Monday, December 13, 2010

Does School Choice "Work"?

Does School Choice "Work"

Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute gives a surprisingly lukewarm answer of "barely, and much less than had been promised." After more than 20 years of efforts, you'd think we'd see some clear results, but they are really equivocal.

And it's precisely what opponents predicted based on the fact that very few schools are in any way significantly different than public schools. They tend to draw from the same pool of teachers, texts, administrators, and students. They tend to teach to the same requirements.

My personal opinion (as a public school teacher) is that almost all of the low-hanging fruit for school improvement has long since been picked. Class sizes have been reduced. Early learning opportunities for preschoolers have been greatly increased by educational television, good day care and more preschool. Disabilities are tested for and recognized much earlier, before much harm is done. Many of the social issues such as equal access, integration, language barriers, cultural insensitivity, and access for the handicapped have been dealt with. These are huge improvements since the 70s.

And all these have been done by public schools, without bashing teachers or public schools, and with the enthusiastic support of teachers.

They have been unsuccessfully blocked by conservatives who (a) want to maintain patterns of class and racial discrimination (b) don't want to spend the money or (c) want public institutions to fail so that their religious alternatives look good. These are many of the same people who are agitating for school choice and a host of other attacks on traditional public schooling.

Enormous pressure is put on administrators and school boards to keep improving public schools, but you can only get so much blood from a stone no matter how hard you squeeze.

The remaining big, relatively easy improvement in education will come from parents creating better family environments that encourage learning. Train parents to inspire their children to be well educated, and to perform the needed supervision to keep students on track in their studies. There is huge room for parental improvement, and we should vigorously explore public and private options for providing training and inspiration for parents.

It would also help if there is a promising economy that can provide jobs for all the educated: our 10% unemployment rate does not inspire scholarship. Imagine if we promised employment opportunities to anybody with a HS diploma as a form of social insurance, with government counter-cyclicly providing useful low-wage jobs when the private sector does not (such as in a recession.) That would be a HUGE incentive to graduate.


Glen said...

It clearly "works" in the sense of increasing parent satisfaction. Which isn't nothing, but is less that some might have claimed. Advocates did go too far in promising the moon and the stars given current constraints, and some retrenching is in order.

Out of your list, I'd suggest that "reducing class size" is actually an anti-improvement. Mandated maximum sizes do make things easier on teachers, but as far as I know there is no evidence it improves student outcomes under current constraints to a degree proportionate to the increased costs and decreased flexibility it inflicts on the districts.

If one could wave a magic wand and achieve a vibrant competitive market in education, I expect it would include some schools that went the other way and *maximized* class sizes in order to free up resources for other purposes. Following the karate school model of teachers teaching students who teach younger students as part of their own training one might plausibly have an effective school with a "student/paid-teacher ratio" of 100-1 or, heck, 1000-1.

Mike Huben said...

"no evidence it improves student outcomes under current constraints to a degree proportionate to the increased costs and decreased flexibility it inflicts on the districts"

I'd dispute that, but don't want to spend the time researching. However, your arbitrary requirements for costs and flexibility seem unimportant because the payoffs for better education are so very high. We greatly underinvest in education.

"the karate school model of teachers teaching students who teach younger students as part of their own training" depends on washing out many students each year, producing a pyramid-shaped distribution of expertise. If every student progressed towards senior levels without dropping out, the expertise would not be there to train the many senior students. The dropout rate in martial arts schools is VERY high. Not a good model at all for how to structure schools for general education, and it is done only in the most impoverished circumstances. Nothing is stopping anybody from running a private school on those principles but you don't see it for the good reason that it doesn't compete well with small classes by professional educators.

Wishful thinking is not a good substitute for real-world knowledge.

Lorraine said...

I second the idea of promising jobs to graduates. When the diploma is a necessary but not sufficient condition for employability, graduation is 100% stick and some unknowable <100% carrot. Even dyed-in-the-wool behaviorists concur that the carrot is measurably more effective than the stick.

Glen said...

Regarding the research: the conventional wisdom based on early studies on the subject was that getting class sizes down to about 15 produces a significant improvement compared to classes of 30-35. People who believe in this result tend to think it's more of a threshold effect than a linear one - as you shrink the class size there's eventually some level below which the teacher can really help every student as an individual whereas at larger levels you kind of have to treat the class as a mob or focus on a few outliers.

In short, there was some scientific evidence that reducing class sizes to 15 helps and no scientific evidence that reducing them only as far as 20 or 25 helps. But reducing class sizes to 15 is really expensive so we settle for going halfway, following a policy that provably increases costs quite a lot but does not provably increase educational performance.

It's worth mentioning that the *way* it increases costs isn't just having to pay more teacher salaries - it also means we have scrape the bottom of the barrel to find enough teachers. Needing to hire more teachers per student at least in the short term means the average hired teacher quality declines.

Glen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lorraine said...

Perhaps what is needed is an effort to determine what is the value of Dunbar's Number in the classroom setting.

Mike Huben said...

The normal load of a public school teacher is usually 5 classes of 30: 150, which is a reasonable approximation of Dunbar's Number. That's way down from the pre-Sputnik sizes in the 40's or higher.

Joanna Liberation said...

This is precisely one of the eternal discussions which we would not have to waste our time on, if it were completely in the hands of free market. Just privitise and wait for the most optimum arrangement of schooling structure and curriculums to emerge.

Mike Huben said...

Joanna, are you attempting to compete with Glen for the most comical, myopic and far-fetched libertarian proposals?

"Just privitise and wait for the most optimum arrangement of schooling structure and curriculums to emerge."

There's a whole world out there with widely varying experimentation with schooling, and you can't point to an example where privatization gives significantly better results? Where it has found this mythical optimum? Where you can describe just what they're doing differently?

It's that sort of honest, glib, pollyanna bullshit that teaches people just how stupid libertarianism really is.

Joanna Liberation said...

But you should know better who does "point to an example where privatization gives significantly better results"... After all, urban public school teachers are about twice as likely to send their kids to a private school than the national average:

Again, I'm not an expert in schooling, I don't want to be, I should not need to be, I would just like the best schools to survive, and only free market can guarantee that.

Mike Huben said...

Joanna, your conclusion misrepresents what the study means. What it means is that the urban public school teachers are unable to afford to live in a suburb with the quality public schools that they want for their children.

The socioeconomic status of the students is the major determinant of how good a school is. Urban public schools are primarily handicapped by low SES due to flight to the suburbs.

I teach in one of the top high schools in the country: Boston Latin School, an urban public school. We have always combatted the problem of low average SES the way the private schools do: we select our students. Normal public schools do not have that option except by screening out the poor with high housing costs (as the suburbs do.)

Maybe it would be sensible for you to pay attention to your own professed ignorance before you spout on something so stupidly. The world is more complicated than your foolish ideology can handle, and thus you are easily confused by propaganda from Heartland and other think tanks.

Joanna Liberation said...

The socioeconomic status of the students is the major determinant of how good a school is.

I like this. I thought you would argue that public schools are better after all, but no, major determinant: SES. Are there any major determinants in favor of public schools specifically that prevent us from gettin rid of them?

Lorraine said...

So a conservative think tank learned that urban public school teachers are sending their offspring to private schools? I wonder what inspired them to tally the stats for urban public school teachers rather than, say, public school teachers in general? Could it be related to the reason that it's always economically disadvantaged school districts that are under pressure to face the putative competitive pressures of 'school choice' in the form of charter private schools or some other de-facto voucher scheme? I'm undecided as to whether the project of reforming education is right to focus on teachers and their reputed benefits and job security. Meanwhile the elephant in the room is the fact that the public school operates by districts. I'm sure the fact that the financing is through real estate taxes only amplifies the 'social sorting' effect. AFAIK, most if not all the countries that are cleaning our clock in average educational attainment structure public education as a gift from the taxpayers of the nation to the children of the nation. While federal implementation of anything is a political non-starter in America's "states' rights"-steeped political culture, education as a gift from the taxpayers of a state of the union, to the state's children, would test a lot of social and economic hypotheses a lot more directly than across-the-board privatization would. The latter is a foolproof way, I suppose, to determine the equilibrium point between what parents want out of schools and what they are in a position to pay. But as far as an optimum class size? I'm sure the class sizes would be all over the map, and strongly correlated with parental income. When real estate is no longer about school districts, maybe we will be able to say there is competition, in some meaningful sense, between schools and their faculties.

