Free to Choose by Milton Friedman: Episode “What is wrong with our schools?” (Part 5 of transcript and video)

Here is the video clip and transcript of the film series FREE TO CHOOSE episode “What is wrong with our schools?” Part 5 of 6.

Volume 6 – What’s Wrong with our Schools
Are your voucher schools  going to accept these tough children?
COONS: You bet they are. (Several talking at once.)
COONS: May I answer the question?
SHANKER: If they accept those children, I’ll tell you what’s gonna happen.
COONS: Okay, you tell me and then I’ll tell you.
SHANKER: What’s gonna happen is that the parents of all the other children are gonna move right out and go to another school, because ultimately you’re going to have to deal with hardcore problems__
McKENZIE: John Coons.
SHANKER: __ whether it’s in a private school or whether it’s in a public school.
COONS: In other words, that kid isn’t tough in the school that he’s in because he’s stuck there, he’s just a rotten, tough kid.
SHANKER: He may be a kid with a lot of problems, not rotten, a kid with a lot of problems.
COONS: And it will never __ you can’t imagine a situation where if he were given choice, and allowed to go to a school that he liked, and to which he would connect emotionally that he would no longer be a troublemaker, but that he would like to stay in a place where he has chosen and would therefore do what is necessary to stay there and to learn.
SHANKER: You know, I don’t think you’ve been near schools or classrooms for a heck of a long time.
COONS: Thanks a lot.
(Laughter and applause.)
COONS: I happen to have five kids who’ve done a lot of time in public and private schools both.
SHANKER: We’re not talking about the problems of your children, though.
McKENZIE: Let’s get around the table, I want to __
FRIEDMAN: No, no. I have to get to this point, because I think it’s a very crucial one. I don’t think Mr. Shanker is saying that you should never use a doctor if you have cancer who hasn’t himself had cancer.
SHANKER Oh, I didn’t say that.
FRIEDMAN: Let’s get rid of the idea that the only people who are competent to judge about whether a school is good or bad is a parent who at the moment has children in that school. The plain fact is that children are not born troublemakers. They do not emerge from the womb __ some of them do, of course, but most of them do not. Most of the cases of the tough kids in the schools you’re talking about are tough kids because they’re lousy schools. Because the schools do not evoke their interest. Because the school does not __
SHANKER: You’re dead wrong. You’re dead __
(Several talking at once.)
McKENZIE: Now wait a minute now, Greg Anrig on this one. Milton, let __
ANRIG: It’s not often I have a chance to tell a professor he’s wrong. With all respect, Professor, the problems that you see in the urban schools of this country are not problems of the schools, they are problems of poverty. And they are problems of what do you do when for demographic and sociological and economic reasons, in a country like ours, you begin to concentrate those people who are poor in the inner and older parts of the cities of our country. That’s when the problem comes, and it’s not just a problem with schools. It’s a problem of housing, of jobs, of medical care, of social services, and the same problems crop up, and to say that the answer to that is take one part of that element and say, just set up a competitive marketplace, is not dealing with the problem. The problem is the problem of poverty.
FRIEDMAN: We’ve dealt with the problem __
SHANNON: I am struck the anomaly. The anomaly that rises out of this discussion of the voucher system. The facts are that government support __ call it subventions, call it direct aid, call it grants in aid, call it vouchers, call it anything, will lead ultimately to government control of the private schools, thus undercutting the alternative nature of private schooling and hurting it at its very source.
VOICE OFF SCREEN: Well, then you ought to look at our initiative.
FRIEDMAN: We’ve had long experience with that on the higher education level. You have the whole GI Bill. Did the GI Bill really lead, fundamentally, to control of all the schools. There’s a fundamental difference between government giving money to an institution, to a school, that does lead to control directly, and government giving money to people to use, the food stamps don’t determine what people buy with their food stamps. They may be a good or a bad program, that’s not my point. My point is that don’t underestimate the crucial difference between making money available to parents to spend as they choose to exercise their judgment, and making money available to institutions like schools, which they spend subject to all the conflicts which they have with school teachers and others.
ANRIG: You use Dartmouth as an example, and I think the concerns that I have about the voucher systems, the various ones proposed, is not with the one applicant that can get accepted to Dartmouth, but with the eight applicants that don’t get accepted to Dartmouth. What’s going to happen to those __ or that group of youngsters. You can have a situation in the free marketplace where everybody takes the cream, but what about the youngster that doesn’t measure up? What about the youngster that’s a risk? It seems to me that some of the greatest leaders of this country were people that would have been rejected by Dartmouth, and most of the Ivy League schools.
McKENZIE: Let’s get other views on this, then we’ll come back to you, Milton.
