The Manifestation of Central Planning in Public Schooling

~Twon~ / Foter / CC BY

Let’s think of a school as an economy. Just as entrepreneurs and consumers must navigate an economy strangled by regulations and central economic policy, so too must teachers and pupils navigate their educational world strangled by regulations and central education policy. As Thomas DiLorenzo points out in How Capitalism Saved America:

“Human being[s] (are) unique in a thousand different ways–in motivation, intelligence, interests, physical attributes and abilities, preferences, goals, skill levels, age, formal and informal education, worldly experiences, family history and culture, psychology, and much more.”

This means the billions of people making up society are all unique individuals, acting out of self-interest. Economics, as a subset of praxeology, is the study of how humans act, and how the interaction of all these individual actions comprise an economy. Promoters of central economic planning purport that not only is it possible to plan for all these interactions, the government is best at doing so.

This is fallacious, and makes for a coerced climate for entrepreneurs. Take soft drink manufacturers. They know sugar cane to be the best way to sweeten their drinks; both in terms of flavor and cost. However, central economic planning places quotas on cheap, imported sugar cane, and gives massive subsidies to the corn industry, resulting in artificially cheap corn. This makes high fructose corn syrup the most economical product for American soft drink manufacturers to sweeten with.

Consumers are then left with a massive supply of inferior product, and must seek out (and pay a higher price for) the superior product. As stated earlier, individuals are unique in their wants and desires, and in a free market, competent entrepreneurs will satisfy those wants and desires. But because of central economic planning, entrepreneurs are discouraged economically from providing for the individual consumers. To do so is now more expensive and less profitable. Both the entrepreneur and consumer lose.

In the realm of education, teachers are the entrepreneurs, and their pupils are the consumers. The product teachers provide, and the product their pupils look to obtain, is education.

Teachers are mandated to teach standardized curricula. It doesn’t matter whether Pupil A is better at math than Pupil B, they must receive the same education, and at the same speed. More advanced students are left uninterested and unchallenged, while slower students are left behind. Though well-meaning teachers recognize this, they’re stonewalled from alleviating the situation by central education policy.

Let’s look at it another way. Like in the market place, pupils have unique wants and desires when it comes to what they want or need to learn. For example, a high school student wanting to become an engineer would benefit most from taking math and science courses. He has teachers who are willing and able to provide such an education. However, central education policy mandates he must learn and spend as much time on English as he does on math and science.

You may claim he needs to learn English, and drawing, and music, etc., but who are you (or a bureaucrat) to say? As pointed out before, perhaps he’s not good at English. Trying to force it upon him is only going to leave him discouraged, and is therefore a doomed-to-fail endeavor for the teacher. As for the student who is good at English? He must seek out the superior product, and pay more for it (e.g. AP exams, private school, or extracurricular education, such as music lessons).

It is because of human nature (i.e. the uniqueness of individuals), that perhaps well-meaning central economic planning fails society. The manifestation of central planning in education is no exception. Both the entrepreneur (the teacher) and the consumer (the pupil) lose.

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