Saturday, February 23, 2008

"Europe" is Dead

“Europe” is dead. That is, the culture that was the mixture of Grecco-Roman, Germanic, and Christian cultures is dead. This is the culture that gave the world the ideas of freedom, liberty, and equality. It is dead, because it sowed the seeds of its own destruction with the Enlightenment. There are two sides to the Enlightenment – faith in the perfectibility of humankind (as seen in the writings of Montesquieu and Smith) and profound doubt in our perfectibility (as seen in the writings of Voltaire and Rousseau). For decades, the side of the Enlightenment that had faith in humanity looked like it had succeeded. Faith in the inevitability of human progress towards perfection successfully replaced Christian (and, to a lesser extent, Jewish) faith in God among most intellectuals. Thus, faith in one absolute goal had replaced another. There was something as equally unchanging about faith in human progress as there was about faith in an unchanging supreme being. Like most cultural assumptions, this faith in human progress trickled down from the educated bourgeoisie to the lower bourgeoisie, and, eventually, to the working class. Thus, once again, Europeans had a shared culture with freedom, liberty, and equality being assumed parts of human progress towards perfection.

But the First World War changed that. The slaughterhouse that was the war proved to most intellectuals that humans were definitely not progressing towards perfection. This was a fundamental break in Western Civilization. The people of 1919 have more in common with us than they did with the people of 1913. The few intellectuals (outside the Catholic Church) who still believed in the inevitability of human progress had to abandon that ideal after the next war with the unimaginable cataclysm of the Holocaust. As during the Enlightenment, the ideas of the intellectuals trickled down to the rest of society creating, once again, a common intellectual outlook. The result, today, is that fewer than 20 per cent of European Christians identify themselves as strongly religious. Thus, the two sources of faith, one religious and the other secular, were removed from European culture. As it turns out, faith is what supported “Europe.”

Without Christian or Jewish faith and without faith in the perfectibility of humans, what was left? People could have faith in governments or political parties, but those are not constant. People could have faith in themselves, but, since individuals grow and change over time, this too was not constant. People could believe in some form of Existentialism, but this ends up believing in nothingness or simply believing in oneself. Either way, this is not permanent.

It turns out then that what held “Europe” together was faith in something permanent or absolute; whether it was God or progress is immaterial. “Europe” is dying because it has lost faith.

Now, faith is not always the best idea. Unfortunately, one group still maintains faith. Radical Moslems (and the overwhelming majority of Moslems who tacitly accept their views) have an apocalyptic faith in the restoration of the Caliphate. One day, Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East will be reunited in the empire created by the Prophet in the 7th century. In this Moslem utopia, there is no room for freedom, liberty, and equality. These are seen by Moslem intellectuals as a Western (read, “European”) disease that has led to immorality. Likewise, the Western concept of progress is seen by these men to be equally immoral.

Today, “Europe” has no answer to this assault on freedom, liberty, equality, and progress. Instead, with nothing to believe in themselves, with no faith, they are caving in to the faith of the Moslems. They have no response, because any positive response would be, in their minds, culturally insensitive. Everybody has a right to their views, because nobody is wrong (except those who hold to the outmoded ideas of the Enlightenment or the Judeo-Christian culture that has been the bedrock of “Europe”). Just how far today’s European intelligentsia has been willing to divorce themselves from their own past is seen in the monstrosity known as the EU Constitution. So as not to offend the Moslems and agnostics, the story of Europe contained in the Constitution deliberately and maliciously excluded Christianity as an influence on the creation of “Europe.” The Archbishop of Canterbury’s recent statements that Britain must make room for sharia law ( that treats non-Muslims, dhimmi, as second-class citizens and women as chattel is just the latest, egregious example of cultural suicide. More disturbing, from my point of view, is the Dutch Catholic charity, Vastenaktie, calling Lent the “Christian Ramadan” in an effort to reach Dutch youth ( This goes beyond relativism to degraded pandering. The best book on this suicidal tendency of cultural relativism in Europe is the book by Bruce Bawer, While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within.

