Sunday, October 15, 2017

Notes from a Louisville fan and alum: What UNC should learn about shame.

Last week, the NCAA cleared UNC of any potential violations surrounding what many have called the most egregious case of academic fraud in the history of college athletics. When the news broke, the most irate fanbase wasn't that of instate rivals Duke or NC State, but the beleaguered fans at the University of Louisville, and rightfully so.

I'm a Louisville guy through and through. I grew up going to men's basketball games, mostly during the lean years of the 1990s, when Rick Pitino was hanging banners in Rupp Arena for the University of Kentucky. I attended U of L in the mid-2000s, and with Pitino now coaching Louisville, the program reached its first Final Four in almost two decades. I was a grad student in Georgia when Louisville finally won the title in Atlanta's Georgia Dome, ending nearly three decades of disappointment. It was the happiest moment of my sporting life.

Then came the scandals. Assistant Coach Andre McGee had hired strippers/prostitutes to "entertain" current players and recruits in the athletic dorms. It was tawdry, embarrassing, and immoral, and as an alumnus and lifelong fan of the program, I felt a sense of personal shame.

Still, I tried to defend it to some degree. It's a natural response. And was happy to see that the university admitted to wrong-doing and took steps to punish itself -- including a postseason ban -- not just because I hoped it would reduce the inevitable NCAA punishment, but because it was the right thing to do.

The NCAA apparently disagreed, and over the summer hit Louisville with severe punishments that stunned not only the university, but much of the sports world as well. Louisville is set to be the first basketball program in NCAA history to be stripped of its championship banner.

And it only got worse. In the fall, Louisville was implicated in a larger FBI investigation, and the evidence clearly shows that, under the direction of Louisville coaches, Adidas paid players to attend the university. This is a clear violation of NCAA rules, and the university acted quickly to dismiss Pitino and prepared to fire Athletic Director Tom Jurich. Again, Louisville acted preemptively to appease the NCAA.

As a fan, I'm often asked about my feelings on the issue. My response has essentially been that we're guilty and should be punished accordingly. Ideally, NCAA rules regarding the recruitment and treatment of current and prospective players are meant to ensure an equal playing field among universities, and to protect student from exploitation (at least more than what the NCAA currently sanctions). We broke those rules. We have it coming.

After the UNC rulings, my attitudes have changed. If the NCAA comes for Louisville's 2013 banner, they can pry it from my cold, dead hands. Alternatively, I'm willing to trade it for three of UNC's (2005, 2009, 2017).

As a Louisville fan and alum, my outrage over the UNC case comes from a perception that the NCAA distributes justice unequally and applies its rules arbitrarily. Given the nature of the two schools' violations, that's a reasoned response.

An unreasoned response is that of UNC students, fans, and alums. From what I can tell, the mood is one of relief and joy. On the one hand, I understand they feel good to have dodged a bullet. But they don't seem to realize they dodged that bullet by jumping in front of a cannonball.

Where is the sense of shame for the manner in which they skated charges? UNC admitted to offering fake courses to student for nearly two decades, but because these courses were available to all students and not just athletes, they weren't guilty of violating NCAA rules on the special treatment for athletes. While that may be technically true, consider what the defense really means: UNC is innocent of NCAA violations because they committed widespread academic fraud rather than narrower, case-by-case fraud.


Were I a student or alum of UNC, I would be furious. The university was willing to trade on its academic reputation to preserve its athletic prowess.

And look. I get it. College sports matter. They're exciting. They're a rallying point for those associated with the school, and a lightning rod for fostering school spirit and attracting donations.

But universities don't exist to provide sports entertainment. They exists to advance knowledge through research and education, much nobler though less discussed goals. To sacrifice that is nothing less than shameful, especially for UNC, which U.S. News ranks the fifth best public university in the country.

For all the embarrassment Louisville's indiscretions have brought to its alums, they never cheapened the value of our degrees or our education. I went to the 87th best public university, and even I can see that. Maybe its time we re-evaluate those rankings, or even UNC's accreditation status, because a school so willing to brazenly defraud its students should be punished, even if its basketball team seemingly can't be or never will.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Learned helplessness and a lone shooter

Learned helplessness pervades much of the current American political landscape, but we often fail to see it or mistake it for something else. Nowhere is this effect and the confusion surrounding it more visible than in discussion of gun control.

