"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
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I've now reported for you on the state of Ownership and Health in the newly-free America of 2030, and today I thought you'd like to know how education has fared, in the three years since government imploded on E-Day. I'd say that this is the industry that has improved most radically of all!
For about 175 years before then, almost every child in America used to leave home every day for two thirds of the year and attend an institution called a "school," the alleged purpose of which was to prepare him for adult life. Every day in living memory, big yellow buses did most of the hauling--over 400,000 of them, traveling four billion miles a year, consuming about 400 million gallons of diesel oil, to take the kiddies to be taught that there was a carbon-fuel shortage and pollution problem.
That was just the beginning of absurdity. As everyone now understands, true learning--the answering of questions in the student's mind--can take place in a classroom mainly by coincidence. It's about the least effective learning environment that could be devised--yet with some rare and expensive exceptions, that is what government mandated. The result was mind-crushing boredom, which sometimes exploded in the form of student violence--and frequently led to pervasive drug use as the only way mentally to escape. Such universal, institutionalized child abuse made absolutely no sense whatever until one realized that government schools were always intended to "dumb down" the bulk of the population (to use John Taylor Gatto's famous phrase)--ever since the King of Prussia found he needed a more obedient army and then all other governments fell over each other to copy his system. Ever since the 1850s, the very remarkable thing is that such a large minority of graduates was able to learn anything at all; it's a testimony to the resilience of youth and to the human thirst for knowledge.
Since E-Day, the change has been so dramatic that "improvement" is a poor word to describe it. Here is what I've seen.
1. Brighter Kids. This outcome is what education is supposed to produce, first and foremost; to take what intelligence and ability and (above all) innate curiosity the child brings to the teacher, and respond to all of them to the greatest possible effect so as to broaden, excite and deepen his understanding of the subject of interest. Anyone who doubts the presence of that thirst for knowledge hasn't had pre-school children around the house recently! And anyone who thinks traditional schools served it well hasn't had many in-school children around it for a while. Being a nonagenarian, I've had the pleasure of the company in recent years of some young great-grandchildren, and my goodness, they learn fast with free-market education! Gatto wrote 40 years ago that in his opinion, "properly approached, reading, writing and arithmetic take less than a hundred hours to [teach]," and I'd say he did not exaggerate.
Education bears its best fruits in the half-century following graduation, so naturally it will fall to the next couple of generations to document the full benefits of the change--but I have no doubt at all that they will prove spectacular.
2. Home Learning. This is primarily how it's done, in the new education market. During the first five years of life every parent provides virtually all the tuition a child receives (though in the last quarter century of its life governments made some ominous inroads into even that period), and the free market merely enables that arrangement to continue by providing a turbocharger for the parent's knowledge base--almost always, via the Internet. The "lessons" are interactive and responsive, with ample outbound links for inquisitive minds to follow, and systematic checkpoints and tests to measure progress. And of course, in each subject area, there are several competing products, with more emerging every year.
A prerequisite is that one parent be available at home to help. This was perfectly normal until government loaded up the tax burden in and from the 1960s so that frequently, both had to work outside the home in order to keep up the standard of living to which the family aspired, while placing the children in care of institutions approved by government. With the evaporation of taxes along with the government that imposed them, that norm has been restored. The implications of that restoration of family life and control go far beyond better education; much of the breakdown of civil society was caused by the breakdown of the family and the reversal of that is one of the sources of the present return of civility.
The usual 12-year curriculum has been vastly improved and customized (by choice of both parent and student, helped by those interactive tutorials) so as to scrap the time formerly wasted on the latest social-study fads in favor of some serious micro-economics and math, science, history, literature, language, music, etc. and is set to be covered in 6 years or less, meaning that as the child enters teenage years, college-level guidance is needed and even the most diligent parent can be hard put to keep up--so at this stage there is, indeed, some in-person supplementary tuition by experts offering it at affordable rates to small groups of students on a local basis--not often in the former school buildings (see below), but in collegiate settings such as sitting rooms unless laboratories are needed. The new industry is young and still finding its way, and much of what's said here is drawn from the experience of the home-schoolers who pioneered the way before E-Day in steadily increasing numbers, at great cost to themselves.
The net result is that 18-year-old graduates (with the equivalent of a bachelor's degree) are fully equipped to take their place in the labor market, having gained a true education, as distinct from having endured an experience which did not even equip half of them functionally to read their "diplomas." The benefit this will bring to all of society in the coming decades is hardly possible to overstate.
