Postscript to “me” studies

An old friend writes to me:

Your recent analysis of political correctness was particularly good in diagnosing the dynamics of how academic discourse in the “critical theory” vein so often ends up getting us for away from anything like the ideal of deliberation. But one line in that post really stuck in my craw:

“In mixed company, using a term like “ableist” provokes a lot of eyeball-rolling, and is generally recognized as a good way of ensuring that no one outside your own very small circle will take you seriously.”

Clearly, the objection made to your use of the word “crazy” on the jacket cover for Enlightenment 2.0 was idiotic. There is nothing ablest about using that term derisively. But what you actually say in the passage quoted put you dangerously close to the “jerk” category. As you know, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time following and even participating in disability studies.

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The problem of “me” studies

One can still find journalists these days complaining about the problem of “political correctness” in universities, which always sounds old-fashioned and somewhat out-of-touch to me. I think of political correctness as something that reached its high-water mark sometime in the early 90’s and has been on the decline since then (at least among faculty – students are another issue). Part of the difference in perception may be due to a lack of precision in terminology. I find that people who are outside the academy tend to lump a lot of different stuff together under the heading of political correctness, whereas inside the universities we have different names for various different tendencies. So what I would like to discuss today is just one strand or tendency, that often gets described as political correctness, but that is more precisely known as the problem of “me” studies.

First though, just to explain what I mean by political correctness being on the decline: Often when journalists talk about this stuff, what they have in mind is old-fashioned language policing.… Continue reading

What Did Loyola Really Decide?

My first serious engagement in public policy matters occurred in 1997 when I was asked to join the Groupe de travail sur la place de la religion à l’école publique du Québec. Our mandate was to reflect on the place that religious teaching should have in Quebec’s public schools. Quebec was already in the process of eliminating religious school boards, but that administrative measure left untouched the content of religious teaching in Quebec’s public schools. Parents of a certain age will remember that for a number of years, they were required to tick off a box when signing their kids up for school indicating whether they wanted them to receive Catholic religious teaching, Protestant religious teaching, or non-confessional moral education.

That situation was clearly unstable. First, now that schools in the public system were no longer Catholic or Protestant, it required of each school that it provide three different kinds of course, a logistical nightmare for resource-strapped public schools.… Continue reading

Why people hate economics, in one lesson

This is extraordinary. Alex Tabarrok and Tyler Cowen recently released a little promo video, to tout their new “Marginal Revolution University” course on microeconomics (as well as their intro textbook). In it they bend over backwards to make economics seem fun, friendly and non-intimidating. Practically every sentence is accompanied by a cutesy little animation, designed to make the study of economics seem as non-threatening as possible. And yet halfway through the video, they ruin it all, by saying something that is guaranteed to alienate most normal people. See if you can spot the faux pas:

I actually think the whole segment from 1:10 to 2:22 is fairly ill-advised, but there are two points where it’s terrible. (Summary, for those who don’t want to watch: They tell the story of how 19th century British sea captains transporting prisoners to the penal colony in Australia used to mistreat the passengers, resulting in very high mortality rates.… Continue reading

What lesson should universities learn from the decline of newspapers?

Just to give away the answer at the outset – I think that there is an important lesson to be learned, because the basic business model of a research university is similar to the business model of a traditional newspaper, in that it relies up the aggregation of two goods, one basically public the other basically private, along with the sale of the two as a forced “bundle.” What kills the business model is when customers figure out how to get one without the other. Thus the shopping mall killed the traditional department store by disaggregating the sale of different categories of goods. The internet is killing the traditional newspaper by disaggregating the different “sections” of the paper. The question for universities is whether they can preserve the “bundle” that they have traditionally been selling, or whether that two will inevitably be disaggregated.

So let me now take a stab at explaining what all that means.… Continue reading

Le financement des écoles, prise 2: Une réponse à Jocelyn Maclure

La question du financement des écoles est de la plus haute importance pour la société québécoise. L’école est un des seuls leviers dont dispose l’État pour promouvoir l’égalité des chances. Les enfants naissent dans des conditions fort différentes. Certains naissent pauvres, alors que d’autres naissent riches. Certains naissent dans des familles qui favorisent de toutes sortes de manières le succès scolaire et professionnel de leurs enfants, alors que d’autres naissent dans des conditions familiales plus difficiles. Ces inégalités de conditions initiales risquent fort de se répercuter tout au long de la vie des enfants, à moins que l’école n’intervienne pour égaliser un peu les chances.

Force est de constater que l’école québécoise ne relève que médiocrement le défi de contribuer à une réelle égalité des chances. C’est à mon avis surtout le financement partiel des écoles privées qui pose problème. En effet, en subventionnant les écoles privées à hauteur de 60% environ, l’État québécois permet à la classe moyenne de se désolidariser des tranches moins aisées de la société en envoyant leurs enfants dans des établissements qui ne coutent « que » $3000 ou $4000.… Continue reading

Le financement des écoles privées: le dilemme des progressistes

Le gouvernement libéral contemplerait l’idée de réduire de 50% le financement des écoles privées. Si on considère généralement que 60% du financement des écoles privées subventionnées est public, un rapport récent démontre que le financement public réel du système privé atteint dans certains cas 75%. Le financement de l’éducation primaire et secondaire est un terrain de jeu idéal pour la gauche et la droite. La gauche soutient généralement que le système d’éducation doit favoriser l’égalité réelle des chances et doit, par conséquent, être universel et unique (voir le billet de Ianik Marcil ici). Puisque les écoles privées subventionnées, principalement parce qu’elles attirent les meilleurs élèves et enseignants, offrent en moyenne un meilleur enseignement et encadrement, les jeunes qui les fréquentent partent avec une longueur d’avance par rapport à ceux qui fréquentent les écoles publiques. Un système à « deux vitesses » contribue ainsi à la production des inégalités. C’est pourquoi l’État devrait mettre un terme au financement public de l’école privée.… Continue reading

Language in Quebec Schools: It’s Time for a Rethink

A report on “linguistic indicators in the education sector” published this summer by Quebec’s Ministry of Education reveals that the decline in enrollment in English schools is continuing apace. Somewhere on the order of 15% of the children who received certificates of eligibility to attend English schools in Quebec have ended up in the French school system. The actual proportion of eligible children pursuing their studies in French in Quebec is of course higher. Many parents simply don’t bother to apply for these certificates. My wife was educated in English in Quebec, and so our kids are eligible for English instruction. We applied for a certificate for our eldest daughter, sort of on the “use it or lose it” principle, but we ended up placing her in a French school anyway. We never even considered applying for a certificate for either of our younger kids.

The reason is simple. There are no more really English schools left in Quebec.… Continue reading

The bottleneck in U.S. higher education

Given the current preoccupation in the United States with economic inequality, it is natural that a certain amount of attention has turned to higher education, and the fact that America’s most prestigious universities no longer really serve as a conduit for class mobility. Thomas Frank, for instance, has been on a tear (here and here) complaining in particular about the fact that tuition rates have gone up 1,200 per cent over the past 30 years. But he – along with all other American commentators that I’ve read – misses a more obvious problem. Even if America’s best universities stopped charging any tuition at all, it would hardly make a dent in social inequality. That’s because it would leave unaffected the most fundamental problem with America’s elite universities, which is that they have almost no students.

Canadians are used to hearing lamentations from south of the border about how competitive parenting has become in the United States – how if you want to get you kid into Yale, you have to start early, with a nanny with a BA delivering “enriched” care, piano or violin lessons, and entry into the most selective kindergarten as a gateway to the better private schools.… Continue reading