Category Archives: My Opinion

November 27, 1940 (a Wednesday)

Bruce Lee

On this date, Chinese-American martial artist, actor, filmmaker, writer, and philosopher (Bruce) Lee Jun Fan was born in the hour of the Dragon (between 6:00 and 8:00 am) in the year of the Dragon (according to the Chinese zodiac) at the Jackson Street Hospital in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  Today, a plaque in the hospital’s entry commemorates the place of his birth.  His father was in San Francisco while on tour with the Cantonese Opera at the time, so Bruce Lee was actually raised at the family home in Hong Kong.  It was there at the age of 13 that Bruce began his first formal training in martial arts with Master Yip Man, who taught the Wing Chun style of gung fu (or kung fu).

One of Bruce’s recollections of his many training experiences with Yip Man is personally significant to me. It is from an essay he wrote for one of the courses he took while a student at the University of Washington (I have added emphasis to relevant parts):

About four years of hard training in the art of gung fu, I began to understand and felt the principle of gentleness – the art of neutralizing the effect of the opponent’s effort and minimizing expenditure of one’s energy. All these must be done in calmness and without striving. It sounded simple, but in actual application it was difficult. The moment I engaged in combat with an opponent, my mind was completely perturbed and unstable. Especially after exchanging a series of blows and kicks, all my theory of gentleness was gone. My only one thought left was somehow or another I must beat him and win.

My instructor Professor Yip Man, head of the Wing Chun School, would come up to me and say, “Loong [Bruce], relax and calm your mind. Forget about yourself and follow the opponent’s movement. Let your mind, the basic reality, do the counter-movement without any interfering deliberation. Above all, learn the art of detachment.”

That was it! I must relax. However, right there I had already done something contradictory, against my will. That was when I said I must relax, the demand for effort in “must” was already inconsistent with the effortlessness in “relax.” When my [frustration grew], my instructor would again approach me and say, “Loong, preserve yourself by following the natural bends of things and don’t interfere. Remember never to assert yourself against nature; never be in frontal opposition to any problem, but control it by swinging with it. Don’t practice this week. Go home and think about it.”

The following week I stayed home. After spending many hours in meditation and practice, I gave up and went sailing alone in a junk. On the sea, I thought of all my past training and got mad at myself and punched at the water. Right then at that moment, a thought suddenly struck me. Wasn’t this water, the very basic stuff, the essence of gung fu? …That was it! I wanted to be like the nature of water…I lay on the boat and felt that I had united with Tao; I had become one with nature.

Master Yip Man essentially guided Bruce to the spiritual aspect of gung fu, an aspect which back in the late 1950s was, and still is, for the most part omitted by martial arts instructors teaching in the United States.  Not only was Bruce attracted to the spiritual aspect of the martial art, he pursued it with great fervor. It was the single factor, even above and beyond his physical prowess and expertise, which made him incredibly unique, and subsequently highly sought after.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

In 1959, at the age of 18, Bruce returned to the United States, invoking for the first time his citizenship from having been born there, to further his education.  After a brief sojourn in San Francisco, he moved to Seattle where he enrolled in 1961 in the University of Washington, majoring in philosophy.  It was here that he began to train students in the art of Chinese gung fu.  With the help of several local television appearances and public demonstrations, Bruce began to give instruction to all Americans — regardless of race, creed, or national origin. Even while growing up in Hong Kong, Bruce had experienced his fair share of prejudice and discrimination.  This led him to become involved in the martial arts for both mental and physical self-preservation.  He often spoke to his friend, Taky Kimura, of the way the British officers looked down upon and mistreated the Chinese.  From this background, Bruce swore to use the martial arts as a tool to express his ultimate desire: to create equality among the peoples of the world.

Bruce Lee

In Seattle, Bruce met his future wife, Linda, and opened his first school, the Jun Fan Gung Fu Institute.  He later opened a branch in Oakland, California.

For historical reasons, Chinese in the early 1960s, particularly in America, were reluctant to disclose the secrets of their martial arts to Caucasians. In fact, it had become an unwritten law that the art should be taught only to Chinese. Bruce considered such thinking completely outmoded.  So in 1964, the elders of the San Francisco Chinatown community nominated Wong Jack Man, a local gung fu expert, to challenge Bruce to a contest. For both fighters, the stakes were high: if Bruce lost, he would be duty-bound to either close his school or stop teaching Kung Fu to Westerners; if Wong lost, he would be similarly bound to stop teaching indefinitely. When the time for the fight came around, Wong, intimated by Bruce’s fearsome reputation, tried to delay the match and then to impose restrictions on the techniques which could be used. Bruce was furious and insisted that the fight be a “no-holds-barred” contest. When the match finally took place, Bruce defeated his opponent quickly and easily using his refined Wing Chun technique.  From that point forward, the San Francisco martial arts community never again dared to threaten Bruce directly.

[picapp src=”7/2/4/d/Lee_In_The_bde9.jpg?adImageId=7110604&imageId=3603115″ width=”457″ height=”594″ /]

Despite his ease of victory, Bruce was still concerned that he took too long to defeat his opponent in the Oakland fight.  He quickly began to develop new ideas about martial arts and training based on many of his own experiences, leading him to create his own art called Jeet Kune Do.

Bruce Lee’s name in Chinese.

Interestingly, John Little states that Bruce was an atheist. When asked in 1972 what his religious affiliation was, Bruce replied “none whatsoever.”  Also in 1972, when asked if he believed in God, he responded, “To be perfectly frank, I really do not.”

On January 6, 2009, it was announced that Bruce’s Hong Kong home (41 Cumberland Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong) will be preserved and transformed into a museum by philanthropist Yu Pang-lin.

References:

  • Bruce Lee and John Little, The Tao of Gung Fu: A Study in the Way of Chinese Martial Art, (Tuttle Publishing, 1997), p. 16.
  • Linda Lee, Jack Vaughn, and Mike Lee, The Bruce Lee Story, (Black Belt Communications, 1989) pp. 37-39, 51-53.
  • John Little, The Warrior Within: The Philosophies of Bruce Lee to Better Understand the World around You and Achieve a Rewarding Life, (Contemporary Books, 1996) p. 128.
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The Causes of Anti-Intellectualism

Historian Richard Hofstadter gave us the best definition of the term:

Anti-intellectualism is a resentment and suspicion of the life of the mind and of those who are considered to represent it, and a disposition constantly to minimize the value of that life.

Author Susan Jacoby maintains that, due to a re-invigoration of anti-intellectualism in this country, Americans have been getting dumber over the last several decades. She argues that Americans have grown increasingly passive and uninformed amid a video-driven culture that prizes “infotainment,” celebrates ignorance, and devalues critical thinking. The net result, she says, is a “crisis of memory and knowledge” that poses a serious threat to the two pillars of American intellectual life, reading and conversation, and carries very real consequences, such as the war in Iraq.

First and foremost among the forces behind the new anti-intellectualism is electronic media. The major casualties of our current media-saturated life are three things essential to the vocation of an intellectual:  silence, solitary thinking, and social conversation.  For example, the decline of book, newspaper, and magazine reading is by now an old story.

