Monday, July 31, 2017

If conservatives have a low opinion of American higher education, it's because our elite academic institutions have strayed from their core principles and mission

In the past few years, the closing of the academic mind has become hard to ignore. When a Republican presidential candidate's name chalked on a sidewalk is cause for student protest, "bias response team" investigations, or even calls to the police, universities are clearly not embracing robust dialogue. When faculty are disciplined for critiquing university-sponsored anti-bias training, it's evident that only certain views are deemed permissible. So Pew's new study showing that conservative support for higher education has plummeted was noteworthy but hardly surprising. Pew reported that nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of conservative Republicans say colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, while 43 percent of moderate and liberal Republicans agree.

    These results have prompted predictable head-shaking and defensiveness on the part of college and university officials. The most revealing response was offered up in the Chronicle of Higher Education by the respected Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education. After noting just how problematic it is for higher education and for the nation that colleges and universities are seen as partisan institutions, Hartle explained why it is that higher education has lost favor on the Right.

    Hint: It's not because conservative speakers have been disinvited, shouted down, and assaulted by campus mobs. Nor is it because of institutions' repressive speech codes, seemingly adopted to stymie any opinions that run afoul of regnant notions of political correctness. Nor is it even because of an overwhelmingly progressive professoriate, comprising too many faculty members who've confused proselytizing for pedagogy.

    Nope. As Hartle sees it, Republicans' darkening view of colleges and universities is less the fault of higher education than of irrational, right-wing pathologies. For one, he asserts that Republicans don't understand higher education's economic value; for another, he argues that the "conservative echo chamber" gins up controversies for its own selfish purposes. But the heart of the issue, as Hartle sees it, is that conservatives have turned against facts:
        "There also is a broader issue confronting higher education that is much harder to tackle: the changing views of truth. Logic, the disinterested search for truth, rigorous scientific research, and empirical verification have been at the heart of higher-education institutions in the modern era. But today, for many citizens, feelings outweigh facts."

    That's certainly one way of putting things. Here's another way: The problem is not that conservatives have lost faith in the mission of the university, but that too many universities have discarded their sacred commitments to dialogue and truth in favor of ideological crusades.

    Indeed, the mandarins of the academy now openly spout Orwellian arguments for speech suppression based entirely on feelings. Earlier this month, Northeastern University psychology professor Lisa Feldman Barrett penned a piece for the New York Times titled "When Is Speech Violence?" that claimed the mantle of "science" to argue for campus speech restrictions. Before that, an April Times op-ed by NYU's vice provost for faculty, arts, humanities, and diversity, "What `Snowflakes' Get Right About Free Speech," justified censorship on the grounds that subjective emotions should be privileged "over reason and argument," and that "[freedom of speech] means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized members of that community." Disappointingly, the author never quite got around to specifying just who will determine the criteria for this "balancing."

        "Continuous research by our best scientists is the key to American scientific leadership and true national security. This indispensable work may be made impossible by the creation of an atmosphere in which no man feels safe against the public airing of unfounded rumors, gossip, and vilification. Such an atmosphere is un-American. It is the climate of a totalitarian country in which scientists are expected to change their theories to match changes in the police state's propaganda line. . . . Now and in the years ahead, we need, more than anything else, the honest and uncompromising common sense of science. Science means a method of thought. That method is characterized by open-mindedness, honesty, perseverance, and, above all, by an unflinching passion for knowledge and truth".

    The 1974 Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression at Yale, known as the "Woodward Report" and later adopted as a model for institutions across the nation, proclaimed:

        "The primary function of a university is to discover and disseminate knowledge by means of research and teaching. To fulfill this function a free interchange of ideas is necessary not only within its walls but with the world beyond as well. It follows that the university must do everything possible to ensure within it the fullest degree of intellectual freedom. The history of intellectual growth and discovery clearly demonstrates the need for unfettered freedom, the right to think the unthinkable, discuss the unmentionable, and challenge the unchallengeable."

    In 2005, Hartle's own organization - representing nearly 1,800 college and university presidents and executives of related associations - drafted and endorsed the "Statement on Academic Rights and Responsibilities." It held that "intellectual pluralism and academic freedom are central principles of American higher education," that "colleges and universities should welcome intellectual pluralism and the free exchange of ideas," and that "neither students nor faculty should be disadvantaged or evaluated on the basis of their political opinions."

    Contra Mr. Hartle, today's universities - rife with speech codes, "scientific" defenses of speech suppression, and faculties that speak in one voice on seminal issues ranging from race relations to immigration policy - have failed to adhere to their professed ideals or even to his organization's own standards. It's true that there are plenty, on the Left and the Right, who sometimes prefer dogma to science. Colleges and universities, however, are supposed to offer a corrective to such thinking; they're not supposed to be a party to it. The sad truth is that conservatives are right to look askance at higher education in 2017. Too many of our most esteemed academic institutions have drifted from their historic mission - and that's their fault, not ours.


