Heather Wilson declaims "Our Superficial Scholars"

Former U.S. Representative Heather Wilson (R-New Mexico) has an op-ed in the Washington Post echoing everything we’ve been hearing recently about how college grads just aren’t critical thinkers with supple, creative minds any more (h/t RealClearPolitics.)  Shockingly, she’s making this claim about applicants for the Rhodes Scholarship!

For most of the past 20 years I have served on selection committees for the Rhodes Scholarship. In general, the experience is an annual reminder of the tremendous promise of America’s next generation. We interview the best graduates of U.S. universities for one of the most prestigious honors that can be bestowed on young scholars.

I have, however, become increasingly concerned in recent years – not about the talent of the applicants but about the education American universities are providing. Even from America’s great liberal arts colleges, transcripts reflect an undergraduate specialization that would have been unthinkably narrow just a generation ago.

That’s odd–the whole “make up your own curriculum” fad is one I associate with the hippie-dippie days of the 1970s, and by the mid-1980s most colleges and universities had reinstituted a rigorous core curriculum (if they had ever let it go in the first place.)  But, read a little further, and it becomes clear that Wilson’s complaint is political, not intellectual:

As a result, high-achieving students seem less able to grapple with issues that require them to think across disciplines or reflect on difficult questions about what matters and why. . . . Continue reading

Tiger mother beatdown: child-free auntie queersplains it all

I’ve followed with only an exhausted disinterest the “controversy” over Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Motherover the past few weeks.  Having been scolded by readers for daring to express opinions on this blog from my perspective as an American women’s historian about modern discourses on motherhood without revealing myself either as a mother or as a non-mother has tried my patience in the past, and the whole fracas over Chua’s book (which was really about her article in the Wall Street Journal, which was clearly calculated to raise people’s blood pressure and get hits to the website) just seemed so calculated to get people–especially XX-chromosome people–whipped up into a lather as they performed their motherhood superior dances.

Fortunately, Tenured Radical breaks it down and explains it all in two posts, the first about the fact that “Middle Class Child Abuse is Not an Asian Thing,” and the second in which she writes about “How Amy Chua Made Me Think About Feminism” after actually reading Chua’s book!  Here’s an excerpt from the second post:

I can also now answer question The Los Angeles Times asked today: “What’s Behind Our Obsessive Amy Chua Disorder?”  The answer, I think, is that mothering is more or less a cursed profession that is analogous to being a professional homosexual, which is what I do when I am not being a tenured college professor.  As with mothers mothers, people always feel like they must have — nay have a right to have — opinions about homosexuals, regardless of how silly or unwelcome those opinions are.  The less people know about real homosexuals, the more they feel like they have to have an opinion about us. . . . Continue reading

A Modest Proposal

Reader Swamp Ape brought this to my attention earlier this week:  Jon Wiener, a History professor at the University of California, Irvine, has a modest proposal to make our classrooms safe from gun violence.  “The Arizona legislature is considering a proposal to authorize the carrying of weapons on campus by faculty members. The idea is simple—in case of trouble in the classroom, somebody needs to be able to blast away at problem students. But the question arises, should all faculty members be armed?”

Wiener thinks this might be dangerous–adjuncts are understandably disgruntled, the untenured regular faculty might be unstable, and “then there are the women, the minorities, and the gays—always complaining about ‘underrepresentation’ and ‘equity issues,’ always whining about pay differentials. Guns must be kept out of their hands, too.” 

The lesson is clear: guns on campus should be restricted to the hands of the senior professors—the old white men. They know the importance of preserving order. Continue reading

Bad news/good news?

According to an “unprecedented study that followed several thousand undergraduates through four years of college,” students aren’t learning “the critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills that are widely assumed to be at the core of a college education.”  (H/t to commenter quixote for bringing this to my attention.)  How now? 

Many of the students graduated without knowing how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event, according to New York University sociologist Richard Arum, lead author of the study. The students, for example, couldn’t determine the cause of an increase in neighborhood crime or how best to respond without being swayed by emotional testimony and political spin.

