All posts filed under: Education

Negotiating Standpoints Outside the University Classroom

When a protest on a college campus occurs over an issue, an explosion of articles appear, arguing why one position is right and the other is wrong. Tensions rise when no semblance of agreement is reached, and a second wave of essays appear, which take the form of what Michael Sandel calls a “shouting match.” Each side screams at one another instead of engaging with each other. These recriminations shut down any chance of reasonable conversation. How do you react when someone calls you an idiot? In a small hookah lounge in the East Village in New York, I regularly meet with a close friend to discuss all things political and philosophical. Recently, as we sat blowing smoke rings together we found ourselves digging into some of the political correctness controversies arising on college campuses — things like sexual harassment in academia, trigger warnings, and microaggression policing. The two of us had taken a philosophy course together in undergrad, and so naturally we examined these topics through a philosophical lens. We went back and forth debating …

Make Expertise Great Again

A review of  by The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, by Tom Nichols. Oxford University Press, (1 April, 2017) 272 pages.   The long-awaited book by Professor Tom Nichols, (AKA @RadioFreeTom) The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters is finally out this year. And perhaps no other topic can be as important, given the tectonic shifting year in global politics we just had. Political Scientists don’t often get credit for genuine predictions or trend recognition, although the majority of them invite flak for failed ones. Credit, therefore goes to Nichols. He identified, what is currently one of the most destructive trends in this post-truth world, a disdain towards any sort of acquired knowledge and expertise, and he identified that trend in 2013 in this famous blog post. That blog post was expanded to a full length Op-Ed for The Federalist in 2014, which came out as a complete thesis in the first month of 2017. The book, which  is soon to be …

Stereotypes Can Hold Boys Back in School, Too

By age six, girls are less likely than boys to view their own gender as brilliant and express interest in activities described as for “really, really smart” children, according to new research published in Science. Many major media outlets reported these findings. Most of the coverage, however, overlooked another key finding from the same study: Boys were less likely to say their own gender gets top grades in school. The beliefs of children matter because they could shape students’ interests and achievement over time, other research suggests. For instance, one 2013 experiment found that telling elementary school children “girls do better than boys” in school made boys — but not girls — perform worse on a series of academic tests. These expectations can work both ways: When researchers told children that boys and girls would perform the same, boys’ academic performance improved. There are real and persistent gender achievement gaps in the U.S. For instance, boys tend to get worse grades than girls, but girls are few among top scorers on standardized math tests. While much research …

Diversity for the Sake of Democracy

“Stand up if you identify as Caucasian.” The minister’s voice was solemn. I paused so that I wouldn’t be the first one standing, and then slowly rose to my feet. “Look at your community,” he said. I glanced around the auditorium obediently. The other students looked as uncomfortable as I felt, and as white. ¨Thank you,” the minister said finally. After we sat down, he went on to repeat the exercise for over an hour with different adjectives in place of “Caucasian”: black, wealthy, first-generation, socially conservative. Each time he introduced a new label, he paused so that a new group of students could stand and take note of one another. By the time he was finished, every member of Princeton University’s freshman class had been branded with a demographic. This mandatory orientation event was designed to help us appreciate our diversity as a student body during the first week of classes. But what did it really accomplish? In compressing us into isolated communities based on our race, religion or gender, the minister belittled every …

Tyranny of the Ethnography: How Lived Experience Corrupts the Social Sciences

When Arleen, a single mother of two, was evicted from her Milwaukee apartment, she had one option. It was January of 2008, one of the snowiest years on record. With no safety net, Arleen did the only thing she could. She took her sons — Jori was thirteen, Jafaris was five — to the local homeless shelter. According to Harvard Professor Matthew Desmond, evictions used to be extremely rare. Who dare cast a mother and her children to the streets? When they did occur, evictions caused outrage, riots. But now, when families are evicted, community outcry is nonexistent. Bags are packed. Possessions are scavenged. A family is uprooted. Millions of the American urban poor have faced eviction. In Milwaukee, where Desmond conducted his field research,  a staggering 1 in 8 residents faced formal or informal eviction between 2009 and 2011 alone. This doesn’t just happen in Wisconsin. As Desmond says: “This book is set in Milwaukee, but it tells an American story.” Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City is an ethnography that was …

