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Published: Sun, 23 Apr 2017 00:00:00 -0400

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Boujee, Bougie, Bourgie: Who's Appropriating Whose Culture? An Answer in 12 Songs

Fri, 21 Apr 2017 13:45:00 -0400

In order to empower "a culture of controversy prevention," administrators at American University (AU) prohibited the school's Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity from calling its badminton fundraiser "Bad(minton) and Boujee," a pun on the popular Migos song "Bad and Boujee." AU officials told the frat that them using the word boujee might be seen as "appropriating culture." "Which culture?" asks Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post. "Latin? French? Marxist? Urban hip-hop? Maybe their own?" Administrators weren't clear. But as Rampell notes, the term boujee comes from the Latin "burgus," which described a castle or fortified town. This evolved into the French "bourgeois," for people who live in town rather than the countryside. Town dwellers were more likely to engage in commerce and craftsmanship, and so rose over time to achieve middle-class incomes. That's why Karl Marx later used the term to derisively refer to the class that upheld capitalism. Over time, "bourgeois" morphed into a more generic description of middle-class (and eventually upper-middle-class) materialism and obsession with respectability. More recently, "bourgeois" was shortened to the colloquial "bourgie ," alternately spelled "bougie" or "boujee," used disdainfully to describe upper-middle-class or high-end tastes (driving your Prius to Trader Joe's after yoga class, for example). The "boujee" variation is common when referring to middle-class or upwardly mobile blacks, as in the Migos song. That's hardly this spelling's exclusive usage, though, as is evident from its entries in the crowd-sourced slang glossary Urban Dictionary. So, in a way, "boujee" is indeed an appropriation — or rather an appropriation of an appropriation of an appropriation. That's how language works. It's fluid, evolving, constantly taking from other tongues, dialects and usages. Did administrators really consider all this? Probably not, considering their refusal to articulate who was appropriating what from whom and emphasis on "controversy prevention." More likely, they just heard "frat event named after rap song" and decided to act out of that bureaucratic favorite, an abundance of caution. As Freddie de Boer notes on Facebook, the AU situation nicely illustrates how students, regardless of their ideology, "are powerless in the face of a relentless pink police state that renders every unruly impulse anodyne and unchallenging through an architecture of limitless conflict avoidance. Neither the black bloc nor the alt right can possibly defeat the army of chief litigation officers who have machined the controversy-avoidance mechanism to perfection." But back to bourgie. Google defines it as "exhibiting qualities attributed to the middle class, especially pretentiousness or conventionality." Yet the term is used differently in different subcultures—the people and milieu that Ke$ha calls bougie are different than those that the guys of Migos do, to keep in the musical vein. And they're both shades off from the "Bourgie, Bourgie" folks sung about by Gladys Knight and the Pips in their 1980 disco hit, or those conjured in The Submarines 2008 indie-pop "You, Me and the Bourgeoisie," or Discobitch's 2009 "C'est Beau La Bourgeoisie," or Jacques Brel's 1962 "Les Bourgeois," or Prince's 2013 "Da Bourgeoisie." I've heard white Midwesterners use bougie to describe anything associated with hipsters/liberals/The Coastal Elite, and liberal coastal hipsters use it to describe anything that might be quintessentially suburban or "basic." Sometimes bourgie might be a big-ass McMansion, sometimes a pumpkin spice latter, a snotty attitude, a $10 burger, Manuka honey lozenges, Sheryl Sandberg-style feminists, picnicking on a first date, or ordering first-date food that's too fancy. So, yes, the term might mean certain things in American black culture that it doesn't among lower-class white Ohioans, leftist academics, or French techno bands, and vice versa. But whether you spell it bougie or bourgie or boujee, the underlying concept is the same; it's simply that the precise contours of bougie shift b[...]

California Boy Scout Battles Porn Scourge in His Community

Tue, 18 Apr 2017 17:15:00 -0400

In deciding what he wanted to do for his final project, Parker Johnson—a 15 year old Eagle Scout candidate from Fountain View, Calif.—had initially thought of building a sand volleyball court in his local park. Until Johnson became aware of a dangerous new drug epidemic sweeping through his school, affecting his classmates and others close to him. The drug? Pornography. Parker says he was first alerted to the dangers of pornography from social media posts, confirming the scourge through online research and interviews with people damaged by or addicted to erotica. Wanting to make the maximum impact on his community, he abandoned the volleyball court and launched a website to spread the news of what he calls "a silent threat to the health and well-being of children and teenagers." The problem is the website is loaded with blatant factual inaccuracies and pseudoscientific papers scourced from groups of discredited anti-porn fantatics. Most of this misleading or outright wrong information—including the fantastical claim that the $13 billion porn industry dwarfs the $200 billion company, Apple—comes from tbe Utah-based group Fight the New Drug. Fight the New Drug bills itself as a grassroots "movement for love" looking to "raise awareness about the harmful nature of pornography using only facts, science, and personal accounts." The group started in 2009 as a social media enterprise and quickly graduated to anti-porn speechifying and presentations in high schools across Utah. In a 'white paper,' How Porn Affects the Brain Like a Drug, faithfully reposted on Johnson's website, the group lays out its simple message that "to your brain, porn has the same effect as drugs." The same paper claims porn causes a number of other neurological effects associated with drug use, such as an increased tolerance in the user that can only be satisfied by more porn, and withdrawal symptoms when one tries to walk away from the incognito browser window. That paper also includes congressional testimony from Princeton University Prof. Jeffrey Satinover, who describes porn as a "form of heroin 100 times more powerful than before…injected directly to the brain through the eyes." These claims, and many others made by the group have attracted a lot of fire for their lack of scientific rigor or factual accuracy. In 2016, a group of four sex therapists wrote a scathing op-ed in the Salt Lake tribune in response to the group conducting sex education seminars in Utah high schools. In that op-ed the authors point out the leaders and presenters of FTND are not mental health nor sexuality professionals, lack the needed training or expertise to educate students on these issues, and despite their claims of scientific rigor, make comments that are flat-out false. "Drugs introduce chemicals into the brain. There is not a single study that demonstrates what neurochemicals are released in the brain when watching porn, nor that these neurochemicals are any different from those released while eating chocolate or watching football," the op-ed said. Criticism hasn't dampened FTND's sails. Their website boasts of having put on over 400 presentations at schools, and received news coverage from outlets like CNN and NPR. If anything, their movement might be gaining traction. Reason has previously covered the efforts of Utah lawmakers to label porn as a "public health crisis" and even allow "porn addicts" to sue adult websites. Similar legislation has passed in Virginia and South Dakota. Which brings us back to Johnson, who has been taking meetings with school board officials, superintendents, religious leaders, and business owners. Johnson has the endorsement of the chief of police in Fountain View, his website says. All these meetings are part of a broader effort to "begin a conversation about the dangers of pornography," as Johnson puts it. At the same time he is soliciting donations to bring Fight the New Drug to his campus in May, where the group will present their message in person. With civil society—law enforcement and school [...]

Chicago Mayor Threatens Teens' Diplomas Unless They Participate in Approved Post-School Education

Wed, 05 Apr 2017 15:30:00 -0400

Hey, Chicago kids! If you're expecting your high-school diploma, you're going to have to tell your school what you plan to do with it. Oh, and if you're not going to do what the Chicago Public School system wants you to do with your diploma, they might not give you one! The City of Chicago has so ineptly financed itself that it has to tax the crap out of its citizens—literally—just to try to keep its underfunded city employee pensions afloat. It's so dysfunctional that it's the only top-10 city in America that's losing population. Yet, today Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has decided that the failure of teens to map out their post-secondary education future is a big enough problem that city bureaucrats need to get involved. And what they're going to do is such a brilliant example of how disastrous centrally planned governance is. The school system is going to withhold diplomas from graduating high school seniors unless and until they provide the school system information about their post-school plans. And to be very, very clear: This is not a "choose your own post-education adventure." You will choose from one of four government-approved options. If you want a diploma you will be required to provide proof you've been accepted to: A four-year college A community college A branch of the armed services A trade school or program That's it. That's what the City of Chicago has decided your choices for success are after you've graduated high school. Got an entrepreneurial spirit? Go get an official post-secondary stamp of approval with a business degree, kid. Or else it doesn't count. Part of a family-owned business? The city plans to regulate and tax them out of existence anyway. There's an entire list of ways this demand offends the conscience. First and most obvious, it treats people who are becoming adults as though they are wards of the state and withholds a diploma that they've earned unless they provide information to the Chicago Public School system that they have no authority to even ask for. Second, note that how all of these post-school options tie the teen further into environments subject to continued government control and operations even after reaching adulthood. Granted both the colleges and trade schools could be privately operated, but both are heavily dependent on government grants and subject to significant government control. Third, since the demand requires merely acceptance and not actual commitment to attend (at least that's what the reporting is saying now) and community colleges accept pretty much everybody, it's just insulting bureaucratic busywork when all is said and done. They can't take your diploma back if you get accepted into college and then don't attend. And that just makes it all the more offensive. It's paternalistic government nudging designed to socialize and fundamentally trick teens into thinking that this is the sum of all their choices after graduation. Fourth, imagine being a teen and not grasping the busywork "nudging" nature of this demand, concluding post-secondary education is out of reach for you for whatever reason, and believing that you have to join the military in order to get your diploma. And finally, this is clearly a jobs program—but not for these students. It's a jobs program for post-secondary educators and administrators, an attempt to force an increase in demand through this not-so-subtle coercion. Emanuel pretty much said so himself: "Starting with the freshman class, right now in high school in Chicago, by the time they come to graduation they'll have — basically think of it this way — you want to make 14th grade, not high school ... universal in people's educational program," he said. "And what I mean by that is if you graduate you'll have to have a letter of acceptance from a college, a letter of acceptance from a community college or a letter of acceptance from the armed services or a letter of acceptance from a trade, carpenter or electrician." Note that Emanuel is confusing "universal" with "mand[...]