  • Reading has declined not only among the poorly educated, according to a report in 2004 by the National Endowment for the Arts, but among Americans of all ages and education levels.  In 1982, 82 percent of college graduates read novels or poems for pleasure; two decades later, only 67 percent did.  And more than 40 percent of Americans under 44 did not read a single book — fiction or nonfiction — over the course of a year.  The proportion of 17-year-olds who read nothing (unless required to do so for school) more than doubled between 1984 and 2004.  And what do Americans read when they do read?   Here’s a hint:  you can find multiple magazine racks like this at almost any supermarket.
  • Grocery store magazines at checkout aisle.

  • The time period between 1984 and 2004, of course, encompasses the rise of personal computers, Web surfing, and video games.  In a study released last August, University of Washington researchers found that babies between 8 and 16 months recognized an average of six to eight fewer words for every hour spent watching videos.
  • The inability to concentrate for long periods of time and the impatience with the process of acquiring information through written language may be a consequence of the rise of video. After all, it is difficult to spend more than a few moments before being distracted while reading hits for information on the Web.  In support of this assertion, Harvard University’s Kiku Adatto found that between 1968 and 1988, the average sound bite on the news for a presidential candidate — featuring the candidate’s own voice — dropped from 42.3 seconds to 9.8 seconds.  By 2000, according to another Harvard study, the daily candidate bite was down to just 7.8 seconds.

The shrinking public attention span fostered by video is closely tied to an important symptom of anti-intellectualism in American culture: the erosion of general knowledge.

  • According to a national survey commissioned by the California Academy of Sciences and conducted by Harris Interactive, only 53% of adults know how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the Sun; only 59% of adults know that the earliest humans and dinosaurs did not live at the same time; and only 47% of adults can roughly approximate the percent of the Earth’s surface that is covered with water. Furthermore, only 21% of adults answered all three questions correctly.
  • According to a survey by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI), fewer than half of all Americans can name all three branches of government, a minimal requirement for understanding America’s constitutional system, and almost 40% of Americans falsely believe the president has the power to declare war.   Only 24% of college graduates know the First Amendment prohibits establishing an official religion for the United States and only 54% can correctly identify a basic description of the free enterprise system, in which all Americans participate.
  • In addition, the ISI survey reveals that elected officials typically have less civic knowledge than the general public — for example, 30% do not know that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence.
  • Interestingly, ISI examined whether other factors add to or subtract from civic literacy and how they compare with the impact of college. The survey revealed that in today’s technological age, all else remaining equal, a person’s test score drops in proportion to the time he or she spends using certain types of passive electronic media. Talking on the phone, watching owned or rented movies, and monitoring TV news broadcasts and documentaries diminish a respondent’s civic literacy.  In contrast to these negative influences, the civic knowledge gained from the inexpensive combination of engaging in frequent conversations about public affairs, reading about current events and history, and participating in more involved civic activities is greater than the gain from an expensive bachelor’s degree alone.

That leads us to another force behind the new anti-intellectualism: not lack of knowledge per se but arrogance about that lack of knowledge. The problem is not just the things we do not know — it’s the alarming number of Americans who have smugly concluded that they do not need to know such things in the first place.  Americans go to websites and attend lectures only when they want to hear information that reinforces what they already (think they) know.  Only a small minority of people are any longer willing to learn from people with whom they disagree.   There is little motivation to learn.  Call this anti-rationalism, often exhibited by certain religious groups that reject Reason and embrace Faith as the only way to knowledge.  This current of anti-intellectualism is actually not new — for example, it was famously expressed in The Pouring Out of the Seven Vials (1642) by the Puritan John Cotton, who wrote:

The more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan will you bee.

Another source of anti-rationalism is a narrow, utilitarian focus on jobs and career as the ultimate goal of learning – for example, this was famously expressed by Henry Ford in 1916, who said:

History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today.

According to a 2006 survey by National Geographic-Roper, nearly half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 do not think it necessary to know the location of other countries in which important news is being made.  More than a third consider it “not at all important” to know a foreign language, and only 14 percent consider it “very important.”   So, why is it important to know about humans living in different places and in different ways?  Because we are part of a massive global economy where our local actions, in the aggregate, have massive global consequences.

    References:

    If it walks like a tax and quacks like a tax…

    mortarboard_Written in 1960, the Master Plan for Higher Education in California designed specific regulations for all California institutions of higher education in order to promote student success.

    The plan initiated “enrollment fees” instead of tuition to keep costs down and encourage commitment to higher education. In Chapter IX, it noted that:

    Tuition is defined generally as student charges for teaching expenses, whereas fees are charges to students, either collectively or individually, for services not directly related to instruction, such as health, special clinical services, job placement, housing, recreation.

    In other words, student fees were to be for “auxiliary costs”.

    The rules of the plan are especially stringent for junior [community] colleges, which must maintain quality standards because they have to accept everyone. Community colleges offer education through grade fourteen, two years after high school graduation. The standard collegiate courses offered are transferable to higher institutions, including vocational and technical offerings and liberal arts courses.

    Although intended originally to be nominal, “enrollment fees” have steadily risen to the point of being a euphemism for tuition. This is evident because the cost of attending community colleges in California is routinely compared with the tuition charged by community colleges in other states.

    Furthermore, in practice, fees tend to rise or fall based on whether the state budget is in the red or black, not on whether “auxiliary costs” are going up or down. Thus, you can have the ludicrous situation in which fees are being raised at the same time that state financial support for the community college system is being cut. In effect, the “fees” that are being imposed on students are really taxes – they are being used to balance the state budget. The time to stop this Orwellian “double-speak” is NOW.

    The New Academic Labor System is Getting Old

    Education

    An ongoing theme at this site has been the corporatization of higher education. Commercial influence is nothing new in American higher education and has been with us at least since the Morill Land Grant Act of the 1860s brought agriculture and engineering to the university. As David Noble has demonstrated, the industrial revolution of the early twentieth century was an outcome of partnerships between campus and industry. However, one could argue that corporatization began to take off in the late 1950s and early 1960s with the onset of increased research spending — in an emerging climate President Eisenhower should have called “the military-industrial-educational complex.” Since then corporatization in higher education has increasingly gained the attention of scholars.

    So, exactly what are we talking about? What is corporatization?

    AAUP banner

    Richard Moser, a professional historian and a member of the national staff of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), wrote in an article entitled “Corporatization, Its Discontents and the Renewal of Academic Citizenship“:

    [Corporatization] is the term now being used to describe a number of historical developments. For higher education it refers to the retreat of service to the common good as the purpose of our colleges and universities. In general it describes the decline of a social contract that prevailed in America during the mid-[twentieth] century and the reorganization of our great national resources, including higher education, for the purpose of maximizing profits

    Corporatization is far from a perfect term, as there are many different approaches possible even in a corporate economy. Corporatization may well be viewed as the misapplication of a regressive corporate ideology to a non-market activity (education). As such, corporatization is as much an ideological project as it is a political or economic one. The Canadians call this process “commercialization” and the British “privatization,” and those concepts capture important aspects of the changes we are experiencing…

    [T]he years between W.W.II and 1975 were characterized primarily by powerful government interventions in higher education that were a central component in what may be called the mid-century social contract [emphasis added].

