The Common Room: FLDS November 22

Please read this: The Common Room: FLDS November 22. I hope you have been following the Common Room commentary on the FLDS case.

As an aside, UH Professor Meda Chesney-Lind and other experts appeared on an Olelo TV broadcast of a Hawaii Senate informational briefing on the overrepresentation of aboriginal Hawaiians in Hawaii prisons. I did not sit through the entire broadcast. None of the experts who spoke in the interval which I saw mentioned the role of compulsory attendance statutes in generating social maladjustment. Compulsory attendance statutes inflict the same trauma as that anticipated by the Headmistress/Zookeeper, to a degree determined largely by the length of the separation from family (shorter is better), the degree of difference between parents' culture and academic culture (closer is better), and by the age of the child (older is better).


Vast and Malign

John Hinderaker at Powerline asks: "how many other "educators" share Ayers' perspective and values, but have never bombed anything and don't happen to be friends with the President-elect? That number is huge. No one is tracking their influence on our youth, but isn't it obvious that the influence of leftists in our public and private schools is both vast and malign?"

To some of us, yes. Beyond the impact of State-worshipful Professors of Education and their disciples in government-operated K-12 schools, the phrase "vast and malign" describes the entire apparatus and impact which compulsory attandance statutes and tax subsidies generate.


On the Bright Side (Updated)

Politicians want to get elected. They also want to get reelected. This second consideration imposes limits on their departures from the mean voter position, even when, as in the case of President-elect Obama and the current Congressional Democrats, they have a mendacious press covering (for) them. President Obama may initiate beneficial changes in some policies, from political considerations, out of genuine sympathy, or out of ideological motivation.

Where might President Obama improve on current US policy? Below, I offer a few wild guesses, and fond hopes.

US interests would be served by a greater distance between US policy and Israel. So also may Israeli interests be better served. Opponents of the welfare state understand the argument that welfare is a trap, that welfare damages recipients. This applies to foreign aid, including military and political support for Israel.
Update: Not to be...The Dear Leader does not understand "distance".

A phased stand-down from the war on drugs. Please. The current policy fills prisons with non-violent "criminals" who have done no more harm to themselves or to others than have the patrons of the corner bar. The current policy corrupts law enforcement and misdirects law-enforcement resources. The current policy enriches opponents of friendly governments in Afganistan, and Columbia. I see no indication that President Obama will promote a relaxation of drug prohibition, but he has far fewer ties to the social conservatives who support drug prohibition.

Immigration lowers the price which employers must pay for labor. The Wall Street Journal and large employers support open borders. Public sector unions (teachers and social workers) benefit from the work created by the younger immigrant population. Competition with cheap immigrant labor harms most the people at the bottom of the income ladder. Before the advent of widespread public-sector unionization, Democrats favored restrictions on immigration. How President Obama will weigh these and other considerations, he alone knows.

President Obama went to Punahou, an elite independent school (their Math program stinks). Current policy in most US States restricts parents' options for the use of the taxpayers' pre-college education subsidy to schools operated by dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel. Political control of school harms most the children of the least politicaly adept parents. American Black voters supported Obama's candidacy. How will he weigh their support against the support of public sector unions? He alone knows. Most likely, he would prefer to spend a lot of money in a vain show of concern, but this option may not be available, if tax revenues fall.

What's In Store

President Obama will fail.

This prediction takes no insight at all. President McCain would have failed. Although socialism fails more spectacularly the more thoroughly politicians implement it, and President Obama and the Democratic Congress will aggregate more resources and authority into Federal hands than would have a President McCain, a quite spectacular failure will happen in the next four to eight years, guaranteed. I refer to the impending bankruptcy of entitlement programs and private pensions. President Bush attempted to address a part of this problem with his proposal to privatize part of Social Security. The Democrats in Congress, who prefer to issue IOUs to the Social Security Administration and use FICA revenues as additional discretionary (their discretion) funds, scuttled this effort. The gap between FICA and other tax receipts, on the one hand, and Medicare, Social Security, and other Federal obligations, on the other, will grow. The first baby boomers (post-WWII births) turn 65 in 2010.

