All posts filed under: Education

Unmaking Affirmative Action

On July 3, the Trump administration rescinded the Obama approach to race-based college admissions. This returns the U.S. to the philosophy of George W. Bush’s White House, which argued that race should not be a significant factor. The Trump initiative may have no immediate impact since the Supreme Court upheld race-based admissions policies in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin in 2016. But an impact is surely coming. Consider that Justice Scalia died before he could vote against affirmative action in the Fisher case. Now Justice Kennedy is retiring and Trump’s Supreme Court will certainly tilt against the policy with dissenters like Justices Roberts, Thomas, and Alito. Previously, Justice Thomas asserted that, “a State’s use of race in higher education admissions decisions is categorically prohibited by the Equal Protection Clause.” And Justice Roberts is on record as saying that “the way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.” The end of affirmative action is a horrifying prospect for many liberals, but it may better reflect …

Through the Looking Glass at Concordia University

It was in a class called Representations of Minorities in Documentary Film, the last elective I needed to receive my BA at Concordia University in Montreal, that I first realized something was very wrong. The class had just watched Sound and Fury, a 2000 Oscar-nominated documentary about deaf culture. The film follows a 6-year-old deaf girl named Heather and her family (several members of whom also are deaf) as they go back and forth on the issue of cochlear implants, a then-new technology that allows some deaf people to hear. Heather wants cochlear implants so she can talk to people and hear lions. Her mother, too, opts for the implants. But when she discovers the implant will not be as effective for her, she changes her mind, and, without consulting her daughter, decrees that neither of them will be undergoing the procedure. After the film ended, our professor asked students for their thoughts. When called on, I said that parents should try to make their children’s lives easier. If I remember my words correctly, I …

Heterodoxy is Hard, Even at Heterodox Academy

Heterodox thinking requires room to be made for different views, different ideas, and different voices to be heard. With sufficient heterodox thinking, it is hoped, the bonds that blind and bind people into groups of tribal moral warriors might wither and eventually allow for truth to replace ideology. However, if the first Heterodox Academy meeting is any indication, heterodox thinking poses substantially more problems than even the hardworking leaders of Heterodox Academy realized. Entering the meeting I was immediately struck by the fact it was held in the New York Times conference center—a beautiful area replete with wait staff, security, and a professional grade lighting and recording area. Everything was well orchestrated, professional, and deliberate. And as Jonathan Haidt took the stage, I felt a sense of respect for a man who has not only deepened our understanding of humanity but who has also worked diligently to make Heterodox Academy a reality. He has, in many ways and sometimes against scathing criticism, popularized the idea of intellectual diversity—making the case that people like me, who …

Bill de Blasio’s Plan to Displace Asians In New York’s Top Schools

New York City has eight elite specialized public high schools, which admit students entirely on the basis of their scores on a standardized test called the Specialized High School Aptitude Test (SHSAT).  Only the top 5% of New York students qualify for admission to the specialized high schools, and admissions are very competitive, particularly for Stuyvesant High School, Brooklyn Technical High School, and Bronx High School for Science. These schools have also become predominantly Asian over the course of the last several decades.  Today, Stuyvesant’s student body is 72 percent Asian, about 22 percent white, two percent Latino only about one percent black, even though black and Latino students together comprise about 70 percent of public school students in New York City. In an editorial on the education news site Chalkbeat, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio blasted the racial composition of the specialized high schools as a “monumental injustice,” and proposed eliminating the SHSAT and replacing it with a plan he believes is more fair. De Blasio’s plan to purge Asians The mayor’s …

Shibboleths That Exclude in the Name of Inclusion

The Bible can be surprisingly relevant to academic politics. The Book of Judges tells of an internecine clash between the people of Gilead and their faithless brethren from the Ephraimite tribe, who had refused to aid Gilead against a foreign foe. Gilead retaliated mercilessly against the Ephraimites, first smashing their army and then setting a clever trap for Ephraimite survivors seeking to return home from the battlefield. Any man caught crossing the Jordan had to utter the word ‘shibboleth.’ In ordinary Hebrew, this referred to a part on a stalk of grain, but at those checkpoints it meant the difference between life and death. In the dialect of Gilead the first consonant was pronounced like the ‘sh’ in ‘shelter,’ whereas in the Ephraimite dialect it was pronounced like the ‘s’ in ‘sinister.’ In this way, a linguistic subtlety became a tool to identify and kill 42,000 enemies. The stakes aren’t as high when universities hire faculty, but rhetorical nuances increasingly do stand watch at the gates of the professorial ranks. Many institutions now require aspiring …

Can Heterodoxy Save the Academy?