    This notion of a social contract, or compact, has also been described by Neil W. Hamilton, in his 2002 book, Academic Ethics: Problems and Materials on Professional Conduct and Shared Governance. It refers to the unwritten agreement between faculty members at colleges and universities and the society these institutions serve. Mr. Moser characterizes the social contract in the post-war period as a bargain between government, higher education, and business:

    Government promoted and sustained economic growth through investment in higher education. The GI bill, the shift toward service industries, and demographic trends dramatically increased student enrollment. Higher education underwrote the scientific, technical, and theoretical knowledge necessary for post-war economic activity. Business and administrative leaders upheld their end of the bargain by permitting a rising standard of living for most working people…This period was also characterized by a high degree of respect for the AAUP’s 1940 Statement. Tenure, due process, and shared governance became the almost universally accepted ethical foundation for higher education…

    In this so-called “golden era” the university was part of and dedicated to the public good [emphasis added].

    So what ended the “golden era” of higher education? The demise of the social contract had begun by the late 1960s, according to Mr. Moser:

    Slower economic growth and heightened competition were evoked to change popular expectations concerning living standards and public expenditures. In higher education the changing times were characterized by decreased public funding. That occurred simultaneously with the ascendancy of a corporate style of management and the subsequent shifting of costs and risks to those who teach, research and study…

    The cutting edge of the corporatization of higher education was the restructuring of the workforce around a multi-tiered structure into what I call the “New Academic Labor System.” In the typical multi-tiered system new or younger employees are not offered the same level of compensation and job security as existing staff. A report on faculty appointments by the AAUP’s Ernst Benjamin revealed:

    • The change since 1975 is striking. Part-time faculty have grown four-times (103%) more than full-time (27%).
    • The number of non-tenure-track faculty has increased by 92%, while the number of probationary (tenure-track) faculty has actually declined by 12%.
    • Adjunct appointments went from 22% in 1970 to 32% in 1982, to 42% in 1993, to a current level of about 46 percent of all faculty [emphasis added].

    In fact, the situation in higher education has become even worse than when Mr. Benjamin compiled his statistics in 2002. Today, about two-thirds of the faculty nationwide is contingent, and at community colleges, which enroll about 50 percent of all college students, the professoriate is about 70 to 80 percent contingent. How did this happen? Mr. Moser continues:

    This multi-tiered approach succeeded, because it blunted opposition by implicitly promising not to affect existing constituencies. Tenured faculty were enticed with short-term benefits. The faculty did cooperate in their own demise, but not by formal decree. No faculty senate, AAUP chapter, or union ever explicitly agreed to abolish tenure for the majority of future faculty in exchange for cheap replacements for introductory courses or sabbaticals, but such complicity is rarely formalized…

    The over-use and exploitation of contingent faculty is the linchpin of this process of corporatization, because it has fragmented the faculty and weakened our ability to act as a constituency.

    The fact is that, even without this fragmentation, most academics tend to be “loners” — highly independent and concerned mostly with their own professional cliques. They shy away from political activism, and in general are oblivious to the plight of other academics outside their inner circle. The individualistic nature of intellectuals makes organized resistance against corporatization difficult. This was clearly explained in an article published on 29 November 2006 in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “An Adjunct Bill of Rights“:

    Tenured professors may well be in the best position to champion academic freedom for both full-timers and part-timers. After all, they are far less likely to lose their jobs for speaking out.

    However, Judith Wagner DeCew, a professor of philosophy at Clark University, has pointed out that most full-time faculty members have not seen fit to concern themselves with the increased hiring and exploitation of part-time faculty members. In Unionization in the Academy: Visions and Realities (Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), she writes: “While some full-time faculty members speak out for and support part-timers, there is a sense that most full-time appointees are concerned about their own salaries and working conditions, whether unionized or not. . . . Numerous studies have shown that the difficulties that part-time faculty confront can often be attributed to the fact that full-time faculty in academia are primarily concerned with protecting their own professional positions and privileges, not employment equity.”

    Ken Jacobsen, a Democratic state senator from Seattle and a frequent advocate for part-time faculty members, has said that the reason the Teamsters struck United Parcel Service back in 1997 was because the full-timers felt the increasing use of part-timers would mean less work for them, since UPS could always choose to call in the lower-paid temporary workers. But since tenured professors are guaranteed a full-time workload year after year, Jacobsen says, they have not felt threatened by academe’s increased hiring of part-timers, and thus have looked the other way, feeling that the adjuncts’ plight does not affect them. Full-timers, Jacobsen said, have their piece of the pie, and their primary goal is to hang on to it, and to make sure that no one else takes it away.

    How does corporatization affect the average faculty member? As Mr. Moser points out:

    For faculty, corporatization means more authoritarian governance practices, not simply as reflected in handbooks but changes in the culture, as administrators get used to bossing around the majority of the faculty who have no hope of tenure or job security.

    So, how can we, the faculty, oppose corporatization? A work action like that conducted by the Teamsters against UPS in 1997 would be unpopular and ineffective since there are so many unemployed adjuncts now who no doubt would ignore it. James G. Andrews, an emeritus professor at the University of Iowa who held an adjunct appointment in medicine, a secondary appointment in liberal arts and sciences, a primary appointment in engineering, and is active in the AAUP at the local, state, and national levels, cites a suggestion by Neil Hamilton in his book mentioned above, namely, that the academic profession “renew the social compact through continuing education”.  Andrews writes:

    Under the social compact Hamilton describes, society ensures the environment and resources needed for professors to fulfill their responsibilities in exchange for the high-quality educational opportunities that faculty provide. That is, society agrees to subsidize an educational environment in which faculty can pursue teaching, scholarship or creative work, and service free from pressure to raise funds. Traditionally, this environment has been characterized by academic freedom, tenured appointments, shared governance, and due process protections. This explicit identification of society’s fundamental responsibility to support higher education may eventually lead to a resolution of the corporatization problem…

    We need a better understanding, on the part of the public and the professoriate, of the mutual responsibilities of each.

    As Hamilton notes, “If, in a market economy, a profession does not renew the social compact through continuing education, [then] money and economic efficiency will eventually sweep the field to define all professional relationships as simply economic transactions between consumers and service providers for profit.”  Practitioners must remind society, generation after generation, of the agreement’s purpose and demonstrate how the profession serves the common good.

    Student Learning Outcomes: Another Silver Bullet?

    mortarboard_

    Everything that can be
    counted does not necessarily
    count; everything that counts
    cannot necessarily be counted.

    -Albert Einstein

    _______________________________________________________
    When I was in the tenth grade in high school, during the Cold War era, my civics class was having a teacher-moderated discussion about the nuclear arms race between the Soviet Union and the United States. The question, from what I can remember, was whether the U.S. should increase its number of nuclear warheads. I was silent during the discussion, as is customary for an introvert like me, so when the teacher called on me to express my opinion, I said what was on my mind at that moment – I said the issue was moot since once either side began a nuclear war, so many nuclear explosions would occur that life as we know it on this planet would be over. Well, that comment sank faster than a proverbial lead balloon. No one wanted to contemplate the real consequences of what they were talking about, and I had just burst their bubble. So, the teacher ruled my comment irrelevant and continued the discussion as if I had never said a word.

