Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Universities Should Be Unsafe For Political Correctness

The current code word being tossed around to protect political correctness from competition in the marketplace of ideas is "unsafe."

"I feel unsafe" has become the argument stopper on many university campuses. Efforts have been made to shut down controversial events or speakers, some of which have succeeded, at MIT, the University of Michigan, Northeastern University, Oxford, Hampshire College, Smith College, and other great universities, on the grounds that students would feel "unsafe." Students must, of course, be and feel physically safe in their dorms, classrooms, and campuses. That's what university and city police are for: to protect against physical assaults and threats. But no one on a university campus should be or feel safe or protected when it comes to the never-ending war of ideas.

An important role of the university is to challenge every idea, every truth, every sacred notion, even if challenge makes students (or faculty) feel intellectually uncomfortable, unsettled, or unsafe. There must be no safe spaces in the classroom or auditorium that protect members of the university community from dangerous, disturbing or even emotionally unsettling ideas.

There can be rules of civility that prevent shouting down opposing views, but these rules must be content-neutral, applicable in equal measure to politically correct and politically incorrect speech. Universities must not have acceptable ideas that are given greater protection that unacceptable ones. All ideas must compete on an equal footing in open marketplaces.

But what about ideas that really do make certain individuals or groups feel intellectually or emotionally unsafe -- ideas such as opposition to gay marriage, to a woman's right to choose abortion, to race-based affirmative action, to religion in general or to particular religions or religious practices, to Zionism or anti-Zionism? It is especially these unpopular ideas -- some of which were quite popular in the recent past -- that today need protection against the forces of political correctness that seek to stifle dissent in the name of safety.

So long as there is no realistic, imminent threat to physical safety -- such as an incitement to commit violence against gays, women, blacks, Jews, etc. -- the university must assure the safety of the politically incorrect speaker, student, faculty member, administrator or employee. The answer to bad speech must be good speech; the response to false ideas must be true ideas; the protection against dangerous ideas is effective rebuttal, not censorship.

The university should be an uncomfortable place for comfortable ideas. It should be a dangerous place for all deeply felt ideologies. It should be an unsafe place for political correctness or incorrectness. Ideas must live and die on their merits and demerits, so long as those espousing them are kept safe from physical intimidation or threats.

The line between physical safety, on the one hand, and intellectual or emotional safety, on the other hand, will not always be clear or easy to administer, but doubts must always be resolved in favor of freedom of expression, even against claims of unsafety, because it is far too easy to argue that safety is being endangered in ambiguous circumstances. For example, one professor has talked about "the violence of the word" -- a metaphorical concept that could spell the end of controversial speech on campus. I don't doubt that some people really do feel subjectively unsafe when their conventional wisdom and deeply felt worldviews are challenged, but freedom of expression is too valuable to surrender to subjective feelings. Before speech may be stifled in the name of safety, rigorous objective standards should have to be met.

Freedom of dissent on many university campuses is quickly becoming an endangered species. Many constituent groups support free speech "for me but not for thee." Ideas that they express come within the ambit of free expression, but opposing ideas that make them feel unsafe are now included in the amorphous category of "harassment."

The real world into which students graduate is not always a safe place. Students must be prepared to face the cruel realities of obnoxious views that make them feel uncomfortable and unsafe. Sexism, racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other awful "isms" still exist in many parts of our own country and in the world. We have the right to try to defeat these pernicious and dangerous ideas in the marketplace. But we cannot censor them in the real world. Nor should we try to protect our students from them as they prepare to enter that world. Instead, members of the university community must learn the best ways to respond to ideas they detest within the framework of a free and open marketplace.


Sens. Cruz and Lee: Expand School Choice For Low-Income Parents

As Congress considers reauthorization of the bipartisan No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), U.S. Senators Mike Lee (R-UT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) want to expand school choice by allowing low-income parents the opportunity to send their children to any public or private school of their choice.

Their bill, entitled the Enhancing Educational Opportunities for All Students Act (S.306), which was introduced in the Senate on January 29, calls for a three-fold reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) which was passed in 1965 and reauthorized as NCLB in 2002.

“All students should have access to a high quality education. This legislation will empower parents to invest more in their child's education and allow parents to choose what school best meets their child's needs,” Lee stated.

Sen. Cruz concurred. “The rich and middle class have had school choice from the beginning of time,” he said. “This fight is about ensuring that every child, regardless of race, ethnicity, or zip code has the same opportunity to choose the school that best fits their needs and will help them achieve their very best.”

According to Senator Lee’s website, the first provision of the bill would allow federal Title I funds to follow low-income students to any public or private school of their choice. In 2015, the federal poverty guideline is $20,090 for a family of three.

The second provision of the bill would remove contribution limitations on Coverdell Education Savings Accounts - the lone tax break available to parents to cover educational expenses for children in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Section 201 also calls for a recognition of home school expenses as qualified educational expenses, and redefines a private school to include a home school.

The third provision of the bill expands tax-exempt “529” accounts, which allow parents to save for future educational expenses, to pre-K-12 education.

A companion bill (H.R. 5477) was introduced by Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) in the House. “Our current education system works for many. But it is failing too many others,” Messer said on the House floor in September. “Some may say our current system is the best we can do, but deep down we all know we must do better.”

Fifty years ago, ESEA was enacted by Congress and signed by President Lyndon Johnson, who said that “our first national goal” should be “full educational opportunity” for all students.

But that goal has not been reached, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as “the nation’s report card,” which measures three levels of academic achievement: basic, proficient and advanced.

“In 2014, 18 percent of students performed at or above Proficient in U.S. history, 27 percent performed at or above Proficient in geography, and 23 percent in civics,” according to Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics.

Scores from the 2013 NAEP showed similar results in reading and math. Only 26 percent of the nation’s students tested at the proficient level or higher in math, while less than half (38 percent) were considered proficient in reading.


UK: Should teachers have a teaching qualification

I should declare my biases here.  I have a Ph.D. but no teaching qualification.  Yet I taught successfully at two High Schools.  From what I know of them I actually despise teacher training courses

By Richard Cairns, headmaster at Brighton College

Few people in our lives have a greater impact on us than our teachers: the teacher who nurtured within us a life-long passion for history or music or French, the sports master who convinced us that we could play cricket or netball, and the form tutor who picked us up when we were feeling down and made us feel better about ourselves.

Good schools are only as good as their teachers. And, unsurprisingly, every international survey tells us that the single most important factor in educational outcome is the quality of teaching.

Little wonder, therefore, that we heads see the appointment of teachers as one of the most important things we do. Get it right and our pupils fly. Get it wrong and our pupils flag and fail.

So how do we find the teachers who will educate and inspire the next generation? The Labour Party would have you believe that we do this by insisting on all teachers having a formal postgraduate certificate of education. For them, that is the acid test of whether a teacher is suitable or not. I take a different view.

I am looking for two things: firstly, strong subject knowledge and secondly, an ability to connect with, and inspire, children. The first seems self-evident to me. I cannot see how anyone can teach a subject they have little knowledge of themselves. How can you challenge and inspire young people intellectually if your own understanding of the subject matter is shallow, patchy or non-existent.

Yet politicians who rail against unqualified teachers seem blind to this, ignoring the shocking reality that in England, 50 per cent of maths teachers and 70 per cent of physics teachers do not even have a degree in the subject they are teaching. Yet, because they have a teaching qualification, they are ‘qualified’.

The second factor in any appointment is the ability to connect with children and to inspire them. Do you really need a certificate of education to do this effectively?

Far better, as we do at Brighton College, that we employ charismatic people with strong subject knowledge whom we then support and train in the classroom in accordance with their needs.

And it is that approach that has allowed me to recruit so many brilliant teachers, many of whom have had valuable experience in other professions: a lawyer with a First from Oxford in history and politics, now inspiring children with a love of both subjects; a nuclear physicist giving his pupils an insight into how physics is actually applied in the real world; an economist with degrees from Cambridge and the LSE whose pupils regularly tell me how inspiring he is; an aid worker turned geography teacher who can talk with authority about reconstruction in Nepal because he has seen it with his own eyes; and a drama teacher who has appeared in Game of Thrones.

These are just some of the 47 teachers on my staff who would not be allowed to teach in most state schools; knowledgeable, inspirational, ‘unqualified’ men and women who are changing children’s lives.


No comments: