Prof: Stop saying ‘microaggression’

Stop using “microaggression” or “training” students to avoid microaggressions, writes Scott. O. Lilienfeld, an Emory psychology professor, in  Microaggressions: Strong Claims, Inadequate Evidence. The core premises of microaggression theory are unproven, he argues. The study was published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a peer-reviewed journal.

Microagressions” — “slights, insults, invalidations and indignities” — threaten the health of “marginalized groups,” say proponents of the theory. Unintentional slights are as bad as deliberate “micro-assaults.”

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“Racial and cultural insensitivities” are real, he writes. But there’s “negligible evidence” that slights and snubs cause psychological harm or that they reflect prejudice or aggression.

On many college campuses, students receive training on microaggressions and warning lists of what not to say, he writes. Occidental College is considering a system to encourage students to report their professors’ microaggressions.

Lilienfeld became interested in the issue when he learned that some colleges were “telling students that statements such as “I believe that American is a land of opportunity” and “I believe that the most qualified person should get the job” constituted microaggressions,” reports Campus Reform.

“I came to the conclusion that although the microaggression concept almost surely contains a kernel of truth, it is highly problematic on numerous grounds and is not close to being ready for real-world application” he explained.

“Sensitizing individuals to subtle signs of potential anger might inadvertently end up making many of them ‘perceive’ slights even when they are not present,” Lilienfeld said. That could “exacerbate racial tensions at colleges.”

Conor Friedersdorf wrote about the rise of the victimhood culture in The Atlantic in 2015.

“You guys” is on the no-say list at University of Wisconsin at River Falls “Ugly” is banned because it “can be connected back to white supremacist, ableist, sizeist standards of beauty.” It’s bad to say “bad.” But, Heat Street points out, “dick” is OK.

Will movie inspire more black math aces?

Hidden Figures, which is getting good reviews, tells the story of three “colored computers” who helped the U.S. win the space race. As blacks in segregated Virginia in 1961 and women in NASA’s very male culture, they overcame many obstacles.

The movie is based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s book about Katherine JohnsonDorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who started at NASA doing data entry and ended up doing the math that put John Glenn in space — and got him back alive.

Andre Perry, writing in the Washington Monthly, hopes the movie will inspire more black women to pursue math and science careers. While 24 percent of black women over the age of 25 have earned at least a bachelor’s degree, just 2 percent of black women worked as scientists or engineers in 2010, according the National Science Foundation, Perry notes.

Like the women of Hidden Figures, high-achieving black students in the sciences are well aware of the stereotypes that brand them incapable. And like their predecessors, many students are driven by these perceptions.

Mathematician Monica Jackson, an associate professor of statistics at American University, says talented black girls need “good schools, challenging classes and quality teachers” — and “parents, friends, teachers and mentors” that provide support.

A Wichita math club for African-American girls in elementary school is named for NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, one of the subjects of “Hidden Figures,” reports Chandler Boese in the Wichita Eagle.

Eleven girls in the Katherine Johnson Scholar Sisters meet twice a week after school for advanced math lessons.

“It’s fun,” said 9-year-old Phoenix Neely. “We get to learn math.”

Another member of the club, Phallin Jackson, said she likes math because “You get to be smart.”

The fourth- and fifth-graders are starting to learn algebra.

I wonder why the club is just for girls.

‘If you want a great gay novel, write it’

More than 50 years ago, a Tulsa high school student wrote a novel about the conflict between “greasers” and rich kids. S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders became a young adult classic. It was made into a movie in 1983.

Hinton wrote other young-adult novels featuring working-class Oklahomans in the ’60s and ’70s.

Now the author is under fire for not including openly gay and black characters, reports Heat Street.

Some readers think two of her Outsiders‘ characters are gay. Hinton says they’re not.

“Want a great gay novel,” she tweeted. “Write it.”

She added: “I am a heterosexual writer writing about heterosexual characters. Being attacked for being heterosexual.”

How am I supposed to know what a gay character goes through? Not writing about the black experience either. I can’t know that!

If she did feature gay or black characters, wouldn’t she be guilty of cultural appropriation?

PC bans kids’ books: Slave chefs must go

If the main character of your children’s book is a slave, watch out, warns Meghan Cox Gurdon in the Wall Street Journal. It’s hard to satisfy the PC police.

A Birthday Cake for George Washington was criticized “for an excessively jolly portrayal of enslaved people,” writes Gurdon.

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“The picture book valorized Hercules, Washington’s chef, who is regarded as America’s first celebrity cook and who, in the story, dazzles his daughter by confecting a cake without sugar.”

The author is Ramin Ganeshram, a woman of Iranian-Trinidadian descent, and the illustrator and editor are African-American. That didn’t help. Scholastic pulled the book after weeks of criticism.

A 2015 picture book with an enslaved chef, A Fine Dessert, was called “degrading” because it showed a mother and daughter, slaves on a South Carolina plantation in 1810, enjoying making “blackberry fool.”

“In some images, the daughter is smiling,” notes the New York Times.

Critics especially disliked a scene in which the black cooks hide in a closet to “lick the bowl clean” after serving the white family. (You’d think this would imply that being a slave is not all fun in the kitchen. )

Author Emily Jenkins, who is white, apologized in an online statement on Reading While White. “I have come to understand that my book, while intended to be inclusive and truthful and hopeful, is racially insensitive,” she said. She pledged to donate her writing fee to the campaign We Need Diverse Books.

 If I were writing children’s books, I’d eliminate all slave characters, unless they’re escaping on the Underground Railroad. It’s not OK if they’re successful masters of a craft. It’s not OK if they’re humiliated. What’s left?

Include working-class whites in ed reform

Image result for white "working class" american familiesTrump supporters recite the Pledge of Allegiance at a June campaign rally in Redding, California. Photo: Stephen Lam/Reuters

By framing education as the “civil rights issue of our time” and focusing on the racial achievement gap, reformers “tacitly made education reform a race-based endeavor,” Robert Pondiscio wrote last year. There’s been much praise for inner-city charters for black and Hispanic students, little attention to small-town schools that educate (or fail to educate) white working-class kids.

Pondiscio didn’t think Trump would win. But he saw the people who might be drawn to Trump.

There are about twice as many non-Hispanic whites as blacks living below 150 percent of the poverty line in the U.S.

. . . Keen observers like Charles Murray in his book Coming Apart warned us that we are becoming a nation divided less by race than class. Births out of wedlock, crime and joblessness are not uniquely inner city problems. They are almost as prevalent in Murray’s “Fishtown.” As work disappears, physical disability claims have skyrocketed by millions, creating a new economic underclass helpfully absent from sunny unemployment figures.

“If education reform truly is the civil rights struggle of our time, it’s time once again to widen the definition of rights-at-risk to include working class white people too,” wrote Pondiscio.

I’d like to see a serious push for high-quality career-tech education linking high schools to community colleges to employers. Two-thirds of young Americans do not earn bachelor’s degrees; a majority won’t earn any college credential. They need more than college-failure prep.

Bad words in good books

Image result for huckleberry finn jim n-wordWhat do we do about bad words in good books? asks Stephanie Cohen on Acculturated.

Author Dan Gutman, known for his My Weird School series and a baseball time travel series, responded on Facebook to parent asking whether it was appropriate to use “the n-word” in children’s books. The parent’s 10-year old son is reading Gutman’s book, Jackie & Me, about ballplayer Jackie Robinson, who integrated the Major Leagues. 9780380800841

In other books, Gutman has used symbols instead of curse words, the parents wrote. Why not here to replace a racial slur?

Gutman replied that he’d struggled with the question when he wrote the book 18 years ago. He decided that leaving it out would not describe accurately what Robinson went through in 1947. “I haven’t regretted my decision,” Gutman wrote. “Thousands of kids have learned about race relations and the civil rights movement by reading Jackie & Me.”

Five years ago, a publisher released a “less hurtful, less controversial” version of Huckleberry Finn that refers to Slave Jim and Indian (rather than Injun) Joe. It’s meant to be more acceptable in classrooms.

These are “teachable moments” for parents, writes Cohen.

When I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer with my three oldest children, I . . .  told the kids that the next word was a very bad word . . . Reading the word, of course, prompted questions about when the word was used, who used it, why they used it, and whether anyone would still use it today.

Parents should not “shield our children from hearing evil or seeing the wrongs of the past,” writes Cohen.  “Our job as parents is to teach them how to be righteous people in their own moment of history and how to prepare to teach righteousness to their own children.”

The New York Times reports on a new series of kiddie classics known as KinderGuides that aim “to make challenging adult literary classics accessible to very young readers.”

Alice Hemmer’s favorite part of Jack Kerouac’s novel “On the Road” doesn’t involve the drug-addled cross-country road trips, encounters with prostitutes in Mexico or wild parties in Manhattan. Alice, who is 5 and lives in a Chicago suburb, likes the part when Sal Paradise eats ice cream and apple pie whenever he feels hungry.

Soon to come is a kiddie version of To Kill a Mockingbird “minus the rape charges, Ku Klux Klan rallies and racial slurs.”

What’s the point?

We’re running low on 18-year-olds

The U.S. is running low on adolescents: The number of young people graduating from high school will plateau or fall in coming years, according to the new Knocking at the College Door report.

The racial/ethnic mix of public high school graduates will shift: The number of Hispanic graduates is expected to increase by 50 percent and and Asian/Pacific Islander grads by 30 percent through 2025, while fewer whites and blacks will be going through school.

More graduates are expected to come from lower-income families.

Colleges and universities, already under pressure to raise graduation rates, will have to compete for fewer students from needier backgrounds, writes Hechinger’s Mikhail Zinshteyn.

According to one respected tally, just under 55 percent of students who entered college in 2010 had earned degrees after six years – an increase of two percentage points since 2009.

For higher education institutions to continue at that pace or boost it, they’ll need to find new ways of educating a student body increasingly composed of people who are the first in their family to enter college.

With fewer 18-year-olds whose parents can pay for a private residential college, I predict many second- and third-tier colleges will fold. They’re very expensive, they don’t graduate a high percentage of their students and young people are becoming wary of college debt.

Why poor blacks don’t want to be professors

Most science professors are white or Asian males, reported Ed Yong in The Atlantic.

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Furthermore, women and underrepresented minorities are less likely than white and Asian men to be interested in faculty careers.

Readers responded: So what? It’s patronizing to assume that “women and minorities are wrong about their own interests and priorities,” one wrote.

A postdoc recalled trying to persuade two black female lab techs to go to graduate school.

They told us that we were women in our early thirties who couldn’t afford to buy houses or have children, who spent our nights and weekends working, who didn’t have retirement savings, and who were still struggling to get permanent jobs. Why on earth would they want to be like us?

A black scientist who left a Harvard immunology lab for Big Pharma said the biggest issue is pay. After three years at the lab, he earned $32,000. He started in the pharmaceutical industry at $70,000; after a year, he was earning $90,000 with shorter hours.

Academics aren’t just a ‘white thing’

Standardized tests are a “racist weapon,” argues Ibram X. Kendi, a history professor at the University of Florida. “What if the intellect of a poor, low testing Black child in a poor Black school is different—and not inferior—to the intellect of a rich, high-testing White child in a rich White school?” he asks.

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“Gathering knowledge of abstract items, from words to equations, that have no relation to our everyday lives has long been the amusement of the leisured elite,” writes Kendi. He prefers to measure literacy “by how knowledgeable individuals are about their own environment.”

A Mexican-American and a first-generation college graduate, Liz Reetz teaches sixth-grade social studies. Testing shows  how “our schools are not educating all students,” she writes on A Plus Colorado.

She “built a curriculum based on teaching students to think, read, talk, and write about history as it relates to identity and social justice,” she writes. Her non-elite students can handle abstractions, if they have “the opportunity to engage with ideas that are meaningful to them.”

Kendi’s ideas are dangerous, she believes.

“Equally intelligent in different ways” says to me: value survival skills in poor and brown people but leave the thinking about big ideas, governing, or improving the world to wealthy people and white people.

. . . You give the power to white teachers, white administrators, white legislators to say “you can’t hold me accountable for the fact that he can’t read, his intelligence is different” or “It’s not my fault she isn’t grasping algebra, her culture doesn’t value numbers or abstract thinking.”

The “notion that communities of color have fundamentally different kinds of knowledge” is racist and ahistorical, writes Reetz.

Pre-Columbian societies tracked the movements of stars and planets, understood complex mathematics, used chemistry and biology to create rubber, and engineered roads and buildings. Do not tell me that my culture doesn’t value abstract thinking.

Abstract thinking “is the heritage of humanity,” she writes. It’s not a “white thing.”

E pluribus Trump

Celebrating our various racial, ethnic, gender and sexual identities has prevented liberalism from “becoming a unifying force capable of governing,” writes Mark Lilla, a Columbia humanities professor, in the New York Times. “Identity liberalism” put Donald Trump in the White House, he argues.

On the campaign trail, Hillary Clinton “called out to African-American, Latino, L.G.B.T. and women voters at every stop,” Lilla writes. Those left out felt excluded.

Schools encourage children to “talk about their individual identities, even before they have them,” he writes.

High school history curriculums “anachronistically project the identity politics of today back onto the past, creating a distorted picture of the major forces and individuals that shaped our country.”

When young people arrive at college they are encouraged to keep this focus on themselves by student groups, faculty members and also administrators whose full-time job is to deal with — and heighten the significance of — “diversity issues.”

Lilla concludes: Teachers should “refocus attention on their main political responsibility in a democracy: to form committed citizens aware of their system of government and the major forces and events in our history.”

Lilla’s op-ed is “making white supremacy respectable,” writes Katherine Franke, a law professor who directs Columbia’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law. She compares her colleague to Klansman David Duke.