Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive
Wednesday, April 03, 2013 12:09 PM
If we want more students to succeed in college, we have to turn
full attention to the craft of university-level teaching. What’s at stake is
not only increasing graduation rates but providing a quality education for
those who, a generation or two ago, might not have seen college as possible.
originally appeared at the
Right after I gave
my opening lecture on Oedipus the King to the 30 employees of Los Angeles’s
criminal justice system, I handed out a few pages of notes I would have taken
if I were sitting in their seats listening to the likes of me.
They were taking my course, Introduction to Humanities, as
part a special program leading to a college degree, and I knew from a survey I
gave them that many hadn’t been in a classroom in a long time – and some didn’t
get such great educations when they were. So we spent the last half hour of the
class comparing my notes with the ones they had just taken, talking about the
way I signaled that something was important, how they could separate out a big
idea from specific facts, how to ask a question without looking like a dummy.
I taught that humanities course more than 30 years
ago, but I was thinking about it as I read the new report from the National
Commission on Higher Education Attainment, “College Completion Must Be Our
Priority.” The report is a call to leaders in higher education to
increase graduation rates by scheduling courses and services to accommodate
working adults, developing more on-line learning, easing the ability of students
to transfer, and implementing a host of other sensible solutions to the many
barriers that are contributing to America’s
stagnating college graduation rates.
But if we want more students to succeed in
college, then colleges have to turn full attention to teaching.
To their credit, the authors of the college
completion report call for better professional development for college faculty;
however, most reports of this type have little to say about teaching, focusing
instead on structural and administrative reforms outside the classroom. It is a
Perhaps the authors of these reports believe that
teaching is such an individual activity that not much can be done to affect it.
Another reason has to do with the way college
teaching gets defined in practice. Faculty become experts in a field, and then
they pass on their knowledge to others through college courses. Some teachers
get very good at this delivery – compelling lectures, creative demonstrations,
engaging discussions, and useful assignments. But professors don’t usually
think beyond their subjects to the general intellectual development of the
undergraduates before them, to enhancing the way they learn and make sense of
Finally, I don’t see much evidence at the policy
level of a deep understanding of college-level teaching or a respect for its
The problem starts in the graduate programs where
college instructors are minted. Students learn a great deal about, let’s say,
astrophysics or political science, but not how to teach it. They might assist
in courses and pay attention to how their professors teach, but none of this is
systematic or a focus of study or mentoring.
And there is rarely a place in the curriculum to
consider the difficulties students might have as they learn how to think like
an astrophysicist or political scientist. And then there are the reading and
writing difficulties that can emerge when encountering a discipline for the first
The majority of new college faculty wants to teach
well – and many do. But they won’t find on most college campuses an
institutional culture that fosters teaching. To be sure, there are rewards for
good teaching – awards, the esteem of students – and most institutions, even
research universities, consider exemplary teaching as a factor in promotion.
And some campuses have programs that provide resources for instruction, but
they tend to be low-status and under-utilized operations.
Teaching has special meaning now, as the authors
of the report on student success point out, because close to half of American
undergraduates are a bit more like those students in my humanities class than
our image of the traditional college student fresh out of high school.
Particularly in the community colleges and state
colleges where the majority of Americans receive their higher education,
students are older, they work, and many have children. A significant percentage
are the first in their families to go to college; somewhere between 40 to 50
percent need to take one or more remedial courses in English or mathematics.
To do right by these students, we need to rethink
how to teach them. This does not mean rushing to electronic technology – a
common move these days. On-line instruction of any variety will only be as good
as the understanding of teaching and learning that underlies it.
We can begin by elevating the value of teaching
and creating more opportunities to get better at it. For those students who
need help with writing, mathematics, and study skills, there are tutoring
centers and other campus resources. Faculty should forge connections with these
resources but realize that they, too, can provide guidance and tricks of the
trade – like taking good notes – as well as an orientation to their field.
In my experience, students at flagship
universities and elite colleges could also benefit from this approach to
instruction. Just ask them.
Doing such things does not mean abandoning our
subject area but rather enhancing it and opening a door to it.
Working with those humanities students on their
notes helped them develop better note-taking techniques. But as we studied
technique, we also thought hard about how to determine what’s important – and
how to make someone else’s information your own. All this involved talking
further about Greek tragedy, about literary interpretation, and about what the
humanities can provide
What’s at stake is not only increasing graduation
rates but also providing a quality education for those who, a generation or two
ago, might not have seen college as possible.
a professor in the UCLA
of Education & Information Studies and author of Back to School: Why
Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education.
