“West’s book is the single most outstanding intellectual challenge to public education. It is the book the proponents of state run education must refute or concede the argument.” Myron Lieberman
Education and the State first appeared in 1965 and was immediately hailed as one of the century’s most important works on education. West explores the views on education of the nineteenth-century British reformers and classical economists who argued for state education and demonstrates that by the Foster Act of 1870 the state system of education was superimposed upon successful private efforts, thereby suppressing an emerging and increasingly robust structure of private, voluntary, and competitive education funded by families, churches, and philanthropies.
Part one: Protection of Infants Principle
- Chapter 1. State Protection of Minors in Theory
- Chapter 2. State Protection of Minors in Practice: The English Education Act of 1944
Part two: The Political Economists’ Argument of the ‘Neighbourhood Effects’ of Education
- Chapter 3. The ‘Neighbourhood Effects’ Argument
- Chapter 4. Education to Make Democracy Work
- Chapter 5. Equality of Opportunity
- Chapter 6. Education and the Quest for ‘Common Values’
- Chapter 7. Education and Economic Growth
Part three: Theoretical and Empirical Antecedents
- Chapter 8. The Classical Economists on Education
- Chapter 9. Literacy—Before and after 1870
- Chapter 10. The Rise and Fall of Nineteenth-Century Private Schools for the Masses
- Chapter 11. The Quality of Schooling before and after 1870
- Chapter 12. Twentieth-Century Legislative Changes and the Struggle for Control
Part four: New Patterns in State Responsibility
- Chapter 13. An Educational Model in Political Economy
- Chapter 14. Are Twentieth-Century Parents Competent to Choose?
- Chapter 15. ‘Neighbourhood Effects’ in Perspective
- Chapter 16. Conclusion to the Second Edition
Part five: A Further Case Study of Public Intervention
- Chapter 17. The Political Economy of American Public School Legislation
The Spread of Education Before Compulsion: Britain and America in the 19th Century, The Freeman 46(6), 1996
Classical Libertarian Compromises on State Education, The Freeman 46(10), 1996
Education With and Without the State (pdf), HCO Working Paper 61, World Bank, September 1995
Education Without the State (pdf), Economic Affairs, March 1995
The Public School System and the Deterioration of Choice, Efficiency and Free Exercise, RJPSS, Vol. IV, No.2, 1979
Literacy and the Industrial Revolution (pdf), The Economic History Review, Vol. XXX1, No.3, August 1978
The Perils of Public Education, The Freeman, Novermber 1977
Educational Slowdown and Public Intervention in 19th Century England (pdf), Economic History 12, 1975
Forster and After: 100 Years of State Education (pdf), Economic Age, Vol.2 No.5 July-August 1970
The Political Economy Of Public School Legislation (pdf), Journal of Law and Economics, October 1967
Tom Paine’s Voucher Scheme for Education (pdf), Southern Economic Journal, January 1967
The Uneasy Case for State Intervention, New Industrialist Review, Volume 4, Number 2, Winter 1966
Liberty and Education: John Stuart Mill’s Dilemma (pdf), Philosophy, April 1965
Private versus Public Education: A Classical Economic Dispute (pdf), Journal of Political Economy, October 1964
Revolutionary Thinker, A.H. Halsey, The New Statesman, 1964.
Of all the verbal rubbish scattered about by the Institute of Economic Affairs, this book is so far the most pernicious. One deluded right-wing reviewer has referred to it as a Copernican revolution in the study of education. This is ridiculous, not simply because Mr West’s ideas are a crass and dreary imitation of those published several years ago by Professor Milton Friedman – a man whose brilliance in argument is made futile by the absurd irrelevance of his 19th-century assumptions – but because, if it were a revolution, it would be Copernican in reverse. Just as pre-Copernican science would ask us to believe that the earth is the sacred centre of the physical universe, so this crude version of liberal economics would place the market at the centre of all human institutions. That the market is not the only human contrivance for rationally relating means to ends is a commonplace to first-year students of economics. It is apparently unknown to Mr West.
His conception of the other social sciences is no less defective. A man who believes that, in the case of a child kept ignorant of reading and writing, ‘the faculties of learning are not in any way removed; it is quite possible for them to remain intact to be used later,’ is a man who knows no psychology. A man who imagines that James Mill’s education of his son is evidence for the shrewd exercise of the protection of minors by parents of early leavers knows no sociology.
When it comes to the history of education in the 19th century, Mr West goes beyond tolerable error. He tries to make out that before 1870 ‘a vigorous growth of schools completely independent both of official support and of endowments was developing into what some would call a private school “explosion”’ and that the state schools were a regrettable interference with splendid educational progress through the market. In arguing this thesis he puts a great deal of reliance on the 1861 Report of the Newcastle Commission. But he omits to mention what the Commissioners actually wrote: that there were 34,412 schools run for profit with 860,304 pupils, that they were of ‘all degrees of merit’, but ‘it is to be feared that the bad schools are the most numerous’ and that 573,536 pupils were being taught in places ‘for the most part ill-calculated to give to the children an education serviceable to them in after life.’ By contrast the officers of the Education Department inspected 7,646 of the state schools and ranked 75.4 per cent of them a excellent, good or fair.
This, however, does not deter him from objecting to Forster’s inquiries before the 1870 Act, which showed that a quarter of those between the ages of five and 13 were not attending school in Liverpool in 1869. Mr West suggests that Forster’s statistics were biased because the inspectors ‘had a vested interest in the expansion of their own department’. He then goes on to a preposterous demonstration that Forster was inaccurate because he assumed that the ages five defined the population of school age. Mr West rejects this as a basis for assessing the adequacy of school provision in favour of the Newcastle Commission’s use of the age-range five-I 1. But again he fails to mention the opinion of the Newcastle Commissioners themselves: ‘the average attendance is far shorter than it ought to be.’ Incidentally, on his own type of argument it would be easy to show that the children of the 1860s were being more than 100 per cent educated by defining the population of school age as the five to eight year olds!
It is only when we accept that, in the case of education, as J. S. Mill wrote, ‘the foundation of the laissez-faire principle breaks down ‘altogether,’ and that ‘the person most interested is not the best judge of the matter,’ that we can begin to consider adequately the role of the state. And only when we appreciate that parents cannot be substituted for children in the liberal theory, because we are dealing here with a question of justice which arises afresh in each new generation, can the discussion of public education become relevant. From this point of view Mr West’s discussion of equality of opportunity is hopeless.
