July 1, 2015 2 Comments
Klavan and Whittle on culture.
The view from the Prairie, with an emphasis on Energy
June 28, 2015 10 Comments
John Adams famously wrote to his wife, Abigail in 1780, saying, “I must study Politics and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematics and Philosophy.” And that is the glory of a civilization, that it makes the time to study.
You, who know me, know that there are few stronger proponents of a liberal education than me. You also know that I think it is nearly impossible to obtain one in the University system. One cannot learn when one is subject only to one side of an issue. There must be (at least) two sides argued effectively of every issue.
Arguing does not consist of personal attacks and telling people to “sit down and shut up”. But invariably that is what is happening today, in our ‘elite’ institutions, and so I submit, they no longer have any utility, whatsoever to someone who wishes to obtain an education. They exist simply to credential those, who mistakenly think themselves fit to rule their betters.
David Patten writing in The Federalist has some things to say recently on this.
Christopher Scalia has a product to sell, and he’s wondering why conservatives aren’t buying it. As an English professor at an elite university, he’s troubled that so many high-profile conservatives have been speaking dismissively about the liberal arts.
His sales pitch is reasonable enough: the liberal arts can make an important contribution to producing the sort of well-informed and critically engaged public that democracies need to thrive. A liberal-arts education exposes students to a wide range of facts, ideas, and experiences, making it harder for the government to control the minds of its citizens. Likewise, the critical-thinking skills students develop from wrestling with complex and sophisticated ideas enable them to ask better questions and challenge authority more effectively.
Actually, he’s right about the liberal arts, but that’s not what they are teaching these days. Continuing:
Perhaps the best example of the problem with how the liberal arts are being taught at today’s universities occurred last year at Marquette University. In an ethics class, a young teacher’s assistant (TA) was confronted by a student who wanted to debate the ethics of gay marriage. The TA told the student this issue was not up for debate. She asked the student to stop talking about the possibility that there could be an ethical argument against gay marriage. This line of thought made him a homophobe, and a gay student in the class might feel hurt if he discovered one of his classmates harbored doubts about the legitimacy of his choices.
Sadly, the consensus in the academy seems to be that this young TA got it right. Meanwhile, her colleague who exposed the incident to the public—thinking people would be horrified by what was going on in Marquette’s classrooms—was stripped of tenure and fired.
This is disheartening, for multiple reasons. The TA seems oblivious to the fact that if everyone else were as closed-minded as she, no one would have questioned the former consensus that homosexuality is a form of deviancy. But someone, quite possibly in an ethics class, challenged the prevailing point of view. This person asked how someone’s rights could be denied on the basis of a moral code he did not subscribe to. This started a debate. The objector was not told to shut up and stop making everyone feel uncomfortable.
Another reason this incident was so ironic is that it occurred in a philosophy classroom. If there is one discipline that cannot survive in an atmosphere of political correctness, it is philosophy. Philosophy critically evaluates ideas. It does not remove some from discussion just because someone might find them offensive.
John Adams also said, “There are two types of education… One should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live.” When one trains as an electrician, and sometimes alas as an engineer, one doesn’t take many courses in English, let alone philosophy, that is unfortunate, but perhaps necessary. perhaps we do need electricians more than philosophers, but I think it in large part a false dichotomy. A goodly part of philosophy can be understood as simple common sense, and mechanical skills should never be denigrated either,
As a philosopher myself, I too balked when Sen. Marco Rubio discouraged an audience from pursuing a degree in Greek philosophy. While he accurately cited the lousy job market for Greek philosophers, a bad job market is an insufficient reason to discourage the study of philosophy. Ideally, a liberal-arts education would help produce the sort of citizen that can contribute meaningfully to our nation’s political discourse. That is more important in the long run than a steady paycheck straight out of college.
But the price is only worth it if liberal-arts universities remain committed to fostering open-minded, free-thinking individuals. Increasingly, conservatives are coming to doubt this commitment, so they are left wondering whether students might not be better served spending their college years preparing themselves for the job market.
Remember most of us are not attacking the liberal arts, we are attacking the way the are (not) taught any longer. When they are again taught, we will again support them, because we agree with the Adam’s quote that opened this article.
June 25, 2015 5 Comments
This is a short post because there just isn’t much to add. Michael Gove recently was the education Secretary in Great Britain, and he got into a certain amount of trouble, mostly because he insisted on high standards.
He now has a new job: Justice Minister and Lord High Chancellor. He’s likely, I suspect to get into more trouble making statements like this:
The sealing of Magna Carta, the calling of the first Parliament by Simon de Montfort, the establishment of habeas corpus, the challenge to the operation of the Star Chamber in early Stuart times, the fight by Parliament against the Crown under Charles the First, the Glorious Revolution, the Bill of Rights, the judgement of Lord Mansfield that affirmed the air of England too pure for any slave to breathe, Catholic Emancipation, the removal of discrimination against Jewish citizens, universal suffrage, the principle of judicial review of the executive – all of these are acts which have contributed to making us who we are – a people bound by rules and guided by precedent who settle issues by debate in Parliament and argument in courts, and who afford equal protection to all and cherish liberty as a birthright. These historic acts are what constitute our nation – they are our constitution. And it is my duty, as Lord Chancellor, to safeguard the principles that underlie that constitution.
