All posts filed under: Education

The Fog of Youth: The Cornell Student Takeover, 50 Years On

On April 20, 1969, an era of student rebellions that had rocked American campuses at Berkeley, Columbia, San Francisco State, and Harvard reached a culmination of sorts with the triumphant exit of armed black students from Cornell’s Willard Straight student union building after a two-day occupation. The students had just won sweeping concessions from the university’s administration, including a pledge to urge faculty governing bodies to nullify reprimands of several members of the Afro-American Society (AAS) for previous campus disruptions on behalf of starting up a black studies program, judicial actions that had prompted the takeover. White student supporters cheered the outcome. And when the faculty, at an emergency meeting attended by 1,200 professors, initially balked at the administration’s request to overturn the reprimands, the radical Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) led a body that grew to six thousand students in a three-day possession of the university’s Barton gymnasium. Amid threats of violence by and against the student activists, the faculty, in a series of tumultuous meetings, voted to reverse themselves, allowing the crisis …

Ideology and Facts Collide at Oberlin College

Our political and media cultures are suffering the effects of too many opinion-havers and too few fact-finders. This can make it difficult to figure out what is going on in a story and to distinguish fact from partisan or ideological bias, especially when those biases flatter our own. The recently concluded libel trial involving Oberlin College offered a demonstration of this phenomenon on the part of both the defendants and much of the media covering the case. On June 7, an Ohio jury found that Oberlin College had libelled a local shop, Gibson Bakery and Market, as racist, and awarded the family business hefty damages. The case aroused a great deal of interest in legal, academic, and civil rights communities, which in turn produced a great deal of commentary, much of which was tendentious, speculative, and/or uninformed. The news coverage of this case was puzzling from the beginning. It was a case that involved college student protests, a liberal arts college with a history of progressive activism, free market economics, free speech, defamation, accusations of …

Science vs. Purpose: The College Board’s New Adversity Index

Recently, the College Board announced it was piloting a new Environmental Context Dashboard (referred to in the media as an “Adversity Index”), one which tries to quantify social challenges faced by students applying to college. As described here, the index uses publicly available data regarding a student’s neighborhood and high school, such as median income, unemployment levels, and crime rates, to generate a value between 0 and 100, with higher numbers indicating higher levels of adversity indexed students might face. Debate over the move has polarized around issues of fairness (why not provide college admissions officers data they can use to contextualize grades and test scores?) and independence (who is the College Board to lump me and everyone else in my neighborhood and school into a cohort summarized by a single numerical value?). Like arguments over the role of standardized testing, discussion of the Adversity Index is confused by a conflation of the scientific nature of assessment and the social purposes evaluations are supposed to serve. Professional test developers involved with creating tests that measure …

How the ‘Underground Grammarian’ Taught Me to Tell Reason from Rubbish

Thought control, like birth control, is best undertaken as long as possible before the fact. Many grown-ups will obstinately persist, if only now and then, in composing small strings of sentences in their heads and achieving at least a momentary logic. This probably cannot be prevented, but we have learned how to minimize its consequences by arranging that such grown-ups will be unable to pursue that logic very far. ~Richard Mitchell, Less Than Words Can Say In January of 1977, New Jersey’s Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) saw the publication of a new campus journal. Sporting handset type and quaint nineteenth century line-drawn imagery, it was called the Underground Grammarian. On the front page of the first edition of the four page newsletter, the anonymous editor printed its “Editorial Policies”: The Underground Grammarian is an unauthorised journal devoted to the protection of the Mother Tongue at Glassboro State College. Our language can be written and even spoken correctly, even beautifully. We do not demand beauty, but bad English cannot be excused or tolerated in …

The Bitter Debate over School Discipline

Last month, Congresswoman Kathleen Clark (D-MA) called on Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to resign because the Federal School Safety Commission’s report contained a citation to a study, the findings of which Clark did not like. The Congresswoman did not allege that the study was methodologically flawed. Rather, she simply called the study “racist” because it found that differences in behavior explained the racial disparity in school discipline. This could have been a teachable moment in the bitter national debate over school discipline. Unfortunately, rather than take this conflagration as an opportunity to review the research literature, journalists seemed more interested in reinforcing Clark’s accusation by innuendo, noting that the study’s author describes himself on Twitter as a “stoic, masculine, conservative.” But for America’s students, the truth matters a great deal more than partisan posturing. Policies predicated on falsehood rarely yield positive results. If Congresswoman Clark’s contention that the racial discipline gap is not a product of student behavior but rather of “institutional racism” then the Obama administration’s policy of pressuring school districts to decrease …

Progressivism at the University of Melbourne: No Cause for Alarm

It’s tough being a conservative at university nowadays, or so the story goes. I found nothing surprising about Zachary Snowdon Smith’s tale of extreme and bizarre opinions expressed by teachers and students at the University of Melbourne, but I also don’t think campus conservatives are victims of an ideological indoctrination program. Like Smith, I am a University of Melbourne alumnus, but I studied both the humanities and the sciences. My time in student politics and as Secretary of the Student Union in 2009 made me well acquainted with the progressive tendencies at the university. However, I emerged from this supposedly dangerous indoctrination machine with no intention of becoming an evangelist for a “resentment-ridden ideology.” Australian universities like Melbourne are much too big and too diverse to ever run an effective indoctrination program. Conservatives may, for or better or worse, find themselves a minority on campus. The University of Melbourne is situated in the country’s most progressive major city, as evidenced by their unique propensity to elect the Greens to the lower house in federal politics. …

When Protected Characteristics Collide

This weekend, the city of Birmingham hosted a dazzling array of colourful floats, sparkling costumes, and groups bearing a message of love and equality as part of its annual celebration of Gay Pride. However, in an unprecedented move, this particular march was led by LGBT Muslims. Often subjected to discrimination and ostracisation by their own religious communities, and shunned by certain sections of wider LGBT communities for adhering to any form of religion, LGBT Muslims are in a bind. Some people even maintain that the term is an oxymoron. Yet it is precisely young Muslims—who might be experiencing profound questions about their sexuality or identity, and torn between two different sets of expectations—who have the most to lose as a result of the LGBT schools row engulfing the city. It was therefore encouraging to see them front Gay Pride this year, alongside someone who has done more for equality and diversity than 99 percent of the UK population: Andrew Moffat, Assistant Headteacher of Parkfield Community School. In 2017, Moffatt was awarded an MBE, and subsequently …

Noah Carl: An Update on the Young Scholar Fired by a Cambridge College for Thoughtcrime

Quillette has been unwavering in its support of Noah Carl, a young conservative scholar who was targeted by an outrage mob after getting a research fellowship at St. Edmund’s College, Cambridge. After an “open letter” was circulated by a group of activist academics last December describing Noah’s work as “racist pseudoscience” and calling for an “investigation” into his appointment, we ran an editorial denouncing this witch-hunt. We published supportive comments by Jonathan Haidt, Jeffrey Flier, Cass Sunstein, Tyler Cowan, Jeff McMahan and Peter Singer, and asked people to sign a counter-petition which attracted over 1,400 signatories. Unfortunately, St. Edmund’s College did the bidding of the protestors, launched two separate investigations and last month terminated Noah Carl’s employment. We ran a follow-up piece, this time criticizing St. Edmund’s cowardly decision, and invited professors and lecturers to put their names to a letter of condemnation. That got over 600 signatures, more than the number of academics who signed the original “open letter.” Since then, Noah has received widespread support from a variety of sources. The Spectator has …

What Does Teaching ‘White Privilege’ Actually Accomplish? Not What You Might Think (Or Hope)

I recently attended a Washington-D.C. event focused on community-building hosted by The Aspen Institute’s Weave project, which works to reduce social isolation and build bonds between Americans. During one portion of the event, various activists described how racism had impacted their lives and their communities. Following a number of such testimonials, a white woman from southeast Ohio named Sarah Adkins spoke about her own community work, which involves raising money to provide post-trauma support to individuals affected by tragedies. Perhaps because several speakers had discussed racism and issues related to white privilege, Adkins spoke about her own self-perceived racial privilege. “I followed the perfect mold…I did all the things, I went to college, and I keep thinking of white privilege in my head so forgive me, that’s what’s in my head right now, very much white privilege,” she said, while reflecting on her middle class life in an affluent neighborhood. But Adkins also went on to describe the reason she originally had become involved in community work—which is that her then-husband had killed both of …

Free University Tuition: A Cautionary Note from Germany

Some American presidential candidates have endorsed free tuition for American public universities. It’s an understandable demand. I attended private and public American universities and had the eye-watering student loans to prove it. However, my experience teaching at German universities for over a decade introduced me to some of the tuition-free model’s drawbacks, many of which may not be obvious to outsiders. Drastically simplified, the German model is as follows: in their early teen years, the brightest German students are sent to the most prestigious form of German high school, the Gymnasium. Currently, over 50 percent of German students earn this privilege (this number has jumped in the last 30 years, prompting charges of grade inflation). Gymnasium graduates with reasonable grades are guaranteed a place in a German university; there is no entrance exam. 95 percent of German students attend public universities, where they are charged fees, but not formal tuition. All professors at public universities are civil servants. Needy students can apply for a modest stipend. After graduation, students must pay back one-half of the …