What’s New?

Diving into Public Philosophy, or maybe Belly-Flopping Into It

This spring has been BUSY. In Moving to Lexington, KY, I decided that among my key aims would be to dive deeper into the waters of public philosophy, public intellectual engagement. So far, a number of related activities have kept me busier than I could have imagined. They’ve also been hugely rewarding.

Still capture from our Trigger Warnings online symposium. Organizationally, I’ve been working a great deal on projects for and leadership of The Society of Philosophers in America (SOPHIA, on Twitter & Facebook). Last fall, we held an online video symposium on “Trigger Warnings,” which was a lot of fun, and we need to hold more of them. We haven’t gotten back to that yet, but we need to, I think. We should probably think of that kind of work as a program, one with a name, and that should happen with some frequency, as well as an officer leading the charge for how and when we’ll hold the next one. We’ve certainly learned a great deal about the need for and steps for better audio quality in recording such events. The next one will be better and we’ll keep on growing our archive of material and gatherings.

The DJ booth at WRFL Lexington on December 10th, 2016.In work for SOPHIA, we’ve also returned to a project I started in 2015, which was my Philosophy Bakes Bread podcast. Instead of it being solo and only a podcast, we’ve welcomed Dr. Anthony Cashio of the University of Virginia’s College at Wise as a co-host on the show, which is now centered on interviews about how and why philosophy matters in real life and leadership. We’ve been very fortunate to get a spot on WRFL Lexington, 88.1 FM. The program is now a weekly radio talk show and then a podcast after that, the Philosophy Bakes Bread radio show and podcast (on Twitter and Facebook too). We started in January of 2017 and have been very busy ever since. The podcast, when I worked on it alone, only came to 4 episodes in 18 months. Since committing to the weekly radio show, we’ve aired 32 episodes, 27 hour-long programs and 5 short “breadcrumb” episodes. It has been considerably more work than I could have imagined, but it’s also been a great deal of fun. More importantly, it’s been some of the most engaging public philosophical work I’ve done to date. We’ve got listeners in 67 countries and the show has been downloaded over 9,000 times to date. We’re excited about approaching the early milestone of 10K downloads, which we hope to see happen in the next 10-14 days, or less, as far as our present trends appear to be going. That’s super exciting.

Logo for Philosophy Bakes Bread, which looks like two conversation bubbles shaped like slices of bread.

We also have a logo for the show now, that isn’t just my lame effort to put a text over an image in Photoshop… We’re finally getting around to putting the word out in efforts beyond social media posts. We’re WAY overdue on a few requests for interviews. To give you a sense of why, for each episode, we need to: 1) think about who’ll be on, 2) invite the person(s) on the show, giving info about what we do, how, etc., 3) schedule the interview, 4) meet to prep to give the interview, 5) meet and record the interview, 6) edit the interview for airing as an episode, 7) go to the station and air the episode, 8) announce the show on social media before and as it’s airing, 9) get the files after airing from the station and perform final mastering on them, 10) prepare language, images, and social media posts to accompany the podcast episode release, 11) post the show and announcements on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google Plus, then 12) secure and make final tweaks to transcripts of the show that the great Drake Boling, UKY Philosophy undegraduate student, has been doing for us, and finally, 13) post the transcript on our site, as a PDF, and on Academia.edu. Ok, now do that 31 more times… to date (no, we’re not up to date yet with all the transcripts). To say it’s been a lot of work is an understatement.

Logo of the Public Philosophy Journal.This means that I’ve not had a chance to do as much of my own (single-author) writing, but the good news is that I’ve been doing considerably more coauthoring. In the academic world of Philosophy, people tend to think of meaningful writing as single-authored work, at least much of the time. That’s a mistake. There have been excellent philosophical works that are coauthored. Among them, I’m thinking of a number of projects by Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse. But they’re uncommon in the field. I’m glad to have had the chance to do some coauthoring, and one of these opportunities was a very special one. Again related to SOPHIA, I and three scholars put together a project that we pitched for the Public Philosophy Journal. The idea is that some theorizing has been needed for SOPHIA to pursue its mission: to build communities of philosophical conversation. To that end, Andrea Christelle, Sergia Hay, James William Lincoln, and I ventured to Michigan with grant support from the journal and the Mellon Foundation, ultimately, to write together a “Groundwork for Building Communities of Philosophical Conversation.” I’ve experienced coauthoring only a few times, and it’s not always been easy. This case went very smoothly. We’re not done with our project, and getting together remotely to finish the project is taking time, but the pay off has been great. We’re researching needs and methods for building communities of philosophical conversation, because we believe there’s a great need for a more philosophical culture in the United States and elsewhere.

