School Choice as Prophetic Justice

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

We interrupt this year’s Higgyfest to let you know that OCPA carries my new article on school choice and the biblical summons to do justice:

Some pastors in Oklahoma are insisting that Christian faithfulness requires us to oppose school choice policies. As the state considers expanding school choice, it’s worth exploring why some people come to think this way. Theology can’t actually settle granular policy questions—the Bible doesn’t tell you what the tax rate should be—but a moral understanding of the social landscape, in light of what we believe is ultimately true and good, is a necessary part of anyone’s thinking about public policy…

The question we must ask is: Who are really the powerful in our educational system, and who are the oppressed?

The government monopoly is backed by literally the most powerful human institution ever created—the government of the United States. That institution is endlessly subservient to special-interest lobbyists, and as a result, its pet school system runs purely on power. Its lavishly paid administrative bosses prioritize not a good education for students, but delivering the goods to educational interests. This has become much more obvious to everyone during the pandemic, as the special interests have become increasingly isolated from the rest of society in terms of what they demand from education policy. But there has been no substantial change in the essential injustice of the system; we just see it more clearly now.

When strictly secular (and therefore circular and groundless) theories of “justice” from either the Right or Left become a substitute for authentically transcendent standards of what is just, we get endless dysfunction in both religious and civil communities. We won’t have our heads on straight until we ask what is just in light of some standard that is higher than the fickle and deceitful standards of human desire:

Biblically, justice centers on treating people with the dignity and respect due to them as creatures made in the image of God, both individually and in natural, authentic community relationships such as the family and the neighborhood. And although “love” is a much larger category than “justice,” given its role in the triune nature of God himself, nonetheless justice cannot rightly be done apart from a universal goodwill that orients our hearts toward what is good for others. Over the last thousand years, and especially in the last five hundred years, most Christians (not all) have increasingly found that the idea of human rights expresses most concisely both the requirements of respecting human dignity and the universal summons to do this impartially for all people.

If parents don’t have a human right to control the education of their children, the idea of rights is nonsense. The whole Christian ethical tradition makes no sense if parents are not the first and final authority over education. Even the United Nations recognizes parental control of education as a fundamental, prepolitical right in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights; shame on the church if it actually falls behind the world in recognizing and respecting human rights.

Let me know what you think!

15 Responses to School Choice as Prophetic Justice

  1. George Mitchell says:

    Great piece.

  2. Liv Finne says:

    I think this is an awesome essay. I love your point about power; how government power in education is almost absolute.

  3. Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

    “Circular” does not describe a materialistic (i.e., secular) theory of justice that explains human emotions (such as notions of what is fair) as products of biological and cultural evolution. Why is sugar sweet? The normal human appetite for sugar and fat evolved when calories were scarce. Today, many humans in advanced societies consume far more calories than they need. Similarly, envy evolved when hunan ancestors lived in extended family groups.This describes millions of years of pre-history. If the best hunter in the group looks like Tom Selleck and sings like Sam Cook, the only way I get my chromosomes into the next generation is to arrange a little accident..Envy, like the appetite for sugar, –was– adaptive, or it would not have evolved. Also, power-worship, sucking up to the dominant cabal, was adaptive in close tribal societies.

    Envy reduces the odds of reproductive success in settled, post-neolithic, agricultural mass society. If the fifty most capable brick makers or shepherds in a community of 10,000 people are better-looking and more engaging storytellers than I, and I pursue the paleolothic envy-motivated strategy, I will get caught and killed before I make a big enough dent in the competition to enhance my odds of reproductive success.

    2500 years ago, a student asked Confucius if any single word described proper conduct, and the sage answered “Is not ‘reciprocity’ such a word?” Five hundred years later, Jesus gave approximately the same answer: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Jesus added “turn the other cheek” because, for jews under Roman rule, retaliation would have meant death.

    Modern game theorists, drawing on evolutionary biology, endorse the
    tit-for-tat strategy: Be nice until you are wronged, then retaliate. See Axelrod and Hamilton, _The Evolution of Cooperation_.

    Markets (uncoerced exchange) embody reciprocity. Markets and federalism (subsidiarity) institutionalize humility on the part of State (government, generally) actors. In abstract, the education industry is a highly unlikely candidate for necessarily rule-bound, bureaucratic State (government, generally) operation. .

    • Greg Forster says:

      No amount of verbal gymnastics will ever allow you to derive a justification for a norm (“you ought”) from either an observation about humanity in general (“people do X,” “people feel X,” “people want X”) or an assertion about yourself (“I do X,” “I feel X,” “I want X”).

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        We disagree. Morality like language, evolves. What people believe they ought to do or what they feel they ought to do is as much a result of evolution as what people ought to eat given evolved nutritional requirements or even as much as what they ought to see given the structure of the eye and the ambient level of light.
        I understand that many Christians (and others) find a materialistic foundation for morality unsatisfactory. That’s okay. I regard Christians as allies in the contest with the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel.
        Does it matter why we both believe that slavery is evil? We’re on the same side in this fight.

