Education and Equality | Danielle S. Allen

good afternoon ladies and gentlemen I'm Peter Goddard director of the Institute for Advanced Study and it's my pleasure to welcome you here this afternoon for this Institute lecture after the lecture there'll be a reception to which were all invited in the ford hall common room today our speaker is Daniel Allen who joined the Institute as UPS foundation professor in the School of Social Science in 2007 Daniel obtained a bachelor's degree in classics summa laude from Princeton University in 1993 and a PhD in classics from the University of Cambridge in 1996 in 1997 she became an assistant professor of classical languages and literature at Chicago progressing to associate professor political science as well as classics in the year 2000 and then professor in 2003 in the meantime remarkably she also obtained a master's degree in 1997 and the second PhD in 2001 this time in political theory from Harvard University in 2004 she became dean of the division of the humanities in the University of Chicago amongst very many other achievements danielle has one number prizes for poetry including the daily Rylands prize from King's College Cambridge and from 2002 to 2006 she was a MacArthur Fellow she's a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and she serves on the board that Awards two Pulitzer Prizes Danielle is widely known for her work on justice and citizenship in ancient Athens and in contemporary America she published the world of Prometheus the politics of punishing in democratic Adam happens in 2000 and talking to strangers anxieties of citizenship since Brown versus Board of Education in 2004 and why Plato wrote in 2010 a present amongst the number of topics she's working on books on the Declaration of Independence citizenship in digital age and education and equality and that is her title today as you can see education and equality Danielle thank you very much Peter for the warm welcome and thanks to all of you for coming this afternoon to think with me about the topic of Education and equality we talk more often about inequality these days so in some sense I'm turning a set of questions the other way round but education and equality are two concepts that are very frequently paired in the policy world as people pursue educational reform and I want to give you begin by giving you a few examples of those pairings so there's an organization called the education equality Project which has brought together people from across the political spectrum so both people former participants in the civil rights movement of the 60s and also people like Newt Gingrich on the right so a very unusual array of people collaborating on educational reform this is from their website mission statement 56 years after Brown versus Board of Education forty-two years after the assassination of dr. Martin Luther King jr. 27 years after the publication of a nation at risk we must confront a shameful national reality if you're an african-american or Latino child in this country the probability is high that our public education system will fail you that you will not graduate from high school that your ability to function successfully in the 21st century economy will be limited that you have no real prospect of achieving the American dream this reality is especially shameful in a country built on the core idea of equality of opportunity the country divided for too many years by racial discrimination and injustice this is very common formulation from the context of domestic u.s. politics the formulation though is equally common in a global or international context so here's an important statement from UNICEF about education education is a fundamental human right every child is entitled to it it is critical to our development as individuals and as societies and it helps pave the way to a successful and productive future when we ensure that children have access to a rights-based quality education that is rooted in gender equality we create a ripple effect of opportunity that impacts generations to come in addition a rights-based approach to education can address some of society's deeply rooted inequalities these inequalities condemn millions of children particular girls to a life without quality education and therefore to a life of missed opportunities and so forth and the goal then is to bring about social justice and equality for all as you can see at the end of that passage it's also the case that within the context of the u.s. political arena organizations that are at a post size and particular policy questions invoke basically the same language we're talking about their ideals so Teach for America is an organization that recruits students from colleges and universities since to a significant degree from Ivy League called colleges and universities puts them in public school classrooms without the conventional teacher training and teacher certification the organization at the bottom aft is a union representing teachers and they published a journal called the American educator they stand very much opposed to the Teach for America approach to recruitment and training of teachers they work to protect the certification process and so forth but if one looks at these two passages one sees great affinity in terms of the ideal use to talk about the work being done so from Teach for America educational inequity is the reality that where a child is born determines the quality of his or her education and life prospects Teach for America provides a critical source of well-trained teachers who are helping break the cycle of educational inequity and from the American educator how should America the land of opportunity to find educational equity opinions range from equal funding to equal outcomes but we are failing by either measure after four decades of rapidly increasing inequality throughout our society we are at risk at risk of believing that enormous disparities in income are natural inevitable and good Americans believe in equal opportunity and social mobility this issue is a call to action that was spring 2011 so what do we actually mean by equality we invoke it regularly but without at the end of the day that much specificity so let's see if we look more closely at the work of scholars who take equality's essential term what we get so Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz are two labor economists at Harvard who've written an important book called the race between education and technology their focus is much more specific so for example they are concerned about the fact that for much of the 20th century the gains from economic growth became more equally distributed and in the last three decades that pattern reversed so for them equality is importantly defined as a matter of income distribution they have a second definition of equality as well they're interested in exactly how the kind of educational system the US had in the 19th and 20th century generated that more equal income distribution in the first part of the 20th century and they described a set of virtues that organized the school system say the virtues that influenced the educational system included provision by small fiscally independent districts