October 29, 2006
Euro-Humanity Upon the WaneBy Christopher Chantrill
People have needs. When your liberal friend tells you that, he imagines that he's justified the whole panoply of liberal social programs. Stop being selfish and pay up.
But after a century of paying up, you get something like modern Europe. With all basic needs taken care of, the average Euro doesn't get the point of life. So s/he doesn't produce any life—children that is. That is the argument of Mark Steyn in his book America Alone. When all your needs are met by the European welfare state then you live life as any adolescent living in a family welfare state. You buy toys and entertainment with your allowance, and you complain while all the important decisions are made for you.
But is Steyn right?
Fortunately, in the remarkable series documentary project, filmmaker Michael Apted has provided us a historical record of just what happens over the long term to a people living under the welfare state. This month, in the weeks before the latest DVD debuts in mid November, you can see the latest episode in this amazing chronicle. The movie 49 Up is playing in selected theaters around the United States.
The documentary features interviews with a group of Britons who we first got to see as seven—year—olds in 1963 in the Granada TV documentary Seven Up. The project was conceived as a melodrama about the British class system. It featured three adorable little working class girls from a government elementary school in the East End of London contrasted with three insufferable upper—class West End prigs from a swank Kensington private school. Now these children of the Sixties are forty—nine.
It's a pity the whole think blew up in the filmmakers' faces. But it blew up for an interesting reason. In the mid—1960s the Labour Party reformed the British secondary school system and gutted the ancient grammar schools that provided a challenging academic program to children who could pass the "Eleven Plus" test. Instead the government decreed that every child would go to a new expert—designed comprehensive school where there would be no "selection by ability."
Maybe it's just a coincidence. The Up Series children who ended up as angry and bitter adults all went to comprehensive schools. The children who ended up divorced or as single parents went to comprehensive schools. The children who ended up on "incapacity benefit," or "job—seekers allowance," went to comprehensive schools.
"Bog standard" comprehensives is what they call them today.
OK, so the public schools aren't as good as they should be. But how can we hope to educate the children of the poor without universal, compulsory, expert—designed government education? People have needs!
We could ask the Third World. We could ask Professor James Tooley, who's done research on educational systems throughout the Third World. What he has found is that private school systems thrive precisely in the teeming slums where government education does not reach. The Old City of Hyderabad in India is a slum of 800,000 people. Tooley writes:
So what, you ask? We are just establishing a very small point.
Contrary to the received notion, it appears that the urban poor are not too poor, or too ignorant, or too feckless to send their children to school—or to pay for it.
And we are idly tossing into the air another very small idea, as inadvertently suggested by the documentary Up Series. What if children suckled at the teat of government schools generally grow up to be adult adolescents, don't bother to marry, and don't bother to have children?
They would be well on the way to the status of H.G. Wells' Eloi in
For when society sets itself
until it is too late.
People have needs, but they must need struggle to meet them.