Speech to Students
I hope you had a good vacation; now it’s time to get in a straight line and listen to your teachers. Welcome to kindergarten.
The president’s address turned out to be apolitical, as promised — it was all about paying attention in class and doing your homework, the kind of stuff they tell little kids at the start of any school year. I didn’t hear any socialist indoctrination, and although I take issue with the assertion that it’s the government’s responsibility to set standards for everyone, that idea was only mentioned in passing.
One striking feature of the speech was its emphasis on going to college — and on going to a good college. I say “striking” because the competitive post-secondary education market stands in sharp contrast to the k–12 public school system. We take it for granted that students will choose a college, which may be either public or private. There’s no expectation that people will attend the college closest to their home. And, while the importance of rankings is a contentious issue, it’s widely accepted that some schools are better than others and that students should try to get into a good school.
However, for younger students, the prevailing attitudes are different. Many people assume that parents aren’t capable of choosing good schools over bad — a comment I often receive when I write about choice within public education. Children in the wealthiest families are encouraged to go to a good high school, or even a good kindergarten, but it’s a foreign idea for children on the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum. Those children will go to a school determined by their street address.
America’s colleges and universities thrive under a competitive system. When politicians encourage students to aim for college, they should also think about how to make k–12 schools more like the successful post-secondary schools.