April 10, 2005

Coyote Blog and School Choice

I recently added Coyote Blog to my blogroll. It's a great blog all around, and one of the the great things about it is he shares my opinion of school choice - that there's something in it for everyone, and the best thing about it is, well, choice:

At the end of the day, one-size-fits-all public schools are never going to be able to satisfy everyone on this type thing, as it is impossible to educate kids in a values-neutral way.  Statist parents object to too much positive material on the founding fathers and the Constitution.  Secular parents object to mentions of God and overly-positive descriptions of religion in history.  Religious parents object to secularized science and sex education.  Free market parents object to enforced environmental activism and statist economics.   Some parents want no grades and an emphasis on feeling good and self-esteem, while others want tough grading and tough feedback when kids aren't learning what they are supposed to.

I have always thought that these "softer" issues, rather than just test scores and class sizes, were the real "killer-app" that might one day drive acceptance of school choice in this country.  Certainly increases in home-schooling rates have been driven as much by these softer values-related issues (mainly to date from the Right) than by just the three R's.

So here is my invitation to the Left: come over to the dark side. Reconsider your historic opposition to school choice.  I'm not talking about rolling back government spending or government commitment to funding education for all.  I am talking about allowing parents to use that money that government spends on their behalf at the school of their choice.  Parents want their kids to learn creationism - fine, they can find a school for that.  Parents want a strict, secular focus on basic skills - fine, another school for that.  Parents want their kids to spend time learning the three R's while also learning to love nature and protect the environment - fine, do it.

Most of the time you hear about the quality issue, that public schools are failing, etc. While this is true, I, personally, don't find it very inspiring, and neither, it seems, does the public. Much more inspiring, I think, is the potential to educate your children the way you want. A positive vision is always more compelling than a negative one. It's also easier to communicate. The average person understands very little about economics, and hears some people saying that a free market will improve schools, while others say it will destroy the schools. Such a person thinks, "better play it safe, and leave things as they are". But how can you argue with a slogan like: "Educate your children the way you want"?

This is the kind of advertising campaign I'd like to see:

Two beautiful, well-dressed women walk into a car dealer, one black, one white. They both say, "I'd like to buy a car". The salesman asks the white woman, "Where do you live?" She answers with the name of some upscale neighborhood (the exact neighborhood would be chosen according to the metropolitan area of the ad). The salesman looks in a book, then rolls out a beautiful sports car. He then asks the black woman, "Where do you live?" She answers with the name of a poor neighborhood. Again, the salesman looks in his book, and rolls out a beat-up old car. Tagline: "You wouldn't let the government tell you which car to buy, why do you let them tell you where to educate your children?"

Posted by David Boxenhorn at April 10, 2005 12:50 PM
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I have strong feelings about public elementary education, and most of them are in direct opposition to what you have written, I think. But first, our one point of agreement: "Educate your children the way you want." Absolutely. I would not delegate the job of teaching Values to anyone. As far as I'm concerned, that's my job as a parent. As for school, where my children are supposed to meet other children and adults (their teachers) who come from other homes, I have a very pragmatic, minimalist view: 1) is the school environment physically safe, compared to, say, the local grocery store? 2) are the teachers and other kids actively preventing my kids from learning basic skills? 3) do the teachers like children? 4) do the teachers like parents? 5) are the school administrators burned out? If the answers to 1, 3, and 4 are "Yes" and the answers to 2 and 5 are "No," the rest of school is a Giant Game called Survival in the Modern World, and that's the only useful thing I can't teach them alone. High School and College are a different story.

Posted by: savtadotty at April 10, 2005 03:02 PM Permalink

Savtadotty: Just one thing, who do you think is better able to make those judgments, you or the State?

Okay, one more thing: After a judgment is made, who do you think is more capable of doing something about it, you (through school choice, or at the extreme, founding your own school) or the state (trough the government bureaucracy)?

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at April 10, 2005 03:10 PM Permalink

I don´t want jihadist madrassas in my neighbourhood.I don´t want "diversity" on issues as man-woman equality or darwinism.

The spillovers of some kinds of education could lead my society to civil war. Probably it would do the same to yours, even faster.

Common knowledge of some issues is a matter of national security, democratic sustenibility and personal freedom.

Yes I know, who decide what is that common ground that all education forms should share? Well, the libertarian approach of "no comon ground" is as arbitrary as any other choice.

Zero is not an special number. "No social choice" is a particular and generally suboptimal of form of social choice.

Posted by: Kantor at April 10, 2005 10:12 PM Permalink

Kantor: It wouldn't bother me too much if the State mandated a minimal curriculum and prohibited the teaching of intolerance or disrespect for the law. That still leaves an awful lot of room for variation - all the important stuff, really.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at April 10, 2005 10:23 PM Permalink

I agree.I worote (in Spanish) about (half-)free schooling on my blog:


and this one about the effects of "political correctness" in the education system:


I don´t know how good are translation programs, so perhaps you will loose all the beauty of the original text ;-)

Posted by: Kantor at April 10, 2005 10:41 PM Permalink

>But how can you argue with a slogan like: "Educate your children the way you want"?

Children are human too, and cannot learn by compulsion, so a better slogan is:

"Educate your children in the way that *both you and they* want."

Posted by: Tom at April 11, 2005 04:11 AM Permalink

David - I'm not sure which judgments you're referring to. If you mean the answers to my five basic questions, I make them. But then the issue becomes, if the answers don't meet my minimal requirements, what do I do? My answer was: move to a place where they do, rather than set up an alternative State of my own or Privatize and pay double (taxes + tuition). I grant you, bureaucracy in Israel is a tougher foe to battle at the grass roots level than it is in the USA. A more representative and accountable form of government here would give us more voter power on issues of domestic policy. If I were a young parent, I would spend my energy working for that.

Posted by: savtadotty at April 11, 2005 09:05 AM Permalink

Savtadotty: So you would exercise school choice by moving to a different locality. But wouldn't it be better if you could do so without moving? And you must be aware that large segments of the population don't have the means to move, and so are stuck in inferior schools.

Moreover, some choices are simply not available. If you want to send you kids to a sex-and-drug free school, for example, in the US, you won't find it, unless, as you say, you pay twice and send your kids to private school.

As for Israeli bureaucracy, this is one issue where it's easier in Israel than in the US. In the US is simply impossible to set up a new school with a different curriculum or teaching method. But in Israel, it can happen, and does. The result is a wide range of school choice - not enough, but compared to the US, a paradise.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at April 11, 2005 09:17 AM Permalink

Now I'm confused (or now I finally realize that we may be talking about different education systems): are we comparing Israeli public education with US public education, or just the various education options in Israel? Or something else? In any case, I wanted sex-and-drug-free kids, no matter what went on in the schools they attended. And Thank G_d that's what I got. That's what I meant by parental values. After all, we lived in an individualistic (not tribal) society there, so they needed to be strong individuals.

Posted by: savtadotty at April 11, 2005 06:34 PM Permalink

We have a few (hetero)sex-free schools in Madrid. They are only for males. Well, as I said, they are only hetero-sex-free.

Our Moroccan neighbours have also (hetero)sex-free schools. The full country is hetero-sex-free, so if your are a handsome hetero-guy, don´t go there for hollidays.

The iranians have a sex & alcohol free society...
and 3.000.000 people adicted to heroine.

Demand for pleasure is strongly inelastic.So if you make imposible people enjoy with high quality pleasures, the will go for low quality ones.

It is not to tell teenagrs not to have sex, but to explain them, and to teach them that with love, sex is simply better.And going for low quality things having high quality ones is not only a waste, but algo wrong.

Posted by: Kantor (as the ghost of Stuart Mill) at April 11, 2005 11:09 PM Permalink

Dear Savtadotty,

“the rest of school is a Giant Game called Survival in the Modern World, and that's the only useful thing I can't teach them alone.”

I would advocate children deciding how much of that game to play with parental assistance and how much of it to play independently. Sending one’s child to the school of one’s choice forces them to play a lot of it without one’s help.

An alternative is NOT to force one’s children to go to school. That is the ultimate in school choice. They can learn Survival in the Modern World actually in the modern world rather in an artificial version of it with bizarre power structures and a completely unrealistic demographic.

And the child can decide when and how to develop their independence, with parent as advocate and guide when desired.

Posted by: emma at April 12, 2005 09:48 AM Permalink

Emma: I do agree about children deciding how much help they need, with parents playing the role of coaches, regardless of what school they attend. I also think a parent has a tough time today when it comes to balancing many factors and priorities before sending a child to school. You'd be amazed how many people (mostly in the USA, I think) do Home Schooling, which in my opinion is "school choice" taken to its (il-)logical extreme.

I'm curious: what kind of power structures do you think are bizarre? (Is the the bizarre power structure you refer to part of the "modern world" or the "artificial" version?) There's a lot of artifice in modernity, so I'm not sure of your point.

Posted by: savtadotty at April 12, 2005 12:51 PM Permalink

Sorry for the delay in responding...

The bizarre power structures are between teachers and pupils. I understand that if someone wants to force 30 children to attempt to learn the same thing at the same time, they are going to have to coerce some if not all of them. But punishment and other coercion are never going to be good motivators.

School power structures assume that instead of being well-intentioned but bored/frightened/confused, recalcitrent children are ill-intentioned, behaviourally disturbed, and to blame for not getting anything out of the class.

I'd rather trust children to continue what they did as babies and toddlers - to learn what they want and need to learn when they want and need to learn it, in the company of adults and other children who will help them, guide them, and learn from them in return. And for that, school is a ridiculous waste of time.

Posted by: emma at April 17, 2005 02:14 PM Permalink

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