Education is Not About Making Better Workers

US Department of Education

While I am on record about favoring smaller government and in general I applaud President Trump’s recent proposal to downsize and merge some federal cabinets and agencies, something about the merger of the Departments of Labor and Education stuck in my craw.

What bothers me is how the idea betrays the current belief—which crosses party lines—that education is about raising a new generation of employees and workers.

Among the specific proposals outlined is a plan to merge the departments of education and labor into a single Department of Education and the Workforce, or DEW. The combined agency would oversee programs for students and workers, ranging from education and developing skills to workplace protections and retirement security.

We hear all the time that we need to have better schools for our children so that can have better opportunities for jobs. We see parents fretting over pre-school programs in order to ensure their children can go to the right colleges and get high-paying jobs after graduation. But is that really what education is? Is education primarily just another name for trade school?

Yes, I want my kids to have every opportunity to live out God’s plan for their lives as adults, to be able to provide for themselves and their families, to contribute to society. But I also want them to be good people. I want them to be thoughtful, intelligent, and curious about the world. I want them to enjoy the beauty that surrounds them in nature and in music, art, poetry, and books. I want them to know what it means to be a good spouse, a good parent, a good neighbor. I want them to understand history in order to make wise decisions about the future.

Education isn’t about sitting in a school for 12 or 16 or 20 years in order to secure a career. Education is about human formation, about learning to think, to know, and how to ask questions. Education is about becoming a better person.

Government is perhaps one of the worst instruments for doing any of that and the higher up the government food chain you go, the worse that it becomes. Because education is about forming individuals, whereas the federal government only sees statistical millions.

It would be better if the plan was to eliminate the federal Department of Education all together and re-examine how we go about educating children in this country. But, alas, given the state of politics today, we’d be lucky to see these two cabinet agencies merge.

Even When He’s Right, Trump is Wrong

These are strange political times we’re living in. (Congratulate me on stating the obvious.) For me, it’s because we have a president whose policies I think, in general, are taking us in the right direction, but who is personally and politically so off-base that I have a hard time reconciling the conflict. I have a former colleague who insists that stating whether we think President Trump is a good person or not is stupid, when all that matters is his policies and decisions. But the ends do not justify the means and, as was decided by many conservatives in the late 90s, character and integrity matter.

That’s all preface to my main point, which is that the way the media, both mainstream and social, are reacting to Trump is shameful, even given his character issues and boorishness. It’s one thing to to lean one way or the other in your coverage and reactions. It’s quite another to baldy distort reality, to frame every disagreement as evil intent, or to outright lie.

Some examples are in order, but keep in mind that these are by no means isolated. They are drawn at random from today’s news and are representative of the vast avalanche of similar news reports every day.

Choosing His Own People

Here’s one: The superintendent of Yellowstone National Park has been reassigned to Washington, DC, from his current plum posting, but Daniel Wenk doesn’t want to go so he’s submitted his resignation, which is his right. However, he wanted to stay in his job until next March, instead of leaving by the deadline he was given of August. The Interior Department said No and he claims to be ill-used.

Okay, that’s the bare bones of the situation, but the real media bias crops up in the last paragraph:

At least eight other senior executives are being reassigned. Critics say many of the reassignments appear to be motivated by politics, sweeping aside those who disagree with the administration on issues such as climate change, wildlife management, and wilderness preservation.

Well…yeah. Of course it’s motivated by politics. The critics seem to suggest that a President doesn’t have the right to have leaders within the executive branch who will implement his policies. Shouldn’t that be understood? The President gets to make policy. Except when it’s Trump? This is, by no means, the most egregious example of bias, but it highlights how common and mainstream it is.

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Rolling Back the Mandate

The Trump administration will be keeping a campaign promise very soon when it restores the rights of employers and removes the Affordable Care Act requirement that they buy birth control for their employees or their dependents.

This was one of the most contentious provision of Obamacare when it passed half-a-decade ago and has been the subject of lawsuits ever since from religious employers, primarily Catholic institutions, but also private businesses who have moral objections.

