Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged. — Northwest Ordinance of 1787 inscribed on Angell Hall at the University of Michigan
In a column that appeared in the Elmira Star-Gazette today, January 4, 2014, John Stossel discusses common core standards which he dislikes. It isn’t the standards themselves that Stossel decries as much as the idea of having national standards for education. Instead, Stossel would let a thousand wildflowers bloom.
While pretending to discuss common core, Stossel mounts an attack on public education — “government schools.” Does calling public schools government schools make public education seem unwholesome? Stossel evidently hopes it does. Stossel writes:
- It’s the government’s plan to bring the same standard to every government run school.
- Central planning rarely works.
- Having one plan makes it harder to experiment and figure out what works.
- Having one inflexible model for education is so old fashioned.
- Common core de-emphasizes correct answers by awarding kids points for reasoning, even when they don’t quite get there.
- Vouchers, Education Savings Accounts and tax credits create competition and choice.
These statements reflect Stossel’s opinion that everything government touches goes bad, but he makes scant attempt to justify this opinion. Finland, said to have superior schools, has a national plan for creating and maintaining a superior educational system that leaves no child behind. The Finns have national standards. National standards are not necessarily inflexible, the idea that students should learn to reason isn’t bad, and the idea that private schools meet the needs of all Americans when public schools don’t and can’t is unsupported. Stossels article reflects his libertarian political prejudices more than a commitment to education.
Supposing our system of public education were replaced with private schools, would we then have conservative and liberal schools, platinum schools for the well-to-do and economical schools for others, schools that teach the Bible and schools that teach Al Quran all at public expense? Would private schools run for profit really be likely to offer a superior education? Would not private schools need standards?
The Star-Gazette and other news outlets are full of the idea that private enterprise is necessarily superior to any public program, but this idea best serves the private interests that promote it. We should look carefully before discarding centuries old public education and local elected school boards long considered vital to democratic government.
© William Hungerford – January 2014