Here is the video clip and transcript of the film series FREE TO CHOOSE episode “What is wrong with our schools?” Part 1 of 6.
Volume 6 – What’s Wrong with our Schools
Friedman: These youngsters are beginning another day at one of America’s public schools, Hyde Park High School in Boston. What happens when they pass through those doors is a vivid illustration of some of the problems facing America’s schools.
They have to pass through metal detectors. They are faced by security guards looking for hidden weapons. They are watched over by armed police. Isn’t that awful. What a way for kids to have to go to school, through metal detectors and to be searched. What can they conceivably learn under such circumstances. Nobody is happy with this kind of education. The taxpayers surely aren’t. This isn’t cheap education. After all, those uniformed policemen, those metal detectors have to be paid for.
What about the broken windows, the torn school books, and the smashed school equipment. The teachers who teach here don’t like this kind of situation. The students don’t like to come here to go to school, and most of all, the parents __ they are the ones who get the worst deal __ they pay taxes like the rest of us and they are just as concerned about the kind of education that their kids get as the rest of us are. They know their kids are getting a bad education but they feel trapped. Many of them can see no alternative but to continue sending their kids to schools like this.
To go back to the beginning, it all started with the fine idea that every child should have a chance to learn his three R’s. Sometimes in June when it gets hot, the kids come out in the yard to do their lessons, all 15 of them, ages 5 to 13, along with their teacher. This is the last one-room schoolhouse still operating in the state of Vermont. That is the way it used to be. Parental control, parents choosing the teacher, parents monitoring the schooling, parents even getting together and chipping in to paint the schoolhouse as they did here just a few weeks ago. Parental concern is still here as much in the slums of the big cities as in Bucolic, Vermont. But control by parents over the schooling of their children is today the exception, not the rule.
Increasingly, schools have come under the control of centralized administration, professional educators deciding what shall be taught, who shall do the teaching, and even what children shall go to what school. The people who lose most from this system are the poor and the disadvantaged in the large cities. They are simply stuck. They have no alternative.
Of course, if you are well off you do have a choice. You can send your child to a private school or you can move to an area where the public schools are excellent, as the parents of many of these students have done. These students are graduating from Weston High School in one of Boston’s wealthier suburbs. Their parents pay taxes instead of tuition and they certainly get better value for their money than do the parents in Hyde Park. That is partly because they have kept a good deal of control over the local schools, and in the process, they have managed to retain many of the virtues of the one-room schoolhouse.
Students here, like Barbara King, get the equivalent of a private education. They have excellent recreational facilities. They have a teaching staff that is dedicated and responsive to parents and students. There is an atmosphere which encourages learning, yet the cost per pupil here is no higher than in many of our inner city schools. The difference is that at Weston, it all goes for education that the parents still retain a good deal of control.
Unfortunately, most parents have lost control over how their tax money in spent. Avabelle goes to Hyde Park High. Her parents too want her to have a good education, but many of the students here are not interested in schooling, and the teachers, however dedicated, soon lose heart in an atmosphere like this. Avabelle’s parents are certainly not getting value for their tax money.
Caroline Bell, Parent: I think it is a shame, really, that parents are being ripped off like we are. I am talking about parents like me that work every day, scuffle to try to make ends meet. We send our kids to school hoping that they will receive something that will benefit them in the future for when they go out here and compete in the job market. Unfortunately, none of that is taking place at Hyde Park.
Friedman: Children like Ava are being shortchanged by a system that was designed to help. But there are ways to help give parents more say over their children’s schooling.
This is a fundraising evening for a school supported by a voluntary organization, New York’s Inner City Scholarship Fund. The prints that have brought people here have been loaned by wealthy Japanese industrialist. Events like this have helped raise two million dollars to finance Catholic parochial schools in New York. The people here are part of a long American tradition. The results of their private voluntary activities have been remarkable.
This is one of the poorest neighborhoods in New York City: the Bronx. Yet this parochial school, supported by the fund, is a joy to visit. The youngsters here from poor families are at Saint John Christians because their parents have picked this school and their parents are paying some of the costs from their own pockets. The children are well behaved, eager to learn, the teachers are dedicated. The cost per pupil here is far less than in the public schools, yet on the average the children are two grades ahead. That is because teachers and parents are free to choose how the children shall be taught. Private money has replaced the tax money and so control has been taken away from the bureaucrats and put back where it belongs.
This doesn’t work just for younger children. In the 60’s, Harlem was devastated by riots. It was a hot bed of trouble. Many teenagers dropped out of school.