Category Archives: Education / Youth

Enlarging The Already-Big Hole In the Wall

The overtly pious Justices placed on today’s Supreme Court by Mitch McConnell aren’t likely to stop imposing their religious beliefs with their decision to overrule Roe v. Wade. Multiple observers have warned that we are dealing with religious zealots intent upon enforcing their vision of Christian Nationalism–a vision that goes well beyond the effort to put women in our “proper” (i.e., subservient) place.

This is a Court that has bent over backwards to elevate religion– especially conservative Christian religion.

If we look at the Court’s “pipeline,” we can see that the hits are likely to continue coming. I’ve posted previously about the case of the public school coach who wants to lead prayer on the fifty-yard line, and the fact that, during oral argument, the Justices seemed inclined to allow him to do so. But that’s not the only vehicle available to a Court intent upon empowering their particular version of Christianity.

As Adam Liptak reported in December,

The Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed ready to take another step in requiring states to pay for religious education, with a majority of the justices indicating that they would not allow Maine to exclude religious schools from a state tuition program.

The court has said that states may choose to provide aid to religious schools along with other private schools. The question in the new case was the opposite: Can states refuse to provide such aid if it is made available to other private schools?

The State of Maine has a number of rural communities that do not have public secondary schools. Maine law requires those communities to send young residents elsewhere for their education, and to do so in one of two ways:’ They can sign contracts with nearby public schools, or they can pay tuition at a private school chosen by the student’s parents so long as it is, “a nonsectarian school in accordance with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

This case arose when two families in Maine challenged that law. The parents want to send  their children to religious schools, and they argue that the state’s refusal to spend tax dollars to allow them to do so violates their right to the free exercise of their faith.

As Liptak noted, religious litigants have found the current court to be very hospitable to their arguments.

Religious people and groups have been on a winning streak at the Supreme Court, which seemed likely to continue in the new case. In recent decisions, the justices have ruled against restrictions on attendance at religious gatherings to address the coronavirus pandemic and Philadelphia’s attempt to bar a Catholic agency that refused to work with same-sex couples from screening potential foster parents.

The court also ruled that the Trump administration could allow employers with religious objections to deny contraception coverage to female workers and that employment discrimination laws do not apply to many teachers at religious schools

The likely precedent for this decision is a case called Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. In that case, the Court found that a provision of the state’s Constitution banning aid to schools run by churches ran afoul of the  Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause, by  discriminating against religious people and schools. Writing for the majority, John Roberts held that a state need not subsidize private education–but that once it decides to do so, “it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

That is fair enough. It is also why privatization efforts like Indiana’s voucher program–which bleed resources from public education in order to send tax dollars to private schools–are so dangerous and socially divisive. In Indiana, some ninety percent of voucher students attend religious schools (schools that have not, by the way, improved the academic performance of those students.)

Plaintiffs freely acknowledged that the curricula of these religious schools is divisive and discriminatory.

One of the schools at issue in the case, Temple Academy in Waterville, Maine, says it expects its teachers “to integrate biblical principles with their teaching in every subject” and teaches students “to spread the word of Christianity.” The other, Bangor Christian School, says it seeks to develop “within each student a Christian worldview and Christian philosophy of life.”

The two schools “candidly admit that they discriminate against homosexuals, individuals who are transgender and non-Christians,” Maine’s Supreme Court brief said.

Justice Elena Kagan wanted to know why taxpayers should fund “proudly discriminatory” schools. The answer, evidently, is that six judges on this Supreme Court believe that when discrimination is required by Christian theology, it is entitled to special deference.

I somehow doubt that a Satanic school–or even a Muslim or Jewish one– would receive that same deference….

 

 

Those Young Voters….

Anyone who has ever taught has recognized that the students who pay attention in class perform better than those who didn’t. (Those of you who just read that sentence can now say “duh”…)

As obvious as that point may be–i.e., people who pay attention know more– a lot of people fail to apply it in other contexts. A reader of this blog recently sent me a letter or column (I’m not sure which)  that had appeared in a Boston newspaper, decrying the fact that a recent poll had found roughly half of American respondents under 30 less sympathetic to  Ukraine than older Americans. The author linked that result to distrust of media, which has led to distrust of other social institutions.

The polling in question was fielded by the Economist and YouGov, both highly reputable pollsters. According to the report on its findings published by the Economist,

Ninety-two per cent of American respondents over the age of 64 said they sympathised more with Ukraine than with Russia. Yet just 56% of those aged 18-29 answered the same—a difference of 36 percentage points. In Europe the pattern looks similar. There was a 17-point difference between the shares of older and younger people in Britain who said they sympathise more with Ukraine, and a gap of 14 points in France. Young Americans were the most likely to say they sympathised more with Russia (10%), compared with 6% in France and just 1% in Britain.

