Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Harvard students seek to revoke Trump graduates' diplomas

Harvard University students started to circulate a petition that seeks for revoking degrees from President Trump’s aides and supporters who attended the institution.

The initiative “Revoke their Degrees” points to three Harvard graduates, all described as “violent actors”: White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, Senator Ted Cruz, and Representative from Texas Dan Crenshaw. None of them are being investigated for inciting last week’s riot in D.C.

The letter—disclosed by FOX Business—argues that Trump’s supporters were involved in spreading the “disinformation and mistrust” that lead to the assault on the US Capitol.

The campaign—started by five students who attend Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government—calls on the university to be “prepared to take a stand for representative democracy and against violent white supremacy.”

These students consider that “a Harvard degree is a privilege, not a right.”

As a precedent for revoking degrees, they cited Harvard’s decision in 2010 to revoke a degree from a Russian spy, Andrey Bezrukov.

Remote Learning Companies Are Endangering Student Privacy

Colleges and universities nationwide are failing to safeguard the digital safety and privacy of their students. At the outset of the coronavirus pandemic, schools faced new challenges when they were thrown into remote learning because of shelter-in-place orders. Now, running predominantly online classes, schools are relying on remote computer access and similar applications to proctor exams online. These arrangements constitute both an invasion of privacy and a possible cybersecurity risk; the schools are overlooking better alternatives.

A wide variety of online proctoring methods is available. Common options include taking a full view of a student’s monitor, disabling web browsers, disabling copy-and-paste functions, or some combination of these.

Some of the most commonly used methods are the most invasive, however. ProctorU, one of the largest online-proctoring vendors, drew criticism for using facial-recognition technology, controlling mouse movements, and retaining the ability to disable background apps, which could cause a computer to operate in an unintended manner. Examus claims to employ eye-tracking, scans of other people in the room, and “emotion detection.”

Students should not be expected to hand over this kind of access to their computers or be subject to this scrutiny, especially when they do not know what else the software has access to. Some remote setups, similar to those that IT technicians use, give proctors access to various connections on a student’s computer.

A student at Boise State University discovered that the proctoring software knew how many monitors he had connected; he had to disconnect his second monitor just to access the test. Such problems turn out to be commonplace, indicative of a high degree of surveillance. How could the student know whether his information was being viewed or even recorded—with someone perhaps waiting to breach it? What were the retention policies for the recordings? These details were not disclosed to this student’s class.

Earlier this year, an executive at the online proctoring service Proctorio released the private-chat support logs of students and got Twitter to take down a student’s critical tweet about the company. Proctorio is now suing a security researcher at the University of British Columbia who tweeted negative views of its product.

Some recommend removing the testing software after exams are completed—but students trying to do so have reported that their completed tests were canceled after uninstalling the software.

In defense of the invasive proctoring, an article published by eLearning Industry argues that students taking classroom tests are usually observed—so they should also be remotely observable. The situations are not analogous, though. Computers contain troves of personal information. A proctor watching students take tests in person cannot see what a remote proctor might see, such as private communications and files.

In contrast to overreaching e-proctoring efforts, reasonable anti-cheat measures are available. For example, Florida State University issued best practices for anti-cheating measures that focus on security within the test itself.

For example, the school can turn off the setting that immediately tells students whether their answers to test questions are correct. This prevents students from sharing confirmed answers with others.

Another innovative strategy, used by a University of California, Berkeley, computer science class, is to issue students a decryption key for the exam separate from the exam. This can prevent unintended recipients from viewing it. After decrypting the exam, the student then joins a private Zoom meeting, at which point they share their screen, which is recorded. A proctor can then periodically join the Zoom meeting at his discretion to check on the student and can review the recording to ensure academic honesty. This private meeting keeps students separate and shields them from seeing one another’s environment. The Berkeley instructor told students that all recordings of their displays would be purged after grading the exam. That practice should be standard.

One reason that recording screen sharing is superior to remote access is that it lessens proctor surveillance of the students’ personal effects. Viewing the names of files, picture thumbnails, sticky notes containing passwords, and desktop shortcuts is over-intrusive, potentially embarrassing to students, and does not provide additional security. We shouldn’t be making desktop peeping easy.

These invasive practices led the UC Santa Barbara Faculty Association to issue a warning about ProctorU last May. “This service ... mines the data of our students,” the group declared, “making them available to unspecified third parties, and therefore violates our students’ rights to privacy, and potentially implicates the university into becoming a surveillance tool.”

