Libertarian thinking on education: what's applicable to us and what's not

Low-cost private schools are good, but only as long as they adopt mother-tongue as the medium of instruction.

Encouraged by articles on education on libertarian blogs such as CATO@Liberty, I procured a copy of The Beautiful Tree, a much acclaimed new book written by Prof. James Tooley and published by the CATO Institute, Washington D.C.

Tooley's research and field work shows that the world's poorest people are turning to private schools even when free government schools exist (yes, Kannadigas are among the world's poorest people as are other Indians, the Chinese, as well as the usual suspects in Africa). While the central point of the book is well taken, the book is disappointing when it comes to the issue of medium of instruction. While educationists are shouting at the top of their voice that mother-tongue is best, Tooley expresses no disappointment and takes no action about the fact that these private schools are mostly run in the English medium.

That the poor are turning to private schools certainly appears counterintuitive, as the book argues, since the poor are expected to be poor and incapable of paying for private schooling! Tooley shows that this conventional wisdom is being proven wrong the world over, as parents understand the importance of schooling and are unwilling to send their children to low-quality government schools.

Tooley gives empirical evidence that private schools are better than government schools, and that the poor worldwide are turning to the former and dumping the latter. He argues that government schools suffer from many ills such as absentee teachers, distant teachers (both geographically and socially), poor conditions, low standards, and failure to even reach the poor. Those who have ever taken a peek into government schools in Karnataka don't need to be told these things. Yes, these things are a given in government schools. Private schools, on the other hand, solve nearly all the above problems simply because the school is accountable to the parents who actually pay for its services.

So far, so good.

My grouse about the book began when I realized that the author neglects the fact that the private schools he loves so much have all dumped mother-tongue education in open defiance of the very basics of effective education. I see no disappointment in him while he observes that most of these schools are run in the English medium. Tooley seems to be least concerned about this crucial aspect of education. In fact, he is even appreciative of this decadence because he observes that it seems to be what parents want (English medium). While government schools offer that which parents apparently do not want (Mother-tongue medium), Tooley argues, it is private schools which offer what they want. It is here - in talking about the medium of instruction - that I'm afraid Tooley ceases to be an educationist; instead, he appears only to be an advocate of free-market economics irrespective of whether the people who want or don't want things know what their liberty means to them at all.

Libertarians need to explain why they questioned the judgment of American schoolchildren when Barack Obama addressed them recently. If libertarian thought basically takes what the public says as gospel truth, why did they question the judgment of schoolchildren? And how can they not question the judgment of parents when it comes to medium of instruction, especially when there is a sea of scientific evidence that shows that mother-tongue education is best? Why didn't they leave the children to decide for themselves what to learn from Barack Obama and what not, irrespective of what he planned to say during the address? Why bother to fight to get portions of his planned address edited out? If the answer is that they're only children, I would argue that those parents (mostly illiterate themselves) who do not understand the importance of mother-tongue education are only children too - when it comes to these matters. Why is puberty being used as the dividing line between those whose wants can be taken at face value and those whose wants' validity can be questioned? Utterly illogical - once you see that there is equal illiteracy on both sides of this artificial dividing line.

Also, Tooley's research hasn't even scratched the surface of what parents really want. Will they really want English medium education if say Kannada medium education was good enough and promised a fruitful career? I have no doubt that the answer is no. Tooley's fieldwork is left wanting in this respect - he does not ask this question; he does not question the judgment of those parents at all. That's being 100% libertarian, alright, but is that being an educationist?

In reality, private schools exist in the darkest of slums in the world today because they are run in the English medium, and because illiterate parents are unable to differentiate between good education and English. To them, a few words of English learnt by their children suffices as proof of good education - because of the imperial history of these people and the general eulogization of everything western / european. What is this, if it is not an open defiance of the laws of science? Given this, the fact that the world's poorest people are turning to private schools - which provide English medium education - is really not so counterintuitive after all!

Note that I am not denying the ills of government schools, or that those ills accelerate parent movement towards private schools. Far from it. Of course government schools have all the problems which Tooley points out, and of course low-cost private schools make sense. I'm only pointing out that a true educationist needs to know where to draw the line when it comes to accepting everything people say as gospel truth. Rectifying the thinking of people is what education is all about. If you consider everything people already know as gospel truth, what's the point in a school?