public funding secular control gender neutrality open access into forgiving system these virtuous features are summarized by the word gallant Arianism so here equality is a matter of non hierarchical organizational structures as a second possible meaning of equality but people who take the opposite side from golden and cats who argue against them end up treating the idea very differently it's a flexible word and people take advantage of that ambiguity to build critiques that themselves are sort of depend on the ambiguity in the term so Richard better is somebody who has started something called the Center for college affordability and productivity he's a polemicist in essence so he tends to take on what have been important and influential arguments within the field of educational policy so he wrote a review of golden cats rewrites golden and cats clearly believe greater income equality is good for America they grudgingly admit that quote some degree of economic inequality may be desirable to spur incentives but there's no discussion of the quality efficiency trade-off why is the income distribution of 1970 good and that of 2008 bad how do we know inequalities alleged threat to social order is not documented that's not the case as we'll see but at any rate and some polling results suggest interpersonal variations in income are less controversial than the authors to suggest and another point in the review he writes underlying their argument is an unwritten assumption that all people are created equal in terms of cognitive endowments motivation discipline etc so what is he making of the concept of equality here his first critique is essentially that equality requires suspending one has to invest in education to achieve some aspire to equality and from his point of view that generates inequality efficiency trade-off and in his view it also depends on the idea that people have in equal cognitive endowments and from his point of view this is an excessively optimistic view of human nature he's in fact miss reading golden and cats here they don't make an argument that people are created equal in terms of cognitive endowments motivation and discipline but the point of bringing his critique here is that's precisely the lack of specificity with which we invoke the ideal of equality that allows for people also to treat it as essentially a nonsense ideal so the question then is what do we really mean when we invoke the ideal of equality can we be more specific about it and can we use ideal to find more specificity to hone our arguments about educational policy so of course equality is a core term in American political thought oh sorry let me just so this is to summarize sorry about the points I've just been making about the vague but common ideas about equality that tend to operate in the world of educational policy and from this list is missing I was an important version of equality namely political equality so that's what we'll be talking more about so as I was saying equality is of course founding term for the u.s. political order and for how we in this polity think about what we are trying to do we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal that dot dot dot but I think this phrase is one that commands very little authority these days that is most people either don't understand it or understand it in ways like though better interpretation that it means something like all people have the same set of cognitive endowments and so forth and therefore dismiss it as obviously falsifiable and so we have a bit of a challenge in terms of thinking about the idea of equality it's a challenge that Williams Bernard Williams the philosopher has articulated quite well so I apologize for giving you another long passage but I'm going to read this one out as well Williams describes the challenge this way the idea of equality is used in political discussion both in statements of fact or what purports to be statements of fact that men are equal and in statements of political principles our aims that men should be equal as that present they are not the two can be and often are combined the aim has been described as that of securing a state of affairs in which men are treated as equal beings which in fact they already are but are not already treated as being in both these uses the idea of equality nor Tory ously encounters the same difficulty on one kind of interpretation the statements in which it figures are much too strong and on another kind of much too weak and it is hard to find a satisfactory interpretation that lies between the two so the too strong version would be one in which we make the case that equality means that everybody must have exactly the same of everything same income say same number of years in school same scores that result from their schooling mat was the to strong interpretation that people often hold up to criticize equality and then the 2-week version is one that says it's simply a trivial idea that to say human beings are equal as human beings doesn't get you very far so that in the second part of the passage Williams does a good job of explaining how the interpretation that can seem too trivial in fact is very useful so I'm going to read this as well the factual statement of men's equality was seen when pressed to retreat in the direction of merely asserting the Equality of people as people and this was thought to be trivial it was certainly insufficient but not after all trivial that all people are human is if a tautology a useful one serving as a reminder that those who belong anatomically to the species Homo sapiens and can speak a language use tools live in societies can interbreed despite racial differences etc are also alike in certain other respects more likely to be forgotten these respects are notably the capacity to feel bate pain both from immediate physical causes and from various situations represented in perception and info the capacity to feel real affection for others and the consequences of this connected with the frustration of this affection loss of its objects etc the assertion that men are alike in the possession of these characteristics is well indisputable and it may be even necessarily true not trivial for it is certain that there are political and social arrangements that systematically neglect these characteristics in the case of some groups of men while being fully aware of them in the case of others so what I'd like to do now is to proceed to give the ideal of equality greater specificity for exactly this purpose than of holding existing political and social arrangements against the specificity of the ideal and to do that I am actually going to simply turn back to the Declaration of Independence which I think has a richer and deeper account of equality in it than is usually acknowledged so the first place that equality comes up is not in the famous phrase that I already quoted but just in the very first sentence of the Declaration when in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among them the powers of the earth and it's right and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them then they have to go on and explain their reasons at the end of that sentence but so the important point here is that equality is evoked first in the document in order to describe the relationship among states that states are each other's equals as agents on a world stage now that kind of equality obviously ignores material inequalities that effect the level of power that any given state has in a set of interactions but the important point here is that the state stands as an agent with a claim to its own territory to status to make war not make war to defend its actions within an international sphere that there's no difference even despite material differences between them with regard to this capacity for agency so that the claim here of course is that these 13 little colonies which do not have the economic might of a or a Briton can nonetheless be the equal to them so this is essentially a principle of non domination despite material inequalities agents have status in regard to each other such that none has a right to dominate the other so this is the first facet of equality introduced in the Declaration the second is of course the phrase that we started with and that everybody knows but we very rarely read the whole of the sentence so I just like to do that for a moment we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life liberty and the pursuit of happiness that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it and to institute new government laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and Happiness the point of reading the whole sentence is that the initial idea that all men are created equal doesn't stand apart from these claims about government the relationship between government and human happiness so all men are created equal in that they pursue their happiness in effect and they do that collectively that is to say through governments and consequently the government's are a tool that each individual holds equally with the others and therefore has an equivalent right in relationship to the government to alter or abolish and the point of describing that relationship between the individual their pursuit of happiness and their access to the tools to achieve their happiness is that in essence what's being described here is a notion of equality that is a principle of equal opportunity so it's an equal opportunity of all agents to use the single best tool available for pursuing happiness which is to say government and politics a third facet of equality in the Declaration is something that I call the principle of the epistemic potluck so what exactly is this what I've got here is a snippet from the long middle section of the Declaration that lists the complaints again about King George of Great Britain the history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these states to prove this let facts be submitted to a candid world so how did the list of facts accrue how was it developed for the Declaration it wasn't the product of the work of a commission of experts so it was not the work of Jefferson and his drafting colleagues or even with the Continental Congress when they produced the document instead throughout the colonies over the preceding period of years there had been a variety of kinds of conversations and networks of conversation that had identified sets of complaints sets of wrongs processed them sort of them out pulled them together into essentially a unified account of the kinds of things that a sovereign power should not do to subjects so in other words it was a democratic network of conversation that generated the list of complaints and refine its intellectual content so this requires expecting that you can achieve acquire accumulate and process knowledge that's beneficial to the polity through democratic means so the phrase principle epistemic potluck I use because it captures in some sense the first argument that was made about the Democratic character of successful and all or the fact that Democratic knowledge gathering can be highly successful and this was an argument that Aristotle made against Plato's Plato's commitment to the role of expertise in politics Aristotle's argument was essentially that the reason we like to have big juries with lots of people participating lots of people voting is because it's something like a potluck when everybody is bringing a different dish to the feast we'll end up with a much better feast than we've left it in the hands of the expert to design the feast so the principle of epistemic potluck is also built here into the declaration so the next one is the principle of reciprocity and this one comes in very subtly toward the end of the declaration after the list of complaints the drafters wrote in every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury a prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant is unfit to be the ruler of a free people now it's true that this sentence the sentences describes the relationship between a king and ordinary subjects and so in that sense does not capture a moment of equality but the sentence itself is very carefully defining the kind of equality that needs to be in play but in the relations between people in order for freedom to obtain and this is an equality in which when one person does injury to another the other person can push back and achieve redress so that there can be a balancing of agency again in the relations between people and the sentence is crafted in a way to bring out this notion of balance and reciprocity if you pay attention to the where the sentence starts we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms what we've got actually is a sentence with ten words and then that's followed by another sentence with ten words our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury so Jefferson has rhetorically built the importance of balancing in human interactions into the sentence to underscore that a principle of reciprocity is integral to the capacity of agents to achieve freedom for both and therefore equality in their relationship to each other so equality is the ground of freedom is the important point being made in this small set of sentences so and the reason I underscore that is because it's to reverse the relationship that is very often in our political discourse where freedom's prioritized before equality and equality is treated as a limit or constraint on freedom I'm arguing instead that equality itself is the ground of freedom and then lastly the fifth facet of equality the declaration comes in the final sentence and for the support of this declaration with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence we mutually pledge to each other Our Lives our Fortunes and our sacred honor so the collective action initiated by the declaration here clearly depends on a communitarian commitment to an egalitarian sharing of difficulty and prosperity that egalitarian sharing grounds the social bond that makes it possible for this group of people to set up a polity together so I identified this as a principle of co-ownership and shared ownership of the polity and a commitment to the polity here of Our Lives our Fortunes and our sacred honor so what can we do with these five facets of equality each of these principles I would argue represents a capacity that it is a job of democratic government to secure and enable not merely as a matter of respecting rights but for the sake of establishing free government on the strongest possible footing so again that's too deep in my argument that freedom rests on equality rather than it's being the case that equality is a constraint on freedom ok so what's happened to income inequality in all of that so income inequality is linked in terms of empirical analysis to a range of factors including lower educational performance lower levels of trust higher levels of mental illness and lower social mobility these are just some of the factors that income inequality is linked to crime homicide rates all other kinds of things as well come in here but the important point the reason I pulled these out is because each of these phenomena undermines one of the facets of equality that I just mentioned so for example lower levels of trust undermine the principle of co-ownership and the ability of people to generate and maintain a communitarian commitment to each other lower educational performance undermines the principle of the epistemic potluck higher levels of mental illness undermine in fact even the principle of reciprocity so there is a way in which income inequality in itself undermines the five facets of political equality that I was just detailing so can the five facets of equality clarify any of our policy debates and again I'm focusing on education so the the relevant policy debates are all going to come from the world of education so first of all there's a debate about college education how many people should go to college there is a part of our public discourse at present which is arguing for trying to get everybody a college degree in the same way that in the middle of the 20th century we move forward to trying to achieve universal high school degrees I think that we can use the principles that I just described to clarify this equal opportunity that principle requires that at some point that we are achieving a universal education that prepares people to participate effectively in politics so I would argue though that the level where which we can achieve universal education is that to the age of 18 the point at which people enter into the political realm so by the point in which they become in legal terms politically adult by that point they need already to be prepared for their participation in the political realm so what that means then is that universal participation in what's available through education is an incredibly important policy goal to this day that requires working really in the ages zero to four rather than working above age 18 so at present our K through 12 system does not bring people to the age of 18 leaving them ready to participate in the political realm and a lot of the research done on why that's the case relates to the fact that we don't have essentially universal schooling universal school opportunities between zero and four so that's the missing piece I would say of the picture of what we should be doing in universal education as opposed to the college piece the principle of non domination reinforces this by age 18 if people are going to be in a position to escape domination that they need to be able to function both economically and politically so functioning economically requires either success in college or the achievement of a job at age 18 and functioning politically requires to repeat participatory readiness so the principle of non domination would mean that a shift in our discourse about education whereby we focus not merely on college and job readiness as the outcomes we're seeking for K through 12 education but also on participatory readiness but then the principle the epistemic potluck pushes in the other direction in other words the first two principles that I've invoked here focus on what has to be done by age 18 and focus on universal education to that point the epistemic potluck the idea that one can generate successful knowledge and that one could generate institutions but also social practices that successfully produce the knowledge of democracy needs to function well in a democratic fashion by opening up beyond the contexts of expertise to democratic modes of knowledge formation that view suggests that we also do want to have as well educated of population as is actually possible so that leads to a the more the merrier view of the debate about who should go to college so although then I wouldn't argue that we need to be trying to get everybody to college it does seem to me still important to try to make sure that everybody who is ready to do that wants to do that is able to do that so we should still be trying to lift the numbers of college graduates so we're at about 30% now you know we should be trying to move that dial up to 35 percent 40 percent something like that a separate issue is one that's come to be called the participation gap and this is simply the fact that people who go to college participate in politics at a much higher rate than people who don't so I mean this is also true across the income distribution but the education the relationship between education and political participation is even stronger than the relationship between income and political participation so there's a sense in which going into college has become a proxy for a political education so this ties in with the previous point the principle of non domination would indicate that high school should already provide participatory readiness for students so whatever it is that we're doing in college that is engaging people in the political system in political process is something that we need to be able to do already in the K through 12 system what about citizenship education so given that I'm now arguing that we need to think about exactly how we engage people in politics at a younger age then one has to say more about what that actually takes in terms of content of an education so here I would point to three of the facets of equality as giving us some guidance for what we would want to build into citizenship education starting with reciprocity in order to support the development of people's ability to participate in practices of reciprocity to enact practices of reciprocity with each other we need to pay attention both to verbal skills and to legal and moral knowledge by verbal skills I'm not referring to literacy I'm not referring to oral skills I'm referring rather to the ability to use language whether in writing and reading or orally so in other words it's a capacity to use language to identify problems to identify perspectives the perspectives of different players to identify the pattern of losses and gains that will accrue to different participants in a particular interaction for the sake of finding resolutions it's a highly sophisticated form of verbal interaction and one that we don't currently think of as we think about how we develop curricula in the area of language arts by legal and moral knowledge I'm referring to a point that's been made in the course of important work done in New York State under the banner something called the New York campaign for fiscal equity and this has been the effort of people pursuing finance school financing equity in New York to pursue and a clear definition of New York State's right to a sound Basic Education so although there's no right to education in the US Constitution roughly 40 states do have a right to education built into their state constitutions and so this has become the point at which it's possible to make legal arguments for a richer account of what should be done in the realm of Education and in the New York case what happened over the course of the last ten years was there was an argument about whether or not a sound Basic Education what level counted as a sound Basic Education and the governor's office was arguing that it was an eighth grade education and the legal work done by the campaign for fiscal equity argued instead that it was an education that equipped a person to be a voter and a juror and the account of what it takes to be a juror that they built into their case was quite detailed and specific so they pulled out examples of oral arguments and analyzed the syntax made by the lawyer of the arguments made by the lawyers in those cases and then used that quite complicated sophisticated syntax as the the baseline for the level of education that needed to be achieved so by doing this work they were able to defeat the governor's argument that eighth grade should be what counted as where the right to education lay and to achieve a said the ruling from the state Supreme Court in effect that it should be a 12th grade but more importantly what they did was give quite specific content to what should be achieved by this point and in addition to these points about syntax and language capacity and so forth they also of course had to make points about the kinds of knowledge a juror needs in order to make judgments in a court case so although in the court case laws are given definition by the lawyers by the judges and so forth participants are bringing to their practice of judgment their own understandings of concepts like fairness reasonableness and so forth so that kind of knowledge then is something that in the case of New York at any rate is now we can point to as either a right to an education that helps cultivate that kind of legal and moral knowledge but and that kind of knowledge is necessary to engage effectively in the practices of reciprocity as I described them the principle of the epistemic potluck points in a similar direction so I won't go through all of that right now and the principle of co-ownership does as well with I would say an additional emphasis on something that researchers have begun to describe as soft skills conscientiousness perseverance associate II in particular as an economist at Chicago named James Heckman who's been arguing for the importance of soft skills to education and these soft skills are the ones I think that allow people to work through the challenges of trade-offs among groups and individuals that are necessary but a hard part of effecting a communitarian commitment to the process of social decision making okay so I'll leave it but there's an e for each of these areas there's a lot of research needed in order to know in concrete terms what it would take to do these things and part of the work that I've been doing has been trying to identify some of those questions for researchers in the empirical side of the social sciences but I'm not going to go through those pieces of that right now so I wanted to come back to in income inequality and what this approach to thinking about equality might have to tell us about that there are three different proposed solutions to the problem of any income inequality that depend on education as a solution to income inequality the first is something that we could call the human development story and this is essentially the argument that if you can provide an adequate education to everybody and where that education is enabling of human beings of human capacities in such a way that individuals are able to compete even in a very hierarchical Society you'll be able to reduce income inequality the idea is that education is a positional good the amount of education that you have affects your status generally in society but that the human the developmentally enabling features of Education might in fact be able to destabilize that positional feature of Education so that people who have somewhat less education if it's nonetheless robust enough in developmental terms can still compete effectively with people who have more years of education that's the idea in that story the second story is the labor economics story and this is essentially the argument made by golden and Katz and it's also the argument that has probably had the most impact on educational policy in recent years so it will it you'll hear echoes of this from the Department of Education but here the idea is that if we can increase attainment and attainment is the number of years of education achieved it's not achievement which is the actual levels that people test at in terms of testing for literacy and math and things like that the argument is that if one can increase attainment increase graduation rates from high school increase graduates raishin rates from college you'll do two things you'll both drive down the wage premium which is currently the the increased level of income that accrues to people with college degrees above the level of income that accrues to people with high school degrees you'll drive down that difference which golden and cats see as being a large part of the explanation for increasing income inequality and while you're driving a distant difference down let's say bringing those two socio-economic classes closer together you're also shifting more people into the higher income earning group but so overall then you're compressing the gradient the income inequality gradient the third argument the third possibility is that if you cultivate a participatory citizenry capable of maintaining legal institutions that reduce income inequality with those institutions being things like unions minimum wage laws and so forth you'll also be able to pull back income inequality and direct things again in the direction of increased equality this is the political equality story so the argument that I've been making about the five facets of equality relates to the issue of income inequality in two ways the first instance is identifies income inequality as a threat to political equality let's say a threat to achieving a fully participatory citizenry and then secondly insofar as the five facets that I laid out are about the features the ways in which a participatory citizenry is equal it's a commitment to cultivating a participatory citizenry as described here so that this argument for political equality would approach tackling income inequality through political means and not merely through an effort to affect the supply and demand issue with relation to the labor supply so let me that's repeating a little bit let me bring this to a conclusion what have I been doing exactly then in directing our attention to political equality in contrast to income equality or socio-economic equality my suggestion is that basically by foregrounding political equality we can effect for ourselves something like a