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    The Persistent Divisiveness Of Darwin
    By Michael White | February 15th 2009 03:59 PM | 60 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Michael

    Welcome to Adaptive Complexity, where I write about genomics, systems biology, evolution, and the connection between science and literature,

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    Sunday Science Book Club, February 15 2009

    Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America’s Soul
    by Edward Humes
    HarperCollins, 2007





    It is rare for the world to see born on one day two towering individuals whose imprint on history is strong enough to be noted around the world 200 years later. Abraham Lincoln successfully saw the United States through a near-fatal convulsion, whose early symptoms had been palliated but not cured at the nation’s founding; the after-effects have reached all around the world. Charles Darwin, more than anyone else in the 19th century, put biology on its modern scientific footing, and his ideas play a critical role in the genome sciences at the very forefront of 21st century biology.

    We celebrate their achievements this week, but both Lincoln and Darwin have left legacies of divisiveness, and in fact these legacies intertwine. The contours of the rift that initiated the Civil War still shape American politics, from Nixon’s influential Southern Strategy to the Red State-Blue State divide in the 111th Congress. Evolution is a poster child for culture war. It may not be a top issue on the national political agenda, but it is a culture war conflict that penetrates just as deeply and personally than any other, as Edward Humes vividly describes in Monkey Girl, the best book about the nation’s first court trial over Intelligent Design in public schools.

    The Personal Touch of Evolution

    Darwin divides because his discovery illuminates who we are as human beings. It’s hard to overstate how the science of the last 500 years has shifted our relationship to the rest of the Universe, at least as that relationship has been seen in the West. We’ve gone from being the entire purpose of creation, placed at the center of the universe to face an epic struggle between good and evil, to one species among millions, residing during a brief moment on a stage much too big for the drama, as the physicist Richard Feynman put it. As Humes’ writes,

    It was one thing for science to destroy geocentrism, or to turn the Bible from literal history into lovely metaphor, but when it tried to dethrone man as God’s masterpiece and render him no better (or worse) than marsupial or mollusk, then science simply had gone too far. (p. 5)


    Evolution was the last straw.

    Most people don’t come to the issue with a solid sense of this history, but the problem of perspective raised by evolution is deeply felt. Different religions and believers have adapted their stance in various ways. How a religious believer relates theology to science is an extremely personal choice, and Monkey Girl very effectively captures the gritty friction produced when these personal choices bump up against one another. Some members of the school board in Dover, Pennsylvania, felt strongly that creationism needed to be taught to Dover’s public school students in order to counter the influence of evolutionary biology in the science curriculum. When the school district’s science teachers requested funds to purchase a new biology textbook for the high school, two creationist members of the Board, Alan Bonsell and William Buckingham, saw an opening and took it. They essentially held the new textbook hostage, refusing to purchase the needed books until the rest of the board agreed to allow room for creationism in the curriculum. After months of heated school board meetings, vandalism, taunts, severed friendships, resignations of pro-evolution school board members, and even death threats, the school district settled on what was supposed to be a compromise. Before the start of the evolution unit of the 9th grade biology curriculum, school officials walked into class and read a one-minute statement telling students, in tortured English, that there were gaps in evolutionary theory “for which there is no evidence,” and that students could turn to an Intelligent Design textbook, Of Pandas and People, as a reference. While the statement was read, the science teachers (who refused to read the statement themselves) left the room, along with other students who were conscientious objectors to the new policy. Copies of the intelligent design textbook were donated to the school, after Buckingham and Bonsell failed to get the school board to purchase this book.

    The personal pain on both sides of this conflict was real. One of the plaintiffs in the resulting court case, Julie Smith, who was suing the school board to stop the intelligent design policy, related on the witness stand how the school board’s actions had prompted her daughter to come home and ask, “What kind of Christian are you anyway?” Smith's daughter had concluded that “you can’t be a good Christian and believe in that lie” of evolution. Smith herself believed that Christianity and evolution were compatible, and was angry that the school board had injected itself into such a personal issue.

    One of the main school board culprits, William Buckingham was bullying, manipulative, and deceitful, even to the point of lying under oath in court, but nobody can doubt his sincerity when during a school board meeting he declared, “Two thousand years ago somebody died on a cross. Can’t someone take a stand for him?” In Monkey Girl, Humes lets the players speak for themselves, and he makes the reader understand the motivations driving the players in this story. The fracture in the community of Dover and the resulting hostility between neighbors that this conflict produced makes clear why the Founders of the United States were so determined to keep the government out of the radioactive matter of religion that had bloodied Europe and the Middle East for centuries. There is nothing like religious division to prompt different segments of a community to see each other in apocalyptic terms, and nothing brings these latent conflicts to the surface like evolution.

    Intelligent Design as a Public Relations Campaign

    If the fight between evolution and creationism was confined to popular books, newspaper editorials, and debates on cable news channels, the community of Dover would never have been embroiled in conflict, nor would the school board have squandered millions of dollars on a court case. Evolution and creationism are divisive but abstract issues until they show up on the agenda of school board meetings. And it is at this point that the story stops being one of two equal sides with different personal preferences. Humes may give all of the participants in the Dover drama their due, but he also makes it clear that the wrongs lie largely on one side of this conflict; one side is wrong on the science, the law, and even the theology.

    Just how wrong the school board promoters of intelligent design were is made clear in the ruling of the presiding judge, John Jones. Jones condemned the “breathtaking inanity” of the school board, and handed down an overwhelming victory for the plaintiffs. Jones’ decision emphasizes just how one-sided this issue is, because he was not someone predisposed to rule in favor of evolution out of purely ideological sympathies. Jones was a protegé of the conservative, Republican former senator Rick Santorum, and he was appointed to the federal bench by George W. Bush. Some supporters of evolution were initially nervous about the fact that Jones had been assigned the case, but this worry was misplaced because the legal and scientific issues in the evolution/creation conflict so heavily favor one side.

    With a few dramatic exceptions, like Alabama’s Ten Commandments judge, judges are conscientious professionals, whether Republican or Democrat. In some hot-button issues, like abortion, the opposing legal sides are closely balanced, and the ideological sympathies of a judge can make a difference in the outcome. When it comes to creationism, court decisions have overwhelmingly opposed its insertion into public school science classes, and there was no reason to believe that Judge Jones, as a professional arbiter of the law, was going to be any more sympathetic to creationism than previous judges who ruled on the issue.

    Jones’ decision was made easier by the missteps of the defendants. The creationist school board members could not coherently describe evolution or intelligent design, and they subscribed to dubious ideas about the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause that have never held water with the US Supreme Court. The intelligent design movement itself is no better. This movement bills itself as a revolutionary new science, but in reality it is a well-funded public relations campaign. Instead of going into the lab or the field to do science, intelligent design promoters write popular books and give lectures to church audiences. Instead of writing scientific papers like most scientists, they put their most technical thinking into a high school textbook, Of Pandas and People (now put out in revised form as Exploring Evolution), in an attempt to side-step the process of persuading the scientific community of the validity of design. Instead of taking their case to professional scientists, intelligent design advocates take their case to school boards around the country; this is not how any real science operates.

    As it turns out, it didn’t take much to turn creationism into the supposedly scientific intelligent design. During the trial, the plaintiffs subpoenaed early drafts of Pandas, written before a 1987 Supreme Court decision banning creationism from science class. These drafts made it clear that Pandas was originally written as a creationist textbook, and then hastily revised in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. The smoking gun was found in the very definition of intelligent design found in Pandas. According to the book,

    Intelligent design means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent agency, with their distinctive features already intact - fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc.


    But in an earlier draft, the passage read

    Creation means that various forms of life began abruptly through an intelligent creator, with their distinctive features already intact - fish with fins and scales, birds with feathers, beaks, and wings, etc.


    Intelligent design is creationism in all but its name.

