For years I have wrestled with coming up with answers to why our Education system in California is so flawed and what to do about it. By no means do I believe I have arrived at the perfect answer, but I have arrived at some conclusions. Our Education system in California is severely flawed and a broken system. When I talk about our Education system I am referring to all of education from young to old, but my comments here will be limited to that of our youth, namely K-12.
Many of you know that my wife is a teacher and has been for over 5 years full time. This gives me a unique view into the profession that I believe many do not have. I am disgusted by how most people think and talk about our education system here, especially those in the public eye – even the conservative talk show hosts (you know who you are). The flaws in our system are total in that they do appear in every category, but the worst is in the administration and government.
I thought for a long time that we could fix our system. My brow strained in the attempts to piece a coherent solution to our problems. The palpitations of my heart could be heard by my neighbors as my body strained to give my brain enough power to think through this mire of system. At last I think I have arrived at a conclusion: they system itself cannot be fixed nor should it be attempted. Therefore, I now have placed my energy into a new system, which I am sure is not perfect, but I believe solves many of the glaring problems in our current system.
We need a system of education that will simply education our children. This means that they develop critical thinking skills and the ability to maintain and better our society through the development of core skills like Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. In this system there definitely is a place for the arts, for history, for philosophy and creativity. Children need to be treated as both a group and as individuals. I believe that most of our teachers are up to the task, but those in power are not.
Money corrupts even good people, and boy do the schools have money, well namely the teachers Unions. Now I understand the need for Unions, but I believe their place on our society has strayed far from what their original intent was, and what their starting purpose became. Do I think we shouldn’t have Unions? I do not honestly know, but at least they should be destroyed and rebuilt, for the current embodiment of them is corrupt at best.
This system of my thinking must better serve the public and at the same time know the proper place of the free market and use of private institutional systems. By this I mean that we must get back to the just of what being a Public Servant really means. If we believe that it is the job of the Government to make sure its citizens is educated, then to be in that system as an educator makes you a public servant, and to be a public servant (opposed to our current social way of thinking about it) doesn’t mean one receives top pay, golden benefits, and luxuries retirement beyond what the majority of the private sector has (who by the way pays for all those things). Let us not forget that the Public Sector actually makes no wealth, it is a wealth consumer.
A quick sidebar for those who disagree with my last sentence. Allow me a quick second to explain the creation of wealth. Wealth is created when natural resources are harvested and turned into products of consumption and use that cost more than the natural resources alone. Think of mining for example. Material is mined from the ground at say the cost X. It is then sold to a refinery for the cost of X+Y. The refinery then sells the finished material to a manufacturing plan for the cost of X+Y+Z. That manufacturing plant builds the product designed by the company who pays it X+Y+Z+A. Our company then markets and sells the product for a price of X+Y+Z+A+B, B being their price either to the consumer or to the Store of some sort, and if to a Store then the store will add price C to the finished product. Each price number represents a higher price and a profit to the following entity.
This means that our raw material has gained in value many times over as intelligent and industrial people have refined its use, and thus increased its value. Therefor the final product is much more valuable than its raw form and hence it has created wealth out of ingenuity and the free market. Look at your computer that you are reading this through, and know that its final version as you have it, is a much higher cost than all its parts and their raw material forms.
Public service doesn’t do this, but rather consumes products and wealth. This is how the public service system works. In the free market where a product costs X+Y+Z+A+B+C, between each of those letters of price there is a small amount of Tax taken out and given to the government. Wealth created by the further refining of raw materials to a usable and desirable product, is Taxed and given to the government. A government which then takes the tax and pays people to serve its citizens. Take the Fire department for example. It doesn’t take raw materials and create wealth out of refined products. Rather it takes Tax revenue from the private sector and pays people and buys machines and other products to serve the public by protecting them from Fire.
Now some people might think that the fire department creates wealth just like a normal consumer does because they are buying product, but this is not true and is mistaken. A normal consumer doesn’t create wealth just because they consume. Buying a $1000 computer that really only cost $500 to make and sell, although is paying $500 more than the parts, isn’t creating wealth. The wealth was created by the manufactures and company when it sold the product to the consumer. But the consumer didn’t create wealth by buying it. Now if the consumer was another company who creates software to run on the computer, they are then using wealth they created to buy a product created by another company. The fire department did not create a product, thus they did not create wealth. This is a simple answer to a complex problem so I will leave it at this: taxed wealth diminishes the ability of the free market to create more wealth, although Taxes are necessary for the functioning and protection of the free market, higher they are the more they hinder the free market by taking capital out of it. Now the capital is recycled back in, but it has lost value due to inflation and it not actually creating any wealth itself. Now back to the original purpose of this article.