vision correction so this is not to change the game entirely as far as what we are talk about in the world of education policy but again just to to effect a vision correction focusing on political equality would allow us to draw on our political traditions more effectively 19th century achievements in education rested on a commitment to in pursuit of political equality this was extremely productive for what happened with both education and equality at the end of the 19th and first half of the 20th century thirdly political equality is more capacious ideal than relative income equality and itself requires addressing income inequality so in addition to requiring us to address the issue of income questions it requires us to address more broadly the questions of whether or not we can achieve participatory readiness for citizens with all that flows from that so then lastly an ideal of political equality as I said director our attention to participatory readiness in addition to college and job readiness and so more directly focuses attention with regard to educational policymaking and curriculum development on soft skills that's a very specific result for the world of education policy but the broader point is that to focus on political equality requires us to track whether we're achieving equality not merely in the domain of income but also in domains like knowledge production are we achieving something like the democratic epistemic potluck or have our structures of knowledge generation formation become too closed it requires us to track whether or not as a society we are able to develop and maintain communitarian commitments to each other whether we have the capacity to build trust that allows for turn-taking at loss in the political arena and that requires acknowledgement of loss where that's occurring and so forth the ideal of political equality gives us gives one more things to pay attention to as one works on trying to build and protect or recover democracy than does the ideal of income equality I'll leave it there so and I had said to our director that I would be happy to take questions myself so he's going to stay there for the moment and happy to respond to comments suggestions questions requests for clarification it's really interesting Danielle thank you very much um I just wonder in the notion of political I thought I'm surprised I guess in your use of the notion of political equality because I tend to think of it as that formal equality that abstracts people from their social contexts and puts them as equals before the law and and you're thinking of a different kind of political equality here and I wonder if you could say a little bit more about that thank you that's an excellent question that's great yes I should probably clarify that I was as I was progressing through it's true that political equality has been conventionally understood as formal equality before the law of voting rights and so forth and yes I mean what I am trying to do is provide a different definition of political equality it depends on all of those things right so I would argue that you can't have non domination without having voting rights so I would say that formerly political equality is a tool used to try to achieve this richer account of political equality which I would say is the real deal I mean the reason one has voting rights is because one's trying to do these things Michael oh sorry okay that Danielle if you look back at the the labor movement of the 30s or the civil rights movement of the 60s which were struggles for political equality of among other things there was an awful lot of soft skill lightened in the population which did not derive from schooling in in any way and something it was elicited by upward in opportunities created by the Wagner Act and the Civil Rights Act then but but I don't see that education had much of a role yes no that's fair I don't want to argue that education is the only source for any of this at all so my to the degree that I'm connecting education and equality the goal is rather to to move from the world of thinking about equality to thinking about the world of education so how would one read ascribe some of what one we're trying to do with educational policy if one focuses on this conception of equality but that said yes I mean political equality could can't be grounded simply in the educational system it needs to be grounded more broadly in ongoing traditions political traditions and I think activist political traditions traditions such as the ones that you just described have protected this rich notion of political equality and can be a source for continuing to articulate it and defend it to the broader population I guess and the question I would have the concern that I would have relates to the durability of those particular traditions sake the labor movement or the civil rights movement that is until recent events I serve until the past year there was reason to think that there had been a real subsiding of those kinds of capacities so I mean for me it's a question mark right now as to whether or not we're seeing the recuperation of the capacities the soft skill organizing capacities that characterized those moments and then I guess I should add to that so I would the other thing I would want to know then is is what's the source of the recuperation in other words what are the other ways of cultivating and building these habits other than through the educational system but for me that's a question all right so I was gonna go all the way over here which means thank you MIT microphone all the way over sorry first of all Daniel thank you for such a wonderful talk I wondered if you had a response to the following is that that there are members of communities who want their young members to have significantly less education than I think you would be proposing as the ideal and so I'm thinking specifically of communities like Amish communities and just wondering if you have a response to people from those communities Wow what's the short answer I mean the very short answer is with respect to the Amish you know I'm happy to let the Amish be Amish but your question is a deeper question about in multicultural communities were qualities such as our own where different communities have different standards and so forth how does one deal with a broad standard set by the state which is insofar as since I'm talking about education policy I'm talking about at this point really national and sometimes federal rules so the short answer I guess is that I think that it's reasonable for democracies and other social forms but democracies are the kind that I consider legitimate to preserve to pursue their self-preservation qua democracies so that what the basic content is of maintaining a democratic citizenry becomes something which it is legitimate to work to make available and effective through the states school system there should be transparency about that so that people know that that is what's on offer and although I am arguing for as I said what I call us or a richer account of political equality I still consider it at the end of the day a minimalist conception in relationship to say conceptions of the good life at any particular