Will this election put an end to the War on Expertise in this country?

Probably not, but wouldn’t it be pretty to think so?

In honor of our ongoing War on Expertise, I bring you a link to a post of mine from two years ago, which featured a This American Life story about Bob the Electrician, and his deluded belief that if he couldn’t understand the Theory of Relativity, that meant that it was bunk.  Because everyone everywhere all the time should be able to understand everything, so one person’s as good as the next when it comes even to the trickiest of intellectual or policy questions.  It doesn’t matter if some of us have devoted our lives to the study and mastery of some forms of knowledge, nor if we actually do this for a living.  From my post on July 15, 2014:

To summarize:  Bob takes a year-long self-funded sabbatical to study physics and prove that Einstein had it all wrong.    [Reporter Robert Andrew] Powell tries to get real physicists to read the paper that Bob produces over the course of the year, which turns out to be quite a chore because it turns out that Bob is kind of like the old joke about asylums being full of Napoleons:  there are thousands of cranks around the world who believe Einstein’s theory–and by extension all of modern physics–is wrong, and they are a plague upon real, working, university- and U.S. government-affiliated physicists in much the same way that Holocaust Deniers, Constitutional Originalists, and Lost Causers are to historians; climate change denialists are to real climate scientists; and anti-vaxxers are to real physicians.  In sum, these cranks have no confidence whatsoever in expertise or in the value of the credentials that real historians, scientists, or doctors have.  But yet, they crave their respect and demand to be acknowledged by the experts.

Continue reading

Generation and gender in “hating” Hillary Clinton

Go read and consider Michelle Goldberg’s analysis of “The Hillary Haters” at Slate.  The nut:

Few people dislike Hillary Clinton for being too moralistic anymore. In trying to understand the seemingly eternal phenomenon of Hillary hatred, I’ve spoken to people all around America who revile her. I’ve interviewed Trump supporters, conventional conservatives, Bernie Sanders fans, and even a few people who reluctantly voted for Clinton in the Democratic primary but who nevertheless say they can’t stand her. Most of them described a venal cynic. Strikingly, the reasons people commonly give for hating Clinton now are almost the exact opposite of the reasons people gave for hating her in the 1990s. Back then, she was a self-righteous ideologue; now she’s a corrupt tool of the establishment. Back then, she was too rigid; now she’s too flexible. Recently, Morning Consult polled people who don’t like Clinton about the reasons for their distaste. Eighty-four percent agreed with the statement “She changes her positions when it’s politically convenient.” Eighty-two percent consider her “corrupt.” Motives for loathing Clinton have evolved. But the loathing itself has remained constant.

I wonder: what is the through line in all of this ressentiment?  Continue reading

“I am an investigative journalist, please take me seriously.”

We love your brave and adventurous journalism, Suki Kim!

We love your brave and adventurous journalism, Suki Kim!

Click away from this blog immediately and go read Suki Kim’s angry and disturbing article “The Reluctant Memoirist” about the marketing and reception of her book Without You There Is No Us:  My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite.  It’s a fascinating exploration about the intersection of journalism, marketing, race, and sex.

Some of you may remember hearing about her book, which recounts her daring and adventurous mission to penetrate and report on North Korea by working as an ESL teacher at an evangelical Christian university that catered to the DPRK’s elite young men.   In her article for The New Republic, where she serves as a contributing editor, she recounts the potential danger she faced in the service of reporting on the world’s most locked-down and closed off dictatorship, or “virtual prison state,” as Kim calls it: Continue reading

“Pocahontas”: an insult, or an inspiring diplomat and politician?

Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)

I’ve been meaning to write for weeks about Donald Trump’s nickname for Elizabeth Warren.  As a historian who has written a few books that include some Algonquian (Eastern woodlands Indian) history, and a lot of women’s history, it’s been on my mind.

But first, a little background:  last month, Trump started calling her Pocahontas, intending to smear her for once checking a box on an employment form claiming Native American ancestry:  Continue reading

The Great Silence: apologies, and my return to blogging.

Ursuline chapel and convent, Quebec City, 2015

Ursuline chapel and convent, Quebec City, 2015

I know I’ve been very quiet lately.  I’ve been traveling for nearly three weeks, mostly tending to family affairs and doing a little research along the way.  I’ve also had the chance to spend valuable time in conversation with friends in Michigan and New England, a rare pleasure all the more precious because of current events, which utterly bristle with hostility and violence now.  I feel very sheltered and cared for by all of you, in comparison to so much of the rest of the world.