Mike Huben said...

Joanna asks:
"Are there any major determinants in favor of public schools specifically that prevent us from gettin rid of them?"

The obvious answer is that public funding of schools alleviates major underinvestment in the education of most students. This is a market failure that we expect because the benefits of an education are not wholly recovered by the student or his family: there are major positive externalities to employers, government, and charities.

This is one of the most egregious problems with libertarianism. No society has produced universal education without public funding, and anything less than universal education is essentially leaving money on the table.

School choice does not satisfy most libertarians: they consider it a step towards eliminating public funding of schools. Many have been quite up front about it. Public funding is their real issue: part of their whole tax ideology. School choice is merely a distraction from their actual aims.

Joanna Liberation said...

Mike, my question was not whether government should subsidise schooling, but why do we need public schools.

Mike Huben said...

We need public schools to serve public interests, the same way we need public police and military forces.

Public interests include ensuring:
* every child is educated
* equal opportunities
* understanding diversity
* good citizenship
* protection from familial abuse
* early detection of developmental problems
* safety, hygeine, and basic self-care
* setting standards of education that private schools and home schooling will need to match to compete
* setting standards openly and publicly with full debate

Some of that can be provided privately, some we can forgo in small amounts (as we do with exceptions to vaccination). But even nations with primarily private schools still insist on government set standards for these and public funding: all anathema to libertarian ideology.

Nations with publicly funded private schools (such as Canada and the Netherlands) tend to segregate by religion and class much more than US schools do. That's not an American public goal.

Lorraine said...

Public is a collective concept. An American goal would never be a public goal. :)

Joanna Liberation said...

Mike, my question was not whether government should set schooling standards, but why do we need public schools.

You are very resourceful in avoiding to answer my question, but I think I start to understand. Since you claim to know American public goals better than other Americans themselves (and provide specific listings even for controversial issues), then indeed why would you let parents decide such trifling matters like which school their children go to. We can't get rid of public schools because Mike, the one and only voice of pure reason of truth, says so. Is that the correct answer?

Lorraine said...

Joanna seems to be saying exactly what I said in the previous comment, only with more words, and with no irony whatsoever. Mike, by pre-supposing the existence of public goals, is walking right into the standard libertarian (in the American sense, of course) talking point about the mythicality of the "general will," but being the proprietor of "Critiques of Libertarianism," I'm sure he's aware of this.

Mike Huben said...

Joanna, I do not recognize your frame of "need versus not need" as valid. It's merely attempting to achieve a rhetorical score, on the level of "I made him say doodoo."

Do we need you? Do we need capitalism? Same level of question. There are alternatives to each, no matter how much we argue that either provides valued services.

Lorraine, we patently have public goals for public institutions, such as property. If everything is in private interest, you have nothing left but might makes right.

In any event, both of you are wandering away from the issue of whether school choice works.

Joanna Liberation said...

Mike, I can argue why we need capitalism, I have already told you why I prefer free market in schools, so I would expect you should be able to argue why we need socialism, why we need public schools. It makes no sense to discuss school choice if you can't explain why you want public schools in the first place. After all, school choice aims to make public schools work more like free market private schools. You say free market in schooling does not work, you say we need socialism in schooling, so obviously school choice will never "work" for you, even (and especially) when it actually achieves its objectives. However, I would expect you have some arguments to support your beliefs, other than "I personally don't think anything can be improved in schooling". Many people may not necessarily believe you are the only oracle of truth and reason.

