"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Proper Response

Some years ago, at the conclusion of an essay on competitive monies and monetary reform, economist Pamela Brown of Auburn University quoted Brian Loasby's statement in Choice, Complexity, and Ignorance that "competition is a proper response to ignorance." This concept can be traced back through several economic minds, including Nobel Laureate Friedrich Hayek. The central filament of the thing is, of course, that the results of free-market competition in the provision of some good or service cannot be predicted ab initio, the presumptions of statists and monopolists notwithstanding.

Today, John Stossel at Jewish World Review makes a vital connection to America's preeminent ignorance factory:

When a government monopoly limits competition, we can't know what ideas would bloom if competition were allowed. Surveys show that most American parents are satisfied with their kids' public schools, but that's only because they don't know what their kids might have had!


Surveys taken in various parts of the nation indicate that the average high-school graduate of our time is less knowledgeable, particularly in the politically critical fields of American and world history, than an eighth grader of a century ago. The need for such graduates to take remedial classes in English composition and mathematics as college freshmen is a well known national ignominy. The persistent inability of college graduates to express themselves clearly and coherently in the workplace speaks even more eloquently about the low standard of performance to which we hold our expensive educational institutions.

This has been going on, and getting worse, since World War II. You'd think we didn't know any better...or didn't want to.

Yet the major educrats' union, the National Education Association, maintains a stout barrier against educational competition of any sort: vouchers, tuition tax credits, open enrollment among public schools, or any other alternative. The NEA's ability to galvanize its two-million-plus members to fight initiatives toward that end has defeated school choice proposals in state after state. It's also thwarted the expansion of pilot choice programs such as those established in Cleveland and Florida. It routinely wins the support of state Departments of Education, which should surprise no one. Today, it fights most fiercely against measures intended to ease the burdens of homeschooling families, an option it has impeded but failed to criminalize...so far.

Sure sounds as if there's something the NEA doesn't want us to know, doesn't it? Which explains a lot about the erudition level of our kids, when you think about it. But Americans don't like to be kept in the dark. When we discover that someone in authority has been hiding something from us, we tend to take it badly. The more important the subject, the worse we take it.

So: When confronted by a gigantic, very wealthy union determined to keep you and your children ignorant, what would you deem a proper response?

11 comments:

Matt Huisman said...

For those interested, it looks like John Stossel is devoting the whole show (20/20) this Friday to the subject.

Matt Huisman said...

It always strikes me as odd when people that have a natural inclination towards evolution take anti-competitive positions. It's one thing to say that protecting the weak is the product of cultural evolution - for individuals. But institutions?

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

Dang! All the posts that interest me the most seem to get started right when I'm going on vacation! Great one Francis!

I'm not so sure the NEA is hiding anything though. They are fighting tooth and nail to hold on to power, thats all.

Who benefits from the NEA's power? The NEA, the education establishment, and Democrats ... not the school children.

They really have the ideal gig!

In regards to Matt's comment, that is an interesting question. Evolution is messy; lots of death, lots of failure, and only the strong survive.

Actually Matt, why on earth would anyone really care about a childs' education, especially if that child is not their own?

Matt Huisman said...

Oh there are plenty of selfish reasons to be compassionate, so evolutionary thinkers are on decent ground there. When in doubt, just ask yourself WWSGD - What Would a Selfish Gene Do?

Of course, WWSGD does make the choice between improving your neighbor's education and protecting your employment a little tricky - what 'ought' one choose in such a situation?

James Elliott said...
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James Elliott said...

Ack. Let me try that again:

I find Stossel to be a bit of an enigma. Sometimes he can be so very spot on. And others, he can be so very wrong. But then, that's perhaps not so strange, but rather very human.

Personally, I have no beef with trying out new educational paradigms. The NEA is a monolithic bureaucracy, though I think you ascribe nefarious or cynical motives to it that are perhaps unreasonable. It is certainly true that people become easily entrenched and intractable the longer they exist in a position. You see that in any industry, public or private.

The only question I have about vouchers is if, as conceived, they will be able to be of equal benefit to low-income and middle-income families as to upper-income families. I would most certainly support a tax credit for private school tuition; same as I do for college education.

"Actually Matt, why on earth would anyone really care about a childs' education, especially if that child is not their own?"

Because they want their own children to live in a decent world? Perhaps because the more educated everyone else is, the better quality of life is? Because they want an end to straw men and silly rhetorical questions?

Devang said...
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Kathy Hutchins said...

The only question I have about vouchers is if, as conceived, they will be able to be of equal benefit to low-income and middle-income families as to upper-income families.

If it would help get school voucher pilot programs started up, I would be more than happy to restrict them to low-income parents. We have such a test program in the District, in which vouchers are awarded by lottery to applicants who must meet a strict income limit; it is too early for a full evaluation, but early results are promising. This program, as limited as it is, would never have seen the light of day if the Democrat mayor, Tony Williams, had not openly bucked the ed establishment in the DC Public Schools.

I would most certainly support a tax credit for private school tuition

Unless you made it a refundable credit it would have limited impact; many of the lower-middle and middle class households who would benefit from tuition tax credits don't pay any federal income tax.

Devang said...

Here are a couple pertinent WSJ articles, one summarizing a study showing vouchers aren't inherently better once class, race and other factors are considered (I think it's a bit fishy how they did that, I can post the whole article), and another containing opinion about education in general.

I have a little idea how to go about raising school standards, but it should begin by not trying to lower them. Anywho, some observations I've made:
1) Private schools actually tend to amplify both the good and bad of public schools (more guns, drugs, and sex because there is presumably more money around). I have friends who will vouch for this.
2) It's much more of a societal problem than we currently think of it as.
3) Very large, ginormous infact, inefficiencies in education can be tolerable, IMO, because they aren't inefficiencies at all but a really really long-term investment (on the order of centuries).

James Elliott said...

Unless you made it a refundable credit it would have limited impact; many of the lower-middle and middle class households who would benefit from tuition tax credits don't pay any federal income tax.

Yes, thank you for the correction.

The Classic Liberal Anonymous said...

"Actually Matt, why on earth would anyone really care about a childs' education, especially if that child is not their own?"

JFE: Because they want their own children to live in a decent world? Perhaps because the more educated everyone else is, the better quality of life is? Because they want an end to straw men and silly rhetorical questions?



Touche ... that was my "I'm leaving for a long weekend of camping" troll. I apologize for wasting anyones time with it.

Matt had some fun with it tho! :)