Image by Alan Levine, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011 4:37 PM
Your therapist’s happiness level rises when you visit her couch. Firefighters are delighted to help you get Kitty out of a tree. Sins to confess to your priest or minister? He’s tickled to hear them.
Psychologist, firefighter, and clergy are included in the list of the “10 happiest jobs” based on data collected via the General Social Survey of the National Organization for Research at the University of Chicago, reports the Christian Science Monitor. “Since experts say that social interaction drives job satisfaction, it makes sense that clergy are happiest of all,” Christian Science Monitor writes. “Social interaction and helping people [is a] combination that’s tough to beat for job happiness.”
This formula explains why teachers and physical therapists are on the list, but also included are autonomous, creative professions like author and artist, and labor-intensive jobs like operating engineer. “Operating engineers get to play with giant toys like bulldozers, front-end loaders, backhoes, scrapers, motor graders, shovels, derricks, large pumps, and air compressors,” says the Monitor. And, “with more jobs for operating engineers than qualified applicants, no wonder they are happy.” The full list follows:
3. Physical therapists
5. Special education teachers
9. Financial services sales agents
10. Operating engineers
Interestingly, many of the occupations that fall at the bottom of the job-satisfaction list involve information technology, which can create isolating work, notes Forbes:
1. Director of information technology
2. Director of sales and marketing
3. Product manager
4. Senior web developer
5. Technical specialist
6. Electronics technician
7. Law clerk
8. Technical support analyst
9. CNC machinist
10. Marketing manager
Where does your job fall on the happiness scale? Are you bolstered by the helping hand you extend to others or satisfied by what you create—or should you pack it all in and learn to drive a bulldozer?
Sources: Christian Science Monitor, Forbes
Image by velvettangerine, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010 11:29 AM
Does boycotting BP gas stations send a message to the company that fouled the Gulf of Mexico? Or does it just hurt the poor mom-and-pop station owner down the street? The Columbus, Ohio, alternative weekly The Other Paper attempts to answer this burning question for guilt-ridden gas consumers in the story “Pissed Off at BP?”—and gets a stark solution from a BP station owner: Just don’t drive.
That’s right, Bill Englefield, who along with his brother Ben own 127 BP-supplied stations in the Columbus area, is
proactively getting the message out in advance of summer driving season that simply bypassing the green flower cannot ease your conscience.
“BP is one of the major suppliers of all gas in this market, and we’re not the only ones who buy their product,” he said.
The guy across the street could be supplied by BP regardless of what the sign says, Englefield added. And if they’re not supplied by BP one day, they may be the next, depending on the market.
So what should an emotionally charged activist do to avenge brown pelicans dying in distant lands?
“The best boycott is to just quit driving,” said Englefield.
Now that’s the most sense I’ve heard from a station owner in a virtual gusher of spare-the-small-business-owners homilies in the mainstream media. The Christian Science Monitor, using much the same logic as Englefield, ends up doling out similar advice, putting “Bike or walk—don’t drive” at the top of ways to truly send a message to BP.
Of course, Englefield—who doesn’t fit my definition of a small business owner—intends to lay down a gauntlet of sorts, sensing that most people simply can’t quit driving, hence resistance to BP’s vast market reach is futile.
I suggest we call his bluff. Even if we can’t all quit, perhaps enough of us can cut back to send a message to the “small people” in the boardroom at BP.
Sources: The Other Paper, Christian Science Monitor
Image from MoveOn.org's Facebook page.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010 1:23 PM
Some types of environmental action are pretty easy: Compost your food scraps, ride a bike, skip the factory-farmed meat. Others are very hard and in fact potentially life-threatening, such as fighting against gigantic animal feedlots in your own backyard. Rural Michigan resident Lynn Henning is a winner of the 2010 Goldman Environmental Prize for her brave campaign against concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, a battle that according to the Christian Science Monitor has sometimes been pretty scary:
Henning matter-of-factly recounts a list of harassments and lawsuits against her that stretches back for years: Being chased by manure tankers down the road; having dead animals left in her driveway and car; and having her mailbox blown up.
On Dec. 30, someone shot out the window of her granddaughter’s bedroom with buckshot. The 2-year-old was in the room at the time.
Henning started going up against local mega-feedlots after they began concentrating in the area where she and her husband run an 80-acre farm. There are now 20,000 cows within a 10-miles radius of her home, and every year 20,000 hogs cycle through the area. The impact on air and water quality from the massive manure output has often been overwhelming—literally, if you’re talking about the stench. Henning believes that some of her relatives got hydrogen-sulfide poisoning from the toxic stew.
Learn more about Henning and her campaign in this video:
Source: Christian Science Monitor
Image by Tom Dusenberry, courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize.
Wednesday, March 10, 2010 4:31 PM
How does your bird seed grow? With noxious weeds from invasive seeds, scattered wherever birds go? You bet. A few years ago, researchers identified the seeds of more than 50 weed species in commercial wild bird feeds, according to Organic Gardening. “It’s easy enough to snuff out noxious weeds that sprout under the feeder,” the magazine reports. “But when birds eat the seeds and the fly off and distribute weeds in their droppings, wild areas can be affected.”
Over half the weed seeds researchers found were viable; 10 of them were noxious—aggressive spreaders that can be harmful to other plants, animals, and humans. “When we informally questioned landowners and farmers to investigate the spread of a relatively new weed in the Pacific Northwest—velvetleaf—we found it growing in the soil beneath backyard birdfeeders,” horticulturist Jed Colquhoun, one of the researchers, recently told SeedWorld, an agriculture and seed industry publication.
What to do? Organic Gardening suggests choosing feeds that won’t sprout, including peanuts, sunflower hearts, and suet cakes, or growing a “bird buffet”—a garden of native perennials and grasses upon which birds can feast. Or make your own bird feed blends or homemade suet cakes with recipes from Mother Earth News. If you do buy commercial feed, Christian Science Monitor recommends making sure that it is baked so weed seeds are not viable.
Sources: Organic Gardening, SeedWorld, Mother Earth News, Christian Science Monitor
, licensed under
Monday, January 04, 2010 1:44 PM
In August the Iranian regime put 100 activists on trial for the massive summer street protests. Prosecutors insisted that the street actions were "planned in advance and proceeded according to a timetable and the stages of a velvet coup [such] that more than 100 of the 198 events were executed in accordance with the instructions of Gene Sharp."
Who is this Gene Sharp? If you don't know the man's work, you've probably never attempted to overthrow your government. A Christian Science Monitor profile calls Sharp "the godfather of nonviolent resistance" and describes the nature and impact of his work:
His work has served as the template for taking on authoritarian regimes from Burma to Belgrade. A list of his 198 methods for nonviolent action can be downloaded free of charge, along with his seminal work, “From Dictatorship to Democracy,” which has been translated by his Albert Einstein Institute into two dozen languages ranging from Azeri to Vietnamese.
Hailed as the manual by those who conducted people-power coups in Eastern Europe, its contents were no secret in Iran, where authorities have obsessed for years about their vulnerability to a “velvet revolution.” In fact, a few years ago they requested—and were sent—hard copies of Mr. Sharp’s works. Officials saw this summer’s unrest as the fruit of his strategies.
Sharp dismisses accusations by the Iranian regime that he had any direct role in the unrest. Iranians, he explains to the Christian Science Monitor, citing “the 1905-06 constitutional revolution, and the 1979 Islamic revolution against the shah.”
Source: Christian Science Monitor
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Wednesday, June 03, 2009 5:08 PM
Putting aside moral arguments for or against, same-sex marriage could make the United States a stronger country internationally. Same-sex marriages would be an economic boon to the United States, according to an article from the Christian Science Monitor. State governments could issue more marriage licenses, collect more income taxes, and pay less in health care costs if same-sex marriage were legalized. The article cites studies showing that Massachusetts has added some $37 million to its coffers, and Maine could save $7.3 million on health care costs alone through same-sex marriage.
Critics, including GOP Chairman Michael Steele, have argued that same-sex marriage would actually drive up health care costs by creating more dependents. That would add only 1 or 2 percent to companies health care costs, according to research cited by the Christian Science Monitor, and could be offset because “marriage – whether gay or heterosexual – provides a safety net for spouses,” making more people ineligible for state benefits.
Gay-friendly laws also would allow the United States to attract more of the brightest minds in the world, Stephen M. Walt writes for Foreign Policy. Discrimination on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation actually restricts the talent pool of immigrants who might otherwise become productive members of a society. Walt writes:
All else equal, societies that establish strong norms and institutions that protect individual rights and freedoms (including those governing sexual preference, I might add) will become attractive destinations for a wider array of potential citizens than societies that try to maintain a high degree of uniformity. And when you can choose from a bigger talent pool, over time you're going to do better.
Maybe that’s the storm that these people are worried about:
, licensed under
Christian Science Monitor
Tuesday, May 05, 2009 8:30 AM
When a war correspondent reflects on their time spent reporting in Iraq, it’s usually the same story: a few harrowing stories from a few days or weeks spent riding with a unit in Baghdad or somewhere nearby. When the history of Iraq is evoked at all, it is a history that begins in 2003. Jane Arraf is an exception. In the years leading up to the 2003 invasion she was the only Western reporter stationed in Iraq. She worked for CNN and lived in a hotel on the Tigris. Eventually, she moved into a house. She knows Baghdad like no other Western journalist, which is why her reflection piece in the Christian Science Monitor is a must read.
In My Iraq: a reporter’s 20-year retrospective, Arraf has the good sense to bury the harrowing war correspondent stories—and she has her share—in favor of the stories and voices of the Iraqis she came to know over the years. And quoting a particularly courageous Iraqi journalist who happens to be a woman and a mother, Arraf shares a truth that should be printed on the back of every war reporter's Iraq book: "It takes more courage to be a mother in Iraq than a war correspondent."
Source: Christian Science Monitor
Friday, February 13, 2009 1:07 PM
Most Americans are going through hard times, but our shaky economy is hitting Latino immigrants with particular force, according to a new analysis by the Pew Hispanic Center. Using Census data, the center found that between late 2007 and late 2008, unemployment among foreign-born Latinos rose 2.9 points to eight percent, while unemployment in the overall workforce rose only two points to 6.6 percent. The report didn’t include data on how many of these workers were documented or undocumented.
The ripple effect is already being felt by families in Latin America who depend on money sent home from relatives working in the U.S. For the first time in 13 years, remittances sent from the U.S. to family members in Mexico declined in 2008.
Source: Pew Hispanic Center
Friday, January 02, 2009 10:02 AM
Scraper bikes began as low-budget analogs to the colorful, big-rimmed cars—also called scrapers—often seen cruising around east Oakland. Tricked-out scavenged frames with foil, colored tape, and candy wrappers, the bikes are a resourceful homage. Until recently they were a purely local phenomenon. But after a cameo in a YouTube rap video, prominent placement in the first-ever solar-powered hip-hop festival, and support from Bay Area businesses and museums, the bikes are garnering worldwide attention. Many people see potential in the maturing scraper bike movement; they hope the enterprising youth behind it can be a positive force for change in Oakland.
Tyrone Stevenson, the “Scraper Bike King” who pioneered the bikes, has played an energetic role in popularizing them. He sells them to places as far away as Germany, and teaches people to build them in the informal workshops he holds in his backyard. Andre Ernest, director of the Super Innovative Teens nonprofit, believes Stevenson has already made an impact. “He’s helping the kids who would otherwise be on the street,” Ernest told the Christian Science Monitor. According to Wiretap, Stevenson recently applied for a small business grant and is working to patent his design. He hopes to open a shop where he can continue to teach bike-building skills. “If we had a center, where a lot of kids could just come, I feel deep in my heart that would really reduce a lot of the crime,” he says.
Take a look at this slideshow of scraper bike photos, and watch the video that catapulted the bikes into the limelight below:
Image courtesy of Green Jobs Now, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, November 20, 2008 10:10 AM
President-elect Barack Obama has confidently pledged to scrub out the blight on America's moral standing that is Guantanamo Bay. Closing the notorious prison is a move the world would eagerly embrace, and the move would immediately distance the new administration from the sinister national security practices of the Bush years. Goodbye torture, hello habeas corpus.
That sure sounds nice. But putting Gitmo’s sordid abuses in our past won't be easy. The legal issues at stake remain with or without the prison, as Matthew Waxman, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, points out in an interview with Foreign Policy. “The United States will continue to capture, detain, and need to interrogate suspected terrorists long into the future,” Waxman said. “And the bigger question than whether to hold them at Guantanamo or not is one of legal authority. On what legal basis and according to what standards will the United States conduct detentions?”
Trials of “enemy combatants” are another complicated matter, and there’s little consensus on how they should be carried out, according to the New Republic. “Some conservatives argue that civilian courts are too protective of detainee rights or would sacrifice sensitive national security information,” writes Joseph Landau for TNR, while, “civil libertarians reject national-security courts for insufficiently guarding defendants’ rights.”
The proposed creation of national security courts charged solely with trying suspected terrorists is being hotly debated, and Obama is said to be considering the option. University of Utah law professor Amos Guiora is a strong proponent of this idea. In a guest column for Jurist, he writes, “In advocating the establishment of domestic terror courts I am seeking both a legal and practical solution to the continued detention of thousands of ‘post 9/11 detainees.’” Guiora suggests the courts as an ongoing solution to a problem that extends far beyond Guantanamo Bay. “Guantanamo Bay is but one detention facility,” Guiora writes.
The Christian Science Monitor describes the new court model as similar to one that was used in Israel, where trials were “conducted behind closed doors to protect intelligence sources and methods.” According to CSM, “Instead of using military judges, such a court should be staffed by civilian federal judges, preserving the separation of powers,” but protecting intelligence information. Guiora told CSM, “Source-protection is a must in the context of counterterrorism.” He said, “Without sources, there is no intelligence. Without intelligence, there is no counterterrorism.”
