Friday, May 24, 2013

Wimps Versus Barbarians

Thomas Sowell

An all too familiar scene was enacted on the campus of Swarthmore College during a meeting on May 4th to discuss demands by student activists for the college to divest itself of its investments in companies that dealt in fossil fuels.

As a speaker was beginning a presentation to show how many millions of dollars such a disinvestment would cost the college, student activists invaded the meeting, seized the microphone and shouted down a student who rose in the audience to object.

Although there were professors and administrators in the room -- including the college president -- apparently nobody had the guts to put a stop to these storm trooper tactics. Nor is it likely that there will be any punishment of those who put their own desires above the rights of others.

On the contrary, these students went on to demand mandatory campus "teach-ins," and the administration caved on that demand. Among their other demands are that courses on ethnic studies, and on gender and sexuality, be made a requirement for graduation.

Just what is it that academics have to fear if they stand up for common decency, instead of letting campus barbarians run amok? At a prestigious college like Swarthmore, every student who trampled on other people's rights could be expelled and there would be plenty of replacement students available to take their places. Although colleges and universities across the country have been giving in to storm trooper tactics ever since the nationwide campus disruptions of the 1960s, not all have. Back in the 1960s, the University of Chicago was a rare exception.

As Professor George J. Stigler, a Nobel Prize winning economist, put it in his memoirs, "our faculty united behind the expulsion of a large number of young barbarians."

The sky did not fall. There was no bloodbath. The University of Chicago was in fact spared some of the worst nonsense that more compliant institutions were permanently saddled with in the years that followed, as a result of their failure of nerve in the 1960s.

When the nationwide campus disruptions and violence of the 1960s gave way to quieter times in the 1970s, many academics congratulated themselves on having restored peace. But it was the peace of surrender.

Creating whole departments of ethnic, gender and other "studies" were among the price of academic peace. All too often, these "studies" are about propaganda rather than serious education. Academic campuses have become among the least free places in America. "Speech codes," vaguely worded but zealously applied to those who dare to say anything that is not politically correct, have become the norm.

Few professors would dare to publish research or teach a course debunking the claims made in various ethnic, gender or other "studies" courses.

Why did all this happen? Partly it happened because of the lure of the path of least resistance, especially to academic administrators and faculty. But there was no such widespread surrender to every noisy and belligerent group of student activists prior to the 1960s. Moreover, the example of the University of Chicago showed that surrender was not inevitable.

The cost of resistance to the campus barbarians may not have been the only factor. Resistance requires a sense that there is something worth defending. But decades of dumbed-down education have produced people with no sense of the importance of a moral framework within which freedom and civil discourse can flourish.

Without a moral framework, there is nothing left but immediate self-indulgence by some and the path of least resistance by others. Neither can sustain a free society. Disruptive activists indulge their egos in the name of idealism and others cave rather than fight.

It's not just academics who won't defend decency. Trustees could fire college presidents who cave in to storm trooper tactics. Donors could stop donating to institutions that have sold out their principles to appease the campus barbarians. But when nobody is willing to defend civilized standards, the barbarians win.

Whether on college campuses or among nations on the world stage, if the battle comes down to the wimps versus the barbarians, the barbarians are bound to win


University Will Investigate Christian Professor’s Intelligent Design Class Following Atheist Furor‏

Ball State University, a public institution in Muncie, Indiana, is purportedly looking into claims that a course centered around the subjects of creationism and intelligent design constitutes a violation of the separation of church and state. The college purportedly began its investigation after the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), a church-state separatist group, sent a letter of complaint regarding physics and astronomy professor Eric Hedin.

Hedin’s offense? He apparently encourages students to read books by scientists, journalists and proponents who embrace intelligent design. The description of his course, as reported by World on Campus, claims that students will “investigate physical reality and the boundaries of science for any hidden wisdom within this reality which may illuminate the central questions of the purpose of our existence and the meaning of life.”

While the course, “Inquiries in Physical Sciences,” is an elective, that hasn’t stopped critics like University of Chicago professor Jerry Coyne, in addition to the FFRF, from speaking out against it as an alleged violation of the separation of church and state. In addition to sharing pages from the course syllabus on his blog, he wrote:

"Note the numinous implications, especially the course objective to consider the implications of physics, life, and consciousness for “indications of the nature and existence of God.” As you’ll see, the syllabus is clearly slanted to show that scientific phenomena do indeed provide evidence for God.

