Category Archives: Education

Muzzling Professors

In Arizona, a state Senate committee approved a bill that would make the First Amendment null and void at that state’s universities. In the name of promoting tolerance and diversity of thought on campus, committee has decided to ban professors from doing the following:

*Endorsing, supporting or opposing any candidate for local, state or national office.
*Endorsing, supporting or opposing any pending legislation, regulation or rule under consideration by local, state or federal agencies.
*Endorsing, supporting or opposing any litigation in any court.
*Advocating “one side of a social, political, or cultural issue that is a matter of partisan controversy.”
*Hindering military recruiting on campus or endorsing the activities of those who do.

Under the legislation, the Arizona Board of Regents, which governs the state’s public universities, and the individual boards of community colleges would be responsible for setting guidelines for the law and for requiring all faculty members to participate in three hours of training annually on their responsibilities under the law.

Punishments could come in two forms. The governing boards’ guidelines would need to develop procedures, including suspensions and terminations in some cases, according to the bill. In addition, the state attorney general and county prosecutors could sue violators, and state courts could impose fines of up to $500. The legislation would bar colleges or their insurance policies from paying the fines — money would need to be paid directly by the professors found guilty.

In other words, if a professor dares to have a political thought, let alone express it, they could be sued and fined $500.

In Orwellian logic, the bill sponsor, Republican state Senator Thayor Verschoor had this:

“In our institutions of higher education, students should be learning how to think, not what to think.

In other words, Senator Verschoor only wants students to be taught what he wants you to think, not have your mind challenged by different thoughts and opinions.

Fortunately, student leaders and professors have come out against this bill. In addition, the man behind the Academic Bill of Rights, David Horowitz, has come out against it.

The First Amendment should not be the casualty of the outrageous actions of the Ward Churchills of our university campuses.

h/t QandO.

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 IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.
FacebookGoogle+RedditStumbleUponEmailWordPressShare

Memo: The Earth Doesn’t Move

Cross posted here at Fearless Philosophy for Free Minds

Kansas’ government school science curriculum is no longer the laughing stock of the nation and the world; the dubious honor may next be bestowed on Georgia. Georgia state representative Ben Bridges has circulated a memo to other state lawmakers around the country encouraging his colleagues to challenge the teaching of evolution (while promoting of I.D. creation “science”) in court by stating that evolution is not science but part of another religion thus violating the separation of church and state. This in itself is nothing too unusual; those who promote I.D. have made that argument before. Bridges memo goes even further: evolution is part of an ancient Jewish conspiracy! Obviously, this did not sit well with the Anti-defamation League.

Just when I thought this story couldn’t get nuttier, the memo has links to a site called fixedearth.com as its authority. Fixedearth.com not only takes on well-established scientific theories of evolution and the big bang (what the site calls “big bangism”) but the very fact that…the earth revolves around the sun! According to the site the earth DOES NOT MOVE and the sun REVOLVES AROUND THE EARTH. No shit.

Marshall Hall, the sites creator and former government school teacher (scary), believes that the idea that the earth revolves around the sun is also a giant conspiracy to discredit the bible. Hall references two bible verses “The world is established and cannot move” (Psalm 93:1) and “He hangeth the Earth upon nothing” (Job 26:7). Following these verses, Hall goes on to say:

The Bible and all real evidence confirms that this is precisely what He did, and indeed:

The Earth is not rotating…nor is it going around the sun.

The universe is not one ten trillionth the size we are told.

Today’s cosmology fulfills an anti-Bible religious plan disguised as “science”.

The whole scheme from Copernicanism to Big Bangism is a factless lie.

Those lies have planted the Truth-killing virus of evolutionism in every aspect of man’s “knowledge” about the Universe, the Earth, and Himself.

I can’t say that I am all that surprised that there are such people out there who have not left the dark ages. What is a little surprising and very disturbing is the idea that a U.S. lawmaker on any level would listen to moon bats such as Marshall Hall to put forward an agenda in government schools. Had I stumbled across this site myself, I would have thought it to be a spoof to mock creationists because I know that most creationists would never question the idea that the earth revolves around the sun. Most creationists would not take Psalm 93:1 and Job 26:7 literally and would say that the descriptions made in these verses were based on the understanding people had of the universe at that time (which is a lame explanation if you ask me seeing that they were supposedly authored by the creator of the universe). In a previous post, I wrote the following statement:

Since we don’t want to offend the fragile faith of the fundies, why not allow them to substitute their own version of reality in all the other sciences? Clearly the astronomers don’t know what they are talking about either because the Bible clearly stated that the earth was flat and that the sun revolves around the earth. We ought to burn all books written which contradict the Bible. This will be no small task: we pretty much have to rid ourselves of everything we have learned about biology, geology, astronomy, anthropology, psychiatry, history, mathematics, medicine, and more.

Little did I know at the time I wrote that statement that there were fundies with influence setting out to do just that. Could there ever be a better argument for school privatization and school choice than this?

Hat tip: Nealz Nuze

Related Posts:
Sunday School Science Lesson
The End of Faith (Book Review)
Can Mysticism Co-Exist with Reason and Liberty?
The Battle for Young Minds

Steve Jobs Takes On Teacher Unions

Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple, blames teacher unions for most of what’s wrong with education today:

AUSTIN — Apple Inc. CEO Steve Jobs lambasted teacher unions today, claiming no amount of technology in the classroom would improve public schools until principals could fire bad teachers.

Jobs compared schools to businesses with principals serving as CEOs.

“What kind of person could you get to run a small business if you told them that when they came in they couldn’t get rid of people that they thought weren’t any good?” he asked to loud applause during an education reform conference.

“Not really great ones because if you’re really smart you go, ‘I can’t win.'”

(…)

I believe that what is wrong with our schools in this nation is that they have become unionized in the worst possible way,” Jobs said.

“This unionization and lifetime employment of K-12 teachers is off-the-charts crazy.”

This surely won’t endear Jobs or Apple to the National Education Association, but Jobs is completely right.

H/T: Club For Growth

Public Schools In Washington, D.C.: Broken Beyond Repair

The Distrct of Columbia spends more per pupil on it’s public education system than 47 out of the 50 states, and yet it’s public education system ranks as one of the worst in the nation. If nothing else, this is testament to the idea that throwing money at public schools will not solve their problems. It also makes you wonder where the money is going if problems like this still exist:

To fix D.C. public schools — better yet, to make the school system a model for the nation — look no further than what the students say they need. Donell Kie, a sophomore at Ballou Senior High School, and fellow student leaders came up with a pretty good list that was shared Saturday at a D.C. Council hearing on school reform.

Among the things that they wanted to see in every public school: “books when school starts,” “heat in winter,” “air conditioning in summer,” “healthy meals,” “water fountains that work,” “music and art classes,” “counselors who are able to help us” and “teachers who care about their students and can teach.”

These students aren’t just belly-aching about non-existent problems, they are expressing the harsh reality of what the D.C. Public School system is like. During the recent cold wave, when temperatures dipped into the single digits for days, schools in the District remained closed for days because of lack of heat:

For the fourth day in a row, D.C. school officials scrambled to keep routines as normal as possible as they tried to repair boilers that failed during the cold snap. Nearly 1,800 students from four schools were reassigned to other facilities this week because of heating problems. The four schools were Woodson and Ludlow-Taylor Elementary, both in Northeast, and Johnson Junior High and Simon Elementary in Southeast.

More than 30 other schools had boiler malfunctions this week that left rooms or sections of buildings cold. School system leaders accused the city of not providing sufficient funds to maintain aging buildings. Parents blamed everyone.

Answer me this question, if the heat doesn’t work in the winter, if there’s no air conditioning in the summer, and if the students don’t have books when the school year starts, then just what is the District of Columbia spending more that $ 16,000 per pupil per year on ?

Education and Liberty

In a recent thread on schools and gifted children, one of our frequent commenters said a couple of things that I think bear further discussion. First, she said:

I do believe there are successful public schools.

Well, I do too. I happen to be, from an education perspective, a product of public schools. My first two years of school were in a private school, actually, and everything else was public education. Including university for that matter (California State University). But, I sincerely believe, based on my current experience with the public education system in two different states, that the typical public education today is mediocre, at best. Then again, I don’t define success as attendance, standardized test scores and a diploma.

A significant portion of the problem here is what we define as a successful school. I consider a school to be successful that teaches students to learn and think critically. That, of course, is not in the mission statements of most schools today. In fact, I find the opposite today. I find that schools teach students to accept what authority tells them and that it teaches them to pass standardized tests rather than think critically about the material presented. Most schools view their mission as preparing children to become part of the workforce, I think an education is about being a successful citizen.

By any measure I can find, our current education system is failing, even its own defined criteria.

The fact that a few schools succeed proves the rule when we call them out as examples of what all schools could be.

The next thing our commenter said was:

I also believe that if we must continue to have government that works and a successful country, we need public schools. I think they are essential to democracy.

While there is a certain strength to this statement, it isn’t quite right in my opinion. I would say that in order to have a successful, liberal society we need schools that work. They are essential to the preservation of liberty.

Now, it seems obvious to me, that education and liberty go hand in hand. Democracy is a means, just as education is, to a desired end. That desired end, which I believe is a common goal of the great majority of the commenters and contributors on this site, is a liberal society, one that values the individual and individual rights above the collective whole. It is possible, although reasonably unlikely, to have liberty without democracy. It is quite possible to have democracy with no liberty, as we see daily around the world.

It is entirely improbably that you could have a liberal society without education. Given that, a liberal society should provide a mechanism where all citizens receive an education to a certain level. However, it seems to me, that a truly liberal society would provide publicly funded education as a safety net for those citizens that cannot provide an education themselves. A mandatory education monopoly, such as we currently have, is not a product of a liberal society. In fact, it has, in the past, been used for distinctly illiberal ends, and continues to be today.

While vouchers may not produce a perfect system, I tend to believe that competition will always work better than a given government monopoly. The sad thing about Utah’s approach is that it will isolate the public schools from market competition. There will be no incentive to improve their offering, leading to a unique situation where the public schools will actually do better financially when a student leaves the school for a private one than when the student stays. Still, many students will benefit from leaving the failed public school system.

The bottom line is two-fold. Education is essential to the preservation of liberty. Our current approach to education is a failure.

How To Fix Education For Gifted Students

In the Washington Post, Joann DiGenarro discusses what needs to be done for gifted students in our schools. As she points out at the beginning of her article, the problems facing gifted students are largely ignored, and this is a situation that there are no plans to change (emphasis added):

At an educators’ meeting in Washington last fall, conversation turned to whether the federal government should support programming for this nation’s most gifted and talented high school students. Educators overwhelmingly said that top students in secondary schools need no assistance, much to my dismay. Priority must be given to those not meeting the minimal standards in science and math, they reasoned.

By the time students reach 12th grade in math and science, they are near the bottom or dead last compared with international competition, according to the Education Department. These are the critical years for supporting students in science and math, for it is when they make career-determining decisions for college studies.

While there’s a small number of people lamenting the fact that a greater number of students are shying away from engineering and scientific professions, the main focus of our governmental programs is to ensure that there is “No Child Left Behind.” Unfortunately, they choose to avoid leaving children behind by ensuring that the kids in front of them aren’t cultivated for success.

Few people understand the challenges that gifted students face. For remedial students, it is simpler. They have a tough time grasping the lesson plans before them, and need additional time, additional instruction, and very hands-on teaching to help them through. Gifted students have little trouble understanding the material before them, though. For gifted students, it’s a matter of motivation.

I was one of the lucky ones. I grew up in an affluent school district, where money was available for gifted programs. Yet I was constant trouble to most of my grade-school teachers. I understood at the time that nothing really mattered until I got into high school (as that was the point at which my grades would be tracked for college), so I didn’t really ever pay attention, do homework, etc. I wasn’t a troublemaker, but I spent most of my time from kindergarten through eighth grade in my own little world. Outside of a few great teachers along the way, the only thing I ever had to look forward to was the 30-45 minutes a week where I’d go off with the other gifted students to do things like logic puzzles and discussion groups beyond the pace of the class. My grades during those years suffered greatly, largely due to a complete lack of effort, but nobody can say I wasn’t learning (I was always at the top of Illinois standardized tests for my grade level). When I finally reached high school, I got on track and started putting forth effort, in order to make my way into college. But still, I was only as motivated as I had to be to get the grades, and no more (again, with the exception of a couple of exceptional teachers who knew how to motivate kids like me). All this, and I was in a “good” school district for gifted kids. In less affluent areas, I can only imagine how mind-numbing it must be.

The problem with gifted kids is not that they won’t understand the material, or that they’ll ruin test scores for No Child Left Behind. The problem is that these kids need to be properly motivated to prepare them for everything they can accomplish. Remedial students don’t become accomplished doctors, lawyers, engineers, and scientists. The gifted kids do that. Too many of them, though, languish in boredom and never develop a love of learning. They grow up knowing that all they have to do is coast along and they’ll be ahead of the pack, but without understanding that history isn’t written by people who “coast along”.

Clearly, something in our system has to be done to change this. We have focused for too long, as DiGenarro mentions, on being a “lowest-common-denominator” school system. We have worried that the people at the bottom are failing, but never even ask what’s going on with the people at the top.

It’s too bad that DiGenarro completely misses the solution to the problem…

At the strategic level, the United States must establish a policy for nurturing its most talented science and technology students and integrate this policy with a long-term vision of U.S. economic and military development. The White House and State Department science advisers should make this task a priority.

The next step should be a thorough assessment of all government educational programs geared to science and math. Shockingly, there are few assessments and little coordination among governmental agencies for the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on educational programs from kindergarten through the undergraduate level.

Finally, some of the millions of dollars devoted to educational programs and policy must be reallocated for the most talented high school students.

The Department of Education doesn’t need to spend millions of dollars and years of study to solve this problem. All they need to do is provide vouchers. A one-size-fits-all, lowest-common-denominator school system will never provide the right type of education for gifted students, because it’s created mainly by government bureaucrats, a profession that doesn’t attract too many of the gifted. You need innovation, free thought, and the ability to think outside the box, responding to new situations and pressures quickly and dynamically. None of these traits are found in government.

Where they are found, however, is in the free market. Currently, gifted rich kids have all sorts of options available to them in the private school market. A few poor ones, in large cities, have access to charter schools. But the vast majority are left languishing in the public school purgatory, waiting for their chance to get out into the real world and do something.

It is time we understand that all students are individuals, and if you try to stick a square peg in a round hole, you’re going to end up mashing that peg. It doesn’t matter if that’s a remedial child forced to fit into a regular school, or a gifted child forced to fit into a regular school. Neither one fits, and the harder you try to force them to fit, the more damage you do.

We’re failing the most capable students in our schools, and as a result, we’re crippling the best resources in our entire society. It’s time we stop trying to force these kids into a public school system that cannot serve them. The only solution is to help them get out of that system, and vouchers are the simplest and most effective way to help them escape.

Signs Of Progress For School Choice

In today’s Washington Post, George Will writes about what may be signs that the battle for school choice has taken a turn:

The public school lobby, which apparently has little confidence in its product, lives in fear of competition — the fear that if parents’ choices are expanded, there will be a flight from public schools. But the tide is turning:

Newark’s mayor, Cory Booker, a member of the board of the national Alliance for School Choice, proposes a scholarship program similar to Arizona’s. New Jersey corporations could get tax credits totaling $20 million a year collectively for scholarships for low-income students in five cities with especially troubled schools.

New York’s new Democratic governor, Eliot L. Spitzer, proposes lifting the cap that restricts the state to a mere 100 charter schools. This common-sense idea — lowering a barrier the government has erected to limit innovative schools that compete with the government’s existing system — is welcome, but it is not as bold as what Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg is doing with the nation’s largest school system, New York City’s, with 1.1 million pupils.

He is dividing large schools into smaller ones, emancipating many principals to be educational entrepreneurs under a system that holds them accountable for cognitive results. The logic is that public money should follow wherever students are attracted by competing schools. So school choice is gaining ground in the city that has historically been ground zero for collectivist, centralizing liberalism.

If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is.

Another Reason To Homeschool

Why? Because if you miss a parent-teacher conference, you’re guilty of a misdemeanor:

Sec. 26.014. FAILURE TO ATTEND PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCE.
(a) A parent of a student commits an offense if:
(1) the parent receives written notice by certified mail of at least three proposed dates from which the parent can choose for scheduling a parent-teacher conference between the parent and the student’s teacher;
(2) the parent:
(A) fails to respond to the notice; or
(B) schedules a parent-teacher conference on one of the dates proposed in the notice or on an alternative date agreed to by the parent and teacher and fails to:
(i) attend the scheduled conference; or
(ii) before the scheduled conference, notify the teacher or an administrator of the campus to which the teacher is assigned that the parent will be unable to attend the conference;

(b) An offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

Yep. Skip a parent-teacher conference, and you’re headed to court!

Thankfully, there’s an exception for a “reasonable excuse”, although it’s not clear what’s “reasonable” or who decides. But hey, if Texas still had blue laws, maybe these parents would have better time management

Ridiculous. If we had a free market in education, this would be simple. If you don’t make it to parent-teacher conferences, the private school your child is attending can threaten to expel, or threaten to issue its own fine, etc. But when the government is involved, you’re headed in front of a judge, buddy!