FRIEDMAN: No, no. I just want to comment, because I have to comment on two points, the one he made earlier about poverty and this one. But on this one. Dartmouth is one of the best examples of the private schools. UCLA is one of the best examples of the state schools. That’s why we chose it. There are many other private schools which are not as selective and do not __ are not available to people who can’t make the Dartmouth cut. There are many other public schools, state schools, that are less advanced than UCLA and the California system. There are all sorts of grades of schools. But the difference between the two is the same at lower levels. Now I do want to make one comment going back to your poverty thing; and that is that, first of all, other programs in this series deal with the issues you’ve raised. But, second, do not underestimate the role which bad schooling, provided by our present governmental mechanism has played in creating poverty. It’s been a major source, particularly among black and white teenagers coming up in the slums, it’s been a major source of their difficulties of getting out of the trap of poverty. So it’s not a one-way relation between poverty and the schools, the schools themselves bear a great deal of responsibility.
SHANKER: Well, the reason the schools bear it, and it isn’t the schools directly, it’s that we don’t put enough resources in for children who need special and additional help because they are not getting it in their homes or they’re not getting the same sort of support in home and community as middle class kids do, and then we wait until the child is 16 or 17 and drops out, and then we provide a youth employment program for them where we spend between five and ten thousand dollars to try to undo what could have been undone in the first, second and third grade if we had a decent investment in the public schools.
FRIEDMAN: I have never yet known anybody who was trying to defend a government program who didn’t say all it’s evils came from the fact that it wasn’t big enough. Now the facts are __
SHANKER: Would you think the children with problems need the same amount of education __
SHANKER: __ the same amount as children who don’t have special problems?
FRIEDMAN: No, but I just want to tell you some facts. The number of students in schools has been going down. The total expenditures on schools, allowance being made for inflation, after allowing for inflation has been going up. The number of pupils has been going down, the number of teachers have been going up, and by all accounts the quality has been going down.
SHANKER: But I have to explain __
(Several talking at once)
McKENZIE: Milton, just a minute. I want to hold you __ Mr. Shanker, Mr. Shanker. We got onto higher education and I don’t want to leave it without getting the rest of Milton’s thoughts on it. In particular, you seem to be coming to say at the end of the film that the right answer is a system of realistic loans where people, therefore, know what it’s costing, rather than trying to hold down college fees and that kind of thing.
FRIEDMAN: Absolutely.
McKENZIE: Yeah. And__
FRIEDMAN: I think that the higher education is the most disgraceful example on the record. I know of no governmental program that seem to me is so unfair and disgraceful in imposing costs on low income people to benefit high-income people. We in the upper and middle income classes have conned the poor in this country to supporting our children in going through college and university and we don’t __ and we scream to the treetops about how disinterested and how public-spirited we are. We ought to have a system under which everybody who wants to go to college can go there. He has to pay his own way, either now or later on, and the schemes I have in mind, if we developed them more fully, and as I have in other contexts in other areas, are along the line of the educational opportunity bank, that Professor Zacharias of MIT and a commission appointed by President Johnson came up with as a way of enabling students to finance their own higher education without facing the problem you raised of ending up with a large dollar debt.
ANRIG: I do think __
McKENZIE: Dr. Anrig.
ANRIG: With some trepidation, Professor, I raise a question of taxation. That is that I agree that we need better loan systems than we have, but as I understand the American tax system in general, as a generality, it is a graduated system.
FRIEDMAN: Absolutely.
ANRIG: It is an equalizing system.
FRIEDMAN: Absolutely.
ANRIG: And to reach the conclusion that the __
FRIEDMAN: No, no, it is not. It’s on paper, but you’ve got to look at the facts.
McKENZIE: Let him make his point, yes.
ANRIG: Well, I’m trying to __ it is a system which the wealthier get __ or the middle class get taxed more than somebody who’s making a lesser salary. To say then that the poor are funding __
FRIEDMAN: That’s true.
ANRIG: __ public higher education, where middle class youngsters and by the way a lot of poor youngsters go as well, it doesn’t fit with my understanding at least of the tax system. Now I’m not an economist, I admit it.
FRIEDMAN: Well, it turns out that there have been some very careful studies made of exactly what you’re describing. There’s one particularly careful one for California. There’s one for Florida. These show __ it’s not a minor item, that if you take the total receipts from expenditures on higher education going to the lower classes, and the total taxes they pay that are used for higher education, the lower classes are paying more than they’re getting, and the higher classes are getting more than they are paying for.
(Several talking at once.)
FRIEDMAN: Now I myself am a beneficiary of this subsidy. I’m one of the worst cases on record. I went to a state school, Rutgers University. I went on a state scholarship. The poor suckers in the State of New Jersey paid for my going to college. I personally think that was a good thing, there are many people who have different opinions about that. (Laughing)
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