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Education is Theft

The Salisbury Review Winter 2004

Christie Davies
author of
The Strange Death of Moral Britain (2004)
published by Transaction Publishers.

Education! Education! Education! Such is the new squawk of New Labour. Education is a good thing. Everyone wants it. Without it we will be unable to compete in the high tech industries of tomorrow such as the inventing of new genetically modified crops and animals, the construction of better, faster, and nano-state of the art computers. weapons of almost mass destruction and sophisticated medical treatment for unsophisticated sheiks. We will revert to the Old Labour world of the 1970s and once again become hewers of coal and drawers of thread.

There is a weak link in the argument. Our future does depend on our citizens acquiring a high level of knowledge and skills and particularly in applied mathematics which is as vital to the service sector as to manufacture; the alternative is death by rubbish in rubbish out computer slickers. However, the New Labourist solution to this real problem is their usual combination of incompetence and deceit. Their education policy stands for old style Soviet economics with reckless inputs of capital decided by five year plans without ever considering rates of return or whether there is any market for what is being produced.

One key fallacy is that education is measured by inputs not outputs, by years of schooling not by how much pupils know and what they can do when they leave. If you look up international league tables on comparative literacy Britain scores high with what is said to be 98 per cent literacy. It obviously is not a true figure. Literacy figures for a country are not based on how many people in a country have a proper competence in reading and writing (output) but on what 'proportion of a country's population over the age of 15 have had five or more years in school'. Most of the British population have served the requisite sentence in a building called a school to be classified as literate. Many of them learned very little and a substantial proportion can sign their names only at the end of a statement written out for them by a police officer. Only 2 per cent are illiterate.

There comes a point in the school career of many pupils where they have long ceased to learn anything useful. Even in a school that on average achieves a great deal, the marginal output of the school (the amount learned by its least successful pupils) may well be zero. The New Labour answer to this is to throw in more money, our money, and to go for endless bureaucratic restructuring. It is exactly the same policy that Old Labour followed in the 1970s when it subsidised and reorganised failing industries. Bash Street School is the new British Leyland. It is the equivalent of installing new machinery in a mine where there are no workable seams of coal.

If we are going to use the absurd rhetoric of 'investing in people'; then we have to accept that some educational 'investments' can end up bringing in nothing at all just like any other investment. Even for those pupils who do learn something, the rate of return on the investment in their education may be so low that the money would be better invested elsewhere. Indeed the rate of return on some pupils is negative; not only do they learn nothing themselves but their very presence in the school prevents the others from learning. By their stupidity and lack of proper motivation they damage and destroy the ethos of the school as a place of learning. The school has not failed them, it is they who have brought failure to the school and destroyed the chances of their brighter and more industrious peers. It is in this sense that their education is theft, not only theft from the taxpayer but from their diligent and intelligent contemporaries.

New Labour still pursues the policies of radical redistribution of its Old Labour predecessor. Educational achievement has been redefined as a form of 'capital' to be controlled and reallocated by the state. The new socialistic theorists see skilled, educated, cultured individuals as having accumulated three kinds of capital that ought to be confiscated. First, there are the skills and knowledge they have acquired that directly enhance their position in the market place. In the Rawls-plug account of education the very effort and self-denial an individual 'invests' in learning these, are depicted not as an index of virtue but an accident of social position. We do not, it would seem, exercise free-will when we set aside immediate pleasures for the toil of learning but merely react robotically to the social pressures of our associates. The second nonsensical and offensive prong to the argument is that those who as youngsters sought to immerse themselves in forms of high culture with no economic pay-off are described as amassing 'capital' in the form of social reputation and networks of influential contacts. A youth spent visiting medieval churches, extracting fossils from the Ordovician, learning to identify the many types of hawk and moss, is, it would seem, a mere greedy self-interested hoarding of social capital that assists social mobility. Culture is reduced to useful chat that impresses interviewers; another way of getting on. In consequence you are more likely to become a fat cat University Vice Chancellor, a gong-worthy Treasury Satsuma or a smoothly urbane manipulator of public relations than if you had spent your formative years pigged out in front of television soap operas. Culture is thus redefined as a mere trick for excluding others, a cynical zero-sum game in which whatever the cultured person gains someone else loses.

The practice preceded the theory when grammar schools of proven worth were axed to make way for schools of comprehensive dullness. This is what lay behind the determination of the original begetter of New Labour, the foul mouthed Tony Crosland, to get rid of every ***** grammar school. Everyone, even the dimmer and the idle, became worse off and educational performance is noticeably better in those remaining areas such as Kent that retained grammar, technical and modem schools. What happened with comprehensivization was exactly what had happened with old Labour economics. A policy of stealing from the more successful in order to create equality resulted in the destruction of the entire system.

It is time Britain had less education. One essential step is to lower the school leaving age back to 14. Nothing worthwhile was achieved by raising it and preventing bored teenagers from entering the labour force. The new unwilling conscripts hate school and play truant. Education is not a right. Rights are about the state refraining from coercion, in this case forcing people to remain in school when they are quite old enough to decide to leave. What kind of society have we become when a mother can be sent to jail for twenty months for failing to send her six foot tall, fifteen year old son to school? Why waste a good prison cell on her when she is not a threat to the public just to satisfy the punitive prejudices of bureaucrats who 'send messages' as if they were faxes? Why are those parents whose children do turn up at school but then stop the others from learning with their violence and disruptiveness never jailed? Why is the enforcement of the arbitrary and pointless regulations of a socialistic state more important than the protection of individuals?

