Twilight of the Idols

...Or how one blogs with a hammer: an undergrad's views on education, cuisine, and more.

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Tuesday, September 30

Extracurricular Activities

Today's NY Times has an article about UC-Berkeley's new policy on relationships between faculty and students.

Now, I'm not too sure what I think about all of this. My initial reation is that Berkeley and the dozen other schools mentioned should leave things alone, barring gross misconduct (professors giving extra credit for dates, sex, etc), but I'm certainly open to other opinions. I can safely say that this bothered me, however:

Like other supporters of the policy, [Gayle Binion, a professor at Berkeley] questions whether relationships between faculty members and students they grade, supervise, recommend for graduate school or jobs or otherwise evaluate can ever be truly consensual.

It must be convenient for Dr. Binion to live her life with no consequesnces of her own creation. No, really, this is one of my all-time favorite arguments: "There was no way Person X could have given consent to you, so you abused Person X."

It's not that there aren't situations where this could happen - there are. But I don't think they're nearly as common as people like Dr. Binion would have you believe. Is it possible for a professor to abuse his position? Of course. However, I'd say that it's highly unlikely that most professor/student relationships are non-consensual, and for a policy to (effectively) blame the professor for the occurence and results of any and all relationships with students is simply ridiculous.

But more typical are policies like the one Duke adopted in 2002, which strongly discourages faculty members from becoming involved with their students, but says that if such a relationship develops, the faculty member must report it to a dean and then be removed from all authority over the student.

This still seems overly intrusive to me, but it's a lot more reasonable than Berkeley's new policy. What I wonder, though, is how much of an issue this actually is; don't universities have more pressing things to worry about? Is there any data on the number of professor/student relationships?

I'm In Recovery

From writing a paper for my Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire class, that is - otherwise I'd be posting something of substance right now, heh. I plan on getting my lazy self back to work here (and on the stack of reading I need to catch up on) this evening and tomorrow.

Till then, why don't you whip up a nice batch of fried Oreos for yourself? Full disclosure: I have actually eaten a fried Twinkie. Twinkies are disgusting in the first place, and frying them doesn't help, but what better symbolizes American excess than taking an uber-processed cream-filled cake and cooking it in grease? Heh.

Monday, September 29

So It Goes...

I wrote a guest editorial for the Bloomington Herald-Times that ran this past Saturday. The link is already subscription-only; I don't believe I have the right to post the contents of the editorial, or I would (if anyone out there knows for sure, drop me an email).

Update (09/30/03, 12:51 AM): Dr. Rasmusen informed me that the editorial is (temporarily, anyway) cached here. Thanks!

The editorial was about the Weblog Situation (what else? Heh). The short version of the editorial is that I make an admission similar to the one below and then question Chancellor Brehm's response to the situation.

Anyway, as you can see from the comment to the post below, I've apparently lost a reader. So it goes. I've also been told that the post below is too sappy, too "kiss-ass," to sound genuine; however, it's not meant to be sappy, and it is meant to be genuine. I made a mistake; I admitted it; I am learning from it (where possible) and moving on (where necessary).

Friday, September 26

My Long-Awaited Post About Professor Rasmusen

I must have written this post a hundred times and changed my mind about what I wanted to say (or, more often, how I wanted to say it). In the end, I've decided to make it as short and sweet as possible.

I am the student who initially reported Dr. Rasmusen's weblog to the university.

The newspapers - from USA Today to the Chicago Tribune - reported that multiple students, faculty, and staff filed complaints about the weblog. This is true. However, none of them would have ever known about Dr. Rasmusen's weblog if I hadn't alerted the university to its existence. Once a couple people knew about the weblog, the link spread like wildfire through instant messages and campus emails, and we all know what happened after that. (If not, Erin O'Connor has a definitive compilation of links in her posts here and here.)

When I reported the webpage, I was under the impression that Dr. Rasmusen had no right to say what he said on a university web page - similar to the argument put forth by Henry at Crooked Timber. It never even crossed my mind that at a public school like Indiana University, free speech would certainly apply to Dr. Rasmusen's weblog.

For a number of reasons, I find it embarassing to admit that I am the person who caused all of this.

I have long considered myself a libertarian, and free speech to be the most important of the rights afforded to us by the Constitution. On top of that, I hold some highly debatable and/or unpopular views myself; the debate my recent posts on guilt and shame sparked certainly attests to that fact.

So, when confronted with someone whose views I disagreed with, what was my reaction? I did something that seems to come all too naturally to many people in today's society: I attempted to suppress those views. Why did I do this? Because I thought I could.

And I made a mistake.

Thus, I offer my story to you, my readers. No matter what your views on a given subject are, there are sure to be others who disagree with you, and it can be hard to remember that they have just as much right to their opinion as you do to yours. I was upset by something I read, and in my anger, I hypocritically forgot John Stuart Mill's timeless words about opinions:

But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

To those who would fault me for the way I handled this situation: you are correct. I can do nothing to defend myself save admit my error. I am not perfect, nor will I ever be. However, I can and will learn from my mistakes, and I share my story with you so that you might learn from them as well.

If Ever There Were Things To Be Ashamed Of...

...then the reactions to most of the offenses listed in this New York Daily News article would have to be among them.

The best example of the rampant stupidity that the article describes:

Maureen Lawrence, a special-education teacher at a residential program in Manhattan, was found to have helped a student cheat on his essay for the state graduation exam. She was suspended without pay for up to six months because of her "unblemished employment record."

Well, yeah, she had an "unblemished employment record" - except for that one time she helped a student cheat on a test. Geez.

The rest of the article is just as depressing - if not moreso. Go and read it for yourself, though.

Private Schools That Work

Wednesday's New York Times ran this article about a private school "in a bleak corner of Brooklyn" that turns out top-notch students nonetheless.

How does Trey Whitfield school work? It gets no government money; in fact, it doesn't spend a dime over the money it takes in from the (quite low) tuition. With the help of involved leaders and parents, though, they turn out exemplary students.

But even educators who admire his success say the school, with 470 students from nursery to eighth grade, is an anomaly, not a model. It is skimming the most committed families from the public school population, they say, and operating without the encumbrances of a system that receives government funds.

Heh. Daryl thought that was a pretty deep insight, as well.

Perhaps those same educators who claim that the school is not a model should consider what would happen if they took away all the "encumberances" that most schools face and left education to the free market. Seriously, if this school can have great students for $4,000 a year - "less than half of classroom spending in New York City public schools" - then I'm sold.

"It's not an apples and apples comparison," said Steven Sanders, chairman of the State Assembly Education Committee. Still, Mr. Sanders said, Trey Whitfield's results suggest that leadership is the key to educational success, followed by parental involvement, with money a distant third.

I think Trey Whitfield's results need to be shown to every educrat who opens their mouth to ask for more money. It's a school that "gets by with no computers, science lab or cafeteria" and it turns out some of the best students in the state.

If only this were the end of the debate, if only I'd never have to read about another new computer lab in another poor, urban district. Let me make one of my main theories about education clear (for any new readers I've picked up recently): Computers do not teach kids. Teachers teach kids. That's why they're called teachers. Easy enough, right?

But Mr. Whitfield treasures the school's autonomy. He has the freedom to reject or expel students. Corporal punishment is permitted, although it has never been necessary, he said. And Christian prayer is part of the school day.


Latecomers to the school may balk at the rigid rules. One sixth grader, who arrived last fall from P.S. 297 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, had talked out of turn, complained about her watch-plaid uniform and tried to sow rebellion. But she "conformed in no time," said Deborah Johnson, the girl's social studies teacher.

Do I agree with everything about this private school? No, not at all. But if all schools were private, I can't imagine that I would have trouble finding a school whose standards I completely agreed with.

Anyway, it's cases like this that make me wonder why people think I'm out in left field for suggesting privatization of the educational system. At the very, very least, privatized schools couldn't be any worse than the dysfunctional excuses for school systems at which our government continues to throw money - and examples like Trey Whitfield School leave me inclined to think that they'd be a whole lot better.

Gotta Love The Germans...

Germany has a lot going for it - great beer, great cars, and as Jeff at Caerdroia notes, they have class.

Typically, I'm not impressed by the displays of "respect" countries often trip over themselves to pay one another; that's because countries' displays of respect are typically unimpressive. This one wasn't, however, and kudos to the Germans for it.

Wednesday, September 24

Playing With Numbers

I just popped open my browser to check my mail, and I saw this article on the front page of Yahoo.

Now, I think it's been well-established that schools play with numbers a bit in order to make themselves look better, but this is just silly:

Only 52 of the nation's 91,000 public schools are labeled persistently dangerous by their states...

Only 52 schools are persistently dangerous? Yeah, right. And if you don't already believe that there's something shady about those statistics, read these parts again:

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia reported not a single unsafe schools. The exceptions were Pennsylvania (28), Nevada (eight), New Jersey (seven), Texas (six), New York (two) and Oregon (one). The numbers may change after final state reviews or appeals.


In Philadelphia, school officials say they are paying a price for aggressively disciplining misbehaving students. The city had 27 of the state's 28 persistently dangerous schools...

So, out of the .05% of schools that are persistently dangerous, over half of them are in Philadelphia, and there are none in Washington, D.C..

Let's just say that I am a tad skeptical of these numbers.

Busy Busy!

It figures.

Today, I've actualy got a couple nice education articles I wanted to write up some thoughts on, I'd like to respond to one of Kimberly's posts, and - wouldn't you know it - I've actually got something else that I have to work on.

It may take till tomorrow, but details will follow. What is it I'm working on? Here's a hint: it's (to a large extent) the post about Dr. Rasmusen and his weblog which I promised but haven't yet delivered on. It'll be worth the wait.

Bloggers In Real Life

Speaking of Will at Crescat Sententia, I had the pleasure of meeting him in person on Monday. He's a smart guy (he must be, since he and I typically agree on things! Heh.), and a lot of fun to talk to and hang out with.

This was also the first time since 1994 that I've met someone in person that I originally met online - although back in 1994, I originally met those people on a BBS, not that "internet" thing we'd all heard rumors about. Crazy.

Final Thoughts: Shame And Guilt

What an interesting ride that little comment turned out to be, eh?

I thought it would be beneficial for both me (the writer) and you (the reader) to wrap this up - of course, I don't mind continuing discussions by email, but I doubt I'll post anymore on the topic. For now. :-)

First, here is most of an email I sent to someone further explaining my views:

I think our difference is more semantic than anything, actually. If you view guilt and shame as constructive emotions that encourage people to better themselves, then I'd certainly agree that I feel both and that I think people *need* both. (that's the impression I got from what you wrote) I feel the emotions that you describe - the drive to do better, the imagining of a better self, etc - but I wouldn't have ever referred to them as guilt or shame.

To me, guilt and shame have always seemed to have an inherently negative overtone. When I think of shame, I think of an old lady "shaming" a gay couple for holding hands in public; when I think of guilt, I think of a pubescent kid who just knows that masturbating is wrong. (I hope that explains what I consider guilt and shame to be, and what I interpret/assume many other people's defenitions to be. I'm honestly not sure how to better word it, but I will try if necessary.) Thus, when I hear someone speak of guilt or shame, I typically see someone referring to what appears to be a purely negative emotion, one that serves but to make a person feel bad for their actions.

Why should one do more than try to simply make someone feel bad? Because it doesn't explain why they *should* feel bad. It's a strong possibility that someone who is made to feel bad will simply learn how not to feel bad, rather than learn not to do something wrong. People need to understand *why* what they did was wrong in order to learn not to do it - an example would be a shoplifter learning not to get caught instaead of learning not to steal.

So in short, it's not the effect that (most of) you are implying guilt and shame have that I'm arguing against, it's the purely emotional baggage that I am arguing against. Personal responsibilty is something I value very, very highly - to say the least, after all, I am libertarian - and I would like to think that you can take most people in the world and explain to them why something is wrong (whatever that means - socially, morally, whatever - the meaning of right and wrong is a completely different debate that I might bring up at some point, but not right now), and you can make them understand without all the emotional baggage.

In other words, there are plenty of logical reasons why a 13-year-old girl giving out oral sex on the bus for a audience isn't the best situation to be in.

To continue my email quote:

And to bring this all back around to the actual news item: I have very liberal ideas about sex. Not that I'd have told Daryl, but if he wanted to blame someone for my beliefs, he'd have to blame Robert Heinlein. [ed: Well, Daryl, now you know. Heh.] On top of that, I *am* admittedly a lot younger than Daryl, and kids fooling around on field trips is something that's normal from my point of view - I never did anything like that, but I personally know many, many people who did.

What makes this case, different - and disconcerting - to me is the peer pressure aspect of it. If they were at home and at least being safe about it (protection, etc), then I wouldn't think too much of it. Kids are curious, and especially in a society that makes so much about sex taboo, it seems expected that they might mess around given the chance. However: there's something pretty scary about a girl who would start going down on a guy because the other kids on the bus wanted to see it, and that's where I see the parental failure, if there is one (which I really think there is, but it's not a given).

In short, it's not what they did, it's how they did it. I see nothing wrong with simple pleasures of the flesh when the people involved understand what's occuring. That is, I see a significant and socially useful difference in the ways people have sex (the difference between screwing and making love, to be blunt), and I highly doubt that either of these kids is aware of - much less understands - that difference [ed: or any of the other nuances that accompany physical relationships], which is what makes the situation here so problematic.

And someone needs to slap the mother, because regardless of if she is a failure as a parent (most likely) or if her daughter is just a royal screw-up (not impossible), the mother needs to explain to her daughter why going down on a guy on a bus because other people want you to is a really, really, really bad idea. Regardless of the definition used for shame and guilt, the mother should feel both with regards to her claims that there's no rule against oral sex (improper conduct at the least, and as you point out, it's illegal in the first place).

Is my opinion different than many of yours? In general, yes. In this case, not so much. I consider this, the actual news story, to be the less-important branch of the tree, at this point. If you want to know all the gory details with respect to my thoughts on sex, take some time and read Time Enough For Love by Robert Heinlein. It's a great book and it'll explain (for the most part) the world as I see it.

Moving on: Daryl, I'm sorry for getting quite so upset. I hope you understand where I was coming from, anyway. (parenthetical cheap shot: Just don't expect me to feel ashamed that I got upset. Heh.) Seriously, though, no hard feelings.

Lastly, about age: Is it possible that my views will change over time? Absolutely. Is it likely? Well, of course, I'd say "no," as would any of you. If I didn't think that what I believed right now was correct, I wouldn't believe it. But I won't rule anything out. The only point I have left on this subject is to note that even if I do change my beliefs when I am older, that doesn't make the new ones correct. People change their minds to an incorrect belief all the time. Either way, time will tell. If I'm still blogging (and you're still reading) when I'm 40, we'll see how things turned out.

In conclusion, with this extensive post, I hope I have addressed all of your respective questions/thoughts/fears/etc. Like I said, I'd be more than happy to continue this via e-mail (I love getting e-mail! :-D ), but I doubt I'll be posting on the topic again for a while.

Update (09/24/03, 9:44 AM): What I forgot to put in the above post: Here are links to two other posts about this, both of which you will probably find interesting. The first is from Will at Crescat Sententia, another young'n who basically sees things from my point of view; the second is from PG at Half the Sins of Mankind, another young'n who thinks somewhat differently.

Monday, September 22

Lazy Days Of... Autumn

Today has been a pretty slow day for me - caught up on reading, shopping, etc - so I decided to continue my relaxedness with a post about something other than education. The topic? My other passion, cooking. If memory serves, I don't believe I've written a single post about food - there's a first time for everything, I suppose. And besides, if Eugene Volokh is posting recipies, then I'd better jump on the trend!

