Protectionism in education

Protectionism in education

Protectionism in education

The modern public education system is a shambles. While the problems vary country to country, complaints from parents and students remain the same: lack of choice, lack of quality preparation, and, frequently, lack of good ratios between instructors and students. There is a reason for this situation, though, and it is tied to its history. The American commentator and career coach, Zachary Slayback, who frequently remarks on the regressive nature of modern education, tweeted on December 1, 2017,

Our schools were built for factory workers for jobs that no longer exist. Why don’t we change them?

Cynically put, factory workers for whom the system was designed didn’t need to think, be creative, or innovative. In consequence, the modern, public school is predicated on training its students for positions and careers that have died and aren’t returning due to technological progress. More importantly, it is not genuine education but rather it is career training, one that is mired in its past industrial-era role. The mould for public education is antiquated, and yet those monopolists who control it refuse to break it.

Indeed, any challenge from within or without to the protectionist cartel that modern education has become is vilified. Competition within education is reviled, and those who succeed due to their investment in a competitive system have their accomplishments smeared with the not-so-subtle innuendo that they are only achievers because of wealth.

 An example of the battle between pro- and anti-market factions within education is apparent at the university level in Great Britain. Starting in 2012, the British universities began to raise the tuition fees which had been kept artificially capped by the government. On January 12, 2018, the pro-vice-chancellor for education of Cambridge University, Graham Virgo, correlated students’ increased success rate – in 2017, 40% more students obtained degree honors than did the graduating cohort from four years before – with feeling motived due to tuition hikes. Critics responded that the high success rate was a result of the fixed assessment system causing grade inflation, and the situation could be remedied by using a grading curve to (artificially) lower grades. One critic even attacked the principle of tuition, saying,

What tuition fees have actually done is turn students into customers, and universities are now working to provide their consumers with the best possible outcomes.

This response is that of a protectionist, one whose monopoly on a product – let’s not be coy: an education is a product since it is frequently judged by the same metrics, such as quality and usefulness – is threatened by competition and consumer choice. Future success as a metric for quality is even more terrifying for such nay-sayers.

But beyond their fear is one simple truth: a sense of investment. There is an old adage that “renters never take as good a care of a house as owners.” Why? A sense of investment. The same goes for education. What is free, and/or mandatory, is valueless, and what must be purchased is worthy. This attitude is simply part of human nature. Acting like ostriches vis-à-vis this fundamental principle has brought us to our current state of inability to choose quality over quantity.

Left without concrete proofs of success, the education-protectionist cabal appeals to popular sentiment and class warfare. The Guardian quoted the organizer of a November 2017, UK-wide anti-tuition protest,

Tuition fees are fundamentally illegitimate. Education is a public good, not a product, and it should be funded by taxing the rich.

Note: the linked piece is a photo article showing the protestors; it is rather revealing.

Taking from the rich to give to the poor has worked very well for the Robin Hoods of American public education, which is funded by property taxes and whose apologists were caught in 2007 fibbing about public education’s success rate in comparison to private and independent schools – a fib of such magnitude that Time Magazine published an expose on it. The entire purpose of the dishonest study, sponsored by the Center on Education Policy (not to be confused with the Heritage Foundation’s Center for Education Policy), a think tank dedicated to advancement of the public school system, was to insinuate into the public consciousness the idea that it was time to abolish quietly private and independent schools as the public schools have caught up. This is textbook protectionism: assassinate the competition and in doing so kill consumer choice.

There is absolutely no shame in recognizing that education is a consumer good and as such is subject to the laws of the market. Of course, social convention dictates that we should react with horror at such a suggestion and immediately denounce it as elitist and exclusionary. However, the idea of condemning everyone to a badland of “equality of outcome” through artificial “equality of opportunity” should be the more unconscionable. Yet, this is the goal sought by the modern education system with its anti-competitive, one-size-fits-all attitude and agenda, an agenda that ignores the fact that the greatest amount of human progress and development has occurred when nations have tiered education systems with plenty of school choice.  






Mary Lucia Darst

Mary Lucia Darst
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