Exit And Voice In Education

Glenn Reynolds finishes off his post on his local county's practice of canceling school for less than satisfactory reasons while at the same time threatening parents with jailtime for their children's truancy with the following statement.

I wonder, though, if the increasing availability of private education and homeschooling doesn't make things worse, by draining off some of the parents whose complaints would otherwise force the system to behave better. At some point, I suppose, the effects of competition will shift things the other way, but that dynamic doesn't seem to be taking hold, yet.

This example vividly illustrates the difference between Exit and Voice.

Voice - having the opportunity to influence an entrenched organization - results in the parents of a child having $4,000 taken from them in exchange for the ability to cast a vote for a new school board every few years and go to a PTA meeting once a month to voice a complaint. This complaint is in competition with perhaps hundreds of other complaints and opinions of how the school system should be run. While compromise can lend expression to several of these viewpoints, only a single final product results.

Exit - having the power to escape entrenched organizations - results in the parents of a child being able to take those $4,000 to give to other service providers of their choosing. Compromise is largely unnecessary as the game is not fixed-sum. The number of potential final products is unlimited.

Which is more conducive to the desires of parents and the educational needs of their children?

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Thea, _Many people never use

Thea,

_Many people never use anything they learn in school after about the third grade and would be much better off learning a trade._

Since when is the point of a good education about teaching only what you will use in your job? The truth is that most jobs could be performed by people with limited schooling and on-the-job training. Even jobs that traditionally require a college degree can be done with much less; computer programmers, for example, could get by with knowing math, formal logic and, of course, various coding languages, the latter of which could be picked up by, say, apprenticing. Indeed, lots of jobs that these days require a college degree used to be learned via apprenticeship (accounting, business, law, medicine, etc.)

But that's not really the point of an education. Humans are apes that reason well; Aristotle was right in thinking that it's our ability to reason at a high level that makes us unique in the animal kingdom. But those reasoning capacities require development if they are to reach their full potential. Now I will agree with you that people have different levels of potential, so it doesn't make sense to try to place everyone in exactly the same category. I have no objection to segregating students by ability. I do, however, have serious objections to yanking kids out of school at age 9 and shunting them off to learn a trade.

For one thing, we're not in the 19th C any longer. People don't stay in the same career. Most people these days will have, if I'm recalling correctly, seven different kinds of jobs over the course of their working lives. The only way that people can be that flexible is if they have a broad general education, one that enables them to learn _any_ field relatively quickly. That, in fact, is what a liberal arts education is about: it's not training for _a_ job; it's training for _any_ job.

_I think that education in America is so abysmal that it is a rare occurrence that a community could not provide a better education for a child than he or she would receive in the public schools._

This strikes me as just simply false. I'm often bewildered by the assumption, pretty common among non-educators, that teaching is the kind of thing that pretty much anybody can do well. Like any other profession, teaching requires a set of skills, and some people have them while others don't.

It also strikes me that this is very much a middle-class, suburbanite position. It might be true that in such neighborhoods, there is someone who can teach (or who could at least learn how to teach by screwing up for a while until s/he got the hang of it). But in working-class communities, both rural and urban, I think it false to assume that every neighborhood has someone who is both qualified to teach and who is not currently depending upon income from another job.

_It’s not so much that I’m suggesting that you fix your own teeth as that you decide when your teeth should be fixed and how you would like them to be fixed (is it worth is to you to get braces, do you want to get your wisdom teeth out now or wait a year, is a silver filling good enough or do you want to spring for the tooth colored one, etc.)_

This is, quite frankly, a terrible analogy. The implication here is that people should be free to choose what it is that they want to learn. That's a stunningly bad idea. How on earth is this supposed to work, anyway? An uneducated person is not in a position to even know what s/he ought to be trying to learn. There are plenty of subjects out there that the average person doesn't even know exists, let alone why they are important or what about them they should know.

What you propose, however, would have a generation of undereducated parents deciding which parts of their own (bad) education they would like to pass along to their children. If you think it's a good idea to have half the kids in the country growing up learning that the earth is 6000 years old, Muslims are going to hell, and Jesus votes Republican, then fine. I don't think that this is such a good state of affairs, and I certainly don't think that a system with this sort of results is _better_ than the one that we currently have.

