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Objectivism on Public Education

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The fact that credit fills a vital need in society is only incidental to that.

I know that. I was merely making the point that poverty is the inability to pay for things. If the leftists really wanted to solve poverty the only industry they should have to nationalize in the finance industry. There's no reason for trying to nationalize education or healthcare. Unless of course you have additional reasons besides poverty alleviation, such as wanting some control over what gets taught, which is just a scary thought.

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Unless of course you have additional reasons besides poverty alleviation, such as wanting some control over what gets taught, which is just a scary thought.

On some level you can't escape that if you say that a child has an enforceable claim against his parents to provide him with an education, because you have to define what an "education" is before you can determine whether a child has received it or not. Consider the so-called 'Unschooling' movement, in which the child is allowed to explore the world in his own way and at his own pace. Is that an education? Should it be illegal to 'unschool' one's child? Or suppose a deeply religious parent chooses to home-school, but refuses to teach evolution because he thinks it's pernicious, false and impious. Should the government step in because the child isn't being educated? Who gets to pick the standards that are imposed on everyone by force? On what basis?

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The real issue is not public vs. private education. For many years the U.S. had some of the best schools in the world, and they were for the most part public schools. We only started contemplating privatization of schools when their quality started to decline in the 1960's and 1970's. The question is why did the quality of public education decline?

Historically most schools were formed by the community. My Great Aunt graduated from high school in 1921 at the age of 16. The school board in the small rural town where she lived agreed to pay for her college education if she would agree to teach high school while pursuing her degree. Stories like this were common since Colonial times and reflected the responsibility that individuals and communities took to educate their children. The schools weren't perfect but, from a historical context, they were very good.

It was the growth of the Federal Government under FDR that started the decline in the quality of public education, and by the 1960's and 1970's things had gotten pretty bad. People quit believing that it was their responsibility to work together to provide an education for their kids and instead began to see it as their right to a “free” education from the Government.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a local, community based public school system. Not all government is evil – especially not local government where there is a much higher degree of accountability. But it's the mind set of the people and the value they place on education that is most important. Before the New Deal, schools worked because communities made them work. There was no other option.

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Excellent post.

Can you reference the above?

I don't have a handy cite, unfortunately. This is one of those anecdotal factoids my brain picks up like lint.. A bit of googling suggests that the black literacy rate just after the Civil War was somewhere between 10 and 20 percent. I can't find an on-point statistic for black urban literacy rates, although John Taylor Gatto claims an overall black literacy rate of 56% in The Underground History of American Education and I found an article stating that over half of urban high-school graduates have literacy skills below the 9th grade level. So I think I may have to retract the claim, since I can't validate the factoid. I do stand by the conclusion that the contemporary educational system has badly failed its poor urban constituents -- I think that is uncontroversial.

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There is nothing inherently wrong with a local, community based public school system. Not all government is evil – especially not local government where there is a much higher degree of accountability. But it's the mind set of the people and the value they place on education that is most important. Before the New Deal, schools worked because communities made them work. There was no other option.

There is always something inherently wrong with taking money from people by force to provide 'public' services. That said, the notion that people in a community might band together to create and support a local school which would provide educations at low or no cost to children of local residents is perfectly reasonable. (This is somewhat analogous to the free private libraries once established and funded by the Carnegie Foundation.)

You may be underestimating the impact of John Dewey's pedagogical theories as a factor in the decline of the quality of education.

(As an aside -- no Objectivist would say that all government is evil. Government that serves its proper function -- protecting individual rights -- is not evil. It is an absolutely necessary requirement for successful living in a social context, and as such is a tremendous value. But governments that deviate from that function are evil, and government schools are such a deviation.)

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Well lets just use this as an example.

Say after we tally up all the necessities a school would need (janitors, teachers, paper, books, etc), what would the prices hit in order for this school to become a profitable venture? Lets just say they got it down to $3,000 a student per year in order to make profit. Wouldn't that be very expensive and rather difficult to pay for?

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Lets just say they got it down to $3,000 a student per year in order to make profit. Wouldn't that be very expensive and rather difficult to pay for?

$250 a month? I guess it's more expensive than birth control ...

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Well lets just use this as an example.

Say after we tally up all the necessities a school would need (janitors, teachers, paper, books, etc), what would the prices hit in order for this school to become a profitable venture? Lets just say they got it down to $3,000 a student per year in order to make profit. Wouldn't that be very expensive and rather difficult to pay for?

Not compared to the $25,000/ year spent by taxpayers on public schools.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/conte...8040402921.html

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I don't have a handy cite, unfortunately. This is one of those anecdotal factoids my brain picks up like lint.. A bit of googling suggests that the black literacy rate just after the Civil War was somewhere between 10 and 20 percent. I can't find an on-point statistic for black urban literacy rates, although John Taylor Gatto claims an overall black literacy rate of 56% in The Underground History of American Education and I found an article stating that over half of urban high-school graduates have literacy skills below the 9th grade level. So I think I may have to retract the claim, since I can't validate the factoid. I do stand by the conclusion that the contemporary educational system has badly failed its poor urban constituents -- I think that is uncontroversial.

No worries. I don't disagree and in fact it wouldn't surprise me at all. Just curious about the numbers.

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You may be underestimating the impact of John Dewey's pedagogical theories as a factor in the decline of the quality of education.

