This essay is about education. As background for this presentation I will provide a brief summary of the conclusions of the first essay in this “Invisible Hand” series which examined the physical object nature of our money and some of the unfortunate consequences of that nature. I’m getting so I can read this pretty fast so it won’t take long.
All money in history (and pre-history) has been considered to be or to represent physical objects such as a basket of grain, a cow, a coin, or a paper bill. Today most money is in computer accounts and though it zips around the world from account to account at almost the speed of light, it still is treated as if it were a physical object of some sort. Because we treat money as if it were a physical object, anything which is true of physical objects in general will also be true of money. This obvious point is ignored by economists and others who talk and write about money, even though it is the most important truth about money. The importance of the physical object nature of money cannot be overstated. What follows are some consequences of that physical object nature.
First, money is like other physical objects in that it can be taken from its owner against the owner’s will by force, fraud, or stealth and it can be lost or destroyed. This means that you need to suspect almost everyone of trying to get your money by fair means or foul.
Second, money must be amoral because all inanimate physical objects are amoral. Even animals are amoral in that they have neither an ethical sense nor morality, especially when they are used as commodity money. You can use your physical object money for anything, good or bad.
Third, the money supply is independent of the supply of goods and services for sale because the supply of one physical object is independent of the supply of other objects.
Fourth, money falsely simulates a zero-sum game in monetary transactions because the money gained by one party must be lost by some other party or parties. Money makes us think that other people can gain money at our expense and that we can only gain money at their expense. It makes us treat others as if they were competitors, rivals, opponents, or even enemies.
Fifth, money is almost impossible for a society or nation to control. In every nation that attempts to limit, regulate, or tax trade a black market comes to exist; and organized crime flourishes in all nations.
Sixth, money transactions are two-party interactions. Two-party interaction is inherently unstable because if one party gets an advantage in power such as having more money, the stronger party can use that power to gain still more advantages. This is particularly true of money. The old saying “them as has, gets” is true. Possession of money does make getting more money quite a lot easier. Naturally, the weaker party in such two-party interaction will eventually want to end the interaction. Thus the relationship is unstable.
So keeping that review in mind, let’s consider education.
For some background and support on the view of modern formal education (schools both public and private) please google “RSA education paradigms” and listen to the video. Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson is the speaker and the presentation is quite entertaining. The talk is under 12 minutes.
Education is as old as humanity. Without education we would never have survived as a species. At birth we know extremely little. We don’t even know how to nurse and have to spend quite a while figuring that out. Yes, we have a sucking reflex but by itself, that’s not enough. We also have a larynx at that age which moves up into a position which allows us to breathe through the nose while swallowing. But we don’t know how to coordinate all this and we have to learn it. So it isn’t too far off to say that human beings have to learn everything from scratch. Of course that isn’t strictly true. We do have a host of biologically built-in brain functions which help us out. The brain makes it easy for us to learn a language using those structures for example. But in the main, we have a lot to learn.
Most of that learning is informal; learned at mother’s knee, one might say. And once upon a time, that informal knowledge gained from mom, dad, and one’s play mates was enough. But that was before the days of a great division of labor. As the division of labor increased we became far more productive as a species and developed specializations. Those specializations involved and were based upon knowledge. The apprenticeship was a common way of passing on that specialized knowledge to the next generation. The master had a vested interest in educating the apprentice because the apprentice did a lot of the labor in the master’s business. The better the apprentice did the job, the better product the master was able to offer to the public. So though the apprentice was in many respects a slave, at least he could look forward to the day when he would be the master in his own business and rule his own apprentices with an iron hand.
It appears that graduate school follows this model. As one approaches the pinnacle of knowledge in formal education, the graduate student is sufficiently knowledgeable to be doing much of the skilled work required for science, the arts, and the professions. Those interns who treat you in the hospital are medical apprentices in their own way. Their education is, to a degree, one-on-one; with so-called “independent study” the dominant means of learning. They are being guided in how to be able to take care of themselves as academic entrepreneurs. The better they learn and do their jobs as grad students, the more their major professors benefit via publications, discoveries, and teaching.
So the apprenticeship model is alive and well in the modern education system for that tiny percentage who seek the PhD. But what about the rest of education? What about that K through 12 time period when most folks in the first-world countries attend school, either public or private?
Keep in mind that children will learn unless they are kept in a sensory deprivation condition. Young children, especially, can learn almost anything – and very quickly. They spend their days at age two or three forming hypotheses, constructing theories, and testing, testing, testing. They seek out and explore all kinds of sensory experiences. Anything out of the ordinary is to be pursued, checked out, examined, and, perhaps, put into the mouth. So children are learning experts plying their trade.
What is school like? If you had a learning expert, amazingly adept at gaining knowledge, how would you encourage that facility? If you wanted creative, productive thinkers to advance the boundaries of human knowledge, to improve all aspects of human life, to be productive and useful in their communities how would you structure their environment? While you consider your response to that question let’s examine what the industrialized world has done in that circumstance.
When deciding how to educate those masses of children who were no longer on the farm, the ruling powers in those days largely came from private tutoring environments. They were wealthy, mostly men – who were taken in hand by governesses and tutors – and then sent off to some exclusive school if they were destined for the law, ministry, or government offices. They thought women couldn’t learn academic subjects so they were taught to be entertaining and polite, if they were formally educated at all. Women, too, were largely educated informally in the home.
The idea of education “for the masses” as one might say was a progressive idea supported by the wealthy because they needed docile, obedient, on-time workers in their factories. Public education was intended to produce (and did produce) those workers in large numbers. It did so by creating schools that were like factories. The idea was so successful and so popular that laws were passed requiring that those who could not afford private schools were required to attend these public schools. Thus did the wealthy factory owners guarantee themselves a large number of potential employees who could read and add and knew how to get to work on time. The factory owners, of course, sent their children to private schools or had private tutors for them.
But look what this approach to education does: It creates prison schools. It is a prison/factory model of education; a system which assumes that all children are the same, and that they are ready at the same age to learn the same things in the same way. Standardized instruction and standardized assessment are intended to generate standard graduates. But prisons are situations of high stress and even higher boredom. We know that stress makes learning more difficult; we also know that boredom suppresses learning, intelligence, and mental functioning. Just like a muscle that is not used, brains that are not used tend to atrophy. Even among rats, a boring environment leads to a less-developed brain. So the school system that was created to prepare people for dull, repetitive jobs of mind-numbing boredom produces graduates whose minds have been limited and constrained by stress and mind-numbing boredom.
Children are diverse. Children learn best by active participation. Lecture and routine are ineffective means of education. Young children at play are optimizing their learning experience to the degree that they are freely permitted to do so; but the schools we use today group them in classes by age, sit them in identical chair desks, present lectures to the whole 25-30 pupil class, and have them fill out standardized worksheets. The children have no choice regarding subject matter, presentation of ideas/techniques, where to sit, nor – to a large degree – even what to do with their own bodies. If we drew a direct comparison between life in a grade school and life in a maximum security prison, we would find that there’s actually more freedom in the prison. Prisoners can get up or sit down whenever they feel like it, they can walk around in their cells, they can remove or dress themselves in whichever of their clothes they like. Prisoners can talk, or sing, or make funny sounds with their armpits. They can even sleep whenever they choose to do so. If you can remember your time in grade school; I think you’ll agree that prisoners, in general, have more freedom than you did in that oppressive, demanding, and restrictive environment.
Why does our educational system use techniques which are guaranteed to fail for most people? Part of the answer is tradition: “That’s how I was taught; and if it was good enough for me, it’s good enough for you,” might be your reply. But it wasn’t good enough for you. You could have been encouraged and enabled to learn more than you actually did, to learn faster and more easily, and to obtain a stellar education with far less stress. Remember how excited and relieved you were when the school year ended and you didn’t have to go to school? That should tell you something. Since children tend to find learning to be intrinsically pleasurable, why would children loathe and even fear school if they were learning a lot more there than they would during summer play time? And take a look at what you were learning in school: No, I’m not talking about those academic subjects, I’m talking about school bullies. Being picked on for anything from having “the wrong haircut” or not wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day to being a minority – in religion, race, culture – or even just appearance, like having red hair… or ears that stick out. Remember learning that the teacher had favorites? Remember… but then if you are typical regarding what you spent your time in school thinking about, you know very well you spent very little time thinking about academic subjects and spent a lot more time thinking about that little red-haired girl like Charlie Brown does in the Peanuts cartoon. Or maybe you were daydreaming about dinosaurs, or even about whether you were going to get anything to eat – and whom you might sit with – at lunch. When you’re bored, your mind wanders to things that are important to you. Learning long division is not something most seven-year-olds really care much about: surviving playground politics becomes all-consuming.
So beyond tradition, why do we keep the prison/factory model of education? Think about it: the employers still want obedient personnel, but in today’s high-tech world they need employees with exceptional mental skills. The competitive marketplace demands innovative, creative, dynamic, self-motivated go-getters who will not only do the job but improve the workplace. These modern-day workers must be team players with strong leadership characteristics. Do our schools produce that sort of individual? Not if they can help it. Imagine a class of eight-year-old children, each of them being innovative, creative, dynamic, self-motivated go-getters: we would consider that to be a chaotic atmosphere. Such people do not let others set the agenda; they don’t automatically and passively accept everything you tell them as truth. This sort of person seeks and finds new ways of doing things – and naturally, along the way – they are mistaken frequently, but that’s how they learn… and that’s how they develop their creativity. Would you want to teach a roomful of such children? Would the school accept such a noisy classroom down the hall? Would the teacher have a lesson plan that says “let them do what they want to”? No, I hardly think so. So schools aren’t organized the way they are because the industrialists, corporate heads, and other employers of the world desire the product they are getting from this arrangement: we’ll have to look deeper.
Schools are bureaucracies ordered from the top down, with state legislatures and federal officials setting many policies – followed by school boards – ordering the lives of superintendents and principals; who order around the teaching staff, giving them a load of paperwork to do and inadequate supplies to work with. So who is benefiting from this arrangement? Politicians benefit: because when people complain about inadequate public schools, they can pass silly legislation demanding improvements without providing the resources or the freedom to actually improve matters. That helps them get votes as “friends of education” but the children can’t tell any difference. The superintendents and principals get to rule bureaucratic empires and take home more pay than the teachers do, even though they don’t actually educate any of the children. The teachers like it because they can boss around the children and blame the parents for having not taught their children how to behave. This also, by the way, helps explain the popularity of the ADHD or attention deficit disorder diagnosis and drugging of so many children. Teachers love to have pupils who sit quietly and don’t make waves with awkward questions.
But by far the most important reason why we retain a really stupid educational model is because it’s so very profitable for far too many people. First, there are the contractors who build the schools. They like those contracts for throwing up low-bid cheap construction schools since they know there will be maintenance and remodeling contracts afterward. Then there are those who are involved in the writing, editing, and printing of textbooks. Those contracts are worth millions and you can come out with new editions every year or so to get schools to replace perfectly awful books with newer texts that are just as bad. You should know that for teaching reading the best text is the McGuffey Primer which has been out of copyright for over 100 years. You can buy a paperback copy quite cheaply and teach your child to read from that book in about 15 minutes a day just like frontier mothers did back when dyslexia was very rare. You should also know that teaching arithmetic is also easy using those old 19th century texts. Strange that we got away from what worked so well – but then there’s big money in textbooks.
