Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Harvard Way of Life

Let's not forget that Harvard was solidly pro-Nazi in the 1930s. They are just as far outside the American mainstream today

She's more likely than not to win confirmation to the Supreme Court. Thus, the really big question about Elena Kagan is blunter: How and when does the United States as a whole get out from under the sway of an alien enterprise such as her university, Harvard?

That the Kagan nomination positions one more Harvard graduate to tighten the Harvard-Yale vise on the court no more than reintroduces the consideration that Harvard isn't notably fond of the American Main Street. Out of Harvard, on a nonstop basis, pour some of America's worst ideas, such as that government has all the answers, old moralities have to go, and racism and sexism infest America -- though not Harvard, you better believe it! -- from top to bottom.

The old chestnut of a Harvard joke turns out to have merit: You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can't tell him much. It's because he -- and these days, she as well -- doesn't need to be told the rest of us are wrong about many things.

Back to Kagan, whose Harvard career underscores with splotches of crimson paint the Harvard community's intellectual and emotional remoteness from America.

Among other topics, the Kagan confirmation hearings will also bring to mind her and her university's long and deep resistance to allowing U.S. military recruiters on campus. Let us think that one through. The dean of the Harvard Law School is against affording her country's government a facility to meet with potential leaders of the very forces pledged to guarantee her country's freedoms. True, by the time she became law school dean, the Bush administration had threatened to take away Harvard's federal money if it persisted in resisting recruiters. Kagan submitted reluctantly to the new order. "I abhor the military's discriminatory policy," she said.

That was the matter in a nutshell: the military's "don't ask, don't tell" rule respecting gay and lesbian personnel. The policy violated Harvardian sensibilities. The military shouldn't judge its own policies for maintaining discipline -- not when Harvard could do the job better. Dean Kagan agreed in essence. Senators will certainly quiz her on this point at the confirmation hearings.

Anyway, here was -- is -- characteristic Harvard know-it-allness at work. Harvard knows what's good for us: thereby saving common folk the time it takes to make up their own minds. That Harvard takes an advanced view on the gay rights question doesn't surprise. Not Harvard's viewpoint alone, but that of pretty much the whole Northeast, is that enlightened people, many of them residing in faculty and magazine offices, have settled the question in our behalf.

Where once the great unwashed thought legitimate sexual relationships were those involving partners of the opposite sex, all that old stuff has been declared null and void, not to mention rural and out-of-date.

Here's what's really interesting with respect to "don't ask, don't tell": The big question, for Harvard, wasn't how Harvard can help the military meet its professed needs. No, it was why doesn't the military acknowledge that, look here, when Harvard talks, America listens? Or sure better!

The military might or might not have judged aright of its position on how well gay and straight soldiers function at close quarters. Was it for Harvard (other liberal universities, it must be pointed out, made the same judgment) to demand that issues of military effectiveness and public safety give way to the single, burning imperative of sexual preference rights? At Harvard it was fine. Nothing else seems to have mattered.

Red State and Blue State America: you can call them smears on the map, yet they embody large realities. The two Americas are seriously at odds: "Reds" perpetually put off by the perpetual condescension of "Blues" unwilling to entertain the backward viewpoints of outsiders. Comes now yet another "Blue," headed for the highest bench in the land -- a wonderful vantage point for putting down the preoccupations of Americans screwy enough to believe not every Great Idea was born in 1965.

Can we hardly wait?


Low High School standards entrenched in America

To cite a cliché, the more things change the more they remain the same. This applies to many areas of life, but arguably it is the essence of educational reform.

Recently the ACT, an independent organization that provides assessment, research and program management in broad areas of education, issued a statement on the “essentials for college and career readiness.”

What it found is precisely what evaluators of education in the United States have been saying for decades. Despite an enormous per capita national expenditure for education, exceeded only by Switzerland, “high school learning standards are still not sufficiently aligned with postsecondary expectations.”

Across the curriculum, college instructors and high school teachers differ on the level of preparation for college assignments with many more high school teachers than college instructors reporting that graduates are prepared. At the same time, while college math and science instructors agree that reading is one of the most important skills needed for success in this century, “overwhelming majorities of them report spending little or no time teaching reading strategies in their courses.”

Apparently findings indicate that students are shortchanged in high school and post secondary courses, despite the fact many high school teachers believe their students are adequately prepared for higher education study. There is simply a huge disparity between skill level and performance expectations.

To address this concern the ACT contends high school standards should focus on fewer – but essential – college and career readiness conditions and a rigorous core curriculum should be mandated for all high school graduates. These are sensible recommendations that have been advocated for at least half a century. The key question is why haven’t these recommendations been put into practice if everyone – or almost everyone – knows what should be done.

There are several factors that account for this state of affairs. One, student readiness is not related to faculty compensation. In fact, merit pay, which could be related to readiness, is consistently opposed by the teachers’ union. Second, relatively little time is spent on “hard subjects” such as math and science. The curriculum is, to some degree, a mirror on national social conditions. If there are fatalities on our highways, driver education is encouraged. When rates of illegitimacy rise, sex education is emphasized. As rates of drug abuse assail us, drug education is introduced. And, of course, political correctness is a time consuming theme that crosses all disciplines, even the sciences.

There are, in most high schools, pep rallies prior to the Friday night football game. There are announcements of various kinds during the school day and, of course, the required weekly assembly program.

In addition, distractions prevail. Texting is the nemesis of concentration. There are video games, e-mails, Facebook, sororities, fraternities, parties, television programs that trump serious study. It is also the case that high school teachers are among the most marginal students in their college classes. Although there are superb teachers, the profession lacks the status and prestige that accompany other professions.

Last, perhaps most noteworthy, is the nation’s dysfunctional social life. Divorce, illegitimacy and various forms of social deviancy have disrupted home life so that mom at the kitchen table with cookies and milk at 3 pm is as rare as two dollar bills. Mom is probably working; no one is there to guide Johnny and Mary when they return from school except Oprah Winfrey. Homework is for autodidacts and, most teachers do not count on homework assignments, a bygone vestige of education in another era.

The “Leave It To Beaver” family is interred and with it have gone attention to student performance. Parents may retain expectations for their children, but the conditions necessary to achieve these goals are lacking. Now schools do not concentrate on subjects that matter, distractions make learning a chore and the mediating social structures that aided educational attainment are in trouble.

Clearly the ACT should be commended for pointing out what should be done to improve educational performance, but I’ve heard all the claims before. Until there is recognition of what ails us, there will be many more reports in our future, but little progress in student attainment.


School reform in Britain: The model for the revolution

Fraser Nelson is spot on. No matter what is given up in the negotiations between the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats, Michael Gove’s school reforms are too important to be subject to political compromise. Fraser Nelson has championed this policy for a while now. In fact, for a good introduction to what is at stake, take a look at this excellent article from 2008.

There are going to be tough times ahead. Needs must when the devil drives; there is no getting around the fact that there are going to be substantial cuts in government expenditure. The Conservative Party, with or without the Lib Dems, are going to have to play the villains.

This is of course familiar territory, they had to pick up the pieces when the Labour Party last drove the country into the ground. Thatcher managed to (re)empower people through various means, most notably through offering the ‘right-to-buy’ for council tenants, but as with all governments, the momentum of reform slowed down and she had a penchant for centralising power, that was being abused, without dispersing it back to the people. In consequence, the Conservative Party have been caricatured as a party only of slash and burn.

Forced once again to sort out the mess left by Labour's mismanagement and profligacy, if the Conservative Party is to avoid being tarred with the same brush they need, unlike Thatcher, to also offer an alternative contemporaneous narrative. Rhetorical guff like ‘the big society’ just won’t cut the mustard.

School reform could and should form the key-stone of this narrative. Assuming it is done properly, Sweden’s success can be replicated in the UK. They will also need to be radical on health, welfare and pension reforms. In all cases, they should allow taxpayers more choice and focus any exemptions/ welfare/ top-ups/ exemptions at only the most vulnerable.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

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