This article appeared in Consent #15 (Jan-Feb 1992)


- William Trench

{Born and educated in South Africa, William Trench spent his early years travelling both in Africa and Europe, working at a variety of occupations including freight-checker, bank clerk, parking attendant, bartender, and factory hand. After qualifying as a Chartered Corporate Secretary he moved to Canada in 1966, where, over the years, he has held various managerial positions in the corporate world. The following essay appears as a chapter in his book, Only You Can Save Canada - Restoring Freedom and Prosperity, published by the author in January, 1992. His book is now available through Freedom Party at $8.95 each plus postage & handling. Inquiries and orders are welcome.}

"There are only two places in the world where time takes precedence over the job to be done. School and prison."

- William Glasser

Remember school? Of course you do. That's the place which the adults told you were the happiest days of your life, and you said, "Ohmigod, Is the rest of my life really going to be even worse than this?"

Children naturally love to learn. They want to know everything. "Daddy, why is the sky blue?" "Why can't I see my back?" "Why are those dogs doing that?" "Are we there yet?" And so on and so on.

Then we send them to school. And all desire to learn is methodically destroyed.

In Canada today we have a situation where too may children are leaving school after twelve or thirteen years without being able to read, write, or compose an intelligible sentence. It is possible to spend twelve years sitting in classrooms and yet learn virtually nothing of the subjects being taught there.

In addition to the lack of language skills in many children, almost no one of school-leaving age is familiar with the basic skills necessary to function as an adult in modern North American society. I have had experience of school-leavers applying for clerical positions being totally unfamiliar with such basic tools of modern society as a cheque, a bank deposit slip, or a receipt. Few seem to be aware of the difference between an invoice and a statement; I even had one who did not know the alphabet applying for a position as a filing clerk!

The most important and complex thing that children learn to do is to speak, and virtually everyone can do it very well, better in most cases than they can read or write. And yet children learn to speak from their parents, siblings and friends, while reading and writing is taught by "education experts." In fact it has been shown that about 50% of everything a person learns in life is learned before age five. Doesn't this fact alone make you question the efficacy of our education system?

Most teachers are well-meaning, dedicated, hard-working people, but they work in a massive bureaucracy which, like the one in Canada Post, stifles creativity and initiative and makes "following the rules" more important than the education of children. In addition, they have to spend an inordinate amount of time attending to the antisocial behaviour of "students" who know all about their "rights" and nothing about responsibility.

The basic problem with our system of education is that it is run by the government. Do you really want the education of your children entrusted to the same type of system that runs Canada Post? The Unemployment Insurance Fund? The Canada Pension Plan? Well, that's who you have doing it, a government bureaucracy. What makes you think they can do a better job at education than they've done at any of their other endeavours?

If you want a better education for your children, and can afford to pay the costs of a private school, you may decide to send them to one. But you will get no tax rebate if you don't use the government system, and so most people send their children to a government school, unsatisfactory as it may be.

Think of your experience with government, be it sending a parcel at the post office, obtaining a permit to add an extension to your house, or trying to get the tax department on the phone. You know as well as I do that most private businesses deal with you a hundred times more efficiently, more politely and more pleasantly than any government department ever does. Don't you think an independent, free-enterprise system would give your child a far better education, at a far better price? And even if it wouldn't, don't you think you have a right to make that choice for yourself?

Most people think that there is no alternative to a public education system. That if the state doesn't supply schools their children will never learn anything. Fact is, children learn in spite of the system.

Most independent experiments have conclusively proven that children educated at home learn up to six times faster than those attending government schools. Do you realize what this means? It means it is possible for children to cover the grades 1 to 12 curriculum in about two nine-month school years or in twelve six- week school "years."

Well, you may ask, if that is so, what are the kids doing at school the rest of the time? I can make a good guess. They're changing classes, settling down, not paying attention, going to the washroom, discussing extracurricular activities, doing things not related to the curriculum, arguing, being the class clown, taking drugs, having food fights in the cafeteria, making out, stabbing the teacher; in short, doing things other than learning --- things that they have no opportunity to do when they are at home.

But most of all, they are having their natural desire to learn totally eliminated.

Government schools are the outgrowth of the child labour laws of the last century. Once it became illegal for children to be employed, something had to be done with them to keep them from becoming unruly and getting into mischief during those long days with nothing to do. So they were put into schools, purportedly to learn, but in reality to keep them off the streets and the labour market until such time as they were virtually adults.

The quotation at the beginning of this essay exposes the lie behind the idea that schools are primarily for learning. If that were indeed the case, students could either (a) leave when they had completed the curriculum, or, (b) continue learning far beyond the curriculum in the same time if they had that ability. As the situation is now, school serves only the median intelligence level; slow learners get left behind and fast learners lose interest through boredom.

