Monday, November 11, 2013

Who should control the content of school curriculum?

I've been having to narrow my focus a bit lately due to a severely impacted schedule. Working full time, writing full time, and going to school full time is not as easy as it sounds. I also have a big trial coming up, and I'm not expecting that to loosen up my schedule either. I've been working on a very large narrative, some 230,000 words and growing, and I decided I would really like to finish it this year. That has meant putting other things, including this blog, on the back burner. Nevertheless, I will attempt to keep updates coming, though they will likely be taken from my other foci. The Microscope will be finished, but I won't be able to pick it back up until I have a real abundance of time again (perhaps Christmas break?). For today, I thought I'd post an adaptation of a short little ditty I did for a class discussion board, for a great political topic:

Who should control the content of school curriculum?

            The question of who should control the content of school curriculum is, according to my understanding of education, very deep and not answerable in a direct fashion. Education, like any other service in the economy, is a product (a joint product to be sure, but a product nonetheless). If we replace “content of school curriculum” with another product, say an “the features of an automobile,” the depth of the question becomes a bit more exposed. Additionally, we have the qualification of “who should,” begging a case for justification beyond “who does.”
            Let’s look at the automobile example. Who does control the features of the automobile? The engineers who design it? The executives who give those engineers a mandate for design based on their marker research? Or is it the consumer who votes with their dollar on what features they want and at what price? The answer, is all of these, but in the relationship between the three it is the consumer who has the most power, because without his money neither the company manager nor the engineer can get paid.
Imagine that the same arrangement were like schools. The money would be taken forcefully from the consumer, the executive would compose a list of demands for what he thinks the consumer ought to want, and the engineer would attempt to meet these demands within the confines of a set amount of excised money. At the end of it, the consumer would be handed the automobile everyone else thinks he ought to have, and if he dislikes it, his only option would be to purchase a different one at additional expense, keeping in mind he has already paid for the first car, and also lose access to the one into which he has paid. If he lacks funds to do so, he cannot buy another car. Moreover, he is required by law to not only pay for the car, but to drive it for 13 years.
Democracy is little help in this situation. If you are truly dissatisfied, the consumer can rally support from others like him, and after four years hire a new executive with new promises to change the automobile. He may get more of what he wants, but what about the minority who loses the election and gets even less of what they want? Ultimately, this is why products in a free market serve everyone without the need for political intervention. Everyone gets what car they want, or what education they want for their children.
So, who should control the school curriculum? Ultimately, families should, who are in both the best position to determine the needs of their children and the best position to communicate those needs to administrators (the executives in the above example) and the teachers (the engineers). They may do this the way consumers control all other products: choice. Now, this is an opinion; if you do not believe in freedom, and think either the executives or the engineers should design the product the consumer ought to want, then the consumers should remain disinvested of power, but I believe in freedom. Freedom in choice produces a diversity of products, and I think diversity in education is precisely what is needed, for indeed we have a very diverse country.
This opinion was influenced by the great Milton Friedman, a nobel-prize winning economist (and also a teacher), who proposed a model of school choice back in the 1962 work Capitalism and Freedom. I’d like to post a link to his 1980 PBS series, based on a book he wrote with his wife Rose called Free to Choose. This episode deals with education choice. It’s worth a watch even if you don’t believe in school choice, as it offers up debate in the second half of the program.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Stu's Bro has an Amazing Idea


STU (30), an attractive man with short hair and a beard, sits at his computer, looking from monitor to monitor. He looks tired and drinks a diet Rockstar in between spurts of frantic typing. Empty cans litter the floor and free spaces on the desk. His phone rings. He smiles as he sees who it is.

         Sup bro?! Haven’t heard from you in 


STU’S BRO (27), a slightly overweight young man wearing a sports jersey and a backwards hat, sits at a filthy computer playing World of Warcraft. Empty pizza boxes and cigarette butts litter every surface of the dark and dingy bedroom. 

                     STU’S BRO
         Yeah life is busy. You know how it is.

