Archive for the ‘Education’ Category
One thing the Right really, truly hates are views opposed to their own, particularly views back by evidence and sound reasoning, which seems to strike them as somehow unfair. And now they’re in a position to do something about that. Jedediah Purdy writes in the New Yorker:
On January 16th, Tom Ross, the president of the University of North Carolina, and John Fennebresque, the chair of its board of governors, held a press conference to announce that the board had asked for and received Ross’s resignation. With Ross sitting beside him, Fennebresque insisted, in effect, that he had been fired for no reason. Ross had been successful in every way, he told reporters: “exemplary” in his handling of recent athletic scandals, and a model of “work ethic” and “perfect integrity.” “There was no precipitating event,” Fennebresque, who looked by turns mournful and defensive during the twenty-minute exchange, said. “He’s been wonderful.”
In response to a series of questions, Fennebresque insisted that the decision was not about politics, at least not “to the best of my knowledge.” Few observers believed that there was not some political motivation. Ross, a former judge, once headed the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, a major funder of progressive causes in North Carolina. Since Republicans, many of them affiliated with the Tea Party movement, took over the North Carolina General Assembly in 2010, the board of governors has become a Republican redoubt. Ross, in an answer to one question, did allude to the elephant in the room, observing, “There’s been a dramatic change in the state’s leadership, in policymakers.”
For several years, there have been indications that the state’s new leaders want to change the mission of public higher education in North Carolina. In 2013, the Republican governor, Pat McCrory, told William Bennett, a conservative talk-show host and former Secretary of Education, that the state shouldn’t “subsidize” courses in gender studies or Swahili (that is, offer them at public universities). The following year, he laid out his agenda in a speech at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Using the language of business schools, he urged his audience to “reform and adapt the U.N.C. brand to the ever-changing competitive environment of the twenty-first century” and to “[hone] in on skills and subjects employers need.” McCrory also had a warning for faculty members whose subjects could be understood as political: “Our universities should not be used to indoctrinate our students to become liberals or conservatives, but should teach a diversity of opinions which will allow our future leaders to decide for themselves.”
On February 27th, the board, which had conducted a five-month-long review of all two hundred and forty centers and institutes at U.N.C., voted to eliminate three of them. Although the board has legal authority to govern U.N.C. as it sees fit, university policy and tradition had reserved this sort of decision for the schools. One of the closed centers was dedicated to the environment, another to voter engagement. The third, which many faculty members describe as the real target, was the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity, run by Gene Nichol, a law professor and a vituperative critic of the Republican legislature. In one of a series of opinion pieces criticizing spending cuts, published in Raleigh’s News & Observer, he had referred to the legislature’s “unforgivable war on poor people.” Nichol has no doubt that the closing of the center was intended as punishment. On several occasions, “my dean was compelled to call me into his office and relate threats received from Republican leaders of the General Assembly if I didn’t stop writing articles for the News & Observer,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The center would be closed, or I’d be fired.”
Nichol, who has tenure, still holds his teaching position, and more than a hundred faculty members have signed a statement supporting him, but both the closing of his center and Ross’s dismissal have created an atmosphere of anxiety and caution. “People are telling me not to use their work e-mail, to call on their cell phone, if we’re going to talk about anything controversial,” Tamar Birckhead, an associate professor at the law school, told me. An untenured member of the humanities faculty, who requested anonymity, wrote in an e-mail, “I am constantly aware of the state’s charged political atmosphere and the scrutiny of the university’s political enemies. I know there are certain subjects I simply cannot write about in a public forum and topics I must handle gingerly in my teaching.” Other faculty members spoke of receiving phone calls from legislators and requests to review syllabi from conservative advocacy groups. Donald Raleigh, a history professor, said that one of those groups, the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, requested the syllabus for his course “Gorbachev, the Collapse of the Soviet Union, and the Rise of the New Russia.” The syllabus was freely available online, but the Pope Center wrote to the university legal office to request it under the state’s open-records law. “I really don’t know why they wanted the syllabus for this fairly conventional course, nor do I know what they did with it,” Raleigh said.
Republican politics in North Carolina are characterized by a tight interweaving of elected officials with think tanks and advocacy groups. At the center of this network is . . .
Via this post, from a site based on the research described in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset.
And that seems wise: first ΣAE and now this. At least the college is not trying to cover it up and actual law enforcement is involved.
Lawrence Krauss writes in the New Yorker:
Last month, Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin and a presumed Presidential candidate, delivered an address at Chatham House, an international-affairs think tank in London. For Walker, the point of the address was to bolster his foreign-policy credentials. That’s probably why the last question—“Are you comfortable with the idea of evolution?”—took him by surprise. “I’m going to punt on that one,” he said.
It’s obvious why politicians avoid the evolution question. A large fraction of the population—including more than fifty per cent of Republican voters—doesn’t believe in it. But politicians aren’t the only ones who punt. When it comes to questions that confront religious beliefs, many scientists and teachers do it, too. Recent studies—including a comprehensive national survey by researchers at Penn State University, in 2007—show that up to sixty per cent of high-school biology teachers shy away from adequately teaching evolution as a unifying principle of biology. They don’t want to risk potential controversy by offending religious sensibilities. Instead, many resort to the idea, advocated by the late Stephen Jay Gould, that science and religion are “non-overlapping magisteria”—separate traditions of thinking that need not contradict one another.
