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A Brief Note on the National Association of Scholars’ Argus Project

national association of scholars

I am an unapologetic member of the National Association of Scholars, an organization that, in its own words:

“… is higher education’s most vigilant watchdog. We stand for intellectual integrity in the curriculum, in the classroom, and across the campus—and we respond when colleges and universities fall short of the mark. We uphold the principle of individual merit and oppose racial, gender, and other group preferences. And we regard the Western intellectual heritage as the indispensable foundation of American higher education.”

The NAS recently announced The Argus Project:

PRINCETON, NJThe National Association of Scholars has announced the opening of its “Argus project,” an initiative that calls for volunteers to help keep watch over American colleges and universities.
The project is named for the creature in Greek mythology whose body was covered with eyes. “Like Argus, who always had his eyes open, the NAS needs to have a steady, open-eyed watch on colleges around the country,” said Ashley Thorne, NAS director of communications. “To do that, we are asking volunteers to essentially be our eyes on different campuses. We hope to attract thoughtful, attentive people reporting on what they’ve witnessed to be our lookouts over academe.”
And, as Mr. Leef points out on PhiBetaCons, the lefties are seething after InsideHigherEd wrote a piece about the Project.

Relax, kids.

FIRE, the Foundation for Inividual Rights in Education, lauds the initiative – as they should. Professor Dorn didn’t get that thrill up his leg, though:

Twice this month I’ve agreed with National Association of Scholars head Peter Wood, but when NAS organizes what looks like a Horowitzian ideological witchhunt, they’ve lost my sympathy. I’m also at a loss to understand why the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s blog applauded NAS. There’s a pretty large gulf between FIRE’s support of and education around individual rights, on the one hand, and NAS’s engaging in an ideologically one-sided hunt for people to complain about college campuses, on the other.

One can only assume that his post was so short because that glass of cranberry wine in one hand prevented him from typing a full response [sticking a pinky out as you sip makes it even tougher].

The argument that the NAS is a Conservative, Rethuglican advocacy tank is a hollow one. The idea of The Argus Project, as I understand it, is simply observation of our campuses and classrooms and the documentation of abuses on all sides of the political spectrum. This is likely why FIRE supports the Project; after all, FIRE has handled many cases over the years for both liberals and conservatives. Political affilition has little bearing on one’s rights.

Dorn would do well to recognize that vigilance and observation are anything but a “witchhunt” – even if such honesty makes for a dull blog post. We can think of our average police department as “vigilant” without engaging in outright “persecution” of citizens, for example. The distinction between the two is an important one, and it’s a distinction that The Good Professor fails to make. The irony that ideology may have gotten in the way isn’t lost.

I e-mailed The Argus Project several months ago and offered to keep an eye on K-12 education issues that were relevant to higher education.

UPDATE, July 31:

FIRE has explained their position. Hopefully Professor Dorn and others know a little bit more about FIRE and the NAS now.

New York City Department of Education Apology – Just Awaiting Mr. Cantor’s Signature

yeahhhhhh...

Well, I’m glad we got the FOIL request cleared up. Mr. Jacob of the NYC DoE sent along the data in question about 24 hours after receiving my FOIL e-mail:

Hi Matthew,
Attached are the scale scores by race and ethnicity that you requested.
Andy

Andrew Jacob
Office of Communications and Media Relations
NYC Department of Education
52 Chambers St. | New York, NY 10007
212-374-7840 | AJacob@schools.nyc.gov

Thanks again, Mr. Jacob – and to interested parties, that data is available for download. [And yes, as I type this, I'm wearing my new cape - it's dashing!] Eduwonkette has done some analysis already, too.

Mr. Cantor is a busy guy. So busy, in fact, that he wasn’t able to e-mail me himself or acknowledge the receipt of my FOIL request. Hours after my request – rather than fulfilling that request so the data could be made available, which consisted of hitting ‘reply’ and attaching a 30kb Excel spreadsheet – at 9.49pm he wrote on Eduwonkette’s site:

Hey, Eduwonkette, this is weird and untrue. You know we’ve been giving this out, yet you write:”Sadly, this is what it’s come to in New York City – the Department of Education is denying all of us access to data that rightfully belong in the public domain.”

The data does belong in the public domain, and we haven’t denied anyone access, including you. I find it distasteful that you sell your anonymity as martyrdom.

David Cantor
Press Secretary
NYC Dept of Education

Mr. Cantor, you denied Eduwonkette access and specifically cited her anonymity as justification. Please – less Truth Squad, more truth.

Since you’re so busy, I decided to write a letter of apology for you – all you’ve got to do is sign it.

