Friday, December 23, 2016

National Affairs FROM ISSUE NUMBER 25 ~ FALL 2015

The Real Obama Education Legacy


"Barack Obama came to office at a time of broad bipartisan support for education reform. And he managed to simultaneously exploit and fracture this goodwill. His aggressive approach politicized nearly all that it touched, leaving in its wake unnecessarily divisive national debates over issues like Common Core and sexual harassment on college campuses. Obama's team went out of its way to attack school vouchers and for-profit colleges, to dismiss "suburban moms" and Capitol Hill Republicans, and even to scorn lunch ladies worried about unrealistic mandates."

Monday, December 12, 2016

750000 stolen records of students and families

UT Lawsuit Puts Spotlight on 750,000 Stolen Records of Students and Families


A news bomb about the theft of student data exploded in Utah’s Deseret News last July, but nobody noticed, apparently.
The article’s headline — “Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Puts Spotlight on Utah Autism Rates” — focused primarily on things other than the data theft.  It highlighted former University of Utah research professor Judith Zimmerman’s allegations that university researchers were falsifying Utah’s autism rates.
But to me, the unheadlined bomb that the article dropped was the 750,000 students who had their data and their families’ data stolen by unauthorized “researchers”.  The families now have no way of knowing this happened.
Zimmerman was fired for raising concerns about protected student data that she said the researchers had “compromised and accessed without proper authority.”  She told the Deseret News that unauthorized individuals took  750,000 sensitive records with neither parental nor schools’ consent.  This private “medical and educational information”  included “names, birthdays, information about medical characteristics… special education classification and parents’ names and addresses,”  reported the Deseret News.
How would these families now be notified?  I wonder: with the whistleblower fired and with a years-long lawsuit and likely gag orders pending, the only people who now could potentially contact those families would be still employed at the university –who, being accused of the wrongdoing, certainly won’t go out of their way to inform the affected families right now.
I’m not going to discuss the ways in which the stolen records, and the children they represented, are vulnerable to potential crimes of credit card fraud, health insurance identity theft, crimes of predatory stalkers or the mandates of well-or-ill-intentioned governmental activists.
I’m here to ask –and answer– a very simple question that I hope readers are asking: how could this have happened?  How were three quarters of a million records of children just lying around under the noses of any unscrupulous university researchers?

750000 stolen records of students and families

Monday, October 24, 2016

Does Black Success Matter?

Jewish World Review


By Thomas Sowell
Published August 16, 2016
Does Black Success Matter?

"We have heard a lot about black students failing to meet academic standards. So you might think that it would be front-page news when some whole ghetto schools not only meet, but exceed, the academic standards of schools in more upscale communities."

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Supreme Court to Decide Level of “Benefit” Special Education Must Provide

On September 29th, the U.S. Supreme Court granted review in a case about the level of education benefit a school district must provide to students with disabilities in order to provide student with a free appropriate public education. The case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 raises an important question that has divided federal appeals courts: What level of educational benefit must a child receive under his or her individualized education program (IEP) to satisfy the demands of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)? 

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, ruled last year in the case of a Colorado child with autism that because the child's public school IEP had provided him with "some educational benefit," the Douglas County district had provided a "free, appropriate public education" under the IDEA. However, the 10th Circuit court panel acknowledged that several other federal courts of appeals have adopted a higher standard that requires an IEP to result in a "meaningful educational benefit," a point that was echoed in the appeal filed by the parents of Endrew F. and the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at Stanford Law School. The petition argued that "[t]his court should use this case—which cleanly presents the legal issue on a well-developed set of facts—to resolve the conflict over this important question." 

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court invited the U.S. solicitor general to file a brief expressing the views of the Obama administration. On Aug. 18, Acting Solicitor General Ian H. Gershengorn filed a brief that urged the justices to take up the appeal, stating that the Supreme Court “should grant certiorari and overturn the 10th Circuit's erroneous holding that states must provide children with disabilities educational benefits that are 'merely ... more than de minimis' in order to comply with the IDEA …the 10th Circuit's approach is not consistent with the text, structure, or purpose of the IDEA.” Thus, the Supreme Court has granted review – one of eight cases the justices added to their docket just before the formal start of their new term on October 3rd. The Endrew F. case is likely to be argued sometime early next year.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Another USDE OCR decision against the Seattle school distrcit

