Neon Canyon, Utah

Public lands compromise is a win for conservation

There is a process to producing sound public policy in America. It begins with lively debate, where essential values are articulated and the free exchange of ideas reigns supreme, and it culminates in principled compromise. Both competition and cooperation are necessary parts of this process. Without various interests posturing to present the best arguments in favor of their position, an elected body cannot fully explore the issue, and public policy will be left wanting. Once arguments and opinions have been exhausted, principled compromise comes into play, making way for resolution. One such example of this can be seen in the public lands debate.

Last week Utah Rep. Rob Bishop released the Public Lands Initiative (PLI), a comprehensive compromise which proposes solutions for 18 million acres of public lands in eastern and southeastern Utah. Public lands issues are big in Utah, and justifiably so. The federal government controls over 66 percent of the land in the state, which means dramatic impacts on economic development, outdoor recreation, public education and environmental quality.

With so many policy areas included under the umbrella of federal lands, it is no surprise that a wide variety of organizations have become enthralled with the issue. Bishop’s bill is one of the first attempts to offer farsighted compromise on public lands, taking into account the concerns of Native American tribes, the oil and gas industry, ranchers, environmental interests, and residents of the seven affected counties. Of his proposed legislation, Bishop notes, “There is something here for everyone to like and something for everyone to hate, but if you look at the totality of what we are doing, it is moving us so far forward, there is value in it.” In other words, the PLI gets to the core of principled compromise: You have to give a little to get a little.

The PLI creates 4.1 million acres of conservation and wilderness areas in exchange for roughly 1 million acres being made available for economic development and outdoor recreation. With over a four-to-one ratio in favor of conservation, an objective and reasonable observer would conclude that the PLI is a win for environmental interests. However, some groups purporting to represent the environment disagree.

Despite the PLI’s designation of 2.3 million acres of wilderness across 41 new wilderness areas, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) condemned the legislation as an “un-wilderness bill,” arguing that “less wilderness would be protected in Utah if this bill passed than what is currently managed for the public.” I’m no mathematician, but how can you logically argue that less wilderness will be protected when you are adding millions of acres to the total pot? It doesn’t seem to add up.

SUWA is not alone in condemning the public lands compromise. The Sierra Club weighed in, saying, “the draft of PLI includes provisions that are incompatible with any real conservation efforts.” One is left wondering how much more “real” conservation can be had than the creation of 4.1 million acres of new wilderness and conservation areas?

Based on their comments and the simple math of the PLI’s land designations, it seems that organizations like SUWA, the Sierra Club, and other uncompromising environmental groups are more concerned with achieving all-out political victory than with representing environmental interests in the American spirit and process of principled compromise.

The PLI is one of the largest conservation bills ever proposed in the contiguous 48 states and is a big win for environmental stewardship. Is the PLI perfect for the environment? Of course not, because it isn’t perfect for any narrow set of interests. But it is good policy crafted in the American spirit of cooperation and abandoning it for the sake of political victory does a disservice both to Utahns and to the American political system. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said “Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.” It is time for these environmental groups to swallow their pride and pick up where competition left off.

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The American Promise: Still pending in the West

America is a land of promise. The American Promise asserts that government exists to secure the inalienable rights of freedom, equal opportunity and fundamental fairness, the right and control of property, and the right of individuals to determine their own destiny.

To protect life and liberty, but to take away the right and control of property – “which is the fruit and the badge of that liberty” (U.S. Supreme Court Justice George Sutherland) – is to shatter this promise, leaving states and their people as second-class citizens.

Today, the federal government still controls more than 50 percent of all lands west of the Rocky Mountains, but less than 5 percent of all lands east of this continental divide. This inequality and fundamental unfairness breeds political exploitation, harms the environment, depresses Western communities, stifles national opportunity, and undermines our constitutional system where self-reliant states are intended to provide a “double security to the rights of the people” (Federalist 51). Our history attests that until we realign with the American Promise, there will always be dissonance, discord and frustration. The solution is for Congress to transfer to willing states all multiple-use federal lands for more effective local care, management and stewardship. This would specifically not include national parks or monuments or wilderness areas.

Addressing these pressing concerns, The Heritage Foundation hosted a televised policy discussion on Tuesday, Jan. 19, at their headquarters in Washington, D.C. The program, “Federal Mismanagement of Public Lands: Bringing Solutions to Washington,” was broadcast live on the C-SPAN public affairs network.

Presentations included overviews of the legal, environmental, economic and taxpayer impacts of this inequality and fundamental unfairness.

Considering first the environmental elements and providing a historical context, University of Maryland Professor Robert H. Nelson emphasized that the federal-lands bureaucracy has a long-standing pattern of prioritizing policy over people – as is particularly evident in the state of Utah and throughout the West.

Next, examining the revenues and expenditures associated with federal land management and comparing them with state trust land management in several Western states, Matthew Anderson, a policy analyst with The Coalition for Self-Government in the West, based in Salt Lake City, briefly described the experience of Western states that abundantly illustrates the great differences in outcomes when the performance of absentee bureaucrats is compared with that of people whose livelihoods depend on the effective care and management of their lands.

Two members of the acclaimed team of constitutional scholars and legal experts commissioned by the Utah Legislature then provided a synopsis of the landmark legal analysis on Utah’s claims to compel the federal government to transfer certain multiple-use federal lands to the State. Eminent constitutional scholar Professor Ronald D. Rotunda and legal-team leader George R. Wentz Jr. made clear that the exhaustive, 150-page analysis concluded that the intent of the Property Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article IV, Section 3, Clause 2) was to dispose of public lands, not to forever retain them. In other words, there is no constitutional authority for the federal government to treat Western states like second-class citizens.

With these insights to the very problematic status quo in the Western states, Gregory Hughes, speaker of the Utah House of Representatives, described the efforts undertaken to date – and the remaining necessary work to be done – to redress these harms.

We have worked with other states that have been impacted this way, but this is a conversation that has to be much broader. … We have an exhaustive body of work and…. [t]his is one of the strongest legal cases you will ever hear about why 12 states in this country are not an equal footing and their citizenry are not having the same opportunities afforded them as 38 other states. This is not the way it was designed, so we are moving forward in that case.

Citizens interested to learn more about these issues are encouraged to view the “Federal Mismanagement of Public Lands: Bringing Solutions to Washington” program online at c-span.org.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Stan Rasmussen. Thanks for listening.

This post is an edited transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

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Hot topic on the Hill: early education

Utah’s legislative session starts in less than a week, and early education will be a hot topic. In fact, in November, the Interim Education Committee endorsed bills regarding extended day kindergarten and discussed expanding school readiness programs. School readiness programs are better known as “preschool.”

The interim committee heard comments about preschool programs at Granite School District and the Park City School District and reviewed research on the impacts of preschool.

Most importantly, the committee provided input on a draft proposal for a preschool bill likely to be seen this legislative session—it’s currently known as High Quality School Readiness Expansion.

Sponsored by Sen. Ann Millner, the purpose of the bill would be to expand access to high quality school readiness programs for at-risk 4-year-olds. To achieve this, the bill would establish a scholarship program for children four years old or older who are experiencing intergenerational poverty, so that they can attend a high-quality school readiness program. It would also award grant funds to qualifying schools for the purpose of expanding capacity to eligible students in their public preschool program. Schools seeking funds would have to show that their preschool program is high quality and meets certain academic standards.

Groups like Prosperity 2020, Education First, and United Way of Salt Lake support these efforts. And many supporters refer to early education as an investment in our students and the economy.

But early education is only an investment as far as it results in long-term positive outcomes for students. Of course, an investment is time, energy or money given now in the hope of certain positive outcomes in the future. Not surprisingly, the question about the long-term positive outcomes of preschool is exactly what the current preschool debate is about.

The problem is that anecdotes and current research often give conflicting results about the long-term benefits of preschool. Here are some interesting research highlights relevant to this debate.

