Sunday, November 29, 2015

Most Biased College Courses Receive Awards

By Professor Doom

     I believe in academic freedom, that I generally don’t have the right to tell another professor what should go on in his course. I also believe in academic scholarship, and I’ve witnessed so many violations of this latter concept that sometimes I wonder if maybe this “freedom” thing is being used irresponsibly.

     Not every field is quite as straightforward in mathematics, but I do wish departments existed like they used to, instead of, all too often nowadays, collections of similar-degree-holding faculty ruled over by an administrative hatchet-person (not all places are like this, but most of the places I’ve taught at are).

      As a department, faculty could influence each other’s courses. For example, if a statistics professor started teaching ways to make decisions that involved reading goat entrails and interpreting astrological star charts, the rest of the department could say “no, that’s just not how we want that course taught” and such silliness would stop (even as I acknowledge that such ancient methods were precursors to statistical analysis).

     Granted, in mathematics, there aren’t too many controversial subjects to discuss, but I know full well that if I tried to advance anything but the only acceptable point of view on campuses nowadays, I’d be chastised, if not removed.

Student: “This course is a waste of time!”

--many students complained of the courses of a very-favored by admin professor on campus, because all her students always got A’s. Students knowingly wasted their time, of course, because of the lure of the easy A. Admin had only praise for the professor, because her course sold so well…

     Nowadays, there are many courses on campus that are just plain silly. Administration wants such courses, because they sell well and keep students on campus, consuming “empty calories” of coursework that applies to nothing. Some courses, however, aren’t just silly, they’re biased, and the bias is so extreme that even the students know something just isn’t right, that the courses don’t really qualify as even remotely academic work.

      A website actually gives a cash award to the three “most” biased courses, as reported by students. Granted, all we have to go by are the student reports, and the course description, but these courses do seem to be a bit questionable:

      Third place goes to The Refusal of Work, a 3000-level (that’s third year!) course in the American Studies department at Cornell. This is a 4 credit hour course, which is pretty hefty by today’s standards, where even fairly advanced material is addressed in 3 credit hour courses. The course bills itself as a critical reflection on the “refusal to work,” looking at all the ways we as a people attempt to “remain human within modernity's regime of coerced labor.”
     At first glance, I was willing to accept that this was a strange, but legitimate course, but phrases and words like “coerced labor” and “regime” rather make me suspect something else is going on with the course. Then comes the line that puts fear in me:

We will also attempt to understand how this regime was installed, and its necessary entanglement with private property.

     I’m more than willing to consider that today’s system of “work from 18 to…” well, we were told until 65, but it for many of my friends the ol’ benefits seem to vanish as retirement nears, so let’s just say “…death,” then “pay 28% of your life in taxes, then another 75% in inflation, and anything left over goes to pay medical costs at the end.” There are some questions there well worth asking, like if that’s really a good system for everyone.

     But that’s not the “regime” being referenced here, especially with that “entanglement” with private property concept. I suspect there are some distinct socialist principles here being advocated; I trust, if I’m right, the professor at least has demonstrated he honestly believes in such principles by giving away everything he has to the government, including, of course, all his private property.

      Ok, maybe I’m just being cynical here, and perhaps there isn’t as much bias in the course as it appears from the description, but the next course is pretty blatant:

     Taking Marx Seriously is a 4000 level political science course at Amherst. Now, this level of course is incredibly specialized, I totally expect the material in this course to be every bit as arcane to me as the topics in my 4000 level math courses would appear to the gentle reader (eg, “Describe a 4 dimensional bottle” is a 4000 level mathematical concept that I understand most would consider ridiculous). While mathematics can be pretty bizarre, I do concede from the course description it appears there may be some bias here as opposed to simple pedantic minutiae:

“Has Marx’s credibility survived the global debacle of those regimes and movements which drew inspiration from his work, however poorly they understood it?”

     Ouch. Just, ouch. However (dementedly) brilliant Marx was, the sad fact remains that his ideas got tens of millions of human beings killed. One of the saddest parts of this sad fact is that apologists keep claiming that all these deaths aren’t really because of Marx, because the communist leaders weren’t following “true” communism. Bottom line, Marx’s ideas have been tried, and tried, and tried, again, and every time it ends in horrific death, mass horrific death, and incredible misery for the human beings that survive all the death. To say it’s not “true” to his ideas is irrelevant: attempts to follow those ideas have caused so much harm that we need to be extremely limited in following them in the future, if not abandoning them outright.

     What’s particularly frightening about this course is it will rely exclusively on Marx’s work, without using any other sources. Uh, hello? All those disasters occurred because people were ignorant of what would happen if they followed Marxists. Perhaps the course is trying to create more disaster? 

