Education reform

DAVID WARREN

I am luckier than most North Americans, having benefited at formative moments in my childhood from attending backward private schools.

That word “backward” is emotive, and I am (did you guess?) using the word ironically. For the two schools I hold in most blessed memory — St Anthony's in Lahore, Pakistan, and the Bangkok Patana School in Thailand — woefully “underfunded” by the standard of any North American public or private school — were, by the alternative standards of moral, spiritual, and academic achievement, very far ahead.

Good things happen in threes, it is said, and to the inspiration of those two schools I may add fortuitous escape from a Canadian one.

The itinerary of my father's travels took his family back to Georgetown, Ont. — home! — and parachuted me into a semi-rural public high school. Not a bad one at all, by local standards, judging by its success in inter-collegiate competitions against more urban high schools, in everything from track and field to Model Parliament, but nevertheless, pathetic by the standards I had glimpsed abroad. I found myself being taught primary-school subjects all over again; and worse, herded down endless identical locker-lined corridors like a sheep in an industrial mutton operation.

This was at the end of the 1960s, a time when students across this continent were visibly rebelling, for reasons I could understand: they were encouraged to rebel, and given permission. The entertainment industry, working on the same mass-market herd principle as the schools, was presenting the illusion of the “hippie lifestyle,” and they, dutiful sons and daughters in a culture of conformity, soon dressed the part. I, for my part, enjoyed neither the pedagogical methods of a meat-packing plant, nor the spectacle of the sheep trying to “express themselves.” And so, at age sixteen, I quit school and hit the road.


My own preferred reform is to get the government out of the education business entirely. For in my antiquated worldview, it is for the people to make a government, and not vice versa; and for parents to raise children, not a government department.


This set the stage for my third “good thing,” for thanks to this departure, I was able to skip university entirely. Partly, this was cause for regret, for I am by nature one of those creatures called an “intellectual,” and I'd dreamed of Magdalen College, Oxford, from an early age. But that is not where children go from Georgetown District High School, and I could not “handle” the prospect of marking still more time in the idiotizing environment of a North American drive-in university, while my youth was leaching away.

In retrospect, it was the best personal decision I ever made, and I recommend it wholeheartedly to the young of today; at least, to those whose minds are not already imprisoned. Get out of that education “system” while you still can, and before it has made you into a spiritual corpse, mouthing politically-correct clichés along with all the other zombies. Get yourself a real education, in what you can find of the world, and see what you can accomplish without participating in the credentials racket. Make your “core relationship” with God, rather than with some Kafkaesque bureaucracy. Discover a vocation in which you can advance the cause of the good, the true, and the beautiful. And raise children — in poverty, if necessary — who will also defy the zombism of our post-modern age.

The remarks above are my “core contribution” to a debate I have detected in the United States, which I hope will, eventually, find echoes in Canada. While the great majority there as here remain quiescent, the movement to replace the public schools with genuinely diverse private ones, admitting actual parental involvement, is making solid progress; and in state after state, governments are grudgingly conceding the tax refunds that would make private schools a possibility for most people.

My own preferred reform is to get the government out of the education business entirely. For in my antiquated worldview, it is for the people to make a government, and not vice versa; and for parents to raise children, not a government department.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

David Warren. "Education reform." Sunday Spectator (October 21, 2007).

This article reprinted with permission from David Warren.

THE AUTHOR

David Warren, once editor of the Idler Magazine, is widely travelled — especially in the Middle and Far East. He has been writing for the Ottawa Citizen since 1996. His commentaries on international affairs appear Wednesdays & Saturdays; on Sundays he writes a general essay on the editorial page. Read more from David Warren at David Warren Online.

Copyright © 2007 Ottawa Citizen



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