Secularization and Schooling

June 17, 2021

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my article on secularization and schooling:

Our schools produce secularization because they are forced to educate students in a pluralistic society without allowing those students to integrate their education with the reality that human beings are religious creatures. We have a government school monopoly, which means one size has to fit all. But one size can’t fit all when it comes to the things that matter most.

Educating children without reference to religion produces secularization in multiple ways. Children learn from an early age that their own religion, whatever it is, is a private hobby, because it’s not part of what we teach them about in school. Children also learn that the parts of life that don’t actually happen in a religious setting should be organized without reference to religion, because the knowledge base upon which our social and cultural systems are based was taught to them in exactly that way.

Worst of all, while schools make major efforts to teach moral character to students, they can’t ground virtues like honesty, generosity and self-control in any adequate source. This leaves them either indoctrinating children in an essentially selfish morality (teaching students that “you’ll be happier in the long run if you don’t lie” also teaches them that “what makes you personally happy is the standard for judging what is morally good”), or just wagging their fingers and telling students to be good without telling them how or why. Neither approach actually forms students with the character and virtues that a free society needs.

Exercise your right to bring your whole self into the public square by letting me know what you think!

Some Truly Critical Race Theory

June 11, 2021

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my article on a truly boring and esoteric topic, sure to put everyone straight to sleep – “critical race theory” in education:

Although it has been widely described as banning Oklahoma schools from teaching CRT, the text of the bill—which is very brief and easy to read, fortunately for those happy few who elect to read it before talking about it—does not even mention CRT. It prohibits schools from teaching that one race is inherently superior to others, that anyone ought to feel anguish or distress because of their own race, that anyone is inherently racist solely because of their race, that “meritocracy” as an idea is inherently racist, etc.

Now, it’s true that the ideas Oklahoma schools are prohibited to teach are core features of CRT as some important advocates of CRT define CRT. But the emphasis in that sentence is on “some.” Other advocates of CRT strenuously deny that CRT involves the view that white people should be ashamed to be white, or that all white people are racist, or that meritocracy is racist.

Rather than bicker about the definition of a term, why not step back and do some genuinely critical theorizing by asking which ideas are actually good and which are bad?

Academic subjects don’t grow on trees. They are disciplines of learning, created by human effort. Therefore they inevitably have blind spots – sometimes “a whole Seurat mural’s worth of blind spots” (yes, I’m proud of that line) – due to the prejudices of our ancestors. Discovering and exposing those blind spots is not just good, it’s essential. In the article, I mention some research I’ve been doing for a book on how our inherited understanding of 4th-century Christianity has been distorted in important ways by centuries of scholars who operated on the assumption that nothing intellectually or culturally important could possibly have happened in Africa.

The key question is whether we are really seeking to overcome error and get to the truth, or if we have given up on the idea of truth altogether. The more radical versions of CRT argue that the inherited blind spots in our academic disciplines prove that there is no truth, only socially constructed systems of power. At the end of that hallway is Room 101:

This means—necessarily, unavoidably—that there can be no common ground, no compromise and no reconciliation. There can only be endless war between power factions that have competing identity claims. On this view, we actually need to have an eternal war between factions competing for power, because the conflict between their identity claims is the only way we can know who we are. If there is no truth, our identities must depend on systems of power, and systems of power can’t be exercised without conflict.

As Orwell saw with such agonizing clarity, if there is no truth, the future is a boot stamping on a human face forever.

On that cheerful note, I will open the floor to hear your critical theory about my critical theory!

Joining the Heritage Foundation

June 7, 2021

I’m really excited to be joining Lindsey Burke, Jonathan Butcher, and Jude Schwalbach as a Senior Research Fellow in the Center for Education Policy at the Heritage Foundation. I am incredibly proud of what my colleagues and I built at the University of Arkansas and will miss working in the same office with them every day, but look forward to continuing to collaborate with them from my new position.

Here is the official announcement:

The Future of Voc Ed Is Flexibility and Choice

May 4, 2021

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

OCPA carries my article on vocational education:

There has never been a time in American history when the government school monopoly did voc-ed well. In the 19th century, when the system was created, the strategy was to provide everyone a very basic “three Rs” education in K-8 schools, then turn the kids over to various forms of apprenticeship and on-the-job training. (High school was only for the tiny minority who were destined for college.) So the actual vocational education was being handled by employers and others, not the government system.

