In an excellent Wall Street Journal piece, Andrew Ferguson, author of Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College writes about his visit to one of the schools where his son was accepted. It's a warts-and-all portrait of college life, heavy on the amenities and light on the academics. What little attention was given to academics is troubling: "The professor boasted of his history course, which had transformed merely curious students into 'social activists.' Under his guidance the young scholars read books by Sally Belfrage, author of the Cold War memoir 'UnAmerican Activities' and the socialist historian Howard Zinn, author of 'A People's History of the United States,' and they emerged 'ready to change the world.' So we have that to look forward to. "The professor's speech was just a hint of what was to come: Later my son told me that he had three choices for a mandatory writing class: 'History of the 1960s,' 'TV's Mad men,' and 'Intro to Queer Theory.'" I hope young Mr. Ferguson already knows how to write.
Duke history Professor Peter Wood, not to be confused with NAS's president of the same name. seems to use the classroom to malign the character of students, lacrosse players in particular. Nevertheless, the American Historical Association awarded him Eugene Asher Distinguished Teacher award for this year.
Stanley Fish seems to be seeking the middle ground on revisions to Penn State's policy authorized by the faculty Senate, and now awaiting approval by PSU's president. Particularly unfortunate was the removal of a provision stipulating that academic freedom did not grant professors license to indoctrinate their students or to use their classrooms as bully pulpit for flogging their favorite political or social issues. NAS is dismayed.
Anyone who's followed Ashley Thorne's posts describing the recently discontinued La Raza/Chicano "studies" program in the Tucson public school sytem may well have experienced a sense of the surreal: how on earth did this balkanized, ideological bomb-throwing find its way into any classroom anywhere? Could anyone actually have been serious about a "curriculum" that could only engender ethnic chauvanism and antagonism toward non-hispanics, especially whites? Unfortunately, yes, since the Tucson program is simply an extension/imitation of what's been going on in academic precincts for quite some time now. Here you can easily find any number of undergraduate courses and "studies" programs devoted to fostering group identity, group chauvnism, group grievance, group entitlement, etc., etc. But as these two pieces (here and here) in the Chronicle of Higher Education illustrate, ethnic studies has apparently been catching some flak, even from within the academy, and the authors respectively write to mount a defense. Of course, they believe, lots of criticism predictably emanates from the incorrigible racism which perdures at all levels of American society, and which was recently made manifest in Arizona's new statute which effectively terminated the Tucson curriculum. But one of the authors interestingly argues that ethnic studies programs at the college level have been weakened by academic "liberals," who have used them as a means of celebrating "diversity' rather than generating political activism and group advocacy (as in "empowerment"). That, he concludes, is where ethnic studies needs to refocus, as the La Raza program was apparently doing so well. As the comments thread indicates, a number of academic observers with first-hand experience of similar programs also think that's exactly what's wrong with them.
Crosspost from www.NAS.org Two weeks ago I published an article about a Marxist journal that has seized authority in the education world. The Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies (JCEPS) is published by the UK-based Institute for Education Policy Studies (IEPS), “an independent Radical Left/Socialist/Marxist institute for developing policy analysis and development of education policy.” It takes its cues from Che Guevara and Paulo Freire. Articles from JCEPS are required reading in some ed schools, and the editorial advisory board has representatives from universities in eighteen countries. In posting the NAS article on JCEPS, I thought that simply calling the journal what it is would be enough to discredit it. I wrote:
While it is appropriate to study the now discredited but historically important ideas of Marxism in political science, philosophy, and economics courses, education schools have no need for radical ideology. Ed schools should be preparing teachers to train the minds of the next generation, not to arm them with socialist politics. To do so cheats both future teachers and their future students out of the sound, unbiased education they deserve.
