First of all, real progressives hate what's going on in the public schools as much as anyone. "Progressive" shouldn't mean "mushy."True!
We've talked about this before; political opinion re: our public schools does not break along party lines. In fact, I have the impression that education politics are the single most bipartisan issue we have. (Is that true?)
The most useful explanation I've found of public school ideology is E.D. Hirsch on progressive education's roots in romanticism. Ultimately, though, Hirsch doesn't tell me why 'everyday liberals' and 'everyday conservatives' should see eye-to-eye on so many issues when it comes to K-12.
Then, a couple of days ago, I came across two studies of public opinion that struck me as relevant:
- The Nature of Political Ideology in the Contemporary Electorate by Shawn Treier and D. Sunshine Hillygus | Public Opinion Quarterly 2009 73(4):679-703
- Value Preferences and Ideological Structuring of Attitudes in American Public Opinion by Brendon Swedlow and Mikel L. Wyckoff | American Politics Research |Volume 37 Number 6 | November 2009 | 1048-1087
From Treier and Hillygus:
...Although political rhetoric today is clearly organized by a single ideological dimension, we find that the belief systems of the mass public remain multidimensional, with many in the electorate holding liberal preferences on one dimension and conservative preferences on another. These cross-pressured individuals tend to self-identify as moderate (or say "Don't Know") in response to the standard liberal-conservative scale, thereby jeopardizing the validity of this commonly used measure. Our analysis further shows that failing to account for the multidimensional nature of ideological preferences can produce inaccurate predictions about the voting behavior of the American public.
I can't pull a copy of their article just now, so I don't know the nature of the dimensions they see as characterizing American public opinion. I have been able to skim Swedlow and Wyckoff, who say that political opinion is organized along two dimensions:
- order vs equality/caring
- high freedom vs low freedom
In this study, we investigate four attitudinal structures (including liberal, conservative, and libertarian configurations) associated with two ideological dimensions among American voters and demonstrate that these attitudinal structures are related in expected ways to differential preferences for the values of freedom, order, and equality/caring. Liberals are inclined to trade freedom for equality/caring but not for order, whereas conservatives are their opposites—willing to trade freedom for order but not for equality/caring. In contrast, libertarians are generally less willing than others to trade freedom for either order or equality/caring (although they probably prefer order to equality/caring). The fourth ideological type is more willing than the others to relinquish freedom, preferring both order and equality/caring. Depending on how our results are interpreted, this fourth type may be characterized as either communitarian or humanitarian. These findings help close the gap between unidimensional conceptions and multidimensional evidence of ideological organization in political attitudes by demonstrating that value structure and attitudinal structure are strongly related in two ideological dimensions.Swedlow and Wyckoff duplicate Treier and Hillygus' finding re: self-identified "moderates":
When asked to identify their ideological orientation, nearly half (45% to 48% in both groups) of those with libertarian and communitarian political attitudes identified themselves as “moderates.” Similarly, when we recompute percentages by rows instead of columns, we find that just more than 60% of those identifying themselves as moderates on the self-identification scale are classified as libertarians or communitarians in our attitudinal typology. Those with libertarian and communitarian attitudes were also more likely not to respond to the self-identification question at all (4.6% and 8.6%, respectively). The bulk of libertarians and communitarians, to their credit, seem to know that they are not liberals and conservatives.* Meanwhile, though less than perfect in their ability to match attitudes with ideological labels, those with liberal and conservative attitudes are by comparison noticeably less likely to select the “moderate” or “don’t know” categories, and when they pick one of the other two ideological labels, they are usually correct.
Swedlow & Wyckoff, p. 1056
Cross-pressured individuals who "don't know" their political orientation: that's a pretty fair description of my own plight when it comes to choosing between Door A and Door B.
The reason the grid strikes me as possibly relevant to public schools is that the "Communitarian" option -- low-low on freedom -- is one way to describe what it is that is not 'liberal' about public schools, whose employees are generally identified with the Democratic Party and with liberal politics. And I think you can use this grid to visualize why a real progressive like Mary Damer and a real conservative like Martin Kozloff can be so naturally allied. Neither is a communitarian.
By which I mean that individual freedom is a core value for liberals and conservatives alike, although in different realms, which is not the case for the people running our public schools. All too often, public school culture is distinctly illiberal.
They do what they do.
Michael Kinsley on Democrats, Republicans, libertarians and conservatives
And what is the opposite of libertarianism? Libertarians would say fascism. But in the American political context, it is something infinitely milder that calls itself communitarianism. The term is not as familiar, and communitarians are far less organized as a movement than libertarians, ironically enough. But in general communitarians emphasize society rather than the individual and believe that group responsibilities (to family, community, nation, the globe) should trump individual rights.
The relationship of these two ways of thinking to the two established parties is peculiar. Republicans are far more likely to identify themselves as libertarians and to vilify the government in the abstract. And yet Republicans have a clearer vision of what constitutes a good society and a well-run planet and are quicker to try to impose this vision on the rest of us. Now that the Republican Party is in trouble, critics are advising it to free itself of the religious right on issues like abortion and gay rights. That is, the party should become less communitarian and more libertarian. With Democrats, it's the other way around.
Very few Democrats self-identify as libertarians, but they are in fact much more likely to have a live-and-let-live attitude toward the lesbian couple next door or the Islamofascist dictator halfway around the world. And every time the Democrats lose an election, critics scold that they must put less emphasis on the sterile rights of individuals and more emphasis on responsibilities to society. That is, they should become less libertarian and more communitarian. Usually this boils down to advocating mandatory so-called voluntary national service by people younger than whoever is doing the advocating.
Libertarians and communitarians (to continue this unjustified generalizing) are different character types. Communitarians tend to be bossy, boring and self-important, if they're not being oversweetened and touchy-feely. Libertarians, by contrast, are not the selfish monsters you might expect. They are earnest and impractical--eager to corner you with their plan for using old refrigerators to reverse global warming or solving the traffic mess by privatizing stoplights. And if you disagree, they're fine with that. It's a free country.
by Michael Kinsley
TIME Thursday October 18, 2007
* I love it!
small-d democracy and its discontents