"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Why a Trump Presidency Worries Me

It is not his overwhelming presence on Twitter. It is not his bullying characteristics although that should already be worrisome. What worries me more is his perspective on solving problems. He often solves a problem for some, but not for all. This is probably an outgrowth of making deals as a businessman. Self-interest is his categorical imperative. Nowhere is this more evident in his approach to solving problems in basic education. His answer is school choice, fully embodied in his choice for secretary of education, Betsy DeVos:

Devos clearly demonstrates a lack of knowledge of current issues in basic education. This is indeed forgivable especially for one who is willing to learn. The scary part is that Devos is a very strong advocate for school choice. Devos believes that parents should have the right to choose schools for their children. Being able to make a choice, however, can only generate a good result if such a choice is well-informed. If Devos herself seems very lacking in knowledge regarding education, how can we expect that parents actually have the knowledge to choose correctly schools for their children. Quality education remains elusive even to those who are greatly immersed in education research.

Last night, I visited the middle school my son intends to attend in the coming school year. It was curriculum night and I had the opportunity to browse through the courses and programs the school currently offers. I had a tour of the classrooms and facilities. I had been writing this blog for years now so I am not as ill-informed as Devos is with regard to public basic education. However, I am not comfortable in making a choice for what school my child should attend because I am aware of the factors I would use in making that choice. I am going to compare. And I will compare based on my perception of teacher quality, facilities and peers. This is purely based on self-interests and not on quality education. And this is totally misguided. It assumes that schools are worse than others because of the teachers, the facilities, and the students.  Why this is wrong can be seen by simply assuming that all parents exercise such choice. Summed over all these individual choices is really the death of the public school system. The sum only exacerbates inequality, inefficiency and irrationality especially when these choices are purely based on prejudices. This is Behavioral Economics.

Kern Alexander talked about this in the Journal of Education Finance:
... If parental choice is not based on quality education and instead the school choices are rooted in race, religion, wealth, ethnicity, etc., then you will have “imperfect competition.” Imperfect competition would result in the overall decline in the quality of education....
The Trump presidency with its penchant to solve problems by self-interest is truly problematic. Michelle Roya Rod constructed a list of characteristics of good problem solvers in the Huffington Post. One of these characteristics is as follows:
They don’t create problems for others: They understand that to have their problem solved they can’t create problems for others. Good problems solvers who create fair solutions make a conscious effort not to harm others for a self-interest intention. They know such acts will have long term consequences even if the problem is temporarily solved.
Trump and DeVos are basically doing the opposite. They are both making a conscious effort to harm others for a self-interest intention. This is what scares me.

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