All posts filed under: Education

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 …

Time to Draw the Line in the Sand on Trigger Warnings

The arguments around trigger warnings tend to relate either to psychology or cultural politics. Starting with the science, advocates argue that trigger warnings are important for protecting trauma victims from episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety provoking material. The case that kicked the movement off was a rape victim triggered by a class discussion of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The first thing to note in this context is that PTSD is extremely rare, even among trauma victims. As Harvard psychology professor Richard McNally recently explained in the New York Times: Epidemiological studies show that many people are exposed to trauma in their lives, and most have transient stress symptoms. But only a minority fails to recover, thereby developing PTSD. Students with PTSD are those mostly likely to have adverse emotional reactions to curricular material, not those with trauma histories whose acute stress responses have dissipated. Given this knowledge, it seems relevant to consider how many people exposed to material with trigger warnings are likely to have PTSD, how frequently reading said material would trigger PTSD, and how …

Why Universities Should Get Rid of PowerPoint and Why They Won’t

Do you really believe that watching a lecturer read hundreds of PowerPoint slides is making you smarter? I asked this of a class of 105 computer science and software engineering students last semester. An article in The Conversation recently argued universities should ban PowerPoint because it makes students stupid and professors boring. I agree entirely. However, most universities will ignore this good advice because rather than measuring success by how much their students learn, universities measure success with student satisfaction surveys, among other things. What is so wrong with PowerPoint? Overreliance on slides has contributed to the absurd belief that expecting and requiring students to read books, attend classes, take notes and do homework is unreasonable. Courses designed around slides therefore propagate the myth that students can become skilled and knowledgeable without working through dozens of books, hundreds of articles and thousands of problems. A review of research on PowerPoint found that while students liked PowerPoint better than overhead transparencies, PowerPoint did not increase learning or grades. Liking something doesn’t make it effective, and there’s …