Syllabi and Diversity

Luvell Anderson and Verena Erlenbusch have a really useful article, “Modeling Inclusive Pedagogy: Five Approaches,” appearing in the Journal of Social Philosophy. In it, they canvass five conceptually distinct approaches to making syllabi, and thereby course content, more diverse. Their taxonomy of approaches clarifies the advantages and disadvantages of each, but also illuminates the metaphilosophical aspects of diversifying courses. E.g., are diverse practitioners principally being employed as critics of the standard fare and approaches? Is the conceptual architecture itself reflective of diverse philosophical concerns or are diverse voices being brought to bear on a traditional core set of questions?

The essay as a whole does much to clarify what sorts of embedded assumptions or concerns can render diversifying a syllabus challenging. Anderson and Erlenbusch don’t provide any quick or easy resolution to these challenges, but that’s sort of the point. This is one of those cases where simply mapping out the landscape of possibilities and naming the rough terrain in each helps a lot. Do check it out!

On Why Cross-Cultural Conversations are Difficult for Philosophers

This paper, “The History That We Are: Philosophy as Discipline and the Multiculturalism Debate,” from Don Howard has been published for some time, but it was only recently put up on — I thought it would be of interest to many of our readers. Here’s an excerpt from the introduction:

African and Native American thought may have something in common with Greek and Egyptian mythology, with the creation stories like those found in the Gilgamesh or the Book of Genesis. But as we were all taught in our own introductory courses, and as we all now teach our beginning students, philosophy is different in kind from poetry and myth. Born in the Greek settlements of Ionia in the sixth century B.C., philosophy seeks to understand nature, both human and nonhuman, not in terms of the actions of the gods and the giants, but in terms of abstract metaphysical principles . . . and abstract moral principles, like justice and the form of the good. Moreover, philosophy is unlike religion in the antidogmatic, critical posture that Socrates taught us to adopt with respect to all received opinion. And, perhaps most importantly, the philosopher’s characteristic concern with the critical distinction between true knowledge and mere opinion is not to be found in “traditional” or “primitive” systems of thought. Neither poet, nor sophist, nor carping moralist, the philosopher is a lover of wisdom. There may have been a Hesiod among the Tlingit or a Homer among the Hausa, but there has been no African Aristotle and no Plato of the Pueblo, just as there has also been no Zulu Shakespeare, as Saul Bellow is reported to have said.

“African philosophy.”— Not all such appositions strike us as being quite so oxymoronic. For while I speak here—need it be said?—the language of prejudice and stereotype, it is not simply a white, Western prejudice, which would be too easy a target. We do not stumble at the thought of there being an “Indian philosophy” (in the sense of the Indian subcontinent); nor does the expression “Jewish philosophy” give us much pause. The more generous souls among us will permit, as well, the expression, “Chinese philosophy,” though the more anthropological term “Chinese thought” is clearly preferable; and in some quarters one may even be allowed to speak of “Arabic philosophy,” especially if one agrees to confine one’s attention to long and safely dead thinkers like Ibn-Sina and Ibn-Rushd.

Why is this so? Why do the authors of the Vedanta, domesticated by Schopenhauer and Deussen, already have a reservation at the philosophers’ Stammtisch? Why do we so easily imagine ourselves in the heaven for which Socrates yearns in the Phaedo, conversing with Maimonides … as easily as we might converse with Descartes about the soul or with Kant about the categories, whereas it has long been much harder to imagine a properly philosophical conversation with Chuang-tzu about Tao (even before the Tao-te-ching became the New Age bible), much less a conversation with a Navajo hataali about hozro and “walking in beauty”?

That this is so should give us pause when we pretend, as philosophers, to engage in cross-cultural conversations. For the measure of our aversion to expressions like “Native American philosophy” is the measure of our inability, as philosophers, to engage in such conversations, the point being that the felt sense of aversion reflects our having defined ourselves, as philosophers, in such a way as to beg many of the most important questions that should be at issue in those conversations, leaving us, as philosophers, no stance but that of condescension toward those cultures that have failed to evolve a properly philosophical culture.

From another point of view, what is going on here is that cultural boundaries have been inscribed as disciplinary boundaries. Looking out from within a department of philosophy, it is impossible for me, as a philosopher, to talk with the Ibo about their creation stories. That is a job for the anthropologist or the student of comparative religion. We can have a properly philosophical conversation only if we first persuade ourselves, as we succeed in doing in the case of the Vedanta in India, that the culture in question incorporates a genuinely philosophical tradition. But we may well be suspicious—surely it is a clue of sorts—when we find, for example, Louis Renou writing in the Encyclopædia Britannica: “The Vedic religion was brought to India by the Aryan invaders when they invaded the upper Indus basin sometime around 1500 B.C.”

On reasons for diversifying the profession

In response to Eugene Sun Park’s article on why he left philosophy, Brian Leiter writes:

“What I still do not believe is that we should add Asian philosophers, or African-American philosophers, to the curriculum in order to “encourage” (on some misguided theory) minorities to enroll in philosophy courses.”

I agree. We certainly should not add anyone to the curriculum on the basis of a misguided theory. But knowing all that we know about stereotype and implicit bias, we have very well-supported theories in favour of adding demographic diversity to our syllabi. Knowledge of these theories tells us that our selections for syllabi are very likely influenced by implicit biases which it make it more likely that we will select white men. It also tells us that demographically diversifying our syllabi is no mere marketing ploy, but rather something which is likely to have real effects on the attitudes not just of students from underrepresented groups, but also on those of other students.* Those who are making such suggestions are not acting as “identity politics police”, as Leiter would have it. We are carefully examining the evidence, and working to improve our profession. Eugene Park’s testimony is a further piece of evidence (albeit anecdotal) that these suggestions are on the right track.

*For a summary of some of this, see my “Implicit Bias, Stereotype Threat and Women in Philosophy”, downloadable at the lower right, here.

Turkey objects to gay and christian foster parents abroad

Nederland-TurkijeA diplomatic row between the Netherlands and Turkey looms over who the Turkish government deem fit in the Netherlands to be foster parents to children with Turkish origin. Turkey has started an investigation into the nature of the foster families that currently foster children of Turkish origin in the Netherlands under Dutch law. This was triggered by a mother appealing on television (in Turkey, I think) to get her 9 year old son back, who has been in foster care since he was a few months old. The foster parents are a lesbian couple, who now have had to go into hiding because of all the media attention.

According to various news sites, the Turkish government objects to foster parents being gay or christian or otherwise not upholding Turkish values, and they wish for the Dutch government to see to the issue. The Dutch government is not amused.

The Dutch government has the authority to relieve parents of the care of their children and place them in foster care, which is what happened in the case of this little boy. This is not a measure that is taken lightly. When the necessity to remove a child from its parents arises, the authorities first see if there are relatives who can take care of the child. If they are not available, the preference is to place the child in a foster family, of which there is quite a dearth. If no suitable family can be found, a child will be placed in a home, but it is generally believed that it is better to place a child in a family.

It is going to be a bit tough to find sufficient “suitable” families for foster care that suit the whole world, I suppose.

By all means, let us focus on the best interest of the children involved, shalll we?

Development in women’s position in Afghanistan

There’s a pretty horrendous story come out about a child bride, Sahar Gul (aged 15), in Afghanistan being tortured by her new in-laws in order to get her to become a prostitute. You can find the article here, but note there are some very unpleasant pics and scenes described.

The reason this is noteworthy is that this story occurred in an Afghan paper and Afghan people were apparently outraged.

From the article:

The case highlights both the problems and the progress of women 10 years after the Taliban’s fall. Gul’s egregious wounds and underage wedlock are a reminder that girls and women still suffer shocking abuse. But the public outrage and the government’s response to it also show that the country is slowly changing.

And though things are improving a bit,

Still, for every improvement, there are other signs of women’s continued misery. The U.N. says more than half of Afghanistan’s female prison population is made up of women sentenced by local courts for fleeing their marriages — the charge is often phrased as “intent to commit adultery,” even though that’s not a crime under Afghan law. And the U.N. women’s agency UNIFEM estimates that half of all girls are forced to marry under age 15, even though the legal marriage age is 16.

I do think it is sort of hopeful that the outing of this story caused an outrage in Afghanistan. I hope Sahar is going to be ok, despite this extremely traumatic experience, and I hope that because of her, a lot of other kids are going to be more ok than they would have been otherwise.

Thanks @AllenStairs for sharing

French businessman to pay all burqa fines

A French businessman has set up a fund to pay fines for women who wear Islamic veils or the burqa in public “in whatever country in the world that bans women from doing so”.

Rachid Nekkaz, 38, a real-estate businessman based in Paris, travelled to Belgium on Wednesday to pay 100 euros for two women fined in the first case in the country since the law was adopted there.

“I’m in favour of a law to convict a husband who forces a women to wear the niqab and who forces her to stay at home. But I’m also for a law that lets these women move freely in the streets, because freedom of movement, just like any freedom, is the most fundamental thing in a democracy, ” Nekkaz told reporters outside the courtroom in Belgium.

The same day, he paid a 75 euro fine for a woman in the north-eastern French town of Roubaix.

“I am calling for civil disobedience,” he told FRANCE 24. “I am telling women to not be afraid to go out wearing their veils. And by paying the fines, I am neutering the law, rendering it inefficient and pointless, showing that it doesn’t work. It is a humiliation for the politicians.”

Despite this initiative, Nekkaz disapproves of the veil. “How can a woman truly integrate or find a job if her face is hidden?” he asked…

“It is unacceptable that they are victimising innocent women who are going about their daily lives. They are not targeting the real criminals, the men who do not even let their wives leave the house.”

For more, go here.

David Mitchell on Burkas (and tattoos)

If Al Franken can become a senator, can’t David Mitchell become PM? Pleeeaase??

