EssaysUncategorized

In Our Own Backyard–a story of Tennesse’s best and worst.

clinton high.jpg

Stewart Harris of the Lincoln Memorial University – Duncan School of Law offers this bit of history that we must remember.  Stewart is also host of the NPR program “Your Weekly Constitutional.”

In Our Own Back Yard

Constitutional law sometimes seems like something that happens out there, somewhere, to someone else.  Think the Electoral College or the crisis at our southern border.  But that’s not the case.  The Constitution affects each us, every day, right where we live.  Sometimes profoundly.

If you’re of a certain age, you know all about East Tennessee’s great constitutional moment, which occurred in the late 1950s.  But if you’re a young whippersnapper (say, under 40), or if you came to the area only as an adult, you may need a refresher.

The Clinton 12 were a dozen African-American high school students—Maurice Soles, Anna Theresser Caswell, Alfred Williams, Regina Turner Smith, William R. Latham,  Gail Ann Epps Upton, Ronald Gordon “Poochie” Hayden, Robert Thacker, Minnie Ann Dickie Jones, Bobby Cain, Alvah McSwain, and Jo Ann Crozier Allen—who led the first court-ordered desegregation of a Southern public school after Brown v. Board of Education.  It was a year before Little Rock.  (Oak Ridge desegregated even earlier than Clinton, but it did so without a court order).

Recently, Marilyn Hayden, the Director of the Green McAdoo Cultural Center, arranged for me to speak with retired lawyer Jerry Shattuck.  We met at the Center, a memorial to the Clinton 12 constructed in a building that was once a segregated school for “colored” children.  Jerry and I sat down in the former principal’s office, a tiny room that had also served as the school’s library.

Jerry told me that a local legal challenge to segregation, McSwain v. Anderson County, had started before Brown, but ran smack into controlling precedent:  U.S. District Judge Robert L. Taylor followed the “separate but equal” doctrine of Plessy v. Ferguson.  But then, after Brown overruled Plessy, Judge Taylor ordered the school to desegregate, pursuant to Brown II, “with all deliberate speed.”

Clinton did not need much time for deliberation.  The school board came up with a plan, and, in the fall of 1956, Clinton High School implemented it, mostly without incident.  There were protests, mostly small, mostly by outsiders, but the community followed the law.

But then the protests grew.  Segregationists from throughout the South made Clinton their rallying point.  Thousands of rabid racists flooded the small town, recruiting like-minded locals, taunting and spitting on the Clinton 12 as they walked from the black part of town to attend school.  Some students harassed the Clinton 12 at school, jostling them in the hallways, knocking their books to the floor.  The international press took notice.  It was a circus.

But most Clintonians responded with dignity and compassion.  Clinton High’s principal posted his strapping young football team (including a teenaged Jerry Shattuck) in the halls.  The harassment quickly ended.  Baptist minister Paul Turner, a white man, escorted the Clinton 12 to school.  He kept the children safe, but, on his way back to his church, he was chased and beaten by the mob.

A group of thugs forced their way into the high school.  The Home Economics teacher, a diminutive woman, confronted them.  They slammed her into a wall.  A member of Clinton High’s marching band, Dennis Holland, ran, alone, toward the thugs.  They ran away.  Dennis soon received death threats.  His family sent him to live with relatives in Florida.

As at Lexington and Concord, the call went out.  Local citizens stepped forward to stand with the police, to repel the invaders.  But the invaders kept coming.  Eventually, the newly-formed “White Citizens’ Council” decided to do more than scream and spit and beat innocent people.  They decided to charge the police, to take their weapons, and kill them.

Town officials had been in constant touch with state authorities, who were understandably reluctant to intervene.  But when the racists attacked, Governor Frank Clement responded.  In a scene reminiscent of a John Ford western, a convoy of cars roared into town, red lights flashing.  A door opened and Greg O’Rear, the six-foot-eight head of the Tennessee State Police, rose and leaned his shotgun over his shoulder.  “Boys,” he said, “it’s all over.”

And it was.  For a time.  The next school year was uneventful.  Black children and white children learned together.  Jerry Shattuck graduated and went off to college at Princeton.

