Open Letter to Frederick Hess

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.

I could barely get through your post on educationnext.org before I began formulating my response. This is not the first time I’ve wanted to respond to a post on this blog, but I definitely couldn’t let this one go unanswered. I read your blog because I try to ensure I am informed about education from a variety of opinions and viewpoints. But, as Daniel Moynihan said, “You are entitled to your own opinions, but not to your own facts.”

In your post titled “Education Is So Far Left, It Can’t Really See the Right”, you condescendingly lay out the “blind spots” of those in “education.” Your interchange of “those in education” and “Democrats” as if there is no difference is your mistake #1. Although more teachers tend to be Democrats than Republicans, teachers are typically focused on their students in the classroom, not in setting education policy. I am a school board member and active in my state’s school board association. One thing I’ve learned in the past four years, is that those who serve with me are politically diverse and it is this diversity that ensures all viewpoints are represented. These governing board members are at the forefront of charting the course of education at the local level and they have many different ideas about how to do that. Its a great strength of the local control our system of district education offers. While I’m on the subject of ideas, I have a few others for you.

1. You write that those “in education spend so little time talking to or engaging with conservatives.” Don’t know where this comes from, but as I alluded to above, educators, administrators and school board members talk to all kinds of parents, community members and voters. They do this day in and day out. It is a big part of the “public” in public education.

2. Trump did not “narrowly lose the popular vote.” As of November 19th at 6:35am, Hillary Clinton was leading with the popular vote by 1.4 million, with 2.8 million votes still unprocessed in California. I recognize it doesn’t matter how many votes she got, Trump won the election. I just object to you making it sound like the popular vote was really, really close. It wasn’t.

3. You write that the obstructionism of Congress during Obama’s presidency was just “Republican majorities in Congress doing their job”, I say no. Congress’ job is to do the work the people sent them there to do, not to be the most do-nothing Congress ever.

4. You claim that equity is why “the Left gets out of bed each morning”, and I say damn straight, it should be one of the many reasons we all get out of bed. You know, like it says in the Declaration of Independence, “all men [and women–21st century update] are created equal…”

5. Really? You want to try to take the high ground on liberty? What about the Right’s fixation on telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies and telling gay people who they can marry? And as for community, public district schools (especially in rural areas) are often the hub of their communities and the focus on the privatization of education (as your blog does) risks destroying those hubs and the communities they serve.

6. Are you serious? “Overhauling collective bargaining in Wisconsin? Governor Walker was trying his damnedest to totally dismantle the ability of hard-working people to fight for their rights. Employees after all, typically seek collective bargaining when they are not treated fairly. If a business owner doesn’t want his or her employees to unionize, maybe they could just provide a fair wage and decent working conditions.

7. So you think the framing of race, ethnicity, and gender ”tears at the fabric of our republic and sows ill-feeling and tribalism?“ How about the framing of racism, misogyny, and bigotry? And by the ”suppression of religious freedom“, are you referring to the desire for businesses to not discriminate against customers because of their ”deeply held religious beliefs?” Its easy. If you don’t want to be forced to serve everyone, don’t apply for a business license from the government (of the people) to operate.

I personally believe we have more in common than not and I really wish we could focus on finding common ground versus tearing each other down. Unfortunately, recent events tell me it is going to be awhile before we have any real breakthroughs in that regard. The sad thing is though, we aren’t just hurting ourselves, but the children who are counting on us to work together to get this education thing right. When will we learn?

22 responses to “Open Letter to Frederick Hess

  1. Frances Perkins

    Steve, you criticize Linda for opinions and then pile loads of yours on the rest of us. The right creates this illusion that an individual somehow creates his wealth or opportunity out of thin air, and only the “authoritarian” hand of government holds him back. In fact every person has to depend on a whole range of public and private resources to be successful. I especially saw this in the illusion of the “private property rights” fetish, which somehow diminished quite a bit in the real estate/banking created disaster of 2008. Extreme private property rights crusaders somehow think, and then convince others, that their property’s value also appears from the clouds. And that if property loses value, it must be because some evil, authoritarian goverment did something to take it away. In fact all property value is a massive bundle of elements which gives it value; government investment infrastructure, location within a community, the investments of other private owners, pure geography and geology, and the attitude of everyone else in the whole community as to agreed value. So all of us derive value from all the other people who help us, support us, educate us, invest the community in us, and borrow money from others in the hope of getting additional value. The right somehow convinces some that each person is on a cloud of success or value only by themselves and their own “bootstraps”. Until all of us realize we are all should have at least a chance at using all this community support, we are lost as a nation and people. So the right thinks all freedom is individual except for the right to decide for yourselves to reproduce, then get out the authoritarian bedroom police.

    • “Steve, you criticize Linda for opinions and then pile loads of yours on the rest of us.”

      I didn’t imply I was giving anything else but my opinions. My comment was that the author of the message did imply that the message was fact filled, which it wasn’t.

      “So the right thinks all freedom is individual except for the right to decide for yourselves to reproduce, then get out the authoritarian bedroom police.”

      Unfortunately, you are correct about this. It shouldn’t be this way, but it is.

      As to the rest of your message, I could not agree more. An economy is enormously integrated and interdependent on an enormous number of factors.

      My complaint is that the left often uses the power of government to over control things, sometimes contrary to the Constitution. The need of the left to control behavior through the power of government is no more justifiable than the need of the right to control the bedroom behavior of consenting adults. Especially when the behavior they are trying to control is based on the religion of the individual. This is a big country with room to accomodate those whose bonafide religious beliefs keep them from doing certain things. After all, if those beliefs cost him business he is the one who is hurt. It then creates a business opportunity for someone else.

      But leftists don’t see it that way. Leftists see the business owner as someone who must be beaten into submission for cultural reasons that have nothing to do with business operations. The author of the message I was criticising had the “left them eat cake” attitude towards potential business owners with a my way or the highway arrogance so common to leftists. I objected to that.

      • Steve – I have a question for you to ask yourself. Do you think it was okay for businesses in the South to refuse to serve black people because of the color of their skin? From your most recent comment, I would infer that you thought it wrong to “beat into submission for cultural reasons” the poor business owner who was forced to serve “those” people.

        • No, Linda, I do NOT think it was correct for businesses in the south to refuse service to blacks, or jews, or catholics, or native americans, or anyone else based on bigotry and biases. There is no way to justify such attitudes or behavior and the power of government should be used to squelch such biases whenever they are found.

          My objection is using the power of government to force people holding deeply held religious beliefs to violate those beliefs in pursuit of what the left (or right, for that matter) deems as desireable outcomes. I realize my position on this can be tricky when defining “deeply held religious beliefs” but using the sledge hammer of government to make those types of decisions is hardly the appropriate way to accomplish it.

          Where we differ, I suspect, is in the definition of a “civil right”. For instance, I have never thought of gay rights as a civil rights issue. I think of them as legislative issues whose time came. Laws punishing homosexuality have rightly been stricken from the law books and gay marriage has been approved and put on legal footing with heterosexual marriage. That is the fitting and correct thing to have done. But there are religious proscriptions against homosexuality and if a business owner has deeply held religious beliefs on the matter, that owner should not be forced by the government to conduct business supporting the lifestyle, community, or any other facet of gay rights.

          • Interesting Steve and I’m left wondering just what your definition of a civil right is. The Wex Legal Dictionary defines a civil right as: an enforceable right or privilege, with if interfered with by another gives rise to an action for injury. Wikipedia defines civil rights as a class of rights that protect individual’s freedom from infringement by governments, social organizations and private individuals. Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary says civil rights are: rights to personal liberty established by the 13th and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and certain Congressional Acts. The 13th Amendment is about abolishion. The 14th Amendment contains several provisions, but the one pertinent here is that “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

          • And the 1st Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”. The definitions you provided for a civil right are all legitmate but are also broad and sweeping and could conceivably come into conflict with the 1st Amendment. That is the reason the issue of gay rights have gone into the courts so often.

            As to my opinion that gay rights are not civil rights, well, it’s just an opinion.

          • Steve, as you know, many people believed that segregation (as well as slavery) was ordained by God—that there were religious proscriptions against mixing of the races. This was a common belief even until the 60s, strongly held in the South but could be found throughout the country. Ministers and lay members could quote multiple Bible verses to back up these beliefs. These were “deeply held religious beliefs,” beliefs not simply “based on bigotry and biases.” The power of government was definitely used to violate those beliefs. I do not understand why you make a distinction between gay rights and the rights of other minorities. It seems to me everyone deserves the same consideration: the right to receive services in public accommodations, not to be fired, and basically not to face any discrimination. I do not understand why your definition of a civil right applies to only one group; nor why it is all right to violate the convictions of those opposed to integration but not all right to violate the convictions of those opposed to gay rights. Of course, I know there were multiple reasons for supporting segregation and that all opposition to civil rights laws was not based solely on religion, but religion was at the core of much of the resistance. Then again, I suspect that opposition to gay rights is not always based solely on religion.

          • I understand everything you are saying, including the implication in your last sentence. I do not oppose gay rights. I voted against the ban on gay marriage. The government should issue marriage licenses to acknowledge the contract between individuals but it should not require churches to perform religious ceremonies sanctifying the relationship. But I don’t think the government has the right to force a baker with religious beliefs against it to create a cake celebrating a gay event based on the civil rights of the customer.

            By why you care what I think, Doug?

          • Steve, you didn’t ask me and I’m sure Doug can answer for himself, but I’m going to guess this is not as much him caring what you think, but more his trying to have an open and honest discussion with you that just might provide enlightenment to all. You might not be surprised to find that I disagree with you that gay rights are not civil rights. I believe that civil rights are those that protect an individual’s freedom from infringement by governments, social organizations and private individuals. In other words, I would substitute “human being” in the place of “individual” in that definition. And, I agree with Doug that during the course of history, many “deeply held religious beliefs” have been used to not only discriminate, but also to persecute. I understand Jesus is not quoted as addressing homosexuality, but he did tell us to “Judge not, that you be not Judged” (Matthew 7:1-Revised Standard Version.)

          • You are right, Linda, and Doug wrote back and explained that. I had to apologize because I assumed he saying I made that distinction out of meaness and/or spite. I am not used to people wanting to discuss the subject in reasoned terms. It is a refreshing change.

            I understand your reasoning and I wish I could articulate mine better. I do appreciate you and Doug not attacking me for having what is obviously a minority opinion. I come here to read opposing points of view. Maybe this is something I need to rethink. Thank you for listening! :o)

          • Steve, the last sentence was not aimed at you. Your posts are not bigoted against individuals, and your response to Linda seems based on what you see as government intrusion on free enterprise, not on any hatefulness. The last sentence was added just to be more inclusive as to why some people opposed integration (culture, innate “scientific” differences, states’ rights, and yes meanness). As to why I care what you think, I find your posts intelligent, well written, and thoughtful. I even agree with some of the things you say! For example, marriage contracts are government business and religious institutions should be free to sanctify or not to sanctify the relationship.

          • Then I am sorry, Doug, for assuming you meant I was being mean and/or spiteful towards gays. That just seems a common reaction because I put such a fine point on the “civil rights” angle for gay rights. In the big picture they may not seem that different, but I see them as different. A smarter person than me might articulate it better than I but I do see a difference. I just wish I could explain it better.

            As for me, I would never stand in the way of gay rights. One of sisters is a lesbian and I love her with all my her heart. She and her wife are delightful people that attend all of the family get togethers and are greatly appreciated for who they are. I have met many of her friends and many I like, some I don’t, but it has nothing to do with them being gay. Well, to be honest, one of them is a militant lesbian and is in your face all the time about it and I dislike her for it, so maybe the gayness has an effect there because it is so offputting. Anyway, it upsets me when people talk about denying my sister the good things in life becaue she is gay and I speak up about it. Politely and genially, of course, but firmly.

