Ep. 208: Religious Liberty and Education - An Interview with Rita Koganzon - EdChoice

Ep. 208: Religious Liberty and Education – An Interview with Rita Koganzon

September 29, 2020

In the first episode of our Liberty and Education series, our Director of Policy Jason Bedrick talks with Rita Koganzon. They take a deep dive into Koganzon’s chapter in the book, Religious Liberty and Education: A Case Study of Yeshivas vs. New York.

Jason Bedrick: Hello, and welcome back to EdChoice Chats. I’m your host, Jason Bedrick, director of policy at EdChoice. And this is a part of a new series called Religious Liberty and Education. Today, I’m delighted to be joined by Dr. Rita Koganzon, associate director of the Program on Constitutionalism and Democracy and assistant professor of politics at the University of Virginia. She is the author of a chapter in a book titled, Religious Liberty and Education: A Case Study of Yeshivas vs. New York, of which I am co-editor. Her chapter is titled, “Pork Eating Is Not a Reasonable Way of Life: Yeshiva Education vs. Liberal Educational Theory,” which is the subject of today’s conversation. Rita, welcome to the podcast.

Rita Koganzon: Thanks. Happy to be here.

Jason Bedrick: So our book is a case study of Hasidic Jews in New York, but you open your chapter talking about the Amish in Wisconsin, whom you note that William Galston calls the model case for the long running debate over religious diversity and liberal regimes. So what is that debate and what makes them a model case?

Rita Koganzon: Well, there’s this case in ’72, the Supreme Court case, Wisconsin v. Yoder, which raises problems that seem very analogous to what’s going on with the Hasidic Jews in New York. So, the Amish community in Wisconsin doesn’t want to send their children to the public high school. Schooling is compulsory in Wisconsin, I think through age 16, at this point, on the grounds that it would undermine their way of life if they were to expose their children to sort of the mainstream culture of the public high school. So they sue for an exemption from the compulsory school laws, and it’s a religious exemption on the grounds that this would threaten their religious liberty and they win.

So the court decides in their favor and allows them to take their children out of high school. They can finish school at the age of, I think, 13 or 14, right after eighth grade, and they can skip the last two years of compulsory education. And the argument that the court makes is that they are getting an education at home with their families in the life that they are going to lead as Amish adults. And that, that is a sufficient substitute for what they would have gotten at the public high school had they been forced to go there.

Jason Bedrick: So in other words, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Amish have a constitutional right to be exempted under the First Amendment, from Wisconsin’s compulsory education law?

Rita Koganzon: Right. Not fully exempted, but partially exempted.
Jason Bedrick: Partially exempted. And part of the reason is because they said that they’re getting an education at home. So the court was very concerned that they are getting some sort of education. And what else was there anything else in that decision that was important?

Rita Koganzon: Well, so the question becomes, well, how do we extrapolate from that? To whom else does that apply? The Amish are obviously a very small minority in the United States. Their religion is very unusual among American religions. So what are the ramifications of that decision? And it opens the way to a lot changes in our understanding of schooling and especially religious exemptions with respect to schooling. And one of the things that had permits is actually homeschooling, and that becomes one of the basis for it, because the idea is now, you don’t have to go to a kind of accredited licensed school in order to get what is accepted by the government as a reasonable education, which means you can stay home with your family and you can do all kinds of other things too, unschooling, etc.

Jason Bedrick: That sounds great. Why would anybody be opposed to that?

Rita Koganzon: Why would anybody be opposed to that? Well, then out of the Yoder decision, which happens to coincide roughly with the publication of John Rawls’ book, A Theory of Justice, which was published the year before that, there’s a sort of new turn in political theory about this question of how do we create liberal citizens and what is required for liberal citizenship? And especially within the realm of education, a lot of arguments start to be made that it’s impossible to create good liberal citizens in anything, essentially anything but a public school. They allow a little bit of private schooling on the sides, but that’s really under extreme restriction.