I love to play with flavor combinations when I cook. I like to use things in ways you wouldn't expect, or even better, in dishes you wouldn't expect them in. So when I found a recipie for the following, I simply had to give it a shot: roasted strawberries with black pepper. My first impression was that this sounded frankly disgusting, but it was so weird that I had to give it a shot. Here's the recipie:

2 pints fresh strawberries
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh cracked/ground black pepper

1) De-stem the strawberries and cut them into slices about 1/8 inch thick
2) Mix the strawberries and sugar in a bowl; let them chill in the fridge for a couple hours.
3) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
4) Toss the strawberries with the balsamic vinegar and black pepper.
5) Pour the whole mixture into a baking dish and let bake for 8-10 mins, or until the liquid is bubbling but before the berries get mushy. Serve immediately.

I just ate a gigantic bowl of these, and they were delicious. I've long been a fan of the strawberry/balsamic combination, and the pepper takes it to the next level. If any of you readers are adventurous in the kitchen, I highly reccomend this as an interesting, different, and highly pretentious (heh) dessert.

Anyway, with school and related events keeping me busy, I'll probably start writing about food occasionally. Blogging about cooking requires far less effort than education - I don't have to go look for articles about food when I can reccomend recipies I've used or cookbooks I'm reading.

The focus of the blog will remain education, of course, but I can only write about so many educrats before I start to lose faith in humanity, heh. I don't want to sound like a One Note Flute, so a little something different to break things up can't hurt, right? (In other words, let me know if you think food is interesting, if there's anything in particular you'd like to see posts about, or if you think it's just a terrible idea to stray from the main topic.)

Sunday, September 21

The California Caucasian Club

I think I'm the last person in the blogosphere to post about the girl in California who wants to start a Caucasian Club in response (or as a compliment to, depending on who you ask) the Black Student Union and the Asian Club at her high school.

The reactions to her proposal were predictable - the NAACP is hopping mad, etc. Of course, I think it's hilarious, and it seems to be yet another example of how "diversity" really isn't in the eyes of its proponents.

My thoughts: I've often wondered what would happen if someone proposed a similar club here at Indiana University (or at any big, left-leaning state school - see also Berkeley). There's a club/group/center for almost every conceivable race/ethnicity save caucasian, and one would think that it would be a given that the school would have to allow such a club... But you never know. If anyone knows about "Caucasian Clubs" on college campuses (or even at other high schools), I'd be interested in any information about them - how they came to be, the administration's reaction, etc.

Saturday, September 20

Follow-up: Personal Responsibility

I had intended to let the subject drop after my post, but a comment I read at another blog begged a response. I knew what I said would raise the ire of the more conservative edu-bloggers (who I hope can respect our differences and enjoy the rest of my posts, which tend to be similar in style and content - for diversity's sake, right? Heh.). Thus, a response such as

I don't think I could respond without sounding arrogant and patronizing. Let's just sum it up to say I think shame and guilt are necessary.

is something I would have expected and that I understand. If I shared this person's worldview and came across the statements I made, I would have reacted similarly, no doubt. This, however, threw me for a loop:

Nick grew up in the Clinton years. 'Nuff said.

Excuse me?

First, let me simply state that Bill Clinton has/had nothing to do with my personal beliefs. I certainly did not form all of my opinions on my own, of course - we are all to an extent a product of the world in which we live, the books we read, the parents who raised us, the friends we keep - but I have been both a strict Southern Baptist and an atheist, I have been both a Republican and a Socialist. I've thought about things a lot. I did not come to my current beliefs simply because they were the easiest, certainly not without much consideration, and absolutely not because Bill Clinton thinks that oral sex isn't sex.

Will my views always remain as they are today? I can't say for sure. What I can say for sure, however, is that I am my own person. I alone am responsible for my own thoughts, words, and actions. To say that someone so truly remote from myself - the President of the United States - could have such an effect on me is an insult, not only to me as a person, but to all persons who believe that responsibility for one's actions lie within.

Would the person who made the above comment so readily agree that his beliefs stem so exclusively from the fact that he was raised in the [Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, whatever] era? Would that person so readily absolve those whom he agrees with of the thought they put into their belief structure? It seems, in a word, doubtful.

Second, and of far less relevance in my opinion, is the fact that I really didn't like Clinton. The "playboy president" thing has never went over well with me, and Clinton rests near the bottom of my list (with Kennedy, especially, as well as FDR) for many other reasons. Who cares if he can play the saxophone? Who cares if he's "cool?" I don't want a president who's cool, I want a president who can do the job well.

In short: To tell me that I am such a product of the era I came of age in, to tell me that I have so little control over what I think, to tell me that what I believe comes from a talking head on a picture box as opposed to many years of thought and consideration, and on top of all that to effectively assume that everyone who is two decades older than me is somehow free from all of those influences - that is the most insulting thing I have heard in a very long time.

Update (9/20/03, 3:45 AM): As I was emailing a friend about this, I had a few more thoughts. I was initially apprehensive about admitting that I was a college student (an undergrad, no less) when I first started writing this blog - specifically because I was afraid that people would take my thoughts less seriously than they would someone who was "older and wiser." This hasn't been an issue before, and I don't know just how much of an issue it is now, but it certainly seems that my fears were not unfounded.

Why do people fall back onto the "I'm older and so I know more" arguement? Why is it that someone would think my thoughts don't deserve a response beyond "he's a product of the times?" Telling me (effectively) that my thoughts are meaningless drivel is, to say the least, a cop out.

If someone thinks I'm wrong, then they should show me why that is - and similarly if they think I'm right. Discourse that consists merely of "he's too young to know any better" is worthless to both parties. To conclude: feel free to disagree with me, feel free to say so, but please, don't insult me - or really, yourself - by using a worthless ad hominem arguement in an attempt to discredit my views.

Feedback on why ad hominem arguements are so prevelant and generally accepted (in all areas of discourse) is welcomed.

Darwin In The Classroom

For those of you who don't read EducationNews (or the Houston Chronicle), you should go have a look at this editorial.

In any case, design theorists are not the only scientific critics of Darwinism, and those asking for more accurate biology textbooks are not asking for the theory of intelligent design to be taught. Instead, they are asking that students learn all the evidence they need to assess Darwinian theory, not just the evidence that happens to supports (sic) it.

Fair enough. It's a great read and by far the best argument I've read in defense of the "teach the strengths and weaknesses" side. It is Darwin's theory of evolution, after all, not his law of evolution, and I can certainly appreciate critiques of a theory.

Wednesday, September 17

Shame On Me? I Don't Think So.

By now, I'm assuming that we're all familiar with the story about the 13-year-old girl who performed oral sex on a male classmate due to peer pressure from other students on a field trip. Kimberly at N2P was the first person to post on this (I believe), and she's attracted quite a few comments, including this one:

Were I this mother :::shudder::: I would be too busy hanging my head in shame and moving my family out of state to fight the decision.

Why is she not ashamed?

To which I responded:

Ashamed of what? She should most certainly be ashamed of her own actions (talk about the worst possible way to handle a situation) - but her daughter's actions are nothing to be ashamed of.

Due to the fact that I failed to 1) explain further what I meant and 2) realize that I have a different outlook on such things than most people, later responses included admonitions and requests to meet my (non-existant, I don't want kids until I'm out of college, thank you) daughter. Thus, I shall now try to state better what I meant.

First, I don't believe in shame. Or guilt. I think they're useless emotions, really; they only serve to make people feel bad about things that they have no control over. For instance, I did something a week ago that others might feel guilty about (see forthcoming post) - I, on the other hand, while relieved that the situation turned out quite well in the end, would not have felt guilty had it not. I would have done what I could to right my wrong, so to speak, but I would have never felt guilty.

Shame (defined at Dictionary.com as "A painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace.") is virtually the same to me. I don't get it. I've never been ashamed of anything I did. Have I done things one way and later wished I had done them another? Of course, we all have.

What it comes down to for me, is that I think guilt and shame are negative emotions; that is, they encourage one to think about how things could be, or should be, or would be, when the reality is that things are as they are. Guilt and shame do not encourage people to change their reality. And really, sitting around and bemoaning life's miseries has never been a pastime of mine.

In short, since I was old enough to think for myself and realize the futility of such emotions (guilt, shame, embarassment, et al), I have avoided them at all costs. I have been able to do this because I simultaneously realized the virtue of making the best choice I can with the information I have (as well as personal responsibility). If I make the best decision I can given the data I have, then I simply cannot feel bad about that decision at a later date. If I know I did everything I could to do things right, and someone else wants to fault me because something went wrong in spite of my efforts, then they can feel free to - they may even be obligated to - but I refuse to fault myself.

This naturally extends to things that are out of my control. If someone else makes a poor decision which I had no control over, then I see no reason to feel bad about that myself.

And there's the catch, right, in the case of the 13-year-old girl? The mother should have had some control over the situation - that is to say, why didn't she teach her daughter about sex? About the dangers thereof? (In hindsight, perhaps also about how some adults like to do things in public that they shouldn't necessarily do?) Yes, perhaps the mother should feel ashamed of her daughter's actions; if the mother was lax in her parenting, then she is in a sense responsible for what happened. However, isn't it possible that the mother has done all she could, and yet her child makes bad decisions in spite of her efforts? There would be no shame (to the mother) in that.

I do feel that the mother should feel guilty/ashamed for her actions with respect to the school's decision. No one with even an ounce of common sense could possibly think that going after the school's lack of a ban on oral sex on field trips was the right way to handle this situation. Thus, as a member of society who wishes that all people would think about their actions before they commit them and who also wishes that people would accept personal responsibility when necessary, I must necessarily find fault with the mother's actions in this case.

As for the girl, unless she knew she was doing something that she thought was wrong, she has no reason to be ashamed of her actions. Does she need to have the ramifications of her actions explained? Absolutely. Does she need someone to shake her and tell her that she's a bad person and that she should feel guilty, should feel ashamed? Absolutely not. Given the two possibilities (she felt what she was doing was wrong, or she didn't), she will either already feel guilty/ashamed, or she won't. If she does feel ashamed/guilty, then she doesn't need anyone else piling on her emotionally when they should be explaining to her why going around giving out oral sex at the age of 13 probably isn't a good idea. If she doesn't feel ashamed, then she needs someone to do the aforementioned explaining - not someone to make her feel bad.

In the end, my point is twofold: First, it's not clear-cut to me that anyone should feel ashamed about what happened on that school bus. Second, regardless of whether anyone should feel guilty or not, what happened, happened, and the sooner someone explains to that 13-year-old girl why what she did was a bad choice - instead of explaining why it was wrong and she should feel ashamed and guilty - the better.

And that was what I meant to say in my comment.

From The "Duh" Department: College Textbooks Are Expensive

I think everyone appreciates an opportunity to complain about how expensive textbooks are - and the NY Times was gracious enough to give us a chance to do so!

It's actually a pretty good article - it talks a lot about students who go online to buy books, which is really the only way to go these days. The article did seem a little off base in one respect, though:

Humanities texts are generally cheaper, and much less likely to be bundled: French literature classes, for example, may ask for only an $8 copy of "Madame Bovary" and a $9 copy of "The Stranger."

Come again? I've never seen a literature class that required only two texts - and Madame Bovary and The Stranger (combined online purchase price: $2.99)? Sure, Madame Bovary is a drag, but the Stranger is a good book and a fast read - what kind of sorry excuse for a French Lit class only reads two books in a whole semester?

Further, humanites classes don't really end up being significantly cheaper overall; they just end up having cheaper individual books. For example, I'm taking three history courses and one philosophy course this term, and my books ran right about $450 (I got most of them used at the bookstore, so that I could just pay for them with my bursar account). The total ended up being so high because each one of these classes has at least five books.

The moral of the story: if you don't have financial aid covering your bursar bill, buy your books at Half.com. Sell them there, too - you get a lot more than the $5 that the bookstore offers you.

Something like this is just another one of the many important ways that the Internet is changing the world. The important stuff isn't what you see on TV, it's what you use daily and take for granted. Places like Ebay / Half.com are showing the world how a true free market economy works to everyone's benefit, crazy as it sounds. (I can buy something I want for a price I'm willing to pay? Perish the thought!) I can't wait till I can buy my education - and not just my books - in a similar fashion.

Parents Upset About... Recess?!

A friend of mine (hi, Erinpuff!) sent me this link - it's from the newspaper in her hometown, the Evening Star, and concerns her old elementary school. It's a refreshing reminder that not all education news is about "diversity" or NCLB, actually. It seems that parents are up in arms because the recess/lunch period have been cut from a full hour to a half hour.

A controversial reduction in recess time brought an audience of 80 people to the Hamilton Community Schools board meeting Monday night.

Two mothers told the board that 30 minutes is not enough for a combined lunch-recess period at Hamilton Elementary School.

After hearing stories about tiny Hamilton, Indiana, I was kind of surprised to find that 80 people even live there - but I digress. Personally, I think 30 minutes is enough time to eat lunch and play a bit - it's all the time we got at my elementary and middle schools, and at my high school, we only got 25 minutes to eat.

“The effect of confinement and overwork stress is already apparent in many children and adults in the building,” [parent Susan] Griffith said.

How stressed out can elementary school kids be? Overworked? What, they just can't deal with all the pasting and coloring? I realize that elementary school isn't the same now as when I was there, but it can't be that crazy. I've got a younger brother in third grade, and he sure isn't overworked. (Yes, I know that that doesn't mean that these kids aren't - but really.) To me, it seems like these parents are who's overworked and confined, and they're just projecting this onto otherwise happy kids.

Anyway, the article goes on and on - the parents are desperately worried that their kids aren't getting enough playtime. I want to shake them all and scream, "Your children are in school! They go to school to learn, not to play! L E A R N! That's what school is for!" But that's probably because I'm too tired to be anything much other than bitter right now, heh.

Update (09/17/03, 6:45 PM): My friend has just alerted me that her "hometown's paper is the Hamilton News. The Evening Star is Auburn, Indiana's paper." Mea culpa.

Further, we were discussing this when she pointed out that the third-graders and below still have an hour of recess (on top of a half hour for lunch); I think that's pretty silly. Is the school board saying that the younger children's test scores aren't as important, and that they can have more goof-off time? Or is this just one of those seemingly random administrative decisions?

Monday, September 15

And In Old News, Are College Athletes Disconnected From Academic Life?

Another NYT article, this one about a new study/book coming out that claims that college athletes "have little connection to student life." What a shock.

...the study found that the recruited athletes were admitted with significantly lower grades and College Board scores and then performed more poorly than would be expected for students with those grades and test scores.

There are a number of ways to explain this, but I'm a fan of Occham and his razor: these "student"-athletes concentrated on their sport more than their studies. They passed their high school classes because nobody likes a teacher who fails the star quaterback and messes up his academic eligibility. They got the SAT scores they did (I'm sure there are statistics on athletes' scores, but I'm not sure where) thanks to special tutoring - or perhaps they didn't even bother with that, knowing that they'd be accepted into college or not based solely on their athletic ability. Then, once in college, they concentrate even harder on their sport - after all, the big leagues only take the best - and their studies languish off to the side, meaning that they can't even live up to the meager expectations set by their inflated (yet often still low) high school GPAs.

[Authors of the study and book Sarah A. Levin] and Dr. [William G.] Bowen said greater competition in college sports and the fear of having losing teams had increasingly led top colleges to recruit athletes who had trained intensively from a young age, often to the exclusion of other interests.

