What’s going on in New Zealand? Three easy pieces

January 9, 2022 • 10:45 am

I haven’t reported lately on what’s happening with science in New Zealand, so here’s a brief update. I have are three items.

As you may recall, there’s been a big fracas about the way to teach science in New Zealand, with the indigenous Māori  and their supporters arguing that mātauranga Māori, or Maori “ways of knowing” (a stew of knowledge gleaned from trial and error, mythology, philosophy, and legend, as well as creationism) should not only be taught in science classes, but taught as coequal with modern science. (See all my posts here.) This, argue the former, is required by treaty obligations (it isn’t). Seven University of Auckland professors signed a letter in the magazine The Listener arguing that mātauranga Māori isn’t the same as modern science, and while deserving to be taught in anthropology or sociology classes, it would be a disaster as taught as a “way of knowing” identical in content and validity to modern science.

Of the seven professors who signed The Letter, one has since died, but two (Robert Nola and Garth Cooper) were elected to New Zealand’s Royal Society, a huge honor.  And those two were—and still are—subject to an investigation by the RSNZ—for exercising their freedom of speech! Both the RSNZ and University of Auckland also issued statements criticizing the group I call “The Satanic Seven.” It was at this point that I realized that although New Zealand is a great country with lovely and progressive people, it is also a very Woke country, with the Māori regarded as almost an inerrant group of people whose “ways of knowing” produce truth simply because they come from the Māori.  And there doesn’t seem to be a surfeit of freedom of speech.

Outside of NZ, people are uniformly appalled by the disapprobation raining down on these two, as well as the other five. But within the country, people are pretty split between the science-friendly and the Woke.

A lot of the disapprobation from Kiwis was inspired by a petition started by two U. Auckland professors, Siouxie Wiles and Sean Hendy, both experts in Covid with high national profiles. You can see part of the petition they started, that garnered 2,000 signatures, here.) A bit of the petition (I’ve put a few logical errors or insteances of distorted reasoning in bold):

A letter signed by seven University of Auckland Professors/Professors Emeritus, published in the New Zealand Listener (July 23), claims to be “in defence of science” against what is described as an effort to “encourage mistrust of science”.

We, the signatories to this response, categorically disagree with their views. Indigenous knowledges – in this case, Mātauranga – are not lesser to other knowledge systems. Indeed, indigenous ways of knowing, including Mātauranga, have always included methodologies that overlap with “Western” understandings of the scientific method.

However, Mātauranga is far more than just equivalent to or equal to “Western” science. It offers ways of viewing the world that are unique and complementary to other knowledge systems.

The seven Professors describe efforts to reevaluate and revise the significance of Mātauranga in NCEA, including the acknowledgement of the role “western” science has played in rationalising colonisation as contributing to “disturbing misunderstandings of science emerging at all levels of education and in science funding.”

The Professors claim that “science itself does not colonise”, ignoring the fact that colonisation, racism, misogyny, and eugenics have each been championed by scientists wielding a self-declared monopoly on universal knowledge.

And while the Professors describe science as “universal”, they fail to acknowledge that science has long excluded indigenous peoples from participation, preferring them as subjects for study and exploitation. Diminishing the role of indigenous knowledge systems is simply another tool for exclusion and exploitation.

The Professors present a series of global crises that we must “battle” with science, again failing to acknowledge the ways in which science has contributed to the creation of these challenges. Putting science on a pedestal gets us no further in the solution of these crises.

Finally, they believe that “mistrust of science” is increased by this kind of critique. In contrast, we believe that mistrust in science stems from science’s ongoing role in perpetuating ‘scientific’ racism, justifying colonisation, and continuing support of systems that create injustice. There can be no trust in science without robust self-reflection by the science community and an active commitment to change.

Because of this petition, the Satanic Seven were further demonized, including having their jobs threatened, receiving harassing emails, and so on. In no case that I know of did the University of Auckland support them. Indeed, it helped criticize them.

Item #1:  It’s therefore Ironic that the main authors of that petition, Siouxsie Wiles and Sean Hendy, are now beefing that they, too, have been the subject of harassment for different reasons, and aren’t getting support from the University of Auckland. It’s laid out in this Guardian piece (click on screenshot):

An excerpt:

Two of New Zealand’s most prominent Covid experts are taking legal action against their employer, the University of Auckland, over what they say is its failure to respond adequately to “harassment from a small but venomous sector of the public” that is becoming “more extreme”.

Siouxsie Wiles, an associate professor of medical science, and Shaun Hendy, a professor of physics, have filed separate complaints to the Employment Relations Authority, which last week ruled that they should proceed directly to the Employment Court due to the “high public interest” in their Covid commentary.

According to the ruling, the scientists say that as a result of their work they have “suffered vitriolic, unpleasant, and deeply personalised threats and harassment” via email, social media and video sharing platforms which has had a “detrimental impact” on their physical safety as well as their mental health.

The determination also noted that Wiles had also been the victim of doxxing – in which personal information is published about a person online – while Hendy has been physically confronted at his university office by a person who threatened to “see him soon”.

Now I don’t countenance either threats or doxxing, which are reprehensible behaviors. But I find it ironic that both Wiles and Hendy are beefing about the very behaviors that their own petition instigated against the Satanic Seven—a foreseeable consequence of their actions (they are of course exercising free speech).  And as for threats, well, having one’s employment threatened would scare me more than simple threats by someone to “see me soon.” I have to add that none of the Satanic Seven have complained of victimhood (I’ve heard about the threats from them privately), nor sued the University of Auckland.  The whole mess is just ironic. The fact is, though, that none of these nine people did anything to deserve public disapprobation, but only two of them instigated a climate of hatred that affected the others.

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Item #2. If you want to see how far down the rabbit hole the promoters of mātauranga Māori have gone, here’s an article from a popular magazine, Spinoff, an article that happened to be financed (how does a magazine article get “financed”?) by the University of Otago, one of the big promoters of mātauranga Māori and Māori studies in New Zealand. Click on the screenshot to read (along with the disclaimers):

(The funding, in very small print):

This is propaganda, not journalism:

This piece shares with other defenses of mātauranga Māori two features: a.) a lack of examples of scientific knowledge acquired using Māori “ways of knowing,” and b.) a plethora of mātauranga Māori words so frequent that they make the article almost unreadable to those who don’t speak the language. To me it seems a way of showing off, as if one were describing a kerfuffle about science in France by heavily larding it with French words. I’ll give examples.

First, below is the one bit of knowledge that mātauranga Māori is said to have conferred. This is in an English-language magazine, so good luck following it:

The arrival of a Pākehā scientist at Te Rau Aroha marae in Motupōhue asking questions about mātauranga Māori and kaitiakitanga wasn’t received with aroha by all. Moller said he was viewed as the face of a Pākehā institution which many whānau were sceptical about dealing with.

When the scientists wanted to place radio trackers on the manu, mana whenua firmly opposed it as their tikanga of kaitiakitanga is to not disturb the adult tītī. The scientists later tested the trackers on mainland manu and found they disrupted their attendance behaviour at the colony. Moller says it was a good example of how mātauranga Māori can improve science.

The upshot: indigenous people said putting a GPS tracker on a manu (a “muttonbird”, a type of petrel), would disturb the colony or the birds. They were right. This doesn’t, however, say that there isn’t another way of tracking these birds.

And that’s about it. Yes, you could teach this in a class as coequal with animal behavior, but it would take just two minutes. And this is the kind of example touted as the “science” of mātauranga Māori . But remember, that “way of knowing” also includes creation myths as scientific “truth”.

The paucity of what mātauranga Māori (“MM”) has to add to classes in modern science is repeatedly seen in articles that defend MM. Yes, some examples are useful in spicing up the curriculum and making it seem more local, but it’s not a replacement for modern science.

And a few bits of incomprehensible dual linguistics:

The University of Otago associate professor specialising in genetics is the most senior Māori academic of the handful working in his field.

For the last 20 years, Wilcox has been designing and creating tikanga-based research frameworks. He was part of the team that created Te Mata Ira: Guidelines for Genomic Research with Māori, which lays out how whakapapa, kawatikangamanatika and manaakitanga guide how DNA research is conducted with iwi and hapū.

Oops, here’s some more dissing—this time a backhanded slap at modern genetics:

Among the papers he teaches at the university is one about Māori concepts of hereditary inheritance – whakapapa and pepeha.

Whereas in Western science genetics is specialised, “pushed off the side” to breeding programmes or for “recreational” purposes like ancestry.com, Wilcox says whakapapa is a central tenet of te ao Māori culture.

Pushed off to the side for breeding programs and “recreational” pursuits like 23AndMe??? Does Professor Wilcox not know the span of modern genetics, now deeply invested in reconstructing human migration and ancestry from DNA sequences and “ancient DNA”, working on cures for dieases using CRISPR, or unravelling how genes create phenotypes (“evo devo”)? I’m sure whakapapa is investigating these matters as well as epigenetics and the role of micro-RNAs in gene expression. But wait, there’s more! (My bold.)

However, there are similarities between the two cultural approaches. Pepeha is split between hereditary locators (waka, iwi, hapū) and environment locators (marae, maunga, awa). Wilcox says this is exactly the same as the first equation in quantitative genetics: my phenotype is the sum of my genetics as well as the environment that I live in.

“So pepeha in some respects is the conceptual equivalent of quantitative genetics, it’s just a different way of looking at it,” says Wilcox.

Yeah, right? Does pepeha encompass Fisher’s fundamental theorem of genetics, or the breeder’s equation? I’m guessing “no.” And phenotype is not the “sum of genetics and environment,” because, as all real quantiative or evolutionary geneticists know, there is interaction between genes and environment. It’s not just phenotype = effects of genes + effects of environments. I’d love to give Professor Wilcox a quick quiz on modern molecular and quantitative genetics. May his whakapapa help him!

A bit more of linguistic preening and virtue signaling, and we’ll pass on.

To protect the whakapapa of his iwi and hapū research participants, which have included his own whānau of Rongomaiwāhine and Ngāti Kahungunu ki Wairoa – “you don’t want to get on the wrong side of them” – he writes up cultural agreements which ensure the data collected belongs to the iwi and hapū, not to the researcher or their employers such as crown research institutes and universities.

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Item #3.  Here’s a sensible defense of how to lessen educational inequities in New Zealand, and one that doesn’t involve introducing MM into science class. As I’ve discussed before, New Zealand’s status in educational achievement of students in STEM, compared to students in similar countries, is abysmal. This article agrees, but so do all sentient Kiwis. How to fix it?

Click on the screenshot, from the NZ magazine Stuff. There’s also a video. The author, Gaven Martin, is a Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at Massey University (not one of the Satanic Seven), and he’s going to get into trouble for writing this.

Quotes:

There has been considerable debate around the intersection of NCEA, mātauranga Māori, and science. But it is the wrong debate.

I would like to offer a different perspective, informed by the review of mathematics education I chaired for the Royal Society of New Zealand and Ministry of Education recently.

Like many of the significant shifts we have seen in education and NCEA over the last few decades, the current debate is underpinned by slogans and little if any evidence.

First, there should be no doubt that our national teaching of science, technology and mathematics (henceforth just “science”) delivers cruel results.

In 2018-19 our 13-year-olds scored their worst-ever results in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) (60 countries); and 15-year-olds had their worst-ever Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results in reading, mathematics and science (about 90 countries).

. . .We have been in both relative and absolute decline for more than 20 years. The economic costs to the nation and the impact on individuals of this are truly appalling. Read An empirical portrait of New Zealand adults living with low literacy and numeracy skills, by an AUT study group, and then weep – I did.

. . . But surely the worst thing about our current education system is the way it exacerbates – indeed grows – inequity. The relative performance of Māori and Pasifika peoples in science education is a dark stain on our nation, and we simply must address it.

The current slogan for the NCEA changes appears to be, “Many Māori are disengaged from science because they don’t see their culture reflected in it”.

There is no evidence that such a claim has any bearing on education success rates. The issue is not about groups or individuals seeing themselves in the curriculum. It’s about the way our children are taught​, and the knowledge and skills teachers bring into the classroom.

Martin goes on to indict several aspects of NZ education that disadvantage Māori students in particular, but you can read the article. The important part for our purposes is that he doesn’t see teaching MM as “science” as one of the remedies:

It is ridiculous to assume that students who are from lower socio-economic backgrounds, or who are Māori and Pasifika, are not as smart, or able; it is about opportunity to learn. Our system and its prejudices denies the opportunities to those who might most benefit.

Another slogan: “Elevating the status of mātauranga Māori is not about undermining science. It is about incorporating genuinely useful indigenous knowledge, such as approaches to environmental guardianship, that complements science.”

My view is that that is a very generous interpretation of what the NCEA changes actually offer. But more importantly, such tinkering with some NCEA standards is not going to deal with the real problems. [JAC: NCEA are National Certificates of Educational Achievement, the equivalent of secondary-school diplomas that come with three ratings.]

Because ultimately, this debate reflects a cynical ploy by the Ministry of Education, pretending to address the seriously inequitable outcomes of our system. The real issues are very hard and there is no quick fix.

. . . For the last two decades there has been no political will to fix this mess. Maybe our political classes agree with the Productivity Commission, that we should import those with the skills our economy needs (predominantly in science), and our children can look after the tourists.

I don’t think he means mātauranga Māori as “the science skills our economy needs.”

Matt Taibbi worries that the Dems are shooting themselves in the foot again

December 31, 2021 • 1:00 pm

In Matt Taibbi’s latest piece on Substack (click below for free access, but subscribe if you read often), he’s worried that the Democrats aren’t really parsing what happened when a Republican, Glenn Youngkin, defeated Democratic incumbent Terry McAuliffe in the recent race. A lot of it was about schooling, and about McAuliffe’s comment that “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what to teach,” which apparently drove a lot of voters towards Youngkin.  Taibbi sees this gaffe as on par with Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment during her run against Trump, and thinks that Democrats are dismissing McAuliffe’s statement as one that simply appeals to racists.

Taibbi, on the other hand, thinks there’s more to it than that, and Dems should be thinking hard about education. 23 Democrats are planning not to run for re-election in Congress next year, and that’s a big worry.

Click the screenshot to read (if you’re paywalled, try a judicious inquiry):

Once again this falls in the category of words and actions that make Democrats look like elitists in the eyes of Middle America, and there’s something to that. The dismissal of parents’ concerns is exemplified, says Taibbi, by recent words of Nikole Hannah-Jones, head of the NYT’s 1619 Project:

On the full Meet the Press Sunday, Todd in an ostensibly unrelated segment interviewed 1619 Project author and New York Times writer Nikole Hannah-Jones about Republican efforts in some states to ban teaching of her work. He detoured to ask about the Virginia governor’s race, which seemingly was decided on the question, “How influential should parents be about curriculum?” Given that Democrats lost Virginia after candidate Terry McAuliffe said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what to teach,” Todd asked her, “How do we do this?”

Hannah-Jones’s first answer was to chide Todd for not remembering that Virginia was lost not because of whatever unimportant thing he’d just said, but because of a “right-wing propaganda campaign that told white parents to fight against their children being indoctrinated.” This was standard pundit fare that for the millionth time showed a national media figure ignoring, say, the objections of Asian immigrant parents to Virginia policies, but whatever: her next response was more notable. “I don’t really understand this idea that parents should decide what’s being taught,” Hannah-Jones said. “I’m not a professional educator. I don’t have a degree in social studies or science.”

Even odder were her next comments, regarding McAuliffe’s infamous line about parents. About this, Hannah-Jones said:

We send our kids to school because we want our kids to be taught by people with expertise in the subject area… When the governor, or the candidate, said he didn’t think parents should be deciding what’s being taught in school, he was panned for that, but that’s just a fact.

In the wake of McAuliffe’s loss, the “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what to teach” line was universally tabbed a “gaffe” by media. I described it in the recent “Loudoun County: A Culture War in Four Acts” series in TK as the political equivalent of using a toe to shoot your face off with a shotgun, but this was actually behind the news cycle. Yahoo! said the “gaffe precipitated the Democrat’s slide in the polls,” while the Daily Beast’s blunter headline was, “Terry McAuliffe’s White-Guy Confidence Just Fucked the Dems.”

If Hannah-Jones abjures expertise in educaiton, why is she trying hard to foist the message of the 1619 Project on American secondary schools? She’s being disingenuous.

What’s happened, says Taibbi is that Dems are fobbing off McAuliffe’s loss as on racist parents who don’t want their kids to learn about Critical Race Theory, and those Democrats who still adhere to mantra “defer to the experts” that they use, usually justifiably, for science. But it didn’t work for economics or foreign policy, and, says Taibbi, is certainly doomed to fail when it comes to education:

But parenting? For good reason, there’s no parent anywhere who believes that any “expert” knows what’s better for their kids than they do. Parents of course will rush to seek out a medical expert when a child is sick, or has a learning disability, or is depressed, or mired in a hundred other dilemmas. Even through these inevitable terrifying crises of child rearing, however, all parents are alike in being animated by the absolute certainty — and they’re virtually always right in this — that no one loves their children more than they do, or worries about them more, or agonizes even a fraction as much over how best to shepherd them to adulthood happy and in one piece.

Implying the opposite is a political error of almost mathematically inexpressible enormity. This is being done as part of a poisonous rhetorical two-step. First, Democrats across the country have instituted radical policy changes, mainly in an effort to address socioeconomic and racial disparities. These included eliminating standardized testing to the University of California system, doing away with gifted programs (and rejecting the concept of gifted children in general), replacing courses like calculus with data science or statistics to make advancement easier, and pushing a series of near-parodical ideas with the aid of hundreds of millions of dollars from groups like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that include things like denouncing emphasis on “getting the right answer” or “independent practice over teamwork” as white supremacy.

When criticism ensued, pundits first denied as myth all rumors of radical change, then denounced complaining parents as belligerent racists unfit to decide what should be taught to their children, all while reaffirming the justice of leaving such matters to the education “experts” who’d spent the last decade-plus doing things like legislating grades out of existence. This “parents should leave ruining education to us” approach cost McAuliffe Virginia, because it dovetailed with what parents had long been seeing and hearing on the ground.

So, he says, it’s not merely resistance to teaching Critical Race Theory in schools. All of us hear constantly about the trend to lower school standards in the name of equity, and if you care about your kids’ education, that rankles, especially if you want your kid to excel.   I’ll give just one more quote:

The complaints of most Loudoun parents I spoke with about curriculum were usually double-edged. The first thing that drove many crazy was the recognition that whatever their kids were learning in school, it was less and less the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Kids were coming home showing weird deficiencies in obvious areas of need, forcing parents, and especially working mothers, to devote long evening hours to catching their kids up on things like spelling and multiplication tables. “I grew up laughing at the idea of homeschooling. I thought that was an idea for religious kooks,” one mother told me. “But after a while, I caught myself thinking, ‘I’m doing all the teaching anyway, why not just cut out the middleman?’”

Parents talked incessantly about the lowering of standards in Loudoun, whether it was the dropping of midterms and finals in 2015, or the school’s new “Retake Policy,” which not only set an arbitrary floor of 50% on all “summative assessments” (the word “test” has been mostly out of use for at least a decade there, apparently because it puts too much pressure on students), but automatically allowed students to retake tests if they scored below 80%. The rule also required teachers to accept a humorous euphemism called “late-work.”

School bureaucrats are motivated in almost every case to not only avoid giving bad grades, but to pre-empt efforts to track children as ahead or behind by slotting them in certain classes. In a phenomenon replicated in other parts of the country, kids in Loudoun take the same math classes all the way through their junior years in high school, when they’re finally allowed to take advanced courses. As a result, students who are ready for calculus sit in the same classrooms as students still struggling with pre-algebra, putting teachers in a nearly impossible bind — how do you design “summatives” for kids on such different levels? — and all but guaranteeing that the bulk of kids don’t learn much, or near enough.

Some version of this dysfunction story is going on in districts all over the country. If you drill down into reasons, they usually come down to local bureaucrats discovering that lowering standards and eliminating measurable forms of achievement works as a short-term political solution on a variety of fronts, from equity politics to dealing with parent groups, teachers’ unions, and public and private funding sources.

Those who lower standards never admit what their real reasons are, but you’d have to be without neurons not to know the real reason.

