Friday, February 13, 2015

Education Reform as Envisioned by Bobby Jindal

Some Republican presidential hopefuls are singing songs that are music to conservative ears. The latest comes from Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who along with Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) has released a research paper entitled “America Next.” The Republican pair promote major reforms to undo the government education catastrophe.

Jindal outlined his three-pronged reform plan beginning with an exquisitely apt analogy: “Would you trade your brand-new car for an Edsel? Or your iPhone for an antiquated mainframe computer the size of your living room?”

“[M]any American children,” says Jindal, “face a similar situation each day when they head to school.” They don’t receive a quality education due to “[a]rchaic obstacles – a tenure system first developed early in the last century, and an education bureaucracy in Washington created as part of the Great Society five decades ago.”

“Reform along the principles outlined in this paper,” reads the introduction, “will restore the balance in education toward parents and teachers, and away from the bureaucracies.”

The first objective is education choice – allowing parents to control their children’s schooling. Schools, most teachers and unions resist this idea with every tool at their disposal. Nevertheless, Jindal says money spent on education should “follow the child” rather than following bureaucrats' demands. “No one cares more, and knows better, about children than the parents who bore and raised them.”

Put parents in charge, and schools must compete to retain children. Good public schools will become better and bad ones fail, while charter and other non-traditional schools thrive. While vocational courses have largely disappeared, these practical courses appeal to many high school students. The same holds for art and technology. Money directed by the parents will result in its being better spent.

More than 60% of staff in the average school district are not teachers. Though educationists want smaller classes, studies have shown that school size is much more important. With parents in charge, the number of small schools would grow dramatically, causing a proportional decline of non-teaching positions, thereby saving taxpayer money. One of the best-received parts of Jindal’s plan is educational savings accounts that give people with modest incomes a chance to send their kids to the best schools.

The second prong of the plan involves backing Big Government’s big nose out of neighborhood schools. Not so long ago, schools operated on a largely neighborhood model and performed far better. As late as the 1960s, a high school diploma was a ticket to the job market where the vast majority of adults established themselves in careers while their college friends were still in school.

But along came the “Great” Society, introducing frequent and ever deeper intrusions into states' education systems. Federal dollars became the hook that kept schools on the line, and school quality decreased as spending increased. Now, addicted to federal money, schools are coerced into following federal mandates. “Common Core,” says Jindal, “represents Exhibit A of why federal control needs to revert back to states – and ultimately to local school boards wherever possible.” He also urges the reduction of government data collection, restoring student privacy rights and sharing more information with parents.

The third proposal involves “liberating teachers” by ending forced union membership, making evaluations more practical, giving principals more autonomy in running their schools, ending tenure and seniority, and restricting collective bargaining to salaries rather than petty complaints.

States generally require two years of education courses at an accredited college to earn a teaching credential. Yet education courses are notoriously easy and so full of socio-babble that many highly qualified individuals are driven away.

Jindal proposes “reforming training, preparation and certification requirements.” Training should be relevant and meaningful and should require fewer courses. Emphasis should be on preparation. “[We] should remove impediments to entry, but make permanent retention a tougher bar to achieve (referring to teacher tenure).” Teaching shouldn’t be a job that someone takes because there’s nothing else to do. Teaching should be a passion.

The plan concludes that we have “a moral imperative to provide a quality education to each child.” Yet as Jindal admits, these reforms face stiff opposition from unions and their alter egos, the Democrats.

Nevertheless, progress is occurring. Jindal highlights improvements in his own state of Louisiana, including the rising graduation rate in New Orleans and the plummeting number of failing schools. There are other positive signs as well: 10 states have no tenure, charter schools and homeschooling outperform public schools and earn more support every year, and parents finally recognize that schools are failing and want them fixed. If 2016 is good to conservatives, including the election of a conservative president, we just might see some of these reforms after all.


Women’s Colleges Left Trying to Decide What ‘Women’s College’ Means

By Katherine Timpf

This kind of thing used to be pretty straightforward: Women’s colleges are for women. But as liberals go to great lengths to rid themselves of traditional binaries, schools defined by the gender of their students are having to decide what to do about applicants who define their gender for themselves.

This week, Bryn Mawr College, in Pennsylvania, decided it makes the most sense to simply take biological sex out of the equation and allow anyone who identifies as a woman to go. In other words: Even if you were born a man, you can go as long you identify as a woman now. On the flip side, if you identify as a man now, you can’t go even if you were born biologically female.

Some women’s colleges are leaving it even more open. For example, Simmons College, in Boston, allows not only those applicants who were born male and now identify as female, but also those who were born female and now identify as male. It also accepts applicants who identify as neither female nor male but consider themselves some combination of both genders or as “gender neutral” entirely. And others, like Barnard College, have no policy and are still deciding what to do.

One thing is for sure: As “gender identity” becomes more complex, so do the decisions women’s colleges have to make. After all, even a decision like Bryn Mawr’s doesn’t cover every situation. For example: What if a student starts at the school as a woman, but midway through decides to start identifying as or even medically transitioning into a man?

In October, the New York Times covered how this specific situation was handled at another women’s college, Wellesley. One student had simply checked off “female” on the official application but then began to identifying himself as a “genderqueer” male named Timothy once on campus. Wellesley has had transitioning students before, so Timothy was not only allowed to stay but didn’t face any problems at all. That is, until he tried to run for class diversity officer and students started a petition saying he wasn’t qualified because he was a white man now.

Yeesh. Of course, this is just one example — there are endless scenarios that present questions about what to do now that people view gender outside of traditional binaries. Even apart from those who consider themselves transgender or gender neutral, there are also people who are “gender fluid” — that is, they consider themselves to be different genders at different times. What about them?

It’s one thing to say that it is up to an individual to decide how to identify – after all, it’s his/her/eir/pers/their/vis/sir/[name]’s life, right? But what about entire institutions that have always relied on the idea of these binaries?

Most progressive activists will tell you that the times are changing and therefore the institutions need to change too. But what seems to be less clear is how.

That question is troubling many of the feminist alumnae of women’s colleges. Some say that turning someone away from an all-women’s school because of gender is obviously an injustice because Come on people, it’s 2015! Others argue that allowing men in any capacity into these colleges isn’t social justice but rather anti-feminist, since it taints what used to be a safe, women-only space and risks rendering it a male-dominated, patriarchal world.

But if gender is a spectrum, what does “women-only” even mean? These colleges are being tasked with setting institution-wide, gender-based policies with specific distinctions, while also being told that gender is a spectrum and no real objective definitions exist.

Perhaps these schools will become “anyone-but-people-who-were-born-male-and-still-consider-themselves-male” colleges, or perhaps the idea of a “women’s college” will just become obsolete altogether.


What happened to teenagers paid to drop out of university?

