Why school? (Part II)

Why does the State compel attendance at school? This "why?" question has three interpretations: 1) The historical "why?". What events coincided with the State's entry into the education business? 2) The welfare-economic "why?". What does society gain from a State role in the education industry? 3) The political science "why?". What do those politicians who support the State's presence in the education industry gain from their support. Today we consider the third version.

Two legislative sessions ago, the Democratic majority of the Hawaii State legislature passed Act 51 in response to Governor Lingle's (R) proposal to decentralize Hawaii's State-wide school district. Under Act 51, the system, already the most centralized in the US, assumed responsibility for payroll and pensions from the Department of Budget and Finance, and assumed responsibility for Repair and Maintenance from the Department of Accounting and General Services. Until the ascent of a Republican to the Governor's office, the majority (D) had indicated no sense of urgency to move these functions under the DOE wing. With Republican appointees exercising oversight of DAGS and B&F, suddenly the majority (D) recognized a need to move these functions into the union-dominated DOE bureaucracy.

For reasons the Agenda's author will discuss later, he does not expect to see honest coverage of the DOE budget from The Honolulu Advertiser, The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, or The Honolulu Weekly.

Just go here.


allen said...

On a more general level the rationale for a tax-supported, mandatory-attendance education system devolves to two core goals: education and indoctrination. The temptation to "catch 'em young and train 'em right" is, on the evidence, irresistable. In authoritarian nations it's the primary goal of the public education system with education as an important, but secondary, function.

In the U.S. for a long time indoctrination was simply unquestioned. Of course, the dividing line between indoctrination and history/social studies is anything but clear but I think a fairly strong case can be made for much of what was taught as history was taught less as an academic pursuit then idealogical indoctrination. The idealogical worm turned and the public education system became much more a vehicle for advancing a distinctly left wing agenda. Religious activists are trying to arm-twist their way into harnessing the public education system for their purposes.

What's the answer? My answer is "a pox on all your houses".

The temptation to gain an advantage in the struggle to form society according to your views makes manipulation of the public education system an irresistable temptation. Inevitably, there's a struggle to control the public education system for political purposes. I think it's self-evident that when the public education system is the focus of a political struggle for control, that academics will suffer.

So who can be trusted to ensure the proper balance of indoctrination and academics? Mommies and daddies.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

It's a plausible argument for the State school monopoly that parents might prefer something beneficial to their children (or to themselves) but harmful to society. The bogeyman of the messianic Muslim school or something like it is the threat, in this argument. It's analogous to the argument for litter laws: we all surrender some freedom so that we may prevent some anti-social individuals from degrading our common environment.

Against the likelihood of anti-social religious or ideologically-oriented independent schools is the certainty that Colleges of Education teem with theorists of "Critical Pedagogy", who see their job as indoctrination into views hostile to the US legal system. Consider:...


Also, the State monopoly system inflicts great harm on students, parents, real classroom teachers, and taxpayers.

The sociologist David Reisman (__The Lonely Crowd__) recommended that social studies not be taught pre-college, as he supposed that the temptation to indoctrinate would be too great. This may be the case, but policies which give to parents the power to determine which institution, if any, shall receive the State's K-12 education subsidy and disqualify institutions which preach anti-social violence would address the problem while preserving the advantages of a competitive market in instructional services.

If people are allowed to drive their own cars, there will be accidents. This is an argument for State-operatd transit systems or for enforcement of speed limits and red lights. Drive where you wish, but not as fast as you wish, and you don't get to hurt people. Socialists like fixed-rail systems. Free marketeers prefer cars, mororcycles, and bicycles.

allen said...

I've heard the argument about parents wanting to send their kids off to Kiddy Klown Kollege but I don't buy it. But, in one of life's delightful ironies, I was tickled to read Ronald Radosh's experiences as a "Red Diaper" baby.

When the kids of the hot, young college communists of the thirties, those "Red Diaper babies", started reaching school age their parents faced a real dilemma. Send them off to public school - which in the fifties hadn't yet been invaded by the "hate Amerikkka" crowd to come along in sixties - where they'll learn the revisionist history of the great opressor of the working class, America or send them off to a private school where they'd learn the world according to Marx?

Not suprisingly, our homegrown redskis chose to go with the private enterprise alternative that gave them what they wanted rather then except the state-supplied education that didn't. More then likely there was hardly a seconds thought given to the irony, and the hypocrisy, of the choice. They also packed their little comrades off to proper summer camps so they could learn their dialectical materialism the way Grandpa Engels meant it to be learned.

The reason I don't buy the Jihad High argument against parental choice isn't because some parents won't want to send their kids off to fringy academies, some will. The reason I don't buy that argument is that the vast bulk of parents won't send their kids off to those sorts of places and that the mischief perpetrated by the few doesn't balance off the beneficial effect of the boringly safe choice that'll be made by the majority.

I don't see the comparison to anti-littering law as particularly compelling either. If I choose to break the littering law I suffer the consequences myself and the benefit gained by flouting the law - I don't have to waste my precious time keeping the park nice for someone I don't know - is great enough that there's a considerable temptation to do so. In the case of educational choice it isn't the parent taking the risk, it's the parent risking their child's future which is, from my observation, not something parents casually do. Also, my choice to send Allen Jr. off to Banjo Academy doesn't impact in the least your decision to send Malcolm Jr. off to Harvard Here I Come High School.

Some will, of course choose off-beat schools. Some will believe they're doing the right thing. Some won't care. But most parents will choose the best alternative within those they feel they can access. For some parents that means an hour one way and an hour the other, twice a day, because Cowboy Elementry has the best dressage program in the Northwest and, it does above average on the K-12 SATs. For others it'll be the place within walking distance because it's especially convenient. But for most it'll be somewhere in between. It'll be the best choice balanced off against other, practical considerations by the people who have both a right to decide and the most credible claim that the best decision is being made.

That's why I'd be against any but the most basic of strings attached to educational alternatives. Requirements related to health and safety and maybe minimal educational requirements like readin' and writin' and summin'. But beyond that, no. The greater the range of choice open to parents the greater the range of choice opened to educational entrepreneurs and the greater likelihood of useful, valuable and interesting approachs becoming hot commodities.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...
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Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...


Seems to me you accept the Jihad High argument but do not estimate the downside as significant. It's an empirical question. As regulation becomes increasingly intrusive, the difference between a regulated industry and a State-operated industry vanishes. I accept the Jihad High arguiment, as well as the more likely Fagin High argument, that children will learn to be parasites (consider how many people aspire to positions as $400/hr. College of Education faculty). The reason I consider the downside risks an insufficient arguiment is, as I said, that minimal regulation (teach Math and Reading, don't teach hatred) reduces them, and the current system aggravates them. But I do see the risk.

allen said...

Nope, I reject the likelihood of the Jihad High scenario in the U.S. or any other place where parents have some reasonable expectations for the future.

The weakness in the argument is that it assumes that any of these boogeyman schools would be viable. For these schools to be viable they require a sufficiently large population of interested parents who are concentrated enough to send their little bundles of joy off to Jihad High.

It doesn't matter if there are a million Wiccans nationwide if there aren't any sufficiently dense concentrations of them to support a school. That's the issue any fringe academy has to deal with. In the Detroit area, for instance, there's a large Muslim population so there exists, at least, the makings of a Jihad High.

But even a sufficient density of prospective students isn't enough. You need a large enough group of parents in that group, who are willing to send their kids to Jihad High, to make it viable.

It's easy to assume that might be a danger but try to put yourself in the shoes of a parent who's faced with the decision of sending their child off to such a school. Easy decision? For some, of course. But for most parents the prospect of crippling their child's future by filling them with a questionable education would result in a resounding "No!". So, the fringe academy depends on attracting a minority within a minority.

Does that mean there won't be any of them? No, there'll be some. Here and there you'll find a concentrated enough population of some particular mindset to support such a school. But they'll be in day-to-day competition with schools that don't state that the purity of the white race is their central theme. And ultimately, they'll be self-defeating.

A school whose purpose is indoctrination is a school that, by implication, has education as a lower priority. That means the graduates of these schools will be less able to compete for the better jobs and enter the more demanding careers. Having your Marxist-Leninist theory down pat may bring a tear to mom and dad's eyes but it won't help you pass the LCAT.

How will the graduates of these schools view their alma maters when they get old enough to appreciate that casting spells isn't going to earn them enough money to buy that time share in Cozumel? Will those kids, now adults with children of their own, be willing to indulge themselves the way their parents did and cripple their own children's future? I just don't think that's very likely.

So, I don't see the Jihad High scenario as credible, short-term or long.

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

Why School? The "Jihad High" argument for a State-monopoly system.

We appear to agree but take the same words to mean different things.

Allen wrote:...

"Does that mean there won't be any of them? No, there'll be some. Here and there you'll find a concentrated enough population of some particular mindset to support such a school. But they'll be in day-to-day competition with schools that don't state that the purity of the white race is their central theme. And ultimately, they'll be self-defeating."


"So, I don't see the Jihad High scenario as credible, short-term or long."

That's fairly close to my position as well. So I would say: "Jihad High is a consideration but it's not decisive." It's more persuasive to grant the opposition some of their argument, and to show that their (purported) concern can be addresssed within the policy you recommend, than to deny that there is any argument on their side, seems to me. It only took 19 guys to kill 3000 on 2001-09-11. That's a pretty small graduating class. The rebuttal is that Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh, Jose Padilla, and John Walker Lyndh attended government ("public") schools and that juvenile hospitalizations and juvenile violent crime arrests --fall-- when school is not in session.

TMAO said...

"juvenile violent crime arrests --fall-- when school is not in session. "

Such may be the case in Hawai'i, Malcolm, but it is not true across the entire United States. Look at Boston, for example, where violent crime, especially murder, skyrockets during the summer.

(Why are we using an agrian school calendar in a post-industrial country?)

allen said...

OK, then we're in agreement :-)

TMAO wrote:

(Why are we using an agrian school calendar in a post-industrial country?)

Ask yourself who might be in a position to change the situation and then ask yourself what reasons there might be for them to do so.