It’s true that one of the justifications for creating the government monopoly in the first place was to prepare students better for the new careers of modern industry. Traditional schooling by tutors and church schools was thought to be insufficient for the modern world. But the contribution of the government schools was not to do the actual job training; that was for industry. The government schools were there to break the students’ spirits by subjecting them to rigorous regimes of rote monotony and obedience to tyrannical authority, which was thought to prepare the students well for the lives that the factory owners envisioned for them. (Whether something is good for the people it is imposed upon, as opposed to good for the rich and powerful who wish to exploit those people, is not a question Big Government typically asks.)

A series of 20th-century reforms aimed at doing better only did worse, especially because the government school monopoly used voc-ed programs as dumping grounds for children it viewed as too brown or too foreign to be worth actually educating. Now, parents and reformers distrust efforts to grow voc-ed programs, correctly fearing that both the programs and the students in them will be viewed as “second best” by the rulers of the government monopoly. “What would a good, solid high-school curriculum for a kid who wants a career in the trades look like?” is a question education reformers no longer ask.

But new programs in Oklahoma and West Virginia show there is a path to putting that question back on the agenda. It is flexibility and choice, putting adult students (in Oklahoma) and parents (in the new W.V. choice program, an ESA that includes industrial training as an eligible type of expense) back in the driver’s seat:

With parents and students in charge, it becomes possible to integrate the educational essentials everyone needs with real industrial training. Nobody is chained to some monopoly’s second-rate idea of what those people need. And of course, this flexibility not only ensures the individual student gets the training that is most needed and the best fit for that student, it also ensures the content of vocational education keeps up with the rapidly changing economy. No need to expect a sluggish government bureaucracy to constantly revise its central command-and-control curriculum to make sure it stays up to date!

Let me know what you think!

And the Higgy Goes to… Alison Collins

April 17, 2021

It is time once again to (dis)honor the recipient of the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian Award.  This year we had a small set of nominees, but compensated for that lack of quantity with exceptional quality. The pandemic has affected everything, including the number of nominees as well as the deadline for selecting the winner (and filing our taxes).

We had two nominees to consider: Anthony Fauci, nominated by Matt, and Alison Collins, nominated by Greg. While they are both very (un)worthy nominees, our (dis)honoree this year is Alison Collins.

Fauci, along with other public health officials, did much to bring discredit to themselves. They cannot be blamed for failing to be prepared for a global pandemic (even though that is in their job description). The scale and uncertainty of the pandemic were just too great for even the most capable public official to have fully anticipated. Instead, what public health officials can be blamed for is failing to accurately convey that uncertainty to us as if we were adult citizens of a democratic republic. Instead, they chose to convey false confidence in an ever-changing set of mandates in the belief that we would be reassured by their confidence. This was both a political and a scientific catastrophe.

While this would make Fauci and other public health officials Higgy-worthy, giving any of them the award would be misdirecting our upset. The pandemic is largely a natural disaster. It is progressive-technocratic hubris to believe that humans are responsible for failing to prevent or mitigate every natural disaster. We are all imperfect and I suspect that most of us would have made similar or different errors if we had been in Fauci’s place. Even during Higgy season we should maintain some appreciation for regular human failings, even if they affected irregular events. I know what road good intentions puts us on, but let’s remember that Fauci probably thought he was reassuring us with his false and ever-changing confidence.

Alison Collins’ behavior is harder to explain with good but mistaken intentions. School boards are often a vanity project for their members, but the San Francisco School Board might inspire Carly Simon to burst into song. No sensible person imagines that spending over a half million dollars to destroy a mural of George Washington and then renaming 44 schools were the top priorities for improving the city’s academically struggling schools. Even if your politics incline you to perceive these acts as virtuous, you’d have to admit that the signal to virtue ratio is exceptionally high.

While helping orchestrate this Jacobin orgy of sending (mostly mistaken) racist symbols to the guillotine, Collins has her own racist tweets surface. Rather than gain some humility about human imperfection, Collins brings an $87 million lawsuit against the school board on which she serves for taking away her committee assignments for her “spiritual” and other imaginary injuries. Collins really puts the petty in petty little dictator, making her a particularly (un)worthy recipient of The Higgy.

Anyhoo, Collins joins past winners, Mark DiRocco, Kosoko Jackson, John Wiley Bryant, Plato, Chris Christie, Jonathan Gruber, Paul G. Kirk, and the inaugural winner, Pascal Monnet.

School Choice as Prophetic Justice

April 14, 2021

(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!

