How To Cheat the Future

Every politician in the country talks about how children are our future. The most popular time to do this is just before the education budget is destroyed again, sending the educational system into yet another tailspin that will take years to recover from as the best teachers flee the field and everything descends to inadequacy.

Politicians also have an unflattering habit of telling people who have devoted their lives to their profession how to do their work, especially educators. Every administration comes up with its grand educational plan, usually based on political and/or religious beliefs, not verifiable evidence. Typically, these plans accomplish very little, if they don’t actually do harm, and much of the reason is that they are often designed to blame and punish the teaching field, rather than support the students and teaching professionals with actual money. They all want better results, but never supply the one necessary thing.

If politicians really want to help, they should get the hell out of the way and simply devote themselves to providing consistently high financial support. The success of education should not depend on the boom and bust of the business cycle.

The success
of the educational system
should not depend
on the business cycle.

Our public schooling looks like it was purposely designed to foster inequality and inferior education. The primary reason is the way we pay for it. We buy education with some federal funds, but it is the local taxes that create inequality. That is because local taxes are based on the value of property, and, obviously, the rich have more property, so of course they get better schools. The secondary reason is that politicians continually meddle with teaching, which they know nothing about, instead of designing a system of stability, equality, and adequate funding.

My solution involves three things.

  • Require equal and appropriate funding for every student, nationwide.
  • Require this funding to be generous enough to provide a superior academic setting.
  • Establish a stable financing method that provides consistent funding over time.

Every student in every school in every state would receive the same funding, appropriate to the grade level and subject. Even in the Old South, where actual learning is traditionally optional, and budgets are typically less than half what they should be. All teachers nationwide would be as well paid as they are in nations with the best schools.

It would take four years for superior teachers to begin arriving, after teaching becomes a decently paid and respected profession. No plan will provide this result without salaries commensurate with other professions, and no plan can promise immediate results.

Every student in the country
must consistently receive
the same funding.

No doubt there would be a lot of shouting about how unfair and unworkable such a plan is. Nonsense. There isn’t the first reason that inequality must be enshrined in our educational system. In the best educational systems in the world every student is completely supported every year, some all the way through college, teachers are well paid, and the profession is highly respected. Our system staggers from one catastrophe to the next, with mediocre and irregular pay, and gross inequalities built into the system that virtually guarantee failure for some students.

If the rich object to my plan, it can only be because funding is inadequate for everyone, not just their children. The obvious solution is to provide adequate funding for everyone. Nothing says the rich would be prevented from sending their kids to expensive private schools if that’s what they want, but they still have to pay their taxes like everyone else.

Perhaps some private schools are providing superior education, but charter schools and similar experiments have not proven to be inherently superior in the public school setting. Charter schools, in fact, are nothing more than a semi-transparent right wing scheme to privatize education. But privatizing will always cost more because privately run schools must have profit in addition to the expenses public schools have. Money is the plain and simple magic factor, and we’ve never had adequate nationwide funding for schools in our entire national history.

Money is the plain and simple
magic factor.

Additional objections would probably come from those who believe the poor are inherently inferior and do not deserve equal opportunity in schooling, an attitude that is demonstrably common among conservatives. But they are wrong. It has been proven many times that no race, cultural group, religion, or income group is inherently inferior. Take Elizabeth Warren, the fireball Senator from Massachusetts. Her parents both earned their living at humble jobs, yet even without the privilege of wealth she became a respected law professor at Harvard, and a senator to be reckoned with. It’s a path similar to the one President Obama and Supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor followed. And there are many, many examples of people from all cultural groups who grew up without much money yet became very successful.

But what about Those People, the ones in neighborhoods where various gangs and violent people create stressful lives for everyone? The Right is certain this means African-Americans exclusively, but the fact is, depending on the era and the neighborhood, criminal activity within every cultural group in US history has made life difficult at times. Asian, Latino, and European criminals have all given us grief.

That’s all irrelevant. If you want students from these stressed neighborhoods to become successful adults, treating them as flawed people not deserving of equal treatment is not the way to go about it.

Treating minority students
as flawed people
not deserving of equal treatment
is not the way to go about it.

What about the chaotic schools, where teaching is a daily battle to subdue bad behavior? First, even expensive private schools have their malcontents—who can be simply expelled, in contrast to public school students, who may not be expelled. Bad behavior is a difficult problem in any school, but some teaching professionals manage it well, and there are constant reports of disruptive students from kindergarten onward who over time mature and do well. Among the poor especially, many problems derive from social conditions, and go away when those improve. For the incorrigible, let them support themselves when they reach legal age; that’s what they want anyway.

Will all the people who live in rough neighborhoods and don’t have much money become professionally successful? Of course not. Some of them are not very smart, and are likely to remain among the lower income levels. That doesn’t mean they should be poorly paid, however. Nor does it mean that there aren’t lots of people in these less promising neighborhoods who have the ability to do well in school and become productive citizens, even national leaders.

In my not-so-humble opinion, when every teacher and student in the country gets adequate and reliable financial support, we will see a level of national superiority in all kinds of endeavors that the country has never seen before.

Our students really are our future. We can’t continue to cheat them in the many entrenched ways we do and expect superior results.

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