A New Zealand geography teacher calls for giving Mātauranga Māori “equal status” in the classroom

December 5, 2022 • 9:15 am

Karen Finn, labeled below as a “PhD. candidate, University of Auckland,” is also identified in this short article as “a geography teacher and a teacher editor” who’s “researching decolonizing school geography in Aotearoa New Zealand for a Ph.D. in Education.” The short piece appears on Ipū Kirerū, the blog of the New Zealand Association for Research in Education. And its message is a harbinger of things to come because Finn, who’s not Maori, advocates for Mātauranga Māori (MM), the “way of knowing”of New Zealand’s indigenous people, to be given “equal status” in the geography classroom. The NZ government, educators, and educational authorities apparently plan for MM to be given equal status in everything, including science, though Māori comprise about 16.5% of the population and Asians 15.1% (Europeans are 70.2%).

Recall that MM comprises far more than just empirical stuff—practical knowledge like growing plants and catching eels—but is also an elaborate system incorporating legend, fantasy, religion, a preoccupation with connection and ancestry, and morality. I’m not sure how much MM geography there really is (and author Finn doesn’t tell us), but she wants it to have equal status (presumably with “European geography”) in the classroom. Click to read, and then read the comment at the bottom from a Kiwi friend who discusses the drive to turn NZ education into half “Western stuff” and half MM:

A few quotes from Finn:

Current changes to The New Zealand Curriculum and NCEA call for equal status for mātauranga Māori – mana ōrite o mātauranga Māori. I’m both excited and challenged by this prospect. As a Pākehā geography teacher, giving equal status to mātauranga Māori differs from my expertise and requires me to acquire new knowledge. In this blog post I offer some reflections on my learning so I can support mana ōrite o mātauranga Māori.

Equal status for mātauranga Māori – mana ōrite o mātauranga Māori – is one of several key changes being made to NCEA and curricula. Mātauranga Māori is defined in Te Aka Māori Dictionary as “Māori knowledge – The body of knowledge originating from Māori ancestors, including the Māori world view and perspectives, Māori creativity and cultural practices”. Sir Hirini Moko Mead argues that mātauranga Māori is knowledge of the past, present and future, and it continues to develop and emerge. Mead further explains the importance of mātauranga Māori in this way:

Put simply, the term refers to Māori knowledge. However, once efforts are made to understand what the term means in a wider context, it soon becomes evident that mātauranga Māori is a lot more complex.

It is a part of Māori culture, and, over time, much of the knowledge was lost. The reasons for the loss are well known. Several minds have worked to recover much of what was lost — to reconstruct it, to unravel it from other knowledge systems, to revive parts of the general kete or basket of knowledge, and to make use of it in the education of students of the land. Especially Māori students for whom this is a precious taonga, a treasure, a part of the legacy that is theirs to enjoy.”

Finn then makes the argument that I want to emphasize: that MM and other indigenous stuff are essential as coequal in the curriculum, for without that educational equity, students of Māori ancestry will be left cold—uninterested in “modern science” or modern anything. I’m not sure how this is supposed to work, but I suppose via luring students in with MM and then hooking them with a dose of modernity.

Finn raises Te Teriti o Waitangi as an importation rationale. This is the treaty used to undergird all of this: the Treaty of Waitangi, first signed in 1840 as an agreement between European colonists and Māori, though not all Maori groups signed on. The third part of the treaty “gives Māori people full rights and protections as British subjects,” and that’s been interpreted as a requirement to give MM equal time in the classroom. There is very little debate about this in NZ, and most of those who take issue with this interpretation dare not voice their concerns lest they be demonized or even fired. Finn cites the treaty below but also asserts, importantly, that Māori students will not be successful unless half of their education deals with the indigenous “way of knowing”:

Bolding is mine:

Mead’s statement goes a step further than simply defining mātauranga Māori to explaining the urgency of mana orite o mātauranga Māori, particularly for schools. Giving mātauranga Māori equal status in education is important for honouring Te Tiriti o Waitangi and supporting ākonga Māori (Māori students) to achieve success as Māori. Mason Durie says that supporting ākonga Māori to achieve success as Māori requires schools to engage with te ao Māori, and this includes mātauranga Māori. Giving equal status for mātauranga Māori expects the education system to change to fit Māori students rather than the students change to fit the system. It shows ākonga, whānau and communities that their knowledges are valued in schools.

Mead suggests that teachers have an important role in making use of mātauranga Māori. To perform this role well we have to become learners, and even do some unlearning. In my PhD, I am aiming to learn about mātauranga Māori for geography, which is my subject speciality. However, mātauranga Māori isn’t organised into (Western) academic disciplines, such as geography. Mātauranga Māori is integrated and holistic, with relationships between living and non-living parts of the environment and people, and connections between the past, present and future. My process of learning about mātauranga Māori for geography needs to be broader and more holistic than just my discipline.

. . . I’m not alone in this learning journey. Most teachers are learning, planning, and beginning to teach mātauranga Māori, according to NZCER’s National Survey of Secondary Schools. Despite most teachers having begun this journey, non-Māori lag behind Māori in working towards giving equal status to mātauranga Māori. Māori teachers also take more of the burden in supporting colleagues and schools to implement equal status for mātauranga Māori. The survey findings remind us that Māori teachers have varying levels of expertise in te reo Māori and mātauranga Māori and need support too. I need to approach my learning with humility and kindness, without making assumptions or demands of my Māori colleagues.

. . . Mead suggests that teachers have an important role in making use of mātauranga Māori. To perform this role well we have to become learners, and even do some unlearning. In my PhD, I am aiming to learn about mātauranga Māori for geography, which is my subject speciality. However, mātauranga Māori isn’t organised into (Western) academic disciplines, such as geography. Mātauranga Māori is integrated and holistic, with relationships between living and non-living parts of the environment and people, and connections between the past, present and future. My process of learning about mātauranga Māori for geography needs to be broader and more holistic than just my discipline. These are some of the ways that I have begun learning:

Good luck teaching geography in that “holistic” way!

Finn then gives a list of six ways she’s “learning” how to integrate MM into geography, with a virtue-laden statement that sounds familiar to Americans:

3). I am continuing to reflect on my worldview, my privilege, and my ignorance. I am learning and practising humility. One day I hope to be what Georgina Stewart calls a White Ally to my Māori colleagues and ākonga.

As many of us agree, MM certainly deserves a place in the curriculum of NZ schools:  it’s an important part of the nation’s history and culture. That place should be in anthropology and sociology classes. But half of all the curriculum?  I don’t think that’s wise, especially in science, in which students will be confused between MM (even just the empirical bits) and modern science, which are certainly not coequals in helping us understand the world and Universe.

The idea that curricula must be tailored to the ethnicity of the student is pervasive, not just in New Zealand, but also in the U.S.  It has some merit in that students’ backgrounds have to be taken into account to teach them. But to teach everything through an identitarian lens, especially one that calls for coequal representation in the curriculum, is a recipe for not just divisiveness, but educational decline.

One take on this was provided by a Kiwi who’s sent me articles like the above calling for curricular “equity”. He/she wrote me the following (quoted with permission):

. . . it seems pretty clear to me that the whole [identitarian curriculuar] project is based around a self-reinforcing culturalist ideology whereby students are encouraged to believe that their “safety” depends on accessing curriculum through the lens of their own culture. I have no idea what proportion of Māori students think like this, but this proportion will only grow as they are trained to think that way. I think it’s both patronising and infantilising to think that Māori can only relate to science if it’s linked to cultural myths. Even if people accept that this approach is required, what does this then mean for all of the Kiwi students from other cultures? Clearly this is impossible.
There’s a recent piece by John McWhorter in the NYT that bears on this: McWhorter says:
“[T]oday’s left cherishes a form of tokenism.
Our theoretically enlightened idea these days is that using skin color as a major, and often decisive, factor in job hiring and school admissions is to be on the side of the angels. We euphemize this as being about the value of diverseness and people’s life experiences. This happened when we — by which I mean specifically but not exclusively Black people — shifted from demanding that we be allowed to show our best to demanding that the standards be changed for us.”

 

I think this is much closer to what’s actually going on in New Zealand.

Pew study on what criteria Americans think should matter for college admissions

October 21, 2022 • 11:15 am

Although colleges and universities are, left and right, dropping or devaluing high school grades and standardized tests as criteria for admission, the American public still maintains that these two factors (which I’ll consider as indices of “merit”) are the most important considerations, ahead of “community service and involvement” and well ahead of being first in your family to go to college, athletic ability, race or ethnicity, gender, and whether one is a “legacy” (i.e., had a relative attend the applicant’s school). This is what today’s article concludes.