I think all of us who mourn the lowering of standards will understand that: it’s not just about CRT, but about all the changes being made for one reason only, to ensure “equity” in achievement and representation.  Middle America, apparently, isn’t as woke as Upper (Middle) Class America, and they want their children challenged to achieve. Eliminating SATs, homework, tracking, and so on, will, assets Taibbi, help “Bring back Trump”, for it tells worried parents that the message of the Democrats is “we know how to raise your kids better than you.”

I am no pundit, but at least this makes sense. And I’m sure James Carville would agree.

More than half of Americans oppose the use of Arabic numerals!

December 29, 2021 • 1:30 pm

Just a bit of fun, but the headline below is true. The survey on which it’s based is reported in this article in from the Independent, which you can see by clicking on the screenshot:(you can register for free with email and a password if it’s blocked; there’s no paywall)

So, here are some results given in the article:

More than half of Americans believe “Arabic numerals” – the standard symbols used across much of the world to denote numbers – should not be taught in school, according to a survey.

Fifty-six per cent of people say the numerals should not be part of the curriculum for US pupils, according to research designed to explore the bias and prejudice of poll respondents.

The digits 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 are referred to as Arabic numerals. The system was first developed by Indian mathematicians before spreading through the Arab world to Europe and becoming popularised around the globe.

A survey by Civic Science, an American market research company, asked 3,624 respondents: “Should schools in America teach Arabic numerals as part of their curriculum?” The poll did not explain what the term “Arabic numerals” meant.

Some 2,020 people answered “no”. Twenty-nine per cent of respondents said the numerals should be taught in US schools, and 15 per cent had no opinion.

John Dick, who happens to be the head of Civic Science, issued this tweet with the data in graphic form, which I’ve put below as well:

Now Dick thinks this is an example of bigotry—”Islamophobia,” I suppose. I’m not so sure. Although I am sure that many of us know that Arabic numerals are the numerals we use every day, some people don’t, and, this being America, it’s possible that nobody has told children that they are learning “Arabic numerals.” The 56% figure could thus represent ignorance rather than bigotry, although both could play a role.  But Dick seems wedded to the latter explanation. Regardless, if it is ignorance, it’s pretty appalling. After all, everyone knows what Roman numerals are!

But wait! There’s more. There was so much doubt about this survey’s results that Snopes had to investigate it.

In its headline Snopes says “It’s difficult to answer survey questions if you don’t fully understand the meaning.” I’m pretty sure, from following them, that Snopes is woke,but their assumption that there’s no anti-Arabic bigotry involved is just a guess.

You can read their analysis, in which they reluctantly admit that the claim is true, by clicking on the screenshot below.

But wait! There’s still more! You get this special grapefruit-cutting knife if you read on—for free!

Snopes:

Those were the results of a real survey question posed by the polling company Civic Science. John Dick, the Twitter user who originally posted a screenshot of the survey question, is the CEO of Civic Science.

The full survey doesn’t appear to be available at this time (we reached out to Civic Science for more information), but Dick has posted a few other questions from the poll, as well as some information regarding the purpose of the survey.

Dick, who said that the “goal in this experiment was to tease out prejudice among those who didn’t understand the question,” shared another survey question about what should or shouldn’t be taught in American schools. This time, the survey found that 53% of respondents (and 73% of Democrats) thought that schools in America shouldn’t teach the “creation theory of Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre” as part of their science curriculum. Here are the results:

33% of Republicans, a whopping 73% of Democrats, and 52% of independents thought that Lemaître’s theory should NOT be taught.

Now this question is more unfair, because, really, how many Americans know what the “creation theory of Georges Lemaître” was? If you read about science and religion, or have followed this site for a while, you’ll know that, although he was a Catholic priest, Lemaître held pretty much the modern theory of the Big Bang and the expanding Universe. As Wikipedia notes:

Lemaître was the first to theorize that the recession of nearby galaxies can be explained by an expanding universe, which was observationally confirmed soon afterwards by Edwin Hubble. He first derived “Hubble’s law”, now called the Hubble–Lemaître law by the IAU, and published the first estimation of the Hubble constant in 1927, two years before Hubble’s article. Lemaître also proposed the “Big Bang theory” of the origin of the universe, calling it the “hypothesis of the primeval atom”, and later calling it “the beginning of the world”.

Yes, and Lemaitre did other science, including analyzing cosmology using Einstein’s theories of relativity. He was a smart dude, and should have gone into physics instead of the priesthood. There’s a photo of him with Einstein below.

Why did so many people answer that Lemaître’s theory, which is, as I said, is pretty much the current theory of the Universe’s origin, NOT be taught? Surely it’s because the question identified Lemaître as a “Catholic priest”. That means that people probably thought his “theory” was the one expounded in Genesis chapters 1 and 2—God’s creation. So they didn’t want a religious theory taught in school.

Two points: most Republicans didn’t mind as much as Democrats of Independents, and that may be because more Republicans are creationists than are Democrats. But why did so many Democrats not want Lemaître’s theory taught? Are they that much less creationist than are Republicans? Perhaps that’s one answer. Another is that they are more anti-Catholic, but that seems less likely. But underlying these data—as perhaps underlying much of the data about Arabic numerals—is simple ignorance. I, for one, wouldn’t expect the average Joe or Jill (oops!) to know what Lemaître said.

One final remark: Accommodationists sometimes use the fact that Lemaître got it right as evidence that there’s no conflict between science and religion. I’m not sure if Lemaître thought God created the Universe, but if he did, he might have thought that the Big Bang was God’s way of doing it. (He was surely NOT a Biblical literalist). So yes, religious people can and have made big contributions to science. But that doesn’t mean that religion and science are compatible—any more than Francis Collins’s biological work shows that science and Evangelical Christianity are compatible. I’ve explained what I mean by “compatible” before, and it’s NOT that religious people can’t do science.

In the case of Lemaître, Francis Collins, or other religious scientists, they are victims of a form of unconscious cognitive dissonance: accepting some truth statements based on the toolkit of science, and other truth statements based on the inferior “way of knowing” of faith. And that is the true incompatibility: the different ways that we determine scientific truth as opposed to religious “truth.”

But I digress, and so shall stop.

George Lemaître (1894-1966), photo taken in 1930:

From Wikipedia:

(From Wikipedia): Millikan, Lemaître and Einstein after Lemaître’s lecture at the California Institute of Technology in January 1933.

h/t: Phil D.

Performance of New Zealand students in math, science, and reading falls dramatically in last two decades

December 27, 2021 • 11:00 am

Why should we care about the performance of New Zealand’s primary- and secondary-school students, and what’s happening with it over time? For me, it’s the science that’s important, but science, reading, and math show the same trend over the last fifteen years. Despite a rise in spending per pupil over the last 25 years, performance in these three areas in New Zealand has declined, both absolutely and in comparison to the countries like England, Australia, the U.S., Canada, and Singapore—countries regarded as educational competitors with (and comparable to) New Zealand.

Why does this matter? For science, at least, as I’ve written repeatedly, there’s a big-time initiative in New Zealand to have mātauranga Māori, or Māori “ways of knowing”, taught as coequal to modern science in the science classroom. This initiative, propelled by the desire to buttress an oppressed minority (the native Māori), has good intentions behind it—to get more Māori interested in science—but is a practical disaster. That’s because mātauranga Māori is not only “traditional practical knowledge” (e.g., navigation, growing crops, catching fish), which can be considered “science construed broadly” (but do you need to teach this in science class?) but, worse, a mixture of legends, myths, morality, and philosophy, some of which is palpably false. Much of it is simply not science as the modern world knows it.

Mātauranga Māori involves, for instance, straight-up creationism of life and the cosmos. You can imagine if students are taught that falsehood alongside biological evolution in class. The teacher, of course, wouldn’t be allowed to say that the mātauranga Māori version is false, for that is disparaging the indigenous people.

What will happen if mātauranga Māori is taught as coequal to and as good as modern science is that both Māori and non-Māori students will get confused about science, and performance on international tests will decline. In fact, it’s been declining for some tme, so now is not the time to drag any traditional “ways of knowing” into the science class.

Now mātauranga Māori should be taught in some venue, but the science classroom is not the place—especially if it gets equal time with modern science. No, it should be taught in sociology, anthropology, and history class, and it should be taught for the same reason that we teach (or at least should teach) about the history of Native Americans in North American schools. It’s part of the country’s heritage and history.

Here I’ll document briefly the absolute and relative decline of student performance in reading, math, and science since the mid-1990s in New Zealand (henceforth NZ). The article below, which I’ve been referred to repeatedly when inquiring, has the data for these three areas; it’s from the New Zealand Initiative, which characterizes itself as “New Zealand’s leading think tank”:

This is what The New Zealand Initiative is all about. We are the organisation to sketch pathways towards a better future. Our mission is to help create a competitive, open and dynamic economy and a free, prosperous, fair, and cohesive society.

As New Zealand’s leading think tank, we work closely with our members, policymakers across the political spectrum, the wider business community, the media, academics and the general public.

Our researchers conduct independent research on a wide range of policy issues. From education to economic policy, from poverty to housing, and from local government to immigration, we are injecting new ideas into New Zealand’s political debates.

We are strictly non-partisan in our work and welcome an open exchange of views and ideas. The results of our research are made available to the public, free of charge, on our website.

Click on the screenshot to read the article, and you can also download a pdf.  Both of the authors work for the Initiative.

I’ll just show a bunch of graphs. First, the conclusion and the three tests used:

The analysis shows that both primary and secondary students’ performance has declined over recent decades. As a result, our international rankings in reading, maths and science have slipped, in some cases markedly. At the same time, New Zealand’s per-pupil education spending on primary and secondary students has increased substantially, both in absolute and relative terms.

It appears our additional investment has not borne fruit, and we should not necessarily expect it will in the future. Indeed, OECD analysis suggests there is virtually no relationship between per-pupil spending and achievement beyond a certain level of spending, a level New Zealand has surpassed. Educational performance.

. . . The three international education surveys used in this report to study and discern patterns in New Zealand’s educational performance are the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS); the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS); and the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).

There’s also the NCEA, or National Certificate of Educational Achievement, an internal certification which I presume is equivalent to graduating from American high school with a given ranking. The three ranks are, in descending achievement, 1, 2, and 3.  As the government qualification body states, “NCEA Level 2 has become an important and well-regarded qualification and is often a necessary requirement for the entry-level of jobs.” That’s why they use level 2 in the last figure below.

