“What’s the Point of a Professor?” – NYTimes.com

Given the recent attacks on higher education, and the humanities in particular, Mark Bauerlein’s query (“What’s the Point of a Professor?”) is timely.

Reflecting on his own undergraduate education Bauerlein claims, “In our hunger for guidance, we were ordinary. The American Freshman Survey, which has followed students since 1966, proves the point. One prompt in the questionnaire asks entering freshmen about ‘objectives considered to be essential or very important.’ In 1967, 86 percent of respondents checked ‘developing a meaningful philosophy of life,’ more than double the number who said ‘being very well off financially.’ Naturally, students looked to professors for moral and worldly understanding.” This obviously no longer describes undergraduate attitudes. As Bauerlein notes, “finding meaning and making money have traded places. The first has plummeted to 45 percent; the second has soared to 82 percent.”

These changing attitudes have been at the root of the challenges to higher education and they threaten to transform it into a worker program. The stakes couldn’t be higher, but rather than address the larger issues that are driving the changes that he laments, Bauerlein lays the burden of turning the tide on professors. While I agree that we “can’t become a moral authority if you rarely challenge students in class and engage them beyond it,” this alone will not restore the prestige of professors or higher education.

Read the entire article here:

What’s the Point of a Professor? – NYTimes.com.


The Consequences of Ignoring the Lessons of History: “Stand Your Ground Makes No Sense” – NYTimes.com

What has been the impact of the “Stand your Ground” laws since their enactment? This is the subject of an article in The New York Times today. After examining several new studies on the subject, Robert J. Spitzer concludes that “[n]ot only have these laws failed to increase public safety, they have also turned the clock back to the mythologized mayhem of the Wild West.” And he points out, “We’ve learned this lesson before, in our own violent past, when strict regulation of concealed gun carrying was the near-universal and successful response to gun violence. As early as 1686, New Jersey enacted a law against wearing weapons because they induced ‘great Fear and Quarrels.’ Massachusetts followed in 1750. In the late 1700s, North Carolina and Virginia passed similar laws. In the 1800s, as interpersonal violence and gun carrying spread, 37 states joined the list. Tennessee’s 1821 law fined ‘each and every person so degrading himself’ by carrying weapons in public. Alabama’s 1839 law was titled ‘An Act to Suppress the Evil Practice of Carrying Weapons Secretly.’ Why must we relearn a lesson we codified centuries ago? How dumb are we?” It’s unlikely that these laws will be repealed any time soon. Evidence means little to the NRA and its zealous followers.

Stand Your Ground Makes No Sense – NYTimes.com.

John-Patrick Thomas, The New York Times (May 4, 2015)

John-Patrick Thomas, The New York Times (May 4, 2015)

The First Victims of the First Crusade – NYTimes.com

Reflecting on the current religious violence Susan Jacoby turns to the history of the Crusades for insight. But it is not the Christian conflict with the Muslims that she finds most useful; instead she turns to the Crusades first victims: the Jews. To Jacoby, the Christian attack on the Jews “highlights several elements analogous to the actions of modern terrorist groups. These include attempts at forced conversion; the murders of women and children; and the imposition of financial penalties on coerced converts who try to remain in their homes.” From this comparison she concludes: “What we actually see today is a standard of medieval behavior upheld by modern fanatics who, like the crusaders, seek both religious and political power through violent means. They offer a ghastly and ghostly reminder of what the Western world might look like had there never been religious reformations, the Enlightenment and, above all, the separation of church and state.” You can read the entire article at The New York Times:

The First Victims of the First Crusade – NYTimes.com.


Why Movie ‘Facts’ Prevail – NYTimes.com

Based on several studies the psychologist Jeffery M. Zacks concludes that “if you watch a film — even one concerning historical events about which you are informed — your beliefs may be reshaped by ‘facts’ that are not factual.” This is not good news! And it gets even worse. In one of the studies they asked the viewers to watch the movies for inaccuracies, but instead of changing their views it made them more likely to accept the incorrect facts! Is there any hope? They did find that “[h]aving the misinformation explicitly pointed out and corrected at the time it was encountered substantially reduced its influence.” The only problem with this technique, as Zacks points out,  “could be a challenge.” Based on this information, it is even more critical that we call out those in the movie industry who irresponsibly misrepresent historical events in ways that go beyond artistic license. Some misrepresentations are probably of no consequence (Queen Elizabeth’s “affair” with Sir Walter Raleigh in Elizabeth: The Golden Age) but others can have profound consequences (JFK).

Why Movie ‘Facts’ Prevail – NYTimes.com.


Was Abolitionism a Failure? – NYTimes.com

In The New York Times Jon Grinspan argues that it was “the Northern moderates,” not the abolitionists, who ended slavery. According to Grinspan, we have credited the abolitionists with the victory because “[w]e like the idea of sweeping change, of an idealistic movement triumphing over something so clearly wrong.” While his article implies that these types of movements are ineffective, at the same time he seems to cheer them on concluding: “We can only wonder which of today’s unpopular causes will, in 150 years, be considered the abolitionism of 2015.”

Grinspan’s argument seems to rest on the assumption that only concrete changes count. It was the abolitionists who laid the moral foundation that made the actions of the Northern moderates possible. I count that as a victory!

Read the entire article here:

Was Abolitionism a Failure? – NYTimes.com.

Abolition in US

Russia’s Ideology: There Is No Truth – NYTimes.com

Peter Pomerantsev wrote in The New York Times: “’Everything is P.R.,’ my Moscow peers would tell me. This cynicism is useful to the state: When people stopped trusting any institutions or having any values, they could easily be spun into a conspiratorial vision of the world. Thus the paradox: the gullible cynic.” This is a problem everywhere, but Putin has taken it to a new level.

Russia’s Ideology: There Is No Truth – NYTimes.com.



In Seven States, Atheists Push to End Largely Forgotten Ban – NYTimes.com

The fact that these religious tests still exist is shameful given that they are discriminatory and banned by the Constitution (see Torcaso v. Watkins). Thanks to Laurie Goodstein for reminding Americans of the existence of these religious tests in Maryland, Arkansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

Goodstein writes in The New York Times that “there has been no political will to rescind these articles. “Which politician was going to get up and say, ‘We’re really going to clean this up’?” he said.”‘ Continue reading at:

In Seven States, Atheists Push to End Largely Forgotten Ban – NYTimes.com.

states with religious tests

The Comfort Women and Japan’s War on Truth – NYTimes.com

Mindy Kotler in today’s New York Times wrote: “The United States, in particular, has a responsibility to remind Japan, its ally, that human rights and women’s rights are pillars of American foreign policy. If we do not speak out, we will be complicit not only in Japanese denialism, but also in undermining today’s international efforts to end war crimes involving sexual violence.”

The Comfort Women and Japan’s War on Truth – NYTimes.com.

Japanese comfort women

Pressure in Japan to Forget Sins of War – NYTimes.com

“Coming to terms with its militarist past has never been easy for Japan, which tried to set aside the issues raised by the war as it rebuilt itself into the peaceful, prosperous nation it is today. But pressure to erase the darker episodes of its wartime history has intensified recently with the rise of a small, aggressive online movement seeking to intimidate those like Mr. Mizuguchi who believe the country must never forget,” Martin Fackler by a far right nationalist group of “cyberactivists” known as Net Right to halt the erection of a memorial in the tiny village of Sarufutsu, where “[a]t least 80 Korean laborers died of abuse and malnutrition here as they built an airfield at the behest of the Japanese military during World War II.”  This group is using intimidation to stop what it sees as blights on the image of the nation.  Unfortunately, in this case they succeeded and work on the memorial came to a halt.

These nationalists believe that they are restoring honor to the Japanese nation but what is more honorable: Admitting your sins and trying to make amends or covering them up?

Pressure in Japan to Forget Sins of War – NYTimes.com.

japanese memorial to korean laborers WWII