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Penn, Education, Libertarians, and . . . TWINS!

This is a little overdue, but I tend to go away from computers and other electronicy things on the weekends, and so I didn’t see the request for a new post until this morning. I apologize for the delay.

Late last week, a lively discussion arose in the comments under the Comment of the Week post concerning Penn Jillette, his views on public education, and the libertarian (or Libertarian) wing of the skeptical movement. The problem was, only a handful of the folks posting comments in that thread were involved in the discussion, so we decided to post a main entry for those who may not have been reading the CotW, and to allow the discussion to continue without bogging down Rebecca’s already awesome thread. (Sorry, there aren’t really any twins.)

First, I suggest you read the pertinent comments under the CotW post (comment #s 2, 5, 9, 10, 11, 17, 18, 19, 20, 23, 27, 28). That’s where the meat of this discussion is, but I’ll give you a brief back story:

At The Amaz!ng Meeting, during Penn & Teller’s disturbingly weak question and answer session, Penn made what, to me, appeared to be an offhand remark to the effect that all public schools should be abolished. It seemed he was more in favor of making education available within a free market framework than he was for doing away with education completely.

Now, I don’t get tingly with anticipation to find out what Penn’s political views are, so I personally didn’t give it another thought. Thankfully, however, Skepchick readers pay much better attention than I do to these types of things, and our friend, Joshua, very correctly pointed out my mistake by linking to this Penn & Teller interview.

Seems there is more to it than I had originally thought. Both Penn and Teller appear to hold to the notion that nothing resembling any conventional education system is required for every child to learn what most of us picked up in public schools.

In addition to that, there were some questions raised about apparent inconsistencies in Penn’s thinking. Blake Stacey pointed out:

I found it just a little weird when Penn Jillette said that we should abolish the public school system and make ‘em all private and then turned around to complain about what Hearst did to commercialize, sensationalize and ruin the press.

At any rate, we just wanted to make this discussion available to everyone. So take a few moments to read through the comments in the CotW thread, and feel free to continue the discussion here.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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126 Comments

  1. I think what Steve Novella said on the live podcast (cause SOME of us unmoneyed folks couldn’t get to TAM to hear it in person. Maybe I’ll publish a TAM wrap up of my week at home…Thursday: Ate a sandwich. Asked for no mayo, but there it is. WTF? Friday: I saw a dog, I think.)…

    Anyway… before I got sidetracked, I was just going to say that what Steve said on that show was about right: politics, oftentimes, is about what you value rather than what you can prove or disprove. Sure, some claims can be analyzed and debunked or vetted…but quite often it comes down to what YOU think is best…

    I’m going to come right out and say that my LEAST favorite part about the atheistic/skeptical blogosphere is when people’s politics get involved beyond the level of church/state separtion. I’ve talked about this with Joshua and Blake before, I’m sure, but to reiterate: there’s little I find more infuriating than when people on ANY side of an issue just label everyone one way. The point was brought up in the previous thread and, at least, there was some ground given that only SOME libertarians are cooks or suffer cooks lightly.

    But as someone who considers himself an independent with empathy for philosophical libertarianism and classical liberalism, there’s nothing that puts me off a discussion sooner than seeing “Libertarians are drug-addicted, Ayn Rand worshipping gunfetishists” or what have you. I don’t own a gun, and have no desire to read anything Rand has written, yet I’m still put off by that.

    SO anyway, yeah. When it comes down to what arguing about what one values and, indeed, the right way to preserve whatever that may be, arguments tend to go moot or negative really quickly. Hope we can avoid that.

    (By the way “The Drug Addicted Ayn Rand Worshipping Gun Fetishists” would be a great band or album name…)

  2. I listened to Penn’s Radio show back when it was on the air (and on Podcast) and his main point on any issue, was that he wasn’t comfortable with the idea that the government was taking money to do things. That doesn’t change for him if it’s NASA, Science Funding, Schools, Health Care, FDA or any government systems (except Courts, Police and Military). I think he was a little naive in some of his sentiments about he didn’t think the government could do a good job in these areas, but the main points of his arguments has been that we should not be giving the government that much power over our lives.

    With that said, I have heard him state, that going private would be a better system in every case, which I think could be addressed scientifically. The SGU specifically addressed the argument that a private watchdog group could work better than the FDA (which is not correct if you look at post-DSHEA). For Penn however this is a value judgment and he would not trust the government to such things.

    On a side note, the Radio Show was an excellent one in general. He does push Libertarian ideals a lot on the show, but also science and skepticism (along with guests like Randi, Dawkins, Phil Plait and call in people like Skepchicks’ very own A) along with Monkeys.

  3. I’ll read the comments when I get the time a little later, but I just wanted to hit a couple of points right off the bat:

    First of all, Penn should have said “government schools” and not “public schools.” The free market absolutely allows for privately-run public schools.

    Second, I think Blake Stacey is confused on the free market vs. corporatism. Hearst did what he did through corporatism. There’s no place for that in a free market. You only get that when the corporations can lobby the government to do their bidding. Hearst used his newspapers to sensationalize events in order to get the government to respond with legislation (sound familiar?) and used them to swing public opinion in favor of candidates he supported (again, sound familiar?). He himself was even elected to the House, remember.

    I think the commingling of corporations and government is as dangerous if not moreso than the commingling of religion and government.

  4. I found Shemer’s comment about the fallacy of people assuming the government can always provide service X better to be a bit of a straw man. One could make a similar criticism of libertarianism that they make the assumption that the free market can always provide X better.

    The fact of the matter is that this is a caricature, and I think few people make either assumption all the time. Most of us realize there are somethings the government are better suited to do and some things the free market is better suited to solve. However, the free market will not solve every problem because it may be optimizing for the wrong thing.

    I wish I had Shermer’s exact words, but I don’t. If anyone knows them, please enlighten me because I may be putting words in his mouth.

  5. i was also a big fan of penn radio, and from listening to that, my understanding of penn’s position is that he is always in favor of more freedom.

    the problem, as i see it, is in deciding what kind of freedom you want, and figuring out how to make sure everyone gets that freedom.

    if you turn education over to the free market, people’s ability to be educated will become more tied to their economic status than it is now. so you would be giving people the financial freedom of not having to pay the government to administer schools, but they would lose the freedom afforded to everyone by having reasonably equal educational access.

    penn has argued that he sees corporations stepping in to fix this problem (eg: microsoft schools). it’s possible this could work, but do we really want our educational system to be administered at the whims of corporations? what happens if they have a bad year and the stockholders decide they don’t want to invest in the school anymore? when it comes down to it, corporations exist to make money, and i’m not sure they’d have the public interest at heart in such an endeavor.

    in a lot of ways, it seems to me that the libertarian view is to do away with the idea of “the public interest” entirely. while i agree that government could be better, i think it is pretty much a fact of life if we want to live in any kind of organized society.

    i think the market does many things well, and other things not so much. it’s not a panacea. like most things in life, the answer lies not on the extremities, but somewhere in the middle: the grey area. i, for one, like grey.

  6. @Tina: BOTH! Not all Libertarians are totally crazy, and not all of them capable of preparing a souffle! :-P Well-spotted. I’ve been painting little wooden discs all day, I’m surprised my post had even that much lucidity!

  7. carrd2:

    That is a nice, to the point version of the 1000 word essay I was contemplating writing. It is eery how similar it is to what was in my head. Not so eery that I believe in psi, though. :-)

  8. Joshua’s assertion that “nearly all” private schools are religious is BOGUS. I’ve done a LOT of research since my son was diagnosed with autism, and although there are a lot of religious schools (most of which are VERY good and teach evolution and everything), there are a lot of secular private schools run by non-profits. By being secular, they can get donations and grants from a wide variety of sources, not just one church or members of a certain denomination.

    This fall, my daughter will be going to a charter school, which is EXCELLENT. It’s a privately-run public school, and my tax money which would have ordinarily gone into the local government school system for her instead goes to the charter school. Compare: our county stupidly voted to go ANOTHER $46 million in debt to build new schools. With that money, the Challenge Foundation (who runs our local charter school) could have built SEVEN new school buildings (fully supplied, with athletic fields and everything) and had money left over!!!

    Joshua also says there’s no evidence that competition will make schools better. I can only guess that the amount of evidence he’s seen on the subject is, NONE AT ALL. Watch John Stossel’s “Stupid in America” for a lot of good info: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=9069323583494421392

    You can also look at places where the money follows the students (as it sort of does with our charter schools here). Time and time again, once the schools have to compete for their funding, they ALWAYS improve. School choice makes school better not only for the students who move, but also the students who stay.

    Joshua also says, “it’ll just lead existing schools to pander to what rich donors think they should be teaching” and “at least [the government schools] have some kind of accountability.” I’d LOVE to see evidence for EITHER of these assertions.

    My daughter spent Kindergarten in the government schools were she was taught, for example, that we only have five senses. If you (with your own government school education) wonder what’s wrong with that, then read my blog: http://www.shanekillian.com/blog/index.php?/archives/112-It-starts-early….html

    Finally, let me just link to an article from a wonderful man who was not only a Libertarian but also a consummate skeptic (he would often mention James Randi and other skeptics on his radio show–and yes, that means that we had an agnostic candidate for President, TWICE!), Harry Browne: http://harrybrowne.org/articles/FreeTheSchools.htm

  9. carr2d2:

    “if you turn education over to the free market, people’s ability to be educated will become more tied to their economic status than it is now.”

    There’s absolutely no evidence of that. In fact, lots of poor kids are going to private school and doing BETTER. They WANT the poor kids. Again, watch the Stossel special.

    “do we really want our educational system to be administered at the whims of corporations?”

    I don’t. So, we won’t send our kids to a corporate-run school. We’ll send them to one run by a non-profit organization.

    “if we want to live in any kind of organized society.”

    Who says that organization has to be top-down? There’s nothing unorganized about a free market society, it’s just organized from the bottom up–and that makes it much more efficient, much more flexible, and much more responsive to everybody’s needs.

  10. carr2d2

    To take Devil’s Advocate (and Penn did play the Devil on Sabrina) I will simply state that the other side of the argument is that the government has its own agenda. We can see that easily with the pressure from the right to move creationism into school systems. He also makes the point that he doesn’t believe that parents should be forced to send their kids to public schools that teach evolution if they choose not to…That out to make a lot more people interested.

    I personally have no idea what we should do about the school systems. I think there is definitely a public interest in giving all members of the population an education, but I have no idea where that falls on. I do not think the government would do the best job, but it might do the best job for the most people. The scary part for me would be if a political party gets into power who decides that all schools should ban Evolution from being taught (or an event like Lysenkoism in Russia), which is a possibility with having a government based education system. I think I would say that with the current system we need to maintain constant vigilance and ensure that the politicians don’t do something like that….(Like in Louisiana).

  11. shanek: i will have to check that out. i do like the idea of schools run by non-profits, though i don’t really see much structural difference between this and government administration (apart from how the money is obtained). i mentioned the corporate idea because that seems to be penn’s main argument for how to solve the problem.

    another problem i can see here is with what gets taught. it isn’t much of a stretch of the imagination to think that kids’ choices could be severely limited, especially in rural areas. what if you couldn’t homeschool, and your kid’s only option was to go to a fundamentalist religious school?

    i guess i don’t understand how libertarian skeptics can talk one minute about making sure
    that our kids are getting proper science education and then turn around and talk about abolishing the only institution that is actually positioned to address this issue.

    we have enough trouble with this as it is now. if you remove the public school system, you take away the constitutional protections for secular education.

    let’s not forget for a minute that we are a minority in this country. there are certain things that the market just can’t see. scientific truth is not a democracy, and i fear that if education is opened up to the free market, it would be treated as though it were.

  12. protesilaus:

    i see what you’re saying, but at least with the government in charge, we have (at least theoretically) constitutional protection that gives us recourse in a doomsday situation like that.

    with a free market system, i don’t see what would stop the majority (right or wrong) from dictating what everyone gets taught.

  13. carrd2d2:
    let’s not forget for a minute that we are a minority in this country. there are certain things that the market just can’t see. scientific truth is not a democracy, and i fear that if education is opened up to the free market, it would be treated as though it were

    Me:
    And I think that is also going to be a problem with a government school, except that with privatized schools you get a choice in most cases. If Bush is (was) able to put one more Justice on the Supreme Court, we could lose Evolution from science classes all over the country. All of the Supreme Court decisions on these issues have always been very close, and most are based on political lines and not what the Constitution states. It’s not entirely a Dichotomy though, there is most likely a happy median, but I don’t think anyone has hit on it yet.

  14. carr2d2:
    i see what you’re saying, but at least with the government in charge, we have (at least theoretically) constitutional protection that gives us recourse in a doomsday situation like that.

    with a free market system, i don’t see what would stop the majority (right or wrong) from dictating what everyone gets taught.

    Me:
    We posted at the same time (or at least eerily close). I think that in a truly Free Market you don’t get the majority dictating. I think that the internet would be a good analog to that (hopefully). As long as an individual school manages to make money it will survive, so even if we are a minority there could be a niche market for a school system that panders to us.

  15. I also want to say thank you to Sam for pointing this out, since I completely missed this discussion the first time around and I would have loved to give my imput. Your are by far my 4th favorite Skepchick. I think 4th.

  16. I also want to say thank you to Sam for pointing this out, since I completely missed this discussion the first time around and I would have loved to give my imput. Your are by far my 4th favorite Skepchick. I think 4th.

    Hey, I’m just happy to be in there somewhere.

    Now back to your regularly scheduled program.

  17. carr2d2:

    “i don’t really see much structural difference between [a non-profit organization] and government administration (apart from how the money is obtained).”

    Well, first off, how the money is obtained is VERY important. Since government just taxes people by force, they have no incentive to spend it efficiently, and they have no accountability for results. That’s not the case with a non-profit.

    The second major difference is competition. If a non-profit does a bad job of running a school, parents can take their children elsewhere and donors can donate the money elsewhere. Again, that competition just doesn’t exist with government (although there are ways to partially introduce it).

    “what if you couldn’t homeschool, and your kid’s only option was to go to a fundamentalist religious school?”

    Sounds like a profitable niche to me!

    And even if other competition doesn’t show up, there are bound to be other parents in your area in the same situation. You could all home-school your children together, taking turns teaching or even pooling your money to hire a teacher or tutor. And then you have a community school!

    “abolishing the only institution that is actually positioned to address this issue.”

    I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they aren’t exactly doing a stellar job with science education. They CERTAINLY aren’t teaching critical thinking skills.

    “you take away the constitutional protections for secular education.”

    Granted, but you add a LOT more protections for problems that can now be addressed a lot more cheaply than going to the courts.

    “with a free market system, i don’t see what would stop the majority (right or wrong) from dictating what everyone gets taught.”

    It’s the government where you have to worry about that. The free market delights in catering to even the smallest of minorities. That’s the point–they COULDN’T dictate what everyone gets taught! You’re in control of your child’s education.

  18. One of the most common libertarian complaints about government is excessive bureaucracy. Overlooking that corporations produce monstrous bureaucracies themselves, it seems to me that bureaucracy is often desirable. It slows things down, but this also make it more difficult to cheat the system, since more people are checking what’s going on. Also, by having separate institution to monitor others, it circumvents the problem of potential offenders hiding infractions that would harm their image. So, for instance, we cannot reasonably expect McDonalds to accurately report their own sanitary conditions unless they are good, so we create an organization (expanding the bureaucracy) to check into sanitation at restaurants. Private watchdogs won’t cut it, because they can’t force a company to allow them to inspect like the government

    I think that, with regards to schooling, who determines the curriculum (I say this should be a government panel of experts in each subject being taught) is more important than who runs the actual schools.

  19. Josh:

    “So, for instance, we cannot reasonably expect McDonalds to accurately report their own sanitary conditions unless they are good, so we create an organization (expanding the bureaucracy) to check into sanitation at restaurants.”

    The problem is, government bureaucracy is expensive, inefficient, and often corrupt. Let’s consider another example:

    We cannot reasonably expect makers of electronic devices to accurately report their device’s safety, so the free market created an organization (Underwriters Laboratories) to test these devices and make sure they’re safe.

    UL WORKS. Like no government bureaucracy ever could. They actually do the testing themselves, they underwrite the results, and they have every incentive to spend the money they have efficiently. Since they underwrite the results, they also have every incentive to make their mistakes as close to zero as possible. If they do a bad job, people will just switch to a competitor (CE probably being the biggest one).

    “Private watchdogs won’t cut it, because they can’t force a company to allow them to inspect like the government”

    So who needs force? UL and CE and the rest don’t use force, and they’re ubiquitous.

    Now, if GOVERNMENT were in charge of electronics safety, by their track record it would take ten years to get a new device to market, they’d be hideously expensive, and often need recalling. And we’d still be waiting for this great new technology they’ve been promising us called “cell phones.”

  20. “the free market created an organization”

    Getting a bit anthropomorphic, aren’t we?

    An independent group can buy electronics and test them, that’s why I used the restaurant example. An independent group cannot simply demand access. And, a restaurant with poor sanitation, but a lot of money, can simply pay some sham organization to claim they’re doing well.

    What if I accrue a fortune and then pay random schools to teach that the moon is made of cheese? Then everyone at the school has to either raise more moeny than I’m offering or move to a different school? Is this really a desirable situation? (or do we not think that groups would do this? Coke not pay schools to advertise? Churches pay for them to evangelize? It isn’t as if they don’t try already.)

    Democratic governments are designed to protect minorities (this is why we have the constitution/bill of rights), even if they do not do as good a job as desirable. A free market has no such purpose; whatever can be paid for is what you get. Can you afford to trample on the rights of minorities? Then feel free to.

  21. i still don’t see how you think everyone would be served by a free market system. yeah, you say that there might be a niche market for something like a science academy in the back country of the bible belt, but that niche market might consist of just you. nobody’s going to build a school for one person.

    i’ll grant you that adding online education into the mix would mitigate a lot of the problems i have with a free market educational system. this is the only way you could reach a critical mass and really make sure that all minority groups are recognized.

    but then you get into the issues of internet accessibility and to me it still comes down to freedom for the affluent and take what you can get for the working class.

    shanek: “Now, if GOVERNMENT were in charge of electronics safety, by their track record it would take ten years to get a new device to market, they’d be hideously expensive, and often need recalling. And we’d still be waiting for this great new technology they’ve been promising us called “cell phones.””

    i mentioned above that there are things that the market does well. one of those things is driving technology. in fact, i think driving technological innovation is what the market does best.

    this does not mean that it will do well at everything. as i said above, i suspect that the answer lies somewhere in the grey area.

    i’m curious if there has ever been a real attempt to create a completely libertarian state. does one exist? i think a lot of the ideas look good on paper, but i’d love to see it in action; whether it works as well in the real world.

  22. This being my first comment ever posted on here I thought I would throw my hat into the ring. While his opinion of no government involvement in society sounds far-fetched in allowing people in that given society to work things out. An anarchistic way of living in flavor country would mean an end to governments and thus government funding which would then mean that hate-ridden organizations like the church and boy scouts would lose their financial strangleholds and would either have to change their ways or die off. Free-and-public schools would allow any child the same education (plus without the interference, there wouldn’t be the propaganda put upon them). While there is no such thing as a utopian society, maybe Penn is just saying that he has more hope in people making their own decisions than someone telling them what they should think or learn.

  23. Josh:

    “Getting a bit anthropomorphic, aren’t we?”

    There’s no other way to do it. The free market created this in the same way that evolution created the eye.

    “a restaurant with poor sanitation, but a lot of money, can simply pay some sham organization to claim they’re doing well.”

    And their legitimate competitors will expose them for the sham they are. That sort of thing just does not work in a free market. You need corporatism to make that happen.

    “What if I accrue a fortune and then pay random schools to teach that the moon is made of cheese?”

    Then they’ll laugh at you and ignore you, because they care about their own credibility, they want their graduates to be accepted to college, and they don’t want to lose the business of parents who also care about these things and would therefore send their children elsewhere.

    “Can you afford to trample on the rights of minorities? Then feel free to.”

    There is a word to describe businesses that do this in a free market:

    Bankrupt.

    Carr2d2:

    “nobody’s going to build a school for one person.”

    They wouldn’t have to. If it’s just my child, they can do it in my home or anywhere. Besides, what are the chances of there being just one, really? If you REALLY have to go to those laughable kinds of extremes to find a problem with it, I’d say it’s pretty unassailable.

    “but then you get into the issues of internet accessibility”

    There are a LOT of poor people in this country with computers and internet access. Mostly because the government got out of the way.

  24. It occurs to me that people are basing their argument, as usual, on, “I can’t understand how a free market would do this, therefore I don’t think it can.” It always amazes me that people who apparently have no trouble with the idea that evolution can develop an eye with no intelligent direction just can’t extend their imagination to the free market.

    If that’s the case, then there’s an excellent essay you should all read. It’s probably the best economics essay ever written: “I, Pencil” by Leonard Read: http://www.fee.org/Publications/the-Freeman/article.asp?aid=3308

  25. but the extremities are where the real problems lie. when it comes down to it, the system needs to serve everyone equally, or at least should be able to in theory. even if it is just one person.

    there may be a lot of poor people with computers, but not everyone. and the internet access that many poor people have is provided by public libraries, which are also paid for by the government, so those have to go too.

    as i said before, i think a lot of libertarian ideas look good on paper, but have they really been tested in the real world? yes, we know that the market can work out certain things very effectively, but has there ever been an effectively libertarian state?

  26. If McDonalds gave you food poisoning when you ate there would you still go? Or would you wait for some government agency to force it to clean up its act?

    My wife stopped going to Taco Bell when she kept getting sick after eating their food. I never saw a Health Department action to clean it up or shut it down.

    My daughter goes to a government school and she makes reference to god everyday. At school choir events she sings christian songs, not just xmas carols. I don’t see government doing a thing about it either.

    Poor kids in poor neighborhoods go to crappy government schools. Rich kids in rich neighborhoods go to good government schools.

    How is government doing anything in schooling that is significantly different than a non-government school?

  27. I just graduated with a degree in elementary education. I will teach in a public school for at least four years (to pay back my scholarship).

    I’m not sure how I feel about this whole thing. I don’t know if I’m against the idea of abolishing public schools because it’s all I know and all I’ve been taught, or if it’s because I really think it’s a bad idea.

    It’s something I should think about more, especially since it’s so central to who I am. I do feel uneasy at shifting from one extreme to another… that rarely works. This screams of overcompensation, rather than fixing a problem. “We’re so sick of this, let’s do away with it entirely!”

    My program focused on fostering critical thinking and integrating all subjects. I really think that the system is changing, however slowly, and headed toward a grey area. If we overshoot and end up at another extreme, we’ll end up with unforeseen problems that we aren’t equipped to fix because the change is so drastic and happened so rapidly.

    I really think we should consider all this carefully… this discussion is a good way to do that.

  28. @ fatherdaddy:

    The idea of having a government agency to watch over restaurants is to *prevent* you from getting food poisoning in the first place. And just because Taco Bell made your wife sick, doesn’t mean the restaurant is at fault – there are many people that feel ill when they eat cheap beans and cheese. If there was something truly wrong going on, the health department would probably shut them down.

    Yes, I realize there are faults… but if nobody has the right to go in and inspect a restaurant, nobody would know it’s bad until people started getting sick, or worse – dying.

    Efficiency aside, I think doing away with standard inspections altogether is not the answer.

  29. Carr2d2:

    “the system needs to serve everyone equally,”

    Then the LAST thing you should do is put it in the hands of government. Government will make sure it serves politicians and politically-connected corporations at everyone else’s expense.

    And before you can ask if there’s been an effective libertarian state, you have to ask if there’s been ANY libertarian states. What I can tell you is that, the more libertarian a state is, the better off the people are; the less libertarian, the worse off they are. And that has been shown throughout history.

    “My daughter goes to a government school and she makes reference to god everyday. At school choir events she sings christian songs, not just xmas carols. I don’t see government doing a thing about it either.”

    The First Amendment isn’t there to eliminate that sort of thing anyway.

    Amanda:

    “I do feel uneasy at shifting from one extreme to another… that rarely works. This screams of overcompensation, rather than fixing a problem. ‘We’re so sick of this, let’s do away with it entirely!'”

    So, is it any more rational to say, “This system really sucks; let’s put MORE money into it”?

    But I’m up for a grey area: Let’s have the complete ability to create charter schools and have a “follow the money” policy for every child, even those who go to private school or are home-schooled. The politicians start screaming bloody murder whenever you want to do even THAT much! That just proves it: THEY DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR CHILDREN AT ALL. They just want money and power for themselves.

  30. “There’s no other way to do it. The free market created this in the same way that evolution created the eye.”

    This kind of language is definitely the sort of thing that gives the impression of market-worship. The “free market” is not an existent entity, its a state of affairs. It’s important to describe how something actually came about, in the context of the market, so we can see if various situations are really comparable. Otherwise, you end up with ‘the market fixed this, so it can fix that too’ type of arguments.

    “It occurs to me that people are basing their argument, as usual, on, “I can’t understand how a free market would do this, therefore I don’t think it can.” It always amazes me that people who apparently have no trouble with the idea that evolution can develop an eye with no intelligent direction just can’t extend their imagination to the free market.”

    I could just substitute government for free market.

    It occurs to me that people are basing their argument, as usual, on, “I can’t understand how a free market would do this, therefore I don’t think it can.”

    uh yeah, why should I believe that the market can do something without evidence? The ability to imagine the market doing it will not suffice.

    Unfortunately, there’s a lot of evidence of corruption in the market. Just look at things like Enron, or Firestone’s rubber plant. The fact that government is corrupt and inefficient does not necessarily indicate that a private entity would be less corrupt or more efficient.

    “Then they’ll laugh at you and ignore you, because they care about their own credibility, they want their graduates to be accepted to college, and they don’t want to lose the business of parents who also care about these things and would therefore send their children elsewhere.”

    But if I’m paying them more than the parents who are enrolling children, why should they care? You seem to imagine that private actors are rigorously honest and upstanding, and would never engage in unethical conduct.

    In a democracy, politicians are voted for. I could say, the government should control everything because if they manage poorly, someone else will be voted in. They want to keep our votes so they will do good. Of course, this is facile, but it is no different from blithely asserting that companies will always be good so they don’t lose money. Not the way it works.

    The ways in which citizens can influence the government are different from the ways in which citizens can influence corporations. It is necessary to keep a healthy balance, because giving one entity too much power will benefit the bulk of the citizenry.

  31. “If we overshoot and end up at another extreme, we’ll end up with unforeseen problems that we aren’t equipped to fix because the change is so drastic and happened so rapidly.”

    exactly…

    and josh, i couldn’t have said it better. while things can always be better, i think the ideal we should shoot for is a truly representative government held in tension with a corruption-free market. we’ll never live in utopia, but i think throwing out either element is foolish (we’ve seen what happens when you throw out the market.)

    my point about wanting to know if there have been any successful libertarian states was that we don’t really know what a completely market run system would look like. i would love to see it in action…who knows? maybe it would work, just like you say, but i’m not willing to throw out the workable (if imperfect) system we have for one that is untested in the real world.

  32. carr2d2 there is a free state movement, but no there is no actual libertarian country. I don’t even have the data on a country with no public education.

    There is one point which is being made over and over again and it is that the Free Market would not be able to cover everybodies niche, so we might as well have government schools. I really don’t understand this argument. The government isn’t covering everybodies niche right now, and the problems we are having with science education in this country is that Fundamentalist Christians don’t want to send their kids to schools that teach evolution. This is happening all over in countries that have public schools and a diverse population. England is having it with their Islamic population (I believe I heard an article on SGU about not teaching about the Holocaust in English schools).

    I am not sure if the free market will do a better job to the majority of people, but at the very least parents will have more choice into where they send their kids.

  33. i haven’t said that i think government education is perfect. i just think it’s better to fix the system we have than to throw it out entirely and go to a completely untested system.

    this has been an interesting exchange. i’ve enjoyed it.

    and now i need to call it a night.

    btw, sam, it was really swell of you to shake up the can of bees and run the other way ;)

  34. A free market would produce “a solution” no doubt, and it would be locally optimized towards “some metric”, but what would this metric be?

    One thing that we definitely see with free markets is that while they often achieve a great overall metric (like a high GDP or something), they do create great economic disparities to achieve this (I am not arguing for communism here). Let’s just think about what this would mean for education, and if the type of solution it might create would be acceptable.

    A very plausible outcome could be that America may have some of the best schools in the world, and we may have the best overall test scores for those who get an education. However, what force would drive the market to bring schools to poor areas. I can certainly see something like natural selection weeding out “bad” schools, but is this always good? A very stable solution could be a clustering of good schools in wealthy areas and areas of dense population. But that doesn’t provide schools everyone.

    In addition to a free market not guaranteeing availability to everyone by geography, how can a free market ever provide to someone with no money even if they are near one of the naturally selected “good” schools. There is no economic incentive to give something away. The closest thing we have is someone gives you something to be subjected to advertising, unless your demographic is too poor. What’s the point in advertising to someone who can’t buy your products?

    The problem I see is that free markets don’t guarantee everyone gets the service nor that they get the same quality of service (for many things this is acceptable, and preferable to all out Marxism). However, if you believe that everyone has a right to a good education (maybe you don’t, but do we really want a less educated America), then I see no reason to think a free market solution is a good idea. Making such a drastic change would certainly require some more solid evidence than a free market based faith.

    Now I don’t think our system is optimal as it is. It guarantees education for all, but of varying quality. And a lot of this has to do with local control of schools and local funding. Poor areas have less money, there are no national standards, etc. I do think that a federal system would be much better than the hobbled together decentralized system we have now.

  35. Protesilaus:

    It is not about covering everyone’s niche. It is about at least providing an opportunity for everyone. If they would rather spend more to indoctrinate their children in a parochial school, that’s fine. I am less concerned with everyone finding their “niche” school than at least having the opportunity to get a half decent education. And that much, we have largely done with the current system. Public education has been the great equalizer, allowing people to move through social and economic classes. Because it is not perfect, there is no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water in a drastic move.

  36. Josh:

    “This kind of language is definitely the sort of thing that gives the impression of market-worship.”

    Worship? WORSHIP??? I compare one set of scientific laws (economics) to another (biology) and you say that means it’s WORSHIP???

    You sound more and more like someone who’s desperately trying to avoid giving up his world-view in the face of contrary evidence.

    “The ‘free market’ is not an existent entity,”

    Neither is evolution.

    “its a state of affairs.”

    No, it’s not. It’s a set of scientific principles.

    “I could just substitute government for free market.”

    Except that the market has been OBSERVED to do this kind of thing. The government ONLY works from the top down, imposing things BY FORCE, and therefore can only do what people can conceive of–and it can’t even do that efficiently or reliably.

    “why should I believe that the market can do something without evidence?”

    EXACTLY what the creationists say about evolution. But, like evolution, there IS evidence. Just look at the pencil.

    “why should they care?”

    Asked and answered. You have a VERY screwed-up notion of how the market works.

    “You seem to imagine that private actors are rigorously honest and upstanding, and would never engage in unethical conduct.”

    No, I “imagine” they act the way they’re incentivized to act–AND THEY ARE.

    I STRONGLY suggest you pick up an economics textbook. Or, if that’s too much for you, check out Economics in One Lesson, available for free here: http://jim.com/econ/contents.html

    Carr2d2:

    “we’ll never live in utopia, but i think throwing out either element is foolish (we’ve seen what happens when you throw out the market.)”

    Fine. Now all you have to do is point out who it is that’s wanting to throw out the government (because it ain’t me; I’m not an anarchist, and libertarianism is not anarchism).

    “just like you say, but i’m not willing to throw out the workable (if imperfect) system we have”

    Okay, now all you have to do is show that it IS workable, because right now that is very much NOT in evidence.

    Once again: the more government and less free market, things get worse; the less government and more free market, things get better. If you know of any example in history where the contrary is true, please present it.

    Protesilaus:

    “carr2d2 there is a free state movement, but no there is no actual libertarian country. I don’t even have the data on a country with no public education.”

    Well, you could try this country (which didn’t have government schools for 100 years), which in the years following its founding had (among the non-slave population) universal literacy among men, and near-universal literacy among women, and was praised by de Tocqueville as having the best educational system in the world.

    “The government isn’t covering everybodies niche right now,”

    Ain’t THAT the truth! I mentioned earlier my son is autistic…he’s in the special program at a government school, but the special program is really the only place where parents have some degree of choice. The class where he’s in now is REALLY good, because they’ve got a great teacher. One of the many great things about her is, she’s not at all shy about fighting the bureaucracy to make sure that No Child Left Behind doesn’t leave him behind.

    Unfortunately, not everyone has great teachers like that available to them.

    “the problems we are having with science education in this country is that Fundamentalist Christians don’t want to send their kids to schools that teach evolution.”

    Actually, I’d say that’s as much a result of bad science education as a cause.

    Skepgeek:

    “[free markets] do create great economic disparities”

    No, they don’t. Free markets ELIMINATE the disparities. It’s corporatism that creates the disparities. I REALLY wish people would learn the difference.

    “However, what force would drive the market to bring schools to poor areas.”

    The same thing that always drives it: demand. It’s not as if the market doesn’t get food, cars, and even computers to poor people. Even despite the enormous drag the “War on Poverty” has caused, our poor are still among the richest poor people in the world! They’re doing as well if not better than the middle class most anywhere else.

    “how can a free market ever provide to someone with no money”

    The same way it always does. Ask Dr. Ron Paul how he handled treating his patients who couldn’t afford to pay, for example.

    “There is no economic incentive to give something away.”

    Okay, someone else needs lessons in basic economics…

    I guess the free market companies that donate BILLIONS of dollars per year–more than the government provides in aid and welfare–are just stupid or insane?

    “free markets don’t guarantee everyone gets the service”

    Neither does government. But the free market comes a LOT closer than government does. Government only seems to be good at creating shortages.

    “Making such a drastic change would certainly require some more solid evidence than a free market based faith.”

    I’ve presented a LOT of evidence so far. What kind of evidence do you want?

    “I do think that a federal system would be much better than the hobbled together decentralized system we have now.”

    Then why was the “hobbled together decentralized system” working so much better before Federal intrusion began in the 1960s?

    “I am less concerned with everyone finding their “niche” school than at least having the opportunity to get a half decent education. And that much, we have largely done with the current system.”

    Ah. So, 38% of graduates being illiterate is decent to you?

    “Public education has been the great equalizer,”

    Yep: it’s made everyone equally dumber.

    “there is no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water”

    Unless it’s Rosemary’s baby.

  37. Worship? WORSHIP??? I compare one set of scientific laws (economics) to another (biology) and you say that means it’s WORSHIP???

    The idea that anything in economics is sufficiently well established to be regarded as a scientific law is absolutely farcical.

    I thought about saying something else in this thread, but now I realize there’s not much point to it.

  38. “The idea that anything in economics is sufficiently well established to be regarded as a scientific law is absolutely farcical.”

