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Covid Concept Home

by Gina Schouten on October 19, 2021

An opinion piece by Tressie McMillan Cottom describes a new “Covid concept home” that was unveiled this summer. The home—with its four bedrooms and three-and-a-half bathrooms—is clearly intended for upper middle-class buyers, though it has not yet been priced. The “concept” emerged from a collaboration among three businesswomen in light of an online survey of nearly 7,000 U.S. adults (with household incomes of $50,000+/year). The survey’s purpose was to test “consumer sentiment in light of COVID-19 to understand the design changes consumers want in new homes and communities.”

Those survey results reveal an interesting trend in the expectations of a certain social group about work, school, and home life: “many consumers view the pandemic not as a one-off, but as a harbinger: They will need to work from home in the future.” The Covid concept home is built with this in mind.

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Parents, children, and evolving terms of moral condemnation

by Gina Schouten on September 14, 2021

When and how should someone be held responsible for having transgressed a moral standard that wasn’t widely recognized—and that they themselves didn’t recognize—at the time of the transgression? We’ve had lots of occasions to think about this question over the past few years.

Judgments in particular cases clearly depend on several variables. First, of course: Is the transgression ongoing or likely to recur absent holding responsible? And, even if it isn’t ongoing or recurrent: Was the transgressor to blame for not knowing the moral standard? What harms from the past transgression persist? Can they now be eased by holding the transgressor responsible? If so, by how much? How do we balance the harm of being held responsible under these circumstances against the harm we stand to ease? Those last questions in turn depend on what kind of holding responsible we have in mind.

Until a friend sent me this column, I hadn’t thought to apply these questions to the matter of grown children “cutting off” their parents in response to transgressions that weren’t—and in several cases seemingly still aren’t—recognized by the parents as such. From the column:

“The parents in these cases are often completely bewildered by the accusations. They often remember a totally different childhood home and accuse their children of rewriting what happened. As one cutoff couple told the psychologist Joshua Coleman: ‘Emotional abuse? We gave our child everything. We read every parenting book under the sun, took her on wonderful vacations, went to all of her sporting events.’”

The parents’ indignation suggests they believe that parenting books, sports events, and wonderful vacations somehow preclude abuse. But of course, the relationship may have been emotionally abusive even if what they say is true. Still, their indignation got me thinking that two forms of holding responsible are worth keeping distinct: First is the non-consensual severing of relations. Second is the naming of the offense: the designation of the parents’ treatment as “abusive.” I’m interested in thinking more about the latter.

Quoting again from the column:

“[P]art of the problem, as Nick Haslam of the University of Melbourne has suggested, is there seems to be a generational shift in what constitutes abuse. Practices that seemed like normal parenting to one generation are conceptualized as abusive, overbearing and traumatizing to another.”

Obviously, there are important questions to ask about what merits the term “abusive.” The column doesn’t give any detailed examples to think through. But imagine some instance in which you think that both the designation “emotionally abusive” and the cutting off are perfectly legitimate forms of holding responsible. I want to know: Even in your case, if the designation meets with the parents’ sincere befuddlement, has something wrong happened to them? Some failure to preserve legibility across generations in our terms of moral condemnation? I’m not suggesting that sincere befuddlement obligates anyone not to sever ties or not to condemn. And I’m not suggesting that a grown child now cutting off her parents has an obligation to ensure that her parents fully understand the charges. But the parents’ befuddlement does make me wonder if the younger generation somehow failed collectively: Do those in the vanguard with respect to changing the meaning of morally condemnatory terms need to do more to bring others along? There may be good reason to expand the meaning of words like “abusive” or “violent.” But shouldn’t those accused of abuse and violence at least understand the meanings by which they stand accused?

On gender equality, the pandemic, and liberal feminism

by Gina Schouten on January 12, 2021

I wrote this for Public Ethics, addressing one of the theses from Feminism for the 99%which claims that “liberal feminism is bankrupt.” That thesis reduces liberal feminism to corporate feminism or lean-in feminism. Against that reduction, I suggest that: “Properly understood, liberal feminism is radically egalitarian feminism—both as feminism and as liberalism. Properly situated, the values it espouses demand structural reform to redress economic disadvantage. That’s why, as a liberal feminist, I agree with the manifesto’s criticism of lean-in feminism.”