SOPHIA's group at the PPJ's 2017 Collaborative Writing Workshop.

SOPHIA’s group at the PPJ’s 2017 Collaborative Writing Workshop.

Beyond that, I committed to coauthoring a paper for the Summer Seminar on the Future of Philosophy at UNC Ashville this July, which I’ll be driving to this afternoon. I’m also giving my own individual paper there, but have been very happy to coauthor a paper with my Philosophy Bakes Bread co-host Dr. Anthony Cashio as well. We’re looking to finish a longer paper a little later this summer for the journal, Dewey Studies, and this is a step in that direction. The paper is called “Lessons Learned Baking Bread: Taking Philosophy to Radio and Podcast.” We had a blast writing it, and were inspired in relation to that to answer some of our interview questions that we’ve received (and have been way late in answering them) in the last few months. Anthony is not only great to talk to on the show, but also to write with. I’m hoping that my future includes more and more coauthoring, because it’s very rewarding and makes for a superior project, I believe, when we can draw from more minds and from encouraging and sympathetic thinking and dialogue.

Lumber I milled up in late November and December of 2016. Last but not least, I’m finishing work finally on my edited collection of John Dewey’s public writings. That’s been a long-time coming. I keep thinking it’ll be done soon, and it will be soon now… I’m also working to finish my next book, which I’ve been developing longer than any before, called A Culture of Justice. That’s the other topic I’ll be talking about tomorrow in Asheville. These projects would have been done far sooner if I hadn’t committed to an intensive radio show, but I don’t regret a thing. It’s all been super rewarding. I feel as though I’m constantly working and getting more and more behind, but I think it’s more likely that progress is just advancing slowly on the huge projects, bit by bit, and that I’ll be excited to see them at the end. That’s a lot like a big bed project, which I’ve completed in my new hobby of woodworking. I milled the lumber for it in late November and December of 2016. Big projects sometimes creep along, but eventually, if you keep making little bits of progress, they come together, like this:

The bed I planned and built over the course of 7 months.

I need a nap… Nah, coffee will help. I’m excited to be headed to Ashville, to meet up with some great philosophers. And, while there, to do a number of interviews for Philosophy Bakes Bread! When we can record in person, it’s awesome, like in these two cases from my trip to Michigan (photos below). Thanks to Chris Long for the great photo with typewriter in the foreground, and thanks to Naomi Hodgson and Amanda Fulford (I don’t recall who took the picture, of the two) for the pic of our setup in the less attractive computer room in Michigan. The rooms were quite different, but the conversations were both substantive and fun.

This is a photo of four people sitting around a table and a microphone to record an episode of Philosophy Bakes Bread in May of 2017, in a lovely room near South Gull Lake in Michigan.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Christopher P. Long, 2017.

This is a photo of me setting up to do an interview with Amanda Fulford and Naomi Hodgson in Michigan, 2017.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Hodgson and Amanda Fulford, 2017.

I don’t know how interesting this post is or has been for people, but it felt good to sit down and write it out. It may be of interest to a few people who’ve been kindly following and engaging with me on social media. In fact, I should mention a bit of a celebratory moment: I’ve hit 100,000 “likes” on my Facebook author page! That’s super cool and deeply gratifying. Thanks to everyone who’s been following my work. It’s really rewarding to write about and advocate for things that others care about too, making however small a contribution to dialogue about issues so many of us care about. It’s impossible to measure real impact, but we shouldn’t let difficulty in measuring something meaningful keep us from diving into it, or from belly-flopping into it as the case may be.

Image of a post from my Facebook page about a signed-copy giveaway for my latest books.

Image of a post from my Facebook page about a signed-copy giveaway for my latest books.

If you’ve read this far, thanks for your interest! If you’re not yet following me on Twitter or on Facebook, get to it!