Also, there is a reason why governments run schools in the remotest of rural areas: private schools cannot sustain themselves there. If private enterprise could have entered those rural areas and displaced government schools, it would have already happened. Despite all their ills, only governments are able to provide any sort of education in those areas. Even to this date, 69% of all schools in Karnataka are directly run by the government, and a further 14% of all schools require government aid to run (source: http://schooleducation.kar.nic.in/sch0708.html). If the government of Karnataka were to pull out of education today, 83% of Karnataka's schools would have to be shut down, with no private enterprise picking up this market share. There is a reason, too, why the government runs Kannada medium schools in Karnataka: it is impossible to find enough teachers to educate Kannadigas in the English medium (not that it is scientifically the best thing to do even if it's possible). Also, it is impossible for Kannadigas to be educated in the English medium effectively - and that's one stone from the mountain of evidence available about the effectiveness of mother-tongue education.

Lastly, the very thesis that developing countries are doing the right thing when it comes to education is laughable. Why should Karnataka turn to Somalia or Nigeria to understand what's the right thing to do? Why should Karnataka not learn from developed countries such as those in Europe and the US itself - where schools are run predominantly by the government? Sure, even there the ills of government schools surface; but Karnataka would become heaven overnight (okay, relatively - compared to what it is today) if its government can rise from the darkness and corruption it currently languishes in to making the mistakes which the government of say Sweden or Texas or California makes when it comes to education. It would be a great graduation if the government of Karnataka can stop making the fatal mistakes it is making today and start making the mistakes which the governments of developed countries make! Why should developing states learn from how the poorest people in the world are educating themselves, and not look up to how the richest people in the world are educating themselves?

In summary, educationists cannot overlook the scientific fact that mother-tongue education is best, even if that's what the public wishes to do (there isn't sufficient evidence that that's their wish, either). Also, public opinion - when it contradicts science - cannot be taken for granted by educationists, whether they're libertarian or non-libertarian. Thus, it makes no sense to accelerate the proliferation of low-cost English-medium private schools anywhere in Karnataka or indeed, anywhere in the developing world (which mostly speaks no European tongue). Those low-cost private schools have to be run in the mother-tongue medium to be effective and to be compliant with the basic laws of the science of education.

Note: I'll follow up with another post on the term Beautiful Tree itself (Tooley borrows it from M. K. Gandhi), and examine how beautiful the tree really was, if it was at all. Stay connected.

The first principle of colonization: call natives "fringe"

This is the second and concluding part of my reply to Mr. Raghavan's article in the DNA, arguing that the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (I believe this is what he means, not Kannada Rakshana Vedike as referred to by him) and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena are fringe groups, and that there are two "solutions" for eliminating the natives vs. migrants argument. In the first post on this topic I showed that this argument must not be eliminated at all, in the first place.

Mr. E Raghavan refers to the KRV and MNS as fringe groups and accuses them of drawing the line for cultural compliance, making outrageous demands which amount to emotional extortion.

First of all, on what basis does Mr. Raghavan refer to the above organizations as fringe groups? Are they fringe because they stand for those who form an undisputed majority in their own states - the natives? Are they fringe because they stand for the rights of the natives, the language and culture of the natives? Are they fringe because they stand for the protection and development of the natives? On what basis can anybody call them fringe?

I'll tell you the answer. It's on the basis of a deep-rooted intolerance of human diversity and the dangerous and baseless belief that unity is achieved only by the destruction of diversity. If India speaks in two dozen tongues, that is the reality of India. But once one dislikes that reality, everything which downplays that reality starts looking sacrosanct and mainstream, while everything which upholds that reality starts looking base and fringe.

What is the best way of downplaying that reality? It is to call both those who are the cause for that diversity (the natives) as well as those who protect that diversity (organizations of natives) as fringe! As soon as you call the protectors of human diversity as fringe, you become the mainstream! And since the single most important trait of the natives is that they stay put in their own states, that itself becomes fringe behavior, and to migrate becomes mainstream behavior! Extending this logic, the trivial migrant population becomes Mainstream India and the majority native population becomes Fringe India. And then it is argued that Mainstream India should be given preference over Fringe India. What a smooth swapping of titles!

With natives and those who stand for the rights of natives becoming fringe, so become the native language, the native culture, the native skin-color, the native food, the native attire, the native everything. And by the same token, everything migrant becomes the non-fringe, or the mainstream: the language of the migrants, the skin-color of the migrants, the food of the migrants, the attire of the migrants, everything of the migrants! By the above logic, 95% of Indians (who stay put in their own states) are fringe, and the 5% who do migrate for food, clothing and shelter are suddenly mainstream!

Remember one thing: when everything native is being discarded as fringe and everything migrant is being elevated as mainstream, what is in progress is colonization. Nothing less. Accepting this is accepting colonization. Accepting this is accepting death of the natives. Accepting this is accepting the argument that the Europeans are the mainstream and the native Red Indians are the fringe - in the land of the latter!

The first counter-argument which arises in the camp of Mr. Raghavan and his friends is that he's calling only the groups (KRV and MNS) as fringe, not the natives as a whole. Now this does not make sense at all, because whether you like it or not, these organizations stand for the rights of the natives in their respective states. These are legitimate ways in which the natives organize themselves to address their concerns. The natives have every right to organize themselves, don't they? If the natives are not fringe, why are their organizations fringe? Who gave Mr. Raghavan the right to decide what is mainstream?

The second counter-argument which arises is that these groups are fringe because they indulge in emotional violence (Mr. Raghavan himself argues that they do not indulge in any real physical violence). Now this is a very tall claim. If what these organizations do is emotional violence, what do you call the slow colonization of the states by Hindi speakers? What do you call the slow, state-supported colonization of Karnataka and Maharashtra by Hindi speakers? What do you call the higher status conferred to Hindi speakers by the Constitution of India itself? Is that the milk of human kindness poured on the natives in Karnataka and Maharashtra? If that is the milk of human kindness, why is this fringe?

If it were not India's political system which created the mess in which Karnataka and Maharashtra are today, there would probably never have been any KRV or MNS. Migration, as I have argued in my first post on this topic, is absolutely fine as long as it is not state-funded, i.e., polluted by the Nation. The government of India and state governments in states like Bihar fund migration in broad daylight. That is a form of forced juxtaposition which ultimately leads to hatred. It's a pity that many urban Indians do not understand that migrants are no more Indian than the natives. It's a pity that even in the 21st century, natives and their organizations are relegated to the fringe in the open, while migrants are openly described as mainstream. It's a pity that parts of India are colonizing other parts in broad daylight, and attempts to stop such colonization and uphold life and liberty are being described as fringe.

Now, there is no point in going to the two "solutions" which Mr. Raghavan proposes to stop the migrants vs natives argument. I will gloss over them only briefly, since the very attempt to stop that argument is colonial in nature and therefore unethical.

The first "solution" given by Mr. Raghavan is to go by the book, that is, the constitution of India - as if the book is sacrosanct and immune to amendment. That itself is childishness to begin with, especially given the fact that an amendment is certainly due which strips Hindi off its sole official-language status. It's only a matter of time before this amendment becomes a reality. According to Mr. Raghavan, since Indians have the right to go and settle anywhere, nobody has the right to stop anybody from settling anywhere. So far so good, and all correct. But does the constitution give the right for migrants to destroy the local language and culture? Does the constitution give the right for migrants to go about openly denigrating the sentiments of the natives? Or does the constitution deny the right for natives to organize themselves against such crimes? The answer to all these questions is 'no'. So much for the "first solution".

The second "solution" that Mr. Raghavan gives to that non-problem is to convert Bengaluru and Mumbai into city-states, because, he argues, that gives them the "necessary" economic and geographical independence. Now this is the exact claim of a colonizer: "Give me this piece of land and make it economically and geographically independent from the rest of your property"! This also openly betrays a serious lack of concern for the natives because of which Mr. Raghavan wants a separate colony for the migrants.

Neither "solution" is worth anything, nor can the migrants vs natives argument be eliminated. The real problem is the atrophy of the urban Indian mind and the growing indifference to nearly a billion of our brethren - the natives who stay put in their own states, speak their own languages and are steeped in their own cultures; a majority of whom never have the need to cross inter-state boundaries ever in their lives. It is this atrophy which needs to be eliminated.

Truly, it is the collection of atrophied urban Indian minds which is the fringe, not what Mr. Raghavan from that fringe describes as such. The KRV and MNS have legitimate goals in front of them - of upholding the rights of the natives. They have the democratic right to protect the interests of natives, and are directly fathered by the historical neglect of natives in the Indian political system. It is high time the atrophied urban Indian mind realizes this. It is high time the growing gap between educated urban Indians who really care for the natives (who form a majority in India) and such organizations is closed by a process of mutual understanding.

When wrong hands control taps

KINGSHUK NAG has a revealing piece in the Times of India today. According to him, an important reason for the disastrous floods this time is that the keys to water resources lie in the hands of ignorant and corrupt politicians in the three states involved: Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh - politicians who don't realize the impact their excursions outside the limits of ethics have on human life and property. Kingshuk Nag's article reconstructs the events leading to the floods and the role played by these politicians.

In short, Nag's thesis is that the politicians force their states to collect unreasonable amounts of water in the dams without realizing that they're storing death in liquid form with sufficient potential energy to wipe off entire civilizations. And when it rains heavily and the dams cannot hold the water any more, they have no option but to release the water. There is no question of collaboration between states in working out a release plan since action must be taken immediately.

So, while the rain water could have simply flown to the sea, ignorant and corrupt politicians holding the keys to dams in the river's path can create floods which kill hundreds of human beings, destroy lakhs of acres of crop and render thousands homeless.

Yes, I wouldn't blame God for this at all. He gave us water when we needed it most and where we needed it most. It took brain-dead and corrupt mis-users of power to convert that very water into poison. Another feather in the cap of Indian politics. This is, if you will, the forced juxtaposition of water accelerated by corrupt political machinery. While water would have organically flown to the sea, it took a corrupt political machinery to force-juxtapose it in the flood-affected areas. While man and water can generally evolve a relationship of cooperation and harmony, it took politics to convert it into non-cooperation and hatred.

No, I don't mean we shouldn't have dams. I mean - we shouldn't have those ignorant, brain-dead, corrupt politicians. And no, I don't mean we shouldn't have politicians in general. I mean - those politicians shouldn't be ignorant, brain-dead and corrupt.

Are natives any less Indian?

E RAGHAVAN of the DNA makes an oft-made claim in the English media that the locals vs. migrants argument must be eliminated. There are huge mistakes in Mr. Raghavan's understanding of India and its problems, and his analysis and conclusions are at best childish. If implemented, his recommendations will end up destroying India.

Firstly, the author does not quote any rhyme or reason why the natives vs. migrants argument should be eliminated. Why should it be eliminated? What are the implications of eliminating this argument? Has he given any thought to what sort of an argument this is, in reality? I refuse to use the world locals; the word natives is a more accurate representation because these people are the original inhabitants of the states - like the Red Indians of America. Trying to eliminate the Red Indians vs. Europeans argument is nothing but legalizing imperialism and the use of force and governmental machinery to eliminate human diversity. Yes, it has been legalized and the United States of America is now erected. Yes, the Red Indians have been sent to their graves together with their cries for justice. But is that license for the same crime to be repeated in India? Should India be built on the graves of nearly a billion native Indians who live in their own states, graves which resonate with muted cries for justice, liberty and equality?

Please note that I am not against the admixture of the different peoples of India at a cultural level - in celebration of the spirit of Tagore's societies. In fact, such admixture is beneficial to all. What I am against is the entry into these matters of the Indian Nation with its skewed political and commercial interests and the consequent harm done to the native inhabitants of India's states. It is when the wrongly defined Indian Nation enters the scene that organic evolution turns into forced juxtaposition, cooperation and harmony into non-cooperation and hatred. I have argued earlier that the very concept of Nation need not be ulterior; we at Banavasi Balaga dream of a truly federal Indian Nation where life and liberty are upheld in all participating states. The Indian Nation need not be wrongly defined.

The political and commercial interests of the Indian Nation today are skewed for three reasons: (1) because the Indian constitution itself accords a higher status to the speakers of Hindi and languages close to Hindi, and (2) because the central government is not truly federal in nature, and (3) because of rampant corruption in politicians who operate from the Indian parliament - politicians from both the Hindi states and the non-Hindi states. No system of politics or commerce has the right to dislodge the native inhabitants of a state or snatch away their right to life and liberty, to education and employment. Yet, Indian politics and commerce today have been granted the right to indulge in this crime. Biharis being paid handsomely by the the Govt. of Bihar to migrate to Bengaluru the night before the interview to obtain jobs in the Railways is not the mating dance of two well-meaning societies intending to develop ideals in cooperation with one another! It is a perfect example of the greedy Nation goading neighbouring societies in greed of material wealth (in the case of India, the goading is internal and the greed is of a sub-nation, that's all)! This is not right or ethical from any established definition of right and ethical.