But not everyone thinks a specialized terror court is a good idea, or necessary. Also for Jurist, Washington University law professor Leila Nadya Sadat notes the following:
Although advocates of creating a new set of courts to try terror suspects are no doubt sincere in trying to “fix” the problem of what to do with the detainees at Guantanamo Bay, let’s remember that at least some of these folks are the ones who gave the advice that supported the practice of rendition and the establishment of Guantanamo Bay in the first place. Indeed, a close look at their proposals suggests a disregard for time-tested rules of law eerily similar to the lawyering style that has pervaded the administration during the past eight years.... The federal courts, and regularly constituted military courts, are more than capable of trying individuals accused of terrorism and violations of the laws and customs of war, as they have done so before.
Image by woody1778a, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, November 03, 2008 1:46 PM
After reporting significant losses in addition to rising production costs, the Christian Science Monitor has turned to a solution that it hopes will minimize losses while maintaining or even increasing readership. The newspaper’s daily content will soon be entirely web-based, with a print edition (photo features, in-depth reportage) coming out weekly. Along with the change comes a steep drop in subscription prices, from $220/year to $89/year. However, this doesn’t mean that the CSM is completely dodging the bullet: Editor John Yemma still plans to cut 10-15 percent of staff next year.
The Monitor’s transition appears to be relatively painless, but the Columbia Journalism Review warns that the strategy may not work for all troubled publications. One of the biggest variables in the plan’s success is ad revenue: Print advertisers may not want to make the switch, especially since the print edition of the Monitor skews to an older demographic than its online content. It’s also difficult to predict if subscribers who aren’t tech-savvy will adapt or simply give up. The evolution is slated for April 2009.
Monday, September 29, 2008 2:55 PM
A group of Greenpeace activists dubbed the “Kingsnorth Six” were found not guilty of criminal damage by a British jury earlier this month, despite fessing up to defacing a coal-fired power plant in an attempt to shut it down. Their creative legal team argued that the damage was justified under a law that excuses property damage inflicted to prevent greater property damage, which the defense said would occur as a result of climate change.
According to the Guardian, “The court was told that some of the property in immediate need of protection included parts of Kent at risk from rising sea levels, the Pacific island state of Tuvalu and areas of Greenland.” NASA climate scientist James Hansen, an outspoken public critic of coal-fired power, testified on behalf of the defense and told the jury the Kingsnorth plant’s emissions could lead to the extinction of as many as 400 species.
The verdict could be interpreted as an endorsement of civil disobedience in the name of climate change, which likely thrills environmental activists who favor direct action. Guardian environment editor John Vidal speculates that “the floodgates have been opened and that it will be open season on coal and other dirty energy industries…History would suggest that the carbon protest movement will gain in confidence like the anti-roads and GM movements, and that coal will be targeted mercilessly.”
Vandalism as a form of protest is a controversial tactic. Writing for the National Review, Henry Payne slams Hansen for endorsing “eco-vandalism,” saying he “has seriously damaged the credibility of a movement that has struggled to separate its apocalyptic rhetoric from more extreme environmentalists who demand violent action to match that rhetoric.” The Lazy Environmentalist blog takes a different stance, seeing the verdict as “a vitally important step in recognising potential legal ‘rights’ of the planet.”
On a related note, Al Gore encouraged young people to engage in civil disobedience to halt climate change at the Clinton Global Initiative gathering last week—which prompted the Christian Science Monitor to ask, “Does Al Gore think he’s too old for civil disobedience?”
Image by Crosbiesmith, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, November 09, 2007 5:17 PM
Under fire in Habbaniyah along the banks of the Euphrates near Fallujah, Navy Chaplain Michael Baker stands as the first line of defense against the mental and spiritual toll of the Iraq War. As part of a series of articles in the Christian Science Monitor, Lee Lawrence illustrates how chaplains navigate the ethical and religious quandaries on the battlefield and in the barracks.
Last June, for instance, a lance corporal on guard duty shot himself with his M-16 rifle. The reaction of higher-ups to the tragedy highlight highlights how obstreperous superiors and military culture can conspire to worsen the mental wounds of war. According to Lawrence, a noncommissioned officer told the lance corporal’s detachment that their comrade was in hell and it was time to wash the suicide from their memory.
At moments like these, Baker’s work becomes indispensable—even counterintuitive. When the secular military recklessly turns religious he must wear adhere strictly to his duty not to proselytize and play the role of rationalist.
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