Warm breath inspires local economy. The concept inhales. It exhales, emitting a little carbon dioxide and perhaps a bit of neighborly halitosis. It is spiritual because local economy is an idea as much as an actual place.
But let me play hooky from free market whimsey for a moment. Let’s step into a real world created by strong two-legged men. It is a world of long, low concrete and a vast administration of nonbiodegradeable material.
For thousands of families the government school is the real world. They have no alternative. No options exist. Forced to pay for the system, they yield also their children to make things balance out. By custom and rumor, they come to trust the Hamilton County Department of Education. This state-run medium-sized company is a service provider with an incomparable market advantage: Its product is free.
The blessings of bigness
From ages 6 and up, 45,000 young people enroll in an institution whose scale is its pride.
“The school district’s facility plan calls for hundreds of millions more in new building needs, including a long-awaited replacement for the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts” and other facilities, the Chattanooga Times Free Press said Sunday.
“There’s enough need that we could monopolize hundreds of millions of dollars if it were available,” Gary Waters, a school official, is quoted as saying. “You could make a good case for everything on that list.”
The newspaper tells about a F$21 million plant, Ooltewah Elementary, that will be the largest school for younger children in the county “in both sheer size and capacity.” It will let 1,100 pupils jostle together in 40 classrooms. Teachers will be able to flop onto couches in any of four lounges. There will be two gyms. A kiddo dropoff runway parking lot is big enough for 400 cars to snake by bumper to bumper. “The front hallway of the H-shaped school stretches 600 feet — the length of two football fields.”
What’s not to love in grand — in free? The school will open at capacity. Another site planned nearby for 2014 for F$22 million might not be enough to quench demand, spurred by nearby growth in housing construction that carefully follows the free goods. So important is market consolidation that the school cartel is skipping maintenance of 80 buildings that need an estimated F$200 million in repairs.
Are public schools part of local economy?
County government has “invested” F$170 million in new schools over the past five years, and this sum is not enough to pay for everything, the newspaper says.
The school system consumes F$312 million a year, sucking into the county F$39 million from Uncle and F$126 million from Nashville. That’s outside lucre for local people. Don’t you care about local people? a voice nags, trying to give me the giddy feeling I’m supposed to have. Shouldn’t they be able to make a decent living running this system for the public? They are providing a service for families. Local families. Do you have something against local families? The mom is now free to enter the workforce; do you have an objection to that?
Against public schools, local economy seems trifling, nugatory. Local economy seems paltry.
Sure, we have McCallie, GPS and Chattanooga Christian and other free market entities. We have homeschools. But on the small scale, the idea of local economy in education is way too peculiar, far to individualistic and exceedingly religious. I am a perfect example of the fault and puniness of local economy in the art of teaching and child rearing. I am a superintendent of a school — a homeschool — and work for free. An amateur, my wages are love and a real reflection of my beliefs and my perspective in my children’s hearts. County Supt. Rick Smith is paid F$167,000 a year for superintending the lives of students and 6,000 employees, and far from being lucripetous,‡ he deserves every penny. I am paid nothing except in the coin of human relationship and familial affection. I will receive a reward, but one not countable toward a dollars and cents tally of my estate.
The people of Hamilton County will be served by — or to? — public schools into the foreseeable future. Hometown folks are not ready for genuine choice. They quell their dissatisfaction. They make no clamor for a sustainable and service-oriented system that only the genius of the free market creates. They are not ready for a human scale in education. So they must share in the fluttering of the heart as they goggle the monolith.
‡ Lucripetous — eager for gain, money loving. (I want to thank Peter Bowler for The Superior Person’s Book of Words, [Boston: David R. Godine, 1979, 1985] over which I have been hee-hawing for the past day.)