All posts filed under: Diversity

Decolonising Math is Rooted in a Decades-Old Conflict

For decades, a conflict has been simmering in the elementary school classrooms of the English-speaking world. On one side are those who place mathematics understanding above all else and whose teaching methods involve asking students to figure out ways to solve authentic mathematics problems, focusing on the process while de-emphasizing the importance of obtaining correct answers. On the other side, often painted as stuffy traditionalists, are those who assert the importance of explicit teaching, practice, and memorization. Welcome to the math wars. The origins of the math wars stretch back to the educational progressivists of the 19th century. Drawing on the writing of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, while reviling the strict discipline and recitation of the school house of the 1800s, they demanded a new, reformed mode of education. Learning should proceed through experience. After all, kids can learn lots of things through pure immersion, from recognizing individual faces, to speaking their mother tongue, navigating their local area or sharing resources with friends. Why should they not learn math the same way? Why can’t learning be more …

The Problem With ‘Indigenizing the University’

The idea that academics need to “Indigenize” the Canadian education system has become popular in recent years. The Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), Universities Canada, and the Deans of Education all have expressed support for this idea. And the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), created to address the legacy of Canada’s Residential School system, concluded that Canada’s education system “must be transformed into one that rejects the racism embedded in colonial systems of education and treats Aboriginal and Euro-Canadian knowledge systems with equal respect.” The TRC report cites the work of Indigenous academic Marie Battiste and the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples’ statement that “Indigenous peoples have the right to the dignity and diversity of their cultures, traditions, histories and aspirations which shall be appropriately reflected in education and public information.” Specific proposals at various Canadian universities have included curriculum changes, an overhaul of academic disciplines, and the incorporation of Indigenous “ways of knowing” in tenure and promotion processes. Many …

Struggling with Pixar’s ‘Soul’

In the COVID era, my wife and I are homeschooling our small children. Their endless questions often send me to Google. Why do clouds change color? Where did language come from? Why did our ancestors paint on cave walls? They are not only curious about life after death, but also about life before life. They have concocted the Not-Existing World—an antechamber to life where they were friends before birth. So they naturally loved Soul, Pixar’s foray into the twin metaphysical realms of the Great Before (pre-life) and the Great Beyond (afterlife). Soul opens on Joe Gardner (a black middle-aged jazz pianist voiced by Jamie Foxx) becoming a permanent teacher at a public school as his dreams of professionally performing music fade. Miraculously, there’s a coveted opening in the Dorothea Williams quartet that same day, and Joe nails the audition. Euphoric, he struts through NYC, oblivious to its dangers, and plummets down an open manhole. Suddenly, he’s a fuzzy green-blue blob among other blobs—disembodied souls. (Joe is distinguished by his glasses and spiffy hat.) The souls …

The Attack on Timothy Jackson Is an Assault on Liberal Education

Those interested in campus culture may have followed the debate concerning the Journal of Schenkerian Studies at the University of North Texas. Though limited to a very specialized discipline, that debate is no tempest in a teapot. Its implications go well beyond the borders of music theory and should be read as a symptom of the larger problem of higher education in the age of the fetishization of identities. The protagonists of the Schenkerian studies case are Philip Ewell, a professor of music theory at City University New York, and Timothy Jackson at UNT, also a professor of music theory. The debate is about whether we should teach an Austrian Jewish musical theorist of the early 20th century despite the fact that said theorist was also a German nationalist and, in certain writings, expressed his belief in the superiority of German culture. British novelist Leslie Poles Hartley once wrote: “The past is a different country. They do things differently there.” I do not intend to whitewash Schenker’s bigotry. A bigot he was—no less and no more than …

A (Failed) Campaign to Smear a University of Toronto Scholarship Student as a Bigot

Arjun Singh is an Indian-Canadian student of mixed Sikh and Hindu ancestry, set to finish a four-year undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto in just three years, while reportedly boasting a 3.96 cumulative GPA in his course work with the departments of Political Science, International Relations, and American Studies. His LinkedIn page indicates that he speaks multiple languages and has work experience with the US State Department. So no surprise that this high achiever has earned numerous awards and scholarships. In recent days, however, 13 fellow students (six of them white, for those who count these things) publicly expressed their claimed “shock” that Singh had received the Political Science department’s $1,000 David Rayside Undergraduate Scholarship, awarded to “students who have demonstrated commitment and leadership in co-curricular activities, on or off campus, promoting greater public understanding of social and cultural diversity and enhanced inclusion of historically marginalized populations: for example racialized minorities, women, Indigenous communities, immigrants and refugees, people with disabilities, sexual minorities. Award is based on academic achievement and financial need.” On January 31st, …

