Tuesday, September 27, 2005
How people respond to "competition" is fascinating don't you think? Most people love competitive sports -- well except those social engineers who feel sports don't build the "cooperative spirit" society needs, instead they argue we need to have Little League Baseball games where scores are NOT kept, yea that is a great lesson for later in life when your child has a real job in a corporation that does "keep score" and fires your child for not achieving anything such as closing on new sales - but often people fear or even fight competition from entering incumbent markets.
I saw this public fear first hand when I was about 12 years old in my very small home town of Ida Grove, Iowa USA with a population of about 2,500 people. This is when "Casey's General Stores" opened a convenience store selling gasoline and grocery items. I remember how the locals complained this "big outsider corporation" would drive local business owners out of business which is what happened with a few of the local gas stations. But a few years later a "Pronto" convenience store opened across the highway from "Casey's" which clearly increased competition again (a market correction) plus it essentially forced "Casey's" to upgrade and expand their aging building thus providing another benefit to local residents.
So did Bob Plunkett own a local gas station, Casey's, or Pronto in Ida Grove you might being wondering? No, Bob Plunkett was a high school teacher and one of my instructors who has been deceased for years but I want him remembered via this blog since for me he was the personification of competition itself. Mr. Plunkett was a science teacher who taught a special course for motivated, self-directed students such as myself (big dreams you know!!). This course was essentially a college-prep, honors course which he taught at a given hour each day but the difference was that each student (probably 8 of us total if my now fading memory serves) CHOSE which course they wanted to study during Mr. Plunkett's class session. The range of subjects our class studied included -- Advanced Electronics, Human Physiology, and Advanced Biology. Mr. Plunkett would move from table to table talking with students on a one to one or small group basis. The class readings were completely self-directed but we had to reach oral agreements with Mr. Plunkett regarding when we had to complete his various quizzes and exams to test us on our selected course material. Now that, is student empowerment, which clearly prepared us for the "sink or swim" culture of university life.
The lesson for a believer in "school choice" such as myself is that the basic demographics of small towns like Ida Grove, Iowa (2,500 population) do not offer the market size needed to create a competing charter school, private academy, or parochial school for students/parents to choose from so we must have "competition from within" the incumbent school. Based on the current salary model most school districts use to pay teachers Mr. Plunkett was probably one of the highest paid teachers in my high school simply because he worked for numerous years until he retired as a teacher. However, given Mr. Plunkett's obvious talent for teaching and ability to "compete for students" since the course was strictly voluntary and provided a service the "incumbent system" -- think of the incumbent gas stations discussed earlier -- did not provide namely consumer choice he would have thrived both professionally and financially at any high school which offered performance-based compensation to its teachers.
I know I never thanked Bob Plunkett, exceptional teacher that he was, properly when I last saw him years ago so hopefully this blog posting will help memorialize him properly.
Rest in Peace Mr. Plunkett,