Feb 24

It depends on how carefully you choose your words.

This Washington Post headline was attention grabbing: ‘The progressive ideas behind the lack of free speech on campus.’

It has a provocative opening setup.

Is an academic discussion of free speech potentially traumatic? A recent panel for Smith College alumnae aimed at “challenging the ideological echo chamber” elicited this ominous “trigger/content warning” when a transcript appeared in the campus newspaper: “Racism/racial slurs, ableist slurs, antisemitic language, anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language, anti-immigrant language, sexist/misogynistic slurs, references to race-based violence, references to antisemitic violence.”

What?

Challenging an “ideological echo chamber” is a good idea. What went wrong with that good intention?

One of my fellow panelists mentioned that the State Department had for a time banned the words “jihad,” “Islamist” and “caliphate” — which the transcript flagged as “anti-Muslim/Islamophobic language.”

I described the case of a Brandeis professor disciplined for saying “wetback” while explaining its use as a pejorative. The word was replaced in the transcript by “[anti-Latin@/anti-immigrant slur].” Discussing the teaching of “Huckleberry Finn,” I questioned the use of euphemisms such as “the n-word” and, in doing so, uttered that forbidden word. I described what I thought was the obvious difference between quoting a word in the context of discussing language, literature or prejudice and hurling it as an epithet.

Two of the panelists challenged me. The audience of 300 to 400 people listened to our spirited, friendly debate — and didn’t appear angry or shocked. But back on campus, I was quickly branded a racist, and I was charged in the Huffington Post with committing “an explicit act of racial violence.” McCartney subsequently apologized that “some students and faculty were hurt” and made to “feel unsafe” by my remarks.

Unsafe? These days, when students talk about threats to their safety and demand access to “safe spaces,” they’re often talking about the threat of unwelcome speech and demanding protection from the emotional disturbances sparked by unsettling ideas.

This is intellectual dishonesty, bankrupt ideology and ‘politically correct’ bullying carried through to its logical conclusion. Though the irony is, those who do it can’t discern logic.

“Unsettling ideas”? What is academia about, if not ideas that provoke thought, challenge debate, fire neurons and engage critical thinking skills. Whatever happened to the art of argument? Forensics?

Progressivism, that odd misnomer.

How did we get here? How did a verbal defense of free speech become tantamount to a hate crime and offensive words become the equivalent of physical assaults?

You can credit — or blame — progressives for this enthusiastic embrace of censorship. It reflects, in part, the influence of three popular movements dating back decades: the feminist anti-porn crusades, the pop-psychology recovery movement and the emergence of multiculturalism on college campuses.

What to say? This could launch a book, or three. Read the piece and digest its arguments, it’s revealing.

But as for the “feminist anti-porn crusades”, there’s plenty to say that could fill volumes alone on that topic, on how very selective feminists have been in the past few decades to speak out against objectification of women. The latest of which is the vile ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ campaign, which has predictably taken its first publicized toll (with no way to account for the private ones).

Here’s the real anti-porn crusade. And here.

As for the “pop-psychology recovery movement and the emergence of multiculturalism on college campuses”, this will take truthful, dedicated and committed rehabilitation – not just efforts but movements – to really recover what’s been lost in the decades of groupthink that took over academia and legitimate intellectual inquiry, and turned out reactionaries who no longer know the rich history of civil, religious and humanitarian rights, first principles, and the consistent ethic of human life and dignity that undergirds them.

They may get annoyed by technological devices constantly feeding them ‘auto-correct’ and ‘auto-suggest’ replacements for what they really feel and think and want to say. But they fail to see it happening in more consequential communications in the classroom, the debate halls and in the public square.

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Mar 20

Or not, any longer?

I’m pulling for you, Stanford. You’re a great university. And great universities are based on the great intellectual tradition of teaching and learning in the classical pedagogical exchange, speaking and listening, reasoning and debate, engagement in the arena of ideas.

Controversies erupted there, as they did across campuses in the U.S. over the years, but you’ve worked to address those.

…these campus controversies from the 1980s and early 1990s have an interesting and little known postscript. Close observers of the campus political scene know that during the past 25 years Stanford has actually done a relatively good job of keeping campus political controversies out of the news. In fact, some people have speculated that Stanford has made a deliberate effort to admit a larger number of undergraduates with interests in the hard sciences, engineering, and computer science – hoping these sorts of students would be less likely to engage in political activism or create controversy around campus.

