No, I haven’t decided to get married 6 times, and behead a couple of my ex-wives. Much to the relief of my wife, Yuri.
No, I’m talking about Henry’s status as “Defender of the Faith” that he was awarded by the pope, a couple of years before getting ex-communicated. See, I’m pretty sure that my sea change in beliefs around public education have undergone as fundamental shift over the last two years.
If you had asked me two years ago, my thoughts on something as fundamental as school vouchers, I would have stated that school vouchers were the last thing we needed. If we give out school vouchers, its going to cause middle class parents to opt out of public schools in favor of private schools, and with them the funding and involvement that has made public schools in the US such a success.
I also would have told you that I favor funding of public schools at a federal level. The current funding level for most school districts is determined in part by the property taxes of that county, which lead in my mind to a downward spiral whereby the poorest areas received the worst education, and thus became more poor.
I was all for more money being spent on education, never voted against a school bond, always thought the best thing we could do as a society was to spend money on public education so that we improved our standard of living and our global competitiveness.
So I’ve been reading ideas and thoughts of those people most ardently opposed to the current system of education and government in this country. This is something that I recommend to everyone. How else are we to expand our knowledge and imagination unless we see what those heretics are saying about the things that are so fundamental to our existence?
To that end, I hang out with people like one Dan Moore who speaks more articulately and with more clarity than most of his fellow libertarians at the CATO institute. We engaged in a vigorous discussion a couple of years ago as we debated the pros and cons of school vouchers.
As per his usual, Dan laid out his argument with the pedantic tone of a martial arts master, prompting all sorts of snide remarks about him, his mother, his lineage and his lack of poker ability. At the end of the conversation, I was convinced that Dan had laid out a logical argument that school vouchers coupled with the complete ability of parents to decide where to send their children will lead to better educational outcomes for everyone involved.
Dan starts his argument by discussing the super rich, and how they’re going to be totally unaffected by the law, as they already are sending their kids to the best education that money can buy. The education received by these preppies won’t change one iota.
Now lets look at those upper middle class parents, who when combining their relatively less disposable income with the school voucher, are able to afford to send their children to private schools that cater to the education that they wish their children to receive rather than just the education handed out at the public school system.
This is where I assumed the impact stopped initially. Leading to my fears of a “white flight” from public schools. Because my argument was that parents further down the economic spectrum would not be able to effectively leverage their voucher into improved outcomes for their children.
Then came Dan’s point that if you couple the school voucher with the complete autonomy of the parents to send their kids to the school they wish became more clear. It’s actually this second aspect, the complete autonomy of the parents to send their kids to the school they wish that delivers better outcomes for everyone in the economic spectrum.
So lets say you’re a lower middle class or working class parent, and you don’t have any discretionary income to spend on top of your voucher amount. You still want the best education for your child. So you do some research into the schools in your area that cost the same as the voucher, and find what you’d expect to find, that is that some schools are better than others within the constraint of the school voucher cost. So you send your child to the better school, rather than the one they would be enrolled in by default.
Recognizing that not all parents will do this level of research for schools for their children, as they have busy lives, and they are still trying to figure out how to clothe, feed, and give shelter in this recession (read: jobless recovery) to their children. These other parents will most likely ask the other parents what information they have on the schools, and send their kids to the ones the other parents recommend.
In such a situation, bad schools will not have many children sent their way. Without the voucher money from enrollment that children bring, these bad schools won’t be able to cover their costs will have to close their doors. Thus the worst schools will be replaced with better schools. What is a bad school and what is a good school will depend entirely on the definition of the parents themselves, as they ultimately control the voucher purse strings.
Onto this new outlook, I began having discussions with one Alex Krupp, who suggested that I read John Taylor Gatto. So I ordered a couple of John Taylor Gatto books from Amazon, Weapons of Mass Instruction, and Dumbing us Down. First, let me say that you probably don’t need to read both books, and that Weapons of Mass Instruction is a much better constructed narrative, as Dumbing us Down is a collection of essays and speeches that cover much of the same ground.
Well if my conversation with Dan Moore, removed much of my belief in the public good of public schools, John Taylor Gatto’s fascinating exploration of the history of compulsory schooling in the United States removed whatever may have been left. Now I’m convinced that home schooling our future kids may be the only way to raise our children to be citizens of the highest order, and to be truly educated (much to the chagrin of my wife, who thinks I’m crazy for doing such a complete 180 in such a short time). But as is my norm, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.
First some background on John Taylor Gatto, he is a past winner of New York State Teacher of the Year, and spent 30 years teaching in public schools. It is with this hard-earned school credibility, that Gatto attacks the institute of public schools.
It seems that the whole of society has been sold a bill of goods on the purpose of compulsory schooling. In discussing the history of public schools in the US, Gatto points us to the original aims for public schools. I would have expected something bombastic along the lines of “We are designing a curriculum to teach children the critical thinking skills necessary to lead the citizenry of this great nation.” As it turns out, the main goals for instituting compulsory public schools was to produce compliant people who could be employed as factory workers eager to please, and hesitant to question management.
The specific principles of compulsory schooling beyond elementary school as outlined in Alexander Inglis’s 1918 book, Principles of Secondary Education.
Scary, huh? Yeah, no kidding. They borrowed many of the techniques from the Prussian military schools, which turned out soldiers. This model works very well when building an army, where there are needs for people who will follow orders blindly, know their place, and have a small group of officers calling all the shots. Then again, maybe not.
In WWII, the enlisted men had an functionally literacy rate of 96 percent, the recruits for WWII were educated in the 1930’s when compulsory schooling was just being enforced nationwide. By the Korean War, only 81% were considered functionally literate (this equates to a 4th grade reading level). By the Vietnam War the percentage of functionally literate recruits was down to 73%. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised having read the Principles of Secondary Education which didn’t include anything about reading.
Pulling that same issue forward, what we’ve done is elongate the schooling process in an attempt to compensate what is clearly not working. Formerly, autodidacts in log cabins became our greatest presidents. Today, we see advanced graduate degrees as a baseline for what is required to succeed in society. All just culminating in critical thinking about one specific subject of inquiry. We end up with more college graduates than ever, but a less dynamic economy due to the lack of independent thought.
John Taylor Gatto argues these points and many more, much more effectively than my blog could hope to, so I recommend that you go out and read this great book, and then pass it on to someone you know who cares about education.