Friday, March 28, 2008

Nice White Lady

I hope this doesn't offend...someone showed it at a session at AERA, and I thought it was spot on. I also realize it's a little dated, so if it needs to be deleted feel free to do so.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Budget Meltdown

From the "It's going to get worse before it gets any better" department (h/t docudharma):

By Daniel B. Wood, The Christian Science Monitor
Fri Mar 21, 4:00 AM ET

Los Angeles - California, home to 1 in 9 American schoolchildren, is on the brink of what may be the biggest public education crisis in state history. Facing a $16 billion state budget shortfall, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed $4.8 billion in school-funding cuts, or 10 percent of education spending.

In the past week, over 20,000 preliminary pink slips were sent by school districts to teachers and administrators state wide, according to the California Teachers Association. The association estimates another 87,000 (of a total 350,000 public school teachers) could come if Governor Schwarzenegger holds to his budget cut request.

Some say the request is a cry of "wolf" intended to draw public attention and force stalemated politicians to reconsider the cuts - or raise taxes. Others say fiscal reality will push the cuts through as presented.

The budget crisis and enrollment drops are already being felt at my university. Usually in economic downturns people go back to school. This time, I have a feeling (a) people won't have enough money and (b) public institutions like mine will have priced themselves out of the market. Strap in--here we go!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Not on the Test

By Tom Chapin:

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"We need a teacher."

I just think this blog entry by Will Richardson says what I would like to say about the speech by Barack Obama yesterday about race: We need a teacher (as president).

I couldn't agree more. THAT is what should truly qualify someone as "the education president."

As Will writes: "We need someone who can create some lesson plans for the millions of us who want to engage, want to contribute, want to work to solve the problems together. We need someone who I can hold up as a role model for my own children as a steward for the environment, as a peace maker, as a listener, as a deep thinker."

I've met Barack...and he lives three blocks from me. He's a gentleman, a reconciler, and a humanist. He believes in the possibility of goodness, and doesn't expect people who are different from himself to be evil or untrustworthy (as the Bush gang seems to). And he isn't just a great speaker. (He was editor of the Harvard Law Review...takes some brains!) He's also actually done some real work, in community organizing (cf. Aaron's posts).

Personally, I think Hilary would be better as Senate Majority Leader, with Barack as president. In such an arrangement, he can benefit tremendously from her intelligence while providing a unifying force for the country and the world, and avoiding the slide back into the raw political confrontation of the (Bill) Clinton years.

Ed Links

Natural selection and cultural rates of change

It has been claimed that a meaningful theory of cultural evolution is not possible because human beliefs and behaviors do not follow predictable patterns. However, theoretical models of cultural transmission and observations of the development of societies suggest that patterns in cultural evolution do occur. Here, we analyze whether two sets of related cultural traits, one tested against the environment and the other not, evolve at different rates in the same populations. Using functional and symbolic design features for Polynesian canoes, we show that natural selection apparently slows the evolution of functional structures, whereas symbolic designs differentiate more rapidly. This finding indicates that cultural change, like genetic evolution, can follow theoretically derived patterns.

Can a thinking, remembering, decision-making, biologically accurate brain be built from a supercomputer?

The name of the supercomputer is literal: Each of its microchips has been programmed to act just like a real neuron in a real brain. The behavior of the computer replicates, with shocking precision, the cellular events unfolding inside a mind.

Smallpox or Facebook?

Which better explains how ideas move through society: diseases or social networks?

Paradoxical Alzheimer's Finding May Shed New Light On Memory Loss

Who'd a thunk? Younger brains show evidence of more memory loss than those with Alzheimer's. But those younger brains are also making memories faster than they lose them. A new study shows that normal memory loss is hyperactivated in Alzheimer's, pointing to AD as a syndrome affecting the plasticity or malleability of the brain.

It's common knowledge that humans and other animals are able to visually judge depth because we have two eyes and the brain compares the images from each. But we can also judge depth with only one eye, and scientists have been searching for how the brain accomplishes that feat.

For the first time, a researchers have linked pain receptors found throughout the nervous system to learning and memory in the brain. The findings, published in Neuron, point up new drug targets for memory loss or epileptic seizures.

A new study of whether people receive different quality of hospital care because of their race or ethnicity found that when whites and minorities are admitted to a hospital for the same reason, they receive the same quality care in that hospital.

Researchers have discovered that a system in the brain for processing grammar is impaired in some children with specific language impairment, but that these children compensate with a different brain area. The findings offer new hope for sufferers of with specific language impairment, which affects seven percent of children and is a major cause of many not reaching their educational potential.

Researchers have made an important neurobiological discovery of how humans learn to predict risk. The research, appearing in the Journal of Neuroscience, will shed light on why certain kinds of risk, notably financial risk, are often underestimated, and whether abnormal behavior such as addiction (e.g. to gambling or drugs) could be caused by an erroneous evaluation of risk.

A new CDC study estimates that one in four (26 percent) young women between the ages of 14 and 19 in the United States -- or 3.2 million teenage girls -- is infected with at least one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases.

Scientists are developing systems that process and understand spoken language and automatically obtain information particularly from Basque radio and television. Carrying out a search in the net for written documents is an easy task – the word is simply introduced in to the search tool. Nevertheless, these searches do not work with the spoken word or with audio archives, unless these have an accompanying written explanation.

While life expectancy has increased significantly for educated people over the last twenty years, it has plateaued for less educated people. In other words, those whose education level does not exceed high school have not been sharing the benefits of prolonged lifespan. This is the case for both African Americans and Caucasians. Deaths related to tobacco use account for at least one-fifth of the growth in mortality differences by education that create this life expectancy gap.

Leading academic research institutions seek increased NIH funding to reverse effects that are threatening advances in medicine. They warned that if NIH does not get consistent and robust support in the future, the nation will lose a generation of young investigators to other careers and other countries and, with them, a generation of promising research that could cure disease for millions for whom no cure currently exists.

Parental monitoring can reduce high-school drinking and, as a result, have a protective effect on students' drinking at college. Underage drinking is linked to a number of negative outcomes in this group, including suicide, high-risk sexual activity and an increased chance of alcohol dependence.

Scientists are engineering video game characters with the capacity to have beliefs and to reason about the beliefs of others. The characters will be able to predict and manipulate the behavior of even human players, with whom they will directly interact in the real, physical world, according to the team.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Contesting Progressivism: Discretion as Oppression

[This is a follow-up to this earlier forum post. I know many blog members, especially, are caught up with AERA prep, and it’s pretty long (and, dense, yes, okay) anyway. But what the heck.]

A core value of progressive visions of democracy is flexibility in response to the shifting realities of life in a complex society. True democracy, progressives believed, required capacities for constant and fluid adjustment to the unpredictable contingencies of life in modern society. Dewey and others argued, for example, that the U.S. Constitution should be revisited over time and freely, democratically adapted to new conditions that would emerge over time. The slowness of cultural change in response to the much faster shifts of a quickly industrializing society was a key problem for progressives.

In a truly democratic society, the progressives imagined, collections of unique individuals would be engaged in a constant collaborative effort to create a better society in response to the shifting sands of social change.

From the perspective of progressivism, then, permanence of any kind—especially social structures like rules and cultural practices—was a barrier to the emergence of a truly democratic society. In fact, combating this “lag” was a core motivation for Dewey’s vision of democratic education.

When everyone in democratic associations like the ones they imagined is equal, it may be reasonable to see this as a vision of real freedom for all. However, in reality no social contexts are ever totally equal and, more problematically, most contexts where people meet each other across cultural and economic gulfs are quite unequal.

In unequal contexts, this vision of flexibility becomes something different. It becomes what middle-class professionals have long fought for: discretion for an elite with the individual and collective right (through their associations) to make relatively independent decisions that effect the lives of others with less power. To a large extent, in fact, one can equate the need for “professions” in the first place with this need for “professional judgment” in situations that cannot be predefined ahead of time. To the extent that bureaucrats embedded within larger organizations maintain some level of discretion, they can (and would generally like to) see themselves as “professionals” as well.

It is equally helpful to see the reduction of the “discretion” of professionals as one of the core aims of working-class and impoverished social movements. For example, unions have long fought to establish the “work rules” that so often bedevil middle-class professionals and bureaucrats who see them as unreasonable constraints. In their contracts, unions frequently seek to reduce the discretion of management, creating restrictions on what workers can and cannot be told to do, and these restrictions usually restrict workers’ own decision-making at the same time.

Flexibility, those on the bottom have long known, is rarely a gift. Instead, it is often a burden, a tool for oppression wielded by those who have more power. In fact, what professionals generally want in an unequal world are rules that restrict the power of those below them but that leave them with maximum discretion to respond “intelligently” to contingency. What workers have frequently sought are rules that reduce this discretion, sometimes by transferring authority for decisions to them, but more frequently by writing decisions “into stone” at least until the next contract.

(Teachers, caught, as they are, uncomfortably between the positions of “workers” and “professionals”, often struggle to negotiate this in their own union contracts.)

If there are no set rules then the conditions of labor and life end up in the hands of those with the power to decide at any point what should happen. From this perspective, such rules are real accomplishments to be defended at high cost, even when they may seem to have become outdated. Throwing rules open for deliberation raises the possibility that these accomplishments may be lost. In this context, an imperfect constitution, an imperfect affirmative action system, an imperfect labor contract all can seem much safer than unpredictable deliberative contexts in which control can easily be lost and in which new rules may unpredictably alter the balance of power that had cost so much to achieve. (Critical race theorists have made this point as well).

A good example of the ways social movements of the less powerful can often be interpreted at least partly as struggles against professional “discretion,” can be found in the early struggles over welfare laws in America.

