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Monday, January 10, 2005

How teaching creationism in schools will benefit the American aristocracy

Now that we're seeing years upon years of raising false alarms about the stability of Social Security is finally paying off for the right wing, helping gather enought support to privatize Social Security, a plan that's only forseeable benefit is to the rich who will be able to watch their stock values soar out of control before they cash in and and do god knows what to those same stocks, but that's the point of my post. My point is that we on the left need to be in the habit of looking at how manufactured crisises might have long-term benefits for the wealthy. Especially those crisises that directly involve the non-wealthy members of fundamentalist churches who are being used by the wealthy to further their agenda.

The current fuss over the teaching of evolution in the schools comes to mind because of this thorough article from Salon on the subject today. Over and over and over again, working class Christians are being told by the right wing media that the best way they can strike back at those elitists is by slapping at elitist scientists by teaching Genesis, or some version of it, to schoolchildren. It's sort of a nanny-nanny-boo-boo moment, like well you have your degrees and stuff but we have control of the public schools kind of thing. And other parents are in a panic because if their kids are being filled with misinformation about science in the public schools, it hurts their kids' chances of getting into college and becoming scientists themselves.

With all this manufactured panic over what's going on in the schools (with not just evolution, but sex ed and history, too), it's becoming tempting for parents all over the place to just pull their kids out and put them into private schools. Which they can't afford. But the think tanks magically have a solution to that, too! Vouchers. Take the money from the public schools and give it to private schools.

There is no doubt in my mind that there is a long-range plan afoot to use these artificial crisises to turn working and middle class people on each other so that they run the public education system into the ground. Public education, of course, is the backbone of class mobility in this country. If you want to close the ranks of the true elite in this country, you'll get rid of public education.

Think I'm paranoid? Look at what they're doing with Social Security and tell me they don't plan for the long run.

372 Comments:

Blogger Brad Warbiany said...

The public school system is certainly no longer a vehicle of class mobility. Look at the situation. Rich suburbs have great schools. Inner cities have horrible schools. It takes a very special person to perservere through all the crap at a dangerous inner-city school to have any chance at class mobility.

I'll worry about teaching evolution vs. creationism sometime *after* our schools can figure out how to teach reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic.

I promise with this response that I am *NOT* going to get into a school choice debate or anything of the like. However, our current system is *FAILING* to educate our kids. The teachers, the kids, the parents, the "system", all of it is failing.

Parents expect the schools to be baby-sitters, disciplinarians, and educators. Teachers can't control their classroom for fear of retribution by upset parents or administrators. Kids, being kids, don't understand the value of an education, and like all kids, are trying to find the easy way out. Administrators are more concerned with job security and not making waves than actually pushing for results.

What's going to fix it? I don't know. But I think we can all agree that it is broken.

1/10/2005

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Brad, I said it was a long-term plan. The budget slashing, particularly in poorer neighborhoods, has been crippling students' ability to get a good education when they can't buy it themselves for a long time. It's a long term plan to make schools untenable so that people are open to ideas about shutting them down.

Artificial scandals about Christmas being banned, false rumors that discipline is out of control in ALL schools because kids are "different" or teachers are afraid when the issue is that some schools are just severely understaffed, and other manufactured crisises are all part of the long range plan to destroy public education, I think.

1/10/2005

 
Blogger Anne said...

It's a long term plan to make schools untenable so that people are open to ideas about shutting them downI agree that this is what's going on.

1/10/2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't comment on the American school system, but your idea about the "controversy" over evolution being a backlash against the "intellectual elite" is a good one.

As someone who's trained in evolutionary biology, I can safely say that there are few things that piss me off as much as creationism. Especially creationist science teachers - what on Earth are people with so little respect for, well, science doing teaching the subject?

*Gets off hobby horse and stops hijacking your comments*

- The Birdwoman
http://www.birdwoman.co.uk/blog

1/10/2005

 
Blogger Sally said...

The public school system is certainly no longer a vehicle of class mobility. Look at the situation. Rich suburbs have great schools. Inner cities have horrible schools. It takes a very special person to perservere through all the crap at a dangerous inner-city school to have any chance at class mobility.I haven't been following this closely, and I could be totally wrong about this, but my sense is that the creationism brouhahas have generally not taken place in inner-city schools. I don't think that's because inner-city parents are more likely to support teaching evolution. I suspect it's because parents, teachers, school-board members, etc. realize that those schools have bigger problems and concentrate on other priorities.

But the evolution battles generally take place among people who, rightly or wrongly, think their schools are doing ok. And these battles will go far to erode suburban and small-town parents' confidence in the public schools. Some parents will be put off by the idea that liberals are ruining the schools and teaching atheism, while others will be put off by the suggestion (or reality) that the schools are substituting theology for science. Etiher way, parents who would have been inclined to have faith in the public schools will lose it.

America doesn't currently have a single public school system. This is about destroying confidence in the parts of the system that people believe are working. Currently, voucher programs generally only cover "failing" schools. This could generate support for a universal voucher program.

I'll worry about teaching evolution vs. creationism sometime *after* our schools can figure out how to teach reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic.I don't buy this, either. Part of the goal of public schools is to give kids the analytical skills they will need to be good citizens. If you do not understand the basic precepts of science, you cannot be an informed voter. If we teach kids that the theory of evolution (or hey, the theory of gravity or relativity or whatever) has exactly the same scientific standing as the understanding of the world contained in the Bible or the Harry Potter books or Star Trek, they will not become adults who can effectively evaluate the threat of global warming.

