All Posts Tagged With: "political science"
Q&A with a professor after his outburst
At a recent lecture on democracy at St. Thomas University in Fredericton N.B., Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson asked a room full of journalism and political science students why young people don’t vote. A journalism student raised her hand and said it’s because the political system is complicated and many don’t understand it. Shaun Narine, an associate professor and international relations researcher, blurted out that she should, “Read a book for God’s sake!” Some clapped. Some were angry. Jane Lytvynekno spoke to Narine over the phone from Ottawa.
You told [that student] to “read a book.” Why?
I was as surprised by my outburst as anybody else. I was listening to the student speak and I became increasingly frustrated with the fact that she seemed to be saying that she did not know anything about politics. It wasn’t the arcane facts [she didn't know]. It seemed to be the most basic things like what does it mean to vote? What is Parliament? All those sorts of things. My frustration was very great. I guess I felt that this was the sort of stuff that every responsible citizen should know. … Out of that frustration I ended up doing something which I sincerely regret doing. I apologized to the student. … I sincerely believe academia is a place where we should have rational and reasonable discussion. I don’t believe in heckling people and I don’t believe in embarrassing students and I don’t believe in screaming at people in frustration and in all of those respects I certainly did not live up to my own standards or expectations.
A graduate’s call for policies to discourage studying arts
“Well paid, never laid.” That was the mantra my freshman liberal arts class used to mock freshman engineering students in 2003. A decade later, I suspect the many minimum-wage earning baristas with liberal arts degrees, who live in their parents’ basements, are the ones not getting “laid.”
A 2011 survey of people who graduated from Ontario undergraduate programs in 2009 shows that liberal arts students earn far less income on average. While engineering graduates made an average of $60,383 two years after graduation, social science grads earned $42,593 and humanities grads earned $38,578.
Stirring half-milk mocha lattes and boomeranging back home is where many unfortunate philosophy, history, English and political science students like me ended up. For many of Generation Y’s university graduates, life in the low-wage service industry has led to an extended adolescence, with consequences that cry out for education policy reforms to lead youth toward the available jobs.
Jack Buckby is the younger face of the far right
He’s an unlikely far-right trailblazer: neither old, nor angry, nor square. Jack Buckby, the 20-year-old founder of the National Culturists—a Tea Party-inspired youth movement that aims to reinvigorate Britain’s flagging far right—pairs John Lennon glasses with modish ties and ironic facial hair. He’s well-spoken. He blogs. He’s already a darling of the radical British National Party (BNP), which campaigns on the premise that immigration has put British culture in peril, and has plans to spread the word to campuses nationwide.
His political awakening occurred, he says, after realizing that “if you disagree with multiculturalism, you are deemed a racist.” Frustrated, Buckby came across the work of John Press, founder of the Brooklyn Tea Party. Press argues that “traditional majority culture” should be promoted over diversity, which, he feels, embraces “practices such as female genital mutilation and drug-running gangster culture.” In 2011, Buckby, who is partway through a political science degree at the University of Liverpool, founded the National Culturists. “We don’t have aspirations to be a street movement,” he says. “We want to be an academic organization.”
Calgary prof first made comments to student paper
Former Stephen Harper strategist Tom Flanagan has been widely and swiftly condemned for suggesting that people looking at child pornography shouldn’t be jailed.
Flanagan made the controversial remark during a lecture Wednesday night in southern Alberta. His words were recorded on a cellphone and quickly posted on YouTube.
It didn’t take long for people to start cutting ties.
By noon Thursday, the CBC dumped Flanagan as a panellist on its “Power and Politics” program. The University of Calgary, where he is a political science professor, issued a statement distancing itself from his views.
The university also mentioned he would be retiring, but made clear that decision had been announced prior to this week’s controversy.
He is currently on a research leave, and that will now be extended until his retirement.
In a statement attributed to him on the CBC website, Flanagan was apologetic to anyone he offended. He said he absolutely condemns child sex abuse.