Monks in High Towers: A Plea to Our Fellow Academics

“The man who knows more and more about less and less is becoming a public nuisance”¹ Emblazoned above the entrance to the religion department at Florida State University is an inscription: The half of knowledge is to know where to find knowledge. The imperative of knowing where to find knowledge cuts deeper than we might imagine in science. Knowledge isn’t quarantined off in a single corner of the academy. Rather, it is dispersed among different fields, much like information is spread across the hard drive of your computer. The sad reality of the modern academy is that many academics work under the assumption that knowledge is proprietary to their field. A great many modern scholars do not even know where to find knowledge. Monks in Many High Towers Academic life involves a menagerie of different fields of study. For a scholar working in any given area, decades of time are invested in understanding her subject with great intensity. The goal is to be an expert in a very particular nook in an increasingly narrow corner. …

Students, Sex, Social Media and Why the Steven Galloway Affair Is so Murky

On a frigid night a few years ago, a friend dragged me to an event at a popular Montreal bar. Students of a local graduate program in creative writing were giving a reading. My friend and I sat close to them. I watched as pitchers of beer came and went and the students danced attendance on an older man, perhaps an instructor or organiser of the event. As the night went on and inhibitions were lowered, evidence of unruly feelings became obvious. Most creative arts departments are proverbial hothouses as far as egos go and this group was no exception. They were living proof of that punk axiom: eventually, love would tear them apart. The emotions I saw guaranteed it. Although I teach literature, I’m wary of university creative writing programs: they may be prestigious and even profitable, but I suspect they are more about buying access to agents and less about incubating talent. The students I heard that night read about relationships — with some texts directed at others in attendance — and yet …

The University as a Total Institution

Concentrated Power is Not Rendered Harmless by the Good Intentions of Those Who Create It — Milton Friedman Administrators and staff at Edgewood College were recently called together to discuss a troubling note placed on the door to the diversity office after the election of Donald Trump. The note, which included a smiley face, stated “Suck it up, pussies.” In the hours after the note was found, the diversity office had coordinated with the Title IX office, human resources, the office of student conduct, and the Vice President for Student Development to determine an appropriate course of action. In their joint email to the Edgewood campus, the ad hoc committee said that the note “was hateful and harmful,” and that “it violated every value that this institution considers to be at its core.” If such a condemnation wasn’t enough, they added that “Covert micro-aggressions and overt macro-aggressions appear to have taken on a new fervor” since the election. They promptly determined that the note constituted a hate crime and called the Madison, Wisconsin Police Department. …

Expansion is no Longer the Answer to Improving the Education System

For 50 years, Australia’s policymakers have been persuaded that growth at every level of the education system would be a good thing in itself — and would drive economic growth and social progress. That faith is now under unprecedented pressure. While massive expansion has brought the benefits of education to millions, it has also created new problems, and left old ones unresolved. Human capital theory Belief in the power of education to lift lives and societies is hardly new. But “human capital theory” gave it a new form. Developed by a small group of US economists in the late 1950s, human capital theory arrived in Australia via the OECD in 1964, when L. H. Martin became the first in a long line of Australian policymakers to argue that education was not a necessary expense but an investment. Investment in education would make individuals and economies more productive, triggering a virtuous circle of economic growth, more equal opportunity, higher levels of health and civic-mindedness, and cultural enrichment. The economic rain would follow the educational plough. It followed …

Why Colleges Should Stop Teaching “Toxic Masculinity”

On college campuses across the globe, young men are treated to lectures, workshops, and extracurricular activities that teach them their masculinity — an element at the very core of their identity — is dangerous, poisonous, and even toxic. Every week, another news article is published highlighting this fact. A few examples are particularly insightful. This semester, an incoming freshman and his peers at Gettysburg College were ordered to watch a film on toxic masculinity during student orientation. And at both Duke University and the University of North Carolina, seminars are now offered for men to deprogram themselves of their so-called “toxic masculinity.” For every article published highlighting a case of students being taught this ideology, there are dozens of other instances that aren’t covered by the news. As a college student myself, I find this emerging paradigm not just unhelpful, but terrifically harmful for both the young men and women exposed to this ideology. *** Unlike other terms in the feminist canon, “toxic masculinity” was never formally defined in scholarly literature. And this is confirmed …