A Philosopher's Blog

Luck & Education

Posted in Politics, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on September 29, 2010
Seal of the United States Department of Education
Image via Wikipedia

Education is once again in the spotlight and what this light reveals has generally not been very good. Since the general consensus is that education is “broken”, I will not endeavor to argue for that point. Instead, I will look at the role that luck plays in the American education system.

I am not taking luck as some sort of metaphysical force on par with the ancient Greek concept of Fate. Rather, I’m using the term in a fairly general sense to stand for what depends primarily on chance rather than choice.

One obvious role that luck plays in education (and life in general) is the matter of birth. A person’s parents and their economic status have, obviously enough, a huge impact on a person’s educational future.  While the role that the parents play in the education process is important, the factor I will focus on is the matter of economic status.

As a matter of fact, the quality of schools tends to vary in proportion to the wealth of the surrounding community (with some notable exceptions). Parents generally know this and often attempt to move into the neighborhoods that serve the best schools. Obviously enough, parents who lack the money needed to live in such areas will generally lose out on getting their kids into the better schools. This will begin the process of shortchanging their education and this will most likely lay down a weak educational foundation.

Money also allows parents to send their kids to private schools, an option that is generally not open to poorer families. While private schools are not always better than public schools, parents can buy a good education for their kids provided that they have the money and do some research. For the kids this is, obviously enough, all a matter of luck-being born into a family that has enough money to buy a good education either directly (private school) or indirectly (by living in the right area).

The solution  to this is obvious enough: make all public schools good, that way luck/chance is less of a factor in the quality of education that American children receive. Of course, the idea of making things equal and fair might be regarded by some as a sort of creeping socialism. After all, if all the schools were equally good, people might start thinking that other inequalities will need to be addressed. Perhaps that is why certain folks are against true education reform: they can see where it might lead.

Another way in which luck plays a role is clearly an example of chance. I recently learned that some of the best public schools actually have a lottery system. As such, getting into such schools is (supposed to be) entirely a matter of luck. While this can be seen as a random sort of democratic approach, it hardly seems like a very good approach. While having some good schools that people want their kids to attend so badly that a lottery is needed is better than having none, but it seems unjust to leave something so important to random chance. The solution, as before, is to work so that all schools are good and thus eliminate the need for a lottery to divide up scarce resources. Of course, this is easy to say but hard to do. Obviously, we are busy dumping vast sums of cash into two other countries and our war machine, so it is hardly surprising that funds are a bit short for such endeavors. However, we might find that as well are trying to build up Iraq and Afghanistan, that we are sliding down ourselves-at least when it comes to education.

Of course, the problem of education cannot be fixed merely by throwing money at it. Many of the fixes would actually save money or cost little. But, more must be said about the solutions.

Enhanced by Zemanta
About these ads

12 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. T. J. Babson said, on September 29, 2010 at 7:25 am

    Mike, you are using the phrase “quality of schools” as if this was a clear and unambiguous concept. I would argue that what “quality of schools” actually measures is the socio-economic status of the parents. Therefore when you are asking to make all schools equal you are really asking to make all incomes equal.

    Also, the main thing wealth buys you is choice. If you extend choice to everyone, even the poor, the schools will improve.

  2. Greg Camp said, on September 29, 2010 at 9:49 am

    I agree with you that the way in which we fund schools is clunky and unfair. One simple answer would be to gather all the education money of a state into one pool and then distribute that money solely on the basis of number of students. Of course, any school with more than four hundred students is obscene.

    But there is another problem to take into account. I have taught for some time in community colleges and urban high schools. In my experience, the students often choose how much and how well they will learn. I have to fight against the stubbornness that many have about learning. The student who says “I will not learn” and whose culture doesn’t value education will fail. Until we can find a way to change the culture, no other educational reform will succeed.

  3. WTP said, on September 29, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    How can someone who wrote this:

    “The solution to this is obvious enough: make all public schools good, that way luck/chance is less of a factor in the quality of education that American children receive. Of course, the idea of making things equal and fair might be regarded by some as a sort of creeping socialism. After all, if all the schools were equally good, people might start thinking that other inequalities will need to be addressed. Perhaps that is why certain folks are against true education reform: they can see where it might lead.”

    Teach people about fallacies?

    • 2writers4cats1baby said, on September 29, 2010 at 11:31 pm

      No argument is made here. You should note the word “might” appears several times. A speculation is not an argument, and as no argument is made, there is no fallacy.

      • WTP said, on September 30, 2010 at 12:01 pm

        You are correct, sir/ma’m! I presumed this was an attempt to say something and took “might” to mean something more. However, as the probability of “might” approaches nil, this paragraph becomes meaningless. But “might” is what it states and “might” makes right and me wrong.

        I defer to Mr. Erik’s more erudite and pertinent analogy below.

  4. Erik said, on September 29, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    “Of course, the idea of making things equal and fair might be regarded by some as a sort of creeping socialism. After all, if all the schools were equally good, people might start thinking that other inequalities will need to be addressed. Perhaps that is why certain folks are against true education reform: they can see where it might lead.”

    And masturbation “might lead” to hairy palms. Unfortuante that so many people think they ‘know” where something “might lead”and are so sure it will lead where they think it will.

  5. kernunos said, on September 29, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    “As a matter of fact, the quality of schools tends to vary in proportion to the wealth of the surrounding community (with some notable exceptions). Parents generally know this and often attempt to move into the neighborhoods that serve the best schools. Obviously enough, parents who lack the money needed to live in such areas will generally lose out on getting their kids into the better schools. This will begin the process of shortchanging their education and this will most likely lay down a weak educational foundation.” Maybe it is the so called better neighborhoods that make it a better school and not the other way around. By the way, how do you make a ‘good school’? what is the formula because it obviously is not money.

    • kernunos said, on September 29, 2010 at 4:59 pm

      Private schools tend to opperate at a lower cost per student. some of the worst schools systems in the US are given the most money per student.

    • 2writers4cats1baby said, on September 29, 2010 at 11:38 pm

      The way it is generally studied is by looking at how much students improve over time in that particular school. Factors such as how much money the child’s family has, and the students’ IQs, is accounted for, and the data show that certain schools are teaching children more, and that those schools are disproportionately in affluent neighborhoods.

      • kernunos said, on September 30, 2010 at 12:47 am

        That does not prove that schools that get more money have better results for teaching. Which fallacy would this be Mike?

  6. [...] Luck & Education « A Philosopher's Blog [...]

  7. T. J. Babson said, on September 29, 2010 at 6:27 pm

    No one is a more well-credentialed progressive than Davis Guggenheim, who directed Al Gore’s influential global warming documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” as well as produced a dramatic short about Barack Obama for the 2008 Democratic National Convention. But with his new documentary, “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” which opened today in selected cities across the country, Guggenheim has become conservative medialand’s favorite new filmmaker.

    Why? Because “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” which has been getting good reviews all across the political spectrum, ably makes the case that the nation’s children have been betrayed by teachers’ unions while portraying charter schools in a hugely flattering light, two concepts that nicely dovetail with the prevailing sentiment in the conservative community.

    http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/the_big_picture/2010/09/how-did-davis-guggenheim-become-the-right-wings-favorite-liberal-filmmaker-.html


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,018 other followers

%d bloggers like this: