12/30/2011 10:38:04 AM
Urban bicycling is generally becoming more popular in American cities, but there are a few smaller trends that complicate the larger narrative. A new infographic designed by Bike League for the website Visual.ly breaks down the demographics of bicycle use across the country—and there are a few surprises. (Click through for large version.)
I was most surprised to see that overall only about a quarter of commuting cyclists are women. The gender imbalance comes closer to evening out in bigger, “biking cities,” such as Portland, Oregon, and Utne Reader hometown Minneapolis. (Represent!) I can only speculate on the causes of the imbalance—that’s the thing with infographics: The related research is boiled down to make the data more interesting. It may have something to do with bike-related infrastructure spending; I’m drawing on a few stereotypes here, but I imagine that men would be more likely to tough out unsafe, bike-unfriendly road conditions than women.
According to the infographic, it’s unclear whether bicycle infrastructure spending encouraged more people to pedal in to work. As shown on the total bicycle commuters graph (bottom, second from left), ridership peaked in 2008, which followed, according to the spending graph (bottom, second from right), only a slight increase in pedestrian infrastructure enhancement. Unfortunately the former graph doesn’t extend past 2009, a year that coincided with more than a billion dollars of pedestrian infrastructure spending. If cities are to continue to invest in bike paths, local governments will likely demand data showing an increase in ridership.
(Thanks, Atlantic Cities.)
Image by Bike League.
12/20/2011 4:35:56 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
12/1/2011 12:10:43 PM
Michael Harris’s beautiful personal essay “Life after Death,” published in The Walrus (Sept 2011), crystallizes the history of HIV through the lens of one who has grown up with the virus as an ever-present force:
I’m the same age as the epidemic. By my first birthday, eight young gay guys in New York had developed purple tumours on their skin, which turned out to be a rare cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma. Those boys had AIDS, though there wasn’t a name for it yet.
That year, 1981, an unknowable number of men slept (shamefully or shamelessly) with each other and unwittingly consigned themselves to early deaths…. That year, my future best friends and I, seemingly far removed from AIDS and from each other, learned to crawl in the undestroyed homes of our parents.
Harris moves deftly through the years and the changing stories of HIV: the shift from death sentence to chronic condition as treatments improved; the modern-day shock he experienced when he realized “that people still suffered, even died, from this virus”; and how fiercely young gay men have tried to put the plague of AIDS behind them. These shifting realities are captured when Harris comes out to his mother at the age of 20:
She mostly said the right things. But when I came home later that day, she was slumped on the stairs beside a forgotten load of laundry. “I just worry,” she kept saying. “I worry for your health.” We both knew what she was talking about.
While she was wise to worry, I thought she was terribly misinformed. The year was 2000, infection rates had been dropping steadily. I expected a vaccine to be discovered any day. But infections mysteriously began to rise after that; they have never again been as low as they were the year I came out. And I’m still waiting on that vaccine.
The right thing to do when confronted with a crying mother is to hold her, reassure her. Instead, I was furious. “You’re stuck in the 1980s,” I told her. “It’s actually really offensive.” I was determined to create something new with my life, something unfettered by the ugly, death-fuelled narrative that seemed to consume gay culture. I wanted an ordinary life with an ordinary man and an ordinary golden retriever. And my mother’s worry precluded all that, consigning me to a dated pessimism that I hoped to outrun.
Visit The Walrus to read the rest of Harris’s insightful essay. And learn more about the facts and stats of AIDS and how you can get involved on World AIDS Day.
Source: The Walrus
Image by Trygve.u, licensed under Creative Commons.
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