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Jamie Oliver's school revolution

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June 16, 2011 – Comments (14)

Recently I watched an episode of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, a show where foreign celebrity chef Jamie Oliver goes around our fair land trying to improve Americans’ eating habits, primarily by changing school cafeteria menus, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how it proved beyond a reasonable doubt that public schools need to be abolished. For one thing, Chef Jamie points out that the food these kids are eating is catastrophically unhealthy. His solution is to convince the commissars of the public schools to make the kids eat healthier foods, but he has a terrible time getting the school board to change the cafeteria menus. Every time he tries to bring change, or even present his case, it becomes clearer that the school board and other public school rulers simply cannot be bothered, even if the health of their district’s children is at stake.

I’m sure I’m not the only viewer who is wondering “what kind of monster cares more about protecting his own arse than about the health of children?” Is that unfair? I don’t think so. I think the answer to that rhetorical question is “the bureaucratic kind.” This is not so unexpected: bureaucrats in the Department of Education have long cared more about padding their fat compensation plans and protecting their cushy jobs than about the education of children, which is notoriously shoddy in America. It’s little surprise that bureaucrats would be no more moved by obesity than by that holiest of American sacred cows, education.

The answer is not, and cannot be, to push the rulers (in this case the school board) to do the right thing in this one instance alone, that is, to have better food in schools. We may eventually succeed in making our kids physically healthier, but we would just be fighting the same fight over the next issue, again and again. And the issues that do get addressed are typically only the ones that are measurable, like body mass index (BMI), and there’s no way we could quantify how much artistic potential and creativity gets squandered when we cram our kids into boxes of bureaucratic control (see the presentations of Sir Ken Robinson). No, the answer is to abolish central planning from education.

It would be nice if we could do this at the beginning of one summer, and spend the summer watching the private sector adapt to the need, but if we must go incrementally, let’s abolish all federal participation from public schools, and make them 100% state and local. Then, state by state, we could abolish state participation. The states that tried to hold onto power and their old ways would be so far behind the free states that they would have to change; it would be anarchy. Kids would learn and grow in an environment as creative as they are.

Of course, private education is not free. Neither is public education, but people get to pretend that it is because, in that beautiful description of the socialist system, it is “free at the point of delivery.” This is a well-worn canard of the public sector: they take your money, hold it long enough for it to get Stockholm Syndrome, then send some of it back to you with the pretense that it’s theirs, and you’re lucky to get it. Your money is sort of like a brainwashed double agent that way. Don’t let your money fool you: public school is expensive. It costs almost twice as much (93% more) per student, on average, than the median cost of higher-performing private schools,1 and a few orders of magnitude more per student than homeschooling, which typically produces academically dominant students for some reason - perhaps that it involves children being taught by adults who care about their future, to wit, their parents.

Public schools are no exception to the rule that tax revenue spent by central planners produces lackluster results, and a few atrocities. (Call them what you like, I call the government-run kiddie warehouses “atrocities.”) Now the rulers of our schools have been captured by lobbyists for companies that foist on captive schoolkids preservative-laden, fattening food low in vitamins and fiber. Talk about the banality of evil!

So we can expect Jamie Oliver to join us in the fight to abolish government control over the public schools, right? Probably not. He seems to take for granted, as most on television do, that public schools have a legitimate raison d’etre, and are essential. How can he not see that the tyranny of public school boards is the cause of the crisis of processed foods dominating school cafeterias and the impossibility of introducing positive change? This is a good example of the Fatal Conceit of which Hayek wrote: that an expert can know everything that needs to be known to plan or orchestrate an aspect of the lives of thousands, or millions, of others. Jamie Oliver is not upset that there is central planning, he’s upset that it’s bad planning. Which implies, of course, that there could be good planning - no doubt planning done by Oliver himself or by nutritionists of whom he approves. That way, he can prevent the kids and their parents from making the unhealthy choices that some of them would no doubt make in the absence of control. That is why we need central planning.

