Blogs > Liberty and Power > Malkin and Singleton: Right/Left Tag Team for "Maoist" Style Thought Reform?

Apr 27, 2006 12:44 am

Malkin and Singleton: Right/Left Tag Team for "Maoist" Style Thought Reform?

As I noted earlier, Michelle Malkin and other outraged conservatives successfully pressured Bellevue Community College in Seattle, Washington to upbraid an idiotic instructor who had asked the following math question:"Condoleezza holds a watermelon just over the edge of the roof of the 300-foot Federal Building, and tosses it up with a velocity of 20 feet per second."

Their victory proved hollow, however, because administrators cleverly seized on the incident to expand their turf through a PC agenda. One of the lessons I took from this badly misfired crusade is the need for conservatives to avoid the easy temptation of gotcha games.

Well, it may be worse than I thought. In response to Malkin’s campaign, Bellevue College not only has given the diversity police more monitoring authority over the curriculum and personnel evaluations, but will hire the notorious Glenn Singleton to conduct ideologically one-sided training for faculty and staff. Apparently, it will be mandatory. For more on Singleton, see here and here.

A self-described “diversity expert,” Singleton is an accomplished race baiter who is often able to persuade colleges and schools to pay him hefty fees for his services. Critics on both the left and right have condemned his “Maoist” style"training" methods.

For example, Harry Brighouse, a philosophy professor at the University of Wisconsin and blogger at Crooked Timber, had the following to say after a school district in Madison implemented Singleton’s Courageous Conversations training program:

…every employee (except the many who took sick days) had to participate…. It’s a kind of involuntary therapy session—the kind of thing that my friends who used to be in obscure Maoist organizations report having gone through regularly. The pretext is a concern with minority underachievement, which the District regards as being caused by institutional racism, on which the day’s conversation focused. You might expect that a focus on institutional racism would look at the racism in the criminal justice system and the labor market, which deeply affect the prospects of minority males and, presumably, therefore indirectly effect their aspirations and marriageability (with predictable consequences for family structure). But: no mention of these things. It is all about the racism inherent in the schools, and particularly in the attitudes of teachers.

Then again, it is possible that I’m being too hard on Malkin. We all make mistakes. I’ll gladly eat crow if she now tries just as vigorously to undue some of the damage by fighting the decision to hire Singleton. While she's at it, she could join us in the ultimately more rewarding cause of academic freedom. How about it, Michelle?

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John Richard Clark - 4/25/2006 Bellevue Community College employed Glenn Singleton to improve its "profit profile" and reflected the "entrepreneurial" mindset of its administration?

In this case, it was a clueless math instructor, not an entrepreneurial administrator, who caused the incident.

How much profit do you think Bellevue will reap in public relations over this incident?

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 isn't just a term in a history textbook; it affects all Americans, including college professors.

I realize that libertarians hate discrimination laws because they conflict with the Social Darwinian utopia they hope to someday inhabit, but right now in 2006 America IT IS AGAINST THE LAW to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

How does diversity education contradict and undermine critical thinking?

Charles W. Nuckolls - 4/24/2006

"Training" is for dogs, not people, but unfortunately the American university has capitulated to the model of education that sees it as a business. I agree with Beito: Singleton is a for-profit indoctrinator hired by universities to improve their profit profiles. Diversity training is seen to be good for business, and the fact that it contradicts -- and in fact undermines -- critical thinking is irrelevant to bottom-line bureaucrats who are hell-bent on transforming universities into corporations. It is the "entrepreneurial" administrator, as Beito puts it, who is to blame for all this.

John Richard Clark - 4/23/2006

I admit that I am not well-versed in all of the sub-specialties under the libertarian umbrella (paleos, anarchos, etc.), but I do understand the basic precepts of the philosophy.

One of those precepts is that libertarians oppose most functions of the state, including public education.

John Richard Clark - 4/23/2006

I teach history at a liberal arts college and agree with you that some diversity programs have value and some do not. I have, however, learned something from nearly all of the workshops I attended.

This is just personal opinion based on observation, but the professors who tend to castigate students seemed to possess that personality long before they attended a diversity workshop. It's certainly possible that the workshop aggravated that tendency.

But the point of the Bellevue incident had nothing to do with an instructor castigating a student. It had to do with a math instructor's bad judgment in presenting an obviously insensitive racial stereotype in a word problem.

One of the consistent messages in diversity training for faculty is: How will your words/actions be perceived by students? I'll bet that the math instructor at Bellevue would never have included the offending word problem had he received some sort of diversity training.

Steven Horwitz - 4/23/2006

John - I'm an administrator at a selective liberal arts college. I think I know a thing or two about these issues. I administer an interdisciplinary program for first-year students that deals with all of these issues in a variety of ways. I've been through such programs. Some have value to them, some do not. But I stand by my claim that "too often" these programs do more harm than good and end up leading faculty to castigate rather than educate.

Steven Horwitz - 4/23/2006

A libertarian shouldn't cheap-shot a "paid consultant." After all, Glenn Singleton has a private-sector, for-profit business in which he markets his services and competes against others in his field.

You don't really understand libertarianism, do you? Just because he has a private-sector business, doesn't mean libertarians have to give him a moral free pass. There are many for-profit businesses who do things I find problematic and about whom I will speak out critically. Nothing in libertarianism "forbids" that - in fact, if one really believes in liberty, one believes in the value of open discussion and critique of even the voluntary, non-harm-inducing, activities of others.

John Richard Clark - 4/23/2006

I disagree that Perryman "has a point when [he] calls attention to the ugly past (does Clark agree that it was ugly?) of the Democratic Party."

Your statement is oversimplified and lacks historical context. The Democratic Party, from 1828 to 2006, compiled a mixed record in respect to its public policies for African-Americans.

I would say the same thing about the Republican Party from 1856 to 2006. Again, it depends on the historical context.

Personally, I tend to avoid loaded or polemic words like "ugly" and "great" in describing historical events. I would say that some Democratic proposals were beneficial to African-Americans; some were not.

I also disagree with your criticism of Howard Dean. Congress, not the Democratic Party, sanctioned slavery and racism. If my political party was sued for reparations by a racial opportunist, I'd probably avoid making any public comment on the advice of legal counsel.

I'll just say this about your reference to Bill Clinton: Politicians, regardless of party, act in their own self-interest. As a libertarian, you should understand that. Altruism does not exist in politics.

You ask "on what basis can I possibly object to one-sided 'training' in other potentially worthy causes such as family values or patriotism?"

How about this: family values and patriotism aren't protected from discrimination by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, discrimination based on race, creed, sex, national origin, or disability are legally protected---hence the need for universities and colleges to require diversity training.

I think your proposal to deal with increasing faculty and staff's awareness of diversity is a little naive.

First of all, diversity workshops evaluate interdisciplinary teaching methods and strategies. The best facilitator for workshops is a specialist in educational methodology. A slavery historian is an expert on the history of slavery, not on the education of math instructors in cultural sensitivity toward Latinos or Asians.

You don't seem to like the idea of paid consultants, but what historian of slavery (or any other professor, for that matter) has time to prepare and conduct diversity workshops on a regular basis for elementary schools, high schools, higher education, and the workplace?

A libertarian shouldn't cheap-shot a "paid consultant." After all, Glenn Singleton has a private-sector, for-profit business in which he markets his services and competes against others in his field.

John Richard Clark - 4/23/2006

1. I did not try to portray Beito as a "sympathizer of crazy right-wingers." I pointed out that he castigated Singleton for being a "race hustler" (his words) while neglecting to mention the far more significant role Perryman---a racial opportunist of a different sort---played in making this incident a national news story.

2. I'm not ignorant of Beito's scholarship or his contributions to HNN. He interprets history from a libertarian viewpoint. Forgive me if I'm a little cynical about libertarians who inveigh against government extortion of tax money while cashing paychecks from a portion of the proceeds. But I digress.

I wouldn't expect him to approve of diversity advocates. But I would expect a libertarian to equally oppose cultural conservatives and theocrats. And, most importantly, I would expect a professional historian to challenge Perryman's peculiar interpretation of American political history.

3. You believe that "folks of [Singleton's] ilk too often claim a monopoly on the moral high ground, the very definition of political correctness." Let me ask you this: is opposition to diversity morally defensible?

4. I'm not a big fan of sweeping generalizations like this one: "Too often, faculty who are 'oriented' in these sorts of diversity workshops are way too quick to politicize everything that 18-year olds say, and in so doing, make them feel attacked in the process." Why don't we stick to specifics. Have you ever attended a diversity workshop? Did you learn anything from it? I've been to several, and I learned something from each event. That doesn't mean I slavishly implemented all or even most of their agenda.

5. Your characterization of such progams as "hammer[ing participants] over their head with the Heaviness of their White Guilt," implies you haven't had much experience with diversity. Not all programs deal with White People vs. The Other; for example, I've attended workshops dealing specifically with African-American and Latino perceptions of each others' culture, Asian and African-American cultures, etc.

6. The problem with "faculty being coerced into the room" is something I pointed out in an earlier comment: A faculty or staff member who probably NEEDS to go is unlikely to go.

