive a flood of confident people very long so I teach that your self-respect should depend on expert opinion. My kids are constantly evaluated and judged. A monthly report, impressive in its precision, is sent into students' homes to signal approval or to mark exactly down to a single percentage point how dissatisfied with their children parents should be. The ecology of good schooling depends upon perpetuating dissatisfaction just as much as commercial economy depends on the same fertilizer. Although some people might be surprised how little time or reflection goes into making up these mathematical records, the cumulative weight of the objective-seeming documents establishes a profile of defect which compels a child to arrive at certain decisions about himself and his future based on the casual judgment of strangers.

Self-evaluation, the staple of every major philosophical system that ever appeared on the planet, is never a factor in these things. The lesson of report cards, grades, and tests is that children should not trust themselves or their parents, but need to rely on the evaluation of certified officials. People need to be told what they are worth.


The seventh lesson I teach is that you can't hide. I teach children they are always watched by keeping each student under constant surveillance as do my colleagues. There are no private spaces for children, there is no private time. Class change lasts 300 seconds to keep promiscuous fraternization at low levels. Students are encouraged to tattle on each other, even to tattle on their parents. Of course I encourage parents to file their own child's waywardness, too. A family trained to snitch on each other isn't likely to be able to conceal any dangerous secrets. I assign a type of extended schooling called "homework", too, so that the surveillance travels into private households, where students might otherwise use free time to learn something unauthorized from a father or mother, or by apprenticing to some wise person in the neighborhood. Disloyalty to the idea of schooling is a Devil always ready to find work for idle hands. The meaning of constant surveillance and denial of privacy is that no one can be trusted, that privacy is not legitimate. Surveillance is an ancient urgency among certain influential thinkers, a central prescription set down Republic, in City of God, in Institutes of the Christian Religion, in New Atlantis, in Leviathan and many other places. All these childless men who wrote these books discovered the same thing: children must be closely watched if you want to keep a society under tight central control. Children will follow a private drummer if you can't get them into a uniformed marching band.

Part 2

It is the great triumph of compulsory government monopoly mass-schooling that among even the best of my fellow teachers, and among the best of my student's parents, only a small number can imagine a different way to do things. "The kids have to know how to read and write, don't they?" "They have to know how to add and subtract, don't they?" "They have to learn to follow orders if they ever expect to keep a job."

Only a few lifetimes ago things were very different in the United States; originality and variety were common currency; our freedom from regimentation made us the miracle of the world, social class boundaries were relatively easy to cross, our citizenry was marvelously confident, inventive, and able to do many things independently, to think for themselves. We were something, we Americans, all by ourselves, without government sticking its nose into our lives, without institutions and social agencies telling us how to think and feel; no, all by ourselves we were something, as individuals.

We've had a society increasingly under central control in the United States since just before the Civil War and such a society requires compulsory schooling, government monopoly schooling to maintain itself. Before the society changed, schooling wasn't very important anywhere. We had it, but not too much of it and only as much as an individual wanted. People learned to read, write, and do arithmetic just fine anyway, there are some studies which show literacy at the time of the American Revolution, at least on the Eastern seaboard, as close to total. Tom Paine's Common Sense sold 600,000 copies to a population of 2,500,000, 20 percent of which was slave and another 50 percent indentured.

Were the colonists geniuses? No, the truth is that reading, writing and arithmetic only take about 100 hours to transmit as long as the audience is eager and willing to learn. The trick is to wait until someone asks and then move fast while the mood is on him. Millions of people teach themselves these things; it really isn't very hard. Pick up a fifth grad textbook in math or rhetoric from 1850 and you'll see that the texts were pitched then on what would today be college level. The continuing cry for "basic skills" practice is a smoke screen behind which schools preempt the time of children for 12 years and teach them the seven lessons I've just taught you.

