Stop Blaming Students: Toward a Post-Pandemic Pedagogy

David Trend

There’s trouble in the college classroom these days. But you can’t blame students. The pandemic and other disruptions of the past two years have shaken higher education to the core, casting doubt on how universities deliver instruction, pay their bills, and justify their existence. Enrollments are dropping across the nation, as students and their families increasingly see college as  overpriced, inequitable, and non-essential. More disturbing still are shifts taking place within institutions themselves, as dispirited students are losing motivation and enthusiasm for learning.  Clearly something has to change, with many pointing to the classroom as a key place to start.  But will it be enough?

“A Stunning Level of Disconnection” is the way one recent article described the situation. “Fewer students show up to class. Those who do avoid speaking when possible. Many skip the readings or the homework. They have trouble remembering what they learned and struggle on tests,” one professor reported.[1] Instructors are trying to reach and teach students, to figure out the problem, and do anything they can to fix things, with many now concluding in frustration that “It may be necessary to change the structure of college itself.” Call it a stress test for higher education – the seismic disruption of the college classroom during the COVID-19 years, and its ongoing after-shocks. At all levels of instruction, educators continue to voice alarm over the persistent malaise and underperformance of college students. 

Loneliness of the Long Distance Learner

David Trend

No one could have predicted the radical changes in education of the early 2020s. Besides making the once-obscure Zoom into a household name, the pandemic accelerated an already fast-moving takeover of everyday life by the internet. The economic consequences were profound, with revenues exploding for companies like Netflix and Amazon while brick-and-mortal retail outlets and restaurants disappeared by the thousands. Of course nothing about the upheaval was especially surprising in historical terms. Cataclysmic events like disasters and wars often leave places quite different than they were before, as systemic restraints give way to radical reorganization. Emergency measures accepted in the moment have a habit of leaving remnants in place, much as occurred with online learning. Not that this is always is a bad thing. Urgent situations can trigger remarkable innovation and creativity, seen in the hundreds of ways that educators found ways to keep instruction going. But just as often people get hurt in the rush, as short-term solutions make for long-term problems.

Seen in retrospect, the rapid transition to online learning certainly falls into this latter category, evidenced in the huge numbers of students who failed or dropped out of classes, with those affected overwhelmingly the historically underserved. Changes occurred and learning was disrupted. But the convenience and efficiencies of virtual classroom were too good to let go. “Online Learning is Here to Stay” read a feature in New York Times, citing a study from the Rand Corporation saying that 20 percent of schools were choosing to continue portions of their online offerings. “Families have come to prefer stand-alone virtual schools and districts are rushing to accommodate, but questions still linger.”[i] Questions indeed. Before the pandemic less than one percent of K-12 schooling took place online. Educational reasons notwithstanding, this also had to do with the function of school as childcare for working families. The idea of a twenty-fold increase in home learning raises the question of what parent demographics are driving this shift. Or more to the point, who has gained from the online shift and who lost out? Continue reading “Loneliness of the Long Distance Learner”

Turn-U-In : Treating Students as Suspects

David Trend

It’s no secret that online learning has its problems, witnessed in the historic failure and drop-out rates resulting from thrown-together course overhauls in the early COVID months. Less widely reported has been another kind of failure owing to a loss faith in educational institutions and a widening trust gap between teachers and students.

Inherent school power inequities  have aggravated  antagonisms – now made even worse by a range of surveillance and security technologies. The distance in “distance learning” can create an atmosphere of alienation and distrust. When the in-person classroom is reduced to a screen image, teachers and students can seem more like abstractions than actual people.

This opens the door for all sorts of communication failures and misunderstandings, not to mention stereotyping and harm. The objectifying tendencies of media representations long have been associated distortions in the way individuals and groups view each other, whether in the marketing of products, sensationalizing news items, or spreading ideologies on social networks. When “Zoom school” does this, underlying beliefs and assumptions can overtake the reality of encounters, generating attitudes that destabilize the learning environment.

