Jul 09

The Marketization of Education

red apple with a hefty price tag.The corporation-dominated Global Education Reform Movement, which renowned Finnish educator Pasi Sahlberg aptly points out has spread much like the GERM it spells, is a big-money backed movement to dismantle public education for exploitation by for-profit special interests. It is an effort showing clear signs of failure on the education side of its mandate, one that’s especially interested in profit—where the GERM’s success is far more readily observable.

When the private exploits the public

The private depends on the public (Lakoff, 2014). When you research and develop something on the tax payers’ dime its rightful place is the public sphere. When Americans privatize their public education system, they turn it over to Wall St speculators, ultimately the same folks who gave us sub-prime mortgages, austerity, triple-dip recessions, worldwide economic failure, and the shakedown of the Greeks. The link isn’t hyperbole or a vivid imagination. It’s calculated and methodical (see for example Horn, 2009, “heavyweight teams”). 

Further insight can be gleaned from a famous book out of Harvard Business School, alma mater to many of the architects of economic meltdown, entitled Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (Clayton Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson, Michael Horn, 2008), a book that can be thought of as part of the blueprint or ‘master plan’ to privatize schools. It was first presented to me by a manager, a “director” of information technology who was apparently quite impressed by the book’s “disruptive” revelations, touted on the unabashedly commercial outside jacket as certain to make the reader rethink “everything you thought you knew about learning.”

The promised epiphany turns out to be fellow Harvard man Howard Gardner’s 1981 “Multiple Intelligences” theory and a truism we learned my first day of my first class at teachers’ college in the early 90s. By now it’s an outright cliché within the teaching community that we should be the “guide on the side, not the sage on the stage.”

What other revolutionary new ideas about pedagogy and learning does the business school offer? The authors tell us students need to be motivated “intrinsically.” One hopes the disruptive innovation franchise at Harvard doesn’t believe no one published about that before 2008. However the book, in a feint designed for its target audience of venture capitalists, managers and IT directors, not educators who know the history of these things, discusses intrinsic motivation and experiential learning without mentioning John Dewey (1938), and with barely a nod to Noah Webster’s and Horace Mann’s later influence on American education, nor the important role they cast it in preserving democracy and defining the nation’s moral character.

The suggestion of bias in these omissions and distortions is only reinforced by the ahistorical presentation of Thomas Jefferson’s position on public education, accompanied by right wing talking points that evoke Frank Luntz or Rush Limbaugh.

Christensen, Johnson and Horn misrepresent Thomas Jefferson’s record and opinion on public education (2008, pp 52-3). They carefully include the famous Jeffersonian provision as governor of Virginia, which was, essentially, to groom a benevolent aristocracy or perhaps a sort of super-culture, nowhere emphasizing for their readers that this, too, was fully intended to be at public expense. Jefferson’s vision for funding, from grammar school to college, was in fact to be split between the public and private sectors, families, and communities, often much in ways that have actually come to pass across the history of U.S education. Yet these carefully picked cherries are topped by the Luntzian reminder the word “education” isn’t in the constitution. Neither is the word “markets,” nor the phrase “supply side economics.” Oops! Can you imagine extending such talk radio logic to other areas of our lives?

…shall be paid by the Treasurer quarterly on warrant from the Auditors … on the public foundation… … as [Thomas Jefferson] explained in his Autobiography, “We thought that … a systematical plan of general education should be proposed, and I was requested to undertake it. I accordingly prepared three Bills for the Revisal, proposing three distinct grades of education, reaching all classes. 1. Elementary schools for all children generally, rich and poor. 2. Colleges for a middle degree of instruction, calculated for the common purposes of life, and such as would be desirable for all who were in easy circumstances. And 3d. an ultimate grade for teaching the sciences generally, and in their highest degree” (Ford, i, 66). Within a decade after the work of the Committee of Revisors was begun, TJ regarded the Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge as the most important one in the Report (TJ to George Wythe, 13 Aug. 1786). The exalted declaration of purpose in the preamble remains one of the classic statements of the responsibility of the state in matters of education. But what was new and distinctively Jeffersonian in the Bill was not its advocacy of public education … what was new in the Bill and what stamped its author as a constructive statesman of far-seeing vision was the object of seeking out men of genius and virtue and of rendering them “by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens.” This implied the establishment of a ruling élite that would promote public happiness by wisely forming and honestly administering the laws… it saw nothing dangerous or inimical to the liberties of the people in accepting and making use of such a natural aristocracy of virtue and talent; and its unique and revolutionary feature, never yet put into practice by any people, was that, in order to permit such a natural aristocracy to flourish freely, it would remove all economic, social, or other barriers that would interfere with nature’s distribution of genius or virtue. (See TJ’s account of this Bill in Notes on Virginia, Ford, iii, 251–5; see also R. J. Honeywell, Educational Work of Thomas Jefferson, Cambridge, Mass., 1931.)

Footnotes: A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge,
© Princeton University Press.
All rights reserved.

Christensen, Johnson and Horn misrepresented a 325 year commitment to public education embedded in the U.S. Constitution (Dennis, 2000). They misrepresent the socially situated nature of learning itself by reducing education to a supply-chain in order to monetize it. They misrepresent the classroom by attempting to mold it to the image of their markets, where business provides a weak metaphor at best. Beth Goldberg, who had 20 years of experience running businesses before becoming a middle school mathematics teacher, observes employees are paid to listen to you, students are not. Employees are selected based upon a search and interview process. Teachers do not select their students. In business, an insubordinate employee is fired. An insubordinate student is merely one more challenge for a classroom teacher.

Christensen, Johnson and Horn also misrepresent the views of their Harvard colleague Howard Gardner.

What does Howard Gardner really say about schooling?

Much of Gardner’s method and the idea of learning styles have retained their traction over the decades, but the science had been widely criticized long before Christensen and company shifted their disruptive gaze from pharmaceuticals to the supply chain offered by education (Klein, 1997; Willingham, 2004). I’ve written here about what I believe may be Howard Gardner’s greater legacy, The Unschooled Mind (1992), where Gardner explained how he came to realize that “even the best students in the best schools do not understand” (p. 1).

By then the seven “intelligences” were already beginning to morph into five “minds,” introduced around the time of his (post-Peterson lectures) The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and how Schools Should Teach (1995). “The first three,” says Gardner, “can be reduced to three words: depth, breadth and stretch” (1995/2011, pg. xxiv). The fourth and fifth minds Gardner feels are “…not cognitive in the traditional sense” (1995/2011, pg. xxiv). The Respectful Mind brings tolerance and acceptance, and the Ethical Mind, while he labels it (too rigidly, I think) “outside the ken of children.” Ethics, consensus and respect are not a large part of the Christensen curriculum; they devote far more words and paragraphs to the importance of separation, fiat and coercion, the so-called “power tools” of disruption (more to follow, even more here).

What can we learn from the disruptive innovation franchise?

The fact of the franchise’s ability to sell books does not negate the relevance and significance of disruptive innovation. What the books provide educators is the set of vocabulary and strategies — “power tools” — that identify a venture’s opponents—whether union, parent group, government, or competing investor—and by which corporate reformers, with cash to pad campaign coffers, can come to dominate policy making, tilt the rules in their favor, all in the pursuit of profit. It’s a must-read for educators critical of GERM’s tactics — a seat at the campfire in the enemy’s camp! I’ve written at greater length here about the divide and conquer tactics the business school offers entrepreneurs and lobbyists who face resistance, why such top down approaches actually make wicked problems worse, why consensus building is imperative, and how to do that.

Don’t You Dare Say “Disruptive” It’s the most pernicious cliché of our time […] Christensen has not tried to rein in the word’s inflation.2 On the contrary, he has been out-punditing the pundits, publishing book after book—each with many co-authors—in which disruption theory is brought to bear first on this sector, then on that one. In the past five years, he has homed in on the social institutions—schools, public-health organizations, and the halls of government itself—he deems ripe for disruption.
—Judith Shulevitz, TNR

Setting aside more recent revelations to accept these authors’ definition of “results,” which overlooks the lengths to which some private ventures screen and cull their student body to enhance those results, there are examples offered of charter schools and other “innovative” (i.e., “not publicly funded”) programs (or questionable practices) that resulted in higher test scores and other measurables presented as positives. But in the end of the book students sit connected to terminals—not peers and mentors—interacting with commercially provided software the book’s readers are enticed to develop and provide. In the seven years since the book was published blended learning, with varied amounts of teacher direction and highest student to student interactivity, has emerged as a much more powerful model, a fact that was already being observed and predicted by education researchers at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and elsewhere, even as the business school published its free market vision.

Contrast this to the way the word “innovation” is used by a successful community outreach group, the Logan Square Neighborhood Association, highlighted by Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, where their primary business is teaching and learning, not profit-making (Warren et al., 2009).

The ideas espoused in Disrupting Class led to corruption and many say away from democracy. More than 15 years of rhetoric that fetishized markets while denigrating and undermining the public system in a manner (approaching libel, or slander, perhaps?) have taken a heavy toll.

This era has not been good for students; nearly a quarter live in poverty, and fully 51% live in low-income families. This era has not been good for teachers, who feel disrespected and demeaned by governors, legislatures, and the U.S. Department of Education. This era has not been good for parents, who see their local public schools lose resources to charter schools and see their children subjected to endless, intensive testing.
—Diane Ravitch

Is there a vaccine or treatment against the GERM?

The GERM adapts quickly to regional and international differences, and spreads across stock markets. Some in the U.S. are developing a natural resistance to specific strains affecting their local situations. Because they present many of the same symptoms, such as PARCC testing, unfair rent and resource allocation practices, cheating scandals and segregation an agile and versatile response is indicated.

Community schools must once again serve their communities, and become hubs of community-strengthening activity and 24/7 access to public knowledge. Mark Warren and his team at Harvard Graduate School of Education urge us to look beyond bake sales and to adopt “a community-based relational approach to parent engagement in schools.” See their 3 case studies that demonstrate ways this can be done without bias of privilege and redirection of financial advantages toward a single sector.

Our teachers’ best qualities—their sense of humor, their love for the subject, their excitement, their interest in students as individuals—are not being honored or valued, because those qualities aren’t measurable.
—Tim Callahan, spokesman, Professional Association of Georgia Educators

Students must continue and expand their efforts, and teach their parents that standardized testing reduces learning time. They are not assessments of students’ mastery of a subject. Students and their parents should join the grassroots Opt-Out Movement growing rapidly in nearly every state, wherever people witness the terrifying results of the GERM experiment on their own kids’ classrooms.

