All posts filed under: Education

The Misleading Racial Achievement Gap Statistic

Montgomery County, Maryland, is one of the most racially diverse counties in the United States. Four different ethnic groups—white, black, Hispanic, and Asian—all comprise at least 15 percent of the population of the county, not to mention a vast mixed-race population as well.  It is one of the wealthiest counties in the nation by average household income. It also has a high “racial achievement gap.” The Stanford Educational Opportunity metric pegs the black/white achievement gap score at 3.09, and the black-Hispanic/white-Asian gap even higher, which means that the average white or Asian eighth-grader in Montgomery County scores more than three grade-levels higher on standardized performance exams than the average black or Hispanic student. Apparently, by the standards of the Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) system, the racial achievement gap is nothing short of an educational crisis or profligate systemic failure. Current MCPS superintendent Jack R. Smith wrote in the Washington Post, “For 50 years, the achievement gap in Montgomery County has grown in the shadows while many of our county’s schools and students garnered well-deserved …

I’ve Been Fired. If You Value Academic Freedom, That Should Worry You

Orthodoxy whether of the right or of the left is the graveyard of creativity. ~Chinua Achebe Until a week ago, I was a tenure-track assistant professor at a small college. Then I was fired. And although I am but one professor at one small college in one small town, I want to persuade you that, if you care about free speech and free inquiry in academia, you should be alarmed by my termination. My troubles began in October 2019 when I was invited to address an evolutionary group at the University of Alabama. I had decided that I would discuss human population variation, the hypothesis that human biological differences are at least partially produced by different environments selecting for different physical and psychological traits in their populations over time. I planned to defend this view as most consistent with a Darwinian understanding of the world. My first day in Tuscaloosa was uneventful. On the second day, I visited a class and had an enjoyable discussion with students about various topics, including human evolution and social …

Making Homer and Vergil Optional at Oxford Won’t ‘Diversify’ Classics

When I was in sixth grade, the English teachers at my New York all-girls’ school started revamping the decades-old curriculum. First, they cut The Catcher in the Rye (too masculine), then they cut Jane Eyre (too feminine), and finally, much to my dismay, they cut Homer. I had been looking forward to reading the Odyssey in class for years and begged my teachers to reconsider. “Don’t worry,” they said, “you’ll all read Homer in college, anyway.” This response, of course, was laughable. My high-school classmates went on to study such subjects as Mechanical Engineering and Media Studies, and if they read any literature in college, it wasn’t, alas, Homer. Knowledge of Homer is no longer expected in our technocratic and multicultural society. Although I believe everyone would benefit from reading the works that form the basis of our inherited tradition, the absence of Homer in particular from school curricula does not bother me all that much. My passion is ancient philosophy, and if it were up to me, I would make everyone read Plato. But …

On the Study of Great Books

Anyone familiar with Australian universities will recognize the opportunistic hype produced by their marketing departments and distilled in titillating slogans like: “Create Change,” “Life Impact,” “Research with Impact,” “Make Change—Change Your Life, Change the World,”  “A University for the 21st Century,” “The University that Makes a Difference.” The problem with this is not just the fatuous hubris, it is the open betrayal of the ideals of liberal education. Compare the slogans listed above with the proverbs that still adorn the archaic coats-of-arms of some of the nation’s universities. Another representative sample: Sub Cruce Lumen (“Light Under the Cross”), Scientia Manu et Mente (“Knowledge by Hand and Mind”), Sidere Mens Eadem Mutate (“The Stars Change, The Mind Remains the Same”), Ancora Imparo (“I am Still Learning”). Where the new slogans are dominated by the images of change and impact, generating a sensation of hectic and thrilling novelty, the older proverbs are sober and modest, emphasising the patient and hard-won acquisition of learning and enlightenment, and suggest that a university education is more concerned with what endures than …

Lee Jussim Is Right to Be Skeptical about ‘Stereotype Threat’

Rutgers University professor and social psychologist Lee Jussim recently posted a link on Twitter to a study that found “neither an overall effect of stereotype threat on math performance, nor any moderated stereotype effects”: In Which I Explain Why I am Exceedingly Skeptical of Stereotype Threatin response to a Harvard grad astonished that folks are skeptical and a postdoc asking, "Know of any large-scale studies in the real world?" Well, yes.Thread. https://t.co/gVF1jLSFXA — Lee Jussim, The UnCanceled (@PsychRabble) February 17, 2020 He did so in response to a Harvard University graduate student expressing surprise that there are people who think “stereotype threat” doesn’t exist: People out here thinking stereotype threat don’t exist? I believe Evelyn put it best; there are certain phenomena that feel real, and *because* they feel so real they exist in some important sense. Stereotype threat is one of those cases. Wasn’t there a replication project??? https://t.co/WX2QwNvSXo — Sa-kiera T. J. Hudson (@Sakiera_Hudson) February 17, 2020 Dr. Robin DiAngelo would also be quite surprised to hear such doubts. In her book, What …

Yale against Western Art

For decades, Yale offered a two-semester introductory sequence on the history of Western art. The fall semester spanned the ancient Middle East to the early Renaissance; the spring semester picked up from the High Renaissance through the present. Many Yale students were fortunate enough to take one or both of these classes while the late Vincent Scully was still teaching them; I was among those lucky students. Scully was a titanic, galvanizing presence, combining charismatic enthusiasm with encyclopedic knowledge. When the lights went down in the lecture hall, the large screen behind him, on which slides were projected, became the stage on which the mesmerizing saga of stylistic evolution played out. How did the austere geometry of Cycladic icons bloom into the full-bodied grandeur of the Acropolis’s Caryatids? Why were the rational symmetries of the Greek temple, blazing under Mediterranean light, replaced by the wild vertical outcroppings of the Gothic cathedral? What expressive possibilities were opened up by Giotto’s fresco cycle in the Arena Chapel? Such questions, under Scully’s tutelage, became urgent and central to …

The Misguided Moral Panic About Racism in British Universities

According to one of the most extensive surveys ever conducted by the European Union, the U.K. is one of the least racist societies in the world, and what racism that remains is diminishing.1 These trends have been helped by the U.K.’s university system, which has educated millions of people across the globe and long been at the forefront of progressive social change and the promotion of equality of opportunity in Britain. However, in October 2019 the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) released a series of reports that purported to show that racism is widespread in Britain’s higher education sector, to an extent that is “seriously damaging to individuals and our society.” The reports argued that the problem was so large it could only be properly addressed by new laws and regulations. The reports triggered a moral panic, both among those who’d compiled them and among the sector’s leaders. Rebecca Hilsenrath, the Chief Executive of the EHRC, argued that universities were “not only out of touch with the extent that [racism] is occurring on their …

The Suffocation of Academic Freedom by the Research Excellence Framework

British universities are devoting large amounts of resources and energy to the Research Excellence Framework (REF), a seven-yearly exercise designed to gauge the quality of universities’ research output, and the work produced by their departments and academics. Panels of specialists in various subject areas will examine and mark the quality of work submitted by universities including journal papers, books, monographs, and chapters in books. The exercise is important because of the financial rewards from the government that can accrue. Put simply, the higher the rating of any university department, the larger the income generated. Hence, universities enter the “REF game” to maximise their revenue streams from this source. Not only is this exercise a huge waste of resources but it is also the antithesis of the role of universities and an assault on academic freedom. Much of research in the arts, humanities, and social sciences is grounded in ideological theory. Hence, judgements of research in these areas are necessarily subjective. The panel members of each subject area (there are 34 “units of assessment”) are deemed …

Read Your Enemies

With the passing of the idea of the canon into the dustbin of history, the notion of a “required reading” list for all humanity has become seen as something quaint. In our “post-postmodern” condition, even the idea of revising the canon, entering new masterpieces from previously unheard voices, has largely been discarded. Instead, it is better to admit that we are all on different intellectual journeys and that no one is to say what is essential literary consumption for another. This sentiment is partly understandable—we all have but one life to live, and for even the most voracious readers, the feast is too much to consume. At some point, we know where our interests lie and which authors speak to us, so we forgo even great writers for the sake of the limited time we have on this planet. In the academic or professional sense, the need to put limits on oneself manifests itself in specialization. The age of the polymath is over. Paradoxically, the modern world requires us to know more and more about …

An Orwelexicon for Bias and Dysfunction in Psychology and Academia

In this essay, I introduce a slew of neologisms—new words—to capture the tone and substance of much discourse, rhetoric, dysfunction, and bias in academia and psychology. It’s partly inspired by an article entitled ‘Lexicon for Gender Bias in Academia and Medicine’ by Drs Choo and May in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), although that one was coming at this from a different perspective. They argued that “mansplaining” was just the “tip of the iceberg” and so coined terms such as “Himpediment,” defined as a “man who stands in the way of progress of women.”  Adminomania: A delusion that increased administrative and bureaucratic intrusions into people’s lives will actually improve something, fueled primarily by a pervasive blindness to unintended negative side effects. See Title IX. Athletic gynocide: The elimination from sports competitions of people identified at birth by doctors or other adults as female because they cannot successfully compete with people identified at birth by doctors or other adults as males but who identify as females. Bias bias: A bias for seeing biases, often manifesting as either claiming bias …