All posts filed under: Education

Watching Harvard, My Alma Mater, Surrender to the Mob  

On Saturday, Harvard University announced that it would not be permitting law professor Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. to stay on as faculty dean of Winthrop House, an undergraduate residence where he has served in that position since 2009 (along with his wife Stephanie R. Robinson, who also teaches at Harvard Law School). When I heard news of this, my mind rushed back to a guided tour I’d once taken of Boston’s Freedom Trail, a two-and-a-half mile path that features numerous historical landmarks, including the site of the 1770 Boston Massacre, Paul Revere’s home and Bunker Hill Monument. At the time, I’d just arrived from Canada as a student at Harvard Law School. And I was eager to bring myself up to speed on America’s revolutionary history. The most memorable story I heard during that tour was of a young John Adams, a future U.S. president, successfully defending Thomas Preston, a Captain of a redcoat British regiment who’d been accused of ordering the aforementioned massacre after British soldiers were hit with rocks and snowballs. When the …

After Academia

I keep being invited to talk about free speech on college campuses and every time I’m invited I make the same point: that this isn’t about free speech and this is only tangentially about college campuses. This is about a breakdown in the basic logic of civilisation, and it’s spreading. College campuses may be the first dramatic battle but of course this is going to find its way into the courts; it’s already found its way into the tech sector. It’s going to find its way to the highest level of governance if we aren’t careful, and it actually does jeopardise the ability of civilisation to continue to function. ~Bret Weinstein Mike Nayna’s documentary on the Evergreen State College Affair, from which I transcribed the above quote from Bret Weinstein, is a riveting watch. No matter how closely you followed the debacle at the time, there is really no substitute for this fascinating glimpse behind the scenes. Evergreen academics can be seen meekly and repeatedly submitting to ideological manipulation, and on a number of occasions …

Cambridge Capitulates to the Mob and Fires a Young Scholar

We live at a time where academic freedom is under threat from ideologues and activists of all persuasions. The latest threat comes from St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, where administrators appear to have capitulated to a mob of activists (students and academics) who mounted a campaign to have a young scholar fired for “problematic” research. The back-story was covered by Quillette last December. The norms of academia—which have been built up and preserved by institutions such as Cambridge for centuries—demand that academics engage with each other in a scholarly manner. That is, if one academic has a problem with the methods or conclusions of another’s research, he or she should address those concerns within journals, according to established procedures, which other scholars can then read and respond to, including the academic whose research is being challenged. Today, due to the hyper-specialisation of academic fields, most academics will not be able to judge the quality of scholarship that is published in journals outside their field. That’s why when research is peer-reviewed it is done by experts in the …

Like the Campus Thought Police

Smith College police chief Daniel Hect was put on administrative leave after becoming an object of campus hate. Chief Hect’s crime was ‘liking’ (not writing) tweets that fall outside of academia’s ever shrinking zone of toleration. Behold the offending tweets: “Stay the course Pres. Trump” “BUILD THAT WALL!!” “The National Rifle Association wishes you and your family a very Merry Christmas!” The tweets express opinions that most Trump voters would likely support. And the chief stands accused not of originating these tweets, but of merely liking them on his own personal Twitter account. If you are not familiar with Twitter, know that liking doesn’t always imply support. The official reason given for Chief Hect’s suspension was, as Smith’s President wrote, because “members of our campus community have voiced a lack of trust” in him. Given the protests, “lack of trust” is quite the understatement. Interpreted in the most favorable light, the students might be worried about the chief’s views on immigration. Smith College is devoted to the spirit of the sanctuary campus movement within “the …

Sexualization in Gaming: Advocacy and Over-Correction

Even before its April 2019 release, the eleventh installment of the popular fighting game Mortal Kombat was generating waves for its presentation of female characters. But the grumblings are not what one might expect. After years of being criticized for sexualizing female characters, Mortal Kombat is now under fire from fans—including women—for not allowing the female characters to be sexy enough. Did Mortal Kombat’s developer overshoot the mark? Or are we beginning to see a reassessment of concerns that sexualized games are responsible for sexist attitudes toward women—an argument that increasingly became a mantra of progressive games criticism? Historically, games have catered to male audiences, even as increasing numbers of women and girls have joined the ranks of gamers. Given the rapidly changing gamer demographic, it was perhaps inevitable that games would eventually come in for criticism for under-representing playable female characters, and for presenting them as hyper-sexualized images when they were available. Much of this criticism was deserved, particularly the lack of alternative options featuring strong, less-sexualized playable characters. Indeed, I am on record …