Brickbat: Seeing White

Tue, 04 Apr 2017 04:00:00 -0400

(image) The Los Angeles Unified School District has notified parents at Walter Reed Middle School it will face budget cuts because its student population is too white. Under a 1970s court order dealing with desegregation, schools that are less than 30 percent white get more funding. Officials say the school has been above that level for a couple of years.

Eugene Volokh: Free Speech on Campus

Mon, 03 Apr 2017 10:00:00 -0400

Eugene Volokh has a few things to say about things that aren't supposed to be said. Volokh, a professor of free speech law at U.C.L.A., has seen books banned, professors censored, and the ordinary expression of students stifled on university campuses across the nation.

Volokh believes free speech and open inquiry, once paramount values of higher education, are increasingly jeopardized by restrictive university speech codes. Instead of formally banning speech, speech codes discourage broad categories of human expression. "Hate speech. Harassment. Micro-aggressions," Volokh says. "Often they're not defined. They're just assumed to be bad, assumed they're something we need to ban."

Volokh spoke at Reason Weekend, the annual event held by Reason Foundation.

Edited by Todd Krainin. Cameras by Jim Epstein and Meredith Bragg.

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D.C. Implements Oppressive Licensing for Child Care Workers at Behest of Early Education Advocates

Fri, 31 Mar 2017 16:00:00 -0400

Scientists say that higher education for pre-school child-care workers is a good idea. So of course D.C. is going to make it mandatory that child-care workers get associate's degrees and completely screw over an entire class of lower-skilled workers. Indeed, the argument is literally that lower-skilled workers shouldn't be caring for children because that might mean that their precious, developing brains are not getting stimulated as much as they could be. But rather than passing that information along to parents to decide how much to evaluate the education of their child-care professionals as a priority, D.C. has decided to mandate more training. The consequences are, of course, going to be absolutely awful for some people who are unable to get what the city's demanding. From The Washington Post: [F]or many child-care workers, who are often hired with little more than a high school diploma, returning to school is a difficult, expensive proposition with questionable reward. Many already have more training than comparably paid jobs such as parking lot attendants, hotel clerks, and fast food workers. And unlike most professional fields, prospects are slim that a degree would bring a significantly higher income: a bachelor's degree in early childhood education yields the lowest life-time earnings of any major. Center directors have few resources to tap if they want to reward their better-educated employees. Many parents in the District are maxed out, paying among the highest annual tuitions nationally at $1800 a month. And government subsidies that help fund care for children from lower income families fall well below market rate. In the end, early child-care teachers that go on to earn diplomas often leave their jobs to work in public schools, where they can earn substantially more. One child-care center operator said that only two of her 16 employees have made it to associate's degrees thus far, and one had quit because she simply couldn't go back to school. The news story doesn't engage in the question of why parents can't decide for themselves how important it is for their child-care workers to have advanced degrees. Perhaps that's because early education advocates might not like the answers, once the realities of the likely cost increases get factored in. There's instead a heavy emphasis in the story on the mechanisms by which these poor workers might get subsidies or assistance to get the education they need to keep their livelihoods. There's also no interest in exploring the increased attention to the major problems for the poor that are a direct result from occupational licensing programs. No doubt the same people who promote such programs would, for example, see Mississippi's push to decrease the power of regulatory licensing programs as proof of how backward that southern state is. To be sure, this D.C. law is a jobs program—it's a jobs program for people who work in the field of post-secondary education itself. Nothing like using a regulatory mandate to create a demand for your educational services that might not exist otherwise. The story makes it abundantly clear that advocates for increased education of child-care workers—who, wouldn't you know it, work in the field of education—want to spread this program well beyond D.C.'s borders. Oh, incidentally, President Donald Trump and his daughter, Ivanka, have been proposing a massive child-care subsidy that would manifest via deductibles. That would perhaps help the wealthier D.C. residents cover increasing costs that would most certainly follow once child-care workers have advanced degrees. But as has been noted, such a subsidy plan would not do much for lower-income families. And so not only would poorer families be even less able to afford child care, they're also going to be locked out of jobs within the industry itself. Good work there, D.C. By the way, as a useful reminder, science also says many of America's early e[...]