Of course, the news coverage makes it sound like employers will now be issuing chastity belts in place of the Pill. They’re using terms like “roll back” and “losing benefits”, as if there were no other way for women to obtain the Pill.

Incidentally, it’s difficult to track down the true no-insurance cost of a month of birth control. Those opposed to the mandate have often cited $9 per month, but much of the media who demand the coverage cite $15 to $50 per month. However, in every story I consulted, that number came from Planned Parenthood, which has a vested interest in making it seem too expensive for poor women to buy it for themselves.

Of course, the reality is that fertility is not a disease and there are lots of pharmaceuticals and over-the-counter remedies and other health and wellness products that aren’t covered by insurance. The simplest remedy to pregnancy is to avoid sex. If you want to get technical about it, you can avoid sex during the fertile times of the month. All it takes is a thermometer and a chart.

The fact is that this is a symptom of a much larger problem, which is the infantilization of America. Whether it’s birth control or some other basic “necessity”, we keep turning to our employers and the government to provide us with all we need, rather than taking care of ourselves. Frankly, the surest way to make something expensive anyway is to make the government buy it or mandate it.

Ben Franklin Urges Us to Pray

On this date 230 years ago—June 28, 1787—Benjamin Franklin rose to address the Constitutional Convention, which had been fruitlessly wrestling toward a compromise so we could finally form a functioning government to serve the United States of America. For weeks, they had been stuck at an impasse. But Dr. Franklin, now 81 years old, rose at his place with difficulty and addressed the convention with his diagnosis of the problem and his prescription for the cure.

Mr. President:

The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other — our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ays, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own wont of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their  Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance.

I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human Wisdom, and leave it to chance, war, and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.

My final note: In 2017, our country is more divided than ever, divided by our partial interests, and threatening to make the Tower of Babel look like a knitting circle. Maybe we’ve forgotten something that our Founding Fathers knew about becoming a United States of America.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

Or, why you should be opposed to this attempt in New York to get at Trump’s tax returns, whether you think he should release them or not.

The media and the Left1 are pretty much the only ones who really want to see Trump’s tax returns. Ostensibly, they want to ensure that he has no conflicts of interest, but let’s be honest, they wouldn’t mind finding some dirt. But Trump isn’t budging on them.

So New York Democrats have crafted a law that would reveal five years of state tax returns for any President, Vice President, governor, attorney general or senator who filed in New York. Not “require the person to release”, but require the state Department of Taxation and Finance to release the returns without needing the permission of the people who filed them.

Apart from the obvious constitutional problem that this is essentially a Bill of Attainder2 and thus a violation of Article I, it wipes out current protections in the law against the disclosure of anyone’s tax returns.

The Tax Law prohibits the disclosure of information obtained from a tax return or during the course of an audit to any unauthorized person. The Tax Law, however, does permit us to share your tax information with the IRS and other government agencies, within defined standards of secrecy and reciprocity.

And once those protections are gone, then everything is up for grabs. Can you imagine how much data-mining companies would love to buy your tax returns from the government, even in anonymized and aggregated bulk?

In their zeal to get Trump, these lawmakers are putting everyone’s privacy at risk. People need to calm down and move on. It isn’t worth it.

  1. But I repeat myself, hey-o! I’m here all week, try the veal.
  2. A law aimed at the behavior of an individual or group of persons, making them guilty of a crime or imposing a penalty without benefit of a trial.

What They Really Want is Lower Taxes

When conservatives and liberals debate taxes, many liberals often take pride in paying taxes, extolling the virtues of all the services that we receive from government paid for by our taxes. But the quiet reality they’d rather not admit is often that they would rather not have to shell out quite so much to the government.1

To whit, Lifehacker, a reliably liberal lifestyle blog aimed at millennials of the liberal bent, recently had an article titled “You Could Save on Your Student Loan by Moving to a Different State—Here’s How Much.” That’s a bit of a misnomer really. In reality, what they’re highlighting is that different states have different income tax rates and if you move from a high income tax state to a zero income tax state, you can use that extra money in your pocket to pay down debt, any debt, including student loan debt. And suddenly they love the idea of lower taxes!

