Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Is it wrong to be self-righteous?

(For the record, this image refers to what the critic thought of me, not what I thought of him or her.)
Last week, I posted a commentary on the Penn Statechild-rape scandal, claiming, among other things, that university communities are generally close-knit enough to assume widespread knowledge of Sandusky’s crimes. In response, an anonymous reader posted the following:

"what an extremely ignorant, accusatory and self righteous statement. You need to come down from whatever supposed high moral ground on which you were standing when you wrote the above. You, yourself have probably done nothing to contribute to society in comparison to what has been accomplished by the "students, faculty and staff" you're so quick to criticize above.”

Independent of the internet-obligatory insults, the person is accurate. I was being both accusatory and self-righteous. In the words of the great George Costanza, was I wrong? Should I have not done that? My initial reaction was to think that anyone who hasn’t raped a child or enabled anyone else to do so was entitled to be self-righteous about this issue. This, in turn, caused me to ask whether being self-righteous was a bad thing at all. I’m not convinced it is.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Can there be new human rights?

Last week, the United Nations declared that internet access is a human right. Their language was strong, even calling upon all countries to "ensure that Internet access is maintained at all times, including during times of political unrest.” This is both new and exciting, but is it defensible?

When we think of human rights we think of self-defense, water, bodily integrity and education…needs that are part of the essential human experience. Hobbes, the philosopher who introduced the modern conception of rights, founded them on human nature and the human condition. As time went on, our notion of rights expanded, adding political (or civil) rights. These include things like the right to free speech, or freedom of religion and assembly. While these are new-ish ideas (only a few hundred years old) they are based on what we need to thrive in a democracy. Does it make sense to add the internet to this list and if so why? 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Would shutting down Penn State be hurting “the wrong people”?

The internal investigation of Penn State University’s complicity with Jerry Sandusky’s serial raping of young boys has been completed and Gawker puts the conclusions best: “Everyone Pretending They Didn’t Know Actually Knew.” It turns out that all of the high-level administrators were aware of Sundusky’s crimes for at least four years before he was caught raping a boy in a locker room shower. Gawker, again, highlights the summary paragraph:

“Taking into account the available witness statements and evidence, it is more reasonable to conclude that, in order to avoid the consequences of bad publicity, the most powerful leaders at Penn State University – Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and  Curley – repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse from the authorities, the Board of Trustees, Penn State community, and the public at large. Although concern to treat the child abuser humanely was expressly stated, no such sentiments were ever expressed by them for Sandusky's victims."

My initial thoughts: burn the place to the ground.

Follow-up post: On firing students…let’s change the question.

Many people reacted strongly to my last post suggesting that teachers shouldbe allowed to fire students. Some people liked the proposal, others didn’t. Will C. commented that the very idea that education should train people to be (in his words) wage slaves, “should be dragged into the backyard and shot.” Bill C., not the same person, I promise, wrote: “Absolutely, if doctors can decide not to treat patients who are too sick and insurance companies can reject people who have pre-existing conditions, then teachers should be able to drop students.” Finally, several people wondered if I was being serious or presenting satire. To the last group, I point to Poe’s Law.

But now for the hard part: I want to change the question. Instead of asking whether teachers should be allowed to fire students, I would like us to consider if teachers can establish minimal standards for remaining in a class.

Imagine the following scenario: a class is closed-out with a long waiting list. In response, the teacher tells the class that if a student doesn’t do every assignment, his or her spot will be given to someone else. Students don’t have to do well, the teacher would explain, but they have to genuinely try their best. If not, they will be replaced.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Should teachers be allowed to fire students?

I just received last semester’s student evaluations and, as usual, the most common complaint is that my introductory class has too much work for the 100-level. This is the same criticism I have been hearing for twenty years, but it is particularly galling coming from University of North Dakota students since Princeton Review ranks it as the university where students study the least. I think that my students’ unrealistic expectations may haunt them when they join the work force and I hope to better prepare them for their futures.

My concerns have been intensified after watching this recruitment video just release by Apple; it’s basic message is “this is a great place to work, but in order to be here, you not only have to be really good, you also have to work very very very hard.” So, given the fact that most non-professors seem to think that a university education is for job preparation, I would like to propose that teachers be given the ability to fire students.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sunday, July 8: Next episode of Why? Radio: "Lies My Teacher Told Me" with guest James Loewen

WHY? Radio presents:

"Lies My Teacher Told Me:
Revisiting a classic critique of how we teach education.”

with guest James W. Loewen.

Sunday, July 8, 5 p.m. central.

Listen live from anywhere in the world at www.whyradioshow.org  and in North Dakota at 89.3 (Grand Forks),  91.9 (Fargo), 90.5 (Bismarck), and on Prairie Public radio stations across North Dakota.