Jeff Sessions' Terrible Truth About Drugs Is a Lie

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 00:01:00 -0400

"Our nation needs to say clearly once again that using drugs will destroy your life," Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared last week. The main problem with that message: It isn't true. Yes, using drugs, both legal and illegal ones, can destroy your life, but typically it doesn't. By arguing that drug education should proceed from a false premise, Sessions reminds us what was wrong with the Just Say No propaganda he would like to revive. Sessions, a former senator who was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Alabama in the 1980s, looks back proudly at his efforts, alongside Nancy Reagan, to "create a hostility to drug use." For Sessions as for Reagan, tolerance is a dirty word. "We must create an atmosphere of intolerance for drug use in this country," the first lady wrote in a 1986 Washington Post op-ed piece. "Each of us has a responsibility to be intolerant of drug use anywhere, anytime, by anybody." Sessions likewise emphasizes the importance of "preventing people from ever taking drugs in the first place," even if "this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use." The "prevention" Sessions favors is not simply unfashionable; it is fundamentally dishonest. Among other things, Sessions said at a Senate hearing last April, prevention aims to teach teenagers that "good people don't smoke marijuana." According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, something like 118 million Americans have used marijuana, 36 million of them in the last year. Does Sessions honestly think all those people are bad, or that anyone would believe they are? "Educating people and telling them the terrible truth about drugs and addiction will result in better choices," Sessions says. But his terrible truth sounds a lot like a lie. Sessions claims marijuana is "only slightly less awful" than heroin, and in 2014 he strenuously objected after President Obama conceded that marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol. "I'm heartbroken," Sessions said. "It's stunning to me. I find it beyond comprehension." Judging from his response, Sessions literally did not comprehend Obama's point. Sessions tried to rebut Obama's statement about the relative hazards of marijuana and alcohol by declaring that "Lady Gaga says she's addicted to [marijuana] and it is not harmless." Let's put aside the merits of treating Lady Gaga as an expert on the effects of marijuana, or of extrapolating from this sample of one to the experiences of cannabis consumers generally. The most disturbing aspect of Sessions' argument was his failure to grasp that one substance can be less dangerous than another without being harmless. Saying marijuana is less hazardous than alcohol by several important measures—including impairment of driving ability, the risk of a fatal overdose, and the long-term damage caused by heavy use—is not the same as saying marijuana is 100 percent safe. Sessions not only has no patience for such nuance; he considers it a menace to the youth of America. Sessions is especially offended by the suggestion that marijuana legalization could reduce opioid-related harm by providing a safer alternative. "Give me a break," he said in a recent speech to the National Association of Attorneys General. "It's just almost a desperate attempt to defend the harmlessness of marijuana or even its benefits." Uncharacteristically, Sessions conceded that "maybe science will prove I'm wrong." If he bothered to research the subject, he would discover that several studies have found an association between medical marijuana laws and reductions in opioid prescriptions, opioid-related deaths, and fatally injured drivers testing positive for opioids. Sessions plainly is not interested in what the evidence shows. Although he says law enforcement officials have a duty to "speak truth as best we can," he seems to view truth as the enemy in the war on drugs. Nancy Reagan, who said dru[...]

States Weigh in on Supreme Court School Transgender Accommodation Case

Fri, 03 Mar 2017 13:45:00 -0500

The legal battle over which public school bathrooms and facilities transgender students should be permitted to use is getting just a little less complicated. Eleven states this week are dropping their legal challenges over the rules. Originally they objected to the Department of Justice and Department of Education under President Barack Obama essentially ordering them to accommodate transgender students in public schools by allowing the students to use the facilities of their chosen sex. They filed a legal challenge against the Obama administration, and a federal judge in Texas granted a nationwide injunction, saying the administration had attempted to establish new rules without going through the proper procedures. In February Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos revoked this federal guidance (though allegedly DeVos lobbied to keep it in place). President Donald Trump administration's kicking it back to the states, as much as it can. So now that the federal government isn't trying to force this guidance onto the states, those who object to the guidance are free to drop the case. But to be clear, while that's one less legal case to pay attention to, there's still plenty going on and obviously this controversy is not abating. As things stand right now, the Supreme Court is still scheduled to hear Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. (Gavin Grimm) at the end of March. Grimm, a high school student, is suing his school board in Virginia, demanding the right to use the male facilities rather than either the female facilities or unisex options the district has pushed upon him. The Supreme Court case is tackling two questions: One, should the courts defer to executive branch's guidance in this situation (as it often does in matters where federal agencies are determining how to implement statutes and regulations); and two, should Title IX be specifically interpreted as to requiring transgender accommodation? The decision by the Trump administration to rescind the previous administration's guidance complicates the first question and whether the Supreme Court would even consider it, but the second question is still relevant. So the clerk of the Supreme Court sent both sides of the case letters to see how they wanted to proceed and gave them a deadline of this Wednesday to respond. Both sides still want the Supreme Court to hear the case and rule on the merits, though the school district wants to push the case to April. They would like the United States solicitor general's office to weigh in with a brief expressing the current views of the U.S. government, given the new administration and the change in guidance. Amy Howe of SCOTUSBlog notes this would also potentially give time for Neil Gorsuch to possibly be confirmed to the court and hear the case. Grimm's lawyers don't want a delay. Originally Grimm's side didn't want the Supreme Court to take the case at all and asked last fall for the court to deny certification. They didn't need to get the Supreme Court involved because at the time the federal rulings and the Obama administration were all leaning their way (the case had been found in Grimm's favor). The ruling in Texas and the new administration rescinding the guidance that schools must cooperate changes the situation significantly. That the Supreme Court may consider whether Title IX requires transgender accommodation might settle the matter once in for all. Alternatively, they could, like the Trump administration, leave it up to the states. Heck, even if they decide that Title IX does require transgender accommodation they probably wouldn't want to get terribly involved in what the solutions should look like. There could be some news soon of whether the Supreme Court is going to change its plans. In the meantime, briefs of support for either side have started rolling in. The attorneys general of 18 state[...]

Universities Lean Left, but Are Diversity Laws the Answer?

Wed, 22 Feb 2017 14:50:00 -0500

Iowa Sen. Mark Chelgren (R–Ottumwa) is a man on a mission to ensure partisan balance at universities in his state, reports The Des Moines Register. Chelgren has introduced Senate File 288, a law that would enact a hiring freeze on Iowan universities until the numbers of registered Republicans and Democrats on faculty fall within 10 percent of each other. "We have an awful lot of taxpayer dollars that go to support these fine universities," he told the Register. Students "should be able to go to their professors, ask opinions, and they should know publicly whether that professor is a Republican or Democrat or no-party affiliation, and therefore they can expect their answers to be given in as honest a way possible. But they should have the ability to ask questions of professors of different political ideologies." Most college faculties lean to the left, according to Heterodox Academy, an organization that aims to encourage diverse viewpoints on campus. Using data obtained by the Higher Education Research Institute (HERI), the group found that about 60 percent of professors held far-left or liberal ideologies as of 2014, while far-right and conservative professors comprise a little above 10 percent. Writing at Heterodox Academy, Sam Abrams noted that professors have been steadily moving to the left. "Between 1995 and 2010, members of the academy went from leaning left to being almost entirely on the left," Abrams observes. "Moderates declined by nearly a quarter and conservatives decreased by nearly a third." Chelgren sees the regulation of Iowan universities' hiring practices as the solution to this problem. "I'm under the understanding that right now they can hire people because of diversity," he said, according to the Register. "They want to have people of different thinking, different processes, different expertise. So this would fall right into category with what existing hiring practices are." Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, one of the men behind Heterodox Academy, spoke at the 2017 International Students for Liberty Conference last weekend. In his talk he lamented the ideological skew in higher education. Unlike the Iowa lawmaker, though, his solutions do not resort to legislation. Instead, he hopes students will press their universities "to do three things: adopt the Chicago principles on free expression, implement a non-obstruction policy—meaning you can't shut people down. You can protest, you can wave signs, but you can't stop a person from speaking. And finally, please, university, give us some viewpoint diversity." By "the Chicago principles on free expression," he was referring to the University of Chicago philosophy that schools should offer a neutral platform for dialogue and disagreement. Forcing schools to hire individuals based on a political quota probably wouldn't work anyway. As the Register notes, even "Chelgren said professors who want to be hired could simply change their party affiliation to be considered for the position." Colleges and universities should of course strive to incorporate a diversity of thought at their institutions, but mandating that diversity by law is not the answer.[...]

California Schools May Try to Tackle Fake News

Mon, 13 Feb 2017 15:20:00 -0500

(image) Ever since the 2016 presidential election, the problem of "fake news" has dominated the national political conversation. Both Republicans and Democrats have railed against what they see as an epidemic of made-up or factually inaccurate stories and the influence they believe those stories have when it comes to swaying public opinion.

Educators, fact checking sites, and even government officials are taking action to fight back against fake news, which some see as threatening democracy. Now, California lawmakers have introduced legislation to require media literacy courses to be taught at the state's middle and high schools, according to the Associated Press.

