Russell and Duenes

Public Schools: What If the Public Schools Go Out of Business?

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school busIf we do not support the public schools, we essentially abandon poor and minority families who cannot afford private schools and who do not have parents who can afford the time to home-school. What will these indigent poor do without a public school system?

Here I am not addressing Christians who would give their children an explicitly Christian education, but simply cannot afford to. Rather, this question could be put thus: Suppose Christians decide to get biblical and abandon the public schools. What then will happen to those who are left in the abandoned public schools? If the public schools collapse, which they would if Christians pulled their support from them, what will those left in the public schools do? There are several ways to answer this.

First, getting the government out of the public school business does not mean getting them out of education. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 said that government should forever be “encouraging” education, not administering it. So let them encourage. Indeed, let the government provide subsidies to families for education, to be spent on education the way health savings accounts are spent on health care. Of course this is appalling to the statists who want to run other people’s lives, based on the soft bigotry which holds that “other people,” particularly the poor and minorities, are too stupid or irresponsible to know how to best direct funds toward the education of their children. No, this must be left to the technocrats and Harvard suits in the government who “know what’s best” for your children. But many a parent in Washington D.C. would love to spend tax dollars currently going to abysmal public schools at the school of their choice, were they given a choice.

People somehow assume, without evidence, that if the current public school system collapsed, we’d be surrounded by illiterate hobos running wild in the streets. We are credulous enough to believe that, but for the government taking care of our educational needs, we’d all be clueless about how to educate our children. But this is just a cover for the real argument, namely, that if the government got out of the schooling business, who would turn our children into reliably left-wing citizens? Who would teach them that “sex as recreation” is the most liberating thing on the planet? Who would teach them to believe, as Peter Hitchens puts it, “that education should be used to eradicate privilege and elitism, to spread the gospel of the new society in which everyone (and everything) is equal, a sort of concrete embodiment of that hideous song ‘Imagine,’ which has become the hymn of sixties boomers.” (The Abolition of Britain, p. 64).

Instead of the public schools, what we need is “a private, for-profit industry to develop that will provide a wide variety of learning opportunities and offer effective competition to public schools.” (Milton Friedman, Public Schools: Make Them Private). This means that entrepreneurs will enter the educational business, id., which in turn will drive down costs while increasing accountability because failing schools will simply go out of business. This could not all be done at once, of course. Id. But we underestimate American ingenuity and creativity if we think that we cannot do better than our current public school system. Where there is a need and desire for education, there will be those willing to provide that service with excellence; and if they don’t provide excellence at one school, there will another one down the road that will provide it.

The objection is raised that privatizing education will lead to “poor kids . . . go[ing] to poor-kids’ schools and well-off kids . . . go[ing] to well-off-kids’ schools.” In other words, private schools will cater to rich kids and the poor will be kicked to the curb. However, one should like to see the evidence for this argument. The assumption that there will be no educational options for “the poor” is baseless, for there are right this moment private schools that are dedicated to giving the poor a better education. (See Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy). Would these just go away were we to privatize education? Might we not simply adduce examples of how the free market has led to increased access to goods and services by the relatively poor, say, for example, auto insurance and airline tickets? Further, would there be no response from the churches to fulfill an educational function that the Church historically filled?

Fact is, the sky would not fall were there no government schools. Doomsaying grabs headlines, but rarely leads to the predicted doom (e.g., overpopulation and running out of food serve as prime examples of such folly). As a nation, we value education too much, and we have too much resourcefulness to let large swaths of the country go without an education. But education is not a “one size fits all” enterprise, and therefore, our schools should not conform to such a system, as they do now. The fact that there is money to be made in private education in no way besmirches those who would attempt to offer it. Indeed, it may motivate them to provide a superior product, as it has done in so many other industries. And in principle, it will expand freedom in education, of which we could use a great deal more.



Written by Michael Duenes

July 21, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Posted in Duenes, Education

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