The Federal government assumed partial responsibility for private pensions, with tax exemptions for company-funded pensions and retirees' medical care. Companies found it cheaper to purchase labor with promises of payment in the future than to pay for labor out of current revenues. Like politicians, they made more promises than they can keep. Bet on it: politicians will commit tax revenues in support of underfunded pension obligations for large companies like United Airlines (already happened), GM, Ford, and other dying giants.

What do you do when you have made more promises than you can keep? You have no choice. You break some of them. In this case, the default will come in two forms: direct and indirect. The direct default will come in at least two models: a legally-mandated gradual rise in the age at which one can collect benefits (insurance company executives would have gone to prison for this 50 years ago) and reductions in the care for which the government will pay. The indirect default will take the form of inflation. The government will keep its dollar-denominated promises in inflated, devalued, dollars.

The best outcome which voters could ever have expected was transparency: an actuary, accountant, or market-oriented economist as President (or some politician who would take actuarial advice seriously) and a majority in Congress of the same orientation. Instead we got a President Obama, Senate President Biden, Majority Leader Reid, and House Speaker Pelosi, who either (a) suffer severe delusions about the resources available to the State or (b) know better and hold office for the graft they can skim from the system as it falls around them.

My advice? Plant a garden and work off the books.


Corruption as naive socialism

It's official: a majority of Americans are socialist.

An ancient Chinese curse goes: "May your children live in interesting times." The next four or eight years will be...interesting.

After the fall of the Evil Empire, a few journalists located and interviewed geriatric American Stalinists who defended the cause regardless of the abundant evidence of failure. They were not alone. The Soviet leadership needed 70 years of failed 5-year plans to conclude that socialism did not work, and then they followed the Harvard economist Jeffrey Sachhs' advice and botched the transition to a market economy. Journalists report that, even today, some ordinary Russian citizens express approval of Stalin's rule. Indoctrination works and the faith of one's childhood is hard to shake. Whatever your religion, the persistence of other religions must compel you to recognize that intelligent people can maintain delusional beliefs against contrary evidence for decades.

Here we are, as of 2008-November-5, facing a corrupt socialist as President-elect. How long will the delusion, that we can prosper by picking each others' pockets, last? I cannot see how Congressmen who pad appropriation bills with earmarks can believe that their work benefits ordinary taxpayers, but so long as voters elect the most promising politicians, politicians must continually expand the role of the State. Naive and/or mendacious journalists helped create this mess, but I blame another villain. Thanks to the State-monopoly school system, Americans learned nothing from the collapse of communism.

Console yourself with these words of wisdom from H. L. Mencken: "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard."

I'm gonna plant something edible, and buy a couple of guns before the law changes.

Cute. The spell checker allows "gonna".


The Argument, continued (more)

Dear Sir,

Perhaps I should accept as much agreement as we have achieved and leave it at that. You have approved homeschooling when parents homeschool in the belief that they can provide a better education than can standard schools. You accept the legality of homeschooling. You see vouchers as offering an escape from wretched inner-city schools.

This discussion suffers from a lack of definition. "Education" has no simple definition which accords with normal use. In Hawaii, "homeschool" has an operational definition: legally, whatever parents do with their children after they file an application to homeschool and withdraw their children from school, subject to the condition that no court finds them (parents) guilty of educational neglect. I tutored a Korean immigrant child from third through sixth grade and continued to advise him after. His parents withdrew him from school after seventh grade and homeschooled him. This meant that they went to work and Eugene sat in on university Math classes and studied on his own. He took the GRE (Math) at 16 and got accepted into the graduate program before he turned 17.

To continue our argument...


