Category Archives: Education

Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: Harvard And Evangelicals”

Here is yet another Comment of the Day, this one by Alexei, on the post, Ethics Quiz: Harvard And Evangelicals:

I’d say Harvard is not on solid ethical ground. This organization can say the leader was deposed, because she lost the trust of her organization’s members and became inconsistent with their group values. No one is entitled to a leadership position, especially if you lose the full faith and credit of your organization. I wonder if Harvard would also ban the Muslim Students Alliance (I bet they have one) if their leader converts to Judaism, Christianity, or worse becomes an atheist, or even comes out as homosexual. I think they would certainly have grounds for deposing their leadership under such a circumstance. I think you can come up with a lot of examples similar to this.

What if the leader of the Future Female lawyer club says they are now a man. Grounds for dismissal.

The leader of the German Speakers Club forsakes German and starts to have meetings speaking French. Grounds for dismissal.

The leader of the Feminist Club comes out as pro-life. Grounds for dismissal.

Legally, Harvard can probably do whatever they want. But it’s a bad precedent for educating our future thought leaders and political leaders. It goes against the spirit of freedom of speech, association and religion. If we all disregard these freedoms, then we are a stone’s throw away from scrapping them from our laws as well.

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, April 11, 2018: Caesar’s Wife At The EPA, Idiots On The Air, And Dreamers Demanding Discounts [UPDATED]

Good Morning!

1. Forgetting to heed the “Caesar’s wife” Principle. Whatever one may think about EPA head Scott Pruitt’s controversial policy directions as head of the environmental agency, all ought to be able to agree on this: he’s an idiot.

Here is a cultural literacy test: How many Americans under the age of—what, 45? 60? 104?—know what the term “like Caesar’s wife” means? When you have a target painted on your back because you are taking positions that are guaranteed to be anathema to powerful critics, like the news media, you are “like Caesar’s wife.” This should communicate something to you. In 63 BC, Julius Caesar, a man on the rise, was elected to the position of the Pontifex Maximus, the chief priest of the Roman state religion. The next year, his wife Pompeia hosted the festival of the Bona Dea (“Good Goddess”) in which no man was allowed to participate, at Caesar’s official residence. Publius Clodius Pulcher, a  rash young patrician, snuck into the celebration disguised as a woman, allegedly to seduce Pompeia. He was caught, prosecuted ( not for trying to shag Caesar’s wife but for the crime of sacrilege), and ultimately  acquitted. Nevertheless, Caesar divorced Pompeia, saying, “My wife ought not even to be under suspicion.”  Thus was born the saying, once well-known to educated individuals, that “Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion.”

Either Pruitt doesn’t know the reference, or doesn’t understand it. He has made himself vulnerable and a political liability to the Trump administration by the kind of grubby ethics violations so many of the administration’s recruits from the corporate world have engaged in. (And what does this tell us about that culture?)

David J. Apol, acting director of the Office of Government Ethics, sent  a letter this week to Kevin Minoli, the EPA’s  top ethics official,  asking the agency to take “appropriate actions to address any violations.”

Among the issues raised were Pruitt’s $50-a-night rental  of a Capitol Hill condominium from the wife of an energy lobbyist (This may not have been market value, the letter speculates, raising the question of whether it was a gift, aka “bribe.” Ya think? You can’t rent a decent garden tool shed for 50 bucks a night…), Pruitt taking an excessive number government-funded flights home to Oklahoma and back (He’s about the 78th Trump official to be caught doing this kind of thing—do these guys read the newspapers?), and worst of all, reports that agency staff members who raised concerns about these and other actions creating “the appearance of impropriety”  found themselves transferred or demoted.

“The success of our government depends on maintaining the trust of the people we serve,”wrote Apol. “The American public needs to have confidence that ethics violations, as well as the appearance of ethics violations, are investigated and appropriately addressed.”

Why yes! And anyone who holds high government office is supposed to know that. Anyone holding high government office in this administration, which is in the position of the thug sprung from police lock-up on a technicality to which an angry detective says before he strolls out the door, “If you so much as spit on the sidewalk, I’ll be there to pick you up,” should know that especially. When they are gunning for you, you have to be like Caesar’s wife.

The President should fire Pruitt for these flagrant abuses. He won’t, because he literally doesn’t think ethics matter. I wonder if he thinks stupidity and unrestrained arrogance matter… Continue reading

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From The “Nation Of Assholes” Files: Now President Trump Has Driven The Sociologists Mad

That fake tweet above? It was created by the Southern Sociological Society as promotion for its conference this week. It is also, amusingly, accurate. Based on the conference, titled “Racial Theory, Analysis, and Politics in Trump America,” you can’t trust sociologists any more. Like so many other professional, including among them historians, lawyer, journalists, educators, ethicists and psychiatrists, this group has decided to abandon professional ethics and standards of objectivity and civility for juvenile virtue-signaling and partisan name-calling.

At first I thought this was an Onion parody. From Campus Reform:

…The conference program features two full-color illustrations that crudely depict the President as a baby, six sketches employing similar themes, and nine satirical presidential tweets (each of which comes with a disclaimer alerting the sociologists that it is “not an actual tweet”). The front cover shows the president as a grotesque and overweight infant, sitting in a soiled diaper on top of an image of hooded Klansmen while playing with missiles and nuclear bombs. His outstretched left arm, replete with a tiny hand, may be an attempt to depict him performing the Nazi salute.

A cross superimposed on a series of concentric circles appears above the word “Trump” in the conference title, suggesting the crosshairs on a rifle site…The back cover depicts a similarly-styled Trump, this time with his diaper sagging down and kneeling in a pool of urine inside his crib. Black and white sketches scattered throughout the program, meanwhile, depict Trump in various other unflattering ways, with one showing him urinating on the floor while holding what appears to be a balloon labeled “WW3,” while another drawing portrays him smashing the EPA and healthcare.

The conference schedule indicates that there will be 32 workshops, papers, lectures, discussions, and other sessions that explicitly deal with Trump, including a discussion about “Approaching Resistance to TrumpAmerica” and a session on “How to Talk About Current Events in the Classroom in the Age of Trump without Getting Fired.”

Some sessions, such as “Organizing a Campus-Wide Social Justice Event,” appear to advise professors on how to use their positions to influence campus politics. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “Ethics Quiz: Harvard And Evangelicals”

 

 The theological discussions that periodically break out on Ethics Alarms are always interesting. Naturally the question of whether seeking out a same-sex relationship justified expelling an officer in an evangelical Christian student group at Harvard sparked one. Here is Rich in Ct’s Comment of the Day on the post, “Ethics Quiz: Harvard And Evangelicals”:

“Given that someone other than Jesus Christ created the ideology then I cannot automatically believe that proscriptions against said choices are in fact Christ’s teachings. Much of those ideas are old testament ones. Christ’s teachings obliterated many of those old testament ideas.”

It is a fallacy to make these two unrelated but true statements (that Christ did not address homosexuality, and that Christ negated much of the Old Testament), and imply that the current ideology that homosexuals must abstain is inconsistent with Christ’s teachings. It is also a bit weaselly to say that you cannot “automatically believe” one way or the other, but not examine readily available arguments.

Stipulated: I am only arguing what Christianity historically teaches, not whether Christianity is correct or should be accommodated by Harvard or society at large; my goal is only to point out inconsistent theology and history. In the broader context here, understanding what Christ taught and teachings are inferred is important to understand the particular motivation for the student group.

At a minimum, the bible was not written in a vacuum, but within a living culture. The gospels and epistles were written for specific audiences, to address the particular concerns of those groups, not rotely restate what was already collectively understood. Luke, for instance, was addressed to Theophilos (his most excellency). That Jesus Christ was not recorded as addressing a particular topic just means that the gospel authors did not think it needed to be clarified. There is even a catch-all at the end of John stating as much:

“Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written”.

This is not an esoteric concept. We live in our own collective culture. In constitutional law, for instance, justices routinely review contemporary sources to infer the framer’s intent. When we look at the Second Amendment, it was written at time when a rag-tag group of colonies resisted the greatest empire the world had seen to date. When interpreting “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed“, it very clearly echos the Declaration of Independence:

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it,…”

The right of the people to resist their government as a last resort cannot reasonably be preserved if weapons are only guaranteed to a “militia” not elsewhere defined in the constitution. The Second Amendment can only be interpreted to mean something else if one ignores the culture and contemporary events that motivated it.

When we look at theology, we must interpret the topics discussed by Christ and the biblical authors in light of earlier theological works. To infer his teachings regarding homosexuality, we must look at his words regarding similar topics, and their relationship with Old Testaments view of homosexuality. Specifically, if we look at Christ’s teachings regarding sex, marriage, and lust, Christ act actually clamps down, rather than liberates. He abolishes Mosaic Divorce, binding married couples for life “what god has joined let no man put asunder”.

This must be interpreted within the Jewish culture; if men and woman are now bound for life, but if as stated in the Old Testament “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination;” it stands to reason that if the man laying with a woman portion of the law were tightened by Christ, then the man lying with a man part were not likely loosened.

However the second part of that line, “they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them….” must be equally reinterpreted in light of Christ’s mercy towards the adulterous, the violator of the vary portion of the law he tightened:

“(Let He Who is without Sin cast the First Stone) Woman, where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” – “No one, Lord,” she answered. – “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Now go and sin no more.”

The theologically sound conclusion might be that Christ did not approve of homosexual behavior, but demanded that mercy be shown to them. Continue reading

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Comment Of The Day: “No Wonder We Can’t Communicate With Each Other Or Have Coherent Debates: We’re Culturally Illiterate”

[I’m using this morning to post some important, backlogged Comments of the Day. Today’s Warm-Up will be after noon, if all does according to plan.]

Keith Walker registered a fascinating reflection on his experiences as a teacher in response to the post regarding the decline of cultural literacy. I do take umbrage at his categorization of my commentary about public school’s ongoing failure as “ranting” and his implication that I have designated teachers as “useless.” If I have criticized teachers and administrators, it has always been based on specific conduct. In Alexandria, VA., I had to pull my son out of one public school, a Catholic school and two private ones upon observing exactly the kind of incompetence, bias and abuse I have written about over the past eight years.  Indoctrination, child abuse, incompetence and sexual predation in the schools are real, and teaching is still a “profession” without codified ethics standards. Dedicated, smart, competent teachers are heroic, but their existence does not make my criticism and analysis less valid or less urgent.

Here is Keith’s Comment of the Day on the post, “No Wonder We Can’t Communicate With Each Other Or Have Coherent Debates: We’re Culturally Illiterate”

As one of those useless public school teachers so often ranted about in this space, I want to rise to the occasion here and, if not defend our profession, at least offer my take on things over my 31 years in the business.

I was a fairly new teacher when Hirsch’s book came out. I thought then that it was a silly tome, written from the perspective of a grumpy old man. I still don’t hold much respect for it, though I have become a grumpy old man myself. Who gets to decide what’s important cultural literacy? (Yes, I am about to say something like “it’s always been old white guys…”) I wonder if someone else had written that book if it would have contained different things?

But since 1988 several things have happened to make teaching these important things virtually impossible, the internet and standardized testing being two major ones. Yes, I know that standardized testing has been around for many decades; I remember taking the MEAP (Michigan’s state test) when I was a small boy in the 70s. But in the 70s test scores were not blasted across the front pages of newspapers everywhere, and politicians were not decrying our “failing public schools” and telling everyone that privatization and profits would be a much better plan for education.

The pressure on schools, teachers, and students to “succeed” on these tests is ridiculous, and it has gotten to the point that if it can’t be measured, we don’t have time to teach it. And everything is measured. As a music teacher I am happy to have a job any more; much of my curriculum isn’t “measurable” to a certain extent, and it certainly isn’t required for success in life. But I digress… Believe me, if Cromwell was going to be on the ACT, SAT, or AP History exams, you can bet he’d be talked about in schools. It’s all about competition, and everyone is fearing for jobs, funding, and students as we move to a market-based system of educating our next generations, and the members of that generation all want to get a 7.0 GPA and get into Harvard (starting as freshmen with 75 credits due to all of their AP test scores), and the way to do it is to excel on those tests. It’s fairly terrifying. Continue reading

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No Wonder We Can’t Communicate With Each Other Or Have Coherent Debates: We’re Culturally Illiterate

“Who?”

Ugh.

 I was watching the MLB channel this morning, and the hosts were discussing the Milwaukee Brewers and their general manager’s statement that the team would “keep its powder dry” until the mid-season trading deadline. All three hosts professed to have no idea whatsoever what the phrase about keeping powder dry meant. In his 1988 book “Cultural Literacy,” E.D.Hirsch, Jr., argued that children in the United States are not learning the basic knowledge that they need to function competently in society. the background information about world, Western and U.S. culture that literate writers and speakers assume their audience already has. The three MLB hosts were all schooled since 1988, and clearly, the problem has only gotten worse.

The phrase at issue is a useful and formerly famous one. It comes from a reported quote from Oliver Cromwell—Teddy Roosevelt wrote a biography of Oliver Cromwell. I bet fewer than one out of a thousand Americans could tell you who he was—during the Battle of Edgehill in 1642. Cromwell supposedly told his Roundhead troops in that opening fight of the English Civil War, ”Put your trust in God, my boys, but mind to keep your powder dry.” The last part of the quote is usually evoked to mean “keep cool,” but the entire quote is more profound. As the late language maven William Safire wrote in the New York Times, it means ”stay calm” but carries an implicit, most ominous threat: ”and be prepared to blow the enemy’s head off at the propitious moment.” Prayer is great, but the Lord helps those who help themselves. Or, as a World War II slogan had it, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!” This was made into a popular wartime song by Frank Loesser, who wrote “Guys and Dolls.” I know: what’s “Guys and Dolls”? What’s “World War II?”

This morning’s depression reminded me of an essay by Patrick Deneen from 2016, titled “How a Generation Lost Its Common Culture.” He wrote in part, Continue reading

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Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 4/1/2018: The Easter-April Fools Edition [UPDATED]

Happy Easter, or April Fools Day,

…whichever you chose, or both.

[My family celebrated Greek Easter (next Sunday, this year), or not, depending on how Greek my mother was feeling. The whole thing left me thoroughly confused. And why no Greek April Fool’s?]

1 Hey, it’s only the Pope carelessly allowing centuries of Catholic teachings to be declared, if informally, null and void. What’s everyone so upset about? Recipe for a fiasco:

  • The Pope inexplicably has a meeting with a 93-year-old atheist reporter, Eugenio Scalfari, who has reported on the alleged contents of their private meetings before.
  • Scalfari has admitted “on more than one occasion” that he doesn’t take notes or record his conversations with the Pope.
  • The Pope either opines, or doesn’t, or sort of does depending on your interpretation, and if you are an atheist confirmation bias comes into play, opine that Hell doesn’t exist, saying, according to his pal, “Hell does not exist…The disappearance of sinful souls exists.”
  • Scalfari, presumably without permission or consent, but he’s a journalist, so he’s going to report the news, and the Pope saying that all that stuff in the Bible about Satan is a lot of hooey is, you have to admit, news (although who knows if Matt Pearce would report it as news; I guess it would depend on whether he wanted the public to know there was no Hell, right?), naturally lets the world know that the Pope doesn’t believe what his predecessors and follower have been using to scare the Hell out of sinners all this time.
  • The Vatican issued a statement saying:

“What is reported by the author in today’s article is the fruit of his reconstruction, in which the precise words uttered by the Pope are not cited. No quotations in the aforementioned article, then, should be considered as a faithful transcription of the words of the Holy Father.”

That’s called “spin.” Why do we trust these people?

2. Why is NPR taxpayer-funded again? This “correction” actually appeared in the NPR story about the Pope’s Hell problems:

Correction March 30, 2018: An earlier version of this post incorrectly described Easter as “the day celebrating the idea that Jesus did not die and go to hell or purgatory or anywhere at all, but rather arose into heaven.”

Competence? Editors? Basic education? Respect for people’s faith? Knowing something about the predominant religion ins the nation you are reporting on? Hello? Continue reading

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