One of the biggest arguments for a public school system is that it ensures a homogeneous educational environment for our voters. But there is no test for voting, so even totally stupid people, who flunked third grade over and over again, can still vote. Which means our political system is primarily set up so non-elected groups (the Electoral College and our higher courts) can override the stupidity that emerges from voters.
I don’t even know why we talk about the US as a democracy, because we are a very, very limited democracy. Ancient Greece is the closet thing we’ve seen to a pure democracy, and it only worked because the voters were so homogeneous. Diversity makes pure democracy impossible.
So public school does not actually create the educated and homogeneous electorate necessary for a democracy.
Then what does it provide? Class mobility?
America used to have a fluid class system. There was so much land that you could pick up and move somewhere where you could get land for yourself, and increase your status. But now there is no land. Or, there is land that’s free, but it’s in really awful places that have terrible Internet and no McDonald’s and people don’t want to live there.
So, it would be great if the public school system could ensure class mobility, but that’s not the case either. And we don’t have any evidence that we could ever fix that. Our nation is too diverse for us to actually use education to create a level playing field. There is nothing we can do to get non-Asian kids to test as high as Asian kids do.
The only path to social mobility is via the family. Schools have nothing to do with it. Which begs the question, why do we spend so much money on public school?
If we stopped with public education we’d have to start answering some tough questions:
1. Who will take care of children? Right now we do not value childcare so no one wants to do it.
2. Who will show poor kids a path out of poverty? The best way is to get their parents out of poverty. We have good data on how to do that. Jobs. But we don’t create jobs because we don’t want to be a welfare state. So we say. But I’d argue that public education is just another version of the welfare state. It’s just misusing the money. Then you can have the real discussion we should have been having all along.
3. What should we do with the middle class? Should we let the middle class dissolve into the just-above-poverty sector, or should we redistribute money from the rich to solidify a true middle class? That’s the real question: should we use public-school funding to create a three-class system or a two-class system?
These are not questions so easily answered. But the question of do you need public school in order to have democracy? That’s an easy answer: no.