Education only takes place when there is a desire to learn. As I'm sure you can remember from your own experience, the subjects you enjoyed most at school were the ones you shone at. Any teacher will tell you he or she prefers to teach night school where all the students are present by their own choice and at their own expense. These students want to acquire knowledge and they do. Day school students in most cases would rather be somewhere --- anywhere --- else, and that's where their minds drift to.

More proof, if it were needed, that school's purpose is to keep children out of circulation, in effect to "babysit" them, is that while attendance is compulsory, appropriate behaviour while at school is not! Logically, students should either be forced to attend and to behave, or they should be free not to go at all. And of course it is the second alternative which is the only one that would exist in a free society.

The average Ontario public school class of 25 children costs (1987 figures) $5,200 per student, or $130,000 per year. How is this money spent?

Let's say $40,000 for the teacher. The classroom, $20,000. (You can rent a house for that.) $5,000 for books and materials, $10,000 for miscellaneous expense --- that gives a total of $75,000. So where does the other $55,000 go? Where else? To the massive government bureaucracy that has nothing whatsoever to do with educating children but everything to do with perpetuating a hopelessly outmoded system.

In his excellent article, How you can profit from the school hoax, (World Market Perspective, Nov.'87), Richard J. Maybury lists the six characteristics that an "illiteracy mill" would have to have. I summarize them as follows:

    Curiosity is spontaneous and must be suppressed. Prohibit spontaneity and regiment learning so that children are taught things when the system decides, not when they want to learn them.

    Remove children from the adult world so that they are deprived of role models, and cannot learn by copying adults.

    Enact child labour laws so that anyone trying to escape from the illiteracy mill has nowhere else to go. No apprenticeship system means they won't be able to learn a trade by copying adults.

    Force children by law to attend, thereby making learning a job, a chore, an obligation; definitely not fun. Supplant curiosity by drudgery. Prison dulls the mind.

    Coercing the children also helps wipe out the teacher's desire to teach. It creates massive problems of motivation and discipline. Teachers commonly quit after a few years of attempting to combine the roles of entertainer and enforcer in an effort to get something done.

    Last but not least, everyone should be forced to pay for the mill no matter what their mill does to children's minds. And there are no refunds. If a child comes out of the system with his brain turned to mush, the parents should still be forced to pay, every year for the rest of their lives.

The public school system is perfectly designed to make children hate to learn, teachers hate to teach, and the public be forced to pay twice the real cost of a product that is not only of no use but downright destructive.

Maybury, who was a public school teacher himself for several years, says that the solution to the education crisis is clear: free markets. Educators should not be civil servants, they should be independent professionals like architects or dentists. There should be a wide variety of choices so that a parent can pick and choose in accordance with the child's specific needs.

Already there are alternative educational establishments springing up around the U.S. These learning centres advertise that they can do in a few days what government schools take months to do.

Of course, the established system does not like this trend. Both the government itself and the teachers' unions fear the threat of competition. No monopoly wants to abdicate its power.

There is another side to this question. If parents seriously want to have the opportunity to choose the courses and education best suited to their children's needs, they have to be prepared to take responsibility for the results. The reason the government schools have continued to dominate the scene is that parents have abdicated responsibility for their children's education. If it's unsatisfactory they can just blame the government. Freedom goes hand in hand with the acceptance of responsibility, and I very much doubt that most Canadians are ready to assume that responsibility.

The reason is simple. Many of today's citizens are products of the schools of the last twenty years, during which time the trend has been to adopt a more and more socialistic posture. Most teachers have never spent their lives anywhere except in classrooms, and their vision of the world is so much at odds with the real world of business and industry as to be virtually a different society.

There is a trend among far too many moulders of our children's minds, to equate business as something evil being carried on by rich men whose only consideration is more and more profits at the expense of the workers. The least capable and non-productive members of our society are looked upon as downtrodden heroes, while the entrepreneurs and winners are sneered at.

This attitude has produced a generation whose highest ambition in life is to be on welfare, or, failing that, to be employed at something "pure" like social work. That way, one can avoid "selling out" to the "establishment" while continuing to take full advantage of all the products that a capitalist society produces.

Somehow I can't see people with this background being at all interested in free enterprise or freedom. They want to be taken care of by Big Brother, and would be dreadfully uncomfortable in any situation in which they and they alone were responsible for their own actions.

I hope I'm wrong. I fear I'm not. I think too many Canadians have already sold out the old initiative and resourcefulness with which they carved a country out of the wilderness. Only a massive social disruption would force them to take the measures necessary to improve their conditions.

Unfortunately, such disruption may already be upon us.

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