We've had a society increasingly under central control in the United States since just before the Civil War: the lives we lead, the clothes we wear, the food we eat, and the green highway signs we drive by from coast to coast are the products of this central control. So, too, I think, are the epidemics of drugs, suicide, divorce, violence, cruelty, and the hardening of class into caste in the U.S., products of the dehumanization of our lives, the lessening of individual and family importance that central control imposes. The character of large compulsory institutions is inevitable, they want more and until there isn't any more to give. School takes our children away from any possibility of an active role in community life - in fact it destroys communities by reserving the training of children to the hands of certified experts - and by doing so it ensures that they cannot grow up fully human. Aristotle taught that without a fully active role in community life you could not hope to become a healthy human being. Surely he was right. Look around you the next time you are near a school or an old people's reservation, that will be the demonstration.

School as it was built is an essential support system for a vision of social engineering that condemns most people to be subordinate stones in a pyramid that narrows as it ascends to a terminal of control. School is an artifice which makes such a pyramidal social order seem inevitable, although such a premise is a fundamental betrayal of the American Revolution. In colonial days right through the period of the early Republic we had no schools to speak of - read Franklin's Autobiography for a man who had no time to waste in school - and yet the promise of Democracy was beginning to be realized. We turned our backs on this promise by bringing to life the ancient dream of Egypt - compulsory subordination for all. That was the secret Plato reluctantly transmitted in The Republics when Glaucon and Adeimantus exhorted from Socrates the plan for total state control of human life that would be necessary to maintain a society where some people took more than their share. "I will show you," said Socrates, "how to bring about such a feverish city, but you will not like what I am going to say." And so the blueprint of the seven lesson school was first sketched.

The current debate about whether we should have a national curriculum is phony - we already have one, locked up in the seven lessons I just taught you and a few more I decided to spare you. Such a curriculum produces physical, moral, and intellectual paralysis and no curriculum of content will be sufficient to reverse its hideous effects. What is currently under discussion in our national school hysteria about failing academic performance is a great irrelevancy that misses the point. Schools teach exactly what they are intended to teach and they do it well - How to be a good Egyptian and where your place is in the pyramid.

Part 3

None of this is inevitable, you know. None of it is impossible to overthrow. We do have a choice in how we bring up young people and there is no one right way; if we broke the power of Egyptian illusion we would see that. There is no life and death international competition threatening our national existence, difficult as that is to even think about, let alone believe, in the face of a constant media barrage of myth to the contrary. In every important material respect our nation is self-sufficient, including energy. I realize that runs counter to the most fashionable thinking of political economists, but the "profound transformation" of our economy these people talk about is neither inevitable nor irreversible. Global economics does not speak to the public need for jobs, affordable homes, adequate schools and medical care, a clean environment, honest and accountable government, social and cultural renewal, or simple justice. All global ambitions are based on a definition of productivity and the good life so alienated from common human reality that I am convinced it is wrong and that most people would agree with me if they had a choice. We might be able to see that if we regained a hold on a philosophy that locates meaning where meaning is genuinely to be found - in families, in friends, the passage of seasons, in nature, in simple ceremonies and rituals, in curiosity, generosity, compassion, and service to others, in a decent independence and privacy, in all the free and inexpensive things out of which real families, real friends and real communities are built. Then we would be truly self-sufficient.

How did these awful places, these "schools", come about? Well, casual schooling has always been with us in a variety of forms, a mildly useful adjunct to growing up. But total-schooling as we know it is a byproduct of the two "Red Scares" of 1848 and 1919, when powerful interests feared a revolution among our own industrial poor. Partly, too, total schooling came about because old-line American families were revolted by the home cultures of Celtic, Slavic, and Latin immigrants - and revolted by the Catholic religion they brought with them. Certainly a third contributing cause to making a jail for children called school must be located in the prospect with which these same families regarded the free movement of Africans through the society after the Civil War.

