Monday, March 02, 2015

Which part of "copying homework assignments is wrong" don't you understand?

Are the following true?
— Copying homework assignments is wrong.
Cursing in school is inappropriate behavior.
— All men are created equal.
You are perhaps thinking, "of course these are true.  Is there a catch?"

Don't overthink this.  Are those three statements true?

I think they are true. I believe them to be true.

What if I were told that those are merely my opinions?  I will get pissed off.  Don't tell me that copying homework is ok.  And, dammit, to curse in school is one f*ing bad behavior!  Ok, I will grant you this much--the third sentence suggests gender issues, which we can then modify to "all humans are created equal."

Happy now?

Don't be.
In each case, the worksheets categorize these claims as opinions. The explanation on offer is that each of these claims is a value claim and value claims are not facts. This is repeated ad nauseum: any claim with good, right, wrong, etc. is not a fact.
In summary, our public schools teach students that all claims are either facts or opinions and that all value and moral claims fall into the latter camp. The punchline: there are no moral facts. And if there are no moral facts, then there are no moral truths.
Yes, join me in yelling out "WTF!"

All that was from this NY Times piece, in which the author--a philosophy professor--writes:
When I went to visit my son’s second grade open house, I found a troubling pair of signs hanging over the bulletin board. They read:
Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.
Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.
Finally, it all makes sense.  Now I am beginning to understand why some students over the years have responded with "well, that's your opinion."  Some of these students think that there are no absolutes and everything is relative and everything is merely a personal opinion.  And that's even before they get indoctrinated into the postmodernism/post-structuralism bullshit, right Professor Camille Paglia?
Post-structuralism is a system of literary and social analysis that flared up and vanished in France in the 1960s but that became anachronistically entrenched in British and American academe from the 1970s on. Based on the outmoded linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure and promoted by the idolized Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, and Michel Foucault, it absurdly asserts that we experience or process reality only through language and that, because language is inherently unstable, nothing can be known. By undermining meaning, history and personal will, post-structuralism has done incalculable damage to education and contemporary thought. It is a laborious, circuitously self-referential gimmick that always ends up with the same monotonous result. ... Post-structuralism has destroyed two generations of graduate students, who were forced to mouth its ugly jargon and empty platitudes for their foolish faculty elders. And the end result is that humanities departments everywhere, having abandoned their proper mission of defending and celebrating art, have become humiliatingly marginalized in both reputation and impact.
Because, that's what the K-12 system tells them?  Back to the philosopher:
 If it’s not true that it’s wrong to murder a cartoonist with whom one disagrees, then how can we be outraged? If there are no truths about what is good or valuable or right, how can we prosecute people for crimes against humanity? If it’s not true that all humans are created equal, then why vote for any political system that doesn’t benefit you over others?
 Facts are things that are true. Opinions are things we believe. Some of our beliefs are true. Others are not. Some of our beliefs are backed by evidence. Others are not. Value claims are like any other claims: either true or false, evidenced or not. The hard work lies not in recognizing that at least some moral claims are true but in carefully thinking through our evidence for which of the many competing moral claims is correct. That’s a hard thing to do. But we can’t sidestep the responsibilities that come with being human just because it’s hard.
That would be wrong.
In my opinion, that is so true!  


Anne in Salem said...

Fact: You think too much.

Sriram Khé said...

Truth: I think too much ;)

Ramesh said...

Oh ; I went off on a different tangent when I read your fist three lines. I thought you would disagree with All men are created equal, because you have been arguing repeatedly that the accident of birth determines your future and you could be fortunate or unfortunate depending on where and to whom you are born.

I see the issue you have posed. I would agree with you, but I am also uncomfortable that moral "truths" are also a function of time, of your value systems, etc etc. But I agree that we must seek evidence for every version of the "truth".

Sriram Khé said...

Ramesh, I am beginning to think that the road trip that has taken you far,far away from home has affected your thinking ... which is why you are agreeing with me more and more ... which means, it is staying at Bangalore for long that is the real problem ;)

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