Arum, whose book “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses” (University of Chicago Press) comes out this month, followed 2,322 traditional-age students from the fall of 2005 to the spring of 2009 and examined testing data and student surveys at a broad range of 24 U.S. colleges and universities, from the highly selective to the less selective.

But, wait, good readers!  There’s an interesting small fact you find only when you read all the way to the end.  Dig this:

Students who majored in the traditional liberal arts — including the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences and mathematics — showed significantly greater gains over time than other students in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills.

Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the least gains in learning. Continue reading

Historiann tells all! (And too much is sometimes plenty.)

Booted and ready to ride!

I don’t quite reveal it all, but I’ve been invited to write recently for peer reviewed journals about the non-peer reviewed world-wide time-wasting blogosphere and my playground here, Historiann!  I know, friends:  Whodathunkit?  And who really cares?

First of all, readers will find an answer to this question at least if they click on over to Common-place to read my contribution to this month’s “Common Reading” feature, which I’ve called “Silence Dogood Rides Again:  Blogging the Frontiers of Early American History,” an essay on the long tradition of pseudonymity in early American history, pseudonymity on the world-wide non-peer reviewed internets, and my ambitions to join the local Roller Derby team.  (For realz!  I’ve got a great idea for a Roller Derby name, anyway, and that’s a good place to start.  You’ll have to click on over to Common-place if you want to find it out!)

Here’s some flava:

My main interest in my blog is now the larger community of readers and commenters who connect me to a wider intellectual world and whom otherwise I’d never meet, work with, or encounter through any of the traditional networking strategies in academia. Forget what you’ve heard about supposedly cool Colorado college towns and so-called “liberal” academia—it’s lonelyout here for a Marxist feminist early Americanist who writes eastern history. My (lightly) pseudonymous identity as a cowgirl probably plays a large part of my success in bringing folks together on the blog. I don’t want to burst your bubble, amigas, but Historiann is a lot more fun than I am—she doesn’t have any family or work responsibilities outside of writing about whatever she wants to write about, and acting as a welcoming host for guests who want to join online conversations about history, the academic workplace, feminism, contemporary politics, and the interesting intersections I find therein. Who knew that there would be 2,000-3,000 people a day interested in reading about my idiosyncratic and not necessarily interconnected interests? My playful pseudonymous identity helps pull it all together. (And, I think a lot of you eastern “Dudes” are pretty easy marks!) Continue reading

Back to school blues, browns, and greens

It’s that time of the year:  back to teaching for me.  I had a great holiday break with family at my place, and then a really productive two weeks of writing (offline!)  Here’s a back-to-school ditty with some cuties who will put smiles on your faces.  (It’s good to remember that even the most tuned-out seeming college student is someone’s child, and was once that six-year old mugging for the camera.)

Have a good week! I sure do miss the smell of that big ol’ box of 64. (And, am I a complete freak, or is Kids Place Live not the best satellite radio channel? I just might forgive the poor punctuation of its own name.)

Some people learn nothing, forget everything, and can't shoot straight

Garry Wills, in the New York Review of Books, compares Barack Obama’s speech in Tucson to Abraham Lincoln’s speech at Gettysburg (via RealClearPolitics).  For realz!  Gaze on in slack-jawed horror:

In preparing his speech, Obama had called and talked to the hurt and the survivors. He could tell their personal stories. Michelle Obama invited the family of the murdered nine-year-old to visit her in the White House. Obama came to the speech from the bedsides of those who had been wounded. Their message to him was one of dedication: “They believed, and I believe, that we can be better.” This rang a bell with me. It reminded me of the lesson of the fallen that Lincoln took from Gettysburg—“that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.” At Gettysburg Lincoln might have been expected to defend the North and blame the South—which is what Edward Everett did in the speech preceding his. Rather, the bulk of his speech was given to praising the dead and urging others to learn from them.

Wow–I bet no other public eulogies in American history from 1863 to 2011 “prais[ed] the dead and urg[ed] others to learn from them.”  Right on!  Except, the people Lincoln mourned were for the most part volunteers for a war against slaveryContinue reading