On Public Education And Child Labor

Way back in “Defeat The Right In Three Minutes” — the article that made me famous — I said, “Many cheap-labor conservatives are hostile to public education. They think it should be privatized.” You would be forgiven if you accused me of hyperbole. That is, after all, a pretty extreme position, one you would think would have gone out with the guilded age. Unfortunately, I was not engaging in hyperbole. Those bastards really are hostile to public education, and not only that, support a return to child labor. If you don’t believe me, just surf on over to “American Thinker” and check “How to Accomplish Education Reform” by one Christopher Chantrill.

Get a load of this.

David Gelernter proposes that we simply abolish public schools and give the money to parents.

But conservatives believe in gradual reform. We do not want to abolish anything, not all at once. So let us propose something mild and inoffensive.

Reform One: Repeal compulsory attendance laws now. How mild and inoffensive is that? Oh, I see. You don’t trust other people to educate their children properly.

But you are wrong, you know. There has never been a problem getting parents to send their children to school. In the 1830s in Britain, James Mill (father of John Stuart) found that poor parents would eat potatoes in order to find the sixpence to send their children to the local village school.

Huh? Parents want their children to get educated, so getting rid of public schools will help them do it? Of course, all children won’t be getting educated in our new “village schools.”

In How the Other Half Lives in 1880 Jacob Riis found that the only immigrant children in New York that didn’t go to school were needed at work to put food on the table.

No doubt about it, having a job to help put food on the table — because mom and dad get paid so little they can’t support the family themselves — will sure put a damper on your academic endeavors. Does Chantrill think child labor is a bad idea? Oh, hell no.

But what about child labor? Yes, what about it, and how bad was it anyway? It is hard to tell. The facts of child labor, you could argue, were polluted by labor unions with an interest in excluding children from the labor force and landowners with an interest in keeping their tenants at home working the land with their unpaid children.

Have you ever noticed how conservatives always know everybody’s “angle” — while they pretend like they don’t have one? Yes indeed, those dispicable labor unions — can’t have people organizing themselves against “organized capital,” now can we — were excluding able bodied children because of the “competition” doncha know. It apparently never occurs to Chantrill that union members might actually HAVE SOME CHILDREN, and might prefer to give their children, I don’t know, a childhood maybe. Maybe union members with children preferred to earn a living wage themselves, so their children could go to school — public school.

And what would cheap labor ideology be without a warm fuzzy narrative to go along with it.

There’s the Mexican immigrant who sold bubble gum on the street as a kid of five. From age seven he worked and went to school both. In The Case Against Adolescence Robert Epstein Jr. asked Pedro, now a cook in San Diego, about his child labor. Pedro talked “about his past with fondness and pride.

‘To make only ten pesos, but then to take it home to help feed my family-it made me feel good.’”

Isn’t that precious? A five year old kid is out making ten pesos for a days’ work — that’s like a dime — and has to take it home and give it to mom and dad, who are doing good if they make ten bucks a day. Since Pedro is now a cook in San Diego we know what those parents did. They headed north to the US, where the minimum wage is ten times what it is Mexico, and where Pedro can go to school instead of work. One wonders if Chantrill is a “Great Wall Of Texas” advocate, while also promoting “free trade” for capitalists who want to move goods and money freely across the border?

But don’t worry. Chantrill has the solution to the immigration problem. “India.”

Today in Hyderabad’s inner city slum, according to James Tooley, one quarter of the schools are unsubsidized black-market private schools for the poor that charge tuition and outperform the government schools. Writes Clive Crook in The Atlantic:

“Remarkably, some of the slots in these private slum schools were offered free or at reduced rates: The parents of full-fee students, desperately poor themselves, willingly subsidized those in direst need.”

And don’t you worry. If those Indian children aren’t in black market private schools, there are plenty of employers putting them to work as we speak. But I expect Chantrill knows that. It’s all part of the new “flat” world of the global economy — the one where wealth never seems to trickle down enough for parents to support their children on their own wages. In that new “flat” world, your wages will be declining, and your children will be going to work, the better to compete with workers in India and Mexico. This son of a bitch thinks that’s a good thing.

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