In the early days of public “welfare,” a great deal of discretionary power was put into the hands of middle-class social workers. And these social workers would often make culturally and racially discriminatory assumptions about the lives of their “clients,” using their discretion to try to mandate changes in the direction of more “standard” middle class values. These judgments were often perceived by clients as insulting and demeaning, but those unwilling to conform might quickly find their families out on the street without support.

The welfare rights movement successfully fought to change this system. They demanded strict rules that would define ahead of time who was and was not eligible for benefits, removing nearly all decision-making power from those who had previously judged them from on high.

Of course, these strict rules created their own set of challenges, which, in part, led to the dismantling of the system and to a range of pernicious consequences (although these were frequently exaggerated and misdescribed by conservatives). Despite these limitations, the welfare rules achieved by welfare rights activists did represent a great advance over the conditions recipients had experienced previously. To some extent, in fact, these limitations were integral to the benefits the new system brought.

(New visions of flexible work-groups that harvest the creativity of low-level workers in the same manner that these structures harvest the skills of professionals have been attempted in a range of different businesses. Most of the evidence indicates, however, that the modernist hierarchical model remains the norm even when lip-service is given to this model.)

The only way one could imagine flexibility could becoming beneficial to the relatively powerless would be if one could guarantee the existence of durable institutional structures that could constantly represent their interests. But while power is a collective achievement for those on the bottom, it is located more in individuals at higher levels. It is difficult to see how these collectives with limited “attention” could keep track of the myriad decisions being made by diffuse numbers of bureaucrats and professionals at all levels of any bureaucracy. The only way to level the playing field, it seems, is the creation of rules that limit the amount of “attention” necessary to enforce equality.

(To some extent, perhaps it is helpful to see these collectives—community organizing groups, for example—as “individuals” in the sense that Dewey meant this. In this analogy, the set “rules” equate somewhat to the established “habits” of individual persons necessary to free their limited attention of their leaders for aspects of their life where conscious attention and adjustment is most necessary. You want to fight for rules, and then monitor their implementation instead of fighting for a dialogic process that you constantly have to spend enormous energy supporting (and fighting within)).

Ironically as a result of the progressives’ inability to solve the problem of inequality, then, their cherished vision of a fluid, democratic “planning society” seems to contain within it, almost inevitably, the seeds of an oppressive “expert determined” society. Truly collaborative “democracy” slips too easily away into middle-class “discrection.” (This is especially true, as I noted earlier, when progressives took it upon themselves to delimit who does and does not count as adequately prepared for equal participation in citizenship.)

Visions of democratic classrooms where children learn to have the power to coordinate themselves and to respond collaboratively to change and complexity thus misdescribe the true contours of our society. In fact, even in the most ideal examples, outside classrooms where there are no teachers to artificially equalize power, such an attitude inevitably ends up empowering some while disempowering others.

(It is, of course, true that some discretion is required for any organization to function. Thus, there is a constant tension in many bureaucratic organizations between the fight for discretion at the top and middle, and against discretion at the bottom. And to further complicate this issue, it is also true that reality is always too complex to operate on simple rules. This is why a key labor strategy has always been “work to rule,” where the rules are actually followed to the letter and everything completely shuts down. So there is always an “underlife” of creativity functioning beneath the rules—in a sense productively “contesting” them—so that any organization can function at all. In a sense, the creativity that new models of collaborative work-groups were supposed to generate has always been there, except that it has usually manifested as an odd kind of “resistance” that is actually the only thing that allows the machine to run in the first place. In the extreme model of a Taylorist scientific management bureaucracy, the stupid “hands” that are not supposed to think and are not paid to think are actually creatively and intelligently adjusting themselves and their environment in “secret.” And there is, in fact, some evidence that working-class students learn skills for this kind of underlife creativity and system-maintaining rule breaking as a part of the “working-class” rote education most of them receive. I’ve explored some of this here.)

The Shrinking Professoriate

See this article:
In the fall of 2004, 50.6 of professional full-time employees in higher education (excluding medical schools) were faculty members. In the fall of 2006, for which data were released Tuesday, 48.6 percent of professional, full-time jobs in higher education were held by faculty members.
I had no idea. Fascinating.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing in Milwaukee: Community Organizing and Urban Education

[For other entries in this series, go here.]

I have been playing around with a way to frame the key challenges that seem to block the emergence of a robust ecology of community action organizations in my city, which is probably fairly similar in many ways to a range of mid-sized, segregated U.S. cities. I tried to get it on two typed pages, but ended up with three. Many of the basic issues won't seem particularly surprising to people familiar with organizing, and it repeats some points I've made before (as usual) but it seemed useful to put them all together.
Core Dilemmas of Community Organizing in Milwaukee
Note: these different dilemmas are deeply intertwined with each other.
  1. Training
    1. Organizations with their own training programs may be limited by the “dogma” of a restricted set of strategies.
    2. At the same time, groups without their own training programs often end up either “recreating the wheel,” or picking up scattered training here and there.
RESULT: Robust cross-fertilization of ideas and strategies between different groups is limited, and new groups often lack coherent training.
  1. Recruitment
    1. Existing organizations sometimes compete for the same restricted categories of constituents (e.g., churches and unions), giving the impression of a shortage of possible recruits.
    2. Some key organizations (e.g., ACORN) are essentially missing from the city, so that many residents are never approached at all.
    3. Many identifiable groups with social justice interests (e.g., foster parents, child care workers) lack robust social action organizations, and thus have little or no collective power.
    4. There are few existing efforts to recruit and form new organizations.
RESULT: Many constituencies are never organized, and many issue areas remain unaddressed, while existing groups run up against limits in their possible size and power.
  1. Single vs. Multiple Issue Groups
    1. Multiple issue groups can draw in a range of constituents with different interests. But these groups have limited “attention,” generally focusing on a single project at a time in each of their issue areas.
i. This means that, for example, in the area of health care for kids, dental care may get attention while vision care gets none.

ii. At the same time, prior “wins” can be lost as attention shifts to new campaigns.
    1. Single issue groups have more limited recruitment possibilities than multiple issue groups. But a large number of such smaller groups have the potential to maintain a wider range of campaigns at the same time and may be able to maintain accountability better on past “wins” because of each group’s clear ongoing focus.
    2. A robust process for bringing single and multiple issue groups together on different campaigns over time is lacking.
RESULT: Prior “wins” are sometimes not maintained and the number of issues addressed in the city are limited by our small number of organizations, despite the incredible need for action on a wide range of important challenges.
  1. Service vs. Organizing
    1. Organizers have generally found that it is a mistake to have social action groups directly involved in social service. Historically, doing “service” has tended to dilute efforts to confront power, and has also opened the service aspects of groups up to retaliation (e.g., “If you fight for more health services, I’ll shut down your clinic.”)
    2. However, many of the poorest residents in our city need services of a range of different kinds before they will have extra time to participate in organizing.
    3. Also, unless organizing groups can provide basic supports, like child care, meals, and stipends to partially reimburse residents for the cost of their participation, it is unlikely that they will get full participation from impoverished members.
RESULT: Organizing groups too often fail to successfully recruit and sustain a broad range of impoverished and/or overworked community members.
  1. Funding
    1. Social action is the only community function that cannot be funded by the government.
    2. Financial support from constituents is a key measure of organizational sustainability, but the money available from low-income populations cannot fully sustain even small organizations.
    3. The focus of foundations on project-based or initial seed funding forces organizations to constantly scramble for dollars and reduces organizations’ capacity for maintaining clear long-term focuses as foundation interests shift.
    4. The need for funding to survive fallow periods forces many organizations to turn to funding for “service” or non-organizing “political” projects to maintain themselves, diluting their focus and reducing long-term growth and strength.
    5. The need to acquire foundation or other donor funding creates resource barriers to entry for new organizations. This means many new organizations never emerge in the first place, or end up dissolving fairly quickly.
RESULT: Existing organizations struggle to survive, often losing a focus on organizing in favor of fundable service efforts, or shifting too quickly between issues in response to funder preference changes. At the same time, many new organizations never get the chance to emerge because of their lack of fundraising connections, knowledge, and skills.

Key Questions
  • Training
    • How can existing groups come together with emerging groups in contexts where their different visions can inform and challenge each other?
    • In what ways can training be provided to help ongoing organizations look outside the “box” while bringing new organizations “up to speed” on the “basics”?
  • Recruitment
  • Single vs. Multiple Issue Groups
    • What mechanisms can be developed for recruiting and forming new organizations without threatening the constituencies of existing groups?
  • Funding
    • How can the ongoing maintenance costs of existing organizations be reduced to allow these groups to survive and focus more on action than fund-raising?
    • How can entry costs for new organizations be reduced to allow the emergence and survival of new collections of committed groups around key areas?
  • Overall
    • How could we develop overlapping answers to these questions, creating a synergy across different organizations and long-term, shared, institutional support for sustaining old and developing new organizing groups?

KEY SUGGESTION: A Milwaukee Organizing Retreat
In conversations, a number of key organizing leaders have expressed discouragement about the extent to which groups in Milwaukee work independently instead of as a collaborative team. They noted that the emergence of the (c)3 Table is a good sign, and have expressed interest in creating other contexts to explore ways to overcome these barriers.
One key suggestion was for a retreat that would bring the major organizing groups in Milwaukee together with other interested leaders to explore how to improve our ability to nurture organizing in Milwaukee. Such a retreat would focus on issues external to the day-to-day concerns of individual organizing groups and seek to create a roadmap for addressing these challenges.
For such a retreat to be successful, however, organizers and other over-worked local leaders would need to understand how participation would pragmatically serve their self-interests at the same time. For this reason, it seems likely that a retreat will only succeed if:
  • It was co-sponsored by one or more significant funders of organizing in the city, and if
  • Retreat participation was linked to potential new funding to support emerging plans.
Other possible solutions
  • Co-location of organizing groups to share costs and allow cross-fertilization.
  • Creation of an "incubator" where new and old groups can come together and support each other.
  • Endowing basic infrastructure for groups (a building, training, recruitment, and basic support staff) but requiring groups to find support for themselves, allowing long-term support while retaining flexibility in organization development (and, where necessary, die-off).
Analysis Developed by: Aaron Schutz, Associate Professor, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee,,

Fertilizers, Pills, and Magnetic Strips: The Fate of Public Education in America

I read this book in manuscript and plan to use it in my seminar on 20th C educational reform this fall. Glass uses Jared Diamond’s idea of analyzing and explaining social change through three key material factors (Diamond used guns, germs, and steel). Quite ingenious…and being at a Moo U, I was fascinated by the discussion of fertilizer!

