Is It Possible to Help the Poor with Government Funding of Education?

I’m all in favor of giving the poor direct cash transfers, such as the Negative Income Tax or Citizen’s Dividends.

But the more I think about education the more I wonder if government funding of education is not part of the problem.

Certainly the existing system of education, managed by teachers and bureaucrats for teachers and bureaucrats, is morally illegitimate.  Thus I am for “school choice,” including charter schools, educational vouchers, and tuition tax credits.

But when I think about Seagram, and many other students I’ve seen like him, I wonder:  How do we really give these young people better lives?

At a conference once I met an African-American ex-con, a big, tough, uneducated guy who, after prison, had devoted himself to creating an after school program, financed by local churches, designed to help inner city boys avoid gangs and develop the discipline, determination, and focus they needed to become successful adults in the world.  He was a hero:  A great human being with a big heart, a clever mind, an undeniable passion, and the kind of person that it would be very, very hard to disappoint.

But as I spoke with him and learned from him I also noted in my mind:  THERE IS NO F#^%*@*@** WAY THIS GUY COULD EVER START A CHARTER SCHOOL OR GET A GOVERNMENT GRANT!  An uneducated ex-con?  Yeah, right.  But maybe these are the kind of guys we need to make a real, deep, lasting, valuable change in the lives of most inner-city African-American boys.

Personally, my rule in education is always:  “Do what is right.”  If the law doesn’t let you do what is right, break the law.  If the funding mechanism for education won’t let you channel funding to the good guys, then to hell with that funding mechanism.

But imagine if the government funded uneducated ex-cons:  Public relations disasters – and some of them would be 100% real disasters.  That is why ultimately the ONLY way to get really great human beings, the right really great human beings, in front of young teen boys is if private organizations, church or otherwise, dependent on donations, provide the financing.  A particular organization picks the wrong uneducated ex-con, the one who recruits for gangs rather than taking them away from gangland?  That organization gets no more donations.  The organization that picks and funds heroes?  It flourishes.  Not always and in every case, but on balance these outcomes are far more likely in such a system.

Most do-gooders would be horrified at the notion that government funding itself is part of the poison.  But they are not the ones with the sons dying in the streets.

Is an after school program enough for our heroes?  Is an hour or two of optional activity after school enough?

Or does government funding of education GUARANTEE that many inner city young males, who urgently, urgently need good role models, do not have them when they most need them?

About Michael Strong

Co-founder, Ko School + Incubator, Conscious Capitalism, Radical Social Entrepreneurs, lead author of Be the Solution: How Entrepreneurs and Conscious Capitalists Can Solve All the World's Problems, author of The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice.
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