I assumed that most people would agree that Marxist politics have no place in the classroom, and that the JCEPS folks would be reluctant to own their radical left agenda. I was wrong. Since the article appeared on the NAS website, apologists for the journal have been coming out of the woodwork. We seem to have secured the attention of some of the last remaining Marxists on earth. One commenter, who seems not to be a native speaker of English, wrote:
Definitely, education should be explicitly involved in struggles for equity and justice, especially at the current situation. Therefore, it’s very meaningful to arouse teachers and students’ critical consciousness, as Professor Peter McLaren does. School and society shouldn’t be separated. No matter it is in John Dewey’s mind “school is society”, or in other scholar’s essay “society is school”, schools have close relationship with society. George Counts once insisted that it was a great ideal that people should mainly focus on educating the children and care little about others, however, he thought that schools and teachers had to think about the injustice since the then unequal society greatly influenced teachers and students in 1930s. As for the current situation which is much worse than in 1930s in many aspects, the “ivory tower” ideal had gone and would never come back, colleges and universities are more and more involved in the society economically and politically, students have to fight for the equality, and teachers are forced to fight for their right they deserved. There are inequity and injustice in society, so it’s teachers’ responsibility to arouse their students consciousness to seek for the equity and justice. Those behind it are the ones who give up their responsibilities or the ones who own privilege, because they dare not to change the society or don’t want to give up their privilege. [emphasis mine]
Another person, ironically self-nicknamed “Cassiodorus” after the devout Christian who kept alive the flame of liberal learning after the fall of Rome, added:
Marxism isn't discredited anywhere, education isn't unbiased, and "radical" refers to the notion of examining the roots ("radical," from the Latin radix, or root) of everyday practice, something which should be done more often in schools. The rest of this is a rather amateurish collection of soundbites on a number of subjects, the least understood of which is critical pedagogy. [emphasis mine]
This is a delightful bit of self-delusion. Marxism isn’t discredited anywhere? Marxism is discredited just about everywhere, but if “Cassiodorus” needs a for instance, I can testify firsthand that Marxism is discredited in Novokuznetsk and other parts of Russia where I have stayed. From his nom de plume, I would think Cassiodorus is implicitly acknowledging this reality. His “Rome” would appear to be the Soviet State and the nations it held captive. He is keeping the holy flame of Marxism alive in an age dominated by the barbarian idea of human freedom. “Ferlaz” also chimed in:
In Argentina we are creating a new educational movement based on the critical pedagogies, especially the works of Paulo Freire, Peter McLaren. This article only serves to confirm that we are on the correct path of struggle. This educational movement is not intended to build ideological blocs but returning to education because their political neutrality is also a way of doing politics. This article ends endorsing own knowledge of the dominant classes, their ideologies and worldviews deny the possibility of conflict as natural and accepting the hegemonic discourse. From Argentina, from the popular schools for youth and adults in factories recovered by their workers shouted: Che lives!, As in Peter McLaren's page.
The grammar here is too shaky to figure out exactly what is making “ferlaz” so excited. Che, the murderous thug of the Cuban revolution, is fortunately long dead. He enjoys only the kind of immortality conferred by T-shirts and dorm-room posters. It does seem to me of absorbing interest that the great folly of Marxism—having burned through the twentieth century as a fire that killed more than 90 million people, enslaved countless others, and brought more misery and oppression into the world than any other political doctrine in human history—still has its proud defenders. And they are in schools of education.
This week in Frontpage Magazine Michelle Malkin has an article, "Hollywood and Howard Zinn's Marxist Education Project." Here's an excerpt:
Zinn’s objective is not to impart knowledge, but to instigate “change” and nurture a political “counterforce” (an echo of fellow radical academic and Hugo Chavez admirer Bill Ayers’ proclamation of education as the “motor-force of revolution”). Teachers are not supposed to teach facts in the school of Zinn. “There is no such thing as pure fact,” Zinn asserts. Educators are not supposed to emphasize individual academic achievement. They are supposed to “empower” student collectivism by emphasizing “the role of working people, women, people of color and organized social movements.” School officials are not facilitators of intellectual inquiry, but leaders of “social struggle.” Zinn and company have launched a nationwide education project in conjunction with the documentary. “A people’s history requires a people’s pedagogy to match,” Zinn preaches. The project is a collaboration between two “social justice” activist groups, Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change. [...] No part of the school curriculum is immune from the social justice makeover crew. Zinn’s partners at Rethinking Schools have even issued teaching guides to “Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers” — which rejects the traditional white male patriarchal methods of teaching computation and statistics in favor of p.c.-ified number-crunching [see NAS's articles on this, "Social Changelings" and "Mathematical Deceptions"]. [...] Our students will continue to come in dead last in international testing. But no worries. With Howard Zinn and Hollywood leftists in charge, empty-headed young global citizens will have heavier guilt, wider social consciences and more hatred for America than any other students in the world.
A blog on Inside Higher Ed that I pay attention to, Getting to Green, has an interesting discussion about advocacy intruding on higher education. Note that the Getting to Green blogger writes under a pseudonym and is "a sustainability administrator at a large private research university, an adjunct faculty member, and a farmer." Michael Legaspi at Creighton University commenting on Getting to Green:
Advocacy rears its head too often, in multicultural moralism, identity politics, and, as the CRU debacle shows, in too many kinds of environmental studies. When we are concerned only to convert students to the “right” view of things, rather than to lead them through complex engagement of the intellectual substance of important questions, we make it all too easy for them to get by in our classes by telling us what we want to hear. When they do so to our satisfaction, we may have scored a cheap political victory, but we have surely done so at the expense of our best and highest ideals.
