19 February 2018

Hiding in Plain Sight: Municipal Bankruptcy Will Make A Comeback

All has been quiet on the municipal (Chapter 9) bankruptcy front for some time. Some might believe my two municipal bankruptcy articles, one about Stockton (Municipal Bankruptcy: When Doing Less Is Doing Best (download here or here)) and the other about Detroit (Who Bears the Burden? The Place for Participation of Municipal Residents in Chapter 9 (download here or here)), are only of antiquarian interest.

But some would be wrong. And we should see an uptick in the number of cities seeking bankruptcy protection over the coming two years.

Three reasons why. First, the underlying social causes of municipal financial distress have not changed. Go here to read an interesting post by Peter Leithart titled "Suburban Ponzi Scheme" in which he summarizes a yet-lengthier piece describing the governmentally-created structural supports that helped cause the post-WW II explosion in America's suburbs. The exodus from America's cities was driven not only by the desire of many urbanites to get a house with a lawn (or to put more distance between themselves and POC) but was enabled by federal spending on highways and other transfer payments that amounted to middle-class welfare. In addition, financing the infrastructure of suburbia has always been something of a Ponzi scheme. For example,

A small town received support to build a sewer system from the federal government back in the 1960s as part of a community investment program. Additional support was given in the 1980s to rehabilitate the system. Today, the system needs complete replacement at a cost of $3.3 million. This is roughly $27,000 per family, which is also the city’s median household income.
In other words, only by betting on continuous growth can suburbia continue to exist. Such growth has come to an end in many suburban communities and thus it is only a matter of time before some of them join the ranks of their forsaken big-city parents and seek Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection.* (I could say more about the demographic trends that augur ill for many urban and suburban communities but I'll merely send you to an earlier post here.)

Second, the super-low interest rate environment is changing as the financial markets and the U.S. Federal Reserve begin to take seriously the return of inflation. Coupled with the promise of ever-more massive U.S. federal budget deficits thanks to Republican anti-deficit hypocrisy,** we can expect a continual upward climb in interest rates that will, in turn, unmask the low-interest-rate subsidy of municipal deficit spending.

Finally, the unsustainable costs of public employee pensions and retiree health care will force cities in some states, notably California, to join Stockton and San Bernardino (and don't forget Loyalton!) in hoping for help from a bankruptcy judge in Chapter 9. See a recent post by California public pension maven Ed Mendel here for the bad news. Or Joshua Rauh of the Hoover Institute here.

So, when all is said and done, at least the future for work in municipal financial restructuring and bankruptcy (debtor and creditor) looks bright.

* As I describe in yet another article, Nine Into Eleven: Accounting for Common Interest Communities in Bankruptcy, (download here or here), suburban cities have sought to offload the hemorrhaging costs of infrastructure by devolving them to common interest communities (homeowners associations and the like). As I explain in the article, this punt is likewise unsustainable in the long run.

** U.S. debt heading into orbit. "Goldman estimates U.S. federal debt will be over 100% of GDP and interest expenses will jump to 3.5% if tax/fiscal plans are enacted, 'putting the U.S. in a worse fiscal position than the experience of the 1940s or 1990s.'"

16 February 2018

More About the "E" Word (Evangelical)

I've posted here and here most recently on the relative (lack of) usefulness of the catch-all term "evangelical", at least in the American context. The debate continues and you can go here to read a robust defense in the Wall Street Journal by friend David Skeel of continuing to identify oneself as an Evangelical and here to read a tepid attaboy by Baylor prof Thomas Kidd.

My position remains unchanged from the posts linked above: in most contexts I would identify myself as a confessional Protestant or simply Christian, and this conclusion has less to do with the recent politicization of "evangelical" than "Evangelicalism's" long history of amorphous and contradictory positions on important matters of Christian doctrine. (Infant baptism, anyone?) Moreover, I'm as troubled by aspects of Evangelicalism's long history of social and political activism as its recent identification with Republican populism.

In any event, I commend Skeel's's and Kidd's defenses; they're as good as it gets.

08 February 2018

Which "W"?

Worldview or Wisdom? Hint: we're not brains on sticks.

I've posted here and here about my concerns about so-called "worldview thinking." What I didn't do at any length was to describe an alternative. In other words, if pre-categorizing what we might learn about God and the world into neat binary alternatives isn't a good idea (and it's not), then what should we do?

