Education Today is Barbarism

6 March 2023

3.9 MINS

Professor James Tooley, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Buckingham, discusses the role of education in the modern age, and the relationship between parental and government oversight in our education systems.

Buckingham University is the oldest of only six private higher education institutions in the UK that award degrees. It started with an idea in 1969 that the country should have a university free from state funding and state regulation.

The Birth of a Private University

Seven years later, the university was opened by Margaret Thatcher in 1976. At the time she was the leader of the opposition and three years out from becoming prime minister of the United Kingdom.  This is part of what she said in the inauguration speech for the university:

To a free people, accustomed to a great richness of private initiative, there is something undesirable, indeed debilitating about the present mood in the country in which so many look not to themselves or their fellows for new initiatives but to the state…

I, as a politician must not prescribe to you. Independence is not a gift, it is not something that governments confer but something that the people enjoy and use…

Unless we are worthy and able to take advantage of a freedom not yet extinguished in our land, we shall become pale shadows like civilisations before us who are eventually thrust aside and disposed of by more vigorous rivals.

What a powerful philosophy! It is wonderful to hear a politician extolling the virtues of freedom of thought and action, with no need or desire for government control over education.

In Loco Parentis

James extolled the virtue of ‘in loco parentis’:

The term “in loco parentis” is a Latin phrase that translates as “in place of a parent” or “instead of a parent” and refers to how schools and school administrators are expected to act with reference to students and other minors. In other words, the employees of a school are charged, by the parents of the students, to act on their behalf while the students are there.

In other words, the educational institution is primarily responsible for carrying out the wishes of the parent. The phrase is used to help the teacher make a judgement call: ‘What would the parent do in this situation? They are at work, I have the responsibility for their child — I need to act in loco parentis’.

John followed up with his phrase that ‘governments should be downstream from culture, not the other way about’. In other words, the government’s primary responsibility is to listen to the culture and enact what is best, rather than to dictate what they believe is best for the people.

The Difference Between Boys and Girls

Then the conversation moved on to the proportion of young people that should go to university in any given society. From my own experience, I have seen governments seek to push this proportion as high as possible to minimise youth unemployment statistics. But is university the best avenue for every young person?

James talks about the shortage of skilled tradespeople, electricians, plumbers, and welders. He argues that university is not the best pathway for these invaluable members of society. Their discussion goes on to cover the alarming dropout rate from the education of white males in the USA, with the effect that this push towards university has now created an underclass of disaffected, underproductive, white young males intent on destabilising society.

The discussion also covers the styles of learning that have become most prevalent in universities. There are now fewer high-pressure summative exams that favour boys’ learning styles, and more small-scale continuous assessments favoured by girls, arguably disenfranchising the boys.

Low-Cost Private Education

In addition to his role as Vice-Chancellor of his university, James has also pioneered some astonishing work on the demand for and viability of low-cost private education, firstly in the developing world and more recently in the West.

His research, in some of the most dangerous places on earth, found that upwards of 70% of children in developing world nations are being educated in private schools. These schools might have been started by a passionate mother with a teaching gift who then established a school around her as her own children grew.

Or the school might have been a tutor group that was set up to help more senior students pass public exams, then it grew a school, backwards, down through the grades. While yet other schools have been established as small businesses, so-called ‘for profit’, but only generating enough income for the founder to clothe, house and feed his own family.

James recounts his own experience in Durham, England, where he established a low-cost private school. The fees are £3,000 per student per year. The class sizes are 20, therefore generating £60,000 per year, £30,000 for the teacher’s salary, typical for the UK, and £30,000 for buildings, utilities and resources. The low-cost model works, and they don’t need or want government involvement or interference.

Education Should Be the Foundation of Civilisation

The developing world demonstrates that without the intervention of governments, parents can make education happen. James Tooley has demonstrated that it can also happen in the West without the intervention of the state. And in this regard, Margaret Thatcher extolled the virtues and advantages of freedom of choice for parents in the education of their children.

It seems to me that the only motivation for state control of education is to control and homogenise society by dumbing down education, alongside the removal of debate.

Education must provide the tools to think and learn, rather than telling children what is right and wrong. The latter is for the parents to teach in the home.

Sadly, Mrs Moira Deeming MP, Liberal Member for the Western Metropolitan Region, Melbourne, Victoria, had to give up her teaching career on account of excessive state control of education. In her maiden speech to parliament, she highlights the excesses and evils that result from disproportionate state control of education.


Photo by Max Fischer.

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  1. Kaylene Emery 6 March 2023 at 11:08 am - Reply

    You have covered so many bases Jim. Your article affirms my thoughts on the how and why of my own and thankfully now past, inability to think. God in His wisdom did not simply tell me what was wrong and how it happened, He placed me in the school of His choice so that together, we could rewire my brain. In so doing my heart also developed to be more in keeping with His.

    • Jim Twelves 6 March 2023 at 5:33 pm - Reply

      Kaylene, many thanks for this. I am so struck by the crucial difference between information and wisdom. Its so important we teach wisdom to the young. I simply don’t hear anyone in education talking about this which is a huge shame if not a huge danger.

  2. Stephen Lewin 6 March 2023 at 9:30 pm - Reply

    love the speech by Moira Deeming that should be played to every politician in Oz

    • Kaylene Emery 6 March 2023 at 11:11 pm - Reply

      I agree. Listening to Moira’s speech was my first introduction to her and I am still stunned but delighted to know that she is where she is and doing what she is doing.

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