Can Government Fix Education or Make it Worse?


When I look at myself I continually say, “Who do you think you are taking on education. Aren’t you the guy who wasted his time in school from K to 12, more interested in having fun than being educated?” Yes, that was me. When I got to my senior year in high school I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life presuming I’d continue working in the fruit fields and packing sheds, though it was only seasonal work. I didn’t know what I would do, had no plans because while I would graduate high school it would be by the skin of my teeth. It didn’t give me many options. It’s why, along with my best friend, we joined the Army while still in school (because we were both 18 and could sign up without our parents’ permission). So ten days after graduating I found myself at Ft. Ord, near Monterey, California and in the Army. The shock that I wouldn’t know what to do about was that in Reception we had to take a battery of tests that told the Army I was smarter than I thought I was and didn’t represent my grades in school. It was for this reason they agreed to give me my wish to enter Intelligence School rather than become a basic grunt (Infantry).

This took me to Germany (rather than stay in the United States as I had hoped to do), to serve among college educated teammates who, as I’ve written before, led me to a library where I immersed myself in philosophy. When I left the Army I still didn’t have any idea of what to do with my life finding work first as a salesman (failing miserably at selling), then working in a carpet mill, then working for a major airline as a ramp serviceman. Married now, my wife talked me into going to college because it would be paid for with the GI Bill. The college I applied to had to take a chance on me after looking at my school records letting me in their school, though at a different university I earned my Bachelor’s Degree and a Masters with very high grades. I didn’t continue on to my PhD because my GI Bill money had been exhausted and I didn’t have a way to pay for the very high costs of continuing my formal education, and each year I delayed the cost grew insanely.

I’ve become protective of a college education knowing its value and find myself fighting against anything that degrades colleges and universities bastardizing real education. What caught my attention was an article in the Wall Street Journal, “House GOP to Propose Sweeping Changes to Higher Education,” written by  Douglas Belkin, Josh Mitchell and Melissa Korn (which you can read HERE).

Our educational system, both higher and lower, is in trouble.

When the Puritans came to the New World they instituted a law that villages of a certain size were to establish schools for their children. This was because the Reformation and the Protestant revolution made one of its fundamental doctrines that individuals should know for themselves what the Bible says and can act on that without someone else telling them what to believe. This meant that everyone should be taught to at least read. An educated person has a better chance of understanding the workings of life, and of government, and is less apt to be manipulated.

Two issues would change education in America. The principle behind classical education was that if you built a strong fundamental foundation to thinking, out of that you can make right decisions in any area of your life. Why the classics? Because as Solomon said, there is nothing new under the sun, and the ancients dealt with the same issues we deal with so why not learn from them. As our technological life began to change demanding new and different learning, there was a move to get straight to this learning bypassing the classics. The classics were now looked upon as basically esoteric knowledge for which only a small group of people would find interesting. Colleges and universities opened up more and different classes that students found more purposeful for their futures. This in itself isn’t bad.

In the late sixties progressive politics began forcing changes in education simply for political reasons. Radicals were interested in social subjects that had no practical application in the marketplace.

The question at the moment is can the government, whose programs they create and run always have major flaws in them, “fix” higher education? Government thinks it can fix education and proposed this legislation: “The Promoting Real Opportunity, Success and Prosperity Through Education Reform (PROSPER) Act.”

There are two parts to this bill, one having to do with academics, the other with financing. On the political side, there are two hot-button issues this bill addresses, and rightly so: sexual assaults on campus and free speech. Belkin and Korn write in a companion piece: “Higher Education Bill Requires Notice on Free Speech Policies:”

“With regards to campus sexual assault, the act tries to instill more due process for both the accuser and accused. It follows Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s September announcement that she plans to roll back the Obama administration’s guidance on how colleges and universities should handle sexual assault cases. A few weeks later she introduced interim recommendations stressing equal rights for the accused and giving schools a choice for what standard of evidence to use in evaluating wrongdoing. [ a school choosing its standard for evidence is problematic.]

“The reauthorization bill also amends the Clery Act, which governs how schools report crime on campuses.”

In a culture where sexual mores are confused this confusion is exacerbated in colleges and universities because of their tight communities, and the new freedom students find as “adults” out from under the authority of parents.

Staying away from the slippery cultural/social issues of what constitutes sexual inappropriateness, made more confusing by more radical women’s groups, there are clear sexual abuses up to and including rape. The problem is these issues are made political, including from the government policies giving women absolute rights over men and schools relief from due process. As we have learned, among the charges of sexual abuse, some have been wrongly charged, some stories made up due to radical politics, denying men due process from the school who took away all rights from males. We are actually seeing this lack of due process being played out among Hollywood types, media moguls, and politicians. Some have sufficient evidence to charge and remove such abusers, others there is nothing more than he said/she said. It isn’t that we believe one (the female) over the other (male), it’s that we should believe both until clear reason not to believe them. We must take the charges seriously and investigate but we don’t chop down the tree until we know it’s sick. Without due process everyone gets hurt.

In this case this is a legal issue and government does have a role here. The other issue is free speech. Again, Belkin and Korn writes:

“The proposal mandates that schools disclose any policies that aim to protect free speech on campus by limiting where and when such speech may occur. The goal is to limit those zones, which the act calls “inherently at odds with the First Amendment.”

Free speech is a First Amendment right. The demonstrations and riots in the late sixties on our colleges and universities was called a “free speech movement” but it was mostly nothing more than politics—a radical left against the right, or traditional—as it is today mostly about politics. It’s really the grandchild of this sixties movement. Anti-fascist organizations like “antifa” riot on college campuses (in a clear fascist way) against any speech from the political right, or Jews. For some time now radical leftists on campus, including professors, have been fighting to deny speech from anyone who does not politically agree with them.

Here, again, the government does have a role in protecting free speech, though why it would take a new piece of legislation to do this is curious.

A third branch in this legislative proposal deals with financing for colleges and universities. From the WSJ article we read this:

“The bill would set an unspecified cap on the amount of money graduate students and parents of undergraduates could borrow to cover tuition and living expenses, instead of letting them borrow whatever schools charge.

“It would end a program that forgives loan balances for borrowers who work for government agencies and at many nonprofits after they’ve made 10 years of payments. Borrowers currently enrolled in the program would be grandfathered in.

“And it would scale back the benefits of income-based repayment programs, eliminating a provision that allowed borrowers to have part of their debt forgiven after making payments for 20 or 25 years.”

Tuition is outrageously high. We all understand the principle that the rate of inflation (downgrading the value of our money) causes business to raise their prices to make up for this loss. The problem is that consumers have less money because their own money’s value is lower and it costs them more to make up the loss businesses feel. It’s a Catch-22 kind of situation. This is why some businesses don’t raise their prices the same amount of inflation, and certainly don’t raise them above the rate of inflation. Lately our inflation rate is around 2.2%. On the other hand, colleges and universities are raising their charges a minimum of 3.5%, higher than the rate of inflation.

When government got into college loans, both in directly giving loans and backing private loans, government officials didn’t concern themselves about the costs of education, turning a blind eye, so to speak, to the rising costs. With so many student loans going into default, now they are listening and looking for answers to lower costs.

We’ve gotten ourselves into a pickle, here. We’ve had a big push on every young person going to college when a good proportion of those will never use their college degrees. More students would be better off in trade schools, both at the Junior College or private schools where they will learn skills useful to them, and costs a whole lot less. We’ve forgotten the Aristotelian principle of balance. Fixing the financial woes of colleges and universities is good, but opening up and promoting trade schools is better.