Look again at the seven lessons of schoolteaching: confusion, class assignment, dulled responses, emotional and intellectual dependency, conditional self-esteem, surveillance - all of these things are good training for permanent underclasses, people derived forever of finding the center of their own special genius. And in later years it became the training shaken loose from even its own original logic - to regulate the poor; since the 1920s the growth of the school bureaucracy and the less visible growth of a horde of industries that profit from schooling just exactly as it is, has enlarged this institution's original grasp to where it began to seize the sons and daughters of the middle classes.

Is it any wonder Socrates was outraged at the accusation that he took money to teach? Even then, philosophers saw clearly the inevitable direction the professionalization of teaching would take, preempting the teaching function that belongs to everybody in a healthy community. Professional teaching tends to another serious error: It makes things that are inherently easy to learn, like reading, writing, and arithmetic, seem difficult by insisting they be taught through pedagogical procedures. With lessons like the ones I teach day after day, it should be little wonder we have a national crisis the nature of the one we have today, young people indifferent to the adult world and to the future, indifferent to almost everything except the diversion of toys and violence. Rich or poor, schoolchildren who face the 21st century cannot concentrate on anything for very long, they have a poor sense of time past and to come,they are mistrustful of intimacy like the children of divorce they really are (for we have divorced them from significant parental attention); they hate solitude, are cruel, materialistic, dependent, passive, violent, timid in the face of the unexpected, addicted to distraction.

All the peripheral tendencies of childhood are nourished and magnified to a grotesque extent by schooling, which prevents effective personality development by its hidden curriculum. Indeed, without exploiting the fearfulness, selfishness, and inexperience of children our schools could not survive at all, nor could I as a certified schoolteacher. No common school that actually dared to teach the use of dialectic, the heuristic, or other devices that free minds should employ would last very long without being torn to pieces. School has become a replacement for church in our secular society, and like church its teachings must be taken on faith.

It is time that we faced the fact squarely that institutional schoolteaching is destructive to children. Nobody survives the 7-Lesson Curriculum unscathed, not even the instructors. The method is deeply and profoundly anti-educational. No tinkering will fix it. In one of the great ironies of human affairs, the massive rethinking schools require would cost so much less than we are spending now that powerful interests cannot afford to let it happen. You must understand that first and foremost, the business I am in is a jobs project and an agency for letting contracts. We cannot afford to save money by reducing the scope of our operation or by diversifying the product we offer, even to help children grow up right. That is the Iron Law of institutional schooling - it is a business neither subject to normal accounting procedures nor to the rational scalpel of competition.

Some form of free-market system in public schooling is the likeliest place to look for answers, a free market where family schools and small entrepreneurial schools and religious schools and crafts schools and farm schools exist in profusion to compete with government education. I'm trying to describe a free market in schooling just exactly like the one the country had right up until the Civil War, one in which students volunteer for the kind of education that suits them, even if that means self-education. It didn't hurt Benjamin Franklin that I can see.

These options now exist in miniature, wonderful survivals of a strong and vigorous past, but they are unavailable only to the resourceful, the courageous, the lucky, or the rich. The near impossibility of one of these better roads opening for the shattered families of the poor or the bewildered host camped on the fringes of the urban middle class foretells the disaster of 7-Lesson Schools is going to grow unless we do something bold and decisive with the mess of government monopoly schooling.

After an adult lifetime spent teaching school I believe the method of mass-schooling is the only real content it has, don't be fooled into thinking that good curriculum or good equipment or good teachers are the critical determinants of your son and daughter's schooltime. All the pathologies we've considered come about in large measure because the lessons of school prevent children from keeping important appointments with themselves and with their families, to learn lessons in self-motivation, perseverance, self-reliance, courage, dignity and love and lessons in service to others, which are among the key lessons of home life.