"This is the most original book about education in years."
~ Ernest R. House, University of Colorado, Boulder; Harold E. Lasswell Award Recipient

Fertilizers, Pills & Magnetic Strips: The Fate of Public Education in America
Gene V Glass

Glass shows how the central education policy debates at the start of the 21st century (vouchers, charter schools, tax credits, high-stakes testing, bilingual education) are actually about two underlying issues: how can the costs of public education be cut, and how can the education of the White middle-class be "quasi-privatized" at public expense? Working from the demographic realities of the past thirty years, he projects a challenging and disturbing future for public education in America.

REVIEWS: "This is the first credible book of the 21st century to anticipate the future of public education."
~ David C. Berliner, Former President of the American Educational Research Association; Author of The Manufactured Crisis

"...a wake up call to America about the disastrous consequences of current policies that shortchange the education of the coming majority 'Latinos and other minority students' on whom the very future of the nation rests."
~ Patricia Gándara, University of California, Los Angeles;
Co-Director, The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles

"The book makes such impressive sense that one has to believe that its clarity, command of the facts, eye for absurdity, and concern for justice will garner greater support for public education as a common and noble cause."
~ John Willinsky, Stanford University; Author of Learning to Divide the World

Monday, March 10, 2008

Ed Links

[Irrelevant but fun:] Things Vital to the Honor of Human Life

Samuel Johnson once cautioned against the practice of “recommending” Shakespeare through the greatest-hits approach of quoting selected passages. Remarkable as the chosen passages might be, Johnson warned, the critic who relied simply on quotation was like the man “who, when he offered his house to sale, carried a brick in his pocket as a specimen.” [See the comments for other favorite lines. E.g. : “Reading is thinking with the mind of a stranger” - Borges —AS]

Pedagogy of Human Capital

Post-Fordism’s appetite for self-directed activity is bringing about a crisis in progressive education. No longer perceived as threatening, a work force trained to think for itself has become highly desirable. So what should an emancipatory education entail today?, asks Stewart Martin

Sociable, and Smart

In spotted hyenas, scientists are finding clues to why the human brain grew so large and complex. . . . Dr. Holekamp has been working . . . to survey dozens of skulls from all four species in the hyena family. Their preliminary results indicate hyenas follow the same rule as primates. “It’s just what the social complexity hypothesis would predict,” Dr. Holekamp said. “The hyenas with the simplest social systems have the tiniest frontal cortices. The spotted hyena, which lives in the most complex societies, has far and away the largest frontal cortex.” . . . “There’s a spectrum,” Dr. Holekamp said. Joan Silk . . . praises Dr. Holekamp’s research, calling it “directly relevant to our understanding of the origins of social complexity and intelligence.”

Babies See Pure Color, but Adults Peer Through Prism of Language

As humans grow older, their instinctive perception of color gives way to one mediated by the constructs of language.

Brain Network Linked To Contemplation In Adults Is Less Complex In Children

A brain network linked to introspective tasks -- such as forming the self-image or understanding the motivations of others -- is less intricate and well-connected in children, scientists have learned. They also showed that the network establishes firmer connections between various brain regions as an individual matures. The scientists are working to establish a picture of how these connections and other brain networks normally develop and interact. They want to use that picture to conduct more detailed assessments of the effects of aging, brain injuries and conditions such as autism on brain function.

When It Comes To Emotions, Eastern And Western Cultures See Things Very Differently

A team of researchers from Canada and Japan have uncovered some remarkable results on how eastern and western cultures assess situations very differently. The majority of Japanese participants reported that their judgments of the center person's emotions were influenced by the emotions of the background figures, while most North Americans reported they were not influenced by the background figures at all.

Adolescents At Risk Of Developing A Substance-use Disorder Have Deficits In Frontal Brain Activation

Children and adolescents at high risk for developing a substance-use disorder tend to show deficits in executive cognitive function. A study using functional magnetic resonance imaging to assess eye movements in adolescents has found a link between brain functioning and risk for developing an substance-use disorder.

Low Maternal Education Linked To Intellectual Disabilities In Offspring

Using a epidemiologic approach, researchers have discovered a key indicator for increased risk of mental retardation in the general population. Researchers found that low maternal education resulted in the highest risk of intellectual disability to offspring compared with other factors such as maternal illness, delivery complications, gestational age at birth, and even very low birth weight.

Television Shows Can Affect Racial Judgments

Viewers can be influenced by exposure to racial bias in the media, even without realizing it. The research indicates that stereotype-based processing may occur based on media exposure, even when at a conscious level people try to dismiss what they are seeing as harmless. Indeed, TV images not only affected what the viewers thought about minorities, but also led to an us-versus-them mentality.

Go With Your Gut -- Intuition Is More Than Just A Hunch, Says New Research

Most of us experience 'gut feelings' we can't explain, such as instantly loving -- or hating -- a new property when we're househunting or the snap judgments we make on meeting new people. Now researchers say these feelings -- or intuitions -- are real and we should take our hunches seriously.

Curbing Impulsivity In Children With ADHD

Researchers are one step closer to helping children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder improve their self-control. ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed chronic psychiatric conditions in today's school-aged children and is based on such behavioral criteria as mpulsivity, hyperactivity, inattention and learning disabilities. A new study looked at impulsivity in two strains of rat. The spontaneously hypertensive rat has been proposed as a rodent model of ADHD because the rats have behavioral characteristics similar to those seen in humans diagnosed with ADHD. In the study, the impulsivity of spontaneously hypertensive rats was compared to their parent strain without hypertension, Wistar-Kyoto rats, using a self-control choice task that was originally developed in humans.

Head Injuries Result In Widespread Brain Tissue Loss One Year Later

In a rare, large-scale study of traumatic brain injury patients who span the full range of severity from mild to moderate and severe, researchers have found that the more severe the injury, the greater the loss of brain tissue, particularly white matter. [Welcome home Iraqi veterans!—AS]

Men Have A Harder Time Forgiving Than Women Do

Forgiveness can be a powerful means to healing, but it does not come naturally for both sexes. Men have a harder time forgiving than women do, according to new research. But that can change if men develop empathy toward an offender by seeing they may also be capable of similar actions. Then the gender gap closes, and men become less vengeful.

Boys And Girls Brains Are Different: Gender Differences In Language Appear Biological

Researchers have long agreed girls have superior language abilities to boys, but haven't clearly provided a biological basis to account for their differences. For the first time and in unambiguous findings, researchers show both that brain areas associated with language work harder in girls during language tasks, and that boys and girls rely on very different parts of the brain when performing these tasks. Language processing is more abstract in girls, more sensory in boys.

In Early Childhood, Continuous Care By One Doctor Best, Study Suggests

Children examined by the same doctor during their first six months of life are more likely to receive appropriate preventive health screenings -- for lead poisoning, anemia and tuberculosis -- by age two. Pediatric researchers said being cared for repeatedly by the same physician, often referred to as continuity of care, was a very important factor in the children they studied.

Teens Who Eat Breakfast Daily Eat Healthier Diets Than Those Who Skip Breakfast

Researchers have found further evidence to support the importance of encouraging youth to eat breakfast regularly. Researchers examined the association between breakfast frequency and five-year body weight change in more than 2,200 adolescents, and the results indicate that daily breakfast eaters consumed a healthier diet and were more physically active than breakfast skippers during adolescence.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Social Justice Teaching

From Inside Higher Ed:
By Thomas R. Tritton
What does a college president do after leaving the high intensity rigors of the job? One likely calling is the classroom, whence many of us came in the first place. So after a decade as president of Haverford College, I returned to the classroom at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

Professor Judy McLaughlin — she one of the world’s experts on college presidents — created the unique position at Harvard of “President-in-Residence”. Each year Judy invites one of the newly departed to join the faculty, participate in a seminar on the broad topic of higher education, and teach a course of one’s own design. The usual courses a former president might teach — Theories of Leadership, Fundraising 101, Navigating Campus Politics — seemed too easy and too obvious. I decided instead to angle a different approach, an idea which morphed into: A710f: Social Justice in the Undergraduate Experience. You’ll find it right there in the Harvard catalogue. . . .
Read the rest, including the reading list and assignments.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

What Educators Everywhere Can Learn from Finland

Posted, too, at SM:
Unlike the U.S., the Finns do not believe in beginning the social sorting in kindergarten with high-stakes tests. Unlike the U.S., the Finns are not committed to crushing the teaching profession and the public schools. Unlike the U.S., the Finns believe in the importance of play and personal autonomy.

So how come they are doing so great on international tests?

From the Wall Street Journal (not blocked to non-subscribers):
Finland's teens score extraordinarily high on an international test. American educators are trying to figure out why.
February 29, 2008; Page W1
Helsinki, Finland

High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don't start school until age 7.

Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world's C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they're way ahead in math, science and reading -- on track to keeping Finns among the world's most productive workers. . . . .

. . . . The Norssi School is run like a teaching hospital, with about 800 teacher trainees each year. Graduate students work with kids while instructors evaluate from the sidelines. Teachers must hold master's degrees, and the profession is highly competitive: More than 40 people may apply for a single job. Their salaries are similar to those of U.S. teachers, but they generally have more freedom.

Finnish teachers pick books and customize lessons as they shape students to national standards. "In most countries, education feels like a car factory. In Finland, the teachers are the entrepreneurs," says Mr. Schleicher, of the Paris-based OECD, which began the international student test in 2000.

One explanation for the Finns' success is their love of reading. Parents of newborns receive a government-paid gift pack that includes a picture book. Some libraries are attached to shopping malls, and a book bus travels to more remote neighborhoods like a Good Humor truck. . . .

Check out the video from WSJ:

Ed Links

Suburbia’s March to Oblivion

“Signs of physical and social disorder are spreading” thro'gh cul-de-sac suburbia, he writes in the March issue of The Atlantic. And it is not just because of the mortgage mess. A “structural change” is occurring in the housing market — a “major shift in the way many Americans want to live and work,” moving social problems out of the city and into the suburban fringe. [This is a huge issue, by the way, likely to fundamentally change the meaning of "central city" and to actually increase the oppressive nature of concentrated poverty, since these suburbs have even less of a tax base than cities, and their base is concentrated in the housing that is most likely to lose value once they start to "tip"--AS]

Foucault Beyond Foucault: Power and its Intensifications since 1984

There is a witless, though common, interpretation of Michel Foucault circulating these days. It is an interpretation that seeks to declaw Foucault's political radicalism and bring him into the liberal fold.

Long-Range Vision of the Labor Movement

For many years (and sometimes now), many people treated my optimism about the long-term strength of the labor movement as somewhat delusional.

Numbers Guy: Are our brains wired for math?

According to Stanislas Dehaene, humans have an inbuilt “number sense” capable of some basic calculations and estimates. The problems start when we learn mathematics and have to perform procedures that are anything but instinctive.


It is customary to think about fashions in things like clothes or music as spreading in a social network. But it turns out that all kinds of things, many of them quite unexpected, can flow through social networks, and this process obeys certain rules we are seeking to discover.

Good Country for Old Men (And Women)

But now comes an exhaustive survey suggesting that Grumpy Old Men may not be so fossilized in their views – particularly about race and sex. Grumpy Old Women are not set in their ways, either. For that matter, they’re not even that grumpy.

1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars, New Study Says

With 1.6 million people in prison, the incarceration rate is now the highest in American history, a new report says.

[And from CT:] Here is an older post about how the U.S. incarceration rate compares to other countries. Here is Becky Pettit & Bruce Western’s (2004) ASR paper, with its frankly astonishing result that in the cohort born between 1965 and 1969, thirty percent of black men without a college education—and sixty percent of black men without a high school degree—had been incarcerated by 1999. Recent cohorts of black men were more likely to have prison records (22.4 percent) than military records (17.4 percent) or bachelor’s degrees (12.5 percent).Here is Bruce Western’s Punishment and Inequality in America, a superb analysis of how the prison system is now a key instrument not just of social control, but also social stratification, in America.

The Facts about Doctoral Degree Completion in Political Science [Relevant to social science in general—AS]

If you enroll in a doctoral program in political science, what are the chances that you’re going to end up with your degree? It depends, of course, on your background preparation, your determination, your “fit” with the program in which you enroll, and a host of other factors that may be impossible to foresee at the time you enter a program. A new study by the Council of Graduate Schools suggests that it also depends on how much of your life you’re willing to spend pursuing the degree. (Click here for a pre-publication presentation of some of the study’s main findings.)

Beware of Billionaires Bearing Gifts

Colleges and universities are increasingly relying on rich people. The damage — to the nation — is just beginning

Journal of Public Deliberation

[Interesting stuff on democracy and deliberation. Nice overview, for example, of the limits of deliberation as a model for democratic decision-making.—AS]

Spanking Kids Increases Risk Of Sexual Problems As Adults

Children who are spanked or victims of other corporal punishment are more likely to have sexual problems as a teen or adult, according to new research. Researchers analyzed the results of four studies and found that spanking and other corporal punishment by parents is associated with an increased probability of three sexual problems as a teen or adult.

A study investigating the effects of class size on the achievement gap between high and low academic achievers suggests that high achievers benefit more from small classes than low achievers, especially at the kindergarten and first grade levels. "While decreasing class size may increase achievement on average for all types of students, it does not appear to reduce the achievement gap within a class."

Children who under-achieve at school may just have poor working memory rather than low intelligence according to researchers who have produced the world's first tool to assess memory capacity in the classroom.

An important discovery has been made with respect to the mystery of "handedness" in biomolecules. Researchers have found that some of the possible abiotic precursors to the origin of life on Earth have been shown to carry "handedness" in a larger number than previously thought. Scientists have long known that most compounds in living things exist in mirror-image forms. The two forms are like hands; one is a mirror reflection of the other. They are different, cannot be superimposed, yet identical in their parts. When scientists synthesize these molecules in the laboratory, half of a sample turns out to be "left-handed" and the other half "right-handed." But amino acids, which are the building blocks of terrestrial proteins, are all "left-handed," while the sugars of DNA and RNA are "right-handed." The mystery as to why this is the case, "parallels in many of its queries those that surround the origin of life," one of the researchers said.

Researchers are developing an intervention using "virtual peers" -- technology driven, animated life-size children -- to help develop communication and social skills in children with autism. Preliminary findings suggest children with autism produce more and more "contingent" (conversationally relevant) sentences when interacting with virtual peers than with real-life children. What's more, virtual peers are endlessly patient, never tire and can be programmed to elicit socially-skilled behavior.

The information that a child has been diagnosed with autism often throws parents into an emotional tailspin. Most people don't immediately consider the major financial struggles that follow. She suggests more outreach is needed to help families plan and cope with the profound financial life changes they may face.

What was once speculation is now being confirmed by scientists: the brains of women and men are different in more ways than one. Discoveries by scientists over the past 10 years have elucidated biological sex differences in brain structure, chemistry and function. "These variations occur throughout the brain, in regions involved in language, memory, emotion, vision, hearing and navigation," explains a professor of Neurobiology and Behavior. While women and men struggle to communicate with each other and ponder why they don't think and react to things in similar ways, science is proving that the differences in our brains may have more serious implications beyond our everyday social interactions.

"Tweens" should receive alcohol prevention programs prior to sixth grade, when nearly one in six children are already alcohol users. The study found that sixth-grade users of alcohol were significantly different from the non-users on almost all risk factors examined. For example, users were more likely to be male, engage in violent or delinquent behavior, and have friends who used alcohol. A new study recommends that prevention programs occur as early as third grade.

Some of the oldest tales and wisest mythology allude to the snake as a mischievous seducer, dangerous foe or powerful iconoclast; however, the legend surrounding this proverbial predator may not be based solely on fantasy. As scientists have recently discovered, the common fear of snakes is most likely intrinsic.

A pair of Johns Hopkins and government scientists have discovered that when jazz musicians improvise, their brains turn off areas linked to self-censoring and inhibition, and turn on those that let self-expression flow.

Since the 1990s, online courses have provided an opportunity for busy adults to continue their education by completing courses in the comfort of their own homes. However, this may not be the best solution for everyone. Some students may find success in these types of courses more easily than others.

More than half of teenagers with the most debilitating forms of depression that do not respond to treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) show improvement after switching to a different medication combined with cognitive behavioral therapy, researchers have found.

A new study suggests that antidepressants only benefit some, very severely depressed patients. "New generation" antidepressants, such as fluoxetine (Prozac) are widely prescribed for the treatment of clinical depression. However some studies have suggested that these drugs do not help the majority of depressed people get better by very much. Researchers looked at whether a patient's response to antidepressant therapy depends on how badly depressed they are to start out with.

Why do we almost instinctively treat babies as special, protecting them and enabling them to survive? Darwin originally pointed out that there is something about infants which prompts adults to respond to and care for them which allows our species to survive. Nobel-Prize-winning zoologist Konrad Lorenz proposed that it is the specific structure of the infant face, including a relatively large head and forehead, large and low lying eyes and bulging cheek region, that serves to elicit these parental responses. But the biological basis for this has until now, remained elusive. A possible brain basis for parental instinct has been discovered. Researchers showed that a region of the human brain called the medial orbitofrontal cortex is specifically active within a seventh of a second in response to (unfamiliar) infant faces but not to adult faces.

[Another irrelevant but fascinating:] New discoveries unearthed at an ancient frontier wall in Iran provide compelling evidence that the Persians matched the Romans for military might and engineering prowess. The 'Great Wall of Gorgan'in north-eastern Iran, a barrier of awesome scale and sophistication, including over 30 military forts, an aqueduct, and water channels along its route, is being explored by an international team of archaeologists. This vast Wall-also known as the 'Red Snake'-is more than 1000 years older than the Great Wall of China, and longer than Hadrian's Wall and the Antonine Wall put together.

A state-by-state ranking of engineering graduates shows an unmet need. A new study that examines the number of engineering graduates coming out of our nation's engineering schools reveals a mixed picture of how prepared each state is for meeting the need for high-tech workers in the coming years.

Do animals have privileged access to lower level sensory information before it is packaged into concepts, as it has been argued for autistic savants? When Temple Grandin argued that animals and autistic savants share cognitive similarities in her best-selling book Animals in Translation (2005), the idea gained steam outside the community of cognitive neuroscientists. Grandin, a professor of animal science whose books have provided an unprecedented look at the autistic mind, says her autism gives her special insight into the inner workings of the animal mind. She based her proposal on the observation that animals, like autistic humans, sense and respond to stimuli that nonautistic humans usually overlook.

Constructal theory of flows governs social phenomena like rankings. A Duke University researcher says that his physics theory, which has been applied to everything from global climate to traffic patterns, can also explain another trend: why university rankings tend not to change very much from year to year. Like branching river channels across the earth's surface, universities are part of a relatively rigid network that is predictable based on "constructal theory," which describes the shapes of flows in nature, argues one professor of mechanical engineering.