For the Higgy: Alison Collins

April 12, 2021

Image HT: SF Examiner

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

There have been a lot of crazy vibes radiating out of the San Francisco school board lately, but no one on that board is more radioactive than the board’s vice president, Alison Collins. After years of pushing the board’s most PLDDist tendencies, she recently revealed a little too much of the inhumane hatred that always lies behind such impulses – and after being faced with surprisingly mild consequences for her outrageous behavior, she has now turned on the board itself in a vain (in every sense) effort to extract $87 million for herself.

JPGBers will recall that in 2019, the Frisco school board paid $600,000 to destroy a mural, painted by a communist, depicting George Washington as a cruel slaveowner and oppressor. The school board did this not because it misunderstood or disagreed with the artist’s desire to destroy liberal democracy by equating it with slavery, but because portraying uncomfortable history is now considered a form of violence. Of the $600,000 spent to destroy the mural, $500,000 went to pay for an environmental impact statement (no, really).

In the past year, the big joke about the Frisco school board has been the board’s determination – in the midst of a system-shattering pandemic that might have been expected to secure the board’s attention and energies – to rename 44 of their schools (over a third of all their schools) in order to usher in a glorious Year Zero, removing any semblance of a trace of a notion of a hint that the United States has anything resembling a history. Never mind debates about George Washington! Even debates about Abraham Lincoln are so yesterday – of course Lincoln has to go. The school board went far beyond these woefully inadequate measures, removing such names as Robert Louis Stevenson (who among other things bore witness against colonial mistreatment of Pacific Islanders), John Muir and Diane Feinstein.

As that notorious right-wing propaganda rag The Atlantic documents, the renaming process represented the sheer bull-headed stupidity of PLDDism at its worst:

The decision process was a joke. The committee’s research seems to have consisted mostly of cursory Google searches, and the sources cited were primarily Wikipedia entries or similar. Historians were not consulted. Embarrassing errors of interpretation were made, as well as rudimentary factual errors. Robert Louis Stevenson, perhaps the most beloved literary figure in the city’s history, was canceled because in a poem titled “Foreign Children” in his famous collection A Child’s Garden of Verses, he used the rhyming word Japanee for Japanese. Paul Revere Elementary School ended up on the renaming list because, during the discussion, a committee member misread a article as claiming that Revere had taken part in an expedition that stole the lands of the Penobscot Indians. In fact, the article described Revere’s role in the Penobscot Expedition, a disastrous American military campaign against the British during the Revolutionary War. (That expedition was named after a bay in Maine.) But no one bothered to check, the committee voted to rename the school, and by order of the San Francisco school board Paul Revere will now ride into oblivion.  

The committee also failed to consistently apply its one-strike-and-you’re-out rule. When one member questioned whether Malcolm X Academy should be renamed in light of the fact that Malcolm was once a pimp, and therefore subjugated women, the committee decided that his later career redeemed his earlier missteps. Yet no such exceptions were made for Lincoln, Jefferson, and others on the list.

But this modern version of the Ride of Paul Revere came to an abrupt end for Collins recently, when 2016 tweets surfaced in which, referring to “most” Asian-Americans, she said they were “house n—–s” who had joined themselves to “white supremacy” because they embraced high academic standards. This revelation came after the recent highly-publicized murders targeting Asian-Americans. Of course, such conduct would be unacceptable anywhere, but it is especially inconsistent with leadership in a district that serves a huge population of Asian-American students.

Collins issued a weasel-worded non-apology (“whether my tweets are being taken out of context or not…”). She was not fired and did not lose her six-figure salary on the board. But she was stripped of her committee assignments.

And now the story gets really interesting!

Collins has sued – that’s right, sued – not only the board as a whole but five of its members as individuals, for a grand total of $87 million. The rambling, shoddily-written lawsuit (so shoddily-written that at first there was widespread confusion over exactly how much she was suing for) states that the five members must personally pay Collins millions each “to protect the public from the gross misuse of governmental power,” and because a mere $12 million damages from the board itself “will only tip the scale in the direction of injustice.”

And what, exactly, is she suing over, given that she did not lose her job, nor a penny of her salary? Buckle up: Relieving her of her committee assignments is “illegal” and has caused Collins “spiritual injury to her soul” that will haunt her “in perpetuity, for the rest of her life.”

Also, allowing a 30-minute public comment period during a board meeting, in which some members of the public called Collins “racist,” caused Collins “clear and present danger, harm, and injuries.”