He wastes much of a short chapter by questioning the sincerity and consistency of those who believe in equality but do not practice it – as if the validity of Christian ethics is to be challenged by the existence of murderers. He then brings two charges against R. H. Tawney – that he wrote elegant prose and that he did not recognise the implications of allowing life to offer prizes. The first charge is unlikely to be turned against Mr West. His argument on the second charge is as follows. If A works twice as hard as B and receives at least twice as much money, or if A saves more than B out of equal labour income, we can hardly inform A that he is forbidden to spend his extra earnings on the education of his son.
Why not? This statement is only possible if you beg the whole question by assuming that education is of no more social significance than cabbages. What escapes Mr \Vest is that civilised people like J. S. Mill have always recognised that education should be distributed by criteria other than the capacity and willingness of individual parents to pay. The important questions are those concerning the allocation of resources between education and other claims and, within education. between individuals who differ in ability. No ideal of equality could be realised for the next generation if these decisions were left to parental choice even if the present generation of parents had equal incomes. Mr West has turned an ‘impartial inquiry’ into a gross distortion of the role of the state in education. Choices between beer and skittles may well be left to the market: but education, and the search for equality through education, is too serious a matter to be left to an irrelevant economic doctrine, and least of all to its less competent practitioners.
An Apology The New Statesman: To the Institute of Economic Affairs and Dr West
In our issue of 24 December last we published a review by Dr Halsey, Head of the Department of Social and Administrative Studies in the University of Oxford and a Professorial Fellow of Nuffield College, of Education and the State by Dr E.G West, Research Fellow at the University of Chicago and Reader-Elect in economics at the University of Kent. The theme of this book, which was published by the Institute of Economic Affairs, is that the educational system could be removed from the direct influence of the state and more room could be found for parental influence and choice which the economic and social advances of the mid-20th century make possible.
We have received a complaint from the Institute and Dr West who, whilst accepting that Dr Halsey is entitled to disagree with the main theme of the book, have complained that the review contains a number of inaccuracies and that it goes beyond the limits of fair criticism by reason of the violent language used and the disparaging references to Dr West and the Institute.
Dr Halsey entirely accepts that Dr West knows that the market is not the only human contrivance for rationally relating means to ends, as will be apparent from reading Chapter 13 of the book, and accepts that Dr West does not argue in his book that education should be distributed only by the criteria of willingness and ability to pay.
Further Dr Halsey now acknowledges that Dr West has made John Stuart Mill’s views one of his chief professional interests and that he discusses them fully in the book. Both the Editor and Dr Halsey would like to express their sincere regret for having published a review some parts of which constituted a unjustified attack upon the professional competence of Dr West as an economist and on the studies published by the Institute in their capacity as an educational trust and would like to apologise to both for any embarrassment caused.
Going West, The Teacher, 2nd November 1965
It is just six years ago that Mr Jack Wiseman (now a professor of economics at York) described to an incredulous audience at the British Association a scheme for abandoning the present educational structure and replacing it with a system in which parents were allowed vouchers giving them the right to buy whatever kind of education they wanted for their children. When the lecture was over Sit Ronald Gould rose from his seat and, rather in the manner of an Old Testament Prophet, denounced Mr. Wise man and all his works in measured and withering terms. The scheme, he said, would take us straight back to the 19th century.
Just how prescient that observation was is made starkly evident in the latest pro-voucher poemic which came out on Monday. In Education and the State (published by the Institute of Economic Affairs), another economist, Dr. E. G. West, argues that If English education is to come into its own it must get back to those halcyon days before the English Education Act of 1870 which brought the hated State into things (abetted, it seems, by the teachers unions). There was no need for Government interference, says Dr. West. Schools would have gone on burgeoning happily through private Industrial and parochial influence without benefit of Acts of Parliament.
How can we atone for this original sin? asks Dr. West only by toppling the present house of cards, Department of Education and Science, local education authorities, the lot (except, oddly enough, H.M.Is). We should even get rid of compulsory schooling. It would be left entirely to private agencies to provide schools and to the self-interest of parents to see that their children went to them. They would not have to pay punitive taxes for education so they could easily afford it.
But what of those who couldn’t afford it? How would you get their children to school? It is a shade surprising in the circumstances that this question should worry Dr. West. But the answer is at hand. Introduce a form of poor, parents’ voucher “which could be spent by poor families only in the schools of their choice.”
This, of course, goes a good deal beyond Professor Wiseman (and his colleague Professor Peacock), who were reluctantly willing to admit the need for State finance and distribute their vouchers universally and not selectively. But hasn’t West taken the Wiseman thesis to its logical conclusion? If you begin with the doctrinaire obsession that Government and taxation are the twin evils of our time then surely the only possible destination is Dr. West’s stagnant little academic backwater?
Historical Perspectives, Education (Official Organ of the Local Education Committees), 19th Nov 1965
Dr. West’s book is a very different cup of tea. No one expects publishers to be particularly truthful in the blurbs they attach to their publications, but to describe this as a ‘dispassionate analysis’ is really going a bit far. Dr. West writes from squarely within the Peacock and Wiseman School and the main thesis which the book seeks to demonstrate is that state provision of schools and higher education is unnecessary. At least, I think this is his main thesis. In places Dr. West seem to be saying that no state aid for education is needed except by the provision of direct aid in the form of vouchers cashable at recognized schools for a minority of needy or handicapped children. At other times like Peacock and Wiseman he seems to accept the necessity of state intervention through the redistribution of taxpayers money in voucher form, for the benefit of rich and poor alike. The one thing he is sure about is that the state need never have made public authorities responsible for the provision and administration of schools. Dr. West is an economist and his attempt to argue his thesis in terms of the nineteenth century history of English education suffers from his preoccupation with limited categories of statistical evidence, much of it highly unreliable. The most interesting chapter of the book concerns the 1870 Act and Dr. West’s contention that far from marking the beginning of a great leap forward, the process of filling up the gaps as Forster put it, there was in reality a slackening of the pace of educational expansion, because the new schools set up by the School Boards often did no more than replace or take over private venture schools.
There can be no doubt that the decade before the Forster Act saw a rapid expansion of schools of all kinds and Dr. West suggests that credit for the post 1870 expansion can only be attributed to the 1870 Act if it can be shown that it reflected a growth rate higher than that prevailing previously.
This is an unusual view which performs a useful service by challenging any too uncritical acceptance of the conventional account of the 1870 Act. It is far from convincing, however. It fails to explain why contemporary opinion was so convinced that there were gaps to fill and that the bodies who were providing schools in 1870, in the main the National Society and the British and Foreign Schools Society, were unable to fill them. It wasn’t only Forster, whose figures are certainly unconvincing who said this. The 1870 Act and the setting up of the School Boards certainly provided a salutary shake-up. Most people at the time had no doubt that the School Boards demanded higher standards than those prevailing hitherto – this was the basis of much of the antagonism they encountered. Dr. West tries to show that the stepped up efforts of the Anglicans, who spent £121 million on school building between 1870 and 1883 compared with only £15m in the previous 60 years, plus the efforts of the school boards were no greater than those which might have been expected from private enterprise.
