Triage in Public Education
By Gary North
Triage is a battlefield concept out of World War I.
A medic brings a severely wounded man on a stretcher into the medical tent. A uniformed physician makes an initial prognosis. The man on the stretcher will probably:
Live, no matter what
Die, no matter what
Survive, but only if he gets immediate treatment
If the prognosis is either one or two, the physician has the medic put the stretcher in a corner. If the assessment is number three, the wounded man gets care.
There are limited resources in a medical unit. They should be allocated wherever they will have a statistically significant outcome.
It would be cruel to those in group three to waste resources on those in groups one and two.
This is economics in action.
Those who speak on behalf of “the wounded in general” cry out: “Unfair! Everyone deserves the same amount of help.” Wherever this outlook prevails, there will be more deaths. Those in group two will all still die, and more of those in group three will die.
The critics of triage shout: “That doesn’t matter. We must treat all men by the same principle.” But this a self-defeating principle. There will be more battlefield deaths.
Kids in the ghetto are statistically doomed if they stay in the public schools. These schools should be closed. They will not be closed.
Kids in middle-class suburbs will get mediocre educations, and will fail, flourish, or bump along in life, irrespective of their formal educations. These schools should be closed.
Kids in academic charter schools will either fail, enter the upper middle class, or else perform magnificently, based mostly on personal contacts they make in formal education settings. These schools should be closed.
The best policy is to close the schools.
In other words, I am not talking about triage for the kids. I am talking about triage for the schools.
The public schools are in group two. They are likely to die, no matter what. The only economically relevant question today is this: “How long will voters authorize the tax money required to keep them on life support?”
Salman Khan’s Khan Academy educates over 25 million students free of charge. This will go to a hundred million soon enough. It is clear that the public school model has failed.
There can be equivalent programs for every worldview and every parental budget. The Ron Paul Curriculum is an example. For under a million dollars, any group could get a K-12 program online within 12 months. If the teachers are willing to work for a piece of the action, you don’t need a million dollars.
Can there be electronic grading? There can be for middle-level programs: not charter school. If there are no essay exams, a computer program can grade exams. In community colleges, this has been done for a quarter century. Essay exams need teachers. But essays were abandoned a quarter century ago. Doubt me? Watch this.
Within 20 years, algorithms will replace all teachers except for those who help retarded kids who will barely be functional, no matter how much someone spends on them.
POLITICALLY CORRECT EDUCATION
Tax-funded schools are a means the establishment uses to place limits on what is considered intellectually respectable. It is all about political correctness. It has been ever since the Puritan oligarchs in Massachusetts made local tax-funded, pastorally-policed education mandatory in every village, beginning in 1642. The General Court (legislature) passed this law in 1642.
That the selectmen of every town, in the several precincts and quarters where they dwell, shall have a vigilant eye over their brethren and neighbors, to see, first, that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families, as not to endeavor to teach, by themselves or others, their children and apprentices as much learning as may enable them perfectly to read the English tongue, and knowledge of the capital laws, upon penalty of 20 shillings for each neglect therein; also, that all masters of families do, once a week, at least, catechize their children and servants in the grounds and principles of religion."
Five years later, the General Court added this:
"It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep man from the knowledge of the Scriptures... and to the end that learning may not be buried in the grave of our forefathers... It is therefore ordered... that every township within this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to the number of fifty householders, shall then forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him, to write and read... And it is further ordered, that where any town shall increase to the number of one hundred families or householders, they shall set up a grammar school, the masters thereof being able to instruct youths so far as they may be fitted for the university."
A little less than two centuries later, tax-funded churches ended in Massachusetts (1833), but tax-funded schools continued. Horace Mann, a Unitarian lawyer, was put in charge of a new state department of education in 1837. They are the model today. These are established churches. There are dogmas, all Darwinist. There is a priesthood: state-certified teachers. There are seminaries: universities. State schools function as centers of social and intellectual control, just as they did in 1642.
But, as in Massachusetts after 1800, these established churches are losing members. They are less and less influential. There are institutional alternatives. The voters still vote to fund them, just as voters did in 1800. But the handwriting is on the wall: "You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting."
Tax-funded schools are like the wounded man on the stretcher who has been assessed as dying, no matter what.
ADVICE TO PARENTS
What should you tell the parent of a child in the inner city ghetto? "Either move the family or else move the child into the home. Get him a cheap computer, and let him learn online at the Khan Academy."
What should you tell the parents of a child in the suburbs? "Get the child educated online."
What about the parents of a very bright child? "Get him online at MIT, Harvard, or any of the universities in Coursera." Let them imitate the parents of Ahaan Rungta.
Ahaan Rungta and his family moved from Calcutta, India, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 2001, the same year MIT announced OpenCourseWare (OCW), a bold plan to publish all of MIT's course materials online and to share them with the world for free. Little did his parents realize at the time that their two-year-old son -- already an avid reader -- would eventually acquire his entire elementary and secondary education from OpenCourseWare and MITx, and would be admitted to the MIT class of 2019 at the age of 15.
"When I was five years old my mom told me 'there's this thing called OCW,'" says Rungta, who was homeschooled. "I just couldn't believe how much material was available. From that moment on I spent the next few years taking OCW courses."
"Doctor, what should we do with this man? He is delirious. He keeps talking about being in the front lines."
"Put him in the corner, nurse. Give him a shot of morphine. That should reduce his pain."
"You mean there is no hope for him?"
"I mean we cannot afford to operate on him. Just give him morphine. Let him be comfortable in his last hours."
Tenure is morphine for state education. It will not be needed much longer.