Archive for the Virtues Category

Peter Berkowitz

A Boot Camp for Citizenship

America’s crisis of civic education is acute, requiring a major change in the way students are taught about the workings of American government and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. So contends David Feith, an opinion editor at the Wall Street Journal, in his introduction to Teaching America, a well-crafted collection of essays from a distinguished and diverse group of authors—progressives and conservatives, policy makers and professors, jurists and political commentators.

The case for civic education—what might have been called “civics” in an earlier generation—is straightforward. Just as, say, doctors who receive defective medical training will be handicapped in the performance of their professional tasks, so too citizens whose civic education is lacking will be less than competent as members of an extended political community. Studying the Constitution—not to mention American political ideas and institutions—can help us all to exercise our rights, respect the rights of others, and weigh the merit of contending policies. More generally, as Feith notes, civic education can nourish a common culture by showing that partisan disputes often reflect conflicting interpretations of a shared commitment to freedom and equality.

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Thomas Sowell

Race and Rhetoric

One of the things that turned up, during a long-overdue cleanup of my office, was an old yellowed copy of the New York Times dated July 24, 1992. One of the front-page headlines said: "White-Black Disparity in Income Narrowed in 80′s, Census Shows."

The 1980s? Wasn’t that the years of the Reagan administration, the "decade of greed," the era of "neglect" of the poor and minorities, if not "covert racism"?

More recently, during the administration of America’s first black president, a 2011 report from the Pew Research Center has the headline, "Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics."

While the median net worth of whites was ten times the median net worth of blacks in 1988, the last year of the Reagan administration, the ratio was nineteen to one in 2009, the first year of the Obama administration. With Hispanics, the ratio was eight to one in 1988 and fifteen to one in 2009.

Race is just one of the areas in which the rhetoric and the reality often go in opposite directions. Political rhetoric is intended to do one thing — win votes. Whether the policies that accompany that rhetoric make people better off or worse off is far less of a concern to politicians, if any concern at all.

Democrats receive the overwhelming bulk of the black vote by rhetoric and by presenting what they have done as the big reason that blacks have advanced. So long as most blacks and whites alike mistake rhetoric for reality, this political game can go on.

Continue reading Thomas Sowell…

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Russell Muirhead

Resuscitating Civic Education

What does being a good citizen require?

According to a new report issued by the Department of Education, Secretary Arne Duncan wants to reboot civic education and upgrade it for the twenty-first century. The future of democracy depends on it, he argues. But the key to improving civic education today is not to make it more like a video game or a summer camp, as Duncan wants to do. It’s to equip students with the tools to sort out the political life unfolding around them. The problem today is not merely that students don’t "know enough" facts. It’s that they lack the basis for forming and holding opinions. And without opinions—ultimately, opinions about the common good—politics will always seem a distant chore best left to others.

Good citizens do things: they speak out, they vote, they volunteer, they organize. But to do those things well, citizens need to know things. Civic action requires civic knowledge.

This might seem so elemental as to need no defense. After all, an ignorant citizenry is easily manipulated by propaganda and the seductions of flattering and over-promising politicians. Only when citizens are knowledgeable are they empowered to resist the self-serving machinations of ambitious elites and act in their own interests. Only a knowledgeable citizenry can preserve its freedoms.

This is why the persistent evidence of citizen ignorance is so hair-raising. Surveys show that almost half of Americans, for instance, think the phrase, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs,” appears in the United States Constitution (actually, it is from The Communist Manifesto, by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels). Speaking of Communists, almost half of Americans believe that Communist Party members cannot run for president. Three-quarters of the population think the Constitution guarantees a high school education.

Continue reading Russell Muirhead…

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Alvin Rabushka

Ms. Magazine is forty years old. Stanford brought together six prominent feminine journalists to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the magazine in a panel discussion held on January 26, 2012.

Thoughtful Ideas attended the event to learn about the past and present in feminist journalism and concerns about the future of the feminist movement.

An overflow crowd of more than 200 attended. About two-thirds were elderly veterans of the feminist revolution; a third was Stanford graduate and undergraduate students. The panelists’ biggest concern was the lack of money that would enable full-time, paid feminist journalists and bloggers in place of the current part-time, after-hours bloggers who needed a regular day job to support themselves. Monetizing the movement was deemed crucial to its sustainability. Another goal was uniting with other diverse communities to advance the cause of social justice.

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Peter Berkowitz

Boot Camp for Citizens

America’s crisis of civic education is acute, requiring a major change in the way students are taught about the workings of American government and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. So contends David Feith, an opinion editor at The Wall Street Journal, in his introduction to "Teaching America," a well-crafted collection of essays from a distinguished and diverse group of authors—progressives and conservatives, policy makers and professors, jurists and political commentators.

The case for civic education—what might have been called "civics" in an earlier generation—is straightforward. Just as, say, doctors who receive defective medical training will be handicapped in the performance of their professional tasks, so too citizens whose civic education is lacking will be less than competent as members of an extended political community. Studying the Constitution—not to mention American political ideas and institutions—can help us all to exercise our rights and respect the rights of others and to weigh the merit of contending policies. More generally, as Mr. Feith notes, civic education can nourish a common culture by showing that partisan disputes often reflect conflicting interpretations of a shared commitment to freedom and equality.

Continue reading Peter Berkowitz…

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Thomas Sowell

The Media and ‘Bullying’

Back in the 1920s, the intelligentsia on both sides of the Atlantic were loudly protesting the execution of political radicals Sacco and Vanzetti, after what they claimed was an unfair trial. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote to his young leftist friend Harold Laski, pointing out that there were "a thousand-fold worse cases" involving black defendants, "but the world does not worry over them."

Holmes said: "I cannot but ask myself why this so much greater interest in red than black."

To put it bluntly, it was a question of whose ox was gored. That is, what groups were in vogue at the moment among the intelligentsia. Blacks clearly were not.

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Victor Davis Hanson

The New Old Debate Over Illegal Immigration

The debate over illegal immigration is mostly fossilized. We know the predictable contours. Despite different realities on the ground, they have not changed much from the 1960s. The narrative for half-a-century has gone something like this: a callous America welcomed in cheap laborers. It treated them not so well and then panicked when their numbers grew and workers did not go home after harvest—changing the very demography of several states. Undeniable racism and discrimination fueled the tensions. That was ironic inasmuch as the American Southwest was once taken by the Yanquis from Mexico.

Readers could add sidebars about the weird open-borders alliance: the corporate Right wanted access to plentiful cheap labor; the therapeutic Left saw constituent advantage in millions of illegal aliens without English, legality, and education—but with apparent need of elite self-appointed representatives in academia, journalism, and politics. If supposedly right-wing American employers had been often predatory, so in response grew a new left-wing grievance industry that enhanced the status of some second- and third-generation Mexican-Americans, who, in salad-bowl rather than melting-pot fashion, now saw their ethnicity as essential not incidental to new more partisan personas.

But time moves on, even if interested groups do not. And now the debate has vastly metamorphosized in often mysterious ways.

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Thomas Sowell

“Stop whining?”

If there was ever any doubt that the Democrats take the black vote for granted, that doubt should have been put to rest when Barack Obama told the CongressionalBlack Caucus, “Stop whining!”

Have you ever before heard either a Democratic or a Republican leader tell his party’s strongest supporters, “Stop whining”?

Blacks have a lot to complain about, not just about this Democratic administration but about many other Democratic administrations, national and local, over the years.

Unfortunately, black voters, like many other voters, often judge by rhetoric, rather than realities. When it comes to racial rhetoric, the Democrats outdo the Republicans by miles.

Even Ronald Reagan, the great communicator, had problems communicating with black voters, as I pointed out years ago in my book “A Personal Odyssey” (pages 274-278).

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William Damon

The Education of Steve Jobs

After Steve Jobs stepped down from his post as Apple’s CEO, his innovative career was enthusiastically celebrated by the media and public alike. Starting with his founding of Apple Computer when he was in his early twenties, Jobs has left his mark on the personal computer, the laptop, the mobile phone, the tablet computer, recorded music, film animation, and several other communication technologies that have brought the people of the world closer together. Some commentators have gone so far as to describe Jobs as a historic figure, not just in business but also in the evolution of civilization.

Along with the celebration of Jobs’ splendid string of achievements has come a flood of speculation about the secret of his success. Which ingredients of character, talent, skill, and/or knowledge accounted for the explosion of entrepreneurial genius that erupted from this young man over thirty years ago? As he took on his new ventures, how did Jobs manage to turn innovation after innovation into astonishingly profitable products that transform the way we work and play? We will never arrive at definitive answers to such questions in the particular case of Steve Jobs, because the mysteries of any one individual life can never be wholly explained. But to address the broader question of how entrepreneurs develop their abilities to succeed is more than just an exercise in idle speculation—it can be a call to action. If we wish to promote (rather than discourage) entrepreneurship among today’s young, we need to gain an understanding of the conditions that favor its development. In addition, we need to make sure that these conditions prevail in places where young people spend their time—most prominently, in our schools and colleges.

Continue reading William Damon…

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