Category Archives: Education

Why Are Young Libertarians More Interested In Utopia Than School Choice?

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Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Veronica Peterson whom I met at a recent Franklin Center conference. She was formerly with California Watchdog.org.

As an advocate for libertarian philosophy I have found the common conception of “libertarianism” seems to be one of mixed ideas and an internal clash of anarchism vs. state-ism.

It seems among ourselves, the only thing libertarians can agree on is that individuals have rights—from there war breaks out between the utopias of everyone involved in a discussion (but don’t worry, the sacred NAP keeps the peace—or fosters more war). These discussions usually hit a brick wall when everyone concerned realizes that nobody is willing to accept someone else’s utopia, and someone calls someone else a “statist” or depending upon their feelings about the NAP, a “filthy statist.”

Libertarians like to discuss all sorts of important political topics like immigration, economics, the environment, and intellectual property. Each libertarian creates a utopia, centered in the concept of individual rights, and explains how their perfected version of the State can accommodate these rights (or not).

But for a group of people who are so passionate about the rights of individuals, it surprises me there aren’t more—and more fruitful—discussions of school choice.

It seems libertarians would be interested in the rights of the parents and government authority, but the topic of school choice is embedded with slightly less obvious rights, as well as our government supporting autonomy. Then we are faced with the reality that while we seem to believe in supporting liberties and markets, the government is facilitating actual liberty for families and children where it was not otherwise achievable.

Young libertarians should be up in arms over these ideas. Young libertarians have the opportunity to create and enact a libertarian ideal in the real world—that will help their own children—if they begin now.

Last month the Franklin Center held their #AmplifyChoice event in the Washington DC, area to raise awareness of National School Choice Week. The event included campus tours, meeting with teachers, families, and students, lectures about the logistics of charter schools and education, as well as opportunities to ask one on one questions with experts in education, politics, and operators of private and charter schools.

In contrast to many areas of the country, families in the Washington DC area have many educational options for their children. The DC area offers traditional public schools or a diverse choice of public charter schools and private schools.

Now here is one of the twists: the DC area offers the Opportunity Scholarship, which awards qualifying students scholarships to attend private schools. This scholarship is federally funded and is only available to the DC area. There are about 50 private schools accept students using this scholarship for their tuition.

This scholarship helps break down economic barriers and overall families more educational options—but it is federally funded…

Ok, so, government funding isn’t uncommon for schools. Traditional public schools are the standard in the governmentally funded education. These are where you end up if there are no other options—children are entitled an education, and what the government provides them is what they get.

What’s interesting is the most common alternative (besides home schooling) is public charter schools that are regulated differently state to state. DC has created a system that leaves charter schools funded through the government while leaving them autonomous. This autonomy is possible because of the District of Columbia Public Charter School Board (PCSB), which authorizes and oversees the public charter schools that are run by independent nonprofits. Charter schools have the freedom to use the teaching methods that the individual nonprofits choose, in contrast to whatever the government wants to teach your kids. Focusing on quality education, PCSB bases a tiered rating system of charter schools on student progress, parent satisfaction, and student achievement.

Why is this not a thing everywhere?

The liberty movement is the prime group to advocate for educational freedoms and the autonomy of families. Why are we arguing over who is a “real libertarian,” and instead be arguing over what schooling options are legitimate and why?

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Community Conservatism – Choosing Education that Works

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Making Education Work for the Middle Class

A) Simplify the Department of Education by Block Granting Most of its Budget to the States

Ron Paul, Rick Perry and Herman Cain all tried appealing to conservatives in the primaries in 2012 with the simple-minded proposal that we should simply abolish entire Federal departments. There is a certain libertarian appeal toward deleting expensive and useless departments with good-sounding mandates but bad results. We get that. But the public – the conservative public – rejected such notions and elected the guy that wanted to streamline the government and increase state power in an attempt to make government work properly, rather than giving up on government entirely. We believe most in the middle class want to see their government achieve results, rather than gambling that the results will happen naturally without government interference. We believe the GOP must embrace the notion of governing. One way to do that, is to let the states make decisions about education policy by handing them the money and reducing the role of the Federal department to that of balance sheet management and effectiveness monitor with a mandate to make sure that state programs are producing results and striking state policies that fail. We recognize that much of the spending is already block granted to the states – we are proposing to further shrink the Federal budget and return that money to the states with fewer restrictions on how it is spent.

