Education: Public or Private Goods?
Education: Public or Private Goods? This is a fascinating article by Michael Lorenzen. It should be required reading in every teacher college.
From the site:
The peoples of the United States of America have always appeared for the most part to agree on one thing about education. It is a good thing and it is a worthy topic of public debate. However, here the harmony dissipates. What constitutes the best possible educational enterprise? Is it the pursuit of the public good? Or, is it the desire to see your own children excel and succeed at the expense of other people's children? Or, perhaps, is it a combination of the previous two? The history of the United States seems to indicate that America is not quite sure.
Of course, through much of classic history, this is no confusion as to what constitutes a good and solid education. Plato wrote in The Republic his version of the educated masses. In his vision, all children begin life and schooling the same. Over time, and through numerous tests, those who prove worthy are separated from those less likely to succeed. These chosen are slowly and methodically weeded until a select few remain to compose the ruling class. Others, as suitability is ascertained, are tracked into their state-chosen career be it warrior, serf, or craftsmen. Although no historical human culture ever directly copied this system, its ideal has influenced the thinking of educated people after Plato.
As pure and simple as Plato's ideals may sound, they do not fit well within the democratic and capitalistic system of the United States of America. Yet, without attempting to deliberately equivocate, this author is convinced that American education has been equally influenced by two separate ideas. One, that education should promote the public good which is best expressed by a commitment to educational equality. Second, that the public is entitled to pass their societal privilege on to their descendants by giving their children educational advantages that will allow these same children access to the best jobs and career paths. Paradoxically, a large number of Americans appear to hold both ideals of education at the same time.
The belief that schooling should serve all regardless of social background and give all an equal chance at an education that will lead to a potentially high social class is widespread throughout American culture. (And, at least at the beginning of Plato's vision of education before differentiation begins to occur, in sequence with The Republic.) In brief, this belief envisions that all inhabitants of the United States of America (citizens and aliens alike) will receive the same education. Those who are worthy, regardless of the backgrounds of the parents, will succeed and achieve great things and those that are less worthy will through their own efforts select their own less than spectacular destinies. This is a powerful idea that is held by those dedicated to the egalitarian ideal of The Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, by those who are in the working or surviving classes who believe that providence has delivered what they deserve, and to those who are in high positions who believe the educational system has justified their own status.