Thursday, 13 August 2009

Contra State "Education"


In response to the piece “Education Never Free From Politics” by Tsai Bih-hwang, translated by Drew Cameron and appearing in the 08/04/2009 edition of the Taipei Times, I have a suggestion to make.

Tsai Bih-hwang warns of the legislature applying the Act Governing the Administrative Impartiality of Public Officials to teachers and researchers at public schools and universities. According to Tsai, such action is misguided and that “responsible teachers should not avoid discussing politics in relevant classes...”. Tsai goes on to point to the use of education as a political tool and to convincingly state the naivety of demanding a politically neutral education environment.

However, Tsai does not follow up those views with the necessary political implication: the education industry must be liberated from the interest of the State. That means an end not merely to all State mandated curricula requirements, but also to all government regulation of teachers and research staff and most importantly, an end to all State funding of schools, universities and research institutes. In short, Tsai should join me in stating the case for freedom to reign in the markets for education and research.

With a free-market in education, institutions could compete with one another for customers on terms by no means limited to just prices or average exam results. Political outlook might be one such ground of competition, with perhaps the largest market reserved for those institutions promising a defined and published “neutral” political outlook. Teachers who had a problem with that would be free to seek employment elsewhere. If right-wing conservative Christians wanted to set up a school they could. If left-wing Marxist socialists wanted to set up a University, they could. Somehow I doubt that either would survive in the market place for very long cut off from all government support.

One common lamentation against a free-market in education is the “what would happen to the poor?” question. Well the answer is threefold: first, they would no longer be cheated out of their savings by institutions controlled by government regulation rather than the consumer demand to provide value for money. Second, since schools and universities would be free to decide their own pricing and admissions policy, then it would be entirely possible for them to admit quotas of students from poor families at reduced prices, or perhaps even free of charge. Third, a free-market in education would almost certainly result in fewer Univerisites and over time, a transformation in the relative importance of a candidate’s formal education for employers vis-a-vis hiring decisions. Other, better value-for-money forms of vouching for the quality of a candidate would take their place, and thus the poor would not be threatened by joblessness merely on account of not having attended a University.

Taiwanese legislators are wrong (and in any case disingenuous) to speak of the “problem” of seperating politics from education. The real problem is getting them – the bullies of state-enforced law – out of the market playground.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Fagan.

(Sent: Tuesday August 4th 2009. Unpublished by the Taipei Times)