"One driver is the fear of humiliation," Dr. Bowen said.


Although many college officials lamented the problem, they said they could not make changes unless others did, too, or they would have losing teams.

"Reform has to be simultaneously local and national," William D. Adams, president of Colby College, one of the schools in the study, said during the presentation last week. "No one wants to go this alone."

Looks like Occham and I would be right - but we would have forgotten to address an important question: why would a college accept someone with a middling GPA and dismal test scores? Humiliation. That's right, humiliation. God forbid that the University of Chicago should lose a football game.

Now, frankly, I think that the elite schools that were studied should feel humiliated because they have readily admitted to accepting vastly inferior students so that their athletic teams can perform well. To make clear my views: I don't believe in public schools, so in my perfect world where all schools were private, if schools wanted to focus on athletics over academics, they certainly could - but I think that such a focus would be to their detriment. Either way, it seems odd to see the Big Names in academia ("Williams, Amherst, Tufts, Wesleyan, Bryn Mawr, Smith and Wellesley") worried about being humiliated on the track and/or field.

On the bright side, Vanderbilt seems to have some good ideas:

Last week, Vanderbilt, which was not in the study, announced that it was reorganizing its athletic programs to try to integrate them more into academic and student life.

"What Bill Bowen is saying is tragic but true," the Vanderbilt chancellor, E. Gordon Gee, said in an interview on Friday. "But I am not going to accept that that is the way it has to be. We are trying to break that barrier down. I think we can be competitive on and off the field, and create a model where our athletes are scholars and learners too."

Early readers of this blog will recall that some of my first posts were about sports and schools; I don't think they have anything to do with each other and I do think that the focus on athletics (especially in public schools, especially at the high school level) is abhorrent. However, since they now seem inextricably linked, the least schools could do is mimic Vandy and take the effort to make sure that they're more than $40k/year sport clubs.

An "E" For Effort

That's what NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein should get, at the very least. I don't agree with everything he's done - the new, universal curriculum, for instance - but he sure is giving the NYC schools his best shot, for what it's worth.

Today's NY Times reports that schools are going to have to do a much better job at tracking students who drop out - starting by actually marking the students as dropouts.

The new procedures call for each school to assign an assistant principal to be responsible for discharges, and compile a monthly record of every student who has been called in for the planning conference required before a student leaves the school.

At the conference, school officials will be required to explore educational options open to the student, including re-enrolling at any time before the end of the school year in which they turn 21.

That's a good idea. Like Joanne Jacobs, I don't necessarily see the pushout problem in the same light that the NY Times does; some kids just aren't cut out for high school. However, I do think that these students need to be aware of their rights, and as ridiculous as I think New York's laws are (21 year olds in high school? I wonder who will have the best parties...), it's only fair that the counselor at least lets them know what they can and cannot do.

I would say that most of the kids who were pushed out probably couldn't care less one way or the other, but maybe some of them will change their mind and turn their lives around - and if they do, then they need to know that they can re-enroll. Easy enough, right? But, of course, you can't make all of the people happy all of the time:

"I don't see how this prevents people from telling students, `You should leave and go to G.E.D.,' " said Elisa Hyman, a lawyer for Advocates for Children, which has filed a class-action suit over the issue. The G.E.D. is a battery of tests taken to qualify for a high school equivalency diploma.

I don't see the issue here. While it's not exactly the same (and it's purely anecdotal), I spent four years of my life skipping class and avoiding homework at expensive private colleges; I really wish someone had grabbed me by the shoulders and shaken me until I decided to take some time off to figure out where I was going with my life (which is what I eventually did). If these kids are skipping class and getting into fights (like the ones mentioned in the summer articles exposing this were), then maybe they need someone to tell them to just get on out of the school system, get their GED, and move on with their lives.

Those who teach at equivalency programs say that only a small minority of the high school-age students actually finish the program — while most reach an academic dead end soon after their discharge.

...That's the student's fault, not the state's. In almost every (if not every) case, what prevents these former students from getting a GED is a lack of motivation. On top of the programs that the NYC public schools offer for such students, community colleges also offer remedial courses to help out students who are trying to obtain a high school equivalency. These programs are designed to fit into the schedules of busy people who work 40, 60, sometimes even 80 hours a week. Sure, it's tough - but if these kids wanted their diplomas/equivalencies, they're there for the taking.

Friday, September 12

Update: Diveristy Double Standards At IU?

I apologize for the lack of new news, especially to those of you who are newcomers. I've been extraordinarily busy these past couple days - I'm sure you can guess with what - and I'll be out of town over the weekend, so it will probably be the first of the week before I have anything terribly new or interesting (see previous post) up.

However, I do have some good news: the Indiana Daily Student actually ran the letter to the editor that I wrote! It will certainly be interesting to see if Charlie Nelms responds - although personally, I don't think he'll bother. If anyone has any suggestions for ways to force the issue, I'm all ears.

I'd also like to thank everyone who dropped me a link about this (you know who you are, John, Kimberly, and Erin!).

A Quick Tidbit

First: I will be posting some new information about the Eric Rasmusen situation early next week. I would have written about this already, but the time simply wasn't right. I know my thoughts come a bit late - but I do feel obligated to say something about the issue.

Wednesday, September 10

Yet Another Misleading Statistic From NYC Schools?

Today's New York Post has an interesting op/ed column from Marc Epstein.

[Chancellor] Joel Klein, citing NYPD statistics, says school violence is headed down, but those who work in the schools suspect that Police Department statistics should be taken with large grains of kosher salt.

Our schools have two ways of handling infractions and two sets of books for recording them. The police reports show only crimes that lead to an arrest. But school authorities handle thousands of infractions that never make it into the police figures.

Administrators often bypass the criminal-justice system and use the school-disciplinary apparatus instead. Sometimes the student-victims or their parents are reluctant to bring a charge involving another student; they'd rather let the school resolve the problem. And some problems are indeed better handled quietly. But it's also true that keeping incidents off the NYPD books helps a school avoid a bad record with large numbers of police incidents.

An interesting hypothesis. Given NYC schools' habit of mislabeling students who drop out in order to make it appear as though far fewer students drop out than actually do, this certainly seems like a possibility. Epstein provides numbers to back up his theory:

In Queens, the borough with the city's largest high school population, incidents last year skyrocketed to 1,497 from 1,084 the year before.

This should be easy enough to check; personally, I don't know how to find out, but I'm sure we'll be hearing more about this if Epstein did his research and the numbers check out. And if it is the case that incidents have went up almost 40%, then things will be looking pretty bad for the administrators. Sure, fewer kids are getting criminal records - but are more of them causing trouble?

This sounds decidedly reminiscent of the pushout scandal that broke at the end of July. Why have administrators been assuring the public that schools are safer, when it's not clear that they are? And if the administrators have been erroneously saying that schools are safer (when they aren't), was this error a mistake or a purposeful lie? Hopefully we'll find out more in the coming days.

Tuesday, September 9

A Diversity Double Standard At Indiana University?

Charlie Nelms is the Vice President of Student Development and Diversity here at Indiana University, and is an African American (which is pertinent to the discussion). He has written many editorials for the Indiana Daily Student, the school's newspaper, and I quote two of them here today.

The first is in response to the infamous David Horowitz anti-reparations ad, the second is in response to an editorial cartoon that ran on Feb 05, 2003. The editorial cartoon (which I could not find a link to) depicted a nerdy-looking, small, white male (complete with glasses and pocket protector) holding a sign that said "Perfect SAT - 12 points" and an athletic-looking, large black male (in a varsity letterman's jacket and whistling) holding a sign that said "Minority - 20 points." I am not postive that the signs said exactly that - but you get the idea.

From the editorial about the Horowitz ad:

I can hear the freedom of expression and freedom of the press arguments now! Did we not learn anything from Mahatma, Martin and Nelson? These three, and many others, sought to teach us that what is legal is not necessarily moral. Did the IDS seek to examine the ethics and the morality of Horowitz's claims, or did the debate focus primarily on whether he has a right to be heard? Did the IDS look closely, or at all, at the historical accuracy, or lack thereof, of Horowitz's arguments, or was the IDS more concerned with not wanting to be accused of political correctness by rejecting the ad?

From the edtorial about the cartoon:

I can hear the refrain now, "this is a free speech issue." Since when did free speech give one person or newspaper the right to denigrate an entire race of people?

One would get the impression that Nelms is not a proponent of free speech at all; at the very least, one would assume that he supports laws against "hate speech." However, read his editorial from today's Indiana Daily Student:

[T]he University's decision to allow him to continue to publish his remarks while a review is underway is consistent with what it means to live in a democratic society.
In a large, diverse community of learners, each of us must be allowed to speak, and each of us must in turn take responsibility for our own words and actions.
The idea of freedom of expression is an easy one to state, but harder to live: we must support the right of those we oppose the most to say what they wish. But we must also speak out for the causes of universal and equal human rights. In the end, truth will win the day.

Nelms seems to have no problem whatsoever with free speech with regards to sexuality-based stereotypes, which presents an interesting double standard, since he makes it quite clear that he thinks racially-based stereotypes should be supressed. The IDS staff points out this very possibility in the staff editorial from yesterday:

Had this Web log promoted hateful views of any other minority group, it seems likely that the mobilization and outrage would have been twice as immense.

Would we as a University tolerate a professor who expressed a preference for "white's only" water fountains? If one suggested that females should only serve as nurses and candystripers, not physicians, would we still offer employment and shout on high the glories of free speech?

Probably not.

I sent a letter to the editor of the IDS pointing this out; it'll be interesting to see if it gets printed and what the response will be.

Protests Mark First Day At Harvey Milk School

As one might have expected, there was a small but vocal group of protesters at Harvey Milk School when it opened, but the real circus didn't begin until twenty times as many counter-protesters, along with administrative figures, union representatives, and the media arrived. Nonetheless, everything seems to have went well and there were no incidents. Read about it here and here.

Monday, September 8

More On Florida's Fast-Track Graduation System

This AP Wire article has a rehash of the debate surrounding Florida's early graduation policy.

Supporters of a law granting a high school diploma in just three years said it will help curb crowding in Florida's schools. Critics fear it will deprive early graduates of extracurricular activities and senior year milestones.

Hrm? Critics fear that students will miss out on homecoming and senior prom and like, totally, some varsity football, man, you know? Geesh.

I think the fast-track graduation policy is a prety good idea, actually, and would agree with the Education Commissioner:

"It was meant for a small group, a band of students, who were not only mature enough but smart enough to graduate," Education Commissioner Jim Horne said.

If kids can get through the required classes - core stuff, no art, gym, or whatnot - and pass the FCAT in three years, why should they stay around for another year? Of course, not all critics are worried about the missed extracurricular activities:

"Kids are having a hard enough time as it is in college," said Okeechobee County School District Assistant Superintendent Lee Dixon. "You're giving up the fourth year of high school math, and high school science. You don't want to leave it up to kids to shortchange themselves."

If the kids are driven enough to push through all their core classes and pass the FCAT in three years, then I'm sure they're driven enough to succeed at most four-year colleges. Even if these students aren't quite ready for a four-year school, they're ripe candidates for community colleges that could serve as a great bouncing point between high school and a university.

Strangely, it seems like Florida just can't do anything right; they've got groups protesting that the FCAT is unfair and prevents kids from graduating on one side and groups protesting that the course requirements and the test aren't enough and kids need to stay longer on the other. Go figure.

Update (09/09/03, 8:30 PM): Kimberly at N2P is of a similar opinion about the above article.

St. Louis Schools: Why People Are Angry

Here again is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article I linked at the end of the previous post; it is a rather lengthy explanation of what happened in St. Louis and why people are so angry.

Hundreds of loud, angry, mostly black parents and school employees were complaining and berating the majority white School Board and the new white superintendent.

Racism and a continued history of neglect, the crowd said, were behind the board's decision to close the schools in their neighborhoods. They didn't believe the board's claims that the school system was $90 million in the red. This was just insensitive white people up to their same old white tricks, they said.

In all reality, that sums up the issue. It's not about education in the least; it's about the fact that race relations in St. Louis appear to be in about the same place as they were "in the South 15 to 20 years ago." If a significant number of people genuinely think that the school board is lying to them and simply shut down the schools because of racism, then it should be unsurprising that parents are protesting and Al Sharpton is stirring the pot.

Anyway, as you read through the article, it becomes rather clear that the school board did not handle the situation as well as it could have; indeed, they often moved quickly where it might have been better to eke along and apply some finesse to smooth tensions.

"I don't know why they didn't just stand up and say, we're going to spend $5 million so we can save $40 million that will go directly into educating your children," [board supporter Howard] Denson said. "When they didn't, it set a nasty tone. All they had to do was explain it."

My favorite part of the article is probably this:

It was the same old tune, critics charged. Because most of the closings were in north St. Louis, the "black community" unfairly was bearing most of the burden, they said.

Why would that be my favorite part of the article, you ask? Because the "black community" is not a minority in St. Louis, and African-American children are not a minority in the schools (the article gives all of the details). In fact, as the article makes clear, it would have been impossible to close more than three schools without closing one that was predominantly black - and to have done as such would have meant closing schools at the expense of a minority racial group.

I don't want to imply that a majority cannot be discriminated against; they most certainly can. However, it seems quite apparent to me that if African-Americans make up a majority of the population, then they will naturally (and quite fairly) bear a majority of any burdens placed on the population.

The article goes on and on; the school board continued to remain aloof as the people got madder and more irrational. At one point, one of the board members even called a group of protesters Nazis, which certainly didn't help the school board's standing in the community. The board certainly handled the PR side of things poorly, but things could work out for the district in the end. If some real changes start to show up, it stands to reason that a lot of the protesters will fade away. If the district doesn't show improvement, however, tensions - both with respect to education and race - will continue to rise.

Final note: I feel like John at Discriminations right now. I'm not sure whether to laugh or to cry at how ridiculous the protesters' arguments are. It's bad enough that in the year 2003 - not 1973, as you might have thought from reading the article - there are still large groups of people who are more willing to believe that an entire city government is racist from the top down than to believe that the school system had been mismanaged for decades. Instead of claiming injustice and racism, why don't these people fight for accountability in the school system, fight for better teachers, and therefore fight for something that could lead to a real improvement in their children's quality of life?

Protests Mark First Day Of School In St. Louis

It looked like another day of he said/she said articles about the Houston school district and Yale strikes, but then this article popped up in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

A contentious first day of school began Monday in St. Louis with a rally and march by more than 100 protesters seeking a boycott of classes over an interim management team's decision to close 16 schools and lay off 1,400 workers.

At a pro-boycott rally before the opening bell, Democratic presidential candidate and activist Al Sharpton urged protesters to remain resolved despite those who would suggest that keeping kids out of school is counterproductive.

"I think that any parent would be irresponsible not to make sure their child is protected and that their child is serviced," Sharpton said. "It's a sad day but we must turn this time of sadness into a movement to redress that."

What a way to start out the school year, eh? I can't say enough how much I loathe Al Sharpton; the man is a bona fide racist, and the fact that he is being taken seriously as a democratic candidate for president shows how low the Democratic party has sunk in recent years (not that I'm necessarily complaining). I'm not sure how keeping one's children out of school furthers the goal of said children being "serviced," but common sense has a tendency to slice right through anything that comes out of Sharpton's mouth.

At some schools, like Vashon, which had only 37 percent attendance on the first day last year, were predicting attendance of nearly 80 percent today.