The Risks of Public Engagement, Part I

Dr. Shane RalstonI and others may well be guilty of romanticizing public philosophy. Fellow Dewey scholar and a prolific writer, Shane Ralston, has published a warning for people interested in engaging in public philosophy. In “On the Perils of Public Philosophy,” Ralston rightly recognizes both that there is a resurgence in the movement for publicly engaged philosophy and that too few call attention to its risks.

He explains that “Public philosophers are often criticized, bullied, harassed and even threatened and, unfortunately, some respond in kind when communicating their ideas in the public sphere.” He’s right. In Oxford, MS, while I was working at the University of Mississippi, I was thoroughly harassed by someone who made me feel ill. I won’t go into the details of it, but being publicly engaged has not been easy. People who disagree with you sometimes do so to a degree motivating enough to be threatening.

David - The Death of Socrates

I have reason to believe that this person sent two students to my office with a video camera for a “gotcha” kind of harassing interview. They were surprised when I sat them down to schedule a time to meet up formally. They didn’t show up for that.

Other people have written me with insults. One man, in a single email, called me a eunuch, a gelding, and effeminate. He clearly has strong feelings about gender and opinions. That sort of thing I can laugh off. The person who told me he was meeting with my Chancellor the next day was clearly trying to intimidate me. I was then an untenured assistant professor.

People will be mean. They will be unbelievably uncivil. One said that I should spend more time in the classroom than in the opinion pages.

Ralston is right that we don’t hear enough about the unpleasant side of public engagement.

So, why on Earth do we do it?

First of all, we should remember that it’s no surprise to be criticized or insulted for engaging with people about philosophical issues. Plato noted in his cave metaphor that the philosophers who have seen the light outside the cave have an obligation to go back down in there to help free the others. He did not think that they would welcome this liberation, he explained. If any philosopher “tried to loose another [prisoner in the cave] and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death… No question.”

Plato’s Socrates recognized that people will resist teachers and liberators. The folks in the cave are habituated to that setting. They believe that they have interests there. It’s unpleasant to be turned toward the light. People will be upset. Some might try to kill you.

I see that I have yet to make the case for public engagement. My point so far is that when we do it, we must do so with understanding of dangers. It’s like a battle medic. You head into dangerous territory to save people, not to injure anyone. Nevertheless, you can be targeted and hurt in the process. The part that makes it all the more difficult is that in Plato’s metaphor, it’s those whom you’re trying to save who resist and want you dead. Given that, why think we even have an obligation to them?

Here another line from the Republic is motivating for me. Plato’s Socrates says that the “greatest punishment for those unwilling to rule is to be led by those who are worse.”

Puppet master's hands and strings.If you’re unwilling to fight for the truth and for the liberation of people’s minds, you have chosen to be ruled by ignorance and whatever shadows on the wall the powerful puppet masters choose.

If we are going to mean what we do in love of wisdom, we must do so with our greatest hopes in mind. It isn’t that we should believe that they will be achieved. The point is that if we don’t try, we choose to be doomed to follow ignorance and injustice.

Now we have the greatest need I have witnessed in my lifetime to engage publicly in reasoned, vigorous debate about what is right. There will be risks to doing so. Socrates was killed. It is incredibly unlikely that philosophy professors today could face such risks, but it is not impossible. This is all the more reason why it is important to mean it when we say with Socrates that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”

You can follow me on Twitter @EricTWeber and on Facebook @EricThomasWeberAuthor.

TV Interview and Talk at USM

I’m looking forward to meeting the folks at WDAM in Hattiesburg, MS, on Friday, January 29th for an interview about Uniting Mississippi: Democracy and Leadership in the South. I’ll be on live at around noon. I’ll post a clip of the interview as soon after it as I can. That same day (Friday), I’ll next head to the University of Southern Mississippi, where Sam Bruton in the Philosophy department hosts “Philosophical Fridays.” Check out the sweet announcement poster they made:

Poster of the announcement for my talk at 2pm in Gonzales Auditorium, LAB 108, on 'Uniting Mississippi.'

MHC-logo-FB“Philosophical Fridays” is a great initiative that engages audiences in and around Hattiesburg. The program has the support of the Mississippi Humanities Council, which is great.

