Education: The Ultimate Answer…or Problem
by Andy Joppa
In 1983, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, was released by the presidential National Commission on Excellence in Education. Its bottom line was that the American public schools were failing miserably. Perhaps the most oft quoted passage from this report said:
“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war…We have in fact been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral disarmament.”
I’ve cited this passage before and, thank goodness, we have addressed the problems they saw, and we are now getting the “education” job done. Unfortunately, this is not true…not even close. U.S. schools are still failing our children. U.S. school kids hold their own internationally at the elementary level but slip further and further behind as the move into high school. We are perhaps the only country in the world where our children become less and less competitive the longer they stay in our schools. This is true of our advanced students and those in the middle. This does not even include that what they do learn is often a total rejection of all we know to be true and valuable.
Many conservative pundits suggest that vouchers are the answer to what ails the American Public Schools. Liberals respond that the problem issues are all built around funding and equity of school financing. Many conservatives, through vouchers, see the possibility of the public funding of religious schools. Are they interested in educational outcomes? That is debatable. I wonder how many would support the public funding of huge numbers of Islamic madrassa (schools)? That would most certainly happen. The Liberals make their focus funding and equity because, of course, that’s what they always do. It’s all they are designed to say because they see everything as a, “create dependency, win a lifetime voter” moment. Do they care about education? Please, don’t humiliate yourself. They are both wrong.
One more opening thought and a critical one is: This is the only topic area that, if dramatically improved, could undo many of the other delusions, illusions or confusions that surround modern America. It is also the only one, if change isn’t made, that will ensure that no other changes of value can be made.
Let’s start at Education 101. What is the purpose of the public schools? Why, of course, the purpose is to educate a child and improve the potentials of their future. This is wrong… completely wrong. The education of a child is a method not an end. The end is the creation of a healthy and stable society. It has been clearly recognized that the civilizing influence of education can soothe the savage breast (or is it “beast”?) and that making a child self-sufficient means they won’t have to leech from your hard earned funds or break into your house to get some “sugar” when they reach adulthood.
Why does this hair-splitting matter? It matters enormously because it explains two phenomena. The first is why taxpayers have to pay for the education of someone else’s child and why some elderly couple has to contribute to the well-being of that wild child who lives across the way. The reality is, “they don’t.” They pay education taxes because the public schools (in theory) help to produce a healthier society for all of us.
This also explains why the voucher system is unacceptable. The voucher system reverses the basic purpose of the public schools. It endeavors to produce a positive impact on the child with only a marginal concern for the value derived by society. Remember, that it is the value derived by society that is the only thing that creates justification for the confiscation of the funds of other community members to educate another’s child. The case cannot be made that a voucher school, driven by some vague, ill-defined curriculum additions, has but a limited chance to predictably produce a high-quality citizen.
You’re already drifting into a mindset that I am probably an advocate of the public schools. You are correct; however, and this is a big “however”, the argument can be made that the present public-school system is not producing high quality citizens as they are currently configured. The graduates (when there are graduates) are scarcely literate, have little understanding of the world that preceded them, and are hard boiled in enough fallacious memes to turn them into dysfunctional automatons. In most recent years we can add to this the inclusion of s*xual indoctrination, CRT absurdity, and support for BLM ideology. So, what else am I saying that most everyone is wrong about? Let me begin.
I’ll start with a few clichés but at least they’re ones that I’ve created. If the question is asked how much it costs to educate a child, the answer is always and only…” More than we’re spending now.” One more educational mind bender…again mine, “Education is never what is but is always what will be.” A complete thought based on these two premises would sound like this, “With more educational funds at our disposal, we should be able to turn the district’s performance around in just a few years.” This is never true. Let me modify that last statement. This is absolutely never true.
