Irish Education in the Hour of the Wolf

Milton Friedman, the high priest of the ‘free-market’ economic policies that have driven the populations of entire continents into misery and despair, once figured that parents should be given a cheque equivalent to the cost of one pupil’s education in a public school, for them to decide how they ought to spend it.

If you think everyday life ought to be governed by marketised relations and icy cold calculation, if you believe that the purpose of life is individual advancement at the expense of others, if you believe, like David Cameron does, that the attainment of privilege ought to be the primary driving force in your sensuous activity, if you think Mine and Thine are sworn enemies, if you think education is just one more commodity, then clearly this is the sort of thing that will appeal to you.

(“Capitalism to the max – but with public money!”)

Or, you might like to try out the Irish State’s solution. In Ireland, the State pays for teachers to teach in private schools. Among other things, this is a way of saying quality public education for all isn’t worth pursuing, and that there is something wrong in principle with public education anyway. It’s a way of saying some people -basically, the rich, and those who aspire to be like them- deserve to be educated in exclusive environments, and the State ought to support such deserving people. But it isn’t just a way of saying such things; it’s a way of putting them into practice.

The matter of State support for private educational institutions, in the form of payment of teacher wages, has been to the fore in recent days as part of the fantasy participatory budgeting that comes before the imposition of yet another round of EU-IMF-ECB-backed cuts to ‘regain sovereignty’. Labour Party TD and junior minister Alan Kelly -whose party stands squarely behind the overall cuts programme and the regime of fiscal sadism it imposes- said the matter of State funding of private schools had to be addressed.

This brought a predictably vehement response from members of the main government party, Fine Gael, and many supporters of exclusive institutions. The Irish Examiner declared that Kelly’s intervention was ‘as a contribution to the debate about how we fix this country..worse than childish. It was class-war bluster straight out of the Arthur Scargill handbook of envy as policy‘.

It would have been just as accurate to say that it was straight out of the Margaret Thatcher handbook, given that there was no state payment of private school teacher wages in the UK during the 1980s. Naturally, there is no such denunciation of ‘envy as policy’, by the same people who support State-backed private schools, when the victims of the economic crisis, those who have been ‘devalued internally’, to use the official jargon, are targeted by ‘labour activation measures’, in the form of benefit cuts and bureacratic harrasment, based on the assumption that they have it too easy, that they are the beneficiaries of too much ‘generosity’.

Suffice to say, there’s no such ‘debate about how we fix this country’ as the Irish Examiner claims: in the terms of the ‘debate’, there is no discussion about political alternatives to the regime of permanent fiscal sadism. The dismantling of Ireland’s threadbare welfare state, the removal of vital public services, the repayment of illegitimate debt, the iron obedience to budget deficit reduction targets, to name a few things, are all treated as not only inevitable but desirable. The ‘debate’ over what ought to be cut in the budget is little more than a ritual that legitimates the country’s pauperisation.

(“He who howls the loudest gets the most hearing”)

With that said, there are real and often grave material consequences for those people who do not mobilise against the programme of cuts and stripping away of rights. But as the outcry over suggested cuts to State funding of private schools shows, the people who benefit most from the regime of fiscal sadism overseen by the Troika and its Fine Gael and Labour collaborators, have plenty of stomach for defending tooth and nail what they see as righfully theirs in Ireland’s hour of the wolf.

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