Wednesday, April 26, 2006


As a father-to-be, I probably should not be contemplating fostering rebellion at work. I am not so much concerned with the immediate outcome – the possibility of being fired – as I am with the long-term outcome. Do I really want my current supervisor to give me a bad recommendation? Do I really want to be known as someone who fosters rebellion at work? Certainly, these could affect future employment in my field – and I do have a child coming.
And that is where the problem lies. If I foster rebellion, that could put my career at stake. If I do not, I may be abandoning the future – a future my child will have to live in. Many, when faced with such a dilemma, decide to be practical and try to do what is best for their child now. As a result, many abandon principled action in favor for playing along, in order to ensure job security. Others are so busy being out there, fighting the good fight, that they forget to raise their children, and so their children end up being sacrificed for the future. The irony there being that often these parents were working to make this future for those same children, who would have been better off if they had had their parents home, raising them properly. It seems to me that we have to know when to pick our fights. When is an issue big enough that you have to fight it? Well, in my case, the fight involves education.

I am currently an adjunct faculty member of a community college in Dallas, Texas. Money-wise, that amounts to very little – but I do it to refine my teaching skills and get teaching experience, so I can one day get a university job. Recently my supervisor sat in on one of my classes, and critiqued the job I did. Now, while I will be the first to admit that there is room for improvement, much of the critique bothered me greatly. The reason I was so bothered was because the assistant dean told me I needed to dumb down my classes. Well, to be honest, she said, "Now I don’t want you to dumb down your classes, but . . ." and then she proceeded to tell me I needed to dumb down my classes. The reason? Because she did not want students coming to her to complain that they did not get an "A", though they had not done the work to get an "A". She told me that since community college students typically did not come to community college to learn anything, but rather to receive an "A" and credit for the class, that I should teach in such a way that the students would not have to learn anything, but could rather just be granted their "A" and their credit. Further, she proposed that I attend a workshop the community college offered that would teach me the best way to provide my students with this kind of contentless education.

Here is the crisis in education. Administrators do not want students to fail, because if they do fail (or if they do not get an "A" even), the school loses money. So students get passed, even though they learn nothing. In community college, the threat is more direct, since if students fail, they will not want to come back to that community college, complaining that "it’s too hard there." And fewer students also equates to fewer government dollars as well. In our elementary, middle, and high schools, student failure also results in fewer government dollars – so, again, teachers are encouraged by administrators to make sure every student passes. If that meant that more learning occurred, that would be great. The reality is that teachers, who are encouraged to teach reading using the least effective method of learning how to read ever devised, the look-say method, now have developed the tally-method, where the student counts all the words in a text, and then uses that information to figure out what the passage "means." Rather than being taught how to read with comprehension, students are being taught methods to pass the standardized tests. You do not have to read at all to determine what a passage is about if you use the tally method. All you have to do is count all the symbols, find out which symbol you have the largest number of, then compare that symbol with the symbols on the multiple choice test, and mark that dot.

Since I am not an elementary school teacher, I cannot fight against such methods there, directly. But I can fight them at the community college level. I am being told by the administrators that they want me to adopt the college version of this kind of education. While now I am using grammar, rhetoric, poetics, and logic to teach my students how to read, write, and think, I am told that I have to use a textbook that ignores all of these things, except its very superficial discussion of rhetoric. But then, how deeply can you cover rhetoric if you do not cover grammar, poetics, and logic? The book, The Aims of Argument, only teaches students about different kinds of arguments. You do not have to learn how to construct good sentences, you do not have to know logic, you do not have to write it well at all. All you have to do is be persuasive. Though the protagonist of "Thank You For Smoking" is a rhetorician’s rhetorician, he does at least know what the truth is. The community college I teach at want me to make my students unable to even be able to do that. I am not to challenge my students’ opinions, but only consider whether or not they have an argument. It is no wonder that one of my students told me that she loved my class because I did something the teacher in the English class she had before mine had never done: critique her writing for errors in grammar, facts, and reasoning.

