All Commentary
Sunday, December 1, 1963

The Educational Crisis

EDITOR’S NOTE: In 1957 a group of distinguished citizens were ap­pointed to the Alabama Education Commission to survey the educa­tional needs of the state. When their report was submitted in 1959 to the Legislature, numer­ous public hearings were con­ducted by various legislative com­mittees. The “public,” for the most part, widely acclaimed the conclusions of the Commission; and the Legislature then ap­proved a $100,000,000 bond issue, the proceeds to be used for education. The only known public testimony against the procedure was by a businessman from Mont­gomery.

In 1963 the State Legislature enacted a series of tax measures designed to yield about $45,000,­000 additional each year “to meet the pressing needs of education.” In view of these developments in Alabama, more or less typical of procedures in other states, it seems appropriate to reproduce here the essence of Mr. Santan­gini’s testimony as presented in 1959.

That a crisis exists in education in the State of Alabama is at once apparent. Less obvious, how­ever, is that this crisis is not so much financial as it is moral. The people of this state soon will be called upon to make a choice on this matter. They can either assert their belief in the dignity of the individual, accepting the natu­ral corollary of this belief—re­sponsibility; or, they can indulge in the delusion that the problems of life, education being one, can be delegated to political authority. Our national history provides ample evidence of the rewards reaped by society, and therefore the individual, when the choice has been to assume personal re­sponsibility. Conversely, history records quite clearly the disasters suffered by those who chose the second way. Since there are no other alternatives, the decision should, in a sense, be simple.

Individuals must realize that their own well-being, and that of their families, depends on their own efforts; or, they must be will­ing to become subservient to an all-powerful authority, with all the disgrace and degradation that implies. The indignity is no less at the local and state level than at the federal; there is just a little less authority connected with it.

This, then, is our crisis today, and a moral one it is. It cannot be swept under the carpet. It is dis­tressing to observe, therefore, that the current discussions on educa­tion are being conducted as if the state only (the taxing authority) and not the individual has the an­swers to the numerous problems in that important field. With such limited vision, little wonder that well-intentioned men face frustra­tions as they seek solutions.

Let it be clear that these ideas are advanced, not as pat solutions, but with the thought that they may stimulate other and better ideas. After all, three million working minds should be much better than one. With regard to financing college level education, which primarily concerns us here, it is my belief that if the people of this state really want strong education for our young people, this can be achieved economically and in relatively painless fashion without requiring the services of armies of educational bureaucrats. This will be discussed later.

The Commission’s Survey

First, however, a question con­cerning the Alabama Education Commission which was organized in 1957 to survey the educational needs of Alabama. It has been as­sumed that this body, consisting of distinguished and dedicated citizens, did its job so thoroughly that its findings and basic recom­mendations could be accepted as the final word on this subject. Granted that a mass of statistics was assembled, and that much ef­fort went into the job, the ques­tion remains, “Was the effort channeled in the right direction?” Was the assignment conceived of as a simple mathematical relation­ship between numbers of students to teachers to classrooms to school buildings, all adding up to X num­ber of dollars? Or did the commis­sion probe deeply into underlying causes, followed by an exhaustive search for courageous rather than expedient solutions? Did it require such an exhaustive study to arrive at the conclusion that more of everything—primarily money—was needed?

There is not much evidence that serious consideration was given to any proposal for financing needs, other than additional taxa­tion. This can hardly be consid­ered a compliment to the Commis­sion. Naturally enough, its rec­ommendation that additional rev­enue be raised through taxation has received loud endorsement from those who feel the need and who would benefit most. It is in­teresting and important to note that at the public hearing, the pub­lic was conspicuous by its absence, while all the vested interests of education were out in force. Un­der these circumstances, it could hardly be expected that anything short of highest acclaim should have been rendered the report, and that it should ultimately be considered sacrosanct by all those having occasion to refer to it.

Even though the Legislature in its effort to chip away at the prob­lem has decreed that better than $100,000,000 shall be drained from the purses of the public, it is a certainty that the roots of the troubles have remained untouched and much more will yet be heard about this. Let us see, therefore, if there are not other ways to tackle the task at hand.

Constructive Suggestions, Based on Belief in Freedom

The suggestions which follow have their origin in a funda­mental belief in a free society for free men, the belief:

1. That he who benefits from a service should be the one to pay voluntarily its cost.

2. That with one or two obvious exceptions, such as the police and military functions of defending life and property with justice to all, there is nothing that govern­ment can do which cannot be done better and much more efficiently by private individuals.

Can these ideas be applied, practically, to higher level educa­tion in this state? If the will is there, then the answer is, “Yes, and quite simply, too!” A four point program is advanced as an example of what might be done:

1. All students, or parents, should be required to pay the full cost of their college education. That is, if it costs the school, say, $1,000 a year per student to provide education, then this is what the student should pay.

2. A system of loans admin­istered privately or by the school, but in no instance by a public gov­erning body, should be available to take care of those young peo­ple who find themselves both ready for college and unable to pay for it out-of-pocket. These loans can be repaid on all sorts of different terms.

3. The alumni of the different schools can raise funds for vari­ous desirable projects of alma mater.

4. Scholarship aid as at present.

Who Benefits?

Now, let us examine these, point by point. Who benefits from a college education? The individ­ual, of course, and his immediate family, secondarily. Then why should these people not pay the bills? Is it not a parental obliga­tion to do all possible to set aside funds for the education of one’s own children? At a time when the legislature is talking in terms of $100,000,000 for higher education, we have the most preposterous situation imaginable on our col­lege campuses: While the Univer­sity and Auburn are charging perhaps $200 or $300 to provide educational services which really cost $1,000 or more per year, the campuses are clogged with autos driven by students — cars which cost the equivalent of one or two years’ education. One can add many other examples of students indulg­ing in high living at the same time the institutions which they attend are begging money for operating expenses. If John Q. Citizen, suc­cessful businessman, can afford to pay the $1,000 a year, or some portion of it, why should he not do so?

But let us not limit payment of costs involved to the well-to-do. With as high a standard of living as we enjoy in this nation, it is within the means of most any family to provide an educational nest egg by the practice of pru­dence, thrift, savings, and sacri­fice. How many years of educa­tion (at full cost to the school) would that new boat, motor, and trailer have bought? Or that new air conditioning system, car, fur­niture, extra special vacation, you name it?

On the other hand, there are those who are sending their sons and daughters to private colleges within and without the state. Why should they be required to pay twice?

Again, the alternatives are sim­ple and crystal clear. Either the citizen understands and dischar­ges his own responsibilities, mak­ing whatever personal sacrifices are necessary, or he shrugs them off and lets the state take charge, the way of socialism.

There are those who would have you believe that unless the public treasury is tapped, via the legislature, then the wheels of ed­ucational progress will grind to a halt, hordes of “deserving” young people will be deprived of an op­portunity (they call it “right”) for advanced education, and as a consequence of this, society will suffer. Without in the least deny­ing that sound, inspirational ed­ucation can be a powerful force for good, I would answer, first, that history would seem to sup­port the observation that better and more wide-spread education for the populace has followed and not preceded an advance in eco­nomic and political development. Witness our own country! Then compare with India, whose social­istic economy poorly serves the population, though many individ­uals in India today have had higher education.

Second, the illusion persists that the public treasury is the only source of large funds. It should be obvious that these mon­ies first belonged to the people, before they became political prop­erty. The only, and disastrous, difference is that the individual has been deprived of choice in the expenditure of this money; dis­bursement is accomplished by po­litical and bureaucratic edict, in­stead. This may seem fine to those who believe in the nostrum, “From each according to ability, to each according to need,” but the conse­quences of that abominable dictum should also be understood plain­ly. This is not the doctrine ac­countable for economic progress in our society.

Third, on the question of “de­serving” students being deprived of educational opportunity, I’m convinced that public authority cannot be expected to be all things to all men. More importantly, I know of no way to help those who refuse to help themselves, be it in the field of foreign aid or do­mestic education. Many a man has helped himself answer this specific problem, some under the most severe handicaps, financial and physical. Where there is a will, there is usually a way. As a free society progresses, so do its methods of coping with problems such as this.

Student Loans

My second suggestion pertained to student loans. For the student who lacks all or a portion of the money needed for his years in college, then a loan fund admin­istered either by the school or a private group can be established to make appropriate loans, at pre­vailing rates, with arrangement for repayment after completion of formal education. Anyone who would object to this type of self-assistance could hardly merit the description—”deserving.” In my opinion, here lies the solution to the “problem.”

Fund Drives

Point three—alumni fund drives—requires no explanation. Given a motive, and spurred by a conviction that their financial ef­forts would be matched in prudent decisions by men of wisdom, the alumni of this state would, I am certain, raise funds in amounts calculated to make any old grad carry himself a bit more proudly.

Fourth, scholarship aid is self-explanatory.

What would be the impact of such a program on the colleges of this state? What results can be projected? Well, no one could pos­sibly know! For the truth of the matter is that this program frees individuals and institutions from the shackles of the state. To the collectivist, this may be a most unpleasant state of affairs. But those who believe in the moral validity of a free society know that, even though unpredictable, the end results would be exciting and wonderful.

This much, however, is known. The quality of instruction would improve considerably, and courses which now make a mockery of some college curricula would dis­appear. Where a man is faced with a decision to spend a dollar which he has earned and sweat for—not one which has been tossed his way—then he will de­mand maximum satisfaction. He who renders the service for which the dollar is exchanged must therefore perform at his max­imum capacity—otherwise the dollar goes elsewhere. This is fair exchange. One’s own reasoning can carry him from this point to some very interesting specula­tions.

Does He Pay His Own Way—Or Does He Not?

I began by stating that our present crisis was not so much financial as moral. I have pres­ented a simple program designed to cope with some of the financial problems involved. Each of the points I’ve mentioned requires a decision by an individual! For benefits received, does he pay his own way—or does he not? There it is! The answer given by the individual will determine the type of society in which he and his children will live.

For the moment, at least, good judgment has been abandoned; in my opinion, neither the Alabama Education Commission nor the Legislature warrant commendation. The Commission apparently narrowed its vision, starting with an inaccurate assumption and ar­riving at a conclusion which was faulty. The Legislature also failed to exercise responsible judgment and fiscal responsibility, placing upon all people of the state a fi­nancial burden of which they have yet to hear the last. Having failed to get to the root of the matter—$100,000,000 notwith­standing—the people of this state are probably destined for a repeat performance not too many years hence.

Left to their own devices, peo­ple can be extraordinarily wise. Contrary to the notions of the planners is this warning from the Constitution of the State of Alabama: “The sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the en­joyment of life, liberty, and prop­erty, and when the government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression.”