Saturday, December 19, 2020

A debate over something seemingly innocuous – the title in front of Jill Biden’s name – has stretched into its seventh day

I would not normally weigh in on a matter as trivial as this. I myself have a doctorate not in medicine but in a related field so I could with some justice refer to myself with a title but I rarely do. I see it as a matter of taste primarily. When people ask me what sort of doctor I am I usually reply jocularly as follows:

"I am one of those funny university doctors who aren't really doctors at all"

But what bothers me is the low standard of the work that Jill Biden got her doctorate for. Knowing of that I would certainly never refer to her as "Dr".

"Doctor" was originally a sign of distinguished academic achievement. If it is not that it is nothing.

US media has been bickering about this for an entire week.

It started with an opinion piece published in The Wall Street Journal last Friday. Columnist Joseph Epstein said Dr Biden should drop the title because she’s not a medical doctor.

The incoming first lady earned a doctorate in education from the University of Delaware in 2007, having spent most of her career as an English and writing teacher. She then became a professor of English at Northern Virginia Community College.

She also holds a bachelor’s degree and two master’s degrees.

“Madame First Lady, Mrs Biden, Jill, kiddo – a bit of advice on what may seem like a small but I think is a not unimportant matter. Any chance you might drop the ‘Dr’ before your name?” Mr Epstein wrote.

“‘Dr Jill Biden’ sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic. Your degree is, I believe, an Ed.D., a doctor of education, earned at the University of Delaware through a dissertation with the unpromising title Student Retention at the Community College Level: Meeting Students’ Needs.

“A wise man once said that no one should call himself ‘Dr’ unless he has delivered a child. Think about it, Dr Jill, and forthwith drop the doc.”

The article sparked a backlash, much back-and-forth ensued, and hence we are still discussing it seven days later.

It also prompted a number of female academics to add the title to their own social media profiles, in a show of solidarity with Dr Biden.

The angriest responses came from within the Biden transition team.

Michael LaRosa, Dr Biden’s spokesman, called the piece “disgusting”, “sexist” and a “repugnant display of chauvinism”.

Joe Biden’s communications director, Kate Bedingfield, labelled it “patronising, sexist, elitist drivel”.

“Dr Biden earned a doctorate in education, so we call her doctor. The title Mr Epstein has earned here is perhaps not fit for mixed company,” she said.

Dough Emhoff, who is the husband of vice president-elect Kamala Harris, said the article “would never have been written about a man”.

Former first lady Michelle Obama posted a lengthy statement in support of Dr Biden on Instagram.

“Right now, we’re all seeing what happens to so many professional women, whether their titles are Dr, Ms, Mrs, or even first lady. All too often, our accomplishments are met with scepticism, even derision,” Mrs Obama said.

“We’re doubted by those who choose the weakness of ridicule over the strength of respect. And yet somehow, their words can stick. After decades of work, we’re forced to prove ourselves all over again.”

Northwestern University, where Mr Epstein used to teach, issued a statement distancing itself from his views.

“While we firmly support academic freedom and freedom of expression, we do not agree with Mr Epstein’s opinion and believe the designation of doctor is well deserved by anyone who has earned a Ph.D, an Ad.D, an M.D. or any other doctoral degree,” it said.

“Northwestern is firmly committed to equity, diversity and inclusion, and strongly disagrees with Mr Epstein’s misogynistic views.”

Merriam-Webster, the dictionary publisher, decided to chime in as well, noting that the word “doctor” comes from the Latin word “docere”, which means “to teach”.

And Dr Biden herself posted a tweet which, while not directed at Epstein, was clearly a response to his piece.

That wasn’t the end of it. The Journal’s editorial page editor, Paul Gigot, published an article responding to the outrage and hitting back at the Biden transition team.

He acknowledged that the article had “triggered a flood of media and Twitter criticism”.

“The complaints began as a trickle but became a torrent after the Biden media team elevated Mr Epstein’s work in what was clearly a political strategy,” Mr Gigot wrote.

“Why go to such lengths to highlight a single op-ed on a relatively minor issue? My guess is that the Biden team concluded it was a chance to use the big gun of identity politics to send a message to critics as it prepares to take power.

“There’s nothing like playing the race or gender card to stifle criticism. It’s the left’s version of Donald Trump’s ‘enemy of the people’ tweets. The difference is that when Mr Trump rants against the press, the press mobilised in opposition.

“In this case, the Biden team was able to mobilise almost all of the press to join in denouncing Mr Epstein and The Journal.”

He said the backlash was “overwrought” because Epstein’s piece was clearly fair comment, whether you agreed with his view or not.

“If you disagree with Mr Epstein, fair enough. Write a letter or shout your objections on Twitter. But these pages aren’t going to stop publishing provocative essays merely because they offend the new administration of the political censors in the media and academe.”

On Monday night, Fox News opinion host Tucker Carlson told his viewers she was “a doctor of education, which means basically nothing”.

“Jill Biden is not a doctor, no. Maybe in the same sense Dr Pepper is,” he said.

Carlson continued the argument on his Wednesday night show, saying he had read Dr Biden’s dissertation, and had come away unimpressed.

“Dr Jill needs reading glasses. Either that, or she’s borderline illiterate,” Carlson said.

“There are typos everywhere, including the first graph of the introduction. Dr Jill can’t write. She can’t really think clearly either.

“Parts of the dissertation seems to be written in a foreign language using English words. They’re essentially pure nonsense, like pig Latin or dogs barking.

“The whole thing is just incredibly embarrassing. And not simply to poor illiterate Jill Biden, but to the college that considered this crap scholarship.

“Embarrassing, in fact, to our entire system of higher education, to the nation itself. Jill Biden’s doctoral dissertation is our national shame.”

He said the rest of the news media would not let people “point out that Jill Biden isn’t really a doctor, may be not even very bright”.

National Review writer Kyle Smith published an article yesterday titled: “Jill Biden’s doctorate is garbage because her dissertation is garbage.”

“Insisting on being called ‘doctor’ when you don’t heal people is, among most holders of doctorates, seen as a gauche, silly, cringey ego trip,” Smith said.

“Consider ‘Dr’ Jill Biden, who doesn’t even hold a Ph.D. but rather a lesser Ed.D., something of a joke in the academic world.”

He went on to describe Dr Biden’s dissertation as “sloppy, poorly written, non-academic and barely fit for a middle school social studies classroom”, suggesting the University of Delaware only accepted it because of its ties to her husband.

“Mrs Biden could have turned in a quarter-arsed excuse for a magazine article written at the level of Simple English Wikipedia and been heartily congratulated by the university for her towering mastery. Which is exactly what happened,” he wrote.

“Jill Biden’s dissertation is not an addition to the sum total of human knowledge. It is not a demonstration of expertise in its specific topic or its broad field. It is a gasping, wheezing, frail little Disney forest creature that begs you to notice the effort it makes to be the thing it is imitating while failing so pathetically that any witness to its ineptitude must feel compelled, out of manners alone, to drag it to the nearest podium and give it a participation trophy.”

Mike Rowe Explains Why Student Loan Forgiveness Is Unfair and What He's Doing to Help People Instead

Celebrity Mike Rowe is not a fan of student loan forgiveness, but he is a fan of doing something to help people obtain in-demand job skills.

While the "Dirty Jobs" host has been critical of the rise in college tuition over the years and laments the number of students who have financed expensive degrees that don't lead the borrowers anywhere near an actual job, Rowe sees student loan forgiveness as a fundamentally unfair idea.

Rowe laid out his reasons for opposing such forgiveness in a recent Facebook post that Rowe shared with his 5.7 million followers.

"I've written at length on this page about the fundamental unfairness of doing such a thing - especially to the millions of Americans who have paid their college debts, and sacrificed much to do so," writes Rowe. "I've also said that forgiving student debt would send a terrible message to the very same universities that already gouge their customers with sky-high tuition. Tuition will never come back to earth, if we bail out those who borrowed more than they could repay."