Then, in the fall of 1958, two years after integration, the people of Clinton awakened to a series of explosions. Someone had dynamited the high school.  It was gone.

Instantly, East Tennessee sprang into action.  Nearby Oak Ridge, Clinton’s perennial football rival, opened an old closed school.  Volunteers cleaned and painted.  Within a week, the school was ready.

Buses took Clinton High’s integrated student body to Oak Ridge.  As they emerged, Oak Ridge’s marching band greeted them with Clinton’s alma mater.

The Constitution touches all of us, where we live, every day.  But it means nothing unless good people stand up for it.  In the late 1950’s, the good people of East Tennessee did just that.  May we all be inspired by their example.  And may we always remember the Clinton 12.

END

Uncategorized

Money Talks: Of Education and Money and Our Future

Choctaw scholar and educational policy expert Joel Spring (2011) has argued that there are three primary questions at the heart of the politics of education: What knowledge is most worth teaching, what are the best methods and school organization for teaching this knowledge, and what should be the cost of disseminating this knowledge?

It is certainly debatable as to whether American educational policy has ever truly formulated an adequate response to any of these questions with regard to the needs of all students. However,  there is little doubt that questions related to school funding and finance have most recently held center court in both the public and political realms. Policy approaches to school organization and curricular decisions are now seemingly inextricable from the influence of money, and as levels of advocacy and activism have risen on behalf of public schools and teachers, public perception and the realities of inadequate funding require a new approach to school finance.

The human cost of the decades long trend of cost-cutting in educational policy is clear. Competitive salaries and earning potential have been commonly cited as a factor contributing to the high attrition rate for professional educators. Recent statistics reported by the Department of Labor revealed that teachers and school staff are resigning their positions at the highest rate on record (Hackman & Morath, 2018). Although teachers who choose to leave the classroom permanently more frequently attribute their decision to professional frustration and absence of administrative support, issues of educational finance tremendously impact our schools. While the number of teachers with advanced degrees has continued to increase, studies have shown that education professionals earn far less than other professionals with comparable levels of schooling (Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation, 2017). However, the issue isn’t only that teachers in states such as Tennessee earned 4.4% less in 2019, even with higher rates of advanced degrees, than they did in 2009. There is growing concern over a projected teacher shortage nationally. Teachers aren’t just leaving the classroom at higher rates, too few prospective educators are walking through the classroom door. Over the last decade, the number of students who completed a teacher preparation program has declined more than 20% and the number of undergraduate degrees awarded in education dropped by 15% from 2005 to 2015 (AACTE, 2018). The reality of poor school funding and low salaries reinforces the perception that teaching is not a financially viable profession.

The problem, however, is more complicated than just the money. The problem for school leaders and researchers is one of educational equity. Inadequate school funding and stagnant wages have long-term detrimental effects upon schools and students. Experienced teachers leaving the profession, unfilled teaching positions, higher teacher-student classroom ratios, organizational instability, and in some cases reliance upon unqualified staff all influence student success and achievement. Unsurprisingly, rural and urban school districts with the highest levels of poverty are impacted the most. For example, schools in Tennessee, which were recently assigned a grade of F for funding level and funding effort in a 2019 report published by the Education Law Center, are experiencing increasing levels of teacher turnover, and local education agencies in both rural and urban settings report lack of adequate funding as a significant challenge. One of every 3 students in Tennessee attends a rural school, giving the state the 5th largest population of rural students in the country; yet, rural school systems have had to withstand the greatest decrease in state educational funding support in the nation (Rural School and Community Trust Report, 2019). Similarly, urban schools in the state are also struggling due to a lack of resources and state funding for the additional teaching and staff positions required to meet the needs of a student population that has grown in both numbers and diversity. In metropolitan areas, teachers earn too little to afford cost of living within their own districts. In rural settings, districts cannot offer salaries high enough to recruit prospective candidates to work in their schools. Understandably, this only feeds the perception that teaching, especially in consideration of the professional demands of the classroom, simply is not worth it.

