aTypical Joe: a gay New Yorker living in the rural South
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Midwest Teen Sex Show: Porn
Among my responsibilities, I oversee a linux lab in an experimental high school. We use Dan’s Guardian and while discussing it with a high school teacher last week I wondered whether the pervasiveness of porn on the Internet means that today’s kids simply pass through a porn phase, then go on with their lives.
Sure, some get stuck and we should identify and help them but it’s the adult males—those who never got to go through that phase (sort of akin to the 40 year-old gay man who comes out of the closet late and does all kinds of embarrassing things)—who have the real problem.
I guess we’ll never know.
Anyway, here’s a fun Midwest Teen Sex Show episode on Porn:
Inheritance, good. Pay for grades, bad?
Do we not see our own biases??? Paying for grades may well work but even if it does I don’t trust that we’ll ever know:
Family Academy is one of 60 New York City public schools that volunteered to participate in the Spark incentive program, which is open to fourth and seventh graders for one school year. The money they earn is deposited into their own bank accounts, but they are free to spend it however they wish.
The Spark program, conceived by Harvard economist Dr. Roland Fryer, was created to narrow the educational gap between the haves and the have-nots. In other words, “trying to figure out a way to make school tangible for kids, to come up with short-term rewards that will be in their long-term best interest,” Fryer said.
Spark isn’t the only program in the country aimed at motivating kids with monetary incentives. Schools in a dozen states have similar programs. In Albuquerque, N.M., students at the Cesar Chavez Charter School can earn up to $300 a year for good attendance. In Santa Ana, Calif., kids who do well on their math tests can earn up to $250 and in Baltimore, students can take away $110 depending on their test scores.
The story asks “what does the research say?” then answers definitively that “despite short-term gains, [paying for grades] may be detrimental in the long-term by decreasing their motivation, especially when the incentive is removed.”
Huh??? MAY???? It ”may be detrimental?” WTF???
They use that conclusive qualifier to disqualify the whole idea and play into our cultural pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps myth when the simple fact is that social mobility between classes has lessened in this country—not increased—in the past 50 years.
We rail about the “death tax” so that the entitled can keep their leg-up, but don’t you go giving those poor kids money for good grades!!!
Fryer got one interesting quote into the story:
“The idea that we shouldn’t be giving kids rewards—come on. In affluent neighborhoods, parents take their kids to dinner, buy them shiny red cars. We’ve got to get past ‘It’s wrong, it’s bribery.’ We are in crisis mode; we’re beyond philosophy. If it doesn’t work, we’re all arguing over nothing.”
Fryer’s an interesting guy. I’ll be watching him.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
The Today Show at the Georgia Aquarium
Pricey hype. I still haven’t been there. I wonder if they’ve figured out what happened to those sharks?
Meredith Vieira is yacking about the stats, but don’t mistake this for some educational institution. The Georgia Aquarium - “not created by a municipality, or a society of subscribers like those that founded the earliest public zoos. It is almost completely the creation of a single man, Bernard Marcus, co-founder of the Home Depot” - as metaphor for our times:
[E]very gallery (and a 3-D theater) bears the label of a corporate sponsor: AirTran, BellSouth, Georgia-Pacific, Home Depot, the Southern Company, SunTrust Bank. If old-fashioned princely patronage was meant to reflect glory on royal powers, a similar goal is apparent here.
But the aquarium does not woo or court its visitors. It means to overwhelm them the moment they pass through a narrow entrance walled by swimming fish and enter the cavernous central space, where public dining areas are surrounded by entrances to thematic galleries—“Ocean Voyager,” “River Scout,” “Cold Water Quest” “Tropical Diver” and “Georgia Explorer”—that almost seem like entrances to amusement park rides. [...]
In Atlanta, too, river fish are glimpsed in an atmospheric, jungle-like path with rippling light and water - a latter-day variation on aquariums’ once-standard grottos. And perhaps most dramatically, there is the sight of a small school of golden trevallies, swimming in perfect formation, inches from the grim mouth of a 17-foot whale shark.
Yet to discover that those fish are trevallies, I had to search. Labels are either nonexistent or uninformative. One is often meant to browse through touch screens of images that offer minimal enlightenment for maximal effort. The galleries are organized around habitats, but they provide no information about what effects these habitats have on marine life or how animals function within it. Without enough context, it is astonishing how often these carefully planned routes devolve into miscellany. [...]
The lack of information and the inconsistency of imagination are strange, given the ambitions and accomplishments of this institution - including an educational program that draws schoolchildren with an apparently detailed curriculum. It is as if once the big effects were created, the creators relaxed into routine. Why though, is there a reluctance - here as in so many other museums - to provide real information for those who want it? Or to design exhibits that don’t just create atmosphere but spur understanding? The now requisite messages about conservation are pumped into a 3-D cartoon, but even they have no real import. ...[T]his aquarium’s risks are not of tanks fracturing or sea water growing stale, but of isolated spectacles and too little information.
Friday, February 08, 2008
Bias in the university
I’m realizing that it’s going to be a very big job to recover from my outage. And that the time it takes to restore the site is time taken away from blogging. All of which has me in a funk. As does news like this....
Facing South on Bills targeting “left-wing indoctrination” at Southern universities:
Based on the concern that academics are overwhelmingly left-leaning, the legislation mandates that professors remain ideologically neutral in the classroom and creates state councils to monitor views being presented. [...]
Interestingly, at least one state that’s looked into whether there are problems with the free exchange of ideas in the academy due to left-wing bias have found none. Several years ago, Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled state House created a special legislative committee to investigate whether students who hold unpopular views need protection. In November 2006, the committee issued a report that said it found no evidence of widespread problems.
The “Intellectual Diversity” legislation is based on the controversial ideas of left-wing radical-turned-right-wing radical David Horowitz, author of The Professors: The 100 Most Dangerous Academics in America, which targets professors from Southern schools including Baylor, Duke, Emory, North Carolina State, Texas A&M, University of Kentucky, University of South Florida, and the University of Texas. One of the academics Horowitz has singled out, UT-Austin Communication Studies Professor Dana Cloud, has written of the hate mail, physical threats and other harassment she’s experienced as a result of being targeted by Horowitz, whose tactics she’s likened to McCarthyism. She also reports how students in the Horowitz-founded Students for Academic Freedom keep a watch list and encourage the reporting of professors who exhibit “bias”:… which could mean anything from telling a Bush joke to encouraging students to think critically about gender; but NEVER means talking about capitalism in the business school or celebrating corporate culture in the advertising department ...
Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Professors as YouTube stars
Regular readers know I’m a fan of lectures. When I hear people (typically older people) pooh-poohing lectures online, I think that they just don’t get it. I want my content raw, preferably with the right to remix it as I please.
The Chronicle says “even YouTube was surprised” by the popularity of lectures:
YouTube itself wants to be a venue for academe. In the past few months, several colleges have signed agreements with the site to set up official “channels.” The University of California at Berkeley was the first, and the University of Southern California, the University of New South Wales, in Australia, and Vanderbilt University soon followed.
It remains an open question just how large the audience for talking eggheads is, though. After all, in the early days of television, many academics hoped to use the medium to beam courses to living rooms, with series like CBS’s Sunrise Semester. which began in 1957. Those efforts are now a distant memory.
And a wrong-headed comparison. Lectures are long tail content if ever there was such a thing. YouTube denies being surprised by the popularity:
[S]ome lectures on Berkeley’s channel scored 100,000 viewers each, and people were sitting through the whole talks. “Professors in a sense are rock stars,” Mr. Hochman concludes. “We’re getting as many hits as you would find with some of the big media players.”
YouTube officials insist that they weren’t surprised by the buzz, and they say that more colleges are coming forward. “We expect that education will be a vibrant category on YouTube,” said Obadiah Greenberg, strategic partner manager at YouTube, in an e-mail interview. “Everybody loves to learn.”
Says one professor, “For a teacher, you couldn’t ask for anything better.” I couldn’t agree more.
Friday, December 21, 2007
On falling high-school-graduation rates
American high-school-graduation rates peaked around 1970 before entering a long period of stagnation and decline, according to a working paper released this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research.
The decline in high-school graduation has been especially severe among male students, and it accounts for roughly half of the emerging gender gap in college attendance, according to the paper, which was written by James J. Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, and Paul A. LaFontaine, a researcher at the American Bar Foundation’s Center for Social Program Evaluation.
Apparently there’s been a debate about how to count high-school graduates. One side says graduation rates, especially for minorities, are far worse than the Ed Dept.’s figures. The other says that minorities’ graduation rates have slowly been converging with those of whites.
This new paper splits the difference but the results aren’t good:
In their paper, Mr. Heckman and Mr. LaFontaine gather information from a wide variety of data sources, including surveys conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, official enrollment figures from state departments of education, and longitudinal research such as the NCES’s High School and Beyond study.
Those data sources vary in their treatment of recent immigrants, prisoners, members of the military, and other groups. Mr. Heckman and Mr. LaFontaine massaged the studies’ findings to bring those variables into alignment. Once that is done, they write, the studies all tell essentially the same story: Graduation rates peaked around 40 years ago, and there has been no significant convergence between the rates for whites and the rates for minorities.
The authors note that there is tentative evidence that graduation rates have increased since the 2002 enactment of the No Child Left Behind law, which uses high-school graduation rates as a benchmark for states’ performance. But it is too soon, they write, to say whether such increases reflect true improvements, or whether states have simply learned to manipulate the figures. And in any case, they say, there is no reason to believe that graduation rates have returned to the peak levels of the late 1960s.
The paper is available here.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Virtual-Reality Based Immersive Education
The Chronicle on funding for a Project to Build Virtual Learning Platform Within Popular Online Worlds:
Virtual-reality software that researchers are developing exclusively for educational uses will be supported by funds from the Federation of American Scientists and the Kauffman Foundation, a group that promotes entrepreneurship, a Boston College instructor announced at a gathering on Saturday at Harvard University.
The instructor, Aaron E. Walsh, is leading the ambitious multimillion-dollar project to build a virtual-reality platform within commercial and nonprofit online games and other fantasy spaces. His goal is to promote online learning through interactive, three-dimensional graphics, Internet-based telephony, Web cameras, and other digital media.
The platform standards and best practices are being developed by an international consortium of colleges, research institutes, and companies that want to use virtuality for instruction, research, and training. [...]
The project builds on Mr. Walsh’s experience teaching Boston College students online in virtual spaces for three years… Mr. Walsh introduced the audience to the digital alter egos, or avatars, of some of his students as they traveled inside a three-dimensional model of an Egyptian tomb. An avatar of one student, standing in front of a digital jackal, explained that to ancient Egyptians the animal helped transport dead bodies to the underworld. The students have learned about some archaeological sites and tombs of Egypt through three-dimensional models developed by the Theban Mapping Project, based at the American University in Cairo. [...]
Also at the conference, Gene Koo, a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, talked about how students at Emerson College and Boston residents were using Second Life to foster civic engagement. They’re using the virtual world to design real public spaces, including a park that will be located near Harvard’s campus expansion project in the Allston neighborhood and adjacent residential areas. And they recreated Boston’s subway system to provide tours of the city’s neighborhoods. The Boston Island in Second Life will be formally presented to the city’s mayor at an event Thursday.
Jeff Orkin, a researcher at the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, discussed an online game he created called the Restaurant Game. It seeks to mimic the experience of being in a real restaurant as either a waiter or a patron. Mr. Orkin collects and organizes huge amounts of data about people’s experiences in the game to develop automated responses to players’ remarks or questions. Mr. Orkin said that Immersive Education could help similar efforts that combine artificial intelligence and virtuality.
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Faculty, friending and Facebook
I’m not faculty so my relationship to students is slightly different; but only slightly. From The Chronicle:
The old guy in the corner at a college party can come off as creepy. The same goes for a faculty member on Facebook, the online hangout first populated by students.
“Facebook was created as a place for students, not for professors,” says Steve Moskowitz, a sophomore at the State University of New York College at Oneonta. Students should be able to express themselves freely there, he says, without worrying what some professor will think.
One way to do that is by joining groups. Their names, often clever, mark identities like bumper stickers. Mr. Moskowitz formed the group “Gee, I don’t think I want my professors on Facebook anymore.” Its icon is a lecturer crossed out with a big red X.
But like it or not, professors are logging on. The number of Facebook users is doubling every six months, and adults, including professors, are the fastest-growing group among them. Some want to track down students who no longer respond to e-mail. Many are curious to see for themselves the addictive gabfest. As they sign on, they are negotiating the famously fraught teacher-student relationship in new ways.
This has been my practice:
Most faculty members on Facebook keep their profiles professional - nothing racier than would be posted, say, on an office door. The consensus on friending seems to be: Accept students’ requests but don’t initiate any.
That’s one of the guidelines for “Faculty Ethics on Facebook,” a group started by Mark A. Clague, an assistant professor of musicology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. “Since there’s an uneven power dynamic, giving the power to the students to control the relationship” is good policy, he says.
For all its pitfalls, Facebook can prompt meaningful exchanges. Some professors look up students who e-mail them with questions or are scheduled to come to office hours. What the professors learn, they say, makes them better advisers. Comments that students have posted - concern over a bad class presentation, for example - can provoke a thoughtful conversation. One professor knew to go easy on a student when he saw his status change from “in a relationship” to “single.”
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Let’s let teachers teach and children learn
Two distressing stories caught my attention this morning. One is an AP story from Texas about a teacher who has been placed on leave and is facing possible criminal charges because of a book from a reading list. The book, Child of God, is by Cormac McCarthy and involves a killer who rapes his victims after death. The teacher could be charged with distributing harmful material to a minor. (Because the content of that book is obviously much worse than what you see on tv crime procedurals every day.)
The local story involves East Coweta High School, just outside Atlanta, where the school paper was impounded after two articles ran. The first is satire and titled “Another Modest Proposal”. It’s a spin-off of the original modest proposal except this time instead of eating children, it advocates outlawing charity and getting rid of the portion of the population with the lowest IQ. It’s funny and well-reasoned and the kid does a good job of trying not to sound like a kid.
The second seems to me to be anything but controversial. It’s a scathing critique of an upcoming school pageant which grades girls solely on beauty. No talent competition. No current affairs questions. Just who’s prettiest. And this is a school competition. The author points out all the negative effects of this kind of pageant and that it has no redemptive value.
I have to say, I’m tired of teachers getting in trouble for teaching and students getting in trouble for learning. Makes home school sound tempting, eh?
As it happens I have a liberal colleague here who’s homeschooling for that very reason.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
New Guide to Find Most Gay-friendly Campuses
Recently, Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn. became an accidental metaphor for the lives of many lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students. In August, The Princeton Review named it the most gay-friendly school in America, and then less than a month later, someone scrawled homophobic graffiti on one of its studentÃ‚’s cars.
Most campuses endure hate crimes, but the timing of these events clarifies that even in the safest places, LGTBQ students can have challenging day-to-day lives. And now, one new book is aiming to address the full breadth of their experiences outside the classroom.
Published in September by The Princeton Review, The Gay and Lesbian Guide to College Life bills itself as Ã‚"a comprehensive resourceÃ‚” for LGBTQ students and their allies. Unlike most college guides, the book isnÃ‚’t trying to rank anything, so there are no lists of faculty-to-student ratios or even statistics about universities with the most openly gay professors.
John Baez, one of the guideÃ‚’s three co-authors, says, Ã‚"We intentionally went for a very mainstream, practical perspective. I think the book has the potential to guide students through situations that perhaps theyÃ‚’ve never found advice on before.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Nurses in Georgia: do the math
I don’t know that I get the math:
The University System of Georgia is hoping to graduate 50 percent more new nurses in the next three years under a new three million dollar program.
The state’s public college and university system is funding strategies at 16 campuses in hopes of increasing the number of nursing graduates statewide by 700 a year.
Medical College of Georgia President Daniel Rahn told the state Board of Regents on Wednesday during the panel’s monthly meeting that the move means the state would produce 2,400 new nurses annually.
The strategies include offering accelerated degree programs for registered nurses, increasing nursing faculty salaries and hiring more faculty to teach a larger number of students. Each campus will receive anywhere from $140,000 to $200,000 for the strategies.
A recent state House study committee report found that the public health nursing force has dropped to 1,556 in 2006 from 1,700 in 1990.
And the state population is sharply increasing. Meanwhile, the nursing shortage is real. A local health official told me last spring that Georgia has 22,000 hospital beds, but enough nurses for only 16,800 of them. So I’m surely glad to see a commitment to more, but just what does that commitment amount to?
I’m no mathematician, but if it only costs a million bucks to increase the nurses by half, well swell. The way I read the numbers, the cost is around $1,500 per nurse. That sounds cheap to me. But if you add 700 nurses for a total of 2,400, you started off with 1,700, and doesn’t 50% of 1,700 come out to 850?
RELATED: Oh, and there are too few doctors here too. Ah, the magic of the market!
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Around here, cursing is frowned upon. In New York I cussed with the best of them. Even there I wondered why and thought that, for my own personal aesthetic, I’d rather not. Here I hardly do.
Pupils are being allowed to swear at one Northamptonshire secondary school - as long as they limit their use of bad language to five times a lesson.
“Within each lesson the teacher will initially tolerate (although not condone) the use of the f-word (or derivatives) five times and these will be tallied on the board so all students can see the running score,” [assistant headmaster Richard White] wrote in the letter.
“Over this number the class will be spoken to by the teacher at the end of the lesson.”
All is not lost. Parents of children who do not swear in class will receive “praise postcards.”
Student doesn’t apologize for “F--- Bush” editorial
Collegian editor J. David McSwane declined to apologize for the profane “F --- Bush” editorial printed in the Colorado State University student newspaper last week, but acknowledged recent days have been “hell.”
McSwane was called before the university’s Board of Student Communications, or BSC, on Wednesday night to hear complaints that the editorial was offensive to the university community. The BSC is considering whether to fire McSwane over the editorial and its financial implications for the newspaper. Advertisers have pulled thousands of dollars in ads from the paper.
Student Cody Bartlett said he understood McSwane has the right to publish what he wants, but urged greater respect for the president.
He added: “Since when has this word been acceptable? This is not OK. Have you ever heard news reporters say the weather is going to F us over this weekend?”
Audience members laughed aloud at Bartlett’s joke, but vehemently shouted down another speaker who used the N-word in connection to U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.
That speaker, who prefaced his remark by saying he was trying to make the point that some words are unacceptable, called for “common decency” in the widely distributed free newspaper.
Other speakers said the F-word is a common utterance on a college campus and said newspapers should be free to publish what they want.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
Student loan bill
"I don’t understand it and when they explain it to me I don’t know what they are saying.”
