Over the weekend, Phil and I had a great time attending the 2007 Libertarianz conference held at Mac’s Brewery right here in Wellington. One of the highlights of the conference was the rollout of Transitional Policies, which we hope will be inspiring for certain political parties who haven’t come up with new ideas recently. The first transitional policy presented was the education policy, which Phil and I wrote along with Craig Milmine and Colin Cross (current and former teachers, respectively).

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I’d like to invite you to listen to the first audio we’ve made available here at Pacific Empire: Phil’s speech, Free the Schools (mp3, 12 MB)

The text of Phil’s speech follows after the break.

Compulsory schooling is taken for granted today, yet it has been around for less than 200 years, and few people know how it came about. Compulsory schooling actually originated in Prussia, following military defeats in the Napoleonic Wars, and its first priority was to produce obedient soldiers for the army, as well as obedient workers for the mines and well-subordinated civil servants and clerks. Compulsory schooling has always been about conformity.

The few of us gathered here today hold an opinion which is highly unusual and widely considered bizarre, extremist and elitist. To my knowledge, there is no other group in New Zealand who believe not only that schooling and education are not the same thing, but that schools should not be compulsory.

The existing education system is fundamentally flawed. To quote our previous policy, it is a one-size-fits-all educational straitjacket. All children go to school eager to learn, so why do a quarter of them leave after 10-13 years with no qualifications, and a fifth leave unable to read or write properly? Something is terribly wrong with public schools.

John Taylor Gatto is a former American schoolteacher. He won the New York State Teacher of the Year award immediately before quitting teaching to become an activist against compulsory schooling. His classic essay “The Six-Lesson Schoolteacher” explains his view of what most schools really teach:

  1. “Stay in the class where you belong.”
  2. “…turn on and off like a light switch,” Focus on work for an hour and then suddenly abandon it when the bell rings.
  3. “…surrender your will to a predestined chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld, by authority, without appeal”
  4. “…only I determine what curriculum you will study… Curiosity has no important place in my work, only conformity.”
  5. “…your self-respect should depend on an observer’s measure of your worth. My kids are constantly evaluated and judged.”
  6. And lesson six: You are being watched. “I keep each student under constant surveillance… There are no private spaces for children… The lesson of constant surveillance is that no one can be trusted, that privacy is not legitimate.”

Gatto concludes: “School is like starting life with a 12-year jail sentence in which bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned.”

Another problem is that not all kids are the same. Students who learn at a slower rate, who need a different style of instruction, or who suffer problems like dyslexia, are left behind and made to feel stupid. On the other hand, academically gifted students are held back, and often become bored with school, unable to reach their full potential. Teachers suffer too, under such a system. They have little incentive to improve, and their career has a low status in the eyes of the public, because their performance has absolutely no effect on either their salary or their job security.

Problems like that are inevitable in a system which does not respect individual rights. Paid for by organized theft from tax victims, and every child separated from his parents or guardians by the threat of armed force. Hostages to the will of the nanny state.

In accordance with individual rights, we stand for genuine choice in education. Schools should be controlled by parents and teachers, rather than bureaucrats and politicians in Wellington. There is an objection that some parents don’t value education, and given the choice, would neglect their kid’s education. However, we know that almost all parents care about their children, and education is almost universally valued.

Currently, only the richest parents have any choice in which school their children must attend – those who can afford private school fees or the extra cost of buying a house in the right zone. Most parents have no choice at all. Students themselves cannot choose what to study, or when to study, and the curriculum is written by the government. I believe that this must change in order for students to be motivated to learn, schools to have an incentive to attract students, and for innovation and diversity in education to develop. A truly free market for education would see a wide range of schools develop, all offering different teaching styles, specialty subjects – sport, dance, science or literature, for example – and often with distinct political and religious characters – no parent would have to let their children be indoctrinated with ideas foreign to their own principles. Good schools would be rewarded, poor schools would be forced to raise their standards. And the kids who currently fall through the cracks would have options.

While the aim of removing all state interference from education is relatively a simple one, the challenge to the Libertarianz is how to construct a policy which removes the government from education efficiently and fairly, with little disruption. We realize that there is a risk of civil unrest, and that to maintain the rule of law, we should respect all current contracts – for school funding, staff salaries and student loans, for example – and try not to create new injustices. Another aim is to compensate tax victims by getting the best price possible for Ministry of Education assets.

Current NZ Education System

  • Ministry of Education provides most funding to almost all schools
  • Public schools are wholly funded by the government
  • Even private schools receive public funding
  • Schools are regulated, eg number of half-days, opening hours
  • A compulsory curriculum is administered by NZQA
  • Public schools not allowed to charge school fees
  • Teacher training, accreditation, pay scales, etc. controlled by government
  • Students required to attend school until 15

Libertarianz Policy

  • Zero government funding for schools
  • All schools privately owned and operated
  • All education voluntary, eg, children do not have to attend school
  • Voluntary curriculum, decided by school

Transitional Policy needed to get from A to B

Primary and Secondary Schooling

  • Immediately allow public schools to charge fees
  • Immediately allow schools to set opening hours, days of operation, school holidays, etc.
  • School attendance voluntary at all ages
  • Requirements for teacher training and qualifications abolished
  • Curriculum requirements made voluntary and competitive
  • Public funding levels to all schools frozen at current levels (based on student numbers) and administered in bulk form. Funding reduced to zero over X years (TBD).
  • A tax credit will be provided to those with children attending private schools (so they don’t pay for education twice).
  • Current contracts will be honoured, eg, teacher collective employment contracts.