I then consider why, if liberal feminism properly understood is radically egalitarian, so many liberal feminist seem to be more focused on the women “breaking the glass ceiling” than on the women left to “clean up the shards.” One part of the answer:

“Liberalism offers a strong evaluative grounding for demands of justice on behalf of women across the social hierarchy—and indeed for demands that that hierarchy be demolished. The social subordination to which we subject the women sweeping up the shards is unjust on grounds of the freedom and equality that liberalism celebrates. Precisely because I think liberal feminism furnishes compelling diagnoses of these injustices and illuminating prescriptions for rectification, it strikes me as important to address the hard cases that it faces. These are cases wherein apparent choice seemingly shields inequity from censure—the cases that have long been regarded…as poison for liberal feminists. Redeeming liberalism’s promise as a radical evaluative framework requires addressing the cases wherein deference to choice appears to be justice-undermining. For liberal feminists, this notably includes cases of apparently voluntary compliance with gender norms, including gender norms about caregiving.”

I conclude that “liberalism can be a tool for building the movement this catastrophic moment demands—and it’s a tool the movement should be slower to cast aside.”


That might seem a silly question, but I’m finding myself genuinely wondering. I’m going to use this post to write through my confusion, building toward a second, deeper question, which arises if we’re willing to take that first question seriously: Should single-issue anti-abortion voters prefer a course of action that leads to fewer abortions, or should they prefer a course of action that leads to more abortions but that makes the laws better reflect their convictions about the ethics of abortion? This, I’ll suggest, is the actual choice situation they face.

I’m not a single-issue anti-abortion voter myself, so I might well misstep at various points. And, because most of the single-issue anti-abortion voters I know personally are Catholic, I’m still likelier to misstep with respect to the non-Catholic moral underpinnings of abortion opposition. Still, I don’t think anything I say in setting out the considerations as I see them needs to contradict the ethical or spiritual commitments that underpin these voters’ political stance. Indeed, I am trying to reason from those ethical commitments as I understand them to the political question at hand. Let’s grant for the sake of argument that Amy Coney Barrett would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade. Why might a single-issue anti-abortion voter nonetheless oppose her appointment? As I see it, there are two types of reasons for opposition.

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Teachers and Parents

by Gina Schouten on July 10, 2020

In a string of days spent doing great harm to nobody’s benefit but his own, Trump got busy Wednesday rustling up a fight between teachers and parents: Parents want schools to reopen, he says, and so they must reopen, CDC recommendations be damned. And districts that don’t fully reopen will be cut off from federal funding. (A spokesperson for Betsy DeVos confirms that the administration intends to make good on this threat, though it’s unclear whether the president has the power to withhold the ten percent of school funding that currently comes from the federal government.)

These are hard times, and there’s lots of desperation in the camps the president is trying to set at odds. So we may have to concentrate more than usual to see that their fight isn’t really with each other.

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Josh DiPaolo Answers Questions about Online Teaching

by Gina Schouten on March 14, 2020

Josh DiPaolo is one of the most thoughtful and skilled teachers I know, and he has a fair bit of experience teaching online. So once I thought about this transition long enough to start feeling really overwhelmed by it, Josh was my first call. And he was generous enough to spend some time writing out answers to questions supplied by graduate students in my department. I’ve pasted our emailed “conversation” below.

One of my favorite things about Josh’s responses is his insistence that we bear in mind all the other ways that our students’ lives are difficult right now. Some of these are quite severe, but others are mundane and it’s fully within our control to avoid compounding the difficulty. For example, Josh reminds us that our students, just like us, are overwhelmed right now with emails. So especially in these early days, we should take extra care in crafting our communications to them so as to avoid the need for repeated follow-ups to correct or clarify. We can try to be a warm and calm voice for them, or at least work hard to avoid adding to their stress and anxiety.