Except when they don’t. The same writer penned an article yesterday on President Trump’s proposed tax cut that makes it out to be a sop to the rich (who pay the vast majority of income taxes and thus would logically reap the most benefit), but also have negligible economic value while depriving government programs of their funding.2

But where was the concern for people paying lower taxes when Lifehacker and their writer were suggesting readers move to places where they could pay no taxes? Of course, the argument is always that someone else should be paying more, usually those dastardly rich people who don’t deserve it.

  1. At the same time, the dirty secret many conservatives don’t want to admit is that while they want lower taxes, they’re reluctant to give up all those government services they like.
  2. Although, to be honest, I wouldn’t mind the tax cut as I’d end up with a $1,700 per year tax cut.

Why Fund the Arts?

President Trump has proposed de-funding the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and other budget items conservatives have been dying to get rid off for decades. Liberals are understandably upset and the debate has centered around the controversial and offensive artworks that the NEA has sponsored in the past, as well as the weird art they still promote sometimes.

Jazz Shaw at Hot Air says this is precisely the wrong argument to have. He argues that the NEA should be done away not because they supported weird or offensive art, but because the federal government shouldn’t be supporting art at all.

The arts, like everything else in society, can rise and fall on their own merit. The reason that we don’t have tremendous federal funding supporting the creation of blockbuster Hollywood movies is that such offerings tend to be popular and the business of making them is profitable. Creating paintings, sculpture, poetry or theatrical performances may not be as profitable, but if it has value to sufficient people, patrons may be found to support the work. If no such patronage is forthcoming then perhaps the “art” is better left to the lonely artist toiling away in their studio.

Unfortunately, Shaw is wrong because this is precisely why we should have public support of the arts, especially those less commercially viable forms. Look, I think NEA funding can be reduced or even eliminated, because I think having a federal bureaucracy as gatekeeper for the arts has been disastrous (cf. Mapplethrope and Serrano as Shaw references them).

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The Right to Be Wrong

Last week, the controversial academic and author Charles Murray, author of The Bell Curve among other works, was invited to speak at Middlebury College in Vermont. However, before he could even begin, the audience began booing and hissing, making it impossible to continue. The college moved him to a TV studio where he made his talk as a streaming video, but after he came out of the building, he and another professor were attacked by a group of thugs.

The same kind of story has been repeated over and over in recent years and has reached a fever pitch after this past election. College campuses are in a constant uproar whenever a controversial speaker attempts to talk resulting in audience disruptions, property destruction, and mob violence, with professors often at their head. The high-minded and longstanding principles of free speech and open academic inquiry seem to have been lost in favor of safe spaces and countering (non-liberal) micro-aggressions.

In a truly civil society, the one we used to live in, if you disagreed with someone else’s views, you could either engage them in a civil debate or ignore them, but you’d acknowledge their right to be wrong. But not any more. In today’s uncivil society, you are not allowed to be wrong. If you hold wrong beliefs—i.e. wrong according to my measure—then you must either change your mind or be destroyed, one way or the other.

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Buckle Up for a Bumpy Four Years

I declared last year that I would be a NeverTrumper, that I would vote third party before I voted for Donald Trump.

Then last July I realized that if Trump were to somehow win the Electoral College and Clinton won the popular vote, it would tear the country apart like never before. (I wish I hadn’t been right on that one.) So I asked NeverTrumpers to reconsider so as to ensure he won both popular and Electoral votes.

Later, I began to embrace the idea of Trump as a pro-life and conservative ally, albeit a personally odious one, even as it became more and more certain he would lose. And then suddenly, he had won.

Meanwhile, in the first week of his administration we have made more pro-life and conservative gains than we did in the entirety of the last Bush administration. Not only did Trump defund International Planned Parenthood again, he reiterated his promise to appoint a Supreme Court justice who is a strict constructionist (i.e. will not find the umbras and penumbras used to justify Roe v. Wade in the first place); the House took the first step to repeal the bloated mess of Obamacare and to defund the Planned Parenthood Federation of America; and Trump appointed cabinet secretaries with the mandate to start downsizing bloated bureaucracies like the Departments of Education, Commerce, Agriculture, and Energy, among others. In addition, by sending Vice President Mike Pence to speak at the March for Life and publicly chastising media for its annual failure to give the March its due, he ensured it would get unprecedented media exposure this year. For these actions, pro-life conservatives rightly cheered.

