Dangerous Dan Thoughts and musings on the world

8/30/2005

Devolving Standards

Filed under: Education,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 1:10 am

Once again, an education system lowers its standards to accommodate its students instead of trying to bring them up to meet appropriate expectations. A high school in England is allowing the f-word to be used in each class, but only five times per class, mind you. If the limit is exceeded, a horrible punishment is enacted: "Over this number the class will be spoken to by the teacher at the end of the lesson." That's rough.

This is yet another instance of excusing improper behavior on the basis of "accepting reality." The reasoning here is that these kids use the word all the time anyway, so we might as well let them say it in class… but we'll cap its usage. These are adults giving in to their charges instead of holding them to higher standards. Did I say higher standards? Let's try minimal basic-level standards since not cussing in class should be the very least teachers should expect out of their students.

"The reality is that the f-word is part of these young adults' everyday language."

I'm certain there's a great deal more that goes on these kids' daily lives, but that doesn't mean it belongs in the classroom. This is all asinine. When parents and teachers expect so little out of children, they shouldn't be shocked when their expectations are realized.

The school, which has 1,130 pupils, also plans to send "praise postcards" to the parents of children who do not swear in class.

Other praise postcards the school will likely be sending soon:
"Congrats! 30 days without Jimmy shiving another student!"
"We're proud to tell you that your daughter hasn't done drugs in class once this year!"
"While the rest of the class beat up Mrs. Bolton, your son kindly did not participate."

Oh, and maybe the school can make some bumper stickers: "My kid doesn't say "F*ck" at Northamptonshire Secondary School."

Visit Number 2 Pencil for some more on this.

8/18/2005

English First, Then Diploma

Filed under: Education,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 1:01 am

Number 2 Pencil points out this article on CNN.com about the trend towards high schoolers having to take exit examinations in order to get their diplomas. The Center on Education Policy is concerned about this because the tests are in English. At least that's the derivative concern. The problem is that immigrants who don't know English as well are hurt on these tests and often don't pass them the first time or at all. Thus, they don't receive a high school diploma.

"Do we want a lot of high school students who don't have diplomas — and therefore have a lot of limited opportunities after high school — because they are still acquiring English?" she said. "We need more of a policy on what to do with these children."

#2Pencil rightly points out that the emphasis shouldn't be on kids with no diplomas because of their poor English, but on whether those with limited English should be granted degrees at all. When these kids get out of high school, they're going to go on to college or to jobs. Educators do them no favors by giving them diplomas even though they lack the language skills necessary to pass exit exams. Better that they initially fail the exam than be set up to prematurely fail in life.

The purpose of the exit exams is to make sure that all kids graduating from high school have at least the same minimum skill level. If some kids, immigrant or not, don't possess the language proficiency required to understand the test, then they clearly don't have the minimum skill level.

7/18/2005

The Dangers of Self-Esteem

Filed under: Education — Dangerous Dan @ 6:29 pm

One of the worst concepts of modern education is that it is the responsibility of schools to maximize their charges' self-esteem. A youngster's self-esteem is seen as all-important and so curriculum and policy get centered around it. Receiving an 'F' would be too harsh and detrimental to Johnny's well-being, so he will get an 'incomplete' instead. Though Suzy’s work is inadequate and below average, she will get a B. Bobby can't spell, but the teacher will coo at him about what a good effort he's putting in, even if he's putting in no effort at all.

Personally, I don't give a damn about students' self-esteem. The purpose of school isn't to make one feel good about himself, it's to educate him. I suppose self-esteem has a bearing insofar as the student shouldn't be humiliated or purposely degraded, but no efforts should be made to falsely increase it either. By giving kids grades they haven't earned and treating them as exceptions they are not, you only set them up for failure. Reason being that the real world doesn't give a damn about their self-esteem. You now have teenagers and young adults entering the work force and they're shocked at just how little employers care about their individuality or self-perception and how preoccupied said employers are with their knowledge and performance.

This brings me to the latest instance of the self-esteem craze in the San Bernardino City Unified School District. It has decided to incorporate ebonics into its curriculum. Instead of treating ebonics as the miserable variant dialect it is, the district is treating it as another language (as Oakland once tried doing). Thus, they are essentially creating an ESL program around ebonics. What's really amazing is the justification for this program:

The goal of the district's policy is to improve black students' academic performance by keeping them interested in school. Compared with other racial groups in the district, black students go to college the least and have the most dropouts and suspensions.

