Sunday, November 22, 2015

An Unhappy History Seems to Be Repeating Itself

Riots in black neighborhoods. Rebellions on campus. The news these past few months and particularly in the past week has been full of stories that remind us, as William Faulkner wrote a little more than half a century after the Civil War, “the past is never dead. It’s not even past.” We’re seeing something that looks eerily like the recurrence of events that led, half a century ago, to the destruction of much of our cities and much of our campuses.

Half a century before the recent uproar at Yale and the University of Missouri, America saw protracted rioting at the Berkeley campus of the University of California in the fall of 1964. Half a century before the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, America saw in Los Angeles' Watts the first of the 1960s horrifying urban riots.

The Berkeley students' cause was “free speech,” protesting the ban on tables in campus with electioneering material for candidates such as Lyndon Johnson. Students held up signs proclaiming “Do not fold, bend, mutilate, or spindle” — a disclaimer on the IBM punch cards then used to input data onto huge multi-frame computers. In retrospect, this was a sign of the baby-boom generation’s rejection of the cultural uniformity of the post-World War II years.

But the rebellions that followed on multiple campuses for many years were transmogrified into many other things — banning military presence on campus, authorizing separate black organizations, firing administrators and establishing racial quotas and preferences in admissions.

In the process campuses were transformed into leftist enclaves in the larger society, with “tenured radicals” reshaping faculty in their own image, black and Hispanic groups self-isolating into mono-racial cliques and speech codes enacted to punish anyone who dissented from campus orthodoxy. Scholarship in many areas has been profoundly weakened and trivialized — a huge loss to society.

That’s the atmosphere highlighted in the violent and frenzied protests lately at the University of Missouri, Yale and Claremont McKenna College. Protesters are demanding high-visibility denunciations of real or imagined racial slights and the creation of “safe spaces” for students desperate not to hear opinions other than their own. If this is as representative of generational attitudes as the baby boomers' punch-card signs, we’re in for an even more polarized, less tolerant and seriously infantilized future.

Eleven months after the first Berkeley protests, a riot broke out in Watts, a black neighborhood in Los Angeles, after an argument following the arrest of a black motorist who had been drinking and driving. It lasted for six days and was followed by dozens more over the next three years, with especially high death tolls in Newark, Detroit and Washington.

After 1968, riots ceased but violent crime exploded in black communities, destroying what had been stable neighborhoods, retail areas and factories. Crime was vastly reduced in the 1990s, but you can still see the damage in such places as Detroit and Newark today.

Elite de-legitimatization of law enforcement followed the 1960s riots and something similar may be happening again. After the August 2014 shooting of a violent suspect in Ferguson, Missouri, protests and violence erupted across the nation, and police in many cities ceased proactive patrolling — and murder rates exploded in Baltimore, St. Louis, Milwaukee and many other cities.

The Berkeley protests came just after passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and on the brink of passage of Johnson’s Great Society legislation. The Watts riot came just after passage of the hugely effective Voting Rights Act of 1965. Today’s campus and city rioting comes just as the most liberal administration since has at least partially succeeded in “the fundamental transformation” of the nation. Liberal government seems not to squelch protest but to embolden it.

One is reminded of Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation that the French Revolution arose not out of desperation but at a time of rising expectations. The defenestration of liberal university administrators is reminiscent of the Jacobins guillotining the Girondists and then being guillotined themselves. The revolution eats its own — and destroys its own redoubts.

Berkeley and Watts were followed in California by the election of Gov. Ronald Reagan, riding a wave of support from a GI generation that financed its great universities and supported civil rights legislation. Nationally, Republican presidents won five of the next six elections. Will today’s sequels produce a similar response?


Author on Common Core: ‘A Comprehensive Dumbing Down of American Education at Every Level’

“The Common Core is supposed to be improving state standards in education, but its bigger effect has been a comprehensive dumbing down of American education at every level, from kindergarten through graduate school,” Peter Wood, president of the National Association of  Scholars, said in an interview with

Wood is a co-author of Drilling Through the Core: Why Common Core is Bad for American Education, published in September by Pioneer Press. The book includes Wood’s history of the Common Core controversy and critical essays by more than a dozen mathematicians and English scholars.

“The major criticism coming from the scholars is that it’s lowered standards in both math and English language arts, the two parts of the K-12 curriculum that the Common Core covers,” Wood told 

“When the Common Core was being put in place, there was a large promise that it would be ‘internationally benchmarked’, meaning the standards would be as high or higher than the highest standards found around the world. And if you go into Common Core materials, you will still find that phrase.

“But the math standards are set way below all of the Asian nations, and the U.S. language arts standards are not matched to international standards,” Wood pointed out.

