About Critical Mass [dot] Writing [dot] Reviews [dot] Contact
July 29, 2005 [feather]
Bulwer Lytton and the Seven Dwarves

The results are in, and by now everyone who cares about such things knows that Dan McKay of Fargo, North Dakota, has won San Jose State's annual Bulwer Lytton bad writing contest for the following egregiously wonderful first sentence:

As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual.

I like it. But I like some of the other entries even more. My favorite in the children's category comes from Shelby Leung of Australia:

The woods were all a-twitter with rumors that the Seven Dwarves were planning a live reunion after their attempted solo careers had dismally sputtered into Z-list oblivion and it was all just a matter of meeting a ten-page list of outlandish demands (including 700-threadcount Egyptian cotton bedsheets, lots of white lilies and a separate trailer for the magic talking mirror) to get the Princess Formerly Known As Snow White on board.

And in the purple prose category, there is the entry from Chris Bui of Pensacola:

After months of pent-up emotions like a caffeine-addict trying to kick the habit, Cathy finally let the tears come, at first dripping sporadically like an old clogged percolator, then increasing slowly like a 10-cup coffeemaker with an automatic drip, and eventually pouring out and noisily wailing like a cappuccino maker complete with slurping froth.

Of course, the point of the contest is less to recognize the best worst entry (sorry, Dan), but to demonstrate that the possibilities of bad writing, of good writing, and of good bad writing, are endless.

Readers are accordingly invited to post their favorite first fictional sentences--good and bad--as well as to contribute inventions of their own.

Erin O'Connor, 6:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (2)

July 27, 2005 [feather]
What color is your parachute?

Writing for InsideHigherEd.com, David Rivers makes an obvious point that is too often not at all obvious to aspiring, or even practising, academics: that academe is not necessarily the best professional fit for those with graduate training, and that the sort of academic setting that suits some will not suit others at all. The tightness of the academic job market, which fosters a scarcity-driven determination to accept any job, any job at all, combined with the not-so-subtle stigma that some disciplines attach to anyone who shows an interest in non-academic jobs, contributes to an ostrichism that is ultimately self-defeating, Rivers argues. Noting that many, if not most, academics never really reflect seriously on what they are doing in academe until they are assembling their tenure files, Rivers associates a generalized absence of vocational clarity among academics with widespread, if lowgrade, professional malaise:

From conversations with colleagues, friends and even job applicants, I believe many are not content with their life in academia. When many academics give an honest assessment of life in their shoes, the description often lacks enthusiasm, excitement or any trace of inspiration to an eager ear hoping for guidance.

What I think lies at the heart of the problem is the failure to address one question: What type of academic does each person want to be? I know I never examined the question when first applying for jobs, and as a result I pursued the "dream job" at research institutions that I wasn't suited for. Do others start down the path of becoming a faculty member without knowing that it is the right one for them, without feeling the "call" to teach, to be engaged in meaningful scholarship, to shape the minds of young adults? Unfortunately, yes, and I'd like to offer a few words that might get you thinking about how to be sure, or at least surer.

Rivers' advice is pretty straightforward--aspiring academics should think about what kind of position they want, and they should particularly consider whether they want jobs that are weighted more towards research or teaching. What Rivers leaves out is less straightforward--that academic jobs are not plentiful, that those applying for them may not be able to find just the sort of job that suits them best, and that for some, the choice to remain in a particular job, however bad a fit, is the choice to remain in academe rather than look beyond it.

Although Rivers opens his piece by acknowledging how the scarcity of academic jobs distorts the terms upon which many people conduct their job searches, he fails to address two crucial things. The first is adjunct work, which any reader of the now-defunct Invisible Adjunct site will know is the dead-end, non-viable alternative to the tenure track where a great many talented, highly trained people wind up. The second is non-academic work, which ought to be taken more seriously by Ph.D.-granting programs, especially in the humanities, and which offers an enormous variety of opportunity to people who know how to do research, to write well, to teach, to problem-solve, and to work independently. Rivers is right that graduate students and people who are thinking about going to grad school should spend some time thinking about whether the academic life is really right for them. But he undercuts his own message when he devotes the bulk of his essay to a narrow exploration of how those who do decide they want to be in academe should pick and choose among (often nonexistent) jobs. The picture he paints of choice is not a realistic one; the picture he does not paint of what those who decide to leave academe might do instead is one that ought to be painted.