      My courses may be pretty arcane by “normal person” standards, but I’ve never heard of a mathematics course that deliberately throws out a bunch of information, particularly disagreeing information, and I trust anyone can understand that “scholarly investigation” and “ignore information, especially information that disagrees with you” aren’t interchangeable concepts.

     Except in this course, apparently.

     This previous should be tough to top, and I just don’t see how the winner is more biased, but here goes:

      First place goes to Stanford’s History of the Police in the United States: Slave Patrols, and (unless I’m wrong about Stanford’s numbering) is a graduate level course.. Amazingly enough, this is a 5 credit hour course; a thorough discussion of Newton’s ideas in calculus isn’t even 5 credit hours, to give some idea of how things may be a bit overblown here.

      Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty clear the primary reason for having a police force is to keep the lower classes in line (I politely ask any doubters to note what happens when there is rioting, and to carefully determine if the police’s efforts are focused on keeping the upper class, or the lower class, contained). But this isn’t particularly a slavery issue, since every country on the planet regularly uses police in this fashion, even countries that never had a US-type slave society.

     Unfortunately, the question of why governments inevitably find the need to employ armed people against their own citizens isn’t going to come up, as the course sure looks to be more racially themed:

“…The historical relationship between race and the administration of policing is a central question…”

     Much like with the previous course, it’s a grievous, non-scholarly, mistake to throw out information that the whole rest of the world can provide. Is this course more biased? I guess opinions can matter, and I do at least appreciate that this course will teach students how to properly consider “primary sources such as police memoirs, court records, police files,…”  So, even as I question the premise of the course, I acknowledge there are some useful things here.

      Bias is in the eye of the beholder, of course, but these last two courses especially, in a department that talks amongst themselves, should have had an academic or two raising his hand to ask “How can we have such a course when there are so many counter-examples destroying the premise of the course?” or “How can we call this academic study when bias will preclude the course considering opposing points of view?”

      The simple fact that courses like these are in such abundance on campuses that we can have competitions and award prizes among all the contenders does at least answer the question: “is there indoctrination on our campuses today?”

Thursday, November 26, 2015

$1,000,000 To Fix A Nonexistent Hate Crime

By Professor Doom
     A message of hope for today, Thanksgiving. The end of most regimes is marked by astonishing incompetence. Whether it’s the French royalty, the USSR, or take your pick of any banana republic, the revolt happens after it becomes clear that the people in power are truly incapable and unworthy of rule. I believe today’s story shows that, joyfully, the end must be near for higher education.

     I do my best not to pick on a particular college, I do what I can to show that the insanity that has gripped our campuses is not about the microagression loonyness of California, open plundering in New York and Illinois, or spectacular failure in Louisiana, and that’s not even addressing the endless horrid sex scandals.

     Somehow I’ve managed to miss Delaware in all this. Ok, it’s a small state, so perhaps a forgivable error on my part, but being small doesn’t exempt it from the madness. Key as always to the insanity is the oversized and out of control administrative caste, who can get away with just about anything. There are no checks on their power, so there’s nothing to stop the insanity referenced in the previous paragraph, and certainly nothing to stop the madness at University of Delaware:

University Of Delaware Launches $1 Million Diversity Initiative In Response To Hate Crime That Didn’t Happen

     Diversity is such a wonderful topic for an administrator to address. Nobody dares speak out against anything that might promote diversity, no matter how ridiculous. Speaking out against any diversity initiative, no matter how foolish and hypocritical, is only going to put a target on your head.

     So, what was the alleged hate crime? Campus police found nooses hanging from trees. That’s the crime, except they weren’t nooses. No, they were just some leftovers from a party:

Within a few hours, police had concluded the “hate crime” was anything but, as the nooses were really just the remains of paper lanterns from an event held last summer.

     That really should have been the end of it, but no. Despite the instructional video showing exactly how the lantern hangers can turn into “nooses,” people still advanced that there was a hate crime here, and that the police were covering it up. It doesn’t matter that the “nooses” were made of wire, it doesn’t matter that only one noose was actually noose-shaped. It doesn’t matter that nobody says it’s a hate crime, and it doesn’t matter that there hasn’t been a lynching in half a century or more. Because we have way too many administrators on campus looking for something to do, 
administration leaps into action to address the “hate crime.”

     And how to address this non-problem? By making another fiefdom, another inane department on campus filled with grotesquely overpaid administrators. I should emphasize: the million dollars being spent on this non-issue? It will be spent every year from now until the collapse of higher education (soon, one might surmise…).
     A Deanling gets to bloviate, and always, it’s good for a laugh:

“We have such a history of diversity issues,” Watson said. “We’ve come a long way, but diversity has always been a focus.”

