Seven Reasons I Really Dislike Public Education Reform

August 19th, 2010

By Dr. Jim Taylor

Anyone who follows my posts on public education reform (here’s a good place for a primer) knows that I am not a fan of the Obama administration’s public education initiatives, including Race to the Top. The programs are, in my view, mislabeled, misdirected, and misguided. I would have used the word hate to describe my feelings toward current public education reform efforts, but I have held it in reserve going under the assumption that another plan to save public education (again) will come along that really deserves that moniker.

Returning to my previous posts and adding the latest news from the education reform front , I have offered for your reading pleasure (or perhaps disgust) my Seven Reasons to Really Dislike about Public Education Reform:

1. Public education reform is dishonest (though not maliciously so). It is not about public education reform. The reality is that public education is doing just fine in many parts of the country. What reform is really about is educating our disadvantaged youth, who reside mostly in inner cities and the rural South, and closing the achievement gap that exists between the haves and have-nots. This means that a lot of money and unnecessary regulations are being directed to school districts, generally affluent and suburban, that simply don’t need it. It may be equitable, but it’s not fair.

2. More of the same. We’ve devoted decades and billions of dollars to doing more or less the same thing. Have you heard the definition of insanity, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different result?” Well, current reforms are insane. The lessons from this ongoing failure haven’t been learned, so they are bound to be repeated (and they are). We must do things dramatically differently rather than continuing to make iterative changes that don’t depart far from the current public-education groupthink. We need fresh ideas that lie outside of that box in which most so-called education reformers are currently packed.

3. Teaching to the test is the focus. The problem is that teaching to the test doesn’t have much to do with actual education. We have lost sight of what testing is, not an end in itself, but rather a tool to assess real education gains. Not just improved test scores due to improved test preparation, but improved education due to improved learning. With the emphasis on reading and math skills aimed at passing the tests, school curricula are narrowed, depriving students of valuable exposure to the arts, physical and social sciences, and humanities. In other words, students don’t get a true education, even if their test scores improve which, by the way, they haven’t significantly in response to these efforts (or NCLB for that matter). Also, the emphasis on testing sucks the joy out of teaching for teachers and students for learning, so everyone loses by being forced to play this game.

4. Cheating is encouraged. Even the most nobly driven professions, such as teaching, will do what they have to do to survive. And survival in public education means getting the funding dangled like a carrot by our federal government (or perhaps a better metaphor is a dehydrated man crawling across a desert offered a drink of water). And we are seeing this play out at all levels of public education. States are gaming the system by watering down standards (“watering down” equals cheating, in my view). Schools are engaging in attendance and grade fraud. Teachers are giving answers to students on their exams, changing poor grades, and advancing undeserving students. And, last but not least, students are cheating to get better grades.

5. Teachers are seen as the problem.  I admit that teachers’ unions signed some sweetheart deals that weren’t in the best of interests of students at the time and aren’t good now. But they see the writing on the wall and are coming around. Regardless, teachers’ unions aren’t the teachers. And, yes, there are some bad teachers, but certainly not enough to blame our public education failures on them. The teachers are the people who fight the good fight every day against enormous odds for low pay and even less respect.

6. Local control of curricula. The conventional wisdom is that states and local school boards know what’s best for educating our children. This belief may have been true a half century ago when people tended to live and work where they were raised. Local control ensured that children learned what was necessary to fit into and contribute to their local communities. But times have changed. Our mobile society and a global economy have obliterated district, county, and state lines that once had meaning. And local control means curricula that are supported by decades of inertia, groups invested in the status quo (e.g., teachers’ unions, school board, textbook publishers, testing companies), and provincial and ill-informed educational, political, social, and religious ideologies. A national curriculum would mean more consistent education, higher standards, less gaming of the system, and children who are better prepared for the flat world in which they will live.

