Students Cheating and American Subjectivism

4 Comments

Ethics class

Ethics class (Photo credit: aditza121)

Students cheating in school is not a new thing, but it has become an epidemic in recent years. The Internet has made cheating easier, with thousands of term papers students buy and pass off as their own work. Cell phones are now used by students to get answers from their classmates or to look them up on a website. What is most surprising is how many students see no moral problem with cheating. Sometimes irate parents will visit a high school principle or college dean and complain that their child did not cheat, even when the evidence is overwhelmingly against the student. Is it any surprise that there are so many scandals in business and in government? Children are emulating the values of their parents, who reflect the terrible trend in American culture to want something for nothing.

The rampant relativism to which students are exposed on television, by celebrities, by the media, in the K-12 school system, and in colleges and universities makes it easy for students to become subjectivists on ethics. “Whatever floats your boat” or “Whatever I think is right is right for me and whatever you think is right for you” becomes the mantra of many students today. The most dogmatic relativists are as closed-minded as any religious fundamentalist. The fact that they become angry and try to cut a professor off when he argues against subjectivism reveals that they only want their views to be heard. Apparently the position held by the professor and by other students that everyone, including the professor, has the right to speak his mind has not sunk into these students.

I am at a loss to determine how to get beyond the impasse of relativistic propaganda in society. When the United States accepted a traditional Judeo-Christian ethic, as it did from the Second Great Awakening in the late eighteenth century through around 1963, one could argue from a common morality held by the vast majority of Americans. With the decline of Christianity and the proliferation of different religions and cultures, one could try to find common values between them–and between deeply devout people of all major religions much commonality in moral beliefs is present. Radical secularism, agnosticism, and atheism can try to develop a non-relativistic deontological or utilitarian system, but other secularists who desire to do what they want without restraint could say, “Okay, there’s a common morality needed for the good of society, but I don’t care about the good of society. There’s no God to stop me from being a self-centered ass. So that’s what I’ll be.” Without transcendent meaning, how strong is the force of the “ought” in ethics (I am borrowing this point from George Mavrodes). Students may intellectually believe in some kind of deity, but the secular relativism they have been taught from kindergarten onward has already sunk into their psyche. This fact, along with the inherent immaturity and selfishness of youth, make for a combination that will inevitably result in rampant cheating. I have had students of all grades brag to me about how they successfully cheated in school. It is a matter of pride to them. It is a matter of shame to American society that its cultural rot since 1964 has destroyed any notion of transcendent meaning (beyond trying to find it through pleasure), has promoted self-centeredness, has promoted “success” by any means necessary, and has lied to people by telling them they should be proud of their accomplishments even if they did not earn them. With churches catering to the relativist, postmodern young person without trying to correct their relativism, all that results is high recidivism and young people who leave church with the same twisted values they previously had accepted. Without a large-scale religious revival, which I do not see coming in the United States, growing irreligiosity will cause societal destruction in the U.S.–Europe had enough residual tradition to withstand falling into chaos when Europeans gave up on Christianity, but how long will that last? I expect more cheating in the future by students. Some will get caught, most will not care unless they are caught (and even then for selfish reasons), and the shred of integrity left in the American educational system will be threatened.

Arrogance and Academics

11 Comments

English: This image shows an academic gown as ...

English: This image shows an academic gown as worn by someone of the degree of doctor of philosophy. The design follows that set forth by the Intercollegiate Code of Academic Costume which is the dominant style used in the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

I am lucky at the institution where I teach. The faculty members I know take their teaching seriously and genuinely care about the students. Although some do a great deal of research, those faculty are missing the kind of arrogance one sees sometimes among academics at larger institutions.

 

Academics have had educational opportunities that most people in the world have not experienced. There may be a glut of Ph.D.s in the academic job market, but even in the United States, Ph.D.s make up a miniscule part of the population. It becomes an easy step for some academics to jump from “I’m better at biology [or history or philosophy, etc.] than most people; therefore, I am better than most people.” The latter does not follow from the former. There are ordinary farmers with a high school education I’d rather be around than some big name academics I have seen at large conferences. Yet there are well known academics who are down to earth, humble, and who help someone asking for advice on a project or advice on how to get an academic job. Other academics, unfortunately, allow their degrees to get to their head. I once heard of an academic who asked his wife to refer to him as “Doctor.” I do not know whether or not she obliged him, but she should have replied, “Doctor,, my a..!” I would be dishonest to deny that I am proud of earning a Ph.D.–but I tell my students they can call me “Dr. Potts,” “Prof. Potts,” or “Mr. Potts,” and after they have graduated they can call me anything, including S.O.B. if that is what they think. I require respect, but “Mr.” is an honorable title, and I would rather not insist on being called “Dr.” I’m reminded of the joke I read in Reader’s Digest a number of years ago–I think it was based on a true event. A man has just received his Ph.D. The phone rings. His eight-year-old son answers the phone, and someone asks for “Dr. John Doe.” The boy replies, “Yeah, my dad’s a doctor, but he’s not the kind who can do you any good.” Humility is one virtue that would help s man not be hurt by his son’s statement.

 

How many professors today will write works that will be remembered one hundred years from now? I expect that most or all of my works will be like the millions of other works in journals sitting on library shelves–not because they’re bad works–I am proud of my scholarly work and of my creative writing–but because I am not an Aristotle, an Aquinas, a Wittgenstein, or a Heidegger. Fulfillment comes from continuing a tradition of scholarly research in philosophy and in knowing that some people find things of value in my work. But I am a man, a human being, with the same bodily needs, limitations, temptations, and sinfulness as all other human beings. Academics who consider letting their degrees and/or accomplishments get to their heads should remember what a Catholic priest says when he crosses the ash on one’s forehead on Ash Wednesday: “Remember, O man, that dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.”

 

Political Correctness and the Stifling of Debate over World Views

10 Comments

No political correctness

One of the negative results of the tenured leftist radicals’ influence in academia has been political correctness–the aggressive advocacy of leftist ideology and the personal demeaning of those who disagree. Sometimes faculty members and students find that being demeaned by leftist professors and administrators is the least of their problem. I personally know two professors who were fired for attacking politically correct ideology. Both found other positions, one won a lawsuit against the school that fired him, but both are more hesitant to speak up against leftist positions, which is precisely what the radicals in academia want. At Vanderbilt University, Christian student groups are banned that do not allow those who disagree with the theological and moral teachings of traditional Christianity. This communicates the idea that traditional Christian views are not welcome in the public square of academia. When traditionalists are attacked, no rational arguments are given; rather, there are a plethora of personal attacks on those who oppose the leftist agenda, often vicious and using foul language. Such attacks are intentional and are an attempt to intimidate.

The most divisive moral issues in American society–the morality of procured abortion, active euthanasia, physician assisted suicide, the ethics of sexuality, including homosexuality, etc., are closely tied to specific world views. For example, the battle over the moral rightness of homosexuality is, to a significant extent, a battle between those who accept the malleability of human nature vs. those who believe in a stable human nature. This is not the only world view issue in this debate, but it is important, and a debate over different views on human nature and world views should be an important part of learning in academia. Instead, a new orthodoxy, more rigid than the most rabid of Christian fundamentalists, has invaded academia with speech codes, attacks on traditional Christians, dismissed students, fired faculty, and a shutting down of freedom of speech and free debate. Academia, the institution that should be at the heart of free debate that is essential for an educated human being, has become the New Inquisition, excommunicating all who disagree with a radical leftist agenda. Some schools have become more open since political correctness was identified, but traditionalists generally have a harder time in academia–that is bearable as long as open discussion of world view issues, including moral issues, is allowed to continue. Smaller schools that have not faced political correctness in the past, perhaps with some faculty and administrators falsely believing that they are being the wave of the future, may push for shutting down world view debates “to be like the bigger schools.” As radical faculty are hired who are loud, pushy, and intimidating, most faculty and administrators will give in to shut them up even if such cowardliness corrupts education. I have known liberal Democratic faculty who strongly oppose political correctness–hopefully the true liberals can join with conservatives in opening the university up to an open, frank discussion of world views. The faculty will learn more–and so will the students.

The Tragic Failure of the “Greatest Generation”

9 Comments

The crowd at Woodstock fills a natural amphith...

The so-called “Greatest Generation” survived the Great Depression and helped to win World War II. The level of sacrifice that generation endured was most likely among the highest levels in American history. Courage, perseverance, thrift, integrity–the Greatest Generation exemplified all these virtues. But many from that generation failed in their most fundamental duty: the rearing of children with virtues and high moral standards.

This was not all the generation’s fault. May fathers (and some mothers) had been killed or had died of disease during the war. Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome had not been identified as a treatable condition, although it was recognized as “battle fatigue” or “shell shock.” Soldiers returning from the European and Pacific theaters had seen the worst of what humanity could do, and some POWs had experienced the worst. Not every soldier who came home was going to be the same loving husband and father he was before the war. Even soldiers who did not suffer from PTSD had changed a great deal during their time overseas, as did their wives. The divorce rate skyrocketed to the highest levels ever seen in the United States shortly after World War II. Even today, with a high divorce rate, the United States has not matched the level of the late 1940s.

Parents not directly affected by the war were at least intimately aware of the Great Depression. Many parents who had suffered so much did not desire their children to have the same negative experiences. This was a laudable goal. However, as is often the case, the pendulum swung too far to the other extreme. Some social scientists said that children should not be disciplined at all, and Dr. Benjamin Spock was actually a conservative among social scientists for suggesting moderate discipline. The economy boomed, and parents, eager to give children the things they missed in their own childhood, showered their children with gifts on Christmas and on birthdays. Although many parents did hold their children accountable for their actions, others who bought into the social science framework reared children as if they existed in Rousseau’s state of nature, with no discipline. This lack of discipline, combined with the number of homes that were either single-parent or with a stepfather, sometimes produced spoiled children. Certainly some good children came out of single-parent homes, and some stepfathers were both loving and demanding of good behavior from their children. Children were also allowed to socialize more with other children rather than with adults, as had been the earlier practice–and with the post-World War II baby boom there were plenty of young people to socialize.. Moral relativism was growing among high school students, a trend noticed by social scientists around 1960. In 1964, the first boomer children entered colleges and universities–and the world changed forever.

Universities became occupied camps as students made multiple demands on the administration. Marxist agitators, the result of the Port Huron Meeting in 1962, in which Marxists took over the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) easily took advantage of spoiled and over-privileged children–“a bunch of spoiled brats,” as philosopher John Searle labeled them. Contemporary movements of multiculturalism, radical feminism, womanism, Neo-Marxist literary criticism, a bias against Western Culture, “special studies” programs–all came to fruition among the radical products of failed parenting among the baby boomers. It is true that many boomers resisted the radicals or were indifferent to them. But there were enough to overthrow the traditional Judeo-Christian European ethic that had guided the United States from the Second Great Awakening in the 1790s until the real 1960s began in 1964. Spoiled rich children used their parents’ money to go to Height-Asbury or to the 1969 Woodstock Music and Arts Festival with its ramped drug use and overdoses and sex out in the open. These were not the actions of well-disciplined children.

In the Old Testament, God held the good judge Eli responsible for his sons having sex with prostitutes while supposedly worshiping Yahweh. As a result, his sons died in battle, and Eli, in shock that the Ark of the Covenant had been taken by the Philistines, fell over in his chair, broke his neck, and died. Now society is reaping far worse results than  the death of a beloved judge–the entire fabric of society in the United States is breaking apart as the world is turned upside down by the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of the boomers.

I was recently talking with a member of the Greatest Generation at church–a World War II veteran. His children turned out well–but he told me the many of the Greatest Generation did not rear their children in the right way. There are no guarantees in parenting, and some children of non-disciplining parents may have turned out great, and some from parents who provided moderate discipline may have turned out badly. But in general, a large enough group of spoiled brats to begin America’s slow suicide entered the colleges and universities. Some are “tenured radicals.” Others have retired. The damage has been done, and it may be irrevocable–God only knows.

“Hate Studies”

Leave a comment

journal of hate studies

Image by wordsend via Flickr

Gonzaga University has recently created a  “Gonzaga Institute for Hate Studies” (http://www.nas.org/polArticles.cfm?doctype_code=Article&doc_id=1142). Although hate is a legitimate subject for philosophy, theology, psychology, and sociology to study, the sad truth is that this program is one that will inevitably label those who hold traditional moral values or conservative political views as “haters.” The article in the link from the National Association of Scholars website discusses the program from the perspective of academic sanity. Glenn Ricketts has examined the journal published by the Institute and discovered what he suspected: that “hate studies” is an excuse to push a particular cultural, religious, and political agenda. Any Christian who believes that abortion is morally wrong, or who believes that practicing homosexuality is morally wrong, would be classified as someone full of hate. Any political conservative who opposes racial quotas would be labeled as a hater. Gonzaga has created a propaganda mill for the most radical wing of the Democratic party, the wing of which most academics, at least in the Humanities, are members.

Gonzaga is Jesuit, and although there are traditional Jesuits who still exist, this institute shows how far a Jesuit institution of learning can sink. But it also shows the level to which academia as a whole has sunk with its myriad of “special studies programs” that support a privileged status for the interest group they claim to represent. This is the case whether the group is a particular race, gender, economic class, or “sexual orientation.”

If a student wants an education rather than propaganda he should avoid such programs. He should find a college or university that teaches the history and philosophy of Western Culture first, so students understand their own culture, and then teach about other cultures and beliefs–that is true diversity. The pseudo-diversity of “race, class, gender, and sexual orientation” is only a con game for radical special interest groups to con money and favors from society. Marcuse’s Marxism for the masses through the alteration of culture has, since the 1962 Marxist takeover of the Students for a Democratic society, has come to fruition in contemporary colleges and universities. The only thing that saves American culture from ultimate disaster is that many students have enough common sense to avoid believing bull. Traditional academics have put up a fight through the National Association of Scholars and other organizations which have both liberal, moderate, and conservative members who all agree that the radical’s use of special studies programs, such as “Hate Studies,” have changed much of the academy into a version of Huxley’s “brave new world.” It is past time for traditionalists who have not joined the battle to fight back against the radicalization of higher education in the United States.

Teaching vs. Research among College and University Professors

Leave a comment

Research. Olin Warner (completed by Herbert Ad...

Image via Wikipedia

This topic may not be as exciting as the topic of full body scanners, but it is a hot topic in academia and among critics of higher education in the U. S. The criticism runs something like this: “College and University professors spend so much time in research that they teach very few classes. In large universities, teaching assistants teach most of the introductory classes. Just because a professor is good at research does not mean he is good at teaching. Higher education should focus more on teaching than research.”

There is some truth to that criticism. After the influx of federal money into the university system, especially in reaction to the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957, science programs emphasized research, and eventually the humanities followed the model of the sciences. There was competition for research grants, and at some research-oriented universities, a tenure-track assistant professor without enough grants will not receive tenure. Besides getting grants, there is an expectation of publication in one’s field, the extent of which varies from university to university. In science, that expectation usually focuses on articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals. In philosophy, my field, articles in peer-reviewed journals are good, but some places require a book (not a textbook, but a scholarly monograph). Some departments only count publications in specific philosophical journals, such as the Journal of Philosophy or The Monist. Other departments are not as picky. At my school, which is considered a teaching school, scholarly work is expected, but it is up to the individual departments to determine the amount of expected work. When I was department chair, I told new faculty that I expected, by the sixth year when application for tenure usually takes place, at least two peer-reviewed articles and a few conference presentations. A monograph, of course, would suffice. That is a very modest publication requirement, but given a 4-4 load with frequent overloads required, it is a fair one.

In my opinion, research is a good thing–and some researchers ought to confine themselves to that aspect of scholarly endeavor. Excellent researchers are sometimes given research positions, which I think is fine. But for most college and university professors in the major schools, it would be good for them to balance teaching and research. Both, I believe, are needed–I have found research to be of great value in my own teaching. Teaching and research should be in a symbiotic relationship, with teaching fueling ideas for research and research contributing to a teacher’s knowledge of his field and to his teaching. I refer to my own research when it is relevant, and if I believe one of my articles is relevant to a class, I will sometimes require students to read it. Professors who do not write in their fields ought to at least read key journals to keep up with what is going on in their fields. When they can, they should apply their research to the content of their teaching. And teaching assistants, while necessary, should not teach all introductory courses; even full professors can learn something by teaching freshman courses. My school does not have TAs, so I teach introductory as well as upper-division courses, and I learn something new from my students almost every day (both positive and negative!). Now my preference is research–I love the process of research and writing–but teaching forces me to deal with real people in the real world with their own struggles and take on the issues of philosophy. That is a good thing–and more professors ought to be learning in a similar way by focusing more on their teaching.

