Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Brandl's big splash . . .

John Brendl, former dean and current deep thinker at the Humphrey Institute at the University of Minnesota, wrote an opinion piece that appeared in the Star Tribune on October 14, 2005. You can find it here. The title is Case for Vouchers is Growing Stronger. Spot cannot fathom how such a presumably public-minded citizen could be such a shameless flack for parochial school education. This may have something to do with it.

Let’s back up a little. After Katrina, the Bush administration concocted a plan to give education vouchers to displaced students from the Gulf Coast, vouchers that could be used in parochial schools. A Star Tribune editorialist wrote, Wait a minute, that’s a back door way to make a monumental policy change that probably shouldn’t be made, or at least it needs to be fully aired first. This is where Brendl walks in, responding to the editorial.

Brendl starts out describing John Dewey’s book A Common Faith and Dewey’s belief that stimulating effort, or striving, and altruism were the socially useful aspects of religion. Dewey didn’t have much time, however, for most aspects of traditional religion. What Dewey was describing, of course, is secular humanism.

Readers can find some tributes to John Dewey here. Spotty was particularly struck by something written in a piece about Dewey by Alfred North Whitehead, a Harvard philosopher, in 1951:
The human race consists of a small group of animals which for a small time has barely differentiated itself from the mass of animal life on a small planet circling round a small sun. The Universe is vast. Nothing is more curious than the self-satisfied dogmatism with which mankind at each period of its history cherishes the delusion of the finality of its existing modes of knowledge. Skeptics and believers are all alike. At this moment scientists and skeptics are the leading dogmatists. Advance in detail is admitted: fundamental novelty is barred. This dogmatic common sense is the death of philosophic adventure. The Universe is vast. [italics by Spot]
Brandl writes:
Dewey's vision continues to invigorate many. Many, but hardly all. For some, religion, not government, remains the ultimate source of strength. Here's the rub: Maybe there are millions of people -- poor people who can't afford tuition -- whose family and neighborhood circumstances are such that without the inspiration, structure, protection and love to be found in religious schools, they simply will not thrive. . . .
This is an ignorant and vicious libel of public schools. Every public school that Spot or his pups have ever attended has made an effort to instill values of good citizenship and civic engagement. It is utter demagoguery to suggest that some people are so weak they need some of that ‘ole time religion to “thrive.” At least when it comes to making the argument on Spot’s dime.

Spotty does not want one red cent of public money to go a theistic educational system dominated by homophobes, anti-feminists, and other assorted antediluvian thinkers.

A quality, universal and free public school education is the backbone of the United States, and of Minnesota. Minnesota’s founders recognized that. In some parts of the country, and some parts of this state, the schools have been sorely neglected and underfunded while saddled with mandate after mandate and an increasingly diverse student population.

It is sophomoric of John Brandl to suggest that a solution is simply to give some students a religious school alternative and call the problem solved. And of course he isn’t trying to solve the problems of pubic schools, just lop off some public revenue for religious schools. If the public school problems are exacerbated by that, well, too bad.


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