#163 Who Owns Education?

Child frustrated with education logo behind

The Christian worldview calls for a market in education that provides students with a passport to freedom.  


“Education is the key to unlocking the world, a passport to freedom.”  I noticed that quote from Oprah Winfrey on the wall of the Nashville airport recently, while Ginger and I were there for the recording of the theme song for the Christian Economist, titled Earn a Profit.  More about the song some other time.  Today, my subject is education and who owns it. 


God’s Frameworks

First the phrase, “unlocking the world.”  She is absolutely correct, and I agree.  I’ve often said that my hope is that my students at Dallas Baptist University will say, “Professor Arnott helped me understand my world.”  And, I’m just the messenger.  The information comes from so many authors.  Just a small example: In the first chapter of the Strategic Management book I use, the authors have listed 132 citations.  That’s just amazing.  Think about all the information that gets sifted and sorted, and categorized into just that ONE chapter.  There are 15 chapters in the book, and students take almost 40 courses to earn an undergrad degree.  Let’s see: 132 x 15 x 40 = 79,800.  Do you realize the power of those frameworks?  The authors scour the landscape of writing and research on a subject and distill it into simple frameworks that explain the world to students.  What a fascinating example of a market, with thousands of suppliers of information.  I unpack more on this topic in podcast #108 titled God’s Frameworks.

Now, the second part of the quote, “…a passport to freedom.”  According to Ms. Winfrey – who earned a degree at Tennessee State University – education belongs to the student who earns it.  Because, like education, passports are granted by an institution, TO the recipient.  And what do they grant the student?  Freedom.  Perhaps the most common phrase I use as The Christian Economist is, “The intersection of Christianity and Economics is freedom.” 


Intellectual Capital

I mentioned to my Econ students just this week, that people who think the US can’t sustain 3% GDP growth are not exercising the Christian worldview.  We are creative because we were made by our creator, in His image.  That creative image has not left us.  It’s still there.  Whether it gets applied, depends on the positive and negative motivations expressed toward it, by governmental regulation.

Here’s a formula for the value of a firm, from my Strategy book:  Market value – book value = Intellectual capital.  Ok, so the market value is the share price times the number of shares.  Again: Virtually every one of the 7.7 billion people in the world has an opportunity to VOTE on the daily value of a stock.  You multiply that times the number of shares to obtain market value often called market capitalization.  Then you consider the book value: That’s the value of the hard assets when they were added to the firm.  The difference between those two?  That’s what’s between the ears of the people who work there. 

In his book Wealth and Poverty, George Gilder makes it very clear that the value of a firm derives directly from the information contributed by its employees.


The Education Monopoly

In contrast to the previously cited market where the intellectual capital of thousands of people are poured in, the fallen nature always wants to reduce that market to a monopoly, and that’s what we have in lots of public education today. 

An article in the WSJ this week titled “School Choice Victories: And a Loss,” discusses ways in which two states are trying to break the public school monopoly.

In Arkansas the state Senate passed a bill for education savings accountsThe bill would provide funds worth roughly $6,500 per student, or 90% of the core amount the state provides to districts per public school student. The funds can be used for private school tuition, home-schooling curriculum, and more.

Next door in Oklahoma, a school choice bill sailed through the state House. The legislation offers a refundable $5,000 tax credit per student for parents with children in private tuition. Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt praised its passage. “We’re injecting some competition into the education system and that’s a good thing.  Well, of course competition is a good thing.

I point out in podcast #58 Why the US Can’t be Socialist like Sweden that every family in Sweden gets the equivalent of what we would call a voucher to send their children to any school they choose.


Competition in Education

The general assumption is that we educate children so they will know how to thrive in the uncertain world that’s ahead of them.  That was the same purpose of the directives found in Deuteronomy 6, when the Israelites were preparing to cross the Jordan into a new land they would possess.  Picking it up in verse 5, it reads, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  Jumping to verse 7 now, “Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”  Ok, that seems to endorse home schooling, not public education.  See, from the Christian economics viewpoint, there is great power in a MARKET for education, as called for in the Deuteronomy citation. 

State funded education does not function as a competitive business.  But it should.  You see, in a fallen world, we believe competition pushes against the fallen nature.  Education must be submitted to the rigors of the market, where everyone gets a chance to vote.  How can the same people who praise the voting rights act of 1965 be AGAINST educational choice, which is an economic form of a vote?

Thomas Sowell wrote a book on the subject titled Inside American Education.  The subtitle tells more about his views, The Decline, the Deception, the Dogmas.

In 1609, Galileo dragged the governor of the city state of Venice up the 323 steps of San Marco tower to show the support he had found for the heliocentric view, that the sun was the center of the solar system, not the earth.  Here’s the plaque you see at the top of the tower.  Because MY predecessors: Priests in the Catholic church, found that to be in conflict with their view that the EARTH was the center, Galileo was sentenced to house arrest for the rest of his life.  No offense to the Catholic church, because my role as a professor today is roughly equivalent to the priest’s role as the holder of information.  Problem is: They had a monopoly on information, and this time, they happened to be wrong.  So, instead of referring the question to the MARKET for information, they used their monopoly to suppress Galileo’s idea.  That’s what public education does today, it suppresses market-driven information.

The Protestant Reformation brought about competition in religion that has served the church very well.  It’s explained in more detail in a landmark book by Eric Metaxes that was written for the 400th anniversary of the reformation, titled simply Martin Luther.


Private Property

I have been citing the assumption that an academic degree is the private property of the individual degree holder.  But the recent development in student debt forgiveness poses the question: Who owns that degree?  In podcast #137 titled Student Loan Forgiveness, I point out that when they were challenged about the legitimacy of debt forgiveness, the Biden administration used the defense of publicly disclosing the names of their political enemies who received Coronavirus support for their firms.  That the two are not at all allied is not my point.  My point is that the administration used a government hand-out as a threat against the recipient.  So, how will the government use the student debt forgiveness scheme?  They’ve already shown their tendency to attempt to embarrass recipients of government largesse.  So who owns the degree that the government paid for?  The government.  Children do not grow up with “Property of the US Government”, stamped on their shoulders.  Nor should we allow the government to control education, along with the powerful teachers’ unions.

Why is there such a strong historical correlation between Christianity and education?  I personally have taught at Dallas Baptist University, a Christian university, for thirty years.  It’s because we believe the INDIVIDUAL must make the choice to accept or reject God’s invitation of salvation.  And to do so, the individual must understand the choice.  They must be able to read the Scriptures for themselves.  In contrast, subpar education is a requirement of totalitarian rule.  The irascible comedian George Carlin from my generation, said it this way, “Governments don’t want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking.  That is against their interest.  They want obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork.  And just dumb enough to passively accept it.”