Some 64 percent of Americans believe that fake news stories are causing a notable amount of confusion, according to Pew Research Center. However, a majority of Americans are somewhat (45 percent) or very (39 percent) confident in their own ability to identify fake news.

Young people often struggle with recognizing non-credible news, a group of Stanford researchers found. They tested middle school, high school, and college-level students on their news literacy skills through a series of tasks. "More than 80% of students believed that the native advertisement, identified by the words 'sponsored content,' was a real news story," the Stanford History Education Group study, which was conducted in early 2016, claims. "Some students even mentioned that it was sponsored content but still believed that it was a news article."

Social media has been blamed for the spread of fake news by many observers. And indeed, Pew Research Center has found that 62 percent of Americans get news on social media, and nearly one in three Americans say they see fake news often online. Of course, as Reason's Jesse Walker has pointed out, the internet also makes it far easier to debunk myths and fact check dubious claims.

For more on the truth about fake news, check out this piece from the March issue by the University of Miami political scientist Joseph E. Uscinski.

DeVos Opponents Think About Homeschooling Instead. Good for Them!

Fri, 10 Feb 2017 12:55:00 -0500

There's going to be a temptation to want to publicly mock those on the left who have responded to the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education by suggesting they could pull their kids out of the public school system as a form of boycott. There have been some social media responses to that effect, and of course media outlets are jumping on them, aware of the sort of hypocrisy baked in. To respond to DeVos' support for school choice by engaging in school choice seems a bit hilarious to those on the other side. DeVos is even an avid supporter of home schooling! NBC notes a quote from DeVos: "We've seen more and more people opt for homeschooling, including in urban areas. What you're seeing is parents who are fed up with their lack of power to do anything about where their kids are assigned to go to school. To the extent that homeschooling puts parents back in charge of their kids' education, more power to them." DeVos' emphasis on school choice is a natural fit for the homeschool movement, whose members span the political spectrum but are largely conservative Christians who resist government oversight. That group has helped fuel remarkable growth in recent years, carrying the movement from the fringe and closer to the mainstream. An an estimated 1.8 [m]illion children were homeschooled in 2012, up from 850,000 three years earlier, according to an Education Department survey published last June. The story does note at the end that it wasn't Christian conservatives who started the homeschool movement in the United States but folks who thought the tightly regimented and bureaucratic system wasn't helpful for kids' learning. If people on the left respond by pulling out of the public schools and homeschooling instead, they're returning the program to its roots. Resist the desire to mock these people. This is what school choice supporters have been arguing for all along. Parents shouldn't have to submit to whatever DeVos thinks counts as the proper education for their children. The public education establishment has attempted to paint the school choice movement as a mechanism for conservatives (particularly religious conservatives and wealthy conservatives) to escape participation in public schools. While an initial response could be "So? Their kids aren't your property," it's also very important to point out it's not true. It's not the DeVoses of the world struggling as hard as they can to get their kids out of public schools and into charters. The DeVoses of the world can just write a check and educate their kids wherever they want. It's those randoms on Twitter who are intended to be the beneficiaries of charter programs and homeschooling. School choice options are wildly popular with parents, something mostly ignored by DeVos' opponents, given that they were more interested in carrying water for education unions. It's akin to the local politicians who protect the taxi cartels from ride-sharing services at the expense of the actual customers, who end up having fewer choices, paying more, and getting treated poorly as a result. In the event that DeVos attempts to push through a particular ideology within the education system (I doubt this will happen, but you never know), parents should feel free to use the mechanism DeVos herself supports and reject her and seek education elsewhere. There's no valid reason for the Department of Education to exist other than to advance and expand bureaucratic rule of over our lives. Meanwhile, some union protester in Washington, D.C., physically blocked DeVos from entering a public school today, an act so stupid that even the president of the American Federation of Teachers rejected it. That behavior certainly is not going to make public schools any better.[...]

Does Digital Literacy Require More Gatekeepers?

Thu, 09 Feb 2017 17:20:00 -0500

(image) "A deep political divide is starting to open up in digital literacy discussions," argues Bryan Alexander, an academic turned consultant who writes frequently about education and technology. This division doesn't separate left from right or Red from Blue. "It's a split between those who think people should assume the power to make decisions about information and media, and those who prefer to build up authorities to help us cope with the digital world. On the one side, lower-case-d democrats; on the others, neo-gatekeepers."

For an example, think of the "fake news" debate. If you think the best response to the plague of viral Facebook hoaxes is to give power to a committee charged with sorting true stories from false, you're with the gatekeepers. A democrat wouldn't be opposed to organized factchecking, but he would see such efforts as part of a larger system of mutual peer review where everyone is fallible and no one is the final authority.

