Individualizing Justice in The Equalizer

The_Equalizer_posterAs a libertarian, I often enter a theater to watch an action movie like The Equalizer with a bit of trepidation. Inevitably, the story depends on the destruction of human life as a plot driver. In many cases, particularly those with martial arts or superhero roots (think Ninja Assassin or Wolverine), the story depends on vengeance as the vehicle for restoring justice.

As a libertarian, I believe that human life has objective value and should be protected. To the extent a State exists, its most important role is to protect life. As a social scientist and martial-arts centered self-defense coach, I am deeply skeptical that individuals can “know” enough about an event or circumstance to act on their own to take someone else’s life short of a direct and imminent threat. All individual actions are based on subjective valuations of the choices in front of them, and while they may be rational, they may not be correct. This means that I err on the side of restraint.

So, action movies pose a bit of dilemma, as a matter of ethics, and The Equalizer is no exception. In fact, that’s why I enjoy seeing them, particularly ones with the high production values evident in this vehicle for Denzel Washington. The plot isn’t new: a highly skilled spy (or assassin) goes into calm retirement, only to be brought out when he sees a miscarriage of justice. In this case, a prostitute who he has befriended is brutally beaten to keep her in line with the Russian mob that pimps her out and to “send a message” to the other girls in their stable. This is a clear case of human trafficking because we know that this girl’s prostitution is forced and impossible to leave as a practical matter.

Robert McCall, the lead character played masterfully by Washington, decides to take matters into his own hands and buy her freedom. This is an elegant libertarian solution—use free exchange to secure individual freedom. Win-win. Except if you’re the Russian mob. Events don’t progress as hoped. The vigilante price for beating up the girl? Five dead gangsters. To start.

Fortunately, the story in The Equalizer is more nuanced and layered. This makes for more than just an engaging movie. It also sets up a series of ethical dilemmas that McCall struggles with (but not so much he can’t take care of business).

This is why I think The Equalizer, or at least this version, would be a useful touchstone for discussions of libertarian ethics and social policy (including criminal justice). At one point, McCall notes that the people he has killed all were given a choice: Do the right thing—let McCall purchase the freedom of the beaten prostitute—or face death. Because this is a movie, and screenwriters get to set the context, all the bad guys are real bad guys. McCall is dehumanized and mocked and sent on his way by the arrogant gangsters. If he persists, they make it clear he will likely be killed. It’s how the Russians impose their will on their hapless victims and employees. McCall, however, decides that this is the line in the sand and acts to restore some sense of justice by freeing his friend and killing the mobster and his body guards/enforcers.

But, is this enough? Is freeing one person worth killing five? Or one? This is private justice, Equalizer style.

The ethical issues deepen as the movie progresses—I am grateful to the screenwriters and director for keeping them central to the plot and character arc of McCall—as McCall faces the confirmed sociopath who is leading the effort to destroy him to maintain order in their underworld. McCall tells the mobster that he promised his dead wife that he wouldn’t kill someone without giving them an out. While a bit sketchy, he follows through on this promise even though it requires a bit of clairvoyance on the part of his targets. Still, McCall is explicit about making an exception for the Russian enforcer.

Again, we have no doubt by this time that the bad guy has no redeeming social qualities. No empathy for the bad guy here. It’s the way his character is scripted. This isn’t completely implausible, of course. Sociopaths exist, and we find them in the dysfunctional behaviors of serial killers, sadistic rapists, child abusers, and those engaged in human trafficking.

From a libertarian (and Western) way of thinking, this makes the ethical dilemma even more complicated. Is this enough? At what point is private action justified, even to the point someone else’s life is ended by those actions?

As a practical matter, this issue is playing out across the nation in the debate over the Second Amendment, gun control, and self defense. In my home state of Florida, the so-called “stand your ground law” legally eliminates the need to consider retreating from a violent or potentially violent altercation before someone can lawfully shoot, and kill, a potential attacker. Is the state of mind of the defender all that is needed to justifiably take someone else’s life?

In The Equalizer, while we are sure that the Russian mob is willing and able to kill McCall, it’s McCall who initiates the scenario that leads to the deaths of the mobsters. He may have given them a choice, but they didn’t know the depth McCall was willing or able to go before they were in mortal danger to secure the freedom of the prostitute. Does that matter? At what point to vigilante justice, or private law enforcement, create a destabilizing effect on a community by weakening the most basic principle of protecting human life?

Good movies trigger deeper thinking, and I found this was the case for The Equalizer. Kudos to the producers and directors for making a movie with a story more thoughtful than most in this genre that is also well produced and well acted to boot. While The Equalizer is “just” a movie, I found it more than suitably provocative to mull these questions, and I’m interested in what my libertarian friends and colleagues have to say, and if they had the same take on the movie.

More Evidence That Medicaid Expansion Increases Emergency Department Use

18862233_SThe evidence that Medicaid expansion increases use of hospitals’ emergency departments is coming fast and thick. Hospital executives are longer afraid to admit it, and have given up the pretense that Medicaid increases timely, quality, primary care. Here’s one data point from Fort Smith, Arkansas:

Almost a year after the first health insurance enrollment under the Affordable Care Act, local hospitals Sparks Regional Medical Center and Mercy Fort Smith have seen an uptick in emergency room visits. Shelly Cordum, nursing chief executive for Sparks Regional Medical Center in Fort Smith, says the Sparks emergency department saw 6,700 patients in July. The trend is not expected to decline either. “The Medicaid expansion and the health care option certainly has spurred this influx, without a doubt,” Cordum said. “It’s people from all walks of life. They’re coming in with all different kinds of medical problems, and they enter the hospital through the ER because many don’t have a primary care physician and they are very sick.” (Fort Smith Times Record)

Also, the Colorado Hospital Association has issued a report comparing certain trends in states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare with states that did not. The most important take-away is how much Emergency Department visits increased in expansion states versus non-expansion states:

The average number of emergency department (ED) visits to hospitals in expansion states increased 5.6 percent from second-quarter 2013 to second-quarter 2014. This change was greater than expected from the variation over the last two years, and resulted in the highest number of average visits over that time. In comparison, hospitals in non-expansion states reported a 1.8 percent increase in Emergency Department visits between the second quarters of 2013 and 2014.

It is increasingly clear that Medicaid expansion does not increase access to primary care.

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For the pivotal alternative to Obamacare, please see the Independent Institute’s widely acclaimed book: Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis, by John C. Goodman.

Fascism Is Efficient, Says Andres Duany, Leading Proponent of “Sustainable Development”

Andres Duany (photo by Michigan Municipal League)

Andres Duany (photo by Michigan Municipal League, 2013)

It goes by many names: “sustainable development,” “smart growth,” “transit-oriented development,” to name a few. But development projects built under the banner of “sustainability” share the same elements: high-density residential housing and high-intensity commercial space (so-called mixed use) clustered near capital-intensive mass transit lines surrounded by government-owned “open space” and, increasingly, government-imposed “urban growth boundaries.” Regardless of where a sustainable-development project is located in the world, each tends to apply these elements.

There is nothing wrong with high-density housing or non-automobile mobility per se. The problem is that sustainability advocates use government to force their vision of tomorrow on others and, equally important, use government to restrict or eliminate alternative visions from being adopted. Individual private-property rights and local decision making give way to the priorities of international, national, state, and regional governmental bodies influenced by urban planners who believe their vision of the next 50 to 100 years is the correct vision and the only vision worth pursuing. Anyone who thinks differently, according to the planners, is wrong, selfish, wasteful, or all three, and must be silenced.

If you think this description is exaggerated, watch this chilling video of Andres Duany speaking to the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council on why it should support his Seven50 plan. Mr. Duany is the chief architect of Seven50, the proposed 50-year regional development plan for seven counties in Southeast Florida, including Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties. Mr. Duany is a leading urban planner, author of The Smart Growth Manual, and a founder of the Congress for the New Urbanism, which seeks to end suburban sprawl. After watching this video ask yourself: Do I want to support the so-called “smart-growth” approach and empower Andres Duany and people like him to rule over me and my community using government force? Or do I want to strengthen my private property rights and ensure local control over housing, land use, and transportation issues?

*I thank Mark Gotz of the American Coalition 4 Property Rights for bringing this video to my attention after I spoke at the American Dream Coalition’s 10th Annual Conference in Denver, Colorado, September 19-21, 2014. The American Dream Coalition is a nonpartisan organization fighting back against government threats to mobility and affordable homeownership.

Hospitals Are Cutting Charity Care and Using Emergency Rooms More

18862233_SHospitals, inveterate lobbyists for Obamacare, have responded rationally to its incentives: They have increased use of their emergency departments, and cut charity care.

On Tuesday, NPR had a feature on hospitals’ using online services to allow frequent flyers to book appointments with emergency departments:

Three times in one week, 34-year-old Michael Granillo returned to the emergency room of the Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Southern California, seeking relief from intense back pain. Each time, Granillo waited a little while and then left the ER without ever being seen by a doctor.

“I was in so much pain, I wanted to be taken care of ‘now,’ ” says Granillo. “I didn’t want to sit and wait.”

But on a recent Wednesday morning, he woke up feeling even worse. This time, Granillo’s wife, Sonya, tried something different. Using a new service offered by the hospital, she was able to make an ER appointment online, using her mobile phone.

Isn’t that exactly the sort of thing that Obamacare was supposed to stop? All those newly insured patients are supposed to get timely primary care, nipping their health problems in the bud at low-cost points of care. Back in July, I wrote about this worrying development, and concluded that we might all end up getting our health care in the ED. Well, it looks like that is the hospitals’ goal:

Recently, Dignity stepped up its marketing—with billboards, print advertisements and online and radio spots. One online ad features a woman sitting in a hospital waiting room, and then cuts to her on a living room couch with a dog, as the words on the screen read, “Wait for the ER from home.”

Who is not welcome? The uninsured, that’s who:

Stephen Maxwell had struggled for years with a bad back, but what he felt in December was something new.

In January, Truman Medical Center, the hospital he has relied on for care, rolled back its financial assistance program. Truman used to provide free or discounted care for uninsured people making up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level—$46,680 for an individual. Now, only those making less than 200 percent qualify for the help. The change was intended to motivate people to sign up for health insurance plans through the Affordable Care Act. (Kansas City Star)

Another Obamacare success story! Hospitals are where we spend most of our health dollars. And their incentives under Obamacare are worse than they ever were. The next health reform must ensure that hospitals are freed from the spell of perverse incentives.

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For the pivotal alternative to Obamacare, please see the Independent Institute’s widely acclaimed book: Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis, by John C. Goodman.

The Worst (Still) Get on Top

admin-ajax.phpHow often when discussing politics, listening to the news, or hearing about the latest government debacle do you hear something like, “If only John Doe was in office” or “If we could just get the right people in there, things would be better?” How often are issues like corruption, waste, and other perverse outcomes viewed as a preventable and lamentable byproduct of “the wrong people?”

But is this necessarily the case? Would things really be so different if different people were in power?

Nobel laureate F.A. Hayek addressed this very question in one of his most famous works, The Road to Serfdom. One chapter of the book is titled, “Why the Worst Get on Top.” In it, Hayek responds to the immensely popular idea that the ills of socialism could be avoided. Although most people found “extreme” forms of socialism (Nazism, fascism, etc.) to be repugnant, it was thought that the particularly nefarious parts of these systems could be avoided. An “American socialism” would certainly look very different than the Soviet regime. Hayek challenged this notion. He argued that the very nature of the system would ensure that the worst came to power. Those who would become political leaders would be those individuals who sought power and were willing to use violence and other coercive methods to achieve their goals.

Hayek offered three reasons why the leaders of a system tending toward totalitarianism would consist of the worst, not the best, individuals. First, he argued that in order to obtain a “high degree of uniformity in outlook,” we have to look to a group of people with low moral standards. Second, in order to obtain and maintain power, leaders in the system must gain the support of the gullible and “those whose passions and emotions are easily aroused.” Third, in order to bring together supporters, leaders will unite people behind a “common enemy.”

Hayek goes on to say that the survival of a totalitarian system depends on the willingness to supplant the needs of the collective over the needs of the individual. He states,

The principle that the end justifies the means...becomes necessarily the supreme rule. There is literally nothing which consistent collective must not be prepared to do if it serves ‘the good of the whole.’....Once you admit that the individual is merely a means to serve the ends of the higher entity called society or the nation, most of those features of totalitarianism which horrify us follow out of necessity.