If you’re in the area, come on by. I’m finalizing details about the book signing that’ll follow the talk.

Uniting the States? Brainstorming a Trajectory

When I was in graduate school, looking at the job market, I remember feeling perplexed at certain questions about the future of my career. Some colleges and universities ask you about your “research trajectory.” Finishing a dissertation prepares you with a stack of paper, but now it’s supposed to be nimble and fly like an arrow. I can just picture throwing an unbound dissertation from the top of some stairs, watching the pages fall in all directions. That’s one kind of a trajectory.

A photo of me reading at my desk in 2010, before I came to need glasses.

It wasn’t too hard to imagine things that I wanted to study next, but it’s a huge step in one’s academic career just to finish a major, final project. To be asked at that moment what your next one will be takes one aback. I’ve come to like that question, but somehow I hadn’t been expecting it at the time. It was exciting to think about what I might pursue over the course of my career, though. I had ideas about wanting to work on this or that topic, and some of them did come together.

I thought that I, like so many scholars you meet, would want to depart from the focus of my dissertation. While some steps have been diagonal or roundabout to this point, I have found myself actually returning to some of the issues and sources from that first project. I won’t get into that now, but the fascinating thing for me in writing has had to do with how each work builds on elements of the one before, even if in surprising ways.

Photo of the paperback and hardback editions of 'Democracy and Leadership.'My dissertation on John Rawls and John Dewey’s work focused on basic questions, after which my next project was much more centered on application. Then, Democracy and Leadership was a return to theory, especially to Plato, but with adaptations drawn from Dewey and some from Rawls. The last chapter of that prompted further focus on application, which resulted in Uniting Mississippi. While working on each of these earlier projects, I have had cause to return to Rawls and Dewey’s work, and noticed a concern that I believe is crucial, yet insufficiently explored in studying justice: especially the role of culture in enabling or impeding it.

So, I’ve been working in slow steps on A Culture of Justice for a few years now, longer than I expected. It is coming together, still needing work. That said, it is definitely a more theoretical project, even if I see and will note many possible applications. With my more applied writings, I’ve been striving to make them more and more accessible and publicly engaged. In addition, I’ve focused quite a bit on Mississippi, given that issues for democracy, education, and leadership are so striking here. At the same time, many of the issues I’ve studied are relevant beyond the South. Dean Skip Rutherford of the Clinton School highlighted that point for me. I thought it to be true, but he encouraged me to speak to a broader audience, beyond both Mississippi and the South.

Bust of Socrates.Given that, I’ve started rethinking some of the next projects that I want to pursue. In particular, I’m seeing a number of ideas come together for a next step after A Culture of Justice. The big picture challenge for democracy at the national level can be drawn from what I argued about Mississippi. That lesson was itself learned from Plato. Plato’s Socrates asked what could be a greater evil than that which makes the city many, instead of one? And, he continued, is there any greater good than that which binds it together and makes it one? Nothing and no. Unity is indeed vital for a good city.

For Plato, unity was important enough to trample on liberty. He thought leaders were justified even to lie to their own people for the sake of fostering unity. He was not democratic. In a democratic society, liberty is central. So how could a democracy be united, he wondered? Plato doubted that democratic societies could be wise enough to unite, to care about virtue, and to limit the will of the majority, when it wants vice and injustice.

John Rawls once noted that in many ways American democracy has been remarkably stable. I would suggest that he could only say that in a part of the country that did not fight for secession. We still have the scars of division from the Civil War showing in Mississippi. That said, I believe that Rawls was right when he explained that there are so many more things that unite Americans than that divide us.

A stack of newspapers.We focus so much on the latter, as that’s disagreement. It’s drama. It sells newspapers, or at least ads on their Web sites. The countless things I could mention that people accept as uncontroversial and obvious are so numerous that they would take entirely too long to list. Given that, we can say that in many ways, our hyper-polarized, divided society does live up to one key aspect of our nation’s billing. Indeed, it’s so easy to forget: the key virtue noted in Plato’s Republic is the one virtue mentioned in the name of our country: unity. Ours are the United States of America. Unity is primary. It is vital. But it is also not guaranteed.

