Morning Ed: Education {2017.03.29.W}

Take a class on bullshit. {via Burt}

Idaho contemplates teaching gun safety in school.

Charlotte Allen pushes back against a lot of the recent criticism of homeschooling.

The New York Daily News believes that the pendulum may have swung too hard and it’s become too difficult to suspend students.

Devin Pope explains the science behind college admissions, and how schools can identify the best students. This assumes, of course, that they want to identify the best students.

Brits are looking to the Chinese for math education solutions.

Stanley Fish argues that error has no right (or, more specifically, that freedom of speech is not an academic value).

Christopher Finn is concerned about the collapse of academic standards.

The privilege of protesting.


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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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45 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Education {2017.03.29.W}

  1. #1: I bet an Ag school or a Vet school somewhere has classes on bovine fecal analysis.

    oh. That’s not what was meant….

    (In all seriousness: I’m callin’ the next academic fad right now. Forget “reading across the curriculum,” forget “soft skills,” the next thing they’re gonna ask us to pay lip service to in our classes is “BS detection.” Nevermind that 18-20 year olds tend to be inherently credulous, never mind that college faculty are biased, or can’t see the BS-accepting planks in their own eyes, or are sufficiently cynical that they will say “Yeah. I’m gonna wait six months and see what fad ‘they’ come up with next….” Though actually, I wonder if “critical thinking,” which has been promoted about as long as I’ve been aware of pedagogical techniques, isn’t a watered-down and euphemized form of this)

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  2. Stanley Fish might be right but trying to determine who is in error is not going to be necessarily easily. There are also academics that would disagree with him for this reason and other reason. When we were discussing the Murray-Middleburry Affair on LGM, some of the commentators who were in the let Murray speak camp pointed out that lots of people believe that the entire corpus of Marxist thought has been disproven because of the actual history of Communism and that Marxist professors and speakers need to be subjected to the Heckler’s Veto for the same reason Murray was, they are pushing dangerous ideologies.

    The anti-Murray speakers naturally would have none of this and refused to see an analogy. They argued that the only reason that Murray was invited to speak and somebody like a Holocaust denier was not was because students of color do not have the same position in academia that Jewish American students. Never mind that Jewish American students believe that anti-Semites do have a platform as long as they cloak themselves in the guise of anti-Zionism. The Joy Karega affair at Oberlin is an example of this.

    The anti-Murray faction at LGM would also disagree with the article on the privilege of protesting. Many of them are academics that teach at non-elite colleges and universities and point out that these types of protests happen at community colleges to. They just get much less media attention because the status of the protesting speaker and the protesting students is lower. Even assuming that protests are more likely to occur at elite institutions, it really does not matter. Elite universities have many non-wealthy students attending and socio-economic status does not mean that the cause is not righteous.

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    • Apologies to Will, but “error has no right” is pretty much the opposite of what Fish was saying — his point was that universities are in the business of freedom of academic inquiry, not freedom of (political) speech, and that university personnel should foster productive debate without taking sides (at least in their capacity as university representatives).

      The link is gated but a PDF of the article is here.

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      • What Fish actually thinks university personnel should have done is maddeningly unclear, and passive-aggressive as heck.

        “University administrators should have done their jobs”
        “Ok, what should they have done?”
        “Well, I’m not going to say, because its not my job, but they should have done their jobs”

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        • This is actually kind of par for the course for things on college campuses.

          (says the person who has been yelled at for not following the “new” rules that she was not officially apprised of by the office that changed them)

          I love teaching, I love my students, but the way the bureaucracy works drives me mad.

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  3. Idaho: It’s always a good idea to know more than live in fear. My ex SIL’s kids got the standard education on guns (leave and call an adult) from the school or whatnot, but when they got a bit older, she wanted them to actually be safe around them, so she asked me to have a training course on safety, handling, and we caped it off with some range time for practice. Now they aren’t shaking with fear anytime they see a firearm.

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  4. #1: Yeah, critical thinking. I actually took a class in CT, but it was graduate level, which seems late to the game and sort of exclusive. Given the results of research on the various types of bias and how being intelligent actually seems to make it worse though, I find myself despairing. My personal methodology is to ask myself, “What’s wrong with this?” whether I’m inclined to agree with the speaker or not.

    #2: Good. I took the NRA Hunter Safety course when I was in middle school. It was taught by the principal of our E.S. in the evening at his home (really small town). It just assumed that you would be around guns at some point and likely as not go hunting and basically taught you how not to shoot yourself in the leg or kill one of your friends. I would look at it similarly to drivers ed.

    #3: My primary reservation against home schooling is that pedagogy is a skill that takes training and practice to do well just like anything else. And knowing how to do something yourself doesn’t mean that you know how to teach it.

    #5: Sabermetrics for college admissions!

    #6: What stood out for me was the plaint that the UK only ranked at 27th or something despite high scores in reading and science right after reading that the ACT sections on reading and science were poor predictors for college success.

    #7: Paywall, not read. Trying to decide if that’s ironic or something.

    #8: It’s not just academia. The Navy has (had? It’s been a few years.) a four point scale for performance evaluations. Logically a 2.0 should be average, right? But in reality a 2.0 meant you were a total f***up and you were in danger of being kicked out. The actual numerical averages were closer to 3.7 or 3.8. The basic problem was that you were judged heavily on the performance of the sailors under your command so it’s easy to see how the incentives lined up. The result being that the PE had very little discriminatory power; they just didn’t mean much when all the children are above average.

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    • I tell my students to ask themselves, “What is the author (usually, though sometimes its the promoter of the website or whatever) trying to sell me?”

      Sometimes it’s obvious (Like: looking up some obscure health condition and you get a site talking about it and then also saying how their special herbal supplement blend will fix it). Sometimes it’s less obvious and it’s an idea you’re being “sold” even though you’re not actually paying cash money for it.

      I’m not sure how much that helps. I still get people citing weird sources in their papers, I presume because those sources are convenient.

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      • filly,
        you’re only allowed to cite professional pornography if you’re doing a paper on public relations and shilling Television Shows.

        (you should see the professional stuff for Bojack Horseman. Mr. Peanutbutter on a magazine cover… that one is SFW too)

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    • I swear teaching firearm safety is the flip side of teaching sex ed. There is this wholly irrational fear that if you teach a kid how to use/do something properly and responsibly, they will take that as permission to use/do that thing irresponsibly.

      To your #8, the Navy PE system was a joke to everyone. It was clearly simply a way for higher ups to weed out slackers with a paper trail. If your supervisor was happy with your work, you were getting 3.7 and up. If they wanted to send a message, you got a 3.2. If they were done with you, you got a 2.something. Once that 2.something hit your jacket, the clock was ticking and if you didn’t get a transfer to a more agreeable unit, or figure out how to make your boss happy, you were done.

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    • I worked at a company that did evaluations that were ostensibly on a 5-point scale, but in practice all scores were 3-4. Scores above 4 were practically unheard of, and anything lower than a 3 basically meant you were fired, which was very rare due to the selectivity of the hiring process.

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      • This is pretty typical, I think. Where I work (last.place was almost.the same, nothing new under the sun), 5s and 1s had to be justified and documented, so they never happened. 2s might have been given to someone in a category, but an overall 2 wouldn’t have lasted all the way to the next PA, so it was kinda academic. That left a range of 3-4, generally on a curve the shape of which was based on the year’s bonus structure.
        So yeah, basically meaningless.

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  5. BS Classes: I think there is a basic problem between liars and bullshitters. Liars care about the truth and/or are confused and think they are speaking the truth. Bullshitters have no such concerns. To the bullshitter, truth is in irrelevancy, what matters is the end goal or doing something interesting. Your typical anti-Vaxxer is probably a liar. Someone like Alex Jones or Trumpykins is a bullshitter. Bannon is an interesting middle ground probably. Combating bullshitters requires more skills than critical thought.

    Suspending students: Finding a proper middle ground on student discipline seems impossible. Zero tolerance is horrible but if the Daily News is right, De Blasio’s reforms also have downsides.

    Privilege of Protesting: I believe that Charles Murray was protested because of his claims that Black-Americans were genetically disposed to being “less intelligent” than whites. What this article doesn’t do is examine the difference between liberals and racists. And strangely for Brookings, it confuses where the liberal in SLAC comes from. The Liberal in SLAC is for the seven liberal arts, not the political philosophy. Leftists are often not just more extreme versions of liberals. Liberalism and Leftism are entirely different philosophies with different goals and ideals. Liberals are often interested in making society more fair and equal but they are fundamentally keeping the structures of society around. Liberals want universal health care but they also generally support a capitalist-materialist economy. Leftists do no such thing. Leftists are interested in a complete rewriting of society into something that is often non-capitalist, non-materialist, more communal, etc. Leftists have traditionally called free speech a “bourgeois freedom” because it benefits those in power as opposed to those on the margins.

    Honestly people here get upset if people confuse Republican/Conservative with Fascist but seem to find liberal and leftist are interchangeable.

    I admit that there are a lot of people from affluent backgrounds who get attracted to leftist thought in their college years and some don’t grow out of it.

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    • Liars care about the truth and/or are confused and think they are speaking the truth.

      I think the latter half of that sentence strains the definition of the word ‘liar’ to the breaking point.

      A liar intends to deceive. Someone who is honestly mistaken isn’t a liar – can’t be called a liar if the word is to have meaning beyond “person I disagree with.”

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          • See, I don’t consider Trump a bullshitter. He’s an outright liar at worst, and at best he does a fair job of obscuring the truth through omission &/or rhetoric. I mean, yeah, he probably does get an emotional gain from his lying, but he has a very tangible gain in mind as well.

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            • To call him an outright liar at worst gives him far too much unwarranted intellectual credit, me thinks. He’s phenomenally ignorant of the world, which makes lying about it a really difficult thing to do.

              I think he’s a bullshitter, myself, but one who’s not at all averse to lying when caught with his shit-filled pants down.

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            • I think Stillwater is right. Trump is so ignorant and uncurious about the world (see the reports of his encounter with Merkel and how they horrified the Germans) that it is hard to call him a liar. A liar has to be somewhat curious to know the truth.

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              • Going back to Oscar’s suggestion that Trump is an outright liar at worst, I’d go in another direction. At worst, he’s delusional and holds views completely divorced from reality. At best, he’s an unrepentant bullshitter who will deny the truth when caught-out because it serves is larger interests. (“Who ya gonna believe, me or your own lying eyes?”)

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        • I think the motivation for lying and bullshitting is the same, actually: to further the speakers narrow self-interested goals, which (let’s just stipulate) are material gain. So in both cases the false statements serve the same purpose: to compel the listener to agree with the speaker and by doing so to further the goals motivating the speech act.

          The difference in the speech acts is that while a bullshitter has absolutely no regard for the truth (in fact, couldn’t care less about truth/falsity either way) the liar actually does: the liar knows the truth and is deliberately misrepresenting it. They both utter false statements, but only the liar actually knows or cares about the truth.

          Instrumentally viewed, tho, I think you’re right that there’s a difference in motivation between lying and bullshitting: a liar misrepresents the truth so the listener believes something false about a state of affairs whereas a bullshitter – in at least some instances – misrepresents the truth so the listener believes something false about the bullshitter.

