Gwnewch y pethau bychain

Asshaberdashery run amok

There are times I wish that a country such as the UK or Canada would offer asylum for “intellectual refugees”, who are seeking to escape the increasingly absurd morons proliferating around them.

I direct you first to a story in the Independent Florida Alligator, about a bill introduced into the state legislature that would set “a statewide standard that students cannot be punished for professing beliefs with which their professors disagree. Professors would also be advised to teach alternative ‘serious academic theories’ that may disagree with their personal views.”

Yesterday, CNN reported thatmany IMAX theatres, especially in the southeast were refusing to air a feature titled “Volcanoes of the Deep Sea” because it might offend certain religious people because of its references to evolution.

“We’ve got to pick a film that’s going to sell in our area. If it’s not going to sell, we’re not going to take it,” said Lisa Buzzelli, director of an IMAX theater in Charleston that is not showing the movie. “Many people here believe in creationism, not evolution.”

Good grief.

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26 Comments

  1. Yes, idiotic, and yet on the other hand, do you really think students should be “punished for professing beliefs with which their professors disagree”?

    • That depends. If the ‘belief’ being professed is counter to the curriculum of the class, and the ‘punishment’ is a lower grade…well, yeah, I do.

      I don’t think that students should be persecuted for having beliefs which have no bearing on the curriculum of the class, unless they are being disruptive of the class by espousing them even when they’re not on topic.

      Honestly, I’m not aware of anyplace this is an actual problem outside the minds of narrow-minded zealots who simply cannot stand to be disagreed with on any issue in any context at any time.

      • It isn’t an actual problem till it happens. I’ve seen it reported in LJ that some educational institutions are actually teaching creationism. This law, if enforced fairly, would prevent a student who believed* in evolution from being penalised for expressing his or her belief.

        It is, of course, an actual problem for the students who have received their beliefs in good faith from parents, priests, and other authority figures, and are now being told by different authority figures that everything they thought they knew is wrong. You don’t have to be a narrow-minded zealot to find that distressing.

        I don’t think genuinely held beliefs should be a cause of punishment of any kind. Incorrect answers to questions of fact, yes, though help getting it right would be more appropriate. Disruptive behaviour in class, of course. Disagreeing with the teacher, no. Sorry.

        *or, if you prefer, “knew from personal experience for an incontrovertible fact the complete, utter and absolute truth of”.

        • Yes, but that’s a strawman. I’m sure there may be individual cases where someone may have felt that way, but I am certain there is no systemic epidemic of such behaviour going on, and if there was, it would be better for the university to deal with that than passing this sort of absurd legislation, don’t you think?

          You can get rid of an anthill with a nuclear bomb, but it’s rather a bit of overkill, I think, no matter how much you dislike ants.

          • I disagree with the law, as I said in my first comment. I’m not sure what you mean. Anyone who has been taught from childhood that God created the world in seven days, and is then punished for believing what he or she has been told, has, I believe, a right to feel aggrieved. The adult world has let him or her down. In that sense, for him or her, it is an actual problem. This law is not the answer to that problem, but there is a need to address it, rather than writing off these students as morons or zealots or some other word for “the enemy.”

          • Nicely put. I find myself constantly reminding colleagues that just because students (especially freshmen) hold views that are less than progressive, doesn’t mean that those students are idiots. Freshmen come to the university armed with the sum total of 18 years of life experience and are blasted with a barrage of difference. The way I see it, my job as a writing teacher is to challenge them to challenge their assumptions about the world so that their writing, even if they support topics I find repugnant, will be more effective and better received by the readers they are trying to persuade.

            Having said that, I know that I would have a hard time dealing with a student who argued, for example, that the Holocaust was a fabrication. Sometimes they are just wrong.

      • It’s definitely a problem in the Humanities and so-called social sciences, and has been since I started secondary school (probably before that). Try disagreeing with the opiinion of the teacher in a sociology or politics class, for example, even if you have a stack of books by academics in the subject to back you up. Or daring to write an essay criticising Dickens or whoever an Eng Lit has as a favourite author. Students aren’t supposed to think for themselves, they are supposed to be well-behaved sponges.

        On the other hand, if you try to insist that 2+2=17 (it does, for large enough values of 2) in a math class or thast the world is flat in a geography class, you probably deserve a low grade. Or if you are disruptive about your beliefs (saying “My belief differs from yours” politely when asked is not the same as proclaiming that the teacher is “wrong” every time they say something which differs).

  2. That legislation is neither new nor unique, unfortunately. A large number of states have had something like it introduced.

    The person behind it is one David Horowitz, ex-liberal, now far-right-wing idealogue. He’s promoting his soi-disant Academic Bill of Rights, which purports to push fairness in academia, but in fact is crafted with the intent of stifling dissent.

    ISTR that somewhere upwards of 30, maybe as many as over 40, states have had such legislation introduced, but cannot at this moment find that reference. Maybe someone else (paging !) would know that number.

