what does youth civic engagement have to do with inequality?

In lieu of a blog post here today, this is a piece I wrote for the W.T. Grant Foundation’s website. It begins:

My colleagues and I at the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE) have been studying youth civic engagement since 2001. We’ve looked at many forms of engagement that sustain democracies and communities—from voting and volunteering to protest and participation in social movements. Our current work looks closely at whether young adults’ engagement in their local communities can reduce inequality in outcomes on the basis of economic standing.


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media literacy and the social discovery of reality

If you’re concerned about media education in the current fraught moment, you should read danah boyd’s “You Think You Want Media Literacy… Do You?” and Renee Hobbs’ response in Medium.

In my crude summary: danah boyd surveys some media literacy programs and sees a simplistic set of assumptions about the way media does–and should–work in our world. Hobbs replies that the actual field of media literacy education, which she has labored skillfully to build, welcomes complexity and diversity of views and nurtures sophisticated programs that boyd has overlooked. Hobbs also wonders why boyd selects media literacy education as her target instead of big media companies that are making money by degrading the public sphere.

I’m no danah boyd, and I’m no Renee Hobbs, but I recognize the appeal of both perspectives from my own work in different fields, such as service-learning, civic education, and deliberative democracy. There’s a role for the relatively detached critic who raises basic questions, but also for the field-builder who tries to create networks that enable experimentation and debate.

In the case of media literacy, I can offer my own view of the philosophical issues at stake, for what that’s worth. I don’t know to what extent people working in the field agree or disagree with the following ten theses. As I present them, I’ll use climate change as an example. Climate scientists make strong claims about truth, professional reporters must decide how to cover their claims, educators must decide whether climate change is a fact or rather a topic for debate, and the public is deeply polarized about all of the above.

  1. Truth claims are social. At least, that is true of claims like “human beings are causing the globe to warm by burning carbon.” No individual can have a justified true belief about the global climate, all by herself. No one can read all the secondary literature, let alone check all the analyses in that literature, let alone reanalyze all the data, let alone collect all the data, let alone create the methods and instruments needed to collect the data, let alone train all the scientists, let alone pay for all of that. We can each check some other people’s work, abstracting it from the rest of science. But we must leave most of the edifice unchecked. When people tell you they have “looked into” climate science and found it either true or false, they are exaggerating their personal expertise.
  2. Institutions require trust. An individual must trust the scientific enterprise as a whole in order to believe its specific results or even to take them seriously. Trust is directed at people, institutions, or social processes, not at facts. Many institutions do not merit trust.
  3. Social institutions represent power. For example, scientific labs, universities, and newspapers are funded, staffed, and managed. The human beings who manage them are exercising power. Most other people do not have the same power or equivalent degrees, titles, educational pedigrees, access to information, etc. Thus we are asked to trust people who have power over us. That is easier for someone like me–a colleague of climate scientists who works in a Boston-area research university–than for someone far away and in a different cultural setting.
  4. Truth is deeply intertwined with values. We really are warming the globe by burning carbon. But if that implies that we must regulate economic activity–even at the expense of liberty–it becomes a value-claim. Also, we know that we are warming the climate because we have invested in certain kinds of research. Motivating those investments are concerns about the globe as a whole and about the long-term aggregate welfare of people plus other species. If your concerns were different, you wouldn’t spend the money to collect the data that has produced these facts.
  5. Politics is about values and power. When we disagree about values or about who has power (or both) we are engaged in politics. Thus politics is necessarily involved in topics like climate change.
  6. Ideology is an unavoidable tool for managing complexity and uncertainty. The word “ideology” has different meanings in different circles, but if we mean fairly general heuristics that allow individuals to make sense of the world, then we all depend on it. Ideology is unavoidable. And it tends to merge causal theories, value-claims, and identities.
  7. Some values are better than others. I’ve said (see #4) that climate science depends on values. But the underlying values of climate science are good ones. We should be concerned about all human beings, about other species, about natural systems as intrinsic goods, and about the long-term. If we were only interested in the short-term wealth of US citizens, we wouldn’t care about climate change, but that would be a worse moral stance. Values are contestable, but our responsibility is to choose the best values.
  8. Truth can be socially discovered, not just socially constructed. Knowledge emerges from human institutions, like laboratories and newspapers. Change the people and the way they work together, and you will probably get different results. That is a causal claim. For some, it implies skepticism. But people do obtain justified true beliefs–for example, that we are heating the globe by burning carbon. This is not socially constructed knowledge; it is socially discovered. The discovery requires cooperation, just as it takes a bunch of sailors to reach a destination by sea. But their ship can actually find a new place, not merely “construct” one.
  9. Institutions for discovering truth are scarce and fragile. Behavioral science has uncovered an immense number of human cognitive and motivational limitations, many rooted in our biological origins as hunter-gatherers. We are ill-equipped to make sense of large-scale phenomena and are unlikely to care about issues that affect other people far away. Yet we have built institutions like universities and newspapers. These are highly problematic and fallible entities, with long records of errors and abuse. They are also miraculous achievements that defy the prediction that homo sapiens will never want to discover truths or succeed in that effort.
  10. Media literacy thus means exhibiting the right mixture of trust, support, skepticism, and critique. It’s possible for people to trust a given institution, such as a newspaper, too much. And it’s possible for them to trust it too little. Trust is an emotion that is related to personal identity, but it ought to be informed by good values and rigorous knowledge as well.

See also: the Pew climate change survey and the state of sciencemini-conference on Facts, Values, and Strategies (which led to a special issue of The Good Society, now in production); why we miseducate children to think of values as opinions; a media literacy education articlethe history of civics and news literacy educationis all truth scientific truth?don’t let the behavioral revolution make you fatalisticCivic Science; pseudoscience and the No True Scotsman fallacythe press loses its leverage; and generational change and the state of the press.

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the Massachusetts Civics Bill #MAcivicsforall

The Massachusetts legislature is considering S. 2306, An Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement. According to the Massachusetts Civic Learning Coalition‘s summary, the bill:

  • Requires that all public schools teach American history and civics education.
  • Promotes comprehensive, project-based civic education integrated into existing curricula and focused on local communities, reflecting best practices for high-quality civic learning.
  • Authorizes funding necessary to support implementation through the Civics Project Fund.
  • Encourages voting and other vital forms of participation alongside important political learning outcomes through the High School Voter Challenge and Edward Moore Kennedy and Edward William Brooke III Civics Challenge.
  • Maintains local control and classroom decision-making.

Here is an article in Commonwealth Magazine by Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg and me, defending the bill. Information about a “lobby day” and how to write your representative is here.

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the first “civic ed” bill: 1642

The Massachusetts legislature is considering S. 2306, a bill to enhance civic education. I’m for this legislation. Questions about whether the Commonwealth should require civics–or, indeed, any subject–led me to wonder when civics was first mandated in Massachusetts. I think the answer is 1642:

Forasmuch as the good education of children is of singular behoof and benefit to any Common-wealth; and whereas many parents & masters are too indulgent and negligent of their duty in that kind. It is therfore ordered that the Select men of every town, in the severall precincts and quarters where they dwell, shall have a vigilant eye over their brethren & neighbours, to see, first that none of them shall suffer so much barbarism in any of their families as not to indeavour to teach by themselves or others, their children & apprentices so much learning as may enable them perfectly to read the English tongue, & knowledge of the Capital Lawes: upon penaltie of twentie shillings for each neglect therin.

There was a high-stakes test. All “children or apprentices” had to learn “some short orthodox catechism without book, that they may be able to answer unto the questions that shall be propounded to them out of such catechism by their parents or masters or any of the Select men when they shall call them to a tryall of what they have learned of this kind.”

And there were accountability mechanisms. In addition to the “twentie shilling” fine for local leaders who failed to ensure successful educational outcomes for all their communities’ youth, there was also a plan to be followed when “children and servants bec[a]me rude, stubborn & unruly.” First, the responsible selectmen would be admonished. Next, “the said Select men with the help of two Magistrates, or the next County court for that Shire, shall take such children or apprentices from them & place them with some masters for years (boyes till they come to twenty one, and girls eighteen years of age compleat) which will more strictly look unto, and force them to submit unto government according to the rules of this order, if by fair means and former instructions they will not be drawn into it.”

The 1642 act required religious as well as civil instruction, which we wouldn’t endorse under the US Constitution. It included a large dose of what we might call character education, career preparation, and/or social-emotional development, under the heading of preparation for “some honest lawful calling, labour or employment, either in husbandry, or some other trade profitable for themselves.”

