The War Against the Humanities

SarahChurchwell8d6f2f50-ea62-4bd4-a111-30f33583918d-1360x2040

Sarah Churchwell, professor of American literature at UEA, who has written in defence of the humanities in Times Higher Education. Photograph: David Hartley/Rex

“There are two types of education… One should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live.”

– John Adams

It appears that the new  Research Evaluation Framework (REF) in Britain has set off a lot of skirmishing. It’s interesting to read, and has implications for us here in the States as well.

As near as I can make out, the government funds most research in the UK (or at least England, it’s not all that specific) and the government is imposing structures that lead to generating hard numbers for quality, quantity,and ‘impact’ on the world. In other words, they are looking for short-term monetary impact.

Well, my standard answer for that is that “He who pays the piper, calls the tune”. They wanted all that government research money and thought (I suspect) that the government would fund their whims no matter how ludicrous. And don’t kid yourself, The United States Universities do at least their share of worthless research as well. We’ve all seen the lists.

In addition what many humanities people like to do is talk, not act, and teaching, which I at least consider to be the prime mission of a school (whether it’s a kindergarten or Oxford itself) is an action, and needs to be performed efficiently That does not mean authoritatively however. that’s not education, that’s indoctrination, and it stifles creativity like nothing else.

Just ask China, the benchmark for measuring education why they are sending their students to England to learn to be creative.

As an aside, that is the exact reason I oppose ‘Common Core’ as well. I don’t care what the test is, if you base performance and pay on a test, the test will be taught to. If you base (what we call) grant money on short-term applied research, you’ll get short-term applied research.

I was talking with a British pure mathematician yesterday, and he says in his field, he has the same problems as his humanities colleagues. I can’t say I was surprised either. You see of all the so-called STEM subjects pure math, like the humanities, has a long-term effect but little short-term benefit.

And yet, the old Bell Labs, the antediluvian research arm of the old Bell Telephone system was almost a pure math shop. They didn’t accomplish much either, only the world-wide telephone system, inventing the transistor,and inventing Boolean algebra, which is the underpinning of every digital device, not just the computer.

But none of it was short-term, it was pure research intelligently applied, often I suspect by humanities majors, who could see new applications and worked with enough engineers to be able to translate the jargon of engineering.

None of that says that accountant aren’t important. they are. They keep score, but are not players in innovation, nor are they players in transmitting our culture to our descendants. Even more than engineers, they are rule bound, and like lawyers, they will nearly always say no, if they can’t understand something, and their understanding is limited to arithmetic.

One of the people I know slightly in British Academia is Sarah Churchwell, I always hope she’ll pardon me for reading her name often as Sarah Churchill. (she’s a lot younger than the mother of the first Duke of Marlborough, after all!). I also think she’s one of the best things to come out of Chicago since pizza. She was one of the people interviewed for The Guardian piece linked, and this some of what she had to say:

Aren’t humanities academics stuck in the 1950s, desperate for an age of long lunches and even longer holidays? “The stereotypical academic world of the 1950s, of dilettantes lounging around with pipe and slippers sipping sherry, disappeared decades ago,” Churchwell said. “The idea of the easy life of the academic is a straw man, a caricature of academics when they say ‘You can’t just swan around like it’s 1950 any more.’ There’s been no swanning for some time, believe me. What initially happened under Thatcher was the forced professionalisation of academia and actually I don’t disagree with the imperative of professionalisation. But this notion that there are still academics at universities who can say ‘I’m going to spend 50 years at this institution, I’m never going to write a book, I’ll never publish, I’ll just sit around reading and chatting with students’, is absurd. Yes there are still a few people who chronically underperform and whom it is difficult to remove. There’s a bit of dead wood. Now I don’t know much about government-funded organisations outside of HE, but I’d venture to speculate that this may be true in other bureaucratic regimes. And the vast majority of people in UK HE are working extremely hard, all the time.”

Obviously I can’t speak in generalities and be accurate, but I know several who bear the title of Professor, and I’ll tell you a (not) secret: they are almost all in the humanities and they are amongst the hardest-working people I have ever met (some of the nicest too, although that may not be relevant, unless you’re their student, of course.) Without exception, they are also outstanding writers as well. To continue:

“What has changed radically in the last 10 years is that they’re trying to turn everything into a for-profit business,” said Churchwell. “And that’s bullshit. Universities are not for profit. We are charitable institutions. What they’re now doing is saying to academics: ‘You have to be the fundraisers, the managers, the producers, you have to generate the incomes that will keep your institutions afloat.’ Is that really what society wants – for everything to become a marketplace, for everything to become a commodity? Maybe I’m just out of step with the world, but what some of us are fighting for is the principle that not everything that is valuable can or should be monetised. That universities are one of the custodians of centuries of knowledge, curiosity, inspiration. That education is not a commodity, it’s a qualitative transformation. You can’t sell it. You can’t simply transfer it.”

