Arguments For/Against Common Schooling

Arguments For/Against Common Schooling

September 15, 2019 0 By Ronny Jaskolski


There’s about seven themes that go
along with arguments for educating children in traditional common public
schools. Some are better than others, but one is that schooling is
a public good in some sense; that since schooling is a public good, then it
must be done in public institutions. I’m sure you guys have heard this a lot.
Similarly, people have argued that schooling may have positive
externalities. So if I go to Jack’s school and I become an educated citizen,
I benefit from the transaction and he benefits from the transaction because he
gets my money from the tuition. In fact, since the exchange is voluntary
it wouldn’t actually happen unless both of us see that we’re benefiting from the
transaction. But if I’m becoming a more educated citizen all of you guys are
benefitting from that (you freeriders) The externality argument is that:
if you guys are free riding from this; if people just made decisions to purchase
schooling out of their own free will, then schooling would be under-consumed.
So we can theorize that the socially optimal level of schooling is say this
level and and if we were to do it voluntarily right out of our own accord,
we would only consume about this much, so we need to state to to force us to
consume more so that the society could benefit as a whole because of these
positive externalities. People argue that education is a basic right. It’s so
important for a child’s lifelong success that we must force children and force
parents to send their kids to traditional school. Some people argue
that some parents are bad they may not be expert educators; they
can’t pick schools; they’re not rational; The whole field of behavioral economics
came out of this, but that’s one of the arguments. Early America has had
huge influxes of immigration so we wanted to create a
more unified culture; we wanted to make the Catholics get along with
the Irish people and get along with the Protestants and everybody was supposed
to get along in these common schools, so that would lead to national
stability; and of course, as with any government program equity was talked
about extensively. Here’s some problems with these arguments, some of them are
better than others as I said, but the public good argument is probably one of
the worst as far as the economic definition is concerned. There are two
conditions for a good that must be met in order for the good to be a true
public good. The first is that the goods must be non-rival in consumption (what
does that mean) non-rival in consumption means that if you are sitting here in a
desk you are not taking someone else’s space to sit in that desk. That’s
obviously not the case in schooling because if this gentleman right here
is sitting in this seat no one else can sit in the seat. You guys are taking up
space from everybody else so it fails the first condition of non rival in consumption. But then also more, importantly, the stronger argument for
why schooling is not a public good is that it in order for it to be a public
good it would have to be non-excludable. You could not exclude non-payers.
Obviously, you can exclude non-payers from sitting in here if they if
they didn’t pay for their attendance. You can easily shut them out and close the
door. A lot of people may point out: Corey, who cares about the textbook definition
according to economic theory? Why does that matter; why does it matter that it
that a public institution or a good follows the public good definition
according to economic theory? And the main point that results from
that is that since the good is not a true public good, according to the
definition, there is no freerider problem so we do not need to force
people to pay for the good. A true public good is something like the radio; it’s
hard to keep people off the radio waves, so there may be an argument for
government to fund the radio, but even then, even in a true public good scenario the market has figured out how to fund this,
and that’s through advertisements on the radio. Some of us don’t like it, but at
least we don’t have to pay for it. And what this means is that the good can be
privately produced; it doesn’t need to be done in public schools.
I think people mean when they say that schooling is a public good; I think they
mean that it’s good for the public; that schooling is somehow good for for
educating people (and I would agree with that) but this is a positive externality
argument it is not a public good argument. And the difference is that
positive externalities from an economic standpoint only lead to government
funding, not operation, of schools and Milton Friedman talked about this in his
1955 essay, which was the Role of Government in Education. And if we
look historically again Michael Katz and E.G. West wrote on this extensively, but
they found that 90% of students and school-age
children were already attending schooling institutions before it was made
compulsory. So even if the positive externality argument were good (were valid) it would only call for funding that extra 10% of the
students that were not already purchasing on their own accord. And then;
well if we’re going to talk about externalities we should talk about
negative externalities as well. There’s not only positive externalities. If being
an educated citizen results in positive externalities,
well, since schooling and education are two different, but related, things; if I am
taking the schooling route for eight hours a day; whereas it may be socially
optimal for me to take it only seven hours a day and to get a different type
of education outside of the school I may actually be a less
educated citizen by maximizing my amount of school time. So if we take that
argument we can argue that schooling actually can create, if we push it too
far, can create less educated citizens and negative externalities. Similarly,
obedience is a good thing and a bad thing, right? If you have more obedient
citizens and they’re sitting in their desks they’re less likely to commit
crimes. I don’t want people stealing for me (that’s a positive externality) but if
I am a more obedient citizen and I grow up I’ll be less likely to to