Supreme Court Agrees to Argue IDEA Case

Washington, D.C.  In response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision to place the Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District on its docket, Denise Marshall, executive director of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPPA) said the following:

“The Supreme Court has a tremendous opportunity to support the rights of this student, Endrew, as the family seeks a decision on whether he has been provided a free, appropriate, public education (FAPE) as guaranteed by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). As is the case with many students with disabilities, Endrew has not always made progress commensurate with that of his non-disabled peers, and so we remain hopeful that the Court will clarify what his rights to educational benefit are as a student with a disability.” Marshall concluded, “In support of the family, COPAA intends to file an amicus brief with the Court. We believe in the individual rights IDEA affords and are hopeful the Court will decide in favor of the child.”

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Pa.'s first charter school serving students with dyslexia set to open

"After six years of planning, a challenge in court and a volley of appeals, Brett Marcoux isn’t going to let a paint job or two stand between him and the opening of the state’s first public charter school for children with dyslexia.
“Finally, we're open!” the CEO and president of Provident Charter School told a group of more than 100 school officials, families, dyslexia experts and local leaders, who gathered in a stuffy hallway of the Troy Hill school for an open house and ribbon cutting Wednesday."

See original story here

Friday, September 9, 2016



In order for school boards and their employees to protect, maximize and monitor school resources with due diligence, it is essential that all school operations and practices be reviewed and analyzed independently and constantly. The most effective way to begin and maintain such a process is to form a community-based Forensic Auditing Committee (FAC). One of its primary tasks would be to ask critical questions of the school board. The reason for asking the questions is to determine quickly and easily whether board policies and school practices are protecting and maximizing school resources effectively, efficiently, and ethically and that they are free from the ravishes of potential or actual corruption.

Fortunately, a trend toward the establishment of groups akin to forensic auditing committees (FACs) seems to be gaining momentum. School officials in Mesa, Arizona, have proposed creating a public school audit committee that would “independently review the district’s books.” Unlike audit committees formed by neighboring school districts, “Mesa’s committee would be composed entirely of community volunteers with expertise in accounting and education.” (Arizona Republic August 6, 2006) Also, the Arizona Tucson Unified School District’s governing board is seeking people to join an audit committee to strengthen the school district’s internal financial controls. (Arizona Daily Star, August 3, 2007)

The reality is that some degree of corruption is likely to be found in most school districts. However, it takes critical questioning and diligent forensic review and analysis to determine whether corrupt acts have taken place, are taking place, or could be committed with relative ease. In this regard, it is vital to understand what is meant by the term “corruption”:
“breach of trust, bribery, crime, crookedness, deceit, deception, dishonesty, exploitation, evil, extortion, fraud, graft, malfeasance, nepotism, payoff, profiteering, tainted, unethical, untrustworthy and unscrupulousness”

Typically, boards will be defensive and deny that corruption is a malignant and institutionalized problem and will provide a reason that should never be accepted: school accounts are audited regularly so there is no reason to be concerned about or suspect any wrongdoing. Although it appears to be a very credible answer, it does not withstand verification because routine school audits are not designed to uncover the three categories of corruption: cheating and deceit, waste and mismanagement, or even fraud and stealing.

If the audit were conducted with generally accepted auditing standards (GAAS) — and therefore incorporated Standard #99 (Consideration of Fraud in Financial Statement Audits) — it still would not identify waste and mismanagement issues or cheating and deceitful practices.

Monday, August 1, 2016

United States Parents Involved in Education (USPIE)


United States Parents Involved in Education

End the Department of Education and all federal education mandates.

This is what we’re up against: millions of dollars in funding and an agenda to abolish individualism and turn America into a collective society by indoctrinating young minds through government schools. With rigorous standardized testing, home-visiting programs, and preparing children for the “global workforce,” The Council for a Strong America is driving forward John Dewey’s radical, utopian vision to change America to a collective society.


Speech by Robert Welch in 1958 predicting Insiders plans to...


"But if it is believed that these elementary schools will be better managed by...
any other general authority of the government, than by the parents within each ward [district], 
it is a belief against all experience."
--Thomas Jefferson

A reminder: The Federal Family Fixing Plan



"We refer to “family engagement” as the systematic inclusion of families as partners in children’s development, learning, and wellness."

