Thoughts on the Value of Public Education

Over on Facebook, there’s discussion of the federal Department of Education, and a commenter there said she would like to see the department go away and parents get school vouchers.

This was my reaction…

[…] I’m looking at various issues looming and how education can play into that.

Let’s start with our military, shall we? The arms race of the Cold War never really stopped. Then-President Bush declared policy as being that the USA would stand alone, always keeping ahead with a more-capable military than any possible opponent. This isn’t just a matter of manpower and training grunts for the infantry. Our military has an edge currently because we have a technological edge. But technological edges keep becoming obsolete. If you are committed to Bush’s policy, you *necessarily* have to commit to technological innovation for military use.

The thing about innovation is that it takes talent. And talent is distributed without respect to socioeconomic class. To get the very best amount of innovation we can, we need to be committed to providing good education to every child we possibly can reach. And that means we need to improve public education, because private education is never going to cover all our potential pool of talent, not in numbers and certainly not in depth to reach every student.

The military technology issue is just one of a great number of pending challenges, failure of any one of which will spell unmitigated disaster for our country and perhaps the world. We have global overpopulation that can only be supported be a continuing enhancement of technology to keep the earth’s carrying capacity higher than the burgeoning population. We have been tightening our borders so as to make it more difficult for talented immigrants to enter. (Have a look at the roster of the Manhattan Project, figure out the proportion of immigrants and children of immigrants in that, and draw a conclusion.) We have been making higher education in the USA less rewarding and more burdensome.

To my mind, a robust public K-12 program and exceptional public higher education is the first line of defense against the challenges the future poses for us. Petty pedagogical privateers like DeVos threaten that, and thus to my mind represent a distinct strategic threat to the country and maybe the world. Your mileage may vary.

Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Data scientist in real estate and econometrics. Blogger. Speaker. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

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