But interesting as Dr. West’s historical excursion may be – and he clearly has a great deal more work to do – testing his theory against the ample evidence available in local areas, the conclusion he wants to draw is not just that historians have been too ready to accept the view of Mr. Forster and Mr. Balfour about the 1870 Act, but that the intervention of the state was unnecessary and undesirable. If there had been no education rates and taxes he argues, the money could have fructified in the pockets of the people and purveyors of education could have flourished like grocers without any need for State administration. His ideal educational purveyors would be an educational Marks and Spencer, sizing up the market to perfection and selling just the education the mass of parents want to buy.
Here too Dr. West has a long way to go before he can make his case – most of his book is an attempt to answer hypothetical questions. It is just conceivable that given a great deal of state funds, dispensed with never-ceasing wisdom, an integrated education system might have been created indirectly through a voucher system. Admittedly everyone who campaigned for educational reform during the nineteenth century reckoned that aid would have to go through charities like the National Society or the BFSS, or through specially created public authorities. It was certainly politically impossible to pump more public money into education without public education authorities. But no one can say that in a purely theoretical sense, Dr. West may not be on to something.
As to the present day, it is again difficult to quarrel with the voucher system – as a theoretical device – because though politically about as plausible as Father Christmas, it could in theory be possible to manipulate voucher values to achieve many different educational policies if you choose to do so.
Dr. West’s case, however, depends on his philosophical attitude to the state; given this, it becomes an imperative. And similarly, if you believe the state should properly be involved in education then there is nothing left of Dr. West’s thesis but an interesting economist’s view of the history of the years 1870-1900, and grossly simplified discussion of the complicated relationship between education and economic growth.
The Editor, The Teacher, November 24, 1965
Sir: Your hostile reception of my work (Education and the State, see your issue of 8th November 1965) will not surprise most of my own readers. Indeed your review only adds to the evidence in my book that professional vested interests now regard the subject of education as sacred territory upon which others must not trespass. How audacious indeed for an ‘outsider’ like me to persist with the voucher approach to education five years after the economist Jack Wiseman was denounced for so doing by Sir Ronald Gould “in the manner of an Old Testament prophet.”
But whilst it may be understandable that you find it necessary to attempt to caricature my reasoning I think those who read my book will not forgive your blatant misrepresentations. First you attribute to me “There was no need for (nineteenth century) Government interference…” Where do I say this? Second you assert that I wish to get rid of compulsion. On what page? Third I am supposed to claim that the Department of Education should be ‘toppled’. Where? The factual content of your review consists largely of these three points, all of them wrong, while the remainder rests upon argumentum ad hominem. I suggest that readers would prefer constructive criticism of my ideas to a mere parade of my possible motives.
How unfortunate that you fail to mention the central topic of my book: the problem of choice in education. Is this because you believe that under the present system there is no such problem? By cutting dead serious discussion on this matter you deprive us of your readers views. These I am sure would be most interesting, especially if these readers also happen to be parents.
Yours truly, E. G. West
A brilliant opening shot, The Sunday Times, 21st November 1965
IF MYTHS were as self-evident as truths are supposed to be, they would collapse of their own accord; but endowed opinions tenaciously resist destruction regardless of the errors they contain. Dr West’s book none the less is calculated to reduce even the’ strongest fortifications to rubble. Education and the State is perhaps the most important work written on the subject this century. Its author argues that the reasoning which allegedly justifies State education has been insufficiently scrutinised so that ” unchallenged and un?” verified theories” have become “assimilated in the folk lore of educational debate.” Fallacies tend to be self-perpetuating, because the Commissions the State appoints are generally composed of members of the scholastic establishment already committed to collectivist measures. Dr West, by turning orthodox doctrine inside out, has affected a Copernican revolution, every bit as bold as that inaugurated by the child who insisted that the Emperor had no clothes.
Those too lazy to re-orientate their ideas Will doubtless feel obliged to reject such audacious scepticism. Dr West condemns current educational practice because he maintains that the ends professedly desired are unlikely to be secured by the means actually embraced. He regards He regards the Forster Act of 1870, by which the Government assumed wide responsibilities for providing education, as a retrograde measure. He is no worshipper of the State and remains to be persuaded of its invariable wisdom: hence his belief in the desirability of independent schools. Believing the needs of the individual to be the primary objective of education, he dismisses “social engineering” as irrelevant.
Equality, he suspects, is not only unattainable, but is purchased too expensively if the price is freedom. As he conceives it, the duty of the Government is to enforce standards, to make education compulsory, and to provide it only when nobody else does, He believes in a system of “selective vouchers” devised to free choice in a free market, and he points out that the majority of people already receive less in Government benefits than they pay the Exchequer in taxes. Indeed, most of us have little idea of the extent to which we would be better off if “the State did not feel itself obliged to provide social services like education ‘free’.”
The book is inspired throughout by a belief in the individual, in independence and in freedom: ideals to which most parties pay ceremonial homage. Although politicians dedicated to State monopoly, or obsessed by terrors of privilege, are unlikely to be converted to Dr West’s views, there remains the happy possibility that he might succeed in encouraging Conservative champions of, choice to behave as if they actually believed what they say.
Any rich benefactor seeking fresh spheres of philanthropy could hardly do better than to present Dr West’s book to every Member of Parliament. It might even conceivably be worth presenting a copy to the Minister of Education were he not previously committed to confounding its arguments. The stock epithets of reviewers are inadequate to describe this work.
“Important” “profound” and “scholarly” it certainly is, but these qualities are only a part of its merit; for if truth retains the power to prevail, then “Education and the State” could prove to be not so much a book as the opening barrage of a campaign.
GILES ST AUBYN
Adam Smith, Creeping Socialist, The Economist, November 27th 1965
Were this a short book and a well written one it would be worth reading, if only for the oddity of the notions that it so solemnly propounds. Dr West is angry with all that left wing crew who have persuaded people that the state has some responsibility for seeing that its members are educated. He takes to task those dangerous adversaries, from Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill to Sir Geoffrey Crowther and Lord Robbins, who have argued that the state does have such a responsibility.
He is pretty doubtful that the arguments of these favorite educational philosophers of the Institute of Economic Affairs, Professors Peacock and Wiseman. They think that state provide education should be replaced by private education paid for out of vouchers given to parents by the state, and spent in schools subject to stat inspection.. Dr West clearly thinks that this is a bit red. The blurb-writer carelessly omitted to read the relevant chapter.
