All posts filed under: Education

The Problems with America’s Best Teacher Training Programme

A question central to Plato’s Republic is “What should we teach our children?” Judging from the parents I’ve talked to, this question is not getting the consideration it deserves. Parroting a common conservative refrain regarding what some believe schools teach, a colleague referred to them as “liberal-producing factories.” Thankfully, that’s not quite the case. While the teaching profession as a whole leans left, most educators are aware of their bias and, with varying degrees of success, try to push against it. Unfortunately, this is not true of the programs that train the nation’s school staff. I received a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the premier schools of education in the country, occasionally nudging out Columbia and Harvard for the top spot in U.S. News and World Report’s ranking of education programs. In reality, it was a series of graduate courses that featured various arts and crafts projects. To their credit, the faculty seek to ameliorate legitimate and pressing concerns that our schools face: racial disparities, stagnant scores that are …

What They Don’t Teach You at the University of Washington’s Ed School

Having decided to become a high school teacher, I was excited to be accepted to the University of Washington’s Secondary Teacher Education Program (STEP), which awards a masters degree in teaching and bills itself as a 12-month combination of theory and practice. Cognizant that in just over a year I would be responsible for teaching students on my own, and because of the university’s laudable reputation, I expected the program to be grounded in challenging practical work and research, both in terms of how to develop academic skills in young people, and also in the crucial role public education has in overcoming some of the most grave and intransigent problems in society. I am not interested in politics or controversy, and I derive no pleasure in creating difficulties for the UW out of personal resentment. But whenever family and friends ask me about graduate school, I have to explain that rather than an academic program centered around pedagogy and public policy, STEP is a 12-month immersion in doctrinaire social justice activism. This program is a …

When a Question of Science Brooks No Dissent

Back in December 2012, six days after a mass shooting ended the lives of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, President Barack Obama seized the opportunity created by our period of national mourning to hold forth on a surprising topic: catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. The deaths at Sandy Hook, he told a group of foreign diplomats, had elicited from the world community “a fundamental human response that transcends cultures and transcends borders.” The Earth’s rising temperatures, instructed the president, should induce a similar response from world leaders. “This must be our work,” Obama implored the assembled ambassadors and chargés d’affaires regarding the need to forestall climate change. “That, I think, is one of the ways we can honor all these beautiful children and incredible teachers who were lost this past Friday.” Perhaps I should refrain from condemning too harshly a partisan figure’s routine decision to make political hay in the aftermath of a tragedy. For one thing, the president’s remarks may have been prepared by the same inept speechwriting staff who had coached him …

Free Speech for Me, But Not for Thee

Many people who genuinely believe that they support freedom of speech exhibit a double standard: One person’s “hate speech” is another person’s belief, opinion or even (as they see it) fact. And opinions about whether there’s a “free speech crisis” on university campuses tend to vary according to these subjective determinations. While I’m not a fan of such “crisis” language, there’s definitely a real decline in support for freedom of expression among young people. In a 2016 Knight Foundation survey, 91% of high school respondents said they supported the “freedom to express unpopular opinions.” But when pressed, only 45% said that people should have the right to publicly express ideas that others find “offensive.” The Knight Foundation’s numbers on college students’ attitudes are similar. In 2016, 78% of college respondents agreed that colleges should expose students to all types of speech and viewpoints. Yet, more than two-thirds said that colleges should be able to enact policies against language that is “intentionally offensive to certain groups,” and more than a quarter said that colleges should even …

A Professor Speaks Out: How ‘New Left’ Orthodoxy Is Failing a New Generation of History Students

I began teaching introductory U.S. history classes at the college level five years ago. These courses are always well-attended, as they fulfill a graduation requirement for other (presumably more worthwhile) majors. But the enrolment numbers are misleading: Across the United States, student interest in the Humanities is approaching all-time lows, with history, it seems, often faring the worst. In my classes, I frequently make the mistake of testing these trends, opening with surveys that ask students about history as a possible major. Excepting the occasional “LOL,” the answer is always no. Administrative fiat, not student choice, explains why our seats are full. Rock bottom usually carries with it some opportunity, however. As schools begin to take the justifiable and entirely predictable step of officially shuttering humanities classes (and even whole departments) in response to this decline in student interest, these introductory courses—long the bane of professors everywhere (one of the best parts of making tenure is that you no longer have to teach them)—have taken on an increased importance, as they represent our best opportunity …

