Academic institutions are expected to undergo rigorous assessment as part of their accreditation process. Roughly put, this process is supposed to show that the institution is doing what an academic institution is supposed to do. Having served on numerous committees relating to SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools), I can attest that the process is rather extensive and generates massive amounts of paper. However, there have been proposals to change this process.
Here in Florida, the Florida Accredited Courses and Tests Initiative, was proposed. If it, or something like it, were to become a reality, the accreditation process would radically change. One main change would be that rather than having accreditation at the institutional level, individual courses would be accredited. Within this broad change is also a more specific change: “any individual, institution, entity or organization” could create an accredited class. Thus, I could create my own course (and so could you) and get it accredited. Companies looking to make money could also do the same thing.
One reasonable argument for this initiative is based on the claim that the existing institutional model looks at the institution as a whole rather than examining every single course. Because of this, a properly accredited university could have some classes that are lacking in rigor and quality.
While this argument has appeal (and everyone in academics knows about crappy classes at accredited schools), one obvious reply is that institutions are required to engage in assessment at all levels. As the facilitator for Philosophy & Religion at FAMU, I have to complete a detailed assessment of the program and courses each academic year. Every 7 years the unit goes through a complete year long review, featuring an outside consultant who is an expert in philosophy and/or religion. I also serve on committees that are focused on insuring quality and rigor in individual classes. This is all required. Thus, the idea that individual classes are free from supervision is in error.
It could be countered that there should still be review of each class individually to ensure that there is rigor and quality. On the one hand, I do agree with this. After all, I do exactly that every year. On the other hand, there is the practical concern with having every single class subject to individual review in terms of the costs in resources and time. The obvious question is whether such resources needed to do this properly would be better used in another capacity and whether or not such micro-managing would have positive results that could not be provided by the current system. This, of course, lays aside the concern about academic freedom: impositions of “rigor” and “quality” might be used to suppress certain ideas.
Interestingly, the plan that has been proposed does not seem to involve the rigorous examination of individual classes for rigor and quality. As it stands, the proposal is that the head of Florida’s public school system and the chancellor of the state university system would handle the certification process.
One obvious concern, which echoes one talking point against Obamacare, is that it would really remove the decision making regarding college curriculum from faculty and schools and place it in the hands of two political appointees. That is, a bureaucrat would come between students and their education.
From the standpoint of well-connected vendors, this would be an ideal situation. Rather that having their “educational products” subject to evaluation by educational professional and subject to a rigorous accreditation environment, they would simply need to lobby these two appointees to certify their courses.
On the one hand, this could be a gold mine for me. I am comfortable with technology, have crafted online classes and I have that PhD that companies probably want to stick on their education product. Although I lack political connections, I could conceivable create MikeED and make far better money selling online classes than I do actually teaching classes for real.
On the other hand, there is the serious concern that such academic products would be lacking in quality and that students would be overcharged and exploited. After all, with all their defects public schools are dedicated to education rather than profit. While the profit motivation can lead to good results, there is the concern that those who are motivated by profit will be more concerned about profit to the detriment of education. After all, the for-profit schools have shown a dismal record in terms of cost, quality and job-placement.
The second major aspect to the proposal is to create statewide tests for K-12 and college undergraduates. These tests, which would be run by contractors rather than institutions, would allow students to get college credit by taking a test rather than a course.
The idea of students getting credit from taking a test is not new: Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and College Level Examination Program, and CLEP all provide students with this option. However, under the current system it is up to the schools to decide whether they accept the credit or not. Under the proposed system, public schools in Florida would have to accept the credits. These tests would, presumably, be online.
On the one hand, this does have some appeal. In the ideal, well-prepared or talented students could save time and money by taking a test rather than a class. After all, if a student has already mastered the skills of English 101, it would certainly be a waster of her time to be forced to take the class just because it is required. Because of this, I do favor the idea of well-designed tests that would allow students to do just this sort of thing.
On the other hand, there are the obvious worries. One is the likelihood of corruption in such a system. A second is that students will be able to pass such tests without actually learning the skills and knowledge that such courses are supposed to provide. That is, a student could just prep to pass the specific test rather than any learning the subject. To be fair, a student could do the same sort of thing in a traditional class and pass without learning. However, the course setting would seem far more likely to impart skills and knowledge.
I do expect and even hope that technology will change and improve education. I also favor education reform: college is too expensive and there are numerous defects in the existing system. However, this proposal seems to be obviously focused on allowing certain folks to turn the public education system into a source of profits. My own worry echoes that of a Republican law maker: this proposal would seem to ring the dinner bell for scam artists.
The U.S. senate has called shenanigans on Apple’s clever tax strategy. While congress has been rather tolerant of other corporations who avoid taxes (such as GE), the senators have apparently decided to go after Apple.
In some ways, this situation is entertaining. After all, liberals who are against corporations are supposed to be all gooey about Apple, thus putting them into an emotional predicament. Also, conservatives who are supposed to not be fans of Apple’s alleged liberal leanings must be torn over going after a corporation on the issue of taxes. Someone more cynical than I might speculate that Apple’s main “crime” was failing to pay the most important tax of all, namely the congressional tax that is paid via lobbying.
The main attack on Apple is that the company was able to engage in some clever (or dubious) tactics that allowed them to avoid paying all the taxes that the company should have paid. Apple has pointed out that the company pays the most (billions) in taxes, but folks in the senate have claimed that Apple should still be paying more.
While I do have some concerns that the senate is unfairly singling out Apple while giving a free pass to companies that are infamous for not paying taxes, this situation does have some positive aspects to it. Perhaps most importantly, it is drawing attention to the dubious tactics employed by companies to avoid paying taxes. Of course, I suspect that little reform will come out of this in terms of the more outrageous offenders when it comes to dodging tax obligations.
Someone more cynical than I might note that the existing system is, in many ways, a protection racket run by congress. They create harsh tax laws and then allow tax breaks for those who pay the congress “tax.” Companies generally consider this an acceptable deal-the congress “tax” is still less than what they would have to pay if they were fully subject to the corporate tax rate set by congress. Naturally, it would be better if the tax laws were both fairer and simpler, but it seems unlikely that enough folks in Congress are willing to make such changes.
During the Bush administration, I was critical of the misdeeds of government. Being consistent, I apply the same standards to the Obama administration.
While Obama failed to close the infamous prison and has run a drone assassination campaign of dubious legality and morality, his administration has largely avoided the volume of scandals that have hit previous administrations. While the same Republicans who said very little about 54 attacks on American consulates/embassies under the Bush administration worked tirelessly with the Fox News allies to make Benghazi into a scandal, it would seem that Fox News’ dream has come true: two true scandals on Obama’s watch.
The first involves the IRS which apparently flagged conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status for special review. While it has yet to be proven that Obama was directly connected to this, I do hold that leaders are accountable for the actions of those who fall under their authority. This is, of course, can be mitigated by various factors such as reasonable knowledge and the extent to which the leader directly oversees those in question. For example, the CEO of GE is obviously not accountable for a low-level employee stealing office supplies in some office overseas.
While some claim that this scandal has been deflated, this matter probably needs more sorting out.
The second involves the Justice Department obtaining two months of the Associated Press’ telephone records. As happened so often in the Bush Administration, this apparent violation of rights was defended by concerns of national security. In this case, the concern was in regards to a criminal investigation of leaked information in a May 7, 2012 AP story about the CIA stopping an al Qaida bomb plot in Yemen.
During the Bush years, I was critical of using appeals to national security to warrant violations of rights and liberties. Being consistent, I must be critical of the same approach when it is used under Obama.
As I have argued before, such apparent violations can sometimes be properly justified by appeals to national security. In the AP case, there do seem to be legitimate grounds for an investigation. However, the handling of the phone records by the DOJ certainly seems to be excessive and unwarranted and it seems to have grotesquely violated the rights of the reporters and editors, not to mention assaulting the foundation of the free press. This is clearly an unjust act on the part of the department of justice.
Naturally, I cannot help but compare the views expressed on Fox News and by some Republicans when a Republican administration was engaged in violating rights (such as illegal wire tapping, illegal detention and torture) as well as other wrongful and/or incompetent behavior (such as the invasion of Iraq on the basis of lies). This time around, Fox News and I are sort of on the same side in that we are critical of the IRS and DOJ. However, I am acting on the basis of a consistent application of moral principle and the folks at Fox News are presumably following their usual approach of attacking Obama.
