Two noteworthy overseas higher-ed items recently crossed my desk. The first came from Britain, where the coalition government has decided to rework the nation’s science instructional standards. Among the proposed changes: eliminating the requirement that science classes “challenge injustice.” Education Secretary Michael Gove argued that such “irrelevant material” contributes “nothing to helping students deepen their stock of knowledge.”
While it’s not clear why science students should need to learn about challenging injustice, Gove’s move nonetheless attracted criticism on the grounds that it would diminish quality by making science instruction less topically relevant. The chief executive of the Association for Science Education, which describes itself as a “dynamic community of teachers, technicians, and other professionals supporting science education and is the largest subject association in the UK,” said that she “wouldn’t want to lose from the national curriculum . . . the idea that science is developing all the time and that it impinges on our lives.”
If this debate sounds familiar, it should–the inclusion of ideologically charged but pedagogically irrelevant requirements was at the heart of the “dispositions” controversy, when NCATE, a national accrediting organization, proposed requiring that all education programs individually assess whether prospective public schoolteachers had a disposition to “promote social justice.”
Meanwhile, from Australia comes news of a survey claiming that one in six female university students had been raped while in school. The finding is reported without any skepticism, even though buried within the article is the following sentence: “Rarely were the assaults investigated, with only two percent of women taking the matter to police, mostly because they thought it was not serious enough to report.” [emphasis added] Why an average reader should assume that something “not serious enough to report” constituted rape the article doesn’t explore.
It’s not surprising that victims’ rights groups–or most college and university humanities departments–accept such surveys as gospel. Yet for the media–or, much worse, a U.S. administration–to do so is appalling. Assume, for the sake of argument, that an equal number of these alleged sexual assaults occur each year. So, if one in five women is raped in college (which, as Cathy Young pointed out in her recent MTC column, was a claim in the recent OCR letter), that would mean 5 percent of the nation’s college women are raped annually, or around 2.5 percent of all college students are victims of this violent crime each year.
Compare that number to the percentage of citizens subjected to all violent crimes (not just sexual assault) in three of the highest-crime cities in the country, St. Louis (.21 percent), Memphis (.18 percent), and Detroit (.20 percent). The figures cited come from 2009.
Does anyone really believe that the typical college campus–whether in the United States or in Australia–has many times more violent crimes annually than does Detroit or St. Louis? Yet surveys such as the Australian one, or the offering in the OCR letter, are frequently reported by the media without even a hint of skepticism. But if the surveys are true, then clearly we need massive increases in the police presence on college campuses. Somehow, I doubt that the typical humanities department would welcome that result.