The Distraction of Altruism

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Walter Williams draws an apt analogy between disruptive students and drunk drivers:

No one argues that yesteryear's students were angels. In Philadelphia, where I grew up, students who posed severe disciplinary problems were removed. Daniel Boone School was for unruly boys, and Carmen was for girls. Some people might respond: But what are we going to do with the students kicked out? Whether or not there are resources to help them is not the issue. The critical issue is whether they should be permitted to make education impossible for students who are capable of learning. It's a policy question similar to: What do you do when you have both drunken drivers and sober drivers on the road? The first order of business is to get the drunken drivers off the road. Whether there are resources available to help the drunks is, at best, a secondary issue. [bold added]
Williams is right to remind us that schools are intended to teach kids who are able and willing -- at least without an inordinate amount of adult supervision -- to learn. What interests me is that I found his analogy refreshing and why.

Education, like medical care, is something that statists will go on and on about being necessary (which is correct), and therefore something the government ought to guarantee everyone (which is wrong, since this inevitably requires the government to steal money).

What is interesting is how this presumption that it is okay to steal to help someone who doesn't have something leads to a race to the bottom. Johnny is poor, and the easiest way (they lazily imagine) to educate him is to make someone else pay for it. If he underperforms for any reason, he gets more help, be it in the form of more loot stolen from adults or of a shift of time or resources away from the other children and towards him. The focus is entirely on any observable, negative outcome -- if it entails an alleged lack of whatever it is that is deemed necessary and regardless of what must be done to be able to say that need was met. (Just look at the rest of the column for examples! The fact that Williams has to reach to the world of driving to make his readers see the problem with that approach tells us just how ingrained this kind of thinking is regarding children and education. Altruism is so ingrained, in fact, that people routinely are failing to see that it is causing more and more children to be deprived of an actual education even as more and more loot is thrown at the problem.

Regarding altruism, Ayn Rand says the following:
Do not hide behind such superficialities as whether you should or should not give a dime to a beggar. That is not the issue. The issue is whether you do or do not have the right to exist without giving him that dime. The issue is whether you must keep buying your life, dime by dime, from any beggar who might choose to approach you. The issue is whether the need of others is the first mortgage on your life and the moral purpose of your existence. The issue is whether man is to be regarded as a sacrificial animal. Any man of self-esteem will answer: "No." Altruism says: "Yes."
Does your child have a right to study a level he is capable of reaching? Without constantly being distracted? Without fear of assault? So long as you have or can find a way to pay for this that doesn't involve theft, absolutely. Public educators may mouth agreement with you, but their actions resoundingly say otherwise. By focusing on those who are needy, these "educators" ignore the able and the good, consigning them to ignorance and stunting their development.

-- CAV

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