The first lower-case-d democrat that Alexander cites is me, so there's not much mystery about where I fall on this spectrum. By the end of the post, Alexander has confessed his bias toward the democratic tribe too. But his chief interest, he writes, is

how this political divide plays out for educators, from K-12 teachers to colleges faculty and staff, to museum and library professionals. How will we and our institutions stake out positions on this continuum, from democrats to neo-gatekeepers?

I can see incentives and professional reasons for hewing to either pole. Institutions and professions often function as gatekeepers, after all. At the same time each of these fields also has an ethos of empowering their students/users/patrons. Some of these institutions are closely tied up to authorities, such as active churches or states, while others see themselves as independent spaces. Each has taken up a related range of positions on previous digital issues, such as web sites, open education resources, and social media.

And then there's the elephant in the room, or rather the donkey: "Many of these professionals tack Democratic in terms of party politics." That's Democratic with a big D, and not necessarily a small one. The Dems are out of power right now, and so in some cases they may feel more suspicious than usual about gatekeepers. But "#resistance can also mean the recreation of authority sapped by the November electoral disaster."

Anyway, the post does a nice job of laying out a spectrum of positions, and I'm not just saying that because it quotes me liberally. To read the whole thing, go here.

Georgia Bill Would Require Universities to Hand Over Rape Investigations to the Police

Thu, 09 Feb 2017 14:20:00 -0500

(image) Georgia House Bill 51 aims to stop universities from conducting their own investigations into felonies, including sexual assault, instead requiring them to have law enforcement take charge. The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that the bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Earl Ehrhart (R–Powder Springs) in January, passed out of a state House panel last week.

The bill explicitly states that "every official or employee of a post-secondary institution in this state who receives information which would lead such individual to believe that a crime which is a felony under the laws of this state has been committed by or against a student of such post-secondary institution or was committed in or on property owned, leased, or operated by such post-secondary institution shall promptly report such crime to the appropriate law enforcement agency." It further prohibits universities from taking matters into their own hands and punishing students accused of a felony.

"I want to treat these crimes with the seriousness they deserve," Ehrhart told the AJC. "But I am not going to sacrifice due process to get there." Last year, he filed a lawsuit against the federal government, arguing that certain Department of Education policies are unconstitutional.

One of those policies is a 2011 rule saying that under Title IX, colleges and universities have to investigate and punish instances of sex discrimination, including allegations of rape. But critics, including Reason Associate Editor Robby Soave, point out that the low standard of evidence being pushed by the department's Office for Civil Rights (OCR) amounts to a violation of due process protections for accused students. "It's not about finding the truth, or administering justice," Soave wrote in a recent post. "The purpose of the guidance is to make it more likely that accused students are found responsible, whether or not they have done anything wrong. OCR has tipped the scales in favor of alleged victims, because the lives of the accused matter less than the lives of the accusers."

Opponents of H.B. 51 contend the bill threatens students' safety. Zoë Taylor, a senior at Williams College and the president of the Sexual Wellness Advocacy Network, penned a letter that was published on the AJC's "Get Schooled" blog. "It would limit schools' abilities to secure their own campuses, placing investigations in the hands of the legal system which notoriously mishandles cases of rape and sexual assault and fails in its due process," she said of the bill. "Under the guise of liberty, this law would obstruct justice and safety for survivors of rape and sexual assault."

The Question Isn't Do You Support Betsy DeVos, It's Whether You Support School Choice

Tue, 07 Feb 2017 09:35:00 -0500

With the day-long attempt by Democrats to "hold the floor" of the Senate to delay and disrupt the planned confirmation for the next secretary of education mostly in the rearview mirror, it now seems likely that President Trump's controversial nominee, Betsy DeVos, will squeak by on a 50-50 vote. (Vice President Mike Pence, who presides over the Senate, will get to cast the deciding vote after two GOP senators said they will vote no.) There are two basic charges against DeVos, and one is more serious than the other. The less serious, though mostly accurate, one is that she is plainly inexperienced. Like Trump entering the Oval Office, she has never overseen a public office or department, much less than one with nearly 5,000 employees. The Department of Education, founded only in 1979, is the smallest of all cabinet agencies in terms of personnel and budget ("just" $73 billion in 2016). This is to say it's a minor cabinet office that was so unnecessary the coutry somehow got by without one until the waning years of the Jimmy Carter presidency (in 1980, Ronald Reagan said he would abolish it if he won; instead he just massively increased its budget). DeVos is a billionaire through marriage, to Dick DeVos, the heir to the Amway fortune, and while she invests in a wide range of more or less interesting businesses (including Neurocore, which is trying to use biofeedback to cure depression and other ailments), she doesn't rise to the level of, say, Carly Fiorina in terms of business chops. Similarly, she has never worked at or run a school or district, leaving her devoid of direct experience with education other than as a student and a parent (which isn't nothing, exactly, but still not much). So that first point is taken: She is inexperienced in running the sort of shop she's about to take over. But then again, if she's a competent administrator, that's really what the job demands. As education analysts such as University of Arkansas' Jay P. Greene and Reason Foundation's Lisa Snell have told me, the education secretary has relatively little to do, as most federal funds are pre-committed through funding formulas that are difficult to monkey with very much. What the secretary can do is set a broad agenda and a tone. And that, not her lack of credentials, is why Democratic senators tried to "hold the floor" against her. DeVos has been very involved in Republican politics at the national and state levels, where she chaired the Michigan Republican Party and has supported all sorts of school-choice plans. Given that, Senate Democrats and teachers unions are dead-set against her. The DeVos vote isn't ultimately about whether or not a Detroit billionaire runs a program that accounts for only 10 percent of K-12 spending around the country. (The federal government's influence is magnified by the conditions and rules it attaches to schools that receive any federal money.) It's about DeVos's outspoken support for both the general idea of publicly financed school choice and specific plans. Here, for instance, is Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, tweeting his disapproval: Making it loud & clear outside the U.S. Capitol today: #NoOnDeVos. Privatizing public edu. will not give every child the chance to succeed — Ron Wyden (@RonWyden) February 6, 2017 Wyden is one of the most reputable people in the Senate—or in Washington politics altogether. Yet he is wrong here, and on multiple counts. The first is that DeVos or Trump is somehow going to "privatize" public education. From a libertarian perspective, that may or may not be a good idea (I know I like the concept of separating the state from education very much; how do you raise truly independent thinkers otherwise?), bu[...]

Tying a Neighborhood Together Through Choice

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 13:23:00 -0500

The first thing I noticed about the International Charter School in Brooklyn, New York was its founder, Matthew Levey. As I reached the entrance at the beginning of a November Thursday, I saw Levey—sporting an overcoat and a fedora—warmly greeting each of his 225 students by name as they each entered his school building. The Thursday of my visit also happened to mark the monthly meeting of the school's Parents Association with the school's principal. In addition to the kids, Mr. Levey seemed to know each parent on a first-name basis as he or she dropped off their children and comfortably chatted with the lingering crowd as if they were neighbors. As we reflect on the recent National School Choice Week celebrations amid an unprecedented national debate on education policy, moments like these stick out to me even clearer. Before I had learned anything about what was going on inside the school itself, ICS was already defying the stereotypes we've heard ad nauseam about charters being "unaccountable" to parents. As the school day began and parents met with the principal, Levey took me up the stairs to show me around ICS. He was a flurry of activity, explaining the school's history to me while washing cups in the staff kitchen, saying hello to late parents, and making sure a first-grader on a bathroom break was headed back to class (through a conversation in Spanish). After putting his children through New York City public schools, Levey was disenchanted with the lack of responsiveness to parent concerns or substantive feedback he found and wanted to be part of the solution. Levey started an arduous, years-long process of trying to attain a charter, securing sufficient funding, finding the right personnel, and attracting enough families to found International Charter School in 2015. ICS is built on three precepts: developing strong foundations in background knowledge and cultural literacy, an emphasis on social-emotional learning to foster a nurturing community, and an effort to build a racially and socio-economically diverse group of students in a gentrifying neighborhood. Instilling Core Knowledge A key component of ICS is its emphasis on building solid fundamentals for later learning through a content-rich curriculum in the early grades. The school is inspired by E.D. Hirsch's Core Knowledge Curriculum, which has its origins in the late 1980s as part of an effort to improve the cultural literacy of America's youth. International Charter School puts a priority on instilling the basic tenets of the Western canon and history. The emphasis isn't meant to be an exercise in overt "Protestant American triumphalism," but, as Levey describes it, part of an effort to familiarize students with the cultural foundations that inform the society they're growing up in. This is clear the moment one walks in to the school's main floor, where portraits of Washington crossing the Delaware and Abraham Lincoln grace the hallway. First graders, for instance, learn about the basic tenets of the three Abrahamic religions. Levey and other proponents of the Core Knowledge program see this kind of learning, regardless of a students' personal beliefs, as an important dimension to understanding their culture. During the day, Levey called up a local rabbi about organizing a field trip to her synagogue as part of the Judaism section of the religion unit. The visit could give students a chance to experience what they were learning about up close, and Levey hoped seeing different places of worship could help classmates better understand and respect their differences. A key part of Core Knowledge educational techniques is an emphasis on interdisciplinary engagement. During the [...]