Educators mustn’t look for “IT directors” but should look instead for “idea facilitators” and local experts to collaborate with on inquiries and projects. We must draw upon proven learner-centred success stories, as they did at the Harvard GSE, and mostly ignore Harvard’s BS. #KidsCanCode and #HourOfCode activities of all sorts can help kids and their teachers alike develop 21st century literacies, demystify the software, and help to level playing fields.

Design Thinking, as it influences teaching and learning today, can trace at least part of its lineage to some of the earliest research into technology-enhanced learning, the advent of ethnographic applications in the field of learning, apprenticeship studies, situated and experiential learning, and communities of practice. Those aware of at least one school of design thinking, influenced by the “wicked problems” praxis of Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber (1973; see also Why Horst Rittel Matters), value consensus as a principle of design, and have developed tools, techniques, and frameworks to achieve consensus. We’ve been slow to adopt them.

We all agree that social media and “hyperspace” have permanently disrupted our capabilities and our horizons. We agree there’s a need to nurture different competencies, and that has led may to deduce a role for new literacies. If we believe in Critical Thinking and Collaboration, then let “Consensus-building” join the list of 21st century competencies.

If you self-identify as an “instructional designer,” take a moment to consider Gráinne Conole’s important distinction between ID and Learning Design (LD), which is seen “…as a more encompassing term than Instructional Design, … is pedagogically effective and makes appropriate use of technologies. … Learning Design provides a holistic approach to the design process” (2014). Orchestrate for serendipity… design learning experiences that involve participants in ways that permit for human chemistry to create meaningful bonds with the fruits of their inquiries and projects, that are engaging because they’ve been built on the participants’ own personal stories, and because they provide a safe space and expert support for their telling.

We must command our own set of “power tools.” Use plain language and transparent strategies, engage parents and the community along with our students, and all the while make sure the situation — the learning environment, beginning with the learners (who at any given moment may also be the teachers!) — drives the selection and employment of the tools.

† Although it retains some bibliography, links and images, and perhaps a sentence here and there, this post is for all practical purposes a complete re-write of an older post with the same title, and is meant to entirely replace and supplant the earlier version.


Further reading

Christensen, Clayton; Johnson, Curtis W.; and Horn, Michael B. (2008) Disrupting Class: How Disruptive I nnovation Will Change the Way the World Learns New York : McGraw-Hill [HTML]

Dennis, Russell (2000) The Role of the Federal Government In Public Education In the United States, web site, Bucknell University [HTML]

Fouchaux (2009) graduate school paper, Disrupting Disruption, HTML

Gardner, H. (1983/2003). Frames of mind. The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: BasicBooks.

Horn, Michael (blog post: Oct 30, 2009) The power of a heavyweight team to rethink education: A quest to learn, retrieved 2009-12-06 http://disruptingclass.mhprofessional.com/apps/ab/2 009/10/30/the-power-of-a-heavyweight-team-to-rethink-education-a-quest-to-learn

Klein, Perry D. (1997) Multiplying the Problems of Intelligence by Eight: A Critique of Gardner’s Theory, Canadian Journal of Education / Revue canadienne de l’éducation, Vol. 22, No. 4 (Autumn, 1997), pp. 377-394.

Lakoff, George (2014) The ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, Chelsea Green Publishing, 192 pages

Rittel, Horst W. J. and Webber, Melvin M. (1973), Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning, Policy Sciences 4 (1973), 155-169. [PDF]

Warren, Mark R., Soo Hong, Carolyn Leung Rubin, Phitsamay Sychitkokhong Uy (2009), Beyond the Bake Sale: A Community- Based Relational Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools, Teachers College Record, Volume 111, Number 9, September 2009, pp. 2209–2254, http://bit.ly/nYwbjK (PDF), Accessed March 17, 2013.

The Boston Herald (Wednesday, February 27, 2013) Elizabeth Warren clocks big Ben, Hits Bernanke on bank subsidies http://bostonherald.com/business/business_markets/2013/02/elizabeth_warren_clocks_big_ben

The Knowledge Exchange (Published: September 27, 2012) How could I miss that? Jamie Dimon on the hot seat, by Max Bazerman, Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School, http://www.sas.com/knowledge-exchange/risk/integrated-risk/how-could-i-miss-that-jamie-dimon-on-the-hot-seat/index.html

Sahlberg, Pasi (2012) Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland, NY: Teachers College Press, Columbia University.

Shulevitz, Judith (2013) Don’t You Dare Say “Disruptive” It’s the most pernicious cliché of our time,blog post at The New Republic [HTML]

“Willingham, Daniel T. (2004), Reframing the Mind: Howard Gardner and the theory of multiple intelligences, Education Next, Vol. 4, No. 3 http://educationnext.org/reframing-the-mind/ retrieved 2012-10-10.

Oct 03

Where learning happens, there shall ye find teachers

It’s hard to imagine anyone arguing that the digital age, social networking, animation, other event timing software (from Adobe Captivate to Mozilla’s Popcorn & Butter) and 24/7 access won’t change—haven’t already changed—the way teaching, learning, and schooling are done in the 21st century. But I’m becoming increasingly vexed by those suggesting technology will replace teachers, that for-profit social networking platforms will replace professional development—or that either of those propositions is a good idea.Wordle including 21st Century Skills and other current terminology

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Ecclesiastes 1:9

I’ll dispense with the obvious semantic argument right away: even in self-guided learning there is a teacher—we say “I taught myself!” If informal learning is truly “a spontaneous process of helping people to learn” and it really “…works through conversation, and the exploration and enlargement of experience…” if its “…purpose is to cultivate communities, associations and relationships that make for human flourishing…” then not only do I hope we all find and fill that role almost every day—I shake my head in bemusement at the eagerness with which many, perhaps even TVO’s perspicacious and typically uber-informed Steve Paikin, seem to be anticipating teaching’s impending doom.

Screenshot of Hypercard from a 1980s era Macintosh Performa

Screen shot of 1980s era Macintosh Performa and Hypercard, technology that “changed the way we learn” over 30 years ago. Source: Stanislav (2011)

Fortunately, I don’t believe the host, nor any of the panel members in this thought provoking series actually believe this rhetoric; in places like Canada where the commitment to public education is for the time being less precarious than many other places, this can still be said with tongue-in-cheek. Overall, throughout the musings of this panel the vital role played by teachers, mentors, coaches, and guides was implicit. The skills, creativity and imagination professional educators bring to the situations they design and create for the purpose of conveying the knowledge they need to share, was celebrated openly. Overall there was full recognition of the approach most strongly suggested by the literature and research—and who can be seen to have been doing the “thickest” (à la Clifford Geertz1) research for decades. [Update: yours truly on Geertz.] I was schooled in the public school system of Bethlehem, PA, USA in the 1960s. My teachers sat us in circles, let students lead reading groups while they circulated giving individualized instruction, we split into groups and did jigsaw investigations, returned and taught our classmates how to put the pieces together. Tropes and talking points, pompous assertions around “industrial” or even “agrarian” paradigms notwithstanding, throughout history educators, including teachers in the trenches, have always led the search for ways to improve and enhance the process of helping people to learn.

The Cognitive Apprenticeship framework of the 80s identified elements of the mentor/apprentice relationship (e.g., “scaffolding“) that have been essential to teaching and learning for centuries, and educators ever since have been mapping these to specific strategies and the software that supports them.

A tool such as Twitter can be a useful tool, even a powerful one in the right hands. But it’s absurd to think a platform limited to messages 140 characters, blocked by governments and firewalls, adopted thus far by a trivial percentage of teachers would be a good pick to “replace professional development,” as one person on the #Learning2030 hashtag asked Wednesday night. Leave alone the fact Twitter’s priority is making money for its shareholders, and that we don’t know what this corporation may do, or not, to protect privacy. About 80% of messaging on Twitter is self-promotion—researchers coined a new term for such Tweople, “Meformers,” in contrast to “informers” (Naaman,Boase,& Lai, 2010). While I agree teachers should try Twitter, I see Twitter being used as a hub, the water cooler in the staff room around which informal learning happens, contacts, connections and preliminary plans to make plans. Just like pencil and paper, Twitter’s the right technology for many jobs. Use it for what it does well.

Several panels have noted how kids “intuitively” adapt to new technology, but I heard none remark that human-computer interface designers have been striving to design “intuitive” interfaces since there have been computers to design interfaces for. A book written on the topic in 1987 was still in use in 2010.

It’s wonderful to be in Ontario having important and fruitful conversations with genuine reformers, so sincerely devoted to student engagement, deep learning and the new possibilities awaiting discovery by all of us. There’s no need to believe we are the first to have these conversations, nor will we be the last.


  1. For many decades, forward-thinking, innovative educators have been engrossed with the exploration of applications technology. See, among many examples, posts in my own Cognitive Apprenticeship category and the various works in their reference sections. For evidence of the extensive range technology-enhanced-learning-focused 20th century collaborations across disciplines, look no further than R. G. Segall (1989), Thick descriptions: a tool for designing ethnographic interactive videodiscs, ACM SIGCHI Bulletin, Volume 21 Issue 2, Oct. 1989 pp. 118 – 122. While doing so please remember, there’s nothing new under the sun.

Further reading

Ghefaili, Aziz (2003) Cognitive Apprenticeship, Technology, and the Contextualization of Learning Environments, Journal of Educational Computing, Design & Online learning Volume 4, Fall, 2003.

Harkinson, Josh, (September 24, 2013), Here’s How Twitter Can Track You on All of Your Devices, Mother Jones, retrieved 2013-10-03

Junco, Reynol; Elavsky, C. Michael and Heiberger, Greg (2012), Putting twitter to the test: Assessing outcomes for student collaboration, engagement and success, British Journal of Educational Technology (2012) 1-15. (Wiley Online Library)

Lave, Jean and Wenger, Etienne (1991). Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lave, Jean (1996). Teaching, as Learning, in Practice, Mind, Culture, and Activity (3:3) pp149-164.

