The Economy of Learning, Part 3: A Log on a Deep and Mighty Tide of Incompetence

Any discussion of economics and education would be incomplete without Scripture to back up our thoughts and intuitions. All of Proverbs is written from a father to a son, delivering the wisdom necessary to live a godly, prosperous, long life. “Train up your child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” According to Scripture, it is the responsibility of the parent to educate their children. They are to be ready to answer children’s questions (Ex. 12:26, Josh. 4:6-7). Primarily, our children must be taught the fear of the Lord, as evidenced in love and obedience. Or, as Dewey would crudely put it, a “system of morality.” But listen to what Dewey subsitutes for “traditional” morality. “All education which develops power to share effectively in social life is moral.” Recall that social life, although the standard for education, is itself ultimately rootless in its walk “up the future’s endless stair/…Groping, guessing, yet progressing,/ lead us nobody knows where,” as Lewis had it. Other stanzas of the poem are remarkably applicable. In the last examination, Dewey makes education an end unto itself: “…there is nothing to which education is subordinate save more education….the purpose of school education is to insure the continuance of education by organizing the powers that insure growth.” In other words, what we desire is a cancer. Unrestrained growth for its own sake is both rootless, and still deadly in its own inevitable collapse. Dewey sees clearly that education will touch the moral side of a child, shape his character, and even affect his mental disposition and desires. Again, I don’t argue the inevitability of this happening. What I do argue is that when this power of education is surrendered to a decentralized, fascistic state, it will inevitably be both abused by the majority and broken by socialistic egalitarianism.

What does this mean for parents who find themselves unable, insufficiently prepared, or too time-restricted to teach their children? It is then their duty to find themselves some representative who will stand in their stead and deliver a good education to their child. This representative is a teacher. A parent will of course want to hand their child over to someone they trust absolutely to be a good influence on their children: a teacher whose goals are in line with their own. Now, given the sheer volume of diverse goals that parents have for their children (and taking into account the inevitable overlap of basic skills such as reading and writing), is it likely that any one school will match every parent’s desired academic emphases for their children? Not in the least. Thus, a diverse array of schools, teachers, and curricula are necessary to satisfy the public need for education.

But when we flip the picture to see it from the liberal standpoint, we find the teacher is a representative of society. When he is a representative of the individual leaders of families, then it becomes a capitalistic education system, where the individuality and identity of groups within society is maintained, and where the best educators last. Education would no longer be a funnel for public opinion regardless of the individual’s beliefs. But in a socialist state, and the inevitable move towards fascism, education has a duty to fit the child into society, whatever that society is. Dewey worships society by making it the ultimate standard: public education is the bangle on the idol’s wrist. They stand and fall together. From this connection we find ourselves in the schools today teaching against and preventing obesity, teaching our children how the sexual revolution was a good thing, how all religions and cultures are equal (except Christianity and Western culture), and how the world was populated by the savage and beneficent goddess of Evolution. These are not optional: given a view of education where the teacher is a finger of society, preaching the latest fad-gospel is good, righteous, and required. Freedom, as it exists in an independent system of capitalistic education, cannot exist in public education. Dewey’s well-placed and ironic fears have come true.

But not everyone will buy a product completely blind. So how does the Federal government sell their trinket? First, the federal government, since the “No Child Left Behind Act,” has involved itself in setting standards for education that receives funding. The standards have not worked, for they float along with the capabilities of the students like a log on a deep and mighty tide of incompetence. This only makes sense when we take into account that most parents do not necessarily know what it is best for their children to learn, or even have their own goals for their child’s education. We then end up with teachers and schools themselves avowing the benefits of their programs and curricula. But their avowals to the efficacy of their programs depends entirely on their goals for the program, since good intentions cover all. “If we’re teaching the right things and we mean well, then performance matters little,” they think. Our society god accepts our efforts to throw the pinch of incense, however much we stumble. But even the public school system seems to be lacking the power to fulfil their own goals. According to current reviews, America is either at or below the national average in most subjects. Given that our education spending is larger than many countries’ GDP, the results are not worth the spending.

