All posts filed under: Education

How Most American Kids Are Kept Out of the Best Public Schools

Nothing about North Avenue in the Old Town neighborhood of Chicago feels like a political barrier or a sociological fault line. Residents of Old Town cross busy North Avenue every day. If you live north of North, you might cross the street to meet a friend for a pint at the Old Town Ale House. If you live to the south, you might cross North Avenue to see a show at the world-famous Second City comedy club or to take your family to the 11am choir service at St. Michael’s Catholic Church. If you need medical care in Old Town, no matter which side of North Avenue you live on, you have your choice of Family Urgent Care on the north or Physicians Immediate Care on the south. Both receive excellent ratings from patients. But North Avenue is a fault line in one extremely important way. If you stand at the corner of Larrabee and North, there are two public elementary schools within a mile. Both schools are operated by Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Both …

Reflections on Intersectionality

Inspired by the fallout from a recent Twitter thread posted by Sarah Haider, I’d like to offer some passing thoughts on intersectionality. Originally conceived by Kimberlé Crenshaw as a way of highlighting bias against black women that did not fit neatly into the category of either racism or sexism, intersectionality has since expanded to include oppression based on class, LGBTQ, disability status, and so forth. The basic idea is that when two or more dimensions of oppression coincide in the same person (say, a black woman), she not only faces “double-discrimination” (racism and sexism), but she may also face a third kind of discrimination which is not reducible to the other two. Put simply, oppression is more than the sum of its parts. Crenshaw’s original intent was narrow. She did not mean for intersectionality to become an all-encompassing thought system with its own epistemology, politics, aesthetics, and more. Indeed she has distanced herself from some of intersectionality’s modern purveyors, criticizing those who see it as a “grand theory of everything.” Nevertheless, that is exactly what …

Demoted and Placed on Probation

It all started in June 2018, when Quillette published my article, “Why Women Don’t Code,” and things picked up steam when Jordan Peterson shared a link to the article on his Twitter account. A burst of outrage and press coverage followed which I discussed in a follow-up piece. The original article was one of the ten most read pieces published by Quillette in 2018, and continues to generate interest. A recent YouTube video about it has been viewed over 120,000 times, as of this writing: In his tweet promoting my article, Peterson took issue with one of my claims. I had written that I thought I could survive at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering where I work. Peterson disagreed: Make no mistake about it: the Damore incident has already established a precedent. Watch what you say. Or else. https://t.co/3Zzg1g2y9C — Dr Jordan B Peterson (@jordanbpeterson) June 19, 2018 As it turns out, Peterson was right. My position is not tenured and when my current three-year appointment came up for review …

My University’s Plan for a Brave New World

As the Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported, the University of Tulsa has been bitterly divided by True Commitment, an academic restructuring that guts the liberal arts and eliminates departments in favor of divisions. The blueprint for the restructuring was laid out in a strategic plan formulated by President Gerard Clancy after he took office in 2016. Trustees and administrators claim the plan’s narrow emphasis on technical and vocational training—a strategy other institutions are adopting as the higher education bubble deflates—will allow TU, until 2016 a top-100 national research university, to remain relevant in the 21st century. Faculty believe the plan’s impoverished view of the human person and historical and cultural obliviousness show that liberal education is indispensable if freedom and human dignity are to survive. The plan’s introduction, “Jobs as Central to Life,” starts by praising the liberal arts. But like Hamlet’s insincere Player Queen, it doth protest too much. A “point of pride,” the plan declares, is that TU professors teach students “how to solve complex problems,” and thus “move well past teaching …

Accessibility, Ableism, and the Decline of Excellence

For many years, colleges and universities have observed the Americans with Disabilities Act by finding alternate ways for students with disabilities to meet course requirements. For example, a blind student might be accommodated by allowing a university representative to orally read the student questions from a written exam. A student with limited mobility might be allowed some extra time in getting from one class to another. More recently, many universities have expanded accommodations to cover conditions that might have been ignored in the recent past: today, students who can document Attention Deficit Disorder are routinely offered extra time in taking exams. One example of the rapidly changing institutional culture regarding students with disabilities is a new service provided by Blackboard, which is perhaps the most common software platform in American colleges for delivering course content. Through Blackboard, professors post required readings and assignments, grade student work, and even facilitate online discussions among members of the class. This fall, the university at which I teach implemented an additional service offered by Blackboard that is called “Ally.” …

How to Tackle the Unfolding Research Crisis

Research [is] a strenuous and devoted attempt to force nature into the conceptual boxes supplied by professional education. ~Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions Scholarly research is in crisis, and four issues highlight its dimensions. The first is that important disciplines such as physics, economics, psychology, medicine, and geology are unable to explain over 90 percent of what we see: dark matter dominates their theoretical understanding. In cosmology, 95 percent of the night sky is made up of dark matter and dark energy which are undetectable and inexplicable. Some 90 percent of human decisions are made autonomously by our sub-conscious, and even conscious decisions often emerge from a black box and have little support. The causes and natural history of important illnesses—including heart disease, cancer, obesity, and mental illness—are largely unknown for individuals. The second dimension of the research crisis is that systems which are critical to humankind—especially climate, demography, asset prices, and natural disasters—are minimally predictable. The best example of misguided theory can be seen in the conduct of organisations. Although a high …

Australia’s PISA Shock

Last week, the latest results from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) were released. These were based on tests taken in 2018 in reading, mathematics and science by a sample of students from each of the relatively wealthy OECD member countries as well as a range of other partner countries. Importantly, PISA researchers also surveyed participants on everything from their social media use to classroom climate. The results have rightly produced a great deal of comment in Australia because they are further evidence of the country’s long-term decline in education. Mathematics and science have both continued their relentless downward drift and although reading held steady since the last round of testing in 2015, it has slid a long way since the first round in 2000. In the context of Australia’s PISA results, it is tempting to look to the results from other countries for ideas on how the country can get out of this rut. Over the last decade or so, the region most cited by educationalists as an example to follow is the small Northern …

Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class—A Status Update

I was bewildered when I encountered a new social class at Yale four years ago: the luxury belief class. My confusion wasn’t surprising given my unusual background. When I was two years old, my mother was addicted to drugs and my father abandoned us. I grew up in multiple foster homes, was then adopted into a series of broken homes, and then experienced a series of family tragedies. Later, after a few years in the military, I went to Yale on the GI Bill. On campus, I realized that luxury beliefs have become fashionable status symbols. Luxury beliefs are ideas and opinions that confer status on the rich at very little cost, while taking a toll on the lower class. In the past, people displayed their membership of the upper class with their material accoutrements. But today, luxury goods are more affordable than before. And people are less likely to receive validation for the material items they display. This is a problem for the affluent, who still want to broadcast their high social position. But …

Are Elite Colleges Really That Bad?

The last year has been a difficult time for the US’s top universities. In March, a number of top schools including Stanford, Yale, and Georgetown were implicated in the now-infamous college admissions scandal. Over the summer, the discrimination case against Harvard by a group of Asian American students exposed important parts of the university’s internal admissions policy to criticism. And all of this comes after five turbulent years of campus debates about a range of topics from trigger warnings to academic freedom. Erich J Prince’s thoughtful Quillette essay, “Elite Colleges Reconsidered,” makes the question underlying many of these discussions explicit: To what degree is attending an elite university in the US still a worthwhile goal for a young student? Plenty of factors suggest it may not be—stifling political climates, pressures of conformity, claims of poor mental health on campus, and seemingly corrupt admissions processes. There are also plenty of bad reasons to believe that going to an elite school is a worthwhile goal, from prestige-seeking to thoughtless acceptance of the adulation their reputations invite. I …

The Free-Speech Problem on Australian Campuses Is More CCP than SJW

For years now, Australia’s conservative media have been awash with dark forebodings about the threat that leftist radicals pose to free speech on campuses. The Institute of Public Affairs, a right-wing think tank, published an audit of free speech in 2018 that found a staggering 83% of Australian universities are actively hostile to free speech. My personal experience suggests that such fears are exaggerated by those seeking to import an American-style culture war into Australia. I’m a third-year undergraduate student at the University of Queensland, and I’ve never encountered the kind of ultra-leftist “social-justice warrior” types that apparently make sport out of persecuting conservatives. In truth, the vast majority of students on campus are depressingly apathetic, apolitical and disengaged. No, the real threat to freedom of speech that I’ve observed originates with a corporatized university administration that relies heavily on external sources for funding—and so is inclined to discourage views that may irk those controlling the purse strings. This is reflected in the way Australia’s universities are responding to student criticisms of the Chinese Communist …