Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Wondering about school choice

Neil McCluskey makes a decent argument for school choice. Well, he falls into a typically liberal/libertarian fallacies -- for example, that disagreement about whether a proposition is true implies that there is no correct answer to whether the proposition is true. But he's right that parents in a free society disagree about what a good education consists in, and that diversity ought to be respected.

The only logical and liberal solution to the perennial Canadian issue of funding schools for religious, linguistic and ethnic minorities is undoubtedly parental choice. Ontario's solution of funding Catholic schools, but no one else's, isn't defensible. Nor are funded French schools, but not Cantonese schools. Nor the move to fund native schools, but not Afro-Caribbean schools.

But there is a but, here. For all their faults, public schools put the great majority of the society through a common institution for a number of years. They socialize people the same way. Anyone who went to a different kind of school, or was home-schooled, is still a bit weird. Full parental choice means there really are no longer any "public schools."

Does that turn us into Lebanon a couple generations from now? Can someone reassure me about this?


a-train said...

home-schooled kids aren't weird (necessarily). the one thing consistently overrated about public education is the benefit of "socialization." the socialization that occurs is unlike any you will ever encounter in life outside of grade school (i.e. in one room with 20 to 30 people exactly your age for up to 6 hours a day for 8 to 12 years).

i went to public school, i assume you did. do you feel like the socialization reflected reality out side of a school setting in any way? do you feel like it prepared you to socialize confidently or competently in any other context? not me.

Anonymous said...

I think it is not too revealing of the Pithlord's secret identity, to say that to my certain knowledge he in fact attended a private school in his youth, and has been eye-poppingly freakish ever since. But listen, A-train, the public good of grade-school socialisation doesn't depend on its resemblance to "real life," whatever that is. (One room, 30 or so people... this sounds like the common occupation of 'call centre worker' to me!) No, the immersion of a majority of Canada's soft-brained youth in a scale-model version of the real populace of their city/nation, kids' placement into a public-school system well-supplied with schedules, responsibilities and challenges like (enough) unto those faced by good adult citizens, the lessons in the difficult glory of simply *getting along with people* that public schooling *by its nature,* without trying, imparts -- these socialising effects *alone* make a good argument for public schooling, I think. As to what they should teach - that's a WOQ... let me add that in my experience, private and public schools both produce (or influence the development of)many freaks *and* many conformists. Stands to reason: your schooling isn't the only influence on you. But the blue-blazer corps I have known seems to produce the misfittiest misfit adults, real alienated and bizarre rich kids; while among the former lunchboxers from So and So High, the teen enforcers of social order remain rigidly in favour of that calm produced by saying little -- in short, public-school conformists are sometimes the conformiest. Like ants, really. Make of it what you will.

a-train said...

anon why doesn't it surprise me that pith went to private school? ;-)

anyway, good points. but "schedules, responsibilities," and the challenges of "simply getting along with people" can be taught/learned in any of a number of (better) ways - ways that more accurately mirror what you encounter in the "real world." currently, the socialization is just a by-product of the system, not a conscious element of its design. and i'm even coming to be skeptical of the "creating a cohesive society" argument.

that is, these things were taught and learned long before the advent of mass public education. of course there is no way to compare how many freaks/conformists the respective systems produced. but i'm quite sure that modeling an education system on automobile assembly line is not the best way to go.

the one case where i feel like public education has helped (somewhat) is in socializing children of parents who for whatever reasons could not adequately do it themselves.

PithLord said...

It's true. Anonymous knows both about the school and the freakishness. In the school's defence, the freakishness is genetic, although the school is to blame for my convoluted syntax.

Of course, I know a few things about Anonymous's life history, and he was a skinny unsocialized punk kid coming out of the small town public schools that made him what he is. And look at him now...

Anyways, what I'm worried about is more that all the ethnicities and religions will send their kids to their own schools, and then they will have some big civil war when they grow up. Now they get the violence out of their system during recess.