Sunday, January 3, 2016

State Religion & Public Education

Don Boudreaux's quotation of the day was especially good yesterday.  "(It) is from page 92 of the 1978 collection, edited by Eric Mack, of Auberon Herbert’s essays, The Right and Wrong of Compulsion by the State; specifically, it’s from Herbert’s March 1884 Porthnigtly Review essay 'A Politician in Sight of Heaven'”:
You may use your own reason when you say that compulsory education, or compulsory temperance, is good for certain people, and proceed to carry it out; but in so acting you disallow the existence of reason in those whom you compel.  You have placed them in a lower rank to yourself, you retaining and using your reason, they being disenfranchised of it.

I sometimes think that, if I am a fundamentalist about anything, it is the basic public consensus of the American experiment, with the Bill of Rights as a central document.  One of the oddities of the American consensus, though, is the strong statement in the Bill of Rights against a state religion, paired with the consensus that has developed since then in support of compulsory education.  These are analogous issues.  In fact, it seems to me that in the broad history of humanity, they would not have even been considered analogous.  They would have been considered restatements of the same issue.

And, in fact, they really still are the same issue.  Education has become the religion of the modern secular world.  Education, or science, is certainly where we have public debates about what our national ideals are, today.  In today's society, few will care how you rate the three persons of the trinity, or what your detailed beliefs about the Eucharist are, but you better be ready to defend your position on climate change, the effect gun laws have on crime, or the demands society places on women.  And, we don't fight about how our propaganda gets disseminated from the pulpit to the pews.  We fight about how it gets disseminated from the white board to the school desks.

In a free society, what exactly "education" even is is difficult to define, in much the same way that religion is.  Is it going to the right services?  Earning the right credentials? Knowing the correct things?  Having a thirst for spiritual or material wisdom and intelligence?  Is either one about living well in the world, or is it about having a depth of spirit?

Education is our religion, and so we have taken an end-around past our own ideal.  We have imposed state religion/education on ourselves, even as we stand united in opposition to it.  In that mess of potential definitions and goals for education and religion, public compulsion has the same types of effects, pro and con, in both manifestations of the issue.

I don't hear these problems being aired out in the public debate over education policy, so we keep pushing more and more support on our state religion, with predictable downsides.  Ironically, not only are these downsides that we all explicitly understand, but we only understand them because we learned about them while we sat in our state churches (schools) learning about the Bill of Rights and how it has protected us from state religion.

I have seen this meme:

The same thing could be said about state religion, maybe replacing "stupid" with "immoral".  None of us would find this meme convincing if we made that minor change.  And, generally the reasons that it would not be convincing would also apply to public compulsory schooling.  State religion, where it is treated as socially important, is a great recipe for moral stagnation and sectarian moral featherbedding.  We shake our heads at countries that have powerful state religions who respond to moral stagnation and division by redoubling their commitment to it.

And, further, I think the way in which past problems with public education have been framed around the idea of desegregation takes the focus away from this problem.  Desegregation was mostly a way to try to trick dominant groups into managing a functional school system for marginal groups.  But, the problems of segregation were secondary problems.  They weren't the cause.  Segregation was effective because education was compulsory, because there were truancy laws and accreditation rules that forced marginalized groups of children into failing institutions.  The idea that public education is the unquestionable vessel for escaping that legacy strikes me as..... well, questionable.  And, the idea that education can be imposed on people is...well....stupid.

The sad thing is that with regard to religion, America is the prime historical example of people, freed from the religious controls of their homelands, engaging in a frenzy of religious experimentation and fervor.  Would that we might trust ourselves enough to have such a frenzy of education.  And what does it say about our respect for our fellow Americans that some of us think a knock on the door from the truancy officer is the only thing keeping us from "living in a country with a bunch of stupid people."?

16 comments:

  1. "You have placed them in a lower rank to yourself, you retaining and using your reason, they being disenfranchised of it."

    -I don't have a problem with that. And, besides, those proposing compulsory education typically went through it themselves. So they recognize their own formal irrationality.

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    1. *former. Blame autocorrect.

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    2. The thing is, I read it myself, and I agree with you. Then I realize that, by the same reasoning, I shouldn't have a problem with state religion either. But, I do, in concept and in practice.


      And, yet, that religious zeal that I describe in the post, which arose out of the gap left by the removal of state religion, was frequently filled with unmitigated nonsense.

      But, yet, again, look at economically marginalized black communities in the US. State education infamously fails them. But, their churches are famously dynamic and active. We try to fix their schools by increasing the funding and imposing a version of the school that middle class suburban kids have. But, their churches aren't successful because they are overfunded versions of suburban churches. And, no black church has ever called a committee meeting to try to figure out how to get more rich white people in the pews in order to make their church more like the suburban churches.

      None of these problems has a remotely complete solution, but I am intrigued by how our reaction to the "religion" framing is the opposite to our reaction to the "education" framing, in spite of the practical similarities. And, given the need to choose, I think we owe it to our descendants to err toward messy dynamism.

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    3. I have a problem with state religion because there are no gods. If there were gods, I wouldn't have a problem with it.

      I blame both the 'success' of Black churches and the failure of Black educational performance on one thing: low average Black IQ, probably mostly genetic in origin. Both the Chinese and Japanese are, on average, of reasonably high IQ, and they're mostly atheists, or, at least, highly religiously apathetic. Same with most of the northern Europeans, although this is only very recent in origin. I strongly doubt churches actually improve Black temperance or moral character to any substantial degree. The fact Black communities are often economically marginal in the U.S. doesn't mean they're marginalized. As Lorenzo from Oz says, the curious thing is that Blacks tend to do worse when around other Blacks. There is only one even remotely first-world Black-majority country, and it had a higher GDP per capita in 1969 (before independence from Britain) than it does today. This isn't true for many other ethnic groups (e.g., Chinese, Jews, Koreans, Japanese, Finns).

      "And, yet, that religious zeal that I describe in the post, which arose out of the gap left by the removal of state religion, was frequently filled with unmitigated nonsense."

      -Very true.

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    4. I think your comment is a good example of how public education is the modern non-theist version of state religion, and it contains the seeds of the problems of having a state religion, and if I was a black person reading your comment, it would strengthen my resolve to oppose public education, for much the same reason that a Catholic in Anglican England might not have been very comfortable.

      Part of my position here developed after listening to people like James Tooley and Lant Pritchett talk about the under-reported global striving for education among the poorest people in the world.

      Maybe, given freedom, all communities would tend to develop outlets for personal development that played to their strengths. Maybe instead of having an education system imposed on them that was designed around the strengths and aspirations of other communities, they would have a different focus. Maybe an entrepreneurial focus. Maybe a vocational focus. Now we impose a single system on everyone, which some groups are not thriving in, and it seems as though you are saying they are bound to struggle under the measures that our system focuses on, and you want to impose that system on them anyway.

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    5. "I think your comment is a good example of how public education is the modern non-theist version of state religion, and it contains the seeds of the problems of having a state religion, and if I was a black person reading your comment, it would strengthen my resolve to oppose public education, for much the same reason that a Catholic in Anglican England might not have been very comfortable."

      -Why?

      "Part of my position here developed after listening to people like James Tooley and Lant Pritchett talk about the under-reported global striving for education among the poorest people in the world."

      -As some paper Tyler Cowen linked to a few months ago pointed out, the world is steadily becoming over-educated. I agree with Bryan Caplan that, especially at higher levels, education becomes less and less about human capital improvement, and more and more about raw signaling. And I suspect people with lower innate ability benefit less from education at higher levels in terms of human capital gains than people with greater innate ability. Not that I pretend people's intellects would improve without gov't education- I don't think they would- but education is necessarily limited by the innate or culturally-dependent abilities of the population. Education steadily becomes less vital to the development of one's abilities as one grows older, as I've seen from my experience. So if I had my way, I'd only make elementary school mandatory, then proceed to hold back every class that failed to make the grade. I think it'd be a good compromise.

      "Now we impose a single system on everyone, which some groups are not thriving in, and it seems as though you are saying they are bound to struggle under the measures that our system focuses on, and you want to impose that system on them anyway."

      -I mean, I just don't see any evidence that anything but a small minority of the people that aren't thriving in our present system would be thriving in some other one.

