Pilot Letter: School relevance in question


“My impression when I retired in 2015 from high school teaching was that many students did not understand why they were in school, other than the law said they had to be there.”

I expect that’s because the parents didn’t tell their children why. That wouldn’t happen if all education were privately funded and voluntary, as it should be. Parents who pay for schooling their own children would certainly be able to explain in detail and specifically in ways the children would understand why they are doing so.

And we’d all be better off. It is not difficult or expensive to teach a child to read, write and do basic math. That’s all most of us will ever need or use. It doesn’t require a K-12 education to become self-sufficiently proficient in these skills. It especially doesn’t require an elaborately-funded social institution that systematically fails to serve at least 20% of its beneficiaries.

We should rethink our approach to education in radical ways. Until we do, “Because the law says so” will continue to be the only good reason public school parents can give for sending their children away from home each day.

21 thoughts on “Pilot Letter: School relevance in question

  1. “. . . all education were privately funded and voluntary, as it should be.”

    Yeah, we are already well aware of how “conservatives” hate education and educated people. I wonder why. Critical thinking and “conservative” ideas just don’t mix?

    As candidate Trump famously put it . . . “I love the poorly educated!” Darn tootin’!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. RE: “Yeah, we are already well aware of how “conservatives” hate education and educated people.”

      That’s really funny!

      I take it your non sequitur exemplifies the kind of critical thinking skills public schools impart.


        1. There is no need to abolish public schools. Just let them compete for the education dollar on an even basis with other providers. Let the money follow the child, and assign the amount that follows the child based on their ability, with more available for the difficult to educate.

          Then public schools can either rise to meet the competition or fall by the wayside if they cannot.

          Absent their protected monopoly, public schools would be better than they are.


          1. @Tabor
            This “let the schools compete” is just another attempt to socialize bad things and make profit off the good things. Just like for-profit health insurance. These for-profit schools of your dreams – are they going to have to educate every child no matter their ability, handicaps, behavior, nutritional deficits, etc? Or are they going to be free to cherry-pick only the students they can make money on? Will they be free to solve disciplinary problems or learning problems by kicking kids to the public schools? THAT is what is happening now.

            Liked by 4 people

          2. Read more carefully.

            I wrote that the amount that follows the child would depend on how difficult they were to educate.

            If the amount that follows the child is appropriate, private educators will satisfy that market as well. And they will do it better and cheaper in that market segment as well.


          3. @Tabor
            Now you are just playing with words. No matter what “appropriate” amounts of money means and who decides what that is, there will always be children who it is not “profitable” to educate. Maybe send them to a for-profit prison?

            Protected monopoly? What planet are you from? There are “Christian” schools and private academies everywhere. The idea that anybody can make money with the problems public schools are handed and the limited resources they get is a fantasy.

            Liked by 3 people

          4. “There is no need to abolish public schools. Just let them compete for the education dollar on an even basis with other providers. ”

            What money? And how? Tax dollars? Tax credits? Tax deductions? No taxes?
            Or, continue to tax everyone, and then create an industry of “publicly-funded privately-held” schools?

            Standards? How? SOLS on all? How about religion-based schools? Tax dollars to them too?
            Okay, Our Lady of Perpetual Suffering gets tax dollars. How about the Our Vest of Ephemeral Dynamite Madrasa?

            Oh yeah, this is all going to work out sooooo well.

            It wasn’t the public education system that has created the FLDS, or the “So what if Trump lies, abuses power, and steals” constituency.

            Liked by 2 people

          5. Why not tax money for private schools?

            We use tax money to pay for rent, food stamps, Medicaid and countless other programs where we purchase public goods and services from the private sector because the private sector provides them at better cost and quality than the government can for itself.

            Education is the outlier where we DON’T do exactly that.


          6. @Tabor
            Why not public money for private schools? One obvious reason comes quickly to mind – the establishment clause of the Constitution. A very large percentage of non-public schools have the explicit mission of advancing this or that religion.

            Furthermore, the supposed superiority of for-profit schools is a doctrinaire assumption, nothing more.


        2. RE: “There is no need to abolish public schools.”

          I take your point about monopoly being the source of many problems with public schooling, but I think the economic model is worse than that. The basic problem of public schools derives from the take-from-the-many-to-give-to-the-few approach to funding the system. In other words, the economic model is socialism, and it is for that reason that unintended consequences, including monopoly, come about in the first place.