Next we have teachers’ unions; though they are rather impotent since they lack the resources of the big money interests, they do advocate for guaranteed raises and tenure.
Strange how no one wants to use meaningful measures of what the children are learning to decide who gets the authority, money, and support. Strange how we think that standardized tests work when standardized education so obviously does not work.
Do you remember those consequences of physical object money or POM that we started this essay with? Let’s see how they affect matters. People don’t like to pay taxes so they resist spending money on schools. Schools have money to spend and the greater one’s power – the more of that money one controls – the more of that money one can get for oneself. The zero-sum game simulation makes all those folks feel like rivals. It’s expensive treating each child as an individual so we try to mass-produce education on the cheap. That doesn’t seem to work.
How would matters be different in a non-POM economy? How could schools be arranged to work much better? Well the first thing to do would be to junk the prison/factory model of education. Non-POM would have that effect because when people are paid for the consequences of their actions they suddenly become quite concerned with having desirable consequences. You may have noticed that sports coaches are paid for winning (in many public schools, most colleges and all professional teams). They find things to do that can offer advantages. One of the things successful coaches do is to find how to teach their players. They copy what works for other coaches and in a few cases actually come up with new ideas themselves. They learn how to evaluate players. They can watch a player perform and have a very good idea what the player needs to do to improve and a very good idea of whether the player is doing well enough to play when the going gets tough. This is also true of music teachers and other teachers of the arts for performance in their fields.
With non-POM this would be the case for all instruction. Note that one of the many things which would be beneficial to know is how much progress a student has made, what the student has learned and what the student’s weaknesses are. So people who perform such evaluations would earn money for doing so. Note also that the teachers are not the only ones who can perform such a function. If the earnings of a teacher are to depend to some degree on the progress the student makes, the teacher is going to want expert feedback on how the child is progressing; so most teachers would be happy to cooperate in gaining such evaluations.
Next, notice that teachers are also diverse. Just as students each have their own unique learning style, so are teachers more fitted to using some teaching styles than others. It is insane to try to force all teachers to use the same style. Naturally, if one gets a good fit between the learning style of the student and the teaching style of the teacher, one gets very good results. Therefore, one would expect both teachers and parents to attempt to match children with the teachers who can do the best in assisting those children to educate themselves.
By the way, teaching does not cause learning. Teaching just provides resources. Learning is done exclusively by the student sometimes despite the teacher. So with a non-POM economy you would tend to find the following in schools.
First there would be a lot of homeschooling. After all, who knows the child and the child’s preferred learning style better than the parents? Homeschooling today is about twice as fast as classroom education is (per hour of study) at providing academic education. There’s far less stress in homeschooling. There is far more flexibility in homeschooling. Obviously not every parent or family can do homeschooling, nor is every parent or family suited to do homeschooling. We can’t even say that every child will be best educated at home. But far more will be educated at home, especially in grade school, because with non-POM any parent can be a stay-at-home parent without worry about having sufficient necessities.
Second, with no laws and with only actual consequences being the basis for earnings, each teacher can pick and choose both the students and how to teach them. And parents will have a corresponding opportunity to select the teachers for their children that suit them. In other words, the school becomes a free market. Anyone can teach. Anyone can be a student. The idea of grades as in first grade, third grade, and high school will most likely be eliminated. Those classifications – as well as arbitrarily grouping children by age – are remnants of the POM system and its prison/factory model of education.
Third, the better the education teachers provide; the more income they earn, the more resources they will have at hand, and the more power they will have in the school system. It all depends on those evaluations of student progress. If the students are succeeding, those who provide resources like computers, texts, chalk, art supplies, and so forth will want to give their products to those successful teachers because that earns money for the producers of those resources.
The students’ success after they leave school will also influence teacher earnings. A very successful student could greatly increase a teacher’s earnings. Think how wealthy the teachers of Bill Gates should be today. With non-POM, those consequences of teaching reading, math, art, and so forth are very important to the teachers and those who support them in their efforts.
Fourth, there will be a process of natural selection or evolution among the teachers. Some will be very popular due to the success of their students. They will tend to remain in education and be copied by other teachers. Some teachers will be unpopular because of their students’ lack of success. Those teachers will either change their ways or leave teaching. Note that the income of a teacher in non-POM depends on how their students progress, not on merely having a job. Just staying with teaching for year after boring year does not earn money with non-POM. There will also be a rapid migration or evolution in teaching methods as some methods are found to work better and some to work poorly.
We will have an educational system which constantly evolves toward improvement – and which takes into account any variations in circumstances – without any actions by legislatures or school boards. Those who supply resources like books will only be paid if their products actually help and the student evaluations will provide ample data to demonstrate whether those products did help or not. The resources available will also evolve rapidly toward improvement, and to changing circumstances. This evolution will have a ripple effect, reaching schools of education in colleges and in changing the perception of teachers in the economy. It will shatter the walls of the traditional classroom: there will be no politics in sending more resources to the wealthier neighborhoods and starving the poorer school districts, there will be no tax money involved.
If I may (and I may, because I write these essays!), I would like to give a personal example of how money thwarts proper educational efforts in today’s educational system. I coach youth sports for a local recreation department as a hobby. I have players of all kinds on my teams, boys and girls, all races and ethnicities (I live in a college town so the population here is diverse), good students and bad. Some of my players are home schooled. I never know until they tell me, of course, though the home schoolers are far less likely to be late for a game or practice. Now these players are just reaching middle school age and some of them are quite good; in other words, if these boys were in middle school they would easily make the varsity for that sport. But they are not in middle school even though they are seventh and eighth grade students regarding what they have learned. So they are missing out on the chance to play for a school team.
These home schooling families are paying taxes which support the schools, they reside in the district that the school serves; and they are well-behaved, good members of the community. But the community, through the schools, refuses to provide them with this educational opportunity. Why is that? Because the school receives money for each day an enrolled student attends class. That’s how that money for the support of the schools is apportioned. Naturally, the school officials want to increase enrollment because that will increase their funding, but the pot of money to educate the communities’ children will not be increased by this student’s enrollment. That pot is determined by the taxes paid in the community, the state, and the nation. That money is allegedly taken in taxes to educate all the children of the community. Yet, here we have a child being refused a part of the education his parents are paying for through their taxes, and which I am paying for through my taxes; in an effort to put a larger strain on an already crowded school system. The money is making them do it. They know in their rational minds that what they are doing is unfair and harmful, but the nature of our money in that zero-sum game simulation is making them do something immoral. Why should they harm these homeschooling children? Only the amoral nature of our POM allows such things to happen.
Obviously what applies to school sports teams also applies to musical groups, language clubs, and the use of science labs and/or computing resources. These aspects of education which schools can easily make available must be provided by home schooling families at great expense and inconvenience for themselves. It’s a mean-spirited misappropriation of public funds which is just what one must expect from a POM economy.
Contrast that with a non-POM economy. Obviously the question of whether the child was enrolled in a school would never come up. The lack of laws would mean coaches are no longer forced to care about such things. The opportunity to coach another good player would be greeted with delight by the coaches, and the other players would be pleased to have someone to help them win games.
If you want to improve education in America or any other nation, advocate for a non-POM. Educate people about the harm being done due to POM. You know that POM will defeat any serious efforts at reform of education because of the big money’s vested interest in the way the system works (or fails to work) now. So it’s up to us to educate those big money interests in a manner which will make them want to change the nature of the money we use. We’ll get nowhere without their cooperation since they run the show. We don’t really need the support of all the big money interests, since non-POM works whether most people in such a system understand it or not. But we do need enough of the big money interests to grasp and promote it in order to get the idea strongly considered. Otherwise, the schools will continue to prevent the success and progress which our children could have enjoyed.