Secondly, it is utter disregard for the interests of the masses, together with a flawed idea of India which drives people like Mr. Raghavan to prioritize the unreasonable whims and fancies of migrants over the rights of natives. Why should political and commercial systems be built which prioritize the unreasonable whims and fancies of migrants over natives? Who said only migrants are real Indians? Who said natives are Indians of a lesser God? In reality, these migrants - who form a trivial percentage and who must form a trivial percentage in non-barbarian, non-nomadic countries - are the fringe, and the native inhabitants of India's states are the non-fringe or the core.

While people like Mr. Raghavan feel they're contributing to India's unity by dancing to the whims and fancies of migrants at the cost of the rights of the natives (possibly because of being migrants themselves), they are in reality only aiding to the disintegration of India and unknowingly becoming signatories to the very crime committed by Europeans in the USA about two to three centuries ago. They are unknowingly becoming party to the crime of forced juxtaposition and endangering the process of organic evolution. The way to unite India is not by legalizing ethnic crime. The way to unite India is not to position migrants as children of a greater God and natives as children of a lesser God.

Again, I am not against migration in general. There is nothing wrong in migration which is free from systemic/political/constitutional encouragement or the sanction of a polluted Nation (to use Tagore's terminology), where the interacting groups themselves uphold or reject whatever is perceived as worth upholding or rejecting - even in the realm of commerce (Tagore wouldn't license commerce like me here, though). However, what I am completely opposed to is the use of governmental machinery to accelerate the forced juxtaposition of one people on another. I am against the use of governmental machinery to legalize the upholding of the whims and fancies of migrants over the rights of natives. Anyone thinking with a clean mind ought to be against it, too. After all, India is not just its trivial migrant population. Systems of governance, education and employment which are detrimental to the natives and beneficial to migrants are not worth building.

Natives aren't any less Indian. Nor are migrants any more Indian. However, a flawed idea of India and disregard for the native masses and the diversity therein can turn anybody into a non-Indian, even anti-Indian.

Note: I will post a follow-up article on Mr. Raghavan's statements about the Karnataka Rakshana Vedike (I believe this is what he means, not Kannada Rakshana Vedike as referred to by him) and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and his two "solutions" for eliminating the natives vs. migrants argument - an argument which I have shown should not be eliminated at all. Stay tuned.

We need to graduate from flood-relief to flood-control

It's that time again. In the last three days alone, floods in North Karnataka have taken 156 lives (officially), rendered tens of thousands homeless and destroyed lakhs of acres of agricultural crop. In the decreasing order of deaths reported stand Bijapur, Bagalkote, Raichur, Gulbarga, Koppal, Bellary, Davangere, Chitradurga, Gadag, Belagavi, Uttara Kannada, Bidar and Dharwad. These districts cover nearly 50% of the total land area of Karnataka. The flood has hit Andhra Pradesh too, but the losses there are considerably lower.

Hundreds are dying in Karnataka as I write this, and tens of thousands losing everything they have. Let's not forget this: we are experiencing a bloody, huge, flood.

The whole pattern of heavy rain followed by water released by dams in Maharashtra, followed by Government of Karnataka applying to the Central Government for help for even petty things such as helicopters - is not new. The Government of Karnataka is openly helpless in protecting its own people from these almost predictable disasters.

The Central Government, too, has failed in ensuring that neighbouring states work out a decent plan for handling river water excesses. Why wasn't Maharashtra asked to stop releasing Krishna waters before all these lives were taken? And why were helicopters not kept close to flood-prone areas? Flood relief efforts are so badly organized that these helicopters, which fly in from faraway areas, run out of fuel when they get to the spot! Does it take rocket science to station them locally? Or does it take a highly centralized administration (which converts state-governments into havens of low-calibre people)?

Of course, all this is still flood-relief. It's high time we start using the other term: flood control. States which take the lives of their citizens seriously do flood control, not flood relief. While floods caused the Netherlands to start (and yes, complete) the Delta Works and England to build the Thames Barrier, our heads of government, at best, to go to the river to offer prayers to the River Deity!

We have a long way to go before we learn how to live exist.

Picture courtesy: AFP