All other things being equal, the argument for racial blindness by the government is hard to condemn. But where was this argument three centuries ago, when Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were encoding slavery into the Constitution? Or during the enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Law? Or Dred Scott? Or Presidential Reconstruction? Or redlining?
Or, for that matter, Plessy v. Ferguson, when Judge Henry Billings Brown wrote, in the Decision that entrenched “separate but equal,”
We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority. If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found in the act, but solely because the colored race chooses to put that construction upon it.
We’ve had three centuries of Federal involvement in racial matters. Most of it went to create and reinforce the status quo. The rest is currently under attack, from the Voting Rights Act, to Civil Rights legislation. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the 13th Amendment appearing in the cross hairs next.
Roger Klegg and Jennifer Rubin are clearly enjoying their role as barn-door closers. Meanwhile, they and their peers are firmly astride the escaped horse.
According to CBS, Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants New York to start providing college classes to inmates in 10 state prisons. All issues of civility and compassion aside, the evidence in favor of such a move is overwhelming. Here is a fragment of a paper I’ve been working on which presents evidence in support of Cuomo’s proposal. (It’s in MLA format, so there are no hyperlinks. Sorry!)
“Community College Classes for New York Prison Inmates: Why They Make Sense for Everyone”
First of all, offering classes to eligible inmates makes good financial sense. A three credit class at my community college costs $420 for New York residents, and the total yearly cost is estimated to be $8,750, a price which includes such variables as “Personal,” “Board,” and “Transportation” (“College Costs”). Meanwhile, according to a 2009 article in TheNew York Times, “The annual cost to keep someone in prison varies by state, and the type of institution, but the typical cost cited by states is about $35,000, said Peggy Burke of the Center for Effective Public Policy, a nonprofit group that works with local governments on criminal justice matters” (Steinhauer 1). Also, the 2007-2008 Base Level State Tax Request for all SUNY community colleges was just over $425 million (“Budget Request” 53), whereas the Executive Budget for criminal justice and related programs for that same time period was nearly $4 billion (“Keeping New York Safe”).
The Attica program is fully in line with the state’s effort to save money in this area. As stated on New York’s Division of the Budget web site,
New York’s prison population is falling and recidivism rates have improved. The key challenge for our State is to preserve these trends, and to do so in a fiscally responsible manner. We must look carefully at our current use of resources, and whether we can invest them in a more efficient and targeted manner to improve on these results. (“Keeping New York Safe”)
According to the same site, over 28,000 inmates were scheduled to be released back into the general population during the following year. If the goal is to keep these people out of prison, and help them become contributing members of society, then the Attica program is exactly the efficient and targeted use of resources that the state is looking for. The cost benefit to all New Yorkers seems clear.
But does prison education really affect recidivism? The available research shows that it does. An article by James S. Vacca in The Journal of Correctional Education, titled “Educated Prisoners Are Less Likely to Return to Prison,” provides numerous examples of the success of prisoner education. A study done in Oklahoma, for example, showed that “25% of the inmates who received vocational training in prison returned to prison following their release. This was compared to a 77% recidivism rate for the general population.” In Ohio, the rate was 18% for those who were in college programs, compared with 40% for those who were not. And in Canada, “inmates who completed at least two college courses had 50 percent lower recidivism rate than the norm.”
Another article, by Dr. John Garmon, president of Vista Community College in Berkeley, CA, reports on a study by the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, which found that “inmates who take college classes while in prison are four times more likely to stay out of trouble when they are released,” and that “7.7 percent of those who took college courses returned to prison, compared to 29.9 percent of those who did not.”
While it’s no surprise that people with a degree are better able to find work, and thus have a better chance of staying out of prison, the low recidivism rates might also reflect a high level of motivation among inmates who seek out education. A New York Department of Correctional Services report, entitled “Follow-Up Study of Offenders Who Earned High School Equivalency Diplomas (GEDs) While Incarcerated in DOCS,” shows some interesting statistics in this regard. Of those who entered and left incarceration with no high school degree, 38% returned within three years; of those who already had such a degree when they were incarcerated, 36.5% returned; and among those who earned a GED while incarcerated, the rate falls to 31.2% (Kim 3). The conclusion of the report states:
The finding of this study is consistent with previous research on correctional education. Among inmates first released from NYS DOCS in 2005 due to parole releases, conditional releases, or maximum expirations of sentence, those who earned a GED while incarcerated returned to custody at a significantly lower rate than offenders who did not earn a GED or those who earned a degree before admission. This finding was consistent across gender and age. (Kim 2)
Another study, conducted by the U.S. Department of Education and reported in the Journal of Correctional Education, found that “prisoners with a GED scored higher in reading skills than persons in the general population with the equivalent education” (Harlow 1). According to the article, when asked to explain the findings,
78% of faculty responses related to student motivation and commitment…The student responses closely tracked those from the faculty survey with 53% of students reporting. They indicated that differences in performance were due to high levels of motivation and commitment and fewer distractions (33%)… Finally, when asked why they enrolled in college courses, inmates noted career goals (92%), self satisfaction (84%), intellectual stimulation (74%), and post release employment (65%) as the top four reasons for participation, reasons which suggest that the prison students were highly motivated. (Harlow 3)
While teachers are always on the lookout for evidence of motivation among students, and thus may be more likely to fondly remember those who show interest, the inmate responses prove that, in this case, the teachers’ optimism is justified.
These studies also suggest something else. Far from merely offering a diversion from everyday prison life, college courses help correct a glaring deficit in the lives of many of the inmates, a deficit that has led directly to their incarceration—namely, a failed education. A 2010 DOCS study found that 95.7% of inmates aged 16-18 years needed educational programs. Of these, 68.5% were Black, and 77.2% were Hispanic (Kellam 5). Among women of this age group, the number rose to 100% (Kellam 10).
“Budget Request 2007-2008.” The State University of New York, 2007. PDF file. 29 Nov. 2010.
“College Costs.” Genesee Community College. Genesee Community College, n.d. Web. 26 Nov. 2010.
Garmon, John. “Higher education for prisoners will lower rates for taxpayers.” BNET. CBS Interactive, 17 Jan. 2002. Web. 26 Nov. 2010.
Harlow, Caroline Wolf, et al. “GED holders in prison read better than those in the household population: Why?” BNET. CBS Interactive, March 2010. Web. 28 Nov. 2010.
“Keeping New York Safe.” Division of the Budget. New York State, 2007. Web. 26 Nov. 2010.
Kellam, Leslie. “Targeted Programs: An Analysis of the Impact of Prison Program Participation on Community Success.” State of New York Department of Correctional Services, Sept. 2007. PDF file. 29 Nov. 2010.
Kim, Ryang Hui. “Follow-Up Study of Offenders who Earned High School Equivalency Diplomas (GEDs) While Incarcerated in DOCS.” State of New York Department of Correctional Services, Sept. 2010. PDF file. 29 Nov. 2010.
Steinhauer, Jennifer. “To Cut Costs, States Relax Prison Policies.” The New York Times. 24 March 2009. Web. 26 Nov. 2010.
Vacca, James S. “Educated Prisoners Are Less Likely to Return to Prison.” BNET. CBS Interactive, Dec. 2004. Web. 26 Nov. 2010.
Here’s my attempt at subjecting parts of the article to the kind of criticism I give to student papers:
The same argument used against guns is used for pot: that legalizing pot and making it more available will reduce crime(Source?) No good liberal would say the same of guns, though there is substantial evidence to prove more guns equal less crime. (Such as?)
We’re told(Indefinite pronoun. Define “we.” And “told” by whom?) pot users will “responsibly” use marijuana in the privacy of their own homes. (This appears to be a direct quote. What’s your source?) But what barometer are they(Indefinite pronoun. Antecedent has not been identified.) using to determine that persistent recreational drug users, who have presumably broken the law before by possessing marijuana, are responsible people? (Non sequitur.) And why aren’t lawful gun owners afforded the same level of trust?
If progressives want to keep gun control“gun use” in the crosshairs – and many have said they do(Such as?) – they’ll have to reconcile this intellectual incongruity. (False equivalence.)
A successfully-delivered state-run program would send a clear signal that government functions(“can function”) more effectively at the smaller, local level and that federal bureaucracy, whether in drug enforcement or, say, health care, can only(“sometimes”) muck things up. (Logical fallacy. See #1 below…)
1. A single case proves little or nothing, as explained by this example found at the web page, Some Definitions of Science, posted by Dr. Bruce Railsback, from the University of Georgia:
A carpenter, a school teacher, and scientist were traveling by train through Scotland when they saw a black sheep through the window of the train.
“Aha,” said the carpenter with a smile, “I see that Scottish sheep are black.”
“Hmm,” said the school teacher, “You mean that some Scottish sheep are black.”
“No,” said the scientist glumly, “All we know is that there is at least one sheep in Scotland, and that at least one side of that one sheep is black.”
All we know is that there is at least one instance in the U.S. where state drug law has gone against the Federal government. Extrapolating this to all State vs. Federal government issues can lead to controversy. C.f. the history of the Thirteenth Amendment for more information.
