How important should the issue of education be to the left? I’d say very important indeed: the provision of more and more widely-distributed educational opportunity is absolutely central to the life-chances and economic mobility of the working and middle classes, for whom the left presumably stands. Making early childhood education available for all is part of this, as is more effective elementary and secondary education and much easier access to a college education.
Raising the quality and quantity of educational attainment helps individual workers but it does much more. Broad diffusion of knowledge and skills is a powerful countervailing force on rising inequality, as Thomas Piketty has noted. And the role of rising societal skill levels in promoting economic growth is well-documented.
So what’s not to like? Oddly, there is considerable reticence on this issue, with many arguing that education is over-rated, doesn’t pay off for too many students and anyway doesn’t solve the “real” problems that the honest workers and peasants of America face. Of course, these arguments are typically made by highly educated people who would move heaven and earth to get their kids into good school systems and colleges.
I was therefore pleased to see this excellent piece by David Leonhardt. As he notes:
“Given the passions of the Trump era, this isn’t the moment to settle for the modest, technocratic education proposals that Democrats often favor. It’s a time for big, ambitious ideas.
In education, that means universal preschool, which would address both inequality and child-care needs, and universal tuition-free community college. A century ago, the United States led the world toward universal high school, and today’s economy demands more than a high-school diploma. Community colleges are part of the answer, and are also a common pathway to four-year degrees. Importantly, free tuition there isn’t a huge subsidy for the upper middle class and the affluent, who typically start at four-year colleges.”