That's right. By teaching students in a dialect that uses poor grammar, poor syntax, poor spelling, and a stunted vocabulary, they think it will lead to academic success, including, apparently, increased representation in college. As I said, this is a setup for failure. While the students may feel better about themselves while in school, the real world will chew them up. Outside of communities that use the dialect and the low-level opportunities they offer, these students have few prospects. Accounting firms hire people who can speak and write proper English. Corporations hire managers who can speak and write proper English. Responsible colleges reward and pass students who can speak and write proper English. San Bernardino will give its pupils a short-term self-esteem boost (if that) which will be followed up by a miserable life of dead-ends and people constantly asking them, "What?!".

You do children no favors by catering to and affirming their weaknesses in the name of self-esteem. You learn through failure as much as by success and being told what you do wrong is often more instructive than being told what you do right. By telling kids that it's ok they speak poor English and falsely letting them think that doing so is a path to happiness instead of long-term misery is nothing less than a form of abuse.

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4/29/2005

Children’s Books Following Al and Tipper Gore’s Lead

Filed under: Education,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 11:58 pm

Michelle Malkin has this post up about a book assigned to a Kindergarten class as part of a diversity reading bag. The purpose of the book, Who's in a Family?, is to teach kids about different types of families. This includes households with two gay or lesbian parents, which is irritating the conservative family folk. I think they have a point, but I want to look at something else.

Looking at a couple of pages of the book on Amazon, I paid special attention to the back cover, which says:

Who's in a family?
The people who love you the most!
Chances are, your family is like no one else's –
and that's just fine.

What struck me about that is that reminded me of what I had read about Al and Tipper Gore's 2002 book Joined at the Heart. In it, the Gores basically define ‘family’ as that which is bound by emotional ties and not by any sort of structural norms. Sound like that back cover quote? Then I found the introduction to the book which includes this line: "There are all kinds of families — and no one has the right to tell you that your family isn't the right kind." Again, sound a little familiar?

I'd have to read fully both books to make a more definite comparison, but given this brief reading, it sure sounds like the kid's book is modeled off of the Gore book's ideology. I don't find that very comforting.

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4/27/2005

More Barbarians Manning the Gate

Filed under: Education — Dangerous Dan @ 11:11 pm

I've stated before that the real threat to academic censorship is inside the academy, not outside. Here we have yet another instance at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. History professor Jonathan Bean has been getting the ugly treatment from a small cadre of his liberal colleagues. I suggest reading the whole thing.

4/7/2005

Barbarians Manning the Gate

Filed under: Education,Politics,Society,World — Dangerous Dan @ 11:37 pm

Last month, I authored this post in which I said the following about Ward Churchill and Larry Summers:

Yet, how is Churchill an example of the big chill [on academic speech] and Summers is not? Summers’s case is actually much worse because the censorship is coming from academia itself. At least with Churchill, the professors can repel the hoi-polloi barbarians at the university gate. But what to do when the inhabitants inside the ivied walls set upon one of their own; when the chill wind of censorship is blowing from the inside? Who will rally ’round Summers?

Larry Summers is, of course, not the only person who needs his free speech protected from the self-avowed guardians of free speech. Melanie Phillips points out this Guardian story about the Association of University Teachers' ("the UK's leading lecturers' union") threat to boycott any Israeli academics who do not condemn the actions and policies of the Israeli government concerning the Palestinians. The boycott could also include breaking ties with several Israeli universities.

It's nice to know that high-minded academics think so highly of free speech, independent thought, and open discourse that they will apply a political litmus test to professors of a certain nationality before deciding whether anything they say deserves to be listened to. Have merely some vocal liberals in academia just gone mad or does this stupefying hypocrisy affect the lot of them?

As I said before, the true threat to free speech and academic freedom does not come from outside the campus walls, it comes from the inhabitants within. An external threat is easily recognized and can be repelled. An internal threat is insidiously seductive as “right opinion” or “proper thinking,” and causes otherwise good people (mostly) to adopt what they behold in others with contempt.

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Weapons of Mass Confection

Filed under: Education,Politics,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 11:03 pm

Last night, conservative speaker David Horowitz was hit with a pie as he began a speech. This was after William Kristol got pied about a week ago, and it's an occasional tactic of lefties to do this to people they don't like, such as industry moguls and the like. Bill Gates once got pied.

Some think that the innocent pie slinging could eventually escalate into more potent forms of violence. I'm not convinced of that, but taking the protest-through-pastry practice as it is, it's fairly ridiculous. The guy who lobbed the confection at Horowitz could have sat through the speech, taken a few notes, and then asked some pointed (and at least in his mind, devastating) questions of the man. That's the nature of free speech, after all; you listen, challenge, and have dialogue. That the mystery meringue man opted instead for profound immaturity demonstrates he wasn't much for free speech. And quite honestly, they are taking very serious issues and reducing their own role in the debate to the level of the 3 Stooges. Before long, we should expect MoveOn-type folks to respond to challenges with simply, "Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk." A potent retort, certainly, but still surprisingly irrelevant.

Another critique of the pie-throwing is that you would think that if they're going to take their work at all seriously, they would at least shell out the extra two dollars for quality pies, say lemon meringue, chocolate, pecan, or apple. Instead, it’s always a mere crust with some Reddi-whip sprayed on it. Sure, it's a lightweight and easily assembled weapon of mass confection, but it simply doesn't show the dedication that a solid (and staining!) cherry pie demonstrates. If you're going to be an immature, anti-speech, colossal fool, you might as well be one with some style.

One last note is that these incidents, of course, remind me of the Simpsons episode where Homer becomes PieMan. Perhaps the pie hurlers mistake themselves as this noble superhero.

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3/17/2005

Teenage Protest

Filed under: Education,Politics — Dangerous Dan @ 11:03 pm

Captain's Quarters and Michelle Malkin report on an incident in Seattle in which three speakers in favor of the Iraq war arrived at West Seattle High School to participate in a forum. They discovered this in the auditorium:

Three invited pro-military speakers were shocked last Friday when they arrived for a West Seattle High student assembly to confront a theater stage strewn with figures costumed as Iraqi men, women and children splashed with blood.

Stage right were students in orange Abu Ghraib-style prison jumpsuits, hoods over heads, pounding on plates with spoons. Next, a student dressed as a grieving Iraqi woman knelt near a bloody body while, over a microphone, a narrator wailed the story of civilians shot, kicked and beaten by American soldiers.

Ah, if this weren't disgraceful enough, the school district's PR person claimed that it didn't appear any teachers knew about it. Right. We're to believe that a group of students were just mysteriously missing from class, dressed up the stage, got into costume, were using the auditorium's lights and PA system, were making plenty of noise, and it all just managed to escape the notice of every adult in the building.

As Captain Ed notes, this is absurd and it appears the "play" was meant to be an ambush for the speakers and students as they entered the theatre. There are obviously teachers involved in this tasteless and tactless display, but don't expect to hear anything more about from the school district.

3/15/2005

The Strange Cases of Ward Churchill and Larry Summers

Filed under: Education,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 11:28 pm

Academia has vigorously defended Ward Churchill's right to free speech and decried all the criticism of him as a chill on academic protections. In contrast, Larry Summers, president of Harvard has been given a no-confidence vote by school's faculty and has been constantly assailed for his recent comments. Let's look at the two cases.

Churchill
* Called the people who died in 9/11 "little Eichmans"
* Said 9/11 was a case of chickens coming home to roost
* Is a professor and was a department chair at a major public state research university despite not having a Ph.D., which is rather unheard of.
* Has made a career posing as a Native American, which he is not and has none in his ancestry. He has an associate membership to a particular tribe which has as much meaning as Harlan Sanders being a Kentucky colonel. He even dresses and looks like a stereotypical modern-day Indian.
* Has questionable scholarship and is little recognized within his own field. He may have plagiarized another professor's work in at least one instance.
* He blatantly took a drawing from a book, reversed the image, added some color and then passed it off as his own original artwork, for which he charged $100 a print.

While I don't think Churchill should be fired for the first two items, the rest should merit it. Let's compare him to Summers.

Summers
* B.A. from MIT, Ph.D. in economics from Harvard
* Taught at MIT and Harvard
* Widely published and edited a prominent economics journal
* Worked in the U.S. Department of the Treasury and was eventually its Secretary
* Made a comment during a speech to faculty that there may be some truth to the notion that there are biological differences between men and women that may influence their respective representation in different academic fields. The event at which he said this was supposed to be an open forum for provocative topics, Summers said he was going to be provocative, and he issued so many backtracks, cautionary statements, and qualifications to this that he all but rolled out a 20 foot flashing marquee that said, "It's a slight, tiny possibility that I'm not really advocating or endorsing."

For this last item, Summers has been mercilessly castigated by academics for being insensitive, sexist, a dunderhead, and what have you. Many have called for his resignation or termination and Summers has prostrated himself before the pitchfork and Foucault carrying professorship horde on several occasions, issued at least four apologies full of verbal self-flagellation, and appointed two overlapping committees to seek out institutional sexism in whatever corner it could possibly still survive at Harvard. I believe one is called the Harvard Un-PC Activities Committee and the other is the Hypersensitivity Recognition Committee. Despite all this, though… despite that he's a marvelous academic, that he was once the man holding the nation's wallet, that he is a thoroughly competent and successful university president, that he made a highly conditional statement at a supposedly open-minded university and at an event meant for brainstorming, and despite him apologizing… the Harvard faculty has called for Summers's head. And many other professors across the country I'm sure agree.