Dr West thinks that state education causes crime. He is not much concerned to describe or to criticise the deficiencies of state education as it functions now (perhaps because one remedy for some of those deficiencies is clearly that the state should spend more). The Ministry of Education is not mentioned in his index. he likes using epithets like “Berlin Wall” to describe the practice of zoning school areas. he writes laisser faire incorrectly. There is no point in trying to argue against a nineteenth-century thesis in twentieth century terms, nor against a metaphysical one in economic terms.
Behind Dr West’s often inchoate theorising seems to lie the notion that it is for parents to choose how their children are to be educated; and all that state subventions specifically earmarked for education in principle – irrespective of the way in which the subvention is made – detract from parents rights. A century ago it was rightly pointed out that the English have never paid the full cost of their children’s education. Discussing the transition in England from a an educational system based on tax-provided finance, an inspector of schools said:
it is one of the extraordinary inconsistencies of some English people in this matter, that they keep all their cry of humiliation and degradation for help which the State offers. A man is not pauperised, is not degraded, is not oppressively obliged, by taking and for his son’s schooling from Mr Woodward’s subscribers, or from the next squire, or from the next rector, or from the next ironmonger, or from the next druggist; he is only pauperised when he takes it from the State, when he helps to give it himself.
But then Matthew Arnold actually knew what went on in the schools.
The Economist, STATE EDUCATION, December 4, 1965.
Sir – If I were Dr. E.G. West, I would be extremely angry at your review – if that is the word, of his book “Education and the State”. Having myself written of it elsewhere, I am astounded that a work apparently so thoughtful and original should be flicked aside in your pages with a few cool and arrogant insults, topped up with an inapposite quotation from Matthew Arnold.
Even if I did disagree profoundly with Dr. West, which I must confess I do not, I would still think it rash to pretend that his arguments were unworthy of serious attention. To do so might suggest that they were beyond my grasp. Your reviewer graciously concedes that Dr. West’s book would be worth reading if it were short and well written; 255 pages seemed to me far from excessive for such a thesis. As for the writing, I thought it sober, concise and clear. Your reviewer’s discrimination in such matters may be measured by the fact that he charges Dr. West with writing laissez-faire incorrectly, which he does not, though I think your reviewer does, and the concise Oxford Dictionary supports me. Pedants above all should get their quibbles right.
Colin Welch, Deputy Editor, The Daily Telegraph, December 6, 1965
The Editor, The Economist
Sir: In the first sentence of your review of my book, Education and the State, (Nov. 27) your reviewer refers to the ‘oddity of the notions’ contained therein. The central ‘oddity’ which seems to bother him is that “…behind Dr. West’s theorizing seems to lie the notion that it is for parents to choose how their children are to be educated . . . ” May I say that this lies not behind but in front of the whole argument; Chapter 1 is exclusively devoted to an examination of the ‘notion’ in detail. Moreover, I stress that there can be no question that the state has some responsibility in education. The question of parental choice is discussed there not in terms of absolute rights, as your reviewer asserts, but of rights granted according to some evidence of reasonable responsibility.
No participant in critical social analysis can escape the duty of acknowledging basic value judgements prior to discussion; your reviewer is no exception to this rule. I think your readers are therefore entitled to know more openly whether his antagonism stems from value premises which are basically different from those in the book. Does he dismiss all degrees of parental choice in favour of complete suppression by the state? If he does, and he has every right to his personal opinion on this matter, then it is understandable that my arguments exasperate him at every point. A presumption in favour of some form of parental freedom is taken as a datum in my book not because of personal prejudice but because of the fact that respect for such freedom is openly acknowledged by large sections of society, and not least by the 1944 Education Act. If your reviewer does not share this presumption it will make it a little easier for me to solve the mystery of his assertion that I am ” . . . not much concerned to describe or to criticize the deficiencies of state education as it functions now (perhaps because one remedy for those deficiencies is clearly that the state should spend more).” As will be clear to most readers, the major part of my book is indeed a critique of present deficiencies especially from the criterion of choice. But significant attention to also given to the problem of raising total expenditure. The fact is that the present system itself hinders further expenditure. For, apart from using the expensive option of contracting out completely and transferring to private schools, there to no way by which a parent who wants to can spend say ten shillings a week on education over and above his rates and taxes.
As to the rest of your reviewer’s search for ‘odd notions’, in my book, his examples consist of trivia or groom misrepresentation. Thus he accuses me of the wild suggestion that state education causes crime. In fact, I am concerned only to assess the evidence for the popular belief that state education reduces crime. I don’t have to apologize for the fact that the Ministry of Education is not mentioned in my index because I use the latest title: Department of Education. The term laisser(z) faire according to Websters International Dictionary can be written either way. Other monstrous mine also turn out to be enigmatic. I am presented as taking to task such ‘dangerous subversives’ as Adam Smith and J. S. Mill. Yet, I devote much space in showing that they both made original contributions to a search for methods which would reconcile state responsibility with substantial parental choice and the maintenance of a market in education. And as for your reviewer’s own odd notion that ” . . . the English have never paid the full costs of their children’s education,” one is tempted to ask who have been the mysterious benefactors all this time – the French?
Yours sincerely, E. G. West, December 30, 1965
The Editor, The New Statesman
Sir: On the subject of education everybody today says he wants equality; on further questioning, however, the concept becomes woolly and seems to mean different things to different people. This is just the sort of situation which presents the main chance for some priest-like practitioner of “social science” to rush on to the scene with instructions as to what we really mean. Thus sociologist A. H. Halsey (24th December 1965,) seems utterly confident that he speaks for most of his fellow men when he discloses, as if as a personally revealed truth, that the idea of equality means stopping parents from directly spending anything at all on the education of their own children. Such a prescription of course implies that who ever wastes money on self-indulgence is more socially estimable than whoever saves to give his children more education; that because only some parents choose well, we must see to it that none shall choose at all; that real equality is in the end what some would call the equality of misery; and that what many of us may ultimately desire is an homogeneous society in which the influence of family and kinship has completely capitulated to the processing plant of a uniform system of state education.
In my book Education and the State (which Mr. Halsey reviews) I took the view that it was improper for the author to impose upon his readers his personally preferred version of equality. I therefore confined myself to an attempt to illuminate the differences of interpretation and left it to my readers to choose for themselves the version that suited them best. But according to Mr. Halsey such drawing attention to inconsistencies and differences is like challenging the validity of Christian ethics by pointing to the existence of murderers. Thus while I request from people, as a social scientist in a free society should, a clearer lead as to their own basic value judgments, Halsey, like a religious dogmatist is already engaged in hunting the heretics and sinners. This task must be embarrassing for him to say the least. For in addition to numerous left-wingers who quietly use the private education market for their own children there looms the present Secretary of State for Education, C.A.R. Crosland, who has openly declared himself against any proscription of private education expenditure.