“In an academic setting, I raised a theoretical question about how far criminalization should extend toward the consumption of pornography,” reads the statement posted on the blog of Kady O’Malley, also a panellist on “Power and Politics.”
It’s not really about the censorship
When Stephanie Wolfe banned her students from citing the Onion, “literally a parody,” and Fox News, “a biased news station,” she was not firing any kind of ideological salvo. This West Liberty University Visiting Assistant Professor was probably, like most of her peers, pressed for time and a little nervous about taking over for a full-time Professor. The syllabus contains typos, internet phraseology, and is generally slap-dash as students have come to expect from the necessarily distracted young paupers who now teach many of their undergraduate courses.
Though the school would of course assassinate the poor woman before letting her make a statement, I think it’s safe to assume she didn’t put up much of a defence of her offhand prohibition. She’s sorry, the school’s president is sorry, the syllabus is corrected, and Megyn Kelly got to indulge her passion for poorly concealed sneering. Shouldn’t we all be happy, now?
Anti-tuition argument never made sense to me
Canada and the United States are broadly similar nations mostly separated by public policy. Last year’s tuition debate in Quebec shined a spotlight on not only the difference in education policy between the two countries, but also on the “Two Solitudes” cultural gap between English Canada and Quebec.
As an American studying at McGill University, I have a unique perspective on the tuition debate, which is sure to flare up again next week during a provincial summit on higher education.
The average price of an American college education has continued to rise, with tuition at four-year private universities now averages $29,056. Ancillary fees like room and board add about an extra $10,000. Similar increases have occurred at public universities. In Canada, the average tuition is $5,581 a year. In Quebec it’s $2,168.
That difference may create sticker shock for Canadians, but in the U.S., unlike Canada, most students receive substantial needs-based subsides that reduce the ‘actual’ average tuition at private universities to just under $13,000. A great redistribution of money from richer to poorer students in the U.S. leads to average student debts that are surprisingly comparable in the two countries.
I had the misfortune of encountering the Quebec tuition debate very quickly after the start of my first year. Still acclimating to the new and somewhat colder environment, I read of the controversy in the campus papers. The sticking point was the former Liberal government’s planned increase of $1,625 over five years for an eventual total of over $3,000. Despite the hike being only $325 each year, the proposal stirred passions. A general strike was called and, at its height, protests numbering in the thousands were a near-nightly occurrence, especially after the passage of the highly controversial Law 78, which restricted demonstrations.
As an American used to far more expensive university tuition—even international rates at McGill were substantially lower than those at several of the universities I considered in the States—the anti-hike argument did not speak to me on either an individual or ideological level.
Writer Roy MacGregor on his days at Laurentian U.
The 2013 Maclean’s University Rankings asked some of Canada’s most successful writers, politicians and scientists what they wish they’d known in university. Their answers are perfect additions to our First Year Survivor blog. Here, writer Roy MacGregor shares his antics and wisdom.
I attended Laurentian University in Sudbury, leaving a four-year honours program in political science after three years with a general B.A. I chose Laurentian because it would take me—a six-year high-school grad with a 66 per cent average. Also, a friend was going and he had a car. I honestly never expected to last beyond Christmas, let alone end up with a degree—failing Grade 12 with 33 per cent doesn’t instill a lot of confidence—but I can honestly say I found university far easier than high school. Soon enough I was in love with both Laurentian and the city of Sudbury. The North of this country is indeed magical, but the near North has its own magic as well.
It was 1967, a time of huge student unrest. In the U.S. they were marching against the Vietnam War. We held a massive student protest march in Sudbury. There were riot police out but we showed stunning solidarity, walking around the streets near city hall chanting “WE WANT A PUB! WE WANT A PUB!” as if it were the most important thing in the world. The ’60s didn’t reach Laurentian until the ’70s. But we loved our time there. Classes were small. The residences were like family. Professors were approachable.