For an excellent answer in terms of the biblical category of wisdom go here to read a piece by Brad Littlejohn titled "What's So Bad About 'Worldview'?" After listing worldview's weaknesses (a-priorism, intellectualism, resistant to learning, self-contained, and sloppy thinking ), Littlejohn goes on to describe why wisdom is the better category to guide the Christian:
Although wisdom does consist of principles, they are principles gleaned from experience and reflection, not prefabricated. Wisdom involves intellectual knowledge and an understanding of how things relate, but it is just as often hands-on and tacit, consisting of and nourished by virtuous habits. Wisdom is not something that you just have or don’t have, like the right worldview; it is always incomplete, and those that have the most of it know best how much more they need to gain. The fear of the Lord is indeed central to wisdom, but wisdom is not a self-contained system unique to Christians, but an attunement to a shared reality, a reality that unbelievers are sometimes considerably more attentive to than we are.
I cannot recommend highly enough LIttlejohn's piece so please do me (and yourself) the favor of reading it.

Addendum: Go here to read a longer piece by Littlejohn in which he clarifies some ambiguities in and misunderstandings of his initial piece.

05 February 2018

A Few More Thoughts on Student Loans

(For a sampling of my earlier posts on this topic go here, here, and here.)

H/T to Dordt College prexy Eric Hoekstra for tweeting links to two recent articles about the student loan crisis in America. This time, however, the relevant crisis is not that of borrowers but of the primary lender to students, the Federal government.

First is the report from Inside Higher Education titled "Costs Mount for Federal Loan Programs." Why would such cost mount? In other words, why should a program of lending lose money when, after all, loans are to be repaid with interest? Especially when such loans for practical purposes cannot be discharged in bankruptcy?

In an acronym, IDR ("income-driven repayment"). IDR permits qualified student borrowers to repay their loans for less than their full amount by gearing monthly payments to a percentage of annual income even if those payments are not adequate to amortize the loan. And, after 25 years, the unpaid balance is wiped away. (There is a tax consequence to the discharge of the unpaid loan but it is far less than the discharged debt.) Per the article,
Between the 2011 and 2015 fiscal years the balance of this form of loan increased from $7.1 billion to $51.5 billion ... an increase of 625%. ... As a result, the government subsidy for income-driven repayment plans increased to $11.5 billion in 2015 from $1.4 billion in 2011 ... And at this pace, the feds may soon lend more money overall than is being repaid by borrowers.
The Wall Street Journal picks up this story here and raises the question of what can be done:
The prospect of taxpayer losses on student loans increases the chances that Congress will make major changes to the program, such as eliminating debt-forgiveness options or placing new dollar limits on how much individuals can borrow. Congressional Republicans have proposed such changes.
I'm not holding my breath that any legislation this Congress and the President enact will be adequate to solve the problem. While undoubtedly something will be done, it will, like the recent Republican tax reform legislation, involve its own fiscal sleight-of-hand. In addition, IDR benefits many in the middle class and middle-class welfare is nearly sacrosanct.

24 January 2018

Fewer Toys 'R' Us 4 U

I apologize for not keeping my commitment to keep folks informed about the Toys 'R' Us bankruptcy. But, frankly, it hasn't been as exciting as the Chapter 11 of Family Christian Stores. Here's some news from CNBC, however, that suggests that Toys' R' Us may not ultimately survive: "Toys R Us is planning to shutter roughly 180 stores across the country, or about one-fifth of its U.S. store fleet, in a bid to restructure the company and emerge from bankruptcy protection."

It's not that closing underperforming stores isn't a good idea, it is. The problem is that Toys 'R' Us suffered through a lackluster Christmas sales season, which bodes ill for the future. Bricks and mortar stores generally, and especially those catering to a shrinking demographic, are probably not long for this world no matter how carefully they are managed.

19 January 2018

Plato on Transhumanism

Michael Plato, that is.

Over the years I have posted on the transhumanist phenomenon here, here, and here. For a thoughtful and even more up-to-date piece go here to read his post, "The Immortality Machine: Transhumanism and the Race to Beat Death."

As Plato observes, "That so many atheist transhumanists look at death with hostility and hunger for immortality should be, at a very basic level, encouraging for Christians." On the other hand,
Transhumanism sharply diverges from Christianity in its rejection of the idea that our human bodies are good as is because they are created by a good God. That Christ himself has a human body and possesses a human nature affirms the goodness and completeness of the human. In this, transhumanism is more akin to the Gnosticism of centuries past, which treated the body as malleable or even outright repugnant and disposable.
Victory over death won't come by prolonging and even enhancing the lives we have. Human life, even as wonderful as it can be, is deeply flawed and death is the final exclamation point on its flaws. We need something more than more of the same and the gospel of eternal life in Christ promises more than perduration. "Eternal" partakes of the nature of Life of the one who is life and that life will transcend the paltry imitation hoped for by the transhumanists.