Taxation will be with us for a long long time, and so will government services. Most people underestimate the complexity of privatization – and the potential for fraud and abuse of public funds in the transition. And, I hate to say it, but a society that has the maturity to privatize government services probably wouldn't need to do so in the first place. That was one of the points of my post. We didn't start thinking about the privatization of public schools until the cracks appeared – and the cracks didn't just happen, they had a cause. At that point, was it too late to turn back the clock? Time will tell.

As for John Dewey, I'll have to look that one up. I got my ideas from family reunions -- sitting around and listening to my Grandmother, Great Aunt, Mother and Aunt complain about the teacher's unions and the Fed's!

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Say after we tally up all the necessities a school would need (janitors, teachers, paper, books, etc), what would the prices hit in order for this school to become a profitable venture? Lets just say they got it down to $3,000 a student per year in order to make profit. Wouldn't that be very expensive and rather difficult to pay for?

See this thread for a related discussion.

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Really? an 8 years old providing "substantial proof" that their parents are neglecting fulfilling their "educational duty" in a court of law? Let's be more realistic.
If you wanted to be more realistic, you should have said a 12 year old or a 14 year old.

Even if we stipulate that a child has a legally enforceable right to some minimal form of education provided by his parents, you can not move from that to the conclusion that any form of public education is justified.
Agreed.

Most people underestimate the complexity of privatization – and the potential for fraud and abuse of public funds in the transition

Yes, this seems to come up whenever I bring up privitization of the school system. Along with the fact that a bunch of kids' educations would be suddenly "disrupted" by the radical change.

On some level you can't escape that if you say that a child has an enforceable claim against his parents to provide him with an education, because you have to define what an "education" is before you can determine whether a child has received it or not. Consider the so-called 'Unschooling' movement, in which the child is allowed to explore the world in his own way and at his own pace. Is that an education?

Let's reformat your argument to use another topic, and see how it sounds:

"On some level you can't escape that if you say a child has an enforceable claim against his parents to not physically abuse him, you have to define what "physical abuse" is before you can determine whether a child has received it or not. Consider spanking, in which the parent physically hits their child, but only hard enough to cause some pain and not actual physical harm. Is that abuse?"

It seems like the direction you're headed with your argument is that if you create a law about something, you need to define it, and if defining it is problematic you ought not to make a law about it. The problem is, if you avoid making laws about anything that's difficult to define, you're going to allow the obvious cases of abuse to go completely unchecked. As for the "gray area": the ideal of Objectivist law is objectivity. This means that the task of clearly defining what bare minimal requirements constitute the legally obligated education properly falls to legislators to define, and the courts to enforce-- just the same way that they have to define where the boundary between spanking and physical abuse lies, and enforce that in court. If the law is properly defined, there will be no gray area.

What you may not be considering is that we aren't talking about FORCING a child to endure an education, even if they don't want one. This means that, even if a child were being undereducated by legally-defined standards, it is not a crime unless the child also believes that their education (or lack thereof) is causing harm to them, and they want to file a complaint with the courts in order to force their parents to provide a better one.

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It seems like the direction you're headed with your argument is that if you create a law about something, you need to define it, and if defining it is problematic you ought not to make a law about it.

That's not quite right. If you create a law about something, the terms it uses must be objectively defined. Otherwise the law is non-objective. What this means is that if you wish to defend the claim that the law should provide an enforceable claim to an education, you must provide an objective definition of an education. If you haven't done that, you're advocating a non-objective law. Is it possible to provide an objective definition of an education? Yes. Is that definition self-evident? No. The questions I asked were intended to open up exactly that question: what is the 'education' to which you think the child has a claim, and on what basis do you validate your definition?

This means that the task of clearly defining what bare minimal requirements constitute the legally obligated education properly falls to legislators to define, and the courts to enforce-- just the same way that they have to define where the boundary between spanking and physical abuse lies, and enforce that in court. If the law is properly defined, there will be no gray area.

But what is a 'proper definition'? It isn't just 'whatever the legislators and courts come up with' -- that would be social subjectivism, not objectivity. Courts and legislators can be wrong. (These days it seems they are more often than not.) You clearly have something in mind yourself. What is your own view?

What you may not be considering is that we aren't talking about FORCING a child to endure an education, even if they don't want one. This means that, even if a child were being undereducated by legally-defined standards, it is not a crime unless the child also believes that their education (or lack thereof) is causing harm to them, and they want to file a complaint with the courts in order to force their parents to provide a better one.

We need to maintain a distinction between a 'right' and a 'claim'. Rights are objective. This means that whether or not someone's rights are being violated is also objective. It can be legitimate for government to intervene and prevent a rights violation even if the victim does not wish it. (Consider a case in which a criminal gang has intimidated a shopkeeper into paying protection money. Surely we would want the government to prosecute even if the shopkeeper himself were too frightened to file charges himself.) If education -- objectively defined -- is a right, then a child who is not being educated is having his rights violated, and the government should step in to address the situation. A claim, on the other hand, is optional. Merely because I have a claim on something or someone doesn't mean I need to actually draw on it.

Even if we take the position that education is a claim on the parents, not a right, there may still be problems. Consider that the basic argument for the educational claim is that, without being educated, the child will not be able to exercise proper rational judgment and choose life-sustaining actions. If this is true, then a child who has not been educated would lack the rational judgment to properly determine that fact -- so why should we give his determination any weight?

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