See this article from NPR for the details.
Basic story: Sam Singh is an Indian executive with DuPont, who, at age 60, took half a million dollars of his own money and returned to his ancestral homelands in northern India – and founded a girl’s school on land from his family’s ancient feudal estate. Girls and women are traditionally and routinely mistreated in this impoverished area. Mr. Singh wanted to break this cycle – thus, his school.
The girls learn how to become economically independent, and tend to delay marriage in order to do so. Now, economically valuable and independent of their family, they can free themselves from the cycle of abuse.
So, who can argue with this story? Who doesn’t want girls and women to be treated well? So, Sam Singh is rightly honored for his altruism.
But there’s a more general and problematic facet exemplified by this story: Sam Singh, by providing this school, is trying to kill an existing culture and replace it with one he likes better. In this case, we can all agree that a culture of cruelty and abuse toward women deserves to die, and so we don’t mourn it. Small price to pay for progress, etc. In general, all schooling aims to either support and reinforce an existing culture (religious schools, rural one room schools) or it aims to destroy an existing culture and replace it with something else.
It might be argued that a school could be used to refine and improve an existing culture, not to simply destroy it. I would counter that such a school would necessarily involve the families of the students, which, after all, are the carriers of the culture supposedly being improved. So, if you see a school in which the parents are deeply involved in the content and management, then maybe the school is supporting their culture. Otherwise, I think it impossible – the typical reluctance of schools to have parent input on any significant aspect of the curriculum, or even to allow parents to be present at school except under extremely controlled circumstances argues that the schools are not engaged in furthering the culture of the parents.
In the case of Mr. Singh, his school is voluntary – he not forcing people to attend. In this respect, he is operating like religious schools in America. It is a choice by the families to send their daughters. This seems proper to me – the families are enticed to send their daughters by the promise of financial improvement. They are agreeing, on some level, to the proposed destruction of their culture
Now for the $26K question: Under what circumstances would you need *compulsory* schools? Either it’s a failure in marketing – the target market doesn’t understand that the new culture will be better than the culture they are being asked to sacrifice – or, the target audience does understand the proposition, and doesn’t want their culture to die.You would compel attendance if you believed that the people you are compelling are WRONG – that their culture should die, and that the culture your school will supply is better.
Historically, this is exactly what happened in America and elsewhere. Here, Horace Mann wanted to replace independent Yankee culture with the industrialized Prussian culture he, as a factory owner, so admired. The farmers and shopkeepers and other people of Massachusetts disagreed (Orestes Brownson, for example: “Such a system of education is not inconsistent with the theory of Prussian society but the thing is wholly inadmissible here.”). And so, for a couple of decades, Mann was forced to work through the legislature, where his type of people – factory owners – were overrepresented, against the voters, who rejected every attempt to tax them to pay for schools that they would then be required to attend.
Until the Irish immigrants showed up. Using school to destroy their culture was something the factory owners and farmers could agree on. Brownson wasn’t buying it, but that’s another story.