Governments and legislatures shouldn’t tell people what they can and can’t wear. By doing so, they would, in every sense, be taking a massive liberty. As long as people aren’t wearing crotchless jeans outside primary schools or deely boppers with attached sparklers on petrol station forecourts, we’ve all got the right to wear exactly what the hell we like and I can barely believe that we’re having this debate…

None of this means I think there’s anything good about wearing a burqa. I think it’s daft. I think any belief system that concludes that half the population should go around constantly covered from head to toe in black cloth, whether out of modesty, humility, tradition or stealth, has a massive flaw in it.

And, while I’m at it, I think that it’s ridiculous to believe in transubstantiation, that considering the Bible to be the literal word of God reduces that supposedly omnipotent being to a muddle-headed maniac and that the Hindu caste system and Roman Catholic rules against contraception could have been invented by Satan. There! Now no one will be able to guess who’s killed me….

There’s altogether too much harping on respect and banning these days. If you can’t respect something, you should ban it. If it’s not banned, you should respect it. Bullshit. There is a huge gulf of toleration between respect and banning. In a free society, people should be allowed to do what they want wherever possible. The loss of liberty incurred by any alternative principle is too high a price to pay to stop people making dicks of themselves. But, if people are using their freedoms to make dicks of themselves, other people should be able to say so.

Full article here.

UPDATE: you can support David Mitchell for PM here.

A puzzling analogy between honour killings and filmstars

According to Liz Jones of the UK Daily Mail, the stardom of Emma Watson is just as shameful to “our” society as honour killings are to the societies where those happen. Read the article here.

She draws a comparison between the victims of honour killings, like the poor Turkish girl Medine Medi, who was buried alive by her father and grandfather for having been talking to boys, and women in the “West” who suffer from the obsession with youth:

But can we in the West really claim the moral high ground when it comes to condemning these ‘honour’ killings’?

I would counter that the number of women harmed psychologically and physically by the West’s obsession with extreme youth far outstrips the number of women who are murdered for adultery, or even for the ‘crime’ of being the victim of rape in Islamic countries.

Apart from the fact that, given the choice, poor Medine would probably have preferred to be in Emma’s shoes, there are some things that grate me in this article.

I get the impression that Liz jones rather reduces Emma Watson to being a mere object with the property of “extreme youth” (I would think a new born baby is extremely young, but since being newly born happens to everyone, you can hardly call it extreme, I guess?) rather than the smart and self-determined young woman she appears to me to be. Kudos to Emma, really.

And I agree that it is likely that women in “the West” suffering physically or psychologically from the obsession with youth (which I think is there) outnumber the victims of honour killings (ergo, the ones that actually ended up dead), but the comparison is skewed.

I think it is highly likely that a lot of women in societies where honour killings take place suffer psychologically from anxiety and from their lack of freedom due to the threat of getting killed if they are believed to have consorted with guys. Also, the situations where the woman doesn’t end up dead, but just physically assaulted due to such suspicion should be taken into account if you are going to make a comparison of the suffering, if such a comparison is possible at all.

Honour killings should be stopped, there is no doubt in my mind about that. And I would really like it a lot better if there wasn’t such an obsession with youth in the world (not just “the West”, by the way, whatever “the West” may be, but that’s another matter), but I cannot possibly put an appreciation for young stars like Emma Watson on a par with burying your daughter alive for shaming the family’s honour.

(Thanks to @AllenStairs for bringing the article to my attention)

Pankaj Mishra on Islamophobia

Pankaj Mishra has a fantastic article out in last weekend’s Guardian Review.  He takes on a shocking range of well-received books that seem designed to stoke fears of the scary Muslims taking over the world, or at least Europe.  So far, so depressing.  But reading the article, I discovered how many of my own beliefs about both Islam and Europe were false, and played into the stereotypes feeding the fears– despite my being a well-educated leftist who takes herself to keep up with things pretty well, and certainly not to uncritically accept right-wing myths.

For example:

I believed that the Muslim birthrate in Europe was rising.  I thought people were wrong to think this was scary, but I did think it was true.  It’s not.  The Muslim birthrate is falling.

I believed that French Muslims were very religiously observant.  Again, I wasn’t frightened by it, but I though it was true.  Only 5% of Muslims in France regularly attend mosque.

I believed that Europe had a history of tolerance.  Not sure how I managed that one, given that:

as the historian Tony Judt has pointed out, the modern idea of Europe – the presumed embodiment of democracy, human rights, gender equality and many other good things – conveniently suppresses collective memories of brutal crimes in which almost all European states were complicit.

Genocide during the second world war followed by ethnic cleansing were what finally resolved Europe’s longstanding minority “problem”, blasting flat, Judt writes, “the demographic heath upon which the foundations of a new and less complicated continent were then laid”. In Europe’s largest migrations of refugees, some 13 million ethnic Germans fled Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania after the war. The eviction of other ethnic groups (Poles, Czechs, Slovaks) brought many countries closer to fulfilling the Versailles ideal of national homogeneity.

I urge you to read this excellent article. (Thanks, Mr Jender!)