Friday, January 17, 2014

Obama’s failure and college political culture

 Recent news stories have been commenting on the sharp drop in support for Obama among young voters, disappointed both with his failure to live up to their imaginings and with the reality of policies he supported (Obamacare) or tolerated (NSA). The interesting question, going beyond the next few elections, is what effect if any this will have on their political views.

One thing that struck us when we were visiting colleges our kids were considering and that then struck our kids as college students was the uniformity of left wing views at elite colleges. By our daughter's account, the difference between Oberlin, where she started, and Chicago, which she transferred to, was that while at both schools most students took left wing views for granted, at Chicago they were at least curious as to why someone might disagree. At Oberlin the default assumption was that if you didn't agree you were either stupid or evil.

I expect that students at both schools, indeed at all the schools we looked at, voted and worked for Obama in both his elections. If many now think that was a mistake—according to one poll, nearly half of young voters said they would recall Obama if they could—how will that affect their political views?

One possibility is that it won't. They will conclude that the policies they supported were good ones, they  got fooled this time by a clever politician who pretended to support those policies and will try in the future to find and support politicians who really do support them.

Another is that they will conclude that the policies they supported were good ones but the political system is hopelessly corrupt, so the right response is either to withdraw from politics, try to foment a revolution, or try to change the system in some fundamental way, perhaps by "getting money out of politics." The last is the theme of the "NH Rebellion" that Larry Lessig has been posting about of late.

A final and more optimistic possibility is that they will conclude that they were wrong. If the system works so badly even when their hero is elected with a large majority and (initially) control of both houses of Congress, perhaps more government isn't really the solution to the world's problems after all. If the federal government can't run a web site nearly as well as Amazon, perhaps it isn't competent to run everything. Perhaps, even, we would be better off if it ran less of the world instead of more.

Different students will reach different conclusions, probably including all of those and others I have not thought of. My guess is that the political monoculture of (at least) elite colleges will survive Obama's failure, due if nothing else to the pressures of conformity. But one can hope.


Don’t Destroy This Family

Germany persecutes homeschoolers, with an assist from the Obama administration
Ronald Reagan electrified the world when he demanded that the Berlin Wall be torn down. Barack Obama is helping to build a new one, even as the German government begins rounding up members of a despised religious minority.

The Romeike family was granted asylum in the United States because the German government was intent on wresting away the children and putting the parents in cages for the crime of homeschooling their children, which is verboten in Germany, a legacy of the country’s totalitarian past. The Obama administration, which in other notable areas of immigration law has enacted a policy of “discretion” regarding deportations, took the Romeike family to court to have its asylum protections revoked, and succeeded in doing so. The family has appealed to the Supreme Court, which has ordered the Obama administration to respond to the Romeikes’ petition, but the administration has so far refused to do so.

As the Romeikes’ story unfolds, another German family is being held in the country against their will, also for the crime of homeschooling their children — or intending to do so, at least. The Wunderlich family had their children kidnapped by the German government — the agents of which came crashing through their door with battering rams — as retaliation for their homeschooling. They complied with the government’s demands regarding their children’s education and, understandably enough, began the process of relocating to France, where attitudes toward family life are more civilized. The Germans responded by refusing to reinstate their custody of their children, with a judge determining that the desire to homeschool presents an “endangerment” to the children.

That is the environment into which the Obama administration intends to send the Romeike family.


The institutional Left hates homeschooling, hates it with a remarkable intensity, even though homeschooling recently has come into vogue with a certain subset of Park Slope–style progressives. Robin West of Georgetown’s law school has written admiringly of the suppression of homeschooling and regimes under which “parents who did so were criminals.” She writes that homeschoolers are dangerous precisely because of the fact that, far from being docile sheep, homeschoolers are as adults more likely to be politically engaged, which Professor West worries might “undermine, limit, or destroy state functions that interfere with family and parental rights.” For good measure, she notes that many homeschoolers were enthusiastic about George W. Bush in 2000 — quelle horreur. Many others on the left argue that homeschooling should be either banned outright or effectively regulated out of existence.

Homeschooling terrifies the Left because the Left is at its core totalitarian, seeking to bring political discipline to every aspect of life — and control of education is essential to that project. The public school is in miniature what the Left believes the world should look like: Everybody arranged in orderly rows and moving about on an orderly schedule punctuated by bells, being taught about diversity and climate change by nice union ladies who also lead them to their federally subsidized lunches. If you can say “no” to that, you can say no to any part of the Left’s vision. Homeschooling is an existential threat to the privileged position of the institutional Left. The schools are the factory in which it manufactures its future clients.

Of course it doesn’t help that homeschooling is associated in the public mind with a particular strain of Evangelical Christianity, as in the case of the Romeike family. It is distasteful, but it should not be a surprise that the Obama administration has no objection to the political and religious suppression of such unruly Christians — the Obama administration is doing the same thing to the Little Sisters of the Poor and other Christian groups that it finds inconvenient.

In the case of the Romeike family, a judge already had seen fit to offer them asylum, but the Obama administration wants to hand them over to the Germans. In the case of the Wunderlich family, a fundamental human right — the right to move away, which is enshrined in German law — is being grossly violated. The Germans, of all people, should appreciate that walling in people who want to leave is uncivilized. The Obama administration has an opportunity to make a statement on both cases by dropping its assault on the Romeikes. Don’t let’s be beastly to the Germans.


New British teachers 'being left to flounder with unruly pupils': Ofsted chief says it is 'national scandal' that trainees are unprepared for the job

Thousands of newly qualified teachers are being ‘left to flounder’ in schools each year because of their inadequate training, England’s chief inspector warned yesterday.

Sir Michael Wilshaw said it was a ‘national scandal’ that teachers were arriving for work completely unprepared for the job.

The Ofsted chief inspector said 40 per cent quit the profession within five years of qualifying because they found it ‘too difficult’ and were ill-equipped to deal with unruly pupils.

Sir Michael claimed teachers were being tutored by people with little ‘up-to-date’ experience and left to ‘flounder’ in schools with senior staff doing nothing to support them.

In future, he added, Ofsted would be cracking down on course providers. He also took a swipe at unions for portraying the teachers  they represent as ‘perpetual victims’.

About 30,000 teachers are trained each year, suggesting that some 12,000 of those switch careers after a short period of time. The average cost of training is around £10,000 – meaning tens of millions of taxpayers’ money is being squandered annually.

Sir Michael said: ‘How many times have heads said to me their trainees had been tutored by people with little or no up-to-date school experience or a record of outstanding teaching?

‘Trainees have been sent into schools  inadequately prepared to deal with poor behaviour. Even worse, how many times have I heard they were left to flounder because they received little or no support from senior and middle leaders?’

The amount of new teachers leaving the profession was a ‘national scandal’ given the money invested in their training, he said.

He added: ‘I think most of them leave because of misbehaviour. They find it far too challenging, far too difficult.’

There are several routes into teaching, including postgraduate certificates and school-based training including bursaries.

Speaking at an education conference in Nottingham, Sir Michael said from September inspectors will ask newly qualified teachers if they ‘well supported, particularly in dealing with pupil behaviour’. If they were struggling, Ofsted will check who trained them – with the threat this could affect the institution’s inspection grade.

He went on to insist there has ‘never been a better time to be a teacher’ – despite the two largest unions, the National Union of Teachers and NASUWT, holding a series of strikes over pay and conditions.

‘I find it extremely frustrating when teachers are portrayed, sometimes by their own representatives, as victims who have little control or say over their own professional lives,’ he said.

‘[They] risk infantilising the profession and depressing recruitment.’

    Discipline tsars would be introduced in every school under a Labour government to crack down on misbehaviour, education spokesman Tristram Hunt said yesterday. The ‘behaviour experts’ – either new members of staff or specially trained teachers – would help claw back control of classrooms from unruly pupils and allow teachers to do their jobs, he said.


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