Know your audience

Arthur Brooks made a great point in his Wall Street Journal opinion piece yesterday, Republicans and Their Faulty Moral Arithmetic.

Raging against government debt and tax rates that most Americans don’t pay gets conservatives nowhere, and it will always be an exercise in futility to compete with liberals on government spending and transfers.

Instead, the answer is to make improving the lives of vulnerable people the primary focus of authentically conservative policies. For example, the core problem with out-of-control entitlements is not that they are costly—it is that the impending insolvency of Social Security and Medicare imperils the social safety net for the neediest citizens. Education innovation and school choice are not needed to fight rapacious unions and bureaucrats—too often the most prominent focus of conservative education concerns—but because poor children and their parents deserve better schools.

That reminds me. I have made headway with liberal friends on the subject of school choice by doing exactly what Brooks suggests, making it about the kids and the parents who need the most help.

I pointed out that middle-income and wealthy folks already have school choice because they can afford to live in an area with a good public school district or pay to send their kids to private school. That may contribute to why these schools are successful.

I then asked why low-income parents shouldn’t be given more choice, too.

Several told me that changed their mind about school choice and they became supporters of it.

9 thoughts on “Know your audience

  1. If the suggestion is that we shouldn’t bark talking points at one another but instead discuss underlying issues, I think it is a great suggestion.

    • Hi Wally — While I agree that we should discuss the underlying issues, this is a suggestion to frame your case to address what’s important to the people you are discussing with.

      • Essentially – to discuss the argument that is in front of you at the present moment, rather than the argument you heard on TV or that you think needs to be had?

  2. the thorn in my craw about school choice is parochial education. im not a big fan of paying to educate other peoples kids in general, although i do see value in having educated peers. it seems entirely contrary to the goal of an educated society to be having kids ‘taught’ that the earth is only 6000 years old, or that man and dinosaur co-existed. how would you frame an argument to convince me? i heard this guy on npr the other day.
    and i truly feel that folks like him and the folks over at are the ones with educational models that i can support. people educate themselves.

    • Dave – I don’t want to make an argument based solely on my experiences, but I had 13 years of parochial education (typical Catholic diocesan schools) and not once was I told that the Earth was anything less than billions of years old nor that dinosaurs were extinct less than millions and millions of years ago. I feel fairly certain that my experience is typical among private education – particularly in the Catholic schools that make up a vast majority of private, faith-based education.

      I’m sure that there are a few small schools on the fringes that go against the grain in this regard, just as there are some charter schools, or parents teaching at home, or even individual teachers in public schools that don’t teach the conventional wisdom on a given subject – but a few obscure examples don’t constitute the mainstream.

      But isn’t that part of school choice? If you don’t like a school’s approach you can move your child to a different school. Very quickly, the only students attending schools teaching a 6,000 year old Earth would be the ones whose parents are going to teach that at home anyway. Maybe that will also give parents the choice to send their children to a visionary program that is way ahead of the curve on the next scientifc breakthroughs. I imagine most people in Galileo’s time would have scoffed at a program that taught heliocentric theory.

      Agreed on your points re: programs like the Kahn Academy. I think the most successful teaching in the future will merge these models with the existing elements and find more efficient ways to individually work with kids.

      • Good to hear from you, Lane. Thanks for the perspective. I think dave’s concern w/ school choice is that while the parents would have more choice where to send their kids, he’d still be paying for their vouchers.

    • dave –

      How about excluding such schools from voucher programs?

      With that, you’d still get an education market that would have schools emerge to attract students. Perhaps, parochial schools you are concerned about would innovate acceptable solutions that excluded such teachings to voucher students. Like maybe they’d send voucher students to PE while the church members’ students learn whatever it is you disagree with. Another solution in such a market is that those schools would fund that portion of their curriculum from their own budget, yours.

      I agree with you. I’m not a big fan of paying to educate other peoples kids, in general. But, if I had to choose between a taxpayer-funded education market crowded out by government-produced education that gives few options to low income families (and seems to be failing them) and a taxpayer-funded education market that gives more options to these low income families, I’d choose the latter.

      Did that do anything for you?

      I’d also add that there are plenty of things taught in government-produced education that I figured you’d consider contrary to the goal of an educated society.

  3. If you’re not a big fan of educating someone else’s kid’s, why do you dislike paying for their education at a parochial school, but then think it’s OK if you pay for their education at a publc school? One favors one type of religion and the other worships at the alter of multiculturalism. It seems that Dave is saying he doesn’t like taxpayer supported education, but is willing to accept it IF it adheres to HIS prescription for teaching religion. That’s contrary to the entire reason for school choice and contrary to the notion that competition will drive better educational outcomes. As far as producing an educated populace, it’s absurd to knock parochial schools when one examines what the public schools are producing in terms of graduates who understand the underpinnings of our government.

    That said, I’m in full agreement if the argument is that BECAUSE the federal government controls public education it is virtually worthless and should be either abandoned as a concept or it’s control turned entirely over to local school boards, i.e. no mandates, quotas, guidelines, etc. from Washington or the teachers unions.


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