The worst the word “liberty”....‘Collective freedom’ is not the freedom of the members of society, but the unlimited freedom of the planner to do with society that which he pleases.

Hayek’s points are still relevant today. Though few would argue for Soviet-style central planning, there are many who advocate centralized planning in the form of foreign intervention and domestic programs. They place their trust in the bureaucratic apparatus of government to achieve some larger goal. As Hayek points out, the actions of these leaders is often justified to the public via emotional appeals and some idea of the “collective good.” The result is detrimental to liberty.

Take for example a recent interview with retired General Stanley McChrystal. In it, he argues that American youth should be expected to do “a year of service.” Further, he suggests that jobs and educational benefits should be tied to such activities. Why? Because self-sacrifice will “bind” young people to one another and “the nation.” Individuals should sacrifice their liberties in the name of the “greater good” as envisioned by the political and military elite.

Without a doubt, the world is experiencing some scary things. Ukraine is imploding. There is an Ebola outbreak in Africa. Syria is engaged in civil war. Iraq is in turmoil. There is a chance the violence could resume in Israel. But it’s important to remember that it’s not a matter of who is in political office, who runs the military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, or who heads the humanitarian mission in Liberia and the rest of Africa. The issue is more fundamental. Those who will seek out those positions are the ones who gain the most from being there. As Hayek pointed out, those are likely the last people we would want.

Though we may not be able to outright alter the institutions that influence political actors, perhaps there is something individuals can do. As citizens, we take responsibility for ourselves. Individuals must champion personal liberties. Each of us has the choice to think critically and to value the rights of the individual over some notion of the “greater good.” It may be small, but it’s a first step in ensuring we protect our freedoms from the “worst on top.”

Coercive Foreign Policies and the Boomerang Effect

tir_19_2_210More than a century ago, Mark Twain noted that if a “Great Republic” goes about “trampling on the helpless abroad,” then that government stands a good chance of turning against its own citizens. But why does a nation’s repression of other countries raise the risk of repression at home?

The short answer, according to Independent Review co-editor Christopher J. Coyne and Independent Institute Research Fellow Abigail R. Hall, is that coercive foreign intervention sets in motion various politico-economic mechanisms that cause it to act like a boomerang, knocking down freedoms in the “throwing” country.

Coyne and Hall put forth their thesis of the “boomerang effect” in their lead article in the Fall 2014 issue of The Independent Review. How does it work? When a government tries to impose social controls on foreign populations, the authors explain, typically it does so using means that expand the scope of government domestically. Those means include new skills and equipment to monitor and quell resistance, greater centralization of government power, and the inculcation of a willingness to impose more coercion on ordinary citizens. When mixed together, these ingredients act as a potent corrosive that erodes rights and liberties at home.

Coyne and Hall also offer two illuminating case studies of the boomerang effect. The first involves government surveillance of ordinary Americans. Its origins, they show, go back to the U.S. occupation of the Philippine Islands after the Spanish-American War, when Army Captain Ralph Van Deman helped create a data collection system to monitor Filipino insurgents and others. After his return stateside, Van Deman lobbied high-ranking officials to create a similar program that later spied on U.S. citizens who opposed America’s entry into World War I—a precursor to the NSA’s high-tech surveillance programs.

Coyne and Hall’s second illustration examines the militarization of domestic policing. The paramilitary SWAT teams now common in police departments across the United States, they show, were first created by Los Angeles police chiefs eager to adapt what they learned from special military units during the Vietnam War and World War II.

The lesson? Mark Twain could have summarized his point with one karmic aphorism: What goes around comes around.

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Perfecting Tyranny: Foreign Intervention as Experimentation in State Control, by Christopher J. Coyne and Abigail R. Hall (The Independent Review, Fall 2014)

Perfecting Tyranny, by Abigail Hall (The Beacon, 9/17/14)

AUDIO: Abigail Hall on the Scott Horton Show (9/19/14)

SPECIAL OFFER for The Independent Review: If you’re not already a subscriber, sign up now and receive a FREE book!

[A version of this post first appeared in the September 23, 2014, issue of The Lighthouse. For a free subscription to this weekly newsletter from the Independent Institute, enter your email address here.]

Public Schools and Government Schools

5222340299_3778446_f520_xlargeEarlier this year, I was saddened by the passing of Stanley Marshall, founder of the James Madison Institute, an organization that promotes individual freedom in Florida. Stan was president of Florida State University from 1969-1976, and went into private business before founding the James Madison Institute in 1987. I have worked with the Institute since it was founded and was privileged to be able to call Stan a friend. Stan had lots of friends, including those with whom he had political disagreements. He was an impressive individual who lived 91 good years, so while I was sad to see him go, his life deserves celebration.

Among the many insightful observations I heard from Stan was the distinction he made between public schools and government schools. Government schools should not be called public schools, he said, because they are not open to the public. In order to attend one, you must live in a particular district, so government schools exclude most of the public from being able to attend.

The schools we refer to as private schools, in contrast, are open to the public, so those schools really are public schools. As Stan saw it, non-government schools are public schools, while government schools are not.

This terminology can’t catch on, of course, because government schools have already appropriated the public school name. But the idea is worth sharing and repeating, just to disabuse people of the idea that government schools are open to the public.

The school choice movement is an attempt to allow students to choose which government school they attend, which would move government schools closer to being public schools. In this regard, note the pushback that the government education hierarchy is making against school choice. Teachers’ unions and school administrators are leading the charge to prevent government schools from actually becoming public schools.

Coming Soon to California: Teachers’ Right to Work?

indexBig changes could be in the works for the California Teachers Association (CTA), the state affiliate of the country’s largest teachers union, the National Education Association (NEA).

The CTA claims it has 325,000 members. How many of them are voluntary dues-paying members is anybody’s guess. In the past the CTA has demolished “paycheck protection” initiatives in California—most recently Proposition 32 in 2012—through its sheer spending power, paid for in large part by compulsory dues from members.

That strategy doesn’t work so well in the courtroom, though.

The Harris V. Quinn Supreme Court ruling against compulsory dues collections from Illinois health care workers this summer doesn’t bode well for the CTA. Currently, it is also embroiled in its own legal challenge from the Center for Individual Rights (CIR), which is representing 10 California teachers and the Christian Educators Association International who are fighting against “agency shop” laws that require union membership as a condition of employment.

Should CIR prevail in the Ninth Circuit Court case Friedrichs v. CTA the practice of compulsory union dues imposed on any government employee could come to a screeching halt in the near future.

Larry Sand, a retired teacher and president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, explains in his recent City Journal article that the CTA is prepping for the likely death of “fair share” and life ever after in a paycheck-protection world:

The worst union in America is contemplating its worst nightmare—a time when state law no longer compels California’s teachers to pay it for the privilege of working at a public school. According to a 23-page PowerPoint presentation unearthed by union watchdog Mike Antonucci, California Teachers Association officials are taking seriously the idea that a raft of pending litigation could put an end to mandatory union dues in the Golden State, and they’re exhorting local union leaders to rise to the challenge. The presentation’s title is fitting: “Not if, but when: Living in a world without Fair Share.”

“Fair share” in this context refers to the union’s current legal right to collect dues from every public school teacher in the state, whether they join the union or don’t. ...

The CTA is evidently resigned to the inevitability of losing the state’s protection. The last part of the union’s PowerPoint outlines an action plan suggesting different techniques to attract new members.

“Right-to-work” fever is catching on, and Sand notes that leaders of other unions are also resigning themselves to life in a free world and consoling themselves with the fact that two of the country’s most successful membership organizations, the AARP and the NRA, don’t rely on compulsory dues.

Sand also cites recent national public opinion polls that found that 83 percent of Americans believe workers should be free to choose whether or not to join a union, and that 29 percent of union members would leave their unions if they could. He rightly concludes:

Perhaps unions are on the verge of conforming to what Alexis de Tocqueville called the characteristic institutions of American life—voluntary associations. It’s about time.

It sure is, and the implications for California students are also immense.

It remains to be seen how many teachers, given the chance, would actually choose to stay or become dues-paying CTA members. Until that’s all sorted out, certainly in the short-term the CTA’s political power in Sacramento would be a glimmer of what it has been. That power void would be a tremendous opportunity to advance parental choice in education throughout California—including ending the practice of assigned schools based on parents’ income and address.

Even more, California policymakers could be advancing one of the most promising K-12 reforms already operating in Arizona and Florida: educational savings accounts (ESAs). Under these programs, students whose parents don’t prefer a public school simply inform their state education agency, and 90 percent of what the state would have spent to educate them in public schools is deposited into that child’s ESA instead. With those funds parents can pay for private school tuition, tutoring, online courses, and other education-related expenses. What’s more, any unused funds remain in ESAs for future education expenses such as college.

Arizona teachers and other unions sued to end the ESA program there—and lost. Florida’s ESA is under a similar legal challenge now.

In an ideal world, taxpayer dollars wouldn’t flow through Sacramento or Washington, D.C., in the first place. ESAs are a step in the right direction because they put parents—not politicians and their special-interest allies—back in charge of education dollars that are supposed to be for their children’s education.

A CTA that’s brought back down to size—based on voluntary membership—will have enough troubles of its own and would have a tough time fighting parental choice, teacher tenure, and voluntary membership in the courts.

The time couldn’t be better for California students, parents, teachers, and taxpayers interested in the restoration of constitutional and sensible education policy.

Obamacare Will Devour Your Pay Raise

Mercer’s latest National Survey of Employer Sponsored Health Plans finds that the cost of employer-based benefits will jump significantly in 2015. Employee-benefits writer Stephen Miller, CEBS, reports:

Employers in the U.S. are predicting that health benefit cost per employee will rise by 3.9 percent on average in 2015, preliminary results from a new survey by Mercer reveal. Cost growth slowed to 2.1 percent in 2013, a 15-year low, but appears to be edging back up. Moreover, a higher percentage of employees signing up for coverage through the worksite could be a wildcard driving costs higher.

The projected increase for 2015 reflects actions employers plan to take to manage cost. If they make no changes to their plans for 2015, they predict that costs will rise by 5.9 percent on average. However, only 32 percent of respondents are simply renewing their existing plans without making changes.

One important change that employers are making is moving towards consumer-driven health plans (CDHPs), coupled with Health Savings Accounts or Health Reimbursement Arrangements. Currently, 6 percent of large employers offer only CDHPs. Within three years, 20 percent of employers anticipate that they will have fully replaced their traditional health insurance with CDHPs.

Some believe that Obamacare is driving this switch. To be sure, we should be grateful that CDHPs are surviving Obamacare, but they have been growing in the employer-based market for years. The real effect of Obamacare is shown in Figure 1: It is eliminating pay raises. Recall that we entered the Great Recession in December 2007, but even then we got pay raises (according to Figure 1). That is ending. All of our increased compensation will be in the form of health benefits, which will not be better, but merely Obamacare-compliant. Isn’t it time American workers took home more of their compensation as wages, instead of paying it to health insurers?


Common Core Called the “Obamacare of Education”

ObamaClassroomUS Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) makes a compelling case for abolishing Common Core in a recent letter. As Newsmax reports:

“As a U.S. Senator, I’ve seen the federal government make a mess of everything it touches,” the Utah Republican wrote in the email sent out Monday morning. “And if they’re allowed to stay, Common Core standards will be the ObamaCare of education,” he wrote. “Common Core is the D.C. takeover of our school system. It will dumb down standards and cheapen the education our children receive.”

All kids in America “deserve the best education in the world. The only way we can make that happen is to repeal Common Core across America,” Lee wrote.

“When it comes to education, the future of our country is on the line,” the senator said in the email. “The next generation of Americans doesn’t need to be force-fed big government propaganda in the classroom.

Sen. Lee is right. Common Core is not a set of rigorous standards. It’s a set of political agendas masquerading as academics “voluntarily” adopted by the states (see here, here, and here).

Competition, not Common Core, is what American schools and students need.

Today, more than 6 million schoolchildren are benefiting from education options their parents — not politicians — think are best. These options include 51 private parental choice programs in 25 states, online education providers, homeschooling, and public charter schools.

Parental choice programs educate students to high standards, without limiting education options. And, unlike accountability initiatives involving rigid federal mandates, all chosen education providers face immediate rewards for success or consequences for failure because parents are empowered to enroll or transfer their children as they see fit.

Ultimately, Common Core rests on the faulty premise that a single, centralized entity knows what’s best for all 55 million students nationwide. Raising the education bar starts with putting the real experts in charge: students’ parents.