I don't know the math instructor at Bellevue, but I read his apology letter. Based on the letter (and reserving the right to change my mind should new information about him surface), he seemed sincere. It probably didn't occur to him that a student would perceive his word problem as insensitive. As a math instructor, he probably never considered a diversity workshop as relevant to his discipline. And that's why diversity training should be a condition of employment in academia.

Libertarians can bloviate about free speech, coercion, and individual rights all they want, but it is the simple fact of the litigious society we live in that colleges like Bellevue (and the taxpayers who support them) have to deal with the fallout from a incident like this.

David T. Beito - 4/22/2006

Thanks Steve! As Steve points out, I hold no brief for the coercive agenda of Perryman or any attempt to whitewash the GOP complicity in racism. I don't think I have ever voted Republican in my life, certainly not at the presidential level.

At the same time, Perryman has a point when calls attention to the ugly past (does Clark agree that it was ugly?) of the Democratic party.

If Howard Dean is going to insist that Congress apologizes for slavery and racism, it is natural to wonder whey he is so unwilling to step to the plate and apologize for the considerable past sins of his own party.

Nor is the racist record of Democrats confined to the distant past. As late as 1992, for example, Bill Clinton made a special trip from the primaries so he could make a public show of signing the execution order for Ricky Ray Rector, a mentally retarded black man. Yet....I doubt that few Democrats have ever tried to make amends or even mention this.

There is another major problem with Clark's carrot and stick support for "diversity training." If diversity training is imposed, on what basis can Clark possibly object to one-sided "training" in other potentially worthy causes such as family values or patriotism? If he does not object, who would conduct such training? The ACLU, Phyllis Schaefly, etc?

The most effective way to deal with these issues (diversity, family values, etc.) is for uniersities and colleges to do what they do best: provide voluntary forums for faculty and students to invite speakers representing different perspectives, organizing reading groups, etc. Of course, all of these methods are better described as forms of education (usually by scholars on issues such as slavery) rather than "training" by paid consultants who have pet theories they want to impose on captive (or bribed) audiences.

Steven Horwitz - 4/22/2006

Sorry, but trying to portray David as some sort of sympathizer of crazy right-wingers ain't gonna fly. Your ignorance of David's work and contributions to this blog is showing Mr. Clark.

And I agree with you that faculty should recognize that they teach diverse students when they think about their choices in the classroom. But saying *that* hardly means that the notion of "diversity," and what it means to recognize such diversity held by Singleton et. al., is the only right solution. Folks of his ilk too often claim a monopoly on the moral high ground, the very definition of political correctness.

Too often, faculty who are "oriented" in those sorts of diversity workshops are way too quick to politicize everything that 18 year olds say and, in so doing, make them feel attacked in the process. The point of education is to help students become self-reflective and critically assess what they know, and be open to admitting what they don't know. The solution is not to hammer them over their head with the Heaviness of their White Guilt, but to try to get them to see how others might hear what they say as being problematic. Instead of castigating them as racists, educate them.

In my experience, the Singletons of the world shut down students' ability to really learn by stigmatizing rather than educating. The same goes when it's faculty being coerced into the room.

John Richard Clark - 4/22/2006

Professor Beito argues that Glenn Singleton is a "Maoist" and an opportunistic "race hustler."

In focusing on Singleton, Beito overlooks a cultural revolutionary of a different stripe---Rev. Wayne Perryman, who was the prime force in getting Malkin involved in the story

Perryman is an interesting character. He filed a reparations lawsuit against the Democratic National Committee seeking damages for the party's complicity in passing Black Codes, Jim Crow laws, and white supremacy. Talk about a lack of historical context!

If you check out Rev. Perryman's website you'll see ads promoting his book, Unfounded Loyalty, a polemic against the sins of the pre-1970s Democratic Party and an appeal for blacks to support the Republican Party. Evidently he is unaware of the following: the Republican sellout of Reconstruction in the Compromise of 1877, Richard M. Nixon's "Southern Strategy" and his rapproachment with George Wallace. He also must have overlooked Ronald Reagan's "states' rights" speech at the Neshoba Miss. County Fair in 1980.

To use Beito's term, Perryman is a "self-styled" civil rights activist, but a closer look at Perryman's intellectual output suggests he is the black equivalent of Judge Roy Moore since he also opposes the separation of church and state. He doesn't like the fact that black preachers "can no longer preach biblically based sermons condemning certain sinful behavior because it would be classified as hate speech and therefore a hate crime." Hmmm...wonder what kind of sinful behavior he might be referring to? You have to admire the brass of a "civil rights activist" who can fight for social justice while simultaneously expressing homophobia.

He doesn't approve of public schools that "teach subjects that are contrary to the church's Christian doctrine (safe sex, abortion, evolution, etc.)"

Beito doesn't like the idea of compelling people to honor commitments to diversity. Perryman believes that every political candidate that gets the black vote must be REQUIRED to devote two weeks each year doing physical community improvement in the inner city. Also, he proposes that every political candidate MUST SUBMIT on a quarterly basis a report that specifically states what they have attempted to do for African-Americans during that period.

John Richard Clark - 4/22/2006

If I were a community college president, I would aggressively work to get some sort of funding and offer financial incentives to all faculty and staff who wanted to attend a diversity workshop. I'd also try to persuade faculty and staff that diversity training serves their self-interest in career enhancement, avoiding potential pitfalls, etc.

The carrot approach is always better than the stick.

Anthony Gregory - 4/21/2006

"And while I also abhor mandatory attendance to force teachers to attend the workshops, let's be honest: if the community college makes such a workshop voluntary, the people who probably SHOULD attend won't show up and the effort will be a total waste of time and resources."

So if you abhor making it mandatory, and yet making it optional would render it a total waste, what's the answer? Doing it the way you abhor, or doing it the wasteful way? Or not doing it at all, which you don't seem to like, either?

John Richard Clark - 4/21/2006

The examples you just cited are far different from the situation in Seattle.

Take your analogy of the irreligious student at the religious college, for example; while it may be true that compulsory church attendance breeds resentment, the student presumably knew in advance that a religious college would impose such a policy.

A professional educator should likewise reasonably expect to make some sort of commitment to diversity and tolerance, especially if he/she is employed by a public institution.

And while bringing Autherine Lucy back to Tuscaloosa to discuss her experiences with students, how exactly would Autherine Lucy or any other civil rights pioneer give feedback to a community college's faculty on how their teaching approach is received by students from different cultures?

If you carefully examine Singleton's website, you'll see that he works for the most part with primary and secondary school teachers, who probably don't have the advanced education and specialization that you and I have in American history. In short, they are NOT PhDs and in terms of social studies faculty, probably didn't either major or minor in history. They are well-versed in educational strategy and less well-versed in subject content. Thus the need for educational consultants like Mr. Singleton.

And while I also abhor mandatory attendance to force teachers to attend the workshops, let's be honest: if the community college makes such a workshop voluntary, the people who probably SHOULD attend won't show up and the effort will be a total waste of time and resources.

David T. Beito - 4/21/2006 someone who teaches our core course in blach history and writes about the history of civil rights, I couldn't more strongly disagree.

Singleton is a "trainer" not an educator. An educator engages in free and open discussion. A trainer like Singleton is paid big bucks to give one-sided indoctrination to a captive audience who often resent being forced to hear him (much like many irreligious people at religious colleges resent compulsory chapel).

I have always found that the best way to encourage productive discussion on race and other issues is to rely on voluntary participation. For example, our chapter of the Alabama Scholars Association invited in Autherine Lucy, the first black student at the University of Alabama, to speak on campus a couple of years ago.

The event was a tremendous success. She spoke to an overflow audience and set no patronizing ground rules on discussion. Everyone who came wanted to be there. They weren't forced to attend, like those dragooned to hear Mr. Singleton. Had we forced this audience to attend, of course, they would have been resentful and unethusiastic, and properly so.

John Richard Clark - 4/21/2006

How is Singleton a "self-described 'diversity expert'"? The link to his website indicates that he has sufficient academic and professional qualification. Moreover, it appears that several educational institutions consider him eminently qualified and hired him as an adjunct faculty member.

How, exactly, is he a "race baiter"? From what I can determine, his methods involve engaging participants in dialogue about the conscious and unconscious influences of race on the teaching profession.

Also, how are his methods similar to those of Mao Zedong? If you throw out an extreme ad hominem attack like that, you should back it up with some reasonable evidence. Otherwise, you just come off as mean-spirited and alarmist.

Based on his comments, Professor Brighouse appears clueless. If you attend a conference IN AN ACADEMIC SETTING---FOR ACADEMICS---REGARDING INSTITUTIONAL RACISM---why in the world would you expect a discussion on the criminal justice system or the labor market and not a discussion about the academy? I guess Professor Brighouse missed the point.

Unfortunately, there are still some tenured faculty in academia who desperately need feeback on how their teaching methods are percieved by a diverse student population.

As a grad student, I TA'd for a white professor in a US history course who gave his class a dramatic reading from Joel Chandler Harris' Uncle Remus Tales in his interpretation of African-American dialect. The students were, for the most part, shocked; all I could do was raise my eyebrows as if to say, "Don't look at me!"

Now I teach history at a college with a diverse student body. Personally, I would welcome Mr. Reynolds' seminar at my college; maybe I could learn a few things about my presentation style and how my teaching might be perceived by African-American, Latino, or Asian students.