Transfer of School Ownership

Schools will be transferred into trust ownership:

  • Existing school board acts as the trust board; existing principal becomes CEO.
  • Shares in the trust will be distributed to all NZ citizens within a pre-defined zone around the school. Shares will be conditional, including the provision that public funding monies cannot be distributed as dividends. Prior this distribution, the rightful owners of some school assets will be contacted, if possible. Many schools have facilities built by community groups, donors or sponsors, and those groups should receive shares reflecting their stake in the school.

Tertiary Education

  • Immediate financial review of all tertiary institutions
  • Public funding levels frozen at current levels and reduced to zero over X years (TBD).
  • Compulsory student association membership abolished
  • Tertiary Education Commission and associated quangos to either be abolished, or handed over to universities.

Student Loans

  • All student loans sold to highest bidder, with current interest-free requirements preserved.

Transfer of University Ownership

  • All publicly owned tertiary institutions, including universities and polytechnics, to be transferred to trust ownership.
  • Shares will be distributed to all NZ citizens within a pre-defined zone around the institution, in the same way as for schools.

Ministry of Education

  • NZQA transformed into an independent curriculum provider, competing with other curriculum providers

  • Subsidy of NZQA fees stops

  • ERO transformed into an independent education review agency, competitive with other review agencies
  • Ministry of Education gradually wound down and dissolved as soon as bulk funding ceases
  • Early Childhood Education

    • Subsidies for early childhood education, including the so-called “20 hours free” scheme, will be wound down as soon as possible. Agreements with private providers will not be renewed.

    Legal Issues

    The following Acts of Parliament (at least) will need to be repealed or modified, and replaced with a transitory Education Act (once reforms no Acts should be required).

    • Education Act 1989
    • Private Schools Conditional Integration Act 1975.
    • Education Amendment Act 2000
    • Various University establishment acts:

    • Universities Act of 1961
    • Victoria University of Wellington Act 1961
    • Lincoln University Act 1961
    • University of Canterbury Act 1961
    • University of Otago Amendment Act 1961
    • University of Auckland Act 1961

    Timeline

    The timeline for these changes is not finalized, and would depend on various factors including the financial and economic situation we found the country in upon assuming power. It is anticipated that law changes can take place within six months, full funding would cease after the end of the financial year, with decreasing bulk funding for two years after that. The aim is for these reforms to be over within a maximum of five years.

    Conclusion

    A truly free market for education would see a wide range of schools develop, all offering different teaching styles, specialty subjects – sport, dance, science or literature, for example – and often with distinct political and religious characters – no parent would have to let their children be indoctrinated with ideas foreign to their own principles. Good schools would be rewarded, poor schools would be forced to raise their standards. And the kids who currently fall through the cracks would have options. In short, an education market – not a system – which would reflect all the variety and ability of human endeavour.

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    Now I just need to say a few weasel words: Note that this Libertarianz policy document is in draft form and should not be taken to be representative of the final policy.

    2 Responses to “Free the Schools”

    I am absolutely AGAINST compulsory schooling!

    I was forced into school(in Europe), and for me it was pure hell! When I finally got released out of this prison, I was a mental wreck, and it took me another 15 years of my life to recover.

    Because I was never allowed to say “NO” during 10 years of schooling, I became extremely rebellious afterwards: I said a million times “NO” at any job I had, JUST IN DEFIANCE…
    Put in simple words: I could not (did not want to…) keep a job, just to revenge my school-time…

    I am healed now finally. I lost half of my life though.

    No way in the world could I ever force my kids into any school! I would be deeply ashamed of myself doing that.

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    Interesting policy, looking forward to seeing similar, albeit watered-down, suggestions appearing from the mouths of National candidates in the coming months.

    Do you really think that modern parents have the time or desire to run private schools? They could probably manage to raise their own children better, if they didn’t have to hold-down jobs and all the other commitments of the 21st century like looking after aged grandparents &c. Where is this army of private educationalists going to come from? And why are parents all too busy to be on school governance committees these days anyway? Isn’t it because we’re all caught-up in this frenetic market system which stems from the capitalist private property rights you yourselves champion?

    I agree with you that strait-jacketed education should be a thing of the past – but you guys are simply day-dreaming. There is some seriously basic thinking going on here; you just need to take a look at phrases such as “children do not have to go to school” – I mean, can you picture the streets of central Auckland if such a law were passed?

    Are you anarchists?

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    Something to say?