7. The root cause is missed. This reason is the big one for me. Current efforts, such as Race to the Top, assume that the problem is failing schools; if you fix the schools, you fix the students. But failing schools are the symptom, not the problem. The real problem is failing students who are simply unprepared to succeed when they begin school. Poor children start far behind kids from middle- and upper-income families because they lack the attitudes and basic learning skills necessary for academic success. Any effort to improve these areas once they arrive at school is just a game of catch-up in which the vast majority of these students never catch up. It’s simple (but not easy), you fix the children, you fix the schools, you fix the problem of public education. The solution then is to change the environment in which disadvantaged children are raised before they get to school: better child care and pre-school, parent education, books in poor homes, a living wage so parents don’t have to work two or more jobs, and safe neighborhoods. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t also reform the schools; you put prepared students in lousy schools and they will fail too. But quality schools are necessary, but not sufficient, to fix public education’s current long-standing woes.

(This article was also posted at Dr. Jim Taylor’s Blog.)

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30 Responses to “Seven Reasons I Really Dislike Public Education Reform”

  1. Brian |

    With all due respect, I’d suggest that you left out one vital ingredient in a child’s education: they must be willing to work. Education might be “free” but there is still an enormous price that must be paid in order to obtain it.

    And while I agree with your analysis of what many of the problems are, our views on the solutions are as divergent as can be. I would also point out that poverty isn’t the root cause of poor education. One cannot obtain an education if one doesn’t want to obtain an education. While it’s true that some parents are the problem, how do you expect to “fix” a child that has been born as the 5th or 6th successive generation to an unwed teen mother? My patrol partner used to call it “perpetual adolescence.”

    It’s well and good to want the parents to be educated so that they will pass this on to their kids, but do you honestly expect children reared with nothing but rap or country to eventually develop a love for Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven? Do you really expect them to appreciate the difference between Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns? Do you expect them to develop a love for Homer, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Faulkner and Wolfe?

    How do you expect them to learn the fundamentals of economics if they are taught that their parents should be paid money that they did not earn (living wage)? Money doesn’t just fall out of the sky. Employers can only stay in business if customers will pay the prices asked for those products and services. An increase in wage necessarily means an increase in price on the shelf. You cannot divorce the employee from the consumer – the employee is the consumer. If I as a business owner am saddled with a de jure increase in the cost of my labor, I can take a pay cut (yeah, right), I can cut hours on my employees, or I can raise the prices on the things which I produce. There are no other alternatives. In short, your economic model teaches them the very thing that they should not learn: that they are entitled to someone else ensuring their comfort and life. How do you expect them to learn the rewards of education if you reward them for not being educated?

    I agree that arts and history are terribly important, but the two skill sets most important to a successful adult life are communication and critical thinking. The former can be obtained, with not inconsiderable effort, in English and speech classes; the latter in Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, and the Calculus.

    And as education isn’t truly free, neither is self-esteem. Self-esteem is obtained, like education, in the doing, not in the believing. There is a word for an unearned sense of self-importance: narcissism.

    I would also suggest that your top-down model is wanting as well. Does the bureaucrat in the Department of Education, very well-intentioned, understand that most of the kids in the school district where I live are interested in welding, auto mechanics and things like that? The Department of Education has been an unmitigated disaster, and it is beyond repair for the simple fact that this country is so large and diverse. Things that are important in NYC and Boston are not necessarily important here. Things that are important here are not necessarily important in Denver or Seattle.

    It is comparatively easy to have a top-down model in a nation with a high degree of cultural homogeneity, where culture has remained largely unchanged for centuries, places like Japan, England, Germany, France… In a place where there is little cultural or geographic diversity, it is possible.

    I agree with you that some things should be universally important. What I disagree with you on is that those things actually are universally important. Desire for and love of education are no more universal than raw talent.

    The bottom line is that you can no more force an education on people that don’t want it than you can push a rope.

    Here’s an article that you might find interesting.,0,258862,full.story

  2. Dr. Jim Taylor |

    @Brian: Your points are well taken and I agree with most of them. Several were not really the topic of my post and add nicely to my ideas.

    I want to respond to several. Absolutely, individual motivation is essential and I believe that it comes from their family and their culture. For poor children, that family and cultural support isn’t there. Sure, some find a way to get that motivation, but they are the exception, not the rule.

    I would disagree with you to a degree that poverty isn’t a root cause of poor education. Statistically speaking, they are highly related (and I believe causal and reciprocal). Your notion of “perpetual adolescence” or a history of cultural underachievement is a huge obstacle for children to overcome.

    No, I don’t expect those expose to popular culture to appreciate high culture and I don’t think they need to. Only the privileged can afford a liberal arts education as you are describing. I do want these students to leave schools with the motivation and basic skills to be able to get a decent-paying job and be good citizens.

    I am not suggesting any sort of entitlement. What I am suggesting is that societal support will give disadvantaged young people the opportunity to develop the tools to experience success and break the cycle of poverty and poor education.

    I appreciate your emphasis on communication and critical thinking, but that sets the bar unrealistically high for many poor students. Given the circumstances, I think some basic skills and a job-related set of abilities is more realistic.

    And I thoroughly disagree with your notion that different parts of the country have different needs. In our highly mobile and “flat world” in which we now live, I don’t see any differences in the knowledge and skills that children from Boston, Birmingham, Flint, Phoenix, or Des Moines need to succeed in the U.S.
    No, you can’t force education on people, but you can shape their culture and provide the tools necessary for them to learn the value of education. From that, the motivation for an education will emerge.

    Finally, as to the LA Times article, it is very compelling, but felt that it was wrong to name names. Thankfully, those who were identified as poor teachers responsed with grace and culpability.

  3. Brianna |

    “Well, current reforms are insane. The lessons from this ongoing failure haven’t been learned, so they are bound to be repeated (and they are). We must do things dramatically differently rather than continuing to make iterative changes that don’t depart far from the current public-education groupthink. We need fresh ideas that lie outside of that box in which most so-called education reformers are currently packed.”

    I agree completely. Let’s abolish the Department of Education, kill federal government involvement in education, and return all schools to state and local control and funding. Returning control of the schools to the hands of the people who actually have a stake in them (parents, educators and children) will go a long way towards redeeming their other problems.

    “Cheating is encouraged. Even the most nobly driven professions, such as teaching, will do what they have to do to survive. And survival in public education means getting the funding dangled like a carrot by our federal government ”

    I agree completely.

    “Teachers are seen as the problem”

    I disagree. I think most people realize that the unions are the problem, not the vast bulk of the individual teachers. The entire point of unions was to protect unskilled employees, which teachers can not possibly be considered to be, and it is immoral to allow a pressure group the ability to raid the public treasury. Abolish them.

  4. Dr. Jim Taylor |

    @Brianna: As usual, you take everything to the extreme.

    Abolish the Dept. of Ed.? It and public schools have served America and was an essential vehicle for upward mobility for generations.

    As for cheating, you agree with me on something? Wow! And the seas parted and the angels sang! :->

    Unions exist to protect workers of all sorts (those without power as individuals) from the abuses of those with undue power.

    I guess one out of three ain’t bad!!

  5. Brian |

    Generations, Dr Taylor? As I recall, it was formed under Jimmy Carter. I’m not sure who is being served by it. The relationship between SAT/ACT averages and the existence of the Dept of Education is at least corollary, and those scores having been in a slow spiral since the 70s.

    Second, there is absolutely no way to stretch either the 14th amendment or the commerce clause to make this cabinet-level department constitutional.

  6. Dr. Jim Taylor |

    @Brian: I stand corrected; a few generations. As to your relationship, likely many causes for the decline other than the Dept. of Education. I will stand by my belief that, as we continue to be highly transient world (people don’t live where they grow up), young people need the same education regardless of where they live. As for the constitutionality of the Dept. of Ed., I’m more concerned with the value it brings (or doesn’t).

  7. Brianna |

    ” As usual, you take everything to the extreme. ”

    “We must do things dramatically differently rather than continuing to make iterative changes that don’t depart far from the current public-education groupthink.”

    One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn’t belong….

    “As for cheating, you agree with me on something? Wow! And the seas parted and the angels sang! :->”

    I agree with you on various symptoms of what is going on in this country. Where I most vehemently do NOT agree is on a) the causes and b) the ideological base you use in order to formulate the solutions to your problems. And don’t try to claim that you have no ideology, only beliefs. If that were the case, you wouldn’t haev rejected my suggestions out of hand as “extreme” when “dramatically different” solutions was precisely what you called for in your article.