B) Pass Federal Legislation Protecting the Right of Parents to Choose Homeschooling

There is a move afoot in some states to ban homeschooling – we have seen the same sort of movement in the EU and elsewhere in the developed world and it has led to some frightening limitations on liberty that no one should wish to see replicated in the US. The middle class, in particular, is interested in new and innovative education solutions including massive open online courses (MOOCs) at all educational levels and a variety of other homeschooling models – let’s get on the right side of history and liberty before we find ourselves unable to act decisively.

C) Incentivize States to Enact School Choice Laws

It is not within the appropriate jurisdiction of the Federal legislature to mandate open school choice, in our opinion, but we can encourage the states to accept that school choice is in high demand by the lower and middle classes by increasing federal awards to states that back successful public charter, public magnet, private, parochial and homeschooling alternatives monetarily and favor successful schools over bad ones in the distribution of education budgets, and by giving states bonuses that are efficient with their education funds (generate better performance to dollar ratios).

D) Back Trade Schools, MOOCs and Private Colleges with Oversight

One of the biggest problems with the alternatives to public colleges that prevent employers from giving much value to job applicants who obtain certifications and technical degrees from private technical schools, MOOCs and trade schools is that it’s the wild west for these colleges and they are under no obligation to provide a useful and quality education. Take a note here – because you will rarely see us asking for more federal regulation, but this is one such case. The Federal Government must promote alternatives to expensive public colleges to help ameliorate the growing higher education bubble and keep young people out of debt (and, in so doing, grow the future middle class). In order for us to break our addiction to student loans, we must empower high school kids to choose high school and college curricula that lead to technical certifications and trades, and we can’t do that until we can guarantee that our private and technical/trade colleges meet basic standards of educational value that will convince employers to hire people certified and degreed by such institutions. The standards need not be identical to the public system, but quality assurance should be required.

E) Encourage States to Enact Reforms that Limit Public Degrees that Do Not Produce

Here again, it would be beyond the scope of Congress to start outlawing college degree programs that do not produce expected revenue that justifies their existence – what we can do, however, is increase the available federal assistance for students who are majoring in a STEM, manufacturing, or technical field (and any other degree program with a solid history of wealth creation), decrease federal assistance for less productive or overrepresented majors, and tie interest rates to risk (a risky degree like puppetry or cultural studies should come with much higher interest rates than a STEM degree). Federal student loans should be treated like the investment they were billed to be, not like a pipeline of money that students may use and abuse to heart’s content. College degrees should improve the US economy, not burden it.

F) Pass a Law Requiring a Government Census of College Degree performance and Making Info Available Online

Openness and transparency in financial outcomes and expenditures usually has the immediate impact of change the demand for products based on rational financial decision-making. College degrees are a bit more emotional than the average investment opportunity, so having good data on which degrees are good investments and which are not will not stop bad degrees from existing, but I believe it will alter the number of students falling for them (because it will cause parents to deny their children’s requests to attend expensive colleges in order to study something that has a poor earning potential, along with making some students think twice about choosing bad or, at least, over-saturated, degrees). So require the department of education to conduct a census of colleges and universities and their various degree programs and report information such as the default rate on student loans for each school, each degree program and each combination of the two, the graduation rate, the employment numbers, and the net earnings of students (per capita) by degree program at each school. If a college degree is an investment, we should know what the investment is worth.

G) Pass a Law Guaranteeing the Right of Refusal to Parents

One more thing that Congress cannot tackle directly, but must move to address in what ways it can is ‘Common Core’. The concept of a Federally mandated curriculum is not compatible with liberty and the GOP should move to guarantee the right of all families to refuse to participate in common core and choose a different standard. This won’t help parents who are currently stuck in public schools and don’t have a viable alternative, but as GOP governors work on the problem of school choice, it will be crucial that alternative programs have the right to opt out of common core and use different teaching methods and standards.