HOW’S this for a proposition? A mega-rich American entrepreneur will give you $100,000 to drop out of university and pursue your dreams. Sound too good to be true?

Well, the co-founder of online payment system PayPal, Peter Thiel, has offered that very deal for the past five years.

In 2010, sensing a crippling stagnation in the US economy, he set up the Thiel Fellowship with the aim of giving youth a path to a successful career that sidestepped the need for a four-year university degree.

Mr Thiel, who was also one of the first investors in Facebook, said that university courses were stifling the potential of young entrepreneurs, while loading them up with a crippling amount of debt.

His foundation aimed to pay 20 teenagers a year to ditch their college course and pursue their own business idea.

Those selected are given invaluable connections and are guided by thinkers, investors, scientists, and businesspeople.

Mr Thiel’s generous offer sparked a national conversation in the US: Is college a waste of time and money?

Mr Thiel argues that university degrees can often be a poor investment for young people because they are too expensive, encourage conformity and fail to teach the entrepreneurial skills the business world requires.

He says that people feel a societal pressure to attend university if they want a successful career, but he is keen to free bright thinkers from this convention.

Speaking on a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” session, Mr Thiel said his foundation had been a success on because it had started an important debate about the “education bubble”.

“Student debt is over $1 trillion in this country, and much of that money has gone to pay for lies that people tell about how great the education they received was,” Mr Thiel said.

He has contrasted university campuses with the type of innovation found at Silicon Valley, the home of new technology in the US. Mr Thiel argues that Silicon Valley is bursting with the type of fresh ideas that are lacking in the higher education sector.

On the other hand, figures show that people who pursue tertiary education are on average much better off.

So, who’s right? Does university make you better off overall, or should people think twice about taking on a degree?

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education examined the Thiel Fellowship scheme this week and found it had produced mixed results.

The fellowship has taken on 83 participants since it was launched, including students from the US’s most prestigious universities, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Princeton. The fellows have raised $72 million collectively and produced $29 million in revenue.

The Chronicle spoke to nine of the 24 entrepreneurs who took part in the first two-year program, and most reported that the experience was a positive one.

Many said the beauty of the program wasn’t the $100,000 boost but the networks they were introduced to.

But, crucially, a handful of them enrolled in university after they completed the program, which challenges the central idea of the fellowship.


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Scott Walker Calls for Major Changes at University of Wisconsin System

More than 35,000 public employees would be removed from state government rolls if Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposal stays intact through the legislative process.

Walker’s 2015-17 budget proposal, which was introduced Tuesday, makes major changes to the operation of the state’s University of Wisconsin System. The second-term governor’s plan would split off the system into its own public entity.

By creating a separate authority for the University of Wisconsin System, it would no longer be under the direct management of the state.

According to Walker, University of Wisconsin System supporters have been asking for more autonomy for years, claiming it would help cut costs and better serve students. The Republican governor’s plan also includes a $150 million funding cut in each year of his biennial budget in exchange for the greater autonomy.

The annual reduction is equivalent to a 2.5 percent cut in total public funding. Opponents of Walker’s reform have claimed aid is being cut by 13 percent. That, however, only takes into consideration general fund spending from the state.

The 13 percent figure ignores nearly $5 billion in funding the University of Wisconsin System receives in federal, segregated and program revenues.

At a Wednesday stop in Stevens Point, Walker called the plan an “Act 10 for the UW System”—referring to his 2011 collective-bargaining reforms that have saved the state $3 billion to date.

“What I mean by that is that we actually give them reforms. For years, supporters of the UW System have said at campus after campus that if you got us out from under the thumb of the state government bureaucracy that they could do more to save money and put it back into the classroom to be more effective,” the governor said. “I believe our authority will do just that.”

The proposal would also extend a tuition freeze that was included in the last budget, keeping tuition at the same level for a total of four years.

University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross hopes the final budget will include more state funding.

“This is a serious cut that will force each institution and campus within the UW System to make difficult decisions about its workforce and programming,” Cross said. “We are hopeful that we will be able to work with our partners in the legislature to mitigate and reduce this cut in the coming months.”

Many others in the state agree with Walker that funding should be cut.

During the 2013-15 budget process, legislators discovered the UW System had more than $600 million in surplus that was not clearly accounted for. This so-called “slush fund” led to the first two-year tuition freeze and eventually the University of Wisconsin System president at the time, Kevin Reilly, resigned.

Since then, the system has reduced reserves down to $175 million and has implemented policies to increase transparency.

Conservatives, including the governor, have also embraced the idea that professors should teach just one more class per semester to cut costs. According to a report from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, faculty taught two courses and had on average just 6.3 hours of direct contact with students per week in 2012.

And, University of Wisconsin at Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank hinted in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal that number might get even lower.

According to WSJ, “[Blank] said that 15% of her professors last year received outside job offers, and as chancellor, she bids against those offers in part by cutting the course loads of researchers so they will stay.”

The state Legislature will take up Walker’s budget in the coming months and a final bill is expected to be signed by the governor in June.


Connecticut Schools Need More Freedom, Not Less

Freedom of education and school choice are shaping up to be major issues this year, with half a dozen states already introducing legislation to repeal Common Core education standards, and a number of federal bills designed to restore local control of school systems.

But there is one state that apparently didn’t get the memo. An influential government commission in Connecticut is mulling over new restrictions on a parent’s right to homeschool their children.

The controversy dates back to the 2012 school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School by the emotionally disturbed Adam Lanza. Lanza had been placed in “homebound status” – a technical distinction from homeschooling in that the school still bore some responsibility for his education – by the school district in the eighth grade, before returning to school in the 10th.

About a year after that, he was allowed to graduate at the end of his junior year. It would be several more years before the 20-year-old Lanza returned to Sandy Hook to shoot 26 people.

Tragedies like this are horrific beyond belief, and it is natural to try to make some sense out of an apparently senseless act. It is natural to want to take active measures to prevent such a thing from ever happening again. But the analysis of the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, and its recommendations, are badly flawed, and intrude unnecessarily into parental and educational freedom.

While a massive backlash has caused the commission to back down from its previous attempts to outright prevent parents from homeschooling their children with mental or emotional difficulties, the commission still wants to require such children to be regularly supervised by public school authorities. They are also expanding their recommendation to require that parents who withdraw their children from school continue to adhere to an “individualized education plan.” In other words, you can’t control the content and curriculum of your own child’s education.

The problems with this plan are many.

First of all, there’s the attempt to draw a causal connection between a teenager being removed from the supervision of school counselors for one year (ninth grade) and a crazed shooting spree half a decade later. Using vague correlations as grounds for ludicrous assumptions about causation is what government does best, but this is a stretch even by their admittedly low standards.

Second, by what authority do public school officials claim to be remotely effective at preventing violent behavior? Given the 43 school shootings that we observed in 2014 alone, it’s a little strange to claim that public schooling is some sort of cure for mental illness.

The best recipe for a healthy, well-functioning adult is not to lock children in windowless rooms and force them to do math problems for 13 years. The idea that every child is different, and that therefore diversity, rather than conformity, of upbringing might yield better outcomes is apparently still too radical.

Parents often have a very good reason for wanting to withdraw their children from public schools. Whether they are dissatisfied with the curriculum, bullying, dissonance with personal values, or the need to deal with behavioral problems, parents should not have to justify themselves to government for wanting what’s best for their kids.

The purpose of public schools is supposedly to provide opportunity to those who would otherwise not have it, not to dictate the terms of childhood to America’s youth. Contrary to the belief of some progressives, children are not the property of the state, and public school officials have no business imposing themselves on families that have decided to opt out of the system.

The desire to prevent future tragedies is sincere, but to help children with special circumstances, we should be giving them more flexibility in education, not less.


The death of handwriting? Schools are ditching pens and papers for computers - but could it harm your child's development?

From next year, children in Finland will not be compulsorily taught cursive handwriting. Instead of learning this skill, schools will be given the choice to teach keyboard typing in its place.

The country's education board said the change reflects how typing skills are now more relevant than handwriting, but experts claim the move could damage a child's brain development.

The changes don't officially come into force until the start of next year's autumn term.

Minna Harmanen from the National Board of Education told Savon Sanomat that 'fluent typing skills are an important national competence'.

It follows changes made to the Common Core Standards Initiative in the US, in September 2013, in which the US similarly removed cursive handwriting as a compulsory skill.

A predominant criticism is that, while handwriting is important, cursive handwriting is no longer deemed necessary.

'Most [people] would agree that everyone should at least be able to pick up a pen or pencil and craft a message that others can read,' said Misty Adoniou, senior lecturer in language, literacy and TESL at University of Canberra.  'But beyond legibility, does it matter how you form your letters when you hand write?'

She continued there is research linking fluent handwriting with better written compositions, 'but the key isn’t the quality, form or style of the handwriting, but rather the automaticity of the handwriting.'

Automaticity is the theory that the less a person has to concentrate on forming their letters correctly, the more brain space they can devote to getting their message right.

However, writing automaticity is just as easily achieved on a keyboard, and Ms Adoniou said it's more time efficient to teach a child to type than it is to teach them a particular handwriting style.


In a recent study from Indiana University, researchers conducted brain scans on five-year-olds before and after receiving different letter-learning tasks.

In children who practiced writing letters by hand, the neural activity was more enhanced and 'adult-like' than in those who had simply looked at letters.

And, the brain’s so-called 'reading circuit' - a region of linked connections that become active when reading - was activated during handwriting, but not during typing.

Reports have also found that by the age of eight, children can already type faster than they can handwrite.

But, as Ms Adoniou acknowledged, handwriting can play a crucial part in brain development. 

'Although the ease, speed and versatility of technology are widely acknowledged, handwriting proponents say that how we learn to write does indeed matter.

'Research indicates that learning to write in cursive further improves students' motor and visual skills, eye-to-hand co-ordination, spatial awareness, hand and finger dexterity, cognitive function and brain development.

'They say the physical act of handwriting also facilitates the retention of information and the flow of ideas.'

For example, in a recent study from Indiana University, researchers conducted brain scans on five-year-olds before and after receiving different letter-learning tasks.

In children who practiced writing letters by hand, the neural activity was more enhanced and 'adult-like' than in those who had simply looked at letters.

And, the brain’s so-called 'reading circuit' - a region of linked connections that become active when reading - was activated during handwriting, but not during typing.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Education Is the Business of the States

In 1981, Tennessee’s 41-year-old governor proposed to President Ronald Reagan a swap: Washington would fully fund Medicaid and the states would have complete responsibility for primary and secondary education. Reagan, a former governor, was receptive. But Democrats, who controlled the House and were beginning to be controlled by teachers unions (the largest, the National Education Association, had bartered its first presidential endorsement, of Jimmy Carter, for creation of the Department of Education) balked.

In 1992, the former Tennessee governor was President George H.W. Bush’s secretary of education. He urged Bush to veto proposed legislation to expand federal involvement in K-through-12 education. He said it would create “at least the beginnings of a national school board that could make day-to-day school decisions on curriculum, discipline, teacher training, textbooks and classroom materials.” The veto threat derailed the legislation.

Today this former governor and former secretary (and former president of the University of Tennessee), Sen. Lamar Alexander, is chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. He is seeking 60 Senate votes to, he says, “reverse the trend toward a national school board,” which the Education Department has become.

Time was, before Congress acted on any subject, it asked: Is this a legitimate concern of the federal government? The “legitimacy barrier” (a phrase coined by James Q. Wilson) collapsed 50 years ago, particularly with passage of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, of which No Child Left Behind (2002) was the 12th major reauthorization.

NCLB mandated that by 2014, every school would have 100 percent proficiency in reading and math. So, Alexander says, “almost every one” of America’s approximately 100,000 public schools are officially failures. This, he says, exacerbates “the irresistible temptation of well-meaning Washington officials” to assert a duty for Washington to approve schools' academic standards (hence Common Core), define success, determine how to evaluate teachers and stipulate what to do about failing schools.

NCLB is more than seven years overdue for the reauthorization/revision that will impact 50 million children and 3.1 million teachers. Hence a recent hearing of Alexander’s committee attracted a crowd, with hundreds overflowing into the hall. Alexander hopes to have a bill on the Senate floor by late February and to get 60 votes with the help of some of the six Democratic senators who are former governors.

And perhaps some others. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., the purity of whose liberalism is wondrous, says education today consists of two worlds. One is “of contractors and consultants, and academics and experts, and plenty of officials at the federal, state and local level.” The other is of those who teach, and “the footprint of that first world has become way too big in their lives.”

Existing law forbids federal officials from exercising “any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution.” Existing practices ignore the law, especially by using $4.35 billion in Race to the Top funds to bribe states to accept the Common Core standards (to which tests and hence texts are “aligned”). Alexander understands the futility of trying to lasso the federal locomotive with a cobweb of words. His solution is a portion of his 1981 proposal: Devolve to states all responsibility for evaluating schools, students and teachers.

If Alexander succeeds, this will have an effect on the Republican presidential race. Jeb Bush, who supports Common Core, can say to the Republican base, which loathes it: Never mind, imposing Common Core has been outlawed.

