Tag: independence day

Educational Choice Fosters Political Tolerance

As America prepares to celebrate its independence, many Americans are caught up in the political squabbles over several recent Supreme Court decisions. If the SCOTUS decisions and their fallout reveal anything, it’s that too many Americans are willing to use the government to coerce their fellow citizens into behaving a certain way. Such people lack the virtue of political tolerance, which Thomas Jefferson believed was the foundation of “social harmony… the first of human felicities.”

What sort of education system is most likely to foster that political tolerance? 

People often assume that government-run “public” schools are the best inculcators of political tolerance. After all, Horace Mann’s vision of the “common school” involved bringing together students from ethnically and religiously diverse backgrounds and training them to be good citizens. By contrast, private schools are not required to take all students and many of them are religiously sectarian. Indeed, even President Obama made this claim when visiting Ireland in 2013:

If towns remain divided — if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs — if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear and resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation.

Surely the common schools do a better job inculcating the value of political tolerance than the sectarian schools… right?

In reality, as my colleague Neal McCluskey has painstakingly demonstrated, government schools often force citizens into political conflict. Parents and educators clash over issues of pedagogy, curriculum, morality, sexuality, etc. Too often, deciding which policies a government school will adopt is a zero-sum game

Moreover, the empirical evidence demonstrates that private schools (including religiously sectarian ones) do as well or better than government schools at inculcating political tolerance. In 2007, Dr. Patrick Wolf conducted a literature review of the research on schooling and political toleration, finding:

The most commonly used method of measuring such political tolerance first asks respondents to either think of their least-liked political group or select one from a list that includes such groups as the Ku Klux Klan, American Nazis, the religious right, and gay activists. It then asks whether respondents would permit members of the disliked group to exercise constitutional rights such as making a public speech, running for political office, and teaching in the public schools. Other studies simply ask respondents whether they would permit various activities from a group with whom they disagree, without first asking them to choose their least-liked group. In either case, responses are aggregated into a tolerance scale.

With one exception, the findings regarding the effect of school choice on political tolerance are confined to the neutral-to-positive range. Eleven findings—five of them from the more-rigorous studies—indicate that school choice increases political tolerance.

The studies do not tell us why the private schools tend to outperform the government schools at fostering political tolerance. Prof. Jay P. Greene, the author of two of the studies in Wolf’s literature review, offered two potential explanations:

It may be that private schools are better at teaching civic values like tolerance, just as they may be more effective at teaching math or reading. It is also possible that, contrary to elite suspicion, religion can teach important lessons about human equality and dignity that inspire tolerance.

It may also be that private schools recognize the importance of the political tolerance that allows them to operate without government intrusion. The same political tolerance that protects them also protects other institutions and groups, including those with diametrically opposite values. Whereas the government schools force zero-sum conflicts—meaning that some people ultimately prevail at forcing their view on others—a market in education allows parents to select the schools that reflect their values. 

A free society requires political tolerance. The most likely education system to foster that tolerance is one that is rooted in free choice.

Ideas Have Had Consequences — in the United States and in China

At the Britannica Blog I take a look at the founding ideas of the United States and the Communist Party of China, both of which are celebrating anniversaries this weekend:

The ideas of the Declaration, given legal form in the Constitution, took the United States of America from a small frontier outpost on the edge of the developed world to the richest country in the world in scarcely a century. The country failed in many ways to live up to the vision of the Declaration, notably in the institution of chattel slavery. But over the next two centuries that vision inspired Americans to extend the promises of the Declaration—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness—to more and more people.

China of course followed a different vision. Take the speech of Mao Zedong on July 1, 1949, as his Communist armies neared victory. The speech was titled, “On the People’s Democratic Dictatorship.” Instead of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it spoke of “the extinction of classes, state power and parties,” of “a socialist and communist society,” of the nationalization of private enterprise and the socialization of agriculture, of a “great and splendid socialist state” in Russia, and especially of “a powerful state apparatus” in the hands of a “people’s democratic dictatorship.”

Tragically, unbelievably, this vision appealed not only to many Chinese but even to Americans and Europeans, some of them prominent. But from the beginning it went terribly wrong, as really should have been predicted….What inspired many American and European leftists was that Mao really seemed to believe in the communist vision. And the attempt to actually implement communism leads to disaster and death.

Read the whole thing.

Stossel on Fox News Channel: What’s Great about America

John Stossel, usually seen on Fox Business Network, will have a special on the Fox News Channel this weekend, well targeted to Independence Day: “What’s Great about America.” He’ll interview Dinesh D’Souza and immigrant businessmen, among others.

Saturday and Sunday, 9 p.m. ET both nights. Fox News is on lots more cable systems than Fox Business, so if you don’t get Fox Business, this is your chance to see Stossel.

Tonight at 9 p.m., I think it’s a rerun of his recent show on Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose, featuring … me. Along with Johan Norberg, Tom Palmer, and Bob Chitester.

For some of my own thoughts on what’s great about America, see this article.

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The Politicians and the Founders

Both President Obama and Sen. John McCain cited the Founders in their weekly radio addresses today, as they made the case for government actions that would have appalled those Founders. Obama invoked “the indomitable spirit of the first American citizens who made [independence] day possible” in arguing for a federal takeover of education, energy, and health care.

He might have trouble explaining how his policies reflect the spirit of the men who left us such words as these:

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

If we can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must be happy.

Were we directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want bread.

A wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.

Meanwhile, McCain called for the American government to more vigorously support the protesters in Iran. What would the Founders say to him?

The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible….Harmony, liberal intercourse with all nations, are recommended by policy, humanity, and interest.

Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none.

[America] has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart. …Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.

Maybe each week there should be three national radio broadcasts: one from the incumbent president, one from the other big-government party, and one reflecting the views of the Founders.