I’m not going to write about school finance, or teachers unions, or even the new NAEP scores. Not today. Instead, I want to make a nomination for “Education Book of the Year.”
I recently completed the marvelous book The Beautiful Tree by British education scholar and entrepreneur James Tooley. In short, it’s an eye-opening firsthand account of a journey that uncovers the determination of many of the world’s poorest people to secure private schooling for their children.
Tooley recounts his many travels into the slums and impoverished wastelands of India, Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and China. What he has uncovered through his years of extensive research is an amazing amount of children whose families pay private school tuition to for-profit operators.
Many of these schools not only are unregistered, but also either unacknowledged by or unknown to indigenous government education officials. And on most counts, Tooley finds the private schools deliver a better education to the world’s poorest children than do the government schools.
The Beautiful Tree delves into the deep debates surrounding education, international relief, and Third World development. The book even unravels some of the mythology surrounding British imperialism and native schooling. But not before many chapters that introduce you to a very real contemporary cast of incompetent bureaucrats, enterprising and humane school operators, earnest and determined parents, and children with great hope and promise. I could hardly put the book down.
Far from creating an oversimplified paean, though, Tooley confronts the strengths and weaknesses and proposes very straightforward and practical policy solutions — including, targeted school vouchers. (I didn’t say I wouldn’t discuss vouchers, did I?)
Whether or not you come to some or all of the same conclusions as the author, The Beautiful Tree offers some important arguments to wrestle with as well as some very interesting and engaging human stories.
Any book where the author’s passion comes oozing through every page tends to be much more enjoyable to read. Such is the case with James Tooley, who has put his money (and his feet) where his mouth is. He today works actively to raise funds for Third World educational development, breaking the traditional mold of foreign aid along the way.
The Beautiful Tree is a book you don’t want to miss.
Popularity: 1% [?]