Friday, January 27, 2006

Deconstructing Local Media

(Update and bump - see below)

Once again the Daily Northwestern has provided me with a few columnists to rant about.

Consider Lindsay Shadrick:

We are not here to learn what to think. We are here to learn how to think. Presumably, as college students (and, I would argue, the general public) can form coherent ideologies that are not so easily silenced in this bastion of liberal indoctrination.

Beliefs should be challenged. We should be required to think, process, debate, and defend our politics. The spectres of “radical” academics have been nagging the increasingly Salem-esque right for years now. Yet liberal professors don’t seem to be rounding up a slew of Marxist youth theorists threatening to overthrow the Bush regime (a few, sure, but not an army).
This in response to reports of a group paying students at UCLA to provide proof (such as recordings of lectures) of professors showing political bias in the classroom.

First off Lindsay, they're not trying to "silence" anybody. Do these professors have anything to hide? Do they have something they don't want the public to know? Or does the old saying about sunlight being the best cleanser give them reason to fear?

Second off, this isn't just about them "challenging beliefs" or "the status quo" in their classrooms. This is about professors use their classrooms not to teach, which is what they're paid to do, and instead to preach about their pet political theories. And it's especially about teachers who don't try to teach how to think but what to think, grading based on ideology and not on merit. Or did you not read any of the stories that this group of ACLU alumni actually put on their website?

Next, consider Henry Bowles:

Protesting military recruiters on campus, so long as they ban open gays from joining, is admirable. But there’s a more permanent reason to keep the military away from our brightest students. Young males are easily manipulated during the period of their lives when they exist outside the female domain, after the mother and before the wife. They are above all eager to demonstrate masculinity. With its promises of order, fraternity and cohesion, the military taps into this angst. A real tragedy occurs when a young man, susceptible to the military’s appeal and nonetheless intelligent and creative, signs up to become cannon fodder. He’ll probably leave the military alive, but he’ll have been irreversibly molded, less inclined to dissent. Less intelligent people are better equipped for most military positions, and have far less to lose
. . . Wow. Where do I start? First, his description of "military appeal" sounds a lot like fraternities. Should we ban those too? Second, nobody signs up to "become cannon fodder." Auto accidents kill more people each year than the Iraq war has yet. In fact, auto accidents kill more people each year than the Vietnam War killed. So . . . let's keep perspective, shall we?

Third . . . less intelligent people? Do you really want the "less intelligent" people to be running naval ships? You know, the ones powered by nuclear reactors? Seriously, that is one of the most arrogant, elitist statements I have ever heard in my life. But why listen to me? I'm just glad that there were other people at NU who cared enough to eviscerate him in the "Letters to the Editors" section.

And as long as I'm talking about the Daily Northwestern, I should just mention this: They let the "f-word" crop up way too often in their paper. Striving to be a reputable jouralistic institution, eh? I know I see them dropping F-bombs in the NYT or on all the time.

Heh. These people aren't Annie Spiro, but I might have just as much fun taking them on as I did the Daily Vidette.

Lazy blogging correction - okay, I may have gotten a little over-excited last night. While I've seen the number of auto-related fatalities quoted at ~60k per year (US), I don't know that that's an official or correct number. So, take that whole thing with a grain of salt. I guess I tend to simply remember numbers that I've seen or read, and then when it comes time to quote them off, I can't guarantee that they're not suspect.

I'd still like to think that my original point remains, though; total Iraq war fatalities certainly don't leave the impression of our soldiers as "cannon fodder." Since 2003, only about 2000 soldiers have died in Iraq. That's less than 1000 each year. From what I've read (and I'm trying to find this number), the military experiences about 1300 accidental deaths each year, in the form of aircraft crashes, weapon misfirings, and so forth. Smoking kills 440k people each year in the US (

So, when people want to use phrases like "cannon fodder" . . . I'd say we need a wee bit of perspective.

Edit part 2
Some statistics are easy to find through Google. According to this study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there are about 45k deaths from auto accidents in the US each year. This number has remained more or less steady between 1994 and 2003.

Also, according to these two sources, the rate of accidental military casualties between 1983 and 1996 was about 1300 per year.

Slowly wrapping up my sloppy blogging . . .


meera said...

are you talking worldwide auto accidents or domestic US? i didn't realize so many people die in car crashes.... (how do you even go about finding info like that? google?)

JayRodNU (aka Sergio) said...

Hey man - just wanted to show you this one...
it's pretty absurd...

Ryan Herr said...

"Less intelligent people ... have far less to lose"

Wow wow wow. Most people veil their elitism much more than that.

Hal said...

Ryan, I'm glad to see you still stop by here. I hope you're well.

And I promise you, one day I shall finish our exchange.

-Murphy said...

Fundamentally, I don't disagree with your assessment that both of those columns are bunk, albeit for different reasons.

The first column:
1) Was the ACLU Alumni a sly bit of criticism, or a typo?
2) I find it odd that the Bruin Alumni association was offering an award for evidence of a specific agenda, rather than bias overall. That stance implies that they don't see to much wrong with conservative bias in the classroom, which is why I think it's an imperfect argument. If you're going to try to rid academia of the horrendously offensive policy of grading based on personal ideology (presuming the personal ideology isn't "melting points do not exist"), then I'd much rather see a third party/non-political group offer money to rid academia of bias either way.
3) The term "pet political theories" seems to be a bit much, especially if the classes we're talking about are political in nature, discussion-oriented and on the subject that the professor's an expert in and can back up while listening to the students opinions and grading on strength of argument rather than on which way the argument is made.

On Military recruitment:

It makes me sad when I see things like this column (the one that was written in the Northwestern), if only because tendency is to apply this guy's opinion to everyone, so that moderate guys like I consider myself to be end up being painted as complete psychopaths.

So I'll say this. His argument about "less intelligent people" being better choices for the military is absurd. Personally, I'm of the opinion that the military should have intelligent people, as per West Point. Pointe? Point. Poing? I don't know.

But moreover, I simply disagree with the idea that military recruitment shouldn't be allowed on campus because, the last time I checked, there's no draft. And the military can't force Johnny Longhair walking down the street to join. And, after getting to college, we're (presumably) adults that can make up their own mind. Don't want to join the military? Dont. I don't see why the military has to be banned from college campuses, when corporations are allowed to do the same thing.

And while I think the "Cannon Fodder" bit was a bit much and clearly loaded, the total amount of deaths doesn't really tell the whole picture either. For the military members that are killed every year, there are many times more that are shot or otherwise severely injured that survive, but probably wouldn't have been shot had they not joined the military. That's not to say that they shouldn't have joined, that it's not a valid career choice to do so or that joining the military will immediately lead to being shot in the torso (as per at least two of the guys I know that have joined the Marines), but it's not the safest thing in the world either. Yes, smoking and driving both kill many more people annually, but not all of those that die are in the 18-27 year old male group (I'm guessing, though I don't have stats on hand, that smoking probably kills people who tend to be a teensy bit older).

And fraternities don't (or shouldn't) interrupt education. Ideally, they should augment them by providing an atmosphere in which one can thrive academically.

But that's a bit idealistic. I just had to insert it as a defense of those fraternities out there that are actually decent. Mine, for example. Or my chapter, anyway. :D

Hal said...

Okay Ryan (Murphy, that is):

1) If I said ACLU, that was a typo. As much as I think the ACLU is unreasonable on some things, I'm not rabidly against them the way some people are.

2) The thing is, I think you'd be very hard pressed to find someone with a conservative bias in a UCLA classroom. When you look at the statistics, politically-right faculty are a small fraction of the liberal arts departments of most major universities like that. Yes, all bias is bad, but I'll bet you that for every story of right-biased professors you can find on the web, I can find you 50 about left-biased professors.

Again, the whole "strength of the argument" thing isn't always a good measure. How well you argue it, or how well you understand the issues at hand, maybe, but strength of argument? That's subjective, and the complaint is that professors are being too subjective about it.

3) I'd never attribute some crazy elitist's opinion to you, Ryan. You have your own special brand of crazy.

Seriously though, the main point about bringing up the fatality numbers is that the argument typically comes out as, "We should leave Iraq because people die there!" Well, people die because of a lot of things. It's just, statistically speaking, being in the military isn't necessarily the most dangerous thing you could do with your life.

And I don't have anything against fraternities (except when they have loud, drunken parties and the revelers stumble past my house at 1AM . . . yeah, if you're curious, I have stories from ISU in the archives here). It's just that for all of his arguments about how the military appeals to men at this age, you could make the exact some references to fraternities.

-Murphy said...


Responding in order once again:

1) I figured, and just thought it was mildly hilarious.

2) I agree that you'll probably be more likely to encounter a liberal bias at UCLA. I, personally, had probably about 50:50 as far as liberal vs. conservative professors at my liberal arts college, but I'm sure it's different everywhere. It just bothers me if you're not even going to bother to look for one side of the bias. Right now, there may or may not be a liberal bias. Having not studied the data that may or may not exist, I can't tell if there is, or if it's hype. But if we are going to make an effort to collect data, I'd rather it be someone neutral that can be at least somewhat objective about it, rather than one side eliminating all bias of the opposing side, which I could see in an extreme as just a shift toward another kind of bias in the classroom, which isn't good for people that actually want a fair education, but I don't think this Bruin Alumni organization would have too big a problem with.

Oh. By strength of argument, I meant "grade upon whether or not the student understands the material and can put it together in a coherent way." I think I meant essentially what you're saying, and just termed it poorly.

3) I know. I just thought that before I proceeded, I should make the stance that I didn't agree with him fundamentally.

I'll grant that fatality numbers among US military aren't the best way for someone against military presence on campus to make their case, because fewer people die doing it than they probably think. And statistically, the military may not be the most dangerous thing you could do with your life. I, personally, view it as just another valid career choice. However, I'd say that you'd also have to look at those that are merely injured or disabled directly because of combat (during which the smoking comparison doesn't hold, but the crash one does, as you could simply look at the undoubtedly huge number of people injured in car crashes), and then consider that almost the entirety of those that die/are injured in the military are somewhere between the ages of 18 and 27 among enlisted men. (Though Iraq's heavy use of reserves may have skewed this a bit). So maybe it's more a perception that you might die now.

And I know. I figured you didn't have anything against fraternities. I just go into "but we're not all a stereotype" mode whenever they're mentioned.

Hal said...

Just a quick response: Whether or not their goal is to eventually eliminate said bias is unknown to me, but it seems like their goal at the moment is simply to expose it.

Is it one-dimensional in terms of political bias? Yes. Is that because relatively little exists on the other side? Well, we can argue that point. But let's just remember that the goal here isn't to stifle or suppress anyone, but simply to expose things for what they are.

At least, as far as I know.

-Murphy said...

Presumably, after exposing bias, they'd want to get rid of it.

But they don't seem interested in exposing bias that works for their political cause. The extent of conservative bias in schools, I don't know, as I've only attended one school and can't extrapolate from there. But tacitly condoning it (bias they agree with) by openly paying students to expose bias only when it's in conflict with a group's political theories doesn't seem right either.

-Murphy said...

It turns out you can't edit comments after they're posted. Hm.

What I'd like to add to what I just said is that I never claimed that they were trying to repress or silence anybody, and agreed with you on that point initially. I simply think that a better way to go about exposing/eliminating bias in the classroom would be to go at it with a neutral party, so that one side isn't condoned by reason of the people paying for the exposure agreeing with their bias and, therefore, concluding that it doesn't need to be found out.

Note: I wouldn't be cool with it if it were the other way around (liberal alumni trying to pay students to gather evidence to show conservative bias while masking their own). Would you?

Anonymous said...

Not to get in the way of this fine debate, but I think this is interesting:
Let's take a setence from article 1, and a sentence from article2:

"Presumably, as college students (and, I would argue, the general public) can form coherent ideologies that are not so easily silenced in this bastion of liberal indoctrination."

as opposed to:

"He’ll probably leave the military alive, but he’ll have been irreversibly molded, less inclined to dissent."

Let's take another one:

"Beliefs should be challenged. We should be required to think, process, debate, and defend our politics."


"Young males are easily manipulated during the period of their lives when they exist outside the female domain..."

Wow. So liberal professors are not a problem, becuase college students can handle it, whereas military presence is a problem, for the exact same reasons!?