I’m not saying that the Massachusetts School Law of 1642 is what we need today. It’s wise to innovate. But there is certainly precedent for requiring civics: 375 years of precedent, in fact.

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notes on the metaphysics of Gandhi and King

Gandhi offers a fully developed metaphysics and epistemology–original even though it is grounded in classical Indian thought. For Martin Luther King, Protestant theology provides a core theory of human nature, but King navigates his way through debates in modern Protestantism and offers his own synthesis and draws political implications. Even for non-Hindus and non-Protestants, some premises that both of these authors share may be persuasive.

For Gandhi, there are truths–for example, about the good life and the just society–but they exceed any individual’s comprehension. Almost everyone (perhaps literally everyone[1]) contributes valuable insights by observing the world from her own limited and fallible perspective.

The golden rule of conduct, therefore, is mutual toleration, seeing that we will never all think alike and we  shall see Truth in fragment and from different angles of vision. Conscience is not the same thing for all. Whilst, therefore, it is a good guide for individual conduct, imposition of that conduct upon all will be an insufferable interference with everybody’s freedom of conscience.
Q. With regard to your Satyagraha doctrine, so far as I understand it, it involves the pursuit of Truth and in  that pursuit you invite suffering on yourself and do not cause violence to anybody else.
A. Yes, sir.
Q. However honestly a man may strive in his search for Truth, his notions of Truth may be different from the notions of others. Who then is to determine the Truth?
A. The individual himself would determine that.
Q. Different individuals would have different views as to Truth. Would that not lead to confusion? …
A. That is why the non-violence part was a necessary corollary. Without that there would be confusion and  worse.[2]

According to Bhikhu Parek, Gandhi believes that “rational discussion and persuasion” are the “best way to resolve conflict.”[3] However, these methods depend on well-motivated reasoners who are able to overcome our species’ deep cognitive and ethical limitations. Under ordinary circumstances, reasoning is likely to fail, because we are mired in our own interests and not rational enough to be persuaded by arguments. Violence is therefore tempting but intrinsically problematic. The violent actor assumes that she is right, even though we are all inevitably wrong. Violence also threatens to erase the insights of the target by silencing or even eliminating her, or it may force her to do something without being sincere. On the other hand, voluntary sacrifice can touch the other person’s heart without negating her freedom.

Gandhi also believes that we ought to perform actions that are intrinsically meritorious without being concerned about their outcomes, which lie beyond our control. As Krishna teaches in the Baghavad Gita, “Motive should never be in the fruits of action.” Actions must be sincere in order to have value, and sincerity requires commitment by the heart and mind together. Unlike a typical action that is taken to achieve an end beyond the direct control of the actor, sacrifice remains connected to the person who sacrifices. For example, if I choose not to eat, that remains my will until the end of my fast. If my refusal to eat causes you to change your behavior, that may be good (assuming that my cause was right), but I am responsible only for forgoing the food, not for your behavior. I thus escape the pitfall of attaching my happiness and meaning to an end beyond my control.

Like Gandhi, King holds that violence “is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than convert. … It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue.” Nonviolence is “the ultimate form of persuasion,” where the word “ultimate” means both the most powerful form and the one to try last, after arguments have failed.[4] King also shares with Gandhi a theory of the human soul as both rational and affective, a recognition of the limitations of human understanding, and the ideal of a transcendent truth that we can only approach together. He says that he found in Hegel the idea that “truth is the whole,” which is roughly analogous to Gandhi’s remarks about Brahman, the universal soul.[5]

However, King’s framework is Protestant rather than classically Indian, so his metaphysics is somewhat different. Human beings are made in God’s image and are granted freedom, but we are also fallen. God is personal, an actual character who loves us and can work with us. King says that personalism “is my basic philosophy,” the foundation of his faith in an active personal God and “the metaphysical basis for the dignity and worth of all human personality.” People have dignity and worth not because they are good but because of divine grace. King says that he agrees with Reinhold Niebuhr about “the reality of sin on every level of man’s existence,” contrary to a “great segment of Protestant liberalism” that is too optimistic about human nature. “While I still believed in man’s potential for good, Niebuhr made me realize his potential for evil as well.” King ultimately came to believe that Niebuhr had “overemphasized the corruption of human nature” because he had “overlooked” the power of divine grace to work with communities of people; yet King retained a sharp awareness of sin and evil.[6]

Agape–disinterested love–is the answer for King. It serves to explain the nature and will of God, our relationship to God, and our obligation to other people. It is not “sentimental” and it does not ignore sin. Instead, King defines nonviolent resistance as “a very stern love that would organize itself into collective action to right a wrong by taking on suffering.”[7] The combination of organization and collective action, love, and nonviolent sacrifice is essential.