Thirty years ago these things could still be learned in the time left after school. But television has eaten up most of that time, and a combination of television and the stresses peculiar to two-income or single-parent families have swallowed up most of what used to be family time. Our kids have no time left to grow up fully human, and only thin-soil wastelands to do it in. A future is rushing down upon our culture which will insist that all of us learn the wisdom of non-material experience; a future which will demand as the price of survival that we follow a pace of natural life economical in material cost. These lessons cannot be learned in schools as they are. School is like starting life with a 12-year jail sentence in which bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned. I teach school and win awards doing it.

I should know.

Copyright © John Taylor Gatto, 2008. This piece may be circulated without cost on the Internet, but only if used uncut and cost-free.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Milton Friedman on Educational Freedom

Free to Choose

After 50 years, education vouchers are beginning to catch on.

BY MILTON FRIEDMAN Thursday, June 9, 2005 12:01 a.m.

Little did I know when I published an article in 1955 on "The Role of Government in Education" that it would lead to my becoming an activist for a major reform in the organization of schooling, and indeed that my wife and I would be led to establish a foundation to promote parental choice. The original article was not a reaction to a perceived deficiency in schooling. The quality of schooling in the United States then was far better than it is now, and both my wife and I were satisfied with the public schools we had attended. My interest was in the philosophy of a free society. Education was the area that I happened to write on early. I then went on to consider other areas as well. The end result was "Capitalism and Freedom," published seven years later with the education article as one chapter.

With respect to education, I pointed out that government was playing three major roles: (1) legislating compulsory schooling, (2) financing schooling, (3) administering schools. I concluded that there was some justification for compulsory schooling and the financing of schooling, but "the actual administration of educational institutions by the government, the 'nationalization,' as it were, of the bulk of the 'education industry' is much more difficult to justify on [free market] or, so far as I can see, on any other grounds." Yet finance and administration "could readily be separated. Governments could require a minimum of schooling financed by giving the parents vouchers redeemable for a given sum per child per year to be spent on purely educational services. . . . Denationalizing schooling," I went on, "would widen the range of choice available to parents. . . . If present public expenditure were made available to parents regardless of where they send their children, a wide variety of schools would spring up to meet the demand. . . . Here, as in other fields, competitive enterprise is likely to be far more efficient in meeting consumer demand than either nationalized enterprises or enterprises run to serve other purposes."

Though the article, and then "Capitalism and Freedom," generated some academic and popular attention at the time, so far as we know no attempts were made to introduce a system of educational vouchers until the Nixon administration, when the Office of Economic Opportunity took up the idea and offered to finance the actual experiments. One result of that initiative was an ambitious attempt to introduce vouchers in the large cities of New Hampshire, which appeared to be headed for success until it was aborted by the opposition of the teachers unions and the educational administrators--one of the first instances of the oppositional role they were destined to play in subsequent decades. Another result was an experiment in California's Alum Rock school system involving a choice of schools within a public system.

What really led to increased interest in vouchers was the deterioration of schooling, dating in particular from 1965 when the National Education Association converted itself from a professional association to a trade union. Concern about the quality of education led to the establishment of the National Commission of Excellence in Education, whose final report, "A Nation at Risk," was published in 1983. It used the following quote from Paul Copperman to dramatize its own conclusion:

"Each generation of Americans has outstripped its parents in education, in literacy, and in economic attainment. For the first time in the history of our country, the educational skills of one generation will not surpass, will not equal, will not even approach, those of their parents."

"A Nation at Risk" stimulated much soul-searching and a whole series of major attempts to reform the government educational system. These reforms, however extensive or bold, have, it is widely agreed, had negligible effect on the quality of the public school system. Though spending per pupil has more than doubled since 1970 after allowing for inflation, students continue to rank low in international comparisons; dropout rates are high; scores on SATs and the like have fallen and remain flat. Simple literacy, let alone functional literacy, in the United States is almost surely lower at the beginning of the 21st century than it was a century earlier. And all this is despite a major increase in real spending per student since "A Nation at Risk" was published.

One result has been experimentation with such alternatives as vouchers, tax credits, and charter schools. Government voucher programs are in effect in a few places (Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, the District of Columbia); private voucher programs are widespread; tax credits for educational expenses have been adopted in at least three states and tax credit vouchers (tax credits for gifts to scholarship-granting organizations) in three states. In addition, a major legal obstacle to the adoption of vouchers was removed when the Supreme Court affirmed the legality of the Cleveland voucher in 2002. However, all of these programs are limited; taken together they cover only a small fraction of all children in the country.

Throughout this long period, we have been repeatedly frustrated by the gulf between the clear and present need, the burning desire of parents to have more control over the schooling of their children, on the one hand, and the adamant and effective opposition of trade union leaders and educational administrators to any change that would in any way reduce their control of the educational system.

We have been involved in two initiatives in California to enact a statewide voucher system (in 1993 and 2000). In both cases, the initiatives were carefully drawn up, and the voucher sums moderate. In both cases, nine months or so before the election, public opinion polls recorded a sizable majority in favor of the initiative. In addition, of course, there was a sizable group of fervent supporters, whose hopes ran high of finally getting control of their children's schooling. In each case, about six months before the election, the voucher opponents launched a well-financed and thoroughly unscrupulous campaign against the initiative. Television ads blared that vouchers would break the budget, whereas in fact they would reduce spending since the proposed voucher was to be only a fraction of what government was spending per student. Teachers were induced to send home with their students misleading propaganda against the initiative. Dirty tricks of every variety were financed from a very deep purse. The result was to convert the initial majority into a landslide defeat. This has also occurred in Washington state, Colorado and Michigan. Opposition like this explains why progress has been so slow in such a good cause.

The good news is that, despite these setbacks, public interest in and support for vouchers and tax credits continues to grow. Legislative proposals to channel government funds directly to students rather than to schools are under consideration in something like 20 states. Sooner or later there will be a breakthrough; we shall get a universal voucher plan in one or more states. When we do, a competitive private educational market serving parents who are free to choose the school they believe best for each child will demonstrate how it can revolutionize schooling.

Mr. Friedman, chairman of the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, is a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a Nobel laureate in economics.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Greens and Libertarians

The yin and yang of our political future

by Dan Sullivan

Over the past three decades, people have become dissatisfied with both major parties, and two new minor parties are showing promise of growth and success. They are the Libertarian Party and the Green Party. These are not the only new parties, but they are the only ones that promise to attract people from across the political spectrum. Most other small parties are either clearly to the left of the Democrats or to the right of the Republicans. Such parties would have a place in a system that accommodates multiple parties, but are doomed to failure in a two-party system.

The Libertarian Party is made up mostly of former conservatives who object to the Republican Party's penchant for militarism and its use of government to entrench powerful interests and shield them from market forces. The Green Party is made up mostly of former liberals who object to the Democratic Party's penchant for centralized bureaucracy and its frequent hypocritical disregard for natural systems of ecological balance, ranging from the human metabolism and the family unit to the ecology of the planet.

Both minor parties attempt to adhere to guidelines that are much clearer than those of either major party. Libertarians focus on rights of individuals to control their own lives, limited only by the prohibition against interference with the rights of others. These rights include their right to the fruits of their labor and the right to freely associate and form contracts. They advocate limiting government to protecting those basic rights.

Greens advocate ten key values (ecological wisdom, grass roots democracy, social justice, non-violence, decentralization, community-based economics, post-patriarchal values, respect for diversity, personal and global responsibility, and sustainable future focusas a guide for government as well as for their own party organization.)

These different guidelines underscore basic differences between the approaches of the two parties and their members. Libertarians tend to be logical and analytical. They are confident that their principles will create an ideal society, even though they have no consensus of what that society would be like. Greens, on the other hand, tend to be more intuitive and imaginative. They have clear images of what kind of society they want, but are fuzzy about the principles on which that society would be based.

Ironically, Libertarians tend to be more utopian and uncompromising about their political positions, and are often unable to focus on politically winnable proposals to make the system more consistent with their overall goals. Greens on the other hand, embrace immediate proposals with ease, but are often unable to show how those proposals fit in to their ultimate goals.

