Thursday, 25 August 2016

Big Brother Knows Best

Parental Incompetence Is a Fundamental Assumption of the System

A universal state school system--such as we have in New Zealand--is predicated upon the incompetence or failures of parents. The state's Ministry of Education, together with teacher unions, justify their existence persistently on the assumption that parents are of little use when is comes to arranging for the education of their children.

Those who might be sufficiently obtuse to challenge this assertion, can be swatted away with a couple of questions.  Firstly, does our objector favour a universal parental voucher system so that parents can choose a school for their children?  If they don't they clearly think that parents are incompetent to choose wisely for their children.  Or, they hold to the idea that the state school system could not cope with the resultant disruption--which is an implicit acknowledgement that the state school system is bureaucratically hide bound and, to that extent, ineffective.

Secondly, since a voucher system would very quickly and effectively empower parents, why has no political party promoted or supported the idea?  Why has the Ministry of Education not advised the Government to move rapidly in this direction?  Why is empowering parents such an anathema?
 Clearly political parties and successive governments believe the state is better and more competent in providing education for children than parents will ever be. When it comes to education the prevailing myth is that the state and its agencies represent competence, whereas parents represent ignorance and irresponsibility.

T. S. Eliot, writing in 1939, saw the force of this argument.  Amidst the gradual velvet revolution whereby the state has assumed more and more control over schools and education, Eliot wrote:
Instead of congratulating ourselves on our progress, whenever the school assumes another responsibility hitherto left to parents, we might do better to admit that we have arrived at a stage of civilisation at which the family is irresponsible, or incompetent, or helpless; at which parents cannot be expected to train their children properly; at which many parents cannot afford to feed them properly, and would not know how, even if they had the means; and that Education must step in and make the best of a bad job.  [T. S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture: The Idea of a Christian Society and Notes Towards the Definition of Culture (London: Harvest/Harcourt, 1967)  p.181.]
The prevalence of these opinions throughout the establishment is what prevents the introduction of a voucher system.  But Eliot is right: it would be far better for politicians and bureaucrats and teacher unionists to front up and admit to parents they believe them fundamentally incompetent to raise their children.  That is the real issue.  That it the prevailing received wisdom.  That is what has brought to government education system to the pretty pass it has gotten to in our day.

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