    I challenge you to support this. Economics has laws that allow observations to be calculated. Economics makes predictions that can be tested. Economics has been consistently tested and retested, and although some forms of economics (like Keynesian economics) have fallen short, others have been shown to be quite sound.

    The only problem with economics is that, more so than any other science, the politicians have worked hard to distort what it is.

    They also apparently seem to have done an incredibly good job of making people completely ignorant of economics…

  39. “I’ve presented a LOT of evidence so far. What kind of evidence do you want?”

    I honestly haven’t seen anything in this thread I would count as evidence? Maybe empirical evidence, like where this has worked (I don’t think the education of the average Victorian Age American male would help you much today)? Maybe a some good models at least?

    All I see are statistics that make me question your sources of information (e.g., “Ah. So, 38% of graduates being illiterate is decent to you?”), and some vague notion about how it al used to be so much better.

  40. carr2d2:

    Not sure if you are going to catch up after you get up tomorrow (and I don’t have time right now to read some of the essays written on the topic above).

    I think that is where the 2 systems will be, in a free market system there will be more choice, but not everyone will be able to get access to the education, and in government schools, there will be to many private interests attempting to bend the education their way (brings to mind my 3rd SGU reference, with the conversation with the Textbook league guy). That is where the 2 systems will get us, both of them have their issues.

    I think there is going to be a happy median, which addresses most of the issues, but I don’t know how to get there, and I haven’t heard of anything that I think would bridge that gap.

    SkepGeek:

    The problem with telling Christians or Muslims (just to name the ones I brought up earlier) that they can spend their money sending kids to private schools is that we live in a Democracy. They both have votes and both groups can attempt to put prayer in public schools or take out evolution. If there is a serious vote in this country to see if we should teach evolution in the schools, odds are we are going to lose. The Bill of Rights was put there to protect the minority, from the majority.

    My overall point on this whole thing is that I think there is a center point that everyone will be comfortable with, there may be a way to get more free market pressures into the schools without getting rid of public schools all together. I think we can all agree that the status quo needs to be fixed, and I am not arguing that we should dismantle the existing infrastructure and start from scratch. This cannot be just a dichotomy. Maybe someone in power will be hear this and give me a school district to experiment on….but I am not sure that will happen.

    It’s been a wonderful discussion, and I will try and read this all tomorrow morning. I am so happy to have found a community that can openly discuss all of these issues like this. I guess what I am saying is summed up below:

  41. forgive me if this has already been covered, but I have two cents that I can’t spend anywhere else.

    Libertarianism in the United States is an odd creature, one borne out of a very strict interpretation of the constitution, and is very reflective of the American character and almost innate distrust of the state. “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” says it all, really.

    When I contrast that to the Canadian constitutional example of “Peace, Order, and Good Government”, I find it in striking contrast to the American counterpart, in that, by and large, Canadians are largely trustful of the state (not neccessarily the government at the time, but the idea of a state does not abhor us nearly as much).

    The Canadian government doesn’t have as long and well-known history of major snafu’s like the American government does (I’m really not trying to start one of those mindless “which country is better arguments….I hate people who pull that crap). So if I were Penn, and I grew up in the United States, being raised on “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”, I would surely be an ardent libertarian also.

    But as it is, I’ve been indoctrinated to believe that “Peace, Order and Good Government” is the ideal structure of a civilization, I’m happy to temper my libertarianism with a modicum of social responsibility. That is to say, that I believe in a free-market, but the government should take sure that the market is TRULY equal….too often (in both countries), the free-market economy is undermined by preferential financial policies that make sure that those who are in the ruling class, STAY ruling class. So here is where Penn and I split….He tends to commit the David Hume naturalistic “is-ought” naturalistic fallacy…that those who are mega-rich are so because they ought to be, due to exceptional skills. A cursory glance at economic policy and the legal system shows otherwise.

    My libertarianism is such that it reflects my desire to have the government ensure a TRULY free-market (which has never, EVER been seen in history), and to protect free-speech at ALL costs (I’m looking at you, terrorists who firebombed the Danish Embassy!).

    okay….4 cents.

  42. SkepGeek:

    “Maybe empirical evidence, like where this has worked”

    Provided. Reread the thread.

    “Maybe a some good models at least?”

    Check ANY good Macroeconomics textbook.

    These aren’t “vague notions.” They’re the result of many, many decades of scientific examination, whether you want to admit it or not.

    Protesilaus:

    “a free market system there will be more choice, but not everyone will be able to get access to the education”

    Not everyone can get it NOW. And a lot of them who can get it are being neglected. The Stossel special I mentioned follows one such example.

    “there may be a way to get more free market pressures into the schools without getting rid of public schools all together.”

    I’ve already mentioned such a way. And again in the Stossel special, he speaks to South Carolina (whose governor wants to implement these reforms) officials and they scream bloody murder. THEY DON’T WANT IT FIXED.

    “Maybe someone in power will be hear this and give me a school district to experiment on….but I am not sure that will happen.”

    Like I said, I can point you to our local charter school. That’s a GREAT example right there.

    See you tomorrow, and a Boom De Yada to you, too!

    Some Canadian Skeptic:

    “Libertarianism in the United States is an odd creature, one borne out of a very strict interpretation of the constitution,”

    Actually, the roots of Libertarianism (classical liberalism) are what the Constitution was born from.

    “I believe in a free-market, but the government should take sure that the market is TRULY equal.”

    Sure, through police, courts, etc., to make sure that someone doesn’t use force or fraud to gain unfair advantage over another.

    “the free-market economy is undermined by preferential financial policies”

    Uh, no, in a free market system, there are no financial policies. You’re thinking of corporatism again.

  43. So..I’m at TAM6 where I heard plenty of snickers in the audience about the state of education in this country. We pay more per student than any other western country if I recall.

    Why aren’t more people skeptical of the concept of government education? Most of the reasons I’ve seen in the thread for supporting government education has less to do with evidence that it works, and more just the idea that it should be the government’s job out of a philosophical belief.

    The goal should be to try different systems to see what actually works best. That’s the ultimate goal.

  44. No, its more than just corporatism…

    People who are in the ruling class are born into that class, complete with the social networking conections that make sure they stay in that class, regardless of their individual skills/abilities (President Bush is the easiest, if cheapest, example of this).

    Someone from a working poor background is taught all their lives that if they just work hard enough, and if they have enough talent then they can become rich too. Which is a complete load because this is a society which rewards not work, but investment…something no working class person can afford to do.

    If our system was even remotely as free-market as is preached (often times by people in the ruling class), then there would be a lot more upward mobility of the poor and talented and downward mobility of the rich and dumb.

    Sadly, the message we’re all fed is that if you’re rich, you’ll likely die rich because you deserve it. If you’re poor, suck it up, poor-man. Serves you right for being so lazy.

    That’s not corporatism, nor a free-market. It’s wage-slavery. The working poor have almost no chance outside of a lawsuit or the lottery from escaping wage-slavery and being able to invest a bit of money….which is the only thing our system seems to reward. We need work, but don’t reward it. We need consumption, but we don’t protect consumers when products go haywire. But when it comes to investment, governments bend over backwards to make it easier to invest larger and larger amounts of money.

    There is nothing “free” about our market.

  45. Seems to me there’s a lot of leaps of faith made by the hardcore free-market crowd. That under sucha a system a business can only make a profit by making customers happy. And that if it screws people over, it’ll be punished by another company popping up and providing a better service.

    I feel a healthy dose of skepticism is required here. ;-)

    The market is a vital tool but i don’t think it’s the answer to all our problems. (and no I don’t think BIG GOVERNMENT ALLCAPS is either, just to stave off the usual retorts).

  46. Some Canadian Skeptic:

    “People who are in the ruling class are born into that class,”

    WHAT ruling class? That’s just socialist paranoia. What “ruling class” was Bill Gates born into? Or Sam Walton?

    “Which is a complete load because this is a society which rewards not work, but investment.”

    Tell that to Farrah Gray.

    Oots:

    “That under sucha a system a business can only make a profit by making customers happy.”

    How else could they do it?

  47. Here’s a book that probably everyone should read: The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley.

    Although be warned: you might have to shrug off the socialist indoctrination instilled in you by government school teachers who actually think that Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” had any basis in fact at all…

  48. SomeCanadianSkeptic. I agree with you 95%, though I think you are missing the point somewhat. It isn’t that the Captialist System is in someway being distorted away from a “free” market and removing those inequities would make things better but rather those inequities are fundemental to the Capitalist mode of production.

    I disagree with you in that I believe it is possible to move up the “social ladder”, it is very hard indeed, but it is possible. The Capitalist System, though bad, is better than the Feudal System it replaced. No one is born into their occupation anymore. One may be born into a particular class (and it may be hard to move from one class to another) but within it there are many subtle gradations.

    Another thing I have noticed among the general tone of postings is the general materialist culture, that somehow having more money, allowing one to buy more stuff will make you happy.

    I make no secret of my contempt for the advertising industry (who’s motto should be :”Convincing suckers to work jobs they hate to buy sh*t they don’t need”), but I think their methods can be used to show peope that “Stuff” will not make you happy, and once your needs have been taken care of the rest is just gravey.

    Why would you want to be Rich? You can only sleep in one bed at a time, only wear one shirt at a time and people respect you for your actions not your possesions.

  49. Sshanek, given that you’re apparently talking about “socialist intdoctrination” with a completely straight face, I’m not sure how productive arguing the details will be.

    I don’t buy socialism working, I don’t buy lolbertarianism working either.

  50. Isn’t Bill Gates the son of a well known Seattle lawyer, who went to a private school followed by Harvard? Not to denigrate his rival-crushing prowess but it’s not like he came off the boat with only the clothes he stood up in is it?

    Most “Self-Made” men did not come from Humble beginings, rather they moved from a relatively low rank in the upper class into the stratosphere.

    The example pushed down our throats in the UK is Richard Branson, who built himself up from “nothing” with the paltry £1,000,000 his father gave him (back in the late 60’s when that was fold’in money), into a Billionaire today

  51. I am not sure that the Free Market exists as Shanek is defining it, anyway. You try to pin him down, and “No, that’s not a free market, its corporatism or its capitalism or something else.” Is there any such free market, or is it a pipe dream, something that looks great on paper but never actually works out that way. While it is almost the opposite of Marxism, the way Shanek argues reminds me of old school Marxists and communists. Sure it sounded great and all to some, but it was never practical to implement. Both the hardcore libertarians like Shanek and the old Marxist intellectuals of the early 20th century seem to be equally out of touch with reality and have thins unbending faith that if you just give their idea a chance it will solve all problems.

  52. Hhm, I reread the thread as shanek suggested, still unimpressed. I was almost convinced by the frequent use of all caps though.

    By models, I don’t mean models of free markets and capitalism. Of course that is all over any econ book. I meant of free markets applied to public education to explore the different forces at work, what sort of stable solutions they could lead to. It certainly wouldn’t convince me to make such a drastic change to education on some simple models alone, but it might give me reason to take the idea more seriously.

    Maybe if I really thought it was a completely broken and worthless system, I would try what you are saying out of desperation. But I don’t, and I think your personal experiences may be blinding you a bit on this.

  53. “Was lolbertarianism a mispelling or a joke?”

    A joke. I’m willing to listen to small-government ideas, but sometimes they get a bit too extreme and the lib becomes lol.

  54. Oots:

    Sinclair’s “The Jungle” is ABSOLUTELY Socialist propaganda. By his own admission, that’s why he wrote it! No, arguing isn’t going to be productive, but only because you’re unwilling to consider the facts.

    russellsugden:

    I notice you conveniently ignored Farrah Gray. I CHALLENGE you to say HE came from an affluent family!!!

    And the Stanley book I cited shows that you are quite, quite wrong.

    (Am I the only one in this entire discussion who is citing sources???)

    SkepGeek:

    Stop with the blind rhetorics. If you don’t have anything of value to add, then what are you doing here, other than trying to support your own world-view? Again, why do I seem to be the ONLY one providing evidence and citing sources?

  55. The ironic thing is a agree with a lot of what libertarians say, because I value freedom quite a bit. I also like small government. But education, defense, some scientific research and some infrastructure things need to be government funded IMO.

    The scientific research thing comes in because corporations don’t fund highly risky scientific research. They only really fund engineering anymore. Though, some of it (a very small amount) was funded by Bell labs and a few other companies decades ago. THough this was still mostly research were there was known gain. Much scientific research that is valuable is not realized for what it is at the time. Also, I have to admit, being in this community, that because it is high risk, the majority of funded research produces marginal results. It isn’t just about funding smart people, but there is a luck factor as well. A great genius will also have a lot of unfruitful research in his career.

  56. See, SkepGeek, this is the kind of thing I’m talking about. You (and many others) say:

    1) This isn’t a free market (true)
    2) Such-and-such isn’t working well now (also true)
    3) Therefore, this is a failure of the free market (huh???)

    PLEASE explain this very tortured logic to me.

  57. I fail to see the point about Farrah Gay. Of course in a large population you will find people who have crossed certain barriers. But is this a rule or the exception?

    http://www.ruwart.com/Healing/chap10.html is the first interesting thing you’ve posted.

    As to “Again, why do I seem to be the ONLY one providing evidence and citing sources?”, you should really try to answer that. I think the word “seem” is telling. It is possible that everyone but you lacks critical thinking or is very dogmatic about this. But it could also be that you are the dogmatic and blinded one. You are certainly the one whose emotions are most entangled with the issues here. You’re the only one getting angry about this.

    I think to change anyone’s opinion you would have to:
    1. Be less aggressive and antagonistic.
    2. Convince people that the education system is more broken than they believe or that it is less important.
    3. Provide real examples of a free market solution to education in practice somewhere somewhat similar to modern America.
    4. Address the intuitive concerns about a free market solution being able to provide in lowly populated areas and to those unable to pay.
    5. Suggest a practical way to transition.

    You and I clearly disagree that you have done #3 & #4, but I think the burden of proof is upon you. I am not stating that I know a free market solution will never work, just that I am skeptical that it will. Since I don’t think the system is terrible as is (though it could be a lot better), and I think it is too important to make sudden radical changes unless we are very sure of the result, you really have to provide something stronger to convince me of anything more than it is “possible” that free market solution “may” work.

  58. SkepGeek:

    “I fail to see the point about Farrah Gay. Of course in a large population you will find people who have crossed certain barriers. But is this a rule or the exception?”

    If you’d read the Stanley book I referenced, you’d know that. Pretty much all of the myths people believe about millionaires are WRONG.

    “You’re the only one getting angry about this.”

    I am? What, you’re psychic or something? You can send telepathic waves through the internet and know what other people are feeling?

    No, I’m NOT angry…but the fact that you insist that I am is VERY telling.

    And I have done ALL FIVE of the things that you suggest I do. What am I supposed to do when all of this information I post is just being ignored?

    For that matter, why am I the one having to prove my point when I’m not the one going against centuries of observation?

  59. btw, sam, it was really swell of you to shake up the can of bees and run the other way

    Well, that is my usual MO.

    Actually, I had to take care of a few work things, only to return to find out I’ve been left way behind in the discussion. I’m trying to catch up.

  60. and Shanek, I actually agree that your posts do sound a bit angry, maybe because of the all caps. I know you’re passionate about politics, just keep in mind your audience will be won over more by your very good humor than anything else :)

  61. Okay, I finally read the entire thread, and I will echo what Rebecca said above. This is a subject about which some of you are obviously passionate, and it’s nice to see that passion come through in your comments.

    If I may make a suggestion, however, I would say try to use the italics tag when you want to emphasize a word instead of all caps. All caps gives the impression of yelling, and no one wants to be yelled at. The “blockquote” tag is useful for ease of reading as well. Also, I would avoid guessing at another commenter’s emotional state. You’re either going to be wrong or cause needless friction. It’s easy and less stressful to simply assume a level head for everyone involved.

    Now, having said that, I will add that to me the most intriguing, if not overlooked, aspect of this discussion is the idea of change. Several commenters have pointed out that a free market structure may have benefits over that of government-run education system on paper, but that the free market approach has never been tested, and therefore may not be the best approach. But don’t we have to make a big change to test free market education? Isn’t trial and error and experimentation the best way to get to the best possible solution?

    At the same time, the current government-run education system obviously has its flaws, and in need of change.

    So . . . Now for your homework assignment:

    For those in favor of a free market approach, I think we all have a basic idea, but I know I’m not completely sure I have all the details, so is it worthwhile to outline exactly what a change to that type of system would entail?

    And for those who are not ready to abolish the state-run schools just yet, is there a way to outline the changes needed to improve that system? At least to get it to a point where those of us who went through the system wouldn’t have any hang-ups about putting our children through it.

  62. Sam, I’d really like to see someone address my idea of just adding competition into the equation with a money-follows-the-child policy, as well as opening up all opportunities for charter schools. It seems like all people want to address are the extremes; I’ve brought this up twice and no one seems to want to touch it.

    I’ll try to remember to use the emphasize tag from now on. I’m in the habit of using caps, because tags don’t work everywhere, and I come from the Usenet days when that wasn’t an option anyway.

  63. Sean: If anything, it should work better. I don’t really know what you want me to say; do you want proof that people in remote areas benefit from economy? They generally benefit about as much without being subject to a lot of the economic downturns. So free market schools in those areas should if anything be more reliable.

  64. “Also, I would avoid guessing at another commenters emotional state.” Good point.

    I may have been imagining something completely diff than what Shanek is proposing. Are you saying to have something like a voucher system and the taxes go straight to the vouchers rather than to any schools? Or are you saying get rid of taxes for education all together? The former is less radical, and it seems plausible to me that it could still provide the opportunity for education to all. Now I am not sure that I am in favor of niche schools, but that is another issue.

  65. I’ll try to remember to use the emphasize tag from now on. I’m in the habit of using caps, because tags don’t work everywhere, and I come from the Usenet days when that wasn’t an option anyway.

    No worries. Just a suggestion.

    I’d really like to see someone address my idea of just adding competition into the equation with a money-follows-the-child policy, as well as opening up all opportunities for charter schools. It seems like all people want to address are the extremes; I’ve brought this up twice and no one seems to want to touch it.

    Well, it seems to me that this is a difficult subject to broach without addressing the extremes. I think when you talk about change, the natural inclination is to draw the possibilities related to that change out as far as they will go. However, I do see the benefit of the “baby steps” approach.

    If you’ve done it already and I just missed it, I apologize, but can you expound on how the money-follows-the-child policy could be implemented? I mean, can you show us how this wouldn’t be an extreme?

  66. SkepGeek:

    Are you saying to have something like a voucher system and the taxes go straight to the vouchers rather than to any schools?

    Here’s where you get into details…vouchers are a bad idea because the government is essentially giving the schools welfare. There’s nothing to stop them attaching all sorts of strings, especially once they become dependent on this money. We’ve seen that happen with private colleges. Also, the government can just turn around and increase taxes for the school systems that lose the money, and there goes the benefit of competition.

    But basically, you’re on the right track. If essentially you had a tax credit instead of a voucher, whichever school the child went to would get the money. This is how charter schools work. Only now, it could also go to a private school, or be refunded to the parents if they homeschool. If you watch the Stossel special I mentioned, he talks about schools in Belgium that use just such a system, and it works phenomenally well.

    Sam:

    Well, it seems to me that this is a difficult subject to broach without addressing the extremes.

    But if you only address the extremes, you can ALWAYS find problems, and you absolve yourself of any responsibility of comparing those problems to your side’s extremes.

  67. Shanek. I’ve never heard of Farrah Grey, but as someone else pointed out and I myself stated, its not impossible to be socially mobile (though it’s getting harder in the UK according to the fountian of all knowledge that is the BBC, coincidentally, a pole yesterday showed ~80% of the population want more “nanny state” government intervention in their lives, >70% want the government to provide free counselling for the whole country!) My own family history is one of rapid upward mobility from pre-war SweatShop Tailors to 21st century middle-class Research Scientists

    Anyway my real point is this. Surely somebody somewhere will have done a comparison study of the educational outcomes of children from countries with different educational systems? Holland and Sweden have privatised education (BBC again), the UK has a mixture of Public Schools (what we call Private Schools, because anyone who pays can go not just aristocrats), State Comps, State Grammers, Church Schools, Business Owned and run Schools. I’m almost 100% certain someone will have looked at the comparative effectiveness of these. Christ, you can’t put pen to paper in England without an official somewhere making a note of it.

    My own personel theory would be to ditch the current post-code system whereby proximity to the school gets you in (suprise suprise some of the best schools in the UK are in very expensive areas where working class people could never dream of living) and re-introduce the 11plus examinations [I’m risking my card carrying Leftie status I know] and single sex schools across the whole country. And make University free again (“Like it wur when Iar wur a bairn”)

    In order to make it work this time around the government would have to have the monopoly on schooling (no fee paying schools for the rich and thick) and it would have to be rigourously enforced: Tarquin and Jocaster might end up in the Secondary Modern learning a useful trade.

    Just as when I was 11, past papers and practice-at-home-workbooks would be availible. I’m from Dewsbury (“the sh*test little town on earth” wikipedia it) and I benifited from the old system. Give bright-but-poor kids a chance and they’ll shine.

  68. Shanek:

    Thanks for elaborating a bit. I was envisioning something very different from what you are really proposing (I could elaborate later if you want, but it is probably unimportant). When I get some time, not at work, I’ll look at that video.

    I still have some reservations, but it doesn’t sound crazy to me. It is something I will look at more closely.

  69. As interesting as the debate on the relative merits of various potential organisations of education systems are, I think they miss the most alarming implications of Penn’s outburst. His statement was “It is better to be uneducated than educated by your government” (this elicited a cheer from a small section of the crowd, and at least one boo).

    This is not about monetary efficiency, or educational effectiveness, it is (seemingly) about a deep-seated paranoia regarding the functions of the state. I find it quite worrying that a call for *less* education could be met with a cheer at what what supposed to be an educational conference*

    I also found it deeply ironic that Penn could denounce all state education with one breath, and then in the next breath talk about what big fans of NASA he and Teller are…

    * or at least a conference organised by an educational foundation- however given the reading material that was included with our delegates packs (propaganda for the Atlas Society) I have to wonder how far the aimes were educational rather than political. Or perhaps I’m being paranoid now…

  70. Mirrormask:

    His statement was “It is better to be uneducated than educated by your government”

    And as one of the ones who cheered, what he meant by that is, if you’re uneducated, you can be educated easily by others you encounter. If you’re educated badly (as government seems to do), then you’re constantly having to fight to uneducate them first before you’re educated.

    As a (for the most part) autodidact, I know I had to do a lot of unlearning most of what I learned in government school. And I could also use this very thread as an example: lots of people are apparently ignorant of even basic economics, and try as I might to educate them (even by giving links to free resources), they seem to fall on deaf ears. If they were coming at this fresh, without all of the indoctrination behind them, they’d be able to go and read these elementary sources and be in a much better position to understand what’s going on–as opposed to casting aspersions on the field, as some here have done.

    Really, the similarity to creationists is astounding. Give me someone uneducated; they’re much easier to educate. Someone with a head already full of bogosity can be a real pain.

  71. I guess your premise is that government education naturally indoctrinates people in some sinister way as to benefit itself. I have a less cynical (though you might say less realistic) view of the government, I suppose.

    I don’t doubt that any school or system of education will introduce biases that influence children the rest of their life. I am actually more worried about the kind of indoctrination people would get from “niche schools”. As an obvious example I think of parochial schools like I went to that gave me a horrible education and spent more time teaching us why science is wrong about everything than actually teaching science. Such schools allow parents to shelter their children from ideas until they are old enough views have almost solidified.

    This seems far worse than a government education to me (probably a difference of opinion between us). Now you may argue that they should have that choice to indoctrinate their children how they want, but I also think the child has rights to be exposed to other ideas outside their small community before adulthood. I wouldn’t go as far as Dawkins an call this indoctrination child abuse, but I do find it very troubling and am not sure that the parents’ rights extend this far. This is one reason I lean heavily towards a mandatory secular education.

    You also seem to present the uneducated man as a sort of blank slate, ready to learn new ideas. This has not been my experience. The less educated, the more stubborn has been my experience. These people also lack the critical thinking skills necessary to sift the crap from real information without any education. Even a “government” education goes a long way in helping that.

    As for knowledge of economics, I am fairly ignorant and readily admit that. It never was an interest of mine, and so I only had the most basic one semester course in high school. I am a mathematician, and the closest thing I have studied that interests me is game theory (which has applications in economics). Does this make me uneducated? Does it make you uneducated that if you don’t know basic ring theory, how to program, or modern physics? I am sure there are topics that I know that you don’t as well.

    As far as the links go, it is good to share those, but I can’t just watch a video, read a book, etc in the middle of semi-realtime conversation, and I don’t think others can. Furthermore, I don’t know whether or not your sources are any good (anybody can throw out a thousand links to support their political opinion). I looked at them briefly, and some of it set of my bullshit detector as propaganda-sounding (if that is a word). The funny thing is I thought you were like a creationist: throwing out a ton of information about sources I couldn’t check fast enough to properly address them.

    My point in the last paragraph is that I don’t think it is quite an accurate picture that you are trying to educate people that are indoctrinated, uneducated and unable/unwilling to be educated. The problem I think is an information overload, of sources we question, falling on people who do not spend nearly the same amount of time reading about politics and economics. Also, in my case a major problem was not understanding the details of what you proposed and imagining something else.

  72. I forgot to say that I really have to unsubscribe from this thread. It has been interesting, irritating and lively, but most of all, it has been extremely time-consuming.
    Blogging and forums are new to me (in that I have ignored them, not that I did not know what they are), and I had no idea how much of a threat they are to my careful time-management. :-) I need to choose carefully which threads to respond to seriously so as not to over-extend myself.

  73. SkepGeek:

    Yes, you’d be able to find a ton of private schools that do a bad job. The difference is, you’d have a choice. You wouldn’t be stuck in the failed system. As it is, even if you’re rich enough to be able to move your children out of it, you’re still stuck paying for it.

    Yes, there are a lot of topics that I don’t know about…but I generally don’t go making wild statements in those areas, and I certainly don’t cast aspersions on the people working in those areas.

    And I never though I’d ever hear a skeptic say that citing sources is a reason to be suspicious! The mind boggles!

    Again, these are the basics. I, Pencil can be read in a few minutes, Economics in One Lesson in an evening. And if you have any rebuttal of anything that was said, you are of course free to present it. But I really don’t see how you expect me or any other skeptic to give your excuse for ignoring my sources any credence.

  74. I still don’t see how privatising schools makes them any better at actually teaching kids.

    Sure, I can buy that the economics of an all-private system work. Maybe even they’re more cost effective. But, as I said back before this discussion got its own thread, I went to a K-6 private school where biology literally consisted of “God did it”. They had custom textbooks (A Beka Books, look ’em up) and everything.

    I’m more interested in a quality education than a cheap one, and while it’s clear that our public schools aren’t doing a great job of teaching evolution, at least their obligation to the obey Constitution keeps them from stocking A Beka Books, for fuck’s sake.

    Anyway, I’m going to switch mode and play devil’s advocate for a sec. It seems to me that the best argument against public schools is actually the way they’re administered — namely, school boards. School boards are made up of people who, for the most part, have absolutely no education credentials whatsoever, and yet they make all the important decisions about the school’s curriculum and textbook choice. I mean, this is what Dover was ultimately about: ignorant ideologues fucking with the schools to serve their own agenda.

    Of course, as my own anecdote showed, private schools with their professional administrators are equally capable of putting ideology before education, and have fewer restrictions in their ability to do so. But, in my opinion, this is the real weak point of public schools. Because at least private school administrators are professionals who can afford the time to follow emerging trends in education and keep up with the latest and most effective methods, as well as devote the proper amount of time to vetting textbook selections.

    But I don’t see any reason why we can’t just eliminate the school board system and replace them with civil service professionals.

  75. And as one of the ones who cheered, what he meant by that is, if you’re uneducated, you can be educated easily by others you encounter. If you’re educated badly (as government seems to do), then you’re constantly having to fight to uneducate them first before you’re educated.

    In the early 1990’s, when object-oriented software development was first becoming popular, common knowledge stated that novice programmers could learn OO programming skills more easily and efficiently than those who were skilled in non-OO programming, because they had less to “unlearn”. Studies eventually showed that this was specious; skilled programmers could more easily switch to OOP than novices could be trained in OOP.

    I would be very surprised if this were not generally true of other fields of learning. As one who was raised a fundamentalist, I had a lot to relearn once I became an adult. I have no doubt that the same cognitive muscles that I had to develop while learning the wrong things, were beneficial in relearning the right things. I may think differently if it were true that the uneducated were free of indoctrination, but that’s obviously not true.

  76. I have attempted to teach several people how to program. I found that there were some people who could do it and some people who couldn’t. I saw the same thing in college; there were people who floated from professor to professor attempting to learn the basics of programming, while others were already graduating. In my mind teaching someone a new language and showing them the quirks (or teaching myself) is by far easier than teaching a beginner, who might not have what it takes to learn it.

    When you are a fundamentalist, you are taught that the bible is correct and you cannot question it. It stands as a perfect accurate description of history. The tools from one to the other, in my eyes, are the exact opposite. A person however, who finds a way to get away from fundamentalism is already walking their first steps towards skepticism, by questioning the very thing that was gospel.

    Both of these in my eyes are skills. The difference with this and education in my eyes is that education is teaching of facts. People have a natural inhibition to change the way they perceive things after their first impressions. I still have a thought in my head that “All Natural” is a positive. It was placed their by my father when I was growing up. I know that the statement is useless, but I can still feel that twinge in my head. I see this a lot when someone repeats an urban legend. It takes a lot for me to convince them what they heard was wrong.

  77. Just because people are skeptical doesn’t mean they have views you will or should share.

    I am strongly libertarian, and I feel the school system let me down MAJORLY. I’ve learnt more since leaving at 16 than I ever did while AT school. I will be sending my children to private schools, without question.

    Public schools are for the lower-income, dirty riff-raff. And lets be honest, most of the world is filled with lower-income, dirty riff-raff. We are not special, or sacred. We’re ‘like a virus with shoes’ as Bill Hicks put it.

    So if people MUST get an education, they can get a sub-par one at a public school, and then go off and get a sub-par job for the rest of their sub-par lives.

    Or, they can go to a private school, and actually learn some shit. And if their parents have a brain cell between the two of them they might even encourage their child to THINK once in a while. Just a thought ;)

    GO PENN & TELLER!!

  78. I don’t accept the programming example, because there’s an obvious selection bias going on. When people first get into programming (or any other field), some can do it and others wash out. You’re comparing a group where those with the natural skills and talents have already been selected for, with a group where no such selection has taken place.

    There is no such selection among the general population, whether indoctrinated at home or at school. Undoing indoctrination, then educating, is much harder than educating from scratch.

    As far as government schools being for the “lower-income, dirty riff-raff,” well, private schools want the “lower-income, dirty riff-raff,” the inner-city problem children, the ones the government schools basically give up on. They take them and make them into excellent students and send them off to college. They then boast about their record with them. It’s a great feather in their cap, so they’ll do all sorts of things to make sure the poorer students have the opportunity to attend.

  79. @ 83

    If he meant that, then he is talking utter nonsense (he was talking utter nonsense anyway). One can see many examples of nations where there is no effective education system, one can further see the economic, cultural and political disadvantages of such a system.

    You also seem to want to have your cake and eat it too- implying that people can be educated by their Brownian contact with society, and yet would somehow would remain in some kind of educational tabula rasa, unsullied by bad ideas which may need to be unlearned.

    The reality is that bad, dangerous and incorrect ideas are perfectly able to be ingrained into people without the aid of the state, and indeed a formal educational system can help to mitigate against that. Many, if not most, of the ideas which skeptics battle against (“woo” if you will) is the product of “social thinking”,a combination of using evolutionary beneficial mental short cuts, and a disinclination to disagree with the group. The sociological evidence, such hat it is, appears to show that such social thinking in more ingrained in those without any kind of formal education.

    Are you surprised that sceptics may malign economics? Economics is akin to sociology, except it has pretentions to being a hard science. The systems which economists tend to try and model are so complex that their predictions have to be so general and filled with so many caveats as to be un-falsifiable.

    Economists tend to take too approaches to this problem, one is to make statements based on the caveat “all other things being equal” (as I was taught in my economics classes, all other things being equal- all other things are never equal), or to take the approach of the Austrian school, so beloved by many libertarians, and declare that actual evidence of how things work in practise is *Irrelevant * and that economic truth can be derived from first principles. In extreme cases some of these economists claim that a failure of their model to predict economic reality is a failure of reality, and not the module (in less extreme cases they usually argue that there has never been a real example of a free market so they can make whatever claims they like about what it would deliver, completely ignoring the historical evidence).

  80. mirrormask:

    implying that people can be educated by their Brownian contact with society

    Well, really, when it comes right down to it, are people educated by anything else? How much do you really retain from school vs. how much influence you get from those around you? I’m not saying school is insignificant, but there’s a lot more to the educational picture than that.

    The reality is that bad, dangerous and incorrect ideas are perfectly able to be ingrained into people without the aid of the state,

    I have never said otherwise. In fact, I believe these forces can be greater than those of the formal education, if for no other reason than the fact that one tends to be around them a lot more.

    and indeed a formal educational system can help to mitigate against that.

    This is what I disagree with. Certainly a good education can help against it, but from everything I’ve seen government schools do everything they can to support it.

    People stick to evolution as if it were the only example, but really, it’s the only example where we have the Constitution to protect us. But if you look at how many people—even skeptics—fall for bogosity because of what they’ve been taught, I think you’ll find that evolution is an exception for that very reason.

    Look at the ignorance of economics displayed in this very thread and how much it’s influenced their opinions. I can take someone uneducated and explain about supply/demand equilibrium, interest rates and inflation, the Broken Window Fallacy, etc., and have them understand me. But for someone indoctrinated to believe that inflation is good, the gold standard caused the Great Depression, that prices go up because companies “gouge,” that rebuilding after a disaster makes an area richer, etc., it can be like beating your head against a wall.

    Many, if not most, of the ideas which skeptics battle against (“woo” if you will) is the product of “social thinking”,

    But we’re social animals. You’re not going to stop that unless you change the social thinking. That’s one reason why skeptics congregate together on sites like this. That’s also why we try to go out and be a part of this social thinking, getting these ideas out among the general public (which, let’s face it, neither the government schools nor the news media is doing).

    The systems which economists tend to try and model are so complex that their predictions have to be so general and filled with so many caveats as to be un-falsifiable.

    That is absolutely false! Economics is very falsifiable, and many economic theories over the last couple of centuries have been falsified! Like the whole inflation-reduces-unemployment thing.

    But other predictions, like increased minimum wage causes unemployment, have been shown to be true again and again and again.

    And in that way, it’s no different from any other science. The only problem is that government tends to hold on to falsified economic theory whenever it’s politically advantageous. As Nixon wrote in his memoirs, regarding his wage and price freeze, he knew at the time it was a bad idea, but “the politics of economics overshadows the economics of economics.”

    one is to make statements based on the caveat “all other things being equal”

    Which is nothing more than scientifically controlling for other variables. Hazlett explains this quite well in his book.

    the approach of the Austrian school, so beloved by many libertarians, and declare that actual evidence of how things work in practise is *Irrelevant *

    Now we’re getting dangerously close to slander! I challenge you to quote one Austrian economist—Mises, Hayek, Rockwell—saying this! And you also might want to explain how Mises and Hayek predicted the Great Depression when other economists, including the “great” Keynesian Irving Fischer, were saying that was ridiculous?

    What is this whole subprime-lending debacle, other than a vast confirmation of the economic theory which states that artificially increasing the Supply of Loanable Funds to decrease the Discount Rate results in investors making riskier decisions?

    Tell you what: why don’t you find me a real-world example of something that you think falsifies economic theory? Give me something specific, and we’ll go from there.

  81. I don’t accept the programming example, because there’s an obvious selection bias going on. When people first get into programming (or any other field), some can do it and others wash out.

    Good point on selection bias. I can’t recall the specifics of the studies, but I believe they only counted those who eventually “got” OO, and stayed in the field.

    There is no such selection among the general population, whether indoctrinated at home or at school. Undoing indoctrination, then educating, is much harder than educating from scratch.

    It seems to me that undoing indoctrination and educating are two orthogonal things. Would you argue that it’s easier to teach higher mathematics to someone who has never been taught basic math, compared to someone who has had a typical public school basic math education?

  82. shanek, when I claim that economic theories tend to be un-falsifiable, and you challenge me to find something which has falsified an economic theory I think you may perhaps have rather misunderstood my point.

  83. flib:

    Would you argue that it’s easier to teach higher mathematics to someone who has never been taught basic math, compared to someone who has had a typical public school basic math education?

    Of course not; you’d have to teach them basic math first. But that’s not at all what I’ve been saying. Suppose that someone has been taught, say, geometry completely wrong, and you have to start that person over and teach them geometry again, attacking all of the misconceptions they have in their mind? Are you really saying that would be easier than teaching geometry from someone who had never been taught it at all?

    mirrormask:

    shanek, when I claim that economic theories tend to be un-falsifiable, and you challenge me to find something which has falsified an economic theory I think you may perhaps have rather misunderstood my point.

    But 1) I have already given an example of an economic theory being falsified, and 2) you must have some sort of example of how economics fails to explain the real world, based on your own claim of a “failure of their model to predict economic reality.” I want you to give me an example of one such failure.

  84. Protesilaus

    carr2d2

    with a free market system, i don’t see what would stop the majority (right or wrong) from dictating what everyone gets taught.

    I think that in a truly Free Market you don’t get the majority dictating. I think that the internet would be a good analog to that (hopefully). As long as an individual school manages to make money it will survive, so even if we are a minority there could be a niche market for a school system that panders to us.

    If you were ever going to be able to convince me that there is perhaps some merit to the “free market school system”, this comment just finalised my descision that it would be the worst possible form of education.

    If the school system would become anything like the internet, than for every school teaching decent science (biology, evolution, medicine etc…) you would get 10 cheap-ass schools with wannabe scientists who don’t know their ass from their elbow, but with a degree from some school or another that says they’re scientists or doctors, teaching about homeopathy, young earth creationism, the moon-landing hoax and faces on Mars, dowsing, ghosts, UFO’s, conspiracies, etc…

    If you thought lack of education and misinformation were rampant already, oh boy, are you in for a surprise …

    And to get back to the oint about meaningless degrees, how do you decide who’s an accredited scientist and who isn’t? You need some organisation to make sure that certain professional standards are maintained, and that those falsely claiming to be doctor of something-or-other are dealt with appropriately.

    I wonder if the biggest problem is not similar to the whole ID vs. creationism thing. Libertarians don’t mind if some form of group or commitee is in charge of making sure certain things run smoothly, they just don’t want to call it “the government“. Well, either that, or decentralise it to death.

  85. Exarch:

    how do you decide who’s an accredited scientist and who isn’t? You need some organisation to make sure that certain professional standards are maintained

    And the free market is excellent at filling needs. Such an organization would spring up faster than you can say “UL.”

  86. skepGeek

    Now I don’t think our system is optimal as it is. It guarantees education for all, but of varying quality. And a lot of this has to do with local control of schools and local funding. Poor areas have less money, there are no national standards, etc. I do think that a federal system would be much better than the hobbled together decentralized system we have now.

    In fact, it looks like the current system has managed to combine the worst aspects of both the government controlled and the free market systems:

    The government is meddling with the curriculum, AND at the same time the free market’s tendency to follow the money is resulting in poor areas with really sucky public schools while the rich and powerful can still send their kids to expensive private schools.

  87. The government is meddling with the curriculum, AND at the same time the free market’s tendency to follow the money is resulting in poor areas with really sucky public schools while the rich and powerful can still send their kids to expensive private schools.

    That is not the free market tendency. That’s the socialist/corporatist tendency. The free market seeks to equalize wealth. In a free market, the migration of students from the schools in poor areas to the schools in wealthy areas would provide an incentive for the poor schools to improve.

    Whereas government meddling just fosters the inequality; since the rich areas pay more in taxes, and can afford more campaign contributions and lobbyists, it’s their interests that are considered first. A politician who doesn’t is less likely to be re-elected. It’s kind of a Darwinist thing. You need a free market to eliminate that effect.

  88. But Shane, how is the average citizen to know what the difference is between, for example, a genuine scientifically rigorous organisation of physicians, and the equally official looking but totally bogus organisation of homeopaths?
    This problem even presents itself in the case of medical journals.

    People already have a hard enough time telling the difference between genuine medicine and all sorts of quackeries even WITH something like the FDA trying to keep claims in check, and provide some level of quality control.

    Within corporate environments, the market has a tendency to create its own standards, with all players adhering to them (because losing lawsuits is expensive). But who do you sue if 20 years after the fact, you suddenly find out that the earth is not, in fact, 6000 years old, despite your alma mater’s continued insistence that it is …

    As other people have said, it is precisely because of the cumbersome burocracy and miles of red tape that whimsical woo-crap has so far not managed to gain the level of legitimacy they so desire. Religious BS is pretty much in the same boat. I think it’s actually a testament to the success of government, despite all its flaws, that after decades (perhaps even centuries) of trying, the best religion has achieved so far is the phrase “in god we trust” printed on your money. Despite all their efforts, they still haven’t managed to legitimately sneak religious fiction into the school curriculum.

    True, it seems the only thing that’s keeping it from achieving that goal is the first ammendment, not the absence of scientific legitimacy. But similar things could be said about homeopathy (advertising regulations are keeping it in check, not the fact it’s not medicine). But if not for those rules being enforced, what’s there to prevent the wild spread of all that woo?

    Nothing in my opinion, except maybe a few skeptics trying very hard to get people to think. The free market is what keeps them alive despite being utter crap.

    I think schools are the last stronghold science and critical thinking still have to try and educate the public. Let’s not hand those over to the fundies so quickly.

  89. exarch:

    “But Shane, how is the average citizen to know what the difference is between, for example, a genuine scientifically rigorous organisation of physicians, and the equally official looking but totally bogus organisation of homeopaths?”

    They don’t have to—that’s the beauty of it! They don’t have to know it any more than they have to be able to tell that UL knows what they’re doing with electronics.

    “People already have a hard enough time telling the difference between genuine medicine and all sorts of quackeries even WITH something like the FDA trying to keep claims in check, and provide some level of quality control.”

    And even with the FDA, there’s still a lot of quack medicine—and there’s no evidence that there was any more before the FDA was founded (other than what can be attributable to increased scientific knowledge).

    “it is precisely because of the cumbersome burocracy and miles of red tape that whimsical woo-crap has so far not managed to gain the level of legitimacy they so desire.”

    Have you watched any TV recently? They’ve been giving the woo more respect than real science!

    The free market is the best way that skeptics can get the message out, because without it, we keep being maligned!

  90. shanek

    In a free market, the migration of students from the schools in poor areas to the schools in wealthy areas would provide an incentive for the poor schools to improve.

    How do you imagine this migration of poor students to rich schools is going to take place?
    If that were a natural tendency, wouldn’t poor kids already be migrating to rich private schools?

    No, the free market follows the money. There’s no money in poor areas, so there’s no real money to be made by opening or running a school there. There’s probably no real opportunity to increase the profit either, because there’s just no more spending. So things stay bad or get worse. Or more likely, more poor kids migrate towards cheap schools, giving the cheap schools even more students for a marginal increase in income.

    The result: mass-produced cheap Taiwanese imitation educations vs. top quality hand crafted rich kid educations with extended warranty.

  91. Exarch:

    “How do you imagine this migration of poor students to rich schools is going to take place? If that were a natural tendency, wouldn’t poor kids already be migrating to rich private schools?”

    No, because the government prevents it. If we had educational tax credits, you’d see a lot more of it. As it is, the private schools do everything they can to get poor students attending.

    And even when it does happen, it still puts no incentive on the poor government schools because they don’t lose anything. The educational tax credits should take the money that would otherwise go to that particular school, giving the incentive to improve.

    In fact, the way it is now, the schools that fail can go and get more money! (“We need more money to help our schools improve!”) So the incentive is actually to do worse!

    “There’s no money in poor areas, so there’s no real money to be made by opening or running a school there.”

    Then why do they open up grocery stores and other businesses in poor areas?

    “The result: mass-produced cheap Taiwanese imitation educations vs. top quality hand crafted rich kid educations with extended warranty.”

    I’d really love to know what your evidence for all of this is. You might also explain why it doesn’t match what the free market does in any other sector.

    And yes, TV is effectively controlled by the government, through the FCC, through licensing, through artificially limiting frequencies, cable outlets, and other means of delivery, through limiting access to political press conferences…I can keep going, if you want.

  92. So I guess what it really comes down to, is you’re saying that a libertarian government should just privatize everything. Even though the reason so many government controlled institutions are doing so badly is because currently their funding is mostly being used to pay the bill for a little stint in Iraq.

    At the moment, they probably ARE doing badly because of a lack of funding, and so punishing them by taking even more money away isn’t going to improve things at all.

    For what it’s worth, the same system seems to be working very well in Europe. So the problem is not the government “intrusion”, it must be something else.

  93. Still reading bits of the conversation before my first response …

    shanek

    It seems like all people want to address are the extremes; I’ve brought this up twice and no one seems to want to touch it.

    Well, I would guess that most posters aren’t worried about the middle ground. People who aren’t at the extremes usually don’t find themselves on the wrong side of the cut-off point. So there’s no real problem to be discussed there.

    The extremes is where the biggest problems lie now, and where solutions need to be found (possibly by a new system, possibly by fixing the existing system).

  94. Exarch:

    So I guess what it really comes down to, is you’re saying that a libertarian government should just privatize everything. Even though the reason so many government controlled institutions are doing so badly is because currently their funding is mostly being used to pay the bill for a little stint in Iraq.

    That’s an excuse. These institutions were doing badly way before Iraq.

    At the moment, they probably ARE doing badly because of a lack of funding,

    No, they aren’t. Even with Iraq, their funding, on Federal and state levels, has increased. And the amount of money schools get per student is way above what the average private school charges in tuition.

    For what it’s worth, the same system seems to be working very well in Europe.

    As the Stossel special I mentioned shows, Europe does not use the same system. The system I’m proposing, in fact, is very similar to what Belgium does.

  95. Shanek:

    First, you seem to feel I have made disparaging comments about libertarianism or you personally. Sorry if that is the case.

    Now, onto the meat. You said:

    And I never though I’d ever hear a skeptic say that citing sources is a reason to be suspicious! The mind boggles!

