The start of another academic year is cause to reflect on the aims of education and the fact that 19 states in the U.S. still use corporal punishment in public schools. Many have yet to learn the counterproductive and harmful effects of disciplining kids with violence. Nowhere is the mistake more troubling than in our public schools.
‘The board of education’ by Wesley Fryer is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (via Flickr)
I have argued elsewhere against school corporal punishment on grounds of the right to security of person and given the Platonic warning that “nothing taught by force stays in the soul.” The aims of education offer a further, crucial reason why we ought to end the use of corporal punishment in public schools.
What is school for? Somewhere at the heart of the answer should be the idea of educating people to be critical thinkers. John Dewey once argued that such a goal is implicit in the “supreme intellectual obligation.” That obligation calls for empowering all citizens with the scientific attitudes and intellectual habits of mind necessary to appreciate wisdom and to put it to use. Expert scientists must push the envelope of knowledge, but if intellectuals are to benefit humanity, the masses of people need to be sufficiently critical thinkers to benefit from scientific innovations.
Critical thinking involves the development of a skeptical attitude, one which expects or hopes to uncover justification or evidence. It appreciates well-founded authorities, understanding authority as a relationship of trust based on good reasons for it. For schools to cultivate critical thinking in young people, kids need to be comfortable questioning their teachers, administrators, and parents. In public schools, we need safe environments in which intellects are allowed and enabled to experiment, to be creative, and to learn whether and why some authorities are warranted, when they are.
My piece, “Mr. Bryant, Take Down the Flag,” came out in The Clarion Ledger this morning. In the printed version, the title is “Governor, Take Down this Flag.” For the next week or two, please head to the electronic version of the piece on the newspaper’s site. You can download and print a PDF of the article by clicking on the image of the printed version.
I’ll soon post the full article on my site. For now, be sure to check out my blogpost arguing that “Racism Defies the Greatest Commandment.”
The harsh treatment of prisoners in the U.S. causes much controversy, yet in our public schools, institutionalized
violence is commonplace.
In April, the Hattiesburg American reported that corporal punishment declined in Mississippi schools between 2007 and 2012 from more than 58,000 reported instances to around 39,000.
Click for a printable PDF scan.
Mississippians have been entangled in a deep philosophical debate about education funding for months, though attention has focused largely on technical details. Ballot initiative 42 that will be decided this November asks: “Should the state be required to provide for the support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools?” If voters pass the initiative, they would be demanding an amendment to the state Constitution making that requirement explicit.
People who want voters to choose “yes” explain that such a requirement should be enforceable in the courts. Without that, a parent would have no recourse when his or her child must attend a chronically underfunded and failing school.
The Prindle Post
September 1, 2015
Now that my new site is up, I’m slowly but surely adding to it the pieces I had up on my old site. This was my first op-ed published in The Clarion Ledger, published March 6, 2010, on 9A. I am grateful for permission to republish my pieces here and elsewhere.
Here’s a scan of the piece, though the character recognition in the file didn’t work well. Therefore, I’m posting here the text from the piece.
Try Charter Schools Experiment Where Others Failing
In January, three University of Mississippi undergraduates advocated for charter schools before the Mississippi House Committee on Education out of concern for the crisis of education in the state. The Public Policy Leadership majors, Chelsea Caveny, Cortez Moss, and Alex McLelland, met resistance to partial measures for progress.
Aside from a few vocal opponents, the general response from Republicans in the room was positive and some Democrats were cautiously open to charter schools. The most vocal opponents of charter school legislation worried about the children who stay behind in traditional schools. One representative exclaimed: “Separate but unequal!”
I am an alumnus of SIUC’s Ph.D. program in philosophy. I am writing to urge you to continue full support for the Center for Dewey Studies. I understand that the center has been asked to prepare a budgetary plan for a reduction of its support by 50 percent. Were that reduction to be applied, it would incapacitate the center. That would be a truly terrible mistake.
The Center for Dewey Studies is one of the jewels of SIUC. As I said in a recent interview with the Daily Egyptian, it is simply the best resource in the world of its kind. John Dewey’s work remains deeply important. Presently, Penguin Books is in contract negotiations with me to release a collection of Dewey’s public writings, in part because of help I received from the center, its director, and its relationship with the SIU Press. Dewey was America’s greatest public philosopher, and next year marks the 100th anniversary of his master work, Democracy and Education. There is also a burgeoning movement in public philosophy for which Dewey is the exemplar to whom people will be looking with increasing interest. This is not the time to cut support for the center, but to increase it.
In July 2015, University of Mississippi graduate, Adebanke Alabi invited me to comment on race and the Church for a series on her blog. The following is my piece, originally published on her page and reposted here with permission.
Preface: I am grateful to Adebanke (Buki) Alabi for calling me to comment on race and Christianity for the readers of her blog, The Second Breakdown: My Thoughts on Jesus and His Church.
Mississippi is still home to obstinate racism, even while in 2014 Gallup found it to be the most religious state in the United States. The vast majority of the 44 failing school districts’ enrollments in the state are majority- to almost totally made up of African American students. Some districts have been accused of not having desegregated. We have seen symbolic racism at the University of Mississippi, as well as troubling direct confrontations. Some young people planned and executed a racially motivated murder a few years ago in Jackson, MS.
Despite all of these disturbing cases of racism in Mississippi, many citizens and public officials continue to resist change even to symbols of racism. I have argued that falsely romanticizing heritage does us harm and that symbols, like the Confederate Battle Flag featured in the canton of MS’s state flag, contribute to the perpetuation of racism and injustice. What has gotten very little attention is the tragic inconsistency between the religious beliefs people say that they hold dear and the contradictory behaviors that we see here in Mississippi.
The June 2015 murders in Charleston, South Carolina, have prompted a remarkable cultural shift in the American South. States around the region are removing or are voting to remove Confederate symbols of various kinds from public spaces. South Carolina and Alabama have made significant moves, and in Mississippi, the Speaker of the House and both U.S. Senators have called for changing the state flag, which presently features the Confederate Battle Flag.
I have argued recently that some heritage can do harm and that denying that Mississippi’s secession had to do with slavery is ignorance, not love, of heritage. For those who acknowledge our troubled history, an important question remains: Why is there such a push to get rid of the flag all of a sudden? What does it have to do with the Charleston murders or justice?
This article was published online with the title “Sometimes Heritage Does Harm,” and in print, with the title “‘Heritage’ Argument Overlooks History.” It is republished here with permission. Click on the image or here to open a scan of the printed version, or here for a PDF of the online version. The text from the online version is included here below.
Flags communicate pride for heritage, but, for some, so do nooses.
Unqualified love of heritage inflames America’s deepest moral wounds. Heritage is palpable in places like Mississippi and South Carolina, where it is prized wholesale, the good with the bad. In the wake of Charleston’s mass murders, it could not be clearer that heritage is harming the country.
In 2012, James Craig Anderson was murdered out of racial hatred in Jackson,. Two years later, young men hung a noose and the old Georgia flag, featuring the Confederate stars and bars, on the statue of civil rights pioneer James Meredith in Oxford. Some courageous public officials and university leaders have begun to speak up about the need to transform our cultural symbols, while others stand in the way of progress.
In the name of loving heritage, those opposed to moving forward leave out the unpleasant parts of our history. Mississippi and South Carolina were among the states most honest about their defense of slavery in their justifications for secession. Nevertheless, South Carolina until this week flew the Confederate flag in the state’s capital. Mississippi’s state flag bears the stars and bars alluding to the Confederacy.