Education is a state problem for the most part, as it should be, and in spite of efforts by leftists to nationalize and further institutionalize learning – but that doesn’t mean the legislature can’t take certain steps to lead on education policy and encourage the states to be bold and innovative o their own. Middle class families are aching for a better way forward for their children ad Congress should show that this is a priority for them as well.

Tesla Whines About Protectionist Legislation for Auto Dealers While Using Government Largesse to Compete

Last week, I wrote about rent seeking auto dealers lobbying for protection from competition with manufacturers utilizing direct-to-consumer sales models. I mentioned direct-to-consumer manufacturer Tesla by name, and suggested such legislation would prevent consumers from enjoying the savings that might otherwise be realized from Tesla’s efforts to “eliminate the middle-man.”

I should have taken the opportunity to address Tesla’s own abundant receipt of government largesse.

And to be clear, “government” largesse is always paid for by the taxpayers.

In a piece entitled “If Tesla Would Stop Selling Cars, We’d All Save Some Money,” Forbes contributor Patrick Michaels details all the ways Tesla benefits from government handouts. Michaels concludes that taxpayers shell out $10,000 for every car Tesla sells.

Michaels starts with a claim that purchasers of Tesla vehicles receive a $7500 “taxback bonus that every buyer gets and every taxpayer pays.” Since the tax credit appears to be non-refundable, I would not count it as a cost to other taxpayers, as Michaels does.

But the federal tax credit is only the tip of the crony capitalist iceberg for Tesla.

There are also generous state subsidies paid by taxpayers to the wealthy people who buy Tesla’s expensive vehicles. Purchasers in Illinois, for example, can receive a $4,000 rebate from that state’s “Alternate Fuels Fund,” a $3,000 rebate to offset the cost of electric charging stations, and reduced registration fees. California likewise offers a long list of rebates and subsidies to buyers of electric vehicles.

One of the hidden costs to consumers comes in the form of the increased price tag on cars sold by manufacturers who do not qualify for California’s mandated emissions credits, which they instead have to buy from Tesla, allowing it to earn a profit despite selling cars at a massive loss. As Michaels explains:

Tesla didn’t generate a profit by selling sexy cars, but rather by selling sleazy emissions “credits,” mandated by the state of California’s electric vehicle requirements. The competition, like Honda, doesn’t have a mass market plug-in to meet the mandate and therefore must buy the credits from Tesla, the only company that does. The bill for last quarter was $68 million. Absent this shakedown of potential car buyers, Tesla would have lost $57 million, or $11,400 per car. As the company sold 5,000 cars in the quarter, though, $13,600 per car was paid by other manufacturers, who are going to pass at least some of that cost on to buyers of their products. Folks in the new car market are likely paying a bit more than simply the direct tax subsidy.

Slate’s Scott Woolley details another way in which Tesla has cost taxpayers money. In 2009, Tesla received a $465 million Department of Energy loan that allowed it to weather a financial maelstrom. Unlike Solyndra (and Abound Solar and Fisker Automotive and The Vehicle Production Group LLC), Tesla managed to repay the loan in 2013. According to Michaels, it did so by reporting its first ever quarterly profit (earned from the sale of the emissions credits), which sent its stock soaring and enabled it to borrow $150 million from Goldman Sachs, and then issuing a billion in new stock and long-term debt.

But Tesla paid the U.S. taxpayers back at a rate far below what venture capitalists would have earned on the same loan. As an example, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk also made a loan to Tesla. Musk got a 10% interest rate and options to convert the debt to stock, which he did, resulting in a 3,500% rate of return on his investment.

In contrast, the U.S. taxpayer received a 2.6% rate of return.

In other words, in our crony capitalist system, taxpayers take the loss on bad loans like the one to Solyndra, but do not enjoy commensurate reward on good loans like the one to Tesla.

But there is still more. Tesla cannot keep earning emissions credits, which allow it to earn a profit despite selling its cars at a loss, unless it can keep selling those cars. Josh Harkinson, writing for Mother Jones, writes that:

Its first-quarter profit, a modest $11 million, hinged on the $68 million it earned selling clean-air credits under a California program that requires automakers to either produce a given number of zero-emission vehicles or satisfy the mandate in some other way. For the second quarter, Tesla announced a $26 million profit (based on one method of accounting), but again the profit hinged on $51 million in ZEV credits; by year’s end, these credit sales could net Tesla a whopping $250 million.

Tesla’s ability to continue selling the cars that earn the credits is in question. The market for $80,000 cars has a limited number of buyers. Tesla must expand its customer base with a more affordable product.

One way to achieve that would be to cut the vehicle’s range. But subsidies, credits and fuel savings notwithstanding, consumers have little taste for lower ranges—even at a much lower price. Another way for Tesla to lower the cost of its vehicles is to cut the cost of its batteries without sacrificing the range. As Harkinson observes:

That, however, may again depend on massive subsidies—in this case funding to battery researchers and manufacturers by the governments of Japan and China. Over the past five years, Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization, a public-private partnership founded in 1980, has pumped roughly $400 million into developing advanced battery technologies. Tesla’s Panasonic cells also might be pricier if not for subsidies the company received to expand its battery plants in Kasai and Osaka.

When Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bill reaffirming Michigan’s protectionist legislation for traditional automobile franchise dealers, auto blog Jalopnik reported GM’s position as follows:

“Competition is always healthy,” GM spokeswoman Heather Rosenker tells Jalopnik. “But it needs to be on a level playing field.”

In the context of the substantial aid Tesla receives from federal, state and foreign governments, it is easier to have some sympathy for the plight of traditional manufacturers—and their dealers.

Ultimately, that sympathy shines a spotlight on the problems created when government starts “tinkering” in the market. Inevitably, that initial, well-intentioned tinkering necessitates ever more intrusive secondary tinkering aimed at remediating the unintended side effects of its initial foray into the market.

Consider health care. Inflation in the cost of U.S. health care began to outpace the general rate of inflation when the government began subsidizing health care costs. Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman has estimated that real per capita health spending is twice what it would be in the absence of third party payments, and that Medicare and Medicaid are responsible for 43% of that increase. The remaining portion can be blamed in large part on the third party payments from mandated employer health care coverage, further separating patients from the cost of their care and eliminating the market forces that would otherwise keep costs down. Add to the foregoing the government-enforced monopolies on health care education, leading to 22% fewer medical schools in the United States now than one hundred years ago, despite a 300% increase in population, and attendant provider shortage. All that well-intentioned tinkering created a whole host of ugly, unintended side effects, necessitating more tinkering. The federal government responded with the Affordable Care Act and its accompanying thousands of pages of new regulations.

Everywhere the pattern repeats. The cost of higher education outpaces general inflation precisely because the government wants to help people pay for it. The unintended side effect is increasing numbers of graduates with useless degrees and few job prospects, necessitating further tinkering in the form of loan relief, jobs programs and minimum wage hikes. The Federal Reserve suppresses interest rates to artificial lows in the well-intended effort to speed recovery from the bust of the dot-com bubble. The unintended (in this case, it may actually have been intended, at least by Paul Krugman) side effect is a new bubble in housing. When that bubble bursts, the government must step in to bail people and banks out of their bad investments, create new bureaucracies and new regulations making it harder for people to qualify for loans (in contrast to previous tinkering designed to make it easier).

Lather, rinse, repeat.

I am not a radical free-marketer because I dislike poor people or have a special love for corporations. I am a radical free marketer because I know no amount of tinkering ever produces results as beneficial as what the market produces, naturally and efficiently, all on its own.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

Why FIRE Is Wrong To Criticize Utah State For Anti #GamerGate Speaker’s Cancellation

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Let me get this out of the way before we get started. For the most part, I like the work that FIRE does on free speech issues on university campuses. Universities are meant to be a place where ideas can be expressed freely, and all too often that’s no longer the case for many reasons.

I also deplore death threats and believe they have no place in political discourse, on either side of any political issue. Anyone who issues death threats for the purpose of silencing speech should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law for terrorism, because that’s what this is.