The big contention, of course involves whether one should consider “merit” (as evinced by tests and grades) a lot more important than “race or ethnicity”. This is the conflict involved in debates about affirmative action.  But according to this Pew study in March, all groups see indices of merit as more important than ethnicity, though the emphasis on merit has dropped a tad in the last three years. But the order of importance of the eight factors shown below, including legacy admissions and “outside activities,” hasn’t changed since 1999.

Click on the screenshot to see a summary of the study. (The methodology is here, detailing the use of 11,687 subjects.)

Here are the overall results, lumping all Americans together. Each criterion was weighted by each respondent as “major”, “minor” or “not a factor” in how they should be weighted for college admissions.

As you see, high-school grades are by far the most important criterion, followed by standardized tests, and then, in decreasing order of importance, “first in the family,” athletic ability, race or ethnicity, legacy admission, and gender.  I would reverse grades and standardize tests, since standardized tests put everyone on the same scale, while high school grades vary tremendously among schools. Rather than “community service involvement,” I’d use “extracurriculars” as an index of breadth of interests.  For “race or ethnicity” I’d substitute “socioeconomic class”, which would allow a form of affirmative action for racial groups but also give a leg up to the disadvantaged in other groups.  Then “first in family”, which is correlated with socioeconomic status. I wouldn’t consider athletic ability at all, nor whether one’s relatives attended the school, but schools use the latter criterion as a way of ensuring an income stream from families with an intergenerational college affiliation.

I’m not sure about gender, as more women than men now get college degrees, so the problem is largely solved. But I’d make an exception for historically male colleges like military schools, where qualified women should be admitted on the same basis as qualified men.

Here’s the inter-year comparison (2019 vs. 2022) of how grades and standardized tests are rated, which is of lesser interest than how different population groups and how Democrats vs. Republicans see these factors. Blacks and Hispanics tend to see high school grades as less important than do whites and Asians, while Republic and and Democrats are pretty equal on the importance of grades.

The same holds for ethnic groups regarding standardized tests, while Democrats see standardized tests as of lesser importance than do Republicans—in line with the greater emphasis of Republicans on formal indices of merit.

Finally, we have a bar graph showing how different ethnic groups—and Republicans vs Democrats—regard legacy, first-generation status, and race/ethnicity as weighting factors for admissions.  All three “groups of color” see “first in family,” “legacy” and “race and ethnicity” as more important factors than do whites.  I can understand these data except for the “legacy” part, which I would think would be less emphasized in groups of color.  There’s also a substantial difference between Democrats and Republicans on the race/ethnicty and “first in family” criteria, with Republicans putting less weight on race/ethnicity and “first in family” criteria. That, too makes sense since Republicans, in my view, care less than Democrats about “leveling the playing field”. Political affiliation makes little difference, however, in how one weights “legacy” as a criterion.

In sum, the public apparently still wants grades and standardized tests to be the most important criteria for admission to college, with “activities” a bit behind and other factors, including race/ethnicity, far behind.  In the public’s view, including the views of blacks, Asians, and Hispanics, the debate between merit vs. ethnicity seems to have been settled, though a ranking doesn’t rule out affirmative action—it just makes race a less important criterion for helping a student jump the merit queue.

This debate, however, will all be settled when the Supreme Court bans affirmative action in its next term.

The editor in chief of Science misleads readers into thinking that there is no contradiction between wanting high academic standards and wanting equity

July 11, 2022 • 10:45 am

The article below is by H. Holden Thorpe, who is editor-in-chief of all the Science journals, and it appeared in the most recent issue of the flagship journal Science (reference below). You can read it by clicking on the screenshot, or download the pdf here (both for free).

The point Thorp is making, which is in the title itself, is so palpably false that I can’t believe he doesn’t know he’s deliberately distorting reality for the sake of ideology. This is performative wokeness on a huge scale: almost lying for ideological reasons:

Thorp asserts that improving diversity, presumably by beefing up the number of minority students in schools, does not lower the standards of the school. This, of course, is manifestly false: we all know, and schools know, that to achieve something even close to equity (equal representation of students from all groups), you must lower admissions standards. This is already being done in a big way, through affirmative action and the removal of barriers to admission. The elimination of standardized tests like the SATs is one sign of this. And, according to the Bakke decision, this is perfectly legal, although one cannot have a quota system.

The preferential rejection of Asian and Asian-American students at Harvard, for example, occurred because applying the very high usual admission standards would result in a woefully low percentage of black and Hispanic students. Instead, Harvard, like many other schools, now uses a nebulous form of “holistic” admissions that includes assessing “personality fit”, on which Asians were scored low. This case will make it to the Supreme Court, I suspect, which will probably overturn the decision that Harvard’s practices were legal.

Now I’ve said many times that I do favor a limited form of affirmative action as a form of reparations towards those who didn’t have equal opportunity in the past. So yes, I favor “inclusion,” though not to the extent of either Thorp or many colleges. But I do not pretend that affirmative action, or “inclusion” as it’s called, does not involve lowering standards. It does: the object is not to keep them the same, but to keep the bar at least high enough that people who are qualified to study at a school, or to be promoted to the next grade, are the ones who get in.

In contrast, Thorp recognizes a lack of equity, but doesn’t attribute it to cultural or environmental differences between groups. Instead, he says that it’s the educators’ fault. With the right kind of teaching, Thorp asserts, all students can master scientific material. It just needs a big reform in educational methods. I quote from his article:

It’s common to hear that improving student diversity in higher education requires lowering the bar to admission and watering down the curriculum so that all students can pass the course of study. I’m not aware of anyone who is advocating such a trade-off. [JAC: Of course they are; they’re just silent about it.] There are known methods of teaching that allow more people from different backgrounds to master scientific material without compromising the quality of education. These include a greater use of active learning methods that engage students with course material through discussions and problem solving (as opposed to passively taking in information). Making such reforms may require faculty to learn new ways of teaching. But isn’t that the job—to foster education for everyone?

Another common refrain is that understanding science requires a high degree of skill in mathematics. I’ve heard firsthand from faculty that students can’t pass their classes unless they have previously achieved a high score on standardized tests in math such as the SAT or ACT. That is a breathtakingly pessimistic view. These high scorers are often students who’ve had the opportunities and resources to prepare for pre-college exams, which vast numbers of students have difficulty accessing. Isn’t the whole point of teaching to provide a pathway to achievement?

In the end, Thorp us convinced that the teachers have simply failed the students, most notably in STEM:

Opening the doors to science for everyone requires that faculty learn the most effective methods for teaching a diverse student body. Yes, it’s more work on top of the many other faculty duties, so universities must provide resources to make the adjustments, such as revamping classrooms for active learning, providing time for faculty to redo their curricula, and doing the hard work involved in having the faculty and institution make the cultural changes that students need. And everyone should have more optimism about who can become a scientist.

It’s not the job of faculty and institution of universities to “make the cultural changes” that students need. For if differential achievement is based on different cultures, surely the differences begin making their effects known when children are very young.  Creating equality of opportunity at that time is the job not of universities, but of the government, parents, and society. By the time students get to universities, it’s way too late.

The second of the three paragraphs above assumes that the difference between groups rests on test preparation, but in reality it’s based on a huge difference between groups in culture, background, and environment. (I can’t say anything about group genetics because we have no information on it.). And it’s the teachers’ fault for not finding creative ways to teach math. But in reality, they’ve tried, even using “culturally sensitive math”, but it hasn’t worked.  We don’t yet know what teaching methods can work to bring deprived students up to equity of outcomes. Indeed, even in Kathryn Harden’s book on differential achievement within groups, The Genetic Lottery, although she demands that equity be achieved within whites (she doesn’t deal with different races, but assumes that inequities among white students results from their different genes), she’s at a loss to recommend what changes be made in schooling. (I reviewed her book for the Washington Post.)

The data all show, and I won’t adduce it here for fear of being called names, that schools with selective admissions or a desire to keep equity as students go through school, invariably lower standards to maintain equity. It’s clear that it is impossible not to lower standards in order to increase the representation of a severely underperforming population. Thorp knows this, but has to say otherwise lest he be called a racist. In reality, he should have just kept his gob shut. But Science, like many scientific journals, is engaged in performative editorializing in a big way. 

And, as I said, teachers—our unsung heroes—have been desperate for years to not leave students behind. They’ve tried most everything, to the extent that even Harden can’t think of anything new.  But equity has not been achieved. I don’t think it will until equal opportunity and resources are there from when a newborn is in the cradle. (Do they still have cradles?) And that is going to take a lot more than changing methods of educating students.

Here’s a passage from a new post on Freddie deBoer’s blog, an article called “Education doesn’t work 2.0“. (It’s free, but subscribe if you read him often.} DeBoer doesn’t mention anything about race or ethnicity here; he’s talking about a general lack of malleability of every kid towards education (perhaps only white kids). But many poorly perfoming students are white, too, so unless there is are ethnicity-specific ways of teaching that don’t apply to low achievers among whites, we’re stuck.

DeBoer:

The brute reality is that most kids slot themselves into academic ability bands early in life and stay there throughout schooling. We have a certain natural level of performance, gravitate towards it early on, and are likely to remain in that band relative to peers until our education ends. There is some room for wiggle, and in large populations there are always outliers. But in thousands of years of education humanity has discovered no replicable and reliable means of taking kids from one educational percentile and raising them up into another. Mobility of individual students in quantitative academic metrics relative to their peers over time is far lower than popularly believed. The children identified as the smart kids early in elementary school will, with surprising regularity, maintain that position throughout schooling. Do some kids transcend (or fall from) their early positions? Sure. But the system as a whole is quite static. Most everybody stays in about the same place relative to peers over academic careers. The consequences of this are immense, as it is this relative position, not learning itself, which is rewarded economically and socially in our society.

This phenomenon is relevant to the question of genetic influence on intelligence, but this post is not about that. The evidence of such influence appears strong to me, and opposition to it seems to rely on a kind of Cartesian dualism. However, one need not believe in genetic influence on academic outcomes to recognize the phenomenon I’m describing today. Entirely separate from the debate about genetic influences on academic performance, we cannot dismiss the summative reality of limited educational plasticity and its potentially immense social repercussions. What I’m here to argue today is not about a genetic influence on academic outcomes. I’m here to argue that regardless of the reasons why, most students stay in the same relative academic performance band throughout life, defying all manner of life changes and schooling and policy interventions. We need to work to provide an accounting of this fact, and we need to do so without falling into endorsing a naïve environmentalism that is demonstrably false. And people in education and politics, particularly those who insist education will save us, need to start acknowledging this simple reality. Without communal acceptance that there is such a thing as an individual’s natural level of ability, we cannot have sensible educational policy.

Finally, I’ll give a comment from a colleague who wrote me about the Science editorial:

Not only is Thorp’s claim inconsistent with available data, but he himself resigned as chancellor of UNC because of a scheme that lowered academic standards in the African American Studies department to the point that students were given grades in classes that didn’t exist.

From his Wikipedia article:

“In 2013, Thorp resigned from the position of chancellor amid allegations of widespread academic fraud, which were later outlined in the Wainstein Report. The Wainstein Report describes the findings of an independent investigation conducted by the former federal prosecutor Kenneth Wainstein. It describes abuses spanning over 18 years, which included “no-show” classes that had little to no faculty oversight. Approximately half of those enrolled in these classes were athletes.”

Here is the Wainstein Report:  https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/1344054-full-wainstein-report.html

Thorp’s article doesn’t need much debunking. In five minutes on the Internet you can find how standards for STEM admissions have had to be substantially lowered to increase equity.

One of America’s best high schools swaps merit for equity

May 27, 2022 • 9:15 am

I think I’m going to do only short posts today, with perhaps one medium-length one. Here’s a fairly short one based on an article in yahoo! news (click on screenshot to read).

Lowell High School is (or was) one of America’s best and most rigorous schools.  Here’s what U.S. News and World Report has to say about it in its last report):

Lowell High School

1101 Eucalyptus Dr., San Francisco, California | (415) 759-2730
#82 in National Rankings
Overall Score 99.54/100

Quick Stats

Grades: 9-12
Total Enrollment: 2,786
Student-Teacher Ratio: 25:1

Overview of Lowell High School

Lowell High School offers a rigorous curriculum focused on honors-level and Advanced Placement courses, including chemistry, calculus and economics. Lowell High School also offers a variety of foreign languages, and its athletic teams claim more city championships than any other public high school in San Francisco. Distinguished Lowell alumni include three Nobel Prize winners and famed gorilla researcher Dian Fossey.

Lowell High School 2022 Rankings:

Lowell High School is ranked #82 in the National Rankings. Schools are ranked on their performance on state-required tests, graduation and how well they prepare students for college. Read more about how we rank the Best High Schools.

All Rankings

  • #82 in National Rankings
  • #6 in California High Schools
  • #1 in San Francisco, CA Metro Area High Schools
  • #1 in San Francisco Unified School District High Schools
  • #143 in STEM High Schools

As you see, it’s one of America’s best high schools. But not for long  Click to read:

The reason? Because the school decided to prioritize equity over merit, going from merit-based admissions to a lottery system.  From yahoo! (emphasis is theirs).

San Francisco’s Lowell High School, regarded as one of the best in the nation, is seeing a record spike in Ds and Fs among its first batch of students admitted in fall 2021 through a new lottery system instead of its decades-long merit-based admissions.

Of the 620 first-year students admitted through the lottery, nearly one in four (24.4%) received at least one letter grade of D or F in the said semester, according to internal records obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle. This marks a triple increase from 7.9% in fall 2020 and 7.7% in fall 2019.

Principal Joe Ryan Dominguez attributed the rise in failing grades to “too many variables.” Last month, Dominguez announced his resignation from the school district, citing a lack of “well organized systems, fiscal responsibility and sound instructional practices as the path towards equity.” [JAC: Donguez took over only last fall!]

The lottery system was born out of a long, contentious battle that began in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Proponents of the new system argue that the merit-based system was racist as it resulted in an underrepresentation of Black and Hispanic students, while opponents say it would harm Asian students – who make up the majority of Lowell’s population – and undermine the benefits of a competitive academic environment.

Discussions regarding a long-term policy are still being held. Outgoing District Superintendent Vincent Matthews has proposed an extension of the lottery system, while critics such as Members of the Friends of Lowell group and Lowell’s own Chinese Parent Advisory Council continue to lobby for the return of the old system.

The San Francisco School Board, which introduced the lottery system at Lowell, saw three of its members removed in February after a recall election initiated over misplaced priorities, including what many felt were “anti-Asian” policies.

This is what you get when you prioritize equity over meritocracy, especially when the remediation of inequity occurs far too late down the line. It’s clear that merit is competing with equity, as that’s precisely what proponents of the new system maintain. As usual, Asian students—who are regarded as people of color when they’re attacked but as “white adjacent” when they succeed—are the big losers.

The solution evades me, as I do favor equality of opportunity if not equity, and also feel that some brand of affirmative action must be exercised as a form of reparations. But admitting D and F students does nobody any favors, as by the time the students get into high school, the results of centuries of discrimination have already worked on the students.  I keep thinking about how to fix this problem, because, after all, society owes minorities some reparations. John McWhorter has non-affirmative action solutions (teach phonics, end the drug war, and don’t force everyone to go to college), but I can’t quite go that far.

There are two ways to fix this. One, enacted by Los Angeles and San Diego schools, is to relax grading standards, creating a “holistic grading” system that virtually eliminates Ds and Fthis is done by  keep giving students chances to improve until they get the right grade. That has the merit of giving feedback to students, but the problem of misleading them into thinking that life works that way.

The other way, which I recommend, is a form of affirmative action that will apply while the harder work gets done: trying to create equal opportunity for everyone starting at birth. And we know that that will take years, a lot of resolve, and buckets of money. But it’s the only permanent fix.

In the meantime, we must at least admit that equity and meritocracy are, at present, not compatible. The more meritocratic your standards, the less equity you get. Then, when we admit this to ourselves, we can set about fixing it. We can’t resolve the problem with tricks like reducing standards and “holistic” grading.

 

Why both Left and Right distort CRT for political ends

January 28, 2022 • 11:00 am

I’ve written several posts trying to explain Critical Race Theory (CRT) as it is understood by scholars (see here and here, and here, for instance), and I won’t reiterate the definitions, which, of course differs from scholar to scholar. There is no “approved” definition.  But the variants all have certain things in common, including the concept of “white privilege,” intersectionality, systemic racism, and, usually, reparations and the complicity of oppressors (in this case, white people) in oppressing minorities. CRT is identity-centered rather than individual-centered.

I was going to write a corrective to the misconceptions of the Left about CRT, which are actually distortions because anybody who cares to can find out what CRT really is.  Likewise, the Right distorts CRT in an attempt to minimize the extent of racism. Both ends of the political spectrum, in fact, tailor their own definitions of CRT to meet their goals

Mona Charen at the Bulwark (see first article below) has written a sensible article on CRT (click on screenshot) which makes these points. It turns out that the Right-wing concept is closer to the real CRT than is the Left-wing version, but both sides distort what happens when an dumbed-down version of CRT is taught in schools.

Like me, Charen, doesn’t think there should be any laws against CRT on the books (most of them have been confected  by Republicans). In my case, given the various conceptions of CRT, telling schools what’s legal and not legal to teach infringes the freedom of teachers to teach what they think is best. (Note to creationists and IDers who will use my last sentence to justify the teaching of their nonsense: CRT is not evolution, which is a “theory” that happens to be a true theory as well, and, unlike CRT, one can’t with any rationality debate the truth of evolution.)

So, as Charen notes, the Left (including, recently, Paul Krugman) characterizes CRT simply as the idea, which is true, that there was slavery and oppression of black people for centuries, and that there is still racism, and both the history and current racism injures minorities and violates the tenets of our democracy. As we see below, most Americans agree with these claims. But they are not CRT!

.Charen (my emphasis below):

The laws some Republican-dominated states are passing to curtail CRT and its progeny are bad ideas for many reasons. But the depictions of those laws in big outlets like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post are frequently wrong or incomplete. A recent CNN report about Florida’s new law that would prohibit teaching methods that make people “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin” mangles the facts. The law, CNN claims, is a response to critical race theory, which the network defines as “a concept that seeks to understand and address inequality and racism in the US. The term also has become politicized and been attacked by its critics as a Marxist ideology that’s a threat to the American way of life.”

Not quite, though CNN is hardly alone in describing CRT in such an anodyne fashion. Paul Krugman argues that most people don’t know what CRT is (which is true), but goes off the deep end claiming that Republican “denunciations of C.R.T. are basically a cover for a much bigger agenda: an attempt to stop schools from teaching anything that makes right-wingers uncomfortable.” [JAC: I think there’s some truth in what Krugman says!] One news outlet suggested that anti-CRT bills “may make it even harder to discuss African American history,” and it is common to see anti-CRT bills described as “efforts to restrict what teachers can say about race, racism and American history in the classroom.”

If you were judging by much of the mainstream press coverage, you would think that CRT is just a movement to ensure that the history of slavery, racism, and Jim Crow is not neglected in America’s classrooms. But 1) large percentages of both Republicans and Democrats favor teaching those things, and 2) that’s not what CRT is.

So what does Charen see as the “real” CRT? Here:

In their book Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic state forthrightly that “Critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.” Robin DiAngelo, author of White Fragility, rejects the notion that racism is a character flaw in some individuals, declaring instead that “White identity is inherently racist.” That marks a dramatic departure from the traditional understanding of racism.

Critical race theory adherents favor teaching techniques that most Americans believe violate our commitment to colorblindness, such as “affinity groups” wherein people are segregated by race to discuss certain issues. In Massachusetts, the Wellesley public schools hosted a “Healing Space for Asian and Asian American students and others in the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community.” An official email explained that, “This is a safe space for our Asian/Asian American and Students of Color, *not* for students who identify only as White.”

And, contra Krugman and Scientific American, this kind of stuff, and not just the history of racism and slavery is actually taught in some schools.

In Virginia’s Loudoun County, teacher training materials encouraged educators to reject “color blindness” and to “address their whiteness (white privilege).” Each teacher was exhorted to become a “culturally competent professional who acknowledges and is aware of his or her own racist, sexist, heterosexist or other detrimental attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and feelings.” The training strayed into racial essentialism like this: “To the African, the entire universe is vitalistic as opposed to mechanistic. . . . This precept suggests that African Americans have a psychological affinity for stimulus change, often exhibit an increased behavioral vibrancy and have a rich and sometimes spontaneous movement repertoire.”

Democrats often object that CRT is “not taught in K-12 schools,” which is evasive. It’s true that third graders are not being assigned the works of Kimberly Crenshaw or Ibram X. Kendi, but affinity groups, “anti-racism” (in the sense of rejecting the ideal of color blindness), and other CRT-adjacent ideas are making their way into classrooms. New York City has spent millions on training materials that disdain “worship of the written word,” “individualism,” and “objectivity” as aspects of “white-supremacy culture.”

I’ve given other examples, such as the Smithsonian’s ill-advised (and now removed) characterization of white and black “culture”, and explicit demonizing of whiteness in classrooms, which is divisive and sometimes traumatic, and the recounting by students and parents in New York’s fancy prep schools about the divisive propaganda those schools purvey. There is no shortage of examples.

Republicans and righties aren’t immune, either, attacking perfectly warranted and sensible school units on racism. Charen gives the example of Republicans attacking a school district in Tennesee because on grade had a “Civil Rights Heroes” module that the plaintiffs said was “Anti-American, Anti-White, and Anti-Mexican [sic]”. There’s little doubt that their attempts to ban teaching CRT in schools is motivated at least in part by racism and a continuing attempt to efface American history.

So a pox on both ideological houses, especially because both Republicans and Democrats agree (as do I) that the nature, history, and damage of racism need to be taught.

It’s so easy—and remunerative—for progressives to characterize opposition to CRT as straight-up racism, and for conservatives to reach for heavy-handed, overbroad laws to restrict teaching they resent. But it is possible to oppose CRT for non-racist reasons, in fact for pro-national unity reasons, and even if Republicans are not making the case well or at all, it still needs to be made.

Large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats favor teaching about slavery, racism, and other sins of American history. Eighty-eight percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans favor teaching that slavery was the cause of the Civil War. Ninety percent of Democrats and 83 percent of Republicans believe textbooks should say that many Founding Fathers owned slaves. Nearly identical percentages of Democrats (87) and Republicans (85) say textbooks should include the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and slightly higher percentages want children to learn about the theft of Native American land.

That is not the picture of a nation (or even one party) that is refusing to grapple with the history of racism. Where you do get partisan divergence is on whether schools should teach the concept of “white privilege.” Seventy-one percent of Democrats say yes, but only 22 percent of Republicans agree.

This is getting long, so I’ll refer you to Eric Kaufman’s long survey of the divisions in America about CRT (click on screenshot below). A lot of it is age-related, with young people approving the teaching of “dictionary CRT” while older people oppose it.  Kaufman draws a distinction between “cultural liberalis” (those “classical liberals” who oppose the strict construal of CRT, and “cultural socialists” (those who stress the importance of identity groups over individual rights and favor the teaching of CRT). The ratio of the former to the latter in the U.S. is now 2:1, but Kaufman thinks as the young people of today age, they’re going to remain cultural socialists.

(You can see Kaufman’s full data and analysis here—in a much longer article.)

The cultural socialists on the Left apparently include the editors of Scientific American. A comment the other day on my post “The inanities of Scientific American—almost all within just one year,” went as follows.

The commenter:

This aways confuses me. I have been reading Scientific American in magazine form for years, and I haven’t seen ANY of this offensive stuff. Indeed, the February 2022 issue has an editorial by the Board of Editors basically blasting “wokeness” in American History curricula, and recommending more material covering the treatment of minority groups both historically and currently.
It would really help me if all these critiques of the “failing Scientific American” could cite issues and pages, so I could see for myself.

I have the article below, which I’ll send to anyone who wants it (it’s in the paper edition). Scientific American makes the mistake of conflating CRT with “reality”, using the construal that CRT is simply teaching about racism and its history in the classroom. The article (no link):

Here’s the abstract:

Abstract:

The authors emphasize the importance of critical race theory (CRT) to a fact-based education in the U.S. They cite the implication of the election of officials who opposed CRT and enactment of legislation banning CRT from school curricula in some states for children’s education. They mention the significance of lessons about equity and social justice to young people. They point out that truth and reality will be removed from education if conversations around race and society are eliminated.

I won’t go on except to say that the editorial flirts with the classical definition of CRT, but then says that that all it does is teach us our “true history” and that it “teaches children about reality.”  This is a good example of how the Left deliberately misconstrues CRT so that they can call people who oppose the theory “racists.” But that’s not true.

The title tells all.

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