Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | February 17, 2013

Texas, Schools, Dworkin, and More Varied Links

1. Alex Tabborok has posted a letter that he wrote to the principal of his son’s school, arguing against the planned installation of interior cameras in the school. An excerpt:

I visited the school recently to pick up my son and it was like visiting a prison. A police car often sits outside the school and upon entry a security guard directs visitors to the main office where the visitor’s drivers license is scanned and information including date of birth is collected (is this information checked against other records and kept in a database for future reference? It’s unclear). The visitor is then photographed and issued a photo pass. I found the experience oppressive Adding cameras will only add to the prison-like atmosphere. The response, of course, will be that these measures are necessary for “safety.” As with security measures at the airports I doubt that these measures increase actual safety, instead they are security theater, a play that we put on that looks like security but really is not.

Moreover, the truth is that American children have never been safer than they are today. …

2. Also via Prof. Tabborok, here is a neat map showing the United States with redrawn state lines to create 50 states with equal population. Texas is split up, as are California and Florida. Hawaii is joined to parts of Oregon and northern California, and most of Wisconsin is combined with half of Michigan. It’s an interesting thought experiment.

3. Ronald Dworkin has passed away. A profoundly influential philosopher of law, Dworkin taught for many years at Yale. In 1969, he succeeded H.L.A. Hart as Chair of Jurisprudence at Oxford, and he later taught at University College London and at the law school at NYU. The Guardian has an outstanding obituary. Here’s Adam Liptak’s obituary for Dworkin in the New York Times. Here’s Dworkin’s Wikipedia page.

Randy Barnett at the Volokh Conspiracy shares some personal reminiscences of Dworkin. Tyler Cowen points the way to a few of Dworkin’s papers, including this 1980 paper, “Is Wealth a Value?” (pdf)

4. In Texas, the State Board of Education (SBOE) exerts major influence over the selection and content of textbooks used in primary and secondary schools throughout the state. The SBOE draws up a list of content-approved books. Local school districts in Texas have some discretion to use or not to use at least some of the textbooks on the SBOE list. However, the SBOE picks up the full cost of textbooks that are on the approved list; if a district chooses to use textbooks that are not on the list, then those non-Board-approved books must be purchased with local funds. Local school districts thus have a major financial incentive to use the books selected by the SBOE; to deviate from the list is to turn down free (to the district) books, or to incur a major expense. As Todd Kelly at the League says, “why should a district use any of its own discretionary funds to acquire new history or social studies books when they can get state-approved books for free?”

So, most Texas elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools use the same textbooks. Texas is the second-largest state in the US after California, and therefore textbook publishers have strong incentives to edit their textbooks to cater to the demands of the Texas SBOE.

(I suppose that, in theory, textbook publishers could offer two versions of each textbook: a “Texas-approved” version and a second, “non-Texas-approved” version, but that second version will probably not materialize absent an organized, large-scale demand for something different from what the Texas SBOE requests from publishers. As Kelly at the League puts it, “Your local district might well have strong feelings about textbook content, but it simply lacks the market volume to get a Houghton Mifflin to change its press runs each year.”)

For some background on this phenomenon, see this piece by Gail Collins in The New York Review of Books (“How Texas Inflicts Bad Textbooks on Us”) and this older piece by Mariah Blake from the Washington Monthly (“Revisionaries: How a group of Texas conservatives is rewriting your kids’ textbooks”). See also this recent piece in the Dallas Observer.

Recently, Barbara Cargill, the chair of the SBOE, appeared before the Nominations Committee of the state senate, which is expected to recommend that she be confirmed for another term as chair. Back in 2011, Cargill “told a Texas Eagle Forum crowd they could count on only the ‘true conservative Christians’ serving on the board,” according to this post by Patrick Michels at the Texas Observer. (H/T: Nob Akimoto at the League.) According to this page, Cargill “defeated a Republican incumbent, Linda Bauer, whom the far-right faction targeted in 2004 after Bauer refused the previous year to oppose biology textbooks that included a full scientific account of evolution. ‘I think the district also wanted a more conservative voice,’ Cargill declared.”

Now, Cargill has recently tried to walk back from some of her more, shall we say, provocative statements. She doesn’t want anything to jeopardize her chances of re-confirmation as chair, and neither do her principal allies in the state senate. Confirmation is like diving; a main goal is to create as little splash as possible. So, at the hearing on February 11, most of the committee seemed content to avoid asking any tough questions or eliciting any statements from Cargill that would be unpopular with her base or controversial with a wider public (or the courts). Senator Kirk Watson, a Democrat from Austin, did ask some mildly tough questions, but at the end he “seemed ready to throw his support behind nominating her for another term as chair.”

The only person in the room who didn’t seem to understand the gameplan was freshman Sen. Donna Campbell. From the Michels Observer post:

[F]or the most part, things were progressing sanely enough until Donna Campbell piped up, “I wanna ask something.”

“Drinking from the fire hydrant here. Are we saying here that there is opposition because we do not have the scientific facts to teach creation, that God did create world and man?” Campbell wondered. “I mean, are we trying to eliminate that, or are we just saying we want to include evolution? Or… where are we there?”

Campbell, the San Antonio Republican and tea party-backed neophyte who upset long-serving Sen. Jeff Wentworth in a 2012 primary runoff, seemed genuinely baffled to learn that Texas students don’t already learn creationism in class. (Federal courts long ago ruled that public schools couldn’t teach creationism. Or Intelligent Design, as it’s more fashionably known today. Or “Intellectual Design,” as Campbell called it a few minutes later.)

An odd, pregnant pause followed Campbell’s questions. Cargill seemed unsure how to proceed after taking such great pains to prove what a pro-science moderate she was. …

Please do read the rest. It’s enough to make one laugh and cry at the same time.

5. Sasha Volokh at the Volokh Conspiracy asks for examples of Catholic science fiction–that is, “books with a strong Catholic-related theme.” A Canticle for Leibowitz is an obvious example, as is the short story “The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke (which I remember affected me powerfully when I was in high school). The commenters at Sasha’s post provide plenty of other examples, as does Ilya Somin in his post.

6. Katie Renee on her fight with a squirrel.

Update (Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2013, 9:30 AM): Stavros Tsakyrakis of the University of Athens has a post about the passing of Dworkin, as Katherine Collins here. Says Collins, about a lecture Dworkin gave at Harvard a few years ago: “Dworkin’s lecture was brilliant because it was so easy to apply in all sorts of different contexts, and the results of re-framing conversations according to his observation are dramatic. In my investment work, for example, we spend a lot of time debating alternative strategies, and much of that discussion is unproductive. The first question should not be whether a given approach is good or bad, better or worse – but rather why this approach suits the question at hand.”

Deborah McGovern, with the Law Library at Charleston School of Law, also has a post on the subject. So does Leonid Sirota here: “Dworkin’s death this morning comes an absolute shock. … He taught until last year at NYU, and was full of energy. The Colloquium on Legal, Political and Social Philosophy, which he ran (with Thomas Nagel) will remain a highlight of my time here, a weekly intellectual feast every fall semester.”

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