3. Huge cost savings are being enjoyed as a result of the closure of government schools. Prior to E-Day, those "youth indoctrination camps"--for that's what they really were, and always intended to be--were funded via taxation with about 300 grams of gold (in inconvertible government paper, of course) per pupil per year--a drain on the economy of some 3% of GDP , all of which was paid by real people under threat of force. That 3% was equivalent to the whole annual growth of the economy in a good year, meaning that growth might have doubled in its absence.
That's the gross saving, and from it must be deducted the cost of free-market education--which is very small, but not zero. Its elements consist of (a) one Internet PC per student, (b) working space (desk, shelving) for each, (c) subscriptions to the interactive tuition services online, (d) fees to the supplementary expert tutors mentioned above and (e) the lost opportunity for one parent to earn wages outside the home. The first four of these are quite trivial, often 30 grams/yr/child in total, while (e) is more significant. Here however, one enters a subjective area; Mom, say, is losing the chance to earn a kilogram a year outside the home until her children graduate, but gaining the enormous pleasure of their company and of guiding their developing minds; what value can be placed on that? I don't know; she alone can judge. I can say this, however: that in this free market, those parents who do not wish to play such an incredibly important role in life are perfectly free to pay fees to a for-profit school (or even in-home tutor) to do the job for them according to their preferences, and a few are taking that option.
4. Buildings for sale. School buildings were only one kind of real-estate asset supposedly "owned" by governments, and the disposal of all of them is at present a large and ongoing activity. Unfortunately, schools were purpose-designed around classrooms and so far, the market has not produced much of a demand for that kind of architectural layout. They are, accordingly, going begging - tens of thousands of them, scattered all over the country.
Their layout often includes an auditorium and sports arena, and those have been purchased separately at a fair clip, by profit-seeking promoters respectively of local orchestras and theater groups, and of local basketball teams. Another venture that so far looks promising is that of adapting the school kitchens and lunch areas into desirable restaurants; the zero acquisition cost is attractive, though that of adapting the premises into something chic is more formidable--and all new eateries remain high-risk investments. We shall see how that cookie crumbles.
The rest of the buildings have attracted very few buyers (I heard that one did try to turn a classroom complex into a local, miniature shopping mall), so usually the scavengers have gotten to work. Even in former government schools, there are some artefacts and materials able to command a price on the market--and if the building happens to occupy a city lot, entrepreneurs compete for the land so as to raze it and build something useful and profitable in its place.
5. Universities - independent at last. No account of education in the new free society would be complete without saying what's been happening to institutions of higher learning.
Most of them--state colleges, particularly--are going the same way as the former K-12 schools; there is simply no demand for that quality of "higher" education, for the curriculum has already been covered before the home student reaches 18 and is prepared to earn his living. The same has proven true of many private colleges, which in reality were funded by taxpayer money in the form of various grants (though one noble exception remains as Hillsdale, which always declined such tainted money). For exceptional students, however, there is no limit to what they wish to learn, and the "Ivy League" class of institution is still in demand, often for just post-graduate work and research. And although the faculties are having to make some big adjustments to what material is offered (the old-style statists either reformed themselves or left), this is exactly in line with the 800-year-old tradition of the University in Western culture. Better yet, all of it is funded only by fees and endowments--there are no government grants, because there is no government--so the customer carries his proper clout. Today, therefore, these venerable seats of learning are doing what their founders always intended, but with a complete absence of the "strings" that always come with the "grants," and for some of them, that's the first time it has ever happened.
I see that, too, as a very positive development and have high hopes that Princeton, for example, will turn out a lot more like John Stossel and Anthony Alexander and a lot fewer like Donald Rumsfeld and Ralph Nader--and that it may yet again attract some like Albert Einstein. I also note that when someone like JFK says he is 'blessed with a Harvard education and a degree from Yale,' it already brings a whole lot more than a round of LOLs.
Overall, true education is off to a flying start in the new, free America, and that bodes very well indeed for a well informed, cultured and prosperous society that for the first time in nearly two centuries is centered again on the family. When accepting the NY City Teacher of the Year Award in 1990, John Taylor Gatto said:
"No large-scale reform is ever going to work to repair our damaged children and our damaged society until we force open the idea of 'school' to include family as the main engine of education. If we use schooling to break children away from parents--and make no mistake, that has been the central function of schools since John Cotton announced it as the purpose of the Bay Colony schools in 1650 and Horace Mann announced it as the purpose of Massachusetts schools in 1850--we're going to continue to have the horror show we have right now." [emphasis added.]
It's a tragedy that it took so long, but the "horror show" is now well and truly over, and thanks are due to the many who, starting 50 years ago and more, went to great sacrifice to keep their own children out of that system's clutches and so pioneered the practice of home schooling--and to the millions more who joined them, after learning the truth about what it was doing, in the decade preceding E-Day. They are the ones who have made the transition so easy for everyone else.