3M Teaching Fellow creates equality in the classroom
The McMaster University political scientist insists that even undergrads are valuable contributors to the university’s production of knowledge. It’s a view that’s (unsurprisingly) popular with his students, who nominated him for the 3M National Teaching Fellowship that he won earlier this year.
Students can sense Beier’s penchant for equality at the start of his second-year global politics class. Instead of opening his course with a discussion of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia (widely considered the birth of the modern state) he begins with the Iroquoian Great Law of Peace.
Program aimed at creating public servants
The University of Windsor has created a new bilingual program, which will start next fall. The school is adding a bachelor’s degree in political science that will be available in English and French, with a total of 14 French-language courses and an option to take some third-year courses in French at the University of Ottawa. Cheryl Collier, a political science instructor at Windsor, told CBC News that the program will help students who want to work in public service, adding: “without the French language skill set, you can only go so far in the bureaucracy.”
The French language has a long history in the Windsor area, but few locals speak it today. According to Statistics Canada, only four per cent of residents in the Windsor CMA claim French or French and English as their mother tongues; 24 per cent learned a non-official language first.
Students turn to their laptops for free online courses from Ivy League scholars
Last year, I was obliged to take a course as part of my undergraduate political science degree. It was described as political game theory. I was thinking, “Like Russell Crowe doing John Nash in A Beautiful Mind?” But instead I got Victorian Britain and pre-Confederation Canada. As disappointments go, this was roughly equivalent to receiving coal for Christmas. But I needed to make it through the course, so I did what many others have done: I turned to the Internet. There, on a site called Academic Earth, I learned everything I was later tested on from Benjamin Polak, a professor of economics teaching at Yale, whose full course on game theory was videotaped and posted online, complete with worksheets and exams.
I used only Polak’s material for all my assignments and exams. And so I wondered: why was I paying for this class when I got a better education online and for free?
Sites like Academic Earth, Open Culture and iTunes U have immortalized lectures and debates of top academics from Yale, MIT and Harvard in the form of free, downloadable videos and podcasts, easily available on a laptop or iPhone. It’s instant Ivy League for the masses. “It may be a better resource for some students than a textbook,” says Polak, adding that he receives emails responding to his online course from all over the world.
Polak didn’t intend his course to be a substitution for real-life instruction at other universities. But students of general undergraduate courses like Poli 101 can and do turn to online resources like Academic Earth and even Wikipedia to learn much of their classwork. Classmate Geoff Costeloe studied solely for his upper-level political science exam this way. “I didn’t even buy a textbook,” he says.
It’s not just the proliferation of online information that encourages students to abandon their professors—it’s the structure of the classroom. “Clearly, to be effective you need face-to-face interaction and a more intimate environment than lecture halls with 300 to 400 students,” says David Robinson, associate executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers. Robinson says that while university enrolments continue to rise, there isn’t the same increase in the number of professors, which means “we do need to look at the quality of education.”
In the United States, there are similar cracks in the instructional facade. Universities “have an obligation to get their heads out of the sand,” says Julio Ojeda-Zapata, technology journalist for Pioneer Press, publisher of a raft of suburban newspapers in Chicago. He believes academia should adopt an entrepreneurial spirit to equip students with tools that prepare them for the business world. “College campuses are clinging to an archaic method that is being discouraged everywhere else,” he says. “I’m a little concerned about sending my son to an expensive four-year education that may be of little value.”
Some educators are calling for a radical change. Since 2006, Carl Wieman, a Nobel physics laureate, has been working at UBC to reshape science education. Wieman has oriented teaching methods away from memorizing facts—a method that Wieman says was made “obsolete since the printing press”—and toward complex, problem-solving exercises with an expert approach, facilitated by the faculty. “Now, you look in the classes,” he says, “and instead of students sitting there text messaging, falling asleep or not showing up to class, they are engaged.”
