Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive
Thursday, May 02, 2013 3:23 PM
As marketing to children intensifies, what can society do?
This article is adapted from Solutions Online and is licensed under Creative Commons 3.0.
A four-year-old arrives at school and starts crying when she realizes her lunch is packed in a generic plastic bag, not the usual Disney Princess lunchbox she so loves. A friend tells her she won’t be able to sit at the princess lunch table—it’s only for girls with princess lunchboxes.
A fourth grader arrives home from school all excited. He has a Book It certificate from Pizza Hut because his mother signed the form showing that he met the reading-at-home goal his teacher set for him. He pleads with his mother to take him to Pizza Hut for dinner that night.
Sixth graders are assigned the task of writing to their principal about something important that they would like to see happen at their school. They decide to ask for school vending machines that sell snack foods and drinks.
Marketing is a more powerful force in the lives of children growing up today than ever before, beginning from a very young age. The stories above provide but a few examples of how it can shape learning and behavior at home and in school. Marketing affects what children want to eat, wear, and play, and with whom they play. It also shapes what they learn, what they want to learn, and why they want to learn. And it primes them to be drawn into, exploited, and influenced by marketing efforts in schools.
What Can We Do?
Many feel that a complete ban on all marketing to children is an impossible dream. But that is exactly what many countries do. Advertising to children is restricted in Great Britain, Belgium, Denmark, and Greece, and totally banned in Sweden and Norway. Studies have recently shown that children in Sweden want fewer toys, as a result. A study proves what companies already know: advertising to children works. Why advertise if it’s not effective? Similar efforts to restrict advertising were attempted in the United States in the 1970s but, unfortunately, failed to pass.
More restrictions might be on the way in countries like the UK, where a recent investigation into the causes of the 2011 looting found that a culture of consumption, fueled by marketers, played a role in the civil unrest. Early in 2012, the Riots, Communities, and Victims Panel, set up by Prime Minister David Cameron and deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, called for action against “aggressive advertising aimed at young people,” citing evidence that “rampant materialism was an underlying cause of last year’s lawlessness.”
The fact that marketing in schools is such an omnipresent and pernicious force in children’s lives makes finding solutions of utmost importance. It is unrealistic to expect that in the current economic times we can make marketing and the influence of marketing in schools go away. But, there is much we can and must do to reduce its harmful impact on children. No one effort can solve the problem; a multifaceted approach is needed. Here is what a comprehensive and meaningful response, directed at children, families, schools, communities, and the wider society, might be:
1. Educate parents, teachers and policymakers about the harm that marketing to children, especially in schools, can cause to children’s development, learning, and behavior. It is only through a change in public understanding of the dangers that we will be able to turn the tide.
2. Protect children as much as possible from exposure to commercial culture. Parents can use strategies at home that reduce children’s exposure to and focus on commercial culture and products, including less dependence on media that has advertising and multiple products associated with it. They can promote their children’s involvement with meaningful real world activities that do not focus on consumption or advertising. One school sent home a letter to parents with ideas for birthday parties that didn’t involve commercial themes like Disney Princesses or fast food chains’ packaged events.
Teachers and school administrators can work to reduce marketing in schools. For instance, they can limit the number of products with logos in school. This might involve setting up rules about what commercial products and logos children bring to school, and coming up with alternative, low-cost strategies to meet the same needs the banned product met. For instance, one early childhood program banned lunch boxes with logos, and sent home suggestions to parents about alternative, inexpensive containers they could use to pack their children’s lunches. One school board created a middle-school dress code that severely limited the size of logos that could appear on students’ clothing because so much bullying and teasing occurred against the children who didn’t have the “right,” clearly visible logos on their clothing.
3. Counteract the harmful lessons children learn from marketing both in and out of school. Teach children about the nature and impact of marketing and commercial culture in age-appropriate ways. Children are unduly influenced by ads and marketing practices directed at them because of how they think and also because of the unrelenting ways marketers capture their attention and loyalty. One teacher designed an activity based on the book Arthur’s TV Troubles by Marc Brown. The teacher asked students whether they had ever been disappointed with something they bought based on an ad. Every child had a story to share. When they wrote these stories down for homework, they produced their best writing of the year! In these days of No Child Left Behind pressures, which have forced educators to focus on the demands of the test rather than on the broad-based learning needs of children, we must convince educational policy makers that children will be more successful learners if they aren’t constantly being lured away from their lessons by marketing.1
Children need to feel safe talking to a trusted adult about what they see marketed at school and beyond and what they think about it, without being embarrassed, ridiculed, or punished. Only by having such conversations can we learn what children think and, in turn, influence their thinking. This does not mean lecturing about what is right and wrong or good and bad, or criticizing children for what they say and think. It means having give-and-take conversations that show we care about what they think and say, and hope they will care about and listen to what we have to say too. This is the key starting point for influencing the lessons that children are learning from marketing in schools.
4. Enact government regulations and policies that limit marketing in schools. Government and policy makers must play a role in limiting marketing to children, even in these harsh economic times. The best way to make this happen will be by providing adequate funding for schools, so that schools do not need to be so dependent on corporations. Great Britain provides the United States with a powerful example for what we can do: in 2006 it established a ban on junk food in school meals.2
One Organization, Making A Difference
Ten years ago, a Harvard academic, a child advocate, and a puppeteer launched an organization named Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood (CCFC), and it has lead a national effort to police advertising and marketing to children. Based out of Boston, a coalition of educators, health care providers, parents, academics, and advocacy groups take on major corporations that they find are marketing to children, from Pizza Hut and Sunny D to the coal industry and Disney. Started by Susan Linn, a professor, the organization has landed a number of recent victories, including persuading Disney to offer a refund to parents who bought Baby Einstein videos and pressuring Scholastic to stop taking money from the coal industry. Scholastic was forced to drop its curriculum for fourth graders after admitting it was paid for by the National Coal Foundation. The curriculum was, unsurprisingly, one-sided in its endorsement of coal, without any mention of the environmental repercussions or of alternative energies.
CCFC’s current campaign includes a move to pressure PBS to drop its partnership with the fast-food company Chik-fil-A, in which the channel is paid to present commercials for fast food at the beginning and end of its shows. It also wants advertising to be removed from school buses. In an age when it seems even the most well-respected advocacy groups—from Sierra Club to Save the Children—have begun accepting corporate money, CCFC stands alone in refusing to be bought off.
Although there is tremendous work to be done, and the advertising and marketing industry is a financial behemoth to tackle, we believe that children deserve to grow up free of invasive and unrelenting marketing messages that peddle products known to be harmful to the health and well-being of young people. Children deserve the opportunity to explore their creativity without the interference of do-it-for-you toys. They must be able to develop the capacity to make independent decisions, and to enjoy life free from the insecurities and pressures inherent in marketing campaigns. We hope that the United States will follow the lead of other countries and recognize that restricting corporations’ ability to market to children is a healthy and necessary step.
- Defending the Early Years [online]. www.defendingtheearlyyearsproject.org.
- BBC News. Junk food banned in school meals [online] (May 19, 2006). news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/4995268.stm.
Photo by Labpluto123, licensed under Creative Commons.
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, March 05, 2013 11:41 AM
A sustainable future means teaching kids about climate change and living in balance with the earth. Green School's "Greenest Student on Earth" contest will reward three environmentally conscious students with a year-long scholarship.
When it comes to saving the
planet, there’s plenty of urgent action to take
right now. But as we struggle to slow the environmental destruction that’s led to
a changing climate, we must also plant the seeds of permanent and profound sustainability.
It makes sense to start with children, for whom a small shift in direction now can
lead to an entirely different path later. An international school in Bali, Indonesia,
aims to do just that.
Aptly titled Green School,
the organization teaches sustainable thinking and practical skills to students
from pre-kindergarten through high school, including kids in their own
sustainable future. “We have to teach the kids that the world is not indestructible,”
says Green School co-founder John Hardy in a 2010 TED
Talk. No one knows exactly what the future holds, and kids need to be
prepared to live on a planet that could be very different than the one we
inhabit. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are still important, Hardy muses, but
the adults of the future are going to need a broader skill set—from building with
bamboo to planting medicinal gardens.
In 2012, Green School
was recognized by the U.S. Building Council as the “Greenest School
on Earth.” The campus itself is solar-powered and self-sustaining, a product of
Hardy’s three-tiered philosophy, “be local, let the environment lead, and think
about how your grandchildren might build.”
This year, Green
School is looking for environmentally
conscious, action-oriented students to attend classes at the Bali
campus. The school’s “Greenest Student on Earth” competition starts March 5 and
ends on April 22, Earth Day. At the close of the competition, three students—one
each from elementary, middle, and high school—will win a one-year scholarship
to Green School.
To enter, the school asks that students submit a 2-3 minute video answering the
question, “Why are you the greenest student on earth?” The video should
highlight environmental achievements, hopes and goals, as well as how the
student would benefit from a year at Green
Winners will be announced June 5, World Environment Day. For more information watch the video below and visit the Green School
Tuesday, April 03, 2012 12:55 PM
Why America’s schools are doing better
than you think.
The world’s first comic-book
A new map helps community
gardeners find vacant
land in New York City.
The full-size office that doubles
as a giant suitcase.
