Tuesday, January 05, 2016

A Soviet High School in America

With very narrow bounds on what you can safely say

By JONATHAN HAIDT, a prominent liberal advocate of more intellectual diversity in academe    :

A month before the Yale Halloween meltdown, I had a bizarre and illuminating experience at an elite private high school on the West Coast. I’ll call it Centerville High. I gave a version of a talk that you can see here, on Coddle U. vs. Strengthen U. (In an amazing coincidence, I first gave that talk at Yale a few weeks earlier).

The entire student body — around 450 students, from grades 9-12 — was in the auditorium. There was plenty of laughter at all the right spots, and a lot of applause at the end, so I thought the talk was well received.

But then the discussion began, and it was the most unremittingly hostile questioning I’ve ever had. I don’t mind when people ask hard or critical questions, but I was surprised that I had misread the audience so thoroughly. My talk had little to do with gender, but the second question was “So you think rape is OK?”

Like most of the questions, it was backed up by a sea of finger snaps — the sort you can hear in the infamous Yale video, where a student screams at Prof. Christakis to “be quiet” and tells him that he is “disgusting.” I had never heard the snapping before. When it happens in a large auditorium it is disconcerting. It makes you feel that you are facing an angry and unified mob — a feeling I have never had in 25 years of teaching and public speaking.

After the first dozen questions I noticed that not a single questioner was male. I began to search the sea of hands asking to be called on and I did find one boy, who asked a question that indicated that he too was critical of my talk. But other than him, the 200 or so boys in the audience sat silently.

After the Q&A, I got a half-standing ovation: almost all of the boys in the room stood up to cheer. And after the crowd broke up, a line of boys came up to me to thank me and shake my hand. Not a single girl came up to me afterward.

After my main lecture, the next session involved 60 students who had signed up for further discussion with me. We moved to a large classroom. The last thing I wanted to do was to continue the same fruitless arguing for another 75 minutes, so I decided to take control of the session and reframe the discussion. Here is what happened next:

Me: What kind of intellectual climate do you want here at Centerville? Would you rather have option A: a school where people with views you find offensive keep their mouths shut, or B: a school where everyone feels that they can speak up in class discussions?

Audience: All hands go up for B.

Me: OK, let’s see if you have that. When there is a class discussion about gender issues, do you feel free to speak up and say what you are thinking? Or do you feel that you are walking on eggshells and you must heavily censor yourself? Just the girls in the class, raise your hand if you feel you can speak up? [About 70% said they feel free, vs about 10% who said eggshells.] Now just the boys? [About 80% said eggshells; nobody said they feel free.]

Me: Now let’s try it for race. When a topic related to race comes up in class, do you feel free to speak up and say what you are thinking, or do you feel that you are walking on eggshells and you must heavily censor yourself? Just the non-white students? The group was around 30% non-white, mostly South and East Asians, and some African Americans. A majority said they felt free to speak, although a large minority said eggshells. Now just the white students? [A large majority said eggshells]

Me: Now let’s try it for politics. How many of you would say you are on the right politically, or that you are conservative or Republican? [6 hands went up, out of 60 students]. Just you folks, when politically charged topics come up, can you speak freely? [Only one hand went up, but that student clarified that everyone gets mad at him when he speaks up, but he does it anyway. The other 5 said eggshells.] How many of you are on the left, liberal, or democrat? [Most hands go up] Can you speak freely, or is it eggshells? [Almost all said they can speak freely.]

Me: So let me get this straight. You were unanimous in saying that you want your school to be a place where people feel free to speak up, even if you strongly dislike their views. But you don’t have such a school. In fact, you have exactly the sort of “tolerance” that Herbert Marcuse advocated [which I had discussed in my lecture, and which you can read about here]. You have a school in which only people in the preferred groups get to speak, and everyone else is afraid. What are you going to do about this? Let’s talk.

After that, the conversation was extremely civil and constructive. The boys took part just as much as the girls. We talked about what Centerville could do to improve its climate, and I said that the most important single step would be to make viewpoint diversity a priority. On the entire faculty, there was not a single teacher that was known to be conservative or Republican. So if these teenagers are coming into political consciousness inside of a “moral matrix” that is uniformly leftist, there will always be anger directed at those who disrupt that consensus.

That night, after I gave a different talk to an adult audience, there was a reception at which I spoke with some of the parents. Several came up to me to tell me that their sons had told them about the day’s events. The boys finally had a way to express and explain their feelings of discouragement. Their parents were angry to learn about how their sons were being treated and…there’s no other word for it, bullied into submission by the girls.*

Centerville High is not alone. Last summer I had a conversation with some boys who attend one of the nation’s top prep schools in New England. They reported the same thing: as white males, they are constantly on eggshells, afraid to speak up on any remotely controversial topic lest they be sent to the “equality police” (that was their term for the multicultural center). I probed to see if their fear extended beyond the classroom. I asked them what they would do if there was a new student at their school, from, say Yemen. Would they feel free to ask the student questions about his or her country? No, they said, it’s too risky, a question could be perceived as offensive.

You might think that this is some sort of justice — white males have enjoyed positions of privilege for centuries, and now they are getting a taste of their own medicine. But these are children. And remember that most students who are in a victim group for one topic are in the “oppressor” group for another. So everyone is on eggshells sometimes; all students at Centerville High learn to engage with books, ideas, and people using the twin habits of defensive self-censorship and vindictive protectiveness.

And then… they go off to college and learn new ways to gain status by expressing collective anger at those who disagree. They curse professors and spit on visiting speakers at Yale. They shut down newspapers at Wesleyan. They torment a dean who was trying to help them at Claremont McKenna. They threaten and torment fellow students at Dartmouth. And in all cases, they demand that adults in power DO SOMETHING to punish those whose words and views offend them. Their high schools have thoroughly socialized them into what sociologists call victimhood culture, which weakens students by turning them into “moral dependents” who cannot deal with problems on their own. They must get adult authorities to validate their victim status.

So they issue ultimatums to college presidents, and, as we saw at Yale, the college presidents meet their deadlines, give them much of what they demanded, commit their schools to an ever tighter embrace of victimhood culture, and say nothing to criticize the bullying, threats, and intimidation tactics that have created a culture of intense fear for anyone who might even consider questioning the prevailing moral matrix. What do you suppose a conversation about race or gender will look like in any Yale classroom ten years from now? Who will dare to challenge the orthodox narrative imposed by victimhood culture? The “Next Yale” that activists are demanding will make today’s Centerville High look like Plato’s Academy by comparison.

The only hope for Centerville High — and for Yale — is to disrupt their repressively uniform moral matrices to make room for dissenting views. High schools and colleges that lack viewpoint diversity should make it their top priority. Race and gender diversity matter too, but if those goals are pursued in the ways that student activists are currently demanding, then political orthodoxy is likely to intensify. Schools that value freedom of thought should therefore actively seek out non-leftist faculty, and they should explicitly include viewpoint diversity and political diversity in all statements about diversity and discrimination. Parents and students who value freedom of thought should take viewpoint diversity into account when applying to colleges. Alumni should take it into account before writing any more checks.

The Yale problem refers to an unfortunate feedback loop: Once you allow victimhood culture to spread on your campus, you can expect ever more anger from students representing victim groups, coupled with demands for a deeper institutional commitment to victimhood culture, which leads inexorably to more anger, more demands, and more commitment. But the Yale problem didn’t start at Yale. It started in high school. As long as many of our elite prep schools are turning out students who have only known eggshells and anger, whose social cognition is limited to a single dimension of victims and victimizers, and who demand safe spaces and trigger warnings, it’s hard to imagine how any university can open students’ minds and prepare them to converse respectfully with people who don’t share their values. Especially when there are no adults around who don’t share their values.


What's wrong with education for education's sake?

Should a career be the focus of education? Michael Mercieca, CEO of Young Enterprise says 'yes', Kieran McLaughlin, head of Durham School says 'no'

In the last few years, much has been said about preparing young people and children for the world of work.

With various business groups, including the British Chambers of Commerce, calling on schools and employers to work together to make sure pupils understand and are prepared for what awaits them after education, the purpose of schooling has increasingly become a point of debate.

Are schools and universities meant to be making sure their students have the skills to succeed in an increasingly competitive jobs market, or is the purpose of schooling slightly more open ended? Does it need to have a purpose at all, beyond instilling knowledge - and a passion to keep learning - into pupils?

Should learning be about education for education's sake? Or should the focus be employability? Maybe you think it should be a mix of both?

Kieran McLaughlin, head Durham School, writes:

"The cultures which have most achieved greatness have been those which have fostered learning for its own sake"

"What’s the point of an education? It’s easy in this time of measurement, targets and league tables to lose sight of what the primary purpose of our schooldays should be: to acquire a knowledge of the culture, history and intellectual progress of our civilisation, as well as of those that have gone before.

The epitome of an education should be the Arnoldian “best of what has been thought and said” and the measure of any civilisation, of any culture, is the extent to which learning is held as important.

From the ancient Greeks, through the Arabic, Chinese and others up to the present day, the cultures which have most achieved greatness have been those which have fostered learning for its own sake and a scholarly endeavour.

To continue to make this progress, to develop technologically or to simply think about things in a different way, we need the bedrock of our forebears’ knowledge to build on.

Newton’s famous quotation that he stood on the shoulders of giants applies to more than just science, and new ideas across the disciplines come from a constant reworking of the old.

However there is a much more immediate reason for pursuing learning for its own sake: it’s great fun.

Anyone who has ever taught a child – whether it be how to ride a bike, why the dinosaurs became extinct or how to use Pythagoras’ theorem – will have seen the light in their eyes when they have finally mastered a tricky concept.

Those Eureka moments are what make teachers continue in the profession, as they find joy in witnessing the joy of learning.

Intellectual thirst is hard-wired into us as human beings and it continues in us beyond childhood. A greater knowledge and understanding of the world leads to a greater appreciation of its beauty and rigour, and as a society and as individuals we are the richer for it."

Michael Mercieca, CEO Young Enterprise, writes:

It’s pretty tough out there and very competitive at the moment. It’s important that students’ eyes are wide open; that they know what their skills and options are.

Requirements are a lot tougher than they used to be. Employers are a lot more selective because there are more people chasing jobs, and not only those from the UK.

If employers are looking for someone to work in marketing, they will look for someone with a marketing degree, therefore young people need to be guided through their options.

Students should be careful about what they study; a degree in archaeology might not be as good a career move as a degree in engineering. You do an off-piste degree at your own peril, it’s sad but that’s the world we live in.

If you want to study Mesopotamian pottery, that’s fine. However, this is only really an option for those well off enough to pay for it. How can you choose that subject when you’re from a deprived background? Especially when you are going to be paying £40,000 for the privilege?

We should be teaching people that it’s good to learn and keep leaning; but, equally, you don’t have to go to university to learn. There is so much you can do online and so many books you can read. University is about getting a degree, and why do you get a degree? To get a job.

If you don’t get a job at the end of university you are going to be at a disadvantage.

Then again, a degree isn’t the be all and end all for a career. It is equally, if not more important, for people to get the soft skills employers value.

You have to start early on at primary school; you have to start running classes focusing on the skills pupils are going to need. Do this by supplementing academic learning with getting pupils to complete tasks, challenges and exercises to highlight their skills and ambition - learning by doing. Start educating them about their options so they are fully informed about the costs and rewards.

There’s room for improvement in the system, we have much more to do. But study for education’s sake alone, will only ever be for the minority."


Four reasons why university is still a great life choice

Many of the myths that surround university life are exactly that – myths. Going to university to study for a degree is as invaluable now as it ever has been.

Yes there are other paths you can follow, and it's always worth considering your options - whether that's a vocational qualification or an apprenticeship - but don't let anyone put you off higher education if that's where you'd like to end up.

University is like everything in life; you only get out what you put in. So inquisitive students who aren't afraid to work hard will leave fully rewarded, both in terms of personal satisfaction and employability.

Myth 1. University doesn’t help people find a job

In October, new evidence revealed that, three-and-a-half years after leaving university, 96.4 per cent of graduates were in employment or undertaking further study.

Furthermore, a separate report from Prospects - a leading graduate careers expert - found that the number of graduates entering employment six months after leaving university was at a record high.

It’s true that a degree itself is not enough to secure a job – employers are looking for evidence of solid communication skills, simple day-to-day administration experience, project management, initiative and commitment.

These are skills that you may not learn directly through your chosen subject, but they are skills you can acquire from your overall university experience.

The majority of universities will offer regular career weeks, workshops and access to career advisers aiming to boost students’ employability as well as making links with local and national businesses to create placements and internship opportunities.

You've probably heard it said many times, but joining a society can be a great way of meeting like-minded people and could also really help your career development, via expert speakers and support.

Even sports societies could be beneficial, if you decide to take a role on the committee.

Myth 2. Students are lazy

Many students will supplement their bank balances by working at the student union (SU), at the university itself, or in businesses locally - thus using their time productively.

But even if they are not picking up extra cash by working in their spare time, students are generally hardworking and committed to developing themselves through the activities offered through the SU.

Whether that's setting up new volunteering projects both locally and internationally with the support of the SU and university, or creating new societies and groups that bring like-minded people together - there is no excuse for watching endless episodes of Breaking Bad on your days off.

Student communities are bubbling with young leaders who are supported to cultivate their project management and leadership skills and inspire other students to do the same. Don't believe me? Just join your university entrepreneurs society.

Myth 3. It’s stupidly expensive

Paying £9,000 a year for a degree can seem incredibly daunting, but this shouldn't put you off attending university. You need to remember that Government loans are available to cover the costs of both tuition fees and your maintenance costs - including accommodation and travel.

Yes, the level of debt when you finish your degree is difficult to ignore, but in reality, it's often the case that you will barely notice the repayments once you are earning over £21,000 (the repayment threshold).

According to a recent report by Universities UK, the number of undergraduates from the most disadvantaged areas has risen 42 per cent in the last decade, from 22,000 in 2005 to more than 31,000 in 2014, with many universities also offering bursaries to the poorest students.

However, it’s important not just to think about university costs as simply paying for lectures and seminars. At university you’ll have access to fantastic learning resources and experiences.

If you choose a degree with a placement or year in industry you will gain invaluable experience, which will ultimately pay back when it comes to applying for a graduate role.

You’ll also have access to weird, wonderful and thought-provoking student groups, societies and sports teams which will undoubtedly broaden your horizons and are great networking opportunities.

You’ll also be given the opportunity to attend alumni and university events, which showcase the latest research developments and again bring excellent networking opportunities.

Myth 4. You learn more outside the classroom

Listening to experienced lecturers and world-class academics means you get access to the latest research and insights from their chosen fields - you'll also get the opportunity to be guided in your specialism, and receive expert feedback on your work.

Yes, university is all about independent learning, but if you love your subject, course leaders and academics are brilliant resources for helping you find specific areas you would like to explore.

Free online learning courses are easily accessible these days, but university tutors will also challenge you to develop critical thinking skills rather than simply looking up facts or being fed information by a video.

It's not every day that you get access to world leaders in their subjects, so make the most of it. Education for the sake of education shouldn't be dismissed.


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