Too often, policymakers ignore the covert messaging of decisions focused solely upon budgets and accountability measures. The repetitive refrain that schools are failing by politicians and pundits perpetuates the narrative that districts don’t deserve increased funding levels and that money will not fix struggling schools. Indeed, surveys have shown that the national perception of schools is often relatively low; however, respondents’ perception of their own schools in their own communities is frequently very strong. Data from the 2019 PDK poll, which measures attitudes towards public schools, reveals that while the percentage of parents who would rate schools nationally as an A or B continued to drop, 76% responded they would assign an A or B to the school their child attended. Sadly, the same survey indicates on one hand broad support for increased funding and salaries for teachers, while also revealing that a majority of parents and current classroom teachers would advise their own children to choose a career path other than teaching and education.

Schools are being doubly harmed by the power of perception and the resistance of policymakers to pursue funding measures that benefit schools, teachers, and students. In a time when schools graduate more students, prevent more dropouts, and provide more academic options and support to a more diverse student population than ever before, there should be greater impetus on per-pupil expenditures and recruiting and retaining teachers who have both the skill and desire to spend their career working with the children of our communities. Teachers and students deserve more, and research indicates that increasing school spending and teacher pay does indeed result in higher academic achievement and reduced rates of adult poverty for students (Abott et al., 2020; Jackson et al., 2016; Spears, 2020). In Tennessee, where funding and poverty are a statewide concern that cuts across county and district lines, the continued failure to adequately fund schools and increase salaries sends a clear message—in educational policy, money talks. Either we believe kids are worth it or we do not.

 

Uncategorized

we don’t need presidential elections to last two plus years….

Along with all Americans, I am bombarded by the media with partisan rhetoric referencing the 2020 elections. While I manage to sift through most of the commentary in order to benefit from a nugget of real news, I am exhausted by the process. It seems to me that our representatives are primarily concerned with their reelection campaign, that begins almost immediately after their election. Members of the House of Representatives for example never stop raising money and campaigning even though for them the election comes every two years.

 

The founders who drafted Article 1 Section 2 of the Constitution undoubtedly had no idea that the campaign for a two-year term would continue without respite throughout the Congressperson’s length of service. U.S. Senators, after the passage of the 17thamendment, are required to run statewide and often feel the pressures associated with a prolonged campaign. Moreover, senators frequently find themselves concentrating on the forthcoming presidential election in support of the party’s nominee. Is it fair to ask, who is conducting the people’s business while those responsible are engaged in helter-skelter campaigning?

 

The campaign for the November 2020 election began almost two years in advance of the actual election. Various House and Senate committees are busy investigating and finger-pointing rather than debating the important issues of the day. The debate, if it has any substance, seems to be carried on in the public arena as part of the electioneering associated with the next election. Compromise has always been a part of the American legislative process and has served the American people well for over two and a half centuries. However, the negative campaigning has made compromise a dirty word. While it is important to put the issues before the electorate, is it not possible to make the campaigns shorter and less exhaustive for both candidates and the voters? I for one hope so.

 

Other democratic societies seem to be able to conduct their elections within a few months while ours seem to go on and on for years – never stopping. The expense is mind-boggling. Apparently, outsiders are meddling in and influencing our elections. Surely, that is a threat to our system of democracy. The longer these campaigns go on the more opportunities are available to our adversaries. By the time these lengthy campaigns conclude most of our elected officials are tarnished and smeared so completely that our confidence in them is eroded. Rough-and-tumble political campaigns have always been a part of the American political system and in general that is a healthy process. However, all civility seems to be lost in a world of email bombardment, tweets and social media. I look forward to a return to a positive and optimistic campaign. I am reminded of Franklin Roosevelt’s optimistic statement at the height of the depression “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Unfortunately, positive, optimistic and abbreviated campaigns are disappearing from the American experience.

Essays

A New Museum, A New Perspective

by Charles Hubbard

Recently the country has engaged in a vigorous debate about the treatment and interpretation of Civil War artifacts.   The treatment and use of the Confederate battle flag has elevated the discussion into the public policy arena. Statues of Confederate leaders and soldiers for over a century dotted the ground surrounding public buildings and parks.   Other symbols and memorials dedicated to remembering the so-called “lost cause” provoked debate and legislation in several state legislatures. Public historians and museums are grappling with the question of how best to interpret the Civil War so that the public appreciates the impact of the war on contemporary American society.