I concede that I don't know too much about typical first-day attendance numbers, but even 80% doesn't seem like much to brag about - and 37% sounds downright dismal. Are numbers like these normal?

David Klaus, 48, walked near the route with son Kevin Thompson, 12, who is entering sixth grade, purposely showing protesters that he was taking his son to school.

"I'm sure many of them are doing what they think is right," Klaus said. "To deliberately deprive the district and its children of more money is counterproductive at the minimum, stupid to be more blunt."


[T]he Rev. Sammie E. Jones urged church members to support their children by sending them to school. He accused some of the people leading the opposition of having personal agendas that do not meet the best interests of children.

"It doesn't make any sense to keep them out of school. If you want to march, march, but don't use our children," Jones said.

Well said. Not only are they pulling yet even more money out of a district that is - like most in the nation - strapped for cash, they're denying their children the opportunity to learn. It's not that I think money will solve all of the problems (it won't), nor is it that I think that the children are missing much (even in the best of schools, the first day is light on learning). But really, there's no excuse for exacerbating the problems here.

Protester Donna Jones, 46, took a vacation day to keep her three children -- ages 14, 12 and 5 -- out of school. She believes the kids are getting an education about civic involvement -- standing up against a school district she believes has ignored input from the public.

I've found a second article (read it here) that details what led up to this and how the school board managed to completely botch what should have been a welcome change. At any rate, once wonders if Ms. Jones' children will learn enough from this experience that they will one day major in social activisim.

Indiana University And Freedom Of Speech

I have remained silent thus far on the subject of Professor Eric Rasmusen and his now-infamous weblog, which is hosted (once and again) on Indiana University's servers. Since I realize that my silence probably seems a bit uncharacteristic (especially given that IU is where I attend school), let me just say that I am still considering what my exact opinion on this subject is - and until I have resolved that, I will refrain from saying anything. For a quick roundup of all the news articles and blog posts about the story, see Will's post at Crescat Sententia and Erin O'Connor's post at Critical Mass.

Changes Afoot

As you may have noticed, my Blogroll has underwent some changes; I pulled off some of the dead weight and added a number of other excellent edu-blogs. I've read all of these blogs for longer than I've been writing my own, but Blogrolling.com's software is only marginally easier to use than just typing in the HTML, so I've been a bit lax. All of the new additions are great blogs with intelligent people who make insightful posts, so if there are any that you're unfamiliar with, make sure to stop by their site.

Thanks go out to Highered Intelligence in particular - I've always been a sucker for a good compliment, heh.

Friday, September 5

Slow News Day

It appears that today is one of those rare days where, quite frankly, nothing interesting is going on.

The AP is reporting that the Landmark Legal Foundation is asking for a government inquiry into the NEA over possible misuse of dues money. Obviously, I don't know if the NEA did anything wrong or not, but the idea of an extremely large and powerful union misusing funds to influence elections doesn't seem so far-fetched to me.

In other, unrelated news, I am (finally) a full-time student again; I got into two of my waitlisted courses. Since I'm full time, that should mean that I will be eligible for financial aid - and then I'll be able to escape the pit of despair that is Blogger/Blogspot. Yay!

Thursday, September 4

Computers Grade Essays, Eliminate All Need For Human Teachers

Maybe I'm just getting old, but even as an ardent technophile, this just seems like a bad idea to me.

For example, a high score almost always contains topically relevant vocabulary, a variety of sentence structures, and the use of cue terms like "in summary," for example, and "because" to organize an argument.

Using the phrase "in summary" is terrible style, same as "in conclusion." If you have to make it that obvious that you are summarizing or concluding your ideas, then there's something very wrong with whatever it is you just wrote.

The testing service recognizes that e-rater could yield a high score on an essay with a well-written but illogical argument. "Right now, e-rater looks at an essay like a bag of words," Dr. Burstein said. "If you use the right words, you could in theory get a good score without the argument necessarily making sense, because it's not at this point tracking a logical line of argumentation."

But Dr. Burstein points out that deliberately fooling the system is unrealistic, given the time it takes to do so. Normally, she said, test takers "give their best attempt at what they can do, and then you get reasonable, reliable results."

If I were taking an essay exam that I knew was being computer graded, chances are I would write the silliest argument I could come up with - I'd just use lots of "becauses" and "in summaries."

I don't care that the computers agree with human graders almost 100% of the time. I can't really believe that the computer does a good job of correcting grammar errors (which are typically far less important than errors in thinking), because I know how bad Microsoft Word is at correcting grammar - and don't we all remember that study a while back (no link, sorry) showing that students who used Word's spell/grammar check actually made more errors than those who didn't? And besides, anything that would accept the argument that "All men are ducks. Socrates was a man. Because of this, in summary, Socrates was a duck." is, by my estimation, 100% ineffective.

Wednesday, September 3

A Campus Fad That's Being Copied: Internet Plagiarism

Yes, I borrowed the title of this NY Times article. But I also gave credit for it - something that about half of college students don't seem to think is necessary, according to a new study.

The survey solicited students' comments about cheating, and one student wrote, "If professors cannot detect a paper from an Internet source, that is a flaw in the grader or professor."

Unfortunately, it seems like we're at a point where I must agree with this student. Professors: if there are any of you left who don't use Turnitin or Google to check papers for plagiarism, then you'd better get on the ball. Students can't be bothered to write their own papers; after all, college is supposed to be about drinking and hooking up, not this "education" nonsense, right?

The rest of the article is worth reading, although it's quite depressing to be reminded that lots students have no sense of personal responsibility whatsoever.

I'm Roughing It And I Didn't Even Know It

The New York Times had an article today about people who spend way too much money on haircare and clothes in order to look good for the first week of school. I found this part quite humorous:

Some were returning to high school, while others, like Lauren Hanono, were going back to college. In a day and a half, Ms. Hanono, 19, of Lawrence, N.Y., crammed in a hair coloring, a haircut, a manicure and body wax and an eyebrow wax. It's service she said she couldn't find in Bloomington, Ind., where she is a junior at Indiana University.

"It's like roughing it," said Ms. Hanono, a communications major.

Faithful readers will most likely recall that I attend Indiana University in Bloomington. Will, whom I mentioned in the previous post, also happens to be from Bloomington. And while I'm sure that Will would agree that Bloomington is perhaps not the nicest place on earth, there's more to do here in B-town than most cities twice its size; it's certainly not "roughing it." Besides, there are four places that offer hair-cutting services in the mall alone...

But then, I suppose I've never sought a "body wax" here in town, and I doubt that Will has, either. I feel so uncultured. Heh.

Update: Will had already posted about this, and he notes that there are places to get your eyebrows waxed (if not your body).

What's Wrong With Heroin In Schools?

Will at Crescat Sententia asked:

Twilight of the Idols notes how Rochester accidentally gave tenure to a teacher who was currently under suspension for having her husband sneak her heroin in her lunch. Well, yes, that's pretty silly. But I'm actually kind of curious--

Was the teacher doing anything else wrong other than just consuming heroin on the job? After this summer's research I'm not convinced that merely consuming heroin on a daily basis automatically renders one unfit to work. I mean, sure, if she was unable to teach or stealing their lunch money, or selling the stuff to children, that would be terrible . . . but I'd like to know more about what she actually did wrong.

This is actually quite a fair question, in my opinion. A friend of mine used to manage a 24-hour restaurant, and she had a cook who was simply awful - when he wasn't high on marijuana. When he was clean, he was jittery, nervous, and dropped things all the time; when he was high, he was in control of himself and the kitchen ran smoothly. His performance was so significantly better when he was high that my friend eventually told him not to come to work unless he was high (the cook certainly wasn't upset about that plan).

Sure, it's anecdotal evidence and all, but it's an example of someone who worked not just okay, but actually better, all while under the influence of a controlled substance. Being a cook at a greasy spoon is not the same, however, as being a teacher in a public school.

