April 20, 2012 by k. liz
Public Education and Why We Need It For Elementary Through PhD
Libertarians and conservatives perennially argue that education should be a private matter and that state and local governments, let alone the federal government, should not be in the education business. Instead of publicly funded education, they are often advocates of for-profit universities and the online PhD programs that are offered on their websites. They point to lagging test scores, high expense, high drop out rates, and an overall miasma of disappointment and mediocrity. Studies and surveys also show that public education is far more expensive on a per pupil basis than private, and that privately educated students achieve better results and higher test scores.
In addition, both Libertarians and religious conservatives cite moral reasons for private education. For religious conservatives, values, character and sex education are properly handled in the home and in the church. The state and public schools have absolutely no business introducing these subjects into the classroom at all. Libertarians, on a twist in the same vein, also believe that it is the parents’ responsibility to instill cultural and moral values and they object to any system which gives government control or intrusion into private lives.
While both cases may have some merit in an ideal world, in the real world a public education is a vital necessity. The reasons are readily apparent to anyone who actually considers what the consequences of shutting down all public schools would be. Four of the most important arguments for public schools follow:
- Access. It should be no surprise that the biggest supporters of private schools tend to be wealthier Americans who can afford to send their own children to private schools. The assumption seems to be that if they can do it, every parent can do it. The problem with a purely private school system is that it would quickly denigrate into a caste or class system. The best jobs would go to the alumni of the best schools, and only they would be able to send their own children to the best schools, thus perpetuating a cycle of rigid social class. Only freely available public education can overcome this hurdle, elevating all citizens to their highest potential.
- Universal literacy and knowledge. While public schools are not perfect and do fail to instill literacy into every pupil, ensuring free education means that all those who can’t afford private school at least have a chance. In a purely private system many students would be unable to attend quality schools at all. Under this situation, some portion of society would be highly educated but a larger group would be lost to ignorance. A two tier society would be the inevitable result. Universal access to knowledge is a necessity to universal equality amongs citizens.
- Popular Support. Many advocates of private schools argue that while public schools may be necessary for the prior two reasons, there should be a robust system alongside the public system. It could be financed through vouchers or tax credits and allow pupils to opt out of the public system. Many public school educators feel that if these types of programs become widespread, higher achieving families and their children will leave the broader public school system. Over time, this will undermine support for public schools, as they become silos for underachievers and problem students.
- National Competitiveness. The world has become a place where knowledge is king. The new frontier of high tech knowledge is not going to be pushed forward by a tiny group of hereditary elites, it requires the contribution of all Americans. An ideal system doesn’t offer only the elite a high quality education while others are allowed to languish; it is a system where all learners excel to their maximum potential. This is how countries will stay competitive on a global scale. To this end, specialty charter schools are being supported by government at every level, and new research and funding is available to bring all schools into the 21st century. It must be recognized that every student has the potential to make a great contribution in the future, and public school is a vital stepping stone.
Public schools aren’t perfect, they can stand improvement. Yet, when one imagines the social and economic costs of relegating a large proportion of the student body to sub-par or even a total lack of education, one quickly realizes how vital top notch education is for each and every American. Only public schools are capable of offering universal access and universal opportunity, something that both conservatives and liberals believe should be given to children.
Thank you Sofia for the great post!
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