" At the moment, there are thousands of schools around the world that work better than our own. They don't have many things in common. But they do seem to share a surprising aesthetic.
Classrooms in countries with the highest-performing students contain very little tech wizardry, generally speaking. They look, in fact, a lot like American ones--circa 1989 or 1959."
Perhaps this is not entirely coincidence. For myself, I doubt that the classroom environment itself is that alchemy, though that's certainly possible. Rather, I suspect it's the mentality behind the visible arrangement.
"The biology professor at Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge gives brief quizzes at the beginning of every class, to assure attendance and to make sure students are doing the reading. On her tests, she doesn't use a curve, as she believes that students must achieve mastery of the subject matter, not just achieve more mastery than the worst students in the course. For multiple choice questions, she gives 10 possible answers, not the expected 4, as she doesn't want students to get very far with guessing."
So, the response by LSU?
LSU removed her from teaching, mid-semester, without prior notice or discussion, and raised the grades of students in the class. Inside higher Ed notes, with some understatement, that LSU's administration has set off a debate about grade inflation, due process and a professor's right to set standards in her own course. Read the article, and see what each side has to say.
My response? This is exactly why large portions, very possibly even majorities, of the students in critical science-related subjects that will define America's future, are from other countries. And why aerosapce firms locate in Mississippi, and Louisiana's naval shipyard might well vanish (to the benefit of the US Navy).
University administrators can often be a waste of skin - but some of them abuse the privilege. The answers from her Test #2 bonus question say more about why these guys are HUYA than I could.
By which, he meant the whole TED format, and the format of his own talk. He goes on to draw parallels between that format, the current education system, and the "mainstream" media's failing model. On which topic, see Belmont Club's post about schools trying to ban laptops in classrooms.
I agreed with this from Jarvis:
"Why shouldn't every university - every school - copy Google's 20% rule, encouraging and enabling creation and experimentation, every student expected to make a book or an opera or an algorithm or a company. Rather than showing our diplomas, shouldn't we show our portfolios of work as a far better expression of our thinking and capability? The school becomes not a factory but an incubator."
He also asks this, and here's where we diverge:
"We must stop our culture of standardized testing and standardized teaching. Fuck the SATs.* In the Google age, what is the point of teaching memorization?"
The question shouldn't be rhetorical, because there really is an answer.
The answer is that in order to fit new information in, it requires a framework. Franeworks do require problem-solving skills, but they are NOT all process. They are ALSO made up of things you know. Indeed, they depend on that, or else the framework collapses. Which means the new isn't integrated, just thrown on the wall. And there, alas, goes the value-add of perspective, and much of one's problem solving capability.
The black belt in martial arts is the beginning of real learning. Getting there takes a certain amount of rote. And of collision with unpredictable real sparring, too, so that the rote is integrated and understood.
Engineers do a lot of rote learning before they go out to apply their problem-solving skills and build bridges. The skills are 2 different sets - but I wouldn't drive over a bridge built by someone who hadn't done both sets.
Which is to say that the current model for schools, like that of newspapers, is not 100% wrong. It may be 40% wrong, or even 70% wrong, but not 100%. There's definitely something to Jeff's 20% Rule suggestion. But ditching common sets of things that educated people should know, in favor of pure process or washed-out curricula, has been tried. It has not gone well, and is not the answer.
I'm a believer that the current US higher-education system is dysfunctional, and that it is at some level a Ponzi scheme that creates PhD's who then get teaching jobs, and ever-expand university-level education because more PhD's are minted than there are seats for them. This happens in concert with the devaluing - both economically and culturally - the craft work done by people who typically haven't had college degrees as a gateway to their careers.
So I was happy to see an article on this - 'In the Basement of the Ivory Tower,' subtitled 'The idea that a university education is for everyone is a destructive myth. An instructor at a "college of last resort" explains why.'
Until, of course I read it and I immediately understood why the author wrote under a pseudonym as 'Professor X' - because forgetting the students whose efforts he devalues, anyone who isn't deeply elitist would be tempted to go bitchslap him into sensibility with a copy of Strunk and White.
Go read the article, and see if maybe your reaction to it mirrors mine:
"Maybe it's just that you suck as a teacher..."
