Friday, January 21, 2022

We need a new conversation about education

We've been talking about Education in economic, market-based terms for nearly a century in this country. Why? Competition has no place in educational access. We cannot and should not place education in the realm of a market. Students are not customers. Our love of economic analysis reflects a deep cultural belief in deservingness, and no other developed nation requires citizens to prove that they deserve an education. To do so is undemocratic and it's immoral. 

Educational policy leaders need to stop engaging in this sort of choice-based talk. Put in terms of choice, we are saying having a substandard option is permissible, and that choosing no education would be possible as well. Saying parents choose schools is like saying people of Flint choose the water.  

As a country, it's time to act as though we value education, at every level, for every neighborhood, as a basic common good, and not a matter of making "the best choice." We cannot compete globally without quality education, but more importantly, we are at risk of failing as a country from within. To be clear, this is not merely some historic policy position. No Child Left Behind essentially punishes schools in lower income neighborhoods by gatekeeping access to federal money through the use of our beloved test scores, a metric that reflects affluence more than any single other factor. 

The state of education in America is so abysmal, it is a miracle that we are in the global ranks at all. A century of deservingness-based policies have decimated human rights in America, and our inclusion on the OECD list seems suspect given that "today’s United States has proved itself to be exceptional in ... problematic ways that are shockingly at odds with its immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights. As a result, contrasts between private wealth and public squalor abound."

A national commitment to education is a national commitment to its citizens, and the United States needs to right her course through an about-face approach, leaving marketplace competition at the wayside and valuing her people over profit for the first time since the founding of the country. The moral failure of leadership has been with us since we threw tea into a harbor. It will only end when we choose to treat citizens as the reason for our nation to exist instead of as liabilities on a balance sheet.