Super Mega Labor Day Quick hits

Sorry to disappoint you with your long weekend reading, but between a PS conference and a family trip to Topsail Island, blogging has dropped in priority.  You might even want to space out your reading– I’ve been too lazy to break these up and blogging will still be slow while I catch back up to speed.  So, there’s a ton.

1) Definitely number for for me: Arsonist hits my hotel.  This was actually scary as hell as I was on the 8th floor and one emergency stair was choked with smoke and another was choked with people.  Fortunately, I did not go down the over-crowded one but found a third.

2) The four-word secret to seeming polite.  I’m so going to use this.

3) Boys interrupt and girls do not from an early age.  Apparently, Sarah has not been socialized into this gender role yet.

4) Loving the NYT coverage of the US Open even though I hardly watch tennis anymore.  On the dearth of quality among US Men’s tennis.  On the death of the one-handed backhand (hey, that’s what I used to use).

5) I never really liked the multiverse theory.

6) Yes, even academics should watch what they tweet.  At least if you plan on taking a job at a new institution.

7) Tennessee has been drug testing those seeking welfare benefits.  They are finding very low rates of drug use.

8) The great Civil War hoax (that I had never heard about).

9) Why college textbooks are so expensive.  I love the prescription drug analogy– I’ve used it many times myself.  I have no doubt faculty have to take price more seriously.

10) The Upshot on the blue state disapora.

11) Classic Onion headline (and so true in my experience): “GOP holds solid hold on youth that already look like old men.”

12) Our current drug czar is a recovering alcoholic and believes in focusing on health and treatment.  Hooray!

13) Vox does their own bit on the absurdity of HS start times.  Most interesting to me, apparently my own school system that educated me, Fairfax County, VA, is looking to change it’s start time.  25 years to late for me, but good for them.   And honestly, if a huge county with a high SES population and excellent school system can make this change, maybe they can be a trendsetter.  I sure hope so.

14) I learned from Nurtureshock years ago never to tell my kids their smart.  Still, liked this Khan Academy post on the matter.

15) Ozy on the invention of toilet paper.  Thank God– sure beats the previous alternatives.

16) The infamous monkey in the selife makes a statement.

17) Emily Bazelon on the rise of medical abortions.

18) Anybody who sexualizes innocent photos a father takes of his naked two year old is just sick.  Certainly not the father taking the photos.  These shots are so cute.  What’s wrong with people?!

19) In case you missed the story of the Hollywood producer being held for a bank robbery.  Oh, yeah, he was Black.

20) The Democrats’ plan for 2020.

21) The Ohio legislature versus science.  Ugh.

22) Nicholas Kristof says everyone is a little bit racist.  He’s right.  Of course, I’ve known that since grad school, but still a nice summary of some important social science.

23) Charter schools aren’t quite what they should be.

24) On the remaining sexism in Congress and the continuing difficulty faced by female politicians (this is going onto the next Gender & Politics syllabus).

25) How John Oliver’s awesome viral clips (many seen here) don’t exactly fit in with HBO’s standard business model.

26) Vox on the institutional racism of the war on drugs and the perverse incentives it provides to police forces.

27) Surely you heard the sad story of the eight-year old who accidentally shot her shooting instructor with a submachine gun on full automatic.  UVA poet Greg Orr reflects on how he accidentally shot and killed his brother as a child and the lasting trauma.  I really enjoyed seeing this because I remember when Orr came to read poetry at my HS and spoke of this incident.  Probably about the only guest speaker I remember from high school.

What doesn’t explain US education outcomes

Really liked this post from Amanda Ripley summing up all the reasons that do not explain educational outcomes in the US relative to other nations:

2. Class Sizes

Around the world, class sizes are not predictive of education results. In the U.S., small class sizes seem to be better for very young students, but as usual, it depends on the teacher and the principal.

