Category Archive • Bias
February 01, 2004
The continuing education of Cecile Dubois

Yesterday I got an email from Jackie D alerting me to the nonsense that Cecile Dubois is having to put up with at a her school for the crime of disagreeing with affirmative action, and I did a posting about it on Samizdata. Jackie has also written about this on her blog.

I'm not any sort of qualified or professional teacher, but surely encouraging or even tolerating mockery of an individual pupil by the rest of the class merely because of what that individual has said crosses some sort of line.

I agree with the Samizdata commenter who said that the teacher is not likely to change her opinions about affirmative action merely because of all this transatlantic hullabaloo, but that isn't the point. The point is that education is not just about learning things, but about learning how to learn things. And one of the ways you learn how to learn things is you learn how to argue about things. You do this by mustering factual evidence, by examining and criticising assumptions, by examining and criticising false deductions being made from these assumptions, and so on. You learn the truth about things by learning how to be reasonable about things. If you are a good teacher you do all this yourself, and thus set a good example to your pupils. As it was, Cecile was the one setting the example. I think this not because I happen to agree more with Cecile's opinion about affirmative action than with that of her teacher, but because Cecile seems to have been the one doing the rational arguing, while the teacher was using only ridicule and intellectual gang warfare.

Speaking of intellectual gang warfare I wish I hadn't called this teacher as a quote Grade A Bitch unquote. That was very unreasonable and impolite.

The comments at Jackie D's are particularly worth reading because they don't just blow off steam, the way I did at Samizdata, but also hint at what is going to be done about it all. Cecile and Cathy are "going over to the principal's house for a small party today …". I sincerely hope that all is settled reasonably satisfactorily and that Cathy is able to proceed with her studies at school without too much further grief.

As Jackie D says, Cecile impressed and charmed all of us who met her in London last December, and Cecile's various comments yesterday and today impressed me some more. Some fairly harsh things were said about the appearance of her blog, about the difficulty of reading it, and so forth and so on, by some other Samizdata commenters, things which under the cicumstances could have been phrased a whole lot more politely. This wasn't at all what I had in mind when I asked people to comment on Cecile's predicament in a way that was supportive and encouraging. I mean, you're in a fight with your teacher and they're calling you a racist, and then some guys on a faraway blog tell you that your blog needs a redesign and you need to get a grip on html and your text is all too jammed together, etc. etc.

That's the trouble with bad situations like this. Tempers rise (including mine I'm afraid), invective is exchanged, others perhaps feel that too much fuss is being made rather too fussily and fuss some more.

But now get this. Whatever Cecile may have thought about these impolite complaints about her blogging arrangements, all that she actually said in reply was: you're right guys, my blog could use some improvement along the lines you say.

Classy. Whatever seems to happen to Cecile, or to be said to her or about her, she just keeps right on learning.

On Samizdata I called her Cecile du Bois, following Jackie. I now suspect that the correct spelling may be Dubois, and will go with that from now on unless authoritatively instructed otherwise.

Meanwhile here is a picture of (L2R) Cathy S, Jackie D and Cecile D, which I took at the Samizdata blogger bash last December:

cajace.jpg

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 03:12 PM
Category: BiasBlogging
January 21, 2004
David Carr on the effect of propaganda in the classroom

David Carr comments interestingly at Samizdata on this story, which is about a trend towards offering financial education in schools. The best news is that they are selling it to schools as "extra-curricula", but no doubt if it gets anywhere the clamour will begin for it to become compulsory.

The subject of taxation is included, which naturally fills Carr with forebodings. Will it just be pro-tax propaganda? Maybe, but the effects might nevertheless, he says, be interesting:

… this could be welcome because even if it transpires that this is really all part of a lefty 'get-them-while-their-young' programme, the effect might be to start prodding young brain cells in directions that their teachers never intended them to go.

The Internet pulsates with complaints about propaganda in the classroom, but I hear rather less about the actual effects of such propaganda. After all, Younger Generations do constantly erupt in rebellions which make nonsense of what their teachers were supposedly stuffing into their heads.

Or do they? Do these "rebellions" actually just consist of Younger Generations taking the philosophical axioms they have been taught to their logical conclusions?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:48 PM
Category: Bias
October 23, 2003
Academic bias

From the website of Wheeling Jesuit University, via the Libertarian Alliance Forum. First two paragraphs:

A Wheeling Jesuit University business professor is using the book Atlas Shrugged to help MBA and undergraduate business students better understand the philosophical concepts and the moral aspects of today's business world.