In similar theological vein Mr. Halsey indulges in the old stratagem of castigating anybody who so much as examines the advantages of a free market as a wild doctrinate who believes that the market is “the only human contrivance for rationally relating means to ends.” In fact, the boot is on the other foot. While I discuss in detail the imperfections of all social institutions, including markets, Halsey shows a Utopian belief in the political process. His argument implies that while over fourteen million parents can do no right in the open market, they can do no wrong at the ballot box. Mr. Halsey chooses to keep from his readers any reference to my comparison of his “ideal” political machinery with the evidence of how it really works. For instance, about 40% of the secondary school population are in grammar schools in Merthyr Tydfil but only about 8% in Preston. Does this not at least suggest the possibility that such gross inequalities are much more serious than those which are likely to arise from a voucher system which allows the addition of discretionary parental contributions?
Mr. Halsey emphasis’s that the market is a place where such things as cabbages are bought and sold. He concludes therefore that anyone who seriously considers the role of a market for education ranks the social significance of education with that of cabbages. This will indeed jolt his many left-wing colleagues who happen themselves to use an education market for their own children. But one may just as well ask, in view of the fact that the dustbin service is provided by local authorities, whether Mr. Halsey equates education with garbage.
Mr. Halsey’s selective treatment of my nineteenth century data shows that he has much more careful reading to do. Forster was erroneous in his figures – and other reviewers are now acknowledging this fact. Forster told Parliament that the population between 5 years and 13 years in Liverpool in 1869 was 80,000, yet only 60,000 were found in schools. Does Mr. Halsey now contend that Forster was correct in concluding that 20,000 had “attended no school whatever” despite the acknowledged fact that the de facto school learning age was acknowledged to be 11 years? I did not conceal from my readers 19th century concern for the quality of schooling. Indeed I devoted a whole chapter to it. What Mr. Halsey does not tell his readers is that although the 1861 Commission was indeed concerned with the quality of much schooling, it went out of its way to stress that the government intervention should not take the form of nationalisation but should continue with improved methods of subsidisation and inspection.
Finally Mr. Halsey contrasts my approach to education with that of “civilised people like J. S. Mill.” In view of Mill’s firm rejection of state schools and his preference for private education this is the strangest of all my reviewers’ observations. But we are all fallible and to emulate further the civilised J. S. Mill, I do not desire to disqualify Mr. Halsey from the debate even though the vehemence of his language suggests that he wants to disqualify me.
Yours truly, E. G. West, December 6th, 1965
The Editor, The Financial Times
In his review of my book Education and the State (29th November 1965) Professor H. C. Dent claims that I never hint at the crushing poverty that oppressed almost all schools and colleges. In fact I spent much time in examining the causes of such poverty (see especially Chapter II and the appendix 6 ? Chapter 10). Among these causes was the influence of contemporary government intervention itself. By extending its operation beyond the provision of educational finance and into direct provision of schools 19th century government forced out of business thousands of voluntary schools. There being no market discipline on the costs of government schools, these were able to engage, in predatory competition which produced much of the power in the private schools that Professor Dent speaks of.
Professor Dent asks who would finance education in the absence of state provision of schools. State vouchers up to the full cost of education if necessary is one possibility which I examine; tax rebates and allowances are also considered. His question as to who would ensure a sufficient supply of adequately educated and examined teachers should really be first directed to the present system. As I point out in the book: ” . . . those economic choices which parents are still allowed to exercise freely in other fields do not seem to have been met with the same convulsions (in the supply of resources) that their elected representatives have produced in education.”
Yours sincerely, E. G. West
Education and the State, Catholic Teachers Journal Jan/Feb 1966 by John Sullivan.
EDUCATION cannot bedivorced from life. Consequently our basic assumptions about the purpose and nature of education are largely dictated by our conception of what life is or ought to be. Most of us would admit, I suppose, that our discussions and appraisal of education or systems of education are seldom merely technical, but usually involve also values and principles with a moral, a philosophical, or even a religious bearing. Most of us, as I say, would admit this. But not all. For there exists a certain mentality which remains unwilling to admit it, or, if compelled to, seems to do so merely for form’s sake, retaining meanwhile the illusion of scientific objectivity.
One hesitates to ascribe this attitude to a book which has recently received high praise in various national journals; yet the ascription makes itself unbidden when one reflects philosophically on its contents. For philosophical reflection is essential to education, despite the assumption made by the author of this book that education is chiefly a branch of applied economics. It is difficult to see how one can meaningfully discuss questions of principle in education without recourse to philosophy, yet Mr West’s avowed purpose is to show that State predominance in education is unjustifiable, not merely marginally uneconomic.
Now as these two propositions are not self-evidently equivalent, it is clear that a non-economic criterion is being introduced to make the transition from one to the other. Or, if it is maintained that they are equivalent, this in itself is to make a highly questionable and certainly non-economic assumption. In fact, as becomes clear, Mr West is making philosophical assumptions, and such as do him little credit. In the absence of any authentic philosophy, Adam Smith, the Classical Economists, and a certain catchpenny utilitarianism form the staple ideological diet.
This is unfortunate, to say the least, for whatever latent virtue the neo-liberal may discover in classical economics, there is certainly not enough philosophy in them to shore up a discussion of the role of the State in education. Economism, which assumes a universal and consistent self-interest, is simply not valid as a description of how men behave. Men are violent as well as self-interested, as a moment’s reflection will show. While the will-to-possess can be explained in terms of will-to-power, the converse is not true. It is power which calls the State into being, not possessions.
From the negative point of view the State exists as a power to control the power of the individual; not primarily to defend his possessions. Negatively, the State exists to repress hubris, not to encourage avarice. But positively, of course, the State is more than this: it is an emanation of society, and its function is cybernetic: that is, it promotes by discreet measures of control and communication that same social harmony which Mr West sees fit to put into inverted commas as passing his comprehension.
The State’s positive role is to ensure that society is accorded the optimum conditions for remaining society and to prevent its degenerating into Mr West’s mere collectivity of individuals’. Underlying this inadequate concept of society is an inadequate conception of the human person. This is natural enough, since the two realities are complementary. In Mr West’s language, person is translated by ‘individual’ and society by ‘collectivity’. Consequently, he creates an unreal antithesis between collectivism and individualism. Naturally, he himself opts in favour of the latter, declaring no theory acceptable which does not take the ‘individual ‘ as the ‘primary philosophic entity’.
