National Standards Metastasize

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Below, Sandra Stotsky observes that the new national standards demand a reduction in the amount of literature taught in K-12 in order to facilitate more reading of nonfiction.

Stotsky makes a strong case that this demand is equally unnecessary (since schools have already pushed out literature in favor of nonfiction), unjustified (since there are no grounds for the view, being adopted in the name of national standards, that assigning more nonfiction in K-12 English classes will help prepare students to read college textbooks in math, economics, physics, psychology, etc.) and disastrous for real education (because literary and imaginative education is as essential to decent human life as it is neglected by the government school monopoly).

But let’s not overlook a more fundamental point: when we decided to have national standards, nobody told us that it would mean forcing schools to assign less literature. But that’s what’s happening.

Why? Friedrich Hayek outlines it in The Road to Serfdom. Even a small amount of government planning must – must – inevitably either metastasize both quantitatively and qualitatively, or else fail to accomplish its purpose.

Government planning, however small, must metastasize quantitatively. Government gets our consent to plan A. But if A must be planned, that requires control of B. And that requires control of C…

It must also metastasize qualitatively. For government to plan A, government must determine the scheme of values that governs A. This requires not only a mandatory, government-imposed view of the value of A; it requires a mandatory, government-imposed view of the value of everything. In order to plan A you must determine where A stands relative to everything else, and that means government controls not just your view of A but your view of everything.

To the extent that we prevent planning from metastasizing, it fails. To the extent that metastasizes, it succeeds – and we lose our freedom.

Image HT Ukuleleman

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3 Responses to National Standards Metastasize

  1. GGW says:

    I’m not sure I follow. Stotsky seems to be arguing for the continuation of 50 different state standards. Not their elimination.

    But your view seems to be…no government involvement (state or federal). Am I getting that right?

  2. Greg Forster says:

    Not quite. I didn’t argue for zero government planning – that would be anarchy. I do favor ending the government monopoly on schooling, but that’s a separate issue. Your question is a good one; good enough that answering it properly will require more detail than I can handle in a comment, so I’ll try to circle around to this in a follow-up blog post soon.

  3. Why did standards metastasize? Robert Heilbroner put it simply, in __The Worldly Philosophers__: the easiest way to walk through a crowd is to get everyone else to stand in ordered rows and columns.

    This current focus on “standards” will fail to improve the product of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel’s schools (the “public” schools) because “standards” are a distraction from the real problem, the disconnect between local knowledge and remote authority. National standards and the impending national curriculum will make things worse.

    “Standards” are a distraction because they have little to do with performance, as a little reflection will show. First a few definitions:
    1. A measure is an order relation on a set.
    2. A test is a procedure or device for establishing a measure.
    3. A standard is a unit of measurement. A kilogram weight is a standard. A yardstick is a standard.

    Academic standards are to intellectual growth what yardsticks are to physical growth. Platinum yardsticks will not make children taller. Elaborate academic standards will not make children smarter.

    P.S. to Chester Finn,
    What would you say to Federal prescription of age-specific shoe sizes? Or are you cool with “double standards”?

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