Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

From home school to home college?

After reading this, I’m not sure that I’ll be joking next time I mention that prospect to my kids. Does anyone not see the problem here?

[Founding Boink editor Alecia] Oleyourryk said that for her and her peers, the question is not why pose nude, but why not? After all, they grew up watching Madonna (“All she was was naked all the time”), parsing the finer points of the Monica Lewinsky scandal and flipping through Calvin Klein ads: sexual imagery was the very wallpaper of their lives, undergirded by a new frankness about how to protect oneself from pregnancy and disease. “Condoms. They’ve been rammed down our throats ... since we were old enough to start contemplating training bras,” wrote a Boink contributor in an essay called “Fall Fornication Must-Haves,” which apparently included crotchless bikinis and a Swarovski-crystal-encrusted dildo called the Minx.

***

Of course, posing naked for a sex magazine is not exactly like making Phi Beta Kappa or playing the lead in the school play. For one thing, it’s generally not something you write home about, though Oleyourryk insists that her parents have been supportive of her venture. (“As much as they could be,” she said. “I was raised very Catholic, but they live in today’s world.”)

Meanwhile, over at Harvard, the sex magazine has a faculty sponsor, Marc Hauser, who "would like to see the magazine take a more belletristic bent, reviewing controversial books, perhaps — ’You think of Lolita,’ he said — and examining what might be called sexistential questions. ’Nowadays, what constitutes porn?’ Hauser mused. ’What does a 21-year-old think porn is? I, as a parent of an 18-year-old, would like to hear that view.’” It turns out that what Harvard undergrads have to say about sex (at least for publication) is quite banal, perhaps because they’ve been immersed in sexual imagery nearly forever.

And then there are the social networking websites:

[Harvard H Bomb editor Ming] Vandenberg described a social landscape changed irrevocably by the rise of networking Web sites. After meeting someone, it’s now de rigueur to check out his or her profile — a collage of pictures (often risqué) and preferences — on MySpace or Facebook.com. “I have a BlackBerry — so immediately,” Vandenberg said. “You might run into someone at a party, and then you Facebook them: what are their interests? Are they crazy-religious, is their favorite quote from the Bible? Everyone takes great pains over presenting themselves. It’s like an embodiment of your personality.” Except for the die-hard holdouts who refuse to participate in these networks — “They’re treated like pariahs, people will just harass them until they join,” Vandenberg said — to attend college now means to participate in a culture of constant two-dimensional preening, for males and females alike. In this context, posing for a sex magazine can seem like just another, more formalized level of display.

Note the apparent disqualifiers: someone who’s "crazy-religious," or, worse yet, someone who’s not a virtual exhibitionist.

I wonder what this old guy thinks of all this?

What Economists’ Studies Show

We probably disciminate in favor of beautiful people because they’re more productive. Or they may be more productive because they’re more charming and self-confident, and so they sucker us into favoring them. It’s not as clear that prettier people also tend to smarter, and we might not even care. These are the best times ever be smart and pretty, and the worst to be neither.

Presidential succession

Matt Franck thinks Norman Ornstein is right about the problematical place of Congressional figures in the presidential line of succession. I’m inclined to agree, especially because of the appearance of the conflict of interest it raises in impeachment proceedings, if one party controls Congress and another the White House. But in general, let’s hope we’re never in a situation where we have to go past the Veep. Should that ever happen, we’re either in a grave political crisis or we’ve just suffered a catastrophic attack.

NLT and fellow travelers in Albuquerque

I’ll be attending the Southwestern Political Science Association Annual Meeting in Albuquerque two weeks hence, roundtabling on Patrick Deneen’s book, among other things. If you’re in town, give me a shout. I might even buy you a drink.

CPAC thoughts

Let’s hope that Anne Coulter’s de- (you fill in the blank) remark doesn’t overshadow everything else at the CPAC meeting. Power Line’s Paul Mirengoff rather liked Mitt Romney’s speech, as did his colleague John Hinderaker.

At the risk of reopening a major league can of worms (at least at this site), I want to call attention to this WaTi article, which contains the following passage about Rudy Giuliani:

In interviews afterward, some attendees said Mr. Giuliani lost momentum when he heaped lavish praise on Abraham Lincoln.


