Thomas Sowell on Education & Schools

(an excerpt from a longer interview found at

If you could knock a little something into the heads of

young liberals, what would it be?

I'd like to get them to think in terms of incentives and empirical

evidence, and not in terms of goals and hopes. Over the years,

I've reached the point where I can hardly bear to read the

preamble of proposed legislation. I don't care what you think this

thing is going to do. What I care about is: What are you

rewarding, and what are you punishing? Because you're going to

get more of what you're rewarding and less of what you're


You write in the new book that only 3 percent of Americans

spend as long as eight years in the bottom-fifth income


That study has now been extended to 15 years. And when you

stretch it out to 15 years, you find that less than 1 percent of the

American population is in the bottom income quintile for that

duration. Add to that the fact that most of our millionaires have

made their money themselves, and you realize that it's a

tremendously fluid system.

People have a hard time getting used to the fact that there

will always be a bottom fifth.

Some people just can't deal with it. In New Zealand, where I was

giving a talk, I remember some leftist proclaiming, "We aren't

going to accept people being in the bottom fifth!" [Laughs.] We're

going to have to become like Lake Wobegon, where every child

is above average.

If you could snap your fingers and make one big change in

the country, what would give you the most satisfaction?

What would really make a difference?

Do away with schools of education and departments of

education. Close them down. There are fewer than 40,000

professors of education in this country, and 40 million students.

That means we are ruining the education of over a thousand

students in order to protect the job of each professor of

education. I would think it would be one of the greatest bargains

in history for us to give each professor of education $1 million to


Are departments of education a complete write-off?

They're worse than that. They filter out highly intelligent people

from the whole profession, because highly intelligent people are

not going to put up with the Mickey Mouse courses that you have

to take to enter the field. And once you filter these people out

you're not going to get them back in again. People talk about how

we ought to raise the salaries of teachers. To me, this is like

buying expensive equipment to fish for ocean fish in an inland

pond. If they're not there, nothing you do is going to bring them


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