Friday, July 04, 2014

“Diversity”: The Idol of Academia

“Diversity” is not just a good in the academic world. It is the supreme good, the one good before which all other considerations must yield.

Recently, a colleague expressed a preference for a certain Northeastern city university over a certain Midwestern Christian college because, he said, the former has more “diversity” than the latter.

All that this means, though, is that because this big city university in the Northeast is a racial, ethnic, and socio-economic polyglot and its Midwestern Christian counterpart is just too white, the former is preferable as an educational institution to the latter.

That this god of “diversity” is as educationally invidious as it is false can be seen easily enough.

First, the only diversity that should be of any concern at an institution of higher learning is intellectual diversity. “Diversity” of the sort—what we may call “cultural diversity”—that is all too typical at places like that big city university for which my colleague pines, need not and, in fact, does not give rise to any more intellectual diversity than can be found at less culturally heterogeneous institutions.

This brings us to the next point: “cultural diversity” not only doesn’t correspond to a rise in intellectual diversity; it invariably corresponds to a rise in political uniformity. This is crucial, for the promotion of “cultural diversity” is nothing more or less than the promotion of a left-wing ideological agenda.

While academics, like my colleague, look upon predominantly white colleges as insufficiently “diverse,” they wouldn’t even think to level this same criticism against “historically black colleges.” They cannot, however, have it both ways: if a predominantly white Christian school is educationally inferior because of its mono-racial character, then, mutatis mutandis, black schools must also be educationally inferior because of their racially homogenous character.

Moreover, for all of their clamoring over the need for greater “diversity,” academics don’t want things so diverse that politically incorrect perspectives are permitted a hearing on campus. Representation of fundamentalist Christians, moral traditionalists, conservatives, libertarians, anarchists, is not only never in demand; its anathema.

Thirdly, the idea that a predominantly, or even exclusively, white student body somehow militates against a quality education is offensive. But it’s offensive only because the history of Western civilization exposes just how patently absurd is the idea that racial homogeneity precludes intellectual richness.

The ideas that have composed the West’s consciousness from at least the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans over 2500 years ago through to the present day have derived, overwhelmingly, from white men. It isn’t that others haven’t made lasting contributions, of course. But even and especially in the eyes of its staunchest critics, Western civilization has always been identified with the civilization of European—i.e. Caucasian—peoples.

This is fact. It is equally a fact that it is only either a paralyzing ignorance of reality or incorrigible dishonesty that could prompt anyone to deny with a straight face that the Western tradition is the most intellectually heterogeneous—the most philosophically and theologically diverse—tradition in all of human history. The contemporary academic fiction that Western civilization, by virtue of the “dead white males” that historically shaped it, is somehow an intellectually stagnant monolith is worse than nonsense; to borrow a line from one of those dead white males, the 18th century English philosopher, Jeremy Bentham, it is “nonsense on stilts.”

A profound sense of individuality spawned both the passion and daring of those legions of dead white males from throughout the last nearly three millennia to whom we owe our civilization. That “diversity”—or, more accurately, “Diversity”—has become the new deity of, of all places, academia, is among the most sobering, most tragic, of commentaries on our age, for it proves that if the spirit of the Western mind hasn’t evaporated, it is beyond the academic world that it is to be found.


Americans Think Education Is on the ‘Wrong Track’—but Support for School Choice Is on the Rise

Support for school choice is on the rise, but Americans hold a “dim view of the federal government’s performance in K-12 education,” found the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice in its newly released “2014 Schooling in America Survey.”

The survey found 58 percent of Americans think that K-12 education has gotten off on the “wrong track,” and 74 percent have a negative view of federal involvement in education.

By contrast, the survey found 63 percent of Americans support school vouchers—a 7-point increase from 2012 – and the highest ever for vouchers. A full 64 percent of respondents support tax-credit scholarship options, which enable corporations or individuals to receive tax credits for donations to non-profit organizations that provide scholarships to children to attend a private school of choice. Education savings accounts and universal access to school choice also saw increases in public support.

The survey found 56 percent support ESAs, which empower families to direct education dollars to multiple education services, providers and products at once. ESAs allow parents to use a portion of the funds the state would have spent on their child in the public system toward a variety of educational options, including private schooling, tutoring, curricula and special education therapies. Families can even roll over unused funds into a college savings account.

Heritage Foundation fellow Lindsey Burke found that in Arizona, the first state to adopt ESAs, approximately 34 percent of families used the accounts to customize their child’s education.

