Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Educational Choice for California

California’s political establishment has a love-hate relationship with vouchers. When it comes to housing for low-income families—they love them. When it comes to the Electronic Benefit Transfer program and the federal WIC program—they love them. But when it comes to vouchers for school choice—they hate them. The double standard is especially disheartening because student achievement in California is so low—not only for high schoolers, but also for first-year state-college students.

“California eagerly promotes housing and food vouchers for the homeless and unemployed but denies school-choice vouchers to embattled K-12 students and their families,” writes Independent Institute Policy Fellow K. Lloyd Billingsley. “Parents might call it a crisis situation, but no politician is rushing to the rescue with a voucher plan.”

This may change, however. Independent Institute Research Fellow Vicki E. Alger has been a prolific advocate for school choice—especially for their most potent version, Educational Savings Accounts. (Stay tuned for reports on her efforts in California.) The battle ahead in the Golden State won’t be easy, however. As Billingsley notes, “Governor Jerry Brown empowered government employee unions in his first go-round as governor, and he remains a champion of the education establishment.


Hijacking the Field of History

There's no question colleges and universities have undergone seismic shifts in recent decades. The closing of the college mind means scholars like Charles Murray and conservative speakers like Ben Shapiro are stripped of their free speech rights by mobs on campus grounds. But why? At what point did everything go wrong? A fall speech by historian Niall Ferguson provides some telling insight. Take, for example, a history degree. According to Ferguson:

History as a share of all undergraduate degrees has fallen from 2.2% in 2007 to 1.7%. Taken together, the share of history and social sciences degrees has halved, from 18% in 1971 to 9%. And the decline seems likely to continue. . The data reveal a very big increase in the number of historians who specialize in women and gender, which has risen from 1% of the total to almost 10%.

As a result, gender is now the single most important subfield in the academy. Cultural history (from under 4% to nearly 8%) is next. The history of race and ethnicity has also gone up by a factor of more than three. Environmental history is another big winner. The losers in this structural shift are diplomatic and international history (which also has the oldest professors), legal and constitutional history, and intellectual history. Social and economic history have also declined. All of these have fallen to less than half of their 1970 shares of the profession.

In other words, we've drifted way off course. As fellow historian Daniel Pipes notes, "This means that the most significant events are ignored. Limiting oneself to modern Western history, courses barely cover such topics as the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, World War I, World War II, and the Cold War." Quite the contrary, it turns out. Ferguson cites the seemingly off-topic courses in which students can enroll at schools like Harvard, Stanford, and Yale. Three examples: "Emotions in History," "Witchcraft and Society in Colonial America" and "Madwomen: The History of Women and Mental Illness in the U.S."

"I do not wish to dismiss any of these subjects as being of no interest or value," Ferguson adds. "They just seem to address less important questions than how the United States became an independent republic with a constitution based on the idea of limited government, or how it survived a civil war over the institution of slavery." Indeed. Part of being a good student of history is taking to heart this dire warning: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." We've triumphed over hardships. But those victories are being threatened by activists whose dreams, perceived through emotionally tainted lenses, can never be attained.


Harvard, founded by `stock of the Puritans,' wants them gone from storied anthem

Since the mid-1800s, incoming Harvard University students and those bidding farewell to the college have celebrated together at commencements and other major events by singing "Fair Harvard," a hymn known to sometimes bring its performers together, arm-in-arm, in a show of solidarity.

Now, Harvard is changing its tune and launching a contest that asks the university community to break with tradition by tweaking the revered alma mater. The goal is to replace the song's final line, "Till the stock of the Puritans die," with a phrase that is more inclusive and reflects the modern age.

"We are looking for the best poetic expression that the Harvard community can offer," said Danielle S. Allen, a professor in the department of government. "The only thing that is changing is that line."

The contest, first reported by The Crimson, was announced by Allen on Wednesday during "The Afternoon of Engagement on Inclusion and Belonging," a university-sponsored event at Harvard's Sanders Theatre.

The gathering, which brought together students, faculty, and staff, was part of a series of ongoing events headed by the Presidential Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging, an initiative launched by president Drew Faust in September to identify causes of academic, professional, and social isolation, and enact change.

Allen, co-chairwoman of the 53-person task force, said "Fair Harvard" was written in 1836, by alumnus Samuel Gilman. The song, composed for Harvard's bicentennial, has since been stitched into the fabric of many celebratory affairs.

The final verse, in full, according to the school's website reads:

Farewell! be thy destinies onward and bright!

To thy children the lesson still give,

With freedom to think, and with patience to bear,

And for Right ever bravely to live.

Let not moss-covered Error moor thee at its side,

As the world on Truth's current glides by,

Be the herald of Light, and the bearer of Love,

Till the stock of the Puritans die.

Allen said the point of the song is to highlight the commitment to the pursuit of truth. But the final line essentially makes the claim that achieving that goal is wholly linked to a specific ethnic group.

"The last few lines of the final verse do a wonderful job of connecting the student journey to the school's mission," she said. "But in fact, the pursuit of truth is for everybody."

A statement on the website announcing the competition echoed that sentiment, saying it's "time for a change."

"The Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging launched this competition to affirm that Harvard's motto, Veritas, speaks to and on behalf of all members of our community, regardless of background, identity, religious affiliation, or viewpoint," the website says.

The deadline for the text-only submissions for the contest is Sept. 15. A winner will be announced in 2018.

The prize? Well, "Eternal fame and the enduring gratitude of your fellow members of the Harvard community," according to the school.

A second component of the competition, Allen said, challenges the Harvard community to exercise its creativity, and come up with a new way to sing or perform "Fair Harvard," whether it be through rap, spoken word, or a choral tune.

The "new musical variant" would be an "endorsed alternative" to the traditional hymn, but would not replace it at major events.

"Let's see what the community puts out there," Allen said. "Let's take old things that we admire, and have some fun with them."

The text-change to "Fair Harvard" won't be the first time that the alma mater has been reexamined and revised to move away from Harvard's days of yore.

In 1998, Allen said, following a similar contest, lyrics that read "Thy sons to thy jubilee throng" were ousted in favor of the line, "We join in thy jubilee throng."

The move struck a gender balance - albeit one marked by criticism - that let female students know they, too, are a part of the community.

Allen hopes the new line that will be thrust into the closing text of "Fair Harvard" will similarly achieve that goal.

"A great line of poetry," she said, "that really brings home in a stirring way the aspirations that the pursuit of truth is a project for all of us."


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