When I was pursuing my doctorate in political science at Stanford between 1997 and 2002, the campus was certainly liberal, but conservative ideas could still receive a hearing.

Only to a certain degree, as alumna Jennifer Bryson points out in her excellent article in Public Discourse. The sincerity of her regret that Stanford is back in the news for intolerance of free speech comes through clearly in this piece.

Stanford University is once again facing controversy about freedom of speech on campus. Today, the issue is a student group, the Stanford Anscombe Society, which supports man-woman marriage and plans to hold a conference in early April. Students active in LGBTQ causes would like to prevent this conference from taking place.

Stanford has been through sharp controversy before; in the 1980s, for instance, students favoring legal abortion physically prevented a speaker hosted by Stanford Students for Life from speaking on campus. Back then the university’s response to this was a resounding affirmation of the university’s (unofficial) motto, “The winds of freedom blow” (“Die Luft der Freiheit weht”).

During the 1988-1989 academic year, when I was a senior at Stanford, I was involved in Stanford Students for Life. One evening, we brought pro-life activist Randall Terry to speak at the university.

On the evening of that event, Annenberg auditorium at Stanford was full. It was clear that a significant portion of those attending opposed Randall Terry and Stanford Students for Life. They were welcome to attend the event. Yet problems began when Terry tried to speak and opponents in the audience refused to become quiet. The heckling became progressively louder and more aggressive. After several minutes of this escalation, Terry told the audience that he would do something he normally does not do. He would forgo the talk he had planned to give and would instead make himself available for the entire event to answer questions from the audience.

At this, the heckling only got even louder and more aggressive. Opponents of the event started to stand up and shout, and—as more and more people rose from their seats—they began to spill over into the aisles. Terry was trying to listen to questions from the audience, but they could not be heard. Tensions rose as opponents moved down the aisles, flooding the stage and seizing the microphone out of Terry’s hands. At that point, the event ended.

That’s a shame, isn’t it? Whole groups of people shouting down the voice of one person representing a view they oppose is so unreasonable, uncharitable and unjust. And frankly, intolerant. Which is a rich irony.

Administration officials tried to make amends, to their credit, and Bryson does indeed grant that well deserved credit as “a testament to the excellence of Stanford University.”

This university administrator requested that if, in the future, Stanford Students for Life were to invite another controversial speaker, that we would notify the university in advance. That way, the university could provide security to assure that freedom of speech was protected at Stanford.

Fantastic.

This experience increased my respect for Stanford and has remained strong in my memory. However, that does not mean that Stanford was always an easy environment for me. And that’s okay. Because, let us not forget, the mission of a university is not to coddle its students with homogeneity.

Regarding her opposition to the upcoming Anscombe Society conference, Stanford undergraduate Brianne Huntsman said, “A lot of students who are queer come to Stanford because it’s one of the most LGBT-friendly places in the world.” While this may be one factor in their decision to attend Stanford, the primary reason for students to attend Stanford should be to pursue an education. Stanford is, at its essence, a university. It is not a club. It is not a support group. The mission of Stanford is not to provide a comforting environment for those who have the fortune of spending time there. Rather, as a University, Stanford should challenge students to grow, to explore, to seek what is true, to pursue excellence, and to develop capacities that will enable them to serve the welfare of society and human flourishing.

Huntsman also said, “Stanford is supposed to be a safe space for us.” Certainly, these students should feel that there is security on the Stanford campus, as there should be security from physical harm for every single member of the Stanford community and visitors on campus.

But the university does not owe anyone an emotionally or intellectually comfortable environment. Stanford is, after all, part of the real world.

As a pro-life woman at Stanford, I never experienced Stanford as a “friendly” place, and in many ways I did not experience it to be a “safe” place. Yet instead of trying to get Stanford to silence anyone who opposed me, I felt the best response to this was to seek to become better informed and to take part in public activism to help foster an overarching culture in which women, though they may not be treated in a “friendly” way, could at least feel safe.

Read the whole piece, it’s an extraordinary witness to classical academic excellence, the role of a university, where competing ideas have a place to be heard, challenged and defended. Where minds are expanded by hearing views outside a familiar sphere of thinking, where engagement with the modern world is enlarged by encountering it openly, appreciating the diversity while holding beliefs up to the test of true light.

Which gets to the reason Stanford is back in the news now. An event sponsored by the Anscombe Society. On marriage.