On May 4, 2019 the new American Civil War Museum in Richmond Virginia opened to the general public. Richmond has always been an essential destination for Civil War buffs, enthusiast, historians and scholars. Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy and the surrounding area was the site of over 40% of the battles during the Civil War. The new $25 million facility is located along the historic James riverfront and includes ruins of the Tredegar Ironworks. Certainly, the remains of the destroyed Ironworks where slaves produced canons of the Confederacy is a fitting place to reinterpret the war. The permanent exhibit includes over 500 artifacts including Robert E Lee’s hat, along with many tattered battle flags from both sides of the conflict. The first gallery in the museum includes a spectacular exhibit of the Henry House which was blown to pieces during the first battle of Bull Run. The widow Henry was killed when she refused to leave her house as the battle raged around her. The exhibits deliver the message that the American Civil War touched all Americans, white, black, North, South, Native Americans, and recent immigrants. The legacy of the Civil War reflects both the cultural diversity and inclusiveness that is the American experience.

The new Museum is the result of a merger between the 120-year-old Museum of the Confederacy and the American Civil War Center. Both institutions coexisted in Richmond for years even though both focused on the Civil War. Chisty S. Coleman the director of the Civil War Center and S. Waite Rawls, III Director of the Museum of the Confederacy, after lengthy discussions, agreed to merge the museums and present a more comprehensive and historically correct interpretation of the war and the social revolution it created. The Museum of the Confederacy traditionally supported Confederate apologist and a conscious decision was made to abandon the “Lost Cause” while still maintaining respect for courage of the Confederate soldier. Efforts are underway to digitize and make available the extraordinary archival material that includes private papers of numerous Confederate political and military leaders as well as the personal correspondence and diaries of southern citizens to further explain the passion and emotions of Southerners during and after the war.

The American Civil War Museum will continue to generate further debate and discussion, but perhaps the stories revealed in these galleries is the best way to incorporate the contributions of the Civil War into our personal understanding of the overall American experience.

Essays

Success or Failure? 2019 Lincoln Memorial University Commencement Address

by Dr. Allen C. Guelzo

Dr. Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of Civil War Era History at Gettysburg College and a leading scholar of Lincoln and the Civil War. On May 4, he delivered the commencement address for Lincoln Memorial University. His remarks, which are framed around the institution’s namesake, are presented below:

President Hess, distinguished trustees and faculty, and honored graduates, students and guests: I have come to you today to talk about failure.

That will surprise many of you, since any failures among this graduating class are, logically speaking, not supposed to be here. We are all here supposed to be successes. What’s more, commencement addresses are routinely expected to be celebrations of success, or exhortations to success; they are not expected to take so morbid a turn as to talk about failure, and thus rain on the academic parade. And backing all that up are the great maxims of our society, “Laugh and the world laughs with you; cry, and you cry alone.” “Nothing succeeds like success.” “Everybody loves a winner.” Success is glamorous; failure is a reproach, and such a bleak reproach to our personal qualities, that we can hardly even bear to use the word. The word failure has become what the word cancer was a generation or two ago — something to be discussed only in hushed tones, behind closed doors. But unless you are something other than human, you will experience failure. And an important part of your education is learning how to meet it; in fact, the most important part of your character will be shaped by how you encounter and overcome it.

I take as my guiding star today a comment made — we think in 1856 — by the man for whom this college is named, Abraham Lincoln. In 1856, Lincoln had, to the outward appearance, all the trappings of success. From early poverty he had risen to become a prominent lawyer, and in the mid-1850s his legal practice, especially with the railroads, had made him one of the most financially successful lawyers in Illinois, with an annual income that could easily translate into six figures, in modern terms. He had served in the Illinois legislature, he had been elected to a term in Congress, and had just made a nearly-successful run for the Senate in 1855. In the year we think he wrote the comment I’m going to read, Lincoln had been nominated for vice-president on the ticket of the new Republican party (even though in the end he fell short of getting the nomination). Any one of you who had racked up ribbons like that before their fiftieth birthday might well feel entitled to think of themselves as successful, and that’s probably how we would think of Lincoln.

But he did not. Instead, he compared himself to an even more well-known Illinoisan, Stephen A. Douglas, and in 1856, Lincoln did not like what he saw in that comparison.

“Twenty‑two years ago Judge Douglas and I first became acquainted. We were both young then; he a trifle younger than I. Even then, we were both ambitious; I, perhaps, quite as much so as he. With me, the race of ambition has been a failure‑‑‑a flat failure; with him it has been one of splendid success. His name fills the nation; and is not unknown, even, in foreign lands.”

“I affect no contempt for the high eminence he has reached,” Lincoln added. But it was obvious that by his own standard, Lincoln felt that he had spent his life for nothing.

One hundred and fifty-four years after Lincoln’s death, we read those words and smile, knowing that in the years following those sad reflections, Lincoln would become the most revered figure in our history. But he did not know that then, any more than we can know now what lies before all of us. And as numerous as his successes had been on many scores, he had not succeeded in the one thing which was the most important to him – public leadership. Perhaps we could say to Lincoln that he had simply set his sights too high, that if he counted his blessings, he would see how much he had to feel content about. I don’t think that would have been a very good tactic to employ on Lincoln. Or perhaps we could try bucking the tall man up with some inspirational reflections – sing him a tune about climbing ev’ry mountain, walking through storms with your head held high, and so on.  I don’t think it would have done him a bit of good. Nor should it. Lincoln’s talents for public leadership were real, and more real than Stephen A. Douglas’s. In a world of fairness, Lincoln should have been in Douglas’s seat. And he knew it. And not being there was, he knew, a mark of failure. As it was for Lincoln, so there will come times for all of you when you will have to drink of failure to the dregs. Will you smile then? Has what you have learned in life and here at LMU prepared you to deal, not just with success, but with failure?

First of all, I want you to remember that not all failures are failures — they only seem that way in the eyes of a society which measures success by trophy homes and prestige toys. And not all successes are successes. For instance: there was once a man so enamored of showing off the wealth he had accumulated that he decreed that, when he died, he should be buried in his gold Cadillac. When the day for his funeral arrived, his corpse was duly propped up behind the wheel, and his pall-bearers pushed the gold Cadillac into the cemetery and down a ramp into a specially-dug grave. As the gold Cadillac, with its deceased owner still at the wheel, descended into the grave, one of the grave-diggers, beholding the scene, remarked to another: “Man, that‘s livin!”

And (I repeat) not all failures are failures. Some of you will dedicate your lives to callings which are noble but poorly rewarded in our world. Today, when you are young and strong and full of passion for your mission, you will push away the thought of how meagre those rewards are likely to be for the joy of serving others. But there will come a time – perhaps in the form of a cutting remark from a neighbor or a family member, or a class reunion you can’t afford to attend, or the ingratitude of the people you’re trying to help — when your strength and enthusiasm will wane, and you will wonder if you have been the butt of life’s joke, a failure. At that moment you must ask yourself – by whose standard?  If you can stop and ask that question, with regard only for that inward monitor which gives praise and blame according to what you love and value the most, then your courage, your persistence, your perseverance makes you the most successful of all. And in their hearts, everyone will know it, and wish they had your success, not theirs. Our culture is full of people who have acquired tremendous wealth; the misery they live with is that they go begging for significance.

By whose standard do you judge success and failure? Unless you have that standard within yourself, you will never know how to measure either. There was once a doctor named Williams who determined to devote his life to serving the poor and disabled in a great city. His patients often had nothing to pay him with, and he had only a small office at the top of a flight of stairs, over a liquor store, marked with the single sign, “Doctor Williams is upstairs.” The years passed, and Doc Williams died. His friends found that he was so poor himself, that there was no money left over to erect a marker on his grave. But one wise man knew what to do: he took down the old office sign and planted it on the doctor’s grave: “Doctor Williams is upstairs.” By our superficial standards, Doc Williams was a failure. Or was he?

The second thing I want to tell you is how often failure is the crucible out of which real success arises. Soichiro Honda, the founder of Honda Motor Corporation, once said: “Success is 99% failure.” And on the strength of that, I must tell you that I will feel sorry for you if your course in life leads you from one easy triumph to another, because if it does it will give you the arrogant notion that you are totally self-sufficient, and need no one else in the world to teach you anything. I have met people like that; they are wealthy, they have all the toys, but they are some of the most dreadfully stunted human beings I know. They never failed; and therefore, they never learned anything which might be more important than winning, such as confession or forgiveness or recovery.