These problems have become especially evident in the panic about student dishonesty in online learning, as the absence of classroom proximity quickly escalated in into assumptions of cheating. Early in the 2020s a torrent of news reports warned of an “epidemic” of dishonesty in online learning, with some surveys showing over 90 percent educators believing cheating occurred more in distance education than in-person instruction.[i] New technologies often have stoked such fears, in this instance building on the distrust many faculty hold toward students, some of it racially inflected. [ii] Closer examination of the issue has revealed that much of the worry came from faculty with little direct knowledge of the digital classroom, online student behavior, and preventative techniques now commonly used.  Indeed more recent research has shown no significant differences between in-person and online academic integrity.[iii] Continue reading “Turn-U-In : Treating Students as Suspects”

Anxious Creativity: When Imagination Fails

Just released: Creativity is getting new attention in today’s America –– along the way revealing fault lines in U.S. culture. Surveys show people overwhelming seeing creativity as both a desirable trait and a work enhancement, yet most say they just aren’t creative.

Like beauty and wealth, creativity seems universally desired but insufficiently possessed. Businesses likewise see innovation as essential to productivity and growth, but can’t bring themselves to risk new ideas. Even as one’s “inner artist” is hyped by a booming self-help industry, creative education dwindles in U.S. schools.

 Anxious Creativity: When Imagination Fails examines this conceptual mess, while focusing on how America’s current edginess dampens creativity in everyone. Written in an engaging and accessible style, Anxious Creativity draws on current ideas in the social sciences, economics, and the arts. Discussion centers on the knotty problem of reconciling the expressive potential in all people with the nation’s tendency to reward only a few. Fortunately, there is some good news, as scientists, economists, and creative professionals have begun advocating new ways of sharing and collaboration. Building on these prospects, the book argues that America’s innovation crisis demands a rethinking of individualism, competition, and the ways creativity is rewarded.

Available from all major booksellers. More info at: https://www.routledge.com/Anxious-Creativity-When-Imagination-Fails-1st-Edition/Trend/p/book/9780367275068

Natural Born Killers?

David Trend

“Confessions of a Drone Warrior,” is one of hundreds of articles on the military’s use of Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAV), which began in the early 2000s. In many ways this new form of combat embodies the psychological distancing that typifies killing in the twenty-first century. The story about Airman First Class Brandon Bryant recounts his first day in a Nevada bunker, when the 22-year fired on two presumed Afghani insurgents on the other side of the world. An early recruit in this new kind of warfare, Bryant “hunted top terrorists, but always from afar” –– killing enemies in countless numbers, but not always sure what he was hitting. “Meet the 21stcentury American killing machine,” the story concluded.[i]

Of course, notions of aversion to fighting don’t sit well with either military doctrine or public belief. Behind America’s infatuation with high-tech weapons lie long-cultivated attitudes toward violence itself. In a class I teach on this, students often will express common sense views that fighting is “natural,” deriving from humanity’s animalistic origins, and often the only way of resolving conflicts. One sees this kind of thinking evident in permissive attitudes toward everything from boyish rough-housing to violent sports. The gendered aspects of violence receive less attention than they should, and will be addressed at length in Chapter 9. Suffice to say that aggression often is expected of men and boys, while also reflected in popular culture. Along with political partisanship, these attitudes help explain the deep divisions within the U.S. electorate over gun control and so-called “stand your ground” laws. Since even scholars often disagree over the issue of human violence, it helps to break the question into subcategories –– and to also point out how knowledge has changed over time in the fields of biology, psychology, and cultural analyses of violent behavior.

Continue reading “Natural Born Killers?”

Teaching Robots to Imagine

David Trend

Can robots be taught to imagine? Google’s DeepMind artificial intelligence group is doing just that –– developing computer versions of what many consider humanity’s quintessential trait. The software world long has pursued sentient consciousness as its holy grail. But until now, it’s only been found in science fiction movies like A.I., Ex Machina, and Transcendence. DeepMind engineers say they have cracked the code by combining two kinds of machine-learning. The first is linear, which is nothing new, with the computer applying a predefined algorithm over-and-over till it finds answers and then remembering them. In the second more radical approach, the computer tries many algorithms to find which work best, and then changes the very way it approaches problems. Combining the purely linear with a more systemic approach, DeepMind’s “Imagination-Augmented Agent” mimics intuitive learning in a way prior software hasn’t. It’s not exactlythe same as human imagination, but it comes closer than ever before to what neuroscientists say the brain does.