    The negative effects of this campaign to indoctrinate public school children in a religious alternative to a mainstream science topic that some Christians find distasteful were not just the conflict in the Dover community. Dover’s science teachers resisted the intelligent design policy, but because they feared for their jobs, they could only resist so much. High school students, who couldn’t imagine that teachers would be afraid to teach, interpreted the teachers' careful navigation of the minefield as a tacit admission that evolution was weak, which was exactly the opposite impression of what the teachers meant to convey. The students were being deliberately turned off to science. The school board and the administration were, through their actions, hinting that scientists were deceptive and that science was not compatible with the faith held by many of the students. By conveying the warped view of science embraced by the promoters of intelligent design, the school was ruining the students' education in a subject that is important for their success, both in college and as citizens. As University of Minnesota biologist P.Z. Myers put it, “Any attempt to incorporate faith and the supernatural into science is as destructive to the enterprise as would be requiring religion to provide concrete repeatable tests of their beliefs.”

    Monkey Girl demonstrates that the battle over evolution in school has real consequences, and that this conflict is being driven largely by one side, in ignorance of science, law, and the wide diversity of religious beliefs in the United States. Humes’ great service is to bring clarity to the issue while acknowledging the sincerity of all involved. As he writes, “There is no greater waste or tragedy than a war based on falsehoods; if the evolution wars are to continue, let the combatants be armed with facts, not fiction.”


    Have you read Monkey Girl? Offer your comments! And join me for next month's Sunday Science Book Club on March 15th, when I'll discuss Strange Beauty, a biography of Murray Gell-Mann, one of the world's greatest living physicists.

    Are you and author or publisher who wants your science book reviewed here? Use this contact form to send me your suggestions.

    Comments

    Gerhard Adam
    Good article, but I think we should be clear that it is neither Darwin nor evolution that is divisive.  The problem occurs only because a select group of people have elected to confront science and attempt to establish a requirement that their beliefs be presented as science.

    Evolution has no requirement that it be accepted by everyone, but there is an implicit requirement in science that individual opinions are not automatically credible simply because someone doesn't like the prevailing theory.
    Mundus vult decipi
    adaptivecomplexity
    Evolution has no requirement that it be accepted by everyone, but there is an implicit requirement in science that individual opinions are not automatically credible simply because someone doesn't like the prevailing theory.
    Amen!
    Mike
    Hank
    And the publication of the monkey genome just before the trial was, as Ken Miller put it in the panel session this afternoon, "a gift from God", which got a good-natured laugh out of the audience.
    Issues like these, you can go back and forth and back and forth. Both sides have strong passionate points, and the debate just escalates until it's out of control. But I think people get so caught up in a certain mindset that they fail to pop up a level above the debate, and to think about the circumstances that make it possible: In this case, it's compulsory public education. Without the latter this would be a moot point; and I think intensity in this debate coming from both sides is a testament to the flaws, and maybe even absurdity, of compulsory public education.

    Gerhard Adam

    Why would you think that compulsory public education is absurd?  What is your alternative?

    Mundus vult decipi
    Private education (or to start with, vouchers) offers a very effective way to deal with the debate - parents who feel strongly about creationism or evolution can send their kids to schools that share their view. What's fueling the debates is the fact that everyone within a community is paying for everyone else's education. It's not a question of whether Darwin was right or wrong, it's a question of what parents want for their kids. Evolution *is* a knock on religion. Personally I consider myself an atheist, but I completely understand why parents wouldn't want to send their kids to schools that contradict what they learn in Sunday school; or why non-religious parents want their children to get the most out of high school biology.

    There's no doubt that a larger private education system would largely resolve the issue. You don't see these kind of disagreements (at least, not of that magnitude) in private schools or religious universities. Of course, you could argue that compulsory public education is beneficial on the whole, and such debates about evolution are side-effects, which altho negative, are tolerable. Certainly the evolution/creationism debate within our public schools isn't so large as to topple our whole education system. But I think that it's a clear example of the contradictions that are built into it, and in this sense it goes right to the heart of the matter: We're forcing parents to pay for services that they do not want.

    Hank
    Evolution *is* a knock on religion.
    Not so.  I just spent 3 solid days, about 14 hours each day, listening to presentations, including some by biologistsI know are atheists, and religion never came up.   Now, creationism came up, but only in the context that some want to portray it as science.   

    The spark of life is a topic for theologians and philosophers.   The natural world and how it works is the purview of science.  The Pope agrees.  Mainline Protestants agree.   The bulk of the people who believe that evolution is an attack on religion are Evangelicals.  They don't speak for all religions any more than militant atheist scientists on the fringes speak for all scientists.
    Richard Dawkins in his book "The God Delusion" presents a pretty solid case for why evolution directly refutes religious tenants. Scientists don't bring this up in the public debate for a number of reasons. Primarily, they're not trying to use evolution to disprove religion; they just want to do science. It's not on their agenda to disprove religion, after all they're scientists not priests. Within the scientific community, religion is often irrelevant to what is being discussed; that's why in the limitation-sections of peer-review journals discussing evolution, it'd be pointless to put "this theory also assumes that God didn't create the world". It doesn't add anything.

    Dawkins uses the Bible & political rhetoric to show how evolution does actively contradict religious beliefs, not only in their literal translation, but also in the spirit of what they're trying to convey.

    But ultimately the main test of whether evolution contradicts religion isn't a few very smart scientists, or Dawkins, or the Pope, it's the public at large. If no one felt that there were any contradictions, then this debate wouldn't exist. Or maybe it would exist for a few years, but then it would go away. To say that evolution is completely consistent with religious beliefs flies in the face of all the concerned parents who think otherwise.

    Gerhard Adam
    Sorry, but this is another example of Dawkin's overstating his case.  The "Big Bang" theory has substantially more anti-religious elements if one chooses to consider them.  This has been around for decades and never raised an eyebrow among the Evangelicals.

    Besides, whether it is considered anti-religious or not is academic.  There have been numerous discoveries throughout history that have been similarly labeled, and been opposed by the church authorities.  In the end, it is irrelevant, just as these people's opinions are irrelevant.  The only reason they still have a voice, is because there is more research going on (it's more complicated than determining the earth goes around the sun).  If something is found that makes evolution irrefutable, they will once again go away and wait for the next big "threat" to their beliefs. 

    I personally don't understand why anyone even bothers to listen to this fringe group, since they haven't demonstrated one shred of evidence for their perspective beyond their beliefs.  They've lost every challenge they tried to mount in the courts.  They've built their "creation" museum which they can visit to their heart's content.  But, at the end of the day, when they get sick they'll go to a doctor that was trained in modern biological methods and take the drugs developed by modern science. 

    That's the real hypocrisy, since they enjoy the benefits of science, but want to assign none of the credit.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Hank
    But ultimately the main test of whether evolution contradicts religion isn't a few very smart scientists, or Dawkins, or the Pope, it's the public at large. If no one felt that there were any contradictions, then this debate wouldn't exist. 
    Dawkins is the extreme fringe - everyone in science accepts this except the people who want to be like him because they have an ideological agenda.   Dawkins is no different than Rush Limbaugh - he will have his proponents but holding him up as a represenative of the public won't go far.

    On your point I copied above, I certainly think you are right - and it's the same in cultural conflicts everywhere.   What academics say something is doesn't hold a lot of water compared to what people actually on the front lines actually do.   We have discussed here in the past whether evolution should be taught in high school at all, since it is very complex and we don't teach lattice theory or neurosurgery in high school.  That might prevent a lot of easy mistakes people make about evolution and therefore get turned off.

    But in a few years I do believe the debate will go away.   Religious people will very soon discover that evolutionary biologists are not the real threat to religion - neuroscientists who want to understand the mind, and therefore the soul, are.  And they'll start to get a lot closer to understanding those things.
    adaptivecomplexity
    One of the major points of the book I reviewed above is that those who are often most outspoken against evolution have almost no grasp of the science, or even he creationist alternative. The school board members in the Kitzmiller case were both ignorant of science and theology.

    Polls and studies consistently show that people who are better educated in both science and theological reactions to evolution are less likely to have a problem with evolution or see it conflict with their religious beliefs. This was certainly true in my experience growing up in a conservative faith (Mormonism, which I no longer belong to). The strongest resistance to evolution came from those who knew the least about it; more educated church members were much more likely to be fine with it. All of these people held roughly the same theological views - the difference in their response to evolution was due to education.

    So sure, among the public there is a conflict between religion and a fear-inspired caricature of evolution, but you can't conclude from this that the majority of the public would, if properly taught about the subject, reject evolution. Well-informed people on both extremes will continue to insist that religion and evolution are absolutely incompatible, but they are a minority among well-informed people.