So, I’m thinking about expanding from my project on Mississippi. I’ve adapted Faulkner’s line, and want to follow that next step. Faulkner said that to understand the world, you’ve got to understand a place like Mississippi. Ok, so I’ve given Mississippi a try. Next, I want to study the needs, forces, and factors Uniting the States of America. That may not be my title, but I’m working on it. Hell, I may go in a very different direction, but at present, this feels right.

The cover of 'Uniting Mississippi,' featuring University of Mississippi students participating in a 2012 candlelight vigil in Oxford, MS.While I’m an unabashed optimist — nothing ventured, nothing gained — I recognize that the “stability” that Rawls saw in the United States comes at a price of the massive incarceration of poor and otherwise disadvantaged people, the use of labor under the table, paid to people who do not have the protection of the police, and many other troubles that people face in the U.S. That said, a vision of progress takes recognition of our challenges, of what divides us. When we see the need for unity, for fighting problems like hyper-incarceration, we can fight for change. In that particular example, there is cause for hope, as Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and the Koch brothers, powerful voices on the Left and Right, all believe that we desperately need to combat hyper-incarceration.

These are just some sketched thoughts about the big picture next steps for my writing trajectory. If you have thoughts or questions for me, send me a tweet @EricTWeber or post on my Facebook Author page.

Video of my Interview on WLOV of Tupelo

Screenshot of the interview I gave for WLOV's This Morning show with Katrina Berry.

As promised,  I’m posting here below my interview on WLOV of Tupelo’s This Morning show with Katrina Berry. Also, below that is a photo of the nice layout that Reed’s Gumtree Bookstore setup for the book signing later that day.

If you can’t see this video in your RSS reader or email, then click here.

Katrina was a lovely person who was kind and encouraging. As I said, she drove home the fact that on WLOV they like to support local authors.  It was a great experience, and also featured the fastest turnaround I’ve experienced for getting a video of the broadcast. All around, great trip.

Oh, and here’s Reed’s Gumtree Bookstore’s nice setup before the book signing. Very nice people there too. They’ve got signed books from John Grisham, George Will, and many more. Great people.

Nice table and display layout for my book signing at Reed's Gumtree Bookstore in Tupelo, MS.

If you know of TV or radio stations that would be interested in an interview about Uniting Mississippi, or groups looking for a speaker, contact me on Twitter, Facebook, or via my info on my Contact page.

Had a Great Visit with Katrina Berry on WLOV Tupelo

Photo of terrible rain in between Oxford and Tupelo, MS.Despite the torrential rain this morning, I made it on time to meet with Katrina Berry of WLOV Tupelo’s This Morning show.

Berry is an impressive, award-winning journalist and TV anchor. Her award was from the Associated Press for her weekly series, Heavenly Helpers. When I first got a chance to talk with her, she explained that they aim to support local authors on the show, which was great.

It can seem strange to most scholars to put a lot of effort into securing and participating in a 3 minute interview, which is what it came out to be. Consider how much advertisers spend on 30 seconds or 1 minute of television, however, and all of a sudden, you can appreciate better what 3 minutes of air-time means, in financial terms. One source estimates that even on a local show, ads can cost from as little as $200 to as much as $1,500 for 30 seconds. So a 3 minute interview could be valued from anywhere between $1,200 and $9,000. That’s worth the drive to Tupelo, MS. Those aren’t funds that come to me, of course, but they are value that the show offers for getting the word out about Uniting Mississippi.

After a few nice questions about the book, Berry asked me about the book signing that I’ll be holding from 12-1:30 pm today at Reed’s Gumtree Bookstore, here in Tupelo. Here are a few photos I snagged of my visit to WLOV. When I get a clip of the video of the interview, I’ll post it to my site also. It was a great experience.

Selfie photo of Eric Thomas Weber with Katrina Berry of WLOV Tupelo. Photo of the weatherman in front of a green screen in Tupelo, MS's WLOV TV studio. Photos from the WLOV TV studio in Tupelo, MS.

Know a TV station that might be interested in hearing about Uniting Mississippi? Let me know on Twitter or on Facebook

U. of MS SOPHIA Chapter Interest Survey

Logo of the Society of Philosophers in America (SOPHIA).

