Cato Institute: Map of The Controversy

The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, has just posted an amazing resource at their website: Public Schooling Battle Map. They say:

[R]ather than build bonds [between people], public schooling often forces people into conflict. Be they over budgets, math curricula, school start times, or myriad other matters, everyone is probably familiar with divisive public schooling battles.

This map aggregates a relatively small, but especially painful, subset of such battles: those pitting educational effectiveness, basic rights, moral values, or individual identities against each other. Think creationism versus evolution, or assigned readings containing racial slurs. They are often intensely personal, and guarantee if one fundamental value wins, another loses.

Below that is a full-screen map, with the conflicts represented by clickable, color-coded dots pointing to specific locations. Evolution controversies are indicated by orange dots. They also say:

Select a button to locate conflicts by type, state, school district, or year, or hit “keyword search” and enter search terms in the field next to it. You can also click on a conflict type on the legend. Once you’ve narrowed down your search, click on the markers for descriptions of specific incidents.

Then they provide a brief description of each type of conflict. Regarding evolution and creationism, they say:

Human Origins: Battles over evolution and creationism. Because they are so widespread, divisive, and long-standing – harkening back to the 1925 Scopes “Monkey” Trial – these conflicts are given their own category. They involve government declaring what is or is not “science,” “fact,” or “religion.”

The article has more information, and the map itself works beautifully. It’s a gold mine! We congratulate the Cato Institute for producing this fine work. Click over there and take a look.

Copyright © 2014. The Sensuous Curmudgeon. All rights reserved.

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31 responses to “Cato Institute: Map of The Controversy

  1. Very nice map application. I noticed that the map does not identify any controversies involving creationism in Washington (state). One would think the DI could at least influence a few school boards or legislators in their home state. The locals must know them too well.

    Quite a few libertarians hold the position that public schools should be eliminated altogether. I suspect this map might have been created to demonstrate the conflicts public schools cause in communities, thus supporting the argument that we might as well get rid of them.

  2. I have just looked at the serious controversies listed for schools near here (western suburbs of Chicago). The expression “straining at gnats” seems to fit.

    So maybe the public schools are actually in pretty good shape.

  3. Ed is correct. If we eliminate public education, the the First Amendment issue regarding teaching Creationism in Public Schools goes away. Creationoids will send their kids to schools that teach their preferred nonsense, and the rest of us will send our kids to schools that teach what we think is important for them to learn.

    Libertarians often tout the idea of separation of Education and State, in addition to the separation of Church and state. It solves a multitude of problems, of which Creationism in public schools is but one of many.

    The other benefit of eliminating public schools will be the competition effect between private schools vying for tuition money, which over time should tend to make schools more efficient, and reduce costs of providing an education.

  4. Okay, longshadow, what happens to kids who are from families that couldn’t afford the tuition and expenses of a private school?
    I can’t think of better way than eliminating public education to complete the destruction of the middle class.

  5. waldteufel asks: “what happens to kids who are from families that couldn’t afford the tuition and expenses of a private school?”

    Oh dear — then we’ll have a subculture of illiterates wandering around dealing drugs and living on welfare. We wouldn’t want that.

  6. Eddie Janssen

    longshadow: You would be neglecting a (considerable?) part of your potential. Hardly efficient I’d say.

  7. Eddie Janssen

    Forgot to mention: The map is quite informative. Thank you.

  8. Nice as far as it goes, but there are MANY more events not covered. For example, Oklahoma has had many more controversies than the items shown.

  9. vhutchison observes: “Nice as far as it goes, but there are MANY more events not covered.”

    In the public schools? Maybe. And Cato’s map pays no attention to legislative and judicial controversies.

  10. Longshadow suggests

    Libertarians often tout the idea of separation of Education and State, in addition to the separation of Church and state. It solves a multitude of problems, of which Creationism in public schools is but one of many.

    I’m not sure about that; it sounds a bit like, “To save the village, we had to destroy it.”

    Or rather, I think it misses the core of the ‘problem’ about Creationism in the USA, which isn’t–ultimately–the recurring local school board tussles by reactionary religious nuts, but rather the presence, in significant numbers, of so many folks who are so benighted.

    I know Americans are generally uncomfortable talking about social ‘class’ (the term, unfortunately, smacks of discredited Marxism), and even more squeamish about notions of ‘class’ (as opposed to ‘individual’) mobility, though I sometimes wonder if those aren’t useful terms in endeavouring to understand some modern American dynamics. But I’m genuinely not sure, genuinely often baffled by American ‘exceptionalism’, and generally need to recuse myself from discussions such as these.

    On the other hand, as the father of two British daughters who are now approaching University and thence the competitive world beyond, I would warmly welcome the abolition of public education in the USA 🙂

  11. Megalonyx reveals that he is “the father of two British daughters who are now approaching University”

    In a rare moment of Curmudgeonly virtue and self-discipline, it is hereby declared that the Megalonyx daughters are off-limits for discussion.

  12. Well, Megalonyx can discuss them, but the rest of us can’t.

  13. If we go to an all-private school system, there will certainly be tuition assistance for those unable to afford sending their kids to a private school. There will be such a political clamor for full tuition being paid at the school of their choice that we will wind up with the only people able to afford the top schools being the poor and the very rich.

    The middle class, not being able to afford the top schools on their own, will then demand tuition assistance, if not full scholarship, to the schools of their choice.

    Since they are all private schools, the state and local governing bodies will have zero control over costs, and the cost of education will skyrocket — just like the cost of medical care.

    It would be politically impossible not to give tuition assistance to those unable to afford education. It would be social suicide to have an entire class of people totally uneducated. Welcome to the Dark Ages.

    Besides, every state constitution mandates the establishment of a system of public schools. What are the odds of all 50 states (57 states for you Obama supporters) changing their constitutions? In other words, it’s a moot point. Ain’t gonna happen.

  14. Megalonyx reveals that he is ‘the father of two British daughters who are now approaching University’ ”

    Is it within the realm of permissible discussion to inquire whether they are referred to as “Microlonyx“?

  15. retiredsciguy says: “Besides, every state constitution mandates the establishment of a system of public schools.”

    I think that’s right. But it wasn’t always so. Massachusetts was the first state to have government-run public education, and that didn’t start until the 1840s, or so I’ve read.

  16. DickVanstone

    Our great and respected Curmudgeon speculates: “Oh dear — then we’ll have a subculture of illiterates wandering around dealing drugs and living on welfare. We wouldn’t want that.”

    There is an easy fix to one part of that: End the war on Self-governance, Freedom, and Liberty a.k.a. the war on drugs.

  17. Of my British daughters, Pope Retiredsciguy enquires

    whether they are referred to as “Microlonyx“?

    They so far exceed me (thanks to their mother’s genetic input) in intellect and character they would more accurately be termed Gigalonyx, at least.

    The elder turned 18 yesterday, the age of full adulthood in the UK: she can vote, marry without parental consent, and even buy me a drink at the pub. Two days ago, I had a child. Today, I have a lodger…

  18. Megalonyx laments, “Two days ago, I had a child. Today, I have a lodger…”

    As the father of two daughters myself (now adults — 38 & 40), I can empathize. They do grow up fast, don’t they?

  19. Curmy observes, “Massachusetts was the first state to have government-run public education, and that didn’t start until the 1840s, or so I’ve read.”

    And would you say we are better off today because of free public education, or not?

  20. retiredsciguy asks: “And would you say we are better off today because of free public education, or not?”

    Questions like that are impossible to answer. There was literacy in the US before government schools. Not universal literacy, but there was a lot of it. Government schools have largely overwhelmed what might have been a very effective private alternative system. We’ll never know how things would have worked out if it were all private.

  21. Ceteris Paribus

    retiredsciguy says:

    If we go to an all-private school system, there will certainly be tuition assistance for those unable to afford sending their kids to a private school. There will be such a political clamor for full tuition being paid at the school of their choice that we will wind up with the only people able to afford the top schools being the poor and the very rich.

    You are probably aware that a “tuition assistance” voucher is the ploy by which public school funds are currently being moved to private sectarian [read: Creationist] schools in several states.

    But I can assure you that there will never be an abolition of public schools, since these will always be needed to serve the subset of students, which for one reason or another, incur substantial costs for their individualized education programs or remedial instruction.

    Public school systems are mandated to enroll these students, which voucher schools are allowed to reject. This skews the “per pupil” cost for public school systems upward when budgets are calculated at the state level, and makes the voucher schools look like a free-market bargain for the gullible taxpayers.

    You can watch the fun in action in Kansas, where the governor has been busy cutting public school funding. And in his recent State of the State address Gov Brownback again asserted that only the Legislature, and not the the Kansas Supreme Court, has the power to set the “sufficient” level of funding mentioned in the Kansas constitution. Just like some legislatures have tried to tell their courts that a bill to teach ID shall not be construed by the court as a law mandating Creationism.

