“It’s almost turning into a nanny state,” says member Dennis Senibaldi about his Windham, Mass., school board’s decision to ban dodgeball.
What would Windham have to ban to get beyond “almost”?
Be Careful What You Cite
A lot of progressives — not least of all some in the White House! — have been citing recent polls showing broad support for policies they themselves happen to favor. Such as the poll results on background checks, above, for instance.
It’s not intuitively obvious why this is supposed to be so persuasive. “Hey, lots of people agree with me!” isn’t much of an argument, except perhaps in the sense that the U.S. is a democracy, so policies favored by large majorities ought to be enacted.
The trouble with that line of thinking is that it can turn around and bite you in the keister. Take voting rights. This morning the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that, by a 3-1 margin, the public supports a Republican-backed measure requiring a photo ID in order to vote. Does that mean we should require photo IDs? Democrats sure don’t seem to think so. They loathe the idea, compare it to poll taxes, and accuse Republicans of using photo-ID measures to suppress the vote.
See also: prayer in schools. While support for prayer in school has fallen, two-thirds of Americans still support it. So, should public schools begin each day with a daily devotional?
Of course not.
Photo ID measures are tightly bound up with questions about the right to vote. Prayer in school is tightly bound up with the right to religious freedom. By the same token, gun-control measures are tightly bound up with the inalienable right to self-defense and to bear arms. And rights, as legal philosopher Ronald Dworkin put it, are trumps. They outweigh competing considerations, such as public opinion, by their very nature of being rights.
We shouldn’t automatically do what the majority wants, just because the majority happens to want it.
Obama’s Little Fib
When it comes to early-childhood education there are lots of studies, and people on both sides of the debate emphasize the studies that prove their respective cases, while ignoring the studies that cast their cases in doubt.
President Obama might have done the same thing in his State of the Union address. Instead, he chose to cite studies that don’t exist:
Let’s look again at Obama’s State of the Union statement: “In states that make it a priority to educate our youngest children — like Georgia or Oklahoma — studies show students grow up more likely to read and do math at grade level, graduate high school, hold a job, form more stable families of their own.”
The Georgia program, for instance, began in 1996, and the Oklahoma program in 1998, meaning the oldest participants are now only 20. So how does the president know such state programs mean these children will be able to hold a job or have stable marriages?
He doesn’t. The White House could provide no studies backing up his claim, so we can only assume he is jumping to the conclusion that the results in Perry and Abecedarian would be easily replicated.
But that may be a risky assumption.
“Generalizations to state pre-K programs from research findings on Perry and Abecedarian are prodigious leaps of faith,” wroteGrover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, last month. “Perry and Abecedarian were multi-year intensive interventions whereas state pre-K programs are overwhelmingly one-year programs for four-year-olds.” He also noted that today’s students face different the circumstances than those of 30 to 40 years ago.
Maybe it would be better if someone fact-checked the president’s speeches before he gave them. Just a thought!