Teachers unions have shown no hesitation in selling kids down the river, including their role as the main stabilizing force behind America's current systems of de facto educational apartheid. That's hardly news. I suppose it should come as little surprise, therefore, to see the NEA move on to its next victims - and sell out its members.
"Rather than steering members toward the best retirement plans, the NEA's leadership is quietly accepting payments to endorse a low-return, high-fee plan that eats away at the savings of the nation's public schoolteachers."
"Not including management fees, the NEA's only officially endorsed "retirement program" - the Security Benefit Life Insurance Corporation's Valuebuilder annuity - charges 0.9 percent to 2.6 percent a year. Throw in management fees, and the least expensive option costs a teacher 1.73 percent of her account balances each year, while the most expensive costs 4.85 percent.
Over time, a fee that large is devastating. Without inflation, the educator would have to earn nearly 5 percent each year simply not to lose money. Consider a teacher who socks away $500 a month and earns an average yearly return of 10 percent for 35 years: She'd wind up with $1,788,760 upon retirement - quite a sizeable nest egg. But if she were paying 4.85 percent in fees, she'd accumulate less than one-third as much - just $587,854.
It appears that the NEA is willing to endorse a shoddy plan in exchange for a contribution to its coffers. In 2004, the union collected nearly $50 million from the investment vehicles it endorsed."
Is anyone even slightly surprised here?
All this, too, after Attorney General Eliot Spitzer sued the benefits arm of the NY state teachers union for accepting nearly $3 million a year from an investment firm, in exchange for exclusively endorsing a high-cost retirement plan.
Juan Cole is a good guide to evaluating the Pope's remarks about Islam.
Because the truth is reliably the opposite of whatever Juan Cole says it is.
by Thomas Holsinger
The marine biologists at UC Santa Cruz are probably the world's foremost authorities on elephant seals due to the proximity of the world's largest elephant seal rookery on Ano Nuevo Spit.
The following is a true story (I was there) about "Lady Clairol's special hair dye for elephant seals," and a confrontation between UCSC professor Burney LeBoeuf and a secret naval CBW research installation while I was an undergraduate (1967-71)...
The west coast elephant seals were almost wiped out by 19th century hunters; less than a dozen survived. There are presently several thousand of them but their genetic diversity is nil. Cheetahs have the same problem but the cause of their long-ago population crash is not known.
Bull elephant seals in good health can weight over a ton; I don't precisely recall their length; at least a dozen feet is my best guess. Their land maneuverability is wretched, though they can lunge several times their own length in a forward direction. These are the seals with the ugly long inflatable snout which lets them produce really amazing roars.
UCSC was too new to have a graduate program in 1967-75 so Professors LeBoeuf and Peterson conscripted undergraduates to help them study elephant seals. Professor Peterson was my freshman year advisor. He was also the "preceptor" (faculty member who had a downstairs apartment in a student dorm to deter students from using fire hoses in waterfights, etc.) of Dorm Seven at Adlai Stevenson College my freshman year, so a lot of undergraduates there were his helpers.
We used to have contests at night to see who could most realistically imitate the normal and special mating calls of sea lions and elephant seals. The best way to perform the mating roar of a bull elephant seal was to drink 3-6 cans of beer real fast (any carbonated beverage would do though) and then urp up all the C02 in one long belch, modulated by the larynx. Dorm Seven sounded really strange at night during the elephant seal mating season.
One of the interesting aspects of elephant seal research was marking the bull elephant seals during the mating season so we could tell them apart. This was initially done with sponges dipped in paint and nailed to 10' - 12' poles. We would then approach the bulls from the rear side and dry to dab paint on them in what we hoped would be a distinctive identifiable marking. There is a great photo of Professor LeBoeuf doing this to the nose of a bull (carefully) from the left front side while it roared its displeasure at him, which was published in both the SF Chronicle and a World Book Yearbook.
Paint was unsatisfactory in identifying the bulls. "Yellow Splotch Left Shoulder" left a lot to be desired as a name. Worse, it would wear off in the salt water and constant rubbing of the bulls against rocks. We had to constantly reapply the paint and that was a hazardous job. A lot of us saw elephant seal pup corpses which had been crushed by the bulls lunging at each other in mating battles. It could have happened to us too.
Finally either Peterson or LeBoeuf had the idea of writing to the Lady Clairol hair dye company and ask them for help. A few months later they got a phone call from the local Greyhound station saying that they had a parcel from the Lady Clairol company which had just been delivered (Greyhound shipped a lot of freight in those days).
The parcel contained a letter from the Lady Clairol company saying that their chemists hadn't had so much fun in years, instructions, one or more containers of concentrated shampoo, and several large squeeze tubes to apply it. All we had to do was to mix the concentrated solution with water and suck it up into the squeeze tubes. Voila! Lady Clairol Special Hair Dye for elephant seals in a handy applicator (now known as Lady Clairol Blue to those unaware of its original name and research origin). Just squeeze the stuff out on a bull elephant seal and it would pretty much bleach the fur. And it would stay on for months until the old fur rubbed off and new fur grew in, even when constantly immersed in salt water.
We loved it. We could paint names on the bulls in letters 12"- 18" high. "George," "Fred," "Super-Seal," etc. Easily identifiable, etc. Application required care though, but at least we didn't have to rub the stuff in real well the way we had to do with paint. This meant we could do it while the bulls were sleeping. One of us with a squeeze tube would creep up to a sleeping bull from behind while two more watched the bull's closed eyes with binoculars to catch the slightest sign of wakefulness and shout a warning to get out of there.
The marine biology department prospered. The elephant seals prospered and started a rookery in an undisclosed location somewhere along the southern California coast. Right next to a secret US Navy CBW research installation. And the best beach from which we could launch boats to get to the new rookery was just within the boundaries of that installation.
The professors asked for permission to use the beach. Permission denied. No pro-communist hippies will walk around my command! Remember that this was during the Vietnam War.
So we started naming southern California elephant seals "Anthrax," "CBW," "Botulism," "Tularemia," "(Name of Secret Installation)," and "Commander (using the real last name of the installation's commander)."
Soon reports were swarming into the media that elephant seals with such words written on their sides were being seen. It came to the attention of Naval Intelligence that military secrets were being advertised in two foot high letters on the southern California coast.
The ensuing negotiations between Professor LeBoeuf and the Navy were fascinating. The UCSC marine biology department got permission to use the beach on this secret installation in exchange for no longer publicizing it.... all thanks to Lady Clairol super-special hair dye for elephant seals.
Denise Denton, Chancellor of UC-Santa Cruz, and the woman who sparked the controversy over Larry Summers' non-PC remarks about women in the top echelon of science, which resulted in his resignation after a no confidence vote by Harvard's humanities faculty, has apparently committed suicide in San Francisco. People close to her say that she was depressed about "events in her personal and professional life." With an income, as a university administrator, of close to $300,000 it's difficult to imagine that she had any serious financial worries. There's not much to say about what motivates someone to suicide, but it is certainly another strange turn in the ongoing saga of academia's capture by an obscure counter-enlightenment creed. Perhaps Armed Liberal has some comments on the role of "bad philosophy"?
I recently read an essay about academic freedom, by Michael Berube on Le Blog. I'd like to address some of what I think are flaws in his argument, but I appreciate the fact that he has gone to the trouble of expressing his thesis in a form that's accessible to the blogosphere. The first issue I'd like to raise is that I think he understates the problem of bias in the academy:
I'll make the obvious argument first. Academic freedom is under attack for pretty much the same reasons that liberalism itself is under attack. American universities tend to be somewhat left of center of the American mainstream, particularly with regard to cultural issues that have to do with gender roles and sexuality: the combination of a largely liberal, secular professoriate and a generally under-25 student body tends to give you a campus population that, by and large, does not see gay marriage as a serious threat to the Republic. And after 9/11 again, for obvious reasons many forms of mainstream liberalism have been denounced as anti-American. There is, as you know, a cottage industry of popular right-wing books in which liberalism is equated with treason (that would be Ann Coulter), with mental disorders (Michael Savage), and with fascism (Jonah Goldberg). Coulters book [sic] also mounts a vigorous defense of Joe McCarthy, and Michelle Malkin has written a book defending the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War Two. In that kind of climate, it should come as no surprise that we would be seeing attacks on one of the few remaining institutions in American life that is often though not completely dominated by liberals.
Simply put, be begins by understating the bias and misrepresenting the opposition as a bunch of right-wing kooks. No doubt there's a little hyperbole in the submissions of the three critics he mentions (though at this point he omits more credible critiques, such as Alan Kors' The Shadow University), but sometimes a little hyperbolics are necessary to get the boulder rolling. Recent polls indicate that left self-identification in the humanities within American universities varies from a high of 88% (English) to a low of 77% (Sociology and History), while less than 10% identify with the right in those disciplines. More to the point, there are no longer any reliably conservative disciplines anywhere in academia. Even campus departments traditionally viewed as conservative tend to be more "liberal" than the general population, including business and engineering. According to Stan Rothman's recent testimony to the "Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on American Faculty Ideology", 49% of business and 51% of engineering faculty self-identify as "on the left or liberal" while a minority of 39% in both disciplines self-identify as "on the right or conservative". Moreover, the major shift leftward has been relatively recent. In 1969 the Carnegie Commission found that 45% of faculty identified as left/liberal and 28% as right/conservative. Over the next two decades the situation didn't change much, but then by 1999 72% identified as on the left with only 15% on the right. What changed?
It's difficult to imagine how this change could have been effected without the "piling on" of a cultural orientation that generally attempts to reward like-minded people, and either inadvertently or deliberately excludes oppositional voices. And the shift also coincides with the emergence and rapid ascendance of the multiculturalism theme in academia, which provided effective "cover" for this "piling on" approach. Most people believe "diversity" and "multiculturalism" are simply synonyms for "variety", rather than products of the cultural remapping of Marxist ideology produced by the Frankfurt School. But not only have multiculturalism and diversity become wildly popular concepts (mostly within academia, however) but the concepts have even displaced tried and true leftist iconic prescriptions like "equality of condition". According to the new campus ideology traditional ideological watchwords such as"equality", "freedom", and "liberty" no longer apply to individuals, but to groups. Group rights now not only trump individual rights in nearly every corner of society, but they even trump "academic freedom"! If you doubt this go to any university website and enter these words to compare the number of hits produced. You'll find that there are almost no exceptions to the rule that "diversity" trumps everything. Now try it with a few other institutional website search engines, and compare.
Given these apparent preferences it seems reasonable to at least consider the possibility that such commitments to group rights undermine the set of commitments that, according to Ladd, Lipset, and others define an American Identity. How does it not amount to slander to label this equivalent to racism, and what sort of weak substitute for such a robust rights orientation does "multiculturalism" really represent?
But the second issue is probably more important, though a great deal more difficult to nail down. Ironically it involves the same confusion that sometimes afflicts people on the libertarian right. This involves the notion that freedom is an apparently infinitely extensible attribute, and that absolute freedom is something that one ought to aspire toward or desire, like being rich or thin. In fact, if academia is able to convince both itself, and others, of the truth of this conceptual meme they're liable to find themselves stranded in an airless wasteland where the only movement they'll be able to produce is a helpless Brownian agitation. As the great economist from the London School of Economics, Ralf Dahrendorf, once observed in his book Life Chances (paraphrasing) "Freedom without obligation might as well be obligation without freedom."
Even if we completely discount the "social contract" concept that Berube argues isn't applicable to academic freedom it's nonetheless a fact that failure of the academy to obligate itself in some realistic way will lead to complete ineffectiveness and marginalization, like a weightless untethered astronaut in outer space. That's not the fault of the kooky right. It's just the effect of bad judgment.
In his essay Berube betrays no awareness of this danger at all. The argument is simply that academic freedom is, by definition, without obligation (or that all freedom is, by definition, unobstructed by obligation). If this is freedom, it'll prove useless and powerless. And if achieved it'll feed radicalization on the theory that powerlessness must be someone else's fault.
Michael then addresses the testimony of National Association of Scholars President, Stephen Balch, to the Select Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives (Nov. 9, 2005):
More seriously, Balch is drawing on the history of affirmative action and employment discrimination law in order to argue that universities should make good faith efforts to hire people more to his ideological liking. This is a common theme in right-wing attacks on universities, especially among those critics who have become alarmed that affirmative action has gone too far, insofar as fully five percent of all doctorates are now awarded to black people.
