Author: Steve Salerno

Mediocrity for All!

It strikes me as ironic that in a realm like education, the lesson America’s scholastic visionaries never seem to learn is also the most simple lesson of all—that education should be about educating. Theorists persist in reinventing the wheel, sometimes with good intentions and sometimes in the service of agendas that are rather less defensible and/or wholesome than those publicly stated. Such is the case with the hottest currency to emerge from the pointy-headed precincts of pedagogical theory: social-emotional learning, or SEL. SEL assumes as its mandate “the education of the whole child,” a lodestar concept among today’s educational brain trust. Though the approach has been gaining traction for about a decade, SEL is now poised for what is sure to be its flagship implementation. As New York mayor and erstwhile presidential candidate Bill de Blasio vowed in a recent article for Fortune, SEL is to be rolled out “in every classroom,” serving the 1.1 million school kids of the sprawling New York City system. The mayor goes on to describe a prototype for the …

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of….What Exactly?

On June 28, the morning after her eyebrow-raising theatrics at the second Democratic debate, New Age high priestess-cum-presidential aspirant Marianne Williamson retweeted this: The power of your mind is greater than the power of nuclear radiation. Visualize angels dispersing it into nothingness. — Marianne Williamson (@marwilliamson) March 29, 2011 While Williamson’s candidacy is itself certain to disperse into nothingness, legible between the lines of the guru’s flakiness is a profound insight about the most misunderstood and misguided totem in American life: the idea that positive and/or happy thoughts foster positive and/or happy outcomes. The same belief in “mind power” that elicits groans and derision when rendered in 280 characters is woven through the fabric of American life. American culture has evolved a unique view of the mind’s relationship to the external world; not in the sense of an esoteric disquisition on the nature of consciousness, but rather in the sense of spoon-bending—a view of life wherein positive thinking enables us to bend life to our respective desires. Ergo: The attitude is the action. The belief …

News, Pre-News, Fake News, and Statistics

I’ve taken three lengthy Uber trips in the past month. Eventually, each of my drivers got around to asking what I did for a living. When I replied, ‟I teach journalism,ˮ two of the three reflexively exclaimed, ‟Ahh, fake news!ˮ It took the third a few extra lines of conversation, but she got there too in the end. For those of us engaged in showing young people how the media are supposed to work, there is no escaping the sturm und drang over fake news. Needless to say, the term has itself acquired a patina of inauthenticity, given its most celebrated user’s tendency to invoke it to mean, ‟This news makes me look bad…so it’s fake.ˮ In fairness, however, those of us who deal in the rules and rudiments of journalism understand that the fake-news meme cannot be dismissed simply as red meat that a pathologically insecure president tosses into his supporters’ den with discomfiting regularity. Actually, it’s an endemic issue in journalism, especially broadcast. The nature and baked-in presentation of news is such that …

Adventures in Adjunctopia

Near the end of one recent semester, word began filtering back to the pooh-bahs at a certain eastern liberal arts college, where I then served as an adjunct instructor of writing, that despite my lack of a terminal degree (surely the most ominous-sounding of academic laurels), perhaps I wasn’t such an unqualified disaster in the classroom after all. A horrific glitch in the registrar’s computer had placed some of the English department’s most promising wordsmiths under my supervision, and their feedback on my evaluations suggested that perhaps I wasn’t doing too badly for a guy with a “lowly BA.” (That’s how I actually used to list my degree on my CV, until one of my deans told me to “stop being an asshole about it, please.”) Students made a particular point of my emphasis on “preparing us for success in the real world.” Normally, this is the point at which I would have been fired on the spot. I’d already gotten flak for making a classroom case history out of a lengthy investigative piece I’d done for Playboy, …

Privilege Versus Paranoia

If you are white and enjoy any level of public platform—politician, professor, policy wonk—and you use said platform to address social issues, you are certain to be accused of seeing life through the distortive prism of white privilege. Black leaders and social justice firebrands will make the allegation in the most austere terms—witness that spicy moment during a recent debate on political correctness when Michael Eric Dyson bluntly labeled his conservative adversary, Jordan Peterson, a “mean, mad white man.” Even those on the Left, such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have not enjoyed immunity from this charge. Privilege is framed as a condition that, once acquired, can never be cured. However, it defies credulity to propose that Dyson and other leading social justice voices are alone in seeing life for what it really is, stripped of all parochial subtexts. Common sense suggests the existence of a complementary malady afflicting the accusers: racial paranoia, one might call it. If some are inclined to miss the unfairness around them, is it not equally possible that others see unfairness where none exists? Nowhere …

Is There Room in Diversity For White People?

It’s tempting to snicker at snowflake culture, with its noisy campus gauntlet of trigger warnings, microaggressions, and in-your-face privilege-checking—but transpiring quietly off-stage at academia’s administrative levels is a far more sinister phenomenon undertaken in the name of one of society’s more theoretically desirable goals: diversity. Here a disclaimer seems in order. Regardless of political affiliation, fair-minded observers will concede that educational facilities for minorities have remained decidedly separate, and in no way equal, in the several generations since 1954’s Brown v. Board of Education. Such inequities naturally show up in college enrollment and performance: minority students who are products of inferior grade-school systems find it harder to negotiate the realm of higher education, in terms of both gaining entry and keeping up once they’re there. Accordingly, colleges have implemented various programs and protocols designed to boost campus diversity and help at-risk students feel more at home. Now, reasonable people can differ about whether academia, as the ancestral home of white guilt, has been overzealous at micromanaging outcomes. Significant race-based preferences remain widespread, and lawsuits continue to be filed …