Those Who Can… Should Teach: Capitalism and the U.S. Education System

Lexa Ahmad

Period 2

“Well, that’s a noble profession, but how do you plan on supporting yourself?”  Or, “Well, you better marry well.”  That’s the typical reaction I get when I tell people I want to major in Education in college.    I am always amazed at people who fail to realize that the vast choices of study available to them and the potential of financially lucrative careers that lay before them are the product of the teamwork of good, professional teachers and hardworking students.  It’s no secret that we are a country suffering from a crisis in our public schools.  An extensive study published by the Mckinsey Global Institute, outlines several opportunities for U.S. economic growth and renewal.  One portion of the study examines America’s education system and how it has produced “some of the most underperforming students in the developed world.”1   Not surprisingly, countries with the best student achievement regard teaching as a prestigious, selective occupation and teachers are well-paid and respected.  Interestingly, countries such as Singapore, Finland, and South Korea have more than high performing students and well-paid teachers in common:  none of them is a capitalist society.   So does that mean the United States should rethink capitalism to improve our schools?  I don’t think so.  We should improve our schools so that our children better understand the responsibility of the state and educate our citizens to think long-term gains rather than short-term, short-sighted profits.

For our society to continue to thrive as a capitalist society, we must ensure our citizens are educated in their responsibilities in our government, and we should also ensure constituents understand the government’s responsibilities to its citizens.  I imagine if you were to ask most U.S high school students why we have a government, they would have a difficulty answering that question.  They would likely have many reasons why they believe the U.S is a superior country, but they would not be able to answer what they should expect from their government and what their government should expect of them.  In Politics, Aristotle maintains that political societies exist for the sake of noble action.   It seems that in our current materialistic, individualist-based capitalist society we have forgotten that basic idea.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with capitalism and free markets; however, if a society loses sight of why their government exists, any form of government can be disastrous.    Aristotle’s assertion that “a state exists for the sake of a good life” is not sweet, Hallmark card sentiment.  Recognizing why we exist as a society is critical for the success of our capitalist society.  If we agree that we are responsible for engaging in noble actions whether we are laborers or chemists, then we must also agree that providing a quality education to all of our members of society is important for our success.  If we believe that, we should value and invest in educating our society which requires dedicated, intelligent teachers.  We must educate our society to believe that what you do for a living is not as important as ensuring that whatever you do is accomplished with the goal of noble actions.  I am a senior in high school and have been educated in the best Catholic schools in Dallas, but this is the first time I have been taught this from a government perspective.  We learn it from a religious perspective, but that is not enough.  While behaving in accordance with our faith is certainly important, children should also learn that living a life of noble intentions is their responsibility as a citizen of this democracy regardless of religious considerations.

So, would we be better off with a socialist or communist society?  According to Marx, we would be.  If Marx were to examine the problems of our American education system, he would likely argue that the bourgeoisie does not care if inner city children do not have the same educational opportunities as the private-school-tuition paying upper class.   Sure, these private schools, teach the importance of charity and helping the less fortunate schools, but the fact still remains that leaving the campus of a prestigious private school and going to an inner city school in the same city can seem as if you are entering a different country.  Why is that?  This problem exists because we have lost touch with the Aristotlean belief that our society exists for the sake of noble action.  There is no noble action in sending children who are already economically disadvantaged to schools that have little ability to allow them to reap the benefits of a capitalist society and rise above their economic situation, if that is their goal.  Also, we certainly cannot argue that having inequities in our educational system is promoting the “good life” that Aristotle suggested.

Two years ago, I volunteered with The United Way to help spruce up an inner city elementary school.  As we drove up to the school, I asked my mother why there was barbed wire on top of the school fence.  The school looked like a prison more than a school.   When we walked inside, I felt sick.  Five- and six- year olds walked down these bleak halls on their way to their classes.  This was not my early childhood experience.  My classrooms were freshly painted with colorful displays on the walls, and I walked those halls with the expectation that I would learn things and that I would feel hopeful and excited in my classroom.  If as a capitalist society we attempt to justify why it is acceptable for an inner city school to be vastly inferior to a suburban or private school, we are proving Marx to be right. However, even though I have grown up with endless opportunities and have parents who have raised me with the hope of a successful future, I do not feel like I am the bourgeois class that Marx describes.  I fully recognize that I am not a superior human, and I know how fortunate I am.  I also know that when children go to school they should not have guard rails on their path to success that keep them on the slow track.  I cannot imagine a more noble profession to enter in to than education.  However, I also realize that the fact that so many people question my choice shows that our society truly does not understand the responsibility of citizenship.

Marx would also argue that our schools are meant to keep the poorest in our community in their lower social class.  Public schools are typically funded by the district’s tax base.  So, it makes sense that schools in affluent communities would have better infrastructure and better teachers.  When attempts are made to disperse the funds more equitably, affluent citizens are outraged at the socialist idea of public schools truly being equal.  Why is that?  As a society we have a responsibility to educating our citizens equally.  There can be no less noble intention than to purposefully pre-determine that a child born to poor, uneducated parents simply does not deserve a level playing field.  Of course, schools are more than the quality of its infrastructure, technology, books, and teachers. Parent and community involvement is also essential.  While the government may not be able to dictate parental or community involvement, the government can ensure that all students have access to the same level of education and go to school in safe environments that promote learning.  Our current educational system in the U.S. might seem to be definitive proof that capitalism does not work as well as communism in this area, but I don’t think that is the case at all.  A Communist society that has completely equal schools but has no freedom of thought in the classroom is certainly not the answer.  Again, that Communist society could work well if the dictator, the government, and citizens conducted themselves valuing the noble actions that Aristotle suggested.  It is easy for Capitalist to understand the importance of noble actions when it comes to dictators.  Capitalists argue that communism is inherently bad because dictators become obsessed with power and make decisions that do not promote the notion of noble actions.  However, as Capitalists we do not always recognize the importance of our motives in our own form of government. The solution to our education problems is not related to our form of government; instead, it is related to our collective motives, or our lack of noble actions in this area.

So, in 2015 I will begin my education in the hopes of becoming a teacher who dedicates her life to solving this issue in whatever way my talents and energy will allow.  When people give me that “isn’t that sweet” condecending look when I tell them what I plan to study, I will not allow it to diminish my self-worth or second guess my choices.  If my peers and family members do not understand why I choose this college major, I will just assume they did not have good enough teachers who helped to educate them on why and how we should exist as a society.
1 Ro, Sam. “What Teacher Pay Looks Like In The Rest Of The World.” Business Insider. July 18, 2013. Accessed December 9, 2014. http://www.businessinsider.com/countries-where-teachers-get-paid-more-2013-7#ixzz3LSZBBSoO.

2 Cohn, Jonathan. “Paying Teachers Too Much? Or Too Little?” New Republic. March 7, 2011. Accessed December 8, 2014. http://www.newrepublic.com/blog/jonathan-cohn/84780/teacher-pay-international-comparison-usa-korea.

Works Cited:

Aristotle. Politics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

Cohn, Johnathan. “Paying Teachers Too Much? Or Too Little?” New Republic. March 7, 2011. http://www.newrepublic.com/blog/jonathan-cohn/84780/teacher-pay-international-comparison-usa-korea.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party,. New York: International Publishers, 1948.

Ro, Sam. “What Teacher Pay Looks Like In The Rest Of The World.” Business Insider. July 18, 2013. http://www.businessinsider.com/countries-where-teachers-get-paid-more-2013-7#ixzz3LSZBBSoO.

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