Friday, March 29, 2013

SCOTUS on Marriage, Part II: The Gotcha Question

The SCOTUS heard oral arguments concerning the definition of marriage Tuesday and Wednesday of this week: Tuesday on California’s Prop 8 and Wednesday on the federal DOMA law. This is part II of my commentary on the discussion. On Wednesday, in Part I, I wrote on a couple of basic definitions. Today I’m looking at the Gotcha question, plus the “Voice of the Children” argument. It’s going to take a third post, coming Monday, to deal with the possible outcomes of the court cases.

The Gotcha Question
Here’s the Gotcha question: “How does a same-sex ‘marriage’ harm your heterosexual marriage?” The assumption is that there is no harm, so there is no answer. But there is harm, even if it isn’t blatantly obvious to the casual onlooker.
The current definition of marriage is a particular contract, binding the parties of the contract with the promise of fidelity, permanence, and protection of family. To change the definition removes those promises from even existing contracts.
Procreation: Separating the marriage contract from the act leading to procreation means nullifying and changing the contract so that there is no particular interest in family. This is important because, without interest in family, there’s pretty much no societal benefit from the contract that the state has an interest in. All benefits of marriage go to couples without the couples giving anything of value to society.
Fidelity: The change in contract also removes the promise of fidelity, because unfaithfulness in a same-sex relationship has no effect on the vulnerability of offspring and parents, in competition with a possible usurper of those protections. (Same-sex partners, incidentally, tend to be unfaithful at rates nearing 100%.) I had the promise of fidelity from my mate when I made the contract; if the court changes the definitions within the contract, it takes away from me this contractual promise.
Permanence: The establishment of permanent family in the original contract is also made vulnerable; since there is no dependent spouse or child produced by procreation within the marriage, there is no assumption of harm when a relationship ends. That is why government has had no interest in automatically sorting out division of property when same-sex couples part (which they do, historically, at rates approaching 100%). Similarly, government stays out when co-habiting unmarried heterosexual couples split.
So the change in definition means the new contract has no promise of fidelity, permanence, or family. How does that play out?
Suppose a father of several children, married to a woman for more than a decade, decides he prefers a different woman, and he ends the contract. The wife, who sacrificed considerably—health, career, energy, time, personal wealth—to procreation and raising the children, is left unprotected. She has no promise of alimony to make up for her sacrifice; she has no promise of custody if she doesn’t have as many resources as the father. She is told all can be taken from her, because there was no expectation of fidelity, permanence, or family in the original contract (even though she entered the contract with those promises expected).
Does the change in definition mean this woman’s relationship with her spouse will end in this disaster? No. But is the loss of protection from this threat real? Yes. She has been harmed.
Suppose a woman is married to a man for more than a decade, producing several children, but she has been unfaithful multiple times. She may be uncertain of the fatherhood of each of the children, or she may know the spouse is not the father. She gets the tax and insurance benefits plus honor of society nevertheless, simply because she continues having a sexual relationship with the spouse, but because there is no expectation of fidelity, the man has no right to expect that any children born to the woman were his offspring. Why marry in the first place, if he doesn’t even have that promise? And if he has no expectation of father-child relationship to the woman’s offspring, can there be an expectation that he provide for them? The man has been harmed by the change in contract, and so have the children.
No longer is it a contract requiring fidelity, permanence, and protections to family. It is now a contract implying only an announcement that two people choose to have some sort of sexual relationship, not necessarily exclusive, not necessarily permanent, and no interest in producing or protecting children—but the contract nevertheless requires society and government to give advantages and honors to the couple simply for their declaration of “love.”
Same-sex “marriage” makes it a different contract than it was. Courts will treat it as a different contract in all 1100+ laws relating to the contract. Laws surrounding marriage—property division, child custody, alimony, etc. will change, because the purpose of marriage and the state’s interest in it will have changed. Parents even lose the values attached to being a mother or father; those get substituted with neutral meaningless terms like “parent 1” or “caregiver.” Those who already have the original contract lose its meaning, and couples marrying in the future have no way to make the contract that heretofore has been available.

Voice of the Children Argument
One of the relatively new arguments voiced last Tuesday will probably be referred to as the “Voice of the Children” argument. The estimated thousands of children living with same-sex parents want their parents to have the same respect that married heterosexual parents have. This is interesting. Adults put children in the position of a family without a married mother and father, and then accuse, “How can you be so unfair to our children?” Instead of solving the problem by avoiding putting children in this deficient situation, they tell society it must accept the problem situation as equivalent to ideal as if that would solve the problem. Or, in other words, let’s decide to pretend it isn’t a problem, so that no one has to suffer the problem.
The question ought to be, what are children entitled to? They are entitled to being raised in a family with married mother and father; society should do all within its power to encourage that situation for each child. Wherever that isn’t possible, the situation for the child will be statistically likely to be deficient, and society will have to somehow use its social and economic capital to make up the deficiency as well as it can.
If society were actually interested in what is best for the child, then the child would be placed within a traditional family for adoption. But that is not being considered by anyone as an option, particularly for children born biologically to one of the same-sex parents. We as a society allow a great deal of freedom among individuals to make mistakes and choose their own way of dealing with them. While in past generations most children born to unwed mothers were voluntarily put up for adoption, today many more unwed mothers (above 90%) keep the child, thus depriving the child of a parent (also making adoption much more difficult for couples wishing to adopt, but that’s a discussion for another day). Many similar problems arise from divorce as well. We don’t take children away from divorcing parents to put them in other two-parent homes; the idea is abhorrent, even to the strongest defenders of the natural family.
With that option off the table, then society must simply spend its social capital tolerating the fact that some children will be raised without a mother and a father.
No matter how much the children are saying, “We don’t want our family to be seen as less ideal than families with a mother and father,” society can’t change facts. We sympathize for any child missing a father or mother, but we can’t magically say, “We’ll just say your situation doesn’t miss a father or mother, and then you won’t feel like you’re missing out.” When children demand, “I want! I want! I want!” sometimes the grown-up has to say, “I’m sorry, but that’s not something you can have.”