Although I’ve blogged extensively about the peculiar ferocity and gendered nature of gun violence in the United States over the past 8-1/2 years, I must admit to being completely hollowed out by the horrors of the mass murders in Orlando 10 days ago.  What does it matter what I or any of us write here, with that kind of nihilism plus access to semi-automatic weaponry living among us?  Unsurprisingly, the killer was a 100% homegrown American man, and like so many other American men, he was deranged by anger, misogyny, and his own sexual desires.

I may have more to say about this, especially the fact that the murderer targeted a largely LGBT and Latinx crowd, something that’s been lost in the panic about his supposed motivation to join ISIS/ISIL.  I’ve been happier living in my imagination in some of the more peaceful corners of eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for the past few weeks.  We all must consider how we can take the best of the past and make it a living tradition, and leave behind the worst:  injustice, brutality, corruption.  Historians struggle with these issues more than most people, I suppose.

A few weeks ago, I was invited by Edward Carson (@ProfCarson44) of the Christian Century to write something for their history blog, Then & Now.  Here’s an excerpt from “What future is there for religious women in the west?” Continue reading

P.C. culture run amok on campus! NOT.

That old snag again?

That old snag again?

Eyal Press has written about his experiences teaching journalism at SUNY-New Paltz recently. Contrary to the most popular university-themed clickbait you might have seen at The Atlantic or The Huffington Post in the past academic year, he finds that complaints about “political correctness” fascistically controlling class discussions and about this so-called “coddled” generation of students to be overwrought.  Says Press:

I’d been hired to teach an undergraduate journalism seminar that focused on polarizing, divisive subjects: abortion, immigration, Islamophobia, the gun debate, campus rape. Issues likely to touch sensitive nerves, in other words, and to stir considerable discomfort among my students.

Several of the students in my class felt strongly about these issues. A few chose to write term papers that drew on personal experiences as well as on research and interviews they did. But no one in the class seemed uncomfortable talking about them. Nor did anyone object when I told them that, especially when reporting on issues close to their heart in which they had a personal stake, it was essential to talk to people whose opinions they did not share and to imagine things from multiple points of view, including views that disturbed or repelled them. None of the students called for “trigger warnings” to be placed on any of the books or articles on the course syllabus, despite the fact that several contained vivid descriptions of abuse and violence. When students aired criticisms of the readings in class discussions, the objections were about the quality of the work, not the offensiveness of the content.

This is what I’ve been reporting from my perch at a public Aggie in the West.  My students are far from privileged, and as Press reports, the issue they’re most worried about is the debt they’re accruing in pursuing higher education.  In a class he visited with 15 students, Press asked how many would be graduating with student debt. Continue reading

WIZ 301: Defense Against the Dark Arts, or, how universal design improves our teaching

defenseagainstdarkarts

Dump the blue books!

The always-thoughtful David Perry of How Did We Get Into This Mess and on Twitter @Lollardfish) has given his last blue-book, in class, timed exam.  Those of you who know his writing will not be surprised that he’s doing this because of the inequities and exposure in-class exams mean for students with disabilities:

I’ve been inching away from the blue book for years, but it’s time to go cold turkey and match my praxis to my principles. Whatever pedagogical gains the in-class test might bring — and I’ll argue they are few and increasingly less relevant — I can no longer justify forcing people with disabilities to disclose their conditions in order to receive basic test-related accommodations.

Although protections for disabled students date back to Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act, the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act spurred widespread change throughout academe. Compliance with the ADA and with Section 504 — for any institution receiving federal funds (including financial aid) — requires providing reasonable accommodations to students with diagnosed disabilities. It’s become routine, rather than rare, for students to begin the semester by presenting their professors with documented requests for accommodation.

That it’s become routine is great but far from perfect. Not only do students have to disclose disability to their professors —who are no more immune to ableism than to any other sort of bias — but the most common form of accommodation extends the disclosure to classmates. Many students with invisible disabilities (such as anxiety disorders or ADHD) require quiet rooms and extra time to work on a test. I’m thrilled to provide both. On the other hand, when the whole class gathers to take an exam, with one student conspicuously absent, everyone notices.

Right on, David!  (Be sure to read the whole article.)  He comes to his conclusion about canning the in-class, timed exams based on his understanding of the concept of universal design.  Perry explains, “That term — coined in the 1970s around architecture and public space —advocates that systems be designed to accommodate the widest range of function and ability possible. Universal design asks us to try and build accessibility into the fabric of our institutions and culture, rather than wait until individuals make their needs known.”  I’m sure you’ve seen evidence of it in buildings of recent construction–the extra-wide doorways and hallways, the paddle-handle door pulls that have replaced traditional doorknobs because they don’t require the number of fine motor skills to operate. Continue reading