Wish we had a few like that in our Department of Justice, let alone as Attorney General, or even heaven forfend, on the Supreme Court.
May 22, 2015 10 Comments
One of the consequences of my friendship with Jessica is that I have been brought in touch with a fairly wide cross-section of British historians (and such). Mind you, I know only a few of them well, and a couple have become close friends but, I see a good bit of their public work. Frankly, I wish I was as well connected with American ones.
I have found many of them via Twitter, and that has led to several of them being featured here. One of my favorites, not least because her interests cross mine in several areas is A Clerk of Oxford. The other thing is that she is, I think anyway, a superb writer, able to transport one to the historical places she writes about. Frankly, I love her blog.
She has just published her 1000th post, and its tone is a bit sad, on what should be a joyous occasion. For those of you who read our blogs but don’t write one, I’ll tell you a secret: It ain’t easy. Coming up wit material that is both interesting and that one know well enough not to make too many mistakes is hard. To be able to write it in an interesting fashion is harder yet. She does it very well, far better than I do. So very heartfelt congratulations to her.
But the tone of her post was not all that cheery, as you’ll see. My impression was that she was turned down for a new position (I may well be wrong (if so, I hope she’ll forgive me.) and that it was done with open contempt by a senior faculty member. Well, that’s not unheard of, sadly not in business, and certainly not in academia. But it is not helpful, to the institution and certainly not to one turned down.
I have heard, from some of my friends over there, stories of the rankest incompetence, which would get you bounced off the curb in my company, no matter how senior you are, especially in the faculty leadership. For the most part they were told to me in confidence and so I will forbear sharing them with you but, I’ll say this, I believe every word she says here.
What we call ‘academia’, as practiced in universities today, is a modern invention, not more than a century or two old, and it seems to me that it’s swiftly reaching the point at which it becomes no longer sustainable; but scholarship and learning are much bigger than academia, and living somewhere like Oxford helps you to hold that in mind. The human desires to understand, to study, to teach and to learn are fundamentally good and beautiful things, however much any particular institution or any age may distort them, and Oxford’s long history of scholarship is a reminder of that: from its medieval origins, the monks and friars who gathered here to study and teach, through its history of benefactors, women and men who endowed colleges and gave money, asking nothing in return but prayer, to the countless generations who have laboured in its libraries to win the secrets of books, a silent wrestling-match with no prize but knowledge.
This is an idealistic picture, I know, but you’ll have to forgive me for being a little wistful right now. Most of the scholars, great in their day, who have worked within Oxford’s cloisters would not survive five minutes in modern academia, and I can’t help feeling that’s not a good thing. Of course I know that the world I’m describing would for most of its history have excluded people like me (a woman, from a non-traditional-Oxford background). But in effect, it still does; it still speaks in code, to keep insiders in and outsiders out. You might think that after eleven years in Oxford I’d have learned to crack the code, learned to fit in, but I’m as mystified as ever. It’s not just Oxford, anyway, but academia as a class – a culture still dominated by patronage, opacity and exclusion, only now in different ways. Now they talk the language of inclusion, while being as exclusive as ever. Oxford has a little bit of polite verbiage they put in their job adverts these days: ‘Applications for this post are especially welcome from women and ethnic minorities, who are under-represented among the University’s academic staff’. Well, you can certainly apply; but if you don’t respond well to an aggressive and hostile interview, you might end up quoting that verbiage back to yourself rather wryly. If I leave academia now, I just become a statistic. But I’ve received so much kindness and such rigorous teaching in this place (the vast majority of it from women); when I leave, I’ll take that with me, and do some good with it somewhere.]
And so I have little add, except that I offer her congratulations on a thousand posts, many of which I have enjoyed thoroughly, and commiseration and sympathy on her setback, which I hope will resolve itself to something even better. It can happen, and often does, at least two of my friends have oxford degrees and neither was a traditional type in college.
Toward the end of her post she included a poem by C.S. Lewis (and you all know what sucker I am for poetry).
In 1919, when he was still an undergraduate (and not yet a Christian), C. S. Lewis published a poem called ‘Oxford’. It’s full of youthful idealism, but it would be unjust to call it naive; the boy who wrote this poem had lived through a war worse than anything most of the people who inhabit a place like Oxford can even begin to imagine. He had a right to his idealism and his hope for a better world.
It is well that there are palaces of peace
And discipline and dreaming and desire,
Lest we forget our heritage and cease
The Spirit’s work — to hunger and aspire:
Lest we forget that we were born divine,
Now tangled in red battle’s animal net,
Murder the work and lust the anodyne,
Pains of the beast ‘gainst bestial solace set.
But this shall never be: to us remains
One city that has nothing of the beast,
That was not built for gross, material gains,
Sharp, wolfish power or empire’s glutted feast.
