Friday, August 03, 2012

'Educational Choice' - the cost of the Question never asked

I went to a presentation at a valuable local think-tank “The Show-Me Institute”, this Tuesday, marking the 100th anniversary of Milton Friedman's birthday, geared towards his ideas of choice in education, via vouchers, tax credits, etc, to open our educational system to market forces.

The speaker, James Shuls, made a very able presentation for "Friedman Legacy for Freedom Day 2012", with his speech, his first for the institute, about "School Choice and Individual Freedom: Advancing the Ideas of Milton Friedman."; he was very engaging, had a number of examples that well illustrated the problems and frustrations that he himself had had with his local public school system, and which he believes, as do I, a privatized system would largely eliminate. The idea being that doing so will eventually produce a better quality of education, by serving the market what it wants.

But. While the principle is sound, the offers made to practice it, are not, on at least two different levels.

Level One
I don't mean to speak ill of either the Show-Me Institute, or Mr. Shuls, but there is one issue which I've yet to see addressed during any of these discussions of 'Educational Choice' - namely: 'What an Education is'.

Wouldn't that seem to be an elementary question to resolve first, in a discussion of 'Educational Choice'? Everyone just AssUme's they know the answer? Assuming the answer that 'everyone knows' couldn't possibly make an Ass of you and me, now could it? No? And why is that? Because assuming something to be true has such a good historical track record, that we all feel safe and protected by doing so?

What happens, is that by neglecting that question, all the available answers to choose from, are simply those remaining variations on one preselected answer to that unasked question, that being:

  • To provide skills to earn a living.

Unaddressed in that answer, and unaddressable, is what sort of life would be worthwhile living? And how do you choose it?

Instead, we are told that earning money is good. Earning more money is better. Personally, I am a big fan of earning more money, but I have long suspected that a person should take some care in how they go about it. Seems to me, those cares should be addressed in any worthwhile Education... but what do I know, if 'everyone else' says 'more is better', then everyone else must be right, right? So 'Mo money, mo money, mo money!'

That is lesson #1 that's taught in school. That, and that having money is bad. Quite the lesson, that, 'Having lots of money is bad, and pay attention in school so you can earn more of it', what could possible go wrong there.

And is that not the meaning of "Get an Education so you can earn a good living!"? It is not saying "Get an Education so you can live a life worth living!", but simply go out and earn a good living, meaning more money, nicer things, cleaner fingernails.

What is not given the slightest consideration in this 'choice' is the possibility that a person, just might find getting their fingernails dirty the most worthwhile profession for them. Also unaddressed, and assumed to be wrong, is the possibility that not making more money with clean fingernails, might be a perfectly worthy choice. On the contrary, the 'get better skills!' theory of education, tells such a person, that they are a failure, nothing more. The theory of Education that doesn't follow that party line, might be one that could also teach a person that having made just such a professional choice, it would be wise to also be followed with acquiring some knowledgeable skills in investment, so that, in the long run, you would not be lacking in money. But that would require consideration of the long run, and what was best for it, most worthwhile - which we assume to be answers to question that are not worth asking, after all, we assume that we need answers that are effective now, pragmatically 'true is what works', forget about thinking beyond the moment, in the long run we're all dead. Right?.

The Skills based educational system does something more, it locks you into a particular set of skills, and should the market change, your value to it does as well.

The 'life worth living' based education, on the other hand, opens you up to any skill you might find a need in acquiring, by providing the knowledge and understanding which makes learning, and even seeking, new skills, a snap.

But such 'choice' is not offered up in any of the debates over 'Educational Choice', those extending the offer of 'choice' to you, have already chosen, and what they offer you to choose from, is not designed to satisfy your choices, but theirs - those who made it for you, those who expect to profit from it, one way or another.

Never fear my friends, the word 'AssUme' always lives up to its greatest potential, for all concerned. Moving on....

Level Two
Not that I think that Mr. Shuls was advocating any of this, or attempting to conceal this, it is more likely that he has never considered any of this - his choice having long ago been made for him as well - he does have a Masters Degree in Education, after all.

While there was little to object to in his presentation, putting it into practice today is... problematic. For one thing, there is a problem with what is being advocated as Educational Choice, the least of which is, that it is not advocating for a free market in Educational Choice.


Charter Schools are the current rage, especially in Missouri ... but despite what they are assumed to mean (and what people are led to think they still mean), they are not privately funded and operated schools - not by a long shot. I asked James something along the lines of
"If the state is determining the standards, curriculum requirements and testing criteria that charters schools must use, as well as a say in who the teachers are that are teaching in them, then are those charter schools actually representing a free market, or undermining the very possibility of one?"
He acknowledged that it was a problem that the state had such a strong hand in the charter schools, and said that while it was not the choice he'd like, it is what they have to work with and he was hopeful that schools such as "Construction Careers Center" (a vocational charter school ) were available as an option.".

While I get the first part, 'make do with what you have, baby steps' & so forth, the second part leaves me in despair of those baby steps ever leading to anything other than taking us the rest of the way over the cliff.

An alternative 'strategy' for addition
Even his best examples of complacent public schools unconcerned with parents concerns, such as math strategies are less effective than 'traditional' math, do not fill me with hope. Even in the areas he expressed frustration in, regarding 'math strategies', the standardized tests already in place, let alone those that will follow with 'Common Core Curriculum' will ask about, and score based upon, such oddities as students awareness of differing 'strategies' in solving math problems (a result of teaching math as a skill only)... and so the kids will need to be taught them, even if not emphasized as much, they will need to waste their time on knowing ‘what color math is', and attempt to not let that clutter interfere with how to solve an equation... or, excuse me, a 'math sentence'.

Again, skills over purpose; What, How and How Many, over Why... the unasked question.

When he was asked about Home Schooling, he admitted that he didn't know much about the movement; he was aware that home school students tended to score above average, but felt that their numbers were not large enough to be a factor in the marketplace. That his estimation of actual numbers may be off, isn't the issue, that the aims of homeschoolers, which are largely very different from the skills based 'traditional schools' (traditional being those that were imposed upon us on a large scale, beginning around 1900), are not considered a part of the market, IS.

What is going under the name of “Educational Choice” , is more reflective of the lack of choice that public, private & charter schools are even capable of offering - they offer us even less of a choice in education than Democrat-Republican parties offer us to choose from in our elections.

The market is being managed by forces and powers outside of the market, and immune from market forces of value, satisfaction, supply & demand, and are in no way representative of a Free Market.

The Free Market IS the answer(or at least the path towards it), but it has one teensy-weensy requirement – that it be Free! Offering up an adulterated fraud as being part of, or representative of, the Free Market and Educational Choice, will not only be unable to deliver the goods that the Free Market might otherwise have excelled in, it is destructive to the market and to Education itself.

Distinctions without a difference
There isn't any worthwhile difference in the Educational choices being offered by public, (most) private or Charter schools. Mr. Shuls has a Masters Degree in Education, which means that, though perhaps he has his own ideas, his optimism for the vocational-tech school as a bright light in Education tells me that the aims of Modern Educational theory that he has been taught, are largely his own as well, that the purpose of an education is to inculcate skills, which students can use to get 'meaningful' employment from.

Some skills are of course needed in order to acquire an Education, but teaching that acquiring useful skills is the same as getting an Education, is more than anything else, a handy dandy method for eliminating the Educated. An Educated person, is someone who has learned the essential knowledge necessary to developing the internal means and ability to govern themselves in pursuit of a life worth living. That is not what is being taught, and it is not a choice that is being offered in the educational market place at all.

Do you really need to look any further for proof of this, than the Obamao/G.M. Chevy Volt?! Really?

When answers are imposed, questions are not asked, and results are not improved upon. Worse, such a forcibly static system is unsuited for a dynamic world, and decline can be the only result. Were none of you watching what happened with East Berlin and the USSR? Have you not seen that our 'investment' in our educational system has increased year after year, and the results and quality have continued to decline, year after year.

For choice to matter, you need to have at least one choice worth choosing, a distinction with a difference, and the freedom to choose it - and to fail. Without that, there is no possibility of either success or improvement.. Being offered a choice, by the state, to choose between one style of teaching students skills, over another, is no choice worth being distinguished as an Educational Choice.

Instead, what is being offered up to us as "Choice", is not one of making choices between actual Educational aims, methods & content, but rather a choice between operational efficiencies in facilities management and Human Resources practices for efficiently handling faculty and student. Such choices may produce better cleaner lunchrooms and safer hallways, perhaps even a sharper sharper set of skills… but what you are not now getting, or are ever going to get, is an actual choice, or change, in Educational aims and methods & content.

The answers to declining results is always more time in class, more testing, more strategies, more useful skills and always, always, mo' money, mo' money, mo' money!

The only assurance you have, is that more money will be spent, and with no better results - that is the cost of the Question that is never asked - What IS an Education? We simply AssUme we know.

Worse still, of course, what you will not have produced from such an educational system, are Educated people.

Worst of all, America cannot exist without an adequate number of Educated people. See the news for reference. If people do not value a life worth living, and have the internal means and ability to pursue it... they will not; they will instead pursue what catches and stimulates their interests, and Individual Rights and the Rule of Law have little place in such a system - they were the product of an approach towards Education that asked Why, before How. Again, see the news for reference. With every new crop of graduates, we come that much closer to emptying America of Americans.

It reminds me of a quip by King Edward II "Longshanks" in Braveheart:
"The problem with Scotland is that there are too many Scots!... if we can't beat them, we'll breed them out!"
What such faux choice offers, is little more than a means of strengthening the goals of centralized planning and dis-empowering the individual and their hopes of affecting it. What such a program truly proposes, as I said in a previous post, as 'If you are given a choice between hot-dogs, beef franks & turkey franks - you are being given a choice between which hot dogs to eat, but you are not being given a free market in dining.

Or do you assume that something different is happening here?

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