Thus, “Europe” is dead – a hopeless muddle of cultural and intellectual relativism. The radical Moslems and their legions of supporters will establish the Caliphate, because most Europeans have no faith to stop them. The Moslems have faith in the creation of their utopia and the Europeans are passively accepting it, because they have nothing worth fighting for. Culturally (and, for that matter, demographically) the Europeans are passively wasting away under this Moslem onslaught.

Why should we worry in the US? Like it or not, we are a European culture. America was founded by students of the Enlightenment. Indeed, the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution are the greatest achievements of Enlightenment thought and practice. Moreso than France in 1789, the US proved that the ideas of the Enlightenment were not simply theoretical, but could be put into practice. We should worry, because if we loose faith – in democracy, pluralism, equal rights, freedom -- “America” will die just as surely as “Europe” will die. When some groups are more equal than others, when some have freedom of speech and assembly and others don’t, when immigrants refuse to become assimilated, then the inevitable result is the Balkanization of the U.S. and the end of the idea of “America.”

We’re idiots if we don’t fight to keep the ideas and ideals that have made the US the living embodiment of the very best precepts of the Enlightenment.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Doctorates for Idiots

So you've got an EdD. Well, bully for you, Dr. X. Say you're a "doctor" huh? Say your degree is exactly equivalent to my PhD? Really? Let's take a look at a few programs granting doctor of education (EdD) degrees or educational specialist (EdS) degrees. Keep this in mind as you compare and contrast degrees. For my PhD in history, I had to take two days of comprehensive exams, pass two foreign language exams, and write a 475-page dissertation. These are typical requirements for liberal arts doctoral degrees.

A random pool of universities that offer EdDs in the social sciences include: University of South Carolina, University of Florida, University of Alabama, University of Georgia, Illinois State University, Portland State University, Missouri State University, and Syracuse University. None of these programs requires any foreign language expertise. South Carolina and Illinois State do not have a comprehensive exam as a requirement. In discussions with individuals who have earned an EdD, the so-called “comprehensive” exam involves regurgitating a series of buzzwords that real teachers know are meaningless. I personally know persons who have received a graduate-level grade of “A” for a course on making bulletin boards. Looking at their libraries, the typical EdD “thesis” is between 100-200 pages long. Keep in mind, a typical education thesis has 10 pages of literature review, the 100 surveys administered to 12th graders about their feelings on each other, 10 pages of number crunching, and a one-page conclusion. The end result is a 121-page thesis.

The EdS degree is even more laughable. Looking at the University of Tennessee, University of Florida, University of Alabama, University of Georgia, Michigan State University, and Missouri State University, the typical program simply involves about 30 semester hours of graduate education courses (presumably, including the bulletin-board class). Once again, they have no foreign language requirement. Most have something they call a “comprehensive” exam. Tennessee offers a thesis option and Georgia requires a “student portfolio.” None of the others has a thesis requirement.

The EdD degree was invented years ago to give school principals a raise. After a couple years of taking some night and weekend classes, they got to tack "Dr." in front of their name and, voila, they got a raise. This degree was not meant to be a bona fide doctorate. Now, Colleges of Education are churning out legions of lazy, slack-jawed idiots who have taken a host of meaningless, vacuous courses. Some college deans now hold this degree instead of a PhD in their substantive field. This means that an EdD in social studies, who has never written anything longer than a term paper and who has had as little as three graduate courses in history, can control the lives of men and women who have more training and aptitude than he can possibly imagine. Why would a university administration appoint somebody without real academic credentials to lead a college within the instituion? Obviously, because somebody with no support from his faculty, in fact, whose faculty hold him in total disregard, is the perfect toady for the administration.

I never heard of EdS degrees until a few years ago when somebody who was working on one told me that they were replacing PhD degrees with these more rigorous degrees in specialized areas. Look at the requirements -- the EdS degree was invented for people who couldn't satisfy the intellectual rigors of pursuing an EdD degree.

Obviously, the only reason to enroll in one of these programs is to ensure oneself of a raise without doing any real work. If a person wanted actually to master the material, he or she would put forth the effort to earn a real doctorate.

Every time I talk with anybody at any other university, they typically refer to the College of Education and its denizens as "those idiots in Education" or words to that effect. The universal opinion of academics is that holders of EdDs are idiots. Graduate education programs turn out hordes of incompetents who then pollute the undergraduate education programs throughout the nation. It's sad that the individuals who should be most concerned with education actually know the least about the topic. Instead, they spend their time featherbedding their courses with form over substance. They tell my students that, when writing a research paper, "a little plagiarism is alright." Thus, the entire educational system in this country is being rotted from within.

The cold hard fact is that you, Dr. X, and your degree, are a joke. Even the people in Anthropology and American Studies think you're a joke. Perhaps you realize that everybody thinks you're an idiot. Perhaps that's why you insist that everybody always call you "Dr. X." Even among colleagues who call each other by their first names, you steadfastly refer to everybody as "doctor" expecting to receive the same appellation in return. You introduce yourself at parties and other gatherings as "Dr. X." This would be pathetic and needy if not for the cold hard fact that you are an insufferable bore.

Dr. X, you're an idiot.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Teaching Our Kids to be Idiots

The Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, is taking her traveling snake-oil show on the road to sell the American public on “No Child Left Behind” if Congress doesn’t act soon to reauthorize this abysmal failure. While the whole idea behind NCLB is laudable – holding failing schools accountable for short-changing our children – the actual result of the policy has made education, if anything, worse.

One of the problems behind NCLB is that states set their own criteria for success. While this is better than arbitrary national standards which are too inflexible to take into account local differences and needs, the state standards are just as inflexible and often absurdly low. For example, the school in which my wife teaches serves an increasing number of Hispanic students, many of whom don’t yet speak or write English. These kids have to take exactly the same tests as the English-speaking kids. I am definitely not in favor of bilingual education, but when a kid comes into the school with no background in English, and two weeks later he or she has to take a standardized test, nobody’s interests are being served. In addition, in the Tuscaloosa (AL) City School system, in an effort to cut costs, special needs kids have been moved into the regular schools. A sixth grader who reads at the first-grade level is not served by taking a standardized test tailored for sixth graders.

In high school, the problem with NCLB is far worse. At this level, students are expected to perform at a certain level on standardized tests in various subjects. These are usually called “Exit Exams.” Students have their entire high school career to pass these tests. According to a report by the Center on Education Policy entitled “Choices, Changes, and Challenges: Curriculum and Instruction in the NCLB Era,” ( ) over 80% of the schools reporting stated that they had changed the curriculum “to put greater emphasis on tested content.” That is, they are teaching to the test. There is no pedagogical theory to justify this – actually, the opposite is true.

Once they’ve passed a test in a given subject, students are home free. The result of this absurd system is that high school teachers spend four years teaching to the tests. Students are expected to memorize a list of factoids. To ensure that they will pass these tests, their entire day is spent going over and over these factoids. (See Richard Garlikov’s argument at Any activity that does not contribute to this memorization is abandoned. Thus, schools are dropping art, music, and foreign languages at least in part because there are not exit exams in these subjects and because school districts don’t want to spend money on these “unnecessary” courses (for example, see, “A Retreat from Foreign Languages?” by Patrik Jonsson in The Christian Science Monitor, 29 October 2002).

By the time these kids graduate from high school, they know everything on these exit exams. Of course, if they passed the test in 10th grade, they’ve forgotten most of it. However, they do not know how to read or think for themselves. This point was brought staggeringly home to me the other day when nobody in my Western Civ class knew the three inalienable rights contained in the Declaration of Independence – even after I’d spotted them “life.” Upon further questioning, this was not part of their history exit exam in 10th grade.

An entire generation is being ruined by NCLB. Because students are taught simply to pass a multiple choice test, they are not taught to think or to reason. They are simply taught to do what they are supposed to do. This is inherently authoritarian. More to the point, when they come to college, they are singularly unprepared for the rigors of college education. My colleagues at the university where I teach, as well as those I know who teach at other institutions, have noticed a precipitate decline over the last two years in the ability of our students to do college work – these are the first students to graduate after four years in high school under NCLB. They can’t read and they surely can’t think.

