Texas, Textbooks, the Washington Post and Ann Althouse

Monday, May 24, AD 2010

The Left in this country has been having a hissy fit over conservatives on the Texas State School Board amending the social studies standards in that state.  For example, California State Senator Leland Yee (D. San Francisco) has introduced a bill that would require the California Board of Education to be on the lookout for any Texas content in reviewing public school textbooks.  He also makes the hilarious statement that the Texas curriculum changes pose a threat “to the apolitical nature of public school governance and academic content standards in California.”  This in a state where the legislature has instituted a Harvey Milk Day to propagandize students in the gay rights agenda, and where the California Education Association, the teacher’s union, is the largest spender on politics in the state.

To support the meme of the Left that evil conservatives were perverting educational standards in Texas, the Washington Post wrote a hit piece that may be read here.  Ann Althouse, law professor and blogger decided to compare the claims of the Washington Post to the new standards.  Here is what she found:

Let me embarrass the Washington Post. Below, the material from the WaPo article, written by Michael Birnbaum, is indented. After the indented part, I’ve located the relevant quote from the Board of Education text, found here. (I’m searching 3 PDF documents: Economics with Emphasis on the Free Enterprise System and Its Benefits Subchapter A. High School; Social Studies Subchapter B. Middle School; Social Studies Subchapter C. High School.)

The Washington Post writes:

The Texas state school board gave final approval Friday to controversial social studies standards….

The new standards say that the McCarthyism of the 1950s was later vindicated — something most historians deny –…
The students are required to “describe how McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the arms race, and the space race increased Cold War tensions and how the later release of the Venona Papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government…” The word “vindicated” is inflammatory and unfair. What is the Washington Post saying historians deny? One can be informed of the reality of what the Venona Papers revealed about communist infiltration into the U.S. government and still understand and deplore the excesses of “McCarthyism.”

…draw an equivalency between Jefferson Davis’s and Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural addresses…
Students are required to “analyze the ideas contained in Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address and Abraham Lincoln’s ideas about liberty, equality, union, and government as contained in his first and second inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address.” The word “equivalency” is uncalled for. The requirement is to analyze, not to be indoctrinated that the ideas are the same.

… say that international institutions such as the United Nations imperil American sovereignty…
What I’m seeing is “explain the significance of the League of Nations and the United Nations” and “analyze the human and physical factors that influence the power to control territory, create conflict/war, and impact international political relations such as the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), or the control of resources.” Where is the language that can be paraphrased “imperil American sovereignty”?

…. and include a long list of Confederate officials about whom students must learn.
Students are required to “explain the roles played by significant individuals and heroes during the Civil War, including Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, and congressional Medal of Honor recipients William Carney and Philip Bazaar.” Only Davis and Lee were Confederate officials! There is also this: “describe the role of individuals such as governors George Wallace, Orval Faubus, and Lester Maddox and groups, including the Congressional bloc of southern Democrats, that sought to maintain the status quo [in the Civil Rights Era].” That’s obviously not from the Civil War, but I can see why it’s annoying to Democrats.

They also removed references to capitalism and replaced them with the term “free-enterprise system.”
The document on economics does use the term “free enterprise system” throughout, but students are required to “understand that the terms free enterprise, free market, and capitalism are synonymous terms to describe the U.S. economic system,” so what is the problem?

Virtually everything cited in the article to make the curriculum seem controversial is misstated! Appalling!

ADDED: Birnbaum had an article in the previous day’s Washington Post that does contain quotes, and these have to do with changes that went through on Thursday (and which do not — but should! — appear in the documents that are available at the Board of Education website):

Students will now study “efforts by global organizations to undermine U.S. sovereignty,” an addition late Thursday evening encouraged by board member Don McLeroy (R), who has put forward many of the most contentious changes….

Another one of the seven conservative board members, David Bradley (R), added a list of Confederate generals and officials to the list of topics that students must study.

This provides support for Birnbaum’s statement that the standards “include a long list of Confederate officials about whom students must learn.” And it answers my question “Where is the language that can be paraphrased ‘imperil American sovereignty’?” My criticisms about “vindicating” McCarthyism, “the equivalency between Jefferson Davis’s and Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural addresses,” and the term “free-enterprise system” remain.

I have not been defending the Texas standards, only attacking the quality of the journalism that fails to quote or link to a text that is referred to. Birnbaum’s Friday article contains some useful quotes (though still not a link to the whole text). The Saturday article was unanchored to text and forced me to look for what I could find on line. I’m also criticizing inaccurate paraphrasing, like the use of the words “vindicating” and “equivalency.” Birnbaum’s take on the standards might be true, but in an article that refers to a text, I do need to see the text. Paraphrasing, without the text, raises suspicions, and I don’t apologize for having those suspicions.

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17 Responses to Texas, Textbooks, the Washington Post and Ann Althouse

  • I will wager this fellow Birnbaum was acting as a mouthpiece for some advocacy group or looks at just about anything with a set of distorting lenses and has no idea he has said anything tendentious.

  • There is the issue that the role of Thomas Jefferson’s writings in influencing the founding of America is being de-emphasized. Allegedly, St. Thomas Aquinas’ thought in influencing America (more of a stretch than Jefferson) is being noted.

    Moreover, the emphasis on the presidency of Lincoln, the unintended consequences of the Great Society, Reagan, the contract with America in 1994, and the emphasis of the Founding Fathers’ particular interest in a small, limited government leads me to believe that this is a politicized curriculum — in fact, the Chair of the State Board, Don McLeroy has said himself admits:

    “It’s imperative that our children be taught the original direction of our country…And I think you tie that in with the concept of American exceptionalism that we’ve added to the standards. I think that it’s important to understand why America is such a wonderful place.”

    McLeroy wrote in an Op-Ed in the USA Today that the curriculum will “challenge the powerful ideology of the left,” whose “principles are diametrically opposed to our founding principles.”

    Sorry, but the curriculum is heavily politicized and I prefer history not historical revisionism.

  • And that need not be taken as a defense of the current curriculum — hardly. But this surely is not a remedy. I hope it fails.

  • Sorry, but the curriculum is heavily politicized and I prefer history not historical revisionism.

    Why are you confident the extant curriculum is not ‘heavily politicized’? What, roughly, would a ‘non-politicized’ curriculum look like?

  • In regard to Jefferson being de-emphazised Eric, that claim is made, but I do not think there is substance to it. The Declaration of Independence, Mr. Jefferson’s magnum opus, is to be studied at several points in the curriculum. The one place where Jefferson is omitted is under World History:

    “Government. The student understands the process by which democratic-republican government evolved how contemporary political systems have developed from earlier systems of government. The student is expected to:
    (A) explain the development of trace the process by which democratic-republican government evolved from its beginnings in the Judeo-Christian legal tradition and classical Greece and Rome, through developments in England the English Civil War and continuing with the Enlightenment; and
    (B) identify the impact of political and legal ideas contained in the following significant historic documents: including, Hammurabi’s Code, the Jewish Ten Commandments, Justinian’s Code of Laws, Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, John Locke’s “Two Treatises of Government,” and the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen;
    (C) explain the impact of Enlightenment ideas from the writings of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, Voltaire, Charles de Montesquieu, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and William Blackstone and Thomas Jefferson on political revolutions from 1750 to the present; ”
    Jefferson is omitted under C.

    Under United States government Jefferson’s ideas are to be studied:

    “(D) identify analyze the contributions of the political philosophies of the Founding Fathers, including John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison, John Jay, George Mason, Roger Sherman, and James Wilson, on the development of the U.S. government;”

    I think the idea that Jefferson is being de-emphasized is not really accurate.

    Politics since the days of Horace Mann have always played a large part in curriculum development for public schools which is why states produce laundry lists of dos and don’ts in regard to what is taught. For example in Illinois the kids get off for Casimir Pulaski day and learn about him in school. Pulaski played a fairly minor role in the American Revolution dying at the siege of Savannah in 1779 leading a cavalry charge. However, activist Poles in Chicago wanted him in, so class time is taken up on this minor figure. What is unusual in Texas is not the politics, but the publicity it has received.

  • Texas is in the process of being “Arizonaed”.

  • Re: politicized curriculum, a few years back I noticed that my beliefs about political events were roughly that liberals were almost always right up until the 1980s, at which point conservatives were usually right. It occurred to me that my knowledge of pre-1980s politics came mainly from my public school education, whereas since then my knowledge of politics came from having experienced it as it happened.

  • Art,

    I didn’t say the current curriculum is not politicized. In fact, I stated explicitly that I’m not defending it.

    Education curriculum is not my specialty nor need I devise a “non-politicized” scheme of education, but when the Chair of the Texas State Board of Education is making statements focus on reversing ideological trends in emphasis rather than providing a solid presentation of American social history for Texas children, I’m inclined to think the curriculum is being politicized and with the emphasis on the Judeo-Christian roots of America, small and limited government, Lincoln, Reagan, the unintended consequences of the Great Society, the 1994 Contract with America, it seems obvious that the shift in emphasis is to offer a certan reading of history and the filtering of information is to, more or less, generate students that have a more conservative (politically speaking) view of society. The education seems primarily aimed at that end and I simply don’t support that. And this does not mean that I support in totality the current liberal establishment in the education scene.

  • Eric,

    Saying that “the curriculum is being politicized” suggests that it is not politicized already.

  • Steve Sailer wrote a pretty damning piece on one high school history textbook:


    It’s hard to read that and not come to the conclusion that something in education has gone horribly wrong.

  • In my Texas public school I suffered a day of in-service regarding a computer instruction program. When I told the expert that the English IV segment contained nothing but two novels of manners (oh, yeah, boys go crazy over Jane Austen), she airily advised me that “It’s not all about Texas content.” My response was that Beowulf, Shakespeare, and Milton are still taught in Texas and, presumably, in Rhode Island.

  • “oh, yeah, boys go crazy over Jane Austen”

    Only if they are given the zombie version:

  • This is one guy who’s a huge Jane Austen fan.

  • Nice icon pic Mr. Anderson!

  • I’m with you, Jay.

  • I find the hullabaloo over the new standards to be most intriguing indeed. As a native Texan who attended public schools I have always viewed the curriculum as s starting point for education. I would humbly assert that it is the duty of parents to supplement the learning taught in the classroom. In thirty years I have seen three such battles and each time it was an exercise in futility.

Are Great Books Not The Answer?

Monday, April 12, AD 2010

Patrick Deneen of Georgetown University has an essay on Minding The Campus in which he argues that cultural and intellectual conservatives should be more cautious about championing Great Books type programs in colleges and universities as an antidote to the rootlessness and relativism of the modern curriculum, because the Great Books format itself is often essentially relativistic:

Most curricula in the Great Books offer the various philosophies as inherently coherent and valid systems, suggesting to each student that there is finally no basis on which to decide which philosophy to adopt other than mere preference. One must simply decide. This Nietzschean (or Schmittian) lesson is reinforced by the typical organization of such curricula (where they persist), which is typically chronological. Given that most students today have deeply ingrained progressive worldviews (that is, the view that history has been the slow but steady advance of enlightenment in all forms, culminating in equal rights for all races, all genders, and all sexual preferences), a curriculum that begins with the Bible and Greek philosophy and ends with Nietzsche subtly suggests that Nietzsche is the culmination of Enlightenment’s trajectory. The fact that his philosophy is reinforced by the message that an education in the Great Books consists in exposure to equally compelling philosophies between which there is no objective basis to prefer only serves to deepen the most fundamental lesson of a course in the Great Books, which is a basic form of relativism. The choice of a personal philosophy is relative, and the basis on which one makes any such choice is finally arbitrary, the result of personal preference or attraction.

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31 Responses to Are Great Books Not The Answer?

  • I have been reading this Book:


    Called the ten books that screwed up the world and five others that didn’t help. By Benjamine Wiker.

    Helpful for me to read as I have been through philosphy in college but this cut through the garbage and broke up the idiocy of the logic.

  • If a Great Books program is run by relativists,

    That’s the caveat.

    Orthodox College’s like Thomas Aquinas College should not fall into this unless of course they begin wanting “worldly” respect such as Georgetown or Notre Shame, then yes, I can see his point.

  • Robert,

    For the record, while I think it’s pretty uncontroversial that many of the works Wiker highlights in his book have serious moral and/or intellectual problems (when you’ve got targets like Mein Kampf and Communist Manifesto, it’s not exactly hard to point to major world problems that resulted from the works) I’ve got to say I’m not crazy about Wiker as a writer or thinker. A lot of what he writes is heavily influenced by his rejection of evolution. And he’s a fairly binary thinker overall.

    I was glad to see that he wasn’t entrusted with any of the sections of the Great Books honors program during my time at Steubie, though I don’t know if he since managed to make his way in to teaching some of those.

  • I was exposed to some pretty average books, and one or two of the Great Books, by average teachers in college. I would have rather had excellent teachers instruct me about all the classics. But long after the teachers are forgotten, two things stay with you: the knowledge from the books (however poorly transmitted and received), and the awareness that there are people who’ve wrestled with the imporant things and written out their conclusions. I think that Deneen underestimates the importance of that awareness.

    Like a lot of people, I read The Closing of the American Mind and recognized the educational problems Bloom was describing. I got frustrated with the book at times, because I wanted Bloom to point to a specific tree and say “that’s the one you want to bark up”. I realize now that he was offering an overview of the thinkers that an educated person should know.

    One side note: Deneen makes a big mistake in his chronology. The Great Books programs weren’t teaching a new canon to replace Scripture. They were a continuation of the classical education under a new name.

  • I seem to recall from reading Mortimer Adler’s biography that one of the problems the U Chicago great books program faced early on was that people suspected it of having some sort of cryptic agenda: a disproportionate number of students were going through the program and then converting to Catholicism.

    People can mess nearly anything up, but I do think there’s a validity to thinking that if you get students to sit down and really read Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas and then Marx and Nietze, most will come to the right set of conclusions.

  • Darwin,

    A few years back a fine history professor at Kansas University was using the Socratic method I believe in teaching medieval history. An unusual amount of students began converting to Catholicism because of this and the university received numerous complaints from family members since many of these converts also joined monastic orders such as Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma.

    It’s interesting to see how many universities got away from this method of teaching. I wonder if there was some sort of reasoning for doing so?

  • “I seem to recall from reading Mortimer Adler’s biography that one of the problems the U Chicago great books program faced early on was that people suspected it of having some sort of cryptic agenda: a disproportionate number of students were going through the program and then converting to Catholicism.”

    That amused Adler to no end since he was a self-styled pagan at the time. He converted to the Episcopalian faith in 1984 and in 2000, just a year before his death, he became a Catholic at age 97. As long as there is breath there is hope!

  • Darwin I was unaeare of that aspect of his motives. Thanks for the information.

  • *unaware*

    Sheesh my keybord is broken 🙂

  • Great information on Adler Don – Amazes me 🙂

  • Chicago used to be described thus:

    A Baptist University where atheist professors teach Catholic philosophy to Jewish students.

    Also: The problem with a Great Books curriculum is partly, but not wholly, explicable by reference to the particular beliefs of the instructor. The whole notion of a Great Books curriculum is that there’s this “long conversation,” conducted across history, by vastly diverse thinkers, about some given set of issues. You are instructed to read these texts as responding to one another on some transcendental level, and not as deeply embedded within a particular historical set of problems to which they are trying to give a response. Consequently it encourages a kind of “abstract” view of the person, who him or herself sits outside of any particular tradition and is free to read and think about these Great Books from no vantage point whatsoever. Unfortunately this is not true.

    Also: Wiker is a hack.

  • You know, maybe those books “screwed up the world”, maybe they didn’t – maybe they’re just expressions of the times and not causes of them. I’m of the mind that someone would have thought of most of these ideas regardless, so its not “books” that screw up the world, it’s people.

    As a student of political philosophy I never liked the idea behind Wiker’s book. And as much as I respect Thomas Woods these days, after I read his review of the book I couldn’t bring myself to read it. Woods said, and I paraphrase, that Wiker had read and analyzed these books “so you don’t have to.”

    In other words, this man did the reading and the critical thinking for you.

    I’ll be blunt: I HATE secondary and tertiary sources most of the time (there are some good ones) because they are almost always tainted. If you don’t want to read Plato and Aristotle, don’t even bother with some guys’ interpretation of them.

  • Joe,

    Kind of how I feel about the USCCB.


  • WJ,

    “You are instructed to read these texts as responding to one another on some transcendental level, and not as deeply embedded within a particular historical set of problems to which they are trying to give a response. Consequently it encourages a kind of “abstract” view of the person, who him or herself sits outside of any particular tradition and is free to read and think about these Great Books from no vantage point whatsoever. Unfortunately this is not true.”

    I think it is true to some extent. We have to understand that even if the great philosophers or political thinkers were addressing contemporary problems, they were also almost always attempting to draw broad generalizations based on a commonly shared human experience.

    I think the Great Books approach is a healthy antidote to the sort of extreme historicism one still sees at universities, as well as the “post-modern” interpretations, which usually boil down to deliberately incomprehensible gibberish. This is where we get relativistic ideas from.

    If we have a curriculum that points to what is unchanging in man, and what is objectively true regardless of the historical epoch (like, for instance, rules of logical argument), then we combat both relativism and fatalism.

    As always a healthy balance is needed. Some historicism is good. Some abstraction is good. The best introductions to great works I’ve read are able to both a) establish the historical context and b) lay out the idea with as little taint as possible. Then it is up for the readers to decide how much of a work is an unconscious reflection of history, and how much of it is an original work of a unique mind. It’s up for them to decide how much of the book is nothing but a technical manual of inherent value only for the people of that generation, and how much of it contains a message that is timeless and re-applicable in almost any society.

    A book is hardly “great” if it does not offer BOTH.

  • And as much as I respect Thomas Woods these days, after I read his review of the book I couldn’t bring myself to read it. Woods said, and I paraphrase, that Wiker had read and analyzed these books “so you don’t have to.”

    Heh. Yeah, that kind of thing rubs me massively the wrong way.

    Needless to say, I’m glad that the Church got beyond the Index Of Forbidden Books phase.

  • Well, I go back and forth on this, but to play devil’s advocate…

    The opposition you propose in your response to my comment is a false one. It is not that Plato’s Republic is partly “an unconscious reflection of history” and is partly “an original work of a unique mind.” It is clearly an original work, and Plato’s mind was clearly unique, but both its originality and uniqueness emerge as such only when they are understood in the context of the debates and upheavals of 5th and 4th century Athens. In other words, historicism properly understood is not *opposed* to the values you (rightly) identify, but is their precondition.

    Here I will put my cards on the table and say that much of my current skepticism regarding Great Books Curricula is heavily indebted to MacIntyre’s critique of the anthropology subtending this curricula, which he argues is a liberal, or Enlightenment, anthropology.

    Buying this argument from MacIntyre involves a bigger issue: whether there is in fact any neutral standpoint from which one can approach the Great Conversation. If there is one, then something like your account is plausible, if there is not, then it is not. But this is a big issue and, as I said, one that I’m unsure about myself.

  • WJ,

    I don’t think I gave you a false opposition. In my view, “historicism properly understood” is the same as historicism in the right amount. Maybe its not a good use of language to try and quantify such a thing, I can grant that.

    Let me put it this way: I think historicism is misused. I think it is valid when you want to ask “why did thinker x hold the opinions he did”, and to be honest, the way I approach history, the “whys” are not that important. Historicism is also good for discovering why two works from two different epochs with similar premises and reasoning will differ in the details and the implementation. So its a good tool of comparative analysis.

    Its invalid if we want to ask, “is this a logically valid argument? Do the conclusions follow from the premises? Are any of these premises still valid today?” I believe in reading, studying, thinking and writing with a purpose. Historicism can help us sort out the inessential from the essential aspects of a philosophical argument but it cannot itself serve as any kind of guide for understanding those essential aspects.

    I’m writing a commentary on the Book of Wisdom right now, for instance, that answers these questions in the affirmative. The historical context of the author really is a secondary matter next to the perennial issues he was dealing with – atheism, existentialism, hedonism, injustice, and the persecution of Christ.

    I believe that the “wisdom of Wisdom”, in other words, is timeless, applicable to all human societies in its essence. I think wisdom is what we can gain from the untainted study of philosophy, and I think the further we get away from historicist scaffolding, however necessary it might be, as you say, as a “precondition”, the closer we come to wisdom.

    And that’s what I seek to get out of philosophy – wisdom. Not a history lesson or a biography, but wisdom that men and women can use to make their lives better, to better serve God and neighbor, to achieve better justice, etc.

  • That said, let me address your last point as well:

    “Buying this argument from MacIntyre involves a bigger issue: whether there is in fact any neutral standpoint from which one can approach the Great Conversation. If there is one, then something like your account is plausible, if there is not, then it is not. But this is a big issue and, as I said, one that I’m unsure about myself.”

    The answer, strictly speaking, is no – no one is completely neutral. But then, consider the debates we have had here on this blog about the relationship between freedom and sin.

    We’ve said, many times, that although a life free of sin through the use of free will is possible in theory, it is almost impossible in practice – some say it is absolutely impossible, I will not go that far.

    But this limitation on our freedom is not an excuse not to strive to live a sinless life. We will stumble, fall, and rise many times on our path to righteousness and salvation.

    In the same way, our inability to become completely objective (which, as in the case of being completely sinless, would make us like God, or at least an angel) is no excuse for us not to try. I believe in a rational universe. There are objective truths in this universe, and that they are accessible, if not entirely comprehensible, to the human mind.

    Just as I have a moral duty to avoid sin even if I succumb to it now and then, I believe I also have a moral duty to come as close to objective truth as possible, even if I succumb to subjectivism now and then.

    So am I entirely neutral? No. But can I struggle against subjective limitations and strive for objective clarity? Yes. Will I reach total objective clarity? Most likely not. But can I move towards it? Yes.

    That’s how I see it, anyway.

  • I don’t recall hearing about UChicago’s propensity to make converts. KU’s program was run along more classical, with heavy Latin use. One of its graduates, a convert to Catholicism, is Bishop James Conley, auxiliary of Denver.

    “Great Books” are a poor substitute for mastering an ancient and modern language. It was once realistic for colleges to expect graduates to have near-fluency. Can that be the case any longer? I felt my language classes could have proceeded much more quickly.

    If you want to feel really inadequate, look up the multi-lingual Barrett’s Grammar, a bestseller in the 19th century.

    There are more comments on Deneen’s essay at http://www.frontporchrepublic.com/2010/04/against-great-books/

  • Kevin, you’re right that the classics used to be taught in their original tongues. That ties in to my problem with Deneen’s argument. It wasn’t like the Great Books programs appeared out of nowhere and made a generation stupid. In reality, they were part of a long decline in the educational system. They were along the bottom half of the ladder, and they led to our current bottom rung. But the way up is with the next rung. Maybe we can get back to a liberal education over the next several decades; if we do, it’ll begin by reading the classics in English.

    Joe, I recognize the potential problems with secondary sources, but there can also be benefits. I always think of Malthus, who couldn’t write out a recipe for popcorn in under 100 pages. I also have some concern about the Great Books of math and science.

  • ““Great Books” are a poor substitute for mastering an ancient and modern language. ”

    Really? I didn’t learn one and I think I’m doing alright.

    I think nothing at all is worse than something. And I think studying the canon of books that have shaped Western civilization and hence, the world, gives you access to all of the wisdom and knowledge you will ever need.

  • I’d love to read Kant in the original language. Better yet, I’d love to read Kant in the original without having to learn German. Or, the best case scenario would be that Kant never wrote anything.

  • Hey hey! I don’t know if I mentioned this but I left my advertising job to join the Great Books program at St. John’s College in Annapolis.

    I’m almost done with the Philosophy/Theology Segment and I’m loving it.

    YES it is relativistic, but thats to be expected given the age we live in and the structure of the program. If you’re looking for a program where all the books will be seen in terms of a ‘Catholic’ response then this program is not for you.

    BUT if you are a Catholic and you put your brain on it can be a TON OF FUN to enter into dialogue with all the atheists, agnostics, etc. Every Monday and Thursday night I end up having really wonderful conversations with people, and I’m glad I made the decision despite the financial hit. Its only four semesters, which is a small price to pay for a body of learning that will shift the course of your life.

    Right now we’re on Kant after just leaving behind guys like Aquinas and Hume. Today I’ve gotta work on a Hume paper and then the rest of the month its a major paper on Confessions I’ll be slaving on.

  • Wow, now that’s a change. Glad you’re enjoying it, Anthony.

    Four semesters, is that a concentrated course for those who already have an undergrad degree?

  • Even after law school, I can’t recall a more painful reading experience than Kant as an undergrad (and does any famous philosopher have a name that invites more cheap puns than Kant)?

  • Darwin,

    Yeah for the graduate students here it essentially is a compressed version of what the undergrads here do. The program is intended for teachers, lawyers, retirees or people like myself who really needed a break from the corporate grind.

    Although my bachelors degree was in design my minor was in history, so I’ve had a hankering to return to that academic spirit. Plus, I’m completely convinced that the majority of Americans are completely clueless as to what is going on around them thanks to their mediocre education. We’re just not taught these guys anymore and we really should be. Trying to write and converse about the great questions that face mankind ought not to be something limited to an exclusive few.

    The program here is divided in to five ‘segments’ that focus on specific areas. You must complete four to earn the degree. Each segment is comprised of a tutorial, a seminar and a preceptorial. In the tutorial and precept you must do some substantive writing and in seminar there is an oral exam.

    The five segments are Philosophy/Theology, Natural Science/Mathematics, Literature, Politics/Society and History.

    Right now I’m in Philosophy/Theology and in the fall I’m probably going to take Natural Science/Mathematics. We only are using primary texts. There are no ‘textbooks’ or lectures or secondary sources. Its just you and Plato, you and Euclid, you and Augustine.

    So yeah, its fun. I have no idea what I’ll do with ‘the degree’ and I do want to get back to advertising (been looking for a job since January!), but hey— 4 semesters is a small price to pay for a lifetime’s worth of learning.

  • That’s hilarious, Donald. Yes, I remember encountering Kant in a “History of Western Philosophy” course and nearly pounding my head against my desk in frustration.

    But in grad school, I was introduced to the trendy post-modernists and deconstructionists, who were even worse in my book. (And utterly cuckoo radical feminists, who are the worst of the worst.) Read a bit of Lacan and Derrida and you’ll feel nostalgic for Kant. Read more than a few pages of someone like Andrea (“all intercourse is rape”) Dworkin and you risk ending up in the asylum.

  • The really sad thing Donna is when one considers the price one paid at college and grad school to read what one often considers in later life to be congealed nonsense.

  • I’ve got a question for the crowd: does anyone know of a Great Books blog? I love talking about this stuff, and learning from other people’s observations.

German Family Receives Policital Asylum in US

Tuesday, February 9, AD 2010

In a story those in homeschooling stories may already have heard about, Federal Judge Lawrence Burman issued a ruling in late January granting political asylum to a family of Evangelical Christians from Germany, on the basis that they faced religious persecution in Germany over their belief that they needed to homeschool their children in order to provide them with proper religious formation. With a number of writers, both American and European, pursuing a narrative in which Europe is far more civilized and tolerant than the US, this event provides an interesting example of how European laws are often, in practice, far more restrictive than people in the US would be comfortable with.

The family in question had suffered repeated fines for homeschooling their children, and had been threatened with jail time or loss of custody.

Uwe and Hannelore Romeike, who are evangelical Christians, say they were forced to go the the US because they wanted to educate their five children at home, something that is illegal in Germany….

In October 2006, police came to the Romeike home and took the children to school. In November 2007 Germany’s highest appellate court ruled that in severe cases of non-compliance, social services could even remove children from home.

Uwe Romeike told the Associated Press that the 2007 ruling convinced him and his wife that “we had to leave the country.” The curriculum in public schools over the past few decades has been “more and more against Christian values,” he said.

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One Response to German Family Receives Policital Asylum in US

  • There are many more German families that have had the parents either imprisoned or children taken away or both.

    Very sad.

    I hope the homeschooling movement here in the United States is organized enough to prevent such laws from ever being passed or enacted.

A Perfect Post

Wednesday, December 9, AD 2009

Occasionally one runs across a post that’s particularly nicely done. I think Matthew Boudway’s recent reflections on a column by Clifford Longley on the new atheists comes dangerously close to perfect. It’s brief, highlights an interesting article, and adds a thoughtful perspective that provides more depth to the article it cites. Here’s a snippet:

[In response to Richard Dawkins’s claim that it is wrong to “indoctrinate tiny children in the religion of their parents, and to slap religious labels on them,”]

“There is no such thing as value-free parenting,” Longley writes…Longley proposes this as an argument about parenting, but it is hard to see why it wouldn’t also apply to education. If the argument doesn’t apply to education, why doesn’t it? If it does — and if it is a good argument — then people of faith have a compelling reason not to send their children to schools where the subject of religion qua religion is carefully avoided. One could, I suppose, argue that the tacit message of such schools is that religion is too important to get mixed up with the tedious but necessary stuff of primary education, but of course public schools approach important matters all the time, and cannot avoid doing so.

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Pope Benedict Warns Against Marxist Liberation Theology

Monday, December 7, AD 2009

17 Responses to Pope Benedict Warns Against Marxist Liberation Theology

  • Leftist Catholics rightly identify Christ as the savior of human beings, body and soul alike. What they fail to understand is the consequences of Original Sin for the body, and the limitations on human life imposed by sin and finitude. They wrongly think that if everyone on Earth was a Saint, there would be no more suffering. Leftist Catholics think that there are no limits to human progress, which is to say they are very modern.

  • Some Leftist Catholics remind me of the Zealots who thought to bring about the Kingdom of God through the sword. A communist dictatorship though is a funny sort of Kingdom of God.

  • Such words for the “Catholic Left.” Then what is wrong with the “Catholic Right,” I wonder? Or does the “Right” comprise of the Catholics who “get it?”

  • Selective interpretation of the social teaching of the Church… which ultimately stems from liberalism as Leo XIII and Pius XI understood it.

  • In regard to the Catholic Right Eric, I can’t think of a comparable attempt by Catholic conservatives to trojan horse a body of doctrine completely inimical to Catholicism into the Church as has been the ongoing effort of some Catholics on the Left to baptize Marx. The nearest parallel I can think of predates the French Revolution with the unfortunate throne and altar doctrine of many clerics, although at least they could make the argument that the states they sought to wed the Church with were not anti-Catholic. In the case of Marxism, its overwhelming anti-Christian praxis should have innoculated Catholics from it without the necessity of papal intervention, but such was not the case.

  • Tito,

    No. 🙂

  • I think there’s a pretty strong throne and altar doctrine on the Catholic Right today, at least in the U.S., where the throne takes the form of military power.

    A case could also be made for a “‘Shut up, your Excellencies,’ he explained” doctrine, which denigrates the role of the bishops, individually and especially collectively, in developing social policies.

  • I read the Pope’s document carefully.

    Now I’m perplexed:

    1. Exactly what is objectionable in what he said?

    2. Has the Pope not condemned, in this very document, the arms buildup and the disgrace of military solutions? He only appears as a right winger if you’re looking from the vantage point of an extreme left wing ideologue.

    Maybe a few here ought to put down their Che Guevara coffee mugs read it again. The Holy Father is spot on.

    It is simply a fact of history that collectivist movements have enslaved the very people they promised to liberate.

    I am frankly a little more than concerned at the prideful inability of many leftists to acknowledge this fact of history, nay, the desire to whitewash this disgrace from history.

  • Who here is attacking the Pope?

  • MI,

    They participated and got deeply involved with Marxist governments. Dissidents such as Jesuit “Father” Ernesto Cardenal of Nicaragua who was involved with the Communist government then.

  • I’m always amused when people, especially conservatives who decry the tactic in others, appoint themselves the experts of All Things Liberal.

    I don’t think that Acts 4:32 is a bad things for which to strive. Certainly better than cuddling up to Pinochet or Cheney.

  • I’d rather cuddle up to Cheney than Karl Marx or Joseph Stalin any day of the week.

  • The early Christians quickly abandoned common ownership as completely unworkable Todd. Outside of monasteries and convents it has only been revived by Christians for short periods, usually with dire results. The Pilgrims tried it, and almost starved to death. William Bradford, the governor of the colony relates what happened next:

    “All this while no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expect any. So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length, after much debate of things, the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest amongst them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves; in all other things to go on in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, according to the proportion of their number, for that end, only for present use (but made no division for inheritance) and ranged all boys and youth under some family. This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn; which before would allege weakness and inability; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.

    The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundry years and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanity of that conceit of Plato’s and other ancients applauded by some of later times; that the taking away of property and bringing in community into a commonwealth would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this community (so far as it was) was found to breed much confusion and discontent and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort. For the young men, that were most able and fit for labour and service, did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. The strong, or man of parts, had no more in division of victuals and clothes than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labours and victuals, clothes, etc., with the meaner and younger sort, thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And for men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it. Upon the point all being to have alike, and all to do alike, they thought themselves in the like condition, and one as good as another; and so, if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them. And would have been worse if they had been men of another condition. Let none object this is men’s corruption, and nothing to the course itself. I answer, seeing all men have this corruption in them, God in His wisdom saw another course fitter for them.”

  • Michael I.,

    Donald will delete it at his leisure.

    For the time being I’m just amusing myself by reading your comments, thanks!

An Interesting Thought on State Universities

Tuesday, November 24, AD 2009

Some interestingly counter-intuitive thoughts on the UC student protests against rising tuition from David Henderson of EconLog:

Taxpayer funding of higher education is a forced transfer to the relatively wealthy

Socialist author Robert Kuttner once called Proposition 13, California’s 1978 property-tax-cut initiative, the revolt of the haves. The latest opposition by UC students to a 32% increase in tuition is a revolt of the “will-haves.”

Milton Friedman used to remark that the California government, with its state funding of higher education, taxed the residents of Watts to pay for the residents of Beverly Hills. I think Friedman exaggerated substantially. Even though the California’s tax system relies heavily on sales taxes, which probably makes the state tax system on net somewhat regressive, it’s still the case that a given Beverly Hills family pays much more in taxes than a given family in Watts. But Friedman also focused on family income of the student, and that’s misleading.

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5 Responses to An Interesting Thought on State Universities

  • Henderson’s point isn’t limited to state funding of higher education (although this is a clear example). Lots of programs that are ostensibly about helping the less well off are in fact regressive. Social Security, for example, is funded through non-progressive payroll taxes. Since the rich tends to live longer and start work later, the net result of this is that the rich receive a proportionately greater benefit from Social Security, and pay a proportionately lower cost. I believe the same is true for Medicare, although the case is somewhat murkier.

  • Hilaire Belloc writes something to this extent in “The Servile State.” Capitalism, he believes, is not good. Socialism, he believes, is no better. Capitalism “mitigated” by socialism will be a nightmare. He reasons that the clever will be able to wile through the system and take advantage of it, whereas the dense or otherwise disadvantaged will be unable to keep up with its complexities. Moreover, as they get ensnared and ground up by the capitalist system, the safety nets that “save them” will only entangle them further, and lead ultimately to a situation where many of them will be permanently or indefinitely on the bottom, working for the benefit of those on top.

  • The problem is dismounting from the tiger:

    1. Secondary education, which was once fairly rigorous in metropolitan areas, has been allowed to rot (read Thomas Sowell on the quality of instruction he received at a certain high school in Harlem ca. 1946 and the quality his niece received there just 12 years later);

    2. The labor market relies on gradations of extent and selectivity of higher education as indicators of generally desirable qualities for employment;

    3. Vested interests prevent improvement of primary or secondary education;

    4. Vested interests prevent alternatives to higher education as indicators of desirability (case law on ‘equal employment opportunity’ effectively prohibits written examinations for employment;

    5. Absent ready alternatives to higher education as an indicators, later cohorts will be at a disadvantage to earlier cohorts in the labor market as higher education contracts;

    Optimally, nearly all educational institutions would be incorporated philanthropies whose trustees were elected by locally resident alumni; public higher education would be limited to training academies for the military, police, and civil service; public primary education would be limited to schools for incorrigibles run by sheriffs’ departments; and public secondary education would not exist. Primary and secondary education would be financed by state-issued vouchers and private donations (not tuition) and higher education would be by tuition and private donations, and nothing else. Enough of the edifice of ‘civil rights law’ would be demolished to permit employment examinations. Most people would begin their adult work life at 19.

    And we will never get to there from here. Too many people’s careers are bound up with the craptastic system we have now. Our president wants to make it possible for ‘everyone’ to go to college (so we can push the onset of adult life from 23 to 26? Argh).

  • Art,

    I agree that there’s really no changing the percentage of people who go (or try to go) to college at this point, even though that would arguably be a good thing all around.

    It does, however, stike me that it might be appropriate to expect public universities to get the vast majority (if not all) their funding from tuition, donations, and their endowment rather than from the state budget. If that meant raising tuition enough that graduates ended up with more student debt, that would seem like a relatively fair loan against one’s future.

  • …it might be appropriate to expect public universities to get the vast majority (if not all) their funding from tuition, donations, and their endowment rather than from the state budget.–Darwin Catholic

    And after a reform like that, what would make what you’re calling “public universities” different from other universities open to the public – other than meddling by politicians?

    Privatize the lot of ’em. Silicon Valley owes more to private Stanford University than to the five political appointee-operated universities elsewhere in the Bay Area – 2 UC and 3 CSU campuses – combined. The private, operated “in the Jesuit tradition” University of Santa Clara has also punched above its weight in supplying top Silicon Valley talent.

When Unions Go Bad

Friday, September 18, AD 2009

Occasionally unions are a good tool for righting genuine injustices in the working world, but often they later become organizations focused on their own self-perpetuation. Because all union members pay the same dues, this self perpetuation often takes the form of protecting bad workers from the consequences of their actions. The good workers, after all, will almost certainly be treated well by their employers anyway, so the only service the union can provide when there are no real injustices to fight is to take care of workers who are incompetant or just don’t care — allowing them to do the minimum and still get annual raises rather than pink slips.

According to this recent article from the New Yorker, hardly a conservative publication, the New York City teachers union has clearly reached that point and then some.

In a windowless room in a shabby office building at Seventh Avenue and Twenty-eighth Street, in Manhattan, a poster is taped to a wall, whose message could easily be the mission statement for a day-care center: “Children are fragile. Handle with care.” It’s a June morning, and there are fifteen people in the room, four of them fast asleep, their heads lying on a card table. Three are playing a board game. Most of the others stand around chatting. Two are arguing over one of the folding chairs. But there are no children here. The inhabitants are all New York City schoolteachers who have been sent to what is officially called a Temporary Reassignment Center but which everyone calls the Rubber Room.

These fifteen teachers, along with about six hundred others, in six larger Rubber Rooms in the city’s five boroughs, have been accused of misconduct, such as hitting or molesting a student, or, in some cases, of incompetence, in a system that rarely calls anyone incompetent.

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17 Responses to When Unions Go Bad

  • Darwin,

    With regards to this,

    “The good workers, after all, will almost certainly be treated well by their employers anyway…”

    I wouldn’t necessarily assume that. Good workers can and have been mistreated – especially by the corporate criminals that have raided their pension funds. Lifetimes of work have gone up in smoke.

    That being said, I do agree with you on the general corruption of unions. They are stalwart guardians of the status quo, and they have always been hostile to cooperatives and distributism in general – that is, to ideas and programs that abolish “the working class” and make the unions completely useless.

  • You might as well call the post “When People Go Bad.” Corporations have no automatic step up on virtue where human associations are concerned. Perhaps the best one can hope for is a series of checks and balances: unions strong enough to counter the excesses of employers, or perhaps even better, employers including workers on boards of directors and embracing a more democratic ideal in the management of companies. Otherwise the Henry Ford ideal of USSR-style big business will hold sway.

  • It’s certainly true that employers (whether corporations or public entities such as the NY City public school districts, as in this case) do not have any guarantee of virtue. However, except in situations where employers end up treating _all_ employees badly (the which are situations which tend to fuel union creation and strength), it’s actively in their interest to treat good employees well. All you have to assume to predict that is that employers are selfish — and I don’t think anyone would disagree that’s a fairly reasonable assumption. Good employees help employers accomplish their goals and make money, so they’ll usually treat them pretty well, if only out of selfishness.

    However, unions have somewhat more perverse incentives, in a situation in which people are not all being treated badly. If the good employees are being treated pretty well and rewarded for good performance, then the only way for the union to prove itself useful is by protecting the bad workers and making sure they continue to stay employed and get raises despite poor performance.

    This, in turn, puts more burden on the good workers.

    I think to a great extent this can be mitigated by not allowing closed shops in which all employees are forced to join the union.

  • I don’t think unions have more perverse incentives at all. Sadly, some employers do have goals in mind–personal goals that exist at odds with those of the company and employees. I’m thinking of one example of Jeffrey Loria running the Montreal MLB team into the ground, hoping for a sale to a US market or a buyout from other owners. More recently, we see executives of AIG, Enron, and other names of ill-repute running companies into the ground, taking personal profits, and thriving in a general scenario of lawlessness–literally.

    As for the problem of unions, if employees had a seat at the table in which company policies were decided and set, that might mitigate the need for unions to a degree. But the notion that business owners and executives will naturally have the best interests of employees at heart is, frankly, naive. Some bosses are incompetent or corrupt. And the best do thrive thanks to good employees. I think one has to be either pro-union or pro-democracy. The alternative is to be pro-fascism.

  • Sadly, some employers do have goals in mind–personal goals that exist at odds with those of the company and employees. I’m thinking of one example of Jeffrey Loria running the Montreal MLB team into the ground, hoping for a sale to a US market or a buyout from other owners. More recently, we see executives of AIG, Enron, and other names of ill-repute running companies into the ground, taking personal profits, and thriving in a general scenario of lawlessness–literally.