And the reason that you need to go to a public school is because in order to create a liberal citizen, a good liberal citizen, you need to educate for autonomy. And their understanding of autonomy, various theorists define it slightly differently, but it comes down to things… The best definitions that I’ve come across are you need an education for an open future, or you need to have an education that exposes you to diversity in order that you may be able to critically revise your understanding of the good life and change the way that you live. And being kept at home with your parents, or going to any kind of sectarian school that sort of teaches and enforces its own sectarian values would of course undermine your exposure to this kind of diversity, right? A very Christian school would not want to expose you to every single possible way of life, because it would consider some of those ways of life to be bad or sinful.

Jason Bedrick: And to clarify here, when you’re using the word “liberal,” you’re not talking about liberals versus conservative or Republican versus Democrats in the modern political sense. You’re talking about liberal in terms of the open society, the free society.

Rita Koganzon: Right. Liberalism sort of the political theory that underpins the United States, right? Which includes the conservative parts of the United States, right? A belief in individual right and in limited government to some degree, limited government and all of the sort of Lockian, Montesquieuan and principles that go into the founding.

So in order to make a citizen who can function in a regime like this, who respects other people’s rights, right? Who believes in equality, who believes in liberal liberty, you need a very carefully molded education that only the public schools really can provide. That becomes sort of the argument of the sort of Rawlsian tradition. And it attacks a lot of things—homeschooling, religious private schooling—all of the things that would not in principle provide you with this open future. And demands essentially that most or all children in the United States be put through this sort of education.

Jason Bedrick: And in some cases, this critique predates even Rawls. We hear this going back to the late 1800s with the rise of the common school movement and Catholics deciding that they wanted to have their own schools because the common schools were really nondenominational Protestant. They were reading the Protestant Bible, they were leading the children in nondenominational Protestant prayer, but not Catholic prayer and not the Catholic version of the Bible. And so there are these concerns that Catholic education wouldn’t educate children to be Americans. And that only the common schools can do that.

There were previous Supreme Court battles, it appears to be the Society of Sisters where the KKK had actually succeeded, I believe it was in Oregon getting the private schooling outlawed, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that no, you can’t outlaw private schooling.
And we’ve actually seen a lot of evidence that Catholic schools in particular or private schools in general, do a very good job of educating their children to be good American citizens. The work of Dr. Patrick Wolf, who we’ve had on this podcast before, he has demonstrated that through a literature review of a whole bunch of different studies. But still, okay, the Catholics are obviously much more mainstream than, let’s say the Amish or Haredi or Hasidic Jews. So maybe the Catholics don’t actually end up posing this sort of threat to liberalism and liberal education, but do the Amish and do Hasidic Jews?

Rita Koganzon: Catholics are totally assimilated. Catholic schools are not extremely distinct from public schools other than the sort of religious function, but they’re not trying to exclude variety or exclude diversity from their students. But the problem the Rawlsian’s sees are with these holdout groups that won’t assimilate, that refuse to become part of the mainstream. And that’s certainly true of the Amish, they simply refuse to live among other people, other Americans, mainstream Americans.

And it’s true to some degree of Hasidic Jews, but in a very different way, and I think the Hasidic Jews actually update the Amish paradigm in a really useful way, because one of the reasons, and you can see this in the Supreme Court decision in Yoder that the court ends up siding with the Amish is that they say, “Well, the Amish are self-sufficient. They’re apart from mainstream society. They don’t even live in mainstream communities. They have their own communities…” And one of the things that Justice Burger says, “Oh, they’re not on welfare, they don’t even take Social Security benefits.” So the sort of apartness of the Amish and the fact that they reflect back to us certain things that even though they’re quite archaic in our view, the way that they live, they’re also deeply American, right? They’re pious Christians, and they’re kind of yeoman farmers. And those are two very deeply rooted American tropes.

Jason Bedrick: They’re sort of the Puritans still living in the modern era in some sense. That’s how they look…

Rita Koganzon: They’re more like the Quakers maybe, but yeah, at least religiously, but sure, right. There’s something deeply American. They look to us like the early Americans. And it’s very hard for us to say that that’s an illegitimate way of life given that that was how we began, right? But whereas Hasidic Jews really look foreign to Americans, right? First of all, they’re not living apart, they’re living apart in certain ways, but they’re living in the middle of Brooklyn or they’re living in suburban New Jersey or suburban New York, right? They’re not living off in their own community is in the middle of nowhere.

Jason Bedrick: Or even Phoenix, Arizona.

Rita Koganzon: Right. So they’re in a certain way, geographically, very integrated with the larger society. They’re economically integrated with the larger society. They are participating in the economy. They’re not just making their own furniture and things like that. And they are receiving state benefits oftentimes. So they’re more like the more contemporary demands that are going to be made on the state by minority groups for accommodation, right? They’re not saying, “We want to live apart from you and we want you not to bother us, state.” They are saying, “We want to live in the state. And we also want to be free to follow our own way of life—in this case, our religious way of life.”

Jason Bedrick: So that would seem in some sense to be less threatening than the Amish, but you argue that that’s actually more threatening, right? You would think that, well, the Amish are very, very apart and the Hasidic Jews are much less apart. They’re driving cars and using smartphones and the internet there, like you said, right in the middle of Brooklyn. So why is the very fact that they are more a part of the modern culture in their apartness more threatening to the liberal regime?

Rita Koganzon: I think because their refusal to assimilate that, we just sort of assume that everybody who’s going to live among us will eventually become like us. And that may be true, who knows what’s going to happen in the future, right? But we’re more threatened by the difference we see in front of us all the time. The Amish, we don’t see, right? They live in a world that is rural America, some people encounter them, but for the most part on an everyday basis, academics who are subscribed to Rawlsian principles would never encounter an Amish person. And so when we don’t see the threat, we don’t feel sort of our shackles don’t go up about this. Whereas on a daily basis, if you live in New York City, you will encounter Hasidic Jews and they will continue to look different. And I think we have a very hard time thinking how we can accommodate this ongoing difference and this sort of unwillingness to be like us. Isn’t it a rejection of us? Isn’t it saying that like our way of life is inferior? That’s kind of an insult. Nobody likes to be insulted like that.

Jason Bedrick: So you have a couple of critiques of this Rawlsian approach to this dilemma. And the first one is that you said that the autonomy, that the liberal idea of education seeks to instill is actually “neither neutral, nor broad in reality, but highly normative and narrow.” What do you mean by that?

Rita Koganzon: Yeah. So the way that the Rawlsian argument about education positions itself is that what we’re doing is we’re sort of opening children’s minds, right? We’re taking them away from the narrow constraints of their family and their home life and we’re showing them all the other ways that they could possibly live. And in that sense, we’re broadening their horizons.
But in reality, in order to demonstrate that somebody is autonomous or that they have an open future, or that they are capable of critically revising their idea of the good life, they have to be constantly sort of making different lifestyle choices, right? They can’t really just stay in one way of life, because that would make you look like you’re not autonomous, that you’re sort of under somebody else’s control or haven’t really critically considered the best way of life.

And so in order to be able to afford the kind of lifestyle that would allow you to be constantly making new choices and constantly broadening your horizons, you really have a kind of narrow path, which is that you have to go to the university, you have to get a college degree of the kind that would allow you to change jobs frequently, because that is part of demonstrating that you are this kind of autonomous person, that would allow you to travel widely, to move to different places.

And it turns out that you become one of these sorts of Rawlsian professors, right? They’re kind of their own model for what it would be to be an autonomous person, right? The kind of the academic who has lived in many places, who has studied very advanced things, who is flexible and mobile and all of these things. But that’s really a very narrow slice of the economic elite in the United States and the social elite in the United States. And most people can’t afford that kind of life. Not just because their jobs don’t pay them that well, but because many of the kinds of choices that constitute good lives for most people require them to, at some point, stop making tons of new choices.

So there’s all these things that this way of life precludes. It precludes moving to some place or living in your hometown and just staying there, putting down roots. It precludes the idea that you’re going to form a family when you’re young and just stand by that family and take care of that family, raise it and stick with them. It precludes the idea that you’re going to have a job that doesn’t require you to have a higher education. Because once you go down that path, you don’t have as much flexibility to change jobs, right? If you have an apprenticeship in some kind of vocation, some kind of vocation that you would do with your hands, it’s not really transferable in the same way that a BA in economics is transferable to all kinds of different jobs.

So the life path that you have to put yourself on to be a good autonomous liberal is actually one very narrow college educated, affluent elite sort of path, and all the other things that you could otherwise do would foreclose choices for you, and therefore seem to be at least questionable from the perspective of this kind of royalty and autonomy.

Jason Bedrick: So in some sense, it doesn’t stand up to its own ideals in the sense of opening as many possible doors as could be imagined.

Rita Koganzon: Yeah. It certainly does open some doors, but we have to think about, well, what kinds of doors are those? And are those all the good lives that are possible, or are there other good lives that are actually rendered impossible by this way of thinking about what a good life is, is the religious life rendered impossible? Is a life spent in one place in one’s own hometown and is a life devoted to one’s family and all of that, is that actually opened up by this supposed opening?

Jason Bedrick: Which leads to your second critique. You note that childhood exposure to diversity is intended to expand liberty and to expand the child’s capacity for independent thought as an adult. But then you argue that actually this form of education undermines the development of the very virtues necessary to exercise such independence. So what are those virtues and how are they undermined by this idea of education?

Rita Koganzon: Yeah. Well, I think one problem is one of the sort of central virtues that would allow you to really critically revise your view of the good life is you have to have a very high degree of self-control. That’s a really important virtue, and it’s really a central virtue that is instilled in childhood. And one of the difficulties with liberalism as a regime, liberalism has many advantages, but this difficulty is that there’s not really an apparatus, an institution or a practice within liberalism that encourages the development of self-control. And early on thinkers like John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau actually at the sort of beginning of liberalism saw this problem. And when they wrote about education, their educations are highly oriented towards instilling self-control, especially John Locke, instilling self-control in a child. And that doesn’t happen by giving him lots of different things to choose from, and letting him choose as his whims lead him because that precisely undermines the ability to learn how to control one’s desires and to direct them at will.

So the problem with this idea that exposure to diversity broadens your horizons and gives you more liberty, is that may be true, but it’s not clearly true of children who don’t yet have the self-control to make a choice and stick with it, right? And so a lot of what childhood education for Locke and even for Rousseau is in habituating the child to direct their own will to commit, to make a choice, but then to stick with it and thereby to develop the self-control that is then necessary to encounter this world of choice that is opened up to you as an adult, right?

And the problem with the Rawlsian argument is that sort of flips that, it assumes that a child is already capable of doing what a liberal adult is supposed to do. When in fact the education of the liberal child is in many ways, the inverse of what it’s like to be a liberal adult, because we’re free as adults we need a lot of authority over us as children, so that we can cultivate this kind of self-control.

Jason Bedrick: On that note, you point to Amy Gutmann, who is a political theorist, who’s written a lot about education and particularly democratic education. She was arguing that… And this is where you get the title for the chapter of your book. She was arguing that it’s OK for parents to preference or privilege their own worldview and particularly their own religious worldview when it comes to their children, but that they can’t do it in such a way that it’s to the exclusion of other views. So it’s fine, she says if the Hasidic Jews don’t want to eat pork in their house, but they have to expose their children to the idea that pork eating is a reasonable way of life. You argue that they actually don’t. So why, what’s the problem with telling your kids that pork eating is a reasonable way of life?

Rita Koganzon: Well, I think that it assumes that the mainstream culture, in some ways doesn’t penetrate throughout the whole culture. It sort of denies the definition of what a mainstream culture is, right? So all of these religious groups that are outside of the mainstream, the Amish, the Hasidic Jews, basically anybody who is not a sort of secularized Protestant part of the mainstream, they know what the mainstream culture is. They know that they’re the minority, right? They’re not living in a cave for the most part. And so the Hasidic adolescent is aware that there are cheeseburgers out there, right? He needs only to step outside of his house. And that’s more true for especially groups like the Hasidic Jews who are living in a more integrated way within the mainstream culture who are not living literally apart from it.

And so his entire experience of growing up is of trying to navigate his position in the world, vis-à-vis the mainstream culture. So there isn’t any threat if the parents don’t make some kind of concerted effort to say, “Well out there, there are hotdogs.” Everybody who is part of these minority cultures in a sense already knows that. And they actually have to deal with it at a much more serious level than the sort of the person who was already brought up in the mainstream culture, because for them, the choice is really significant, right? They’re faced with the possibility, well, if I want to enter the mainstream culture and leave behind, let’s say my Hasidic community, that’s like a real choice. They have to leave behind their families. They have to leave behind everything that they have grown up with, they don’t necessarily have to cut all ties, but they certainly have to remove themselves in a very significant way.

Whereas choices like that for the person who’s already part of the mainstream, should I eat pork? Should I be a vegetarian? Should I not be a vegetarian? In a sense, they weigh a lot less because you’re just making choices among things that everybody that you know has already accepted. Whereas the choices that people on the sort of outside or outside of the mainstream have to make are really weighty choices. And so they must see that weight sort of from the beginning or at least early on. And so their negotiation with the mainstream culture is always in a sense, much more serious than the negotiation of the person who has no intention ever of leaving it and for whom all the choices are really part of an accepted spectrum of choice.

Jason Bedrick: Even if we don’t accept that education must take place in a government-run school or that it must resemble it in some sense that it must be this sort of Rawlsian form of liberal education. There’s the critique, and this is coming actually mostly from, as we note in the book from a group called Yaffed, which is made up mostly of ex-Hasidic Jews—Jews that grew up in this community and then left. And they’re arguing that these schools are just not preparing children for the modern world. Now, of course, we should step back and just note as we have elsewhere, that there are a lot of yeshivas that do have a very robust secular curriculum, and that are teaching English and math and other science and history at a very high level. But of course there are a number of Haredi yeshivas that do not do that, that have very rudimentary secular education, or perhaps in some cases, almost no secular education, at least beyond a certain point. Are those yeshivas really preparing their children for life in the modern world?

Rita Koganzon: Well, they’re preparing the children for life and their world, and it’s not entirely clear to me that what they’re learning in the yeshiva is not transferable in any way if their children decide to leave, right? So we have to assume that many children will stay and that it would not be a problem for many children to stay within those communities, right? It’s only if you take this idea that you can only be autonomous, if you reject your childhood, that kind of definition of autonomy, which is an absurd definition, right? So assuming that many people will stay, that’s fine for them. The question then becomes, well, what about people who want to leave? Are they going to sort of flail in modern society? And I think that that’s pretty overstated.

There’s some work by Moshe Krakowski where he sort of looks at what is the curriculum of these schools and what are they teaching that’s so irrelevant to modern life. And if you think about what they’re teaching, it’s actually very similar to what in sort of the mainstream would be a very high level humanities education, right? It’s foreign languages, Hebrew, Aramaic, even close reading. And when you think about, well, is there a secular parallel to that? It looks just like studying the classics, which is something that is really only available to a small elite in the United States, to study Greek and Latin. And we consider that to be very prestigious. And we don’t think that that would disqualify a person from living in the modern world and making a living. Maybe we would discourage you from majoring in classics if you wanted to make a lot of money. But nonetheless, we don’t discourage students from majoring in classics as a principle thing. We think that’s a very noble thing to study. And that’s actually what the yeshivas are doing at the primary and secondary level.

So if we think that the skills of the student who studies classics are not irrelevant to the modern world, it’s not really clear why we would think that the skills of the student who studies in the yeshiva are by definition, irrelevant to the modern world, just because they are not STEM. So I think that the case is overstated, I would say, I’m not going to say there can never be any regulation or something like that. But just to say out of hand, that what they’re studying is not going to prepare them for the modern world seems to be inaccurate or at least no more accurate than saying that what the sort of advanced humanities student is studying is not going to prepare him for the modern world either.

Jason Bedrick: Is there some sort of test for when the government should intervene? Presumably if we found a family and they were educating their children at home and it turned out that they had not taught them any language whatsoever, the child couldn’t speak anything. And they didn’t teach any math that that would be child abuse and therefore the government would have a duty perhaps to intervene. So then the question is, well, where do you draw the line and how do you draw that line?

Rita Koganzon: Well, I think that child abuse is the line. Now, the question is what constitutes child abuse, right? Not teaching people a language, it seems that all humans have a language that depriving them of language entirely would be very difficult, but also clearly a case of child abuse. And in a sense, I’m willing to leave the definition of child abuse to others to determine. But I think the very idea that this is abuse and not just a kind of education that I would not subject my children to because I have different values, maybe gets us somewhere in this debate. I agree that it’s very tricky, physical harm and it’s kind of cognitive harm in the sense of not teaching any language. But I think that would be the only example of such kind of cognitive harm.

But I think we should err on the side of permitting parents to make these sorts of decisions for children—unless we have good evidence in specific cases that those decisions are harming the children in those cases. So the difficulty is to put a presumptive prohibition on the entire community in the way that it educates its children, that I think, we have no reason to believe that an entire community is engaged in child abuse, right? Child abuse is something that is sort of pathologically done by individuals. And so we can examine individual families or cases that come up and determine whether those individuals are doing something that actively harms their children.

But the idea that we could prescribe an entire community’s way of education on the grounds that the whole community is engaged in child abuse, seems to me to be a stretch. And that when we think of that education at the level of the community, rather than in the individual cases of people who may very well be going too far or doing things that are sort of beyond the pale, I think we have to think about what does this kind of education, the Hasidic Yeshiva or the Amish sort of farm education? Does it contribute actually anything to the liberal regime? And I think that a lot of the problem with contemporary sort of Rawlsian ways of thinking about education is that they completely neglect that possibility, right?

That they want uniformity and education so that every child has a kind of equal opportunity, which is a pretty good Rawlsian principle, but that emphasis then leads them to overlook the ways that liberalism as a regime has certain shortcomings like this inability to teach self-control that have to be supplemented from in a way outside of liberalism, right? Or we have to at least be cognizant that it has these weaknesses and that we have to constantly be trying to shore it up against those weaknesses. And the kinds of education, sort of traditional religious forms of education, which we don’t have to pick for our own children if we’re not we’re not part of these religious communities, but they’re useful to have, because they’re sort of providing that outside supplementation that liberalism in certain places has blind spots about.

And so if you look at people who have gone on from these sorts of religion, and Catholic education is an obvious case, but Catholic education now is so mainstream too, that it’s hard to say that really on the outside. But if we include Catholic education broadly, we see that there are actually secular parents seeking it out for their kids, right? Non-Catholic families who send their kids to Catholic schools, non-religious families who send their kids to religious schools because they think that they’re providing some kind of additional moral support that is really going to be useful for their children’s development, even though it’s not their own sectarian understanding of moral support, right? And it’s because I think these families have a sense of this problem within liberalism, that liberalism in order to sustain itself does kind of need supplementation from not illiberal, but sort of a liberal elements like religion, like the family, like these kinds of ideas that liberalism is inherited from pre-modernity.

And so these sorts of educational alternatives in our regime are actually very, very useful in providing these kinds of supplements to strengthen the things that liberalism is not so good at providing itself, which doesn’t mean that they’re not open to abuse, but so are the secular schools, right? And we investigate secular schools and public schools on an individual basis when we hear of incidents of abuse.

Jason Bedrick: To your point a minute ago about blindness, I think there is a certain blindness in the, let’s call them the cultural elites. So for example, you’ll see sometimes in the New York Times, when they’re describing the case of the yeshivas, they will say that some of the students are graduating illiterate. They’re actually literate in multiple languages—in Yiddish and Hebrew and in Aramaic—but they may not be literate in some cases in English. And so they consider them illiterate, which is interesting because they would never describe somebody who was say, coming over from Mexico and was literate in Spanish, but not in English as being illiterate, but for the Hasidic Jews, they do. Likewise, they focus very much on the costs associated with switching from the Hasidic community, to the mainstream community. And that can be a very difficult challenge for those individuals that as adults do decide to leave their community.

But it’s also quite difficult for people who have grown up in secular society to switch as adults and enter the Hasidic community, right? There’s a language barrier they’re going to have to learn to some extent, depending on the community, you may or may not have to learn Yiddish, but to at least participate in the Torah study that is central to the community and the communal prayers, you do have to learn a certain level of Hebrew. You have to familiarize yourself with all sorts of texts. Even when they’re speaking English, there’s often Yenglish, it’s a mix of English with a bunch of Yiddish and Hebrew phrases. So there are costs that it is difficult to switch. But that is not a problem for liberal society and liberal education, the idea that there are costs to leave liberalism, they only focus on the costs to sort of enter that paradigm, but not to leave it.

Rita Koganzon: Yeah. Well, I think that’s sort of symptomatic of the general narrowness of their view, right? It’s the same as, in a sense, the idea that the education they’re offering is going to broaden and open your horizons without noticing all good ways of life that it closes off, because they’re just not that valuable. It’s not that valuable in their view to stay at home and raise your family, to stay in your hometown, for example, to become a mechanic instead of becoming a university professor. And I wouldn’t accuse them of being sort of classist in this way. I don’t think they’re doing it consciously. I think it’s just their sort of assumption that the life that they lead is the best possible life and the life that they lead is a pretty good life. They’re not crazy to make that claim, but it’s also not a life that is going to satisfy everybody in America or even necessarily most people in America.

I was talking to somebody recently about this and this was a person who is a university professor. And he said, “When I go to my high school reunion and I describe my job to people, they say, ‘That sounds terrible. It’s like you just have homework every day of your life, right?’” And I think that’s not a perspective that a lot of people in academia would accept or in sort of the upper rungs of the law or in medicine. People who’ve had a lot of schooling and enjoyed their schooling, they don’t tend to think of schooling as just like a lifetime of doing homework, but that is in fact, a reasonable way to look at what our lives are like, we just do homework every day for the rest of our lives.

And so I think there is that blindness to other good ways of life that are not this kind of culturally elite academic way of life. And the same blindness is demonstrated in what you described, the idea that a person could choose to become religious, and to join a religious community, which is in fact much more common than choosing to become a professor. They don’t really have an account of that. It’s not clear that that demonstrates autonomy. Is that a legitimate choice? Can you autonomously choose to become heteronomous would be the way that they would think of it. And there’s a little bit of work done on this, but for the most part that does seem to be something that they can’t… This way of thinking about education doesn’t fully comprehend, but it is really a fully apart of liberalism and a part of the American tradition.

Jason Bedrick: Our guest today has been Dr. Rita Koganzon, associate director of the Program on Constitutionalism and Democracy and assistant professor of politics at the University of Virginia. She is the author of the chapter in our book, “Pork Eating Is Not a Reasonable Way of Life: Yeshiva Education vs. Liberal Educational Theory,” in the book, Religious Liberty and Education: A Case Study of Yeshivas vs. New York. Rita, thank you for joining us today.

Rita Koganzon: Thank you.

Jason Bedrick: This has been another edition of EdChoice Chats. If you have any ideas for authors or activists, or just interesting individuals, you’d like us to interview for the Religious Liberty and Education series, please send them to media@edchoice.org, and be sure to subscribe to our podcast, follow us on social media @edchoice. And don’t forget to sign up for our emails on our website, edchoice.org. Thank you. We’ll catch you next time.

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