While robotic imagination may be improving, human thought isn’t faring as well. Most people feel uncreative and without inspiration, as discussed in earlier chapters. Corporations say innovation is withering as well. Novelist Ursula Le Guin recently observed that, “In America today imagination is generally looked on as something that might be useful when the TV is out of order. Poetry and plays have no relation to practical politics. Novels are for students, housewives, and other people who don’t work.”[i]Beyond the abandonment of a creative genre or two, American society also is undergoing a wholesale commodification of imagination itself. Disney is most famous for this, its “Imagineering” (imagination + engineering) brand one of the most viciously protected anywhere. But hundreds of companies evoke imagination to conjure an aura of specialness ––seen in promotions like Bombay Safire’s “Infused with Imagination,” GE’s “Imagination at Work,” Electrolux’s “Power to Capture Imagination,” Lego’s “Imagine,” Microsoft’s “Imagine Academy,” Nestle’s “Feed your Imagination,” Samsung’s “Imagine,” and Sony’s “Made of Imagination.”

The connection of imagination to commercial products reflects the powerful linkage of purchasing to consumer self-image. Expressing oneself through buying brings a passing feeling of agency, maybe even of accomplishment. Some critics say that shopping is more meaningful than voting for many Americans. Henry A. Giroux speaks of “disimagination” in describing how public consciousness is overwritten in this process, as people lose abilities to imagine on their own. To Giroux “The power to reimagine, doubt, and think critically no longer seems possible in a society in which self-interest has become the ‘only mode of force in human life and competition’ and ‘the most efficient and socially beneficial way for that force to express itself.’” Going even further, Giroux links disimagination to a rising collective amnesia, stating “What I have called the violence of organized forgetting signals how contemporary politics are those in which emotion triumphs over reason, and spectacle over truth, thereby erasing history by producing an endless flow of fragmented and disingenuous knowledge.”

Imagination can be seen positively, of course. With this in mind, much of this chapter exploresways people can envision a better and more just world. Obviously this might take a little encouragement in an age of disimagination. But it’s far from impossible. Most definitions describe imagination as the mental process behind creativity, as seen in the Oxford Dictionary: “Imagination: The faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.The ability of the mind to be creative or resourceful.” Put another way, creativity is imagination actualized for a purpose –– generally assumed a positive one. As stated by a leading expert in the field, “Creativity is putting your imagination to work. It’s applied imagination.” Dig a little deeper into this lexicon, and one finds that very problem that worries Le Guin and Giroux. A quick look at Roget’s Thesauruslists such synonyms for “imaginative” as “dreamy,” “fanciful,” “fantastic,” “quixotic,” “romantic, and “whimsical.” Nice as these sound, such vaporous associations equate imagination with the same romantic idealism and inconsequentiality dogging creativity. This explains why advertisers seem so keen on imagination. As one marketing firm put it, “We don’t see imagining as a real task. It’s an enjoyable game. By asking a prospect to imagine something, you bypass that critical part that throws up objections, and sneak into their mind through the back door of the imagination.”

How about seeing imagination differently? Maybe as a roadmap for one’s life or future?  Or a way to imagine important people in one’s life? Perhaps even a vision for community, country, and the larger world? After all, isn’t society itself an imaginary construct? Doesn’t everyone want to make it better? To Le Guin, “To train the mind to take off from immediate reality and return to it with new understanding and new strength, nothing quite equals poem and story.” She concludes that “Human beings have always joined in groups to imagine how best to live and help one another carry out the plan. The essential function of human community is to arrive at some agreement on what we need, what life ought to be, what we want our children to learn, and then to collaborate in learning and teaching so that we and they can go on the way we think is the right way.”

Elsewhere in America

Elsewhere in America: The Crisis of Belonging in Contemporary Culture by David Trend (Routledge: 2016)

The book uses the term “elsewhere” in describing conditions that exile so many citizens to “some other place” through prejudice, competition, or discordant belief. Even as “diversity” has become the official norm in American society, the country continues to fragment along new lines that pit citizens against their government, each other, and even themselves.  Yet in another way, “elsewhere” evokes an undefined “not yet” ripe with potential. 

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The book argues that even in the face of daunting challenges, elsewhere can point to optimism, hope, and common purpose. Through 12 detailed chapters, Elsewhere in America applies critical theory in the humanities and social sciences in examining recurring crises of social inclusion (“belonging”) in the U.S.  After two centuries of struggle and incremental “progress” in securing human dignity, today the U.S. finds itself riven apart by new conflicts over reproductive rights, immigration, health care, religious extremism, sexual orientation, mental illness, and fears of terrorists. Why are U.S. ideals of civility and unity so easily hijacked and confused? Is there a way of explaining this recurring tendency of Americans to turn against each other? Elsewhere in America engages these questions in charting the ever-changing faces of difference (manifest in contested landscapes of sex and race to such areas as disability and mental health), their spectral and intersectional character (as seen in the new discourses on performativity, normativity, and queer theory), and the grounds on which categories are manifest in ideation and movement politics (seen in theories of metapolitics, cosmopolitanism, dismodernism).

For more information: https://www.routledge.com/Elsewhere-in-America-The-Crisis-of-Belonging-in-Contemporary-Culture/Trend/p/book/9781138654440

Crowds at Europe’s museums

David Trend

From the New York Times: “It is the height of summer, and millions of visitors are flocking to the Louvre — the busiest art museum in the world, with 9.3 million visitors last year — and to other great museums across Europe. Every year the numbers grow as new middle classes emerge, especially in Asia and Eastern Europe. Last summer the British Museum had record attendance, and for 2013 as a whole it had 6.7 million visitors, making it the world’s second-most-visited art museum, according to The Art Newspaper. Attendance at the Uffizi in Florence for the first half of the year is up almost 5 percent over last year

“Seeing masterpieces may be a soul-nourishing cultural rite of passage, but soaring attendance has turned many museums into crowded, sauna-like spaces, forcing institutions to debate how to balance accessibility with art preservation.

“In recent years, museums have started doing more to manage the crowds. Most offer timed tickets. Others are extending their hours. To protect the art, some are putting in new air-conditioning systems. Still, some critics say that they’re not doing enough.

imgres“Last year, the Vatican Museums had a record 5.5 million visitors. This year, thanks to the popularity of Pope Francis, officials expect that to rise to 6 million. The Vatican is installing a new climate-control system in the Sistine Chapel to help spare Michelangelo’s frescoes the humidity generated by the 2,000 people who fill the space at any given time, recently as many as 22,000 a day. The Vatican hopes to have it finished by October.

“In a telephone interview, Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museums, said his institution was in a bind: To safeguard the frescoes, attendance should not be allowed to increase, he said, but “the Sistine Chapel has a symbolic, religious value for Catholics and we can’t set a cap.”Museums generally don’t like keeping a lid on attendance. At the Hermitage, which had 3.1 million visitors last year, the only cap on the number of visitors is “the physical limitations of the space itself, or the number of hangers in the coat room during the winter,” said Nina V. Silanteva, the head of the museum’s visitor services department.Ms. Silanteva said the goal was to make the museum accessible to as many people as possible, but she conceded that the crowds pose problems. “Such a colossal number of simultaneous viewers isn’t good for the art, and it can be uncomfortable and overwhelming for those who come to see the art,” she said. “Thankfully nothing bad has happened, and God has saved us from any mishaps.”

Continue reading “Crowds at Europe’s museums”

Christian schools allowed to discriminate

David Trend

When word spread this month that George Fox University had received an exemption to Title IX, allowing it to discriminate against a transgender student by denying him the housing he requested, many advocates for transgender students were stunned. Federal regulations under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 do in fact require the Education Department to exempt colleges from rules that violate their religious beliefs. During the debate, George Fox officials noted that they were objecting to a housing request only, and that they haven’t kicked the student out of the university.

But now the Education Department has confirmed that it has since awarded two more exemptions to Title IX to Christian colleges that want to discriminate against transgender students. These colleges assert (and the Education Department agreed) that they should be exempt from more of Title IX than just housing equity. These colleges have policies to punish transgender students for being transgender students, apparently up to expulsion — and they can now do so legally. The two institutions are Spring Arbor University, in Michigan, and Simpson University, in California.

Spring Arbor is affiliated with the Free Methodist Church and its traditions. It requested exemption from Title IX with regard to issues of admissions, behavioral rules, housing, access to restrooms, athletic participation and more.

The university’s student handbook says: “Spring Arbor University reserves the right to terminate or deny enrollment of those whose influence upon our community should prove to be in our judgment intractably contrary to the best interests of our students, and commitments to our university and to our Lord. Therefore, Spring Arbor University will not support persistent or conspicuous examples of cross-dressing or other expressions or actions that are deliberately discordant with birth gender, and will deal with such matters within the appropriate pastoral and conduct processes of the university.”

