All posts filed under: Education

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 …

The Culture War in Communication Studies

There have been more infamous civil wars within higher education, but perhaps none more ironic: In September, the National Communication Association (NCA) shut down the discussion feature on its Communication, Research and Theory Network Listserv: These scholars are experts at communication, apparently—just not with each other. The controversies that led to the decision were of the (by now) predictable sort—an argument about what kind of language should be used to discuss immigrants who enter the United States illegally, intertwined with concerns about the racial composition of the NCA’s (virtually all-white) membership. But the underlying tensions had long been developing within the communications field—as I learned back in May, when I attended a pre-conference entitled #CommunicationSoWhite: Discipline, Scholarship, And The Media at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., as part of the larger 2019 International Communications Association conference. The sub-conference was organized by professors Eve Ng, Alfred L. Martin, Jr., and Khadijah Costley White, who’d taken inspiration from a 2018 article of the same name appearing in the Journal of Communication. Communication studies is a broad field, …

Racial Slurs and Deferential Condescension

Over the last week, Western University (where I am currently enrolled) has been mired in scandal over an instructor’s decision to utter a racial slur during a discussion of popular culture in his English literature class. More specifically, the instructor (Andrew Wenaus) suggested that Will Smith’s use of the phrase “home butler,” in a 20-something year old episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, may have been a subtle reference (sanitized for consumption on syndicated television) to the phrase “house nigger,” which was, during the pre-emancipation period, used to refer to black slaves who worked in the household. It is, I suppose, debatable whether Smith’s use of the phrase “home butler” was in fact intended by the show’s writers as a reference to the aforementioned slur. It is not, however, debatable whether or not this slur was used to refer to black slaves who worked in the household. That is a straightforward historical fact. For daring to articulate this fact in his classroom, Wenaus has been dragged on social media (and by the local press) as racially …

Elite Colleges Reconsidered

Yale students, if they’re still anything like they were when I graduated a few short years ago, likely aren’t overly concerned with the college admissions scandal that dominated the news this past spring, even as Lifetime releases its TV-movie based on the events and Felicity Huffman walks free after having served her eleven days in jail. Instead, Yale students will be focused on their classes, fulfilling their language requirements, agonizing as early as November about their plans for the following summer, and scrambling to join the various clubs that, like so many activities on campuses, require a surprisingly vigorous application process. For the newly arrived freshmen, who are, by now, probably starting to feel a bit more at home on campus, there is also probably still that lingering sense in the back of their heads that they made it: that they were admitted from the record 36,829 who applied for a spot in the class of 2023 to a school considered among the most prestigious in the world. The college admissions scandal produced a number …

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 …

Experiments in Nurturing Classroom Curiosity

Last semester, I was asked to teach a class about “socially engaged art” for the University of Colorado Denver, where I am an adjunct professor for the studio arts program. I was both surprised—did they know I gave a lecture at the University of New Orleans titled “Against Political Art” in 2017?—and delighted, because it was my first opportunity to teach an upper level discussion course, instead of introductory drawing and painting classes that focus on technical skills. The structure of the course was two-part, with half our time spent in class discussions and the other half as studio hours for students to create their own socially engaged art. Because my goal was to prepare the students intellectually to create such work, their opinions about sociopolitical issues were central to the course. And because university campuses have developed a reputation for intellectual intolerance, I suspected that this class would become either an echo chamber or a powder keg. After the students shared their interests, I placed my bets on the powder keg: their views ranged …

Higher Education’s Medievalist Moral Panic

On September 19, the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists (ISAS), a 36-year-old organization of academics specializing in the history, culture, and literature of England before the Norman Conquest, hastily voted to change its name. Indeed, the vote was so hasty that the organization had no idea what its new name ought to be (it is soliciting suggestions from members). Nonetheless, the majority of its 600-odd members were certain of one thing: they no longer wanted to be associated with the words “Anglo-Saxon.” In the view of many of those members, that term had become tainted, appropriated by an assortment of white supremacists, white nationalists, and neo-Nazis that calls itself the “alt-right.” During the Charlottesville, Virginia melée of August 11–12, 2017, which included a supremacist’s murder of a woman by car attack, the white nationalists who marched had carried banners and standards incorporating iconography that, if not always precisely Anglo-Saxon in inspiration, was certainly medieval: Templar crosses, the double eagle of the Holy Roman Empire, and in one case, a Germanic rune beloved of neo-Nazis that was …

Against Research Ethics Committees

Author Note: This article is based on a presentation at the Economic Society of Australia Annual Conference, and draws on an earlier discussion of an incident with an Australian university ethics committee “Why Ethics Committees Are Unethical” Agenda 10/2 2002.  The views expressed here are personal, and should not be attributed to the organisations with which I am affiliated.  Ethics committees have been part of the life of medical researchers for some decades, based on guidelines which flow from the World Medical Association’s 1964 “Declaration of Helsinki.”  This declaration was aimed at physicians and draws heavily on the Nuremberg Code developed during the trials of Nazi doctors after WWII. It has been joined by more recent guidelines such as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) “International Ethical Guidelines for Biomedical Research Involving Human Subjects” and many others. In Australia, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) issued its first Statement on Human Experimentation in 1966, and the current set of NHMRC guidelines, now issued jointly with the Australian Research Council (ARC) is the National Statement …