Teachers unions hostile to teacher evaluations have part of a point: Schools are supposed to do what parents cannot do as well, such as teach algebra. They cannot, however, supplant families as transmitters of the social capital – habits, manners, mores – necessary for thriving. So, how do you evaluate teachers whose 7-year-old pupils come to school not knowing numbers, shapes or colors because they come from a cacophonous home culture of silence, where no one, while making dinner, says, “Here are 10 round green peas”? Let 50 governors find 50 metrics for K-through-12 progress.

Although liberal academia deserves its government-inflicted miseries, Alexander’s next project will be deregulation of higher education. The need for which he demonstrates by unfurling the taped-together 10 pages – more than nine feet – of forms containing more than 100 questions students must answer when applying for federal aid. Alexander suggests replacing it with a five-by-seven-inch card containing two questions: Family size? Family income? While achieving his impressive curriculum vitae, Alexander has learned to appreciate simplicity.


Obama’s Student Loan Forgiveness Program Has $21.8 Billion Shortfall

The Obama administration’s student loan program came up $21.8 billion short last year because of unpaid and forgiven loans.

According to Politico, which found the number buried in President Obama’s 2016 budget proposal this week, the shortfall is “the largest ever recorded for any government credit program.”

The president’s student loan initiative limits student loan payments to 10 percent of the borrower’s income, and forgives outstanding debt after 20 years—or 10 years if the borrower works in public service.

According to, the initiative is “part of the Obama-Biden administration’s ambitious agenda to make higher education more affordable and to help more Americans earn college degrees.”

Politico reports that 40 million Americans currently hold $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt.

Romina Boccia, the Grover M. Hermann fellow in federal budgetary affairs at The Heritage Foundation, said the federal government “is hiding the very real taxpayer exposure to risk that arises from its massive and growing student loan portfolio.”

“If the federal government included the market risks of that portfolio, its student loan programs would quickly reveal themselves as big money losers for taxpayers,” said Boccia.

“According to the Congressional Budget Office, using a fair-value approach to account for student loans shows them to drain federal coffers by $88 billion over the decade—a figure that can be expected to grow even higher given Obama’s new repayment program, which would forgive many of the loans,” she added.

According to Politico, because of a “quirk” in how credit programs are budgeted, the $21.8 billion difference can be added to the deficit without “appropriations or even approval from Congress.”


UK: The staggering scale of censorship on campus

This is a big day in the fight for free speech on campus. For the past six months, spiked, with a team of student researchers and academic experts, has been researching, assessing and compiling the Free Speech University Rankings (FSUR) – the UK’s first-ever nationwide study of the state of free speech on campus. We have collected and analysed the policies and bans of 115 universities and students’ unions, ranking every institution using our traffic-light system – Red, Amber and Green. Now the results are in. And they don’t look good.

Published today, on our exclusive FSUR website, our research has unearthed some shocking statistics. Eighty per cent of UK universities, when the academic institution itself is combined with its students’ union, place binding restrictions on freedom of speech. Forty-one per cent of these are explicit, Red-light bans on particular ideas, parties and individuals. The remaining 39 per cent take a vague, yet in some ways more insidious approach, by placing restrictions on offensive or insulting speech: Amber-light bans.

The scale of the problem is staggering. And students’ unions are leading the way. Our research measures a university’s attitude to free speech by assessing the policies and behaviour of both the academic institution itself and its students’ union. But when assessed individually, 51 per cent of the UK’s students’ unions are ranked Red, as opposed to 9.5 per cent of university institutions. Thirty-seven per cent of SUs still clutch to No Platform policies, which ban far-right and extremist speakers from campus.

But now, Safe Space polices, the new kid on the SU policy roster block, are taking the paternalistic logic of No Platform further, restricting any speech that merely has the potential to create, in the words of the University of Bristol Union, ‘unsafe or unwelcoming conditions’. The Safe Space policy of the Edinburgh University Students’ Association requires students attending union meetings to refrain from using ‘hand gestures which denote disagreement’ and to clap only when a motion is passed, not when a motion falls. If students aren’t even allowed to clap freely, then the prospects for academic life in Britain truly are bleak.

And then there’s the universities themselves, which too often get off the hook. While their fresh-faced counterparts in the SU do sometimes make ‘PC gone mad’ headlines in the press, university institutions’ own censorious ways often go on unseen. Yet our research ranks 61 per cent of universities themselves, leaving off their students’ unions, as Amber, meaning that vague, open-ended and easily abused measures are their preferred method for controlling speech.

Embedded in policy after policy are vetting processes and provisos that restrict student speech. Perhaps the most egregious stat of the lot is that 31 per cent of university Free Speech policies, aimed at ‘securing free speech within the law’, actually place restrictions on ‘offensive’, ‘controversial’ or ‘needlessly provocative’ speakers on campus.

Campus censorship is often painted as a minor issue – a problem of students’ union muppetry and kneejerk university risk-aversion. Banning pop songs and keeping far-right nutcases at bay may be bad things on principle, say the critics, but they hardly impinge on the cut and thrust of university debate.

The FSUR shows that precisely the opposite is true. As soon as you allow the principle that universities should be places of unfettered learning and discussion to be breached, even in the most trivial of circumstances, then censoriousness soon spreads. From the atheist society at the University of Reading being expelled from its freshers’ fair for naming a pineapple Muhammad to the infamous banning of a Nietzsche reading group at UCL, no view – no matter how proper, mainstream or academic – is now safe from censure.

The FSUR is a wake-up call. Universities and students’ unions must reform, lest they risk completely obliterating their distinct moral obligation to create the atmosphere of tolerance, openness and free debate that is essential to the pursuit of knowledge.

Established as an annual survey, the FSUR will continue to keep a check on campus censorship. But reform won’t be achieved without the efforts of students and academics, resisting, agitating and insisting that their campuses be censorship-free zones. They must create a culture of freedom on campus that is so strong that university managers or students’ union officials will have to censor at their peril. We hope the FSUR serves as a valuable resource in that good fight.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Obama’s Plan to Undermine American Higher Education

President Obama is yet again undermining American higher education under the guise, naturally, of trying to help those who cannot afford it. Unfortunately, this killing with ostensible kindness strategy has been barely noticed, so let me illuminate the evil. Indeed, our economic rivals abroad could not have invented a more stealthy even brilliant strategy.

President Obama's recently proposed American College Promise (ACP) would offer federal government subsidies ($60 billion over ten years plus $20 billion from the states) for Community College tuition so as to promoted economic growth by expanding access to college. Congress will probably kill it but even if enacted it would only make matters worse.          

The culprit is that today's colleges, save a few elite institutions, undermine good work habits and, as any employer knows, solid work habits can trump book learning. And, the harder Washington pushes kids into college, the worse the acquisition of tenacity, an ability to follow directions, honesty, a knack for   surmounting obstacles, self-discipline and similar traits that define "a good employee."         