One of the many problems with that thinking is that it leaves a central planner or board of planners in charge of everyone else, and such a structure is vulnerable to corruption: say, bribes from a soda lobbyist. All he has to do is bribe (or schmooze, if you prefer) one person, or at most the majority of a school board, and then his company makes millions of dollars from the thousands of school children imprisoned at that school by truancy laws. Or a school board can make honest mistakes, the way society once made the mistake of thinking that the trans fats in hydrogenated vegetable oil were better for you than butter. Worse still, a school board ruling over innocent children and treating them like prisoners - or subjects - is simply wrong, even if they make really good decisions. With power like that, how long will it be before it goes to someone’s head? Men ought not have power over other men - or over other men’s children.

Regardless of what Jamie Oliver thinks, his show is a clear demonstration of why central planning is a failure pragmatically as well as a moral outrage. If we are not willing to protect our kids from the horrors of a powerful, soulless bureaucracy, just whom will we protect? It’s time for a change. It’s time for freedom and the wonders of free enterprise: for the children, their minds as well as their waistlines.

14 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On June 16, 2011 at 1:26 AM, FleaBagger (28.84) wrote:

1 - http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=11432

 

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#2) On June 16, 2011 at 2:08 PM, rfaramir (29.48) wrote:

Well said.

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#3) On June 17, 2011 at 3:02 AM, FleaBagger (28.84) wrote:

I'm glad somebody thinks so.

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#4) On June 18, 2011 at 1:46 AM, FleaBagger (28.84) wrote:

Anybody? I thought abolishing public schools would be radical enough to elicit some argument from someone. Maybe a critique from other anarchists or moderate libertarians? Anybody at all?

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#5) On June 20, 2011 at 9:34 AM, lemoneater (79.45) wrote:

Well, I can't take the other side of the argument from you, Flea, because I was homeschooled myself, not because of the food, but because of the academics and the philosophy. The local public schools had a habit of graduating seniors who couldn't read.  But more importantly, the schools were in the process of ushering God out the front door, but were perplexed why crime came in the back and side doors.  

Interestingly enough, I've heard that homeschooling is gaining in popularity in South Korea. It is being supported by the business community there.

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#6) On June 20, 2011 at 10:04 AM, FleaBagger (28.84) wrote:

Shrewd businesses support anything that improves the quality of the labor pool, and if the public school/homeschool relationship there is anything like it is here, they need homeschooled kids to keep them productive.

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#7) On June 20, 2011 at 4:09 PM, rfaramir (29.48) wrote:

"Anybody? I thought abolishing public schools would be radical enough to elicit some argument from someone. Maybe a critique from other anarchists or moderate libertarians? Anybody at all?"

Why? Despite doing a halfway decent job while I was a kid, it wasn't exceptional and there were some problems. Since then it has gone to the dogs. No one but no one defends the public school system, except the unions that get the lion's share of the dough.

Effectiveness? No! Who wins the national contests (e.g., spelling bees)? Homeschoolers primarily, privately schooled next.

Cost-effectiveness? Don't make me laugh. Everyone knows that government run anything doesn't run efficiently, though non-Austrians may not know why. "Good enough for government work" was a slogan when my father was young.

Just cost, then? Hah! The high cost of education is precisely because it is done (or in the case if higher ed, subsidized) by government. Remove the subsidy, and you will remove the oversupply. Charge what the market will bear and have competition, and you will eliminate what people don't want and have more of what they really want, since they're willing to put their (not someone else's) money where their mouth is. Consumers will reign supreme, not some dictator-wannabe's in government 'service'.

Fairness? Only if your idea of 'fairness' is to spread the misery equally. Since the rich (or industrious) can get out of the system, the misery falls largely on the poorest of the population, so it's not fair at all. And since when is treating people who are different the same fair? Do you treat a thief the same as the victim (not including by our injustice system)? Do you treat a boy identically in all things the same as a girl? Do you treat the thrifty the same as the spendthrift? Do you put the bright in the same beginner's class as the learning-challenged? Why would you? Relatedly, using force to put the private schools and homeschoolers out of business would be the opposite of the right way to go. Like East Germany hating West Germany because they showed them up so badly. Only a literal fence and lots of guns kept the people in where fairness was enforced.

At least it's democratic, right? Wrong again! Who said democracy was as good as liberty? When 51% have their way on any issue and the rest are required to comply even though it is against their will, the result is non-optimal. Prayer in school? Either way you go, a bunch of people will be unhappy. Uniforms or no? Either way, some will be disappointed. Lots of arts, sports, extra-curriculars or just the three-Rs? There is no one right answer for everyone. THERE DOES NOT NEED TO BE ONE RIGHT ANSWER!

