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Ep177 - James Tooley

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Mixed Mental Arts

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In the early 1980s, James Tooley went to Zimbabwe to help support and build socialism by teaching under the then hopeful leadership of Robert Mugabe. Returning to England in the midst of the Thatcher Revolution, he aimed to discredit all ideas of market reforms in education. Instead, as he researched his PhD, he became convinced that private education was the way forward and that the government should be kept out of it. However, even as his newfound faith in private education deepened, he saw no way to align it with his desire to help the poor. That all changed on January 26th, 2000 (which as we discover is Bryan’s birthday) when while walking through a slum in Hyderabad, India, he came across a private school for the poor…and then another…and then another. When he mentioned these schools to other development experts and local government officials, they denied the existence of these schools.In the fourteen years since then Professor Tooley has found these schools in India, China and throughout Africa and a distinct pattern has emerged. Although these people are only living on a dollar a day, these schools are providing poor parents and students with a far higher quality education than what they’d get in the public sector. As detailed in his book The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey Into How the World's Poorest People Are Educating Themselves, teaching positions in the developing world are often used as a form of political patronage, a way to buy off political supporters and allies. (Many of these government teachers then never, ever show up to their schools and even if they do they come from the middle classes and so treat the students who live in the slums with utter contempt.) In this interview with Professor Tooley, Hunter, Bryan and Leo Flowers discuss the book and what his research means for developed countries like the US. The Beautiful Tree is available on Amazon.

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