Stop the Funeral Dirges for Academic Rigor, Please

 

I admit to being a hopelessly disorganized individual, and working in a cluttered corner “office” in my home. The “logical (to me) chaos” of my workspace right now says something meaningful about the state of academic rigor today, thanks to a couple of completely coincidental items. On my desk there is a pile of paper that represents the first 50 or so pages of a nearly 500-page manuscript, and an iPad with a somewhat related book in my Kindle queue waiting for me to complete.

The book is The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, by Tom Nichols, and the manuscript is on a theory of “political Darwinism.” They are definitely polar opposites on just about any scale one would like to use to compare them, which makes them remarkably similar. Nichols is pointing out how society — particularly America — has shifted to a point where all experts are considered untrustworthy. The author of the manuscript is showing how the shifting trends in politics are actually following a fairly logical evolutionary process that needs a severe interruption if we prize freedom at all. The similarity between them lies in both their serious tones of warning against the track our society is following now, and their extreme attention to detail in an academic sense. The other item of note about them is that the book is authored by someone who is generally conservative, and the manuscript’s author is essentially a libertarian.

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In this AEI Events Podcast, AEI’s Gerard Robinson hosts Senate Committee on the Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA), who addresses the bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015 he cosponsored with Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and several other lawmakers. This aims to cut mandatory minimums, grant judges greater sentencing discretion, and help prisoners successfully return to society.

Following Chairman Grassley’s remarks, Hayne Yoon (Vera Institute), John Huffington (Living Classroom Foundation), and the Pat Nolan (American Conservative Union Center for Criminal Justice Reform) discuss how to prepare prisoners for life after prison, reduce recidivism, provide opportunities for returned citizens, and reform the criminal justice system to create safer communities and more stable families. The panelists also address improving prison conditions for women, introducing prosecutorial discretion in sentencing, and funding and operating correctional education programs.

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In this AEI Events Podcast, Chairwoman Virginia Foxx of the House Education and Workforce Committee (R-NC) delivers a keynote to discuss the opportunities of career and technical education, followed by a discussion with AEI’s Andy Smarick. Chairwoman Foxx states that CTE can help fill jobs in in-demand fields, potentially increase graduation rates, and give students more schooling options.

Mr. Smarick and Chairwoman Foxx then discussed the federal government’s role in expanding CTE, with Chairwoman Foxx stating that local-level decisions on the subject were more beneficial. She also stressed the importance of online and distance learning.

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On Being a Public School Insurgent

 

For a conservative (particularly a social conservative), working as a teacher in America’s public school system feels an awful lot like being an exile in a strange and hostile land.

Earlier in my career, collaboration between teachers, while encouraged, was not mandatory. A teacher’s classroom was one’s own domain. As long as one could substantiate to their principal and students’ parents that their lessons met the curricular objective established by the district, teachers were under no compulsion to teach the same lessons as their colleagues. Those days are long gone. Starting with No Child Left Behind, and accelerating under Common Core, delivery of classroom instruction and assessment is under the direct control of district and school site administration. The “perfect” lesson is one that is “teacher-proof,” sanitized of any distracting individuality, conveying the authorized and approved content with a predictable, mechanical reliability. Such lessons almost universally reflect the progressive dogma prevalent in society currently.

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In this AEI Events Podcast, Princeton Professors Robert P. George and Cornel West discuss their close friendship that thrives despite their deep political disagreements—a surprising message in a politically polarized culture. Their lively conversation with Ramesh Ponnuru—who was their student at Princeton—seeks to answer one question: What is the purpose of a liberal arts education?

West and George have spent the past several years teaching and lecturing together to accomplish a common goal: the provision of a true liberal arts education to their students. Through their courses and their friendship, they have served as examples of how, when two knowledgeable and principled individuals come together in an honest and nonadversarial pursuit of truth, the competition of ideas deepens their own understanding of that truth.