    “young people need the same education regardless of where they live”

    And if education slipped the noose of federal control, you think that the fundamentals of education would change so significantly from location to location that no two schools would teach the same material? Reading is reading, math is math, science is science. Any school interested in teaching their students the fundamentals of how to live in this world would have to use similar curricula, not by bureaucratic fiat, but because of the requirements of reality.

    “As for the constitutionality of the Dept. of Ed., I’m more concerned with the value it brings (or doesn’t).”

    Here is what I think of such a statement:

  8. Brian |

    Dr. Taylor, I’ll see your “belief” and raise you that it is far more dangerous for a government to exceed is lawful authority than for any possible benefit that might derive from such a usurpation. If you will accept even one unconstitutional act by the federal government, you have absolutely no argument when it exceeds its authority in any area, even if one of your own oxes is being gored.

    As the saying goes, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

  9. Tom Carter |

    Interesting. I agree with most of what you said, Jim, but I have trouble with the concept of more and more centralized federal control over education. I understand what you mean about our population being more mobile than ever before, creating the perception of a need for better standardization in education. I also follow your point about the “flat world” (thank you, Tom Friedman). However, the long-standing American principle of local control over education is, in my view, more important.

    There’s hardly anything more important to people that the education of their children. As Brianna said, math is math, reading is reading, etc. The principle issues come on matters like religion and values that may be taught in public schools (although religion shouldn’t be), and nothing enrages people more than the idea that bureaucrats in Washington might prescribe what their children will be taught in those sensitive areas. Local control (mostly) may not be perfect, but it’s a better alternative, with parents remaining free to home-school their children or send them to private schools if they can. Federal assistance might be helpful and useful, but it has to be limited.

    Your point that the problem is not with all schools but with some schools is dead-on. Why try to impose solutions on perfectly competent school systems in Iowa when they’re actually directed at inner city schools full of students who, as a group, are never going to perform at the same level, no matter what? My friends on the left hurl rocks at anyone who utters that truth, but there it is. The feds should encourage local districts with those kinds of problems to do as much possible to help their children, and they might actually do some good. In the meantime, leave the kids in Iowa alone.

  10. Dr. Jim Taylor |

    @Tom: I love it when we agree! All of your points are well taken. And I concede that the federal vs. local control issue is a difficult one. Probably some balance between guidance and implementation would work best.

    @Brianna: Touche on your “extreme” remark! I didn’t reject your “close the Dept. of Education” suggestion out of hand. I rejected it with considerable thought. But there is a different between “extreme” and “dramatically different,” one is realistic and possible, one is unrealistic and “not gonna happen.”

    As to your thought about “math is math,” I guess you haven’t read much about the Texas Board of Education.

  11. Brianna |

    Why is shutting down the DoE impossible. Why is shutting down any federal program impossible? Why am I supposed to think you’ve put thought into what I say, when you make the patently false claim that the DoE has been in place and serving well for “many generations” when in fact it’s only been around about 30 years and has presided over a steady decline in school quality.

    As for the Texas Board of Education, have they suddenly declared that 2+2 is 5? Or are you referring to their history textbooks? Well sorry to disappoint, but “Brother, you asked for it!” If you want to put classrooms under public control and put them to work teaching kids about your the latest ideological fashions of the day, then you have no right to complain when the public decides that it wants to teach ideas you don’t agree with. Just send your kids to private school. After all, that’s what liberals have always told the ringht-wingers and the religiously-minded when they complained about public school contents, yes?

  12. Dr. Jim Taylor |

    @Brianna: Sounding a bit angry (or frustrated) to me. Shutting down the Dept. of Education (DoE is usually the name for the Dept. of Energy) is impossible because it is not going to happen in our current (or any in the near future) political climate. Of course, if Libertarians take over our government (and pigs fly; sorry for the sarcasm; just being realistic), then the DoED is sure to die.

    And, as I noted to Brian, I stand corrected on my “many generations” comment. I should have said several generations. You are, of course, assuming a cause-effect relationship (creation of DoED and decline in school quality) where one may or may not exist. Typical of you to use one small miscue in an attempt to discredit the fundamentals of my position.

    No, the TX BoE hasn’t declared 2+2=5, but they have basically rejected the “theory” of evolution and are attempting to alter the historical record on a number of issues to fit their ideological and religious beliefs.

