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E-Pluribus | August 7, 2023
The government leans on researchers to suppress their testimony in court; let the facts get in the way; and we don't need no indoctrination.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Ryan Quinn: Barred From Testifying by a Research Agreement
The federal government has told a couple of researchers in California (with apologies to Monty Python), “That’s a nice grant you’ve got there; we wouldn’t want anything to happen to it.” The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) and the ACLU argue that the government has gone too far attempting to prevent testimony that could undermine its case, reports Ryan Quinn at Inside Higher Education.
[W]hat happens when researchers who work with a government, outside the courtroom, also testify in a case against that government? In California, the state Department of Education tried to stop one’s testimony and prevent another’s.
Thomas Dee, the Barnett Family Professor at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education, submitted an expert report last month in a years-long case that demands California do more to ameliorate K-12 students’ pandemic learning loss.
[ . . . ]
In response to his involvement in the lawsuit, the California Department of Education threatened to fine him $50,000 and cut off his department-connected research.
“You agreed that you would not ‘testify, advise or consult’ for any party other than the CDE [California Department of Education] or the State Board of Education,” a department official wrote to him last week. She cited an “Authorized Representative and Data Protection Agreement” and a “Confidentiality, Conflict of Interest and Security Agreement” he had signed.
[ . . . ]
Mark Rosenbaum, the Public Counsel lead lawyer representing those kids, said his side sought out the expertise of both Dee and Sean Reardon, another Stanford K-12 researcher whose work often appears in national media. Reardon received a similar letter from the California Department of Education.
“Should you attempt to testify, advise or consult for the plaintiffs in Cayla J. [the lawsuit], the CDE reserves the right to enforce the agreement and exhibit D to the full extent of the law,” wrote the same department official, Cindy Kazanis.
[ . . . ]
A Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression lawyer said the closest parallel was in 2021 at the University of Florida. Before backing down, the university tried to use its own conflict-of-interest policy to block professors from serving as expert witnesses in challenges to state laws on voting rights.
The American Civil Liberties Union Northern and Southern California branches have gotten involved in the California suit, asking the judge there to allow Dee to testify without retaliation. They argue the contract is unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination because it limits testifying against, but not on behalf of, the government.
“What they’re essentially doing is muzzling any education researchers who have signed these contracts in exchange for state data from weighing in on behalf of litigants,” said Alyssa Morones, First Amendment and Democracy Fellow at the ACLU of Southern California.
Read it all here.
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Max Diamond: Questions of Value and Questions of Fact in Political Discourse
Daniel Patrick Moynihan is widely credited with saying (or at least popularizing) the aphorism, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” Max Diamond at Arc Digital writes that the level and quality of public discourse would be improved by recognizing the difference between “value claims and empirical claims.”
Some defenders of free speech want to argue that there is an absolute right to be able to speak as one wants (a value claim). However, many want to say that free speech leads to, on some metric, the best results (an empirical claim). These could in principle both be true, and one can believe them both without contradiction. But they are distinct views that depend on totally different types of arguments. To defend the value proposition, one must use philosophy and specifically utilize, as I think most would agree, certain fundamental moral assumptions. To defend the empirical proposition, one must argue on the basis of available empirical evidence including historical example, ongoing events, and any available testing. Note that such empirical arguments also always ultimately rest on some other normative claim. Free speech, the empirically minded defender wants to argue, is a way to promote some underlying value—a better democracy, for example. The difference between the normative and empirically based defense is not that the latter totally lacks evaluation, but rather that such arguments additionally make factual claims about the world.
It might strike some as absurd that there is, simply, a right to free speech. Similarly, it might strike many conservatives as absurd that one has, in some absolute sense, a right to government-provided healthcare. It is unnecessary and beyond the scope of this argument to get into the nature of rights or the basis of moral intuitions; to evaluate the possible validity of purely moral claims. The point is just that value-based and empirical claims exist, and that we can distinguish between political arguments on this framework.
Keeping this contrast in mind can help us understand what other people are saying, and help set success conditions for arguments. It’s quite vague to say one believes in free speech. It’s more precise to say either that speech is good irrespective of the consequences, or that in the long run speech will promote the best consequences. This clarity helps us fix the actual argument at hand. To the value-minded defender we might ask whether we should really value free speech even if it risks promoting racism or terrible political ideologies; to the empirically minded defender we can ask under what conditions free speech tends to promote good outcomes. In bounding the argument, we can better understand what must be the case for the free-speech defender to be correct. For example, if the evidence does not show that free speech actually produces given results, then the empirical claim is simply wrong. While exact criteria are harder to set for moral arguments, at least we know that factual arguments are simply non-responsive.
Read the whole thing.
Ernest J. Zarra, III: Indoctrination Is Not Education
Clearly teaching kindergarteners will involve less nuance and more absolutes than, say, instructing university undergraduates. But at Minding the Campus, Ernest J. Zarra, III writes that, particularly for the captive audiences in public school classrooms, teachers must remember they are not tasked with replicating their own views and beliefs in their students, but with imparting knowledge and facts in a way that will allow students to think and form their own beliefs and worldviews.
Progressives and radical leftists in the United States are not quiet about indoctrinating the nation’s youth and, in certain instances, radicalizing them toward a social cause. This is not the purpose of education, historically. In fact, it is far from the classical education that students need today. Susan Wise Bauer of the Well-Trained Mind agrees: “Classical education depends on a three-part process of training the mind. The early years of school are spent in absorbing facts, systematically laying the foundations for advanced study. In the middle grades, students learn to think through arguments. In the high school years, they learn to express themselves. This classical pattern is called the trivium.”
Indoctrination can be also defined in tripartite fashion. First, indoctrination imbues students with a usually partisan or sectarian opinion, point of view, or principle. Second, indoctrination teaches students to fully accept only the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group. Third, indoctrination teaches students to accept these ideas, opinions, and beliefs uncritically. All three parts of this definition add up to indoctrination, not education.
Manisha Kumar argues that indoctrination is not education because “education involves the seeking of facts, and learning about what is the truth, and what is not. Indoctrination is aimed at influencing people to believe in facts, without being able to back up these newfound facts with anything but opinion.” Based on this, it becomes clear why one particular hallmark of education is missing in indoctrination: critical thinking. The lack of critical thinking means that disagreement with the narrator of the narrative, or the classroom instructor, is not allowed. Therefore, obedience to a given ideology is valued more greatly than any one person’s individual thoughts or objective truth.
When students are indoctrinated in schools, there is often no option to remove them from the indoctrination. Stories have come in from across the nation in which states and school districts require certain programs that must be attended by students. In some cases, school districts tie these programs to state-adopted curriculum, and even to graduation requirements for middle or high school. Action civics, social-emotional learning, and sex education are examples of these required programs.
Read it all.
And finally, a reminder that protestations such as “oh, come on, no one is suggesting that [some wildly far fetched idea]” are often wrong, as yesterday’s unthinkables become thinkable: