Friday, October 24, 2008

When Will They Learn?

A recent editorial in the Tyler Morning Telegraph calls for more incentive pay for public school teachers. The editorial quotes Brooke Dollens Terry of the Texas Public Policy Foundation:

Higher test scores, higher state accountability ratings, improved teacher morale, and lower teacher turnover prove that students are benefiting from teacher incentive pay in Texas.

This is a very dubious conclusion. Higher test scores prove nothing, except that students are better at taking tests. Higher state accountability ratings prove nothing, except that school administrators are better at meeting government mandates. Improved teacher moral and lower turnover prove nothing, except that higher pay increases morale and lowers turnover.

But debates about teacher pay evade the real issue, which is the politicalization of our educational system. The real issue is that our educational system is a virtual government operated monopoly.

Certainly, there are other alternatives for parents, such as private schools and home schooling. But for most American families, who are forced to provide financing for public schools, private schooling is not an affordable option. And home schooling, while increasingly popular, can also impose financial burdens.

Ms. Terry goes on to say:

Changing the teacher compensation structure to include pay-for-performance bonuses would send a signal to teachers that gains in student learning are rewarded over seniority. It would also give average teachers a financial prod to improve their skills and performance in the classroom.

This is certainly true, but again it evades the real issue. The public educational system removes control from parents and vests it in politicians and bureaucrats. Policy makers and pundits can come up with any number of new plans for reforming the public educational system, and they will continue to fail because they fail to address the real issue.

The real issue is not how much teachers are paid or how they are paid. The real issue is that the public educational system violates the rights of individuals in a multitude of ways.

1. It forces taxpayers to provide a service for others. Even those with no children, those who send their children to private schools, and those who home school are forced to subsidize the education of children who are not their own.

2. Many find the ideas taught in public schools abhorrent, and yet they are forced to provide financial support for the dissemination of those ideas. It is a gross injustice to compel a person to financially support ideas he opposes.

3. Some states, such as California, have made it extremely difficult, if not illegal, to home school. In other words, these states have essentially declared children to be property of the State.

The entire foundation of public education is based on a false premise. Society has no obligation to provide an education, or haircuts, or Internet connections, or OTB sites, or anything else. "Society" as such does not exist, it is only a collection of individuals, each of whom possesses the same fundamental rights. To declare that some have a "right" that can only be purchased at the expense of someone else is to make a mockery of rights.

A right pertains to action within a social setting. It is a sanction to act according to your own judgement, so long as you allow others to do the same. You cannot compel others to accept or abide by your judgement, just as others cannot compel you to accept or abide by their judgement.

When society attempts to provide to some at the expense of others, the rights of some are necessarily violated as some impose their judgments and values upon others. Further, the process is inherently political. Multitudes of gangs descend upon legislators, declaring the alleged virtues of their cause and demanding taxpayer money to support it. The nature of those actions does not change simply because children are involved.

Those who use children as innocent pawns in their personal struggle for political power are particularly despicable creatures. They play on the guilt and gullibility of the citizenry, feigning concern, while ignoring the evidence that damns their proposals. They are nothing but power lusters, seeking to build a personal fiefdom at the expense of others.

The solution to the problems plaguing our educational system is really quite simple. Abolish public education. Allow parents to choose the schools that will educate their children. And allow them to pay for it. Allow individuals to control their own lives. That will take politics out of the process, reduce everyone's taxes, and result in a better education for the children.

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