Education and Class Stratification

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Education and Class Stratification

an exchange between Ryan Showman and Ari Armstrong, April 7, 2004

[Ryan Showman sent an April 5 e-mail responding to Ari Armstrong's article, Teaching Kids to Love Big Government. Following Showman's comments, Armstrong replies.]

While reading this article, several questions came to mind. Chief among these is this: what then would you propose instead of government-sponsored, "socialized" schooling? Are you then in line with Harry Browne's belief in seperation of school and state?

If that is what you indeed propose, a multitude of social issues arise. Class stratification is already a very real problem in today's American society, and this would only worsen were schools to be privatized. If families had to pay for schooling, then, of course, as with the university system, the best schools would be those which cost more to attend. That's how the free market system works -- more bang for your buck, etc. The children whose families do not have the means to pay for that better education would be out of luck at no fault of their own. Whatsoever. Yet it would seem that you would want to punish kids for having the misfortune of being born into a family that was not well-off monetarily. This is without even touching upon the parents who would care more about themselves rather than their children, preferring to spend more money on their interests and other 'things' rather than on their children's education, resulting again in an unfortunate situation over which the children would have no control. Class divisions would become even more distinct as those with money would be the only ones who could provide their children with the costly education that would lead to further high-paying jobs.

Granted, this would lead to better teachers, but then only those in the best schools. The lower end, cheap schools wouldn't be able to compete for the quality teachers, leaving the lower classes with less qualified teachers. It is truly unfair to force children into poor educational situations due to factors not in their control. Of course, such problems already exist in today's public school system, but quality teachers are everywhere, not only in schools for the rich, as would inevitably happen in a privatized system (except for the occasional martyr).

More or less, I find that this short article of yours is rather shallow in a highly complex issue. You fail to consider the other side of the issue and the ramifications that privatized education would bring. I dislike the current public education system probably as much as you, but the social implications of what you seem to propose would undermine the purpose of a free market society in the sense that class mobility and success being wrought by one's own hands would not be possible. Apropos, American society, were it to turn to a privatized mode of education, would ultimately lead to an oligarcy with a defined aristocracy standing unchallenged (while it is possible to argue that this now exists, there is quite a bit more potential social mobility than in a system as you seem to propose). A thorough study of the history of education would reveal that such privatized education does indeed lead to such class stratification that creates disgruntled lower classes. Nepotism would be the norm, as the lower classes would not be so free as today to pursue dreams of careers in any field.

I'll admit, this too is a simplification of the issues. To change the government-sponsored school system to a privatized one would radically change American society as we know it, hearkening back to times when people were forced into jobs and careers as dictated by the societal machine, rather than upon one's own skill, abilities, and hard work. Nothing short of a total reorganization of our government, society, and culture would be requried to achieve a seperation of school and state. Put simply, a revolution. Good luck.

Ryan Showman


Ari Armstrong Replies

Granted, I did not address all or even most of the issues related to education in a single short article. However, I have written thousands of words elsewhere about education, as a Google search for the term at my site will show. In addition, Showman may wish to read from the following literature: Separating School & State (Sheldon Richman), Market Education: The Unknown History (Andrew J. Coulson), and Liberating Schools: Education in the Inner City (David Boaz, editor).

While Harry Browne advocates the separation of school and state, that phrase was popularized by Marshall Fritz of the Alliance for the Separation of School and State.

Showman's claim that it is market education that would damage the less wealthy would be laughable, if it weren't so sad. It is instead today's system of government education that has trapped the many poor students in ignorance, poverty, and the abuse of school-administered drugs. Or does Showman wish to argue that government schools in downtown Denver are comparable in quality to government schools in Boulder and Cherry Creek? (I can affirm they are not.)

True, under market education, the wealthy would spend more money on their children's education. News flash: that's already the case. Today, however, both the poor and the rich are taxed to subsidize grossly inefficient, bureaucrat-heavy, and less-than-optimal schools, and today mostly the rich are able to pay double for private schools. (The rich are also better able to put pressure on their government schools to perform.) So the poor are forced to pay for schools that serve them poorly.

Showman claims a "thorough study of the history of education would reveal that such privatized education does indeed lead to such class stratification," but history demonstrates no such thing. Showman is instead spinning pure myth that is readily disproved.

Market education is particularly able to serve poorer students well. First, there's not much relationship between the amount of money spent on education and the quality of education. Richer districts buy swimming pools, but such pleasant amenities hardly contribute to a quality education. A back-to-the-basics approach with real literature, as opposed to the nonsense spouted by most high-priced "textbooks," is much more effective, and not very costly. Second, the marginal cost of adding one additional child to a school is close to zero. Thus, market schools would find it in their economic interests to rationally price-discriminate, offering lower rates to lower-income students, either in the form of scholarships or outright discounts. Third, because of wide-spread popular concern with helping poor students attain a quality education (such as Showman demonstrates), an extensive voluntary network of charitable organizations would quickly arise to help out the least well off.

(Incidentally, a concern for the poor can in no way justify today's system of government-run schools. Even if one concluded the forcible re-distribution of wealth were necessary to help out the poor, that would justify only something like a voucher system or negative income tax for the poor. In other words, providing welfare to the poor in no way implies the near-complete socialization of the entire field. In today's world, poor homeschooling families subsidize the education of rich students in the government schools. If egalitarianism of resources is the goal, why should rich families be subsidized?)

Under a system of market education, the disparities between rich and poor, in terms of quality of education, would diminish dramatically. Showman's tale about the alleged "class stratification" of market education is a hobgoblin fed by the sycophants of socialist dogma and the beneficiaries of today's state-enforced regime.

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