    And in the end, the science isn't going away; I don't think that it's helpful for a large segment of the public to remain in denial.
    Mike
    Gerhard Adam
    The concept of parents sending their kids to schools that "share their view" is mind-boggling.  I can only imagine the chaos that would ensue if every two-bit opinion was suddenly supposed to be taken seriously.  Given the political rift between "red" and "blue" states, one can only imagine how quickly we would have "conservative" and "liberal" schools.

    I'm sorry, but parents have always had the power to express their views at home which is where they belong, and if they feel strongly enough, they can home-school their kids. 

    I, for one, don't believe that science should be subject to people's opinions, nor that parents should decide specifically what is taught.  How many parents might think that math wasn't important, or who knows what they might disagree with.

    How do we deal with the situation where some kid has been exposed to such a school for 12 years, and then discovers they aren't qualified for anything in college?  Do we extend this concept to college?  Simply take subjects you agree with?

    I'm sorry, but your suggestion seems like it would be nothing more than complete chaos, and despite how bad our education system is, this would make it worse. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    adaptivecomplexity
    The concept of parents sending their kids to schools that "share their view" is mind-boggling.  I can only imagine the chaos that would ensue if every two-bit opinion was suddenly supposed to be taken seriously.  Given the political rift between "red" and "blue" states, one can only imagine how quickly we would have "conservative" and "liberal" schools.
    I agree - our polity is fragmented enough; one of the most important benefits of public school is giving students the sense that they are part of a civic community. This may be done imperfectly in many cases, but the balkanization and further class stratification that would come from a completely private system would be worse.
    Mike
    the balkanization and further class stratification that would come from a completely private system would be worse.

    This is an assumption. I suspect it's wrong. It's about the ability for schools to meet the needs of their students. Taken to the extreme, say you tax the whole country equally, and in return give them the exact same service. This very well might *increase* stratification in society, b/c those members of society who value that service are going to benefit more greatly than those who don't. Stated otherwise, if you send everyone to college, then you're benefiting rich white suburban kids who were raised in a high school that prepared them for it better than black inner city kids who are under-prepared & have different needs & priorities.

    The problem with the school system is that everyone is spending everyone else's money on other people, and then some people complain - and rightly so - on how their money was spent. We can at least nudge this problem in the correct direction by having people spend tax money - or their own money - directly on themselves.

    Gerhard Adam
    "The problem with the school system is that everyone is spending everyone else's money on other people, and then some people complain - and rightly so - on how their money was spent."

    You think that school districts will suddenly become more fiscally responsible if the money comes directly out of your wallet?  What will happen is that the schools will hire PR firms (to attract the most money) and deny entry to students that can sully their reputation.

    You'll have a completely "free market" solution that will exclude far more people than it includes.... and in the end you'll have the government have to step in (with taxpayer dollars) to educate all those students that no one else wants.
    Mundus vult decipi
    What will happen is that the schools will hire PR firms (to attract the most money) and deny entry to students that can sully their reputation.

    In that case there would still be a market for students who could sully a good school's reputation. More importantly, there would be more differentiation between schools, just as there is among existing private schools. Cheesy PR campaigns could only go so far. Cities have communities, and parents chat. More importantly, students have different needs; and they can't all be met equally well at the same school.

    Gerhard Adam
    "You don't see these kind of disagreements (at least, not of that magnitude) in private schools or religious universities."

    What religious universities are you referring to?  What graduate programs do they offer in the sciences (beyond engineering, physics,&chemistry)? 

    As an example, one university (I won't mention their name) offers a biology program where they claim that many of their graduates go on to be physicians.  Yet in the description of their program the following quote is found:

    "They carefully integrate a Christian perspective, exploring the “why” behind science that points toward the intelligent design of our Creator"

    So I wonder, if that means when that "physician" graduates there is a disclaimer on their diploma that acknowledges that they don't accept modern biology teachings?  Makes me feel better already.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    Here's a thought .... I wonder how a religious university would react to a graduate biology student that decided to investigate evolution?
    Mundus vult decipi
    I, for one, don't believe ...that parents should decide specifically what is taught.

    Here you tread on very shaky ground. It's one thing when social services intervene due to incompetent parents; but the notion that parents don't know what is best for their children to learn is pretty thought police-sih.

    And note that we're not talking about "specific" lessons or facts that are taught, we're talking about over-arching themes. Schools - just like any other service - take the specifics out of the hands of the consumer, & put them into specialized people capable of delivering. Religious parents aren't concerned with the details of the lesson plan, b/c it's a given that the teachers are more qualified to teach them. They are concerned with whether the overarching values of the teacher agree with those values that they're instilling in their children. This concern is legit.

    Forcing them to send their kids to, or pay for, schools that go against their values is an infringement on their freedom. The benefit you're arguing in return for this - potentially preparing these kids better for college - is pretty minimal. Afterall, these kids would still learn reading, writing, arithmetic, most aspects of science, etc. If you're trying to improve their chances of going to college, you'd have an easier time letting parents send their kids to whatever school they choose, and then subsidizing supplementary SAT-prep coursework. Moreover, the infringement on freedom might have just the same backlash on kids' chances of going to college. Imagine growing up in a religious household where you are told that everything you learn in science class is bunk.

    I can only imagine the chaos that would ensue if every two-bit opinion was suddenly supposed to be taken seriously. Given the political rift between "red" and "blue" states, one can only imagine how quickly we would have "conservative" and "liberal" schools.

    You can buy personalized goods and services in a free market, but there's clearly a limit onto how much specialization is possible. Because at some point, you lose the hole in pursuit of the details. So while there might be some issues that differentiate schools, these issues would be limited in number. In other words, at some point, parents would pay more attention to the overall quality of their children's education, than, say, whether their social studies professor believes in gay rights. In fact, for many, the quality of the school would likely trump any school's idiosyncratic political beliefs; that's why it's not uncommon for non-religious parents sending their kids to private religious schools. For the other parents, who do put more weight on a few issues, they're simply judging schools by a different - but no less "wrong" - criteria, b/c they have a different definition of quality. Belief in creationism might be an idiosyncratic political belief for me or you, but it's not for them.

    But once again, in the case of private schools, we wouldn't have this debate, b/c the parents would be free to decide for themselves.

    Gerhard Adam

    Sorry, but nothing is that homogenous.  You're suggesting that opinions are clearly defined, divided, and readily identifiable to specific groups.  In truth, you couldn't get the parents of kids in a single classroom to agree on values, so to suggest that you can base whole schools on it is pretty optimistic.

    Whether you like the values of a particular teacher isn't particularly relevant, since the largest influence on values is likely to be the peer group, which the parents don't like to intrude on.  If you think your child is so weak-minded that a semester in a teacher's class is going to overturn the values they've been taught, then perhaps the problem is with the parents. 

    The sad reality is that parent's spend very little time engaged in their children's education, so I find it disingenous when they latch on to a "hot-button" topic they are equally ignorant about.  I personally couldn't care less what they believe in, nor what their opinion is, since in the end, the education these kids receive is going to be reflected throughout our society.  While we can certainly argue about whether certain topics are appropriate in high-school, the general education simply isn't up for grabs, regardless of the values a teacher may possess.

    Values are to be taught at home.  There is no middle ground here, lest we get into a situation where every hair-brained idea has to be accommodated because someone might be offended otherwise.  It's far worse than any view of political correctness we encounter today.   People are entitled to whatever beliefs they choose, but they are not entitled to have them supported in the public school system.

    I know you've advocated private schools (which already exist) and the voucher system (which is a thinly veiled means of supporting private schools with public money).  However, the problem is what it has always been.  Parents that are too indifferent to engage in their children's education, so they want to dictate public policy to do it for them.

    We already know that the majority of students going through a science curriculum will never become scientists, so I don't think its particularly useful to worry about parent's opinions.  If anything, perhaps we can allow them to exempt their kids from a class, but beyond that their opinion isn't worth pursuing.

    As for the "thought police", .... please.  People can think what they like, regardless of how stupid it is, but they don't have a right to have it taught to them.  There most definitely is a criteria for what should be considered an acceptable education, and if you think that's policing people's thoughts, I can't imagine what you think the alternative should be.

    If parents want to indoctrinate their kids and screw up their chances at a higher education, then it's up to them, but it doesn't need to be condoned by a school system designed to that end. 

    The real problem is that parents that raise the largest complaints aren't complaining about the school, but rather than their child has shown them they have a mind of their own.  When they start questioning things, then the parents blame the school .... well they need to get over it.  If you want to talk about "thought police", just ask yourself what these parents are actually advocating if it isn't policing the thoughts of their kids.

    Mundus vult decipi
    The sad reality is that parent's spend very little time engaged in their children's education, so I find it disingenous when they latch on to a "hot-button" topic they are equally ignorant about.

    When you are free to choose to pay for something, you tend to value it more greatly, which in and of itself might get at the heart of the disengagement. I would wager that parents who send their kids to private schools value education more than those under similar circumstances who don't. Of course not every parent who values education can afford to do this.

    I wouldn't call these parents ignorant of the issues. Once again, you're questioning the integrity of the consumer, and assuming that in light of what you see as ignorance, you can dictate what's best for them. They might know little about evolution, but what's causing them to speak out is their knowledge, or deep-seated belief, of religion. You can't deny the latter. And evolution does contradict their beliefs, almost by definition. After all, if evolution didn't contradict their beliefs, they wouldn't be speaking out.

    But this is what I meant above about getting trapped into the specifics of the debate, and missing the overall perspective, which is that parents should be free to spend on their children's education as they choose. You seem to arguing that the overall perspective is merely that those want creationism to be taught (at the direct expense of evolution) are just plain stupid. But this is what freedom is all about: not dictating to people - regardless of their intelligence - how to live their lives, unless it's absolutely necessary. In this case, it's not necessary, b/c you can give more freedom by allowing them to not pay for services that they don't care for.

    I think you contradict yourself when you suggest that private schools indicate parents placing greater value in education, because they have to outlay their own monies to support them, and yet you support school vouchers, where other people are paying for the private education system.

    Private schools exist. They are available for those who can choose to support them financially. Isn't that what the free market is all about? If there were little demand for religious education, then the per-unit cost of that education would increase, because of the lack of economies of scale. And that is what we see. Religious private schools are relatively expensive, leading proponents to cry out for relief in the form of vouchers. But asking my tax dollars to go to private school vouchers is just as anti-libertarian as asking those who believe in private education to pay for public education.

    Milton Friedman had the insight that there are 4 ways to spend money, which exist along 2 dimensions: who the money's from, & who you're spending it on.

    The 4 possibilities are spending...

    -(a) your money on yourself (eg, private education)

    -(b) other people's money on yourself (vouchers)

    -(c) other people's money on other people (public education)

    -(d) and lastly your money on other people (charity)

    People tend to spend their money most efficienty when it's their money & they're spending it on themselves. Option a combines these 2 attributes. Option b (along w/d) however is a step in the right direction along at least one dimension. Option c is the most inefficient, because the people spending the money don't value it as if they had earned it, and aren't spending it on themselves. As a collolary, Friedman contended that if we simply abolished all the federal programs designed specifically to provide services to the lower class, and divided up their budgets and handed them out as cash to the poor, we would raise their income so much that we'd eliminate about 3/4 of the lower class simply by definition. The point is that as you move along the spectrum towards spending other people's money on other people, you lose efficiency. So while spending your own money on yourself maybe ideal, we can still move in the right direction by advocating more practical policy changes towards spending other people's money on yourself.

    Gerhard Adam
    The 4 possibilities are spending...

    -(a) your money on yourself (eg, private education)

    -(b) other people's money on yourself (vouchers)

    -(c) other people's money on other people (public education)

    -(d) and lastly your money on other people (charity)

    This sounds flaky.  Options (b) and (c) are the same thing, except that YOU'RE the "other people".  Similarly, option (d) is where you're the 'other people" as well on the spending side.

    This example attempts to skew the result by suggesting that there is a different between "others" and "yourself" in any capacity other than the first examle.  Unless it's strictly your own money on yourself, everything else is "other people's money" spent on "other people".  Whether you belong to any of those groups is academic.

    In case, you're skeptical of my claim, consider the questions of who pays and who benefits.  In option (a) clearly you bear the cost and derive the benefit.  However, in option (b), you derive the benefit, but unless you don't pay taxes, you also pay.  I can't envision a situation where you could be entitled to vouchers but not contribute to the system in some fashion.  Option (c) also costs you money, but you're also entitled to receive the benefit of an education.  Option (d) definitely costs you money, but there's nothing to suggest that you aren't entitled to an education, so that also would provide you benefit.

    If you're talking about only a singular transaction between one individual and other's then it becomes slightly different, but that isn't the discussion since the point is that the government collects all the money and distributes it, so it will always play in all four categories.

    If you're proposing that you shouldn't have to pay for anything except what you use, then you're advocating a return to the aristocratic approach, which is also currently available.  Every discussion about vouchers has always focused on trying to provide financial relief for people that insist on private schools.
    Mundus vult decipi
    The difference between option b & c is literally *who* is spending the money. In option c (public schools), the state is spending the money. Is the state writing out a check to supply public schools? Or are you? In option c, the state is spending the money. The board of education, or whomever, are working very hard in spending the public's money on the public. Some of that money might go to their kids as well; but they're creating public schools for everyone else's kids as well. In option b, you are spending the money.

    You're right that the other dimension - who's money is being spent - can be of degree. But when the money is collected in the form of taxes, you're piece is a small % of the total, and depending on your income, you might or might not recieve services in proportion to the exact amount that you paid.

    If you're proposing that you shouldn't have to pay for anything except what you use, then you're advocating a return to the aristocratic approach

    It's more about how to get the best value for your dollar. Option a, or moving towards it along either dimension, tends to give you best value. So yes, everyone does derive benefits from taxes. But the point is that those benefits will likely be diminished to the degree that someone is using other people's money on other people.

    Actually upon further thought, the second dimension is probably as straightforward as the first, b/c the money that's being spent legally belongs to the state. So it may have come from you, but it's not yours.

    Gerhard Adam

    This is simply a retread of the old argument as to whether the responsibility of government is redistribution of wealth or not.  The rest is simply based on the old "I want to keep what's mine".

    One does not live in a society this large without sharing the costs, and the more money one has, then the more one is going to be expected to pay.  You can argue  that it isn't fair, but there it is. 

    You want fair, then let's dismantle the protections that corporations have under the law, so the only way to form a business is as a sole proprietor or partnership.  Let's completely eliminate taxes except for those things that people want to voluntarily pay for.  Let's eliminate credit, so that people can't spend money they haven't earned.  That way it's literally dependent on what people are directly willing to finance and support.  Let's also eliminate corporate socialism (whereby they subsidize education, retirement programs, and health care).  Let individuals pay for all their own services.  If it's not in their salary, there should be no payments (in kind).  We can eliminate social security (since that subsidizes retired people by those working). 

    The only problem with this, is we would last as a nation for about 10 minutes.  You think it's bad paying taxes for goods or services.  Ask someone that's had a neighborhood decide to pave a road and get their "share" allocated to them and then we'll talk, or perhaps you think its OK, for someone to hold out and refuse to cooperate? 

    As for the "efficiency" argument?  Well, let's say I've had just about enough of Wall Street "efficiency" to last me for my lifetime.  The truth is that I can't think of a single economist that actually knows what's going on.  They make predictions in a resource rich environment where it literally doesn't matter much what you predict, and think that it constitutes validation of their theories.  Yet, none of them could see the Great Depression coming, nor did they see the current crisis coming.  There are plenty that are benefiting from 20/20 hindsight, but apparently none of them had models that could see the common sense perspective, that an economy cannot grow infinitely and that when the majority of a nation's GNP is tied up in servicing debt at some point the party ends.

    An economy operates by the flow of money to goods and services.  Not by locking it up in debt payments that produce nothing.  The last thing I want to do is allow those theories loose on an education system that needs to be fixed, because most assuredly it will make it infinitely worse than anything we can imagine today.   

    I would also make the point that you've mentioned "free markets" several times despite there not being a single working model of such a thing.   If there is not real "free market" in existence, then the speculation of its behavior is purely hypothetical and not a basis for making claims about its benefits.

    Mundus vult decipi
    Paul Krugman played the role of Cassandra pretty well, actually.

