In a free market society like the U.S., there is a continuous competition for talent and skill. Every business knows that the critical constraint on its ability to grow is competent to people who can get results. Like cream rising to the top, people who can do a good job are hired sooner, paid more, and promoted faster. People who are not competent or motivated are not. No laws can change this. They can only mask it temporarily.
Compassion or Condescension
Compassion can quickly become condescension. Minority groups can become victims of what President George Bush called “the soft bigotry of reduced expectations.” People begin to judge them by lower standards and expect less of them in comparison with others. This is completely unacceptable in America. The way to bring the best out of people is by challenging them-by setting high standards, by demanding their “best game.”
A System Gone Astray
The U.S. education system, once the best in the world (and still the best at the University level), has become a tragedy and a trap for more young people caught in it and unable to escape. In 1947, 97 percent of Americans were literate, reading several books a year, and often each month. By 2004, fully 47 percent of Americans could not read above the seventh grade level. People who have not mastered the three R's by the time they leave school are destined to lifetimes of low income, under achievement, and wasted potential.
Today, African American students test at four grade levels below white and Asian students in the same schools. Even worse, they are not allowed to escape their failing schools, especially in the inner cities. They are trapped into lifetimes of below-average incomes, insecurity, and eventually envy, resentment, and feelings of victim-hood.
Enter the Unions
The first teachers union was formed in the 1950's. In a few years, driven by expediency, the focus of teaching shifted from student achievement to teacher pay and benefits. As Albert Schanker, head of the American Teachers Federation, once said, “When the children start paying union dues, then we'll start caring about the children. ”
Competition is Key
The Economist magazine wrote on June 11, 2005, “The schools the poorest Americans attend have been getting worse rather than better.” This is partly a problem of resources, to be sure. But it is even more a problem of bad ideas. One poll of 900 professors of education found that 64 percent of them thought that schools should avoid competition. The only way to reverse the educational system is to change the structure of incentives in such a way that academic excellence is pursued and rewarded. Without competition, there is no motivation to improve.