“The section on math is written by mathematicians who look upon the changes as a comprehensive lowering of standards so that students at the end of high school know a lot less math than they used to and are not prepared for college-level math,” he said.

Scholars also panned the curriculum’s major de-emphasis of English literature.

 “The teaching of literature is not abandoned, it’s downgraded, so you end up with a very fragmentary and impoverished view of what language can do,” he continued.

“The Common Core has this peculiar emphasis that language exists to convey information. One of the results of fetishizing information is that the texts get fragmented… and there’s no distinction made between work of imaginative power and work that’s purely utilitarian in order to treat everything as a kind of encyclopedia entry.

“So in your English language instruction, you can and do get things like EPA regulations and repair manuals read alongside excerpts of the works of Robert Frost and Jane Austen.”

 “I started writing about Common Core in 2009 before the standards themselves had actually been adopted and the public backlash was something I anticipated because the public never got the chance to assess it until after it was already implemented,” Wood told “Bringing the primary stakeholders in only after the bridge is built is highly questionable public policy.”

“The problems with Common Core math start in first grade and accumulate from there. So the only way that students who plan on getting STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] degrees in college can catch up is to take math instruction outside their high school,” he noted.

“As far as English language arts, it puts a big burden on families to introduce their children to a more systematic and richer reading program than they’re going to get in school.

“I fully understand that not every parent is in the position to effectively counter what goes on in the schools, but the only option for most parents is Do It Yourself – teach it yourself, find a family friend or hire a tutor who can do it for you. In the meantime, cry bloody murder to your school board.”

Forty-two states and the District of Columbia adopted “this breathtakingly comprehensive reform of our nation’s schools before there were any standards that people could evaluate,” he noted.

“Now we’ve got the standards and the results of the tests that go with the standards. And [National Assessment of Educational Progress] NAEP scores nationwide show that the states that most strongly endorsed the Common Core have seen some of the biggest drops. So the governors of many states are now trying to dance their way out of a situation they helped to create.”

Wood predicted that during the next three or four years, more states will become disenchanted with Common Core because “it is way more expensive than advertised and the results are much worse than anyone had expected.”

“Inventing a one-size-fits-all curriculum for the country, pretending it’s a state-level initiative while ceding enormous power to the federal government and private corporations that actually run the Common Core, that experiment will wind down. It clearly is something that the American public is going to resist tooth and nail, and that makes it politically unsalvageable. But the costs of extraction are high, so we will extract slowly instead of all at once.”

However, by then the damage to the U.S. economy will have been done, he said. “To the extent that we’re a nation that is in a tight competitive position with other developed nations that depend on well-educated engineers, scientists and other technologists for whom math is a basic tool, this puts us in a terrible position.

“Common Core will extract a major price for the U.S. in international competitiveness, but it will be a delayed reaction until the generation that has been Common Core-ized enters the job market, at which time the people who invented it and the politicians who implemented it will be gone from the scene and it will be somebody else’s problem.”


Higher Education Under Attack From Within

College campuses were once bastions of diverse opinion — a garden where ideas thrived and where contrary viewpoints were freely expressed. But they’re fast becoming cesspools of narrow-mindedness that stifle free speech — where political correctness overrules common sense and where free thinking is discouraged. Colleges and universities are occupied ever more by students offended because someone expressed a different opinion, didn’t pay proper deference or wore the “wrong” costume on Halloween.

Student protests are returning to 1960s-70s levels and arise because some students think there aren’t enough minority professors on campus, while others decry a lack of “social justice.” Some have called for hunger strikes over what they perceive as a lack of support for students of color.

If students don’t like a professor’s point of view, or they detect “microaggressions” in the classroom, they feel led to demand the professor resign or be fired. If you’re a Hispanic kid and someone wears a sombrero and a poncho on Halloween, it’s time for a protest. Heck, the mob claimed the scalp of University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe last week, all for imprecise failures to address vague charges of racism.

And did you know that the First Amendment makes some college kids feel unsafe? Would you ever have imagined that such an idea could take hold on an American college campus?

The vice president of the Missouri Students Association, Brenda Smith-Lezama, told MSNBC last week, “I personally am tired of hearing that First Amendment rights protect students when they are creating a hostile and unsafe learning environment for myself and for other students here.” Poor little thing must be terrified listening to the radio or watching television or movie drama. And she suffers under the delusion that her comfort is more important than someone else’s rights.

While these kids have yet to accomplish much, they believe the world must work to calm their fears. Their perceptions may be adequate to drive protests and hunger strikes, but they don’t necessarily reflect reality.

Many of the complaints have a racial element, but they really center on hypersensitive feelings about things that have always been normal aspects of life. Suddenly, these normal campus happenings that students — white students, black students, Asian and Hispanic students, female students — have dealt with successfully for decades with little or no difficulty are now scary and threatening.

College once was a place where kids learned to think. Today, many of them seem to know only how to feel; emotion rules rationality. Listening to different ideas used to be enlightening, mind-expanding. Now, it makes the kiddies cry for their mommies.

Missing from these children-in-adult-bodies is even the suspicion that not everything revolves around them, that they are not the be-all and end-all of the known universe.

And they also want someone else to pay off their college loans for them, because … well, just because.

It’s certainly true that tuition has outpaced the rate of inflation for decades, but this is primarily due to the very kind of government subsidies students demand in greater portion now.

Yet, generally speaking, the process of gaining entry to an institution of higher learning is long established and has worked well for decades. Colleges and universities are places where the qualified may go to advance their education, and most of the onus is on the student to fund their education through parental help, scholarship assistance, student loans, the GI Bill, or good old-fashioned hard work. And then it is the student’s responsibility to perform as expected academically to complete their degree requirements, and then go out and get a job and become a productive member of society.

That is called “life,” and life is not a smooth ride, most times. Tens of millions of Americans have successfully navigated the sometimes-troubled waters successfully without being coddled and nursed along the way. Conquering challenges and facing adversity head-on build character.

The whining behavior demonstrated on college campuses recently shows a fundamental failure of thousands of young people to have learned the basic rules of life. Their minds haven’t grown up at the same rate as their bodies.

However, bowing to the whims of students is letting the inmates run the asylum. College is (or once was) a place for learning. Professors led the learning process, administrators ran the school, and the students worked hard and did what they had to do to master the material. If students weren’t happy in a particular environment, or couldn’t hack it, they were free to leave.

As bad as the current state of higher education is, it is much worse for America at large. A generation or two with millions of young people among them who can’t cope with the problems of going to college surely won’t be able to be good citizens, hold down jobs in a productive economy, or staff a strong, able military capable of defending the country — or even make sensible decisions about for whom they will vote. They can hardly be expected to weigh complex arguments rationally when anything that doesn’t agree with their narrow ideas makes them hide under their beds.

This is what liberalism hath wrought, and it will most likely get worse.


Students Across US Demand Free College, Stumble Over Who Will Foot the Bill

Students swarmed college campuses across the nation Thursday to rally against the rising costs of higher education, demanding free college tuition, the zeroing out of student debt, and a $15 minimum wage hike for campus employees.

The protests, which spawned from a social media movement called the Million Student March, hit 110 colleges throughout the U.S. and quickly rose as a top trending topic on Twitter.

The grassroots group said it was uniting to fight for education as a “human right,” citing analysis that found that the average class of 2015 graduate who took out a loan for a bachelor’s degree has more than $35,000 in debt.

“Education should be free,” the group’s website reads. “The United States is the richest country in the world, yet students have to take on crippling debt in order to get a college education.”

But how the group proposes to pay for the plan is unclear.

Keely Mullen, one of the national organizers for the Million Student March, struggled to outline a funding strategy after Fox Business Network anchor Neil Cavuto asked who exactly would “pick up the tab” for the group’s proposed provisions.

“The 1 percent of people in society that are hoarding the wealth and really sort of causing a catastrophe that students are facing,” Mullen initially responded.

Cavuto noted that those who fell into that category recently saw their taxes rise to about 40 to 50 percent of their income, asking how much more Mullen believed they should pay.

The question commanded the rest of the 9-minute interview, but Mullen was unable to offer a concrete reply other than to argue that the tax rate should continue to rise “until we have a system where not one in two families are threatened with poverty.”

Mary Clare Reim, a research associate at The Heritage Foundation, pointed to economist Milton Friedman’s coined phrase, “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” noting that college tuition will always come with a price tag because it is a service.

“The question is who pays and how much,” Reim said.

The reason tuition rates have skyrocketed, she continued, is because of the steep increase in federal student loans, which have encouraged colleges and universities to raise their prices.

“When students are not paying for their tuition, colleges have no reason to offer competitive or even realistic prices,” she said. “Instead, the federal government has made a promise to offer student loans regardless of tuition costs, which is why we are seeing this unprecedented cost of a college education.”

She added that offering every student in the country free tuition as the Million Student March proposed would drive the U.S. further into debt, “leaving our economy so weak that there would be no jobs for all of these students we just paid to educate.”

“Calling tuition free college a ‘right’ and demanding someone else pay for your education will do you no good if that right can’t use your education to get a job and contribute to the economy.”


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