3. Time in School

Despite popular belief, most U.S. schools require at least as much instructional timeas schools in other countries. The quality of that time matters more than the quantity. I have seen a lot of time wasted in schools all over the world…. More time may be useful, particularly for kids from low-income families, but only if that time is used wisely (i.e. by giving teachers more time to watch strong teachers teach).

4. School Choice

Around the world, there is no clear relationship between the amount of school choice and competition and students’ performance on a test of critical thinking in math, reading and science. In fact, if anything, school choice seems to be related to greater levels of segregation in some countries.

Here again, the quality of choices appears to matter more than the existence of choices. So investing in the supply of great teachers and principals seems to be more effective than relying on parental demand.

So what matters?  Challenging our students (Common Core anyone?) and investing far more in good teachers:

So what does matter, now that we’ve covered what doesn’t? Rigor matters: the work that kids do, the quality of teacher training, the seriousness of the entire system. That matters in every time zone.

There is more than one way to get rigor, of course. In my experience, the best approaches start at the beginning–focusing on how teachers get selected and coached, how principals are developed and chosen, and how schools and parents work together to challenge all kids to think for themselves.


Science vs. status quo (high school edition)

Ugh, I’m tired.  Why?  My oldest started high school this week, complete with it’s utterly absurd 7:25 start time.  My own high school started school at 7:30, but I did not recognize until years later that I basically spent my entire high school years chronically sleep-deprived.  Then I got to college, never took classes before 9:10, and knew what it meant to be sufficiently rested.

I don’t know the history of the early high school start times, but when these decisions were first made, we did not have scientists and doctors telling us that these times were simply not compatible with optimal adolescent health.  But now we know.  The evidence on the inappropriateness of these early start times keeps piling up and school districts just keep ignoring it.  Status quo bias is a very, very powerful thing.  Very nice piece in the Atlantic summarizing the evidence on the matter:

These early school start times result in sleepy kids and frustrated parents. But, as of Monday, those kids and parents have the formidable weight of the American Academy of Pediatrics on their side. The organization released a new policy statement saying that “insufficient sleep in adolescents [is] an important public health issue that significantly affects the health and safety, as well as the academic success, of our nation’s middle and high school students.”

“The empirical evidence [of] the negative repercussions of chronic sleep loss on health, safety and performance in adolescents … has been steadily mounting for over the past decade,” wrote Judith Owens, a pediatrician and the lead author of the report, in an email. “For example, an important recent study published this spring by Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom documented the positive effects of school start time delay in over 9000 students from eight high schools in three states, including improved grades and standardized test scores and up to a 65 to 70 percent reduction in teen car accidents.”

Lest you thing, “those damn whiny kids (and their whiny parents) just need to go to bed earlier,” it is not so simple:

Moving bedtimes earlier is not going to fix the problem, particularly for adolescents. Teens stay up later not because they don’t want to go to sleep, but because they can’t. Due to the delayed release of melatonin in the adolescent brain and a lack of “sleep drive” in response to fatigue, teens do not feel sleepy until much later at night than young children or adults and have difficulty falling asleep, even when they are tired.

That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics is focusing on school start times. “Although many changes over the course of adolescence can affect the quality and quantity of sleep, one of the most salient and, arguably, most malleable is that of school start times,” it says.

We actually give David supplemental melatonin every night and it generally works (he’s predispositionally prone to insomnia plus he’s got remaining Adderall in his system).  I honestly wonder if parents of most high school kids with these 7:30 and similar start times just shouldn’t be given their kids melatonin every night.  Now, of course, the obvious solution is right in front of everybody with moving the start times, but that is a lot of change.  I do understand the reluctance, but I wish people would listen to the science and their over-tired teenagers.

I think at some point enough school districts will make a change and show a clear relationship to rising test scores that it will finally catch on widely (that would be one good effect of our standardized test obsession).  Hopefully before Sarah goes to high school, otherwise I’ve got 15 years of these early start times ahead of me.