    You would think I would have learned the real lesson from that class period – that one should never point out to others that the emperor is not wearing any clothes. But I am also stubborn by nature, and so I will say in the remainder of this essay what many people in the education industry probably don’t want to hear, much less agree with.

    _______________________________________________________

    It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not learning of many facts but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.

    -Albert Einstein

    _______________________________________________________

    The latest buzzword in academia, at both the secondary and post-secondary levels, is “Student Learning Outcomes”, or SLOs for short. Proponents claim that they improve student performance, but like most “reforms” that come and go in the education industry, there is no evidence to support this assertion. As Thomas C. Hunt has written in an essay entitled “Education Reforms: Lessons from History” and published in Phi Delta Kappan (September, 2005):

    The history of American education is replete with examples of supposed panaceas. Taking the shape of “reforms,” these well-meaning efforts — often worthy in themselves — have dotted the educational landscape since the time of Horace Mann in the 1830s and 1840s. For example, the common school itself would remove all crime and poverty from American society. Mann described it as the “greatest invention ever made by man.” The devotional reading of the Bible in schools would result in a virtuous America. Texts such as the McGuffey readers would unfailingly instill the “right character” in the students. The public school of the early 20th century would make good, loyal Americans out of the children of the immigrants who were then arriving in large numbers. In the mid-20th century, the “Life Adjustment” curriculum would prepare all American youths for satisfying lives as individuals, family members, and citizens. The infusion of funds into the science and math curricula by the National Defense Education Act would help the U.S. “catch up” with the Soviets in the post-Sputnik era, instill needed academic rigor in the secondary school curriculum, and fittingly challenge our “gifted” students.

    Potential panaceas grew in number as the 20th century progressed. We were greeted with open education, which would educate the young “naturally.” Schools would play a central role in the War on Poverty. Accountability, especially in the guise of performance contracting, would make the schools accountable to their constituents. Behavioral objectives would serve as an infallible means of achieving the goals of effective teaching and learning. Such pedagogical movements as modular scheduling would provide the proper organizational pattern for the curriculum. Site-based management would remove the educational problems created by large size.

    Mr. Hunt cautions that “only when we see history as a ceaseless, uninterrupted flow that influences the present and are willing to learn from it will we avoid being victimized by the latest ‘silver bullet.'” For example, in terms of secondary schools in the United States, the public education profession has been guided for nearly a century by the belief that the difficult task of teaching a wide range of students to use their minds well isn’t really necessary; this implies that most students are better served by being taught to use their hands rather than their heads. This long-standing and deeply seated anti-intellectualism in public education, from its turn-of-the-century origins to the “life-adjustment” movement of the 1940s and 1950s and the neo-progressivism of the 1960s and early 1970s, has been well documented by David Cohen in The Shopping Mall High School (1985), by Pulitzer Prize-winning authors Lawrence Cremin in The Transformation of the School (1964) and Richard Hofstadter in Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963), and by Diane Ravitch in The Troubled Crusade (1983) and Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms (2000). Such history brings today’s “standards movement” into much sharper focus. It’s one thing for state and federal policymakers to impose demanding new academic standards on public schools; it’s another to realize that public school systems were never organized to deliver a serious academic education to more than a fraction of their students. Most school leaders didn’t think they should teach serious academics universally, nor did they have enough highly-trained teachers to do the job. I will come back to anti-intellectualism in a few moments.

    Another impetus for SLOs could be the additional revenue for the publishing industry that sells stuff about it (the training handbooks alone run 50-70 pages) and for the testing agencies that sell the standardized exit exams. And even if the assessments are flawed and meaningless, at least they produce what the government likes best: numbers.

    Politicians and administrators often make another claim about SLOs, namely, that they are driven by issues of cost and affordability – “the public will be asking more critically than in the past, ‘What are we getting for our money?'” However, in my years of teaching at the college level, I cannot remember one time that any student or parent asked, “Can you demonstrate learning outcomes?” or “What am I getting for my money?” Exactly who is the “public” in all these discussions about the “public” wants to know?  Furthermore, proponents of SLOs don’t realize that higher education does not merely equate to acquiring new information. It involves growth, critical thinking, values definition, and applying what you learn, among other things. By saying that what we provide in higher education is equal to reading a stack of books is insulting. Higher education is just as much, if not more, about the experience as it is about earning a degree.

    But there are important negative consequences of SLOs. Let me quote David Clemens, professor of English at Monterey Peninsula Community College here in California:

    That SLOs are about “student learning” is the first, and biggest, lie. There is no objective evidence that SLOs have any positive effect on learning at all, although there is evidence that they negatively affect learning because they encourage dumbing down and teaching to the test….

    A few years ago, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, (WASC), adopted SLOs as a totalizing basis for accreditation and in a single stroke made fundamental changes in the definition of what we do and the way we do it.

    For years we had been assured that “Assessment rubrics and student learning outcomes are just data collection and will never be used for teacher evaluation.” In fact, expected outcomes and assessment schemes are perfectly suited for use on teacher evaluation forms and already have been. But anyone who actually teaches knows that the most important factor in education is the student. The greatest effects on student learning are the individual student’s knowledge of subject, self motivation, language proficiency, disposition, parental support, social skills, talent, physical and mental health, preparation, cultural background, religious beliefs, political persuasion, commitment, desire, determination, level of cognitive growth, age, and work ethic. Student learning outcomes are silent on all these factors.

    Yet as of last year [2007], SLOs are already a component of teacher evaluation. WASC Accreditation Standard III: Resources [part 1c] reads:

    “Faculty and others directly responsible for student progress toward achieving stated student learning outcomes have, as a component of their evaluation, effectiveness in producing those learning outcomes.”

    …Because student attainment of stated SLOs will affect teacher evaluation, SLOs actually create downward pressure on curricular standards. If I am to be judged by my students’ achievement on outcomes tests and SLO guarantees, I will spend my class time on the most testable and achievable SLOs so as to insure “student success” on the exit test. The next step involves the current buzzword: “alignment.” Certainly, if the English 1A SLOs at one college are producing a higher metric of “student success” than other schools, the logic of SLOs is to identify such “best practices” and create statewide alignment of them. Voila! One hundred nine schools, one curriculum, one set of outcomes, one exit test, and one set of textbooks.

    Another common but egregious lie is that learning outcomes do not compromise academic freedom. On the contrary, SLOs are the greatest danger to academic freedom in my professional lifetime. The fact that WASC’s definition of SLOs mentions “attitudes” I find chilling. The heart of academic freedom is the conviction that both education and community suffer when teachers are forced to embrace a single viewpoint. To the contrary, our highest courts have held that society benefits when students are exposed to various academically legitimate yet contradictory ideas.

