Homeschooling, Parental Rights, and a Child’s Open Future

The number of American children who are homeschool has grown exponentially in recent decades, but remains comparatively low—a reasonable estimate would put it in the area of 4% the school aged population. Many homeschooling parents are conservative Christians who go this route in large part for religious reasons, and these parents dominate the self-identified homeschool movement and its largest and most effective lobbying organization. This is also the population that most readily comes to mind when the topic of homeschooling is broached.

It might be tempting, then, to imagine homeschooling as simply another facet of the conservative evangelical world living at the margins of mainstream American culture, of a piece with the rural religious private schools teaching creationism and abstinence before marriage. A Harvard Magazine article profiling the work of Law Professor Elizabeth Bartholet published last year—and the culture war dustup that ensued—suggests there is quite a bit more at stake. Keep reading…

The Spectrum of Sex: A Review

The Spectrum of Sex: The Science of Male, Female, and Intersex by Hida Viloria and Maria Nieto purports to show it is unscientific to believe there are only two biological sexes, that believing this is of a piece with bad things like eugenics, and that the world needs to do much better in how it thinks about and treated intersex people. In the first two of these goals I think the book fails. Oddly, it barely argues for the “spectrum” of its title, and the authors never explain what they think it would mean for biological sex to be a spectrum. While it repeatedly claims intersex constitutes a third sex category, its most impressive parts work against that conclusion. The authors also regularly abandon their project for the much more modest and less controversial goal of showing sexual expression—in physical traits and in gender—falls along a spectrum. For their part, the moral and political parts are mostly unsupported assertions even if its renunciation of mistreatment of intersex people is obviously sound.

That’s the bad news…Keep Reading.

Cynical Theories: A Review

Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity—And Why This Harms Everybody, Helen Pluckrose and James A. Lindsay.

This book had little chance of succeeding. It is too ambitious, trying at once to be a history of postmodern thought, an account of its influence on contemporary political and legal discourse, a refutation of its philosophical underpinnings, and a defense of the liberalism it challenges. Its authors also made their names provoking and antagonizing the corners of the political and academic worlds they target here. Most readers will pick up this book already loving or hating it. 

I went into it with my own bias: there is, I think, is a lot wrong with what the book calls ‘Theory’ and what they identify as its contemporary political offsprings, but I’ve found Lindsay especially to be strident and superficial in the online polemics for which he is now mostly known. I expected a book that I would sometimes agree with, but which would be drearily reliant on caricatures and stereotypes. Perhaps because Pluckrose’s more moderate demeanor prevailed, the book is more fair minded than I expected, and reasonably if unevenly well documented and substantive in its arguments…Keep Reading

Trump’s Diversity Trolling

If Donald Trump has one natural talent it’s for trolling. I take trolling to be a kind of performative speech act akin to an insult, a use of language that succeeds by provoking a response in its very utterance. A good troll manages just enough truth to demand a response while exploiting context to create an outrageously misleading impression. When done well, this provokes so much exasperation, rage, and disgust that the troll’s victims are reduced to ineffectual sputtering that seems to confirm his outlandish insinuations. Once embroiled, the victim can reverse things only with an expenditure of time and energy that exceeds the troll’s by orders of magnitude. 

Trump’s recent executive order on diversity training may be one of the last things of significance he manages as president. Without explicitly saying so, the order targets Critical Race Theory and more radical sorts of Feminist Philosophy, and everyone knows it was a political stunt driven entirely by his desperate desire to be re-elected. Predicated on anecdotal reports from a highly biased source, the order was issued without even the pretense of an independent investigation of the targeted training’s prevalence, its full content, or its actual outcomes. Taken as response to the ideas it targets, the order is as convincing as guidelines on the use of fetal tissue based on The Center for Medical Progress’ Youtube channel.

That said, it is hard not to marvel at the order as a bit of trolling…Keep reading.

Some thoughts on Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works

Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works starts with a plausible and succinct definition of fascism—“ultranationalism of some variety…with the nation represented in the person of an authoritarian leader who speaks on its behalf.” It then identifies the features of “fascist politics”, or “fascist tactics as a mechanism to achieve power.” These “strategies” are “the mythic past, propaganda, anti-intellectualism, unreality, hierarchy, victimhood, law and order, sexual anxiety, appeals to the heartland, and a dismantling of public welfare and unity.” Fascists deploy these tactics, Stanley suggests, to exploit existing or manufactured insecurities about or fears of parts of a country’s population in order to justify oppressive policies targeting political opponents and troublesome political minorities so that they can take control. Each of these is the focus of a chapter, followed by a brief Epilogue. Keep reading…

Thoughts on Hand and Kohlberg Part 2

It is an interesting exercise to try to locate Hand’s approach on Kohlberg’s taxonomy, particularly in light of what I think is an irresolvable tension in Kohlberg’s approach.

Kohlberg’s stages are entirely formal—higher levels of moral reasoning are identified not in terms of the actual beliefs or judgments endorsed but the principles by which agents defend their judgments. Accordingly, Kohlberg’s version of moral education focuses on improving the routes by which students arrive at whatever judgments they settle on, but it does not allow him to identify anything in particular that they should judge to be right or wrong. While it was clear that the politically minded and liberal Kohlberg had his own opinions about the right position on any number of controversial subjects, he could only hope that students would arrive at those conclusions themselves. Towards the end of his life this inability to identify, from within his theory, specific beliefs students should be taught directly was a growing concern for Kohlberg. Continue reading

Thoughts on Hand and Kohlberg Part I

Michael Hand’s A Theory of Moral Education is a good book, and his theory a powerful and plausible one. The book is curious in one respect, however, which I want to poke at here. Hand presents the challenge of moral education in contemporary liberal democracies in the form of two questions: 1) what should children be taught by way of moral education? and 2) is it possible for moral education to be more than indoctrination? Hand spends a little time exploring why these two question seem most pressing, and the answer seems clear. The first arises when we acknowledge the pluralism of moral beliefs in modern liberal democracies, and the second when we acknowledge the paramount importance of respecting children’s autonomy either, as some would have it, while they are children but at least as future adults. In short, we don’t want to sanction state enforcement of some controversial beliefs and values over others, and we don’t want to foist upon children beliefs they cannot have chosen for themselves on some rational basis. Hand aims to outline an approach to moral education that respects both these constraints in the face fo doubts that it can be done. So far so good. Keep reading…

Gone Girl: A sort of brief review

Kate Manne’s Gone Girl has a lot to recommend it. Among its merits is a direct and accessible style and Manne’s original and insightful takes on a number of topics, including some we might have thought were pretty shopworn by now. Manne is also an insightful reader of fiction and a writer who moves between literature, philosophy, and politics with agility. Overall though, the book is an uneven work in my view, and frequently frustrating...Keep reading.