01 January 2008|
The Schools Aren't Alright
Prometheus Institute Philosophy
One of the most obvious attributes intrinsic to capitalism is its diversity of production. Unlike socialism, capitalism possesses a liquidity of capabilities that allows it to offer a nearly unlimited number of product styles to appeal to an infinite number of consumer preferences.
State controlled economies produce only when the bureaucratic governing body promulgates if, when, and how a product is to be produced. However, the lack of extra sensory perception regarding consumer preferences dooms socialist economies to produce without regard to the diversity of human preferences. The mechanisms of state control invariably trail behind the demands of every individual.
By contrast, capitalism's survival is tied to its ability to produce for every consumer, and the prevailing forces determining supply reinforce this fact. While socialism defines success as appeasing the majority, capitalism defines opportunity as an individual with unsatiated demands. Every individual unsatisfied with an existing product line in a free market society is a potential source of profit for businesses.
Not only is this process efficient by virtue of the nature of supply and demand, the lack of bureaucratic oversight accelerates the efficiency. Free businesses need little approval to introduce new products; socialism slows the gears of production by its own processes.
In the end, laissez-faire capitalism has its objections, but diversity is not one of them. The very nature of the sovereign consumer, the sine qua non of the free market, engenders this reality.
This is not an a priori velleity. One needs only to observe the ways that the market creates diversity to its own advantage as well as the advantage of the consumer. Additionally, it is true that the sheer number of varieties grows proportionally with the relative necessity of a product's existence.
For example, the most basic of human needs is food. Yet it is this basic commodity that is most prevalent and varied for the American consumer. The individual can shop at a large number of convenience stores and grocery stores for a seemingly unlimited number of prepared and easily made food products. Or, he can buy raw food ingredients at grocery stores or farm markets. If he prefers to eat without work, he can find restaurants offering levels of quality ranging from cheap fast food to exorbitant gourmet. Restaurants are the most prevalent of all consumer-based food offerings, providing nearly unlimited opportunity to obtain basic needs of survival.
The example is not irrelevant. It proves the point that free market economics provides necessary commodities with infinite variety to satisfy the needs of every consumer. It is not coincidental; the reality is created by the very nature of capitalism.
While food is an excellent example due to its necessity and subsequent diversity and availability, the principle applies to every product highly demanded in the market. Automobile consumers can purchase used vehicles at less than $1,000, or they can purchase exotics for close to $1 million. They can buy cars boasting luxury, economy, safety, reliability, or performance. They can choose among accessories, colors, brands, specifications, countries of production, and more. The same is true of clothing, phone services, and every other major consumer product imaginable. It is an inevitable artifact of capitalism.
It follows that the private or complete privatization of education will result in similar consequences. The question then becomes, Do we want diversity among our schools?
The answer is Yes, but not for the same reasons that create the benefits in the previous examples.
The American public schooling system and socialized schooling in general, attempt to create success in a homogenous fashion. The purpose of K-12 education is to mold future college students, and the purpose of most four-year colleges is to mold future workers within corporate America.
While this formula may be moderately efficient in Scandinavia and other neo-socialist lands, the correct conclusions are not being drawn. Socialist countries may be able to call the mass production of public servants a success, but America shouldn't stoop to such low goals. America has always been a country of innovators and individuals, and the collectivist education that Europeans adore has never and will never serve American interests.
Some of the most successful Americans serve as salient examples of collective schooling's errata. Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, dropped out of college. Our athletes, representing some of the highest paid professions in the world, are expected to slide through college studies in order to move on to professional teams. Our musicians and artists, the envy of the globe, have few outlets for their talents.
College athletics offers our future professional athletes a wonderful opportunity to develop the talents that will become their careers. However, most four-year universities continue the charade that is the academic edification of America's athletes.
For example, the University of Miami is widely recognized as the preeminent factory of NFL players in the country. Producing first-round draft picks year after year, The U graduates men who will earn tens of millions of dollars during the course of their careers. However, these students are expected to attend classes for which they have no use, and often, no ability to succeed.
These athletes often do not possess the desire or ability to succeed in a traditional career. They sit through classes for English, Philosophy, Political Science, Chemistry, and more, yet they will never use what they learn. All they often do is goof off in class, not show up, or otherwise function to arouse the envy or contempt of their classmates. In the end, they are passed for no other reason than pressure from the athletic departments.
In the example of Miami, these young men are football players. They are not future professors, philosophers, or chemists. They often are accepted to the school with GPAs and SATs vastly lower than the non-athletes. They are held to lower standards. However, most damaging of all, they are given no reason to believe in their education.
While other students aspire to the traditional careers, these students aspire to a career in athletics. They go to college to play NCAA football well enough to be pursued by NFL scouts. This is their future career.