      • Greg Forster says:

        I appreciate your effort to be gracious. The reason these issues matter – aside from the general fact that truth is worth knowing for its own sake – is because, as my piece explains, secular simulations of “justice” end up producing different applications in practice than authentically transcendent conceptions of justice.

        And so, if you want to disengage, I wish you a good day. For the benefit of any readers interested in how the exchange would have continued, I will point out that none of what you say here addresses the point I made.

  4. Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

    To a devout materialist, not only can you derive “ought” from “is”, you have to if derive “ought” from “is” if “ought” means anything, since the material world is all there is.
    (Forster): “… secular simulations of “justice” end up producing different applications in practice than authentically transcendent conceptions of justice.”
    Dunno what “authentically transcendent conceptions of justice” means, but I suspect that you will find as much variety within the class of “authentically transcendent conceptions of justice” as between .authentically transcendent conceptions of justice.and anthropological (evolutionary) conceptions of justice. Morality evolves. Compulsory unpaid labor is slavery (definition). Slavery is evil (exercise for the reader: why is slavery evil?). Schools give to many normal children no reason to do what schools require. Compulsory school attendance is slavery. Compulsory school attendance is evil.
    There are too many “r”s in “revolution”.

    • Greg Forster says:

      You have it the wrong way around. It is not valid reasoning to say, “we must be able to derive an ought from an is, because ‘is’ is all there is,” both because there are no grounds for thinking “is” is all there is and because it is still illogical to derive an ought from an is even if “is” is all there is. If there were some grounds for thinking that “is” is all there is, the immediate and obvious conclusion from this would be that no “ought” can be justified. In other words, if “is” is all there is, then “is” is all there is.

      What would be valid reasoning would be to say, “we must be able to derive an ought from something, therefore ‘is’ is not all there is.”

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        To a devout materialist, morality (“ought”) is an observable phenomenon, like language and the sense of taste. Language is partly biological and partly cultural. Food preferences are partly cultural and partly biological. People have observable food preferences. People have observable moral preferences. Try cutting a cabbage in half. Now try cutting the head off a live trout. Now try cutting the head off a live monkey (no problem for African or Amazon hunters). Now try killing a human child (a problem for 99.9999% of humans).
        Like language and nervous system function (e;g;, sense of taste), morality evolves probabilistically, semi-predictably. Consider how the frequency of lactose tolerance within a population varies with the date since the domestication of goats and cattle.

        Obviously, what any one person observes is not all that is.

        Charled Darwin, _The Voyage of the Beagle_Chpt. XVI
        “My geological examination of the country generally created a good deal of surprise amongst the Chilenos: it was long before they could be convinced that I was not hunting for mines. This was sometimes troublesome: I found the most ready way of explaining my employment, was to ask them how it was that they themselves were not curious concerning earthquakes and volcanos?—why some springs were hot and others cold?—why there were mountains in Chile, and not a hill in La Plata? These bare questions at once satisfied and silenced the greater number; some, however (like a few in England who are a century behindhand), thought that all such inquiries were useless and impious; and that it was quite sufficient that God had thus made the mountains.”

      • Greg Forster says:

        None of these contortions changes the underlying category error. It is obvious that “what you ought to do” is completely distinct from “what you in fact do” and from “what you say you ought to do.” And, as I showed before, the difference matters in practice.

  5. Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

    (Forster): ” … there are no grounds for thinking “is” is all there is …”
    There are many large advantages to admitting as evidence in policy discussions only such evidence as all parties can agree exists.

    “Completely distinct”? No. Humans are social creatures. Morality is like language. (or technology, of cuisine, or sexual attraction, or … just about anything people do); it is a product of biological and cultural evolution and parents exert a major influence.

    Materialists and religious believers inhabit the same material world. Religious believers use terms for which (as materialists see it) there are no referents.
    I recommend Daniel Dennett, _Breaking the Spell_ . Somewhere around half way in the book, Dennett makes this point.

    After reading _Mechanique Celeste_ Emperor Boneparte asked Pierre-Simon Laplace “Where does God fit into your system?” Laplace replied: “Sire, I have no need for that hypothesis.”

    Believers may wonder how materialists can accept such an austere universe. Materialists will wonder how believers pick their way through such a cluttered universe.

    It doesn’t matter, so long as we arrive at the same policy or so long as we share the same path.Within broad limits, we both want to see enacted policies which expand the education options available to parents and which reduce the role of organized interpersonal violence (i.e., government) in the education industry.

    • Greg Forster says:

      You demonstrate here that you cannot defend your position without assuming the truth of the position you are supposed to be defending. Thanks for proving my point that secular simulations of morality are based on circular reasoning!

      • Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

        The people who suppose that morality and justice entered this world through a crack from the seventh, eighth and ninth dimensions or something make an argument from evidence-free assertion. and undefined terms (“authentically transcendent conceptions of justice”).
        Materialistis explain conceptions of morality and justice as products of biological and cultural evolution, on empirical observation and generalization.
        PS. Count the occurances of “you” in this exchange.

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