The most difficult differences to reconcile, however, stem from baggage that members of each party have brought with them from their former political affiliations. Most Libertarians are overly hostile to government and cling to the fiction that virtually all private fortunes are legitimately earned. Most Greens are overly hostile to free enterprise and cling to the fiction that harmony and balance can be achieved through increased government intervention.

Republicans and Democrats will never reconcile these differences, for whatever philosophical underpinnings they have are overwhelmed by vested interests that dominate their internal political processes. These vested interests thrive on keeping the distorted hostilities alive and suppressing any philosophical perspectives that might lead to rational resolution of conflict.

But because minor parties have no real power, they are still primarily guided by values and principles. Committed to pursuing truth above power, they should be more willing to challenge prejudices and expose flaws in their current positions.

There is nothing mutually exclusive between the ten key values of the Greens and the principals of the Libertarians. By reconciling these values and principles, we can bring together people whose allegiance to truth is stronger than their biases.

This could be of great value to both parties, partly because any new party that wants to break into a two-party system has to appeal to a broad spectrum of voters. But even more importantly, each party needs attributes the other has to offer. Libertarians need the intuitive awareness of the Greens to keep them from losing touch with people's real values, and Greens need the analytical prowess of the Libertarians to keep them from indulging in emotional self-deception. Libertarians can teach Greens about the spirit of enterprise and the wonders of economic freedom, and Greens can teach Libertarians about the spirit of compassion and the wonders of community cohesion.

Reconciliation is absolutely necessary. Even if one of the parties could rise to power, it could do great harm by implementing its current agenda in disregard for the perspective of the other. Moreover, proposals that violate values and principles of one party often violate those of the other. If members of both groups come together to discuss each other's proposals, they are likely not only to find areas of agreement, but to find conflicts between each group's proposals and its own principals. If this happens, and the two parties work in concert, they stand a real chance of overtaking one of the major parties and drastically altering the political power structure.

Many third parties have had important impacts on American politics, but the last time a political party was dislodged was when the Republicans knocked the ailing Whig party out of contention over 130 years ago. It should be noted that the Republicans were a coalition of several minor parties with seemingly differing agendas, including the Abolitionist Party, the Free-Soil Party, the American (or Know-Nothing) Party, disaffected northern Democrats, and most of the members of the dying Whig Party. A similar coalition of parties has a much better chance of repeating this success today.

Anyone who looks at current national platforms of Greens and Libertarians will conclude that bringing these groups together is no easy task. For example, the Libertarian platform states dogmatically that they "oppose any and all increases in the rate of taxation or categories of taxpayers, including the elimination of deductions, exemptions, or credits in the name of 'fairness,' 'simplicity,' or 'neutrality to the free market.' No tax can ever be fair, simple, or neutral to the free market." On the other hand, the national platform of the Greens leaves one with the impression that they never met a tax they didn't like.

Yet the historical roots of the Greens and the Libertarians are quite similar. That is, early movements for alternative, intentional communities that live in harmony with nature greatly influenced, and were influenced by, anarcho-syndicalists who advanced principals now embraced by the Libertarian Party. This essay will attempt to show that the differences that have emerged are due less to stated principals and values of either group than to the baggage members have brought to each party from their liberal and conservative backgrounds.

On Conservatism and Liberalism

It is said that Libertarians have a conservative philosophy and Greens have a liberal philosophy. In reality, conservatism and liberalism are mere proclivities, and do not deserve to have the name "philosophy" attached to them. People who have more power than others are inclined to conserve it, and people who have less are inclined to liberate it. In Russia, as in feudal England, conservatives wanted more government control, as government was at the root of their power. Liberals wanted more private discretion.

In the United States today, where power has been vested in private institutions, conservatives want less government and liberals want more. What passes for conservative and liberal "philosophies" is merely a set of rationalizations that power-mongers hide behind.