One of the arguments made in favor of MOOCs and other forms of online education is that they will “democratize” higher education, offering knowledge to the poor, benighted denizens of the antipodes. (Of course, “knowledge” is to be translated as “America,” but that’s a different story.)
Udacity’s Sebastian Thrum, for example, has said, “So many people can be helped right now. I see this as a mission.” And University of the People calls itself the “world’s first non-profit, tuition-free, degree-granting online academic institution dedicated to opening access to higher education globally for all qualified individuals, despite financial, geographic or societal constraints.”
That’s a lot of adjectives. The implication, of course, is that digital ed. will save higher education from becoming a two-tier system: one level, featuring live instructors and brick-and-mortar institutions for the privileged few, and MOOCs, for the rest of the mooks.
I always knew this was backwards, that MOOCs would only appeal to–and work for–the upper echelon of students, high performers with access to the technology and the experience needed to succeed in that environment. In fact, that’s pretty much what the recent Udacity kerfuffle at San Jose State University suggested.
And now, an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education shows the next logical step. Georgia Tech, which offers an online master’s program through Udacity, has figured out a way to avoid San Jose State’s fate:
Georgia Tech’s cautious approach starts with enrolling students who are likely to succeed. One of the variables that sank San Jose State’s initial experiment with Udacity last spring was including at-risk students in the experimental trials. Courses offered to a broader mix of students during the summer, however, had betteroutcomes—possibly because more than half of them already held college degrees.
Georgia Tech’s experiment plays it relatively safe. Because it involves a master’s program, the students will have already earned undergraduate degrees, and many of them already have jobs in the industry. And the students who were admitted have an average undergraduate GPA of 3.58.
It’s not surprising to see the “democratization” mask fall off completely. But here’s a new wrinkle I hadn’t thought of:
The inaugural class is also neither massive nor open. The program has admitted 401 students—360 men, 41 women—out of 2,300 candidates.
The two-tier system is proceeding apace, but now it’s the happy few who will benefit from the well-funded MOOC tsunami, while everyone else—even women, apparently—will have to scramble for seats and pay the costs of traditional institutions.
This must be what they mean by “the flipped classroom.”
The latest example comes from Matt Patterson, of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in a gloriously anachronistic response to the UAW’s attempts to unionize a VW factory in Chatanooga.
According to The Nation‘s Lee Fang,
Though much of Patterson’s tactics have been concealed until now, he did author an op-ed in May that called on Southerners to regard the union-drive as a chance to reenact the “bloodiest days of the entire Civil War.” Patterson wrote:
One hundred and fifty years ago an invading Union army was halted at Chattanooga by the Confederate Army of Tennessee under General Braxton Bragg. The Battle of Chickamauga was one of the bloodiest days of the entire Civil War, and a resounding defeat for the Northern forces. Today Southeastern Tennessee faces invasion from another union— an actual labor union, the United Auto Workers (UAW). The UAW has its heart set on organizing Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant, which employs several thousand and supports thousands more throughout the Southeast. […]
No wonder Hamilton County Commissioner Tim Boyd warns that unionization “will be like a cancer on [Chattanooga’s] economic growth.” Indeed it would be, though perhaps an infection is a more apt metaphor, an infection borne by an invading union force from the North. One hundred and fifty years ago, the people of Tennessee routed such a force in the Battle of Chickamauga.
Let their descendants go now and do likewise.
The battle Patterson romanticizes in his column resulted in over 34,000 casualties. One of the leading officers in the battle, Brig. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest—a wealthy slave-trader—went on after the war to found the Ku Klux Klan, a group that helped powerful elites suppress black-white labor unity through a campaign of terrorism and murder.
But that’s only part of the history. The web site, Georgia’s Blue and Gray Trail, calls Bragg one of the worst generals of the Civil War. And Debra Lynn Walker, from the Cape Fear Civil War Round Table, writes that Bragg’s mother, Margaret Crosland Bragg, was “arrested for murdering a free Negro that had been disrespectful.”
Finally, even though the Union army was, indeed, routed at Chickamauga, the Army of the Cumberland, under Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, handily kicked Bragg’s ass back to Georgia a couple of months later. In the words of the Civil War Trust,
Union possession of Chattanooga opened up the Deep South for a Union invasion. The stage was set for Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign the following spring.
So, if the descendants of the original Confederate soldiers want to “go now and do likewise,” they are welcome to go for it. And if this is Matt Patterson’s best analogy for the battle taking place in the VW plant, it doesn’t look so good for the outcome–or the morality–of his cause.
