Education and the Presidential Campaign
Public and Private Education Go Head-to-Head
By Daniel Gilio (e-mail: DGilio@interaccess.com)

With numerous Republican candidates declaring their intentions to seek the office of the President of the United States, education has been a consistent theme throughout their early rhetoric. Candidates like Lamar Alexander 1 are running on the idea of "school choice." While their intentions may indeed be noble, these candidates have decided to waste their energies on an unattainable goal. They fail to realize or acknowledge that we live in an age when politicians say out of one side of their mouth what is best for their constituents and then out of the other side actually do what is best for their loved ones. Poor candidates like Lamar do not realize there is an X-Files-esque conspiracy that will ultimately prevent any substantive change in our current educational system. I will attempt to expose this conspiracy for those who seek to be enlightened.

Our illustrious President Clinton is a classic example of "I know what's best for America's youth, and what's best for them is not what's best for my family." When given the opportunity, does he encourage his impressionable young daughter to attend the hallowed halls of public education in the District of Columbia and before that the State of Arkansas? No. Instead he opts for the exclusive private schools, which he can afford, thanks to his standing as a member of the "ruling class." Again given the opportunity, does he encourage his daughter to attend the University of Maryland or the University of Virginia (founded in part by Thomas Jefferson)? No. He doesn't even encourage her to attend UCLA. Instead she ends up as a student at a private University, Stanford. Again as a member of the ruling class, Mr. Clinton has the means to provide the tuition and a proper education.

As the President has demonstrated by his actions, the halls of public and state educational institutions are not fit for the likes of his daughter. However, as a public servant and citizen concerned with the general welfare of his constituents, he is bound to provide educational opportunities for the underclass, no matter how inferior. The existence and potential use of tuition vouchers would hinder his (and his ilk's) ability to perpetuate their status in the ruling class. If Joe Sixpack could use $2,000 of his tax dollars diverted by a voucher from his local public school, along with some of his own earnings to send his daughter, Suzy Sixpack, to a private school with Chelsea, this would have a dramatic social impact. It could potentially impede Chelsea's ability to remain the intellectual and financial superior of the lowly Suzy Sixpack.

Having identified the lawmakers as one of our conspirators, the next shadow falls on the educators. Specifically, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers must be co-conspirators 2. As many citizens watch with interest and sometimes with glee, the proceedings in the Microsoft vs. the Justice Department's antitrust case, I am struck by the term monopoly as it applies to both Microsoft and our education system. It is the government's contention that Microsoft's monopoly status in computer operating system market stifles competition and hinders consumer choice. It has created a virtual technological juggernaut which destroys any competitor in its path, namely Netscape.

My question is, why haven't we heard from these consumer defenders and begun assaulting monopolists as it relates to public education? I have heard both Microsoft and educators rehearsed positions which sound remarkably similar:

Teacher Position: Public education is not a monopoly, anyone has a choice of public or private school.
Microsoft's Position: Windows is not a monopoly. People can by Mac OS systems, use LINUX, OS/2, etc.
Reality: Both Windows and Public Education are monopolies. Currently most people don't want Mac or UNIX systems based on a variety of variables including price, software availability and long term support. Currently most people can't afford $8,000 on top of the thousands of tax dollars which are automatically allotted to public education to send their first grader to a private academy. 3 This privilege is reserved for the aforementioned ruling class.
Teacher Position: Education is a discipline of the highest order. As educators we must rise above the normal predatory tendencies of traditional competitive industries to work together in the best interests of the students with whose futures we have been entrusted. Increased competition (i.e. through vouchers) would increase competition and impede the ability for information sharing and create a mercenary educational system that would cause irreparable harm to the youth of America.
Microsoft Position: We were not leveraging our monopoly or attempting to inhibit innovation by incorporating our browser technology into our operating system. It is our goal to be responsive to our customers needs and provide integrated solutions that meet the ever-changing demands of personal computer users.
Reality: It's smart business sense for Microsoft to incorporate Internet Explorer with their browser. It's smart business sense for public education to squash any attempts at "opening" the educational system. Educators see any revision to the status quo as a threat. In this case, since the educational monopolists' product is vastly inferior to other options, the threat of letting the "cat out of the proverbial bag" and opening the possibility of having school choice for everyone is a major threat which must be defeated through whatever means necessary.
To quiet those irate educators I will provide a few statistics which emphasis my point:
  • According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 4, in 1994, fourth-, eighth-, and twelfth-grade students attending nonpublic schools displayed higher average reading proficiencies than their counterparts attending public schools.
  • The NAEP 1996 mathematics assessment demonstrated that both public and nonpublic schools showed increased scale scores for fourth- and eighth-grade students. Public schools showed increased scores for twelfth-grade students as well. Students attending nonpublic schools continued to outperform their peers attending public schools.

To sum up, educators like any monopolists, will work and marshal whatever forces necessary to maintain their monopoly. Any politician telling you that they can change "the system" is lying. Any money the government spends on researching "vouchers or other educational alternatives" is wasted. Through strike, political lobbying and fear tactics educators will continue to annihilate all those who would dare oppose them.

Finally, the third prong in our wide-flung conspiracy, is the entire U.S. real estate system. Face it folks, if we remove the "What school district will my children be in?" question from potential homebuyers, we severely diminish the overall value of all residential real estate. If quality, cost effective educational alternatives were available EVERYWHERE it would reduce the value of homes in affluent areas whose attractive public educational institutions benefit from increased tax revenue from their "ruling class" residents. This also speaks to the hypocrisy of both educators and legislatures that opt to send their children to private schools instead of public schools. At least most Microsoft employee use Windows on their home PC. Most educators working in less affluent areas, with decreased educational resources, don't even live in the area where they work, let alone would they send THEIR child(ren) to a school in the district.

Remember these facts. We will never really know who killed JFK. Mulder and Scully will never find conclusive evidence that something is out there. And any time spent on discussing educational reform during the imminent presidential campaign is wasted. The three forces which control the flow of information, the process of producing change, and the economics of the largest single area of U.S. investment have too much invested in maintaining the current system. All we normal citizens can do is play our local lottery (and support our deserving public educational institutions), hope we hit the jackpot, gain entry into "the ruling class" and benefit from the world of private education.

To read the response to this article, Public vs. Private Education, CLICK HERE.

Footnotes

1 Learn about Lamar Alexander by going to www.lamaralexander.org.

2 The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers have websites at www.nea.org and www.aft.org respectively.

3 Visit http://members.aol.com/elginacdmy/index.html for a look at one such school.

4 The National Assessment of Educational Progress can be further studied by viewing their website at http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/.

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