Few people, I think, would boast of being’ individualists’ as openly as Mr West. But of course he does this because his only possible alternative is to be a ‘collectivist’. Now this dilemma, as we have suggested, is quite false. It is not a question of sacrificing the individual to the collective, or vice versa, in the name of the over-riding rights. Neither the individual nor the collective possess rights in any case, for both are merely abstract entities. To decide to confer ‘primary reality ‘ on either of these is purely arbitrary, as Mr West seems to realise when he makes his own option. Unfortunately, he does not seem to realise why it is arbitrary, and contents himself with informing the reader that ‘intuitively [he] feels that very many people are … disposed to the individualistic view’. No doubt, but this is hardly pertinent.
The real problem is how to reconcile the absolute quality of the human person with the real existence of society. Ironically, it is only in the metaphysical order of personality that Mr West’s ‘individual’ becomes the ‘primary philosophic entity’. At his own empirical level there is no doubt whatever that society is prior to the individual who owes to it his physical existence, and also, through social communication, the awakening of his human potential. But let us grant that Mr West is half right, that his concept is a sort of white blackbird which means person when he wants to affirm his rights and reverts to being a mere individual when he wishes to deny his duties.
How can we reconcile the absolute quality of person with the. state of being in, or part of, society? Philosophically, the rights of the person are not primary: they are consequent on duties. I become aware of my rights (i.e. not as powers) only because I am aware of duties towards others, which presumably they in their turn have towards me. Thus I only have rights at all in a context of social solidarity.
I am a social being not because I am a part or aspect of society, but because society is a part or aspect of my being and equally of every other person’s being. Society is that dimension of personal being which is possessed equally and entirely by every person. Therefore I cannot damage society or refuse my duty to it without damaging myself. The ‘individualist’ is by definition anti-social and consequently he mutilates his own person by trying to deprive it of one of its essential qualities. When we realise how far Mr West is from an authentic conception of society, most of the other odd features of this book become more explicable.
It is no wonder that, having disposed of the bond of social harmony, he attempts to replace it by the ‘cash nexus’. The underlying assumption is that it is possible to talk about education simply in terms of the market. Indeed, the author seems to take a delight in comparing schools and universities to grocers’ shops and hosiers. It is understandable that Robert Lowe should have spoken with approval of Scotland as a place where ‘they sell education as a grocer sells figs’, but it is astonishing that Mr West should concur.
There has never been a genuinely free market in education. Perhaps the nearest approach was the one in which Plato’s sophists operated, and this is scarcely a recommendation. In defending ‘individualism’ and the free market in education, Mr West is at great pains to show, albeit rather hypothetically, that every consumer would benefit financially from his system or, at any rate, nearly every consumer. But he has little comfort to offer teachers, whom he regards as incorrigible disruptors of the free market. He speaks with relish of ‘weakening the monopoly power of a professional group’, and considers that lengthening the period of teacher-training was a sly plot to acquire for teachers an artificial scarcity value. How efficient teacher-training would be assured in a free market he does not say.
Probably he considers it unnecessary, for he finds it odd of Dr Hodgson to regret that in 1850 many private-school teachers were qualified only as grocers, tailors, or bakers, and he hypothesizes that the modern schoolboy would prefer being taught by ‘such a colourful variety of experienced adults’. The obvious inference that teachers are generally colourless, uniform, inexperienced and adolescent, may fairly be drawn, for Mr West takes the trouble to underline it with a quotation (going back to 1868) from a hostile witness.
It is hard to resist concluding that the barrel is being scraped to make a case for a view based mainly on prejudice and unconscious dogmatism. At any rate Mr West has no hesitation in condemning three hundred thousand members of the community to salaries even more inadequate than their present ones, simply because the value of their contribution (which he cannot measure) to society (in which he does not believe) is not fairly reflected in the operation of the free market (which for him is a self evidently Good Thing).
One reflects sadly at this point that we are very far indeed from the humane ‘socialization’ which John XXIII found necessary in an increasingly complex and technical society. The State is not the earthly god, or the almighty Leviathan, but it is an authentic expression of a society of persons to whose well being it is necessary. At its best it expresses a negation by the citizens of their own limited vision and power, and of their own individualism which is the enemy of social life; and it expresses an affirmation by them of an effective justice and benevolence beyond the scope of a private person.
It is as guarantor of social solidarity and trustee of the common wealth that the State intervenes in education. By doing so it favours equality of opportunity, which, despite some sophistical criticism, remains a valid objective; for it means that lack of privilege can exert only a marginal, and not a determining influence on the progress of a person towards the creative fulfilment of his natural talents. Education and the State is interesting insofar as it stimulates closer investigation of English education in the nineteenth century, and it effectively shoots down a number of clay pigeons.
But in the absence of any genuine philosophical values, the rather flimsy economic structure cracks under the weight which the author puts on it. Economic studies are useful for determining the allocation of means within a system, but they can hardly be expected to supply the ends in ‘the light of which major issues such as the role of the State in education must be decided.
Education and the State, Dr. E. G. West. The Institute of Economic Affairs
Dr. E. G. West, who is an, eminent economist, has written a highly controversial work. In the totalitarian 20th century, he it an unrepentant individualist, and makes an all-out attack on State education, one of the cardinal features of the Welfare State. In India where the ruling party is partial to the ideology of State control and intervention in everything, this book is bound to provoke virulent criticism as a ‘reactionary ‘ piece of writing.
As Mr. Arthur Seldon of the Institute of Economic Affairs points out in a thoughtful Preface: “The book rests on the framework, of analysis developed by political economists on the two basic principles of protecting minors and the ‘neighbourhood effects’ on education. If the protection of children and democracy was once the predominant component of the discussion, it has been replaced by ‘equality of opportunity’… He ends by questioning whether indeed egalitarians would not be on better ground in supporting universal independent schools rather than State schools… The main part of Dr. West’s book comprises a re-examination of contemporary educational policy from first principles. His conclusion that the traditional indiscriminate efforts of the State to provide education have been misdirected because they have impaired the ability and readiness of parents to provide it for their children illumines current proposals for education and throws doubt on the received views of many educationists… He takes further the proposal that a choice between competing State and private education could be made practicable by a system of vouchers… The historical and analytical parts of Dr. West’s book are thus linked by a common theme, that the educational system could be removed from the direct control of the State, which Dr. West says is not an abstract entity but a power vested in individuals resting on the capricisous support of majority votes. Nationalized education is not necessarily the best means of achieving the end of equality.”
The historical material in the book is the outcome of considerable original research on the part of the author. But his arguments are based on the cardinal premise that parents have the right to choose the kind of education that their children should receive. He values competitive ‘private effort more highly than standardised State routine. To those who support the dominant role of State in education on the ground of history or of the time-spirit, his answer is forthright: “Whatever the final judgment, there seem to be no special virtue in the passive acceptance of a dominant government role in education merely on the ground that ‘history’ supports it, the trend having been unquestionably set in favour of a strong public sector throughout the world. This would be to abandon all rational judgment to historical determinism. It would amount to the confession that we’ can never be the conscious architects of our own institutions. Such reasoning conceals the worst of inferiority complexes.”
