Education and the Culture Wars

Sunday, June 16, 2013

What is it

In contemporary democracies, the state is responsible  for providing children with an education. But parents surely have both the right and responsibility for instilling appropriate morals and values in their children. How should we reconcile conflicts between the state’s responsibility to properly educate minors and the parents’ rights to influence their children's values and ideals? Should the government’s approach to education in areas such as history and science always trump that of the child’s most direct guardians? Or should parents hold some veto power when it comes to education about evolution, sex, and other issues that bear on religious and personal values? John and Ken do their homework with Stanford political scientist Rob Reich, co-editor of Education, Justice, and Democracy, for a program recorded live at the Marsh Theater in San Francisco.

Listening Notes

John begins the show by contrasting the traditional framing of education—a source of American pride and upward mobility, he says—with its current presentation as a hotbed of controversy. Should schools teach children about sex and birth control, or about evolution as an established scientific fact, he asks? Ken comments that what makes this a good question is that it brings up the question of who actually has the right to choose what our children are taught about these controversial issues. John and Ken then debate over the role both parents and the state should play in our children’s education.

They are joined by guest Rob Reich, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University, and co-editor of Education, Justice, and Democracy. John and Ken begin by asking Rob to make clear the history of American compulsory education, which he informs us, had not become a solidified practice until the early 20th century. The three then engage in discussion around homeschools, and more specifically around the sort of rights parents may have to the content their children learn. Whereas John argues that we ought to default to parental authority, Ken and Rob argue for the fundamental necessity of developing the student as a citizen, namely in instructing them that—as is undeniably in the independent interest of the student—those who believe things they may think are false are citizens of the state no less.

John, Ken, and Rob then dip into some of the policy that is in effect regarding homeschooling. Here Rob proposes that there should be not only a curricular requirement for such (home) schools, but also a standard of minimal-testing to evaluate student progress outside of the established conventional school. John then calls into question our understanding of children, conventionally classified as those under the age of 18, proposing that perhaps parents can retain on their children the sort of strong ethical hold he argued for earlier, but only until the 5th or 6th grades—a point the three philosophers agree upon. They conclude that perhaps the best approach is that, whatever we present, we present it as “potentially falsifiable.”

  • Roving Philosophical Report (seek to 6:07): Caitlin Esch speaks to the parents and lawyers of elementary school students in the coastal city of Encenitas, California, the backdrop of a battle within the public school system around the inclusion of required yoga classes. Though the city is divided on the question of whether yoga classes count as religious indoctrination, in attacking the issue it exemplifies the democratic process active in the selection of school curricula.
     
  • Sixty-Second Philosopher (seek to 49:11): Ian Shoales talks about his college experience with lesbians and their mutual encounters with established societal norms.
 
 

Rob Reich, Professor of Political Science ad Ethics in Society, Stanford University

 
 
 

Bonus Content

 

Research By

James Hanley
 

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