If you support democracy, I think you need to set your standards a little higher.

1/10/2005

 
Blogger Brad Warbiany said...

While, as I mentioned, I don't want to be drawn into a voucher argument, let me make one statement. When myself and my right-wing friend are sitting around discussing vouchers, we're not looking for ways to kick poor people. When we discuss medicare or social security reform, it's not because we hate the elderly.

I firmly believe one thing. Republicans and Democrats both have the public's best interest at heart. When we discuss vouchers, it's because we actually think they will work, and make education better for everyone. When we discuss social security reform, it's because we actually think the system itself is flawed and that we can do better. We don't want to destroy public education so that we can be your evil overlords.

1/10/2005

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Brad, I don't think you do. I think the people who want to be our evil overlords dump millions of dollars into right wing think tanks to come up with arguments that everyday folks think sound reasonable enough and then manufacture crisises so that everyday folks think that we have no choice but to implement the plans that the right wing think tanks come up with. So you say "Vouchers are good," because you have heard the arguments. But I think they are obscuring their long-term goals so that their ideas are easier to swallow.

Private accounts=death to Social Security. People aren't going to buy that. So you manufacture a crisis, offer private accounts as the *only* solution and voila, you get to kill Social Security. And artificially inflate the market for a period of time until the wealthiest of stockholders participate in the massive stock dumping they'll be doing around late September/early October when their stock reach record highs. Sure, you don't want old people to starve. They're just casulties in the larger plan to solidify the classes in this country even more.

1/10/2005

 
Blogger Brad Warbiany said...

Sally,
Our students today aren't being taught analytical skills. My true goal would be to see that by the time a student gets into high school, they could take classes on things such as logic, ethics, economics (personal and macro), philosophy, etc. But let's face it: students can *barely* understand the basics of the three R's. And without being able to get that done properly, how can we go farther?

Unfortunately, teaching kids about sex ed or global warming *doesn't* make them any better at analytical thought. Teaching them the arguments for and against global warming, however, does. I'll admit that the whole intelligent design idea should be part of a philosophy class, not a science class (and likewise taught opposite the atheist arguments). Kids today aren't being taught analytical thought, they are being taught facts. They aren't being taught the reasons why historical events occurred, they are being taught the dates they occurred.

Again, I posit that the system is broken. Whether you think it's a 'long-term plan' is up to you. But I want to know how to fix it. And the answer isn't always "more funding", although that might be a part of it. I'm not worried for my kids' (when I have them) education, because frankly I'm going to see to it that they receive the education they need. If I have to pull them out of public schools and home-school them, I will. But I am worried that if the US educational system goes (further) to shit, what it will mean for the world my kids grow up in.

1/10/2005

 
Blogger FoolishOwl said...

I don't think the Republican Party or the Democratic Party want the best for anyone but the rich. (Ordinary people who support the two parties are another matter.) That's another long argument, though.

I agree -- there's definitely been a deliberate effort, for *years*, to destroy public education. How is it every president and every governor and every legislator runs on an "education" platform, and every proposition to increase school funding passes overwhelmingly, yet funding for schools keeps going down?

Why can't kids learn the three Rs? You can't separate math from science, and if kids aren't allowed to study real science or real economics, then real math isn't going to make any sense to them either. You can't learn to read and write if you're not allowed to read real literature. (Anyone else remember the "canon wars" of the late 80s, when conservatives tried to ban writing by minorities from schools?) And so on.

I suspect there are a couple of underlying reasons for the attacks on public education. First, it's "common sense" that there should be universal free education -- much like it's "common sense" throughout the rest of the developed world that there should be universal state-supported health care. There's a profound ideological hostility to the idea of socializing a valuable service -- folks might ask dangerous questions about other valuable services being socialized.

In addition to that, I think, politicians' and pundits' claims to the contrary notwithstanding, that the ruling class wants a less-educated workforce, that would be easier to control and easier to force to accept lower living standards.

1/10/2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There are about a million things that need to happen to "fix" public schools, and a lot of it has to do with American culture and society in general. Part of improving public education is to actually value education instead of sniffing at "elitism."

Anyway, if we can't find one single way to "fix" public schools, we can certainly point to what isn't working. Teaching creationism--or even that evolution is just something some people believe, which, after all, is an odd lesson for Christians to favor, because it comes dangerously close to relativism and "God is just something some people believe"--is a step in the opposite direction, since it encourages indoctrination rather than education. Vouchers are a step in the opposite direction, since they automatically dismiss public education as unfixable. Cutting or refusing to increase funding is of course a step in the opposite direction; change isn't free, and neither is status quo, really.

And another thing: Is there anything disastrously wrong with public schools (creationism notwithstanding)--at least, anything new? I mean, it seems to me that there are a lot of really, really stupid grown-ups out there, and I know a lot of young people who are smarter than I am in a lot of ways. Which isn't to say that it can't be improved, but I'm guessing that the kids coming out of public schools today won't be fundamentally dumber than all the kids who passed through the system before them.

1/10/2005

 
Blogger Sally said...

But let's face it: students can *barely* understand the basics of the three R's. And without being able to get that done properly, how can we go farther?I don't buy this. I've taught first-year college students, and I see lots of products of American public schools who are literate, articulate, and more than capable of reading complex texts and grappling with complex ideas. It's just not true that American public schools are failing across the board. Our problem is inequality, not universal failure. So basically, this proposal would increase the number of students who are being failed by their schools. How on earth could that be a good thing?

1/10/2005

 
Blogger Amanda said...

To be fair, most people I know who complain kids aren't learning the three Rs are complaining that kids are being taught analysis and stuff. And I heard it all the time from kids in high school and didn't want to be challenged with harder stuff.

Fact of the matter is that education is a comprehensive thing. Conservatives are in love with doing stuff like multiplication tables and spelling lists, but spelling and multiplication is learned best by practice, i.e. doing all that controversial stuff like reading novels and doing ungodly science stuff. What they don't realize is that tables and spelling lists are assignments designed to break children's will and keep them from developing critical thinking skills.

Lesson plans that get kids involved are exactly the stuff that's frowned on by the three Rs crowd. Frankly, I think that the anti-school program has really screwed up people's common sense.

1/10/2005

 
Blogger Brad Warbiany said...

Sally,
I'm not saying all schools. Here in Southern California, I'd probably put my kids in private school. Where I'm moving (Marietta, GA), the public schools are very good, so I wouldn't have to worry about it. Perhaps a right-winger like me isn't the best example for you, but I am the product of a public school (Wheaton, IL), and I think I am fairly well educated.

You are right that there are large inequalities in the system though. I think funding is one thing, but that can get sucked up by administrators well before any little shred of it trickles down to the classroom. In the inner city, blacks who are interested in their own education are castigated by peers for acting 'white'. Parents in those areas are typically not highly educated, and thus don't instill a respect for education equal to that our parents instilled in us. Teachers and schools are overwhelmed, and discipline doesn't exist.

Again, I think it comes down to accountibility. Parents want the school to raise their kid. Teachers can't control a classroom without backup from the administration, that they don't get. The administrators are more worried about keeping their jobs than educating children. And kids, being kids, look for the easy way out. When it comes down to accountibility, *everyone* is passing the buck. So faced with this sort of problem, the public sits back and says inner-city schools are under-funded. They throw more money at the problem, hire 3 more administrators to every new teacher, and nothing ever changes. Nothing ever changes.

So again, I ask you all: What do you suggest? Obviously I've said about three times that I don't want to debate vouchers today, so there's no reason to blast vouchers as wrong. Right now an entire generation of inner-city kids is being lost. We need some way to bring back accountibility. I want to hear answers, rather than just bashing Republicans. Anyone?

Heck, I've got a wild idea for everyone. Let's make it mandatory that Congressmen enroll their children in public schools. Any takers?

1/10/2005

 
Blogger Brad Warbiany said...

Amanda,
Just wanted to let you know, after reading over here I posted a response at my blog. I'd be interested to get some thoughts on it.

1/10/2005

 
Blogger Sally said...

I have some ideas about how to improve schools, Brad, although I'm also pretty clear on the fact that I don't have all the answers. (I know several people who have taught in inner-city public schools, including my mother. And they all tend to get pretty annoyed by these discussions, because people with exactly no teaching experience tend to think they're the world's foremost experts on education. It's a very bad idea to get my mother started on how the whole phonics debate is conducted by people who have never actually taught anyone to read. She says that when you talk to actual teachers, they're much more flexible and pragmatic and much less doctrinaire than either the whole language or the phonics gurus. And she says that actual inner-city teachers have very different ideas about things like whether parents care about their kids' education.)

But honestly, I don't think that's what this discussion is about. What's going on here is that people in rural and suburban school districts want to teach students that there's nothing particularly special about science, that it's no better a guide to understanding the world than some book written 2000 years ago. It seems to me that if you really cared about education, this would bother you. Why are you so anxious to change the subject?

1/10/2005

 
Blogger EdWonk said...

Good post; thought provoking discussion.

As a classroom teacher, I can validate your mother's thoughts that those that are often the most zealous in the cause of educational reform are usually those individuals with little or no actual classroom teaching experience.

I believe that the thrust to implement creationism is a direct expression of America's tradition of locally controlled schools.

That is to say it is most often a locally elected school board that will desire to implement some variant of creationism in the classrooms over which it has jurisdiction.

1/11/2005

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Brad, simply saying the Republicans are mistaken and that people are being misled by these small battles to work for a larger goal of destroying their children's class mobility is not "bashing Republicans". But we just don't have much to say to your "solution". First of all, you state that parents need to be more involved, insinuating that parents have slipped. Why? I guess they don't love their kids and want them to succeed. We can't discuss how conservative policies make it harder for the average family to get by and we can't talk about how de-funding the schools make them so miserable parents might give up since they are hitting a brick wall. No, they are just magically irresponsible.

But weirdly, your solution is something that won't work at all if parents are such slacker-losers. Vouchers require actually going to the school, making a case to get one, finding a new school, paying the difference in tuition out of pocket, etc.

Vouchers sound great as long as you look at them from a harumphing distance. In reality, they are a backdoor way of taking YOUR TAX DOLLARS

1/11/2005

 
Blogger Amanda said...

(oops) and giving them to religious schools. The Repubs are playing you for a fool--convincing libertarians to spend taxes on private, religious schools! Your tax money should at least go to a service you benefit from. We're educating the generation that say, the doctor that treats you when you're elderly, is coming from. Don't you want her to know science?

1/11/2005

 
Blogger Brad Warbiany said...

Again, I am not going to get into the voucher debate. Only once in this whole thread did I even say I thought they would work, much less that I prefer them as a solution. Amanda, let me say though that it won't be that much of "MY TAX DOLLARS", because most education funding is local, not federal. The federal dept. of education budget is pretty small, and even if they did implement vouchers in a few small failing districts, I think it would a few billion dollar drop in a $2+ trillion bucket.

To get back on topic, I don't support teaching creationism in science classes in public schools. But I wholeheartedly *DON'T* agree that this is one step in a long-term plan to destroy public education. The problem is that this argument assumes the worst about people you don't know. When I come in and say we right-wingers aren't evil, you tell me "We don't think you are, you just got duped by the evil ones". As a simple thought here, let's look at how easily the argument can be inverted. I could post on my blog a bunch of conspiracy theories that the left wing wants to destroy education (bring up the "new math" theories, teaching multiculturalism rather than facts, etc etc), in an effort to infantilize the public and make them more dependent on the federal government. And a dependent populace ensures that liberals will always have a power base.

Do you see how easily the argument can be turned around? Of course, you'll respond and say I'm crazy, that you have everyones best interests at heart, and that you're not being manipulated by the liberal elite for these purposes.

I *don't* believe that is what liberals are trying to do, because, as I said before, I think we're all just trying to find the best solution we can.

1/11/2005

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Except I would then ask where the equivalent infrastructure of think tanks that create and implement these plans is on the left. We don't have a Cato Institute or Heritage Foundation that has been putting together long-range plans aimed directly at Social Security and public education and just so happen to be involved in these evolution debates as well.

1/11/2005

 
Blogger Amanda said...

And anyway, your alternate conspiracy theory makes no sense, because that's a plot that has hazy goals. Whereas the right has a very definitive goal of returning to former top-heavy power structures, ones that we are all familiar with from history.

1/11/2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I win the lotto I am going to create liberal think tanks and funnel ideas into the media.
Valerie

1/11/2005

 
Blogger Brad Warbiany said...

List of Liberal Think Tanks.

They may not be as big or have as much money as the conservative ones, but they are there. And I'd say as a result of the success of conservative think tanks, the liberals are putting more resources into think tanks.


Second, while we're talking about whether goals are hazy or not, let's remember one thing. We're talking about completely unrealistic conspiracy theories. So the "hidden goal" is outright socialism. That's the endgame of a populace dependent on the government. Let's say healthcare. One can easily make the argument that governmental anti-market policies have slowly destroyed and raised the cost of healthcare, creating a "crisis". The government's solution? Complete takeover.

1/11/2005

 
Blogger Sally said...

I'm not sure that I would say conservatives are stupid or evil. I would say that they have fundamentally different ideas from me about how the world should work and that I find their vision depressing and disturbing. I'm sure they don't sit around and cackle wildly while plotting ways to torture kittens and starve children. But I study history, and I'm aware that very few people cackle and plot world domination like some comic book villain, even when they're doing profoundly evil things. (People who supported slavery thought they were good people. They thought they were being realistic, not tyrannical.) Whether you cackle wildly at the thought of starving children or merely look on sadly and contemplate how unfortunate it is that some innocents have to suffer for the good of society, you're still letting kids starve.

But here's what I don't get. I take it you're a libertarian. It seems to me that libertarians are the people who should be most outraged by the assault on science. Libertarians take it as an article of faith that people should be able to make their own decisions. For instance, a friend of a friend is a libertarian who until recently worked for the FDA. His position (privately) is that drug regulation is wrong. People should be allowed to read the research and come to their own conclusions about whether the benefits of drugs are worth the risks. Anything else is the nanny state patronizing people by pretending that it knows their interests better than they do.

But in order for this to work, people need to be able to read and evaluate scientific studies. And in order to think they can, you have to adhere to one of the following positions:

-you think that people can and should be given excellent science education, so they will be able to read and evaluate studies. (You also need to have a plan for how those studies will be generated and disseminated.)

-you think that people are innately able to understand science, and therefore education is unnecessary. In that case, though, I'm not clear about why we're bothering with school at all. Why not just send kids out to work when they're six? Hey, it worked for my great-grandparents!

-you think that people need education to understand science, but you think it's ok that they don't and won't get that education. It's sad that they won't have the skills necessary to survive in the big, bad world, but it's not your problem. You'll be able to secure a decent education for your kids, and if other people's kids die because they can't tell an effective drug from a bunch of snake oil, that's too bad for them.

It seems to me that the second option is stupid and the third one is evil. So assuming you're not stupid or evil, you should be choosing option A. And in that case, I'm not clear why you aren't at the forefront of the movement to protect science education.

1/11/2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a myth that inner city parents uniformly do not care about their children's education. True, some parents are uneducated. True, many or most parents feel intimidated by the teachers, assuming they can find the time to see the teachers, a difficult feat if working two jobs. True, some parents are psychologically impaired or have substance abuse problems, and can't fulfill an ideal parent role.

Peers are the problem. And you better believe that the suburban schools' "in" crowd ostracises the academic achievers - it isn't just a "black thing".

The balance is between parents and society on the one hand, and peers on the other hand. If society looks on the child as a future custodian or thug, if there are no local examples of educated people coming from that community and achieving middle class success, even the most firm parent will have a hard time convincing that child that the parent's ideas are right and the peers' ideas are wrong.

NancyP

1/11/2005

 
Blogger Brad Warbiany said...

Sally,
I am upset that creationism is masquerading as science. I don't like that development, and believe me, I've spent much time deriding that idea in past conversations.

Your friend in the FDA, who privately doesn't agree that the FDA is needed, would probably also agree that education should not be a federal matter, it should be left to the state and local governments.