Mike Huben said...

Maybe you just can't read, Joanna. I started one comment with "We need public schools to serve public interests..." with 9 reasons we need public schools.

If you think free market schooling for children exists some where, please tell me where and why you think it is free market. Then you can talk about how it solves all those needs I listed.

That is what it would take to support your side of the argument. Not attacks on mine.

"Many people may not necessarily believe you are the only oracle of truth and reason."

Sorry, that's projection of a libertarian fault onto me. Nowhere do I claim such a silly thing. But it is very common among libertarians, especially Objectivists, who claim their ideology is the light and truth and way.

Now, the problem with you is that you never acknowledge when you have been correctly rebutted: you simply move on to throwing out yet another in an endless stream of vapid arguments (often repeating.) Perhaps you don't even acknowledge it to yourself. Sad, really, that you are so dishonest.

Lorraine said...

My comment on public goals was intended as pure irony. I'm on your side on this, or at any rate not with core-anti-statist 'libertarianism.' With conservatives and other 'education reform' boosters, there is this meme campaign to redefine public school as 'school open to the public,' accompanied by PR buzzphrases like 'charter public schools.' LITAS (libertarians in the American sense) are opposed in principle to subsidy (as well as of course publicly managed resources) so one can only assume they're entirely at peace with schooling being a privilege rather than a right.

Here is some news from the union-bashing front I thought you might find interesting.

Joanna Liberation said...

Mike, but in same comment you've rebutted yourself by saying "Some of that can be provided privately, some we can forgo in small amounts". Then you talk about government standards. Mike, for once, please focus: why do we need PUBLIC SCHOOLS?

Please stop talking about government standards, public funding etc, or whatever else you want to use to distract the discussion.

Lorraine said...

On the question of whether we need public schools, I found a conservative defense of public schools, by Austin Bramwell. Bramwell claims public education as we know it is a functioning market that effectively enforces accoutability, and that accountability would actually be worsened by 'school choice.' Needless to say, that defense is of public schools in their status quo configuration of districts and property taxes. In typical conservative fashion, contempt for the poor is thinly if at all veiled, with phrasing like "Predictably, therefore, those families willing to pay the most for a good education gravitate to the best schools, the 'price' of which is reflected in the cost of real estate and local property taxes, while the families that care the least about education gravitate to the worst." To his credit, he apologizes somewhat for the "callous" tone in the comments. I hold that public education in America is broken, but mainly because of the local rather than regional or national pooling of resources, and the predictably resulting white flight, capital flight and other forms of social sorting and inequality amplification. Note that the conservative agenda here in Michigan includes pooling together the HR function of the state's school districts (in keeping with the mantra that the unions are to blame for the education system being broken). I say simply erase the school district boundaries and make it education a state-level program.

Mike Huben said...

Joanna, you have to be very thick not to see that I've answered your questions.

I'll try to put it directly for you. We need public schools because markets simply do not provide private schooling for all, nor do they provide the right amount or quality of schooling. They never have, and they don't anywhere.

If you disagree, please provide an example of where you think private schools do educate everybody and provide the right amount of education.

Joanna Liberation said...

Mike, we are going in circles, let me rephrase: what added value do public schools provide that government subsidies (for the poor, for the talented, for the rural, for minorities etc) combined with government standards cannot match.

I don't know examples, you are the expert, as a public school teacher, so you should have better arguments for public schools than conservatist status quo.

Mike Huben said...

When you have government funding and government standards, you essentially have public schools except for the community interaction.

But community interaction is a major part of public schooling: in large part it is why schooling is funded locally, for everybody and at a reasonable level. I think that's why we have publicly funded schools through secondary level, but not at the college level (excepting partial funding of state schools and community colleges.)

So while you may fantasize about government subsidies for private schools, in practice you will not get them in the US. Nor do private schools want the government standards. Here in Massachusetts, opposition from private schools to the MCAS graduation exams was so intense that their students are not even legally permitted to take them.

There is no magical value that is unique to public schools. You could attempt to simulate their function with private schools, but the incentives for private schools are quite different. Public schools are a large part of the very complex institution of public education, and major surgery of that sort will likely take a long time to recover from.

Smaller surgery such as school choice has been tried: it doesn't seem to give any better results, despite grandiose overpromising. Major surgery had better have some very compelling evidence before we risk damaging such a vital institution.

Joanna Liberation said...

Mike, if you please read my previous comment again, I was talking about government subsidies for _people_ (eg vouchers for the poor, for the talented, for the rural, for minorities etc), not schools.

Yes, incentives for private schools are totally different, ie free market competion does not exist for public schools, so there is much less incentive for public schools to educate better. Of course, employees of every organization, public or private, will always claim their company provides best products or services imaginable (as you do claim in the current post). However, that should be for consumers who actually pay for the products and services to decide. And I would expect you to argue otherwise if you believe that consumers should be deprived of such choice.

Joanna Liberation said...

BTW: It is only natural for employees of every organization that they want to be exempt from free market competition, so school choice will never "work" for you, but I'd expect you are more sophisticated than that.

Mike Huben said...

Joanna, it's really comical watching you struggle to view the world through nothing but market capitalist ideas. It's really obvious to everybody else that there is more to social organization than markets, and that we pick different systems than markets for a number of our needs because we think they work better.

"Free market competition" exists only for commodities and in libertarian fantasies. However public schools face enormous competition and pressures for performance. They are continually compared to private schools which do compete (and yet somehow are not significantly better. Why is it that libertarians can't explain this?) But the huge competition in public schools comes from people shopping for good school districts when they buy their house. This pressure raises housing prices significantly in good districts. If you were a libertarian like David Friedman, who praises the linking of commercials to free radio and TV broadcasting, you'd praise this linking of community to schools for elegantly solving a public goods problem.

In production of public education, the myriad communities are competing against each other. Where one finds an improvement or an efficiency, it is not a trade secret: everybody can adopt it. That's why private schools are no better than public.

[BTW, vouchers ARE government subsidies for private schools. Whether the subsidy is accounted for individually or at a school level doesn't matter: government is still paying for it.]

Mike Huben said...

Oh, I almost forgot.

Learning from Finland

The money line at the bottom of the article:

What could the United States learn from the Finns? First, reconsider those policies that advocate choice and competition as the key drivers of educational improvement. None of the best-performing education systems relies primarily on them. Indeed, the Finnish experience shows that consistent focus on equity and cooperation — not choice and competition — can lead to an education system where all children learn well.

Joanna Liberation said...

Mike, I am happy to take into consideration your opinion that public schools are "better" (I wouldn't expect a different opinion from a public school employee though, so not overly interesting), but you completely miss my point. There would be nothing evil in "public" schools as such, if they were not tax funded. Then they would not differ from non-profits, and I am the last one to _deprive_ you of such option.

The bottom line is, you tax ME to pay for services which YOU consider better, whereas I would simply like to pay for services which _I_ consider better. So you say we need "market capitalist ideas" for that? Okay, whatever, I'm now just saying common sense.

I wonder how you would feel if I taxed YOU to pay for my child's education in a private school, then again had YOU pay for your own child's education in a public school? Absurd? But I've just described the current system you so love, just change the labels. So you say we need "market capitalist ideas" to eliminate the absurd? Whatever.

Joanna Liberation said...

As for Finland, again, I'm so happy to take into consideration anyone's opinion that it proves public school overall, objective, eternal, undisputable and even devine superiority. You are not my children's father though.

Mike Huben said...

And once again Joanna dons her libertarian blinkers and wields her "it's not a market" frame.

Notice how she's shifted from trying to attack public schools to complaining about taxation? It was inevitable: when libertarians fail to make their case, they revert to their favorite rant against taxes.

If public schools were not tax funded (and there are plenty of such nations in the third world) then there would be MANY children who could not afford school of any sort. There are a huge number of children living in poverty in the US (more than 20%), and they have enough trouble having food to eat without having to pay for schooling. It's a safe guess that another 20% would have difficulty paying for schooling as well.

If you don't see that taxation for public schooling is a benefit to YOU, then you have a severe case of myopia. The extraordinary economic waste of leaving up to 40% of the population uneducated boggles the mind. And of course we all benefit from educated citizens being available for work at high levels of productivity. Marginalize them without education, and you bring about enormous social costs in crime and unrest.

Now THAT is pragmatic, common sense: what you're saying is ideological rubbish.

If you want to live in a nation without publicly funded schools, go right ahead. There's more than a hundred third world nations to choose from, where you can feel as righteous as you want. The first world is developed BECAUSE it has invested in public schooling (among other things.) All first world nations publicly finance schooling.

Joanna Liberation said...

Mike, the poor are only an excuse for you to fund public schools via taxes. If you really cared about the poor, you'd try to give them exactly same opportunities that the rich have, ie simply subsidise their education directly, eg via vouchers, so they can choose schools same as the rich can. Yes, it would also be tax funded, but at least they would have equal options as the rich, instead of having to send their kids to the worst urban public schools. And the poor also pay taxes. After all, even if they are so poor that they don't pay income taxes directly (rarely), the personal and corporate income taxes the rich pay result in higher retail prices, so in effect the poor end up with sending their kids to much worse schools than if there was no public funding at all.

As a result, the primary beneficients of the current system are actually the rich, who can afford to buy suburb property where tax funded schools are good enough to give adequate return on the taxes they pay.

Joanna Liberation said...

Mike, BTW, it's even worse here in my country, everyone also has a "right" to a "free" university. However, the "free" studies are only day-time. And, if you want to study something popular which will guarantee good job like computer science, law or medicine, there are many candidates for every "free" university place, entry tests are hard and successful candidates usually come from best public urban schools (sort of inverse than in US). In practice, only students with relatively well-to-do parents, who can afford living in bigger cities (where salaries are higher), can also afford to send their kids to such universities. The kids from poorer families, smaller towns and villages, have to work during their studies to support themselves, so they attend private evening or weekend studies they have to pay out of their own pocket. As a result, the poor pay taxes to support the richer students AND pay for their own education.

Mike Huben said...

Jeff, your 10 screenfuls of posts on this one thread are so pitifully stupid that even Joanna noticed and tried to defend you. in her words, they are "propaganda" by some "biased media" usually owned by "true beneficiaries of the propaganda": that describes Reason, Stossell and Fox and the Kochs and Murdoch. She was trying to sneer at that idea, but sneering at well-documented facts doesn't work so well.

You're using a standard technique of ideologues: throw an enormous number of bullshit arguments cut and pasted from propaganda provided for just such a purpose by think tanks, public relations organizations, and their hirelings. Creationists do the exact same thing from their vast repertoire of propaganda that they've likewise spent decades and millions of dollars to build up and disseminate.

The purpose is to overwhelm with quantity of argument, not to rationally discuss. For that purpose, none of it needs to be valid, and on closer inspection little or none of it is valid. A foolish spectator might judge that you "win" because you are not going to be fully answered. It would waste an enormous amount of time for your opponents to answer all those points, and probably even more volume, and you'd just respond with another barrage of such repeated points. Most spectators will be turned off because they can't track such an enormous amount of crap.

So, I'm going to delete your comments tomorrow because they don't contribute.

I recommend that you put up your one to three best points, identify them as such, and I'll see if they're worth responding to. That's why I'm giving you until tomorrow before I delete.

See: Moderation Policy.

Mike Huben said...

"To be honest though, I think I've already gotten what I've wanted from that last comment of yours."

Case closed: trolls get deleted.

Joanna Liberation said...

Hey, Mike, I'm really interested in your answer to my last point about tax-funded schooling mostly benefiting the rich?

Lorraine said...

I think it's a question of whether benefiting the rich is an inherent property of tax funding or a flaw in the implementation. I'm kind of sitting on the fence on that one. Getting back to the question of why American public schools were invented in the first place, I think there really was the intention of making education a right rather than a privilege, as it still is in places without public schools such as much of sub-Saharan Africa. It is the case that the first-ever implementation of public schools (I forget whether it was Germany or Holland, around 300 years ago) was intended to teach working class and peasant children to 'know their place in society,' and much of the history of American public schooling has an industrial objective of socializing kids to the workplace and definitely not cultivating critical thinking skills.

My own worldview is characterized by deep distrust of both government and business. I'm inveterately pro-union, though I see the mainstream American labor movement as having sold out. The 'unschooling' movement is currently very popular in this 'quadrant.' I'm skeptical of unschooling as my own experience is that there are some skills (in my case foreign languages and computer programming (also a linguistic pursuit, I suppose) I have had more success learning in a classroom environment than doing the autodidact thing.

I'm not entirely sold on the idea that society needs public schools, but I'm not sure it needs private schools either. I see the latter as having either a classist agenda or, more commonly, an authoritarian agenda (which I also see in the charter private schools and other 'school reform' projects with their uniforms, at-will faculty and 'father figure' principals.)

I feel I've benefited greatly from public education, although I went to Detroit's Renaissance High School, a 'magnet school' in the tradition of Mike's workplace.

Joanna Liberation said...

Lorraine, you unfortunatelly perpetuate the fallacy of "society needs". We can go wild with imagination here, everyone for himself, there is no limit, because "society" exists only in our minds. "Society needs" are the best imaginable topic for never-ending pseudointellectual discussion. And don't stop with schools. What sort of toilet paper "society needs"?. Don't laugh. In socialist regimes, such discussion has very practical consequences. The answer to those questions is very simple. "Society needs" whatever government elites believe it needs. Which in turn naturally tends to whatever government guys themselves need.

Lorraine said...

Oh, but society really is more than the sum of its individual parts. Individualism has run off the rails by treating society as a dirty word. There is a very big difference for the individual between living in a literate society and living in an illeterate society.

Joanna Liberation said...

Lorraine, libertarians happen to be the ultimate experts in society's synergistic effects, but they don't claim there is some hive mind capable of "needs". Society enables division of labor, but collectivists keep saying they can communicate with this abstract being in some mysterious way. That leads to dangerous usage of "society need" to legitimize forcing people to meet _their_ personal needs. Everyone likes to be exept from free market competition and this is where "society need" is most often misused, so you can expect to hear an awful lot about "society needs" from eg a public school teacher like Mike Huben. Every individual does potentially benefit from living in a literate society (as opposed to living in a illiterate one), so it's all the more important to dismantle the current public school system that benefits only the richest who can afford the best suburbs.

Lorraine said...

Again, I'm on the fence on public schools in general, and absolutely against the American notion of 'school districts,' which are silos of privilege, and are public schools in name only; a way for families of means to create synthetic 'communities' (which are inevitably right of center politically) whose social engineering includes such intentional entry barriers as discouragement of multi-family housing, rental housing, and even minimum square-footage requirements. Public schools worthy of the name would be implemented at the state or national level. Sure, libertarians are for radical zoning deregulation, so the school district problem shouldn't be laid at their feet. But by saying 'we' (but not society :-) don't need public schools, are you saying we don't need public sector schools, or that we don't need school-as-entitlement? In the former case, the teachers won't be in the civil service, but they'll still be feeding at the public trough, as will education corporation executives, shareholders and d-G knows what else.

Joanna Liberation said...

Lorraine, it is virtually always lesser evil to subsidize than to nationalize. I mean, unless you believe in a magic wand of central planning. Then it is still lesser evil to subsidize consumers rather than producers. Consumer subsidies don't distort the free market competition (ie the dictatorship of the consumer) within the subsidized industry (assuming the subsidies can only be spent for goods/services of given industry, like education).

Of course, for a libertarian, the whole discussion is redundant.