If competition is good for education, how about the police?

Police and community
We expect the police to be close to the population that they serve to create order and peace. Photo Credit: class M planet via Compfight cc

If competition would improve public education, would it also improve police services?

Certainly with issues of public policing continuing to rise throughout the U.S. from Ferguson, Missouri to Baltimore, Maryland, the question about how to improve policing is rising along with concerns.

But we have not heard much of anything about creating private competition for publicly-funded police departments as a way of improving them.

If, as school choice advocates maintain, competition is good and transformative for public services like education, why not for the police?

Creating order in a society easily drawn to chaos

We look to the police to maintain order.

The best police departments are made up of members of the community they police. They represent the brightest and the best of what society can produce.

Our modern violence-centered media saturation causes us to assume that the most important thing a police officer carries is a gun. 

It isn’t.

It’s the badge.

The badge design usually has a symbol of the city that issues it, and for good reason.

The symbol of the city reminds anyone who views it that the officer’s commitment is to the city and those in it.

And those who wear it are reminded that they neither represent themselves as individuals, nor small fragments of the city they serve.

They represent the whole of the public in that city.

That’s why creating competing police forces have not been tolerated. Those whose job it is to promote order have a singular purpose that should not be fragmented by competing police companies seeking public favor and choice in order to serve their investors. 

Most people would say, “Of course we don’t have competition for police departments. That would create a lot of wasted overlap of services that would also create confusion in the population.”

And most people would not trust a private police agency that competed with other agencies for the profit of their owners. That’s why even though we have plenty of private security companies out there, we don’t trust them with the essential policing of the population.

That particular trust is reserved for those who are paid with tax money that is spent in a fully transparent way, and absolutely controlled by those who the people elect to be in charge.

As each officer carries the badge of their city, they represent the whole of the population.

That’s why any story about cops gone bad is so fascinating. We don’t expect it. We clearly believe that working for one’s personal gain by being “on the take” or for a criminal mastermind is a heinous breaking of the public trust.

The police function in a city is too critical to public order to be trusted to this private, investor-owned company or another.

And so in cities like Ferguson or Baltimore, the response is not “let’s create private competition”. It’s “let’s get to the bottom of the problems, fix them, fully fund the police, and create order in that city again.”

Does competition in education create order?

One of the key arguments of school choice thinking is this: The problem with public schools is that they are a monopoly and have no competition.

So, school choice advocates’ solution is to set up as many charters as anyone can imagine, and let competition – the market – sort out which ones should institutionally live and which should die.

Parent choice is a part of that equation. Parents would have a choice of schools no matter where they live and public schools would be a part of that competition.

Economist Milton Friedman came up with this idea in the mid 1950s the year after the famous Brown vs. Board of Education decisions broke up the legal foundations for segregating public schools in the United States.  He was quite open about his desire to destroy public schools. And he proposed doing that with voucher systems.

I have written extensively about these ideas and my objections are spelled out in these posts: School Choice and the Fear of “Those People”, How School Choice Turns “We” Into “Me”, So You Want Evidence of Choice and Charter Problems?, Cynical School Choice Stunts Ramp Up In Oklahoma

Having been in the public school classroom for 16 years and seeing the process up close,  I hold that public school is a public service that the public counts upon to maintain an educated, informed population.

That, in turn, creates a certain degree of order. It allows our society to have a common understanding of all of the academic subjects, but especially of how democracy works.

Our teacher corps over the centuries has not just stuck information into the heads of individuals. We have given students a sense of group order in a democratic society where at least a majority must cooperate with each other.

When public schools fall apart, then disorder follows as we see in so many of the large urban areas where attacks on the credibility of public school teachers as persons, and the schools, has resulted in less funding and a cascade of further problems.

The same school choice advocates who siphoned off money from these discredited, under-funded, demoralized urban schools then paint them as dystopias that need to be destroyed.

Could it be that de-funding and unraveling of public education in the urban areas has put too much pressure on the police as the sole source of order? Could that be some of the dynamic of the current struggle of the police to keep u? I believe so.

Public schools create order

The only reason we don’t think about public schools in the same way that we think about managing and funding our police is that well-funded think tanks and politicians have kept up a consistent drumbeat of attacks since Milton Friedman first started the process in the 1950s.

And in places like Ferguson and Baltimore, as schools have been defunded and tax money sent into corporate school “black boxes” of non-accountability, the surrounding society has become more fragmented and disjointed.

Just take a close look at the oldest school buildings in these cities. Their architecture is magnificent and powerful. They are located in central, obvious places. It is meant to represent the best that the community can produce and a commitment to the whole of the next generation.

It is clear that those buildings represented the pinnacle of order and good in those communities.

We know…

Deep down, we know that competition in public education will create fragmentation, segregation, and disorder.

But we continue the debate, because that’s what the “haves” in our society want.

They want their children to be segregated from the “have-nots”. They want their children to grow up without having any thought to question their own economic class and their twisted values.

It isn’t because of reason, principle, or concept.