The Public Interest

Education and economic equality

Lester C. Thurow

Summer 1972

HOWEVER much they may differ on other matters, the left, the center, and the right all affirm the central importance of education as a means of solving our social problems, especially poverty. To be sure, they see the education system in starkly contrasting terms. The left argues that the inferior education of the poor and of the minorities reflects a discriminatory effort to prevent them from competing with better-educated groups, to force them into menial, low-income jobs. The right argues that the poor are poor because they have failed to work hard and get the education which is open to them. Moderates usually subscribe to some mixture of these arguments: The poor are poor because they have gotten bad educations, partly as a result of inadequately funded and therefore inferior school systems, but partly also as a result of sociological factors (e.g., disrupted families) that prevent poor children from absorbing the education that is available. Yet despite these differences, people at all points of the political spectrum agree that, if they were running the country, education policy would be the cornerstone of their effort to improve the condition of the poor and the minorities: If the poor or the minorities were better educated, they could get better jobs and higher income. This idea has had a profound influence on public policy in the last decade.

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