Soccer and the American intellectual

I found this Slate article on soccer and the “intellectual classes” in America to be quite interesting, as it is certainly notable how popular international soccer is among my clearly intellectual cohort of highly-educated friends and colleagues.  I was just joking the other day with someone that productivity in the NC State Political Science department is certain to take a nose-dive starting Friday as I know a bunch of my colleagues will hit a local watering hole to start watching the afternoon World Cup games at 2:30 (I’m in class till 3:10, so I’ll have at least 40 more minutes of productivity).

Soccer has become a favorite pastime of the American intellectual. “Many people would say that soccer is the latte or the Subaru of the sporting spectrum,” says Matt Weiland…

For decades, it was baseball that felt brainy and top-heavy—thanks to the efforts of men like George F. Will, who was forever wondering how Tony LaRussa reminded him of Tocqueville. From John Cheever to Stephen Jay Gould, baseball’s beat poets looted the game for metaphors for and clues to the national character. Those same deep thoughts are now regularly located in soccer, which seems primed to yield both grand sociopolitical theories and inchoate childhood longings.

What brought soccer to the smart set? Well, one could simply argue that soccer’s time had come. Many of the writers in question (Eggers, Foer) were in their formative years when soccer became a mandatory youth sport in America, as well as a part of the American sporting scene (a moment generally pegged at Pelé’s signing by the New York Cosmos in 1975.) “What you’re seeing now is the result of the gold rush of soccer in the 1970s, when Pelé came to America and made it cool for kids,” says David Hirshey, soccer aficionado and executive editor of HarperCollins.

This essay certainly rang true with my personal experience– I’m certainly the right age and was part of the youth soccer boom myself, but I’d love to actually see some data on this.  Surely, there exists a dataset where one can correlate soccer fan-dom with educational attainment.  Another thought I had– how unique is this to the US where being a soccer fan is largely a niche activity– like driving a Subaru or sipping lattes?  In other countries where soccer is the sport, I presume there is not any socio-economic divide.  If you’ve got answers, or at least good suppositions, let me know.

Are two mommies better than one?

Given my professional interest in parenthood, I was especially intrigued by this recent finding that lesbian parents actually raise “better” kids than kids from straight families (I actually first learned about it from a student and we had a really good discussion in my Gender & Politics class).   Before reading about it, I assumed that it was actually something with socio-economic status at work, but not so:

Compared with a group of control adolescents born to heterosexual parents with similar educational and financial backgrounds, the children of lesbian couples scored better on academic and social tests and lower on measures of rule-breaking and aggression.

So, is it that two moms are better than one?  What’s the story with household with two fathers?  That’s a pretty big hole to not address in the article, if not the study.   Well, it seems the study was only of lesbian parents.  WebMD actually has a better summary and offers some interseting speculation on the results:

How to explain the good results? “These are not accidental children,” Gartrell tells WebMD.

The babies, she notes, were all planned, all conceived through donor insemination. “The moms tended to be older and attended parenting classes. They were very involved in the process of education [for their children].”

We also get an answer for the no gay fathers aspect:

Gartrell can’t say with certainly whether the findings would apply to gay fathers. It’s ”highly likely,” she says. But gay couples who have a child through a surrogate is much more recent phenomenon than lesbian couples opting for donor insemination, so the research will take time to catch up, she says.

I think the author’s insight is probably right-on.  Every one of these families made a very intentional decision to have children, and surely that matters.  I wonder what the results would look like with a comparison of heterosexual couples who had to rely on assisted reproduction.  I expect any differences would be much smaller.  Furthermore, although they matched on education and income, it was surely truncated, as not too many lower SES lesbian couples are probably going out and getting sperm donors.  One also has to wonder the effect of age.  To what degree are older parents better parents?  I’ll certainly be a better parent for Greene baby #4, but more so because I’ve had 3 chances to figure out what I’m doing, rather than being 38 years old (I must say, that does sound awfully old to me for being a father– though my own dad had his last kid at 50).

Musical interlude

Listened to this review of country singer Elizabeth Cook on a Fresh Air podcast yesterday.   You may not be a country fan, but I challenge you not to like this song (as if the name alone isn’t enough)

SC Republicans are too liberal?!

So, I posted on the SC Governor’s race earlier and the intesting case of Nikki Haley.  Public Policy Polling has a nice blog post (that I actually discovered originally as a facebook note), this is somewhat extraordinary in its findings:

Haley is also doing particularly well with Republican voters who think the party’s gone too far to the left. With folks who think the party is ideologically fine she holds a modest 33-26 lead over Barrett. But with those who think it’s too liberal she’s up 54-20 on him. [emphasis mine]

Wow!!  What planet are these people on that think the Republican party of South Carolina is too liberal.  Damn, if those SC Republicans aren’t scary and deluded.  In fact, I just went and looked at the PPP poll and 39% of SC Republicans think the party is too liberal!!  Contrast that with 42% about right and 10% too conservative.  That’s just scary.

Which teachers should get fired?

The bad ones.  Obviously.  Of course, in the real world that’s not actually the way it works out.  It is those most recently hired, regardless of how good they are.   Seward Darby has a great article in TNR explaining all this.  Here’s the rub:

The rationale behind seniority-based layoffs is simple: The longer you’ve been working, the more secure your job should be. According to the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), “the overwhelming majority of school districts” follow this rule, including 75 of the country’s 100 largest school districts. They dismiss teachers with the fewest years in the classroom first; then, they work their way up the experience ladder until they’ve removed enough teachers to meet their budget goals.

The system eschews any consideration of teacher quality, instead working off the assumption, long-touted by unions, that the most valuable teachers are the most experienced ones. But research shows that a teacher’s effectiveness generally levels off after the first three years—and that’s just on average: Obviously, in any given situation, a second-year teacher like Nick Melvoin could be more effective than, say, a tenth-year one. So, seniority-based layoffs often eliminate some of a district’s best teachers simply because they have only spent a few years in the classroom

Darby links to this graph (below) from the National Council on Teacher Quality and it is pretty striking…

Obviously, you don’t want to go around firing people who’ve been at a job for 15-20 years unless you really have to, but at least don’t pretend because they are any better teachers than the ones who’ve only been there for 3-5 years.  Of course, the fact that teacher effectiveness seems to max out after just a few years is a very interesting finding that has a whole host of implications for how we employ and compensate teachers.  Darby suggests, and I strongly agree, that while we certainly don’t want to eliminate seniority in deciding what teachers to keep, it is crazy not to take into account teacher effectiveness.

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