The National Certificate of Educational Achievement (NCEA) is the main national qualification for secondary school students in New Zealand.

NCEA is recognised by employers, and used for selection by universities and polytechnics, both in New Zealand and overseas.

On to the time graph of performance relative to other countries (Singapore is always tops):

Reading literacy. Note that New Zealand has dropped over 15 years, and is now lowest of all six countries compared:

Math and science achievement in New Zealand itself over 24 years. Both rose compared to the 1995 time point, but then have fallen (science more than math) between 2003 and 2019. Remember, this is not a comparison with other countries, but still uses an internationally standardized test:

This is the most depressing: a fall in year 11 (near the end of school) achievement in reading, science and math on an internationally standardized test:

This has happened despite a fairly hefty rise in per-capita spending per pupal in NZ. Throwing money at schools doesn’t guarantee higher achievement.

 

Finally, the most depressing graph at all, showing that while NZ has dropped in reading, science, and math on international tests, the percentage of students leaving school with their NCEA certificates at level 2 or better (1) has grown from nearly 60% to 80% in the last 17 years. You’d conclude from the red line that student performance has increased, but what’s probably happened is that the NCEA standards have decreased at the same time that NZ students are doing worse in its constituent parts when assessed using international tests:

 

There are a lot more data in the report, with comparisons of many other countries besides the six above.

Why has this happened? Well, the summary piece from the Initiative below (click on screenshot) suggests that the rise of student-centered educational design—that is, teaching what the students demand to be taught (or not taught)—had led to the decline. (Click on screenshot). 

From Lipson:

Over the past few decades, the national curriculum and assessment have turned the school system into an experiment in child-centred orthodoxy.

The philosophy has changed everything from what is taught to the teacher’s role in the classroom. It has transformed the purpose of school.

By appealing to the inarguable idea that children should be at the centre of decisions about their learning, children-centred orthodoxy has undermined subject knowledge. It has told teachers they are at their most professional when they let their students lead.

Consequently, educational standards have plummeted. Despite a 32% real rise in per-pupil spending since 2001, students have gone from world-leading to decidedly average.

In reading, maths and science students now perform far worse than the previous generation just eighteen years ago. In all three subjects, 15-year-olds have lost the equivalent of between three and six terms’ worth of schooling. Far fewer pupils today perform at the highest levels. Far more lack the most basic proficiency.

Worse, in the latest round of OECD testing, New Zealand recorded the strongest relationship between socioeconomic background and educational performance of all its comparator English-speaking countries.

Lipson then reproduces the last figure above and says this:

Yet, without these international metrics, there would be no way to see this systemic failure. In fact, so strong is the grip of child-centred orthodoxy that the data from the national assessment, NCEA, shows the opposite.

Now I don’t know enough about NZ schools to tell if Lipson is right. What is important for our purpose is this:

Proficiency in reading, math, and science in NZ has been dropping over two decades.  Teaching mātauranga Māori in science class as a “way of knowing” coequal to modern science is a recipe for disaster, driving science scores even lower in internationally standardized tests.

People of New Zealand: do you want your future citizens to be far less literate in science than they are now?

D.C. school librarian fired after making students reenact the Holocaust—including dying in a gas chamber and shooting their classmates—to show how the “Jews ruined Christmas” for Germans

December 20, 2021 • 12:45 pm

For a long time some of my Jewish friends, including observant ones, have told me that there’s a resurgence of anti-Semitism in American, sometimes implying that it would get so bad that they were considering moving to Israel. I’ve always poo-pooed this apocalyptic idea, thinking that Jews are now part of mainstream America and, although a minority (about 1-2%, many of them nonbelievers), we weren’t a denigrated minority.

Well, things have changed since the ultra-progressive Left has taken over, and since there’s been a resurgence of white nationalism on the Right. The Left’s activities are ongoing, as with the “progressive” members of Congress voting for BDS initiatives, issuing anti-Semitic or anti-“Zionist” tweets, and showing increasing valorization of Palestine—an apartheid country if ever there was one. Right-wing anti-Semitism seems to be on the ultra-extreme right, and erupts as sporadic demonstrations, like the one in Charlottesville.

Whoever is responsible for this trend, the result is that we hear more about anti-Semitic incidents all the time. This isn’t just a news bias, since the mainstream media itself, like the NYT, aren’t especially pro-Jewish (they’re pro-Palestine); and the number of Jewish “hate crimes” is increasing. Jews are, in fact, on a per capita basis the religious group most targeted by such crimes:

According to the FBI data, 8,263 hate crimes took place in America in 2020, an increase of nearly 9% compared to the 7,287 reported in 2019. Of all reported hate crimes, 1,174 targeted victims due to their religion and 676 of them—54.9% of all religious bias crimes—targeted Jews. 53% of hate incidents targeting Jews involved the destruction, damage, or vandalism of property; 33% were instances of intimidation; 6% were simple assaults; 4% were aggravated assaults; 1% were instances of burglary or breaking and entering; and 1% were instances of larceny or theft.

This article below from the Washington Post (click on screenshot) might be an isolated incident, as it’s unique to my knowledge, but it might also display how far the rot has spread. (The article is reproduced almost verbatim in the Times of Israel as well.)

I’ll summarize what happened, and will put quotation marks around quotes from the pieces.

At Watkins Elementary school in southeast Washington, D.C. a group of third graders (~9-10 years old) were in the library doing a self-guided project. But the students were coopted by a school librarian who forced the students to reenact scenes from the Holocaust.  Here’s what the students were forced to do:

  • One student, who happened to be Jewish, was told to play Hitler. At the end of the mock Holocaust, the student was told to pretend to commit suicide.
  • Other students were asked to pretend to be on a train to a concentration camp
  • At least one student was told to act as if he were dying in a gas chamber
  • Some students were told to pretend they were digging their classmates’ mass graves, and then had to pretend to shoot their classmates.

This is the most offensive part:

The instructor allegedly made antisemitic comments during the reenactment. The parent said that when the children asked why the Germans did this, the staff member said it was “because the Jews ruined Christmas.”

Can you believe that?

Although the instructor told the students not to say anything about this little exercise, the kids told their parents. The good news is that all hell broke loose, because some of the students were Jewish.  The principal of the school, one M. Scott Berkowitz (probably a Jewish name as well) apologized in an email to the parents without naming the staff member (I now have her name; see below).

“I want to acknowledge the gravity of this poor instructional decision, as students should never be asked to act out or portray any atrocity, especially genocide, war, or murder,” Berkowitz said in the email.

The incident was reported to D.C. Public Schools’ Comprehensive Alternative Resolution and Equity Team. The staff member is now on leave, pending a school investigation.

“This was not an approved lesson plan, and we sincerely apologize to our students and families who were subjected to this incident,” a spokesperson for DCPS said.

The entire class met with the school’s mental health response team after the Friday incident, according to Berkowitz’s email.

The good news is that the school didn’t blow it off. But they shouldn’t have anyway; it’s only “good news” because Americans are becoming increasingly anti-Semitic.

Anti-Semitism is especially distressing when it’s among the black community (Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam are the worst offenders). Historically Jews and blacks have been friends, with Jews forming a large proportion of white civil rights activists in the Sixties.

This article (and several other sources) give the librarian’s name as Kimberlynn Jurkowski, and at first I thought she was of Polish descent. But her LinkedIn page, showing undoubtedly the right person (a “library media specialist” in Washington, D.C.), reveals that she’s black. (How did she get the surname Jurkowski?)

And she’s got a history that could charitably be described as “checkered”:

The librarian — identified as Kimberlynn Jurkowski — was accused in a tutoring scam in New Jersey that defrauded the Atlantic City school district of thousands of dollars and had her teaching licenses suspended for three years by the state Department of Education in 2017.

. . . A former Hamilton, Atlantic County resident, Jurkowski faced charges of theft by deception and fraud for allegedly billing the Hamilton school district for tutoring services for her two children that was never performed, according to the state’s order of suspension.

The Hamilton Township school district paid the cost of the tutoring to Bridges Education and Counseling Services, and its owner, Mildred Spencer — a friend of Jurkowski, according to the ruling.

After the tutoring services had ended, Jurkowski and Spencer allegedly conspired to continue to bill the district for six additional months — from October 2011 through March 2012, officials said.

In December 2013, Jurkowski and Spencer were accepted into a pretrial intervention program for first-time offenders for six months, and Jurkowski was forced to forfeit her employment in the school district, according to the Department of Education ruling.
So how did Jurkowski get hired as a school librarian at Watkins Elementary School? Did they not do a background check? Somebody at Watkins Elementary has some ‘splaining to do!
An addendum about local bigotry, from both papers. First, from the Post:

Other local schools have reported incidents of bigotry in recent months. At Woodrow Wilson High School in Northwest Washington, several swastikas, the n-word and the phrase “white power” were scrawled on the wall of a men’s bathroom early this month, according to reporting by student journalists at the Beacon, the school’s independent newspaper.

And from the Times of Israel:

Last month vandals broke into a fraternity house at George Washington University in Washington, DC, and desecrated a Torah scroll, tearing it apart and covering it with detergent.

I just noticed that the New York Times has a short piece on the incident, and names the perpetrator, as well as mentioning Jurkowski’s LinkedIn page, but doesn’t mention that she’s black. Is race relevant in a case like this? If a white librarian had asked black children to reenact scenes from slavery, wouldn’t the paper mention that the librarian was white? Had the librarian been an anti-Semitic white supremacist, you could have bet that every report would have mentioned that.

My guess is that it was just terribly inconvenient to mention the race of the perpetrator, which goes against The Narrative. The NYT has a history of omitting the race of the people who attacked ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York City over the last several years, though nearly all the attackers were black. When there’s a pattern like this, race does become relevant.

h/t: Malgorzata

Bob Zimmer and Steve Pinker resign from the advisory board of the University of Austin

November 16, 2021 • 9:30 am

On November 8, Pano Kanelos, former President of St. Johns University, announced on Bari Weiss’s Substack site that “We can’t wait for universities to fix themselves. So we’re starting a new one.”

