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Education | Critics argue Cambridge shouldn’t shun Jordan Peterson for the views of his fans
by Laura Edghill
Posted 4/03/19, 02:01 pm

Cambridge University abruptly disinvited Canadian psychologist and conservative YouTube star Jordan Peterson from an upcoming fellowship late last month. The self-described “professor against political correctness” had planned a two-month stint at Cambridge’s Faculty of Divinity, which would have included numerous public lectures on the Bible’s book of Exodus.

The scheduled visit triggered controversy and protests among students and professors at the British university. Many complaints centered on Peterson’s known opposition to laws mandating the use of alternative pronouns in referring to transgender individuals—an issue that arose initially in 2016 when he spoke out against a Canadian anti-discrimination bill that Peterson argued would infringe on his free speech.

But according to Cambridge, it was not Peterson’s own views that lost him the fellowship, but those of a fan with whom he had his picture taken.

Vice Chancellor Stephen J. Toope in a statement last week said the administration made its decision based on the picture taken in February, of Peterson with a New Zealand fan wearing a black T-shirt reading, “I’m a Proud ISLAMAPHOBE.”

After a white supremacist attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15, some bookstores in the country stopped carrying Peterson’s books because of the anti-Muslim sentiments of some of his fans.

Toope said the photo of Peterson with the fan in the black T-shirt amounted to Peterson’s endorsement by association of the message.

“For a university, anything that detracts from the free expression of ideas is just not acceptable,” Toope said. “Robust debate can scarcely occur, for example, when some members of the community are made to feel personally attacked, not for their ideas but for their very identity.”

Cambridge’s post sparked debate on social media questioning the fairness of holding an author accountable for what his fan was wearing when requesting a photo.

“There are many, many good reasons for Cambridge University to withdraw its offer to Jordan Peterson but this ain’t it,” tweeted Mehdi Hasan, an anchor for several English language shows on Al Jazeera. “I mean, I’ve taken hundreds, thousands, of pix at events with, fans, admirers, [random people], etc., and I can honestly say I had no idea what most of their shirts said.”

Peterson planned to model his Exodus lectures for Cambridge after a series of talks he gave about the psychological significance of the book of Genesis. Peterson said that series of lectures, delivered in Toronto, received more YouTube hits and podcast downloads than any of his other online content. Peterson does not profess faith in Jesus Christ, but he values the Bible and religious belief for the stability they can bring to society.

“It matters whether people around the world understand these ancient stories. It deeply matters,” he wrote in a blog post after Cambridge rescinded his fellowship. “We are becoming unmoored, because we no longer share the structure these stories undergird.”

Peterson also criticized Cambridge for deciding that “kowtowing to an ill-informed, ignorant, and ideologically-addled mob trumped participating in an extensive online experiment in mass Christian and psychological education.”

In the end, Cambridge will miss out on Peterson’s residency, but the world will not. He plans to share the Exodus lectures on his YouTube channel, which boasts nearly 2 million subscribers.

Editor’s note: WORLD has updated this article to reflect Jordan Peterson’s stated opposition to laws mandating the use of alternate gender pronouns, not necessarily the use of those pronouns altogether.

Traditional uniform policy nixed

A federal judge in North Carolina last week struck down a K-8 public charter school uniform policy, saying it put an unequal and unnecessary burden on girls by requiring they wear skirts. U.S. District Judge Malcolm Howard’s March 28 ruling against Charter Day School in Leland, N.C., ends a three-year legal battle initiated by the parents of three female students.

The parents filed a federal lawsuit against school administrators in March 2016, claiming the policy—which allowed boys to wear pants or shorts but required girls wear skirts, jumpers, or skorts—meant their daughters avoided climbing or playing sports during recess and had to “pay constant attention to the positioning of their legs during class, distracting them from learning,” the ruling stated.

The school defended the policy, which allowed girls to wear leggings or tights under their skirts, contending its uniform advanced the school’s traditional values by encouraging chivalry and mutual respect.

Howard disagreed, saying that the dress code violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution and Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs. As a government-funded charter school, Charter Day must follow those federal guidelines or risk losing its funding.

