(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
Even though Carey is on the other side of the ideological fence from me, I am a big fan of his higher education writing. The story here is that center-left Carey receives mail from the Cato Institute (intended for a previous resident) and is more than a little freaked out by them. Carey writes:
The struggle for a single-perspective organization like Cato is staying principled while retaining efficacy and legitimacy. In other words, while it’s all well and good in theory to stick to your intellectual and ideological guns, as a rule most people don’t like being objects of scorn and ridicule, or (if they’re in the think tank business) having the doors to the corridors of power slammed in their face. So they make compromises to stay part of mainstream conversation. Cato’s education policy proposals reflect this.
I gather from this that Carey believes that what the Coulson really wants to do is to abolish public schools, and have only adopted the mantra of tax credits as a fig-leaf of respectability for Cato. This clearly isn’t the case however, as Coulson laid out his vision of private education years before going to work for the Cato Institute in his book Market Education.
The Cato Institute, of all the right of center Washington think-tanks, clearly has a high tolerance threshold for scorn and derision. Sticking to your guns also has its uses. Cato, for instance, didn’t jump aboard the NCLB or the Iraq War bandwagons even when they were all the rage in right of center circles. I’m guessing they are pretty comfortable with those decisions now, regardless of what I or anyone else thought/thinks.
Carey asserts that Coulson’s ideal system of schooling is “un-American and basically absurd.” It would certainly seem that way to a man of the left. It’s good to debate what an ideal system of schooling would look like, as we can all agree that the one that we have now is far from ideal.
The use of the term un-American goes off the rails in my opinion. It seems like an attempt to ideologically dismiss an opponent without actually considering their perspective or evidence.
It’s also worth noting that Americans paid some of the lowest taxes in the world in the 1770s, but that didn’t stop them from fighting a bloody Revolution in order to secure their freedom. The Founding Fathers weren’t terribly pragmatic. I don’t recall demands for seats in Parliament as a reasonable solution to the “No Taxation without Representation” problem.
We can argue about whether or not the Cato Institute puts out absurd proposals. As a “small l” libertarian, I certainly don’t always agree with them. I exclusively attended public schools, my mother taught in a public school, my sons attend a public school, and I am proud to serve on the board of a public charter school. I’m not against public schools, but I am fiercely opposed to dysfunctional public schooling. Like Carey, I believe that public schools are permanent and I hope we make them work better for kids. We should all be members of the Joe Williams anti-crappy schools coalition.
The Cato Institute can be accused of being fundamentally opposed to public schooling. I’d guess that they would happily plead guilty to that, but un-American? That’s a bridge too far.