Tag Archives: education

Public Education, and the Fight Against Indoctrination

Why do the supporters of public schools so abhor the idea of free choice and competition in the education industry? One of the more often-heard reasons is that allowing parents to send their children to alternative schools or to homeschool presents the unbearable risk of indoctrination. Indoctrinated children grow up to be dysfunctional members of society, so it is incumbent upon the rest of society to intervene and provide children with a standard, unbiased, and robust education, which the state is uniquely able to facilitate.

This concern by public school proponents about the risk of indoctrination seems oddly contrived, however, considering the ideology that informs public education policy prescriptions in the first place. The whole premise of public schooling is the instillation of knowledge not according to professional consensus, the scientific method, or the power of creative destruction, but according to ordained dogma of a political majority. This fact may sometimes be obscured by the implicit trust we have for our “professional” education bureaucracy, but remember that the bureaucrats are always appointed by the politicians.

That elections determine what we teach in school is an inherent volatility of public education which the system’s proponents are shockingly quick to tolerate. Does it not bother them, for example, that while evolution is currently the predominant theory of human origins taught in public science classrooms, it is possible—even likely, in certain localities—that a shift in the political winds could grant the power of crafting education policy to those who believe in the propriety of creationism as an alternative scientific theory? Having a free market in education would alleviate this volatility by allowing those who disagree to extricate their children from schools with such curricula and pursue alternative methods of schooling. Yet those who favor public schooling—a few on the right, but mostly on the left—abhor the idea of letting parents choose for themselves what kind of education their kids receive.

Why would people concerned with the education of their children expose themselves to such unnecessary risk? Why would they endlessly and restlessly struggle for control over education policy?

The explanation is simple: Public school proponents are not only concerned with the education of their own children—they are also concerned with the education of everyone else’s. As much as parents would love the freedom to teach their own children according to their own values and beliefs, having that freedom necessarily means granting it to others; but that means some parents could teach their children views which others find disagreeable. The only way for parents to have their cake and eat it too is the creation of compulsory public education, so that a majority of parents—busybodies—may teach their kids as they please while denying that same right to those without political power.

Paradoxically, their reliance on state power in the education sector displays both arrogance and diffidence simultaneously. So confident are they in the infallibility of their own ideas that they feel compelled to impress them upon all children in the pursuance of comprehensive and effective societal education, yet so insecure are they about the same ideas that they refuse to let their teaching methods and curricula stand alone in a free market without the aid of government force.

This paradox may be resolved, perhaps, by assuming that the individual consumers of education are too stupid to recognize infallible ideas, and that force is the only way to achieve proper education. If this is the case, however, then the ideas being forced upon people need not be valid or true, and consumers (voters) would have no way of holding education officials accountable for not providing true and valid curricula in the schools anyway.

Regardless of the particular rationale used to defend public schooling, we should ask ourselves—based on actions rather than words—who truly seems more worried about indoctrination? Those who believe in a competition of curricula and ideas, or those who seek to impose upon everyone else what they sincerely believe must always and forever be the correct worldview?

The Cost of College

Why state aid is the problem, not the solution

Of all the issues concerning college students these days, few hit closer to home than the issue of college tuition. In a world where a college education–especially a four-year degree–is seen as a bare necessity to compete in the global economy, making a quality education affordable to the most people should be of utmost importance to us as a society. Many people view higher education as something the government should predominantly, if not completely, fund. This sentiment surfaced in Wisconsin with the advent of Governor Walker’s Budget Repair Bill, and prevailed in the discussion surrounding his subsequent biennial budget proposal. Absent from this discussion, however, was a thoughtful inquiry into the root causes of skyrocketing tuition, and the true effects of government aid to public colleges and universities.

For a quick macroeconomics refresher, let us first observe the basic roles of costs and prices in a normal market situation. In a normal market situation, competing firms strategically limit costs and prices in order to attract customers and maximize revenue, which will consequently maximize profit.

This is not the case in the world of higher education, where very few colleges operate under the motivation for profit. In the world of higher education, prices are heavily subsidized by the government. The University of Wisconsin itself derives a hefty amount of financial comfort from this system. Students, just look at your fall semester bill sometime: at the bottom, under “IMPORTANT NOTES” you’ll see a message that says “The Legislature and Governor have authorized $1,001,508,980 of state funds for the University of Wisconsin System and its students during the 2011-2012 academic year. This is a tuition subsidy of $6,418 per student from the taxpayers of Wisconsin.” Because of this, the student is never faced with the true cost of their college experience, and colleges have no incentive to limit costs because they know the government will pay for most of the resulting growth in the price. However: one substantial problem arises from this: Whenever a subsidy shields consumers from the true cost of a product, they tend to overuse the product, and whenever consumers overuse a product, that product will be more costly to produce. Unfortunately, government doesn’t cover all of the new costs incurred by the university, and these costs are passed on to the students. Consequently, we have seen tuition rise far faster than the rate of inflation. According to the College Board, in the last decade alone, tuition at a public four-year college or university has had an average annual growth of 5.6% above the rate of inflation. In fact, it is now 259% more expensive today than it was in 1980, even after adjusting for inflation, and we can see similar trends in both private four-year colleges and public two-year colleges.

This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the assessments of various college accrediting agencies, such as the American Bar Association: Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, and the American Dental Association, set academic standards for colleges based primarily on inputs–how much the college spends–and not on outputs, or the individual end result of higher education. This forces even the smallest and most frugal colleges to constantly spend more than they otherwise would, on things they don’t need, simply to gain accreditation. Colleges are also required to periodically publish research in journals and reviews in order to gain accreditation. This diverts resources (professors) from teaching and focuses them on research.

There are two main things we can do to limit the price of college education. First, is simply to stop or severely limit our subsidization of it. Without the promise of massive government funding, colleges would be forced to make more prudent decisions regarding costs, and eliminate waste. If they didn’t, the costs they amass would be too great to sustain because the unsubsidized tuition would prevent students from attending altogether.

Second, we must have accrediting agencies more concerned with the results of education at a specific college, not with how much the college spends. The Secretary of Education is required by law to publish a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies which are considered reliable in the evaluation of colleges. Any accrediting agency which does not focus primarily the educational outputs of colleges should not be included, and we should not rely on them as a proper gauge of higher education quality.

This doesn’t mean we’d have to sacrifice quality of education either. Colleges could still achieve positive results by finding cost effective ways to deliver education, such as prioritizing teaching over research, providing more flexible hours and classrooms in which professors can teach, and through implementing online teaching technology. College tuition may still rise, but it would rise more gradually, concurrent with inflation.

If we continue to trust the misguided recommendations of accrediting agencies, and if we continue to heavily subsidize our compliance with those recommendations, then we will continue to see a rapid growth in college tuition, as we see today.