Sunday, August 04, 2013

Libertarians return to school

The Wall Street Journal published an article this week that, in line with its usual far-right stance, argued that a libertarian approach to education is far superior to the American system of hiring permanent, accredited teachers.

The article started with the premise, “South Korea's students rank among the best in the world, and its top teachers can make a fortune. Can the US learn from this academic superpower?” The article focused on one South Korean teacher who makes $4M per year, and quoted him as saying, “The harder I work, the more I make... I like that.” In describing this man’s work environment, the article says that 10% of the teachers are fired every year (compared to 2% of public school teachers in the US) and “the teachers are free agents. They don't need to be certified. They don't have benefits or even a guaranteed base salary.“

The monumental idiocy (or deceit) of the article is that it is comparing apples and oranges. South Korea has schools, but what the article is describing is after-school tutoring. The tutor being described creates online classes that are charged per view.

The US also has after-school tutors, and it has companies that seek to make big profits off of tutoring. The difference isn’t the availability of teachers or online courses. The difference is demand, and the real question is why parents in North America aren’t as driven to have their children excel at school. I don’t know about South Korea, but in many colonial countries access to education is competitive, which encourages higher performance but puts the emphasis on rote learning. This pattern exists across a variety of school environments.

In any event, the real problem facing the US is lack of access to post-secondary education. The article focuses on South Korea’s higher rate of high school completion, but a diploma is important mostly as a means of getting into college or university. Many US families know that they can’t afford higher education for their kids. Even where there is an affordable school, the affordable schools tend not to provide first rate training in subjects that lead to high-paid jobs. Government involvement in education should be just the opposite of the libertarian approach. Government should be setting goals for the graduation of doctors, engineers, computer science and the like, and finding ways to meet those goals.

Back in the 90s the center-left was changed by Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Bob Rae, Jean Chretien and others to what was then called “the third way”. It became a tenet of progressivism that the economy must be healthy, and that progressive governments must be good economic stewards. The idea is to focus on the size of the pie and not just the size of the pieces.

More recently the right has transformed itself just as radically. Conservatism is increasingly becoming libertarian – and libertarianism is a crazy philosophy. Milton Friedman argued that there should be no requirements for calling yourself a medical doctor as the market would sort it out. I always thought of Friedman as a thorough Libertarian nutbar, but this disingenuous WSJ article is calling for the same thing for US public school teachers. It’s difficult for me to understand how these people could be so irrational, wrong-headed and irresponsible.


Theo said...


Ron said...

I wouldn't call WSJ "far right", in fact it's one of the most authoritative newspapers in the U.S. I am a conservative and Harper supporter but I view libertarianism with great suspicion as well. I believe in smaller government, not NO government.

As for the Joe Clark post, one must see it from the point of view of those advocating a unified right, Clark openly worked against it. It wouldn't have made him great pals with the Prime Minister. Petty, vindictive, maybe. I see plenty of that in the political realm from all sides.