Education makes sense only as a public not a private good.

Gail Edwards's picture
I was a teacher for eight years and a teacher educator for eleven year. I've dedicated my life to education because I believe in the power of education to improve society and the lives of individuals within it. To acheive this, education cannot be treated as if it is a private good. Every child has the right to the best education to enable them to develop their human powers fully. Every state school should be dedicated to all of our children and treat each child with equal respect and value. Local schools are appropriate in a democracy so that there is democratic accountabilty rather than power being concentrated in the hands of the wealthy. Teachers, from my experience, require the same healthy environment as children to develop their capacity as teachers and as human beings responsible for the development of children. These values and beliefs continue the aspirations of the Enlightenment which aimed at truth, liberty and justice. Education must be protected and I support the LSN as a camapaign which helps us acheive that.
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John Mountford's picture
Sun, 27/04/2014 - 20:54

Gail, in his essay entitled 'The Learning Society', Robert M Hutchins set out his ideas about educating "everybody, everywhere". He saw education as "the deliberate organised attempt to help people to become intelligent," and believed we were capable of creating a world where everyone has "the chance to be human." His essay was published in 1968 and with the publication of the Plowden Report only a year earlier, it seemed as if it might have been possible for the new age of enlightenment you speak of to find expression in the public education systems of modern democracies. Not only are we still waiting for this to happen, but this new vision of humanity becomes more unlikely to emerge with each flawed policy spewed out by successive governments.

A coalition of all the interested parties, united by a common agenda, has to emerge if we are to put a halt to the cynical dismantling of our public education system and truly create the kind of education service ALL our young people need and deserve at the start of a new century. Maybe the campaign at would be a useful step in the right direction?

David Barry's picture
Mon, 28/04/2014 - 09:51

At least two very important points lurk behind this posting:-

1. The point made by John Stuart Mill that representative government requires a minimum standard of education throughout the population; consequently there must be free at the point of use, universal, and compulsory education. (The other pillars being a free press, which requires an educated populace to read it, an independent judiciary [to contain arbitrary power and restrain, if need be, the "tyranny of the majority"] and an uncorrupt civil service, appointed on merit.) It also follows that just as the community has a legitimate interest in law and order so it has in education

2. Adam Smith the great market economist (Has he been surpassed?) distinguished between PRIVATE GOODS best delivered by the market -things like bread, meat, clothing, coffee shops where the supply, at the best price, is channeled where it is needed, not by way of any "planning" but by the "invisible hand" of the market and PUBLIC GOODS. The perfect example of which is a lighthouse. Lighthouses are essential to the public good, but cannot be provided by the market. They must be financed by taxation, and the decision as to where a lighthouse should be put was one for the taxing authority.

(another example is the fire service. The first fire brigades were actually private enterprise, you had to pay them to come and put out your fire: No fee, no fire brigade, and they did compete on cost. Apart from the fact that some private enterprise fire brigades were found to be STARTING fires when business was slow, it did not work out that well. See under " Great Fire of London")

Jenny Collins's picture
Mon, 28/04/2014 - 10:50

There is another "...coalition of all the interested parties, united by a common agenda..." but their agenda is quite the opposite of what one might expect in a democracy: the removal of local accountability and the quiet movement of public funds into private pockets overseen by very big corporate interests. The mainstream media tends to ignore this essential fact at the heart of current policy which is why the LSN is so important.
We need only look to the US to see what how this will develop; we are about 10 - 15 years behind the Americans. Michael Gove is pursuing the same ends as the last few governments. He is neither a hero, bravely sticking his neck out as a 'conviction' politician as the right wing press would have it, nor an idiot with no understanding of his role, as many teachers would argue. He understands his role perfectly well and many, many people - not knowing or caring about the fact that for-profit providers, charter schools, accountability, excessive testing, performance-related pay and so on have failed to improve American schools - have bought into the uplifting rhetoric and gone down this path. As a nation we get the politicians we deserve. Teachers, (in my experience) do not understand the bigger picture. The general public are also ignorant of what is happening, due in no small part to the decades old tradition of doing down teachers in the press. The power of the press should not be underestimated: we are presented with false debates all the time.
There is currently, for example, a false debate where we are expected to put didactic knowledge-transferral up against learner-centred approaches. The former is supposed to be rigorous and the other is supposed to be soft. Footsoldiers of the brave new world that we are entering - like Daisy Christodoulou and Toby Young - flatter themselves by suggesting that this is a meaningful debate that they might be able to enlighten us about. Decent teachers know that any lesson will have some of both these approaches. There is a sub-text to all this: if teaching is merely telling and learning is merely retaining then teaching can hardly be called a 'profession' at all; and if teaching is not really much a of skill then we don't need to pay teachers very much at all! An argument that no doubt appeals to Young (a free-schooler) and Christodoulou (Ark Academies). Without an understanding of the brave new world that is envisaged it can be hard to understand why these false arguments are being put forward.
Gail, I'm glad to see you framing the debate in terms of democratic values. In my opinion these values are being (have been?) undermined, not by traditional conservatives but by free market radicals such as the current cabinet who are nearly all multi-millionaires. It is a disturbing time. Diane Ravitch's book 'Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatisation Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools' lays out very clearly just what we are up against.
Ask yourself: who and what influences education policy in this country? The academics are ignored (think of the Cambridge Primary Review for example) and the Think Tanks are not ignored. The Centre for Policy Research was set up by Keith Joseph in 1974, he went on to be Education Secretary. Policy Exchange was set up by Michael Gove in 2002, he is now Education Secretary. The Centre for Market Reform of Education was established a few years ago as a branch of the Institute of Economic Affairs (set up in 1955 with the specific intention of rolling back the state). This is what most people simply don't understand, I include journalists here. Without awareness there can be no resistance. Gove talks about 'the blob' but I see very few hard-left, radically progressive teachers out here in schools today. Nearly all teachers I have met are apolitical. Why would Gove characterise teachers in this way? The answer is obvious: disagreement is scorned and any insightful critique of what he is doing (pursuing the American marketization or corporate reform model) must be attacked as the product of crazed ideologues (the blob). It is a crude strategy but an effective one given that most people simply don't understand what is happening.
Education needs to be overseen by teachers, academic researchers and local communities. Just as it is in some more enlightened countries.

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 29/04/2014 - 07:31

Jenny - you're right to point out that countries where the education systems are successful tend to bring everyone on board - there's a consensus. For example, Finland's successful state system was built up carefully over years. It was not the result of high-profile initiatives by particular governments or politicians. They also support teachers - even Shanghai has a "no-blame" culture.

Contrast this with England where teachers have been derided in the press for decades. Teacher unions, instead of being included as they are in other countries, are attacked.

Increasingly, it appears that education in England is being molded by business interests (eg the exam system - lots of exams and tests have to be produced and paid for; the academies can be "vehicles" to make money for companies linked to trustees).

I've just bought Diane Ravitch's book "Reign of Error". I can't say I'm looking forward to reading it.

Jenny Collins's picture
Tue, 29/04/2014 - 12:37

Thanks Janet for responding, and thanks also to David Barry for making some straightforward points about representative government and the nature of public and private goods. As basic as these points are they are evidently not adhered to by those who sit in positions of influence in the world of English education. Considering all our education ministers over the last three decades have chosen to ignore these important points as a matter of course then we must ask why this is so? Here are a two possible answers:
a) these education ministers have been completely unaware of the points made here; this is unlikely given their level of education and the fact that we frequently invade other countries with a sense of moral superiority based, in part, on these values
b) these education ministers have been aware of the points made here but have been strongly influenced by neoliberal think tanks and have been unable to resist "...the flow of determinism, inexorable market-economy fatalism, speculation, greed and exclusion" (Balduino A. Andreola)
Having read Reign of Error with great interest (it makes a useful reference book for our own situation in the UK) and seen how the free market ideology is playing out in our schools and communities I find myself amazed that resistance has not been stronger. The public perception is of 'autonomy' and 'freedom' but what is happening is a concentration of power in a way that would have struck people as unnecessary one hundred and fifty years ago and abhorrent 70 years ago when this kind of thing was too close in essence to the recently defeated fascists and Nazis of mainland Europe.
I do not mean to suggest that we are ruled by fascists and Nazis (!) only that the drift away from democratic accountability should be viewed as alarming. Diane Ravitch (author of Reign of Error) calls this "the civil rights issue of our time" in the final sentence of her book.
I also note that every single person in this country that has embraced the marketization of education and all its dehumanising effects - its rigid command and control attitudes, its willingness to crush the morale of both teachers and pupils, its divisive influence on local communities, its pursuit of test data over and above any qualitative measures and so on - has been 'educated' here in the UK. This suggests that over the last few decades there has been something wrong with how we educate people because that much negativity could not have been embraced and promoted by thoughtful, humane and decent people.
I note that you mention Finland. In my own recent correspondence with the Centre for Market Reform of Education Finland was brushed aside because it had recently fallen slightly down the league tables (goodness knows if this is true or not, I really don't care); the point is that everything good that Finland does is irrelevant to the data-driven mind. There is a single-minded pursuit of being 'Number One' that is certainly absurd and, I would suggest, dangerous.
Please keep up the good work Janet. Were it not for the Local Schools Network I would be considerably more disturbed than I already am!!

Janet Downs's picture
Tue, 29/04/2014 - 14:22

Finland fell slightly in PISA tables in 2012. It's now 12th in the Maths PISA table. But it's 6th for Reading (the top performing European nation) and 5th in Science (again, top-performing European nation).

Four of the top six on the PISA maths scale aren't countries at all but "jurisdictions" ie small parts of a larger country which may or may not be representative of the country as a whole. Shanghai, for example, is not the whole of China, it's not typical and the 2012 PISA sample missed out 25% of the cohort.

The OECD has also warned that PISA rankings shouldn't be used to judge the education system of a whole country - there's a margin of statistical error for a start.

The over-emphasis on chasing after the PISA top rankings is skewing education priorities.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Tue, 29/04/2014 - 15:41

All previous contributors to this thread are absolutely right and on the mark making a number of important points and strong arguments. You will have no difficulty finding large numbers of parents, pupils and educationalists in agreement with you Gail.

The mystery is why this has yet to sink in to our elected MPs (especially in the Labour Party) and the national media. However I suspect that even here things may finally be beginning to change.

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 29/04/2014 - 19:05

Bit of a leap to justify coercion of attendance at local state schools only from the thinking of the Enlightenment.

David Barry's picture
Tue, 29/04/2014 - 19:19

Yes, it would be. Which is perhaps why, so far, no one in this discussion has done that.

Ben Taylor's picture
Tue, 29/04/2014 - 22:51

Dear Barry. It's policy of the LSN to compel children to go to local schools. The children and parents are to be chattel in a cartel controlled by teaching unions, the Labour party and hangers on, and rentier local authorities.

agov's picture
Wed, 30/04/2014 - 07:58

As delightfully cockeyed as usual, Ben.

Roger Titcombe's picture
Wed, 30/04/2014 - 08:41

Ben - LSN does not have a policy. You are free to post as much drivel as you like on this site.

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