Monday, August 15, 2011

School Ain't So Cool

Education is a right!  Seems obvious, doesn't it?  Very little in our experience is more basic than schooling.  Naturally, libertarians completely oppose compulsory education.

Wait, what?!  That sounds like madness!  Truth be told, when I first heard about this particular tenet of libertarianism, I thought the same.  However, our students lagging behind those of other countries regardless of the amount of money thrown at the problem convinced me otherwise.  It simply does not work.

I used to be a public high school teacher.  I saw many kids that had neither the time nor the inclination to learn the subject matter I was teaching.  No amount of creativity on my part could change that.  Our childrens' test scores suggest that I'm not alone in that regard, either.  The truth of the matter is that these kids were behind before they set foot in the classroom, either due to their own aptitudes, disabilities or cultural pressures.

The hard truth about education is that not every kid either can succeed or wants to succeed in school.  The harder truth is that not every parent or culture demands children excel in school.  Quite simply, there is simply more to life for these sorts of individuals.  As a result, their presence in traditional schools is neutral at best, and is often destructive.

The other major problem in the schools of today is the incessant drive to be inclusive.  Schools must make every effort to allow the most children to pass through its doors unabated.  Schools cannot expel students except in extreme cases, and even then, the punishment is often temporary.  The importance of the threat of force is hard to almost any situation, performance improves where there is, at least, the chance of ruin.  Teachers and administrators are detoothed and cut off at the knees due to the excessive regulation and bureaucracy surrounding their position.  I remember that my statements to students were often a dance of carefully-chosen and approved verbiage, rather than the honesty that situations often need.

From a purist libertarian point-of-view, the ideal would be completely private education.  However, I think that we're way too far from that reality as a society to consider it.  Therefore, I do have some suggestions that would improve our school system dramatically:

1) Create alternative educational venues.  Trade schools and other similar institutions would serve as an intermediary between a kid going to traditional school and a kid having to be out on the streets.  Several of my former students had interests in different trades, like mechanic or construction.  Establish a credible method for these individuals to learn a craft that would provide them a legitimate lifestyle.  (Needless to say, the accreditation required for these crafts would need to be inclusive).

2) Begin the process of converting all education to optional.  Raise entrance requirements and lower expulsion requirements.  I can tell you that, as a teacher, one of the things that irritated me the most was when the non-learning kids dragged down the ones who wanted to be there.  I'm not suggesting that the principal should be booting kids out at all times (a la Joe Clark in Lean on Me), but he or she should be able to press the red button on any kid...similar to at-will employment.

3) Accept the fact that some kids are going to fall through the cracks.  There was never a more noble program than No Child Left Behind (a Republican creation, by the way).  Ask any teacher how they feel about it, is universally despised by a group that is, on the whole, left-leaning.  However, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  The truth of the matter is that no matter how much we try, some kids will always get left behind.  We can only open doors for them...they have to walk through on their own. 

4) Establish second chances, but be sparing with them.  Kids do dumb things all the time.  They can make tremendous mistakes and not realize until too late.  For some, it may take an expulsion to wake them up to reality.  However, I am cautiously for a system that would allow one re-entrance to expelled kids.  One.  No more.  Figure out a way for the kid to make up for time missed.  Set a sunset date that ends the re-entrance period.  Be strict in the fairness of the system.  When in doubt, see suggestion 3.

These four suggestions would create the kind of school system Americans demand.  I'm just not sure that most people have the stomach for it.


  1. Interesting that you touch only lightly on the issue of parenting on learning - I've always considered parenting to be the make-or-break factor in a child's upbringing.

  2. You are absolutely correct that parenting is the make-or-break factor. As a former teacher, nothing was ever clearer to me than this. I only touched lightly on it because I was focusing more on the libertarian point-of-view regarding the school system, which exists outside of parental concerns. Parental involvement is the elephant in the room in terms of educational quality.