We're a week out from a Las Vegas shooting that killed nearly 60 people and wounded over 500 more. My initial response wasn't shock. It was a sort of muted horror stemming from the knowledge that gun violence on a mass scale appears to be a loose thread in the American fabric we can't seem to cut free.

It's become such a regular occurrence that the national response is routine:

  • The president and media express outrage and send "thoughts and prayers."
  • Many prominent figures claim now is the time for debate and action on gun violence.
  • Defenders of gun rights express "now is not the time" to discuss such issues.
  • Congress asks for a moment of silence and we fly flags at half mast.
  • We fight familiar fights on our Facebook feeds, retreating to ideological corners.
  • Legislation (often weak or meaningless) is put before Congress, and it doesn't pass.
Over time, we become desensitized to these events because of the regularity and the routine, and many writers have been saying as much for years.

But I think it runs deeper. I think we've barreled into learned helplessness territory. To be desensitized to certain events simply means that we no longer react with strong emotionality because we've seen it before. Rampant gun violence certainly creates desensitization, and that can inhibit our willingness to act, but not to the degree of learned helplessness.

Learned helplessness comes about in much the same way as desensitization, but its much more insidious. For example, let's say you have a rat in a cage. You then administer a small electrical shock to a portion of the cage floor. Naturally, the rat will move to escape the shock. 

But what happens if you electrify the entire cage floor? At first, the same thing. The rat will attempt to escape the shock. Over time, however, he will eventually learn that there is no escape, and he'll stop trying.

Does the shock still hurt? Yes. He hasn't been desensitized fully. But he's learned that he is helpless in his situation and thus no longer fights it.

I think that's how most Americans are starting feel about gun violence, and the data backs this up. According to Pew Research, the majority of Americans -- often a significant majority -- support a variety of gun safety measures:
  • 50% want to ban high-ammunition clips
  • 52% want to ban assault-style weapons
  • 68% favor creating a federal database to track gun sales
  • 71% favor banning individuals on the no-fly list from buying guns
  • 76% back limits on gun ownership among the mentally ill
  • 81% back universal background checks
And before any Second Amendment purists absolutely lose their shit, yes, there are issues with each of these solutions. For example, how do we define mental illness? And what about people erroneously placed on the no-fly list? Then there's the fact that, in many instances, enacting all of these measures won't eliminate the problem. 

I admit these weakness, but I would argue those are piss poor excuses for not at least trying to mitigate this problem. Surely there can be some reasonable middle ground here.

But my larger point here is that the majority of Americans want to see some action taken on this issue, but for a variety of reasons, Congress refuses to do anything of substance. And this refusal is incredibly dangerous for our democracy. If you're in the majority here, it's hard to look at this situation and not feel helpless. I mean, damn. We're a democracy. Shouldn't majority opinion have more sway? 

And that feeling of helplessness, perhaps more than any other single factor, leads us to check out more and more from the political debates that substantially affect our lives.

It also leads us to make rash political decisions in a desperate attempt to retake some control. It's hard to look at the election of Donald Trump without seeing learned helplessness at play. The narrative of forgotten Americans wandering the political wilderness searching for a voice -- any voice -- is how you end up with seemingly reasonable individuals even entertaining a candidate so thoroughly and obviously unqualified and unfit.

There are a number of issues about which Americans are in relative agreement: limiting gun violence, modernizing infrastructure, providing universal (or at least expanded) access to affordable health care, and not starting a nuclear war, to name a few. But the longer elected officials delay in tackling these issues, the more helpless the electorate feels; the more disconnected the citizenry sees itself from its representatives; the more unstable our democracy becomes; and the more dangerous and unpredictable our political, social, and economic futures appear to be.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Responding to Sen. Johnson on Health Care

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) recently penned an op-ed for The Times, “Where the Senate Health Care Bill Fails.” Mr. Johnson’s moral outrage seems fundamentally misdirected, and his understanding of the free market and how it functions, particularly in regards to health care, is wholly flawed.

Rather than focusing on the 20 million people who will lose insurance over the next 10 years or the upward redistribution of wealth through unnecessary tax cuts, he laments the government’s failure in obstructing the forces of the free market and the projected deficit increases that will result from the Senate bill.

A truly moral and compassionate society,” Mr. Johnson says, “does not impoverish future generations to bestow benefits in the here and now.