Edward Younkins, professor of accountancy and business administration and author of the book Capitalism and Commerce: Conceptual Foundation of Free Enterprise, incorporates Ayn Rand's book, Atlas Shrugged, into his Conceptual Foundations of Business course to give students practical business examples. Younkins explains that students take turns leading discussions on all 30 chapters of Rand's 1,075-page novel. Of course, the professor takes part when necessary to make certain that key ideas are discussed.

But of course.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:35 PM
Category: Bias
June 26, 2003
Whiteness studies

A common blogosphere experience for me is to follow a link from Instapundit and then find something else with a link to something else of extreme interest. By which time I usually lose all track of how I got there, and fail to thank those responsible This time I remembered.

Anyway, the something else I finally got to is about something called "Whiteness Studies", which is a kind of reverse Nazism being taught in American universities, and no doubt soon to arrive here if it hasn't already.

Now, we didn’t have “Whiteness Studies” back when I was in college. Then, all the rage was multiculturalism, of which I got more than I could handle when, as a freshman, a scheduling snafu forced me into a section of the mandatory freshman-English program bearing the ominous title of “Differences.” There we studied literature through – to use the most pervasive cliché in academia – the lens of “race, class, gender, and sexual orientation.”

What that meant, in application, was that in the first weeks of class, we read books by African-Americans, the theme of which, unfailingly, was hatred for white people. Next we moved on to books by Hispanics, the theme of which was hatred for white people. From there it was books by Asians and Native Americans on—you guessed it—hatred for white people. There were a few variations, including some readings on anti-Semitism and homophobia, but otherwise, the theme was constant. This was a study of oppression, and the oppressors were always white guys.

Of course, all this took place way back in the early 1990s, eons ago for the modern-day Ivory Tower. Multiculturalism, once the primary fetish of academia, is now old hat in a culture that values the avant-garde above all else. Its permutations are spent. There are no more -isms to define; no more ethnic groups to balkanize; no more victims to patronize. That leaves academics looking for the next Big Thing, and they think they’ve found it in WS.

The focus has changed from multiculturalism, but the “hating whitey” theme remains.

“Whiteness,” as its would-be studiers see it, is the underlying cause of most every conceivable social ill. As David Horowitz has observed, “Whiteness Studies” is different in kind from other ethnocentric disciplines: “Black studies celebrates blackness, Chicano studies celebrates Chicanos, women’s studies celebrates women, and white studies attacks white people as evil.”

If you are my friend the pessimistic David Carr (a favourite quote went something like: "I fear that things will get a lot worse, before they get even worse than that") you are now plunged into yet more despair at all this. If you're more like optimistic me, you'll be at least hoping that sooner or later this idiocy will cease, and that the academics pushing it will make such public fools of themselves that even the public will eventually notice. And the truth will probably lie somewhere between the two, which is not good.

When the Whiteness Studies crowd speaks of abolishing “whiteness,” what they really mean is abolishing Americanism, most notably the American ideal of a society in which people are judged not by color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

Yes, that makes sense, and to some extent that will be the result.

But surely the most obvious consequence will be to keep a lot of stupid, semi-educated black people out of the big tent, by making them believe in being out of it.

Ask yourself this. If you were a hardcore white racist from straight out of the worst nightmares being plugged by these academics as white business-as-usual, what would you say about all this? Would you be scared? I really don't see how. Would be you pleased? Surely: yes:

If the niggers want to wallow in this self-deluding crap, let them. It's all they're good for. And obviously we need some of our people to keep an eye on things, to see that the niggers remember how heavily they are outnumbered, in America and in the world as a whole, and that they don't try to do any of this nonsense, and confine themselves to miseducating themselves. On the other hand, if they do try to start a race war for real, we can be good and ready and wipe them out.

Well, maybe not. But if that was the plan, would things be happening much differently?

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 05:37 PM
Category: Bias
[0]
May 29, 2003
Dangerous propaganda

Home schooler Julius Blumfeld writes:

I had a row with Mrs B a few days ago. The cause was the Usborne Encyclopedia of World History. Usborne are highly reputable educational publishers who produce nicely laid out and easy to use books for children.

The Encyclopedia has a section on the Industrial Revolution. There is the usual recital of the horrors of the new towns with an illustration of a slum with a smart horse and carriage driving past and a caption with the words "The factory owner drives past quickly".

The text then continues:

Making changes Members of the trade unions and some wealthy people put pressure on the government to make life better for the poor. In the second half of the 19th century, factories became safer, and better houses were built. New drains and sewers made the streets cleaner, which helped to prevent diseases from spreading.

Going to school

In 1800, parents usually had to pay to send their children to school, so many children from poor families never learned to read or write. Over the next hundred years, laws were passed which allowed children to have a free education.

So life became better for people because the Government made it better and poor children learned to read and write because the Government passed laws to give them a free education.

To be fair to the authors, this sort of stuff is entirely conventional. Usborne are merely reflecting received wisdom. Nevertheless, I find it worrying. The book is designed for children and we all know that young children are incredibly receptive to the first ideas that get into their heads. Home educated children like ours are no different that way.

Yet when I ranted to Mrs B about the insidious dangers of this sort of statist propaganda, she looked at me as though as I was a paranoid nut and told me to stop exaggerating. So I told her she was an ideological dupe and stomped off.

I wonder who is right.

Julius

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 10:33 PM
Category: BiasThe curriculum
[0]
February 11, 2003
Sean Gabb teaches the young ladies of Asia

Last Friday morning I visited what was once called the City Polytechnic, and then the London Guildhall University, and is now part of something bigger called London Metropolitan University. My friend Sean Gabb teaches there, and I was attending one of his classes, as part of my ongoing project of snooping on and talking to different sorts of teachers and reporting back to you people on what I find.

Sean's students were mostly youngish Asian ladies, a dozen of them, and there were also two young men. One of the men and a few of the ladies were European, but most of those present were Japanese or Thai. Sean stood up and lectured at one end of the room, and his students all sat around in a large rectangle of joined up small tables like the delegates at an international conference, or the managers of a company, taking notes, and listening carefully to what Sean was telling them. I'd guess the age of everyone to be about 20. They were doing a preliminary course after which they were all hoping to move on to a full university course.

Sean was telling them about free trade. I was intrigued by the way he handled his own bias, which is strongly in favour of free trade. I am strongly in favour of free trade, he said, but many others are not. He supplied many websites to the students on various handouts he had prepared, the majority to pro free traders, but some to opponents of it. One of the pro free trade websites was the Libertarian Alliance, and two of my own pieces were even cited. I do not believe that this was merely done because I was due to visit the class.

Afterwards I talked with Sean about the matter of bias, and he told me of his disgust at having been taught himself by Marxists, but by Marxists who were not prepared to say upfront that they were Marxists. He vowed then that if he ever became teacher, he would behave differently, and tell the truth about his own opinions, and try to distinguish, much more clearly than those who taught him, between fact and opinion. However, it occurred to me that the real "bias" in this lesson was not the way Sean taught it, but the fact that it was being given at all. I mean, if you lecture about "free trade" the chances are you'll be for it, right? If you are against free trade, your lecture will be called something different like "globalisation", "neo-imperialism", or some such. Nevertheless, I like this all-out-in-the-open approach of Sean's.

In general I was impressed by Sean's use of computers to aid the educational process. He used his own computer to prepared good written materials, and he told his students to use their computers to access further material. But he did not complicate matters in the class by making use of laborate slide shows or by turning his computer screen around and making all present look at that. He just spoke sensibly and clearly, very occasionally writing simple things on the board behind him with a felt tip pen.

The other interesting thing was that a mild but definite culture clash was to be observed. At various times during the lesson Sean said that he was being paid to get them to express their own opinions, rather than merely to write down and regurgitate his, Sean Gabb's, opinions. He told them that what mattered was how well they argued their opinions, not the mere matter of what they were. I dare say that to some of the dutiful and obedient young Asian lady students, it must have sounded as if Sean was telling them: "I order you to disagree with me." But I got the feeling that most of those present fully agreed with the stuff Sean was telling them, and that even if they didn't, they were determined to take their place in the kind of world that Sean was describing so approvingly, whatever their own opinions about it might be.

Here, then, was not a clash exactly, or a collision, or anything so dramatic as that. Here were two approaches to getting educated. There is education as the acquisition of pre-packaged and teacher presented knowledge. And there is education as the ability to package, and maybe to re-package, and then to present the digested result right back at the teacher again, and to fellow students. These young people were used to one tradition, of obedience. But they were having to get used to another. And if Teacher Gabb told them that such was their duty, well then they would do it. Their own tradition kind of obliged them to accept ours, you might say.

