The Beautiful Tree: Worth the Money

July 11, 2010

A beautiful book

If I were going to recommend just one book that paints a picture of the potential of empowered parents and private education, this would be the one. This a story of truth and hope, both of which we are in great need of, both abroad and here at home. Spend money on this book – it’s worth it. – Tammy

The Beautiful Tree: A personal journey into how the world’s poorest people are educating themselves by James Tooley

About the book: The subtitle says most of it. Traveling and working in India James Tooley stumbled upon a discovery – poor parents were rejecting state schools and paying to send their children to small private schools that sprung up to meet the need. Mr. Tooley took his discovery further by establishing a formal and disciplined research project and learned that the practice was widespread and not limited to India. He found the same thing going on in parts of Africa and China. Besides being a fascinating read and story of great hope, the book is quite well-written.

Links: Excellent interview with James Tooley (audio), Amazon Reviews

Excerpts:Something quite remarkable is happening in developing countries today that turns the accepted wisdom on its head.

As we traveled through the middle-class suburbs, I was struck by the ubiquity of private schools. Their signboards were on every street corner, some on fine specially constructed school buildings, but others grandly posted above shops and offices.

…the stunning thing about the drive was that private schools had not thinned out as we went from one of the poshest parts of town to the poorest. Everywhere among the little stores and workshops were little private schools!

There seemed to be a private school on almost every street corner, just as in the richer parts of the city.

But did they really deliver a quality education? I needed to find out.

[Tooley went on to test 24,000 children from these private schools and discovered that they actually outperformed the students from the state schools.]

…this was surely a profound discovery that would interest the development experts. I was in for a rude awakening.

[From a chart in the book]:

Hyderabad, India: 76% of children attending private schools
Ga, Ghana: 65.4% of children attending private schools
Lagos State, Nigeria: 75% of children attending private schools
Mahbubnagar, India: 52.1% of children attending private schools
Delhi, India: 39.7% of children attending private schools

The development experts I read appeared unanimous about the problems of public education for the poor. The World Bank called it “government failure,” with “services so defective that their opportunity costs outweigh their benefits for most poor people….”

Why did they believe they would get it right this time? It was not as if they’d been starved of resources in the past. It was not as if they hadn’t already published ream upon ream of papers on improving the system, on abolishing corruption, on ways of really delivering resources to the poor, concluding that the poor really must be served this time. Somehow, this time, it would be put right….

[The Hope]

The power and spirit of free enterprise are shining through again in the field of education. Will it eventually replace public schooling? I think the evidence shows that to be very likely. But will the state come around again, threatening to crowd it out, just as the moon will return to eclipse the sun? Perhaps it will. But the market in education is powerful. It builds on something that no central planner can possibly embrace, the strength of millions of decisions by individual families, the millions of bits of information grasped by the Searchers who relentlessly create and innovate, modify and develop what the people want. The power of educational self-help is strong…

EC: Now what about America?