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The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey Into How the World's Poorest People Are Educating Themselves Hardcover – April 16, 2009

4.6 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Tooley (Reclaiming Education) documents his surprising finding that private schools are providing quality education to millions of poor children in the developing world. Whereas development experts insist that the path out of poverty lies in investment in public schools, the author draws on his fieldwork in India, China and Africa to argue that small entrepreneurs are educating the poor. In one region of India, 80% of urban children and 30% of rural children attend private schools; in China's Gansu province 586 private schools are located in small villages, even though the state prides itself on its public system. Contrary to accepted wisdom, the modest fees of private schools are within reach of most, and parents find them superior to public schools that are often riddled with corruption and incompetence. Tooley argues that development funds be invested to support these institutions, through vouchers to parents and microfinance loans to the schools. The author's engaging style transforms what could have been a dry if startling research report into a moving account of how poor parents struggle against great odds to provide a rich educational experience to their children. (Apr.)
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From the Back Cover

"Tooley's specialty is ultra-low-cost private education in the world's poorest countries. Orthodox opinion on developing-country education for the poor holds that parents are too ignorant to know a good school when they see one, and that a decent education is impossible to provide on the minimal budgets available to private schools serving poor students. In country after country, Tooley found that both claims are false. The book is a memoir of his travels and researches, and a thorough examination of the issues. Everyone interested in development should read it."
--Clive Crook, The Atlantic

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 268 pages
  • Publisher: Cato Institute; 1 edition (April 16, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933995920
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933995922
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #927,934 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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Format: Hardcover
Interesting and challenging travels around the world, discovering an abundance of true modern education being demanded and delivered to the poor by small time entrepreneurs - in spite of governments, aid agencies, and education "experts."

The corruption and incompetence of public education systems the world over can be illuminating to the problems of American and British systems as well.

The lesson: Get your child out of any public system and into private instruction by any means possible.

The insight: Aid experts, agency authorities, liberal intellectuals, politicians have unjustified, rationalistic contempt for the poor, considering them essentially sub-human, unable to judge results for themselves, having no personal values and goals for themselves or their children, and needing to have the wisdom and policies of their betters forced upon them. Empirical evaluation of this assumption and the consequences of policies is not needed - only more tax money.

Commercial schools and teachers are typically more able and more committed to educating children than state certified ones. Motivated by their desire to win customers and the respect of their communities.

Tooley fails to generalize his understanding to the benefits and morality of capitalism (free choice, trade) to all areas of life. Perhaps he is focusing on one battle at a time?

Assisting with Tooley's work and the publication of this book alone justifies the existence of the Cato Institute - not to mention their many other valuable publications.
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