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Friday, October 28, 2011

Is English Hegemony in Academia Stunting Innovation?

By guest blogger Elaine Hirsch

It shouldn't come as a surprise that English is an established hegemon in today's political and academic spheres. English is one of the official languages of the United Nations. It is also the premiere language spoken at the most prestigious PhD programs around the world. While cultural biases can be attributed to the favoritism shown towards English, globalization and the economic advantages of learning English has magnified the effect in recent years. With Wall Street and Silicon Valley as beacons of hope for anyone looking for a lucrative career, excelling in English has become a barrier of entry for bright students from non-English speaking countries (which unfortunately is highly correlated with developing areas).

In order to attend one of the prestigious universities, students from these areas much pass English proficiency tests such as the TOEFL, IELTS, or TOEIC, depending on country. In Patricia Ryan's talk on the topic, she points out that English proficiency tests have become gatekeepers of higher education; they prevent non-English speaking, poorly-represented students from displaying their rich acumen to the field of higher education. For example, a bright computer scientist from India must exert extra efforts compared to his/her American counterparts if he/she were to apply to an Ivy-League program.

Today, there are 6,000 languages to fumble with. 90 years from now, there will only be 600. For sure, there are efficiencies that are created with a consolidation of languages. A world with only a few languages will reduce the inefficiencies created when ideas are, literally, lost in translation. Furthermore, many languages are lost voluntarily; indigenous speakers relinquish their languages in lieu of more practical languages while maintaining their culture.

When considering efficiencies, however, it is important to consider the externalities and costs created with extinct languages. Although pinning a value of a lost language is much more difficult than valuing a company (financial experts have yet to figure that one out either, mind you), linguists often cite the loss of language as a irrecoverable loss of unique cultural, historical, and ecological knowledge.

Regardless of the values people peg to languages, reality remains that languages are continuing to consolidate in a fast pace. While much of the loss of language remains a voluntary phenomenon, it has indeed erected unnecessary barriers to the higher education sector. English requirements seemingly equate language proficiency to intelligence, as the best universities in the world use English as their language of choice. Instead, removing language barriers would allow universities to attract bright students who otherwise wouldn't have had the opportunity to attend a prestigious university. Perhaps shifting higher education to focus on bringing in teachers from different linguistic backgrounds will end this self-sustaining cycle of English hegemony in higher education.

Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Go Cards!

Once again the religious fervor of the fans of the St. Louis Cardinals has put an obstacle in the way of more important matters. Our student Eric Wilcox recently made the following announcement:

"My dearest Forum,

It is with regret that I must once again postpone the upcoming Symposium, this time indefinitely. Finally having chosen a suitable topic, we were struck with the bad fortune of the Cardinals making it to the World Series. This would usually be a value-neutral event, except for the fact that the Symposium and the World Series are at the exact same time. Given this, it is terrible news and makes me dislike the Cardinals, both the baseball team and, perhaps inappropriately, the species of bird. So instead of presenting you with this rather difficult moral dilemma of choosing attendance between the two events (for indeed this is a moral problem, and of such gravity that it must be considered a dilemma, on par with torturing time-bomb terrorists and rescuing a cart of embryos from a burning hospital), I have decided to cancel the Symposium (again). Rather than rescheduling it (again), I will organize something more informal later in the semester. I hope this doesn't ruin anyone's week; if it does, I suggest you write to the Cardinal's main office. Tell them their excellence in baseball has ruined our chances of philosophical discussion. I suggest you mention Nietzsche on mediocrity and herd-mentality, as it seems particularly apropos. Perhaps they will awaken from their dogmatic slumbers and realize that the true path to greatness is through philosophy and rational discourse, not watching people swing a stick of wood at a ball.

All my best,
Eric Wilcox

Cardinals Executive Office:
700 Clark Street
St. Louis, MO 63102
Phone Number: (314) 345-9600"

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Spring Courses

For those of you who are interested, my course offerings for the spring are as follows:

1. Sexual Ethics (big lecture course, freshmen and sophomore, satisfies the GEN ED requirement and the humanities requirement, cross-listed with the gender studies program)

2. Epistemology: Knowledge and Seemings (upper-level undergraduate and graduate seminar in philosophy)

3. Biological Bases of Behavior (graduate course in neuropsychology)

Course description for epistemology:

Epistemology: Knowledge and Seemings
It is reasonable to think that sensory perception, introspection, memory and intuition can provide justification for our beliefs. But what sort of justification (if any) do they provide? On one view, seemings may provide prima facie justification for beliefs. At first glance, this position is very reasonable. But at further scrutiny, it turns out to face a number of problems. This course is devoted to the study of whether perception, introspection, memory and intuition can provide justification for belief. We will attempt to answer questions such as 'How many kinds of seemings are there?' 'How reliable is memory?' 'Is an internalist theory of justification feasible?', 'Is foundationalism mandatory for epistemic internalists?', 'Can we use a virtue epistemological approach to explain the plausibility of the hypothesis that seemings can justify beliefs?', 'If visual seemings can provide prima facie justification for beliefs, what about appearances that arise from other sense modalities?' 'Can seemings explain the appearance that high-level properties figure in the content of perception?' The course satisfies one of the two M/E requirements.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Postdoc Position at UMSL

UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI-ST. LOUIS, St. Louis, MO. Postdoctoral Fellow, one year appointment with possibility of extension for one or two semesters (pending administrative approval), Department of Philosophy. Begins Spring Semester (January 15) 2012 or later. AOS: philosophy of mind, psychology, neuroscience, and computing. AOC: open. The postdoctoral fellow will work closely with Gualtiero Piccinini on a joint research program. Undergraduate and possibly graduate teaching; one course per semester; no service except professional. Salary competitive. Send CV, three letters of recommendation, and a writing sample to Postdoc Search, Department of Philosophy, University of Missouri-St. Louis, One University Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63121. The University of Missouri is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer committed to excellence through diversity. Minorities and women are encouraged to apply. Application review will begin immediately and continue until the position is filled. For more information, email