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Supreme Court and the Definition of Marriage

I’ve written pretty thoroughly on the subject of protecting marriage. Here’s the basic list again:

So today, I’m just commenting on some of what we’re seeing in the Supreme Court’s hearing of oral arguments, Tuesday on the Prop 8 California case, and Wednesday on the federal DOMA law.
Some of the difficulty is the media wording of the issues, so I think I’ll do a little translation.
Banning is the wrong word. To ban something, the something must exist first. No one is “banning” same-sex “marriage”; they are defending the definition marriage has always had—since before the state existed to codify it in law. Technically, California claims same-sex “marriage” existed there and was then “banned,” but that’s disingenuous. The people of the state of California voted to keep the definition, and the legislature decided to ignore them, so, before the legislation went into effect, the people of the state put forth a proposition to change the constitution to retain the original definition of marriage and won by majority vote. And then judges flouted the decision, granting marriage licenses to people who didn’t qualify for said licenses, leading to the court cases at issue now.  So, every time you hear the word ban, know that it is the result of media manipulating public opinion.
“Same-sex marriage” is an oxymoron. Marriage, real marriage, concerns the legal and societal concern with what happens because of a specific sexual act, and only that act. To be blunt, a marriage is only consummated once the couple engages in the male sexual organ penetrating the female sexual organ, making possible egg fertilization. If a married couple engages in any other type of mutually voluntary sexual behavior, the state is simply uninterested. The reason is that this particular sex act is what leads to procreation, which is of vital interest to society, including the vulnerability caused by procreation, especially to children but also to mothers.
Oral arguments Tuesday touched on the procreation issue, but only awkwardly. What about couples who are infertile? What about couples marrying too late in life to procreate? (Justice Kagan asked about marriage after age 55, for example, apparently unaware that history offers many examples of people 55 or older becoming parents.) Those questions are not for the court to be concerned with; those are medical questions. Those couples can still marry, because they can still engage in the sex act. And they can establish permanent families going forward. Couples that fail to consummate the marriage can have the contract annulled, meaning that because they do not include the behavior of concern, their relationship does not qualify as marriage.
I don’t know why the simple question isn’t posed to same-sex couples: “Do you intend to engage in male/female sexual intercourse required for marriage? And how do you intend to do that without the appropriate body parts?” Their issue isn’t infertility. Mostly they are fertile. They are simply not engaging in the act with an appropriate partner to qualify for marriage.
There is not now, and has not been, any law “banning” homosexuals from marrying—when marrying means engaging in the singular male/female sex act that can lead to procreation, God willing. Homosexuals raising children have all either engaged in that act, or they have adopted a child produced through the coming together of someone else’s male and female seed. Even in the growing business of female homosexuals using in vitro fertilization, they can’t combine their egg with the egg of their partner; they have to have the semen from a male donor. There is no physiological way for this couple to produce offspring together. This basic fact of life ought to be obvious.
The supposed gotcha question of those seeking to redefine marriage is, “How does a same-sex ‘marriage’ harm your heterosexual marriage?” And the assumption is that there is no harm, so there is no answer. But that is incorrect.  There’s enough to say on that to wait for another post.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Oppression through Education

This is the last of a five-part series of posts on educational concerns. (The other four are here, here, here, and here.) All of this was triggered by discussions a couple of weeks ago about a national curriculum being imposed, called Common Core, and a Texas alternative called CSCOPE.
I am not an expert on these specific curricula. But you can look things up as well as I can. Common Core has this mission statement: 
The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.
Why common standards?
Building on the excellent foundation of standards states have laid, the Common Core State Standards are the first step in providing our young people with a high-quality education. It should be clear to every student, parent, and teacher what the standards of success are in every school.
Then you can click on the specific standards for math and English language arts. But I have this additional question: We’ve had a US Department of Education, a cabinet level organization, since Jimmy Carter implemented it in 1979—so why has it taken more than three decades to take this “first step in providing our young people with a high-quality education”? What have they been trying to do thus far, if they couldn’t even take a first step until now? Just marching in place? Going backward? Gathering data that suddenly now all makes everything possible?
And if we’ve had this US Department of Education failing to do its stated purpose for thirty-three years so far, why should we trust that now, suddenly, without a positive track record, they’ve got the solution to all of our state, local, and individual student education challenges?
If I understand correctly, the US Department receives taxpayer dollars, which filter through various bureaucratic offices, and get sent back to the states—to be used as the federal government dictates. And right now a chunk of that is attached to strings, particularly the requirement that Common Core be used. They have a map showing that all but a few recalcitrant states have succumbed to the bribe.
Texas is one of the recalcitrant ones. Governor Perry stated clearly that we Texans would not take federal dollars with federal strings attached, which would limit our ability to meet our needs here. Go Perry!
But then we learned that, in its place, Texas had adopted something called CSCOPE. Technically, it’s not “curriculum”; it’s called “instructional material,” so the State Board of Education doesn’t have oversight. It’s just a tool to help teachers plan their teaching to match state testing requirements. Innocent enough, right? Turns out, not so innocent.
I first learned about CSCOPE last fall, at a local Tea Party meeting. We have several people there who regularly attend our local school district board meetings. And right about then there was an uproar about the way CSCOPE presented sex education, particularly to very young ages. And one of the additional difficulties with CSCOPE is that it’s all online, rather than a textbook that can be reviewed. This is supposed to make it more cost effective, because things can be changed online as needed, without reprinting costs. But it adds additional copyright challenges. The entities creating and selling CSCOPE have approached that problem by refusing parental review and forcing teachers to sign non-disclosure statements. Not even the chair of the State Board of Education was allowed to review the materials.
Just to clarify: parents don’t get to see what’s in it, and teachers aren’t allowed to tell parents what’s in it. A couple of teachers who have gone ahead and talked over concerns with parents (after parents hear some worrisome things that their kids are being taught) have been reprimanded, fired, or forced to leave the teaching profession. (Here is one parent's run-in with CSCOPE curriculum.)
Parents in our district, specifically about the sex education, caused such an uproar that, rather than keep defending the curriculum, the district withdrew CSCOPE as the source of sex education. I don’t think that means all CSCOPE has been discarded in the district, however. And it’s used in about 80% of Texas independent school districts.
I don’t have all the data points, but it appears that the “progressive” indoctrination within CSCOPE, and there is plenty of that, is supported by the same supporters as Common Core. Common Core even sought to purchase CSCOPE at one point. Shadowy figures like George Soros are mentioned as among the funding sources way in the background. Maybe true? I don’t know. I guess I’m paranoid enough about tyrannists that I see it as a possibility.
Texans don’t generally sit still while some foolish “experts” try to walk over us. We stand up. Some of that has begun to happen. My state senator, Senator Dan Patrick, introduced legislation, just before the deadline for filing a couple of weeks ago, a bill to provide oversight for CSCOPE. I think scrapping it would be a better option than tweaking it. Nevertheless, there is now going to be an oversight board. Here’s the press release from the CSCOPE website concerning the agreed upon changes.
Glenn Beck spent a day  talking about CSCOPE on his show (March 7; this article has several videos within, all worth watching) identifying some of the problems. There are many problems, and some of the guests on his show also described it as only a mediocre curriculum, as far as usefulness in teaching students.
What we must not do is get into an argument about whether the curriculum is good or bad, or good enough. Quality is not the primary question.
My curriculum was written on my computer, as I got to it each semester, outlining our plans, and keeping our records. It was good enough. A curriculum does not have to be flawless; it only has to be flexible and customized to each student. No matter how good a standardized curriculum is, it will not meet the needs of kids who are either fast, slow, or different-style learners.
Some of the discussions about these factory-style curricula showed math that the Beck guests all agreed was fuzzy and stupid. My son Political Sphere called me after he saw it and said, “That looks like what we did.” Before we homeschooled, back when the boys were in elementary school (a gifted magnet school), we were working on getting math facts faster. So we played around with a book called Mathemagics: How to Look Like a Genius without Really Trying. One of the tricks in it was helping you do multiplication in your head, doing the tens first and then adding the ones. Second son, Economic Sphere, used to do 2x2 multiplication in his head, as a second grader, faster than I could do it either in my head or with a calculator. We used this book again the summer after his freshman year of college, and he was doing three-digit division in his head about that fast. I’ve later learned that similar approaches work for Asians because of the way their languages say numbers. And in the book Cheaper by the Dozen, the Galbraith kids, back about 90 years ago, were taught similar calculation skills that their dad drilled them on and enjoyed showing off.
The point is, there might be specifics within the curriculum that we might disagree on, as to whether they are good ideas, at least for some students. And there might be stated overall goals, like teaching critical thinking skills, that would be hard to disagree with. So the argument must not be about whether this curriculum is good enough, because that allows the assumption that some hypothetical standardized curriculum would be acceptable.
These curricula must be stopped because there is a serious risk that standardized curricula can be used (and have been) for indoctrination and control—whether they are effective education tools or not.
Father of modern education, Horace Mann, let us know the plan in the 1800s: “What the church has been for medieval man, the public school must become for democratic and rational man. God will be replaced by the concept of the public good.”
His acolyte, John Dewey (yes, the one who created the Dewey decimal system) took Mann’s ideas and made them worse. He took great classic books out of schools, and offered up moral relativism, promoting socialist ideology through so-called scientific education expertise. He’s made so much “progress” that we’re barely still able to assert that a standardized curriculum that promotes socialism and denigrates America is a bad use of our tax dollars.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Parental Right to Educate