One more random thought. Plato references several pop cultural (TV and film) items that deal with transhumanism. FWIW, this season's X-Files does, too. And it's not flattering.

16 January 2018

Blogging Jamie Smith: An Occasional Series on "Awaiting the King" 7.0

(You can read my comments on chapters 1 through 6 of "Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology" (AtK)  herehereherehere, here, and here.)

Reaching Smith's concluding remarks fully justify reading the previous six chapters. My previous posts have suggested something of a mixed response to Smith's venture into political theology. His critique of neo-Kuyperian transformationalism in light of a biblical eschatology (the now and the not-yet of God's work of restoration) was trenchant. I hope hIs introduction to Oliver O'Donovan will send many to O'Donovan's works. And his frank acknowledgment that reviving serious liturgical practices is not a panacea for what deforms the loves of Christians is consistent with this book's title: awaiting the king.

On the other hand, I have criticized Smith's dismissal of the insights of the natural law tradition. The proponents of natural law, from the Stoics to the Medievals to post-Reformation Christians, Roman Catholic and Protestant alike, understood natural law as a set of mid-level principles derived from human nature that should be applied in each polity with an eye toward the history and practices of its particular people. Smith (and O'Donovan, for that matter) pick up the story of natural law from its nineteenth-century despisers. I wish Smith had done better on that score. Other criticisms have included some confusion about the separation of church and state and some overuse of movie metaphors. But these were minor nits in the grand scheme of AtK.

Smith brings his Augustinian insights to his conclusion that is dialectically clear. Dialectical because Augustine, drawing from a biblical eschatology, correctly frames Christians' penultimate political concerns in light of their ultimate eschatological telos. On the one hand, "both the Religious Right and the Christian Left are evidence that evangelical Protestants have shed their otherworldly quietism. ... Politics is affirmed as one of the 'spheres' of creation over which Christ resolutely says, 'Mine!'" On the other hand, those same Evangelical political activists need to be reminded that "one of the dangers of eagerly diving in to the political sphere is that it tends to underestimate the strength of the currents already swirling around in that 'sphere.'" In other words, "the political" is not simply something we "do;" political activity does something to us. And the direction in which the formative activities of politics bend can be deeply deforming.

Enough on-the-one-hand-and-the-other, what are Smith's take-aways? How does he recommend we calibrate the tension between penultimate public interest and the ultimate love of God? Summarizing his concluding points:
  1. Recognize that even the disordered loves of the earthly city attest to creational desires. The idolatrous loves (and lives) that find expression in the practices of politics are derived from the ontological reality that human beings were created to love.
  2. Every critique of the practice and results of political activity is ad hoc; there is no such thing as the one-size-fits-all Christian theory of penultimate earthly justice. Because there cannot be (and certainly should not be) a Christian "theory" of how to harness misdirected earthly loves, the only "theory" of Christian political activity is "Come quickly Lord Jesus.
  3. Yet we should be able to recognize penultimate convergence even where there is ultimate divergence. Practical compromise (as I discussed here) to make our earthly sojourns less bad, less deformed, and more just should be pursued.
  4. "Don't lose your eschatology: cultivate a teleological sensibility." Since for the time being the City of God and the City of Man are intermingled, "it is in the interest of the 'pilgrims' of the city of God to seek the welfare of the earthly city."
  5. Nonetheless, there are limits to political participation by Christians. We must always ask the question of the extent to which the configuration of a polity's political practices--"these secular liturgies--deform and deflect the people of God from their longing for the heavenly city."
Even before I reached the end of AtK I concluded it is an excellent book that I recommend to everyone reading this post. My criticisms notwithstanding, AtK is more than an onramp and it is deeper than a roadmap to reforming public theology. It provides thoughtful readers with a means by which to frame and guide our lives and loves in the City of Man while waiting for the full and final revelation of the City of God.

12 January 2018

Blogging Jamie Smith: An Occasional Series on "Awaiting the King" 6.0

(You can read my comments on chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of "Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology" (AtK)  hereherehere, here, and here.)