A recent study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in November 2015 synthesizes the literature on early childhood education. It found that high quality demonstration preschool programs can result in cognition gains for students, but those gains generally fade out — sometimes even completely disappear. The fadeout problem has been well documented. But this research also finds that gains in early life non-cognitive skills can result in later life successes in things like education, employment, or health. Still, the research finds that at current levels of quality, early childhood education benefits disadvantaged students the most. In fact, when it comes to universal programs—or programs open to all children—preschool can actually harm children of more affluent families. The study says it really comes down to alternatives—if your alternative is better than preschool, then preschool is probably not for you.

Another recent study published by the Brookings Institute in October 2015, and distributed at an Education Interim hearing, looked at Tennessee’s voluntary preschool program. The Tennessee program was also introduced to help economically disadvantaged children and the state even expanded the program after a decade. The Brookings Institute five-year study found that students in the voluntary preschool program made strong gains initially. However, by the end of kindergarten, students who had not participated in preschool caught up to those who had. And by second grade, those who had participated in Tennessee’s voluntary preschool program actually fell behind their peers who did not enroll in preschool years before.

On the other hand, Nannette Barnes, an administrator at the Granite School District’s School Readiness Initiative, said that the low-income and disadvantaged students who participated in the program performed better in third-grade language arts than their counterparts who did not. Similar outcomes were reported in Salt Lake City School District end-of-level kindergarten assessments.

Here’s the point. There’s no doubt that advocates on either side of this issue want the best for Utah children. But the research suggests that it’s far from clear that long-lasting positive benefits from preschool are a given. Hopefully Utah legislators pursue the best education policy we can offer our children.

This post is an edited transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

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New research: Strong families good for economy

This week Sutherland Institute, along with BYU’s Wheatley Institution and the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute, sponsored a presentation on new research examining the connections between strong families and strong economies in a state.

Dr. Bradford Wilcox, who teaches at the University of Virginia and directs the National Marriage Project and Institute for Family Studies, described a new study he conducted with Robert Lerman of the Urban Institute and Dr. Joseph Price of BYU. The study, “Strong Families, Prosperous States,” was published by the American Enterprise Institute and documents links between the household family structures prevalent in states and the economic prosperity of the states.

As this relates to economics, research indicates men work more, work more strategically, and are more successful at work when they are married. Whatever the explanation, better motivation or support or encouragement towards stability, marriage has an impact at the micro level on economic health.

Another reason marriage matters for the economy is that married homes typically have more wealth and manage it more prudently.

Finally, children in intact married families are more likely to acquire crucial human capital (for instance, education, as children in these homes are more likely to graduate from high school and college).

Importantly, though, the effect is not just felt on the micro level. These factors have an “ecological” effect. Dr. Wilcox’s research shows that states with more married parents tend to do better on measures like educational success. Children growing up in neighborhoods with weak family structure have lower levels of economic mobility. They also tend to be involved in more crime.

He explained that the economic explanation for the retreat from marriage, that a weak economy alone leads people to decide not to marry, just doesn’t hold up to historical analysis. To take the most obvious example, while family formation may have been delayed due to economic factors during the Great Depression, there was not a widespread increase in divorce and unwed parenting similar to what we have experienced in the United States in the last few decades during that economic crisis. Clearly, cultural factors have had a significant effect on marriage and family strength.

The experiences of states like Utah, Idaho and South Dakota illustrate this phenomenon. They have been less affected by the retreat from marriage because the people of these states retain a respect and reverence for marriage. Culture matters, not just the economy, though both are important.

Of course, a key question is what could be done about all of this? Dr. Wilcox and his co-authors suggest several possibilities. One would be ensuring public policies do not penalize marriage. In other words, stop doing harm. He pointed to assistance programs that create cuts in eligibility based on marriage. Another idea is to improve the economic prospects for working class individuals by focusing on improving opportunities in vocational education and apprenticeship programs, rather than focusing solely on four-year university programs.

