Friday, November 14, 2003

Why Children Should Be Equal
Is an article by Adam Swift in response to criticism from readers regarding his proposal to abolish independent schools in an effort to improve education in Britain. It appears in The Telegraph.
(link via Private Schools, Equality, and Liberty at Crooked Timber)

Swift debunks the usual arguments put forth in defense of private schools and holds to the premise that "private schools are unfair, in that they conflict with equality of opportunity". Excerpts:
It's unfair that a child's prospects in life should depend on her social background, on her parent's willingness and ability to pay for an education better than others are getting. Principled defences of private schools will, I imagine, concede that , but claim that other values are more important.

Some critics appealed to the right of parents to spend their hard-earned money as they wished. It's true that my proposal would interfere with people's freedom to do what they like with their money. But people have no right to that freedom. Freedom of religion, of expression, of sexuality: these are real rights. They protect fundamental human interests - things so important that we all have a duty to respect them even if we'd rather not. Is the freedom to spend your money on an expensive education for your child in that category? No.

Many see me as pursuing the politics of envy. Resenting the fact that educational good things are available to some but not others, I want, perversely, to level down for the sake of equality. But this misses the point. Schools aren't like cars. Your having a better car than me does nothing to make my car less worth having - except through feelings of envy. But your child's having a better education than mine really does make my child's education less valuable for her.

Like it or not, much of the value of education is competitive - what matters is not how good yours is absolutely, but how good it is relative to other people's.

What about the objection from excellence? Surely high academic standards are very important, and only the private sector has the resources and facilities to cultivate intellectual excellence? Well, excellence does matter, but I think we can have enough of it without prohibitively expensive private schooling.
We have similar issues with our educational system and while not advocating the abolition of private schools, the proposed 'voucher system' will work about as well as the 'No Child Left Behind' act.


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