That’s my nephew telling me how he got into the raw deal he’s got on his student loans. I can only hope this bill might signal the beginning of the end of subsidizing big banks to take advantage of and impoverish our young people:
Congress approved a $20.2 billion boost in financial aid for college students yesterday, a package that backers said would be the single largest increase in federal tuition funding since World War II.
The bill, which President Bush is expected to sign, raises the maximum Pell grant for low-income students from $4,050 to $5,400, and temporarily slashes interest rates on student loans by half.
It also establishes debt-forgiveness programs for graduates who enter certain poorly paid fields such as law enforcement, firefighting, and teaching. According to the Department of Education, the average student now graduates with $19,000 in debt.
At $10,000 after 5 semesters in college, my nephew’s topped that. The NYTimes:
Democrats likened the legislation to the G.I. bill that sent millions of veterans to vocational training and college after World War II. “Today we’ll need a similar bold new commitment to enable the current generation of Americans to rise to the global challenges we face,” said Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the education committee. “Today will help millions of students achieve the American dream.”
Representative George Miller of California, the Democratic chairman of the House education committee, said that last year, Republicans took nearly $12 billion from student Pell grants. “We took $11.39 billion and put it back into Pell grants,” Mr. Miller said. “That’s the difference that an election makes.”
For my nephew’s student loan debt he earned a 1.65 GPA. No one was looking - or helping - as he slid downhill. It makes me wonder if we should link loans to grades. No one I see is discussing that.
Tuesday, September 04, 2007
College giving: the best of times and the worst of times
The government is gradually defunding public education, interfering in all kinds of ways that many educators find inappropriate. Then there’s charitable giving:
For college administrators, there’s never been a better time to raise money. Donations have been doubling every decade, reaching historic highs—$28 billion in 2006, according to the Council for Aid to Education.
But the baby boomers who are giving are well aware of scandals at charities and want to be sure their money isn’t fattening administrators’ salaries or slipping through cracks, several financial planners said.
And sometimes they want more:
[Trinity University president Patricia] McGuire said that in her career at various institutions, she has known donors to offer money for scholarships whose first beneficiaries will be their children and grandchildren. Money to endow a chair to be filled by a certain professor. Money to be used only to buy antique books from the donor’s business. And millions of dollars to establish an academic program that would offset a perceived ideological slant in the school’s curriculum. Those gifts were all declined, she said, for reasons ranging from academic freedom to a distaste for a business contract masquerading as a charitable gift.
“The new philanthropy is more like an investment than a gift,” McGuire said. “It’s a business transaction in a way it wasn’t even a few years ago.”
The donors say there’s a good reason for that. Steinbach, the education lawyer, said the intent of the giver is sometimes ignored. Although “the institutions take them with the full intent of fulfilling the donor’s wishes,” he said, time goes by, details get forgotten, priorities change.
The article says a “closely watched case that sends chills down administrators’ spines” is a suit over a $35 million gift to Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs which has grown to over $840 million. The heirs now want to end the foundation’s relationship with the school. A Princeton pal points me to Princeton’s side of that story.
RELATED: Why Joel Stein’s not giving Stanford any money.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
RIAA “deterence” continues
The RIAA has targeted 503 additional college students at 58 colleges and universities in the seventh wave of its latest ”deterrence program” aimed at eliminating piracy on college campuses. That’s 2,926 students targeted to date.
The pre-litigation "settlement" letters, as it refers to them as, once again target those with the fewest resources and ability to fight the charges in an actual courtroom before a judge and jury. As usual, the RIAA offers a convenient method to bypass the legal system altogether and "...resolve copyright infringement claims against them at a discounted rate before a formal lawsuit is filed." What nice guys right?
Maybe somebody should remind them that you can’t definitively identify somebody by an IP address, that "Many computers can be connected to the Internet with identical IP addresses as long as they remain behind control points such as routers, firewalls, proxy servers, or similar technologies."
In the seventh wave of this new initiative, the RIAA this week sent letters to 58 schools including: [full list]
How long to finish school?
Around here we have a lot of “fifth year seniors.” I have been inclined to think that a side effect of the HOPE scholarship; with free tuition, why hurry? But maybe four years to get through college is a one-size-fits-all approach not well-suited to the wide variety of learning styles individuals might reasonably exhibit. Who picked four years anyway?
The question arises out of the experience of New York City high-schoolers. There they find that more students finish school, given the time:
Faced with 70,000 students or more who are years behind in obtaining the credits needed to graduate from high school, New York City is at the forefront of a movement to recognize that for a significant number, high school might stretch into five, six, even seven years.
In an effort that has expanded across Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s second term, the city has spent nearly $37 million to identify and cater to students who are at the biggest risk of dropping out and has already contracted for $31 million more in programs. [...]