We’ve been covering education topics for a few posts now, mostly in preparation for current related news. Last Friday’s post presented the concept of the parental right and responsibility to educate their children. Monday’s post covered definitions of curriculum and textbooks, to take away some of the mystique of the experts. Wednesday’s post covered more skepticism of centralized control, revealing the lack of connection between accreditation and educational outcomes.

The Romeike family in 2010
photo from NY Times story
Today I want to cover a particular case. I mentioned this case back in October 2011. A German family, the Romeikes, an Evangelical Christian family with six children, found that the German public schools did not meet their family’s educational needs. They found that local private schools (which, in Germany, are required to teach the government dictated curriculum used in public schools) were an even worse environment. They came slowly to look into homeschooling, which is illegal in Germany, and has been since long before WWII. A few people do it undercover. (I actually know an American homeschooling family who worked in Germany for a year, that managed to stay under the radar during their stay.) The Romeikes finally saw it as their best option, believing that, if caught, the outcome would be fines they were willing to pay.
It turned out the fines were onerous, and the government threatened to take the children away from the parents, and possibly imprison the parents as well.
They did the legal thing; they went through the legal system in Germany first. Failing there, and with the threat of family dissolution looming, they came to the United States in 2008 and requested asylum. That was granted in 2010, by a judge in Tennessee, who spoke strongly in favor of their parental rights.
There was reason to rejoice, but it didn’t last long. The Department of Homeland Security (the Immigration and Naturalization Service, under DHS) stepped up to insist the judge had ruled incorrectly, and that the family should not be granted asylum.
There are some specific guidelines for qualifying for asylum. Being persecuted for religious reasons is one; so is being part of a specific targeted social group, which it is argued homeschoolers are. The judge in his ruling spelled out why the family qualified, so he was following the law, even though circumstances were unusual.
The case comes up for appeal before the Sixth Circuit Court on April 23rd. It’s unclear to me how the case is set up. The Romeikes won the original case, so no need for appeal. So the government must have stepped in to insist on appeal, forcing the family to re-defend their position.
If this were simply a question of asylum, there might be some conceivable reason for pressing the question. If we allowed just anyone feeling unhappy in their home country to come here, we would be hard-pressed to accommodate the rush. But this family has been here since 2008. During the two years it took to get the ruling in their favor, they were productive and contributing members of society. During the additional three years, they have continued their noble behavior—and there has not been a sudden increase in similar requests for asylum based on homeschooling prejudices (or even religious prejudices) from Germany or elsewhere.
So the administration has stepped in, pretty much out of the blue, targeting a clearly harmless family for deportation—when the known outcome will be termination of custody of their own children, plus hefty fines and prison terms. Not only will they lose the right to educate their children as they see fit, they will lose the right to have a relationship with their children, and will have their lives essentially ruined and livelihood ended. That may not be a death threat, as with many asylum cases, but it’s pretty severe.
This is an administration that just set free a large number of illegal aliens who had been incarcerated. They have sued the state of Arizona for even asking people taken into custody for other infractions whether they have legal status. “Everyone is welcome, and we hope you’ll be voting for us soon,” is practically the announced immigration policy.
So why go to so much trouble to expel this particular family that came here legally?
I’ve wondered if there was pressure from Germany, which is an ally, and would appear somewhat embarrassed by the accusation of oppression that the request for asylum implies. There may be something behind the scenes, but there’s no mention of a request for extradition or any such thing in the stories I’ve read. And it seems unlikely there would be such a request. Germany’s stated purpose for the anti-homeschooling law is that they want to discourage factions and separateness within the country; having the family leave means problem solved.
Whether there’s some backroom discussion with Germany or not, this prosecution by the federal government clearly exposes this administration’s belief: there is no parental to right to see to the care, control, and upbringing of children, nor is this administration willing to protect any so-called parental rights.
Not all natural rights are spelled out in the first Ten Amendments to the Constitution. The reason even those are amendments is that natural rights were understood and accepted, so much so they didn’t need to be mentioned. It was fear that people might someday become corrupt enough not to understand and accept the natural God-given rights that led to the addition of the Bill of Rights. But it was so far from their thinking that anyone would come to believe someone other than parents owned the responsibility for raising the next generation that they didn’t even think to spell it out. Parents choosing how to best raise their children is simply part of a person’s life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Only in severe cases of abuse and neglect would society (or government) have a role to step in to protect the child.
But this administration is more corrupt than the founders imagined. The insistence on challenging the Romeike decision is a way to codify the administration’s belief that parents do not have rights concerning raising their children—the government wants to make it clear that they believe they have the right to control, to indoctrinate.
Inalienable rights cannot be given up. But just as people can lose their freedom to slavery, any inalienable right can succumb to usurpers if people do not stand strong against the tyrannists. Usually the loss happens little by little. “Free” public schools have been used for the incremental usurpation of parental rights. This administration is testing how far they have already come toward the tyrannist plan to dictate what and how children are taught.
When this federal government puts forth a curriculum (as it has with Common Core), claiming it is best for all our children, it doesn’t matter what is in the curriculum and whether it could be effective as a teaching tool. Such curriculum must be rejected, because the issue is parental rights—and we know that any curriculum they provide comes from the worldview that parents do not have rights.
* You can learn more on the Romeike case at these links: this story from 2010, this story from The Blaze March 15th, and this video with HSLDA, who are helping to defend the Romeikes. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Skeptical of Accreditation