“So,” Cowen asks, “why are more Americans moving to Texas than to any other state?” Here’s his answer:
As an economist and a libertarian, I have become convinced that whether they know it or not, these migrants are being pushed (and pulled) by the major economic forces that are reshaping the American economy as a whole: the hollowing out of the middle class, the increased costs of living in the U.S.’s established population centers and the resulting search by many Americans for a radically cheaper way to live and do business.
And, in a rather self-congratulatory article about the article, Ryan Sager of Time has another article called, “Tyler Cowen’s 10 Reasons Texas Is Our Future.” Here’s reason #5:
Cheap land, cheap houses
So where can people go when their incomes aren’t keeping pace with the rising cost of living? We know they’re headed to Texas. And they’re headed there because land is cheap, and thus housing is cheap.
A typical home in Brooklyn costs more than half a million dollars (and rising rapidly), and 85% of these dwellings are apartments and condos rather than stand-alone homes. They don’t usually have impressive sinks and seamlessly operating air-conditioning fixtures. In Houston, the typical home costs $130,100 — and it is likely a stand-alone and newer than the structure in Brooklyn.
Housing is bigger—and cheaper—in Texas.
The unquestioned premise of Cowen’s article, and of Sager’s adoration, is that Americans have the freedom to move about, to advance toward, and retreat from, undesirable economic conditions. Undoubtedly, some do.
But most do not, because they can not. When their incomes aren’t “keeping pace with the rising cost of living,” they’re stuck, especially when they’re living in “established population centers” like Brooklyn.
Here’s a more appropriate title for Cowen’s article:
Why Texas is the Future for Middle Class White Families who are Escaping Northeastern Ghettos to Avoid Taxes.
Somebody’s gotta go back to the city and get a shitload of dimes.
Since it’s October, it must be time for one of the libertarians’ favorite analogies: Halloween and paying taxes.
I first heard it from an economics professor, during an educational design seminar. The analogy goes something like this:
A brother and sister go trick-or-treating, each accumulating the same amount of candy. Then, they go home, sit down in the middle of the living room floor, and commence peaceful commerce. If the brother doesn’t want his Kit Kat, and the sister doesn’t want her Twix, they trade. If the brother decides to hold out for two Twix, and the sister agrees, it’s ok: no harm, no foul. Suddenly, though, a scary man bursts in and holds a gun to both their heads, forcing them to trade the way he wants them to, or to give all their Butterfingers to the lazy children next door.
So far, so good. But let’s dig into the scenario a bit further…
The brother and sister both started out with the same number of candy bars: zero.
They didn’t invent Halloween.
They didn’t buy their own costumes and plastic jack-o’-lanterns.
They didn’t make the candy. It was manufactured elsewhere and given to them by generous neighbors.
The room in which they are trading their candy was built by other people, and mortgaged by their parents.
When they showed up at a stranger’s house, that person did not lock the door or shoot at them just because they looked scary.
They most likely went trick-or-treating in a safe neighborhood, with sidewalks and streetlights, watched over by the local police department.
One of the siblings–perhaps the brother–will eventually begin to stack the game in his favor, by using physical intimidation over his smaller sister, or by manipulation and lying, or outright theft.
Finally, half a mile up the street live children who, through no fault of their own, are only able to score about one or two Twizzlers. The most candy-laden sibling then sets up a profitable business, using the other children’s lack of candy to benefit his own pile.
He will then justify this by accusing the other children of being lazy assholes.
After all, if you’re going to use an analogy, at least have the guts to go the whole way.
And, for further analogy goodness, Dr. Ben Carson was recently quoted as saying, “You know Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” This may sound a bit hysterical, but, other than the fact that American slavery was a profit-driven free market enterprise, pursued by proto-Randian states rights zealots, and that it was the POTUS who finally got rid of it, it makes perfect sense.
I’m always delighted to hear about explicit directives designed to help certain groups get their message across. It’s like finding secret orders left in a desk drawer: fun to read, not too far removed from what we English teachers do in the classroom, and a hell of a good way to sharpen one’s critical thinking skills.
This one comes courtesy of Wonkette, by way of an article in the NYT called “A Federal Budget Crisis Months in the Planning.” According to the Times,
Shortly after President Obama started his second term, a loose-knit coalition of conservative activists led by former Attorney General Edwin Meese III gathered in the capital to plot strategy. Their push to repeal Mr. Obama’s health care law was going nowhere, and they desperately needed a new plan.
Out of that session, held one morning in a location the members insist on keeping secret, came a little-noticed “blueprint to defunding Obamacare,” signed by Mr. Meese and leaders of more than three dozen conservative groups.