         Yeah? What have you been up to?

                     STU’S BRO
         Same ‘ol same ‘ol... work and Warcraft. 
         Dude! I’m totally gonna get glad this 

         That’s cool, I haven’t been that into 
         PVP since TBC.

                     STU’S BRO
         Yeah, dude, did you transfer off the 
         server? I totally never see you on 

         Um... no, but I haven’t had an active 
         WoW account in like a year and a half.

                     STU’S BRO
         Oh. Totally thought I saw your priest 
         on the other week. What have you been 

         Working. Working really hard. Me and 
         Aenon wrote some screenplays, I’m 
         working on a bunch of other stuff 
         too. A novel... haven’t had crap for 
         time to play WoW.

                     STU’S BRO
         It’s all good. Pandas are gay as hell 

         Are they? How do they reproduce?

                     STU’S BRO
         That’s a good one, dude. Anyway, so 
         you’ve been writing? Cool. When are 
         the movies coming out?

Stu’s Bro gets up and walks to his kitchen. While talking on the phone he rummages through the fridge for food.

         The industry doesn’t really work that 
         way. First you have to--

                     STU’S BRO
         You making good money though, right?

         Not really. See, it’s a long process--

                     STU’S BRO
         So why do it? 

Stu looks confused.

Stu’s Bro picks up a jug of milk and opens the top. He smells it, makes a face indicating that the milk is clearly sour, then puts it back in the fridge.

                     STU’S BRO (CONT’D)
         So, I have this great idea for a 
         Um, okay.

                     STU’S BRO
         It’s science fiction. Does that sell?

         Yeah, scifi is big.

                     STU’S BRO
         Cool. So, I’ll basically set it up 
         really simple. There’s these aliens, 
         right? And we’re like invading their 
         world, like its humans that are the 
         invading evil aliens, bro.

         So Starship Troopers.

Stu’s Bro finds an old pizza box with a single slice left in it. He puts it on the counter, and while talking, approaches the trash can.

                     STU’S BRO
         No! Check it. There’s this one dude 
         that doesn’t buy the official story. 
         He makes contact with the aliens and 
         finds out they’re actually totally 
         cool, like primitive, but totally 
         cool. They’re like, in touch with 
         nature, like humans used to be.

The trash can is full. He places the pizza box in a pile of rubbish next to the bin.

         So, they’re like Native Americans?

Stu’s bro picks up the pizza slice and begins eating it.

                     STU’S BRO
                (with his mouth full)
         Yeah, totally.

         They already made that movie. It’s 
         called Avatar.

                     STU’S BRO
         No! This is different.

         Nobody is going to remake Avatar.

                     STU’S BRO
         Okay, then get rid of the Aliens. 
         Just make it Indians or something.

         That movie’s called Dances with 

                     STU’S BRO
         Never heard of it.

Stu looks shocked.

         Well, good luck with that. Let me 
         know how it goes, I’d be happy to 
         read your first draft for you.

                     STU’S BRO
         No, I was thinking I just give you 
         all the details, and you write the 
         screenplay, then we split the 

         I don’t think so.

                     STU’S BRO
         Why not?

         Hmn. Do you have any idea how much 
         work it takes to actually write a 

                     STU’S BRO
         Dude, I’ve seen screenplays. 90% of 
         the page is blank space. Ea-sy. It’s 
         the idea that’s valuable!

         Not really. I already have a queue of 
         like eight story ideas of my own that 
         I still haven’t gotten to, and none 
         of them are remakes of overrated 
         movies featuring Smurfs.

                     STU’S BRO
         Yeah, but none of them are million 
         dollar ideas, either!

         Alright, fine. Why don’t you write up 
         the details in a treatment and e-mail 
         it to me?

                     STU’S BRO
         Bro, if I could write, why would I 
         need you? Sorry man, I think my queue 
         just popped. Gotta go!

Stu’s Bro hangs up the phone. Stu facepalms.