Churchwell went on to talk about what would be lost if we didn’t stand in the way of this systematic destruction of the traditional liberal education. “Virtually every cabinet minister has a humanities degree,” she said. “And I think there’s something quite sinister about it: they get their leadership positions after studying the humanities and then they tell us that what we need is a nation of technocrats. If you look at the vast majority of world leaders, you’ll find that they’ve got humanities degrees. Angela Merkel is the only one who’s a scientist. The ruling elite have humanities degrees because they can do critical thinking, they can test premises, they can think outside the box, they can problem-solve, they can communicate, they don’t have linear, one-solution models with which to approach the world. You won’t solve the problems of religious fundamentalism with a science experiment.”

The war against humanities at Britain’s universities | Education | The Guardian.

There’s a lot more, and it;’s all excellent. Remember this, in any case, I’m an electrician and a lineman, essentially a technician or even a technocrat and a manager. That’s how I’ve made a living for nearly a half century. Without the background in the humanities from my parents and my schooling, it would have been a drab and sterile life. is that really what you want for your children?

What I really think is that our societies need to get over this kick that everything must have an immediate payoff. The most important things never do. In addition, our schools (UK and US which the two I know most about) need to be funded from diverse sources, with diverse goals. How we get there (actually back there) I have some ideas but, not all the answers. But Sarah is right in all she said here, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s time for people with vision get involved in this.

“I must study Politics and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematics and Philosophy.”

– John Adams, letter to Abigail Adams, May 12, 1780.

Rialto Assignment Asking Students to Question Holocaust to Be Revised

rialto

(Document and photo credit: San Bernardino Sun)

And so, we begin to see what education indoctrination will look like with Common Core in charge. In the first place, I don’t see any especially good sources given for the students here. About.com and History.com are not really all that great either, useful but, not the best either. The other thing is that as per usual in Common Core, it gets the cart before the horse. One must know history to debate history or even do a contrafactual. here’s a chunk of the KTLA story.

The Rialto school district planned to revise an eighth-grade assignment that raised red flags by asking students to consider arguments about whether the Holocaust — the systematic killing by the Nazis of some 6 million Jews and millions of others — was not an “actual event” but instead a “propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain.”

In a statement released Monday, a spokeswoman for the Rialto Unified School District said an academic team was meeting to revise the assignment.

Interim Superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam was set to talk with administrators to “assure that any references to the holocaust ‘not occurring’ will be stricken on any current or future Argumentative Research assignments,” a statement from district spokeswoman Syeda Jafri read.

“The holocaust should be taught in classrooms with sensitivity and profound consideration to the victims who endured the atrocities committed,” Jafri said.

The English/Language Arts assignment, first reported Sunday by the San Bernardino Sun and provided to KTLA by the newspaper, asked students to write an argumentative essay about the Holocaust describing “whether or not you believe this was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth.”

An eighth-grade assignment, shown, raised questions from a Jewish civil rights group. (Document and photo credit: San Bernardino Sun)

The 18-page assignment instructions included three sources that students were told to use, including one that stated gassings in concentration camps were a “hoax” and that no evidence has shown Jews died in gas chambers.

“With all this money at stake for Israel, it is easy to comprehend why this Holocaust hoax is so secretly guarded,” states the source, which is a attributed to a webpage on biblebelievers.org.au. “In whatever way you can, please help shatter this profitable myth. It is time we stop sacrificing America’s welfare for the sake of Israel and spend our hard-earned dollars on Americans.”

The other sources were from the websites history.com and about.com.

via Rialto Assignment Asking Students to Question Holocaust to Be Revised | KTLA 5.

Another thing that bothers me here is that there are apparently 18 pages of directions for the project. Micro-manage much? Or is that the only way to get the desired results?

If I were to grant the legitimacy of the project, which I don’t, proper directions shouldn’t take more than a page. Yes, I know our society has dumbed down that we have to give instructions in minute detail. But, that is something we need to fix. They claim they are trying to teach critical thinking, well part of critical thinking is to have enough sense to tie your shoes before running.

Ace ran this story last night, with a very cogent comment towards the end of the article

I’ve hinted at this before, but let be explicit:

I do not support the lofty and ambitious goal of having teachers teach children “how to think” because I do not believe that low-ranking civil servants, as a group, are particularly good at it themselves.

Let this be my Exhibits A through Z.

They are failing at teaching the most basic stuff, so our response is to let them Explore the Studio Space?