Money never improves education outcomes. What will be pointed out to you by apologists is just how well students do in districts that are heavily funded. The kids in those districts would perform as well or better if they never went into the schools at all. Whether they become quality citizens is anyone’s guess. What we do know is this. No seriously under-performing school has ever “turned it around” by an infusion of cash. I’m not necessarily against spending more money on schools I am merely stating a provable point, “Money does not, in itself, improve educational outcomes.”
A case can be made that more money may even damage the quality of education. Whoa! I might have persuaded you that money doesn’t improve education but how could more of this wondrous stuff actually hurt education? Let me start out with a quotation about the Catholic Schools of New York City. I have heard said on more than one occasion that, “These schools don’t educate well in spite of little money… they educate well by reason of a little money.” This is intriguing, but what does it mean? Did you ever see a beautiful woman who was too made up? They had too much jewelry, too much makeup, too much of everything. She spent more money on herself than she should have. This is not a perfect analogy, but it at least brings you to the willingness to contemplate that spending more money may not produce better results and may actually damage the end product.
How can and does this same type of thing happen in the public schools when too much is spent. Let’s return for a moment to the Catholic Schools. They don’t have money for frills. They are forced… heaven forbid…to focus on the basic elements of education. As the rhyme would have it, “ Readin’ writin’ and ‘ rithmetic.” The educational experience may not be broad, but it is deep. It is deep where it has to be; in the area of literacy skills, mathematics, and science… there is depth.
In addition, they maintain a sense of decorum that actually induces a child to believe that decorum may have value. This attribute costs nothing. Our public schools, since they actually have more money than they know that to do with, add only to the width of the educational experience. The greater the width the shallower the depth. It is truly a zero-sum battle between these two elements. When the nine-period day, however, becomes loaded down with the feel-good subjects du jour, then we have a serious contamination of the educational outcomes.
But doesn’t most of the money spent go into the classroom? Yes, this is true. It is also true that “the classroom” can best be understood as being teacher’s compensation. Even so, aren’t teachers woefully underpaid? If the word “teacher” means someone who teaches in a meaningful and productive manner, then I would say yes. If the word “teacher” means nothing more than someone who graduated from a teacher’s college, where it is almost impossible to flunk out, and is now merely titled, “The Teacher,” then they are woefully overpaid. Actually, the reason that the good teachers can’t make more is because bad teachers make too much.
The total pool of educational funds that are available for teacher compensation is actually quite generous. It would be impossible to pay your best teachers more when that would automatically raise all who aren’t performing to the same level…or at all. Our nation cannot throw more good money after bad. We need to improve education and paying poor teachers more money merely insures that they will stay in place doing a job that many of them hate because they can’t leave since they’re not employable elsewhere; certainly not at the compensation level and with the benefits they receive in the publics schools. The citizens, with their tax money, have paid for the longevity of many incompetent malcontents. They will eventually retire leaving educational carnage in their wake.
Many of you might remember the Laffer Curve. The curve was popularized by Arthur Laffer and reflected the historic economic awareness such as that suggested by Ludwig Von Mises in 1949 when he wrote, “In the United States the recent advances in tax rates produced only negligible revenue results beyond which what would be produced by a progression which stopped at much lower rates.” What does this have to do with educational funding? The Laffer Curve suggests that at some rate of taxation we reach a point of diminishing returns and that placing the tax rate at the appropriate lower level will actually maximize the tax revenues which were only available at that lower rate. The reason for this is suggested to be the higher taxation rates suppress economic activities because the individual does not perceive enough personal return on every subsequent unit of economic activity.
This is, perhaps, counterintuitive as is the notion that lower levels of spending will improve educational outcomes. The mechanism in education, however, is somewhat different. In education, the added funding stimulates a higher level of activities; most of them totally useless in the grand scheme of producing a better citizen who can take care of themselves. More is not always better. The one thing you will never hear from an agent of the public schools is, “Please, no more money. We have all we can possibly use.”
The bottom line of this entire discussion is this. If you fix education, then you go a long way to fixing everything else. If you don’t fix education, then all other efforts will be futile. Yes…it is that important.