community might have that is there are certainly contexts and communities where one or another of these principles would be in violation with the principle that the community holds so the most obvious would be the principle of non domination which probably conflicts with gender norms in some communities but nonetheless that's a place where I would say the democratic state has a right to make democratic education the basis of its state schools and then one negotiates in particular communities and at the margins about how to deal with the relationship between a community and at schools Eric well I know this wasn't meant to be a talk about policy at least largely about policy but there were a few points where where specific policy came up to say to get at the golden cats idea that there's now a bigger wage premium to finishing college you suggested well maybe we should push up college graduation rates to 35 or or 40 percent and then to get at the idea that we need well-informed jurors and voters to argue that we that the standard should be high school graduation rather than eighth grade level attainments and then to get at the Heckman idea of soft soft skills being so important that there's there's an argument for increasing spending on on preschool on headstart programs and and the like but I was wondering if if these considerations of equality led to two other relatively specific policy conclusions that's a good question the short answer is I think they do but I haven't done that work yet so I apologize so I've started by thinking very specifically about these educational policy issues so and I am still working them through and ironing out my accounts so I think I'll have to get back to you on that I apologize I'll be happy to wait up in front to maybe and then back after that Thanks I have two little things I want to ask you first it seems to me although this is a theoretical discussion it seems to me that there is a lot of politics in it and it's it seems to me that what you're doing is by by by saying that the best way to address income inequality is to highlight the way in which it hampers political equality it seems to me that that built into that is your knowledge that political equality is a well recognized foundation of American life whereas income inequality about 50% of our population believes is evil and as that to what extent does that knowledge enter into your choice of strategy the other thing is about the way you discuss political participation it seems you're focusing entirely on well enough it makes sense since this is a talk about education you're focusing on the abilities of citizens to participate the skills that they develop but it seems to me incomplete without but you're sort of assuming that the system the political system exists in such a configuration that when people participate their participation is effective and that's that's not universally agreed by any means and you know it brings up issues like the Citizens United case and what's being said now about lobbying and so on maybe you could say something about that thank you terrific questions so with regard to the first I didn't make the link between income inequality political equality for strategic purposes okay now somebody can look at try to you know investigate my psyche and my biography and see whether or not my own self conception is valid or not but I but I did was pursuing the question theoretically I didn't start out by asking the question I'd like to do something about income inequality what's the right way of doing that I did pursue the structure of questions that I laid out here namely everybody invokes equality what do people actually mean by that that's pretty vague what might we mean more specifically what are the possible sources of alternative meanings and those sort of lots of reading I happen to pick the Declaration as a way of elucidating political equality and mainly because of its absence in the conversation and then it becomes very clear if you focus on people equality that you know it is connected to income inequality so one needs theoretically to talk about the relationship between those two things and I think there's a lot more that could be said about the relationship between them and the Citizens United case and issues of lobbying are certainly a part of it so so at any rate that's how I proceeded I think you're right that there is a strategic payoff to the link between the two of them in this country in particular it would be different in other countries but you know that's how I came about it with regard to the issue of the effectiveness and efficacy of participation there I think there are sort of two pieces to the puzzle I mean one is to say yes one needs to look at the institutions of participation also and to judge whether or not and in you know investigate and make arguments about the places where we need reform for the sake of making participation viable at the same time and yes yes thanks at the same time though I wouldn't want to limit our consideration of participation and effectiveness to formal institutions so this is like the question Joan asked about formal political equality so formal political equality maps on to the use of set of formal political institutions in important ways those institutions are broken and you know don't allow for political equal participation that's a question that needs to be investigated but at the same time I think there are alternative modes of participation some of which we're starting to see write alternative modes of bringing pressure to bear on opinion leaders policy makers and so forth and so it's as the question I'm interested in is as much one of how does one prepare people to be inventive in that sort of way as well to see the opportunities to take make and use power for the sake of ensuring their own equality that may reside outside of formal political institutions sure let's go all the way to the back because otherwise I'll feel like I'm you know being unfair thank you for a really interesting talk I really like the way that you proceeded starting with the Declaration of Independence that seems to me the kind of internal social criticism that Michael Walzer has written so eloquently about but I'm a comparative historical sociologist and so I have a comparative historical question for you which is if you started somewhere else and you were to start with say the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the citizen or the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights do you expect that you would derive the same or similar or at least an overlapping set of principles or do you think that you would get a different set of principles and so the question is really how closely tied are these five principles to American political traditions as opposed to democracy and more generally right that's a good question and fair enough and that's that ties into the previous question about theoretical versus strategic in the sense that I did as a theoretical matter decide to ground my investigation in a pre-existing tradition right sort of in that sort of pragmatist way so so if one were doing simply well you know so yes I think that the picture would look somewhat different coming out of different traditions definitely and I would let Jones speak more to the French case but exactly you know what that might look like and I think you know it also looks so what different than if one were doing an abstract analytical analysis of the concept of equality although I've been doing that too and to some degree what's been interesting to me and when I went back to the Declaration was to find that more of what I had come to focus on an abstract analytical way was in the Declaration than I had realized previously so that's the sense of which I think that particular text has a richer argument in it than we've seen previously so there's a little bit of back and forth in terms of methodology but yes it does mean ultimately that this is a very us oriented picture thank you for this extremely interesting lecture my question may require a second different lecture so if this is the case just say don't respond the question is what would be different in your talk if you were to consider the United States not in isolation as you did in a short talk but in the context of globalization quits affects education it affects equality it affects opportunity reciprocity and so on and it also affects education we live in a globalized world with a lot of mobility and so on I had somewhat the impression that discussing equality and education in the context of the United States to draw a parallel is as if one discusses Athenian equality and democracy in the age of Pericles ignoring the fact that Athens was the it was dominating in the Athenian alliance thank you well I mean you are tracking my thoughts in the sense I spent this afternoon thinking about globalization and trying to figure out how to you know fit it in so this lecture but decided that I couldn't so I mean there that's a that's a huge issue an important issue what are the things I would want to I mean there there is the ways in which pieces of this they're already connected to thinking about that question right so the labor economics peace is connected to that and so far as income inequality is not just about a college wage premium I understand it rightly Eric will correct me but it's also about the fact that in at least income inequality in this country is about the outsourcing of a lot of skilled jobs as well as unskilled labor so that the there's a narrower band of skilled jobs presently that are accessible so it's not entirely clear that if you educate people at higher levels you'd have the wage premium jobs available for them that was probably private hash of that Eric I apologize but at any rate so so that you know there are specific parts of this conversation where people have you know already's were well worked out the ways in which globalization ties into it but I think the bigger harder question you're asking is really how the pursuit of equality within any given polity can be brought or can be can harmonize with the pursuit of equality in a broader global context so that one's not concerned merely about achieving say political equality in a domestic context but also doing that in ways that support the development of political equality or decreasing income inequality globally and that's a place where I mean I have you know a lot more thinking to do I mean one of the things I've been very interested in in events of the past year as has everybody else is the interconnectedness of activist efforts around the globe so the events of the Arab Spring you know are not separate from the color revolutions in Eastern Europe of some you know usually or of the Green Revolution in Iran and they're not separate from the Occupy Wall Street events so to what degree within that network of conversations is there developing a political account that does put you know participatory equality at its center and have a way of inflecting institutions to capture that ideal that's what I you know I I don't know the answer to that question but that's sort of the place that I'm trying to get a better understanding of to see what the possibilities are front here I guess I liked a lot of what you said and the focus on political equality what scares me about it though is the focus on soft skills because I work I'm a special education lawyer and I work with educators all the time who would much rather teach critical thinking than anything factual and they particularly love group cooperation and so on one of the most horrible things in American educational history I think was the neglect of project follow-through and research that showed that we did have compensatory education strategies for children in poverty that worked that were not implemented because they were highly scripted things that teachers didn't like and they were basically buried by the educational establishment so whenever I talk about you think about soft skills first of all I think about diverting effort from things that we do know how to teach like oral language reading math I think about the kind of pessimism that sits in when people okay well we're not going to get universal or like outed education in America does that mean it's too late for teaching pro-social skills to children does and then third I worry about indoctrination I mean I think if we were having more citizenship and education in schools it probably wouldn't be you know think about globalization and how that's destroying your you know future and the global environment I think it probably wouldn't be go off your high horse offed skills I mean I think it's you know obviously we want movements and people becoming politicized but I kind of like schools sticking to teaching them to read and write and find things that they can think about on their own yes now I should be clearer so I don't by any means mean to argue for replacing teaching reading and writing and quantitative skills and so forth with soft skills and to some extent may actually what I'm trying to do is bring the two in relationship to each other and this is a place again where I need to do more work I've only to sort of start to scratch the surface of the available research but the might the intuition that I'm working from for which there's a little bit of research to support it is that there's a close relationship between verbal mastery and the soft skills that people like Heckman talk about that's not the only thing that goes into cultivating sociality but there but that is an important part of the relationship and so I'm wondering wanting to understand that relationship better because it seems to me that you know thinking more effectively about teaching in the language arts in particular and the relationship between teaching in the language arts and serve not just literacy but also these capacities of interaction might yield more effective curricula along both axes let me remind you that we can now continue this discussion at the reception enfold hall but before we do that let us thank Danielle for a really stimulating

1 thought on “Education and Equality | Danielle S. Allen”

  1. I am always very delighted to see a black intelligentsia it simply shows that we are not all stupid as the actions of African political leaders tend to suggest.

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