End the Department of Education and make all truancy laws unconstitutional (maybe under 14th Amendment guarantees?) so no one is forced to go to schools at all. Make taxes for public schools illegal (being forced to pay for someone else's education is unsupportable, logically). Eliminate the minimum wage laws and minimum (and maximum) age discrimination laws and all those kids could start having productive lives earlier if schooling isn't their thing.

Liberty is the answer in every case. Stop doing unto others what you would not want them to do to you!

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#8) On June 20, 2011 at 4:37 PM, lemoneater (79.45) wrote:

From what I've heard, the public schools there in South Korea sometime emphasize productivity at the expense of humanity. Some competition can be healthy, but there can be such a thing as too much competition so that a student despairs. 

(If I remember correctly, the high school suicide rate in South Korea was one of the highest in the world as recently as 2010 with the pressure to outperform one's peers or be set for failure in the future. ) Concerned parents thought there had to be a way to give students an excellent education without compromising mental welfare.

 

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#9) On June 20, 2011 at 8:26 PM, FleaBagger (28.84) wrote:

lemoneater - granted, I don't know much (or perhaps anything) about the specifics of the situation, but businesses supporting something usually means it's bad for society, and I was just speculating why they might be on society's side in this one case.

rfaramir - you'd be surprised. I was trying to explain to a friend of mine why companies should be allowed to open "sweatshop" factories in poor countries, how doing so helps increase wages in countries where wages are low, and lower the cost of living where the cost of living is high, and he refused even to countenance the assertion that a chid should be allowed to work for a wage in cases where starvation might be the alternative. His argument? "Those kids should all be in school." Presumably public schools paid for by foreign aid loans. Being put in a prison, paid for by loans that enslave their nation to the West and the IMF, and may or may not actually give them an education, is better than them getting real-world skills, money, and being able to feed their families.

Why? Because public schools are still magical to Progressives. They won't hear anything against them. I was hoping a few of them would get on and argue with me.

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#10) On June 20, 2011 at 8:37 PM, rfaramir (29.48) wrote:

"still magical to Progressives"

Exactly! They are still trying to create perfect model citizens through coerced central planning like all other collective-aggressive ideologies: fascist, communist, socialist, syndicalist.

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#11) On June 21, 2011 at 12:54 AM, emlimo (< 20) wrote:

Think you people maybe should open your eyes a bit. Lot of countries, including my own, have great public schools. 

 Our children are making food at school and learning about nutrition. Same problems simply do not exist here in public schools. People in our country are less fatty, people live longer, we have less crime, we are less religious...and so on..  

With public schools you have a democratic way to set the standards. To get public systems to shine, including quality public schools, you also must be willing to invest tax. ( I wonder why americans are more willing to invest in military and wars than good education and health for all )

Also you get less crazy religious schools. Therefore less crazy people.

 

 

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#12) On June 21, 2011 at 9:37 PM, FleaBagger (28.84) wrote:

emlimo - where do you live, if you don't mind me asking?

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#13) On June 24, 2011 at 2:10 AM, FleaBagger (28.84) wrote:

I guess I could just figure out where emlimo is from. I don't think more than about two or three countries in the world spend more on public schools than the good ol' U.S. of A. And of course there are dozens that get better education results. Then again, maybe emlimo is an American teachers' union rep pretending to be from a foreign country, because who doesn't know that America spends a fortune on public schools?

Anyway, I came to share this video, which is a good example, if you've never seen one before, of how people act (and think) when they're given a lot of government power.

 

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#14) On June 24, 2011 at 2:31 AM, FleaBagger (28.84) wrote:

Actually, it looks like no country spends more than the U.S. per student on public schools. Data are hard to find, though, as a lot of media seem to want to use the meaningless % of GDP measure. How is a country's GDP remotely relevant to education? Anyway, the best-educated countries (in objective, internationally-proctored tests) are always East Asian, such as Singapore, South Korea, and Japan. All spend a lower percentage of GDP on public schools, and, in a metric that's actually relevant to the real world, spend a mere fraction as much per student as the U.S. Our schools suck wind. That's true. But to think more spending is the answer is profound ignorance.

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