Monday, January 15, 2018

Campuses Going Nuts: Why Civility and Truth Matter

How do you talk with someone who thinks talking itself is an attack? That’s a question that Americans need to ask of our institutions of higher learning.

One great way to worsen our already gaping political divisions is to engage in what Internet chatroom denizens call “nutpicking.” That is, the deliberate search for the “nuts” on either side of the political aisle to use as unflattering representations of opponents.

It should go without saying that nutpicking is unfair and dishonest. After all, we Christians don’t like it when those in the media portray Westboro Baptist members as typical churchgoers. Picking out “nuts” only reinforces false prejudices and makes us less likely to give those we disagree with a fair hearing.

But when it comes to many American college campuses, the nuts seem so plentiful, you practically need a bushel basket—even in the heartland. And they’re peddling ideas that directly contradict what education itself should be.

Take an example: the two professors from the University of Northern Iowa, who recently published an article attacking what they dub “whiteness-informed civility.” These professors claim that civility, as practiced and expected in American higher education, is “a racialized, rather than universal, norm,” and it represents a form of white privilege that “functions to erase racial identity” and exclude people of color.

In other words, treating others with decency and common courtesy is racist. To quote the inimitable Dave Barry, I’m not making this up.

Steve Salerno points out in the Wall Street Journal that this type of nuttery has become all-too-common, especially in the world of collegiate debate. Not just the rules of decorum, but the requirements that students use evidence and reason are increasingly coming “under siege as manifestations of white patriarchal thinking.”

He tells of a formal academic debate final at Towson University in 2014 in which students ignored the resolution on foreign policy to instead give a profanity-laden rant about racism in American society—and they won. Others have won by disregarding time limits, or even challenging the “format, goals and ground rules of debate itself…”

Now, lest we inflame our nut allergies, it’s important to note that a number of influential voices on the left are—thankfully—calling out this silliness. Writing in the New York Times, Frank Bruni, who is no one’s conservative and openly identifies as gay, urged “soul-searching” from his fellow liberals on this issue of civility:

“We’re in a dangerous place,” he wrote, “when it comes to how we view, treat and talk about people we disagree with.” “Madonna fantasizes about blowing up the White House, Kathy Griffin displays a likeness of Trump’s severed head”—and so-called “protests” at UC Berkeley, Evergreen State and Middlebury colleges erupt into violence and property destruction. Over and over during the last two years, places dedicated to civil debate and discourse have transformed into virtual bonfires.

Just last month, Bruni bemoaned an opinion piece that ran in Texas State University’s main newspaper, in which a student wrote to white people, “I hate you … you shouldn’t exist.”

“What has happened to our discourse,” Bruni asks, “and how do we make necessary progress—when hate is answered by hate, prejudice by prejudice, extremism begets extremism and ostensible liberalism practices illiberalism?”

These are all very fair questions. And the answer is clear: We can’t. And things will only get worse and our political divides only deepen until we learn to speak with each other again.

This means that Christians must give up our favorite partisan hobbies, especially nutpicking. It means committing to see those around us as fellow creations of God in need of reconciliation and restoration, not as enemy combatants. And it means that we must never stop proclaiming the truth and getting better ourselves at making the case for that which is true, good and beautiful.

And we ourselves have to demonstrate civility, the willingness to talk instead of fight, even if our ideological opponents disagree.


Swarthmore College Offers ‘Queering the Bible’ Course with ‘Trans Readings of Scripture’/b>

An elite liberal arts college is offering a class called “Queering the Bible” for the 2018 fall semester, in which it promises to “destabilize long held assumptions” about what the Bible says about gender.

According to the course description published in the Swarthmore College Catalog, the course will survey “queer and trans* readings of biblical texts,” while introducing students to “the complexity of constructions of sex, gender, and identity in one of the most influential literary works produced in ancient times.”

The one-credit course, taught by Dr. Gwynn Kessler, who has a PhD in Rabbinics from Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, promises to employ “the methods of queer and trans* theoretical approaches” to Bible reading, by which it will destabilize “long held assumptions about what the bible—and religion—says about gender and sexuality.”

Dr. Kessler says that her work “is situated within, and suffused with, postmodern, feminist, and queer theoretical approaches.”

On announcing the hiring of Dr. Kessler in 2009, Swarthmore said she would teach courses “on GLBTQ Jews and Judaism” and “a seminar on biblical and rabbinic constructions of God’s gender.”

Kessler’s marriage to Tamara Ruth Cohen in 2004 merited an announcement in the New York Times section on weddings and celebrations.

Along with “Queering the Bible,” Swarthmore’s religion department also offers “Queering God: Feminist and Queer Theology,” a course that “examines feminist and queer writings about God, explores the tensions between feminist and queer theology, and seeks to stretch the limits of gendering-and sexing-the divine.”

“If we can point out places in traditional writings where God is nurturing, forgiving, and loving,” the course description asks, “does that mean that God is feminine, or female?”

The Quaker-founded Swarthmore College, located outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, consistently receives top rankings across many indicators of excellence, according to the ever-attentive writers at The College Fix.

According to U.S. News and World Report, tuition and fees at Swarthmore run to $50,822 per year and only 13 percent of applicants are accepted.


Fixated with Finland

Comment from Australia

It may be a new year, but we’re still stuck with the old myth that Finland is an education utopia Australia must emulate.

Pasi Sahlberg from Finland, who has joined the new Gonski Institute for Education at UNSW, argued this week that his country’s school system has a lot to teach Australia. Basically, according to Sahlberg, Finland has more student play time and less standardised testing.

It is true Finland consistently outperformed Australia on all the international standardised tests in 2016, and of course we should be willing to learn lessons from the top-performing countries.

But Finland’s international test results have declined in recent years, and — as Steven Schwartz has pointed out — there are many reasons why Finland’s school system would be difficult, if not impossible, to emulate here. For example, Finland has little cultural or racial diversity, and has a much lower immigration rate than Australia.

Finnish is also a much simpler language than English, which means learning early literacy skills is relatively easier, boosting school results in later years.

Other countries like Singapore, which is the top-performing country in literacy and numeracy — not to mention collaborative problem-solving — potentially have many lessons to offer Australia as well.

Analysing high-achieving school systems is useful, but it is a fantasy to suggest Finland is the epitome of good education. This is part of a much broader myth that the Nordic countries are socialist paradises (ignoring the fact that most socialists wouldn’t be happy with Finland’s corporate tax rate of only 20%).

In any case, is more play time and less testing the key to boosting Australia’s school results?

No evidence has been presented to suggest Australian kids don’t have enough play time at school — recess and lunch are actually quite common practices in our schools, and there isn’t exactly a dearth of sports options for students.

And blaming NAPLAN for the lack of improvement in Australian schools is like blaming the thermometer for the fact that it was 42 degrees in Sydney last Sunday. NAPLAN identifies problems; it doesn’t solve them by itself.

Finally, it’s interesting that we’re told we should be like Finland and have fewer standardised tests, on the basis that Finland’s school system performs well — which, ironically, we only know because Finland performs well on international standardised tests.


No comments: