Saturday, May 21, 2005

Bringing Creative People into Education

After having spent 15 years in K-12 education, starting out as a public school reformer, it is perfectly clear to me that creating a private market education is the single most important thing that we can do to make the world a better place.

For some, "market" has connotations of "for profit" and "greed." For me, "market" has connotations of "cool, creative people can actually get something done for a change." When I hear of those who are concerned about greedy people taking over a market in education, my first thought is "we just need good people to create better alternatives to the sleazy ones." Actually, the market does a pretty good job of this already and would do a much better job if more well-intentioned people became education entrepreneurs.

The absence of a real market in education and health care has created a situation in which talented, ambitious, creative people can have interesting, creative, highly-paid careers if they work for companies that sell liquor, tobacco, pharmaceuticals, and many other things but - if they work in education - they face tedious, bureaucratic, frustrating lives. By allowing government to control education we have created an amazingly efficient filter that forces the most talented and best people out of the system.

Right now, without changing to a market-based system, more money for educator salaries will only mean that the existing people, many of whom I would not hire as educators, get more money. A few more talented people might enter education if salaries were significantly higher, but the real bottleneck is not money: it is the absence of a creative, inspiring, fun professional life. Cool, creative people do not want to work for public schools. When they try it, most of them leave after a few years. We are forcing the best and most dynamic people to stay away from our young people. Why?

We (join me, let's go do it!) can create new kinds of educational organizations that would be a blast to work at! The socratic discussions that I like to lead are more fun than anything that I have ever done! And you can create schools at which kids have a blast creating music, and websites, and screenplays, and gadgets, and more. Nothing about our nihilistic secondary school situation is necessary. Every day that we support "public" education, we thereby make a decision to support bland meaninglessness in the lives of our young people.

People enter other fields because they are cool and dynamic. Freedom is the sine qua non for creative people. Managing schools through multiple, competing, highly politicized, bureaucratic management structures (the national government, state governments, and local school boards, all of which are prey to media shocks, election grand-standing, and complex bureaucratic positioning to hide from the ongoing political firing squad) is simply a terrible, terrible idea.

Designed correctly, in the long run a K-12 education market will unleash more happiness and well-being, especially for the poor, than any other policy change that we could possibly envision, bar none.


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