Examples of Bold Policy Experimentation in US History
by Vishaal Kuruvanka
January 12th, 2022
Almost every business leader, politician, academic and American agrees that education is key to unlocking the American potential. Leaders that grew up around the mid twentieth century said they were lucky to receive a robust public education in their youth (David Rubenstein, Warren Buffett, Tim Cook, etc.). But most agree that the current system is failing and is unable to meet the needs of the 21st century. This failing system has consequences for our society, the likes of which will contribute to our downfall. If you are lucky enough to be born in the right zip code then you are given an opportunity for a robust education, while those opportunities seem to be inherently scarce for the poor. This downward-spiraling cycle exacerbates the divisions between the affluent and the impoverished. Our society will truly be a meritocracy when the opportunity for a strong education is given to every single student in the United States.
While there is much money being pushed into the system through the federal government and philanthropic efforts (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ray Dalio, and countless others) these efforts can only be on the top of the surface of the structure but does not fix the already inefficient and ineffective system that has evolved over time. It is also quite interesting that important functions of the American system are federally controlled (fiscal, monetary, military, trade, even healthcare (on some levels), etc.) while the bedrock of the American dream is not.
To understand the current structure of the US, I delved into biographies of our founding fathers hoping to get a glimpse of their thinking and the times that they lived in. From this invaluable study, I have come to gain an understanding of how the US has evolved from a rag-tag team of colonies to a world superpower. As history can offer answers to our current problems, I believe the example of the founding of our constitution is an important example to apply here when trying to devise our education system. After the American revolution, political and business leaders realized that the articles of confederation were unable to effectively govern as there was too much power that was ceded to the states and not enough controlled centrally. Shay’s rebellion was one of the fruits of this system of governing and sent shockwaves through the young country. The nation struggled through that period so much so that another convention was called to fix existing problems with the articles. After four months of long deliberations and compromises of plans(Virginia and New Jersey), a new document emerged with the hope that vigorous and energetic central government could stem existing problems. Interestingly enough, while Madison and Hamilton both believed that this document would effectively work, Washington and others worried that the young republic would not survive for another 20 years.
Similarly the change that occurred in the US government around the great depression offers a great example of experimentation with public policy. After a concerning stock market crash and rising unemployment levels, the American electorate began to become concerned with the state of affairs. FDR was elected to an momentous task of bringing the teetering American economy back to growing levels. His new deal came up with new, innovative ways of putting the American economy on track. It was not known whether any of these programs would work, but FDR understood that unprecedented times require unprecedented action. He strengthened banking legislation to make sure that the same crisis did not occur again along with proposing the federal reserve to keep a careful vigil over the financial system.
Through the aforementioned examples, we see that the American government was formed through experimentation and public discourse. If a system did not work, they worked to either fix it or discard and form a new structure. In our case, we may not need to discard the entire system but structural changes must be made.
In the late eighteenth century, education was believed not possible to disperse among a large population mainly due to resources and funding. But these limitations do not apply for the US in the twenty-first century. As those leaders came together to form a new governing document, we too today must come together to devise a federal education strategy for the whole of the nation. It is in this sense that a reshuffling of the localized framework would be effective to draw a uniform strategy for our nation.
Other Examples in US History
Founding fathers such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson deeply understood the power of education and made monumental efforts to build into their respective states the right to an education. John Adams succeeded when writing the Massachusetts constitution and it is to no great surprise that we see Massachusetts at the top of the American education system. Jefferson was not so successful within his state during his time as a legislator but after his time as President, he established the University of Virginia to serve as a model for future educational pursuits in the new fledgling nation. John Quincy Adams’s ambitious legislative plan included forming a national university along with a naval academy, and a national astronomical observatory. FDR through his time during the great depression found ways for students and young people to mold their skills through the formation of the CCC, NYA and other new deal programs. John Kennedy worked to desegregate the school system in the south as he saw a morally failing system and inefficient system. The ebb and flow of American education rarely comes to the forefront on its own but rather is looked to when other crises occur. The education system serves as the nutrients and stem cells for our country to grow, it is our surest way of increasing outcomes for all Americans.