High School Principal Placed on Leave After Speaking Out Against Censorship

A high school principal in Tennessee has been placed on paid leave after reportedly speaking out against censorship in the wake of last week's riot at the U.S. Capitol.

In a message to students, Cordova High School Principal Barton Thorne condemned last week's riot at the U.S. Capitol before speaking out against censorship. Still, Thorne was placed on paid leave pending an investigation of his comments to students.

WREG obtained audio of Thorne's message.

"It’s what’s going on with Twitter and Facebook and Google and Apple, and their decision as private companies to filter and to decide what you, you hear and know about," Thorne said to students.

According to WREG, Thorne, who's been the principal at Cordova High School for about three years, denounced the violence that took place at the U.S. Capitol and stressed that his comments weren't in defense of President Trump but in freedom of speech in general.

"Because there have been times even in American history where a small group of people decided what you could hear," Thorne continued. "You think about McCarthyism. If you don’t know about that, you can Google that or talk to your Social Studies teacher."

The principal is now on paid leave following an investigation of his comments.

A public school teacher in Allentown, Pennsylvania, was relieved of duty pending a formal investigation into his attendance at the pro-Trump protest in Washington, D.C. last week.




Monday, January 18, 2021

School closures will cast a long shadow

The UK government’s lockdown restrictions have already destroyed so much. They have broken the economy, restricted freedoms, and are nearly failing in their only clear objective – to protect the NHS. And they are continuing to do untold damage to the young people whose schools and colleges have once again been shut down. For school students like myself, this is causing a crisis on so many levels that I will be surprised if anything ever goes back to normal.

Primarily there is the damage that lockdowns have done to the education system itself. By shutting down schools, the government has halted and damaged the very process by which we, as a society, prepare young people for adulthood. Perhaps the government has lost faith in its own future. It certainly no longer believes in ours.

We have been living under varying lockdown restrictions for nine months now. During that time, the authorities could have rebuilt and strengthened the educational system so as to ensure young people need not go without school again. But they have failed to do so.

Yes, schools may need to be made safe. But we, as less vulnerable young people, are not as scared of the virus as we are of the government’s authoritarian and incompetent response to it. If loneliness is the ‘hidden’ killer of the elderly, then state-sanctioned isolation will be ours.

The worst part of all this is that the authorities have taken away the centre of existence and failed to replace it. Without school and all that goes with it, there is a void in the lives of young people. Our drive, passion and sociability has no outlet. There are no clubs, no birthday parties and no changes of scenery. There is nothing to excite us. We have been left to live lives framed by caution and fear.

The closure of schools has also taken away our own informal relationships and networks – from the sports we usually play, to the gossiping in the hallways we would normally enjoy. Playing Mario Kart with your dad or having a cup of tea with your mum is no substitute for those everyday relationships with your friends. We are being isolated not only from the world, but from each other.

Education right now is becoming monotonous and almost pointless. The government’s announcement that it is effectively cancelling exams this year cast into doubt the whole point of going to school in the first place. It all now looks like such a waste of time. The months of trying to adjust to the Covid restrictions and catch up after the last lockdown now seem to mean next to nothing. Besides, what do the authorities expect Year 11s and 13s to do for the next eight months? Revise?

The direction and purpose of young people’s lives has been stripped away. And what’s more, there is little sign of any end to this instability in the near future. The effects of the lockdown will be felt not just on those year groups taking exams this year, but on those taking them next year, too. The government claims that it sees ‘education as key to the future’. If so, that future looks pretty bleak right now.

And beyond school, the economic devastation wreaked by the lockdown will undoubtedly affect our chances of getting jobs. Especially now that there is no work experience to kickstart the journey.

It all makes for a rather dark future. Not that those in charge of our education seem to have noticed. Instead, they have turned our generation’s life-long familiarity with smartphones and social media against us, using it as an excuse to leave us to our own (hi-tech) devices. Social media is at best a distraction or tool to keep in touch, not a lifeline. Yet, as this latest full lockdown begins, teenagers are expected to live their lives in this world of distorted reality for months on end. And I think the dangers of this are being massively underestimated.

Of course, kids are still being taught right now – they’re being taught to stay at home, stay apart and keep quiet. And as it stands, there seems to be little end in sight to this (non-)life under Covid.

To bring an end to this abhorrent era, we need to make a determined effort to create the conditions that will allow young people not just an education, but to be young again. Our very future depends on it.

Islamism is scaring teachers into silence

Nearly half of French secondary-school teachers have self-censored for fear of offending Muslim students, according to a new survey.

The Ifop survey, conducted for Charlie Hebdo and the Jean-Jaurès Foundation, took place in December 2020, two months after the murder of Samuel Paty, a teacher who was killed by an Islamist after he showed students Charlie Hebdo cartoons depicting Muhammad.

The survey reveals a huge 49 per cent of secondary-school teachers have self-censored on issues including sexuality and the Holocaust. This is a 13 per cent increase compared with a similar poll two years ago.

This is worrying news, but it comes as no surprise. The brutal and disgusting murder of Samuel Paty was a blatant attempt to crush dissent on religious issues. Many teachers are now terrified to speak out in case they become the next victims of this violent, totalitarian Islamism .

In the face of this highly censorious threat, it is more important than ever that we stand up for free speech. French teachers’ fears show the absurdity of the claim that cancel culture only harms the rich and powerful.

The universal right to free expression is the bedrock of our society. Evidently, it needs defending.

Disrupt Texts Is the Latest Attack on the Western Canon

What is Disrupt Texts? For the uninitiated, it is a new radical movement in classrooms which seeks to disrupt the “hegemony of English” and the Western canon by replacing them.

According to its own website, Disrupt Texts is a “crowdsourced, grassroots effort by teachers for teachers to challenge the traditional canon in order to create a more inclusive, representative, and equitable language arts curriculum.”

What do they have to say about Shakespeare? “This is about an ingrained and internalized elevation of Shakespeare in a way that excludes other voices. This is about white supremacy and colonization;” because of “the violence, misogyny, racism, and more that we encounter in Shakespearean texts, we offer up the notion that we can open our minds and classrooms to texts that celebrate the voices and lives of marginalized people, speak to the students in front of us, and reflect a better society.”

This is illiterate madness. To think the wisdom of Shakespeare and Homer is reduced to misogyny and racism is to ignore the universalism of it.

Recently, a Wall Street Journal op-ed detailed the Disrupt Text movement’s attempt to cancel Homer’s Odyssey. But it is not just Homer and Shakespeare, as Lona Manning wrote in Quillette:

To Kill a Mockingbird was voted “America’s Favorite Novel” in a PBS competition in 2018, but #DisruptTexts finds that Atticus Finch is a white savior, and an ineffectual one at that. And Lord of the Flies, a novel featuring “elite, upperclass, private school [students] who are white, cisgender, European males,” is condemned for what it implies about civilization and savagery.

Ultimately, all works of the Western canon are stripped of all literary, and moral value in favor of superficial characteristics, like skin color and sex of the protagonist. This is pure nihilism by mediocrities with a massive chip on their shoulder, fundamentally insecure and vindictive about anything qualitatively better or more beautiful.

Nor is this anti-Western phenomenon new. As Joy Pullmann wrote, “’Hey ho, hey ho, Western civ has got to go’ was the chant Jesse Jackson led at Stanford University back in the 1980s, and it succeeded marvelously.” The study of Western Civilization has almost vanished from American college campuses, according to a new report from the National Association of Scholars.

But more importantly, the ideological cause was explained by Ray Honeyford, an English headteacher in Britain, who predicted this in the 1980s in a controversial essay, which deserves a reappraisal in this context. Honeyford wrote, “The term ‘racism’, for instance, functions not as a word with which to create insight, but as a slogan designed to suppress constructive thought. It conflates prejudice and discrimination, and thereby denies a crucial conceptual distinction.”

In one of the most memorable paragraphs, Honeyford explained,

A generation of cultural relativists in the field of linguistics has managed to impose on the schools the mindless slogan ‘All languages are equally good’…the determined efforts of misguided radical teachers to place such as the following alongside the works of Shakespeare and Wordsworth: Wi mek a lickle date fi nineteen seventy eight An wi fite and wi fite An defeat di state. (From ‘Inglan is a Bitch’, Linton Kwesi Johnson).

Ultimately, the effort of Disrupt Texts is similar. The root cause of all such movements is a relativist idea that all art forms and canon are objectively equal, meaningful, rich, and beautiful. Disrupt Texts is accordingly an ongoing movement, whose aim is not a redressal of inequality, the elevation of quality, or ideological diversity. Rather, it is methodical destruction of objectively superior canonical art and literary form—and its eventual, complete erasure.