on the topic of inequality

Now that I am a lectora I’ve been thinking a lot about educational systems.

In my last post I mentioned the possibility of the de-ghetto-ization of blacks in America.

And Jenn and I have talked about public vs. private education in the U.S. and Canada.


Most people would agree that access to a good education is one of the best things you can do to achieve “success” in life.  Define that however you want.

In the U.S. not everyone has access to a good education.  And people stay just as poor and/or messed up as their parents.

I have two beliefs:

  1. If good education were available to every child in the U.S., that education could not equal the quality of the best education currently available in the U.S. (at an elite private school, let’s assume).
  2. Public education is intrinsically flawed by the fact that people live in socioeconomically segregated areas and go to school with people of the same background.

(1) When something is only available for a price, it becomes a commodity, and as long as education is a commodity it will have varying levels of quality.  (2) If the only schools available were public, the kids from the lower class neighborhoods would inevitably receive a poorer education.  It would be unfair to suggest that all the best teachers teach at the schools in the poorest areas, and the richer the parents, the more cultural capital (Bourdieu) they have to demand/receive what is best for their children.  In other words, the parents with the most money will ensure that their kids will receive the best education possible, to the disadvantage of the children of parents with less money who don’t know or don’t think to demand this.

Therefore, even if achieved, equal education comes at a price–its overall quality.

From what I’ve learned from Jenn, private schools in Canada are much rarer than private schools in the U.S. and that public education there is good.  But it doesn’t sound like nor can I imagine the feasibility of the public schools there being as good as the best private schools in the U.S.  The same thing is true for universities.  While we have good public universities in the U.S., most public universities do not compare to most private universities, and the cost of private universities is extraordinary.  However, in Canada, there are no private universities and people just go to whatever public university is closest or whatever public university specializes in what they are interested in.  And a public university costs around $5000 a year (Jenn, correct me if I am wrong).  Whereas a good public university in the U.S. costs around $10,000 a year.

When Jenn expressed dismay at the cost I told her, “But if public and private universities cost less, the value of the education would go down,” to which Jenn replied, “Well, it’s better for everyone to be able to get an OK education than it is for some people to not be able to get an education at all.”  She has a point.*

Indeed what is unfair is the racialization of the socioeconomic classes.  If we could somehow get races and ethnic groups to be represented proportionally in each socioeconomic class, then we wouldn’t feel as bad about the fact that there are poor people in the U.S., would we?  And I do believe that task that is not impossible.

Despite this potentiality, as things are equal education is not equally accessible.

Yet, the world wouldn’t work if we didn’t have people to be plumbers and people to be doctors, people to be janitors and people to study atoms, people to sell you your candy and people to argue over the law.

So, do I really want everyone to have an equal chance?  Wouldn’t we have gaping holes in our service sector, in unskilled labor, and masses of the unemployed waiting around the corner to work at Merrill Lynch?

Do we really want to give people equal opportunities to education?  How would our capitalist society function if everyone was on an equal footing?  I suppose even if kids had equal opportunities, there would always be the ones who fell through the cracks, and they and uneducated, adult immigrants could mow my lawn and sell me my gas.  But just imagine what would happen if we could somehow create a fair system or an almost fair system…I can’t even imagine what kind of society that would be.  Certainly we all know that communism doesn’t work, so what exactly would be do with all these educated people?

Getting back to the notion that the quality of universal education would be at least somewhat lower than the quality of the best education currently available, this sacrifice could be worth it merely for the sake of delivering each person what s/he deserves: Equality!  After all, what’s the difference between a good education and an excellent education?  Does it really have any effect on your happiness or on your achievement?  Perhaps it does, in the global competitive market.  But I personally believe that it would do us some good to lose our status as the world power.

In the end, it may be just as disagreeable to live in a society that systematically denies equality to its citizens merely to preserve its own structure as it is to grant equality to its citizens and therefore jeopardize its own structure!

But I’m a little selfish.  I don’t like the idea that my children couldn’t have access to the best possible quality of education.  Even if the best possible makes little to no difference in life, I don’t like that it wouldn’t be available.  Keep the system as it is?  I’ll let someone else figure it out.


*Remember though, which is so hard to do when just looking at numbers, that just because the price of education is high in the U.S. doesn’t meant that everyone pays that much.  The majority of people have scholarships, grants, and take out loans to afford college (and private schools).  And the other thing to remember is that public education can be good in the U.S., but there are far too many public schools that are not.

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