After the basics of the last couple of posts on education (that parents need to be in charge of education choices, and choice means no far away entities imposing curriculum or textbook choices), you probably thought the bases were covered. But you’d be wrong. We’re here to define yet another overlooked and underscrutinized word: accreditation.
The online dictionary starts out with this not-so-helpful definition: “The act of accrediting or the state of being accredited….” Thank you for that circular pretend definition. It does go on to add, “especially the granting of approval to an institution of learning by an official review board after the school has met specific requirements.” OK, that’s closer to what we’d been thinking all along—as far as we did think about it.
I keep an old dictionary, Webster’s New World, last updated in 1982, although older would have been better. Word meanings change, and sometimes it’s helpful to just have something solid and old. (Hint to family members looking to give me a gift sometime: I’d love to have in my library a dictionary from the mid-1700s, something our founders might have used. Or maybe a complete Oxford Unabridged, where they keep every version of every word and just add to it.) Anyway, the word accreditation only appears in my 1982 dictionary as a version of the word accredit. And even then, it isn’t until the fourth definition that it begins to mean what we think of today as accreditation.
If you’re a parent looking at a school, and you’re told the school is accredited, you probably think, “That’s a good thing. At least there are things I can count on.” But what are the things you can count on? That your child will receive the subject matter you want, presented in the best way for your student, at the pace best suited for her? No, no guarantees of that. You will only know that teachers have gone through a certification process, there are a certain number of books in the library, and the school holds classes on a required number of days for a required number of hours. There may be some specific curriculum requirements, but these may or may not coincide with your priorities.
To know more, you’d need to know:
·         Who does the accrediting?
·         What criteria do they use for accrediting?
Those are big questions. If someone has put themselves in a position to judge the educational practices of everyone in the country, what makes them experts? And what is their agenda? Undoubtedly they have one. My agenda is to get the best education for my own children. Their distance from my child automatically means, at best, “positive educational outcomes for the highest percentage of children,” and could be only “making sure no child gets a better opportunity than all other children,” which amounts to “no child gets ahead.” We are at cross purposes.
Assuming you can find out the answers to these questions, you still won’t know anything about whether this school will (or even can) effectively teach your child.
There is no correlation between accreditation and educational outcomes. Let me repeat that, with emphasis:
There is no correlation between accreditation and educational outcomes.
Most private schools are unaccredited. That usually has nothing to do with how well they educate, but hinges on something like spending per student or certification of teachers. (There is no correlation between certification and teaching ability, we might add. Many people with real world experience could be part-time teachers, or switch to the teaching profession, but the onerous certification process boxes them out, protecting the unionized teachers.) Private schools, you’re probably aware, have a very good track record, in general, of good educational outcomes.
Some of that has to do with parental involvement. If a parent is willing to pay a hefty sum for tuition (in addition to the tax money they’re already paying for educational purposes), that parent is already showing they care about the child’s education. So they’re more likely to do follow up with a student, and have a home environment and schedule that allow for study in the home.
Some private schools are accredited, usually larger, more expensive ones. Their outcomes, while significantly better than public schools, are not significantly better than unaccredited private schools.
In Texas, homeschools are considered unaccredited private schools. On the whole, they have excellent outcomes compared to public schools—with more and more evidence appearing as more families jump into the experience. If parental involvement is a key indicator of student success, you’ve got that in a homeschool. You have a low teacher/student ratio and a lot of one-on-one learning time. You have many more opportunities for field trips and hands-on experiences that are just not doable in a mass-production public school setting. And you have curriculum and resource materials customized for the learner.
You don’t always get to know the track record until after the fact, so as a parent you’re taking a risk any direction you take. In my case, as an unaccredited teacher in an unaccredited private school (homeschool), I had a 100% success rate in college acceptance. (The two that graduated from college already are both involved in post-graduate education.) Yay me! Was it a risk? Yes, I could have failed. But failure was not an option, because of how much I cared for each of my children. So I had the right to ask God for help in accomplishing my mission. That’s a much safer risk than leaving my kids’ education to “the professionals.”
While I’m not against the idea of accreditation in all cases (in many fields, credentials are quite meaningful), I think putting our confidence in it concerning public schools is misguided at best, and possibly harmful. And it should never be forced on private schools, including homeschools. Accreditation can be, and is, used as a way of controlling indoctrination of students.
One example has stuck with me, told to me by a friend who taught Constitutional Law for many years in a very good law school. In order for the school to retain its accreditation, the school was required to teach that certain Supreme Court decisions, including Roe v. Wade, were the right decisions. I was stunned by that. Everyone knows that was a bad decision. You can disagree about the outcome desired, but the way the court went about it was just bad judgment based only peripherally on the law. (Even Ruth Bader Ginsburg has admitted that.) My friend couldn’t do it. He quit teaching rather than do it.
Accreditation at higher education levels is the subject for another day, but it remains true that, “Trust me, I’m an expert,” ought to be a red flag.
All education decisions of minor children are best left to parents, and to the most local entities possible. To that end, abolishing the federal level of education is entirely appropriate. If the federal government has any contribution to make (and even this I believe could be done better privately), it would be as a clearinghouse of ideas. It would be nice to have a place to go to compare studies, compare practices, read various first-hand reports of how certain things worked. Give as much information in as open and unfettered a way as possible to allow local entities (down to individual parents and teachers) to make informed choices. Accreditation doesn’t provide informed choice; it prevents it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Education vs. Indoctrination

In the last post my point was that parents are best able to make decisions regarding the care and upbringing of their children—and that includes educating them as much as it does feeding and nurturing them in other ways. This is one of my passions, and I could go on for days, so I’m trying to restrain myself and just cover a few bites at a time.
During my career years (working full time before staying home full time and homeschooling, etc.) I was a curriculum writer. I wrote educational support material for college professors, and later wrote special education textbooks for secondary school students with low reading ability. It wasn’t enough to qualify me as an expert in the field of curriculum, but it’s more than the average parent out there.
We use the word curriculum as if we know exactly what it means. But we probably don’t think about the meaning enough. So, here’s the dictionary version:

In Texas, very few specifics are required of homeschools and other private schools, but we must use a written curriculum that we pursue in a bona fide manner, which must include math, reading, spelling, and good citizenship.

