Archive for May, 2011

…carbon emissions were at their worst-ever levels last year, despite a massive global recession.

But don’t worry, I’m sure everything will be just fine. We’ll just adapt to it.

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I have been thinking recently about how to change teacher training and certification programs. Kevin Carey points out that the onus should be on the Stanfords and Harvards of the world to create and pilot high-level teacher training programs. Meanwhile, Dana Goldstein, taking issue with Joel Klein’s suggestion of the awfulness of certification programs, notes that more traditionally-certified teachers at high-needs schools feel satisfied with their preparation than alternatively-certified teachers.

Let’s try putting some of this data together:

  • Education majors learn the least general knowledge in college (less than business majors!).
  • Teachers from traditional certification programs feel more satisfied with their preparation than alternative-certified teachers
  • Nevertheless, teachers perform the same regardless of how they were certified. (PDF)
  • Satisfaction and self-confidence are not necessarily great indicators of relative skill and success. (See the Dunning-Kruger effect)

To respond to Goldstein, it seems entirely possible that the certification programs are bad, but teachers still feel satisfied with them. Furthermore, it is likely that lax certification (such as setting low bars for content knowledge and student-teaching hours) is actually preferable for prospective teachers.

The general point, then, rather than to nitpick between traditional and alternative programs, is that there may well be something wrong with the content that we require for teachers, rather than merely the method with which it is administered. Maybe our focus on skills-based learning is misguided; maybe our relentless focus on pedagogy is less important than content; maybe we need to focus less on “relating to students” and more on actually knowing the content material being taught.

In all the discussion of education reform, very little has been said about the actual stuff that teachers learn. Most education schools are clones of one another — teaching largely the same content in largely the same way. The content is cursory; middle school humanities teachers relearn middle school humanities, rather than deepening or broadening their knowledge. Pedagogy is largely abstract, with limited chances for application. Student-teaching experiences vary widely.

Education reformers often critique poorly-designed state curricula for K-12. It seems natural that they should critique poorly-designed curricula for teachers as well.

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Apparently there’s something called freestyle canoeing.

Whatever it is, it looks pretty difficult, coming from someone who can barely get the canoe to move in a straight line.

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In a new paper (PDF here, press release here), Michael I. Norton and Samuel R. Sommers find that whites now believe themselves to be more the victim of racism than blacks. For whites, anti-white bias now appears to be more widespread and damaging than anti-black bias.

It is easy to scoff at notions of a zero-sum game in racism, but the reasons for this perception derive from basic human misunderstandings of absolute levels vs. rates of change.

For example, despite the fact that America’s economy is 2.5 times larger than China’s, more than half of Americans believe the Chinese economy is larger. There are probably many reasons for this (media coverage and general xenophobia among them), but because China’s growth rate has been astonishing, we more readily perceive that it must also be absolutely larger relative to the American economy.

Similarly here, despite the fact that blacks probably face more institutional racism (and despite lower graduation rates, income for similar jobs, lack of political clout, etc.), many whites mistakenly see the derivative of anti-black bias (a negative rate of change) rather than the absolute anti-black bias that exists. In their minds, because blacks face less bias than they did previously while whites face more bias (a dubious assumption to be sure), blacks must face less bias overall than whites.

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Above is a photo of an 11 year old Afghan girl being married to a 40 year old man. The look in her eyes and face is rather striking, don’t you think? I stumbled upon these photos in a slide show at Foreign Policy linked through Slate. UNICEF reports that 57% of Afghan girls are married before they reach the age of 16. Below is an 8 year old girl being married to a 55 year old man who looks as though he could be her grandfather.

From an article linked to within it:

Young marriages have contributed to high rates of death among women, infant mortality, and particularly maternal deaths. At 44, an Afghan woman’s life expectancy is one of the lowest in the world.

Badriya Hassas, a gynecologist in Rabiya Balkhi Hospital in Kabul, says that shortly after being married, many young girls are admitted to hospital in a state of shock from serious physical injuries and psychological trauma. “Some of these girls suffer irreversible physical damage,” Hassas tells RFE/RL. “They suffer from tearing and extensive bleeding. Besides, they usually come to hospital too late — after massive bleeding, and in a state of shock. We have personally seen many such cases.”

Sami Hashemi, an expert at UNICEF’s Kabul office, says it is a tragedy for Afghan society that “young girls who are supposed to be thinking about toys, books, and cartoons are being forced to become wives, to serve their husbands’ families, and bear a child.”

Of course it’s a different culture. Nonetheless, I find it nearly impossible to understand – and would have hoped that it would have been an instinctive and universal male trait – that a man so old could wed a girl so young and not find it inherently repulsive.

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…by those who do not know its contents. Here’s GOP Presidential candidate Herman Cain:

CAIN: We don’t need to rewrite the Constitution of the United States of America, we need to reread the Constitution and enforce the Constitution. … And I know that there are some people that are not going to do that, so for the benefit of those who are not going to read it because they don’t want us to go by the Constitution, there’s a little section in there that talks about “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Needless to say, those words are from the Declaration of Independence. Cain’s confusion (he repeatedly referred to the Constitution, so this isn’t just a one-word mix-up, for which I am quite forgiving) actually makes him a more perfect fit for the GOP primary field.

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I have a special spot in my heart for End-Timers, who I will define as people who think that the world will end while they are alive to experience it. I truly despise – if not them, at least the way they think. And as Stendhal linked previously, this is no tiny minority. Pew reports that a staggering 41% of all Americans think the world will end by the year 2050. While those who are nonreligious and college-educated only answer about 20% (still very high, I would say), a full 52% of those in the South and 58% of white Evangelical Christians think it will happen. So why does this bother me so much?

1) The sheer egotism of it. The earth has been around for a long time. Obviously I think it’s billions of years old, but even if you think it’s a paltry 6000 years or so, that’s still a big chunk of time. And for all that time, for all that history, the world has not ended. Every generation has come and gone without an Apocalypse or Armageddon. And yet you think that you’re going to see it?! Why? Are you the only person who has lived in tough times? The only generation that thinks it is experiencing moral decay within society? If you are reading this, I contend that you will die before the end of the world, just as every other person who has ever lived has done before you.

2) It encourages a type of fatalism and disregard for the planet that I find repellent. If you believe that Earth has an expiration date less than 50 years from now, why recycle? Why bother to do anything about climate change (if you even believe it exists, that is)? Why bother to care much about anything at all if this life on earth is pointless and you’re just waiting for Jesus to come and save you? The implications for the environment seem obvious. It’s difficult to find concrete examples of this play out in politics. The best example I know of is the unholy alliance between fundamentalist U.S. Christianity and Israel. There are a lot of religious conservative Christians who are stalwart defenders of Israel, and it has nothing to do with their affinity for Jews or Jewish culture. Rather, they think that defending Israel is a necessary precursor for End Times.

I prefer to think this world is the only one we have, that we have to take care of it so that untold generations will be able to enjoy it, and that we ought to live this life as the only chance we get.

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