Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Lecturer accused of harassing conservative student will no longer work at UNL; 2 PR officials also outed

Background: Professor Amanda Gailey led a cohort of her colleagues to protest a Turning Point USA recruiting event by chanting things like “fuck (TPUSA founder) Charlie Kirk.” The group called TPUSA members “Nazis” during the heated protest, and directed their anger towards TPUSA chapter president Kaitlyn Mullen.  Mullen went home in tears.  No word on Prof. Gailey being fired

The Graduate Student Assembly believes that Courtney Lawton should not have been fired as she was simply using her free speech entitlement.  But attacking someone else's free speech is misbehaviour, not free speech. It is the negation of free speech.  To attack someone else's free speech and then expect free speech protection for yourself is really rich

University of Nebraska officials announced Friday that new steps are being taken in relation to an incident involving a conservative student Aug. 25.

NU President Hank Bounds said the graduate student-lecturer who called a conservative student a “neo-fascist” for recruiting for Turning Point USA would no longer teach at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The World-Herald further learned that the lecturer, Courtney Lawton, will be released from employment completely when her contract expires at the end of the school year.

Bounds also sent Gov. Pete Ricketts and Nebraska’s state senators a letter that cites various actions that reflect “the importance of open conversation that respects each other’s differences” on campus.

One of those is to have Gallup do a survey to assess the campus environment for people of diverse political backgrounds on NU’s campuses in Omaha, Lincoln and Kearney.

NU also released emails as a result of public records requests by Conservative Review and other organizations. Some emails indicated UNL public relations staffers were eager to spin the story and “have a surrogate(s) submit op-eds” to the Omaha World-Herald and Lincoln Journal Star as “aggressive counter-measures” to coverage of the matter.

One of those staffers, UNL news director Steve Smith, was no longer employed as of Friday. “I was not asked by anyone to leave the university,” Smith said. “I did, however, decide to resign.”

Teresa Paulsen, UNL’s chief communication and marketing officer, said Saturday she had also resigned, effective Dec. 1. Paulsen indicated that her resignation related to the emails over the Turning Point issue and that “the clear purpose of my email was simply to ensure that we were conveying the positive attributes of the university’s students, staff and faculty.” She cited “irresolvable differences” between her and the NU system.

Paulsen wrote that the NU system’s “views and values related to communication practices do not align with mine …“

Bounds’ letter said: “Some of the emails reflect unprofessional behavior by our employees and I apologize.”

UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green also sent a letter to Nebraska newspapers. Green’s op-ed piece said UNL has been at the center of discussions about free speech, tolerance and respectful behavior.

“Finding the right balance isn’t always easy. Sometimes, we come up short. August 25 was one of those times,” he wrote.

In that incident, sophomore Kaitlyn Mullen drew protests when she set up a recruitment table for Turning Point USA outside the Nebraska Union.

Mullen, of Highlands Ranch, Colorado, met derision from several UNL faculty members or graduate students after setting up her table. Lawton flipped her off and called her a “neo-fascist.” Mullen, in tears, was escorted home by police.

The incident exploded into a national rallying point for conservatives who criticize universities as havens of liberalism. Three Nebraska state senators wrote a letter to media outlets asking whether NU is hostile toward conservative students.

UNL’s top two administrators, Green and Executive Vice Chancellor Donde Plowman, spoke at length Friday to two reporters about parts of the situation.

They sought to tamp down the notion that UNL is a hostile place for conservative students and professors.


Students, stop waging war on the past

Now British student leaders want to erase William Gladstone's name

Disappointing news this week from my alma mater, Liverpool University. A campaign has been launched to change the name of the Roscoe and Gladstone halls of residence. Students want the name of four-time prime minister William Gladstone to be expunged from the site because he didn’t support the abolition of slavery and his father’s money came from the slave trade.

In my first year at Liverpool I lived in the neighbouring halls: Derby and Rathbone. I’ll admit it never occurred to me to look up the background to these names. All I knew was that I had selected the halls that had not had the asbestos scare a few years earlier – and that was good enough for me.

