Sunday, September 3, 2017

Adam Smith On The Value Of Public Education

Way back in 1776 Adam Smith argued that public education provided a valuable asset to the state.  It not only provided workers with knowledge and skills, which were essential for the economy, it was essential for good citizenship.  Educated citizens would be able to properly evaluate the performance of government and they would less influenced by superstitions and misinformation.  This must seem like an obvious point today.  However,  conservatives, particularly in the Southern states, opposed public education for many years.  Even today, the funding of public education, and the preparation of teachers, differs substantially between our states.  Moreover, the level of education that is required to participate fully in a modern state like the US goes well beyond acquiring basic skills.  Smith reserved higher education for those in higher ranks in 1776.  He did not anticipate the modern economy and the development of a democratic society.  The GI Bill Of Rights which enabled returning soldiers to attend college, and the state university system, contributed enormously to the development of the US economy and to responsible participation in a democratic society.  Public funding for higher education today has been reduced while the costs have increased dramatically.  Student debt in the US is a drag on the economy and family formation.  We have also seen how the less educated segment of our nation is vulnerable to the influence of demagogues and forms of propaganda that are facilitated by the social media.  Our system of government and our modern economy is more education dependent than it has ever been to our future.

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