This Is the Easy Part Radical Bleeding Heart image

Questioning Others

Questioning Others: The Easy Part. Questioning others is about research. It is not about winning arguments. That, for the most part, is a waste of time. We need to be open to honest arguments, but know how to see through dishonest ones. We all ask those kinds of questions, but unfortunately we generally stop as soon as we hear answers that we like. That is precisely where we should be probing the hardest, because there is a very good chance that those answers are meant to lead us astray. Con-men—that is,“confidence-men”—always gain the suckers’ confidence by telling them what they want to hear. So: always question the answers that you most want to hear. That is hard.

That is how sophistical arguments work. Those are arguments that sound good but aren't. They “sound good” because they sound like something we believe in or something we would like to hear.

This is a simple example: We are told that we can improve education by pay differentials. By paying your good teachers more and your poor teachers less we will provide an incentive to better teaching. It sounds good.

Now the question of how to improve education is actually quite complex and difficult, and there are a number of arguments to be made against pay differentials, but in this case the argument is dishonest. It appeals to our sense of justice and seems to conform to the economic conventional wisdom that people respond to economic incentives. We are actually told that talented teachers will be drawn to careers in education if they can compete with other teachers over salary.

The Privilege of Fighting for Peanuts. Think about it. This is nonsense! The same people who make this argument utterly reject the idea that we should actually pay teachers more. They insist that we continue to pay them peanuts. So the economic “incentive” they are proposing to offer is the right to fight over those peanuts!

So what if we say to them: “So why don't we just pay teachers enough so that we can hire only the ‘good’ teachers and never settle for teachers who are less than the best!” They will smile their superior smiles and tell you that “You cannot solve a problem by throwing money at it.”

Another lovely sophistical argument. A straw man. It is perfectly true, but it not what is being proposed. Let us say you want to buy a car. If you are only willing to pay the price of a Kia, it is very unlikely that you will end up with a new Jaguar. On the other hand, if you pay the price of a Jaguar but settle for a Kia you could reasonably be accused of “throwing money” at the problem of acquiring an automobile.

If we are going to use monetary incentives to get better teaching (a perfectly sensible thing to do), we need to figure out who the good teachers are (perfectly sensible but not so simple) and pay enough to hire them. The arguments about pay differentials merely confuse this fact.

So the people who make these arguments are just trying to hide the fact that they are utterly unwilling to pay the price of a Jaguar education. At least for public schools. Going to the roots is about exposing what they are really about.

[Next: What Do We Really Believe?]