The credentialling sector Archives

June 18, 2008

The freedom to comply

A friend of mine, who still works in the belly of the Credentialling Sector beast, sent me the following clip, from a publication with the narcotic name of Inside Higher Education:

Michigan Severs Ties to Controversial Publisher

In September, the University of Michigan Press faced intense criticism from pro-Israel groups... over its distribution of a book called Overcoming Zionism, which argues that the creation of Israel was a mistake and urges adoption of the "one state" solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.... Michigan wasn't the publisher, but it distributed the book under a deal with Pluto Press, a leftist British publisher with extensive lists on the Middle East and international affairs.

Some critics of the book demanded that Michigan stop distributing the book, which it briefly did, and cut ties to Pluto immediately. The university declined to do [cut ties], and resumed distributing the book, citing both contractual obligations to Pluto and concerns that halting distribution because of content would raise issues of academic freedom. By the end of this year, however, Michigan will no longer be distributing the book or have any ties to Pluto Press.....

Among those who publish with Pluto are Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn, bell hooks, and Ariel Dorfman....

.... Peggy McCracken, an associate dean at Michigan who is chair of the executive board of the press, said that politics wasn't the issue. She said that... Pluto doesn't have peer review on the Michigan model.... Pluto uses peer review on proposals and chapters, but not the finished manuscript.

....McCracken added that "certainly the free and open exchange of ideas is the foundation of everything we do at the university."

A little touch of deadpan Irish humor there, I suspect, in that last graf from Ms McCracken.

Stories like this -- the next most recent discussed here was the purge of Norman Finkelstein -- always delight me with the contrast between Academia's self-image, as a place for Ms McCracken's "free and open exchange of ideas", and the utter poltroonery with which it nearly always responds to ideological witch-hunts.

Back in the Red Scare days, the Unis obligingly got rid of all their Reds, and nowadays, they can almost always be relied on to cave in promptly to indignant e-mails from Israel fans.

It all leads one to wonder a bit about the concept of "academic freedom". It's a little strange -- isn't it? -- that academics should claim entitlement to some kind of freedom which isn't apparently available to the rest of us.

Presumably the justification is the broader social benefit that accrues to us all from these fearless thinkers and scholars, boldly

Voyaging through strange seas of thought, alone

... regardless of conventional wisdom, heedless of prejudice and superstition, willing and eager to challenge all unquestioned assumptions, and so on.

Well, there might me something to say for this idea if the Unis were really anything like that. But of course they aren't; Michigan's servile kowtowing to the Israel lobby is the way Academia actually works, ninety-nine times out of a hundred.

So I say the hell with academic freedom. Let the professoriate get used to the same kind of labor discipline as the proletariat. Away with the fig leaf. Let's candidly say (what is in fact the fact) that Unis exist to indoctrinate the young; to justify inequality with a factitious gilding of "merit"; to defend received ideas, and to call groupthink "peer review".

Let's get Laputa back on the ground again.

July 2, 2008

Keeping Laputa aloft

An old friend of mine -- my informant, mentioned here before, deeply embedded in the credentialling sector -- passed this along, in salutary defiance of copyright law, from the subscription-only Chronicle Of Higher Education. Why these folks might feel they're in any danger from Napster or whoever is anybody's guess, but that's Academia for you -- the smaller the stakes, the fiercer the struggle.

For subscribers:

Pentagon's New Social-Science Program Stirs Old Anxieties

In September 1965, not long after news reports spotlighted a controversial Pentagon-sponsored program to study social conflict in South America, the Social Science Research Council played host to a meeting on overseas research.

Feelings were raw. Opposition to the Vietnam War was mounting, and many scholars worried that the Pentagon's research on conflict and counterinsurgency would bring all overseas researchers under suspicion as agents of American military power. According to Seymour J. Deitchman's The Best-Laid Schemes: A Tale of Social Research and Bureaucracy (MIT Press, 1976), a central theme of that 1965 meeting was whether, if the Pentagon really required research on such topics, it "couldn't be obtained by some independent, 'objective' agency, such as the National Science Foundation."

.... In April, Robert M. Gates, the secretary of defense, announced the Minerva Research Initiative, a Pentagon-financed, university-based social-science program whose purpose is to study the Chinese military, cultural dynamics in the Islamic world, and other topics of interest to the military.

... The president of the American Anthropological Association released a statement urging that such research be funded not by the Pentagon, but by agencies with "decades of experience in building an infrastructure of respected peer reviewers" like the National Science Foundation.

...[O]n Monday afternoon, the Pentagon signed an agreement that will facilitate collaborative social-science projects with the National Science Foundation... The anthropologists' wish has been at least partly granted.

The Pentagon has learned a valuable lesson: find the most respectable front you can, and then suborn it. "Peer review"! The holy of holies! The very best whitewash to use, if you've got a really foul sepulchre that needs touching up.
... [T]he program's supporters hope that it will play a... role in rebuilding trust between social scientists and the military. In his speech announcing Minerva, Mr. Gates referred to "academics who felt used and disenchanted after Vietnam, and troops who felt abandoned and unfairly criticized by academia during the same time."
Gates was at least a bit more balanced than his prospective new boss.
In an interview last month, Thomas G. Mahnken, the Defense Department's deputy assistant secretary for policy planning, said... "We believe that the government will benefit and the nation will benefit if we have a larger cadre of scholars who are conversant in primary-source Arabic documents, for example."
Translation: The overburdened CIA needs a sort of ladies' auxiliary.
He added that he hoped the NSF's peer-review process would give the program credibility among scholars.
No doubt his wish will be gratified. Once the holy water of "peer review" has been sprinkled about with a free hand -- what evil spirits could possibly remain? Besides, these people have... money... for grants! Now there, if you like, is some serious holy water.

But the best is yet to come:

Among the most visible skeptics is David H. Price, an associate professor of sociology and anthropology at Saint Martin's University and the author of a new history of World War II-era anthropology. Mr. Price says that even when the military solicits social scientists' insights, those insights are often ignored.
So let me see if I follow you, David: the problem with giving the Devil advice is that... the Devil doesn't listen?
Mr. Deitchman ended his memoir with a proposition that almost no one in the current Minerva debate is likely to find palatable. After witnessing a decade of angry Congressional hearings and bitter arguments within social-science organizations, he concluded that publicly financed social-science research was hopelessly politicized and that the federal government should, by and large, wash its hands of the entire business.

No matter whether they work for the Defense Department or for less controversial agencies, government-financed social scientists are in danger of swallowing "the values and outlook of the bureaucracy," Mr. Deitchman wrote. But in a new time of war and cross-cultural conflict, it's impossible to imagine that the federal government will follow Mr. Deitchman's advice and retreat from social-science research. The question now, as in 1965, is which agencies will steer that research.

And no doubt the answer will be the same. All the other answers seem to be the same -- or worse. I'm still reeling from Anthony Lake -- Obama's foreign-policy Yoda -- telling us recently that our mistake in Vietnam was leaving too soon.

July 3, 2008

Regression to the mean

Ahhh, the magic of peer review:

The ’60s Begin to Fade as Liberal Professors Retire

Baby boomers, hired in large numbers during a huge expansion in higher education that continued into the ’70s, are being replaced by younger professors who [are] less ideologically polarized and more politically moderate.

Here's some good news for Dick Dawkins:
At Stanford a divided anthropology department reunited last year after a bitter split in 1998 broke it into two entities, one focusing on culture, the other on biology.
Going on:
[A] new study of the social and political views of American professors [found that] “Self-described liberals are most common within the ranks of those professors aged 50-64, who were teenagers or young adults in the 1960s,” they wrote, making up just under 50 percent. At the same time, the youngest group, ages 26 to 35, contains the highest percentage of moderates, some 60 percent, and the lowest percentage of liberals, just under a third.

When it comes to those who consider themselves “liberal activists,” 17.2 percent of the 50-64 age group take up the banner compared with only 1.3 percent of professors 35 and younger.

“These findings with regard to age provide further support for the idea that, in recent years, the trend has been toward increasing moderatism,” the study says.

"Moderatism!" There's a conceptual breakthrough for you! What, one wonders, are the tenets of moderatism? Presumably "the truth lies somewhere in between" must figure prominently. You know: a male chauvinist thinks that women are inferior to men. A feminist thinks that women are the equals of men. A moderatist(*) thinks the truth lies somewhere in between.
The authors are not talking about a political realignment. Democrats continue to overwhelmingly outnumber Republicans among faculty, young and old.
It's certainly easy enough to be a Democrat and a moderatist. In fact, it's difficult to be a Democrat and anything else.

But here's the really good news:

... moderation can be found at both ends of the political spectrum [e.g.] A seminar on great books at Princeton jointly taught by two philosophers, the left-wing Cornel West and the right-wing Robert P. George.
O the lion lies down with the lamb! But which is which? And who is dinner?

August 26, 2008

Another ox, gored

An SMBIVA deep-cover agent, embedded in the bowels of Academe, passed this along, from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Why Doesn't Plagiarism Matter?
By Jonathan Beecher Field

Like so many of my [academic] colleagues, I have followed Barack Obama's presidential campaign with interest and excitement....

Remembering this sense of exhilaration I sensed in seeing a new field of political possibilities makes the sense of betrayal I feel today even more powerful. By choosing Joe Biden as his running mate, Barack Obama has insulted academics -- students and teachers alike.... it's surprising that Biden's record of plagiarism did not disqualify him from Obama's consideration.

"So much for the concerns of academics," my informant sourly and correctly notes.

Field, the Chronicle writer, continues:

[But] on Election Day, I will hold my nose and vote for Obama/Biden. I continue to believe Obama offers the United Sates the best chance of escaping from the disaster of the last eight years. A survey of third party candidates reveals that after the vainglorious spoilsport Ralph Nader, the choices get even more marginal at a quick pace.... I don't think I can afford to waste my vote on a gesture.... [though] Obama's choice has made it harder for me, and for my colleagues across the United States, to defend the principles that form the foundation of scholarship.
Harder, but clearly not impossible.

I don't know which is more risible -- Field's belief that the pettifogging Pharisaism of academic morality constitutes the "foundation of scholarship"; or his conviction that Obama ought to have had more consideration for the parochial guild-pride of Fields' fellow pedagogues(*); or that among Biden's many sins, plagiarism even registers on any thinking person's moral radar; or his sheepish declaration that in spite of all his high dudgeon and the mortal insult to his trade, he will -- of course -- waste his vote on Bidobama anyway.


(*)Greek for "boy-herder."

October 15, 2008

Among the immortals

Our fearless pwog terrier, Paul Krugman, has won the Swedish bank's pseudo-Nobel prize for "economic science." This rigorous friend of all things small-fry and Bush-battered, champion of long-gone well-hung safety nets, and well-versed anal-solonic regulators, and... and... oh Christ, blah blah blah.

Why him? Well, before he became the relentless tribune of the naked truth, the master of bright-line, gotcha! political arithmetic, over there on the op-ed pages of the Times of Laputa -- before all that, he was an innovative breakthroughish academic econ-conner; in fact, a paragon in his field. It's a field which for the last 60 years or so has required its heros and saints to boldly go where no academic mind has gone before, and formally, simply, and crisply, model some chunk of obvious everyday marketplace reality that has stared us all in the face since Columbus cheated Chief Nugawana at cards, and yet, until the publication of this particular paper, has evaded algebraic capture. Yes, trap it in Greek letters and render it in the toonish galaxy-far-far-away terms that please the rarefied minds of ivydom's Dismalians.

In Paul's case, he took an earlier breakthrough model by Dixit Stiglitz and frigged it around some, and used it, after suitable relabeling, to prove something -- well -- obvious: Toyota and General Motors might rationally choose to sell and produce in each others' home markets -- and profit maximally.

Sound impressive? No? Well, it got him overnight to the top tier of young Turks in trade theory.

But wait! There's more! Not satisfied with his initial earthshaking achievement, about a decade later, Paul built a model of optimal human civilization -- the genesis of urban habitat, those nodes of folks that pimple the market plain, swelling to the point where the economies of agglomeration just nicely balance the costs of transportation. As a lover of such toy train-set worlds, I could go on and on -- but I won't.

Street value of this body of work that won him the Swedish bankers' prize? Somewhere between the value of six mice and one large pumpkin, down at the local cab stand.

October 16, 2008

Stoop labor in the groves of Academe

I was amused by the following, from the Chronicle of Higher Education, on one of my lefty mailing lists:

Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest private employer, long criticized for its workplace policies, is a “more-honest employer” of part-time workers than colleges that employ thousands of adjunct faculty members. That was the harsh message delivered to a group of college human-resources officials here on Monday by one of their own: Angelo-Gene Monaco, associate vice president for human resources and employee relations at the University of Akron.

“We helped create a highly educated part of the working poor, and it’s starting to get attention from outsiders,” he said, noting that unions are trying to organize part-timers....

Yet another of the unlovely realities of academic life, so sharply at odds with the "profession's" exalted self-representation -- you know, the life of the mind and all that.

Note well that Monaco's concern was anything but humanitarian:

If colleges don't improve conditions for part-time instructors, they risk increased unionization efforts, and not just from the groups that have traditionally organized professors, said Mr. Monaco. He mentioned the United Auto Workers and Teamsters as potential organizers of adjuncts. "I'm worried about them. They don't care about the full-time faculty," he said.
A good many of us don't, Gene -- and there should be more.

December 11, 2008

Gatekeepers facing eviction?

A fellow-member of one of my lefty mailing lists passed along a begging letter he received from Alfred H Bloom, the president of his atra mater, the formerly very self-satisfied Swarthmore College:

Swarthmore has benefited from a continuing tradition of generous philanthropy and has over the years enjoyed exceptional investment success. The College has held prudently to a conservative spending rate on its endowment during years of excellent return so that it would be well positioned in years of disappointing performance....

Nevertheless, the almost 30% decline in the endowment from its June 30 value of $1.4 billion has been much steeper than anyone anticipated....

Effective immediately, the College will pull back from all non-essential construction work, refrain from initiating any new programs, and stringently evaluate any faculty or staff hiring....

Over the coming semester we will develop a contingency plan for more significant reductions in the budget, which the College will begin to implement if by this time next year the College's financial situation has not improved.

It's an ill wind that blows nobody good. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the "current decline in financial assets," as Bloom old-maidishly calls it, ruined every elite private college and university in the nation? Low Library converted to low-rent housing!

Oh I'm licking my chops here. The spirit of '68 walks again, wearing the stolen clothing of Efficient Markets.

