Thomas Sowell’s column, Charlatans and Sheep: Part III is worth reading. In it, Sowell describes his childhood experiences that led him from not valuing education to valuing it.
Here are some key excerpts:
There is no economic determinism. People choose what to spend their money on, and what to spend their time on. Cultures differ.
Jewish immigrants who arrived in New York, generations before me, seized upon the opportunities provided by public libraries and later their children flooded into the elite public high schools and free city colleges. This was consistent with the values of their centuries-old culture.
For most of the black kids of my generation, those things might as well not have existed, because nothing in their culture would have pointed them toward such things.
There is much discussion about what can be done to improve education, mostly focused on what schools, teachers and administrators can change.
There’s no attention given to the biggest cause of failing schools: families who do not value education.
If you compare quality schools to failing schools and look past the standard stats used to differentiate them like socioeconomic status or racial composition, I think the key difference can be boiled down to one thing: What is the predominant view on the value of an education held by the families of the students?
With successful schools, the predominant view is that education is important. With failing schools, it’s not.
Sowell illustrates this with public libraries. They are open to anyone. Nobody stands at the door to restrict the access of any group. Some people use them frequently because they value the resources, others never think to step foot because they don’t.
Education is similar. There is quality education out there for free ready to be had, if you want it. Everyone is welcome. But, the school can’t do everything. Students and their families have to meet the school half way and do their part, too.
I believe personal preference bias is a barrier that keeps people from seeing this. Most of the people discussing how to improve education already value education. They cannot understand that others may not share their bias. They simply assume they do.
I have my own personal story to share here, as well. I coach youth soccer. Over the years I’ve coached several dozen kids. There are a lot of factors that go into whether a player will improve and be able to contribute on the field, but I think there is one factor that overshadows all — how much they value the sport.
When the child and family do not value the sport much, improvement will be slow. They may see the sport as a place to dump their kid off for an hour to keep them off video games.
When the child and family do value soccer, it’s a different story. That’s true of any sport and any activity.
Think about a restaurant that you dislike. You may have wondered how it stays open. You don’t value what it has, for whatever reasons. Maybe the service is spotty or the food isn’t what you prefer. Every time you drive past it, you wonder, “How does that place stay in business?”
The answer is that not everyone shares your personal preference. You may not value it, but others do.
Now, imagine if the people who do value it wanted restaurants to be more like that one and they formed government restaurant boards to expand that restaurant’s practices.
You would value those restaurants less.
That’s what happened in education. People who value have nearly monopolized the education industry to deliver the brand of education they prefer.