As Mason Hartman put it succinctly: “The complaint is essentially arguing that Alison Collins had a constitutionally-protected right to tweet racial slurs without (nonmonetary) impact to her employment, but that her fellow board members should have to compensate her for merely allowing the public to comment on them…I think Alison Collins might genuinely believe that it’s illegal to call her a racist.”

The suit also seeks additional damages from fifty unidentified defendants to be named later, for reasons to be determined later. No, really! It does! Gape at this amazing paragraph for yourself:

The suit dispassionately comments, in all caps: “JURY TRIAL DEMANDED.”

Have I mentioned that Collins, this tribune of the downtrodden seeking $87 million, is married to a wealthy real-estate developer who does tons of luxury condo and office development work in Frisco – work that requires approval from the same city government that employs her? Because she totally is.

Don’t worry. However the Collins lawsuit comes out, at least the school board is committed to doing better in the future. After this debacle, the board audited its own “restorative justice” processes and found that they were extensively infected with “white supremacist characteristics.”

Filing a crazy-eyed, off-the-wall lawsuit for $87 million against your own longtime partners in pernicious PLDDery, just because they refuse to let your bigoted tweets take them down with you?

I have only one thing to say to that: HIGGY DEMANDED.

Education Malls: The Future of Education?

April 7, 2021

(Guest Post by Jason Bedrick)

We interrupt this year’s coverage of the ignominious “Higgy” Award to highlight a development Brother Ladner and I have been talking about for years: education malls. As I wrote back in 2017:

I’ve long thought that the big-box stores and, particularly, shopping malls might one day be replaced by “education malls.”

Imagine this: parents send their children via self-driving cars to the local education mall where there is a central administration that keeps track of a child’s location and well-being, along with her forms/transcripts, but otherwise her family chooses from among dozens of different providers located throughout the mall. At the food court, several different vendors offer their fares just as they do at the malls today, though most of the parking lot has been converted into athletic facilities. 

For math, she chooses a Saxon Math workshop. For literature, it’s Great Books. She’s learning Mandarin Chinese via an online course at the language lab. For PE, she’s practicing kung fu. For art, she attends a rotating painting and pottery course this semester. She’s being tutored in the harp. Each course is offered by a different vendor and her parents pay for these various services with their ESA.

Might sound crazy, but with widespread use of ESAs (and declining shopping malls due to Amazon, Jet, Overstock, etc.), I think this just might be the future of education.

The self-driving cars are still a long way away (speaking of which, it looks very likely that I will soon owe Robert Pondiscio a beer), but schools are already starting to move into vacant shopping malls, as ABC reports:

BURLINGTON, Vt. — Students who once shopped at a downtown mall in Burlington, Vermont, are now attending high school in the former Macy’s department store, with gleaming white tile floors and escalators whisking them to and from classes.

The Downtown Burlington High School opened March 4, about six months after school administrators closed the existing school, just under 2 miles away, because toxic industrial chemicals known as PCBs were found in the building and soil during renovations. That left students stuck at home learning remotely for much of the school year during the coronavirus pandemic.

As school officials looked for space where students could attend school in-person, they eventually eyed the empty department store, which closed in 2018. They talked with architects and learned it was a possibility, said Superintendent Tom Flanagan. […]

The building underwent a $3.5 million retrofit supported by the state that added partial walls for classrooms while keeping some Macy’s remnants, like the sparkly white tile floors, bright red carpeting, and Calvin Klein and Michael Kors signs and a large-scale Levi’s jeans photo on a classroom wall. The library is housed in the former Macy’s china department, with books displayed on under-lit shelves, while the gym is in a former store’s warehouse and is still unfinished.

It’s not quite the “education mall” of my dreams, but with more and more states adopting K-12 education savings accounts, perhaps they’re not so far away.

Anthony Fauci for the Higgy

April 4, 2021

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Whether you love, hate or feel a disgusted indifference to Donald Trump should, logically have no bearing on what you think of Anthony Fauci. I personally land somewhere between category 2 and category 3, but nevertheless that doesn’t mean that everyone else somewhere on that spectrum is somehow automatically worthy. Shallow nitwits thinking otherwise must live with the fact that they gave Andrew Cuomo and Emmy Award for the rest of their shallow nitwit days.