First, Do No Harm: A New Model for Treating Trans-Identified Children

We are two psychotherapists, husband and wife, with professional involvement in the therapeutic treatment of trans-identified individuals in the UK. The material that follows is connected to a paper we presented at a multi-disciplinary conference on January 23rd, Do Not Adjust Your Set: Sex, Gender And Public Policy, and reflects our serious concern about the transition of children before maturity—though, as we would like to emphasize, we are not taking a position in regard to an adult’s right to transition. Indeed, we understand that transition is, for some adults, the optimum way to lead their lives and present to the world. In all cases, we encourage a psychotherapeutic model that provides a process of psychological exploration, in which an individual’s personality structure, beliefs, defence mechanisms, and motivations are assessed and examined in a supportive environment. All of these elements, we believe, are helpful for anyone planning this kind of life-altering decision. Between 2003 and 2007, I, Susan Evans, worked for the Gender Identity Development Service (GIDS) at the Tavistock Clinic in London, a specialised facility …

Beating Back Cancel Culture: A Case Study from the Field of Artificial Intelligence

It’s easy to decry cancel culture, but hard to turn it back. Thankfully, recent developments in my area of academic specialty—artificial intelligence (AI)—show that fighting cancel culture isn’t impossible. And as I explain below, the lessons that members of the AI community have learned in this regard can be generalized to other professional subcultures. To understand the flash point at issue, it’s necessary to delve briefly into how AI functions. In many cases, AI algorithms have partly replaced both formal and informal human decision-making systems that pick who gets hired or promoted within organizations. Financial institutions use AI to determine who gets a loan. And some police agencies use AI to anticipate which neighborhoods will be afflicted by crime. As such, there has been a great focus on ensuring that algorithms won’t replicate their coders’ implicit biases against, say, women or visible minorities. Citing evidence that, for instance, “commercial face recognition systems have much higher error rates for dark-skinned women while having minimal errors on light skinned men,” computer scientist Timnit Gebru, formerly the co-lead …

A Student Mob Took Over Bryn Mawr. The College Said Thank You

Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality, while making it easier for them to part with them.      ~Vaclav Havel Last week marked the end of a chaotic semester at Bryn Mawr College, a small women’s liberal arts college located outside Philadelphia. During the final weeks, Bryn Mawr students, including my own child, scrambled to pick up the pieces following a student “strike” that exacerbated the serious preexisting disruptions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. For a period of three weeks, few regular classes were held, activities were suspended, and student life (such as it was) became marked by the same toxic spirit of racism that the strikers claimed to oppose. Bryn Mawr is affiliated with nearby Haverford College, whose parallel meltdown in November was documented recently by Quillette. These two selective and well-funded schools are part of a so-called Bi-Co arrangement, which allows students to participate in joint classes and activities. Both share a similarly progressive commitment to …

A Peculiar Kind of Racist Patriarchy

We are frequently told by commentators and theorists on the progressive and liberal Left that we live in a systemically racist and patriarchal society. The belief that Western societies privilege white men and oppress people of color, women, and LGBT citizens is especially popular within academic institutions, legacy media, the entertainment industry, and even sports. However, newly released statistics from the US Department of Labor for the third quarter of 2020 undermine this narrative. Asian women have now surpassed white men in weekly earnings. That trend has been consistent throughout this past year—an unprecedented outcome. Full-time working Asian women earned $1,224 in median weekly earnings in the third quarter of this year compared to $1,122 earned by their white male counterparts. Furthermore, the income gap between both black and Latino men and Asian women is wider than it has ever been. The income gap between white and black women, meanwhile, is much narrower than the gap between their male counterparts. These outcomes cannot exist in a society suffused with misogyny and racism. As confounding to …

An ‘Anti-Racist’ Mob Set Its Sights on Humble ‘Squampton.’ Here’s How the Town Fought Back

This is the sorry tale of how a confluence of unrelated developments—including the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the excesses of real-estate developers, an outdoor-sports boom, and the death of George Floyd—transformed what was once a small, gritty western Canadian logging town into a hub of woke lunacy. It’s also the story of a “racist” cream-filled donut, a slander campaign against an Indigenous single mother waged in the name of social justice, and an existential debate about whether a local basalt dyke may be a source of homophobic microaggression. But all in due course. The British Columbia town of Squamish is situated at the tip of island-dotted Howe Sound, nestled between Vancouver to the south and the famous ski-resort community of Whistler to the north. It gets its name from the Squamish Nation, a Coast Salish First Nations community that, as with other Indigenous peoples across Canada, suffered mightily from colonialism—an appalling chapter in Canadian history that the country has taken laudable steps to address in recent years. Though the population is largely white, Squamish has steadily …