Conversational meeting in progress in Oxford, MS.People in and around Oxford, MS,

The Society of Philosophers in America (SOPHIA) is now a member and chapter organization. We are founding our chapter in Oxford this academic year and are gathering information from people who might be interested in participating in our chapter. SOPHIA is a national nonprofit that has been around since 1983. Our aim is to use the tools of philosophical inquiry to improve people’s lives and enrich the profession of philosophy through conversation and community building.
If you are interested in learning more or know you’d like to participate in our SOPHIA chapter here in Oxford,

Logo for surveymonkey.Please fill out this SURVEY.

 

(It’s short)

We haA conversational meeting in progress.ve plans for a first gathering on Friday, December 11th, to have a short, relaxed conversation on the nature of and challenges for community. Dr. Andrea Houchard will be our invited facilitator, and she has had great success building a chapter in Flagstaff, AZ.

Photos from the book signing at Square Books

Thanks to Daniel Perea for snapping these pictures at the book signing on Wednesday (September 9th, 2015)! Daniel kindly agreed to let me have the copyright for the images (Weber, 2015). Please do not use these without permission. Visit my contact page and drop me a line if you’d like to use one, especially for press or promotional purposes for future events. Thank you, Daniel!

I also want to thank Cody Morrison and Square Books for being great hosts. It was a wonderful first book signing experience. I’m honored and was very grateful and encouraged to see a number of nice folks brave the weather to hear about Uniting Mississippi. I’m pleased to report that we sold all but two copies, though one of those remaining is now gone. Square Books has one left as I write this, though a new shipment will be there soon. I’ll head over at some point soon to sign those, as one of the really cool things about real, brick and mortar bookstores like Square Books, and about literary towns like Oxford, is that authors sign books here and you can get your new book already signed by the author. You can’t do that on the forest-river-yellow Web site site. Thanks again, Square Books!

sb-signing-090915-2 sb-signing-090915--10 sb-signing-090915-8 Daniel Perea took these photos at my book signing for 'Uniting Mississippi,' held at Square Books. sb-signing-090915--11 sb-signing-090915-4 sb-signing-090915-7 sb-signing-090915--13 Photo of Weber signing a book for Mrs. Gray in Oxford, MS. sb-signing-090915-1b sb-signing-090915-1 sb-signing-090915-3

To learn more about the book, visit my page for Uniting Mississippi. If you’d like to support local bookstores like Square Books, you can order your copy on their Web site here:

Buy ‘Uniting Mississippi’ from Square Books

You can also see a brochure about the book here:

Printable Adobe PDF Brochure for ‘Uniting Mississippi’

Philosophy Lies at the Heart of Mississippi Education Debate

Originally published in The Clarion Ledger, September 6, 2015, 2C

Click here for a full-sized Adobe PDF scan of the artile.

Click for a printable PDF scan.

Mississippians have been entangled in a deep philosophical debate about education funding for months, though attention has focused largely on technical details. Ballot initiative 42 that will be decided this November asks: “Should the state be required to provide for the support of an adequate and efficient system of free public schools?” If voters pass the initiative, they would be demanding an amendment to the state Constitution making that requirement explicit.

This is a photo of the top of the scan of my Clarion Ledger article, 'Philosophy at Heart of Mississippi Education Debate.' If you click on this image, it will open a full-size, printable Adobe PDF scan of the original piece in the paper.

People who want voters to choose “yes” explain that such a requirement should be enforceable in the courts. Without that, a parent would have no recourse when his or her child must attend a chronically underfunded and failing school.

In their involvement of the courts, the proponents of 42 have made a crucial move for taking Mississippians’ educational obligation seriously. As the Legislature has continually failed to fund education even to the level of basic adequacy, the proponents of 42 are right to demand a check on that negligence.

The Legislature proposed an alternate initiative, 42A, which asks: “Shall the Legislature be required to provide for the establishment and support of an effective system of free public schools?” On the surface, that sounds sensible, as it is the Legislature’s responsibility to allocate proper funding. If we obligate the state instead, however, then it makes sense that the courts would be able to protect citizens’ rights, forcing the state to fulfill its obligations. 42A omits reference to the courts and calls for an “effective system of free public schools upon such conditions and limitations as the Legislature may prescribe.”

The problem people have is with the Legislature. We have had budget surpluses and contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to a rainy day fund. Officials have additionally been proposing tax cuts. At the same time, the Legislature continues to severely underfund public education.

The critics of 42A are on to something when they point out that the Legislature already has the control that the alternate initiative has in mind.* 42A amounts to a rejection of the idea that the Legislature should be checked and held accountable in the courts when it fails to fully fund education. In that sense, it denies that the people of Mississippi have a real obligation to provide access to an adequate education for all our citizens.

Given the confusing technical details of the two proposals, it is vital that we consider seriously whether and why we have the obligation that 42 suggests. That philosophical question is crucial, since if we have such an obligation, it cannot be optional and contingent on the Legislature’s fluctuating will.

When the state has an obligation, citizens have corresponding rights. If we believe we have an obligation to provide access to an adequate education, we must give people a meaningful mechanism for recourse when the state fails to fulfill its obligation.

No one has seriously denied the idea implicit in initiative 42 — that the citizens of Mississippi should support and provide access to a free and adequate public education for all of our young people. We should consider the question for the sake of argument, however, because it illustrates why 42A falls short of meaningful reform. What reasons can we give to an imagined skeptic of our obligation to provide adequate, if not good or excellent, public education?

There are many reasons, but four stand out:

• Self-governance requires education. According to Thomas Jefferson, education is essential for democracy. It is necessary for wise governance, for peace, and for political legitimacy.

• Education for all is a requirement of equal citizenship. Mississippi has a troubled history. Today, reasonable and responsible officials rightly explain that those parts of our history are not what Mississippi values anymore. After James Craig Anderson was killed in a racially motivated murder in Jackson, U.S. Attorney John Downy argued that “the actions of these defendants who have pled guilty… do not represent the values of Mississippi in 2012.” I agree. At the same time, in the 44 Mississippi school districts that were labeled “dropout factories” in 2007, only a small portion of the students we were failing were white. Overwhelmingly those schools are made up student bodies 75-100 percent of which are minority kids.

• Inadequate education is one of the most powerful forms of oppression. Eighty percent of people incarcerated in the U.S. have not graduated from high school. As so many of our schools have been failing or at-risk of failing, we have been perpetuating the history that we say we want to leave behind. Republicans and Democrats from all over Mississippi are sick and tired of these impediments to the state’s progress. Educational failure is one of our most obstructive problems. To redress our history of injustice and our present challenges, we must stop accepting gross inadequacy that systematically holds our citizens back and reaps division, rather than unity.

• Expectations of responsibility depend upon personal development. In America and especially in Mississippi, we value personal responsibility. At the same time, we don’t demand rent from babies. We know that personal responsibility and self-respect are developed over time and through education. If we expect people to prize freedom and independence, we cannot assume that citizens are born as responsible adults. In youth, we are all dependent and in need of an education.

Education is both a necessity for democracy and a value in itself. If our government is intended to protect the pursuit of happiness, that protection must be extended to everyone. If we are obligated to ensure that all Mississippians are afforded at least an adequate education, furthermore, then we must provide the people with a mechanism for recourse when the state fails to fulfill its obligations. Rights and obligations are not optional, which is why we need the courts for their enforcement. That is also why 42 could lead to real progress in education and why we must choose it instead of more of the same failure.

Eric Thomas Weber is associate professor of Public Policy Leadership at the University of Mississippi and author of “Uniting Mississippi: Democracy and Leadership in the South” (Sept. 2015). He is representing only his own point of view. Follow him on Twitter @EricTWeber.

For a week or two, The Clarion Ledger will have the text version of the article on their Web site here.

* The original article included a next sentence here that was edited in such a way that did not capture what was intended. I have omitted the new version from the text here. You can still see it in the scan, however.

Interview on Practical Philosophy in Berlin

Professor Chris Skowronski, Associate Professor of Practical Philosophy in the Institute of Philosophy at Opole University, Poland, interviewed me at the Berlin Practical Philosophy International Forum conference on August 13, 2015.

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I’m grateful to Chris and to Maja Niestroj for the interview, the video, and the hospitality while I was in Berlin. It was a great conference on a wonderful public philosophy, Dr. John Lachs, who has been my mentor in philosophy since around 1998 or 1999.