"Harvard University Widener Library" by Joseph Williams is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

A recently released report from a Harvard panel of faculty members recommended that Harvard adopt an outright ban on student participation in unrecognized social clubs such as “Final Clubs,” fraternities, and sororities. These organizations have not had official recognition from Harvard since 1984, when such formal recognition was rescinded because these social clubs refused to end membership policies discriminating on the basis of gender. In May 2016, Harvard decided to penalize anyone who joins these single-gender social clubs by banning student members from “holding athletic team captaincies and leadership positions in all recognized student groups. They will also be ineligible for College endorsement for top fellowships like the Rhodes and Marshall scholarships.” The report from the faculty panel takes the May 2016 policy to its natural conclusion: an outright ban.

"Heiwa elementary school" by ajari is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Equal opportunity weighs heavily in American views of education. Not everyone can grow up to be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, but who gets to be CEO should be determined principally by merit, and not according to skin color, place of birth, or family wealth. Both conservatives and liberals describe education as a driver of equal opportunity. While some may be born into poverty and others born into wealth, a well-rounded education can be the leg up that the poor child needs to compete with the rich kids. The moral case for public education rests on its ability to give everyone a shot to rise to the top.

Screen capture from "Extended Interview: Jorge Ramos Talks Race with Jared Taylor" via Youtube.

This week, a debate between Jorge Ramos and Jared Taylor went viral in Spanish language social networks. The debate was originally an interview for Hate Rising, a documentary that aired last October. Ramos is one of Univision’s anchors, and he was infamously expelled by then-candidate Donald Trump from a press conference. Taylor is the editor of American Renaissance, a white nationalist organization that became one of the most visible representatives of the alt-right; he also enthusiastically supports President Trump.

"This is War" by Pietro Piupparco is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (via Flickr)

On the evening of February 1st, 2017, protestors burst through lines of zip-tied metal fencing to flood a building at the University of California, Berkley.   Some protesters wore masks, and others threw red paint on members of the College Republicans.  Windows were smashed and fires were started.  This chaos was caused by disapproval on the part of many Berkeley students to the invited speaking engagement of Milo Yiannopoulos, a controversial conservative commentator and technology editor for Breitbart.

Tomwsulcer (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

When students apply for colleges, one of the most frequent ways is to apply online. With over 700 schools participating, the Common Application appears to make the process much simpler for prospective students; enter your personal information just once, answer some standard questions, and then maybe fill out a few additional questions specific to the university. While the Common App allows students to streamline their admission process, does it do more harm to higher education than good?

"Georgetown University: Healy Hall" by ehpien via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

On a Fall day in 1838, a stone’s throw from the Capitol, families were torn apart. Loaded up on boats headed for the Deep South, 272 souls were shipped away to an uncertain future of pain, labor, and separation. This was an everyday occurrence back then; though the international slave trade had been abolished over a quarter of a century earlier, the domestic trade was alive and well, with an estimated 2.5 million enslaved by 1850. However, this case is set apart because the slaves were owned by Georgetown University and were sold to keep the university financially afloat.

"Stethoscope" by jasleen_kaur is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (via Flickr)

Issues of race and discrimination transcend social interactions and permeate important institutions in the U.S., and the field of medicine is no exception. Recently, concerns about how patients of color may be receiving treatment differently, and less effectively, than white patients have become more frequently studied. Medical schools have implemented diversity initiatives in cultural sensitivity and awareness of subconscious bias to combat these issues and decrease the prevalence of racism in the medical field. However, according to Jennifer Adaeze, medical school student and writer for Stat News, these initiatives are not enough .