Joe Biden supports student loan forgiveness up to $10,000 per borrower, and Democrats like Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are pressuring Biden to bypass Congress and cancel billions of dollars in student loan debt via executive action.

In his post, Rowe quotes National Review correspondent Kevin Williamson who points out that student loan forgiveness would largely benefit middle- and high-income earners who attend elite institutions.

"The majority of student debt is held by relatively high-income people, poor people mostly are not college graduates, and those who attended college but did not graduate hold relatively little college-loan debt, etc," writes Williamson. "As the New York Times puts it, 'Debt relief overall would disproportionately benefit middle- to upper-class college graduates.' Which ones? 'Especially those who attended elite and expensive institutions, and people with lucrative professional credentials like law and medical degrees.'"

Through his foundation, mikeroweWORKS, the TV star has awarded scholarships to individuals pursuing a trade in lieu of a four-year degree.

"At mikeroweWORKS, we have no objection to a broad-based, liberal arts education," Rowe writes. "We simply object to the cost, and therefore focus our efforts on assisting students who wish to pursue a trade that doesn't require a four-year degree."

While Rowe acknowledges that many young people are struggling under crushing student loan debt and sympathizes with students who were "sold a bill of goods" and pressured by those around them to attend the "right" schools, Rowe notes the fault does not lie with the American people.

"This is why I've spent the last twelve years discouraging people from slipping into hock at the outset of their careers," writes Rowe. "This is why I push back against the insane notion that a four-year degree is the best path for the most people. I don't want to see more people borrow money they can't afford to pay back. But nor do I wish to pay it back for you. I will, however, encourage you to apply for a work-ethic scholarship, and wish you every success in the future."

Rowe's foundation is looking to award scholarships to qualified applicants pursuing training to become plumbers, electricians, pipefitters, welders, HVAC, mechanics, and similar occupations.

Australia: The triumph of the selective schools

Selective schools are ones that admit smart kids only. Leftists oppose selective schools as a violation of their idiotic "all men are equal" doctrine but their success speaks for itself. That success is the main thing that shields them from envious attacks.

A small complication is that the kids doing best in exams are not only from selective schools but of Asian background. James Ruse Agricultural High School is almost entirely populated by students of East Asian and South Asian ancestry. Asians are on average smarter. But even discounting the Asian element, selective schools still score best

James Ruse Agricultural High School has claimed the title of NSW’s top school for the 25th year in a row, an unparalleled achievement in the history of the Higher School Certificate.

Baulkham Hills High School was second, with North Sydney Boys’ and Girls’ high schools third and fourth. Sydney Grammar, at fifth, was the only independent school in the state’s top 10.

The top non-selective school was Ascham, at 11th. Mackellar Girls High, part of the Northern Beaches Secondary College (NBSC) network, was the highest-placed public comprehensive school at 43rd. Parramatta Marist High was the top Catholic systemic school at 46th.

Tangara School for Girls, which was forced to close for two weeks in August due to a COVID-19 cluster affecting senior students, climbed 78 places to 25th, its best performance in several years.

James Ruse principal Rachel Powell stepped into the role two years ago. “We got it! That’s such a relief,” she told the Herald. “It’s vindication of of all the hard work this year.”

The principal of Mackellar Girls’, Christine del Gallo, said she was “absolutely delighted that we were able to support our girls through the COVID-19 dilemma to enable them to achieve such amazingly wonderful results for them.”

Concerns private school students would have an advantage over high-performing public students due to better remote learning resources and a shorter shutdown due to COVID-19 appear to have been unfounded, with more public schools in the top 10 than any year since 2014 and more comprehensive state schools in the top 100 than last year.

It also did not appear to affect overall results among top students, with 17,507 distinguished achievers this year compared with 17,122 in 2019.

Of the top 50 schools, 18 were government selective schools, one was a comprehensive state school, two were Catholic systemic schools, and the rest were independent.

Of 14 independent schools in the top 25, nine were single-sex girls’ schools. Single-sex public comprehensive schools also fared well, with Willoughby Girls’ at 59, NBSC Balgowlah Boys’ campus at 60, and Epping Boys’ High at 76. Chatswood High, a co-ed comprehensive school, was 69th.

The highest-placed Catholic systemic schools were Parramatta Marist High, Brigidine College Randwick at 49th, and St Ursula’s College at 79th.

James Ruse has finished first in the HSC rankings since 1996, when it took the crown off Sydney Grammar. It was originally established as a farming school, and agriculture is still a compulsory subject.

It has become the most sought after of the state’s 50-odd selective schools, and has the highest year 7 entry scores. Alumni include Atlassian founder Scott Farquhar and concert pianist David Fung.




Friday, December 18, 2020

Biden's Student Loan Forgiveness Plan Is Idiotic and Immoral

Higher education might be the most pressing domestic issue confronting America today. As currently structured and carried out, higher education is a blight upon the nation—an affirmative hindrance to our efforts in aiding human flourishing and securing the common good. It is possible that no propagated belief in modern American history has been more intellectually, experientially and fiscally ruinous than the notion that a four-year bachelor's degree-bestowing bender is a necessary rite of passage for entering adulthood.

Caviling about the systemic corruption of the academy is perhaps old hat. By the time William F. Buckley Jr. wrote God and Man at Yale in 1951, the metamorphosis of America's ivory tower into something closely approximating a fifth column was well underway. But the situation has, in recent decades, worsened; it has metastasized into a cancer whose tendrils spread the latest faddish developments in intersectional, anti-American, anti-Western "woke-ism" all throughout the land.

It is both terrifying and perverse that America's intellectual gatekeepers—the "elite"-forming, credentialing institutions that separate the "deplorables" from the ruling class—impress self-loathing pablum upon malleable young minds.

With some notable exceptions, American higher education today comprises madrasas of wokeness fundamentally hostile to the American regime and the American way of life. Many of the far Left's most toxic ideas, whether moral relativism, socialism, "anti-racism" or multiculturalism, either begin on campus or gain steam there. It shouldn't surprise anyone that one of the more popular policies in conservative egghead circles today is to expand loan access to, and accreditation support for, trade school alternatives to traditional four-year bachelor's degree-granting programs.

Intellectual bankruptcy notwithstanding, there are manifold more tangible problems associated with the failed higher education status quo. Four years spent on campus between the ages of 18 and 22 means four prime years forgone from acquiring vocational skills, advancing a career, and mating and forming families. It also often means, due in part to the federal government's effective monopoly over the student loan industry, four years of willful indebtedness to major in such patently silly "subjects" as "gender studies." Student loans are now the second-largest source of collective American debt, behind only mortgage debt. By some staggering estimates, Americans have over $1.5 trillion in student loan debt.

The modern Democratic Party is heavily reliant on woke college graduates for political support, and many on the Left have warmed in recent years to large-scale student loan "forgiveness" (at least as a halfway measure, compared to the far Left's support for universal free college). Most recently, the likely incoming president, Democrat Joe Biden, has called for "immediate" forgiveness of $10,000 of student loan debt for borrowers.

This policy is idiotic in the extreme and brazenly immoral. Republicans and sensible Democrats must unite to defeat it.

The higher education-student loan complex is in desperate need of more transparency and accountability—not more bailouts. A prudent first step would be for creditors, whether public or (ideally) private, to present clear information about salaries and career paths for graduating high school seniors to consider before they commit to taking out hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans to major in "ethnic studies." The worst possible thing we could do would be a mass bailout of this nature, which would initiate a vicious, never-ending cycle of tuition spikes, more indebtedness and more bailouts. It is a quintessential exercise in trying to apply a Band-Aid to a grievously slit artery.
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Think the moral hazard problems associated with the 2008 bank bailouts were bad? Wait until you see where this irresponsible experiment could end.

Numerous other problems abound. Such a bailout is inherently regressive, as it would disproportionately benefit woke children who decided they could afford four years of the decadent ivory tower wasteland, and disproportionately harm taxpayers who themselves did not go to college. Such a bailout would also be manifestly unfair to those graduates who have diligently worked to pay off their loans in earnest—even if it meant forsaking jobs they otherwise would have preferred to take in favor of jobs that pay more. In other words, such a bailout would inculcate the worst lessons in fiscal imprudence and recklessness—all while letting the universities off the hook for their running what amounts to one sustained racket.

American higher education needs a wrecking ball—not a bailout.

UK: Cambridge University with growing 'cancel culture' named one of the worst for free speech

The warning comes in a report from the Civitas think-tank amid growing fears the country's top educational establishments are being held back by the emergence of a so-called "woke" movement which refuses to tolerate any views it judges discriminatory or disagreeable.

Researchers said the 800-year-old university had been at the centre of dozens of rows over campus censorship, petitions, open letters and speakers being cancelled because of their views.

Critics of no-platforming claim the controversial trend is damaging free-speech but supporters insist it shows solidarity with beleaguered communities and encourages inclusivity.

They also highlighted a survey which found that nearly a third of university staff said they have experienced bullying and harassment in the workplace.

Civitas placed 35 percent of universities in the "most restrictive" category while 51 percent were "moderately restrictive" and just 14 percent made it into the "most friendly" group.

Cambridge was joined by St Andrews, Oxford, Liverpool, Sheffield and a number of other top universities on the so-called "red" list.

The Civitas study found freedom of speech “could be curbed by perceived transphobic episodes” in close to two-thirds of red universities and just under half of green universities.

It warned pressure on free speech due to a “cancel culture” of open letters and or petitions was particularly prevalent, being reported in 69 percent of red universities and 48 percent of amber.

The report found just under a fifth of red and amber universities had been involved in controversies where speakers were uninvited or no-platformed.

The research was completed before Cambridge University was forced to axe rules forcing students, lecturers and visitors to be “respectful of” opposing views after overwhelming opposition from academics.

In a vote described as crucial to the free speech issue, dons successfully challenged a “vague and authoritarian” policy they feared would stifle debate and threaten staff with disciplinary action or sacking for being disrespectful.

Their amendments, which included replacing the phrase “respectful of” with “tolerate”, make it almost impossible to no-platform speakers by cancelling their invitation.

A Cambridge University spokesman said, “freedom of speech is a right that sits at the heart” of the institution.

He said: “Rigorous debate is fundamental to the pursuit of academic excellence and the University will always be a place where freedom of speech is not only protected but strongly encouraged.”

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson stepped into the free speech row earlier this year and warned ministers were considering regulations to stamp out campus censorship.

He said: "Already in Britain students have been expelled for expressing their religious beliefs. "Mass petitions have called for the dismissal or defunding of academics because of their research interests and on some occasions, universities have caved into this pressure.

"Too often, activists’ threats are able to shut down events, and there have been appalling incidents directed at the Jewish community at leading London universities."

Australia: Dunce teachers to be weeded out with tough test

It is certainly a good idea to filter out the dummies BEFORE they do teacher training rather than after. It avoids big waste of resources.

But no current proposals are going to help the kids in State schools much when all new teachers will be entering what is basically a destroyed educational sysyem. Smart kids will always do well in any system so it is the plodders and the dummies who need to be looked after. They are currently being largely failed by the chaos that is common in State school classrooms.

And that chaos both harms the pupil and deters good teachers. Teaching is not a job for dummies so young people who would make good tachers usually will have many options for their future. And they just have to look at a typical State school classroom to decide that there are jobs better than teaching

So there is something of a Catch 22 involved: To improve the education of the kids you need good teachers. But those who would make good teachers don't go into teaching. Which leaves mainly the desperates willing to go into teaching.

In short, teaching is a low-prestige job and that is the major dictate governing whom you will get to go into teaching. You can test yourself blue in the face but if the candidates for teacher training are mostly pretty dim, it it is only dim teachers that you will get. And the current crops of new teachers can be very dim indeed. You are getting the blind to lead the blind

But teaching has not always been a low status job and is not a low status job everywhere. Perticuarly in Asian countries teaching is high status and well-paid.

How come? Asian schoolrooms are famous for their high levels of discipline. Teachers are free to teach and do so. A good teacher likes to teach and in Asia they do

And that is the key difference between their government schools and ours. In our government systems teachers are too busy trying to get the pupils to sit down and shut up to have much time for teaching. And they are even told that it is not their job to get the kids to sit down and shut up. Teachers are not supposed to teach any more. They are merely learning facilitators.

That all asks too much of most potential teachers so State schools will always remain pits of poor education.

And parents know that. It is why 40% of Australian teenagers are sent to private schools. One way or another, such schools provide the sort of good learning environments that few State schools can equal. I taught High school in two quite different private schools and had no discipline problems at all. I was free to concentrate on my basic task of opening up young minds to the world of knowledge. So there are some dedicated and talented teachers in existence but they will almost all end up in one of our many private schools

So what can parents do who cannot afford private schools? Their only hope is to get their kid into a selective school or a school in a "good" area. But what is a good area? It is wherever well-off people live. Their kids get disciplined in various ways at home so give little trouble in classrooms. Teachers in such schools can teach. But again there is a Catch 22. "Good" areas are expensive so they are just not an option for the less well off. The less well-off are stuck with government schools

So why are government schools often so bad? It is purely the Leftist influence. Leftists have a horror of disciplining kids and they impose low discipline through regulations and other ways. Once again it is the Left who are NOT the friends of the poor

Shadow Education Minister Tanya Plibersek has told Sky News there must be a higher university cut off to enter teaching courses and potential teachers need to be tested before degrees rather than afterwards.

Dunce teachers will be weeded out before they start university with a tough new English and maths test.

The nation’s education ministers have approved a skills test for school leavers before they enrol in a university degree to study teaching.

One in 10 trainee teachers flunked a similar test after finishing a four-year education degree at university last year.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said the upfront test would save students time and money.

“We don’t want to see students getting to the end of their degree and not being able to graduate or work as a teacher because they haven’t passed the … test,’’ he said.

“The sooner a student takes the test, the earlier they can get support or make alternative arrangements.

“Giving students the option to sit the test before their start their degree will save time and money.’’

Mr Tehan said students who fail the upfront test will still be able to enrol in a teaching degree at uni.

“But it does make them aware that they need to work on their literacy and numeracy skills,’’ he said.

Student teachers cannot graduate until they pass a test placing them in the top 30 per cent of the population for literacy and numeracy.

In 2019, almost one in every 10 graduates failed the online test – 8.3 per cent bombed the literacy test and 9.3 per cent flunked the maths exam.

Each test has 65 questions, administered by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).

The ministerial decree to let students sit the test before signing up to a teaching degree overrides the universities, which had refused to let students take the exam upfront.

However, the upfront exam will not start until 2023.

The federal government will make teaching degrees cheaper next year, to lure smart school leavers into the teaching profession and head off a national shortage of classroom teachers.

The Education Council of federal, state and territory ministers has also agreed to “improve’’ the writing assessment for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 who undertake the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN).

Mr Tehan said NAPLAN was due to go online in 2022.

“NAPLAN is the best tool we have to understand the impact of COVID-19, the long-term trends in student learning and what actions we need to take to improve,’’ he said.

The controversial national test was cancelled this year due to COVID-19 lockdowns.




How Conservatives Must Counter the Media’s Left-Wing Election Advocacy

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Arlington, Virginia, is widely considered the best high school for math and science in the region. It is the No. 1 ranked high school by the U.S. News and World Report in the entire nation.

“That place is so difficult and so rigorous, that you’re just beaten,” says Asra Nomani, the mother of a Thomas Jefferson student and the leader of the Coalition for TJ, an education advocacy group for the high school. “You don’t even know if you’re going to make it, like as a family, because your child is slogging so much.”

It’s not a school made for just anyone. But the Fairfax County School Board believes that the school needs to diversify at all costs, even at the cost of excellence.

On Monday, the school board decided that it was going to drastically change the admissions process to Thomas Jefferson to force more black and Hispanic students in the school, which is 70% Asian American.

Fairfax officials are proposing two systems: either “holistic evaluation” that gives preferences for being black or Hispanic, or a lottery for admission for anyone with a 3.5 grade point average.

The previous system, which was reliant on grades and test scores, relies on methods that supporters say perpetuate “privilege,” such as standardized exams that can be test-prepped.

Virginia Education Secretary Atif Qarni called test prep the equivalent of “performance-enhancing drugs.” Washington Post reporter Hannah Natanson even called the fight over the admissions process “a reckoning over racism.”

These are vast exaggerations that only serve to undermine the nation’s best public school, the home of future scientists and engineers that will invent the next great discoveries.

The issue of opportunity in Fairfax County is not that the admissions process for a single public school is racist against black and Hispanic students.

In fact, one analysis, albeit from 2005, by a George Mason University law professor showed that admissions officers accepted 90% of black students who made it to the second round of the application process, while only accepting fewer than 50% of white students who made it to the second round, suggesting evidence that the bias might in fact be in their favor.

The issue is that the number of black students who made it to the semifinalist round of the application process in the first place was so low.

The semifinalist round is the minimum standard for admissions—it signals you have the requisite academic qualifications to enroll at Thomas Jefferson. In 2005, 507 white students made it to this semifinalist round, compared to just 11 black students.

The problems of too few black and Hispanic students in the semifinalist rounds of admissions cannot be fixed with racial quotas. Not only are quotas in violation of our ideals and laws, but they also paper over the underlying causes of the achievement gap in education—such as the lack of school choice, or high out-of-wedlock rates that leave many children without a father in their lives.

Rather, solving these problems requires addressing them at every level of education.

But the liberal chattering class doesn’t want to hear this logic. They would rather dispense with the idea of meritocracy in general.

The Fairfax County School Board’s own analysis for its merit lottery program predicted an upsurge in admitted candidates for blacks, Latinos, and whites. The Asian population, on the other hand, would drop by a projected 27%.

A coalition of parents analyzed the data and found a steeper drop admittance rate for Asians: 55%. In contrast, the white population would shoot up to 45% of the total student body. And the black and Hispanic representation would both remain in the single digits.

The messaging of woke students, and the woke school boards propping their ideas, is loud and clear: Asians suffer, but that’s OK, in the name of “diversity and inclusion.”

Mind you, it did not matter that these Asian students put in hundreds of hours of work in their school lives and sacrificed social life to give themselves the best shot to enter a school known for its brutal work hours.

This gets at the heart of this battle over race in America. Who does the left consider a “minority” in America? Who are the people the left wants to redistribute privileges to? What does “diversity and inclusion” really mean, if Asian Americans are unfairly penalized by policies enacted in the name of diversity and inclusion?

Or does anyone question the most fundamental fact of it all—the fact that a “merit lottery” would inevitably result in a drastic decline in overall school performance?

The simple mathematical facts beget this utterly logical conclusion: If before you selected the most meritorious in rank order, and now have reverted to selecting from a lottery of students above a lower cutoff point, you sacrifice one immediate, clear principle.

Sacrificing that principle will have a powerfully distortive effect on the overall excellence and reputation of your school, your community, and your world.

That principle is meritocracy.

Rather than lean on “merit lotteries” and “holistic evaluations” in an attempt to ensure that specific groups are proportionately represented in highly ranked schools, we should be working toward a country in which every individual—from any and every group—can realize their full potential, and can go as far as their own merit takes them.

To De-Politicize Art Schools, Students Need to Fight Back

It has never been harder to teach artistic individualism in America.

A religious devotion to the causes of social justice dominates the ideas of professors in the academy, and David Randall’s report “Social Justice Education in America” has made clear that their evangelical zeal for teaching students the merits of intersectional political activism is topped only by the enthusiasm of university administrators for it.

The cultish creed has permeated throughout universities, with moderate professors bowing to the mob and leaving the tiny minority of their conservative colleagues paranoid and fearful of speaking out against the ideology that has dominated them. Their voices are silenced by the threat of anonymous denunciations and by the examples that have been made of bullied colleagues who endured threats of violence, unemployment, lost homes, and the harm caused to their families.

Thus, the burden of making change happen within art schools may rest upon the shoulders of art students who abhor demands to politicize their work.

The social justice warriors’ ongoing takeover of American education extends to attacks upon art museums, which is where education meets the public sphere. They recently forced the closure of a traveling retrospective show of paintings by Philip Guston. Why? The museum’s boards were frightened that Guston’s paintings of Klansmen might “trigger” their visitors, despite the fact that the artist always used them as symbols of evil.

The exhibit was canceled due to fear of the social justice mob.

Museums are among the targets of the faithful because they are seen as public symbols of the oppressive power structures that subjugate racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities. They are easy targets: A majority of them have claimed to be bastions of old-fashioned liberalism since the 1930s, the New Deal era that was the high-water mark of the American left. Art museum leaders operated, as they understood it, in allegiance with minorities, and believed that they lived up to their ideals by occasionally showing the work of ethnic and gender-oriented groups.

However, they failed to grant representation to racial minorities, women, and LGBTQ people on their boards and administration. Thus, now they are ill-equipped to deal with activists’ accusations of condescension and hypocrisy leveled against them.

John Dewey, the famed progressive American philosopher of the 1930s, is a foundational figure to social justice warriors in their action against museums and art galleries. Dewey condemned museums as “memorials of the rise of nationalism and imperialism.” Even collecting art was a symptom of capitalism which was indulged in by people who wished to show off their success and good standing. Communities and nations built galleries and opera houses and museums to show off their collective superiority—this was an elevated form of racist snobbery.

Museums are among the targets of the faithful because they are seen as public symbols of the oppressive power structures that subjugate racial, ethnic, and sexual minorities.
Those same accusations are now leveled at the museums again, by activists under the Marxist banners of Black Lives Matter, by radical feminists, and by LGBTQ groups who shrilly reproach the galleries for being symbols of white supremacy which must be “decolonized.”

Such tediously didactic activism has replaced the bourgeois avant-gardism that once dominated American university art departments, and museums and art magazines.

The consequence of its success in the cultural sphere naturally has been an explosion of narrow propaganda—ranging from the sophisticated (Guerrilla Girls) to the sentimental (Titus Kaphar) and the simple. One of the distinctive features of the riots in American cities has been a proliferation of murals duplicating photographs of dead martyrs to the social justice cause. Slogans painted on city streets and walls are claimed as art.

Magazines like ArtNews and Hyperallergic are packed with stories of social justice-oriented art activism, sometimes to the extent that it is hard to see how the hook of their stories has anything to do with actual art-making. (Unsurprisingly, Hyperallergic is funded by activist foundations including The Ford Foundation, The Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, and the Nathan Cummings Foundation).

Under such circumstances, how should art students respond? Many surely feel compelled to create left-wing propaganda if they are to satisfy their teachers and their indoctrinated peers—or to have any hope of appearing in museums and magazines. Many surely acquiesce to the fervor and become propagandists for the new religion.

But Randall’s report suggests that student dissent is a powerful tool to wield against the political takeover of the universities. Fortunately, artists—especially young ones—are feisty and rebellious people. They can find clear guidance from the history of the long conflict between the egalitarian left and the individualists. Artists are unusually individualistic and tend to dislike being told what to do.

The great French defender of individualism in the late 19th century, Emile Zola, once warned the proto-communist Pierre Joseph Proudhon that artists

are peculiar people who do not believe in equality, who possess the strange mania of having a heart, who sometimes push nastiness to the point of genius. They are going to agitate your people, disrupt your communal intentions; they will resist you and be nothing but themselves.[i]

Contemptuously, he recommended changing the title of Proudhon’s last, quite authoritarian book, The Principle of Art and its Social Purpose which insisted that artists must bury their own interests beneath their obligation to political activism, to “The Death of Art and its Social Uselessness.”[ii]

Like our contemporary social justice warriors who have weaponized cancel culture, Proudhon concluded his book by demanding the banishment of artists who would not support his revolutionary socialist ideals. Zola defended them for their individuality, their unaffected sincerity, and their self-sacrifice, telling Proudhon:

I think I can answer you, in the name of artists and writers, of those who sense the beat of their heart and their thoughts within themselves: “To us, our ideal is our loves and our emotions, our tears and our smiles. We want no more of you than you want of us.

Your community and your equality sicken us, we make style and art with our body and soul, we are lovers of life, every day we give you a little of our existence. We are in nobody’s service, and we refuse to enter into yours. We report only to ourselves, we obey only our own nature; we are good or bad, leaving you the right to listen to us or to block your ears. You proscribe us and our works, you say. Try, and you will feel such a great emptiness in yourself, that you will weep with shame and misery.”[iii]

Here was the fundamental difference between the utopian, socialist artistic avant-garde proposed by proto-communists Henri de Saint-Simon, Nikolay Chernyshevsky, Proudhon and their acolytes, and the broader, richer, bourgeois-bohemian art world.

Both sides recognized the need for a new art for a new time, but the former placed artists in service to their political ideals and prioritized the use of art as political propaganda, while the latter cherished the artist’s unique personalities and their distinctive and original work.

The most important characteristic of these artists was to assert themselves and their work as original and independent, and this insistent individualism was the antithesis of socialism. When Zola chided Proudhon that artists were “peculiar people who do not believe in equality,” he meant that they were in the business of crafting a successful life for themselves by making unique and commercially successful art, and he was raising the battle standard of individualism against the drab flags of uniformity.

Now, independent 21st-century student artists have the responsibility to fight again. Art must be defended against demands for it to conform to the political fads of the day.

The uneasy alliance between bohemian artists and the bourgeoisie who collect their art will doubtlessly bear the fruit of creative excellence in this new time. Student artists! Resist the pressure upon you to conform! Stand firm on your individuality! Be yourself!

Language cuts risk Australia's regional relationships -- or do they?

It is a common view among educated people that we all should learn a foreign language. Although I personally gained a lot from my studies of German, Latin and Italian, I do not agree. I get a lot out of classical music and what I gained was an enhanced understanding of those three languages as part of classical music. With the honourable exception of Russian, those three languages are the source language of almost the whole of the classical music repertoire. If you want to undertand the words in a Bach cantata, it helps a lot to know German. And you need Latin for the Stabat Mater etc.

But how many people really enjoy classical music? Best estimate is 2% of the population so why should the rest of the population study languages?

In answering that I hearken back to the fact that only a tiny percentage of English-speakers who study (say) French ever become fluent in that language. I have a small gift for languages but even I am fluent only in English. So the time spent studying a language is a waste for most people in the English-speaking world. And that goes
A fortiori for students of Asian languages. Asian languages are so alien to us that even many years of exposure to them in adulthood will not suffice to bring native fluency

But is partial fluency useful? Perhaps for tourists but for business a very accurate understanding of the other person is usually important, which leads us to the real important factor in foreign language utilization: The fact that we have among us a large number of foreign-born people who have learnt both English and their ancestral tongue during childhood.

So they constitute an easily available pool of near perfect translators. We do not ourselves need to learn a foreign language when we have large numbers of good translators at hand. The are a valuable resource that we should use. They can aid international communication where our own abilities at that would be pathetic.

The author below recounts a pleasing life journey that resulted from his decision to study Indonesian. Indonesia is a country and a culture well below the intellectual horizons of most Australians. But is it nonetheless imporant to Australians? It is one of the world's largest bodies of Muslims and is rather close to our Northern borders, so its strategic importance must be allowed for but as a source of cultural products or economic relationships it is of negligible importance to us. There are many more things we could study which would be more gainful than the Indonesian language

La Trobe, Swinburne, Murdoch and Western Sydney University. These are some of the Australian universities considering axing various Indo-Pacific language programs from Indonesian to Hindi. It’s feared other universities may follow suit.

Abolishing language programs is a dumb move. Australian universities are a key ingredient in the government’s commitment to engagement with the Indo-Pacific.

Universities are essential training grounds for a future generation of Indo-Pacific literate Australians.

The decline in programs corresponds with a decline in enrolments. This is evident with the Indonesian language.

In the 1990s, enrolment in Indonesian language was at its height, with 22 programs at Australian universities. In the decades since then, there has been a major decline.

According to David Hill, emeritus professor of south-east Asian studies at Murdoch University in Perth, in 2019 there were only about 14 Indonesian language programs left at Australian universities. As a result of COVID-19, that number may fall further.

Australian universities must retain language programs, which are vital to equip the next generation for smart engagement with the Indo-Pacific.

Institutional commitments to language programs by universities are crucial because studying a language requires a significant investment of time, commitment and money.

As part of my Arts degree I undertook an Indonesian language program, building on my four years of Indonesian language studies in high school.

Yet this was in mid-2000s, when I was one of about 400 students studying Indonesian in Australia. By 2014, those numbers dipped below 200 equivalent full-time students. It is feared that in the future the number of students could be much less.

At university, I was privileged to be taught by the likes of Arief Budiman, a well-known activist and scholar, and Professor Ariel Heryanto, a cultural studies expert.

As part of my degree, I also took Indonesian studies programs like politics, media, religion, law and society. This helped me to appreciate the great diversity and richness of the country’s history, people and culture.

My university also facilitated several internships in Indonesia. It was through contacts at university that I heard about the Australia-Indonesia Youth Exchange Program. This collective experience with a group of 15 Australians and 15 Indonesians set me on a course of lifetime engagement with Indonesia.

Many of the Australians on that youth exchange program have found exciting and fulfilling careers in diplomacy, business, academic, education and the civil service. Their skills in the language and their knowledge of Indonesian enabled them to achieve the vocations they now pursue.

Through my university, I also received support from my faculty to undertake an internship with the Office of the Ombudsman in Yogyakarta.

These short-term trips would not have been as rich and meaningful if I did not have basic competence in the language. In short, my years of studying the language in high school and at university equipped me for deep engagement with Indonesia.

Our universities are now at risk of curtailing access to Indonesian language programs for a future generation of students.

If the decision by some Australian universities to close language programs is dumb, then the Australian government is dumber.

Over the past two decades, the government has been told time and time again that student enrolments in languages of the Indo-Pacific are falling, particularly for Indonesian. This is a well-established fact.

Yet the federal government has done nothing about it. Short-term study abroad is no quick fix for an Indo-Pacific literacy crisis. It's great to have the Governor-General of Australia studying Indonesia, but what about the future generation?

The government frequently refers to its commitment to the region and its Indo-Pacific strategy, as set out in its 2016 Defence Paper and 2017 White Paper.

Yet it has failed to live up to this aspiration with real policies that create incentives for Australian students to study languages of the Indo-Pacific and the necessary funding for institutions to make this happen.

What we are left with is a future where there are fewer graduates of Australian universities than ever with basic competence in one language of the Indo-Pacific.

These graduates are going into business, diplomacy, academia, education and science with less knowledge than ever before about our neighbours.

Collaboration and partnership in the Indo-Pacific region require mutual understanding.

Australia’s bilateral relationships are strengthened when Australians take the time to learn a language.

To take one example, the landmark Indonesia Australia Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement should see more Australians incentivised to study the language, rather than less.

The more students studying Indonesian language, the greater chance we have of building strong relationships with our most important neighbour. Our economic, diplomatic and cultural ties remain hollow without a basic appreciation for the language.