There are many groups responsible for this failure. One obvious group is the teachers who go along with this educational charade. But, to be fair, they risk loosing their jobs if they have the temerity to try to enrich their students’ education beyond the simplistic tests used to measure the success or failure of NCLB programs.

Teachers’ unions are more culpable. I’m not anti-union by any stretch of the imagination (as evidenced by the numerous arguments I’ve had with my father on this one), but teachers’ unions have a duty to protect the educational integrity of the classroom, not just make sure teachers get raises (which most of them do deserve). Very simply, teachers’ unions have a moral duty to ensure all of our students are educated, but often fail (see former Secretary of Education Rod Paige’s op-ed piece in Business Week “The Debate Room” on 9 August 2007 where he writes, “But the brutal fact we must recognize is that there is a tremendous difference between the desires of the teachers and the desires of the union. Teachers’ unions have little or zero incentive to change. Their power and desire for control make it unlikely they will back even the most moderate efforts to bring accountability and results to our schools”).

School boards, both state and local, must shoulder a great deal of the blame for the idiocy of NCLB. The state school board mandates the benchmarks for success under NCLB. Often, these are absurdly low (like leaving out the US Declaration of Independence). For another example, according to an article in the Reno Gazette Journal by Ray Hager on September 27, 2002, Nevada high schoolers could pass the reading comprehension portion of their exit exam by reading at the fourth to eighth grade levels.

Then, the school boards bombard the schools with literally tons of paperwork to prove the teachers are doing what some bureaucrat decided they should be doing in the classroom. More time is spent filling out this paperwork than in actually teaching. The benchmarks for success are most often determined by multiple-guess tests. To ensure that the students are prepared to pass the test (not actually knowing anything, just able to pass the test), the local school boards spend thousands of dollars to buy computer programs to teach the teachers how to teach to the test. The perfidy of this situation should make you want to vomit.

Colleges of Education also must accept a significant share of the blame for the complete misery caused by NCLB. These faculty, theoretically, should know and understand the value of education as a means of preparing all students to lead productive and fulfilled lives as good citizens. Instead, all too often, they are more concerned with maintaining the status quo and perpetuating their standing as educational mandarins. My good friend over at has referred to the “Iron Triangle” of Colleges of Education, teachers’ unions, and school boards working together to ensure an unchanging mortal lock on education; broaching no interference from outside sources – like parents.

But it’s parents who must shoulder most of the blame for the failures of education in general and for NCLB in particular. Too many parents look at K-12 education as simply baby sitting (if teachers were paid the same as babysitters, they would make a small fortune). Their total involvement in their children’s education involves asking them if they’ve finished their homework and voting against school taxes that might adequately fund the local schools. By their actions (or inactions), parents tell their children that education is unimportant and what they do in the classroom has no real bearing on their lives. I believe most parents want their children to have a better life than they did, but they refuse to see that education is the key. Apparently, they believe that the teachers have some magic wand to open their kids’ heads and dump in the smartness. It is every parent’s responsibility to be actively involved in their kid’s education. This means reading their homework, going to PTA meetings, and, when necessary, questioning what their kids are taught in school. If their kids are being taught the same material for years, they are the ones who are going to have to stop it. If their kids are not prepared for college, or, more importantly, not prepared for a cultural and political life in the US, they have to take the initiative to stop it. Because the teachers, the unions, the school boards, and the Colleges of Education are not going to alter the situation. There have been many articles written on the importance of parental involvement for improving children’s lives, but one of the best is by Dr. Karin Suesser at

Active involvement by parents in the education of their children is the best solution to the problem of failing education in this country. Another solution is programs of reading and writing across the curriculum. Instead of wasting time teaching students how to simply regurgitate what they were told to say on a multiple-guess test, reading and writing exercises actually teach students the all-important abilities to reason and to think critically and independently. All courses can easily incorporate reading and writing as part of their teaching. A former student of mine uses reading and writing to teach math at the high school level. I’ve had the pleasure to teach two of his students at my university. They were, naturally, two of the brightest and most inquisitive students it’s been my pleasure to teach. See the essay, by Alice S. Horning “Reading Across the Curriculum as the Key to Student Success” Across the Disciplines, 4 (14 May 2007)

Essentially, it comes down to will. Do parents have the will to take an active role in the education of their children? Does the “Iron Triangle” have the will to prepare adequately their pupils to be active citizens?

This last question may be the most important, because, ultimately, poorly educated students become poor citizens. They can’t think for themselves and they lack critical reasoning skills. NCLB teaches them simply to go along, unquestioningly and uncaringly with what they are told. They become drones who can be easily manipulated by political, cultural, and spiritual leaders to believe anything these powers want them to believe. Instead of being ruled by reason and their intellect, they are manipulateable and malleable. They can, and do, support anybody and anything in which they believe rather than know. They are the perfect generation for authoritarian leaders.

We’re idiots if we don’t change this.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Learning for Idiots: The Sham of Online Education

The 21 January 2008 edition of _U.S. News & World Report_ contains glowing, uncritical articles about the glories of an online college education. Gone are the days when only diploma mills like University of Phoenix (which proudly advertises that it is "`customer-oriented'"), ITT Tech, Nova, and others provided meaningless courses and degrees. Now, even established universities have succumbed to the allure of easy money from idiots seeking a golden ticket to fame and fortune.

The purpose of a college education is to gain a better life. Anybody who tells you that you go to college to get a job is either a sociopath or a liar trying to steal your money. As the numbers of students entering college began to decline and, for state universities, as state governments started cutting back on funding for higher education, to make up for declining funds, universities started marketing themselves to prospective students. Instead of focusing on what universities have always done -- preparing the next generation through helping them develop critical reasoning skills -- universities started lying to prospective students telling them they would get a good job by coming to their school. This marketing approach to education has only worsened and become more absurd with online education. The result is a sick miasma called "Student Consumerism."

Presciently, in 1997, George Cheney, Jill J. McMillan, and Roy Schwartzman, in "Should We Buy the `Student-as-Consumer' Metaphor?" in _The Montana Professor_ addressed the pitfalls of student consumerism and pointed out the problems with the commodification of higher education. While their article pertains to "bricks-and-mortar" classrooms, their argument applies, perhaps better, to the online experience. Three of their points fit particularly well to online education:

"the student-as-consumer metaphor actually distances students from the very educational process which is supposed to engage them"

On-line education both literally and figuratively distances students from the educational process. Obviously, there is no physical, human contact between the teacher and the students and none among the students. There is no spontaneous interaction, no nurturing, and no growth by both the students and the teacher, which is, in its truest sense, a symbiotic relationship. Secondly, reducing the process of education to simply a way of achieving a degree or a job perverts the entire purpose of education, to improve the lives of everybody involved.

"the provision of momentary customer satisfaction should not be confused with providing a high-quality educational experience or with ongoing educational improvement"

The entire point of online education is near immediate gratification. There is no desire to learn, simply to get through the course as soon and painlessly as possible to get the degree. Once the degree is acquired, the presumed raise or improvement in status will probably not be forthcoming. Talk about buyer's remorse. They have a meaningless degree, and their lives have not been improved one jot. They are made to feel like idiots.

"much can be lost in the translation of contemporary business-management fads to the experiences of higher education"

This is perhaps their most salient (unintended) argument against online education. The understood purpose of online education is to get a job. Students buy an online education. But, as the authors of this article rightly note, "Education, by contrast, is process oriented in that it ideally seeks to train people to continue to educate themselves." To put this another way, the purpose of a college education is not to get a job, the purpose of higher education is to "learn how to learn." There are no standards. Online instructors are typically paid by how many students they have in their courses. If they challenge the student-consumer, he or she, seeking the path of least resistance, will take the intellectually vacuous course, simply to get the "A." Entire colleges and departments within universities have built up their student numbers with this method. The teacher with high standards is punished and the students are short-changed.

If you simply want the possibility of getting a job, then, by all means go to technical school. If, on the other hand, you want a better life, go to a university and actively participate in your own education.

Don't be an idiot.