Friday, August 26, 2011

David Starkey's views on race disgrace the academic world, say historians

Notably, they don't say WHERE he is wrong. They just object to generalizations. But rejecting all generalizations is philosophically incoherent. It would make all discourse impossible

David Starkey has brought his profession into disrepute by voicing theories about race "that would disgrace a first-year undergraduate", according to leading academics.

More than 100 historians have signed an open letter expressing their dismay at Starkey's controversial comments on the riots during an appearance on the BBC's Newsnight programme.

They asked the BBC to stop referring to Starkey as a "historian" on anything but his specialist subject, the Tudors, claiming that he is "ill-fitted" to hold forth on other topics.

Signatories to the letter include academics from Cambridge and the London School of Economics, institutions at which Starkey once taught.

Starkey's Newsnight appearance caused outrage earlier this month when he was asked about the cause of the riots and replied: "What has happened is that a substantial section of the chavs... have become black. The whites have become black. A particular sort of violent, destructive, nihilistic gangster culture has become the fashion."

In a letter to the Times Higher Education magazine, the collective of 102 academics said: "His crass generalisations about black culture and white culture as oppositional, monolithic entities demonstrate a failure to grasp the subtleties of race and class that would disgrace a first-year history undergraduate.

"In fact, it appears to us that the BBC was more interested in employing him for his on-screen persona and tendency to make comments that viewers find offensive than for his skills as a historian.

"In addition to noting that a historian should argue from evidence rather than assumption, we are also disappointed by Starkey's lack of professionalism on Newsnight.

"Instead of thoughtfully responding to criticism, he simply shouted it down; instead of debating his fellow panellists from a position of knowledge, he belittled and derided them. On Newsnight, as on other appearances for the BBC, Starkey displayed some of the worst practices of an academic, practices that most of us have been working hard to change."

The letter asked why the BBC had invited Starkey to discuss the riots when his academic research and published works have nothing to do with the subject.

"In our opinion, it was a singularly poor choice," they said, adding that "the poverty of his reductionist argument... reflected his lack of understanding of the history of ordinary life in modern Britain. It was evidentially insupportable and factually wrong.

"The problem lies in the BBC's representation of Starkey's views as those of a 'historian', which implies that they have some basis in research and evidence: but as even the most basic grasp of cultural history would show, Starkey's views as presented on Newsnight have no basis in either."

Among the signatories are Paul Gilroy, professor of social theory at the London School of Economics; Steven Fielding, professor of political history of at the University of Nottingham; Richard Grayson, professor of 20th century history at Goldsmith's, University of London; and Tim Whitmarsh, professor of ancient literatures at the University of Oxford.


Bloomberg lays off lots of teachers from "no compromise" union

Looks like they goofed. A lesson for others?

Nearly 780 employees of the New York City Education Department will lose their jobs by October, in the largest layoff at a single agency since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took office in 2002.

The layoffs are a direct consequence of budget cuts to schools, which have occurred in each of the last four years, forcing principals to make tough decisions about what and whom to do without. Most of the burden will be shouldered by one labor union, District Council 37, which represents 95 percent of the workers who will be let go.

School aides were saved from layoffs last year by federal money, but 438 — about 5 percent of their ranks — will now lose their jobs. Some 82 parent coordinators, about 6 percent of the total, will also lose their jobs, essentially severing the main link between parents and administrators at dozens of schools.

The budget cuts have also cost 2,186 teachers their full-time, fixed assignments at city schools. Teachers were spared from layoffs, however, because of an agreement brokered in June between the Bloomberg administration and their union, which offered small concessions in exchange for job security for its 200,000 members, including 75,000 teachers.

A spokesman for Mr. Bloomberg, Marc La Vorgna, placed the blame for the layoffs squarely on District Council 37 and the other six unions whose members will also be let go. “The unions involved would not agree to any real savings that could have saved these jobs,” he said in a statement.

Lillian Roberts, executive director of District Council 37, countered with a statement in a tone decidedly different from the aggressive stance she adopted during budget negotiations. At that time, she accused the mayor of proposing layoffs even though the city had money to avoid them, a claim his aides repeatedly denied.

On Tuesday, Ms. Roberts focused instead on highlighting the “important role” of the workers designated for layoffs, and asked whether the personnel cuts would disproportionately affect schools “in high-needs areas that are already in a bare-bones situation.”


Shocker! Teacher takes pictures of girls on the school playground!

And that's pornography??

A former Maine middle school teacher is no longer facing child pornography charges. But prosecutors say that if they receive more evidence they could still present the case against 55-year-old Christopher Brown of Monmouth to a grand jury.

Brown appeared Tuesday in Kennebec County Superior Court. After the judge determined no complaint had been filed she vacated his bail and Brown left the court.

District Attorney Evert Fowle says the lack of a complaint Tuesday has no bearing on whether charges will be filed in the future.

But Brown's attorney, Michael Whipple, told the Kennebec Journal it reflects his position that there was no criminal conduct.

Brown was arrested in June after a school official reported students found photos on a classroom computer of girls on the school playground.


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