Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Pedagogy

Leave Barron Alone

I want to talk today about Barron Trump. Do you know Barron? He’s Donald Trump’s 10 year old son. We don’t know that much about Barron, but here’s what we do know–he lives on his own floor of Trump tower, he speaks two languages (English and Slovenian), he enjoys wearing suits, and he currently attends a prep school in New York. Already, people have started going after Barron. There are people who think he should change schools in the middle of the year, and there are people calling him autistic or anti-social just because he often didn’t seem to enjoy the campaign circus. This is not okay.

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A Critique of Private Schools, Vouchers, and the School Choice Movement

One of the big ideas at the heart of the education reform movement in many countries is the concept of “school choice”. The idea is that by allowing parents to choose schools for their children, policymakers can use the principle of market competition to force schools to improve. By forcing schools to compete for students to receive funding, school choice is meant to force schools to make themselves more appealing to parents. In theory, school choice doesn’t even increase inequality, because vouchers can be issued allowing parents to send their kids to private schools that would otherwise be too expensive. This is intuitively appealing, but does it hold up against scrutiny?

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Why Our Schools Don’t Work

One of the difficulties with writing about education is that by the time educational reformers manage to make their voices heard, they are too old. They have forgotten what it is like to be a young person in school, and the schools have changed so much during their own lifetimes that to the extent that they do remember, their memories are no longer relevant. One of the paradoxes of life is that at 22, I still remember a lot of experiences from school that remain relevant to the contemporary debate, but because I am 22, no one really pays attention to much of what I say. But I digress. Today it has occurred to me that the reason our schools do not work is that our society has three distinct purposes for its schools, and that these purposes contradict each other in fatal ways.

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Education Ex Machina

As regular readers know, I’m a frequent critic of political systems. One of my recurrent observations is that the average voter is often ignorant in the extreme, not merely of trivial facts (“who is your local congressman?”) but of important political facts and ideas fall into two broad categories:

  1. Policy Ignorance–ignorance of what a given law or policy does or would do if enacted. Lack of understanding of how policies and laws operate (e.g. Obamacare, immigration reform, austerity, stimulus, default, etc.)
  2. Theory Ignorance–a lack of awareness of how one’s political beliefs fit together, being unaware of contradictions or deliberately ignoring them, critically analyzing one’s own views insufficiently to be epistemically justified in holding them, failing to consider alternatives or resolve the challenges alternative theories pose, etc.

I typically claim that because citizens are ignorant in these ways, they have a tendency to vote counter-productively. They use the vote to pursue mistaken objectives or pursue good objectives in misguided ways. I argue from there that our political system expects more from the average voter than the average voter can give, and is consequently mismatched to the nature of real people–it is too demanding. Among the most frequent responses to this argument is that it’s not the political system that is the problem, but the education system. If we educated people better so that they were not ignorant in these ways, they would vote better and the system would work as designed. Today, I aim to answer this argument.

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