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Government and Failure Education for What?

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A "New Model School" Opens in London

by Christopher Chantrill
October 02, 2004 at 8:00 pm


BACK IN THE nineteenth century, before the educated elite had taken an interest in education, ordinary people paid to send their children to school.  In England they paid 3d or 6d per week (i.e. about 25 cents in nineteenth century US dollars) at the most basic schools.  The result was that by 1870 when the state decided to take over child education to “fill in the gaps” the literacy rate in England was about 90 percent.  Now, of course, things are much better, for only about 30 percent of the graduates of England’s “bog standard” comprehensive schools remain functionally illiterate, according to social commentator Theodore Dalrymple. 

In England, as in the United States, some souls have dared to wonder whether a one-size-fits-all government monopoly is the best way to educate children.  They wonder whether a million parents making individual decisions about the education of their children might outperform thousands of education bureaucrats and experts making those decisions for them. 

The folks at Civitas, a British think tank devoted to the study of civil society, decided to do something about it.  They decided to demonstrate that they could run a private school for working people that delivered a basic education for about $5,000 per year, significantly less than the cost of a full-service private school.

On September 13, 2004, the first New Model School—“excellent and affordable private schools”—opened in a sports center in Queen’s Park in Northwest London.  It is starting with one teacher and one aide, and is accepting 4-5 year olds in its “reception year.”  The schools will use the “direct instruction” method that has achieved significant success in the United States (click here for more info).  Parents at the New Model School are expected to volunteer and “to foster attitudes of respect and courtesy in their children.”  The cost is 900 UK pounds per term.

The New Model School is opening in Queen’s Park in response to interest expressed by local parents.  It is intended, of course, as a template, a model that can be applied by interested parents anywhere in Britain.  The New Model School concept is ready to be expanded into a chain of local schools, starting like the Queen’s Park unit in a sports or church facility and only moving to permanent buildings after demonstrating viability.

This modest educational startup has attracted some notice.  The World Socialist complained that by opening the Queen’s Park school in a racially mixed area “Civitas was playing on middle-class fears of the racial mix in local schools.”  But it took heart that “most people view organisations such as Civitas with extreme suspicion.”  Fortunately only 10 children had enrolled with a week to go before school opened.  Of course the real problem was that, by “grossly underfunding” its schools the British government had created a climate in which right-wing think tanks could thrive and pursue their “reactionary agenda.”

The Guardian reported on the school opening, and quoted “former immigration minister” Barbara Roche, who had received a fundraising letter from Civitas that “alarmed” her.  She wondered if schools were now “going to be established that will attack our multiracial, multicultural society.”

Only Sarah Harris at The Daily Mail managed to report the opening without ideological bias, discussing New Model School’s fees in as the educational equivalent of budget airlines and hotels, a low-cost alternative to elite schools like Eton, Harrow, and Winchester that charge 20,000 pounds per year, and the mid-range chain of schools being developed by Global Education Management Systems (Gems) that aims to deliver an education at 10,000 pounds per year.

It’s a novel concept for the modern parent—paying for your child’s education.  In the old days, of course, parents made harrowing sacrifices to get their children a basic grounding in literacy and numeracy.  James Mill, father of John Stuart Mill, observed in the early nineteenth century that parents subsisted on potatoes so they could scrape up the cash to pay their children’s school fees.  And Jacob Riis at the end of the nineteenth century noted that in New York the only reason that immigrant parents did not send their children to school was when they needed the child’s wages to eat.

Yet in our modern era governments assume that parents have to be enticed with “free” schools and flogged with compulsory education laws to deliver their children up to the advantage of education. 

Still, the lefties are right to rail against the New Model School startup.  Children that learn to love books and develop an attitude of respect and courtesy aren’t going to turn into the kind of people that the left knows and loves:  helpless victims or transgressive activists.  Instead they might turn into law-abiding purposeful adults, capable of self-government, the Anglosphere’s gift to the world.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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presented by Christopher Chantrill

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