American exceptionalism

Free markets, for all their virtues, do a poor job of distributing public goods like education, right? Anti-capitalist gobbledygook, says columnist Robert Samuelson. The free market, and its extension into what he calls the "American learning system," explains how the U.S., despite being out-performed by other nations on any number of K-12 test comparisons, remains the world's most advanced economy. While our formal school systems fail to achieve at the level of those in other advanced countries, our relatively unfettered economy produces a wealth of educational resources that help feed its own growth. As examples, he cites community colleges and for-profit institutions, such as the University of Phoenix; online and computer-based courses; formal and informal job training; and self-help books. In contrast to stiff school systems that cater only to students following the traditional route, the American learning system is flexible and dynamic--it "provides second chances" and is "job-oriented." Samuelson smartly recognizes that we would still benefit from fixing our formal education system, especially the lax standards that plague U.S. K-12 schools. But meanwhile, we should be grateful that our entrepreneurial spirit continues to help pick up where traditional schools leave off.

"How We Dummies Succeed," by Robert J. Samuelson, Washington Post, September 6, 2006

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