New Jersey governor Chris Christie has gained a lot of attention for his tough stances, including those he takes on educational issues. But Christie’s attitude is a perfect example of why politicians cannot solve the fundamental problems of government schooling.
Last spring, Christie responded to the charge that teachers aren’t being compensated for their education and experience by saying they “don’t have to do it.” This is certainly true, but let’s look behind the talking points to the economic implications of this attitude. The perception of inadequate compensation and little appreciation will dissuade people who have invested in education from entering the profession of teaching. Investment does not equal competence, but there is a correlation between focusing on an area and expertise, which in a rational system would make a teacher more valuable. Higher pay means more people competing for jobs, which allows for a better-qualified work force. Satisfaction of teachers can result in a better experience for students who have little choice but to go through the school system.
This does not mean that public education is a good thing. It is actually one of the biggest problems in America. Government schools do little to develop the character of the individual in any meaningful way. They promote the idea that important learning is done by assignment. Personal development that conflicts with the system’s forcible monopolization of the student’s time is often regarded with suspicion. Completing the process of schooling, which is based on fulfilling requirements made by increasingly distant authorities, passes for a thorough education. The reason why people learn more in college than in high school is not because high school has prepared them, but because college students are allowed more initiative, participation, and choice in their learning experience. Their ability to exercise these faculties is often in spite of the enforced irresponsibility of their high school experience.
More money will not solve the problem. As Bob Bowdon’s film “The Cartel” demonstrates, money often doesn’t make it to classroom. But that is the necessary product of a system in which it is dictated from the top-down that things are to be done in a certain way, and political domination hinders the creation of alternatives. “Quality education” to this system means more expensive infrastructure and administration. For teachers, taking initiative to deliver a great service to students often means defying the system’s rules, as John Taylor Gatto describes from personal experience as a public school teacher. Schools teach to grade level according to curriculum, not to students’ ability according to their learning styles. Interest is stifled by rigid procedure and by supervised separation from the outside world. Performance is measured in standardized test results, not in eagerness to learn or capability in applying knowledge. The school system’s rationality is that of a political program, not of a sector built on satisfying demand through consensual arrangements.
But people like Chris Christie don’t really want to solve the problem — they just want it to be a cheaper problem. They still want a system that teaches people from before they can read until they reach voting age to salute the flag, follow the bell, and satisfy the demands of authority. They just want to implement what they consider a more cost-effective program of control.
There are better solutions in liberty. The control of government institutions should be shifted away from centralized power structures to people with immediate understanding and interest. Greater choice in education and more student participation in directing the learning process should be created. It is also important to foster culture that values individual character over certified economic adequacy. Public employee unions, which are political organizations with members afraid to publicly speak out against official policy, ought to be remade into, or replaced with, workers’ organizations in which a spirit of mutual aid and solidarity prevails over the goal of securing political privilege. Instead of looking to the boss for protection from the market, workers should shape the market to value humanity over hierarchy.
Dictates from the top down do not figure into any meaningful solution. There are difficult changes to make, but a free society is worth the effort.