Continue reading “Christian schools allowed to discriminate”

Untraceable money

From today’s Wired Magazine: Amir Taaki and his collaborators recently unveiled a prototype for a decentralized online marketplace, known as DarkMarket, that’s designed to be impervious to shutdown by the feds.images-1

The programming provocation they released a few hours ago is called Dark Wallet, a piece of software designed to allow untraceable, anonymous online payments using the cryptocurrency bitcoin. Taaki and Wilson see in bitcoin’s stateless transactions the potential for a new economy that fulfills the crypto-anarchist dream of truly uncontrollable money. They envision a digital payment network that circumvents every authority’s attempts to tax it, seize it, censor it, track it, or imprison those who would use it to trade in contraband like weapons, drugs, and even abhorrent services like murder-for-hire and child pornography.

And yet for all that, Dark Wallet isn’t necessarily illegal. Taaki and Wilson, who spent two years in law school before dropping out to pursue his anarchist dreams, argue their creation is just a piece of code and thus protected by free speech laws. Then again, Wilson also has described it publicly as “money-laundering software.” The evening before, he received an unhappy email from his lawyer friend, cautioning him about expressing criminal intent in an interview with me that was published two days earlier. Wilson’s half of the ensuing phone conversation went like this: “How can we cower now? We’re the people who do things and tell them to put up or shut up … [pause] … I guess you’d rather I go back to running guns? … [pause] … OK, I’ll talk to you later.”

Hence the unplanned road trip. The drive through the empty Texas landscape gives me a chance to ask the looming question: How will the world change if Taaki and Wilson succeed in their quest to make money truly anonymous? “There’s going to be a bit of a shake-up,” says Taaki, who speaks with a British accent that borders on cockney. “No one knows how it’s going to turn out.”

He pauses. “The assassination markets are going to be a bit shit.” Untraceable murder-for-hire, in other words, could be an unfortunate side effect of their financial innovation.

Then he seems to regain his resolve. “I believe in the hacker ethic. Empower the small guy, privacy and anonymity, mistrust authority, promote decentralized alternatives, freedom of information,” he says. “These are good principles. The individual against power.”

Warming to his subject, Taaki raises his voice as if he’s speaking to a crowd larger than the three of us here in the car. “But it’s important to be clear that it may not be good on balance, either,” he says. “The world is not perfect. Good and evil rise together.”

Wilson cuts in from the driver’s seat, shifting into agitprop mode. “It’s time for a good old-fashioned pendulum swing,” he says. “Where the people fear the government there’s tyranny. Where the government fears the people there’s liberty. They’re afraid, therefore it’s good.”

But Taaki seems willing to contemplate a more uncertain outcome of the anarchy he and Wilson seek to create.

“It will be different, more diverse,” he muses, as if imagining this new reality for the first time. “We’ll step out into a new world, and we can explore it in any direction we choose.”

The 21st century has already seen its first experiment in crypto-anarchy: the billion-dollar, anonymous online drug marketplace known as Silk Road. In October 2013, the FBI seized the well-hidden server that hosted the site on the anonymity network Tor. The agency also arrested its alleged founder, 29-year-old Ross Ulbricht, calling his work a vast narcotics and money-laundering conspiracy.

Cody Wilson would call it a mere proof of concept.

In a packed bar on East London’s Brick Lane two months after the Silk Road crackdown, Wilson stood onstage—inexplicably wearing a single leather glove—and scolded the audience of the London Bitcoin Expo: “Ross Ulbricht is alleged to be the founder and operator of Silk Road, the glittering jewel of all things libertarian, black market, and wonderful. And it’s a severe indictment of the modern libertarian conscience that he can’t get any support at all.” (At the time, just $3,800 dollars had been donated to the fund-raising site created by Ulbricht’s family, FreeRoss.org, well short of their $50,000 goal. That lukewarm response likely had much to do with prosecutors’ claims that Ulbricht had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bitcoins to contacts he believed were hit men who would kill his enemies, including a blackmailer and a potential informant.)

More at: http://www.wired.com/2014/07/inside-dark-wallet/

Continue reading “Untraceable money”

Gay parents = happier kids

Children raised by same-sex couples have better health and well-being in comparison to their peers, according to a groundbreaking new study which isbeing billed as the largest of its kind.

Conducted by Australia’s University of Melbourne, the new research aimed to “describe the physical, mental and social well-being” of children with gay and lesbian parents, and “the impact that stigma has on them.” On average, children raised by same-sex couples scored six percent higher than the general population when it came to general health and family cohesion.

Meanwhile, in other categories — such as behavior, mental health and self-esteem — those children reportedly scored the same as those raised by heterosexual parents.

“It appears that same-sex parent families get along well and this has a positive impact on health,” Dr. Simon Crouch from the Jack Brockhoff Child Health and Wellbeing Program, Centre for Health Equity at the University of Melbourne, told CNBC of the results.

Crouch believes that an emphasis on skills, as opposed to traditional gender roles, accounted for the survey’s results.

“So what this means is that people take on roles that are suited to their skill sets rather than falling into those gender stereotypes,” he is quoted as saying. “Whatthis leads to is a more harmonious family unit and therefore feeding on to better health and wellbeing.”

You can read more about the new research here.

The study comprised input from 500 children and 315 parents who are in same-sex relationships, and seemed mostly in line with previous research. Earlier this year, a Williams Institute report found that children of lesbians reported having higher self-esteem and lower conduct problems than those of heterosexual couples.

A 2012 study, “Adolescents with Lesbian Mothers Describe Their Own Lives,” found that teens with two moms maintained solid high school GPAs while having strong family bonds with their mothers, according to CBS Las Vegas.

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/07/children-of-gay-parents-study-_n_5563547.html

 

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Phone surveillance ruled illegal

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals said no this week to tracking your movements using data from your cell phone without a warrant when it declared that this information is constitutionally protected.images-1

As Wired reports, “The case, United States v. Davis , is important not only because it provides substantive and procedural protections against abuse of an increasingly common and highly invasive surveillance method. It also provides support for somethingChristopher Sprigman and I have said before — that the government’s other “metadata” collection programs are unconstitutional.

“The Davis decision, in effect, suggests that the U.S. government’s collection of all kinds of business records and transactional data — commonly called “metadata” — for law enforcement and national security purposes may also be unconstitutional.

Your phone sends signals to the nearest cell towers so that the communications network system knows where to route a call should one come in. Many providers collect and store the location of towers a customer connects to at the beginning and end of the call for billing purposes. FBI agents in Davis obtained these records without a search warrant and used them to place the defendant, Quartavious Davis, near the scene of a number of robberies.

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Wikipedia activism

Most of the feminist activism I do—whether it’s writing or teaching or protesting—requires a long view. A really long view. Sometimes I feel as if my feminist colleagues and I are saying and doing the same things over and over again, with little to no results to show for any of our work. And when I see yet another sexist commercial such as DirecTV’s newest that features woman-as-marionette, I want to throw in the towel.

But not on a recent Saturday afternoon that I spent at an Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-A-Thon. The results there were concrete and immediate. In less than two hours, I created Wikipedia pages for three feminist artists who should have had pages already but who, like so many women, had been overlooked.

It’s no secret that women have been rendered invisible in history, sports, laws, medical care, politics, corporate boardrooms, museums, religion and the military. One of my professors in graduate school, Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, used to say that part of what makes patriarchy so powerful is its erasure of feminist history. Without knowing our history, she’d say, without knowing about the work of the women who came before us, we’re left reinventing the wheel.

The Internet is now where histories are stored and accessed, and it’s where subsequent generations will go when they want to know what’s real, what matters.

But guess what percentage of Wikipedia contributors are women? 13 percent.

Yes, you read that right. Continue reading “Wikipedia activism”

What is merit, anyway?

As college presidents went to the White House Thursday to talk about new efforts to attract more low-income students to higher education,admissions leaders gathered here and talked about how they define merit.

InsideHigherEd asks, “Who is admitted? Who gets aid? When spots and the aid budget are limited, who gets priority status?

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“Speakers turned to definitions (from dictionaries, Latin and Greek) and to philosophy, and generally agreed that merit in higher education must mean more than having the highest grades and test scores. But beyond that, things get complicated. Recruiting a more socioeconomically diverse class is a great thing, everyone seemed to agree at the annual conference of the Center for Enrollment Research Policy and Practice of the University of Southern California.