Bryson continues:

I loved Stanford because it was an environment filled with challenges and opportunities to learn, filled with people very different from me from whom I learned perhaps more outside the classroom than I did inside.

The world is not an emotionally friendly place. Nor, in many instances, is the world a safe place. This is reality. I loved Stanford because Stanford was a reality-filled environment that pushed me, challenged me, expanded my horizons, and prepared me to engage in the world full-steam-ahead when I left campus.

Had Stanford silenced those who opposed me, because those who opposed me were “unfriendly” to me (and some of them were literally unfriendly to me), the university would have failed in its role as a university. I think the protestors who silenced Randall Terry, rather than listening to what he had to say, failed in this instance in their role as students.

Today, as the Anscombe Society’s conference approaches, Stanford risks a rerun of this twenty-five year-old debacle. The stakes are high, implicating not only this one university, but also our society as a whole, in which tensions over issues of marriage and sex run very high.

I have admired Jennifer Bryson since I first started reading her articles, even more so when I learned of her work and interviewed her as my guest on radio. And that respect has grown ever since, in following the work she does advocating for those discriminated against or otherwise vulnerable, for a world and global community open to diversity and freedom and human rights.

She puts it so much better than I could, in sum.

The Anscombe Society has invited speakers who seek to address these issues in a thoughtful, civil manner. Listening in a correspondingly thoughtful and civil manner, regardless of one’s views, will accomplish far more to build a culture in which we can live peacefully together than would any effort to silence the Anscombe Society and their invited guests. Mutual understanding is not the same thing as mutual agreement. Agreement is an unlikely outcome of the conference, but let us at least seek to understand each other. Only on a foundation of understanding can we seek a way to move forward, learning to live peacefully and respectfully with our differences.

Trying to silence others because one fears what they might say is no way to learn. And it is no way for a university to be a university. Instead, let the winds of freedom blow.

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Jul 07

Can science prove or disprove the existence of God? Has the origin of creation without a creator come to be settled science? Are these questions knowable, even by the brightest minds in the world? Yes, sort of, is the basic answer…

Except for the question of ‘settled science’, because it’s not settled and if anything, keeps advancing toward an undeniable conclusion that a creator was behind creation.

So says, more or less, Fr. Robert Spitzer, Jesuit philosopher, educator, author and executive producer of Cosmic Origins, a fascinating new film that explores modern scientific theories about how the universe came to be. Spitzer was my guest on radio Friday for a compelling hour.

He said the eight scientists featured in the film based their dialogue around the fundamental question ‘What is the evidence for God from physics?’ The answer is plenty, so  much in fact, that “today there’s more evidence than you can possible imagine,” he stated. Then he added “Stephen Hawking kind of left them all out.”

He said scientific atheism is not scientific at all. And agnosticism can come from honest naturalism, and kind of stay there. “They won’t move to a supernatural explanation unless they’ve exhaused every other natural explanation,” he explained, and of course they’ll never be able to do that.

But a most interesting thing happened at Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday party last January as assembled guests celebrated and conversed. Spitzer pointed to Lisa Grossman’s article in New Scientist to elaborate, but you need a subscription for more than the preview. Here’s more:

You could call them the worst birthday presents ever. At themeeting of minds convened last week to honour Stephen Hawking’s 70th birthday- loftily titled “State of the Universe” – two bold proposals posed serious threats to our existing understanding of the cosmos.

One shows that a problematic object called a naked singularity is a lot more likely to exist than previously assumed (see ” Naked black-hole hearts live in the fifth dimension”). The other suggests thatthe universe is not eternal, resurrecting the thorny question of how to kick-start the cosmos without thehand of a supernatural creator.

While many of us may be OK with the idea of the big bang simply starting everything, physicists,including Hawking, tend to shy away from cosmic genesis. “A point of creation would be a place wherescience broke down. One would have to appeal to religion and the hand of God,” Hawking told themeeting, at the University of Cambridge, in a pre-recorded speech.

For a while it looked like it might be possible to dodge this problem, by relying on models such as aneternally inflating or cyclic universe, both of which seemed to continue infinitely in the past as well asthe future. Perhaps surprisingly, these were also both compatible with the big bang, the idea that theuniverse most likely burst forth from an extremely dense, hot state about 13.7 billion years ago.

However, as cosmologist Alexander Vilenkin of Tufts University in Boston explained last week, that hope has been gradually fading and may now be dead. He showed that all these theories still demand a beginning.

A call came in from a listener in the Batavia, Illinois community near Fermilab, who asked for good resources so he could better understand the topic and engage the debate with local scientists hard-set in their elimination of God from the creation and evolution equation.

Grossman’s article was the first resource Spitzer pointed to. I’m happy to direct folks to his book as well, New Proofs for the Existence of God, in which he presents peer-review physics studies, “string theory, quantum cosmology, mathematical thoughts on infinity” and more, in an easily digestible collection of evidence. Spitzer, founder and president of the Magis Institute, also highly recommends Stephen Barr’s Modern Physics and Ancient Faith, reviewed here in First Things.

Barr begins his book by pointing out that the methods and discoveries of modern physics can and must be separated from the philosophical doctrine of materialism, which so often serves as a dogmatic and, as Barr goes on to show with great power and effectiveness, unsubstantiated faith among physicists.

Seems to me that’s a very important note, “unsubstantiated faith among physicists” who willfully hold to their beliefs in spite of growing evidence that counters or at least questions them.

According to Barr, it was never obvious that physics implied or presupposed a materialistic view of the universe, but the existence of such a connection has been rendered downright implausible by a series of developments in twentieth-century physics. In a series of lucid chapters, Barr addresses the question of whether the universe had a beginning, looks at the issue of whether the universe exhibits any evidence of design or purpose, and examines what contemporary physics (and mathematics) has to say about the nature of human beings—specifically on the question of whether our behavior is determined by physical laws and whether we have an immaterial nature. At each point, Barr shows that “recent discoveries have begun to confound the materialist’s expectations and confirm those of the believer in God.”

Alas, it will continue. But with a fascinating compilation of new data all the time adding to the pool of scientific evidence. Last week the headlines touted the discovery of the ‘God particle,’ which Spitzer explained has nothing to do with God but everything to do with marketing. The New York Times explains more here.

Cool stuff, but the coolest of all is the fullest possible exploration of available evidence in the world at the moment. When you’re open to that, you’re open to everything, God and all.

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May 06

The Obama administration was involved at the highest levels of diplomacy with China last week to negotiate a deal over the fate of a human rights activist targeted by the Chinese government because he exposed so much abuse tied to China’s population control policy. Big media did a good job driving that story and keeping Chen’s fate a top and prominent focus.

Some of them noted this president’s difficulties with human rights affairs around the world. But since this crisis was tied to China’s one-child policy, their draconian population control response to a perceived global crisis, it presented a particularly gnarly problem for a president whose science adviser is a disciple of the population control guru Paul Ehrlich.

To pick up where the post below left off, on an excerpt from Merchants of Despair

Until the mid-1960s, American population control programs, both at home and abroad, were largely funded and implemented by private organizations such as the Population Council and Planned Parenthood — groups with deep roots in the eugenics movement…

This situation changed radically in the mid-1960s, when the U.S. Congress, responding to the agitation of overpopulation  ideologues, finally appropriated federal funds to underwrite first domestic and then foreign population control programs. Suddenly, instead of mere millions, there were hundreds of millions and eventually billions of dollars available to fund global campaigns of mass abortion and forced sterilization. The result would be human catastrophe on a worldwide scale.

Population Research Institute’s president Steven Mosher told me that China boasted of addressing perceived overpopulation issues by aborting 400 million babies, which was so breathtaking I asked him to repeat that statement. He said forced abortion has been the policy in China since 1979, after the government there bought into the Club of Rome study ‘Limits to Growth’ purportedly showing that the world would run out of resources if we don’t drastically reduce populations. Although, Mosher quickly added, the study was debunked within two years as a fraud. The voices discrediting the report somehow didn’t reach China.

Fast forward to now, with what Mosher referred to as ‘the most pro-abortion, population control administration in our history’, and here we are.

In Merchants of Despair, Zubrin states:

The human race is not, as later Malthus admirers John Holdren (currently President Obama’s science advisor) and Paul Ehrlich sneered in 1971, so many bacteria in a culture dish, doomed to quick extintion unless our appetites can be controlled by wise overlords wielding sterilants to curb our excessive multiplication.

To be precise, that quote from Global Ecology in 1971 was this:

When a population of organisms grows in a finite environment, sooner or later it will encounter a resource limit. This phenomenon, described by ecologists as reaching the “carrying capacity” of the environment, applies to bacteria on a culture dish, to fruit flies in a jar of agar, and to buffalo on a prairie. It must also apply to man on this finite planet.

To which Zubrin responds:

No: we are creative inventors, and the more of us there are, the better off we are. And the freer we are, the faster we can make the inventions that can advance our condition still further.

China never got that memo, and Congressman Chris Smith told me he pleaded with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to assure Chen Guongcheng’s safety and confront the Chinese government about their brutal policy that has particularly targeted baby girls, called the ‘lost daughters of China’ by human rights activists. “This is the true war on women,” Smith told me, alluding to the politically strategic spin in news cycles lately between Democrats and Republicans. And people in high places have been “indifferent” to China’s forced abortions, causing “tens of millions of aborted baby girls” and many years of women being “denied basic freedoms.”

Congressman Smith was instrumental in Chen’s eventual arrangements for release, tenuous as that remains. Now, he told me, the US and western media are obligated to follow up on Chen’s safe travel with his family, as well as the internal business of securing safety for his extended family and human rights activists who helped him. The media have been nearly heroic exposing this cause, he said. The State Department has its own duty to protect

and demonstrate to the world that the US stands firm for fundamental human rights and the rule of law.

The world has been watching this drama for the past week. The upside to the tense drama is that maybe now they’ll focus more on the human rights cause at the center of Chen’s activism.

Which PRI does constantly.

Stay tuned.

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May 06

That’s a lot to take on, especially about an establishment movement.

But I did a set of interviews with Dr. Robert Zubrin, author of Merchants of Despair on these topics right around Earth Day recently, and found he did just that, with thorough research and historic and scientific references. Which he pursues with passion not just to debunk myths, but to set the record straight on human flourishing  and ethical ecology. It’s stunning to learn the scope and depth and power of the misinformation.

Then, because of the Chen Guoncheng ordeal last week, I got human rights expert Steven Mosher on for a radio interview on the China one child policy and the back story behind it, because there are few experts in the world as knowledgable and experienced in documenting China’s population control as Mosher is.

Congressman Chris Smith gave me an update with astonishing background to the Chen story and the human rights violations record of the Chinese government, based partially but largely on falsified Western studies warning that population control was an urgent necessity to save the planet and its resources from a doomsday crisis.

There’s a crisis alright. But it’s in the human toll of these persistent myths based on the enduring eugenics movement. How can these atrocities continue, with widespread approval or at least acceptance, explicit or implicit, by governments and international organizations?

Through political power, says Zubrin, and the cult of antihumanism.

There is a single ideological current running through a seemingly disparate collection of noxious modern political and scientific movements, ranging from militarism, imperialism, racism, xenophobia, and radical environmentalism, to socialism, Nazism, and totalitarian communism. This is the ideology of antihumanism: the belief that the human race is a horde of vermin whose unconstrained aspirations and appetites endanger the natural order, and that tyrannical measures are necessary to constrain humanity.

Which brings the China one-child policy and Chen Guongcheng into the picture, but more on that in a bit…

The founding prophet of modern antihumanism is Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), who offered a pseudoscientific basis for the idea that human reproduction always outruns available resources. Following this pessimistic and inaccurate assessment of the capacity of human ingenuity to develop new resources, Malthus advocated oppressive policies that led to the starvation of millions in India and Ireland.

Zubrin’s book documents the horrors of how this played out in both lands, and it’s appalling. And totally unnecessary. Which should have been made clear long ago.

However…

While Malthus’s argument that human population growth invariably leads to famine and poverty is plainly at odds with the historical evidence, which shows global living standards rising with population growth, it nonetheless persisted and even gained strength among intellectuals and political leaders in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Its most pernicious manifestation in recent decades has been the doctrine of population control, famously advocated by ecologist Paul Ehrlich, whose bestselling 1968 antihumanist tract The Population Bomb has served as the bible of neo-Malthusianism. In this book, Ehrlich warned of overpopulation and advocated that the American government adopt stringent population control measures, both domestically and for the Third World countries that received American foreign aid. (Ehrlich, it should be noted, is the mentor of and frequent collaborator with John Holdren, President Obama’s science advisor.)

And so it continues.

In the next post.

 

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Nov 06

In a way, I wish we knew exactly who this child was when he or she was born into the world. On the other hand, given certain aggressive measures to ‘control’ population, perhaps we’d best not have an identity.

But that’s precisely the point. Behind the numbers and statistics and academic angst is the fact that the word ‘population’ means people, lots of them, individual women and men and children who are unique and distinct from every other human being in the world, with equal dignity.

Which is why I was glad to see Seven Billion Reasons to Celebrate.

As the Financial Times reported late last week:

“In contrast to the photographs feting the symbolic sixth billionth birth in 1999, the UN is deliberately avoiding selecting a similar baby to mark this year’s milestone, in a move that Babtunde Osotimehin, executive director of the [UN Fund for Population, or UNFPA], said showed the need for reflection rather than celebration.”

“Reflection” rather than “celebration”?

Can we talk honestly, just for a moment? When was the last time anyone heard bien-pensants in population policy circles bemoaning a surfeit of blond-haired, blue-eyed babies? Think about it.

As these graceless official preparations for Baby Seven Billion inadvertently indicate, there is an ugly underside to today’s international “population movement” (whose enthusiasts no longer prefer to be called “population controllers”).

It is an underside whose intellectual heritage traces back to the heyday of eugenics, with its then-explicit emphasis on the imperative of pruning away “the unfit” from the human race. As Ur-eugenicist and population-controller Margaret Sanger, the mother of these modern efforts, declared in the 1920s,

“Feeble-mindedness perpetuates itself from the ranks of those who are blandly indifferent to their racial responsibilities. And it is largely this type of humanity we are now drawing upon to perpetuate our world for the generations to come.”

And lest anyone forget: those high-minded eugenic precepts were parent to the concept of unlebenswertes Leben (roughly translated, “lives not worth living,” as determined by those other than the particular souls in question)—a notion that would fatefully come into vogue in Germany during that country’s darkest hour.

For obvious reasons, this is a pedigree that today’s population controllers do not strain to highlight.

And incidentally: what of this veil of tears into which Baby Seven Billion is being born? Baby Six Billion is now about 12 years old (having been born in 1999)—and Baby Five Billion has recently marked his or her 24th birthday (he or she was born in early 1987). The world has changed over these years—and not for the worse, if material living standards are our benchmark.

Read on in that article. Bottom line:

The plain fact is that Baby Seven Billion will have a greater chance to live to adulthood and receive an education—and a lower chance of suffering extreme material poverty—than a child at any previous juncture in history. This prospect, in and of itself, should be a cause for celebration.

Besides the fact of life itself.

The Vatican’s chief press spokesman welcomed this baby into the world, wherever he or she is.

“Dear baby number seven billion,” said the Italian priest Nov. 5, “we pray that you can understand that your life will find its fullest meaning not in this world but in the next. Because this is what you were born for. Your Creator and Father made you for this.” …

“I don’t know if you were born on a remote island, or in a refugee tent. I don’t know whether you are healthy or sick or handicapped. I don’t know whether both your parents were there to embrace you at your birth, or whether your mother alone was there to hold you.”

“I don’t know whether people will say there are too many or too few of you and your contemporaries. Today, I don’t care about that.”

Fr. Lombardi told the landmark baby that the world he or she is coming into “is a bit complicated and it’s not friendly for everyone.”

“We haven’t done a very good job preparing it for you,” he admitted.

He noted that the G20 Summit of the world’s wealthiest nations had just concluded its two-day meeting in the French city of Cannes.

“The leaders of the richest and most powerful nations are sitting around a table, struggling to find a way forward. We too are asking ourselves about your future.”

Fr. Lombardi’s greeting is personal but also universal. And exquisite.

He told the baby that he or she is “unique and special, that you are a wonderful gift, that you are a miracle, that your spirit will live forever, and so you are welcome.”

“We hope that when you smile someone will respond to your smile, and when you cry someone will caress you. We hope you can go to school and that you won’t go hungry. We hope that someone will answer your questions wisely and encourage you as you find your place in the world.”

Let’s do all we can to make that happen.

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Oct 22

In the public schools, parents are losing more rights with more frequency these days.

The California school system has been in the news a lot in recent months for its change in curriculum to make it not only gay-friendly, but featured.

…California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law SB 48, which dictates that California schools adopt instructional materials in social science classes that emphasize “the role and contributions of … lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans” in history.

When considering the myriad ways such a law tramples on parental rights and academic legitimacy, it is hard to know where to begin. However, since the law will be celebrated by some as a triumph of inclusivity, perhaps it should be noted it solves no conceivable problem currently plaguing California.

Regarding inclusivity, California law already bans discrimination in instructional materials based on “race, sex, color, creed, handicap, national origin, or ancestry.” Not content with banning discrimination, earlier California legislators already mandated emphases on the contributions of both men and women as well as “Native Americans, African Americans, Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, European Americans” and other ethnic and cultural groups in California textbooks and curriculum.

In other words, it is hard to imagine that historically significant lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans are not already being included.

Now, it’s news in New York. Robert George and Melissa Moschella address it in this piece as a New York Times op-ed.

IMAGINE you have a 10- or 11-year-old child, just entering a public middle school. How would you feel if, as part of a class ostensibly about the risk of sexually transmitted diseases, he and his classmates were given “risk cards” that graphically named a variety of solitary and mutual sex acts? Or if, in another lesson, he was encouraged to disregard what you told him about sex, and to rely instead on teachers and health clinic staff members?

That prospect would horrify most parents. But such lessons are part of a middle-school curriculum that Dennis M. Walcott, the New York City schools chancellor, has recommended for his system’s newly mandated sex-education classes. There is a parental “opt out,” but it is very limited, covering classes on contraception and birth control.

Observers can quarrel about the extent to which what is being mandated is an effect, or a contributing cause, of the sexualization of children in our society at younger ages. But no one can plausibly claim that teaching middle-schoolers about mutual masturbation is “neutral” between competing views of morality; the idea of “value free” sex education was exploded as a myth long ago. The effect of such lessons is as much to promote a certain sexual ideology among the young as it is to protect their health.

But beyond rival moral visions, the new policy raises a deeper issue: Should the government force parents — at least those not rich enough to afford private schooling — to send their children to classes that may contradict their moral and religious values on matters of intimacy and personal conduct?

Liberals and conservatives alike should say no. Such policies violate parents’ rights, whether they are Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist or of no religion at all. To see why, we need to think carefully about the parent-child relationship that gives rise to the duties that parental rights serve and protect.

This argument deserves serious engagement.

Parenting, especially in moral and religious matters, is very important and highly personal: while parents enlist others’ help in this task, the task is theirs. They are ultimately responsible for their children’s intellectual and moral maturity, so within broad limits they must be free to educate their children, especially on the deepest matters, as they judge best. This is why parental rights are so important: they provide a zone of sovereignty, a moral space to fulfill their obligations according to their consciences.

The right to parent is rather like the right to exercise one’s religion. Like parental duties, religious duties are serious and highly personal. This is why, absent the most serious reasons, it would be a grave violation of individual rights if the state prevented people from honoring what they regarded as their religious obligations. To subject children to indoctrination in deeply personal matters against their parents’ consciences is no less a violation than forcing Muslim parents to send their children to a Catholic Mass…

Unless a broader parental opt out is added, New York City’s new policies will continue to usurp parents’ just (and constitutionally recognized) authority. Turning a classroom into a mandatory catechism lesson for a contested ideology is a serious violation of parental rights, and citizens of every ideological hue should stand up and oppose it.

Let’s see who engages it most, and best.

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Oct 11

That line wound up on a popular comedy show.

But seriously, I found this impressive.

The Nobel in economic science was awarded on Monday to Thomas J. Sargent of New York University and Christopher A. Sims of Princeton University for their research on the cause and effect of government policies on the broader economy, a major concern of countries still struggling to address the aftermath of the recent financial crisis.

This is really interesting.

Back in the 1970s, Dr. Sargent and Dr. Sims were interested in figuring out how a new policy, like a tax cut or an interest rate increase, might affect the economy. But economists cannot run controlled experiments in real life to see what happens when a policy is executed and compare the results to when it is not. Instead, they have to study whatever history is available to them, with all the complicated conditions that happened to coincide with the policy change.

They could not have foreseen how much we would need their analysis at this point in the future.

Their new methodologies are used to figure out whether a policy change that happened in the past affected the economy or whether it was made in anticipation of events that policy makers thought would happen later.

“For both Sims and Sargent, their research is fundamental,” said Mark W. Watson, an economics professor at Princeton. “They figured out what it is you need to know to answer this cause and effect question, and then they developed methods for actually measuring the effects of causes.”

Okay, but wait…That’s all related to past events. What caused what, and how its anticipation affected its outcome. Or something like that.

Today I asked a professorial scientist something reasonable about cause and effect in advance of the result, and he smiled and said “If I knew that answer, I’d be in Sweden picking up a Nobel right now.”

Though the guys that did, didn’t exactly have the answers. Just interesting research methodology.

Dr. Sargent’s body of work is somewhat eclectic. For example, he spent the early part of his career building up the “rational expectations theory” — the idea that people make choices based on what they rationally expect to happen, and so expectations can affect outcomes — and then spent subsequent decades criticizing it.

“He’s an amazing character in that sense,” said Dr. Christiano, who wrote his dissertation under Dr. Sargent. “He contributed a revolution, and then tried to develop a revolution against that one.”

Looks like we have a new frontier.

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Sep 27

It was a ‘racist bake sale.’ No kidding.

At first glance, this looked like a parody in the Onion.

A student group at the University of California Berkeley has sparked a furor by staging a bake sale that charges customers differently based on their race and gender.

The Berkeley College Republicans devised the satirical “Increase Diversity Bake Sale,” as a protest against proposed bill SB 185, which would have the race, gender, ethnicity and national origin of prospective students considered alongside other admission criteria.

The bake sale, which went ahead Tuesday despite the disapproval of the school’s administration, set prices for baked goods on a sliding scale — charging the most to Caucasian males and the least to Native American women.

“If preferences based on skin color are okay for college admissions, they should be okay for other aspects of life,” wrote the group’s president, Shawn Lewis, on their website.

“We agree that the event is inherently racist, but that is the point.”

Delicious thought experiment. Though the school finds it tasteless. Only some critical thinking applies at UC Berkeley, and only some tolerance is tolerable.

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Aug 30

I’m told it’s the political power of unions. Makes me wonder about all the good teachers trapped in a system without the power to express or carry out their own ideas.

Dr. John Sparks is concerned, too, and we spoke late last week about the problems. Here’s how he expressed it in his latest column for the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College.

In a recent editorial, The Wall Street Journal calls 2011 the “year of school choice.” Parents and the legislators who represent them, particularly in inner-city schools, are tired of waiting for the promised effects of “educational reform” on the public schools their children attend. Therefore, according to the Wall Street Journal, in one form or another, 13 states have passed school-choice legislation, and similar changes are proposed in 28 other states. Such legislation often permits the formation of publicly financed “charter schools,” which are run by new schools boards whose members insist upon an educational environment that will produce real learning.

Despite progress in many places, New York City children, many of them African-American, may not be able to return to charters or start in them anew in the fall due to a lawsuit instituted against the NYC’s Department of Education by what would seem to be a tragically ironic twosome: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the United Federation of Teachers (UFT).

What? That doesn’t make sense. Sparks makes the point, connecting the dots.

One would certainly assume that NYC’s charter program—which would allow parents to withdraw their children from the 22 poor public schools in New York and move them to effective charter or other schools—would be eagerly supported by the NAACP and the UFT. After all, these are schools deemed (by pre-established criteria) to be “failing.” But that is not the case. Why?

Perhaps one could understand the UFT, long an ideological champion of public schools, no matter how poorly they perform, engaging in such a suit, but why the NAACP, in light of its announced commitment to black and Latino youths and their parents? Here is a case where political/ideological dedication to the public-school monopoly is stronger than loyalty to the very people which the NAACP is pledged to help.

Fortunately, NYC parents with children attending or about to enter charter schools in the fall are not committed to this ideological blindness. They simply want the good schooling for their children that educational choice provides, and they are speaking out.

Good for them. In fact, Hooray for them. Outraged parents are telling the UFT their time’s up.

The same could be said to the NAACP. How can an organization supposedly committed to helping blacks and other minority groups climb the educational ladder file a lawsuit to obstruct educational opportunities for what amounts to 7,000 of New York’s most disadvantaged kids? Black parents have a right to be perplexed, frustrated, and outraged by such a stance.

The Economist reports that another parent, Ny Whittaker, whose child attends a Harlem charter school, summarized it well: the “NAACP is on the wrong side of history.”

So is the US Department of Education, at this point. In operation only since 1980, note this part of its original stated mission:

The Department’s mission is: to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.

Seriously. Each time I’ve brought that up in an interview, someone inevitably expresses incredulous surprise.

Which makes the case for a movement to respect education and equal access to it as the civil rights issue it is.

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