Apparently my presence in the class somewhat interrupted what Sean was trying to do along these lines, and caused all present to behave even "better" than usual, that is to say, even more quietly than usual. So in a small way, I got in the way of what Sean was trying to achieve. But this kind of teacher-knows-best deference was always a bit of a problem, said Sean, and they took a bit of coaxing to get used to speaking up and expressing their own views. I suggested to Sean later that he might try selling the Anglo-Saxon habit of argumentation as a preparation for the job of making managerial decisions when working for a big organisation or business. Decisions are not likely to be well made if only one alternative is explored. People who are able comfortably to disagree are helpful in such circumstances, even if their views are later over-ruled. But maybe that's just the Anglo-Saxon way of decision making. Maybe these students would end up participating in less raucous and argumentative decision making processes than we are used to here in Anglo-Saxonia. Even so, they were learning about more than just free trade. They were learning about another culture, in a way that was bound to be of value to them in their future lives.

I feel sure that the predominantly female atmosphere also made a difference on the docility front. Women are, in my experience – and this is fact rather than criticism – far less comfortable speaking out with their own perhaps unsure opinions in public and formal settings. (But switch to informal conversation and they start chattering away very happily.)

Sean spoke with great clarity, and although he had clearly prepared his lecture well he did not simply read out a prepared text. He extemporised around prepared texts. All present seemed determined to learn. There was no sense of anyone just being there because they had to be. In the very act of coming to this country in the first place (no English people were present, nor any people who's first language was English), all these young people had clearly taken charge of their lives and it showed in their attitude.

The class lasted well over an hour, and at the end of it, I felt that further questioning from me would not have been welcomed by these young students, although I also felt sure that they would have endured it with great politeness if I had imposed it upon any of them. These people were there to learn from Sean, not to sit about gossiping with the likes of strangers such as me. I might have learned more about Sean's methods and what they thought about Sean's methods, if I had hung around and bothered them with further talk, but it wouldn't have felt right. They had other business, I sensed, to be getting on with. As did Sean, and as did I.

That, now I think about it, was my overall impression. These people were here to do business. London was offering them a product, and they were buying it. No fuss. No big drama. They were just getting on with business.

These students are, in their own way, a highly significant part of the very process of international free trade that Sean was telling them about.

For more about Sean Gabb as a speaker and as a thinker, I also recently did a piece about him for my culture blog.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 11:56 PM
Category: BiasHigher education
[0]
November 15, 2002
Geography – environmentalism - compulsion

Finally, I'm picking up the threads of this "Education Blog" thing, and have an honest-to-god link from this guy (Steven Chapman) to this guy (Alex Standish of Spiked) to give you. Standish writes about how the environmentalist agenda has taken over the teaching of geography. New Zealand educated (which I didn't know until now) Chapman comments. Make of it what you will.

I'm as and maybe even more inclined to think that one bunch of old-school propagandists is being pushed aside by the next lot. If you set up a machine for compulsory "teaching", even if it is for compulsorily teaching children to think for themselves, don't be amazed if even nastier zombies steal it and do some more serious damage with it. Not sure. Discuss.

One thing I'm a bit more sure of is that turning the clock back is a hell of a lot harder than defending the existing settings, and that the only way to chase out environmental propagandising may be to banish propagandising of any kind. Then, if you want old fashioned geography like-we-used-to-have-in-the-good-old-days-in-New-Zealand, do what they do with a new soap powder: argue for it, sell it, push it, plug it, but don't compel anyone to buy it if they don't want to.

Do what I'm doing here, in other words.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 02:55 PM
Category: Bias
[0]
November 01, 2002
Watching for biased cant

In preparation for going public tomorrow with BEdBlog - and I think that's a nicer acronym than BEB, don't you? - I ought to be writing a Grand Pronouncement about Life, Education and Everything. Instead, here's just the first of many brand-X BEdBlog postings, this being, because I just happened to come across it, about a blog called Cant Watch, and in particular about this piece on leftward bias in academia. That's a story which isn't going to go away any time soon. I haven't read the piece very thoroughly, let alone the three previous pieces before it in the series of which it is number four, but it looks good, if only because it mentions Brink Lindsey's Dead Hand favourably. (That's a book, by the way, not an affliction.) The piece also names some guilty academics. And of course there are lots of links to sympatico blogs, books and sites.

Patrick: Can we (by which I mean: can you) put Cant Watch on the list of "Education Friendly Blogs" please? In alphabetical order would be preferable - as and when it suits to do it. And while we're (you're) about it, could you also please do me, sometime, another subject category: "Academic Bias". As I say, we're going to need that one a lot. Thanking you in anticipation.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 07:40 PM
Category: Bias