In one of the best Chronicle Review pieces I have read in a long time, Professor John Swallow argues in favor of a simple (but often forgotten) principle: "A necessary part of making an argument is the investigation of potential opposition." (It's a subscribers only piece, sorry to say.) Bravo! Far too often, professors are happy to have students regurgitate the conclusions they like. As an example, today I came across a book entitled Organizing the Curriculum: Perspectives on Teaching the US Labor Movement. It's clear that the editors want educators to "teach the labor movement" in a way that makes students think well of unions, not by taking an academically detached look at the totality of costs and benefits. Colleges so often talk about how they teach "critical thinking" to their students, but rarely do students hear an admonition to investigate potential opposition to their ideas. That's where critical thinking really begins.
In today's Pope Center Clarion Call, Jay Schalin writes about the "Economic and Social Justice" minor offered at UNC-Chapel Hill. Unfortunately, the minor is the brainchild of a far-left professor who wants to turn out students who are dedicated to increasing government domination of society and the elimination of what she thinks is "capitalism." Students do not need to take a course on the principles of economics in order to earn this minor; nor will they encounter the devastating counter-attack on the very concept of "social justice" by F. A. Hayek in his book The Mirage of Social Justice. In one of the courses the students may take (Philosophy 273), however, they at least get a taste of Robert Nozick's criticism of the mega-state. This minor is far more agitprop than 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.
I have been reading Karl Popper's Open Society and Its Enemies, Volume I and am awestruck with Popper's scholarship and its relevance to currently percolating issues such as social justice education, political correctness and climate change research. Popper shows that Plato is at the root of totalitarianism. Plato re-defined justice to mean the individual's existence for the good of the state; conceived of a ruling elite given politically correct indoctrination; and advocated total social control of day-to-day life. Popper argues that Plato bases all of this on his tribalist and naturalist morality, that is, his belief that morals are rooted in nature. Much like today's environmentalists, Plato favored a return to primitive olden times before the innovation that had occurred in Athens. Plato defined justice just as social justice educators do, namely, that the just is what is socially good. The guardians, the ruling elite, were to receive a social justice-based education. Plato intensely disliked Athenian democracy and the steps that Pericles and others had made to define justice as equality before the law. Rather, public morality would be defined by the politically correct guardian class. Morality, moderation and justice would mean adherence to one's place and obedience to authority. Like Plato, today's environmentalists believe that the primitive is best and that human innovation is evil. Much as the cap and trade bill attempts to assert nationally centralized authority over day-day-life, overseen by a Platonic "administrator" or philosopher king, so Plato believed that the greatest virtues were to be obedient or to lead others.
Last week an NAS member, a professor at the University of Southern Indiana we'll call Professor Smith, brought to our attention a new “Center for Social Justice” at the university. He asked for advice on how to mitigate the adverse effects of such a center. I replied: Dear Professor Smith, Thank you for your inquiry last week about the recently created “Center for Social Justice” at the University of Southern Indiana. I agree that it sounds like another instance of political advocacy masquerading as academic inquiry. Centers such as this are in vogue. After getting your email Ashley Thorne and I started doing some checking and included some comments on these centers in an article we posted to the NAS website last week, “Stories We’re Watching.” In that article we noted some of the other colleges and universities that have similar centers. Your deeper question is what can you do about this? Certainly there is no silver bullet. But these centers are very dependent on a handful of conditions that can be challenged. The conditions they depend on include:
You can challenge any of these things. A successful challenge must always be based on the facts. So the first thing I suggest is that you and anyone else you can find who is interested just begin to assemble a well-organized file of what the Center for Social Justice publishes, says, and does. This doesn’t require any skullduggery—and in fact shouldn’t. the publicly available stuff will be more than adequate. That’s because the Center itself will assume until it learns otherwise that it can do and say whatever it wants. Think of ACORN before Breitbart.
In this article, Ashley Thorne discusses the continuing vitality of the "social justice" crusade on many American campuses. I'd be willing to bet my last dollar that in these "social justice" programs, students are never led to question whether the term actually has any meaning. Are students ever called upon to read, for example, any part of Hayek's fabulous book The Mirage of Social Justice in which he argues that the term is not only meaningless, but leads to dangerous policy ideas? I doubt it. Rather, "social justice" is treated as an unquestionable if vague ideal.
The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) is the largest accreditor of schools of education. Several years ago it added to its standards for accreditation a demand that ed schools evaluate the “disposition” of students to be teachers. Part of what NCATE said was appropriate for the “disposition” of future teachers was a commitment to “social justice.” We at NAS saw that as a transparent invitation for ed schools to impose political litmus tests on their students.