Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Atheism and School Vouchers

In less than 118 days, I will be attending my first class at the University of Colorado.

I have been away for a while attending to my 30th wedding anniversary. Technically, I am still away - and will remain so until the end of the week. However, even as I attend to my anniversary, I try to continue my learning.

I have been listening to a podcast called EconTalk. It is a show that promotes conservative (libertarian) economics. In a way, I like to listen to it to get me out of the liberal intellectual bubble that I am likely to find myself in. In that regard, I should also add that I think that free market economics reveals some legitimate and serious concerns that many liberals deny - because those ideas do not fit their liberal ideology. They embrace the economic ideas and evidence that supports their world view, and dismiss those who disagree with a casual flip of the hand and a, "Well, they must be mistaken."

Yet, sometimes they Russ Roberts and his guests let their own biases leek through resulting in claims that go contrary to reason.

I recently listened to an episode broadcast on December 2, 2013 with Lant Pritchett on education. Pritchett, as would be typical of the economically conservative bent of the show, argued for private schools and the use of school vouchers. In his defense, he made the following claim:

[S]ocialization is not third-party contractible. What do I mean by that? Why I mean by that is you don't--if you want your kid to grow up religious . . . [y]ou actually take him to the denomination of your choice and put him in a Sunday School run by people who believe in that denomination. Because there's always the risk that if I give you a voucher, let's say I'm a government that believes in secularism and I give you a voucher to go off and educate your kid, you can easily take the voucher, get your kid educated with all the demonstrable skills of reading and writing but at the same time socialize him in some religious views that the secular government may not want children to have. . . and government really can't have it both ways. It really can't just give people vouchers or let them have choice over how they education their kids and not have them educate their kids how they want their kids to be educated. Which will include that they want their kids to be socialized in ways that governments often disagree with.

This quote is actually filled with a number of tribal conservative dog whistles. We can begin with the contrast between the wishes of a secular government and religious parents. There is the strong implication that the purpose of a (secular) public school system is as a part of a secular liberal war against religion - an attempt to prevent parents from teaching their children their own religious values.

I would like to see a survey done among liberals to determine if they are a bunch of atheists trying to prevent parents from teaching religion to their children. I suspect that the goal is something different from what Pritchett describes here.

This ties in with another set of thoughts that I have and that I often think about making to the atheist community.

That idea is for atheists to put some resources into creating private schools that teach children what the atheists think that children should be learning. It teaches that the earth is roughly spherical and that it has been around for about 4.5 billion years. It teaches that life evolved on this planet. It teaches the origins of Christianity, Islam, and other religions as the historical phenomenon that they are. It teaches logic and (secular) moral philosophies. These children will receive a proper education and understanding of how the world actually works, how to test a hypothesis, and the psychological traps such as wishful thinking and confirmation bias that cloud human thinking. Because of the quality of the education that these atheists schools provide - because the school is not filling the child's head, I would suspect that there would be a high demand for the services that such a school would provide.

I am often tempted to start pushing this idea within the atheist community. The idea latches on to the merits of the voucher system and school choice. It provides people with a way to create better schools for students - to demonstrate that they are better - and to profit and succeed a a result.

However, there is a problem with this idea, and that problem is found in the concept of "socialization".

It would be very easy for one of these secular schools to teach its students to have a hatred of religion and a hatred for anybody who would "be so stupid" as to adopt a religious beliefs. The best way for atheist children to learn to be tolerant of religious people and their beliefs. The best way to teach children to be tolerant is to actually have the child interact with people of different systems of belief and to see that they really are ordinary people with ordinary problems. They are not demons with pitchforks hot tar. Some of them can even be friends.

This cannot happen with the type of voucher system that Pritchett advertises - where people only send their children to the school that will indoctrinate the children into those tribal beliefs. We have seen the consequence of this tribal segregation. It gave us Jim Crow laws and the KKK. It gave us Japanese internment camps. In other parts of the world, it has given us religious civil war - whether between the protest and the Catholics, between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. It gave us tribal conflicts that is ultimately extremely destructive.

This is what many liberals are actually trying to prevent through this practice of "socialization". And it requires NOT sending children off into schools that will teach them nothing but the moral superiority of their own tribe and the moral inferiority of all opposing tribes - the type of degeneration of others that historically has lead to bigotry, injustice, and - in far too many cases to count, tribal violence of the worst kind. History has shown us that we cannot wave our hands dismissively at the threat of genocide, slavery, or civil war along tribal fault lines where different tribal plates run up against each other.

This is the problem that at least some liberals are trying to solve. It is, at the very least, a problem that this writer sees as a serious problem that argues against the establishment of atheist private schools that aim to teach children what we think is true of the world in which they live. It has nothing to do with a war against religion. It has everything to do with a war against tribal bigotry.

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