There is nothing about having a set of textbooks provided as a set by a particular publisher, although some people choose to go that route. There’s not even a requirement that textbooks be used, just that there is a plan for getting to a relatively acceptable outcome. For me, I used an eclectic combination, using some classical education ideas along with some newer approaches that fit us at any given time.
I had at one time taught college level writing, so I felt confident teaching that to my kids. I chose what books and programs we used to support us in the effort. I knew what the outcome would look like, because I’d been there. Also, I had the goal of getting my kids college ready, and I used the requirements for entry into the large private university I attended. That didn’t mean my kids had to go there (although two of them did); it just meant I expected them to be acceptably educated to go there in order to graduate from my homeschool. This was a much higher standard than a normal high school graduation.
I used varieties of math approaches, not including anything like a traditional textbook. For science we did research-based approaches early on and combined with others in classes later on. Our history “text” was a collection of original materials with some commentary.
I know homeschoolers who started out with a curriculum set and stuck with it all the way through. I know others who traded in the whole set of curriculum for a new set every year or two (the expensive way to go, but looks to me most like what public schools do). Others pick and choose and change at will.
Here’s another question we hardly ever ask: What is a textbook, and how is it different from curriculum? A textbook is a collection of information on a particular subject aimed at a particular level. It’s kind of an unnatural tool, when you think about it. Someone has gathered together the basic information they think you need, and compiled it, ordered it, and laid it out for your student consumption. Who did the deciding? If the collector of information is a known, trusted teacher, then a textbook can be a useful tool for transmitting useful knowledge in an efficient way. But, with the possible exception of Harvard Professor Greg Mankiw, who wrote the popular Principles of Economics, textbook authors are pretty anonymous. Usually students don’t even ask the “who” question; their only concern is whether it’s too boring to get through.
Textbooks are a relatively recent invention. They’ve technically been around since the Greeks. But textbooks as mass-produced educators coincide with the ballooning public education industrial complex. Some texts are excellent, using information learned in the last few decades about how people learn, and are designed with a look that enhances interest—and no learning happens if the student doesn’t tune in his attention because he’s interested.
So I can see why a teacher might want to use a textbook for some courses. But teachers rarely get to make that decision anymore. It’s much more likely that the decision is dictated to them by their school, or school district, whoever is holding the purchasing power. Maybe even the state—although in better cases, the state board of education should only be reviewing texts as acceptable choices or not.
Think about your life as an adult, out of school. When you want to learn something new, how often do you turn to a textbook? You might check out a series of books on a subject from the library, maybe buy a couple on the topic from the bookstore. You’ll probably use online sources. Get the basics, learn from others who are on a similar search or are sharing their expertise. You might watch some video tutorials (I love Pinterest and YouTube for this purpose). Learning from home, sometimes entirely for free, is becoming more and more the reality, and textbooks are practically archaic by comparison. It’s hard to imagine limiting yourself to a collection on the topic put together by some anonymous source.
When we look at a curriculum used in public schools, what are we looking at? Usually an integrated (and expensive) set of textbooks (and sometimes electronic media) integrating subjects covering the range of grade levels—insuring these things:
·         Greatest income for the publisher.
·         Greatest control of information for the producer/implementer.
What you do not get is anything even attempting flexibility for individual students, or choice for the parents or even for individual classroom teachers.
Whenever there is discussion about curriculum choices, I suggest you take a default position against the implementation—no matter how good it is. Because, no matter how good such a collection may be, it will not work for every student, every teacher, every classroom situation. And anything implemented as a one-size-fits-all solution is intended to enrich someone and give power to someone to control the thinking of all students. If you want to be able to educate your student, instead of succumb to indoctrination by some faraway entity, insist on being the one who makes every choice.
I’d like to talk a bit about Common Core and CSCOPE in a future post, as well as some other education concerns. But I thought we needed to set this groundwork first.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Natural Feeding and Teaching

This post is about education. But I’m going to start with an analogy, about food, in hopes of helping you see the current paradigm with new eyes.

Imagine a conversation between a couple of moms at a park on a pleasant afternoon, while the kids play. This is a slightly different time and place than our current nation. Mom 1 is about to call the kids to head home for dinner; it’s time to start the cooking process if they’re going to have dinner on the table when Dad gets home. Mom 2 is surprised.
Mom 2: You cook for your own family? Really? I could never do that.
Mom 1: Yeah, I always have, and the kids are growing just fine.
Mom 2: I’d be afraid I’d do something wrong. I mean, what if I made my kids fat? How would I ever forgive myself?
Mom 1: Well, I mostly make just enough. And it’s not junk food. And we don’t have sweet snacks and desserts all the time, just as an occasional treat.
Mom 2: Yeah, I could never say no if my Emma whined and wanted more.
Mom 1: It takes being the grown up, I guess.
Mom 2: I’m just glad I don’t have to do that. I mean, it’s enough that I have to get them dressed and out the door in the morning. I’m so glad the school feeds them breakfast and lunch. And now that they send dinner home too—what a lifesaver! I’m just so glad the government cares enough about our children to make sure they get fed.
Mom 1: I figure I can do that. And I’m the one who knows what my kids will eat.
Mom 2: But, seriously, do you know what they should eat? Do you have a degree in nutrition? Are you certified?
Mom 1: No, I just use common sense and make things mostly from scratch. It’s not rocket science.
Mom 2: But all those studies—you should get them to eat more broccoli, or less, or use soy or don’t use soy. Is peanut butter really too dangerous? I mean, I’d never feed them something if I didn’t already know they didn’t have an allergy.
Mom 1: Usually you don’t find out they have an allergy if they haven’t eaten it at least once.
Mom 2: Well, still, I’m sure the government data puts the odds in our favor.
Mom 1: One of my kids does have food allergies, to dairy. So I just adjust what I’m cooking for him. You can’t even get one of the school meals without milk, can you?
Mom 2: Well, no, but you can just throw out what they don’t eat.
Mom 1: Yeah. I don’t do that. Like, if I know a kid’s never going to eat peas, I can make sure he gets some food he will eat that provides the same nutrition. I’m the one closest to the situation, so I can easily adjust.
Mom 2: Maybe so, but it’s so much easier to just let the government food specialists make those decisions. Plus, it’s no cost to me. Not only do I have time free that I don’t have to cook, we don’t have to spend that huge chunk of our budget just to feed out kids. I mean, it’s free! What could be better than free?
Mom 1: I guess we just value personal choice, personal responsibility, being able to adjust to our child’s personal needs without having to go through a government bureaucracy that doesn’t care about our child’s individual needs; we like time talking together while we eat, learning together about foods, how to cook, how to make things taste better, getting variety when we want it…
Mom 2: Yeah, strange. Whatever. Hey, gotta get going… (runs off, sits down on another bench by someone less crazy).
daughter Social Sphere dissecting a squid
during a group science day in 2009
This conversation is eerily similar to conversations I’ve actually had about our choice to homeschool. Up until a century plus a couple of decades ago, most parents saw to the education of their own children. Sometimes the mom and dad did lessons at home, taught reading and basic math, and gave assigned readings. Sometimes they joined together with some other families to hire a teacher or two in a neighborhood school. Sometimes—especially for kids who showed promise as they got older—they got to learn more as apprentices or in higher education. What we see taught in college now was frequently taught in secondary schools (calculus was aimed at 8th grade), and undergraduate universities taught the specialized knowledge now reserved for graduate programs.
I grew up thinking public schools were the norm, and we sent our kids to them. Early on we got lucky.Our very smart kids (never sent to preschools) got funneled into a gifted program that was quite good, despite the bus ride across town. Then we moved, and spent two years coming to realize our needs could not be met in the local schools. Private schools, which we couldn’t afford for three kids anyway, were not going to solve our issues, because we needed some individual attention. So we dove into homeschooling and never looked back.
It was a difficult decision, and kind of scary. But it turned out that it wasn’t so very different from cooking every day for your own kids. You look at what they need; you know enough to either provide the instruction or figure out where to get what they need. So you facilitate their learning one way or another—just like you did when they were learning how to sit up, how to walk, how to talk, how to brush their own teeth. Those are things you have down yourself pretty well, so you just show the way.
There’s really not much necessary learning from elementary school that a functional adult doesn’t have a good grasp of. When things get tougher, at the high school level, finding specialized help, the way people do for music lessons, is easy enough. And getting easier with so many online resources.
And you learn as you go. Just as I’m a much better cook now than I was years ago. And I make it better tasting under more limited conditions (food allergies) than I ever used to know how to do. But it isn’t rocket science. And when they get to the level of rocket science (we actually studied some of that), you can get help, which we did.
Were there holes and gaps in our children’s educations? Undoubtedly. But I guarantee there were not as many holes in things important to me as the public schools would have caused. Anything they may have missed is easily compensated for with a book or an online search. Because they know how to learn on their own now.
I’m often in awe of how well all of my children do that as young adults. What a delight it is to talk over with them what they’ve recently discovered!
There’s more to say about education, but I want to end with a point and a quote. You, as a parent, have the right and responsibility to bring up your children as you see fit. Among parents earnestly striving to care for their children, any interference with that process is wrong. Outcomes for the children will be worse under government control. And our lives and freedoms will be threatened by the government control, no matter how convincing the authorities are about their good intentions.
Here’s the quote for the day, from Ezra Taft Benson, former US Secretary of Agriculture, and author of The Proper Role of Government (as well as former President and Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1985-1994):
The best way to prevent a political faction or any small group of people from capturing control of the nation's educational system is to keep it decentralized into small local units, each with its own board of education and superintendent. This may not be as efficient as one giant super educational system (although bigness is not necessarily efficient, either) but it is far more safe. There are other factors, too, in favor of local and independent school systems. First, they are more responsive to the needs and wishes of the parents and the community. The door to the school superintendent's office is usually open to any parent who wishes to make his views known. But the average citizen would be hard pressed to obtain more than a form letter reply from the national Commissioner of Education in Washington, D.C.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Glass Breaking Fun