Federal Funding, the First Amendment, and Free Speech on Campus

On Thursday, March 21, President Trump signed Executive Order 13865, intended to address the free speech crisis in higher education. This had been expected following the president’s speech at CPAC earlier this month. What was not expected was that the EO would also address the skyrocketing cost of tuition and the student loan debt crisis. All three of these issues were gathered together under the umbrella of enhancing the quality of postsecondary education “by making it more affordable, more transparent, and more accountable.” I was one of dozens of free speech advocates in attendance at the signing in the historic East Room. The text of the Executive Order reads, in part: In particular, my Administration seeks to promote free and open debate on college and university campuses. Free inquiry is an essential feature of our Nation’s democracy, and it promotes learning, scientific discovery, and economic prosperity. We must encourage institutions to appropriately account for this bedrock principle in their administration of student life and to avoid creating environments that stifle competing perspectives, thereby potentially impeding …

In Defense of New York City’s Elite Public High Schools

The New York City Department of Education operates eight extremely selective public high schools that have long served as pathways to achievement-for the children of upwardly mobile families. Admission to these schools is determined solely on the basis of performance in a special entrance examination—so these schools have avoided the problems associated with legacy admissions, athletics-based preferences and donor pressures, all of which serve to undermine the merit principle at many elite universities. But there is a problem. Compared to their share of New York City population-at-large, black and Hispanic students are dramatically underrepresented in these schools. A recent New York Times article cast the issue in stark terms with its headline: Only 7 Black Students Got Into Stuyvesant, N.Y.’s Most Selective High School, Out of 895 Spots. As the article noted, Asian-American students make up only about 15% of New York’s total public-school population—yet accounted for 66% of admitted Stuyvesant High School applicants in 2019. These numbers are stoking outrage in some quarters. And New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has called for overhauling …

Why Elites Dislike Standardized Testing

On Tuesday, March 12 2019, federal prosecutors exposed a crooked college admissions consulting operation that bribed SAT administrators and college athletic coaches in order to get wealthy, underqualified applicants into elite universities. Also charged were 33 wealthy parents who had paid for admissions bribes, including actors Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, Gordon Caplan, a co-chair of the international law firm Willkie Farr & Gallagher, and Douglas Hodge, the former chief executive of Pimco. As this story unfolds, there will be numerous takes and analyses about what the exposure of such widespread corruption in college admissions could mean. People are going to say that this scandal is proof that the meritocracy is broken and corrupt. And it’s likely that many commentators will use this event as an opportunity to attack the SAT and the ACT. Progressives view test-based admissions as inequitable because some marginalized groups are significantly underrepresented among the pool of top-scoring college applicants. But millionaires and elites also hate standardized admissions tests, because their children’s admission to top colleges is contingent upon test scores. …

How Ed Schools Became a Menace to Higher Education

I. The Miseducation of College Administrators Years ago, at the college where I teach, some graffiti on a restroom wall caught my eye. Inked into the tile grout was a swastika the size of a baby aspirin, and just above it, in a different hand, someone had written in large letters: “This says a lot about our community.” An arrow pointed to the offending sign. I’d seen lots of responses to the odd swastika over the years—obscene remarks about the author’s anatomy, say, or humiliating additions to his family tree. But a claim that this itsy-bitsy spider of a swastika signaled a web of hatred permeating one of the most left-leaning colleges in the nation? That was a new one. More evidence for this web was adduced a few months later when some racially charged fliers were posted anonymously around campus. Because the fliers offended people who failed to notice that they were meant as anti-racist satire, administrators punished the undergraduate who had put them up, even after it was discovered that he was a minority …

My Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Statement

I Am Not Afraid of Social Justice I am not afraid of eliminating discrimination. I am not afraid of dismantling barriers to freedom, opportunity, and dignity. I welcome such dismantling. I am not afraid of welcoming women, racial or ethnic minorities, sexual orientation minorities, people who are disabled, gender non-binary, or pretty much any other manifestation of human diversity into the halls of academe, wealth, and power. On the contrary, if social justice is defined as equality of opportunity and an end to discrimination and barriers, I welcome it. Nonetheless, there are reasons to fear, not social justice, but the intolerant oppressiveness of some strains of social justice activism. Although we do not need to give in to fear, if one is to fight oppressors, one needs to first acknowledge their existence, and their power—and the very good reasons to fear them. I have a track record of standing up to intellectual mobs, and plan to continue to do so. That does not mean there is nothing to fear. I am afraid of those who will punish others for not …