“Non-overlapping magisteria” has a nice ring to it. The problem is that there are many religious claims that not only “overlap” with empirical data but are incompatible with it. As a scientist who also spends a fair amount of time in the public arena, if I am asked if our understanding of the Big Bang conflicts with the idea of a six-thousand-year-old universe, I face a choice: I can betray my scientific values, or encourage that person to doubt his or her own beliefs. More often than you might think, teaching science is inseparable from teaching doubt.
Doubt about one’s most cherished beliefs is, of course, central to science: the physicist Richard Feynman stressed that the easiest person to fool is oneself. But doubt is also important to non-scientists. It’s good to be skeptical, especially about ideas you learn from perceived authority figures. Recent studies even suggest that being taught to doubt at a young age could make people better lifelong learners. That, in turn, means that doubters—people who base their views on evidence, rather than faith—are likely to be better citizens.
Last year, writing in the Times, the political scientist Brendan Nyhan explainedhow “identity often trumps the facts.” We would rather reject evidence than change our sense of who we are. Knowledge is comparatively helpless against identity: as you grow better-informed about the issues, you just get better at selectively using evidence to reinforce your preëxisting commitments. A 2014 Yale Law School study, for example, demonstrated that the divergence between religious and non-religious peoples’ views on evolution actually grows wider among those who are familiar with math and science. Describing Nyhan’s work for this Web site, Maria Konnikova summarized his findings by writing that “it’s only after ideology is put to the side” that the facts become “decoupled from notions of self-perception.” One conclusion we might draw is that we ought to resist ideology in the first place. If we want to raise citizens who are better at making evidence-based judgments, we need to start early, making skepticism and doubt part of the experience that shapes their identities from a young age.
Meanwhile, earlier this year, an AP-GfK poll revealed that less than a third of Americans are willing to express confidence in the reality of human-induced climate change, evolution, the age of the Earth, and the existence of the Big Bang. Among those surveyed, there was a direct correlation between religious conviction and an unwillingness to accept the results of empirical scientific investigation. Religious beliefs vary widely, of course—not all faiths, or all faithful people, are the same. But it seems fair to say that, on average, religious faith appears to be an obstacle to understanding the world.
Science class isn’t the only place where students can learn to be skeptical. A provocative novel that presents a completely foreign world view, or a history lesson exploring the vastly different mores of the past, can push you to skeptically reassess your inherited view of the universe. But science is a place where such confrontation is explicit and accessible. It didn’t take more than a simple experiment for Galileo to overturn the wisdom of Aristotle. Informed doubt is the very essence of science.
Some teachers shy away from confronting religious beliefs because they worry that planting the seeds of doubt will cause some students to question or abandon their own faith or the faith of their parents. But is that really such a bad thing? It offers some young people the chance to escape the guilt imposed upon them simply for questioning what they’re told. Last year, I received an e-mail from a twenty-seven-year-old man who is now studying in the United States after growing up in Saudi Arabia. . . .
Teachers are leaving the profession in droves and fewer are selecting teaching as a career because teachers are jerked around by city and state governments, get very little respect, and are paid poorly—who needs that? So the US education system is not on a good track, though by God some states have had great success in busting up teacher’s unions so they can cut teacher salaries and remove protections—like they can now fire teachers who teach evolution as a fact of biological science.
And another aspect of how the US views education:
The GOP has a tortured relationship with education that teaches about reality.
I do understand that some of my readers are Republicans, and they perhaps disagree with what their party is doing. I get that: I disagree with things the Democratic party does (I’m more a progressive, or Social Democrat)—for example, I have posted many times about poor decisions embraced by Democrats. But I think they will recognize that the GOP as a whole has entered new territory and the party as a whole is fiercely anti-education and anti-intellectual and anti-science, as seen by the way the GOP treats candidates who embrace moderate positions. The GOP is not what it was in Dwight Eisenhower’s day.
A very interesting Salon article on how a conservative ex-military guy gradually became a liberal as he became more educated—doubtless an indication of why the GOP hates education. But the details of his transition are worth reading.
The whole article reminded me of this comment to an earlier blog post on italic handwriting. Italic handwriting is occasionally taught in schools as the standard cursive handwriting (italic is also known as “chancery cursive”), and Kate Gladstone commented on one view of education. From the comment:
In my experience and observation, when a school discontinues italic after a thoroughgoing adoption, this happens because the originally trained cohort of teachers has neglected to train successors, and/or because the school administrators have stopped requiring new teachers to learn and use the school’s handwriting program as a condition of their employment. In at least some cases, teachers’ or administrators’ softening in this regard has been traced to parents who had felt embarrassed that their own handwriting looked bad next to that of their children.
One irate mother said to me, after hiring me to work with her son on handwriting:
The problem with italic is precisely that it looks so legible, so confident and competent, If you put my eight-year-old’s handwriting nowadays next to mine, anyone looking at both of our writings would imagine that he is the adult and that I am the child. It is disrespectful to parents, teachers, and other adults to turn out children who write better than most adults, and who know it. It is wrong to have put me in a situation where my son may be tempted to ‘look down’ in any way on my handwriting. The fact that his handwriting is, objectively, actually better than mine cannot be a justification for this to have been allowed. The adults in a family or community — NOT the children — need to be the ones who can be ‘looked up to’ in every way: handwriting included. It is particularly obnoxious that his handwriting is not only better than real [sic] handwriting, it is better at faster speeds. This makes it impossible for him to go along with the important cultural truth that, in our culture, cursive is agreed to be the fastest handwriting. Whether italic is good or bad, italic is bad because it is against the culturally accepted truth and it changes that truth.