Perhaps this is too much to take in at once. It may be that the idea of moving to a market-based system of education seems too big a departure from the school system we have grown accustomed to.
But the system we have grown accustomed to has failed us. If we truly care about our children we must take a long, hard look at the underlying reasons for its failure. Our school system is not falling short academically because of the people who staff it or the curricula they teach. It is not falling short due to lack of funds or good ideas. It is falling short academically because it lacks a mechanism that consistently promotes, identifies, perpetuates and disseminates good ideas.
Our school system is falling short of our social goals because parents do not have a choice, a freedom they should have in the United States of America. By its very design, the prevalent system of public schooling forces a needless conformity on a vibrant, diverse and dynamic society.
We need to learn to live happily and harmoniously with one another. But people do not learn the value of liberty and mutual respect from a monolithic school apparatus that forces them to either accept the views of the dominant group or to impose their own views instead. We have enjoyed religious harmony in this nation not because we have forced all our citizens to attend an established Church, but precisely because we have not done so. The social conflicts that arise around public schooling do so precisely because public schooling is an establishment of education.
Yes, market-based education, coupled with financial assistance for low-income families, is a bold idea. But the time has come for bold ideas. At the very least, we owe it to our children to openly discuss the merits of reintroducing market incentives in education – not in the hostile fashion that has become the norm in recent reform debates, but with care, civility and wisdom.
Their future – our future – depends on it.