“There’s nothin’ worse than a monster
who thinks he’s right with God.”
–Firefly captain Malcolm Reynolds, episode 13,
seen on Netflix last night with Young Son
Closing the computer down for the night later, I spotted this in my feed reader:
“I guess all I want at this point in the debate
is a little intellectual and moral honesty.”
–Conservative Christian homeschool dad Ben Bennett,
Admit It, Liberals, You Hate School Choice
And this morning the Sunday NYT business section has just given me Cornell economics professor Robert H. Frank’s thoughts on gauging the pain of the middle class with The Toil Index:
Context matters because the brain requires a frame of reference to make any evaluative judgment.
Yep, just like a frame of reference to define the difference between monster and man.
Rising inequality has shifted the context that governs. . . the cost of achieving basic goals, like sending one’s children to a good school. School quality is an inherently relative concept, too, and good schools tend to be in more expensive neighborhoods.
The toil index rests on the positive link between a neighborhood’s average housing price and the quality of the school that serves it.
This link implies that the median family must outbid 50 percent of all parents to avoid sending its children to a below-average school. Families that failed to rent or buy a house near the median of the local price range would have to send their children to below-average schools. The only alternative to seeing their children fall behind is to keep pace with what others are spending.
How long must the median earner work to achieve that goal?
The answer is discouraging: most of us are working much longer hours than our parents did, to keep that same relative foothold on average house in average neighborhood with good-enough public schools. The Toil Index has risen 62% since 1970 when I was the middle-class schoolchild and our mothers began working for pay along with our fathers.
Read the column for more on that idea.
But right now, rather than grappling yet again with how monstrously the very rich and powerful have systematically screwed the rest of us, I’m wondering if the economics professor (much less the self-righteously disaffected dad yearning to be free of us all) understands exactly how money makes relative school quality.
School quality isn’t made of the money spent in the school, not even the money directly applied “in the classroom” — no, the money coming into the homes and neighborhoods of the school’s students most clearly correlates with student achievement.
So the most meaningful context for understanding this “positive link between a neighborhood’s average housing price and the quality of the school that serves it” is realizing it’s not a link between two things, but one thing plus an echo or reflection. Wouldn’t it be more “intellectually and morally honest” to approach school quality issues less as related to neighborhood income, than AS neighborhood income?
Location, location, location!
The economist’s take on the relationship between income, the work to achieve it and the school success of a family’s children is useful but there’s a contextual hole in its translation to public school policy. The competitive opportunities we tend to believe that quality education creates for all regardless of income, really aren’t — they are not quality, not competitive, not true opportunities. And certainly not for all.
In that context, maybe the disaffected homeschooling dad turns out to have the better real-world strategy. To improve his own children’s achievement relative to everyone else’s kids, he demands more money coming in for his own, less money going out for other workers’ homes, neighborhoods and children.
He’s not wrong if our sole context is Charlie Sheen’s winning.
But I’m sitting here trying to think of any other context in which that’s not monstrous.