James Tooley battles bureaucritis

Sometimes, going about your normal life, your attention gets grabbed by a flurry of activity that disturbs the ambient rhythms around you. I’m sure you have experienced such things. It was such for me in the case of James Tooley and his book The Beautiful Tree.

The book describes how Tooley assembled evidence that annihilated the received wisdom, espoused by the clerisy, concerning the provision of education. I am not an educationist but I do study the clerisy. They are a species urgently in need of study. I immediately bought a copy of the book, and reading it persuaded me to go hunting for a speech by Tooley.

This speech appears to have been ‘topped’. It is not unusual. Those who post such videos often edit out messy openings in order to clean up the final product. I study messy openings, so the practice robs me of data, but I commend clean bald ones, so the practice provides me with examples to uphold. This, whether Tooley or the video editors made it, is a lovely bald opening.

At 01:32 there is an interesting incident. Tooley, with that excellent opening, appears to have hump nerves subjected under his heel and by now should be on a roll; yet he gets stuck, searching for the word ‘reconcile’ (and he never finds it). This is a classic nerve symptom, stress having a fiendish ability to diminish our capacity for thinking on our feet. Usually when I see such as this I know immediately what the problem is and what to do about it, yet without speaking with him I am at a loss as to what is going on. There are nerves there which shouldn’t be, not with a speaker as good as this.

And good he is! He has spurned the lectern and is shooting from the hip like a proper speaker. He is not using his few slides as signposts: he proves that when one of them appears out of sequence and he adjusts accordingly. His slides serve him, not the other way around. Using slides as signposts is a cheating trick used by those whose memorised structure is not good enough to stand on its own. His structure is very strong, which is why his message is so coherent. His evident passion for the message reinforces the coherence. He’s doing everything right.

His spurning of the lectern has an amusing byproduct. By stepping to the side he is now standing immediately in front of a reverend father who appears to be chairing the event. Not only is the father now masked, but because he has slightly tinted spectacles and we can’t see his eyes, he seems to be asleep at one point. Then he gives the lie to that by laughing.

The speech is very good, and clearly conveys the message that the world’s poorest – yes, the world’s poorest – are educated privately, not for want of state free schools but because the private schools are better. I invite you to re-read that sentence and let it sink in.

That is heretical to the clerisy. But then the clerisy is infected by an ailment I call bureaucritis. Bureaucritis is a viciously virulent, internationally metastatic, form of tunnel vision. Every proposition Tooley makes they dismiss out of hand, and progressively more aggressively.

Private schools for the very poorest don’t exist: yes they do, I’ve found thousands and here are the data. They’re useless: they out-perform the state schools and here are the data. The teachers aren’t qualified: I refer you to my previous answer. And so it goes on.

If a matter as huge as the world’s education of the poorest can be termed a microcosm, it is a microcosm of many of the social and political ills that afflict the world. Bureaucritic clerisy, sincere and well-meaning – though woefully misguided, are pathologically incapable of thinking outside their tiny box. The clerisy are learned but stupid. The reason is clearly explained by the great Thomas Sowell when he writes that decisions should never be left to those who pay no price for being wrong. The clerisy pay no price for being wrong, because their employment is invariably feather-bedded and their only measure of rightness is whether their bureaucritic peers agree with them.

Great speech. Great message. Admirable man. Important lesson.

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