Lowe, Tony & Lowe, Rachael (2012) Twitter in learning and teaching – literature review (webducate.net)

Stanislav (2011), Why Hypercard Had to Die, blog post, http://www.loper-os.org/?p=568

Naaman, M., Boase, J. & Lai, C. (2010) Is it really about me? Message Content in Social Awareness Streams. Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, February 6-10, 2010 in Savannah GA (PDF).

Webducate [‘webducate.net’ website/blog] (2012), Twitter in learning and teaching – literature review http://webducate.net/2012/08/twitter-in-learning-and-teaching-literature-review/, retrieved 2012-12-03

Wenger, E. (2006) Communities of practice, a brief introduction, http://www.ewenger.com/theory/, HTML retrieved 2011-11-03 or http://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/06-Brief-introduction-to-communities-of-practice.pdf, PDF retrieved 2011-10-03.

Richard studied music as a teenager with Trevor Payne at John Abbott College and attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. He has performed across Canada with full-time rock bands since the early 80s. He’s been a teacher of rock, jazz & classical guitar, first as a sub for his own private teacher, formally at the now defunct Toronto Percussion Centre, and taught at The Arts Music Store in Newmarket, Ontario, for 6 years. He holds the degrees of Bachelor of Fine Arts Music (Special Honours), Bachelor of Education, and Master of Education from York University, plays guitar and trombone, and taught grade 6-8 band, math and computers (HTML and yes, Hypercard!) at the Toronto District School Board and North York School Board.

Jul 25

Analyzing race and representation

Abstract: In the final paper in this series I discuss representations of race and consider how perceptions of such representations must be different across gender, age and cultural differences. I discuss research showing how symbolism can be appropriated across these artificial boundaries. I speak of my own evolving sense of White Privilege, with anecdotal examples, and speculate how it benefits me, sometimes to the detriment of others, whether or not I am aware of it or complicit.

Merkato, open air market Addis Ababa, EthiopiaEducators, business people, and many others in potential leadership roles are for the most part quite familiar by now with the assertion that it is important their classrooms, businesses, and organizations are representative of the communities they serve. This can be reflected in many ways, for but a couple of examples, in the pictures they hang or the people they hire. But the apparent simplicity of such a description of problem and solution falls away quickly when one contemplates even the simplest scenario. Let’s say I’m a teacher and I know I have black students in my class, and I wish to display photographs representative of the “black community.” Shall I hang a picture of Barack Obama? …Nelson Mandela? … Michaëlle Jean? …Michelle Obama? …Sean Combs? All are black, but what does each “represent?” And what possible justification could I have for assuming they represent the same things to my students as they do to me, or that they represent anything at all?

. . . identity is formed at that point where the unspeakable stories of subjectivity meet the narratives of history, of a culture . . .

— Stuart Hall (1987, p. 44)

Identity is about belonging, and how we choose where we belong, but also how that is chosen for us. Narratives, our interpretations and retelling of history, shape our views of ourselves and our worlds, so “discourses [can be regarded as] formative, rather than expressive, of identities” (Hall, 1987 referenced in Parker and Song, pp. 583-4).

Vanilla IceWhat is representation?

In the first several pages of Urban Portraits of Identity: on the problem of knowing culture and identity in intercultural studies Daniel Yon exposes the highly complex and deeply nuanced topic of identity and representation from the point of view of a number of adolescents attending public school in a diverse and cosmopolitan city, Toronto (Yon, 2000). Adolescence is widely understood as the stage in human development when we begin to decide what we will do with our lives, and consequently not just what, but who we will be when we grow up, so this is a very good place to begin an analysis. Reading Yon, it soon becomes apparent that, far from being a “simplistic reading of bodies,” (p. 143) the students being interviewed construct identities not only from the corporeal universe within which they dwell, but also from the vast cache of stories and imagery they encounter there. Representations of identity are “more spontaneous” (Parker & Song, 2009, p. 584). Our attempts to contain real students in neat “visible minority” boxes fail because their own view is much “thicker” (see Geertz, 1973). Regardless of any obvious or predictable connection their constructions often “defied neat reduction” to nationality, race or ethnicity (Yon, 2000, pp. 143-5).

This orientation towards community assumes relationships between “personal identity” and “cultural identity” as unproblematic. Either the relationship is imagined as being smooth, or where there is disjuncture then either identity or the culture is constituted as a “crisis.” Education is perceived as the means through which the crisis may be resolved. This is the same discourse that incites desires for curriculum that “reflects” the identities of the learners. In school-based efforts such assumptions about culture, identity, and community are therefore crystallized in a discourse of “inclusive education.” It structures, for example, the call for “African-centered curriculum” as an alternative to “Euro-centered curriculum” while generally offering little or no critique of the structures of knowledge or the meaning of culture that produce these “centerings” in the first place. In these various ways cultural relativism, and the discourse of community as inheritance that it produces, has come to privilege differences “between” while suppressing engagement with difference “within” communities.

Daniel Yon (1999, p. 624)

It’s worth a pause here to consider that none of those three terms is itself neatly reducible; nationality often connotes citizenship, yet ethnicity may allude to that, but contains an element of DNA and a suggestion of tradition and ritual — race has a pseudo-scientific legacy in the realms of anthropology and biology but nonetheless has been applied as a synonym for either or both of the other terms… culture underpins them all (Smedley, 1999). These collisions, this flux between self-identifying and identifying self, is the starting point of my analysis.

The subject is a web of tensions and release, and just as “discourse structures the possibilities for thinking and acting” thinking and acting shapes the discourse. Thus, culture is deemed to be elusive, “…emergent, both product and process” (Yon, 1999, p. 626). Representation, then, can be seen not only as a marker of “social hermeneutics” used by those attempting to read a particular culture from the outside, but also as a tool by those within (or in proximity to) a culture to define and partition the boundaries of the culture, to decode the relationships of themselves and others to the culture (e.g., membership), and similarly to encode or declare their own relationship to a culture (Hall, 1997; 2007). We must, to quote Hall (1997), quoting Richard Hoggart (1958) “…try to see beyond the habits to what the habits stand for, to see through the statements to what the statements really mean…” (Hall, 1997, p. 43).

This is a challenging undertaking, as representations and their symbolisms can be insidious and pervasive—and contradictory, subject to interpretation. It is accepted that observers bring their own baggage to observations. In researching identity this may mean biases and preconceptions, or pre-established categories constructed around them, resulting in research and reflection that becomes an attempt to justify the choice of those particular categories. Lucia Thesen observes that “…identity can be seen as the dynamic interaction between the fixed identity categories that are applied to social groupings (such as race, gender, ethnicity, language, and other, more subtle representations that are activated in certain discourse settings) and the way individuals think of themselves as they move through the different discourses in which these categories are salient.” (Thesen ,1997, p. 488) Thesen draws a useful distinction between discourse (systemic, societal, institutional) and voice (individual). She too acknowledges the tension and flux I alluded to above, as “…linguistic representations of the fundamental tensions between structure and agency in social life.” (1997, p. 494) She cautions, “…discourse theory downplays agency in the sense that new identity categories and combinations of categories, generated by research subjects themselves, fail to emerge in educational understandings.” She advocates for “…research that brings the locus of interpretation closer to students to find out in which discourses they perceive themselves to be operating.” (1997, p. 507) Both Yon, in what he termed an identity “snapshot,” (1999, p. 626, 2000, p. 144) and Thesen in her “exploration of identity in movement, over a period of time” (1997, p. 506) encounter agency and uncover students’ ability to negotiate multiple discourses, even to self-identify using multiple representations, as in the initially surprising case of a Serbian student who self-identified as “Spanish.” My category (“Serbian”) refers to an ethnicity or a geographical origin, but the student perceived, negotiated, and appropriated for herself certain specific representations around music and apparel she perceived as “Spanish” (Yon, 2000, p. 147). My category prepositions the student, furthermore I could undoubtedly deduce it from paperwork and never need to meet with her to do so. Were one to ignore the young woman’s perceptions and the process by which she achieved this appropriation—her agency in the construction—one would not only dismiss the person, but miss the point of undertaking the analysis.

hoodieWhat about race?

I said earlier that race underpins representations of nationality and ethnicity, and that is for a variety of reasons both objective and subjective. Having grown up and attended school during the 60s, and for the most part in the United States, I spent most of my life believing there are three distinct races differentiated by distinct physical characteristics including skull shape, facial features, and skin colour. I was raised to believe such things made no difference as to how people of different races should be treated, and I was astute enough to recognize this wasn’t always the reality. I travelled, and at some point during the 70s I began understanding and using the word “ethnicity” to describe a more general concept I understood to mean not just race, but to encompass culture, language, and other things I had probably associated with “nationality” prior to acquiring the new vocabulary. Not until perhaps two years before taking this course did I even hear the hypothesis that race was an entirely a cultural construct, with no scientific basis, and I was sceptical. How could this be? What about pigment? What about eyelids? What about hair?

Upon reflection I soon came to accept that race is a construct, that these are variations on a theme—but that they represent many other things in many other contexts. It had been, as Goldberg exposed it, “comfortable” to think of race, and in racialized terms (Goldberg, 1993, p. 150). My travels resulted in an extended stay (1970-1974) in a “Third World” country (Ethiopia) and there’s no question in my memory that I understood it to be “primitive.” I learned it was more “advanced” than many other “primitive” countries—the proof was offered in such facts as having the only airline in Africa in the 1970s that could boast of all Ethiopian pilots and maintenance crew, from shop foreman to the most junior mechanic. I don’t recall ever hearing explicit reasons given for this bit of trivia, but I know that I inferred from somewhere that it was due to three things. First, Ethiopia was a “Christian country since the 4th century AD.” Second, Ethiopia is “one of only two countries in Africa that were never colonized by a European power” (see e.g., ImperialEthiopia.org or Henze, 2000, rev.). And third, Ethiopia was an ally of the United States. While it’s also very true that I heard of Emperor Haile Selassie’s stirring 1936 speech to the League of Nations, and I knew that, many years before my arrival, he had insisted English become the language used in all school and schooling beyond grade 7. I now recognize that I probably never fully credited the emperor or the Ethiopian people for any of these creative ideas or accomplishments; my knowledge was racialized, the Primitive internalized, and the Otherness of Africa was a given (Goldberg, 1993, pp. 150-7).

In the post-colonial Africa of the early 1970s, even in a country occupied (by Italy, 1936–1941) but never colonized, I experienced and benefited from White privilege. A 15-year-old boy might carry the only white face in the Merkato, but in 1974 he could walk anywhere without fear, and command attention, authority, and respect—though he might not ponder its especially British Colonial legacy. Many years later I considered what representations I likely manifested meeting narratives of colonial history—unconsciously, unwittingly, and unintentionally, through the same accidents of birth—and I understood that my “burden of representation” (Alexander, 2009, p. 465), while undeniably present, was relatively light.

White privilege

I’m now aware I have benefited from, and I continue to benefit from, white privilege—every waking hour of every day of my life. I have from the moment of my birth, and very well may until death. At 21 in California I stood patiently in line at the unemployment insurance office, spoke to the educated white workers in educated white English, quickly decoded the system, mastered the rules and collected full benefits weekly for the maximum number of weeks I was eligible. I can say with a clear conscience, however, that by 21 I didn’t believe for one second the African and Hispanic Americans in line (who usually weren’t “eligible,” and certainly weren’t as eloquent or composed) were to blame for their frustration—I remember thinking I’d be just as desperate were I held in that cycle of perpetual unemployability, just as rude and angry if I were being treated as I saw they were. When my benefits ran out I dressed just as appropriately and spoke just as eloquently at my next job interview, and quickly rejoined the world of the employed. As a white male I’ve enjoyed that level of freedom all my life, and exploited it often, sometimes without even knowing, other times with blatant arrogance.

A more recent example is when the Canadian born woman, whom I identified by my limited knowledge of accents as being of “Jamaican” heritage, accepted my expired health card and told the very next person, who spoke with a Caribbean accent similar to her own, she needed to see proof of his citizenship, which he then produced. How many times in that man’s life has he been asked to take just one more step to get to the finish line than I’ve been? Good thing she didn’t ask me, I’m an immigrant from the USA—and I didn’t have proof of my permanent residency! As a white male with no perceptible accent I’m identified as Canadian—included, eligible, okay. And while there may be little difference between a Canadian and an American in one context, there may be other times and places that a differentiation might be desired. That’s systemic, it’s about racializations and subliminal attitudes we all carry—yet none of us is “a racist.”

Implications for the 21st century classroom

The 21st century classroom is distinct because it’s often situated, at least in part, in cyberspace, and so is defined and restricted by a different set of boundaries (Parker & Song, 2009). The asynchronous nature of this classroom enables the emergence of “post-colonial subjectivities” providing multiple points of reference enhanced by global communications. “These emergent cultural formations cut across any simplistic binary between ‘pure’ old ethnicities, and multi-dimensional, progressive ‘new ethnicities’” (p. 600). Educators can benefit by becoming aware and respectful of these sensitivities. Framing the design of learning situations as opportunities to draw forth and empower multiple representations may be a powerful approach to engagement and community building that reaches far beyond more traditional perceptions of what classrooms are about (Parker & Song, 2009; WOW Project, 2007; Yon, 1999, 2000).

I believe an important first step is to acknowledge that the pathologizing concept of “race,” while lacking evidence to support its claims on our biology, is still part of our psychology, and is reflected in our attitudes, behaviors, and in our political systems and our policies. We must work as individuals to address the first two. We must work as societies to fix the last. It is—deeply and fundamentally—an education issue.



Alexander, Claire, (2009) “Stuart Hall and ‘Race’”, Cultural Studies, 23: 4, 457 — 482.

Banton, M. (2000) The Idiom of Race: A critique of presentism. In Back and Solomos (Eds.) Theories of Race and Racism: A Reader. London: Routledge.

Beckett, D. and Hager, P. (2002) Life, Work and Learning: Practice in Postmodernity, London: Routledge.

Bourdieu, Pierre and Loïc Wacquant (1999) ‘On the Cunning of Imperialist Reason’, Theory, Culture & Society 16: 41–58.

Foucault, M. (1978/1990) The History of Sexuality Vol. 1: An Introduction New York: Vintage.

Geertz, Clifford (1973) Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture, pp. 3-30, in The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays, NY: Basic Books, 470 pages.

Gilman, Sander L. (1985) Black Bodies, White Bodies: Toward an Iconography of Female Sexuality in Late Nineteenth-Century Art, Medicine, and Literature. Critical Inquiry, 12(1) “Race,” Writing, and Difference, 204-242.

Goldberg, David T. (1990) “The Social Formation of Racist Discourse” in The Anatomy of Racism, ed. Personal author, compiler, or editor name(s); click on any author to run a new search on that name.Goldberg, David Theo, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Goldberg, David T. (1993) Racial Knowledge. In Racist Culture, Philosophy and the Power of Meaning. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Hall, Stuart (1987), ‘Minimal Selves’, in Identity: The Real Me, ICA, London, p. 44.

Hall, Stuart (1988) ‘New ethnicities’, in Black Film/British Cinema, London, ICA.

Hall, Stuart (1997) ‘ “The Centrality of Culture”: Notes on the Revolutions of Our Time’, in K. Thompson (ed.) Media and Cultural Regulation, vol. 6 of the Culture, Media and Identities Course Books. London: SAGE and The Open University.

Hall, Stuart (2007), Richard Hoggart, The Uses of Literacy and the cultural turn, International journal of Cultural studies, 10(1):39-49.

Harrison, Faye V. (1998) Introduction: Expanding the Discourse on “Race” American Anthropologist 100(3):609-631.

Harrison, Faye V. (2005) Introduction: Global Perspectives… In Resisting Racism and Xenophobia: Global Perspectives on Race, Gender, and Human Rights. 1-34. Toronto: Altamira Press.

Henze, Paul B. (2000), Layers of Time – A History of Ethiopia, Christopher Hurst & Co. London, pp 372.

Hoggart, Richard (1958) The Uses of Literacy. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Parker , David and Song, Miri (2009), New Ethnicities and the Internet: Belonging and the negotiation of difference in multicultural Britain, Cultural Studies Vol. 23, No. 4 July 2009, pp. 583—604

Roediger, David R. (2001) ‘Critical Studies of Whiteness, USA: Origins and Arguments’, Theoria (South Africa) 98: 72–98.

Roediger, David R. (2006) A reply to Eric Kaufmann, Ethnicities, 6 (2): 254-262.

Sanjek, R. (1994) The Enduring Inequalities of Race.

Smedley, Audrey (1998) “Race” and the Construction of Human Identity American Anthropologist 100(3):690-702.

Stoler, Ann Laura (1995) “Placing Race in the History of Sexuality” in Race and the Education of Desire: Foucault’s History of Sexuality and the Colonial Order of Things, Duke University Press.

Stoler, Ann Laura (2002) “A Colonial reading of Foucault” in Colonial Knowledge and Imperial Power, Berkley CA: University of California Press.

Thesen, Lucia (1997) Voices, Discourse, and Transition: In Search of New Categories in EAP, TESOL Quarterly 31(3), 487-511.

Wolf, Eric R. (1994) Perilous Ideas: Race, Culture, People. Current Anthropology 35(1) 1-12.

WOW Project (2007) Web 2.0 and Emerging Learning Technologies/Learning Styles http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Web_2.0_and_Emerging_Learning_Technologies, retrieved 2009/11/15

Yon, Daniel A (1999) ‘Pedagogy and the “problem” of difference: on reading community in The Darker Side of Black’, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 12 (6), 623-641

Yon, Daniel A.(2000) ‘Urban Portraits of Identity: On the problem of knowing culture and identity in intercultural studies’, Journal of Intercultural Studies, 21: 2, 143 — 157

Young, Robert: Colonial Desire: White Power, White Desire (London: Routledge, 1995)

Mar 17

Reforming Education Reform

Educators can be leaders in Education Reform, but one sector, whom no one denies is a needed stakeholder, just wants to throw money at the problems—and at defining the problems and overwhelming the Public’s perception of problems. They venture to extract even more money by solving the problems, and to that end they’ve invested in a system of collecting numbers that “prove” the problems persist. skewing the outcome towards a single perspective. As the array of multinational conglomerate logos in the images show this is part of the landscape across the world, in North America in general, but it’s especially true in the United States, where the textbook, testing, school supplies industries are entrenching a new status quo. Logos of corporations and others interested in reforming education.

A retiring principal in New York state recently said,

Apple! McDonald’s! Microsoft! Starbucks! Google! None of these endeavors or companies were started by excellent test-takers! I fear that our present cadre of educational reformers – the non-educators noted above – are creating children who are great little test-takers, who can select A, B, C or D as an answer with the best of them, and whose performance can be placed onto a nice little spreadsheet. But we must ask ourselves, at what price?”
(Don Sternberg, 2013, quoted on Diane Ravitch’s blog)

But there’s a flaw in Dr. Sternberg’s statement as written: educational reformers do not create children, are not in classrooms, and won’t be the ones hired to create engaging alternatives to classrooms, or powerful digital enhancements to classroom instruction, or plan how to use all those things effectively in authentic projects then do so. Parents create children. Educators educate them. I argue these two groups have the most invested, both in tax dollars and in interest in the outcome, and therefor must remain strong allies. Corporate strategists must also believe this, as some go to great lengths to divide parents and teachers, and conquer each group separately.

The only counter to this is a truism: The Private needs The Public in order to survive.

Such an assertion requires evidence, and educationists are the ones to provide it. (Rodríguez-Romero, 2008)

The education sector can find its own cohesion by encouraging and promoting use of Public Buildings. The president’s jobs plan includes rebuilding schools. Be active, and support activists in your community by making noise, let everyone know you want to build and rebuild schools in your area. Build them as optimized Public Spaces, usable 24/7 if your neighborhood can benefit from that, at cost-recovery prices or less, during hours that attract the most people in your locality. Invest in putting Kids, Students, Parents, Communities—all the local experts—first.

We can tell it’s the right way to look at it because the people who use the system most, all those I just named are 1) both main users & main investors in system (taxes) 2) the experts on how and what works and what is needed first 3) the ones whose daily lives and futures are affected by the decisions being made.

We all stand to profit from a Student/Parent/Community-centric approach. Local Business knows dollar profits mean nothing when Talent goes undeveloped, withers, becomes easily undercut from outside, is forced to move away. We all can understand that not all value and profit is in dollars and cents. Democracy thrives in knowledge—nurtured by scholars, and sense.