December 13, 2008

Dotheboys Hall, B. Obama, Headmaster

It's hard to keep up with the relentless drumbeat of sourly satisfying news about Obama's appointments, actual and potential. I'm only now getting around to reflecting on the glorious possibility that Obie might actually appoint the Childgrinder of Tweed Courthouse, Joel Klein, as secretary of education.

Klein, a corporate lawyer, was put in charge of New York City's schools by that Napoleonic poison toad Mike Bloomberg. The two of them share a religious commitment to standardized testing as the Holy Grail of education.

Of course this is also the Bush administration's approach, embodied in No Child Left Alone -- er, Behind.

In fact there's an almost complete elite consensus viewing education as a kind of industrial operation: a child-processing facility that takes in raw material (sentimentally referred to as "children") of various types and levels of quality, pulverizes them, sifts them, separates the fine-grained from the coarse, and packages them into citizen-units ranging in price from the deluxe to the unlabelled-generic -- and by the way, generates a fairly high proportion of factory-seconds and rejects in the course of its workings.

You can see why a bloodless corporate honcho like Bloomberg might like this picture -- a δημοβόρος βασιλεύς , as Homer says, a people-eating king. But merit babies like Obie are right there with 'em. For folks in this latter category, the only thing more sacred than the Supreme Court is the Scholastic Aptitude Test. (To be sure, these kind-hearted humanists can be counted on, as always, to emit a high faint yesbutnik squeak, if you squeeze them, like one of those toy mice that cats are expected to like. But that, and a high-school diploma, will get you -- bupkis.)

It may not be Klein, of course. It might be Obie's old Harvard and Chicago buddy Arne Duncan, Klein's counterpart in Chicago.

Duncan is easily summed up: he is to Klein as Chicago is to New York.

February 3, 2009


Beware this creep, Jeffrey Sachs, the Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia University.

He is a vicious climbing grasping sanctimonious hollow pine of a grifter, the Geraldo Rivera of development economics, a lamp unto himself alone, a scorpion fire, a sickening soul, a blemish on shame itself.

Once Doctor Shock to both Poland and Bolivia, the smiley face of raw neolib market stampedes that brought misery worthy of the four horsemen in its wake, he's now Doctor African Makeover, the white rain man that wretched sub-Saharan black folks never asked for, but got right up their ass.

In the last decade, this trans-nat limited-liability emerging-economy death-wish incarnate, despite heading for deep cover as a champion of the poorest of the global poor, remains nothing but a babyfaced corporate pimp, ready to facilitate the free range profiteers and various other serial rapists of one backward nation after another.

I'll not trouble you with the details. Just never read a word he writes or believe anything he claims. If he said horse jockeys oughta all be over 7 feet tall, he couldn't get himself one inch further from the truth than he is right now, 24/7.

This undauntable guy's ever-boring, ever-ready ambition will never give up the hustle. His foul spirit wants in on everything, and he'll get in on everything too, if he ain't sent rocketing down to the circle of Hell reserved for oily human corkscrews like him.

On the other hand, this shrewd witty chap --

... Dani Rodrik, despite -- or more likey because of -- an odd Sancho as Quixote side, must have a place waiting for him somewhere up there in God's own sugar bowl.

I quote from a recent light and popular advice piece of his, intended for the same array of emerging states the above Sachs man has tried poisoning, states now obviously confronting a fast submerging "order" here on market Earth:

"First on the agenda must be new rules that make financial crises less likely and their consequences less severe.Left to their own devices, global financial markets provide too much credit at too cheap a price in good times, while they deliver too little credit at bad times. The only effective response is counter-cyclical capital-account management. -- discouraging foreign borrowing in good times, and preventing capital flight in bad. "
This reads to me like Clausewitz on war -- splendid fast volley after volley, all forehand overhead smashes.

But soft! Here entereth the villain --

"Instead of frowning on capital controls and pushing for financial openness, the IMF should be in the business of actively helping countries implement such policies. It should also enlarge its emergency credit lines to act more as a lender of last resort to developing nations hit by financial whiplash. "
Note the pair of 'shoulds' hurled at our bogeyman, the hated IMF -- that's merely a respectable academic's way of saying "won't happen, and that's what the matter with the IMF."
"Second, the crisis is an opportunity for achieving greater transparency on all fronts, including banking practices in the advanced countries that facilitate tax evasion in the developing nations. Wealthy citizens in the developing world evade more than a hundred billion of US dollars worth of taxes in their home countries each year thanks to bank accounts they maintain in Zurich, Miami, London, and elsewhere. Governments of these nations should ask for and be given information on their nationals’ accounts."
And my dog Willy should live longer then me, God bless him, but....
"Third, developing nations should also push for a Tobin tax (**) – a tax on global foreign currency transactions. Set at a small enough level – say 0.25% – such a tax would have little adverse effect on the global economy while raising considerable amount of revenue. At worst the efficiency costs would be minor; at best the tax would discourage excessive short-term speculation. The revenues collected – which would easily amount to hundreds of billions of US dollars annually – could be spent on global public goods such as development assistance, vaccines for tropical diseases, and the greening of technologies in use in the developing world."
Give me a toke on that dream pipe, willya, brother Dan?


(**) While we dream -- a Tobin tax rate might work better if structured to move up and down dynamically, like a congestion tax.

March 23, 2009

Every man an investor

Old monster Luce's flagship has a beaut of a piece:

Jobs Are The New Assets

"Remember when jobs weren't worth your small talk? Think back a year or two.... You talked about your house. A new deck! You talked about your portfolio. Gotta go small cap. Did you mention how much pleasure you derived from bringing home a steady paycheck? Probably not.... Land was valuable, and capital was valuable, and labor — who cared?"

My shitty job stinks, but my house is worth a fortune. Them's premium Reagan-era lyrics, eh?

Now here at the dawn of die Obamazeit with our cratered 401K/IRA "portfolio" and our house treading the waterline, our shitass jobs are all we got -- again. Its like 1946 all over -- err, only different; we ain't got no CIO.

Let's take the Wayback to the beginning, the time before Reagan time, to the cold war, the one Harry stared and Nixon won by going to visit his co-victor Chairman Mao.

The kulacking of America's blue-ribbon wage earners began with the great migration out of the urban apartment and onto the family house lot in Sprawlville. Okay, so you're still William Bendix, Brookyn wage smurf, but now you got a front lawn and a back yard of your own.

Beats hell out of stickball, rooftop picnics, and the iceman shtupping the wife, eh?

Here's the gimmick turned miracle: by 2006 those house lots -- now owned by Homer Simpson, not Chester A. Riley, are worth megabucks -- or thereabouts. Like a magic tree growing over the years in the back yard, suddenly the fucker's yielding golden apples. The credit line running off that lot's appreciation in value by '06 is getting Homer a 9% "lifestyle raise". Life is sweet!

...That is, until yesterday when the great lot pop exploded. Oh well, I still got my 401K -- except it's now more like a 201K.

Looks like it's back to being just that good old peculiar commodity again. Welcome back, 1946!

It gets me to ruminating. Back then, America's white wage smurfs took a path away from the CIO class model toward the BYOB model -- that is -- the Build Your Own Business model, though the phrase has to be understood in a perverse sense. It means build some other offsite bunch of ass holes' business, by cultivating your inner professional, that guy or gal you make yourself over into, by acquiring skills and, better yet, credentials. That's your business, and it don't matter if you're counter help or a wily commission sales harpooneer.

Your business is best done inside a bigger limited-liability outfit -- BYOB don't mean Be Your Own Boss. Just upgrade yerself, pard.

My grad school idol, Gary "The Pecker" Becker, shown above, turned this caper, this investing in ourselves, this building a deck onto ourselves rather than our house, into a career, and gave it a name -- "building our human capital." In fact he got a Swedish dunce-cap award for his "modeling" of it.

So there you are, all you have-hopers: what'll you be? A commodity or a capital? A "professional" or an honorary wetback?

It's America. You're free to choose, hombre.

March 30, 2009

The grovels of Academe

I never cease to be amused by the gaping chasm between Academe's bold image of itself as a haven of fearless unfettered inquiry, and the craven reality. Latest instance:

Banned in Boston

The norm for protests over a William Ayers appearance on campus these days is for conservative critics to say that the University of Illinois at Chicago professor shouldn't be given a forum to speak because of the past violence of the Weather Underground, of which he was once a leader.

At Boston College, the debate has taken a new twist -- with the college calling off a talk by Ayers planned for tonight and citing a police killing that has never been definitively linked to the Weather Underground and that Ayers and others insist his group had nothing to do with. Nonetheless, that 1970 police killing is still associated by many in Boston with the Weather Underground and remains a political flashpoint -- as became clear on Friday.

Michael Graham, a local talk radio host, started calling on Boston College to revoke the invitation to Ayers, and he encouraged alumni, donors and others to call the college to demand that it deny Ayers a forum. Graham repeatedly linked Ayers and the Weather Underground to the 1970 killing of Walter Schroeder, the police officer, who was responding to a bank robbery by a group of radical students....

Boston College issued a statement in which it acknowledged barring Ayers.... "As a university, we pride ourselves on the free expression of ideas and on the prestige that Boston College holds as a destination of choice among prominent speakers. But we are also aware of the obligation we hold to be respectful of our host community. The emotional scars of the murder of Boston Police Sergeant Walter Schroeder, allegedly at the hands of the Weather Underground, which left nine children fatherless in the shadows of this campus, was an issue that we could not ignore."

So the college called off the event, the statement said, "out of respect for the Schroeder family and out of concern for the safety and well being of our students. We believe that, in light of these unique circumstances, the appropriate decision was made in this case."

April 8, 2009

The military-academic complex

Meet Montgomery McFate.

This improbably-named and improbable-looking creature is America's leading imperial field ethnologist. She's profiled by the exceedingly delightful Davey Price over at Alex's site.

Ever heard of human terrain systems (HTS)? No? I guess you don't get around much more than I do.

HTS, as I gather from Mr Price's piece, "are part of counterinsurgency operations designed to provide military personnel with cultural information that will help inform troop activities in areas of occupation."

That is, a diabolical fusion of boots and mortarboards, both placed firmly on the ground in the same patch of densest darkest insurgent-infested Ethneristan. Want to win hearts and minds? Then obviously you gotta know who yer shootin' through as well as talkin' to.

Eggheads as as embeds -- sociologists, ethnologists, no doubt even cunning linguists and paleo-economists -- and here's where Lady McFate steps forth, according to doc Price at any rate:

"Over the years, Human Terrain’s saleswoman, anthropologist Montgomery McFate, has a adopted a policy of not answering the academic critiques of her many critics regardless of the documentation upon which these critics base their work.

This policy has allowed Dr. McFate to avoid answering some pretty serious questions; questions about her reported involvement in the surveillance of an American gun control group; questions about the unattributed writings of other anthropologists appearing in the new Counterinsurgency Field Manual; questions about why, rather than acknowledging that Human Terrain Teams raise complex ethical issues to be negotiated, she has instead moved forward without even trying to publicly address these issues.

And while this approach works well in the political environment of Washington, D.C., where accountability and memories are short, this is the most non-academic approach imaginable. Academics engage with each other when disputes arise, they answer critiques with data and arguments rather than rely on silence and professionals to spin stories in the press.

Dr. McFate’s position of leaving critiques unanswered appears to have become that of HTS, and a compliant corporate media has followed this lead as it increasingly refuses to report on the problems, corruptions, and complexities of HTS, instead only providing the public with narratives that would have them believe that HTS anthropologists are good caring people trying to lesson harm, while critics are either invisible or portrayed as ivory-tower America-hating kooks."

April 11, 2009

Yes, master

Coupla weeks ago, Boston College caved in to the cop lobby. Now it's Clark University's turn, intimidated, as colleges nearly always are, by the Israel lobby:

Clark University canceled a campus talk scheduled for later this month by controversial Holocaust scholar Norman Finkelstein, saying his presence "would invite controversy and not dialogue or understanding," and would conflict with a similar event scheduled around the same time.

The Clark University Students for Palestinian Rights, a student-run group on the Worcester campus, had arranged for Finkelstein to speak on April 21....

Finkelstein's address would conflict with a similar conference hosted by the university's Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, scheduled for April 23-26, two days after Finkelstein's speech, Bassett said in his letter. That conference could draw Holocaust scholars who MacMillan said may disagree with Finkelstein.

The dispute came to the attention of college administrators after Hillel, a Jewish campus group, objected to Finkelstein's scheduled appearance.

On the other hand, I'm told Joseph Massad just got tenure at... Columbia! Which frankly astonished me. Perhaps there really is a shift in the wind, and the provinces haven't yet felt it?

April 17, 2009

Procrustes Prep, B. Obama, Headmaster

The grinning vulpine figure shown above is Arne Duncan, Obama's education czar, promoted from the educational stockyards of Chicago to ready the whole rising generation of American youth for efficient corporate slaughter.

Here's the New York Times:

Education Standards Likely to See Toughening

WASHINGTON — President Obama and his team have alternated praise for the goals of President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law with criticism of its weaknesses, [but it seems] the Obama administration will use a Congressional rewriting of the federal law later this year to toughen requirements... The law’s testing requirements... will certainly not disappear.

The administration['s] plans are a disappointment to some critics of the No Child Left Behind law, who hoped Mr. Obama’s campaign promises of change would mean a sharper break with the Bush-era law.

“Obama’s fundamental strategy is the same as George Bush’s... it’s the N.C.L.B. approach with lots of money attached,” Diane Ravitch said.... “Obama has given Bush a third term in education policy.”

[One] provision gives Education Secretary Arne Duncan control over $5 billion, which Mr. Duncan calls a “Race to the Top Fund”....

The stimulus requires governors to raise standards to a new benchmark: the point at which high school graduates can succeed — without remedial classes — in college, the workplace or the military.

Race to the top? And the losers go... where? College, the workplace, or the military -- those are our options. They left one out: jail.

Of course, education as a feeder industry for the incarceration sector wouldn't sound too good -- even though that is, of course, the fact. You, to college. You, to the mailroom. You, Lynndie England, to the military. And you -- what was your name again? -- to jail. And about time, too.

It gets better. Were you expecting to hear from the "progressive" Center For American Progress? I was, and I was not disappointed:

Cynthia Brown, vice president for education policy at the Center for American Progress, said “They’re putting money and ideas behind what they think are the changes needed in public education... That signals their seriousness about major reform.”
Now the only people more injured than children by No Child Left Alone -- erm, I mean, Behind -- are the teachers. They were pretty critical of No Child Left Unterrorized when it was Bush's baby. What have they to say now?
The teachers' unions, which in 2007 fought a bare-knuckle lobbying battle that scuttled Congress’s last effort to rewrite the No Child Left Behind law, are [now] voicing muted concern over a couple of provisions in the stimulus....

Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, said he did not like... part of the president’s speech.

“When he equates teachers with test scores, that’s when we part company,” Mr. Van Roekel said. But he added: “Over all, I just really support Obama’s vision to strengthen public education.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said that her union also had concerns about the president’s enthusiasm for data systems, which she said could be misused, but that she would give the new administration the benefit of the doubt.

Doubt, my ass. Randi knows perfectly well that Obama is going to continue and even accelerate what Bush was doing, but she's a Democrat, so she'll go along.

April 23, 2009

The thought police strike again

This just in, from On The Inside, a journal of the incarceration sector -- or no, sorry, that's Inside Higher Education, a journal from the closely-related credentialling sector. So hard to tell 'em apart sometimes. Anyway, here's the story:

Crossing a Line

Everyone involved in the dispute over William I. Robinson talks about lines being crossed....

His critics say that he crossed a line of professionalism by sending e-mail to all of the students in one of his courses material about "parallel" images of Nazi and Israeli attacks. Some students view the material as anti-Semitic, and they quit the course and filed a grievance against him.

Faculty members are in the process of selecting a panel that will consider the charges against Robinson and determine whether to recommend that a standing faculty panel conduct a full investigation of the incident.

Needless to say, the ADL heard about this -- somehow; perhaps the aggrieved students, in their extreme agony of mind, did a Web search -- and the grand inquisitors of Zionist orthodoxy put the screws to the university.

There's a web site in support of Robinson --

... where in spite of my prejudice against professors, and my puzzlement at the whole concept of "academic freedom", I signed up, and suggest you do the same. Anybody who takes a whack at Zion, even if he's a professor -- of sociology! -- deserves our support.

It's a bit unfortunate that the pro-Robinson site has fallen into a somewhat niggling proceduralist state of mind. There is much back-and-forth about whether the rules of the university dealing with "inappropriate" faculty conduct were followed.

This would be a hard question to decide, even if one were interested in deciding it, since the rules in question are a bizarre labyrinth of agents and committees that put one in mind of the Venetian republic's palmy days, or the Vatican divorce court. There's the Council of Ten, the Council of Three, the Prothonotary Sensitivus, the Commission of Relevancy, the Tribunal of Standards... it's like Masonic ceremonial.

Still, the outlines are clear enough. Robinson did something that profs do all the time. Unfortunately for him, his actions displeased Israel's defense team. As a result, he will spend a year or two of his life fighting for his livelihood, and bearing, as best he can, the glances-askance of his former friends and colleagues and neighbors who have heard that he's, well, a bit an anti-Semite. No smoke without fire. Why did he send that email, anyway? He should have known better. Must have some kinda bug up his ass about Jews.

He may keep his job -- I hope he does, just to spite the ADL -- but he will certainly have paid a price. And that's really the point, isn't it?

What pleases me about this story is the eagerness of the university to deploy its ponderous enforcement machinery at a snap of the fingers from the ADL. Oh, did I but have the NSA phone taps of all those calls to trustees, and the donation scouts, and the deans, and the department chairs -- it would be as good as the Harman tapes, or better.

May 4, 2009

No child left alone -- no teacher, either

(michael hureaux perez, responding to an earlier post here, sent the following fine piece, which I'm delighted to reproduce in full. -- MJS)

* * * * *

I don’t know karate, but I know ka-razy.

The recent gyrations of Obama's basketball buddy Arne Duncan, current whipmaster in chief of American “education”, and his house slaves in the NEA and the AFT bureaucracy, represent no change at all from the previous regime. The agenda remains unchanged. Its purpose is to shift the blame for the hash the owners of our society have made of public education.

That disaster, in turn, is rooted in the the endless effort of public education “reformers” to revitalize the production-freak indoctrination model of education that has been a bloody washout for better than a century.

It's a terrible model. In fact, any people who profess to believe in self-government must create a massively funded, flexible but rigorous education effort that addresses both the concrete needs and the personal passions of every individual from womb to tomb. And that would be a complex effort, full of loud, honest mistakes, costly, but worth it.

Teacher certification and professional development in this country remains mostly locked into bland, lifeless crap. Yes, there are a few programs here and there that are driven by educators and their allies, but most remain a plaything for the corporate padrones of the day.

For a sterling example of the sort of nonsense I’m talking about, google the term Praxis Exam and look at what many of the states use to determine teacher “competency”. Such tests are passable, of course. Anybody with a hair of academic skill, a little drive, and a high tolerance for ideological bias can get through them.

The dogma in the Washington state social studies test, for example, is shameless in its drilling of the burger party line. But if you’re versed in the party theory, you can pass such an exam. Just make yourself forget the qualifying phrases “according to-“ and “in theory”. Because if you remember such caveats while taking a state exam- if you have a sense of nuance, which, according to Whitehead, is one of the principal aims of a comprehensive public education - it can jam you up. Just spit out the party line and you’ll be fine. Certification is a cinch if you know how to pass tests.

But, like the high stakes exams forced upon kids all over this country, such teacher education and professional development exams have very little to with the craft of teaching, as the kids' have little to do with life.

Tests are very often a relatively shallow form of assessment, and the fetish around test scores in both students and their prospective teachers is the big bitch among junkyard dogs, a tired old canine that is both constipated and rabid. The speculators who brought you the international financial crisis and an unending imperial slaughter believe they are best qualified to determine who should or shouldn’t be teaching young people, and that’s just the way it goes.

To be fair, many teacher certification programs in recent years have worked away from exams, tried to find a little “swing” and have used actual video documentation and actual observation of educator performance as part of the criteria for certification and licensing.

The use of technology to document good teaching is a fine idea up to a point, but given the hup-ho dodo-ism which continues to oversee certification in most regions, there’s still not much room for what I call the "mad leap" process of teaching. Most teachers in front of a camera will fall into the trap of trying to look seamless, so that they can get their stuff past both the state reviewers and colleagues who haven’t figured out that it’s okay for teachers to not know everything.

When I use the words “mad leap”, I’m not talking about entertaining the students.

I’m talking about teachers learning to create a classroom environment in which the teacher is also a learner, able to fall on their ass in front of their students from time to time. It’s a long, hard road, but such a maneuver allows room for a freewheeling exchange of roles, the teacher as student and vice versa.

Continue reading "No child left alone -- no teacher, either" »

July 19, 2009

Bunker, meet Poindexter

In the long series of DLC-type articles on why the jackassery don't need no stinkin' ignorant white wage guys, feature this:

"For quite a while, polls have been showing public support for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship, and a relative lack of enthusiasm for an enforcement-only approach. That support should grow over time, as should positive feelings about immigrants and immigration, since the white working class, which has relatively negative feelings in this area, is being supplanted by groups such as Hispanics, white college graduates, and professionals, whose feelings about immigration are far more positive."
Found it at that splendid site Father S follows like a chicken hawk, 'America Has Progress', and this is just one panel out of a larger mucho up-lifting panographic cyclorama that might be entitled: Philadelphia Rising -- or, America the Beautiful (Again), as the spirit of Archie vanishes like the pack of butts and the lunch bucket.

Oddly this article itself strikes me as a straggling exemplar of a near-extinct but once-robust 90's species, what with all its age of Erasmus shit -- you know, the prog mind of the college guy and college gal.

I say "make way for the new take" -- I see a future full of sites featuring motif shit like this: from college pride to college prole -- the coming collapse of the great American human capital bubble.

October 9, 2009

Let it collapse

Here's the loudest liberal mouth on economic policy east of the Mississippi and north of the South Pole -- Paul 'arf arf' Krooglemannn -- and surprise, surprise, he's ringing the school bell:

'If you had to explain America’s economic success with one word, that word would be “education.” '

But but but... today after leading the world for 150 years in ever wider and deeper school saturation bombing, my God! We've slipped! -- Right down to mediocrity:

"We have a college graduation rate that’s slightly below the average across all advanced economies."
Really? Really? Can this be true? If so -- is it too much for me to hope this trend might accelerate?

Imagine a tipping point -- bringing on a new dawn of the great American unwashed -- brain-wise, that is.

November 12, 2009

In the penal colony

One can only marvel at the mad sadistic ingenuity, the compulsive, perseverative overelaboration of torture, the finical luxuriance of bureaucratic cogwheels, worm gears, escapements, and ratchets, that marks the Merit Administration's approach to "education". The program actually has the amazingly sinister name "race to the top". From the New York Times:

[T]he Race to the Top program, which will reward some states undertaking bold school improvement initiatives with awards totaling $4 billion, [requires] states... to prepare applications for a first round of the grant competition, and [then] a second round. Applications must comprehensively describe multifaceted strategies for change....

A perfect application would earn a state 500 points, with 125 points allotted for articulating a perfectly coherent agenda for change; 70 points for adopting higher standards and higher quality tests; 47 points for developing computerized systems to track student academic progress; 138 points for recruiting quality teachers, evaluating their effectiveness, and using the evaluations in tenure and other key decisions; 50 points for turning around failing schools; 30 points for other miscellaneous categories of change; and 40 points for fostering the growth of charter schools.

Of course what all this metastatic hypertrophy of "process" boils down to, at the end of the day, is the executioner's axe:
The New York schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, said the administration had improved the rules dealing with failing schools. The draft rules left states free to choose frequently ineffective halfway measures, like replacing a school’s principal, in outlining their main turnaround strategies. The final rules, he said, require states to use bolder measures in a majority of school overhaul efforts, like replacing entire school staffs or closing a school entirely.

January 30, 2010

Please call if you cannot locate your icon

A young friend of mine, now in her third year of high school, recently received the following letter from a functionary at her academic feedlot -- let's call it Creekvalley Prep. The letter is addressed to her and her mom, and far too long to transcribe in full. I'll just give the best bits, with some tactful name-changing:

Dear Giudecca and Ms. Llewellyn:

I am delighted to welcome you to the College Office. Although I have had the opportunity to see many of you... throughout the year, I now can turn my attention -- and the resources of the office -- to you as we enter the formal part of the college counseling process....

We will initiate the counseling process in an exploratory meeting with you and a counselor from our office. This meeting is important and parents should make every effort to attend.... Parents should get a copy of the student's schedule and call Mrs Litotes in the College Office at XXX-XXXX to make an appointment that does not conflict with class obligations. [Underlining in original -- MJS] To make the meeting most productive for all, students and parents are asked to complete the College Information Sheet and College Counseling Parent Questionnaire, both of which must be downloaded from the College Office Conference located on Giudecca's First Class desktop. Please call Mrs Litotes if you cannot locate your icon. Both documents must be returned to her in the College Office three days before your meeting so they can be reviewed in advance....

Each student brings a combination of many traits and talents, and a college environment should meet the full range of those needs....

In your work as a student, Giudecca, strive to develop the best possible academic profile. This record of achievement will be the "bedrock" of your college application. Commit to extracurricular activities that you find meaningful and fulfilling. What is important to you --along with your ability to reflect on that in an articulate way -- is what will make your application distinctive.


That's the actual signature -- no shit -- which I felt free to reproduce, because nobody could ever get back to the actual person or school from this wildly overconfident, megalomaniac fuck-you scrawl.

There are, it seems to me, several interesting things to note about the text: its semi-literacy, its vast length (the original is a closely-printed page and a half), and above all its minatory presumptuous tone.

This encyclical emanates from a fairly prestigious New York private day day school. The author is some poor drudge in its placement office. She is addressing people who (except for the scholarship kids of course) make a lot more money than she does; many of them make more money in a week than she will make in her whole life. Others are household names, men and women of repute and renown. They're each paying (except for the scholarship families, again) as much as she gets paid every year to send their offspring to Creekvalley. And yet this schoolhouse appendage, this nematode, this remora, this liver fluke, feels entitled to address her patrons and paymasters de haut en bas.

Isn't it amazing how the colleges and their outriders -- like Miss Scribble above -- have gotten the injun sign on all of us? I don't suppose that any of the movers and shakers who received Scribble's dictatorial missive will resent it a bit. "Yes," they'll say, shaking their expensively-coiffed heads, "this is a serious business. Quite right, that Miss Scribble. Little Giudecca needs to buckle down!"

February 2, 2010

Bipartisan agreement on child abuse

My rabbi Doug Henwood has a good memory. He writes:

The difference between the parties

Education Secretary Duncan calls Hurricane Katrina good for New Orleans schools

Education Secretary Arne Duncan called Hurricane Katrina "the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans" because it forced the community to take steps to improve low-performing public schools, according to excerpts from a television interview made public Friday.


Wall Street Journal - December 5, 2005

The Promise of Vouchers
Milton Friedman

Most New Orleans schools are in ruins, as are the homes of the children who have attended them. The children are now scattered all over the country. This is a tragedy. It is also an opportunity to radically reform the educational system.

February 6, 2010

Piling on

Above is the man that out-Nixoned Nixon, Albert Shanker; and here is Shanker's latest avatar, Randi Weingarten:

According to a union barking device from captive think tank EPI, she wants:

"contracts that include systems for fair and balanced evaluation of teacher performance (including, but not limited to measures of student achievement); and for the speedy removal of ineffective teachers, with simplified due process rules, when appropriate support fails to correct inadequacy."
Very un-Shanker-sounding, eh? Well, get a load of why: this could add 20% more teachers to any staff. Note the words "appropriate support":
"Evaluation of teachers, including the mentoring of novices and of veterans in need of improvement, requires the employment of many additional supervisors of teachers. Call them master-or mentor-teachers... Schools today are under-administered. Frequently, one principal supervises as many as 30 teachers. No principal can evaluate and mentor this many... The reason we have such terrible "drive-by" teacher evaluation systems, with principals taking perfunctory peeks into classrooms, is that principals have no time (or training) to do it right.

No other profession operates with such inadequate supervision. Can you imagine a nursing supervisor overseeing 30 nurses? A newspaper editor overseeing 30 reporters? A law firm partner overseeing 30 associates? Even an assembly line can't rely on only one foreman for 30 workers."

Prepare yourself:
"Management theorists recommend that no leader should have more than 5 direct-reports. The failure of public education to organize itself around this common-sense principle is the roadblock to fair and balanced evaluation. "

"Blaming teacher unions for this failure is demagoguery...Administrations don't propose such systems mostly because they are very, very expensive."

Do we need another crankup in the teacher-to-victim ratio? A win for the union, yes. For the actual teachers, maybe not, and for the much abused pupils, almost certainly not.

Personally, I'm all for it, up through grade 6 anyway. Lower school teachers are hot --

... and I bet mentoring teachers are even hotter!

February 12, 2010

Tenure committees everywhere: Be afraid

The intense sturdy suspect shown above is Dr. Amy Bishop, a "Harvard-University trained neuroscientist", according to the Huntsville Times. Dr Bishop is said to have shot up a faculty meeting at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, after being denied tenure. Personally, I would have thought twice before voting against this lady.

(The campus was subsequently placed "on lockdown", as nearly every news outlet reported with lip-smacking relish and righteous approval. Does anybody else remember the milieu where this phrase originated?)

Kate Dailey, a blunchkin at Newsweek's site, observes:

... shootings on college campuses have become all too common.... universities have been the backdrop for some of America's most notorious shooting sprees.
Hmmm. Wonder why?

Dailey goes on to quote a colleague:

Women, says [Jack] Levin, [professor] of [sociology at] Northeastern, are more likely to turn their anger inward and commit suicide rather than homicide. When they do turn violent, either against themselves or others, they're less likely to use a gun.
Apparently it's becoming more of an equal-opportunity country. Black guys can become Leader of The Free-Fire Zone, excuse me, Free World, and female Harvard PhDs can go strapped into Alabama faculty meetings.

La Dailey sorrowfully opines:

it's human curiosity to speculate—as if by mastering the details, we can make some sense out of senseless violence.
"Senseless" is of course a classic case of the unexamined assumption, unless you believe all violence is senseless, and I bet Kate doesn't. Having spent some years on the inside of the credentialling sector myself, I'm surprised this sort of thing doesn't happen more often. I guess that's because these poor folks are mostly so crushed and over-socialized that they can only respond to the capricious sadism of their senior colleagues by trying harder.

Will this incident have a chilling effect on tenure committees? On faculty meetings? Will the tenured elect start wearing flak jackets on campus? Will you have to pass through an X-ray machine and submit to a pat-down before you can attend the English Department's sherry hour?

One can only hope so. Lockdown U, rah rah rah!

February 18, 2010

Race Department. Dr. Agassiz speaking. How can I help you?

In another thread here a side discussion emerged about "studies" departments and staff in the universities -- Women's Studies, African Studies, Queer Studies, etc. The immediate occasion was an individual described as a "professor of politics and race" at some college in New Jersey. I wrote:

To demand that historians, say, should start paying attention to formerly ignored historical subjects was a great thing. To demand that universities should have "departments" and "majors" for these things, however, reveals some of the limitations of a radicalism whose world is the campus -- particularly since the topics in question were defined in a way derived from the conventional worldview. There's History, which deals with the Duke of Wellington, and then there's African Studies, which is not my department, as Wernher von Braun says in the Tom Lehrer song.

And it gave the credentialling sector bureaucrats a glorious opportunity to professionalize and regulate the study of these topics. Are we well served by having the highly-credentialled and boneheaded Meshuggah Lacey-Bracegirdle set up as an anointed authority on "race" -- whatever that is -- rather than just discussing it amongst ourselves?

My problem with "race" as an academic subject is partly that it's a bogus concept -- there is no such thing as "race", as Ashley Montagu explained a long time ago.

The history of the concept, and the grisly stuff it justified, is something that historians study -- or ought to study. Critique of the concept, as pseudo-science, is something that biologists do or ought to do. But a Professor of Race Studies? It's like having a Professor of Phlogiston Studies.

To which a number of other contributors responded along the following lines:
I personally think that Smith's contention that race and politics aren't subject suited for scholarly work speaks more about him than [the topic of the original post].... [I]f Smith doesn't find politics and race compelling, fair enough, that may be his preference, but I think to imply that they aren't valid subjects illustrates that he clearly isn't the brightest bulb.
Careful reading, I think, will reveal that this response is directed at something I didn't say. But let me restate it, because I think the matter deserves some consideration.

"Race" as a concept is purely a social construct; there's no entity in the outside world that corresponds to it. It's a fairly recent invention and has pretty clear roots as both reflex of, and justification for, certain human institutions (like slavery and colonialism).

Certainly the concept calls out for criticism -- thoroughly destructive criticism, in fact, since there are lots of people out there who still think that the human species is divided up into "races", and this belief, conscious or unconscious, still has considerable malign power.

There's a historical critique of the concept of race. There's a scientific critique. There's the organizer's critique -- it divides people mentally who need to be united in practice. No doubt there are plenty of others.

But none of these critiques require you to be a race specialist: they require you to be a historian or a scientist or an organizer. If you are none of these things, your critique is going to be rather feeble, because you don't have the knowledge you need to make it stick.

And I would go farther. To occupy a chair of "race" means that your livelihood depends on the continuation of the problematic of race. Demolish the concept, and Othello's occupation's gone. So having professors of race studies or whatever you call it tends to reify and hypostatize the concept, not destroy it.

Far from advancing the critique of racism or male chauvinism or whatever, these "studies" mostly just keep making soup out of the same old bone -- the soup, in this case, being a thin gruel of dull jargon-crammed papers in journals nobody reads, and panel appearances at conferences that only your fellow-inmates attend, and sometimes, if you're very lucky, an appearance as designated liberal-schmiberal on a TV show or a newspaper Op-Ed page. And now -- from The Left! -- Dr. Melancthon Carruthers-Akimbo, whose most recent book is Everybody Play Nice.

None of this is to say, for example, that the bloody history of race theory and racism isn't worth telling, or that the different mechanisms of socialization for women and men aren't worth examining and analyzing. But I'm pretty skeptical that anything too trenchant is likely to emerge from the "studies" world.

Specialists by definition know little about anything outside their "field". Now the "field" of the "studies" is coextensive with the problem. The problem constitutes the conceptual universe of the "studies". There's no που στω, no Archimedean point outside, from which to get a purchase on the problem.

And then of course there's the fundamentally timorous and conventional groupthink which mostly characterizes academic life -- with a few honorable exceptions.

Perhaps the clearest indication of the limitations of "studies" types is their near-universal diehard adherence to the Democrats. Anybody who can't develop a critique of that manifestly played-out old institution isn't likely to have much success with a bigger tougher enemy.

February 20, 2010

Mommy wants you to be comfortable

Right in the middle of a spate of Uni-bashing, this came across my screen, on a dead-languages mailing list I subscribe to:

"Teaching Difficult Subjects in the Classics Classroom" An APA(*) 

We propose a workshop with 5 brief presentations (10 minutes) on 
particular situations, with materials to help faculty in the 

This workshop would follow up on the very successful roundtable 
and workshop on teaching rape at the 2008 and 2009 APA meetings; 
we would like to broaden the discussion out at this time. Ancient 
texts raise a variety of issues--slavery, infanticide, adoption, 
abortion, rape, abuse, incest, sexuality--that may be difficult 
to discuss in a classroom where some students will have had 
personal experiences that might make them uncomfortable. 
And since the whole goal of a Uni education is to make people comfortable, in every sense of the word....


(*) American Philological Association.

February 21, 2010

Tenure in trouble?

The tenured faculty of Florida State may become the air traffic controllers of this brave new age of job massacre: the university is going to lay off 21 tenured and 15 additional tenure-track faculty.

Now that's big news in the academy, no doubt, but... oh the inhumanity of it all!

Actually I take a certain glee in seeing those feudal rights sliced away, and them enoromously swelled and stuffed heads stripped down to prole-ized proportions. Naturally the profs' "union" has stepped forth handsomely to do mortal combat with these bloodthirsty bureaucrats of the gown:

"United Faculty of Florida, the union representing FSU's faculty, is challenging the termination of tenured members and hopes to have an arbitration hearing this spring."
An "arbitration hearing"! Why that's but one small step from storming the Winter Palace. Man, if I was organizing that fightback, I'd have the central admin building set on fire by marauding gangs, like the Reichstag or die tryin', with a torch still burnin' in my cold dead hand. But in their higher wisdom united faculty has choosen the legal route.

I wonder -- can the tenured be saved by legal means only? I don't have a copy of the FSU faculty contract, but here's what I suspect is fairly typical relevent contract boilerplate language. It's from a AAUP contract -- the big prof union -- covering the duly credentialed and honored and honorable scholar gents and ladies of science at Deeetroit's Wayne State:

"Faculty Layoffs

1. Normally, part-time faculty will be laid off first followed by lecturers. In unusual circumstances when special experience is essential to the unit, a full-time or fractional-time faculty member may be laid off, while the part-time faculty member is retained. If the budgetary constraints prove it impossible to staff the range of courses with the full-time and/or fractional-time faculty, then the full-time and fractional-time faculty may be offered the opportunity to teach the courses on an overload basis without additional compensation rather than to use part-time faculty during the academic year."

"Fractional" vs part-time -- nice distinction, eh? But here comes the by-the-book chopping-block rankings:
2. Additional faculty layoffs shall occur in the following order:

  • (a) non-tenure-track faculty by rank and (within rank) by length of service at the University,
  • (b) untenured faculty on tenure track by rank and (within rank) by length of service at the University,
  • (c) tenured faculty by rank and (within rank) by length of service at the University.
Sounds like the tenured oughta get protected till all else are gone, eh? But watch this -- the contract goes on:
"For purposes of this paragraph, untenured lecturers and senior lecturers with more than seven years service shall be treated as tenured faculty."
Sounds like nice modal lingo. I wonder how easily it can pivot both ways? If tenure-type status can be extended in some aspects and contexts to the non-tenured, might not tenured status similarly be abridged in certain aspects and contexts? Imagine we merge all trackers with tenureds and throw out the high-cost top dogs, keeping the trackers.

Length of service? There's gotta be loophole language in there somewhere. As my dear Fieldsian dad used to say, "Don't sign anything without loopholes 'less yer signin' it with [non-whites]." (He hailed from a bygone era, my dad.)

So a way around may exist somewhere -- probably does, in fact. Maybe this cloudy passage in the Wayne State contract contains the makings of such a loophole, or at least close enough to cover an arbitrator's ass:

"... It is understood that in a viable, complex and multifaceted University, it may be necessary to adjust programs and staff through normal attrition. Historically, this adjustment has been accomplished by not renewing term contracts in specific units, departments or schools/colleges. This provision and accompanying procedures do not apply to this historic practice."
With a few jiggers and pops, maybe instead of extending the rights of the tenured to the non-tenured, the university, in order to "adjust staff" by means of un-historic practice, might simply subject the tenured to the peremptory treatment doled out to the untenured, and/or bust the ranking system or re-organize departments, etc.

The last seems to be in the works at FSU:

[A] 15-person department... [was] being eliminated... FSU decided to merge oceanography, geological sciences and meteorology.
The yolk of many a tenured egghead may yet flow across the campus of dear old Kudzu U.

February 25, 2010

Big Brother, B.Ed.

Item in a news roundup from Alternet:

Schools Accused of Spying on Kids Through Webcams

... Lawyers for Harriton High School student Blake Robbins plan to ask a judge Monday to order the retention of all data on 2,300 laptops issued to students by the Lower Merion School District, near Philadelphia, the Associated Press reports.

The Robbins family launched the lawsuit after an assistant principal confronted Robbins with evidence of "improper behavior in his home," and showed him a picture from inside the home, taken by the webcam.

This follows pretty naturally from the idea -- which the culture seems, strangely, to have accepted -- that the schools should be total institutions, charged with forming kids' attitudes and character, as well as teaching them to read. How, after all, can this mission be discharged if kids are allowed to escape the Panoptical eye for sixteen hours out of the 24?

One interesting wrinkle:

Internet privacy lawyer Parry Aftab told ABC that the school district may have crossed the line from education to policing.

"Schools have very limited authority under the Constitution to deal with things that are off-premises after hours and have nothing to do with the school itself, so in this case I think the school was out of bounds, literally," she said. "Schools are schools, police are police, and they never should meet."

So let me get this straight -- snooping on the kid through his computer's webcam would have been OK, if it were the police doing it? And this from a "privacy lawyer"?

Oy veh.

February 27, 2010

More on race, class, and the Unis

I'm soooo out of touch...

... that I was unaware of the work of Walter Benn Michaels, until a link to a very nice review he wrote came flying through the fog and filthy air of one of my Lefty mailing lists.

Though I hate to say anything good about a professor, this is one of the exceptions. Michaels' essay is very on-point to some recent discussions on this site (here and here). Excerpts:

...[T]he fight for gay rights has made extraordinary strides in the 40 years since Stonewall. And progress in combating homophobia has been accompanied by comparable progress in combating racism and sexism. Although the occasional claim that the election of President Obama has ushered us into a post-racial society is obviously wrong, it’s fairly clear that the country that’s just elected a black president (and that produced so many votes for the presidential candidacy of a woman) is a lot less racist and sexist than it used to be.

But it would be a mistake to think that because the US is a less racist, sexist and homophobic society, it is a more equal society. In fact, in certain crucial ways it is more unequal than it was 40 years ago.... In 1969, the top quintile of American wage-earners made 43 per cent of all the money earned in the US; the bottom quintile made 4.1 per cent. In 2007, the top quintile made 49.7 per cent; the bottom quintile 3.4.... A society in which white people were proportionately represented in the bottom quintile (and black people proportionately represented in the top quintile) would not be more equal; it would be exactly as unequal. It would not be more just; it would be proportionately unjust.

An obvious question, then, is how we are to understand the fact that we’ve made so much progress in some areas while going backwards in others. And an almost equally obvious answer is that the areas in which we’ve made progress have been those which are in fundamental accord with the deepest values of neoliberalism, and the one where we haven’t isn’t. We can put the point more directly by observing that increasing tolerance of economic inequality and increasing intolerance of racism, sexism and homophobia – of discrimination as such – are fundamental characteristics of neoliberalism. Hence the extraordinary advances in the battle against discrimination, and hence also its limits as a contribution to any left-wing politics.

...American universities are exemplary here: they are less racist and sexist than they were 40 years ago and at the same time more elitist. The one serves as an alibi for the other: when you ask them for more equality, what they give you is more diversity.

I'm off to buy the guy's book.

March 16, 2010

Strangle the last prof with the entrails of the last dean

It's getting to be less fun trying to discredit the Democratic Party these days; the party is doing such a terrific job of self-discreditation that any additional contribution from this 'umble blog seems, well, supererogatory. So I find myself returning more and more to another unpublishable book(*), this one an attack on the credentialling sector, CS for short.

I personally have a fondness for dead languages, and so I subscribe to an email list for people interested in ancient Greek and Latin. Not surprisingly, a good many fellow-subscribers are either inmates or screws in the CS.

Now every mailing list has its recurring obsessions -- monsoons that blow in every couple of months or so and drench everything in sight with torrents of platitude. For bicyclists, it's helmets. For harpsichordists, it's temperament (the musical kind, not the characterological). For classicists, it's The Usefulness Of The Classics.

This Ixion's wheel of tedium got its latest spin from a ponderous Colonel-Blimpish column in the Telegraph, written by the entertaining Tory buffoon Boris Johnson, shown below after an appearance at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show. (He was entered as a Pomeranian, a region from which some of his oddly-assorted ancestors are said to originate.)

Excerpt: "The reason we should boost the study of Latin and Greek is that they are the key to a phenomenal and unsurpassed treasury of literature and history and philosophy, and we cannot possibly understand our modern world unless we understand the ancient world that made us all."
One often hears this trope(**) -- indeed, it occupies, or should occupy, a prominent place in the Catechism of Cliche -- but what reason is there to believe it's true? Do people who have studied the classics really understand the modern world better than people who have not? In my experience, it's the reverse, if anything.

All the various arguments for the utility of classical studies -- understanding the modern world, stretching the mental muscles, etc. -- strike me as both implausible, and unappealing even if they were plausible.

On the other hand, perhaps I'm just a self-indulgent sybarite, but pleasure seems to me like a good reason to do something. To paraphrase Dr Johnson -- a more penetrating Tory Johnson than Boris -- there are only two reasons to study anything: emolument and delight. Classics are not exactly the high road to emolument, but for people wired a certain way, they can be a considerable source of delight.

Delight, however, is the last thing the credentialling sector boffins would think of offering. Perhaps they know their own limitations; but no, I don't think so. What they're articulating here is something that goes deeper.

Somebody once observed of the Puritans that they disliked bear-baiting not because it gave pain to the bear, but because it gave pleasure to the spectators. In this respect the Puritans sounded a motif that the rising petit-bourgeoisie was to make very much its leit-. Even my louche and dissolute generation, who would remember the Sixties with great pleasure if they could remember, have returned to bourgeois form on this point. Pleasure -- idle pleasure -- wasted time -- is deeply suspect; everything has to have some utility -- every investment of time or effort has to show a return. Even vacations get filed under some such rubric as "recharging the batteries", so that the striver can come back with redoubled zeal to his weary corporate climb, and more than make good the time he lost on the ski slopes. And this constituency of instrumental-reasoners is, naturally, the demo that the Unis are marketing to.

But of course, the argument from utility is transparently bogus when it comes to Classics, and that's why academic Classics are doomed.

A good thing, too. My Greek is pathetic and my Latin hardly better, but I really think the old boys in the chitons and togas would be in better hands if they were tended by amateurs -- even amateurs like me. Hell, if present employment trends continue, I'll be in an excellent position soon to improve my Greek.

There's an old humorous verse, which I'm probably misremembering --

The legacies of history
Are left to strange police --
Professors in New England guard
The glory that was Greece.
But the blight is no longer confined to New England, and every state Uni in this fair land can show a stalwart half-dozen or so slavies busting their hump trying to get some use out of Virgil or Thucydides, and V&T fighting a very effective rear-guard action, leaving punji pits and IEDs at every bend in the road.

When the regents finally ax these poor devils and I meet them on the bread line, I'll give 'em a cheerful Ave (or Χαίρε) and propose a reading group, whose only rule will be a firm commitment to unproductive pleasure.


(*) Working title: The Hell With Merit.

(**) Though seldom so vulgarly phrased. "Boost," forsooth! And what does this great classicist think "phenomenal" means?

March 17, 2010

No more teacher's dirty looks

Suitably the reverend father writes of uni-ville; I write of dutyville, in particular the 5th international view of teachers' unions, as rendered in words by one Shango Cooke:

...public controversy seeks to dislodge teachers' unions: the right-wing trashes teachers’ unions outright, while the “liberal” media takes a more subtle, sophisticated approach, blaming the state of public education on “bad teachers” ....The bi-partisan goal is to undermine and dismember public education....

... as public education is gutted, rich investors parasitically benefit from it by opening for-profit “charter schools,” curriculum corporations, [etc.]

Shango goes on to trace our future if this orgy of union-busting proceeds as planned by Obummer, Incorporated:
If teachers’ unions cannot keep schools open, or teachers from being fired... If any teacher can be fired when they are labeled “bad,” then one of the fundamental concepts of unionism, seniority, is crushed.... The struggle of the teachers is thus the struggle of all union workers. But unions benefit more than just union workers.
Shango's prescribed counterattack:
Taxing the rich and corporations must be the rallying call for the entire public sector workforce, which remains the bedrock of American labor.
Sounds pretty good, up to the business about public-sector (PS) unions as "the bedrock of American labor". In fact the rise of PS unionism has coincided with the decline of private-sector unionism, and I don't think that's a coincidence.

Can post-industrial American unionism be all about schools, libraries, hospitals, and nursing homes? I sure hope not.

Once you add in those sectors that are quasi-public, PS unions have joined the blue-ribbon contruction kulaks in dominating the movement. And they're Dembo barnacles to a man. They typify political-machine shakedown unionism -- the very nexus, so effectively targeted by rage radio, of do-little and care-less parasitism. We got ours, and know what? You can go to hell if you don't like it.

To the unorganized, un-connected mass of badly jobbled citizenry, these rackets can look as much like gangsterism in uniform as the Brownshirts. The bastards are giving unionism a bad rap.

Okay, okay, it gets complicated. One thinks of the last pair of serious transit actions in NYC and Phili. Tactics need sharpening here, and the corporate media certainly can twist a plea for fairness into a screw job and a holdup. But as a Woodstocker I first think of the goddam police "unions", and that other working-class hero scam, the firemen.

As to their plainclothes cousins, one notes the teacher outfits... say the NYC UFT under Shanker.

Of course none of this in itself is fatal to union expansion, but letting these apes run the federations and the councils can cripple organizing in tougher sectors where the unions face bottom-line alley cats, not tax-based puddy tats.

The union movement needs to self-reconstruct, right?

If its long slide is to reverse itself, a new organizing paradigm is needed -- as big as the protracted antagonistic transition from trade to industrial unionism that culminated in the birth of the CIO -- to organize the vast privately owned and operated low wage corporate service and commercial sectors: the restaurants, the hotels, the retail stores, the cleaning services, the delivery and warehouse networks and so on.

Yes, the health sector has been a partial success, largely because inside-baseball unionism works, and even sustains itself in a hostile sea of anti-unionism, wherever gubmint money flows into payrolls. The locus classicus is construction, where all the Davis-Bacon Act rig jobs allowed the rise of the hardhat kulakery and created reactionary Meany-streak unionism back in the 'Nam days.

Even if Meany and his ilk are now long since members in that final union beyond, down here the culture of unionism is still entirely based on inside deals, i.e. ways to carve up added surplus extracted from a passive, nearly prostrate fee- and tax-paying public.

That's not the model of a "progressive" union, which would be a market-restricted shift in value-added shares between corporates and their job force. Rather, the PS unions' model is a surplus upcharge instead of a takeback. Instead of shifting the shares of value-added between labor and the corporations, public unionism is all about locating possible new sources of capturable surplus -- what the econ-cons call drilling for rent -- or better, collaborating in the erection of ever-new tollgates to scim-scam more of the innocent public's money

Education, of course, is the gold-standard horrible example, but health care is right u there too -- may even be the ultimo mishmash of irrational arbitrary taxing disguised as pricing.

But I come to save unionism, not to bury it.

I hope to live to see the union movement, that loveable old much-battered pug, rising majestically from his stool like old Laertes, his strength miraculously restored by the gods of class war, ready for the next big round.

May 25, 2010

Marx on feedlot management

One of my lefty mailing lists saw quite a flap erupt today -- forty posts in one afternoon -- on the subject of "school reform". The post that started it all pointed us to this site, adorned with a photo of an attractive busty young model(*), dressed down in dowdy clothing in order to pose as a teacher:

Tell the Teachers Union: Keep Great Teachers, Not Just the Longest-Serving Ones.

New York State’s fiscal crisis is forcing painful cuts across the board. As a result, New York City’s schools may have to lay off as many 6,500 teachers. While no one wants to see any teachers lose their jobs, outdated Teachers Union rules say that any layoffs must be made in order of hire. This means that regardless of a teacher’s accomplishment in the classroom, the longest serving teachers are protected and the newer teachers are forced out.

I hasten to add my my lefty correspondent didn't post this link because he approved of it (though he may well have found the busty model as appealing as I did; if I had had teachers like that, I might not be so sour on the Credentialling Sector today). My comrade -- call him Lamaison -- wrote:
Well, this is fairly pernicious. If I'm not mistaken, there is little to no evidence that teacher layoffs based on seniority would actually harm the educational achievement of students, no? Wouldn't younger teachers, on average, actually be worse teachers than veterans because of lack of experience?
Now I believe that anybody who has a job ought to be able to keep it, no matter what a duffer they are; and since I'm pretty long in the tooth myself, seniority seems at least as good a basis for triage as any other, if triage there must be. It has the great merit of being entirely and obviously arbitrary. The only thing better would be casting lots, where the arbitrariness is underscored and even valorized.

But Comrade Lamaison yields the vital point before he starts -- as Lefties so often do, alas. He couches his argument in terms of "educational achievement". Once you grant the premise that "achievement" ought to be any kind of criterion for employment, you've made management's case, and given away the store.

It was all downhill from there. Still deeper abysses of bathetic sanctimony were soon plumbed, by Comrade Maximilian:

A younger or new teacher may have more energy and enthusiasm, a senior one could be burned out. My wife, may she rest in peace, was one of those who came in with little credentials after decades as an attorney, but my perception was that she was a very good teacher with a motivation advantage over some of the burn-outs in her school....

Of course teacher layoffs are criminally dumb, so it doesn't pay to argue over how best to lay off. How to weed out low-performers is a good question, one to which I haven't the answer.

The clear-eyed though slightly saturnine Comrade O'Carolan found this a little too much, and wrote trenchantly:
Damn it. Nothing is more destructive of anything remotely approaching class solidarity than this fucking stupid idea that somehow the incompetent should be "weeded out."

People are not weeds to begin with. Accept the fact that any work force is going to be varied, and rather than this stupid and impossible and divisive obsession with competence give a little bit of thought to performing the best possible with a given work force.

Fundamental to building a good school system would be (a) hiring on the basis of drawing lots among applicants and (b) immediate and irrevocable tenure, and (c) salary determined by time only -- no judgment of this illusory competence.

That was the high point; but O'Carolan was vox clamantis in deserto. None of the hardened cadre were willing to follow him this far. Here's the lowest of low points:
I am sympathetic to this position in the abstract; however, when we're trying to get things done in an educational organization, turning a blind eye to people who don't do their work causes all kinds of problems for students, faculty, and staff. One example: a faculty member at a vaguely unidentified college I've worked at refused to grade final papers for a number of terms....

What are we supposed to do about that? Is it wrong for me to argue that this faculty member should not be allowed to impose additional workload on colleagues?

The non-grading colleague wasn't doing his weeding job on the students; so he must in turn be weeded. It's the opposite of "judge not, that ye be not judged"; above the door of the meritocratic workplace is written, in letters of fire, the motto "judge others or be judged by them. Or both."

That's a self-identified Lefty talking about the sanctity of the letter grade and the moral culpability of Not Doing Your Job. This sort of thing makes me want to hang myself. Sometimes it seems that we really are our own worst enemies. We've internalized the enemy's premises to the point that we might as well be performing a kind of collective auto-lobotomy.


(*) They've gotten rid of the cute girl, alas.

July 28, 2010

The sheepskin bubble: ready to burst?

From the professional journal On The Inside -- or no, whoops, the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Government Vastly Undercounts Defaults
Many More Students Are Defaulting Than Official Tallies Show

The share of borrowers who default on their student loans is bigger than the federal government's short-term data suggest, with thousands more facing damaged credit histories and millions more tax dollars being lost in the long run.... one in every five government loans that entered repayment in 1995 has gone into default....

For loans made to community-college students, the 15-year default rate is 31 percent. David S. Baime, senior vice president for government relations at the American Association of Community Colleges, called that number "shockingly high... It's really just a tragedy given the consequences of student loan default."

Borrowers who default on their student loans face significant personal and financial burdens. They become ineligible for additional federal aid and may have their wages and tax refunds seized by the government. Their negative credit records make it harder for them to obtain car loans, mortgages, and credit cards, and even apartments or jobs. When they can get loans, they pay higher interest rates.

But it's the high rates of default at for-profit institutions that are likely to get the most attention.... Fifteen years into repayment, two out of every five loans made to students who attended two-year for-profit colleges are in default.

The parallel to the housing bubble is hard to resist: people sucked en masse into a speculative investment which just hasn't panned out. Because of course, such investments by nature can't possibly pan out for everybody.

This has provoked some interesting and insightful commentary on my lefty mailing lists. Sample:

This blip in the default rate is another byproduct of the one single achievement to which fans of the eight-years of Clinton can point: a reformed system of grants and loans to get people to go to college. After all, in the capitalist world view, unemployment simply comes from a lack of job training.... the Democrats opted for this education-route... As some of us argued at the time, the entire Clinton package on education was about running money through the fingers of those students into the coffers of the universities and colleges (who were all then participating in that building boom).
The "building boom" refers to a Village Voice article -- yes, the Village Voice, reporting some real news for the first time in thirty years or more:
Will NYC's College Building Boom Bubble Pop?
New York's universities have grand expansion plans, but could the economy--and online courses--doom them to failure before they've even begun?

Real estate development was the first casualty of the Great Recession, but a half-dozen New York City colleges are in the midst of an unprecedented building boom.

St. John’s University in Queens has already spent almost $160 million on a new student center and classroom upgrades during the past two years alone. Fordham, the New School, and John Jay College of Criminal Justice are all betting on big campus expansions. And over the next three decades, NYU and Columbia are preparing to shell out nearly $10 billion for academic and administrative buildings, dormitories, research labs, and even unrelated commercial ventures like a hotel and a jazz club.

It's certainly true in my nabe, and my experience. Columbia University, the armpit of the Ivy League, is expanding like a metastatic carcinoma, obliterating whole neighborhoods in a way that hasn't happened in this town since Robert Moses repaired to his eternal brimstone berth in Hades. NYU is visibly doing the same, and even proletarian CCNY is popping up new erections all over the place.

I see the same thing everywhere I go in this broad land. A campus that was quiet and bucolic a few years ago now boasts the gleaming new Harry And Mildred Furrier Fitness Center, or the Artabazian School Of Identity Politics.

The incarceration sector and the credentialling sector -- both huge success stories over the last few decades. One can't help wondering if there's some link between the two -- some deeper law that accounts for both these vast gigantisms.

A few months ago I did a little bit of digging in the stats, and with some help from better-informed comrades on one of my mailing lists, I was able to derive the following graph, showing college and university expenditures per student in constant dollars:

Now what's this money being spend on? It's not faculty salaries, that's for sure, since classes have gotten bigger and the reserve army of casual adjuncts -- shockingly ill-paid, as I can attest from personal experience -- has taken over much of the dreary burden of classroom patrol.

Has anybody looked into this? Does the building boom account for it? If not, what else is involved?

August 3, 2010

Secrets of the workhouse revealed

A rather surprising piece in the credentialling-sector house organ, Inside Higher Education:

Higher Education's Big Lie

The notion that education, particularly a college degree, is the key to career success is a particularly American idea. It is what the sociologists W. Norton Grubb and Marvin Lazerson have called "the education gospel," a national ethos of hard work in school paying off and of equal opportunity for all. ...

And workers have responded to the call. As The New York Times reported recently, there are now more students enrolled in U.S. institutions of higher education than ever before.... With millions more students attending college, it makes sense to ask whether their degrees will pay off.

First of all, it is debatable whether a majority of future job openings will require a college degree. ... According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most job growth in the next decade will be in labor markets where a bachelor's degree is not necessary. Furthermore, the cost of attending college has risen dramatically in recent years. Conflicting claims about the economic value of a degree along with skyrocketing tuition raise a question about whether college is a good investment for all students, especially those low-income students who can least afford to spend money and years on a higher education venture that may not produce rewards.

Secondly, the issue of college payoff becomes even more complicated when we consider that many students who begin college will not complete degrees. While the U.S. leads the world in college attendance, it is ranked near the bottom in the number of students who actually graduate.... According to education researcher Peter Sacks, the chance that a low-income child will earn a bachelor's degree is no higher today than it was in 1970, a grave contradiction in the meritocratic narrative of the education gospel.

In fact... the qualities that lead to academic success are not linked to college access, effort, or intelligence, but to accidents of birth. For the most part, the children of affluent parents attend the best colleges and get the best jobs....

These days it is more likely that a student's first tuition bill will be paid with money from a loan. What looks like an investment in the future, however, can often turn into an economic disaster. For example, Valerie, an immigrant from Haiti... After high school in Harlem, Valerie spent six years at a private, nonprofit, open-door college in New York City accumulating credits for a psychology degree that she finally completed in 2006.

One year after graduation, the only job she could find was working as a teacher's aide (a position that did not require a bachelor's) for $14,000 per year. She also had to work as a salesperson in a clothing store to make ends meet.... [A]fter years of student loans, Valerie owed almost $60,000, a sum she could never hope to repay. After returning to the same college to earn a M.A. degree, Valerie found a job as a social worker earning a $33,000 annual salary [but] Valerie was still unable to meet her financial obligations, and she had begun to question whether her six-year investment of time and money had been worth it....

The whole thing is well worth reading; and the credentialling sector's most implacable enemies -- among whom I number myself -- could hardly find anything to add. It's really quite damning.

September 9, 2010

Hit the bricks, prof

I wish I had had more professors like the wonderfully sinister and overstatedly Jewish crypto-Red shown in the marvelous propaganda image above(*). No doubt I would be a much better Commie now.

Not that I was unlucky in the professors who actually fell to my lot (and I to theirs, poor devils). My professors were generally fine people, with a few conspicuous exceptions, and several of them even managed to teach me a thing or two, in spite of all the resistance I could muster.

Still, there are a lot of ways to learn, and I concluded some time ago that the wildly topheavy and insanely intricate bureaucracy of "education" -- particularly "higher education" -- has got to go. It appears I have some bedfellows in this bunk, strange though they may be:

[I]n recent months, [an] unlikely privileged group has found itself in the cross hairs: tenured ­professors.

At a time when nearly one in 10 American workers is unemployed, here’s a crew (the complaint goes) who are guaranteed jobs for life, teach only a few hours a week, routinely get entire years off, dump grading duties onto graduate students and produce “research” on subjects like “Rednecks, Queers and Country Music”...

The debate over American higher education has been reignited recently, thanks to two feisty new books. ­Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — And What We Can Do About Itby Andrew Hacker, a professor emeritus of political science at Queens College, and Claudia C. Dreifus, a journalist... is if anything even harsher and broader than the cartoonish sketch above. [Its arguments] are also echoed in Mark C. Taylor’s Crisis on Campus: A Bold Plan for Reforming Our Colleges and Universities, which is more measured in tone but no less devastating in its assessment of our unsustainable “education bubble.”

But of course you can always depend on Pwogs to defend existing institutions -- particularly sanctimonious hypocritical institutions like the Supreme Court and the Academy. Here's Jesse Lemisch, on Truthout, approvingly cited by some of the high-Church Marxists on my lefty mailing lists:
From Reagan's nonexistent "welfare queens" to today's "unnecessary medical tests" and old people viewed as burdens to be put out on the ice, atypical large expenditures - or rumors of them - are used as justification for enormous cutbacks. We associate these arguments with the right, but more and more they come, as well, from the "liberal" center. Consider Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus' hot new [book mentioned above]....

Before I read this book, I thought of Hacker and Dreifus as liberals, which remains the case - but helps us to see what liberalism has all too often come to mean, even for some veterans of the left.... To my dismay, the book turns out to be propaganda for a neoliberal program of cuts in higher education, part of the international retreat from earlier social gains in pensions, vacations, education, health care, and part of the mounting attacks on social services and on public employees.

Now this analogy seems a little forced. Cutting "education" is arguably more like cutting the police budget, or the military budget. Pensions put money in people's pockets, and vacations give them leisure, but "education" as we know it takes money out of people's pockets and deprives them of what little leisure they have.

I've spent a bit of time, in my day, as a occasional slavey among the huddled masses of "adjuncts" and other academic proles. My students were by and large a likable bunch, but every one of them was in that classroom because they had to be, or believed they had to be, not because they wanted to be. They certainly didn't consider it an amenity; they considered it a burden. I don't think they would have responded quite the same way to a nice Government check every month, or a nice French-style vacation.


(*) Does anybody know the original source of this? I found it in my usual googleophagous way, but the site where it turned up gave no hint of provenance. And the prof's face reminds me very strongly of somebody, but I can't quite figure out who.

September 27, 2010

Time to crack down on those no-good kids

This just in:

Sorry kids, President Obama wants to extend the school year by a month.

Students in China, India and other fast-growing countries are already leaving U.S. students in the dust, he said.

"They have caught up and now in some cases have surpassed us," he said.

Now I don't pretend to know the real reason for this brutal attempt to expropriate what little liberty and leisure kids have left -- apart from the general institutional impulse toward aggrandizement, hypertrophy, and metastasis.

(Ivan Illich forty years ago noticed "the attempt to expand the pedagogue's responsibility until it engulfs his pupils' lifetimes". Personally, I like to use the English translation of 'pedagogue', namely 'boy-herder'. Perhaps we should coin 'childherd' for the sake of gender neutrality, on the analogy of 'shepherd', and pronounce to rhyme with 'filtered'.)

What is clear is that the claimed purpose of this sadistic initiative -- "competition" with peonage economies like India and China -- is incoherent. Taken seriously, it means that the "race to the top" is really a race to the bottom. The "competition" is a struggle to discover who can take his hide to market most cheaply, and the prize, of course -- to borrow a trope from the Old Man -- is a hiding.

The ideological triumph of the childherd does, alas, appear to be nearly complete. The same Daily News story quoted above ran a poll:

Should U.S. schools extend the school year by a month?
  • Yes, it will help American students compete with their Chinese and other counterparts.
  • No, the kids need a break and it could turn them off to learning.
  • It depends on what exactly they'd be doing for that month.
Note the claustrophobically buttoned-up -- or rather, locked-down -- universe of discourse here. Even opposition to expanding the school year must be expressed in instrumental terms, and moreover, in terms of facilitating the childherd's ostensible mission. No other considerations can be admitted.

Speaking of Ivan Illich, everybody ought to read "Deschooling Society," which can be had online. Sample:

School, by its very nature, tends to make a total claim on the time and energies of its participants. This, in turn, makes the teacher into custodian, preacher, and therapist.

In each of these three roles the teacher bases his authority on a different claim. The teacher-as-custodian acts as a master of ceremonies, who guides his pupils through a drawn-out labyrinthine ritual. He arbitrates the observance of rules and administers the intricate rubrics of initiation to life. At his best, he sets the stage for the acquisition of some skill as schoolmasters always have. Without illusions of producing any profound learning, he drills his pupils in some basic routines.

The teacher-as-moralist substitutes for parents, God, or the state. He indoctrinates the pupil about what is right or wrong, not only in school but also in society at large. He stands in loco parentis for each one and thus ensures that all feel themselves children of the same state.

The teacher-as-therapist feels authorized to delve into the personal life of his pupil in order to help him grow as a person. When this function is exercised by a custodian and preacher, it usually means that he persuades the pupil to submit to a domestication of his vision of truth and his sense of what is right.

The claim that a liberal society can be founded on the modern school is paradoxical. The safeguards of individual freedom are all canceled in the dealings of a teacher with his pupil. When the schoolteacher fuses in his person the functions of judge, ideologue, and doctor, the fundamental style of society is perverted by the very process which should prepare for life. A teacher who combines these three powers contributes to the warping of the child much more than the laws which establish his legal or economic minority, or restrict his right to free assembly or abode.

... Children are protected by neither the First nor the Fifth Amendment when they stand before that secular priest, the teacher. The child must confront a man who wears an invisible triple crown, like the papal tiara.... The teacher.... combines the claims of medieval popes in a society constituted under the guarantee that these claims shall never be exercised together by one established and obligatory institution --church or state....

Under the authoritative eye of the teacher, several orders of value collapse into one. The distinctions between morality, legal. ity, and personal worth are blurred and eventually eliminated. Each transgression is made to be felt as a multiple offense. The offender is expected to feel that he has broken a rule, that he has behaved immorally, and that he has let himself down. A pupil who adroitly obtains assistance on an exam is told that he is an outlaw, morally corrupt, and personally worthless.

October 25, 2010

Assume the position, Mr Chips

Check out this gem:

"A 265-page spreadsheet, released last month by the chancellor of the Texas A&M University system, amounted to a profit-and-loss statement for each faculty member, weighing annual salary against students taught, tuition generated, and research grants obtained...the move here comes amid a national drive, backed by some on both the left and the right, to assess more rigorously what, exactly, public universities are doing with their students—and their tax dollars...The movement is driven as well by dismal educational statistics."
Of course the results, as you'd expect suggest the humble exploited contract types are way too often making the thickest margins for the big U team. No wonder "part-time lecturers.. make up at least 50% of the nation's higher-education faculty—up from 30% in 1975." And how is the learned guild taking all this? Just imagine the horror!

Take these performance metrics:

"[Teachers] earn points...for pushing students to take science, engineering and math; for ensuring that they complete classes that they start; for improving on-time graduation rates; and for boosting more low-income students to degrees."
Imagine the cries of bloody murder that must incur in the faculty lounge of Mortarboard U's department of Circadian Arcadian Plebular Music Studies. Heavens to Sallust! But then how about this approach:
"Minnesota's state college system has created an online "accountability dashboard" for each campus. Bright, gas-gauge-style graphics indicate how many students complete their degrees; how run-down (or up-to-date) facilities are; and how many graduates pass professional licensing exams...The California State University system, using data from outside sources, posts online the median starting and mid-career salaries for graduates of each campus, as well as their average student loan debt."
Sniff wonder there's pushback, or at least dark subvocalizations from our gowned goons:
"It's a reflection of a much more corporate model of running a university, and it's getting away from the idea of the university as public good... the focus on serving student "customers" and delivering value to taxpayers will turn public colleges into factories... it will upend the essential nature of a university, where the Milton scholar who teaches a senior seminar to five English majors is valued as much as the engineering professor who lands a million-dollar research grant."
Clearly written to undermine itself, eh? Gotta love objective reporters and editors. If they're not exactly Father Smiths, they're at least all Winston Smiths at heart.

October 26, 2010

Race to the bottom

IOZ calls our attention to this remarkable piece of Parson Thwackum rumination in the New York Times:

48th Is Not a Good Place

The National Academies, the country’s leading advisory group on science and technology, warned in 2005 that unless the United States improved the quality of math and science education, at all levels, it would continue to lose economic ground to foreign competitors.

The situation remains grim. According to a follow-up report published last month, the academies found that the United States ranks 27th out of 29 wealthy countries in the proportion of college students with degrees in science or engineering, while the World Economic Forum ranked this country 48th out of 133 developed and developing nations in quality of math and science instruction.

Many questions crowd to mind here. What were the raw scores, and how were they obtained? How big is the gap between Number One and Number Forty-Eight? Is Number One at, like, 100, and Number Forty-Eight at 20? And if so, where's everybody else? Down in the minus-300s, maybe? Or is Number One at 100 and Number 48 at 98, with everybody else spread out at the third decimal place in between? (Which amounts to the same thing, of course, once the stats are normalized.)

One thing it seems the National Academies are academies of is propagandistic number-doctoring, not to say witch-doctoring.

In a 2009 survey, nearly a third of this country’s manufacturing companies reported having trouble finding enough skilled workers.
Poor babies! You mean they're not finding workers ready-made to their requirements at no cost to themselves? They might have to spend some time and effort training people in the specific skills that these exploitation mills require? The horror!

This math-and-science fetish is very strange. It's utterly at variance with everybody's daily experience. We've all seen at first hand this process of replacement: the old Amurrican gets replaced by the twenty-something from India. There may be cases -- maybe even a thousand or two, coast to coast, in the last five years -- where this happens because the young Indian guy can explain Heisenberg's uncertainty principle better than his sclerotic Anglo counterpart. But this is quite rare. Mostly, it's because the young Indian guy is willing to work harder, for less money, than the obsolete antediluvian fossil he's replacing, who grew up -- spoiled brat that he is -- expecting things like a forty-hour week, and some vacation time, and health insurance, and a pension.

On the other hand, if the credentialling sector can make some money out of this race to the bottom, selling apotropaic magical gold stars guaranteed by the Academy Of Witch Doctory to drive away the unemployment demons -- well, why not? In this economy, you sell what you can, for whatever the market will bear.

November 19, 2010

The schools devour their own

So the unspeakable Arne Duncan made a speech at the Amurrican Ennerprise Instatoot (where else?). Naturally the text is full of blood-freezing enormities, both as regards style and substance. The Baba Yaga Day Care Center, Arne Duncan, Headmistress. Sloganic Spoken Here.

But guess what atrocity -- buried two-thirds of the way down in a 2,500-word text -- attracted the attention of my mailing-list correspondents?

Districts currently pay about $8 billion each year to teachers because they have masters' degrees, even though there is little evidence teachers with masters degrees improve student achievement more than other teachers--with the possible exception of teachers who earn masters in math and science.
The horror!

