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Triage in Public Education

Written by Gary North on March 19, 2016

Triage is a battlefield concept out of World War I.

A medic brings a severely wounded man on a stretcher into the medical tent. A uniformed physician makes an initial prognosis. The man on the stretcher will probably:

1. Live, no matter what
2. Die, no matter what
3. Survive, but only if he gets immediate treatment

If the prognosis is either one or two, the physician has the medic put the stretcher in a corner. If the assessment is number three, the wounded man gets care.

There are limited resources in a medical unit. They should be allocated wherever they will have a statistically significant outcome.

It would be cruel to those in group three to waste resources on those in groups one and two.

This is economics in action.

Those who speak on behalf of “the wounded in general” cry out: “Unfair! Everyone deserves the same amount of help.” Wherever this outlook prevails, there will be more deaths. Those in group two will all still die, and more of those in group three will die.

The critics of triage shout: “That doesn’t matter. We must treat all men by the same principle.” But this a self-defeating principle. There will be more battlefield deaths.


Kids in the ghetto are statistically doomed if they stay in the public schools. These schools should be closed. They will not be closed.

Kids in middle-class suburbs will get mediocre educations, and will fail, flourish, or bump along in life, irrespective of their formal educations. These schools should be closed.

Kids in academic charter schools will either fail, enter the upper middle class, or else perform magnificently, based mostly on personal contacts they make in formal education settings. These schools should be closed.

The best policy is to close the schools.

In other words, I am not talking about triage for the kids. I am talking about triage for the schools.

The public schools are in group two. They are likely to die, no matter what. The only economically relevant question today is this: “How long will voters authorize the tax money required to keep them on life support?”


Salman Khan’s Khan Academy educates over 25 million students free of charge. This will go to a hundred million soon enough. It is clear that the public school model has failed.

There can be equivalent programs for every worldview and every parental budget. The Ron Paul Curriculum is an example. For under a million dollars, any group could get a K-12 program online within 12 months. If the teachers are willing to work for a piece of the action, you don’t need a million dollars.

Can there be electronic grading? There can be for middle-level programs: not charter school. If there are no essay exams, a computer program can grade exams. In community colleges, this has been done for a quarter century. Essay exams need teachers. But essays were abandoned a quarter century ago. Doubt me? Watch this.

Within 20 years, algorithms will replace all teachers except for those who help retarded kids who will barely be functional, no matter how much someone spends on them.


Tax-funded schools are a means the establishment uses to place limits on what is considered intellectually respectable. It is all about political correctness. It has been ever since the Puritan oligarchs in Massachusetts made local tax-funded, pastorally-policed education mandatory in every village, beginning in 1642. The General Court (legislature) passed this law in 1642.

(For the rest of my article, click the link.)

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