What Is Education For?

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my article making the case for universal ESAs, based on this question: what is education for?

Human nature points to a clear answer: education is child-rearing, and it belongs to parents. Human beings are not generic units, interchangeable and automatically functional, like the dollars in a teacher union’s bank account or the bubbles on a standardized test or the ones and zeros in a computer program. Human beings are unique creatures with unruly minds, hearts, and wills that are made to become mature, responsible, and free in a just community of equals. And it is obvious to anyone who knows the natural “facts of life” that the process of preparing a human being for mature freedom rests with families, since that is where human beings originally come from (the exact processes involved being a subject outside our current scope). To say that schools exist to educate is to say that they exist to help families rear their children.

Putting parents in charge of education is also the approach that aligns with the historic self-understanding of the American people. Our nation is dedicated to the proposition that we can live together, free and equal, through justice under the law based on human rights, rather than having to ground social order in the illiberal imposition of one person’s or one group’s way upon others. Only parental control of education can align our education system with this aspiration, allowing each family an equal right to raise its own children in accordance with its own beliefs, thus creating a just community in which all people are respected. A government school monopoly necessarily imposes conformity upon dissenters, unjustly relegating some citizens to an unequal position in the community. And since we all know this to be true, as long as the monopoly exists we will continue to see cultural groups mobilizing to fight culture wars for control of what views the government monopoly will teach. Thus the monopoly not only undermines justice by creating inequality and unfreedom, it keeps us whipped up in a state of hostility toward those who are different from us, undermining the universal goodwill for the dignity and rights of all people that the American experiment presupposes.

Come for the big vision of how education policy can be reconnected to these first principles, stay for the wonky discussion of why universal ESAs are the best way to do it.

Let me know what you think!

9 Responses to What Is Education For?

  1. pdexiii says:

    Once again, you link education with our fundamental freedoms as Americans.

  2. Greg Forster says:

    Indeed, I am a creature of habit.

    I’m here to link education with our fundamental freedoms as Americans and chew bubblegum, and I’m all out of bubblegum.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

    One rhetorical objection, one practical question/comment, and one theoretical quesstion: …
    1. Deriving policy from “principles of equality, freedom, justice, and accountability for excellence” risks alienating wary readers that a confidence scam impends. We may agree 100% or strenuously disagree and not know it, because these abstractions may mean very different things and con artists have used these abstractions before to perpetrate fraud.
    2. Tuition vouchers do not have to be paid in a one-year lump. Legislators could tweak the policy so that independent schools receive payment by the month or by the day. That’s a matter of administrative convenience. The objection that a fixed-amount voucher give to independent schools no incentive to compete on price carries considerable weight. ESAs address this, but introduce the issue of eligibility. How do you structure this policy to disqualify children in another State or in Mumbai, India?
    3. (Forster): “Putting parents in charge … the universal goodwill for
    the dignity and rights of all people that the American experiment presupposes.”

    .We agree, here. However, this: ” Funds in the account can only be used for educational purposes”, implies an authority who decides whether any particular ecpense qualifies as “education”.

    How would such an authority not undermine parent control? How would apprenticeship training fit into this scheme?

    Thanks.

    • Greg Forster says:

      1) That’s true as far as it goes, but we can’t stop talking about these things just because some have abused the concepts.

      2) Limiting eligibility for a state program to residents of that state does not seem to me to be a difficult problem.

      3) This policy introduces no intrusion beyond what is already involved in having mandatory education laws, and I support mandatory education laws. I am a classical liberal, not a libertarian, and in my view just protection of rights in civil society involves submitting the rights of each person to the limits and regulations that are necessary to create a stable polity that protects everyone’s rights consistently and sustainably. I also think mandatory education laws are justified as prohibitions on child neglect.

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        1. No recipe that says “serves six” calls for a half-cup of ground cloves. “Rights”, “freedom”, and “equality” are spicy. Use sparingly.
        2. It’s obvious how physical brick-and-mortar facilities address this issue (although some LEAs report attendance fraud by out-of-district students); you count the children in the classroom. It’s not obvious (to me) how ESAs address this. I would love to see a clear solution, because my preferred policy, Parent Performance Contracting, runs into the same difficulty.
        3.Compulsory attendance laws rely on an obvious measure, physical attendance. There is no such thing as mandatory education. Parents roll a bucket of dice when they put their kids together and some kids come up snake-eyes:
        1-1-1–1-1-1
        The human and canine IQ curves overlap.
        (Greg Foster): ” … in my view just protection of rights in civil society involves submitting the rights of each person to the limits and regulations that are necessary to create a stable polity that protects everyone’s rights consistently and sustainably.”
        Edwin West persuaded Milton Friedman that State compulsion added nothing positive to the education industry. Andrew Coulson agrees. I recommend:
        Enlow and Ealy, _Liberty and Learning: Milton Friedman’s Voucher Idea at Fifty_
        Edwin West, _Education and the State_
        Andrew Coulson, _Market Education_
        (Greg Forsster): “… I also think mandatory education laws are justified as prohibitions on child neglect.”
        On-the-job- training is education as much as Geometry class is education.
        How do you distinguish”educational neglect” from unschooling?

        “Why do I tell you this little boy’s story of medusas, rays, and sea monsters, nearly sixty years after the fact? Because it illustrates, I believe, how a naturalist is created. A child comes to the edge of deep water with a mind prepared for wonder….Hands-on experience at the critical time, not systematic knowledge, is what counts in the making of a naturalist. Better to be an untutored savage for a while, not to know the names or anatomical detail. Better to spend long stretches of time just searching and dreaming.” (E.O. Wilson, Naturalist , p. 11-12).

      • Greg Forster says:

        An ESA is a bank account. You just only give the accounts to residents. If you’re worried about fraud, you can easily set up audits.

        Mandatory education laws do not only require attendance, they also involve government knowing what is or is not “education.” If government is allowed to know that, then it can know it for ESAs.

  4. harriettubmanagenda says:

    (Forster): “If you’re worried about fraud, you can easily set up audits. Mandatory education laws do not only require attendance, they also involve government knowing what is or is not “education.” If government is allowed to know that, then it can know it for ESAs.”
    You identify the problem. One might define “education” as anything that any US State calls “education”, so any textbook in use anywhere in the US qualifies. What about field trips? Can I use the ESA to purchase airfare and hotel accommodations in Paris if my child and I visit an art museum?
    Legislators could elide these problems if they adopt a minimalist definition of “education” (e.g., at or above median age-level performance on standardized tests of Math and reading comprehension) and then paid for measured performance.
    When I hire a construction contractor, it’s not my business if he spends the compensation on hookers and drugs.

    • Greg Forster says:

      You are correct that writing any legislation of any kind on any subject involves the task of defining terms. Actual laws, when you go to read them, always contain lengthy passages that define the key terms in the law (or else references to definitions provided in previous laws). Most of the heavy lifting of writing laws happens here. Thankfully, the task of defining what counts as an education has already been done adequately by the 50 states in their mandatory education laws, and hence does not need to be repeated – although certainly there is always room for improvement and reforms can be implemented as needed. That is what we pay legislators to do, after all!

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        “Educattion” is so vaguely defined that the $700 billion+ per year K-12 budget guarantees fraud. States cannot mandate education; the human and canine IQ curves overlap. States compel attendance at school. States use “education neglect” statutes to compel attendance at the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel’s part-time juvenile detention facilities (which facilities many speakers of American English call “the public schools”.
        (Forster): ” That is what we pay legislators to do, after all!”
        I pay taxes to avoid prison.
        Rather than audit ESAs, why not adopt a minimalist definition of “education” (e.g., performance at or above the age-level median on standdardized tests of Math and Reading comprehension (any language)?. Audits for government-defined legitimate use invites regulatory capture (oversight by regulators motivated to compel attendance at government facilities).
        ESAs are better than a State-monopoly system with no escape options. They may be better than a State-monopoly system with a tuition voucher escape option.
        A State-monopoly system with Parent Performance Contracting as an escape option would be better that ESAs or tuition vouchers.
        Best of all would be:
        No compulsory school attendance laws
        No tax support of school
        No minimum wage laws
        No child labor laws.
        Organized interpersonal violence (i.e., government) makes no positive contribution to the education industry beyond what it contributes to the kitchen utensil industry or to the lawn care industry, an original assignment of title and a stable system of contract law.

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