Indeed, the evidence for the claim that the American education system is terrible usually is a comparison of standardized test scores between American students and students from other countries. But I think that you'll notice when you look at the nations that score higher than the U.S. that most of them are nations in which the majority of students are the recipients of free public education.

You might read up on the history of entirely private educational systems before touting them as a panacea for all education woes. 18th and 19th C British and European schools aren't exactly something to strive for.

Agreed. Vouchere systems are

Agreed. Vouchere systems are more remisciant of rationing and command economies. Government money always comes with strings attached. You really don’t want government regulating private schools. They loose the majority of the benifits that comes from being private that way.

This is just a string of non-sequiturs. Reminiscence of rationing and command economies is irrelevant - the current publicly run system is already one huge big command economy. Ok, let's say government money comes with strings attached - so what? The proposition is not that vouchers are somehow intrinsically a Good Thing but rather that such a system would be an improvement over the current system. And guess what: there are plenty of strings already attached. The idea behind vouchers is that schools be forced to compete for business. Under a voucher system, there would be no more public schools. Market discipline ought to force such newly private schools to improve their product or go under. No, I don't want the government regulating private schools, but guess what, not only do they already regulate the schools which would be private under a voucher system, they run the schools too. Even if they did regulate the newly private schools, there is no automatic corrollary that this regulation extends to all private schools. In fact, If the government proposes unduly onerous conditions attaching to vouchers it will merely encourage existing private schools to opt out of the system.

Just for the record - My

Just for the record -

My post wasn't really about vouchers per se, which I don't really have a solid opinion on, but rather about the differences between the powers of Exit and Voice.

I think a voucher system

I think a voucher system would just lead to more government controls on private schools.

Agreed. Vouchere systems are more remisciant of rationing and command economies. Government money always comes with strings attached. You really don't want government regulating private schools. They loose the majority of the benifits that comes from being private that way.

See my article. "Towards a more anarchistic school system"

http://www.geocities.com/tracysaboe/sepschool.html

Tracy

I’m familir with the

I’m familir with the acronym DIY, so I can’t comment on this.

DIY - Do It Yourself (generally refers to home repairs)

I worry that vouchers are a step in the opposite direction; that they will be an excuse for the government to regulate private schools.

Then oppose the regulation itself not the vouchers. The proper thing is then to argue for vouchers without regulation rather than just dismiss vouchers out of hand.

think the ideal education system would be parents, or groups of parents (for those who can not afford to not work, or those who feel uncomfortable being their child’s sole educator) teaching children the basic education that everyone needs (reading, writing, basic arithmetic), then having independent learning (there are a bunch of programs out there for home schoolers already, without all the government disincentives to home schooling, I’m certain there would be many more) or apprenticeships. For advanced studies, I imagine something resembling college/graduate studies would exist, but as much smaller more specialized institutions.

You might imagine that this would be an "ideal" education system but experience tells us that this doesn't work for any other product or service. You want to have someone skilled at teaching kids, teaching your kids, just as you want someone good at fixing cars fixing your car and someone good at fixing teeth fixing your teeth - that's the beauty of the market, if you let it, it will provide such services. If those parents prove to be good at it, they should set up their own schools. Note that in saying that children be taught by good teachers I'm not implying anything about what format that takes - a free market and a bit of diversity should sort out the good ideas from the bad pretty quickly. It may well be that under such a liberalised system, your model would thrive and I have no objection to people attempting it, but I doubt it and I don't think, given the general dearth of teaching skills, that it is a realistic prescription.

I’m just worried that this isn’t true. This is an empirical point, and all I’ve seen in they way of data related to vouchers is test scores, literacy levels, etc. rather than what regulatory actions occurred in the subsequent years

This is not an empirical point at all - I'm merely making the point that, ex-hypothesi, a voucher system which simply allowed parents to buy private schooling separates public funding from public running of schools. This is simply true by definition. I'm not making any kind of predictions. Now if you are going to argue that in the real world a government enacting a voucher system would slap on all sorts of undesirable riders to that, that is a separate argument, against the regulatory impulse, and says precisely nothing about the merits of a good voucher system. One might as well use that as an argument against any kind of reform - It's like saying "Ah, but if the government legalised marijuana for medical purposes they are likely to take a harder line on cocaine possession, therefore legalising marijuana is wrong!!!"

