Survival of the Fittest Should Not be the Basis of Universal Public Education

This updated re-post is a response to Make Public Education a Market Economy—Not a Socialist One (Education Week, 2018) by Gary Wolfram, a professor at Hillsdale College, a small Christian institution that is a significant beneficiary of the largess of the DeVos Family.

Universal public education today finds itself squarely in the middle of an over two-century-long blood war between the armies of Liberty and the armies of Equality, two notable values that most Americans would accept, at first blush, as lying at the core of our Democracy. Unfortunately, (as explained in The War between Equality and Liberty) Liberty and Equality are in direct opposition to one another.

Equality requires that those who are better off in a society provide a portion of their income to support the less well off. Doing so impinges upon Liberty because it denies the possessors of wealth from doing whatever it is they want to do with their money.

Conceptually born with the French Revolution, the current manifestation of this war in America is being waged between the Army of Equality (Progressive Democrats) and the Army of Liberty (Conservative Republicans); Professor Wolfram is clearly a card-carrying member of the latter. What Wolfram has written is an elaboration of the mantra the Republican Army of Liberty contrived as a battle cry when it decided to support the voucher: replacing universal public education with a market-based educational system will help the poor by providing parents the Liberty to choose better schools for their children.

The truth is, the wealthy are not interested in equality; they are interested in acting upon a frequent complaint of Conservative Republicans: “I’m tired of my money being wasted on failing schools.” Instead of an honest explanation of their intent, the Army of Liberty has created a subterfuge in order to preserve their money so they can do with it whatever they want.

After decades of personal experience in the public and private sectors, I am certain about three things. In general: 1) advantaged conservatives, the majority of whom would profess to be Christians, do not give a damn about the poor; 2) advantaged conservatives have such a sense of their own exceptionalism that they believe the average American is sufficiently ignorant that s/he will buy their illogical and immoral protestations without question; 3) advantaged conservatives are so isolated in their physical and/or social enclaves of wealth that they are dysfunctionally ignorant about the scope and ramifications of poverty in this country.

Regarding the third assertion: there are nearly 70,000 children living in Deep Poverty (living at or below half of the designated poverty level) in Philadelphia alone. Having experience working with the parents of such children, I can assure you that without direct, compassionate assistance most would be unable to understand and utilize any free market system of education that the Army of Liberty might contrive.

Conservatives know this, but they do not care; in fact, systemic complexity is a way to increase the probability that their children will not have to encounter poor children. And when those 70,000 children in Deep Poverty are left to fend for themselves without a prayer of hope in an urban world that will continue to increasingly resemble a primitive world of fang and claw, Conservatives will march away from responsibility while chanting another mantra, “We gave them a chance.”

Fault also lies at of the feet of the Army of Equality because it has failed to understand what other developed nations around the world do understand: 1) above a given baseline (e.g. it helps to be able to pay schools’ electric bills), there is not a direct relationship between money spent per pupil and student achievement, but 2) there is a direct relationship between the consistent and thorough application of research-based educational practices and student achievement.

American Public Education’s failure to ensure the latter almost seems as though it is a subversive achievement of the Army of Liberty: the vast majority of teachers in public education believe they should have the unfettered freedom to decide what it is that should be taught and how it should be taught. Again, I rely upon my decades of experience in the field of American Education to strongly suggest that the vast majority of America’s teachers are so poorly trained and so poorly supervised that the likelihood of best practices reaching schools populated by the poor is nearly nil.

It is this last point that should be the focus of massive reform, and not a devolution into a market-based system of education, which would end up being anything but public. As spokespersons of the Army of Liberty continue to offer their cavalier hypocrisies about a market-based educational system that will never improve education for the masses of poor children in this country, they should heed this warning from JFK’s Inaugural Address: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.”

We do not need a market-based system of education; we need to make effective the educational system we have. Relying upon the free market to improve education for all is disingenuous and cynical because it can and should be argued that the underlying cause of poverty in the developed world is, after all, a direct result of the Survival of the Fittest mentality that underlies free-market Capitalism.