The politics are unfolding as predicted in New York City under De Blasio, between his further Left coalitions, activists, and labor unions against more moderate Democrats and liberal education-reformers.
‘Generally, political inertia and public worker unions combined to keep government in the Blue Age even as the rest of the economy moved on. Today, the experiences and the expectations of people in the private sector and people in the public sector are quite different. There are many results, including taxpayer revolts against public sector benefits and pay, but from an urban policy standpoint the key one is this: the government job machine is no longer an escalator to the middle class. In fact, the dependence of the Black middle class on government work is going to be one of the chief threats to the health of the Black middle class as we’ve known it’
‘Mayor Bill de Blasio’s promise to ban New York City’s iconic horse-drawn carriages could backfire, exposing what the newly-elected mayor’s critics suggest is a corruption scandal masquerading as an animal-rights crusade. Defenders of the carriage industry point to a real-estate executive who is one of de Blasio’s major campaign donors as the driving force behind the effort to abolish the carriages.’
You may not be in for Albert Jay Nock’s anarchism, but in the hopes of appealing to liberal-minded folk in a way that DeBlasio’s further Left coalitions probably can’t:
I wish you would step back from that ledge, my friend:
‘But I was chiefly interested in the basic theory of Liberalism. This seemed to be that the State is no worse than a degenerate or perverted institution, beneficent in its original intention, and susceptible of restoration by the simple expedient of “putting good men in office.”
I had already seen this experiment tried on several scales of magnitude, and observed that it came to nothing commensurate with the expectations put upon it or the enormous difficulty of arranging it. ‘
“It takes a brave man to take on Albany, New York,” said Mr. de Blasio as he introduced Mr. Soliman, who joked that he had his “hard hat” and “fatigues” ready to go “for my most recent deployment up to our state capital.”
Delbanco sets up a dichotomy between long-time education reformer Diane Ravitch, who’s drifting into a rather closed defense of public-schooling as is, and Michelle Rhee, who led the charge against the status quo in Washington D.C. schools and ran into a lot of problems:
‘Perhaps a starting point would be to acknowledge, as Ravitch does, that the golden age of master teachers and model children never existed, and, as Rhee insists, that the bureaucracy of our schools is wary of change. One thing that certainly won’t help our children is any ideology convinced of its exclusive possession of the truth.’
Worth a read.
Readers of this blog will know I tend to favor non-union, non-collectivist reform of public schooling, despite the fact that charter schools are clearly no magic bullet.
I reserve the right to view even the most dedicated school-reformers, pragmatist-inspired defenders of the common good, and crusaders for the public interest with a skeptical eye, while simultaneously recognizing that they are the ones trying to tackle many of the fundamental problems our society faces in terms of education and opportunity.
I don’t believe education fits under Milton Friedman’s intellectual net, but I like seeing how he comes at the problems of scarcity of resources, students failed by the system, and entrenched educators. As teachers will tell you, many parents simply aren’t involved, and abdicate their responsibilities to their children, the schools, and everyone else…money can be a good way to keep people accountable who run the system, but the rational incentive model of money and the freedom to choose with kids leaves a lot to be desired:
‘Rhee believed that mayoral control gave her the power to work her will and to ignore dissenters or brush them off as defenders of the status quo. Mayoral control bred arrogance and indifference to dialogue. She didn’t need to listen to anyone because she had the mayor’s unquestioning support. Mayoral control made democratic engagement with parents and teachers unnecessary.’
Ravitch seems to think that Rhee didn’t allow the people who need to ulimately take control of their own lives do so…which is why she was voted out.
Yet, the endemic poverty and political corruption in D.C. has led to an untenable situation, not able to be solved by those who hold up ideals of democracy broadly either.
This is still not a reason to get into bed with the status quo, and all the political, ideological and monied interests involved who want to keep things as they are and get their share.
Of course, in higher education, there’s a very good chance we’re looking at a bubble, where prices are being artificially inflated beyond the value of the education itself in an unsustainable manner. There are many reasons for this, and the government getting into the business is an important one.
A few related thoughts:
As Peter Thiel noted (and Charles Murray has for a while), there are some interests in our society which will not allow the open discussion of differences between people for reasons ideological which can become political, however plain these differences appear to us, however statistically valid they may be argued to be. Thiel is a libertarian-minded reformer putting his money where his mouth is regarding the higher ed bubble, and Murray has been the voice of a contrarian social scientist, making unpopular arguments and observations for decades.
I think all of us recognize some good (and likely something essential) in public education, the educational experience, and the equality of opportunity found therein. I tend to be more tolerant of much less conservative ideas regarding the social contract when it comes to our schools, young people, and the idea that all men are created equal for our democracy. I also believe (perhaps naively) that we can find a way around the current impasse without necessarily backing ourselves into a European tiered solution, nor simply a return to the “soft-tiering” of prep schools and the Ivy League as a path to a good education, the right connections, and influence.
That said, it as vital as ever to challenge the failures of some interests who define the role of our educational institutions too broadly to be effective, and I think many of these interests aren’t going anywhere. I think this is where Thiel and Murray are most effective. Said interests have created:
1. The misplaced loyalty of teachers unions protecting their own and creating a twisted system of incentives that can reward mediocrity and harm students
2. The waste and mismanagement of public resources in public schools, and the politicization of the issue increasingly on the Federal level (all of us have a stake in this) sending good money after bad. We have ended up with top down, inefficient set of standards and a huge bureaucracy. Much of it can be trimmed.
3. The tragedy and cost that the self-esteem movement will have to those who were never really included and challenged to learn in the first place, either dropping out or graduating without many basic skills, lacking in core compentency, and ill-equipped for the technological revolution and the global competition going on around us. Civics, reading, writing, and arithmetic wouldn’t be a bad place to start…though most of these basic problems will always be with us.
It’s not clear to me at all that demanding our institutions serve principles of redistributive wealth, fairness, “justice” and the dread “social justice” really do any better with these problems in the long run. And as for higher ed, it is deeply influenced by “lower” ed.
All of this said, there do seem to be deeper issues at play, which are certainly up for debate as this subject has economic, cultural, political and personal implications for all of us.
Addition: A friend points out that one barrier to free trade (and a talking point even on the left) is protectionism in our farm markets…so if you nationalize, be prepared to deal with unforeseen consequences down the road?