I suppose it should be made clear that I support full legalization of all drugs - so from a "moral" point of view, the fact that the woman in question took heroin is not an issue with me. I don't think she's done anything "wrong" at all. I think she should be allowed to ruin her life through a spiraling addiction if she so chooses (and the agrument that the state would then have to pay for her health care doesn't faze me; I don't believe in socialized medicine). There are, however, two major issues I see with her heroin usage in the context of her case in particular.

First: Even in my perfect libertarian world of privatized schools and legalized drugs and all that jazz (sorry, just watched Chicago again - great movie!), I don't think it would be such a good idea to have a heroin addict teaching children. I readily recognize that in said perfect world, if a school wanted to hire junkies, then it would be their prerogative to do so - but it would similarly be a parent's right to send their child to a school where the teachers weren't doped up on smack.

Is it possible that there are some people in the world who actually function better on heroin than off (similar to the cook I mentioned above)? Sure. Are there very many people like that? Doubtful. And even if a school found someone who happened to perform better while high, it would seem that hiring such a person would be a bad idea for "economic" reasons; how many parents would want a heroin addict teaching their kids? I can see hiring a hypothetical person who functions better while high to do a job that doesn't involve interacting with children - but it seems like such a person would be a poor choice for a teaching position.

Further, while I think schools should be allowed to hire junkies, it still seems like that would be setting a poor example, doesn't it? If I ran a school in the aforementioned perfect world, I wouldn't hire people who were drug addicts; in fact, I would probably have a clause in the contract stating that teachers who were even strongly suspected of using "hard" drugs (pretty much anything other than pot) would be unceremoniously fired. Just because I think people should be allowed to use drugs doesn't mean I think that they actually should use them.

Second: While I do not believe that the teacher in question did anything "wrong," she did do something illegal - there's a huge difference. Since she was employed by a public school, I would venture to say that they have every reason (if not right) to fire her for breaking the law.

It is presumably in a government's interest to enforce the laws that exist; why create the laws if they are not to be enforced? For example, imagine a totalitarian state with strict limitations on free speech. If a teacher at a state-run school in such a society were to espouse the virtues of free speech (whether in the classroom or outside of it), said speech which would almost assuredly break laws designed to limit free speech. It would seem natural for the teacher to be fired, because the teacher's lessons (or example) could imply to students that the government approves of such behavior. Similarly, in a society in which heroin usage is illegal, it seems only natural for a state-employed teacher who uses heroin to be fired.

I don't particularly agree with the above line of thought, from the standpoint that I don't think that the government has much business doing much of anything. Nonetheless, we do not live in a society where "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others" (from John Stuart Mill's On Liberty). We do, though, live in a society where (in one way or another) the government controls a significant portion of everything we do - from the contents of the food we eat to the quality of the education our children receive. And thus, in such a society, it seems easy to accept the fact that a teacher who commited an act which is illegal - but which is not necessarily "wrong" - would be punished.

Tuesday, September 2

Changes Under Way

I'm (unfortunately) going to have to stop staying up all night; I've got class at 9:30 in the morning (not too early, I suppose) and so you won't see me posting at 7:00 AM anymore. I'm planning on posting in the afternoon for most of this term - although depending on what classes I actually get into (gotta love waitlists), I may have enough time in the mornings to post then.

Also, as soon as my student loans come through, I think I'm going to splurge and move off of Blogger/Blogspot. I'm not even a blip on the radar of the blogosphere at this point, but I've been getting what I consider a fair amount of traffic - and I like all of you regulars too much to force you to deal with broken archives and comments that disappear. :-D Also, to those of you who have been responding to posts - both via comments and blog entries - I appreciate it greatly. I've been quite busy the past couple weeks, but things should settle down into a routine soon and I should be able to keep up a much better discourse. (For instance, I've been thinking about a response to Will at Crescat Sententia for a week and a half now. I think I know how to respond, and I'll probably do so in a day or two.)

With that, I am off to bed - tomorrow is my first day of class, and a few hours sleep beforehand certainly couldn't hurt, right? Heh.

Monday, September 1

Teachers Forced To Take Unfair, Demeaning Tests

There's an AP Wire article out today (currently on the front page of Yahoo) featuring lots of teachers complaining about the new federal quidelines for highly qualified teachers.

Because [science teacher Rebecca Pringle] doesn't have a science degree, she'll have to take a test showing her mastery of the topic or pass a state evaluation that could include a test.

"I'm still in a state of anger and resistance," said Pringle, an eighth-grade teacher at Susquehanna Township Middle School in Harrisburg, Pa. "It's not fair to change the rules in the middle of the game. ... I have prided myself in staying current and being active in the field. For all that to be reduced to a multiple-choice test is an insult."

If she's stayed current and active in the field, then she shouldn't have a problem passing what will assuredly be a basic skills test. If she can't pass that test, then she has no business being in the classroom. Period.

Also, I'm not sure why she's so upset about this; in almost every line of work, employees are expected to pass performance reviews once or twice a year. From mall-store managers to white-collar Wall St. businessmen, it's simply a given that employees are examined and that the ones who aren't pulling their own weight are fired. Teachers are the exception, not the rule, in their lack of accountability thus far.

Beverly Ingle, a sixth-grade teacher at Laredo Middle School in Aurora, Colo., is starting her 25th year teaching. She may not be highly qualified because of the way the law handles different grades.

Middle school teachers must have a college major in each subject they teach - in her case, social studies and reading - or pass a rigorous test in those subjects. If Ingle taught sixth grade at an elementary school, she would only have to show mastery over a basic elementary curriculum.


"It's really unfair, but what am I going to do about it?" Ingle said. "I'll suck it up, like we always do as teachers, and I'll take more classes."

The difference between middle/high and elementary schools is vast; why it should come as a shock to anyone that they are tested for different things is beyond my capability to understand. Elementary school teachers are typically expected to teach numerous subjects to the same students all day, while middle/high school teachers focus on one subject and teach different students all day, so it seems quite logical to test elementary school teachers on elementary curriculum and middle/high school on the subjects that they specialize in.

Simple enough, I would think - and certainly not unfair. After all, if she's taught reading and social studies for 25 years, she should have no problem passing a "rigorous test," right? Right?

States are figuring out how teachers can show mastery of their subjects without taking tests that some consider demeaning.

This must be the end result of a generation of students whose self-esteem was more important than their education - a generation of teachers whose self-esteem is more important than their ability to teach.

Jamie Sawatzky, a fourth-year history teacher at Rocky Run Middle School in Chantilly, Va., qualifies with a degree in his subject. But he worries the law will prevent school administrators from hiring people who have intangible qualities to be brilliant teachers.

I'm not even going to ask how people who can't manage a bachelor's degree in a subject can be brilliant teachers - regardless of their "intangible qualities." I realize that this means that people can't move straight from corporate America to the classroom - which, I agree, may be an undesirable limitation - but Sawatzky's argument is far too similar to the "SATs are unfair because they don't test untestable qualities like imagination" argument for me to let it just slip past.

In New Orleans, new superintendent Anthony Amato must turn around a school system that, as he puts it, is most noted for failing test scores and leadership troubles. The teacher quality assignment is another huge task, as 40 percent of his teachers are not certified to teach their subjects or not certified at all, he said.

He has added literacy and math training for teachers and worked with local universities to coordinate teacher certification programs, among other steps.

If I hadn't already been severely disturbed by this article, I would have been after reading the above paragraphs. 40 percent of the teachers in the school district aren't certified to teach and some of the teachers require literacy training - gee, I wonder why the students aren't doing so well? If the teachers can't read, there's no reason in the world to expect that the students can.

The lesson to be learned from this article? [sarcasm on] It's unfair/demeaning/inappropriate to test teachers, because they are all swell people who really try their hardest and always have and always will, so don't be mean and try to hold them accountable. [sarcasm off] Either that, or simply that it's no wonder most kids have no sense of personal responsibility when none of their teachers do.


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