Category Archives: Higher Education

Weekly Reading

Articles that Lady in Red found fascinating this week:

  1. When it’s okay to adopt the dialect of your audience: “It Wasn’t ‘Verbal Blackface.’ AOC Was Code-Switching.”
  2. David Frum elegantly documents Canada’s sweetheart stepping in it: “Justin Trudeau Falls From Grace”
  3. “Nobody wanted to hear me read ‘Ozymandias.’” Why are we all loving the Varsity Blues scandal?: “They Had It Coming”
  4. The best travel writing you may ever read: “Where Heaven and Earth Come Closer”
  5. “‘I am synthetic life form ‘Yoko K.,’ assembled in the US with components made in Japan…designed to assume the role of an ‘electronic musician.’ I am one of many secret agents sent to this time to plant magical thinking in people through the use of ‘pre-22nd century nostalgia Mars pop music.’” How to make hospital beeps more pleasant and more meaningful: “Anatomy of a beep: A medical device giant and an avant-garde musician set out to redesign a heart monitor’s chirps”

The Cost of Irreproducible Research

Last week, NPR’s All Things Considered discussed scientific research methodology, and the losses resulting from such mistakes as unclear instruction, cell misidentification, and undetailed methodologies.

PLOS Biology estimates $28 billion worth of research per year is beset with these issues, however that number is in dispute.  Some irreproducible research is still fruitful, plus the magnitude of the errors are not differentiated within that total.

Is our US research model flawed?  Making all doctoral candidates train in research is obviously important, but there seems to be a lack of decently paying post-doc research jobs that causes these people to quickly move on to other lines of work after only a few productive years as grad students.  Realigning employment incentives just might tighten up the rigor.

Lab Research

The Rise of Homeschooling for African Americans

Homeschooling among African Americans is currently on the rise, with 220,000 African American children currently receiving their education this way.

Many of the parents cite racism, poor treatment, and low expectations within the public school system as reasons for opting out, rather that the religious reasons that many white Americans use.  Also, a Euro-centric history lens bothered a number of African American parents.  Other parents wanted the chance to expose their children to positive role models who looked like them, especially males. According to the Department of Education, less than two percent of current classroom teachers nationwide are African American adult males.

The long-standing economic barriers (especially having an educated, stay-at-home parent) to homeschooling are lifting, which is making it a viable option for middle class of every race.  Flexible work schedules for parents, subsidized nutrition and team sport options for homeschoolers from the local public schools, and materials-sharing all contribute to this ease.  However, not everyone sees these options as reason enough to exit the school system.

“For African Americans there is a sense of betrayal when you leave public schools in particular,” Professor Ama Mazama said. “Because the struggle to get into those schools was so harsh and so long, there is this sense of loyalty to the public schools. People say, ‘We fought to get into these schools, and now you are just going to leave?’”

While opting out of government institutions is a treasured right, the social norming that takes place in schools–public or otherwise–seems impossible to successfully replicate.  Not only are social skills learned by necessity: handling conflict, peer communication, disappointment, healthy competition, etc., but students learn to adapt to real world expectations for performance in the job market, in community organizations, and in relationships of all kinds.  And even with traditional schooling, helicopter parenting undoes these gains when the child is isolated from consequences, which is an outcome that is antithetical to the real world.  Spending time developing a child without negativity is a contradictory statement; negative consequences are what develop people.

Therefore, homeschooling for any race seems like something that should be considered a last resort, and only for kids who have highly prohibitive learning disabilities.  Common educational content is part of the social contract that holds our shared culture together.  While one could claim that our current state of higher education does not adequately meet the needs of our economy, grade school standards are an obligation of living in a civilized society.

Curriculum “Trigger Warnings”

In today’s NY Times, the idea of implementing university curriculum “trigger warnings” for sensitive material is discussed.   These are written statements that appear on syllabi warning students of literature or films that depict violence, sexuality, racism, suicide, poverty, etc. Lately, students at several universities have advocated for them to prevent PTSD reactions in student victims of war, rape, and other traumas. The warnings could give these students the opportunity to back out of exposure to the objectionable material.

Many academics oppose the blanket warnings as limiting and say that creating healthy discomfort is key to gaining a higher education. Of course, accommodations can be made on a case-by-case basis for struggling students, but creating an institution of censoring is frightening.

ModCon also opposes trigger warnings, mainly because they would be imperfect and just give a false sense of security and coddling. Who can know what does or does not trigger anyone?  Yes, while there are some common patterns, someone may have once been smothered by a teddy bear and now has a panic attack when seeing a cute teddy bear.  The point is, no one can unfortunately shut out pain, and all of us need to walk through life with varying degrees of mental resiliency.  “Trigger warnings” won’t protect everyone, and if enough people blindly depend upon “the system” to protect them, the results could be even worse.

Dr. Condoleezza Rice Withdraws from Rutgers Commencement Speech

Condi reminds us of her class by giving this response to the millenials who gave a sit-in protest to her selection as commencement speaker:

“Commencement should be a time of joyous celebration … Rutgers’ invitation to me to speak has become a distraction for the university community … I am honored to have served my country. I have defended America’s belief in free speech and the exchange of ideas. … But that is not what is at issue here. As a Professor for thirty years at Stanford University and as its former Provost and Chief academic officer, I understand and embrace the purpose of the commencement ceremony and I am simply unwilling to detract from it in any way.”

LIR aspires to be like Condi, but would have realistically probably still given the speech anyway, just to show these bored juveniles what power and intelligence really looks like.