Failure is a teacher. It brings us back to fundamentals; it disenthrones our egos and makes us see ourselves for what we are and shows us what we do not yet know. Do not be afraid to make mistakes; my mistakes (and they are more than a few in number) are my most important possessions, because they are what I have learned from. A reporter once asked a bank president to identify the secret of success. “Right decisions,” he replied. “Great,” said the reporter, “Now, how do you get to know how to make right decisions.” “Simple,” the president replied, “Experience.” “Well,” said the exasperated reporter, “how do you gain experience?” The president replied, “Wrong decisions.”

Failure also tells us who our friends are. As Oprah Winfrey once remarked, “Lots of people want to ride with you in the limo, but what you want is someone who will take the bus with you when the limo breaks down.”

Part of what makes Abraham Lincoln so admirable, so interesting to us even today, was that he had tasted the bitterness of failure, and was willing to take the bus with those who had failed. In 1860, he took time out from his presidential campaign to write to a friend of his son, Robert, who had failed the entrance exams at Harvard. “I have scarcely felt greater pain in my life than on learning yesterday…that you had failed to enter Harvard University,” Lincoln wrote to eighteen-year-old George Latham. There was empathy, the understanding of one who had been there, not the haughty superiority of one who looked down the nose. “And yet,” Lincoln continued,

“there is very little in it, if you will allow no feeling of discouragement to seize, and prey upon you. …I know not how to aid you, save in the assurance of one of mature age, and much severe experience, that you can not fail, if you resolutely determine, that you will not.”

Listen to Mr. Lincoln. Like him, I hope your paths will be strewn with success. Like him, I also know that it may be spiked with failure. Learn to embrace the failures as much as the successes, so that like him you may become what is more important even than being a “success” – becoming mature, resolute, persevering, hoping for all things, enduring all things, expecting all things.

Essays

Democracy in “The Federalist”

By John Grove

In January, Dr. Grove published an article in Polity examining the role of the public will in The Federalist Papers. Reflections takes its name from Alexander Hamilton’s iconic statement about the possibility of government directed by “reflection and choice.” Yet The Federalist is not exactly positive about democracy. Throughout, it indicates that democracy is prone to factionalism: the division of society into groups devoted to pursuing their own narrow interests rather than those of the whole. Yet, The Federalist also indicates that it is important for any government to be “popular,” deriving its authority from the people. In understanding exactly what The Federalist says about democracy, Dr. Grove argues that it is important to remember that it was written by different authors, and that those authors may have had slightly different viewpoints on what exactly is problematic about democracy and how a good government can address these faults:

The two primary authors of The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison offered differing and conflicting accounts of the precise cause of factionalism and the manner in which the public will could safely be accommodated within the constitutional system. Alexander Hamilton believed that demagogic leadership was responsible for stirring up the otherwise politically apathetic citizenry into factional groups. The common citizen, he believed, was naturally uninterested in politics, preferring to focus on his own private life. This also meant, however, that the common citizens is relatively uninformed about political life and therefore susceptible to clever politicians know just how to “flatter [the people’s] prejudices and betray their interests.”[1] He even calls these petty politicians “parasites and sycophants” who are willing to sacrifice the permanent good of society in order to win a position of power for themselves. As such, Hamilton believed the key to a successful political system was constructing it in such a way that allowed better leaders, those who cared not about gaining temporary popularity, but about achieving great things for their country, to occupy positions of authority. He believed the presidency was the key to this: Public opinion could be unified around the person and character of the president, preventing faction so long as that office was held by a person of great vision and high ambition. As such, Hamilton put his faith in the Electoral College, the unlimited number of terms available to a president, and the robust powers of the office to attract the highest quality of leader.

James Madison, however, saw factionalism arising naturally, without any impetus from poor leaders. “The latent causes of faction” were “sown in the nature of man,” he wrote.[2] This mean that, whatever quality of leadership may exist, factions will always arise in popular governments. Therefore, they must be accommodated and moderated in the best way possible. Madison relied not on the president to do this, but a carefully crafted and limited legislature capable of refining the public will. Representatives would naturally reflect some of the biases of their constituents, but they would be placed in an environment which allowed for and encouraged healthy dialogue and compromise on the common good. Their terms would be just the appropriate length to provide a degree of independence from the factional will of the people, while still being ultimately answerable to it; the size of the legislature would be too large for casual intrigue and corruption, but too small to devolve into a mob; and the constitutional limitations on Congress’ power would mean representatives would be discussing broad, national issues and avoiding local concerns most likely to pit factions against one another.

Understanding The Federalist in this way allows it to illuminate questions which continue to press on us today: To what extent are the divisions in American politics caused by naturally arising identity and interest groups, and to what extent are they stirred up by the rhetoric of provocative leaders? Do we find the solution in unifying leaders, or in deliberation and dialogue? As is often the case, a careful reading of this great work can continue to offer wisdom and a framework within which to consider these political puzzles.

Dr. Grove’s full paper can be found here for those with access.

[1] The Federalist, No. 71

[2] The Federalist, No. 10

 

Essays

The Habits of Scholarship

By John Grove 

The following is an abridged version of remarks prepared for the keynote address for the Blue Ridge Undergraduate Research Conference held at LMU on Friday, April 5th, 2019. Dr. Grove was unable to deliver the remarks, but is happy to present a brief version of them here:

Ask any academic, and they’ll tell you one of the more difficult things we’re sometimes asked to do is interdisciplinary collaboration. Few things challenge us more than having to think outside the small area of expertise in which we’ve been trained and find unifying themes across different areas of study. So it is quite a challenge to write keynote remarks for a conference as broad as this one.

What unites all these different kinds of researchers? It is much easier to see what does not unite everyone here: First, academic discipline: We have students from psychology, natural sciences, sports medicine, humanities fields and many others. Second, research interests: The research presented here runs the gamut from the herbaceous species at Pine Mountain to the effect of parenting styles on life satisfaction; From learning assessment styles to Unionist sentiment in East Tennessee during the Civil War; from Jonathan Swift to the therapeutic use of Legos. Finally, methodology: We have literary analysis; we have controlled experiments; we have statistical analysis; we have the firsthand collection of data on tick DNA; we have artistic work; we have theory application and any number of other methods of obtaining knowledge.

So how is it that we can say everyone here is a “scholar”, and that the work presented here is all “scholarship” if the content of the research is so different? There are surely many ways to approach this question. Perhaps one way to consider it is to look at the people presenting the work. Perhaps we are all scholars because we are all scholarly. Our pursuit of knowledge is marked by certain characteristics and habits. So I want to put a question to you, and then some possible answers: What are the habits of scholarship? What makes a person “scholarly”?

Dictionaries don’t help much: the consensus definition, “of or relating to a scholar” is not terribly helpful. The word might have some connotations – If you say someone is particularly “scholarly”, it probably means that person is intelligent but abstract; out of touch with everyday life; I would like to put forward some more meaningful suggestions about what it means to be scholarly. These, I will preface, are not empirical observations: I certainly don’t mean to say that scholars always live up to these qualities. They are largely normative – what I think a scholar ought to be. But they are also characteristics that I think good scholarship hammers into us. They are habits that, if we regularly conduct high quality scholarship in an honest way, may eventually be engrained into our character. Scholarship makes us think and act in certain ways. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and I’m quite sure there are plenty of critiques that can be lobbed its way. I hope my list, though, might prompt some thought about the ethos of scholarship – what it means to act in a scholarly way.

The first is intellectual humility. Certainly, the first characteristic that comes to mind when one thinks of academics is probably not “humility”. Academics have a not-altogether-undeserved reputation for pride. But conducting good research regularly reinforces the truth that we cannot presume to know answers. Regardless of our methodology, we cannot simply make assertions which we assume to be true. We must demonstrate the veracity of our claims with evidence and logical reasoning, both of which are open to critique by others. We always ought to be faced with the burden of proof. If we take that seriously, it drives home to us just how little we know instinctively, and how difficult it can be to justify even those claims that seem to us to be the obvious in the world.

Second, and relatedly, is the ability to accept failure and turn it into something constructive. Scholarship is not terribly egalitarian when it comes to outcomes: There are good papers and there are bad ones. Good arguments and bad ones. Good, well-constructed experiments and bad ones. We use a peer-review system in scholarly publishing precisely to separate the wheat from the chaff; to determine what is truly worthy of being published and read by others. This inevitably means that anyone working in this arena will experience some form of failure. Someone will, at some point, point out a vital mistake; a significantly flawed argument; a misapplication of theory. I went back and found some peer review comments on some of my published work: “there are places in which this manuscript makes implausible claims on matters of some significance”; “I hope this is not unkind, but there is something musty in this article”; “The article says the author will address an eternal but “dormant” question. It should remain dormant”; And my personal favorite, a comment made at the very first conference at which I presented as a graduate student: ““I’m sorry, he’s just wrong!” A scholar must take this in stride, recognizing that temporary failures can point the way to greater success. All of the comments I just mentioned were made on papers that were eventually published.

Third, is an appreciation of knowledge for its own sake. When I was a graduate student, my dissertation advisor related to me the common metaphor for how an academic gets noticed and makes a name for himself: Find the biggest, tallest tree in the forest, and take an axe to the roots. What this means, of course, is that you should find the most influential, well-known and respected research on your topic, and prove it wrong. I would add a caveat, however: Realize that you probably won’t be able to chop the tree down. Be content if you’re able to chip away some of the bark.

Why would anybody be content with chipping away at the bark of a giant tree if you set out to chop it down? You wouldn’t: That’s because the metaphor breaks down at this point. In most professions (including logging, I would presume), you would be discouraged if, after years and years of work you manage only to make a tiny dent in what you set out to do. But when you deal in knowledge, the calculus is a bit different. Most of us making a living as scholars have to come to accept the fact that we probably won’t revolutionize our fields of study. Our research won’t “change the world” – at least not in the direct, large-scale sense in which we often use that phrase. A 2007 study indicated as many as half of all published academic papers are read by precisely no one outside of the author, the peer reviewers and the journal editor. A different study found that a quarter of all papers in the natural sciences are never cited; 32% in the social

sciences, and a whopping 80% in the humanities. Now, there are some questions about the veracity of these statistics. Nevertheless, it’s clear that many papers that students and professors pour over for months and years will never be read or cited by anyone else, leading one blogger on Intellectual Takeout.com to ask,“why are professors writing crap that nobody reads?”

So, why are we? Part of this answer is the hope that our paper will be the one to make a difference; that it will be cited, it will influence others, and it will change the world. But I think most of us have to find an appreciation for knowledge for its own sake: that uncovering some truth, not just for the world but for ourselves; that knowing something we did not know before is worth the difficult task of learning it.

Fourth, good scholarship develops a habit of critical skepticism to claims of knowledge. All it takes is a quick perusal of social media posts these days to observe that most folks could use a bit more critical skepticism in the way we interact with all sorts of material. When we recognize how much it takes to justify a claim in our own research, we’re not as easily taken by those who claim to know it all.

But we don’t end with skepticism and criticism. Being a father for the past two years, I’m fascinated by observing the way my daughter grows up and learns about the world around her for the first time. One thing that is hard to miss is how much easier it is for her to destroy things than to put them together. From building blocks to puzzles, she immediately observes the weaknesses and pulls them apart. Putting them back together, however, requires a bit of help and patience. Scholarship also demands that we do both of these: deconstruct and construct; critique and build up. Not only do we critically evaluate the work of others, we also must put forward better explanations; positive answers to the questions that we are exploring. We build theories offer alternative explanations and build on the scholarship has come before ours. This is the imaginative element of scholarship: The ability to piece things together and see beyond the specific, narrow research questions that we examine, and appreciate a wider picture.

None of these qualities should be taken for self-congratulation. Scholars embody all of these traits. We often fight against them; We think we have all the answers. We have the same grand ambitions as people in every other field of life which makes us sometimes disappointed to only uncover some “minor” bit of knowledge. We get frustrated with failure. We sometimes fail to be critical when it comes to things we want to be true. We are sometimes overly critical, becoming satisfied only to tear down rather than build up our understanding. Yet I believe honest scholarship encourages these habits, and our hard work may not only build up the common stock of knowledge, but may also make us better people.