We ask, why not offer a major in Football, or maybe a School of Athletics? The players could learn, as other students do, information relevant to their chosen career. They could take economics, except not to study GDP. They would study the market mechanisms behind their gargantuan salaries, the demand function that determines ticket prices, merchandise sales, and signing bonuses for each team, and similar concepts. They would take finance, except not to study corporate decision-making. They would study the proper way to manage their wealth, how to say no to the brothers from the 'hood asking for loans, and how to save in the event of a career-ending injury. They would study statistics, except not to understand the intricacies of standard deviations. They would learn how to calculate their own statistics, in order to understand the principles that allow them to hold and break world records.
They would also take basic classes in sports. They would take football classes to study the history of the game and how it has evolved; plays, such as the nature of the zone blitz and how to protect against it; safety on the field; psychology regarding intensity and intimidation of one's opponent; physics regarding tackling and blocking; medicine regarding injuries and nutrition.
Such an educational strategy would have the following benefits:
1) The athletes would improve their skills on the field, enhancing the potential for success in their careers.
2) They would not be forced to divert their attention in order to study useless subjects.
3) The universities would improve their athletic programs and recruiting desirability.
4) The universities would not waste resources by teaching uninterested athletes, and students would not feel cheated by a double standard toward the athletes.
5) If athletes were to become injured, they could use their degrees toward coaching, scouting, speaking, or other sports-related activities that benefit society.
By the theory of multiple intelligences, these young adults are athletic geniuses. Higher education should cultivate that genius, not ignore it.
The principle applies beyond athletics. While schools of music exist for jazz, classical, and other traditional styles, artists of popular music have no such avenues.
Rap music will be used for the sake of example. Successful rappers often relate their tales of adolescent crime, drug activity, and contempt for school during their path to rap success. Political activists seize these comments as cause to censor rap music, for fear that it will ignite these illegal and immoral actions in America's youth. The response is improper, for many reasons. However, no respected voices are calling for education to embrace rap.
Why not create a school of rap? Students could attend it as an acting or traditional music school: the most talented applicants would be chosen to enter and receive the education. Former rappers could teach and consult with the younger generation, fostering both unity and a positive reputation for the art form.
Other classes would be related to rap careers the same way that Athletics majors would take general education classes related to professional athletics.
If the path to rap greatness were legitimized through mainstream education, then likely the dependence upon violent imagery likely would be decreased. However, even if it weren't, the existence of a school that enhanced success potential would take thousands of aspiring rappers off of the streets and into the classrooms.
Inner city schools are often cited as "failing." The reason for this is not because of lack of funding or effort at the school level. What is lacking is the respect for the different career paths of inner city children. While some can become doctors and lawyers, many can hope only to be rappers or athletes. This reality should not be a pejorative. It should be celebrated, and only the diversity intrinsic to free market production can be applied in order to achieve it.
President Bush touts his No Child Left Behind Act as beneficial for America's children because of its universal testing and accountability standards. It uses absolute standards to grade the effectiveness of public schools. Critics animadvert its standards that they deem too high. They argue that certain institutions that could be subjectively considered successful are deemed failures by Mr. Bush's objective benchmarks.
However, the indictment must be more pervasive. Americans must observe that our very characteristics that allow capitalism to work so well for us create the necessity for private education. We can care for the penurious without sacrificing economic freedom. We provide food stamps to prevent Americans from starving, but we let the social assistance work within the capitalistic system. Similarly, a voucher system would allow all families the opportunity to draw from the educational cornucopia of infinite opportunity.
Some children aren't future doctors or lawyers. They do not test well, and they will never ace the SATs or get accepted to a prestigious university. Should we ignore this reality? Or should we allowed the heterogeneity of capitalism to educate our children effectively? Should schools exist to fulfill demands of parents, as economic principles stipulate, or should bureaucrats simply appease the preferences of the college-bound majority?
Americans expect the best. We send our lawyers and doctors to years of extra schooling in order to become the best they can be. We also spend millions of dollars per year watching athletes play games and musicians perform their art. The principle translates; we should reform the education system to produce the highest quality individuals in every societal sector. It benefits society as well as it benefits the individuals receiving the education. Most importantly, however, the structure of such a system is intrinsic to free market behavior.
We proudly celebrate our diversity. However, education is the single greatest factor affecting career earnings potential, yet educational opportunities are blind to our diversity of talents. Our public schools delegitimize the career athlete, artist, or musician, even as our society promotes them. We must avoid this damaging duplicity with a commensurate promotion of the heterogeneous intelligences of our great nation.
We must no longer let the future rappers to become so disillusioned with school that they drop out and turn to crime. We must no longer let our athletes create a parody of a university education. We must no longer let socialist collectivism determine the careers of our children.
The above work is the opinion of the author, and not necessarily that of the Prometheus Institute.