The confusion between equality and equality of opportunity is well brought out in a satirical passage which he quotes from Peter Simple in the Daily Telegraph, recommending that the ‘antisocial’ child who persistently shines in class should be discharged from school by his 14th birthday, that exceptionally gifted children or geniuses should be ‘scummed-off’ at an earlier age still, and that university education should be reserved for the, least educatable. Some part of this perversity can be actually seen at work in India.
At a time when the private sector in education in India is threatened with extinction and the academic freedom of the universities is subjected to repeated attacks from the State, Dr. West furnishes a powerful armory of amounts against Statism in education. Conditions in India differ radically from those in England, but to us as to those in that distant island the same choice between freedom and totalitarianism in education has been presented, though perhaps in different forms. It remains to be seen how sound and strong our democratic instincts are in persuading us to make the right choice.
The Bombay Economic Times , Role of State in Education by S.P. Aiyar, 31st January 1966
The conusions of this book run counter to the generally accepted views on the role of the state in education. For this reason, if no other, it deserves to be read. Dr West takes the position that the educational system in England could, much to its advantage, be removed from direct State influence and he challenges the generally unquestioned assumption that nationalised education is the best means of achieving quality in education. Anchored intellectually to the main tenants of liberalism, he would prefer a system which provides for greater parental responsibility in education. Dr West argues that the social and economic progress in the twentieth century (he is speaking of England) makes it possible to have a basic reorientation of the educational system in this direction.
This book is a study in political economy, but it is also a provocative analysis of English economic history of the nineteenth century. He reaches some very arresting conclusions regarding the state of education before Foster’s education act of 1870. Dr West examines at great length the basic assumptions underlying the work of political economists in the field of education: the view that the state exists for the protection of minors and the one emphasising the ‘neighbourhood effects’ of education. State responsibility in education rests on theses two ‘principles’. Dr West shows that both are untenable as basis for educational policy. In an interesting chapter the notion of ‘equality of opportunity’ is examined and rejected as a reliable guide to policy making.
The classical economists of the nineteenth century believed that with the spread of education crime would tend to lesson. We now know that there is no direct correlation between education and crime. In his day, Williams Cobbett seems to have been alone when he opposed Roebuck’s Bill on education in 1833 on the ground that crime was in fact increasing with the spread of education.
There are other interesting and original conclusions regarding the educational history of England prior to the Act of 1870. “The most salient fact about the first 33 years of the nineteenth century”, the author writes, “was that the effect of State activity upon educational efforts to become literate was one of deliberate hindrance.” The enthusiasts for Forster’s Act of 1870, in the authors view, exaggerate its role in the spread of literacy in England. Dr West shows that there was an impressive number of schools run privately. But considerable damage was done to the ‘private sector’ in education by direct state interference. Dr West argues that it is misleading to justify State interference on the basis of statistics provided by educational inspectors who evidently had a bias towards State activity. To argue that the condition of the schools provided the basis for State interference is to commit the fallacy of post hoc, for the State was itself largely responsible for the situation.
Finally, the author rejects the argument that before the Act of 1870 there was no educational system and that it was created by the Act: “But this line of argument associates such observers wit the view that without a central plan there must always be chaos. To those who do not like central planning for its own sake and prefer to stress the need for liberty, variety, spontaneity, flexibility and experiment in education, the absence of a ‘system’ is an advantage rather than otherwise. Putting education more firmly into the grip of politics, as such ‘systems’, inevitably do, is regarded by the liberal as damaging to the general quality of education”. (Page 169)
It will be objected that the dominate trend in the modern world is to concentrate educational responsibility in the State and that it is too late in the day to press for a reversal of this trend. For Dr West, this amounts to abandoning all rational judgement to historical determinism and declaring man’s inability to bet the architect of his own institutions. The analysis and conclusions of this book pertain to the experience of England and it is doubtful that they apply to an underdeveloped country like India where State responsibility seems inevitable in the absence of private initiative on any meaningful scale. It can of course be argued that if this judgement is true, then, it is all the more necessary to stimulate private initiative. Whether one admits the relevance of these liberal conclusions or not, it is undoubtedly worthwhile for policy-makers, even in the socialistic political culture of India, to be aware of a line of argument which undoubtedly stems from a totally different historical situation.
Academic Integrity, Times Educational Supplement, 29 July 1966
Slick on the spot judgements and unconsidered expressions of opinion may have entertainment value for radio and television audiences. But it is surely to be regretted that members of the academic world should allow unguarded reactions to appear in print as serious criticism. The one factor above all others to inhibit the development of learning is an attachment to ones own set of theories, so strong that it can produce violent language and misrepresentation. It is nonsense to talk of righteous indignation in this context: if universities and their members are still in the least concerned with seeking the truth, they will seek it in the schools of their opponents, as anywhere else. It is particularly sad that these reflections should have been occasioned by trouble in another journal over a review of Dr. E. G. West’s Education and the State, written by Dr A.H Halsey, the newly appointed research consultant to the Department of Education and Science, scholar concerned to promote objective research into such tricky educational questions as the relation between performance and environment needs to be well above suspicion, and incapable of provocation – even by such outlandish ideas as the parental right to pay for children’s schooling.
Individuals and Education, Timothy Raison, New Society, 16th December 1965
In the language of the popular press, “controversial” means something with which most readers will agree, while at the same time having the pleasant sensation that they are being mildly daring. Education and the State is controversial in a more real sense: at a time when the dominant theme in writing about educational policy is equality, E.G. West’s book is a truly iconoclastic attack on prevailing assumptions. It has a prickly ungenerous feel about it, and it reads more as a collection of essays than as a coherent work. But it is well worth reading, both for its provocativeness and for its glimpses of 19th century educational and social history. West’s leitmotiv is simply that the state should substantially retreat from education.
He considers that the ‘zoning’ system represents a denial of parental freedom and that the parent is inadequately protected against officialdom. He regards the “neighbourhood effect” argument – that education benefits not only the child but the whole community – as fallacious: education does not seem to reduce crime for example. He also considers that the search for equality of opportunity will almost certainly lead to penalising ability. The value of this part of the book is very much a matter of personal taste: the studies of how education developed before it become universal and compulsory are, to my mind, more stimulating.
