Polemics & Exchanges

On Reforming Education

Michael McMahon’s otherwise insightful article on the sad state of the public schools in England (“Education and Authority,” Views, January) is marred by a wrongheaded conclusion.  Mr. McMahon avers that the decline in the quality of education in England is the result of education having become a commodity.  In his final paragraph, he laments that “Education is no longer a gift to be shared but a commodity to be bought and sold.”  In actuality, the problem is not that education has become a commodity but that it has ceased to be one.

If the buying and selling of education were the source of the problem, the decline should be manifesting itself more palpably in the private schools than in the public schools.  After all, the private schools unabashedly treat education as a commodity, which is purchased by parents for the benefit of their children.  In the public schools, however, the free choice that accompanies a private purchase is completely suppressed.  Mr. McMahon himself explodes the myth of “choice” in the public-school realm very nicely.  He also implies the great superiority of the private schools in England in the first sentence of his article: “I had taught in private schools for years, but I hesitated before entering the classroom to teach my first lesson...

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