This past week economist Greg Mankiw’s blog posted a couple of cartoons relating to the broken glass fallacy. I summarized the fallacy last July this way:

A vandal comes and breaks a baker’s window. The baker then employs a glazier to replace the window, so the glazier has more income, which he spends to by a suit. And so on, implying that the economy is better off because of the broken window. But this looks only at what is seen, not what is unseen. The baker was building up capital to buy a larger oven and hire more workers. But he had to use the capital on the window, which he wouldn’t have had to do without the breakage. So there was a loss in the economy to the baker, to his possible employees that didn’t get hired, and to the manufacturer of the new oven that didn’t get purchased. Those losses are unseen. The economy is actually worse off because of the unnecessary glass breakage.
First there was this cartoon:
From Greg Mankiw's blog

 Then there was this follow-up:

My son Political Sphere was visiting for spring break this past weekend, and we were laughing about these cartoons (I know, our forms of entertainment are admittedly a little arcane), and he asked if I’d heard about the real life example. This happened in Arizona while he was living there, so he was familiar with it; I had to look it up. Here’s a portion of the story from January 2009:
A Maricopa County grand jury returned the Jan. 22 indictment against Troy Jason Vollberg, 34, who was arrested Friday by Scottsdale police.
The indictment contains 12 felony counts including fraudulent schemes, aggravated criminal damage and burglary in the first degree….
Those documents accuse Vollberg, owner of Tri-State Glass, of being the mastermind behind an effort nearly two years ago to bilk the Scottsdale Unified School District out of hundreds of thousands of dollars to replace broken bus windshields.
Investigators claim Vollberg paid Scott Sloan $5,000 to find a person to knock out the glass, and then paid Mike Olivares $15,000 in April 2007 to break out the front windshields of 70 school buses in a Scottsdale bus yard.
Vollberg, whose company was a subcontractor for the school district, charged the district $134,000 to repair the windshields.
Police documents say Vollberg pocketed the money and used it for a "trip to Las Vegas and new tires for his truck."
This is a real-life example of literally broken glass. Clearly the prosecution shows there is a belief by society that Vollberg’s “contribution” to the economy was not a net positive. Yes his glass repair company (or mainly himself) got a temporary net increase of $134,000, pretty significant business. He “invested” $20,000 to a couple of thugs to do the actual glass breakage, so subtract that amount from his profit, but include it as being spent elsewhere in the economy. And then he spent a chunk of the profits on a trip to Las Vegas, contributing to the tourism industry, and also purchasing new truck tires, with some trickle-down economic benefit there. All positives so far, right? Then why the prosecution?
Because he caused the school district to spend $134,000 of its budget on bus window repairs. Now, I’m often critical of the way public schools prioritize their spending, but I can’t imagine any district preferring to spend their budget on vandalism repair, for the sake of the economy, at the expense of educating children.
Later on, Vollberg “invested” $8,000 to hire a thug to break windows at a trucking company, where he got a return of $45,000 for repairs, and additionally spent a mere $10,000 for smashed bus windows—again—this time charging $270,000. It was the inflated price for repairs this time that set off the investigation that finally uncovered his window-breaking scheme. So, this one man has given us plenty of real life case studies.
If it’s not clear to you that damaging other people’s property in order to profit yourself is (and should be) against the law, you may be a Keynesian. If you believe in respect for private property, and believe the use of capital for positive ends is better than for unnecessary damage repair, you may be a free marketer (AKA classical economist).
More pertinent (and more in accord with the cartoons), Keynesians believe government ought to "stimulate the economy" by spending money somewhere, even if it means "breaking some glass" to spend it on, while free marketers believe government interference is much more likely to harm than help the economy.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Citizen Participation

The other evening I came across a recording of Larry Arne, president of Hillsdale College, giving a speech, a few weeks after the November election. I always like hearing Larry Arne; he is a combination of calm, folksy, and incidentally extremely well educated. And he has a brilliant way of expressing love for the Constitution. I’m sorry I don’t have a link to the speech; I realized afterward I would have liked to save it. But one of his quotes was from, I think, one of the ancient Greeks: “You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.” And then he added, “Politics is like that too.”