One reason you have given for your opposition to homeschooling is that you want State-mandated indoctrination (evolution by natural selection, US History) of other people's kids, so it's not a question of whether kids receive indoctrination but of who decides what indoctrination they receive. Given ideological conformity among College of Education professors, successful indoctrination of the entire population seems to me more likely to occur through State intrusion into the education industry than through a hands-off policy.

"The terrifying thing about modern dictatorships is that they are something entirely unprecedented. Their end cannot be foreseen. In the past, every tyranny was sooner or later overthrown, or at least resisted because of 'human nature', which as a matter of course desired liberty. But we cannot be at all certain that human nature is constant. It may be just as possible to produce a breed of men who do not wish for liberty as to produce a breed of hornless cows. The Inquisition failed, but then the Inquisition had not the resources of the modern state. The radio, press censorship, standardized education and the secret police have altered everything. Mass suggestion is a science of the last twenty years, and we do not know how successful it will be." --George Orwell-- Review of Russia under Soviet Rule by N. de Basily" (Essays, George Orwell, Knopf, 2002).

"One has only to to think of the sinister possibilities of the radio, State-controlled education, and so forth, to realize that 'the truth is great and will prevail' is a prayer rather than an axiom." --George Orwell, Review of Power; A New Social Analysis by Bertrand Russell.

The market in education services

"What works?" is an empirical question which only an experiment can answer. Millions of homeschooling parents applying their unique local knowledge of their own children's interests and aptitudes will generate more information than will schools which march all students through a standard curriculum at a uniform pace. You may object that this feature of current schools is not necessary. I see two problems with this objection:
1) The State cannot subsidize education without a definition of "education", and then students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers are bound by this definition.
2) Internal bureaucratic imperatives drive standardization. The uniformity we see is not a coincidence.

The assertion that in homeschooling "you have one or at most two teachers" does not describe many homeschooling situations. Many homeschooling parents hire tutors, or send their kids to classes (Foreign Language, Art, Craft). Expanded legal room to maneuver would widen this range. Legally enforced, the opposition to homeschooling becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy (homeschooling is narrow so it must be restricted).

Market failure

The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality. People do not become more intelligent, better-informed, more altruistic, or more capable (except to the extent that they have access to violence) when they enter the State's employment rolls. Wherever markets fail, governments fail also, except in the few cases where monopolistic control of violence is beneficial (war, crime reduction).
Pareto equilibrium versus Kaldor-Hicks equilibrium? How did this enter the discussion? We were discussing the market as an information-generating mechanism. Absent compulsory attendance laws, homeschooling parents are the free marketplace of ideas.

Education budgets

I do not see the point of using percent of GDP as a measure of education costs. Of course the US could afford to spend more on the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel's schools. We could pour billions down other ratholes as well. Bill Gates undoubtedly spends a smaller fraction of his income on food than I do. Is he therefore malnourished? Basic literacy and numeracy contribute to economic growth. Above this rather low level of education, State support of school is just as likely to be a drag on the economy. Legal treatment of property and capital, transparency (anti-corruption), and the tax system matter more than percent of GDP devoted to education.


You write: "Most of us think that it isn't a particularly bad thing that kids have to get an education...". Under current law, children "have" to attend school. If school is a means to the end of education, since homeschoolers typically outperform conventionally schooled children, both on standardized tests of academic achievement and on measures of social adjustment, why would you not prefer homeschooling?


Compulsory, unpaid labor is slavery. Compulsion and compensation are matters of degree. Compulsory attendance laws require compulsion, obviously. Children, especially very small children, will work their hearts out for the love and approval of parents. Schools cannot match this compensation, and it's very dangerous for them to try. Later, self-directed study is self-motivated and internally rewarded. Compulsion kills motivation, as Einstein observed.

School as an impediment to education

The success of some schools (e.g., magnet schools with voluntary enrollment) does not rebut the generalization that compulsory attendance and the uniform pace and the standard curriculum stifle the development of many kids. The complexity of some jobs in modern society (e.g., engineering, surgery) indicates to me that society would benefit if some kids started specialized training earlier. Did you read that Marvin Minsky comment on school which I linked earlier? Here is another advantage of homeschooling.


The way to teach tolerance of diversity is to tolerate diversity.

Teachers versus parents as taxpayers' agents

Parents are more reliable agents. Raw numbers of abuse cases are not informative. By analogy, more humans die at the hands of other humans than are killed by sharks, but I'd rather walk the length of Kalakaua boulevard at midnight 100 times than swim the mouth of Pearl Harbor at midnight once.

Teacher certification is a joke. It does not screen child molesters and does not certify subject-area competence.


The system generated these corrupt standards and the more resources taxpayers pour into it, the greater the payoff to insiders to corrupt the standards. The most reliable education standard is the parent standard: "do I want my child in that school?"


Have you read any doctoral theses in Education? I have. They are...rhymes with "theses". Whole Language did not fall to criticism from other experts "in the field", it fell to criticism from professors of Psychology and Linguistics with tenured positions in prestigious universities. Pure "argument from authority". The argument was correct, but the authority was all that mattered to the idiots in Colleges of Education.

Justifying homeschooling

Every law on the books is a threat by the State to kidnap (arrest), to assault (subdue), and to forcibly inoculate with HIV (imprison) someone, under specified circumstances. Seems to me, it's the advocates of violence who bear the burden of proof.

This post updated with the observation on the difference between "school" and "education".


The Argument, continued

My comments in italics. Dilan Esper's in bold type.


Your goals do not match your means. I suggest that they are mutually exclusive.

People normally advocate for multiple principles, and since these principles are not restatements of each other, they differ and must inevitably involve trade-offs in some circumstances and occasionally conflict. For example, honesty and compassion are both virtues and do not inevitably conflict, but sometimes they do (what do you say when the Nazis come to your door and ask if you're sheltering a Jew?). That's okay, but "everyone must learn X" and "people should learn to tolerate differences of opinion" seem to me to conflict pretty directly from the start. As I wrote earlier, the way to teach tolerance of diversity is to tolerate diversity.

You wrote: "Look, the cure for indoctrination is to have a diverse educational environment with lots of teachers, not one teacher at home who has no professional certification and thus is LESS likely to be able to avoid indoctrinating the student."

As Milton Friedman once said: "I'm on your side, but you're not". The cure for indoctrination is to have a diverse educational environment, where millions of parents, applying their unique local knowledge of their children's interests and aptitudes, determine for their own children the course, the pace and the method of instruction. Again, homeschooling parents have chosen to homeschool, not to move to Mars. Their children will inevitably encounter others.

That depends. Some parents ensure homeschooled kids socialize with a wide variety of other kids. Other parents have homeschooled kids only socialize with other kids who are homeschooled. And, of course, on the extreme end you have religious groups like the FLDS which actively prevent their kids from interacting with anyone who might disagree with them. But further, you miss my point about indoctrination. If you have a kid who is indoctrinated by teacher A, it's really useful for him to have teachers B, C, D, E, and F, who have different views, and then the next year for him to have teachers G, H, I, J, K, and L. At homeschooling you only have one or at the most two teachers, and there is therefore a much greater chance of successful indoctrination. Indeed, one reason some people homeschool is precisely because they WANT to indoctrinate their kids.

Further, as I previously observed, your preferred means do not yield your stated ends. Laws in every US State compel attendance at school, yet the American public does not exhibit a high level of scientific or historical knowledge. As an aside, here, evolutionary arguments apply directly to economic policy. I have not read Herbert Spencer, but I have read that "progressive" (i.e., socialist) critics misrepresented his position. This would not be the first nor the last time that has happened. Unless you approve waste and fraud, you should welcome the institutional evolution which competitive markets promote...
Markets are good at what they do, but there's plenty they don't do well. And Darwinian competition, especially, is a very brutal way of achieving many social goods. Essentially, Pareto-optimality is a heck of a lot better than Kaldor-Hicks optimality. In any event, your position is a curious one coming from someone who is defending parents who choose NOT to expose their children to a free marketplace of ideas.
...Society as a whole benefits when inefficient suppliers of education services fail.

Last I looked, no country on the planet spent as much per student-year as the US. Switzerland is the only other country in contention. Further, according to John Gatto, this statistic vastly overstates the Swiss school system's burden on taxpayers, since Switzerland allows apprenticeships after 6th grade.
Those numbers are misleading. You need to look at percent of GDP. We can afford to spend much more than we do, just like other countries do.

All schools which rely on compulsory attendance statutes to generalte their enrollment suck, some more than others. Compulsory, unpaid labor is slavery.
That's an interesting position, but you are never going to get any traction with it outside of extreme libertarianism. Most of us think that it isn't a particularly bad thing that kids have to get an education. In any event, by your definition, homeschooling parents (and other parents who have their kids do any sort of work) are also enslaving their kids. Remember, the 13th Amendment prohibits private slavery, not only governmental slavery. Your argument proves too much.

Students work, unpaid, as window-dressing in a massive make-work program for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel. School is a huge waste of time.
Again, Beverly Hills High School, or Boston Latin, or many other public schools, are not wastes of time.

It does not take 12 years to teach a normal child to read and compute.
Depends. It takes a lot more than 12 years to gain expertise in any complex human endeavor in a modern technological society.

Most vocational training occurs more effectively on the job than in a classtroom. State provicion of History and Civics instruction is a threat to democracy, just as State operation of newspapers would be (is, in totalitarian countries).
Again, this is just not an argument that is going to sell outside of extreme libertarian circles. Lots of non-totalitarian, reasonably democratic countries teach history and civics, and there's all sorts of good reasons why we would want people to have a common base of knowledge on these subjects. I can only imagine how Balkanized society would become if we didn't do this.

The principle-agent problem:

Parents, as a class, are more likely to represent taxpayers' interests than are government employees (or, in a voucher-subsidized competitive market, school employees) as a class, for the reasons I gave earlier. Yes, there are incompetent, indifferent, and/or abusive parents, but there are incompetent, indifferent and/or abusive teachers, so the issue is: which group, in aggregate, yields the greater benefit/cost ratio?

Teachers. They are certified, regulated, evaluated, supervised, and accountable to parents and taxpayers. Parents, in contrast, are very hard to regulate, because of entirely correct and understandable concerns about interfering in the parent-child relationship. To pick a nice example of this, very few teachers have been caught sexually abusing elementary school students. However, parents and caretakers who are close relatives are responsible for the vast majority of sexual abuse of elementary school-age children. Why? Because a teacher who did that is much easier to detect and prosecute.

Considering the superior performance of homeschoolers, the wretched performance of conventional schools, and the observed seasonal (i.e., school related) variation in juvenile arrests for assault, drug possession, and drug promotion, and of juvenile hospitalizations for human-induced trauma, I'd say there's no contest. Gandhi opposed compulsory attendance at school. Einstein opposed compulsory attendance at school.
That doesn't mean they were right; also, 21st Century America is different than early 20th Century America or the colonial Raj.

The system's origin in anti-Catholic bigotry, and the role of bigotry in it's survival.

The victims are different (poor and minority kids), but the result is the same. The system imposes enromous costs on people who have least to start with. Currently, wretched instruction in State-monopoly schools and the lost opportunity to learn vocational skills on the job impose lethal (quite literally) costs on poor and minority kids trapped in wretched schools. The systematic institutional lobotomization of bright children of poor minority parents gives mediocre children of high-SES parents an advantage in the contest for admission to elite colleges and professional schools.

We are clearly failing to educate minorities in this country. That's the single best argument for vouchers. I would also note, however, that relatively uneducated urban poor, working class minority parents are the least likely to be able to homeschool their kids successfully. More broadly, though, the fact that we are failing minorities doesn't really connect with the claimed anti-Catholic origins of public schools. You clearly like that talking point, but it doesn't have any modern relevance to our current problems.

Economies of scale

Across the US, the coefficient of correlation(mean district size, $/pupil) is positive. Within States, the coefficient of correlation (%20K+dist, $/pupil), where "%20K+dist" is the fraction of total State enrollment assigned to districts over 20,000 enrollment, is positive. Across the US, within States, the coefficient of correlation (enrollment, $/pupil) is positive in all but three or four States with five or more districts over 20,000 enrollment (or 15,000 enrollment, depending on which year of the Digest of Education Statistics you use).

State level standards are bogus. Some years ago, I took the grades which the Education Trust gave to States for ttheir curriculum standards, converted them to numbers on a 0-to-4 point scale, and computed (EXCEL did the work, actually) the coefficient of correlation between standards and NAEP 8th grade Math composite scores. It is negative.

Teacher standards are bogus. Apply the EXCEL correlation function to the Digest... table on credential requirements. Across the US, the higher the fraction of districts in a State which require a Ed degree or Praxis test for teacher applicants, the worse the State's NAEP 8th grade Math performance.

Look, there are good arguments as to why one could claim that standards that are in place NOW are bogus. That hardly is the same thing as saying that the government could not impose SOME standards that are not bogus. Indeed, you conceded in an earlier e-mail that there is some room for, e.g., testing. So I don't think you really deny that there are probably ways to come up with better standards than we have now.


Professors of Education are not experts. Please read Diane Ravich, Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reform. These are the people who gave us Whole Language reading instruction, discovery methods in Math instruction, portfolio assessment, block scheduling, and countless other lunatic fads.

That's just anti-intellectual claptrap. Look, experts come up with bad things. The Harvard educated US foreign policy establishment came up with the Vietnam War. That doesn't mean that Henry Kissinger and Robert McNamara are idiots who don't know anything about international relations. It's also worth noting that a lot of the criticism of such "fads" also came from other academics in the field. You see, that's how academia works. People hypothesize. They publish. Other academics criticize. We get data. We revise hypotheses. And we lurch forward towards the truth. Now this isn't your beloved Darwinian natural selection, but it is a tradition that is equally as theoretically grounded-- the scientific method. One of the most dangerous ideas to take hold among right wingers and libertarians is the idea that intensive study and expertise is meaningless, that experts should not be believed, and that anyone can do anything as well as an expert can. That's completely bogus. Experts can be wrong, which is why we have a process for correcting error. But expertise is also extremely worthwhile. Indeed, the scientific method, i.e., scholarship, produced the very Darwinian theories that you are enamored with in the economic arena.

In conclusion

I often encounter people who suport compulsory attendance laws with the assertion that "it's important that everyone learn X" (for some X). For some, X is democratic values. For some it's mathematical and scientific literacy or diversity or global citizenship or environmental awareness. What I find strange is that they must see that X varies widely and that I see no reason why they should suppose that their particular X will win the political contest for priority. Also, this compulsion to centralize is either quite explicitly anti-democratic or there is little reason to suppose that the result of aggregation of curriculum decisions and resources would be superior to the aggregate result of millions of individual parents' decisions.

There's still a big difference that you are eliding between requiring people to go to school and centralizing everything. There's a heck of a lot of local control, there are debates about whether there should be more or whether we need more federal and state standards, and there is also a process for opting out through charter schools and a live debate about vouchers. That encompasses a whole spectrum of approaches to the issue of centralization. And establishing that there may be some problem with federal imposition of education policy-- or even state policymaking-- does not prove that we should go to homeschooling. There's plenty of levels where one can place the relevant controls, at varying levels of centralization. You'd have to prove that there is no level where they could be placed that did not result in the claimed harms of centralization before this argument could be used to justify homeschooling.