Sunday, May 16, 2010

What I'm reading

I started reading The Beautiful Tree (click the link for Google Books, where it seems the book can be read in its entirety) today and so far it is absolutely fantastic. Traveling throughout the developing world, author James Tooley encounters private schools flourishing even in the most desperate conditions imaginable. Inevitably the private schools demonstrate a commitment to education excellence while their government-run counterparts feature incompetence, absentee teachers and even the beating of students.

But how could it be any other way? In private schools the students and parents are the customers, while in public schools they are perceived as an annoyance. While terrible government-run schools are perhaps par for the course, adding insult to injury is that the tool of regulation is then wielded to demand bribes from the private schools through frequent inspections (India) or even shut them down completely to eliminate competition to more established private schools (Nigeria).

Equally outrageous is that when Tooley presents his findings to members of the Western education establishment they are either dismissed or the private schools -- with tuition typically in the neighborhood of $2-$5 per month -- criticized as greedy predators stalking the urban poor. For many, it seems, the subject of education is plainly an ideological exercise where the first priority is the continued dominance of government-run schools, with actual education and learning by students a distant secondary consideration.

I'm only three chapters in and already the book has proved itself to be vastly compelling.

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