Morality, Money, and Young Minds

In recent days I have been having a ‘back and forth’ with Citizen Tom on the subject of education. Tom believes that education should be in private hands, which he believes would therefore be subject to the whim and will of parents. He does not like what state education teaches, and considers it to immoral. He also thinks parents are denied a choice as to what kids learn, and how they learn it.

Tom also believes – rather misguidedly in my view – that privatising education would render it cheaper for most Americans. This belief is borne out of a misunderstanding of statistics and the maths. It can be rendered moot by a personal experience that Tom has, at the time of writing this, been reluctant to carry out.

The Money

Tom doesn’t really think the financial aspect of his idea is relevant, and has ridiculed my position without actually offering a meaningful rebuttal. He acknowledges that private schooling in the USA is very expensive, but claims (whilst citing an example) the true cost of public schooling is hidden (we’ll overlook that he found this information on a public site, freely available to anyone who cared to look). Tom claims that the US taxpayer would pay $15,200 per student in the Prince William County. Since the average taxpayer paid $18,000 in taxes (a little higher than what I’d worked out before), and since education makes up only four percent of the US budget, it is clear that the average taxpayer does not in fact pay $15,000 per student. It may be the case that the government spends more than it takes in through taxes, but this is nothing new; successive governments around the world do this.

Instead of acknowledging this financial reality, Tom preferred to cite the hidden costs agenda, even though it is not physically possible for the taxpayer to be spending that much per student!

Tom could have done a simple personal exercise to further illustrate my point, but it seems he was uncomfortable with this, perhaps because it would blow his narrative out of the water, with his own experience being the cause. I performed the same experience, and it is easy enough that anyone can do it:

During the last financial year, I paid £2,454 in taxes. 9.1% of the UK Budget goes towards education, so towards education I paid £223. The nearest private school to me charges £5,100 per term, and seeing as there are three terms a year here, that makes £15,300 per year, were I to send my child there. That represents more than half my income!

There are several other private schools near me, and some are slightly cheaper, but they all equate to costing *a lot* more than my total tax bill, let alone only what I contribute towards education.

So, it would seem Tom’s argument about cost is bunk, and this may be why he has been determined instead to frame his position around morality.

The Moral Argument

Tom does not trust the US government. To be precise, he does not trust the current Democrat government. He does not approve of the state curriculum. He regards it as immoral. He believes parents should have a greater say over what their children learn, and the only way for parents to have that say is for schools to be privatised, so that parents have greater choice over where to send their kids. Of course, parents do currently have a choice, but private schools in the USA are tremendously expensive, with the cheapest around Richmond, Virginia coming in at $5,000 per year. That is not the fault of the US government, but rather the market forces that drive supply and demand, forces Tom would slave the US education system to. His idea that parents have control naïvely believes that they, and not money, would dictate the system.

Timothy 6/10 states that the love of money is the root of all evil. What is it that private companies covet? Ah yes, money. Profit. Fortune. That love creates a lot of the imbalance we see across society. Indeed, it could be argued it creates a multi-tiered society, where a person’s worth is measured in what they have in the bank. That is at best a very amoral society, and at worst, an immoral one. To go off a related tangent…

Right now in the USA, money is the most crucial element of society. It is the filter through which so much is examined. For Americans without health insurance, the decision to call an ambulance must be carefully weighed against the cost (the average for a basic life support transport is $950, and for an advanced life support transport, this rises to $1,300 on average). The average cost of insulin, which for diabetics is vital to their survival, is $99 in the USA. The next highest cost falls to Chile, where the average cost is $21, or to put it another way, nearly 80% cheaper. There are companies capping the cost of insulin at $35, a huge improvement on the existing figure, though the USA would remain comfortably clear regarding this unsettling statistic: 40% more expensive, to be precise.

For those who have the luxury of being able to afford these costs, life is already comfortable. Those with power and wealth are stacking the deck so to speak, and ensuring the very best service is available to them, and only them. Is this what we want from public services? Consider that the rich and powerful, who so often control the voices in the media too, are conditioning others to believe money = righteousness. Somehow, it is seen as righteous that some people – a lot of people – have to pay extortionate sums of money, simply to stay alive.

It gets worse. The radical evangelical right is absolutely opposed to abortion, yet is wedded to a system where it costs, on average, over $18,000 to give birth without insurance, and even $2,800 with insurance. The religious right and their allies within the GOP have this ‘pull yourself up by the bootstraps’ attitude, yet all the current system does is confer considerable debt to the average American. It makes you wonder why so many Republicans support this system, especially given that many are of working class stock, and being quietly exploited by the politicians they so readily worship…

After all, at one point, 40 GOP representatives owned millions of dollars in healthcare stock. They stand to benefit from the status quo, and it’s not just Republicans either. There are plenty of Democrats who benefit financially too. The existing arrangement pays well, and it makes it a lot more difficult for the average American to ‘pull themselves up’. This is intentional; those in power do not want to have their positions threatened. This loops nicely back to the point about the media and conditioning: the average American is conditioned to accept all of this, even when it is in their best interests to oppose it.

Is this the best model for education? Because this multi-tiered system, with wildly-varying quality, differing curriculums (which will lead to problems later on), and no guarantee of being a cheaper alternative to the current public model, does not seem to hold superiority in either the financial or moral departments…

Tom believes that parents, not politicians, are best qualified to determine what is best for the educational needs of their children. He is not without merit on that idea, but he would simply be turning to organisations where profit is the motivator, and profit-driven moguls and their ilk are not necessarily better qualified than politicians to determine the best course for education, not least of all seeing as many of them would inevitably cut corners on quality to save costs.

UPDATE 24/4/24: Tom wrote a brief, if rather meaningless rebuttal to this post, in which he once again claimed my numbers are inaccurate, which merely betrays his lack of understanding of them. Moreover, he did not reinforce his moral argument. He cannot seem to understand that there is nothing moral about letting businesses rule education, which is precisely what would happen if education were to be privatised.

Please follow and like us: