Category Archives: Education

Comment Of The Day: “Two Public School Educators Duke It Out In Class: What’s Going On Here?”

Recently minted Ethics Alarms participant Ryan Harkins has his first Comment of the Day, and when I read it, I knew it would not be his last. This one does what my favorite comments do: pick up the baton from my original post, and carry it down the track (or, in some cases, throw it into the crowd.) The topic was the classroom fistfight in an Atlanta middle school.

Here is Ryan Harkins’ Comment of the Day on the post,Two Public School Educators Duke It Out In Class: What’s Going On Here?”:

Jack, the only quibble I have is when you say that you don’t care what the fight was about. I think it is important to learn what the fight was about, because then it gets us into the heads of the combatants, and that is what allows us to start the investigation that goes all the way up. The reason I think this requires a little explanation, so please forgive the lengthy rambling to follow.

I have to admit, my bias in this matter comes from dealing with incident investigations at my refinery, and the various training courses we’ve received in how to conduct such investigations. The one that really stands out the most is called “Latent Cause Analysis”, championed by Robert Nelms. The premise is that all incidents, even if we are speaking of a pump aggressively disassembling itself, ultimately are traced back to human causes. In the case of a pump, yes entropy will eventually have its way with the best-built pump in the world, but the reason the pump failed while it was in service causing a major incident is rooted in human causes.

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Filed under Character, Comment of the Day, Education, Leadership, U.S. Society

The Good Hoax

Frequent readers here know how much I detest hoaxes, even ones just designed to be funny. News hoaxes are especially vile, as they are often designed to fool people and news outlets. These cause false rumors to spread, and send disinformation through the web and into brains, especially mushy brains. Hoaxes that consist of sufficiently ridiculous components that anyone should know they are not to be believed aren’t really hoaxes at all; they are more akin to satire. They are benign and often illuminating.

What does one make of a hoax that is simultaneously ridiculous and designed to fool people who need to be fooled in the public’s interest? I regard that as an ethical hoax. NYU physicist Alan Sokal designed and pulled off  just such two decades ago, as he described here:

For some years I’ve been troubled by an apparent decline in the standards of intellectual rigor in certain precincts of the American academic humanities. But I’m a mere physicist: if I find myself unable to make head or tail of jouissance and différance, perhaps that just reflects my own inadequacy.

So, to test the prevailing intellectual standards, I decided to try a modest (though admittedly uncontrolled) experiment: Would a leading North American journal of cultural studies… publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions?

The answer, sadly, was yes. Despite being salted with copious Authentic Frontier Gibberish like “catastrophe theory, with its dialectical emphases on smoothness/discontinuity and metamorphosis/unfolding, will indubitably play a major role in the future mathematics; but much theoretical work remains to be done before this approach can become a concrete tool of progressive political praxis,”  his article, “Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity,” was peer reviewed and published in the Spring/Summer 1996 issue of Social Text.

Later, Sokal explained his motives:

“While my method was satirical, my motivation is utterly serious. What concerns me is the proliferation, not just of nonsense and sloppy thinking per se, but of a particular kind of nonsense and sloppy thinking: one that denies the existence of objective realities, or (when challenged) admits their existence but downplays their practical relevance….In short, my concern over the spread of subjectivist thinking is both intellectual and political. Intellectually, the problem with such doctrines is that they are false (when not simply meaningless). There is a real world; its properties are not merely social constructions; facts and evidence do matter. What sane person would contend otherwise? And yet, much contemporary academic theorizing consists precisely of attempts to blur these obvious truths — the utter absurdity of it all being concealed through obscure and pretentious language.”

Sokal’s exposé of the sloppiness and lack of rigor in scholarship has spawned followers, as well it should. Using academic studies and papers is the ultimate appeal to authority in social and scientific policy disputes. If the journals that publish them are lazy and biased gate-keepers, they are untrustworthy authorities, which means that they aren’t authorities at all. That makes a Sokal-style hoax, properly and fairly executed, that rarity of rarities, The Good Hoax.

As they explained in the magazine Skeptic, Dr. Peter Bogghosian, a full time faculty member in the Department of Philosophy at Portland State University,  and James Lindsay,  a Phd in mathematics and the author of four books, wrote and submitted the most ridiculous paper they could think of. The title: “The Conceptual Penis as a Social Construct.” Here’s the abstract:

You read that right: the paper argues that penises affect climate change. Behold: Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Gender and Sex, Professions, Research and Scholarship, Science & Technology

Two Public School Educators Duke It Out In Class: What’s Going On Here?

Oops!

I’m sorry! Wrong video.

What I meant to put up was this…

This was a student cell phone video of the fight that broke out, in class, in front of students, at Stone Mountain Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia, last week. The combatants were a  teacher and a paraprofessional, both of whom have  been fired and arrested.

After the fight was finally broken up, students say school officials came into the classroom, went through their cell phones and made them delete any evidence of it.

“Nobody apologized they just came in and were like who videotaped this and stuff like that,” a student said.  “I think they were trying to push it under the rug so nobody would know about it and the school’s reputation wouldn’t be messed up.”

The school issued the usual statements—you can guess what it said, the usual boilerplate about such conduct being unacceptable and not comporting with the school system’s values. I don’t care what it said. Nobody is sure what the fight was about: I don’t care about that either.

What I want to know is the starting point for most ethics analysis: What’s going on here?…or in this case, what the HELL is going on here?

  • I’ve never heard of anything like this happening before. Has it happened before? How can it happen?

How can a school system employ one, never mind two, alleged educational professionals who would be any more likely to behave this way than they would wear an armadillo for a hat?

  • Can the reaching profession, especially in the public schools, nurture any worse professional standards? This is the fabled public school system that Betsy DeVos is called a menace for wanting to over-haul?

I know that it is only one incident, but just as the United Airlines abuse of a passenger it had no right to bump signals that the airline industry’s service standards are spiraling out of control, this horrific display in the Stone Mountain Middle School suggests a sick culture in and outside of education.

  • On my local news channel, they told us that the two pugilists were suspended but were still employed “pending an investigation,” which made me laugh out loud. How about watching the video? Nevertheless, there needs to be an investigation—of the school, the administration, recruitment and hiring practices, management and oversight, the culture of the school system, and more, like where do women in the teaching profession learn to throw punches like that?

Well, from teachers, parents and role models like them, I guess.

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Filed under Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Professions, Workplace

Yale’s Bigoted Dean And Pazuzu

I’m generally a Jonathan Turley fan—for one thing, he makes almost as many typos on his blog as I do— but the George Washington Law School constitutional law professor is the master of equivocation, and this often obscures important facts. Writing about Yale’s  Dean June Chu, recently put on leave by the school  for  online posts showing her to be a racist, a bigot and a hypocrite, he writes that she

“has been a successful academic and administrator at Yale University.  However, that stellar record came to a halt — and Chu was put on leave — after it was discovered that she had written reviews on Yelp deemed offensive.” 

“Deemed offensive” is classic Turley mild-speak, and it misleadingly suggests that the Yale dean has been another victim of campus political correctness because someone “deemed” her words “offensive.” Here is a sample of what she wrote on Yelp in various consumer reviews:

  • In a review of a Japanese steakhouse, Chu wrote, “I guess if you were a white person who has no clue what mochi is, this would be fine for you . . . if you are white trash, this is the perfect night out for you!”
  • She  described a theater as having “sketchy crowds (despite it being in new haven)”
  • She said a movie theater  had “barely educated morons trying to manage snack orders for the obese and also try to add $7 plus $7.”
  • Chu said of a fitness employee that “seriously I don’t care if you would ‘lose your job’ (I am sure McDonalds would hire you).”
  • She called another  gym class instructor ” frail and totally out of shape.”

Interestingly and tellingly, these and other nasty posts by Chu were discovered by students after she sent a campus-wide email  in which she proudly announced that she had become “Yelp Elite,” meaning that she had been recognized by Yelp for “well-written reviews, high quality tips, a detailed personal profile, an active voting and complimenting record, and a history of playing well with others.” Some students decided to see what she had written.  That wasn’t an unpredictable response, so Chu obviously didn’t see anything wrong with the attitudes she had projected. Stunned and disillusioned by what they found, the students  circulated some of the most remarkable of her comments. These  sparked anger from Yale students and alumni, who deemed the posts offensive because, Prof Turley, they were offensive. They were arrogant, elitist, classist and racist, reflected poorly on the institution, and  were not the kinds of expression that supported Yale’s trust in her. Continue reading

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Filed under Character, Education, Ethics Dunces, Rights, Social Media, Workplace

The Most Unethical Sentencing Fallacy Of All: Lavinia Woodward Gets “The King’s Pass”

Oxford University student Lavinia Woodward, 24,  punched and stabbed her boyfriend in a drunken rage, then hurled a jam jar, a glass and a laptop at him. This, in the U.S., would be called a criminal assault, and maybe even attempted murder.  Ah, but British Judge Ian Pringle knows better. He agrees these acts would normally mean a prison term, but Lavinia is a star student, and wants to be a surgeon. He hinted that he would spare her prison time so that her “extraordinary” talent would not be wasted. As poor Lavinia’s barrister, James Sturman, argued, his client’s dreams of becoming a surgeon would be “almost impossible” if she had to serve time.

Well, we certainly mustn’t jeopardize a violent felon’s dreams.

This kind of reasoning is infused with The King’s Pass, also known as The Star Syndrome, the rationalization making the perverse unethical argument that the more talented, prominent, useful and important to society a miscreant is, the less he or she should be accountable for misconduct that nets lesser lights serious and devastating consequences:

11. The King’s Pass, The Star Syndrome, or “What Will We Do Without Him?”

One will often hear unethical behavior excused because the person involved is so important, so accomplished, and has done such great things for so many people that we should look the other way, just this once. This is a terribly dangerous mindset, because celebrities and powerful public figures come to depend on it. Their achievements, in their own minds and those of their supporters and fans, have earned them a more lenient ethical standard. This pass for bad behavior is as insidious as it is pervasive, and should be recognized and rejected whenever it raises its slimy head.  In fact, the more respectable and accomplished an individual is, the more damage he or she can do through unethical conduct, because such individuals engender great trust. Thus the corrupting influence on the individual of The King’s Pass leads to the corruption of others.

Judge Pringle is taking the King’s Pass/Star Syndrome to a new low: he’s arguing that Lavinia should receive special treatment based on how valuable to society she might be, given enough immunity from the consequences of her own conduct.  Continue reading

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Filed under Around the World, Character, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Law & Law Enforcement

New Orleans’ Historical Air-Brushing Orgy

New Orleans is in the midst of completing a plan to remove four Confederate monuments from public spaces in the city. In April, city workers removed a monument to a Reconstruction-era insurrection, and last week, they dismantled a statue of Jefferson Davis. Statues of the Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and P. G. T. Beauregard will be coming down soon.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu exploited the murder of nine black churchgoers  in Charleston, South Carolina to push for historical censoring, a long-time goal of civil rights groups and progressives.  Now the city says it is weighing a new location for  the monuments so they could be “placed in their proper historical context from a dark period of American history.” The favored new location is rumored to be Hell.

There are protests, of course, and most objections are coming from the perfect advocates from perspective of the historical amnesia fans: Confederacy fans, “Lost Cause” adherents, white supremacists, and other deplorables.  Seldom has George Orwell’s quote been more relevant:

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

I’ve written so much about the efforts from the left to purge America of any memory of or honor to historical figures who do not meet its 2o17 lock-step mandate for politically correct views and statements that I hesitate to repeat myself. You can review the record here.

Still, some things bear repeating. The last time I wrote about this issue was in February, when Yale capitulated to student thought-control advocates and eliminated the name of John C. Calhoun from a residential hall.  For it isn’t just leaders of the Confederacy who are targets of this cultural self-cannibalism: it is all past leaders who were proven wrong in some respects by subsequent wisdom, experience and events, including American icons like Jefferson and Jackson.  That last post listed the rationalizations  employed by the statue-topplers and the spineless officials who capitulate to their purges , including

 The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times” 

The Troublesome Luxury: “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now.” 

The Ironic Rationalization, or “It’s The Right Thing To Do.”

Ethics Surrender, or “We can’t stop it.”

The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”

The Futility Illusion:  “If we don’t do it, somebody else will.”

The Comparative Virtue Excuse: “There are worse things.”

The Coercion Myth: “We have no choice!”

The Desperation Dodge or “I’ll do anything!”

The Unethical Precedent, or “It’s not the first time”

The Abuser’s License:  “It’s Complicated”

 The Apathy Defense, or “Nobody Cares.”

When you can throw up twelve rationalizations, that’s more than enough to convince the average, ethically-deficient citizen, not to mention social justice warriors.

That  post concluded,

A friend, lawyer, and Democrat had chided me on Facebook for suggesting that the frenzy to make America a safe place for anyone troubled by the opinions and actions of American patriots of the past could reach as far as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and accused me of engaging in wild hyperbole. Soon thereafter, the Connecticut Democratic Party purged the names and images of Presidents Jackson and Jefferson from its annual dinner, in order to kowtow to progressive activists. In November of last year, hundreds of University of Virginia students and faculty members demanded that President Teresa Sullivan stop quoting Thomas Jefferson, because doing so “undermines the message of unity, equality and civility that you are attempting to convey.”…I believe it is fair to say that I was right to be alarmed, and my friend was wrong. (I’m still going to let the statue of him in my backyard stay there, though.)

The cultural ethics alarms are sounding, as the toxic combination of the ignorant, the cultural bullies and the cowardly brings the United States closer to an Orwellian society where the past is remade to suit the perceived needs of the present.  Yale’s treatment of Calhoun redoubles my conviction that I expressed last year more than once. We have to honor what deserved and deserves to be honored. If we do not, history becomes political propaganda, useful only to support current political agendas. A nation that does not  honor and respect its history has no history.

And a nation that has no history is lost.

The New York Times published separate interviews with a leading critic and a prominent supporter of the historical airbrushing in New Orleans. Continue reading

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Filed under Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Dunces, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, History

Indoctrination And Intimidation At The University Of Arizona: Who Will Say, “So What’s The Matter With That?”

I feel the same way, Lucy…

There is a dumb joke in an old “I Love Lucy” episode that this story brings to mind.

Lucy is outraged when she reads that there is am all- filly race at the local race track and misunderstands. Horrified, she erupts, “How long  has this been going on? They’re racing little girls at Churchill Downs!” Ricky promptly explains why she was being an alarmist.

I hope that somehow the news item’s reporter got the facts wrong or I am missing something, because this story is far worse than racing little girls, and nowhere near as funny.

The University of Arizona is accepting student applications for what administrators call “social justice advocates.” The job requires the students to “report any bias incidents or claims to appropriate Residence Life staff,” and pays the student workers $10 an hour. They’re expected to work 15 hours a week, earning $600 a month in taxpayer funds—this is a public university—to police their fellow students speech and conduct.

Part of the job description reads:

“The position also aims to increase understanding of one’s own self through critical reflection of power and privilege, identity and intersectionality, systems of socialization, cultural competency and allyship as they pertain to the acknowledgement, understanding and acceptance of differences. Finally, this position intends to increase a student staff member’s ability to openly lead conversations, discuss differences and confront diversely insensitive behavior.”

Their #1 job, however, is to report “bias claims” so the student miscreant involved can face a Star Chamber, or the university equivalent. Such a claim can be what someone regards as  an outright act of “racism,’ which presumably could include anything from using a racial epithet to saying Maxine Waters is an idiot,  to  “microaggressions” like “cultural misappropriation,” or calling a transgender student by the wrong pronoun. The social justice advocate’s job will also include “fostering dialogue” related to “diversity, multiculturalism and social justice”—in other words, to be a full time left-wing scold— and  to “increase  awareness of diverse identities” while “promoting inclusive communities.”

I wonder if being stuffed in a closet or hung on a hook will be considered a “biased incident” by these paid political correctness snitches? That is, after all, what would happen to them on a healthy campus. Will they have little badges and whistles? I think they should get badges and whistles. Or get a uniform like Rolf at the climax of “The Sound of Music.”

They’re racing little girls at Churchill Downs! Continue reading

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Filed under Citizenship, Education, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Race, Rights, This Helps Explain Why Trump Is President, U.S. Society