While many conservatives regard the Civil War president as the spiritual founder of the Republican Party, others deeply resent him as a man who ruthlessly suspended constitutional rights and freedoms in order to militarily challenge the South’s belief in its right to secede. Some saw similar disdain for individuals’ rights in Mr. Giuliani’s successful war on crime in New York City.


Mr. Giuliani took the side of the Bush administration on an issue that troubles civil libertarian conservatives, saying that "you need the tools like the Patriot Act and legal intelligence surveillance."

"Rudy thought he was addressing a Republican audience," said Mike Long, chairman of the New York State Conservative Party. "Mitt understood this is an audience of people who are conservatives first."

If invoking Lincoln (the man who conserved the Union) is "un-conservative," then I’m not a conservative. Yes, Lincoln--reluctantly, in the face of a foundational challenge to the preservation of the rule of law--temporarily expanded executive powers (saying something about not acquiring a taste for emetic you take when you’re sick, as I recall), but his goal was to preserve something worth preserving, something defenders of slavery wanted to dismantle, on a principle that would permit anyone and everyone to secede whenever it suited their particular interests. As Lincoln noted, on that principle, government is impossible. This might approach a libertarian position, but surely not a conservative one.

By the way, the best recent articulation of Lincoln’s "faith-based" conservatism that I’ve read is the conclusion of Patrick Deneen’s
Democratic Faith, which reads Lincoln’s Second Inaugural in tandem with John Winthrop’s "A Model of Christian Charity" (excerpts here; full text here). Here’s a representative sample from Deneen’s conclusion:

Lincoln’s culminating speech seeks to temper the impious belief in personal or national superiority, and thereby chasten the human temptation toward individual or national self-glorification. While Lincoln called the United States "the last, best hope on earth," it was in the light of his recognition that Americans were an "almost chosen people." His high estimation of America--one held throughout his life--was not because, in his view, America was superior to other nations owing to its greater approximation to God’s will, but because, as a democracy, it was organized politically in recognition of the fact that man was not, nor could become, God. Even in his most patriotic and triumphal moments, Lincoln was congizant that the "superiority" of democracy rested most fundamentally upon the humble recognition of human imperfection.

There’s much more, but you just need to buy the book.

Private schools for the poor in the developing world

I’m not talking about Choate or Rugby, but SDP’s Ken Blanchard calls our attention to this piece, describing the research and experience of British education professor James Tooley, who has looked at the performance of small private schools for the poorest of the poor in the developing world. A couple of snippets from the article:

What Tooley stumbled onto in Hyderabad turns out to be typical not just of India but of all the other places he subsequently researched—including parts of China, Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria. In every case, private education is a principal lifeline for the abjectly poor. In the areas of Ghana and Nigeria that Tooley’s team has canvassed, an outright majority of poor children are attending private schools run without support from the government. Often, the schools are run by just a few teachers. They put out shingles in the way that physicians do in the United States, and are paid directly by their charges.

***

Tooley’s research suggests that small-scale support for private slum schools—through scholarship programs, backing for school-voucher schemes, or subsidized microfinance—might do far more good than a big aid push directed at government-run education.


Tooley has been publishing his research in education journals but has also written for libertarian and conservative think tanks. Unfortunately, these associations have pushed him further outside the development mainstream. Perhaps most alienating, his findings (as he notes) conform very well to the views of the late Milton Friedman, who spent the last years of his life arguing that publicly funded vouchers and a market of privately run competing schools were the way to fix another education system in urgent need of repair: America’s. All the more reason why, so far as some development officials are concerned, Tooley’s obscurity is welcome.

For a taste of Tooley’s research, go here and here.

According to Tooley,

[Development experts] instead point out that private schools employ untrained teachers who are paid much less than their government counterparts and that buildings and facilities are grossly inadequate. Both of these observations are largely true. But does that mean that private schools are inferior, particularly against the weight of parental preferences to the contrary? One Ghanaian school owner challenged me when I observed that her school building was little more than a corrugated iron roof on rickety poles and that the government school, just a few hundred yards away, was a smart new school building. “Education is not about buildings,” she scolded. “What matters is what is in the teacher’s heart. In our hearts, we love the children and do our best for them.” She left it open, when probed, what the teachers in the government school felt in their hearts toward the poor children.

