Looking Back with Epperson, Fifty Years Later | NCSE

This past July (2018), I had the pleasure of hosting NCSE Teacher Ambassadors at Georgia Southern for a two-day workshop. During our time together, we shared and explored content and best practices for teaching, covering everything from recent fossil discoveries to how to deal with conflict in the classroom. Early on, Stephanie Keep gave us a quick run-down on the history of evolution education in the United States, including the legal cases that set precedent for science teaching.

One slide featured a black-and-white photograph of a woman I had seen before, but many of our teachers had not. The picture was of Susan Epperson, classroom teacher and advocate. Keep told the assembled teachers to remember that this was all recent history. So recent, she said, that the lead plaintiff in the Supreme Court case Epperson v. Arkansas, which overturned a ban on evolution and set precedent for the unconstitutionality of similar laws, is still actively supporting science education today.


What is a black professor in America allowed to say? | World news | The Guardian

One Thursday morning in May, Tommy J Curry walked through the offices of the philosophy department at Texas A&M University with a police officer at his side and violence on his mind. The threats had started a few days earlier. “Since you said white people need to be killed I’m in fear of my life,” one person had written via email. “The next time I see you on campus I might just have to pre-emptively defend myself you dumb fat nigger. You are done.” Curry didn’t know if that person was lurking on the university grounds. But Texas is a gun-friendly state, and Texas A&M is a gun-friendly campus, and he took the threat seriously.

Curry supports the right to bear arms. It was part of how he ended up in this situation. In 2012 he had appeared on a satellite radio show and delivered a five-minute talk on how uneasy white people are with the idea of black people talking about owning guns and using them to combat racist forces. When a recording of the talk resurfaced in May, people thought the tenured professor was telling black people to kill white people. This idea swept through conservative media and into the fever swamps of Reddit forums and racist message boards. The threats followed.

Anonymous bigots weren’t the only ones making Curry feel unwanted. Michael K Young, the president of Texas A&M, had called the professor’s comments “disturbing” and contrary to the values of the university. Curry was taken aback. His remarks on the radio were not a regrettable slip of the tongue. They were part of why the university had hired him.



The Great Shame of Our Profession, by Kevin Birmingham

[...] All of this is to say that the profession of literary criticism depends upon exploitation. Even this formulation is too soothingly vague, so let us be more direct: If you are a tenured (or tenure-track) faculty member teaching in a humanities department with Ph.D. candidates, you are both the instrument and the direct beneficiary of exploitation. Your roles as teacher, adviser, and committee member generate, cultivate, and exploit young people’s devotion to literature. This is the great shame of our profession. We tell our students to study literature because it will make them better human beings, that in our classrooms they will learn empathy and wisdom, thoughtfulness and understanding. And yet the institutions supporting literary criticism are callous and morally incoherent.


Teaching — It’s about Inspiration, Not Information

Teaching is really about inspiration, not information. Effective teaching focuses on why and how, not what. The goal should be to spark each student’s imagination, to find a hook in their heart and mind so that they feel a need to learn the material. The rest is easy, because the student then drives his or her learning. My role as a teacher is to ask provocative questions, and to help the students make a path toward the answers. If they are motivated to find the path, they will carve it themselves. If I have to pull out a mental machete to expose the path, then I haven’t done my job.

The New Intellectuals

One night this spring, the New York Institute for the Humanities hosted a gathering to discuss, as the title of the event put it, "new public intellectuals." At the front of a crowded room, seated at a rectangular table, were three paragons of this ascendant breed — Nikil Saval, co-editor of n+1; Sarah Leonard, a senior editor at The Nation; and Jon Baskin, co-editor of The Point. All are under 40, not pursuing careers in academe, and integral to what the event’s organizers hailed as a "renaissance in cultural journalism."

It is a notably upbeat claim, especially when compared with the hand-wringing that typically accompanies talk of public intellectuals in America, who seem always to be in the act of vanishing. The few who remain pale in comparison to the near-mythic minds that roamed the streets of New York in the 1930s and 1940s, when rents were cheap, polemics were harsh, and politics were radical. Or so goes the conventional wisdom. What happened? Intellectuals who couldn’t survive as freelance writers — and as New York gentrified, who could? — became professors. By the 1960s, few nonacademic intellectuals remained. Careerism and specialization gradually opened up a gulf between intellectuals and the public. The sturdy prose of Edmund Wilson and Irving Howe gave way, by the mid-90s, to the knotted gender theorizing of Judith Butler and the cult-studies musings of Andrew Ross.

Student journalists are under threat.

Well, here’s some great news to cheer you up: The American student press is under siege! Apparently, we’ve been too busy blowing gaskets over professor watch lists and “safe spaces” to recognize the actual biggest threat to free speech on college campuses today. According to a new report by the American Association of University Professors, in conjunction with three other nonpartisan free-speech advocacy organizations, a disquieting trend of administrative censorship of student-run media has been spreading quietly across the country—quietly, of course, because according to the report, those censorship efforts have so far been successful.

The report finds that recent headlines out of Mount St. Mary’s University, for example, may be “just the tip of a much larger iceberg.” Indeed, “it has become disturbingly routine for student journalists and their advisers to experience overt hostility that threatens their ability to inform the campus community and, in some instances, imperils their careers or the survival of their publications.” The report chronicles more than 20 previously unreported cases of media advisers “suffering some degree of administrative pressure to control, edit, or censor student journalistic content.” Furthermore, this pressure came “from every segment of higher education and from every institutional type: public and private, four-year and two-year, religious and secular.”