Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Trump Admin Calls Out Pro-Islam Bias, Corruption in Middle East Studies Programs

Where analysts and “experts” are created

Raymond Ibrahim

The Trump administration recently called out and threatened to cut federal funding for the Consortium for Middle East Studies (CMES), a program run by Duke University and the University of North Carolina. It was accused by the U.S. Education Department of misusing a federal grant to advance “ideological priorities” and unfairly promote “the positive aspects of Islam,” particularly in comparison to Judaism and Christianity.

The Education Department summarized its position in an August 29 letter that opens with a reminder: institutions of higher education may receive federal funding via Title VI of the Higher Education Act of 1965—though “only for the purposes of establishing, strengthening, and operating comprehensive foreign language and area or international studies centers and programs.”  The logic is simple: “cultural studies providing historical information about customs and practices in the Middle East and assisting students to understand and navigate the culture of another country, in concert with rigorous foreign language training, could help develop a pool of experts needed to protect U.S. national security and economic stability.”

After reviewing the Consortium for Middle East Studies’ curricula, the Department letter warned that it had “little or no relevance” to federal funding:

For example, although Iranian art and film may be of subjects of deep intellectual interest … the sheer volume of such offerings highlights a fundamental misalignment between your choices and Title VI's mandates. Although a conference focused on “Love and Desire in Modem [sic] Iran” and one focused on Middle East film criticism may be relevant in academia, we do not see how these activities support the development of foreign language and international expertise for the benefit of U.S. national security and economic stability. Similarly, the link between the statutory goals and the academic papers referenced in your grant proposal, Amihri Hatun: Performance, Gender-Bending and Subversion in the Early Modern Ottoman Intellectual History, or Radical Love: Teachings from Islamic Mystical Tradition, is patently unclear.

The Department letter further accused the program of projecting and “advance[ing] narrow, particularized views of American social issues” onto the Middle East.  It cites a CMES teacher training seminar that described itself as focusing on “issues of multicultural education and equity to build a culture and climate of respect,” and “serving LGBTIQ youth in schools, culture and the media, diverse books for the classroom and more.”

Just as the CMES proliferates in topics popular on U.S. campuses—but that have no bearing on the realities of the Middle East—so too is there “a startling lack of focus on geography, geopolitical issues, history, and language of the area, as Congress required in Title VI,” the Department letter continues.  As for those two fields that the grant was primarily designed for, “foreign language instruction and area studies advancing the security and economic stability of the United States have taken ‘a back seat’ to other priorities at the Duke-UNC CMES.”

In short, “the Duke-UNC CMES offers very little serious instruction preparing individuals to understand the geopolitical challenges to U.S. national security and economic needs but quite a considerable emphasis on advancing ideological priorities.”

Significantly but not surprising, the letter further accused CMES of “lack[ing] balance as it offers very few, if any, programs focused on the historic discrimination faced by, and current circumstances of, religious minorities in the Middle East, including Christians, Jews, Baha'is, Yadizis, Kurds, Druze, and others.”  Instead,

there is a considerable emphasis placed on understanding the positive aspects of Islam, while there is an absolute absence of any similar focus on the positive aspects of Christianity, Judaism, or any other religion or belief system in the Middle East. This lack of balance of perspectives is troubling and strongly suggests that Duke-UNC CMES is not meeting legal requirement that National Resource Centers “provide a full understanding of the areas, regions, or countries’ in which the modern foreign language taught is commonly used.”

The letter concluded by warning CMES to respond by September 22 or risk losing funding.  CMES did; it send a 16-page letter of explanation, adding that it “will re-examine its procedures to ensure that its Title VI-funded activities continue to match the purposes and requirements of the Title VI program,” and was granted another year of funding.

Whatever lasting impact the Education Department letter has on CMES, it is a welcome development for several reasons.  First, it suggests that the government is paying attention.  This is important considering that over a dozen other Middle East Studies departments—including at Columbia, Georgetown, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale universities—are also Title VI recipients.  Moreover, all of them can be accused of most if not all of the failures cited in the Education Department letter to Duke and North Carolina (perhaps suggesting that the latter two, in the guise of CMES, were meant to be an example and warning to the rest).

Another benefit of the Department letter is that, although it only concerns Title VI recipients, it made national headlines—it made waves—that may lead to more questions and/or create more public awareness on the greater issue: that most Middle East Studies departments on campuses across America can to varying degrees be accused of focusing on irrelevant topics, sidelining language skills, whitewashing Islam—in short, indoctrinating students in the Left’s views.

As the letter is about funding, it may also prompt questions about its flipside—foreign funding.  For example, a 2018 report found that “elite U.S. universities took more than half a billion dollars” from  Saudi Arabia in gifts and donations “between 2011 and 2017”; as far back as 2005, Georgetown and Harvard each received $20 million “to support Islamic studies on their respective campuses.”

Why would a nation that treats women like chattel, teaches Muslims to hate all non-Muslims, arrests and tortures Christians “plotting to celebrate Christmas”—a nation that has crack units dedicated to apprehending witches and warlocks—become a leading financial supporter of America’s liberal arts?  The answer would seem to be obvious: so that recipients can show their gratitude by indoctrinating students in a fictitious Middle East and Islam—both of which are supposed victims of America.

In all spheres of life, education is intimately connected with success—as its opposite, ignorance, is connected with failure.  The reason U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has tended towards disaster is because policymakers depend on advisors and analysts who are products of the aforementioned Middle East and Islamic studies programs.  Until such time that Middle East Studies teach their topics with objectivity, balance, and above all, honestly—all criteria indispensable to success—failure will continue to dominate American policy.


Is math racist? Yes, according to Seattle Public Schools

The Seattle Public Schools Ethnic Studies Advisory Committee (ESAC) has determined that math is subjective and racist.

In a draft for its Math Ethnic Studies framework, the ESAC writes that Western mathematics is “used to disenfranchise people and communities of color.”

Using the ESAC’s framework, Seattle’s public school students will be able to “construct & decode mathematical knowledge, truth, and beauty” so that they can contribute to their communities.

Students will also analyze the ways in which “ancient mathematical knowledge has been appropriated by Western culture,” and “identify how math has been and continues to be used to oppress and marginalize people and communities of color.”

The framework is broken into four different themes: “Origins, Identity, and Agency,” “Power and Oppression,” “History of Resistance and Liberation,” and “Reflection and Action.”

In one section, the ESAC says “Who gets to say if an answer is right,” and under another it says, “how is math manipulated to allow inequality and oppression to persist?”

Jason Rantz of KTTH in Seattle noted that, “ESAC is made up of a number of educators and was created due to a legislature mandate to ‘advise, assist, and make recommendations to the office of the superintendent of public instruction regarding the identification of ethnic studies materials.' ”

The deadline for the final draft of the curriculum is September 1, 2020.

Tracy Castro-Gill, Seattle’s ethnic studies director, told King 5 in Seattle, “The goal is to disrupt the status quo and do something different.”

The Daily Caller noted that the “idea of math being problematic has been promoted among academics with a Vanderbilt professor saying that math education is sexist and a high school in Canada last year moved to ‘Africentric Math’ to try and promote more black students.”

In 2017, a University of Illinois math professor Rochelle Gutierrez argued in a newly published math education book for teachers that they must be aware of the identity politics surrounding the subject of mathematics.

“On many levels, mathematics itself operates as Whiteness,” she argues with complete sincerity, according to Campus Reform. “Who gets credit for doing and developing mathematics, who is capable in mathematics, and who is seen as part of the mathematical community is generally viewed as White.”

Gutierrez also wrote that the importance of math skills in the real world places what she calls an “unearned privilege” for those who are good at it. Because most math teachers in the United States are white, white people stand to benefit from their grasp of the subject disproportionate to members of other races.

“Are we really that smart just because we do mathematics?” she asks, raising the question as to why math professors get more grants than “social studies or English” professors.

“If one is not viewed as mathematical, there will always be a sense of inferiority that can be summoned,” she says, claiming that minorities “have experienced microaggressions from participating in math classrooms… [where people are] judged by whether they can reason abstractly.”

Gutierrez concluded her argument with the claim that all knowledge is “relational,” or is, in other words, relative. “Things cannot be known objectively; they must be known subjectively.”


Outcomes-based school funding easier said than done

There’s good reason to support government rhetoric about becoming more ‘outcomes-driven’. Who doesn’t want “an ongoing focus on value for money” as proposed by the NSW Government’s approach?

Momentum has been gathering to correct the misplaced perspective that sees education issues exclusively in terms of inputs (namely, how much money is being pumped in), to one based on outcomes.

This flips the conventional wisdom that funding should be decided simply according to the students coming into a school, to one based on what schools are actually doing for their students.

The evidence of today’s unwise and ineffective spending is seen in the ongoing decline in student achievement.

However, introducing new outcomes-based school funding reform is proving to be easier said than done.

Buoyed by the NSW Education Minister’s promise to “ensure that we match education funding to outcomes”, an ambitious parliamentary inquiry was established earlier this year to investigate “measurement and outcomes-based funding for schools.”

This is a natural extension to the NSW Treasurer’s bold plans for “shifting to a focus on outcomes” when it comes to public finances more broadly. At the same time, the NSW Productivity Commission has prioritised lifting school performance and education outcomes in its quest to lift the state’s productivity.

Teachers and school leaders want what’s best for their students, but current funding arrangements don’t support these aims.

For instance, a school receives additional funding for enrolling more students, particularly those suffering from disadvantage, but there are no implications — such as financial incentives —  nor accompanying checks on, how well, or poorly, these students are served.

An outcomes-based funding approach would benefit all students because schools and educators would have clear incentives to improve teaching and learning practices.

Yet, before the committee had the opportunity to hold hearings into reform, the policy approach became muddled, with the Education Department suggesting that any change would merely be “a different financial practice” and that “there will be no change to the way schools are funded and operated.”

A reasonable observer might then ask: if there is no change to the funding and operation of schools, what, and how, are educational outcomes expected to improve?

For genuine outcomes-based funding, the OECD suggests applying financial consequences for over- or under-achievement of performance objectives, which should be supported by performance management. Yet, recent evidence has highlighted that performance management is all but non-existent in NSW schools — which goes some way to explain the poor educational outcomes being experienced.

It’s true that there are pre-existing commitments to so-called ‘needs-based’ school funding — that is, funding is supposed to be redistributed for equity purposes. But ensuring that schools deliver outcomes for students, and deliver better value for money, cannot be considered mutually exclusive to needs-based principles.

It is hard to see that a change in the accounting treatment of corporate departmental line items could have any impact on educational outcomes. It would seem that what’s on the table could be more of an accounting change rather than accountability one.

But a change in accounting treatment is no substitute for educational reform. The NSW government should not permit another opportunity to go by to introduce genuine school funding reform that cares about how money is spent, not just how much.


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