The Dividing Line, P3

Loosely inspired by conversations with Citizen Tom, and building on previous posts here, here and here, let’s ask some questions, and attempt to provide answers.

A very good starting point would be this comment of mine over at Tom’s site, and his response:

What would you suggest as a replacement (to federally-funded education)? A for-profit model? Education handled by local government (so, presumably local taxes rather than federal ones)? Charitable donations?


I don’t think it is my job to tell other people how to educate their children. I just expect parents to make certain that their children are educated. It is child abuse when we don’t educate our children.

If I was king (don’t want the job), I would can the whole idea of government paying for the education of children. Parents, not government, have the primary responsibility for the education of children.

What if parents need help? They should seek assistance from private charities. 

What options do parents have? Homeschooling, private for-profit schools, religious schools, tutoring, and so forth. Those options are less expensive than public schools, BTW. Public schools are costly to the tax payers.

What are the political realities. Most people think government should provide financial assistance to parents in the education of their children. So, I expect charter schools and education vouchers to become more commonplace. I prefer education vouchers. If parents want to send their children to religious school, that is fine with me. I just don’t think that taxpayers should be paying for schools that preach revolution against our government, encourage criminal activity or contribute to the delinquency of a minor.

Let’s address this. Firstly, Tom admits he would do away with any form of government education (presumably all of it, the national, state and local levels, would all go). Parents, he insists, have the main responsibility. Now, in a comment on Meerkat Musings, Tom framed this as parents having a responsibility to teach values to their children, which I absolutely agree with. We probably differ quite wildly in terms of what we believe to be the right values, but that’s irrelevant.

How are parents to ensure children are educated? Tom lists what he considers to be the right forms. Home-schooling is not practical for every parent (I for one, am not qualified to teach any subject, least of all to a standard that would help my daughter with her desired career paths). I suspect most parents do not have the skills needed to teach their children properly, especially in complex fields such as economics, the sciences etc. I also suspect a lot of parents will find it difficult to devote the time to this, given many of them will be working.

Tom offers up an alterative: for-profit schools. Who runs these, who sets the curriculum, who provides oversight to ensure quality control? You certainly cannot rely on for-profit models ensuring long-term quality. When money is the primary motivator, the curriculum most certainly can and will be influenced by whoever greases the right palms with the most cash. Corners will inevitably be cut (just look at how the privatisation of public sector fields has has a damaging impact elsewhere: for example, the UK’s water companies, or the spiralling cost of rail travel on the UK’s privatised railway network). Who will determine a fair cost of private education?

Tom asserts that private education will actually cost families less than public schools do via tax. This is false. The average annual cost of private schooling in the USA is $12,000 per year. The average American pays just shy of $18,000 a year in taxes, and of that, four percent goes towards education. That is obviously far lower than the $12,000 average that private schools would cost.

Tom distinguishes between private and religious schools; the reality is they are one and the same. In fact, most private schools in the USA are religious schools.

So, not only is the for-profit model likely to be more expensive for American families (if we take current costs of private education into account), the quality and type of education will more likely be dictated by money, there is a history of private enterprise cutting corners when in control of public services, and to top it all off, there will be an incredible disharmony between different religious schools, as I referenced in a prior post (something Tom does not appear to have acknowledged, much less address). Is Tom content to have different versions of the creation narrative taught, depending upon what denomination of Christianity is running any given private school? Does he object to government financial aid in the form o vouchers contributing to privately run Islamic schools, which would likely have a different curriculum to Christian schools?

Can Tom not see the irony in expecting the government to fund vouchers for private schools? Where will the money for these vouchers come from? Thin air? Tom also suggests that parents seek handouts from charities to fund their child’s education needs. That simply seems like he seeks to shift the burden, and it is heavily reliant on the largely absent generosity of those who have wealth.

Finally, whilst Tom may carry a lot of objections to publicly-run schools, he has quietly dismissed the evidence that suggests public-run education provides superior outcomes. There are some metrics that suggest the current US system is one of the best in the world. I suspect Tom’s criticism of quality rests in subjective reasoning (namely, things are taught that he personally disagrees with), rather than an objective, measurable failing of the system. Many other countries run internationally renowned public education systems, that produce measurable, tangible results. Like I referenced in my prior post, several Nordic countries score very highly for the quality of their state-run education.

None of this is to say that a publicly run education system is perfect, but the evidence makes it clear that it far more cost-effective than Tom claims, and there are international examples of state-run education systems proving to be the best in the world. I see no reason to shift to a system that many parents would not be able to afford, or in the case of home-schooling, be capable of providing the time and quality toward.

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