Homeschooling and the common good

I’ve always been someone suspect of homeschooling.  I know a number of parents with special needs kids who have resorted to it because they felt their children’s very unique needs could not be met by the school system.  Personally, I’ve been very pleased with how the school system has done by Alex, but I certainly understand this choice.  A lot of other people, though, I’ll admit to being skeptical.

My first encounter on the issue happened not long after moving to NC I took David to a nearby park and we ended up playing with some other young kids.  I asked the sweet little girl where she went to school.  Her literal response… “Do you know God?”  Umm, okay.  “Sure, I know God,” I responded.  Turns out the public schools don’t and that’s why her parents were homeschooling her.  I don’t need to expound on the idea that it’s a damn good thing that the public schools are not for learning about God, but it seems to me that this is quite different from algebra and grammar anyway, so what exactly is the problem?  Can’t your children learn math, writing, etc., at school and learn about God at home and church?

Anyway, really enjoyed this recent Op Ed in the N&O about homeschooling in NC:

In 2011, 91 percent of homeschooling parents said that one reason they homeschooled was concern about the public school environment. Seventy-seven percent cited “a desire to provide moral instruction,” and 74 percent cited “dissatisfaction with academic instruction at other schools.”

That homeschooling is increasing is clear. Less clear is what these trends mean for public education in North Carolina and in the United States…

Another way to look at it is that higher-than-ever numbers of parents are removing themselves and their children from the public education system that is such an important part of the culture of the United States – a public education system that needs constant and continuous maintenance to improve. The contract of our public education system includes that such maintenance, at least in part, comes from the families of students in the system.

When families leave in higher and higher numbers, what does that mean for the public education system? And what does it mean for our sense of community?

In her 2012 book “Homeward Bound,” Emily Matchar puts the increasing number of homeschooled students in a historical context. During the social and political reform of the Progressive Era, from 1890 to 1920, Matchar writes, “Parents with high socioeconomic status – the ones with the greatest social and political clout – advocated for policy changes that ultimately benefited everybody,” including a number of school-reform bills, such as a more widely available high school education.

Today, though, Matchar notes, “Historian Janet Golden observes that we’ve abandoned the idea of communal good in favor of individual, family-focused solutions.” That means “there are fewer people … volunteering to improve the public schools.” She describes it as “opting out” of the social contract.

When parents are committed only to their own child’s education, that affects the education of other children, those whose parents don’t have the time or inclination to fight for improved school conditions, those whose parents must work long hours and can’t devote evenings to school projects and PTA meetings. When parents are committed only to their own child’s education, that affects communities for whom schools have long been a source of unity. What does that do to education in North Carolina, education in the United States?

Now, I do understand that many people have a variety of reasons for wanting to homeschool, but when the parents most committed to their children’s education pull out of the school systems that undoubtedly hurts the school systems.  Yes, families have a right to do what’s best for their child, but if some of that effort went into working to improve public schools, than everybody’s child would benefit.

My third son attends an elementary school that is majority-minority (it’s about 30% white).  A lot of the more committed white parents have pulled their kids out for a whiter magnet school further away.  I know it’s not about race for most, but it has left our school with a much higher percentage of kids on free/reduced lunch.  The truth is, my son is still getting a very good education at our neighborhood school.  Would it be even better at the magnet?  Probably.  But the difference is not going to mean the difference between Evan going to Duke versus community college.  Meanwhile, our school benefits from still having committed, higher SES families involved.

Quick hits (part I)

1) NPR on the power of peer groups in preventing campus rape.

2) Cool optical illusion.

3) Police shoot dogs all the time.  Just hope the police never come to your house looking for a criminal (Balko on the epidemic of shoot first, worry about whether the dog is a potential threat later).

4) Post editorial on the wrong-headedness of the Rick Perry prosecution.  DJC sent me a link suggesting that Perry will be convicted.  I just don’t see it happening.

5) Can taxing the wealthy strengthen democracy?  Probably yes:

The historical record, however, suggests that taxing the wealthiest does have an important, but different, consequence: making the wealthy vested in the common good. In fact, taxing the wealthy was crucial for the emergence of representative government itself.

6) George Will confirms Nixon’s attempts to sabotage peace in Vietnam in order harm LBJ and HH.  Nixon may have done some good things as president, but he was an absolutely abominable human being who would do anything to achieve and protect power.   Or so it was made pretty damn clear to me watching the new HBO documentary on the Nixon tapes.

7) Interesting libertarian piece by Mike Munger on government by unicorn.  Raises good points, to which I say I’ll still take government by horribly fallible humans over the alternative.

8) People in rich counties disproportionately search google about tech stuff (and boy do they love Canon cameras).  In poor counties it’s all about diabetes.  And hell.

9) John Oliver with his typically brilliant job on police militarization.

10) Interesting essay by Lev Grossman on how he struggles as a writer until he started writing fantasy.  I’ve been meaning to read The Magicians for a while.  Will try to do so soon unless some of you tell me otherwise.

11) Dahlia Lithwick on how the police in Ferguson have run roughshod over all sorts of Bill of Rights protections.

12) Lenore Skenazy on helicopter parenting run amok and how today’s parents want to criminalize the behavior that was the parenting approach of their own parents.

13) Fascinating study of why some people, but not others, in a near-death experience (a plane crash) develop PTSD.   I’ve always been a very psychologically stable person, but I’ve never really been pushed.  I’ve always wondered how I would respond to something like this or being in a war zone.  Of course, I hope I never have to find out.

14) That toddler injured by the flash-bang grenade thrown it its crib during a no-knock warrant search?  The county does not think it needs to pay for his medical bills.  Is this America or Russia damnit?!

15) Turns out breakfast is not the most important meal of the day after all.  Maybe.  I actually never ate breakfast at all until I got married and then started eating it every day just because Kim was.  I cannot imagine not doing so now (though sounds like not a bad way to save some calories, actually).


Are professors racist

I seem to recall reading about this back when it came out, but failed to blog about it until a former student joking asked to see my sent mail folder in reference to this NPR story from Shankar Vedantam:

VEDANTAM: The bias has to do with how faculty seem to respond to these requests, David. Group of researchers ran this interesting field experiment. They emailed more than 6,500 professors at the top 250 schools pretending to be the students. And they wrote letters saying, I really admire your work. Would you have some time to meet? The letters to the faculty were all identical, but the names of the students were all different.

Let me read you some of the names and you can tell if you can pick up a pattern.

GREENE: Mm-hmm.

VEDANTAM: Brad Anderson. Meredith Roberts. Lamar Washington. LaToya Brown. Juanita Martinez. Deepak Patel, Sonali Desai, Chang Wong, Mei Chen. Do you see something, David?

GREENE: It sounds like a diverse group. I mean these are names that come from different ethnic and racial backgrounds.

VEDANTAM: That’s exactly what the researchers were trying to establish. And all they were measuring was how often professors wrote back agreeing to meet with the students. And what they found was there were very large disparities. Women and minorities systematically less likely to get responses from the professors and also less likely to get positive responses from the professors. Now remember, these are top faculty at the top schools in the United States and the letters were all impeccably written.

Definitely disturbing.  What bothers me most is that so many people were completely ignored.  Is it that hard to write a “thanks, but I’m just too busy” email?  Apparently, there’s a lot of self-important jerks among the professorate (not that I know any).   As to what my own answer would be, I’d hate to think it would depend upon the name of the student.  In truth, I’d be far more likely to make time for an NCSU Political Science major (or wannabe major), but that’s about it.  Actually, just found a page with the research, and here’s the key chart:

Whoa– watch out Chinese students.  Also, I can’t help but admit taking pleasure in this aspect of the study given my own biases regarding certain academic disciplines:

VEDANTAM: Milkman found there were very large disparities between academic departments and between schools. Faculty at private schools were significantly more likely to discriminate against women and minorities than faculty at public schools. And faculty in fields that were very lucrative were also more likely to discriminate. So there was very little discrimination in the humanities. There was more discrimination among faculty at the natural sciences. And there was a lot of discrimination among the faculty at business schools. Here’s Milkman again.