“But is that still the case if your rankings slip and your SAT average drops a smidge? Nancy Cantor, who spoke here, was described as heroic by many for doing that at Syracuse University. But Cantor has left Syracuse and her successor seems much more interested in rankings than she was. And for institutions that compete for students, decisions that might be applauded here as ethical can be quite difficult. A case study was presented by Jenny Rickard, vice president for enrollment at the University of Puget Sound. She described how Puget Sound, between the 1970s and today, evolved from a local commuter college to a national liberal arts college, attracting increasingly competitive students.

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Guns: one year after Sandy Hook

images-3How quickly a year passes.

One year ago,  Americans were jolted by yet another episode of gun-crazed carnage, at yet another school, this one in Newtown, Conn. Across the nation, grieving onlookers vowed that this would be the time that the United States passed comprehensive gun control laws. But as In These Times reports, “since then, another 194 children have been killed by guns, according to a study by Mother Jones—ten times more than were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. In September the Washington Navy Yard massacre resulted in another dozen murders, and just today, as if on cue, another horrific school murder by a shotgun-wielding youngster occurred in Centennial, Colo.

“Despite the frightening frequency of such episodes in our gun-weary nation, the outcry has not led to any successful legislative action at the federal level. While President Barack Obama has issued a well-meaning but ineffective call for a “common sense” balance between gun control and gun rights, federal legislation is going nowhere in a highly partisan, paralyzed, do-nothing Congress. In April, a majority of 54 senators voted in favor of a bill to broaden background checks to all online and gun show sales, but in the filibuster-gone-wild Senate, where 60 out of 100 votes are needed to end discussion and allow a vote, that wasn’t enough.

“At the state level though, there have been a few signs of legislative spark. In, Colorado, after being traumatized by previous mass shootings, most famously at a school in Columbine and a movie theater in Aurora, Democrats in Colorado passed some of the nation’s toughest gun control legislation this year. Shortly afterward, though, gun rights supporters responded by recalling the two state senators who had championed the bills. Continue reading “Guns: one year after Sandy Hook”

Say cheeze

The thought-provoking installation “SELFMADE” (2013), currently on display at The Science Gallery at Trinity College Dublin, reveals the importance of microbes in our environment. Microbiologist Christina Agapakis (US) & scent artist Sissel Tolaas (NO) teamed up to create artisanal cheese made from lactobacillus swabbed from the skin of human beings. Lactobacillus is the bacteria responsible for curdling and preserving milk and giving cheese its characteristic smell and texture. Agapakis maintains that the cheese in the exhibit is not intended for human consumption but for investigating the unique microbial environment that humans participate in daily.

Through the installation Agapakis calls into question the prevailing paradigm of good/bad bacteria and offers a more complex view of the world of microbes, both biologically and culturally. She emphasizes the paradox of the modern paradigm: “We not only live in a biological world surrounded by rich communities of microorganisms, but in a cultural world that emphasises (sic) total antisepsis.”i Noting the inconsistency between modern human habits of consumption and bacterial intolerance in the environment, she asks: “Can knowledge and tolerance of bacterial cultures in our food improve tolerance of the bacteria on our bodies?”ii

Agapakis’ use of traditional cheesemaking methods underscores the connection between microbial culture and human culture. In her Pop!Tech lecture, she explains the biological and artistic process of her installation and of creating, by accident, the famed Sardinian “maggot cheese” casu marzu. The cheese can only be consumed when its larvae are, in fact, living. While some might recoil at the idea of consuming “rotten” cheese replete with squirming insects, Agapakis argues through her example of “encountering prejudice toward the macrobiological” for an increased awareness of cheese and its relationship to culture. Cheese, she notes, is about three things: “culture,” “biological context,” and “care” or “the way that we interact with and take care of the environment around us.”iii

Her exhibit poignantly illustrates cheese as a living object. Cheese, by its very nature, can never be an aseptic environment. Each cheese is filled with living organisms that interact with and mirror its culture both physically and sociologically.

 

More at; http://thecheesetraveler.com/tag/science-gallery/

Walter White at the end of time

I have no secret knowledge of how Vince Gilligan and Breaking Bad‘s writers plotted how to finish Walter White’s story, writes James Poniewozik in Time today, resisting the urge to celebrate the show’s Emmy win.  “I have to wonder if the scenario we saw tonight was considered, at one point, as the end. images-2Walt isolated, thousands of miles from home, dying alone, knowing that everything has gone wrong, knowing that his child hates him, knowing that his plan to enrich his family has failed–and powerless to do anything but, wait, and know, and think on what he has done.

“It feels in a sense as if these past few weeks have tried on several alternative endings for the story of Walter White. His surrender to Hank in the desert, as I said then, was one way it could have gone down. His disappearance into the horizon, last seen in the rear-view mirror of Vacuum Guy’s minivan, was another. (Hell, the end of last season’s run–Walt retired, successful, free and in the bosom of his family was, before Hank found Leaves of Grass as bathroom reading, the end for a very dark, cynical version of Breaking Bad.)

“The Shield’s outstanding finale left its antihero/villain, Vic Mackey, alive and chained to a desk, presumably to ponder his crimes forever. Walt’s exile in “Granite State” might be considered the Shield alternative for Breaking Bad–letting Walt “escape,” but in such as way as to be tortured by his deeds for the rest of his short life. So his world ends, as another New Hampshire resident posited, not in fire but in ice.

“There’s something purgatorial about Walt’s New Hampshire; we’ve spent so much time in the red-and-brown sun-baked vistas of New Mexico that emerging from the propane tank into New Hampshire feels like entering another world. As Vacuum Cleaner Guy–played, in an in-retrospect obvious bit of genius casting, by Robert Forster–says, it’s the kind of place where Walt could rest and get some much-needed thinking done. “If you look around,” he says, “it’s kind of beautiful.” Continue reading “Walter White at the end of time”

Gender and car shopping

Women are more likely to prioritize safety and affordability in shopping for cars, while men appear to seek out cars based on exterior styling and “rugged” reputations. From the ground-zero of car culture, the LA Times reports:imgres-1

 “Like comparing apples to oranges, men and women have different factors of importance when choosing a vehicle, influencing their brand research based on qualities that matter the most to them,” said market intelligence manager Diana Duque-Miranda. She noted older men typically gravitated toward “heritage” brands they grew up with – Lincoln, for example, and Buick.

“Search data showed 76% of women in the study sought out safety features in their next new car purchase, compared with 61%. That surprised Arthur Henry, another Kelly Blue Book manager. “When I think of solid cars, I also think of safety,” a priority analysts found more often in women’s searches. The survey data showed men tended to gravitate toward models considered “rugged,” Henry said. Twenty-eight percent of men were more likely to shop for such vehicles, compared with 19% of women, he said. Duque-Miranda noted women were more likely to seek out features once considered luxury – such as leather seats, USB ports and parking sensors – that are now becoming standard in lower-priced vehicles.

“Fuel efficiency also ranked high among 67% of women, compared with 48% of men. So how did brands fare in the battle of the sexes? Lincoln, Audi, Jaguar, Scion and Cadillac topped the list of 10 makes most likely to be sought out by men. Women were more likely to browse options from Volvo, Infiniti, Fiat, Acura and Nissan.

More at: http://www.latimes.com/business/autos/la-fi-hy-gender-differences-car-shopping-20130730,0,7235355.story

Men & eating disorders

People of all gender identifications, ages, races and sexualities suffer from eating disorders and struggle with body image issues, but the majority of eating disorder research is conducted on young, white women.images

Huffington Post Gay Voices reports “In the past decade or so, there has been increasing importance placed on understanding the impact these issues have on men. Here are six things you should know:

“1. Male eating disorders are on the rise — or more men are becoming brave enough to seek help. A January 2013 study estimated that 10 to 15 percent of anorexia and bulimia sufferers are male. Data from Britain’s NHS has shown a 66 percent increase in hospital admissions for male eating disorders over the last decade. It’s unclear whether this signals a vast increase in men struggling with disordered eating, greater awareness of how and where to get help, or both.

“2. Men are affected by images of celebrities’ “perfect” bodies, too. “The Mask You Live In,” a new documentary from Jennifer Siebel Newsom, explores the pressure society puts on young boys to look and act “like a man.” Muscular, toned male bodies in the media are perhaps just as harmful as slim, pale female bodies.

“3. Disordered eating in men may be linked to experiences of sexual harassment. A study released in May 2013 found that, among college-age participants, men who had experienced a high level of sexual harassment were more likely to purge or take laxatives than women who had gone through similar experiences. Continue reading “Men & eating disorders”