    Either way, it’s nasty and troubling.

    • The issue of punitive grading is a serious one, as is the related one of university speech codes. There isn’t any justification for using it to stifle dissenting thought, nor for casting politically incorrect views as “harassment,” as is done at some schools. A look through FIRE’s blog will turn up some interesting discussion of the issues. One can always dismiss anyone who says such things as “far right ideologues,” but that doesn’t change anything.

      Horowitz’s “academic bill of rights” is a mixed bag. The main problem is that it is formulated as a “bill of rights” rather than as a list of issues to address. This has led some state legislatures (Ohio, I believe, is one where a bill was introduced) to turn it into an actual legislative bill, which would remove accreditation from private learning institutions if it became law. It appears that Horowitz now supports this, though I recall that in earlier discussions it appeared to be just a rhetorical device to call it a BoR. Supporting its implementation as law, rather than as an internal policy, was where he went seriously wrong.

      Morons come in all varieties. Here at Harvard, we have professors who have decided that there is not and cannot be any statistical difference whatsoever between average male brains and average female brains, and regard anyone who even suggests the possibility as a heretic. It’s exactly the same kind of reaction as the rednecks seeing the IMAX screenings: They’ve adopted a certain view as an article of faith, and regard any views to the contrary as blasphemy.

      The problem isn’t solved by pretending that all the idiots are on the other political side. Nor is it solved by regulation, however well-intended. It can only be kept in check by people who are willing to keep an eye on all forms of enforced orthodoxy and speak out about it.

      • I won’t argue that there is no such thing as punitive grading, nor that it’s not an issue. How to determine it’s happening, and how to remedy it, is a real problem.

        My problem with Horowitz, specifically — and the reason I use the language I do about him — is that while his assertion is that he’s working towards equal time for all views, in fact, all of the support he provides is for students arguing on one political side. Where is his voice, for example, protesting the serious anti-semitism evinced at Columbia (to take perhaps the most egregious example)?

        Writing these academic guidelines into law — with the threat of removing accreditation — is a poor idea, I agree. Even more so when the accreditation in question is of private, rather than state-supported, schools. (Although I suppose that’s the lever the state has over those schools, except for the withdrawal of whatever grants or other financial support it receives. Unless they got REALLY nasty and barred students from receiving state moneys as well.)

        In the Harvard instance, I personally agree that there is something worth investigating there, but I withhold all judgement on results or causality until there’s convincing evidence, particularly on the nature/nurture questions. From what I recall of it, the president’s statement was not as egregiously biased as it’s been portrayed, but was probably overly broad. The reaction afterward was excessive — but what do you expect from Harvard? (In particular; I wouldn’t make that statement about MIT, The Johns Hopkins U, Stanford, etc.)

        I agree wholly with your last paragraph. There are idiots on all sides of the political and academic fence, and it seems to me that while guidelines are useful, all of this sort of argument needs to be done on a case-by-case basis if we’re to find each one’s truth.

      • here is a news story summarizing the current situation at Columbia; earlier and more in-depth stories are easily findable. (This is just because I felt like I’d made an unsupported assertion, and this one is easy to document.)

        • That got me curious, so I did a search on FIRE’s site and found a link to this letter to Columbia University’s president. It goes into quite a bit of detail, which I don’t have time to read fully right now.

          • Thanks. I’ve skimmed it and downloaded the PDF, so that I can peruse it at leisure later, after the kid are in bed.

            Much of it seems reasonable, though there are one or two points of language that concern me. When someone speaks of right and wrong (or in this case, of understanding the Constitution “rightly”), I try to dig a little deeper, as that sort of judgmental language often indicates where an agenda is pointed. But that will wait for later.

  3. You realize that “Asshaberdashery” would refer to gentlemen’s clothing for one’s bottom?

    • I believe that it is a reference to some colorful slang which states that a person is wearing their bottom as a hat. 😉

    • Well, I was using the admittedly archaic meaning of “haberdasher” to mean a hatter. 🙂

      • [tangential] Somehow “the Mad Haberdasher” doesn’t have the same flavor. (It has an interesting flavor of its own, just not the same one.)[/tangential]

    • My first thought was, isn’t that the name of one of them old
      Mesopotamian deity dudes? 🙂

      Ann O.

  4. You know, I see these two stories completely differently:

    The IMAX thing is, I think, just an example of the free market at work. Those theatres looked at their respective markets and decided to not show the film because, in their analysis, there would be a great cost to showing the film (in loss of revenue, loss of clientele, picketing, whatever) than gain. That’s how the market works, and while I may abhor the decision, as a free market supporter, I certainly support their decision to run their business as they choose. If they run it into the ground being swayed by these wackos, so be it.

    As for the bill of rights thing--ugh! I’m a conservative academic, and I sure as hell don’t want anyone putting me in a position to be sued if I flunk someone who I may also happen to disagree with. I take great pride in my ability to work with students who have a variety of beliefs and couldn’t operate under the spectre of student lawsuits when their grades are not what they would like them to be.