There are lots of gems in here. Here’s one of my favorites:

“One bit of advice I’ve seen floating around seems right and relevant to this question. The idea is something like: ‘You’re not now teaching an online class. You’re moving your face to face class online.’ What this means to me is that the question at hand is not what’s the best way to assess student learning online. It’s more like: what’s the best (or maybe even just a good) way to assess student learning, given that half the semester was in person and that students enrolled in this class with certain expectations and that now I have to assess it using online tools in the context of a worldwide pandemic?”

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For a long time, I’ve been convinced that we can only improve our teaching practice in a reliable, systematic way up to some threshold. Below that threshold, we can read books, talk to those who have more experience, and refine our teaching by growing our knowledge of best practices for getting students to learn. But once we’ve really effortfully done all that, further gains just aren’t something we can get through any sort of studied practice. We hope we continue to improve, but our best bet is just to figure out over time how to fully inhabit our teaching skin.

This was never meant as an excuse for complacency: Further reading and study might make improvement more likely, so we shouldn’t let up our efforts once the low hanging fruit begins to seem depleted. (For one thing, we might be wrong about its being depleted!) But the kind of progress we can hope to make is different above the threshold than below. Above it, for example, there are few standards of success that aren’t endogenous in important ways to questions of value that we settle at early stages of thinking about what we as teachers want for our students.

To put it roughly: I thought that below some threshold, teaching is a science, and above it, an art.

Harry’s contribution to the Fall 2019 issue of Daedalus is beginning to convince me otherwise.  The issue “Improving Teaching: Strengthening the College Learning Experience,” features thirteen essays that focus on “what goes on inside the ‘black box’ of teaching and learning.”

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On photos and parental smirks

by Gina Schouten on September 27, 2019

Since becoming a parent I’ve been experiencing a new flavor of gentle inter-generational antagonism. The thing that I call a “pack-‘n-play? My parents call it a “play-pen.” This linguistic development is amusing to them. I kind of think they’re right to be amused. I’m not sure if it’s funny that we can’t handle product names that evoke a sense of our children as animals, or if it’s funny that we can’t accept that our children basically are (sometimes) just animalistic things to be contained. But they’re right that there’s some plausible story behind this product’s evolution that says something sweetly laughable about those of us on this end of it.

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Mary Midgley

by Gina Schouten on October 29, 2018

I’ve been learning just a little bit about Mary Midgley, who wasn’t really on my radar before her death earlier this month. I enjoyed this in particular, from here:

““I started with Plato before I ever went to college… One day, I picked a little book off the bookshelf and said, ‘this might be quite fun.’ I decided it was quite fun.” There was a pause. “I could have picked up Spinoza.” She looked slightly alarmed at the possibility.”

I certainly didn’t pick up any philosophy from off the bookshelf before I went to college, but I’ve been trying to remember which philosopher I read first once I got there (and trying to imagine the consequences of lots of possibilities that I’m pretty sure are counter-factual). I think the first philosopher I read as a philosopher was King.


Cool-headed deliberation is the job, after all.

by Gina Schouten on October 5, 2018

I’ve been reading that the deliberations over Kavanaugh’s appointment in light of Blasey Ford’s allegations against him are firing up voters on the right in the sense that those voters, like Kavanaugh, find the mere investigation to be crazy, a moral outrage, incomprehensible. I’ve never felt so strongly like I’m living in a completely different reality than those who disagree with me politically. This makes me want to say why I think what I think as plainly as I can, because however wrong it might be, I’m almost certain it isn’t crazy or immoral or incomprehensible. Before the testimony, I thought only that further inquiry was in order. Now, in light of Kavanaugh’s testimony, and independent of Blasey Ford’s, I think Kavanaugh has shown himself to be unfit for appointment to the Supreme Court. Here’s why.

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Good Parenting vs. Good Citizenship?

by Gina Schouten on September 13, 2018

I’ve been a parent now for six months and change, and I have exactly nothing figured out. I have gotten pretty good at thinking of things in terms of stark tradeoffs. Hooray, he fell asleep while I was nursing him, and stayed asleep when he went into his crib! (Crap. This means a missed opportunity to put him down “drowsy but awake,” and thus to train him to fall asleep on his own.) Hooray, I am really enjoying singing this song to him right now! (Crap. This temporary alignment of my interests and his surely means I am losing all ability to discern my own interests when they diverge from his.)