Right now our system of education believes itself too much to be like the private sector and not enough a public servant. In the private sector, those with the most experience and ability get to choose their position, pay, and benefits. In the public sector the government should attempt to place those with the most experience and ability in the hardest jobs where they are the most needed. But since the public sector is voluntary the government needs to entice, not force people into those positions. This means that a school in a bad area with low test scores needs the best teachers, but the only way to get the best teachers is to offer more money to them so they want to work there. However, just doing that alone will not solve the problem in our current system, that is why I propose a whole new way to look at our education system and it starts with the philosophical.
The current reigning philosophy is that Government has the job to educate its citizens, of course it is in the best interest of the Government (society) to have an educated populace (well unless you are a liberal – well unless you can indoctrinate the educated populace in your principles while making them believe they actually have critical thinking skills – but enough on that now), but is it really the Government’s job? It seems we have forgotten that the Government works for us, the citizens. It is our servant, we are not its. Therefore it is in the best interest of us citizens that our children are educated and our neighbors children therefore we have elected to corporately give some of our wealth to a common servant, our government, to make sure all our children are educated. Somehow along the way we all have forgotten that it is still our (the parent’s) responsibility first and foremost to educate our children. Thus we come to my solution.
I believe to fix our education system we have to build it up from scratch with a whole new philosophy. This philosophy needs to start with family first as the primary responsibility holder for children’s education. Next the community around that family takes responsibility after the family. The government and public schools need to be viewed by all parties involved as servants and tools of the family. The family is the best entity to choose the path of their children’s education and the government only needs to be there for support when the family decides they need it. Therefore the family should be able to choose what schools their children attend, and shouldn’t be told by the government where they should send their kids. This means there needs to be a voucher system in place where parents can elect to send their kids.
A voucher system will create competition among the schools to provide the best education possible for the children. No longer will this mean their are “public” schools who just get money from the government, but schools who compete for vouchers. Of course for a school to be eligible for vouchers they will have to adhere to some principles laid forth by the government (on the vote of the people). Although the government should provide some educational goals and standards for schools to follow, these standards should be simple, broad, and not overreaching. An example of some rules would be to tell schools the level of math and reading students should be at in each grade and what other subjects, and levels of those subjects, students should be studying at least. So if the government says that a 11th grader should be studying US history, it shouldn’t’ say too much more, but rather it should be up to the parent to decide if they think the school is doing a good job or not.
This way schools will be servants of the parents, guided by some reasonable and broad guidelines given by the government. The government, however, should have no say in many aspects of the school, as to religion (what it does or doesn’t teach), who it hires (like gays – this is for the parents to decide if they want to send their kids there or not), or even how it teaches from day to day. It is only concerned that certain things are taught, certain standards are followed (in hiring like background checks – even credentialed status shouldn’t be a government requirement – but rather a school’s choice to be competitive). Schools will compete to have parents send their children there, this means hiring the best teachers, and removing those who perform poorly. If there is a union, the union has to understand this and encourage its members to perform well, and help develop those who do not and not force schools to hire or keep on staff those who perform poorly.
Parents will choose the best school, that has room, nearest them, in my system. The best schools will have waiting lists for kids, the worst schools will close, and be re-opened by better managers. This does mean that schools will have to be able to pick which kids they want in their school. Because they get paid per kid, they will be incentivised to choose as many kids until full (although the government will have to set laws on student to teacher ratio, and how many kids per square foot on campus in order to keep schools from over crowding), and choose the best kids they have available. I do not see this being a problem for the poor performing kids. Because each kid equals money, someone will want to teach even the poor performing kids. Supply and demand means that as long as there are kids out there wanting to learn, there will be schools created and teachers hired to teach them.
Our country has moved away from community support of families and those in need, to governmental support at the cost of the community. I am certain if we start moving back to community as the first line of defense and governmental the very last we will see charity schools pop up who desire to educate the most difficult poor performing students.
Of course my solution here is just a scratch on the surface. How colleges will attract students, how students will be prepared for college, and a host of many other issues like how special needs students will be handled, will all come up and have to be dealt with. However, in-spite of the foreseeable issues, remember no system is perfect, I do stand firm on the fact that I believe that parents need to take responsibility for their children’s education first, and if they cannot or will not then their community should step in, and when that fails the last line is the government. What I do envision is a system where those students and teachers who perform best are greatly rewarded, those who squeak by are encouraged to do their best, but are not punished, and those who just don’t care or try are strongly encouraged to care and try, but are not propped up against their will and at the cost of those who actually do try and care.
We as a society need to get back to personal responsibility as the primary force in society, this means rewards for those are responsible, and nothing for those who are not. We should reap what we sow, and that should motivate us to sow well.