Frank- The only reason to Do

Frank-

The only reason to Do anything Yourself is either

a) You can do a better job than the person whom you would otherwise pay to do that job and can save more money doing this than you could earn in your normal job (in which case you should quit your normal job do that job full-time)

This is sort of what home schoolers do, rather than working full-time educate their children themselves (or with a group of neighbors/friends). I think that education in America is so abysmal that it is a rare occurrence that a community could not provide a better education for a child than he or she would receive in the public schools.

Because public schools must create a one-size-fits all education and baby-sit for students that have either insufficient desire or ability to learn, most of the time spent in school is wasted. There is little to no time within a public school for students to learn about areas of special interest until high school or sometimes college depending on the interest. Many people never use anything they learn in school after about the third grade and would be much better off learning a trade.

b) Government regulation/tax policy make it impossible for the market to apply

I think this is quite obviously true in education. Education is a giant government bureaucracy; even home schoolers must comply with certain government regulations.

School is compulsorily to age 14. (When consumption is mandatory, the ability for market forces to act is reduced.)

Many standards are set by the Federal government; the bulk of many curriculums are completely outside of the control of teachers, much less the needs of individual students. (When only one good is offered, the ability of market forces to act is drastically reduced.)

Child labor laws drastically reduce the type of education that can be received.

or incentives DIY by means of high marginal tax rates.

I'm familir with the acronym DIY, so I can’t comment on this.

It wouldn’t make much sense for me to fix my own teeth, and it doesn’t make much sense for me to educate my own children, in each case I’d rather pay someone with the relevant skills to do the job for me.

I agree completely with this point of specialization of labor.

I think the ideal education system would be parents, or groups of parents (for those who can not afford to not work, or those who feel uncomfortable being their child’s sole educator) teaching children the basic education that everyone needs (reading, writing, basic arithmetic), then having independent learning (there are a bunch of programs out there for home schoolers already, without all the government disincentives to home schooling, I'm certain there would be many more) or apprenticeships. For advanced studies, I imagine something resembling college/graduate studies would exist, but as much smaller more specialized institutions.

It's not so much that I'm suggesting that you fix your own teeth as that you decide when your teeth should be fixed and how you would like them to be fixed (is it worth is to you to get braces, do you want to get your wisdom teeth out now or wait a year, is a silver filling good enough or do you want to spring for the tooth colored one, etc.) rather than having the government decide the dental care you and everyone else should have and then forcing you to pay whatever they decide you should pay to make sure there’s enough money for your dental care and everyone else’s. (Keeping in mind that if the number of cavities in the nation doesn't decrease, this cost will go up.)

Vouchers aren’t perfect but they are a reasonable stepping stone to a completely private system

I worry that vouchers are a step in the opposite direction; that they will be an excuse for the government to regulate private schools.

I think that there is a fundamental problem with the system of education; 1 teacher to 20 or 30 kids, children grouped together for the vast majority by age rather than ability, standardized testing and curriculum, etc.; that are only over come home schooling, Co-ops, Montessori schools, and the like.

Additionally, a voucher system and a voucher system would have many advantages in its own right - principally by decoupling the issues of publicly-funding education and publicly-running education. The government does a bad enough job of paying for education but it does a really execrable job of running education.

I'm just worried that this isn't true. This is an empirical point, and all I've seen in they way of data related to vouchers is test scores, literacy levels, etc. rather than what regulatory actions occurred in the subsequent years, so I have no evidence to support this belief. It just seems that the government money doesn't often come without government regulation.

The other problem I have with vouchers is that they make government run schools in the area even worse. If the goal is to salvage a public school system, I think magnet schools are a much better route than vouchers.

I really think home

I really think home schooling and small co-ops are the only solution to the education problem in America

Here's the thing: why do people who accept the principles of comparative advantage and the superiority of the free market in pretty much every other area think that they don't apply to the provision of education? Home schooling may work out for the small number of people who have the dedication and skills to educate their children but there's no reason to believe that there are many more with the capability to home-school than currently do, nor that it could be some kind of sensible general prescription.

The only reason to Do anything Yourself is either a) You can do a better job than the person whom you would otherwise pay to do that job and can save more money doing this than you could earn in your normal job (in which case you should quit your normal job do that job full-time) or b) Government regulation/tax policy make it impossible for the market to apply or incentivise DIY by means of high marginal tax rates. It wouldn't make much sense for me to fix my own teeth, and it doesn't make much sense for me to educate my own children, in each case I'd rather pay someone with the relevant skills to do the job for me.