Hat Tip: Cato@Liberty

A Shining Example

Earlier today, Doug pointed out how Bernie Marcus believes in the power of free enterprise to improve the world, rather than government action. His belief in the power of private action over public action is backed up elsewhere.

Late in 2005, the Georgia Aquarium opened, immediately becoming the world’s largest. It will be a boon to the Atlanta economy, and is widely regarded by everyone I know who has been there to be absolutely amazing. It creates jobs, it improves tourism, and is a shining example of the rise of the modern Southeast in American prominence.

Of course, we’ve heard things like this before. That’s the typical refrain whenever a sports franchise, or a public group, or anyone else comes before the people looking for tax dollars to fund a project. The NFL franchises tell us of all the jobs and tourism they’ll bring, if only we give them hundreds of millions of dollars to build a stadium they should finance themselves. It’s an argument that often rings hollow.

But in Atlanta’s case, there’s a difference. This $250M aquarium wasn’t financed by government. Atlanta’s tax dollars weren’t used. It was a gift from Bernie Marcus.

In 1979, Bernie Marcus co-founded The Home Depot, opening its first stores and its headquarters in Atlanta, GA. By revolutionizing the home improvement industry, The Home Depot became one of the fastest growing companies in America. A modern day success story, the company made its place in history for its great impact on reducing the costs of home ownership in the United States.

Bernie Marcus knows The Home Depot would not have achieved its full potential without the incredible support of the citizens of Atlanta and Georgia, including customers, associates and stockholders. This is why he wants to give back to this great community, with a gift that reaches as many different lives as possible — young and old, male and female, those who will visit for entertainment and those who will visit for education — just as The Home Depot has touched the lives of a broad and diverse customer base.

In his vision, he also wants to promote economic impact for the city and state, bring growth and new jobs and help create a destination to inspire visitors to stay – and stay longer.

Bernie’s $250 million gift to Georgia is the fulfillment of his appreciation and vision. He now asks you to join him in making the Georgia Aquarium the best it can be.

In the world of the statist, $250M aquariums, built with no desire for profit to the person who puts up the money, would never happen. After all, businessmen are horrible people driven only by money, and if you want something benevolent done, you turn to government. I don’t believe that, Bernie Marcus doesn’t believe that, and he’s put his money where his mouth is. This isn’t only a shining example of “The New South”, this is a shining example of the power of private activity.

Teacher’s Unions: Enemies Of Free Speech

Labor unions exist to protect the interests of their members. All their members. Right ? Well, not so fast. Let’s say you happen to be a member of the teacher’s union in the State of Washington who doesn’t want your union dues used to fund political activities you don’t believe in. Well, at least according to the Washington Education Association, too darn bad:

SPOKANE, Wash.–Teachers unions are supposed to promote the financial interests of, well, teachers–but not in Washington state. Here, the Washington Education Association is fighting some 4,000 nonmember teachers who don’t want their paychecks raided each year and used for political activities that they don’t believe in. “The right of free speech is being trampled” by the union political spending, complains Scott Carlson, a business teacher in Spokane. “And that’s a right I hold very precious.”

Too bad the unions don’t. The WEA derisively refers to teachers like Mr. Carlson who want their money back not as free-speech advocates but “dissidents.” The goal is to squash these dissidents by overturning Initiative 134, a law–approved by 72% of Washington voters in 1992–that requires unions to obtain written approval from teachers before dues are spent on campaigns or candidates. Back in March, the unions got a surprising assist from the state Supreme Court, which ruled that the paycheck protection law places “too heavy” a burden on the free-speech rights of the union.

That case is now before the United States Supreme Court, and, as Stephen Moore explains in the Wall Street Journal, the stakes could not be higher:

At issue is whether workers have the right to effectively declare themselves conscientious objectors to the unions’ multimillion-dollar political war games. “All we are saying is that no one has the right to take our money and spend it on causes we don’t believe in,” insists Cindy Omlin, a recently retired speech teacher in Spokane. “If you want my money, ask for it, like private charities, political candidates and businesses do.” Ms. Omlin was one of 250 teachers who successfully sued the WEA in 2002 to get half their dues refunded after a Washington superior court found the union guilty of “intentional violations” of the paycheck protection law.

The outcome of this case should be, one would think, blindingly obvious. No organization, especially not one that you are required by law to belong to in order to hold a job (which is apparently the case with the Washington Education Association), has the right to take your money and use it to fund political causes you don’t agree with. It is, after all, your money, the product of your labor. Of course, it helps that the WEA has the state, and even the State Supreme Court on it’s side:

The Washington Supreme Court defended its ruling by arguing that the benefit to the individual teachers was trivial compared to the “heavy administrative burden” that complying with paycheck protection would impose on the union. That attitude incenses Jeff Leer, who for 10 years has been a phys ed teacher outside Seattle. In an interview, Mr. Leer fumed: “I wonder how these justices would feel if I reached into their pockets and took $200 to support causes they don’t believe in.” He told me that when he investigated the candidates that his union dues were going to support, “it was nearly 100% opposite of the way I voted. How is that fair?”

In others, the Washington Supreme Court is saying, it’s just too darn inconvienent for us to worry about your trivial little rights. What’s appalling about that is that the State Supreme Court’s decision seems to directly contradict state law on this very issue:

Washington law states unambiguously that a union may not use dues “for political purposes without the affirmative consent of the nonmembers from whom the excess fees were taken.” The Washington Supreme Court somehow twisted these words to mean that the unions can spend as they wish unless workers object and affirmatively opt out. That’s a big distinction, because the unions make it as time-consuming and cumbersome as possible to get the money back once they snatch it.

And, at least in the State of Washington, they’ve got the Courts on their side.

H/T: The QandO Blog

Public vs. Private Discrimination

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that a private school in the state of Hawaii can discriminate in favor of Native Hawaiians

SAN FRANCISCO — A divided federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that a private school in Hawaii can favor Hawaiian natives for admission as a means of helping a downtrodden indigenous population.

The 8-7 decision by a 15-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an earlier ruling by three of the same judges that the Kamehameha Schools policy amounted to unlawful discrimination.

In making their ruling, the 9th Circuit focused on the plight of Native Hawaiians, but missed a broader distinction between this case and cases involving public discrimination:

Admission to the elite school is first granted to qualified Hawaiian students, and non-Hawaiians may be admitted if there are openings available. Only one in eight eligible applicants is admitted to the school, which serves about 5,400 students at three campuses.

(…)

The Kamehameha School was established under the 1883 will of Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop as part of a trust now worth $6.8 billion. The trust subsidizes tuition and is designed to help remedy some of the wrongs done during the U.S.-backed overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893.

In other words, the Kamehameha School is a completely private organization. As such, unlike a public school, it should be permitted to set whatever admissions standards it desires. Unfortunately, the distinction between public and private institutions has been seriously eroded by Supreme Court precedent over the years, so it is quite likely that this case will be treated in the same manner as the affirmative action policies of the University of Michigan were.

What If Coffee Shops Were Run Like Public Schools ?

Over at The American Spectator, Andrew Coulson wonders what might happen if coffee shops were run the same way we run public education:

Imagine what would happen if coffee shops were run like schools. Let’s say that state and local officials granted Starbucks a “public coffee” franchise, paying it $10,000 annually per customer (about what the public schools spend per pupil) to keep us all in caffeinated bliss.

It would be the espresso shot heard round the world.

Not everybody likes the same brand of coffee, and the decision to let Starbucks give its product away for free would drive most other suppliers out of business. Coffee drinkers would get mighty steamed about that. Aficionados of competing shops would demand the right to spend their share of the coffee franchise money on the baristas of their choice.

Of course, if things played out the way they have in education, these dissenters would get nowhere. In the end, they would be forced to cave and join the tax-funded coffee queue at Starbucks, or foot the bill at their preferred shops and kiss $10,000 a year in free coffee goodbye.

But that would be just the beginning. Once Starbucks had a guaranteed source of tax revenue, customer satisfaction would fall by the wayside as a motivating principle of its business. After all, it would get paid the same amount whether or not folks were served well or promptly. To improve its bottom line it would no longer need to focus on consistency and innovative new products. So it would look for ways to cut services.

Of course, that’s not how the coffee shop market works. Starbucks competes with Caribou Coffee, Dunkin’ Donuts and countless other local and regional coffee stores and franchises (not to mention the national brands available in supermarkets). And we’re all the better for it.

Why, then, do we insist on socialism in the education marketplace when the alternative seems all so simple ? As Coulson says:

In a free education marketplace, popular, well-managed schools would grow, while unpopular, poorly managed schools would close. There would be no politburo-like board threatening to merge schools together or close them down for its own budgetary reasons. The incentives of that marketplace would encourage innovation and a variety of options to cater to the diversity of families’ demands. Children would not be treated as interchangeable widgets to be processed through a single official system based on their age, or be shuffled around from one school to another just to make someone’s numbers work out.

We don’t trust our coffee to the government, and yet we’re willing to entrust our children ?

Atlanta Prefers Government Control to Results

Achieve Academy could be shut down

But Achieve Academy may close, a move that would force Zicuria and the school’s 170 or so other students from grades five through seven back to the traditional public schools they left. Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall is recommending against approving Achieve Academy’s charter, citing a weak curriculum, a history of financial mismanagement, low enrollment and other problems. The board is scheduled to vote today on the charter.

David Morgan, principal at Achieve Academy, said Atlanta school officials have been “unyielding in their position,” that the charter school must close, despite test scores that met state standards under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Though Achieve met state testing goals, the school did not meet testing goals spelled out in its charter, district officials said. “The performance in fifth grade was particularly troubling, as 23 out of 41 students did not meet standards on one or both of reading or mathematics tests,” district official Sharron Pitts wrote in a letter to Achieve’s board chair, Dana Thomas.

Morgan said school officials point out weak scores while ignoring high scores. Seventh-graders performed well on the state’s Criterion Referenced Competency Test, with 87 percent passing math and reading. Achieve students generally outperformed schools such as Carson and Kennedy, where half the seventh-graders failed reading and where students will be sent back to if Achieve closes.

I realize that in their first year, fifth graders (who, invariably, were products of Atlanta Public Schools up until that point) were failing. But it certainly looks like they’ve gotten those same failing students up to an 87% pass rate by the time they hit 7th grade. That sounds like positive results.

So the students are happy, the parents are happy, and the kids are leaving with a higher pass rate than they came in. Even the fifth-graders, who didn’t meet the standards the school set for themselves, passed state and NCLB guidelines, which not all Atlanta Public Schools do.

It sounds like the school does have a bit of turmoil, between financial problems, moving every year, some leadership turnover, and losing out on one of their curriculum programs (due to a too-low enrollment number). But despite these problems, they’re getting it done.

And it appears that they’re on the right track, trying to buy a property while working with a new company, Imagine Schools. But apparently that’s not good enough for the local government:

Deputy Superintendent Kathy Augustine said the school had shown “pockets of improvement,” but she stopped short of calling Achieve a success.

She found the school’s plan for a partnership with the nonprofit Imagine Schools void of detail and full of conflicting information about such matters as whether the Saturday program would end at noon or 12:30 and whether students would be allowed a snack time. Augustine was not convinced teachers would cover the state curriculum, nor was she satisfied with the school’s plan to operate in a former church Imagine officials have said they intend to buy.

A half hour on Saturday? Snack time? These are reasons to refuse their charter? And the state curriculum hasn’t exactly made Atlanta Public Schools a success, so maybe they should stick with what actually works. I think Atlanta is searching for any reason to refuse the charter, not looking to determine if this school will actually educate children.

I think we can see through this. This school, despite its problems, is succeeding in its primary goal, educating children. If such a problematic charter school can succeed, I’ll bet the local government schools are quaking in their boots. How can they explain their failure in the face of success like this?

Hat Tip: Jason Pye

Patrick Henry on the Constitution

I was talking recently about Patrick Henry. When I was looking into some of his history, I found this speech. Patrick Henry was an anti-Federalist, against the Constitution and a centralized consolidated Government.

Perhaps this excerpt will explain why:

You are not to inquire how your trade may be increased, nor how you are to become a great and powerful people, but how your liberties can be secured; for liberty ought to be the direct end of your Government.

. . . . .

The distinction between a National Government and a Confederacy is not sufficiently discerned. Had the delegates who were sent to Philadelphia a power to propose a Consolidated Government instead of a Confederacy? Were they not deputed by States, and not by the people? The assent of the people in their collective capacity is not necessary to the formation of a Federal Government. The people have no right to enter into leagues, alliances, or confederations: They are not the proper agents for this purpose: States and sovereign powers are the only proper agents for this kind of Government: Shew me an instance where the people have exercised this business: Has it not always gone through the Legislatures? I refer you to the treaties with France, Holland, and other nations: How were they made? Were they not made by the States? Are the people therefore in their aggregate capacity, the proper persons to form a Confederacy? This, therefore, ought to depend on the consent of the Legislatures; the people having never sent delegates to make any proposition of changing the Government. Yet I must say, at the same time, that it was made on grounds the most pure, and perhaps I might have been brought to consent to it so far as to the change of Government; but there is one thing in it which I never would acquiesce in. I mean the changing it into a Consolidated Government; which is so abhorent to my mind. The Honorable Gentleman then went on to the figure we make with foreign nations; the contemptible one we make in France and Holland; which, according to the system of my notes, he attributes to the present feeble Government. An opinion has gone forth, we find, that we are a contemptible people: The time has been when we were thought otherwise: Under this same despised Government, we commanded the respect of all Europe: Wherefore are we now reckoned otherwise? The American spirit has fled from hence: It has gone to regions, where it has never been expected: It has gone to the people of France in search of a splendid Government–a strong energetic Government. Shall we imitate the example of those nations who have gone from a simple to a splendid Government. Are those nations more worthy of our imitation? What can make an adequate satisfaction to them for the loss they suffered in attaining such a Government for the loss of their liberty? If we admit this Consolidated Government it will be because we like a great splendid one. Some way or other we must be a great and mighty empire; we must have an army, and a navy, and a number of things: When the American spirit was in its youth, the language of America was different: Liberty, Sir, was then the primary object. We are descended from a people whose Government was founded on liberty: Our glorious forefathers of Great-Britain, made liberty the foundation of every thing. That country is become a great, mighty, and splendid nation; not because their Government is strong and energetic; but, Sir, because liberty is its direct end and foundation: We drew the spirit of liberty from our British ancestors; by that spirit we have triumphed over every difficulty: But now, Sir, the American spirit, assisted by the ropes and chains of consolidation, is about to convert this country to a powerful and mighty empire: If you make the citizens of this country agree to become the subjects of one great consolidated empire of America, your Government will not have sufficient energy to keep them together: Such a Government is incompatible with the genius of republicanism: There will be no checks, no real balances, in this Government: What can avail your specious imaginary balances, your rope-dancing, chain-rattling, ridiculous ideal checks and contrivances? But, Sir, we are not feared by foreigners: we do not make nations tremble: Would this, Sir, constitute happiness, or secure liberty? I trust, Sir, our political hemisphere will ever direct their operations to the security of those objects. Consider our situation, Sir: Go to the poor man, ask him what he does; he will inform you, that he enjoys the fruits of his labour, under his own fig-tree, with his wife and children around him, in peace and security. Go to every other member of the society, you will find the same tranquil ease and content; you will find no alarms or disturbances: Why then tell us of dangers to terrify us into an adoption of this new Government? and yet who knows the dangers that this new system may produce; they are out of the sight of the common people: They cannot foresee latent consequences: I dread the operation of it on the middling and lower class of people: It is for them I fear the adoption of this system.

Can anyone point out where he has been mistaken? We’ve gone exactly down the road he foretells. It is these excesses of our Constitutional system, excesses that Patrick Henry predicts, that we as classical liberals are railing against. The only difficulty is determining how to reverse the trend. How do we demolish a Splendid government in favor of a simple one?

Libertarianism: The Problem of Children

Over a year ago, when I was still a new blogger, I posted this entry at The Unrepentant Individual. And I still don’t have an answer for it. Can anyone help me out?

—————————————————————–

My adherence to libertarianism, as much as an “Unrepentant Individual” adheres to any set political party or philosophy, is based upon my belief that libertarianism is a fully consistent, logical, and moral form of government. The reason for this is that I don’t accept that other people should be able to make choices for me, a rational adult, and thus I cannot see that I should find myself so egotistical that I should be making choices for them, so long as we do not violate each other’s rights and liberty.

However, in any discussion of libertarianism that I have come across, one issue is typically not handled very well: the issue of children. Libertarianism presupposes that the actors in society are rationally self-interested individuals, and that these people should be given as much leeway to act as possible, so long as they are not infringing on others. Our discussion of rules, morality, governance, all assumes that we treat humans like adults.

But children aren’t adults. What, then, do we do with them? What rules, what guidelines, should we use to protect their rights? What guidelines should be used to protect them from themselves, as they have not gained the maturity to act rationally? And what should be done to protect them from neglectful parents, who do not take the steps necessary to ensure that they grow up to become rational adults? Socialists, fascists, communists, and even nanny-state Republicans don’t have this problem, because they treat everyone like children, under the mismanaged care and semi-watchful eye of an incompetent government. Since they never really expect or desire us to exercise independent, rational thought, they don’t need to be worried about leaving us unprepared to do so. But for us libertarians, we cannot abdicate this responsibility, or our society will cease to be the moral form of government that we believe.
» Read more

The Founding Fathers

A frequent commenter here and at The Unrepentant Individual asked me the below question. Given that today we celebrate the official acceptance of the Declaration of Independence, I thought it might be a good day to explain.

I am curious to find out what you think of Benjamin Franklin. I live in Philadelphia and so many institutions were formed or influenced by Franklin. I hardly ever see him discussed. I see a quote or two every now and then.

I sometime read and comment at The Liberty Papers, and when some arguments are supported by the views of the founding fathers; it seems that too few are mentioned. The purpose of government differed even then. Also, are your beliefs about our government based on how it was created or how it ought to be?

I think my views of Franklin fit well with my views of all the founding fathers. Which is to say that, unfortunately, I don’t know as much about them as I would like. I’m still young, to most people, nearing my 28th birthday. Beyond my AP US History class in high school, and some forays onto the History Channel, which is often World War II and newer content, I hadn’t had a chance to really delve into the history of our founders before the last year or two.

Franklin, though, is one of the easier nuts to crack. More has been written on him than on quite a few others. I’ve been watching some documentaries about him over the last few weeks, and he seems to be a truly interesting guy. He seems to be a genius in all aspects of life. But while most academic geniuses tend to have problems with interpersonal communication, Franklin was able to read and play people like an instrument. He knew what buttons to push and when, and his masterful performance while in France meant the difference between America winning and losing our revolution. I have a lot of respect for Franklin, and the way he’s treated in our history books is well-deserved.

But beyond Franklin, most of our founding fathers don’t get a lot of print unless they also became President. For example, when Eric first set up “The Liberty Papers”, he gave the tagline above “Written by the heirs of Patrick Henry.” But who was Patrick Henry? What did he give us, beyond the “Give me liberty or give me death!” oration? There’s very little “mass” history about Henry. Looking further, one begins to see a clearer picture. He was an anti-federalist at the time of the Constitution, and worried greatly what giving the power in the Constitution to a federal government would mean to the country. He was largely credited with forcing the Federalists to write a Bill of Rights, and was similarly key in ensuring the 9th and 10th Amendment were included, which, although forgotten by most people today, are intended as serious checks on government power. From what I’ve learned since about Patrick Henry, and from what I’ve learned reading Eric’s writings, I can plainly see why Eric used him. Perhaps if I were choosing, I might say “Written by the heirs of Tom Paine”, as the blogger-pamphleteer angle might be more apt.

Looking back at the founding fathers, I am truly intrigued. We hold up this view of them as stuffy academic white men, living in a theoretical world up on a pedastal, and forget their humanity. Franklin was a flirt, drinking enough wine to ensure gout problems. Washington, although he always said he didn’t want power, wore his dress uniform every day to convince the Continental Congress to put him in charge of the Continental army. Jefferson had quite a few interesting elements, including an affair with one of his slaves. These were real human beings, with flaws and character issues everywhere. Yet they came together to change the course of human history, creating the first modern government that was founded on the nature of individual rights being the fountain from which government flows, not the other way around.

Why are there not more quotes by the Founders? I can’t speak for the other writers here, but I can say for myself, I simply don’t know enough yet to quote them effectively. To a large extent, I understand the basics of how and why they set up the government the way they did, but don’t really have a complete feel for who they were as people. I am learning more every day, and every bit I learn makes me more in awe of what these diverse characters were able to accomplish. And as I’ve said before, the realization that these were real humans (I hesitate to use an expression like “ordinary men”), makes me wonder just what I am capable of. At my age, I’m starting to ask myself what I’m going to do with my life, and part of that question is whether that’s going to be remembered by historians 200 years from now.

As to your last question, my beliefs on government are based on how it should be, not how they set it up. Part of the understanding of the founders as real humans means accepting that they can make mistakes. I try, whenever possible, not to appeal to authority, and say that something must be true because Ben Franklin or Thomas Jefferson said so. I think our Constitution is impressive, but I think (as I pointed out last week) that it didn’t do enough work to protect us from the growth of government. I don’t think the founders intended the government to grow to its current size, nor do I like it. Thus, I’m doing everything I can to oppose the current state of government that I believe is unconstitutional, but if you asked me what I would like to see, it would certainly include some changes to the Constitution itself.

When did they stop?

When I was a kid, and that isn’t exactly a geological age ago; there was a U.S. Flag in every single classrom. Most were on angled jackstaffs flying on the wall next to the P.A. speaker, over the chlakboard, or maybe over the main door.

This didnt warrant notice, any more than desks or chalkboards would.

A bill has just been introduced in the Arizona state house to require that all educational institutions that recieve public funding display the flag in every classroom. Current regulations (as pursuant to U.S. Flag code) only state that a flag must be flown somewhere on campus while school is in session.

My question is, when did they change? When and why did they stop?

The ed-stablishment is complaining that they don’t have the budget, and that they don’t have the personell trained in U.S. Flag code, to do so.

You have got to be kidding me.

Every day at my school, the teacher or the custodian would go around at night and roll the flags up on their jackstaffs. I (or my wife) do it every night to OUR flag. It’s not all that hard. Not only that, but if a flag is permanently mounted, it is acceptable to leave that flag flying at all times, so long as that flag is “properly illuminated” or so long as that flag is indoors.

The flag code is not difficult. Here’s a well illustrated guide, and the annotated code.

Not only that, but I guarantee you they could ask for and recieve enough donations for a proper flag in every classroom in a heartbeat. A decent small indoor flag, U.S. made, only costs about $20. Even a beautiful embroidered presentation flag is only about $100 for a small classroom size model.

Even better to my mind, an ammendment has been added to the bill that would require the concurrent display of the constitution, bill of rights and other ammendments, and declaration of independence as well.

Again, the ed-stablishment says they don’t have the budget; but I ask why isn’t this done alreayd/ Why hasnt this ALWAYS been done? When I was a kid every general ed classrom and history classroom had all of the above prominently displayed.

And still they protest?

No, I believe they are unwilling, because they do not beleive in our nation, our greatness, our exceptional position in this world as the true bastion of freedom and liberty (however it may now be compromised); and they do not wish to be associated with our symbol.

If this legislation passes, and is funded or volunteers fund it; I can assure you the ed-stablishment will find some other excuse to refuse to display our flag. I can guarnatee you that there will be protests by hispanic and native American groups. I guarantee you there will be teachers who refuse to display the flag in their classrooms, or who refuse to teach or assemble in a room where the flag is displayed.

They do this because they are the enemies of our country, and of our children; no more, no less.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Where Markets Beat Government — and Vice Versa

I checked out Perry’s site the other day, and ran across this post on Wal-Mart. It looks like Wal-Mart is opening its doors again in New Orleans, while Congress is still pointing fingers. It got me thinking: why is it that we see for-profit businesses flocking to the area, while FEMA is still trying to figure out where to park their beautiful trailers?

I originally wanted to issue a snark-filled rant on why government is inefficient, bloated, and ineffectual. But this, combined with Massachusetts’ insanity, calls for something a little better. I’m not an anarcho-capitalist. I realize that there are places where government can get necessary things done that the market cannot. It is only when we ask it to do things it is not suited for that we run into problems.

Bear in mind, this is an off-the-cuff treatise, so I welcome comments pointing out all the places I am wrong.

I see there being a few major types of services provided by the government and markets:

1. Distributed provider, distributed user: This would fit the mold of most day-to-day interactions. When you go to buy lunch, you have a wide range of choices. Purveyors of those products can sell to anybody; there are few long-term interactions.

2. Single-provider, distributed user: This would fit things such as roads, sewers, police, military, courts, etc. In these types of interactions, there action between the provider and the user is often severed. In the case of roads/sewers/etc, it is common that an individual homeowner or driver could not contract with a provider to build a new sewer system or road to service them. Often, maintenance of these services are paid for by some sort of taxation, and only occasionally by a true “user fee” arrangement. Courts, police, and military are even more so, because there is not often a true link between what police or courts do for those who aren’t currently the victim or perpetrators of crimes, but they offer a sort of “blanket of protection” for everyone. Again, the link is fairly severed between provider and user.

3. Specialty provider, specific user: This is a tough category. In this, I place things such as medical care, which often is difficult to procure in a true competitive environment (outside of general-practitioner care), and is highly tailored to the specific user. There may be 3 hospitals in a close area, but only one specialist in the field you need. This may also include education and other services, where the relationship between a specific provider and user is difficult to break. For example, when you put your child into a school, you don’t want to have to change that school without good reason, because of the relationships your child generates with classmates/teachers/etc. Last, it includes such things as insurance, where acute costs are very high and risk may need to be pooled.

—————————————————

The first case is a place where markets always beat government, hands down. Government action, nearly by definition, is one of monopoly, and monopolies are known for poor efficiency. They don’t innovate to serve their customers, they don’t bring costs down through competition, and they have no reason to do either. This one is so obvious that it needs no further discussion.

The second case is the poster child for government action. This is the one agreed upon by everyone except the anarcho-capitalists. There is a little point of distinction on things like roads (the “pure” libertarian will ask for them to be privatized), but I’m going to gloss over that. I chose sewers but left out other utilities for a reason, as well. Without getting too heavily into it, there are certain “common carrier” services that form a bit of a gray area. Electrical or gas service doesn’t lend itself quite to competition very well, due to the extremely high infrastructure costs in service. Georgia’s take on natural gas, however, is one where the actual distribution of gas is centralized, but you have your choice of “service company” to sell you that gas. It blends some of the benefits of competition without the drawback of requiring multiple companies to lay redundant infrastructure. But in most “common carrier” utilities, some sort of government action is required, as local government is typically granting monopolistic licenses to providers. The cases of courts, police, and military, however, are specialized enough where we leave government to provide these directly. This is the one case where we grant a monopoly on initiating force, and choose to keep that power in the hands of government we control with our vote.

So I think we can all agree that communist Russia showed us how dangerous it is to let the first case be provided solely by government. And I think we can look post-communist Russia to see how lack of infrastructure and legitimate courts/police/military to protect the rule of law will lead to anarchy and rule by the strong.

But the third case is problematic. This is a case where it is easy for politicians to advocate government action, and easy to dupe unsuspecting voters into agreeing to it. Usually, they play to emotions. It is always hard to watch people go without adequate medical care or education. It is far too easy to go from watching this to thinking that it simply shouldn’t happen, and therefore the government should take over and provide the service. But while this is different than the first case, it is still not a place where government monopoly works. Our current educational system is evidence of that. In the case of medical care, nobody wants to see people lose their entire livelihood due to high medical costs. But the proper way to pool risk is with insurance. Just as we would not ask the government to provide flood insurance, car insurance, or homeowners insurance, medical insurance is not for the government to pay. It would help, of course, for the government to end its policies which make it nearly impossible for individuals to provide their own coverage reasonably cheaply, but that’s a whole different debate. Again, look at education. Education would be much better provided in this country if we returned to a competitive market, with parents paying for school directly, and (at best) a safety-net program to help the poor. When even the NYT is realizing that vouchers work, it is obvious that we need to change our strategies.

As I said, there are times when government action is the best way to get something done. Those cases are few and far between, and in all of them I suggest making the services controlled as locally as possible, to allow a “market in governments” to form. Just as people choose which business to patronize, and should be able to choose which school to patronize, the experience of federalism and local control allow people to choose which local government to patronize. This will allow people to choose local government based upon the ability of government to provide necessary services, and allow competing localities to learn through competition how to be more efficient. You can ask states like Massachusetts (the only state in the union to lose gross population year-to-year) just how important this is.

But where government action is not efficient (almost everywhere), we need to make sure our policies are designed to facilitate the working of a market, not impede it.

1 3 4 5 6