For students past the traditional graduation age, the city has established special centers to provide counseling, night classes and an environment designed to avoid the stigma of being college age but in class with 14-year-olds. Some students also earn credits through summer school and community college classes.
When the programs began in 2004, they were serving roughly 2,000 students. That number has since ballooned to more than 7,000. Many students will graduate this week, after spending the summer earning final credits.
The article says that NYC “officials acknowledge that students should complete high school in four years.” I answer that there should be no poverty or discrimination.
Monday, August 13, 2007
School Boards say use Social Networks in schools
While the Attorneys General are off demonizing social network sites, the National Schools Board Association has been collecting data on all of the good things that teenagers are doing with the sites, including learning about colleges, talking about homework, engaging in collaborative projects, and otherwise operating as active learners. To combat the myths generated by mass hysteria, they highlight that only .08% (note the point, this is less than 1%) of students have met someone in person through an online interaction without their parents’ permission. In short, they argue that not only is the Internet not nearly as dangerous as the public seems to believe, but it’s actually quite helpful for students and teachers should be encouraged to support their students in using it. They offer recommendations for how schools should directly engage with these sites and the practices of their students. [...]
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Let’s license 18-year-olds to drink
“The time has come to address the reality of alcohol in America”
CHOOSE RESPONSIBILITY is a nonprofit organization founded to stimulate informed and dispassionate public discussion about the presence of alcohol in American culture and to consider policies that will effectively empower young adults age 18 to 20 to make mature decisions about the place of alcohol in their own lives.
Alcohol is a reality in the lives of young Americans. It cannot be denied, ignored, or legislated away.
From today’s Parade Magazine:
The group promotes intensive education and drinking licenses for 18-year-olds, akin to learner’s permits for young drivers. Get caught drinking before 18 or break any of the strict rules after that, and the license is gone.
“We’re never going to get rid of underage drinking,” says John McCardell. “But if a kid knows he has to stay clean in order to get a license at 18, that’s a pretty powerful incentive.”
It’s not a radical notion. The rest of the world would likely find it rather cautious: Only three other countries-Mongolia, Palau and Indonesia-restrict purchasing drinks to those 21 or older. (Of course, some countries restrict alcohol for all citizens.) But the idea is far from mainstream in America. A 2005 ABC News poll, taken on the 21st anniversary of the 1984 federal law that forced states to raise their drinking ages, found that 78% of the public opposed a lower age; at the same time, 75% also said underage drinking was a “serious problem.”
The most vocal opponent of any policy change other than stricter more punitive laws is Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Celebrated for its successes and with a 2005 budget of over $50 million ($500,000 on lobbying), MADD has a huge apparatus vested in perpetuating the status quo and rejecting alternative strategies.
More from Parade:
Mothers Against Drunk Driving...dismisses McCardell as a dangerous gadfly. “Holy cow, this literally involves life and death,” says Charles A. Hurley, MADD’s chief executive officer [2005 salary $225,000]. “Life-and-death issues of kids are really too important for off-the-cuff musings.”
With that MADD dismisses the serious reality of college drinking today:
[C]ritics of the current drinking laws point out that a sizable minority of 18- to 20-year-olds, and roughly a fifth of 16- and 17-year-olds, already drink heavily often or on occasion. Indeed, the 21 drinking age isn’t so much a law as a slogan: Even supporters concede it is widely flouted and often not enforced. Yet, because 18-year-olds-adults in most other senses -generally can’t drink legally in bars and restaurants, they tend to drink in dorm rooms, on isolated fields and at unsupervised house parties, where adults can’t watch them. And in those environments, the drinking can be dangerous-especially among young people who have no practical experience with alcohol yet years of exposure to a social and advertising culture that encourages drinking.
“They don’t drink the way we drank a generation ago,” says Cynthia Kuhn of Duke University, an expert on the effects of drugs and alcohol. “There’s an increasing minority who establish blood-alcohol levels that are nearly lethal.” A practice known as “front-loadingÃ¢â‚¬Â�-getting drunk on cheap liquor before a night out-is common, and alcoholic blackouts are no longer rare. “It used to happen to the weird, stupid kid who couldn’t hold his liquor, and he did it once,” says Kuhn, who teaches alcohol education to student groups. “Now, it’s typical.” [...]
Drunkenness also spawns other problems-from assaults and rapes to accidents and alcohol poisonings, both fatal and nearly so. Young adults who are drinking illegally are reluctant to summon help when things go wrong. “If a student passes out, in the old days there was usually someone around to check,” says Alan Marlatt, a psychology professor at the University of Washington who helped develop a widely used alcohol-screening program called BASICS. “Now everyone’s afraid of getting caught.”