37 million people try to
access the 1940 census archives at
the same time.
The House of Commons hacks
Why the subprime mess was bad
A nifty graph on copyright
law and the midcentury
My Liberal Party MP can
beat up your Conservative Party Senator.
A college professor wants
you to go to school.
A Japanese photographer floats
across Tokyo (or so it seems).
Why NPR owes a lot to the sinking
of the Titanic. Like much of the ship itself, the Titanic’s radio equipment
was among the most advanced in the early 20th century world. It’s
failure to properly alert maritime authorities was something of a wake-up call
for radio engineers to develop a more reliable and more standard system of
Image by Andrei
Niemimäki, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012 1:30 PM
Turns out that the myth of the 8-hour sleep is a recent phenomenon—and that lying awake at night could be good for you.
Get ready for the Bourdain stamp of approval on a new line of foodie books.
Neiman Watchdog asks: Do politicians know anything at all about schools and education?
A perfectly preserved 300 million year old forest discovered under a coal mine in China features trees with branches and leaves intact.
We were totally OK with climate change until it started to affect our Shiraz.
How to ask political candidates questions and get answers.
What does a 55-gallon drum of sex lubricant say about the way we interact with Facebook?
Dexterous robots toil at the bottom of the sea to safeguard the web.
Mandarin, Arabic, or Spanish? Of all the world’s tongues, what is the best language to learn?
One woman’s brief, backbreaking, rage-inducing, low-paying time inside the online-shipping machine.
Image by Alyssa L. Miller, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, February 17, 2012 1:51 PM
While no parent wants a petulant, argumentative teenager, cultivating a skill set for feisty debate in secondary school may be the most effective way to ensure a reasoned adulthood.
Columbia University’s Deanna Kuhn, a psychology professor whose work in cognitive science and education was recently profiled by Miller-McCune, worries argument “based on substantive claims, sound reasoning, and relevant evidence” is dying out—yet, in our ever more complex world, is ever more crucial. How, she set out to uncover, could we foster a generation of rational, well-informed citizens to meet the challenges of tomorrow?
Though a geeky staple of secondary education, debate club was not the solution Kuhn investigated. Instead, she went meta. As in, metaphysical.
Kuhn’s subjects were mostly black and Latino students from a public middle school in Harlem, and all 48 were enrolled in a twice-weekly philosophy course for three years. Alongside the class’s curriculum, they researched and debated on controversial issues like animal rights and black market organ sales. “They often debated in pairs,” explains Burns, “not face to face, but online, in a sort of Socratic inquiry via Google Chat.”
Like all new material, the students didn’t initially “get” how to argue with nuance. Their topical stances, according to the article, lacked complexity. Many showed no interest in feedback from their instructors. But, “[b]y the end of year two,” the magazine reports, “they had developed a thirst for evidence.” The young philosophers competed in a year-end showdown structured more like a debate club match, where half-cocked arguments and one-sided perspectives didn’t fly.
For a control group, Kuhn tracked 23 other students who learned philosophy like classic scribes: with their noses in books and pens scribbling essays. At the end of the third year of instruction, both groups took a written exam on yet another unfamiliar topic—a type of assessment for which the traditionally educated kids should be more prepared. But the results were surprising: “[N]early 80 percent of the students in the experimental group were writing essays that identified and weighed opposing views in an argument,” reports Miller-McCune. “Less than 30 percent of the students in the comparison group were doing so.”
In a media landscape hijacked by cable news personalities, internet trolls, and radio blowhards and an education system hijacked by standardized testing companies, these statistics are more than reassuring. They’re—dare I say it—enlightening.
Image by Jon Collier, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, February 08, 2012 3:32 PM
Have you ever wondered how the exuberant energy of elementary school–aged children might be harnessed and put to good use? It seems the Dutch company De Café Racer has found a way, with a kid-powered bicycle intended to replace the traditional school bus.
The bike is pedaled by 1 adult (who is essential for steering and safety’s sake) and up to 10 children, reports Kate Malongowski in YES! Magazine. Designed for kids ranging in age from 4 to 12, the bike can reach a speed of 10 miles per hour, is available in a variety of colors—including blue, purple, red, and school-bus yellow—and has adjustable seats to accommodate its growing riders’ extra inches. In addition, the ride comes with a music system, a canvas cover to ward off rain, and an auxiliary electric motor for when the hills get too steep or the pedal pushers run out of steam.
The innovative cycle is beneficial on several levels, such as reducing pollution and combating childhood obesity, and De Café Racer hopes it will catch on outside of the Netherlands. So far, the company has sold about 25 of the bikes in Europe and has received inquiries from buyers in North America and South America as well.
When Co.Exist spoke with the bicycle’s builder, Thomas Tolkamp, about how he thinks the idea will fare internationally, he said that people from around the globe are intrigued: “We have gotten interest from…all over the world and all people are positive.”
Sources: YES! Magazine, Co.Exist
Margret Aldrich is an associate editor at Utne Reader. Follow her on Twitter at @mmaldrich.
Thursday, February 02, 2012 10:47 AM
Honesty has ceased to be seen as a virtue, and with its decline “our society risks a future of moral numbness,” writes William Damon in Defining Ideas, a journal published by the Hoover Institution at Harvard University. Damon is well aware that the little deception is sometimes morally justifiable, but he posits that “a basic intent to be truthful, along with an assumption that people can be generally taken at their word, is required for all sustained civilized dealings.”
And that’s not what he’s seeing out there in our schools, businesses, and institutions. Writes Damon in “The Death of Honesty”:
Although truthfulness is essential for good human relationships and personal integrity, it is often abandoned in pursuit of other life priorities.
Indeed, there may be a perception in many key areas of contemporary life—law, business, politics, among others—that expecting honesty on a regular basis is a naïve and foolish attitude, a “loser’s” way of operating. Such a perception is practically a mandate for personal dishonesty and a concession to interpersonal distrust. When we no longer assume that those who communicate with us are at least trying to tell the truth, we give up on them as trustworthy persons and deal with them only in a strictly instrumental manner. The bounds of mutual moral obligation dissolve, and the laws of the jungle reemerge.
Damon singles out schools, with their laxness toward cheating, as a large part of the problem behind slipping ethics. But he makes no specific mention of the legions of business leaders whose base dishonesty led to the spectacular financial collapse and ongoing recession that has plagued the country for several years. Maybe it’s because Damon is too humble to suggest that they didn’t read his 2004 book: The Moral Advantage: How to Succeed in Business by Doing the Right Thing.
Source: Defining Ideas
Wednesday, January 11, 2012 3:14 PM
As Internet users, we all skim above the surface of programming code. It’s a language that we interact with on a constant basis, yet, like tourists in a far-flung locale, most of us never learn to speak it. But code is slowly becoming an element of many of our careers. I find myself diving into HTML many times a day (twice to write this blog post, even).
A new Internet startup called Code Academy is trying to prepare the programming-illiterate for their impending techno-savvy future. They’ve developed Code Year, a free web-based education course that teaches the elements of coding—from the fundamentals to the nitty-gritty details—over the duration of one year. The organization claims that, if you stick with their lessons, you should be able to write a basic video game or build a website at the end of 12 months. “Make my own video game?” I thought as I read about Code Year. “That’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was, geez, 10 years old.”
Liz Dwyer, the education editor of Good, did a nice job of explaining the interface of the course. I’ll defer to her example:
“Hey! Let’s get to know each other. What’s your name?” the prompt asks, instructing you to type your name with quotation marks around it, then press enter. Within a minute, you’ve learned enough code to ask the program to tell you how many letters are in your name and do basic math problems. The program even awards badges to keep participants motivated and allows you to tweet your coding achievements.
As technology and software continues to advance, digital literacy will be absolutely crucial if you want a career in, well, any field. It’s time to start speaking a new language.
Image by derekGavey, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011 4:35 PM
Standardized tests are an oft-vilified, cancerous outgrowth on the sickly flesh of 2001’s No Child Left Behind education reform legislation. By shifting the focus of secondary education to preparing students for high-stakes exams, students are incentivized to memorize factoids, formulae, and figures, rather than how to think creatively, form a rational opinion (or sentence), or continue learning outside of a school environment. It as if the Department of Education took on the pedagogic philosophy of Mr. Gradgrind—a boarding school teacher in Charles Dickens’ Hard Times—who is an unwavering advocate of “truth” and empiricism. “Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts,” Gradgrind pontificates in Hard Times’ opening chapter, “Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them.”
Don’t get me wrong, getting the facts right is important . . . and you’d better hope your teachers sow the Facts in our current system, or you won’t place very well or SAT or ACT exam. Good luck getting into college without a passing score.
And, for that matter, good luck taking a standardized exam that isn’t bankrolled, lobbied-for, manufactured, delivered, and scored by Pearson Education, an international textbook manufacturer with chokehold on American public schools. “To capitalize on this new world order,” we reported in our Jan-Feb 2012 issue, “testing companies are hiring high-powered lobbyists to influence the government’s educational agenda.” Let me spell this out very clearly: The privatization that these lobbyists are pushing changes the institutional goal of public education from knowledge, equality, or progress to money.
Also, had you heard that standardized tests don’t work very well in the first place?
