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Self in Society Roundup 35

The religious-authoritarian right, the anti-capitalist and anti-Semitic left, Montessori education, Mars projects for students, and more.

Copyright © 2024 by Ari Armstrong
October 28, 2023; ported here on January 9, 2024

Religious Authoritarianism: It should now be blindingly obvious to everyone that the Republican Party is the party of religious authoritarianism.

Barrelling Toward Fascism: Keeping in mind the above, now turn to a recent Harvard CAPS Harris poll. There we find that Donald Trump, clearly an authoritarian figure who attempted to overturn the previous election results, has a net positive approval rating (whereas Joe Biden has a net negative rating). We also find that Trump is leading strongly in the Republican primaries, and that Trump beats Biden head-to-head and also with the conspiracy monger Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in the race. It gets worse. The poll asked people, "Do you think the Hamas killing of 1200 Israeli civilians on Israel can be justified by the grievances of Palestinians or is it not justified?" While overall 76% of people said the attack was not justified, 51% of people ages 18–24 and 48% of people ages 25–34 said the attack was justified. (Gee I wonder where young people are getting these ideas.) Anti-Semitism has long been the leading edge of fascism. The warning signs are there. Will we heed them?

America's Left: Noah Smith describes the "socialist" left's shameful endorsement of Hamas terrorism. He adds, "But even before Hamas' attack on October 7, it had become clear to me that something was broken in the Western leftist's worldview. A lot of little things added up—their willingness to blame NATO for Russia's invasion of Ukraine, their obsession with unworkable economic policies that seemed crafted to provoke pushback from establishment Democrats, their insistence that America is an oligarchy instead of a true democracy, their embrace of NIMBYism, their flirtation with degrowth and with fringe economic theories, and so on."

The Anti-Capitalist Left: Why, on top of old-fashioned anti-Semitism, does the Marx-inspired left hate Israel? I think here is part of it: Israel is relatively wealthy; its neighbors are relatively poor; hence, by the left's lights, the people of Israel must by definition be exploiters, while their poor neighbors must be the exploited. But as James Pethokoukis argues: "If you look at the region based on the Fraser Institute index of economic freedom—which measures the freedom to make economic decisions, personal choice, voluntary exchange, freedom to enter markets and compete, and security of the person and privately-owned property—you can really see Israel as the lone representative of those democratic capitalist Western values and the prosperity they generate. One reason a poll [the one mentioned above] that finds that a quarter of Americans aged 18 to 24 think Israel should be 'ended and given to Hamas and the Palestinians' is so bizarre—and repugnant—is that Israel is the only country in the region that most of them would ever want to live in." This is not to say that Israel's policy with respect to Gaza is a good one. But it's inherently difficult to deal with people who want to kill you, as people in Hamas wish to kill the Jews and annihilate Israel. A Washington Institute poll from July indicates that "57% of Gazans express at least a somewhat positive opinion of Hamas."

Factory Education: Kerry Ellard's article of last year convinces me that the standard libertarian/conservative take on "the factory model of education" and on the reformers Horace Mann and John Dewey is substantially wrong. [T]o define education theorists from Plato to Dewey by a shared desire to create obedient subjects is simplistic to the point of meaninglessness," she writes.

The Pleasure of Purpose: Insightful comments from Matt Batemen, more broadly applicable than the Montessori educational approach at issue: "The paradigmatic case of pleasure is not eating something sweet. Pleasure is first and foremost the positive experience of some good activity. It's the joy of working on something purposefully, of figuring something out, of expending effort, of accomplishing something. It's the happiness of doing, of exercising one's own powers. It's the delight of actively living."

Montessori: Bateman also spends an hour and a half with Hannah Frankman discussing Montessori's approach to education. He describes the approach as an alternative to drill-based "classical" education and also to child-led "progressive" education. Bateman talks about teachers seeking to interest a student in materials useful for, say, building literacy. But, at some point, learning certain things, especially when some memorization is required, just can be somewhat tedious. It's not clear to me what Bateman's approach to such things is. I'm also not sure about when Bateman thinks children should be and are ready to be more self-directed. He does talk about high school students basically charting their own course. Bateman's company does offer schooling, virtual schooling, and a homeschool curriculum, but I haven't spent much time checking these out. If you watch the video make sure you get to the interesting bit about intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation (around the hour-fifteen mark). See also the idea wing of Bateman's enterprises.

Engineering Design and Education: Here is another year-old essay on education, this one from Robert Zubrin (yes, I'm catching up on emails). He writes: "When I did [take an engineering design course], it immediately struck me that engineering design classes could provide a terrific methodology for teaching science in high schools as well. . . . I made use of my position as head of the Mars Society to give the idea a try. So in April [2022], we made a public announcement that this summer the Mars Society would offer a six-week Mars mission design class and contest, open to students anywhere in the world. . . . The results were amazing. All the teams delivered work that was way above high school level. You don't need to take my word for it. The entire course, including videos of the expert lectures, the teams' design presentations, attacks and defenses can be viewed online." I certainly do not doubt the potential value of these sorts of projects. However, I add that, to successfully engage in such a project, a student first needs to learn the basics of how to read, do math, and understand the world around them in scientific terms.

Government Schools: The Defense Department, it turns out, runs relatively good schools. To me, this illustrates that, as important as the structure of schooling can be, also important are the particulars of what is taught and how it is taught. Just to say "government schools suck" fails to capture this complexity.

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