First, the Reagan-esque tax cuts for the wealthy, which lie at the core of the Senate health care bill, impoverishes future generations to bestow benefits in the here and now to those who don’t need them. Second, the tendency of Mr. Johnson and many of his Republican colleagues to frame the moral component of health care in economic and political costs rather than the costs of human suffering and death is truly stunning.

What’s more stunning is that we Americans have largely accepted the premise that health care markets function like other commodity markets. As a result, we no longer appear to question that in the case of problems like rising premiums and deductibles, to use Mr. Johnson’s words, “a simple solution is obvious. Loosen up regulations and mandates, so that Americans can choose to purchase insurance that suits their needs and that they can afford.”

Health care is not simple, but we’ve been fooled into believing it is because of our national, zealous belief in the power of the free market and a false notion that health operates under normal market rules. I’d like to demonstrate this point by looking at the crux of Mr. Johnson’s argument:

Layer upon layer of laws, rules and regulations have made our health care-financing system a complex mess, separating patients from direct payment for health care. As a result, patients neither know nor care what things cost. We have virtually eliminated the power of consumer-driven, free-market discipline from one-sixth of our economy.

It’s worth noting here that no market is truly free. In his book “Saving Capitalism,” Robert Reich clearly explains how all markets are governed by rules, and those rules are not inherent, but rather set by those in positions of power, often governmental forces. So, while Mr. Johnson asserts that laws, rules and regulations alter the rules of the market, the very same could be said for any repeal of laws, rules or regulations. Each are simply means to alter how the “free” market is governed.

Still, any functioning “free” market operates under certain assumptions, namely the transparency of costs, the ability to make choices based on those costs and the ability to freely enter and exit the market.

Mr. Johnson is absolutely correct that patients are largely ignorant of health care costs. In 2013, Steven Brill wrote an exceptional piece for Time on the inconsistent prices for services set by hospital chargemasters and the lack of transparency regarding the process for setting those prices and the eventual costs billed to patients and insurers.

I’d wager to guess that almost nobody reading this piece could name the cost of a physical, even though many of us get one every year. Even worse, the cost of a physical from Dr. A might be half that of Dr. B even though their offices are only three miles apart. The arbitrary and often secretive nature of service pricing makes it cumbersome if not impossible to comparison shop. Right away, we’ve violated our first market assumption, transparency of costs.

Moreover, this lack of transparency essentially violates the second assumption that we can choose services and providers based upon those costs. But let’s assume by some miracle we all knew the cost of every service and insurance plan available. Even under these fanciful circumstances, choice remains largely an illusion.

Let’s look at insurance plans first. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 49 percent of Americans receive insurance through their employers. Typically those plans are far better than those on the individual market. However, your choices are rather limited. An employer might offer three different plans, all of which are packaged with predetermined premiums, deductibles, copays and levels of coverage. Not a lot of choice.

And your ability to choose services might be more limited based on the type of plan you select. Let’s say you have an HMO, which typically mandates you select a primary care physician to address your basic needs and refer you to specialists.

So you select Dr. A, who charges less for physicals than Dr. B. But what happens when you need another service from Dr. A, like an x-ray for a sprained ankle. Sure, Dr. B doesn’t charge as much for that service, but you’re locked in to Dr. A, so you have to pay the higher costs, even if by some miracle you could research those costs an endured the pain of a possibly broken ankle long enough to investigate them.

And this brings us to the final assumption of most markets, namely that we have the ability to freely enter and exit based on cost and choice. Mr. Johnson feeds us an atypical example – all but parroting his colleague Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), an ophthalmologist: “Look no further than how laser eye surgery went from exotic to affordable during the years it was not covered by most insurance.

While Mr. Johnson’s statement regarding the decreased cost of laser eye surgery is technically true, it’s incredibly misleading. Market rules actually do apply to this sector of health care, unlike most others.

I happen to wear to glasses, and I am a prime candidate for corrective laser surgery. Eye surgeons are relatively transparent about the price for this procedure, and I can easily evaluate my options and thus make an informed decision based on price and expertise. Moreover, I can choose to enter and exit this market at will because, regardless of how much I may want the surgery, I don’t need it. My glasses work fine. It’s this very fact that I don’t need the surgery now that affords me the time to comparison shop.

However, let’s look at other sectors of the health care market, namely emergency care. Let’s say I’m at home and I have a heart attack. I’m in the health care market now, and you can bet I didn’t choose to be.