You know, I am reminded that when Patton and the 3d Army overran the Ohrdruf Concentration Camp, Eisenhower ordered extensive filming of the site and (the few) victims left. It was reported that he told Patton that without the films, nobody would believe the reports of the hell they had uncovered. But now, in the enlightened teens, we disbelieve our lying eyes for comforting propaganda, from those who are tasked to train our future.

God help us all.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Whittle, Rowe, Common Sense, and Common Core

Mike Rowe had some advice on his Facebook for a guy, a while back. It applies to all of us, and here it is in its entirety.

Saturday Mail Call

Hey Mike!

I’ve spent this last year trying to figure out the right career for myself and I still can’t figure out what to do. I have always been a hands on kind of guy and a go-getter. I could never be an office worker. I need change, excitement, and adventure in my life, but where the pay is steady. I grew up in construction and my first job was a restoration project. I love everything outdoors. I play music for extra money. I like trying pretty much everything, but get bored very easily. I want a career that will always keep me happy, but can allow me to have a family and get some time to travel. I figure if anyone knows jobs its you so I was wondering your thoughts on this if you ever get the time! Thank you!

Parker Hall

Hi Parker

My first thought is that you should learn to weld and move to North Dakota. The opportunities are enormous, and as a “hands-on go-getter,” you’re qualified for the work. But after reading your post a second time, it occurs to me that your qualifications are not the reason you can’t find the career you want.

I had drinks last night with a woman I know. Let’s call her Claire. Claire just turned 42. She’s cute, smart, and successful. She’s frustrated though, because she can’t find a man. I listened all evening about how difficult her search has been. About how all the “good ones” were taken. About how her other friends had found their soul-mates, and how it wasn’t fair that she had not.

“Look at me,” she said. “I take care of myself. I’ve put myself out there. Why is this so hard?”

“How about that guy at the end of the bar,” I said. “He keeps looking at you.”
“Not my type.”

“Really? How do you know?”
“I just know.”

“Have you tried a dating site?” I asked.”
“Are you kidding? I would never date someone I met online!”

“Alright. How about a change of scene? Your company has offices all over – maybe try living in another city?”
“What? Leave San Francisco? Never!”

“How about the other side of town? You know, mix it up a little. Visit different places. New museums, new bars, new theaters…?”

She looked at me like I had two heads. “Why the hell would I do that?”

Here’s the thing, Parker. Claire doesn’t really want a man. She wants the “right” man. She wants a soul-mate. Specifically, a soul-mate from her zip code. She assembled this guy in her mind years ago, and now, dammit, she’s tired of waiting!!

I didn’t tell her this, because Claire has the capacity for sudden violence. But it’s true. She complains about being alone, even though her rules have more or less guaranteed she’ll stay that way. She has built a wall between herself and her goal. A wall made of conditions and expectations. Is it possible that you’ve built a similar wall?

Consider your own words. You don’t want a career – you want the “right” career. You need “excitement” and “adventure,” but not at the expense of stability. You want lots of “change” and the “freedom to travel,” but you need the certainty of “steady pay.” You talk about being “easily bored” as though boredom is out of your control. It isn’t. Boredom is a choice. Like tardiness. Or interrupting. It’s one thing to “love the outdoors,” but you take it a step further. You vow to “never” take an office job. You talk about the needs of your family, even though that family doesn’t exist. And finally, you say the career you describe must “always” make you “happy.”

These are my thoughts. You may choose to ignore them and I wouldn’t blame you – especially after being compared to a 42 year old woman who can’t find love. But since you asked…

Stop looking for the “right” career, and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like. Focus on what’s available. Get yourself hired. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer for the scut work. Become indispensable. You can always quit later, and be no worse off than you are today. But don’t waste another year looking for a career that doesn’t exist. And most of all, stop worrying about your happiness. Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.

Many people today resent the suggestion that they’re in charge of the way the feel. But trust me, Parker. Those people are mistaken. That was a big lesson from Dirty Jobs, and I learned it several hundred times before it stuck. What you do, who you’re with, and how you feel about the world around you, is completely up to you.

Good luck –

Mike

PS. I’m serious about welding and North Dakota. Those guys are writing their own ticket.

PPS Think I should forward this to Claire?

Hat tip to Chicks on the Right

I’ve nothing to add to either one of these, other than “Rock on Bill and Mike”


 

And just to round out the problems, a couple of short excerpts about Common Core

Common Core Illustrates that We Just Don’t Get It

The following came to us courtesy of Townhall.com.   We’ve seen some of this ‘math’ brought home and the process challenges us and confuses us because for the most part we simply learned arithmetic  and when it came time to figure what 15-7 was we learned to do it in our mind—we didn’t even have to take our mittens and socks off.  Apparently, this is how Common Core teaches ‘critical thinking’.

In any event, we hope you can figure out the correct answer after you’ve already done so in your head without the contortions involved in Common Core.

Common Core Math is Ridiculous

Christine Rousselle

10/4/2013 12:00:00 PM – Christine Rousselle

“Quick! What’s 15-7?

From Objective Conservative
And

Title: Common Core Meets Education Reform: What It All Means for Politics, Policy, and the Future of Schooling
Translator / Editor: Frederick M. Hess & Michael Q. McShane
Publish Date: 2014
Publisher / Edition: Teachers College Press

In 2006, resident education policy expert at the D.C.-based American Enterprise Institute (AEI) Rick Hess wrote in his book Common Sense School Reform about a conversation he had with a school leader:

I told him that the first steps in real improvement had little to do with instruction and a lot to do with sensible management… and that no amount of new spending, professional development, or instructional refinement would change that…. These truths went overlooked year after year because reformers kept approaching school improvement as a matter of educational expertise rather than common sense.

Common Sense School Reform draws broadly on the experience of successful education organizations. Hess promotes reforms that drive educators toward constant improvement through management structures that include incentives for good performance and disincentives for poor ones. This is inarguably a “common sense” approach.

From Online Library of Law and Liberty

There you have it: two home Runs and to strike outs. Could be worse I suppose, follow the links and think for yourself, and for your kids as well. You are supposed to be parents, not your child’s best friend.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

An Idea Whose Time Will Never Come

Garrison Keillor closes the news from Lake Wobegon with the sentence:

“Well, that’s the news from Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

Like a lot of you, that is the society I grew up in, and to a large extent still live in. As I’ll bet you all know, it’s three lies for the price of one. Sure we tend to think our town is different, but it’s not really, we all know weak women, ugly men, and below average children. Today we’re going to talk about the children, and Common Core.

You see the thing is exactly half (± 1) of the children are above average, the other half are below average (again ±1). By definition, that’s what average means. it doesn’t mean they are better or worse, more or less equal, or anything beyond what is being measured. All it means is that by whatever measure we are using half are above average and half are below. Note that I’m talking about objective standards here that we can measure, preferably with a test. What you end up with is this:

Bell_curve_and_IQ

That’s from Wikipedia Commons, and I make no claims for accuracy but, it does seem reasonable. The thing is it is a statistical distribution, and that makes it pretty limited, because everybody is different. Me, for example, I know what my IQ is, and based on that I’m an exception in four of the six lists. That’s probably true (more or less) for most of us. It’s like the metrics on our blogs, we have some idea of what brings in readers but every article we post is different.

My real point with this though is that bell-shaped line at the top, in a significantly large survey size, that is the distribution you will find. Probably for any of the lines in the chart.

And that is the problem with Common Core. It presupposes that all children are the same, with the same goals in life, and the same abilities. And it just ain’t so. Read more of this post

Forum:How Would You Change Public Education in The U.S.? « Sago

Think

Think (Photo credits: http://www.mysafetysign.com)

I was just thinking that it was about time that I talked about education again. The problem is that I really had nothing much new to say, and so I’ve been stalling. But yesterday the Council Forum took on the mission, while I may not agree with every suggestion here, I do with most, and they all are better than the mess we have now. So read, enjoy, and start thinking about it.

Every week on Monday morning , the Council and our invited guests weigh in at the Watcher’s Forum, short takes on a major issue of the day, the culture, or daily living. This week’s question:How Would You Change Public Education in The U.S.?

The Independent Sentinel: I don’t like the idea of paying for two public school systems running alongside one another but public education needs competition. The union leaders block change and progress if they think it in any way inhibits their goals, which do not include the children except as an after-thought.

I do think private education, such as privately-funded Charter Schools, can work. I don’t mind vouchers in poor areas where the schools are failing.

Common Core could have been the answer. Instead it’s an abomination. The testing now tied into it will nationalize education. The leftists – and I do mean hard-left – have already taken advantage and plugged their propaganda into the Core-Aligned curricula. There are too many tests and, while I agree that more objective measures of teacher performance are needed, these standardized tests aren’t it.

GrEaT sAtAn”S gIrLfRiEnD: In no partic order – totally reshape the Dept of Edu to nigh inexistence, reshape teacher unions, implement text book reform for grade school with an asset kicking update to the famous 1879 version of the McGuffey Readers. The American History courses would be heavily influenced by the incredible “How America Got It Right”.

Continue reading Forum:How Would You Change Public Education in The U.S.? « Sago.

I’d be very happy to read your ideas in comments here as well.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Bill Whittle Gets His Hammer Out: and Fixes It

You have, of course, by now a pretty good intimation (more likely direct confirmation) that the administration lied to you about health care. Here is confirmation

Yeah, I know, that’s all well and good. How do we fix it?

Like this:

I might disagree with some details, but not enough to make any real difference. Let’s get to work.

 

%d bloggers like this: