Education presentation offers obscure ideas

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By Harold Morgan

This is one of those words-mean-something columns, to wit, some words used in political and public policy conversations are code for policy prescriptions.
At the start of a recent presentation about education to the Albuquerque Press Women, cautionary bells rang when, under the headline, “liberal egalitarianism,” I heard, “Grave inequalities keep people from being meaningfully free to choose for themselves. Fairness and justice require a safety net with a livable minimum of housing, income, food, education, healthcare and equal opportunity.”
Under “free market libertarianism,” I heard some more appealing points. “Free people should choose for themselves. People are responsible for their own actions and their consequences. Redistribution of income or wealth is unfair, and creates disincentives for hard work.”
The libertarianism-egalitarianism nuggets were offered to define the political dialogue.
While “fairness and justice” live as technical jargon in the identity politics of the left, the notion of “being meaningfully free” is obscure. I don’t remember the phrase, have no idea what it means, and suspect rampant agendas.
“Free market libertarianism” seems designed to incite images of right wing nuts. To the question of who is saying this stuff, the presenters offered a source, Michael Sandel from something called, “Justice: What is the Right Thing To Do?”
The source document is a book. Thank you, Internet and Wikipedia. Our path forward is a little tortured. Bear with me.
Sandel is a Harvard (wouldn’t you know?) political philosopher who the Wikipedia writer(s) say “subscribes to a certain version of communitarianism,” is famous for a course called “Justice,” which he has turned into an industry complete with TV show. Sandel is famous for his “critique” of another philosopher, John Rawls, who talks about a veil of ignorance. Wikipedia says, “Sandel’s view is that we are by nature encumbered to an extent that makes it impossible even in the hypothetical to have such a veil” of ignorance.
My veil of ignorance covers any inkling of Sandel’s meaning.
The Wikipedia Sandel article highlights “communitarianism.” Click and discover that communitarianism emphasizes the connection between the individual and the community. One part of communitarianism considers classical liberalism incoherent. Sandel was not mentioned in this section.
In my world, the classical liberals are the good guys: Friedrich Hayek, David Hume, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke, Alexis de Tocqueville, to cite a few. They developed the foundation of what this country is supposed to be about.
The presenters were Peter Winograd and Hailey Heinz, both from the University of New Mexico’s Center for Education Policy Research. Their title was, “The Future of Education in New Mexico: Why Should You Care and What You Should Do About It.”
Winograd, the center director, is considered an education policy wizard. Heinz has been an Albuquerque Journal reporter.
The long, winding and probably boring road of philosophic background exploration was to provide a rough idea of what is behind the thinking of Winograd and Heinz. “Who are those guys?” Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy and Robert Reford as the Sundance Kid kept wondering about the posse behind them.
Within the philosophy, specific dialogue topics ranged from healthcare to food stamps. Work was not mentioned. Topics under “The National Debates about Inequality” included one new to me, “What are the mental health costs of inequality?”
Winograd and Heinz provided all sorts of demographics reporting the rotten performance of “education” in New Mexico. They said little about actual education, how learning works. As to doing something, they asked the audience for a civil conversation with friends. Hardly a call to action.
Parents got one mention, totally in passing. The wizards have forgotten parents, it seems, and embraced fancy, obscure philosophy. Scary.