It's A Gray Area: Apply libertarian philosphy to education for success

Last week we discussed how the U.S. would thrive in several important areas, including education, by using a functional libertarian approach.

Because education really is a common denominator and a key to success for individuals as well as our country, it deserves more exploration.

Today most people agree that many schools are failing our children, particularly those youngsters who come from lower economic areas. Simply spending more money hasn't really worked.

Last week I asked, "Who is in a better position to decide where and how children should be educated, their parents or the government?"

Virtually everyone agrees that parents are in that better position.

If parents could dictate how government money was used for education from kindergarten to 12th grade, they would demand and receive excellence. The government could issue some form of document — a voucher, scholarship or coupon — that would allow parents to spend their children's allotted education money at the school of their choosing.

With the government currently making the educational decisions, we get programs like the No Child Left Behind Act, which is almost universally seen as a failure.

Why? Because governments thrive on statistics, which in this case resulted in standardized testing and even more bureaucracy. And that has led to teaching to the test, which, in turn, has led to memorization instead of learning, and even to cheating by some teachers.

But this new voucher system could have problems. For example, what would happen to children whose parents don't particularly value an education or are "too busy" to get involved? There are such parents, although probably fewer than is commonly believed.

Nevertheless, there still are parents who, for one reason or another, are not involved. But as a practical matter, most of the children of those parents probably play with other children whose parents care. So when their playmates start changing schools, those children would probably pester their parents to go to the new school as well.

The voucher system would bring creativity and innovation back into education, both public and private. Of course, each school would have to meet minimum state standards, but otherwise, parents could choose their child's school, whether it be public, private, military, religious, trade or vocational.

Some schools would probably follow what Poland has done for the past 15 years by better teaching their students to think.

Amanda Ripley tells the story in her book "The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way" (Simon & Schuster, 2013).

Even in the lower economic areas, when a different mentality was nurtured and students were expected to produce and succeed, that is exactly what happened. As one teacher said, "I don't want to think about their backgrounds too much, because it is their brain that counts."

Thus, mediocrity is not blamed on the students' backgrounds, but rather upon poor performance. And if students produce mediocre results, they flunk.

Other schools might follow the example of Germany, a world leader in technical training. Many German schools offer two-year degrees in manufacturing technology that begin the last year of high school.

In today's world, many students have no interest in studying or obtaining degrees in fine arts, history or philosophy. They just want to learn a skill in an area that interests them so they can earn a living and support a family.

Many schools would probably use the Internet for teaching an increasingly wide range of subjects and skills. This would seriously reduce the cost of an education and also vastly increase the amount of teaching available.

But what if a desired school is full? This problem would quickly resolve itself because if enough parents are willing to spend their vouchers for a particular type of education, someone would soon meet that need.

Good teachers would also come out ahead because they too would be in demand. Entrepreneurs would entice them with fewer bureaucratic restrictions and greater pay.

Of course, that would also encourage some teachers who have become lazy because of a lack of incentives under the current system once again to perform up to their capabilities.

Finally, this new system would correct a major existing inequity. Parents who send their children to private schools are forced to pay double for their children's education, once in the form of tuition at their non-government school and again through taxes that pay for other people's children to be taught at government schools. With the vouchers, each child would receive the same allotment for tuition each year.

Of course, if any parents choose to augment that allotment, they would be fully entitled to do so. But the allotment itself would be sufficient to pay for a quality education for each child, and that allotment would increase as the child gets older to cover such things as chemistry labs.

America was founded on the concept of equal opportunity for all. Probably nothing would do more to bring about that result, and unify the people of our country along the way, than the implementation of this system of making excellence in education available for all of our children. So help us get it done.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired Orange County Superior Court judge. He lives in Newport Beach. He can be contacted at

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