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Education is the public solution to private problems.

Education is not the solution. Look around you, there are educated people who litter, educated people who vote against their own interests, educated people who forget to be good or kind, educated people who live in fear and greed.

Then why do we invest in it?

Because education is the path to the solution. It is the infrastructure we need to have in place before we can walk our way to the solution.

Solution to what?

Poverty? Inequity? Growth? Health? Take your pick. Any problem you need to solve needs an educated mind

Anything that your heart desires, for yourself or for all. The path is through education.

Sure?

Sure.

Think again, because if you are so sure, I have questions.

Fire away.

Funny you said fire, because that is a fine example. Education is like fire, isn’t it?

Well yes. Famous quotation coming up…. “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire”, famously quoth William Butler Yeats way back in ….whenever he was around and writing. Is that what you meant?

No, but, yes. Your education, like fire can solve problems, but it can also create problems. If Yeats is lighting his fire in a pail, or a lantern, or an oven, it’s all well and good. But the same fire has lit weapons and caused destruction. Fire has destroyed cities. Education can both cause good, and can destroy too. Just look at the evidence of young people across the world who have gone to join terrorist organisations. Most of them were educated, were they not? Education wasn’t really a solution here, was it?

And so, what would you recommend? That we stop fire? That we control education and allow it only for the verified classes? That we go back to the times when education was for the elite, and the others could suffer silently in their inequitable hovels, because without education they could not even reach out to each other in support across towns and countries.

Well, they did, didn’t they, even without education? The French Revolution was not powered by the educated?

Are you sure? It was led by the educated.

So then you agree that it was education that caused so many people to be killed?

Did I agree to that?
If I had received a half baked education, I may have agreed. To know that oppression and injustice simmered for long, and then to blame the explosion on education is a leap of logic that is a bit too far for an educated mind.

So you think education is safe, is good for all?

Have I not been saying that all along?

And that there are no risks? Of it being misused? What if people are over educated and don’t want to do basic jobs? Where will you find labour for your fields and factories?

There are risks, but only as much as anything else that is good, no more, no less. As for these tasks, the educated will find a way. Some will build robots, others will build lifestyles

And are you sure it will do good, it will make things better?

Yes, and even more if wielded well.

Aha, so you admit it is not a solution on it’s own…that it must be skillfully wielded! You admit that there are caveats, and limitations and bounds to your beloved education! So, why ask us to invest in it? Why should my taxes pay to school all the children in the world? Why should my philanthropy support it? If we are not even sure it will make things better? If we know, that like fire, it could make things worse? Why should I care so much about education?

Because we build our futures with education. We invest in building our future the way we want to – we build what we want to see and be.

So, I will pay for my own, and for my children. Why should I pay for all children? And please don’t tell me to do charity – I will do that my way.

No, not at all. It is only self interest that I seek and recognise. And it is in your interest that all young children are educated. Why just children, all those who got left behind and grew up illiterate should join in and learn.

What’s my interest in it?

Smarter people all around you. Is it not worth it?

Why do I care if people around me are smarter? The public is not personal, how will I benefit?

Aha, the public, as you said. This is about the good of the public. And about a public good.

Wordplay again?

Hehe, yes. Wordplay. But it is a fair exchange you see. You invest in a good, such as excellent primary education for all. Everyone learns to read, write, make good decisions, think things through, follow new discoveries and adopt them, they learn to learn, and everyone figures out how to make the most of their talents and become richer. When everyone becomes a bit richer, they do good things – such as pay more taxes – so we all have better roads, faster trains, free internet and so much more.

Hmm…I like the sound of free internet. So you are saying I should invest in this education gig for a generation and reap free internet in my old age. That sounds like a good business deal. And of course, by then they can all pay for their own education, so my children won’t have to pay all that tax too. I’ll buy that.

Except….

Hah! I knew you’d back out….go on, what’s the catch?

Two things, one: your deal starts paying back only after everyone has become educated and self sufficient. It may not happen in one generation.

Why? You guys not planning to do a good enough job?

No, us guys are not planning to take all of your income as tax…whatever we get, we will do what we can with it…

Hmm..I’m not convinced. If I’m investing, I want to see how you turn it around. But you said two things…what was the second?

Well, since I am well educated, I can see the opposite point of view as well – and I could persuade you of the exact opposite position.

And what is that?

That education does not need any of this government, tax drama at all. Anyone who can afford it should pay for themselves, and then those who are rich should set up good quality free schools for the others. Or, just pay for yourselves, and a few others who cannot afford it. After all, as you said, it’s only one generation that needs the big boost. The rest will need less. Does that sound easier?

Hmm…I’m not sure. Who will pay for others, no one has that much money. I’d rather take a decent holiday to be honest. And for my children I can spend time on their homework and follow up. Why should I do it for another. And these free schools – who is going to make sure they are really good? No one gives the best to the poor. Rich people set up poor schools for the poor, and that keeps them poor.

So, have I convinced you then? To pay your taxes for schools for all?

Well, only if you promise me free internet in my old age. Oh, and if the doctors and nurses trained by my money look after me really well then.

I can’t make any promises, can I now? What if all the doctors and nurses go to other countries? Or go off inventing things? Or don’t want to work in the free places?

How can they do that? We must control them!

Ah, there falls the last bastion of freedom.

So, I win, right?

How do you win?

I said education does not solve everything. And I, the educated, even if I agreed with you, led to the fall of freedom. As you said, there falls the last bastion of freedom.
Your education cannot even guarantee freedom. Without freedom, what future will you build?

Superb. But you see, I win.

How do you win, now?

Because education led you to spot the flaw in the path, and to realise it doesn’t work, and to know that freedom is above greed. Education solved it this far.

But Education has not solved for what doesn’t work, did it?

Sure, not yet. But then, that’s the point of it all isn’t it? That we learn to learn, and to make it better. We are working on it, this time, hopefully together. And the more we educate, the more we will have, making it better.

Fine, fine then. You do win. Not because education is the solution to all things, but because the solution cannot come without education.

Actually,….

Now what? I said you win.

Actually, we all win. That’s the way it works, really. We all win if we are all part of the solution.

That’s the trouble with you educated folks.

What is?

That you talk in circles. Now I am totally confused. What did I just support?

That’s okay. It’s the way the global debate works too. It’s the same squabble in big words. You supported paying for others education, till everyone is well off and you can get paid back – somehow.

That’ll be after I am dead.

It’s called the long run.

(This is a fictionalised ‘as overheard’ conversation. It does not claim rigour, but it does summarise the current level of the debate in the public mind)

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