Adam Swift and I have just posted a short critical working paper at the Center for the Study of Social Justice website. It’s a response to papers in Ethics (July 2007) by Elizabeth Anderson and Debra Satz (both, I’m afraid, behind a paywall, though I notice that the free sample issue is the one with Adam’s and my paper on parents rights, so I can’t resist encouraging people to read that), both arguing for a principle of educational adequacy as the correct principle of educational justice. Before reading their papers I had thought of adequacy as a straightforward strategic retreat by educational progressives, a retreat that makes strategic sense in the US because many States have constitutional provisions that are plausibly interpreted as demanding adequacy for all (and litigation, not politics, is the most promising way forward). But both Satz and Anderson argue for adequacy on principled grounds; they think that educational equality is a misguided goal, and also that adequacy is a good goal. There’s a great deal of good stuff in both their papers, so I strongly recommend them (if you can get at them). Satz is especially good on what adequacy, understood the right way, demands for low-achieving children, whereas Anderson is especially good on what it demands for children bound for elites; basically, her argument is that an adequate education for them requires that they have a lot of interaction with children from other social backgrounds so that they are well prepared for their roles in the elites they will join (which are justified, in Rawlsian terms, by their tendency to benefit the less advantaged). Our paper doesn’t dispute the importance of adequacy as part of the picture, and an urgent one at that, but responds to their anti-equality arguments, showing that they depend on (wrongly) interpreting equality as the sole principle of educational justice (in fact it is one among several principles, and not necessarily the most important); but also arguing that adequacy does not offer the right guidance in some circumstances. Comments welcome.