Woke Art Museums & The Growing Dominance of English in Business and Science

Sunday, March 6th, 2022

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What Happens Next is a podcast where an expert is given just SIX minutes to present his argument. This is followed by a Q&A period for deeper engagement.

Today’s topics are woke art museums & the growing dominance of english in business and science.

Our speakers are Heather Mac Donald and Rosemary Salomone.

Transcript

Larry Bernstein:
Welcome to What Happens Next. My name is Larry Bernstein.

What Happens Next is a podcast where the speaker gets to present his argument in just Six Minutes and that is followed by a question-and-answer period for deeper engagement. Today’s discussion will be on two topics: increasing wokeness at art museums and the increasing dominance of English in the world of business and science.

Our first speaker will be Heather Mac Donald who is the Thomas Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute. She has written about what is happening at American art museums. She will discuss the Art Institute of Chicago’s decision to terminate the volunteer docent program because the female staff was predominantly white. We will also cover the politically charged text used to describe the art work, and the curator’s decision to choose artists based on race and gender instead of based on its merits.

Our second speaker will be Rosemary Salomone who will discuss her new book entitled The Rise of English: Global Politics and the Power of Language. Rosemary will explain how English has come to dominate the world of global business and science. Starting decades ago, Nordic and Eastern European countries went all-in teaching their students English as a second language and their populations are now conversant in English. And English is now becoming the preferred second language in France, Italy and Spain. The fight over English in Europe appears to be over, despite Brexit. English’s use in Africa and Asia is still being decided and its competition will be French and Mandarin. Americans and Brits having won the war over English are now deemphasizing the role of foreign languages in elementary and secondary schools, and we will debate whether that is a good idea.

Each month since the beginning of COVID, I have commented on the monthly employment statistics because they are the most important economic data available on the global economy. This Friday’s labor market release was another big surprise. Here are the key takeaways.

The headline number from the Establishment report was 678,000 plus an additional 92,000 for revisions for the previous 2 months. In aggregate this is 300,000 more than street expectations. Job growth is surging and increasingly so. There are still 2.1mm jobs less than pre-COVID but we are just a few months away from cleaning that up. 75% of the jobs lost in the past two years were in hospitality and leisure. We should expect hiring in these sectors to accelerate as people go on vacations, visit conventions, and business travel picks up.

In the past month, there was a 20% cut in the numbers of workers who were teleworking as workers headed back to the office as Omicron cases exponentially declined. The biggest surprise is the slow growth in wages. Wages are up 5.1% in the past 12 months but were unchanged for in February. This change in wages was unexpected and frankly stunning. Given the strength of the labor market how could this possibly be. It was could be an error in the data. Alternatively, and I am struggling here, maybe employers front loaded their wage increases at year-end. Interest rates fell by 10 bps today because of the restrained wage growth and growing fears of escalating violence in the Ukraine.

In summary, the labor market is on fire and should remain so for the foreseeable future.

You can find transcripts for this program and all of our previous episodes on our website whathappensnextin6minutes.com, and you can listen on Podbean, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

Let’s begin with our first speaker Heather Mac Donald.

                                                              
 
 
 
 

Heather Mac Donald

Topic: Woke Art Museums
Bio: Thomas Smith Fellow at The Manhattan Institute
Reading: The Guardian in Retreat is here

Transcript

In September 2021, The Art Institute of Chicago told its volunteer museum educators, known as docents, that they would no longer serve in a volunteer capacity. Had the docents been delivering subpar performances? No. They were overwhelmingly white. And that, in 2021, constituted a sin almost beyond redemption. The racialist wave that swept the United States following the arrest related death of George Floyd has taken down scientists, artists, and journalists. Entire traditions, whether in the humanities, music, or scientific discovery, have been reduced to one fatal characteristic, whiteness.