  22. I just recently retired as the chief geophysicist of a successful international petroleum exploration company. Were it not for a public education system, I would never have had the opportunity to prepare for a university and beyond education, and would surely have not been able to complete degree programs.

    Free public education is one of the things that has made this country so robust and innovative. Restricting opportunity to a privileged upper class is a recipe for creating a stagnate and effete society, in my opinion.

  23. @Waldteufel: What you said, doubled.

  24. Our Curmudgeon asserts

    Government schools have largely overwhelmed what might have been a very effective private alternative system.

    This claim needs some examination. How—if your claim is true—did government schools manage to ‘overwhelm’ a ‘private alternative system’? Do you suppose the 19th century legislators who were the architects of public education were part of some early proto-Socialist cabal working their own sinister ‘Wedge strategy’ in a leftist drive toward Big Government? Did they introduce punitive laws against the private educational sector in order to hold it back while they advanced a Communist agenda to ultimately enslave us all?

    Or might it not instead be the case that the private educational sector was simply not able to scale up effectively to the explosive increase in demand for education which arose, in the 19th century, from the shift, at least in the West, from predominately agrarian societies to industrial ones? Might the ‘overwhelming’ you claim be nothing more than the efficient economy of scale made possible by introducing the infrastructure for universal education over piece-meal private provision?

    Our Curmudgeon concedes

    We’ll never know how [the] thing would have worked out if it were all private.

    True, but it’s a diverting hypothetical. I would, to that end, throw two thoughts into the discussion on this:

    [1]: The ‘private’ educational sector was never constructed as a commercial enterprise but was originally subsidised by institutions (the Church initially, later the State) that required a body of learned administrators. For the best part of a millennium, a handful of European universities were able to supply these needs, which were sufficient for Medieval European societies. Somewhat surprisingly, even at their founding these universities had some ‘meritocratic’ provision for ‘poor scholars’, and attracted donations and bequests to establish scholarship funds. Things start to change in the early Modern period (that is, from the Renaissance), in part through the re-discovery of ancient learning, but mostly—I suspect—through the increased demands for more literate and learned administrators for the emerging nation states (Tudor society needed far more lawyers than the Plantagenets did), &c. &c. In short, ‘private’ education was never initiated, cultivated, or supported by ‘private’ enterprise; it’s insanely anachronistic to suppose it could have been otherwise, given other historical factors.

    But that’s really by the by, I think the heart of the matter is

    [2]: How do we measure the value of education? Which is ultimately a political choice about the purpose of education.

    Longshadow argues, and with some merit, that

    The other benefit of eliminating public schools will be the competition effect between private schools vying for tuition money, which over time should tend to make schools more efficient, and reduce costs of providing an education.

    That might indeed be so; let’s grant, at least for the moment, it would be so. But would this be a desired outcome if the overall result was a general lowering of educational attainment in a society (that is, fewer high school diplomas and university degrees awarded, or a narrowing of educational to purely vocational certificates)?

    I don’t think cost/benefit analysis can resolve this question—but it is certainly arguable. I think it’s a political/value judgement, a different kettle of fish. For my part, I would argue (but I understand the many who would disagree, and with strong arguments for doing so) that it is not sufficient that I personally have access to good, affordable education for myself and my Gigalonyxes, it is also in my own best interest that all of my neighbours also avail themselves of the best education possible. I wish to continue living in an advanced industrial society, which demands the highest possible overall educational attainment of that society. And—perhaps even more importantly—I wish to continue to live in a democracy, and that also demands the highest possible level of general social educational achievement if it is not to fall prey—as the democracies of ancient Athens or of Weimer Germany fell prey—to demagogues and political extremism.

    Enough waffle from me on this–what do I know? I went to a public high school…

  25. Megalonyx ponders: “How—if your claim is true—did government schools manage to ‘overwhelm’ a ‘private alternative system’?”

    The problem with all these “what if” questions about history is that we’ll never know what might have happened if things had taken a different course. Imagine some relic from the wrong side of the Cold War who’s been in a coma for decades, and who suddenly wakes up, learns that in the US we have private farms and a private — gasp, for profit! — distribution system, and he begins to rant about the glories and social benefits of public ownership of farmland and governmental distribution of food. He’s certain that we’d be better off if the government were running all of it. How do we argue with him?

    We can argue in the food production case, because there have been and still are side-by-side, simultaneously existing societies, each with a different system, so they can be compared. But in the case of a hypothetical US which never adopted compulsory, tax-financed education, how do we make a comparison?

