Friday, April 29, 2011

More on Moral Politics and Libertarians

So, having re-read all of Moral Politics, the author actually specifically addresses Libertarians within his frame of thought.  And it is even more irritating than what I thought was his total emission.

First of all, he covers Libertarianism in all of one page.  Second, he uses that page to basically say, "Libertarians won't admit it, but they are Conservatives at heart."  His argument is lacking in several aspects.

First, he defeats it with his own arguments.  His explanation of Libertarianism is that inherent with "Strict Father" (i.e. Conservative) morality and politics is the inherent reality that a) a strict father raises his children that way so that once they are mature, they can be self reliant, and b) there is resentment from an adult child whose father is overly intrusive and does not allow him to "sink or swim" in adulthood.  Libertarians focus, rather than on other aspects of Strict Father morality, on this resentment of the overly-intrusive father figure (i.e. the government).  Well, that would seem to make sense, except for a couple things.  First, this is a side effect of the Strict Father morality and politics, not a central issue of it.  Focusing on a side effect of the system does not mean Libertarians buy into the system.  Second of all, according to his own explanation of Strict Father morality, and why Conservatives can support policies that don't seem to actually achieve their ends, he brushes this off, as saying that, in Strict Father morality, preservation of Strict Father morality is always priority number one.  So, if his explanation of the priorities of Strict Father morality is true, then Libertarians cannot truly be a part of this, if their emphasis is on removing an overly-strict father from the picture, rather than on preserving absolute adherence to Strict Father values.

Although he does not address it in his discussion of Libertarians specifically, the author dismisses the idea that Libertarians, or anyone else, could have a political theory based on something other than either "Strict Father" or "Nurturant Parent" family-based morality.  He argues that because the family is biologically and socially our primary point of reference, it is impossible to look at morality without considering the family.  And, because politics is necessarily moral, it is therefor impossible to have a political theory not based on morality, and thus on the family.  This argument looks bullet proof at first glance.  Upon a closer look, however, it is faulty.  This would be equivalent to saying that because physical nutrition is our foremost requirement, everything we do, think, or say, must be based on food.  Just because something ranks high on our ladder of priorities as individuals and a society does not mean everything below it must be based on it.  It just means that, at the end of the day, if it comes down to food or family, we take food.  If it comes down to our family's survival or our moral values, we choose family.  Look, for instance, at conservative families who embrace their gay and lesbian children.  They place their family over their personal moral values.

Yes, our political discourse is filled with references to the family.  It is also filled with references to  money, war, sex, relationships, geography, death, survival and dozens of other things.  This does not mean it is based on any one of these things.  It means that either a) they are all factors, b) our politicians are skilled at using terminology that will pull at people's deepest instinctual and emotional strings, or c) some combination of the two.  In sciences, and even in social sciences, there are two questions too often overlooked by people trying (consciously or subconsciously) to prove a point.  First, is the relationship causal, and second, which direction does the causation run?  While Moral Politics lays out a relationship between family values, morality, and politics, it does not answer either of these questions.  Are the three linked by a causal relationship?  Do family values lead to morality to politics, or some combination of them?  Or are they all just such large factors of our lives that they inherently cross paths and influence each other?  If we accept that there is, in fact, a causal relationship, which way does that run.  Do people hold the values they hold because of their family values?  Or do we raise our children a certain way because of our political and/or moral outlook?  The book does not adequately answer any of these questions.

Finally, even if we accept that Conservatives are Conservative and Liberals are Liberal because of their respective systems of child-rearing and the moral values those systems instill, it does not mean that every political ideology will necessarily be based on a family-based moral outlook.  Even if we accept that they all are, however, there is no evidence to support the idea that these are the only two ways of raising children, or the only two systems of moral values that guide child-rearing.

In short, the author has laid out a wonderful hypothesis.  It's time to prove it.  Using links and value hierarchies, however, does not prove a causal, much less an exclusive causal relationship.