***

When it came to the key question of whether or not teaching was going on in the classrooms, both types of private schools were superior to the public schools, except in China, where there was no statistically significant difference between the two school types: 92 percent of teachers in private schools were teaching when our researchers arrived, compared with 89 percent in the public schools. When researchers called unannounced on the classrooms in Hyderabad, 98 percent of teachers were teaching in the private recognized schools, compared with 91 percent in the unrecognized and 75 percent in the government schools. Teacher absenteeism was also highest in the government schools. In Ga, 57 percent of teachers were teaching in government schools, compared with 66 percent and 75 percent in unrecognized and recognized private schools, respectively. And in Kibera, even though the number of government schools is too small to make statistical comparisons meaningful, 74 percent of teachers were teaching in private schools when our researchers visited them, and only one teacher was absent.

***

[I]t is not the case that private schools serving low-income families are inferior to those provided by the state. In all cases analyzed, even the unrecognized schools, those that are dismissed by the development experts as being obviously of poor quality seem to outperform their public counterparts.

And lest you think that this is all just about the developing world, Tooley offers lessons for America:

The evidence from developing countries might challenge the claim, made by school choice opponents, that the poor in America cannot make sensible and informed choices if school choice is offered to them. It may also stimulate debate about whether public intervention crowds out private initiative, a question raised by the findings from Kenya. If a public school is failing in the ghettoes of New York or Los Angeles, we should not assume that the only way in which the disadvantaged can be helped is through some kind of public intervention. In fact, we have already embarked on programs that support private initiative, with government support, with vouchers and charter schools. The findings here suggest this alternative approach may be the preferable one.


Above all, the evidence should inspire those who are working for school choice in America: stories of parents’ overcoming all the odds to ensure the best for the children in Africa and Asia, stories of education entrepreneurs’ creating schools out of nothing, in the middle of nowhere. If India can, why can’t we?

Indeed.

Update: Or actually backdate: John Moser caught this weeks ago.

CPAC Postscript

I should have mentioned that Newt’s entourage were all wearing "Winning the Future" t-shirts which had on the back the following slogan:

"Countdown to September 27."

I’m going to go out on a limb here and make the prediction that Newt is going to make some kind of announcement on September 27. I wonder what it could possibly be?

Notes from CPAC

I spent much of the day trolling around CPAC—the conservative activist answer to Woodstock (but with showers)—keeping Marv Krinsky out of trouble, stirring up some of my own, but above all wondering how Jonathan Martin of the sprightly new internet news venture The Politico managed to get the idea that conservatives are in "A Mood of Gloom."

Not to cast too many aspersions here, but pay close attention to the folks Martin quotes in his story. Let’s just say that most of these figures are attention-seekers who were gloomy ten years ago. My sense wandering around was that most people without an agenda of personal advancement or a project to sell were in a very upbeat mood.

There is an awful lot of politicking going on for the various presidential hopefuls (odd for an off-year CPAC, but that’s how it is now with the accelerated campaign), with Brownback’s legions winning the prize for Best Imitation of a Carnival Barker. I commented to Newt (yes, that Newt) that before very long, we’re likely to be holding the New Hampshire primary the day after inauguration day.

I did see Dinesh D’Souza from a distance, but didn’t get the chance to slide alongside him and ask, "So-Dinesh, you got anything new going on these days? Oh really?? I hadn’t heard. . ."

Ashbrook Award at CPAC

Ashbrook Board Chairman Marv Krinsky presented the "Ashbrook Award" at the CPAC Dinner (see bottom of page) last night to Bill Rusher, former publisher of NR and an Ashbrook Board member. Congratulations to Bill and much thanks for all his good work on behalf of the good country. Vice President Cheney followed with some remarks.

An Opening at Berry College

We’re going to advertise a one-year position very soon. One semester will mainly be about teaching classes in the department of philosophy, the other in the department of government. Whoever gets the job will be replacing two faculty members on one-semester sabbaticals. Anyone interested should contact me for further information at plawler@berry.edu.

Kyl on McCain’s Conservatism

I’m posting this both to show that I’m open-minded about all the candidates and to call attention to the eloquence of Senator John Kyl. If we had a true merit system, the only member of the Senate we’d be considering seriously for the nomination would be Kyl. I’d like to call him a long-shot, but two candidates from Arizona is beyond implausible.

More Boredom...

Peter is right. High schools are very, very boring. What most students end up doing there could be done in a couple of years, at most. High school students are in class way too much, and high school teachers are too. The teachers have no time to prepare for class, and they’re stuck with boring books that come with test banks that they don’t have time not to use. Most high-school teachers simply don’t have the time to do much reading, and many of them aren’t even allowed to let their students (outside of English class) read anything much but the dumb, boring textbook. (The fantastic lectures of our Tony described on the first boredom thread below are a mighty, mighty rare treat for high school students.) Most of them can’t fall back on something like Tony’s fine undergraduate or graduate liberal arts majors (thanks to schools of education). And various techno-innovations such as power point only make things worse; they insult the student’s intelligence and induce yawn after yawn. There are many exceptions to these broad generalizations (many or most of them in serious science and math classes), but the exceptions prove the rule.

Whenever a new student comes to me full of enthusiasm for learning--or turns in 14 pages for a 500-word assignment, I pretty much assume that the student was homeschooled. I’m not one who thinks most homeschooling is all that good. But one of the most positive things about it is that the homeschooled spent a lot less time on school, a lot less time with textbooks, etc. than the kids in public schools. School doesn’t rule their lives, and it’s not a contemptible source of boredom for them. They haven’t had the love of learning strangled out of them.

And, of course, most college classrooms aren’t that different. The "teaching style" fading quickly is the faculty member coming to class with nothing but the serious book the students have been assigned and talking BOTH to and with them about it. College professors don’t have the excuse of not having time to read and generally prepare for class. Even those with a "4-4" load are on a leisure cruise compared to 95% of high school teachers. They have to think up pedagogical theory and assessment mechanisms to avoid doing their real jobs. They convince themselves that they can "teach without talking," or by surrendering their privileged positon in the classroom and taking one place among many in an egalitarian community of learners, or by lazily boring themselves and the students to death with classes devoted to group presentations or "peer review" or (worst of all) breaking up into small groups to "dialogue" about some generic issue or another.

But I’m sure there are studies that show that boring schools prepare us for the boring jobs that we’ll be stuck with.
There really are studies that show that students are prepared for the business world through group projects. They don’t learn to cooperate or work together like a well-oiled machine or anything like that. The fact that one student ends up doing all the work and the others get by by taking credit allegedly is a key insight into way the "real world" works.

Bored students

A point on the Lazy Teachers note below (and the thread): I may have misrepresented either the study or my reaction to the study in the way I brought it to your attention. Sorry. I had a very simple point in mind (which the study, I think, confirms) and it is this: Students in high school are bored. We can argue all day why that may be so, but, in general it is my considered opinion that it has to do with the massive fact that students aren’t asked to do enough, and are not exposed to interesting things well enough. They are given much busy work, and not enough poetry or beauty or something good or high or noble to consider and think about. There was a very big international(UN funded?) study that came out of the Netherlands maybe ten years ago that compared students from dozens of countries. In general we didn’t fare too badly in the early years of schooling, but the US fared worse the longer the students stayed in school. So, by the time our students were in high school, they were at the bottom of the pack. This was also not surprising to me, but what was surprising is that for the first time in any study they gave a reason why: American students were more bored than students in other countries; the more they were in school (through high school), the more bored they became. That is an important fact. I regret that I am unable to find that study. My experience confirms this fact. Almost all students think their education in high school was boring.

Civil Societarians?

Arnold Kling makes libertarianism almost appealing. Hat tip: Jordan J. Ballor.

Gingrich and Cuomo at Cooper Union

Power Line’s Scott Johnson was there, as was NR’s Stephen Spruiell. The NYT offers some background, as does this press release. Claremont’s Thomas Krannawitter elaborates on the highely problematical connection Cuomo has made between his views and those of Lincoln.