 As someone who spent four decades in the academy teaching political science and fourteen years as the owner of a small retail business, I know this disjuncture first hand.          

Let's begin with today's academy. When the baby boomers arrived on campus during the early 1960s most students encountered the "look to your right, look to you left, next year you may be the only one who is still on campus" speech since there were far more freshmen than could be graduated.          

Today the supply of qualified enrollees has dwindled and the number of colleges has exploded so emphasis is now on retaining tuition-paying warm bodies, many of whom enjoy sky-high unearned self-esteem. No more culling the herd so schools must tolerate once unacceptable student behaviors. Customer satisfaction is now the educational goal.          

Nearly all professors can tell horror stories about today's often indifferent students. Forget about enforcing mandatory attendance or even requiring students to show when class begins or insist that they refrain from gossiping with neighbors, texting on cell phones, Tweeting, or checking Facebook or eBay. Assignments and deadlines are now de facto mere "suggestions" and student privacy requirements make medical excuses unverifiable. One of my graduate students used his "don't ask don't tell" disability to customize my graduate seminar to suit his whims. Students would be outraged if the instructor demanded that all assigned readings be completed prior to class lectures and just to be sure, he would randomly call on students to summarize the readings or give pop quizzes. I'd bet that if these policies were announced on the first day of class, the exodus would be immediate, a disaster for part-timers and adjuncts whose livelihoods are enrollment driven. Meanwhile even tenured faculty would be punished with terrible course evaluations for being "unreasonable." 

Fortitude in the face of obstacles is hardly necessary these days since students understand the importance of retention. To this end, schools typically provide multiple support services (called "resource centers") to help students avoid the inevitable pain associated with mastering difficult subjects. College counselors will also be happy to steer failing students to gut courses or easy grading professors. These rescues are particularly plentiful for struggling minority students who have the most to gain by acquiring self-reliance.

Such sloth can be seen when professors compare their syllabi from the 1970's to the current version. Reading lists are now usually much shorter and serious research papers are long gone. Add grade inflation so anything less than a "B" is rare, even for shoddy work. Students quickly learn that it takes real effort to flunk out (the Obama proposal would require a "C+" for eligibility).

 But, the most serious transformation is the new tolerance for offences that once brought automatic expulsion. Few professors strictly enforce rules against cheating or plagiarism given that enrollment worried administrators are cowards. If anything, there will be some academic plea bargaining so cheater may drop the course without penalty, receive an "F" just for the plagiarized paper or are admonished not to cheat again. I recall one offender who handed in an awful three-page paper downloaded from a "My Professor Sucks" website (the service has apparently vanished). Alas, the miscreant forgot to remove the $25 invoice before submitting the paper. I settled out of court by allowing him to drop the course well past the official drop deadline.          

Life in the world of business is, of course, just the opposite. Particularly in the current economy, the "look to your right..." message is a harsh reality. Picture any firm tolerating chronic lateness, sending personal e-mail during a meeting, asking questions that clearly showed unfamiliarity with company policy, forever slouching in a chair with one's face obscured by a baseball cap, chronic complaining, handing in memos culled from Wikipedia or ignoring deadlines. What about an employee who screwed up a project and then requested to drop the project without any consequences so he could take some remedial instruction and then begin anew? Or blaming sloppy work on some unverifiable disability?          

And how do you manage a recent college grad that has internalized all the trendy race/class/gender cosmology? Imagine a subordinate who explains his indolent habits on your micro-aggression, the company's invisible racism, his low salary to the crisis of late-stage capitalism, the lack of a caring multi-cultural environment and the arbitrary nature of company rules? Remember, this dazzling display of fashionable nonsense brought "A's" just a few months prior to being hired.          

In sum, when you push poorly prepared, often coddled kids into college and demand that schools graduate nearly everyone regardless of performance, schools rationally undermine solid workplace habits. The reverse is financial suicide for many schools and helps explain why employers often hire ambitious immigrants lacking fancy credentials versus American college slackers.          

What I find particularly disturbing is how business people often equate higher graduation rates with an improved work force. Most business folk certainly know that shoddy products are not the ticket to success in today's quality oriented marketplace and many recognize that their own recent hires are often troublesome employees despite their degrees. I certainly saw this first hand in my own business.          

Obama's American College Promise has it backwards. Boosting America's economic competitiveness requires limiting college access. Let's bring back the "look to the right, look to the left..." model of higher education. Equating high graduation rates with academic achievement only brings disaster. Give the faculty raises only if they prevent late arrivals from entering the class, humiliate the unprepared and reject any excuse for a late paper short of "I died." Then add bonuses to professors who flunk lots of students and punish cheating. Yes, the number of college graduates would drop sharply (along with student debt) but the word would soon get out-an American BA finally means something.  


Dartmouth College Banning Possession and Consumption of Hard Liquor

But beer is OK!

 Dartmouth College is changing the way it does business, and that includes "tackling the challenge of excessive drinking" among students.

As part of his "Moving Dartmouth Forward Plan," Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon ('77) announced on Thursday that "Dartmouth will take the lead among colleges and universities in eliminating hard alcohol on campus."

The college is prohibiting the "possession or consumption" of alcohol that is 30 proof or higher on campus by individuals, including those of legal drinking age. The ban also applies to "Dartmouth-college recognized organizations."

"In addition, we will ask that the entire campus community follow suit and not serve hard alcohol at college-sponsored events and be role models for the healthy consumption of alcohol.

"The key to the successful implementation of any policy change is a clear path for enforcement," Hanlon said.

"To this end, we will require third-party security and bartenders for social events. We will also increase penalties for students found in possession of hard alcohol, especially for those students who purchase and provide alcohol to minors."

The college also plans to do "everything in our power" to eradicate sexual assault on campus -- and promote "community awareness of sexual violence and gender-based harassment."

Starting next year, the college will introduce a mandatory, four-year sexual violence prevention and education program for all students, as well as first-responder training program for faculty and staff.

The college also plans to create an online “Consent Manual,” including" realistic scenarios and potential sanctions to reduce ambiguity about what is acceptable and what is not."

To instill what Hanlon called a "higher standard of behavior" among students, every student who enrolls at Dartmouth will sign a Code of Conduct that sets out expectations -- "as they relate to civility, dignity, diversity, community, and safety—for all members of the Dartmouth community." The new code will be ready by the start of the next academic year.

Fraternities will be required to eliminate their pledge periods, "during which members have a lesser status." Greek houses also must have active faculty or staff sponsors -- one male and one female.

The college plans to create a "more inclusive and diverse environment," by recruiting under-represented faculty and students.