Vouchers aren't perfect but they are a reasonable stepping stone to a completely private system and a voucher system would have many advantages in its own right - principally by decoupling the issues of publicly-funding education and publicly-running education. The government does a bad enough job of paying for education but it does a really execrable job of running education.

I think a voucher system

I think a voucher system would just lead to more government controls on private schools.

I really think home schooling and small co-ops are the only solution to the education problem in America

The bloated NEA has the

The bloated NEA has the loudest Voice where it’s heard most clearly…Washington. The prudence of Exit is self evident, but it will likely result in higher taxes rather than responsive course correction. Mediocre mass education is essential to maintain the large ranks of their union. So, if parents can’t afford private school tuition, they ought to supplement and supervise their kids’ education at home. The NEA will never allow vouchers, just like the AARP is resisting SS reform. It’s all about protecting constituencies.

That's not really an

That's not really an accurate description of the situation, though, because it doesn't take the redistributive aspects of the public education system into account. Many (most?) parents, especially those who have several children, don't pay their fair share, so for them it could be a reasonably good deal, even after taking quality differences into account.

Hirschman points out that

Hirschman points out that Exit can weaken Voice, by draining off those who care the most, and thus those who would complain the loudest.

Well if that's so, Hirschman and the prof are guilty of making the same two assumptions - a) That Voice makes that much of a difference in the first place and b) That the people who make the most noise, by definition, "care the most" in the way likely to be beneficial to everyone else - cranks and kooks send their kids to school too.

It seems to me that in the case of a one-size-fits-all product like public education, the chance of the squeakiest wheels causing sufficient annoyance to mould that product towards something more suitable for its consumers, as opposed to perpetuating an arrangement for the convenience of producers with the odd cheap fop thrown to the biggest whingers, is vanishingly small.

Glenn's point was actually

Glenn's point was actually made by Hirschman in _Exit, Voice, and Loyalty_. Hirschman points out that Exit can weaken Voice, by draining off those who care the most, and thus those who would complain the loudest.

A Matter of Choice Johnathan

A Matter of Choice
Johnathan Wilde puts the matter of choice between public schooling and private/home schooling perfectly. As the man asks:Which is more

Exit and Voice Great post by

Exit and Voice
Great post by Jonathan Wilde which picks up on a (throwaway?) Insta-pinion on public schooling. Glenn Reynold's remark is depressingly familiar and regularly aired in relation to education, public healthcare and, defending deception, social "insuranc...

You might read up on the

You might read up on the history of entirely private educational systems before touting them as a panacea for all education woes. 18th and 19th C British and European schools aren’t exactly something to strive for.

Nor is 18th and 19th C British and European dentistry.

Scott Scheule, You'd be

Scott Scheule,

You'd be surprised at the breakthroughs in 19th century dentistry. :cool:

So if I'm too dumb to know

So if I'm too dumb to know what I should be learning, who gets to decide for me? You have said before that you're in favor of participatory democracy, but if I can't even figure out what I need to learn, how do I figure out how to pick someone to decide for me? I'll have a PhD in a few years, but certainly don't think I'm in a position to dictate what everyone should be teaching their kids (especially if I sneer at their religion). What qualifies you to do so? This seems the same as the typical liberal argument for government in general: people are too dumb to know what's good for them, so I should decide for them instead.

Lisa, You mean to say that

Lisa,

You mean to say that after you finish up your PhD you don't think that you'd be in a good position to say what it is that people ought to know about your field? If so, then you might want to think about adding a few more years onto your time to degree. That's the sort of thing that most departments kind of expect their PhD students to be able to do.

_but if I can’t even figure out what I need to learn, how do I figure out how to pick someone to decide for me?_

This is a non sequitur. Deciding which person best represents your interests if far different from figuring out what sort of curriculum a well-educated person should follow. The former requires that I know my preferences and the platforms of various candidates. The latter is a technical question, one that requires a fair amount of expertise. The fact that I think people lack a set of skills for deciding some questions hardly implies that I must also think that they lack skills for deciding _all_ questions.

_(especially if I sneer at their religion)_

Hey, I'm an equal opportunity religous sneer-er. I simply picked the one that I grew up with as it's the one whose absurdities are most familiar to me. Private madrasses are bad ideas for educating the young, whether they be Islamic or Christian.

I'm not a pluralist. Stupid and oppressive ideologies are bad, even if people happen to like them. Indeed, the fact that people tend to like oppressive ideologies makes them worse. When those oppressive ideologies actually cause harm, then yes, I'm in favor of protecting children from that harm. Parents do not have the right to raise their children however they see fit; children are not private property. They are better thought of as a trust, given to parents with the expectation that the parents nurture them into fully autonomous agents. Oppressive religious ideology interferes with that autonomy as surely as state action can interfere with autonomy.

States and groups ought to act as checks on one another, with states preventing groups from morally abhorrent practices and groups working to prevent states from unnecessarily oppressing groups. Public education is an important part of those checks, as it provides students with exposure to liberalism (broadly speaking, not just the classical kind), tolerance, and modernity, all features that might well be lacking in the home.

What was that South Park

What was that South Park episode quote?

Something like: "One thing vee vill not tolerate is intolerance!"

Public education is an important part of those checks, as it provides students with exposure to liberalism (broadly speaking, not just the classical kind), tolerance, and modernity, all features that might well be lacking in the home.

Compulsory liberalism?

Education is a political and

Education is a political and philosophical landmine. :bomb:

Nor is 18th and 19th C

Nor is 18th and 19th C British and European dentistry.

This is an important point which many are likely to overlook because of the way in which it was expressed. You can't compare 18th-century private education in Britain to 21st-century public education in the US and draw any meaningful conclusions about the relative merits of public and private education.

Back then, formal education was a luxury not just because it was expensive, but mainly because labor productivity was so low that people simply couldn't afford to support idle children for twenty years.

In principle, I agree that it would be great for everyone to have a high school or college education. But the real question is not "Is it good?" but "Is it worth it?" In the US, we spend a tremendous amount of resources--some 7-8% of GDP, not counting lost productivity from students, which is at least another 5%--on education. We have to get a lot out of this investment to justify it.

I agree that everyone ought to know how to read, write, and perform arithmetic. But that doesn't justify 13 years of compulsory full-time education funded at taxpayer expense, especially when many students don't get even that much out of it. That the sort of educational system we have today is necessary and sufficient to equip students with the ability to reason competently and learn new trades quickly is, at best, a claim that is nonobvious and in need of further support.

Personally, I'm appalled at the reasoning skills I exhibited when I graduated from high school. A few years of independent study and Usenet quibbling in my spare time did far more to improve my reasoning ability than did seventeen years of full-time formal education. And I'm outraged to think of the years I wasted in a public school waiting for my classmates to catch up to me. On top of that, I actually repeated a grade due to administrative error (and the fact that I was, at the age of six, too shy to say anything).

Of course, I'm unusual, and my experience may be as well. But I think it's probably true that there are a great many students on both ends of the spectrum who were as ill-served by public education as I was.

Joe, I can tell people what

Joe,
I can tell people what they should know about my field just fine, thank you. I just happen to think that telling everyone how they should raise their children is the height of arrogance. I don't need a PhD to figure that out. Also, I find your ideology oppressive. Can I weed it out of public schools?

Lisa, Who said anything

Lisa,

Who said anything about telling people how to raise their children? We're talking about what kinds of things educated people should know in order to reach their full potential as autonomous beings. That's not the sort of thing that one can just pull out of thin air. Rather, one needs the opinions of people who actually know a lot about various subjects and who can tell others what parts of those subjects it's important to know and why it's important to know those things. Like it or not, you are on your way to being one of those experts, the next generation of scholars, one of whose tasks is to let those of us who aren't working in your field why that field is important.

The average person can't do that. It's not because they are too dumb; it's because they are too ignorant. Most people don't know enough about most subjects to be able to form a reasonable opinion about what sorts of things are important and what sorts of things aren't. Although they are hardly perfect, public schools (and those who run them) are at least in a _better_ position to make such determinations than are individual parents.

This is not to say that I think public schools are perfect. I'm a fan of charter schools (my spouse taught in one for a year before going back to biotech). Charter schools still provide a free basic education for all students while allowing individual schools the flexibility to experiment with various ways of educating students. Some of those models will be successful and those successes will likely be emulated. Others will be less successful and people will leave. But most, I think, will be better than universal home schooling.

I'm curious, though, what it is that you find oppressive about the claim that every child should be provided with the opportunity to fully develop into an autonomous being. Your charge lacks the kind of careful arguments one would expect from a PhD candidate. If you just want to trade insults, though, let me know, so I can find someone else to talk to.

Scott, _Compulsory

Scott,

_Compulsory liberalism?_

In a word, yes. It's not that _being_ a liberal is compulsory, only that _exposure_ to liberalism is compulsory. Again, I mean this in a broad sense (whether one thinks of liberalism as tolerance only or as autonomy). Far too many people will not be exposed to such ideas anywhere else.

Incidentally, the _South Park_ quote applies to libertarians as much as it does to liberals. Your objection to welfarists, as I understand it, is that they would force redistribution onto those who may or may not wish to redistribute. To the extent that you condemn such practices, what are you saying if not, "I refuse to tolerate your lack of tolerance for my position"?

Brandon, _In principle, I

Brandon,

_In principle, I agree that it would be great for everyone to have a high school or college education. But the real question is not “Is it good?” but “Is it worth it?” In the US, we spend a tremendous amount of resources–some 7-8% of GDP, not counting lost productivity from students, which is at least another 5%–on education. We have to get a lot out of this investment to justify it._

Here is where you and I probably are going to part company in a pretty radical way. I'm not sure that I agree that lost productivity is a good reason for denying public funding for the development of a child's autonomy. As a utilitarian, I of course am sympathetic to comparisons of this sort. But as you probably recall from my discussion of natural rights of recipience, I am a utilitarian who holds that autonomy is a necessary condition for true happiness. To deny a comprehensive basic education to everyone is to drastically reduce the likelihood that they can ever truly experience activities that are fundamentally important parts of the human experience.

To ask individuals to sacrifice those opportunities for gains in productivity smacks of a very crude Benthamism that, quite frankly, doesn't sit very well with your liberalism.

Joe, Of course. It's all a

Joe,

Of course. It's all a matter of where one sets the baseline and how they define intolerance.

Compulsory liberalism, though I imagine rationally coherent, is so oxymoronic that the concept strikes me as deeply suspicious.

Do you oppose all private education? Or is it simply homeschooling?

Scott, I don't actually

Scott,

I don't actually oppose private schools, if you take that to mean something like "think they should be banned," nor do I think that home schools ought to be banned.

As a bit of background, I attended a private school for most of my education. It was run by a fundamentalist Baptist church. It wasn't until I went to public school in my sophomore year of high school that I learned any actual biology. I did, however, get to spend two hours each day learning such things as New Testament Church history (which taught me that all Catholics are going to hell) and Old Testament (where I learned the joys of Divinely-commanded genocide). Fortunately, I happened to have parents who, while fundamentalists, are open-minded fundamentalists and who encouraged me to read lots books, and who were willing to look the other way when those books weren't on the "approved" lists.

So I tend to think that both private schools and home schools can be deeply problematic. On the other hand, I would hardly want to argue that Andover is doing a poor job educating children. At the end of the day, I'm not going to argue against homeschooling or private schools as an option; I would advise most people individually against doing the former at all. I don't see any good way to get around the sort of crummy education that (some) religious schools provide without at the same time eliminating the many very good private schools out there.

My main opposition is to a system that relies upon homeschooling and private schools _exclusively_. I'm not opposed to the idea of making schools compete, though. I happily support both charter schools and open enrollment for public schools, not to mention policies that provide incentives for good teachers; you know, the sort of merit pay that every other profession in the world uses.

That's informative. I'm

That's informative.

I'm hesitant to criticize religious schools on those grounds: as far as I know, all Catholic are going to Hell. As am I, I'm told.

Scott, Yep, me too. On the

Scott,

Yep, me too. On the bright side, the sixth circle of hell, reserved for atheists, has a really great philosophy department.

Just my luck.

Just my luck.

I wouldn't worry. I suspect

I wouldn't worry. I suspect the law school is even better. :wink:

a better education can be

a better education can be provided to children by their community than by a bureaucracy set up by the government in their community. I think that vouchers add to the bureaucracy and centralization of control of education.

But you haven't really demonstrated this other than asserting a resemblance. I might as well say that your model resembles Hillary Clinton's "It takes a village to raise a child" baloney. Note that I am in favour of vouchers as a replacement to the current system but ideally education would be provided the same way food is provided - by the market. Extend the analogy - let's say you had a system whereby the government ran a massive food production industry and a basic diet of staples (boiled meat, corn and government cheese?) was provided to everyone. The rich could enjoy a wider range of food which was more-or-less out of reach to the ordinary Joe. I think you would agree that US government issue food would be generally dreadful. Think of vouchers advocates as saying, Ok, let's introduce food stamps for the poor but get the government out of agriculture and food production. Now, the likely consequence of this is that a wider market for food would ensue, something like the market we have at the moment. And for anyone concerned about the poor going hungry you've got the food stamps. Now, your system sounds to me like suggesting that each community grows and produces its own food instead of individually trading for it, like some sort of agrarian autarky which, experience shows, just doesn't work.

I think that nearly anyone can teach his or her child to read, add, subtract, divide, and multiply. I think that more complicated disciplines are best taught by someone that studies that discipline, rather than by someone who studies education.

Nearly anyone can fix up their own car, house, hell some of them might even have a bash at the teeth but that doesn't mean they are going to do a better job than someone who specialises in it, is more productive and can afford to do it for them for less than the opportunity cost of the lost time in their 'normal' job.

It seems a dearth of teaching skills is a bizarre attack on the system I’m proposing.

Not at all, I might easily have said a dearth of plumbing skills or dearth of car mechanic skills.

Here is where you and I

Here is where you and I probably are going to part company in a pretty radical way. I’m not sure that I agree that lost productivity is a good reason for denying public funding for the development of a child’s autonomy.

Okay, fine. So your answer is that it is worth it. But this conclusion hinges on the proposition that several years of formal education is, for most, the sine qua non of personal autonomy, and that forcing taxpayers to pay for it is the best way to provide it. I see very little support for this, and I don't think it's too much of a stretch to think that a great many children might be made worse off in this respect by the kind of public "education" they receive now.

Certainly these propositions are all open to debate, but you can't just play the "autonomy" card without support to justify your favorite government programs.

To ask individuals to sacrifice those opportunities for gains in productivity smacks of a very crude Benthamism that, quite frankly, doesn’t sit very well with your liberalism.

I'm not asking individuals to sacrifice any opportunities. I'm just saying that other individuals shouldn't be forced to provide those opportunities unless there's a very, very good reason for it. Taxation is at best a necessary evil. Unnecessary taxation is just evil.

What doesn't sit well with my liberalism is the idea that the benefits of public education, no matter how great, might be sufficient to justify forcing taxpayers to foot the bill. But, as I said elsewhere, if you can convince me that freedom will bring ruin upon us all, I'll forget I ever cared about it.

Joe- Since when is the point

Joe-

Since when is the point of a good education about teaching only what you will use in your job?

I was speaking more to formal instruction rather than the whole of human learning throughout the course of a lifetime. I think I agree with every point that was made in this first blurb using a broader definition of education.

I have no objection to segregating students by ability. I do, however, have serious objections to yanking kids out of school at age 9 and shunting them off to learn a trade.

I also agree with most of what you said in the next paragraph, but I still think that there are children that would be best served learning how cars work, how to do electrical work, etc. rather than having further formal training in history, literature, geography, etc.

So many kids just don't care about school that compulsory education is simply a waste of their time or worse.

I’m often bewildered by the assumption, pretty common among non-educators, that teaching is the kind of thing that pretty much anybody can do well.

I'm sorry that I was unclear, please see the response I posted to Frank.

The implication here is that people should be free to choose what it is that they want to learn.

I don't see why the issue of asymmetric information is any different for education than any other good.

Frank- I think I was

Frank-

I think I was ambiguous in the position I was defending. I did not mean to imply that I think the ideal situation would have no formal instruction outside of the home, but rather that a better education can be provided to children by their community than by a bureaucracy set up by the government in their community. I think that vouchers add to the bureaucracy and centralization of control of education.

...You want to have someone skilled at teaching kids, teaching your kids, just as you want someone good at fixing cars fixing your car and someone good at fixing teeth fixing your teeth

I think that nearly anyone can teach his or her child to read, add, subtract, divide, and multiply. I think that more complicated disciplines are best taught by someone that studies that discipline, rather than by someone who studies education.