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College vs. the Love of Wisdom

 

Part I: A sad realization

While we Ricochetti may find it regrettable, the vast majority of human beings aren’t interested in ideas. In my Advanced International Relations class, we met once a week after reading a book. It was mentally electrifying. We ran the gamut of different ideas and theories and hammered out what they all meant. The teacher was superb, and it was a smaller class, so it was perfect for discussion. The class was among the most intellectually productive things I’ve ever done. Sadly, I doubt that a majority of the students were really into it. I asked my Professor why the students were so uninterested in the morality of torture and wars and Empires. He shrugged and said that while he always found it odd, it was usually that way.

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School Daze

 

I’ve taught school, officially, for 22 years now. I mean, as a contracted teacher. I also worked as a teacher’s aide, and as a short-term and long-term, substitute teacher for a couple of years, as I finished the credential program in California. I went to college, for a couple of years, fresh out of high school, but wasn’t a dedicated student. So I dropped out, got married, had five children, then decided to go back and finish my degree (because I had so much spare time). But, this second attempt at college was more successful because I’d gained more self-discipline, and better stick-to-it skills as a mother. I became a full-time teacher when my “baby” was in eighth grade. It was a really hard transition because I didn’t realize how much time was involved in being The Teacher. Wow … lots of work and time. But, it is a very entertaining profession. I’ve taught in California, Maryland, and Nevada, and have been in 4th grade for my whole career … I love them.

Here are few anecdotes:

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I Am Wombat, Hear Me Roar

 

Please note: Although the terrible shooting in Virginia this morning must still be fresh in everyone’s mind, I’ve been meaning to post this for a while. I cannot think of another forum in which to share this. For the record, I have embraced diversity in all aspects of life since I was small. Rather, I wonder if mandatory, ham-handed “sensitivity” training that has been de rigueur in U.S. academic institutions since the late 1980s have backfired and contributed to the current climate of absurd intolerance. I’ve wanted to write this for almost 30 years: this is my “coming out” essay.

As a teenager during the late 1980s, I was a serious student. In fact, my fellow classmates voted me “most likely to enjoy writing a research paper.” Academics were my life. I had no close friends, preferring mostly to hang out with boys because they made little personal demands on me. We could talk about anything, as long as it did not creep into the realm of the serious. I wasn’t looking to make a significant personal connection with anyone. Sure, I was horny, but I also feared my own sexuality. Junior year, I had a boyfriend for a hot minute. He touched me—once—and I literally swooned. A week later, he dumped me to resume sexy times with his more experienced ex.

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Kitchen Math: The Pythagorean Theorem Is Lurking Behind Your Sink

 

Maybe you hate the backsplash tiles behind your kitchen sink. I know I do. Not your tiles, I mean – mine. Their pattern is a boring grid; their color, a grubby off-white (if you’ve ever dug up grubs in your garden, you know what color I mean). A few of the tiles are stamped with chintzy brown sunflowers in a listless attempt at cheer. It probably doesn’t help that I hate our kitchen sink as well, a sink wedged in a countertop corner for added inconvenience.

But maybe you’re lucky. Maybe you have a convenient kitchen sink and exciting backsplash tile. If your backsplash tile is laid in a hopscotch pattern, you even have the Pythagorean theorem lurking right behind your sink. To the left is a backsplash much nicer than mine, tastefully tiled in a hopscotch pattern (well, tasteful aside from the peculiar choice of blue grout). To mathematicians, the hopscotch pattern is known as “Pythagorean tiling”, because of how beautifully it illustrates the Pythagorean theorem. Several proofs of the Pythagorean theorem exist, some of which are more intuitive than others. To me, the diagram superimposed on the hopscotch tiling produces one of the most intuitive proofs, especially for children. If you like, you can knock off reading right now and do the proof yourself: the diagram has all the labeling you need.

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The Real Bane of the Humanities: Critical Reading

 

I have a BA in Philosophy and MA in Theology. The more I read in my fields, the more I find that my training is outside the norm. In both programs that I was involved in, almost all of my professors would hammer any paper they got if it didn’t adhere to the Principle of Charity. For them it was important that you assumed that the people you were studying (Locke, Plato, Sartre, Calvin, Frame, etc) were at least as smart as you, a lowly and ignorant student. If you found a supposed contradiction in their writings you had to do your best to find a way to reconcile the contradiction before attacking it. It was assumed that they were smart enough to see obvious problems and avoid them if possible. We also read the primary texts of each of these writers foremost, not commentaries.

This led to actual learning on my part. Looking so hard at a text of Rousseau (who I despise as a thinker), and trying to see what he was saying from his point of view made me understand what he was trying to say, and taught me a lot about the French Revolution, and the Romantic and Socialist thought which sprang from him. It also allowed me to be influenced and to argue better against those that agreed with him far more than I did. This goes for all the works that I read in my education.

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Kitchen Math: Building the Primordial Pyramid from Cheese Singles

 

Those of you who remember the formula for the volume of a pyramid and its rounder cousin the cone may have, like me, have been told to simply accept it, at least until we learned calculus – that is, if we learned calculus. When I was in school, this bugged me. Bugged me enough to doodle a lot of pyramids until I discovered the primordial pyramid. The primordial pyramid is the only pyramid I know of which makes its volume obvious without the use of calculus – heck, nearly without the use of math! It is, however, a pyramid with specific proportions, incapable of answering for all pyramids and cones. To make it do that takes magical cheese.

Imagine a perfect cube. It could be a perfect cube of cheese, but at this point it’s more helpful to picture the cube as transparent – made of jello, for example. Picture lines inside the cube connecting each corner of the cube to its most opposite corner. The surfaces connecting these lines divide the cube up into six identical pyramids, primordial pyramids. The height H of each primordial pyramid is one-half the height of the cube, so the volume of the cube is (2H)^3. Because six of these pyramids together form the cube, the volume of each pyramid is (2H)^3/6. The base of each pyramid has area A = (2H)^2. Writing the volume of the primordial pyramid in terms of base and height, the volume is 2HA/6 = 1/3 HA. Now suppose we build a primordial pyramid out of that American kitchen staple, cheese singles (very thin, identical squares of cheese food product):

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Higher Education: Not a Worthy Charity

 

As part of their annual alumni gathering the UCLA Anderson School of Management posted a boast on Instagram about how the class of 2002 raised $1.2 million for the school. I certainly support charity, but this boast really struck me – is this the best place for these talented people to be putting this amount of money? Are colleges and universities, as they currently operate, good places for charitable dollars?

Let’s put some perspective on the economics of attending the Anderson School (I am only picking on them because I am an alumnus). The current cost of the full-time program at UCLA is $96,966 for residents and $109,540 for non-residents. The executive program costs close to $150,000 (note the link shows the cost of one year of the two-year program). I am a 1986 graduate of the UCLA management school full time MBA program. My total tuition costs were $3,000. Tuition increased 3,133%, a 12% compound growth rate. Inflation adjusted tuition would be $6,674, a 122% increase with a 3% compound growth rate. In 1986, UCLA was ranked #8 by US News. Now it is ranked #15.

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Check out the new Harvard Lunch Club Hidden Gem playlist on Spotify!

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Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America discuss the pressure mounting on the Democratic National Committee to spend big on every special House election, despite long odds in most of them. They also unload on University of California-Berkeley administrators for cancelling a speech by Ann Coulter over security concerns instead of cracking down on students and faculty threatening to disrupt the event. And they address the latest twist in leftist conspiracy theories, as liberals contend Rep. Jason Chaffetz decided not to seek re-election because he’s being blackmailed by Russia.

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Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America shake their heads as Republicans fight over health care reform after telling Americans it would be easy to repeal and replace. They’re also disgusted as school officials in Maryland seem far more concerned about protecting the reputation of illegal immigrants than condemning the rape of a 14-year-old girl, allegedly by two teens in the U.S. illegally. And they get a kick out of Susan Rice lecturing the Trump administration about the importance of being honest and factual with the public and our allies.

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