The dual lack of commitment by Australian universities and the government to invest in language capabilities affects our engagement in the region.

Even the embassies based in Australia agree. That’s why the recent consultations to axe language programs at some universities have received a strong and swift response from both the Indian embassy and the Indonesian embassy.

That’s right, our neighbours know it’s important for us to learn their language more than our own government and universities do.

And there lies the challenge for 2021: both the government and Australian universities must work together to ensure Asian language programs not just survive, but thrive, post COVID-19.




Monday, December 14, 2020

Education Department confirms it's still investigating Princeton for systemic racism

Depending on who you ask, the U.S. Department of Education’s investigation into Princeton University for admitting systemic racial discrimination on campus is either an epic bureaucratic troll or an “Orwellian” abuse of government power.

Nonetheless, the Education Department forges ahead, confirming to The College Fix on Wednesday that the investigation is “ongoing.”

It is undetermined whether the investigation will continue past January 20, when President-Elect Joe Biden’s administration is expected to take over. Biden has not, as of yet, announced his choice for Education Secretary.

A Princeton spokesperson declined to comment on whether the school is cooperating with the active investigation.

The facts are well-known: In early September, Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber issued a statement in which he bemoaned “Racism and the damage it does to people of color nevertheless persist at Princeton,” and proclaimed that “Racist assumptions from the past also remain embedded in structures of the University itself.”

Such statements are common for leaders of heavily progressive universities – especially in the wake of the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd at the hands of police over the summer, after which presidents took to their keyboards en masse to show solidarity with minority groups on campus.

But Eisgruber’s statement caught the eyes of staffers at the Education Department, who began to consider the ramifications if what the Princeton president was saying is actually true. The department decided to take Eisgruber’s statements literally, which would mean the school would be in violation of federal law and thus have to forfeit much of its $75 million in federal aid.

Saying Eisgruber “admitted Princeton’s educational program is and for decades has been racist,” the department sent the school a letter on September 16 that suggested the institution may be in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says, “no person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

“Based on its admitted racism,” wrote department Assistant Secretary Robert King, “Princeton’s nondiscrimination and equal opportunity assurances in its Program Participation Agreements from at least 2013 to the present may have been false.”

King further says Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos* “may consider measures against Princeton for false Program Participation Agreement nondiscrimination assurances, including an action to recover funds.”

Many in academia expressed outrage at the unprecedented example of an executive arm of government calling a progressive organization’s bluff. A week later, over 80 university presidents signed a letter in solidarity with Princeton, calling it “outrageous” that the department “is using our country’s resources to investigate an institution that is committed to becoming more inclusive by reckoning with the impact in the present of our shared legacies of racism.”

In a later statement, Princeton stood by its original claims, saying it is “unfortunate that the Department appears to believe that grappling honestly with the nation’s history and the current effects of systemic racism runs afoul of existing law.”

But given its dedication to continuing the investigation, the Education Department remains unmoved.

The Woke Managerial Revolution Goes to School

College campus safe spaces, speech codes, and woke witch hunts may be coming to a high school near you.

Charles Fain Lehman chronicled in The Washington Free Beacon how school districts and private schools around the country are adopting woke, “anti-racist” policies based on critical theory ideologies once ensconced in the ivory tower.

Schools are adding the Pulitzer Prize-winning but factually challenged 1619 Project, to their curriculum. The 1619 Project was aimed at reframing American history as being rooted in slavery rather than the ideas of liberty from 1776.

This is only the tip of the iceberg.

Los Angeles’ elite Harvard-Westlake School recently announced that it will start teaching 11th-grade history from a “critical race theory perspective.”

Virginia’s Fairfax County public school district paid Ibram X. Kendi, the leading proponent of “anti-racism,” which seems a lot like racism in the name of social justice, $22,000 to deliver an hourlong lecture to teachers and staff.

Lehman continues:

Meanwhile, the tony Connecticut boarding school Loomis-Chaffee has introduced mandatory Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training for students and now requires faculty members to read Kendi’s ‘Stamped from the Beginning’ and [Robin] DiAngelo’s ‘White Fragility’ for ‘professional development.’

San Diego’s public schools have overhauled grading for fear of racist impact, and New York City wants to follow. The KIPP Schools, long a model for charter school excellence, have dumped their ‘Work hard. Be nice’ slogan, claiming that ‘working hard and being nice is not going to dismantle systemic racism.’

I’ve written about some of these cases, too.

Loudoun County, Virginia, not only adopted a program to enhance the “low level of racial consciousness and racial literacy” of its public school teachers and faculty, but it added punishments for teachers who questioned the policy in the public or private capacity.

The punishments were removed after the policy drew media attention and public outcry, but the woke agenda remained.

That critical race theory and various “woke” policies are proliferating at public and elite private schools around the country is disturbing enough. But Lehman highlighted a critical element as to how and why this is happening now, and on a vast scale.

These ideas have emerged alongside the surge of administrative bloat occurring in K-12 schools in the last several decades.

It seems this seemingly exponential growth in school administration has created two serious crises.

The first, of course, is the rising cost of public education, where a much larger share of the budget is devoted to administrators rather than teachers and students. This has often come at the expense of teachers’ salaries, which have generally not increased in line with upticks in school spending.

My colleague, Lindsey Burke, also director of education policy at The Heritage Foundation, and education researcher Benjamin Scafidi, an economics professor at Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University, explained this process in 2016.

Since 1950, public schools have dramatically increased their staff compared to the number of students.

Burke and Scafidi used District of Columbia schools as an example.

“According to data that the District of Columbia Public Schools submitted to the U.S. Department of Education, the District’s public schools experienced a 3.1% decline in its student population between the 1993-94 and 2013-14 school years,” Burke and Scafidi wrote. “Despite this decline in students, D.C. Public Schools increased its staffing by 7.7% (all increases are in full-time equivalents).”

And where did those staff increases occur? The number of teachers declined overall, but the number administrators and all other staff grew by an incredible 19.3%.

Growth in administrative staff appears to be hitting elite private schools, too. And what are these administrative additions doing exactly? Clearly, many are foisting critical race theory and other ideologies on the student body and staff.

Lehman laid out the source of the second problem caused by the staffing surge:

Positions like ‘director of diversity’ emerged in the early 2000s, Exeter [diversity, equity, and inclusion] chief Stephanie Bramlett told the prestigious school’s alumni magazine. As far back as 2007, the journal Educational Leadership was emphasizing the need for administrators to confront ‘issues of social dominance and social justice.’

Portland Public Schools created its ‘office of equity’ in 2011. Holy Name High School in tiny Parma Heights, Ohio, added a director of diversity and inclusion in 2018. Justice High School already had diversity advisers on the payroll, and Harvard-Westlake’s new commitments add to a five-woman diversity team and a diversity conference held annually since 2018.

This revolution comes through the work of high-priced consultants and consulting firms, as in the case of Fairfax and other school districts. Meanwhile, the number of administrators continues to grow to meet the demand of the woke crusade.

“[I]f you look at these schools, their roster of [diversity, equity, and inclusion] people [has] only grown over the past five to 10 years,” Lehman said in an interview with The Daily Signal’s Virginia Allen.

They might’ve started with one diversity chief, and then because of that person finding issues, they hire another person, and then another person, and then you have a seven-person group who’s responsible for diversity.

And it is telling to me that as these organizations add administrators, the number of acquisitions of racism only increases, the number of identified instances of racism only increases. Maybe they’re measuring better, but they may also typically be measuring more.

That many of our colleges and universities are radical should be no surprise to anyone. After all, William F. Buckley wrote “God and Man at Yale” in 1951 to explain the left-wing drift of his school and many others. In the last half-century, the situation has become much worse.

But now we are seeing the same process transform America’s K-12 education, where college-educated administrators and diversity officers—the well-paid apparatchiks of social justice—increasingly foist critical theory onto teachers and students, often at taxpayer expense.

The Chicago Teachers Union’s misplaced priorities

The Chicago Teachers Union declared Sunday that “reopening schools is rooted in sexism, misogyny, and racism” in a tweet that has since been deleted.

Not surprisingly, the union faced instant criticism for the misguided message, which has no scientific basis.

In a follow-up tweet, CTU wrote, “Fair enough. Complex issue. Requires nuance. And much more discussion. More important, the people the decision affects deserve more. So we’ll continue give them that. Appreciate the feedback of those truly in the struggle.”

Yes, CTU, the more than 350,000 students who are affected by the decision to keep Chicago’s public schools closed for months definitely deserve more.

And a significant portion of Chicago public school students are struggling due to CTU’s insistence on not returning to the classroom.

According to CPS data, “From May 11 through May 16 … 23% of students failed to log onto an online classroom platform supported by CPS even once.”

Even worse, CPS attendance has declined substantially since the pandemic began.

As of mid-October, more than 15,000 students are no longer attending CPS schools since the end of the past school year and the beginning of the current school year. That does not include the number of students who have dropped out since the beginning of the school year.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson recently said, “This is the largest drop in enrollment that Chicago Public Schools has experienced in the past two decades.”

CPS Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade reiterated the point: “While we’re seeing similar trends across the country, the stunning decline among Black children enrolled in pre-K casts a somber light on how the pandemic and remote learning negatively impact our youngest learners.”

McDade added, “It’s our responsibility to educate our children, and we are prepared to safely offer in-person learning, beginning with our youngest and most vulnerable students, to ensure they stay on a positive academic trajectory.”

While CTU disingenuously claims — at least for a moment — that reopening schools is “racist,” McDade emphasizes that CPS shutdowns overwhelmingly harm minority students, who make up the majority of CPS students.

Moreover, McDade highlights that remote learning is not working, especially for minority students.

Throughout the nation, data show that virtual education is inferior to traditional in-person learning. No wonder parents, including many with children in CPS, are frustrated with teachers unions’ reluctance to have their members return to the classroom.

CTU’s adamant opposition to in-person schooling during the pandemic is even more questionable because we now know so much more about how the coronavirus spreads and does not spread.

To date, data show that children are generally not likely to transmit COVID-19.

According to Dr. Daniel Johnson, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at the University of Chicago Medical Center, “It’s safe to keep schools open.”

However, despite the evidence that schools are safe and students desperately need in-person learning, CTU continues to fight to keep Chicago public schools closed.

On Dec. 7, CTU filed a request for “an injunction against Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s arbitrary school reopening date.”

Sadly, CTU seems unconcerned with the havoc that remote learning is wreaking. CTU’s unyielding hostility to reopening schools has nothing to do with racism, sexism or misogyny. It has everything to do with the fact that the union’s priorities are more than misplaced.




Sunday, December 13, 2020

Humanities professors are their own worst enemies

Virtually all the ills plaguing the modern humanities—declining enrollment, loss of funding, fewer tenure-track jobs, decreased public appreciation—have been caused primarily by the people who study and teach them, the humanists. Regardless of where they try to lay the blame, from college administrators to state legislators to students too dumb to know what’s good for them, humanities professors have indeed done all that to themselves.

As a student in the 1980s, like many bookish young people of my era, I gravitated toward the English department because I had always loved to read. I especially enjoyed trying to figure out what writers were trying to say—how they used language and metaphor and symbolism to create meaning. The fact that I was pretty good at it led to a graduate school fellowship, and, eventually, a teaching job.

Imagine my chagrin when, toward the end of my time in grad school, I witnessed the rise of deconstructionism as the dominant literary theory. Deconstructionism basically postulated that literary works have no absolute meaning—that they mean whatever the reader thinks (or feels) they mean.

Having been trained as a formalist, I found that notion baffling and to no small degree disconcerting.

Sure, scholars might disagree about what a writer means; in such disputes lie all the fun of reading and discussing texts. But that doesn’t mean the writer didn’t mean anything, or that a work can mean whatever someone wants it to mean. Such thinking was utterly foreign to me.

Nor did I see the point. If a work of literature doesn’t really mean anything, or if it only means whatever you think it means, what is the value in studying it?

How will the “mind of the past,” as Emerson called it, ever speak to us if we can’t possibly understand its words, no matter how hard we try? Endlessly arguing the vague, arcane, and ultimately circular theories of Derrida and Foucault, it seemed to me, could appeal only to the eggiest of eggheads. Everyone else found them boring and useless.

It’s impossible to date such things exactly, but I believe that is when the demise of the humanities began—especially as deconstructionism as a theory spread to the other arts. Why devote your college years, and perhaps beyond, to the study of something that, according to the experts, you’re never going to be able to understand, anyway?

Even if you’re inclined by nature toward arts and letters, why not focus instead on something that has both ascertainable meaning and practical value, like marketing, or the law? Given the glut of students in marketing programs and law schools, that appears to be exactly what many students have done—students much like me who, a generation ago, might have majored in English and maybe even gone on to pursue graduate degrees in the discipline.

In addition to jettisoning the idea that artworks have inherent meaning, the humanities have nearly politicized themselves out of existence. It’s true that art is sometimes about politics, but it’s not true that all art is political in nature—unless, of course, you’re a Marxist and believe literally everything is political.

And it certainly isn’t true that all artists lean the same way, politically. With regard to politics, as to every other human endeavor, the purpose of great art is to make us think more deeply about our positions, not to tell us what we ought to think. Such is the fallacy of modernism, promulgated under the Marxist assumption that the only legitimate purpose for anything, including art, is to advance socialism.

That idea has naturally led to a new way of evaluating art, based not on quality but on conformity to a political agenda.

Any art that promotes Marxism—including its most recent iteration, “Critical Race Theory”—is therefore “good” art, while those works that “fail” in that regard are necessarily “bad.” By extension, artists who represent the supposed “oppressors”—namely, white males—are rejected en masse, regardless of their ability or accomplishments.

We see this dynamic play out most dramatically when English departments at elite universities eliminate great writers like Shakespeare and Milton from the curriculum and even remove their pictures from the walls.

While it may be true that many college students lean left—especially those inclined toward the arts—there simply aren’t enough dyed-in-the-wool Marxists in the population to support English and other humanities departments that seem to have little aim other than to propagate classical Marxism and Critical Race Theory.

With regard to politics, as to every other human endeavor, the purpose of great art is to make us think more deeply about our positions, not to tell us what we ought to think.
The solution, of course, is to indoctrinate younger students—to inculcate a Marxist worldview among those in required humanities courses like first-year composition. And that is exactly what is being attempted, with (for example) writing assignments requiring students to opine on political issues such as Black Lives Matter, transgenderism, and defunding the police—the obvious assumption being that they will come down on the “right side” of those issues.

Up until a few years ago, I refused to believe things like that were actually happening. But as a senior faculty member serving on various committees, I have read enough of my junior colleagues’ syllabi to conclude otherwise—and I don’t think the problem resides solely at my institution.

I have many friends whose children attend other institutions around the country and the stories they tell only reinforce my conviction that such gratuitous politicization of the core humanities curriculum is widespread, if not nearly ubiquitous.

For example, one professor asked his class to write an essay on the topic, “Why Transgenderism Is a Biological Fact.” Another invited students to explore, in journal entries, their own “toxic Whiteness.” Meanwhile, Robin DiAngelo’s trite, sophomoric jeremiad, White Fragility, has become one of the most frequently assigned first-year composition texts in the country.

The essential problem for humanists is that their attempts at indoctrination have not succeeded, at least not to an extent or in a way that ultimately benefits them. They may move some students further left—although not, I suspect, as many as they imagine—but they ignore the reality that most students aren’t particularly interested in politics as such.

The vast majority just want to get a degree that will enable them to make a comfortable living, and they see no connection between writing essays about transgenderism or reading polemics on Critical Race Theory, and any real-world skills that might assist them in that endeavor. So, they write what they think the professor wants to hear, then go on and major in something else that they perceive will lead to a good job.

Clearly, if one of the purposes of lower-level courses in the humanities is to attract majors, we are failing spectacularly.

And the fault for that is entirely our own. The culprits are not state legislators who keep cutting our budgets, administrators who balk at adding new tenure lines, or money-grubbing bourgeois students who care more about their own “privilege” than about “social justice.”

We have essentially told the truth-seekers that there is no such thing as truth—and certainly none to be found in the study of the arts—and alienated the half of the country that disagrees with us politically while stripping our curriculum of anything practical.

About the only reason a student today would major in English or philosophy or art history is because they want to be a professor. Good luck with that.

New Report Shows College Completion Rates Are Leveling Off

After several years of steady improvement, college completion rates appear to have reached a plateau. According to the just-released Completing College report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC), the national six-year completion rate for students entering college in the fall 2014 stood at 60.1%, representing just a .3 percentage point gain over last year, the smallest increase for the past five years. This year’s slowing improvement compares to 1.4 and 2.2 percentage point gains in the previous two cohorts, respectively.

The national completion rate reported by the NSCRC includes all students who enter postsecondary education for the first time during a given year. It counts students enrolling full-time or part-time at two-year or four-year institutions, and then completing a degree or certificate at any U.S. degree-granting institution within six years. (NSCRC reports eight-year completion rates as well.) It also includes those students who complete a credential after they transfer, not just those who complete at their starting institution.

Thus, the results are not the same as the six-year rate for earning a baccalaureate degree. If a student starts his or her education at a two-year school and then earns either an AA or BA degree, NSCRC treats that student as a completer. Likewise, if a student starts at a four-year college and finishes with either an AA or BA, that student is also counted as a completer. The report therefore captures the diverse pathways to postsecondary completion achieved by today’s students, who increasingly transfer between institutions and across state lines, stop-out of college and then re-enter, and shift between part-time and full-time status.

The report concludes that progress in the national completion rate has stalled largely because traditional age students and community college starters have lost ground, compared to last year’s rates of completion.

When comparing completion rates by the type of institution where students begin their studies, stark differences emerge.

Among students beginning at private, nonprofit four year colleges, 76.7% earn a credential within six years.
At students starting at four-year public schools, 67.4% do so.
Only 45.2% of students beginning their studies at private, for-profit institutions finish within six years.

And at public, two-year colleges, 40.2% of students who first enroll in those institutions earn a credential in six years.
Completion Rates By Ethnicity

As in years past, completion rates continue to vary to a disturbing degree among students, depending on ethnicity.

Among students starting their college careers at public four-year schools, 80% of Asians, 73% of white students, 59% of Hispanics and 50% of Blacks complete within six years.

For starters at two-year public schools, the six-year completion rates are 51% (Asians), 49% (whites), 36% (Hispanics), and 28% (Black).

Completion Rates By State

For 42 states for which sufficient data were available, statewide six-year completion rate decreased by at least 0.5 percentage points in eleven, including five states that had at least a one percentage point drop. Completion rates improved in 21 states, with nine showing at least a one percentage point gain.

Asked about the implications of the slowing completion gains, Mikyung Ryu, Director of research publications for the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, told me, “After completion gains steadily diminished each year post-recession, having reached a tipping point this year is no big surprise. We are losing ground with traditional age students who have the best chances of finishing college in time, implying that the nation is now heading in the wrong direction. Moreover, growing inequities should not be taken lightly. Think about the ripple effects of community colleges being the only sector seeing completion declines this year whereas public universities continue to make progress.”

Those ripple effects are of major concern because they are one more indicator of the need to improve - through policy and investment - the health of the nation’s public two-year colleges. As the access point for so many students - particularly minority students and returning adults - the nation’s two-year colleges have been a broad-access gateway to educational opportunity. Their support and success now need to become a national priority.

Thanks To COVID, A Renaissance In Religious Schooling

Parents are increasingly comfortable with smaller non-public schools and Christian institutions are taking the lead.

One of the most striking cultural developments to come out of the COVID pandemic is the greater willingness of families to experiment with alternative schooling. Wishing to provide their children with a more stable learning environment than the erratic re-openings of conventional public and private schools, many parents have joined with neighbors to create collaborative home schools—or what have come to be called “learning pods.”

Other parents have enrolled their children in streamlined schools where individual grade levels (also called “pods”) are usually limited to no more than 12 students and often reflect an educational theme or philosophy. Some of these self-described “micro-schools” employ professional educators, but parents themselves typically share the teaching load or at least provide supporting services.

In the recent spate of articles on the reasons for this trend, journalists have typically focused on the sophistication of today’s online curricula, the flexibility more parents have as the result of working from home, and, in the case of a few wealthy households, the means to hire highly credentialed tutors. But almost completely overlooked has been the critical role played by churches.

“The unsung heroes are the pastors and church boards,” says Tina Hollenbeck, founder of the Homeschool Resources Roadmap, which reviews online curricula for families and small schools. For months, they have provided the “spaces where kids can gather in small groups to learn with and alongside their parents and other adult leaders.”

Dr. Brian Ray, president of the National Home School Education Research Institute, agrees: “There’s no official data yet, but with so many parents looking for places to safely educate their children, the use of religious settings has clearly accelerated.”

That churches have turned out to be the most popular non-home venue for learning pods and micro schools comes as no surprise to Texas Public Policy Foundation education analyst Erin Valdez, who herself was educated at parish-sited homeschool cooperatives in Florida and Texas. Small parent-run schools “have been around in some form for decades,” she says. And houses of worship have always offered them something few other community institutions could match: access to a large, safe, and morally uplifting venue mostly unused or underused during the workweek.

In recent years, pastors have provided much more than space, doing what they can to keep a school’s costs down while simultaneously using their influence to expand students’ study and recreational options, such as the ability to field teams in the local parochial school sports league. In Chattanooga, Tennessee, students in the Olivet Baptist Church micro school are granted once-a-week access to the science laboratories at the more traditional Chattanooga Christian School.

Then there is the case of DELTIC (Doing Education Life Together in Christ) Prep, a homeschooling cooperative on the Massachusetts-Rhode Island border, which for more than a decade has been educating 70 to 90 preschool-through-twelfth-grade students for approximately $15 each. It helps “greatly that the church where we meet during the week contributes utilities,” says Sandra Authier, one of DELTIC’s two parent program directors.

But perhaps the most important thing churches give small parent-run schools is the freedom to innovate. In Bowie, Maryland, for example, the United Methodist Mt. Oak Fellowship Church has for six years hosted the Bridge Elementary Tutorial Homeschool Ministries, which under director Kym Kent offers an a la carte menu of inexpensive tutored courses.

Families can sign up a child for just one $300 class ($275 prepaid) or use the program as a fully functioning elementary school. Critically, parents who themselves teach can arrange to instruct each other’s children in lieu of paying tuition.

And on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona, Jeremiah Cota has established a third-through-eighth-grade micro school in his uncle’s Assembly of God Church, which combines conventional coursework with a tribal culture curriculum. The program has already qualified for the state’s K-12 school choice tuition subsidies, and Coda aims to soon carry students all the way through high school.

Recognizing the overlooked role of churches in facilitating both the growth of small, parent-run schools and their abrupt expansion during the current crisis raises the interesting question of what educational role local parishes might continue to play even after the coronavirus. A September poll by EdChoice provocatively suggests that American parents have become far more comfortable with small school options since the outbreak. And perhaps not coincidentally, Dr. Kevin Baxter, chief innovation officer at the National Catholic Education Association, has been working on a manual of principals for creating successful church micro schools, scheduled for publication next spring.

Arizona State University professor Andrew Barnes, whose specialty is the history of African and European Christianity, notes that from the 16th century to the mid-1800s, organized religion was primary innovator of lay education. “I can see that happening again,” he says.