Tuesday, October 27, 2015

‘Liberal academics let censorship happen’

The demand for equality that emerges on college campuses today is primarily underpinned by two things: identity politics and a perception of individuals as suffering from trauma. Students have become attached to the particular trauma they identify with; they see it as a badge of honour and any perceived slight becomes a threat to their sense of who they are.’

More than a decade after the publication of his book, Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus, Professor Donald Downs is not positive about the state of academic freedom. ‘Things go in cycles’, he tells me when we meet. ‘In the 1980s and 90s, censorship was driven by political correctness. There was some blowback and things got a little better. Now censorship is coming back as liberty and equality are increasingly pitched against each other. This time it’s students who, in the name of equality, are demanding a climate free from offence, waging a war against microaggressions and calling for trigger warnings. Students are leading the way in stifling intellectual dissent and academics don’t know how to handle this. Too often they just acquiesce.’

Downs, softly spoken and thoughtful, seems an unlikely free-speech champion. Indeed, he initially supported speech codes when they were introduced at the University of Wisconsin, where he has been professor of law since 1980. It was the experience of watching his colleagues’ ‘lives and careers ruined by censorship’ that provoked his change of mind. Although, as he tells me, he had always been careful to draw a distinction between the rhetoric and targeted application of hate speech. In Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus, published in 2004, he charts the attacks on free speech that began to take place across American universities in the late 1980s, and the campaign he helped coordinate at Wisconsin to get speech codes overturned.

Downs notes that the speech codes introduced at this time had more to do with promoting a general climate of sensitivity and diversity than with tackling specific incidences of prejudice. This broad-brush approach demanded a code to cover every eventuality and allowed policies to proliferate. The University of Michigan, he tells me, had 20 separate policies at one point, dealing with such things as climate, harassment, speech and diversity – ‘they were being made up as they went along’. Although these codes were often written and implemented by administrators who had little understanding of the academic environment, Downs is clear that faculty cannot be let off the hook: ‘They let this situation happen.’ Liberal academics, often politically sympathetic to the issues covered, generally trusted administrators to implement policies appropriately. To criticise speech codes, Downs remarks, ‘was to make a statement that you were insensitive to racism or sexism and few were prepared to do this’.

Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus provides a startling snapshot of a particular point in the battle against campus censorship: ‘During most of the twentieth century, threats to academic freedom came from the political right, and from outside institutions of higher learning. The new attacks on free thought that arose in the later 1980s turned this pattern on its head: they have arisen from leftist sources inside the ivory tower.’ The book also provides a salutary lesson in how free speech can be regained. Downs emphasises throughout that ‘rights won through politics and legislation are more likely to change people’s thinking because majorities have to be convinced to agree’.

However, Downs offers readers far more than just a historical record and campaign manual. He explores the social and political developments that have resulted in censorship being seen as a progressive rather than an authoritarian force. He tells me that when a society has a strong sense of itself and of its own culture, it can afford to be tolerant of dissent. When society is not strong, but ‘existentially insecure’, ‘illiberal elements can come to the fore and people become dogmatic’. He argues that this pervasive insecurity, which began to afflict the Western world in the late 1980s, has also had an impact on individuals. ‘People have begun to feel more insecure and vulnerable. They readily identify as victims and define themselves by traumas, real or imagined.’ He argues that many of the original advocates of speech codes shared a view that students needed an ‘administrative apparatus to support their self-esteem, psychological wellbeing and identities’. He is clear: ‘In reality this represented a return of in loco parentis legislation to campus in a new and politicised guise after its banishment in the 1960s.’

Interestingly, he locates the origins of much of today’s campus censorship in the political legacy of the Free Speech Movement (FSM), the student rebellion against campus censorship at Berkeley in the mid-Sixties. Although ostensibly concerned with free speech, from the outset the movement was ‘torn between libertarian and moralistic impulses’. He reminds me there was never a ‘golden age’ of free speech on campus and it would, for example, have been impossible for representatives of the US military to have had a platform on campus at the time of the Vietnam War. ‘Free speech was important to FSM but mainly as the vehicle by which to address more substantive political concerns, including the nourishment of solidarity. Even at Berkeley, one of FSM’s lasting legacies is not free speech but censorship by the students themselves.’

The influence of ‘an anti-liberal New Left’ led to notions of political solidarity being replaced by a concept of equality premised upon sensitivity to individual differences. Downs argues that this view, which has taken root on college campuses, demands ‘ideological conformity’ and ‘stifles thought’. In Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus, he suggests that identity politics, with its obsessive focus on what divides rather than unites people, exploits marginal differences ‘to thwart the process of individual self-determination and discovery’. He is not at all opposed to diversity but he understands that ‘diversity works best when it is allied with liberal principles of freedom – not when it conceives of liberal freedom as an enemy’. Ironically, this new identity-driven emphasis on equality and diversity proves to be ‘surprisingly paternalistic’ as it ‘construes individuals as too weak to withstand the rigours of critical discourse’.

Downs is pleased to see signs of an emergent backlash against campus censorship. But he’s adamant that it’s the views underpinning censorship that really need to be challenged. He has the intellectual and political insight needed to pick apart the identity politics and the perception of trauma that has infected university communities. Restoring Free Speech and Liberty on Campus is a great starting point for those prepared to join him in battle.


Obama administration, sharing blame, calls for limits on school testing

Faced with mounting and bipartisan opposition to increased and often high-stakes testing in the nation’s public schools, the Obama administration declared Saturday that the push had gone too far, acknowledged its own role in the proliferation of tests, and urged schools to step back and make exams less onerous and more purposeful.

Specifically, the administration called for a cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking tests. It called on Congress to “reduce over-testing” as it reauthorizes the federal legislation governing the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools.

“I still have no question that we need to check at least once a year to make sure our kids are on track or identify areas where they need support,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, who has said he will leave office in December. “But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators who are understandably stressed and concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking from instruction.

“It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves,” he continued. “At the federal, state, and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation. We can and will work with states, districts, and educators to help solve it.”

Teachers unions, which had led the opposition on the left to the amount of testing, declared the reversal of sorts a victory. “Parents, students, educators, your voice matters and was heard,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of

The Obama administration will urge Congress to limit the time students spend on testing to 2 percent of total school time.

And even some proponents of newer, tougher tests said they appreciated the administration’s acknowledgment that it had helped create the problem, saying it had done particular damage by encouraging states to evaluate teachers in part on test scores.

But the administration’s “testing action plan” — which guides school districts but does not have the force of law — also risks creating fresh uncertainty on the role of tests in America’s schools. Many teachers have felt whiplash as they rushed to rewrite curriculum based on new standards and new assessments, only to have politicians in many states pull back because of political pressure.

Some who agreed that testing has run rampant also urged the administration not to throw out the No. 2 pencils with the bath water, saying tests can be a powerful tool for schools to identify weaknesses and direct resources. They worried that the cap on time spent testing — which the administration said it would ask Congress to enshrine in legislation — would only tangle schools in more federal regulations and questions of what, exactly, counts as a test.

“What happens if somebody puts a cap on testing, and to meet the cap ends up eliminating tests that could actually be helpful, or leaves the redundancy in the test and gets rid of a test that teachers can use to inform their instruction?” asked Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, an organization that represents about 70 large urban school districts.

Michael J. Petrilli, the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and one of the most vocal proponents for higher standards and tougher tests, said, “There’s plenty of agreement that there’s too much testing going on.” But, he added, “we have to be careful, as with anything federal, that it doesn’t lead to unintended consequences.”

The administration’s move seemed a reckoning on a two-decade push that began during the Bush administration and intensified under President Obama. Programs with aspirational names — No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top — were responding to swelling agreement among Democrats and Republicans that higher expectations and accountability could lift the performance of US students, who chronically lag their peers in other countries on international measures, and could help close a chronic achievement gap between black and white students.

States, led by the National Governors Association and advised by local educators, created the Common Core standards, which outlined the skills students should have upon graduation, and signed on to tests tied to those standards.

But as the Obama administration pushed testing as an incentive for states to win more federal money in the Race for the Top program, it was bedeviled by an unlikely left-right alliance. Conservatives argued that the standards and tests were federal overreach — some called them a federal takeover — and called on parents and local school committees to resist what they called a “one-size-fits-all” approach to teaching.

On the left, parents and unions objected to tying tests to teacher evaluations and said tests hamstrung educators’ creativity. They accused the companies writing the assessments of commercializing the fiercely local tradition of US schooling.

As a new generation of tests tied to the Common Core was rolled out last spring, several states abandoned plans to use the tests, while others renounced the Common Core, or rebranded it as a new set of local standards. And some parents, mostly in suburban areas, had their children opt out of the tests.

Duncan’s announcement — which was backed by his designated successor, John B. King Jr. — was prompted in part by the anticipation of a new survey from the Council of the Great City Schools, which set out to determine exactly how much testing is happening among its members.

That survey, also released Saturday, found that students in the nation’s big-city schools will take, on average, about 112 mandatory standardized tests between prekindergarten and high school graduation — eight tests a year. In eighth grade, when tests fall most heavily, they consume an average of 20 to 25 hours, or 2.3 percent of school time. The totals did not include tests like Advanced Placement exams or the ACT.

There was no evidence, the study found, that more time spent on tests improved academic performance, at least as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a long-standing test sometimes referred to as the nation’s report card.

“Because so many actors are adopting and requiring tests, you often find a whole portfolio of tests not being very strategic,” said Casserly, the council’s executive director. “It’s often disjointed and disconnected and incoherent in many ways, and it results in a fair amount of redundancy and overlap.”

Still, he said: “We don’t think tests are the enemy. We think there’s an appropriate place for them.”

The administration said it would issue “clear guidance” on testing by January. Some of the language of the announcement Saturday was general; it said, for example, that tests should be “worth taking” and “fair.” Like new guidance from many states, it underscored that academic standards and curriculum are to be fleshed out locally.

But it also said that tests should be “just one of multiple measures” of student achievement, and that “no single assessment should ever be the sole factor in making an educational decision about a student, an educator or a school.”

Still, it emphasized that the administration was not backing away entirely from tests: The announcement said tests should cover “the full range of relevant state standards” and elicit “complex student demonstrations or applications of knowledge and skills.”


Girl Gone Wild: Hillary’s $350 Billion “Free” College Plan

Hillary Clinton didn’t become Washington, D.C.’s #1 Girl Gone Wild by winning wet T-shirt contests but by offering the most seductive plan on college affordability. Here’s how we can beat her at her own wild game…

Hillary knows Obama won the youth vote in two consecutive presidential elections by promising to erase the burden of college loans. She also knows the average college student graduates with $33,000 in debt. Finally, she knows independents and Republicans are offering young voters little by way of a counter offer.

Today I’ll lay out a three-step proposal we can use to counter Hillary’s offer to strip $350 billion out of the economy over ten years and make college tuition “free.”

Mrs. Clinton tries not to look or sound like a spring breaker at the beach,favoring matronly pantsuits and frequently mentioning that she’s a “grandmother.” She pitches herself as a boring yet trustworthy “Mrs. Clause”—handing out free college tuition while wearing a Santa suit. But, beneath the surface, it’s crystal clear that Hillary is the wildest girl in Washington.

Here’s how independents and Republicans should fight back on behalf of college students and offer a more meaningful college affordability solution.

1.) Helping Millions of Jobless College-Educated Millennials

Together, we must expose a story that the Obama administration’s own Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) quietly released this month: there are 6.5 million (6,455,300 to be exact) more Millennials with college degrees than there are jobs for them now. Furthermore, when you account for all the jobs forecasted to be created between now and 2022, the BLS says there still will not be enough jobs.

Translation: You’d likely be better off investing four years and $100,000 into starting your own company than getting a college degree because there are will be an oversupply of Americans with degrees through at least 2022.

The greatest weakness in Hillary’s sales pitch to young voters is her premise that a college degree is necessary for success.

Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Ralph Lauren, LeBron James, Michael Dell and Rush Limbaugh are only a few examples of people who rose to the top of their field without a college degree. In fact, dedicating four years to obtaining a degree could have doomed their careers. And we wouldn’t be using technology products that we now take for granted, like iPhones and Microsoft software.

The truth is that we must recover our economy in order to employ young people and taking $350 billion out of the economy will not help. No matter how many “free” degrees a young person obtains, they still won’t get interviewed for job openings that don’t exist when companies cannot afford to expand and hire.

GOP candidates should start educating young people on these facts so they don’t fall for Hillary’s plan, which relies on them buying into her false premise that college is necessary for career success.

2.) A Better Proposal (Hint: Concealed Carry)

Here’s a proposal: we will match Hillary’s experiment to spend $350 billion over ten years on college education, but we have one condition. Our one condition is: the only schools that get funds are those that will allow professors, staff and students to carry concealed firearms on campus.

College campuses are now one of the most deadly places in America; in the past few weeks alone we’ve had four shootings. Republicans have an opportunity to stand up and say that no young person should be pressured by a self-serving politician to choose between the safety of their life and a free education.

Clinton is not going back to college anytime soon and, even if she were, she has lifetime Secret Service protection. She’s unperturbed by the prospect of walking to chemistry class and running into the next Christopher Harper-Mercer, Steven Jones or Elliot Rodger. She doesn’t face the dangers that your children face.

Hillary is capitalizing on the fact that we haven’t done a good job of informing our children of two stories within American history which they are too young to intuit from their experience: One, gun free zones didn’t always exist in America. Two, ever since Bill Clinton pushed hard for gun free zones there has been an uptick in mass violence and today we are at a historic high.

3.) Emphasize Entrepreneurship

A final way in which we can resonate with Millennial voters on the topic of college education is by emphasizing how our free market policies will allow them to become successful entrepreneurs. This is because 70 percent of Millennials say they aspire to be independent and work for themselves someday, according to research from Deloitte.

PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel launched a scholarship program proving that Millennials are willing to give up a four-year degree for the opportunity to be an entrepreneur. Republicans should expand upon Thiel’s message by showing young people that a pricey college degree is optional for career success.

College degrees aren’t worth what they used to be. Ivy League students are hiring writing tutors and Harvard Business School grads are complaining they feel unprepared for the modern workforce. This is because increasing federal aid to institutions of higher learning encourages them to raise their prices without improving the quality of education.

Republicans will be seen as “student advocates” if they hold colleges and Democrats accountable for profiting off the backs of students and endangering their lives in gun free zones. We will attract young people with the message that success is not one-size-fits all. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s plan will leave students in the same position as they are now—in debt and unemployable.

For more information and history that you can offer Millennials about student loan debt and gun free zones, you can also read “Let Me Be Clear.”

Share this with every young person in your life—before their life is forever set back by the policies of Girl Gone Wild Incognito, Hillary Clinton.


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