It is not true that there are no longer any jobs for 14 year old school leavers to go to because of changes in the structure of the economy. There are plenty of jobs at the bottom end of the service sector or the building trades but they are done by illegal immigrants, cleaners from Sri Lanka, pick and shovel wielders from the Ukraine, or catering staff from Thailand or Algeria; just look around you next time you eat in a canteen or buy clothes in a charity shop. Unemployment among school leavers is caused by two disastrous New Labour policies, the minimum wage (now being extended to teenagers) and an absence of restrictions on immigration. What kinds of jobs would they have gone into at 16 anyway? There is plenty of physically undemanding dead end work needing to be done and in any case thanks to improved nutrition most 14 year olds today have the size, physical strength and stamina of a sixteen year old in 1910. It is better that they do paid labour than idle in school at the taxpayer's expense. The government has implicitly admitted this by proposing that 14-16 year olds can spend two days a week gaining 'work experience'. The best kind of work experience is work. Less education would reduce levels of dependency, increase the size of the workforce and off-set the effects of an ageing population. It makes more sense to put a greater number of people into the labour force early when

they are young, strong and energetic than to compel them to work into their dotage to secure a pension.

There is an added advantage to lowering the school leaving age. Those who nonetheless choose to stay on in school after 14 but are seriously disruptive or violent can be expelled. Not transferred to another school to cause more trouble, not excluded to be taught at home at great expense to the tax-payer but thrown out for good. Their theft of the other pupils' chances would in this way be brought decisively to an end. What is not sufficiently well known is that, other things being equal, the higher the school leaving age the greater the level of violence in schools. In the United States the highest levels of violence in schools did not occur in the poorest and most deprived states where pupils could leave school at a. young age but in Hawaii after their school leaving age there was raised to 18. The powerful Japanese-American elite who run the state imposed this arbitrarily high leaving age on Hawaii on the grounds that more education is a better thing. Many of the young non-Japanese people in Hawaii did not agree and showed their resentment in an entirely predictable way. In Britain we should lower the leaving age to 14 and where appropriate, throw children out. It will if anything lower the crime rate since work will replace truancy and diminish the bored resentment of those trapped in school. We already have gangs of unruly, untouchable youngsters who make their neighbours lives a misery and whom the government is vainly trying to restrain with anti-social behaviour orders. If the schools can not tame them, what is the point of their going to school?

The nuisance pupils are not in any sense handicapped or mentally disturbed, merely normal stupid people who choose not to learn and to obstruct the learning of others. Both they and their parents are capable of making choices and should be held responsible for them. The test of whether someone wants to be educated or parents want their children to be educated is not that they enrol at an institution nor even they attend, but that they perform or support the performance of the tasks that are necessary to acquire skills and knowledge. It is beyond the power of the state in a democratic society to compel this kind o compliance but it is fully entitled to withhold educational resources from those who refuse to comply.

We have no reason to feel sorry for those boys (on this point I am speaking very largely about males) who choose not to be educated in this way. They do not, to use a cant phrase, lack self-esteem. They have chosen the aggressive pleasures of youth with the immediate rewards that these provide and they have a high opinion of themselves because of their ability to assert their dominance within this world. The best evidence for this is the very high correlation between upward mobility and short-sightedness. Myopic young males peer at books and computer screens and cannot throw stones with any degree of accuracy. Their world is Microsoft Windows not broken windows. The correlation between myopia and success is so high it leaps out of the statistics on educational attainment but is never the subject of discussion by educationalists because it does not lend itself to expensive social engineering at the taxpayers' expense. Logically the egalitarians ought to be agitating for the laser treatment of the eyes of the under-privileged on the National Health Service to render them myopic with all the advantages in life that this brings with it. 'Two eyes good, four eyes better' would make a good Orwellian slogan.

Twenty-first century New Labourist ideas about education are rooted in a set of anachronistic images. Whenever one says to their educationalists that young people should go out to work at an earlier age they reply: 'You would have little boys climbing up chimneys again to get carcinogenic soot on their scrotums and blown to pieces by cannon balls or hacked down in an unjust colonial war while beating tin drums; ten year old girls slaving in damp cotton mills for sixteen hours a day and going blind sewing in Whitechapel sweatshops.' It is this kind of irrelevant 'bad old days' rhetoric that intimidates conservatives and inhibits them from demanding a return to less education and less theft. For the Conservative Party to guarantee that the ever expanding New Labour levels of educational spending on schools will be continued is absurd. We need to recognize that as presently constituted education is theft, theft from the taxpayer, theft from those able to benefit from it and theft from future generations who will inherit a dumbed down, unproductive and culturally diminished world. We need less of it.

Christie Davies is the author of The Strange Death of Moral Britain (2004) published by Transaction Publishers.