Friday, May 05, 2017

The School of Fact and Reason

Even though, in the last two posts, I have provided some objections to creating a private set of atheist schools - a "school of fact and reason" - I am ultimately sympathetic to the project. I think that it would be a good idea for atheists to set up a private school of fact and reason and to get legislators to support a voucher system that would allow parents to send their children to such a school.

The first benefit is that such a school will turn out students educated in fact and reason.

Some people may complain that such a system leaves out the most important element - values. However, such a reader needs to read more of this blog. I hold that values are a species of fact. Specifically, values, generally speaking, concern relationships between states of affairs and desires. Moral values concern relationships between malleable desires and other desires. The School of Fact and Reason should certainly teach about these relationships - which will include facts about the sentiments that people generally have many and strong reasons to promote universally by employing the tools of reward (e.g., praise) and punishment (e.g., condemnation). This would include using these tools to promote these values.

A voucher system actually helps to combat one of the problems with private schools in that it would provide a way for lower-income parents to send their children to the School of Fact and Reason. When such a school enrolls a student from a low-income household, it collects the state voucher money for that student. Without a voucher system, only the wealthy can afford to (1) pay taxes that go to education, and (2) have enough money left over to send their own children to private schools. Consequently, without vouchers, schools are wise to package and sell a product that appeals to the wealthy. However, a voucher system would allow the parents of poorer students to enter the market. This provides a market incentive to develop a package that poorer parents would want to buy.

Furthermore, the board of directors for the School of Fact and Reason can solicit donations that it can use to help poorer families enter the system. This depends on there being a board of directors who recognize that the purpose of an education is to teach facts and reason - and not to serve the interests of the very wealthy who are capable of making contributions. However, such an attitude is also necessary if we are to condemn public schools and to promote a private alternative in their place that reflects these values. In other words, the values must exist for them to have an influence on education policy regardless of whether that policy is public, private, or a mixture. If these values do not exist, public education is not a benefit. If they do exist, then they can exist in the private setting as well as the public system.

As for the tribal problem - the idea that such a School of Fact and Reason would promote an atheist tribe the way that many religious schools promote religious tribalism - with all of the potentially harmful consequences of tribalism. And I want to repeat that these harmful consequences of tribalism are difficult to underestimate. In the past they have resulted in utterly horrendous atrocities ranging from genocide (e.g., the native Americans, the Holocaust) to ethnic cleansing to race-based slavery and the subjugation of women. It would include The Terror in France, the near-depopulation of Europe during the 30 Years' War, and countless incidents in which one group rounded up and slaughtered all of the men, women, and children in certain battles of conquest.

If the School of Fact and Reason served to create an Atheist tribe capable of these types of atrocities - capable, for example, of subjecting Theists to something similar to Jim Crow laws or simply rounding them up and exterminating those who believed that at least one god existed - then this would be reason enough to condemn the practice. However, a School of Fact and Reason should include in its teachings facts about tribal psychology, the types of atrocities they can contribute to, and the reasons why the school should avoid becoming a tool for tribal atheism. Furthermore, such a school - and the political campaign that backed the use of vouchers to pay for such a system. It would be fully consistent for the School of Fact and Reason to adopt procedures and practices aimed explicitly against its being used to promote tribal atheism, and object to the use of vouchers to allow parents to send their children to schools that promote tribal theism (or tribal racism, for that matter).

The reasons that these problems fail to imply that we ought not to have private schools that parents can send their children to private schools are the same reasons why the fact that laws against assault and rape will tend to unfairly target the poor and marginalized races fails to provide reasons to object to laws against assault and rape. The way to deal with these types of problems is to deal with discrimination against the poor and marginalized races directly, not with by eliminating the institutions where these issues might manifest themselves. After all, they manifest themselves in all sorts of practices that we cannot sensibly eliminate.

So, ultimately, I would like to see a set of private Schools of Fact and Reason (aka "So Far") established. Such a school should acknowledge the problems listed above and seek to address them, rather than deny the possibility of teaching a number of students at a school devoted to facts and sound/strong reasoning.

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