I just had a conversation with a nutty gal in a coffee shop, where she dove into an unprovoked monologue about her failing marriage and love of nature and relationship towards money.
First of all, I don't get waylaid like this very often. I've come to believe that some people invite the unsolicited nutty monologue and some people don't, and none of us really know why we put off the vibe we do. Anyway, I generally do not invite the crazy monologue. In fact, from comparing stories with friends, I've come to believe that otherwise-nutty people generally pull it together for my benefit.
During the conversation, my brain reminded me that people delivering a crazy monologue probably have significant stressful problems, and I ought to feel kind or respectful or sympathetic towards her. So I didn't make fun of her in my mind. I think this means I'm growing up.
I mean from the comic book, not from the sonnet. Or from history.
This is somewhat astounding (apologies if it's come up in comments). The gist is that Sunstein wrote an article suggesting that, in order to lessen the effectiveness and credibility of groups of like-minded citizens who believe that the government is, in some ways, up to no good, for instance is engaged in projects to deceive the citizenry, the government ought to engage in projects to infiltrate, deceive, and undermine precisely those groups. Also, because the government has an image problem (how about that?) it ought to hire independent people (who would of course no longer be independent) to pitch its projects. But those people should still maintain the pretense of independence—it wouldn't work otherwise.
It certainly is true that, if you really do intend to do right by someone else this time and into the future, but that person doesn't believe you will, and would be silly to do so in light of your past behavior, you've got a problem. How to convince same that you've really changed? The problem is that if what you end up thinking is "I know, I'll trick him into believing me, and then really do it—thus demonstrating my trustworthiness!", then, while your plan might actually work, what you're demonstrating is that actually you haven't changed. If you are of even moderate intelligence you should be able to realize this and it should give you pause, which should not be alleviated if you think "but I mean really well!". "These people believe that we regularly manipulate public opinion to keep damaging or unpopular views off the table: we'd better sweep that under the rug by fair means or foul" is the thought of the sort of nasty self-assured piece of work that I can hardly believe (despite mountains of evidence to the contrary) could really exist outside a work of fiction. Like, isn't it pretty well known by now that that sort of thought process always ends up in abuse of power, even if you can somehow overlook that it also starts there? And is manifestly self-contradictory? And …
The felt pressure to find some other explanation is nearly overwhelming!
From Nick S. comes a few links on higher education. Before I post them, I wanted to write something intelligent. I had recently read an article about the unsustainability of higher ed, which now I can't find. It made me very defensive.
So next, I wrote a half-hassed post. Then I kept revisiting it and groaning for the next four days. So now I'm posting it because Nick's post should be posted and the first week of school is super chaotic and get off my case already, you jerk.
My lost article made the following points: Students who enroll in colleges and universities fail to get a degree at really high rates, (30-50% I think? Somewhere in there?), and there is a giant information asymmetry preventing parents and students from being able to accurately determine where exactly they'll recieve a quality education, (thanks, Newsweek!), costs are untenably high, and professors don't have any incentives to teach well. The article discussed how we need more transparency and assessment, mentioning specifically the NSSE and the CLA, which are external assessments of student learning, (both which Heebie U uses.)
I got defensive because assessment seems to mean tons of paperwork which you won't have time for. I've got a finite amount of time and energy to devote to improving my teaching above and beyond the baseline, and assessments uses that fuel in a particularly soul-deadening task.
I got over feeling defensive, because I decided the article didn't mean me, it meant those jerks at R1 universities. Then the article started talking about the higher ed lobby, which is fascinating and depressing in its own right.
This is the third day I've been working on this crappy post. I'd better just copy and paste Nick's portion in and throw it up.
From Nick S:
In the spirit of passing along links, I've been mulling over these two articles about teaching:
The first is about efforts within Teach For America to track and identify successful teaching styles/techniques. It claims, both that they have had success identifying predictors of good teaching and, by implication, that focusing on recruiting/hiring/training people that fit that style would significantly improve outcomes.
"As Teach for America began to identify exceptional teachers using this data, Farr began to watch them. He observed their classes, read their lesson plans, and talked to them about their teaching methods and beliefs. . . . Right away, certain patterns emerged. First, great teachers tended to set big goals for their students. They were also perpetually looking for ways to improve their effectiveness. For example, when Farr called up teachers who were making remarkable gains and asked to visit their classrooms, he noticed he'd get a similar response from all of them: "They'd say, 'You're welcome to come, but I have to warn you--I am in the middle of just blowing up my classroom structure and changing my reading workshop because I think it's not working as well as it could.' When you hear that over and over, and you don't hear that from other teachers, you start to form a hypothesis." Great teachers, he concluded, constantly reevaluate what they are doing."
"Superstar teachers had four other tendencies in common: they avidly recruited students and their families into the process; they maintained focus, ensuring that everything they did contributed to student learning; they planned exhaustively and purposefully--for the next day or the year ahead--by working backward from the desired outcome; and they worked relentlessly, refusing to surrender to the combined menaces of poverty, bureaucracy, and budgetary shortfalls."
The CT post, by contrast talks about how, in general, teacher success stories tend to be more hype than substance, and that it's almost impossible to find schools that consistently distinguish themselves from their peers.
"What's the upshot? It is not that there are no schools that beat the odds; rather it is i) that very few schools do beat the odds, few enough for us to wonder whether there is very much to learn from them, ii) that we don't have any reason to think that the schools identified
as beating the odds are actually doing so and iii) that we haven't identified whatever schools are, actually, beating the odds."
The two articles, admittedly, are talk about different thing. The Atlantic piece is about teachers, and Harry is talking about schools. IT would be believable, for example, that it is possible to identify exceptional teachers but that it isn't possible to hire or train more people to match that performance. If that were true it could still have policy implications, even if those teachers don't have a large enough impact to raise the performance of their schools above average (or, precisely, more than one SD above average) .
Of the two, I find the Atlantic article convincing on it's own, but paired with the CT post I feel like if I had to chose between the two (and I don't know if I do) I'd be more inclined to Harry's skepticism.
There's something deeply satisfying about a freshly washed and dried pair of jeans. They're snug. In a very good way.
Since I think the NPR thing below is kind of lame upon reflection, here's a different NPR thing:
PAT ROBERTSON: And, you know, Kristi, something happened a long time ago in Haiti, and people might not want to talk about it. They were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said, "We will serve you if you will get us free from the French." True story. And so, the devil said, "OK, it's a deal."
And they kicked the French out. You know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free. But ever since, they have been cursed by one thing after the other. Desperately poor. That island of Hispaniola is one island. It's cut down the middle. On the one side is Haiti; on the other side is the Dominican Republic. Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, et cetera. Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island. They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to God. And out of this tragedy, I'm optimistic something good may come.
Christ, what an asshole.
I know I'm hot on the news trail when I pick up a story from the NPR Ombudsman.
Apparently, this animated cartoon has ruffled a bunch of feathers on the political right, including the charges that NPR has a left-leaning bias and that tax dollars should not pay for politicized material.
Setting aside that this cartoon appeared on the clearly marked "Opinion" section of the website; and setting aside that it's not accurate to call what NPR gets "tax dollars" in the sense of funds directly allocated by Congress (to quote the ombudsman: "Less than 2 percent of its annual budget comes from competitive grants from federally funded institutions"); and setting aside that the cartoon itself is, in my view, neither particularly funny nor outlandish, I find the 1500-plus comments (not to mention the nearly 600 comments on the ombudsman piece) mildly amusing.
The back-and-forth reads like a high-minded Youtube comments section, with everyone at odds but using big words and proper punctuation and spelling (maybe NPR edits these to match their house style guide?).
Remember last week when I was posting several links a day? Ah, those were the days.
Anyway. Cecilinkster sends me "Is Refusing Bedrest a Crime?" I can't see any possible way that someone's opinion here wouldn't be easily predicted from their opinion on abortion, but maybe that's a failure of imagination.
What's nice about this is that it brings the majority position - that abortion is a situation-dependent, complicated decision - into relief. Surely here, when you're discussing to what extent a woman must take precautions on behalf of her fetus, everyone would agree that there are intolerable extremes. And therefore, there is a hazy gray center (containing this particular court case) where people will disagree over specific cases, and everyone agrees that somewhere there is a line that shouldn't be crossed.
With the abortion debate, we don't have that primary agreement - that there are intolerable extremes to both sides of the debate. If one side is not willing to concede that their position can be taken to an intolerable extreme, they will just keep backing and backing up, which makes for worthless conversation.
(Perhaps the only national conversation about abortion, at the moment, is occuring between two halves of the pro-life side - those who acknowledge that there is an intolerable extreme and those who won't. For example, the South Dakota abortion ban was sunk by not having exclusions for rape or incest, or for pregnancies that endanger the life of the mother. Or so conventional wisdom would have me believe.)
If you would like a cuddly visual aid, go here.
If you thought there was, go email someone about it. What do you think this place is, a bulletin board?
You know what those guys leading a urban-hunter-gatherer lifestyle need? Personal chefs.
I'm thinking of a combination meal-plan geocaching service. At irregular intervals, the service would text you with the location of a cooler of nuts, berries, and raw meat somewhere within five miles of your home. Any given cache would contain a randomly selected amount of food, anywhere from a small handful of salad greens, to several pounds of meat. Or just a dead rabbit, or maybe a raccoon. The coolers would be concealed in places that would be difficult, but not impossible to get to, requiring climbing and problem solving. And maybe another subscriber to the service would get there first.
I think a service like this would make a mint, and would be loads of fun just for the sadistic pleasure of messing with the subscribers. Who wants to quit their job and help me start the NY branch?
I had no idea:
The poem was set to the tune of a popular British drinking song, written by John Stafford Smith for the Anacreontic Society, a men's social club in London. "The Anacreontic Song" (or "To Anacreon in Heaven"), set to various lyrics, was already popular in the United States. Set to Key's poem and renamed "The Star-Spangled Banner", it would soon become a well-known American patriotic song.
An innovator in sampling!
My cousin is getting married this summer. He is a probation officer and his fiance is a nurse. They are postponing their honeymoon because neither of them feels that they can take two weeks off in a row. For their wedding! Not even just because!
I don't doubt their judgement - it seems in her case that it would leave them impossibly short-staffed, and in his case, no one would bother to cover his caseload so he would be returning to an unmanageable mountain of work. (I grilled my cousin with less tact than I could grill her, so I can confidently say that his department sounds totally dysfunctional.)(It's very possible, in her case, that her department has merely successfully given her this impression, but that if she were more aggressive she could take two weeks off. In that case, that is still crappy to exploit your agreeable workers.)
It's just appalling that these two public institutions are so chronically underfunded and dysfunctional that they can't handle six months advance notice of a two week vacation, for a big significant culturally-obvious milestone. This is happening near McManusville, if you want to blame him.
Also, as with my students, they feel cynical and resigned but not outraged. (With my students, Barbara Ehrenreich had given a fantastic talk about how our society keeps poor people poor. The next day I heard things like "Well duh, of course Walmart makes their employees check out and then go back to work. I work there and they do it all the time. Why's she getting all bent out of shape over it?")