    One of the key strategies of coercion employed by SLO zealots is that it’s all one big conversation and in the end we all agree. This is another lie intended to produce the appearance of consensus. I believe that it is vital to dispel this illusion. The word from U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings to WASC is “SLOs or we will kill you and replace you with a federal bureaucracy.” [emphasis added]

    The last paragraph is most provocative. Could the real reason politicians are pushing SLOs is because they want to just look like they’re doing something to improve student performance? From their point of view, it’s better to hold the teachers accountable (read: blame the teachers) than the students and their families, since there are more voters among the latter and the latter don’t want responsibility for student performance, anyway. Of course, there are also other forces at work here, including the ever-present financial motive for anyone who has something to gain from a new education fad. Obviously, the accreditors have families to support, so they have got to get with the program if they want to keep their jobs.

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    The things taught in schools and colleges are not an education, but the means of education.

    -Ralph Waldo Emerson

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    So, if incompetent teachers are not to blame, why is student performance so poor in high schools and colleges?  Paul Trout, who taught English at Montana State University at Bozeman, suggested in 1997 – over ten years ago – that student anti-intellectualism and the consequent corporatization of education is to blame:

    Increasingly, career-minded students see college – or at least required courses – as an imposition between high school and the good life, an obstacle to be gotten over as soon as possible, just like high school was….

    To attract and reassure such students, colleges and universities are wont to talk about them as being consumers of higher education. This notion implies, of course, that the desires of the customer reign supreme (“consumer sovereignty”), that the customer should be easily and completely satisfied, and that the customer should try to get as much as possible while paying as little as possible. When this consumer model is applied to higher education, it has disastrous effects on academic standards and student motivation.

    The consumer model implies, for instance, that university “services” – among them, courses – should be shaped to satisfy student tastes, and that students can use or waste these services as they see fit. When students think of themselves as consumers, they study only when it is convenient (like shopping), expect satisfaction with little effort, want knowledge served up in “easily digestible, bite-sized chunks,” and assume that academic success, including graduation, is guaranteed. After all, failure – or consumer dissatisfaction – is “ruled out upon payment of one’s tuition”.

    When taken to its logical conclusion, as many students do, the consumer model implies that students buy grades by paying for them through learning. Students who subscribe to this notion try to be consumers by paying – that is learning – as little as possible. A few carry it even further, and believe that whenever they learn something they have actually lost in the exchange.

    Needless to say, instructors who try to teach students more than the students have bargained for are going to run into trouble…

    The situation has only gotten worse in the last twelve years. Much worse.

    [If you happen to be one of my students, and you’re offended by what Trout wrote, then chances are you aren’t one of the students he’s complaining about. Besides, I doubt an anti-intellectual student would bother reading my blog – after all, it won’t be on the test.]

    The Varieties of Anti-Intellectualism

    In May of 2001, Massimo Pigliucci, who is professor of philosophy at the City University of New York-Lehman College in Brooklyn, New York, published a very enlightening essay entitled, “The Many Faces of Anti-Intellectualism”. Since I am interested in this topic, and since Dr. Pigliucci has given permission to freely repost his essay on the Intenet, it appears below in its entirety.

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    Universities should not subsidize intellectual curiosity. This oxymoronic statement was uttered by none other than then candidate for the governorship of California Ronald Reagan in the late 1960s. The astounding thing is not that somebody like Reagan would actually say something so outrageously stupid, but that this helped him winning the election and ushering a new era of official anti-intellectualism in America. This is continuing to this day, witness the fact that the current president, George W. Bush, has run a campaign as the (Yale-educated!) champion of the everyday man against the “pointed-head” intellectualism of rival Al Gore.

    Anti-intellectualism has always been a powerful undercurrent in American culture, and it will probably play a major role in our society for a long time to come. Regardless of how depressing such thoughts might be, the first rule to win a war is to know thy enemy; which is why I’d like to discuss the major types of anti-intellectualism and how they threaten the very existence of a liberal society.
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    Note by Prof. Olsen: The word liberal here means “tending in favor of freedom and democracy”. Liberalism is the belief in the importance of individual freedom and has been recognized as an important value by many philosophers throughout history. For example, the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote praising “the idea of a polity administered with regard to equal rights and equal freedom of speech, and the idea of a kingly government which respects most of all the freedom of the governed.” Modern liberalism has its roots in the Age of Enlightenment, beginning with John Locke (1632-1704) who wrote “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” In fact, the American Declaration of Independence proclaims the liberal ideals of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

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    Richard Hofstadter, in a classic book on anti-intellectualism, first described the phenomenon in its entirety, and what I succinctly propose here is an elaboration on his main categories and on the more recent work of D. Rigney. The first kind of anti-intellectualism can be termed “anti-rationalism.” This is the idea that rational thinking is both cold (as in lacking sensitivity) and amoral (which is apparently a bad thing, in some people’s mind not sufficiently distinct from im-moral). The perception that scientists and philosophers — the very paragons of rationalism — are cold and insensitive is as widespread as it is false. If you know any individual belonging to these professions, you surely realize that they can get as emotional as the guy next door. The idea that rationality and emotions, science and poetry, cannot mix is simply unfounded. As Richard Dawkins has pointed out in Unweaving the Rainbow, science simply expands your ability to experience awe and wonder, it does not constrain it. As for a-morality, this view is best summarized in the words of John Cotton (back in 1642): “The more learned and witty you bee, the more fit to act for Satan you bee.” I honestly never understood why God would not appreciate humor and culture. Then again, there is that story of Eve and Adam stealing the fruit of the tree of knowledge…

    Spectators adoring football players.

    One can be anti-intellectual also by rejecting intellectualism because it is elitist. Anti-elitism is very peculiar to the American psyche, and it is virtually unknown in the rest of the universe. Most other people recognize that in matters of the intellect, as in any other human activity, there are people who do it better and others who are not quite as good. That does not — and should not — imply anything about the intrinsic worth (or lack thereof) of such people. Astonishingly, Americans don’t have any problem with elitism per se: just watch the adoring crowds at a basketball game and the recursive tendency to set up athletes as “role models” for our youth. The underlying assumption seems to be that everybody can become an Olympic athlete, but that the way to science and letters is only reserved to the lucky few. Ironically, the truth is quite the opposite: while the chances of making it in professional sports are almost nil, a country with a large system of public education and some of the best schools in the world can give the gift of intellectual pursuit to millions of people.

    Suppose you are a mathematician and you are attending a cocktail party. Somebody approaches you for small talk and asks: what do you do? Chances are you’d rather answer that you are a traveling salesman than that you spend your time contemplating problems in set theory. This is because you are afraid of a third form of anti-intellectualism, unreflective instrumentalism. This is the idea that if something is not of immediate practical value it’s not worth pursuing. Hence, most of science and all of philosophy should be thrown out the window. The root of this attack on the pursuit of knowledge is to be found in capitalism at its worse. Andrew Carnegie, for example, once quipped that classical studies are a waste of “precious years trying to extract education from an ignorant past.” But the very idea of a liberal — not politically, but as opposed to practical — education is that it is far better to train somebody to think critically than to give her specific skills that will be out of date in a few years. Yet, captains of industry are not interested in your mental welfare; what they want is a bunch of mindless robots who are especially adept at carrying out whatever tasks will turn the highest profit for the stockholders. In this sense, intellectualism is a very subversive enterprise, which explains its persecution by rogues of the caliber of McCarthy and Reagan.
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    Note by Prof. Olsen: The term “liberal education” was first used in classical Greek and Roman times. In fact, the major historical originator of liberal education is the ancient Greek rhetorician Isocrates (436-338 B.C.E.), who wrote in Antidosis [sections 261-265]:
     

    For I believe that the teachers who are skilled in disputation and those who are occupied with astronomy and geometry and studies of that sort do not injure but, on the contrary, benefit their pupils, not so much as they profess, but more than others give them credit for….it seems to me both that those who hold that this training is of no use in practical life are right and that those who speak in praise of it have truth on their side….For while we are occupied with the subtlety and exactness of astronomy and geometry and are forced to apply our minds to difficult problems, and are, in addition, being habituated to speak and apply ourselves to what is said and shown to us, and not to let our wits go wool-gathering, we gain the power, after being exercised and sharpened on these disciplines, of grasping and learning more easily and more quickly those subjects which are of more importance and of greater value.

    Education was not available for the many people in ancient Greek and Roman societies who were held in slavery, but only for those who were politically free and economically independent. Thus, the word liberal reflected the fact that people who were educated started out free (liber in Latin means “free man”). As the Renaissance humanist Petrus Paulus Vergerius wrote in The Character and Studies Befitting a Free-Born Youth around 1400, “We call those studies liberal which are worthy of a free man; those studies by which we attain and practice virtue and wisdom; that education which calls forth, trains and develops those highest gifts of body and of mind which ennoble men, and which are rightly judged to rank next in dignity to virtue only.”

    The Greeks and Romans recognized that education arms a person to confront the influence of others critically. Such a person is less easily manipulated and deceived. Still today, in order to form a more perfect union, we need citizens who are informed, discerning, and morally courageous. In a democratic republic with universal suffrage, the ideal – difficult as it may be to realize – is a liberal education for all citizens. Thus, a liberal education can be defined as one that furnishes an individual with the capacities to be a free and responsible citizen. It is the pursuit of human excellence, not the pursuit of excellent salaries and excellent forms of polish and sophistication. As Vergerius observed, “For to a vulgar temper gain and pleasure are the one aim of existence; to a lofty nature, moral worth and fame.”

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    I recently had the pleasure and honor of attending a lecture by Kurt Vonnegut. He asked the audience to remember one thing from his visit: start calling your TV “the tantrum” and for God’s sake, turn it off and start talking to each other. Or reading. The idea that intellectual pursuits are a lot of work and that it is far easier and more pleasurable to watch TV is the fourth kind of anti-intellectualism, unreflective hedonism. While I do not suggest to kill your TV, as some radical friends of mine would want you to do, do try to read a good book. I bet that the experience will be much more pleasurable than you thought. A novel by Vonnegut might be a good place to start.

    Political cartoonist Thomas Nast in 1875 contrasts a reedy scholar with a bovine boxer, epitomizing the popular view of reading and study as antithetical to sport and athleticism.

    We have met the enemy, and it is us, as Pogo concluded in the famous comic strip. The most pernicious kind of anti-intellectualism comes from other intellectuals. In recent years a movement called post-modernism (or deconstructionism) has made headway in humanities departments throughout the US and has been given a sympathetic hearing by major media outlets. The idea is that knowledge is relative because it is a cultural construct. So, you are equally fine if you believe in evolution or creation, because these are both narratives “constructed” by pockets of our culture. Of course, if everything is relative and no theory has any particular claim to truth or reality, then why should anybody believe deconstructionists? Postmodernism has actually been imported in this country from France, and as philosopher Ted Honderich has remarked, one can think of it as “picking up an idea and running with it, possibly into a nearby brick wall or over a local cliff.”

    What do we do about all this? Once again, the only available road is the long and tortuous path to education. But it should help knowing what we are dealing with before engaging in battle. Contrary to what a postmodernist might say, Napoleon really did lose at Waterloo, and it was because of poor intelligence on what the other side was doing.

    References:

    • Isocrates.  Isocrates with an English Translation in three volumes, by George Norlin, Ph.D., LL.D.  (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press;  London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1980).

    The Corporatization of Higher Education

    MortarboardYou think the corporatization (a.k.a. business model or consumer model) of education is a myth cooked up by “elite” intellectuals in order to justify the resurrection of tenure in academia?  Well, something can’t end that hasn’t started.  Daniel J. Ennis, professor of English at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina, opines that the end of the business model is at hand. In fact, he misses it! He writes, in part:

    It has been months since somebody told me that “a university must run like a business.”

    I’m alarmed to think that the era of the Business Simile is over.

    I think I speak for many liberal arts types when I say how scary it is to lose that surety, that hard mooring in the results-oriented world, that comforting discipline of being told from across the conference-room table that the market imperatives must be paid heed, that we in the academy merely deliver a product to our clients, and that the efficiencies of the private sector can and must be brought to bear on the out-of-touch ivory tower. See, I liked that. There was a bracing firmness in such announcements. On the one hand, it fed my craving for intellectual loftiness — to be on the receiving end of such pronouncements allowed me to position myself as a defender of the faith, as true educator unsullied by a preoccupation with filthy lucre. On the other hand, I was secretly reassured when I heard that the important decisions — how to find the money, how to spend the money — were in the hands of realistic, highly-qualified, private-sector types who knew how the world worked. I wanted them on that wall. I needed them on that wall….

    So I confess that I liked being told that the university must be run like a business. After all, it left me time to think abstractly about big ideas (and picturesquely, I might add, leather-bound books at hand, maybe wearing a scarf). It allowed me to scoff at the bean counters even as I consumed the revenue they wrung from the institution. I came to depend on the kindness of those strangers who understood accounting and statistics, core competencies and market niches. Who better to protect me from the real world than the agents of the real world?

    Dennis muses that the current economic meltdown has undercut the business model (or business simile, as he refers to it) in education:

    But now the “university like a business” simile has been undercut by, well, the real world. Some of the most prominent companies in the United States are starting to resemble universities. They receive massive government aid, suffer from significant new government oversight, cling to inefficient fiscal models, and are buffeted by a howling public who sees tax dollars being thrown down the hole without concomitant results…

    As long as “business” represented competence and “university” represented inefficiency, then the Business Simile was able to win many an argument. But similes die, and they die when their referents stop making sense. Hardly anybody says “in like Flynn” anymore because very few people remember who Errol Flynn was, much less that he was associated with skillful swordplay and copulation. Who says “like clockwork” anymore? Only those who remember what clockwork was, or those who use the simile as a nostalgic gesture.

    I hope Professor Ennis is right. His essay is well worth reading at Inside Higher Ed.

    Tenure and Honest Grading – a Connection?

    Scales of Justice

    Finally.  A judge ruled last week in Colorado that not only is tenure a good thing for the professors who enjoy it, it is valuable to the public! Further, the court ruled that the value (to the public) of tenure outweighed the value of giving colleges flexibility in hiring and dismissing. That is a principle that faculty members say is very important and makes this case about much more than the specific issues at play.