    I am not trying to teach kids the “latest ideological fashions,” just the facts as they are viewed by scientists and educators.

    As for sending kids to private school, I’m quite sure that conservatives send their children to private school for much the same reason as liberals. And, BTW, when you start attacking my politics and not my policy, you show that your arguments aren’t very strong.

  13. Brianna |

    ” Shutting down the Dept. of Education (DoE is usually the name for the Dept. of Energy) is impossible because it is not going to happen in our current (or any in the near future) political climate”

    How tautological of you.

    ” You are, of course, assuming a cause-effect relationship (creation of DoED and decline in school quality) where one may or may not exist.”

    Yes, I am aware of the difference between correlation and causation. But considering the record of the increase in price and decline in quality of other goods and services once the federal government has gotten its hooks into the industry, I don’t think it’s an unreasonable assumption.

    “they have basically rejected the “theory” of evolution and are attempting to alter the historical record on a number of issues to fit their ideological and religious beliefs.”

    And if they accuse you of attempting to pass off evolution as a theory as solid as Newton’s theory of gravity and trying to “alter the historical record on a number of issues to fit your ideological and secularist beliefs”? What would you say to them? That yours are true and theirs are false? What if they replied with the same? Refer to experts? What if they did the same? How would you prove that you were right and they wrong?

    “I am not trying to teach kids the “latest ideological fashions,” just the facts as they are viewed by scientists and educators.”

    No doubt they would claim the same. They might even be correct. In fact, you could both be correct in that you are teaching the theories advanced by some scientists and educators, whereas they would be teaching the theories advanced by others. They don’t all agree, after all, and I am sure there are things which the theory of evolution doesn’t adequately explain which could legitimately be taught in a science classroom. But when you have public schools under centralized control, then by your own advocacy you have to pick one set of theories and teach them, even though different people are going to believe different things. Under my ideology, decentralzied control of schools allows for such discrepancies by allowing people to choose what their children will be taught. But when it’s you who have advocated centralized control of schools, you have no right to complain when that centralized control starts to teach ideas you don’t like and leaves you no hole to escape to.

    ” And, BTW, when you start attacking my politics and not my policy, you show that your arguments aren’t very strong.”

    You are, by your own admission, a liberal. You wrote (and perhaps still write) for the HuffPost, which I consider to be a partisan paper and a laughable rag. When you decided to riff into my claim that education was education, the first thing you cited was a school board which has made changes to their curriculum to make it more conservative. You advocated for federal control of schools in your article. I consider forcing people to send their children to private schools even as they pay into a crappy public school system to be a case of double taxation and grossly unfair. Liberals consider it to be perfectly fine. So why is my admonishment to follow the advice that the side you identify with has repeatedly offered those who objected to liberal policies anything more than a case of my pointing out to you that you have made this bed, and now you have to lie in it?

  14. Dr. Jim Taylor |

    @Brianna: All well-thought-out positions that, standing alone, seem quite reasonable. As I have often stated, through the lens of one’s ideology.

    I could counterpoint your counterpoints, but we would never get anywhere, so we will, as usual, just have to agree to disagree.

    Until next time…

  15. Tom Carter |

    Brianna makes a point I strongly agree with. It’s inherently unfair to tax people for a specific purpose, i.e., public schools, when they don’t use them either because they don’t have children in school or send their kids to private schools.

    The opposing argument is that we all have a stake in education, other taxes go to goods people don’t use equally (highways, fire and police departments, etc), everyone has to pay for public goods and services even though they may disagree with them, etc. However, public education (often funded through property taxes) are highly specific, school policies and practices are firmly under the control of teachers and unions with a specific kind of ideology, and many (or most) of the people who send problem children into the public system don’t pay much of anything in taxes anyway.

    So, the people who take care of themselves and pay their own way through life are being charged to educate the children of others, while sometimes paying yet again for home-schooling or private schools in an effort to get their kids a quality education in a safe environment.

    All this is part of why I support school vouchers for people who want to opt-out of the public schools system. However, vouchers should be limited to the amount families have paid into taxes that support public schools (where that can be calculated). Of course, that’s another suggestion lefties throw rocks at, for obvious reasons.