    It’s telling that one has to pick out rare, though high profile, exceptions to make this point. Most businesses are not in the middle of destroying themselves in the misguided hope of either gaining illegal personal profits or selling themselves off to another company. And even in most situations where a company is trying to be bought out, keeping the good employees motivated with good pay and benefits remains a priority. Generally, it’s only businesses in the middle of failing which turn to treating even their good employees badly — and obviously, companies are highly motivated not to fail.

    As for the problem of unions, if employees had a seat at the table in which company policies were decided and set, that might mitigate the need for unions to a degree.

    I guess I just don’t see how this one is very compelling. Certainly, I have opinions about lots of things my company is doing, both in regards to direction and to HR. But honestly, I would have no more input if I along with all 40,000 other employees got to elect a couple representatives to go and pretend to have our best interests at heart. My real means of exercising democracy is deciding whether or not to go look for a job elsewhere.

    I mean, really, we all get to vote for our congressmen, state reps, and city councilmen, but to what extent can we really say that those levels of government always do what we want?

    But the notion that business owners and executives will naturally have the best interests of employees at heart is, frankly, naive. Some bosses are incompetent or corrupt. And the best do thrive thanks to good employees.

    See, that’s the whole point — employers don’t have to have employees best interests at heart. If they act totally selfishly, they will end up working hard to retain good employees. Because without good employees, they can’t run their companies. Their interest serves us better than their good intentions — if they even have good intentions.

    I’ve had a lot of managers over the years (three in the last six months, actually — it’s re-org season) but I’ve never had one, in a good or bad company, who didn’t recognize the importance of trying to retain good employees by treating them well. Some are really bad at telling who is actually a good employee. Some are really annoying or abrasive to work with. But none who don’t recognize the need to reward good employees. I’m sure there are some out there, but through survival of the fittest, there won’t be many.

    The big exception to this is when there’s a huge glut of employees available, and they can all be treated interchangeably. This is when self interest will direct employers to treat all employees badly — and in such circumstances many do. That’s when unions have a legitimate purpose. But without that labor glut, they turn to perverse incentives to justify their existence and things get bad very quickly.

  • There are already a lot of checks and balances inherent in a functioning market economy. As Darwin mentions, the most powerful “vote” an employee has is to vote with his feet — and walk out the door if necessary. Obviously there are labor market conditions that can make such a move impractical for an employee, such as monopsony labor markets, but these are generally an exception rather than the rule.

  • “It’s telling that one has to pick out rare, though high profile, exceptions to make this point. Most businesses are not in the middle of destroying themselves in the misguided hope of either gaining illegal personal profits or selling themselves off to another company.”

    And yet haven’t you done the same in making your point against unions?

    The point is that businesses do indeed destroy themselves by any number of human, fallible means. Behaving to maximize the profit margin isn’t a perfect game. As for a low-profile but everyday occurrence, ask your local banks how many local mortgages they hold.

    As for the my-company-love-it-or-leave-it approach, I’d prefer to stay and change things for the better, even if it meant a boss was sent packing or was reassigned to do good elsewhere.

  • I’m sorry, with due respect to my friend Darwin, I must disagree that the ability to leave one’s job is somehow a democratic check on corporate authority.

    This may be the case if one is a valued commodity which is not easily replaced; how often is this actually the case with the average worker in the typical job? Like it or not, one of the defining features of modern capitalism is undifferentiated, homogeneous labor. This is especially true as the education and expertise required for a job decreases. There will always be people looking for work, but there won’t always be decent employers who pay a family wage – even Adam Smith knew the advantage was to the capitalist and not the worker.

    This is why Catholic social teaching has always emphasized and encouraged more widespread ownership; because it is really only through ownership that one acquires a say in the administration of things, and only through ownership that one is regarded as more than a repository of labor power.

    Again, with due respect my friend Darwin, I think sometimes you tend to generalize your personal experience. From everything I hear, you seem to be an educated, skilled, and valued worker, a professional or semi-professional. That puts you in a somewhat better bargaining position than the average undifferentiated worker.

    Personally, I think free labor is something that ought to be confined to the professional classes, who will always possess greater bargaining power, while a more secure and stable system rooted in ownership is in place for less skilled workers, who will most likely never possess it. The only problem with this is global competition – any company that can, will go to the third world to take advantage of economic and political conditions that make the pool of available workers desperate and servile.

    So the great challenge is how to make dignified labor competitive with desperate labor.

  • As for a low-profile but everyday occurrence, ask your local banks how many local mortgages they hold.

    Roughly 25% of the outstanding residential mortgage debt is held on the books of banks, savings & loan associations, and credit unions. Most loans have been sold off (often quite quickly) to secondary mortgage brokers (of which the most prominent are Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). Mortgages on commercial real estate do tend to be held and serviced by banks, but such mortgages amount to only about 20% of outstanding mortgage debt.

  • Seeing what has happened to both the public sector and the auto industry, suggest a goal of policy might be to dissolve the existing body of trade and industrial unions in favor of producer co-operatives and company unions whose elections would be supervised by local boards, much as elections to school boards are. Fiorello LaGuardia was during his lifetime very dubious about collective bargaining in the public sector, and he turned out to be right.

  • I might suggest that the appropriate function for unions would be the settlement of workplace disputes, the provision of channels of information flow from the bottom to the top of an institutional hierarchy (the University of Rochester was during the time I worked there an employer badly in need of this), and as a means of negotiating burden sharing among owners, managers and workers during economic crises. Unions are often quite piss-poor at this last, and are often so in response to the opinions of membership. It is poor social policy to make use of tools of collective bargaining to raise wages, as this acts to redistribute income from unorgainized workers to organized workers and reduce overall levels of unemployment. If you are concerned about income distribution, a restructuring of the tax code would be a preferred policy measure.

  • More recently, we see executives of AIG, Enron

    A manufacturer of my acquaintance described AIG as “a great company destroyed by five guys in London”. My local buddy in the insurance business explained that the disaster was the work of its Financial Products Unit, a small office geographically segregated from the rest of the company and doing work poorly understood by the insurance men running the company. They were writing credit default swaps on mortgage backed securities; the supervisor of the unit, Joseph Cassano, had only a dim awareness of the composition of the mortgage pools from which the securities they were insuring derived and the unit warehoused the risk rather than hedging as other buyers and sellers of credit default swaps do. AIG was brought down by incompetence and inattention on the part of a small but key group of employees, not by self-dealing.

  • Two quick points:

    – While I’m dubious of the overall value of collective bargaining in regards to wages (I think it too often only serves to lock out those not already in a unionized job) I’m not necessarily trying to attack unions for truly unskilled and interchangeable workers in this post. My big beef with with cases such as the NY Teachers (or the California Public Employees union my father was forced to join — and always hated) which is representing people who are college educated, skilled workers who are (in the cases cited in the article) actually making more than I am. I find the idea of teachers making six figure incomes needing a closed union shop pretty laughable. And as described, I think at that point the union will often seek to justify its existence primarily by protecting the incompetent. While the article shows an extreme example of this, that was my father’s number one complain with his union. On various occasions the union kept his department from firing or disciplining: a custodian who was widely known to be stealing college property, a department secretary who refused to learn how to use a computer and most of whose work thus ended up being done for free by my dad, an admin who didn’t show up for work half the time, etc.

    – While I’ll readily admit my thinking on these topics is heavily shaded by my experiences, I will say in my defense that although these days I definitely work in a professional type role, I started out ten years ago making within a couple dollars of minimum wage and put in time in retail ($5/hr), call centers ($8/hr) and basic admin/shipping/warehouse work ($14/hr) — all of which I’d argue are pretty working class ways to spend your time. And so when I say that employers naturally try to retain good workers, I’m thinking not only of the marketers I work with now, but also of good retail people in the bookstore and good phone bank callers and good order takers, warehouse guys, fork-lift drivers and delivery drivers. Now obviously, there’s a realistic limit to how much extra consideration being a good worker will get you in these lines of work — just as there is in regards to union agitation — because there’s a limit to how much these jobs are worth. But I have seen employers at those levels go to moderately decent lengths to keep good people at those levels, which adds to my impression that this is a pretty universal phenomenon.

  • While we’re on the confessional track, I’ll add that I have an abiding lack of trust of authority, especially leaders who recognize no accountability. In my own hourly-wage experiences in high school and college I saw bosses value employees, but I also saw employers view them and their ideas as threatening.

    I don’t see how fallible and sinful human beings can escape the temptation for destructive self-interest. I certainly don’t see employers as possessing any inherent moral superiority in regard to good behavior.

    Rather than come down with or against unions or corporations or management in general, maybe it’s better to just say that good behavior is good, bad behavior is bad, and we should work to eradicate the latter and encourage the former in all systems.

  • Some are really bad at telling who is actually a good employee.

    Meet my department head.

  • Since all people are sinners, all organizations made up of people are subject to corruption and abuse of power. This applies equally to employers and unions.

    However, this does not mean that the basic right of workers to organize should be denied or withdrawn because SOME unions abuse their power, any more than parental rights should be denied or withdrawn from everyone because some parents are abusive.

    Actually I am not a big fan of most unions. I’ve never belonged to one and honestly hope I never have to.

    My least favorite union right now is SEIU, which was a big supporter of our (ahem) esteemed ex-governor Blago; in fact the wiretaps record Blago raising the possibility of SEIU giving him a job as part of a quid pro quo for the Obama Senate seat appointment. Personally I think they are just as crooked as the Teamsters under Jimmy Hoffa if not more so. Anyone they endorse would automatically lose my vote — if they even HAD my vote in the first place, that is.

  • I have been on a local school board, dealing with the unions. My wife is a member of the teachers’ union in another school district.

    I have seen the senior members of the union, who are well represented on the negotiating team, pad things in the contract for the senior teachers at the expense of the junior teachers, even threatening to strike if we balanced things a bit more between the senior and junior teaching staff.

    I have seen the teachers union over and over talk a so-so game about “the kids,” but when there was a conflict, they always yelled for the teachers and the heck with the students. I’m thinking, for example, of arguments about the size of salaries and benefits, in a time of fixed income, so class size is the only other variable that will make income equal outgo.

    I had a teacher’s union rep tell me “the only reason high school sports exists is so new teachers can get paid extra for coaching. When they’ve saved up the down payment on a house, it’s time for someone else to have the job.” EVERYTHING’S about us!

    I’ve seen principals demand time clock punching behavior from their teachers (e.g. you may not leave one minute early, even if you are going to put in two hours tonight at home, off the clock), “I have the power over you and don’t you forget it” type behavior that is completely out of date in the private sector. The result is an institutional hardening of the arteries, as petty grievances get bargained into union contracts with a one size fits all answer.

    I’ve seen repeated “please pass the trash” behavior by principals, who can’t fire incompetent teachers or even teachers where there is misbehavior that isn’t quite bad enough to get them jailed. Instead, they wait until there is a school with an opening and a principal who is retiring. Then the bad teacher is transferred to a new assignment in that building. The old principal doesn’t care, she’s retiring and the new principal isn’t in place yet.

    Union leadership work, the last refuge of a poor teacher.

    But the worst part of the system is the flow of money from the teachers’ union dues into the pockets of politicians as campaign contributions, so the politicians will give the inmates the keys to the asylum. Those who have the gold make the rules.

Equality, A False Assumption That We Need

Wednesday, August 19, AD 2009

[This is the first in a loose series of posts attempting to articulate the implications of inequality, of various sorts, in our society and economy. ]

It seems counter-intuitive to claim that we should hold something to be true when it isn’t, but it seems to me that there are at least a few cases in which we should act as if something is true even if it is not. The example that I have in mind has to do with equality.

As Catholics we believe that all human beings are of equal dignity in the eyes of God. In the US, all people are equal in the eyes of the law. However, this does not necessarily mean that all people are of equal ability in regard to any specific quality. And indeed, it’s readily apparent that people are indeed not equal in regards to ability. Some people have greater physical abilities than others. There is huge variation in mental ability, and among different kinds of mental ability. And there is a fair amount of evidence that much of this variation is either genetic, or determined by experiences so early in life as to be much more the result of your relatives choices than your own.

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17 Responses to Equality, A False Assumption That We Need

  • This post reminds me of two books, DC… Bork’s discussion of radical egalitarianism in “Slouching Towards Gommorah” and it negative impact its had on American society in the last forty years, and more recently, Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”, in which he argues that a big portion of success is due to things beyond the control of the person who is successful (i.e. the relevant of various environmental factors).

    I take your point regarding education, but your final sentence gives me pause… can it be that we are really better served by an illusion than by reality?

  • Truth is always better.

    The important truth here, however, is one which is not well understood.

    “All men are created equal” is a falsehood, at least as regards abilities. God gives different talents to each, different graces to each, different circumstances to each. Whither then equality?

    The truism lies elsewhere: Moral Rights are always the other side of a Moral Duty, and these all point to the end of life, which is to freely exercise our God-given creativity in a single pursuit, that of knowing, loving, and serving God.

    “Equality” in the phrase “all men are created equal” therefore comes from two places:

    (1.) The equal love of God, in that He loves His created persons each infinitely and infinities are as equal as makes no odds; and,

    (2.) The right to moral treatment of each person, which is the reflection of the moral duty of all other persons to treat them morally. A subcomponent of this duty is that component which deals with force, and that force is twofold: (a.) The force we use to protect innocents against force or fraud by others, and (b.) The force we exercise against non-innocents when they initiate force or fraud against innocents.

    Now under the broader heading of moral treatment of persons, the hallmark of moral use of force is this: (a.) We are morally obligated to offer equal protection to all innocents in proportion to the value God assigns them with His infinite love, not in proportion to some lesser attribute such as income or ability; and, (b.) We are morally obligated to exercise force against them in proportion to their crimes or attacks only, without regard to other attributes such as income or political connections.

    Item (a.) is generally phrased “equal protection under law” and Item (b.) is generally phrased “let the punishment fit the crime” or in cases of warfare “proportional response.”

    In the end, then, WE DO NOT NEED TO LIE TO OURSELVES.

    (We should never. No one who wishes to be on good terms with the person who calls Himself the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life, should be thus dismissive of the truth merely because it is convenient.)

    Instead we must understand that “equality among men” is a more particular kind of equality, expressed in two spheres; namely, judgments of transcendent value, and our duties in the use of force (normatively, through the tool called government).

    TRANSCENDENT VALUE: God loves us all infinitely, and we should be imitators of Christ, who is one in being with the Father. Being finite beings we lack the power to exercise infinite love for all equally, but we come close by exercising great love for all equally. Ergo: We value all human lives equally, and live lives of sacrificial love directed at our neighbor equally with ourselves.

    USE OF FORCE (normatively): Equal protection under law, proportional armed response, and punishments that fit the crime.

    USE OF FORCE (in the gravest extreme): Just War Doctrine (for gravest-extreme force writ large), Proportional Response for self-defense with intent to stop, not slay or exercise revenge on, an attacker (for gravest-extreme force, writ small).

    There is no lie in these formulations of equality.

    One final note: The above would work well if human beings were all Vulcans a la “Star Trek”: Able to suit their actions to known logical truisms at all times.

    However, we are passionate creatures and our emotions need taming and training.

    Hence one other addendum: In applying the terms of equality described above, we must undergird our intent with feelings of love as best we can. We must, with the help of the Holy Spirit, feel divine charity towards others. This often doesn’t work, so we must often act as we would act if we felt that way, in the hopes that our feelings will “catch up” over time.

    Some might regard THIS as a self-deceit, an illusion: “Isn’t it lying to myself or others, to act in a way I don’t really feel?”

    But it is not, because when our emotions are disordered, they tell us nothing about what is true, but rather react in a way that is closer to falsehood. In that sense, emotions are not like thoughts which can be true or false; they are more like the weather, which merely happens (sometimes conveniently and helpfully, sometimes inconveniently and unhelpfully).

    To the extent we resist, subdue, and retrain those emotions over time, we are in no way being dishonest; we are rather re-calibrating our emotions to be reflective of the truth. This is an intrinsically honest act, since it acknowledges the truth and acts upon it.

    In the end, our first loyalty is to the truth. How could it be otherwise, when our first loyalty always belongs rightfully to The Truth?

  • To talk about “equality” in these terms is to use the word in such a general way as to make it incomprehensible. Its too abstract. Equality of what? Health, happiness, sanctity, income, appearance of worldly success, ego? Not an exhaustive list, but I think you get the idea. Equality in my mind or that of others? How many others?
    Equality of dignity? Equality of ability? Equality of opportunity? Equality of outcome? I think you need more specificity.

  • Patrick makes a good point. ‘Equality’ in the general sense is not a principle of the founding father’s of the United States, conversely it is a principle of the French revolution.

    The founding father’s explain their use of “created equal” by saying what rights they are endowed with – “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”.

  • Thank you for the thoughtful comments. Looking at these, I think I want to hone and limit by point a bit:

    It strikes me that it’s a basic (or at least, very commonly held) American idea that anyone could go anywhere and do anything. Often people tell this to kids, “If you work hard enough, you can grow up to be absolutely anything you want.”

    However, many studies suggest that is pretty definitely not the case. People who are below average in a set of abilities at age 8 are usually not going to turn around and excel in those abilities ten or twenty years later. If you have a low IQ at eight, you will probably never have a high IQ. If you have low musical abilities at eight, you will probably not become a concert pianist. If you are lowsy at sports at eight, you will probably not become a pro baseball player. Etc.

    Some people take from this that we should test people at an early age, determine their abilities, and not bother wasting resources on trying to teach people things they won’t be able to do. Thus, if someone tested as having an IQ of 90 and low mathematical abilities, you wouldn’t bother ever trying to teach that person math beyond a six or eighth grade level. If someone had low verbal abilities, you wouldn’t try putting them through high school literature, much less college. Etc.

    I think there’s a certain appeal to this approach for some libertarians and conservatives, partly because we’re used to arguing against quota systems which are used to try to guarantee equality of outcome.

    However, even though we know that people do not have equal abilities, it seems to me that we are better off trying to educate people as if they do have equal abilities — partly out of a sense of idealistic fairness, but mostly because it seems to me that the evils of telling someone “You’ll never amount to anything much, so you go over there and learn to be a manual worker. Don’t bother with any math, science or literature.” are much greater than the evils of “wasting” resources on trying to teach people things that they don’t end up mastering very well.

    That’s not to say that I think we should pour infinite resources into _making_ them come out equal. After all, they probably won’t anyway, since people don’t actually have equal abilities. But it seems to me that “anyone could amount to something” is an important ideal to maintain, because although it is true that in a worldly sense not everyone will amount to anything, I’m not sure that we’re likely to be as good as we think we can be about telling who is capable of amounting to something, and the injustice of closing people off from opportunity strikes me as much greater than the “waste” associated with offering them opportunity they don’t fulfill.

    Hopefully that’s a little more clear…

  • And much is expected from those to whom much is given. At the end of the day, those lacking in abilities who keep on keeping on may be astonished to find themselves first, for some of the last will be first and some of the first will be last.

  • “Some people take from this that we should test people at an early age, determine their abilities, and not bother wasting resources on trying to teach people things they won’t be able to do.”

    I believe that is exactly what we ought to do… though the tests must be able to account for psychological problems that can inhibit academic performance.

    “but mostly because it seems to me that the evils of telling someone “You’ll never amount to anything much, so you go over there and learn to be a manual worker. Don’t bother with any math, science or literature.” are much greater than the evils of “wasting” resources on trying to teach people things that they don’t end up mastering very well.”

    It surprises me that the person who is usually a libertarian pragmatist in economic matters is making this argument now 🙂

    If the contention here is that specialized programs necessarily result in the message to less intelligent students that they will “never amount to anything”, I say that is illogical.

    Social attitudes, which are malleable, have more to do with how this kind of education would be received than anything else. Having a blue collar job that pays well is not “amounting to nothing” – especially if a person has a family, has friends, has a faith and a community.

    It is only “amounting to nothing” by the snobbish bourgeois standards of the upper classes. “Everyone must go to college” is how the white upper class, at the same time, a) validates its mode of existence, b) declares it superior to others, c) relieves its misplaced guilt that not everyone shares in the boundless privilege of their world.

    I firmly believe we should have a tracked educational system, because it would be much better for the many who actually do fall through the cracks. How many “gangbangers” and “trailer trash” would have benefited from a solid “blue collar” trade school track, instead of having the smoke of college blown up their bums?

    Society works best, and people function their best, when they have a rough idea of their place and when each social place is respected – not belittled through a complicated, contradictory, and often self-indulgent psychological issue held by people in positions of importance (who have forgotten their own role).

    I do disagree, however, with Murray’s comment at the end about “social problems” – he clearly has a materialist bent on his approach. The wealthy have sins as much as the poor, the educated as much as the uneducated.

    In fact, I believe the sins of wealth and power and intellect are far greater – and so does the Bible, in the Book of Wisdom. The lowly are always granted special pardon by God, while the mighty will suffer a mighty torment for neglecting their duties or abusing their power. The kind of vocational education that Murray is talking about – what 99% of education has become – does not and cannot improve or heal the soul. People with high IQs can be sociopathic monsters.

    But there IS a kind of education that can do it… the more I read Mortimer Adler, Alan Bloom, et. al., I am convinced of that. I think it is a very Catholic notion as well, though none of the Catholic schools teach it.

  • I mean none of the grade schools. But Thomas Aquinas College has the sort of program I am talking about. Only there is no reason it can’t be begun in high school for those who are interested (regardless of IQ).

  • It is only “amounting to nothing” by the snobbish bourgeois standards of the upper classes. “Everyone must go to college” is how the white upper class, at the same time, a) validates its mode of existence, b) declares it superior to others, c) relieves its misplaced guilt that not everyone shares in the boundless privilege of their world.

    And yet it seems that this notion is primarily espoused by the left-wing academic elite, who claim to have the interests of the less forunate as their goal.

    In any event, the premise is very good. People who can’t get into college academically for whatever reason SHOULD NOT BE IN COLLEGE. Therefore, eliminate all forms of affirmative action in college admissions (that is not to say there shouldn’t be FINANCIAL assistance for those who are able to succeed academically but lack the financial wherewithal). Instead, there should be generous offerings for trade schools which would allow those unable to meet academic standards to be materially successful and perhaps build a better life than their parents enjoyed, and especially provide a better future for their own children.

  • Well Matt, we agree 99%.

    I’m not sure it is an exclusively left-wing belief. It was, as Murray points out in other articles, a tenant of the Bush administration via “No Child Left Behind”.

  • “People who are below average…are usually not going to turn around and excel in those abilities ten and twenty years later.” The key word in your sentence, though, is “usually.” You did not say “never.” I think there is a substantive public policy and moral judgement difference between the two.

    The second most important word you used was “excel.” Let me give you an example to make my point: Our local public school system felt that high school PE should not be graded on measures of physical ability (e.g. running, jumping, reach, etc.) because some people had it and others don’t. So, instead, they give “grades” based on just showing up, and so forth, playing non-competitive games and so forth, while claiming that their goal is to turn the students into adults that have a life long dedication to fitness, Yahda, yahda, yahda. (Obviously, if that’s the goal, you can’t measure whether they have excelled at their work, but that’s another topic.)

    The Catholic high school doesn’t measure fitness in absolute terms, either. However, they measure improvement over the semester. Base line test the first day, final test at the end. Various sports and fitness training inbetween. I can’t measure their graduates’ life long fitness either, but over 1/3 of the students turn out for the track team every year and Sports Illustrated rates them the #2 sports high school in the country.

    My point is that, as someone who is, at this point in my life, the policy maker, rather than the student, my goal is to make things better than they would be without me. Our local public school district about breaks their own arm patting themselves on the back about the academic success of their top students. However, longitudinal comparisons show that they take students that come to them well above average academically and the schools turn them into above average students. Is that a good school district? On the other hand, what would you say about a district that takes kids from the 10th percentile on average and moves them over 12 years to the 30th percentile?

    So, coming back full circle, I have some involvement with a local Jesuit Nativity School, a middle school for inner city kids. The typical student comes to them, entering 7th grade, with academic skills at about the 3rd grade level. Six years later, their record is that roughly 19 of their kids out of 20 go to college.

    Can you be anything you want to be? I’m not sure that’s a relevant question. The greater social issue is whether young people are being led to have the motivation to try to be anything. I see a lot of kids who are just drifting. For them, it isn’t a matter of what opportunities are available to them. The issue is whether they are willing to make the sacrifices required to take advantage of them.

  • The kind of vocational education that Murray is talking about – what 99% of education has become – does not and cannot improve or heal the soul. People with high IQs can be sociopathic monsters.

    But there IS a kind of education that can do it… the more I read Mortimer Adler, Alan Bloom, et. al., I am convinced of that. I think it is a very Catholic notion as well, though none of the Catholic schools teach it.

    I do strongly agree with you there. I believe strongly that everyone can benefit from a strong liberal arts/humanistic education up through what I think ought to be about a high school level — and I strongly object to the idea that some people should be sectioned off at the age of eight or ten and told: “You’ll never be able to follow math beyond basic arithmetic, and you’ll have decent reading or writing skill so why bother.”

    I very much like what Adler and Bloom have to say about education, and I looked at going to TAC, though in some ways I think it’s better as a high school approach than a college approach.

    I guess that’s where the “It surprises me that the person who is usually a libertarian pragmatist in economic matters is making this argument now” part of it comes in. Part of my libertarian-ish leaning has to do with wanting to see equality of opportunity. And another part has to do with distrusting people’s ability to predict the future — and thus not wanting to see people cut off from opportunity.

    I want to get back to your point about pursuing a blue collar career not being “not amounting to anything” in a later post, because it leads into some other thinking I want to get into in regards to the modern economy and the problem of inequality. For now, I’ll just stick to saying that I think if you have a liberal arts level education at a high school level, it’s a overall gain as a human being. And I am concerned that when someone doesn’t go to college they often end up putting themselves on a road which makes it a lot hard to hit higher income brackets. How much of a problem one sees that narrowing of opportunity as depents on a lot of other things.

  • Joe,

    I’m not sure it is an exclusively left-wing belief. It was, as Murray points out in other articles, a tenant of the Bush administration via “No Child Left Behind”.

    I said primarily, and I would never deny that Bush was sometimes influenced by the elite on the left (it was Teddy’s bill after all).

  • D,

    “For now, I’ll just stick to saying that I think if you have a liberal arts level education at a high school level, it’s a overall gain as a human being.”

    I agree, but I don’t think it should be subject to testing and grading. A simple pass/fail perhaps, and those who excel can be singled out for honors courses that are more challenging.

    America has become obsessed with grades, with quantitative indicators of intelligence. There is no evidence that it has ever made America a better country.

    Vocational education should be graded, though. No argument there.

    “And I am concerned that when someone doesn’t go to college they often end up putting themselves on a road which makes it a lot hard to hit higher income brackets.”

    Statistically, yes – though returns on educational investment are decreasing.

    It wasn’t this way when industry and manufacturing took place in this country. College-mania is in many ways a consequence of the destruction of real opportunities for blue collar work that was skilled and in demand.

  • I agree, but I don’t think it should be subject to testing and grading. A simple pass/fail perhaps, and those who excel can be singled out for honors courses that are more challenging.

    America has become obsessed with grades, with quantitative indicators of intelligence. There is no evidence that it has ever made America a better country.

    I’d have to think about that. Having been homeschooled in high school, I effectively went without grades, and I don’t think it hurt me in any big ways. But at the same time _some kind_ of measurement of performance is often useful to people, especially highly competitive ones. Still, I’d agree that there’s an over/wrong emphasis on grading and testing often in education.

    It wasn’t this way when industry and manufacturing took place in this country. College-mania is in many ways a consequence of the destruction of real opportunities for blue collar work that was skilled and in demand.

    Agreed, to an extent. I think a bigger influence has been that technological advancements and globalization have allowed modern “knowledge workers” to be far more productive, measured in terms of the dollar impacts of their actions, than much of anyone could be 50 years ago — thus allowing that type of worker to far outstrip blue collar workers. Though I’m not sure to what extent we can do anything about that, or that it would be a good idea to if we tried.

  • As someone in a “blue collar” manufacturing industry, I can tell you that your concept, Joe, of herding high school students who aren’t making it academically into shop class is a quarter century out of date. Vocational education is no longer done at the high school level, although you may find some lingering traces of it. You need high school level math, science and computer skills to succeed in a blue collar occupation these days, because the specific training you need for your career is done at the community college/junior college level.

  • “Shop class” was just an example. And there is no reason it can’t be brought back, that the sort of training one gets at a junior college cannot in fact begin in high school.

    Delayed adulthood is a social problem, not a blessing, as I see it. High school age teenagers are capable of a lot more than modern society gives them credit for. For those not pursuing a “white collar” professional career, there is no reason that trade school can’t be over by the age of 18, with more specialized training occurring on the job.

Affirmative Action and Me

Friday, July 31, AD 2009

It always annoys me when I am confronted with a form which demands to know my “race or ethnicity” and offers no “mixed” option. Being exactly half “white” and half “hispanic”, it seems tiresome to have to pick one or the other. “Just pick the one you feel represents you most,” a nice lady at the DMV once told me. But of course, what I think represents me most is being half each — not picking one over the other. I would certainly not say that I “am” Hispanic, yet the experience of having a large Mexican-American half to the family is hardly accidental to my life experience.

One of the areas I knew this would make a more than usually substantive difference in my life was deciding how to fill out college application forms. I objected to the idea of racial quotas (something that was still going on fairly explicitly in 96/97) and I figured that with an English last name even if I were tempted to try to take advantage of “Hispanic” status, I wouldn’t pass the laugh test. So I put myself down at “Hispanic” on the PSAT and “white” on the SAT, and simply refused to pick on all my college applications.

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34 Responses to Affirmative Action and Me

  • I think you’re giving the admissions people too much credit. They don’t go out of their way to admit black or hispanic students because they think they will perform better than their test scores would indicate. If that were the case, then the dropout rate for such students once admitted wouldn’t be so high. What they want is to have a certain percentage of the student body be black and hispanic, because otherwise it just looks bad (and when it comes to the racial composition of a school, “looks bad” can have some very real and serious consequences).

    It’s not Harvard’s fault that the public school system is such a mess, so on one level I’m sympathetic to the situation such schools find themselves in. But there’s nothing admirable about what they’re doing.

  • As Judge Roberts said, the way to stop discriminating on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.

    Different treatment/standards/barriers to entry on the basis of race and.or ethnicity was wrong before the Brown decision and it is wrong now. The principle is the same, and it is important. The difficulty comes in accepting what has come to be termed “disparate impact” – yet those persistent gaps can hardly be addressed by an employer or a university, and I think you are right to suggest that such attempts lead to insecurity and also resentment.

  • I think you’re giving the admissions people too much credit. They don’t go out of their way to admit black or hispanic students because they think they will perform better than their test scores would indicate…. But there’s nothing admirable about what they’re doing.


    I think there’s something potentially admirable about what some of the better justifications of affirmative action say they’re trying to do (even the playing field to let in people of ability even if their educational or personal backgrounds haven’t allowed them to score as high on tests and get as high grades as other students) but so far as I can tell virtually no one has actually implemented it in this way — they’ve simply instituted systems of racial favoritism.

    On the drop out rates — I suppose it’s possible that admissions people deceive themselves that everyone they are admitting is of equal ability, but results would appear to be that even if the abilities are equal, the habits of success are different enough that they’re not necessarily doing anyone any favors.

  • Half white/half hispanic?

    Those categories are not mutually exclusive. One can be 100% white and 100% hispanic. They are two separate categories (race and ethnicity – or more precisely, national origin as Hispanic simply refers to those with ancestry from Latin America. Curiously enough, Spaniards are properly classified as Europeans – even more so than Anglos from England) although often confused as being in the same category and treated that way. I have even seen some forms that have a box for “white Hispanic” and “non white Hispanic” – at least that gets a little more accurate.

    The “Hispanic” race thing and the “Central America” as a continent thing are two of my biggest pet peeves.

  • My wife went to school with a kid who got a free ride to Boston College on some sort of affirmative action scholarship program. He was an affluent descendant of Spanish royalty.

  • I like the ones that have a slot to write things in.

    I tend to put “human” or “American,” depending on the day. ;^p

    One of my buddies on the ship, Brach, is a solid heinz-57– not a single one of his grandparents looks anything like any of the others. I think he liked to check all the boxes, or write “yes” in….

  • My husband knew someone in college who was not permitted to take Spanish for her foreign language because she was ethnically Hispanic, even though she didn’t speak the language.

  • Sometimes I write in the “other” column “Whitexican” (pronounced ‘white-sican’).

    One time I put down, Celtic-Norse-Norman-Welsh-Cherokee-Castillian-Portuguese-French-Jew-Mexican-American.

    That was fun.

  • Speaking of government forms, in the military on most security forms, at least in the 70s, there was a section asking if any of your relatives or friends had ever advocated overthrowing the government. A friend of mine would always put down the names of two of his Confederate great-grandfathers!

  • I love the idea of checking all the boxes, Foxfier. One of the great things about our military is that they were much quicker than society at large to figure out that the color or surname of the guy watching your back doesn’t matter–what matters is that you can trust each other with your lives.

    When you consider that one of our most prominent Hispanic politicians is a guy named Bill Richardson, that a pop singer named Linda Ronstadt once released an album of traditional Mexican/Southwestern music titled “Canciones de Mi Padre” (Songs of My Father–Ronstadt’s paternal line was Southwestern Hispanic with smatterings of North European) and that a singer named Ricardo Valenzuela (aka Ritchie Valens) had to learn the lyrics to the traditional Mexican song he made famous (“La Bamba”) phonetically because he spoke no Spanish, you realize that the Hispanic identity is easily as complex as the American (or Norteamericano, as folks South of the border like to remind us) identity.

    Like Darwin, I am of Hispanic and North European (mostly German) heritage. I consider Spanish and English both native languages (I spoke both from early childhood and, though I don’t use Spanish much these days, can still think in it.) Growing up in the mountains of Virginia, I was very aware that my bilingualism set me apart and identified strongly as a Hispanic although my maiden name is German-derived. Thus I can relate to the desire to check multiple boxes, especially when a college admission or grant could be on the line.

    Unfortunately for me, my mother’s Cuban family was as mixed as any “melting pot” family here in the U. S., and her maiden name came from a Georgia-born grandfather (with a Hispanic mother, no less) who settled in Cuba after the Spanish-American War. He bore an English surname that had been in the States since colonial days. I abandoned the idea of playing up my Hispanic roots, figuring that even if I employed the Spanish practice of tacking on my maternal surname after the paternal one, I would mark myself not just as doubly a yanqui, but thanks to my Georgia ancestor as a yanqui with connections to a First Family of Virginia to which any relationship I may have is well over two centuries distant.

    Is it any wonder I don’t take those ubiquitous ethnic identity boxes very seriously?

  • One of the guys I work with was invited to joing a lawsuit against our agency because he had been included on a list of Africen-American officers who had been in a senior but non-supervisory position for more than ten years.

    He did not reply to any of the six letters that “invited” him to join the suit.

    A seventh communication, in the form of an e-mail, explained that it was “African-Americans like him” – the ones who failed to “stand up to discrimination” in hopes of “getting along” that were a cause of continuing injury.

    My friend wrote one of the funniest responses I have seen, explaining that he was indeed of African descent but that he would have difficulty documenting that fact since he could only trace his family history six generations, back to Bavaria. He went on to explain that his ancesters left Africa many generations in a massive migration from the Rift Valley and that it is believed that they made their way north through Turkey. He went into great details about the Indo-European language theories and such…

    Curiously, he never received a reply.

  • My daughter delights in writing “Celtic” when asked.

    Would cminor share the words to LA BAMBA? He will certainly know the song [to the same tune] which sings “I wish I knew the word to La Bamba , oh oh oh”.

    What about Basques? Catalans?

    I think it was the U of Wisc which would not accept Spanish as equivalent to Hispanic. They also discriminated between Venezuelan [bad] and Dominican [good].

  • What about Basques? Catalans?

    Ooh, good point– reminds me that my dad’s mom found it VERY important to point out which county of Scotland her dad had come from, and that a good 80% of my mom’s home town was from County Cork. (and it mattered)

  • I am still waiting for the Irish-Scottish-Cherokee box on one of those government forms!

  • In reply to both Gabriel and to Darwin’s original post, I often end up addressing many similar questions in my work as a linguist and Spanish professor here in Texas–it should be noted that most of my students are definitely Caucasian, although there are a significant minority who are 1st- or 2nd-generation Hispanic Americans (mostly with Mexican roots, this being Texas!)

    In Spanish, the terms “hispano” and “Latino” should derive from their roots: “hispano” referring to any descendants of Spaniard conquistadores in the New World, and “Latino” referring to all descendants of any of the Latin-based languages that grew out of the Roman Empire, so technically the French, Italians, Romansch (small minority Romance language in Switzerland), Portuguese, and Spaniards should be counted as “Latino”. In current practice here in the States, and also I think around most of Spain and Latin America, “hispano” does refer to the linguistic group itself (even if most Latin Americans now have some degree of racially-mixed African or indigenous ancestry), while “Latino” refers to Latin Americans, including Brazilians, who speak Portuguese.

    I used to live and work in the Basque Country in northern Spain, and I am intimately familiar with practically every last little pueblo all over Spain (except for the far-off Canary Islands, to the west of Africa and well south of Europe), including some very close friends who are Catalans. Racially speaking, both groups are very much Caucasians, esp. the Basques, many of whom resemble big-boned, fair-skinned Germans or Eastern Europeans. Interestingly, the Basques are completely unique not only linguistically (Basque is not related in any way to any other language on Earth–Castilians often tease that it’s the language that ancient saints used to speak to, and drive away, sea monsters!), but also their blood type is exceedingly rare and their genes are unrelated to any other genotypes around most of Western and Central Europe. Nevertheless, all but the poorest and least educated people in each of these areas speak fluent Castilian Spanish and certainly would have no trouble living and working in any Hispanic Latin American country. For that matter, many Basques (shepherds, by tradition) immigrated to the United States, Chile, and Argentina, especially the mountainous areas therein, to escape from Franco’s oppression in the 1930s-1940s. You’ll find dozens of interesting Basque surnames in the US mountain west, esp. in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

    All of this gets back to Darwin’s original post and point that affirmative action, if it is to be used at all (and I don’t agree that it always should be!), should focus on economic differences as opposed to racial ones, which are rendered essentially meaningless in the greatest melting pot society that the world has ever known!

    P.S. Oh, and I should point out that Basque food is universally heralded as some of the finest cuisine in the world! Try it, y’all!

  • . For that matter, many Basques (shepherds, by tradition) immigrated to the United States, Chile, and Argentina, especially the mountainous areas therein, to escape from Franco’s oppression in the 1930s-1940s. You’ll find dozens of interesting Basque surnames in the US mountain west, esp. in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.

    Modoc county has a lot– that’s up in the corner of Cali, inland.
    No idea what my Godfather (he was Basque) would’ve looked like if he hadn’t been a rancher– as it was, Jean B. looked like he was made of boot-leather and spare corral boards– most of the Basque ladies I can think of in the valley look kinda Italian.

    I can’t even imagine his reaction if he were asked to check in a box what his “race” was.

  • I had the same thing happen when I applied to law schools. I had ivy league schools sending me info for ‘hispanic’ admissions, which apparently meant that I didn’t have to have the same high LSAT scores and GPA as the ‘whites’ did. Seeing as my mother didn’t raise any idiots, I felt I should attend a school in line with my scores and ability. No point in being set up for failure by competing out of your league. It just makes minorities feel that much more denigrated. Thomas Sowell wrote some good things on this very topic.

  • Thomas Sowell wrote some good things on this very topic.

    Heh. I used to eat in the university dining hall with Thomas Sowell’s son. Nice guy.

  • The problem with affirmative action is that its had too many competing justifications, and as a result, the policies instituted don’t correspond well with any of them. If it were aimed at at correcting historical injustices, then children of holocaust survivors would not have been denied consideration. If it were a way to help those compete who were disadvantaged, then very poor white people would be expected to benefit more than wealthy minorities.
    If it had been intended as a way to make the country less prejudiced, then at some point it seems to have became counter-productive given that it is now a racially divisive issue and a source of enmity and bitterness. Furthermore, by grouping everyone of one race together for treatment designed to help those who are disadvantaged, the members of that group end up being stigmatized.

    It seems to me that by never establishing clear goals, we got policies which were a mess.

    I rather like the idea that people with disabilities or who grew up poor (regardless of race, creed or gender) all had burdens or disadvantages that others didn’t, and that if we want to have affirmative action programs, then they should be the recipients of the benefits. Inasmuch as minorities are disproportionately affected by poverty, the programs would still allocate benefits to the minority populations at a proportionately higher level than to whites, but it would be a just allocation that since it is open to all.

  • Ockraz-
    one more reason– to make the favored minorities feel good that they achieved something.

    Instead, I still wonder how much of my advancement in the Navy was because I’m a girl, and how much because I did my job well.

  • Foxfier,

    Making them feel good that way can be another case of a poorly accomplished goal since it can (as you indicate) leave one with doubts that one need not otherwise have had. It also strikes me as evidence of a fairly patronizing attitude (which runs counter to feminist ideology).

    My dad brought to my attention another goal. Back in the 60’s there were apparently still pockets of ugly racism (concentrated more in the South for obvious reasons) that publicly challenged the ability of non-whites to achieve in some fields.

    Affirmative action did unequivocally demonstrate that those people were just racists trying to pass off hateful stereotypes as facts and therefore it did nullify one form of racist rhetoric. On the other hand, I think that when it continued long after it served that end, it provided an opening for a new way for people with racist ideologies to appeal to others- since the frustrations of impoverished whites could now be exploited on the basis of reverse discrimination.

  • Steve Says Friday, July 31, 2009 A.D. at 3:00 pm
    “My wife went to school with a kid who got a free ride to Boston College on some sort of affirmative action scholarship program. He was an affluent descendant of Spanish royalty”.

    The Jesuit college? Poor guy.

  • Kevin in Texas Says Saturday, August 1, 2009 A.D. at 1:39
    “…it should be noted that most of my students are definitely Caucasian…”.

    If ever they are in Moscow, they should never refer to themselves as Caucasians. The Russian Moscovians consider Caucasians [people from the Caucasus area] as something less than mafiosi.

  • ockraz Says Saturday, August 1, 2009 A.D. at 5:05 pm
    “…It seems to me that by never establishing clear goals, we got policies which were a mess…”

    Welcome to normal conditions in the good ole U.S. of A. It was not that long ago that there were separate facilities for “whites” and “coloreds”. I came by bus from Mexico City to NYC in 1959. In town after Southern town, there such sections, in diners, waiting rooms, and the like.

    It was to throw up.

  • Mention of Thomas Sowell makes me think that Justice Thomas should also be mentioned.

    It is his contention that separate conditions for “blacks” [or Hispanics or Indians] gives the impression that they are like puppy dogs and act alike and think alike. Thomas’ fine phrase is that he looks through the Constitution at the Declaration.

    Even the fact that some blacks are Republicans scandalizes the lefties.

    How dare they! Are they not grateful for what the Democratic party has done for them? [I mean after the Jim Crow period and KKK and Gov. Faubus and the condition of semi-slavery in the South].

  • Foxfier Says Saturday, August 1, 2009 A.D. at 5:41 pm

    “Instead, I still wonder how much of my advancement in the Navy was because I’m a girl, and how much because I did my job well”.

    Of course you did better. You are a girl. Do you not wonder why men are called meat-heads?

    Do you not know that among sellers of relics men’s brains sell for far more than women’s? Because the women’s brains are used.

  • My family is almost completely Irish, although there’s a touch of Alsatian, Dutch, Scot and, gasp, English, but we try not to talk about the English side of the ancestry. 🙂 Basically, we’re from County Mayo, God help us, just up the road from the Shrine of Our Lady of Knock.

    My wife’s family came from Japan. Before we got married, both mother-in-laws felt that the ‘intended’ wasn’t good enough for their child, especially after World War II, you know. My father-in-law’s Silver Star in World War II one-upped my father’s Bronze Star, however, so that settled things down a lot. Oh, that and having the first grandchild on both sides of the family. 🙂

    Our son writes in that he’s other: “Japirish.” One daughter says that she’s “Hapa,” which is Hawaiian for “half” and she’s always on the lookout for other Hapa’s, like speed skater Apollo Ohno and baseball player Travis Ishikawa (SF Giants 1st base). I don’t know what our older daughter puts down. Amongst my wife’s family, there are in-laws who are Danish, Portuguese, Chinese and Haitian.

    My wife was very concerned during their college application process that the kids not mark Asian because that would make it harder to get into certain schools. Back in the 20’s and 30’s, the elite schools had quotas on Jews. Now it’s Asians.

    Before the 2000 census, there was a great outcry about allowing a “race” answer of “mixed.” They claimed that this would dilute the percentage of minorities and they wouldn’t get their fair share of funding, et al. directed on the basis of minority-ness.

    Unfortunately, as much as most people are past the subject (hey, even that man in the White House is part Irish), there are those whose job it is to keep this on the front burner. To sing the old songs and recite the old wrongs. My grandmother could talk about King Billy at the Battle of the Boyne as if it happened yesterday. If you’re in charge of the affirmative action program, would you propose to end it? And if you aren’t and you propose to end it, it’s clear that you’re a bigot, beyond the pale, as it were. There are no conditions under which they would agree that the old prejudices are over, because keeping them alive as a grievance is their source of income. The rest of us get on with our lives and try to stay away from them if possible.

  • Reminds me…. my grandma was about as racist as they came– class-ist, too. She didn’t like anyone who wasn’t well-raised Scottish, and a good, old, solid Protestant. If you were rude enough to bring it up, she’d recite how horrible they were!

    But she married a guy who was English with some Indian…her sons married Basque, English, Italian and Irish, all the girls Catholic (worse yet, the odd numbered ones became various flavors of Bible church)

    She doted on my Godfather– Basque– and she did cooking classes for 4H for years. Over half of the 4H cooking girls were Mexican, often with little English. ENDLESS patience with the kids, and she was one of the fairest reporters that the newspaper ever had.

    I’d gladly trade a dozen folks obsessed with how fair they are for one “racist” like her– EVERYONE was an exception to the rule, and if she liked you, she’d walk through fire for you. Might sigh and fuss the whole time, but woe unto him who thought that meant she was giving up.

  • Heh.

    Yeah, here I am 50% Mexican-American, 25% pure County Cork Irish, and 25% mixed Irish-Scottish-English-who-knows-what-they-were-disreputable-enough, but of course I ended up with the English last name. 😉

    Takes a little edge off any Irish-inspired ranting against the bloody English, and how can I object when my paternal grandfather (a mid-life convert) was one of the mildest, kindest men I’ve ever known.

  • Foxfier,

    Probably not too much. The Navy’s pretty good about advancing people who deserve more responsibility. I’d say you should give yourself a pat on the back for all your hard work!

  • I went to college in the ’70s, a private college for women. At the time I had no doubts that my acceptance was based on my grades and test scores. (Ah, the confidence of youth!) Looking back, I sometimes wonder if I was accepted primarily because I was Mexican-American.

    College was where I discovered that to some Anglos (especially liberal academics) we really did all look alike. I remember the creative writing professor who scolded me because I never wrote any gritty stories set in “the barrio.”Excuse me — I’m a girl of the sheltered suburbs and my native language is English.

  • I had a roommate from Chicago in College who was first generation American. His family had been illegals from Mexico, before becoming naturalized citizens. He complained to me that his advisors kept trying to push Mexican related courses on him. All he wanted to do was to become an architect and lead the good life here in the US. To his advisors he was merely an affirmative action Hispanic, instead of the Pedro I came to know who had a wicked sense of humor, a keen mind and a drive to succeed.

  • Sorry, Gabriel Austin; I’ve been out of the loop.
    There are a number of good lyrics sites; I googled the song and picked the top listing:
    From what I recall it’s accurate–the song, as you can see from the English translation, is pretty nonsensical.
    Wikipedia, incidentally, has an entry on the song that is kind of interestng.
    And sorry, I’m afraid I’ve never heard the parody. I’ll have to look it up.

  • Oooh, if you enjoy singing La Bamba, you might like this one:

    Tunak Tunak Tun. (Believe it or not, it’s a love song….)

Colleges for Catholics (and Catholic Colleges)

Monday, April 27, AD 2009

Graduations are just around the corner, and I would assume that most high school seniors heading on to college next year have already picked their schools and are now navigating the treacherous waters of financial aid forms. However, ’tis the season, and with Catholic colleges somewhat in the news at the moment (and the realization that despite my thinking of myself as recently down from college I am in fact eight years out — with my eldest daughter likely heading off to college herself in eleven years) I thought it might be an appropriate time to assess the practicalities of Catholic higher education — or more properly, of higher education for Catholics.

In our social circle, I know a number of parents who proclaim that no child of theirs shall ever go to any but one of 3-5 approved, orthodox Catholic colleges. (The contents of these lists vary slightly depending on the speaker, but Thomas Aquinas, Steubenville, Ave Maria, Christendom, University of Dallas and Benedictine are names one hears often.) I find myself less of one mind on the question, in part because my wife and I both actually went to Steubenville (class of ’01). My goal here is not to advocate one specific course as the only wise one for serious Catholics, but to lay out the advantages and disadvantages of all. I think there are basically two sets of concerns that parents have in these discussions, moral and academic. I shall begin with the moral.

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24 Responses to Colleges for Catholics (and Catholic Colleges)

  • A good post, but you might want to make it clear that the “orthodox” college list refers to Benedictine College in Atchison, Kans. and not Benedictine University in Lisle, Ill.

    If a specifically “orthodox” Catholic college or university is out of the question due to cost, lack of appropriate course offerings or other factors, the next best alternative might be to choose a secular school with a top-notch Newman Center like that of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. (Don can vouch for this.) I believe a secular school with a really good Newman Center is preferable to a “Catholic in name only” school when it comes to faith formation and support.

    If keeping your child away from temptation is a concern, you might try sending them to a local junior college for a year or two (keeping them at home) and then allowing them to transfer to the state university for the last two years. If they enroll as juniors, they will usually not be obligated to live on campus, and may be able to live in an off-campus apartment with like-minded roommates (which, perhaps, the Newman Center might be able to help them find).

  • I second the U of I at Urbana-Champaign! Its where my husband converted from atheist to Catholic. He was always impressed by the “island of Faith” in the middle of the college culture which he never considered until grad school.

  • Elaine and Karen are right! A bright spot in my seven year sojourn at the U Of I was the Newman Center. From the packed Saurday midnight masses to the activities for undergrads and grads, the Newman Center was a beacon for Catholic students in Chambana! One of my sons is planning on attending there, and I think he has made an excellent choice!

  • And so, for instance, we had a class on the French Revolution by one professor which was so shoddy in its scholarship that I’d been specifically warned not to take it by my advisor, and yet it was defended by many who claimed for it the virtue of being a specifically Catholic take on the topic.

    My wife and I also took that class, although without forewarning. Certain quotes from the professor are still running jokes in our house, and it was one of the worst classes I’ve ever taken. Attending a ‘secular’ grad school now with graduates from a wide range of schools, I am leaning more towards “you are only allowed to attend these schools!” parental authoritarianism, although I think it depends on the child. I certainly have concerns about academic excellence, and Steubenville was very hit and miss. But I think there is value in living in a distinctively Catholic community for a period of several years, and conversations with siblings, classmates, and co-workers suggest the undergrad campus experience at many colleges is hostile intellectually and socially to practicing Catholicism. I don’t think most seventeen and eighteen year-olds are well-equipped to deal well with those types of tensions, although some are.

    Catholic communities also have their downsides; Steubenville could be fairly insular. In the end, though, I think I left a better person and a better Catholic than I would have at another college. That, more than any other reason, is why I would at least recommend my child attend a Catholic college.

  • And if they want to major in something outside the liberal arts?

    Or if they want to spend (or borrow) an amount of money that is rational and commensurate with their likely earning power, given their choice of major, and their future ability to pay back borrowed funds? (I read this past week that only about 30% of college bound young adults and/or their parents consider future earning power when weighing how much to pay for college, something that blows me away in its irresponsibility)

    There’s a real moral cost to incurring a huge debt at a young age. There’s a real moral cost to expecting your PARENTS to pay an enormous amount of money for college.

  • I’d suggest Belmont Abbey College in NC (which also has many scholarship and financial aid options.) But an orthodox Catholic college is no guarantor that the individual student won’t find plenty of occasions of sin or will still be a practicing Catholic by graduation. I went to public college and U myself and can vouch for the success of good campus ministry programs.

    For a student who is a bit immature or unreliable, I’d recommend any public college or university within easy commuting distance while living at home, at least for the first two years.

  • For some reason, I’m just not sold on the “orthodox” Catholic colleges. I think Brendan does a good job of laying out some of the things I’m concerned about.

    I’ve got no problem encouraging my kids to go somewhere like the University of Virginia, where I know they will have access to the Dominicans at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. I’ve also heard that Texas A&M has a very solid Newman Center.

  • At one college I looked at, the majority of the history courses (History was my original intended major, though I eventually switched to Classics at Steubenville) were cross-listed offerings from the Womens’ Studies, Afrocentric or GLTB studies departments.

    I know your type, you didn’t go to that school because you’re a sexist racist heterosexist! Shame on you!

  • Excellent post. All good things to consider when Bubba and his sisters are of age for college. Bearing raises a good point on cost vs. potential earning power. Another thought that comes to mind is whether or not the pursued degree is vocational training or not.

    My wife and I are a mixed bag. She attended Steubenville with both Mr. & Mrs. Darwin. I would say she benefited both from a vocational standpoint as well as from the Catholic culture. In fact, she thrived there. I, on the other hand, probably wouldn’t have thrived. I, too, would have been rather irritated by some of the nanny-state aspects of the school. Secondly, I don’t know if any of these orthodox Catholic colleges and universities would have had course studies that fit my interests and career goals (electrical engineer). Many, if not all, of these schools are liberal arts colleges where engineering is an after thought, if it even exists.

    Lastly, I will personally vouch for Texas A&M’s Newman Center. Bishop Aymond (as well as his predecessor Bishop McCarthy) make it a point to assign some of the best priests to this parish. Mass on weekends is packed. Daily Mass had close to 200 attendees (10 years ago), not sure about it now. It’s a vibrant ministry that takes advantage of the rather conservative climate at Texas A&M as well as the university’s roots and emphasis on tradition.

    There are many state-run colleges and universities out there with excellent Newman programs. Visit them during your college visits. Talk to the pastoral team. Feel them out to see if the Catholic faith is authentically taught to the students.

    Big Tex
    Fightin’ Texas Aggie Class of ’99 Whoop!

  • I may send my kids to leave with their grandparents in Virginia or their grandparents in Texas for a year after they graduate from high school so they can get in-state tuition at UVa or Texas A&M.

    I see very little downside to their attending UVa. But there are definite trade-offs to their attending A&M. On the one hand, the solid Newman Center at the school is an attractive attribute. But, on the other hand, THEY’LL BE AGGIES! Yuck!


    Baylor University ’90
    University of Virginia School of Law ’93

  • Obviously, “leave” should be “live”. Even people with real degrees from real schools make mistakes, I suppose (it’s not just Aggies).

  • It’s my understanding that A&M has the record for vocations of any college in the US. All of the A&M grads I know are good Catholics.

    Having said that, it’s a local school, Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula or Christendom College at this point for little Abigail.

  • Jay

    As an Aggie class of 02 and of 09, I can assure you that your children will have a great time and be able to plug into a good Catholic community!!

    Have them email or you email me at any time – I am very familiar with many aspects.

  • Jonathan,

    Thanks, but we still have several years before my kids will be taking that next step. My oldest just turned 7, so we’re a good decade away.

    And for all my good-natured poking of the Ags, my grandfather, my uncle, my aunt, and my cousin all attended A&M. So I do have a little Aggie blood in me. The rest of the family (immediate as well as extended), however, are all pretty much Baylor grads.

  • Fulton Sheen told parents: “Send your children to a secular university, where they will have to defend their faith. Do not send them to a Catholic college, where they will lose it”.

  • Baylor… no comment. 😉

  • Gabriel Austin: I went to Marquette and while it is true I lost my faith there, I wasn’t trying very hard to keep it. My theology classes weren’t terribly inspiring and basketball seemed to be the school’s true faith. But then, I wasn’t seeking out the believing Catholics were were undoubtably present.

    I have a doctor friend who graduated from MU the year after me. He was serious about his faith and his experience of MU was much different than mine was. In college, I would have thought him a “dork” and passed him up for the hip “bad boys” drinking beer and shooting pool in the campus pubs.

    There’s a reason I never married – I had very poor judgement as a young woman and made many bad choices. (And considering the men I dated, I am thankful that I never tied the knot, because my life would have been miserable.) I can’t really blame the environment, because other people in the same environment had better experiences and more sense. Ah, live and learn,….,

  • I attended a big state university (the one that makes it now impossible to countenance sending the Offspringen to A&M), with a campus parish that, at the time, was pretty far from orthodox and had a pastor who was very far off the reservation, and was actually the first person ever in my life to offer me marijuana. So it does sound like every Catholic parent’s nightmare, true.

    But … I was young, newly converted to Catholicism, and quite naive. I didn’t know about the highly questionable activities of our priest until I was nearly ready to graduate, and in fact he helped me greatly with my biggest spiritual problem of anger (anger was a problem with him too, and he was very familiar with the temptations and self-justifications). In the department I was majoring in, several of the most respected professors were committed Catholics, one of whom gave me very direct and solid advice on maintaining intellectual integrity in the context of faith. While the memory of the things done during Masses make me cringe now, years later, at the time I was too new a Catholic to know better, and I made some good and very orthodox friends at the parish–one of whom I still see frequently at my current parish–who nudged me gently towards orthodoxy in doctrine and practice. In the end, I came out of college with my faith in as good a shape as, I think, a parent could reasonably want.

    This isn’t meant to be argument by anecdote, but to suggest that the kind of company a child gravitates toward will most likely determine what kind of faith she leaves college with, particularly at a big enough campus that she can choose her company easily. There are good and bad Catholics, studiers, and partiers on every campus.

  • Darwin, this is such and important conversation and I thank you for writing. It hits home for us as our two oldest are at Notre Dame and a third one prepares to enter senior year (read agonizing-about-colleges-year) at home. Helping them make a decision–and yet letting them make it–seems to be the thing to do. Easy to say, very difficult thing to do. It takes prayer.

  • I agree with Big Tex and can confirm Jay’s perception of Texas A&M. They are SOLID. I have even adopted the Texas A&M football team as my own (Arizona and Hawaii being the other two) to replace Notre Dame.

    I have visited the campus and yes Big Tex, they still have about 100-200 attend daily Mass. Matt McDonald is correct about the vocations, they are by far above the rest when it comes to answering God’s call.

    Marcel, of Aggie Catholics blog, is the director at the Newman Center and he has a full staff of 24, yes, 24 people on the payroll to work that wonderful apostolate.

    I even met Bishop Aymond and he is orthodox and deeply committed to Texas A&M’s mission towards their thriving Catholic community. In fact, Bishop Aymond is applying the very same template at very liberal University of Texas in Austin and is reaping excellent rewards.

    As far as for me, I nearly lost my faith at the University of Arizona. They’re a mix bag. They have an excellent social program, but as far as orthodoxy is concerned, the priests wear tie-dye shirts and they like to be called by their first name without the ‘father’ in front of their name.

  • Interesting post. Obviously I see the positive social aspect of a protective Catholic environment. I had not really considered the potential negatives of a “too Catholic” education.

    I have a few years to deliberate for my kids, but today, I am leaning towards a very good high school education (likely home schooling) followed by the first two years at community college while living at home. The last two years at a relatively close-to-home public university with a good Newman Center. And probably working part time to assist with tuition and rent and groceries (whether that be an apartment of their own, or still at home).

    Then, of course, on to seminary! 😉

    Seriously though, that “full contact climate of dorm life” is, in my opinion, dangerous and totally unnecessary. The idea that kids should be sent halfway across the country to be independent doesn’t jive with me. It’s fun, but it’s not real life. If college is training for adulthood, they should be studying hard, working, and learning lots of practical life skills from their parents, and receiving guidance and counsel when dating a potential spouse. Their solid high school education combined with discussion around the dinner table and with fellow Catholic students will help them to withstand the inevitable challenges to our faith and world view.

    That will allow me to help my sons make the transition into manhood, and save tens (hundreds?) of thousands of dollars in the process. If there was a perfect Catholic university within an hour of home and it cost about the same, I’d consider it. But, in my opinion, the “college experience” is overrated, and a good student can learn what he needs to know anywhere, if he’s been taught to do the research and think independently. Besides, most of us need graduate degrees or professional designations to really get ahead. At that level, the quality of the program matters a lot more. For undergad, a BS is a BS is a BS.

    By the way, I would also be fully supportive of trade school or military service after high school. As homeschoolers often say, we’re trying to get them into heaven, not Harvard.

  • I somewhat a agree with Fulton Sheen. I lived a fairly insular Catholic life until I went to college…in the Bible belt. It was an amazing learning experience to have to suddenly defend my faith.

    That being said, I think it really comes down to the child. If they go into any college a strong Catholic and with a strong sense of self, it will be very hard to shake them no matter what they are exposed to. If they are luke-warm in their faith or strongly dependent on the approval of others for their sense of self they will have more problems.

    I partied some at my secular college, but at the same time I was very sure about my personal moral limits and stuck to them. At the same time, my B.A. in religious studies gave me a better understanding of my Catholic faith than 12 years of Catholic school, and there were very few practicing much less orthodox Catholics around and the Newman Center consisted of only about 15 students.

  • My husband went to an Orthodox Catholic U. I went to a formerly protestant secular U. He had protective parents. I had relatively liberal ones. He’s a rule breaker, I’m a rule abider–but the bottom line is that we both got in trouble in college.

    Is it temperament? Is it environment? Is it education? Lack of support? Or just sin? No one is impervious to sin and it can happen anywhere, especially when there is a lot of idle time.

    More and more I’m thinking along the lines of State school, live at home, work to pay for it. Gain responsibility while you get your education. Who’s to say kids get to have this uninterrupted four years of complete self orientation? It’s not preparation for real life, and maybe it sets us up for an attitude of entitlement later in life.

  • The family is on vacation at the moment, so although I’ve enjoyed following the comments I havent’ been able to participate as much as I might have liked. However, one toss out thought:

    I think I’m probably more in favor of the “going away to college” experience than most posting here. But then, I’m thinking of it in the context in which I experienced it: I went through Steubenville on a pretty lean budget, paying via scholarships, work, and a bank account that my grandparents had left me for college expenses. If I’d lost my merit scholarships, I would have had to fill in with debt instead.

    So while I enjoyed (and to be honest had been very restive for) the chance to get some independence, it was a pretty sober independence — not the kind of “here’s some more cash from Mom and Dad, make sure you have a good time on spring break in Cancun” kind of existence that some of my coworkers seem to be financing.

Save the Honors for Scholars

Friday, March 27, AD 2009

On the general outlines of the Obama-honored-by-Notre-Dame fraucus, there can be little question. It’s fairly obvious that this was a bad move on the part of the Notre Dame University leadership, especially when they already had a precedent to follow in that they had not had Clinton — another pro-abortion non-Catholic president who had been a law school hot-shot — as a commencement speaker. It’s fairly obvious this will be seen, not as an opportunity for dialogue, but as the Catholic intellectual establishment endorsing Obama. It’s fairly obvious that Notre Dame will not back down at this point, and to be honest this is very much in keeping with the general tenor of Notre Dame over the last 30 years or so, so that’s hardly a surprise either. It’s generally agreed that Notre Dame is the most elite Catholic college in the US, and also generally understood that the question of whether it is its Catholicism or its elite status that is its controlling characteristic is undecided.

However, there’s a wider question at play here which is, I think, worth considering as regards what academia is and ought to be. It’s become quite common for colleges and universities to bring in commencement speakers who have been successful in the wider world: politicans, CEOs, actors, people well known for their work at non-profits, etc.

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12 Responses to Save the Honors for Scholars

  • Well written.

    I agree that Reagan and the two Bush’s along with Obama should not receive an honorary degree. Especially when it has almost nothing to do with their own personal histories and experiences.

  • “It’s generally agreed that Notre Dame is the most elite Catholic college in the US”- I think some folks in Georgetown might disagree with you on that one. Oh wait though, they’re Jesuits so they don’t matter.

  • I think another reason why outside speakers are invited to give commencement addresses is that the vast majority of students are not continuing in academia. The commencement speaker, who presumably has been successful in some pursuit, is supposed to give them advice in navigating the outside world. I suppose the honorary degrees have been added along the way as a sweetener, although they’ve always struck me as a faintly ridiculous.

    John Schwenkler made a somewhat similar point the other day, although he was more focused on exemplars of the faith for Catholic universities, rather than academics. I thought it was interesting fwiw:

    My own inclination is actually to say that the standard should be really high: only individuals who’ve contributed in pretty radical ways to the life of the Church should be given honors like this one. That this means that pretty much no national politician would clear the bar is, I think, one of such a proposal’s very best effects. There are countless people who teach, write books, feed the hungry, aid the sick, and otherwise do the real work of advocating for God’s justice who deserve an honorary doctorate more than Barack Obama does; that most such people are not presently famous is all the more reason to single them out.


  • I think I agree, or at least I would choose scholars over politicians were I in the position of choosing commencement speakers. Of course, I would probably choose obscure postmodern philosophers, and they have a history of provoking opposition and outrage. In 1992, Cambridge gave Jacques Derrida an honorary degree. Protest from philosophers opposed to deconstruction ensued. They wrote a letter to the London Times urging faculty to vote against the honor.

  • Kyle Cupp

    I agree with the fact that honorary degrees should be given to academics (though, one could say Obama had an academic career, of sorts, as did and do many politicians, so the distinction is not as easy as we would like). But more than that, save for extraordinary circumstances, I don’t think honorary degrees should be given. I don’t like the practice. But since it is the norm, and I am not the one in charge, I understand why they are given, and given to politicians.

  • Giving honorary degrees to anyone who speaks at a commencement would be like conferring the title of “honorary President” on anyone who makes an official appearance at the White House, or “honorary Congressman” on someone who testifies before Congress or one of its committees. It is silly and superflous (which is probably one reason Stephen Colbert makes such a big deal of his honorary degree from Knox College).

    If the Obama commencement invitation hadn’t come with an honorary degree, it might have lessened the outrage among (orthodox) Catholics somewhat, but probably wouldn’t have eliminated it entirely.

    Did Mr. Clinton never speak at Notre Dame because they didn’t invite him, or because he never accepted the invitation? If ND does have a tradition of inviting new presidents I assume Clinton was invited but didn’t accept.

  • Actually, John Henry, (as you are probably aware), Notre Dame already has an award called the Laetare Medal that fits the criteria you cite (intended for someone who has contributed significantly to the life of the Church).

  • Kyle,

    It doesn’t strike me as surprising that a good university’s choices of whom to honor would make some people mad — though in this ND case I think it’s the university rather than those who are objecting that is in the wrong.


    Agreed. Passing out honorary degrees like party favors does pretty much rob them of any meaning. One would think that if a university thought its degrees worth of some estimation, they would only rarely give them out to those who had not earned them in the traditional fashion.

    (It’s true, as you point out, that most politicians have had an academic career in the sense of earning an undergraduate degree and either a law degree or an MBA, but I think we’d probably agree that’s not usually an “academic career” deserving of any degrees other than the ones actually earned already.)


    Perhaps ND can honor Stephen Colbert for his leadership next year…

  • Jose,

    That was pretty funny. :~)

  • With apologies (of sorts) to Rush Limbaugh, I offer the first of Elaine’s As Of Yet Undetermined Number of Undeniable Truths:

    When it comes to Catholic faith formation, a secular university with a well-staffed, active and orthodox Newman Center is preferable to a “Catholic in name only” private university. (It’s also a lot more affordable.)

    My daughter isn’t in the college or university market yet — probably won’t be for a while due to her disability — but I would, on this grounds alone, choose to send her to the U of I Champaign over Notre Dame, Loyola, DePaul, et al. In fact I would argue that UIUC may be one of the best Catholic colleges in Illinois, and it’s not even Catholic!

  • Plus, as Don can attest, St. John’s Chapel can hold its own in architectural wow power, even if not in size, with ND’s Sacred Heart Basilica.

Political Philosophy or Ideology?

Saturday, February 14, AD 2009

While we’re discussing libertarianism and its derivations, Randy Barnett at The Volokh Conspiracy recently flagged a post by a libertarian that I found interesting:

I’ve always found libertarianism to be an attractive political philospohy. But…the libertarian perspective has a couple of traps. The trap Barnett describes is a particularly tough one to get out of: once seduced by a libertarian idea, like “goods and services are produced & distributed more effectively when markets are not interefered with by coercive agents like government”, its apparently obvious correctness turns it into a sort of semantic stop sign.

I went through a phase where if, say, education or healthcare policy came up in conversation, I’d say “Markets! Markets markets markets! MARKETS!” I found these conversations astonishingly unproductive, but I didn’t think to blame myself.

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