The purpose of this new school, the University of Austin (henceforth, U of A) was to counteract the “wokeness,” the “chilling of speech”, and the indoctrination and repressive intellectual climate that Kanelos and his cofounders—Niall Ferguson, Bari Weiss, Heather Heying, and Joe Lonsdale—perceive as dominant characteristics of good American universities. As you can see, the cofounders are mostly contrarians, which is not in itself bad. But the tenor of the university, as you can see from Kanelos’s statement and its nascent website (the U of A also has its own Wikipedia page), is to combat Wokeness with anti-Wokeness. Since most good American universities are liberal in curriculum, administration, and professoriate, what we have here is comparable to the schism between the “Progressive” Democrats and more centrist Democrats in Congress.

First, Kanelos diagnosis the problem, which I’m not doubting is a problem:

The numbers tell the story as well as any anecdote you’ve read in the headlines or heard within your own circles. Nearly a quarter of American academics in the social sciences or humanities endorse ousting a colleague for having a wrong opinion about hot-button issues such as immigration or gender differences. Over a third of conservative academics and PhD students say they had been threatened with disciplinary action for their views. Four out of five American PhD students are willing to discriminate against right-leaning scholars, according to a report by the Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology.

The picture among undergraduates is even bleaker. In Heterodox Academy’s 2020 Campus Expression Survey, 62% of sampled college students agreed that the climate on their campus prevented students from saying things they believe. Nearly 70% of students favor reporting professors if the professor says something students find offensive, according to a Challey Institute for Global Innovation survey. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education reports at least 491 disinvitation campaigns since 2000. Roughly half were successful.

On our quads, faculty are being treated like thought criminals.

And the fix:

. . . . We believe human beings think and learn better when they gather in dedicated locations, where they are, to some extent, insulated from the quotidian struggle to make ends meet, and where there is no fundamental distinction between those who teach and those who learn, beyond the extent of their knowledge and wisdom.

We believe that the purpose of education is not simply employment, but human flourishing, which includes meaningful employment. We are therefore also reconceiving the relationship between a liberal education and the demands of our dynamic and fluid professional world.

Our rigorous curriculum will be the first designed in partnership not only with great teachers but also society’s great doers—founders of daring ventures, dissidents who have stood up to authoritarianism, pioneers in tech, and the leading lights in engineering and the natural sciences.

There are some great names who aren’t contrarians listed on the Board of Advisors, including U of C professor Geoff Stone, playwright David Mamet, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and former ACLU President Nadine Strossen, as well as writers and intellectuals who have received some pushback. But you can look for yourself.  And the founding faculty fellows, who are designing the curriculum, are Peter Boghossian, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Kathleen Stock.

But what worried me was the overweening impression that this was a university dedicated largely to being anti-Woke, dedicated to being, in part, a refuge for canceled intellectuals, and a university without a curriculum.  The first two items are not, I think, a good basis for founding a university. You don’t promote freedom of speech and thought by loading the curriculum with those who are anti-Woke. And we already have a great university dedicated to freedom of speech and non-indoctrination, with a great curriculum and great teachers. It’s called the University of Chicago (yes, there are woke elements here, too, but we’re pretty close in our principles to the U of A).  If there’s any example of a university that can succeed without being marinated in wokeness, it’s ours.

Further, though the U of A touts natural science as a (minor) part of the curriculum, there are very few scientists of any sort involved, and only one biologist: Heather Heying. The rest of the curriculum (both undergraduate and graduate) seems to comprise technology, mathematics, and engineering. As I said, Heather Heying is the only biologist or natural scientist, while there’s a geophysicist (Dorian Abbot) and an AI researcher from MIT (Lex Fridman).

If you had looked at the Board of Advisors two days ago, you would have also seen two advisors who are now gone: Steven Pinker and Robert Zimmer.  You all know of Pinker, while Robert Zimmer, the former President of the University of Chicago, recently resigned to become our Chancellor and to continue his promotion of free speech and thought on campus. Zimmer is a good guy and dedicated to the perpetuation of the principles of the U of C: free speech, no chilling of speech, and no official ideological or political positions of the university.

Those names are now gone. Yesterday, both Pinker and Zimmer resigned from the U of A. Here’s the U of A’s announcement, with part of it (indented) below.

From the statement.

The University of Austin is just one week old and has thus far succeeded in generating huge public interest. Yet, as is often the case with fast-moving start-ups, there were some missteps. In particular, our website initially failed to make clear the distinction between the Founding Trustees and the Advisory Board. Although we moved swiftly to correct this mistake, it conflated advisors, who were aligned in general with the project but not necessarily in agreement with all its actions and statements, and those who had originated the project and bear responsibility for those things. This led to unnecessary complications for several members of the advisory board, including Robert Zimmer and Steven Pinker, for which we are deeply sorry. We fully understand their decisions to step down as advisors.

The advisory board was never intended to be a corporate body that endorsed everything that UATX did or said. On the contrary, our goal in seeking advisers was precisely to have expert critics from a wide range of disciplines and backgrounds, united only by a shared desire to help us create a new institution that would set an example of academic freedom in action. It was always our intention for this board to be a fluid and informal group.

What we can see from this was that Pinker and Zimmer had some differences with the five founding Trustees, and left despite the U of A’s assertion that the advisors would have freedom of action and criticism.  But we don’t know exactly what those differences are.

Bob Zimmer, at least, gave a hint when announcing his departure on the University of Chicago website (click on screenshot below to read it; I’ve reproduced it in toto below):

Zimmer’s announcement:

I was asked to serve in an advisory role to the University of Austin by its founding president, Dr. Pano Kanelos. This board had no fiduciary, oversight or management responsibilities. While the new organization’s commitment to a liberal arts education and free expression reflects topics that are very important to me, I resigned from the Advisory Board on November 11, noting that the new university made a number of statements about higher education in general, largely quite critical, that diverged very significantly from my own views.

My focus and commitment have been, and will continue to be, to the University of Chicago*. I will continue to work on and speak about the issue of free expression on campuses, and I wish the University of Austin success in advancing this essential priority.

*and Jerry Coyne’s ducks on Botany pond. (ONLY KIDDING)

So we see here that Zimmer’s philosophy and assessment of university principles differed from that of the founders, and the implication to me is that their anti-Wokeness was too strident.  He couldn’t differ with the three founding principles on the U of A’s website, as those are pretty much the same as the U of Chicago’s. The statement by the U of A about “what makes us different” could be a bit problematic, as it emphasizes not only a “novel fiscal model”, but an emphasis on practical results for society: doing rather than thinking. That’s not exactly the way the U of C operates. And, above all, Kanelos’s statement on Weiss’s site indicts all universities (not excepting Zimmer’s!) for being “illiberal” and “treating its faculty like thought criminals”. Well, that’s not the case here, and I can see how that would tick off Zimmer. Why, committed as he is to our own refusal to take University stances on politics and ideology, would Zimmer want to be part of Antiwoke University?

But I’m just speculating here. All we really know about Bob’s resignation is in his statement above: that he had differences with the U of A’s “statements about higher education in general.”

Pinker has been even more quiet about it, announcing his departure only with the following tweet:

Knowing Steve—but not his reasons for leaving—I can only guess at those reasons, but I’m pretty sure they involve differences in philosophy with the school and its founders.  I would make two guesses. First, Steve is ardently pro-science. We first saw this in his article in the New Republic “Science is Not Your Enemy“, a plea to colleges, especially the humanities and social science, to embrace the harder sciences of biology, physics, and chemistry, and above all the stringent empirical methods of those sciences.  This essay expanded into his book Enlightenment Now, which prescribes science and scientific thinking as one of the three main ways to continue the progress kicked off by the Enlightenment. Yet, as I said, there’s precious little science at the University of Austin.

And from reading about his new book, Rationality (I haven’t read it), and the interviews he gave about it, I know Pinker sees tribalism as one of the main cognitive traps of our species, traps that erode rationality. See these links for where he expresses that view. Perhaps he saw membership in the U of A, with its explicit anti-Wokeness, as him joining a university based on a tribal philosophy.

Again, I’m only guessing here, but these things are on the record and they do limn some differences between Pinker and the U of A. Since he’s not giving us any more than what he said in the tweet above, the rest is silence.

Censorship of schoolbooks by the Right

September 26, 2021 • 1:30 pm

I’ve been criticized for concentrating on “cancelling” by the Left and ignoring the same activities by the Right. If that’s true, it’s because I think the Left’s activities will help the Republicans in the next elections, while everybody in the liberal media concentrates on the Right. But it is true that we shouldn’t forget that the Right is guilty of some equally stupid attempts at censorship, several of them described in this article in The Daily Beast. Among the things that the Right-wing group “Moms for Liberty” are fighting to ban in schools are predictable ones: mentions of race, the struggle for civil rights, Native Americans, descriptions of segregation in schools, and so on.

But click on the screenshot below to read some new and unpredictable targets of Right-Wing opprobrium, including, for crying out loud, the reproduction of seahorses!

This article describes the battle in Tennessee’s Williamson County School District, in a state where there are already laws against teaching CRT (I object to any such laws).  Here’s some of the offensive stuff:

At the heart of that fight is a conservative group, led by a private-schoolparent, that has a sprawling list of complaints against common classroom books. Many of the books are about race, but other targets include dragons, sad little owls, and hurricanes.

. . .With school back in session, the Williamson County feud has been renewed, Reuters reported this week. And the scope of the proposed book ban is even broader and loonier than MFL’s June letter suggests.

Accompanying that letter is an 11-page spreadsheet with complaints about books on the district’s curriculum, ranging from popular books on civil rights heroes to books about poisonous animals (“text speaks of horned lizard squirting blood out of its eyes”), Johnny Appleseed (“story is sad and dark”), and Greek and Roman mythology (“illustration of the goddess Venus naked coming out of the ocean…story of Tantalus and how he cooks up, serves, and eats his son.”) A book about hurricanes is no good (“1st grade is too young to hear about possible devastating effects of hurricanes”) and a book about owls is designated as a downer. (“It’s a sad book, but turns out ok. Not a book I would want to read for fun,” an adult wrote of the owl book in the spreadsheet.)

You can find what I think are the 11 pages of spreadsheets here and here (enlarge a download), and you can see a pdf presentation of some of the offensive stuff here, along with some videos by The Offended.

But wait—there’s more! Foreign words don’t make the cut, and the parents also join those historians of science who say that the affair of Galileo does not show antiscientific behavior of the Catholic church!

Multiple books that contain Spanish or French Creole words receive warnings from the group for potentially “confusing” children. An article about crackdowns on civil rights demonstrators, meanwhile, is deemed inappropriate for “negative view of Firemen and police.” A fictional book about the Civil War (given to fifth graders) is deemed inappropriate, in part due to depictions of “out of marriage families between white men and black women” and descriptions of “white people as ‘bad’ or ‘evil.’”

At one juncture, the group implores the school district to include more charitable descriptions of the Catholic Church when teaching a book about astronomer Galileo Galilei, who was persecuted by said church for suggesting that Earth revolves around the sun.

“Where is the HERO of the church?” the group’s spreadsheet asks, “to contrast with their mistakes? There are so many opportunities to teach children the truth of our history as a nation. The Church has a huge and lasting influence on American culture. Both good and bad should be represented. The Christian church is responsible for the genesis of Hospitals, Orphanages, Social Work, Charity, to name a few.”

Finally, my favorite bit is the seahorse ban. As I’ve written before, both seahorses and pipefishes reverse the usual course of offspring care. In both groups, males have pouches to contain and incubate the fertilized eggs, and females compete for those eggs to get into those pouches. (This is because females can produce eggs faster than males can incubate broods.) Because here females compete for rare space in male pouches, sexual selection is reversed, and in seahorses and pipefish it is the females rather than the males that is the highly decorated sex (see here and here).

You can imagine the consternation this situation would cause for right-wingers: males get pregnant! Why, it’s almost like transexuality! And so they object:

MFL’s Williamson County chapter also takes issue with a picture book about seahorses, in part because it depicted “mating seahorses with pictures of postions [sic] and discussion of the male carrying the eggs.”

The Daily Beast reviewed the text in question via a children’s story time YouTube channel.

Readers looking for a Kama Sutra of seahorse sex will be disappointed. Sea Horse: The Shyest Fish In The Sea contains nothing more risqué than watercolor illustrations of two seahorses holding tails or touching bellies (never—heavens—at the same time).

The passage that “describes how they have sex” reads: “they twist their tails together and twirl gently around, changing color until they match. Sea horses are faithful to one mate and often pair up for life. Today Sea Horse’s mate is full of ripe eggs. The two of them dance until sunset and then she puts her eggs into his pouch. [JAC: OMG that is HOT!] Barbour sea horses mate every few weeks during the breeding season. Only the male sea horse has a pouch. Only the female sea horse can grow eggs.”

MFL recommends the book be reserved for older children, up to grade eight.

As your reward, here’s a video of a male seahorse giving birth to hundreds of miniatures (warning: sex-role reversal!):

 

h/t: GInger K.

Why do people think the coronavirus vaccine should be an exception to mandated vaccinations?

August 6, 2021 • 9:15 am

On the news last night, and almost every night, one can see irate parents objecting to their children having to be vaccinated for school (mostly college now), or having to wear masks. And the mantra they cry is “We’re the parents: we make the decisions for our children and know what’s right for them.” Likewise, much of the objection by adults to getting vaccinated centers around the freedom to make decisions that affect their own bodies. While that reason may hold water for things like abortion, it doesn’t work for vaccination, because your “freedom” can make other people sick, whether it be resistance to masks or to the jabs themselves.

Most of you, at least if you’re American, know that vaccinations are required to attend most public schools unless you file a religious objection, and so it’s not up to the parents to decide about getting jabs for their kids. They could, however, send their kids to religious schools, or try homeschooling, if they wish to avoid vaccination.

To check on this again, though, I looked up the public-school vaccination requirements for two states: my own liberal state of Illinois, which has been pretty strict about masks and restrictions during the pandemic, and Louisiana, which has the highest per capita rate of infection and a lot of vaccine resisters. It turns out that the school requirements for vaccination are pretty much the same for both states, and in fact require a fair number of jabs. Here are are for the states, with the links to where I got the data:

ILLINOIS:

Vaccinations

The State of Illinois requires vaccinations to protect children from a variety of diseases before they can enter school. Students must show proof of immunization against up to 12 vaccine-preventable diseases (the number and schedule of these vaccinations depend on a student’s grade and age).

More information about minimum immunization requirements for Illinois can be found here. A summary of State of Illinois immunization requirements by grade follows:

Pre-K: Immunization records that reflect the following:

    • Tetanus/Diptheria/Pertussis – four doses
    • Polio – three doses
    • MMR – one dose
    • Hepatitis B – three doses
    • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) titer – 4 doses
    • Varicella (chicken pox) vaccine – one dose
    • Pneumococcal series, or one dose after the age of 2

Kindergarten: Immunization records that reflect the following:

    • Tetanus/Diptheria/Pertussis – 4 or more doses, most recent must be dated after 4 years of age
    • Polio – 4 dose series with the last dose dated on or after 4th birthday
    • MMR – 2 doses
    • Hepatitis B – three doses
    • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) titer 4 doses – (not required after fifth birthday)
    • Varicella vaccine – 2 doses, first on or after first birthday, second no less than 28 days later

Grade 6: Immunizations as per kindergarten requirements listed above, plus

    • Proof of having received a Tdap booster
    • Proof of having received one Meningococcal vaccine (first dose received on or after student’s 11th birthday)

Grade 12: Immunizations as per grade 6 requirements listed above, plus

    • Proof of having received 2 doses of Meningococcal Vaccine with the second after age 16 (only one dose required if the first dose was received after the age of 16)

All students who are new to a district in any grade will be required to provide complete immunization records.

Exemptions to immunization requirements:

  • Religious: Parents/Guardians requesting religious exemptions from health requirements must complete the required form along with their child’s healthcare provider.
  • Medical: If your child has a physical condition that prevents adherence to the vaccination schedule, their healthcare provider should indicate this on a physical examination form or in written documentation. Depending on your child’s medical condition, this may need to be reviewed on an annual basis.

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LOUISIANA:

 

Note: Students can participate in school without the required immunizations listed above if either of the following are presented: 1) a written statement from a physician stating that the procedure is contraindicated for medical reasons; or 2) written dissent from the parent/guardian.

The requirements for both states are pretty much the same, except that Illinois requires flu shots and Louisiana doesn’t. Also, Illinois will exempt kids only if they have religiously-based objections or medical contraindications. In contrast, while Louisiana, like Illinois, allows religious exemptions, it also allows parental exemptions of any sort, and I’m not sure if any written dissent will suffice.

As I wrote several years ago, religious exemptions from vaccination requirements are nearly ubiquitous:

  • 48 states have religious exemptions from immunizations. Mississippi and West Virginia are the only states that require all children to be immunized without exception for religious belief.

That those two states don’t allow religious exemptions is surprising, as they’re both in the South. But good for them: there should be NO religious exemptions allowed for vaccination given that if you get ill you can make others ill. This is a case of rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. And public healthcare is Caesar’s purview, not God’s.

This is only one of many religious exemptions from children’s healthcare that are required; see the post just above (and this one). Being religious gets you a real break if you don’t want to have to give your kids science-based medical care when they’re ill (I wrote about this in Faith Versus Fact.)

What about nonreligious objections? I assume that every state, like Illinois, allows students to be exempt from some vaccinations if they have medical conditions that may make vaccination dangerous, but I haven’t looked that up. What I have looked up is nonreligious and nonmedical exemptions: philosophical or “other” exemptions like those in Louisiana. Here’s what I found:

In 20 of those [48 states that allow religious exemptions from vaccination], you can also avoid vaccination if your exemption is based on philosophical reasons.

So in 48 states you can avoid jabs if you have a religious reason (and I’m not sure how strict they are about what “religion reason” counts), and in 20 you can avoid jabs if you have a philosophical reason. (I imagine that they’re not too strict about what constitutes a “philosophical reason.”) Ergo, religious belief trumps rational thought—though I’m not arguing that there are rational objections to most vaccines. It just shows how much American’s prize religion over philosophy.

In 30 states, then, your children must get vaccinated regardless of the parents’ wishes unless they can make a religious case.

But neither philosophical nor religious reasons constitute, in my view, valid reasons to exempt public-school students from vaccination. In fact, one can argue that all children, regardless of whether they attend public school or not, should be vaccinated unless there are medical contraindications.

The point of all this is that—except for religion—there is no parental “right” to decide whether or not to get their children immunized—not if they want them to go to public schools.  It makes me angry to hear those parents vehemently assert their “rights”, without any apparent awareness that those “rights” deprive other children of the “right to stay healthy by not being forced to go to school with unvaccinated kids.” It’s like the old but true bromide: “Your liberty to swing your fist ends just where my nose begins.”

I feel the same way about masking. Though the data on mask efficacy isn’t as thorough as for vaccine efficacy, if public-health officials in a state look at the data and decide that masks prevent the spread of infections to and fro, there should be no parental “right” to disobey. Parents can of course object and make a data-driven case, but if they fail, well, they’ll have to send their kids to St. Corona’s.

Now parents could argue that the mandated vaccines for school have been around a much longer time, so we know what any deleterious effects might be, while the newer jabs are “unproven”. But if you know the statistics, that objection doesn’t wash much. Yes, there may be longer-term effects of the jabs that we don’t yet know about, but what are the chances of those effects outweighing the substantial protection from illness and death that the vaccines confer?  Well over 95% of people in hospitals with Covid-19 now are unvaccinated.

I am always wary when one invokes “rights” as an argument stopper, for that smacks of objective morality when in fact, as with most things claimed to be “rights”, they are subjective decisions based on a philosophy of social harmony. As a consequentialist utilitarian, I prefer “dicta”—we should make those rules with the most salubrious effects. And I don’t think one can argue that allowing people to avoid avoid vaccination when they have no good reason to do so (unless they are hermits), or avoid letting their kids get vaccinated, is a better alternative than letting everybody decide for themselves.  Now, the U.S. yet has no laws for doing this except for schoolchildren, but I’m in favor of them, particularly laws that you can’t work at company X unless you are vaccinated against coronavirus. I hope Biden mandates this for federal workers.

Call me a hardass; it won’t bother me.