“When we decided to do a conference, we weren’t sure if we would get 25 people in the audience—and here we filled the Times Center,” says Debra Mashek, executive director of Heterodox Academy during an interview in midtown Manhattan. “There is broad consensus there is a problem on campus in terms of open inquiry and viewpoint diversity.” It’s understandable why Mashek was uncertain about attendance. Academic conferences usually are organized around particular areas of study or well-defined ideological viewpoints. But by its very nature, Heterodox Academy doesn’t provide any such organizing principle. Begun in 2015 as a blog, and now a network comprising over 1,800 academics, HA asks members to endorse the proposition that universities and colleges must uphold and protect political and ideological diversity. But the times we inhabit make championing viewpoint diversity an urgent project. And last Friday’s one-day inaugural conference near Times Square attracted a full house of about 350 academics, university administrators, students, and journalists. The event featured speeches and panel discussions from speakers who addressed the crowd from all points …

Notes From an Academic Paper Mill

One evening last fall, my de facto supervisor e-mailed me an audio file consisting of a three-minute conversation between a college sophomore from Saudi Arabia and his English professor in New York. The student had just surreptitiously recorded this chat using his cell phone; he had approached the professor hoping for specifics on how to improve the first draft of an analysis of Sylvia Plath’s work he’d submitted the previous week. His side of the conversation was notable for how painfully little English he knew despite having ostensibly completed a three-page assignment in that language. From 1,500 miles away, I set to work on a second draft using this new information. I was careful to stick to the grading rubric and minimize grammar errors while still writing in a sufficiently unrefined manner to convincingly imitate a Riyadh native who’d come to the U.S. a year earlier to get a university degree. Within an hour or two, I had e-mailed the new draft—stripped of Microsoft Word metadata to conceal the identity of the document’s real creator—to …

My Dissertation Disaster

“This is your chance to write in depth about what interests you,” said my lecturers as I prepared to embark upon my History dissertation. I had just finished studying the Russian intelligentsia’s epistolary networks of the nineteenth century, and had enjoyed it so much that I had often found myself deep-diving into the Soviet literature of the twentieth century, too. In my thesis I wanted to marry this newfound twentieth century interest to my longstanding fascination with totalitarianism. Whenever the concept of totalitarianism had come up in classes, it had intrigued me, but during my three years at university I hadn’t had an opportunity to study it in any depth. I was enthralled by what the philosopher Isaiah Berlin called “the long blank page of Russian history” during the 1930s and 1940s, and I wanted to find out more about the institutionalization of literature in the USSR. My dissertation provided me with the chance to do so. But a little over a year later, I found myself turning in a paper entitled: “What Can the Relationship Between Soviet …

The Historian’s Hubris

Niall Ferguson is a compelling writer, wry and puckish, intellectually curious. He has a knack for converting his deep knowledge of history and finance into narratives the average reader can grasp. There’s a generosity and a sense of excitement to his writing that have helped propel him to stardom in the publishing world and on the small screen. But for all his qualities, Ferguson didn’t know enough to pause before hitting ‘Send.’ Instead, by gleefully attempting to crush a coterie of left-wing Stanford University students who were trying to gain influence within his invited speakers series Cardinal Conversations, he threw gasoline on the blazing free speech wars and turned his own, noble-sounding words into ash. Ferguson has vowed to retreat “to [his] beloved study,” where presumably he will hunker down, reassess his methods and motives, and even, one hopes, re-emerge a better man. One of our era’s most recognizable defenders of free speech, Ferguson co-founded Cardinal Conversations to foster open debate at Stanford. When it was announced that Charles Murray, author of the infamous 1994 monograph, The Bell …

The Tragedy of Australian Education

In April, the Australian government finally published its airy and platitudinous report and review of the country’s schools. Popularly known as ‘Gonski 2.0’ after David Gonski, the businessman who chaired the review panel and who had chaired a previous review of school funding, it provided little evidence to support its proposals, despite evidence being a key requirement in the terms of reference. The report states that Australia must ditch its ‘industrial model’ of school education, the sort of cliché you would expect to hear in the most derivative education conference speech. Instead, each young person must “emerge from schooling as a creative, connected, and engaged learner with a growth mindset” (see here for a double meta-analyses of growth mindset interventions which shows that they have virtually no effect). The details of how to achieve this are vague, but the panel is clear on one key point: rigid, age-based curriculum content must be blown apart in favor of progressing students individually through a set of skills such as literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, and self-management. Despite its managerial …