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The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey into How the World's Poorest People are Educating Themselves Hardcover – 25 Apr 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 268 pages
  • Publisher: Cato Institute,U.S.; 1 edition (25 April 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933995920
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933995922
  • Product Dimensions: 15.8 x 2.7 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 448,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Tooley (Reclaiming Education)--Tooley

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By on 8 Oct. 2011
Format: Kindle Edition
The problem is clear; too few people in the developing world are being educated, the solution is clear also, rich western states and international aid agencies must work in cooperation with local state education authorities to provide free education for all. Despite my antipathy towards state education this, I believed had a ring of truth about it. How could the poor do any differently, they are, after all... poor.
After reading James Tooley's feet-on-the-ground, meticulously researched and very readable book this story of the passive, helpless poor and the crusading westerners seemed, not just unpalatable, but utterly fantastic, even risible. Why? Because;
1. "The poor" are not an undifferentiated mass of passive victims, but poor parents are diverse, enterprising, and above all intensely conscious of their responsibility as parents to provide a fit-for-purpose education for their children.
2. Concerned poor parents, together with educational entrepreneurs drawn from the community, are presently educating the poorest of the poor in for-profit schools.
3. Despite massive financial aid from western governments and large institutional donors state education, even when free is, widely shunned by parents who find the quality of service offered by the state accredited teachers and institutions inferior, if not dangerous, compared to the free market alternatives.
4. This phenomenon is not isolated to a particular region, or culture, or political régime, or even a particular continent or time, but is a phenomenon found as far afield as Ghana and China in the seventeenth century up to the present day.
These observations and conclusions have led Mr.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By James-philip Harries on 18 July 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Don't be fooled by the author's description of his "journey". This is not some soft focus third world tourism, but an examination of the waste in public education, and the virtue in private education. Tooley finds schools in the poorest slums where noone thought it was possible for parents to spare the cash to pay for them. And often they prefer to pay cash than to get public education for free. Why? Because public education is wasteful, remote and managed for the benefit of the producer not the consumer. (Teacher absenteeism is as rife in the South as it is in the inner city.)
So the bien pensant Gordon Brown / Guardian / International aid & charity types will hate this book. If you think that playgrounds are more important than blackboards, that quality comes from raising wages, that the poor are too stupid to make wise choices, that children rarely remember a teacher but give daily thanks for an inspiring classroom, then you'll hate it too.
Sadly for those of us who agree instinctively with Tooley, he is a clumsy writer and some of his argumentation is long winded and repetitive, which detracts from the pleasure of reading how even the poorest help themselves and each other. The book only occasionally succeeds in its aim of tugging the heart strings.
The publisher (despite Tooley's laughable claim to be non ideological) is the Cato Institute, a right wing American think tank. Education remains as politically and ideologically divisive as ever. You can however now contribute to private education in the third world through the foundation they have set up to provide loans and scholarships. Of course, the slum schools were already providing bursaries to their poorest pupils long before Tooley came along, but every little helps.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I loved this book, and think its message needs to be widely heard. But why on earth is it no longer available on Kindle?
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 25 reviews
23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
What We Can, and Should, Learn from Africa! 1 Aug. 2009
By Kevin Currie-Knight - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
James Tooley's "The Beautiful Tree" is a book concerned with questioning the widely held assumption that free public education is the only, or most efficient, way to educate the poor. The book is a first-person recount of four years spent examining poor areas of African countries like Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, and India, and recording the surprising number, and diversity, of private schools that serve the poor. In many areas, Tooley found that, despite the opinion of the areas politicians, the large majority of students were educated privately, even with the availability of "free" public education.

Tooley not only explores that this phenomenon exists (and that it is not an anomaly, but a presence in every poor village he explored), but why it is happening. Tooley talked to school "proprietors," parents who elect to send their children to private schools, and children who have attended both public and private schools. Tooley found that low quality of public education was the largest reason for parents sending children to private schools. Much like the United States, Tooley explains that corruption and bureaucratic jockeying is plaguing the public school infrastructure in Africa (from regulators taking bribes to teachers' unions shielding teachers from accountability). Towards the end of the book, Tooley unveils the results of his 150 school (and several thousand student) study whereby he gave students in public and private school tests and compared their results. Even those who can already guess the results will be surprised!

One of the most infuriating parts of The Beautiful Tree is the attitude and resistance Tooley found in the politicians and academics he encountered along the way. Politicians uniformly told him that his research was a waste of time ("Private schools here only serve the rich," which Tooley would quickly document was not the case.) Academics offered much resistance to "Tooley's research citing the "good reasons" why it was dangerous to share research on the efficiency of private schools for the poor, regardless of what the data says. (Tooley rebuts these "five good reasons" in a closing chapter.) Much of the time, the politicians' and academics' knee-jerk reaction to private schools for the poor amounted to the belief that they knew better how to educate the children than the parents of the students, who one politician called "ignoramuses".)

This is a highly interesting book with a message which needs to be heard. As Tooley points out, the existence, and quantity, of these private schools goes a long way in showing that private schools can and do educate the poor for a much more reasonable cost than public schools. And the fact that parents willingly choose to send their children to for-profit schools even though a "free" option exists gives lie to the myth that private schools educating the poor are too expensive or low-quality. A very interesting and eye-opening read.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Learning More About the Do-gooders Around Us 12 May 2009
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I liked the book for what I learned or confirmed about the Non-Governmental do-gooders out there. The books explains the up-hill battle against pre-determined conceptions among them and their agendas. I have some first hand knowledge of this during two deployments to Iraq. They have the money and their minds are made up. No facts, research or personal, up-close, in the trenches experience is going to deviate these people from their mission to save the world or parents from themselves. I particularly enjoyed the chapters toward the end where Dr. Tooley explains the history of private education, the use of peers to educate and how much the West owes the East in spreading education world-wide. This is a great read. There has to be a better way than look to government, NGOs and rock stars to solve all our porblems. Sadly we have to go to the slums of India to learn this.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Important New Research on Education 29 April 2009
By D. W. MacKenzie - Published on
Format: Hardcover
The standard story behind public education is simple. In theory, education is a public good that generates `positive externalities'. In theory, education must be compulsory and taxpayer funded, because people will not pay for the `social benefits' of education, and may not even understand the importance of education. In theory, only the state can guarantee the education of the masses.

The Beautiful Tree puts the theory of education as a public good to a serious test. In reality private schools are flourishing in countries like India and China, and in the African continent. The theory of education as a public good never was sound. It is obvious that most of the benefits of education are internal (i.e. education increases lifetime income) and the external benefits are arguably infra-marginal (i.e. externalities of education exist but do not hinder the supply of education).

This book also sets the affordability issue to rest. Poor people can afford good education because education is not inherently expensive. While it is true that the per student cost of American education is high, this is due to institutional conditions driven by lobbying and politics (i.e. by the AFT) which have artificially inflated our costs. However, the costs of education are not inherently or inescapably high. There is no need to fund education through redistribution.

The one nit I have to pick with the Cato crowd is on vouchers. Entitlements to education, like vouchers, can produce the same results that the author of this book decries- corruption and waste. But this disagreement does not detract from the general value of this book. Read it and learn more about learning.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Very powerful book 26 Feb. 2010
By S. Moestl - Published on
Format: Hardcover
I'd like to see as many people reading this book as have read the very popular book Three Cups of Tea. Both of these books are about education in poor countries, but this book is well researched, detailed, and has some fascinating insights. It's also a great read. While Three Cups of Tea appears to advocate that the poor can only be helped by charitable outsiders or government, The Beautiful Tree gives us details of how the poor are educating their children now, despite abysmal public schools.

I look forward to hearing more from James Tooley.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
beautiful trees and hothouse flowers 9 Oct. 2009
By Steven Crane - Published on
Format: Hardcover
"... it's a peculiarly modern and unhelpful mistake to conflate education with schooling," James Tooley observes in The Beautiful Tree. Schooling is about where one goes, while education is about what one actually learns. This book will give you an education.

To begin near the end of the book, Tooley's historical research indicates the state-run education system in Britain started with for-profit and philanthropic schools that were gradually taken over by the government (I suspect the same process occurred in America). However, in exporting education to the developing world, both during the colonial era and the modern age of foreign aid, we've gotten it exactly backwards, sponsoring massive state-run projects with all the bloat, corruption and lack of accountability one would expect. There's a lot of schooling going on, but very little education. The development and aid experts all recommend time, patience, and of course, more funding.

The surprising good news Tooley chronicles is that even the poorest and most isolated communities in the developing world are doing for themselves instead of waiting for others to do for them. He finds small private schools in slums, fishing villages and remote mountain towns, and provides objective evidence that these private schools are succeeding on a pittance where well-funded public schools are little more than day-care centers, or are too remote for rural children to get to.

This is all wonderful, and left me wondering, "What can we in the developed world do to help?" Tooley recommends more capitalism: carefully targeted vouchers for the poorest of the poor, microfinance loans to help private schools improve their facilities, and eventually turning the best of the private schools into franchises or chains.

Will a capitalist approach to education succeed in the developing world? It could hardly do worse than the present sorry situation. I lack Mr. Tooley's optimism about the uneclipsed virtue of capitalism, simply because concentrations of power, money and influence will always tempt the fallen angels of our nature, whether the concentrations occur in government, development agencies, business or even religion. To his credit, he is taking a gradual, small-scale approach to cultivating "the beautiful tree". I can only hope that those who follow his lead will remember that the point is education, not merely making a buck.
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