Meanwhile, Churchill is a complete rump of an academic (in the classical liberal sense), who has made a living based on a false identity, and who made noxious comments. In response to criticism of those comments, academia rallied 'round him and warned of a chill on academic free speech.

Yet, how is Churchill an example of the big chill and Summers is not? Summers's case is actually much worse because the censorship is coming from academia itself. At least with Churchill, the professors can repel the hoi-polloi barbarians at the university gate. But what to do when the inhabitants inside the ivied walls set upon one of their own; when the chill wind of censorship is blowing from the inside? Who will rally 'round Summers?

2/7/2005

Conference Papers

Filed under: Education — Dangerous Dan @ 11:50 pm

Professor Bainbridge brings up one of my personal academic pet peeves via this essay by Scott McLemee. Here's the good part:

At conferences, scholars would stand up and read their papers, one by one. Then the audience would "ask questions," as the exercise is formally called. What that often meant, in practice, was people standing up to deliver short lectures on the papers they would have liked to have heard, instead — and presumably would have delivered, had they been invited.

Hypothetically, if everyone on a panel read one another's papers beforehand, they might be able to get some lively cross-talk going. This does happen in some of the social sciences, but it seems never to occur among humanities scholars. The whole process seems curiously formal, and utterly divorced from any intent to communicate. A routine exercise, or rather perhaps an exercise in routinism. A process streamlined into grim efficiency, yielding one more line on the scholar's vita.

Is this unfair? No doubt it is. Over the years, I have heard some excellent and exciting papers at conferences. There have been whole sessions when everyone in the room was awake, and not just in the technical sense. But such occasions are the happy exceptions to the norm.

The inner dynamic of these gatherings is peculiar, but not especially difficult to understand. They are extremely well-regulated versions of what Erving Goffman called "face work" — an "interaction ritual" through which people lay claim to a given social identity. Thanks to the steady and perhaps irreversible drive to "professionalization," the obligation to perform that ritual now comes very early in a scholar's career.

And so the implicit content of many a conference paper is not, as one might think, "Here is my research." Rather, it is: "Here am I, qualified and capable, performing this role, which all of us here share, and none of us want to question too closely. So let's get it over with, then go out for a drink afterwards."

This is all too true. Personally, I can't stand paper presentations at conferences or when done by guest speakers. It's not that I don't find the topic, paper, or person each individually interesting, but when you combine them, it's just bad. I'm a visual learner type and with complicated papers, I've got to read the thing to really understand the content and the argument moves being made, but you don't get that chance to read papers before hearing them read to you. It's often too hard to follow and grasp from one listening to really feel like I get it well enough to pick at it. And then even normally good professors will become boring as can be as they just stand and lifelessly read a paper in an awkward monotone cadence. Occasionally somebody will try to add some inflection or liveliness, but it's not often enough. It's a challenge to keep the mind from drifting.

Despite this, though, it's still done in this fashion. I imagine there are those who don't find this nearly as irritating as I do. Also, as McLemee says, this is just the way things are done. It's a ritual people go through because it's what one needs to do to build up a CV and get a good academic rep. That's why, even though I generally don't like them, I still attend paper presentations. I need to experience the process and maybe even gain an appreciation of it. Before long, I'll be engaging in the process as well on a more professional level as one of the paper-readers. One thing is for sure… my paper readings will be far more… attention-grabbing. If nothing else, I like to use my voice for effect. Todd can testify to this.

2/5/2005

The Academy

Filed under: Education — Dangerous Dan @ 11:09 pm

This was linked on The Corner and is an excellent read. It describes some of the ways professional academics and so-called experts on the Soviet Union were completely wrong about the subject and offers a few reasons for why that was so.

Ideology and seeing what you want to see was a big one, of course. The other main reason is one which generally affects must of academia and is rather unfortunate. The youngest group of academics come along and need to make a name for themselves. They do this by publishing, but to get published, they need to stand out somehow. The problem is that they usually stand out by just contradicting what previous people have said and then merely offering an opposite theory, i.e. they go against the field's mainstream opinion. Journals think the approach is fresh because it's different from most of the scholarship and so they publish the people even if the piece or theory itself is heavily flawed. Then other people feed at the trough and the "fresh" ideas become the prevailing ones. I don't know if there's any way around this, but it's just an observation.