What I Saw at Middlebury College

“At a meeting last week at Middlebury College, students upset and angry that conservative Ryszard Legutko had been invited to speak on campus were calmed and reassured by three administrators who apologized to the students for their feelings of discomfort, agreed that they had every right to feel aggrieved, and assured them there’s steps underway to ensure controversial right-wing speakers are not easily invited to campus in the future,” reported Jennifer Kabbany of The College Fix this week. “That according to a 40-minute recording of the meeting recorded surreptitiously by a student in the room…who said the three administrators at the meeting were Sujata Moorti, the incoming dean of the faculty, as well as Dean of Students, Baishakhi Taylor, and Renee Wells, director of education for equity and inclusion.” The “student in the room” cited in this report—that was me. But before I discuss the controversy over Legutko, let me offer a brief flashback to February 6, 2019. At the time, I was beginning my first semester of college as what Middlebury calls a “Feb”: …

The Sad Truth About ‘Fat Acceptance’

Last week, self-described queer non-binary “fat sex therapist” Sonalee Rashatwar delivered a two-hour lecture entitled Race as a Body Image Issue at the St. Olaf College Health and Wellness Center in Minnesota. The event was a master class in social justice, at times putting shame to the parodies of the genre that now traffic on social media. In the video, the visibly obese woman asks: “Is it my fatness that causes my high blood pressure—or is it my experience of weight stigma?” In the presentation, which has gone viral, Rashatwar also compared “fatphobia” not only to eugenics (which is itself absurd) but also to “Nazi science,” and declared that “a child cannot consent to being on a diet the same way a child cannot consent to having sex.” Indeed, the very titles of her recurring presentations—including Health is a Social Construct, Decolonizing Sex Positivity, Gender Isn’t Real and Neither Is Health and How Fat Queers the Body—seem like something you’d find on the Twitter feed of satirists such as Titania McGrath or Madeline Seers. Yet …

Teenage Climate-Change Protestors Have No Idea What They’re Protesting

The Extinction Rebellion, which is the umbrella term for Britain’s most recent large-scale climate-change protests, is said to have disrupted the travel of over 500,000 people, as well as cost London businesses £12-million per day. Before that, the Youth for Climate strikes, ignited by Swedish teenager Greta Thurnberg and tacitly supported by the U.K. Government, pulled north of 1.4-million students into the streets on a school day. Given the magnitude of these protests, one might hope that the protestors understood what they were protesting. Regrettably, this isn’t the case. Global-warming research is a hugely complex field, and it’s unlikely that any ordinary person—let alone a minor—would have any real grasp of it. Nor would they be able to appreciate the uncertainty that characterizes our understanding of how today’s human activity will affect the future state of the earth’s climate. As a teenager, I fully understand the mindset of young people. We’re predisposed to leap before we look. This is borne out by neuroscience. Our prefrontal cortices, which regulate (among other things) decision-making, planning, self-awareness and …

The Dearth of Conservatives in Academic Philosophy

It is no secret that conservative political views are underrepresented in the academy. In Passing on the Right: Conservative Professors in the Progressive University, John A. Shields and Joshua M. Dunn Sr. cite surveys that put the number of professors who self-identify as conservative in the humanities at between four and eight percent. It should therefore come as no surprise that conservative political views are scarce in philosophy. While it may seem impolite to raise this issue when the philosophy profession is contending with a rather different diversity problem, the fact itself is philosophically interesting. It is strange, for instance, how rarely philosophers agree about a wide range of thorny philosophical problems, and yet they appear to be unified on a range of complex issues that divide the American public roughly in half. Why are there so few political conservatives in philosophy? Some hypotheses stand out immediately. One may notice that philosophy requires a critical attitude that sits uncomfortably with the characteristically conservative respect for authority. As a profession, philosophy also does not offer career …

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 …