Thursday, January 26, 2006

We Don't Need No Education

People's exhibit #23413461298582375098 in the case for what is going wrong with this country.

"To say that competition is going to improve education? It's just not gonna work. You know competition is not for children. It's not for human beings. It's not for public education. It never has been, it never will be," Holmes said.

Holmes is Florida teacher Ruth Holms.  The quote came in referencee to the Florida Supreme (and I use the term loosely) Court's decision that Florida's educational voucher system was unconstitutional.  If you want a good discussion on how wrong Ms. Holms is, click the link above and read John Stossel's piece on school competition.

I think, however, that this statement is indicative of the faulty viewpoint many people (especially in education) have in regard to our society.  Many people have bought into the idea that competition is bad.  However, competition is what a free market economy is based on.

You see, in a free market, I have to compete against other people for shares of the market.  This drives me to make a new, different, cheaper or better product that the other fella.  If my product isn't new, different, cheaper, or better than the other fella, then the consumer (that's you and me) will buy from the other fella.  

Take a look at what happened in the former Soviet Union and other communist countries.  There was little or no competition in their collective economy.  Everyone made dirt low wages, the government owned all businesses and there was no motive to make a new, different, cheaper or better product.  After a time, the government couldn't keep up with the cost of supporting industries that couldn't support themselves and eventually the system collapsed.  China is the one exception, but rather than allow the economy to collapse as happened in the former Soviet Union, the Chinese have allowed a very modest and heavily controlled "free" market to grow (a la McDonalds).

But back to my point.  Without competition to drive people to become better and to make better products, the economy will stagnate.  Thus enters the education system.  Since the 1970's the education system has been purging itself of all vestiges of competition.  Children are no longer given grades*, everyone gets a trophy at the end of the football season (even if their team never won a game), and some places have even tried to outlaw dodgeball, and all in the name of self esteem.

Now, having been on the receiving end of a dodgeball pummeling (and on the "b" team who never won a t-ball game) I know as a parent, we don't want to see our children suffer the same trials as we did.  But games like dodge ball teach kids a valuable lesson.  Namely, that if you stand in one place, you are going to get creamed by someone else.  Life is hard.  That sucks, but that's the truth.  There is someone else out there who wants your job, your product, your market share, even your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse.  If you don't know how to compete, or deal with competition, then you are going to get creamed, just like dodge ball.
So, after decades of allowing our schools to slide into the hole of mediocrity just for the sake of self esteem, then we are going our future generations a great disservice.  I don't mean that as an attack on educators.  I have a lot of respect for educators (being that I am one), but I have seen, first hand, the results of such mediocrity.  Last semester, I had the worse papers I believe I have ever seen.  Many of my students who had either graduated from high school, or at least received a GED, couldn't put a simple sentence together, even after correcting their early work.  We are raising generations of children, who will become our leaders when we are old and grey, who don't know how to deal with a competitive market.  We, as a society cannot allow this to continue.

*Funny story; my son's school grades from K to 4 on a P, S and N scale.  P is praiseworthy, S is satisfactory and N is not satisfactory, and they throw in plusses and minuses just to confuse the parents.  My son brought his grade card home one day last year.  As his mother and I were trying to decipher the codes, my son declared, "that P there, that's an A, the S+ is a B"  If my seven-year-old can figure it out, how is it protecting his fragile self esteem?