Internet etiquette. The conversation "Choice, Decentralization, and other Odds and Ends" got convoluted and abstract at Jenny D's place, so the Agenda's author dragged it here. Is this hijacking or a disinclination to impose on the hostess? Anyway...
What is government ("The State")? What is "democracy"? What is
"education"? To the extent that you, individually, can influence the State's education policy, what goal are you trying to achieve? Is the instrument you have chosen (the policy you recommend) likely to achieve your stated end?
The government of a locality is the largest dealer in inter-personal violence in that locality (definition). Weber defines government as the monopoly on legitimate violence. Since monopolies are seldom absolute and the State itself gets to define "legitimate", the Agenda's author prefers the first formulation. Experts concur: "Government is not reason. It is not eloquence. It is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master" (George Washington), and "Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun" (Mao Tse Tung).
"Democracy" names a class of feedback mechanisms, those government policies which designate some channel by which people may influence their government. This class includes elections, initiative, recall, and referenda. These are not the only conceivable democratic mechanisms. For example, a legislature of sufficient size, selected by lot like jury duty but without peremptory challenges, would provide "democratic" feedback to an executive branch bound to obey that legislature. Federalism is a democratic feedback mechanism when people have the "right" (a promise from the State) to "vote with their feet". The market, a policy which gives to individual customers the power to take their business elsewhere, is a democratic feedback mechanism. Anti-State violence may be a democratic feedback mechanism (hence, the Second Amendment).
Education is an investment, a sacrifice of current consumption made in anticipation of greater income later. "Income" is material or "psychic" (e.g., enhanced appreciation of Shakespeare). When an individual invests in his/her own education s/he sacrifices resources (usually time and often money) in anticipation of enhanced income, from his/her education-enhanced skill, later.
Whether you see any State direction of resources as an "investment" from "the public's" point of view depends, in part, on how you compute the public's interest in (income from) the result of the State's expenditure. Practically, whether or not State agents invest "in the interests of society" depends on whether or not democratic feedback mechanisms work.
This is all just brush-clearing, preparing the ground for a discussion of education policy, and it's getting tedious, so we break here to consider a few items in earlier posts by Jenny and her guests.
Jenny begs to differ from David Friedman on the case for a State role in education.
Jenny D:"I want children who will be citizens of the US to be indoctrinated with the values of the U.S. ...(O)ne must learn to live in a democracy, it is not obvious. For proof, check out Iraq."
For proof that State-operated schools are not necessary to create a democracy, consider the US. Few of the members of the Constitutional Convention attended State-operated schools. For proof that majority attendance at State-operated schools is not necessary to maintain of democracy, check out Ireland, the Netherlands, and Belgium. The violence of some Muslims, or the advocacy of anti-social violence by some Muslim schools is just as much an argument against a voucher-subsidized free market in education as the violence of Ted Kaczynski, John Walker Lindh, or Jose Padilla is an argument against State-operated schools. Is "critical pedagogy" likely to produce citizens accepting of the existing social order?
One of Jenny's guests works as a teacher and union agent. TMAO supports the current system.
TMAO: "We educate -- publicly, nationally, compulsorily -- because... We do so to..."
"To" is a statement of intention. The question: "Why school?" has three interpretations: 1) the historical "why?", 2) the welfare-economic "why?", and 3) the political-science "why?". 1) The US "public" school system orginated in anti-Catholic bigotry. 2) We argue welfare-economic case here. 3) The system survives on well-funded and assiduous lobbying by current recipients of the taxpayers' $400+ billion k-12 dedicated revenue stream.
Ragnarok argues from a generally libertarian point of view.
Ragnarok: "Perhaps I could reiterate one of my pet themes, that the parents be required to put in some money of their own in order to give them a stake in the result? We could use a sliding scale, what's important is that I believe that people value things that they pay for."
Parent involvement is good. Not every argument for parent involvement is a good argument. Would Ragnarok not value a kruggerand found in the park? The Agenda's author will happily accept donations of any windfall readers experience. People will value a thing if they expect to realize a return from their concern for that thing. Giving to parents dollar-denominated school vouchers from which they could keep the difference between whatever tuition they pay and the dollar value of the voucher would give to parents an incentive to shop for a cheap school. Making eligibility for the voucher in the following year contingent on their child's performance at the end of the current year would create an incentive to shop for a good school.