Chapter 6 of AtK ("Contested Formations: Our 'Godfather' Problem") extends across a long 43 pages (compared with a mere 13 pages in the preceding chapter). It begins and ends strong but the lengthy middle tries to cover a lot of ground and fails fully to develop its arguments. Its lengthy middle may keep some folks from the fundamental--and excellent--point of the chapter.

Chapter 6 begins with Smith's description of "The Godfather" problem: if liturgical character formation is all it's cracked up to be, then how do we account for its obvious and stunning failure in the life of fictional character Michael Corleone? Smith succinctly describes a scene from The Godfather that depicts the contrast between the baptismal liturgy of his young child and the simultaneous series of hits on his enemies ordered by young Michael. As Smith explains,
While I extol the formative power of historic Christian worship practices, it would seem that there can be--and are--people who have spent entire lifetimes immersed in the rites of historic Christian worship who nonetheless emerge from them not only unformed but perhaps even malformed.
The frank acknowledgement of this conundrum introduces the long middle section of Chapter 6 where Smith leaves behind Oliver O'Donovan's careful theological work and turns to the race-informed sociology of Calvin College grad Willie James Jennings. Jennings is the real deal when it comes to the origins and meaning of race in Western society. Even more than we see in Smith's reliance on O'Donovan for his political theology, however, we see his dependence on Jennings for his understanding of the place of race. This isn't to say that Smith (channeling Jennings) is wrong but only that we don't really hear Smith's voice for many pages.

Coupled with the derivative nature of his sociology, at least some of Smith's prescriptions for the role of a pastor seeking to re-form the Christian characters in a congregation are unhelpful. For example, to counter the deforming effects of nationalism, Smith suggests a service of anti-nationalism on the Fourth of July (although he acknowledges to so might cost a church much of its congregation). Heck, I've been in churches where it took years of education before removing the national flag from the worship space. Perhaps Smith wrote tongue-in-cheek but modifying long-practiced modes of worship involves more patience than sociology.

More broadly, Smith urges that leaders in congregational worship "'read' the practices of the regnant polis, to exegete the liturgies of the earthly city in which we are immersed ... [on a] local and contextual level." Exactly how do we expect the average pastor to do this, at least in a way that's not simply pandering to the SJW side of evangelicalism?

Here's my liturgical 2 cents: how about having worship leaders stick to worshiping in accord with the Word and even doing it twice every Lord's Day? After all, restoring a worship-bracketed approach to Sundays would double the formation opportunities and help combat the idolatries of spectator-consumer-consumption.

At last, Smith comes to the end of Chapter 6 and makes an extremely important point: ecclesiastical liturgy is not about character re-formation. Let me quote Smith here:
Finally, the argument about the centrality of worship and the importance of historic Christian liturgy is not, ultimately or only, a claim about effectiveness. In other words, Christian liturgy is not just a strategy of discipleship or an instrument of formation. ... Worship is ultimately and fundamentally a theocentric act, commanded and invited by the King.
Amen. While worship done well, thoughtfully, and regularly should mold the loves of its participants, worship is not a means to such an end. Its end (telos) is God and it is the Triune God we worship "who will ultimately transform us and hence undo the injustice we've wrought."

07 January 2018

Report on a Regional Convivium

Faithful readers may recall that I have posted brief reports on the papers presented at the annual summer convivia sponsored by the Davenant Institute. (Go herehere, here, and here for the concluding posts for the past four years.) With the surfeit of great papers, Davenant decided to add several regional off-season convivia to the roster. The most recent one took place at Davenant House in Landrum, South Carolina January 5-6.

Morning View from the Deck
In addition to great food, worship (including singling psalms a cappella), fellowship, and libations, we enjoyed plenary speaker D. Blair Smith of Reformed Theological Seminary (Charlotte) on "The Fatherhood of God in Fourth-Century Pro-Nicene Trinitarian Theology." Quite a mouthful but Christians today need to recall that it took the church centuries to develop concepts and their ramifications and interrelations we now take for granted. Except when we forget what certain expression meant and re-fill them with our own, contemporary meanings (more on this phenomenon below).

Other papers included "John Owen: Proto-Barthian?" by Thomas Haviland-Pabst, in which Thomas showed that Barth could have avoided the excesses of his "Christo-monism" had he read the Christo-centric Trinitarian theology of seventeenth-century Puritan theologian, John Owen. Both Barth and Owen serve as good reminders, however, that the Christian God is Trinity and that failing to begin theology proper with Trinity can lead to either a functional modalism or tri-theism.

Nathan Johnson presented "The Polyphonic Melody of Grace: Identity, Consecration, and Deliverance in the Passover and Eucharist” in which he developed a rich, biblical-theological understanding of the Lord's Supper that, if taken seriously, would help restore the sacrament to a meaningful place in the liturgy. Next, Zachary Groff, talked about his paper, “The Ancient Branch: 17th C. Scottish Presbyterian Commentaries on Romans 11:26." How to understand Paul's prophecy of the salvation of "all Israel" has perplexed commentators for over a thousand years but the seventeenth-century Scots had a take on it that was new to me. 

Mark Olivero gave his paper on “The Eternal Sovereignty of the Son: The Co-regency of Christ Reveals the One Absolute and Indivisible Authority of the Triune God” in which he revisited last year's dust-up over the alleged eternal subordination of the Son to the Father (see above) with a careful review of 1 Corinthians 15, the putative proof-text for subordinationists like Bruce Ware and Wayne Grudem.

Finally, I read my paper, "Unconscionability: Reciprocity and Justice" and received valuable comments on my theological arguments.

All in all, great edification and a great time.

Lengthening Shadows at Davenant House

04 January 2018

Blogging Jamie Smith: An Occasional Series on "Awaiting the King" 5.0

(You can read my comments on chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4 of "Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology" (AtK)  herehere, here, and here.)

Smith continues his slow advance into his take on the specifics of a Christian public theology with "Redeeming Christendom: Or, What's Wrong With Natural Law." If the preceding chapter was a critique of Neocalvinist pluralism, chapter 5 represents an attempt to rehabilitate the notion of Christendom. Long discredited in the Liberal tradition (early or contemporary), Christendom is enjoying something of a comeback in Protestant circles through the works of Peter Leithart. (You can go here to read one of my posts about Leithart from six years ago.)

Smith's Christendom is hardly the sort popularly identified first with Constantine and then onto the Christianized culture of Western Europe. At least I don't think so. On the one hand, he quotes approvingly from Augustine's City of God:

We Christians call rulers happy if they rule with justice ... if they put power at the service of God's majesty, to extend his worship far and wide, if they fear God, love him and worship him ...
And then in his own words Smith writes "Our imaginations have been sufficiently disciplined by the assumptions of liberalism to be uncomfortable about and embarrassed by such forthrightly Christian hopes for temporal government." Duh.

But does Smith really mean that the only truly happy civil ruler is one who seeks to extend the worship of the one true God across the globe? I don't think so for in the course of the remainder of this chapter he walks back the Christian witness in political life to something like faithful presence: "The church is now the site for seeing what Christ's kingly rule looks like; and it will be from the church that the authorities ... of this world might come to recognize their own penultimacy." For Smith, for at least the foreseeable future, quoting (again) Oliver O'Donovan, "Christ conquers rulers from below, by drawing their subjects out from under their authority."

I'm not sure where that leaves us, which is one of my problems with AtK. Smith invites multiple readings by failing to define his terms and work out their implications. AtK is more a pastiche than a full-fledged program, or even the architecture for a program, of the relationship between the Church and the civil powers of the world.

Which leads me to my greatest objection thus far, Smith's offhanded and ill-considered rejection of natural law as a part of an architecture for a program of political engagement. Smith criticizes natural law for being insufficiently "evangelical" while his own approach reduces Christian involvement to a winsome well, I'm not sure what:
Christendom, then, is a missional [sic] endeavor that refuses to let political society remain protected from the lordship of Christ while also recognizing the eschatological distance between the now and the not-yet. From the center of the church as a political society, Christendom bears witness to how society should be otherwise in a way that imagines the possibility of conversion--not only of souls but of our social imaginaries.
(If you want to know what natural law really is (and isn't) don't look to AtK but instead see the short Davenant guide titled, appropriately, "Natural Law: A Brief Introduction and Biblical Defense" (previously blogged here) or watch this video.) 

23 December 2017

Blogging Jamie Smith: An Occasional Series on "Awaiting the King" 4.0

(You can read my comments on chapters 1, 2, and 3 of "Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology" (AtK)  here, here, and here.)

In chapter four of AtK, "The Limits and Possibility of Pluralism: Reforming Reformed Public Theology," Smith begins with an astute (and absolutely correct) observation:
My concern is a blind spot in some [most? all?] influential Neocalvinist accounts of pluralism and political life that stems from a wider, more systemic tendency within Neocalvinism to devalue and displace the significance of the institutional church ...
Amen. Already I had a gnawing unease about this aspect of the version of Neocalvinism I received in my undergraduate days at Dordt College. But I wonder if this devaluing of the Church has its roots already in the theology and practice of the grandfather of Neocalvinism, Abraham Kuyper? Friend Ruben Alvarado certainly thinks so. (See my blog post here.)

Regardless of the genealogy of Neocalvinism's de-emphasis of the church as an institution, how does Smith see this as a problem in contemporary Neocalvinist public theology? Smith does a nice job of canvassing the version of pluralism put forth by Jonathan Chaplin, perhaps the most insightful of Neocalvinist political theorists, and finds it wanting. When all is said and done, Neocalvinist structural pluralism "ends up making a meta-argument for what I'm calling a kind of macroliberalism wherein a 'just' society is one in which different confessional communities are free to pursue their visions of the good." In short, Neocalvinist political theology is baptized Rawlsian liberalism.

Smith contrasts Neocalvinist pluralism with what he believes is more robust formulation by John Inazu in "Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving through Deep Difference." FWIW, I'm not as confident about Inazu's version of pluralism as Smith.

In short, I found this chapter of AtK helpful in its critique of the prevailing Neocalvinist version of pluralism but I am less sanguine about Smith's alternative. Notwithstanding, Smith's lament over the loss of place for the institutional church in Neocalvinism, I didn't find his ecclesial turn adequate. To be sure, Smith does spend several pages on the church as the place of virtue formation and he reminds his readers of the centrality of the heavenly vision that should characterize the Christian's orientation toward the affairs of the world. Yet none of this addresses the place of the church as an institutional counterweight. I was hoping that Smith could articulate a way in which the church as institution functioned not only internally but also externally with respect to the world. There are, however, two-plus chapters to go ...

20 December 2017

It's All About the Children

A few weeks ago I posted here about an article by former colleague Louis Hensler, The Legal Significance of the Natural Affection of Charlie Gard's Parents. To my satisfaction Hensler demonstrated that the common law (and, to a lesser extent, its statutory successors) presume that parents have a divinely-instilled natural affection for their children that immunizes them (and not others) from claims for actions that could otherwise amount to tort. Natural affection generally warrants deference to parental choice not because children are their property--they aren't--but because for all their foibles and limitations parents' hearts and intentions are for their children. This seems especially the case when compared to any plausible substitute such as a state-run child welfare and educational systems that are chronically underfunded and under-staffed.

For another point of view go here to read Homeschooling: Choosing Parental Rights Over Children's Interests. Cribbing from the abstract:
Homeschooling, the most extreme form of privatization of education, often eliminates the possibility of the child gaining the resources essential for success in adult life. It sacrifices the interests of the child to the interests of the parents, allowing them to control and isolate the child’s development. In addition, homeschooling frustrates the state’s legitimate interest in the child’s receiving a sound, diverse education, so that the child can achieve her potential as a productive employee and as a constructive participant in civic life. ... For all of these reasons, homeschooling should be prohibited, as it is in many other countries.
Where to start? How about, for instance, the fatuous nature of the assertion that homeschooling "often" (how's that for a wiggle word?)  "eliminates the possibility of success"? Seriously, as one who sees more and more law school resources devoted to remediation of the deformities caused by our "no child left behind" approach to primary and secondary education (which has slithered into undergraduate education as well), I can't imagine how the authors believe that homeschooling is so much worse.

But here's the real howler: homeschooling "frustrates the state's interest" in turning kids into "productive employees" and "constructive" citizens. Sheesh. And here I thought that education was to train children in virtuous truth-seeking. Silly me.

For yet a third hand, one that frames the issue separating Hensler and homeschooling-phobes, go here to read an essay by Bruce Ledewitz, Is Religion a Non-Negotiable Aspect of Liberal Constitutionalism? Spoiler alert: yes. In Ledewitz's words: " I aim to challenge the question’s implicit privileging of secularism as a constitutional norm by returning to the American experience." Unlike the authors of Homeschooling, Ledewitz is as open to the question of whether religion should tolerate secularism as vice versa. Of course, privileging one's preferred take, e.g., secularism uber alles, makes winning an argument much easier but hardly does service to honest academic inquiry.

In any event, Ledewitz demonstrates that there can be thoughtful discussion of the fraught issues in American social and political life.

And one more thing: Enjoy a blessed Advent.