Critics of the 21-year-old drinking age contend that it is almost universally ignored and breeds a cynical disrespect for the law. About 80% of people have tried alcohol by age 20. Fairness aside, though, perhaps there is another pressing concern. “How can we reduce the harm?” asks David J. Hanson, an alcohol researcher and professor emeritus at the State University of New York at Potsdam. “I think we should teach young people how to drink as well as how not to drink.Ã¢â‚¬Â�
MADD has had great successes. It’s time to build on and move beyond them.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Harvard cognitive scientist, Steven Pinker, in defense of dangerous ideas:
Do women, on average, have a different profile of aptitudes and emotions than men?
Were the events in the Bible fictitious—not just the miracles, but those involving kings and empires?
Has the state of the environment improved in the last 50 years?
Do most victims of sexual abuse suffer no lifelong damage?
Did Native Americans engage in genocide and despoil the landscape?
Do men have an innate tendency to rape?
Did the crime rate go down in the 1990s because two decades earlier poor women aborted children who would have been prone to violence? [or lead]
Are suicide terrorists well-educated, mentally healthy and morally driven?
Would the incidence of rape go down if prostitution were legalized?
Do African-American men have higher levels of testosterone, on average, than white men?
Is morality just a product of the evolution of our brains, with no inherent reality?
Would society be better off if heroin and cocaine were legalized?
Is homosexuality the symptom of an infectious disease?
Would it be consistent with our moral principles to give parents the option of euthanizing newborns with birth defects that would consign them to a life of pain and disability?
Do parents have any effect on the character or intelligence of their children?
Have religions killed a greater proportion of people than Nazism?
Would damage from terrorism be reduced if the police could torture suspects in special circumstances?
Would Africa have a better chance of rising out of poverty if it hosted more polluting industries or accepted Europe’s nuclear waste?
Is the average intelligence of Western nations declining because duller people are having more children than smarter people?
Would unwanted children be better off if there were a market in adoption rights, with babies going to the highest bidder?
Would lives be saved if we instituted a free market in organs for transplantation?
Should people have the right to clone themselves, or enhance the genetic traits of their children? [...]
...the rear-view mirror of history presents us with a warning.
Time and again, people have invested factual claims with ethical implications that today look ludicrous. The fear that the structure of our solar system has grave moral consequences is a venerable example, and the foisting of “intelligent design” on biology students is a contemporary one. These travesties should lead us to ask whether the contemporary intellectual mainstream might be entertaining similar moral delusions. Are we enraged by our own infidels and heretics whom history may some day vindicate?
The list is easiest to quote; the article is the long and provocatively well-reasoned preface to the book What Is Your Dangerous Idea?: Today’s Leading Thinkers on the Unthinkable.
Via Andrew Sullivan.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Student loan overhaul passes Senate
The Senate overwhelmingly approved a wide-ranging overhaul of student loan programs early today that would pay for more than $17 billion in grants and other student aid by slashing subsidies to lending companies.
Democrats and student advocates said the legislation, which passed in a 78 to 18 vote, would help millions of Americans pay for college in a time of steady and often steep tuition increases. But lenders and some Republicans said the measure would hurt students by making it unprofitable for many companies to issue such loans.
I haven’t paid near enough attention to the investigations uncovering all kinds of chicanery in the $85 billion-a-year student loan industry but I agree with Kennedy:
“The question is: Are you going to support the students or are you going to support the banks?” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), chairman of the education committee, said during debate.
Lending companies said the legislation was a backdoor effort to drive some companies out of business and force borrowers to use a federal program, strongly supported by Democrats, in which the government lends directly to students.
The measure would cut subsidies to lenders by about $18 billion over five years and boost student aid by $17.4 billion during that period, with the rest of the savings used to reduce the federal budget deficit. The biggest aid increase would raise the maximum annual Pell grant, the nation’s main aid program for low-income students, from $4,300 to $5,400 a year by 2012.
So please answer me this: we read hear Republicans claim Democrats are going to force private lenders out of business by loaning directly to students and cutting $18 billion in subsidies. Uh, so the only way they’re in business is with subsidies??? I guess that’s the Republican version of private enterprise.
The way the math reads they cut $18 billion in subsidies, give $17.4 billion to students and use the rest to reduce the debt. That sounds about right to me (and is not contradicted in the story or anywhere else I can find). Of course George Bush promises a veto.
Monday, June 18, 2007
Student accuses teacher of plagiarism
Passing off someone’s work as your own is a cardinal sin in college research. Students can be expelled. Professional reputations can be wrecked. While student plagiarism grabs headlines, allegations against teachers happen more than people realize, experts say. Because students rarely fight back, most accusations fade in the grumbling over beers after class.
This time, though, the student is suing.
Scheduled for trial this summer in Anoka County, Swenson’s lawsuit against Bender may offer an unvarnished look at who controls ideas in the give-and-take of college research. It also may open a window on the complex ties between teachers and students who need a mentor’s help and influence - and who understand they are unlikely to get the benefit of the doubt.