MILKMAN: The very worst in terms of bias is business academia. So in business academia, we see a 25 percentage point gap in the response rate to Caucasian males vs. women and minorities.

Well, hooray for Humanities (I’d also like to see how Social Science fared) and hooray for public universities.  Anyway, interesting and disturbing stuff.

Oh, and by the way, it really is amazing the number of people out there who just keep insisting that racism and sexism basically no longer exist.  Even in the overtly liberal halls of academia it’s still there, so imagine how bad it is out in the business world.

Why professors matter

Loved this excerpt from a new book in Slate about how and why college professors really matter.  And I can’t say that I meet this description all the time, but it certainly sounds like what I am striving for:

The purpose of a seminar is to enable your professor to model and shape the mental skills she’s trying to instill. She conducts a discussion about the material, but she doesn’t simply let you talk. She keeps the conversation focused. She challenges asser­tions, poses follow-up questions, forces students to elaborate their one-word answers or clarify their vague ones. She draws out the timid and humbles (gently) the self-assured. She welcomes and en­courages, but she also guides and pushes. She isn’t there to “answer questions,” at least not for the most part; she’s there to ask them.

Some of those questions should be ones she doesn’t know the answer to herself. Discussion in a seminar should be collaborative and open-ended, alive with serendipity and the energy of immi­nent discovery—a model, too, of how to think together

I myself became a decent teacher only when I started to relinquish some control over the classroom—stopped worrying so much about “getting my points across” and recognized that those moments of disorder that would sometimes occur, those spontaneous outbreaks of intelligence, were the most interesting parts of the class, for both my students and myself. We were going somewhere new, and we were going there together…

My years in the classroom, as well as my conversations with young people about their college experience, have convinced me there are two things, above all, that students want from their pro­fessors. Not, as people commonly believe, to entertain them in class and hand out easy A’s. That’s what they retreat to, once they see that nothing better is on offer. What they really want is that their teach­ers challenge them and that they care about them. They don’t want fun and games; they want the real thing.

I’ll admit, I probably do try a little too hard on that entertain front (and I’m no easy A; easy B, maybe, but not easy A).  That said, I do think that most of my students do realize that I genuinely do care about them as individuals.  What actually is distressing is how often students express to me how rare it is for them to think that their professors really care about them and their success.  We have got to be a lot more about just transferring information, or we are really little more than over-priced books.  What it really is about, is mentorship:

What they want, in other words, is mentorship…

Lewis speaks of professors in their formal roles as academic advisors, but regardless of whose office they’re supposed to go to, students gravitate toward teachers with whom they have forged a connection. Learning is an emotional experience, and mentorship is rooted in the intimacy of intellectual exchange…

For all the skill that teaching involves, you ultimately only have a single tool: your entire life as you have lived it up until the moment you walk into class. “The teacher, that professional amateur,” said the critic Leslie Fiedler, “teaches not so much his subject as himself.” He provides a model, he went on, “of one in whom what seemed dead, mere print on the page, becomes living, a way of life.” I developed a rule of thumb in graduate school. If a professor didn’t mention something personal at least a single time—a reference to a child, an anecdote about a colleague—then it was a pretty good bet that I had nothing to learn from him. It’s not that I needed my teachers to be confessional; I just needed them to bepresent. “Mortimer Adler had much to tell us about Aristotle’s Ethics,” Saul Bellow wrote about the University of Chicago eminence, “but I had only to look at him to see that he had nothing useful to offer on the conduct of life.”

Students want you to be honest, not least about yourself. They want you to beyourself. You need to step outside the role a bit, regard it with a little irony, if only to acknowledge the dissonance between the institution and the spirit.

Got that part covered.  If anything, I am honest about myself to a fault.  At least good to know that this is the right direction, though.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 514 other followers

%d bloggers like this: