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David Kirkpatrick

School Choice History - Part III

by David W. Kirkpatrick,
Senior Education Fellow, US Freedom Foundation

This is the third essay drawing upon pp 716-740, "Of the Expense of the
Institutions for the Education of Youth, in Adam Smith's, The Wealth of
Nations,," NY: The Modern Library, 1937 (1776), the original source for
today's educational debate over direct funding of students rather than of the
institutions they attend, especially when such attendance is mandatory.

As noted earlier, because Smith's views are so provocative, go
well beyond student funding and choice to address the effects of different
funding options, and, at 25 pages too long for this format, the following
excerpts are Smith's own words. Where he refers to college or university, the
word "school" could often apply as well.

"Whatever forces a certain number of students to any college or
university, independent of the merit or reputation of the teachers, tends
more or less to diminish the necessity of that merit or reputation.

"If in each college the tutor or teacher...should not be
voluntarily chosen by the student, but appointed by the head of the college; and if, in case of neglect, inability, or bad usage, the student should not be
allowed to change him for another...such a regulation would not only tend
very much to extinguish all emulation among the different tutors of the same
college, but to diminish very much in all of them the necessity of

"The discipline of colleges and universities is in general contrived, not for the benefit of the students, but for the interest, or more properly speaking, for the ease of the masters..Where the masters, however, really perform their duty, there are no examples, I believe, that the greater part of the students ever neglect theirs. No discipline is ever requisite to force attendance upon lectures which are really worth the attending,..."

"Those parts of education...for the teaching of which there are
no public institutions , are generally the best taught."

"In England, the public schools are much less corrupted than the
universities...The reward of the school master in most cases depends
principally, in some cases almost entirely, upon the fees or honor aries of his scholars."

"In general, the richest and best endowed universities have been
the slowest in adopting those improvements, and the most averse to permit
any considerable change in the established plan of education. Those
improvements were more easily introduced into some of the poorer universities, in which the teachers, depending upon their reputation for the greater part of
their subsistence, were obliged to pay more attention to the current
opinions of the world."

"Till about the time of Marcus Antoninus, however, no teacher
appears to have had any salary from the public, or to have had any other
emoluments, but what arose from the honor aries or fees of his scholars... There was nothing equivalent to the privileges of graduation, and to have
attended any of those schools was not necessary, in order to be permitted to
practice any particular trade or profession...The teachers had no jurisdiction
over their pupils...besides that natural authority, which superior virtue
and abilities never fail to procure from young people towards those who are
entrusted with any part of their education."

"In modern times, the diligence of public teachers is more or
less corrupted by the circumstances, which render them more or less
independent of their success and reputation in their particular professions.

Their salaries too put the private the same state with a merchant who attempts to trade without a bounty, in competition with those who trade
with a considerable one...The endowments of schools and colleges have...not
only corrupted the diligence of public teachers, but have rendered it almost
impossible to have any good private ones."

"Were there no public institutions for education, no system, no
science would be taught for which there was not some demand or which the
circumstances of the times did not render it either necessary or convenient,
or at least fashionable to learn.

"Were there no public institutions for education, a gentleman, after going through, with application and abilities, the most complete course of education which the circumstances of the times were supposed to afford, could come into the world completely ignorant of every thing which is the common subject of conversation among gentlemen and men of the world."

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