RE: continuity of self [ was META: Sept. 11 and Singularity]

From: James Rogers (
Date: Fri Sep 20 2002 - 19:23:38 MDT

On Fri, 2002-09-20 at 17:06, Ben Goertzel wrote:
> Just look at the nature of public school systems. Most people working in
> the public school systems really care about kids, and are "good people" who
> care about good education... but yet the school systems as a whole often
> acts to oppose good education. For instance, the teachers' union fights
> against charter schools, pays legislators to burden charter school
> legislation with bureaucratic counterproductive nonsense, etc.

The problem with your example is that the system artificially behaves
this way. The poor results of the school system are the direct
unintended consequences of the laws and regulations that education
currently happens under. You are assuming the value of a premise that
is itself the problem.

As most people are aware, public education didn't always exist in the
U.S., with it being implemented as late as 1920 in some States. Before
the advent of public education, the US was the most literate country in
the world, with some states in the mid-19th century boasting literacy
rates higher than they are today in those same states.

Massachusetts was among the first states to dabble in public education,
and opened public schools in the 1830's as an ideological alternative to
the vast number and range of private schools in operation. The schools
were an utter failure, both in terms of the quality of the teaching and
in their ability to attract even the poorest students even though they
were free. The quality of the education provided by these schools was
regularly savaged by representatives in the State government, a number
of whom thought the whole idea of public education was a disaster and
this experiment in an open market proved it. Even while the public
schools were free, virtually everyone chose to go to private schools.
There is substantial historical writings during that period to this
effect, as it was a topic of significant discussion. Note that even the
poorest children were able to get a private education -- there were many
free schools around to provide for this.

As a solution to the problem of the public schools not attracting
students during the twenty year experiment, the State of Massachusetts
passed a body of legislation in 1851 that effectively forced most of the
private schools out of business and mandated school attendance within
strict guidelines that were designed to favor public schools. Because
the public education system could not compete on an open market for
education, the State legislatively eliminated the competition.
Massachusetts was the first State to do this, and most of the rest of
the States copied this model eventually. It was not a popular decision
at the time.

This is one of the cases where we have a long history of both private
and government provided solutions, as well as significant periods of
time where both these solutions existed in parallel, allowing people to
vote with their feet and dollars for what they preferred. The sad part
is that even though private education was considered vastly better and
widely recognized as such at the time when both options were available,
the government still chose to force people to use public education.

I did a lot of research (due to a heated argument) on the history of
education in the U.S. a year or two ago and was amazed at what I found.
I have since become avidly against the institution of government-run
education, as history does not look favorably on it at all and the
people who actually had an honest choice between the two despised public
education as an option for the very same reasons that people despise it
today. It is something that should never have happened, but now that we
have exceptionally good data points for all cases, nobody has the
courage to actually switch back to the model that worked best.

Most people-systems that exhibit pathological behaviors are that way
because somebody created a rule that makes them that way, regardless of
the intent of the rule.

Admittedly off-topic,

-James Rogers

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