All Commentary
Tuesday, May 1, 1973

A Reviewer’s Notebook – 1973/5


Way back at the beginning of the Sixties, before the U.S. started its descent into the maelstrom, I did a series on education for the Wall Street Journal. I considered myself a good anti-Statist then, but I made an exception (Leonard Read would call it philosophical “leaking”) for the institution of the public school. This country had accepted “free” public education ever since the Eighteen Forties, and the idea seemed inextricably imbedded in our strangely mixed culture. I kept saying to myself that lots of good people had come out of the public high school and that was all right as long as there were a few private schools around to provide competition.

In the course of writing my series I encountered Carl Hansen, head of the Washington, D.C., public school system. He had a grand educational revolution — in reality, a counter-revolution — going. Children in his schools were getting their reading by phonics. Spanish was taught in the third grade. Instructors could come into the Hansen system without taking the full complement of those ridiculous “methodology” courses that the teachers’ colleges considered necessary to “progressive” education. Hansen had one school — the Amidon School — that was a jewel. Anyone, whether black or white, could enroll in it if transportation could be worked out and if he or she could keep grades up to snuff. Needless to say, Hansen believed in a “track” system that would permit bright students to go ahead at their own swifter pace.

Hansen convinced me at the time that a good man could do much to purge the public school system of the “progressive” malaise. But Robert Love out in Wichita, Kansas, knew better. At about the time I was seeing a savior in Carl Hansen, Mr. Love was taking his three children, Randy, Robert, and Rebecca, out of the public schools of Wichita. The kids, as he says, weren’t learning anything, and Randy, the oldest, had become terribly confused when his fourth grade teacher made an example of him because he chose to exempt himself from a “voluntary” program. Mr. Love and a few other disgusted parents had to pioneer their own private school, which is now known as the Wichita Collegiate School. Between 1967 and 1970 Wichita Collegiate graduated fifty students, forty-eight of whom were in college as of the Spring of 1971. Fifteen of those graduates were semi-finalists in the National Merit Scholarship competition, and three of them were finalists.

Meanwhile, Carl Hansen had long since departed from Washington. The “track” system had been abolished in D.C. schools, and mediocrity had returned. The fault was not Carl Hansen’s; he was and is a first-rate educator. The point is that running a counter-revolution in the public school system is bound to come to grief. The bureaucrats don’t want it, and they are in control.

The Story of Wichita Collegiate

For the benefit of parents who are fed up with all the things that afflict public education, from busing to the “look-say” method of teaching reading, Mr. Love has put the story of Wichita Collegiate into a fascinating “do it yourself” book called How To Start Your Own School (Macmillan, $5.95). Wichita Collegiate has never received a penny of public tax money, and it does not rely on fund-raising campaigns or special donations. Its philosophy is “full cost,” meaning that it charges enough in tuition to pay its bills. It doesn’t believe in hiring a lot of “coordinators” and trouble shooters; the headmaster is the administration, and if the parents don’t like the instruction they complain directly to the teachers. There is no tenure at Wichita Collegiate; if a teacher can’t satisfy the students, the parents, and the people who do the grading on the college boards, he either has to improve his record or go. Collegiate’s idea is to hire fewer faculty members at higher salaries to do more work, which runs 180 degrees counter to Parkinson’s Law. The teachers are not required to have “methodology” certificates from schools of education; as long as they know their own subjects, and have the ability to interest their students, they can command top salaries.

To get the most out of its plant, Collegiate has gone over to the trimester system. Some faculty members work for the school year-round, doing carpentry, painting, landscaping and repair work in July and August, in addition to teaching summer school.

Full-Cost Athletics

There is an athletic program at Collegiate, but the parents pay for it. It costs $30 to be on the football squad. The school shares its Olympic swimming pool (it has an inexpensive plastic bubble top) with a local swim club. The father of a boy who scores the winning basket in a close basketball game “has to buy the next set of bleachers.” The baseball diamonds are used jointly with the Wichita YMCA. Collegiate has good teams, but, as Mr. Love puts it, “the parents who really want team sports will support the program and let the school get on with education.”

In return for scholarship assistance Collegiate expects students —and “in some cases the parents” —to do work around the school. Mothers drive the buses. Collegiate once had a professional librarian, but it discovered that mothers of children on scholarships could do a perfectly competent job of running the library. So the money the school once paid out as a librarian’s salary now goes, indirectly, into scholarships.

Mr. Love’s book sticks mainly to the Collegiate story, and it is the better for that. But it offers some generalized advice to parents who may be thinking of starting private schools in other towns. Any two teachers, says Mr. Love, can set up a preschool and kindergarten. If the business goes well, and six more willing teachers and a secretary can be found, it is not difficult to expand the school to one carrying on through the sixth grade. The need for a headmaster does not arise until the school adds upper grades. As for finances, the parents will have to cover the costs in tuition fees if they can’t find benefactors. One way of raising capital for buildings is to sell shares to the parents, who can resell them after their children have graduated. In any case, the costs do not have to be exorbitant if the Collegiate tight-budget practices are followed.