Teachers need to stay focused on good pedagogy, but even those many great teachers who are still too busy to Tweet and blog now need to add some level of social networking and DIY technology. It’s not just about time spent teaching, but more practical, as communication with Parents and Community. A teacher who collaborates with the school and community to expose the exciting learning situations that are happening, make the thinking behind them transparent and visible, see the Learners and their Learning recognized, applauded and celebrated, is the best advocate for public education anyone could hope for. A parent who is a programmer, mechanic, shop-owner, assembly-line worker, a lawyer or any local business that does Something Kids Find Engaging—a potential career path, hobby, or even passing fad—all of these are valid 21st century situations where learning is already taking place. How do we tap in, without skipping a beat or losing stride?

DIY tech, like your class blog or web page, projects you share in real time on the Internet, all these are ways to bring people into your classroom, into your building and into a growing sense of sharing a common purpose. Just do it. We’ve talked for 40 years about “situated” learning. It’s time we start thinking about learning situations and the situations where learning happens—and then create them and share them Publicly.

Kids and Parents can once again come to think of the School as a place that’s good to go evenings and weekends, to meet friends, be in clubs… again, there are too many places where total renovation is required first So be it those are real jobs that people could count on and real investments that benefit ourselves and future generations.

I believe we have to rely even more on our own agency. Don’t just cultivate a personal learning network (PLN), try to join and grow a Community of Practice (CoP). It’s a subtle difference in the role of give and take, a slightly different take on the value of ideas that may be at the periphery of your main interests, but I think a meaningful one. It’s especially meaningful in

Be the best teacher you can be but don’t do it alone. From the ground up, advocate for technology and uses of technology that bring more energetic, engaged and engaging people into your situation. Class trips and parent visits are two-way now, either can be virtual or physical, and your classes’ videoed presentations can be viewed from the business meeting in Ottawa or when mom gets home tomorrow morning after night shift.

When parents view themselves as a collective group and their families as a community bounded by similar interests and desires, a foundation to act collectively and to become more powerful agents in the school emerges. Relationships are at the core of bringing this power to parents.
Warren et al., 2009
[Can the same not be said of any stakeholder group in education? And isn’t the thing about corporate reformers that irks us not so much their money but the way in which many of them have gone about spending it, siphoning and harvesting, rather than planting and growing? –RF]

Then, corporate reformers and venture capitalists will be forced to compete with the kind of value we’ve Pulled From Within Ourselves. It forces them to spend their money on the things the true leaders have demonstrated work, are working, and that get People Where We Are Going . History shows—Public spirit shall overcome.



  1. educationist [ej-oo-key-shuh-nist] noun
    “a specialist in the theory and methods of education…”
    …but that doesn’t really do justice to the way it’s used nowadays. For me the word connotes a certain devotion to teaching and learning that goes beyond theory, into truly transformative pedagogy. Praxis is about changing behaviors in meaningful ways, expanding not only knowledge, but renovating views and beliefs that were held before the new knowledge was obtained.

Reference and further reading

Rodríguez-Romero, M. (2008), “Situated Pedagogies, Curricular Justice and Democratic Teaching”, in OECD, Innovating to Learn, Learning to Innovate, pp. 113–136, OECD Publishing.

Rittel, Horst W. J. and Webber, Melvin M. (1973), Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning, Policy Sciences 4 (1973), 155-169. [PDF]

Don Sternberg, Ed.D. Principal, February 26, 2013, letter to parents http://dianeravitch.net/2013/03/11/retiring-principal-stop-the-madness/

Mark R. Warren, Soo Hong, Carolyn Leung Rubin, Phitsamay Sychitkokhong Uy (2009), Beyond the Bake Sale: A Community- Based Relational Approach to Parent Engagement in Schools, Teachers College Record, Volume 111, Number 9, September 2009, pp. 2209–2254, http://bit.ly/nYwbjK (PDF), Accessed March 17, 2013.

Jul 04

The Genuine Cato’s Letters: republicanism & publick virtue in the American revolutionary era


…not your crazy uncle’s 21st century neo-Libertarian doublethink

ABSTRACT: Part 1 of this essay is reflections on the context of my own introduction to Cato’s Letters: Essays on Liberty, Civil and Religious, and Other Important Subjects by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, 144 essays published 1720-23—that of an American teenager living abroad—and how that fit with and influenced the direction of my own education. I discuss my brief flirtation with Libertarianism, when I learned of its historical roots in Anarchism and Socialism, and I’ll shine a light on its differences from the neo-Libertarianism we see in the U.S.A. today. I present ideas from the work of several noted feminists regarding the philosophy and its protagonists at the turn of the 21st century. I fact check and correct myself  on some fuzzy perceptions I’ve held in the past. In Part 2 I also begin with context: the cosmopolitan aspirations—and liberal education—of the generation that fomented the American Revolution. I look at the misappropriation of the historical Cato’s Letters by the “Libertarian” think tank. By critically analysing the language and arguments of a contemporary “Cato’s Letter” relative to some  authentic Trenchard and Gordon (1720-1723) I reveal the degree by which the modern message differs from its namesake’s.

The Cato Letters: the TEA1 Party is not the first group to steal a name from history, shroud it in Orwellian doublespeak to skew its message and meaning towards a purpose. But this essay is not about the TEA party, Libertarianism or the Cato Institute. It’s about times and thinking of the genuine Cato’s Letters: Essays on Liberty, Civil and Religious, and Other Important Subjects by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, 1720-23—or rather what they told us, 300 years in advance, about groups like the TEA party, (neo-)Libertarians, and the Cato Institute, who go about borrowing names.

Background… where I’m coming from

For some years I’ve been fond of saying, “I distrust anyone who did not embrace libertarianism at 15 almost as much as I do those who continue to embrace it after about 21.” This is because I learned the word when, at 15, I told my father I liked the sound of “few laws, well enforced” and he replied “Sounds like you may be a libertarian!” I’ve also called libertarianism “an adolescent male fantasy.” This is because, my father’s comment having resulted in my soon looking them up, I uncovered some self-described libertarians in my neighborhood and observed they idealized a world like the Wild Wild West, or believed in such untenable ideas as returning to a gold standard2. At the time I was also learning jazz guitar, I was painfully aware there were no women in my musical circles, there were also very few at jazz or fusion shows, so I needed an extra-curricular activity that presented some chance of meeting women—but even then it took about 15 minutes to understand why they wouldn’t be at a meeting of these particular libertarians, anyway.

So far this is all anecdotal. That there are more neo-Libertarian men than women is accepted by everyone. Susan C. Herring, discussing online harassment, reports how a “rhetoric of harassment” manifests from libertarian principles of freedom of expression, “…constructing women’ s resistance as ‘censorship’—a strategy that ultimately succeeds, I propose, because of the ideological dominance of (male-gendered) libertarian norms of interaction on the Internet. (Herring, 1999:152).

Some Libertarian men who blog about the lack of libertarian women tend to be condescending and demeaning, as Darrell Anderson’s “when a woman finally understands the fallacies of statism and the proverbial bell rings in her head …” (Anderson, no date given) or prejudiced and demeaning, as James (2002):

I know what you’re thinking. “Women shouldn’t be so sensitive. Women shouldn’t be afraid of confrontation. Women shouldn’t be so hung up on niceties. Women…” Guess what? It doesn’t matter. They are.

Libertarianism is patronizing because it is patriarchy in perpetual adolescence. Tong (1992) and Walby (1990) stand at the forefront of a large body of work supporting the belief that the oppression (or “consciousness-shaping” (Seiler, no date)) of women results from a complex articulation of patriarchy and capitalism. Wood (1997:321) (as summarized by Seiler, op. cit.) highlights two aspects that distinguish Muted-Group Theory, which I find particularly relevant here: “focusing on how language names experiences” and “…paying close attention to the way that a dominant discourse silences or mutes groups that are not in society’s mainstream.” We see in the examples above, hundreds like them on the Internet, just as in the IRC chat rooms (Herring, 1999) an overt sexism is innate and omnipresent in libertarian thought and expression.

Age 15 is also when I moved to the province of Quebec, Canada, enrolled in the “Social Sciences” program at John Abbott College, and signed up for The History of Western Philosophy, Calculus for the Social Sciences, (one I didn’t think they’d teach as well in the States:) Marxism, and thought I’d treat myself to at least one cushy course. An American in Canada should be able to ace US History, right? Maybe—but not if the teacher is Neil Cameron. We learned the phrase “primary source,” we read personal letters of founders and everyday colonial Americans (e.g., Beers, 1891), we read The Federalist, we read Alexis de Toqueville , we read Aristotle’s Rhetoric — and we read several of Cato’s Letters.

At the time Professor Cameron’s telling of the War of 1812 engaged me more, for I’d heard it told so differently I’d finally caught my old US school texts red-handed re-writing history… but I always recalled discussing ‘publick spirit,’  ‘virtue’ and in the phrase ‘…to hear the worst things called by the best names…’ the clear understanding of what Orwell would many years later develop into ‘doublespeak’.

It was well past 1984 that I heard of The Cato Institute and gradually learned what such rhetorical phrases as individual freedom and free markets mean within their context, and that they took their name from John Trenchard’s and Thomas Gordon’s essays. I believe that’s where my anger at the Cato Institute began.


Leave men to take the full reward of their fancied merit, and the world will be thought too little for almost every individual, as Alexander thought it for him. He had the fortune to ravage the world, and from thence believed he had a right to it.
— Thomas Gordon,
Cato’s Letter Vol. 4 No. 1. Saturday, August 24, 1723


Men who are advanced to great stations, and are highly honoured and rewarded at the publick cost, ought to look upon themselves as creatures of the publick… They ought to reflect, that thousands, ten thousands of their countrymen, have equal, or perhaps greater, qualifications than themselves; and that blind fortune alone has given them their present distinction: That the estate of the freeholder, the hazard of the merchant, and the sweat of the labourer, all contribute to their greatness; and when once they can see themselves in this mirror, they will think nothing can be too grateful, nothing too great or too hazardous to be done for such benefactors.
— John Trenchard,
Cato’s Letter Vol. 1 No. 20. Saturday, March 11, 1721

I don’t recall Neil Cameron ever reducing American intellectual thought to Locke et praeterea nihil, what Robert E. Shalhope has called the “orthodox” position on American republicanism (Shalhope , 1972). Shalhope points to the work of such historians as Neal Riemer and Caroline Robbins as what has slowly and steadily nudged the literature towards a deeper underestanding of American Revolutionary thought. Taken as a whole, this entire train of thought that has transpired in academia since my studies with professor Cameron is referred to as the republican synthesis.

The republican synthesis

Daniel T. Rodgers has written a thorough yet wonderfully readable (downright engaging) summary of this school of thought.

The republican synthesis can only be understood within a succession of paradigms: Beardian, Hartzian, and republican. The Beardian paradigm organized American history around a restless sea of conflicting material interests; the Hartzian around a stable liberal consensus; the republican around the importance of liberalism’s precedents and rival”


To a left critic …like Isaac Kramnick, to leave Locke and bourgeois liberalism out of the story was to dissolve class relations into a court/country schematic “too confusing to be useful.” To a Hartzian [on the right] like John Diggins, America was nothing if it was not Locke and Calvin, acquisitiveness and guilt, locked in tragic embrace. For all of them, the new stress on language and ideology sharply compounded the problem: for Appleby because it allowed too little room for dissent and novelty, for Kramnick because it was too soft, for Diggins because it imputed behavioral consequence to ideas at all.”
(Rodgers, 1992)

But when Shalhope says “… radical whigs such as Robert Molesworth, John Toland, Thomas Gordon, John Trenchard, Richard Baron, and Thomas Hollis… did manage to transmit their libertarian heritage to America where it acquired great vitality…” (emphasis mine) he is not speaking of the same libertarianism now flogged by such factions as the Cato Institute. Caroline Robbins’s important contribution to understanding English libertarian thought was by way of the story of Thomas Hollis (1720-1774), whose “peculiar kind of liberty …reflected in the writing of Milton, Marvell, and others [asserted] …public virtue and private frugality seemed to be the only way to avoid [luxury causing political decline as  seen in ancient republics]. The best way for a people to maintain their liberties was to guard them carefully and have frequent …elections …to enforce restraints upon their rulers. Robbins made it explicit that Hollis’s peculiar brand of liberty struck a responsive chord in America” (Shalhope, 1972).

While Shalhope (1972) clearly refers to Trenchard’s (1662-1723) political heritage as  “libertarian”, but according to others the first recorded use of the term was in 1789 by William Belsham (Belsham, 1789), after the American Revolution. Woodcock (1967) traces the line of philosophical thought preceding from Winstanley (1649) through Godwin (1793) to the first self-described anarchist, Proudhon (1840). An astonishing number of self-identified “libertarians” I’ve encountered, some who hold positions of authority within the most prestigious “libertarian” institutions are apparently unaware of its kinship with Anarchism, “the ultimate projection of Liberalism and Socialism,” (e.g., Chomsky, Socialist Libertarian) or that “For a century, anarchists have used the word ‘libertarian’ as a synonym for ‘anarchist’, both as a noun and an adjective. …However, much more recently the word has been appropriated by various American free-market philosophers…” (Ward, 2004). Some say this view, in pure and distilled form, casts libertarianism as a license to all imaginable rights with few responsibilities (libertarians quite expectedly dispute this and offer counter-arguments, e.g., Long, 2004). But it is a faux libertarianism, one I call neo-Libertariansism.

Originally, libertarianism was anti-capitalist and opposed accumulation of property. Usage of the term in the US and Canada, with notions of “free-market” “prosperity” reflects the power of business in these countries. “At times, and particularly in the United States, the broadening appeal of libertarian ideas has also led to their adulteration, so that anarchism often appears as only one element in what can be described as a climate of rebellion, an insurrectionary frame of mind, rather than a new revolutionary ideology. ” (Woodcock, PS:1975; Chomsky referenced in Leiter, 2009). Neo-Libertarianism emerged in the 1840s (Woodcock, 1967). Libertarians have been “wont to project,  to look outside their community and see their values in leaders and movements separated by history and geography.” As Woodcock explains,

“However, while it is true that some of the central libertarian ideas are to be found in varying degrees among these men and movements, the first forms of anarchism as a developed social philosophy appeared at the beginning of the modern era, when the medieval order had disintegrated, the Reformation had reached its radical, sectarian phase, and the rudimentary forms of modern political and economic organization had begun to appear. In other words, the emergence of the modern state and of capitalism is paralleled by the emergence of the philosophy that, in various forms, has opposed them most fundamentally.” (Woodcock 1967).

*  *  *

A mitigation

Twitter, as most of us know, allows “tweets” of 140 characters or less. It can be very challenging to compose a coherent thought, or adequately support an argument, but it’s a challenge millions accept many times a day, all day, all over the globe. And every day some percentage of those challenges result in imprecise language, and some generally fastidious authors get lazy to conserve space.

I did that recently on Twitter when I called the Institute “the Koch’s Cato” and, similarly, when I referred to the Koch’s Heritage Foundation as Cato’s “sister.” “Cousin” would have been accurate.  I also referred to the Cato Institute as “Orwellian” and “demagogues.” Those I got right, as I’ll demonstrate below. First, here’s what needs qualification:

  1. It is widely acknowledged that Cato has retained a nonpartisan, libertarian identity and therefor should not be exactly equated with Koch-funded propoganda/special interest outfits like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute (National Journal, 2012-06-19).
  2. Many people know that Cato was originally founded by Murray Rothbard, Ed Crane and Charles Koch in 1974 as the Charles Koch Foundation. It changed its name to the Cato Institute in 1976. It appears less well known that the Institute performs no contract research and does not accept government funding (Cato, 1977, 1994, 2001). The Kochs provided about 4 percent of Cato’s revenue during the past decade (Forbes, 2012-03-11).

Perhaps, though, Cato simply wasn’t ripe. Last March, and again in April, the Koch’s sued the Institute and attempted to reverse “what they called a “board-packing scheme” to weaken their influence. ” (Bloomberg, 2012-04-10) Robert A. Levy, chairman of Cato’s board, knows that skewing brand-name research and scholars in support of political advocacy groups is what the Kochs do (NYT, 2012-03-06). In the final week of June 2012 the dispute was settled. On Monday June 25, 2012 parties announced Crane would be replaced by former BB&T Corp. (BBT) chairman John A. Allison, and stated they believe the agreement assures “…that Cato is not viewed as controlled by the Kochs” but will “…be a principled organization that is effective in advancing a free society” But “Under the terms of the agreement, Cato will cease to be a stockholder corporation and instead will be governed by the members, who will double as institute directors and who will elect their own successors, the parties said.” and “The initial Cato board will include 12 long-term directors including David Koch, three other Koch designees and Allison, who holds the option to nominate one or two additional directors. 3

Whether the Kochs provide 4% or 94% of Cato’s funding, is there anyone anywhere who denies that the policies Cato advocates will make the Kochs more money, that the brothers are aware of this, and they’ve demonstrated their resolve to see this continue, by whatever means are available?

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Where-ever publick spirit is found dangerous, she will soon be seen dead. – Thomas Gordon #35. Saturday, July 1, 1721. Of Publick Spirit.

“Citizen of the World,” the American colonial farmer

John Fea paints a rich picture of the social life of the colonies circa 1773 by following several days in the journal of Philip Vickers Fithian, a resident of rural New Jersey. This educated and upwardly mobile son of a farmer, mild-mannered candidate for the Presbyterian ministry, headed off to Princeton to the College of New Jersey and became radicalized. On December 22, 1774 Fithian donned feathers and war paint, and burned all the tea that had been surreptitiously offloaded there by the captain sailing the Greyhound for the East India Company, who hoped to avoid being turned away in Philadelphia, and having his cargo rejected (Stockton, 1896/2003). Fitihian wasn’t the first nor the last young colonial in the latter half of the 18th century to be radicalized by a liberal education from Princeton. In the decade before the American Revolution “…Princeton was becoming a political training school… a school attended by future revolutionists, founding fathers, supreme court justices, and even by a future president. Men like Luther Martin, William Paterson, Oliver Ellsworth, and James Madison… The results were suggested by the attendance figures for the Constitutional Convention: sixteen percent of the delegates were Princeton men.” (Haskett, 1949).

John Fea (2003) translates Fithian’s desire to be part of a “republic of letters,” a trans-Atlantic exchange of ideas “…was above all else a rational republic, with little tolerance for those unable to rid themselves of parochial passions. Participation required a commitment to self-improvement that demanded a belief in the Enlightenment values of human potential and societal progress. The best citizens of the republic maintained primary loyalty, not to family, friends, faith, or land, but to an international commonwealth of humankind” (464). The republic of letters had a long tradition in France, where “…The ideal was that all members of the community were equal, or at least that everyone had an equal chance for advancement. But that same ideal dictated that one must advance on the community’s terms.” There were inevitably “greats” among them, but “…Since their greatness stemmed in large part from their communal service, to use them as a model—accurate or not—was to promote the cohesion of the Republic” (Goldgar, 1995) .

Cato’s Letters (Trenchard & Gordon, 1720-1723)

“Cato’s Letters,” says Clinton Rossiter (1953), “…was the most popular, quotable, esteemed source for political ideas in the colonial period.” An estimated half of colonial libraries owned bound copies of the 144 essays that were published from 1720 to 1723, over 10 years before the birth of many Founders, a full 20 before Madison (1751) (op. cit.). I report honestly, I was only able to do a cursory search of current US history textbooks (and in most cases I was unable to see or search their indexes), the AP US History exam, and journals, but I found almost no mention, and absolutely no description, of these definitive writings. If James Madison is the “Father of the Constitution,” surely Trenchard and Gordon are “Fathers of the Revolution.”