I'm interested in hearing from readers--academics, non-academics, former academics--about their own career paths. What professional route have you followed? What have you learned and what advice would you give?

Erin O'Connor, 6:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

July 26, 2005 [feather]
Campus speech down under

Macquarie University has asked a professor to retire early after he made some politically incorrect comments about immigration. Public law professor Andrew Fraser outraged administrators at the Sydney school when he spoke out against non-white immigration, arguing that black immigration heightens crime and a range of social problems; he also believes that the numbers of Asian immigrants coming into Australia threaten to turn the country into a "third world colony." Macquarie president Di Yerbury says that while the university is not firing Fraser, he and his views are not welcome there. "What he said is abhorrent to most of us at the university and has caused a great deal of distress and concern to the communities concerned. ... It's very much against our policy, we're a multi-cultural university that rejects racism and discrimination." University administrators have approached Fraser about buying out his contract; he has told the press that he sees this as an attempt to buy his silence, a statement that does more, I suspect, to mark Fraser as a provocateur given to exaggeration than to characterize facts--Macquarie may abhor Fraser's views so much that it is willing to pay him to get him off its campus, and that willingness may run counter to the ideals of free inquiry universities should ideally uphold, but there is no gag order in sight.

Macquarie's press release plausibly denies that the university is trying to buy Fraser's silence: "Clearly he is seeking channels for his views to be circulated, and we do not expect that to change. That is his prerogative. ... However, we do not want his views to be identified with the policies and views of Macquarie University and the University community." That statement seems unexceptional enough, though it seems to me that instead of trying to press Fraser to choose early retirement, the university would do better to organize a panel discussion or conference or some such on precisely the issues Fraser raises. Open his views to debate--let the issues he raises be aired freely, contested, challenged, defended, complicated, and so on. Macquarie may be embarrassed by Fraser, but he is presenting the university with one of those rare "teaching moments," and the university so far has failed miserably to accept the challenge he poses to let the marketplace of ideas do its work.

The news reports I've found on Fraser's situation are all cursory and ultimately unenlightening, and I don't know beans about the Australian academic system. Readers who are familiar with how questions of academic freedom, free speech, and tenure operate on Australian campuses in general, and at Macquarie in particular, are more than welcome to comment.

UPDATE 8/2/05: A thoughtful piece in the Sydney Morning Herald argues that the real issue with Fraser is not his opinion, but his effort to tie his opinion to his position at Macquarie by signing his inflammatory letter to the Paramatta Sun, "Andrew Fraser, Associate Professor, Department of Public Law, Macquarie University." Written by a conservative columnist, the piece compares Fraser to Ward Churchill, and notes how profoundly not useful the concept of academic freedom is in sorting out situations such as Fraser's:

These days universities receive funding from the Government and private sources. Academics, who are paid by universities, should be expected to behave professionally and act in accordance with their contracts of employment. Just like everyone else.

Macquarie University's enterprise agreements with staff confirm that academics "have the right to express their views publicly on any matter of public interest as private citizens". However, when an issue is not "related directly to the academic or other specialist subject area of a staff member's appointment", then "they should not include the name of the university or the title of her or his university appointment". That's fair enough.


In recent interviews, lawyer Terry O'Gorman and academic Robert Manne have defended Fraser's right to "free speech" while distancing themselves from his opinions. Similar support has been given in the US to leftist academic Ward Churchill, who has maintained the victims of the attacks on September 11, 2001, were "little Eichmanns" and, presumably, deserved to be murdered. Fraser told Sally Loane on ABC Radio yesterday that he used to be a "firebrand left-winger". What Fraser and Churchill have in common is that they are ideologues who have discredited their places of employment.

The concept that the existence of modern democracies depends on the unfettered right of academics to free speech is a myth. It is also a myth to suggest that universities were ever a sanctuary for pure intellectual freedom. For years a fashionable leftism has prevailed in many areas of the social sciences, which has affected academic appointments and student grades. The philosopher Herbert Marcuse was a one-time campus hero. In his 1965 essay Repressive Tolerance, Marcuse says there should be "intolerance against movements from the right, and toleration of movements from the left". Not much academic freedom there.

Academic freedom has often been invoked to protect the incompetent and the unsuitable. If the likes of Fraser and Churchill act outside their terms of employment, their universities should have every right to respond like any other employer.

Fraser's claim that he has become a bulwark between freedom and what he has termed "dictatorship in Australia" is self-indulgent humbug. Fraser retains the right to say what he wants. But he does not have the right to work as he pleases - courtesy of the taxpayer.

Australia does not have anything like the First Amendment on the books, though the reader who sent me this link observes that free speech is regarded by most Australians as an ethical standard. He goes on to note that the Fraser case should be understood within the larger context of the Australian government's recent decision to "institute broad industrial relations reforms that, generally speaking, will favour the employer."

Erin O'Connor, 5:25 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

July 21, 2005 [feather]
Viewpoint discrimination at William Paterson

It's been a busy week at FIRE--first a press release criticizing Washington State's confusion of "vigilante censorship" with free expression and documenting FIRE's hitherto unsuccessful efforts to convince Washington State president Rawlins that he has woefully misunderstood the First Amendment, and now a press release going public with a case of viewpoint discrimination at William Paterson University:

WAYNE, N.J., July 20, 2005--William Paterson University in New Jersey has convicted student employee Jihad Daniel of "discrimination" and "harassment"--without due process--for describing homosexuality as a "perversion" in a private response to a professor's unsolicited announcement of a university event that promoted a positive view of lesbian relationships.

"William Paterson's punishment of Mr. Daniel is a direct attack on freedom of speech," remarked David French, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which intervened on Daniel's behalf. "For the university to convict a student of 'harassment' for sending a single, non-threatening e-mail dangerously trivializes real harassment."

Daniel's "offense" took place on March 8, 2005, when he responded to an unsolicited e-mail from Professor Arlene Holpp Scala, chair of the department of women's studies, about a viewing and discussion of a film described as "a lesbian relationship story." Daniel privately replied to Professor Scala, requesting that he not be sent "any mail about 'Connie and Sally' and 'Adam and Steve.'" Daniel went on, "These are perversions. The absence of God in higher education brings on confusion. That is why in these classes the Creator of the heavens and the earth is never mentioned."

On March 10, Professor Scala filed a complaint with the university's Office of Employment Equity and Diversity, accusing Daniel of violating university nondiscrimination policy because his message "sound[ed] threatening" and because she didn't want to "feel threatened at [her] place of work when [she] send[s] out announcements about events that address lesbian issues."

Director of Employment Equity and Diversity John I. Sims subsequently proceeded to "investigate" Scala's complaint. On June 15, William Paterson President Arnold Speert wrote Daniel a letter of reprimand, stating that "the investigator concluded that since the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of 'perversion' ... is clearly a 'derogatory or demeaning' term," Daniel therefore was guilty of violating state discrimination and harassment regulations. The president also wrote that the letter of reprimand would be placed in Daniel's permanent employee file.

FIRE has been defending Daniel since that letter went into the file, but hasn't gotten anywhere. President Speert claims that FIRE's constitutional argument is "beyond the scope" of the university's investigation, and has allowed Daniel's punishment to stand. When FIRE pushed the issue with Speert, the New Jersey Attorney General got involved, upholding the university's determination that "speech which violates a non-discrimination policy is not protected."

I do hope that in both these instances FIRE's decision to go public--and hence to enlist the shaming exposure of the media and the castigation of concerned citizens--will do the work that private efforts at reasonable remonstration have failed to do. Neither Washington State's nor William Paterson's actions have been fair or well-conceived, and in both cases the palpable urge to privilege certain viewpoints over others has led to a disturbing distortion of the free and unfettered expression that both schools, as public, federally funded entities, are required by law to protect. In the one case, an undernuanced notion of free speech has led to censorship by heckler's veto; in the other, a politically loaded conception that some viewpoints are more or less legitimate than others has led to a trampling of due process rights, a vast overexpansion of what constitutes harassment, and a situation in which discrimination is being committed in the name of stamping it out.

FIRE is invaluable in the work it does to track such outrages and to defend the people whose rights are compromised by college and university administrators. But FIRE can only do so much--it's a small organization, and though it maintains a legal network, it is not itself in the business of litigating. When FIRE reasons with unreasonable administrators and gets nowhere, as it has done with Washington State and William Paterson, it has both done its job and largely exhausted its resources. When FIRE goes public with unresolved cases, the message ought to be clear to everyone who cares about the work the organization does: It is now time for the media and for private concerned citizens to become involved by refusing to let the issues die.

Erin O'Connor, 3:40 AM | Permalink | Comments (18)

July 19, 2005 [feather]
Celebrating the heckler's veto at Washington State

Washington State University president V. Lane Rawlins could use a tutorial on the First Amendment. After student protesters not only disrupted and effectively destroyed a performance of an off-color student-written musical entitled Passion of the Musical, but did so using tickets the university had purchased for them, Rawlins defended the protesters' actions as legitimate expressions of their First Amendment rights: Echoing the Washington State Center for Human Rights' report erroneously declaring the protesters' behavior to be protected expression because the play amounted to a "public forum" in which audience members were "taunted," Rawlins told the campus paper that when the hecklers repeatedly stood up during the performance, shouting about being offended and even threatening members of the audience and case, that that were "exercis[ing] their rights of free speech in a very responsible manner by letting the writer and players know exactly how they felt."

FIRE is all over this, aptly describing Washington State's peculiar concept of free speech as an endorsement of "vigilante censorship" and noting the hypocrisy of an organization that both bankrolls productions of Eve Ensler's provocative Vagina Monologues and subsidizes the student activists who tried to hijack Passion of the Musical. Billed as likely to be "offensive or inflammatory to all audiences," Passion of the Musical does sound like it wasn't for everyone, with its equal opportunity mockery of everything from religion to AIDS to racial and sexual differences. But the audience was not being held captive, and any audience member who didn't like the production was free to leave at any time. There is a difference between choosing not to witness or endorse expression one finds personally offensive and choosing to try to prevent others from witnessing, endorsing, or expressing it. This distinction has, for the moment anyway, been lost at Washington State.

Erin O'Connor, 2:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

July 17, 2005 [feather]
Censoring what's never been written

In Knoxville, a movement is afoot to prevent a book that has never been written from being assigned:

"The Color Purple"is a bit too off-color for 13-year-olds, Anderson County School Board members said Thursday.

An Honors English class teacher at Anderson County High School recommended Toni Morrison's novel as summer reading for students entering ninth grade next month.

But about a third of the students' parents have voiced concerns to board members and school officials about graphic passages dealing with rape and incest in the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.

"It don't think that (ninth grade) is the proper time for kids to be introduced to that stuff," parent Roger Alley told board members.

"My son is a senior, and I wouldn't want him reading it," board member Ron Hagans said.

School Principal Bob McCracken read the book after he was told of the controversy and also agreed it wasn't appropriate for rising freshmen, said another board member, Dail Cantrell.

The English teacher then offered up an alternative novel, Cantrell said. Students could instead read "Watership Down," Richard Adams' story about a pack of wandering rabbits.

That didn't allay Alley's concerns. He said he didn't want his daughter in class when "The Color Purple" was discussed.

Some board members said the issue left them on a tightrope between concerned parents and accusations of censorship.

"We got into censoring books before, and it's a keg of worms we don't want to open up," board Chairman Dr. John Burrell said.

"This is not censorship as much as holding teachers to age-appropriate material," Cantrell said.

He suggested that school English departments review recommended reading lists next year and issue advisories on which books have graphic content.

Cantrell said Morrison's novel was suggested by the teacher as summer reading to coincide with a lesson planned about molestation that was prompted by student interest in the Michael Jackson trial.

Cantrell later said the teacher likely would be asked to select another study subject so discussion of the novel could be avoided.

My initial reaction here is that the school board should agree wholeheartedly to censor that reprehensible Toni Morrison novel, and that the teacher should go ahead with the plan to assign Alice Walker's The Color Purple. There would be some poetic justice in that. My second reaction is to complicate my own fantasy by wondering whether the journalist who covered the story replicated the school board's error about authorship, or introduced it. Perhaps the censors in Knoxville know better what they are trying to suppress than the press does.

In any case, I'll just note that the article's palpably patronizing tone--not only failing to fact check crucial points such as who write the book in question, but also punning on "Alley" with "allay", joking that The Color Purple is off-color, and dismissively describing Richard Adams' parable about territoriality, community, and war as "a story about a pack of wandering rabbits"--renders it inadequate to the task at hand. Efforts to censor books should be taken seriously, and the precise dimensions of the arguments levelled against assigning certain works to certain students should be scrupulously recorded so that they can be closely scrutinized and debated. One irony here that the journalist misses is that Watership Down is hardly pablum; to propose it as an alternative to The Color Purple is not to attempt to replace graphic content with inoffensive pap, but to assert that rising freshmen are better equipped to read about homelessness, bloodlust, and fear for one's life than they are to read about illicit sexual relations within families.

Watership Down has been a staple of school reading lists for decades now. But so has The Color Purple, which has a solid spot on recommended AP reading lists. It may be the case that parents feel that younger teens aren't up for Walker's treatment of sex--but it might be more to the point for them to wonder whether their kids are up for Walker's handling of dialect. The novel is told from the perspective of Celie, an illiterate black woman who has been abused by both her father and husband. Walker tries to capture Celie's voice by abandoning straightforward prose and writing in Celie's special brand of southern black English. The result is a novel that is at once poetic and dense, as much about language as it is about what the language describes (read an excerpt here). Young readers who have not encountered that technique before may well struggle with it--to the point where the question of whether they can handle the novel's sexual content becomes secondary to the question of whether they can follow the novel's plot through its nuanced colloquial turns of phrase.

I'd love to hear readers' thoughts on age-appropriate reading assignments--from the standpoint of content as well as style. And I'd love, too, to hear their thoughts on Adams and Walker--as writers, and as fixtures in high school English classes.

Erin O'Connor, 3:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

July 13, 2005 [feather]
No Child Left Enlisted?

San Francisco's anti-war activists know that they can't legitimately seek to ban military recruiters from public school campuses: to do so would expose those schools to loss of crucial federal funds. What they are doing instead: introducing a ballot initiative that would declare the city of San Francisco to be against military recruitment on campus. Entitled "College Not Combat," the bill would, in the words of an AP report, "encourage city officials and university administrators to exclude recruiters, even if that meant forsaking government dollars. It also would urge them to create scholarships and training programs to reduce the military's appeal to young adults." In other words, the bill would press school officials to ban military recruiters on their own recognizance, and to accept the potential financial consequences thereof; a means of exerting partisan pressure in the name of promoting civic awareness, the bill also, if the AP report is accurate, would press schools not to educate students comprehensively about the military, so that they can make informed, independent decisions about their own future career paths, but to dissuade students categorically from considering the military by presenting them with ideologically loaded "guidance":

"We do not see George Bush's daughters signing up. It is poor and working-class people who need a job and education at the same time billions are being spent on this war," said Ragina Johnson of the International Socialist Organization.

The initiative is part of a nationwide movement against the Pentagon's recruiting efforts and its exclusion of openly gay prospects. The United States Supreme Court agreed last month to hear the Bush administration's appeal of a lower court ruling that law schools could not be stripped of their federal funds for refusing to treat military employers as they would other employers.

Antiwar activists have also singled out a provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act that requires school districts to provide military recruiters access to student career centers and to the same student contact information available to college or job recruiters. For a decade, the San Francisco Unified School District banned military recruiters from its high schools, a stand it was forced to abandon after Congress approved No Child Left Behind in 2001.

I'd love to hear readers' thoughts on the San Francisco ballot initiative, as well as on the place of NCLB in the ongoing debate about campus military recruitment.

Erin O'Connor, 3:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (16)

July 10, 2005 [feather]
Open thread: regrouping after tenure denial

Readers are invited to offer their thoughts to Douglas Bass, blogger and soon-to-be-former University of St. Thomas computer science professor, on the subject of life after tenure denial. Bass explains his circumstances on his own site, summarizing his career trajectory, recounting the reasons he was given for his denial, and describing the kind of position he would like to find now. He welcomes readers' advice, the more discipline-specific and institutionally astute, the better.

Comments, both broadly philosophical and minutely practical, are welcome.

Erin O'Connor, 7:08 AM | Permalink | Comments (43)

July 4, 2005 [feather]
More problems at Ohio

Ohio University's deeply flawed new sexual harassment policy arguably violates free speech and due process rights. But that's not the only lawsuit waiting to happen at OU--the school's Junior Executive Business Program for Minorities almost certainly violates the university's obligation to conduct itself in a non-discriminatory manner. "Geared towards high-achieving African-American, Hispanic and Native American high school juniors who are interested in exploring majors in business," the Program invites select rising seniors to spend a week on the campus during the summer--as long as they belong to select demographic groups. The program combines intensive recruitment with comprehensive guidance counseling about going to college; participants learn about Ohio's undergraduate business program from "world-class faculty members" while benefiting from "workshops on applying to college, securing financial aid, managing your time, and succeeding in business. The program will allow you to experience life in a residence hall, visit campus cultural centers and, most importantly, gain insight from current college student." And it's all free--all participants need to supply, besides the right ancestry, is their own transportation and spending money. The program site notes that while participation in the program does not guarantee admission to the University, it certainly helps.

The program is two years old--this summer's ran from June 18-25--and the University sees it as an important piece of its diversity initiatives. At a press conference, according to the Athens News, University president Roderick McDavis said "he was very happy to have the students on campus. He said the students would learn a lot during the week, and that he hopes it will encourage them to attend OU and help increase the number of minority students attending the university. McDavis has made it a goal to increase diversity at OU, and the number of minority students is increasing for the 2005-2006 school year, over the 2004-2005 school year." A number of participants interviewed by the Athens News said that their experience in the program was so good that they are now seriously considering attending Ohio University.

The Junior Executive Business Program was co-founded by Ohio University and Cardinal Health with the goal of helping "minority high school students in making informed decisions about their futures." It all sounds very noble on the surface--but you don't have to look very far below the surface to see that there are serious problems with a program at a public university that discriminates against everyone who is not African-American, Hispanic, or Native American. It's not just that the program is not an equal opportunity program, but that its own attempt to select for disadvantaged kids is poorly conceived. Not all minority kids are poor or disadvantaged; not all white or Asian kids are wealthy and privileged.

Numerous programs like Ohio's have come under fire in recent years. In the wake of the Michigan rulings and in the face of pressure from the Center for Equal Opportunity, Carnegie Mellon, Harvard, Yale, Caltech, Indiana University, and a host of other schools have revamped scholarships and programs that were previously reserved for minority students. Diversity remains the goal of those programs, but the definition of diversity they now employ is more comprehensive and more in line with the law. As a private business, Cardinal Health can run all the minority enhancement programs it wants to--but Ohio University is not so free, and its partnership with Cardinal Health is thus a problem.

Erin O'Connor, 9:58 PM | Permalink | Comments (8)

July 3, 2005 [feather]
What to look for

The Denver Public Schools system has a new superintendent--Michael Bennet, who comes to the job from the mayor's office, and who is new to the highly political terrain of public education. Bennet has promised to "build what can be and must be and will be the best big-city school district in the United States," and the school board has high hopes for him: The Denver Post quotes board president, Lester Woodward, as saying that "Michael is the candidate who we felt could lift us to a level that has not been achieved before;" board member Michelle Moss told the Post that Bennet "had the best chance at fixing systems and implementation and strategic planning to move the district forward."

That's heady stuff--but Bennet, who will request a pay package that pegs a substantial portion of his income to school performance, won't be able to do the miracle work he's been hired to do unless he makes smart decisions about his staff. Rocky Mountain News columnist Linda Seebach has gathered some important advice for him. Bennet's "first priority has to be choosing a chief academic officer, and if he gets that choice wrong, nothing else he does right will make any difference in the end," Seebach writes. "So I thought I might usefully solicit some advice on his behalf, and pass it along. Here are some of the highlights:

Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, says, "This field is awash in jargon, self-proclaimed experts, unwarranted claims, strong feelings and lots and lots of snake oil peddlers. Many non-educator superintendents have stumbled because they trusted the wrong folks to guide them."

Wayne Bishop, professor of mathematics at California State University at Los Angeles says that this is where nontraditional types get in trouble. Alan Bersin in San Diego is a nice example, he said, or Joel Klein, who as Mayor Michael Bloomberg's choice for chancellor of New York City Schools, hired Diana Lam.

Bersin, who left his position Thursday, wrote an article summarizing what he'd learned; educational pioneer Siegfried Engelmann explains how Bersin squandered his opportunity (read both at //educationation.org/blog/?p=98). As to Lam, Sol Stern in City Journal explains how she dumped a passably successful reading curriculum in favor of whole language (go to www.city-journal.org and search for lam stern).

Sandra Stotsky, former senior associate commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education, suggested that the basic qualification should be at least a master's degree in science or mathematics (and not in education). "The two critical subjects in K-12 now being dumbed down beyond belief are math and science, and the only kind of person who can understand what their content should be is someone well-versed in that content."

And as to math, Bastiaan Braams of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science at Emory University looked into Denver's math curriculum and found the district is using Everyday Mathematics in grade school, Connected Mathematics in middle school, and Cognitive Tutor and Interactive Mathematics Program in high school. "I regard IMP as the most degenerate of all mathematics programs; Connected Mathematics as awful, and Everyday Mathematics as bad. Do you know if these are still system-wide mandates?"

Why yes, apparently they are. Has math performance in Denver improved since they were adopted? Not so's you'd notice. These curriculums are all creatures of the so-called standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics; anyone who supports them, says Barry Garelick, deserves "a drop kick through the door."

Erich Martel of Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington, D.C., suggests asking candidates to describe "some of the fads and popular beliefs" associated with teaching reading and mathematics. Excellent advice. In the education wars, one person's fads are another's "best practices." You want to call things by their right names.

There's more, all worth reading. And the News plans to publish still more early this week.

Erin O'Connor, 6:17 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

July 1, 2005 [feather]
Freedom of association 101

It's become common for college and university administrators to deny formal recognition--and hence funding, meeting space, institutional web space, and so on--to faith-based student groups that seek to limit their memberships to those of like belief and that, as a consequence, exclude gays and lesbians. It's also become common to see such denials successfully opposed and overturned on First Amendment grounds. While the rationale for denying recognition to these groups is that they are discriminatory, the argument for recognizing them is that the First Amendment guarantees the right to associate freely with those of like mind and belief. FIRE has successfully defended numerous religious student groups who have been denied recognition for refusing to adopt "nondiscrimination" policies that would have forced them to compromise their beliefs--the Muslim Students Association at Louisiana State, the ReJOYce in Jesus Campus Fellowship at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, an interfaith coalition of Muslim and Christian students at Ohio State, and many more. But still administrators don't learn, and still they continue to disallow those religious student groups that don't conform to their institution's commitment not to discriminate on the basis of sexuality.

Southern Illinois University's law school is the scene of the latest episode in this seemingly endless tug of war between these (often unwitting) administrative activists and the First Amendment purists who work to temper them. SIU's chapter of the Christian Legal Society bars gays and lesbians from joining unless they renounce their sexuality. Last March, the dean of the law school received a complaint about that practice, and proceeded to inform the Christian Legal Society that it could no longer use the university's name, get free auditorium space, or post on certain billboards; while the dean stopped just short of banishing the group entirely--he said it would still be allowed on campus--he rescinded the privileges that other recognized campus groups enjoy, and thus effectively deprived the group of a meaningful and public campus existence. The Society filed suit against SIU in April; yesterday the Society's lawyer argued in court for a preliminary injunction restoring its status as a recognized student group. The judge seems to be sympathetic to the Society's case: "A rugby team can't discriminate against gay rugby players," he reportedly said. "What makes this case different is we're talking about religion." A ruling will be issued either today or next week.

Erin O'Connor, 1:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)