Of course, I downloaded the original document, which is titled, “Defunding Obamacare Toolkit for Activists,” and it’s a treasure trove of manipulation and irrationality. Plus, it doesn’t make me feel any better about the abilities of the average Tea Partier.
Here’s a section on that exotic animal called the “Letter to the Editor”:
How to Write a Letter to the Editor
What is a Letter to the Editor?
A letter to the editor is a letter written to the Editor of a newspaper. 1
Here’s part of “Suggested Responses to Congressional Offices & Members of the Press about Defunding Obamacare”:
1. CONGRESSIONAL STAFF REPLY: “Even if you ‘shut down the government’ Obamacare still has mandatory spending so you cannot stop funding it.”
> Let’s be clear, we are calling to fund the entire government except for 2 the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and nothing more extreme than that as you are falsely implying. Do not put words in my mouth. 3
This is from “Possible Responses to Questions from Members of the Media about Defunding Obamacare”:
1. What happens when you shut down the government and you are blamed for it?
>We are simply calling to fund the entire government except for 4 the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare…
2. What about the uninsured who will get their care from the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare?
> Health insurance does not equal health care. There are several studies that show that patients on Medicaid have no noticeably improved health outcome over people who completely lack health insurance. After studying 800,000 patients, the study’s authors at the University of Virginia concluded that patients on Medicaid (a program that Obamacare greatly expands) are just as likely, and sometimes more likely, to die than patients without any health insurance coverage. 5
[INSERT YOUR NAME]
[INSERT YOUR ADDRESS]
Senator [FULL NAME]
Why does that last strategy always remind me of this?
1. Ok, students, never define something by using the same words in the phrase you’re trying to define.
2. If you make an exception, it’s not the “entire” thing, is it? It’s kind of a binary system.
3. Only the committee that drafted this document can do that.
4. See #2.
5. This logic seems irrefutable. Although I do have a beef with the part about some people being “more likely” to die than others.
In an August 7 blog post at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation—whose name somehow reminds me of this—Dr. Michelle Rhee-Weise laments a recent setback for on line education involving Ivy Bridge College. (A breakdown of the issue can be found at Inside Higher Ed.) It’s a bit of a “stiff upper lip” message, and concludes with this paragraph:
As deflating as the events of last week were, I remain optimistic that there are plenty of creative risk-takers…who will stay the course and invent solutions outside of our norms and current standards. I hope for the sake of my and all of our children that entrenched institutional interests will ultimately yield to answers from both the public and private sectors. In the words of W.B. Yeats, “[T]he centre cannot hold.” We need to be open to experimenting with new ways of delivering higher education, even if they come from the margins.
William Butler Yeats’ “The Second Coming” is often quoted. Sometimes, it’s donewell. Other times, not so much, especially when fragments of it are quoted by people who don’t seem to know the entire thing.
In fact, here’s the fragment that Dr. Rhee-Weise’s uses, embedded in its immediate context:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned…
I can’t imagine that Yeats meant this optimistically, much less as a “once more into the breach” kind of thing. And here’s a passage from the much-less-quoted second stanza:
…a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
Yeats doesn’t seem to be very sanguine about the coming of this sphinx. Is it war? The end of Christianity? Hard to say. At any rate, it isn’t “Disruptive Innovation.”
On the other hand, Dr. Rhee-Weise’s allusion does open up some fun allegorical possibilities, such as:
MOOCs = the sphinx, “from the ancient Greek, “the strangler”…sent by the gods to plague the town of Thebes as punishment for some ancient crime. There she preyed on the youths of the land, devouring all those who failed to solve her riddle…Oidipous accepted the challenge, and when he solved the Sphinx’s riddle, she cast herself off a mountainside in despair…(theoi.com)
the profit motive = “Spiritus Mundi”
“the margins,” or the home of reform = “waste of desert sand”
“stay the course” = “moving its slow thighs”
outraged faculty = “indignant desert birds”
It’s not surprising that a champion of neoliberal education “reforms” was tripped up by actual content. That’s not their business, anyway. What they’re after are delivery systems, and one deliverable is as good as the next. Larry Summers, for example, in a January post at the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, said,
If you had a discussion with dentists on tooth decay in 1947 it would have been about brushing your teeth and dental care, but the most important thing to happen with fighting tooth decay was fluoridated water and this is similar.
He later went on to compare college to a football game, with “a cold bench with no good food and bad bathrooms.”
Of course, the “reformers” didn’t throw themselves off a cliff after the Ivy Bridge setback; it was merely time to breath, regroup, and start moving the slow thighs. But if they want to have an easier time selling their products to colleges, especially without listening to the cries of “indignant desert birds,” they’d better start sounding like people who know their poetry. Just sayin’.