The 1870 Act is seen as a Pyrhic victory: it created the “religious difficulty” and it gravely damaged the whole voluntary effort which went into education, thus pushing up its cost. In the same vein, West argued that the much quoted remarks of Lyon Playfair about Britain’s technological failure round about 1870 are based on a fallacy: it was the patent laws, not educational weaknesses, that held us up. The most substantial part of the book is intended to show that our pre-1870 educational achievement is much underrated. most people were already literate in 1870, thanks essentially to private schooling; and West argues that we are too hasty in assuming that pre-Foster education was of generally poor quality. It was the creation of the state system that damaged the quality of education but subjecting it to cut-throat competition. West ends by switching back to today – and a restatement of the voucher arguments. As all through this book he sees the basic issue as one of individualism versus collectivism or statism. In the last analysis, one’s verdict on this book will be verdict on the principle it upholds.
Times Educational Supplement, November 12th 1965
Dr E.G. West, an economics lecturer in Newcastle University, has produced a remarkably able and lively critique of the system and principles under which education is provided by the state. He denies that the majority of working class parents are not to be trusted. By going back to the days before the 1870 Act, when education was neither free or compulsory, he attempts to show that the great majority of working class parents were prepared to spend money on it. . . .If working class parents were prepared to back the choice they then possessed with money, why should be deemed unfit to choose today when they are so much richer?” In another review Giles St Aubyn writes: “If myths were as self evident as trusts are supposed to be, they would collapse of their own accord: but endowed opinions tenaciously resist destruction regardless of then errors they contain. Dr West’s book none the less is calculated to reduce even the strongest fortifications to rubble.
Housecraft, Official magazine of the Association of Teachers of Domestic Science, August 1966
Dr West’s thesis involves value judgements about the individual and the state. Inevitably no review can be both honest and neutral. The publishers misleadingly describe it as a ‘dispassionate analysis’. It would rather seem that Dr West sets out with a very definite point of view and examines the contemporary educational scene and its background in an attempt to prove his case. His position briefly, is that the state need never had made public authorities responsible for the provision and administration of schools. An intricate and expensive system has evolved, which have not achieved its objectives and which makes little provision for parental choice. If there were no educational rates and taxes the vast majority of par5ents would be able, both in terms of income and responsibility, to buy schooling for their children as a marketable commodity. This could be facilitated by a voucher system, somewhat vaguely described, and the state should gradually withdraw in favour of the private sector.
Now we can agree with Dr West that we are, to a large extent, conditioned by our own institutions, and that it is a salutary exercise to examine our assumptions and to take a fresh look at what we have before taken for granted. His many challenges to conventional views are brilliantly developed in a book which is lively, irritating, disturbing and thought provoking. But his proposal would surely create more problems than they solve, and to all who believe that education is a social service in which the state is properly involved his position is quite indefensible.
A. J. Morris.
A Weed in Any Soil, Times Educational Supplement, November 12 1965
It is odd to think that good men like Sir Ronald Gould and his followers are leading us steadily towards the organic or authoritarian state. They have all read their Karl Mannheim and presumably should know what is happening. The truth is that their appetite for equality has made them careless of freedom, an attitude of mind which encourages the state to suppress the individual.
If parents have a right to choose anything it is the kind of education their children shall have. Yet we are now moving from a system which offered parents little choice to another that offers them none. The reason for this change in the wrong direction is that the lefts educational leaders do not trust the working class parent to choose widely. They trust him even less than the Tories do, because they know him better and care for him more. Everyone knows the middle class parent chooses on the whole rather well. Choice is being removed solely so that he may not steal a march on the working class parent who chooses unwisely. As only some choose well, none shall choose at all.
Dr E. G West, an economics lecturer in Newcastle University, has produced a remarkably able and lively critic of the system and principles under which education is provided by the state. He denies that the majority of working class parents are not to be trusted. By going back before the 1870 Act, when education was neither free or compulsory, he attempts to show that the great majority of working class parents were prepared to spend money on it. In 1858, for example, the Newcastle commissioners estimated that 2,535,462 children were at school for six years between three and 15 out of a total of 2,655,767. If working class parents were prepared to back the choice they then possessed with money, why should they be presumed unfit to choose today when they are so much richer?
Dr West ranges widely among the origins of state schooling in Britain. He is learned in the classical economists and Utilitarians, and reminds us interestingly that the leading argument advanced by them in favour of state education was that it would reduce crime.
Dr West is one of the voucher school and might be taken to be arguing that the state should be gradually withdrawn from the educational field, except to maintain an inspectorate responsible for standards. As this is extremely unlikely to happen, some might be dissuaded from reading his book. They would be making a great mistake for few books worth serious attention by educationalists have come out in the last few years. If its arguments cannot induce us too abolish state provision, they can surely open our eyes to the urgent need, on grounds of human dignity, for more parental choice. Most men slip into accepting the aims and objectives of their own day, which for that reason all too easily escape criticism. Dr West is one of those rare and invigorating spirits who ask us to glance freshly at what we take for granted and then consider if it is defensible. What on earth, for example, makes us think it reasonable for some local authorities to allow parents absolutely no choice of primary school.
Monopoly Education, News Weekly, September 21, 1966.
The lesson of the Education Week is that teacher and education departments have learnt that a school system will not produce good results unless parents can be induced to rake an active interest in the schools their children attend, and in what is taught there. The theme of this book is that it is normal for 90% of parents to take a very great interest in the schools their children attend, but the state system of education, as at present constituted, has killed their interest. Education Weeks wont make much difference. The author (a Doctor of Economics) deals only with the education system of England. Before 1870 when the Education Bill was introduced, 90% of parents (including working class parents) with children aged 6-11, showed a real interest in the selection of a school and in the operation of the school. They also paid fees.
As the state system was introduced, it killed that interest by taking from parents re-responsibility for choosing between schools, between teachers and between subjects. Parents could no longer decide who taught their children, nor what subjects. Parents were also induced to think, falsely, that State education was free, whereas it was paid for by increased indirect taxes, which fell most heavily on the poor and on families. The state education system eliminated real competition with private schools by making State education “free”. It eliminated competition between State schools by the zoning system. Parents could no longer send their children to those State schools where teaching was good; they were even prevented from protesting against inefficient schooling by the silent process of taking their children from school and sending them to the education provided by a working situation.
As an economist, the writer is worried by the increasing cost of education, the little return for the money spent, and the inequalities between State schools in working class areas. Especially, he is worried by the elimination of competition from the school system. In government, in business and in religion, monopoly results in complacency, stagnation and inefficiency. Monopoly in education is bound to produce inefficiency, stagnation and complacency.
The author thinks that it is not too late to reinforce competition into the English educational system by eliminating zoning, and by allowing parents to pay fees to their chosen school by some form of government voucher. He is sure this system would be cheaper and better. Similar lines of thinking are appearing in Australia: Teachers are beginning to think in much the same way, especially about secondary schooling. However change will be difficult. Human beings create an institution to solve a problem, and almost invariably become prisoners of the institution. We are prisoners of monopoly education.