In a capitalistic society, (the only true support for diversity and a heterodonic [a word I made to mean “many-giftedness,” based on 1 Cor. 12] society), we will develop not only better education, but diverse education suited to the desires, capabilities, and opportunities of the individual. On the other hand, a socialist or democratic society, without an ultimate authority, will deliver a stagnant, fruitless education, guaranteed to badly disappoint the needs of most students. It neither fulfils the duties of a suitable representative of Christian parents, nor understands a family-based society. In most of the important ways I can think of, public education, as it has come to look since the early twentieth century, is simply a broken, doomed idea.

The Economy of Learning, Part 2: Gruel Purée All Round

Here is Part 1 of my series on the application of economic principles to the subject of public education.

Now let’s speak plain economics.

What the administrators of public education desire is a monopoly on education. The widespread use of federal funds on the college level shows us just how easy it is to buy into the “free money” system. And what we know is that once a monopoly is established, it tends to be abused. The product may be changed without affecting sales, or the price raised. It’s a way of beating supply and demand. It is fairly certain that no one will be calling for a shrink in the demand of education. Most people agree that children must be taught. So, with no change in demand, and, for the most part, only one supplier, the consumer is between a rock and a bureaucrat. And with education tied to the political fluctuations of the United States, the product is guaranteed to Continue reading

The Economy of Learning, Part 1


Furthermore, any institution that still stands must, by that very fact, be successful. When we say, as we seem to more and more these days, that education in America is “failing,” it is because we don’t understand the institution. It is, in fact, succeeding enormously. It grows daily, hourly, in power and wealth, and that precisely because of our accusations of failure. – Richard Mitchell, The Graves of Academe

In all the economics readings I did this term, I read broad vistas of discussion, from the rich and undeveloped Third World and how to create wealth there, to the depredations and inroads of socialism into America’s purportedly free economy, to the stereotypical power-mongering of Italian and German despotism. But one topic our class never considered, apart from a brief mention in Liberal Fascism, was the subject of education. And in the book Economics in One Lesson, we learned that economics may broadly be considered as the practice of looking at the long-term effects of any principle, applied to all people involved. If economics is as broad as that, it surely cannot be out of place to examine the effects of various economic theories on education. While this may seem unorthodox, I would wager that this is simply from its novelty rather than its inappropriateness to our discussion. We have, in the course of our class, already ackowledged that wealth is not sheerly a a material thing. It can be increased without adding material: mutually beneficial trade increases wealth without any additional item participating in the the interaction. Knowledge (or wisdom) is the material that education deals in. We pay for it just like any other good, reinvest it, create with it, and leave it to our children as an inheritance, hopefully more of it than we got ourselves: for intents and purposes, we may apply capitalistic principles to education.

In our exploration of this topic Continue reading

On Mirrors

(This is an essay in the style of Montaigne. His essays were usually reflections about some aspect of man. Quotes were unattributed, but I have here quoted from Shakespeare, Cervantes, Machiavelli, and Montaigne himself.)

In every mirror I have ever seen, there is a soliloquy of me: but reflections are silent, so I must speak my reflections. I cannot see the story of myself, for even a mirror cannot represent the complexities of any man. Rather let us turn one mirror to face another. We can see the infinity of depths that the reflection brings with it: and yet every iteration becomes darker and more obscure. Thus it is with man: we all stand between two mirrors, seeking to understand ourselves.

To each man, he himself is an unfathomable depth. And yet we have a sacred duty to examine each and every layer, tossing out this and that, polishing, amending, considering. For though the reflections go on forever, yet we must know ourselves. We do not seek
all delusions and deceits of the sight…all demonstrations of shadows.
But rather we seek the truth.

And yet one might consider himself forever without making progress, for despite what we have said, we can neither comprehend infinity nor penetrate the dark tempest that our minds are the Prospero’s of. Indeed, we might become a man of La Mancha:
so with too little sleep and too much reading, his brains dried up, causing him to lose his mind.
Let us not embark on any wild adventures, then, lest we receive a metaphysical thrashing from metaphysical mule-drivers, but let us see whether there is a better way for men to know themselves. For those who pretend to knowledge have the least love for their fellow humans.
What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals! And yet to me what is this quintessence of dust?

