Education is once again in the spotlight and what this light reveals has generally not been very good. Since the general consensus is that education is “broken”, I will not endeavor to argue for that point. Instead, I will look at the role that luck plays in the American education system.
I am not taking luck as some sort of metaphysical force on par with the ancient Greek concept of Fate. Rather, I’m using the term in a fairly general sense to stand for what depends primarily on chance rather than choice.
One obvious role that luck plays in education (and life in general) is the matter of birth. A person’s parents and their economic status have, obviously enough, a huge impact on a person’s educational future. While the role that the parents play in the education process is important, the factor I will focus on is the matter of economic status.
As a matter of fact, the quality of schools tends to vary in proportion to the wealth of the surrounding community (with some notable exceptions). Parents generally know this and often attempt to move into the neighborhoods that serve the best schools. Obviously enough, parents who lack the money needed to live in such areas will generally lose out on getting their kids into the better schools. This will begin the process of shortchanging their education and this will most likely lay down a weak educational foundation.
Money also allows parents to send their kids to private schools, an option that is generally not open to poorer families. While private schools are not always better than public schools, parents can buy a good education for their kids provided that they have the money and do some research. For the kids this is, obviously enough, all a matter of luck-being born into a family that has enough money to buy a good education either directly (private school) or indirectly (by living in the right area).
The solution to this is obvious enough: make all public schools good, that way luck/chance is less of a factor in the quality of education that American children receive. Of course, the idea of making things equal and fair might be regarded by some as a sort of creeping socialism. After all, if all the schools were equally good, people might start thinking that other inequalities will need to be addressed. Perhaps that is why certain folks are against true education reform: they can see where it might lead.
Another way in which luck plays a role is clearly an example of chance. I recently learned that some of the best public schools actually have a lottery system. As such, getting into such schools is (supposed to be) entirely a matter of luck. While this can be seen as a random sort of democratic approach, it hardly seems like a very good approach. While having some good schools that people want their kids to attend so badly that a lottery is needed is better than having none, but it seems unjust to leave something so important to random chance. The solution, as before, is to work so that all schools are good and thus eliminate the need for a lottery to divide up scarce resources. Of course, this is easy to say but hard to do. Obviously, we are busy dumping vast sums of cash into two other countries and our war machine, so it is hardly surprising that funds are a bit short for such endeavors. However, we might find that as well are trying to build up Iraq and Afghanistan, that we are sliding down ourselves-at least when it comes to education.
Of course, the problem of education cannot be fixed merely by throwing money at it. Many of the fixes would actually save money or cost little. But, more must be said about the solutions.