Today, I reviewed Jerry Kirpatrick's book "Montessori, Dewey, and Capitalism." It is a book that defends (a) a free-market capitalistic model of educaiton; and (b) the appropriateness of Dewey's and Montessori's methods of education in that framework.
I gave the book 2 out of 5 stars.
First off, Jerry Kirkpatrick has written one of only a few books that defend education in an environment of the free market. For that, he deseves some praise. While I find fault with much that he says, I am in agreement with Kirkpatrick that schools need to be opened up to the competitive forces of the market.
Kirkpatrick is concerned to defend a particlar type of education - that utilizing the insights of progressive educators John Dewey and Maria Montessori - as the only proper plan of education in a capitalistic society. He suggests that in a capitalistic society, the "old way of educaiton" that teaches students to submit to the school's authority would be in contradiction with capitalism's anti-authoritarian structure.
My first objection is that, despite Kirkpatrick's argument, I do not see how any social structure REQUIRES a certain type of education. I do not see how a mixed economy or socialist country could not just as easily have a "lecture" style of education as it could a Montessori style. To suggest that a philosophy of educaiton and a philosophy of social organizaiton must be alligned is like saying that that a nation's philosphy of science must be alligned with its philosophy of social organization.
Secondly, Kirkpatrick takes it as unquestioned that Montessori's anti-authority method of education meshes well with capitalism's anti-authority structure. I do not see this as correct. When students move past high school, they will experience many "authoritarian" relationships, like that between them and employers and that between them and moneylenders. (I have even heard it argued elsewhere that an "anti-authoritarian" style of education leaves kids ill-preared to function in a capitalistic system, which involves learning to obey rules, laws, and mores.)
While I am not against the Montessori method of educaiton, I suspect that Kirkpatrick's confidence in it is exhuberant. Many well-argued books have been written outlining the dangers of current schools' infatuation with "progressive education" ideas ("whole child" education, "whole language" education, education as self-discovery rather than subject-discovery). The interested might read Stout's "Feel Good Curriculum" and Hirsch's "The Schools We Need and Why We Don't Have Them," as starting points.
In brief, Kirkpatrick makes a big mistakes, probably related to his belief in Ayn Rand's philosophy. First, he is very much against coercion, extremizing this view into the idea that coercing children is an unqualified wrong. It is interesting to note, though, that even in a capitalistic society, the need to coerce children is recognized in an almost universal agreement that kids below a certain age need to be restricted in certain ways, as they lack the executive functioning skills to self-regulate. Kirkpatrick recognizes that students need freedom, but does not recgnize that students also need a good amount of structure. Before one can be self-disciplined, one needs to be taught discipline. (One cannot just "discover" how to be disciplined.)
Kirkpatrick goes on to describe what an educaiton system in a free market would look like. I think the discusison is a bit facile to be honest. Kirkpatrick is confident that a free-market system would do away with grades, rankings, standardized tests, degrees, and certificates. I see this as a very hasty and wrong judgment that misinterprets a key role of schools: to signify to future employers, colleges, etc, that the child has mastered a certain content and acquired certain skills. Without diplomas, grades, and tests, the very term "graduation" loses all meaning. (How would we know when a chlld is graduated? How would we know when to pass a child on to the next level? How would future employers know how their perspective employees did in school?)
Kirkpatrick also sees rankings, letter grades, and degrees as very bad things. Of course, as an educator, I can attest that the grading system is what often keeps kids motivated to work harder, and without it, students would find it very hard to know where they need improvement and how much improvement they need. If there were no such things as "exit requirements" I question whether many people would see any point to education at all (aside from those who learn solely for the enjoyment of it).
Quite simply, I think Kirkpatrick's book could benefit from a lot of rethinking. Particularly, he discusses his own ideas, but not once discusses existant or possible criticisms (as for his championing of Montessori and Dewey, there are many, many critics he could have dealt with. He chose not to.) As for his facile confidence that a free-market would gravitate towards a Montessori appraoch, he did not bring up the fact that the large majority of private schools in existence are non-Montessori schools with more "authoritarian" structure. (Is there a reason to suppose that this trend would reverse? We don't know; Kirkpatrick doesn't bring it up!) There are also many critics of a free-market approach to education that not once do we hear Kirkpatrick grapple with.
I give this book two stars. One star is for being one of the handful of books discussing education in a free market framework. The second was for Kirkpatrick's very learned, but skewed, history of the transition from "classical" to "progressive" education.