My response to “Paying for Public Goods”

http://thwesley.wordpress.com/2011/02/21/paying-for-public-goods/ caused me to type this long comment…

I don’t think we should spend more money on public education. There are already enough people in the world that are willing to donate time (by compiling and spreading information) that a good education can be free. There is enough technology and enough people willing to donate access to this technology that schools could be run for nearly free (other than paying teachers).

For example, a Kindle with free etextbooks would cost $140 per student and (with a bit of education about care) could last throughout their school life and beyond. There are many people willing to donate Kindles to schools, and we could have students that don’t count as low income pay $11 per year. However, instead of using this, public schools choose to use textbooks that cost at least $100 per book. So that means in some schools the cost is $600+ per student per year. In some schools the books stay in the class room, so it is really more like $100+ per student per year, but that is still $1200+ over 12 years (vs $140 over 12 years) and the students don’t have the benefit of being able to read the books outside of the classroom. In some schools there is a set of books that stay in the class room and then a set of books that stay at each student’s home, so the cost is $700+ per student per year.

When I mention this, the first thing most people say is “textbooks suck on the Kindle!” Well that is not completely true. I have found that the CK-12 books are pretty well formatted. And Duokan (if we can get old/unupdated Kindles) makes PDFs work wonderfully. If people are still dead-set against using Kindles, though, there are laptops and Android tablets that are even cheaper than Kindles. Heck if schools get something with a good enough touchscreen they can use those and a stylus rather than paper and pencils.

Now that I have mentioned paper and pencils, your next question is likely “If we can’t find a good enough touch screen, how do we get free paper and pencils?” Well I have an idea is based on what we do in my house (I homeschool my kids for nearly free). We have tons of pens and pencils that were given out for free because they have some sort of advertisement on them. We use those to write on the back of junk mail, fliers we receive, etc. So companies could put ads on paper and pencils and then give them to schools for free. Any parent that does not want their child being advertised to could provide their child’s paper and pencils. Any group of people that disagrees with these ads could donate ad-free paper and pencils.

As for the electricity to power all of the Kindles/laptops/tablets, put solar panels on the top of every public school. While this may seem costly, it can be done for cheap if we have start a nation-wide effort to collect solar powered lawn lights (which can be soldered together to make solar panels) from dumps, freecycle, garage sales, etc. and ask people to donate their time actually building the solar panels. Of course schools in places like Chicago won’t be able to provide all their own solar power in the winter, but the extra power from places like Phoenix could be sold to power companies and this money could be used to cover places like Chicago. And/or we could also consider wind turbines.

I may be wrong, and enough people my not care enough to donate time/energy, so that this is not feasible. If that is the case, then I think the solution is to get people to see why investing time/energy is worth it, rather than why investing money is worth it.

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