May 23, 2013, 11:45 am
It’s commencement season. Yet amid conservative complaints about liberal dominance of the commencement industry, some speeches have reverberated with conservative ideas. That was no more evident than when Michelle Obama took the opportunity to reiterate more of her husband’s politics of black respectability at Bowie State University.
She told the audience at the historically black college’s graduation last week that the focus on education had been lost by a community with a history in which slaves had risked their lives to learn to read. She spoke of the struggles to integrate America’s schools. But those words were a mere setup to yet again demonizing and pathologizing today’s black youth. “Instead of walking miles every day to school,” she said, “they’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or…
May 22, 2013, 7:06 pm
Our higher-education system is often thought of as a model for elementary and secondary education because top American universities rank among the very best in the world. But maybe it’s the reverse that is true. After all, only about half of first-time college students earn certificates or degrees within six years, a completion rate much lower than among high-school students. At community colleges, while 81 percent of first-time entering students say they would like to earn bachelor’s degrees, only 12 percent do so within six years.
Why are completion rates so low in higher education, especially community colleges? One reason, according to a blue-ribbon panel assembled by the Century Foundation, is that higher education has not directly confronted the growing economic and racial separation of students within its ranks. Largely separate sets of institutions for white and minority…
May 21, 2013, 1:31 pm
An Open Letter to Daphne Koller
Co-Founder and Co-President of Coursera and
Professor of Computer Science at Stanford University
Dear Professor Koller,
Because I share your vision of creating a world in which all have access to an excellent and empowering education, I would like to propose a new online course for you to make freely available through the Coursera platform. Its title is “The Implications of Coursera’s For-Profit Business Model for Global Public Education.”
You and your company’s compelling pitch to consumers suggests that the private sector—that is, venture capitalists and not taxpayers—can deliver a more equal world in which income will be based on the skills and knowledge people actually acquire rather than the unnecessarily-scarce credentials for which they are eligible and can afford to pay. It is natural to hope that in this more equal and …
May 17, 2013, 12:18 pm
My friend “Jana” sent her most promising manuscript to a journal that we’ll call The Ivy League Business Review. She received immediate confirmation that it was received, although the e-mail did not indicate whether or when it would be sent out for peer review.
So she waited. And waited some more. After six months of waiting, Jana politely asked about the manuscript’s status. She didn’t hear back. Two months later, she e-mailed again but with a more urgent tone. This time she received a reply from the editor. The essence was, “Thank you for your submission. Although the paper seems promising, it does not adequately fit the scope of The Ivy League Business Review. We therefore did not send it out for peer review. Best wishes.”
Jana will be coming up for tenure in two years, and having her paper pointlessly stalled for eight months was a real setback. When she told me…
May 15, 2013, 12:00 pm
About halfway through my first semester teaching American culture and society at Tsinghua University, cradle of Chinese leadership, a student asked me if we could watch a movie—something about “American culture.” It was in this way that I stumbled upon a most intractable dilemma.
If you were given the opportunity of showing some of China’s future leaders one movie that encapsulated the American essence, what would it be?
Koyaanisqatsi is probably not the first movie you would think of. (Probably not even in the first 100.) The somewhat obscure Godfrey Reggio masterpiece was never in the running for mainstream acceptance and box-office gold when it was released, in 1982. Even as a cult classic, it has never attained the same level of acclaim as a Rocky Horror or an Eraserhead.
Koyaanisqatsi is a big-concept movie, and lexicographically, Koyaanisqatsi is a big concept word…
May 13, 2013, 1:38 pm
Truth, we’re told, is the first casualty of war. But as I hunker in my office bunker, the dull thud of history term papers landing on my desk, columns of sleep-deprived and anxiety-ridden students trudging past the door, I’m convinced that truth is also the first casualty of undergraduate paper writing. It is not only the historical truths trampled in the mangled and muddied papers written by my students. More insidiously, a deeper truth also suffers. Only tatters remain of the contract, implicit but immemorial, that teachers will grade student papers fairly and honestly. This shared conviction, that the students’ level of writing can be raised only if the teacher levels with them, now seems a historical artifact.
At the start of the spring semester, as with every semester, I told my students that while this was a history course, the most important thing I could teach them in 15…
May 10, 2013, 12:33 pm
As most of us learn in high school and introductory college literature courses, the central drama of early American fiction involves a resourceful man confronting head-on the wonder, dangers, and vastness of America. Natty Bumppo, the Deerslayer, roams the wilderness of central New York; Ishmael ponders the frightening endlessness of the sea; Huck Finn “lights out” for the territories. We are told that such men—and they all are men—represent the American quest for independence, space, and novelty. With a whole continent before them, these characters act on an insatiable desire, as Emerson put it, to build their own worlds.
Yet most early- and mid-19th century Americans did not experience their country as some trackless wilderness awaiting their footprints and plows but as a complex social landscape marked by continuous and profound transformations. Consider that the national…
May 8, 2013, 1:16 pm
We are puzzled by Marc Sageman’s assertion that terrorism research is stagnant.
We wholeheartedly agree that several issues regularly hinder progress. While both qualitative and quantitative research on terrorism are necessary, scholarship has gone too far in the direction of quantitative methods. A prejudice in favor of elegant models and statistics, sometimes based on poor-quality data, is not unique to terrorism research. It reflects a fashion in social science more broadly.
It is also true that there is no single academic discipline of terrorism research, which is defined by its multidisciplinary nature. Terrorists are influenced by relations among nations and their immediate communities; by the identities they choose, the groups they join in the digital or analog worlds, the costs of the…
May 6, 2013, 1:00 pm
Why not let him e-guest-lecture? (Michael Sandel of Harvard via Flickr/CC)
Are MOOCs and other online materials a threat to quality public higher education, and to our role as professors? The members of the philosophy department at San Jose State University think so. They recently issued an open letter to Michael Sandel, of Harvard University, objecting to his role in encouraging the use of MOOCs at public universities. The controversy stems from San Jose State’s contract with edX, a company that provides MOOCs, including one based on Sandel’s course on justice at Harvard. San Jose State has agreed to use materials provided by edX, but the philosophy department has refused to use Sandel’s online lectures in its courses.
I am a political theorist at a large public university, and this term, for the first…
May 2, 2013, 11:34 am
As a nation, we have no shortage of opinions about race-based affirmative action. This spring The Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by a high-school student wondering if she had been rejected by the Ivy League because “I offer about as much diversity as a saltine cracker.” More than 1,200 readers commented. By the end of the week, she had been invited to appear on the Today show.
As I write, we await the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, which could limit affirmative action. In March the court announced that it would also hear arguments in a second affirmative-action case, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, which will decide if voters in Michigan were within their constitutional rights when they approved a ballot measure banning the use of race in college admissions. By taking on those two cases, the court seems to be…