Dear New Yorkers,

This last Sunday I denied a public information request inappropriately. When one is overcome with a bitter, “them vs. us” attitude on top of a penchant for political game-playing and a disinterest in public communication, surely you understand how these things happen. If not for that charming, good-looking scamp at Education for the Aughts, I’d have never seen the error of my ways.

Thanks to Mr. Tabor’s link to the state-funded Committee on Open Government website, I’ve learned a lot about New York State’s Freedom of Information Laws since Monday’s embarrassment. For example, I initially denied Eduwonkette’s request because she was an anonymous blogger. Now I realize that FOIL statutes are in place for the benefit of the public and its independent media. It hadn’t occurred to me that Eduwonkette, though anonymous, was clearly a representative of the media outlet Education Week, which is justification enough to honor her request. Though providing one’s identity makes the Department of Education feel better about fulfilling information requests in a timely fashion, that information just isn’t necessary for us to follow the law.

I understand as well as anybody – perhaps better than anybody – that New York’s FOIL statutes are laws without teeth. Hell, I can stonewall even the most earnest, legitimate request for 20 or 30 business days, and then giggle with sinister glee when their §89(4)(a) Appeal crosses my desk – all while being in full compliance with the Law! Don’t tell the Committee on Open Government, but here at the NYC Department of Education, FOIL stands for “Freedom of Information? LOLLLLL!”

But I have to warn you, New Yorkers: don’t get too comfortable with this little victory. Unless principled, independent/public media keep on us, we’ll stiff-arm you peons until the cows come home [You "folks" say that upstate, right? I've never been north of Westchester, so just checking].

So, in a word: Sorry. I blew it. I played the gatekeeping game instead of doing my job, and it won’t happen again [unless, of course, New Yorkers let me!].

I do have to thank those of you who were on my case, especially those who pointed out my skill with gameplaying. I’ve been wasting so much time on playing the blog comment game instead of doing my job that I realized I should probably switch careers anyway. I read in the NY Post that Jorge Posada is out for the season – so professional baseball, here I come! See, if I’m a baseball player, I can strike out 70% of the time and New Yorkers still might love me [and if I'm really good at my job, I'll end up meeting Mr. Tabor in Cooperstown!].

Humbly Yours,

[awaiting signature]

UPDATE at 10.20pm, July 30:

Sorry, DC – looks like the Yanks have already crushed your dream.

Technical Difficulties.

’nuff said. Rotten timing.

A New York State FOIL Request for David Cantor, New York City Department of Education

brandenburg gate

Dear Mr. Cantor,

Please consider this a formal FOIL request for scale scores by race/ethnicity referenced in the following document:

http://www.eduwonk.com/2008/07/from-chris-cerf.html

Hard copies are not necessary; electronic copies of the scores for 2003-2008 will suffice. You can e-mail those to mktabor@gmail.com. In your comment to Mr. Stern, you suggested that the data were freely available; you should, then, have no trouble fulfilling my request with all deliberate speed – and certainly within the five business day limit stated in our State’s FOIL statute. If the requested records cannot be emailed to me due to their volume, please indicate the actual cost of copying all records onto media convenient for your Office.

I understand the concern you expressed to Eduwonkette, the inimitable – if anonymous – education blogger, regarding the data’s availability. After all, we can’t be sure that Ms. Eduwonkette is an American citizen [and thus a member of the "public"], let alone a New York State resident. You said:

“I’ve thought about it and decided i don’t want to give out information to someone asking anonymously.”

You need not worry about my identity or my citizenship.

And whereas I appreciate such earnest gatekeeping, undoubtedly in the interests of our State’s security and well-being [such data in the hands of our enemies from within or without, or on the desktop of one whose GRE scores have 500 or 600 points on the mean score of your teachers, might yield unpalatable, unpredictable conclusions], I am reminded of a passage in that FOIL statute:

“The legislature therefore declares that government is the public’s business and that the public, individually and collectively and represented by a free press, should have access to the records of government in accordance with the provisions of this article.”

Though your office may keep the gate, you don’t make the rules. Fear not: New York City’s Department of Education would do well to remember that the next time a blogger, or any member of that ‘free press,’ makes a request for information, you can grant that request with less hand-wringing and heartburn. There was no legitimate reason to deny Eduwonkette’s request; there are no reasons – legitimate or otherwise – to deny mine.

I do apologize that this request was made on a public website rather than via e-mail; as it is in the wee hours of Monday, I felt that it was inappropriate to call you, and your e-mail address was not at the ready [My Rolodex is less fertile than Mr. Stern's or Eduwonkette's]. A Google search of “david cantor NYC department of education” yields little of value, and your listings on the DoE website provide nothing in the way of electronic communication. A curious decision, but understandable when one considers that penchant for gatekeeping.

Many thanks to your and your Office in advance. If you need any additional information – though you shouldn’t, as referring to these data as “them” in the discussion on Mr. Rotherham’s website shows that we’re both entirely clear on the data in question – feel free to contact me at the phone number or e-mail address below.

Sincerely,

Matthew K. Tabor
e: mktabor@gmail.com
w: www.matthewktabor.com
p: 607.821.1752
Cooperstown, New York

UPDATE at 4.24pm, July 28:

For any interested parties, Mr. Cantor’s e-mail address is DCantor@schools.nyc.gov – God knows you won’t find it easily on the DoE website. Now that this post is the first entry for a relevant Google search, no one should have any trouble locating the e-mail address they need.

UPDATE at 10.07pm, July 29:

Mr. Andrew Jacob, to whom the above e-mail was copied, sent along the requested data this afternoon. It is available for download here:

http://matthewktabor.com/downloads/scale_scores_by_ethn_2.xls

The Quick[ly and Easily Rebutted] and the Ed on History, Part II

the susquehanna two-step

This isn’t really my fight, but one thing I don’t stand for is intellectual irresponsibility.

The issue at hand is part history, part scholarship, part old-fashioned common sense. It’s about Dewey, movements, petty partisan politics and modern education theory.

And K. Carey is still out of his element. He responded:

I’m glad to know you agree with me half the time. As a Cooperstown resident and baseball fan, you’re no doubt aware that a .500 batting average is spectacular, so by that measure you’re doing pretty well.

Liam said that the theories “did not exist a half century ago,” which is obviously untrue. You’re saying that I have an obligation to respond to what Liam wish he had said, or should have said, rather than what he did say? Fine — I wish my last post had been the most brilliant and insightful essay yet written, and hereby condemn you for suggesting otherwise.

As to the question — Dewey and his ideas were very influential in his time. Your readers can decide for themselves whether the progressive education movement should be dismissed as insignificant.

First, I’m a little disappointed that Carey cited batting average and not on-base percentage, especially given our agreement on that baseball-themed value-added stuff. Since it is Induction Weekend here in the hamlet, I’ll let that pass.

But at this point, I can’t tell whether he truly misses the point or is purposely dishonest. Neither is commendable.

This is what Fordham’s Liam Julian wrote:

“Is it not true that much of this theory and methodology is a relatively modern invention, one that did not exist a half-century ago, when fine teachers surely did?”

“Much of this theory” – the bulk of what passes for required curricula in education schools, for example – is a twisted third-cousin of Dewey’s [and others'] work. The same is true of Constructivism, the current strain of which has betrayed Giambattista Vico to an embarrassing  degree.

It isn’t that Carey has an obligation to divine Julian’s thoughts, though Julian’s implications were clear enough. He does, however, have an obligation to use a bit of common sense. The issue at hand is movements – and mixing a movement’s roots with its developments is usually a mistake.

In that lineage of ideas, we can say that Jesus’ life marked the beginning of Christianity about 2,000 years ago. And now some time later we have all sorts of Protestantism, we have the Roman Catholic Church, we have Eastern Orthodoxy, etc. – all of which are offshoots of the original.

But like those developments in Christianity – some stringently faithful to the original, others resembling the original in name only – Dewey’s theories, for better or worse, have inspired, grown, matured, morphed, split, mutated and back-flipped. Combine that fate with an increasingly ignorant, under-trained corp of practitioners and poor Dewey gets attached to some awfully useless modern ideas — just like Jesus, 2000 years later, gets melded in with crazies like Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church.

That is how movements work – their histories are more like back roads, with lots of dead ends, dirt paths, seasonal sections, potholes and the like, than a well-paved and maintained Interstate [except in Soviet history textbooks, where there was a convenient high-speed monorail from the past to the present].

If I were to suggest that Fred Phelps’ Westboro Baptist Church wasn’t a feature of Christianity’s margins because, after all, Jesus Christ had published the foundation of those theories 2,000 years ago, any sensible person would rightly laugh in my face – despite Jesus’ ideas being, as Carey wrote about Dewey, “very influential in his time.”

I’m also unaware of anyone who is serious about education who would call the “progressive education movement” insignificant. Baseless, suboptimal, harmful? Maybe, but those charges are all signs of its significance.

Common sense and a bit of historical/political reality win the day on this issue. It is difficult to avoid both at the same time – jig-like, I assume.

I’ll pay homage to Carey’s alma mater and call this the Susquehanna Two-Step.

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