These philosophical and theological positions cannot both be completely right, because they conflict at points. For instance, King’s God is personal whereas Gandhi’s divine is abstract. Gandhi acknowledges that God is love but attributes that view to Christianity and endorses it in the context of saying that “the human mind is a limited thing and you have to labour under limitations when you think of a being or entity who is beyond the power of man to grasp.”[8] Christians contribute the partial insight that God is love; for Gandhi himself, God is Truth.

Nevertheless, the overlapping premises of these two philosophies seem plausible even in secular contexts and are compatible with behavioral science.[9] People really are cognitively and ethically limited when we think and act alone, but we are capable of reasoning better when we come together in groups that are organized to bring out the best in us. We really do make better decisions when we preserve alternative views instead of violently suppressing them. Yet we cannot expect the best conclusions to emerge from deliberation alone; change aso requires organized sacrifice.

[1] That is Parek’s reading.  Gandhi: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 54.
[2] These quotations come from several articles in the newspaper Young India, but they were combined by Nirmal Kumar Bose in his Selections from Gandhi (Ahmedabad: Navajivan Publishing House, 1948), pp, 66-67, which carries a very strong endorsement from Gandhi. Thus I treat them as a coherent argument that Gandhi approved.
[3] Parek, p. 51
[4] King, Stride Toward Freedom, Kindle locations 2850 and 2892.
[5] King, location 1355; cf. Nicholas F. Gier, The Virtue of Nonviolence: From Gautama to Gandhi (Albany: SUNY Press, 2004), pp. 40-1
[6] King, Stride Toward Freedom, 1355, 1327
[7] King, “My Trip to the Land of Gandhi,” originally published in Ebony magazine,1959, in Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream: Writing and Speeches that Changed the World, edited by James M. Washington, (Glenview, IL, Harper Collins, 1992), p. 44.
[8] Bose, 4.
[9] Christopher Beem relates Niebuhr’s theological commitment to human limitations to the findings of modern psychology and draws political implications in Democratic Humility: Reinhold Niebuhr, Neuroscience, and America’s Political Crisis (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015).

See also the relationship between justice and peace; the central role of sacrifice in social movements; how the Montgomery Bus Boycott used and created social capital; prophesy as a form of political rhetoric; and the need to consider evil in politics.

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new Civic Studies major at Tufts

Yesterday, the Tufts Faculty of Arts & Sciences approved our proposal for a new major in Civic Studies, the first in the world. It will begin next fall, and I’ll co-teach the new introductory course with my colleagues Erin Kelly (Philosophy) and Yannis Evrigenis (Political Science). Here are the relevant portions of the proposal that passed yesterday:

Curriculum Proposal: Civic Studies

“We see before us an emerging civic politics, along with an emerging intellectual community, a field, and a discipline. Its work is to understand and strengthen civic politics, civic initiatives, civic capacity, civic society and civic culture.…and to contribute to an emerging global movement of civic renewal.” — Harry Boyte, Stephen Elkin, Peter Levine, Jane Mansbridge, Elinor Ostrom, Karol So?tan, and Rogers Smith, “Framing Statement for Civic Studies,” 2007

Civic Studies is an interdisciplinary field of study that focuses on critical reflection, ethical thinking, and action for social change, within and between societies. People who think and act together to improve society must address problems of collective action (how to get members to work together) and deliberation (how to reason together about contested values). They must understand how power is organized and how it operates within and between societies. They must grapple with social conflict, violence, and other obstacles to peaceful cooperation. They will consider questions of justice and fairness when social tensions arise, and they must confront questions about appropriate relationships to outsiders of all types. This includes examining alternative ethical, political, and theological frameworks to encourage comparative reflection about different ways in which people live together in society.

The focus on civil society contrasts with state-centric approaches. It includes the study of collective action in social spheres that, while organized, may not be institutionalized or otherwise sanctioned by the state, and it highlights the perspective of individual and group agents.  Thus civic studies considers phenomena that are central to other disciplines—governments, law, markets, societies, cultures, and networks—but from the distinctive perspective of civic agents, that is, individuals and groups who think together and act cooperatively. It includes principles and vantage points civic agents may use to evaluate existing social norms, institutions, governments, and ideologies. In these and other ways, Civic Studies brings critical scrutiny to status quo norms of social order.

Civic Studies is more than citizenship studies. Civic agents include citizens, disenfranchised or colonized groups, temporary residents, undocumented migrants, refugees, and members of other societies acting across borders. Civic Studies engages with the importance of a society’s criteria of membership, as well as the logic and dynamics of inclusion and exclusion, hierarchy and subordination, across social groups. It subjects social dynamics to empirical study and normative evaluation, with the aim of understanding how to challenge unjust inequalities and to enhance just forms of social inclusion.

Normative reflection, ethical analysis, empirical understanding, historical perspective, and the development of practical skills are all important to the study of social and political conflict, and for developing cooperative strategies to enable positive social change. Civic Studies brings those modes of learning together to deepen our understanding of social criticism and action for social change as well as the circumstances that give rise to a need for it. The major’s classroom and experiential learning requirements would enable students to explore the theory and practice of critical reflection and just social change.

A Peace and Justice Studies track within the Civic Studies major provides a special focus within Civic Studies for learning about the causes and effects of violence, and for developing nonviolent strategies for conflict resolution and just social transformation. A minor in Peace and Justice Studies is also available to students who are particularly interested in studying violence and alternatives to it.

In sum, a major in Civic Studies [will] continue from the Tufts Peace and Justice Studies major the following core commitments: a combination of classroom-based and experiential learning; normative analysis and critical scrutiny of claims about justice; an explicit focus on conflict and possibilities for resolving it, and the development of skills useful in nonprofits, governments, community groups, and social movements. We believe the intellectual content of Civic Studies is exciting and the curriculum distinctive, highlighting strengths of Tufts University.

The proposed requirements for the Civic Studies major are 11 courses distributed as follows:

  1. CVS 0010—Introduction to Civic Studies
  2. Thinking about Justice: two courses in political theory, philosophy, or social theory devoted to normative questions about the nature and content of justice. Courses must be selected from an approved list. [Examples are listed in the proposal. E.g., PS 41: Western Political Thought I and II; REL 43: Asian Religions; HIST 129: Black Political Thought in the 20th century]
  3. Social Conflict and Violence: Two courses to enhance an empirical understanding of the historical, political, and social origins of conflict and violence. Courses must be selected from an approved list. [Among others: SOC 94: Sociology of Violence; PS 138-01: Political Violence in State and Society; PSY 136: Stereotypes, Prejudice, and Discrimination]
  4. Civic Action and Social Movements: Two courses dealing with the historical, ethical, and social origins of organized movements for social change. Courses must be selected from an approved list. [Among others: CH 109: Community Action and Social Movements in Public Health; ANTH 0146: Global Feminisms]
  5. Civic Skills: two courses that focus on civic skills or civic practices, e.g., dialogue and deliberation, ethical reasoning, emotional intelligence, conflict-mediation and peacemaking, community-based research, communication and media-making, public art, community organizing, evaluating nonprofits, or financing social enterprises. [Among others: UEP 194: Technology, Media, and the City; ELS 193: Social Entrepreneurship, Policy, and Systems Change; VISC 145/AMER 94, which is a course taught in state prison]
  6. CVS 099: A required internship. This includes a weekly 2.5 hour class with graded assignments and a final project. (3 SHUs)
  7. CVS 190: A capstone seminar taught by a CVS affiliated faculty member.(3 SHUs)

Total: 11 courses

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powering youth civic engagement with data

(Providence, RI) Two of our marquee data projects have made the news this week. In The New York Times (March 3), Farah Stockman writes:

Efforts to bolster student turnout have been aided by a new national study that analyzes voting behavior on campuses across the country.

For the first time, schools can get detailed data on how many of their students cast a ballot, either locally or absentee, thanks to the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, put out by researchers at Tufts University.

The study aims to assess how well schools are doing at preparing students to be active citizens in a democracy, said Nancy Thomas, director of the Institute for Democracy & Higher Education at Tufts University, who oversees the study.

The study, which matches enrollment records with voting records, began in 2013 with a modest expectation of getting a few hundred colleges to participate. Today, it includes voting data from more than nine million students on 1,100 campuses in all 50 states. Identifying information has been removed from the data to protect students’ privacy.

The data has unearthed a series of fascinating insights about the 2016 elections: Social science majors had higher turnout than math and science majors (53 percent versus 44 percent). Female students had higher turnout than males (52 percent versus 44 percent). Asian students turned out at a far lower rate than their peers (31 percent versus 53 percent for white students, 50 percent for black students and 46 percent for Hispanic students).

“This initiative will hopefully motivate educators to teach students across disciplines why they should not take democracy for granted,” Dr. Thomas said.

And Josh Kurtz writes in Scientific American (March 5):

Millennial voters are poised to drive the U.S. debate on climate change—and they could have an oversized impact on 10 competitive congressional elections this year, two new studies suggest. …

The second study, also released late last week by the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, showed the 10 congressional districts where millennial voters could potentially make the greatest difference in November. Eight of the 10 districts are in the Midwest or Plains states. …

“Millennial voters have generally favored Democrats in midterms, and that trend continues,” the Pew report says. “But, comparing early preferences this year with surveys conducted in previous midterm years, Millennial registered voters support the Democrat by a wider margin than in the past.”

That’s where the Tufts study comes in.

The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement created a Youth Electoral Significance Index, using demographics, historical voting patterns and projected competitiveness to produce a ranking of the congressional districts where young people (ages 18-29) have the highest potential for impact on the 2018 elections.

The study identified 10 swing districts with large populations of young people, including college campuses.


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what if there were no public or no private schools?

The Atlantic’s Julie Halpert asks us to imagine two scenarios. In one, “every child would have to attend private school, and in the other, every child would have to attend public school. Which scenario would be more likely to improve or worsen kids’ educational outcomes—and, by extension, the health of American society?”

She quotes me a few times with doubts about an all-private system:

Levine’s prediction for an all-private-school world? “You’ll have this very intensely competitive market in which every child would be assessed,” he said, “and if your child has behavioral issues, they won’t get as good a deal in the market.” … An all-private-school world, then, would foster a system that thrives on selectivity. As Levine emphasized, private schools can’t just scale up like companies can because small size is often a selling point in K-12 education; the best schools are those that don’t accept large numbers of students.

I am not a doctrinaire opponent of choice or market mechanisms in education. Denmark is rightly admired as a model social welfare system, yet 15.6% of Danish kids attend private schools fully funded by vouchers. In many European cities, all the schools are what we would call “charters”: basically self-governing entities, regulated by the state, that get public money in proportion to their enrollments. (Rural areas tend to offer less choice, simply because the low population density favors local mandatory-enrollment schools).

By the way, the Danish Union of Teachers represents 97% of primary and secondary teachers. A competitive market with high union density may offer a good combination of choice plus job security.

Meanwhile, it’s not so clear that offering only public schools really gets rid of market competition. The American “common school” model–one school system for all the children in each political jurisdiction–reflects a fierce market for housing. Americans of means choose their residence in order to determine their kids’ schools. It would arguably be better to separate the market for schools from the market for houses, rather than combining them and kidding ourselves that we have ever had a “public” school system.

But I was asked whether I’d like to see a system without public schools at all–Milton Friedman’s model of vouchers for an all-private system. I offered several ways in which education differs from other markets.

One difference is that education is meant to produce public goods, such as a unified body of informed citizens, not just private goods, such as each graduate’s value in the labor market. I agree with this normative position, but the empirical evidence is complicated. There is evidence that Catholic high schools in the United States–which are private–have done a better job than public schools of generating public goods.

Another difference is that educators typically do not want to increase the size of their own enterprise. For teachers, it’s better to have 18 rather than 8o students. For principals, it may be preferable to have 20 rather than 200 teachers. Families may also prefer smaller and more selective schools. The usual incentives to “scale up” don’t apply.

A third difference is that kids, not just schools, have unequal market value. Coca-Cola doesn’t care who you are if you have enough money for a bottle of Coke. Detroit Country Day School (the institution that Halpert uses as an example) definitely does care who you are if you want to enroll. The other kids contribute profoundly to each student’s experience and trajectory.

In fact, I have sometimes wondered whether a university that had sufficient status–thanks to its history and branding–could offer no education at all, and its students would still fare well thanks to their cultural capital, the network ties they form among their peers, and the market signal conveyed by enrolling them. The admissions office and the dormitories could do the whole job of conveying social advantage. It would not be irrational to prefer (and to pay tuition for) such an institution rather than an open-access university that added more value in the classroom.

