Five Best Tuesday Columns

Michelle Rhee on her school-voucher conversion, Ramesh Ponnuru on the hidden cost of reusable grocery bags, Joe Nocera on the N.C.A.A., Evgeny Morozov on Wikipedia and social change, and Jonathan Chait on the GOP electoral scheme. 

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Michelle Rhee in The Daily Beast on her school-voucher conversion As former chancellor of the DC public school system, Michelle Rhee found herself as the center of a still-brewing national controversy over the use of school vouchers, which allocate public funds to pay for a child's private education. "As a lifelong Democrat I was adamantly against vouchers," Rhee writes, who later changed her mind. Why? She considers Pell Grants, which function as vouchers for college education (and may be used at both private and public schools), and this knotty question: "Are we beholden to the public school system at any cost, or are we beholden to the public school child at any cost?"

Ramesh Ponnuru in Bloomberg View on the hidden cost of reusable grocery bags They seem like such an obviously good idea: less plastic, less trash, fewer landfills — who wouldn't want to use a reusable grocery bag? But when mandated, as they were by San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Seattle a few years ago, the bags quickly became a case study for the consequences of government intervention, writes Ramesh Ponnuru. The problem, according to several studies Ponnuru cites, is that reusable bags have a way of hosting and transmitting food-borne bacteria that plastic bags, because they're usually thrown out or used for non-food purposes, do not. Ponnuru concludes: "The best course for government, then, is probably to encourage people to recycle their plastic bags — or, maybe, just let people make their own decisions."

Joe Nocera in The New York Times on how scholar athletes are often failed by college College football straddles two cultures: academia and sports entertainment. Though it's more or less agreed upon that the latter overbears the former in every which way — taking students out of class, admitting them without good enough grades, and so on — the academy itself, under the guise of "academic counseling," can fail its football-playing pupils all on its own, too. Discussing the phenomenon of "paper classes" — academically light courses geared toward athletes — Nocera continues to place blame on the N.C.A.A. One player's career, he writes, "was sacrificed so that the N.C.A.A. could maintain its longstanding pretense that college athletes are supposed to be students first."

Evgeny Morozov in The New Republic on Wikipedia's model for social change The Internet, many a futurist will tell you, provides a rubric for nascent social movements, which need to be networked and horizontal — rather than hierarchical and top-down — in order to succeed in this infinitely connected world. That's silly, according to Evgeny Morozov, who in reviewing a recent book by pop-sci author Steven Johnson grapples with the spectacular promise of Wikipedia: "Even Wikipedia tells us a more complex story about empowerment: yes, anyone can edit it, but not anyone can see their edits preserved for posterity. The latter depends, to a large extent, on the politics and the power struggles inside Wikipedia."

Jonathan Chait in New York on the GOP electoral scheme Will plain-old democracy kill off, or at least fundamentally change, the Republican Party? Or will Republicans try to change the institutions of democracy to better serve their policy goals? Recent efforts to change how certain states (like Virginia) allocate electoral votes suggest the latter, writes Jonathan Chait, who points out that such plans are far from unprecedented. During Obama's presidency, "Republicans in nearly every state [have imposed] burdensome identification requirements to vote, bureaucratic obstacles to the registration of new voters, and rolled-back early balloting," he writes. "The campaign to rig the Electoral College can be seen as a piece of the same broad effort."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.