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08 February 2017 @ 06:32 am
Are we not cabinet? We are DeVos  
40 years ago I was where our new Secretary of Education is now: wanting to smash the public school system. I felt that way because I thought it existed to serve the social order.

OK, that’s a smart-ass oversimplification, but one of the minor disastrous results of Nehemiah Scudder’s tie-breaking vote was to dig up John Green’s dim-witted post that begins with an endorsement of totalitarianism and ends not knowing the difference between stupid and ignorant.

I believed the libertarian oversimplification that the State gives everyone what the dictator or the majority wants but the Market has requisite variety. I seemed to be an example. Public school, where the dull normals set the pace, exacerbated my attention and anger issues, making me (and often my classmates) miserable. Then, an intellectually rigorous prep school kept me interested enough in learning that I was merely as unhappy as teenagers usually are, brought my oppositional defiant disorder down to challenging the dress rules, and enabled me to suck up huge wads of math, science, and literature.

I gave up my support for the voucher system when I realized it would turn the schools over to the kind of people who run insurance companies. That was typical of my abandonment of libertarianism. I still agree with Tim Leary that politics is so animalistic it should be done on all fours, but business is every bit as quadrupedal.

And education, like public health, is a public good that, alas, has to be centrally coordinated by an organization to which we give the monopoly of legitimized force. It is a public good because giving everyone a chance to develop their abilities (even if they’re dark-skinned or their families are poor or they start out not speaking English) will make things better for everyone.

As Uncle Sigmund said, the paranoid is never entirely mistaken. There are many people who really do want the schools to serve the social order. They want to protect the tender minds of the young from Godless heliocentrism or make them have lots of unwanted pregnancies (excuse me, I mean they want to indoctrinate them with the fantasy of Abstinence Only, which always winds up that way). Or they want the schools to make everyone equal instead of developing everyone to their fullest; some even believe that both can be done simultaneously, which is at least as feasible as lining up alphabetically by height. There are those who want the school draft to have no exemptions: Those with intellectual or financial resources must send their children into the system so that (in theory) they cannot be educated without educating everyone. The word I would use for that is “hostages.”
eub on February 9th, 2017 11:20 am (UTC)
There are those who want the school draft to have no exemptions: Those with intellectual or financial resources must send their children into the system so that (in theory) they cannot be educated without educating everyone. The word I would use for that is “hostages.”

The idea that everyone should proceed as if they might find themselves in the unluckiest position, that's not exactly Red Army radicalism, it's a common idea of justice.

Now, with seriously no exemptions, that has problems, you're fighting against a fairly fringe opinion there though. More mainstream ideas would be not subsidizing private schools, or even something outside the current discourse like taxing private school tuition to pay for public schools. The idea is not that everyone must be kept in the same boat, but that people jumping out does not financially swamp the boat.

It's not an exact analogy, but what do you think about the approach of requiring (or pressuring) everyone to carry health insurance so there's not widespread flight to catastrophic plans that are objectively better for them in their situations? Are those healthy folks hostages?
El Coyote Gordo: coy1supergee on February 9th, 2017 12:26 pm (UTC)
Single-payer (which I favor) is a lot less of an imposition than being sentenced to spend 5 days a week in an institution that is so concerned with the unluckiest that everyone else suffers.

eub on February 10th, 2017 08:50 am (UTC)
Again, though, that's a strawman. It's like if I say that single-payer means my Feldenkrais is outlawed -- it might be non-covered or it might not (public schools might take a one-size-fits-all approach and do a poor job for an individual or they might not), but that doesn't mean it's illegal. Approximately nobody wants to outlaw leaving the public system; what's in question are the financial arrangements.

In particular, whether I can leave for a charter school and take with me the money for one student averaged. You can envision how a charter school could cherrypick the 'easier' students, who actually cost less to educate than the money that comes with them. "Why can't I just buy the health insurance I want without subsidizing other people?" Same problem structurally.

I question your impression that the public system is hard for Harrison Bergerons as its cost of being so great for the less special. Not that I know, but I would hazard a guess that a substantial number of students actually had it worse than you did. Public school systems ain't perfect. They could mostly stand to offer more choice for individual students. We as a society could do more for students whose parents aren't playing the system optimally, and we should probably give minors more autonomy.
El Coyote Gordo: coy3supergee on February 10th, 2017 10:12 am (UTC)
I accept the idea that everyone should be taxed fairly to educate everyone, but school is not like food, where the most important thing is to feed the neediest. The system should have requisite variety, so that the Harrison Bergerons and the slow kids both get the teaching they can use, but the Harrison Bergerons are more likely to provide for the general good. I also agree that schools like my public school probably weren’t all that great for the slow kids either.

Edited at 2017-02-10 10:13 am (UTC)
Young Geoffreyed_rex on February 17th, 2017 12:33 am (UTC)
Public doesn't *have* to be one size fits all
A personal anecdote.

I went to high school in Toronto in the early and mid 1980s. At that time (and still, to a lesser extent) the public school system there had a number of Alternative schools. That is, small public schools structured unlike most of their larger brethren.

Mine was called SEED and was established by students in the late 1960s, a couple of years later embraced by the Toronto Board of Education.

Learning was student-directed, outside "catalysts" (such as Judith Merril, by the way) taught some of the courses) and, generally, it was a truly alternative way of learning/teaching.

Point being: with minimal bureaucratic oversight, it provided a very different educational experience for a smallish number of kids who (mostly) benefited from it. As part of a larger public system. And it was only one of more than a dozen schools in Toronto which each worked according to a different alternative model.

The "general good" doesn't have to be mediocre; it can also be specifically directed.