In addition, the study also found that two-thirds of respondents either didn’t know how much was spent on average per pupil, or underestimated per-pupil spending.

This lack of knowledge regarding school spending stands in stark contrast to the type of transparency that options such as education savings accounts create. With an ESA, parents know exactly how much funding is allocated to their account and can spend those funds on educational options that best meet their child’s individual needs.

The Friedman survey also includes findings on the Common Core national standards and tests.

It found 50 percent of respondents said they support Common Core State Standards, compared to 41 percent who opposed. Among school parents, Friedman found 49 percent oppose but just 44 percent support. But 33 percent of parents “strongly oppose” Common Core and only 12 percent “strongly favor” the policy.

This tracks with a recent Rasmussen poll that found just 34 percent of American adults with children in elementary or secondary school support Common Core, down 18 points since November.

The data suggest that those who favor Common Core national education standards tend to hold a more favorable view of federal government involvement in education. According to the survey, 43 percent of Common Core proponents rated the federal government’s involvement in K-12 education positively; only 9 percent of Common Core opponents did.

As the Cato Institute’s Jason Bedrick noted, the survey’s findings “should warm the cockles of the hearts of everyone who supports greater choice in education: Each generation is progressively more favorable and less opposed to educational choice.”


Despite Academia's Best Efforts, Reagan Tops in Poll of Modern Presidents

In past columns, I've mentioned some teachers and professors that I've known who bluntly said that Ronald Reagan was the nation's worst president. It has become rather common in academia to describe the Reagan years as being filled with greed, and later, with deception in the Iran-Contra matter. Ronald Reagan's "trickle down" economic policies are dismissed in many classrooms as the very "voodoo economics" they were so termed by his onetime opponent and later vice president, George H.W. Bush.

And Reagan's visible decline as a result of Alzheimer's in his later years is often implied to be a fit description of his entire presidency. This assessment has given millions of young students an image of a half-wit, onetime movie star who somehow managed to fool voters into believing that he was instead a man of intelligence and action.

But a recent Quinnipiac poll of registered voters nationwide, asking them to rate "the best" and "the worst" presidents since World War II, reveals something interesting: Many of those young people who were taught history in the past few decades, and who have since become voters, don't agree with the opinion of many of their former teachers, nor with the often cleverly slanted accounts of the Reagan years they read in their history books.

When asked which president since World War II they considered "the worst," voters in the age group of 18-29 and 30-44, the two youngest categories in the survey, said George W. Bush. President Barack Obama came in second for this dubious distinction. When all age groups were included in the results, Obama was rated the overall worst. The poll has a margin of error of less than 3 percent.

The stunningly high percentage of younger voters who have abandoned Obama, both in rankings like the one cited here, and in recent job performance surveys, is a topic for another time. Keep in mind, too, that many younger respondents to surveys like this one tend to more thoroughly judge the presidents who served more recently and who thus were more a part of the respondents' daily lives. So the harsh judgments of both Obama and Bush should be taken with that in mind.

But what about the often vilified Ronald Reagan? It appears that all of those classroom lectures and unflattering portrayals of Reagan in school textbooks had a negligible impact on those they were meant to persuade. Among the two youngest segments of respondents to the poll, Reagan as the "worst" president rated an almost statistically irrelevant 4 percent. And much to the chagrin of many in academia and the media, Reagan topped the overall survey as the nation's "best" president in the modern era.

The youngest respondents in the survey, aged 18-29, rated Reagan third "best," which put him in a virtual statistical tie with John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton, the two presidents who tied for "best" among this demographic.

Consider a college-aged student of 10 years ago, who in the classroom was subjected to the same unflattering reviews of the Reagan presidency. That person could be at least 30 years old today, placing them in the age group 30-44 in the poll's demographic breakdown. For that age group, Reagan was tops with 36 percent. Clinton was a distant second place as their choice for "best president." Unsurprisingly, Reagan topped the list with older respondents as well.

To be certain, time has a way of healing wounds and allowing myths to become reality with the public. Reagan had his shortcomings, as do all leaders. But some of those shortcomings, such as the Iran-Contra scandal, have saturated our media and history books in a way that seems unbalanced when compared to how scandals such as the IRS targeting of conservative groups and the Benghazi cover-up are covered today.

Fortunately, students in the end are encouraged to make their own choices. And it is pretty clear they have decided to ignore many of their teachers when it comes to the Reagan legacy.


No comments: