Thursday, November 25, 2010

Media Rush to Defend LSU “Blood Will Be on Your Hands” Prof

What do the higher ed media do when a professor is caught blustering and biased—on camera? They scramble to defend him, of course.

A few weeks ago after getting a tip from a student at Louisiana State University, Campus Reform, a web-based organization that fights political correctness in higher education, sent a cameraman into class. The course, intended for freshmen, was Astronomy 1101 “The Solar System,” and the class was devoted entirely to the discussion of global warming.

Nothing in the terse description in LSU’s course catalog indicated that the professor would focus on terrestrial politics. The course description simply says that “The Solar System” will deal with “fundamental principles of the solar system.”

This week, Campus Reform released three video excerpts from that class (part 1, part 2, part 3). The videos show the professor, Bradley E. Schaefer, denouncing students for their views on global warming. He asks the class to sit according to actions they think the government should take, ranging from “U.S. should do nothing” to “Mandatory birth control” and “Eliminate all engines.”

To students who take their seats on the right side of the room (the “U.S. should do nothing” side), Professor Schaefer scoffs: “Oh boy, that’s really good for you, at least for the next decade or two. And then you will remember having sat on that corner, because you will not want to tell your children, if they live, why you’re sitting on that corner, that you were part of the trouble, right? Do you realize that?”

He goes on, “The more you’re sitting over here, the more you’re wanting to keep your hedonistic luxury at the cost of your children.” To one student he says, “Too little, too late. Blood will be on your hands.”

Campus Reform’s videos are short, 1-3 minute clips that highlight Schaefer’s most vigorous statements. When the organization published the first installment of the series, it wrote that this “shows what happens when a professor brings his politics into the classroom.”

Campus Reform has provided one of the clearest examples ever documented of liberal bias in academe. Defenders of the status quo saw its potential for serious damage and immediately set out to discredit it.

Both the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed published articles that essentially say: Who are you going to believe, us or your lying eyes? It’s not what it looks like. It was taken out of context. He yelled at liberal students too. The Chronicle article, “Video Seems to Catch Professor in a Liberal Rant, But There’s More to the Story,” paraphrases Schaefer: “He was actually challenging all of his students, both liberal and conservative, he says, and not chastising any of them for their beliefs.”

Indeed, Professor Schaefer did mock the “Eliminate all engines” segment of the class as well. He said, “The other side – they’re just as bad also.” When students asked him where he would sit, he said he didn’t know but that “I would not sit on either of the two edges. I think those are insane.”

What Schaefer doesn’t realize is that he shouldn’t be jeering at students on either side of a debate he has staged with an invitation to take positions that he believes to be extreme. When he asks students to sit according to their beliefs, then ridicules them for doing so—no matter what their politics are, he is in the wrong. As a professor, his job is not to belittle both sides equally but to instruct impartially.

At the request of the Chronicle, Campus Reform published the full, unedited, 40-minute long video of the class. It doesn’t help Schaeffer’s case. Inside Higher Ed and the Chronicle probably bet that most people would read their headlines, accept the notion that Campus Reform deviously and “selectively edited,” and not take the time to watch the longer version.

Those who do watch the full video will see that there’s nothing in it to exonerate Schaefer or prove that he was unfairly treated by Campus Reform. After his first round of deriding students for their views, he gives a melodramatic lecture on global warming, comprised mostly of his avowals that global warming exists and will cause untold deaths. He declares, “Global warming is real; it’s caused by humanity,” and repeatedly says, “It’s only going to get worse.”

Schaefer says “About fifteen years ago Exxon suddenly decided, ‘Oh geez, this is going to be bad for our bottom line,’ and they started pouring vast sums of money into saying, ‘Oh, global warming doesn’t exist.’ That’s completely false.”

“There is universal agreement among scientists,” he proclaims, echoing Al Gore’s “The debate is over.”

Professor Schaefer fails to mention the many respected scientists who have made public their skepticism of anthropogenic global warming. Among them is Richard Lindzen, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and finds evidence that global warming alarmism has been greatly exaggerated for political purposes.

Another is Australian geologist Ian Plimer, who writes in his book Heaven and Earth: Global Warming - The Missing Science, “Climate has always changed. It always has and always will [...] If we humans, in a fit of ego, think we can change these normal planetary processes, then we need stronger medication.” Saying “there is universal agreement among scientists” is an outright lie.