  26. Our Curmudgeon responds

    The problem with all these “what if” questions about history is that we’ll never know what might have happened if things had taken a different course.

    I stated my case poorly in my post; I was also considering, not the hypothetical, but the actual situation in the US prior to the 1840’s (and later–much later–in some parts thereof); that is, there was a time in the first century of American history in which there was no public education, only ‘private’. But when demand for education ramped up steeply in the 19th century, the private sector, which is extremely nimble and efficient in other markets, was clearly not able to scale up effectively. That’s not a hypothetical, that’s what happened.

    From that, I would suggest (I am not certain, but strongly suspect this may be the case) that a market model just doesn’t apply to education, which is arguably not a ‘commodity’ like others–and the creation of public education provision (both legislation and funding) from the state was a response to the inability of the private sector–in this instance–to provide.

    That’s my suggestion, at least; sure, maybe I’m wrong. But at the moment, it seems to me that this apparent past failure of the private relative to the public sector in making essential provision in this area makes me very skeptical about how a 100% private educational sector would deliver in the hypothetical. The notion of scrapping public education for private only seems to me a proposal based on ideological purity unsupported by empirical data; resembling, in fact, wild schemes from the opposite end of the political spectrum (e.g. insane ideas of solving poverty by abolishing private property or confiscatory redistribution of wealth).

  27. Wildly off-topic, but was this headline (from the BBC news website) ever a gift to quote-mining Creationists: Grand Canyon ‘formed recently’

    You have to read the article to find ‘recent’ means 5-6 myo for some parts of the Grand Canyon, and that it’s not uniformly 70 myo.

    But Creationists won’t bother with the details, they never do… 😦

  28. Ceteris Paribus

    SC asks:

    Imagine some relic from the wrong side of the Cold War who’s been in a coma for decades, and who suddenly wakes up, learns that in the US we have private farms and a private — gasp, for profit! — distribution system, and he begins to rant about the glories and social benefits of public ownership of farmland and governmental distribution of food. He’s certain that we’d be better off if the government were running all of it. How do we argue with him?

    Part of the argument would be that the US government IS running the farm system in the form of direct cash payments to land owners whether they actually are engaged in farming operations or not. In Kansas, about half the land being farmed is rented from absentee owners.

    And as I look around the network of well-paved public Kansas highways which provide transportation to the farthest fringes of farm country, I am curious as to why it is only in the urban areas in the Eastern side of the state, where most of the fuel tax revenue is generated, that privately funded toll roads exist.

  29. Ceteris Paribus

    SC introduces the original post: “The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, has just posted [26-January-2014] an amazing resource at their website: Public Schooling Battle Map.”

    And concludes with: “The article has more information, and the map itself works beautifully. It’s a gold mine! We congratulate the Cato Institute for producing this fine work. Click over there and take a look.”

    Well yes, Cato is an amazing resource. But Wait! There’s More! Cato is just one of the many partners sponsoring the “National School Choice Week – Jan 26 – Feb 1”

    According to the School Choice website:

    “During National School Choice Week 2013:
    • 3,600+ events [5,500+ this year] were organized across all 50 states
    • 3,000+ schools celebrated by holding special events
    29 governors and dozens of mayors issued proclamations [bold added]
    • 2,000+ news stories highlighted the Week
    • Millions of Americans participated in events and activities”

    Find events in your area at National School Choice Week

  30. Sometimes I wish I had gone to a private high school instead of the inefficient public one. Maybe I’d be reading on a 40-year old level instead of the 38-yo level I’m currently stuck at. My life wwould be so much better!

  31. “Were it not for a public education system, I would never have had the opportunity to prepare for a university and beyond education, and would surely have not been able to complete degree programs.”
    This generally applies to The Netherlands and certainly Suriname. Especially studying physics and chemistry is so expensive in The Netherlands that hardly any Dutch student could afford it if our universities were private. Given the list of Dutch Nobel Price winners they don’t do too badly:

    http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lijst_van_Nederlandse_Nobelprijswinnaars

    Private schools are legal in The Netherlands.

    http://www.luzac.nl/college/tarieven/

    My son went to a private college in Paramaribo, Suriname after 11 years of public education. He was’t worse prepared than his classmates; rather the opposite.
    The Dutch totally public and centralized educational system results in a very empty battle map. Dutch parents don’t have to go to court because of questions like “Isn’t it amazing what the _____ has made.” Same for Surinamese parents.