In comments after Dr. Wilcox’s presentation, co-author Joe Price explained that marriage is the thing that gets the stability, biological connectedness, and parental warmth and support children need to thrive, to happen. He underscored the point that the benefits of strong families don’t only accrue to the children of married parents but to those in their communities, all the children who live around married-parent families.

This research has real implications for a state like Utah, even though it has a strong family culture and the attendant economic strength. Dr. Wilcox explained that if Utah were to return to 1980 levels of marriage parenthood, the state’s GDP would be 3.6 percent higher and its child poverty rate could be expected to decrease by 18 percent. Strong families really do lead to prosperous states.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Dave Buer. Thanks for listening.

This post is an edited transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here

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Oregon standoff: Frustration is reasonable; extremism is not

Reports of armed men occupying a remote national wildlife refuge have been pouring in from Eastern Oregon the past few days. Since the creation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, frustration and contention have been prevalent in the region, some of it reasonable and some of it less so. Unfortunately, the legitimate concerns of local Oregonians have been overshadowed by the radical actions of the armed group led by the Bundy brothers. Before we comment on the Bundy group, it is important to understand the backstory that led up to this event. Ever since the creation of the refuge, the federal government has sought to expand the preserve by purchasing adjacent private land. Locals allege that when landowners refused to sell, the federal government got aggressive, diverting water and flooding ranches. With their land underwater and livelihoods in jeopardy, ranchers were forced to sell. The Hammonds have been among the few landowners living adjacent to the refuge who have stayed.

Locals report that the federal government has continued its aggressive action toward this family for years by barricading roads and revoking grazing permits. This tension culminated with the Hammonds being prosecuted for controlled burns which got out of control and ignited 139 acres of public land. Although they had already served their time, a judge recently ordered Dwight Hammond and his son Steven back to jail to serve an additional four years each. The Hammonds, who turned themselves in yesterday, have garnered support from their community and ranchers around the country in the form of peaceful protests and rallies. Led by individuals like Ryan Bundy, an active participant in a 2014 armed standoff with BLM officers in Nevada, anti-government protesters broke off from one of these demonstrations and took control of the refuge. As is so often the case when people resort to extremism to accomplish their goals, the Bundy group is totally in the wrong.

Mr. Bundy has stated, “The end goal here is that we are here to restore the rights to the people here so that they can use the land and resources. All of them.” Many Westerners share Mr. Bundy’s frustration with poor federal land management. They see how the feds have managed Western lands like a museum, rather than like a garden, and how that has harmed individual rights, depressed local economies, and polluted the environment. As conservatives, we often recognize when critiquing our progressive counterparts that the rightness of an action is about more than a person’s or group’s intentions. You have to be doing the right thing in the right way, beyond just having good reasons for taking action. The same principle applies to the Bundy group in Oregon. They have chosen to express a reasonable frustration with the federal government in an unreasonable and dangerous way: through an armed takeover of federal land. That extreme action does nothing to constructively influence policy. More importantly, such extremism threatens the cause of freedom.

Extremism and freedom cannot coexist. Extremism abandons reasonable consideration and dialogue for close-mindedness and intolerance, which in turn often leads to violence. Freedom, on the other hand, embraces a candid exchange of ideas and a sound social order. Extremism can be found across the political spectrum. From an armed group taking a federal building in Oregon to a Virginia man shooting up a Family Research Council office due to an unflattering label given it by the Southern Poverty Law Center, extremism is becoming far too prevalent in our society. Although the Bundy group members claim to be champions of liberty, they completely misunderstand and dangerously undermine what they claim to cherish. They have chosen to abandon the American way of pursuing political change – through cultural influence, legislative action, and judicial redress – in favor of the rule of an armed mob. That is anything but freedom.

We can speculate all day over whether the Bundy group is trying to take down the government one wildlife refuge at a time. But such speculations miss the critical point. “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable,” said President John F. Kennedy. His words are still relevant today, especially in a small corner of the American Northwest.