Similarly, William Rankin, an associate professor of English at Abilene Christian University, has been a primary mover behind equipping students at the Texas university with iPod Touches and iPhones. The program began in 2008, and now nearly half the student body have the devices. Rankin says teachers, too, are better off for it. The faculty uses the devices to overcome time delays between tests and feedback, get immediate class input, and participate in ongoing online discussions via blogs. “The medieval apprentice model in which people learned in these very personalized ways is exactly the type of learning we can see in this initiative,” says Rankin. “I do think that in the next two or three years you will see a groundswell of these sorts of initiatives.”
So what role is left for the teacher? To be effective, Wieman says, they must be “cognitive coaches” rather than conduits of information. Rankin believes that the change in pedagogy will happen soon. “It’s comparable to the introduction of a light switch,” he adds. “It’s just going to take a while for people to figure out what this looks like and how it works.”
The trials of choosing a major
From what I want to study to what kind of world I idealize, there is no doubt that my first four months of independence have changed me, and the distance with which I now view those experiences, having just returned home for the holidays, affords me new and revealing perspective on my first semester of university.
Firstly, an academic dilemma has fostered just as much self-examination as my social conundrum. I came to school with the intention of majoring in international relations; my very decision to come to Trinity was based partly on their unmatched IR program. I’ve always been interested in and passionate about issues of international scope. It has always struck me that perhaps the most important issues facing humanity require solutions to be implemented at the international level. Thus, studying international relations seemed like a good idea.
The study of international relations at U of T is divided among the Departments of History, Political Science, and Economics. Cool, I thought, I like the sound of all of those. Four out of my six first year courses were dictated by my choice to major in international relations. I like one of them. The others — introductory economics and two political science courses — well . . . appropriate euphemisms escape me. I do enjoy my history of international relations course, but I’ve come to some realizations regarding the other disciplines that I wish I had understood earlier.
Political science, for instance, is not at all scientific. As far as I can tell with my obviously sparse understanding of the discipline, political science vainly attempts to squash the unsquashable nuances of political society into narrow, inflexible definitions and theories, necessarily omitting certain aspects of reality in order to achieve artificial coherency. The competing theories of realism and liberalism stand in irreconcilable opposition, each making their respective claims about human nature and the behavior of states, neither willing to compromise its convictions in the face of opposing evidence. Studying the world from such a normative perspective seems dangerous to me. History, with its focus on empirical evidence and its reluctance to make predictions or to create sweeping theories on the basis of its discoveries, seems a better way to understand why the world is the way it is.
Economics also shares this focus on empirical data, but unfortunately, it’s just boring. Again, my views are undoubtedly limited by my continued naivete and perhaps a bit of wishful thinking, but I suspect that for my purposes, I could achieve a sufficient understanding of economic activity without learning how to manipulate graphs of short- and long-run equilibrium. Maybe I’m wrong. Either way, I hate economics, and any discipline that takes as its starting point the assumption that human beings are always rational arouses serious suspicion in me.
Which brings to me a side point: it’s very easy to “learn” just enough to pass an exam — indeed, to get an entire degree — without actually learning anything. My economics course is a perfect illustration. The material is dry and the professor drier, so I don’t do the readings, don’t go to class, cram for two days before the exam, memorizing only that which I know I’m going to be tested on and nothing else, and I always manage to pull off a solid mark. Not a great mark, but enough to pass the course and go on to take more economics courses if I wanted to.
Just because it’s easy doesn’t mean that it’s the one for you
Are you looking through all the course listings and feeling completely lost? Korean 101, Ethics 105, Anthropology 201. With all of the options available, it’s easy to find yourself with a serious case of D.E.S.S. — Dysfunctional Elective Selection Syndrome.
Knowing your priorities is the most important aspect of picking electives. An elective has to make it through my personal screening system in order to make the cut. Grades. Interest. Time.
Last week I enrolled for my next semester at Waterloo. I had to choose three electives. Thanks to G.I.T., I have a filter to help me make selections that are a perfect fit.
My first stage of screening: Grades. Will this course help me get a good mark? For me, this is one of the most important criterion for an elective to have. Yes, I admit it. I choose electives for their GPA-boosting abilities. Something to offset organic chem when it inevitably suffocates me.