    The ruling came in a long legal battle over rules changes imposed by the board of Metropolitan State College of Denver on its faculty members in 2003. While noting “countervailing public interests” in the case, Judge Norman D. Haglund wrote that “the public interest is advanced more by tenure systems that favor academic freedom over tenure systems that favor flexibility in hiring or firing.” The ruling added that “by its very nature, tenure promotes a system in which academic freedom is protected” and that “a tenure system that allows flexibility in firing is oxymoronic.”

    AAUP banner

    In a related development, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP)  voted on June 13 to censure Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, Louisiana, because it had terminated Maureen Watson after 12 years of work as a non-tenure track faculty member, with one day of notice — even though she had earned consistently good reviews. The AAUP faulted Nicholls State for not providing due process appropriate for someone with that much of a work history at the university, and for not even acknowledging Watson’s right to know why her teaching career was being ended. The association also noted plausible evidence — not refuted by the university — that Watson lost her job because her rigorous grading was resulting in too many students receiving low or failing grades in her mathematics courses.

    The AAUP report stated:

    The Nicholls administration’s efforts to reduce failing grades seem to have been detrimental to the climate for academic freedom by causing faculty members in affected departments to believe that they did not have the right to assign grades based on their own knowledge and judgment. Ms. Watson exercised her own academic freedom by grading as she saw fit, despite the administration’s pressure for a reduction in failing grades. Her dismissal, if the investigating committee’s conclusion on the matter stands unrebutted by the administration, was therefore in violation of her academic freedom. The investigating committee commends her determination to grade according to her best professional assessment of the merits of student performance…

    No plausible reason for the administration’s dismissal of Ms. Watson can be ascertained other than its displeasure with her having assigned a large percentage of failing grades to her students in college algebra. Dismissing her for that reason, assuming the reason remains unrebutted, violated her academic freedom. Her insistence on grading in accordance with her best professional judgment of a student’s academic performance warranted not dismissal but commendation.

    Ernst Benjamin, former interim general secretary of the AAUP, said that the case was important both because of Watson’s adjunct status and because of what the issues say about academic freedom. While people associate academic freedom with controversial research or teaching topics, Benjamin noted that for “most faculty, the ability to maintain professional standards” through honest grades is of great importance to their academic freedom.

    One-millionth Word?

    William Shakespeare

    As an author, I am interested in the English language. Although most predictions about cultural events in the future are difficult to make, I found one that nevertheless seems reasonable: At the current pace of a new English-language word created about every 98 minutes, English will cross the Million Word Mark on June 10, 2009 at 10:22 am (Stratford-on Avon Time).

    But what, exactly, is a “word“? It used to be that the expert source on what was or wasn’t a word was the dictionary, such as American Heritage, Webster’s Third, and the Oxford English.  Groups of editors at a dictionary watch specific subject areas, logging the hits a new word gets. A “hit” is a mention in a book, newspaper, or Web site. Dictionaries reject words for being too technical (even the most die-hard Grey’s Anatomy fan will never need to know what a “mammosomatotroph” is) or for being too young (staycation). Nor do they count brand names (Coke, Facebook, Wikipedia) or most foreign words and phrases. Then they put the hits in a database and compare the new terms to words they already have. So although “Facebook,” being a brand name, doesn’t qualify, every word in Shakespeare’s plays does – including “cap-a-pie” (meaning from head to foot) and “fardel” (meaning burden). Being the granddaddy of creative linguistics, Shakespeare invented more than 1,700 words. All of them appear in an unabridged dictionary.

    A dictionary.

    The Global Language Monitor, based in Austin, Tex., has been tracking words for the past five years. According to Paul J.J. Payack, president and chief word analyst at the Monitor, “We went back to the Middle English and saw that the definition of a word was ‘a thought spoken,’ which means if I say a word, and you understand me, it’s a real word.” So Payack counts “staycation,” “Facebook,” and “Wikipedia” as words. But he also follows some of the old rules. For example, words that are both noun and verb, such as “water,” are counted only once. He doesn’t count all the names there are for chemicals, because there are hundreds of thousands.

    Once the Monitor identifies a word, it tracks it over time, watching to see where the word appears. Based on that measurement, they decide whether or not the word has “momentum,” that is, whether it’s becoming more popular or if it’s a proverbial flash in the pan. “It’s the same as the old [method], just recognizing the new reality,” Payack says. The Monitor’s method gives a lot more weight to online citations. And it recognizes that English is today truly an international language. English has nearly 400 million native speakers, putting it second in the world, but it has 1.3 billion speakers overall, making it the world’s most widely understood language, explains Payack . It’s spoken by over 300 million people in India as a second language, and by at least that many second-speakers in China.

    Brokeback Mountain

    For example, after director Ang Lee called his movie about two cowboys who fall in love Brokeback Mountain, the word “brokeback” wormed its way into the English vernacular as a synonym for the adjective “gay.” Although “brokeback” may be past its glory days in the United States, the word, with this new meaning, is still popular in China, Payack said. It appears on blogs and Web sites, which means it has momentum, which means it’s a word.

    Average Americans use about 7,500 words a day and have a vocabulary of about 20,000 total. Even Shakespeare only knew about 60,000. So the number of words in the English language will always be many, many more than any one person knows or uses. Both Salikoko Mufwene, a linguistics professor at the University of Chicago, and Joe Pickett, executive editor of the American Heritage Dictionary, said English could very well have a million words already. Counting words, after all, is an imprecise science. But it’s also not the dictionary’s science. The job of dictionaries has always been, Mufwene said, “to reflect how people speak, not to teach them how to speak.” “You need people to edit the dictionary and take responsibility for it, so that it’s reliable,” Pickett said. “And I don’t think that’s going to change.”

    Literary Announcement!

    FireworksI am pleased to announce the publication of the second edition of my book entitled Understanding Human Anatomy through Evolution! It is an excellent book, if I do say so myself. I even have an endorsement from the gentleman below, whom you may recognize!untitled-2

    The Ends do not Justify the Means

    Scales of Justice

    “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
    — Martin Luther King, Jr.

    I am thoroughly disgusted with conservative (and even some not-so-conservative) pundits in the media who this past week have been trying to absolve those in the U.S. Government who attempted to legalize the torture of suspected terrorists at various detention centers after 9-11. For example, on MSNBC Joe Scarborough regarding torture said “Let’s not be self-righteous” because on 9-12 he believed “we need to do whatever we have to do” and “I’ll be damned if 300 million Americans didn’t say the same thing.”

    In view of the fact that nowhere near “300 million Americans” said the same thing (I certainly did not), Joe’s argument goes like this: At that time (post 9-11), torture was necessary to prevent further loss of American lives even though torture is illegal (Title 18 of the U.S. Code makes it a crime for an American to commit torture “outside the United States” and authorizes fines and prison terms of up to 20 years — if deaths result, those convicted may be jailed for life or executed) and a violation of the U.S. Constitution and the Geneva Conventions, which the U.S. had ratified (the treaties that the United States enters into become part of the law of the United States, and the Supreme Court has recently reaffirmed that status for the Geneva Conventions); therefore, according to Joe, everyone should be excused and no one should be prosecuted for allowing torture to be used on detainees.

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    Vodpod videos no longer available.

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    First, leaving aside the issue of whether torture ever yields useful information, the idea that the circumstances at the time justified breaking the law is reprehensible when advocated by officials whose sworn duty was to enforce the law and uphold the Constitution. President Bush himself bears primary responsibility for torture for his February 7, 2002, memo arbitrarily suspending the Geneva Conventions that protect prisoners of war:

    I determine that common Article 3 of Geneva does not apply to either al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. … I determine that Taliban detainees … do not qualify as prisoners of war under Article 4 of Geneva … and that al Qaeda detainees also do not qualify as prisoners of war.

    A key architect of the “new paradigm” torture policy was White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales, subsequently Attorney General, who signed a torture memo dated January 25, 2002:

    …the war against terrorism is a new kind of war. It is not the traditional clash between nations adhering to the laws of war that formed the backdrop for GPW [the Geneva Convention III on the Treatment of Prisoners of War]. The nature of the new war places a high premium on other factors, such as the ability to quickly obtain information from captured [suspected] terrorists and their sponsors in order to avoid further atrocities against American civilians, and the need to try terrorists for war crimes [but if you say they aren’t prisoners of war, how can they be guilty of war crimes?] for wantonly killing civilians. In my judgment, this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions…

    On December 2, 2002, according to author Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld formally approved coercive treatments such as “hooding,” “stress positions,” “exploitation of phobias,” “deprivation of light and auditory stimuli” and other tactics long forbidden by the U.S. Army Field Manual.

    Regardless of the public animosity toward suspected terrorists in custody at that time, they had and still have human rights. Is anyone aware that the reason the United States supported and agreed to the Geneva Conventions after World War II in the first place was to ensure that AMERICAN SOLDIERS would never be tortured by the other side in future conflicts? As Secretary of State John Foster Dulles stated at the time, America’s participation in the conventions was needed “to enable us to invoke them for the protection of our nationals.”  Similarly, Senator Mike Mansfield stated that “it is to the interest of the United States that the principles of these conventions be accepted universally by all nations.”  He explained that American

    standards are already high.  The conventions point the way to other governments.  Without any real cost to us, acceptance of the standards provided for prisoners of war, civilians, and wounded and sick will insure improvement of the condition of our own people as compared with what had been their previous treatment.

    Senator Alexander Smith concurred:

    I cannot emphasize too strongly that the one nation which stands to benefit the most from these four conventions is our own United States…To the extent that we can obtain a worldwide acceptance of the high standards in the conventions, to that extent we will have assured our own people of greater protection and more civilized treatment.

    When North Vietnam insisted that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to American POWs because they were “pirates,” President Nixon demanded — and had the moral authority to demand — that Hanoi apply them. On the 50th anniversary of the Conventions, Senator John McCain stated that he and his fellow POWs would have fared “a lot worse” without the Geneva Conventions’ protections against “the cruel excesses of war.”

    The same argument made by Joe Scarborough could have been made about the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.  In 1949, Joe could have said “Let’s not be self-righteous” because on 12-7 he believed “we need to do whatever we have to do” and “I’ll be damned if 134 million Americans didn’t say the same thing.”

    Leaving aside the fact that none of these Japanese-Americans were a threat to the security of the United States, Joe would argue that confining them in concentration camps was necessary to prevent further loss of American lives even though their internment was a violation of the U.S. Constitution (specifically, the rights to due process and habeas corpus); therefore, Joe would say, everyone should be excused and no legal prosecution or remedy should be sought or permitted.

    Horse stalls at Tanforan that were transformed into living quarters for Japanese-American internees.

    Of course, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II was an outrageous violation of human rights the day it happened — it is still unfathomable to me that it ever happened in this country. But wartime hysteria prevailed.  An editorial in the Los Angeles Times from the period fumed: “A viper is nonetheless a viper wherever the egg is hatched — so a Japanese-American, born of Japanese parents — grows up to be Japanese, not an American.”  Journalist Westbrook Pegler wrote, “The Japanese in California should be under armed guard to the last man and woman right now and to hell with habeas corpus until the danger is over.”  Key government leaders agreed with this view. They decided to imprison people without evidence or trials, denying their constitutional rights because of their ancestry. This policy was carried out on the West Coast of the United States, but not in Hawaii.

    The ethical principle here is elementary though incomprehensible to self-righteous conservatives: The ends do NOT justify the means.

    Contingent Faculty and Grade Inflation

    mortarboard_Here’s an interesting article on this subject by Phil Ray Jack, originally posted on January 4, 2008. An excerpt follows:

    ……At most colleges, the work we [contingent faculty] do is judged primarily, if not exclusively, on our student evaluations. As public perceptions concerning higher education have changed, so have student reactions to what we do. Several years ago, we were seen as the experts who had valuable knowledge to impart to our students; now we are seen as clerks who dispense grades, certificates and diplomas to customers who are constantly encouraged to express their displeasure……[emphasis added]

    The result of the corporatization of the academy has been that contingent faculty are increasingly evaluated on the basis of customer (student) satisfaction.  Given the fact that administrators and supervisors rely heavily on ratings by students of contingent faculty in personnel decisions, here’s an article that concludes that such data are not methodologically sound, and that such data ought not be treated as admissible evidence in any legal or quasi-legal hearing related to decisions on the reappointment, pay, merit pay, tenure, or promotion of an individual instructor.  This article quotes Mary Beth Ruskai (1996), an associate editor of Notices of The American Mathematical Society:

    …Many experienced faculty question the reliability of student evaluations as a measure of teaching effectiveness and worry that they may have counter-productive effects, such as contributing to grade inflation, discouraging innovation, and deterring instructors from challenging students. [emphasis added]

    The same article also quotes J.V. Adams (1997):

    Teaching, as with art, remains largely a matter of individual judgment. Concerning teaching quality, whose judgment counts? In the case of student judgments, the critical question, of course, is whether students are equipped to judge teaching quality. Are students in their first or second semester of college competent to grade their instructors, especially when college teaching is so different from high school? Are students who are doing poorly in their courses able to objectively judge their instructors? And are students, who are almost universally considered as lacking in critical thinking skills, often by the administrators who rely on student evaluations of faculty, able to critically evaluate their instructors? There is substantial evidence that they are not.  [emphasis added]

    And here’s another article that not only echos the above, but also cites research that has debunked the reliability and usefulness of student evaluations of teachers.  For example, in a major study by Ohio State University in 2007, student reviews were linked to actual learning by examining grades in subsequent classes that would have relied on the learning in the class in which the students’ evaluations were studied. It found absolutely no correlation between student evaluations and actual learning. What the Ohio State researchers did find, as many other studies have found, was clear correlation between the grades the students receive and those they give their professors, providing evidence for the more cynical/realistic interpretation – namely, that professors who are easy graders (and aren’t necessarily the best teachers) earn good ratings. In another finding of concern, the study found evidence that students, controlling for other factors, tend to give lesser evaluations to instructors who are women or who were born outside the United States. And they found this despite not finding any correlation between instructor identity and the level of learning that took place.