Category Archives: Education

The Views That Made Me Persona Non Grata at MIT

I am a professor at the University of Chicago. I was recently invited to give an honorary lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The lecture was canceled because I have openly advocated moral and philosophical views that are unpopular on university campuses.

Here are those views:

I believe that every human being should be treated as an individual worthy of dignity and respect. In an academic context, that means evaluating people for positions based on their individual qualities, not on membership in favored or disfavored groups. It also means allowing them to present their ideas and perspectives freely, even when we disagree with them.

I care for all of my students equally. None of them are overrepresented or underrepresented to me: They represent themselves. Their grades are based on a process that I define at the beginning of the quarter. That process treats each student fairly and equally. I hold office hours for students who would like extra help so that everyone has the opportunity to improve his or her grade through hard work and discipline.

Similarly, I believe that admissions and faculty hiring at universities are best focused on academic merit, with the goal of producing intellectual excellence. We should not penalize hard-working students and faculty applicants simply because they have been classified as belonging to the wrong group. It is true that not everyone has had the same educational opportunities. The solution is improving K-12 education, not introducing discrimination at late stages.

I believe we are obliged to reduce bias where it exists, where we can. That includes honest reflection on whether we are treating everyone equally. But you cannot infer bias based only on the ratios of different groups after a selection. A multitude of factors, including interest and culture, influence these ratios. I disagree with the idea that there is a right ratio of groups to aim for. Instead, the goal should be fair selection processes that give every candidate an equal opportunity.

I run a large course on the politically charged topic of climate change. But I refuse to indoctrinate students. The course presents the basic scientific evidence and encourages students to think for themselves about the best solutions to the problem. I correct my students when they make scientifically unsound arguments, but I encourage the full range of political perspectives as students work out their preferred societal response. These practices reflect an understanding that the pursuit of truth is the highest purpose of a university and an acknowledgment that I myself could be wrong.

More broadly, the university has a duty to encourage students and faculty to offer their opinions and insight on the widest possible range of topics. That is best done in a respectful atmosphere, but disagreement with an argument is no excuse to prevent a person from speaking or writing. It is normal to feel discomfort when someone contends against your strongly held beliefs. But in a truth-seeking atmosphere, you must master this discomfort and either confront opposing arguments rationally or accept their validity.

It is true that someone will occasionally say something that hurts your feelings. But hurt feelings are no reason to ban certain topics. We are all responsible for our own feelings. We cannot control things that are external to us, such as the comments of others, but we can control how we respond to them. The ancient Stoics developed practices to discipline emotions and pursue rational thought. These techniques have been refined in modern times in logotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Instead of cultivating grievances and encouraging resentment, schools and universities can teach these practices and promote the principle that no one can truly harm us but ourselves. That principle allows for the expression of hurt feelings that does not involve restrictions on speech. This will have the added benefit of preparing students for a world in which anything can hurt their feelings—if they let it.

Mr. Abbot is an associate professor of geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago.


National School Boards Association Apologizes Over Letter Comparing Parents to Domestic Terrorists

If I were on a school board, I would urge disassociation with NSBA. They issued an apology, but the mentality or beliefs that caused them to write what they did in the first place is likely still very much a part of that organization. Proof is in how they will respond to parents’ input. mrossol

By Lorenz Duchamps  October 23, 2021

The National School Boards Association (NSBA) has apologized to its members on Friday for a letter that was previously sent to the Biden administration in which the school board group compared parents accused of trying to intimidate educators to domestic terrorists.

In a memo issued to NSBA members, the board said that “on behalf of NSBA, we regret and apologize for the letter,” which was sent on Sept. 29, urging President Joe Biden to take action to stop what it described as “threats and acts of violence” against school boards, teachers, and others involved in the public education sphere.

“There was no justification for some of the language included in the letter,” the NSBA wrote. “We should have had a better process in place to allow for consultation on a communication of this significance. We apologize also for the strain and stress this situation has caused you and your organizations.”

It added that the NSBA deeply values “not only the work of local school boards that make important contributions within our communities, but also the voices of parents, who should and must continue to be heard when it comes to decisions about their children’s education, health, and safety.”

The memo comes as school board organizations in at least 20 states distanced themselves from the NSBA, citing disagreement over the way it has characterized concerned parents. Some have quit or moved to leave the NSBA.

The NSBA’s initial controversial Sept. 29 letter (pdf) claimed that some clashes between school board members and parents over issues such as masking policies, the critical race theory, among others, should be equivalent to parents engaging in “a form of domestic terrorism.”

“As these acts of malice, violence, and threats against public school officials have increased, the classification of these heinous actions could be the equivalent to a form of domestic terrorism and hate crimes,” the organization wrote.

Emails (pdf) obtained by Parents Defending Education last week disclosed that the NSBA was in touch with the White House and others in the administration before the release of the letter.

“In talks over the last several weeks with White House staff, they requested additional information on some of the specific threats,” Chip Slaven, the NSBA’s interim executive director and CEO, wrote in an email to NSBA board members just hours after the letter was released to the public.

Most of the incidents the board included related to parents vigorously pushing back on controversial teachings or material and not incidents where any laws appeared to be broken.

Several incidents did ultimately lead to arrests at school board meetings, including a father in Loudoun County, Virginia, who was upset his daughter had been raped and school officials allegedly acted to cover it up.

Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a memorandum several days after the NSBA’s letter, ordering federal officials to crack down on parents accused of threatening violence or trying to intimidate educators.

Epoch Times Photo
Attorney General Merrick Garland gives an opening statement during a House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing of the Department of Justice at Capitol Hill in Washington on Oct. 21, 2021. (Greg Nash/Pool via Reuters)

Garland, testifying to Congress in Washington, said he learned about the letter by reading about it in the news and had not been told by the White House to issue the memo. He said he was certain the White House communicated its concerns about the letter to his department and that that would be “perfectly appropriate.”

On Oct. 21, Garland denied claims that the U.S. Justice Department would label parents as domestic terrorists, and parents who take issue with school board policies will not be investigated.

“The Justice Department supports and defends the First Amendment right of parents to complain as vociferously as they wish about the education of their children, about the curriculum taught in the schools,” Garland said, the New York Post reported. “That is not what the memorandum is about at all, nor does it use the words ‘domestic terrorism’ or ‘Patriot Act.’”

Jim Green, the executive director of Oregon’s School Boards Association, said in a statement on social media the board appreciates NSBA’s apology over the controversial letter that was issued to the Biden administration.

“We appreciate NSBA’s apology over some of the languages in the organization’s appeal for protecting the safety of school board members,” Green wrote. “That doesn’t mean the underlying issue—keeping volunteer school board members safe from threats and violence—isn’t important. It is.”

“But NSBA recognized that the wording it used alienated many parents, our vital partners in public schools. It’s my hope with this apology that the national organization can learn from the experience and move on.”

Zachary Stieber contributed to this report.


Merrick Garland Has a List, and You’re Probably on It

WSJ  10/12/2021  By Editorial Board

Merrick Garland’s got a little list.

The attorney general is compiling a steadily lengthening register of “society offenders who might well be underground and who never would be missed,” as Ko-Ko, the hypervigilant lord high executioner, sings in Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.”

Mr. Garland’s list of society offenders is compendious. At the top are right-wing extremists who’ve been officially designated the greatest domestic threat to U.S. security, but whose ranks seem, in the eyes of the nation’s top lawyer, to include some less obviously malevolent characters, including perhaps anyone who protested the results of the 2020 election. Then there are police departments not compliant with Biden administration law-enforcement dicta, Republican-run states seeking to regularize their voting laws after last year’s pandemic-palooza of an electoral process, and state legislatures that pass strict pro-life legislation.

They’d none of them be missed.

Oddly, the list doesn’t seem to extend to the hundreds of thousands of people who have crossed the southern border so far this year and are now presumably at large somewhere in the U.S. without a legal right to be in the country. Nor to those benevolent folk who have reduced several of the nation’s urban centers to crime-infested wastelands.

But, let’s be fair. With limited resources, Justice has to prioritize. Mr. Garland and his federal henchmen must ensure that only the gravest threats to the republic are neutralized.

Which is presumably why the latest names on his roll are those parents who have had the temerity to challenge local school boards about the mandates they are imposing on their pandemic-ready classes and what the children are learning.

That wasn’t how the attorney general presented it when he announced the news. Citing a “disturbing trend” in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school-board members, teachers and other school employees, he declared that he was directing the Federal Bureau of Investigation to work with local and state law enforcement to develop “strategies” for dealing with the problem.

The announcement looked as though it had been carefully coordinated with the National School Boards Association (NSBA), which had asked the Biden administration to do exactly this.

Decent people everywhere acknowledge that violence is intolerable—whether perpetrated by Black Lives Matter agitators torching buildings, Trump supporters smashing federal property, or parents who throw projectiles at school board members.

But the letter from the NSBA contained barely any evidence of actual violence. It cited mostly antisocial behavior and threats, and some of the offenses referenced—such as a parent making a mock Nazi salute to a school board—are, however offensive, constitutionally protected speech.

And, as has been widely noted, when acts of violence occur, they can and have been dealt with by local or state law enforcement. There is no federal interest in any of these infractions.

All this merely underscores what the real objective of the attorney general’s action was—and we don’t need to engage in speculation because it was recently spelled out to us by another leading member of President Biden’s party, Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic candidate for governor of Virginia.

In a rare moment of honesty from a politician, Mr. McAuliffe made clear, in a television debate with Republican Glenn Youngkin, the Democrats’ conception of the role that parents should have in their children’s education: none whatever.

“I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Aside from the jaw-dropping disdain for families, Mr. McAuliffe’s prescription is at odds with Article 26.3 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the sort of grand multilateral pronouncement the Democrats usually fetishize, which states: “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

This flagrant attempt to intimidate parents into handing their children over to the mercies of the state is as sinister as anything the modern progressives who now control the Democratic Party have done.

The message is clear, and it has been the character of education in totalitarianism systems through history: These are not your children; they are wards of the state, and the state (in this case through the teachers unions that fund the Democratic Party) will determine what they learn and how.

Democrats like Mr. McAuliffe insist that pernicious racial doctrines teaching the ubiquity of white supremacism and the inherent racism of American society and encourage racial segregation aren’t actually taught in schools. But this is laughable. The same Democrats have spent the last year insisting on racial “equity” as the defining objective of their social program. Why would they leave it out of the schools they mostly control?

Mr. Garland’s brazen attempt to intimidate will likely backfire as more parents—including many who aren’t especially conservative—become alarmed by what they see and hear in their children’s schools. By placing them on his little list, he may have done us all a favor.