“It’s Time to Cancel the Word Rigor,” read a recent headline in the respected Chronicle of Higher Education. The article detailed growing concerns about hidden bias within what many see as conventional teaching practices. Here, “rigor” was taken to task for throwing roadblocks up for some students more than others, even as its exact meaning remains vague. Webster’s Dictionary defines rigor as “severity, strictness or austerity,” which educators often translate into difficult courses and large amounts of work, rationalized in the interest of excellence and high standards.
While there is nothing wrong with challenging coursework, per se, this interpretation of rigor often becomes a recipe for failure for otherwise intelligent and hardworking students. Such failures can result when rigor is used to incentivize or stratify students, as in gateway or “weed out” courses with prescribed grading targets, or situations where faculty overuse tests as motivation. Rigor discussions I have witnessed rarely consider instructional quality, teaching effectiveness, or principles of learning. Instead faculty complain about poor student attention, comprehension, or commitment. As the Chronicle explains, “all credit or blame falls on individual students, when often it is the academic system that creates the constructs, and it’s the system we should be questioning when it erects barriers for students to surmount or make them feel that they don’t belong.” Continue reading “The Problem with Rigor”
School is where most kids first become aware of what I call the “update imperative.” After all, education is a process continual improvement in a step-by-step process of knowledge acquisition and socialization. In this sense schooling represents much more than the beginning of education. For many kids it’s a time of moving from the familiarity of home into the larger world of other people, comparative judgement, and a system of tasks and rewards. Along the way, a package of attitudes and beliefs is silently conditioned: conformity to norms, obedience to authority, and the cost of failure. All of this is presented with a gradually intensifying pressure to succeed, rationalized as a rehearsal for adult life. Rarely are the ideological parameters of this “hidden curriculum” ever challenged, or even recognized. Much like work, American K-12 schools are driven largely by mandates of individual achievement and material accumulation.
By the time college applications are due, levels of anxiety can run out of control, given the role of degrees in long term earnings. Many students start the admissions Hunger Games as early as middle school, plotting their chances, polishing their transcripts, and doing anything they can to get good grades. Everyone knows how admissions data now flows in an age in which students apply to an average of 10 schools each. Unsurprisingly perhaps, overall applications have increased by 22% in the past year alone.[i] And while the applicant side of this equation has been much publicized, what happens in the admissions office remains shrouded in mystery. Largely unknown are secret criteria driven by algorithms to determine things like likelihood to enroll or willingness to pay. Even less known are kinds of AI analytics used to monitor and grade students, sometimes making prejudicial judgements along the way. Continue reading “The Algorithm Rejected Me”
Transgender victims of workplace discrimination are for the first time finding restitution in a pair of decisions handed down from the federal government finding anti-trans job bias at two institutions — one a federal contractor, the other an arm of the U.S. government.
The two decisions ––reported today in the Washingon Blade––are the result of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is charged with enforcing laws against workplace discrimination, finding last year in a historic, unanimous decision transgender workplace discrimination amounts to gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
“One of the decisions is the culmination of litigation in that very case, known as Macy v. Holder, was initiated by the Transgender Law Center after the plaintiff was told she wouldn’t receive a job at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives’s crime laboratory in Walnut Creek, Calif., after she announced she would transition from male to female.
“On July 8, the Department of Justice — to which the case was remanded after the EEOC made its decision last year — issued a final decision finding Macy indeed faced discrimination when she applied for the position and awarding her relief.
“[T]his office finds that the ATF discriminated against complainant based on her transgender status, and thus her sex, when it stopped complainant’s further participation in the hiring process for the NIBIN Ballistics Forensics Technician Laboratory position,” the decision states. Continue reading “More transgender legal victories”
This month, Merck was hit with a $100 million sex discrimination suit alleging that the company engaged in systemic gender bias, reports Fortune. “The complaint could be used in a law school as a way to teach virtually every gender-based claim that could possibly be brought against an employer.
“The case includes many allegations of discrimination against female and pregnant employees, and staffers who chose to take family-medical leave. The suit also claims that Merck engaged in discriminatory promotional and payroll practices. And the case also includes less tangible “Boys’ Club” allegations, which have become increasingly common in gender bias cases.
“In particular, the complaint against Merck alleges that “male junior employees have opportunities to socialize with male senior management to the exclusion of women. Female employees are excluded from these events, and thus excluded from opportunities to develop relationships with senior management that provide opportunities for advancement within Merck due to the company’s ‘tap-on-the shoulder’ promotion policies …”
“But Merck is far from alone. In a 2011 paper, Holland & Hart’s John M. Husband and Bradford J. Williams list private employers who have settled class actions in the tens — or even hundreds — of millions of dollars, noting that it “reads like a who’s who of Fortune 500 companies.” Many, but not all, involve sex discrimination. Continue reading “The boys at Merck”
A new study adds a gendered dimension to the rise in adult obesity, suggesting a correlation between women who work outside the home and women who are overweight.
This news is sure to feed conservative arguments favoring traditional gender roles, although fortunately one media outlet – Al Jazeera -takes issues with such assumptions, as excerpted below Continue reading “Working women, weight, and biased science”
After the recent U.S. elections, several conservatives remarked that “traditional America” was on the decline, largely due to new voter demographics. But American medical science doesn’t seem to be bending over backwards to help minority families have children––quite the opposite. As reported in today’s Huffington Post by law professor Jim Hawkins, “
“People who study the fertility business have been concerned for years over the fact that racial minorities utilize fertility treatments at a lower rate than whites. Continue reading “White bias in US fertility care”