On the other hand, Trump has followed through on some of his less savory campaign promises. He got into a diplomatic Twitter war with Mexico over the border wall. He ordered a freeze on all government research grants in several departments and issued a gag order on public communications in all executive departments.1 And worst of all, he ordered a halt to all refugee arrivals for 120 days and permanent halt to refugees from a handful of majority Muslim countries and created a giant mess of chaos and recrimination and anecdotal stories of innocents caught in jeopardy and a media firestorm that has even those of us who voted for him shaking our heads.2 This was the part of Trump-as-president that made me a NeverTrumper in the first place.

My social media feeds have been filled with heads exploding all over the place, and not just the usual liberal friends sprinkled in the mix, but a broad spectrum of people. And while I think that many were and are overreacting (No, Trump is not an incipient Hitler), there is justification for anger from all sides for this last misstep.

So this is what I’ve been preparing myself for: The next four years are going to be very bumpy, whipsawing between joy at some advance of the conservative agenda and chagrin or outrage over some bombastic excess and then back again. I can console myself that this is certainly better than what we would have got under Hillary Clinton, but I fear for what the future brings. Will people get so fed up over the excesses that Congress shifts to the Democrats in 2018? Will they get so fed up with Trump that we get some populist ultra-liberal (like Elizabeth Warren) in 2020?

My hope is that Trump settles down and gets in a groove. He’s never held elective office before and so there’s a steep learning curve. But as a prominent real estate developer in New York and New Jersey, he’s certainly had to be a political wheeler and dealer. Let’s hope that part of his personality helps him overcome this other nonsense.

  1. Never mind that these are standard procedure and temporary. The hold is designed to allow the new administration to formulate and promulgate new policies for communications that reflect the new president’s priorities. It’s entirely justified, but the way it was done led to a media storm.
  2. As I write this, a federal court has ordered a temporary hold on the executive order while its constitutionality is challenged.

If Only We Could Drive the Speed Limit

This is a bit of media criticism and a bit of political criticism. First the politics. The Boston City Council and the mayor have decreed that the default speed limit in the city will decrease from 30mph to 25 mph starting January 9. Their stated purpose is to reach their goal of eliminating traffic fatalities by 2030.

Whatever the practicality of that goal (I think it’s a bit naïve to think you can eliminate traffic fatalities in a city this size), the fact that they believe lowering the speed limit will accomplish their goal is astounding. No obeys the speed limit now, so why do they think lowering it 5 miles per hour will make anyone obey it more than they do today?

Then there’s the reality that traffic in Boston rarely moves at the speed limit anyway because it’s always so congested.1 Even the photo the Globe uses to illustrate its story (click the link), shows standstill traffic on a 30mph road. Yet, this is the basis of their claim.

At least 17 people have died in car accidents this year on Boston’s streets — 12 of whom were pedestrians. In a statement, Walsh’s office expressed hope that the stricter rules would lead to fewer deaths, because crashes become more deadly at higher speeds.

However, as I think of all the auto vs. pedestrian fatalities I recall from reporting, most have been due not to speeding vehicles, but from large vehicles trying to maneuver through congested intersections, like the truck that took out a bicyclist in Allston or the Duck Boat that took down the scooter on Beacon Hill.

In fact, it would be helpful to know just how many traffic fatalities in Boston were due to speed as opposed to other causes. It might even be something an enterprising reporter could find out. Unfortunately, and this is my second complaint, the reporter didn’t bother. All too often, journalists fail to ask the basic questions of fact that help us understand a story and put it into context. We’re often left with more questions than we began with. So the journalists fail their basic task.

Eliminating traffic fatalities is a laudable goal, but Pollyanna-ish, ineffectual gestures are’t going to get us there. Would that journalists would help hold politicians accountable for making them.

  1. Roads where traffic travels faster at times aren’t city roads, but state or federal highways, like Storrow Drive or the Central Artery.
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