In the long run, it might be a mistake to blatantly offer no pedagogy or curriculum whatsoever. That might erode an institution’s brand. However, I’m confident that many highly selective schools and colleges do a subtly worse job of instruction than many low-status institutions that enroll less advantaged kids. The former still win in the market for students because they have already attracted other privileged students.

Charging higher tuition can even make a school more desirable by ensuring that most of its students have high social positions. (A school may then get even more value by admitting a few non-privileged kids for “diversity,” charging them less than the sticker price).

These are not reasons to reject choice and market mechanisms altogether, but they do suggest that facile analogies between ordinary consumer markets and education are likely to mislead.

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new CIRCLE report on Millennials’ ideology

CIRCLE has released a new report entitled “Millennials’ Diverse Political Views: A Typology of the Rising Generation.” From the summary:

Millennials are already the largest group of potential voters and are destined to dominate American politics in decades to come. As a demographically and economically diverse generation, they naturally hold a wide range of opinions. In the 2016 election, for example, voters under the age of 30 split their support: 55% percent for Hillary Clinton, 37% for Donald Trump, and 8% for other candidates.

We use recent data to identify clusters of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 into five groups:

  • Activist Egalitarians (39% of Millennials)
  • Participatory Libertarians (29%)
  • Disempowered Egalitarians (8%)
  • Alienated Libertarians (5%)
  • The Lost and Disengaged (18%)

The two egalitarian groups are concerned about social, political, and economic inequality, and they tend to support government action to combat it. The two libertarian groups are concerned about individual freedom and are more skeptical of government. These orientations characterize some, but not all, core characteristics of young people’s beliefs about the size and responsibilities of government, and whether inequality is seen as a major barrier to progress.

Within both the libertarian and the egalitarian sides, there are disagreements about civic engagement. Millennials of all political stripes differ on whether it is useful for people like them to engage with fellow members of their community or with institutions—or both—to change society. Meanwhile, the Lost and Disengaged do not seem sure where they fall, are disconnected from news media, and largely disengaged from civic life.

The largest group, Activist Egalitarians fit an influential stereotype of Millennials. However, they number less than two-fifths (39%) of all Millennials, and are themselves not monolithic. Less than a third (28%) see themselves as liberal or extremely liberal, and 14% see themselves as conservative or extremely conservative. More than half (54%) of Hillary Clinton’s Millennial voters came from this group, but they have mixed feelings about the Democratic Party.

Demographic and Social Differences

There are important demographic and social differences between the groups, particularly related to education and income.

Participatory Libertarians are almost three times as likely to have a college degree as the Lost and Disengaged.

Among the two Egalitarian groups, the Activists are almost twice as likely to have completed college as the Disempowered, more than half of whom have no college experience at all. That a lack of civic efficacy and confidence correlates with these disparities only exacerbates political and social inequalities.

Those who do not believe in the power of people’s collective work in communities and society vary not only on their Egalitarian-Libertarian polarity, but also on why they may not believe that people can make a difference:

Disempowered Egalitarians acutely feel social inequities but may be hopeless that anything could change.

Alienated Libertarians appear to worry about individual prosperity first and foremost and believe that everyone should look out of themselves rather than work with institutions or with each other.

It is encouraging that a majority of young people of diverse ideologies believe that they should work with others to benefit society and communities, and that civic institutions can play a positive role if they are kept accountable. Still, a troublingly sizable minority are unconvinced that they and their fellow citizens can effect change, and/or feel unqualified to contribute to civic life. Engaging these young people will be challenging, but it is not impossible. We must implement multi-pronged, short- and long-term strategies for engagement that support all young people as they develop their civic and political identity. And we must ensure that Millennials have the resources and opportunities to express their identities with a loud and clear voice, and to turn that voice into effective action.

Posted in 2016 election, 2018 election | Leave a comment

The Anachronist at the Florida Review

(Washington, DC) I just signed a contract with The Florida Review so that they can re-publish my interactive novel, The Anachronist. It should appear there in July 2018, and it will reside on their digital platform, Aquifer. It also remains, at least for now, on my site. Four reviews are collected here.

Posted in Uncategorized, verse and worse | Leave a comment