Another lie is recorded in the Chronicle, where Schaefer is quoted defending himself, “I put forth no opinions on how humanity should respond to global warming.” No opinions on how we should respond? Try:

"The solution has to come with some combination of not having as many people and not being as luxurious. So you can have a smaller population of high luxury or, you know, take your choice. If we go on as we are, you’ll have deaths in the billions, and that will solve the problem for you. That is not a good solution."

Later, a student asks about volcanoes, and Schaefer replies, “There are all sorts of natural catastrophes. This is one we made ourselves, and this is one we can control.”

At the end of the class he has the students do a group exercise and gives each section different questions for which they must present an answer to the class. The group on the right side of the room is given a piece of paper that says:

"Your professed policies have a substantial likelihood of leading to the death of a billion people or more. (A) Estimate the probability that you personally will be killed in an ugly way because of your decision? (B) What is the probability that any children of yours will die in ugly ways due to your current decision."

Die in ugly ways? This professor has decided to try to weed out anyone who disagrees with him by using scare and guilt tactics. He sustains the violent imagery through the entire class, telling students, “Blood will be on your hands,” and pooh-poohing deaths from September 11th (“3,000? Whatever.”) in light of the toll global warming would take. Toward the end of his lecture he indicts the students who prefer no new legislation on climate change:

"So, you see, the trouble here is the people on that corner [points at right side of room]. They’re wanting to do nothing. They’re wanting to let global warming take its toll. People decades from now will have deaths in the billions if we do nothing, and that will solve the problem."

Campus Reform’s video #2 points out that when the spokesman from that side stands up to share his group’s answers to the “die in ugly ways” questions, Schaefer repeatedly interrupts him. Several students ask the professor to let the spokesman talk, which Schaefer does, collapsing into a theatrical fit of laughter, holding his sides, bobbing his head, and gesturing to imply that he thinks the student is spouting idiocy.

The mockery, of course, does far more to discredit the integrity of the teacher than the opinions of the students. But the most chilling moment in the class wasn’t included in the shorter Campus Reform videos. It’s what the group on the other side of the room has to say.

The young woman speaking for her section reads the question, “Would you personally aim to have no more than 2 children?” Out of about 50 students, 45 said yes, she reports. “So I think that’s a pretty good number, and if, I mean, if the whole country decided to do that it would make a big impact.”

Forty-five students make a verbal pledge not to have more than two children. And they hope the whole country will do the same. If these students are in earnest, they have drunk the Kool-Aid. If they are bluffing, Schaefer was successful in his intimidation tactics. He is so bold as to guide students to limit the size of their future families—and they readily go along in the direction he nudges them.

As for the students over on the right side of the room, Schaefer continues to denounce them as unethical and foolish: “Screwing with the science is WRONG. You’re an ostrich putting your head in the sand.” After the spokesman says, “We personally don’t believe that we will be killed due to our current position because—” Schaefer cuts him off, shouting, “Remember that you gave that answer, okay? You’re going to be accountable for this!”

What about Professor Schaefer? Will he be held accountable? Not likely. The LSU department chair told the Chronicle he did not think any action would be taken to punish or even reprimand Schaeffer. He did say that he would take seriously any student complaints if he hears any.

But why wait to hear from students, who may not complain if they want to preserve their grades, when all the evidence is in? The footage from this class is a smoking gun, and LSU is too deeply invested in maintaining the politically correct system to take responsibility and do the right thing.

Cary Nelson, of course, defended Professor Schaefer. The president of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), Nelson believes that academic freedom is essentially a professor’s ability to say whatever he wants in the classroom. He told Inside Higher Ed that:

"academic freedom and completely honest communication in the classroom requires a certain degree of privacy for all the people there, that they need to be able to be frank, that they need to express their emotions honestly, that the classroom is not a stage, that it’s not designed to be a public performance".

Perhaps Nelson should communicate this directly with Schaefer, who used his authority to put on what amounted to a big performance.

What is truly amazing about this story is the ease with which Schaefer’s defenders can turn a blind eye to his totally unprofessional behavior and point the blame at the messengers. In this way, it resembles the episode at Wesleyan University in which students and faculty were enraged by an affirmative action bake sale because it was “offensive,” but they failed to see the inherent offensiveness of racial preferences portrayed by the bake sale. Once again, blame is shifted to those holding up the mirror.

A year ago “Climategate” exposed the secret steps researchers at East Anglia University had taken to suppress views that did not support climate change orthodoxy. Hundreds of emails came to the surface, undeniable evidence of a conspiracy propping up the supposed “scientific consensus.” Then, as now, the guilty party exonerated itself simply by playing the martyr and repeating declarations of its own innocence.

So what, ideally, should LSU do to assure students, their parents, and the public that Astronomy 1101 isn’t just an occasion for Professor Schaefer to rant about global warming and attempt to humiliate students who disagree with him? How can this be handled without violating the principle of academic freedom? Well, first of all, the University needs to recognize that students have academic freedom too – freedom to be taught by scholars who do not engage in propagandistic bombast, but instead provide a conscientious account of the relevant facts – in this case, about “The Solar System.” The AAUP laid this out definitively in its 1915 Declaration of Principles:

"The liberty of the scholar within the university to set forth his conclusions, be they what they may, is conditioned by their being conclusions gained by a scholar’s method and held in a scholar’s spirit; that is to say, they must be the fruits of competent and patient and sincere inquiry, and they should be set forth with dignity, courtesy, and temperateness of language".

Professor Schaefer appears to have violated these principles as vividly as it might be possible to do. He deserves, at the least, a suspension from teaching until such time as he shows himself ready to teach in a manner appropriate to his position.


Strange schools decision by NYC Mayor Bloomberg

Mayor Bloomberg doesn't mind picking a fight. But after nine years in office, he should have learned to pick his battles. He has famously tried - and failed - to build a West Side football stadium, charge tolls into lower Manhattan and turn the Kingsbridge Armory into a huge shopping center.

There was no shame in those losses, though. No matter what you thought of them, they were legitimate ideas with solid backing that deserved a hearing.

Trying to put a magazine executive in charge of the city schools is a different story. Bloomberg may have been the only person in New York who didn't see a downside in naming Cathie Black to be schools chancellor.

"He was thinking about an out-of-the-box candidate who would carry on Joel Klein's legacy and be sort of a maverick," said consultant George Arzt, a longtime student of New York mayors. "I'm sure in his mind he thinks that this is right for the city," Arzt said. "But there were no other candidates interviewed - and it showed."

Even Black's supporters knew a boarding-school mom with a corporate résumé would be a tough sell, no matter how strong a manager she is. Bloomberg's inner circle could have told him that - had he bothered to tell them about Black before he made up his mind. "He went into this by himself, and in fact it was revealed that the emperor had no clothes," said Baruch College political scientist Doug Muzzio.

The mayor's team could have quietly reached out to state Education Commissioner David Steiner to see how he would react, or to at least give him an early heads-up. Instead, the aides who get paid to build support for his controversial ideas - like lifting the charter school cap or extending term limits - were playing defense from the start.

Public school parents understood the problem of a boss with no experience, and 62% of them told a Quinnipiac University poll they didn't want Black. Bloomberg thinks he knows better - but six of eight experts on the state education commissioner's panel agreed with the parents.

Three years ago, the mayor said, "I have always joked that [the difference between] having the courage of your convictions and being pigheaded is in the results." The results are in. As he looks to salvage Black's nomination, he should look in the mirror, too.


How Britain can we make its teachers better

Ofsted’s damning report on teaching standards is no surprise, but with imagination and courage, it’s a problem we can solve, says Katharine Birbalsingh

The White Paper on education to be published today contains some bold proposals from Michael Gove, such as allowing heads more time to observe teachers at work and giving them more freedom to increase good teachers’ salaries. These will be greeted with open arms by some and rejected by others with contempt.

I do not know why there should be dissent. We should not be surprised by Ofsted’s claim that teaching standards are not good enough in half of secondary schools and more than two-fifths of primaries. Anyone who has been a teacher will recognise the constant frustration caused by colleagues who simply cannot teach. But we are uneasy about criticising them. In schools, the “prizes for all” culture doesn’t just exist for children: it’s the lie of the land for teachers, too.

Everyone knows who the struggling teachers are – head teachers know, the other staff know, pupils know, even most of the parents know. But such is the culture in our schools that no one dares to utter a word. By all means complain in the staff room about how Mr Lazy leaves every day at 4pm and never does any marking; or about how Miss Incompetent cannot even get her children to sit down in their chairs, yet is unwilling or unable to take advice. But tell anyone in charge? No.

In fact, if anyone in charge were to insist on higher standards from these individuals, fellow teachers would be likely to gather in hordes to address their union rep and insist that one of the pack was being victimised. Some schools are so unionised that the poor head cannot take on individual teachers because he doesn’t have the stomach for it.

One might argue that failing teachers should be given support. Of course they should; and some do very well with it and improve. But what of those who have had support for two or three years without changing – what then? I cannot understand why, in the public sector, one must have a job for life, no matter how dreadful one is.

But the unions have a one-size-fits-all policy. Whoever you are, however woeful you are, the unions will defend you. They are powerful and they are encouraged by a culture in our schools that is endemic and all-pervasive. If one dares to dissent, one is seen as a traitor.

Office staff, learning mentors and teaching assistants are also contaminated by an environment in which all are deemed to be equal no matter what they do, and in which the good are rarely rewarded. This is why only truly extraordinary head teachers have the backbone to take on the unions and win. It can be done, but only with exceptional will and determination.

The problem with Michael Gove’s reforms is that as well as requiring head teachers to be robust enough to implement them, they also require the young, talented teacher, just out of university, to have enough backbone not to mind being scorned by his colleagues. For that’s what is likely to happen if you pay them more for being good at their jobs. After all, teachers, like pupils, want to be liked, and they want to have friends in the workplace.

The question people outside teaching often ask is: why hire bad teachers in the first place? Clearly, no one sets out to do this. But it can be very difficult to pick the perfect plum. You can have an applicant teach a lesson, jump through the hoops at interview, and, at senior level, give them in-tray exercises, data analysis tests and so on. But mistakes are made. Sometimes the best teachers perform badly at interview and the worst can put on an excellent performance.

Add to this the fact that a previous head, unable to get rid of a teacher because of union protection, instead chooses to “encourage” the teacher to move on, and provides him with a stunning reference. Good interview performance with an excellent reference? Of course they’ll get the job. Except that six weeks in, it becomes obvious that the phrase “they just need to settle in” no longer applies. Gradually, it becomes apparent that you have hired a dud, and because of the culture of schools, nothing can be done about it.

But in some schools, the hiring of teachers can be an even worse ordeal. Some inner-city head teachers cannot get a single applicant for certain jobs and they are simply forced to take what they can find. Why? Teachers, thankfully, are now paid good salaries, and there is lots of funding in our most challenged schools. But teachers don’t go into the profession because they want to earn loads of cash.

Bankers do banking for money. Doctors practise medicine to save lives. And teachers teach because they like children and their subjects; they love to inspire. If our classrooms are chaotic and all common sense has left our school grounds, teachers don’t want to be the last ones left standing. Instead they flock to the private sector, or to the better state schools.

Some leave the country altogether and teach in Africa, despite there being no money for salaries, buildings, interactive whiteboards or even textbooks. Yet those children manage to sit the O-level papers that still exist outside Britain, and which would have our state-educated children quivering in their boots because they are so difficult.

What we need are bright, capable people in teaching who love children and enjoy inspiring them. I do like Michael Gove’s idea of only funding teacher-training for those with a minimum of a 2.2 degree. While it is true that a PhD will not make anyone into a better teacher, I don’t think I have ever met an excellent teacher with a third-class degree. Teaching is extremely hard work if you want to do it well. A third normally suggests a penchant for laziness, and is therefore a neon sign to heads saying here is someone likely to laze around the staff room complaining, and unlikely ever to stay past 4pm.

What the best teachers hate most is being lumped in with the lazy ones. Sure, the kids know they’re great, and that is something. But like pupils, teachers want to be rewarded when they do well. And if everyone is always rewarded for everything they do, no matter what it is, all rewards become meaningless. A gold star only means something when the powers that be are also happy to use the stars that are silver and bronze, and in some cases, not hand out stars at all.

Last week I caused something of a stir when I told the Commons Education Select Committee that I wanted to work in a profession held in such high regard that when I did something well, someone would say well done; and when I did something badly, and consistently so, I should feel a sense of fear for my position. I also said that if members of senior teams were not doing their jobs properly, they should be fired.

Many of us in teaching want standards to be rigorous, not just for the pupils, but for the teachers, too. I know that a lot of teachers agree with me. They just can’t say it out loud.


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