So what do I intend to do about this problem? If the administration is only concerned about students who complain, I decided that we need to get the students who want a good education to complain. I will be putting up posters around the college, telling the students about what kind of education their college thinks they deserve, and why. Hopefully, that will get the students who want a good education to stop being silent, and to speak up more, like their lazier fellow-students have done. The lazier students, in trying to get something for nothing, are depriving other students who do want to learn of an education. Since the students do not know this, they need to be told.

My trepidation comes in the potential of being caught. What will happen if someone learned that I was the one who put up the posters? Since I am just an adjunct, the school does not have to re-hire me, and I have no recourse, no ability to challenge that decision. And since I am looking for a university job, there are likely to be inquiries by search committees regarding my teaching skills and behavior. What do you think the administration would say about me? Like I said, I do have a child coming. I do need to work. And I would prefer to work doing what I love: teaching students and scholarship. Should I just suck it up, since I do have a baby to pay for and support? Or should I fight to change the educational system, so that my child will have an opportunity to receive a good education? The pile of posters sit on my desk, staring at me. Especially now that I have a child coming, how can I abandon the future?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Taxation is Not Generosity

It is unethical to use taxation to be generous, as happens when we are taxed to help others – which means we are not actually being generous. Why is it acceptable for a large group of people (like a government) to do something it would be illegal for an individual to do? I cannot force people to give me money so I can give it to other people whom I prefer to have the money, under threat of taking them by force and locking them up in my basement. But a government can do just that – it just replaces the basement with prison. How easy it is to be generous with other peoples’ money! And what is worse, when government is generous with your money, you do not feel obliged to help others – why give when it is taken from you? So now people are acting less generous and charitable than they would otherwise. And money that could have been used to either lower prices of goods (making them cheaper for the poor to buy), hire more people (including the people "helped" by the government), or buy things that would have resulted in other businesses having to make more product, resulting in a need for more hiring, is taken away, filtered through people who are overpaid do an hour of work for eight hours at work, so that the poor get a very minuscule portion of the money anyway. The latter problem could be solved with a simple negative income tax that neither rewards people for not working nor punishes people for getting even a minimum wage job replacing all forms of welfare. The larger problem of being generous with other people’s money requires a change in overall philosophy in the country at large, and in Washington in particular. While that is more difficult, it can be done with a strong bully pulpit. Only when someone important publically and consistently talks about the right will it get realized in the world.


If I were to approach someone and tell them that if they did not give me some money, that I would take them by force and lock them in my basement, I would be arrested for extortion. If they refused to pay and I followed through on my threat, I would be guilty of kidnaping. It is unjust for me, a private individual, to earn my money in such a way, even if I then turned around and gave that money to the poor. Which is why it is both immoral and illegal in every society.

But if the government approaches someone and tells them that if they do not give the government their money, that it would take them by force and lock them in jail, it is called taxation. If they refuse to pay and the government follows through on its threat, it is called arrest and imprisonment. This is considered by many to be a just and proper way for the government to make its money.

Why is something that is unjust for an individual to do to another just for one group to do to others, so long as that first group is larger, stronger, and called a government? If something is unjust and immoral for an individual, then it is unjust and immoral for a group, even if that group calls itself a government. A change in terminology does not justify unjust behavior. Theft is theft, no matter if you call it by its proper names of theft and extortion, or by the evasive term taxation. To tax is to steal. And that is what any government does whenever it taxes. A free and just society is based on the concept of free trade. Free trade is based on the premise that "if you do something good for me, I’ll do something good for you." The opposite of free trade is extortion, or "unless you do something good for me, I’ll do something bad to you." Any government or society based on free trade is just. Any government or society based on extortion is unjust.

Whenever the concept that taxation is theft is brought up, the response is always that the government has to make money somehow. Which is true. But so do I. Yet this is clearly not enough for me to engage in extortion. So why is it a legitimate reason for the government to do so? Anything immoral for an individual is immoral for a group, whether they call themselves a gang or a government. Anything illegal for a private individual or group should be illegal for the government. It is no better than anyone else simply because it is called a government. It does not know more, is not wiser, it is not more intelligent. And even if they did have these attributes, that would still not give government the right to steal - which is the right to take away another’s rights to their life, liberty, and property - a right no man ever has, least of all in a free, civilized society.