The implication that racism is attributable exclusively to the conservative opposition is a meme so dear to the left that it inevitably proves irresistible. So perhaps we can excuse Michael for being "in the tank." But I think Dr. Balch was employing irony to make the point that there are distinctly credible arguments against such notions as "multiculturalism" that have been effectively silenced within the academy due to the dominance of a contrived ideological formulation, insisting on the "inherent racism" of privileged cultures. S.M. Lipset, who with Everett Ladd produced one of the seminal studies of academic bias, The Divided Academy, once said that in the 1960s and '70s, when he and Ladd conducted their analysis, the ends of the competence spectrum were relatively immune to social pressure in hiring, tenure and promotion. That is, people of extremely high ability were hired and promoted irrespective of their ideological views or race, while those of manifestly low ability simply didn't make the grade no matter how ideologically servile or white they were. But for the vast majority in the middle their "ability to fit in" was the primary determinant of hiring, tenure, and promotion.
This suggests that, at least at the time, people of extraordinary gifts tended to really be free of the threat of social pressure. And if there's a rationale for academic freedom, providing the benefit of independence in research and education, it was only this smallish group that achieved such an absence of limitation during that post-Vietnam era. More recently, another analysis conducted by Stan Rothman suggests that the situation has become worse rather than better, though descrimination is no longer on the basis of race. In other words, not even people of exceptional talent can depend on their abilities to see them through the ideological gauntlet. In such a situation "academic freedom" is starved of significance. It might as well be a straight jacket.
And again, Berube suggests that concerns about bias in the academy are being fomented by the "radical right":
There is a sense, then, in which traditional conservatives are procedural liberals, as are liberals themselves; but members of the radical right, and the radical left, are not. The radical rights contempt for procedural liberalism, with its checks, balances, and guarantees that minority reports will be incorporated into the body politic, can be seen in recent defenses of the theory that the President has the power to set aside certainlaws and provisions of the Constitution at will, and in the religious rights increasingly venomous and hallucinatory attacks on a judicial branch most of whose members were in fact appointed by Republicans.
The first sentence suggests that at least the principle of liberalism is intact for some members of the academy. But I think Berube misrepresents the problem. He'll first have to address the issue of whether or not we're at war; since in most wars certain liberties have been interrupted for the sake of preserving the context responsible for maintaining freedom in general, not by the "radical right" but by the President who emancipated the slaves and by a number of Democrats, most notably Wilson and Roosevelt. It isn't clear to me, for instance, why we'd support a demand for MIT to pay the salary of Noam Chomsky if he persists in giving aid and comfort to sworn enemies of the US, including those who decapitated Daniel Pearl, any more than we'd allow the German/American Bund to schedule campus demonstrations during WWII. Tolerating such activity during wartime may simply be too much to ask. One needn't be a "wing nut" to scratch one's head over the wisdom of such masochistic tolerance.
It seems to me that until the ideology of multiculturalism began to infuse the universities in the early '80s, academia was more or less capable of self-correction, simply because it was able to recognize that its bread wasn't buttered on the edge. But the doctrinally relativist commitments involved in the new ideology apparently undermine even that kind of pragmatic judgment. Nonetheless, there are some decent models for dissensus within academia that could contest this now-pervasive ideology, if we opened the door a little--to a new degree of freedom.
In summary, I can conceive of but three methods to correct the dysfunctions noted above: open or veiled quotas based on ideology that attempt to ensure ideological diversity; some abrogation or alteration of the common conception of "academic freedom" to include revocation of tenure; or some institutional arrangement that allows the creation of new departments or programs that can open career paths for competent people of more traditional classical liberal values. Or perhaps some combination.
Of course, anyone who is liberal, in the classical sense, will oppose quotas and will recognize the dangerous precedent they set. That leaves the latter two. It's important to recognize that freedom must be balanced by obligation of some sort, and that this is less a matter of principle than necessity. If academia were populated by people wise enough to perceive this necessity themselves there'd be no problem. But since it apparently isn't, we may need to open the door to markets by ending or attenuating the practice of tenure. I regard this as a loss, so perhaps we could try something else first?
We may need institutional arrangements that at least establish the conditions for a credible contest between the "multi-culti left" and the classically liberal or even theo-conservative right, in order to infuse a little wisdom into the self-satisfied academy. If academia wants relevance, this may be the price.