And now, the anti-white crusade is targeting a key feature of American exceptionalism, the spirit of philanthropy and volunteerism. The Art Institute of Chicago is a case study in what happens when cultural organizations declare their mission to be anti-racism. The final result if unchecked will be the cancellation of a civilization. Museum directors have embraced the idea that museums are primarily a tool of exclusion, not inclusion. Art Institute leaders complain that the institute’s founders did not consider “Gender, ethnic, and racial equity.” But no museum founder in the late 19th century was considering gender, ethnic, and racial equity beyond a generalized aim to make beauty widely available.

The artists names carved across the exterior of the Art Institute’s original building are an especially fertile source of self-flagellation. The 35 names are a who’s who of Western art and architecture, starting with Praxiteles and Phineas from classical Greek times, proceeding through the early and high Renaissance, including Fra Angelico, Brunelleschi, Ghiberti, da Vinci, Michelangelo, and into the Baroque, Rubens, van Dyck, Velazquez, and Rembrandt. The roll call extends into the 18th century and ends with early 19th century romanticism. No such list can be exhaustive and one can always quibble with the choice. These 35 creators are nevertheless justifiably presented as paragons of human achievement.

Yet if landmark preservation laws allowed, the institute would’ve sandblasted its entablature away by now. The frieze is a quote, “Unsustainable formulation,” Director James Rondeau said in 2019. The museum’s equity statement complains about the quote, “Omission of artists of color, especially Black artists, as well as female, indigenous, and non-Western artists.” Only an intellectual adolescent would reduce such diverse artists as say Giotto, Durer, and Murillo, also members of the frieze, to the common denominator of whiteness and maleness. The absence of any historical awareness on the part of frieze critics is striking, especially coming from an art museum. There were no known indigenous artists that the institute’s founder should have memorialized. American Indian art was anonymous, produced within a collective craft tradition.
As for Black and female artists, whom do the institute’s equity enforcers think that the 1893 frieze should have included? There were few pre-20th century Black artists and architects, and none possessed the influence of Botticelli, or Titian, also commemorated on the frieze. There were more female artists and much effort has gone into elevating them to the creative pantheon. The Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi is a particular target for promotion. However, accomplished her work, only gender equity could justify inducting her into the highest ranks. It would be enough to lovingly preserve history’s treasures and to teach visitors to understand those treasures place in the evolution of human expression. A museum’s comparative advantage lies in its art historical expertise, not in any supposed capacity for racial justice work.

But cultural authority today comes from one of two sources, the assertion of victimhood or the acknowledgement that one is itself a victimizer. It is not open to the institute as a collective body to take the first course, given the race and sex of its founders. That leaves the vigorous assertion of racial guilt as the second best means of retaining cultural capital. The docents were sacked to atone for that presumptive racial guilt. The art institute’s chairman, Robert Levy, wrote in an op-ed that the docents constituted a, quote, “Barrier to engagement.” The institute was chosen to, quote, “Center our students across Chicago as we take this unexpected moment to rethink, redraw, and iterate.” Centering Chicago’s students means not subjecting them to the trauma of learning about art from white females volunteering their time and energy.

The overt white culling that doomed the docents is becoming frequent. In November 2021, the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California bragged about its own, quote, “Progress,” in culling its docent cores, which was down from 85% white in 2017 to 75% white in 2019. Given the quote, “Inarguable truth that museums are the legacy of Western colonialism serving as the product of straight, able-bodied, white male privilege,” the museum explained. Reducing the number of white docents was essential to ensure that Crocker could serve as a quote, “Safe space to talk about systemic inequality and inequity.” The persistent denigration of our cultural institutions and their supporters as bearers of oppressive white privilege is taking its toll.

During an equity and inclusion session for the board of the Whitney Museum of Art, in October 2021, one wealthy donor observed that it was, quote, “A tough time to be a not-for-profit leader. People are tip-toeing around every issue, afraid of every word coming out of their mouth being sliced and diced. It may be difficult to get the next generation of leaders,” this donor added. There is no counterpart to American philanthropy, not even in other Western nations. Now the anti-racism crusade erodes that tradition by the day. Good luck finding volunteers and donors if they are told that their whiteness brands them as pariahs.

Western civilization is not about whiteness, it is universal legacy. But those who should be guardians of that civilization by portraying it as antithetical to racial justice by dint of demographic characteristics are impoverishing the world and stunting the human imagination.

Heather Mac Donald Q&A:

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Rosemary Salomone

Topic: Growing Dominance of English in Business and Science
Bio: Law Professor at St. John’s University
Reading: The Rise of English: Global Politics and the Power of Language is here

Transcript

English has become the dominant lingua franca in the world. It’s an official language of the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the International Criminal Court and NATO. Across the globe, there are more non-native speakers of English than native speakers. English accounts for 60% of internet content. English both fuels the global economy and rides on it.

English has divided the world into haves and have nots, and it’s done it in two ways. The first is between those who have English and those who don’t. The second is between those who have only English and those who are multilingual. So rather than summarily conclude that English is good, bad, or neutral, I set out in my book to explore the nuanced effects of English and its global dominance. I decided to look through the lens of education, where the rise of English has been most vigorously debated.

My initial plan was to write a book on the value of language in the global economy, examining winners, losers and resisters on both sides of the Atlantic, but the deeper I dug into the research, the connections to the post-colonial world began to take shape. So, did the forces of globalization, internationalization, and neo-liberalism. I also came to understand that languages are highly valued commodities on the global market. And so, the book evolved into three interrelated parts, looking at Europe, colonial countries, and the US.

In Europe, the debate over English has to do with the growing use of English in European universities and institutions — the rising number of English taught courses in European universities. The burdens on students and faculty who don’t speak English well and the preservation of national languages and identity all come into play.

One of the most striking aspects of this trend is the dominance of English in the physical and life sciences. By 1990, upwards of 90% of international publications in some fields were in English. Meanwhile for Anglophones to assume that they can access research in other languages through language translation like Google Translate is simply unrealistic.

In post-colonial countries, a key point in the debate over English is the importance of teaching children, at least initially, in a language that they understand. Yet parents from the rich to the poor go to extreme lengths to educate their children in English. Here we see overlapping justifications for adopting English in the schools, from economic mobility in India and Morocco to the added push toward redress in transformation in post-Apartheid South Africa and in Rwanda that’s still trying to overcome the genocide.

On the other side of the English divide are Anglophones, who believe that there’s no need to learn other languages. The overall number of students studying world languages in the US has plummeted, and yet we know the value of language skills in the global economy. Only a quarter of the world is even minimally competent in English. That means that monolingual English speakers cannot tap into a large body of knowledge, or take advantage of many career and business opportunities. Even worse, they risk the world talking over their heads while they become politically and culturally isolated. Reading or listening to world events in different language media gives you a much bigger picture than limiting yourself to English speaking outlets. It also gives you a sense of how other people are processing your politics. All that said, there’s a slowly growing movement in the US to promote multilingualism as the norm.

In the book, I look at three settings where dual language immersion programs have taken off, in California, Utah, and New York City, and each provides a very interesting perspective on this growth. There’s a significant body of research on the market value of both English and other languages in terms of employment and higher earnings. The need for language skills goes beyond multinational businesses. In areas with large pockets of immigrants, social service agencies, including housing, education, domestic violence, unemployment and immigration, all demand multilingual workers.

Can English do it all? No. If anything, the pandemic has taught us that the world is interconnected and that we need to increase our ability to speak to each other as part of a global community. Well, is English the last lingua franca? It’s not unreasonable to think of another one coming along and pushing English aside some day though not in the near future. France will likely only make headway in the former French colonies. China’s policies in terms of human rights are dimming the appeal of Mandarin Chinese among many young people.

Rosemary Salomone Q&A:

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