L. Neil Smith's

Number 17, October 29, 1996.

Why the Schools Fear Freedom

By Vin Suprynowicz

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         S.N., a second grade teacher in Phoenix, writes in response to my recent column on unqualified teachers in the classroom:
         "I am a teacher. I do not belong to NEA or AFT. I must say I'm a very good teacher. I have a Master's degree plus 30 hours. I continually spend my own time and money to increase my knowledge and my skills. ...
         "I am not unusual. What about all of those of us who are doing a good job of educating your children? What about those many teachers ... who have slaved and sweated to learn the very best methods of educating your children? ...
         "I am well aware that there are problems with the education system. I more than welcome the idea of more local control, more parents involved in textbook selection, curriculum design, teacher hiring, and classroom participation.
         "What disturbs me is the idea that we need to throw out the whole system and that these new, no-government-involvement, parent-directed solutions will make the perfect system for our children. It won't happen. Yes, we need changes. We also need to be careful what we change and to what we are changing. ..."

# # #

I responded:

         Dear S. -- Thanks for your thoughtful missive.
         I have nothing against "those many teachers ... who have slaved and sweated to learn the very best methods." Not only was my father the first in his family to attend college, he was also the first to earn an M.S., and a Ph.D, and then to become ... a teacher.
         But why this fear that, in a free economy, without government seizing the wherewithal at gunpoint, good teachers wouldn't do just fine? Surely 99 percent of parents -- allowed to keep the income now seized by a government monopoly with an "overhead" as high as 75 percent -- would immediately arrange for their own kids' education. The hiring market for truly dedicated and able tutors and instructors -- working in private homes, in community schools, in any number of arrangements we can't even foresee -- would be huge.
         Why not assume the best of them would be rewarded with higher pay and more respect, as has been the result in every other field where competition has been allowed?
         Whenever we can, Jeanne and I love to attend the arts and crafts fairs organized twice a year by the Mill Avenue Merchants Association, in the college town of Tempe, Ariz.
         Part of the fun is the food.
         Not to imply there's anything haute about it ... or even overly healthful. But the variety of Indian fry bread, vegetable tempura, teriyaki beef sticks, grilled shrimp, fresh corn-on-the-cob, homemade potato chips fried before your eyes ... it's a phantasmagory of dyspeptic delight.
         One year, there was a single Cajun food booth. The next year, word had been carried home about the success of that enterprise, and there were three competing Cajun booths, vying with each other for variety, spiciness, and portion size. It was so good, we literally couldn't sample everything.
         This year, we heard that the annual arts and crafts fair operated as a charity for the city hospital in Boulder City, near Las Vegas, was equally good. We decided to check it out.
         It was indeed nice to see the exhibitors (many of the same folks we see in Arizona) in a grassy park under the trees, rather than on the hot sidewalks. The big difference, however, was the food.
         We found the "food court" in Boulder City and walked up to one of the tents. The menu offered hot dogs, pizza slices, ready-made ham sandwiches, and Pepsi. No Coke.
         Hardly inspiring. We decided to check out the next tent, which we could see across the way. The menu there consisted of ... hot dogs, pizza slices, and ready-made ham sandwiches. No Coke; Pepsi.
         Rather than allowing private vendors to descend on the place with all their chaotic variety and competition, the folks who organize the Boulder City arts festival ... a branch of the city government ... had simply let a contract to one purveyor, who had subcontracted to one soda pop provider.
         A "varied menu" had been ordered up. But it was all the same "varied menu." A government monopoly.
         I'm afraid the public school monopoly has gotten us all used to settling for a pizza slice and a Pepsi. "Reform" might offer us a cold slice of pepperoni, in addition to "plain cheese." But this can only be a pale imitation of real innovation, like the puzzled Soviets of the '70s finally "allowing" their people some limited selection of knock-off blue jeans and Western music, always a decade behind the times.
         The underlying problem is not just the lack of vigor which would otherwise be injected by competition, but the fact that no one within the monopoly can imagine what such a vigorous, competitive system would look like ... just as Russian tourists used to think it must be a "put-up job" when they visited an American supermarket and were told the common folk shopped amidst such eye-popping plenty ... just as the locals who told Jeanne and me in good faith that we'd love the Boulder City arts festival had no idea how wanting we'd find it, since they know nothing better.
         Next time: Do the schools "reflect" society's problems ... or help cause them?

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/. The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.

Next to advance to the next article, or Previous to return to the previous article, or Index to return to The Libertarian Enterprise, Number 17, October 29, 1996.