What is an ideal situation? Probably a 3-3 or 3-2 load with funds for research and travel–and a more modest publication requirement than many large universities have. This provides a good balance between teaching and research so that the professor has time for both.

Today’s College and University Students: Expectations vs. Real Abilities

Leave a comment

Learning Something New

Image by Earlham College via Flickr

In the course of eighteen years as a full-time university professor, I have encountered the following situation many times. An irate student knocks on my office door to complain about a grade. Even when I show the student his paper, he complains, saying, “My teachers have always told me I’m a good writer. I’m real smart. You’re the only teacher who’s ever given me grades this low.” When the student leaves, I look over the paper again. There is not one coherent English sentence in the entire paper. It is so unclear I have to re-read it several times to get the point the student is trying to make. The paper makes multiple mistakes about a philosopher or philosopher’s actual position. There is no argumentation in the paper, only claims, many of them spiced with emotional tirades.

Some of my colleagues pass out a questionnaire at the beginning of each semester. One question is “What do you want to do when you graduate?” Students provide a variety of answers, including “I want to become a pediatrician,” or “I want to be a best-selling author.” Later, it turns out those same students read and write at a fifth-grade level at best, have poor math skills, and are C students or lower. How can such high expectations co-exist with such low intellectual ability?

One reason, I believe, likes in the American culture of entitlement, a culture that is reflected in the government school system. Grades K-12 are no longer about teaching basic skills such as reading, writing, mathematics, and a basic knowledge of science and history. Teacher education schools operate on the “mantra of the year,” and none of these mantras help teachers to educate students. A few years ago the mantra was “facilitative teacher,” which was more about letting the students run the show and teaching politically correct left-wing ideology than teaching children basic skills. Before that, the emphasis, which still is operative in the public schools, was on student “self-esteem.” Rather than encouraging self-esteem for real achievement, students were taught to feel good about themselves at the expense of academic standards. The result is a group of students who feel great about themselves but who are also, to put it frankly, “dumb as dirt.” They are taught that they can do anything, and are given the grades to prove it—but without grades reflecting real abilities, when those same students enter college or university, their dreams are shattered. Rather than taking responsibility for themselves and working on improving their skills, many students “blame the professor” and move to an easy major such as education or social work. In those fields, they can continue their “education” in self-esteem and left-wing politically correct ideology—and they will remain ignorant and uneducated in reality.

Such poison has infiltrated higher education in the form of “student-centered education,” which supposedly is better for “post-modern students” who cannot learn from traditional methods of teaching. Although there is nothing wrong with varying from the traditional lecture and using visual aids or discussion groups—I use those methods myself—the real goal of “student-centered education” is to ignore traditional methods of education such as lecture and memorization. And though I agree with student-centered education’s emphasis on getting students to think, they still require some content to think about—and this implies some lecture, reading, and memorization. Students do not automatically know what is best for them, and the rise of student evaluation of faculty and student influence on the curriculum coincided with the lowering of academic standards.

What can be done? First, education schools, which have been the source of much of the plague infecting the school system, should be replaced by an internship system. In this system, students would get a strong liberal arts undergraduate degree that emphasizes general education plus knowledge of a particular field. Then those students who desire to teach should go through an internship in the school system in order to develop their teaching skills and learn the technology. Second, no student should go through grades K-12 without being taught basic grammar—and I recommend some elements of classical rhetoric, perhaps a basic course in classical rhetoric. Third, students should be taught the history of the United States and of the world so that they know not only historical facts, but also geography and its effect on historical development. Fourth, students should be taught basic skills in mathematics and science. Fifth, school should emphasize real achievement and support high academic standards, including grades that reflect a student’s actual ability instead of high grades to promote “self-esteem.” Sixth, higher education should avoid the mistake the public school system has made and avoid trends toward “post-modern education”—there is still room for traditional teaching methods so that students learn the facts that provide content for thinking. And students, when they are old enough to think critically, should be taught how to reason from kindergarten through their university education. Only if we focus on the tried and true rather than the newfangled and false will the gap between expectations and skills be bridged.

Newer Entries