    • The IMAX thing is, I think, just an example of the free market at work. Those theatres looked at their respective markets and decided to not show the film because, in their analysis, there would be a great cost to showing the film (in loss of revenue, loss of clientele, picketing, whatever) than gain. That’s how the market works, and while I may abhor the decision, as a free market supporter, I certainly support their decision to run their business as they choose. If they run it into the ground being swayed by these wackos, so be it.

      To clarify, I have no serious objection to the theatres deciding that they don’t want to screen the film. As you say, it’s a free market, and they have to decide what will play in their community.

      I’m appalled, however, at the community. *shrug*

      • I draw a distinction between those IMAX theatres which are for the general public and those which are associated with science museums. The latter have a moral obligation, if not a legal one, not to let financial considerations dictate what scientific conclusions they can present.

        • True, and I hadn’t actually considered. At least one science museum has reversed its original decision to not show the film:

          ‘Volcanoes’ to be shown after outrage
          http://www.dfw.com/mld/dfw/news/local/11218459.htm
          By Chris Vaughn
          Star-Telegram Staff Writer

          FORT WORTH -- • The film, which had been rejected in part because it describes evolution, is to open “before summer.”

          The public erupted, and the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History moved, and quick.

          Volcanoes of the Deep Sea, an IMAX film rejected by the museum in part because of complaints about evolution commentary, will appear at the Cultural District institution after all.

          Museum Director Van Romans, with the blessing of the board of directors, reversed the museum’s decision and said the film will open in Fort Worth “before summer.” The film is already being promoted on the museum’s Web site.

          “We’re going to show things that have scientific credibility, and people can make their own decisions,” Romans said Wednesday. “That’s a very personal choice. But we are a science and history institution. We have a responsibility to the public to share with them.”

          The maker of the film, Stephen Low, who has made a number of IMAX movies with his production company in Montreal, said he has already talked to museum officials.

          “I don’t think it’s going to hurt anyone to see it,” Low said. “Science is really a celebration of God. I don’t find any conflict with it.”

          The blowup occurred after the Star-Telegram published a New York Times article Saturday about science museums that declined to show some scientific films because people complained about evolution content.

          As an example, the Times cited the Fort Worth museum’s rejection of Volcanoes, a film about the deep-sea vent system, which was sponsored in part by the National Science Foundation.

          The decision not to show Volcanoes was made about a year ago by a review committee in the museum that felt other movies would sell better.

          Marketing director Carol Murray was quoted in the Times article as saying, “I am sure it would have done better in the survey if it had not offended some people.”

          Murray declined to comment Wednesday.

          Romans, who joined the museum in February 2004 after 23 years with a Walt Disney Co. subsidiary, said he did not know of the rejection until the newspaper article was printed.

          He said he has received 25 letters upbraiding him in recent days. The Star-Telegram received dozens more, nearly all of them criticizing the museum.

          “I’m told on the original discussion, it ranked fairly low,” he said. “When we look at films, we look at what will be successful at the box office. But I can see that we may be successful from a marketing standpoint in showing it.”

          Romans also sought to clarify that the museum has not shied away from evolution, which is the “underpinning” of much of science, he said.

          “What is so amazing is we’re showing Aliens of the Deep, which has some content in it that relates to evolution,” he said. “We do share, in our exhibits and films, varying points of view. Our guests can decide for themselves whether they are valid or not.”

          Low said the film is about “the most spectacular, bizarre place on earth” and the creatures that live there.

          “If indeed it is God’s work, then kids should see it,” he said. “We’ll argue about the age of the Earth later.”

          If nothing else, Romans has gotten an idea of how much some people care about the museum.

          “They love the museum and they care about the things it presents,” he said. “Isn’t that the best thing in the world? It’s much better than people not caring.”

  5. All things considered, Cat Faber’s song, The Word of God really ought be more widely known. (I particularly like the version Joe Bethancourt sang on “That Great Big Way Out There” -- See the Random Factors entry for the CD for an MP3.)

  6. I here ya on the intellectual refuggee thing. I tried to talk Holland into political refugee status once, but since my president was Bush & not Mugabe they said no…Go figure…

    The IMAX thing made me want to hurl too. I just want to scream….It’s a freakin’ film folks. Get over it. It’s an idea. It’s a trip. It will be over environs 2 hours. Fine, if people want to believe stuff… some of the shit I believe sounds pretty whacky to me if I here it as a non-initiate… but why do they have to be so flipped out about *Talk* to the contrary. This gets especially ironic when applied to badasses like omnicient being that create all existence. :-O Why if God is so cool why would He/She/It/They be simultaneously petty & afraid of the words & images of we peons? H/S/I/T must be rolling his/her/its/their ‘eyes’.

  7. Just remembered the old joke:

    Volcanoes of the Deep

    By Helen Highwater

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