Free to Choose by Milton Friedman: Episode “What is wrong with our schools?” (Part 6 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 6 of 6.

 
Volume 6 – What’s Wrong with our Schools
Transcript:
FRIEDMAN: But I personally think it’s a good thing. But I don’t see that any reason whatsoever why I shouldn’t have been required to pay back that money. Individuals pursuing their separate individual interests also provide public benefits. Of course I think that the public benefited from my getting an education, but the primary beneficiary was me. I was the one who got the benefit from it. I was the one who had the higher income.
COONS: We know you benefited from it.
FRIEDMAN: I know I benefited, I don’t know about the public.
McKENZIE: I’d like others of you to react to the idea of moving from state education at the higher level, which is based upon low fees in state universities, in favor of a loan system. This has been hotly debated in many other countries, too. What’s your own feeling about that?
COONS: Being a tenured professor at a state university I suppose you’ve really put me on the spot. I hope none of my friends are listening. But I tend to agree in general with Milton Friedman that we ought to find a way to open up to all classes, all income classes the kinds of opportunities that the middle class have at my university. And I cannot give you __ we don’t have time to go through all of the kinds of ways in which we would do it, but I would just personally, it seems to me we ought to let people come free at the beginning and pay it back out of their income over their life span, so if they make a lot of money, they pay back a lot of money. Perhaps we can run the whole university in the future on their success, to which we contributed with our teaching. And if they don’t make any money, they don’t pay anything back, and that’s okay too.
FRIEDMAN: And you ought to share in the losses if they don’t.
SHANNON: I can’t think of anything __
COONS: Exactly.
SHANNON: I can’t think of anything that would frighten poor people more than the thought at the end of the four years or six or seven or eight years of higher education, they have this albatross around their neck __
COONS: Only if they’re rich. Only if they become rich.
FRIEDMAN: There’s no albatross __ would you say the same thing about people in this country who start private businesses every year. Many of them lose money. Many of them make money. Would you say that nobody is gonna start a business because he might end up with an albatross? You ought to let people decide that for themselves. What I really want to know is a very different thing. How do you justify taxing the people in Watts, to send the children from Beverly Hills to college? That’s a demagogic statement, but it happens to be empirically a correct statement. How do you justify it?
SHANKER: Well I don’t know how we justify taxing all the people of this country to send the GI’s under the GI Bill, but I’m very grateful that we did it. I don’t know what this country would have done in a postwar period without a huge number of educated people in a whole bunch of fields that opened up after that. I doubt very much that the GI’s would have come back at the age that they were and everything else, and would have decided that now they’re gonna take out loans in order to go to college.
VOICE OFF SCREEN: And a lot of them were poor.
SHANKER: Yes, they were poor, and they went because they had government support to go, and because basically there were a lot of state-supported low-tuition schools, and if you didn’t have the state schools, and if you didn’t have the government support we wouldn’t __ we would have been without those people, and I don’t know what would have happened either to our strength or to our economy.
FRIEDMAN: The history of this country goes back a little bit before 1945. It goes back 200 years. The state schools, universities, were a minor part of the total higher educational system for a long time. That educational system did generate a great many educated and schooled people, a great many people who made great contribution to this country.
SHANKER: What percentage of people went to college before World War II in this country?
FRIEDMAN: The percentage that was going to college was going up and rising. You know __ let me tell you one __ another statistic __ I hate to introduce statistics. But let me tell you one more. Do you know that the percentage of the students at private universities who come from low-income classes is higher than the percentage of students at state universities, at government universities that come from the lowest income families.
SHANKER: Because they are there with government assistance.
FRIEDMAN: Most cases they are there with __
SHANKER: They are there with government assistance which in many cases favors the private as against the public schools.
FRIEDMAN: In most cases they are there with private scholarships that have been contributed by people __
SHANKER: Some of them, some of them, yes.
FRIEDMAN: __ which is all to the good.
McKENZIE: Dr. Anrig on this.
ANRIG: We come back to the point that I tried to make earlier with Dartmouth, the reason the public higher education system developed, the reason that you have the UCLA’s and others is not simple that government went amuck or bureaucrats went that way; but because eight of those students were not getting into Dartmouth, and there was not a place for them. And it was public higher education that opened up its doors to those students. Those are the youngsters that now have an opportunity they wouldn’t have had before. I think on the issue of loans that it’s as with all complex human tasks, it’s not an either/or situation. You need a mix of strategies on the issue of alternatives for youngsters in schools. I think you can have, as indeed you do have, alternatives within public school systems. I think you can have alternatives within schools. I think you can have competition through open enrollment kinds of arrangements. I am fearful, however, always for those eight youngsters than can’t get in to something which is basically selective and exclusive. If you can assure us __
FRIEDMAN: Well, let’s go back __
ANRIG: __ that those eight youngsters all will be provided with equal attention, equal opportunity and equal rights. Then I would begin to be more interested in the alternative.
FRIEDMAN: But I want to suggest to you that we’re not proposing, neither Jack Coons nor I, to dismantle anything. We’re only saying, put up or shut up. Either show that you can produce the kind of education people are willing to go and get, or reduce your size, go out of business. We are only proposing that there be a wider range of alternatives. Now, it is not true __ let me put a different point to you. There are a small minority of people who are problems. Is it desirable to impose a straightjacket on a hundred percent of the people, or ninety percent of the people, in order to provide special assistance or special help to four or five or ten percent of the people? Not at all. I think that there’s a big difference between two kinds of systems. One kind of system in which the great bulk of parents have effective freedom to choose the kind of schools their children go to, whether it’s the lower or the higher level. And there are programs and provisions for a small minority. That’s one kind of a system. That isn’t what we have now. What people in the public school system, people like yourselves do, they do not want to give up the monopoly of the public school system any more than the Post Office want to give up the monopoly of delivering mail.
ANRIG: I think you attribute the monopoly desire to the bureaucrat. And I don’t think that’s right. The concern of the public school is for being sure that every youngster in this country gets access to a public education.
FRIEDMAN: Excuse me. You have had an attempt to introduce voucher experiments around the country. Every one of those attempts, as at Alamrock (phonics) and elsewhere, has been prevented by the opposition of the educational bureaucracy.
ANRIG: Oh, but, no, no, you can’t __ that’s a glittering generality.
FRIEDMAN: That was true in New Hampshire, it was true in Connecticut.
SHANKER: It was not true in Alamrock (phonics) because Alamrock was not what you might call a voucher system, it was a kind of a system of free choice within public schools.
FRIEDMAN: I agree, I agree.
SHANKER: And whether one school did better in its scores, others did worse, and when you measured the whole system when it was all over, the scores were exactly the same as they were before, except that some students had moved to other schools and the grades were better in one school as against another. We do very strongly oppose a voucher system which will end up with public schools being abandoned and thereby destroyed. largely. They will become the schools for those who can’t get in anywhere else, or who are expelled elsewhere.
VOICE OFF SCREEN: So if you had a voucher system __
SHANKER: Because if you compel public schools to educate all children, including the most difficult, and if you have other schools, that have _
FRIEDMAN: It isn’t compelling public schools, it’s compelling parents _
SHANKER: No, no, it’s public schools. The public school cannot say to a parent, “Your child is very difficult. Your child throws things. Your child screams & yells. Your child takes all the attention of the teacher, therefore, get out and go find a private school.” On the other hand, you have hundreds of private schools in this country where when they get a very disturbed child, out that child goes. And where does that child go? The public schools must take him.
FRIEDMAN: But look at __
SHANKER: And that’s what we have. We have one system of schools which cream, and which throw out the most difficult __ you know, it would be like the hospital throwing out all the sick patients and keeping the healthy ones.
McKENZIE: Well, there we leave this week’s discussion. We hope you’ll join us for the next episode of Free to Choose.
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