I would consider myself to be in agreement with option "A" in your group. I do think kids need a good education. I just don't think the state is doing a very good job of providing it, and we might need to look at ways to improve the system, especially in poor areas. The more federal it becomes, the less effect one voice of a single mother in Compton has about what is going on at her school. The more local it becomes, the harder she is to ignore. The more local it becomes, the more accountable people who have ability to change it become. A staffer in Washington doesn't care one bit about some middle school in Compton. And if people are unhappy with his actions or policies, he has no accountibility to them.

You can all talk about how it's just "common sense" that a free, universal education should be provided to all. And I'm sure most of you would support greater and greater federalization of education, so people in backwoods Alabama can't go off mentioning God or praying. So how would you like your educational system to perform? Like the IRS? How about the INS? The post office? Amtrak? The feds don't exactly have a good track record here.

1/11/2005

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Brad, most of those are non-partisan, some are not think tanks at all, and none of them have anything on the right wing think tanks that I mentioned. Just because a group doesn't wear camo to meetings doesn't make them a liberal think tank.

Anyway, not as well-funded and not as influential and not as big and not as old and not as into long-term planning and especially not as into propaganda work are not small things at all. They are the difference between organizations such as you list, which are combination of PACs, special interest groups like AARP (those socialists!), and things like that. Think tanks are propaganda machines.

1/11/2005

 
Blogger Brad Warbiany said...

Amanda,
My bad. I did a quick search online for lists of liberal think tanks, and that's what I found. I didn't read intesively or vet these specifically. Tough to do research when I'm supposed to be working, you know? ;-)

1/11/2005

 
Blogger Sally said...

Your friend in the FDA, who privately doesn't agree that the FDA is needed, would probably also agree that education should not be a federal matter, it should be left to the state and local governments.Oh, he's not my friend. I find it difficult to be in the same room as him. At any rate, I'm not convinced he believes in public education at all.

And I'm sure most of you would support greater and greater federalization of education, so people in backwoods Alabama can't go off mentioning God or praying. So how would you like your educational system to perform? Like the IRS? How about the INS? The post office? Amtrak? The feds don't exactly have a good track record here.I love it how people from Illinois and Southern California talk about "backwoods Alabama" like it's some sort of alien realm, far from the normal places where civilized people like "us" live. I have lots of family in Alabama. They certainly don't want their kids going to schools that substitute fundamentalism for science, both because they're smart people and because they're not Christian. (You do realize that not everyone in Alabama is Christian, right?) I guess you could argue that their neighbors have the right to force them to send their kids to crappy, science-free Christian schools, but I'm not sure that you want to go there. The right doesn't have a great track record when it comes to arguing about states' rights and education in Alabama.

Incidentally, you might want to keep in mind that the latest round of the creationism battles is taking place in Pennsylvania, not "backwoods Alabama."

I honestly don't know how I feel about a federal education system. I do know that the biggest impetus towards centralization lately has come from the right, not the left (or pseudo-left, or soft right, or whatever you want to call Bill Clinton.) No Child Left Behind has fundamentally challenged the autonomy of local school districts in ways that the Democrats haven't tried in a long time. So I think you're arguing with the wrong person. I will only say that I think it's un-Constitutional, as well as really stupid, to teach Christian theology as if it's science. You don't have to advocate a federal educational system in order to believe that.

1/11/2005

 
Blogger lawrence krubner said...

"My point is that we on the left need to be in the habit of looking at how manufactured crisises might have long-term benefits for the wealthy. Especially those crisises that directly involve the non-wealthy members of fundamentalist churches who are being used by the wealthy to further their agenda."

This reminds me of a point that the post-Marxists often bring up. If, as Marx said, religion is the opium of the masses, a mere propaganda tool used by the rich to focus the attention of the poor on something other than their oppression, then how can we explain the emotional intensity shown by both rich and poor alike in religious matters? Christoper Hill asks this specifically of the English Revolution: if Puritanism is nothing more than a bourgeois plot to trick the poor into fighting for merchantile interests, then why do so many people on the Parlimentarian side, rich and poor alike, give up their lives for what, at the moment of their deaths, they claim to be religious feelings?

I read a lot of Marx as a teen-ager but I've since come around to the post-marxist view: religious emotional intensity sometimes needs to be taken at face value. It needs to be understood in its own language, rather than seen through a secular lens.

1/12/2005

 
Blogger lawrence krubner said...

"Over and over and over again, working class Christians are being told by the right wing media that the best way they can strike back at those elitists is by slapping at elitist scientists by teaching Genesis"

Again, as I said before, everyone on the Left should ask themselves if they'd be willing to vote for William Jennings Bryan if he were around today. On economic issues, he is the most radical candidate the Democratic party has ever nominated. He is also the only true Fundamentalist that the Democrats have ever nominated. The great thing about Bryan is that he was able to take a radical economic message and package it in a way that brought an emotional response from America's Christians: "You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!"

Of course, this is also the same guy who, decades later, faced off against Clarence Darrow at the Scopes trial, and Bryan was on the side that most Democrats now regard as the wrong side.

But how can one build an economically progressive politics in American without including the South? The poorest states in America are in the South, the poorest people in America are in the South, to help the poor is to help the South, but any such effort is likely doomed ahead of time if it doesn't find a way to express itself in a language that the South's Christians can understand.

My point is, at some point America will, in fact, have a re-invigorated Left, and at some point it will probably have leaders who are less than ideal, because history gives us few examples of leaders who are ideal. So given a less than an ideal leader, would you support him or her anyway? Say a Christian fundamentalist who is an economic radical and therefore has an easy time rallying the South to a progressive politics?