          More fundamentally, I would argue that education doesn’t meet the definition of a public good in economics for the simple reason that every child’s learning experience and learning needs are unique. As a result, it is impossible for government to provide education that is non-exclusionary and non-rivalrous.

          As a result public education can only operate by picking winners and losers. That is why the best public schools tend to be in those communities with the greatest influence on political decision-making.

          I agree that funding parents to make their own choices in the marketplace for education might help.
          Another possible area for solutions might be for government to provide and maintain facilities for neighborhood schooling, but not teachers or administrative staff. Facilities and maintenance, at least, would be closer to public goods than teaching and administration ever could be.


          1. “I agree that funding parents to make their own choices in the marketplace for education might help.”

            Then surely you agree that funding patients to make their medical insurance choices might help.”
            Oh wait, no, that would mean a “Maketplace” and a mandate.

            Liked by 2 people

  2. One of the best K-12 public systems in America was, and may still be, in Scarsdale, NY, a suburb if NYC. It was better than most private schools as well.

    Why? It was not a coincidence that Scarsdale was also one of the wealthiest districts in the US. An local property taxes pay for schools.

    Fast forward, money is still the factor. And the poorer the area, the better the skills for teaching are needed.

    I think the teachers’ unions are an impediment that needs to be addressed.

    And there are ways to teach rather than the teacher in front and the student facing him.

    Long story short, 20 or 30 children, computers and one or two instructors can provide the same quality as 1:1 tutoring.

    Considering the number of people that blossom late in life and learn at different rates, going private and voluntary might not be the route to go. If someone doesn’t learn some basic skills by the time they are 18, and they need to be more than arithmetic and simple reading, the odds of doing well in a modern, industrial society are slim.


    Liked by 3 people

    1. RE: “Long story short, 20 or 30 children, computers and one or two instructors can provide the same quality as 1:1 tutoring.”

      My question would be: Given 100,000 children educated in groups of 20-30, and 100,000 children educated in 1-on-1 tutoring, would the results be the same?

      My guess is the results would not be the same.


      1. You may, or may not, be able to find this on the internet.

        You might actually have to go to a –gasp– public library and use micro-fiche. You can check the Baltimore newspapers circa, 1977 to 1979 to find the story, or you might find it in an education journal, or in something akin to the IEEE Journal on Computer Science.

        But, I will provide you the gist here; you can search on your own.

        In the mid to late 1970s, Control Data Corporation (the other CDC) and the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign created the FIRST educational software system called “Plato”. The system was built on many of the same stuff we have now, touch screens, interactive graphics, text-to-voice, and a HUGE (at that time) mainframe computer at UofI, paid for by CDC and government grants.

        The first test school was in the intercity Baltimore area. It contained no games, just lessons, and tests. The program ran for maybe one year.

        What they noticed was that the CPU time of the mainframe was exceeding expected billing. At that time, billing systems involved charging for CPU seconds. They couldn’t figure out why the program was using so much CPU time, and so they began the inevitable and unenviable task of debugging the codes.

        After several weeks, they found their answer — Students were breaking into the school at night to continue learning on Plato.

        They had the thirst, they didn’t need the tutor. So yes, the results COULD be the same for 100 or 100,000.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. There exists in this country a K-12 public school system that boasts the highest graduation rate, the highest college placement rate, the highest job-placement rate of ALL 100% publicly funded schools in the US.

    Of course, the cost is $50,000/student/year… almost 3x that of the 2nd highest funded system (New Jersey). It’s the Military K-12 system. Oh, did I say public? Well, sort of. In general, they have a better medical system too.


  4. I wish I could find the link for an NPR story about a study and ensuing experiment. The idea was simple.

    The students would each work on an interactive learning program with define goals at certain steps. Some might breeze through and go to the next level. Some a bit slower. And some would need the tutor. And the instructors would provide the individual attention as needed to assist those slower students. Sometimes just a few minutes would do. Other times it might require going through the program several times with some help.

    Allocation of resources was the idea. At any given age, some can learn faster than others. Those who needed help did not hold back the fast learners. And the more adept students did not get bored.

    Liked by 2 people

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