NEW YORK UNIVERSITY


How Social-Justice Education Coddles Young Minds

A parent, Ndona Muboyayi, recently told Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic the following story about her son: “My son has wanted to be a lawyer since he was 11. Then one day he came home and told me, ‘But Mommy, there are these systems put in place that prevent Black people from accomplishing anything.’ That’s what they’re teaching Black kids: that all of this time for the past 400 years, this is what [white people have] done to you and your people. The narrative is, ‘You can’t get ahead.’” Such stories are becoming more prevalent today, with the rise of what are often referred to as “social-justice educators” in the classroom. These teachers are typically concerned with equity in education — how to reckon with the unequal distribution of resources and services to achieve equal educational outcomes across students. Many believe that education is intersectional: “We cannot talk about schools, without addressing race, class, gender, ability, sexuality, and politics, because education is a political act,” wrote Crystal Belle, a teacher-education director at Rutgers University–Newark. Their goal, as Belle put it, is to use “curriculum as a primary mechanism for making the world a more equitable place.” This goal sounds nice. But too often in practice the perspectives of these teachers regarding race, class, gender, ability, sexuality, and politics take precedence in teaching and learning over eliciting and developing the worldviews of their students. Such teachers shield students from practices, ideas, or words that they perceive as harmful, and punish students who inflict harm. Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, in their article and subsequent book The Coddling of the American Mind, call this “vindictive protectiveness.” According to Lukianoff and Haidt, vindictive protectiveness creates “a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.” Critical thinking encourages “students to question their own unexamined beliefs, as well as the received wisdom of those around them,” which sometimes leads to discomfort on the way to understanding but ultimately prepares them for civic engagement and professional life. Vindictive protectiveness, on the other hand, prepares young people “poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong.” The #DisruptTexts movement is one such example of vindictive protectiveness by social-justice educators. #DisruptTexts is a grassroots movement that aims to “challenge the traditional canon in order to create a more inclusive, representative, and equitable language arts curriculum.” The movement advocates for “curriculum and instructional practices that are culturally responsive and antiracist.” In practice, this involves curriculum changes to replace the traditional canon, books such as The Odyssey, with non-traditional books that are believed to better represent the lives of their non-white students, such as Before the Ever After. Or, if the traditional texts are taught, teachers are to do so through a social-justice framework, asking their students questions such as: “How does this text support or challenge issues of representation, fairness, or justice? How does this text perpetuate or subvert dominant power dynamics and ideologies?” These questions impose a particular perspective about the text and leave little room for student interpretation. This approach restricts student understanding of the text to that of their teacher, which is more about indoctrination than teaching. Perhaps elements of the text do make students uncomfortable. However, if this discomfort arises, teachers should aid their students in understanding the context and questioning their discomfort, rather than “disrupting” the text so that they feel no discomfort. By disrupting potential discomfort, educators are perpetuating what Lukianoff and Haidt call the “untruth of fragility: what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker.” Assuming that students will be harmed by a text, then subsequently protecting them from this perceived harm by telling them how to interpret the text, will make them more fragile, less resilient, and less capable of engaging in critical thinking. As Lukianoff and Haidt stressed in their book, humans are antifragile: “They require stressors and challenges in order to learn, adapt, and grow.” If students are not given the opportunity to challenge their own perspectives and assumptions and understand the perspectives and assumptions of others, their thinking will become “rigid, weak, and inefficient.” They will be unable to cope with intellectual challenges that cause discomfort when they leave the protective umbrella of school. And, it turns out, students may be more capable than teachers of discussing difficult ideas. In her book Controversy in the Classroom, Diana Hess, professor of curriculum and instruction at University of Wisconsin–Madison’s School of Education, describes a scenario in which adults become more emotional when discussing controversial topics than high school students. When a high-school teacher gathered parents, community members, and students to discuss whether physician-assisted suicide should be legal, students used more factual evidence to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the policy, while the adults used personal experiences to express support or dissent for the policy. Certainly, both adults and children often use emotional reasoning instead of evidence to evaluate and make claims, but like the adults in Hess’s study, teachers come to the classroom with more life experiences than their students, which colors their worldview. Young people are capable of interrogating ideas, even those that may cause some discomfort. They need adults to provide them with the skills to discuss ideas, but they don’t need teachers to police what ideas are up for discussion, nor how they should be understood and discussed. Educators must try to present information and react to students in a way that promotes critical thinking in their students, rather than unnecessarily protecting and imposing views on their students. This can be done by teaching the stages of analytic reading and encouraging students to follow these stages while reading and engaging in dialogue. Analytic reading requires students to understand a written work’s arguments, the terms on which they are made, and whether they are true in whole or part before making any criticism of the book. By following these stages, students will engage in the self-guided process of discovery to either agree or disagree with arguments based on facts and reason, not opinion. This process is better suited to build the resiliency necessary to be intellectually anti-fragile than is disrupting a text to avoid the rigorous task of analyzing and grappling with the big, potentially uncomfortable, ideas that the text presents.

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North Carolina governor pardons man wrongfully convicted of murder

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper on Friday granted a pardon of innocence to a man who had been in prison since 1995 for two murders he didn't commit.The state of play: Darryl Anthony Howard, now 59, can file a claim with the North Carolina Industrial Commission to receive up to $750,000 in restitution, AP reports.Stay on top of the latest market trends and economic insights with Axios Markets. Subscribe for freeBackground: Howard was convicted of two counts of second-degree murder for the 1991 deaths of Doris Washington, 29, and her 13-year-old daughter Nishonda, as well as first-degree arson, per AP. He was sentenced to two consecutive 40-year terms.The victims also appeared to have been sexually assaulted. In 2009, Howard's attorneys tested rape kits related to the case and found new evidence that pointed to other suspects. While his sentence was thrown out in 2014, Howard remained in prison through August 2016 after DNA evidence proved he was not involved in the crimes. He was then exonerated and freed, per the News & Observer.The big picture: This is Cooper's sixth pardon of innocence since taking office in 2017, the governor's office said.What he's saying: "It is important to continue our efforts to reform the justice system and to acknowledge wrongful convictions," Cooper said, according to the News & Observer. More from Axios: Sign up to get the latest market trends with Axios Markets. Subscribe for free

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University staff given list of banned 'microinsults' they cannot say to trans people

University lecturers have been told not to say "I wanted to be a boy when I was a child" to transgender people, under a list of "microinsults" in new guidance. Edinburgh University has drawn up phrases that staff cannot use, including saying "all women hate their periods" and "all people think about being the opposite gender sometimes". Scholars should also not place "excess focus on anatomical sex markers". These are "microaggressions" that "negate or nullify the thoughts, feelings or lived reality of trans and non-binary people" and undermine their transition to different genders, according to the guidance. It comes as several Russell Group universities are training scholars on "cisgender privilege", where people whose birth sex aligns with their current gender identity are said to enjoy structural advantages in British society. In diversity training documents, Newcastle University tells staff: "Being cisgender comes with social privilege. That's even for people who are socially disadvantaged in other ways." Imperial College and LSE also remind lecturers to use their "cis" and "gender-straight privilege" to be trans allies. But academics told The Telegraph that an obsession with gender identity on campus risks "morally blackmailing" students and relegating "less woke" inequalities. Prof Matthew Goodwin, an expert on class inequality, said: "Britain’s universities, like universities across Western democracies, skew strongly to the left. Conservatives represent about 10 per cent of UK academia. "This is creating a ‘mono-culture’ that is often only interested in specific aspects of equality-diversity while routinely downplaying or ignoring other aspects, such as the underrepresentation of white working-class children. It also leads academics to hide or ‘self-censor’ their views due to fears of being ostracised." Other "microinsults" in Edinburgh’s guidance include saying "you’re either man or a woman", "you’re just dressing for effect" or uttering "you’re just trying to be special". Another is engaging in "avoidant behaviour" around trans people. If staff witness such remarks they should "disarm the microaggression, step in and stop or deflect" by stating the university’s standards of conduct, and "educate the offender" by teaching them to "recognise their biases", according to the guidance.

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Feds Had Backup Plan to Arrest and Charge Derek Chauvin All Along: Report

The Justice Department reportedly had a contingency plan to arrest former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the case he was found not guilty for the murder of George Floyd, and will move ahead with charges of civil rights violations against Chauvin and the three other ex-cops involved in Floyd’s death. According to sources who spoke to the Minneapolis Tribune, prosecutors out of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota and the Justice Department have been building out their own criminal case in private before a grand jury. If the jury of 23 votes to indict, Chauvin and the others — J. Alexander Kueng, Thomas Lane and Tou Thao — will face new charges in federal court. For Chauvin, the case not only relates to his involvement in Floyd’s death, but also to a 2017 incident in which the former cop allegedly hit a 14-year-old repeatedly with his flashlight while arresting him, and subsequently knelt on his back while the teenager complained that he could not breathe. Federal authorities also developed a plan to file a criminal complaint and take Chauvin into custody at the courthouse in the case of a mistrial or a not-guilty verdict, sources told the paper. Earlier this month, Chauvin was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter, after a little over ten hours of jury deliberation, and now faces sentencing of up to 40 years in prison. The New York Times reported Thursday that eleven of the 12 jurors were immediately ready to convict Chauvin. One day after the verdict, the Justice Department announced that it will be conducting a civil investigation into the Minneapolis police department to determine if it “engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing,” according to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

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