Conservative support for traditional approaches and liberal support for new ways of doing things also follows from the desire for power. Traditional approaches have supported those now in power, and change threatens to disrupt that power. Changes are often embraced by conservatives once they prove unable to disrupt the underpinnings of power.

For Greens and Libertarians to rise above the power-based proclivities of liberalism and conservatism, they must focus on their roots and reconcile their positions with their philosophical underpinnings.

On the Roots of the Greens

In The Green Alternative, a popular book among American Greens, author Brian Tokar states that "the real origin of the Green movement is the great social and political upheavals that swept the United States and the entire Western world during the 1960's." As part of that upheaval, I remember the charge by elders that we acted as though "we had invented sex." Mr. Tokar acts as though we had invented Green values.

Actually, all the innovative and vital features of the Greens stem from an earlier Green movement. The influx of disaffected liberals to the movement since the sixties has actually imbued that movement with many features early Greens would find offensive.

This periodical, for example, has been published more or less regularly since 1943, calling for intentional communities based on holistic living, decentralism, sharing natural bounty, freedom of trade, government by consensus, privately-generated honest monetary systems and a host of other societal reforms. Yet the founder, Ralph Borsodi, wrote extensively about the evils of the state, and would clearly oppose most of the interventionist policies brought to the Green Party by disaffected liberals and socialists. The same can be said of more famous proponents of Green values, such as Emerson and Thoreau.

The Green movement grew slowly and steadily and quite apart from mainstream liberalism throughout the sixties and seventies. In the eighties, however, it became clear that the liberal ship, and even more clear that the socialist ship, was headed for the political rocks. The left had simply lost credibility, even among those who felt oppressed by the current system. Gradually at first, discouraged leftists discovered the Green movement provided a more credible platform their positions.

Because of their excellent communications network, additional members of the left quickly discovered the Greens, embraced their values (at least superficially), joined their ranks and proceeded to drastically alter the Green agenda. For example, early Greens pushed for keeping economies more diverse and decentralized by promoting alternative, voluntary systems, and by criticizing lavish government expenditures on interstate highways, international airports, irrigation projects, and centralized bureaucracies that discriminated against small, independent entrepreneurs.

Today the National Platform of the Green Party calls for "municipalization" of industry (that is, decentralized socialism), limits on foreign trade to save American jobs (which they insist is not protectionism), and other devices to create artificial decentralization under the guiding hand of some benevolent central authority.

The influence of Greens who are fond of government intervention (referred to as Watermelons by more libertarian Greens) seems to be strongest at the national level and weakest within most Green local organizations. Despite the National Green Platform's resemblance to a new face on the old left, many people who are genuinely attracted to Green principles are either undermining or abandoning the left-dominated Green Party USA. Specifically, the principal of decentralism is being used to challenge the right of a national committee to dictate positions to local Greens. This is fortunate for those of us interested in a coalition of Greens and Libertarians, as reconciliation between the Green Left and libertarianism is clearly impossible.

On the Roots of the Libertarianism

The Libertarian Party was born in 1971. Like the Green Party, it has philosophical roots that extend far back into history. It emerged, however, at a time when conservatism was in decline. Just as Greens attract liberals today and are strongly influenced by the liberal agenda, Libertarians attracted conservatives and were influenced by their agenda. However, as Libertarians are more analytically rigorous, there are fewer blatant inconsistencies between their positions and their principles.

Libertarian bias tends to show up more in prioritization of issues than in any particular issue. For example, Libertarians are far more prone to complain about the capital gains tax than about many other taxes, even though there is nothing uniquely un-libertarian about that particular tax.

Many Libertarians ignore classic libertarian writings and dwell on the works of Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard and Ludwig von Mises. The classical libertarians get mere superficial attention. For example, few have read Tragedy of the Commons, but many quote the title. Specifically, they are unwilling to recognize that the ecological mishaps like those referred to in that work had been absent for centuries when almost all land was common. As with the tragedy of the reservations, commons were abused because so many people had to share access to so little land. All this was a result of government sanction, allowing vast tracts of commonly held land to be appropriated by individuals without proper compensation to those who were dispossessed of access to the earth. These facts are ignored because they cannot be reconciled with pseudo-libertarian conservatism.

Just as contemporary Greens have fondness for government and contempt for private property that their forebears did not share, Libertarians take an extreme position on private property and have hostility to all forms of government that their philosophical predecessors did not share.

Their refusal to acknowledge natural limits to private property and their insistence of unlimited protection of property by the state is their one great departure from their predecessors and their principles. For example, they dismiss the following statement by John Locke, known as the father of private property:

God gave the world in common to all mankind. Whenever, in any country, the proprietor ceases to be the improver, political economy has nothing to say in defense of landed property. When the "sacredness" of property is talked of, it should be remembered that any such sacredness does not belong in the same degree to landed property.

They similarly ignore Adam Smith's statement that:

Ground rents [land values] are a species of revenue which the owner, in many cases, enjoys without any care or attention of his own. Ground rents are, therefore, perhaps a species of revenue which can best bear to have a peculiar tax imposed upon them.

Private ownership of the earth and its resources is the one area where Libertarians depart from their own philosophy. After all, their justification of property is in the right of individuals to the fruits of their labor. Because the earth is not a labor product, land value is not the fruit of its owner's labor. Indeed, all land titles are state-granted privileges, and Libertarians deny the right of the state to grant privileges.

Even here, Libertarians are on solid ground when they argue that freedom could not survive in a society where land tenure depended on bureaucratic discretion. They are split, however, over devices like land value taxation that would, with a minimum of bureaucracy, put the landless in a more tenable position with respect to land monopolists. Just as liberals dominate the National Greens, conservatives dominate the Libertarian position on this issue, though many Libertarians, including Karl Hess, former editor of the Libertarian Times, do not share that conservative position.

Again, this is a key issue for reconciliation. The Green tradition cannot be reconciled with pseudo-libertarian claims that a subset of the people can claim unlimited title to the planet.

The Magic of Honest Compromise

Compromise is too often a process whereby people on each side give up what they know to be right in order to gain a supposed advantage for their interest group. What I am proposing is that each side give up supposed advantages in order to harmonize with what is right. It takes an open mind and a great deal of courage, but the results can be magnificent.

If the Libertarians accept that ownership of land is a privilege, and agree to pay a fair rent (or land value tax) for that privilege, they will hold the key to getting rid of property (building) tax, income tax, sales tax, amusement tax, and a host of other taxes. Furthermore, statistical evidence indicates that land value tax promotes compact, harmonious use of land and eliminates a root cause of poverty. In this case, adopting land tax can reduce the need for zoning and protection of rural land, and for housing projects, welfare, and a host of bureaucratic services for the poor.

Greens who study this issue will find that small and simple combination taxes that are essentially payments for exclusive access to common resources will address most of thier interests without complicated and intrusive bureaucracies. Land tax itself will eliminate land speculation and land monopoly, and will promote orderly development of land in cities and towns, taking developmental pressure off suburban and rural land.

Severence taxes on our common heritage of non-renewable resources can even-handedly reduce the rate of exploitation of these resources, conserving them for future generations.

Finally, taxes on pollution are really payments for exclusive use of our common rights to clean air and water. It reflects that the air and water is less valuable to the rest of us when it is polluted, and those who pollute literally owe us for the right to tresspass on our air and water.

Of course land monopoly will not solve all the problems by itself, but it is the key area where Greens and Libertarians are separated from each other as well as from thier own principles. Once this is reconciled, we can more readily work together on other issues where we are in agreement, such as liberating our monitary system the banking monopoly, ending military domination of foreign peoples, and ending government interference against people who commit victumless "crimes."

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