Notes from a native son: Why do you want me to know why the chicken crossed the road?
By Jason Boyd
In all the talk these days about fake news, and how to tell if the narrative you’re consuming is genuine or not, what I don’t want to see get lost is the ability to analyze one’s motivations for telling the story. Put another way, if you tell me why the chicken crossed the road, it’s one thing to verify whether this really happened, and it’s another thing to figure out why you think it’s necessary that I know why the chicken did it. What’s your agenda here?
In a recent op-ed published in this paper, Liv Finne made the case that public education is irredeemable; because, if a billionaire philanthropist like Bill Gates can’t make it work then no one can. Finne argues that the problem plaguing public schools is “bureaucratic resistance and union politics.” She makes her case eloquently, and she obviously knows a thing or two about the subject. As well she should, being that she’s the Director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center.
I don’t have credentials like Ms. Finne’s. I sit on the board of zero policy centers. I haven’t published papers on education. I don’t have a law degree. Heck, I’m still working on my bachelor’s. But what I do have in this case is a lack of an agenda. Whether our schools are privatized or the public’s appetite for hearty investment is reinvigorated, I don’t stand to directly benefit either way.
The Washington Policy Center and I have some fundamental disagreements. Their slogan is, “Improving lives through market solutions”, which, to me, is another way of saying that the profit motive makes things better, and sometimes it does. Better eyeglasses? Yeah, probably. Better pizza? I’m definitely on board with that. But I have a list of things in which I believe the profit motive should not be given free reign. The biggest current debate in this country is, of course, in government’s role in health care, and I, predictably, think that a profit motive does not make healthcare better – I want to see a public option available to all. Let the debate rage on with that one, but there are others on the list that are less controversial: police, firefighting, the courts, and the military, just to name a few. For me, education is also squarely on that list.
I’m not advocating for the abolition of private education, many people think it provides better results for them. I’d expect to feel safer if I paid for private security. I think it’s awesome that we have the option to choose to pay for additional services if we deem it necessary, but I don’t think we ought to make those private services the only option, nor should we allow a public investment in private services degrade our commons down to the point where they’re no longer a viable option.
Personally, I find the argument that public schools are a “monopoly” to be disingenuous. Private schools have been around longer than public schools. Publicly funded charter schools are just an attempt to funnel public money into private hands. We have tried voucherizing schools in higher education, sending less money directly to the school and more money to the student; it resulted in soaring tuition costs. And the evidence that charter schools are any better than their public counterparts is lacking, largely because we don’t know how to really rate schools accurately. We typically to use test scores, but they tend to not allow for variables.
Do I have some ideas on what we could do to better our schools? Sure, but honestly, I don’t expect anyone to listen too intently. Most people would say that I lack the credentials to speak on the topic, and that’s fair. But I do have a vote, and the timing of the op-ed leads me to believe that it was intended to sway that vote. It failed in that regard; because I know to follow the money, and I’m intent on investing in our public schools.