Somewhat ironically, during the 2012 campaign season the IRS decided to flag for review applications for tax-exempt status from groups whose names included “Tea Party” or “patriots.” Not surprisingly, this has created some furor. While an IRS spokesperson has claimed that the extra attention was not at the behest of the Obama administration and an apology has been issued, this matter certain deserves greater scrutiny.
As should come as no surprise, Republicans (and some Democrats) have already called for a congressional investigation and a review by the administration.
The obvious point of concern is that the IRS was involved in partisan politics. After all, groups with “Tea Party” and “patriot” in their names would generally tend to be anti-Obama (if not pro-Romney) and if they were singled out for special review, this would certainly suggest partisan motivation. What would be more damning would, of course, be evidence that the IRS denied tax-exempt status unfairly to groups with such names. As it stands, the IRS claims that none of the groups in question were rejected (at least not yet).
While such flagging for review would seem to be partisan, perhaps the motivation was not partisan. An alternative explanation is that the IRS folks involved in this were concerned that such groups might be more likely to have “problematic” applications because of the Tea Party’s view of taxes (that they are taxed enough already) and hence flagged them for more careful review on that basis. While such a motivation (if it actually existed) might be understandable, it would still be problematic in that it would still have the effect of targeting on partisan lines and the IRS should avoid even the appearance of being partisan.
It might also be the case that folks involved were concerned that such groups would be more likely to be involved in partisan politics, which is supposed to deny them tax-exempt status. However, if they only flagged “Tea Party” and “patriots” rather than any phrases or words that would be indicative of partisan politics, then they could be justly accused of focusing on conservative groups. This would, obviously enough, be unjust.
The IRS also endeavored to play the usual “rogue employee” gambit. In this case, the claim is that the targeting was the work of a few lower level revenue agents in Cincinnati rather than as a general policy taken by the IRS. If this can be proven, there would still be a problem-but obviously not as bad as having the IRS engaged in such behavior as a matter of general policy. If it can be proven that this matter reaches up the chain of command, it would be rather bad for the IRS and also for the Obama administration.
On a somewhat related note, there are also concerns that while the IRS flagged certain applications, the agency has been lax in enforcing the law forbidding tax-exempt 501(c)(4) groups from engaging in partisan politics. While these groups can collect anonymous money and spend it on advertising, they cannot endorse candidates or parties. They can, however, engage in political advertising, provided they at least make a token effort at creating the illusion that they are non-partisan. Thanks to the absurd Citizens United decision, corporations can spend unlimited money in federal elections and they have certainly been doing so, to the detriment of democracy in America.
While I am concerned about the claim that the IRS has engaged in partisan politics, I am also concerned that the law essentially allows the creation of tax-exempt fronts for money to be funneled into “non-partisan” political advertising for the left and the right. As might be imagined, to not even properly enforce such a toothless law would be a serious failure on the part of the IRS.
While there is an abundance of violence in the real world, there is also considerable focus on the virtual violence of video games. Interestingly, some people (such as the head of the NRA) blame real violence on the virtual violence of video games. The idea that art can corrupt people is nothing new and dates back at least to Plato’s discussion of the corrupting influence of art. While he was mainly worried about the corrupting influence of tragedy and comedy, he also raised concerns about violence and sex. These days we generally do not worry about the nefarious influence of tragedy and comedy, but there is considerable concern about violence.
While I am a gamer, I do have concerns about the possible influence of video games on actual behavior. For example, one of my published essays is on the distinction between virtual vice and virtual virtue and in this essay I raise concerns about the potential dangers of video games that are focused on vice. While I do have concerns about the impact of video games, there has been little in the way of significant evidence supporting the claim that video games have a meaningful role in causing real-world violence. However, such studies are fairly popular and generally get attention from the media.
The most recent study purports to show that teenage boys might become desensitized to violence because of extensive playing of video games. While some folks will take this study as showing a connection between video games and violence, it is well worth considering the details of the study in the context of causal reasoning involving populations.