            Now, are you more confused about my opinion? ;o)

          • One more point Steve. Maybe it would help if I reframed your “gay rights are not civil rights”, to “people who are gay are entitled to the same civil rights as other human beings.” In my opinion, to think otherwise is to think gay people are not “equals” to the rest of us. Thanks very much for listening and for being open to different viewpoints.

          • That is an excellent suggestion, Linda. It describes my feelings exactly in a much more positive manner. Of course, it also forces to reconsider my position on the whole issue. Thank you for your suggestion.

    • Amen Frances. Any success enjoyed by individual Americans is driven to on the road paved by the rest of us. No one does it entirely on their own.

  2. This whole posting was opinion driven, but the author wrote as if it was a fact filled rebuttal of some sort. The only fact in it was the number of votes Hillary received. everything else was pure opinion. I’m just skipping over most of them, but two of his points stood out as particularly stupid and needing some commentary.

    “You know, like it says in the Declaration of Independence, “all men [and women–21st century update] are created equal…”

    This is something the left always gets wrong. The statement is “created equal” but the left always interprets that to mean having an equal outcome. That is not, nor was it ever the intent, of the phrase in the Declaration of Independence. Other than the left’s voracious desire for it, there is nothing in any of the Founding Documents calling for an equal outcome of life’s work.

    “If you don’t want to be forced to serve everyone, don’t apply for a business license from the government (of the people) to operate.”

    What makes this statement interesting is that gets right at the heart of liberalism: Either do what we want or don’t do anything. This blog often talks about the authoritarianism of the right, but it is the left that truly practices authoritarianism on every facet of the human condition, except sex. That is an interesting exception but in the big picture it is perfectly understandable from the leftist point of view.

    • I’d like to make a couple of countervailing remarks.

      “This is something the left always gets wrong. The statement is “created equal” but the left always interprets that to mean having an equal outcome. ”

      I can reasonably claim to be on the left, but I don’t think it means equal outcome. I do believe, though, that it should imply a reasonable equity of opportunity. I do believe that society has a moral imperative, from a Rawlsian perspective, to mitigate disadvantages that some people are born with. I don’t think that it’s possible, or desirable, to have fully equality of outcomes, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to try to put people on a more level playing field.

      “it is the left that truly practices authoritarianism on every facet of the human condition, except sex.”

      I think one of the central differences between the left and right in America is the dichotomy between the rights of the individual and the good of the collective. Both of them are things to strive for, and I think there is a lot of ground for reasonable people to disagree and hold different priorities between these two. However, I am curious how someone on the right would respond to the following.

      I have allergies, exacerbated by pollution in the air. A power plant producing electricity from coal is engaging in a voluntary transaction of selling electricity to my neighbor, the byproduct of which is detrimental to me. I tend to the left in large part because the right has not convinced me of a suitable answer to collective action problems and the handling of externalities.

    • Steve – My post was a rebuttal of the opinions offered up as facts that Hess provided. Thanks for calling my points (by the way…I’m a “her” not a “his”) were stupid, that is quite a departure from your mostly thoughtful comments in the past and tells me how little to think of the comments you made here. That aside, it is fact that the Declaration of Independence says that all men are created equal. It is also a “FACT” that this Congress was the most do-nothing in recent history. And oh by the way, I DO NOT interpret that to mean “having an equal outcome.” What I DO interpret that to mean is simply that “all men are CREATED equal.” I find it obnoxious that you would tell me how I interpret it. As for the “authoritarianism” of the Left, au contraire, we mostly just want people to live and let live. Unfortunately, that doesn’t sit well with people who believe they should be able to tell others how to live.

      • Linda, let me apologize for the harshness of my tone. Sometimes I just get cranky and that was one of those times. You are correct that I am usually more thoughtful than that. A couple of the points you made are sore spots for me and I over reacted. I respect you and your thoughts on subjects…this time my reaction was silly and overblown. Mea culpa…