Of course there is some unintended humor in this auto-amputation. The credential is sold by the claim that it will raise your income. But then the business that sells the credential repudiates, in practice, its own advertising jingle: we won't pay more for Sheepskin Part Deux. Fordism in reverse gear.

I'm starting to like Arne Dagon, who may yet pull down his own temple around his own ears -- no Samson required.

November 21, 2010

Nose to the Gradgrindstone

The gruesomely facelifted skeletal paidophage shown at left is Mike Bloomberg's choice to boil the last scrap of flesh off the hapless schoolchildren of New York. If Klein was Procrustes, this monster is the cannibal witch that Hansel and Gretel met in the gingerbread house. Is she really Arne Duncan in unconvincing drag? Do you ever see them together?

Home-schooling looks better every day. Even though you'd just as soon see less of your children, and they'd just as soon see less of you -- do you want to hand them over to Christine Cathie Black? Do they want to spend any time in her correctional institution? After a week in her custody, wouldn't they too rather be with you, unsatisfactory as you undoubtedly are?

I love it that this corporate vulture was more or less present at the creation of Ms Magazine. Free Alterations Feminism!

November 29, 2010

What's wrong with this picture?

Well, erm, everything, right? This anorectic crazyface, Cathie Black, clearly ought to be in a hospital, getting fed through a tube. (I mean the crazyface in the foreground; the one in the background has a different diagnosis, and I'd prescribe a very different treatment, starting perhaps at the other end of the alimentary canal.)

But in our world, the inmates are notoriously running the asylum; so Ms Crazyface, CEO, will soon be putting the already malnourished children of New York on their own extreme-starvation diet, education-wise.

Black's nomination as schools chancellor here in Gotham was understandably greeted with horror and dismay by everybody with any human feeling left in his or her heart. But it was deeply pathetic to see how the critique played out. It was sadly ineffectual and self-defeating, because it focused on La Black's lack of "credentials".

The credentials in question are of course notoriously worthless; "Ed" credits are easily obtained, if you're the sort of person who can sit in a classroom for a few hours every week and let waves of arrant nonsense break over your head without tearing your shirt off, setting your hair on fire, and running bare-tit and flaming down the street.

But managers can always hire subject-matter experts, and that was of course the Solomonic compromise that finally greased Crazyface's way into the Tweed courthouse. She has to have a credentialled person by her side as she grinds the poor kids' faces further into the dirt. The credentialled person will be glad to have the job. The credential fans will feel that they won a round. Baba Yaga will have her mingy yet nourishing diet of ultra-lean human flesh.

Everybody will sleep well at night -- except, of course, the kids and their parents.

But fuck them. If they were any good at all, they'd be at Horace Mann.

January 1, 2011

Department of Happy Family Studies

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
IOZ recently linked to this wonderful item:
Now that asking and telling has ceased to be problematic in military circles, ROTC has resurfaced as a national issue: Will universities such as Harvard, Yale and other Ivy League schools be opened to Reserve Officers' Training Corps since colleges can no longer can argue that the military is biased against gays and therefore not welcome?

... Only one of the eight Ivy League schools - Cornell - offers a degree in peace studies. Their pride in running programs in women's studies, black studies, and gay and lesbian studies is well-founded, but schools have small claims to greatness so long as the study of peace is not equal to the other departments when it comes to size and funding....

ROTC and its warrior ethic taint the intellectual purity of a school...

The author, Colman McCarthy, "directs the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington and teaches courses on nonviolence at four area universities and two high schools."

Whew. "Intellectual purity!" What "intellectual purity" does McCarthy think the Ivies, or the Unis in general, have, or ever had, to "taint"?

And oh gentle Jesus, he wants yet another "studies" department -- Peace Studies. A big, well-funded one, too. Right up there with the Lesbians. Understandable on his part, since "teaching peace" seems to be the guy's metier.

But.... What exactly is "peace", other than the absence of conflict? And what other absences need a "studies" department? The department of vacuum studies? The department of wheeled organism studies? The department of empty-set studies? The department of factorable prime studies? The department of non-redheadedness studies?

And why should anybody care about the Unis' "claims to greatness"? In fact, shouldn't we oppose all such claims to the utmost of our power?

There's altogether too much positive thinking in the world. And by positivity here I mean, among other things, the activity of positing stuff. We posit some entity called "peace", and then set up to teach it. But the entity is a chimaera, and it can't be taught.

We could teach something negative -- we could teach, for example, that armies and empires suck. But it's hard to imagine the provost signing off on a Department Of Military-Imperial Suckiness Studies. This would be too much like attacking somebody else's product -- like f'rinstance the Department of National Security Studies -- rather than just (peacefully) trying to sell your own.

The various departments can compete for butts in chairs, but you can't have 'em tearing each other down. Bad for business in general.

So the implicit negative critique must be repackaged as a substance, "peace", sold by the credit-hour, and found in Aisle Three. In fact you could major in National Security with a minor in Peace. It's the metaphysical apotheosis of eclecticism: I'll take a pound of X and a half-pound of Not-X and go home with a pound and a half of bullshit in my shopping bag.

And don't even get me started about the conceited Uni-centrism of thinking that teaching "peace" on campus makes "peace" any more likely to happen. It's a bit like the famous Academy of Lagado:

This Academy is not an entire single Building, but a Continuation of several Houses on both Sides of a Street; which growing waste, was purchased and applyed to that Use.

I was received very kindly by the Warden, and went for many Days to the Academy. Every Room hath in it one or more Projectors; and I believe I could not be in fewer than five Hundred Rooms.

The first Man I saw was of a meager Aspect, with sooty Hands and Face, his Hair and Beard long, ragged and singed in several Places. His Cloathes, Shirt, and Skin were all of the same Colour. He had been Eight Years upon a Project for extracting Sun-Beams out of Cucumbers, which were to be put into Vials hermetically sealed, and let out to warm the Air in raw inclement Summers. He told me he did not doubt in Eight Years more he should be able to supply the Governors Gardens with Sun-shine at a reasonable Rate; but he complained that his stock was low, and intreated me to give him something as an Encouragement to Ingenuity, especially since this had been a very dear Season for Cucumbers. I made him a small Present, for my Lord had furnished me with Money on Purpose, because he knew their Practice of begging from all who go to see them.

January 6, 2011

Thought experiment

Two sectors dear to all soft hearts deserve quite divergent tactics.

One is, of course, health care, and here it looks like the state is the only way to blugeon through to a better and cheaper health service for all.

However we also hear lots of wildness about the schooling sector and efforts to demolish the state's de facto lion's share of our nation's production of mass citizen liter-ates and numer-ates. In particular we hear a lot of geschrei about charterization and today's topic, voucherization of the public schooling dollar.

Seems plenty clear that voucherization of state provision of health care funds would be a deadly act indeed, and for all the obvious reasons well understood by the popular culture at large and not worth my paltry input.

But brothers and sisters should we really really... really mobilize our limited lefty activist resources to fight vague movements toward the voucherizing of primary education?

I'll suggest a distinction: battling for health care is a universal battle and any move away from ever more fully socializing our health system must be battled with ferocity.

But should we care even if the present schooling system disintegrates? Would that be a dark-age outcome... really?

March 2, 2011

The credentialling sector strikes back

So the Wunderkindverteidigungsminister has had to resign -- because he plagiarized his doctoral dissertation!

Of course I'm not sorry to see him go -- he seemed like an awful person. And if Angela Merkel ends up with egg on her brutish face over the affair, that's okay too.

But still -- because he cheated in school?! Good Lord, what's the world coming to? Where I come from, cheating in school was a badge of honor, and rightly so. I myself was subjected to a ritualistic, fetishistic ceremony of corporal punishment for the crime of cheating in school -- more than once, too -- and my status rose considerably as a result. To this day I consider the chaféd glutei an excellent investment in peer-group cred.

Admittedly, it's hard to understand why the Tabloid Baron would have to cheat. The great scholar's dissertation was apparently on the subject of "the development of constitutional law in the U.S. and European Union," a topic on which surely one could blow a few hundred pages of smoke in one's sleep; it's right up there with "pagan and Christian elements in Beowulf". But the aristocracy aren't used to doing their own banal daily scut-work -- the Baron, like Auden's Mozart, has probably never had to make his own bed.

There was a droll piece about the whole affair in the Wall Street Journal:

The baron's defense—he claimed he had written his thesis in good faith, lifting hundreds of prose passages from other authors only by "mistake"—outraged middle-class university graduates, who dominate Germany's establishment.

"The literate bourgeoisie, who have worked hard to pass exams, were not amused," said Gerd Langguth, a politics professor and member of Ms. Merkel's right-leaning Christian Democratic Union.

In contrast, mass-circulation tabloid Bild-Zeitung said "to hell with the doctorate," and its readers overwhelmingly backed him in a phone-in poll....

But after Ms. Merkel quipped last week that she had hired a defense minister, "not a research assistant," tens of thousands of academics and students signed an online letter accusing the chancellor of making a mockery of scholarly values.

A mockery of scholarly values! No, you idiots, that dissertation's topic was the mockery of scholarly values. By giving degrees for horseshit like that -- really, it's down at the level of Melissa Huffle-Puffle or a "studies" major -- you've forfeited any respect that might have ever accrued to "scholarship", as currently defined by the diploma industry.

And oh, the pathos of these "middle-class Uni grads" and their prized sheepskins. These people need to get out more.

The whole business is much like a Preston Sturges movie; every little twist and turn is a delight. There's this, for instance, from the WSJ piece mentioned above:

The minister's doctoral supervisor, law professor emeritus Peter Häberle, on Monday turned on his former student, saying: "The shortcomings—unimaginable to me—that have been discovered in Mr. zu Guttenberg's dissertation are grave and unacceptable."
Hmm. Unimaginable, is it, sehr geehrter Herr Doktor Professor? Considering that most of your student's plagiaries came from newspapers -- newspapers! -- and other well-known "scholars" in the "field" of "political science", should we not be surprised -- rhetorical question alert -- that you didn't notice them?

Rhetorical answer: no we should not. If you actually read the Baron's indigestible tome -- much less the work of your dreary colleagues, or horrors, the newspapers -- then you'd be utterly unworthy of the otium cum dignitate that comes with a tenured professorship -- a German tenured professorship, forsooth, at -- wait for it -- the University of Bayreuth!

(Do the frat boys there all aspire to date Wagnerian sopranos, or Heldentenori, as their predilections may dictate?)

But leave it to the Times -- in the link referenced up top -- to furrow the brow and strike the proper note of concern:

Because of the way the ministries are divided among the conservative bloc, analysts said the new defense minister would come from the Christian Social Union, though it has few known experts in military, security and foreign affairs.
My own initial response to this dire prospect was: well, good. Lord save us from the experts. But then I had a second thought. Wouldn't a crafty non-expert be a much better "defense" minister than a credentialled expert mired in the stultification that only an empty degree can confer? And would I rather the Germans had a clever and capable wildcard Minister of War -- let's call it what it is -- than a respectable dolt with a poli-sci doctorate from a "good" university?

To ask the question is to answer it. Bring on the experts. And this time, Angela, get somebody from Heidelberg or Tubingen, not a frat boy from... Bayreuth! Because the rest of the world, which has a longer memory than you may think, would much prefer to see a thorough, reliably certificated dullard in charge of the Bundeswehr, than somebody who might have actually gotten in under the radar.

April 6, 2011

Dear Dr Schadenfreude:

Gotta love these public schoolteachers' unions, am I right? Especially now they and their members face... total online wipeout!

Why, it's like the weavers of yore and their guildhalls facing the onrush of Blake's satanic mills. Where's the Mahatma of the three R's?

Here's the iron maiden of Times Square:

"Students in kindergarten through grade 12... are taking online courses.... Nationwide, an estimated 1.03 million students... took an online course in 2007-8, up 47 percent from two years earlier... About 200,000 students attend online schools full time, often charter schools that appeal to home-schooling families... Advocates.. say they allow schools to offer not only makeup courses, the fastest growing area, but also a richer menu of electives and Advanced Placement classes when there are not enough students to fill a classroom. But critics say online education is really driven by a desire to spend less on teachers and buildings, especially as state and local budget crises force deep cuts to education."
[Cue the bell of doom]
" They note that there is no sound research showing that online courses at the K-12 level are comparable to face-to-face learning. "
Had enough? Sorry, one more, and you're gonna hate this most of all, you totalizers!
"About 200,000 students attend online schools full time, often charter schools that appeal to home-schooling families"
Yes... home schooling families!... Not credentialed professionals... families... Oh, the children, the poor poor children! Next thing you know, getting credit for academic stuff will be like, like, I dunno... acquiring a drivers license... or a fishing license or a barber's license, and equally fragmented and partitioned: "Son, for this job I'll need to see a few licenses... Civics II and yer Algebra I and your... "

Well, frankly, Miss Peach, I don't give a damn. To hell with all that 19th century Horace Mann stuff. It's past its expiration date. Liberating? Come now. It's nothin' but universal compulsory childhood hostage-taking. It's right out of Buster Brown's too-tight shoes, his Sunday go to meeting suit, his tutorial ear-twisting, his hours of finger-drumming and foot-shuffling and ass-shifting -- one big 5 through 17 spiritual thumbtack applied to a kid's evolving soul. If there's purgatory here on earth, that there, next to listening to amateur chamber music, is the genuine article. Why, it's worse than a paying job!

And for a twelve-year-old! Why is that even in question? If the little fuckers had the right to vote on it -- you know, categorical imperatives uppermost in their minds -- do you really imagine they'd be in school?

To hell with mass elementary schooling, and secondary too. It's a nanny Gulag, straight from Calvin's breakfast table.

Besides, Miss Peach, I don't care about you and your, what is it, 3 million sorry-ass do-good members' jobs. You want solidarity? I bet you do. I bet you'd like us to figure "after you they'll come for me".

Well, brothers and sisters, they already CAME for me! And where were you when that happened? Raising childhood horizons, no doubt. Where will you be when they automate landscape oil painting? And create online doctor's checkups, and Robo-parsons, and virtual lawyers, and generally crucify the rest of the liberal professions? Where will you be when they replace state legislatures and mayor's offices with two-way TV call centers and direct household lawmaking (subscription required)?

It's happened, it's gonna continue to happen, anti-corporate grapes of wrath notwithstanding. And to me, it's delicious, it's delirious, it's delightful.

