Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What is the Purpose of Education?

New Jersey Star-Ledger columnist Bob Braun weighed in some months ago on the idea that NJ's public schools are failing. In hias article titled Idea of failing N.J. public schools promoted by politicians, privatizers, celebrities, Braun took the naysayers to task. I, in turn, took him to task on his collectivist premises.

For one thing, he ties the quality of the schools to the wealth of the community, forgetting that New Jersey's municipal welfare scheme - whereby money is drained from some communities to subsidize others - has resulted in "poor" cities like Newark spending more money per pupil than any other city.

There's more, but in my comments I chose to focus on what I think is the most important - and telling - statement in the article. It goes to the heart of the matter: Just what is the purpose of education?

My Commentary

“Public schooling is a value as well as an institution. Fostering a democratic, egalitarian America. Reject that value and you change the country in unknowable, maybe dangerous, ways.”

Everything that is wrong with American education is embodied in those few words.

The people who cheer every antitrust attack on successful private companies like Apple, Microsoft, Intel, AT&T, and now possibly Google on trumped-up charges of “monopoly” turn a blind eye to a true destructive monopoly: the government-run public school establishment. Unlike those private companies, which draw their alleged monopoly power from the voluntary consent of their customers who willingly buy their products, the education monopoly collects it revenues and its customers (the students) by force. Compulsory taxation and compulsory attendance laws alone support the government schools, and the result is classic for coercive monopolies – exploding costs and imploding quality.

But, that’s not the worst part, which is that the public schools’ monopoly power serves to entrench the Progressive Education establishment, whose goal is precisely to foster “a democratic, egalitarian America.” Democracy is the subordination of the individual to the majority, which has unlimited power to do as it pleases. Egalitarianism holds that human beings are interchangeable components of a human ant colony, which reigns supreme. Both are fundamentally collectivist, and opposed to the American view of people as sovereign individuals possessing unalienable rights to manage their own lives. Progressive education has an overriding goal – to foster conformity to the group, or “social adjustment”, which is exactly what democracy and egalitarianism require.

To call that a value is to subvert the very concept of “value”. The purpose of education, fundamentally, is to train the child’s mind to deal with reality – to think, to analyze, to understand, to be independent. The independent mind is what democracy and egalitarianism abhor: The person who does his own thinking doesn’t readily submit to the will of any collective pack.

The missing ingredient in the whole school reform discussion is education philosophy. Failing schools are not caused by poverty, or lack of money – not @ $26Gs per year per student. Blaming the students is unjust and perverse. The problem is bad educational philosophy. Autonomous individual students, each with his own unique needs, strengths, and interests, can not be pushed robot-like through a school assembly line. Don’t think for yourself, conform to the mob is a prescription for boredom and failure.

The opposite of Progressive Education can be summed up nicely in the words of education researcher and entrepreneur Maria Montessori, who sought to give every child a chance to “become as powerful in their concentration, as independent of spirit, as strong of will and as clear of thought as the world’s greatest geniuses”. But, that philosophy and similar ones could never break through within the progressive monopoly.

The whole education model needs to be reexamined, otherwise Zuckerberg’s millions will disappear down an establishment rat hole. Government-run schooling has had its day, and has failed. The Progressive stranglehold must be broken. The public school monopoly must be dismantled, and a free market established in education. Start by converting the $100 million gift into student scholarship grants to be used on the school of the parents’ choice. Then, follow that with universal parental school choice through tax credits, where the parents’ tax money follows the student to the school of choice. A free market will open the school doors to a badly needed philosophical revolution in education, and the one kind of “diversity” that the progressives have always feared – a diversity of ideas. Not all ideas would be good, but all ideas would get a chance, and the free market will allow the best philosophies to prove themselves and win. (Are you listening, Governor Christie and Mayor Booker? Empower the parents!)

The “change” will be “unknowable” and “dangerous” only to the utopians that have never given up the dream of ruling over a compliant, orderly human ant colony. It’s time for real school reform.

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