Now that all that is out of the way, let’s get into the story. A couple of weeks ago, Anita Sarkeesian, who is a feminist speaker and opponent of #GamerGate (if you need a #GamerGate 101, read Christopher Bowen’s piece on the topic) canceled her scheduled lecture at Utah State University due to death threats and the fact that Utah universities allow concealed weapons at universities.

The Salt Lake Tribune has more:

In a phone interview from San Francisco, Anita Sarkeesian said she canceled Wednesday’s lecture not because of three death threats — one of which promised “the deadliest school shooting in American history” — but because firearms would be allowed in spite of the threats.

“That was it for me,” said Sarkeesian, who has kept multiple speaking engagements in the face of death threats, including one last week at Geek Girl Con in Seattle. “If they allowed weapons into the auditorium, that was too big a risk.”

She also pledged never to speak at a Utah school until firearms are prohibited on Utah’s campuses and called for other lecturers to join her in boycotting the state.

The USU police and the FBI determined that the threats against Sarkeesian were not credible. Also, Utah passed a law in 2004 that banned universites from restricting guns on campus. Whether or not you like that law, that is the law in Utah.

USU police though offered to tighten security at Sarkeesian’s lecture:

Sarkeesian said she asked for metal detectors or pat-downs at the entrance of the Taggart Student Center auditorium, but USU police said they could not prevent those in attendance from carrying weapons into the lecture if they had concealed weapons permits. Though she said, “in hindsight, I don’t think I’d feel comfortable with any weapons in the auditorium.” Police instead promised more officers and a backpack check at the doors. Sarkeesian said she asked whether police could screen the audience for guns and let them in if they had permits, but Vitale said campus law enforcement officers believed that would have been needlessly invasive for the audience.

“If we felt it was necessary to do that to protect Miss Sarkeesian, we absolutely would have done that,” Vitale said. “We felt the level of security presence we were putting into this was completely adequate to provide a safe environment.”

In this era of where we read about police officers violating the rights of the citizens they’re supposed to protect and serve, it’s good to see the USU police try to balance Sarkeesian’s safety with the rights of the audience. However, this wasn’t good enough for Sarkeesian and she cancelled her speech.

It’s clear that Anita Sarkeesian canceled her speech to make a point about concealed carry on campuses and this is a political stunt, not a threat to free speech because the university tried to work with her on security. The university did their job. For more on the gun control implications, read this.

Now enter FIRE’s Gina Luttrell who on their official blog criticized the university for not doing more to prevent the cancellation.

Regardless of the specifics of Utah’s open carry laws, universities do absolutely have an obligation to make sure that reasonable steps are taken to protect speakers—particularly when credible threats are made against them or when there may be violence toward them for their speech. Utah State should have worked harder to ensure that Sarkeesian would be safe speaking on its campus. Frankly, it’s difficult to believe that this would not have been possible to do while also staying within the bounds of state and federal law.

What more does Luttrell and FIRE want USU to do? They tried to work with Sarkeesian on a security plan that would’ve been compliant with Utah law against a threat that the FBI and USU police deemed to be non credible and Sarkeesian rejected it in favor of a political stunt against guns on college campuses. Instead of attacking the university, FIRE and Luttrell should be attacking Sarkeesian for trying to frame her attacks on the Second Amendment as a free speech issue. At the same time, you can’t force someone to speak somewhere they’re not comfortable speaking for whatever reason.

The answer to attacks on freedom is not to restrict freedom. It’s truly disappointing to see organizations give the cover of defending civil liberties to those who are attacking freedom, in this case giving the cover of defending free speech to a woman who is trying to restrict the right to keep and bear arms on campus.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at The Hayride.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

The Important Subject You’re Not Being Taught In College

Imagine that you are in college, and that you have registered for a survey course you think will be particularly interesting. Based on the course description and preliminary syllabus, you conclude that, although your knowledge level is lacking in the course’s field, it seems that the course takes that into account and that you should be fine.