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    • re Charles Murray: I do agree with the distinction you make btw/ Leftist and liberal, but the linked piece appears to claim that the core opposition to Charles Murray was reactionary:

      When an earnest representative of the AEI Club told the students that he looked forward to hearing their opinions, one of them immediately corrected him: “These are truths.” In other words, you and Charles Murray have opinions, but we are in possession of the truth, and it is a waste of our time to listen to views we have already rejected and know to be worthless. Now that’s a nice brew of arrogance and ignorance, which, in combination with the obstructionism that followed, explains why the students are getting such a bad press.
      They are obnoxious, self-righteous, self-preening, shallow, short-sighted, intolerant, and generally impossible, which means that they are students, doing what students do.

      He does not offer a specific solution, but it appears to be along the line of accepting the intolerance of students, the penchant of some youth for violence, and provide better security in the future.

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      • I’d say that the protestors do have truth when it comes to the Bell Curve stuff from Murray but it seems that no debate is ever settled in the United States.

        There are a lot of things that breed mistrust and dislike here. There are countless thinkpieces on all sides of the aisles asking for Democrats/Liberals/the Left to empathize and see things from the rural, white, and often reactionary point of view. There are very few pieces on the right side of the aisle asking their base to see things from the Democratic or Left or Urban or Minority point of view.

        Paul Ryan and others on the right feel high and mighty leveling judgment on “urban” culture as being pathologizing while not doing the same for white communities that are plagued with unemployment, poverty, and addiction.

        I know I sound like a broken record on this but calls for commonwealth and civility are increasingly looking to me like admissions that liberals/Democrats/the Left basically need to “take it on the chin” and shut up about all the stuff mentioned above. We bear the burdens, other communities do not. I agree that a commonwealth ideal is important but only to the point and not to the point of being in silence and shut-up.

        I’d at least like someone to say that they think it is impossible to get right-leaning people to see things from the “urban” POV.

        So I am rather tired of this.

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        • There are countless thinkpieces on all sides of the aisles asking for Democrats/Liberals/the Left to empathize and see things from the rural, white, and often reactionary point of view. There are very few pieces on the right side of the aisle asking their base to see things from the Democratic or Left or Urban or Minority point of view.

          Well, I think that’s kind of the point of liberalism – you try to consider issues from others’ point of view, especially the point of view of those most affected by an issue. To not do that is to not be liberal.

          To which, if I understand your leftist / liberal distinction above accurately, then I only partially agree with it.

          I’d put ‘wanting tax-funded social services’ entirely under ‘leftism’, not ‘liberalism’. So, universal socialized health-care, universal socialized primary, secondary, and post-secondary education, tax-subsidized public transit, social assistance for the unemployed and the disabled, tax-funded food inspections, tax-funded road and bridge construction, etc. etc. – I’d call all of those things of the leftist agenda. A liberal can support or oppose those things – and if they support them it’s because they’re leftist, not because they’re liberal.

          Similarly, a leftist can support or oppose bourgeois freedoms like freedom of speech or freedom of movement – and if they support them it’s because they’re liberal, not because they’re leftist.

          There are liberal and illiberal leftists, just as there are liberal and illiberal rightists.

          Illiberal rightists we have a good and useful name for – fascists. Illiberal leftists we lack a good name for, and this produces a good deal of confusion.

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          • The first paragraph is fair. I disagree with your third paragraph. The classical liberalism that libertarians like to adhere to was only a thing for Liberal Parties for a few decades in the 1800s. Modern liberalism emerged in the later part of the 19th century for a variety of reasons: Liberals saw competition from rising Socialist Parties and needed to adapt to get Working Class votes, there were also a growing number of Liberals that saw private charity could not solve all of the problems of the poor and you needed State programs to help especially in economic downturns where many private charities collapsed under the pressure of honest needs and how many people needed aide.

            By the time Lloyd George gave his famous People’s Budget speech in the early 1900s, I think modern Liberalism replaced Classical Liberalism as the dominant force. Much to the dismay of Libertarians everywhere because even Liberals get trolled for illegitimacy.

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        • I’d say that the protestors do have truth when it comes to the Bell Curve stuff from Murray but it seems that no debate is ever settled in the United States

          Can you point to some examples of good points they made? Having actually read the book, it’s painfully obvious to me how many of the critics either have not, or have such poor reading comprehension that they may as well have not.

