Vestiges of Guild Socialism Linger On
Not too many years ago, if one wanted to be taught to play the piano in New Zealand, one was required to hire a registered piano teacher. There was no other kind. The profession of piano teaching was protected. The justification for this inanity? It was to protect the interests of piano students. It was to ensure that when they hired a teacher, they hired quality. They would be taught “correctly”.
In reality, the enforced registration of piano teachers served to protect a cosseted guild. It stopped piano teachers entering the market. It cut down competition. It protected the jobs of the registered. It also meant higher prices for piano tuition. The entire practice was a medieval hangover. But it lasted in New Zealand until the seventies.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with professional institutes with establishing standards, and admit into membership only those who have attained and maintain the standards. To this day there is an Institute of Registered Music Teachers in New Zealand. We are sure they do excellent work. But the critical change lies here: no longer is there an institute running a state enforced monopoly over the supply of musical teaching services.
There remains in New Zealand at least one enormous state-enforced monopoly of a profession: teachers in the government schools. In order to teach one has to be a state Registered Teacher. The duties and functions of the NZ Teachers Council, which administers the registration process are similar to all professional associations existing to maintain standards. But, in this case, it is a state run monopoly. The arguments for such a state monopoly are the same as those used decades ago to justify a state enforced registry of piano teachers. The effects are the same. It represents guild socialism at its worst.
Fundamentally, the state run and enforced NZ Teachers Council protects the interests of its members and reduce competition. It raises and maintains barriers of entry to teachers entering the profession.
The emotive justification for having such an ante-diluvian system is that a state enforced registration of teachers will protect children from, not just professional incompetence, but from those who would abuse vulnerable children in one way or other. Does it work? Not really. Every year not a few teachers are struck off the Register not just for professional incompetence, but egregious breaches of ethics.
The monopolist registration system fails to protect vulnerable children. That’s the bottom line. And it always will. What appears to be a most disgusting example is playing out in the court at the moment. Details have been published in the NZ Herald. [The matter is sub-judice, so whilst prosecution evidence is now public, the defence has yet to present. Caution, therefore, is required by all. As the Proverb has it, the first to plead his case seems just, until another comes to examine him.]
But, these sorts of incidents are not untypical. The NZ Teachers Council publishes the findings of its disciplinary tribunal here. It is clear that teachers have not escaped the general depravity of the human race. It is clear that the “promise” with respect to child protection from operating a state run monopolistic guild is repeatedly broken.
In the meantime how many suitably qualified people are kept away from the profession because they are not interested in climbing over the barriers erected by the State monopoly? They have better things to do with their time. The employing school should be charged with the responsibility to vet all candidates for teaching positions. They are the responsible entity. As it stands now, most schools assume the monopolistic registration process ensures all candidates are suitable and properly qualified. They don’t have to worry, or exercise even basic due diligence.
Enforced monopolies and guilds always protect and featherbed the mediocre and unworthy. They end up giving teaching a bad name. That is the problem. And so it is in New Zealand.