"Flag of Finland" by SKopp is licensed under Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

Addressing American families, Howard Gardner, an education professor at Harvard, suggested to “‘[l]earn from Finland, which has the most effective schools and which does just about the opposite of what we are doing in the United States.’” William Doyle, writer for the Los Angeles Times, abided by Gardners advice and enrolled his seven-year-old son in a Finnish school. Doyle got an inside look at the higher education system as well when he became a professor in a Finnish University. Reflecting fondly on his familys five months there, he refers to the school system as stunningly stress-freewhile being stunningly good.Doyle recalls, Finns put into practice cultural mantras I heard over and over: Let children be children,’ ‘The work of a child is to play,and Children learn best through play.’” These values contrast greatly with Americas mentality of teaching for the standardized test.

"A big part of financial freedom is having your heart and mind free from worry about the what-ifs of life" by Morgan is licensed under CC BY-2.0 (via flickr)

The prospect of student loan debt is often enough to scare any college graduate. For many, such fear is all too common; according to the Wall Street Journal, 71% of the Class of 2015 graduated with student loan debt. For many of these graduates, the amount owed is scary enough, in itself. What happens, then, when heavily-armed members of law enforcement are thrown into the mix?

ED Goes Back to School 4 by US Department of Education (CC BY-2.0)

Previously, Prindle director Andrew Cullison argued that libertarians should favor public education because well-educated citizens would be more likely to endorse and support a generally free political structure. In response, I pointed out that school doesn’t do a great job of teaching the relevant subjects, and that most of the gains to becoming educated (especially attending college) are individual gains, not public goods. To top it all off, voters are generally uninformed (and have incentives to remain uninformed), and government actors are very good at benefitting themselves rather than their constituents, despite the best intentions of ordinary citizens. Are there any reasons for a libertarian to support education, specifically publicly-funded (i.e. tax-funded) education?

Libertarians are essentially individualists. They generally believe that the individual, and not the country, community, or “society,” is the foundational unit of political (and moral) analysis. For this reason, I previously expressed doubts that libertarians would be friendly to the idea that publicly-funded education is a good way to promote libertarianism. That comes close to seeing voters as a kind of clay to be molded through political processes into a citizens who do what you want them to do (i.e., be libertarian). It may result in the right end state, according to a libertarian, but I’m uneasy with the method. (Ideally, issues that are a matter of fundamental rights would not be subject to popular vote in the first place, anyways).

But this individualism can be understood as logically prior to the libertarianism itself, at least in many or most cases. That is, people hold libertarian political positions because they are sympathetic to the individualist worldview. The individualism, then, explains the libertarianism. And individualism can also generate a kind of defense of publicly-funded (even compulsory, tax-funded) education.

As individualists, we should be concerned at all times with how policies that target groups actually affect individuals, benefitting some at the cost of others. And we should be interested in designing institutions that foster individual virtues like self-reliance, responsibility, and autonomy (or allowing these institutions to emerge).

Inconveniently, though, individuals don’t enter the world ready for full autonomy (and responsibility). Instead, they enter as babies and then kids who require significant growth and development to be ready for the primetime of adult life. Families do a pretty good job of raising their young, certain tragic examples notwithstanding, and it would be of greater harm than benefit to attempt to re-organize this basic feature of human societies (even apart from the rights violations involved).

We, as a society, can’t fully compensate for the differences between people and the ways in which their parents raise them differently within the bounds of moral permissibility (and even if this were possible, it’s not clear that it’s morally required or desirable). But we can provide some kind of a basic education to all as an acknowledgment of the capacities each person has – and of the responsibilities a free society will expect her to bear as an adult.

Deciding how much and what kind of education fulfills this individualist purpose won’t be easy, and certainly depends on the context (how prosperous a society is, what the job market is like, etc). But respecting and protecting the rights and freedoms of individuals is the best reason for governments to get involved in education (if there is a compelling one in the end at all). Education markets don’t experience “market failure” in the traditional sense, and it’s unjust to educate students with an eye towards turning them into particular kinds of voters. But the kind of individualism that animates libertarian political positions can also motivate a principled desire to see each citizen receive the education she needs to operate within the kind of society maintained around her.