  16. Dr. Jim Taylor |

    @Tom: As you suggest, we all pay for stuff that we never use; it’s called a society. We share in the benefits and costs collectively whether we use them or not. Over all, the thinking goes, every citizen comes out for the better.

    A la carte taxation just wouldn’t work very well.

  17. Tom Carter |

    Jim, I agree that a la carte taxation wouldn’t work at all, for a variety of very good reasons. But for the sake of argument, let’s compare public education with emergency medical service provided by tax-payer funded fire departments. When you have a heart attack, you don’t expect a homeopath to emerge from the ambulance and force you to drink a concoction of herbs. Neither do you expect an acupuncturist to stick needles in you or a voodoo practitioner to hang a gris-gris around your neck and feed you a jimson weed potion.

    Think about public education in that context. Educated people who are aware of scientific reality don’t want their children taught creationism or even ID; religious people don’t want their children taught science without religion wrapped around it; the majority don’t want their culture and values subsumed under the dictates of political correctness. How is that different?

    The truth is, there are lots of ways to fund and provide for the education of our children.

  18. Dr. Jim Taylor |

    @Tom: Reasonable thoughts. I wonder if there are analogous “services’ that we receive that are tainted with ideology.

    BTW, as public education is tied to government, isn’t there a separation of church and state? The default is science-grounded education. If people want religion, they can go to parochial school? I’m going to believe that most public school curricula in most parts of the country are pretty benign when it comes to ideology. Am I wrong?

  19. Tom Carter |

    Jim, there are all kinds of examples of tax-funded activities that some people object to. That’s always going to be true. Your observation is valid, though, that everything contributes to the overall public good (pardon the paraphrasing). And it seems inevitable that those who pay least will often use government services the most. That’s just reality.

    It seems to me that public education is a special case, both in terms of the level and specificity of taxation and the intense interest of citizens. Many, if not most, people object to their tax dollars being used to promote social or ideological agendas (not to mention educating the children of illegal aliens). How much of that is going on? More than we’re comfortable with, it seems. We have kids at virtually all education levels being explosed to promotions of non-traditional values such as recognition of Islamic holidays, suppression of Christian observances like Christmas and Easter, encouragement of racial and ethnic organizations in schools (as long as they aren’t white- and/or male-oriented), presentation of the gay lifestyle in aggressively positive terms, black history studies that are disproportionate and of questionable validity, and on and on. It’s hard to know the magnitude of all this, but rarely a day goes by without reports on something in these categories.

    What’s the answer? First, get religion and agenda-driven teaching out of the public schools. Difficult to do, of course, because people see things very differently. For those who are religious, teaching the fact-based science of evolution isn’t acceptable. They demand that their kids be taught the creation myth of long-gone desert tribes. For those who value traditional social behavior, teaching that the gay lifestyle (including gay marriage) is normal and acceptable is anathema. There are many other examples. Second, provide vouchers (up to the amount paid in taxes for public schools but no more) for parents to send their kids to schools they approve of. That creates a marketplace for schools, and if public schools suffer as a result they’ll have to change in order to compete.

  20. Brian |

    Since evolution keeps coming in the discussion on education, I’ll throw in my 2 cents.

    While I am a devout Christian, count me as an agnostic in terms of the specifics of the way we came into being. Obviously, I believe that God’s hand was involved, but that’s as far as I am willing to commit.

    That said, there is a significant problem with evolution theory as taught. Given what we know with certainty regarding organic chemistry (specifically, a property known as “chirality”), abiogenesis isn’t possible. I’m open to the possibility that some brilliant organic chemist may one day soon unlock the secret of the synthesis of left- and right-handed molecules from each other, but as I said, at this point in our knowledge, it remains impossible to do that. But, prior to about 70 years ago, we couldn’t split atoms, either.

    And for anyone inclined to go there, Watson and Crick did not demonstrate anything other than the fact that we still don’t know what conditions are required to produce life from non-life.

  21. Dr. Jim Taylor |

    @Tom: All of your points are reasonable and well taken. Though I might question your asssertion that teachings that are deemed unacceptable by those on the right or left are that widespead. I would need to see some data on this.