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      • Interestingly the the quote could also apply to religions, a religious person believes that they are in possession of the truth. So is the leftist orientation a religion. It is clear that communism although it claimed not to be a religion walked like and talked a lot like a religion. Of course historically religious disputes have lead to a lot of violence.

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        • That sounds like the issue of the True Believer.

          One can be a True Believer for a political ideology, a lifestyle, a religion, whatever.

          Psychologically I find them interesting because they tend to go whole hog into everything. They can also switch sides but not their level of True Belief. Radical Communists become Radical Capitalists and vice-versa.

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        • I was being a bit facetious, but Lyle basically gets where I was going. People who believe in an absolute truth that can be expected to provoke a violent response when challenged are generally typed as “reactionary.” Such truth can be religious, but its usually the existing social order that is being protected, often against scientific inquiry.

          I don’t know about all protests. Protests can be peaceful and be made with the understanding that there are opposing views and assumptions. They can be quite democratic. Part of the deal with a lot of campus protests are that they are territoriality limited; the location is to be kept pure from contaminants.

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  6. This years gold medalist in the 100 yard Missing the Point Olympic event is Stanley Fish.

    You defer to ‘free speech’ because the process for determining what is ‘true’ and ‘false’ is imperfect, because it’s a human process. Similarly we don’t ‘give criminals rights’, we give people rights, because the process for determining is a person is a criminal is imperfect, because its a human process.

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    • I mean, if we want to take Fish’s heuristics on Academic Values seriously, we could start with a thorough purge from academia of anyone that gets tweeted by Real Peer Review.

      eta; huh, then a spherical cow in a vacuum appears.

      That is what I mean by saying that the issue shouldn’t be taken seriously; taking it seriously would require following its paths and byways to the point where one embarks upon a course of action; taking it academically requires that one stop short of action and remain in the realm of deliberation so long as the academic context is in session;

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      • If we take him seriously there should be no diversity-based enrollment in colleges. He makes a technically accurate, but misleading point about private universities not being subject to the First Amendment, and the issues being complicated with respect to public universities. There is, however, a lengthy body of judicial thought on the role and virtues of higher education, one of which is that a diverse student body provides educational benefits: “The academic mission of a university is a special concern of the First Amendment. Part of the business of a university is to provide that atmosphere which is most conducive to speculation, experiment, and creation, and this in turn leads to the question of ‘who may be admitted to study.'”

        So its technically true that Prof. Fish can run his class like a dictatorship, broaching no questions or discussion; the Constitution does not prevent him. A private university can limit attendance to people who believe the same things about Darwin or population genomics. But if there is no educational virtue in the student body, once outside of the dictates of classroom assembly, interacting with the material through each other and in new combinations, then the diversity argument underlying the jurisprudence is false. We’re just a bunch of people set in our ways, intellectually disinterested and insular. Try to have security details around.

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        • That’s the beauty of Fish. In today’s parlance, he is a subjectivist fascist rather than a collectivist fascist – which is a category scrambler to be sure. I’m old enough to remember when his postmodern critiques were the ones in danger of being strangled in the crib; its good to grow old and bourgeois.

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        • “If we take him seriously there should be no diversity-based enrollment in colleges.”

          Can we be against it without taking Fish seriously? I have no problem taking him seriously or otherwise, but it’d be great to do away with diversity-based enrollment.

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      • That is what I mean by saying that the issue shouldn’t be taken seriously; taking it seriously would require following its paths and byways to the point where one embarks upon a course of action;

        I’ve seen this before, when Derrida wrote an entire treatise with a strikethrough to signal DANGER!: the contained essay argues a purely academic point!, one which should NOT be applied to the real world!!

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  7. Fish’s “speech is not free” article is blocked by a paywall. That’s the most satisfying bit of irony I’ve seen in a long time.

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