• The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) requires that states and school districts engage parents and families in the work of ensuring positive outcomes for all students. School districts are required to have written parent and family engagement policies with expectations and objectives for implementing meaningful parent and family involvement strategies. They are required to involve parents and family members in jointly developing district plans and to provide technical assistance to build school capacity to plan and implement effective parent and family involvement activities to improve student academic achievement and school performance. The requirement for implementing effective parent and family engagement activities to improve student outcomes can be found throughout ESEA including Title I, sections 1010 and 1116, Title III, Title VI, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers among others.

From Utah:

Local School Board Member Asks Parents to Take Action on Federal ESSA 

Wendy Hart, a star board member of my local district, Alpine School District, is so dedicated to transparency that she keeps a blog about her work.

"In June, I attended a training session on ESSA presented by the National School Boards Association (aptly titled: A New Federalism).  The presenter, an attorney, recommended that we work with our legislators to remove the ability of parents to opt their kids out of state testing.  The consequence, she said, would be to jeopardize our federal funding under ESSA.  So, the one avenue parents have to protest and to protect their students is under attack by the ‘new’ supposedly kinder, gentler, less-federal-encroachment law.  Additionally, I asked how they would be able to do this when some states, like Utah, for example, have opting out codified in state law, the state law predates ESSA, and under the 10th Amendment, the states would have jurisdiction in this area that the feds clearly do not.  Her response, paraphrasing, “Since the monies in ESSA are ‘voluntary’, you will not be able to get someone to challenge it on 10th Amendment grounds.”  In short, by taking the federal monies from ESSA, we are subverting state (and natural) law–voluntarily."

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

John Dewey and the Decline of American Literacy

Written by Sam Blumenthal

"In May 1898, Dewey published his seminal essay, “The Primary-Education Fetich,” which was to guide the progressives in their long-range crusade to remake American education as an instrument to bring about socialism.  He wrote:

There is …  a false educational god whose idolators are legion, and whose cult influences the entire educational system. This is language study — the study not of foreign language, but of English; not in higher, but in primary education. It is almost an unquestioned assumption, of educational theory and practice both, that the first three years of a child’s school-life shall be mainly taken up with learning to read and write his own language. If we add to this the learning of a certain amount of numerical combinations, we have the pivot about which primary education swings....
… It does not follow, however, that because this course was once wise it is so any longer. On the contrary, the fact that this mode of education was adapted to past conditions, is in itself a reason which it should no longer hold supreme sway.... My proposition is, that conditions — social, industrial, and intellectual — have undergone such a radical change, that the time has come for a thoroughgoing examination of the emphasis put upon linguistic work in elementary instruction....
… The plea for the predominance of learning to read in early school-life because of the great importance attaching to literature seems to me a perversion.... No one can clearly set before himself the vivacity and persistency of the child’s motor instincts at this period, and then call to mind the continued grind of reading and writing, without feeling that the justification of our present curriculum is psychologically impossible. It is simply superstition: it is the remnant of an outgrown period of history."

Can parents combat the media's tolerance of institutional manipulation?

 Sandra Stotsky | July 22, 2016

"As yet another example, it is widely rumored that the Gates Foundation also paid for the writing of the 1000-page rewrite of No Child Left Behind known as Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). It is public knowledge that Senators Lamar Alexander (TN-R) and Patty Murray ((WA-D) co-sponsored the bill, but the two senators have been remarkably quiet about ESSA’s authorship. No reporter has commented on the matter, or reported asking the senators who wrote the bill and who paid for the bill."

Can parents combat the media's tolerance of institutional manipulation?

Friday, July 8, 2016

States' Impact on Federal Education Policy US Department of Education | NY State Archives

Introduction: Federal Aid to Education, 1785-1900


It is important to note at the outset that, while the federal role in education has expanded rapidly since World War II, the basic idea of federal aid to education is, in fact, nearly as old as the republic itself. In 1785, two years after the end of the Revolutionary War, the Congress of Confederation passed the first of two Northwest Ordinances, which reserved 1/36 th of the land allocated to each western township "for the maintenance of public schools within the said township." Two years later, in 1787, the recently convened Constitutional Convention passed the second Northwest Ordinance, which reaffirmed the purpose of the first. However, since the Convention left all explicit mention of education out of the new Constitution itself, some have speculated that it saw schooling exclusively as a state or local issue-left, under the Tenth Amendment, as an unenumerated power reserved "to the states . . . or to the people."

How a Generation Lost Its Common Culture

"Above all, the one overarching lesson that students receive is the true end of education: the only essential knowledge is that know ourselves to be radically autonomous selves within a comprehensive global system with a common commitment to mutual indifference. Our commitment to mutual indifference is what binds us together as a global people. Any remnant of a common culture would interfere with this prime directive:  a common culture would imply that we share something thicker, an inheritance that we did not create, and a set of commitments that imply limits and particular devotions."

Friday, July 1, 2016

Ethics Without Indoctrination

In this revised paper, originally published in Educational Leadership (1988), Richard Paul argues that ethics ought to be taught in school, but only in conjunction with critical thinking. Without critical thinking at the heart of ethical instruction, indoctrination rather than ethical insight results. Moral principles do not apply themselves, they require a thinking mind to assess facts and interpret situations. Moral agents inevitably bring their perspectives into play in making moral judgments and this, together with the natural tendency of the human mind to self-deception when its interests are involved, is the fundamental impediment to the right use of ethical principles.
Paul spells out the implications of this view for the teaching of ethics in literature, science, history, and civics. He provides a taxonomy of moral reasoning skills and describes an appropriate long term staff development strategy to foster ethics across the curriculum"

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

COPAA Files 4th Circuit Brief Involving Case of Student Who is Twice Exceptional

COPAA filed an Amicus brief in support of the parents, Plaintiffs-Appellees in the case of N.P. v. Maxwell. The parents are represented by Michael J. Eig and Paula Rosenstock of Michael J. Eig and Associates.  The parents lost at the Administrative due process hearing, but then prevailed at the District Court level where US Judge F. Motz determined that the compelling evidence presented by the parents mandated placement at the private program designed to address NP’s unique needs as a student who is twice exceptional. Indeed, the ALJ’s decision is neither well-reasoned nor based on the record on this issue.  The parent came forward with compelling evidence that N.P.’s progress in reading, writing and math was less than trivial, demonstrating that N.P. actually lost skills during the years in question.

The IDEA mandates that courts make independent determinations as to whether a school district has complied with the Act based upon the evidence in the record. A child’s IEP must provide meaningful benefit, and be gauged to the Student's potential.  The IEP proposed by the school district must confer meaningful, non-trivial educational benefit on the student.  In this case, the parent provided sound evaluation results indicating that ignoring this expert advice, the school district proposed a continuation of the same program where N.P. failed to make progress and failed to appreciate the nature of this dual exceptionalities: a gifted student and a student with a learning disability.  COPAA urged the Court to affirm the Order of the district court. Selene Almazan and Alice Nelson wrote and filed the brief on behalf of COPAA.
Read COPAA's Brief
Appellant Brief

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Dyslexia and Depression: An author’s tale

Posted on June 25, 2016 by Joel Cornah    

"A child who fails due to learning difficulties should be a reflection on how bad the school is for abandoning someone in need, rather than the child themselves being treated as a failure. It has taken me a long time to try and come to terms with things like this, and it is still remarkably difficult to try and stand up and say that no, what was done was wrong. Dyslexic people deserve respect."

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education."

Thomas Jefferson  (1743 - 1826)
Third president of United States

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Dyslexia needs more attention

Sheikh Hamad Al Mualla, member of the ruling family, went to UK for support with his dyslexia.
Reem Mohammed / The National

Sheikh Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al Mualla’s decision to talk publicly about his struggle with dyslexia is a brave step towards shining more light on this much misunderstood condition. When Sheikh Hamad started school, he faced difficulties getting the support he needed from his teachers, who characterised him as “lazy”. He eventually found the encouragement to finish his studies in the UK. By talking about his own struggles, he has helped open up a discussion about the needs of many other students who do not receive the same level of support.
The lack of understanding about dyslexia, which is part of a global problem concerning learning difficulties, helps explain why there is such a stigma associated with the condition. Dyslexic children have been unjustly painted as lazy, unintelligent or unwilling to make the effort to study.
It has been traditionally hard to get a proper diagnosis for dyslexia because of the difficulty in differentiating it from other learning challenges. It’s true that dyslexia is the most common cause of reading difficulties, but students also face challenges in spelling, speech and memorisation.
Ultimately, dyslexia needs champions like Sheikh Hamad who are open and honest about their stories and the challenges they have faced. Our education system should work to increase support for children.
Unfortunately, some teachers are unable to detect the signs of dyslexia and have little experience in dealing with it. And so we need to train our teachers in this area.
Sheikh Hamad has taken a bold step to raise attention about this misunderstood and stigmatised issue. His bravery should be applauded. His decision to speak out will help our society deal with the problem and not be afraid to talk about it.
If even one child or educator learns from Sheikh Hamad’s example and asks for help or learns more about this condition, then we will be on the right path towards helping dyslexic children.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Toward a Definition of Classical Education

By Amanda Wilson

The Invention of Meaning Through Comparison

"Fifth, classical education has a historic repertoire, and it could be argued, a 5,000-year history— stretching back as far as the Hebrew and Egyptian traditions, and certainly the Greek and Roman."

The Brain of the Denisovan Girl


"It has been suggested that eidetic imagery is a gift many and perhaps most children have — and then lose as their verbal skills become seated and then dominant. Maybe it is an instance of ontogeny recapitulating phylogeny. It does happen. Maybe modern humans, like growing children, lost their strong pictorial gifts when they started talking."

Friday, May 13, 2016

10th Circuit Rules that District Courts Cannot Delegate the Responsibility to Remedy an IDEA Violation to the IEP Team

May 12, 2016
In M.S. by J.S. v. Utah Schs. for the Deaf and Blind, 116 LRP 19237 (10th Cir. 05/10/16), the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the District Court cannot delegate the responsibility to determine the appropriate placement for a deaf/blind student to the IEP team.
M.S. Had been a student in the residential program at the Utah School for the Deaf and Blind (USDB) since 2004. In 2010 USDB announced it was closing its residential program. M.H.'s parents opposed that decision as did other parents. After intervention by an advocacy group, USDB relented and continued the residential program. However, there remained other disputes regarding M.S.'s placement. Eventually, the case was heard by the Utah federal district court. The case had numerous issued, but, most importantly here, the Court determined USDB and the Provo School District were not appropriate placements for M.S. The parents sought placement at the Perkins School for the Blind, a private program.  Rather than order that placement, the District Court sent the case back to the IEP team to determine the future placement. The case was appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The 10th Circuit overruled the district court. The Court noted that a school district employee cannot be a hearing officer under the IDEA. Similarly, since most members of the IEP team were school district employees, the Court determined that the IEP team could not be the entity responsible for determining the remedial placement for the student. The Court stated:
"Allowing the educational agency that failed or refused to provide the covered student with FAPE to determine the remedy for that violation is simply at odds with the review scheme set out at [20 USC 1415(i)(2)(C)]," U.S. Circuit Judge Michael R. Murphy wrote. The panel further noted that such an approach could create an "endless cycle" of litigation, requiring the parent to seek a due process hearing each time she disagreed with the proposed remedy."

Disability Discrimination Accounts for Nearly Half of Civil Rights Complaints to U.S. Dept. of Education in 2015

As the U.S. Department of Education (ED) fielded a record number of civil rights complaints in 2015, the agency said nearly half alleged some form of disability discrimination. ED’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) received over 4,800 complaints asserting violations of disability laws during the 2015 fiscal year, according to a report released this week. Disability issues accounted for the largest group of complaints logged, representing 46 percent of the record-high 10,392 complaints received by the OCR, which is tasked with ensuring equal access and prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, disability and age in education programs. While the overall number of disability-related complaints dropped slightly compared to the 4,919 filed in 2014, the Education Department said that reports of inappropriate restraint and seclusion as well as issues related to Web accessibility for students with disabilities were both on the rise. The greatest number of disability-related complaints lodged last year hinged on the right to a free, appropriate public education followed by complaints of retaliation and those centering on exclusion or different treatment. Many complaints crossed over into more than one of the 18 categories of disability discrimination that the office tracks, the report said. Over the course of the year, the OCR said it successfully resolved 4,655 of the disability complaints received. In addition to responding to individual complaints, the ED issued five guidance documents in 2015 addressing disability-rights issues in schools. "OCR’s work over the last year has been absolutely pivotal to advancing the department’s goal to increase equity and opportunity for all students,” said Secretary of Education John King. "Through our guidance, technical assistance, data collection and investigatory work, the department’s message to the public is clear: We are committed to working with and supporting schools to protect students’ civil rights — and we will take action to secure those rights when necessary.”