    Gerhard Adam

    Is the state writing out a check to supply public schools? Or are you? In option c, the state is spending the money. The board of education, or whomever, are working very hard in spending the public's money on the public.

    What makes you think that you writing a check to the school board directly (private school or otherwise) changes how it is spent?  Do you think that because you pay private school tuition that all the money is being dedicated strictly to your child?  No, you're paying an arbitrary fee that will be spent however the school decides, not you. 



    Your argument has the fallacy of assuming that simply because you write the check you control the ultimate destination or use of your money.  There is no such capability unless you provide all the goods and services yourself.  Everything else depends on how the recipients of your funds determine expenditures (even when they are foolish - witness the current state of the banks).

    Mundus vult decipi
    And is there no value to having an educated workforce / populace?

    This is a matter of playing logic games with semantics to try and ignore externalized costs and benefits.

    Public schools are generally accepted as a societal good, because they ensure that everyone gets at least a basic education, regardless of class. This enables American workers to be more productive than workers in, say, Democratic Republic of Congo. Whether you have a child in school, or six children in school, or none, you still enjoy the benefits of having an educated workforce.

    There seems to be a myth of inherent government wastefulness, and schools awash in cash plundered from the taxpaying public, but the teachers I have known have been extremely conscientious about stretching every one of their (always too few) dollars as far as possible. In fact, it is not without cause that school supplies are tax deductible, because many teachers purchase supplies for their classes out of their own pockets to make up for insufficient funds.

    The concept is pretty simple without bringing in the whole macroeconomy. If you're spending your own hard-earned money, you're going to look harder for the best-buy than if you're spending someone else's money. If you're spending money on yourself, you're also going to look harder for the best-buy than if you're spending it on someone else.

    It's not a logic-game. You can see this principle in all facets of society. If you want some anti-capitalist examples: People abuse corporate-expense accounts b/c they're spending other people's money on themselves; if they had to pay for their own trip, they wouldn't abuse their travel budget. Corporations often take on dangerous risk b/c the people in charge of such risk already have disproportionally high secured salaries & they're in a position to leave before being held responsible.

    This principle is pretty basic. Internally, the only knock against it is if you think that people don't know how to spend their money right. Which again I think is underrating the consumer. Afterall, *you* probably think that you can spend money on yourself better than anyone who doesn't know you spending money on yourself; the same goes for the majority of Americans. Another counterargument might be that you couldn't raise enough money that way; or that the is essential to the public & wouldn't be supported in the free market. Generally that includes services that people wouldn't want to voluntarily pay for for themselves.

    This is a matter of playing logic games with semantics to try and ignore externalized costs and benefits.

    There seems to be a myth of inherent government wastefulness, and schools awash in cash plundered from the taxpaying public, but the teachers I have known have been extremely conscientious about stretching every one of their (always too few) dollars as far as possible

    That's what happens in a centrally-planned sector. It's due to the loss of value b/c people who in gov't don't know how to spend their money most efficiently. Since they never have to worry about growing broke (just like GM), there's no incentive to save money as efficiently as possible. The result, once again, is that you get less bang for your buck. To say the least, however, I'm sure that when those teachers have to spend their own darn money for their class, they're going to spend it more wisely than if they were spending the school's money (or if they were buying stuff for someone else's classroom).

    Gerhard Adam
    ... and how is this perspective anything except idle speculation?

    1.  There is no reasonable way to change such a system, even if you could identify all the "inefficiencies".
    2.  Since there is a significant part of society that can't necessarily afford everything they need to operate in our society, then there will be a need to spend money on someone else.
    3.  Since large governmental services (i.e. military) aren't going to simply form in a vacuum, there is a requirement to gather public funds, which once again entails spending someone else's money.
    4.  Large corporations (or anyone receiving funds that need to be redirected) is invariably spending someone else's money.
    5.  Some services are intrinsically wasteful because they are unaffordable (ie. medicine).  There it will always be a case of spending someone else's money.  This occurs because these services are fundamentally monopolistic, because one typically doesn't shop around when a medical emergency occurs (not that it would matter).
    6.  Similarly, there isn't any opportunity for competition with essential services like power, utilities, etc., so once again there is no need to worry about being efficient in spending.
    7.  Because of the government's need for large scale services (like the military), this affords corporations the opportunity to effectively tax the public by the prices they charge the government.  Once again, it's fundamentally monopolistic and spending other people's money. 

    So where does this leave us?  It's simply an "if pigs could fly" argument.  
    Mundus vult decipi
    ... and how is this perspective anything except idle speculation?

    All other things being equal, the principle holds. Of course, all other things are never being equal. But there are still some circumstances when you can use the principle to tip the scales in your favor, so that you're getting the most value for your money. For instance, you might put a limit on corporate expenses, and all expenditures exceeding the limit will come out of your pocket.

    It's simply an "if pigs could fly" argument.

    Are you telling me that you can't think of an instance in which more than one of those options apply?

    Conversely, what would be implications if the principle were false? I think if it were false, you'd see people naturally flocking to any one of those options whenever they had the chance. So under circumstances in which multiple options were available, they wouldn't exhibit any preference.

    Gerhard Adam
    "...you might put a limit on corporate expenses..."

    Who would?  The government?  The corporation itself? 

    "Are you telling me that you can't think of an instance in which more than one of those options apply?"

    Of course they may apply, but so does the phrase "can't we all just get along?"  It's applicable, just not particularly helpful.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Another counterargument might be that you couldn't raise enough money that way; or that the is essential to the public & wouldn't be supported in the free market. Generally that includes services that people wouldn't want to voluntarily pay for for themselves.

    That is precisely the argument I am making. Education for all is a social good that, abandoned to free market principles, would never happen. The poorer segments of society would become less and less educated in a destructive spiral, and you would have a (more) stratified society without any real social mobility. Not only that, but the capitalist elite will have a less efficient workforce to turn their capital into profits.

    As far as efficient use of resources, I think Friedman attributes too much rationality to consumers. Consumers are not rational beings, they make purchases based on emotional factors as much as, if not more than, logical processes. Individually, we may be somewhat rational, but as a herd, we are very suggestible, and susceptible to advertising and propaganda. This is borne out by the fact that, no matter what your political affiliation, more or less than one half of the population vote against their interests. Therefore a large percentage of consumers can be swayed radically away from their rational arguments by propaganda.

    If enough voices say loudly enough that "Greed is Good," then a portion of the populace will fervently believe it, especially since it happens to correspond with man's baser instincts, and is thus the easier path to take. What we fail to recognize is that societies motivated primarily by greed are dystopic to the extreme for all but the upper crust. Our level of culture is dependent upon the leavening influence of our empathy and charity, and let's face it, at the tail end of an empire, empathy and charity are in a fairly marked decline.

    The poorer segments of society would become less and less educated in a destructive spiral, and you would have a (more) stratified society without any real social mobility.

    Arguably this already occurs in our current school system, which may even be exaggerating the problem. I have a friend who teaches at a black college, and he's always telling me how - even tho it's not PC to bring this up - most black colleges have lower standards, and his students get away with basic things that, in his experience, students don't get away with in non-black colleges.

    It's almost like there's this liberal push in society where people are saying that if we could only get more kids to college, they'd be better educated, and we'd be better off as a whole. Once again, the problem is one of matching services to needs. You cannot just plop any kid in a college (or classroom) & expect him or her to thrive. And yet as we continue to do this, educational standards across many schools are bound to decrease. Grade inflation, or automatic grading based on percentiles, are conventions among others that've risen in higher education which make it deceptively easy for students to graduate w/o having learned anything.

    Applied to secondary education, I think we're seeing the same forces at work. Which is that the benefit derived from education is qualitatively different for, say, an inner city black kid than a white middle class suburban kid. Of course there's no easy solution, but the problem is that the same education is coming from the same source, & again that even tho everyone has different educational needs, no one is spending money specifically to suit their own needs, while the state is simply trying its best to produce one unitary service across all its citizens. So it is a question of getting the most *value* for your buck.

    Consumers are not rational beings, they make purchases based on emotional factors as much as, if not more than, logical processes.

    Its perhaps a shame that when we refer to large groups of people (eg, consumers) who are defined by an action that we all do (eg, consume), it's almost not implied that we're referring to other people (eg, consumers) and not including ourselves as well (eg, kerrjac & bob). B/c most certainly anything that you or I choose to consume is rational, it's that other people consume things irrationally. I'd challenge you in knocking consumer behavior in general to rethink your implicit definition of rational. This in a sense is what freedom, democracy & capitalism is all about. If I think that Obama & everyone who votes for him is irrational, but 60-some percent of the population vote for him, then he could still actually be irrational, but in all likelihood they're all rational, & I was being irrational in calling them such.

    I'll bite. How does public education exacerbate the problem of poor people getting a poor quality education, and more importantly, how would a free market approach allow poor people without resources to participate in the market get a better education if they had to pay for it?

    As far as consumer (ir)rationality, I am referring to consumers not as a class of people, but as a role played within the capitalist system. I, too, am a consumer, and I do not claim to be unswayed by emotional appeal. I merely make an effort to see through propaganda, and am not always successful. Any person who claims to be immune to modern advertising and propaganda is probably decieving themselves. If a consumer is making a high risk decision (or what they percieve as a high risk decision), then they are likely to act more in line with the informed, rational consumer Friedman seems to accept as normal. But most decisions are not percieved to be high risk, and thus are snap judgements made without much rational thought, based on brand recognition, percieved cachet, packaging, and advertising. In other words, most decisions are based on purely emotional subconscious factors.

    Rationality is not conformity. Conformity is an intentional emotional irrationality.

    HedgehogFive
    In Britain it is exacerbated because Marxists and similar control the teaching unions, and many of our politicians are former 60s student radicals.  The Russians were more sensible - they didn't allow trivialities like Communism to get in the way of providing a sound education for their populace, in science at least.
    This explains how you get an education within a political environment you do not agree with in Britain through public education. It does not rate the objective quality of the education. This is akin to a creationist decrying the state of his school's science department because it teaches evolution. It may be distasteful to you, but calling something 'Marxist' does not nessecarily mean that the quality of the product is compromised.

    I am not a communist, but I have to acknowledge that Marx was a smart guy. After all, the following quote seems mighty prescient, given our current state of affairs:

    “Owners of capital will stimulate the working class to buy more and more expensive goods, houses and technology, pushing them to take on more and more expensive debt, until their debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to the bankruptcy of all banks, which will have to be nationalized, and the State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to communism.” – Karl Marx. Das Kapital

    And still nobody has answered how those too poor to participate in the market will create a market for education that suits 'their needs,' and how such a multi-tiered system will fail to cause a stratified society.

    Face it, unleashing 'free' market capitalism on education is promoting enduring inequality. But that is no surprise. 'Free' market capitalism generates wealth, 'tis true, but it also concentrates that wealth and ossifies a defacto caste system. Government intervention is nessecary to keep the playing field close enough to level that the plebs don't revolt.

    HedgehogFive
    I am not arguing from a "right" or "left" point of view.  But the attitude of so many on the left reminds me of a New Scientist cartoon,  featuring a hippy commune with a huge power generator based on organic waste.  When the neighbours complained about the effluent, the leader of the commune replied:

    "Yeah, man, but our pollution is macrobiotic."
    How does public education exacerbate the problem of poor people getting a poor quality education

    By failing to differentiate between the students' different needs. To take an extreme example, say the government provided free medical school for a fixed percentage of people in the lower and middle classes regardless of their intelligence. It's the same service, but over time it would beneft those citizens more greatly who grew up in an environment that prepared them better for medical school. However, multiply this effect of non-differentiation over every child in America, & you have a pretty big mess on your hands.

    One large example of the differentiation you'd see (in more private schools )is in whether high schools include classes that are geared towards basic employment skills vs. college entry. There's little point in having college prep courses for students who are less likely to go to college; sure a school could offer such courses, but many of those students would benefit much more from classes that teach them how to hold a job, b/c that's more likely what they'll be doing after high school. Currently public schools are more geared towards college entry, and how can you blame them, b/c most of their funding comes from middle-upper class families.

    Free markets tend to create services that are at least a little more tailored to their clients' needs. If schools had a bit more independence from the state, then they would be in a better position to meet various public needs. Even in suburban public schools, you see this problem in the common complaint that they're too advanced for some kids and understimulating for others. Of course, drastic changes are often the worst kind, so you couldn't simply tear down public schools over night; that would be a social catastrophe. Gradual shifts are usually best. Concerns about leaving things up to the "whim of the free market" are outweighed by the inadequacies of the current system. If you're concerned about the hypothetical but unlikly event that one powerful company will take over the entire school and create an evil monopoly, well, it wouldn't be too different from the current legal monopoly the gov't has granted itself.

    But most decisions are not percieved to be high risk, and thus are snap judgements made without much rational thought, based on brand recognition, percieved cachet, packaging, and advertising

    As for consumer rationality, there ar emany mechanisms that have evolved to give us greater power in our decision making. Most decision-making overall is not conscious, and this is a good thing, b/c otherwise we'd be absolutely overwhelmed. If you had to be completely informed about every single purchase you made, you'd never get anything done. The same thing occurs in reading people's faces - say you get a sense from someone that they're a little off. You don't have to be completely "informed" of the situation in order to adjust your behavior to him.

    Rationality is not conformity. Conformity is an intentional emotional irrationality.

    Sure rationality isn't conformity, but oftentimes it can be rational to conform.

    See this great article (http://mises.org/story/3322) for another perspective on the supposed "irrationality" of consumer behavior, specifically regarding long-term vs. short-term rewards. The morale of the article is that the presumed definition people have of "rational" is often arbitrary & unrealistic. It also points out that consumer mistakes are often benign relative to political ones; in other words, in correcting "irrational" consumer behavior, you could easily make the problem much worse.

    Sure consumers make mistakes - so does everyone - but more often than not those mistakes due to the same mechanisms that enhance our decisions. Say for instance, you deprived consumers of any emotion whatsoever. I would argue that they would make *exponentially* worse consumer decisions.

    it would beneft those citizens more greatly who grew up in an environment that prepared them better for medical school.

    In other words you do not see the inevitable social stratification of such a scheme as an ill... you see it as a bonus, since the capitalists would efficiently learn to be capitalists, and the tradesmen would efficiently learn to be trademen, and the laborers would, if they learned anything, would learn just what was nessecary to make them more efficient laborers? Just replace serf for laborer, and aristocrat for capitalist, and we tried this before the enlightenment. It was not universally seen as a success, and it is profoundly incompatible with democratic government.

    Most decision-making overall is not conscious, and this is a good thing, b/c otherwise we'd be absolutely overwhelmed.

    We are in agreement. Consumers are not rational for a reason, because otherwise they would be overwhelmed by choice. And yet those irrational behaviors are easily exploited by advertisers and propagandists to cause people to make non-optimal decisions. Because of this heavy thumb on the balance between the corporation and the consumer, how can you use any model that touts the consumers supposed ability to select optimal outcomes for themselves? A well placed ad campaign could easily sway a community to support a private school of dubious quality to the detriment of a reasonably well-performing public school. How then are individuals spending their own money making better decisions than a group of people whose job it is to know the relevant information, and who are sworn to act in the best interests of those whose money they are spending?

    The morale of the article is that the presumed definition people have of "rational" is often arbitrary & unrealistic. It also points out that consumer mistakes are often benign relative to political ones; in other words, in correcting "irrational" consumer behavior, you could easily make the problem much worse.

    I see no such assertions. Now, I have respect for Austrian school economists, at least as pertains to macroeconomics, but what I read in this book review is a case that government cannot be more rational than the people governed, a case that is faulty in ignoring the differences in focus between the individual and the bureacracy. An individual consumer, as we have agreed above, cannot make a 'rational' decision for every choice of products that comes his or her way. Therefore it is one function of the government to ensure that the products the consumer can choose from are safe, and that the claims made in advertising those products are sound. The way that the government does so is by creating a bureacracy whose purpose and focus is to rationally evaluate the safety of the product and the veracity of the advertising. In so doing, the bureaucrat is much less likely to fall prey to the slick tricks and emotional appeals that govern consumer behavior.

    The article quotes "That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will is to prevent harm to others." Here the state prevents harm to others by preventing corporations from distributing harmful or ineffective products to consumers who are normally blithely unaware of the potential hazards of said products.

    Now I am all for the personal liberty of any person to bring harm upon themselves knowingly. A smoker who continues to smoke, despite the information spread (by the government) on the dangers of smoking, despite the physical fact of addiction, still has a right to smoke. They cannot any longer be unaware of the dangers presented, despite the best efforts of the tobacco companies, and can balance the increased risk of emphysema and lung and throat cancer, et al. against the pain and suffering quitting causes. The government also has a right to prevent people who cannot make rational informed decisions (such as children) from smoking. As a long-term smoker who started when I was twelve, and quit three years ago, I speak from some personal experience here.

    There has always been an anarchist streak in this country, but ever since Reagan, it has intensified into an insidious anti-government movement that postulates that the government is incompetent, and then governs incompetently, thus proving the point and reinforcing the message. Properly run, government is not the problem, it is a tool of the people to improve the lives of the people.

    In other words you do not see the inevitable social stratification of such a scheme as an ill... you see it as a bonus

    Anything but. The point is that if you're going to give individuals services in order to help them advance in society, these services have to be relevant to their lives. When tailored to match individuals needs, these services can best help students *advance*. Individual public schools already try to do this by offering advanced courses, slower courses, and special programs for students with retardation. But they can only go so far. They're really not set up to cater to the variety of students that they recieve.

    Ignoring the different needs of inner-city students is as disasterly as ignoring the different needs of kids with retardation. That's not to call them retarded, but just to point out the vase differences between the kdis entering the school system. Catering to inner-city students immediate needs tho would yield improving social effects over time. & ideally as families & communities use the skills to create wealth, their kids can progress further. Trying to set things up so that all inner-city students go to schools in order to be prepped for college is like shooting for the moon, it'll work in a few cases, but that's it. I suspect this is also why students in inner-city students tend to be less engaged, b/c they're really not learning skills that they *need*. The whole system really isn't catered to them at all, & can you in turn blame them for further rejecting it, along with perhaps education on the whole?

    How then are individuals spending their own money making better decisions than a group of people whose job it is to know the relevant information, and who are sworn to act in the best interests of those whose money they are spending?

    This is the essential flaw of central planning. It's that people spending their own money do make better decisions than people whose job it is to know the "relevant" information. These 2 groups - consumer & regulator - further abide by completely different incentives. The regulators are encouraged to over-regulate, b/c they're then blamed for any failures on their part. The FDA is a perfect example; studies show that waffling and "over-caution" on their part has cost Americans tens of thousands of more lives than they've saved, not to mention increased drug prices exponentially. Is that in the best interest of the public?

    Of course what tobacco companies did was wrong. But is that a legit reason to impose strict regulations on every single product? Not to mention that companies that mistep are already hit with civil suits.

    The main insight I got from that book review was the assumption researchers are making about what they consider rational. In many studies, particularly in game-theory, "rational" is operationally defined as deciding to recieve long-term reward instead of short-term reward. A poll will come out claiming that people would rather recieve $10 today than $100 in a year, and conclude that people are irrational. On the contrary, money - even reward- in the short term is rational, b/c it's worth more. Maybe it's due to someone's overriding emotions, maybe it's their context, most likely it's both. Moreover, that inter-mix of factors - emotions, context - has a rational origin. Few companies have succeeded in manipulating them for a long time. Once they are labeled as defectors, per that other post, a demand is created for cooperators.

    Gerhard Adam

    There are several flaws in this line of reasoning.

    In the first instance, you're making the assumption that private schools could do a better job of servicing a greater variation of needs, despite not having identified the variations that might need to be accommodated.  If there is too much variation, then each school becomes too costly since they lose the economies of scale intrinsic in a larger system, so there would be a tendency to attract more students, especially those that can pay higher tuitions.  Once this occurs, there's no reason to believe that there will be any greater attention paid to those with less money, since they cannot influence the outcome in any meaningful way because they are economically powerless, so there will be no need to cater to them at all.  This is what has always happened traditionally.

    Regarding the inner city, you need to re-think it.  The primary problem in many of those schools is not academic, but rather security and crime which makes the entire learning experience a tad more complicated.  To conclude that the schools aren't meeting needs, begs the question if the external social factors aren't considered.

    As for companies that "misstep", the reliance on civil suits is too little too late.  Consider the recent problem with peanuts.  Without the governmental authority to force a recall and draw focus, it would be years before a civil suit ever worked its way through the court system, and that's assuming that someone has the money to last long enough to manage it.  In addition, a private citizen could never hope to have access to the necessary resources to make such a case.  The civil courts are useful once damage has occurred, and a case has been set, but to establish a case, they are worthless (unless you have enough money to not be part of this discussion).

    I don't know where you got that last bit from, but game theory isn't about short-term versus long-term rewards. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    rholley
    The 4 possibilities are -(a) (private education) -(b) (vouchers) -(c) (public education) -(d) (charity)
    That would plot well on a Riemann surface!  But which of a-d would you use for the real and imaginary parts of the (in)dependent variables?
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Gerhard Adam

    I have to disagree.  Nobody gets to pick and choose what they pay for when it comes to government spending.  Why should this fringe group get a special pass?  In addition, these same people want to have good qualified people providing them services, but they don't want to help pay for a system that allows that to occur? 

    The system you're advocating was in existence for decades, if not centuries, and the only thing it achieved was to ensure that only the aristocracy obtained an education.

    I also have to disagree that having a belief, constitutes knowledge in any way.  As I stated before, there's no need for these parents to participate if they want to home school and then they can teach their kids whatever fables they like (which is not to imply that that's what home schooling is about).

    School is about values, but rather education and unfortuanately these people want to make the schools the source of values, morals, and religious education.  We've seen how well that works in the Islamic fundamentalist schools ... yeah, let's have more of that.

    I'm not questioning the integrity of the consumer, I'm questioning their right to dictate something that only they believe in.  I'm also not sure why the "integrity of the consumer" shouldn't be questioned, it certainly is in every other capacity (buy a house and tell me that you aren't being paper-trailed around the room).

    I wonder how you would feel if there was a group demanding the right to teach that the Holocaust was a fraud, or that white supremacy should be the legacy of this country?   I suspect you wouldn't be nearly as understanding.  The point is that these all represent viewpoints that have no place in a classroom, regardless of what these parents decide to teach in their homes.

    You had mentioned that you considered yourself an atheist, but a word of advice.  Say it often enough, and you'll find that these people won't be nearly as understanding about your point of view as you're attempting to be of theirs.

    Mundus vult decipi
    I wonder how you would feel if there was a group demanding the right to teach that the Holocaust was a fraud, or that white supremacy should be the legacy of this country?

    This is a very good example, b/c I would feel offended if that was being taught in *public* schools in my jurisdiction. I'm paying for those school's for goodness sake. On the other hand, if they were taught in private schools, I wouldn't mind as much. Sure it tests the limits of freedom, but our country was founded upon it.

    You had mentioned that you considered yourself an atheist, but a word of advice. Say it often enough, and you'll find that these people won't be nearly as understanding about your point of view as you're attempting to be of theirs.

    Our nation was founded on tolerance for one another. That's what allows us all to live with each other.

    Nobody gets to pick and choose what they pay for when it comes to government spending. Why should this fringe group get a special pass?

    Which is exactly why it's a question of whether education should be funded publicly.

    Given the political rift between "red" and "blue" states, one can only imagine how quickly we would have "conservative" and "liberal" schools.

    I think many people would welcome this sort of diversity in their school system, at least, to the degree to which consumers free to choose would create it. (My public high school school I went to was unabashedly liberal.) The problem with the quality of public schools across the nation is that they don't have the necessary resources to tailor their curriculum to the needs of their students. The conflict this creates in inner-city schools is much more immediate. The conflict this creates among creationist parents however is an effect of the same cause.

    Gerhard Adam

    You're ideas are beginning to sound a little on the fringe.  Since when does freedom of speech extend to education?  You really think it would be a "freedom of speech" issue if someone wanted to open a racist school?  You think that a "shaman" should be allowed to hang his shingle right alongside an M.D. as equals? 



    "Our nation was founded on tolerance for one another. That's what allows us all to live with each other."
     