    You may have “heard” that, but it isn’t what I wrote. I am skeptical of your sources based on the cursory look I was able to give them. Hell, a creationist can throw out a 1000 links to AIG, Discovery Institute, etc. It doesn’t mean they are more than propaganda. And what would you say in an argument with a creationists who says “read this Ken Ham book. That will change your mind!”. Are you going to stop, read it, and come back to the blog 3 weeks later?

    In this format, it is more helpful to hit the highlights of a book or video, and then give it as a reference if people want more details. But telling someone to read the book and letting that make the argument for you will not work (some of the time you did give the argument of the source). But don’t just expect us to concede your point because someone wrote a book that agrees with your political opinion.

    Interestingly, the few statistics and facts you threw out, the things that really need citation, is what lacked it. I seem to remember something about 38% of all graduates being illiterate. That was not near any figures I could find. My only guess is that someone stretched the definition of literacy to get that result. I very much doubt that the same measure was used for your literacy rate of non-slaves in the 19th century.

    But the more I think about this, I really think the facts are less of an issue than personal opinions about the government and views on rights. My understanding is that you view government interaction almost as a poison, that whatever it touches turns to crap; that it would always be better if it never got involved. That is a much more cynical view than I have of it.

    Also, I think you see them as having more influence than I do. Television is largely not influenced by government IMO. Sure PBS and NPR are, but frequency control and such has little effect on content. FCC censorship probably has the greatest effect, but the beauty of a democracy is that that changes as the people want it to change. There used to be a lot more restrictions on what could be said and shown in the 70’s and 80’s.

    Schools are just another example. You are of the opinion that they are completely broken. I think there are major problems but obviously don’t see it as been as bad as you do. I also don’t see the government as having a huge influence over the content and which they had more influence on that. I certainly don’t see any major government led indoctrination going on in a broad campaign. I think our history books are rather American biased, as are most nation’s history books. But government seems not be the issue there to me.

    Lastly, I don’t think more choice is always better. I don’t want to encourage the creation of little madrassas (sp?) that would likely better fit the desires of some parents. I don’t think facts will resolve this difference of opinion between us.

    Minus the disagreement about education through osmosis, I am beginning to think little can be bridged between us because we are coming at this with very different values and opinions about government. If I had many of the same premises, I think I might come to similar conclusions (except not the one that no education is better than a government one).

  96. SkepGeek:

    Yeah, I think you’re right. I find it hard to find a bridge with someone who says that personal opinions and views are more important than facts!

    Anyhow, I’ve presented the case, I’ve cited the sources. Do with it what you will.

    (Although it’d be REALLY nice if you’d back up some of your assertions, like economic theory failing in the real world…)

  97. shanek:

    God you are an ass. And no that is not an ad hominem, as I am not using that to make an argument. It is just an observation. :-)

    Also, you seem unable to read and even keep up with who said what. I never said economic theory fails in the real world. I said little more about economic theory than the fact that I am not well-versed in it.

    And this is the second time you have twisted my words to attack a ridiculous straw man. I never said citing sources makes someone suspicious or that personal opinions are more important than facts.

    So go on in your delusions of grandeur and stroke that ego. Shane is the lone voice of reason and has it all figured out. Opinions are fact if Shane says them. If only everyone was rational they would of course have to come to the same political conclusions as Shane. All hail Shane!

  98. SkepGeek:

    “I never said economic theory fails in the real world.”

    Sorry, that was mirrormask.

    “I never said citing sources makes someone suspicious or that personal opinions are more important than facts.”

    I’m sorry, but that is exactly what you said. I cited sources, and you said, essentially, “Big deal; creationists cite sources, too,” when by your own admission you hadn’t even checked them out! And you also said, “I really think the facts are less of an issue than personal opinions about the government and views on rights,” right after admitting that you hadn’t checked out my facts on the issues. It’s an excuse to avoid the facts, and to avoid checking the sources.

    You were incredibly dishonest when you compared me to a creationist linking to Michael Behe, when I (for example) linked to an economics primer, that’s been around for decades and has been widely accepted, which you can read in just a few minutes!

    And now, you resort to name-calling and personal abuse. You’ve just shown yourself for what you are. I’m done with you, and everyone here who is a skeptic (which should be just about all of them) knows not to take a word you say seriously.

  99. Guys (shanek/SkepGeek), I hate to step in and sound all moderator-y, but it appears the discussion has played out; at least where the two of you are concerned. After a brilliant run of posts, the responses seem to be getting more and more nitpicky. How ’bout we all take a step back and decide if there is anything more to say that will be productive. And if not, let this one die out.

  100. Shanek:

    And if you take my quote in its context, I am simply arguing that our issue (or difference) is more fundamentally about things that are opinions and value judgments. So if maybe we brought these same premises to the debate, we might actually agree on a lot. That was the realization I made. Once I realized what you were describing with the money-follows-the-child, I agreed that it could work as a system to provide an education for even the poor in most places. However, because of value judgments, I did not value the idea of a solution for everyone’s niche which is precisely what you wanted. A simple statement like “personal opinions and views are more important than facts” hardly characterizes anything I have said.

    Sorry, but with all the smugness, even in response to apologies, I think calling you an ass is appropriate.

    But we can at least agree on this. I am done with you as well.

  101. Maybe I’m risking resurrecting a dead (beaten, bones pulverized, and then set on fire by Shanek and SkepGeek) horse here, but I had a few thoughts on this subject that I wanted to express.

    One thing I think most, if not all, of us would agree on is that the current public education system is badly flawed. Some, like Shanek, seem to feel that it is irretrievably broken and should be scrapped. Others seem to feel that the system, while flawed, has the potential for significant improvement within the existing framework. I would put myself squarely in the latter category. The Libertarian approach of letting the “free market” (whatever that truly means) run everything is too radical and risky IMO. Given the ever-present greed that permeates society, unfettered capitalism seems more likely to lead to disaster than to utopia. Our current economic model and government style are certainly flawed, but I’m not convinced that anything else will work any better. Most likely worse, to be honest.

    Be that as it may, introducing some free market ideas into public education seems like a REALLY good idea. Despite being fairly liberal politically, I think that introducing merit pay for good teachers, bonuses for teachers in the poor inner city schools, reduction in government-mandated bureaucracy in education, and things along those lines would be great improvements over what we have right now. My daughter is in a special program (for gifted kids) that is entirely contained within the local public school system. She is getting an absolutely top-notch education, so I know that it’s possible to do such things without going beyond the capabilities of the current public education system. No rules were broken to create this program. Thus my feeling that there is great potential within the existing framework.

    One thing that hasn’t been touched upon by anyone (IIRC) is the responsibility of the educational “consumer.” Everyone seems to be placing all of the blame on the education “providers” in the current debate. I think the current system provides exactly as much educational quality as many parents seem to want. Let’s face it, this country seems to get more anti-intellectual with every passing year. The educational system will never provide more education than what society demands. Sadly, I have no idea how to fix that part of the problem. I’m skeptical that it’s even possible.

    Just my $0.02.

  102. SteveT:

    Given the ever-present greed that permeates society, unfettered capitalism seems more likely to lead to disaster than to utopia.

    See, this is what I don’t get: in the free market, greed leads to incentives to create wealth. This is why we have temperature controls, computers, cars, and everything else that makes our lives better.

    In the government, greed leads to corruption, thievery, the stifling of the poor and middle class, corporatism, and generally bad stuff.

    And yet, it’s the free market that gets the bad rap about greed and government is somehow the savior of it.

    Nope, don’t get it.

    One thing that hasn’t been touched upon by anyone (IIRC) is the responsibility of the educational “consumer.” Everyone seems to be placing all of the blame on the education “providers” in the current debate.

    Because the consumers don’t have much choice in the matter. That’s exactly the problem.

  103. Shanek,

    Your total faith in the soundness of the free market as a solution to all the world’s ills is astounding to me. I don’t wish to become SkepGeek’s surrogate, so I’ll just add one more thing before I set this aside.

    I will agree that greed can be a positive force in the economy. It can indeed lead to innovations and new products. It is the fundamental engine of Capitalism, AFAIC. However, it can just as easily (and all too often does) lead to horrendous short term problems. If I am an unscrupulous businessman, I can swap out some chemical in, say, a large shipment of food for something cheaper but poisonous. If all I care about is maximizing my profit from this shipment and then running off to the Cayman Islands with my money, what do I care about any corrective action the free market will take to avoid this in the future? I already made my money. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people have eaten the food and died.

    Greed most definitely is a double-edged sword. Properly harnessed and moderated by outside (e.g. government) forces, it can be a powerful force for progress. Unchecked, it is a blight on the world.

  104. shanek

    As the Stossel special I mentioned shows, Europe does not use the same system. The system I’m proposing, in fact, is very similar to what Belgium does.

    I think what you’re talking about might in fact be exactly what Belgium does. Except, this discussion started out with Penn Jillette’s comment about doing away with public school altogether and that is most definitely not what Belgium does.

    In essence, your idea is a very simple change from the current system, where funding for a school is no longer based on the (perceived) quality (or lack thereof) of the education, but on the number of students. But that just seems like common sense to me. A school with 1500 students simply needs more money to provide them with a decent education than a tiny country school with barely 100 students.

    In essence, this system is already being applied. Albeit in a more simplified way (more of a total numbers game rather than having the money follow the student).

    But this is not even close to “getting rid of public school completely”, which seems to be the default libertarian stance on many things: start off by removing all government input, then hope the “free market” will let the system fix itself.

    The system you’re proposing still relies on tax money. What’s more unfortunate though, is that it makes the government lose control over the curriculum. You may perhaps see that as a good thing, but I think when the government loses the ability to enforce the constitution within schools, it makes it more likely some schools will start teaching young earth creationism, and throw out evolution altogether.

  105. To elaborate on that last point, the system in Belgium doesn’t use school boards consisting of parents for anything other than deciding where the seniors are going to go on their end-of-year school trip, and who is going to bake the pies for the school picnic.

    The very idea of having whoever is most popular decide what your kids should learn is scary.
    And that applies equally to the one who turned out to be the most popular choice to occupy that seat in the oval office. He should not decide what your kids are learning either. Professional educators should do that.

    I don’t see how switching to a completely libertarian utopia would fix that problem. Private schools are, after all, also likely to be run by some sort of a comitee of concerned parents, especially in niche markets.

  106. SteveT:

    Once again, I think it’s telling for people to call “faith” something that I’ve been supporting with evidence.

    If I am an unscrupulous businessman, I can swap out some chemical in, say, a large shipment of food for something cheaper but poisonous.

    And you wouldn’t be a businessman for very long if you did that. All sorts of things: negative consumer backlash, competitors who don’t pull that crap, independent verification organizations, not to mention the threat of lawsuits make it so you’re very disincentivized to do that.

    Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people have eaten the food and died.

    Yes, and they have families ready to take you to court and take all of your money away, and there are prosecutors ready to put you in jail for negligent homicide.

    Unchecked, it is a blight on the world.

    I agree. Now all you have to do is show where I said it should be unchecked.

    Rystefn:

    Completely free markets eventually lead to total monopoly,

    Completely, totally, and laughably wrong. You can only have a monopoly with government support. History has shown that again and again and again.

    Exarch:

    In essence, your idea is a very simple change from the current system, where funding for a school is no longer based on the (perceived) quality (or lack thereof) of the education, but on the number of students. But that just seems like common sense to me.

    What you regard as common sense is being fought tooth and nail by the educational establishment in this country.

    And don’t misunderstand me: I think a free market education system would be the closest to the ideal, but the system I’m proposing would be a big step in the right direction.

  107. I hate to dredge up an old chestnut, but: ‘arguing on the internet is like competing in the special olympics, even if you win you’re still retarded’.

    This whole page is going round in circles, you guys!

  108. anyvainlegend, I was happy to let this thread die a well deserved death, but couldn’t let your last comment go unanswered.

    People who makes jokes at the expense of the mentally handicapped are pathetic and worthy only of contempt.

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