1/12/2005

 
Blogger lawrence krubner said...

" And these battles will go far to erode suburban and small-town parents' confidence in the public schools."

Of course, if you're a right-wing Christian, the public schools lost your trust a long time ago. The Scopes trial was in 1926 folks.



" Vouchers are a step in the opposite direction, since they automatically dismiss public education as unfixable."

Or they assert that parents, not the public, should be in charge of a child's education. I find it interesting that nearly all my friends are on the poltical Left, and nearly all of them with kids are home-schooling. I am tired, in the extreme, of liberal centrists complaining that it is right-wing fundamentalists who distrust what is taught in the public schools. The parents on the counter-cultural Left lost all faith in the public schools a long time ago. The Left should wake up and remember its own history! 40 years ago it was the counter-culture Left that offered the most scathing critique of what is taught in the public schools, it was the counter-culture Left, not the Right, that lead the exodus out of the public schools. My friends on the Left either home school or send their kids to cool, left-leaning private schools, like Waldorf, Montesorri, or a Quaker Friend's school. They don't send their kids to public schools! It is the Left that should be leading the fight on vouchers, not the Right. It's the remnants of the 60's counter-culture, now widespread and diffuse, that stands to gain the most from the complete destruction of the public school system.

The debate on this post reminds a little of Phil Och's song, "Love me, I'm a liberal" and makes me nostalgic for the days when liberals were considered the natural enemies of everyone on the Left, because, you know, isn't it just obvious that liberals want conformity? And even if one disagrees with the old radical critique of liberalism, can't we at least leaven our converstion with an understanding of the conversations that have gone before this one?

1/12/2005

 
Blogger FoolishOwl said...

In response to Larry's comments:

If, as Marx said, religion is the opium of the masses, a mere propaganda tool used by the rich to focus the attention of the poor on something other than their oppression, then how can we explain the emotional intensity shown by both rich and poor alike in religious matters?That's not what Marx said -- his "opiate of the masses" comment is too often taken out of context.

The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness.It's an apparent cure for real pain: that's why it has such a powerful appeal.

No, I don't think the left should embrace vouchers. Yes, there are all sorts of ways that the left can, and does, criticize the public education system.

When dealing with a political issue, it's not enough to read the official summary on the ballot form. Who is proposing vouchers, and why? The result of a voucher system won't be lots of different schools with diverse systems of instruction. Vouchers don't, and can't, pay enough to finance a child's education. The result of a voucher system will be that middle class and ruling class kids get an adequate education, and the rest get little or no education at all.

The only way the left could make use of this is if we all pitched in and volunteered our time and energy to make up the difference between the value of vouchers and the costs of an education. Which we can't afford to do.

And if the marxists have their critiques of liberals (critiques about the nature of class, not about "conformism," by the way) they also have critiques of anarchist "counter culture." Escape doesn't work. That's why we stick to collective demands.

1/13/2005

 
Blogger FoolishOwl said...

Sorry, I meant Lawrence, not Larry.

1/13/2005

 
Blogger Amanda said...

Lawrence, those are interesting points. A couple of things--Bryan did well in an America of 100 years ago. While he is an instructive figure, we can't just take his strategies, give 'em a shake, and expect the same results.

Leftists pulling their kids out of school is exactly the elitist bullshit that drove populist-minded people out of the party. Sure, go ahead and fight the system if you got the cash to do it. The rest of us view education as a means to class mobility and are not going to be so happy to have it disappear for idealogical reasons from the left or the right.

1/13/2005

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If, as Marx said, religion is the opium of the masses, a mere propaganda tool used by the rich to focus the attention of the poor on something other than their oppression, then how can we explain the emotional intensity shown by both rich and poor alike in religious matters?Um, Lawrence, the fact that X has a certain effect does not tell us what X essentially "is". If a religion benefits the conservative elite, that does not mean that it has no other effect. It does not mean we can stop thinking about "religion" (or any phemomenon), now that we know the One and Only Truth. This, indeed, seems like the major flaw in Marxism.
--Omar

1/13/2005

 
Blogger FoolishOwl said...

My point in bringing up the context of Marx's quote is that he wasn't saying that religion is simple propaganda. Remember, opium was used by doctors in that era to relieve severe pain. He was saying that religion eased pain without curing the disease that ultimately caused that pain.

The irony is that Marx, very early in his career, made a break with the left Hegelians, who were part of a tradition on the left of seeing religion as the root of all social ills. One of the troubles with that approach is that it quickly turns into a self-righteous elitism: it leads to the conclusion that people are stupid, deluded schmucks.

Marx's critique of that point of view was precisely a call to dispense with a superficial critique of religion, and to look more closely at the social role religion fills. That's why it's ironic that the books and articles Marx, Engels, and other marxists have written on the subject of religion get reduced to the "opium of the masses" comment, which, out of context, and to modern ears, sounds like exactly the elitist snobbery Marx was critiquing.

1/14/2005

 
Blogger lawrence krubner said...

"Vouchers don't, and can't, pay enough to finance a child's education."

I'm tired of hearing this particular untruth. Please go over the math in your head:

America spends an average of $7,500 per year on each student (last time I checked, which was about 3 years ago). So lets assume the whole school system is instantly switched to vouchers, and the vouchers are worth $7,500, which the parents can spend at the same public schools there kids have always gone to, or at some other school if they wish.

In this first scenario, no new money is on the table, America is still spending the same amount per year per student as before. If 100% of parents decide to send their kids to their public schools, then all goes on as before, with no visible change to America's school system.

Let's consider another scenario. If 20% of the parents decide to pull their kids out of the public schools, then the public schools lose 20% of their revenue. However, since the kids are their main expense, the public schools also lose almost 20% of their expenses. There are certain fixed costs associated with schools, such as paying off the construction costs. Depending on the school, these fixed costs can vary 15% to 30% of total costs. Financing these costs in the face of vouchers is a tough issue, but it is a one-time conversion issue, not an on-going problem.

When you look past the special issues that arise during conversion, you realize a voucher program can quite pay for all education in America. If America pays $7,500 per child per year before vouchers and pays $7,500 per child per year with vouchers, then clearly vouchers can pay for American education.

1/15/2005

 
Blogger lawrence krubner said...

"Bryan did well in an America of 100 years ago. While he is an instructive figure, we can't just take his strategies, give 'em a shake, and expect the same results."

I think you are quite right to suggest that the tactics used 100 years ago won't work today. And I think most progressives in this country are secular and I think that is a good thing. But I also think the secular progressives will never be an outright majority by themselves, so to build a progressive coalition that is big enough to constitute a majority will involve reaching out to Christians who have reasons to join a progressive movement. This won't be Christians who are rich, since both their religion and their money will alienate them from a progressive movement. But it might be Christians who are poor, and who are seeking to be empowered economically. And I think the secular progressives might have a very hard time dealing with some of the cultural beliefs that poor Christians bring to a progressive movement. I cite Bryan just to bring out how uncomfortable such an alliance might be.

But such an alliance might be worthwhile even if uncomfortable. Several of the last few progressive waves in America have been lead by Christian factions. In the 1850s the Quakers were the most militant of the anti-slavery voices, and of course the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s was lead by ministers such as Martin Luther King. And if you listen to the language of their speeches you realize those speeches were deep with Christian imagery and emotion. And if you study the compostion of the people who followed those leaders, I think you realize rather quickly that the Christian-themes in their speeches were not incidental to their success, but were in fact central to it.

1/15/2005

 
Blogger lawrence krubner said...

"Leftists pulling their kids out of school is exactly the elitist bullshit that drove populist-minded people out of the party."

I think you are right that when liberals send their kids to expensive private schools they are open to charges of elitism. However, I think the home-schoolers are a different group. They are relatively poor, in my experience.


"The rest of us view education as a means to class mobility and are not going to be so happy to have it disappear for idealogical reasons from the left or the right."

I agree that education is a key to class mobility and it would be very sad to see that mobility disappear. The issue on the table is how to strengthen education. In my opinion, vouchers, if implemented wisely, would strengthen America's educational systems. I've been wrong before about a lot of important things, and I could be wrong about this too, but when I talk to my friends I find it really striking how absolute is their commitment to keeping their own children out of the public system. Among those of my friends who have kids, I don't know a single one who feels comfortable at the thought of sending their kids to public schools.

1/15/2005

 
Blogger Sally said...

First of all, unless you're wearing racial blinders, you don't have to look back as far as Bryan to imagine a progressive coalition that involved evangelical Christians. Where I live, evangelical Christians already take a prominent role in many progressive causes. They tend to be African-American. You keep talking about "Christians" when I think you really mean "white Christians."

Second of all, just for fun, I checked tuition at local private schools. If you add up tuition and fees, the Waldorf school costs close to $15,000 a year. So does the non-denominational progressive private school. The Montessori school, which only goes up to 8th grade, costs nearly $10,000. It's worth pointing out that homeschooling is not an option for many families, including almost all single-parent families, families that need both incomes, families in which the parents don't have a solid educational foundation, families in which neither parent is good at or stimulated by teaching, and families in which the parents aren't fluent in English. (Please don't say ask why kids need to learn English. I swear if you do I will scream.) If homeschooling is your solution to the problem of educating children who can't afford to supplement their $7500 a year, it's not going to work for an awful lot of kids who fall into that category.

In my city, the only option open to parents on $7500 a year would be Catholic schools. If you started a voucher program tomorrow, what you'd have would be middle-class kids in progressive schools that encouraged free thought and creativity and working-class kids in schools that stressed discipline and obedience. And I promise you, once the middle-class kids were pulled out of state-run schools, they would go even farther down the discipline-and-obedience road. That's already the trend in urban public schools, with things like school uniforms and rigid, drill-based curricula.

If we can't win the battle to make public schools equitable, I don't see why you think we're going to win the even-more-difficult battle of instituting an equitable voucher system.

1/16/2005

 
Blogger lawrence krubner said...

"First of all, unless you're wearing racial blinders, you don't have to look back as far as Bryan to imagine a progressive coalition that involved evangelical Christians."

I don't know if you're talking to me, but just two comments before yours I mentioned Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement of the 50s as an example of a progressive Christian movement.


"Second of all, just for fun, I checked tuition at local private schools. If you add up tuition and fees, the Waldorf school costs close to $15,000 a year."

But we know kids can be taught for that sum of money because that is exactly how much they are now being educated with. Mind you, it is a national average. Some states (New York, California) spend much more than that and some states (Alabama, Mississippi) spend much less. You're example of inexpensive Catholic schools shows that private schools can operate on these sums.


"If we can't win the battle to make public schools equitable, I don't see why you think we're going to win the even-more-difficult battle of instituting an equitable voucher system."

I wouldn't justify a voucher program on the basis of equity, I would justify it on the grounds of maximizing parental and student power versus the power of the public. I assume kids will have some influence on the choice of school they go to, especially as they get older. They should have a chance to get free of the stifling conformity of the public schools. As things are now, they have to wait till college before they get free, but I believe with vouchers we could have the same freedom in K-12 schools. Public schools are by definition conformist - the only thing that can be taught in public schools is what a majority of the public consents to have taught in the schools. What's taught in the public schools will always be fiercely contested terrain, with all the myriad opinions that make American culture so interesting and diverse fighting to have themselves taught as the truth in the schools. What is, in fact, ultimately taught is whatever compromise is reached between the contending parties. A radical change in what is taught (Indians are evil and they rape white women, no, wait, Indians were the natives who lived here and white people are the invaders) will merely be a reflection of some change that has already happened in the political alignment of society. If you agree with the change then you'll consider it an improvement, but at all times the kids are being taught the concensus. If parents want to get their kids into a less conformist educational setting, then they need to get their kids out of the public schools.

1/17/2005

 
Blogger Sally said...

Well, if you do realize that there are currently evangelical Christians in the progressive coalition, I'm not sure why you think we all need to contemplate Bryan in order to imagine cooperating with evangelical Christians, especially since Bryan came out of a political landscape quite different from our own.

You're example of inexpensive Catholic schools shows that private schools can operate on these sums. Catholic schools can operate on small budgets. They do that by employing a non-unionized workforce which works for less money than public school employees earn and by maintaining strict classroom hierarchy and discipline which allows for large class sizes. You'd have a very hard time running a progressive school on that much money even if you did pay teachers and staff non-union wages. And it's hard for me to see how a supposed lefty can justify transforming a unionized occupation into a non-unionized one.

I wouldn't justify a voucher program on the basis of equity, I would justify it on the grounds of maximizing parental and student power versus the power of the public. That's lovely, but in that case I think you're a New Age libertarian, not a lefty. People on the left don't sanction inequality in the name of battling "conformity."

1/17/2005

 
Blogger lawrence krubner said...

"That's lovely, but in that case I think you're a New Age libertarian, not a lefty. People on the left don't sanction inequality in the name of battling "conformity.""

I wouldn't get too hung up on labels like "lefty" or "libertarian", since in my own experience people's views tend to be a mix of opinions, some based on careful thought, others based on gut-level instinct and intuition. I don't think I've ever run into a person so rigidly dogamatic that they force all their views to conform to a well-known ideology. However, I agree with you that there's always been a libertarian streak to the 60s counter-culture, and I think that has been part of its strength and charm.

Within progressive circles there has been renewed talk of a libertarian left that focuses on local empowerment and community support, rather than looking to national governments to enact a social-democrat agenda. Peter Hain, an important member of Tony Blair's government, has written a book on the subject of what he calls "libertarian socialism".

1/17/2005

 
Blogger Sally said...

You're the one who told us all that we should support vouchers because all of your "lefty" friends put their kids in private school. So I actually think it does matter whether you and your friends are really lefties or just reactionaries in Birkenstocks. And incidentally, if you want to sell me on something being compatable with socialism, I don't think citing New Labour is the way to go.

You haven't actually answered any of my substantive points. How exactly are we going to go about making Waldorf schools available to the masses? Or does it not matter as long as your friends get their break on tuition?

1/17/2005

 
Blogger lawrence krubner said...

"So I actually think it does matter whether you and your friends are really lefties or just reactionaries in Birkenstocks."

When you start using phrases like "reactionaries in Birkenstocks" you start turning the conversation into one made up of personal attacks.


"How exactly are we going to go about making Waldorf schools available to the masses?"

If we want to provide every child with an experience like Waldorf's we could raise taxes and put the new revenue into education. The tax increase would have to be dramatic, enough to almost double what we now spend per student per year. Personally, I think this would be awesome. We could easily afford it if we brought back the top income tax bracket of 70% that we had before the Reagan tax cuts of 1982. Even better, we could bring back the days (1930s to 1964) when we had a top income tax bracket of 91%. That was as close as America ever got to having a maximum income law. 91% was charged on incomes over $100,000, adjusting for inflation that would be about a 1.1 or 1.2 million today. We could afford a lot with an upper tax bracket like that, and the concentration of wealth that we see happening in the country today would largely come to an end.

However, we could also offer the same level of education that we do right now today, by taking the $7,500 we spend on average per student per year, and offering that to parents as a voucher. We, as a society, would still get exactly the same amount of education for our children, with the difference being that parents and children, rather than the public, would make the choices about what to learn.

1/18/2005

 
Blogger lawrence krubner said...

Actually, now that I think of it, most people play politics with evolution, the Left and the center as much as the right. When I was in high school in the mid-80s I had a bunch of left of center teachers who still taught tabula rasa as if it was fact. I think Stephen Pinker has pretty well demolished it forever, but even in the 80s the evidence that humans were born with some innate traits was pretty strong. Yet ever since John Locke suggested it in 1690s, tabula rasa has been used to justify any number of reform programs. I know that for my parents, and for their generation of left of center reformers, tabula rasa was self evident.

Also, two years ago I lived with a bunch of hard-left anarchists, and they denied Darwin with the same vehemence you'd expect from the Christian right. They felt that Darwin was only taught in the schools so that people would be more willing to accept right-wing social-Darwinism type public policy, where the rich get richer and the poor are left to die. And, I think, there may be something to that - politics may play some role in the way Darwin gets taught in the schools.

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