That’s how I feel about it. I am not particularly interested in the game of politics, but because those who are interested and involved in politics are the ones who make policy that affects my life, I feel obligated to pay enough attention to prevent as much damage as possible.
The question is, how much is enough? I don’t know the answer, but I continue to do what I’m willing to do and feel may have a positive effect.
Cypress Texas Tea Party visit to Rep. Bill Callegari's office
This past Friday a few friends from our local Tea Party group went with me to visit the office of one of our state representatives. We did this during the last Texas legislative session two years ago and found it valuable. This is just one of many ways we regular citizens are trying to have an impact. We have made a list of bills to follow during the legislative session, on subjects we care about: education, voter integrity, taxes, protection against federal encroachment. And we have included a list of basic principles as well. There are literally thousands of bills presented each session. Some are so obscure that it’s pretty near impossible for a regular citizen living a non-political life to become aware of them and judge them. That’s why we have representatives instead of direct democracy. But where we are aware of bill and issues, we do want to let our representatives know where we stand.
Back two years ago I offered to share, at a Tea Party meeting, some information I had on how a bill goes through the legislative process. I got the information from Texas Home School Coalition. They have a monthly day at the legislature where students learn to lobby on issues related to homeschooling and parental rights. Then the students (with parents in the background) divide up for the afternoon and deliver the information to every legislative office. We used to go as homeschoolers—hands down one of the best field trip opportunities ever!
So I was one of the few to have visited legislative offices in Austin, or even locally. After that information day, people in the group said, couldn’t we go visit local offices? And can you arrange that? So that’s how it happened. And I got the assignment again this time.
We have input from various sources for the bills we’re following, but I still feel less informed than I would like. That’s why I added the principles list. This was just written by me without, so far, direct feedback from the entire group, but it’s my impression of what we agree on in our discussions. And, in case you’re not aware, a local Tea Party is just a local group that gets together under that name. We receive no monies from any source. We don’t collect dues, and we don’t owe allegiance or money to any national organization. We use free internet communications, and we meet at a local restaurant that allows us the use of the space without a fee, on the assumption that many of us will buy food while we’re there (a good assumption).
So, again, the list is local, and it is unofficial:
·         We support the US Constitution and conservative principles in the Texas Constitution.
·         We support low taxes and limited government spending and oppose ever having a state income tax.
·         We support handling each issue at the most local authority possible—with individual and family decisions as the default authority.
·         We support asserting 10th Amendment states’ rights against usurpation by federal government.
o   We particularly oppose imposing national health care on the people of Texas.
·         We support parental rights in the education and upbringing of their children, including local control over spending and curriculum in public schools.
·         We do not as a group endorse candidates, but we provide a platform for sharing information so our members can make informed decisions; individual members may endorse, work for, or become candidates. 

We aim for Fridays, near the lunch hour, to make the opportunity open to as many as possible. A representative group of five of us went last Friday. The local off ice staffer, Gracie, was very welcoming, let us take our photo with her. She not only took the materials we brought with us, she took notes of all we said. And I know it is her job to pass along that information to the representative.
Not that many people go to the effort of coming in person. Not everyone even goes so far as to make a phonecall or send an email expressing their opinion. So there’s a way to measure constituent opinion based on who makes these contacts. When I got this information, it was before the anthrax scare, and before email became as standardized as it is now. So email is now the preferred quick opinion expression to representatives (national and state). The offices have programs to sort and store the opinions. It’s assumed that for every email expressing an opinion, probably 10 people have that opinion but haven’t made the contact. So it’s a little like voting for ten people when you are the one to send your opinion. There’s a similar assumption for phonecalls; your opinion for or against will be recorded and considered, even though a phonecall leaves no written record of your reasoning.
It used to be assumed a personally written letter (as opposed to a letter copied word-for-word from multiple members of some organization) was worth about 25 constituent opinions. I’m not sure how that’s measured now, but I do know that letters are troublesome because of the need to scan each delivered item for dangerous substances. So in general mail is not preferred.
As for numbers, an in-person visit is worth about 100 constituent opinions. It may be that visiting the local office when the legislature is meeting in Austin is less powerful than traveling to the capitol, but it’s still important. Driving to Austin would mean even more. Usually citizen lobbyists aren’t the ones to go; special interest groups go, unions and organizations, or their paid lobbyists. It’s their job, and they press for influence. When an individual citizen goes to the effort, the representative is likely to take notice.
I don’t know how much difference we’re making in the long run, but I do believe that, even if we don’t have an interest in politics, politics is interested in us, and we’d better do what we can to be watchful. This is just one of the ways.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Recognizing Savagery When We See It

This is the fourth in the anniversary review of the Spherical Model basics. Part I covers the introduction and the Political Sphere. Part II covers the Economic Sphere. Part III covers the basics of Civilization. In all three the emphasis has been on the principles that get us up in the northern freedom thriving zone. I’m adding this additional segment about what savagery looks like, in case we’re missing the evidence of savagery around us.
Sometimes we think only of worst-case scenarios as savagery: the holocaust, genocide, cannibalism, mafia killings, child abuse, imposed euthanasia, raping and pillaging. But there’s also a lot that happens on the way down. So, here’s a general description of what you might find in a savage world:
·         Families break up or fail to form. Children are unwanted, avoided, and even abandoned by one or both parents. Promiscuity is commonplace and accepted as normal, even honored as a preferred lifestyle.

·         People fail to worship God, ranging from indifference, simply not attending religious services, to not choosing a religion, to declaring antipathy and disdain toward religious people.

·         People fail to live in peace with one another. Nations fight other nations or threaten war. Factions separate from other factions and refuse to tolerate differences in belief. Tribes separate from other tribes and put loyalty to ethnic connection above loyalty to God or righteous behaviors.

·         Poverty increases and becomes more difficult to rise above; society is more permanently stratified. Corrupt business practices abound, with neither workers nor hirers keeping their part of agreements. Producing wealth and preserving it both become increasingly difficult. Takers willingly confiscate from producers, discouraging production—which decreases innovation and invention, curtailing technological progress. People seek to get what they can for themselves and leave helping the poor to others.

·         Art, literature, and music deteriorate, with lack of form along with dissonance and ugliness being praised in place of truth, beauty, form, and function.

·         Pressure against civilizing principles grows stronger. Religion is removed from public discourse. Parental rights are diminished. Controlling entities take over choices about raising and educating children. Choices about food, health care, media, work, use of income, and other basic freedoms are also usurped by controlling entities.

·         Trust fails. Children are encouraged to distrust parents and report on them. And neighbors are encouraged to distrust and report on their neighbors. People will have reason to distrust law enforcement, which will be inadequate for their protection. And people will be deprived of means to protect themselves.

·         Laws become arbitrary, favoring cronies, ignoring basic justice and fairness. Eventually this includes arbitrary violations of life, liberty, and property based on the interests of the controlling entities.
This last was made relevant Tuesday by our current Attorney General Eric Holder, chief of the Department of Justice, in a response to a request for clarification from Senator Rand Paul; Holder claimed the idea was only hypothetical and not part of the administration’s plans, but he could conceive of a scenario in which the president could, in theory, assassinate a US citizen on US soil without due process based on the government’s opinion that the person could be planning terrorism. Combine that hypothetical with the government’s definition of grassroots patriots, including Tea Partiers, as possible terrorist threats, and it’s not a huge leap to worst case scenarios. It took Senator Paul’s extraordinary near-13-hour old-fashioned filibuster Wednesday to nudge the AG into sending the senator a letter declaring that the Constitution does indeed limit the administration in this specific way.
So, for now, we can rest assured that assassination for our opinions is not imminent (if the administration can be believed). But that hardly means all is rosy.
We may not be aware of how far into savagery we have sunk, because many of us can still go about our daily lives as usual. But we have a president who disdains regular American citizens, anyone who doesn’t go along with his socialist intentions, saying they “get bitter, they cling to guns or religion,” and then accuses them of “antipathy toward people who aren't like them.” He refuses to enforce the DOMA legislation he made an oath to uphold, sues states that attempt to enforce US border protection, and increasingly rules by edict (“executive order”) when Congress doesn’t cave to his pressure for higher taxes and higher entitlement spending. In a petulant fit, he insists any budget cuts (in the rate of increase, caused by the sequester he suggested) be as painful as possible. That is our leadership, chosen by the people in what we assume was a free and relatively fair election.
When you go through the list above, you can see plenty of symptoms of savagery already all around us. Those of us who love civilization already recognize the decay. We mourn what we’ve already lost. And we tenaciously adhere (rather than bitterly cling) to the principles required for civilization, in hopes that in our own homes and perhaps also in our own communities we can yet enjoy some of the beauty of civilization.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Basics of the Civilization Sphere

This is the third in an anniversary series reviewing the basics of the Spherical Model. The March 1st post was on the Political Sphere. The March 4th post (the actual 2-year anniversary of the start of this blog) was on the Economic Sphere. Today’s post is on the Social Sphere, or Civilization Sphere. I have varied on the terminology for this sphere, since the three legs of the conservative stool are political, economic, and social. But my emphasis is on the goal of civilization, so I often use that word rather than the more general word social. The northern hemisphere is Civilization; the southern hemisphere is Savagery. The goal is not just to be barely at or above the equator line; it is to be far enough north to reside above the 45th parallel, in the Civilization Zone, where there can be true, sustained, thriving civilization.

Since the November election, I have spent more time on civilization than on political and economic freedom. Of the three, it is the most essential. You can’t have self-governance is you don’t have people who can and do govern themselves. Nor can you have a thriving economy without people who have a strong work ethic and honesty about earnings in exchange for labor (replacing the uncivilized desire to get something for nothing). And that starts with individual families, regardless of what sort of regime the family is subject to, to pass along the behavior required of civilized people.
A critical mass of healthy, civilized families leads to strong communities, then outward to cities, then states, then nations. Going north on all three overlapping spheres starts with going north on the Civilization Sphere.
Here are the two basic premises for the Civilization Sphere (covered in detail in two parts at Spherical Model, here and here):
1.      Not all religious societies are civilized (according to my definition, which differs from the archaeological definition—see below in “What does civilization look like”), but every civilized society is a religious society. This absolutely does not mean state-sponsored religion or lack of religious freedom; in fact, the opposite is true. Freedom of religion is essential, and the flourishing of religion in general must be encouraged.

2.      The family is the basic unit of civilized society. Whatever threatens the family threatens civilization. So preserving and protecting the family is paramount in laws and social expectations in a civilized society.
Sometimes people claim to be conservative on economic issues, but not on social issues. They are misguided; it isn’t possible to successfully follow free market principles and get economic prosperity in a decaying civilization. It likewise isn’t possible to talk about the rights guaranteed us in the US Constitution, and the philosophical concept of ultimate good the Constitution is based on, without acknowledging the giver of those inalienable rights: God.
I just finished reading Hugh Hewitt’s latest book, Talking with Pagans, a collection of debates, mostly from his radio show, collected over the past several years. One section was with Christopher Hitchens, who believed he had deflected the pro-religious argument by insisting that he did believe in ultimate good and ultimate standards of right and wrong. He simply believed the sense of ultimate good we have, in anyone choosing to be ethical and good, is the result of Darwinian natural selection. I’m glad that worked for him; being around people who are good and ethical is always better than being around the savage opposite. But it is capricious, since the ultimate arbiter of right is the person himself, with no higher authority (other than just civil law) to contradict his opinion.
Hitchens, along with some of the others on the atheist side, claimed that there’s a lot of disagreement among religious people on the code of living righteously. Almost without fail these debaters take as evidence the relatively rare fanatics, a few of whom in history have been violent, claiming to act in the name of their god(s). They choose to cherry pick, however, leaving out the savage atrocities of anti-religious tyrants such as Hitler, Stalin, and Mao, just to cover the past century.
In fact, over the centuries there has been a great deal of consensus about how to live a basically moral life. The primary list is the Ten Commandments, which outline our requirements to honor God, the giver of life, liberty, and free will, along with limitations that show respect for those very rights in those around us. No community ever progressed to civilization while simultaneously allowing murder, theft, and promiscuity. In fact, you will find life, family, and property rights valued in any community that can be construed to be truly civilized.
In addition, there are refinements, positive behaviors to develop, many listed in the New Testament. (See The Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12, plus the definition of charity in I Corinthians 13, and Paul’s admonition on seeking virtue in Philippians 4:8. I keep returning to the BoyScout Oath and Law as well.)
What does civilization look like? This description is from the Spherical Model:
In the northern circle that is the goal—Civilization—families typically remain intact, and children are raised in loving homes, with caring parents who guide their education and training, dedicating somewhere between 18 and 25 years for that child to reach adulthood, and who then remain interested in their children’s success for the rest of their lives.
Civilized people live peaceably among their neighbors, helping rather than taking advantage of one another, abiding by laws enacted to protect property and safety—with honesty and honor. Civilized people live in peace with other civilized people; countries and cultures coexist in appreciation, without fear.
There is a thriving free-enterprise economy. Poverty is meaningless; even though there will always be a lowest earning 10% defined as poor, in a civilized society these lowest earners have comfortable shelter and adequate food and clothing—and there’s the possibility of rising, or at least for future generations to rise.
Creativity abounds; enlightening arts and literature exceed expectations. Architecture and infrastructure improve; innovation and invention are the rule.
People feel free to choose their work, their home, their family practices, their friendships and associations. And they generally self-restrain before they infringe on the rights and freedoms of others. Where there are questions about those limits, laws are in place to help clarify boundaries of civilized behavior. When someone willingly infringes on the rights or safety of another, the law functions to protect that victim as well as society from further uncivilized behavior from the offender.
I haven’t spent a lot of time writing about what savagery looks like; I prefer looking at the positive goal. However, I’m concerned that we may be missing the signs of the savagery we’re suffering. It’s like the problem abuse victims have with their thinking: “I’m surviving this; it’s not that bad. I’m just glad it’s not worse.” Only when they get out and get some perspective can they recognize how wrong it was for them to submit themselves to so much abuse.
So I’d like to continue this series with one more post, on Friday, to look at where we are—not so we can feel miserable about it, but so that we can take that first step of recognition that must come before doing something about it.