Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chuck Bateman, Education, the Constitution & Fallacies

It was with great interest that I read an article on the District 5 Republican nomination in this morning’s Herald Journal. Chuck Bateman, a former member of the Constitution Party, is challenging incumbent Curt Webb for the nomination. If either man obtains more than 70% of the vote in the Cache County Republican Convention next Friday that person will secure the nomination of the party. Otherwise, there will be a primary.

As I read the article, I came across a rather startling quote:

Other issues important to Bateman include protecting the right to bear arms and having a “curriculum introduced into our school system in Utah to teach the young people the difference between the Constitution and the traditions of the Founding Fathers versus the progressive, liberal, socialist, Communist movement on the other side.”

He added, “By the time the (students) graduate, they can make an intelligent choice as to which they want to choose.”

There are at least three classic fallacies in Mr. Bateman’s statement (if you see others that I missed, please feel free to add them to the comments section).

First, Mr. Bateman employs what is known as the “Straw Man” fallacy:

To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

In Mr. Bateman’s statement the straw man is the implication that there are people in Utah who would advance “a progressive, liberal, socialist, Communist” agenda in the history curriculum of Utah’s public schools. Mr. Batemen should identify these people by name and provide direct evidence to support his allegation. He won’t because he can’t. These nefarious people don’t exist. The argument is silly.

Second, in a similar vein, Mr. Bateman uses what is known as the “false dichotomy” fallacy.This fallacy

involves a situation in which only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there are other options. Closely related are failing to consider a range of options and the tendency to think in extremes, called black-and-white thinking.

Here, we are presented with just two ways of teaching Utah’s school children. First, Utah’s school children can be taught “the Constitution and the traditions of the Founding Fathers.” Second, Utah’s school children can be taught “the progressive, liberal, socialist, Communist movement.” Progressives, Socialists & Communists, Oh, my!

Of course there are other ways of teaching history/philosophy/political science. Like without any agenda. With an honest effort at objectivity that presents the relative strengths and weaknesses of all sides of all relevant arguments. Yes, everyone is inherently biased. But there is a difference between bias and agenda. And in the most conservative state in the country, doesn’t bias statistically cut in favor of conservatives anyway?

As employed by Mr. Bateman, the fallacy fails to consider the position that almost all Americans and Utahns have today. We are not “progressive, liberal, socialist, Communist[s].” At the same time almost no American accepts the “principles” of the Founding Fathers wholesale- for two reasons. First, the Founders didn’t agree on much themselves. Second, our modern values patently reject many of their predominant views on gender, restrictions to property ownership, race, class and even religion. Almost every Utahn fails to fall within either of the two boxes provided by Mr. Bateman- including Mr. Bateman himself.

The fallacy is reinforced when Mr. Bateman says that children, once they have been taught the difference between Mr. Bateman’s choices, can choose which one they want to believe in upon graduation.

“Here’s your diploma, little Jimmy. Now that you’re an adult it’s time to decide – are you going to be a freedom loving Constitutionalist like our noble Founding Fathers or a Progressive, Liberal, Socialist Communist?”

The last fallacy in Mr. Bateman’s statement is known as the fallacy of the single cause:

The fallacy of the single cause, also known as joint effect or causal oversimplification, is a logical fallacy of causation that occurs when it is assumed that there is a single, simple cause of an outcome when in reality it may have been caused by a number of only jointly sufficient causes.

Which Founding Father’s principles are we going to teach? Are we going to go with the philosophical views of Jefferson/Madison or the very opposite views of Adams/Hamilton?

Additionally, our country is great for many reasons. One reason is that some (but not all) of the principles of some of the Founding Fathers have proven to be successful. For example, Madison’s views of Factions in Federalist 10 has proven to be prophetic. Other ideas by some Founding Fathers have been rejected wholesale- such as views on race.

But there are other reasons why America is great. Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King both contributed to our current concept of American values. Yet neither man was a Founding Father- and many of their beliefs would have been roundly rejected by many Founding Fathers.

Additionally, the Constitution is not a black or white document. It is a living, breathing document informed by experience and the values of the living generation. Sometimes there are clear answers, but most often there are not. This is why the Supreme Court often splits 5-4 in deciding the legal effect what the Constitution means. Reasonable people can disagree about the Constitution.

Which begs the question- whose version of the Constitution are we going to teach in the public schools under Mr. Bateman’s plan? The of Mr. Bateman- a former member of the Constitution Party? Some far right winger who has cherry picked Founding Father quotes to support a conservative political agenda? Or maybe a far left-winger version by someone like Rocky Anderson? Or maybe we could convince Randy Simmons to indoctrinate the young minds of Cache Valley to become libertarians!

The possibilities are endless!


Derek said...

Great post, Tom.

Patti said...

What you fail to realize is that Mr. Bateman is a man of HIGH moral character, who may see things as black and white, but who is passionate about defending and preserving this nation, with its freedoms, for future generations. He stands firmly behind the document that the Lord put his stamp of approval on, the Constitution!

Emily said...

God blesses everyone in the whole world. I don't think he picks and chooses who will be blessed and who will not.

JBT said...

Critical thinking skills triumph over simplistic dichotomous thinking once again. What is unfortunate is that those who need to read this blog the most will never see it.

I don't ever recall seeing "Approved by the Lord" stamped on the Constitution. Perhaps he used invisible ink that shows up when heated.