Friday, April 22, 2016


The amendment would not mandate that federal funding go towards extra training, but would allow states and local school districts, if they so choose, to use federal funds on training toward identifying dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities. Its critics argued that all disabilities, not just specific learning disabilities, should get the support the amendment called for. For example, autism and attention-deficit disorder do not fall under the category of specific learning disabilities.
"It is about getting children with a specific diagnosis the right services as early as possible," Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said in response to criticism the amendment would create special privileges for dyslexic students. Cassidy was the amendment's sponsor. "Does anyone really think that a child with dyslexia, who struggles to read, write, and spell through no fault of their own, feels privileged? The irony is palpable."

 " Once again Patty Murray shows off her ignorance or special interest obligations and stiff arms dyslexic students."

The committee's ranking member, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., spoke in opposition to the amendment. She listed national groups that opposed the amendment, including the National PTA, National Down Syndrome Society and others. The National Education Association, the largest individual union in the country, also opposed the amendment.
"This amendment actually sends the message that this committee cares more about the education of one group of students with disabilities more than others," Murray said in opposition. "It sets a new precedent of singling out one of the thirteen categories of students with disabilities in providing professional development to our teachers."
Dyslexics are 80 percent of students with learning disabilities, 17.5 percent of the population, and up to half of students reading below grade level, Cassidy said in response. He then listed off several groups in support of the amendment: the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity and Decoding Dyslexia.
"We may decide, 'Heck, I don't care about those families. Somehow we're going to be guided by special interest groups.' I think we should be more motivated about the needs of that child," Cassidy said.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Statistics On Dyslexia

  • 70-80% of people with poor reading skills, are likely dyslexic.
  • One in five students, or 15-20% of the population, has a language based learning disability. Dyslexia is the most common of the language based learning disabilities.
  • Nearly the same percentage of males and females have dyslexia.
  • Nearly the same percentage of people from different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds have dyslexia.
  • Percentages of children at risk for reading failure are much higher in high poverty, language-minority populations who attend ineffective schools.
  • In minority and high poverty schools, 70-80% of children have inadequate reading skills.
  • According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 38% of all fourth grade students are “below basic” reading skills. They are at or below the 40th percentile for their age group.
  • Nationwide 20% of the elementary school population is struggling with reading.
  • National Center for Education statistics, 5% of all adults are “non-literate”.
  • 20-25% of all adults can only read at the lowest level.
  • 62% of non readers dropped out of high school.
  • 80% of children with an IEP have reading difficulty and 85% of those are Dyslexic.
  • 30% of children with Dyslexia also have at least a mild form of AD/HD.


Epistemic Democracy, Self-Interest and The Common Good

par Girard (1er/03/2012)

A just society has to identify and promote the common good. One of the most powerful justifications of democracy that has been provided in the recent decades claims that democracy is legitimate and fair because it more likely than other institutional systems pursues the common good. According to this epistemic justification of democracy however, to achieve this aim citizens do not have to aggregate their preferences by voting or negotiate over their interested proposals, but they have to deliberate. Deliberation should, ideally, be open to all those affected by the decision. The participants should have equal opportunity to influence the process, they should listen to one another and give reasons to one another that they think the others can comprehend and accept. These requirements rule out the exercise of power, propaganda, expression of mere self-interest, and threats (of the sort that characterise bargaining). In this paper I will challenge the traditional contraposition between common good and self-interest and I will argue that an epistemic account of deliberative democracy cannot exclude self-interest and some forms of negotiation from the deliberative sphere. To sustain this claim I will analyse what the common good of a polity means. Firstly, I will distinguish the debate on constitutional essentials from the public policies’ debate and I will argue that though the exclusion of self-interest from the former is acceptable, it does not hold in the latter case. Within the public policy debate, in fact, people cannot identify the common good if they do not take into account their self-interest and demand that the whole polity acknowledges the legitimacy of their interested proposals. To pursue the common good, a democracy has to legitimise some forms of negotiation (democratic bargaining) that could deal with interested claims without undermining fairness. Since an account of democratic bargaining will more likely identify and promote the common good than the traditional account of deliberative democracy, I will conclude that it is not only a legitimate and fair alternative to deliberation but, at least from an epistemic point of view, a better democratic procedure.

Charles Girard : « The Common Good as Equal Promotion of all Individual Interests »
The classical understanding of modern democracy as self-government among equals implies two constitutive democratic principles : the pursuit of political autonomy and the pursuit of the common good. The latter has long been denounced by “minimalist” critics, but also, more recently, by some deliberative democrats. According to the false common good criticism, the common good does not exist : because there are only divergent self-interests that cannot be reconciled, to invoke the common good is to invoke an illusion. According to the moral conversion, while something like the common good might exist, it cannot be reached, because individuals are primarily motivated by their self-interest and cannot agree to put them aside in order to promote the common good. An epistemic conception of deliberative democracy needs to respond to both challenges. This paper argues that i) the common good is best understood as the equal promotion of all individual self-interests ; and that ii) given this definition, both criticisms can be refuted. To do so, it elaborates a conceptual distinction between one’s individual self-interest and one’s specific interests, drawing on Barry’s analysis of interest. It criticizes Barry’s (and Pettit’s) definition of the common good as the set of interests that are shared by all citizens qua citizens. Such a definition implies excluding from the common good particular interests of which the satisfaction is deemed legitimate (for instance certain interests shared only by women, the elderly, etc.). Even if the interests that are shared by all are defined ex ante or ex ignorantia, the Barry/Pettit strategy cannot secure all legitimate particular interests. However, such interests can be included in the perimeter of the common good if it is defined as the equal promotion of all individual (vs. specific) interests. This concept helps to take up the false common good and the moral conversion challenges. On the one hand, to assert that a common good does not exist is to misunderstand the concept, which does not refer to a transcending good, nor to the overlapping of fixed context-independent sets of actions and policies. On the other hand, to assume that public deliberation should realize a moral conversion is to overestimate the separation between the common good and self-interests, and to misinterpret the epistemic task that should be imposed on public deliberation.

José Luis Martí : « Who (and how) knows what’s the right thing to do politically : on the epistemic dimension of deliberative democratic decision-making »
It is common to justify democracy as the system of government most respectful with substantive moral values, such as human dignity, political equality and autonomy. This is not all what we care about, though. The idea of democracy is connected with certain procedures of collective decision-making. If these procedures are intrinsically good because they respect those substantive values, that’s good. But we all have a legitimate interest in having the best decisions possible from the substantive point of view. We want our collective decisions to be democratic, but we also want them to be correct, whatever it means. Deliberative democracy comes to bridge these two central concerns : the intrinsic value of democracy as expression of equal autonomy and basic dignity and its instrumental value as being capable of driving us to make correct political decisions. This paper examines the roots for the epistemic value of deliberative democracy. It clarifies the relevant epistemic questions connected to it : what it is to be known to make correct political decisions ; who is the appropriate knower ; how this knower may come to know what is to be known. The paper intends to show why deliberative democracy may reasonably satisfy our demand for correction in democratic decisions, while resisting the elitist trend. And it ends by clarifying one crucial point that has generated some misguided criticism in the most recent literature : the ideal nature of the epistemic deliberative democracy, which relates to the kind of practical reasons that democratic decisions may generate according to the epistemic argument.

Christian Rostbøll : « Against Incorporating Self-Interest in the Deliberative Ideal »
In the development and refinement of the theory of deliberative democracy over the last two decades, it has become evident that self-interests cannot and should not be excluded from the political process. It is an important aspect of the political process, also as understood by deliberative democrats, that citizens have the opportunity to clarify and express their interests in order that political decisions do not favor the interests of some groups over the interest of other groups. Indeed, one aim of deliberation is to learn what is “in the equal interest of all” (Habermas). But does this mean that self-interest should be included in the deliberative ideal ? In order to answer this question we need to understand that deliberative democracy is a complex theory of democracy that involves four dimensions : A social theoretical dimension, a justificatory dimension, an epistemic dimension, and a procedural dimension. This papers argues that these dimensions of deliberative democracy cannot be as easily maintained as part of deliberative democracy, as is assumed by those theorists – such as Jane Mansbridge – who suggest awarding self-interest intrinsic value and making it part of the regulative ideal of deliberative democracy. The argument for including self-interest in deliberative democracy needs to more fully consider the consequences for the dimensions that make up the complex theory of deliberative democracy. If it cannot be shown that self-interest is compatible with a proper understanding of these dimensions of deliberative democracy, then there are good reasons against incorporating self-interest in the deliberative ideal. The conclusion of the paper is that what we need is not integration of self-interest and deliberative democracy into one unified ideal. Rather, we should maintain an ideal of deliberative democracy that stands apart from the politics of self-interest.