New Private Schools

Samuel L. Blumenfeld’s How To Start Your Own Private School —And Why You Need One (Arlington, $9.95) offers a wide-ranging corroboration of everything Mr. Love has to say. Mr. Blumenfeld makes the point that Horace Mann, who saddled the U.S. with “free” compulsory public education, got his idea from the schools of Prussia. Horace Mann considered State-run schools to be “democratic.” He also believed in phrenology. He didn’t live long enough to see what Prussian “democracy” did to Europe in World War I (the Kaiser’s war) and World War II (Hitler’s holocaust).

Much of Mr. Blumenfeld’s book is devoted to a survey of the new private schools that are springing up in the South. Despite the widespread feeling in the North that such schools as Prince Edward Academy in Farmville, Virginia, and Montgomery Academy in Montgomery, Alabama, are “segregation schools,” these new private ventures are, in Mr. Blumenfeld’s opinion, legitimate efforts on the part of southern parents to save their children from getting inferior educations. Busing, says Mr. Blumenfeld, may turn out to be a great blessing; it has rehabilitated the idea of a free market in education as nothing else could.

 

WHAT YOU CAN DO by Lemuel R. Boulware (San Diego, Calif. 92109, Box 9622: Loeffler & Co., Inc., 1973) 192 pp., single copies $1.35. (Discounts on quantities.)

Reviewed by Henry Hazlitt

The full title of this book is What You Can Do About Inflation, Unemployment, Productivity, Profit, and Collective Bargaining.

It lives up to that title. It is a clarion call to action. It reminds the reader that he is not merely someone with a seat in the spectator stands; that what is being done daily by officeholders in Washington and in the labor unions vitally affects his interests; that in some respect’s economic conditions in this country are getting worse almost daily; that one of the chief reasons for this is that most of us do not realize that it is our ox that is being gored; that the majority of business leaders have themselves to blame for either not understanding what is going on, or for lacking the initiative or courage to speak out in their own defense.

Mr. Boulware begins by pointing out that all 200 million of us, whether we realize it or not, have a direct or an indirect stake in the continuous prosperity of American business. First, he estimates, even allowing for duplication there must be at least 50,000,000 of us who are direct or indirect owners of our 1,500,000 businesses. There are 31,000,000 known owners of stock in corporations listed on the exchanges, and obviously more than 10,000,000 owners of our 10,000,000 unincorporated businesses. There are 25,000,000 savings accounts, millions more depositors in checking accounts, 28,000,000 participants in private pension funds; 130,000,000 insurance policy holders, and so on, all of which are at least indirect investors in American business.

Finally, of course, there are some 87,000,000 men and women in the civilian labor force, whose pay and continued employment are directly dependent on the continued prosperity and profits of business.

Yet here we come to an incredible paradox. While the whole economy depends on the continuance of profit, while profits are the driving force to production and creation, politically “profit” has become a dirty word.

Sometimes the necessity of profit is reluctantly conceded. But only of an undefined “fair” profit. And from the daily denunciations of politicians and labor leaders we are left to gather that profits are chronically not fair but “excessive” and “exorbitant.”

The public is appallingly ignorant of the facts. A survey conducted by McGraw-Hill’s Opinion Research Corporation found that the median guess of the American people is that even after taxes manufacturing companies make 28 cents on every dollar of sales. This is seven times the actual figure. In 1970, American companies made an average after-tax profit of just 4 cents on every dollar of sales.

The thinness of this margin is illustrated in another way. Of the amount available for distribution as between the employees of the corporations and the owners, the workers, year in and year out, get about seven-eighths and the owners only one-eighth. In 1970, the employees of the corporations got nine-tenths and the owners one-tenth. This is just the opposite of what most Americans believe the average distribution to be. Moreover, about half this profit is not paid out in dividends but is reinvested in the business to increase productivity, employment, and real wage-rates.

The greater part of Mr. Boulware’s book is devoted to educating the average citizen in the economic facts of today’s world. He points out that our chronic inflation is caused solely by the government’s own policy in printing more paper money faster than matching goods and values can be produced. He shows that unemployment is created whenever union-pressure forces wage-rates above what productivity can justify or the market can support. This in turn brings more pressure on the government to print more money to raise prices to make the higher wage-rates payable.

As the former vice-president in charge of labor relations for General Electric, Mr. Boulware writes, of course, with special authority on so-called collective bargaining. This he finds today to have become “not free, not collective and, in fact, too one-sided to be any real bargaining at all.”

Why do all these destructive practices and policies prevail? Because they are politically the most acceptable. Mr. Boulware uses the word “political” throughout his book in the narrow sense of “what is bad for, but will look good to, the constituents involved.” Bad policies look good to them because they are ignorant and confused. It is Mr. Boulware’s driving passion to remove this ignorance and confusion, and to give those businessmen and economists who do know better the courage to speak out.

This is a what-to and a how-to handbook. I know of no more useful or necessary pamphlet in our present political and economic crisis. 


  • John Chamberlain (1903-1995) was an American journalist, business and economic historian, and author of number of works including The Roots of Capitalism (1959). Chamberlain also served as a founding editor of The Freeman magazine.