How Schooling Affects Culture

Cato’s Brink Lindsey has a good essay in today’s WSJ on how cultural differences between communities (from child-rearing to views and expectations on education) widen America’s socioeconomic gap. The one point where I diverge from Brink is that I am far more sanguine about the feasibility of reducing the cultural gaps that exacerbate the socioeconomic gap. The key is to understand that our educational institutions actually shape our culture.

Our monopoly school system has gradually marginalized parents, removing from them any significant responsibility for deciding where, what, how, when, and by whom their children are taught. This usurpation of traditional parental responsibilities has not only facilitated but fomented an unprecedented level of disengagement from their children’s education. Responsibilities breed responsibility. Powerlessness breeds apathy and disengagement.

When parents are actively involved in choosing their children’s schools, and when they have some measure of financial responsibility for their children’s education, they take a more active role, they are more satisfied with their children’s education, and their children’s achievement and attainment goes up. The most dramatic findings come from the areas most in need of improvement: our inner cities. University of Chicago economist Derek Neal has shown that urban black students attending Catholic schools are far more likely to graduate from high-school, be accepted to college, and graduate from college than similar students who attend government schools. That and other relevant research is digested and linked to here.

Replacing our dependency-producing school monopoly with a free education market that requires all parents to choose their children’s schools, and requires all parents to contribute something to the cost of their own children’s education (in kind rather than cash, where necessary), would not simply minimize the damage done by America’s culture gap. It would significantly shrink that gap, because it would compel parents to once again take a more active role in their children’s education. “Free” monopoly schooling isn’t merely inefficient, it is socially destructive.