The Next GOP Populist Will Win by Attacking American Higher Education

I want to make a prediction: The next successful Republican politician will rally the Right by making America's universities his punching bag - and the universities will prove even more vulnerable to that politician's attacks than the media were to Donald Trump's.

    A new study from the Pew Research Center shows that Republican opinion of the nation's higher-education system has deteriorated remarkably in a very short time. In 2015, 58 percent of Republicans thought that colleges and universities had a positive effect on the country; an only slightly larger share of Democrats, 65 percent, agreed. Just two years later, the numbers are dramatically different: Only 36 percent of Republicans view colleges positively, compared to 72 percent of Democrats. A whopping 58 percent of Republicans think that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country.

Now imagine what could happen to that number if a Republican presidential nominee tweeted every day and gave speeches around the country attacking our colleges. Imagine how many more Republicans would come to view the nation's academic enclaves negatively if their party's standard-bearer complained daily about the indoctrination of our children, the ceaseless rise in tuition costs that bleeds regular folks dry, the decline in pedagogical rigor, the political bias, the lies. Imagine what would happen if such a politician branded universities as the "enemy of the American people."

Post-Trump, the Republican party will likely be disunited. Voters and politicians will wonder what the party stands for anymore. Is it pro- or anti-military intervention? Pro- or anti-free markets? Culturally conservative or vulgar? The GOP will need a message around which to coalesce. More precisely, it will need an enemy. Republican voters may disagree on policy and principle, but they can agree on whom they don't like:

Radical professors, race-obsessed provocateurs, gender-studies grifters, anti-Israel fanatics, weak-kneed administrators, disgusting libertines, angry feminists, and illiberal student protesters.

    Conservatives can get on board with this critique. They have long railed against the liberal bias of colleges and its effect on America's young. They might get uncomfortable when the critique gets extreme, of course, but the extreme version of the message is not meant for them. It will hammer the same themes as before but excite populists with different terms. "Radical professors" will become "anti-American" or "Communist." "Racial provocateurs" will become "anti-white racists."

    In short, everyone will hear what he or she needs to, and respond accordingly. The alt-right will cheer. Conservative thinkers will write treatises on the pernicious influence of radical intellectuals and call for a new type of American university. Policy wonks will cite studies demonstrating the decline in intellectual diversity on American campuses, drawing up plans to lower tuition or expand technical education while noting responsibly that universities are not for everyone. Each story about silly student protesters and each intimation of a speech code will spark a thousand "hot takes," a Fox News interview, and comment from public officials. Populists will decry the "end of free speech."

    These blows will land for three reasons: 1) They're partially true; 2) universities and the Left are in denial about their truth; and 3) Republican voters have been primed to believe them.

    American higher-education is incredibly screwed up. Only its most servile apologists will deny that. For one, it's a bubble. Tuition prices never stop rising, far outpacing inflation, even as the services rendered seem to have deteriorated. Exorbitant tuition imposes an immense strain on parents, who often must reshape their lives around paying college bills, and on students, many of whom struggle under the burden of student debt for years after graduation.

    Moreover, to what does all that tuition really entitle a student, anyway? The elimination of core curricula in the '80s and '90s has destroyed the foundation of American liberal-arts education. The "studies" majors have themselves drawn students in without being able to offer a promise of real erudition or substantial job prospects. Many disciplines have shifted dramatically toward the study of race, gender, and class.

    The bias is undeniable: Left-wing professors and students predominate, while conservative thought is often ignored, sometimes marginalized, and occasionally forbidden by oppressive speech codes or threatening mobs. Political correctness and identity politics rule many campus student groups. And college life reliably promises socialization into progressive ideas and sexual mores, as well as a confrontation with the most relaxed attitudes toward drinking and drugs.

    Nor do universities themselves recognize the validity and potency of their critics' charges. In covering the Pew survey, InsideHigherEd laid blame for the shift in Republican attitudes at the feet of "perceived liberal orthodoxy and political correctness in higher education." This is typical of how these discussions go. There are only "perceived" problems. The evidence of how fields have drastically changed and how the professoriate has drifted radically leftward since the 1990s is ignored.

    Does this sort of denialism sound familiar? If so, it is likely because the media made the same arguments for years when they were accused of liberal bias. Conservatives were always either "making it up" or they weren't, but bias was just unavoidable. "Reality has a well-known liberal bias," joked Stephen Colbert. "On the liberal bias of facts," read the headline on one Paul Krugman column in the New York Times.

    By refusing to own up to their own bias and weaknesses, the media didn't make their critics disappear; they only angered and empowered them, making themselves more vulnerable to attack. Trump took advantage of that vulnerability by proving he could strike at the media harder than anyone else ever had. A lifelong Democrat and buffoon, he proved his bona fides to Republican voters by waging war on mainstream journalists.

    The educational establishment makes the same mistake but expects a different result, while its left-wing allies cheer it on. Anytime conservatives criticize the academy, they are laughed out of the room. "America hits peak anti-intellectualism" is how Salon interpreted the Pew survey. The Washington Post called David Gelernter, the groundbreaking Yale computer scientist and writer, "fiercely anti-intellectual" for his comments on the Left's dominance of academia.

    By burying their heads in the sand, universities allow the viewpoint disparities on their campuses to grow worse. Defenses by supercilious left-wingers may protect the schools for now, but they will ultimately make the academy into a juicier target for right-of-center populists. When a clever or merely loud politician finally puts the college system in his sights, the Right will be ready.

    It already is, in fact - has been for years.

    In 1951, William F. Buckley Jr. published God and Man at Yale. His central accusation against the university was this:

    The institution that derives its moral and financial support from Christian individualists . . . addresses itself to the task of persuading the sons of these supporters to be atheistic socialists.

    In 1987, Allan Bloom wrote The Closing of the American Mind. In his telling,

the universities gave way under the pressure of mass movements, and did so in large measure because they thought those movements possessed a moral truth superior to any the university could provide. Commitment was understood to be profounder than science, passion than reason, history than nature, the young than the old.

    The universities, the Right has long insisted, have abandoned the West. The canon wars of the 1980s and 1990s, during which core curricula and Western-civilization programs were dismissed as "ethnocentric," only solidified this impression.

    Since then, every conservative publication worth its salt has raced to expose the latest campus outrage. In the Internet era, whole websites have sprouted up to document protests and speech codes, delusions and demands. Fox News devotes valuable coverage to university issues; Tucker Carlson grills campus protesters live on national television. The drama at Middlebury over Charles Murray became a national controversy. More outrages are sure to follow.

    It's not hard to see the breaking point of these campus wars on the horizon: the first time a politician dares to make higher-education into a national campaign issue. Before Trump, the media's "anti-intellectual" label might have scared politicians, but it doesn't any longer. Trump's assault on the media has irreparably damaged its credibility, reducing its claims of expertise and knowledge to fodder for right-wing voters' laughter.

    The next Trump, then, will play to the worst fears of parents by going after colleges and universities. In doing so, he will unite the best, the worst, and all the other elements of the Right. They will be primed to hear the critique, which will be partially or even largely correct. The next Steve Bannon will seek to "overthrow" the university system from behind the scenes. And the universities, like the media before them, will walk right into the trap, while the Left rejects potential voters as deplorable ignoramuses.

    Can you see it yet?


Australia: Our students and teachers deserve better

Jennifer Buckingham

I had the privilege of travelling to England to speak with some of the world’s best researchers on how children learn to read, and to observe how high-performing schools use this research to get all children reading.

There is no longer any serious debate in England about the need for explicit phonics instruction in early reading instruction. In fact, it is mandatory for all English primary schools to teach synthetic phonics — a method of instruction that systematically shows children the connection between spoken and written language, and how to use the English alphabetic code to read and spell.

The quality of synthetic phonics instruction is still uneven. Not all teachers have sufficient depth of knowledge and expertise yet. Nonetheless, there is evidence via the Year 1 Phonics Screening Check (PSC) that instruction has improved. In the first year of the national PSC in 2012, 58% of Year 1 students achieved the expected standard. In 2016, 81% of students achieved the standard.

England’s progress in implementing effective early reading instruction was accelerated by the ‘Rose Review’ of early reading by Sir Jim Rose, published in 2006. It strongly endorsed the ‘Simple View of Reading’– a conceptual model which emphasises the importance of both decoding (word reading accuracy) and comprehension — and found that synthetic phonics was the most effective method of instruction, especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds or with language difficulties.

The Simple View model is strongly supported by research from multiple disciplines. UK Schools Minister Nick Gibb was influenced by this research and has relentlessly pursued the adoption of effective reading instruction, firmly believing that reading is key to educational success and social mobility.

Australia had its own review of the teaching of reading — the National Inquiry into Teaching Literacy (NITL) — the report of which was published in 2005. Its findings were remarkably similar to the Rose Review.

Yet it has had very little impact on reading instruction in Australia. Instead of citing the recent scientific research of Professors Maggie Snowling, Kate Nation, Anne Castles, or Charles Hulme, our Australian literacy academics drag out the outdated, unsubstantiated socio-theoretical views of Ken Goodman and Stephen Krashen.

Australia has many outstanding teachers of reading, but they are too often swimming upstream against poor quality reading programs and policy. Australian teachers and students deserve better.


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