CHICAGO, February 26, 2004 –The Heartland Institute’s newest book is called “Bold and Brazen” and “present(s) a compelling and thoroughly researched argument for introducing market-based reforms into public schools,” according to a recent Chicago Sun-Times book review.
Education and Capitalism: How Overcoming Our Fear of Markets and Economics Can Improve America’s Schools by Joseph Bast and Herbert Walberg was featured in a ‘Required Reading’ review by Jonathan Hoenig in the February 23, 2004 edition of the Sun-Times, Illinois’ second largest newspaper.
The text of the review follows. Copies of Education and Capitalism are available for purchase at Heartland’s website, http://www.heartland.org.
Capitalism Best Cure for Dismal Education System
By: Jonathan Hoenig
Just a few years back, the stock market was soaring, jobs (with signing bonuses) were plentiful, and free market capitalism was riding a wave of popularity that hadn’t been seen since the Jazz Age.
With innovation and 401(k) plans booming, sustained prosperity for all Americans seemed just within our reach.
Yet when the bubble burst and crooked CEOs replaced hot IPOs in the business section, a palpable shift occurred.
Face it: Capitalism gets a bad rap these days. Executives are seen as greedy shysters who do anything to make a buck. Companies are perceived as amoral exploiters of the poor, and polluters of the environment.
The popular consensus suggests that neither can be trusted.
It’s that recent history that makes Education and Capitalism: How Overcoming Our Fear of Markets and Economics Can Improve America’s Schools (Hoover Press, 362 pages, $15) such a bold and brazen book.
Authors Herbert J. Walberg, former professor of education and psychology at the University of Illinois/Chicago and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution, and Joseph L. Bast, president of the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, present a compelling and thoroughly researched argument for introducing market-based reforms into public schools.
The vast majority of children in the United States attend public schools, and in a methodic and disciplined fashion, the authors make a comprehensive case why the free market can better educate more students at a lower cost.
The authors begin by describing the horrible condition of public education, which, make no mistake, is a complete mess nationwide. Although government schools maintain a monopoly on public funds, they’ve failed miserably by almost every conceivable benchmark.
Even more depressing is that even as results have dropped, the size and cost of the government school bureaucracy has soared.
Despite the notion that it’s simple money schools lack, the authors point out how “the United States is well ahead of nearly every other affluent nation in per-pupil spending, and spending has consistently increased faster than either inflation or personal income.”
The solution is capitalism, the same incredible force of productive change that brought civilization out of the Dark Ages and propelled this country to the highest standard of living, for rich and poor alike, in all of human history.
The authors’ thesis, built on the groundwork laid by the University of Chicago’s Milton Friedman, is that just as the free market has created unparalleled innovation in medicine, agriculture and communication, so could it vastly improve education. The ability for parents to choose their schools, and for schools to compete for their attendance, would raise standards and lower cost, just as it has in every other area of our lives.
In order to trust capitalism to educate our students, one must first simply trust capitalism. To that end, the authors wisely spend a considerable chunk of the book debunking the misconceptions, misinformation and plain old ignorance that many people, including prominent educators and government officials, still harbor about the free market.
Moreover, in the tradition of economist Ludwig von Mises and philosopher Ayn Rand, they ground their arguments in moral as well as practical terms. Capitalism isn’t simply the most efficient social system ever devised, but the most just as well.
Naysayers suggest that while capitalism can produce higher quality in everything from cars to computers and at lower cost, education is special. Because it is imbued with important social meaning, there exists an “education exceptionalism” that prevents schools from being treated like more familiar commodities.
It’s a claim Walberg and Bast refute, pointing out how private Catholic schools are able to educate more students to a higher degree with lower costs, despite their need to focus on the bottom line.
The latter portion of the book is dedicated to examining how market-based reforms to education would actually be implemented.
Although total privatization, charter schools, tuition tax credits and home schooling are all considered, school vouchers are presented as the best option for immediate change. Under a voucher system, education dollars are directed to parents, not bureaucrats. The result is competition, choice, better test scores and lower costs. Everybody would benefit.
It’s no surprise that the biggest opponents to free-market capitalism are those currently entrenched in education’s large and unaccountable bosom. Yet the intellectuals, teachers’ unions and politicians who will decry Education and Capitalism are exactly those who should read it. It’s their fear and ignorance about free markets that have kept schools in decline for far too long.
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