School Choice and Viewpoint Diversity in K-12

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Heterdox Academy carries part one of a two-part debate between me and Robert Pondiscio on whether school choice would contribute to better handling of viewpoint diversity in K-12 classrooms. I argue yes:

From top to bottom, our school system is built on the idea that every child in a given location ought to attend the same school and be educated according to a uniform, standardized curriculum and pedagogy. But if one size must fit all, it seems impossible to avoid endless, educationally destructive culture wars about which way is the “One Best Way.” Certainly the long track record of political firestorms about the content of education over the past century does not justify much hope for a standardized, uniform education that isn’t a subject of constant culture war….

Educators, wanting to avoid getting entangled in political conflicts over their classrooms, are highly incentivized to reduce this politically radioactive element of the curriculum to a minimum. K-12 public school teachers in Wisconsin, and in any of the growing number of states where these conflicts are emerging, risk becoming a legal test case or a social media scapegoat if they prioritize open and free exchanges of opinion in the classroom. The only safe thing to do if you’re a teacher in this environment is to cover the touchy subjects as quickly and as superficially as possible, with minimal opportunity for potentially dangerous critical thinking or open discussion, and move on….

School choice would get political culture wars out of the classroom. When people are convinced that all children — and especially their own children — are being indoctrinated into the other side’s propaganda, no force on earth will stop them from fighting tooth and nail to seize political control of education in order to prevent this indoctrination. But if different schools could take different approaches, with parents able to decide which schools their children attend and thus the approach under which they are educated, schools would be free to educate independently of culture-war pressures.

Robert demurs:

This betrays a view that the only stakeholder in a child’s education is the child and their family. It elides almost entirely the fact that the cost of educating the nation’s children is socialized. You pay school taxes, directly or indirectly, whether you have one child enrolled, 10, or none at all. This is a feature, not a flaw, of our system. It reflects the belief that a free country depends on a well-educated citizenry capable of self-government. We are literally invested in the outcome of all children, not just our own. 

That shared stake in the education offered to all students is also an argument for at least some shared curriculum across even schools of choice, again something Forster demonstrates no patience for. Instead, he indulges perhaps the greatest misapprehension about American education: the assumption that children move in lockstep through a state- or district-mandated curriculum. Forster creates a strawman of it, contrasting choice with “One Best Way” schooling, even capitalizing it to ensure the derision is lost upon no one….

Not incidentally, the strongest argument for common curriculum has nothing whatsoever to do with political indoctrination or a desire to tamp down viewpoint diversity. For more than 40 years, E.D. Hirsch Jr. has demonstrated convincingly that language proficiency in a diverse society rests on a shared body of knowledge, cultural allusions, and idioms. Perhaps for this reason, the common curriculum Forster disdains is a standard feature of pluralist systems.

Part two, in which I reply to his reply, and then Robert replies to my reply to his reply, is coming your way on Friday.

Meanwhile, you can reply to all these replies right now. Create some viewpoint diversity and let us know what you think!

9 Responses to School Choice and Viewpoint Diversity in K-12

  1. Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

    (Robert Pondiscio): “This(1) is a feature, not a flaw, of our system. It reflects the belief that a free country depends on a well-educated citizenry capable of self-government. We are literally invested in the outcome of all children, not just our own(2).”
    1. To what does “this” refer? If “this” refers to tax support of school, supporters of subsidized escape options* would have no objection to what follows. If “this” refers to the policy that restricts parents’ options for the use of the taxpayers’ sub-adult (K-12) education subsidy to facilities operated by dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel, Jay Greene’s argument applies and Robert Pondiscio’s conclusion does not follow.
    2. Even if we grant the premise that “a free country depends on a well-educated citizenry capable of self-government”, the implied conclusion, that citizens benefit frrom the current policy (the cartel’s exclusive position in receipt of the takpayers’ K-12 education subsidy) does not follow.
    For every sub-adult US resident somebody or some body will determine how that minor will spend the time between birth and age 18. Inevitably, somebody or some body represents taxpayers’ interests. Policies which give to individual parents the power to determine for their own children which institution (if any) shall receive the taxpayers’ sub-adult education subsidy place control in the hands of people who know those children best and who are most reliably concerned for their well-being.
    Parents will better represent taxpayers’ interests than will K-12 system insiders.

    *Escape options include charter schools, tuition vouchers, education savings accounts, education tax credits, GED at any age and subsidized private-sector employment to age 18, subsidized homeschooling, and Parent Perfromance Contracting (PPC; search “The Proposal, the Harriet Tubman Agenda”).

  2. Matthew Ladner says:

    “Well-educated citizenry” eh? Last time I checked it looked like a broad swathe of American students and the public could not locate “Virginia” on an unmarked map with someone holding a gun to their mother’s head.

  3. Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

    How does Robert Pondiscio justify his implicit assumption that government subsidies and government-operated schools will outperform a voucher-subsidized competitive market in education in the provision of education or an unsubsidized, minimally-regulated market in education services?
    1. Corporate oversight is a public good and the State itself is a corporation. Therefore, oversight of government functions is a public good which the State itself cannot supply.
    2. The zampolits (Social Studies teachers) get to define Civics. The public good of education will become a public bad when the State assumes responsibility for the production of Civics education.

  4. Robert Pondiscio says:

    I dislike debating people with whom I’m broadly in agreement over points of orthodoxy. But the quote from my piece above doesn’t really capture the main point of disagreement. The discussion is not about school choice is good/bad/better/worse. It’s about whether it encourages viewpoint diversity. Greg says “yes.” I say it can and should. But it won’t the way Greg conceives it.

    Here’s a better quote that captures the main idea:

    “…there’s cognitive dissonance in Forster’s argument: The vision he describes would not promote viewpoint diversity; it would marginalize it. There would be room for divergent views, but in separate schools and classrooms. The ideal of, in his words, ‘schools that are allowed to know and teach what they believe about the world’ and from which ‘parents can always switch if they’re unhappy’ treats viewpoint diversity as unresolvable culture war conflict and something to be avoided. Functionally, he proposes a system that would encourage families and students with opposing views mostly to avoid one another.”

  5. Malcolm Kirkpatrick says:

    (Robert Pondiscio): “Functionally, [Greg Forster] proposes a system that would encourage families and students with opposing views mostly to avoid one another.”
    You say that like it’s a bad thing.
    Some parents might want a school that emphasizes a pre-Med or pre-Engineering curriculum or blue collar trades and such parents might see theological arguments as a distraction. Some parents might want their children to be thououghly indoctrinated in their ancestal creation story.
    The way to teach tolerance of diversity is to tolerate diversity, seems to me.
    The ATF should have left the Branch Davidians alone.

  6. Matthew Ladner says:

    So the alternative to a diverse set of schools where people can select between slides quickly down a slope to Richard Henry Pratt type thinking. For instance “Indian schools are just as well calculated to keep the Indians intact as Indians as Catholic schools are to keep the Catholics intact. Under our principles we have established the public school system, where people of all races may become unified in every way, and loyal to the government; but we do not gather the people of one nation into schools by themselves, and the people of another nation into schools by themselves, but we invite the youth of all peoples into all schools. We shall not succeed in Americanizing the Indian unless we take him in exactly the same way.”

    Or as John Stuart Mill warned from a less approving point of view “A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another; and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the dominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, an aristocracy, or a majority of the existing generation; in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by a natural tendency to one over the body.”

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