innovate and invent the new technology. So if I’m more obedient that is a
negative externality in that case. Since these are big positive and
negative externalities on either side of the debate, some economists have argued
that you cannot determine the overall sign. Who knows whether we should tax or
subsidize schooling according to the positive and negative externality
argument? Even Arthur Pigou, the founder of the Pigouvian tax, pointed out that if we
(Arthur Pigou was a leading economist in 1929 he created this theory of
externalities, and it really had to do with corporations and how they polluted –
that’s a negative externality) and he said well we can come up with this tax
so that we can decrease the amount of pollution to the socially optimal level.
But Arthur Pigou even argued that we may very well miss that socially
optimal level if we taxed too much or too little. The parents abilities to
choose argument is not very strong because of the fact that parents
interests may be most aligned with their students even if they’re not expert
educators. Our society is not an individual society it is more of a
family unit society. Parents make decisions to maximize their family’s
utility, not just their own utilities. And when you get into this whole ‘the ability to choose’ argument… how do we determine what is a good or bad
decision for someone to make for the education of their child? It gets really
tricky how to how to measure that and what I’m really concerned with is who
gets to decide that, and what better way to make the decisions for your children
than have the person that’s most interested in them, their parents, make
this decision. Similarly, parents are not nutritionists but yet we allow them
to make food decisions for them; we allow them to go to McDonald’s and get that
Big Mac if they want to even though they’re not expert nutritionists. We
allow them to clothe their children. These are even more basic rights than
education, I would argue, and they’re not fashion designers but we allow them to
do that. Should we have the state come in and shove vegetables down children’s
throats or put IVs in their arms and say “look you need to be healthy it is your
right to be healthy.” I don’t think any of us would agree with
that. And then I think when we think about this ‘parents’ abilities to
choose’ argument, a lot of people look at the worst parents in society, and there
are bad parents out there that really just aren’t making
good decisions for their child’s welfare. And that’s when CPS usually comes in.
Perhaps that could be a possible avenue with schooling as well. Instead, we
take away every parent’s right to choose from the get-go, without
them even proving that they are malicious parents. And some people argue
that education is such a basic right; since it’s such a basic right we must
force everybody to consume it. But of course, while education could be a basic
right as long as I’m going out and becoming a more educated citizen (as long
as I’m not harming others) – that perhaps should be a basic right for us to go
pursue education, but for schooling… That’s just one channel for education.
I’m not sure if schooling is a basic right as well. And then it seems if
schooling would be a basic right, we are forcing others to pay for it – I’m not
sure there is any such right to where I can force someone else to provide
services to me. And then again, it’s a right that children are forced to
consume. If health is a basic right then we don’t have government coming and
shoving vegetables down their throats just because health is a basic
right. Vegetables are just one avenue to achieving a healthy lifestyle. Food and
clothing – we already talked about this – Morality is also useful. Obviously it’s a
type of education. So should we compel church attendance?
The only reason I point this out is because I see a logical fallacy here. A
lot of people that say education is such a basic right and it’s so important for
lifelong outcomes we need to compel children to do so. A lot of those people
that make that argument will say no we shouldn’t compel people to go to church
to become morally educated. So I see a logical thought inconsistency there – and
I think it’s because people get accustomed to how life is. We’ve always
had compulsory schooling so we must always have compulsory schooling. I would
venture out to say that if it was flipped, that if we always had
compulsory church attendance and not compulsory schooling people would
probably be okay with compulsory church attendance but not compulsory schooling.
So just something to point out there. Uniform set of values are not always
beneficial. We don’t necessarily want to maximize these things. The Prussian
system led to German nationalism, one can argue, and that led to some pretty crazy
things in the early 1900’s. And also, if we want to create a uniform set of
values I’m not sure if we can do it through force. Instead, I think it results
from individuals pursuing their own interests and spontaneous order kind of
creates cultural norms instead. And of course we should look at the scientific
evidence. There have been 14 experimental or quasi-experimental studies looking at private
school choice programs and they measure how private schools could actually
impact civic skills such as your likelihood to commit a crime as an adult,
how tolerant you are of other people, how much you volunteer, and how charitable
you are. And none of these studies found negative effects from private schooling, even though you hear that democracy will cripple if we allow our kids to go to
private schools and not public schools. Most of the studies; the majority of the
studies found positive statistically significant impacts, and the equity
concern is is always a big one, but we should always – I’m always quick to point
out that you have most inequity in government services, not in the market. If
you are in a poor neighborhood you can go to Walmart and more or less buy the
same goods that you could if you lived in a rich neighborhood and went to
Walmart – you can buy pretty much the same – you have access to the same goods. But in
a public school, if you’re in a poor neighborhood it’s that’s not the case. If
you live in a rich neighborhood you likely have a much better chance of
success with your educational environment.