“All I wanted was for my daughter and every other girl at school to have the option to wear pants so she could play outside, sit comfortably, and stay warm in the winter,” mother Bonnie Peltier, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement provided by the American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the families. “It’s disappointing that it took a court order to force the school to accept the simple fact that, in 2019, girls should have the choice to wear pants.”

The school has not said if it will appeal the ruling. “The Charter Day School Board is analyzing the opinion and will be meeting with counsel in the very near future to discuss their options moving forward,” Baker Mitchell, founder of the Roger Bacon Academy, which runs the charter school, told The Washington Post. —Kiley Crossland (file) (file) Children travel to school in Ahmedabad, India.

‘Edtech’ changing education in India

Education technology companies are booming in India, a country with the world’s largest school-age population but a struggling school system.

A surge in smartphone ownership has opened the door for students in overcrowded classrooms and run-down schools to access apps with interactive videos, e-tutorials, and educational games at home to boost their learning, according to reporting by Agence France-Presse.

Bangalore-based Byju’s is one of the world’s largest online learning sites and boasts 32 million users in India. The online education sector in India will be worth $2 billion by 2021, according to research published by professional services company KPMG.

But the cost of the devices and apps means a minority of India’s 270 million school-age children have access. Some teachers are trying to stand in that gap by using technology in the classroom. Pooja Prashant Sankhe, a teacher in Mumbai, put an Amazon Echo device in a mannequin she uses as a classroom assistant. Students ask the mannequin questions, like if their math answers are correct. Sankhe said her students are coming to school more regularly since she started using the device. —K.C.

Practical steps

California legislators introduced a package of bills this week in an effort to crack down on cheating amid a widespread college admissions scandal. Last month, prosecutors charged dozens of wealthy parents, including actresses Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, with paying millions of dollars to guarantee their children’s admission to elite universities, several of them in California. The proposed law would apply to state colleges and universities, but could also affect private schools that apply for grants. If passed, the bills would open the door to regulation of private admissions counselors, provide tighter oversight of athletic scholarships, and restrict so-called legacy admissions, which give preference to the children of donors and alumni. Fifteen of the people charged in the admissions scam, including Loughlin and Huffman, are scheduled to appear in federal court Wednesday in Boston. —K.C.

Laura Edghill

Laura is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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  • JerryM
    Posted: Wed, 04/03/2019 06:46 pm

    In the end, it is Cambridge that is losing out, both in tarnishing their reputation as a beacon of reason and intellectual rigour, and in bringing that kind of thinking into their uni through Peterson.  More seriously, this is consistent with ongoing efforts of a large number in academia to eliminate speech/ideas they find repulsive or unacceptable.

    Posted: Fri, 04/05/2019 06:44 pm

    Regarding girls wearing skirts. I used to walk to school. During the winter I would move in and out of doorways on my way to school trying to avoid the wind up my skirt. Tights did not help much.

    I worked in Buffalo NY for a time. It was during the time when you were required to wear a dress or skirt. I wore pants to work (I road the bus.) and then change in the bathroom.

    I worked at the phone company for a time also and they made us wear skirts even though we did not come in contact with people. They said we represented them upon entering and leaving the building. I'm glad I worked inside. The wind coming off the ocean can be cold. Maybe not cold for a northerner.  

    I still remember the first time a woman wore a pantsuit to church. I was a teen and I was cheering. I went to a big church and I think everyone was watching. I don't know who wore it, I only knew the significance of the pantsuit. 

    Besides that I've always felt funny wearing a skirt. It's so open underneath. I still don't like that feeling.

  • OldMike
    Posted: Sun, 04/07/2019 01:19 am

    “anything that detracts from the free expression of ideas is just not acceptable,” said the Cambridge spokesperson. 

    So, labeling something as “unacceptable” does not detract from the free expression of ideas?

    Orwell, in 1984, his novel of future totalitarian society, foresaw the bending of truth to suit ideology quite well. Of course, he had been able to observe Stalin’s USSR for quite a while.