Even if the interests of standardized testing are entrenched, a few good ideas might help chip away at their rote, zombifying intellectual oppression. For the sake of black humor, here are a few of those ideas bouncing around—presented in the form of a multiple-choice question:
What is an effective way to circumvent the standardized testing teaching paradigm?
Judge students’ aptitude with portfolios instead of test scores – Liz Dwyer, the education editor of Good, proposes a technique that some of the country’s best educators use to judge their students’ progress: an end-of-term portfolio. “[I]s there a misalignment,” Dwyer asks, “between the work they can actually do and what the test questions ask?” Narrowing down a quarter or semester’s worth of academic inquiry into one’s best work, Dwyer argues, will “showcase the pieces they believe reflect the depth and breadth of their capacity” and “is more empowering for students than a single number.” Portfolios are an apt assessment for a modern education, she concludes, because they display “creativity, critical thinking, and project-based learning . . . something no test score can quite do.”
Foster a “test-optional” university culture – One controversial idea, put forth most extensively by Martha Allman in Joseph A. Soares in SAT Wars, encourages universities to conduct more one-on-one interviews and try to eliminate admissions based on test scores (an inherently discriminatory method, according to the book’s authors). As noted in a review of the book for The Chronicle of Higher Education, no matter the benefits, switching from the status quo comes with its share of growing pains. “We could not have anticipated the dramatic increase in workload,” Allman is quoted as writing, “the labor-intensiveness of the process, the challenge of attempting to interview the entire applicant pool, the technical challenges of written online interview options, nor the volume of comment from our constituencies.”
Subvert the traditional university system entirely – “Almost nine out of ten American high school seniors say they want to go to college,” writes Anya Kamentz, the author of DIY U featured in our Sept-Oct 2011 issue, who also notes that “UNESCO concluded that there’s no foreseeable way that enough traditional universities could be physically built in the next two decades to match the demand.” Kamentz puts forth a number of solutions that largely side-step the current system, including open-source coursework, game-based educational software, and hyper-accelerated programs. In other words, breaking down the classroom walls. And if there are no walls, standardized tests can’t keep us hostage.
A combination of a, b, and c.
None of the above.
What’s the answer? Hopefully we won’t need to ask Pearson Education.
Sources: The Chronicle of Higher Education, Good
, licensed under
Wednesday, November 30, 2011 11:59 AM
Were you one of those students who made schoolwork look easy, earning a galaxy of gold stars and an alphabet of A’s between your first morning of kindergarten and your graduation day? Did everyone gush over how smart you were?
If so, you might know the curse of the gifted child. An overload of affirmations can hamper the future success of bright kids, reports Heidi Grant Halvorson for Harvard Business Review. Students who receive praise for intellect rather than effort, she says, develop a belief that their abilities are innate and unchangeable. As adults, they lose confidence in trying to develop new, difficult skills. They get stuck. Halvorson writes:
People with above-average aptitudes—the ones we recognize as being especially clever, creative, insightful, or otherwise accomplished—often judge their abilities not only more harshly, but fundamentally differently, than others do (particularly in Western cultures). Gifted children grow up to be more vulnerable, and less confident, even when they should be the most confident people in the room.
In a study conducted by Carol Dweck and Claudia Mueller of Columbia University, fifth graders were evaluated to determine how different kinds of praise affected their performances. The students were given three sets of problems—the first relatively easy, the second nearly impossible, and the third simple. Dweck and Mueller found that offering the praise “You did really well. You must be really smart!” to one group resulted in a 25 percent drop in performance on the third set of problems, after they had failed the second set. Conversely, the group that received praise that focused on their effort (“You did really well. You must have worked really hard!”) improved their performance by 25 percent. The “smart” group became stymied, doubting their abilities, while the “hard-working” group persisted, feeling that if they tried hard enough, they would succeed.
When gifted children who were praised for their brainpower grow up, they often feel shackled by self-doubt, avoiding challenges and sticking to easy goals. Halvorson posits, however, that it’s possible to get unstuck by realizing that capabilities are wonderfully elastic:
No matter the ability—whether it’s intelligence, creativity, self-control, charm, or athleticism—studies show them to be profoundly malleable. When it comes to mastering any skill, your experience, effort, and persistence matter a lot. So if you were a bright kid, it’s time to toss out your (mistaken) belief about how ability works, embrace the fact that you can always improve, and reclaim the confidence to tackle any challenge that you lost so long ago.
Source: Harvard Business Review
Image by ultrakickgirl, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011 1:21 PM
Perhaps, like me, you’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving this year with a full heart. Likely you know someone who has lost their job, someone who is battling disease, someone whose plate of worries has been heaped full. Perhaps that person is a friend of a friend, a close loved one, or yourself. At the same time, you probably have a lot to be grateful for. Maybe you are blessed with a loving partner or supportive family or true friends—or all three. Likely someone you don’t know has touched your life in a positive way. That’s what nonprofits do every day: work for people in need who they don’t know personally. With this in mind, Nonprofit Tech 2.0 has published a list of 50 nonprofits to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. You’ll be familiar with some of the organizations; others will be new names. I’ve highlighted five here that you might not know about and that are doing exceptional work:
Communities in Schools: Because America ranks 14th in reading, 17th in science, and 25th in math.
Darkness to Light: Because 1 of every 4 girls and 1 every 6 boys in the U.S. will be sexually abused by the age of 18.
Moms Rising: Because the U.S. is the only developed nation in the world without paid maternity leave.
Polaris Project: Because at this very moment 100,000 minors are being trafficked for sex in the United States.
Southern Poverty Law Center: Because hate, bigotry, and intolerance continue to thwart and undermine the American Dream.
Source: Nonprofit Tech 2.0
Image by WishUponACupcake, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, November 07, 2011 10:58 AM
Ask any college student and they’ll tell you that course textbooks are a racket. But pose the same question to a middle- or high-school student and they’ll shrug with an air of hormonally augmented indifference. High schoolers don’t typically need to purchase their textooks, but borrow them from the school library or individual department. Just as there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there’s no such thing as a free textbook. The school district picks up the tab instead.
The high school textbook industry is controlled by a few very powerful publishers that sell one-size-fits-all books at a premium price to schools. Some basic texts can cost as much as $65 a piece, even when bought in high volume. A school in Blaine, Minn., for example, budgeted $200,000 for a new set of math books that would need to serve the department for 10 years. Why spend that much money when the teachers can write the textbooks themselves?
That was the bright idea of math teacher Michael Engelhaupt of Blaine High School, who led a team that wrote, organized, produced, and distributed a new textbook for the Anoka-Hennepin school district. Overall, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Engelhaupt and his colleagues saved the district $175,000. You do the math.
Not only did Blaine’s math teachers save a lot of money, they ultimately made a textbook better-suited to their students. For one, students can access the textbook online (both at home and in the classroom), rent it from the school library, or buy a physical copy for $5. Many mass-produced textbooks cater to students in Texas or California, where the market is bigger and the testing standards are different. Depending on the state, many textbooks have entire chapters that go unused in the classroom. Thus, Engelhaupt and company custom tailored the textbooks to the district and state curricula
“The district spent about $10,000 paying Engelhaupt and the other teachers to develop the material,” according to the Star-Tribune, “which he said was about their regular hourly rate. Another $5,000 went toward making the material accessible to students without Internet connections either at home or in the classroom with hard copies and DVD versions.” What’s even more exciting for the math teachers that put in the legwork is that their department will have extra money to put to other uses. Again, the Star-Tribune: “The Anoka-Hennepin teachers also persuaded the district to spend the savings on the math department. The details haven’t been worked out, but it could include more classroom computers and more teacher training.”
This is exactly the type of idea the country needs to consider as it engages in a larger, deeper conversation about education reform.
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Image by blair_25, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011 4:29 PM
In an essay published by The Nation magazine on September 19, journalist and pacifist Colman McCarthy reports that in 1970 only one American college offered a degree in peace studies, but that now, according to the Peace and Justice Studies Association, there are more than 500 undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral programs available on U.S. campuses. “Nationally, the peace education movement is growing—some say surging—because of the continued failure of military solutions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the belief that alternatives to violence do exist,” McCarthy reports.
A regular columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, McCarthy co-founded the Washington D.C.-based Center for Teaching Peace with his wife in 1985 and, by his own estimation, has taught more than 8,000 students to examine their choices regarding violent reaction versus nonviolent response. “Instead of asking questions, be bolder and question the answers,” he writes. “What answers? . . . Those that say that if we kill enough people, drop enough bombs, jail enough dissenters, torture enough prisoners, keep fighting fire with fire and not with water, we’ll have peace forever.”
While the good news regarding the growth of diplomatic scholarship is both welcome and encouraging, what makes “Teaching Peace” especially compelling is McCarthy’s ongoing struggle to make the subject not just a collegiate elective, but part of the core curriculum in secondary education; a move too many public school boards still view as somehow subversive and private schools dismiss as academically insubstantial (read: unnecessary in the pursuit of Ivy).
“I’ve been accused of teaching a one-sided course,” McCarthy writes. “Perhaps, except that my course is the other side, the one that students aren’t getting in conventional history or political science courses, which present violent, militaristic solutions as rational and necessary.”
As partisan activists have proved again and again over the past 20 years, lasting political movements begin and end on the local level. McCarthy’s tale is a reminder that citizens who wish for a more peaceful future should take the fight to their neighborhood’s next school board meeting.
