Thursday, July 26, 2007

Bias In The Schools!

So I was over there at World Views Again (I know, I know, but I can't help it) and they were on about Churchill, who, you might have heard, has been stripped of his tenure for plagiarism.

The Far Right is as obsessed by this Churchill fella as they are by the Clintons; no one else much cares about him. Still, apparently someone ferreted out academic misdeeds, including plagiarism and falsify data, and his university board fired him for academic misconduct, which, if they had evidence that those things were so, was pretty much what they had to do.

Is the Right happy? Silly you! This is not the university policing its own! This is those Evil Leftists firing Churchill for His Speech! (See Althouse, see the Worldnuts.) Those Evil Leftists, who are always SAYING they want free speech, firing a man for speaking! See? See? We told you the Left was a Police State!

Oh -- and BTW? -- those College Campuses (the Right can't tell a university from a college if you give them a week to try, so don't even go there) are filled with nothing but Churchills and other assorted liberal idiots, so those things Churchill was saying? That's the climate on our campuses today!

I argued with them a little, before I had to go teach. It's like arguing with someone who speaks a different language, though, and lives on a different planet -- because they do, you know. It is a different planet, over there in Winger World.

I was thinking of this during my class. It's a 1213 class, so we're working on doing research, setting up a research question, a research notebook (these aren't actual notebooks anymore, they're virtual, but whatever), figuring out what you actually know (I always explain Plato's definition of True Knowledge here, so I can point out to them how little they actually do know -- well, they think they know there isn't enough parking on campus, but actually they only have a true opinion about that: so how can they turn that into actual knowledge?) -- anyway, someone raised the question, when we got to doing research, of what they ought to do if their research proves their thesis wrong?

"Ah," I said. "Excellent question."

This is what I always say: because someone always asks this question.

"Let me tell you a story," I say, and then I tell them the story about my student in Idaho, furious because she was working long hours to pay for her degree, while "those prisoners" were getting their degrees handed to them in prison, which was not justice! So she wanted to argue that prisoners should not be provided with free college classes while in prison. All right, I told her: go research that.

"Couple weeks later," I said, "she came back to me and said --" I always pause dramatically here. "Well, you tell me. What did she say?"

Someone always knows: "Her research was showing that prisoners should be educated."

"So it was," I agree. "How come?"

"Educating prisoners makes them less likely to commit crimes once they get out."

"Yep. So she says to me, all my research goes against my thesis. What should I do? And I said, hmm. What should you do? And she says, um. Change my thesis? And I said, ding-ding-ding."

They all laugh at this point.

"But this is a key point," I tell them. "We are not doing research simply to shore up our convictions. We are doing research to find out what reality is -- what the truth is. If our research does not support our thesis, then, yes, change the thesis. Now she does not have to change all the way to Educate The Prisoner! She could change to, oh, Educate the Prisoner And the University Student. Why *are* we building prisons and not funding higher education? Because I tell you what, that's an interesting question. She could go that way and have some fun.

"What you cannot do," I say, and I get all grim here: "What you can't do, is ignore the evidence. Because then what are you doing?"

They look puzzled.

"You're writing lies," I said. "This is a serious business, what we're doing here. We're shaping the world. If you shape it on lies, that's going to make problems."

"You said we could make up stuff," one always objects at this point.

"I said you could make up illustrations," I said. "That's different. And you have to make it clear they're illustrations. Like fables. Like parables. You don't think Jesus's parables were true stories, do you?"

Since they have never read the Bible, most of them, they have no idea what I'm talking about now. I repress a sigh.

"You're using little fables to make a point, sometimes," I say patiently. "Which is different from ignoring evidence to support a false thesis."

This might be too much for them, I decide, studying the faces, half of which are confused.

One kid raises another objection: "What if most of your evidence says one thing, and then just a few pieces say something else."

I brighten. "Outliers! Well! Those are always fun." I talk about the dinosausers and the impact crater and the K/T boundary and how for a long time no one believed that theory and now how most people do; I talk about global warming and how it was contraversial for a time but now it's mostly not; I talk about Mike Males, and the work he's doing with violence and children. "Most of us, for a long time," I explain, "we bought the kids-are-violent-because-of-violent-media, which really, when you think about it, makes no sense at all. Mike Males, about twelve, fifteen years ago, started putting out papers and books arguing that kids are violent because adults act violently toward them."

The whole room stiffened up.

"Yep," I said. "Everyone reacted just that way. He was an outlier. This can't be true! No! It's not because their parents beat the hell out of them, because police officers assault them, because teachers whale on them. Nah. It's got to be the movies and that nasty rap music."

"Spanking doesn't hurt kids," one of my students said, furiously. "It teaches them a lesson. If more kids today got whipped, we'd be in a better world!"

I smiled at her. "Yep. That's what we want to believe. Consider it a minute. What's more like to make a kid violent -- something he sees on a TV screen, or something he sees in his own house? Something he hears in a song, or something that gets done to him?"

"My daddy licked me," she said, angrily, "I'm not violent."

"Good point," I lied. "People didn't believe Mike Males at first. He was an outlier -- but he kept compiling evidence, and other people start compiling evidence, and it starts to look pretty compelling. I mean, everyone watches violent TV and movies. Almost no one is actually violent. Who's actually the most violent in our society? Well, it turns out to be those who are treated most violently when they're young. Which societies are most violent? It turns out to be those who treat their children with the most violence. Once you look--"

"Spanking kids isn't treating them with violence!"

I paused, because part of me wants to attack her -- having had my own violent childhood, after all -- and because, good shit, whipping a kid isn't treating it with violence? On what planet?

Oh, yeah. Planet Winger. I draw a breath.

"Well," I say. "Define spanking for me."

She stares at me.

"Studies on spanking -- and there have been hundreds in the past dozen years -- say spanking a kid won't do much harm. But these studies define spanking as one or two slaps on the hand or bottom, and they restrict the act to a child under four or five." I stand looking at her. "Is that how your daddy defined the act?"

The woman behind her snorted. "It's not how my mama defined it," she said.

The rest of the class laughed. My Winger sat glowering at me. I moved on. But it occured to me, as I continued to talk about Outliers and what to do about them, that this was indeed the sort of act that those folk over at World News were talking about when they said the universities were full of Liberal nutcases who were undermining the country.

That's what they would say I was doing, there in that classroom.

Because what did I do? I challenged that woman's worldview. I told her her daddy's way of rearing children -- and her church's, no doubt -- was wrong. I told her not to rely on Received Wisdom, but to examine the evidence, and rely on that. I said sometimes things that Authority said were wrong things, even if we had been doing them for generations.

Huh, I thought. Look at that. Wingers are right. I am undermining them. It's because they're fucking wrong, because their worldview is destructive and broken, but they're right about what I'm doing.

Oh, well, though. It's my job, isn't it?

Meanwhile? In Texas? They're undermining my worldview. The pigs.

Last week, Texas Governor Rick Perry appointed Don McLeroy to head the State Board of Education. Unfortunately for Texas schoolchildren, McLeroy has, for years, fought against the teaching of fact-based science in public schools, instead casting vote after vote in favor of his religious ideology. According to a recent Austin American-Statesman editorial:

In 2001, McLeroy and a majority of the board rejected the only Advanced Placement textbook for high school environmental science because its views on global warming and other events didn’t comport with the beliefs of the board majority. The book wasn’t factual and was anti-American and anti-Christian, the majority claimed. Meanwhile, dozens of colleges and universities were using the textbook, including Baylor University, the nation’s largest Baptist college.

(Via PZ)


tonkelu said...

I would have a stroke if I read the Wingers on a daily basis.

Anonymous said...

Re: McLeroy
We tried to vote him out last election, but there were too many East Texas Bible-thumpers who agreed with his views. I wept when I saw that Perry had appointed him chair of the SBOE.

Diane said...

I am probably going against all established therapeutic technique, but when I get these people in for evaluations who tell me their parents whacked them with belts ("but I deserved it"), I immediately identify them as victims of physical abuse. Most of them are shocked when they hear that, and many of them argue with me. I stand my ground. I want them to hear the words because they have never identified themselves that way before.

Abusing childen has long fallen into the category of "you have no right to tell me how to raise my kids," much as "you have no right to tell another person what to eat" is the mantra of those who do not want to face our society's participation in the brutality of factory farming.

But a line must be drawn when the innocent suffer. If more people would draw the line, fewer would cross it.

delagar said...

Diane -- that's why I won't say "spanking" when they do. Beating a child with a belt is abuse; and it's not spanking, it's beating, it's whipping.