I call an ambulance to take me to the hospital. Many rural and small town Americans are serviced by a single hospital, so if these folks have heart attacks, that’s where they go and they pay the prices set by the hospital at a rate negotiated by their insurance. Again, little choice.

But I’m fortunate. My town has three hospitals. Let’s say against all odds I actually know the cost of heart surgery at each of them, and in the throws of cardiac arrest, I manage to instruct the EMT to drive me to the cheapest one. Even in this most unlikely of scenarios, that’s still not going to happen, as most EMTs are required to take patients to the nearest hospital, for obvious reasons: I’m more likely to live if I’m treated sooner.

This is a perfect example of why free market policies don’t align with the reality of health care in this country. Costs are secretive; even if we learn those costs, we’re limited in our ability make choices based upon those costs; and we can’t choose to enter and exit the health care market.

Admittedly, some of those issues could and should be addressed. Health care providers should be regulated to keep the cost of services down and relatively equal within certain medical sectors and geographic areas.

However, any insurance system that remotely resembles our current one will necessarily limit choice, as the only way to control costs is to collectively bargain, meaning most of us have to sign on to limited numbers of group plans. Regardless, the unpredictable nature of illness will always prohibit free entry and exit of the health care market place.

Mr. Johnson’s longing for free market solutions to health care may appeal to our ideological sensibilities, but in a practical sense they will never work because health care does not operate like most markets. Addressing America’s health care problems will require inventive solutions based in reality, not rhetoric, the latter of which appears to be all Mr. Johnson can provide.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Owning Our Leaders in the Time of Trump

The current, Republican-led, U.S. federal government is an unmitigated, bipartisan shitshow. And by bipartisan, I don't mean both sides of the aisle are to blame. I mean that from an objective viewpoint -- or at least as objective as one can muster -- we're staring at a dumpster fire here, one that's going to burn for at least two years, and possibly eight.

The most obvious offender is President Donald Trump. My personal list of complaints against Trump is longer than...well, it's long. But my focus here isn't on his effort to undercut liberal policies: his failing travel ban, his undermining of progress on climate change (which is a partisan issue for some reason), his push for financial deregulation, or his proposed budget cuts to vital programs in the social safety net. Idiotic as I believe these ideas are, I recognize that to some degree they're simply an extreme version of normal arguments between Republicans and Democrats over ideological priorities.

But much of Trump's failings have nothing to do with partisan issues. First, let's look at Russia. We know that the Russians attempted to influence our 2016 presidential election -- and in favor of Trump. They even attempted to tamper with voting machines. We know Trump officials have connections to Russia in various capacities. It's unclear if Trump or his aides colluded with Russia in any way, but there are concerns about conflicts of interest and blackmail, and Trump's reluctance to release his tax returns (a custom dating back to the 1970s) only raises suspicions.

Those suspicions were magnified over Trump's decision to fire FBI Director James Comey, a decision Trump admits was influenced by Comey's continued Russian probe. The day after Comey's firing, Trump held an oval office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, where he admitted that Comey's departure relieved a great deal of pressure; then he went on to leak information gathered by Israeli intelligence to the Russians at that same meeting, just for good measure.

Last week, we learned from Comey's testimony that he felt pressured into a patronage relationship with Trump, prompting Comey to record his encounters with the president and to subsequently leak those memos in the hopes of forcing the appointment of a special prosecutor. Yesterday, we found out Trump is considering dismissing that same special prosecutor.

Trump's failures extend far beyond the Russia mess. Trump has yet to fill 553 key, Senate-confirmable positions; what's more, he hasn't even put forth a nominee for 89 percent of those openings.

This shortfall in staff might partially explain the hollowness of his economic policy. Writing for the the Atlantic, Derek Thompson summarized Trump's economic policy well: "There is no policy." Virtually everything Trump has done on this front has been all sizzle, no steak. Last week's infrastructure signing ceremony was simply Trump sending a memo to Congress requesting they act. His proposed tax plan is less than a page long and scant on detail. His budget only balances if the GDP growth doubles the forecast -- and if you double-count that growth, as his budget folks did, resulting in a $2 trillion math error.

Additionally, in his brief tenure, Trump has show complete disregard for ethics. Hiring Ivanka Trump and Jared Kusher ignores antinepotism norms, and potentially laws. He's also requested an unprecedented number of ethics waivers allowing former lobbyists to oversee the very industry sectors for which they lobbied (so much for draining the swamp). Recently, Maryland and D.C. have filed a lawsuit against Trump alleging that he has used his position rather egregiously for his own financial gain.

The Republican Congress, which is meant to check the president's power, has tripped over itself in rather pathetic attempts to defend Trump. Speaker Paul Ryan's excuse: "The president's new at this." Really?
Still, Sen. Lindsey Graham's backhand-compliment defense is perhaps the most succinct summation of the Trump White House: "
He doesn't believe he did anything wrong with the Russians, and I tend to believe him. He can't collude with his own government. Why do you think he's colluding with the Russians?"

In attempting to stand by Trump, the Republican Party leadership has in actuality undermined him. When Trump's best defense is that he's either to inexperienced or dimwitted to be guilty, it raises the question of whether he's to inexperienced or dimwitted to be president.

But he is president. And he will continue to be. And it's because voters are often stupid and always tribal.

This morning, I read an op-ed in The New York Times about the Senate's handling of the Trumpcare bill. Essentially, it looks like Mitch McConnell and the Republican leadership will attempt to ram something through by early July. The leadership is constructing the bill in secret, with no scheduled hearings or attempts to compromise with Democrats -- a particularly infuriating move seeing as that was their main complaint against Obamacare. (And a false one at that. Obamacare was debated in open sessions for a year, with several Republican amendments added, effectively killing the public option, among other proposals.)

Heres how the article concludes:

Republican leaders seem to think they will gain a tactical legislative advantage if they can negotiate a deal behind the scenes and then suddenly spring it on the full Senate. Those gains will quickly evaporate when voters learn what they have done.

The NYT editorial board seems to believe voters will revolt against policies that negatively affect them and support politicians who act to their practical benefit. In my estimation, this is a rather naive view, and the 2010 midterms bear this out. 

President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in March 2010. Though imperfect, it was a vast improvement over the existing system: more Americans are insured, premiums have stabilized, and job growth hasn't suffered. In part, that may account for steady increases in support for the ACA since it's passage (54 percent of Americans approve of the ACA, while only 32 percent approve of the proposed replacement).

What did the Democrats get for those efforts? They lost six governorships, six Senate seats, and 63 seats in the House.

The lesson? Perception is more powerful than the reality and tribalism is more powerful than common sense. Obamacare wasn't a government takeover of health care, nor was there ever any attempt to institute death panels to kill your grandmother. But that's the false narrative that confused and misinformed voters relied on to oust the Democrats from power.

The ideological spin of the narrative of events was more crucial than the practical results of the events themselves -- and it will be again. 

Obamacare was and is a private sector reform passed through bipartisan negotiation. In many ways it's more Republican than Democratic. But Republicans couldn't support it because Obama did it. American politics now operate on one rule above all others: Better to deal a defeat to the American public than allow a victory for the other team. 

And the fragmented media environment that offers each of us our ideal augmented reality makes it possible to reframe each blow to the average American as somehow the other guy's fault. In reality, it's our own.

At the outset of this post, I feel I laid out a fair account of the facts in the case against Trump's general competency and the case for his possibly illegal behavior. But Trump is and will likely remain insulated from any meaningful consequences up to and including impeachment. To impeach a president, a majority vote in the House is required. Then the president is tried in the Senate, and removed only if a two-thirds majority elects to do so. Currently, to remove Trump would require 22 House and 19 Senate Republicans to vote in favor, assuming Democrats and Independents all do. Not going to happen.

Why? Trump's approval rating. Yes, Trump's is historically low. According to Gallup, as of June 11, 2017, he sat at a meager 37 percent. But if you look deeper, you'll notice an unprecedented partisan gap: only 8 percent of Democrats approve of Trump, but 83 percent of Republicans back him. So for senators in conservative states and representatives in conservative districts who are routinely elected without having to win over many -- if any -- Democrats, there's no incentive to move on Trump, especially considering Democratic turnout in midterm elections is abysmally low. That could change, but if there's little threat of losing one's seat, there's little to gain in checking Trump.

Since Trump's election, I've heard many of my fellow liberals claim he's not their president. Yes he is. And it's important to remember that he is. It reminds us of the agency we have as citizens and voters in a representative republic and the responsibility we have to uphold its values.

But I'm not naive. I know it's Team R vs. Team D. I'm firmly on the latter side here, so it's easy for me to throw stones at our president. It's not fun to admit when your guy is wrong, but sometimes he is. Obama was wrong on many occasions, from the strengthening of the surveillance state, to the expansion of drone use without oversight, to his noncommittal stance on Syria, to his lie that you could keep your plan via the ACA (though there's a lot of nuance on last one).

Now we're at a point where Team R needs to step up. Trump is a failed experiment on what happens when a novice is drafted to the big leagues. He's not capable enough to do the job, nor intellectually curious enough to ever become capable. He's placing himself above the law, or at least positioning himself outside it. His willingness to ignore every democratic norm, to violate any principle, and to lie and con for his own personal gain are affronts to public service in its most basic terms.

These should be egregious offenses in the eyes of all Americans, not just Team D. In fact, I know they are, but we've become too tribal to face an obvious and objective threat. And for the folks on Team R, what do you gain for this erosion of the American soul? A bag of empty promises and a cheap red hat, probably made in China. So much winning.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Secretary DeVos doesn't understand what I do

As a university professor, I was profoundly disappointed in Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos' remarks at CPAC regarding higher education. Speaking directly to the university students in attendance, she said:
The fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you're a threat to the university community. But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights of people with whom you disagree.
Everything about this statement, from the assertions made to the manner in which those claims are presented, is utterly false.

The goal of any reputable university is not to tell students what to think. It is to teach students to think critically and to think for themselves.

In my admittedly young career, I have worked as an instructor, lecturer, and assistant professor at three universities in three different states. That goal has always been the standard: How do we mold the next generation of young people into thinking, critically engaged adults ready to enter civic life and prosperous careers?

We wrestle with this every day. We literally lose sleep over it. And we don't always have a ready answer to this question given the delicate environment we face.

Generally speaking, college professors are a liberal bunch, oftentimes more liberal than our students. But we know that. And we also know that we exercise influence over our classrooms by virtue of our position.

With these considerations in mind, I've had numerous conversations with diligent and thoughtful peers and mentors about how we may temper our personal biases. We strive to avoid anything resembling indoctrination and work to maintain a free flow of ideas through honest debate.

We try to engage with students regarding current events and controversies in ways that allow students to express and debate a multitude of opinions. Oftentimes that means checking our own biases at the door, playing devil's advocate, and ensuring that oftentimes heated discourse among students remains civil so all feel confident that their voices will be heard and respected.

But remarks like those from Ms. DeVos and the underlying attitudes about ivory tower elitism make an already difficult task that much more so.

Professors and lecturers have in many cases become so fearful of accusations of undue influence that they actively avoid discussions of politics or any controversial topics for that matter. Such an approach is antithetical to the very idea of what education should be, and it has dangerous consequences for our democracy.

You can determine the quality of your education by answering a simple question: Was I ever made to feel uncomfortable? 

I spend most of my days as a professor making students uncomfortable. I challenge their worldviews, regardless of what they are. That makes them uncomfortable. I ask them to explain why they say what they say, or think what they think. That makes them uncomfortable. I don't reward students for simply having opinions, but demand they justify their stances. That makes them uncomfortable.

A good educational environment allows students to test ideas in the marketplace, to learn that they are sometimes right and sometimes wrong, and to refuse to accept any statement or truism without reason or evidence. Depriving students of this opportunity creates a form of self-indoctrintation, where we all view ourselves as correct and the ultimate arbiters of truth because we never questions ourselves or others. 

This insidious effect is more common than many might think, and it threatens our ability to sustain a democratic society. The inability to honestly debate ideas cripples our capacity to effectively address serious problems.

Educators, and the public writ large, must also understand that challenging an opinion is not the same as silencing one. If a student voices opposition to childhood vaccinations or support for school vouchers, I am not silencing her by asking, "Why?" 

I want to know if her opinion is informed. I want her to think about the sources that inform that opinion. I want her to ask whether those sources are credible. I want her to ask what makes for a credible source. I want her to critically evaluate her own thought processes. I want to know if she's echoing someone else's thoughts, or if she is thinking for herself.

That is education. If Ms. DeVos has a differing opinion, I welcome her thoughts on the matter, but I'm going to ask her why she thinks as she does.