The pre-Revolutionary colonists were by no means against government. Government that protects life, liberty and property, provides for its citizens and makes life easier is successful government, and causes a society to succeed: “And therefore whatever state gives more encouragement to its subjects than the neighbouring states do, and finds them more work, and gives them greater rewards for that work; and by all these laudable ways makes [the] human condition easier than it is elsewhere, and secures life and property better; that state will draw the inhabitants from the neighbouring countries to its own…” (Gordon, #67, Feb. 1722).  Moreover, they thought critically about government, understood the responsibility implicit in big republican ideas like government by the people; i.e., they knew that people make both better governments and worse ones. They were politically astute; above all they knew the power of well chosen words used in specific styles and arguments. Cato’s Letters reveal a clear understanding of the technique, dubbed “doublespeak” centuries later by George Orwell (emphasis mine):

 NO. 13. Saturday, January 21, 1721. The Arts of misleading the People by Sounds. (Trenchard)

“…I will own, however, that government makes more fools, and more wise men, than nature makes; and the difference between nation and nation, in point of virtue, sagacity, and arms, arises not from the different genius of the people; which, making very small allowances for the difference of climate, would be the same under the same regulations; but from the different genius of their political constitutions…

 “…Yet even in countries where the highest liberty is allowed, and the greatest light shines, you generally find certain men, and bodies of men, set apart to mislead the multitude; who are ever abused with words, ever fond of the worst of things recommended by good names, and ever abhor the best things, and the most virtuous actions, disfigured by ill names. One of the great arts, therefore, of cheating men, is, to study the application and misapplication of sounds—a few loud words rule the majority, I had almost said, the whole world…”

In Volume 2, #67 (February 24, 1722) Gordon describes the woes of places in history “where a few have liberty, and all the rest are slaves” then proceeds to describe an antidote—which may sound very much like a market economy: “And nothing can free mankind from this abject and forlorn condition, but the invention of arts and sciences; that is, the finding out of more materials and expedients to make life easy and pleasant; and the inducing people to believe, what they will readily believe, that other things are necessary to their happiness, besides those which nature has made necessary. Thus the luxury of the rich becomes the bread of the poor” (op. cit.). But it is decidedly not an unfettered free market and in no uncertain terms Gordon reveals, as he and Trenchard do frequently throughout the letters, his deep distrust of markets and the selfish men they often described as dominating them, “…unworthy men, who, by faction and treachery, by mean compliances with power, or by insolently daring of authority, having raised themselves to wealth and honours, and to the power of betraying some considerable trust, have had the provoking sauciness to call themselves the government…” (Trenchard, #13, Jan 21 1721) Great men in governments of the people must behave differently: “all the projects of men in power ought to refer to the people, to aim solely at their good, and end in it.”

Trenchard argued for social justice, his and Gordon’s letters were against the corruptions of money and power.

NO. 20. Saturday, March 11, 1721. Of publick Justice, how necessary to the Security and Well-being of a State, and how destructive the Neglect of it to the British Nation. Signal Instances of it. (Trenchard)

…Men who are advanced to great stations, and are highly honoured and rewarded at the publick cost, ought to look upon themselves as creatures of the publick, as machines erected and set up for publick emolument and safety. …and that blind fortune alone has given them their present distinction…

…There is no analogy between the crimes of private men and those of publick magistrates: The first terminate in the death or sufferings of single persons; the others ruin millions, subvert the policy and oeconomy of nations, and create general want, and its consequences, discontents, insurrections, and civil wars, at home… But amongst the crimes which regard a state, peculatus, or robbing the publick, is the greatest; because upon the careful and frugal administration of the public treasure the very being of the commonwealth depends…

Almost 300 years ago Trenchard and Gordon described a political climate very much as we see in Washington today. An unfettered ability to aggregate wealth was widely understood to lead to subversion. Today we see financial tricksters carry on with impunity, back-to-back wars,  the creation of “think tanks” and special interest groups, we see revolving doors between government and lobbying groups. We hear educated otherwise reasonable people repeating nonsense (e.g., the health care debate’s “death panels”) and supporting positions contrary to their own interests, as Trenchard and Gordon wrote in 1721:

NO. 17. Saturday, February 18, 1721. What Measures are actually taken by wicked and desperate Ministers to ruin and enslave their Country. (Trenchard)

…It is the business and policy of traitors, so to disguise their treason with plausible names, and so to recommend it with popular and bewitching colours, that they themselves shall be adored, while their work is detested, and yet carried on by those that detest it….

…They will be ever contriving and forming wicked and dangerous projects, to make the people poor, and themselves rich…

…They will engage their country in ridiculous, expensive, fantastical wars, to keep the minds of men in continual hurry and agitation, and under constant fears and alarms…

...They will create parties in the commonwealth, or keep them up where they already are; and, by playing them by turns upon each other, will rule both. By making the Guelfs afraid of the Ghibelines, and these afraid of the Guelfs, they will make themselves the mediums and balance between the two factions; and both factions, in their turns, the props of their authority, and the instruments of their designs…

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A Republican Language
The Founders and the Sons of American Revolution, who would have been Trenchard and Gordon’s sons or grandsons, understood that the American experiment required a distinctive language of its own. John Adams wrote to Congress from Amsterdam in 1780, “the form of government has an influence upon language” and language influences “not only the form of government, but the temper, the sentiments, and manners of the people.” (John Adams, 1780, quoted in Howe, 2006:77) Thomas Paine, Noah Webster, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson all called for an Americanized English to purge political language of “every vestige of monarchy.” Benjamin Franklin rejected language reflecting class distinction, arguing for language that promoted equality. (op. cit.:77-79) These sentiments are why, for example, we say “Mr. President,” and not “Your Excellency.” The questions that emerged, such as the meaning of public virtue,the obligations of citizens towards the greater good, how much democracy a republic can safely contain—and how all that related to individual freedoms—these have been at the heart of American political discourse since the beginning of the American experiment in republican government (op. cit.,:81-91).

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Rhetoric: the art of persuasion:
The new Cato’s Letters generated by neo-Libertarian “think tank” The Cato Institute are very different. For example, #12 “The Rise of Government and the Decline of Morality,” essentially an assertion these two things are interdependent. As Aristotle tells us there are 3 parts to any persuasion. “The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself” (Rhetoric, 1356a). By setting up “Cato” as an Institute and giving its footsoldiers titles like “Vice President of Academic Affairs” a group arguing for fewer laws curtailing their economic activities is trying to cover the first base, the credibility of the speaker. The frame of mind all Cato publications attempt to set, using words and phrases such as “dependent,” “meddling,” “sacrificed freedom,” “undermines incentives,” or “intervention” is self-righteous anger. Dorn’s argument in neo-Letter #12 is representative, and is essentially that “…economic and social legislation over the past 50 years has had a negative impact on virtue”(Dorn, 1996). To make this point Dorn and other promoters of unfettered free markets employ mainly what Aristotle called “rhetorical enthymemes.” In an enthymeme, part of the argument is assumed. If you use a word your audience already accepts as a negative, such as “dependent,” the audience fills in the blanks.

Dorn’s article contains virtually no references and makes a litany of unsubstantiated assertions. Dorn helps the audience synthesize a mythical definition of “American virtue” by appealing to collective memories of white European immigrants at the turn of the century. “At the turn of the century, there was no welfare state,” says he. Dorn claims white Polish immigrants came to this country, or to Baltimore anyway, with a morality and apparently a natural inclination towards founding building and loan associations. By 1929 60% owned their own homes. Predictably Dorn glosses over the socialist implications of “pooling resources to help each other…” (Dorn, 1996).

Dorn knows next to nothing about Polish immigrants, however, who arrived in North America before the Mayflower, or if he does he would prefer the rest of us don’t.  They had skills. They were labor activists who in 1619 staged the first strike in the New World (Seidner, 1976). Many Polish immigrants originally had no intention of staying, and many returned to Poland, having made enough to advance their standing in the old world (Lopata & Erdmans, 1995).

In fact, the turn of the 20th century is generally regarded as the beginning of the Progressive movement in America, largely in repsponse to the excesses of industry. In his a-historical rush to invent a past that suits his argument Dorn fails to consider that, while Poles generally came voluntarily, Baltimore had generations of freed slaves who often had no skills or were forced to take unskilled jobs to make room for skilled whites (Polish immigrants?) (Fuke, 1997). One of Dorn’s measures of “moral decay in America are the prevalence of out-of-wedlock births.” At the turn of the century Dorn romanticizes unwed mothers were handled mainly by religious institutions in partnership with all levels of government. Although she speaks of turn-of-the-century Indianapolis not Baltimore Mary Mapes makes the point that public/faith-based partnerships were a good fit that lasted well past the 1930s, and adds “This history calls into question the once widely held belief that the voluntary sector must necessarily contract in size as the welfare state expands.”  (Mapes, 1999).

In one ludicrous leap Dorn reveals both his obsession with attacking  liberal fantasms of his own creation and his low opinion of his audience’s intelligence, asserting that in 1960s Baltimore “the way to survive is not to take responsibility for one’s own life and family, but to vote for politicians who have the power to keep the welfare checks rolling.” In the long history of Baltimore’s annexation both national parties quickly saw the advantages of the suburban and rural votes and did all they could to garner their votes. As for Dorn’s utterly simplistic notion that 40 years of “growing government” and “welfare” caused Baltimore’s urban troubles in the 1960s, Joseph Arnold provides some historical perspective (emphasis mine): “The century and a half of intense belligerency between Baltimore and Baltimore County, largely over suburban territory, provided an important historical perspective on current city-suburban problems which plague not only Maryland and the South, but the whole nation.” (Arnold, 1978).

This Cato’s letter, as all Cato Institute’s propoganda does, paints a nostalgic, incomplete, innacurate portrait designed to stoke the emotions and mislead the listener. The Cato Institute’s scientific strength is in the psychology of division and deception; their socio-political analyses, as should be obvious from the simplistic language, are meaningless blather to be memorized and repeated by the types of dullards who see them as affirming or vindicating the opinions they already held when they sought out the Cato Institute to affirm and vindicate their opinions!

What’s in a name?
The Cato Institute (which we have accepted is not as closely associated with the Koch brothers as Heartland Institute, Heritage Foundation, James Madison Institute etc., who all use this technique) make a great point of calling public education “government schools.”  Do the same people drive on “government roads” walk their dogs in “government parks” or borrow books from “government libraries?” No, of course they don’t. Frank Luntz is described as “a Republican strategist and one of the nation’s foremost experts on crafting the perfect political message.” Luntz is responsible for changing “taxing” the rich, which Americans support, to “taking from” the rich. Luntz has been largely successful in removing the word “entrepreneur” and substituting it with “job-creator.” Luntz feared, especially after Occupy Wall St., that Americans were changing their views on capitalism, seeing it as “immoral.” “I’m trying to get that word removed and we’re replacing it with either ‘economic freedom’ or ‘free market,’ ” Luntz said. (Yahoo News, 2011)

The free-market dogma of the Cato Institute is distantly removed from the spirit of the Cato’s Letters of Trenchard and Gordon, which are widely regarded as representative of pre-Revolutionary Colonial American political thought. Philosophically and politically, the Fathers of the American Revolution were nothing like the so-called Libertarians of 21st century North America, who have much more in common with the “tyrants” “boasters” and “knaves” Trenchard and Gordon regularly disparage for their greed and lack of “publick spirit” (e.g., #35). They did not despise government, only tyranny of the minority, and they believed equally that role of a government limited by common sense and the mutually negotiated contracts was both to protect the lives, liberty, and property of its members but also to regulate and limit the ability of power to aggregate in the hands of a few.

The United States of America owes its very existence to 18th century  France, the French Enlightenment, the Republic of Letters, and the liberal education so many movers and shakers of the period acquired at the College of New Jersey in Princeton. Fithian’s journal indeed discusses how his father suspected he might be indoctrinated there (Howe, 2009). Our nation’s history shows how he was inspired there.

The language these self-promoters use, such as “government schools” and “school choice” is loaded and incendiary, crafted to stir emotions and divert from reason. Those who speak in such terms are disingenuous, and should not be invited to the table until they cease and desist from such wilful diversions. At Cato, “Freedom” means freedom for the privileged, “liberty” means those who already have the most are at liberty to make the rules work so they will acquire more. The authentic Cato’s Letters said this: “…In every country, and under every government, particular men may be too rich. “

Among the darkest perversions The Cato Institute prepetrates are its attacks on science and education. Benjamin Franklin is perhaps the most touted revolutionary American who explored science and invention, but it is very important to note that the revolutionary period in the British-American colonies coincided with the Scottish Enlightenment. During this period Scotland reaped immeasurable benefits by establishing  free trade with England and “Europe’s first public education system since classical times. Under these twin stimuli, Scottish thinkers began questioning assumptions previously taken for granted; and with Scotland’s traditional connections to France, then in the throes of the Enlightenment, the Scots began developing a uniquely practical branch of humanism.” No further evidence of The Institute’s agenda-affirming cherry-pick of history is required: they love Hume’s free trade but ignore his science and humanism.  The Cato Store features a library of climate science denial of potential benefit to the fossil fuel industry, their benefactors. The genuine Cato’s Letters said this: “Ignorance of arts and sciences, and of every thing that is good, together with poverty, misery, and desolation, are found for the most part all together, and are all certainly produced by tyranny. – G #67”

The debate over public virtue and individual rights is older than the nation, but no Founder would have advocated letting his neighbor’s house burn because he hadn’t paid his insurance. Incendiary right wing rhetoric of the type contrived by Cato and the wholly owned Koch subsidiaries to which it is related is a blight on the national discourse. As Americans we must always criticize government, but we can never hate it—it would be to hate ourselves. The authentic Cato’s Letters said this:  “Where-ever publick spirit is found dangerous, she will soon be seen dead. – G #35”

Definitions of morality necessarily contain values, and free people necessarily must ask, “Who defines morality and virtue? Whom do the resulting definitions benefit? How are such decisions made? Who decides?”


This essay is dedicated to Neil Cameron of Montreal, PQ, who taught me to prefer source materials and make up my own mind—especially if the topic is US history and politics.

1 “Taxed Enough Already,” a favourite slogan of the so-called astroturf (“corporate funded” or “faux-populist”) group. Such a spelling takes a small step towards diminishing the utterly wrong association with “The Boston Tea Party of 1773,” and event in American history during which anti-corporate rebels destroyed the property of The East India Tea Company, a private corporation many Patriots believed would “rob them blind.” The issue was not taxes, but representation; they wanted their tax dollars to go to local services, not to subsidize an offshore private corporation. One patriot, George Hewes, who boarded the ships and dumped the tea later explained it was the corporation’s habit of using close ties to the monarchy to alter laws. The TEA Party, in stark contrast, is largely funded and organized by the very people who use extraordinary access to manipulate laws in favor of large corporations today. The Patriots of Boston Harbor, 1773, wanted a stronger democracy, while the TEA party seems to focus on resisting and obstructing the acvtions of a specific president.

See this article for details and scholarly references.

 2 For an economist’s assessment of the see, for example, Roubini: Supporters of a Gold Standard Are ‘Lunatics and Hacks’ By Peter Gorenstein, Daily Ticker – Wed, Nov 23, 2011 http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/daily-ticker/roubini-supporters-gold-standard-lunatics-hacks-181958239.html

3 http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-06-25/cato-koch-brothers-settle-suits-over-control-of-think-tank-1-.html

References and further reading

Anderson, Darrell (no date given) Libertarian Women http://www.simpleliberty.org/essays/libertarian_women.htm retrieved 2012-06-22.

Arnold, Joseph L., (1978) Suburban Growth and Municipal Annexation in Baltimore, 1745-1918 Maryland Historical Magazine, Vol 73 No 2 June 1978

Belsham, William (1799) Essays, philosophical, historical, and literary, London: G.G. and J. Robinson, 526 pp.

Bloomberg (Andrew Harris, 2012-04-10) http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-10/koch-brothers-file-second-lawsuit-against-cato-institute-1-.html retrieved 2012-06-22.

Broderick, Francis L. (1949), Pulpit, Physics, and Politics: The Curriculum of the College of New Jersey, 1746-1794, The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Jan., 1949), pp. 42-68

Cato Institute (1977) Articles of Incorportion, archived at D. B. A. Press retrieved 2012-06-22.

Cato Institute (1994) Restated Articles of Incorportion, archived at D. B. A. Press retrieved 2012-06-22.

Cato Institute (2001) 2001 Annual Report http://www.cato.org/pubs/papers/25th_annual_report.pdf retrieved 2012-06-22.

Dorn, James A. (1996) The Rise of Government and the Decline of Morality, online, Cato Institute http://www.cato.org/pubs/catosletters/cl-12.pdf retrieved 2012-06-23

Herring, Susan C. (1999) The Rhetorical Dynamics of Gender Harassment On-Line The Information Society: An International Journal Volume 15, Issue 3, 1999 pp151-167 Taylor & Francis.

James, Dakota (2002) What Women Don’t Want: Or, Why Libertarian Men Don’t Get Laid http://www.billstclair.com/DoingFreedom/gen/1102/want.html retrieved 2012-06-22.

Fea, John (2003) The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian’s Rural Enlightenment, The Journal of American History, September 2003, 462-490.

Forbes (Jim Powell, contrib., 2012-03-11) The Cato Institute Controversy: Why Should Anyone Care What Libertarians Think? http://www.forbes.com/sites/jimpowell/2012/03/11/the-cato-institute-controversy-why-should-anyone-care-what-libertarians-think/ retrieved 2012-06-22.

Frezza, Bill (2012) George Orwell’s Doublespeak Dominates Every Corner of Economic Policy, USA, Blog post, http://www.pinnacledigest.com/blog/bill-frezza/george-orwell%E2%80%99s-doublespeak-dominates-every-corner-economic-policy retrieved 2012-06-23.

Frost, Martin (ed.?) The Scottish Enlightenment, WWW http://www.martinfrost.ws/htmlfiles/scottish_enlighten.html retrieved 2012-06-29

Fuke, Richard Paul (1997) “Blacks, Whites, and Guns: Interracial Violence in Post-emancipation Maryland,” Maryland Historical Magazine 1997 92(3): 326-347

Goldgar, Anne. (1995) Impolite Learning: Conduct and Community in the Republic of Letters. 1680-1750. (Yale University Press 1995)

Hamowy, Ronald (1995) [Trenchard, John and Gordon, Thomas (6th ed., 1755)] Cato’s Letters, or Essays on Liberty, Civil and Religious, and Other Important Subjects. Four volumes in Two, edited and annotated by Ronald Hamowy (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995). Accessed from http://oll.libertyfund.org/title/737 on 2012-06-23.

Haskett, Richard C. (1949) Princeton Before the Revolution: Notes on a Source The William and Mary Quarterly, Third Series, Vol. 6, No. 1 (Jan., 1949), pp. 90-93.

Herring, Susan C. (1999) The Rhetorical Dynamics of Gender Harassment On-Line, The Information Society, 15:151—167.

Howe, John (2009) Language and Political Meaning in Revolutionary America, Boston: Univ of Massachusetts Press, 296 pages.

Jones, W. T. and Fogelin, Robert J. (1969) A History of Western Philosophy: Hobbes to Hume, Volume III, London: Wadsworth Publishing, 381pp.

Kramarae, Chris. 1981. Women and Men Speaking. Rowley, MA: Newbury House.

Leiter, Brian (2009), Chomsky on Libertarianism and Its Meaning, blog post at Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog, posted August 11, 2009, http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2009/08/chomsky-on-libertarianism-and-its-meaning.html retrieved 2012-06-22

Long, Roderick T. (2004) Libertarian Anarchism: Responses to Ten Objections, transcription, talk given at Mises University, internet http://www.lewrockwell.com/long/long11.html retrieved 2012-06-27

Lopata, Helena Znaniecka & Erdmans, Mary Patrice (1995) Polish Americans, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 297pp

Mapes, Mary (1999) Religion and Social Welfare in 20th Century Indianapolis, Research Notes Vol 2, No 3 June 1999

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Rodgers, Daniel T. (1992) Republicanism: the Career of a Concept, The Journal of American History, Vol. 79, No. 1 (Jun., 1992), pp. 11-38

Rossiter, Clinton (1953). Seedtime of the Republic: the origin of the American tradition of political liberty. New York: Harcourt, Brace. pp. 141.

Seidner, Stanley S (1976) In Quest of a Cultural Identity: An Inquiry for the Polish Community. Report, 45 pages.

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Tong, Rosemary. 1992. Feminist Thought: A Comprehensive Introduction. London: Routledge.

Trenchard, John and Gordon, Thomas (6th ed., 1755), see Hamoway, 1995

Ward, Colin (2004), Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 109pp.

Walby, Sylvia. 1990. Theorising Patriarchy. Oxford: Blackwell.

 Woodcock, George (1962) Anarchism: A History of Libertarian Ideas and Movements
—————–          Postscript 1975: http://www.ditext.com/woodcock/postscript.html retrieved 2012-06-27

Woodcock, George (1967) Anarchism: The Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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