    As to your point that “public education is a special case, both in terms of the level and specificity of taxation and the intense interest of citizens,” I’m not sure. And, as just noted, I question how much social or ideological agendas are promoted in schools (except perhaps in Texas!). The vast majority of curricula all over the USA are likely quite uniform and benign.

    But even if education is a special case, I might suggest that it is still just the price we pay in our society for all that we get.

    As for vouchers, I don’t think I want to go there, but I can’t help making one point. If vouchers were allowed, there aren’t enough seats in enough private schools to allow a mass exodus. And, in any event, the quality of those private schools would plummet because they are enrolling students who would drag the quality of education down. In the meantime, public schools would improve because all of the “bad” students went to private schools and a reverse exodus would occur (ad nauseum, ad infinitum). BTW, I just made this scenario up and I intend it with a large dose of facetiousness.

    @Brian: You are opening up an entirely different can of worms. But I can’t resist responding with two thoughts. First, though clearly not “proven” in the strictest scientific sense, evolution is accepted as gospel (choice of words intended ironically) by 99.9% of legitmate science today.

    Second, just because we haven’t found the answers for every part of evolution doesn’t mean we have to come up with highly implausible (meaning no basis in demonstrable fact) explanations to help us deal with the uncertainty and existential angst of not knowing.

  22. Brian |

    Dr Taylor, I’m sure you’re as aware of the things that were once accepted as science that were later demonstrated as fantasy, so I won’t even bring any of them up.

    The issue with abiogenesis is not trivial, and should not be dismissed with the patently silly idea that it is merely an “existential angst of not knowing,” as if this were merely a game of legal semantics. Science is about knowing, not about believing.

    You bow to the idea that we must have demonstrable facts, yet in your very next sentence you dismiss my plea for demonstrable fact out of hand.

    It should be understood as axiomatic, but apparently it is not. When a primary assumption of a logical construct, any logical construct, is demonstrated as invalid or not true, at the very least it must cast doubt upon the entire construct. In most cases, the entire construct is invalidated.

    A simple illustration from day 1 in a formal logic class:
    1. A (an assumption we assert as true)
    2. A -> B (if A is true, then B must necessarily be true)
    3. B (we’ve established that A is true, therefore we conclude that B is also true)

    If A is not true, B may still be true but it cannot be established by this argument. Absent any other plausible argument (which might be substituted for lines 1 and 2), the assertion that B is true then falls outside the realm of science and logic into the realm of faith and belief, which makes it no different than any religion.

  23. Brian |

    Perhaps an illustration of the foregoing argument might be helpful.

    Suppose we establish that if you go outside when it is raining, you will get wet.

    The logical argument would be what I wrote in my previous response:
    1. A (it is raining outside)
    2. A –> B (if you go outside when it is raining, you will get wet)
    3. B (we’ve established that it is raining, and that you have gone outside to stand in it, therefore you are wet).

    But what if it isn’t actually raining? It doesn’t mean that you aren’t wet, it just means that you didn’t get wet from standing in the rain.

    In the case of evolution, no other scientific argument has been offered as to the origin of life.

    And please note that I have not denied evolution, just established that given what we know (or more accurately, what we do not know), it is not logical to assert that it is scientifically valid. Asserting that a thing “must be true” is not the same thing as asserting that a thing is actually true.

    All that said, evolution is an interesting theory with some merit, but a theory nonetheless.

  24. Dan Miller |

    Great Zeus! We can’t shut down the Department of Education. Think of the slippery slope effect: next, the Environmental Protection Agency, next the Department of Agriculture, next the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Homeland Security, the ABCDE, the FGHIJ and who knows what else. Just think of the consequences. The unemployment in Washington, D.C. would be horrific. Even worse, there would be less to gripe about and we would be reduced to exchanging recipes for clam chowder and home made ice cream. The thought is too terrible to contemplate.

    Just say “NO!”

  25. Dan Miller |

    Totally off topic, but I’ve been watching the victory party for LTC Allen West (ret.), who is seeking the Republican Party nomination for Florida’s 22d congressional district. He will make a speech when the winner is declared. Lots of happy faces and cheers, but no results yet. The only disappointing thing thus far is that West’s seems to be the only black face in evidence; that may be because the video camera is fixed in one place, but there are lots of white faces. I just saw one more — I think it was Mrs. West.

    Although Colonel West seems to the anticipated winner, it may be a long night with the results announced after I have gone to bed. Oh well.

  26. Dan Miller |

    Colonel West seems to have won the nomination. He will be giving a live interview on the site linked above in a few minutes.

  27. drjim |

    @Brian: You are unconvincing. Though we can not say categorically that evolution is a fact, it is far more than a theory. The overwhelming preponderance of evidence (and no credible evidence to the contrary) indicates that evolution is a sound explanation for how humans arrived here.

    Until someone either provided evidence to the contrary or provides scientific evidence that God created humans, I’ll stick with evolution.

    @Dan: I fully appreciate and respect your desire to see our federal government shrunk to its bare bones. I actually can see some value in that. But the reality is that it will never happen because the vast majority of Americans like our government more or less as it is because it provides services they like.

    I say the following without sarcasm or enmity, but it must be difficult to a hold a world view that will never be realized (I concede that it is conceivable, though almost entirely improbably, that the world may change, but if I were a betting man, that’s not where I would put my money). I would think that cognitive dissonance would kick in and, because libertarians can’t change the world, they would need to alter their beliefs to better fit the world, thus reducing said dissonance.

    What do you make it that?

  28. Dan Miller |

    Jim, you may be correct in contending that we are not going to diminish the federal government because

    the vast majority of Americans like our government more or less as it is because it provides services they like.

    I do question the assertion, however, because it is not consistent with what I have been seeing in recent tracking polls. The economy is in rotten shape, and expanding federal employment costs lots of tax money but produces little beyond statistics and resentment.

    President Obama’s favorable-unfavorable tally has been tanking since about mid 2009 and the incumbents — both Republican and Democrat — seem not to be faring very well. It’s too early to know what will happen in November, but it seems quite possible that public satisfaction with the way the federal government is getting bigger and more intrusive as the tax base shrinks will turn out to be less than exuberant. Some of the “services” may have to go, and I don’t think most of us will miss them.

    As California goes, maybe so goes the nation?

  29. Tom Carter |

    Some folks, including many libertarians, insist on reading the Constitution and documents such as the Federalist Papers and stop there, as though nothing has happened in the 200+ years since. The fact is, the federal government has evolved to this point, and it isn’t going to change much. However, I think the underlying problem Obama and the Democrats are facing is the fact that they’ve pushed the intrusion of federal power (and its cost) further than the people find acceptable. They want federal government services and benefits, yes, but they’re unwilling to accept the results of the spendthrift spending policies of the past two administrations. Perhaps this is a pendulum that has swung too far — but I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for it to swing very far in the other direction.

    I guess we got to this discussion from the question of local control over public education. Kind of makes the point that some kinds of federal presence is good in people’s minds, like Medicare, but bad in certain areas like the education of their kids.

  30. Dr. Jim Taylor |

    @Dan: As you suggest, the economy stinks and I believe that the low poll ratings and the apparent attitude of our citizens toward government involvement are largely due to that. If the unemployment rate was 7%, I think things would be different. Also, I believe that there is a lot of misinformation about, for example, the health care legislation. Once people see its benefits, attitudes will likely change (though perhaps not in time for the Dems).

    @Tom: Thanks for a realistic assessment of our current situation. I can’t imagine that the Con’s framers wouldn’t have expended its interpretation to evolve with changes in society (they were too smart and visionary not to believe that).

    As for your point about the Dems pushing government involvement too far, see my comment to Dan above. In difficult times, people revert back to primitive emotional reactions (namely, fear, frustration, and anger) that have little foundation in reason or reality (one could insert Tea Party as an example here, but I never would!). Plus, people want it all and don’t want to pay for it. Higher taxes for some have to come; it is inevitable.

    @All On a separate note, I have to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed contributing to and being a part of the discussions at O-P. Though we often have different views on issues, all but a few here share their ideas with respect, reason, and openness, quite the exception in my blogging life. And we often find consensus. I have learned a great deal from our exchanges and look forward to more in the future.

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