A new attack on the very idea of Public Education

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page has always been very right-wing, pro-billionaire, anti-labor, and so on. It appears to be helping build an attack on the very idea of a common, public education.

Peter Greene of Curmudgucation analyzes a recent article by an ideologue of Koch-type, Ayn Rand-style ideas.

CURMUDGUCATION

What The WSJ Anti-Public Ed Op-Ed Gets Wrong
Posted: 25 Oct 2021 09:08 AM PDT

Last Friday, the Wall Street Journal (Fix News’ upscale sibling) published an op-ed from Philip Hamburger, a Columbia law professor and head of the New Civil Liberties Alliance, a Koch-funded pro bono firm that takes cases primarily to defend against the “administrative state.”

It’s a hit job on public education with some pretty bold arguments, some of which are pretty insulting. But he sure says a lot of the quiet part out loud, and that makes this worth a look. Let me walk you through this. (Warning–it’s a little rambly, and you can skip to the last section if you want to get the basic layout)

Hamburger signals where he’s headed with the very first paragraph:

The public school system weighs on parents. It burdens them not simply with poor teaching and discipline, but with political bias, hostility toward religion, and now even sexual and racial indoctrination. Schools often seek openly to shape the very identity of children. What can parents do about it?

Hamburger offers no particular evidence for any of this catalog of arguable points. Various surveys repeatedly show that the majority of parents approve of their child’s public school. The rest is a litany of conservative complaints with no particular evidence, but Hamburger needs the premise to power the rest of his argument.

So here comes Hamburger’s bold assertion:

Education is mostly speech, and parents have a constitutional right to choose the speech with which their children will be educated. They therefore cannot constitutionally be compelled, or even pressured, to make their children a captive audience for government indoctrination

Conservative talking points about public education routinely assert and assume that public education is a service provided to parents, rather than to the students or society at large. It’s case I’ve never seen them successfully make. At the same time, society’s stake in educated members is clear and the entire rationale behind having non-parent taxpayers help pay the cost of public education. In any other instance where the taxpayers subsidize a private individual’s purchase of goods or service (e.g. food stamps, housing), some conservatives say the social safety net is a Bad Thing, so it’s uncharacteristic for them to champion public education as, basically, a welfare program for parents when they want to dramatically reduce all other such programs to bathtub-drowning size (spoiler alert: they’d like to do that with public education, too). 

But Hamburger has taken another step here, arguing that speech to children somehow belongs to their parents. It’s a bold notion–do parents somehow have a First Amendment right to control every sound that enters their children’s ears? Where are the children’s rights in this? Or does Hamburger’s argument (as some angry Twitter respondents claim) reduce children to chattel?
Hamburger follows his assertion with some arguments that don’t help. He argues that public education has always attempted to “homogenize and mold the identity of children,” which is a huge claim and, like much of his argument, assumes that schools somehow have the power to overwrite or erase everything that parents have inculcated at home. But then, for the whole argument currently raging, it’s necessary to paint public schools as huge threat in order to justify taking dramatic major action against them. 

The great Protestant scam

Hamburger also notes that public education has “been valued for corralling most of the poor and middle class into institutions where their religious and ethnic differences could be ironed out” which would be a more powerful point if most of the poor hadn’t generally avoided public education entirely. But he’s going to go further by claiming that “well into the 20th century, much of the political support for public schooling was driven by fear of Catholicism and an ambition to Protestantize Catholic children.” There’s no doubt that some of this was going on, but the primary goal of public education? 

The court case he leans on first is Pierce v Society of Sister, a 1925 Oregon case that established a parental right to substitute private religious school for public schooling. Hamburger argues that the underlying idea of the case is that Freedom of Speech = educational liberty, which gets him back to his central idea:  education is speech and therefor public education impinges on parents’ First Amendment rights.

Further, Hamburger imagines an America in which some sort of pressure is exerted on people (mostly Catholics) to accept public education mind control, thereby violating–well, here’s the shortest form of the argument he offers.
When government makes education compulsory and offers it free of charge, it crowds out parental freedom in educational speech. The poorer the parents, the more profound the pressure—and that is by design. Nativists intended to pressure poor and middle-class parents into substituting government educational speech for their own, and their unconstitutional project largely succeeded.

Most parents can’t afford to turn down public schooling. They therefore can’t adopt speech expressive of their own views in educating their children, whether by paying for a private school or dropping out of work to home school. So they are constrained to adopt government educational speech in place of their own, in violation of the First Amendment.
Hamburger doesn’t offer any kind of smoking gun to underline or expose the “nativists” dire intent. Nor does he explain why the public school system in some locales had to be forced to accept some students (I assume that he does not intend to argue that Southern schools blocked Black students out of deep respect for their parents’ First Amendment rights). 

Public education squashes parents, apparently.

Hamburger returns to a funhouse mirror of public education. Rather than an attempt to improve society as a whole and extend equal opportunity to all children, his view is that public education exists strictly to indoctrinate, to overrule parents, and is so lacking in any desirable virtue that government must conspire to force families to submit.

His language posits a bizarre world. Parents somehow “can’t adopt speech expressive of their own views” and must adopt government “educational speech in place of their own.” All of this as if once parents send their children to school, they must never again express their own values or ideas in their own home. He hits this “in place of their own” idea a lot, as if the beginning of public education is the end of any sort of childrearing at home. 

He next does a neat ju-jitsu trick where he observes that if fears of coercion and indoctrination are enough to keep religious elements out of public school, they should be enough to keep Other Secular Stuff out of school.
Next, he works his way around to the objection I raised earlier–society’s “compelling interest in public education.” He would like to dismantle this claim. I’m unconvinced. 

The U.S. was founded in an era when almost all schooling was private and religious, and that already suggests that any government interest in public education is neither necessary nor compelling.

This elicited my first “Oh, come on.” When the US was founded, some students went to private school. Some did not. Most enslaved children were specifically forbidden to. When the US founded, the body of knowledge one needed to grasp to make one’s way through the world was considerably smaller, and there were fewer citizens in the whole US than there are right now in New York City. So, no.

Also, he argues again that public schools caught on basically as a plot by anti-Catholic nativists. This is a bold argument, made all the bolder because many, many paragraphs in, he has not offered even a cherry-picked out-of-context quote to back this up. But he is going to try to reinterpret a quote with a wild stretch:

In their vision, public schools were essential for inculcating American principles so that children could become independent-minded citizens and thinking voters. The education reformer and politician Horace Mann said that without public schools, American politics would bend toward “those whom ignorance and imbecility have prepared to become slaves.” That sounds wholesome in the abstract. In practice, it meant that Catholics were mentally enslaved to their priests, and public education was necessary to get to the next generation, imbuing them with Protestant-style ideas so that when they reached adulthood, they would vote more like Protestant.

Has any giant conspiracy ever failed so spectacularly? Horace Mann and his ilk were out to wipe out Catholicism and make everyone think Protestanty ideas and get everyone to vote the right way, and yet, none of that actually happened. And again, Hamburger talks about education as if it has no value or purpose beyond indoctrinating children. 

Is this one more plan to replace white folks with Democrat voters?

This goal of shaping future voters gave urgency to the government’s interest in public education. As today, the hope was to liberate children from their parents’ supposedly benighted views and thereby create a different sort of polity. Now as then, this sort of project reeks of prejudice and indoctrination. There is no lawful government interest in displacing the educational speech of parents who don’t hold government-approved views, let alone in altering their children’s identity or creating a government-approved electorate

So, again, Hamburger reduces public education to a vast conspiracy to shout down parents and not, say, a means of creating educated citizens who are empowered to understand themselves and the world well enough to forge a productive and rewarding place in it. 

Hamburger wraps up by again harkening back to those great days of the 18th century:

The shared civic culture of 18th-century America was highly civilized, and it developed entirely in private schools. The schools, like the parents who supported them, were diverse in curriculum and their religious outlook, including every shade of Protestantism, plus Judaism, Catholicism, deism and religious indifference. In their freedom, the 18th-century schools established a common culture. In contrast, public-school coercion has always stimulated division.


I have some serious doubts about the diversity he lists, but I will note that it does not include a diversity of wealth and race. Or, for that matter, gender. Divisions is always less of a problem when Some People know their place and avoid interrupting their betters with complaints. But he needs this to be true because he’s headed back around to the assertion that public schools are “coercive” and “the focal point for all that is tearing the nation apart.” His solution, favored by Libertarians these days, is to get public schools to stop tearing people apart by letting people tear themselves apart and silo with other folks of the same ideological stripe, because that has always worked out well.

So what is actually new here? Or is this the same old anti-public ed stuff? What is he actually saying? Let me boil this down.

Hamburger’s argument breaks down into a few simple parts.


One is that the country (aka “government”) has no legitimate stake in public education. Just let everyone get their own education for their own kids; it worked great back in the 1700s. This is a silly argument. 

Also, the government has no legitimate stake in public education  because it’s all just a nativist plot to grind down Catholics and other dissenters. This part of the argument is important because it sets up the notion that only parents should have a say in education, which is an old favorite assertion of the anti-public ed crowd. If you don’t know why we all benefit from being surrounded by well-educated people, I don’t know how to explain it to you.

Education is speech. This part of the argument is important because it allows him to rope in the First Amendment so that he can declare public education unconstitutional. But it feels like a stretch–does he mean formal education? Is it still speech if it’s not in a classroom? Is reading a book speech if you learn from it? Does this mean teachers have more First Amendment rights than previously rules, or fewer?  If it’s on a computer? Is anything a person learns from speech? 

But “education is speech” is not the really bold part of his argument. That really bold part is where he goes on to say “therefor, parents should have total control over it.” I have so many questions. Should parents have total control over all speech directed at or in the vicinity of their children, including books, and so would I be violating a parent’s First Amendment rights if I gave their child an book for Christmas? And where are the child’s rights in this? Would this mean that a parent is allowed to lock their child in the basement in order to protect that parent’s First Amendment right to control what the child is exposed to? 

Hamburger’s argument has implications that he doesn’t get into in his rush to get to “do away with them and give everyone vouchers.” The biggest perhaps is that he has made an argument that non-parent taxpayers should not have to subsidize an education system. I’m betting he’s not unaware of that. 

‘No Excuses’ Charter Schools

The sacred and the profane: A former D.C. charter school board member calls for change

By Valerie Strauss, Washington Post Reporter

September 23, 2021 at 10:29 a.m. EDT

Steve Bumbaugh is a former member of the D.C. Public Charter School Board, having served on the seven-member volunteer panel from 2015 until early this year. During that time, Bumbaugh visited numerous charter schools and attended many board meetings where questions of whether schools should be authorized, sanctioned or closed were discussed.

Charter schools are publicly funded but operate independently from the school systems in the areas where they are located. In the nation’s capital, charters enroll nearly as many of the city’s schoolchildren as the system does. Supporters of charters say that they provide families with a necessary alternative to schools in traditional districts. Critics say they do not, on average, provide better student outcomes than traditional districts and steer public money away from districts that educate most schoolchildren.

Bumbaugh is a big supporter of charter schools. In this unusual post, he writes about his experience on the charter board and makes recommendations for change that he said will be bring better representation from the community.

Bumbaugh has worked in the education field for several decades in various roles. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science at Yale University and an MBA at Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

By Steve Bumbaugh

Let’s travel back to September 2017. I was in Southeast Washington, D.C., scheduled to tour a school in an hour. I remember visiting 25 years ago when it was part of the D.C. public school system. That school was closed in 2009 — one of dozens closed in the last 15 years — and now several charter schools occupy the campus.

At the time of this visit, I was a member of board of the D.C. Public Charter School Board (PCSB), having started my tenure in 2015 and serving until early this year. In that capacity, I visited dozens of D.C.-based charter schools. Sometimes, I left those visits saddened, even defeated.

This was one of those times.

Over several decades of work at the intersection of education and poverty, I have learned that much of a school’s character can be divined through its start-of-the-day ritual. So on that day in 2017, I arrived early and sat in my car, far enough away that no one seemed to notice me, but near enough so that I could observe the comings and goings. Several young Black women arrived at school with their children who look to be 5 or 6 years old. They were greeted by staff members, and I observed them having what appeared to be tense conversations with the women. Some of these women left with their children in tow. Others handed their children over to staff members and departed.

When I entered the school for my scheduled visit, I was greeted by one of the founders, a 30-something man with energy and charm. He was joined by the school’s board chair, a distinguished senior partner from one of D.C.’s blue-chip law firms. They took me on a tour of several classrooms. I noticed that the leadership of the school was entirely White as were many of the teachers. All of the students were African American, most from families that struggle financially.

For the most part, the school looked like most other “no excuses” charter schools in the nation’s capital, dotting low-income African American neighborhoods, and in other places across the country.

These schools start with the belief that there is no good reason for the huge academic gaps between privileged and poor minority students — and that strict discipline, obedience, uniform teaching methods and other policies could erase the gaps. A feature of many of these schools, and one evident on this site visit, are lines painted on the hallway floors. Students are expected to walk on these lines as they move from classroom to classroom. Any deviation is likely to result in punishment. The only other places I had seen this before was at correctional facilities.

I entered a preschool classroom where students were gathered in a semi-circle on a rug. Like curious 4-year-olds everywhere, the students turned their heads to scrutinize us. Many smiled widely and some even waved. The teacher snapped at the children, demanding their attention. I was startled by her aggression. They were, after all, 4-year old children engaging in age-appropriate behavior.

That evening I called a staff person from this school who I’ve known for several years. I asked her to translate the scenes I witnessed outside the school. The conversation went something like this:

–“Those scholars probably had uniform violations. The staff persons were probably telling the moms to go home to have the kids change.”

–“I didn’t notice that they were wearing anything different from the other children.”

–“Well, they may have had the wrong color shoes. Or maybe they had the correct color shirt, but it didn’t have the school’s insignia on it.”

–“They have to go back home for that?”

–“Unless they want to spend the day in a behavior support room.”

Incredulous, I pressed my friend for details. I discovered that children as young as 3 years old could spend an entire day in seclusion, away from their classmates, if they were wearing the wrong color shoes. I am dumbstruck. Is this even legal?

This sort of interaction between students and staff was not uncommon in no-excuses charter schools I visited over the years.

Occasionally I did visit schools that combine academic rigor and kindness with student bodies that are mostly Black and low-income. But those schools were the exception. I’ve seen schools where children are taught to track the teachers with their eyes, move their mouths in a specific way, and engage in other humiliating rituals that have little educational value.

I visited a school that suspended 40 percent of its 5-year-old children who had been diagnosed with disabilities. At some schools, when children are sick, their parents were forced to produce a doctor’s note because school leaders believed the parents were lying. But some of these parents were uninsured and there weren’t — and still aren’t — many doctors in their neighborhoods. Obtaining a doctor’s note required them to take their children onto packed public buses so they could go to public health clinics or emergency rooms.

Schools that still do this are telling these parents that they are not trusted. And while children in these schools are taught computational math and textual analysis, they also learn that they are congenitally profane.

Charter schools arose a generation ago in Washington, D.C. when the city was poor and in the grips of a decade-long homicide epidemic. I was part of a group of 20-somethings frustrated with the lack of progress in the city’s long-troubled public school system. We had been creating programs for the D.C. Public Schools system that dramatically outpaced the district’s regular academic outcomes, and we wanted to turn these programs into actual schools.

We talked about forging solutions with parents and students, working to retain every single student, exhorting patience about building the infrastructure from which improved academic outcomes would spring.

But little of this vision was attractive to an emerging cadre of funders and policymakers who placed huge bets on charter schools. They submitted to a vision, not based on a shred of evidence, that Black and Brown children would thrive if they were taught “character” and “grit.” The way to do this, apparently, was to create an assembly-line model of instruction with rigid rules. Children who could not abide by these rules were “counseled out” to return to traditional public schools. Now about one-third of D.C. charter schools are in the no-excuses category, enrolling at least half of the charter student population. (Some of these schools say they are changing, but I haven’t seen real evidence of that.)

Some ‘no-excuses’ charter schools say they are changing. Are they? Can they?

Remember, this was a time when Black communities were ravaged by an epidemic of crack cocaine and criminal justice laws that sent Blacks to jail for far longer sentences than Whites arrested for using essentially the same drug. Hillary Clinton, then first lady, warned against “the kinds of kids that are called super predators, no conscience, no empathy” — which many of us took to mean low-income Black children. In this context, powerful people not familiar with low-income communities were easily seduced by plans to tightly control children who might otherwise grow into dangerous adults.

The D.C. Public Charter School Board was created in 1996, at a time when homicide rates in the District were so high the city was dubbed the “murder capital.” It is no wonder the D.C. Public Charter School Board jumped on the “no-excuses” bandwagon.

What have we gained from this system? As of 2018-19 — the latest data available on the website of the charter school board — only 8.5 percent of Black high school students (about 80 percent of the student population) in charter schools were deemed proficient in math and 21 percent in English Language Arts, according to scores on the standardized PARCC exam.

There are some charter schools that are doing amazing work, but the system itself is ineffective. The vast majority of our students are not remotely ready for the rigors of college coursework.

After untold millions of dollars of investment and the creation of scores of schools — there were 128 operating this year — it is time for us to admit that this experiment is not working as it should.

So what must be done?

The District must rethink its charter schools, and more specifically, charter schools must be integrated. “Chocolate City” has been replaced by a city where upper-income White residents and a more diverse spectrum of Black residents exist in equal numbers.

One of the few scalable policies that dramatically improved academic outcomes for Black students was the integration of American public schools in the 1970s and ’80s. The Performance Management Framework that ranks the quality of each charter school should ensure that schools reflect the demographics of the city as it is today, particularly given that charter schools are not constrained by neighborhood boundaries that enforce segregation in traditional public schools.

New York City provides a replicable, legal model to enact a charter school system that prevents the proliferation of a worrying trend in D.C’s charter schools: elite charters that essentially shut out vulnerable, low-income Black children. (Though the city also has some of the most egregious no-excuses charters.)

What we have now, with some notable exceptions, is a system where highly resourced families crowd into a handful of desirable schools that have impossibly long waiting lists, and students from poor families attend no-excuses schools or charters that struggle to remain open. A school that serves a student body where 6-8 percent of the students meet the definition of “at risk” should not be considered top tier when 51 percent of the students (a statistic confirmed by a charter board staff member) in the entire system are at risk.

Similarly, schools should not be penalized or subtly encouraged to move out low-performing students when they serve student bodies that are overwhelmingly at risk.

“Separate and equal” should not stand in one of the most liberal cities in the United States.

Moreover power needs to be distributed more evenly. At first glance, the concentration of institutional power is not evident at the Public Charter School Board.

Most of the board members, including the current executive director, are Black or Latino. A closer look — and I am including myself in this observation — reveals that we are not remotely similar to most of the families with children attending D.C. public charter schools. Fully 80 percent of these families are African Americans who qualify for free and reduced lunch, which is not the same as at risk, but which is generally seen as a proxy for school poverty.

The people who are on the charter school board are highly educated professionals. Since I began serving on the panel — which has seven rotating volunteers, all appointed by the D.C. mayor — there have been 10 sitting members, half of whom attended Yale, Stanford or Harvard universities, or some combination of the three. We are well-versed in the contours of institutional power and know how to operate inside of its rarely articulated but clearly delineated boundaries. We’ve been rewarded for decoding these rules and abiding by them, which is precisely why we are selected for these coveted roles. We provide cover through optical diversity.

But if we really want to embrace equity, it’s time to rethink the make-up of the Public Charter School Board. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser will have a unique opportunity to reshape this board over the coming year as five of its seven members will be termed out.

We need a board with members who reflect the communities served by D.C. charter sector. As cities move away from elected school boards to mayoral appointments, it’s critical that the voices that used to represent low-income communities continue to be present.

In the District, 80 percent of families attending charters are eligible for free and reduced lunch, but the charter school board has not in its 25-year history appointed a single board member who lives in poverty. Why not adjust the PCSB’s contours to reflect the communities in which these schools are located instead of incessantly asking poor Black people to acclimate?

Continuing to govern charter schools without input from low-income parents robs them of agency. This one-way flow of power is precisely the mistake this movement has made at the student level. Involving parents in the co-architecture of the sector would signal an evolutionary step forward.

Lastly, “no excuses” schools must be banned outright. The central failure of the education reform movement is the mimicking of carceral institutions, established and often celebrated by highly resourced outsiders. The idea that low-income Black and Latino students need to be tightly controlled in order to do well is a relic of Jim Crow.

My parents were Protestant ministers whose doctrine was best reflected in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. In their theology, elites look askance at the most vulnerable even though it is the most vulnerable — the poor, the outcasts — who can redeem a flawed world. It is the poor who are sacred. Their unearned suffering is both incessant and redemptive. This inversion of what is truly sacred and what is genuinely profane is a persistent theme in religion because the human spirit is so inclined to side with power; the path of least resistance. The education reform world is no different in this regard.

When I was teaching at Eastern High School in the early 1990s, we forbade our students from wearing T-shirts popular with their generation that sported curse words and gun imagery. Teenagers being teenagers, they pushed back against this restriction accusing us of violating their rights.

Over lunch one day, we put the dress code on trial. In my closing argument I asked the defendant if he would wear an offending T-shirt to his grandmother’s house or to church. “No” he responded. Somewhat theatrically I leaped: “Of course you wouldn’t! Your grandma’s house and church are sacred spaces.” I pulled the snare tightly across the throat of his argument, asking him in a whisper: “Why isn’t my classroom a sacred space?”

Then as now, the sacred places don’t exist in their neighborhoods. Where are the bookstores and the movie theaters and the art studios? They are in the wealthier neighborhoods where the people are sacred.

This hoarding of the sacred expresses itself in remarkable fits of paradox. In the education reform world, those of us who can retreat to our own sacred places sometimes expect to be praised for the simple reason that we take notice of the profane at all.

So even though the education reform world is replete with leaders whose own children are too sacred to attend the schools they found or fund or otherwise support, we are expected to ignore the contradiction when we tout these schools to the general public.

This is because there is an understanding at an almost cellular level that some children deserve sacred spaces and others should gratefully accept what the sacred give them.

In an era when Black Lives Matter signs are ubiquitous and a national conversation is underway about how to untangle our historical caste system, the PCSB has a role to play.

We can create a system that sees every child as sacred, regardless of ethnic stripe or socio-economic status.

And because effective social movements are not led by outsiders, we must create a system where families who attend these schools fully participate in the institutions of power. This is the beautiful, messy contract required by democracy.

Religiosity vs Poverty and Education

This is from Quora. The USA is a real outlier, but in general the poorer a country is, the more religious its people are, and vice versa; also, the more education, the less religiosity.

Q: Have countries that have learned towards atheism failed more than countries that have acknowledged God?

A: Let’s check.

The table below has the ten most and least religious countries according to Gallup, followed by how many think religion is important, followed by GDP per capita according to IMF.


1: Estonia: religious score 16%, GDP/capita $22,990

2: Sweden: religious score 17%, GDP/capita $53,873

3: Denmark: religious score 19%, GDP/capita $60,692

4: Norway: religious score 21%, GDP/capita $81,695

5: Czech republic: religious score 21%, GDP/capita $22,850

6: Japan: religious score 24%, GDP/capita $39,306

7: Hong Kong: religious score 24%, GDP/capita $48,517

8: United Kingdom: religious score 27%, GDP/capita $42,558

9: Finland: religious score 28%, GDP/capita $42,878

10: Vietnam: religious score 30%, GDP/capita $2,551

[…]

149: Djibouti: religious score 98%, GDP/capita $2,085

150: Mauritania: religious score 98%, GDP/capita $1,143

151: Sri Lanka: religious score 99%, GDP/capita $4,068

152: Malawi: religious score 99%, GDP/capita $351

153: Indonesia: religious score 99%, GDP/capita $3,871

154: Yemen: religious score 99%, GDP/capita $872

155: Niger: religious score 100%, GDP/capita $477

156: Ethiopia: religious score 100%, GDP/capita $853

157: Somalia: religious score 100%, GDP/capita $499*

158. Bangladesh: religious score 100%, GDP/capita $1,745

*Not in IMF’s dataset; World Bank used instead.


But that data isn’t very intuitive. Sure, there’s at least a factor 10 difference between the least religious countries and the most religious countries, but how can we illustrate it more clearly? Well, how about a graph:

Although Pew chose to highlight the US and its strong outlier as a wealthy nation with high religiosity, the interesting thing is the inverse correlation between GDP/capita and religiosity. It really seems to imply that in general, success and irreligion are connected.

But how? In the same dataset, Pew also makes another important observation, namely of education.

This correlation is much stronger. And we already know that education and wealth are strongly correlated.

But it’s not quite that simple. Pew makes yet another observation, of income inequality and religion:

But what we can take away from this is that the poorer a country is, and the greater the income inequality is, and the poorer educated a country is, the more religious it is in general.

Or expressed even more bluntly: shithole country ≈ religious country.


Sources:

Importance of religion by country – Wikipedia

List of countries by GDP (nominal) per capita – Wikipedia

Religious observance by age and country

Published in: on January 10, 2020 at 9:31 am  Comments (7)  
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Folks who really, really hate public education …

Curmudgucation (aka retired Pennsylvania schoolteacher Peter Greene) hits the nail smack-dab on the head in just about every column he writes, so it behooves you to subscribe to his blog feed.

Today he shows how there are folks (like Betsy Devos, the Koch brother(s), and Bill Barr) who really, really hate the very idea of public education, and of government in general, and want to destroy both. I am reprinting the entire thing this time. But, again, you should read him daily, instead of reading my pitiful contributions.

Scorched Earth Education Policy (Charters, Watch Your Flank)

Posted: 16 Oct 2019 01:45 PM PDT

This is you should ignore the old admonition to not read the comments.

I converse with plenty of folks that I disagree with, both in the ed policy world and outside of it, and those conversations are largely civil, which sometimes distracts me from the fact that there are people out there who hate, hate, hate public education (“government schools”) and the teachers who work there  (“union thugs”).

I meet them, some days, on Twitter. On Facebook, there are groups that sprung up in the days of “Let’s all get together and fight Common Core” that are now dominated by folks who rail daily against teachers and unions and public schools and how we should just burn it all down until there’s nothing left but homeschooling and church schools (Christian ones, of course).

Of course, these days, you don’t have to dig so deep to find these virulently anti-public-ed folks. Here’s the Attorney General of the Freakin’ United States of America, declaring that our country is under assault in an “organized destruction” of the foundational values of our society (by which he means the Judeo-Christian ones). And “ground zero” of the assault is US public schools. Attorney General Barr, the head law enforcement official of the United States of America has called out public schools as everything just short of “enemies of the people.”

Meanwhile, the author of a new book about the Koch political empire tells us that what the Kochs want from public education is simple– they want it to go away. Talking to Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider at the Have You Heard podcast, Christopher Leonard summed it up like this:

Here’s the actual political philosophy. Government is bad. Public education must be destroyed for the good of all American citizens in this view.

So the ultimate goal is to dismantle the public education system entirely and replace it with a privately run education system, which the operatives in this group believe in a sincere way is better for everybody. Now, whether you agree with that or not as the big question, but we cannot have any doubt, there’s going to be a lot of glossy marketing materials about opportunity, innovation, efficiency. At its core though the network seeks to dismantle the public education system because they see it as destructive. So that is what’s the actual aim of this group. And don’t let them tell you anything different.

Barr’s opinion is not exactly unique in the current administration where the State Department front page featured a speech from Secretary Pompeo about Christian leadership. And it’s no secret that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is long focused on “kingdom gains.” The government-run school system needs to be broken up, and a privatized system, built mostly of church-run schools, should be put in its place.

These are not fringe positions. There are plenty of people out there who agree with the Kochs or the theocrats or both, cognitive dissonance be damned.

With that in mind, I wonder if some reformsters aren’t making the same mistake that Common Core supporters made.

Common Core fans like Jeb Bush thought they just had to worry about those damned liberals and lefties. They were shocked and surprised by the uproar on the right (an uproar so huge that progressive core opponents occasionally had to jump up and down and holler “Us too!”) that they never quite recovered; they couldn’t quite shift to their right flank fast enough.

Charter proponents have likewise focused on their left flank. They carefully cultivated alliances with card-carrying Democrats, ginned up DFER, and even now, keep trying to sell the idea that Real Democrats like charters. They are insistent that charters be called “public” charters because, doggonit, they are, too, public schools.

I’m wondering if they might not live to regret that. I wonder if they’re not concentrating on the wrong flank.

The scorched earth crowd is not interested in tweaking public education. Folks like DeVos see charters as a nice stepping stone to the true goal, but no more. This, incidentally, is not really news. Charter fans stepped up to oppose DeVos’s nomination, and charter fans are about the only group that DeVos attempted to make nice with when she took the office. But that truce seems unlikely to last.

The scorched earth crowd represents an alliance much like that which birthed the Tea Party– religious conservatives and libertarian-ish money righties. While that’s a hard alliance to hold together, on the matter of public schools, they’re in agreement (even if it doesn’t entirely make sense)– public schools need to go. People are attached to them, so it’s not possible to attack them head on. Some patience and rhetorical flourish is necessary. DeVos’s “Education Freedom” proposal is a fine example– it’s about vouchers, not charters, and she’s been quite clear that it’s money that can be spent many ways, not just in a “school.”

I don’t find it at all difficult to imagine a future in which the scorched earth folks work to take down charter schools right along with the public system (the one that charters insist they’re part of). If I were a scorched earth person, my plan would be first to split the funding stream into several streams (public this way, vouchers over there) and then just slowly pinch off the public stream. The techniques that we’ve already seen work just fine– starve the schools, create a measure to show that they’re failing, use their failure as justification for starving them further.

Charters, meanwhile, have been flipping through a stack of index cards looking for a justification that will work. They don’t get superior academic results. They don’t close the achievement gap. They don’t create competition that makes everyone improve. These days they’ve settled on the argument that choice is the right thing to do in and of itself, but that argument serves vouchers far better than charters, which scorched earth folks can paint as just an appendage of those same damned gummint schools (hell, some of those charter teachers have even unionized).

And Espinoza v. Montana is on the Supreme Court docket, a case that would shatter the wall between church and state in education. Why send a kid to a charter when you can go straight to a church school. That would become one more charter problem– why would voucher fans stick with voucher lite when they can get the real thing?

Ultimately, scorched earth ed policy would involve choking the revenue stream for everybody, because one of the things they hate about public education is those damned taxes. In one version of the scorched earth education future, there are just tax credits– wealthy patrons support their educational vendor of choice instead of paying taxes, and everyone else just scrapes by. As traditional tax revenue is choked off, charters get caught in the same vice as public school, with too little money to serve underserved communities. That’s okay with the DeVos’s and Kochs and other folks who, at heart, disagree with the notion of elevating the Lessers. Society works better when everyone accepts their proper place (that either God or economics have called them to) and all these socialist attempts to help people rise above their station are both expensive and against natural law. If some people end up getting little or no real education in this system, well, that’s just too bad– they shouldn’t have chosen to be poor and powerless.

I’ve called charters the daylight savings time of ed reform, like trying to reposition on too-small blanket on a too-large bed, arguing about who gets covered instead of shopping for a bigger blanket. But the scorched earth folks approach is “I’ll buy a blanket for my kids and you buy one for yours. We’ll just use our personal resources and you use yours and we’ll just keep that thieving, interfering gummint out of it. Good luck, and enjoy your freedom!”

Charter schools would end up on the wrong side of all of this if they fail to watch their right flanks. And all of the US suffers if the scorched earth education crowd manages any level of what they call success. But do not underestimate them; they are out there, and they are pissed.

We’re Number One! (Or Else, We Are Tied for #1)

Folks like me who do not associate with any religion, are apparently now either the largest group in America or are statistically tied with Evangelicals. Here’s a graph where I colored the ‘No Religion’ plot as deep, thick purple. If this is correct, then the rise of us ‘nones’ has been amazing, as has been the decline of the ‘mainline’ protestants.

no religion is now number 1 (or tied)

The GSS is the General Social Survey out of the University of Chicago. You can look up the data for yourself at this link or else at this one. A professor by the name of Ryan Burge crunched the numbers and you can see his twitter page here.

(Obviously if you combine all Christian groups into one bucket, they far outnumber the Nones, but you can also argue that the policy differences between the various Christian sects are actually very large.)

Published in: on April 15, 2019 at 9:57 pm  Comments (2)  
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Were All Religions Started As Con Jobs?

Steven Ruis makes a very good case that all world’s religions started out by some bullshitter making up a story (out of whole cloth) in order to gain power, prestige, wealth, and so on, and then somehow figuring out how to get his/her fellows to believe the bullshit story.

Those of you who are religious (as I used to be), probably believe that all the OTHER religions are made-up lies. Naturally, one is far more likely to see the wrong things in what OTHERS believe than in what we ourselves believe …

We all agree now (don’t we?) that all that stuff about Zeus and Hera and Minerva and Thor and so on was all made up: the Greek, Roman, and Norse myths were not accurate accounts of how the world began or guides to how we humans should behave. However, the Roman poets that I read back in Latin class in high school got a lot of praise and wealth by helping make up those myths  — and I don’t even recall Homer, Ovid, or Vergil pretending that they actually watched the gods or heroes doing any of that stuff they wrote about. I don’t know of anyone who seriously believes in the old ‘Classical’ religions today, but at one point you could be killed for not doing so.

