As Yale students, we all have at least one thing in common. No — it’s not a superiority complex, a fledgling caffeine addiction or an affinity for College Wine. It’s the fact that we all have gone to high school, or at least have some form of equivalent schooling.
As Winston Churchill wrote, “A universal education is the cornerstone of a democracy.” Western civilization, from its origins, has placed a high value on an educated citizenry.
However, somewhere along the line, we fell off track. Despite spending more per student than any other nation in the world on average, we still have a system of public education that is inferior to other developed nations and ill-equipped to prepare future generations for a globalized workforce. In response to this issue, many call for greater government action (more schools, more oversight, more funding, etc.). However, this will do nothing more than subsidize a failed system. Rather, we need to do the opposite. We need to almost entirely remove government from the implementation of education and abolish public schools.
The logical impulse to this argument is to ask — won’t this prevent America’s poorest from getting an education? In fact, the opposite will happen. The key is distinguishing government’s role — enablement rather than implementation.
Through a system of grants, be it in the form of vouchers or checks, government can create a competitive market for secondary education. Fundamental to the success of the American experiment is an understanding that the free market is man’s fairest, most just and most efficient system of social organization. A free market, by its nature, is the quickest and best way to increase accessibility while decreasing prices. However, since most American families cannot afford private school, no such market exists — an issue that can be readily solved by government grants. In cities like New York, Washington and New Orleans, we’ve seen that increased competition in education, through school choice, exponentially improves the quality of such education.
While many concede that school choice has worked in urban areas, some repeatedly bring up an objection that it cannot work in rural or suburban areas, where the population only calls for one school to cover a vast area. I would say, though, that this further illustrates the necessity of education grants. Such a public school has no impetus for change and, like any monopoly, produces a socially inefficient result. If parents were allotted the necessary funds that could incentivize an entrepreneur to start a school in such an area, that possibility alone will motivate the existing school to constantly improve.
I, of course, am not arguing for the immediate abolition of public schools — there certainly will be a necessary transition period. And while I believe once a market for privately run schools is created that public schools will naturally fall into extinction, we should also make a conscious effort to expedite the process for both pragmatic and philosophical reasons. Pragmatically speaking, public education is both inefficient in terms of government spending as well as in terms of quality education. Over the last 20 years, we have increased spending per child in public schools 35 percent (to about $12,000). How has this increase in funding to another wonderful government-run service improved education? Well, noting the fact (by National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores) that the average American student scores the same in reading as he did in 1980 and worse in math compared to 1999, I would say pretty terribly.
By in large, public schools are failures (though, as I can attest to personally, there are exceptions). If we diverted those 12,000 dollars previously mentioned to private grants, we would finally be able to escape the crippling stagnancy of our public institutions mainly by finally ridding ourselves of the paralyzing grip of teacher’s unions — the greatest detriment to American progress in education.
There is also a larger philosophical issue to be addressed of government setting curriculums. I remember, coming from a New York City public school, being taught that Keynes was right, FDR was the greatest president of the 20th century (we didn’t even cover Coolidge) and the Soviet Union just collapsed on its own accord. The purpose of education is primarily to prepare someone for the workforce, but a nearly-equally important secondary role is to instill a set of morals and established world view — a function for which parental choice is necessary. I will concede that government needs to regulate basic standards in math, science and literacy for this privatized system, but we have a moral obligation to give American families a choice in how the core formulation of their children is conducted. If a family wants prayer in school or a curriculum more catered to conservatism, we should not allow poverty to prohibit this basic right.
Looking at the realities of our current education system, privatization is the answer. We need to start propping up the invisible hand rather than acting as it — it’s time for public education to end.
Harry Graver is a freshman in Davenport College.