This is Matt Anderson with the Coalition for Self-Government in the West, a project of Sutherland Institute. Thanks for listening.

This post is an edited transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here.

Photo of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters (credit: Cacophony via Wikimedia Commons).

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Americans, think carefully about what view of freedom we stand for

What is American freedom? With terrorists killing hundreds of civilians at a time as part of an existential attack on the West and its cultural and philosophical ideas, this question is becoming very important.

Perhaps we can best approach it by answering a different question: Which philosophical view of freedom is the most sensible one for America? One way to come at this question is to look at the core idea of freedom within each perspective, and consider where the logic of that idea leads. At its core, if American freedom is to be valuable and good to people, then it ought to point them toward lives that are desirable and worth aspiring to.

So let’s start with the libertarian view. As David Boaz of the libertarian Cato Institute writes in the opening pages of his 2015 book The Libertarian Mind, “Libertarianism is the philosophy of freedom … libertarians believe people ought to be free to live as they choose unless advocates of coercion can make a compelling case.” In other words, the core of the libertarian idea of freedom is freedom from coercion.

The full definition of “coerce” in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary is “to restrain or dominate by force,” “to compel to an act or choice,” or “to achieve by force or threat.” So freedom from coercion means freedom from things that use force or threat to restrain, dominate or compel our choices.

So where does the logic of that idea take us? Many of the most basic actions of a human being are, in fact, compelled by threat or force. Our bodies force us to eat regularly, drink, breathe and sleep under threat of pain, suffering and even death. So if we follow the core libertarian logic of freedom to its end, it would seem that the ultimate act of freedom is to end one’s own life, in order to liberate yourself from the coercion of everyday human life.

That, of course, is plainly nonsensical logic.

How about the progressive view of freedom? In his 2006 book The Audacity of Hope, President Barack Obama writes that “implicit in the Constitution’s structure, in the very idea of ordered liberty, was a rejection of absolute truth.” So the core idea of progressive freedom is freedom from absolute truth.

But this core idea of progressive freedom is nonsensical on its face. How can a person reasonably maintain that there is absolutely no such thing as absolute truth? The logic contradicts itself in the first instance. Because of that, it’s hard to see how this contradictory logic could lead people anywhere except into a contradictory existence – a life with an innate lack of coherent meaning. Is meaninglessness something that anyone, anywhere reasonably aspires to?

Finally, let’s look at the conservative view of freedom. In a 1774 speech upon his arrival in Bristol, England, Edmund Burke said “The only liberty I mean is a liberty connected with order, that not only exists along with order and virtue, but which cannot exist without them.” So the core idea of conservative freedom is freedom grounded in order and virtue.

The full definition of “virtue” in Merriam-Webster includes “conformity to a standard of right” or morality, “a particular moral excellence,” “a commendable quality or trait,” or “a capacity to act.” So freedom grounded in order and virtue means freedom grounded in a structure that includes moral excellence, commendable human traits and the capacity to freely act. The logic of this core idea points people toward lives defined by the cultivation of moral goodness toward themselves and others, development of praiseworthy abilities and personality traits, and free human activity. In other words, the core conservative logic of freedom points to a life that most of us already desire and are currently aspiring to.

So what is American freedom? Insofar as the core logic of the competing ideas of freedom can answer that question, the conservative view of freedom would seem to be it. In a time defined by extremists attacking the West with both physical violence and ideological propaganda, we would do well as Americans to think carefully about what idea of freedom we stand for. Because if we don’t get the American idea of freedom right, we will lose the battle of ideas that is as important to defeating terrorism as the military battles are.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Derek Monson. Thanks for listening.

This post is a transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here

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A look at award-winning STEM program in Park City

This year the Park City School District won the prestigious 2015 FETC STEM Excellence Award for its program called PCCAPS, or the Park City Center for Advanced Professional Studies. The award recognizes high school STEM programs. (STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.) Park City High School was one of only three schools in the nation highlighted for excellence and innovation in this field.

So what is PCCAPS? It’s a profession-based, project-driven public school program designed to educate students through actual industry experience. Its purpose is to prepare students for success in college and the workforce by exposing them to career options. It’s not a vocational or trade school.

Here’s how it works.

PCCAPS has several moving pieces: the students, the business clients, the industry mentors, the instructors, and learning takes place in the interactions between them. For example, a local business brings a noncritical industry need to the program. At this point, the business becomes a client. Then a small group of students create a solution for the client’s need. This involves creating a raw concept, devising a project, developing skill sets, and formulating and implementing a solution.

Instructors guide the course. Industry mentors visit as needed.

In the process, students learn industry-specific skills and STEM-related concepts. They practice critical-thinking and problem solving. And they employ professional “soft” skills like speaking with clients and working collaboratively.

As you can tell, it’s quite different from the typical high school classroom model.

When I visited PCCAPS, I saw how the unconventional high school program seemed to be working. In a section of the high school library, two students were chatting with a business client. In another room, a student was printing her original design on a 3D printer for The Leonardo. Another student was coding flight simulations for a nearby airport. Two students were sitting on the ground building a machine to be used for Smithsonian museum video tours.

No one was bound to a desk and the instructor was not giving a lecture.

Like anything, the program has benefits and challenges.

One benefit is that PCCAPS allows for a more student-centered education. Every student has unique strengths, weaknesses, interests and educational needs. The traditional model largely cannot respond to this, but innovations like PCCAPS offer options.

For example, one newspaper highlighted a Park City student who had tremendous challenges in school because of her dyslexia and attention deficit disorder. In fact, she was not certain she’d attend college. Luckily, she learned about PCCAPS and found success in the hands-on program. Upon graduation, she was admitted to the University of Maryland, where she hoped to pursue mechanical engineering.

PCCAPS also offers a greater range of topics for Career and Technical Education and elective credits. The program has five course strands – business strategy; engineering; software development & technology; digital design & marketing; and teaching.

One challenge is access to technology and the Internet. School officials have understandably worked to place limits on Internet access to avoid inappropriate sites. But some protections slow down the coursework.

Another challenge is a lack of awareness. Many parents and education leaders are unfamiliar with PCCAPS. Business leaders are often unaware of the mutually beneficial partnership. But the idea is growing nationwide. PCCAPS is one of 13 active programs patterned after the original in Overland Park, Kansas—called Blue Valley CAPS. Five other CAPS programs are currently being developed across the country. But Park City is the only district in the entire state of Utah that has adopted the model.

Of course, CAPS may not fit every district. Parents, education leaders, and local businesses should investigate, first, whether it meets the needs of their students, and second, how it can complement local business. If innovations like PCCAPS teach us anything, it’s that people and communities are not standardized and that student-centered education should respond to individual need.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Christine Cooke. Thanks for listening.

This post is an edited transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here

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Institutions of higher(?) learning

Recent headlines and commentaries highlight an increasing number of very troubling occurrences at so-called institutions of higher learning.

In “Closed Minds on Campus,” an essay in The Wall Street Journal, John H. McWhorter suggests,

[S]omething is off about today’s student protests. The protesters may start with valuable observations, but then they drift into a mistaken idea of what a university – and even a society – should be.

An editorial in the Deseret News, “Colleges would benefit from a little less outrage and a little more critical thinking,” notes,

While he was attending Morehouse College in 1947, Martin Luther King Jr. wrote a paper in which he observed that “most college men have a misconception of the purpose of education.” Even as a student, he saw the university as a place where people could be taught to “think intensively and to think critically” and learn how to “sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.”

Over half a century later, the misconceptions King observed … seem to persist at too many modern universities. How many students agree that education should inspire intensive and critical thinking? How many graduates leave equipped with the ability to dispassionately consider evidence and separate truth from error? … Students are correct to stand against injustice, but their methods should consider the principles outlined by King. … Every campus would benefit from a little less outrage and a little more critical thinking.

In “The low depths of higher education,” syndicated Washington Post columnist George F. Will sardonically observes,

Give thanks this day for some indirect blessings of liberty, including the behavior-beyond-satire of what are generously called institutions of higher education. People who are imprecisely called educators have taught, by their negative examples, what intelligence is not.

He then summarizes specific instances at eight different U.S. campuses – including Washington State University, Tennessee, Johns Hopkins, UC Berkeley and Columbia – wryly concluding,

So, today give thanks that 2015 has raised an important question about American higher education: What, exactly, is it higher than?

There are likely are many personal and societal factors contributing to these latest examples of cultural dissipation. One has to wonder: What is interfering with the processes of healthy mental and emotional maturation of college-age young people? What accounts for the debilitating of contemplative, critical – rational – thinking? Where it is happening (and it is not everywhere), are university leaders, policies and instructors contributing to the arrested development of students? What is the role of parents in this phenomenon? Of family, of community? Of technologically enabled ubiquitous, and frequently inane, interpersonal communication?

In her Washington Post column, “Pampered college students cry havoc, followed by milk and cookies,” Kathleen Parker identifies contemporary curriculum as a potential culprit.

The marketplace of ideas is not for sissies. … And it would appear that knowledge, the curse of the enlightened, is not for everyone. …

[O]n many college campuses today, it seems to be an operating principle. A recent survey of 1,100 colleges and universities found that only 18 percent require American history or government, where such foundational premises as the First Amendment might be explained and understood. …

[Y]oung people … soon enough will discover that the world doesn’t much care about their tender feelings. But before such harsh realities knock them off their ponies, we might hope that they redirect their anger. They have every right to despise the coddling culture that ill prepared them for life and an educational system that has failed to teach them what they need to know.

We can hope that these increasingly frequent and disturbing episodes will foster introspective conversation between and among parents. Further, that it will catalyze careful evaluation by those entrusted as leaders of higher education and stewards of sound public policy.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Stan Rasmussen. Thanks for listening.

This post is an edited transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here

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Burke’s ‘armed doctrines,’ ideologues, and Title IX

Central to the conservative critique of revolutionary movements is Edmund Burke’s charge that they promote “armed doctrines,” ideological principles imposed without reference to longstanding practice, current realities or countervailing principles. These are promoted by ideologues who “seek to impose on society and government an unvarying formula that is presented as the answer to every problem no matter how complicated. Ideology is hostile to reliance on experience and political compromise.”

Perhaps an example would help.

In 1972, Congress enacted Title IX of the United States Education Amendments. This law provided that any educational program receiving federal funding could not discriminate on the basis of sex.

Fast forward to April 2014, when the Department of Education issued “guidance” to schools on enforcing Title IX. This 46-page document includes a very new interpretation of the statute, specifically, that “sex” in the statute, hitherto understood to refer to the biological sex of a person, would now be interpreted to include “gender identity,” the decision of an individual to take on (through surgical means or dress) the appearance of a person of the opposite sex. The Department said its Office of Civil Rights (OCR) would accept complaints from individuals that they experienced differential treatment in their schools and investigate them as possible violations of the 1972 law.

Then, in January 2015, the OCR sent a letter specifying that the April 2014 document requires schools to provide all facilities and services based on the self-identified gender of students: “The Department’s Title IX regulations permit schools to provide sex-segregated restrooms, locker rooms, shower facilities, housing, athletic teams, and single-sex classes under certain circumstances. When a school elects to separate or treat students differently on the basis of sex in those situations, a school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.”

Six months later, the Department of Justice filed a “Statement of Interest” document in a federal case in Virginia which argues the OCR position was the appropriate interpretation of the requirements of Title IX. The case was brought by the ACLU on behalf of a student, born female, but who now identifies as male. The student alleges she was allowed to use the boys’ restrooms for a few weeks but the school district then enacted a policy that specified bathroom assignments follow biological sex. For students with “gender identity issues” the district designated private facilities. The ACLU says this “segregates transgender students from their peers.”

Interestingly, the federal District Court actually dismissed the claim, saying the OCR interpretation is not a plausible reading of the law and conflicts with an earlier Department of Education regulation which says schools may segregate based on sex, which this court said must include biological sex. The ACLU has appealed.

Schools, and others, want to temper this ideological commitment so as to balance interests of other students in modesty, privacy and safety, by designating private facilities for transgender students. This is hardly an extreme position but it is being rejected because reality and compassion are outweighed, for the government bureaucrats involved, by ideology.

This same dynamic seems to be at work in the defeat of a Houston ordinance that would have had the same effect on restroom policies and other discrimination laws but did not include basic religious liberty protections.

In many ways, the difficulties we face in finding fair and accommodating ways to live together when it comes to issues of sexuality are becoming more complicated. Unthinking and uncompassionate commitments to ideological purity threaten to make fairness and accommodation impossible.

We can learn a lesson from Houston that most people are just not comfortable with a winner-take-all ideological policy.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Dave Buer. Thanks for listening.

This post is a transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

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Strong families, prosperous states

Three weeks ago, Sutherland Institute was pleased to host and conduct the ninth World Congress of Families, in Salt Lake City. During the four-day conference, held for the first time in the United States, attendees received a wealth of information and perspective about the many issues confronting families in today’s world as well as insights and means by which the challenges can be addressed. Among numerous topics discussed is the connection between healthy families and prosperity, presented by authors of the recent and very significant study, “Strong families, prosperous states: Do healthy families affect the wealth of states?” In their preface, the researchers assert,

Economics has its roots in the Greek word oikonomia, which means the “management of the household.” Yet economists across the ideological spectrum have paid little attention to the links between household family structure and the macroeconomic outcomes of nations, states, and societies. This is a major oversight because, as this report shows, shifts in marriage and family structure are important factors in states’ economic performance, including their economic growth, economic mobility, child poverty, and median family income.

Published the week prior to the World Congress by the American Enterprise Institute, the report “documents four key sets of facts about the links between families and the economic welfare of states across the country.”

  • Higher levels of marriage, and especially higher levels of married-parent families, are strongly associated with more economic growth, more economic mobility, less child poverty, and higher median family income at the state level in the United States.
  • The share of parents in a state who are married is one of the top predictors of the economic outcomes studied in this report.
  • The state-level link between marriage and economic growth is stronger for younger adults … than for older adults …. This suggests that marriage plays a particularly important role in fostering a positive labor-market orientation among young men.
  • Violent crime is much less common in states with larger shares of families headed by married parents, even after controlling for a range of socio-demographic factors at the state level. …

In view of these notable relationships between strong families and the economy, the scholars “propose four policy ideas to strengthen the economic and cultural foundations of marriage and family life in states across the country.” Specifically,

End the marriage penalty in means-tested welfare programs. Today, a large number of low-income couples with children face substantial penalties for marrying. That is, because various social benefits (food stamps, housing assistance, child care subsidies, and welfare payments) decline as income rises, a single or cohabiting mother is more likely to receive benefits if she remains unmarried rather than marry a partner who is earning a steady income.

Strengthen vocational education and apprenticeships. One reason marriage is fragile in many poor and working-class communities is that job prospects and income are inadequate, especially for young adults without college degrees. This economic reality can be remedied, in part, by scaling up vocational education and apprenticeship programs.

Give couples a second chance. Research suggests that in about one-third of couples exploring divorce, one or both spouses express interest in the possibility of reconciliation. In light of this finding, we … [call] on states to consider [specific] steps to reduce unnecessary divorce …

Launch civic efforts to strengthen marriage. … We would like to see a civic campaign organized around
what … scholars … have called the “success sequence,” where young adults are encouraged to pursue education, work, marriage, and parenthood in that order.

Those interested are encouraged to read the full report at this link: “Strong families, prosperous states.”

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Stan Rasmussen. Thanks for listening.

This post is an edited transcript of the Sutherland Soapbox, a weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here