Tag Archives: John Rawls

Public Schooling and the Veil of Ignorance


As I noted in my first post on this blog (comparing charter school districts to Obamacare), it can very difficult to judge the merits of a new public school system given our attachment to the existing public school system, as well as how, individually, each of us benefits (or doesn’t benefit) from the existing structure.

 As it happens, John Rawls, a philosopher, came with a thought experiment to help citizens overcome exactly such biases.

Rawl’s thought experiment encourages us to adopt “a veil of ignorance.” In adopting the veil, we must select societal policies with the assumption that we don’t know what position we’d be born into (wealth, gender, race, etc.). Rawls believed that we would better be able to adopt principles of justice if our reasoning was based on general considerations rather than our own personal circumstances.*

For the context of this blog post, the question is this: if you had no idea what income level, race, or gender you would be born into, what type of education system would you want to exist?

Based on current educational debates, I’ve created three options below (I struggled to paste in charts, so click on image to get larger / clearer view) – one based on public schooling as it mostly exists; one based on charter school districts such as New Orleans; and one based on vouchers. Of course, thousands of other regimes could be imagined, but I hope these three provides some useful guideposts.

Additionally, I’ve tried to be as neutral in my language as possible. If you feel any language is loaded, drop me a comment and I’ll adjust (if I agree).

So put on the veil.

Which system would you choose?


Lastly, thanks to Adam Hawf for suggesting that I write this post. And thanks to Rob Reich for providing useful suggestions.

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*Very smart people have written immense amounts on Rawls. This post does not aim to add any value to this literature – rather I’m just trying to take a basic version of his argument and apply it to education.