Lazy teachers bore students

Although this is not a surprise, it is certainly worth noting: Lazy Teachers bore their students, a recent huge study, reveals. Read the outlines of what was found in the story above (only 2% os students say they are never bored in high school, two out of three students say they are bored in class every single day, etc.) and then go to the Indiana University survey itself. And this is the IU press release on the study.

Studies Show You Shouldn’t Tell Your Kids They’re Smart

If you do, they’ll stop taking intellectual risks and otherwise underperform. Don’t praise them for their intelligence, praise them for their effort. The same advice probably applies to your colleagues.

Political scientists disagree

Political scientist Morris Fiorina calls the red vs. blue culture war a "myth." Voters, he says, leap for moderate choices.

But along comes political scientist Alan Abramowitz, who argues that reliable survey data from 2006 indicate a very polarized America: "The visual representation of the nation’s voters isn’t a nicely shaped bell, with most voters in the moderate middle. It’s a sharp V." For Abramowitz, whose work appears
frequently in The Democratic Strategist, this must be somewhat comforting, given the 2006 results.

More later, when I have a chance to locate and chew over his survey data.

Wren Cross yet again

FT’s "on the Square" has a nicely nuanced reflection on the impossibility of being all things to all people, which is allegedly W&M President Gene Nichol’s aim. Author Meredith Henne notes, among other things, that reverence and inclusivity are often in tension with one another.

Update: A big donor has rescinded a pledge over this controversy, but the President says, "The core values of the college cannot be for sale." Apparently those who disagree with President Nichol are at odds with the core values of William & Mary.

Studies Show That College Students Are More Vain and Self-Obsessed Than Ever

So why the hell are we so worried about their self-esteem? They’re not! They think they’re SO special! But it might be worse if they followed the advice of the neo-Darwinians and neuroscientists and didn’t think of themselves as special at all.

It’s too early for this

You may regard it as too early to pay attention to polls (though the way things are going, we’ll know who the 2012 nominees are sometime early in 2009), but here’s a story on this WaPo/ABC News poll. And while we’re at it, here’s another WaPo story on the same poll, and here’s the ABC story, with more analysis here.

The two big pieces of information from the poll are the shift of African-American voters from HRC to Obama (cutting into her lead) and Giuliani’s growing support among white evangelicals (not otherwise explored or documented in the articles), which helps him against McCain. While concerns about Romney’s Mormonism seem to be easing somewhat, that’s a much bigger barrier than race or gender. I’d love to see which groups are expressing their discomfort with Mormonism (more particularly, what the mix of evangelicals and seculars is), but I can’t tell anything from the raw data.

Conversation stopping in higher education

Richard Rorty once called religion a conversation-stopper. Reflecting on Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, R. R. Reno argues that the real conversation stopper is the relativism cultivated in all to many educational institutions, secondary and higher. He focuses on Roman Catholic universities, but they’re clearly not the only culprits, though, as he notes, they have the resources, as do other religious institutions of higher learning, to challenge students to think, speak, and argue.

Come to Cooper Union

I wonder whether any of the current crop of candidates has the courage to take up Mario Cuomo’s and Newt Gingrich’s invitation (or is it a challenge?) and the intelligence and judgment to answer it well.

You can read Lincoln’s Cooper Union speech here and watch the Gingrich/Cuomo event here (after it takes place tomorrow).

Hat tip: Power Line.

Contra Transhumanism

Here, in my vain way, I call attention to the small effect I’m having on the people who actually care about people in prison.

Giuliani’s (New?) Party of Freedom

Here’s
one conservative’s response to Giuliani’s speech at Hoover about focusing his campaign and his party on freedom when it comes to taxes, education, and health care. Does he mean to make his party into a more insistently and consistently libertarian one? And does judicial activism contribute to or limit our freedom? And what about, someone might ask, national security, terrorism, and all that stuff? I tend to agree that the reform experiment this speech suggests, pushed too far at least, would probably prove fatal for Rudy in the primaries.

Podhoretz on the Not-so-Liberal Guiliani

John Podhoretz here argues Guiliani’s merits as a conservative and offers an explanation for his lead in the polls.

