Tag Archives: culture

When Adolescent Culture Goes to College

Paterno protests.jpg

College students have been protesting lately in many different settings, from Occupy Wall Street to classroom walkouts, to the riots at Penn State.  Each incident recommends its own separate analysis and explanation, but it is important to recognize what they share in common as well.  Philip C. Altbach and Patti Peterson reminded us that student protest is as old as the Republic, though it received national attention and serious analysis only in the 1960s: “In 1823, half the Harvard senior class was expelled shortly before graduation for participating in disruptive activity, and students were involved in anti-conscription campaigns during the Civil War. Student activism before 1960, however, had no major impact on national policy, and prior to 1900, no organized student activist groups emerged.  Yet there is a tradition of student involvement in politics in the United States, and many of the concerns of the activists of the sixties are reflected in the past.”  (Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 1971.)

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The Mess at Widener Law School

Linda Ammons and Lawrence Connell.jpgConsider the disturbing case of Lawrence Connell, a criminal-law professor at Widener University’s law school who was suspended for a year without pay on Aug. 8 despite having been cleared of allegations of sexual and racial harassment in his classroom lodged by two female black students. The case can be best understood as a story of two clashing law-school cultures, the first represented by Connell himself and the second by Widener Law’s dean, Linda Ammons, who has pushed relentlessly since last fall to get Connell off of the campus. We can call the two cultures Old Law School and New Law School.

The Old Law School/New Law School distinction helps explain why Connell was meted harsh punishment despite his vindication on the underlying charges (Widener says that Connell might have been innocent, but he wrongfully “retaliated” against the complaining students by suing them–along Widener itself and some of its administrators–and by publicizing the charges against him in an e-mail to his other students). The Old Law School/New Law School distinction also helps explain another, truly ominous aspect of Connell’s punishment, also pushed by Ammons: As a condition of reinstatement, he must undergo a psychiatric evaluation and a course of treatment (including “anger management”). The psychiatrist or psychologist is supposed to report to Widener on the treatment’s progress and must certify that Connell is sufficiently cured in order for him to be allowed to return to his classroom. If that seems reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s treatment of dissidents as mentally ill, or of the reeducation camps of Maoist China, the Old Law School/New Law School distinction again comes into play.

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Edmundson on Students and Derrida on Tradition

University of Virginia English professor Mark Edmundson has a penetrating, but saddening article in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week. It’s called “Narcissus Regards a Book”, and it laments a terrible outcome of the academic culture wars of the late-1980s and early-1990s. Edmunson recalls the infamous chant of students at Stanford—in his rendition, “Hey-ho, hey-ho, Western culture’s got to go”—but focuses not on the impudence of the marchers but on the response of the professors. The youthful ones and their grown-up supporters posed a serious question, Edmundson says. Why read Blake or study Picasso? Why not teach The Simpsons and Stephen King instead, especially as those are so much more relevant to the worlds of 1990s students?
Edmundson’s comment is worth repeating in full:

I’m not sure that teachers and scholars ever offered a good answer. The conservatives, protected by tenure, immersed in the minutiae of their fields, slammed the windows closed when the parade passed by. They went on with what they were doing. Those who concurred with the students bought mikes and drums and joined the march. They were much in demand in the news media—figures of great interest. The Washington Post was calling; the Times was on the other line. Was it true? Were the professors actually repudiating the works that they had purportedly been retained to preserve?
It was true—and there was more, the rebels yelled. They thought they would have the microphones in their hand all day and all of the night. They imagined that teaching Milton with an earring in one ear would never cease to fascinate the world.
But it did. The media—most inconstant of lovers—came and the media went, and the academy was left with its cultural authority in tatters. How could it be otherwise? The news outlets sell one thing above all else, and that is not so much the news as it is newness.

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A Footnote to the Anthropology Debate

As noted in my December 1 essay here, Rigoberta’s Revenge, the American Anthropological Association stuck a stick in a hornet’s nest with its recent decision to remove the word “science” from its long range planning document.
Stung by the resulting swarm of criticism, the AAA’s four officer’s have now issued a statement claiming the entire brouhaha is a tempest in a teapot, “amped up by blog headline editors” who have blown a simple editorial change out of all proportion. The critics, in short, simply didn’t understand. When the AAA’s Executive Board “specified, concretized, and enlarged its operational roadmap for investing the Association’s resources towards a sustainable future” (where is the academic prose police when you need it?), it had no intention of restructuring the epistemological foundations of the field.
In my essay I quoted “the amusement” of one the critics at what he called

the irony that a set of cultural anthropologists did not anticipate the power of naming and referencing a particular cultural construction. They did not recognize that the word “science” might be loaded, or come with particular associations? Then why go through the exercise of deleting it?

The AAA’s leaders seem to have taken at least that criticism seriously. “We believe,” their statement says,

that the source of the problem speaks to the power of symbols: we replaced the term “science” in the preface of this planning document by a more specific (and inclusive) list of research domains, while explicitly acknowledging that the Association’s central focus is to promote the production, circulation, and application of anthropological research findings.

Excuse me for interjecting a term often associated with science, but the truth here still seems elusive. Assuming for the sake of argument that “the term ‘science'” is the symbol at issue, was its shaman-like power somehow ignored by the anthropologists on the Executive Board when they unceremoniously tossed it overboard? Or could these anthropologists possibly be contrasting symbols with reality (oops, another hegemonic, western, scientific term)? If so, then what they are saying is that the Executive Board’s critics, also anthropologists, leapt to the erroneous conclusion that a minor editorial decision — deleting what after all is only a word — was symbolic of an attack on science itself.
Perhaps the inability to get to the bottom of this intricate, highly charged tribal controversy reveals the limits of anthropology as a discipline, whether scientific or cultural.

The Minnesota Case—An Institutional Diagnosis

KC Johnson has spoken well of the Minnesota teacher education initiative, and his analysis of the op-ed by the dean of the College of Education, Jean Quam, identified the thorough disregard of claims of indoctrination made by columnist Katherine Kersten in the Star-Tribune. Quam’s defense is so feeble and misleading, in fact, that it deserves more scrutiny.
Just compare her summary statements about the initiative’s “diversity awareness” aims with actual statements made in the “Race, Class, Culture, Gender” report posted on the Minnesota blog on September 14th.
Regarding the focus on “issues of race, class, culture, and gender,” Quam says, “Our belief is that acknowledging these issues is essential to teacher and student success and that ignoring them will not make them go away.” Note the reasonable word “acknowledging,” an action that doesn’t prescribe how you acknowledge the issues and what judgments you make about them.
But one “OUTCOME” of the “Race, Class, Culture, Gender” report extends far beyond acknowledgement:
“Our future teachers will be able to discuss their own histories and current thinking drawing on notions of white privilege, hegemonic masculinity, heteronormativity, and internalized oppression.”
In case anyone believes that “drawing on notions of white privilege etc.” leaves open the possibility that one might conclude that “white privilege” is a mistaken, tendentious, errant, or irrelevant notion, another “OUTCOME” allows no such answer:
“Future teachers will recognize & demonstrate understanding of white privilege.”

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More Minnesota Madness

My article yesterday on this site, “Decoding Teacher Training,” discussed the efforts of the University of Minnesota’s Education Department to purge prospective public school teachers deemed politically incorrect on “diversity” matters.
A report stresses the seemingly banal concept of “cultural competence,” which people from outside the Ivory Tower might suspect is simply making students and prospective teachers aware of the diverse country and world in which we now live.
That, of course, is not how the concept is defined in the groupthink world of Education Departments, where “cultural competence” are codewords that the general public is not supposed to understand.
In its report, the Minnesota department recommended that all Education students be required to perform the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), “which measures five of the six major stages of the “Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity”; and the “360-degree” analysis of Cultural Intelligence (CQ), “a theoretical extension of existing facet models anchored on the theory of multiple intelligences.”

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Here Comes “Cultural Competence”

John Rosenberg (Discriminations) and Mickey Kaus (Kausfiles) note that the slippery term “cultural competence” pops up often in the health care bill passed by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Once a harmless term in medical literature referring to the need to understand and communicate with patients of different races and ethnicities, “cultural competence” mutated into a more ideological expression in higher education, particularly in the training of teachers and welfare workers.
Now it means support for affirmative action, bilingualism, respect for “the dynamics of difference,” a commitment to social justice and equity and—-according to the State of Oregon, which held a Cultural Competence Summit in 2004 for educators—a need to “acknowledge institutional racism (and) power differences and silencing.” When the term is dangled before students who want to be teachers or welfare workers, it usually indicates mandatory support for a cultural agenda of the left.
“Cultural competence” is the subject of a great many conferences and articles. One article in the journal Transitions, argues that since social inequality adversely affects health, health workers must achieve “socially just cultural competence” through self-awareness, self-analysis and community partnership. Rosenberg notes that the House Energy and Commerce bill calls for the “addressing, or partnering with, an entity with experience addressing , the cultural and linguistic competency needs of the populations to be served through the grant or contract.” What group might like to have that money? Rosenberg wrote: “Can anyone say, ‘ACORN Enrichment Provision?”

Can We Change The Campus Culture?

People ask me when I got my first inkling that something was seriously wrong with the culture of our campuses of higher education. It was in the mid-1980s, and it had nothing to do — yet — with the post-modern corruption of the liberal arts, which was then beyond my professional interests and experiences. It had to do with free speech and due process.
I became a lawyer, after all, not an academic when I got my LL.B. in 1967. As a criminal defense and civil liberties lawyer from the start of my legal career, I represented students in trouble with their colleges and universities. It was very soon after my graduation that I had my first big academic case – my law partners and I represented the undergraduates who had taken over University Hall and were unceremoniously dragged out by the baton-wielding municipal and state police. The students were all cited, in the Middlesex County (Massachusetts) Superior Criminal Court, with trespass on the property of The President and Fellows of Harvard College. (Even though they paid tuition for the privilege of being on Harvard property, they had refused an explicit order, delivered over a bullhorn, to vacate that particular administrative building where they had, much like squatters, taken up residence.)
Over a hundred students were charged. The mob was randomly broken up into three groups and scheduled for consecutive jury trials. When the jury acquitted all of the defendants put on trial in the first case (the jurors were apparently unpersuaded that all of the students were in fact building occupiers rather than observers in the wrong place at the wrong time), the district attorney (and Harvard) relented and allowed the others to avoid trial, and a criminal record, via a benign plea agreement.

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University Of The Absurd

Recently I sat down with a young woman who shared with me the experience of her first year at Thurgood Marshall College, one of the six colleges of the University of California at San Diego. She explained to me that regardless of her major field of study and in order to graduate she was required to take certain “general education” courses, the centerpiece of which is a three-quarter, 16-unit creation called “Dimensions of Culture.” What she had to tell me is a warning to both parents and students.

The Dimensions of Culture program (DOC) is an introductory three-quarter social science sequence that is required of all first year students at Thurgood Marshall College, UCSD. Successful completion of the DOC sequence satisfies the University of California writing requirement. The course is a study in the social construction of individual identity and it surveys a range of social differences and stratifications that shape the nature of human attachment to self, work, community, and a sense of nation. Central to the course objective is the question of how scholars move from knowledge to action. UCSD Course Description

Edgar B. Anderson: So let’s talk about Dimensions of Culture. That’s vague. What’s that mean?

Student: I don’t know. Each quarter, the first quarter is called Diversity, the second quarter is called Justice, and the third quarter is called Imagination. So Diversity is we studied everything about minorities – like women, homosexuals, and then Asians, blacks, Latinos.

Q. So what’s left out – white males?

A. Yeah, pretty much if you’re a white male you’re bad, that’s kind of the joke among all the students.

Q. Women are not even a minority, they’re a majority.

A. But it’s more about the workforce.

Q. Power.

A. Yeah, that’s kind of how they presented it. We didn’t really focus on women that much. It was mainly how Asians have been oppressed in history and how Latinos continue to be oppressed and how blacks continue to be oppressed, all of that.

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Another Activist Major At UCLA

UCLA has just approved an addition to the majors offered by their Spanish and Portuguese departments: Spanish and Community and Culture, reports the Daily Bruin.

What makes this different? Well, the Bruin has an answer: “what makes this major different from the other Spanish majors are two community service-based courses that place students in quarter-long internships that vary depending on an individual’s interests.”

Internships and work in the community are required components of “Taking it to the Streets” and “Oral History: Latino Immigrant Youth,” two of the major’s core classes, said Susan Plann, a professor of applied linguistics and Spanish linguistics, and one of the founders of the new major.

In “Taking it to the Streets,” students can choose to work in a variety of locations, such as medical clinics, schools and nonprofit legal organizations, along with organizations such as the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Recall point #3 from John Leo’s “How To Set Up A Politicized Ethnic Studies Department

3) Make sure everyone knows you want an activist political group, not just an academic program (“It should be study to empower native people” said keynote speaker Michael Yellow Bird, a professor at the University of Kansas). On some campuses, working for the cause is required. At Carleton College, students who take a course on Native American religious freedom are expected to undertake “service projects” that get them involved in “matters of particular concern to contemporary native communities.”

One of the founders of the new UCLA major was quoted, in the Bruin piece, “she believes that as a public university, UCLA should encourage students to be more involved in the community.” That’s one way to do it; offering credit for political activism sounds easier than, oh, offering classes.

Dark Night At The Museum

Edward Rothstein’s remarkable article today in the Arts section of the New York Times carries the obligatory bland headline: “Two New Shows Cast Light and Darkness on Early Cultures in America.” The reference is to “Exploring the Early Americas” at the Library of Congress, and more egregiously, an embarrassing drowned-in-cultural-relativism show at Chicago’s Field Museum, “The Ancient Americas.”

In the second half of his report, after a discussion of pottery, statues and artwork, Rothstein says natural history museums have traditionally been shaped by ideas of cultural evolution and ways of life that have been transcended or superseded. No more. In the age of relentless non-judgmentalism and the warmest possible multicultural appreciation for any culture at all (except Western cultures, of course), shows like the one at the Field “resist any hint that any culture under consideration might be less than any other.”

Unlike most such offerings, the Field show is at least straightforward about its bias: “It is important to remember that there is no best or model culture. All cultures are equally valid to the individuals living in them.” This, of course, requires explaining away Aztec human sacrifice, the elusive triple axle of multicultural performance. The show helpfully points out that ancient Rome killed a lot of people in ceremonies too. According to Rothstein, the show breezes past the indigenous commitment to ritual slaughter by referring to it as “bloodletting” and also by contracting the term “human sacrifice” down to “sacrifice.” (A similar bit of verbal gymnastics is under way now. “Female genital mutilation”, a frankly polemical – and accurate – term is often replaced by the bland word “cutting,” so as not to seem offensive to the mutilators.) The bland and generic term “sacrifice” allows the perpetrators of the show to point out that “sacrifice and religion are linked in many societies” and “almost all world religions include sacrifice of some kind.” Yes, but how many, exactly, imitate the Aztecs by ripping out the beating hearts of 20,000 people a year?

Caught in a defensive crouch, the show has to argue the good points of the old cultures -“hunting and gathering was a great way to live” and usually provided more leisure time than farming, and in this culture women and the elderly were respected. (Farming was a mistake because it reduced leisure and respect? ) Among the early peoples of southern California, between 7000 BC and 1600 AD, harpoons and ocean-worthy canoes were invented. Rothstein hurls the obvious grenade at these two achievements: “The more compelling fact might be that during those 9000 years so few brilliant techniques appeared: it was a period when other societies developed science, writing and medicine.”

This kind of assessment is considered improper in light of the multicultural cant that has leached out of the academy into elementary and high schools, the museum world and much of the media. Not only is the word “primitive” verboten, but so are once conventional references to Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age because they imply that some cultures are better than others and that progress is real. If progress isn’t possible, Rothstein asks, what about “the moral progress represented by modern Western societies’ finding the brutality of the Spanish conquerors so repellent?” Congratulations to Rothstein for an outstanding article.