Monday, June 10, 2019

Spending on Education Won't Reduce Inequality

Nick Hanauer used to think that the way to reduce inequality in America, and fix many other problems, was to improve our schools. He calls this "educationism." But after a decade of activism he has decided that this is backwards, and that we need to focus on reducing inequality first:
What I’ve realized, decades late, is that educationism is tragically misguided. American workers are struggling in large part because they are underpaid—and they are underpaid because 40 years of trickle-down policies have rigged the economy in favor of wealthy people. Americans are more highly educated than ever before, but despite that, and despite nearly record-low unemployment, most American workers—at all levels of educational attainment—have seen little if any wage growth since 2000.

We should do everything we can to improve our public schools. But our education system can’t compensate for the ways our economic system is failing Americans. Even the most thoughtful and well-intentioned school-reform program can’t improve educational outcomes if it ignores the single greatest driver of student achievement: household income.

For all the genuine flaws of the American education system, the nation still has many high-achieving public-school districts. Nearly all of them are united by a thriving community of economically secure middle-class families with sufficient political power to demand great schools, the time and resources to participate in those schools, and the tax money to amply fund them. In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow. But allow economic inequality to grow, and educational inequality will inevitably grow with it.
I'm all for more and better education, but I think Hanauer is right that this won't fix our society's problems.

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

A lesson learned the hard way by millions of young Americans who went to college on the lifelong advice of all the adults and authority figures they knew, earned their diplomas, and then found that those diplomas don't really help in an economy that refuses to pay its workers a living wage, particularly when you have to take out loans to afford tuitions which have been spiraling ever higher for just as long as wages have been staying stagnant.

The best education in the world can't save you from an economy which doesn't value or reward education. Our system doesn't want highly educated citizens - it wants ones that can be exploited for the benefits of the wealthy elite rigging the system in their own favor.

Corporations don't value educated employees - they value conformist ones who do what they're told without complaint, and accept bad pay, bad conditions, and no benefits. They want disposeable, replaceable, identical cogs. They don't want to have to consider things like humanity or morality - they just want the cheapest solution to their business problems, and damn the cost to other people, even their own employees.

Of course, the notion is hardly new.

"If the slave-owner of our times has no slave, John, whom he can send to the cesspool, he has five shillings, of which hundreds of such Johns are in such need that the slave-owner of our times may choose any one out of hundreds of Johns and be a benefactor to him by giving him the preference, and allowing him, rather than another, to climb down into the cesspool."

- Leo Tolstoy, The Slavery of Our Times, 1890

The slavery of our times indeed. I keep saying it, but I honestly believe we're in the midst of something of a Second Gilded Age - one which has been careful to avoid cartoonishly evil acts of exploitation like chaining child workers to factory machines and locking the doors, but which is nonetheless still wildly immoral and predatory, even if in more subtle ways.