Consider the following from an editorial in a national newspaper: ‘Educating children should not be for profit – learning has always been separate from the forces of the free market. And that’s how it should stay.’ According to this editorial the issue appears to be black and white. The profit motive and learning simply do not mix. However, this statement raises more questions than it answers.

Firstly, would this newspaper still be prepared to support its claim that ‘educating children should not be for profit’ if schools run by for-profit companies could be shown to produce much better results at a lower cost – especially for the less well off? Or should these schools be permanently precluded irrespective of how they perform? Is there some objection in principle to the profit motive, even if the education of children suffers as a result of excluding it?

Secondly, the burden of proof must be placed on those who want to maintain the current restrictions on parents and the resulting government monopoly. Even if some parents would choose an inferior school rather than a superior one that was profit-making, is the newspaper suggesting parents who see the matter differently should not be able to choose a profit-making school? Is the profit motive so obnoxious that it should not be allowed to prevail for those whose priority is simply a high-quality education? Should parents not be allowed to have their own views on such matters?

Thirdly, how can this newspaper justify campaigning so passionately for freedom and a free market within the press and the media, while at the same time campaigning for the restriction of freedom and almost total government control over children’s schooling?  How can freedom and a free market be so fundamentally important when it comes to the market for newspapers or children’s books, but dismissed when applied to children’s schooling?

The above quotation then goes on to state, ‘learning has always been separate from the forces of the free market’. If the forces of the free market include the freedom of parents to choose and the freedom of private providers to enter the sector, then this suggests that this newspaper believes and indeed celebrates the idea that learning has always been separate from these forces of freedom. But if freedom refers to choice, autonomy, self-determination, independence, openness and the lack of restrictions, then how can restricting these forces be a good thing?

It is important to acknowledge that even in an open and competitive education sector the anti-profit mentality will continue to exist in the minds of some parents who may choose to send their children to schools that do not make a profit. However, it is a separate and much more sinister desire of these same parents (and politicians) to force all other parents to accept this particular point of view.

Milton Friedman stated that the willingness to permit free speech to people with whom you agree is hardly evidence of devotion to the principle of free speech. Instead, the relevant test is willingness to permit free speech to people with whom you disagree. And so the relevant test of the belief in individual freedom is the willingness to oppose state intervention even when it is designed to prevent individual activity which you personally dislike or with which you disagree. This provides a useful test to all those high-minded people who oppose for-profit schools. Do they have the discipline to place their personal views to one side and recognise that the rights and responsibilities of individual parents must always come first? If they do, then they should be willing to oppose the existing restrictions which prevent profit-making companies from managing state-funded schools, despite the fact that they may personally disagree with the idea.

James B. Stanfield is the editor of The Profit Motive in Education: Continuing the Revolution.

9 thoughts on “The anti-profit mentality in education”

  1. Posted 21/08/2012 at 12:25 | Permalink

    If it is wrong to profit from education, it must be wrong for teachers to be paid. Just because their profits are labelled as salaries they are profits none the less.

  2. Posted 21/08/2012 at 16:51 | Permalink

    Fine to say that it is wrong to profit from education so long as you are in the priiveliged position of securing capital by force from taxpayers to whom you are not obliged tp provide a return.

    However, as only governments can do that the argument becomes a Trojan Horse for an exclusively state run education system.

    All other investors will properly and sensibly require a return on capital invested

  3. Posted 21/08/2012 at 20:15 | Permalink

    It’s about time that someone started arguing, in earnest, for privatising education.

  4. Posted 22/08/2012 at 08:00 | Permalink

    I’m sure that a campaign to ‘privatise education’ would go down like a lead balloon. However a campaign to restore the basic human right of parents (i.e voters) to choose in education would certainly appeal much more to the general public. The number of parents who have been negatvely affected by the lack of choice continues to grow and is perhaps close to tipping point. All we need now is a politician with balls.

  5. Posted 22/08/2012 at 12:44 | Permalink

    “learning has always been separate from the forces of the free market”

    Seriously? Is the editor completely unaware that EVEN NOW 7% of school children are educated privately, as are most children under 5. What about adult education? What about the legions of private schools in the C18th and C19th.

    That statement is simply a lie.

  6. Posted 22/08/2012 at 13:51 | Permalink

    You’re right, of course, JB. And I wouldn’t want to stop those local authorities who think they can run schools better than the private sector to continue to do just that – without any subsidy from central government beyond that available to all schools via education vouchers. Not at all a new idea, and if a Government should wish to favour (say) inner-city schools or the poor or “difficult” children or any other special classes of child, then it has only to increase the value of the voucher in those cases.

    And as you say, all we need is a brave politician, one who won’t baulk at the thought of “privileged” children – those whose parents now scrimp and save to educate them privately – benefiting too (to his electoral detriment, if that newspaper editor is at all typical). It’s a matter of principle – which, I suppose, is why we haven’t apparently any politicians who will embrace the idea.

  7. Posted 29/08/2012 at 17:35 | Permalink

    Much more recently than the 19th century we had a semi-free market in education.

    In the 1930s my mother’s parents paid for the two of their four children who did not get county scholarships to go to Grammar School. My grandfather was a railway signalman. Working class aristocracy, perhaps, but their living standards would not be tolerated today. They valued education, and it could be found priced at a level they could afford.

  8. Posted 31/08/2012 at 11:32 | Permalink

    Thanks GH. This is facsinating and more research is required to find out why these fees were phased out and for what reason. I wonder if you could find out how much they were paying? Perhaps if you could find out the name of the school and then I can investigate.

  9. Posted 06/09/2012 at 10:11 | Permalink

    It is absurd to state that education has always been separate from the free market. Our current education system is a very recent development in human society – most education was on the job, under the auspices of guilds and apprenticeships; most definitely free-market related.

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