We are not wholly brute. To us remains
A clean, sweet city lulled by ancient streams,
A place of visions and of loosening chains,
A refuge of the elect, a tower of dreams.
She was not builded out of common stone
But out of all men’s yearning and all prayer
That she might live, eternally our own,
The Spirit’s stronghold — barred against despair.
And my hope that she will keep blogging because I, at least, and I know I’m far from alone, love her blog, and her insights. And I hope it all works out for her.
May 12, 2015 10 Comments
Kirsten Powers has written a book. So what? I hear many of you say, still another liberal writing a book about how bad things are. Well, yes and yes, Powers is by any American appraisal, a liberal, and she does think a lot of things are bad. If you had asked me back in 2008 if I would ever have praised her, well the answer would have been “NO!” and maybe more emphatic than that.
I would have been wrong. Because Powers is a real liberal, who has an innate respect for freedom and America. Her liberalism reminds me greatly of my youth, in northern Indiana and especially in Minnesota, where people really did believe in good faith that the government could effect changes in the environment, business and such, for the better. And, if we’re honest, working with people like them it did. A lot of us had, even then, philosophical problems with it but it worked amongst people of good will, and still likely would.
The trouble is that her kind of liberalism got swamped by what we see today. The strident, divisive kind that can only really be described as fascist, and Powers, like many others got left behind. And that’s very sad because it is no longer possible to, ‘Come, let us reason together’ for the best for the American people. Because for many that is not even a minor goal for them. They want money and power, without regard of who gets hurt along the way, and they will use the power of the state to silence anybody who gets in their way.
And so, I think Kirsten Powers is making a journey, one that many, including Ronald Reagan, made before her, from liberal to classically liberal, and she has written a book. It’s called The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech. While I won’t recommend it (because I haven’t read it) it is on my wish list and I think you likely should.
She published an excerpt in The Daily Beast yesterday, and here is some of it. I am impressed with what she says.
The root of nearly every free-speech infringement on campuses across the country is that someone—almost always a liberal—has been offended or has sniffed out a potential offense in the making. Then, the silencing campaign begins. The offender must be punished, not just for justice’s sake, but also to send the message to anyone else on campus that should he or she stray off the leftist script, they too might find themselves investigated, harassed, ostracized, or even expelled. If the illiberal left can preemptively silence opposing speakers or opposing groups— such as getting a speech or event canceled, or denying campus recognition for a group—even better.
In a 2014 interview with New York magazine, comedian Chris Rock told journalist Frank Rich that he had stopped playing college campuses because of how easily the audiences were offended. Rock said he realized some time around 2006 that “This is not as much fun as it used to be” and noted George Carlin had felt the same way before he died. Rock attributed it to “Kids raised on a culture of ‘We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.’ Or just ignoring race to a fault. You can’t say ‘the black kid over there.’ No, it’s ‘the guy with the red shoes.’ You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.” Sadly, Rock admitted that the climate of hypersensitivity had forced him and other comedians into self-censorship.
This Orwellian climate of intimidation and fear chills free speech and thought. On college campuses it is particularly insidious. Higher education should provide an environment to test new ideas, debate theories, encounter challenging information, and figure out what one believes. Campuses should be places where students are able to make mistakes without fear of retribution. If there is no margin for error, it is impossible to receive a meaningful education.
Instead, the politically correct university is a world of land mines, where faculty and students have no idea what innocuous comment might be seen as an offense. In December 2014, the president of Smith College, Kathleen McCartney, sent an email to the student body in the wake of the outcry over two different grand juries failing to indict police officers who killed African-American men. The subject heading read “All Lives Matter” and the email opened with, “As members of the Smith community we are struggling, and we are hurting.” She wrote, “We raise our voices in protest.” She outlined campus actions that would be taken to “heal those in pain” and to “teach, learn and share what we know” and to “work for equity and justice.”
Shortly thereafter, McCartney sent another email. This one was to apologize for the first. What had she done? She explained she had been informed by students “the phrase/hashtag ‘all lives matter’ has been used by some to draw attention away from the focus on institutional violence against black people.” She quoted two students, one of whom said, “The black students at this school deserve to have their specific struggles and pain recognized, not dissolved into the larger student body.” The Daily Hampshire Gazette reported that a Smith sophomore complained that by writing “All Lives Matter,” “It felt like [McCartney] was invalidating the experience of black lives.” Another Smith sophomore told the Gazette, “A lot of my news feed was negative remarks about her as a person.” In her apology email McCartney closed by affirming her commitment to “working as a white ally.”
McCartney clearly was trying to support the students and was sympathetic to their concerns and issues. Despite the best of intentions, she caused grievous offense. The result of a simple mistake was personal condemnation by students. If nefarious motives are imputed in this situation, it’s not hard to extrapolate what would, and does, happen to actual critics who are not obsequiously affirming the illiberal left.
Keep reading How Liberals Ruined College – The Daily Beast.
Seems to me that the time approaches swiftly for us to welcome another refugee from the illiberal left to ‘The Dark Side’. Smart, easy on the eyes, and thinks for herself, my kind of woman!