Source: The Nation
Image by crazebabe21, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011 7:33 PM
Modern literature is uninspired, complains poet Bei Dao, whose acclaimed poems helped fuel China’s pro-democracy movement in the ’70s and ’80s and led to his exile for decades. He blames the literary decline on mindless consumerism and base entertainment, reports China Daily/Xinhua in an interview with the poet:
[Bei Dao] pointed out that previously a clear-cut division existed between “vulgar” culture and “serious” culture, but today vulgar culture is swallowing serious culture like a black hole, and unfortunately, many writers are forced to lower their writing standards to cater to vulgarity.
To overcome this debasement, he calls for a new generation of smart readers to reignite the art. And the place to start is the poetry classroom: “Modern education kills young people’s imagination and creativity, so we need to promote poetry instruction to sharpen their awareness of literature,” says Bei Dao, who teaches at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Critics, it seems, are the key to our literary future.
Bei Dao’s most recent book is The Rose of Time: New and Selected Poems (2010). Best known for his 1976 poem “The Answer,” written in response to an early Tiananmen Square protest, the meditative poet continues to write long-form poetry, saying, “I’ve always believed my best poem should be the next one.”
Source: China Daily
Image by DoNotLick
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 4:54 PM
My master’s degree is worth less than my husband’s bachelor’s degree, according to a survey report by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Of course, I don’t need the survey to tell me, since I know it from our paychecks, wherein I earn 79 cents for every dollar he earns. Hey, I must be doing something right: That’s one generous penny more than the national average.
Yes, the most recent census reveals that women workers are still paid a scant 78 cents on the dollar earned by men. If I wanted to make as much money as my husband, the Georgetown report says, I would need to earn a PhD. “All told,” writes Kristina Chew on Care2, “over their lifetimes, women with the same educational achievements as men earn about a quarter less than their male counterparts.”
Naysayers argue that these statistics are skewed by women with advanced degrees who exit the workforce for years to be stay-at-home moms. But the survey accounts for the time-off disparity, and the report makes clear that its numbers are actually a conservative estimate of the gender wage gap, concluding, “The findings are stark: Women earn less at all degree levels, even when they work as much as men.”
Solutions, anyone? Mine is to move salaries out of the realm of used car haggling and into that of a modern and healthy transparent business model, wherein each employee’s wages are listed in the employee handbook for all to see and shared with new hires during the interview process. Just one dreamy step toward equal pay for equal work.
Image by j.o.h.n. walker
, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011 4:20 PM
The nuclear industry is teaching its vision of a bright nuclear future to schoolchildren by offering teachers free guides that extol “the beneficial uses of radiation,” The New Republic reports. The guides are the marketing brainchild of the EnergySolutions Foundation, the charitable arm of a large nuclear-waste processor, and they’ve been doled out to eager recipients including the Mississippi Department of Education.
Among the materials for sixth- to 12th-graders is a trivia game that points out the ecological destruction wrought by wind towers (bird killers!) and solar farms (desert destruction!). One video game in the works by EnergySolutions “revolves around a broken-down reactor buried in the jungle,” according to The New Republic. Presumably, the possible outcomes do not include slow, excruciating death by radiation poisoning or cancer.
Industry-funded school propaganda initiatives have a decades-old history, the magazine points out—“but they’re making a comeback as the once-moribund nuclear industry gears up for a revival.”
If you’re not outraged yet, you may be when you find out that government is getting into the act, too, using our taxpayer dollars. The New Republic also reports that the U.S. Department of Energy has updated a pro-nuclear curriculum called the Harnessed Atom, which it will be promoting in schools nationwide, and its website hosts an interactive, animated city called Neutropolis where nuclear power is cool, fun, safe, and secure.
“We’re always looking for new ways to reach kids,” EnergySolutions’ executive director, Pearl Wright, tells TNR about the firm’s educational efforts.
They might want to be aware that such efforts can backfire, too. One natural-gas firm tried to cozy up to the kids with a coloring-book dinosaur called the Friendly Frackosaurus, only to pull it after the creature was incisively satirized by Stephen Colbert on The Colbert Report last month. And earlier this year, the schoolbook publisher Scholastic severed its ties with the coal industry after a host of organizations criticized a fourth-grade pro-coal energy curriculum that had been paid for by the American Coal Foundation.
In the meantime, the schoolchildren near Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have also been learning a lot about nuclear energy lately—but for them, the scary part hasn’t been edited out.
UPDATE 8/19/2011: It’s not just energy companies that are getting into the curriculum-revision game. California Watch reports that the plastics industry edited the state’s new 11th-grade environmental curriculum to put a more positive spin on plastic bags.
Source: The New Republic
(full article available only to subscribers), DeSmog Blog, Grist, New York Times, California Watch
Marshall Astor – Food Pornographer
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Tuesday, August 02, 2011 1:48 PM
“Of all the epochs, events, and ideas we could study, war seems to grab a disproportionately large chunk of time in many classrooms around the country,” writes The Smart Set’s Dwight Simon, who’s also an eighth-grade history teacher at Epiphany School in Boston. “If violence truly is the spirituality of our society, then, I fear that we as teachers and students of history have become its theologians.”
Over the past few years of teaching, Simon noticed an unsettling trend, one that may belie a still-developing generation of war apologists-to-be. “[M]ore voices in my classroom are willing to speak up for war’s noble purpose,” Simon observes,
its grand narrative, all-too-comfortably calculating away six- and seven-figure body counts, factoring away numerous tales of suffering, and rearranging variables to conclude that the end justifies the means, the sum is somehow greater than the piles of bodies and body parts. Out of violence comes redemption.
Not comfortable with his students’ one-sided approach to history, Simon tried to rearrange his curriculum and more explicitly teach the moral complexities of war.
The handout I eventually distributed—a proud achievement, I thought—included a quick-fire compendium of devastating statistics and provocative reflections from soldiers, the enslaved, and observers of all kinds, alongside several grim photographs of Civil War battlefield dead. At the end, I asked students to reflect: “Was the war worth it?”
And after being subjected to a wholly different lesson plan, what did Simon’s students think of the Civil War? A resounding “the war was worth it.”
Altogether though, Simon isn’t too upset that his students came to the same judgment via a different path:
Had I hoped they would answer in the opposite? Perhaps, but I had really just hoped for some existential angst, a bit of tossing and turning or lost sleep. I hoped only that we might pause for a moment, overcome by the complexity of it all. In some sense, though, I was proud of the sophistication my students offered in response. Several students reasoned that the death, suffering, and torment of enslaved peoples across the centuries in America far outweighed any statistics that could be produced by just four years of war between North and South. It was, they seemed to argue, a small price to pay for the abolition of such a wicked institution.
Source: The Smart Set
Image by David Masters, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, November 01, 2010 2:29 PM
Twenty percent of Americans between the ages 25 to 64, some 37 million people, have taken college coursework but failed to earn a degree. These folks are already part of the way toward a diploma and statistically higher wages, but can’t find the time, money, patience, or purpose to conclude their education. Project Win-Win, a new outreach program profiled in The Chronicle of Higher Education, is meant to find college dropouts who are just a few classes away from graduation and encourage them to complete their degrees. Sounds like a win-win situation, right?
But as The Chronicle’s Jennifer Gonzalez explains, it’s not an easy sell getting dropouts back into school:
One of the first responses from many former students reached by college officials involved with Project Win-Win is whether the invitation to re-enroll is a joke. Some are befuddled, having thought for years that they had already earned a degree. Others are indifferent, assuming that the communication will lead to a plea for money.
If colleges can get their dropouts to the next step of the conversation, of entertaining the idea of returning, there are still challenges. Sometimes cost is a worry; sometimes curricula have been updated so that certain credits no longer count toward a particular degree.
The process can also be an administrative headache for colleges.
Success requires scouring databases, and in some cases adjusting them, to locate students who fit the criteria for graduation. Countless hours are spent tracking down students via letters, phone calls, and e-mails. The work is a drain on college staff members, who usually juggle those duties with their regular workloads. And it is all occurring at a precarious time, especially for community colleges, where surging enrollment collides with dwindling resources.
To make the transition back to a scholarly life easier for former students, Project Win-Win is emulating the "cut through the red tape" approach of University of New Mexico's successful Graduation Project, a program that guides students over the bureaucratic hurdles of the University system. Graduation Project gives students information about which classes they need to graduate, encourages them to petition academic departments for credits or waivers, and works with the registrar's office when classes fill to capacity before the returning student can secure a seat. Small victories are trickling in. At the time of the article's publication, Project Win-Win had awarded almost 600 associate degrees and identified an additional 1,600 potential degree recipients.
The Chronicle of Higher Education
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Wednesday, October 27, 2010 2:58 PM
Most people walk away from college with a favorite professor, an educator they had a certain intellectual connection with that greatly influenced their work as a student. Michael White’s relationship with his favorite professor, who he met during September of 1979, was slightly more complicated than this. In “The Bard of the Bottle” from The Missouri Review, White recalls his friendship with professor Tom McAfee, a friendship characterized by nightly black-out drinking sessions, reading and workshopping poetry for hours on end, and eventually one caring for the other during his dying days drenched in delirium.
White, during his sophomore year at the University of Missouri-Columbia, was failing all of his classes but McAfee’s. He bartended at The Tiger bar, a favorite haunt of the professor, and every night like clockwork White would close up the joint, pour several glasses of bourbon, and grab his backpack full of poetry books:
I’d go to the mezzanine with these supplies. By then he’d [McAfee] be passed out, nodding in his chair beside his watery drink, a cigarette burned down to the nub in his slender, nicotine-stained fingers. But he would awake and be deeply grateful to see me. It was like I was rescuing him—which I was, from the terrors afflicting him whenever he closed his eyes. We’d stay up and talk: he’d tell me his dreams; we’d talk about whatever dramas we’d seen in the bar; or, mostly, I’d just read to him. Night after night, I read those poems, dozens of poems by one poet or another, and Tom would gesture in deep pleasure or recite along with me. These were poems he needed to hear again and again, and I was happy to reread them, since it helped me to comprehend, to hear them for the first or fifth time.
It was an unhealthy relationship at best, drinking to the point of unconsciousness every evening, but it wasn’t as shallow as one alcoholic finding companionship in another. As time went on, McAfee grew more and more ill at the hands of his vices, and their bond continued to evolve:
My role in Tom’s life had already begun to switch from friend to caregiver. This was absurd, as I couldn’t even care for myself, but I was what Tom had. I brought him food for the last months of his life. He would have gone sooner if I hadn’t. Fool that I was, I still believed I could save him. I would bring a bowl of red beans with a little bacon. That was all he wanted; he acted like it was sacredly wonderful stuff. When I showed up with the beans, he would practically weep with gratitude. He wouldn’t touch anything else anyone brought him, just a few mouthfuls of soft beans at night which he could chew with his bad teeth.
James Thomas McAfee's health continued to decline, and he died in 1982 at the age of 54. Michael White, after being evicted from his apartment, fired from his job, and essentially losing everything, ended up receiving his Ph.D from the University of Utah in English and creative writing and has won numerous prestigious awards and gained significant respect in the literary community. White turned 54 the day before he wrote “The Bard of the Bottle.”
Source: The Missouri Review(excerpt only available online)
Thursday, July 29, 2010 3:10 PM
For a couple years, a friend and one-time teacher of mine had an adjunct instructor position at the University of Minnesota. He taught a full course load, won a teaching award, and his undergraduate students crafted a Facebook page to advocate for his continued employment. He was, and is, a smart, dedicated teacher—and that rare breed of man who can cultivate and maintain a handsome, reddish beard. But he somehow wasn’t indispensable enough and, in these recession-straitened times, lost the job.
Hired from term to term, sometimes unable to obtain health benefits, and increasingly asked to do a higher and higher proportion of a school’s teaching for meager pay, the career of an adjunct professor in the United States tends to be anxious and tenuous. However, in Canada, at Vancouver Community College, part-time, non-tenured (and non-tenure-track) faculty members live an enviable life of equitable employment practices. As the Chronicle of Higher Education reports, many years of negotiation between the college and its faculty union have resulted in a situation in which, if you teach half time, you are paid half of what full-time employees make. Adjuncts are more often paid simply for credit hours worked. But there’s much more! Part-time faculty members are also paid for office hours and class prep time. Seniority works on the same scale for both part- and full-time faculty, so an adjunct can outrank a full-time employee. Health benefits are available to faculty working at least half time, and maternity leave is available after six months of contract work. Finally, the Chronicle reports that:
Perhaps the most important feature of Vancouver's system, say experts on adjunct issues, is that it allows faculty members who were initially hired term-by-term to be promoted into jobs with more-secure status. Once they work enough days during a two-year period, and provided they do not receive a negative evaluation, the conversion to regular status is automatic. The college has about 725 faculty members—475 of whom have regular status.
My friend is making a cross-country move this summer, to yet another possibly secure, possibly insecure academic job. He’ll be teaching, which he loves, but will it be a career? Maybe if more colleges and universities had Vancouver’s answer.
Source: Chronicle of Higher Education
Image by AMagill, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, June 28, 2010 5:19 PM
This is very cool: Since the fall 2009 semester, Bunker Hill Community College in Boston has been offering midnight classes, according to Spare Change News. An adjunct professor came up with the idea after she noticed students falling asleep in class. The students explained that their work schedules made staying awake for daytime classes difficult—despite wanting to be in school. And lo, midnight classes were born. This spring the college offered three courses (Principles of Psychology, College Writing II, and Human Growth and Development), and there are plans to expand course offerings further this fall.
Source: Spare Change News
Image by quinn.anya, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010 2:28 PM
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, somewhere in the neighborhood of 110,000 Japanese-Americans were locked away in internment camps. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, 700 of the interned were University of California students (many of them never returned to school to earn their degrees). On Saturday, UCLA gave out honorary degrees to 48 people whose education was interrupted with the rest of their lives by the injustice of internment. From the Los Angeles Times:
Last year, the UC Board of Regents voted to suspend a three-decade ban on awarding honorary degrees in order to recognize the former scholars. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger later signed legislation directing the UC system and other post-secondary institutions to confer honorary degrees upon those obliged to abandon their studies during the war.
...Yuriko Ito Takenaka, 86, voiced hope that the group's collective experience would resonate with a younger generation for whom an injustice like forced internment may seem hard to fathom.
"People nowadays don't think about civil rights," said Takenaka, who was a freshman at UCLA when her family was interned and who later completed her nursing studies at Stanford University. "They take it all for granted. This is a way to remind people what happened."
Fumio Robert Naka, 86, who was a UCLA student when he was sent to the Manzanar internment camp in the Owens Valley, said the experience taught a lesson in how humans can persevere when confronted with events "beyond our control."
(Thanks, Angry Asian Man.)
Source: Los Angeles Times
Monday, May 17, 2010 10:23 AM
Over at Miller-McCune, Lewis Beale looks at why U.S. students are hurting in foreign languages:
“Things cannot get worse. We are at the bottom of the barrel now” in terms of foreign language study in America’s schools, says Nancy Rhodes of the Center for Applied Linguistics, which surveys language study in the nation’s schools every 10 years.
The center’s most recent report shows a decrease in the last decade in school language programs, which Rhodes says can be attributed to “budget cuts, and foreign languages are among the first things that get cut. They are seen as something that’s not a necessity. And another reason is the No Child Left Behind legislation—about a third of our schools report they have been negatively affected because of the focus on math and reading scores.”
It's nothing short of cultural literacy that's at stake here—and for those who pollute every societal good with talk of national security interests, there is also this:
...according to a 2006 Department of Education study, 200 million Chinese schoolchildren were studying English, while only 24,000 of their American peers were learning Chinese. That number has increased over the past few years, but the gap is still huge.
That federal study was co-sponsored by U.S. Department of Defense and the director of National Intelligence, perhaps not surprising given the military and intelligence communities’ problems in the war on terror. In announcing the report’s accompanying National Security Language Initiative, President George W. Bush pictured the American language deficit as a security issue. “This initiative is a broad-gauged initiative that deals with the defense of the country, the diplomacy of the country, the intelligence to defend our country and the education of our people,” he told a collection of university presidents in 2006.
Me, I won't be making the national security argument when it comes time to talk my kids into a foreign language class. Sheesh.
Image by the Department of Defense, and paid for with your tax dollars.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010 2:53 PM
NExt time you decide to thin out your bookshelves, be sure to hang on to at least a few hundred books. There’s a fascinating piece over at Miller-McCune on the effects of home libraries on child development:
After examining statistics from 27 nations, a group of researchers found the presence of book-lined shelves in the home — and the intellectual environment those volumes reflect — gives children an enormous advantage in school.
“Home library size has a very substantial effect on educational attainment, even adjusting for parents’ education, father’s occupational status and other family background characteristics,” reports the study, recently published in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. “Growing up in a home with 500 books would propel a child 3.2 years further in education, on average, than would growing up in a similar home with few or no books."
is a 2010 Utne Independent Press Award nominee in the category of science and technology.
Thursday, December 17, 2009 11:22 AM
Anne Trubek didn't make any friends when she suggested that schools stop teaching handwriting in a column for Good. The online essay left a trail of 1,400 comments in its wake, many of them angry. Now she's at it again, with an essay called Handwriting is History, published in the latest issue of Miller-McCune.
"For many," she writes, "the prospect of handwriting dying out would signal the end of individualism and the entree to some robotic techno-future... But when we worry about losing our individuality, we are likely misremembering our schooling, which included rote, rigid lessons in handwriting. We have long been taught the 'right' way to form letters."
Good lord, if anything was robotic, it was learning proper handwriting. What anybody with good handwriting may be oblivious to is the shame of bad handwriting. Ridding classrooms of that shame makes room for other things, like ideas. "Typing in school has a democratizing effect," Trubek writes, "as did the typewriter. It levels the look of prose to allow expression of ideas, not the rendering of letters, to take center stage."
Want more of this? You'll find nearly 4,000 words of it at Miller-McCune. Enjoy!
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Friday, December 04, 2009 1:38 PM
Thought you heard the last of the subprime mess? What do you know about the subprime student loan racket? Washington Monthly has a damning report on the for-profit college industry. Don't miss it:
Each year, more than two million Americans enroll in for-profit colleges, also known as proprietary schools, and their popularity has only grown since the financial crisis. While traditional four-year colleges are struggling with dwindling student bodies and budget gaps, proprietary schools are reporting record enrollments as the newly unemployed try to retool their skills so they can wade back into the job market. Some of the largest for-profit chains say their numbers have doubled over the last year.
The students who are flocking to these schools are mostly poor and working class, and they rely heavily on student loans to cover tuition. According to a College Board analysis of Department of Education data, 60 percent of bachelor’s degree recipients at for-profit colleges graduate with $30,000 or more in student loans—one and a half times the percentage of those at traditional private colleges and three times more than those at four-year public colleges and universities. Similarly, those who earn two-year degrees from proprietary schools rack up nearly three times as much debt as those at community colleges, which serve a similar student population. Proprietary school students are also much more likely to take on private student loans, which, unlike their federal counterparts, are not guaranteed by the federal government, offer scant consumer protections, and tend to charge astronomical interest—in some cases as high as 20 percent.
These figures are all the more troubling in light of these schools’ spotty record of graduating students; the median graduation rate for proprietary schools is only 38 percent—by far the lowest rate in the higher education sector.
Source: Washington Monthly
Wednesday, November 11, 2009 3:26 PM
Just because people are intelligent doesn’t mean they’re smart. Though IQ tests do pretty well measuring intelligence, they don’t test for rational thought, according to the New Scientist. The magazine quotes cognitive psychologist Jonathan Evans saying, “IQ is only part of what it means to be smart.”
Relying on IQ tests can be especially problematic in education. A new documentary from American RadioWorks details the way that the use of IQ tests reinforced racial inequalities in the United States during the 1950s. According to the show, preschools were developed to close that gap and raise IQ scores for young African Americans. People used the tests again to discredit preschools, after it was shown that the schools didn’t really help people’s IQs in the long-term. Recent studies, however, have found that preschool has a long-term beneficial effect on people’s lives, even if it doesn’t raise their test scores.
For now, there’s no standard test for measuring people’s capacity for rational thought. The New Scientist highlights the work Keith Stanovich, author of the book What Intelligence Tests Miss, who believes that a test measuring “rationality-quotient (RQ)” could be helpful in measuring how smart people are. The magazine includes a few counter-intuitive questions that measure how smart you are, beyond your intelligence. Here’s an example:
If it takes five machines 5 minutes to make five widgets, how long would it take 100 machines to make 100 widgets?
Think about it… the answer might not be obvious.
Sources: New Scientist, American RadioWorks
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Friday, October 30, 2009 4:24 PM
Students who want to learn something should probably try failing first. According to new research highlighted in the Scientific American, “learning becomes better if conditions are arranged so that students make errors.” In other words, people who take a test that they are bound to fail before studying the material, actually end up learning better. People who fail first remember things better an longer than people who don’t. According to the article, this could have profound effects on educational programs that specifically try to avoid students making errors. The authors write: “Trying and failing to retrieve the answer is actually helpful to learning.”
Source: Scientific American
Wednesday, September 16, 2009 5:17 PM
The fact that college tuition costs thousands of dollars each year is accepted as fact in most of the United States. A new web service called StraighterLine, profiled by the Washington Monthly, wants to bring the price down to just $99 per month. For the cost of a nice dinner for two people, StraighterLine students get courses “designed and overseen by professors with PhDs,” and real live tutors “available at any time, day or night, just a mouse click away.”
The company is currently trying to take business away from the big introductory college classes, where hundreds of students pack into lecture halls, often taught by grad students or adjunct faculty. StraighterLine purports to be more responsive to the students’ needs at a fraction of the cost of big institutions, and even cheaper than most online universities. The problem, according to Washington Monthly, is that big schools often use the money from the big introductory classes to fund the “libraries, basketball teams, classical Chinese poetry experts, and everything else.”
A company like StraighterLine has the potential to disrupt the entire college business model and make things very uncomfortable for a lot of big-name universities. According to the article, StraighterLine, and other institutions like it will “seriously threaten the ability of universities to provide all the things beyond teaching on which society depends: science, culture, the transmission of our civilization from one generation to the next.”
Source: Washington Monthly
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Tuesday, September 01, 2009 12:53 PM
You don’t need a standardized test to know how well a school is performing. You just need to check the bathroom. If the bathroom is dirty and filled with graffiti, the school probably isn’t very good. If it’s clean, with plenty of toilet paper, that’s a good sign. Writing for Miller-McCune, school evaluator Folwell Dunbar outlines this and other “soft measures” to judge the quality of a school, none of which fit into a standardized test. A few of the highlights include:
Classroom windows and/or the vertical slits on school doors are covered over with dark construction paper. Trust me, it's seldom for purely decorative purposes.
Children clutch long pencils with ground-down erasers. If this is the case, chances are students are more concerned about making mistakes than taking chances.
Civics teachers don't keep up on current events. Science teachers aren't excited about the latest scientific breakthrough. English teachers don't read for pleasure. Physical education teachers are overweight and/or smoke.
You could also see many of these indicators from watching The Wire.
Source: Miller McCune
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Thursday, August 27, 2009 4:42 PM
New York public schools are giving students cell phones and rewarding them for attendance and good behavior with free phone credits. The program, called the Million, was designed by the advertising agency Droga5, and has already been implemented in various Brooklyn public schools. Creative Review reports that the Million has won awards and praises in the advertising world, and may soon expand to the entire New York public school system. Some teachers have said that the cell phones provide unexpected benefits, including, at least one case, the first contact number they’ve ever had for some students.
Praise for the program hasn’t been universal, however. Critics have accused the Million of “replacing learning for its own sake with a market-driven system” according to Creative Review. Others have pointed out that the incentives could unfairly punish children with serious behavioral problems. Camila Batmanghelidjh, of the charity Kids Company, told the magazine, “it’s suggesting that all negative behaviour from these children is self-chosen, and actually the ones with the serious problems do not choose. And it’s unfair then, because they’ll never get there. It actually exaggerates the divide, rather than facilitates the solution.”
The Million could also provide an avenue for direct marketing to children, though Droga5 animatedly denies that accusation. The president and CEO of the agency, David Droga said, “It was always the agreement that eventually it would be able to subsidise itself by brands being able to support initiatives, so you might have brand x that is associated with fitness, not selling shoes, but sponsoring a programme or something. There always has to be an education link, it wasn’t going to be suddenly selling burgers. That would kill it straight away because it would undermine everything.”
Image by GustavH, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009 1:18 PM
The Hartford Advocate wants to know: What happened to New Haven, Connecticut’s 800 missing high school students? Four years ago, the city enrolled a freshman class of 1,796—this past June, only about 1,000 graduated. The state can’t fully explain the disparity because it doesn’t yet have a system in place to track students during their educational careers; if you drop out, you disappear.
Better student tracking is coming next year, but the stats nonetheless put an “antiquated formula” for calculating high school graduation rates in stark relief. If all of the missing students dropped out, then New Haven’s 2009 graduation rate is about 55 percent, reports the Advocate. That’s “a far cry from the mid-70s New Haven has been reporting to the state for the past few years.”
But this isn’t just Connecticut’s problem. Four years ago, all 50 states made a pact to update how they measure graduation rates—the new system requires counting 9th-graders and keeping tabs on how many earn diplomas. Only a third have made good on the pledge. Connecticut is not one of them: It currently counts students who spend more than four years completing high school or earn their GED, but doesn’t account for students who drop out or leave for another school without giving official notice. “In other words,” the Advocate writes, “it’s not very accurate.”
And the truth can hurt: Hartford, Connecticut schools began voluntarily crunching pact-compliant numbers in 2007, which resulted in publishing a 29 percent graduation rate. That same year, the state’s method of educational accounting came up with 77 percent. Connecticut has promised to get up to speed by 2010.
Source: Hartford Advocate
Image by Werwin15, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009 3:30 PM
Here’s a lesson: Going to school (and especially graduating) does a body good. In the recent issue of Governing, Penelope Lemov reports that “the higher your degree, the healthier you are.” Statistics show that as people climb the academic ladder their reported level of health increases significantly. This assessment comes from research findings analyzed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which looked at education and health statistics in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. There are staggering health differences among those who do or don't graduate from high school and those who have dropped out or finished college—which is great news for those with college diplomas, but quite troubling for those without. Lemov writes:
The most discouraging part of the report is its implication for children. Undereducated parents tend to be poor and to rear their children in households with limited access to grocery stores that carry fresh fruits and vegetables; to live in less safe housing; to have insufficient access to safe places to exercise—all of which affect a family’s health. “For the first time in our history, we are raising a generation of children that may live shorter, sicker lives than their parents,” says Dennis Rivera, a commissioner of RWJF’s Commission to Build a Healthier America.
Sources: Governing, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Image by Herkie, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, June 15, 2009 1:19 PM
For many middle class, white American parents, the decision to send their children to private, predominately white, well-funded schools is a no brainer. Confronting or even thinking about race and class barriers is easily avoided and life continues smoothly and comfortably.
Writing in Geez, Dee Dee Risher laments the “massive desertion of the public school system by middle-class whites” and defends her choice to send her children to an urban, poorly funded public school.
“I seek experiences that would not infect my children with a sense of privilege, entitlement or racial superiority. I want to give them a truer sense of all the diversity and inequality in the world and help them develop their own sensibility for justice. I want my children to move through the world able to relate to and understand very different people. I want them to be safe and to grow up feeling strong.”
Even as her father wonders if Risher is using her children in “an ideological experiment,” Risher finds a “richness” in her decisions that is not “rooted in elitist and stratified social choices.”
Image by calculat0r, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, June 05, 2009 12:01 PM
It’s tough to find intelligent and educational videos among the teeming masses of cat movies and puppy cams that clutter the web. Open Culture continually trolls the internet for the internet’s smartest sites and resources. This week, they posted a list of the 40 best cultural and educational video sites around. The list includes a few sites that have been profiled in Utne Reader (Europa Film Treasures and LinkTV) and a bunch I’d never heard of before.
Source: Open Culture
Monday, April 27, 2009 1:44 PM
Critics of Afrocentric anything have traditionally displayed a sort of separation anxiety, as if there were no line between forced segregation and voluntary separation. Recent plans for an Afrocentric school in Toronto seem to have opened that wound. Critics fear the separation will lead to marginalization. "Lost in the ideological battles," writes Andrew Wallace in THIS Magazine, "is the key issue that the country must morally answer for: 40 per cent of black youth in Canada’s most populous and diverse city aren’t graduating from high school."
“We separate children based on education needs all the time,” says educator Carl James. “People are only seeing the ‘black’ part of the school. Education is not teaching subjects but teaching people. That means thinking of their race, their community, everything.”
“Sometimes people ask where is the evidence that it works,” says researcher George Dei. “But I want to know where is the evidence that it doesn’t work.”
Source: THIS Magazine
Tuesday, April 14, 2009 2:45 PM
Schools across the country are cutting back on arts funding. Many have focused resources on standardized test taking, and with the current budget crisis looming, the trend away from the arts shows no sign of changing direction.
To make the case for more arts funding, some experts argue that music, dance, theater, and visual arts can help out in other academic areas. They cite studies like the “Mozart Effect” saying that listening to classical music can boost people’s intelligence.
This is the wrong tactic, according to experts quoted in Greater Good magazine. If the results of these studies are called into question, as they were in the case of the “Mozart Effect,” the argument for arts funding is diminished. Even if scientists question whether or not the arts improve other academic achievement, that doesn’t make the arts any less important.
Leave the science to the scientists, say the critics. Instead of citing studies, the case for the arts is strongest in areas that are hardest to quantify. Ideally, the arts allow students to connect with emotions and to look at something they produce as a piece of art (no small achievement). The arts also provide a chance at connecting with children who aren’t engaged by other areas of academia. None of that, however, is likely to show up in test results from a lab.
Image by Beth Kanter, licensed under Creative Commons.
Source: Greater Good
Friday, April 10, 2009 11:03 AM
Are young people in the digital age perpetually plugged-in drones, or tolerant, politically and socially shrewd citizens with untapped potential? There has always existed a culture gap between educators and their students, but technology seems to have widened it into a chasm. Given the alienation that many educators feel from their students today, the debate over the fate of so-called “Digital Natives” and how to teach them continues.
William Deresiewicz over at The Chronicle Review laments the loss of solitude for today’s youth. He worries for his students and the apparent nonstop nature of their connectedness, from Facebook to Twitter to text messaging.
“Technology is taking away our privacy and our concentration,” he writes, “but it is also taking away our ability to be alone.”
Deresiewicz then wonders what this loss portends: “And losing solitude, what have they lost? First, the propensity for introspection, that examination of the self that the Puritans, and the Romantics, and the modernists (and Socrates, for that matter) placed at the center of spiritual life – of wisdom, of conduct. Thoreau called it fishing ‘in the Walden Pond of [our] own natures’, ‘bait[ing our] hooks with darkness.”
Barry Duncan and Carol Arcus take a less pessimistic stance at the Education Forum of Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation. While acknowledging the concern for Digital Natives’ ability to think critically about the media they consume, Duncan and Arcus instead see an opportunity to “link this multi-sensory, multi-modal, multi-literate experience to new notions of literacy and identity.”
They suggest that “Net Geners” might be “smarter, quicker and more tolerant of diversity than their predecessors. They are more politically savvy, socially engaged and family-centered than society gives them credit for.”
And, they see in the conversation around teaching Digital Natives the possibility “to figure out and invent ways to include reflection and critical thinking in the learning...but still do it in the Digital Native language.”
Sources: The Chronicle Review, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation
Image by Bombardier, licensed under Creative Commons
Thursday, April 02, 2009 3:31 PM
The American educational system is experiencing a crisis in literacy. Too many students are falling behind in the critical reading skills that provide the fundamentals of a successful education. At the same time, teachers lament the excessive time students spend on digital media like video games and television.
Though teachers may be loath to admit it, digital media provide an opportunity to revive the American educational system, James Paul Gee and Michael Levine write for Democracy Journal. Educators should use students’ enthusiasm for video games, television, and mobile devices to teach the skills needed to succeed in the modern marketplace.
“The current approach to the literacy crisis is locked in a time warp,” according to Gee and Levine, “almost totally removed from the ubiquitous digital media consumption that currently drives children’s lives.”
The solution to America’s literacy crisis, and the increasingly problematic digital divide, lies beyond simple access to technology. Gee and Levine suggest in a creating a “digital teaching corps,” modeled on programs like Teach for America, which would send bright young teachers into low-performing schools to mentor children on technology and communication. The writers also propose the creation of digital community centers, staffed by the digital teaching corps, to increase access to the technology as well. On a federal level, the government should modernize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and take educational programs like Sesame Street and The Electric Company into the digital age.
Teachers need to move beyond the “book-centered” learning, which too often devolves into standardized test prep, and explore “experience-centered” learning that digital media provides. This way, schools can modernize their overhead projectors and filmstrips to give students the skills they need in an increasingly digitized world.
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Sources: Democracy Journal (excerpt available online)
Tuesday, March 17, 2009 12:16 PM
Recording college lectures gives students the opportunity to learn beyond the restraints of a brick-and-mortar schoolhouse. The audio and video recordings also give professors the opportunities for disaster. The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that one professor was placed on administrative leave after appearing in a video called “apparently baked professor” that was posted on YouTube. Another recording pushed the lines of legality after a private conversation between a professor and a student about grades—a subject protected by federal statutes—was recorded and almost posted online.
The new recordings may threaten “the traditional freewheeling spirit of the classroom” according to the Chronicle, if professors are scared of saying the wrong thing on camera. Colleges are working to curb this tendency by making it easier on faculty to edit the recordings at will. With camera phones sitting in the pockets of nearly every student in college, however, the editing software may not offer much protection.
Image by Emily Walker, licensed under Creative Commons.
Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education
Tuesday, January 27, 2009 9:40 AM
In his inauguration speech, President Obama promised that America will “restore science to its rightful place.” But what exactly does that mean? Several bloggers and columnists from around the web have weighed in on what the Obama administration can and should do to further scientific discovery and maintain the United States’ position as a leader in research and innovation.
In Seed Magazine, 49 Nobel Laureates wrote a letter outlining their plan for reinvigorating American science. The current economic bailout could represent “a vital investment in America's future,” the authors write, if some of that money goes to scientific projects and research.
Science education should be the focus for Obama
and his new secretary of education, Arne Duncan, according to Bill Allen at the Huffington Post. He calls for the support of both the government and citizens to make “America the country of the scientifically-literate and the mathematically-competent.”
Over at Princeton’s Freedom to Tinker blog, Ed Felton concentrates on the need for developing and strengthening cyber technology and security, as well as a bridge of communication between the government and scientific leaders in order to benefit both sectors.
As for Obama’s promise to use technology to improve health care, Scientific American interviewed Lawrence Baker (a professor of health policy at Stanford), who insists that “The most health care isn't always the best health care. Decisions about value is probably the key.” New developments are only part of the puzzle, using the right technology for the patient is another.
Friday, November 07, 2008 3:37 PM
Want some help with your math homework, free of charge? Or maybe you need a refresher course without reenrolling in school. Open Culture points to a series of online video lectures on calculus by Princeton lecturer Adrian Banner, author of The Calculus Lifesaver: All the Tools You Need to Excel at Calculus.
Banner’s videos join the growing ranks of educational multimedia resources on the web, like the free audiobook site LibriVox and the online lectures via iTunes U. Once you've graduated beyond those, the Boston Globe suggests Fora.tv, Bigthink.com, Edge.org, and any one of the lectures from the Technology Entertainment Design (TED) conference.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008 12:47 PM
BART [mocking a man with a ponytail]: Look at me, I’m a grad student. I’m 30 years old and I made $600 last year.
MARGE: Bart, don’t make fun of grad students. They’ve just made a terrible life choice.
JACK: We may not be the best people.
LIZ: But we’re not the worst.
JACK and LIZ [in unison]: Graduate students are the worst.
Mocking the idea of graduate school is a pastime enjoyed most, it seems, by grad students themselves. That’s true for me, at least, having recently completed a Master’s of Fine Arts program and masochistically relishing every joke about the usefulness of those extra three letters on my resume. The feeling among many fresh out of grad school, especially in the arts, is equal parts accomplishment and ambivalence: “Well, I’m glad I did that. What the hell do I do now?”