Incidentally, it seems the student leading the campaign against Roscoe and Gladstone halls, Alisha Raithatha, hadn’t bothered to look up the names while she lived there, either. ‘As former residents of the halls we were horrified to find out we had been living in a building named after such a figure for a whole year without even realising’, she wrote on the university’s students’ guild website. A case of delayed outrage, it would seem.

Raithatha argues that Gladstone’s name should be replaced with the name of someone ‘more worthy’. She has suggested Liverpool alumnus and journalist Jon Snow. Oh dear.

The campaign has received 80 ‘likes’ on the guild website, which means it will be debated at a guild summit – the first step to it becoming an official campaign for the guild. Liverpool is following in the footsteps of Oxford University and Kings College London (KCL) in embracing historic virtue-signalling. The Rhodes Must Fall Oxford campaign sought to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel Square in order ‘to decolonise the institutional structures and physical space in Oxford and beyond’. Earlier this year, KCL’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience decided to replace portraits of its founders with a more racially diverse selection of scholars, after it was concluded that the old paintings did not reflect today’s standards of diversity.

It really can’t be a shock to people that historical figures do not stand up to today’s standards of goodness or diversity. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a contemporary figure who could withstand student activists’ testing of virtuousness, never mind someone from the past, when very often black people and women were not seen as deserving of equal rights.

Past historical figures whose names we remember, and sometimes attach to buildings and streets, are celebrated for what they achieved. This doesn’t mean they were nice people. Most of us are aware of that. Charles Dickens had a problem with Jews: that doesn’t make his work any less important.

Raithatha says of Gladstone: ‘We believe that someone with this controversial background should not have a university hall named after them, especially in a city where we try hard not to forget the atrocities that took place on our docks.’ But no one is forgetting about slavery – and it is absolutely undisputed today that slavery was a terrible historic crime.

So what is the point of all this historical editing? Have the thousands of students who have lived in the Roscoe and Gladstone halls been so influenced by the halls’ namesake that they have come to think slavery was an acceptable institution? Of course not. If we continue this incessant judgement of historic figures by today’s standards, no one from the past will survive our wrath: we will have to tear down pretty much every statue and rename all buildings, streets and squares.

It’s sad to see some Liverpool students pandering to the new PC fury with the past. One of the best things about living and studying in Liverpool was how down-to-earth the city and its people are. But I’m heartened by the fact that just 122 students have taken the time to ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ Raithatha’s proposal. Considering the students’ guild represents 21,000 Liverpool students, that means not even one per cent of the student body care enough about the name of the Roscoe and Gladstone halls to express an opinion on it.

This campaign is armchair activism. A handful of students realised, after having lived in a building for a year, that one of its historic namesakes, who died in 1898, held dubious views on slavery. If Gladstone’s name is deleted, who benefits? What will happen? What he thought and said will still have been thought and said. The fact that he was Britain’s PM four times won’t have changed. We cannot edit history, and we shouldn’t try to. A better approach would be to credit Liverpool students with being intelligent enough to know that historic figures were not perfect, and that history is a complex process.


What should schools teach?

A new book makes the case for imparting knowledge and pursuing truth

In the UK, decades of political meddling in the curriculum have resulted in endless lists prescribing what – and how – teachers should teach. How refreshing then, that unlike many educational policy prescriptions, What Should Schools Teach? does not offer a dazzling list of innovative academic hybrids, along with an interactively inspirational flowchart of how to deliver them.

Rather, the answer is laid out in beautiful clarity, in chapters on mathematics, foreign languages, physics, biology, history, geography, English literature and art – not as an exhaustive list, but the beginning of a conversation about why these core subjects continue to be essential and relevant to the 21st-century curriculum.

Why should schools teach mathematics? Usually, this question would be answered with the ‘duh!’ of pragmatic common sense: to survive in the modern world, people need ‘numeracy skills’. But Cosette Crisan’s chapter transcends this dull instrumentalism, with her account of the discipline as:

‘A powerful tool for making sense of the world; an art with its aesthetic appeal; a language with its syntax and syntactic rules that facilitate precise, concise and rigorous communication; a poetry that I read and do for pure enjoyment; and a creative art, with its struggles, frustrations and elations.’

According to Cosan, the ‘utlilitarian’ view of maths, ‘as a “tool” subject that equips pupils for solving problems’, is a ‘good reason for its inclusion in the school curriculum’. But it’s one that fails to appreciate the ‘intrinsic value’ of mathematics as a school discipline that introduces pupils to ‘the great ideas and controversies in human thought’.

Children often don’t like learning maths, but they find art quite fun. Is this a reason to include it in the curriculum? Again, the tendency to focus on the ‘how to’ of art as a school subject, and to view it as a creative break from the boring stuff, gives the subject a one-sided dimension, which deprives pupils of knowledge and insight of art as a discipline. Studying the history of art alongside practical skills and application would, argues Powell, foster an appreciation of ‘the centrality of the individual in art, as both a subject and as an interpreter, of our cultural practices and our relationships with nature’.

Shirley Lawes’s chapter reveals the wealth of possibility offered to all children by learning a foreign language. To learn a foreign language is to ‘open a new window on the world’, which enables pupils to ‘move beyond their parochial, subjective experiences, to appreciate cultural achievements that have spread beyond national boundaries and are part of universal human culture’. As such, language learning ‘should be seen as an essential part of the education of every individual’.

Yet almost as soon as the possibility arose to open this window on the world for more children, it was narrowed by an instrumental focus on teaching language as a ‘skill’ that would benefit the needs of the economy, and become easy for children to acquire at a rudimentary level. The study of history and literature became superseded by ‘a “get by” toolkit of transactional and “survival” language’. As a result, argues Lawes, ‘Even the small proportion of pupils who continue to learn a foreign language beyond the compulsory minimum acquire very little cultural knowledge, and thus the “window on the world” is shut.’

In the book’s foreword, Michael Young, professor of sociology of curriculum at UCL Institute of Education, recommends that it is read inside out, starting, if you’re a teacher, with the chapter on the reader’s own subject, before exploring other chapters and the Introduction. This brings to the fore the exceptional quality of What Should Schools Teach? – its grounding in the authors’ knowledge of, and passion for, their subjects and the disciplinary approach behind them.

Each chapter is written by secondary-school teachers and lecturers, each of whom, explain the editors, ‘describes [his or her] discipline, how it evolved in relation to an area of human enquiry and how it helps is to explore an aspect of truth’. This is important, not because the chapters ‘present the only, or even the best, account of disciplinary knowledge in the curriculum’, but because ‘each chapter illustrates the kind of curriculum thinking that should be going on in schools and in relation to education policymaking’. This is a thinking that should centrally involve teachers and academics who, as specialists in their disciplines, are the only people who are equipped to make a genuinely educational case for what schools should teach.

The recent re-promotion of academic subjects, through former education secretary Michael Gove’s reforms to GCSEs and A-levels, provided a much-needed counter to the flabby, content-lite substance of previous years. These have at least opened the door for subject specialism to come back into its own. Unfortunately, this possibility remains bounded by instrumental demands, political agendas, and an overarching distrust of teachers. The content of what schools are supposed to teach may have improved, at least in the sense that there is more of it; but the imperative to deliver prescribed outcomes, stick to the mark scheme, and prioritise attainment over understanding continues to dominate educational practice.

As such, the question raised by What Should Schools Teach? is as much about the relationship between teachers and their subjects, as it is about the content of the school curriculum. Each chapter speaks eloquently to the way that subject knowledge becomes a living, humanising, enriching thing, through those who teach it. Education is more than skills; knowledge is more than facts; teaching is more than meeting performance goals. That is why, explain Standish and Sehgal Cuthbert, schools need teachers who are ‘well-versed in disciplinary knowledge’ and have the autonomy to bring this to the classroom, rather than being held to account for their skill in jumping through hoops.

Jennie Bristow is senior lecturer in sociology at Canterbury Christ Church University and an associate of the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies. Her new book, The Sociology of Generations: New Directions and Challenges, is published by Palgrave Macmillan.


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