May 6, 2011

More Zionist comedy at New York's own university

That's Benno Schmidt, center, above. Schmidt used to be president of Yale and has more recently descended to the 'umble post of chairman of the Board of Trustees of the City University of New York (CUNY) -- the body which recently allowed itself to be stampeded by ultra-Zionist fanatic trustee Jeffrey Wiesenfeld into denying middlebrow playwright Tony Kushner an honorary degree, apparently because Kushner is something less than a full-blown blood-to-the-elbows Likudnik.

Now it seems the institution is sophisticated enough to have figured out that this particular witch-hunt turned up somebody embarrassingly un-witchlike -- to wit, a mere liberal-schmiberal hand-wringer who "firmly supports Israel's right to exist" but wishes Israel would exist in a nicer way. So a backpedal is in progress. CUNY will sheepishly give the honorary sheepskin -- or goatskin, as the case may be -- and a mollified Kushner will graciously accept it, after much indignant Oscar Jaffe huffle-puffle about how badly he has been treated. I close the iron door! -- Okay, okay, I open the iron door. Just a crack. Fold that sheepskin and slip it in. Now go away, and you're lucky I don't criticize you more severely.

So far, so predictable. But here's the funny part. Thus Benno:

If it were appropriate for us to take politics into account in deciding whether to approve an honorary degree, I might agree with Trustee Wiesenfeld, whose political views on the matters in controversy are not far distant from my own.
Now if words mean anything, we can only conclude from this that Schmidt, too, finds Kushner's political views -- such as they are -- to be beyond the pale, you should pardon the expression. But it's a question of due process and perhaps of meritocracy, you see, so we're not supposed to take Kushner's unspeakably vile political views into account.

Here's a sample of Wiesenfeld's own political views, "not far distant" from Schmidt's, sicut ipse dixit:

[The reporter] tried to ask a question about... which side was more callous toward human life, and who was most protective of it.

But Mr. Wiesenfeld interrupted and said the question was offensive because “the comparison sets up a moral equivalence.”

Equivalence between what and what? “Between the Palestinians and Israelis,” he said. “People who worship death for their children are not human.”

Did he mean the Palestinians were not human? “They have developed a culture which is unprecedented in human history,” he said.

Unlike the Israelis, who have developed a culture for which there is, alas, ample precedent.

June 5, 2011


You know: There are topics, you keep saying to yourself, fuck am I sick and tired of X.... if I hear one more word about X... But you never go Elvis on it; you never shoot the tv over it.

Charter school hysterics strike me just that way, and that far. Why give a damn about privatized middle ed? There's nothing about actually existing public schooling in America today...either way... worth even a raised voice, except, of course, the raised voice against the raised voice.

Just what is it about our public schools that cupcake progressives find worth "saving" from the budget axe? What is the great horror about voucherization? Hell, if they set up Ignorance Panels, would that signal anything more awful on the job site or in the community than we got already? Education is already separate and unequal; what about voucherizing looks to be qualitatively worse? Is it even possible to prove the mass of job-bridled black folks in the South are better off because the Dixie public school systems were integrated? (Not that that wasn't a good thing for other reasons.)

Stop wasting time trying to rescue a horse that never really pulled a plow or a wagon. Schooling is a way to care take of kids while both parents are at their crummy jobs. Whatever basic skills of literacy and numeracy they learn could be learned in one fifth the time, and in the case of numeracy that can be documented.

Now, Head Start -- that has it right. Get at 'em young. Approach this free caretaking system mandated by the state as just that, and design it explicitly for what it's now only implicitly about, the manufacturing of social persons.

Go ahead, knock yourselves out. On that front, anything is better than the home-cooked variety, 8 out of 10 times. Just please restrict this gauntlet to the malleable ages 0 through 12, and let the pube'd go free!

You can have 'em for the ages when folks learn things like how to sit still and how to speak up, how to get along and not get along, how to hold your ground and how to gang up, and how to spell "cat " and "what " and "boat", not how to spell "malleable" or "critical thinking".

June 28, 2011

The Diploma Empire strikes back

The Credentialling Sector has been taking some hits lately; people have started to ask whether that sheepskin is really worth what you pay for it. But the credential police have a crack defense team, including the New York Times, in the person of David Leonhardt:

ALMOST a century ago, the United States decided to make high school nearly universal. Around the same time, much of Europe decided that universal high school was a waste. Not everybody, European intellectuals argued, should go to high school.

It’s clear who made the right decision. The educated American masses helped create the American century...The new ranks of high school graduates made factories more efficient and new industries possible.

That's pretty breathtaking, isn't it? A hundred years of bloody history, and it all comes down to mandatory schooling. The Battle of the Bulge was won on the gym floor of East Bumfuck High School -- never mind where Vietnam and Afghanistan were lost. And the "American Century", forsooth! Was ever a richer lode of mindless cliche struck than the New York Times?

The rest of Leonhardt's piece is equally slapdash. For example, he says, "A new study even shows that a bachelor’s degree pays off for jobs that don’t require one: secretaries, plumbers and cashiers." In a subsequent column, he backs this up with a graph, also attributed to what is apparently the same Georgetown U report:

Unfortunately, the links he provides don't lead to this info, as far as I can tell, much less to any indication of how these statistics were derived. The Georgetown report itself says, in its introduction:

When considering the question of whether earning a college degree is worth the investment in these uncertain economic times, here is a number to keep in mind:

84 percent.

On average, that is how much more money a full-time, full-year worker with a Bachelor’s degree can expect to earn over a lifetime than a colleague who has no better than a high school diploma.

But the Georgetown savants don't tell us what kind of "average" this is (mean or median? It makes a difference) or how the number was calculated. (The Georgetown report does contain some unsurprising and no doubt accurate information -- a major in petroleum engineering is worth more than a major in social work; stop the presses.)

Still, let's assume, arguendo, that it's all more or less true; that college graduates are either more likely to be hired, or to be paid more after they're hired, than non-graduates. It doesn't seem unlikely. We might quibble about the precise numbers, and will certainly quarrel about the precise mechanisms that explain the effect. But the effect, such as it is, seems consistent with everyday experience.

The bigger question, of course, is, What are the implications? For the credentialling sector's defense team, the answer is self-evident: all the people who don't now go to college should go to college. Presumably then everybody's income would be up at the BAs' level, right?

Well, wrong, of course. I call this the Bus Fallacy: Anybody can get on a city bus, but everybody cannot get on a city bus. A city bus isn't big enough for everybody.

There are a good many lemmata to this insight. A lot of bubbles are blown up with exhaust gas from the Bus Fallacy. Anybody can make money speculating in real estate; but if everybody expects to make money speculating in real estate, who are they going to make it from?

You get the idea.

The BA confers an advantage. Okay. But an advantage ceases to be an advantage if everybody has it. It's a little like the atom bomb that way.

The credentialling bubble, I think, is nearing the point of collapse, like the dot-com bubble and the real-estate bubble of recent memory, and the locus-classicus South Sea and tulip-bulb bubbles of more venerable memory.

Every college campus I've been on in the last ten years is frantically building new towers and dorms and Centers for This Studies and That Studies -- and above all, gorgeous "fitness" centers, staggeringly lavish and Sybaritic, stocked with hundreds of gleaming exotic exercise machines. I daresay there is no muscle in your body, however small or obscure, that doesn't have a machine specifically designed to exercise it; and the Unis, who presumably know their demo, are buying 'em by the bargeload.

Counsel for the Defense Leonhardt acknowledges that

the [college-noncollege] income gap isn’t rising as fast as it once was, especially for college graduates who don’t get an advanced degree
-- though amusingly, he doesn't provide a link to any "study" that explores this interesting fact. But it's consistent with the overstretched bubble theory -- as is the fact that advantage is now migrating from the BA to the "advanced degree". As the advantage of the BA diminishes, some other advantage must be found, and some other after that....

The real, interesting question is, why this preference for the accumulation of sheepskins on the part of the employer?

With petroleum engineering you can see it, or indeed with any job that requires a very specific set of skills. The employer would obviously prefer that the employee train himself, at his own expense, rather than expend the money to train him. And the more of these costs that the employer can offload -- if he can demand advanced-degree training rather than BA training, say -- the better the bargain for the employer. It's like expecting an employee to have his own tools or use his own car on the job.

Of course if you look at this phenomenon from a certain angle -- the angle I prefer, as a matter of fact -- then the demand for credentials looks like one means (among many) of exploitation. In effect the employer requires that the employee defray ahead of time what would necessarily otherwise be a capital expenditure on the employer's part; this pay-in on the employee's part becomes a precondition to entering the sweatshop door and being exploited further. The pay-in is so valuable to the employer that he might actually let up slightly on the back-end exploitation, and purely as a business proposition, this may in some cases work out to the employee's net lifetime balance-sheet benefit too, at least as compared with less fortunate or astute wage-slaves.

But here again we encounter the Bus Fallacy. It might work out for any given employee; but it can't work out for every employee. If you look at it group-wise, then it's a net loss for the employee group overall. The more capital expenditure the employer group as a whole can offload onto the employee group as a whole, the worse off the latter group is. That's just arithmetic.

Of course there will always be some individuals, perhaps a good many, who beat the odds, as in the real-estate bubble -- people who bought at the right time and sold at the right time. But for every win there's a necessary loss.

Unless I'm committing a Lump Of Something fallacy here? These lump fallacies have been much discussed on this blog and its linksisters of late. Suppose that if everybody got a BA, the world would change in wonderful and unpredictable ways? I guess we can't rule it out; but we can hardly depend on it either.

What's even more interesting than the straightforward petroleum-engineer effect is Leonhardt's argument that a degree brings the employee more money even if his studies were utterly irrelevant to his job. If there's really anything to that -- if we accept the implications of Leonhardt's poorly-sourced chart -- then some explanation is called for. Speculation on this topic might require another post. Leonhardt seems to think it's all about the character-building and mental-workout aspects of college.

Humph. From what I've seen of college, I doubt it.

December 5, 2011

The edumacation perplex

My fellow Lefties, it seems to me, mostly exhibit a very muddled way of thinking about the Credentialling Sector (CS for short). The subject recently came up -- for the thousandth time -- on one of my mailing lists. Sample exchange:

Curly: Before the introduction of fees, the British University system was on the whole a subsidy to a narrowly-drawn group of privileged middle classes.

Moe: So better now to make it really expensive?

Moe is exhibiting here what I think of as the Mother-In-Law Argument, since I once knew a mother-in-law who specialized in it.
Me: Our civilization has its flaws.

Mother-in-law: Oh, so I suppose you'd prefer chattel slavery and human sacrifice, Mr Wise Guy?

It is weird how anything like a structural criticism of the CS -- anything that goes beyond tinkering with fees and the relative abundance of discount seats(*) -- is quite problematic for many on the Left. The underlying agenda of grading and sorting in the name of meritocracy seems to be quite acceptable to many of us. Curious.

Needless to say I weighed in to this effect, and felt the rough edge of Moe's tongue:

It's always amusing when highly educated people demean the importance of formal education for others.... For most people, college is a good experience.
(Moe is an Ivy alum himself, poor devil, so his overestimate of my educatedness is understandable.)

This got me ruminating. There was certainly nothing 'formal' about my education, though I did spend some time at a couple of well-regarded institutions. It was very catch-as-catch-can, and I learned at least as much from my fellow-students as I did from my teachers -- though four or five of those teachers are people that I'm very glad I met.

Moe has a point, though. College was (mostly) a good experience for me too. But that was because I viewed it as an opportunity for shameless self-indulgence, and spent my time and the family's money, such as it was, on things like mediaeval music and Celtic philology. I was fortunately able to treat the credentialling sector as if it were a romp through Arcadia. The degrees meant nothing to me at the time, though of course they did come in handy later on.

I certainly would want anybody to have the same experience who wanted to have it; and I would want it to be entirely unaccompanied by grading and degree-granting and entirely funded by the public purse. Treat it completely as an amenity, like the national parks.

What I very much object to is the credentialling sector's gatekeeper role, and the idea that everybody has to submit to it for, what, sixteen to twenty of the best years of their lives. Unfortunately that seems to have become the essence of the thing in the world we actually live in.

It's a bit like the police and prisons, isn't it? Many of us Lefties probably believe that as a practical matter, almost any society we can envision would need some kind of law-enforcement and some kind of sanctions for bad actors, but then none of us has any use at all for the actually existing police and prison systems. Nobody on the left is interested in the pay and pensions of prison guards and cops.

College used to be a playground for the sons of the elite, and then for a short moment it became a playground for some 'umbler folk like me, if they chose to treat it that way. But now it's a feedlot on the way to the corporate slaughterhouse.

Under those circumstances, fuck it. If it could become a playground again, I'd support it to the hilt. Hell, I'd go back into teaching.


(*) Referred to, in the peculiar thieves' argot of the CS, as "scholarships" and "financial aid".

February 21, 2012

Columbia University, hotbed of subversion

So Columbia University, as mentioned here earlier, is said to have appointed a fire-eating Red as Provost. The Red in question, John Coatsworth, has written some quite good stuff -- particularly about the coup in Guatemala -- but his Redness is far from obvious to this casual reader, trolling the interwebs. However an acquaintance of mine, a longtime toiler in the Columbia vineyard, who is himself Redder than Betelguese, and should know, admonishes:

It is very important for Columbia to include Marxists on its faculty. Students apply to Columbia because they want to study Marx.
This is very good news, of course, but it came as quite a surprise.

I know a lot of Columbia faculty & students -- you can't help it here, it's a company town -- and I must say that in my experience, compared to other first- and second-tier credential retailers, Columbia has about the most conventional, cautious, don't-rock-the-boat cadre and customers of all. One gets the very strong impression that after 1968 management swore a mighty oath: Never Again! And took steps to implement it.

In the 80s they seemed to be recruiting a lot of jocks, but that led to a rash of date rapes and other unfortunate incidents -- alcohol poisoning, vomitus all over the McKim Mead & White beauxarteries, that sort of thing. Now the students mostly seem to be very focussed, serious, disciplined pre-professional types -- aspiring lawyers and MBAs.

The waitstaff -- erm, professioriate -- mostly seem to be perfectly nice liberal Upper West Side people(*), deeply disgusted with the Teabaggers and other bien-pensant betes noires, but that's about as far as it generally goes.

Ed Said was of course a horse of a different color, and I hear good things about Joseph Massad, though I haven't met him. And of course my correspondent is right that all the elite schools like to keep a few such people around; it helps keep up that factitious facade of free inquiry.


(*) Unlike my own alma mater, the University of Chicago. There were people there who were so reactionary they drank Commie blood out of Commie skulls. Before the cocktail hour. But then there were some real Reds too -- I remember Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin in particular with great respect.

About The credentialling sector

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Stop Me Before I Vote Again in the The credentialling sector category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Terrible Towelheads is the previous category.

The culture of Empire is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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