In his speech to students, Hanlon said colleges and universities across the country face the same issues that Dartmouth does:

"We are not alone in facing them. But we will take the lead in saying 'no more.' We will take the lead in American higher education in restoring student life to a safe and sustainable place. We will offer a campus experience that is in every way worthy of our name … that is in every way conducive to the promise of our future. We will Move Dartmouth Forward."

"Now get to class," he concluded.


Australia: Does a private school education justify the extra money that it costs?

This is pretty hokey data below -- of the sort we expect from Leftists.  Not mentioned below is the sample in which State schools did better than private schools. If we dig, however, we find that "out of the 60 most advantaged schools in the state, public schools scored above 90 in 38 per cent of their exams, on average, while the rate was 26 per cent in private schools".  So the figures do not derive from an overall  public/private comparison at all but rather from a very limited comparison of a small and select number of schools.  And it is highly likely that the "advantaged" State schools had similar amenities and offerings to the private schools.  The parent and citizen committees would be very active in such schools.  So the comparison tells us very little.

And note that the unmentionable is a factor.  The second highest performing school, James Ruse state school, is overwhelmingly Chinese and we all know what a difference that makes.  See here, for instance.   So once again, the study is shallow.

The one thing the figures do tell us is the key role of the students rather than the school.  It's who your fellow students are that matters most.  Children from successful families are probably going to be more advantageous classmates in many ways  -- less disruptive etc.  So getting your kid into a "good" (affluent) school (private or public) is important if only because of the fellow students there.  And "good" state schools are few in many parts of Australia.  So there is good reason not to gamble on a State education.

The authors below in fact acknowledge that.  They say: "The substantial contribution to their success is the capacity and background of the kids they enrol. Almost 90 per cent of the schools which topped the HSC last year were also the most advantaged schools in NSW, showing social class is a far stronger indicator of how a school will rank than the quality of teaching."

And, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago: "In choosing your son's school, you are choosing his friends for life.  Except for the army, men rarely make new friends far into adulthood, and even if they do, their old school friends will still usually predominate in their friendship circle.  So choosing a school is choosing a lot for a son.  What sort of friends do you want  your son to have?  He will tend to have smarter and more socially competent friends if you send him to a private school.  And if you send him to a sink school ...."

The state's expensive private schools are spending $3.3 billion more on their students each year than equally advantaged public schools, despite achieving the same academic results, a new report has found.

This excess cash is more than the total amount spent annually in the 600 most disadvantaged schools in the state, where critics argue the money would be better spent.

The analysis is the latest in a series by researchers Chris Bonnor and Bernie Shepherd that examines data from the My School website.

They found private and Catholic schools are investing significantly more money per student than public schools. Yet, when comparing schools with similar students, they are achieving similar or worse results.

Among moderately advantaged schools, for example, public schools spent $10,932 per student on average in 2012, the most recent data available.

Yet, to achieve similar results, Catholic schools spent an extra $588 per student and independent schools spent $1389 per student more, much of which comes from school fees.

Among the most advantaged schools, the average spend per student was up to $22,000 in private schools, more than double that spent on similar public school students.

When looking at all schools across the state, the excess money spent on students who achieve the same results as their cheaper public school equivalents was $520 million in the Catholic system and $2.77 billion among independents.

The executive director of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, Geoff Newcombe, would not respond to Fairfax Media's questions except to say "analysis of this type is ideologically driven and has no useful educational purpose".

A spokesman for the federal education minister, Christopher Pyne, said increased money was allocated to disadvantaged schools under the needs-based model introduced in 2014.

Tim Hawkes, the headmaster of The King's School, published an article on his website last week in defence of spending money on a private education.

"Most parents I speak to are looking for a great exam performance in year 12. But, this is only part of what they are looking for," he said. "They are also wanting a school that pays a lot of attention to values, that advances a faith position, that has a strong co-curricular offering, that offers boarding, that has strong accountability."


Monday, February 09, 2015

How Much Is That Psychology Degree Worth?

The Republican leadership in Congress still hasn’t held hearings on why college is so expensive, although I proposed the idea two weeks ago. Of course, it’s been a month since the GOP took control of Congress, and they also haven’t voided Obama’s unconstitutional executive amnesty, passed e-Verify, a fence bill or the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act.

Democrats are on offense all the time, even when they’ve just had their legs cut off. They announce absurd agenda items and then indignantly demand to know why Republicans are refusing to deal with the free unicorn-rides proposal. Obama is a lame-duck president and, three months ago, his party was slaughtered in midterm elections. And yet, I gather that his State of the Union address consisted of a litany of insanely expensive, utterly pointless ideas.

And Republicans fall for it every time. They consider it a major victory to come back with a free-market approach to surrender.

In response to Obama’s “free” community college idea, Republicans should say: We’re not giving you anything, and, in fact, we’re demanding answers from the entire “higher ed” establishment. You’ll be surprised how liberating and fun it is to go on offense, Republicans.

The GOP needs to hold tobacco company-style hearings, hauling in the presidents of various universities and asking them to justify their multimillion-dollar salaries.

We want professors explaining, under penalty of perjury, exactly how much they make per hour for their rigorous schedules of two classes a week, summers off, and full-year “sabbaticals” every few terms.

Also, we’d like to know how driving the getaway car for a cop-killer constitutes a qualification to teach college.

College professors relentlessly hound the rest of society for its crimes – racism, sexism, “white privilege” – look what you’re doing to the environment! Why are we paying them, again? There’s no visible reason most of these people should be teaching at all. How about they explain their value to the taxpayers who subsidize their cushy lives?

Other than engineers, economists and quarterbacks, no one acquires any marketable knowledge at college. The sole purpose of a degree is to function as a substitute IQ test. If employers were allowed to give applicants 15-minute intelligence tests, they’d have the exact same information as knowing what college a person attended.

But they can’t do that, so families have to spend a quarter of a million dollars to give their kids the parchment equivalent of an IQ score. High school kids who get into good schools should present employers with their college acceptance letters and skip the going-to-college part.

Republicans need to force colleges to issue reports, just like drug companies, attesting to the average cost, and the average salary, for every degree. It will cost you $160,000 to receive a degree in Spanish literature and will take you 88 years to pay that back.

Trust Ann – liberals will go wild. That’s how you’ll know you’ve struck gold.

They will scream bloody murder, accuse Republicans of “McCarthyism,” say it’s too burdensome to collect this information and how can you put a dollar value on a college education?

They better be able to put a dollar value on a college degree! That’s how it’s being sold. Obama doesn’t say it’s important to go to college to learn to think analytically, read critically or be exposed to different ideas – none of which occurs at most colleges, anyway.

No, that’s not the pitch. The pitch is: You’re going to fail in this economy without a college degree!

If colleges really believe their product is worth anything, why don’t they guarantee their own student loans? Why should taxpayers be on the hook for everyone’s tuition?

According to the colleges, their graduates are going to earn all sorts of money! At least that’s what they say when they’re conning teenagers into taking out colossal student loans.

“It’s burdensome” is not an excuse accepted by the government in any other context. It doesn’t work for businesses being forced to come up with reams of information for the IRS, the EPA or OSHA. And the taxpayer isn’t on the hook for the deceptive promises of any other industry – except hucksters for home mortgages and student loans.

I would like to hear college presidents explain that what they do is totally different from any other company.

Democrats need to be exposed as hustlers for the most fraudulent, overpriced scam in the country. There’s no other industry that has politicians flacking for it, much less conniving to prevent consumers from getting truthful information about the merchandise.

Going after Big Education is all upside for the GOP. College professors and administrators already vote 98 percent for the Democrats. In fact, it’s a triple-play for Republicans: They would punish a liberal constituency, strike a blow against the principal vehicle of liberal indoctrination in America, and the middle class will love it.


Insane British teachers afraid of snow

When snow began falling across the south this week, thousands of children will have gleefully raced outside to play in the first flakes of winter.

But there was no such joy for the 340 infants at Stalham Academy in Norfolk as teachers raced them inside as soon as the white stuff began falling for 'safety' reasons.

To make matters worse teachers dropped all the blinds, stopping the excited eight and nine-year-olds from even catching a glimpse of it through the window.

A message posted on Stalham Academy's Facebook page said playgrounds were extremely icy on Monday and Tuesday and the children had been taken in at the start of the day for 'safety reasons'.

The ice had not cleared by break time on Monday and sleet and snow showers prevented outdoor play at lunchtime, said the school.

It comes after the school hit the headlines days before Christmas when the Rev Margaret McPhee told distraught kids at a church carol concert that Santa Claus wasn't real.

Furious parents have hit out at the killjoy staff, saying the decision was 'beyond belief'. Charlotte Marsters, 39, whose nine-year-old daughter attends the school, said: 'It was so dark when they shut the blinds that they had to put the lights on.

'The poor kids were stuck inside all day as they weren't even allowed to play in the snow - and there was only about 1cm for heaven's sake.'

She said that teachers 'marshalled' pupils, banning them from even bending to touch the snow.  She added: 'One boy was told off for just swiping a little bit off a wall with his glove.'

Shelly Betts, 43, said her eight-year-old daughter Bethany was ecstatic when it began snowing at the school on Monday this week.  Mrs Betts said: 'When she told me they'd shut the blinds I couldn't believe it - I was very upset.

'They're only little - and they only stay children for a short time. They could have turned the snow into a science lesson instead of banning them from seeing it.  'By the time they came out of school it was all gone - it's just beyond belief.'

The mum-of-six insisted: 'I don't want it to end up with my children only knowing about snow from Christmas cards.'

Julie Hollins, who has a son of eight at the school, said: 'Stopping them from even seeing the snow fall is a real slap in the face for little children.'

Valerie Moore, chief executive of the Rightforsuccess Academy Trust, to which the school belongs, did not respond to repeated request for comment.


Is mathematics Confucian?

The Chinese author below thinks so

Chinese Australians consistently outperform their peers in mathematics and according to QUT researcher Michael Mu this is not only because of pushy parents or motivated students.
Mr Mu's research has found in addition to a strong emphasis on mathematics, Chinese Australians' mathematical achievement is also passed down through generations.

Mr Mu, who is undertaking his PhD through the Faculty of Education, said Chinese cultural identity counted in mathematical success.

As part of his study, Mr Mu surveyed 230 young Chinese Australians relating their mathematical achievement to their level of association with their Chinese cultural dispositions.

"I found there is a trend showing Chinese Australians' mathematics learning is influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by the values and expectations that they get from their cultural identity," he said.

"It's not only about Chinese parents pushing their children at mathematics, or students putting in more effort, or the belief that Chinese students have a great interest in maths, it's much more deeply rooted in their cultural history."

Mr Mu said "habitus" or as it was more commonly understood as structures that generate, but not determine, certain cultural dispositions, was what pushed Chinese Australians to do well at maths - and it could be done consciously or unconsciously.  "The importance of mathematics is steeped in Chinese tradition and culture. It is part of Confucius ideas and beliefs," he said.

"Chinese traditions and beliefs play an important part in Chinese culture and they are passed down from generation to generation. "Despite some possible imperfect intergenerational reproduction, Confucian way of being, doing, and thinking continues over thousands of years.

"This perception becomes the underpinning mechanism that leads to Chinese Australians' putting in more effort in mathematics learning and therefore better mathematics achievement compared to their counterparts."

Mr Mu's study is published as "Does Habitus Count in Chinese Australians' Mathematics Achievement?"


Sunday, February 08, 2015

New Jersey student wins court case to keep 'under God' in Pledge of Allegiance

The interesting thing is that those seeking to remove God from the US do it without thinking of the peril to free speech and all other "God given" rights enumerated in the Constitution.

If there is no God, the government is free to limit any and all rights because now they are granted by the government.  The strong historical association between atheism and the authoritarianism of Leftists (e.g. the Soviet Union) is no accident. Leftists want to play God

Teen fighting for right to recite 'under God' in Pledge
A New Jersey high school senior has won her case to keep "one nation under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, defeating atheist attacks that sought to strike the language from the pledge.

Samantha Jones, a senior at Highland Regional High School, declared victory Friday in protecting what she has described as the right of her fellow students to continue reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in its entirety. After hearing the teen and her family's case, a state judge dismiss the latest efforts by the American Humanist Association to remove "under God" from the Pledge.

The legal battle first began when an unnamed New Jersey family from Monmouth County, identified in court papers as John and Jane Doe and their child, sued the Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District in February 2014, alleging the phrase "under God" in the pledge is discriminatory. The case was filed by the American Humanist Association, which claimed the recitation of the pledge violates Article 1 of the state's constitution.

Jones, who was attending another school, fought back, telling Fox News last November that the phrase "acknowledges that our rights don’t come from the government but from a higher power, so they can’t take away the rights."

She described America as a country of many beliefs and claimed all of those beliefs – including those of atheists – are protected by "one nation under God."

"I don’t think that it’s as much about religion as it is about our rights. Everyone has the right to remain silent but they don’t have the right to silence everybody else," she told Fox News.

After the school district and Jones won their case, she said in a statement released Friday that "I'm so grateful the court decided that kids like me shouldn't be silenced just because some people object to timeless American values."

"Ever since I was little, I've recited the Pledge of Allegiance because it sums up the values that make our country great. The phrase 'under God' protects all Americans-including atheists-because it reminds the government that it can't take away basic human rights because it didn't create them," she said.

Jones and her family were represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. Historic defenders of the Pledge like the Knights of Columbus, the world's largest Catholic fraternal organization, and the American Legion also intervened in the case.

"The message today is loud and clear: "God" is not a dirty word," Eric Rassbach, Deputy General Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, also said in a statement Friday. "The Pledge of Allegiance isn't a prayer, and reciting it doesn't magically create an official state religion."

"The Pledge-in the tradition of Washington's Farewell Address or Lincoln's Gettysburg Address-is not a prayer to God, but a statement about who we are as a nation. Dissenters have every right to sit out the Pledge, but they can't silence everyone else," Rassbach said.

David Niose, an attorney for the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center, had argued that public schools should not "engage in an exercise that tells students that patriotism is tied to a belief in God."

"Such a daily exercise portrays atheist and humanist children as second-class citizens, and certainly contributes to anti-atheist prejudices," Niose claimed.

The Matawan-Aberdeen Regional School District doesn't require that students say the Pledge of Allegiance. The Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that school children could not be forced to recite the pledge.

State Superior Court Judge David Bauman said during arguments in November that there wasn't any evidence the student in question had been "bullied, ostracized or in any way mistreated." But Bauman also noted during his questioning of district attorney David Rubin that district policy requires parents whose children don't say the pledge to furnish an explanation in writing.

At the time, Rubin said he wasn't aware of any cases in which parents had refused to supply an explanation and didn't know what the ramifications would be if they didn't. He accused the plaintiffs of filing a lawsuit claiming the pledge violates laws against the official establishment of religion "masquerading as an equal protection case."

School district officials had claimed they're simply following a state law requiring schools to have a daily recitation of the pledge. In a court filing, the district wrote that the plaintiffs can't claim a violation of equal protection laws because all students are treated equally by not having to recite the pledge.


Obama's Student-Debt Giveaway Cost $22 Billion

Last year, Barack Obama broadened the “Pay As You Earn” student-debt federal giveaway. As usual, it was a wealth-transfer scheme – giving taxpayer money away to the coveted votes of young people.

Even Obama’s buddies at Politico are astounded at the cost of his “generosity.” Michael Grunwald reports, “In obscure data tables buried deep in its 2016 budget proposal, the Obama administration revealed this week that its student loan program had a $21.8 billion shortfall last year, apparently the largest ever recorded for any government credit program.”

Worse, “because of a quirk in the budget process for credit programs, the [Education] department can add the $21.8 billion to the deficit automatically, without seeking appropriations or even approval from Congress.”

Like every other program Obama calls for, he wants to “pay for it” by taking money from upper-bracket taxpayers. “This should be a no-brainer,” he said last summer. “It would be scandalous if we allowed those kinds of tax loopholes for the very, very fortunate to survive while students are having trouble just getting started in their lives.”

In other words, it’s his money to dispense with as he pleases. The real scandal is that Obama has dumped an $8 trillion truckload of new debt onto the backs of our children and grandchildren – all while claiming a mantle of fiscal responsibility. Our national debt now stands at an astounding $18.1 trillion. That’s more than $145,000 per American household. And he’s not done yet.


Queering Agriculture? On campus, theory is as high as an elephant’s eye

Another day in academia, another twist in the bizarre world of identity studies. The Center for the Study of Sexual Culture at the University of California, Berkeley, is presenting a talk next week on “Queering Agriculture,” dedicated to the proposition that “it is absolutely crucial queer and transgender studies begin to deal more seriously with the subject of agriculture.”

Queer theory has taken over student life on many campuses. Now that gay identity has been thoroughly institutionalized, declaring oneself “trans*,” “genderqueer,” “pangender,” or any of the other rapidly multiplying alternative sexes has become the last frontier of self-engrossed agitation available to students. But apart from the odoriferous leavings of female ginko trees, the “problem” of gender and plants did not seem to be a pressing one, making the application of queer theory to agriculture an innovation that even the most dogged observers of identity studies might not have seen coming. The talk’s presenter, a Ph.D. candidate in American studies at the University of Maryland, will allegedly show that “the growing popularity of sustainable food is laden with anthroheterocentric assumptions of the ‘good life’ coupled with idealized images and ideas of the American farm, and gender, radicalized and normative standards of health, family, and nation.”

Is it possible that beneath this stale rhetoric of High Theory lies a healthy skepticism toward the hypocrisies of modern environmentalism? Perhaps, but it is as likely that the lecture will simply impose the jargon of queer studies onto a pseudo-Marxist critique of agriculture and a debunking caricature of the traditional family. Presenter Bailey Kier is a typical product of the modern-day humanities department: he (if that is an acceptable term) has spent so much time researching “queer ecologies” that he appears to have largely missed out on grammar and style. The lecture description is pervaded by such infelicities of language as “the manipulation of reproduction and sexuality are a foundation of agriculture.” No one at the Center for the Study of Sexual Culture noticed these errors, either, because immersion in High Theory has crowded out exposure to the normal workings of the English language.

“Queering Agriculture” looks rigorously empirical, however, compared with other lectures sponsored by the Center for the Study of Sexual Culture. Next month, an assistant professor of women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University will be presenting on “Race, Sexuality and Affective Heredity before the Gene.” The prospectus explains:

Theorizing “impressibility” as a nineteenth-century keyword linking race and sexuality, the talk explores how scientists, reformers, and writers alike saw themselves as working in concert with a neurobiological substrate that they conceived of as, in its ideal form, fluid, malleable, and forever in dynamic exchange with surrounding bodies, objects, and forces. . . . The talk’s investigation of the pre-determinist materiality of the body provides an important perspective on the biopolitics of affect and the stakes of feminist materialisms.
People outside the academy still do not grasp that such discourse doesn’t represent some eccentric backwater within the university—it lies at the very core of today’s humanities. It’s the serious, selfless study of human creation that is now at the margins, fighting for survival. And the identity-studies worldview doesn’t stay put.

New York’s leftist mayor, the supremely self-confident Bill de Blasio, has of late been promoting his agenda for eradicating economic inequality—a mission he believes to be fully in line with his powers as mayor. Compared with such academic irrelevancies as “feminist materialisms,” de Blasio’s predictable list of income-redistributing and market–manipulating measures seems almost refreshingly down-to-earth. But in fact, de Blasio’s political world is intimately related to the academic hothouse. His ongoing argument that the police are the greatest threat facing young black males today is of a piece with academic racial victimology; it’s a virtual certainty that his administration is rife with gender-studies and critical-race theory graduates.

The current political debate about how to make college more affordable proceeds in blind ignorance of the actual content of college courses. University presidents are expert at presenting a reassuring, normal face to the outside world, pretending that their institutions are all about practical knowledge creation and the elevation of students’ future earnings (the latter function an improper goal for the university in any case). What needs to be understood is that the people running the humanities today are no longer the guardians of our culture, but its nemesis.