Having spent the earlier part of my life as a teacher, I admit that I and, I suspect, teachers like me, are leery of each new theory intended to save public education. What makes good schools? The answer is simple. Good teachers. The other piece of the puzzle is good parenting. Students with supportive parents tend to do better in school than those who lack that support.
These two truths are self evident. Yet taxpayer dollars continue to be thrown at new schemes which benefit the entrepreneurs more than the students. Our educational system has become fractured with alternative schools, voucher schools, community schools, home schools, charter schools and on-line schools so that, like Humpty Dumpty, I doubt it will ever be made whole again.
Adding to my gloom is a recent essay by Jerry Z. Muller. (“Capitalism and Inequality,” Foreign Affairs, March/April, 2013 pg. 44.) Muller destroys the myth that public education fosters equal opportunity. If anything, he says, schools widen the gap between the ”haves” and “have nots” because they tend to support a meritocracy. Wealthy and middle class children with backgrounds that prepare them to thrive in the system sprint ahead of those without that preparation. The disparity, means that instead of providing access to the American dream to all, public education promotes inequality. A child who enters the classroom behind in his or her skills, stays behind and the distance between those who succeed and those who don’t grows with each passing year.
If Muller is right, and he offers study after study to prove his case, it would appear that the best way to improve the school system is to improve conditions in the home. Sewing up the holes in our social safety net is the first step toward meeting the basic needs of every family, providing a more equal footing for disadvantaged children. Unfortunately, many people are calling for less government and fewer taxes. But a government too limited in its ability to redistribute wealth may take us in the wrong direction. Like the canary in the mine, our fractured educational system may be a warning that the whole of our society is failing.
(Courtesy of animals.howstuffworks.com)