Jennifer Haller, left, smiles as the needle is withdrawn after she was given the first-stage safety study clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, Monday, March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Once again, should teaching CRT be banned? Richard Hanania says it won’t work, but offers another solution that liberals won’t like

July 14, 2021 • 10:30 am

About a week ago, I posted a piece about Critical Race Theory (CRT) called “Should teaching CRT be banned?” As you know, and will see below, legislatures, all of them Republican, are in process of banning what they see as critical tenets of CRT.

My own view was that it shouldn’t be banned as I was wary about government mandating what should or should not be taught in schools. (Creationism and its variant of intelligent design are exceptions; the courts have interpreted both as forms of religion, and teaching them in public schools is thus violates the First Amendment.)  In saying that teaching CRT shouldn’t be banned but that teaching it, at least in its divisive form, was still bad, I agreed with Andrew Sullivan. There were, I thought, legal recourses against the most divisive aspects of CRT—the bits that set races against each other.  Lawsuits, I thought, could eliminate that kind of pedagogy.

I’ve had to rethink all this after I read the new article below by Richard Hanania on his Substack site (click on screenshot). In particular, I didn’t realize that governments have a perfect right to dictate what and what cannot be taught (so long as it doesn’t violate the Constitution), that they do this all the time, that mandating what can be taught also tells you what cannot be taught, and, adds Hanania, it doesn’t matter anyway because teachers, who are mostly liberals, will manage to teach what they want regardless of the law.

I can’t find much about Hanania’s politics. He seems to be a conservative but it’s not obvious, and at any rate it doesn’t matter when we’re weighing his arguments:

First Hanania presents a map showing where anti-CRT-teaching bills have been passed or are in the legislature (some states apparently are labeled for bills “with other discussions about racism”):

Then he makes his points, which I’ve characterized in bold (Hanania’s quotes are indented; mine are flush left):

Legislatures have a right to tell schools what and what not to teach, and they do it constantly:

Legislators tell schools what to teach and not to teach all the time. It’s sort of a basic function of government. Illinois just mandated “Asian American History” and California requires teaching of “LGBT History,” cementing the idea that American history should be understood through the lens of groups of people defined by their sexual preferences or racial characteristics (or, in the case of “Asian American History,” a made-up census category). As of 2019, California mandated “LGBTQ+ inclusive sex ed,” which includes teaching kids about newly discovered genders and sexual identities. A Vox article tells the story.

Andrew Sullivan and I are thus confused in saying that CRT shouldn’t be banned but is still wrong to teach.

Some, like Andrew Sullivan, take the position that CRT is a pernicious and false doctrine, but that legislators should nonetheless do nothing about it. I’m struck by the discrepancy between his discussion of what’s being taught and his ultimate recommendations. Here’s how Sullivan describes CRT, implying that it is psychologically damaging to children and even potentially abusive.

The goal of education of children this young is to cement the notion at the most formative age that America is at its core an oppressive racist system uniquely designed to exploit, harm, abuse, and even kill the non-white. This can be conveyed in easy terms, by training kids to see themselves first and foremost as racial avatars, and by inculcating in them a sense of their destiny as members of the oppressed or oppressor classes in the zero-sum struggle for power that is American society in 2021.

Liberals want to teach Critical Race Theory because they think it is true, while others want to ban teaching it because they think it’s false. I can understand both positions. In contrast, the position “this is all pernicious lies but nobody should do anything about it” is puzzling to me.

Okay, I’ll accept that. Decisions by legislatures or school boards about whether to teach CRT should be made on the basis of whether it’s imparting facts that are right or wrong. But there’s the rub, for classic academic CRT is not what’s being taught in these schools, but interpretations of CRT filtered through the likes of Ibram Kendi and Robin Di Angelo. Anything racially divisive I see as wrong, but to call attention to the odious history of bigotry in our country should surely be done. Both are parts of “garden variety” school CRT.

Mandating teaching a subject or viewpoint explicitly prohibits teaching the other viewpoint. 

Notice that by mandating one thing, you ban another. A classroom that is required to teach gender is fluid and homosexuality should be accepted is banning traditional sexual morality. One that teaches that every major racial census category has its own history decides which groups are singled out for official identities (“Hispanic” and “AAPI,” but not “Jewish” or “Italian”), and denigrates the idea that American history should be taught from a more unified perspective.

The idea that government schools teach some things, but not others, and that a government school curriculum is set by government, has never been controversial. It’s only causing such debate now because instead of Democrats mandating that you teach identity politics and gender fluidity, it’s Republicans wanting to teach their own ideas.

Now maybe you think Critical Race Theory is true. In which case, you should oppose these bans. If you think it’s a false and harmful doctrine, then banning it is pretty much the job of government.

But of course this all depends on what aspect of CRT is being taught, and you’ll never know unless someone monitors the classroom.

Lawsuits aren’t a solution. As Hanania notes:

This highlights what is so strange about David French and other writers arguing that if CRT discriminates against whites, that’s already illegal under the Civil Rights Act, and people can just sue. As I have pointed out, the Civil Rights Act has been interpreted to not only allow anti-white discrimination, but actually mandate it in the form of affirmative action. As it turns out, people interested in enforcing civil rights law think discrimination against blacks is a major problem society has to constantly be on guard against, while discrimination against whites isn’t really a thing.

And of course to stop CRT teaching with lawsuits is a piecemeal effort, state by state, that may ultimately wind up in the Supreme Court; and you know what that means.

But it doesn’t matter, for what does matter is who is teaching the kids. And who is teaching the kids are, of course liberals who will impart aspects of CRT to students if they can. Although secondary-school teachers aren’t as liberal as college professors, they definitely lean Left:

A 2017 survey of school teachers and education bureaucrats showed that they voted for Hillary over Trump, 50% to 29%. That’s actually not as lopsided as I would have guessed, but there’s evidence that Democratic teachers are more committed to politics than Republican teachers, just as liberals care more about politics more generally. In 2020, educators who donated money to a presidential campaign were six times more likely to support Biden than Trump. So while Democrats may have “only” a 21-point lead in voting preferences among educators, when it comes to those who care more about politics, it’s more like an 85%-15% advantage. And teachers are probably conservative compared to the kinds of people who write textbooks, design curriculums, and work in education departments.

With those kinds of numbers, there’s really nothing conservatives can do to make the schools friendlier to their ideas and values. A CRT ban might mean a teacher won’t say “Ok, kids, today we’re going to learn about Critical Race Theory!,” but they’ll still teach variations of the same ideas.

The solution? Send your kid to private schools, or homeschool them, as such schooling is either generally more conservative or, at home, you can teach your kids what you want. It’s this solution that makes me think that Hanania is a conservative. He notes, though that private school enrollment has dropped in grades 1-8 and 9-12, as it’s expensive, but homeschooling has nearly doubled in the last two decades:

On the conservatism of private schools:

That being said, are private schools really any less liberal than public schools? Maybe not at the most elite level, as Bari Weiss has shown. Yet every indication is that private schools are in general more conservative. According to a 2015 study, “of the 5.8 million students enrolled in private elementary and secondary schools, 36 percent were enrolled in Catholic schools, 13 percent were enrolled in conservative Christian schools, 10 percent were enrolled in affiliated religious schools, 16 percent were enrolled in unaffiliated religious schools, and 24 percent were enrolled in nonsectarian schools.” Combining Catholic and “conservative Christian” schools, this indicates that at least half of private schools teach a sexual morality that would be illegal if promoted by a public educator, at least in California and other blue states.

In the end, Hanania’s solution, if you’re worried about CRT being taught more widely, is to put private schools on a more equal footing with public ones, perhaps using school vouchers to avoid the expense. That, of course, is not a solution I recommend, as I’m a big fan of public schools. And his solution is sure to sicken other liberals. But at least, says Hanania, it is a kind of solution, and nobody has offered any thing else that’s likely to stem the teaching of CRT. Hanania ends this way:

“Banning Critical Race Theory” sounds like a new, vigorous, and exciting idea, while “more school choice” seems like the same old conservative spiel.

But those who hope to change the public schools have no plan to make an overwhelmingly left-wing, and increasingly radicalized, profession reflect their preferences and values.

Trust me, I like finding new and original ideas to promote, and hate to come out for such a conventional and boring suggestion like “more school choice,” although I at least take comfort in the fact that I took an unconventional path to get to that conclusion. Nonetheless, please try not to judge the idea based on how edgy it sounds, but based on a clear understanding of how the world actually works.

My solution? Oppose the teaching on the grounds that much of it is false and it also has a pernicious effect on schoolchildren

 

FIRE: Should teaching CRT be banned?

July 9, 2021 • 9:30 am

Four people at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) have written a personal take on the new laws designed to prevent the teaching of critical race theory (CRT) in campuses and secondary schools. Their views don’t constitute not an official FIRE position but rather raise some considerations about the spate of laws, put in place mostly by Republican states. What I like about FIRE is that they are nonsectarian, defending the civil liberties of students regardless of what ideology is involved. (That’s what the ACLU used to do.)

So in this case, though much of the motivation for these laws could stem from a Republican desire to prevent the teaching of the history of racism and the genocide of Native Americans, Lukianoff et al. argue that there are some genuine motivations for enacting these laws based on what’s happened in classrooms. On the whole, though, the authors come down with the view (a view I’ve expressed myself) that although these laws may be constitutional, they are also undesirable, and that there are other ways to prevent some of the invidious effects of how CRT has been taught in the classroom.

Click on the screenshot to read:

The authors call these bills “divisive concepts bills” (DCBs) rather than CRT bills, as Lukianoff et al. (referred to as “I” in the text) say that DCB better expresses what the bills promote.  They make 13 points about the bills. These are not reasons to oppose to bills, but rather things to consider when thinking about whether DCBs should be opposed. I’ll list the points (FIRE’s quotes are indented) and give my own take in type that is flush left.

Note that most of the interest in these bills centers on their use in public secondary schools rather than public universities, which have greater latitude for teaching what the faculty wants.

1. There are dozens of these bills, with possibly hundreds of amendments.  And they all differ, making it hard to formulate a blanket opinion. As FIRE says:

Indeed, there are so many that it has made discussion of the bills difficult, with some being clearly unconstitutional, while a few others essentially reiterate existing racial discrimination law and seek to ban the kind of compelled ideological speech that is already prohibited under the First Amendment.

2. Laws that bar the teaching of certain concepts or materials relating to race and gender in higher education are almost always unconstitutional and are contrary to a free speech culture.  According to the essay, this constitutes illegal “viewpoint discrimination”. But that applies in universities, and such discrimination is surely illegal. The crunch comes in secondary education (kindergarten through 12th grade), where the law is different.

3 Laws that bar the teaching of certain concepts or materials relating to race and gender in higher education are almost always unconstitutional and are contrary to a free speech culture. Why FIRE thinks DCBs shouldn’t be passed to apply to secondary schools is largely because the parts of CRT that liberal parents object to involve compelled speech, such as attesting that you have white privilege and are racist—speech that is already illegal. Teaching about the history of racism in America, which is why Republicans largely want these bills, isn’t wrong, but is an important part of our history. It’s the compelled thought and speech bits that are illegal. But not all bills mandate that.

4. K-12 curricula are not suddenly political. They have always been political. The point is that curricula are decided in a “democratic manner”, which, I suppose means that the authors think that legislatures have the right to mandate curricula. Two quotes:

. . . what will become the curriculum in most public K-12 schools is democratically decided by a combination of state legislatures, local school boards, and individual schools. As such, they represent the will of the people, as expressed in local and state elections. The individual schools cannot exceed the scope granted them by their school boards, which themselves derive power and authority from the state. There is a large distinction between the expansive role that higher education plays in our society and the restricted responsibilities incumbent upon an American elementary, middle, or high school. Higher education is a gigantic engine not merely for teaching but also for engaging in knowledge-expanding research. As such, it enjoys certain necessary privileges, such as academic freedom.

. . . Because K-12 attendance is compelled by the state and, at public schools, funded predominantly by local taxes, it is understandable that the substance of that teaching is subject to democratic oversight, through state legislatures and elected (or appointed by those who were elected) school boards. Legislators are expected to exercise oversight when citizens with children in the schools voice legitimate concerns about curricular matters.

5. Most of the divisive concepts bills aimed just at K-12 are probably constitutional, given that legislatures have a lot of power to decide curriculum. That doesn’t mean they are above criticism. Restricting teacher’s speech rights is much easier in secondary school than in colleges. Exceptions, as I’ve pointed out, include teaching ID or other forms of creationism, which are banned from public education by the First Amendment (creationism is considered a religious doctrine).

But, as FIRE points out, “legal” doesn’t mean “wise”, especially when the bills prohibit teaching things that make students “uncomfortable”. As the essay notes,

 Rhode Island’s H6070 (tabled in committee) bans “race or sex scapegoating,” defined as, in part:

(ii) “Race or sex scapegoating” means assigning fault, blame, or bias to a race or sex, or to members of a race or sex because of their race or sex and similarly encompasses any claim that any particular race or sex is responsible for society’s ills.

This could be read as making basic statements of fact — for example, “In the United States, until 1865, the enslavement of black people by white people was widespread practice,” — unlawful if spoken by a teacher or administrator to a student.

This isn’t the only part likely to cause anxiety for well-intentioned teachers. Many of the bills prohibit “making part of any course” that “any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.” It is not hard to imagine a student feeling uncomfortable by learning true facts about historical racism, presented reasonably, coming home distraught and telling their parents. Under these bills, parents may argue that the teacher has done something unlawful. This is always an issue when speech restrictions focus on concepts characterized by a subjective reaction like discomfort or guilt, without making absolutely clear that the regulation is targeting behavior intended to create that response in students. Indeed, my book with Jon Haidt, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” emphasized the dangers of focusing on impact over intent.

As Lukianoff et al. emphasize, these constitute “vague speech codes”, which could, and will, lead to both chilling of student speech and lawsuits.

6. Banning specific curricular materials like The 1619 Project in public K-12 schools, whether or not you agree with doing so, is within the power of the government in many states. I object to teaching the 1619 Project not on legal grounds, but on didactic grounds: it’s an ideological program that promulgates a view of history that is largely inaccurate. But banning its teaching is censorship. Its vetting should be done democratically, through legislatures, school boards, and schools themselves.

7. Misleading reporting has muddied the waters. One example are reports that the new Florida law mandates that students and professors must register their individual political affiliation. That simply wasn’t true: the bill mandates a “climate report” on “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” in schools which could be useful in seeing how many students feel that they aren’t able to speak freely. FIRE did oppose that bill, but for other reasons

8. Proponents and critics of the divisive concepts bills are largely talking past each other on the issue. This is, I think, the most important of all the points. I’ll quote Lukianoff et al. here;

Proponents of the bills see them as banning sessions where preteens are made to apologize for their race privilege, or where biracial children have been told that one parent probably physically abused the other due to their oppressor status. They look at sections in the bills that ban teaching mandatory guilt, genetic essentialism, and racial superiority and wonder — and assume — that opponents of the bills must be proponents of teaching those concepts.

On the other hand, critics of these bills see bans on the 1619 Project, and vague clauses that arguably reach any discussion of slavery, and interpret them as a highly politicized mandate to teach a certain view of history intended to soften the horrors of slavery and minimize historical racism. They see those who support such laws as wanting children to learn a jingoistic and propagandized version of history. While some on each side are undoubtedly acting in bad faith, the majority are motivated by sincere and valid concerns, and both proponents and opponents are motivated to ignore the valid points of their opposition.

Each side’s distorted impression of the goals of the other side, and of what’s actually in the bills, has been an unfortunate side effect of the media coverage. Those listening to left-leaning outlets and pundits could be forgiven for thinking that the bills outright ban discussion of slavery. Those listening to right-leaning outlets and pundits could be forgiven for having no idea of the breadth and vagueness of a lot of the clauses in these bills, and the chilling effect they may create with teachers making good faith attempts to comply. The media coverage of these bills has been largely lacking in deep-dives into the actual text of the bills, instead relying on broad characterizations of their intent and the motivations behind those introducing them.

As one example, South Carolina’s bill prohibits schools from promoting things like the superiority of one race over another or that an individual bears responsibility “for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.” The authors point out that these things are already prohibited by laws on racial discrimination and harassment.

And yet the termites continue to dine, as in these examples of real things that happened in school, collected by Bonnie Snyder:

  1. biracial high school student in Las Vegas was allegedly singled out in class for his appearance and called derogatory names by his teacher. In a lawsuit, the student’s family alleges he was labelled an oppressor, told denying that status was “internalized privilege,” and told he needed to “unlearn” the Judeo-Christian principles imparted by his mother. When he refused to complete certain “identity confession” assignments, the lawsuit claims, the school gave him a failing grade. He has had to attend counseling.
  2. Third grade students in California were forced to analyze their racial and other “identities,” rank themselves according to their supposed “power and privilege,” and were informed that those in the “dominant” culture categories created and continue to maintain this culture to uphold power.
  3. Parents in North Carolina allege that middle school students were forced to stand up in class and apologize to other students for their “privilege.”
  4. Buffalo public schools teach students that all white people perpetuate systemic racism and are guilty of implicit racial bias.
  5. Elementary children at the Fieldston School in Manhattan were sorted by race for mandatory classroom exercises.

These exercises are indeed illegal, and some of the proponents of the new bills are worried by stuff like this. They are right to do so, especially because ascertaining that these things happened might be difficult if children’s speech is chilled. I have no doubt that much of this stuff goes on now and yet is unreported.

9. Legislation is not the only way to address the aforementioned concerns. First of all, many of the behaviors prohibited by the new bills are already illegal. This could be remedied with either lawsuits or things like issuing the “warning letters” that are a specialty of FIRE. The other ways are less convincing, involving vague notions of “broader reform with a positive vision and lots of creative thinking and experimentation.” Granted, it wasn’t this article’s brief to outline specific reforms, but rather to give us thinking and talking points. Still, if you don’t think the bills are a good idea, but still shouldn’t be banned in general, you need to figure out a way to eliminate their invidious effects.

10. Critical race theory isn’t a perfect term for the problematic behavior these bills are trying to address. The authors note that the academic version of CRT, as adumbrated by scholars like Kimberlé Crenshaw and Derrick Bell, isn’t what is being prohibited. Instead, it is the more authoritarian versions of anti-racism,  as spread by people like Ibram Kendi and Robin DiAngelo.  The authors consider variants of the latter ideas to be “antiliberal.”

11. The California ethnic studies curriculum helps demonstrate what the proponents of these bills are afraid of. I won’t go into detail here, but the authors consider the California curriculum anti-Semitic. Their essay gives examples.

12. What is the deeper cause of this battle? A breakdown in societal trust and trust in expertise, particularly along partisan lines. One quote from the essay:

While trying to explain the situation in a forthcoming interview with Michael Moynihan at VICE, I realized that at the core of what’s going on is a fundamental lack of societal trust and the lack of trust in expertise. Many parents, even many on the left, don’t necessarily trust K-12 teachers to do the right thing on their own. They believe that without new laws, rather than educating about certain historical facts, teachers will be indoctrinating their children into a bleak worldview.

The authors see no quick fix for this problem. Indeed, it is the reason why we have so much vaccination resistance and opposition to evolution in the U.S.!

Finally,

13. There are going to be lots of lawsuits. That’s for sure!

The authors’ conclusion, with which I again agree, is that “Sometimes the principled thing will make nobody happy.” Apparently the “principled thing” espoused by Lukianoff et al. is that teaching bans are unconstitutional for higher education, but often are not unconstitutional in secondary schools, so they can’t be dismissed or attacked as illegal.  Here’s how the authors end:

The reality is, as usual, complicated. Proponents of these bills need to realize that they can’t legislate these ideas out of existence, and that the more egregious bills are not only unconstitutional and thus totally futile, but throw fuel on an already raging culture war fire. Opponents of these bills need to read the bills and be honest about what’s actually in them and recognize that their opponents are motivated by something other than a desire to hide the true history of slavery. It is my hope that, wherever you lie on this issue, this article has given you a greater understanding of the opposing side. And if not, you’re welcome to join those yelling at me across both sides of the aisle!

I’m not yelling, as these are all good points. It’s worth reading the piece and cogitating before you take a stand on the anti-CRT (or anti-DCB) bills.