Energion Roundtable Week 10 Responses

Posted By Elgin Hushbeck

This week’s Energion Roundtable question concerned education, and like last week there was considerable agreement among the responses from  Arthur Sido, Bob Cornwall,, Joel Watts and myself.

But while there were large areas of agreement there were some key difference. One place I disagreed with Cornwall, was with his statement that, “It will take money, good teachers, parents who care about the future of their children, and young people who have a desire to learn and grow.”

Now at first blush it might seem that there is little to disagree with here.  However I would argue that we already spend more than enough money and that there are plenty of good teachers and concerned parents. As for young people “who have a desire to learn and grow,” this strikes me as putting the cart before the horse. Young people are, well, children. It is part of the job of parents and teachers to instill this desire, and quite frankly, to push them when they would rather do other things.

One of the problems is that the system often gets in the way of teachers and parents. Just look at the waiting lists and lotteries for charter schools. We need to encourage such choice and opportunities. The flip side of this is that teachers unions often make it virtually impossible to get rid of bad teachers.  What is really needed is not more money, but structural reforms that free up parent and good teachers, while removing the bad teachers. 

Not too surprisingly, Sido and Watts were at opposite ends of the question on the role of the Federal Government.  Sido wrote, “that there is no Constitutional role for the Federal government in compulsory public education.”  Watts, on the other hand, wrote, “given the disparate needs of the country, the Federal Government is about the only way to ensure a decent educational system.”

Now I disagree with Watts that the Federal government is the only way.  This is only true if you seek a system based on command and control. But if instead you have a system based on choice and competition, i.e., a bottom up approach, the role of Federal government is much less obvious. While this may not get to Sido’s goal of no Federal role, it would greatly limit any Federal role. This is because there is very little that can be done by the Federal government without stifling choice and competition.

Still, there is another issue here. The problem with many failing schools is often not so much the schools themselves, but rather the schools are just a sign of a much greater cultural problem.  Failing schools are a symptom of failing neighborhoods, which is itself a symptom of the breakdown of the family.  It is just a truism that what you subsidize you get more of, and what you tax you get less of.  Yet in a grand social experiment government has for 50 year tried to ignore this basic principle of economics, with sadly very predicable responses.  

George Gilder, in fact, was one who did predict it in his books Men and Marriage (originally published in 1975 as Sexual Suicide) and his Wealth and Poverty, which sold over a million copies and has just been updated for the 21st century.  Gilder summed up the attacks on the family from government as requiring a welfare state to take care of the women and children, and a police state to deal with boys growing up without solid male role models. This pretty close to what we find in many inner cities were such government programs have had the most effect.   It may not be politically correct to say so, but the problem of failing schools will never be dealt with until we deal with the issue of failing families.

Oct 23rd, 2012

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