All posts tagged: education

Liberal Orthodoxy and the New Heresy

I teach college in a small city in Arkansas, deep in the American Bible Belt. I am a historian of Africa and in my department that means that I also teach a world history survey. I always start with the expansion of modern humans out of Africa and their encounter with other types of humans: Neanderthals, Homo erectus, Denesovians and what seems like an ever-growing list of newly discovered human-like creatures. It’s less the case now, but when I started twenty years ago this part of the course was initially met with polite but firm resistance, which gradually gave way to a sort of furtive curiosity. I eventually realized that even my cleverest students knew very little about human evolution except that it was false and that they were supposed to reject it. They came to the university having been taught that evolution was part of a larger attack on their faith and values, but they had never really been exposed to anything but a sort of parody version of it. A small number of …

Correcting ‘Youth’s Eternal Temptation to Arrogance’—One Bedtime Story at a Time

“We almost never take this out because it is really fragile,” said Christine Nelson, a curator at the Morgan Library in New York. I was sitting across from her, in her office. She drew out a small navy-blue case and opened the lid. Inside, its glossy red leather binding embossed with gold, was the earliest surviving volume of the fairy tales of Charles Perrault. This beautiful object had been created in 1695 as a gift for the teenage niece of Louis the Fourteenth, a girl known as “Mademoiselle.” Nelson opened to the frontispiece (illustrated above), revealing a charming little painting. A plain-faced woman in a linen coif and rustic dress sits before a fire, holding a spindle of wool. She seems to be telling a story to three young people in elegant clothes, one of whom leans forward, touching the storyteller’s knees in her eagerness. Curled up by the fire, a plump little cat listens, too. On the wooden door behind the spindle holder, a sign reads: Contes de Ma Mere l’Oye. (Tales of My …

The Future of Our Ancient Past

This is part one of a four part series on the Classics. Part two will be published tomorrow. Australian National University’s decision to reject a large donation from the Ramsay Centre has brought the topic of Western civilization to the forefront once again. For me, the most pressing question is about the future of classics, the discipline that has long claimed to deal with the foundations of Western civilizations. I’ve previously helped teach a course called “Origins of Political Thought,” and I’m preparing to teach another with the title “Foundations of Western Political Thought” next year. But should anyone still be teaching courses on “Western Civ”? My answer, in a word, is yes. There’s nothing wrong with teaching Western Civilization or the Western classics alongside other cultural traditions. At the same time, the way Classics used to be taught is gone for good. In many ways, that’s a good thing: the traditional classical education was astonishingly narrow, and often gave the impression that the tradition it dealt with was the only game in town. Luckily, …

Every Schoolchild Should Read This Book

A review of Innate: How the Wiring of Our Brains Shapes Who We Are by Kevin J. Mitchell. Princeton University Press (October 16, 2018) 304 pages. Kevin Mitchell’s Innate: How the Wiring of Our Brains Shapes Who We Are is a book for high school students. And I mean that as a compliment. Profound misunderstandings about the genetic nature of human beings lie at the heart of the social justice movement, as well as some education reforms, attitudes toward mental disorders, aspects of the self-help industry, and social policies including but not limited to immigration, welfare, racism, and sex/gender issues. What a person understands or misunderstands about genetics is a foundation for evaluating new ideas encountered in college, forming political opinions, dealing with difficult co-workers, tackling issues of parenthood and family, and generally living day-to-day life. If read early enough, Innate might provide some inoculation against bad or naïve information about human nature and the indisputable role played by genes. That is why it belongs on high school reading lists, not just in science classes. Think …

The Problem with ‘The Journal of Controversial Ideas’

A group of academics recently announced plans to launch a new journal focused on research that its authors fear could lead to a backlash, putting their careers and perhaps even their physical safety in danger. With these concerns in mind, the journal will allow authors to publish their work anonymously, subject to peer review. Some are applauding the launch of what will be titled The Journal of Controversial Ideas. They view it as a needed response to an academic and potentially broader culture that is increasingly afraid to grapple with sensitive topics and seeks to suppress ideas that may have merit but are socially unpopular. However, we think the creation of a journal like this, while serving as a prophetic warning about the new moral culture taking hold of academia and the future of our institutions of higher learning, may be a counterproductive way of dealing with the problems it addresses. First, it is worth asking whether the concerns prompting the creation of this journal are warranted. Some writers and academics claim that stories of …

Warning: Telling a Lame Joke in an Elevator can Endanger Your Career

I am a professor of international political theory at King’s College London and bye-fellow of Pembroke College, Cambridge. I am a fellow of the British Academy and a member of the International Studies Association (ISA). Several years back the ISA voted me the “distinguished scholar of the year.” This year it censured me, not once but twice. I was guilty of saying “ladies lingerie” in a lift, and more disturbingly in their eyes, of writing a conciliatory email to the woman who had overheard me in the lift and filed a complaint. I appealed against this decision, but earlier this month was told my appeal had been rejected. During the second week of April 2018, the ISA had its annual meeting in San Francisco. It attracts many thousands of members from multiple disciplines who do research on international relations. The meeting consists mostly of panels at which scholarly papers are presented and discussed. I stayed in the San Francisco Hilton, the venue of the meeting. On the third afternoon, I was going up to my …

The Free Speech Crisis on Campus Is Worse than People Think

Last month Samuel Abrams, a politics professor at Sarah Lawrence College, published an op-ed in the New York Times titled, “Think Professors Are Liberal? Try School Administrators.” Abrams, who describes himself as conservative leaning, pointed to the titles of some recent events put on by his campus’s Office of Student Affairs: “Stay Healthy, Stay Woke,” “Understanding White Privilege,” and “Microaggressions.” He described these events as politically lopsided and noted that this kind of highly politicized socialization of college students is occurring throughout the country. A lot of campus critics have pointed to the left-wing political skew of faculty, he said, and have worried about indoctrination in the classroom. But indoctrination is much more likely at campus events outside the classroom, and the political skew of administrators in charge of student life is even greater than that of faculty. (He surveyed a representative sample of 900 “student-facing administrators” and found a ratio of 12 liberals for every conservative, compared to 6 to 1 for academic faculty.) Remember, Abrams is a tenured professor commenting about a widely …

What Does Genetic Research Tell Us About Equal Opportunity and Meritocracy?

Editor’s note: This article was adapted from Robert Plomin’s new book Blueprint: How DNA Makes Us Who We Are. For a review of Blueprint by Gregory Cochran, see here. For a piece by Toby Young on the book, and a wider discussion of social genomics and why it attracts the hostility of some academics, see here. If schools, parenting and our life experiences do not change who we are, what does this mean for society, especially for equality of opportunity and meritocracy? In particular, does it mean that the genetically rich will get richer and the poor poorer? Are genetic castes inevitable? What does this say about inequality? These questions have been bound up in the topic of meritocracy, which is not the same thing as equal opportunity. Equal opportunity means that people are treated similarly, for example, everyone is given equal access to educational resources. Meritocracy only comes in when there is selection, for example, for education and employment. Meritocracy means that selection is based on capability and competence rather than unfair criteria such …

The Devolution of Social Science

This article has two themes: first, how in “soft” science fields, increased specialization has led to fragmentation, incoherence and, ultimately, nonsense. And second, an example of the process: race and ethnic studies (RES) and the concept of color-blind racism (CBR) — the idea that treating people according to the content of their character, not the color of their skin, is itself racist. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous definition of non-discrimination is not accepted by, for example, the 2018 President of the American Sociological Association. Some science history At the dawn of science, practitioners were few and they all had some acquaintance with every branch. In the original Royal Society of London (RS, founded in 1660), for example, papers were presented before the whole group and everyone felt free to comment on and evaluate what they heard. There were no well-defined subdisciplines, science — or natural philosophy, as it was then called — was not a profession, like law or medicine. Most scientists did serious work in many areas: Isaac Newton (RS President 1703–27) did mathematics, …

Writers Behind ‘Grievance Studies Scandal’ Address Criticisms

Do you remember the article on dog rape culture by Helen Wilson that was published in a feminist geography journal earlier this year? What about the paper on challenging male homophobia through using anal sex toys? On October 2, the Wall Street Journal broke the news that the feminist academics behind these articles don’t actually exist. They’re pseudonyms adopted by three intellectuals in an elaborate hoax designed to expose alleged shoddy scholarship in activist disciplines they dub “grievance studies.” Mathematician James A. Lindsay, British writer Helen Pluckrose, and Portland State philosophy professor Peter Boghossian have become an overnight sensation. They’ve earned recognition from academics all around the world including high-profile figures like Jordan Peterson and Steven Pinker. But their detractors have also stepped out in full force. Lindsay, Pluckrose, and Boghossian have agreed to an exclusive interview with Quillette to address the issues raised by their critics. For the record, I know the three writers but had no prior knowledge of their year-long project before the story broke. The following text has been transcribed from an …