- that’s the beauty of the market, if you let it, it will provide such services...

I completely agree.

It may well be that under such a liberalised system, your model would thrive and I have no objection to people attempting it, but I doubt it and I don’t think, given the general dearth of teaching skills, that it is a realistic prescription...

It seems a dearth of teaching skills is a bizarre attack on the system I'm proposing. I don't see why there would be less in a system of decentralized education. It seems in fact that there would be more, as skills that would not be considered "teaching skills" in the current system would be in a more decentralized system.

Joe, If you think it’s a

Joe,

If you think it’s a good idea to have half the kids in the country growing up learning that the earth is 6000 years old, Muslims are going to hell, and Jesus votes Republican, then fine.

I covered much of this same ground in Political Child Abuse. I think the strongest libertarian argument against monopolized public education is that giving the government the power to do what you want also entails giving the government the power to do what you hate.

Let's take your example. There are at least three distinct possible outcomes here, but only two are immediately obvious from your statement. First, we could have a situation of laissez faire in education, where half of the parents make what you and I consider to be unwise child raising decisions for their own children. Second, we could have a situation with a benevolent, desirable government monopoly that enforces what you and I think a proper education should be.

Clearly, you prefer the latter to the former, and based solely on the stated consequences, so do I. But these two obvious possibilities ignore a third outcome: that this benevolent, desirable government monopoly will be captured by the very same people we were hoping to control. Instead of saving other people's children from the burden of a fundamentalist upbringing, now our own children are at risk of being interfered with by the fundamentalists. Our plan backfired in this case, and we would be better off under the second-best solution of laissez faire.

As I wrote in Political Child Abuse,

We live in an incredibly diverse society. Multiple social groups have strong conceptions of the good life which are in radical and violent conflict with other groups’ views. Athiests and thiests, cultural liberals and cultural conservatives, capitalists and socialists, individualists and communitarians, and so on.

One possibility [for dealing with this diversity and the inevitable conflicts that arise] is democracy. Put the choice of values up for a vote and may the largest group win. That is essentially what we do now. Hence the ongoing conflicts surrounding abortion, religion in public schools, gay marriage, levels of welfare spending, and the legitimacy of pre-emptive war, to name just a few examples. All of these conflicts, and the solutions suggested by democratic means, can be characterized as zero-sum games. In order for one social group to win, another must lose. The only thing that satisfices the losing minority is the hope that their side will enjoy majority power at some time in the future.

The alternative is a system of market federalism in which incompatible groups keep to themselves as much as possible. Such a system would solve most – if not all – of the above mentioned conflicts, by giving members of these groups the ability to exit from unwanted societal arrangements and create their own arrangements with like-minded people. Vouchers as an intermediate measure, increasing individual state power in relation to federal power, a movement towards free markets and away from government-controlled monopolies – all of these policy changes, by weakening the power of electoral voice, in turn strengthen the power of exit.

That is a reason why those who are currently minority losers might support these proposals. But why should the victorious majorities want to change? The important thing to realize here is that almost all of us are members of some minority group. And even those lucky few whose entire set of preferences is already represented by the political majority should still realize that political power is tenuous and the winners today can quickly become the losers tomorrow. By giving the government the power to impose your values on the rest of the population, you are also giving the government the power to impose your enemy’s values on you and your children.

London calling. It's good to

London calling.

It's good to hear the name of Albert Hirschman mentioned.

Incidentally, it was his experience of refugees in Vichy France in 1940 that might have sparked his meditations on exit and voice.

He was on the run from the Gestapo himself, but worked undercover in Marseille (his code name was "Beamish" because he smiled a lot) with a good friend of mine to get nearly 2,000 writers, artists and democrats out of France mostly via North Africa and fascist Spain to New York and points west.

I guess that puts him on the "exit" side.

Albert Otto Hermant (as Hirschman then was) ended up in the US in the OSS, and fought his way back to his native Germany in 1994-5.

I was with him at a thing in Marseille to commemorate the wartime underground railroad a few years back.

Is he still at the Institute of Advanced Study at princeton?

My son is due to be born on July 4; his middle name is going to be "Otto".

Oops. Of course I meant

Oops. Of course I meant 1944-5