When conducting a cause to effect experiment, one rather important factor is the size of experimental group (those exposed to the cause) and the control group (those not exposed to the cause). The smaller the number of subjects, the more likely that the difference between the groups is due to factors other than the (alleged) causal factor. There is also the concern with generalizing the results from the experiment to the whole population.
The experiment in question consisted of 30 boys (ages 13-15) in total. As a sample for determining a causal connection, the sample is too small for real confidence to be placed in the results. There is also the fact that the sample is far too small to support a generalization from the 30 boys to the general population of teenage boys. In fact, the experiment hardly seems worth conducting with such a small sample and is certainly not worth reporting on-except as an illustration of how research should not be conducted.
The researchers had the boys play a violent video game and a non-violent video game in the evening and compared the results. According to the researchers, those who played the violent video game had faster heart rates and lower sleep quality. They also reported “increased feelings of sadness.” After playing the violent game, the boys had greater stress and anxiety.
According to one researcher, “The violent game seems to have elicited more stress at bedtime in both groups, and it also seems as if the violent game in general caused some kind of exhaustion. However, the exhaustion didn’t seem to be of the kind that normally promotes good sleep, but rather as a stressful factor that can impair sleep quality.”
Being a veteran of violent video games, these results are consistent with my own experiences. I have found that if I play a combat game, be it a first person shooter, an MMO or a real time strategy game, too close to bedtime, I have trouble sleeping. Crudely put, I find that I am “keyed” up and if I am unable to “calm down” before trying to sleep, my sleep is generally not very restful. I really noticed this when I was raiding in WOW. A raid is a high stress situation (game stress, anyway) that requires hyper-vigilance and it takes time to “come down” from that. I have experienced the same thing with actual fighting (martial arts training, not random violence). I’ve even experienced something comparable when I’ve been awoken by a big spider crawling on my face-I did not sleep quite so well after that. Graduate school, as might be imagined, put me into this state of poor sleep for about five years.
In general, then, it makes sense that violent video games would have this effect-which is why it is not a good idea to game up until bed time if you want to get a good night’s sleep. Of course, it is a generally a good idea to relax about an hour before bedtime-don’t check email, don’t get on Facebook, don’t do work and so on.
While not playing games before bedtime is a good idea, the question remains as to how these findings connect to violence and video games. According to the researchers, the differences between the two groups “suggest that frequent exposure to violent video games may have a desensitizing effect.”
Laying aside the problem that the sample is far too small to provide significant results that can be reliably extended to the general population of teenage boys, there is also the problem that there seems to be a rather large chasm between the observed behavior (anxiety and lower sleep quality) and being desensitized to violence. The researchers do note that the cause and effect relationship was not established and they did consider the possibility of reversed causation (that the video games are not causing these traits, but that boys with those traits are drawn to violent video games). As such, the main impact of the study seems to be that it got media attention for the researchers. This would suggest another avenue of research: the corrupting influence of media attention on researching video games and violence.
After the evil and senseless bombing in Boston, there was considerable speculation about the motives of the bombers. Not surprisingly, some folks blamed their preferred demons: some on the left leaped to conclusions involving right-wingers while those on the right leaped to conclusions involving Islam. As it turns out, the alleged murderers have a connection to Islam.
While some hold the view that there is a strong causal connection between being a Muslim and being a terrorist, the connection obviously cannot be that strong. After all, the vast majority of Muslims do not engage in terrorism. As such, beginning and ending the discussion of the motive for terror with Islam is not adequate.
When it comes to terrorist attacks against the United States, the stock explanation is that the terrorists are motivated by a hatred of our freedom. A common variation on that is that they hate democracy. Another explanation is that they simply hate the United States and other countries.
The explanation that terrorists are motivated by a hatred of our freedom (or democracy) does two main things. The first is that it casts the terrorists as enemies of freedom and democracy, thus presenting them as having evil motives. The second is that it casts the United States and its allies as being attacked because of their virtues. Crudely put, the bad guys are attacking us because they hate what is good.
The explanation that the terrorists simply hate the United States and its allies also does two main things. The first is that it casts the terrorists as simply being haters without any justification for their hate. The second is that it casts the United States and its allies as innocent targets. Crudely put, the haters are attacking us because they are haters.