I would argue that Libertarianism could just as (if not more) easily be viewed as a Nurturant political system as a Strict political system.  In fact, it is based on the (according to the work Nurturant) idea that we should be able to make our own choices, and choose to be creative, to express ourselves, etc. There is also another factor.  Libertarians believe that perhaps the government is not the best at nurturing its citizens.  Libertarians support private charity, small businesses creating jobs, freedom of expression to express ideas and educate each other through art, etc.  Perhaps, then, Libertarians fit within our own family values system.  Perhaps it is the Nurturant Sibling, or Orphan, family morality which guides Libertarians.  Like families who have been neglected by parents, where an older sibling supports and raises a younger sibling, Libertarians may feel our government has not been there to provide the nurturing "upbringing" it was supposed to.  Despite years of over-regulation, social welfare programs, public education, arts education, etc. look at where we are?  We are soon to be overtaken as the world's largest economy.  A (relatively) small dip in the world markets has left millions unemployed and kicked out of their homes.  The poverty rate in our country is still abysmal for a country which consumes so much.  Perhaps the Libertarian philosophy is that our parents (the federal government), our foster parents (local governments and government subsidized big business), and the system have let us down.  It's time for them to back off and let the big siblings, who have done well, create jobs, education, and other infrastructure, and nurture our "younger siblings" who need a little extra help.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Truth About Education and Teachers' Unions

This is an old article, but important enough that I'm still going to write on it.  Basically, it goes into the numbers and debunks the myth that teachers' unions lead to better schools.  More interestingly, it uses statistics and facts usually hailed by liberal and progressive groups to do so.

In short, liberals are claiming that unionized teachers create better schools.  The argument debunks this, pointing out that, in fact, what makes a lot of the model states for this argument either rank well or poorly on education is actually socioeconomic makeup.

Again, to me, the most interesting part of this is that this is a typically liberal argument about education and equality, particularly racial equality.  Statistically speaking, poor and minority students don't do as well, and their school districts don't rank as well.  The states at the bottom end of the achievement scale have largely poor or minority students, while those at the top have largely middle and upper class white students.

The blogger actually goes a step further and breaks down test scores within each state by race.  In fact, many of the non-union states' white students do quite well.  It is the effect of combining these scores with the larger minority populations which make the overall state averages lower.

As the author points out, there are several reasons minority students don't do as well.  They tend to come from less wealthy, and less educated families, who have survived without the benefit of a college education.  They are less likely, therefore, to think that a college degree, and the success it requires in high school to get one, are entirely necessary to survive in today's economy.  They also likely come from communities without a lot of well-educated role models.  They are less likely to know that if they do well in high school, they will be able to afford to go to college, or to a top tier college.

Many minority groups (with the exclusion of black and Native American groups), also face the increased challenge of many of their members not living in English as a first language households.  Not being raised in an English-speaking home can negatively affect performance both in school and on standardized tests.

Finally, there has long been an argument that standardized tests themselves contain a racial bias.  While this may be hard to believe, it is quite plausible.  Much of these tests revolves around reading comprehension, mathematical word problems, etc.  While these are noble attempts to allow students to apply their knowledge in a real world setting, for those who grew up in less affluent areas, or in an ethnic enclave, these backgrounds can be anything but "real world."

Let's not get started on the issue of school funding.  The schools most in need of help often receive the least funding, as they are in poorer neighborhoods.

All of these issues add up to explain why minorities don't do as well on standardized tests.  This explains far more about nationwide education rankings than the presence or absence of teachers' unions.  Instead of trying to fight for or against teachers' unions to improve student performance, perhaps we should focus on making real changes in our education system.  Offering school vouchers to allow students and parents to choose the best school for their child.  Improving inner city and minority-populated schools.  Rewriting standardized tests to be a fair representation of a student's knowledge and intelligence, rather than biased toward those with a fortunate upbringing.  Allowing non-traditional teaching methods into the classroom.  Rewarding teachers for their performance, not their length of service.  All of these are issues which will close the achievement gap, and raise the bottom-ranked states up the national education ladder.  Coincidentally, many of these are ideas which teachers' unions oppose.