And as far as my Buddhist or Hindu friends are concerned, I don’t recall there being any technology being around under that Bo tree to verify whatever it was that Gautama was (or was not) experiencing when he got ‘enlightened’ (or whatever), and we certainly don’t have anybody claiming to be an objective reporter on the doings of Krishna or any of the other pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses.

And Scientology? The only amazing thing about that total pile of bullshit* is that anybody at all believes any of it!

* (Actually, I should apologize: that’s an insult to male bovine feces: they are excellent fertilizer for your garden, as long as you let them ferment in your compost pile for a while. They sometimes contain a lot of weed seeds that will germinate in your garden where you don’t want them to. Horse manure is much less useful to most gardeners, because horses don’t ruminate (chew their cud and digest and re-digest their food in the presence of lots of microorganisms in various stomachs order to extract every gram of nutrients). Horse manure is the best thing for growing many types of mushrooms… But I digress. Maybe I should call it ‘blatherskite’ or  ‘codswallop’?)

You can certainly extend that skepticism on to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which are all based on the first five books of what we call the ‘Bible’ or Tanakh. Think about it. While many folks (including me at one point) believe(d) those stories literally, if you look at it objectively, we don’t have any trustworthy witnesses that recorded the words, thoughts, or deeds of God, Adam, Eve, or Moses at the time or right afterwards… I mean, how could you be present at the creation anyway?

Also this: historians and archaeologists have shown by very careful, painstaking research that pretty definitively that essentially none of the Exodus story ever happened in real life: Serious Biblical scholars now conclude that the first five books were all made up during the Babylonian Captivity (which really DID happen). The later books did have some historical basis, but they are far from being an objective source. (Nor are the ‘Histories’ of Herodotus, Livy or anything else. If you think today’s news stories are biased (and of course they are – even the choice of what stories go on the front page or are the teasers on the TV broadcasts are editorial choices), then try journals of 100 – 200 years ago. Even Faux “news” almost looks even-handed compared to reporting during the Civil War, etc. It seems to me that today’s reporting is much more complete and makes much more of an attempt to be unbiased and objective than ever before. But I digress)

Back to Ruis’ thesis, the ‘Old Testament’ then served to cement the Hebrews into a separate tribe which obviously still exists today (no mean accomplishment). Don’t forget that Judaism (as with all other religions from Central America to Africa to Europe) ended up supporting a privileged caste of priests, who got to eat the fatted calves and perfect poultry that was brought to the temple as offerings to God. ‘God’ got to smell the aroma, the priests got to eat the nice barbecued meat… Nice work if you can get it and don’t have a conscience!

Again: it’s not like people really thought that calamities were because so-and-so didn’t sacrifice his/her own children. They didn’t exactly do a double-blind test to see what would happen, unlike scientists of today who do their level best to weed out their own biases, LEST THEY BE MOCKED BY OTHER SCIENTISTS for falling into a logical fallacy! In which case, the ideas exposed by the erring scientist are discarded or modified by others. Unlike with religion, where somebody who lived a long time ago supposedly knew everything, predicted everything, and nothing in the writings can ever be changed; anybody who dares to try to make changes is accused of heresy. That’s completely the opposite of the way science works. As scientists keep learning more and more about the way the universe actually works, the more they discover that their initial ideas were incorrect. No doctor is going to use the theory of the Four Humours to diagnose your ills, for example. NASA’s spacecraft don’t use astrological signs or the Ptolemaic model of the universe, and they keep finding brand-new worlds that we never dreamed of even a few decades ago!

That’s one of the reasons why I prefer science to religion or even novels: there’s always something new being discovered; there is lively debate about what evidence is admissable and what it proves; and nobody is considered to have all the answers. (Yes, any serious amateur astronomer today can point out to you places where both Einstein and Newton were wrong — as great as their insights were!)

There are still billions of people who take on faith one or the other version of the Big Six Religions; one clue that these religions might not be all so wonderful is that throughout history, governments have waged untold wars and committed countless massacres, supposedly because other people didn’t believe as they did and didn’t offer worship and respect to their own doctrine and group of ‘spiritual’ leaders.

Now, when scientists propose explanations

Now, there are plenty of wonderful people that believe all kinds of nonsense, and I am very sure that I, too, believe a lot of things that are just plain wrong. But what one thinks, believes or says doesn’t necessarily dictate how one behaves. I bet that there are all kinds of really cruel things advocated in the sacred texts of any religion. Fortunately, most people do NOT practice those things any more. Unfortunately, there are those who do: those who bomb, behead, blow up, beat up, imprison, incinerate, or shoot others for not following the rule of God or the Leader …

Here’s the link:

https://stephenpruis.wordpress.com/2018/11/14/marks-and-con-men-in-the-religion-con/

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