Finally, imagine that you were wrong. You are in over your head. You simply don’t know enough. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

I’m sure that we’ve all been in situations like this at one point or another, whether in college or not. You take on a task for which you feel prepared, or at least able, and then the whole thing turns out to be a non-starter. I happen to have been in the exact situation outlined above. But here’s the scary part: this was a history based government course. I was a junior in the Government Department. And I found my knowledge of history lacking.

It would have been one thing if I were a freshman. Lack of knowledge at that level is expected. During sophomore year it is made fun of. But the third year? That is supposed to be the point in an undergraduate’s career when their hand finally steadies at the helm. The oceans of knowledge are not as threatening, and a course forward can begin to be charted. Instead, I found like fifteen leaks all over the place. And then the ship pitched sideways. Metaphor over.

This particular class, for me, was entitled “The Early Development of American Political Institutions and Organization,” and it was a junior level research seminar in the Government Department of Harvard University. The first day of class, I immediately noticed that I would have to learn a lot of new information to stay abreast of the material and classroom discussion. Before I could even complete the required readings, which were complex overviews and analyses of American history, I had to do swaths of background reading at a much lower level. This was just to give my coursework a context. Imagine trying to think seriously about the development of the Democratic Party (which we had to do), but with little idea of the history of Andrew Jackson or the United States at that particular time (which is what I had). Tough sell, right?

The scary part is that I suspect most of my fellow classmates were caught by surprise just as much as I was. I wasn’t surprised by the difficulty of the course material or the amount of it. I was surprised that I didn’t have the proper antecedent knowledge to engage it at a high level. I’d like to stress here, again, that I was a junior at this time. There was no excuse for this dearth.

This part of the story has an OK ending. I stayed with the class, didn’t speak as much as I normally would, and tore through a lot of extra reading in addition to the classroom materials. I finished with a B. (Despite what some of you may have read about grade inflation, that grade was not an easy task.) I learned a lot about the early history of the United States, but more importantly I learned that my knowledge of history in general was greatly lacking. Even though I had very good knowledge of modern events, history is a subject that is only fully valuable when you have a grand scope. That’s kind of the point of the field.

Fast forward to the second semester of my junior year. Armed with the knowledge that I didn’t know anything (or enough to matter), I decided to start at the Founding, the very beginning. I’m told it’s a very good place to start. I poured through the course catalog in an attempt to find survey courses on American history (American History 101, or something). When I didn’t immediately succeed, my eyes narrowed a little as I stared at my computer screen. After I changed my search terms and tried again, I was still unsuccessful. The best I could find were courses like ““History 13a: The European Enlightenment.” What good are courses like that if one doesn’t know basic European history? At this point I was distressed: I didn’t know history, and there seemed to be no courses to help me. At Harvard. What. The. Hell. In one last attempt, powered by rage at what seemed to me to be a ridiculous oversight, I changed my search parameters and dove back in. Eventually, and to my stunned relief, I found one! It was a course on the American founding, which covered colonial American history on through to the construction of the Constitution. Ironically, the course wasn’t even in the History Department, but the Government Department. It was entitled “Political Thought of the American Founding,” and it was taught by Professor Eric Nelson.

This is the part where my story begins to look up, and the light is visible at the end of the tunnel. Not only had Professor Nelson noticed the lack of a course on the Revolution, but he stepped in to supply the need. In an interview with the The Harvard Gazette, he says:

“A group of undergraduates came to my office hours in 2008 to complain that there was no course at Harvard on the American Revolution. My initial response was: “Look harder!” But it turned out that they were right. This seemed unfortunate to me, not least because my office is about 400 yards away from the spot where Washington mustered the Continental Army in July 1775.”

His course was easily one of my favorites, if not the favorite, of my undergraduate career. It provided a large amount of information and grounded it systemically with essential background knowledge. As a student, I could tell he was passionate about his subject. In fact, he’s written a book about it. After I had completed it, I felt confident in my knowledge of the American Founding, and prepared to tackle the rest of American history. But important questions remain: why was I ever in the position that I was at the beginning of my junior year, and where are all of the history courses like Professor Nelson’s?

 

NO HISTORY IN OUR COLLEGES

This lack of history may seem unsurprising to some, and it certainly was to me. But it’s not new news. On Wednesday, October 15, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni released its 2014-2015 What Will They Learn? study. The survey gives American liberal arts colleges a grade from A-F, which is determined by the material they require their undergraduates to cover. According to their press release, this material consists “…of seven subjects that are essential to a liberal arts education: literature, composition, economics, math, intermediate level foreign language, science, and American government/history.” Here is the criterion for a satisfactory mark for U.S. Government or History:

“What Will They Learn?TM gives schools credit for U.S. Government or History if they require a survey course in either U.S. government or history with enough chronological and/or topical breadth to expose students to the sweep of American history and institutions. Narrow, niche courses do not count for the requirement, nor do courses that only focus on a limited chronological period or a specific state or region” (page ten of the study).

Not only does Harvard not require a survey course in American history as a condition of a bachelor’s degree (check here for degree requirements), but it doesn’t even have that many. Evidence: the lack of a course on the American Revolution, until just recently. Additionally, many of its courses are “Narrow, niche courses.” This general trend in history was lamented the day after ACTA released its study in an article co-authored by a Harvard professor.

Harvard Grade

According to ACTA, only 28% of public institutions require American history. This may seem bad, and it is. But it is almost treble the 10% of private institutions that require it. According to the ACTA report, Harvard gets a D across the board, and one of the reasons for this is that it doesn’t require survey courses on American history (see page 63 of the report).

 

WHY HISTORY IS IMPORTANT FOR LIBERTY

As an advocate for liberty, I’m troubled that history doesn’t seem to be being transmitted to my generation. It’s important for a lot of reasons, and one of them is keeping everybody (read: the State) honest. If one can examine history and pull out trends, one can extrapolate into the future. If the State says that a policy is necessary, one can see if it’s been tried before and to what end. And maybe someone can also remember if we’re at war with Eurasia or Eastasia…I can’t remember.

Here’s an example of the importance of history played out: If historical knowledge were more prevalent, I think it would have produced more comparisons between the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, and maybe enough to have stopped the latter. Both were passed days after a national shock (some more real than others), and granted sweeping and vague powers to the executive. Although the circumstances were not the same, a pause for rational thought was in order both times, especially to contemplate the powers Congress was granting the president. A comparison between the two could have saved the US two long and costly wars, which not only shackled future generations to a mountain of debt, but gave birth to the Patriot Act.

On the other end of the scale, I also had this same need of history in my day to day life as a college student (and, unfortunately, still after). Not only does the State need to be kept honest, but its myths need to be busted. One that I heard and continue to hear from my fellow citizens is that “FDR led us out of the Great Depression with his social welfare programs and is our greatest president!” There are two arguments being made there. One is about the efficacy of state welfare programs (and why we must have them), and the other is about FDR’s legacy. History gives abundant evidence to properly evaluate these facts, but I find that a lot of them are either forgotten or glossed over.

As to the historical (and economic) analyses of his welfare programs, one could begin with Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt. It was provoked by FDR’s New Deal. It itself was based on an essay by Bastiat commenting on a situation almost a century prior in France. These types of programs are not new, but the State always seems to be saying that they are. History can keep them honest. Concerning FDR’s legacy as a good president, I offer this jumping off point: the forced and involuntary internment of Japanese-Americans.

Broadly, a knowledge of American history encourages suspicion toward the State. A lack of historical knowledge leads to a very misplaced trust. Here are some more quick examples before I close:

Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I have offered my personal experience as a case study to show that history is not being taught, or at least not being taught properly, in our nation’s colleges. If one is concerned for the well-being of liberty, one must be concerned for the well-being of history. In its What Will They Learn? study, ACTA says that

“Higher education in a free society also has a civic purpose. Colleges and universities must ensure that students have a working knowledge of the history and governing institutions of their country. An understanding of American history and government is indispensable for the formation of responsible citizens and for the preservation of free institutions” (emphasis added, from page ten of their report).

Colleges need to step up their game, and so do all Americans. I don’t like poison in my alcohol.

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