So if I find History and Film while trolling for an elective, and find out from birdcourses.com or ratemyprofessors.com that a 90 percent is easily achievable, it goes straight to the top of my list. But it still has two more stages to get through.
Stage two: Interest. Will I find the course interesting and engaging? When I started first year, I underestimated how critical this could be. Four months of lectures about Socrates, Plato and early political movements left me knowing I did not want to take any more political science courses. Ever.
I finally get why it’s important to find the subject matter interesting. My anthropology elective last year was unexpectedly fabulous. I discovered, thanks to a professor who was also an engaging lecturer, that mitochondrial DNA and 10,000 year old neanderthal skeletons are really interesting. In a cool but kinda icky way.
I now know that taking an anthropology course with this professor guarantees me a course that I’ll enjoy. And that really helps you to do better in a course. You can’t help but absorb and retain everything the textbook and professor says.
Pros of History and Film: All I have to do is watch boring old history films.
Cons of History and Film: All I have to do is watch boring old history films.
It won’t matter if a course is being touted as an easy grade if it becomes your post-cram nap hour.
Stage three: Time. The time you have to put into a course. If an elective, for all it’s GPA boosting power, is going to require more time that your core courses, then something is seriously wrong. I’ll get my fill of 24-hours-a-day-studying from my core courses. You don’t want to end up swamped under a course that just doesn’t mesh in the work input/grade output machine. I’m more than willing to put in the work. If I’ll get the mark to show for it.
If I take History and Film, I watch old history movies once a week for three hours.
What’s great about electives is that you have the complete freedom to pick what you study. But you’re also responsible if you end up in a course that you absolutely hate. Knowing what you want from an elective makes choosing one a lot easier. And helps to cut down on course drops later due to complete course loathing. Don’t enroll in Creative Writing if you don’t like writing essays. Period.
So if I take History and Film, I’ll probably get a good mark. If I can stand watching old war movies once a week for three very long hours.
Then again, maybe some things just aren’t worth it.
If high school had the same pace, you’d finish grade 12 in two weeks
My secret fear before I went to university was that I wouldn’t make the cut. That I wouldn’t be able to handle the academic overload of university. I knew first year wouldn’t be like the average high-school grade transition, where the material is a little more difficult, but doable. University is a total revamp of what you’re used to in high school.
The rules change.
Everything you learned in high school physics, biology ― everything ― is condensed into a perfect little packet of 12 weeks. Like astronaut food.
If high school had the pace of university, where you have five courses instead of four, not to mention some labs and tutorials, you’d finish grade 12 in about two weeks. I can’t believe I didn’t have perfect 100′s in all my courses. What was I doing with all that time?
I felt a little out of control during my first semester of university, that at any moment my fine balance of keeping up with the readings and completing assignments could crumple.
Then it happened. I fell behind.
My worst fear had been realized. I wasn’t keeping up. And it made me feel stupid. It seemed impossible that I would ever be able to juggle everything. How could I possibly be able to read four chapters of my chemistry and biology textbooks, while simultaneously completing my physics assignment and political science essay, all due next class?
Then I realized my problem. University isn’t 10 times harder than high school. It’s 10 times faster. It’s the pace that’s a killer in university.
I wasn’t being stupid. I was being inefficient. I needed a plan.
Using study habits from high school to prepare for tests and quizzes wasn’t working. Even how I approached the readings was all wrong.
I learned how to prioritize, university style. I started the readings right away, instead of procrastinating about it. I learned how to really focus. In high school, you can often get away with studying at the last minute and still pull off a pretty good mark. It doesn’t work that way in university. It’s not always how smart you are in university that determines your marks, it’s how disciplined you are.
My second semester was much better. You really do adapt to the pace and learn how to get so much more done than you ever did with that sloth pace back in high school.
Now the pace of university doesn’t scare me. I prefer it.
- photo courtesy of michellekopczyk