Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Liberty in education

Last night I was reminded of why I spend so much of my life advocating for education choice. It's because I believe in liberty.

Last evening I was able to hear Larry Reed of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy speak on "Liberty and the Power of Ideas". The low key event was hosted by our own Tennesse Center for Policy Research. It was a very encouraging night for me and I appreciate TCPR's invitation.

His talk was mostly an expounding of "The Seven Principles of Sound Public Policy".

And while I'd heard all these before and agree with them, I began to hear them with different ears. I began to relate these principles to our education system and realized that we violate all these principles with that system.

1. Free People are not equal, and equal people are not free. For the most part of our education system tries hard to take children, created as individuals with different talents and interests, and force them to learn via the same model. The system strives to provide equal resources, apply them to individuals equally and has started to avoid elevating any one scholar above the other so as not to hurt the self-esteem of any. The result is that children are regularly not free to be who they were created to be. They are, all too often, not free to be their own unique and precious personalities in order to conform to the system and get through it with a minimum of fuss.

2. What belongs to you, you tend to take care of; what belongs to no one or evereyone tends to fall into disrepair. There is a huge debate over whose children they are. I believe, strongly, that they belong to the parents and the vast majority of parents want the best for their children and more frequently than not, they know what is best for their children. Without degrees in child development or education they know their children, how they tick and what works for them. However, the education system, too often, considers the children theirs. With only token parental input they make sweeping decisions about the lives of these children that will impact them for years. They try one experimental program after another and demand from us the time to prove that it works when time, for a child, is very limited. And, oddly, when it's their own children...they often remove them from the schools they know are poor and place them in much better public or private schools.

3. Sound policy requires that we consider long-run effects and all people, not simply short-run effects and a few people. Can there be any better example of this that our recent pre-K initiative? For the sake of a few 'at risk' students we've initiated an entire program, ignored other less costly and perhaps more efficient delivery methods, endangered the jobs of competent caregivers and grabbed a bit of the lottery scholarship money for its first years' finances and have no solid plan for future financing and implementation. In Nashville, several years back, for the sake of a few hundred 'at risk' children, kindergarten became mandatory. The impact on the lives of all young children was, as a result, forever changed. They left their mothers, imo, too soon. They were thrust into company with strangers requiring too much from them at that age. And our taxpayers were required to provide even more funding which meant they had to live on less. I have no doubt pre-K will follow that same path if not stopped soon.

4. If you encourage something, you get more of it; if you discourage something, you get less of it. Tennessee has an excellent track record of discouraging education choice. According to Principle 2 parents earnestly desire to take care of the children that belong to them but they cannot do the best job of that because Tennessee has made it a state policy to discourage private and individual solutions to effectively educating students. The state takes our money and if we don't have enough left for private alternatives our children are left being compelled to attend schools that none of us, let alone many of those teachers and administrators, would choose for their own children.

5. Nobody spends somebody else's money as carefully as he spends his own. The further away from the pocketbook we get the less it pains someone to spend the money. Around here I don't think of what things cost in terms of dollars. I think of it in terms of how much time our Breadwinner must spend away from the family in order to provide for that item or service. And so now we have districts across the state examining their budgets and 'needs' but they throw around figures in the millions of dollars and I'm not convinced that when they say 'the children need' they understand that my children also need. Can school administrators and city financial managers making twice (or more) the average income in Tennessee really understand the penny pinching their actions will require?

6. Government has nothing to give anybody except what it first takes from somebody, and a government that's big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take away everything you've got. In my mind this is two pronged. Obviously, there is the financial part of this. Government doesn't earn any income, they just take money from us, pass it through a bureaucracy and return a much smaller portion to us in the form of some service or welfare. Whether the service is really appropriate, efficient or helpful is widely debated. But also they have, via their compulsory attendance laws, taken away our freedom to educate our children as we see fit. And to placate a few of us rabble rousers, they have begrudgingly doled out small permissions to deviate from what they, aided by various entities that make their living from controlling the education system, from what they have decided is the best way to educate children. Well, to quote Dr. Phil: "How's that working for ya?" For too many children, it not working for them.

7. Liberty makes all the difference in the world.
And so liberty in education can make all the difference in a child's life. It can be the difference between finding their talents and destiny and excelling and leaving school out of frustration and that being only the beginning of a dangerous downward spiral that they may never recover from. Why, oh why, would we continue to deny parents every option available? Out of fear that it won't be done 100% correctly? We're already failing to do this correctly 100% of the time. Because these options may fall outside of the control of the present system? Who are we trying to protect, the system or the children? Because it doesn't look like what we've seen before--neither did our own nation 229 years ago.

If you're interested in further reading, I found Mr. Reed's essay called "Liberty and the Power of Ideas" to be a good adjunct for what he shared last evening. Again, my thanks to TCPR and those folks who took a few minutes out their busy lives to speak with me about their own passions. You all helped make it a very encouraging evening.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Good stuff Kay. Thanks for the extra article too.

Eric Holcombe