Fukuyama on the Europeans and European Islam

In an update and expansion of a WSJ piece he wrote more than a year ago (which I discussed here), Francis Fukuyama recommends that Europeans take a look at the traditional American example of civic education:

America may have something to teach Europeans here as they attempt to construct post-ethnic forms of national citizenship and belonging. American life is full of quasi-religious ceremonies and rituals meant to celebrate the country’s democratic political institutions: flag-raising ceremonies, the naturalisation oath, Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. Europeans, by contrast, have largely deritualised their political lives. Europeans tend to be cynical or dismissive of American displays of patriotism. But such ceremonies are important in the assimilation of new immigrants.

He suggests that European corporatism--which recognizes different publiccly-supported and semi-autonomous religious communities (or, in the Dutch case, "pillars")--makes it difficult to resist Muslim demands for similar treatment.

While the traditional groups may have arrived over time at a peaceful and mutually respectful modus vivendi, it’s not clear that recent Muslim arrivals have come to the same place. And it’s perhaps not insignificant that in most cases, the different communities have something significant in common (e.g., language and, broadly understood, religion [though Fukuyama does note that the French treat the Jewish community through the Consistoire Israelite, which has provided Nicolas Sarkozy a template for dealing with Muslims]).

I’d raise a further issue as well. To the extent that the U.S. has what some have called an "Anglo-Protestant monoculture," can American means readily be adapted to circumstances where that doesn’t obtain? And while I can see how American Catholics and Jews have in many cases adapted a kind of "protestantism" for themselves, does that mean that others will as well?

I’m also at least somewhat conflicted about this whole approach, since I think that a watered down "Anglo-Protestantism," without more, tends to subjectivize and individualize us in ways that are ultimately antithetical to moral, political, and religious (not to mention philosophical) seriousness. Is this the price we have to pay for getting along peacefully, or is it possible to insist upon some more robust and serious moral, political, and religious identities can coexist peacefully without giving up what matters. I think in this respect of the late proud orange-wearing Scottish-American Calvinist Wilson Carey McWilliams, some of whose best friends were similarly proud and serious Catholics.

Michael Anton on style

Here is Michael Anton’s colloquium from last Friday. The subject is his book, The Suit. We were all badly dressed, and he was unforgiving, but amusing. You should enjoy this, the students did.

Hillary’s Need to Get it Out or Shut it Up?

Mickey Kaus at Slate speculates interestingly on Hillary’s possible motivations last week in the David Geffen/Obama flare up. It’s a bit of an "on the one hand/on the other hand" analysis but it offers grist for the mill of one’s mind on the subject of Hillary. His first impulse is to see her as foolish for demonstrating herself to be the finger-wagging, speech-silencing prig that she is reputed by foes to be. His second impulse is that she must be some kind of Machiavellian genius. For in this demonstration she is forcing into the open (at an early date that is of her choosing and advantageous to her chances) all questions about the lies in her long-suffering marriage and political ties to Bill. If this is her strategy, Kaus seems to think it could be a good one--given the example of recent politicians, particularly Bill Clinton.

For my part I confess to (as Peter Lawler has in earlier posts commented about) a weariness of and hostility to re-living the paltry scandal-laden history of the 1990s. My judgments about the Clintons and their characters have long been settled and I need no reminding of them. But perhaps a new generation of voters may need that reminding. My hope is, if that is true, we might save the discussion for that time and thus rob Mrs. Clinton of the chance to choose the time of the engagement.

Joe Lieberman

In today’s WSJ:

We are at a critical moment in Iraq--at the beginning of a key battle, in the midst of a war that is irretrievably bound up in an even bigger, global struggle against the totalitarian ideology of radical Islamism. However tired, however frustrated, however angry we may feel, we must remember that our forces in Iraq carry America’s cause--the cause of freedom--which we abandon at our peril.

Read the whole thing.

No Repressed Memory

Researchers have discovered what my mother has always known: repressed memory (dissociative amnesia) is a "culture-bound syndrome" -- a creation of Western culture sometime in the 19th century. "A wide search of literary texts in European languages, Arabic, Sanskrit and Chinese has produced no convincing example of a character created before the year 1800 who suffered a traumatic event, repressed the memory and later recovered it."