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    6. All complex systems fail without constant feedback and accountability. If you support an institution but believe that some of its members are bound to fail, in any case, then the institution is bound to fail those members, because the feedback mechanism is very difficult to maintain. As you point out, even for students who have a background that sets them up to succeed in our education system, most of it is waste. Schools were practically optimized for me, and I hated them. I can't imagine what a prison it was like for the kid who might have eeked out a "c" in calculus if he worked his butt off.

      Not that I have an easy answer, or that I think everyone will thrive in the absence of those institutions.

      I'll let you have the last word on the rest. You have some good points here. I'd even agree with your compromise, with the slight tweak that the focus would be on finding alternative paths rather than failure.

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    7. I didn't work my butt off, and I had a D in Calculus first semester, and then an F second, thus placing me at the bottom of the class. Still got a 5 on the A.P. Calc AB test, though, as did 80+% of the rest of the class, so I didn't have to take any math classes for my Bachelor's in college.

      And I'm thinking of recording a YouTube video of your post

      http://idiosyncraticwhisk.blogspot.com/2015/10/housing-series-part-65-reasoning-from.html

      is that okay with you?

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    8. "I have a problem with state religion because there are no gods. If there were gods, I wouldn't have a problem with it." pithom
      What a disturbing sentiment. Essentially, when a totalitarian government sends 'wrong-thinking' people to re-education camps, you' would only object to it if the totalitarians happen to be wrong? I mean, you basically just said a state religion is fine as long as it's the right religion, which means you entirely miss the point of the concept of individual freedom regarding matters like this: that it isn't the job of the state to decide what is true of false and make sure people believe what is true or false, regardless of whatever viewpoint it is that is actually true.

      You also appear to be under the impression that secular opinions enjoy some sort of exemption here. Since what constitutes a 'religion' as opposed to a 'philosophy' or what a society believes to simply be a self-evident truth is often arbitrary or dependent on the culture, I would say a state institution has no more a right to impose utilitarian ethics or the views of Spinoza on citizens than it does the right to impose Roman Catholicism or the views of John Calvin.

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    9. I don't think sending people to re-education camps is necessary. I doubt they're effective, and society's more stable than that. There's no individual freedom at the hands of an angry god, e.g., that of the OT or Quran. Of course the state has to decide what's true and false, as do firms, nonprofits, sometimes even individuals acting on their own.

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  2. Unfortunately, there is a state religion. And education is certainly a part of it. It beats the Spanish inquisition, but is still evil. The state religion is Zionism. Zionism is not Judaism, but is, rather, a political movement that includes a Greater Israel and world domination. It is multiracial, so Biden could say he was a Zionist. Obama and every leader and every pres candidate is a Zionist. The financial power lies in the Rockefeller and Rothschild fortunes. Zionism is a "secular" religion, more a political doctrine dressed up as religion. Zionism was formulated by a colonist atheist, Theodore Herzl, and israel was founded by a self avowed atheist, David Ben-Gurion, who wanted Israel the be the premier nation in the world. And that means the US is controlled by the Zionists and has been since LBJ and his other Zionist friends assassinated JFK.

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    1. OK. I try to be generous with comment policy, because I realize some of my views aren't mainstream. But, you've gone looney tunes. If we are doomed to succumb to a vast conspiracy, I am prepared to be the last one to realize it. I don't think your further input will find seed here, Gary. I just don't have time for it. I don't want to delete comments, but I just don't think we're on the same planet. Good luck to you.

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  3. OT but maybe not.

    The United States will not allow immigrants who are members of a Communist Party.

    I guess this is not controversial. This despite the fact that the Amish are communist, and that the VA medical system is a communist program.

    But to outlaw immigrants who are members of the Muslim religion is controversial.

    Interesting.

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    1. Belonging to an organization and holding a certain belief are not really comparable. While I realize that there isn't always a fine line between the two, a person who is a member of an organization that openly advocates violence in the name of some belief is not the same as a person who subscribes to that belief.

      Now, I honestly have no idea what the details are of the US's policy is regarding admission of communist immigrants. But if a person who had communist political views wants to immigrate, ans shows no penchant for violence, I see little reason to deny him admission because of that. But, if a known or admitted member of FARC tries to immigrate, or a member of an international communist organization that is subordinate to a foreign government, I would say there would be a justification for denial of entrance. The Amish or the VA being communist isn't therefore an issue, so long as they aren't members of comintern or whatever.

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