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The Left’s long march through our classrooms: can it ever be reversed?

When I started teaching in the late 1960s there were still unresolved issues between “traditional teachers” and “progressive educators”. Traditional teachers usually held academic degrees in particular disciplines; like history, literature, math or chemistry. Progressives typically held degrees in “education”.   With regard to the curriculum, the two camps differed over the relative importance of “what to teach” and “how to teach.” The traditionalists focused on the content of the lesson. Progressives professed to be interested in how students learn. Traditionalists commonly used direct instruction and Socratic discourse. Progressives sought to organize “cooperative learning experiences” that were to produce “critical thinking” skills.   Over the years, serious academics on both sides of the political spectrum, claimed that progressive teaching practices dumbed down the curriculum and emptied the content of the humanities. For whatever reason, academic standards over the last half century tumbled faster than a Soviet gymnast on steroids and the spirit of open-ended, rational inquiry sunk to an all time low. Over the same period political consciousness among students rose to 18th century revolutionary levels. Teachers' unions became more radical and more partisan. We aligned with left-wing political parties from which we won higher salaries. We sought graduate degrees from progressive education faculties; which qualified us for even higher salaries and influential positions in the educational establishment. By the end of the 1970s we had transformed teaching from a low-paying, rather prestigious, “vocation” to a relatively well-paid, adversarial “mission”.   The 20th century progressive education movement was inspired by the thinking of American philosopher, John Dewey. Dewey was, in large measure, a disciple of Marx, and his own disciples co-opted our schools throughout the radical decades of the last century. His so-called “pragmatism” and “activity methods” captured the imagination of educational theorists at Columbia University; and throughout my own… Read More

Dalhousie’s code of conduct violates university values

Early last summer, Dalhousie University Student Union Vice President, Masuma Khan, proposed a motion that the student union should boycott Canada Day celebrations. Responding to criticism, Khan took to social media: “At this point, f—k you all. I stand by the motion I put forward. I stand by Indigenous students. (…) Be proud of this country? For what, over 400 years of genocide?” She added: “white fragility can kiss my ass. Your white tears aren’t sacred, this land is.” These posts violated Dalhousie’s student code of conduct, which prohibits “unwelcome or persistent conduct that the student knows, or ought to know, would cause another person to feel demeaned, intimidated or harassed.” That’s the official finding Arig al Shaibah, Dalhousie’s vice-provost of student affairs, made after conducting a formal investigation. The investigation followed a complaint from another Dalhousie student alleging that Khan’s “targeting [of] ‘white people’ who celebrate Canada Day is blatant discrimination.” Khan has declined to participate in an informal resolution process, which would have had her receive counseling and submit an essay. Dalhousie was slated to begin a formal process to determine her punishment, but they have since withdrawn their complaint due to public backlash. Universities these days neither understand nor appreciate freedom of expression on campus. That Khan was being persecuted for the content of her expression, or the manner in which she expressed it, was just one incident in a long line. Without freedom of expression on campus, though, universities cannot fulfill their mission as places of inquiry and discussion. Let us agree, just for the sake of argument, with the finding that Khan violated the student code of conduct. Let us also agree that she was abusive and that there is no place for abusive expression on campus. Why, then, was Dalhousie’s approach wrongheaded? What should… Read More

Principal Fortier is the Hero McGill University Needed

  On February 13th, the board of directors of the Student’s Society of McGill University (SSMU) rejected a motion that would have removed Arts Undergraduate Society representative Igor Sadikov from the board. This was in response to a tweet that Sadikov had sent out on February 6th, which encouraged people to “punch a Zionist”. While Zionism can be seen as a contentious issue, it is not the political connotations regarding Zionism that should have been questioned. What should have been the focus of the situation was that an elected representative of the McGill University student body incited violence towards some of the very members he represents.   At the February 13th meeting, representative Jasmine Segal came under fire for simply stating that Sadikov’s tweet was hateful. Supporters of Sadikov were present in the gallery at the time of this meeting, and had the audacity to call for the removal of Segal based purely on her support for Zionism. Simultaneously, none of the Executive members of SSMU had the courage to condemn the comments being made towards Segal.   At this point it was clear that SSMU had failed Jasmine Segal, failed Zionists, and failed the McGill student body. McGill University became the laughing stock of Canada, as it managed to garner enough attention that satirical news source The Beaverton published an article on the situation. Luckily for McGill students, McGill University Principal Suzanne Fortier had the courage to stand up to SSMU. Reports indicate that Fortier had informed the Executive members of SSMU, that if they did not recommend the resignation of Sadikov, she would issue a public statement condemning SSMU’s inaction and would consider taking legal action against them, resulting in a loss of funding.   Yesterday, February 17th, hours after meeting with Fortier, days after the vote not… Read More

Why universities should cherish the civil liberties

Some people want others to refer to them using non-gendered or atypically gendered pronouns. Some hold that neither “he” nor “she” accurately applies to them. Others prefer that our common language didn’t irrelevantly indicate one’s sex. Favourite non-gendered alternatives are “they” and “ze,” while “he,” “she,” and “vhe” allows for a third sex or gender. University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson has stated publicly that he will not honour student requests to use non-standard pronouns. One line of argument behind Peterson’s refusal is his view that there are just two human sexes, not three or four or a continuum, and that no one is both male and female. To refer to someone as “vhe,” then, is to imply something about them that one might believe to be false. The University of Toronto has directed Peterson to accede to students’ requests to use their preferred pronoun. In a letter dated October 18th, Dr David Cameron, the dean of the Faculty of Arts and Science, and Dr Sioban Nelson, the Vice-Provost, Faculty and Academic Life, tell Peterson that “the refusal by a teacher or colleague to use the personal pronoun that is an expression of the person’s gender identity can constitute discrimination.” Refusing requests by transgendered people is, they add, “contrary to the rights of those persons to equal treatment without discrimination.” If I had my way, every university in Canada would commit itself to supporting any member of its community who through exercising a civil liberty becomes the subject of a human rights complaint. I want to make three points about Cameron and Nelson’s position. 1. It is far from settled whether current or pending human rights legislation implies that failing to honour people’s pronoun preferences constitutes wrongful discrimination or harassment. 2. By insisting that such behaviour is wrongfully discriminatory… Read More

National Debt Clock Tour Raises Awareness

  When considering students and debt, most tend to think about student loans. However, members of one student organization tend to think more of the big picture; they see students as future taxpayers who will one day inherit the governmental debts from current and previous generations. And this group is pulling out all the stops to make sure that other students see with their own eyes the dire state of government finances across Canada.   Generation Screwed is a non-partisan student group that operates on 27 university campuses across Canada. Working as an initiative of the Canadian Taxpayer’s Federation (CTF), they argue that debts, deficits, and wasteful spending today will all have to be paid off later by coming generations with interest. These advocates for fiscal responsibility stress that governments are spending away their futures.   To convince others of this rallying cry for fiscal prudence, Generation Screwed launched the Generation Screwed Debt Clock Tour across several university campuses. On this tour that ended last Friday, they partnered with the CTF to bring the “National Debt Clock,” to campuses in Quebec and Ontario.   Leading this campaign was Aaron Gunn, the CTF’s Director of Special Projects and the Executive Director of Generation Screwed. According to Gunn, the purpose of the tour was to “…raise awareness to students who don’t realize how big of a burden they’re being left by politicians spending money out of control.”   The tour functioned by bringing the debt clock to university campuses where local Generation Screwed coordinators showcased the size and the real-time increase in the federal (or their province’s) debt. This put the debt situation into context for students who may not otherwise be aware of the size and gravity of the situation.   And, for the most part, the reception from students was… Read More

Technology has a place in classrooms, but it shouldn’t be a crutch used by lazy professors

My article “Pass, Fail” in The Walrus seems to have triggered a massive response from readers, most of it approbative but some of it highly critical, in several instances verging on being ad hominem. Happily, this not the case with Darryl Whetter’s “The Kids Are Alright.” He does not agree with my argument, but nor does he condemn it. Rather, he attempts to think about it critically. I offer the following brief remarks in response to his concerns. Darryl Whetter’s criticism of my article consists of two substantial assertions and two corollaries. First the assertions: (1) Technology has not had the deleterious effect on education I claim it has; (2) neither student ability nor university education per se has declined over the past several decades in the way I suggest. As to the corollaries: (1) Professors who endorse either or both of these assertions may be nostalgic, narcissistic, and perhaps even ill-inclined toward contemporary students; (2) my article indicates that I am such a professor. I’ll address Whetter’s substantial assertions directly; I’ll leave the matter of the corollaries to the readers’ judgement. First, nowhere in the article do I offer a wholesale critique of technology or of its role in university education, as Whetter suggests. Nor am I against technology in the manner in which the comparison of me with Bernard of Clairvaux implies (the prostitutes aren’t “student e-distraction.” The students are the mill workers. The prostitutes are those who profit from their misfortune—the lower ranks of the administrative cast, the student services cabal and the e-cheerleaders.) Insofar as I have a critique of technology, I’d be inclined to agree with Jaron Lanier—technology is merely a tool, and should be thought of and used as such. To think of it as being more than this—as salvation, as the most important… Read More
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