Don’t judge me too harshly for this insanity. Everything written about parenting seems expressly intended to make its readers think of their choices in terms of tradeoffs. (Seriously. If you don’t want your kid to be sleeping in your bed when he’s sixteen, you must put him down drowsy but awake!)

And a lot about our social environment seems expressly intended to generate tradeoffs. Take just one example: Privileged parents generally face a choice between schooling options that middle-class parenting culture approves as best for their children, and schooling options that progressive politics regards as best ethically. A fair bit of attention has been paid to this choice in popular media over the past week, largely in response to a book by Margaret Hagerman about how progressive, middle-class parents make decisions—decisions about where to live and thus what schools their kids will attend, and with whom, etc.—that perpetuate racial inequality. This is to be welcomed. It’s an important issue. While the tradeoff is generated by policy-level decisions—our practices for funding schools, our willingness to tolerate residential segregation by race and social class, our willingness to tolerate the extreme social inequality that makes that residential segregation so consequential—the policy failure generates seriously difficult decisions for individuals.

The philosophical considerations that bear on those decisions are complex. I want to quibble with the way the ethical tradeoff is being framed in the popular media discussions of it, encouraged, perhaps, by the way Hagerman herself sometimes frames it. Consider this remark from her interview in the Atlantic:

“I really think—and this might sound kind of crazy—that white parents, and parents in general, need to understand that all children are worthy of their consideration. This idea that your own child is the most important thing—that’s something we could try to rethink. When affluent white parents are making these decisions about parenting, they could consider in some way at least how their decisions will affect not only their kid, but other kids. This might mean a parent votes for policies that would lead to the best possible outcome for as many kids as possible, but might be less advantageous for their own child. My overall point is that in this moment when being a good citizen conflicts with being a good parent, I think that most white parents choose to be good parents, when, sometimes at the very least, they should choose to be good citizens.” (Italics mine.)

Contrary to Hagerman’s worry, this does not sound even kind of crazy, and I hope her work helps to make it sound less crazy even to those who ultimately disagree with it. But we shouldn’t frame the tradeoff the way Hagerman does in this quote. It’s misleading and it’s bad marketing.
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The Rational Grounds for (Anti-Racist) Optimism

by Gina Schouten on January 12, 2018

Thanks to the Crooked Timber bloggers for this opportunity! I’m very excited to be joining the group!

I just finished reading the twentieth anniversary edition of Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, a 2017 update to the 1997 book by Beverly Daniel Tatum about racial identity development. Tatum begins the long and excellent prologue to the new edition with the question: Are things getting better? In reading the prologue, one gets the sense that the answer is quite clearly that they are not, and indeed, Tatum confirms this at the end of the book:

“As I was writing the prologue for the twentieth-anniversary edition of this book, I was struck by how much bad news there was in it. The events of the last two decades have done little to improve the quality of life for those most negatively impacted by the structural racism of our society. Recognizing and acknowledging the persistence of residential and school segregation; the economic inequality that grows from limited access to socioeconomically diverse social networks and high-quality education as well as continued discrimination in the workplace; and the stranglehold of mass incarceration, unequal justice, and growing voter disenfranchisement left me feeling disheartened. But I am an optimist by nature and I have lived long enough to know that meaningful change is possible. I was determined not to give in to a sense of despair but rather to actively seek out signs of hope—stories of people making a difference and promising practices that could move others to meaningful action. I found that these signs of hope are everywhere” (343).

Tatum goes on, in the epilogue, to “share some of what I found in hopes that the examples will uplift you as they uplifted me” (343).

Tatum’s stories are uplifting. But they don’t make me feel optimistic about the future. Some are about local initiatives like the Atlanta Friendship Initiative or the Community Coalition on Race in the towns of South Orange and Maplewood, New Jersey. Most are about things taking place on elite and liberal arts college campuses. But if Tatum is right, in the rest of her book, about how our racial identities form and when, developmentally, things begin to go wrong (spoiler alert: childhood and adolescence matter, a lot), then I don’t see why isolated anti-racist efforts of the type that she catalogues should give us much hope.

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