Wednesday 8 May 2002

No such thing as a free school

Allan Massie writes today in the Daily Mail about a recent opinion poll held in Scotland. He says:
The most interesting and controversial questions related to the continuance of Roman Catholic schools and to sectarianism in Scotland…. But the schools question is important because it raises a real philosophical issue. It places two things, each of which is desirable, in opposition. Social harmony is desirable and it is at least arguable that the existence of separate schools makes this more difficult to achieve.

But if social harmony is desirable, and only a fool would think otherwise, freedom is also a good thing; and the entitlement of parents to choose faith-based schooling for their children is a freedom not lightly to be denied them.

He goes on to say:

There can be no question that the ending of religious separatism – which means the abolition of Catholic schools – would deprive parents of a freedom that they have good reason to value highly.

Massie seems to think that “social” harmony and freedom are in opposition. But there is no lack of harmony in a free society. The “problem” of religious schools is a consequence of state financing of education. We can hardly blame Moslem parents from wanting their own tax-funded schools, given the current situation. As always, it is the heavy-handed presence of government that is the cause of disharmony. There is no public debate about harmonisation of the provision of food, clothes or books – we all buy what we want in the marketplace. Once education has been privatised there will be harmony in our schools and far better education as well.

Ironically, in Massie’s second article on a quite separate subject he says:

Hayek wrote “Social is a weasel word which has acquired the power to empty the nouns it qualifies of their meaning.”
Quite so.