Victory for student athletes at the Supreme Court today, a modest one but one that opens the door to bigger changes.
A while ago I noted that I sometimes fall into the trap of casually equating more education to earnings because it’s an easy way to show that education matters, economic returns accrue to those with more, etc… And I pointed out that most people, myself included, don’t work in education because they want to make everyone richer in a purely financial sense, but rather because they see inequitable education as a blemish on America, think that giving people choices in their lives is intrinsically valuable work, reasons like that. Money helps create choices, sure, but it’s not the full point.
Returns to education is a default because it’s understandable. But also probably because we’re bad about talking about values even though they are all around this work. For instance, consider this announcement of a task force in Virginia to look at more culturally inclusive food in schools. The governor, or probably his comms team, understandably felt compelled to link the issue to learning. But really, who cares? Isn’t culturally respectful food, in an institution a diverse set of kids are basically coerced into, just the right thing to do? In other words, even if there is no academic benefit*, we should still make available for kids, foods that align with, and don’t offend, various faiths shouldn’t we? At least I think we should. That’s a value.
Meanwhile, this approach of linking everything to an academic outcomes makes it easy for critics – who can say ‘you’re seriously talking all about X in a state with achievement gaps and outcomes like this one?’
They’re not wrong about the pervasive problems. And we should obviously talk about academics. The various ways we fail to give kids an equal shot at success is a national scandal. But it’s not an “or” with other values, and it might be easier to make that clear if we just talked candidly about things that are values issues more directly, whether or not they have a clear line of sight to academics.**
And more generally we might just talk about values more given how much they underpin the debate – on all sides.
*I tend to think there will be one, at least at the margins, but that’s not the point here.
**School choice is a great example, where we see various outcomes from choice programs but a conflation (and often tendentious one) of various issues. For instance, parent satisfaction is higher in choice programs but suddenly for some folks satisfaction doesn’t matter at all. Or, conversely, academic gains are more modest in choice schemes and suddenly those aren’t the coin of the realm. It would be refreshing to again hear more people just say, “I think all kids should go to school together in a democratic society” or “in a liberal society people have to be able to choose a school for their children that fits their values.”