Getting to Green responds:
Michael Legaspi is concerned that too much of American higher education consists of political advocacy. He's right to be, and I agree with him. In fact, I'd go further. I'd say that too much teaching consists of social and economic advocacy, as well. Too much of what goes on in social sciences and professional schools treats how things are as the best they could possibly be (in this, the best of all possible worlds). Advocacy may be an acceptable form of consciousness-raising, but it's far from the highest form of teaching. When I work with professors at Greenback, I really don't know how much sustainability-related advocacy they indulge in. My impression, and my sincere hope, is that it's not much. Advocacy is appropriate in the marketplace of ideas, but potentially troubling in the classroom. My objective is to get students to engage both with the material -- the facts -- and in some degree of substantive analysis. If a student seriously engages with the idea that natural resources (both sources and sinks) are finite, that the systems which interact to produce the planet's climate are many and complex, and that societies may have a responsibility to address problems of their own creation, then I'm satisfied. Not everyone has to agree with my conclusions about climate disruption, its causes, its likely costs for humanity if left unchecked, or the need to address it globally and immediately. What I comment on when I review student projects and papers is whether they demonstrate an understanding of the material, not whether that understanding matches my own.
I don't agree with G2G's entire post (especially the part about the mainstream media giving credence to Climategate - think Googlegate), but he's saying the right thing here. One of the main problems with the push to "infuse" sustainability into higher education is that it brings ideological advocacy into the classroom. If we are to have sustainability education in the university, the approach G2G is talking about sounds like the right one.
Duke professor Dan Ariely is engaged in some research on attitudes towards sex toys. According to this story in the Raleigh News & Observer, a few people at Duke are upset. This reinforces my view that faculty research ought to be put on a free-market footing. That is, the norm should be a full teaching load (let's say 12 hours, although, speaking from experience, it isn't hard to do more), but if a professor can get sufficient outside funding for a research project to be able to buy a reduced teaching load, fine. That would lead to far less waste that the prevailing system, which has a low teaching load norm and assumes that professors will devote much of their time to useful research. What we get from that system is a lot of research that's done just for the sake of publishing. We should put academic research to the test of the market: Will people voluntarily pay for it?
Check out my article at NAS.org, "Sustainability Skepticism Has Arrived." I juxtapose two news stories from this week on challenges to the sustainability doctrine:
These stories are parallel. Both Michael Pollan and Richard Steiner were caught off guard when challenged, then played the victim in the name of academic freedom—a skewed version of academic freedom. When David Wood sought to open Cal Poly’s eyes to the ideological agenda Pollan proselytizes, Pollan and others accused the university of cravenly capitulating to demands from the big bad corporate world. And when NOAA identified Steiner as going outside Sea Grant parameters by engaging in advocacy, Steiner said the University of Alaska had put a “gag order” on him.
If you are interested in helping the NAS expose the truth about the campus sustainability movement, send our list of “10 Reasons to Oppose the Sustainability Movement on Campus” to students, parents, faculty members, administrators, and news media.
Today is the seventh annual Campus Sustainability Day (CSD), a celebration invented by the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP), in collaboration with Second Nature. Second Nature, remember, considers sustainability a tool to redress “past, present, and future maldistribution of resources, privileges and rights of endangered communities, of poor people, and of communities of color.” It believes that the university is the best place to foster sustainability advocacy, and that “The myth of the value-free university, that knowledge is attained for its own sake, stands in contrast to the reality that special interests always play a greater or lesser role.” As we speak, SCUP is streaming a live webcast on “Sustainability Strategies for Vibrant Campus Communities” to colleges that paid the $195 registration fee.
At Critical Mass, Erin O’Connor has an excellent take on a professor’s recent article justifying her use of the classroom for political activism. Professor Gemma Puglisi, who teaches a writing course at the American University in Washington, wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education:
the entire experience has made me re-examine my own teaching. What role do we as professors have in our classrooms? Is it appropriate for us to use politics as a pedagogical tool? Do we have the right to use our classrooms for activism?
Puglisi thinks so, but O'Connor disagrees:
There is much to be said for fighting to ensure due process and to defend those we believe have been falsely accused. But Puglisi should have done it on her own time. The fact that she might have been on the side of the angels on this one doesn't justify her abuse of pedagogical privilege.
We couldn't have said it better.
The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh student newspaper, the Advance-Titan, has published an article about our article "Sustainability is a Waste." The staff writes, "the idea that an ideology enters any classroom unexamined is something students should be concerned about. As students, we have the first and foremost duty to educate ourselves for the future. Our goal should first be to learn something about the world before attempting to change it in ways we may not fully understand." We are pleased to see the Advance-Titan paying attention to the realities behind the campus sustainability movement.
The American Association of University Professors released its Report on 11 September 2007. In that document, the AAUP provides cover for teachers who introduce extraneous, often politically tendentious material into their classes. To rationalize such behavior, the AAUP argues that truth is whatever the members of an academic discipline say it is. In our response, the NAS executive director and president take issue with that and other AAUP contentions.