either you have evidence or you don’t

Yesterday, I spent too much time poking at a troll with a sharp stick in the discussion following K.C. Johnson’s essay, “Disposition for Bias,” appearing at Inside Higher Ed.

I think an accurate summary of Johnson’s argument looks like this (let me know if you think I’m being unfair):

Recent surveys have demonstrated that most higher education faculty are liberal. “[T]he facultyís ideological imbalance has allowed three factors ó a new accreditation policy, changes in how students are evaluated, and curricular orientation around a theme of ‘social justice’ ó to impose a de facto political litmus test on the next cohort of public school teachers.”

I.1 Many colleges (or divisions) of education have the phrase “social justice” in the descriptive language to be found on their websites.
I.2 Although “social justice” could be interpreted to mean different things, the fact that faculty are liberal must mean that teachers are being indoctrinated to accept only liberal ideas of “social justice.”

II.1 Criteria used to evaluate future teachers now include a category called “dispositions.”
II.2 One conference described this category as a way to train ìteachers who possess knowledge and discernment of what is good or virtuous.î
II.3 Although “good and virtuous” could be interepreted to mean different things by different people, the fact that faculty are liberal must mean that teachers are being indoctrinated to accept only liberal ideas of “what is good or virtuous.”

III.1 The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education guidelines require education programs that include social justice as essential to their programs to measure their students’ commitment to social justice.
III.2 The fact that most faculty are liberal must mean that teachers are being evaluated according to a liberal understanding of what social justice means.

IV. One example from Brooklyn College is used as an exemplar of nationwide trends. As with many such examples brought up by conservative critics of higher education, this one involves Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11.

The concerns I have about this essay are pretty straightforward:

  1. On Johnson’s faculty website is a list of a little over 3 dozen examples of education college websites that indicate “social justice” is a goal of their programs. How was this sample constructed? What percentage of the total number of such programs in America does this sample represent? How prestigious are these programs? How many educators do these programs produce every year?
  2. Points I.2, II.3, and III.2 are hypotheses that we could test with available data. Look at the syllabi being used in teacher preparation classes. What do they reveal about what’s actually taking place in the classroom? Additionally, why not survey the students of these programs in a systematic way to ask them about their experience? Does any data like this exist?

In the comments, I pointed out that a study (PDF) completed by the conservative American Enterprise Institute provides data complicating the picture painted by Johnson and perhaps contradicts the conclusions in the essay. The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) puts it this way:

[The report] analyzed a national cross section of 31 principal-preparation programs and reviewed more than 200 course syllabi, covering almost 2,500 weeks of courses. They found that only about 12 percent of the course weeks focused on exposing principal candidates to different educational and pedagogical philosophies, to debates about the nature and purpose of public schooling, and to examinations of the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic context of education.

At this point, it was game on for “Art,” who identifies himself as a “Graduate Student at Midwest university.” If you cut through all the snark and ad hominem attacks, it looks like Art’s main objection is that principal preparation and teacher preparation are so different, that to bring up a report on the former is irrelevant to the latter.

However, principal preparation programs and teacher preparation programs take place within the very same colleges and divisions of education. So why would the high-minded language about “social justice” that these colleges and divisions put on their websites result in liberal indoctrination in one program and not in the other? My requests for clarification were ignored.

I pointed out that the AEI study was a detailed survey of a great deal of data reflecting what actually takes place in the classrooms of principal preparation programs, and I asked if there was any similar data regarding teacher preparation. Art asserted, angrily for some reason, that this data does not exist.

One would think that at this point, Art would realize he’d just taken the legs out from under his own belief in the liberal indoctrination of teachers. But no, he seems to think he’s won the argument. He throws in a great deal of rant about John Kerry, for good measure. (You see, the problem with Kerry and his followers is that they lack sufficient honesty. Unlike, you know, Bush.) And he seems to think calling me a zombie is a particularly clever insult. Gee, I hope that nickname doesn’t stick.

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an invitation

Mel suggests a reading group to work though Donald E. Hall’s The Academic Self: An Owner’s Manual (Ohio State UP, 2002). Interested? Drop her a comment.

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krugman on liberal bias in academia

In a comment to this entry, Limadean points to this editorial by Paul Krugman: “An Academic Question.”

Surprisingly, not many bloggers have linked to this piece.

You wanna know why conservatives think there’s a problem in academia and liberals don’t? Here’s a theory:

  • When liberal students’ ideas are challenged by their professors, they respond like this: Hmm. I hadn’t thought of that. Interesting.
  • When conservative students’ ideas are challenged by their professors, they respond like this: Waaaah!

I kid! I kid!

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post-show commentary, ii

A few thoughts regarding ASECS 2005:

  • Giles Bergel, Katherine Ellison, and Eve Tavor Bannet each gave a stellar paper on the panel I chaired. As an added bonus, there was a good-sized audience for that panel, and they asked a number of insightful questions. Be on the lookout for Bannet’s forthcoming book, Empire of Letters: Letter Manuals and Transatlantic Correspondence, 1680ñ1820. I do not know what Bergel and Ellison have in the pipline with regard to publishing their work, but those of you interested in book history would do well to keep an eye out for these names, and those of you interested in scholars doing a long history of information technology and media studies should attend particularly to Ellison’s work.
  • My new favorite way to read my papers at conferences is to blow up the font size, turn them into PDFs and read them off my laptop with Adobe Acrobat in full-screen mode. It’s much, much easier than reading from paper, even if it’s more time consuming to create and doesn’t allow you the leeway of last-minute additions, deletions, or marginalia. People tend to frown upon reading from latops. Why is this? Do they think it’s evidence that you’ve been working it right up to the conference? This would be bad because…? To pre-empt any frowning-uponing, I explained my composition process (longhand on a legal pad, then typed into a word processor, then converted to PDF) and why I use the laptop. I wasn’t just being self-indulgent with this quick little preface, however; I was giving an example of cultural associations we have with technologies of communication and linking the example to the work that I do in the eighteenth century.
  • My professional network is growing bit by bit. I have to work at this aspect of academic life, but it seems to be getting easier. One task I hope to fulfill this week is email followups with all the people I talked to. For example, I made an agreement with one person to exchange writing (like, right now), and I need to get that article draft in the mail to her.
  • The grad student who corresponded with me about my diss came up to me to introduce herself. She said–approximately…I’d had a few drinks at the reception at this point–“Someone told me I should look into your work, and I wanted to introduce myself to you.” Wow. I really need to wake up to the fact that people notice and respect the work I do, that I’m not a fraud who’s masquerading his way through this, and that there are things I know and know how to do that can be helpful to people who are not as far along in their development as academics as I am. One person I met told me she’d been reading my blog for a year and was actually kind of intimidated by my authoritative persona. Really? Hmm. Even when you found out I can’t even get my own university to give me summer research money?
  • As much as things have been bothering me the last few months, talking with colleagues from all over has reminded me of the things in my (personal and professional) life that are quite good. Getting stuck in the imagined narrative trajectory of your life can be intensely counterproductive. Author your way out of it and into another.
  • If you’ve attended 5 hours of papers being read from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., that’s probably enough for one day.
  • At the conference book exhibit, I took advantage of the 50% display copy discount to acquire Sensory Worlds in Early America by Peter Charles Hoffer, (a book with an
    Amazon page that led me to another interesing find: How Early America Sounded, by Richard Cullen Rath.)
  • Someone who only knew what I look like from this pic said, “Oh, I wouldn’t have recognized you without the blonde hair.” And I replied, “Yeah, it looks kind of boring, now, doesn’t it?” I need to get something tattooed or pierced, maybe.
  • When waiting to use one of the hotel business center computers to check email, I noticed someone was writing an entry up for her LiveJournal site. Catching the username, I read her site when it was my turn to use the computer. She’s an ASECS attendee, too. Was this unethical of me to look? I wouldn’t have tried to see what the username (or even what she was typing at all) if I hadn’t recognized the distinctive LiveJournal interface from a distance.
  • The business center printer wasn’t working at all during the conference. That’s convenient. A little too convenient, if you ask me.

And so to bed.

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