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The Road to the Middle Class: A Manifesto The Way of Faith

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The Way of Education

by Christopher Chantrill
January 01, 2005 at 12:18 pm

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EDUCATION is an essential traveler’s aid on the journey from country to city.  An old woman living in the Gobi desert nailed it when she told the National Geographic:

I only know eating, drinking, and tending animals.  This is what my parents did.  Their parents.  The young people today, once they leave the [Gobi], they never return.  I don’t blame them.  The life of herding is coming to an end.  Work in cities is the future.

The reason the young people of the Gobi don’t return is that they all go to boarding school from first to ninth grade, only returning home in the summer.  Nine years of boarding school education prepares them for life in the city.  So they join the great trek.

Education is also important to the earnest churchgoer in an American sriver suburb.  Said Mary Johnston of Rock Hill, South Carolina, to a Washington Post reporter in 2000: “I want my children to go to the best schools, first grade through college.”

Modern opinion about education assumes a Year Zero some time in the mid-nineteenth century, when the activists for modern universal education began their agitation for free government schools.  The time before Year Zero is treated as prehistoric, an embarrassment of Ragged Schools, one-room schoolhouses, Dotheboys Hall and Wackford Squeers, and opportunity denied to the poor.  In fact, of course, education has had a long and checkered history over thousands of years. Athens, for instance, had a free market in education, and Sparta had a government monopoly.

In the United States, mass education has been accepted from the earliest days of the colonies and literacy has always been high.  In 1787, free male adult literacy was estimated at about 65 percent, and in the census of 1850 literacy was reported as 90 percent.  In colonial times, education was supported with a mixture of private and public funding.  In smaller towns, “district schools” financed by public and private funds were common.  Some poorer children got to attend for free, but most parents paid fees for their children to attend.

In England literacy was not as widespread as in the United States, for the rulers preferred that the lower orders remained illiterate.  However, according to E.G. West, literacy increased steadily from the beginning of the nineteenth century as the lower orders sought out education for their children in defiance of their rulers.    In 1813 James Mill (father of John Stuart Mill) wrote of “the rapid progress which the love of education is making among the lower orders in England.”  He noted that

There is hardly a village that has not something of a school; and not many children of either sex who are not taught more or less, reading and writing.  We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.

Henry Brougham conducted surveys of schools in 1820 and 1828, and found that the numbers in schools had doubled in one decade.  Literacy in England increased steadily until government education was legislated in 1870.

Schools exist to teach children things that their parents can’t teach them.   For the peasant, school gives his children a chance to make it in the city.  For the illiterate costermonger in Victorian London, it gives his sons the chance to move off the street and sell something that needs a bit of book-learning and bookkeeping.  For the earnest churchgoer in an American striver suburb it gives her children the chance to join the professional classes in the big city for whom life is not a grim struggle but a creative adventure, not meat-and-potatoes but nouvelle cuisine. Education, then, is all about embourgeoisment, the making of a citizen, one who lives and works in the city.

It seems that everyone in the modern era, from the “lower orders” of industrial Britain to the illiterate grandmother in the Gobi desert, understands the value of education for their children.  It is curious that we should have developed a system of educational compulsion that treats every parent as a feckless ignoramus that must be dragooned into sending their children to school and compelled through taxation to pay for it. It isn’t as though there is a free-rider problem in education.  Parents everywhere want their children to thrive and will sacrifice for them.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

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Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990


Mutual Aid

In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society


Education

“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


Living Under Law

Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures


German Philosophy

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate. 
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West


Knowledge

Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then, once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities


Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


Action

The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


Churches

[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


Conversion

“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


Living Law

The recognition and integration of extralegal property rights [in the Homestead Act] was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world.
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital


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