April Bernard makes a more measured case against graduate school in “Escape From the Ivory Tower” (excerpt only available online) in the Fall 2008 “Ways of Learning” issue of Lapham’s Quarterly. Actually, to say she is “anti-graduate school” is not entirely accurate; rather, she provides sound reasons why graduate school isn’t for every person—or every discipline. Speaking from her experience with an unfinished English PhD from Yale, Bernard describes the tedious seminars, sexist milieu, and post-structuralist myopia that characterized her time there.
Bernard’s essay doesn’t brim with the same elitist contempt for her own students as Lynn Freed’s infamous anti-MFA screed, “Doing time: My Years in the Creative-Writing gulag” (subscription required) published in Harper’s in 2005. Rather than penning a haughty manifesto, Bernard advances an argument about pedagogy, teasing out the reasons why the humanities aren’t always best served by the kind of highly specialized postgraduate study brought to bear on other fields, such as science or business.
The essay serves as a reminder that education can be found outside the classroom, and good writing beyond the workshop. For her own part, Bernard has made her peace with academia: By publishing poetry and fiction, she’s secured a job teaching writing to undergraduates, circumventing the advanced degrees that retain their stranglehold on the faculty hiring process. Based on her wit and nimble prose, I’d say her students are lucky to have her, even without that almighty graduate degree.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008 10:40 AM
Launching today, the Green Report Card website promises to rank 300 colleges in terms of their sustainability, helping eco-conscious high school seniors make the right choice.
Green Report Card was created by the nonprofit Sustainable Endowments Institute, a project of the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. The college rankings are formulated using information gathered from the College Sustainability Report Card 2009, which evaluates schools in nine key categories: Administration, Climate Change and Energy, Food and Recycling, Green Building, Student Involvement, Transportation, Endowment Transparency, Investment Priorities, and Shareholder Engagement.
Factors affecting a school’s grade range from the presence of “green dorms and car sharing,” according to the program’s press release, to “shareholder advisory committees and renewable energy investments.” Small liberal arts colleges like Carleton and Oberlin were among the 15 schools that got A grades, joining the ranks of such state schools as the University of Washington and the University of New Hampshire, and Ivies like Harvard and Brown.
Peruse the Report Card to see how your current or former institution fared. (I’m embarrassed to say where I went to college, since my alma mater got a D-minus. Ouch!)
Image by redjar, licensed by Creative Commons.
Friday, September 19, 2008 3:11 PM
Set down that copy of Moby Dick, and grab your bank statement. Colleges and universities are increasingly focused on arming students with a “new” kind of literacy: the financial variety. As education costs balloon and student debt rises, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education, more and more institutions are following the lead of Texas Tech University, which established a financial literacy program eight years ago.
From the basics of budgeting to the principles of managing debt, there’s a lot of heartache that could be prevented if financial literacy were made as central to education as regular old book-lovin’ literacy. The Chronicle cites a recent survey by the nonprofit Jump$tart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy that found that fewer than half of high school seniors were aware that credit card companies assess charges if cardholders pay only the minimum balance due. Eesh.
Perhaps from personal financial literacy, greater economic literacy will blossom. To get a head start, brush up, or dig into the front-page headlines of late, check out our online feature: Econ 101: A Crash Course of Economics Blogs.
Image by kevindooley, licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008 11:02 AM
In a commencement address at Harvard this spring, excerpted in Greater Good, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling spoke about the unique power of human imagination to change the world. Rowling said that when she worked for the human rights organization Amnesty International in her early 20s, she shared office space with former political prisoners and read the testimonies of torture victims. The experience made her realize that imagination is what allows us to empathize with people who have suffered horribly and to act on their behalf. The danger of inaction, Rowlings said, comes from people who “prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all”:
They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages. They can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally.
Rowling urged the Harvard graduates to “retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages.” To change the world, she said, all that we need is “the power to imagine better.”
To read more about the need for imagination, see the creativity package in the July/August issue of Utne Reader.
Thursday, July 03, 2008 4:15 PM
More important than long division and the Great Gatsby, an education is meant to teach children how to think. Unfortunately, teachers today are “educating people out of their creativity,” according to Sir Ken Robinson, speaking at the TED conference (video available below). Rather than teaching children how to think, feel, and move, students are taught, “progressively from the waist up,” neglecting dance, arts, and other subjects that encourage creativity.
That loss of creativity threatens to undermine the current generation of young people in America. In an article reprinted from the Rake in the latest issue of Utne Reader, Jeannine Ouellette wrote that “it’s questionable whether tomorrow adults are learning to use the tools they’ll need to succeed.” Over-booking children’s schedules without leaving room for unstructured play time is threatening American innovation, and—possibly most importantly—it’s just no fun.
Friday, June 06, 2008 10:36 AM
A 12-year-old wearing an anti-abortion T-shirt is suing his school in Hutchinson, Minnesota, after being told by the administration to remove it, reports Minnesota Monitor. This selective enforcement of free speech is troubling—as much as I might disagree with his politics and find his actions offensive, I do believe this student should be protected by the First Amendment. Eventually, a student might be punished for wearing a NARAL or Planned Parenthood T-shirt, and I’d like him or her to be able to cite precedent.
It reminds me of the minor controversy that arose lo these many years ago at my own high school when students were banned from wearing their horribly tacky Co-Ed Naked and Big Johnson T-shirts. Obnoxious and vulgar? Definitely. Protected by the First Amendment? Absolutely. Unfortunately, public schools are often the places where free speech is prohibited most frequently and arbitrarily, in the interest of a “disruption-free” classroom.
Though it’s a stand we may take reluctantly, our commitment to free speech should supercede our own tastes and politics; limiting speech with which we disagree defeats the whole purpose of the First Amendment. Wendy Kaminer argues as much in last month’s Free Inquiry, lamenting the results of a recent Freedom Forum survey where 74 percent of respondents disapproved of public school students being allowed to wear T-shirts with offensive words or pictures, and reminding us that “the right to speak is nullified when made contingent on the willingness of people with opposing views to listen.”
Monday, March 17, 2008 2:00 PM
Understanding seasonal cycles can lead to more creativity and more original ideas, according to an article in Kosmos Journal. The seasons provide a framework for understanding how to develop ideas, especially in academic work. Autumn is the time for active seed planting (both intellectual and actual seeds), winter provides a period of rest and gestation, spring is when new life and ideas emerge, and summer is the time to gather physical or intellectual fruits. Many people fail to honor the individual rhythms of scholastic work in Western academia, the authors argue, especially when educators insist that students work on collective, rigid deadlines. People also tend to shortchange the “feminine” seasons of winter and spring, curtailing the true creative process by rushing from literature review to writing without allowing a patient pause for new ideas to grow. As a result, academics are left with “‘second-order’ creativity or smart mental permutation of already known ideas” and a dearth of innovation.
Image by Keith Hall, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, January 18, 2008 3:09 PM
Last May I proudly received my college diploma and promptly forgot most of what I’d learned since high school. Six months later, my brain had atrophied to the point where all I had to show for my fancy education was a set of pretentious anecdotes to throw around at dinner parties. And I’m rarely invited to dinner parties.
I decided that I needed to exercise my mind before my diploma became a glorified paperweight. After minutes of thinking, I came up with a plan: I would listen to free university lectures online, plugging up the holes in my education. I thought the project could chart a path to self-discovery and the heights of genius.
The first days of my project were exciting. Prestigious universities from Yale to MIT offer recorded lectures online, and many lists of courses can be found through Google. The litany of subjects that I could study with just a few clicks stunned me. Would I choose to brush up on my long-neglected scientific knowledge? Or would I study the history of coffee?
My inaugural lecture was a course by Edmund Bertschinger and Edwin F. Taylor called Exploring Black Holes: General Relativity and Astrophysics from MIT’s iTunes U. That sounded like a challenge. Within minutes I was watching a pair of upper-level physicists explaining how upper-level physicists understand the nature of time and space by looking through black-holes. It was just like college: I understood what was going on, but just barely.
That night I went to a swanky party and amazed everyone by dropping cool phrases like “Hawking Radiation” and “Super Black Holes”—phrases I didn’t know existed that morning. I celebrated my success by devouring the host’s wide spread of hors d’oeuvres: the taste of wisdom.
The next morning, pushing through the grimy darkness of a post-party headache, I forced myself to subscribe to a multitude of new courses. I downloaded a Stanford talk that featured the Dalai Lama chatting with neuroscientists and a course on “the built environment.” In college I had heard of these ideas (I think I wrote a couple essays about them) but now I thought I’d actually learn about them.
Weeks later, I have come to admit defeat. As of today, I have failed to listen to a single course in its entirety, though my goal was to cram three semesters of academic work into three weeks. My visions of unscrambling the mysteries of the universe and impressing women have yet to be realized. I now admit a taint of over-ambition in my project. I have realized with gathering horror that the pressures of post-college life have robbed me of my idle time to learn.
One day I may return to my attempt at self-education. For now, though, I will try to accomplish the more manageable goals that escaped my ambition during my college tenure: eating three meals a day and getting semi-regular haircuts. That territory, for the time being, is uncharted enough.
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