Note that  on page 2 (below), the course outline itself, the students are to discuss theistic evolution, intelligent design, irreducible complexity, and, for crying out loud, “miracles and spirituality!” There’s also “Beauty, complex and specified information, and intelligent design: what the universe communicates about God.”

Not everyone agrees with Coyne, though. Despite having negative comments to throw Hedin’s way (he called him a “dingbat professor”), PZ Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota who is also an atheist, defended the professor’s right to tout and explore unpopular ideas in the classroom. After all, isn’t that what academic freedom is all about?

“Academic freedom is the issue here, and professors have to have the right to teach unpopular, controversial issues, even from an ignorant perspective,” Myers wrote, going on to place the course — and the situation — in context. “The first amendment does not apply; this is not a course students are required to take, and it’s at a university, which students are not required to attend. It’s completely different from a public primary or secondary school. A bad course is an ethical problem, not a legal one. It’s also an issue that the university has to handle internally.”

The FFRF, though, an atheist-activist mouthpiece, is siding more with Coyne’s camp, as the group’s letter sparked an investigation by school administrators — an inquiry that was launched just one day after the atheist group’s letter of complaint was received. While the university did not cite Hedin’s name in its response, it was clear who was being referred to.

“The university received a complaint from a third party late yesterday afternoon about content in a specific course offered at Ball State. We take academic rigor and academic integrity very seriously,” read an official response from Ball State. “Having just received these concerns, it is impossible to comment on them at this point. We will explore in depth the issues and concerns raised and take the appropriate actions through our established processes and procedures.”


British Conservatives plan for network of military-style state schools

A network of schools run by former soldiers is being planned by the Government after ministers approved the opening of Britain’s first military-style academy.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is proposing the establishment of a chain of state-funded “free schools” which boast an Armed Forces ethos in line with similar plans in the United States.

The disclosure came as the Department for Education granted approval for one military-style school in Oldham – the first of its kind in the UK.

Under plans, The Phoenix Free School will open from September 2014 staffed by former members of the Armed Forces and led by a serving Army captain.

It will have a zero tolerance approach to bad behaviour and aim to boost sporting competitiveness among pupils, it is claimed.

Approval for the school – among 102 new free school projects announced on Wednesday – comes despite a decision by officials to reject the application last summer.

It is believed that other schools with an Armed Forces ethos could follow after the DfE posted a research paper on its website urging new providers to set up military-style schools.

The report says backers should consider opening a cadet unit on site or bringing former soldiers into lessons as teachers through the "Troops to Teachers" retraining scheme.

Schools are also being encouraged to use programmes such as SkillForce, which works with young people who are in danger of becoming Neets – not in education, employment or training.

Labour has already set out proposals for a generation of "Service Schools" staffed by former members of the Armed Forces to raise education standards.

The DfE document says: “The Government is interested in exploring how academies and free schools can use their freedoms to foster a military ethos and raise standards.

“We are also looking for parties interested in opening a new school with a military ethos.”

Another DfE paper, published at the same time, adds: “Our ambition is for pupils to use the benefits of a military ethos, such as self-discipline and teamwork, to achieve an excellent education which will help them shape their own futures.

“Promoting military ethos in schools helps foster confidence, self-discipline and self-esteem whilst developing teamwork and leadership skills."

A number of “military schools” have already opened in the US as part of the established state education system.

Under plans, the Phoenix school will open in Oldham in September 2014 as the first such venture in the UK. It will take children aged 11-to-18.

Its main backers include Captain AK Burki, a member of the Army’s Counterinsurgency Centre, who recently served in Afghanistan, and Tom Burkard, professor of education policy at Derby University and a former instructor in the Royal Pioneer Corps.

The school says it will provide a full curriculum and adopt a zero-tolerance approach to behaviour.

“Our teachers will embody the Army’s core values of moral courage, self-discipline, respect for others, integrity, and loyalty,” the school’s website says. “They will all be trained in the military ‘Methods of Instruction’ syllabus – and they will all know their jobs.”

Free schools are new, state-funded institutions run free of local authority control. New schools are being set up across England led by parents, teachers and charitable organisations.

Through the Troops to Teachers programme, which started in the United States 19 years ago, ex-military personnel are encouraged to retrain as teachers.

Between March 2011 and October 15 last year, 254 service leavers applied for initial teacher training (ITT). Of these, 132 were accepted.

But the small number of former servicemen making it into the classroom has led to claims from Labour that the programme is failing.


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