A commentator on Twitter reacted on yesterday’s postcard with a sarcasm: “A socialist just cant [sic] bear the idea that people suddenly can chose”.Â What’s correct there is that freedom of choice is the only justification for private schools that anyone in this country can present with a touch of decency (the old crap about higher efficiency, quality and all that has become so thoroughly crushed by reality that the apologists prefer to keep silent on such issues).
But is the possibility to choose really something that came with the privatizations? I can amuse myself by looking back at my own schooling some 60 years ago. We started first grade at the age of seven, and to get to our school we just had to cross the street. OK, we were not allowed toÂ choose a different school, but that was a pointless limitation since there were no cars or other possibilities for transportation anyway. But more importantly it had been futile to choose something else since all elementary schools were identical; in fact countrywide (that was by the way one important reason why Swedish education ranked among the highest in the world in those days, the same today proved by Finland).
Already after fourth grade, at the age of 10, we could leave for a voluntary secondary school of which there were almost a dozen in my town. Now we could choose freely and were not limited to our own town for that matter. These schools were also quite similar, all of them (with rare exceptions) publicly owned and managed. Most of them included senior high schools (gymnasium) meaning that you could spend 7-8 years there. Curriculum were identical for each of a limited number of courses, and teachers with the same seniority had equal salaries. It probably would have been a nightmare for todayâ€™s neoliberals, but it gave us after all a world leading educational system.
As we can see today, the private option has resulted in deteriorating educational quality. That is not to say that schools 60 years ago couldn’t have been much better in pedagogy and leadership. Teachers then still saw it as an important part of their mission to chastise the young children and to mold them into the civilized creatures that society demanded in those days. On that front we have seen enormous progress since then.
Swedes can choose between 800 different stock funds to administer a small part of their pension contributions. This is a choice that no human being can do in an informed way, the whole thing instead becoming a caricature of neoliberal idiocy. Very few, except for bank managers, would vote for a system like that. Still itâ€™s impossible to change. If we think that through we will also understand why our privatized schools and welfare institutions continually can produce scandals in an endless row, the one more severe than the other, without anything done to reform the system. It just tells us where the power lies.