1/20/2005

Edumacation

Filed under: Education — Dangerous Dan @ 10:30 pm

Captain's Quarters links to this story about a British school that has decided to abolish homework and schoolwork generally in favor of letting students guide their own studies. It's all wrapped up in nice terminology like making school "relevant to life in the 21st century" and letting students "manag[e] their own learning." They also want to get the parents more involved in guiding their kids' studies and to implement a cross-discipline curriculum that encourages learning. In other words, the school is abandoning its role and turning into a hybrid of a Montessori school and home schooling. What's the point of the school, again?

I especially like this part:

A mother who asked not to be named said: "My daughter has always taken pride in her homework. It gives her the push she needs.

"But Dr Hazlewood told us that it is a waste of time. Of course, he knows more than me but I am very worried about it."

I think this is a British trait that the mother would so easily defer to some stuffed shirt with letters after his name acting authoritative and let him override her own objections. In most of America, the mother would have told the good doctor to go perform obscene actions with himself shortly before either pulling her child from the school and putting him or her somewhere else or raising such hell that the decision would be reversed.

I often toy around with the idea of starting my own private secondary school somewhere. I have my own philosophy for how it should be run and, needless to say, it's very different from Dr. Hazlewood's.

One thing about this story, though, and its mentions of social development… it reminds me of a teacher I had back in high school. He decided that the students in his classes really hadn't learned much at all in junior high except for social skills. His proposal was that instead of trying to teach the middle school students anything, it would be better just to have them paint the school. Then when they finished painting the middle school, they could come paint the high school. That way they'll have taken care of learning their social skills while also absorbing the same miniscule amount of academics as they already were. Only this way you had the bonus of freshly painted facilities.

1/16/2005

Evolution in the Classroom

Filed under: Education,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 2:00 pm

I'm in favor of teaching evolution in schools and leaving out alternative theories. I'm also opposed to putting silly stickers inside textbooks such as the one in Atlanta schools that was recently removed that said, "This textbook contains material on evolution. Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered." Like it or not, and think it's wrong or not, evolution is a standard accepted theory in the scientific community. In a science class, it's then absurd not to teach it or to teach other theories rejected by the scientific community.

I'm sympathetic to the religious sensibilities people may have to the subject (I personally don't think evolution and religion have to be mutually exclusive, but that's a topic for another day), but that doesn't mean they should intrude on the classroom. In not teaching evolution or in presenting unaccepted alternative theories, you are essentially allowing particular religious viewpoints to mandate important course content. If parents are concerned about what their children are being taught in the science classroom, they're fully entitled to discuss it with their kids and review the problems they think the theory has. Since evolution is considered to be accepted science, however, teachers have an obligation to teach it in their classrooms.

12/12/2004

College Zen

Filed under: Education,Society — Dangerous Dan @ 9:32 pm

From an AP interview with Lindsay Lohan:

AP: Do you want to go to school?

Lohan: People go to college to find who they are as a person and find what they want to do in life, and I kind of already know that so it would be like I'd be taking a step back or something.

Ummm… what about that whole education thing? Broadening your horizons? A slight chance at becoming smarter? Alas, there likely too many young people out there like Lohan who see college as nothing more than some kind of spiritual rite of passage where one finds oneself. Certainly there is that aspect, but it is supposed to be as a result of well-rounded education, which is also good for its own sake. Unfortunately, that tends to be a little ignored.

My overall experience with the academy is that some in the teaching business see the four years as a time when youthful students are not only supposed to be exposed to differing opinions, which is fine, but as a time when they need to be exposed to and need to adopt the "correct" opinions. The students are supposed to go from ignorant, usually right-leaning, dolts, and evolve into enlightened open-minded liberals (they see 'open-minded' and 'liberal' as being synonymous, of course). Now I don't want to overstate this case. By far, most of the folks I've been associated with don't see it as their goal to indoctrinate and don't attempt to do so. I don't want to unfairly impugn some fine professors I've had in the past across disciplines. Even though, they sometimes still have a slight disdain for the conservative students.

The problem is that many of the students are conservative and they may hold certain positions for uniformed reasons. That's not to say that informed reasons do not exist. On the flip side, liberal students are often seen as being more enlightened. This is in spite of the fact that their reasons for holding liberal positions may be no better informed than the conservatives'. The only difference is that they agree with one and not the other. Epistemologically speaking, the liberal student is no better off. Their ideas need to be challenged and confronted just as much as those of the conservative student. In this sense, the liberal student is as much in need of broadening their horizons as their conservative counterpart.

Also, this will be the only time this blog uses Lindsay Lohan as a jumping off point for a post.

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