Sunday, February 21, 2010

Common Affirmative Argument No. #1: Education

A common affirmative argument that is coming out is the idea that education has been crippled by cooperation and would be aided greatly by an increase in competition. Primarily the argument here is that public schools (funded by the government and thus somehow tied to cooperation) are failing and that an increase in competition through vouchers would increase the efficacy of public schools. We'll examine this one at a time.

Public schools are marked by cooperation.

Public schools, which are funded by taxes or other government revenue, are hardly the only kind of education system that structurally relies on cooperation. Private military academies (Virginia Military Institute for instance) rely heavily on structural cooperation. Catholic schools are obviously structurally built in a cooperative manner. Private schools demand cooperation between teachers and faculty. I know of no school that is organized structurally by competition.

Public schools are terrible.

Not exactly. American students are famous for being less educated, especially on a public level. But in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, American students do quite well. In 8th and 4th grade math we have traditionally scored above the international average. Also on the university level, University of Michigan, a public university, is ranked 19th in the World's Best Universities by US News & World Report. In addition America ranks 2nd, according to the OECD, in a list of the world's best educated adult populations.

American education is worse comparably because it is government funded.

Hardly. Among the top 20 universities in the world, 4 are public universities (U of Edinburgh, U of Michigan, ETH Zurich, and the Australian National University). In addition all the countries that score consistently above the US in the OCED average, fund the majority of their education through public funds.

A cooperative learning style harms education.

This too seems false. First of all, life requires interdependence among strangers and friends. So an education that stresses these things accurately prepares you for life. Secondly, the empirical evidence denies this.

"Dr. Theodore Panitz was a popular educator whose courses filled with eager students, but he had a problem. When the time came to test the students' understanding of mathematical concepts, they struggled. His own investigation led Panitz to the discovery that his teaching method was building up his own powers of problem solving -- not his students'. What was the answer to this baffling problem? Cooperative learning!"

"Looking back, based upon the research I have since read, I am not surprised," stated Panitz. "I was doing all the critical thinking by writing and explaining the concepts, strengthening my own brain synapses -- not the students'!"

"The realization that his teaching technique reinforced his own knowledge but did not build his students' understanding caused Panitz to seek another method. At that time, he also began a doctoral program in education at Boston University. The program introduced Panitz to the benefits of cooperative learning."

"The underlying premise for cooperative learning is founded in constructivist epistemology," Panitz explained. "Knowledge is discovered by students and transformed into concepts students can relate to. It is then reconstructed and expanded through new learning experiences. Learning consists of active participation by the student versus passive acceptance of information presented by an expert lecturer. Learning comes about through transactions among students and between faculty and students, in a social setting, as they construct a knowledge base."

"The key to cooperative learning, not surprisingly, is cooperation. According to Panitz, " Cooperation is a structure of interaction designed to facilitate the accomplishment of a specific end product or goal achieved through people working together in groups. Cooperative learning is defined by a set of processes that help people interact in order to accomplish a specific goal or develop an end product that is usually content specific."
Education World. Cirriculum Article by Cara Bafile in 11/03/2000.

More competition between private and public schools would improve America's public schools.

False. Firstly, increased competition between schools will cause administrators to withold information that would improve the academic standing of their competitors for fear of losing their competitive edge. Secondly, increased competition is unlikely to result in better public schools. While no doubt those children going to private schools will receive a better education, according to Lisa Barrow of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago and Cecilia Rouse of the National Bureau of Economic Research and Princeton University, they will not incentivize public schools to do better.

"The authors review the existing literature on the impact of school vouchers on student achievement. They conclude that expectations about the ability of vouchers to drastically improve student achievement, at least as measured by test scores, should be tempered by the results of the studies to date. Also, there is very little evidence about the potential for public schools to respond to increased competitive pressure generated by vouchers."
Social Science Research Network.  Economic Perspectives, Vol. 32, No. 3, 2008. "School Vouchers: Recent Findings and Unanswered Questions" by Barrow and Rouse.


1. The unique link between cooperation and public schools is tenuous. Private schools of all kinds require structural cooperation.

2. American education is now the nightmare it is portrayed to be.

3. American education is not outpaced by other countries on the basis we have public funds for education.

4. A cooperative learning style increases the learning ability.

5. Increased competition between private and public schools through vouchers will not improve either.

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