Was down the local bookshop today. Forked out €25 for some additional back to school materials, which probably takes the bill over €200 (not including uniforms) For nearly every schoolchild in Ireland there are parents or guardians who fork out for basic school materials and textbooks.
The schoolbook market in the Republic of Ireland is a racket. All of this should be paid out of general taxation, as it is in other countries. So why is it not?
One reason is that people are accustomed to it. It is just the way things are. For example, it’s hard to imagine too many teachers standing in front of the class at the start of term and saying “Listen up, I don’t know why your parents have to spend so much money on schoolbooks. In other countries, school books are free for children. Everyone gives money so every child can have school books. We should have that here.” Maybe some of them do. All of them certainly should.
There is no real argument against introducing free schoolbooks for all children, because it is so rarely discussed in the first place, at least in the media. Yes, for two minutes every year some worthy from some charity will say they ought to be free. But the question as to why there are not free schoolbooks for all children is never posed.
Hardly anyone would want to say they are against it in principle, though if any momentum ever gathered in favour of it, you would probably get a host of economists and Austrian school dentists on the radio arguing that is not the right time and that it would be better to give children vouchers for toothpaste instead.
There might be a general grumbling that it would ‘cost the taxpayer’ more. What -the Drivetime presenter might ask the man from IBEC- will this cost the taxpayer? The overall cost would not change; in fact it might well fall, given that schools would purchase in bulk. Perhaps there would be a surge of concern and teary-eyed nostalgia for small-town bookshops, from the same people who think unstaffed libraries are a great idea. Then there will be others who will advise that in fact that books are so 19th century, and that there should be tablets provided to every child, purchased by the state from some company that pays no tax.
With free schoolbooks, the responsibility for educating children would be shared across the whole of society. It would not fall solely to people who happen to be their parents. This would be a good thing since it would go to show that people actually have a minimal obligation to the welfare of others. On the face of it, it’s hard to imagine that this would amount to a revolutionary moment in Irish society: schoolbooks are free in lots of countries, including Northern Ireland, and have been so for generations. In those countries, free schoolbooks are a fact of life that goes unquestioned, like colour TV. Whereas here, it feels like paying for schoolbooks is a fact of life that goes unquestioned, like colour TV.
In other countries, the concept of second hand textbooks is completely alien, because all textbooks are second hand, or potentially second hand, or third hand, because you hand them back to the school at the end of the year and they get passed on to the next year’s students. Of the many complaints about school I heard while attending it, I do not recall the lack of a textbook of one’s own being a major source of discontent.
The danger, I suppose, is that if you give the idea that you are obliged to care about the welfare of others seriously an inch, it will take a mile. Once there are free schoolbooks, who knows what other atrocity might occur, like canteens getting built in schools where free meals are served, and children actually sit at a table and have a meal with others, rather than eating out of their lunchbox at their desk. How would that be a good preparation for the world of work, this idea that you are allowed a lunch break?
All hell might then break loose if children began to think that there were certain other things to which they were entitled. Like if everyone makes sure that everyone has free access to schoolbooks, what if they started to think everyone should make sure everyone else has free healthcare too? Or the right to a home?
And what would all this cost the taxpayer? It’s quite instructive how often ‘it’ll cost the taxpayer more’ can be replaced with ‘it’ll cost rich people more’, with the meaning preserved. Worse than that, the dominant morality in Ireland has it that rich people are automatically exempt from paying tax, so ‘it’ll cost the tax payer more’ ends up suggesting that the ‘squeezed middle’ -who do pay taxes- will end up forking out for some imaginary category of poor people who do not pay taxes, and if you give them this much then they’ll come and take even more off you.
Such is the morality of the ‘people who get up early in the morning’: above all, save the rich, and then piss on anyone below you. They don’t teach this shit at school. Do they?