     No, sorry, diversity was not “always” a focus of higher education. It’s a shame our “leaders” in higher education don’t understand that education has always been a focus of higher education, either education of students, through teaching, or education of the human race, through research. It’s not called “higher diversity,” after all. These guys are so clueless, they just don’t understand what higher education was about. Instead, our “leaders” just focus on the buzzword du jour, and don’t have enough background in education to think higher education was anything but the latest buzzword.

“It’s always been about diversifying the faculty, having more professors and students of color,” Watson said.

     Why, oh why, is it perfectly acceptable to say this? I’ve been on campuses that give “skin color bonuses” to hire “of color” faculty. Imagine if there was a campus that gave a cash bonus only to white people? I’d find that ridiculous, and I’m sure such a campus would be hit with devastating (and justified) lawsuits and negative news coverage.

     Even simply saying “we want more white professors” would be viewed as far too racist to be acceptable. But the dean can say essentially that the campus needs to get more professors “of color” and that’s fine. “White” (to be more fair, my skin, what isn’t covered in hair, is more pinkish-brown than white) is a color too, right?

     In addition to being totally racist, the Deanling totally sees this as a springboard for more looting:

With the new portion of the budget being set aside to support this new goal, Watson said he wishes to use this as a basis for the college’s next strategic plan to tackle the subject. In the coming years, he said he hopes to see change on the campus through the monetary allowance, though what that change will be he isn’t entirely certain.

--the Deanling’s title, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, is only 2.5 times as long as his name, under my “must get rid of” guideline…

     A million dollars a year for this foolishness. Please, I beg the gentle reader to understand: that money could have been used for scholarships, lots of scholarships, giving students a free higher education. Instead, it’ll be pissed away spent on improving diversity. More accurately, the money will be spent on another floor filled with overpaid administrators, instead of on education. I sure hope the people of Delaware understand this the next time there’s a tuition increase there.

     Diversity is just a wonderful campus fiefdom to be in. You’ll never be successful in having enough diversity, there will never come a day when your fiefdom will be shut down. Even if the campus population matches the population of the state down to a tenth of a percentage point (impossible, since every campus allows for foreign students), you can just move on to saying there’s not enough gender diversity. Even if you somehow match that up exactly (again, impossible, especially in fields where predominantly one gender tends to major), you can just move on to say there’s not enough homosexuals, transgenders, or whatever.

      So, this fiefdom always, always, fails. The price for the failure? More money. The fiefdom just says “hey, we don’t have enough diversity on this campus, we should do something about it” and *bam*, another million a year is committed, because, hey, nobody wants to look to be against diversity.

      Again, this sort of madness occurs across the country, every day…just imagine how much free education could be given if our higher education system were free from the useless administrative caste, and run with even a modicum of responsibility.

     As yet another institution of higher education now promises to spend a million dollars a year, forever, to “fix” a problem we all agree doesn’t exist, a question comes to mind. How much more incompetent can higher education get before it finally collapses under its own weight?


Monday, November 23, 2015

Failures of Public School Mirrored in Higher Ed


By Professor Doom

     Everyone knows that the public schools have been failing, and failing hard, for years. Yes, there are exceptional schools, but we need only look to the children of the rich, or of the politicians (often the same people) to see that people with any choice in the matter don’t send their kids to public schools.

     A recent resignation letter by a teacher in the public school system went viral. She details what’s happening to teaching in the public school system. While I’m in no position to argue with her, I do see some parallels to what’s going on in higher education.


--a special ed student, socially promoted through the public school system, ended at my community college. Although even the middle school material that is typical for community college was wildly beyond his capabilities, after 7 years (and special dispensation from admin desperate to have graduates), he finally managed to get his 2 year degree. One day, in strange circumstances, he got excited and punched me full in the face, with dozens of witnesses, including a sub-Poo Bah. I argued against disciplinary action—the poor kid had enough problems.

      The teacher in question has a graduate degree in “special needs” children, as strange a label as there is. Each child is an individual, and thus each child has special needs, in my opinion. I reckon the teacher would be inclined to agree with my point of view to some extent:

My master’s degree work focused on behavior disorders, so I can say with confidence that it is not the children who are disordered. The disorder is in the system which requires them to attempt curriculum and demonstrate behaviors far beyond what is appropriate for their age. The disorder is in the system which bars teachers from differentiating instruction meaningfully, which threatens disciplinary action if they decide their students need a five minute break from a difficult concept, or to extend a lesson which is exceptionally engaging. The disorder is in a system which has decided that students and teachers must be regimented to the minute and punished if they deviate. The disorder is in the system which values the scores on wildly inappropriate assessments more than teaching students in a meaningful and research based manner.

     The intense regimentation of the public schools has its echo in the “computer courses” that are becoming ever more popular in higher education. Students all read the same pages at the same time, take the same tests (all multiple choice, thanks to the huge class sizes of higher education), and submit the same answers (again, a multiple choice test, which also leads to even “A” students being nearly incapable of writing anything). Even if it’s not all done on the computer, “Scantron Test and PowerPoint” lectures are fairly common, where anyone capable of reading can impersonate a professor, because all the professor does is read the Powerpoint, and grading is automatic. The most popular type of course on campus is the type where the students do absolutely nothing, but the previous types are common enough.

Admin:  “We’ve gathered the data, and we can show that our numbers are a bit higher than before, so we’ve shown improvement.”

Me: “What’s the level of significance?”

Admin: “Huh?”

Me: “The p-value, some indication that the difference between our numbers and whatever standard you are using is meaningful, and not just chance variation.”

Admin: “I have no idea what you’re talking about, and we don’t need to show that to the accreditors.”

Me: “Because they also have absolutely no training in statistics, research, or anything related to legitimate research?”

--I didn’t say that last line, but it was amazing how often I’d deal with an administrator with a Ph.D., a research degree, that not only didn’t know anything about research, but also didn’t believe anyone needed to know anything about research in order to produce useful research.

      What the teacher here has missed is that the reason for the popularity of these strictly regimented courses is the same whether it’s public school or higher education. By converting courses into “one size fits all,” the need for experts, people that actually know the subject, becomes irrelevant. Administrators and their analogous bureaucrats in public education can make the classes infinitely large, because the teacher serves no purpose, to the point that more teachers can be removed. This frees up more money for administrative pay.

The disorder is in the system which values the scores on wildly inappropriate assessments more than teaching students in a meaningful and research based manner.

      I’ve mentioned before that Common Core ignores science and will do great harm to small children as they’re asked to do things beyond their capabilities. There’s a reason why we teach little kids about using songs to learn the alphabet, about using fingers for counting…Common Core abandons the wisdom of thousands of years of teaching small children, abandons the knowledge of modern (real) science, and trades it all in for a very cheap “one size fits all” system determined by (childless?) bureaucrats that will work for almost nobody. The teacher explains:

Developmentally appropriate practice is the bedrock upon which early childhood education best practices are based, and has decades of empirical support behind it. However, the new reforms not only disregard this research, they are actively forcing teachers to engage in practices which are not only ineffective but actively harmful to child development and the learning process.

     The system of being forced to hurt people is a little different in higher education:

Admin: “You need use more group projects with your students.”

Me: “Study after study shows group work hurts education, that the more time spent in group work, the less the student learns on his own. Please don’t force this.”

Admin: “I’m not forcing you, but I’ll deduct from your evaluation for unwillingness to use group work.”

--Group work isn’t “forced,” but faculty that refuse to hurt their students are punished, as faculty with higher evaluations are the ones that get bonuses and can move up the ladder.

     The misery being inflicted on our small children may not last as long as the misery of the student loan scam, which puts our young people into a lifetime of debt…but it’s misery all the same, as the teacher details:

They cry with frustration as they are asked to attempt tasks well out of their zone of proximal development. They cry as their hands shake trying to use an antiquated computer mouse on a ten year old desktop computer which they have little experience with, as the computer lab is always closed for testing. Their shoulders slump with defeat as they are put in front of poorly written tests that they cannot read, but must attempt. Their eyes fill with tears as they hunt for letters they have only recently learned so that they can type in responses with little hands which are too small to span the keyboard.

      Bureaucrats in public schools don’t care about crying children, any more than higher education administration cares about hurting young adults. The latter is all about the money, and I reckon public schools are much the same.

On June 8, 2015 my life changed when I gave birth to my daughter. I remember cradling her in the hospital bed on our first night together and thinking, “In five years you will be in kindergarten and will go to school with me.” That thought should have brought me joy, but instead it brought dread. I will not subject my child to this disordered system, and I can no longer in good conscience be a part of it myself.

    This is the big flag for her, and there was a comparable flag for me, as I noticed that none of my colleagues at the community college would send their kids to the community college…some even showed disgust at the thought.

     It’s all too common for workers at our fast food places to refuse to put the food “made” there in their mouths; seeing as these workers have no control over the quality of the fast food, and know full well how foul most of it is, this is quite understandable. Our educational systems are run the same way, with educators in no control of education. How is it a wonder that what we call “education” is so disgusting now that the workers in them are completely unwilling to put their kids in the system?