The school in question, Minneapolis based Capella, is a “for-profit, online university;” the teacher in question also received her doctorate from Capella. It gets worse. The student and teacher never met in person. The student’s unpublished work was made available on the teachers website for free.
The teacher denies the whole thing and has some evidence to support her. It’s a mess.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Chronic widespread student loan abuses
This deserves more attention than I’ve given it. From The Chronicle (subscription):
Questionable practices that have come to light in investigations of the U.S. student-loan industry were routine and widespread, involving payments of illegal or improper inducements at dozens of colleges and lenders, both large and small, according to the first Congressional report on the matter.
The report, released on Thursday by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the Senate education committee, may not change the fundamental understanding of a situation in which college administrators were accepting personal benefits—from pens and notepads to vacation trips and stock options—from lenders in return for access to their students.
It does, however, make public a depth of detail on the case that makes it harder for colleges and the lending industry to suggest that students were not shortchanged, or that potential violations of the federal ban on paying inducements to secure loan applications were rare or isolated events.
The 50-page report by Mr. Kennedy’s staff, titled “Report on Marketing Practices in the Federal Family Education Loan Program,” is backed up by a 530-page compilation of e-mail messages and other documents that contain ever more embarrassments for colleges and loan companies already held up to public shame by disclosures over the past several months.
While I certainly agree with Kevin Bruns, executive director of the industry group America’s Student Loan Providers, that “the vast majority of the men and women in the financial-aid and student-loan communities are honorable people trying to do the right thing,” it seems to me they must see the light and come to understand that some longstanding practices accepted as all well and good must change.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
Congressional support for Study Abroad
I went with a group of students to the Czech Republic last year; Doug is in Germany now with a group from Georgia and Ohio (their blog is here). These programs offer students incredible learning opportunities that they’ll recall for a lifetime.
Congress passed a bipartisan bill on Tuesday aimed at increasing study abroad opportunities. From The Chronicle (subscription only):
The legislation approved by the House, known as the Senator Paul Simon Study Abroad Foundation Act (HR 1469), would create a foundation whose goal would be to send one million American students abroad each year within the next 10 years. Only 206,000 students studied abroad during the 2004 academic year, the latest for which figures are available. That number represents about 1 percent of all university students.
The bill authorizes Congress to appropriate $80-million annually for the foundation, which would distribute the money largely in the form of grants to students through universities and other study-abroad providers.
One of the bill’s key goals is to bring more diversity to study abroad, both in terms of where students travel and who goes overseas. For example, it seeks to raise the number of community-college, low-income and minority students who study abroad, as well as increase the number of students studying in developing countries.
They’re hoping for senate action within the next couple of weeks.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Tolerance vs. Equality & Justice
Wendy Brown’s Regulating Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire sits on my bedside table. A small book, it’s a long read. In the first chapter she observes that once the call was for “liberty and justice for all.” Now, instead of calling for “equality,” we call for “tolerance.”
Marc Fisher brings us an example of how this plays out. A cashier at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus food co-op was offended by a student’s t-shirt. Said she, “I won’t ring you up.” The response was a model of modern tolerance:
The collective, which rents space from the university, announced last week that it would serve any customer who was not physically or verbally abusive, but that any worker who was offended by a customer’s politics could discreetly slip away and find another clerk to serve the patron.
Imagine that at the lunch counter. We could have black waiters wait on black patrons, or gay on gay, or Christian on Christian, Jew on Jew and so on. No more need to negotiate, instead this ideal has us living in our separate equality. The logical extension of our tolerant accommodation.
[T]he students seem blind to the core rationale for freedom of speech, the idea that a marketplace of ideas is only worthwhile when it is truly, wholly unfettered.
Gretchen Metzelaars, director of Maryland’s student union, met with the collective “trying to help them come to the conclusion that they must abide by the university’s human rights code,” which prohibits discrimination based on age, sex, race and, yes, political beliefs.
Despite hours of conversation, “it became apparent that they were not coming to the right conclusion,” Metzelaars said. “So we delivered it to them.” This week, she told the collective that if it discriminates again, it will have 60 days to vacate the premises.
“They can’t see that this is discrimination,” she told me. “They’re more committed to their righteousness than they are to the rights of other people. The fact is, you have to serve everyone.”
In the end the students still don’t get it. I’m not sure that most of us do. The move towards tolerance means a shift away from equality and justice. That shift brings with it the assumption that differences cannot be negotiated. Instead they can only be tolerated.
But the flip side of the tolerance coin is the legitimation of intolerance for those incapable of exercising tolerance. (James Dobson, Osama bin Laden, PETA, and ACT-UP spring to my mind.) And we miss the opportunity to make a more just and equal society for all.