A great many people have earned Higgy nominations during the COVID-19 pandemic, but many of them are anonymous bureaucrats. I’m not sure what the Center for Disease Control has been doing with their annual multi-billion budget for the last three decades, but preparing to control a disease seemed strangely absent from the list. The CDC put out bad tests during the critical early period, and then Food and Drug Administration hamstrung more effective and more easily scaled tests. Unfortunately there is no clear individual in my mind to nominate to personify a deeply less than useless CDC/FDA combo. I always viewed their follies as indicative of a deep systemic cultural problem in the agencies and our broader political culture. If, for instance, the 2016 election had swung the other way it always struck me as profoundly unlikely that the CDC and FDA would have been much less of a goat-rodeo than what we watched. After all it would have been largely the same group of people running the agencies.

Speaking of the same group of people running things into the ground regardless of elections, Antony Fauci has earned a Higgy.

Fauci became a hero in the minds of many Americans because he publicly disagreed with Donald Trump on occasion. Donald Trump is not my cup of tea, and I voted for other candidates at every opportunity. Feuding with Trump however ought not to constitute a general pass for mendacity and/or incompetence. Sadly, Fauci has exhibited both of these repeatedly.

On January 21st 2020, with the COVID-19 virus spreading in China, Anthony Fauci first came to our attention in context of the pandemic. Not however in a positive way. Fauci, who had been serving at the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases since (gasp) 1984 stated that COVID-19 “is not a major threat for the people of the United States and this is not something the citizens of the United States right now should be worried about.” Needless to say, that statement didn’t age well.

A few days later the Trump administration began holding a vigorous internal debate regarding banning travel from China to the United States. Fauci strongly opposed the measure, but the administration decided to impose such a ban on January 31st. The Trump administration certainly bears some blame for the fact that the decision to cut travel from China was xenophobic due to previous xenophobic grandstanding, and the virus was already in the United States by January 31st, but Fauci himself later stated that the decision saved lives.

This brings us to l’affaire de masque.

In March Fauci told 60 Minutes “Right now in the United States, people should not be walking around with masks.” Months later, Fauci performed a U-Turn on masks. “Masks work . . . to prevent you from infecting someone else . . . but also, it can protect you to a certain degree.” 

At this point I concluded that Fauci was either a complete incompetent or was a liar. As it turns out, he demonstrated himself to be both of these things, but on masks he later claimed to have been lying. “We were told . . . we have a serious problem with the lack of PPEs and masks for health providers…we really need to save the masks for the people who need them most.”

Whether he was actually just too incompetent or shoveling out what he imagined to be a noble lie doesn’t ultimately matter. This was a catastrophic mistake in either case. No American had any reason whatsoever to have any confidence made by federal health authorities. You were on your own to figure out whether masks were likely to help slow the spread of a **cough** upper respiratory disease or not. Our alleged federal Olympians had been on both sides of the issue.

How should this have been handled “We absolutely need to get as many PPEs as possible for our medical personnel, and we don’t yet have conclusive evidence on cloth masks, but COVID-19 is an upper-respiratory disease and wearing cloth masks can’t hurt anything. We are therefore recommending their use pending further study.”

Later on the subject of herd immunity, Fauci told the New York Times “When polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine, I was saying herd immunity would take 70 to 75 percent,” Dr. Fauci said. “Then, when newer surveys said 60 percent or more would take it, I thought, ‘I can nudge this up a bit,’ so I went to 80, 85.”

Why should anyone care the least little bit about anything Fauci thinks or says? First what he thinks doesn’t seem to have much of a track record, second he obviously doesn’t always say what he thinks. Moreover the fantasy that somehow Americans are sitting around the dinner table hanging on every word of Fauci in making their decision on whether or not to get a vaccine shows a cosmic lack of self-awareness. Perhaps I can provide a bit of clarity: your fan club was always going to get vaccinated and no one else cares what you think.

In the same way that Trump’s general xenophobic actions and rhetoric did not mean that shutting down flights from China was a bad idea, Fauci’s follies also do not mean it’s a bad idea to get a vaccine. I received mine about a week ago, I have no reason to believe they are unsafe, and the broad reduction in cases and deaths underway represent very positive trends that you’d be hard pressed to credibly attribute to anything else. In other words go get vaccinated.

Finally however comes a Wall Street Journal article detailing how Great Britain has managed to get the COVID-19 death rate down substantially faster than the United States. In examining the data, British authorities (correctly) decided that it did not make much sense to spend effort giving people a booster shot when the same shot could provide a high rate of immunity, whereas the booster shot can only add on to an already high rate of immunity.

Minnesota epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, a member of President Biden’s COVID task force, asked federal health officials to re-examine COVID-19 vaccine data with an eye toward delaying the second dose so more people can quickly receive first shots- the British strategy.

Osterholm told the Star Tribune:

“We could get more of our over-65 age group vaccinated,” said Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. “I think the data will support that actually is a very effective way to go.”

Sure enough the data did support the British strategy. The American COVID-19 death rate has dropped an impressive 74% since the peak in January. In Britain however the rate has dropped by 96% and that is without access to the single shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine.

I’ll give you one guess only who opposed pursuing the British strategy. For his consistent level of mendacity and incompetence and imagining it possible to “nudge” people to get vaccinated after doing a great deal to undermine public confidence, I nominate Anthony Fauci for the 2021 Higgy.

What Better Way to Celebrate the End of a Communist-Caused Pandemic than with The Higgy?

April 1, 2021

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Got my jab this week – Johnson and Johnson, one and done, and thank you to Grace Welcome Center of Kenosha! Please consider joining me in supporting the vital charitable work GWC does here in a community that’s still recovering from last year’s riots.

I can already feel the superpowers developing. I hope I get super speed. I could sure use the extra time for all my important, world-changing tasks, like mocking PLDDs on the internet.

As we approach the end of a pandemic that would never have affected most of the world in the first place if a bloodthirsty communist regime hadn’t covered it up with lies and murder, what better way to celebrate our impending return to freedom than by mocking those afflicted with Petty Little Dictator Disorder? The world over, they look at tyrannical oppressors and wistfully ask, “why not me?” – but never stop to consider that in their case, the question might have a really good answer.

Yes, it’s April Fool’s Day, so it’s time once again for the William Higinbotham Inhumanitarian of the Year Award – “The Higgy.” Each year, we (dis)honor the most (un)worthy candidate from your nominations of people afflicted with PLDD (not BSDD, note the difference).

Past “winners” of The Higgy include Mark DiRoccoKosoko JacksonJohn Wiley BryantPlatoChris ChristieJonathan Gruber, Paul G. Kirk and the incomparably petty inaugural winner, Pascal Monnet. The award is named for history’s greatest monster, William Higinbotham; as a special way of (dis)honoring Higinbotham, we have not even given him The Higgy.

Get your nominations in by April 15, Tax Day – definitely a day to discountenance petty little dictators!

To inspire you to greatness in discerning pettiness, we carry on immemorial Higgy tradition and reproduce below the text of Jay’s original post launching The Higgy. Good hunting!


As someone who was recognized in 2006 as Time Magazine’s Man of the Year, I know a lot about the importance of awards highlighting people of significant accomplishment. Here on JPGB we have the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award, but I’ve noticed that “The Al” only recognizes people of positive accomplishment.  As Time Magazine has understood in naming Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Ayatullah Khomeini as Persons of the Year, accomplishments can be negative as well as positive.

(Then again, Time has also recognized some amazing individuals as Person of the Year, including Endangered Earth, The Computer, Twenty-Five and Under, and The Peacemakers, so I’m not sure we should be paying so much attention to what a soon-to-be-defunct magazine does.  But that’s a topic for another day when we want to talk about how schools are more likely to be named after manatees than George Washington.)

Where were we?  Oh yes.  It is important to recognize negative as well as positive accomplishment.  So I introduce “The Higgy,” an award named after William Higinbotham, as the mirror award to our well-established “Al.”

Just as Al Copeland was not without serious flaws as a person, William Higinbotham was not without his virtues.  Higinbotham did, after all  develop the first video game.  But Higinbotham dismissed the importance of that accomplishment and instead chose to be an arrogant jerk by claiming that his true accomplishment was in helping found the Federation of American Scientists and working for the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons.  I highly doubt that the Federation or Higinbotham did a single thing that actually advanced nonproliferation, but they sure were smug about it…

I suspect that Al Copeland, by contrast, understood that he was a royal jerk.  And he also understood that developing a chain of spicy chicken restaurants really does improve the human condition.  Higinbotham’s failing was in mistaking self-righteous proclamations for actually making people’s lives better in a way that video games really do improve the human condition.

So, “The Higgy” will not identify the worst person in the world, just as “The Al” does not recognize the best.  Instead, “The Higgy” will highlight individuals whose arrogant delusions of shaping the world to meet their own will outweigh the positive qualities they possess.

We will invite nominations for “The Higgy” in late March and will announce the winner, appropriately enough, on April 15.  Thanks to Greg for his suggestions in developing “The Higgy.”