    Wow, I can't believe you said that.  On the one hand you keep talking about "free markets" and getting the government out, and then you invoke the government as the arbiter that allows you be free and protected from those that may disagree with you.  You may think that doesn't occur, but make no mistake, the freedoms you enjoy are precisely because the government intrudes when personal opinions hold sway and violate individual's rights.  All you have to do is consider the Civil Rights Movement (and the government help) to see how that came about. 

    The second thought on that statement is that it is woefully optimistic.  When most states have  employment at will" laws, you've clearly never been confronted by an Evangelical boss that decided his little store need to be more Christian and therefore you would be out of a job?  or the fact that the public "tolerance" of atheism extends to such a large degree that a martian would be elected president long before someone making such a claim. 

    You rely on the government to afford you the protections to engage in these activities at the same time you want to disavow their involvement in these other areas.  You can't have it both ways.  I would rather offend someone's sensibilities because they want to have a white supremacist school, than to subject a neighborhood to such ravings, simply because of the "freedom of speech".

    Given your scenario, if there were terrorist schools in this country, then technically they should be allowed to operate unless they explicitly do something illegal.  This isn't a stretch since you opened that door by indicating that you wouldn't mind that much as long as you didn't have to pay for it (although you only used the Holocaust example, by extension then, any belief must be considered acceptable). 



    You may think I'm overstating this last point, but if there is any belief that you do not consider acceptable, then you already agree that a line can and should be drawn.  Then the only question that remains, is why there, and not here?

    Mundus vult decipi
    Since when does freedom of speech extend to education? You really think it would be a "freedom of speech" issue if someone wanted to open a racist school?

    The sad part is that such racists have existed, and they were largely public. Not only that, but blacks had to help pay for them.

    While I thank you for testing my beliefs with your extreme examples, you have to consider the driving demand to open up such schools. They wouldn't open just b/c it was technically possible for them to open, or in order to test the limits of the law. They would open b/c of wide-spread social support for them. Such social-support, as history dictates, would exist regardless of whether the schools were public or private. (As for private terrorist militia schools, well those would likely be shut down for the same reason that any terrorist militia would, regardless of the age of its participants).

    Gerhard Adam

    "They would open b/c of wide-spread social support for them."

    ... and that is precisely where the law draws the line.  Public support is an insufficient reason to allow something to happen.  This is why slavery was abolished, why the civil rights laws were passed, and why religious fundamentalists don't write the laws.

    No one is questioning what sort of social beliefs might exist, it is a matter of whether they should be given a voice by the society they reside in.  You certainly know that someone would open a Nazi school in a Jewish neighborhood, or a White Supremacist school in a black neighborhood and then demand the government protect them because of all the "tolerance" they would get.

    I don't mean to sound insulting, but these ideas sound a bit naive and seem to be based solely on some political ideology than on any working example or even historical perspective.  Whether you accept it or not, the government views an educated populace as a necessary asset if it is to compete in the world or maintain any type of leadership role.  While you can certainly make a good argument that they haven't done a very good job and much of the effort has been misdirected and foolish, nevertheless, the end result is that the government isn't likely to simply "leave it up to the public".

     

    Mundus vult decipi
    On contrasting views of tolerance, a quote from Milton Friedman (pulling from Tocqueville):

    As Tocqueville put it, 'There is a manly and lawful passion for equality, which incites men to wish all to be powerful and honored. This passion tends to elevate the humble to the rank of the great. But there exists also in the human heat a depraved taste for equality, which impels the weak to attempt to lower the powerful to their own level and ... Read Morereduces men to prefer equality in slavery to inequality with freedom.' It is striking testimony to the changing meaning of words that in recent decades, the Democratic Party of the United States has been the chief instrument for strengthening that government power which Jefferson and many of his contemporaries viewed as the greatest threat to democracy, and it has striven to increase government power in the name of a concept of equality that is almost the opposite of the concept of equality Jefferson identified with liberty and Tocqueville with Democracy."

    Gerhard Adam
    "...the Democratic Party of the United States has been the chief instrument for strengthening that government power which Jefferson and many of his contemporaries viewed as the greatest threat to democracy

    So why is it that the Republican party has always increased the size of government and extended its powers farther than anyone.  If we consider conservative ideology, I find that they always talk a good game, but have a hard time living by it.  Don't get me wrong, I'm no raging liberal, since I find that there's often too much of treating everyone as victims to my taste.

    If the concern is government intrusion, then the school system isn't the place to start this process.  That is definitely one of the more benign intrusions, since most of it is locally controlled.
    Mundus vult decipi
    the end result is that the government isn't likely to simply "leave it up to the public"...
    Public support is an insufficient reason to allow something to happen.

    But you go full circle when you consider that the gov't *is* the public. Of course public support can sway some areas more than others, and in different methods.

    the government views an educated populace as a necessary asset

    In the end this is where the push towards private education might very well come from. After all, many (but not all) of the most reputable universities are private. They all receive public funds in one way or another, but the private ones are still comparable to vouchers. There's no doubt that schools would improve if they could match their services to their children; and free markets are an efficient tool for this. Afterall, how can a gov't committee guess about the needs of all of its citizen's? The impetus to change won't come from any high-falutin talk about freedom & tolerance, it'll come from the fact that private schools *work* better.

    Gerhard Adam
    "But you go full circle when you consider that the gov't *is* the public."

    To a degree.   The public determines who will be in the government, but simply being a part of the public doesn't give anyone an additional perogative.   The public doesn't directly set policy, or pass laws, or even assess taxes.  The public only elects a government, beyond that they are citizens that are essentially agreeing to be ruled. 

    There was NEVER any consideration by the founding fathers to grant power to the people beyond that extend and even that was contested (hence the electoral college). 

    If anything, the real influence of the public is in modern polling and the internet.  However, unless there is a particular focus on a issue, I can't think of anything more irrelevant than listening to all the different opinions and viewpoints of 300 million people.  The purpose of a politician is not to explicitly do what people tell him to do, but rather to do what people elected them to do. 

    If you like Jefferson, try these:

    "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."

    "Freedom [is] the first-born daughter of science."

    "Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to, convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty."

    "There are two subjects, indeed, which I shall claim a right to further as long as I breathe: the public education, and the sub-division of counties into wards. I consider the continuance of republican government as absolutely hanging on these two hooks."

    "It is highly interesting to our country, and it is the duty of its functionaries, to provide that every citizen in it should receive an education proportioned to the condition and pursuits of his life."

    Anyway ... you get the idea.

    A couple of other interestings ones

    "Ignorance is preferable to error, and he is less remote from the truth who believes nothing than he who believes what is wrong."

    "Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear."

    "I concur with you strictly in your opinion of the comparative merits of atheism and demonism, and really see nothing but the latter in the being worshipped by many who think themselves Christians."


    Sorry ... I just love Jeffersonian quotes
    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    Sorry ...just posting these because I like Jefferson

    They [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: and enough, too, in their opinion.

    -Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush, Sept. 23, 1800

    The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.

    -Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814

    Mundus vult decipi
    Gerhard Adam
    Sorry ... couldn't pass this one up

    ""Whenever... preachers, instead of a lesson in religion, put [their congregation] off with a discourse on the Copernican system, on chemical affinities, on the construction of government, or the characters or conduct of those administering it, it is a breach of contract, depriving their audience of the kind of service for which they are salaried, and giving them, instead of it, what they did not want, or, if wanted, would rather seek from better sources in that particular art of science." --Thomas Jefferson to P. H. Wendover, 1815. ME 14:281
    Mundus vult decipi
    rholley
    This Jeffersonian remark is brilliant, but in the previous one (to John Adams) he himself is is showing a tendency to pontificate.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Steve Davis
    And I couldn't pass this one Gerhard! "I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered."
    Thomas Jefferson 1802
    Gerhard Adam

    He's emminently quotable

    Mundus vult decipi
    rholley
    During his lifetime, Francis of Assisi taught his students that they should bridle the stubborn and wayward flesh, which he referred to as 'Brother Donkey'.

    Francis, now in Heaven, is sitting on a park bench and reading a book.  A Franciscan monk, newly arrived, sees him sitting there, laughing fit to bust.

    "Brother Francis," he enquires "what moves you to such mirth?"

    "It's this book I'm reading" he replies, showing him Descent of Man.  "Remember 'Brother Donkey'?  I've just realized I had the wrong animal all along.  He should have been 'Brother Monkey'!"
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England