In both of these approaches, the United States and its allies are presented as innocent victims who are being attacked for wicked or irrational reasons. What certainly helps support this narrative is that the terrorists engage in acts that are wicked and certainly seem irrational. After all, the people who are killed and injured are usually just random innocents who simply happen to be in the blast area at the time. Because of this, it is correct to condemn such terrorists as morally wicked on the grounds that they engage in indiscriminate violence. However, the fact that the direct victims of the terrorists are generally innocent victims of wicked deeds does not entail that the terrorists are motivated to attack innocent countries because they hate us, our freedom or our democracy.
One significant source of evidence regarding the motivation of terrorists is the statements terrorists make regarding their own reasons. In the case of the alleged Boston bomber, he claims that he was motivated by the United States’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the case of other terrorists, they have generally claimed they are motivated by the actions of the United States and its allies.
My point here is not to justify the actions of the terrorists. Rather, the point is that the terrorists do not claim to be motivated by the reasons that have been attributed to them. That is, they do not regard themselves as being driven to attack us because they hate our freedom or democracy. They do often claim to hate us, but for rather specific reasons involving our foreign policy. As such, these stock explanations seem to be in error.
It might be countered that the terrorists are lying about their motivations. That is, that they are really driven by a hatred of our freedom or democracy and are just claiming that they are motivated by our foreign policy and associated actions (like invading countries and assassinating people with drones) for some devious reason.
The obvious reply to this is that if terrorists were motivated by a hatred of freedom or democracy, they would presumably attack countries based on their degree of freedom or democracy. Also, a non-stupid terrorist would take into account the ease of attacking a country and what the country could and would do in response. Hitting the United States to strike against freedom or democracy would thus be a poor choice, given our capabilities and how we respond to such attacks (invasions, drone strikes and so on). To use an analogy, if someone hated athletes, it would not be very sensible to get into a fist fight with a professional mixed martial artist when one could go beat up a marathon runner (who is not also a martial artist).
It might be countered that the United States is the symbol for freedom and democracy, hence the terrorists want to attack the United States even though they know that this will result in retaliation of the sort that many other democratic states cannot or would not engage in.
While this is not impossible, the more plausible explanation is that the terrorists are motivated by their hatred of our foreign policy. After all, invasions, assassinations and such tend to motivate people to engage in violence far more so than some sort of hatred of freedom or democracy.
It might, of course, be wondered why the motivation of terrorists matter. What matters is not why they try to murder people at a marathon but that they try to do such things.
While what they do obviously matters, why they do it also matters. While I obviously believe that terrorism of the sort that took place in Boston is evil, this does not entail that there are no legitimate grievances against the United States and its allies in regards to our foreign policies. To use an analogy, if Bob blows up Sam’s whole family because Sam killed Bob’s son, then Bob has acted wrongly. But this does not prove that Sam acted rightly in killing Bob’s son. In the case of the United States, the fact that we have been attacked by terrorists does not thus make our invasions or drone assassinations right. Now, it might turn out that our actions are right, but we cannot infer that they are just because terrorists do terrible things.
Sorting out what motivates terrorists is also rather useful in trying to prevent terrorism. If we assume they are motivated by their hatred of our freedom or democracy, then we would have to abandon our freedom or democracy to remove their motivation. This is obviously something that should not be done.
However, if some terrorists are motivated by specific aspects of our foreign policy (such as drone strikes that kill civilians), then it seems well worth considering whether we should change these policies. To use an analogy, if someone keeps trying to attack me because I am virtuous, then I obviously should not abandon my virtues just to stop these attacks. But if someone keeps trying to attack me because I keep provoking him, then I should consider whether or not I should be doing those things. It might turn out that I am in the right, but it might turn out that I am in the wrong. If I am in the wrong, then I should change. But if he is in the wrong, then I would be warranted in not changing (but I would need to be honest about why he is attacking me). For example, if he goes after me because I am stealing his newspaper and dumping leaves in his yard, then I should probably stop doing that. As another example, if he is going after me because I run past his house, then he should stop doing that.
The same would seem to apply to terrorists. If we are engaged in unjust actions that provoke people, then we should stop those actions. If, however, we are acting justly and this provokes people, then we should continue to the degree those actions are warranted and necessary. But we should be honest about why they area attacking us.