Over at Pajamasmedia, “Zombie” is in the midst of a five part analysis of the Texas textbook battle. In The Language Police (2004), Diane Ravitch argued that to avoid offending any conceivable sensibility, publishers produce absurd textbooks in which men cannot be depicted as larger than women, Asians cannot appear studious, and the elderly must not be ill or infirm. In a word: pablum. Zombie, however, sees the Texas smackdown as a significant rebellion against the Left’s Gramscian “long march through the institutions” which has necessitated speech codes, historical revisionism, and dubious curriculum standards. One recalls the noxious National Standards for U.S. and World History exposed by Lynne Cheney here and National Council of the Teachers of English “standards” that include expectations such as “Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes . . . .” Oh, the rigor! American education may wear the face of Alfred E. Neuman, but he has a globalist, multiculturalist, social justice lovin' grin. Zombie lambasts both Right and Left in the Texas shoot-out but he also notes that
. . . activists [once] denounced nationwide educational standards which prevented teachers from presenting `alternative’ facts and viewpoints. But now that the once-alternative progressive framework has become ascendent [sic] and dominates the education landscape, the left (or at least the Obama wing of the left) has flipped policies, and these days they insist on imposing nationwide educational standards to prevent any local schoolboards or states from sneaking off the political plantation and exposing students to conservative values.
Running through Friday; check it out.
In its eagerness to welcome students - that is, global citizens - to campus last week, the University of Missouri misspelled "Welcome" in Farsi and Arabic on a sign bordered by various national flags that included the word in English, Spanish, Malay, Hungarian. Whoops! That's awkward. Oh yeah, we're in Missouri, not the Dubai airport. After student center staff learned that some words had been misspelled, they blacked out the erroneous ones on the signs. Perhaps next time these citizen-of-the-world wannabes try to be cosmopolitan, they'll double check their Arabic dictionary first. H/T Chronicle Tweed [caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="461" caption="Nick Agro/Senior Staff Photographer, The Maneater"][/caption]
Education needs a manifesto for a new humanism; sadly, Martha Nussbaum’s new book is not that manifesto. I had high hopes for Not for Profit but Dr. Nussbaum’s argument quickly becomes a tangle of faulty logic and ideology and notably stale seventies feminism. Why is she still pumping the wells of female victimization (while referencing the female president of Harvard) and the plight of African American children who lack role models (while noting the African American President of the United States)? At one point, she praises Mr. Obama’s personal values as developed by the progressive education she endorses. Then she indicts him for not supporting such education for others, raising the question of just what sort of person her recommended liberal education actually produces. When Nussbaum pleads for progressive schools (wherein teachers sagely guide students to discover and construct knowledge themselves), I think of Geoffrey Pyke [pictured] and his Malting House School (John Dewey meets William Golding). Although Dr. Nussbaum embraces Socratic self-examination, ideology blinds her to her own biases. She is pedantic when attacking pedantry, and she abhors “the dead hand of authority” yet repeatedly invokes the authority of Nobel Prize credentials. She advocates critical thinking to combat “demeaning stereotypes,” then proceeds to stereotype men, women, whites, and Southerners. Masculinity comes off badly unless it is “maternal” which, she implies, is the true essence of human nature (making masculine behavior an aberration, less than human). In this book, women are saintly and victimized (unless they are named Margaret Thatcher). Nussbaum scorns the image of the self-reliant cowboy, then, on the next page, explains that every child must develop “less need to call on others.” Decrying education that involves mere inculcation of facts (more Seventies flotsam), she later admits to the necessity for “a lot of factual knowledge.” Worse, Dr. Nussbaum extols the individual but avoids any mention of the tribalizing effects of multiculturalism and its diminution of . . . the individual. Among several straw man arguments, she condemns “the facile equation of Islam with terrorism” without mentioning just who ever assumed that equivalence. The values she prizes are particularly Western, giving her desire to spread them globally a whiff of cultural imperialism. And Dr. Nussbaum recommends role-playing to develop sympathy for "the other." I met an eyewitness from one progressive school in Northern California that did just that: to develop sympathy for slaves on a ship, teachers locked students in a Quonset hut, chained to their desks surrounded by rotting fish. In fact, Dr. Nussbaum’s book is a call not for a new humanism but for an old political correctness. She even warns that because artworks are so effective at creating empathy, teachers must exercise “careful selectivity” so that students do not read “defective forms of `literature’” which evoke unsocial feelings and “uneven sympathies.” Yikes! Goodbye Salinger, Twain, Poe, O’Conner, Dostoyevsky, and Kafka. With friends like Dr. Nussbaum, liberal arts education doesn’t need enemies.
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.
This weekend, I graduated from the University of Missouri with a BA in political science. Walking across the stage to receive my diploma gave me a great feeling, particularly after being away from school for a few years. My experience this past year at a major state university instructed me not only in the nature of scholarship, but in those other things that have so little to do with, but so often accompany, the serious work of the academy. The commencement exercise featured the usual fanfare, a notable part of which has become the donning of specialized, non-academic apparel in addition to the traditional academic attire of such events. Students not only wear gown, cap and tassel, but many if not most black students also displayed brightly-colored, boldly-designed sashes, ribbons and mortar board decorations representing racially-defined organizations. The idea seems to be to celebrate the black experience of one's college years. Call me curmudgeonly, but I think this inappropriately draws attention away from those wearing distinctive apparel recognizing actual academic achievement. This strikes me as a presumptuous prerogative. The function of commencement is to confer an academic degree and mark a new start for graduates. The alternative attire not only ignores that purpose and diverts attention from its highest exemplars, but elevates racial identity to similar standing with the active, educational endeavors of the wearer. Academic officials would do well to curtail this "celebration of diversity," restoring dignity not only of ceremonial purpose, but to all its participants.
California State University at Chico’s president, Paul Zingg, has just circulated a draft “diversity action plan for 2010-2015” titled To Form a More Inclusive Learning Community. He asks for feedback on the draft. NAS was happy to oblige:
Diversity came to have a precariously balanced double meaning. On one side, it evoked the genuine pleasure that Americans have in cultural variety and friendship. “Diversity” is the sweetness of knowing andliking people unlike yourself and discovering cultural variety. This aspect of diversity found its way into mainstream marketing and a thousand greeting cards, quilt displays, and children’s TV programs. But this sweet side of diversity was never far away from a distinctly harsher reality: diversity was also based on stoking group identity by evoking (real or imaginary) grievance. Diversity had its own hierarchy of grievances. The group with the best grievance story is African Americans, who took pride of place in any scheme for distributing the compensatory rewards of diversity. But the grievance game had and still has lots of players. The currency is having a narrative of how “my group” suffered at the hands of an intolerant and oppressive society. Even if, as was often the case, an individual suffered no oppression at all, mere identification with a supposedly oppressed group would suffice. Diversity in this second sense is a doctrine of group grievance, not a recognition of the particularities of individuals. The two sides of diversity were always in tension. The first allows for individuality; the second demands conformity to a group identity. One result was a whole industry of individuals explaining themselves in terms of group identity. We saw the birth of diversity memoirs, diversity novels, diversity painting, and so on—all aimed at bridging this unbridgeable gap. How do you make sweetness and bitterness co-resident in the same person?
Katherine Kersten brings back an old topic on this blog: dispositions theory in education. There's a new design of teacher education at the University of Minnesota, she says:
The initiative is premised, in part, on the conviction that Minnesota teachers' lack of "cultural competence" contributes to the poor academic performance of the state's minority students. Last spring, it charged the task group with coming up with recommendations to change this. In January, planners will review the recommendations and decide how to proceed. The report advocates making race, class and gender politics the "overarching framework" for all teaching courses at the U. It calls for evaluating future teachers in both coursework and practice teaching based on their willingness to fall into ideological lockstep.
We were last down this road in 2005 during the KC Johnson controversy at Brooklyn College. Yet it continues unabated. At SCSU students in educational administration or in child and family studies have a form to fill out if they see a disposition that doesn't meet the professional standards. In the former field, if you "express an inability or unwillingness to work with some people" and "avoid collaboration", you have an area of need to work on. Teachers in graduate studies get courses in which their competencies are assessed to determine if they consider "multiple perspectives and willingness to challenge and analyze one’s own perspectives given alternatives" and "respond to items regarding lens of social justice and dispositions." Johnson reported on this blog last month that these Minnesota criteria are being highlighted at exactly the moment NCATE, the teachers' accrediting body, is turning away from them. So maybe this won't last for much longer around here.
James Taranto has an excellent analysis of the controversy at NYU over Professor Tunku Varadarajan's column on the Fort Hood massacre. In "The 'Diversity' Sham," he notes NYU President John Sexton's timorous reply - "I found it offensive, too" - and points out the problem with 'diversity' in higher education:
This is how "diversity" works in practice: Intellectual contention is drowned out in a sea of emotion, much of it phony. Members of designated victim groups respond to a serious argument with "pain" and "shock" and accusations of "hate," and university administrators make a show of pretending to care.
Taranto's article comes at a good time, as hate studies is now somehow an academic discipline...
Over at NAS.org I have an article, "The Dark Side of Diversity," about how the diversity movement punishes even its supporters. Melissa Hart, writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education, told how she got lost in the diversity craze when she went to college at UC-Santa Cruz. She wrote:
I saw that the Vietnamese students' stories of emigrating to the United States, and the African students' tales of colorful culture back home, caused our professor to sit up straight and stroke his goatee with pleasure, while my own stories of innocent girls enlightened by wise transients on the Mall in downtown Santa Cruz caused him to invoke lethal adjectives such as "sentimental" and "pathetic." Being white and straight, I felt doubly cursed with a dearth of fascinating material.
It seems that Hart would realize that her dreams of multicultural mingling weren’t coming true—and that it was the fault of multiculturalism itself. Yet she didn’t get it. Instead, she bought into the doctrine even further, believing that she was indeed ordinary and invisible.
This week the Chronicle of Higher Education has a special section on “Diversity in Academe.” One article featured there, “Diversity Takes a Hit During Tough Times,” (subscription required) examines how the economic downturn has forced colleges to evaluate their priorities. Colleges are asking, “Is a large diversity program really necessary for our institution?” Richard Vedder, of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, doesn’t think so:
Richard K. Vedder, an economist at Ohio University who also directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, says it has become "faddish" for universities to boast about their commitment to minority students by pointing to the size of their diversity offices. "The question is, at a university with 20,000 students, can you do the job with three to five people, or do you really need 25 to 35?" he asks. Mr. Vedder sees most diversity jobs as a bull-market luxury—and believes they should be scaled back, along with intercollegiate athletics, to protect core teaching and research operations during hard times.
Nevertheless, universities are scrambling to salvage their diversity departments, however superfluous, and one professor says this is a time of testing: “The next few years will show whether a university's commitment to diversity is real or whether it's something that is done just for the rhetoric.” Clearly this is the upside of the recession, giving colleges an opportunity to examine what’s really important in higher education – not race, identity groups, or political correctness brownie points, but simply, higher education. As the dean of St. Lawrence U puts it, “If you don't have the basic curriculum, and you don't have the faculty and you're not paying them, then all of the other programs in the world don't matter one bit.”
Those of us who have criticized the worst excrescences of political correctness in academia, such as the cult of cosmetic diversity that is oblivious to the benefits of intellectual diversity, have sometimes consoled ourselves by the thought that academia is just a self-contained entity, removed from the rest of American society by the sheer inanity of the ideas it generates. Once students have graduated, we have reassured ourselves, they will rejoin the mainstream and rid themselves of all the nonsense their professors have drilled into them. Those who believe this underestimate how easily academics can influence public policy even if only a small percentage of their students bring to the larger society the mostly left-wing ideology these students have absorbed. To my profound regret one such student has now ascended to the presidency. Barack Obama, in the domestic and foreign policies he has enunciated, has shown himself to have internalized, first in college and then in law school, many of the most pernicious postulates of “multiculturalism,” which for many of its advocates is little more than ideological justification for trashing America – which is forever tainted by the original sins of slavery and racism - while either rationalizing or ignoring the far more egregious transgressions of America’s enemies. Indeed, President Obama is our first multicultural president – with the adjective preceding the noun referring to what he thinks rather than his race, which should be irrelevant to any consideration of his policies. After receiving degrees from Columbia and Harvard, two citadels of multicultural education, our current president went on to even more radical post-graduate training from a “faculty” consisting of Mssrs. Wright, Ayers, Khalidi and Flueger. The result is an ethical universe in the White House in which Rush Limbaugh evokes more indignation and hostility than the genocidal anti-semitic mullahs in Iran. My point is not to bash President Obama. Rather it is that we in academia who share the operative principles of the National Association of Scholars should not stop fighting for these principles because of a psychologically comforting, but empirically groundless belief that academics who mindlessly mouth the platitudes of multiculturalism really have no influence outside the academy and for that reason can be dismissed as harmless cranks. Alas, they are much worse, and more dangerous, than that!
Surprise, surprise: multicultural dogma and concern for "the Other" have seeped from college campuses to the highest corridors of power (again).
To wit: The first veiled female appointee in the White House, Dalia Mogahed, member of the Presidential Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Mogahed recently appeared on an Islamic television show in the UK touting her Gallup poll purporting to show that women are OK with sharia. Westerners just don't get it, she says:
"the majority of women around the world associate gender justice, or justice for women, with sharia compliance. Whereas only a small fraction associated oppression of women with compliance with the shari`ah."**
For the transcript, click here. There was little news coverage, except for this British article.
Imagine if a president appointed a strict Christian adviser who stated: "gender justice means obeying the Bible and church rulings on it." Can you imagine the uproar?
The key point: Christians are not "the Other." The dominant or majority group is held to a different standard. "Others" get a pass because "it's an 'Other thing,' you just wouldn't understand."
Where is Western-style feminism when you need it? We don't lack for Women's Studies Departments that issue secular fatwas when they feel the pea of oppression through their seats in the Ivory Tower. Surely, they have something to say about treatment of women in Muslim countries? Alas, we must seek out a Yemeni feminist to criticize the appointment of Dalia Mogahed.
I can hear the comebacks: feminist critics of sharia are a minority (the abolitionists were a minority too). Or: "those uppity women need to read Dalia’s surveys and tighten their hijabs!"
**For Mogahed's puffed-up survey results, go to "Who Speaks for Islam?" For criticism of Gallup "spin" see Jihadwatch More to the point, read the conditions under which pollsters labor in Muslim countries, given the many restrictions on women and the watching eye of government and family. Do these restrictions lend themselves to representative opinion surveys?
Postscript: Apologies to Helen Reddy: "I am Woman" is the title of her best-selling song (1972). Reddy did not have sharia on her mind.