Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Free College?

Why do we have public education?  Seriously.  Why?  And why provide it essentially from age 5-18?  Again, it is a serious question.  Obviously, it is not free.  We provide teachers who incur salaries and benefits in buildings that are particularly expensive.  Then there are books and supplies.  All of which cost serious money (even if less than one might reasonably expect)... money that comes from the general public in the form of taxes.  We don't tax only those who are parents... why?  Why should I pay taxes to send someone else's children to school?  I'm finished raising children.  I paid for mine (and my own extended education).

I pay taxes to support education because I want to live in a society wherein the citizens are educated at least enough to be contributing members of society.  We provide education for our children because we require at least a minimally educated population or things get very ugly very fast.  So why through age 18?  I would argue that education has historically been provided in the amount required for an individual to be a productive member of society.  For a long time - during the agricultural age, 8th grade was enough.  That meant an individual could read and do enough math to be sure they weren't getting cheated when they sold a cow at market and that they could make reasonably informed decisions at the ballot box after making judgments regarding the claims of politicians.  We provided that for every child in every family and the broader society absorbed the costs.  An individual family that wanted to send their child further could do so on their own dime but the minimum was provided "free."  A child with an 8th grade education could become a fully functional and contributing member of society.  He or she could have a family, a home, and make a contribution.

When the industrial age took hold and life became more and more technical, 8th grade was no longer enough.  More complicated math was often required.  The world was becoming smaller so citizens needed to be able to reason a bit more to understand international issues.  One needed to read better to be able to understand manuals for complicated machinery.  As a society we added 4 years to what was provided "free."  It was clear that 8 grades was not enough but 12 seemed to meet the requirements.  A high school diploma was enough.  Again, a family that wanted to send their children to college or technical school could do so, but society both required and funded through high school.  An individual with a high school diploma could make a good living, raise a family, be a part of society...

A high school diploma is no longer enough.  The vast majority of jobs available to an individual with only a high school diploma could just as easily be done by a machine and it takes more training than just high school to run those machines.  We also live in a world that is becoming more and more complicated and ignorant populations do not make wise decisions.  Either college or technical education after high school is required for an individual to become a fully functional member of society.  If we as a nation do not provide those educational requirements, we run the risk of having a larger and larger underclass without any ability or hope of ever becoming a fully functioning member of the society.  That is a recipe for disaster.

So... Bernie Sander's call for "free" public education is not a pie in the sky dream.  It is a requirement for a healthy society.  "But it is so expensive.  Where will we get the money to pay for it?"  We get the money to pay for the things we think are important.  When the government decided we needed to go to war in Iraq & Afghanistan, almost nobody asked how we would pay for it.  When my county decided they needed a new county jail, questions of money came up but almost nobody seriously said, "let's leave the criminals on the streets."  So where do we get the money?  Raise taxes?  Perhaps.  Cut the military?  Perhaps.  Make it happen one way or another?  Absolutely.

Now how about the folk who incurred huge debts at exorbitant interest rates in order to become fully functioning members of society - taking on costs that the broader society took on in the past?  I would argue that at the very least, the government should take over the private loans and convert all student loans to 0% interest.  They aren't charging that much more than that to big banks that borrow money from the government... why not free a generation of young adults from that burden, allowing them to truly become fully functioning?

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