And let me here note that nothing is plainer than the proposition that man wants to know himself. For what other reason do we write plays and pretenses and put them on display? The subject of plays are always men themselves, the characters and their actions. We want to stand outside life for a moment and be a spectator only. Offered such a godlike opportunity to know life, who could refuse?

From this it is plain that men are able to know themselves by knowing others and comparing themselves with what they have seen.
Just as those who paint landscapes set up their easels down in the valley in order to portray the nature of the mountains and peaks, and climb up into the mountains in order to draw the valleys, similarly in order to properly understand the behavior of the lower classes one needs to be a ruler, and in order to properly understand the behavior of rulers one needs to be a member of the lower classes.
Even so, in order to understanding the living, one must be dead, or at least standing outside of life for a moment.
…For the soul can find no rest while she remains afraid of him (death). But once she does find assurance she can boast that it is impossible for anxiety, anguish, fear, or even the slightest dissatisfaction to dwell within her. And that almost surpasses our human condition.
For even though to conquer death is to surpass our human condition, we find ourselves strangely reversed in this matter, for we also must go through a sort of death to even learn what our human condition is.

It is for this that men so bravely place their bottoms in hard chairs to sit for hours at a time watching a make-believe story. What else could induce them to endure such discomfort but the prospect of getting to know themselves and mankind a little better, and being better prepared to face
that sleep of death?
The Prince of Denmark, finding it necessary to reveal the truth about his father’s murder, and paint the killer’s cheek red with the blush of guilt, chose the medium of a play – if a conscience may be caught by players speaking canned words upon a stage, what more proof do we need that real men are the mirrors wherein we may know ourselves? King Harry, when wandering among his men during the night before Agincourt, plays a part, as it were, cloaked under another character, and yet the character he reveals is his own true self: the self who could not be shown in public. An actor may reveal the truth more handily than an honest man: for he cares not for the reputation of the assumed character. What a loss it would be to suffer the end of drama, by whose unashamed mirroring nature we so often receive a reflected image of ourselves!
…the purpose of playing, whose end, both first and now, was and is, to hold, as ‘twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.

A painting might seem to fall short of our standard of reflection – for it cannot move so freely as men or a mirror. But this is the painter’s genius: no other man is forced tell a story so still, or reveal so much character in so small a space! Many paintings can tell us whether the model is good, or bad, or happy, or melancholic, or kind, or cruel, what his station is in life, and many other things: and all this by immobile coloured daubs on a bit of cloth! For my part I will not deny the talent of the painters.

And all these paintings and plays shows man who he is: he is an explorer: he was reborn, Renaissanced, in order to find that among all he studies he had neglected to study himself. From this we have gotten the humanist movement of education: a system of teaching men how to be men, not books; how to judge history, and not merely record it to spit it up again. Man must be appreciated as man: did not the good Lord make us? Then let us glory in His creation and include us among the many things that are submitted to us for consideration, naming, and dominion.

So here sit I, contemplating myself: an armchair philosopher. But an armchair philosopher, however much he knows himself, knows only his sitting self: and that is a very limited self indeed! How much better it is to know oneself in sport or conversation, to know oneself in gaming or feasting, to know oneself in sorrow, in danger, in love, in religious reverence and awe, and
the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to?
How much better to know yourself living than to know yourself as one who sits in a chair and thinks! I am inclined to believe that Plato would have been a better man for a good ride on a bicycle. It is not only the soul that man must know, for the good Lord gave us bodies as well as our souls. So how can a philosopher or any man, indeed, know himself if he knows not his body? A good game of rugby, played well, will tell you once and for all, how well your reason has your body in hand. A hard-earned try tells you as much about yourself as any syllogism. A closely held tackle gives as much glory to God as a finely crafted sonnet.
Mens sana in corpore sano. [A sound mind in a sound body]

Let us be healthy and sane, and taught by both Leonidas and Socrates, by Sparta and Athens. While we may not yet know ourselves, yet we know how to know.
γνῶθι σεαυτόν. Know thyself.