One explanation for the difference was the fact that younger people tend to be less engaged in and knowledgable about politics.

Across all three countries, younger people who said that they were interested in politics were more sympathetic to Ukraine than their less-engaged peers. In Britain the gap between those aged under 30 and over 64 narrowed when factoring in that difference: from 17 points to 12.

In other words, those who were paying attention were more likely to sympathize with Ukraine.

Another likely reason for the difference between age cohorts, according to the Economist, was life experience.

 The gap between well-informed older Americans and well-informed younger Americans is still wide, at 28 percentage points. Russophobic sentiment among older adults may be more important. Those aged 65 and older came of age in the midst of the cold war. By comparison, those aged under 30 were born after 1992, a year after the fall of the Soviet Union. As Russia returns to battle, echoes of the cold war might ring louder for older generations. 

Although the Economist didn’t cite it (the letter to the newspaper did), I would attribute much of the gap to America’s very diminished levels of social trust overall. Skepticism of media and political and governmental institutions is a prominent feature of today’s America, and is understandably more prevalent among young people than among those who grew up in times when that trust–and arguably, official trustworthiness– was far greater.

A study by Pippa Norris, a noted scholar, suggests another difference between young and old: contrary to the thesis of youth apathy, Norris finds that young people are much more likely than their parents and grandparents to engage in cause-oriented political action, including humanitarian and environmental activism, rather than more traditional political activities.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that young activists who care about the environment, for example, have encountered ample reasons to distrust both business and government.

We are clearly in a time of major social change and upheaval, and how all this will shake out is anyone’s guess, but before we old folks engage in the time-honored  “dissing” of young people, I suggest we look at the numbers. Fifty-six percent of the youngest cohort sympathized with Ukraine, another 24% responded that they were “unsure.” Only ten percent sympathized with Russia. That is certainly a troubling number, but it’s fewer than the twenty-two percent of Americans (including 79% of Republicans) who have embraced “the Big Lie.”

Survey researchers will confirm that people who respond to polls will often say they are “unsure” when they really don’t have sufficient knowledge to form an opinion.(Admitting ignorance is embarrassing; suggesting uncertainty is less so.) When we look at the possible reasons for the age gap on sympathy for Ukraine, I’d be willing to wager that lack of engagement–leading to lack of knowledge–is by far the largest factor.

And when you think about it, it is also the most troubling. Not paying attention–in class or in life–is never a good sign.

 

 

I Guess Indoctrination Failed..

I was reading a recent column by Dana Milbank--and appreciating the snark–when it hit me. Milbank was engaging in (very appropriate) takedown of several Republican high-profile opponents of those snobby American “elites,” and pointing out that all of them turn out to be privileged White male members of that same elite.

But the column brought to mind an even more annoying hypocrisy than the one Milbank was highlighting–the persistent Republican attacks on higher education for “indoctrinating” students with liberal ideas–accusations leveled by individuals who clearly escaped that supposedly inescapable indoctrination.

The charge has always been bogus, of course, for a number of reasons. As someone who taught at a university for more than 20 years, I can attest to the fact that just imparting facts–let alone inculcating ideologies at odds with those the student came with–is a lot harder than it looks. For that matter, the opportunities for “indoctrination” are pretty limited. As a recent column from the Palm Beach Post put it, most courses have nothing to do with social policy or politics. There’s no potential for “indoctrination” in algebra, construction management or chemistry.

The United States has thousands of small colleges and universities, many of them quite religious, that are less frequently accused of planting “socialist” predilections in their students than the Ivy League, elitist, hard-to-get-into universities. What about those hotbeds of “woke” philosophies? That’s where the indoctrination is occurring–right?

Um…not so much. Milbank brings the evidence.

He quotes Senator Tom Cotton who, during the confirmation hearings, said he “doesn’t want a justice who follows the “views of the legal elite,” (would that mean rejecting a nominee who pledges to follow precedent?) and later complaining that “a bunch of elite lawyers” such as nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson “think that sentences for child pornography are too harsh. I don’t and I bet a lot of normal Americans don’t, either.”

And where was this representative of “normal Americans” educated? Harvard College and Harvard Law School.

Then there’s Louisiana’s John Neely Kennedy, who routinely attacks the evil “managerial elite” of media, academics, bureaucrats and corporations. (Typical accusation: “This cabal think they are smarter and more virtuous than the American people.”)  This “man of the people” has a “degree with first class honors from Oxford University (Magdalen College),” and was Phi Beta Kappa at Vanderbilt. That was before he got elected by denouncing the “goat’s-milk-latte-drinkin’, avocado-toast-eating insider’s elite.”

Of course, we already know about Ted (“Do you know who I am?”) Cruz–who Bret Stephens recently described as a” one-man reminder of why sentient people hate politicians.” He graduated from Princeton and Harvard Law, and regularly inveighs against the “coastal elites.”

We’ve also seen more than enough of Missouri Senator Josh Hawley, formerly of Stanford University and Yale Law School. Hawley, as Milbank reminds us, fancies himself standing with the proletariat in “the great divide” between the “leadership elite and the great and broad middle of our society.”

Cruz, Hawley and Cotton are all contemplating presidential runs — where they might meet in the Republican primary another man of the people, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. A graduate of Yale and Harvard Law, he wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal titled “Don’t Trust the Elites,” and he rails routinely about “elites” trying to shove this or that “down the throats of the American people.”

Milbank has a number of other examples, and students of stunning hypocrisy will find his column well worth reading in its entirety. Whether you focus on the humbug of men who are obviously part of the “elite” pretending to be “just folks” or whether–like me–you ponder the abject failure of schools like Harvard, Yale and Stanford to properly indoctrinate these strutting peacocks, a couple of conclusions are inescapable.

First, institutions of higher education are rather obviously failing to turn out graduates who’ve been successfully indoctrinated with a liberal philosophy. (For that matter, they don’t seem to be doing all that well instilling civility and simple honesty…Perhaps we should acknowledge that both sets of values come from a variety of sources outside the classroom.)

Second, despite how ridiculous they sound to many of us, these men aren’t stupid. They are promoting policies that they clearly know  to be dangerous and unfounded, and they are asserting “facts” that they just as clearly know to be out-and-out lies.

Stupidity is unfortunate, but inescapable and thus forgivable. A willingness to prostitute oneself for electoral advantage, a willingness to undermine democracy in order to appeal to an ignorant, frightened and angry GOP base– is not.

 

Reward And Punish

I recently stumbled upon a report issued (and constantly updated) byJeffrey Sonnenfeld, a professor at the Yale School of Management identifying the U.S. companies that have–and have not– withdrawn from Russia in the wake of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The report separates the companies into four categories:

1) WITHDRAWAL – Clean Break: companies completely halting Russian engagements;

2) SUSPENSION – Keeping Options Open for Return: companies temporarily curtailing operations while keeping return options open;

3) SCALING BACK – Reducing Activities: companies scaling back some but not all operations, or delaying investments;

4) DIGGING IN – Defying Demands for Exit: companies defying demands for exit/reduction of activities .

The date I logged on, there were 34 companies “digging in.”Unsurprisingly, Koch Industries was–and remains– among them, and there are calls to boycott goods like Bounty paper towels, that are produced by Koch subsidiaries.

American pundits sometimes seem divided between the tiresome ideologues who  believe the market  can solve every problem known to humankind, and the equally tiresome scolds who want to replace capitalism entirely. Actually, both the unwillingness of some companies to forego profits in order to help pressure Russia to withdraw, and the calls to boycott those companies, display what we might think of as the yin and yang of capitalism.

Ignore, for the purposes of the ensuing discussion, the fact that the American economy has devolved into crony capitalism and corporatism, a situation that deserves its own analysis.

America’s most pervasive and longstanding economic error has been one of categorization–determining what goods and services should be left to free  (appropriately regulated) markets, and which by their very nature must be collectively supplied by government. Other western nations have long understood that the provision of effective and accessible health care, for example, is incompatible with a market approach. (Market transactions require a willing buyer and willing seller, both of whom are in possession of all information relevant to the transaction–an impossibility with respect to health care.)

On the other hand, there is no reason for government to be involved in the manufacture or sale of most consumer goods. The genius of a properly operating capitalism is its ability to provide us with a multiplicity of products and sources of entertainment. Government  agencies would be highly unlikely to invent the iPhone…or Netflix.

If we are to have a properly operating economy–not to mention a properly operating government–we need to distinguish between the consumer goods that are most efficiently provided by the market, and the social and physical infrastructure that must be provided by government.

A good example is education. Efforts to “privatize” public education rest on the mistaken assumption that education is just another consumer good–that schools exist only to provide children with the skills to compete–or at least operate–successfully in the economy. That assumption entirely ignores what has been called the “civic mission” of public education–the role of our public schools in the transmission of democratic norms, and the forging of a common American identity among children from  diverse backgrounds.

So what does all this have to do with Ukraine?

When we look at Sonnenfeld’s list of companies that have placed profit above morality, we see the dark side of capitalism–its tendency to incentivize greed over concern for the human consequences of economic (mis)behavior. (It is encouraging, and worth noting , that the list of companies that have elected to remain is far, far shorter than the list of those that have pulled out–often at considerable cost.)

When we look at the calls to boycott the products of the companies that have elected to “dig in,” we see the power consumers can wield in market economies. Consumers “vote” with our dollars, and if enough of us choose to do so, we can punish companies engaging in behaviors of which we disapprove. A number of such boycotts have succeeded in the past and there are several websites enumerating those successes.

When it comes to mega-businesses like Koch Industries, it’s admittedly difficult: their products are pretty much everywhere. (Here’s a list.) Others–like Subway– are much easier to spot.

Bottom line: market economies provide consumers with the ability to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior–but just like democracy, delivering those rewards and punishments requires an informed  and engaged populace.

 

 

 

Education And Economic Development

As Indiana’s legislature continues its multi-year assault on public education, evidence confirming the importance of a state’s educational system continues to mount. (Not that evidence matters to the culture warriors who dominate Indiana’s Statehouse. )

Intel  has announced that it plans to build its twenty billion dollar factory in Ohio–an announcement that business publications have called “arguably the most consequential manufacturing announcement in recent decades.”

Why Ohio? As the linked article notes, Indiana can easily compete with Ohio when it comes to the Hoosier State’s economic development tools of choice:  tax breaks, tax rates and regulatory environment. However,

To attract the kind of high-paying, advanced manufacturing jobs, cities and states need an abundant share of college graduates, a steady flow of new graduates and communities in which these workers will desire to live.

 Indiana  can offer tax breaks, tax rates and  a regulatory environment similar to Ohio’s, but we come up short on such all-important measures as quality of life and the supply of an educated workforce. Ohio offered plenty of fiscal incentives to capture the projected 3,000 jobs–jobs that swill pay an average of $125,000 in salary and benefits– but it is highly likely that Indiana could have matched those financial incentives.

So what were the factors that gave Ohio the edge?

This factory is a 25-minute drive from the College of Engineering at Ohio State University and close to the fastest-growing parts of the Columbus metropolitan area. The entire metro area has absorbed some 130% of the state’s population growth since 2000 .

The salary levels also suggest that the workforce at this plant will be primarily comprised of college graduates.  Ohio workers in the semiconductor industry earned $65,490 per year in the last 12 months before the COVID downturn. To be profitable, this factory will be much more than the clean-room production facilities of a traditional semiconductor factory.  I suspect this site will involve considerable product development and testing.

This evidence points to the need for a large number of college graduates as a driving factor in Intel’s decision. Close to a dozen top engineering colleges are within a five-hour drive.  These include Purdue University, the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Kentucky and of course Ohio State.

The only other Midwest location that could boast the same geographic concentration would be Indianapolis.  The fact that Indiana was not chosen in this case offers a harsh lesson for states that rely on incentives rather than an educated workforce as an economic development strategy.  It is the same lesson the Amazon HQ deal provided state policymakers around the nation.

As important as quality of life was, the presence of an educated population was even more important.

Statewide, Ohio just does much better than Indiana on educational attainment.

In 2020, 29.6% percent of adults in Ohio had a college degree; in Indiana, it was 26.9%.  That may seem like a modest difference, but it places Indiana in the bottom 10 states in both college graduates and those holding an advanced degree.  Ohio ranks in the middle third on both measures.

Most troubling, though, is that Indiana’s share of adults with a college degree has been in decline since 2018, a factor that would immediately remove it from the long list of applicants for an advanced semiconductor plant.

The author analyzed the environments/inducements of Indiana and Ohio, and concluded that the “only meaningful difference” came down to  the availability of well-educated workers.  That  one difference made Ohio the beneficiary of the “most consequential industrial expansion in the country in this century.”

It isn’t that more college graduates leave Indiana than Ohio. Neither state has significant levels of outmigration. The problem is that Indiana doesn’t attract many college graduates from outside the state. We also have low numbers of high school graduates who enroll directly in college.  (Ohio has 3,600 more students per year heading to college than Indiana.)

We all know that old political saying: follow the money. In this case, we need to follow the money that isn’t being spent–and where it isn’t being spent– because state spending reflects what that state’s legislators value. Not only does Indiana spend less on education, our legislature siphons off millions of the education dollars that would otherwise go to our public schools, and sends them via vouchers to predominately religious private schools, a significant number of which are of dubious educational quality.

Though Ohio hardly spends a lavish amount on schools, it has allocated $3 billion more to education than Indiana over the past decade. Ohio continues to spend a larger share of its GDP on schooling of all types. Ohio spends almost 20% more per child on education, or roughly $1,500 per kid aged 0 through 24 than does Indiana. That extra spending spending just paid off.

The World’s Worst Legislature never learns…..