School Choice and Civics: A Brief Note Inspired by Jonah Goldberg

 

I had the opportunity to watch a live stream of an event hosted by the Fordham Institute, Education 20/20. Jonah Goldberg was one of the two featured speakers. It was great, and I appreciated that Michael Petrelli, who was the moderator, highlighted that the best approach to addressing the issue was persuasion.

Mr. Goldberg mentioned that the private schools in his area (the DMV) are highly progressive in their approach, relying on the Howard Zinn narrative of American history. He noted that “school choice” may not solve the issue of kids not learning civics, tying this issue to the larger Schumpeterian phenomenon of the elites failing to pass along the values that made their position and wealth (capitalism itself) possible.

I wanted to bring up a couple of points that I think may be of interest in the context of what seems to be a contradiction. On the one hand, we want to expand the choices that families have in educating their students, and on the other hand, that we are concerned that too many kids are not learning civics.

First, here’s an excerpt from Corey DeAngelis’s recent work on the outcomes for students in private schools, specifically related to positive civics outcomes:

It’s time we set the record straight. The preponderance of the evidence suggests that private school choice improves test scores, high school graduation rates, tolerance, civic engagement, criminality, racial integration, and public school performance. And, of course, all of these benefits come at a lower cost to the taxpayer.

It supports Mr. Goldberg’s hunch that stronger local ties and local control would actually increase the sense of belonging and sense of gratitude, not to mention the “thickness” of social networks.

Second, I wanted to highlight the work of an organization that is doing exactly what Mr. Goldberg identified as a need in schools and doing it through voluntary, rather than compulsory, means – the Bill of Rights Institute, led by Dr. David Bobb. Their mission, “Educating Individuals about a Free Society,” is focused on supporting middle and high school students, largely in public schools, to read and interpret primary texts, understand both sides of the debate, and have civil and informed conversations. They also do amazing work to educate teachers in founding ideas and documents.

If you are inclined to support an organization that has been dedicated to the importance of civics before it was the latest “sexy” trend in education, you really couldn’t do better than BRI. Also, if you happen to live in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and would like to see one of BRI’s events in action, Dr. Bobb will be speaking at the Bill of Rights Day at Founders Classical Academy in Lewisville, TX.

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There are 18 comments.

  1. Member

    Erin Valdez: Their mission, “Educating Individuals about a Free Society,” is focused on reaching middle and high school students, largely in public schools, to read and interpret primary texts, understand both sides of the debate, and have civil and informed conversations.

    Good topic, for which I thank you.

    I would note, though, that as far as I’ve observed in the past, whenever secondary schools attempt to do the above, they are going to do more indoctrination and less education, and it is probably going to be indoctrination that we won’t like. It’s sort of like the idea of teaching “critical thinking,” which in practice means teaching students to have the same opinions their teachers have. 

    I would rather have more emphasis placed on knowledge of dry, useless facts. That is the way students will learn critical thinking. 

    • #1
    • November 28, 2018 at 11:58 am
    • 4 likes
  2. Coolidge
    Erin Valdez Post author

    I tend to agree with you on this point. I’m a classical educator by background, just for context. However, I’ve had the opportunity to see BRI’s work up close and I think that they do not fall into a ‘right wing’ version of indoctrination — they tend to keep the focus on the original texts and on facilitating informed discussion about them.

    Yes, building knowledge is indeed the best way to actually facilitate deeper thinking, so we’re on the same page!

    • #2
    • November 28, 2018 at 12:09 pm
    • 3 likes
  3. Member

    Thanks for posting this. I raised my kids in the same area as JG, and my daughter went to a private school that is everything a conservative would want for their kids. Randolph-Macon Academy is a military prep school in Front Royal, VA. I volunteered there while Valerie was a student, and got to watch her win five national debate tournaments. She graduated with honors in four AP classes and enough college credits to polish off a degree in three years. She also got her pilot’s license on a school Cessna. R-MA is a fantastic school, not a punishment like some other military schools; they use the Air Force JROTC program because it works. I was so impressed I stayed on as a volunteer for four years, until we moved out of state.

    The teachers I got to know at R-MA were there because they got a lot more freedom and support than public school teachers; even though the salaries are a little lower and the benefits are a lot lower (no union). In public schools the chemistry teachers aren’t allowed to light a Bunsen burner. At R-MA one of the chemistry teachers was leading an afterschool group that made fireworks; they ball-milled their own black powder, and put on displays with star shells at football games.

    • #3
    • November 28, 2018 at 12:14 pm
    • 10 likes
  4. Member

    Let me just relate again how New Zealand instituted school choice and went from the bottom of the western democracies in test scores to just below Singapore and New Zealand. They eliminated the educational bureaucracy all of it and let teachers and parents form boards to run each school independently of other schools. Students could then go to whatever school they wanted. Since New Zealand is a tiny homogenous Anglo Saxon, common law country that can actually agree on content, they required a common core curricula for about 70%, the rest each school could do what they wanted. Apparently some specialized in art, others in music and some science and mixes of all of them. The schools remained public but the money followed student numbers. Schools had to compete for budget by attracting students.

    We’re too big to do that but there are elements we could use. If there were real choice and information about the schools and their staff and curricula parents could choose from a very wide offering of existing and new schools. Similarly, Indian public schools are so useless that even the poorest find private schools or private offering of some courses for pennies a day. They are getting educated for the world economy at a blistering pace.

    Our problem is the educational bureaucracies the schools of education and the way the state and federal government subsidizes them. Choice means getting rid of the educational credentials and the educational bureaucracies .

    The thing about markets is that lots of new institutions fail but the system learns from the failures and moves toward improvement and then adjusts as demand changes.

    The thing about government is that failure does not lead to learning and adjustment, because there is no learning mechanism. Instead, failure leads to special interest build up around the failures because it’s all funded by politics and organized interests that failed.

    Early market failures are inevitable as are loud complaints from the people who helped destroy our educational system.

    • #4
    • November 28, 2018 at 1:29 pm
    • 6 likes
  5. Member

    I Walton (View Comment):
    so they required a common core formats of the curricula

    It would be interesting to know how they kept it to a core. I have served on curriculum committees (long ago) and have watched others at work. After all the interest groups exert their influence, what you usually end up with is a common rind rather than a common core, or in addition to a common core. It sounds like New Zealand did not follow that path. 

    • #5
    • November 28, 2018 at 1:35 pm
    • Like
  6. Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    I Walton (View Comment):
    so they required a common core formats of the curricula

    It would be interesting to know how they kept it to a core. I have served on curriculum committees (long ago) and have watched others at work. After all the interest groups exert their influence, what you usually end up with is a common rind rather than a common core, or in addition to a common core. It sounds like New Zealand did not follow that path.

    They’re tiny and homogenous. I don’t know what’s happened since then.

     In this country we’d have to approach the curricula differently, perhaps not at all centrally. The effort should be to create a true market for education. We have to free education from the government and organized interests. Let schools do what they want, let business, universities, research institutes etc. provide information on what they want and some schools will meet it or they can offer their own. Here, top down government guided cannot work. Only markets can work for anything in the largest most complex most heterogenous country in the history of the world.

     We can have instant access to the best brains and most articulate professors from the best schools with new technology. It’s criminally stupid to leave schools in the corrupt hands of the educational bureaucracy. If the schools are run by teachers and parents they’ll get rid of lousy teachers. Both the good teachers and serious parents know who the good and bad ones are.

    • #6
    • November 28, 2018 at 1:53 pm
    • 3 likes
  7. Coolidge
    Erin Valdez Post author

    While I’m a fan of curriculum as a means of building cultural literacy, I don’t think that mandating it through standards is the way to go in a country as large and diverse as ours. I think it has unintended and disappointing results. Instead, I think that more schools should open (like the Great Hearts Academies, for instance) that show rather than tell families the goodnesss of a core curriculum. It is absolutely no coincidence that they are thriving in one of the most (if not the most) choice-friendly states in the nation. When people see what’s possible, they want it. And if they don’t want it, I’m not interested in the level of government intervention that would lead to compliance. 

    • #7
    • November 28, 2018 at 1:56 pm
    • 1 like
  8. Member

    Erin Valdez (View Comment):

    While I’m a fan of curriculum as a means of building cultural literacy, I don’t think that mandating it through standards is the way to go in a country as large and diverse as ours. I think it has unintended and disappointing results. Instead, I think that more schools should open (like the Great Hearts Academies, for instance) that show rather than tell families the goodnesss of a core curriculum. It is absolutely no coincidence that they are thriving in one of the most (if not the most) choice-friendly states in the nation. When people see what’s possible, they want it. And if they don’t want it, I’m not interested in the level of government intervention that would lead to compliance.

    It would be healthy if a school could pick from a dozen or so core curricula that people have developed and found good. In other words, they shouldn’t have to start from scratch or ignore the accumulated wisdom of those who have gone before. 

    • #8
    • November 28, 2018 at 2:01 pm
    • 1 like
  9. Coolidge
    Erin Valdez Post author

    I think there is a huge opportunity for that right now. Curriculum can be daunting, and having good options or “brands” gives schools the opportunity to focus their efforts on all of the non-academic but still vitally important work of civilizing the next generation.

    • #9
    • November 28, 2018 at 2:05 pm
    • Like
  10. Member

    You cannot effectively run an organization of any type (except maybe a prison) unless you have the ability to exclude seriously disruptive people.

    One major advantage that private schools have is that they can get rid of those who are preventing other students from learning.

    I’ve used the penny in the fusebox analogy in this context.

     

    Also, private schools generally don’t require the same level & type of credentialing for their teachers as do public schools; this should hopefully be of some value in reducing the indoctrination focus, long-term.

    • #10
    • November 28, 2018 at 2:40 pm
    • Like
  11. Member

    I Walton (View Comment):

    Let me just relate again how New Zealand instituted school choice and went from the bottom of the western democracies in test scores to just below Singapore and New Zealand. They eliminated the educational bureaucracy all of it and let teachers and parents form boards to run each school independently of other schools. Students could then go to whatever school they wanted. Since New Zealand is a tiny homogenous Anglo Saxon, common law country that can actually agree on content, they required a common core curricula for about 70%, the rest each school could do what they wanted. Apparently some specialized in art, others in music and some science and mixes of all of them. The schools remained public but the money followed student numbers. Schools had to compete for budget by attracting students.

    We’re too big to do that but there are elements we could use. If there were real choice and information about the schools and their staff and curricula parents could choose from a very wide offering of existing and new schools. Similarly, Indian public schools are so useless that even the poorest find private schools or private offering of some courses for pennies a day. They are getting educated for the world economy at a blistering pace.

    Our problem is the educational bureaucracies the schools of education and the way the state and federal government subsidizes them. Choice means getting rid of the educational credentials and the educational bureaucracies .

    The thing about markets is that lots of new institutions fail but the system learns from the failures and moves toward improvement and then adjusts as demand changes.

    The thing about government is that failure does not lead to learning and adjustment, because there is no learning mechanism. Instead, failure leads to special interest build up around the failures because it’s all funded by politics and organized interests that failed.

    Early market failures are inevitable as are loud complaints from the people who helped destroy our educational system.

    Two other things New Zealand had going for it are remoteness and a love of reading. When I lived in Australia, New Zealand had more bookstores per capita than any other country on Earth.

    They’re also used to doing things for themselves, so the idea of truly preparing the next generation to help themselves really appealed to them.

    My half-brother grew up in New Zealand and has done of all his schooling there.

    • #11
    • November 28, 2018 at 11:38 pm
    • 4 likes
  12. Member

    David Foster (View Comment):
    You cannot effectively run an organization of any type (except maybe a prison) unless you have the ability to exclude seriously disruptive people.

    True. Nothing Truer. 

    If only the real damage (and cost) from disruptive dysfunctional students was publicized…

    • #12
    • November 29, 2018 at 2:28 am
    • 1 like
  13. Member

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    If only the real damage (and cost) from disruptive dysfunctional students was publicized…

    There was actually a quantitative study done of this, showing measurable impact on the future earnings of other students from each disruptive student in the class. Not sure how good the methodology was—I’ll have to see if I can find it.

    • #13
    • November 29, 2018 at 5:45 am
    • 1 like
  14. Member

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Since New Zealand is a tiny homogenous Anglo Saxon, common law country that can actually agree on content, they required a common core curricula for about 70%, the rest each school could do what they wanted.

    New Zealand is 15% Maori. So not so homogeneous. And it isn’t only British among the Europeans by any stretch. 

    I Walton (View Comment):
    We’re too big to do that but there are elements we could use. If there were real choice and information about the schools and their staff and curricula parents could choose from a very wide offering of existing and new schools. Similarly, Indian public schools are so useless that even the poorest find private schools or private offering of some courses for pennies a day. They are getting educated for the world economy at a blistering pace.

    Why would it not work here? The biggest problem and reason for poor educational results in the US has been school district consolidation. One of the reasons Massachusetts gets great educational results despite heavy unionization is that there are tons of school districts. Massachusetts always ranks at the top of the US and is world class in test results.

    Catholic/Anglican schools, IIT, US grad schools is the path Indians seem to take.

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Our problem is the educational bureaucracies the schools of education and the way the state and federal government subsidizes them. Choice means getting rid of the educational credentials and the educational bureaucracies .

    Let the money follow the child and not the child follow the money.

    I Walton (View Comment):
    The thing about markets is that lots of new institutions fail but the system learns from the failures and moves toward improvement and then adjusts as demand changes.

    That’s somehow not very heartening. Failure in education means lives and opportunities.

    I Walton (View Comment):
     In this country we’d have to approach the curricula differently, perhaps not at all centrally. The effort should be to create a true market for education. We have to free education from the government and organized interests. Let schools do what they want, let business, universities, research institutes etc. provide information on what they want and some schools will meet it or they can offer their own. Here, top down government guided cannot work. Only markets can work for anything in the largest most complex most heterogenous country in the history of the world.

    Government is the means of raising the money, so it is a pipe dream to think you are going to get the government out. Also, to think that business, universities, research institutes, etc. are not organized interests is a bit much.

    • #14
    • November 29, 2018 at 6:20 am
    • 1 like
  15. Member

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Erin Valdez (View Comment):

    While I’m a fan of curriculum as a means of building cultural literacy, I don’t think that mandating it through standards is the way to go in a country as large and diverse as ours. I think it has unintended and disappointing results. Instead, I think that more schools should open (like the Great Hearts Academies, for instance) that show rather than tell families the goodnesss of a core curriculum. It is absolutely no coincidence that they are thriving in one of the most (if not the most) choice-friendly states in the nation. When people see what’s possible, they want it. And if they don’t want it, I’m not interested in the level of government intervention that would lead to compliance.

    It would be healthy if a school could pick from a dozen or so core curricula that people have developed and found good. In other words, they shouldn’t have to start from scratch or ignore the accumulated wisdom of those who have gone before.

    Frankly, California sets the standards because the textbooks are written for California schools. You have to get away from the textbooks. 

    • #15
    • November 29, 2018 at 6:24 am
    • Like
  16. Member

    Hang On (View Comment):

    You’re suggesting that markets can’t work for education and that a government monopoly can. And that as the market adjusts some won’t perform better than some of our best schools and therefore some kids will get an inferior education? In contrast to now? Markets adjust forward toward improvement and monopolies adjust backward toward stagnation. Our educational system is a disastrous monopoly that occasionally, where there are parents who pay attention and who are among the educated elite, and willing and able to buy high six figure homes, works quite well. It’s the 90% of the rest of the kids we should be worrying about. The elite already have schools choice although there is a general dumbing down which if there were real choice would vanish for those who want it to. Only markets can work here.

    • #16
    • November 29, 2018 at 8:46 am
    • Like
  17. Member

    I Walton (View Comment):
    Markets adjust forward toward improvement and monopolies adjust backward toward stagnation.

    Nicely put.

    • #17
    • November 29, 2018 at 2:54 pm
    • 2 likes
  18. Member

    David Foster (View Comment):

    Jules PA (View Comment):

    If only the real damage (and cost) from disruptive dysfunctional students was publicized…

    There was actually a quantitative study done of this, showing measurable impact on the future earnings of other students from each disruptive student in the class. Not sure how good the methodology was—I’ll have to see if I can find it.

    from a purely anecdotal experience of 33 years teaching, i am convinced the damage and cost of disruptives is more than inconsequential. but I’d love to see data. 

     

    • #18
    • November 29, 2018 at 3:51 pm
    • 1 like