All posts filed under: Education

Baizuo Lessons

It has become increasingly common in recent years for universities to contract out their international recruitment efforts to private companies. These companies also often provide a pre-college set of courses designed to get them ready for undergraduate or graduate studies. These “pathway” or “accelerator” programs have come under scrutiny from Inside Higher Ed, the Associated Press, and others over tuition-sharing arrangements. The University of Kansas’s partnership with Shorelight was one of that company’s first two ever. It began its “accelerator” program in the fall of 2014, and curriculum was decided upon jointly between the company and the university. I taught two of these courses as a masters student. These teaching roles come with considerably more responsibility than a graduate assistant generally has: we teach every class, we assign grades, and so on. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, and at first I found it very exciting. I think college students at all levels would benefit from being given more responsibility. Most people thrive when given responsibility, and even the failures are usually instructive. Here …

Is Western Civilization a Thing?

This is part two of a four-part series on the classics. Part three will be published tomorrow.  Is Western Civilization even a thing? That may seem like an odd question, but it’s one that anyone who talks about Western Civilization these days will eventually have to face because a lot of intellectuals claim that it isn’t. “The West,” to them, is nothing more than a mirage, or (to put it in classical terms) a chimera. As anarchist activist and anthropologist David Graeber puts it, “There never was a West.” Cultural theorist Kwame Anthony Appiah is equally forthright, declaring in a Guardian essay that “There is no such thing as Western Civilization.” One problem for such thinkers is that the West has no clear boundaries. Is Russia part of the West, and, if so, how much of it? Is Turkey? What about modern Japan—or, for that matter, ancient Persia? Even historians who find the idea of the West useful seem to have trouble pinning it down. Ian Morris, for example, in his bestseller Why the West …

The Future of Our Ancient Past

This is part one of a four part series on the Classics. Part two will be published tomorrow. Australian National University’s decision to reject a large donation from the Ramsay Centre has brought the topic of Western civilization to the forefront once again. For me, the most pressing question is about the future of classics, the discipline that has long claimed to deal with the foundations of Western civilizations. I’ve previously helped teach a course called “Origins of Political Thought,” and I’m preparing to teach another with the title “Foundations of Western Political Thought” next year. But should anyone still be teaching courses on “Western Civ”? My answer, in a word, is yes. There’s nothing wrong with teaching Western Civilization or the Western classics alongside other cultural traditions. At the same time, the way Classics used to be taught is gone for good. In many ways, that’s a good thing: the traditional classical education was astonishingly narrow, and often gave the impression that the tradition it dealt with was the only game in town. Luckily, …

Thoughtcrime and Punishment: A Year Of Shunning and Law Suits at a Canadian University

In late 2017, I found myself at the centre of a controversy at Wilfrid Laurier University, where I was an M.A. student and teaching assistant (TA) in the Communication Studies department. In the class for which I was serving as TA, I played part of a panel discussion that had aired on Ontario public television. As many readers will know, this material featured University of Toronto professor Jordan Peterson making the argument against alternative gender pronoun usage, as well as Sexual Diversity educator Nicholas Matte’s arguments encouraging their use. Because I chose not to disavow Peterson’s views before airing the clip, I was brought into a subsequent disciplinary meeting. The supervisor for the course in question, Nathan Rambukkana, as well as the coordinator for my M.A. program, Herbert Pimlott (also known, at times, as “Hillary X Plimsoll”), and Gendered Violence and Sexual Assault Prevention manager Adria Joel accused me of breaking the law by airing a clip of Peterson in a classroom, as well as threatening and targeting trans people, thereby creating a toxic environment. …

The Frankfurt School and Postmodern Philosophy

There has been a tremendous pushback in recent years against what are broadly known as “grievance studies”; a loose collection of academic disciplines characterized by their emphasis on oppressive social and political institutions and the marginalized identities they victimize. The philosophical outlook underpinning these disciplines tend to be portrayed in a less ambiguous manner: it is typically described as some combination of Marxist politics with postmodern skepticism, and has been variously termed “cultural Marxism,” postmodern neo-Marxism, the New Left, and so on. In his book Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism From Rousseau to Foucault, the philosopher Stephen Hicks argues that post-Kantian thinking gradually led to the adoption of ever more skeptical epistemologies. At the same time, a growing number of intellectuals came to align with Marxist and socialist political perspectives. This leads Hicks to the claim that postmodern philosophy is the perpetuation of Marxist politics through other philosophical means. He argues that there is a clear through line where the scientific pretensions of classical Marxism gradually gave way to the irrationalist critiques of the cultural …

Refighting the Usage Wars

On November 21, two educators published an article that lamented the declining quality of written work produced by American adolescents. Early in the piece, Temple University professors Kathy Hirsch-Pasek and Laurence Steinberg cite a 2011 study conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics that yielded this disturbing claim: “Only one in four [high school seniors] can construct an essay that is coherent and well structured, with ideas presented clearly and logically.” To bolster their case, Hirsch-Pasek and Steinberg present anecdotal evidence from other university professors privy to what this deficit looks like (literally on paper) at the next level. One, from “a high-ranking state university,” resorted to altering “her syllabus to take two full days to review the idea of a topic sentence.” Illustrating the ubiquity of this trend, another professor, this time from “a highly ranked private college, wrote in a recent Facebook post that he took time out of class to explain how to write, noting that students had no idea what they didn’t know.” Does this sound alarmist? Well, it shouldn’t, …

American Universities’ China Problem

According to a report released last month by a group of distinguished China scholars, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses vague threats to induce US professors and students to avoid topics that might offend Chinese government sensitivities—research or discussions on Tibet, Taiwan, Xinjiang, human rights, and Chinese politics, for example. It denies visas to scholars who criticize the regime, uses Chinese students in the US to inform on one another, and punishes universities for hosting controversial speakers. After a university hosted the Dalai Lama, Beijing retaliated by banning Chinese students and scholars with funding from the Chinese government from attending the university. When the institutions we entrust to pursue the truth start avoiding the truth—particularly academic research that few of us can do on our own—we all suffer. The importance of universities’ truth-seeking role cannot be overstated. Medical researchers produce data on effective and ineffective therapies. Economists measure the impacts of different policy options. Sociologists study how public institutions and individual experiences affect education and its outcomes. Political scientists analyze governments. The integrity of American universities …

Denial and the Free Speech Crisis

In a recent article for Quillette, Dan Meegan, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Guelph, argues that the restriction of freedom of speech we hear about in the news is a rarity in Canada—and that it is certainly not an issue at the University of Guelph. Respectfully, Meegan is absolutely wrong on this latter point. In fact, freedom of speech has been repeatedly repressed at the University of Guelph, and this has been going on for at least a decade. Meegan explains that in his nearly 20 years at the University of Guelph, he can’t recall even one time his students protested the expression of an offensive idea. Not even when he discusses research on gender differences in his evolutionary psychology unit. The only time a student objected to one of his reading materials, she talked to him about it politely. So, he argues, while there is much ado about freedom of speech, it’s not at issue in Guelph. Nevertheless, as a former University of Guelph student, I’ve witnessed the suppression of …

What Happened When We Tried to Debate Immigration

Immigration and diversity politics dominate our political and public debates. Disagreements about these issues lie behind the rise of populist politics on the left and the right, as well as the growing polarization of our societies more widely. Unless we find a way of side-stepping the extremes and debating these issues in an evidence-led, analytical way then the moderate, pluralistic middle will buckle and give way. This is why, as two university professors who work on these issues, we decided to help organize and join a public debate about immigration and ethnic change. The debate, held in London on December 6, was a great success, featuring a nuanced and evidence-based discussion attended by 400 people. It was initially titled, “Is Rising Ethnic Diversity a Threat to the West?” This was certainly a provocative title, designed to draw in a large audience who might hold strong views on the topic but who would nonetheless be exposed to a moderated and evidence-led debate. Though we would later change the title, we couldn’t escape its powerful logic: On …

Academics’ Mobbing of a Young Scholar Must be Denounced

The latest victim of an academic mobbing is 28-year-old social scientist Noah Carl who has been awarded a Toby Jackman Newton Trust Research Fellowship at St Edmund’s College at the University of Cambridge. Rarely has the power asymmetry between the academic mob and its victim been so stark. Dr Carl is a young researcher, just starting out in his career, who is being mobbed for being awarded a prestigious research scholarship on the basis of his peer-reviewed research. While getting a position like this is normally a time for celebration for junior academics, Dr Carl has gone to ground, unable to defend his reputation from libellous attacks, as he has been instructed not to talk to the media. Three hundred academics from around the world, many of them professors, have signed an open letter denouncing Dr Carl and demanding that the University of Cambridge “immediately conduct an investigation into the appointment process” on the grounds that his work is “ethically suspect” and “methodologically flawed.” The letter states: “we are shocked that a body of work …