Posted by David A. Lehrer
The following appears in today’s Sacramento Bee. It relates to a bill that is pending on Governor Brown’s desk.
In mid-March many Californians smirked when the Texas Board of Education adopted a social studies curriculum that aimed to alter its textbooks to rewrite history to suit an ideological agenda.
Well no more smirking for me. Not only do we in California similarly impose a political agenda on our histories, we’ve been doing it for a long time.
The recent passage of Senate Bill 48 – mandating the inclusion of the contributions of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender Americans in instructional materials used in California – prompted research into the California Education Code sections that will be affected.
The California code, not unlike Texas, seeks to mold history’s narrative to suit political and social aims and betrays no subtlety in doing it. California’s policies unabashedly proclaim that among the purposes of our textbooks is “to develop a feeling of pride in his or her (student’s) heritage; develop a feeling of self-worth related to equality of opportunity.” Noble goals but wrongheaded means.
History is not a therapeutic device to serve the agenda of this or that group – to swell pride and self-worth – that’s Mommy and Daddy’s job. As the late historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. noted, “The use of history as therapy means the corruption of history as history.” SB 48 expands the Education Code mandates for “culturally and racially diverse groups” to include lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender folks and requires that they be “accurately portrayed,” an inarguably noble goal.
But within a few lines of extolling accuracy, SB 48 warns that no “textbook or other instructional materials shall contain any matter reflecting adversely” upon the persons portrayed. The state’s “standards” further warn that when ethnic or cultural groups are portrayed, their “customs … (must not be shown) as undesirable and must not reflect adversely on such differences.” Either historians portray history and the groups that have made history “accurately” or they mold what they write so as not to “reflect adversely” on the groups and their customs; they can’t do both. Our leaders are trying to craft a Disneyland version of history – a veritable Fantasyland – everything is going to be both accurate and positive.
Can the genocide in Rwanda, widespread use of female genital mutilation or forced marriages of children be presented without “reflecting adversely” on “differences” in customs? Can the Crusades, the Inquisition or the wars of the Middle Ages be taught without “reflecting adversely” on the religious groups involved? Impossible.
Maybe it’s time to stop this silliness and ask that our textbooks take a fresh, honest look at history; recount the roles of all relevant groups without political embellishment or distortion.
As Abraham Lincoln observed, “history is not history unless it is the truth.”
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July 12, 2011 | 12:42 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
A seismic shift occurred last week that has not received the attention it deserves.
The National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, voted to allow standardized test scores to be included as a part of the evaluation of the teachers it represents. This, from a union that has consistently opposed anything resembling meaningful education reform.
Historically, the NEA has viewed the teacher—school district relationship as if it fit in the industrial model of labor relations (i.e. its members were all the same and only seniority and courses taken distinguished one from another). There was no acknowledgment that some teachers are better and deserve recognition and that education reform need not be a zero sum game.
In The New Republic, Kevin Carey has outlined the radical change that the NEA’s recent vote represents especially given its decades’ long battle opposing rational teacher evaluation. As Carey explains, the contradictory nature of its position became untenable,
Teachers’ unions were caught in a contradiction. They needed to make a strong general case for the importance of teachers—otherwise, why hire more of them to reduce class sizes? Why increase their pay? At the same time, they needed to deny the variable importance of individual teachers—otherwise, why shouldn’t the best get paid more money? Why should the worst be allowed to teach at all? Once those doors opened, the whole system of unity through uniformity would be at risk.
Raw political power worked for a while. When the Bloomberg administration proposed using test scores to decide whether New York City teachers should get lifetime job security, the union ran to the state legislature and made the plan illegal. When California Democrat George Miller—as stalwart a defender of organized labor as one can find in the United States Congress—proposed new federal policies aimed at tying teacher pay to performance, he was chastised in a public hearing by Reg Weaver, then the president of the NEA.
But in the long run, the NEA couldn’t keep fighting on every front. Journalist Steven Brill published a long, influential New Yorker article about the New York City teachers’ union’s role in keeping alcoholics, incompetents, and malcontents on the public payroll (as did NPR and The New Republic’s Seyward Darby, among others). In Los Angeles, the local union opposed an ACLU lawsuit aimed at ending the school district’s practice of laying off teachers based on seniority instead of performance. When an ostensibly liberal group finds itself alienating NPR listeners, New Yorker readers, and ACLU donors, it is in a lonely place indeed.
Facing the incoherence of its position, the NEA has joined the rational and just adopted a policy that they acknowledge:
outlines a system to help teachers improve instruction and meet students’ needs. It offers sweeping changes to build a true profession of teaching that is focused on high expectations….. it supports the use of standardized tests if they are of proven high quality and provide meaningful measures of student learning and growth.”
As The New Republic noted, “the era of unity through uniformity is drawing to a close.” Amen.
July 8, 2011 | 5:15 pm
Posted by Joe R. Hicks
Sometime before the end of this month, and barring some fortunate happening, a motley collection of about ten boats is set to sail from a port in Greece, bound for Gaza, despite a long-standing Israeli naval blockade.
On board the flotilla will be an equally motley collection of leftists, Pro-Palestinian activists, and self-styled peace advocates carrying placards with messages like “free Gaza” and “end the siege.” The lead boat will be called “The Audacity of Hope.”
This attempt to evade the Israeli navy’s blockade of Gaza is being described as a “relief operation,” and is a carbon-copy of last year’s similar attempt that was also a transparently political effort.
That attempt ended with nine dead activists when Israeli commandos fought back after boarding one of the boats – only to be greeted by armed and violent “peace” activists.
This year, about thirty Americans – including a number of American Jews – are scheduled to sail with the flotilla, and the U.S. State Department has warned the band of Americans that they may face “arrest, prosecution, and deportation by the government of Israel.”
Who are these Americans?
Among them are hard-core left activists like Medea Benjamin, retired lieutenant colonel Ann Wright-turned activist, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker. Of course, she’s best-known for her bookThe Color Purple
. Walker says she’s been a Pro-Palestinian activist since the days following the Six Day War in 1967. She also thinks Israel “Is the greatest terrorist” in the Middle East. Not stopping while she was behind, Walker added, “And I think in general, the United States and Israel are great terrorist organizations themselves. If you go to Gaza and see … the general destruction ... that’s terrorism. So these countries are terrorist countries.”
Okay, if I were her … I’d stick to writing.
I suppose she has looked right past Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood, the Libyan government, and the brutal, repressive Syrian regime to identify the Jews as the “greatest” terrorists in the region. I suppose the fact that Israel is the only democracy in that region fails to register with her.
This gives insight into the politics of the activists on board this flotilla of fools.
Since the residents of Gaza are literally awash in all sorts of goods that Israel has allowed in – despite the blockade – the ongoing claim that this flotilla’s aim is to deliver “humanitarian aid” is one large joke.
This flotilla really has only one aim … to deliver a propaganda victory to Hamas.
Christopher Hitchens recently informed his readers at Slate that – beyond being the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood – Hamas has endorsed theProtocols of the Elders of Zion
, one of the oldest anti-Semitic screeds in existence that was used by Hitler as a rationale for his attempts to exterminate Jews.
Hamas was also the world’s only government body to officially express sympathy to – and outrage – over the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The Americans on board these boats won’t be able to claim ignorance if the Israeli military decides to put the “smack down” on this so-called flotilla. If they set sail for Gaza they do so in support of Hamas - a political movement with blood on its hands. Hamas has glorified suicide bombings and the random killings of innocent Israeli men, women and children.
Alice Walker and her comrades deserve whatever fate awaits them.
July 1, 2011 | 4:17 pm
Posted by David A. Lehrer
Ethnic and religious advocacy groups’ reports are not known for their academic rigor or careful sourcing—-those qualities are neither part of their mission nor their goals. Their aims are, understandably, more narrow and self-serving.
Academic centers at universities, on the other hand, ought not to be in the business of hyperbole and exaggeration, especially in the sensitive field of racial and ethnic advocacy. And yet, last week an academic unit of the University of California, Berkeley—-the Center for Race and Gender (“CRG”)—-authored sections of a religious advocacy group’s report that are, literally, the antithesis of intellectual, rigorous, or even quasi-academic research—-they are, instead, inflammatory and irresponsible.
The Council on American Islamic Relations just issued its first annual report on Islamophobia in the United States, Same Hate, New Target. The report is a troubling cataloguing of incidents of vandalism, nasty rhetoric and violence directed at Muslim Americans that have occurred across the country during 2010.
As in many of these types of anecdotal, “trend in bigotry” reports, the incidents vary from the incidental (“opponents of the proposed mosque cited fear of radical Islam as a motivation for opposition”) to the serious (“firebomb planted and detonated outside mosque while approximately 60 people were inside”). The report’s conclusion is that on a 1 to 10 scale (with 10 representing “the worst possible situation for Muslims”) Islamophobia in America stands at 6.5.
The report lacks any polling data or other metrics that would confirm the rather dire picture it portrays; it presents the “Islamophobic” incidents and works from there. Given the nature of CAIR and its agenda it is hardly surprising that it reaches the conclusions it does or that its methodology leaves something to be desired.
What is most troubling in the report are the sections written by the study’s co-author, Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender (“CRG”). The CRG purports to be a center of research:
The Center for Race and Gender (CRG) is an interdisciplinary research center at the University of California Berkeley that fosters explorations of race and gender, and their intersections. CRG cultivates critical and engaged research and exchange among faculty and students throughout the university, between the university and nearby communities of color, and among scholars in the Bay Area, in the US, and around the globe.
CRG’s two sections of the report are as distant from the kind of document one expects from an “academic” unit of the one of the world’s great universities as a high school student’s term paper is from a doctoral dissertation. They are insulting in their assertions, their methodology and their inanity. They offer facile assumptions and claims of causality without any evidence whatsoever——the very antithesis of what academic research is all about.
We are not statistical mavens, but we do know that at their heart the quantitative research and methodology that academics utilize are aimed at testing hypotheses in such a way that valid inferences can be drawn from empirical evidence. The last thing academics—-quantitative or otherwise—-ought to be doing is make assertions and claim causality without offering evidence to buttress their claims. You don’t need a PhD or an academic posting to be a blowhard.
The academics at the CRG must be operating under different rules. Their sections of the report are conclusory, undocumented, inflammatory and call into question the judgment of any “academic” who signed off on this document.
Admittedly, race and gender studies are fraught with mushiness and jargon that boggles mere mortals’ minds (“intersectionality” is one such bit of choice verbiage); but even in that realm this report is a lulu.
The report baldly asserts with no footnotes, citations, or other corroboration the following daisy chain of causality and allegations of venality. Islamophobes in the United States have as their aim “the disenfranchise[ment] of the growing American Muslim community” which will lead to “isolation and distrust of the American Muslim community by the broader American society” which “isolation can push American Muslim youth toward disenchantment and marginalization, which can be manipulated into senseless extremism and violence.”
Just in case the reader might miss the incendiary assertion, the CRG makes it clear it’s all about money and nefarious legislators who, ultimately, will be responsible for the violent blowback—-“Islamophobia can be seen as designed, in part, to attempt to promote radicalization in American Muslim community, providing further rationalization for the ‘domestic war on terror’ and all the funding and resources connected to it.”
Get it? If you are defined as an “Islamophobe” you are really interested in promoting violence so you can enact laws to prevent violence and terror. It doesn’t make sense in a short version, and is equally illogical in its long form.
The report proceeds, with an equal absence of rigor, to ascribe the success of Tea Party candidates in 2010 to, you guessed it, Islamophobia. “Islamophobia worked as planned and Tea Party and Republicans in general rode the effects to statistical margins of victory in key races.” No analysis, sourcing or other effort to buttress an assertion that flies in the face of analyses that ascribe the Tea Party successes to multiple, complex, reasons—-including the economy, the high unemployment rate, the House vote on Cap and Trade, etc.
Either the budget crisis in California has already taken a toll on the intellectual heft and rigor at the University of California’s flagship school, Berkeley, or the CRG is an enclave that is patronizingly allowed to “do its thing” without the minimal trappings of academic inquiry. Either explanation is not particularly satisfying.
Whatever the reason, the CRG’s report is an embarrassment to the great name of the University of California and shouldn’t be tolerated; especially when funded by increasingly scarce tax dollars.