Later On

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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

What we lose when handwriting is dropped

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Maria Konnikova has an interesting article in the NY Times:

Does handwriting matter?

Not very much, according to many educators. The Common Core standards, which have been adopted in most states, call for teaching legible writing, but only in kindergarten and first grade. After that, the emphasis quickly shifts to proficiency on the keyboard.

But psychologists and neuroscientists say it is far too soon to declare handwriting a relic of the past. New evidence suggests that the links between handwriting and broader educational development run deep.

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

“And it seems that this circuit is contributing in unique ways we didn’t realize,” he continued. “Learning is made easier.”

A 2012 study led by Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, lent support to that view. Children who had not yet learned to read and write were presented with a letter or a shape on an index card and asked to reproduce it in one of three ways: trace the image on a page with a dotted outline, draw it on a blank white sheet, or type it on a computer. They were then placed in a brain scanner and shown the image again.

The researchers found that the initial duplication process mattered a great deal. When children had drawn a letter freehand, they exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated in adults when they read and write: the left fusiform gyrus, the inferior frontal gyrus and the posterior parietal cortex.

By contrast, children who typed or traced the letter or shape showed no such effect. The activation was significantly weaker.

Dr. James attributes the differences to the messiness inherent in free-form handwriting: Not only must we first plan and execute the action in a way that is not required when we have a traceable outline, but we are also likely to produce a result that is highly variable.

That variability may itself be a learning tool. “When a kid produces a messy letter,” Dr. James said, “that might help him learn it.”

Our brain must understand that each possible iteration of, say, an “a” is the same, no matter how we see it written. Being able to decipher the messiness of each “a” may be more helpful in establishing that eventual representation than seeing the same result repeatedly.

“This is one of the first demonstrations of the brain being changed because of that practice,” Dr. James said.

In another study, Dr. James is comparing children who physically form letters with those who only watch others doing it. Her observations suggest . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 June 2014 at 8:54 pm

Posted in Education, Science, Writing

Mindfulness Training Produces Less-Stressed Marines

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Tom Ricks in his extremely interesting book Making the Corpshows how the US Marine Corps is a learning organization—a very difficult feat to pull off. (The Army hasn’t been able to do it, for example.) The effort exists at all levels—for example, it is not unusual for a Marine to publish in Marine publications a detailed critique of a battle action, showing what could have been done better. Ricks comments in the book that when he described such an article to an Army officer, the officer’s face turned white and he said that in the Army such a thing would be a career-ending move. (Thus the Army insulates itself from informative feedback.)

Teaching mindfulness is not new: Richard Strozzi-Heckler, who has a black belt in Aikido, taught awareness discipline (essentially the same as mindfulness) to the Green Berets. (The book originally came out in the late ’80s, but the link is to the 4th edition, published 2011.) Tom Jacobs describes the Marine experiment in Pacific Standard:

Given the epidemic of stress-related disorders among veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, we clearly need a better way to emotionally prepare military personnel for battle. Fortunately, a group of researchers have come up with a promising one, which adapts techniques from an ancient spiritual tradition.

A study just published in the American Journal of Psychiatry provides compelling evidence that, whether you’re a Marine or a monk, the key to mental peace is mindfulness.

In the results of research we first described two years ago, Marines who underwent an eight-week course in mindfulness recovered more quickly from an intense training session that simulated battlefield conditions. The positive effects were noted using a variety of physical markers, and confirmed with brain scans.

“Mindfulness training won’t make combat easier,” said University of California-San Diego psychiatrist Dr. Martin Paulus, senior author of the paper. “But we think it can help Marines recover from stress and return to baseline functioning more quickly.”

Mindfulness, which is adapted from teachings of Zen Buddhism, is the ability to be fully aware of one’s moment-to-moment thoughts and feelings, while observing them from a place of detachment. Numerous studies in recent years suggest this ability produces mental and physical benefits for many people, including veterans and others suffering from PTSD.

But why wait until after emotional trauma has occurred? Believing there was good reason to think such training could create a mental and emotional buffer for soldiers in combat, the research team, which also included Dr. Douglas Johnson and Elizabeth Stanley, recruited members of eight Marine infantry platoons stationed at California’s Camp Pendleton.

Four platoons underwent the standard training regimen to prepare for combat. Members of the other four additionally received eight weeks of mindfulness-based mind fitness training.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 May 2014 at 9:06 am

Building the police state, one brick at a time

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This is amazing, but it shows the direction the US is headed.

Written by LeisureGuy

10 May 2014 at 4:00 pm

Sorry to see the Fulbright program fall

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It was an excellent initiative, but the US seems nowadays unable to do such things—a military response or drone attack is how we now try to solve international problems, using force and the threat of force to persuade others. Ann Jones has an article on the Fulbright program at TomDispatch.com:

Often it’s the little things coming out of Washington, obscured by the big, scary headlines, that matter most in the long run. Items that scarcely make the news, or fail to attract your attention, or once noticed seem trivial, may carry consequences that endure long after the latest front-page crisis has passed. They may, in fact, signal fundamental changes in Washington’s priorities and policies that could even face opposition, if only we paid attention.

Take the current case of an unprecedented, unkind, under-the-radar cut in the State Department’s budget for the Fulbright Program, the venerable 68-year-old operation that annually arranges for thousands of educators, students, and researchers to be exchanged between the United States and at least 155 other countries. As Washington increasingly comes to rely on the “forward projection” of military force to maintain its global position, the Fulbright Program may be the last vestige of an earlier, more democratic, equitable, and generous America that enjoyed a certain moral and intellectual standing in the world. Yet, long advertised by the U.S. government as “the flagship international educational exchange program” of American cultural diplomacy, it is now in the path of the State Department’s torpedoes.

Right now, all over the world, former Fulbright scholars like me (Norway, 2012) are raising the alarm, trying to persuade Congress to stand by one of its best creations, passed by unanimous bipartisan consent of the Senate and signed into law by President Truman in 1946. Alumni of the Fulbright Program number more than 325,000, including more than 123,000 Americans. Among Fulbright alums are 53 from 13 different countries who have won a Nobel Prize, 28 MacArthur Foundation fellows, 80 winners of the Pulitzer Prize, 29 who have served as the head of state or government, and at least one, lunar geologist Harrison Schmitt (Norway, 1957), who walked on the moon — not to mention the hundreds of thousands who returned to their countries with greater understanding and respect for others and a desire to get along. Check the roster of any institution working for peace around the world and you’re almost certain to find Fulbright alums whose career choices were shaped by international exchange. What’s not to admire about such a program?

Yet the Fulbright budget, which falls under the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), seems to be on the chopping block. The proposed cut amounts to chump change in Washington, only $30.5 million. But the unexpected reduction from a $234.7 million budget this year to $204.2 million in 2015 represents 13% of what Fulbright gets. For such a relatively small-budget program, that’s a big chunk. No one in the know will say just where the cuts are going to fall, but the most likely target could be “old Europe,” and the worldwide result is likely to be a dramatic drop from 8,000 to fewer than 6,000 in the number of applicants who receive the already exceedingly modest grants.

For the U.S., that’s not a saving, it’s a foolish blunder. Only about 1% of American college students ever study abroad. Fewer than 20% speak more than one language — a figure that includes immigrants for whom English comes second or third — but all students benefit from the presence of international “Fulbrighters” on their campuses and the return of their own professors and grad students from study and teaching in other countries. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 May 2014 at 2:02 pm

Echoes of George Wallace’s “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”

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Nikole Hannah-Jones has an article whose title reminds one of George Wallace, standing in the school doorway to prevent integration: “Hundreds of School Districts Have Been Ignoring Desegregation Orders for Decades”. The ProPublica article is reprinted in Pacific Standard and begins:

For decades, federal desegregation orders were the potent tool that broke the back of Jim Crow education in the South, helping transform the region’s educational systems into the most integrated in the country.

Federal judges, often facing down death threats and violence, blanketed Southern states with hundreds of court orders that set out specific plans and timetables to ensure the elimination of racial segregation. Federal agencies then aggressively used the authority of the courts to monitor hostile school systems, wielding the power of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to strip federal dollars from districts that refused to desegregate.

The pace of the change wrought by the federal courts was breathtaking. In 1963, about one percent of black children in the South attended school with white children. By the early 1970s, the South had been remade—fully 90 percent of black children attended desegregated schools. Court orders proved most successful in the South, but were also used in an attempt to combat de facto segregation in schools across the country, from New York to Michigan to Arizona.

Today, this once-powerful force is in considerable disarray.

A ProPublica examination shows that officials in scores of school districts do not know the status of their desegregation orders, have never read them, or erroneously believe that orders have been ended. In many cases, orders have gone unmonitored, sometimes for decades, by the federal agencies charged with enforcing them.

At the height of the country’s integration efforts, there were some 750 school districts across the country known to be under desegregation orders.

Today, court orders remain active in more than 300 districts. In some cases, that’s because judges have determined that schools have not met their mandate to eliminate all vestiges of segregation.

But some federal courts don’t even know how many desegregation orders still exist on their dockets. With increasing frequency, federal judges are releasing districts from court oversight even where segregation prevails, at times taking the lack of action in cases as evidence that the problems have been resolved.

Desegregation orders were meant to . . .

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The constant pressure to cut government funding and cripple government programs has had many bad consequences. This is one, and (I think) deliberately so on the part of the GOP.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2014 at 8:59 am

Posted in Education, GOP, Government, Law

Writing fiction while recognizing the impact of race and culture

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The New Yorker has has a very good account by Junot Diaz of the problem with many MFA programs: working totally from the viewpoint of a white person of privilege, with no understanding of real issues (and thus subjects of fiction) of race and non-white culture. It’s strange: Frank O’Connor, a truly excellent writer, talked about how short stories become most vivid when they give voiced to a submerged population, a group whose voice is otherwise ignored. For Frank O’Connor that was the Irish and particularly the poor Irish. J.F. Powers wrote stories giving voice to nuns, monks, and priests who struggled with feelings ignored by the church hierarchy.

Worth reading, if you’re interested in serious fiction.

I will mention in passing that I was in the University of Iowa Writers Workshop for a while, and I similarly had the naive idea that the MFA program would be nurturing and supportive. That one wasn’t, not at the time. At least not for me.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 May 2014 at 7:42 am

Posted in Books, Education, Writing

Double-entry bookkeeping as part of the liberal arts curriculum

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Jacob Soll has an interesting piece in the NY Times:

SOMETIMES it seems as if our lives are dominated by financial crises and failed reforms. But how much do Americans even understand about finance? Few of us can do basic accounting and fewer still know what a balance sheet is. If we are going to get to the point where we can have a serious debate about financial accountability, we first need to learn some essentials.

The German economic thinker Max Weber believed that for capitalism to work, average people needed to know how to do double-entry bookkeeping. This is not simply because this type of accounting makes it possible to calculate profit and capital by balancing debits and credits in parallel columns; it is also because good books are “balanced” in a moral sense. They are the very source of accountability, a word that in fact derives its origin from the word “accounting.”

In Renaissance Italy, merchants and property owners used accounting not only for their businesses but to make a moral reckoning with God, their cities, their countries and their families. The famous Italian merchant Francesco Datini wrote “In the Name of God and Profit” in his ledger books. Merchants like Datini (and later Benjamin Franklin) kept moral account books, too, tallying their sins and good acts the way they tallied income and expenditure.

One of the less sexy and thus forgotten facts about the Italian Renaissance is that it depended highly on a population fluent in accounting. At any given time in the 1400s, 4,000 to 5,000 of Florence’s 120,000 inhabitants attended accounting schools, and there is ample archival evidence of even lowly workers keeping accounts.

This was the world in which Cosimo de’ Medici and other Italians came to dominate European banking. It was understood that all landowners and professionals would know and practice basic accounting. Cosimo de’ Medici himself did yearly audits of the books of all his bank branches; he also personally kept the accounts for his household. This was typical in a world where everyone from farmers and apothecaries to merchants — even Niccolò Machiavelli — knew double-entry accounting. It was also useful in political office in republican Florence, where government required a certain amount of transparency.

If we want to know how to make our own country and companies more accountable, we would do well to study the Dutch. In 1602, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 April 2014 at 6:56 pm

Posted in Business, Education

Interesting demonstration of bias differences among academic fields

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NPR reports on a fascinating bias/discrimination study that has some unexpected findings. The study sent a very well-crafted letter ostensibly from a college student to various professors at the top 250 universities, stating that the writer was extremely interested in the field and in the professor’s own work, and asking to meet with them. The student names used:

Brad Anderson. Meredith Roberts. Lamar Washington. LaToya Brown. Juanita Martinez. Deepak Patel, Sonali Desai, Chang Wong, Mei Chen.

The more lucrative the field of study, the more intense the discrimination. In the humanities,

There were very large disparities between academic departments and between schools. Faculty at private schools were significantly more likely to discriminate against women and minorities than faculty at public schools. And faculty in fields that were very lucrative were also more likely to discriminate. So there was very little discrimination in the humanities. There was more discrimination among faculty at the natural sciences. And there was a lot of discrimination among the faculty at business schools. Here’s Milkman again.

MILKMAN: The very worst in terms of bias is business academia. So in business academia, we see a 25 percentage point gap in the response rate to Caucasian males vs. women and minorities.

The sex and race of the professor made no significant difference, though the academic specialty did.

Apparently the humanities really do teach some moral values, or people with a stronger moral sense are attracted that field. (I can certainly understand business school attracting people of shaky morality, which then is emphasized by constant exposure to the idea the profit justifies anything.)

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 April 2014 at 7:01 am

Want to Remember Your Notes? Write Them, Don’t Type Them

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Just the sort of finding that appeals to me—and it’s certainly consistent with my own experience. Paul Bisceglio has an article in Pacific Standard.

In the past decade, a bunch of studies have shown that bringing a laptop to class is not great for learning. Anyone who has sat through a lecture with the Internet in front of them hasn’t really been surprised. After all, you can only take so many notes while simultaneously catching up on Game of Thrones and g-chatting with your friends.

A new study in Psychological Science, though, suggests there’s even more to laptops’ negative effects on learning than distraction. Go old school with a pen and paper next time you want to remember something, according to Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer of Princeton and the University of California-Los Angeles, respectively, because laptops actually make note-taking too easy. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 April 2014 at 5:41 pm

Posted in Education, Science

Choosing a college? Check the rape rankings.

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Colleges and universities in the US seem to have about as strong a rape culture as the military. Jaclyn Friedman writes in The Guardian:

When I was 17 years old and choosing between Cornell and Wesleyan, rape was the farthest thing from my mind. And it’s probably not high on the list of the millions of high school seniors and their parents who have to decide by May 1 which college is The One. They’re often looking at student/faculty ratios and financial aid offers, major programs, Greek life and sports teams.

But high-school seniors pouring over rape reporting statistics instead of acceptance letters? Not usually.

When I think back to my undergraduate days and my experience being sexually assaulted by a fellow student – let alone the secondary trauma of how badly the school treated me in the aftermath – it is one of the first things that springs to mind. That sexual assault was, without a doubt, one of the most formative things that happened to me in those four years. So why don’t more people ask questions about a school’s approach to preventing sexual violence before they choose a campus?

Those precious few who ask at all tend to check a school’s reporting numbers, assuming that a low rate of rapes reported on a campus is a good sign. But most of the time the reverse is true: every campus has a rape problem – the ones where students feel comfortable reporting are actually safer campuses.

Reporting even on the best of campuses is shockingly low. The US Department of Justice estimates that one in five female students will be the victim of a sexual assault while she’s on campus. While there are no reliable estimates about male sexual assault on campus, statistics indicate that at least one in 10 straight men, one in five bisexual men and one in three gay men will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, and half of trans people will be, and some of those almost certainly happen at college.

So a college that says, “Nope, no rape here!” is likely a college that’s doing everything it can to discourage victims from reporting, as numerous investigations have found – and a campus with a low reporting rate is likely a campus where rapists are free to keep finding more victims, as statistics show that most undetected rapists continue to offend. On the other hand, a university with a relatively high number of reported rapes is likely to be a place where victims expect to be taken seriously, and where rapists come to know that they may face real consequences.

Yet nearly a third of campuses surveyed aren’t even meeting the minimum reporting standards required by the federal government via the Clery Act, according to a study by Safer and V-Day. That’s to say nothing of what many schools are failing to do when it comes to providing avenues for anonymous reporting, running transparent and just judicial hearings, developing effective prevention programs, or even defining “sexual misconduct” in a way that requires students to practice affirmative consent. . .

 

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 April 2014 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education, Law

Project to Improve Poor Children’s Intellect Led to Better Health, Data Show

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The governmental policy implications are obvious, I think. Sabrina Tavernise writes in the NY Times:

In 1972, researchers in North Carolina started following two groups of babies from poor families. In the first group, the children were given full-time day care up to age 5 that included most of their daily meals, talking, games and other stimulating activities. The other group, aside from baby formula, got nothing. The scientists were testing whether the special treatment would lead to better cognitive abilities in the long run.

Forty-two years later, the researchers found something that they had not expected to see: The group that got care was far healthier, with sharply lower rates of high blood pressure and obesity, and higher levels of so-called good cholesterol.

The study, which was published in the journal Science on Thursday, is part of a growing body of scientific evidence that hardship in early childhood has lifelong health implications. But it goes further than outlining the problem, offering evidence that a particular policy might prevent it.

“This tells us that adversity matters and it does affect adult health,” said James Heckman, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago who led the data analysis. “But it also shows us that we can do something about it, that poverty is not just a hopeless condition.”

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Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 4:12 pm

Cloud-based flashcard system

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Quizlet looks very cool. Check out this Cool Tools write-up. You can use decks that have been already made, though Anki (another excellent flashcard system) strongly suggests that it’s better to build your own decks from materials that you are studying.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 12:20 pm

Posted in Education, Software

Talking to infants and the impact of pre-K education

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Kevin Drum has a very interesting post on outcomes from pre-K education, along with findings on the effects of talking to babies from the time they’re born.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 March 2014 at 12:09 pm

Posted in Education, Science

How did Sweden take over pop music?

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Very interesting example of unintended consequences and the success of some government programs. Whet Moser writes at Pacific Standard:

At some point over the last 15 years—sometime, say, between the 1999 release of “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys and last year’s “Roar” by Katy Perry—it became an inescapable fact that if you want to understand American pop music, you pretty much have to understand Sweden.

Songwriters and producers from Stockholm have buttressed the careers of Lady Gaga, Madonna, Usher, Avril Lavigne, Britney Spears, The Backstreet Boys, Pitbull, Taylor Swift, One Direction, Maroon 5, Kelly Clarkson, and any number of other artists you’ve probably listened to while dancing, shopping, making out, or waiting on hold over the past decade. (And it’s not just American pop music that has Scandinavian fingerprints all over it: When Azerbaijan won the Eurovision contest in a 2011 upset, they did it with a song written for them by two Swedes.)

If Americans are aware of this phenomenon, it is probably because they’ve heard about the legendary Swedish producer and songwriter Max Martin. There are any number of ways to express Martin’s ubiquity, but here’s one: From 2010 to 2011, the pop idol Katy Perry spent an unprecedented 69 consecutive weeks in the Billboard top 10, surpassing the previous record-holder, the 1990s Swedish group Ace of Base, by four months. But the milestone was far more of a testament to Martin’s staying power than Perry’s: Not only did he help produce and write all but one of Perry’s record-breaking string of hits, but he began his career as a producer for Ace of Base. Max Martin has produced more number-one songs than anyone besides George Martin, the so-called fifth Beatle.

But Max Martin is not some kind of unicorn. Other Swedish producer-songwriters boast only moderately less impressive résumés: Anders Bagge, Andreas Carlsson, and Rami Yacoub, to name just a few, have likewise worked with incredible rosters of American pop stars. And even focusing on this shortlist of talent obscures a much larger infrastructure at work.

Sweden, and in particular Stockholm, is home to what business scholars and economic geographers call an “industry cluster”—an agglomeration of talent, business infrastructure, and competing firms all swirling around one industry, in one place. What Hollywood is to movies, what Nashville is to country music, and what Silicon Valley is to computing, Stockholm is to the production of pop. In fact, Sweden is the largest exporter of pop music, per capita, in the world, and the third largest exporter of pop overall. And in recent years, the country has seized not just the message, but the medium as well: As the industry moves toward a distribution model that relies on streaming music services, the Stockholm-born Spotify is a dominant player, with 24 million users per month.

So how did Sweden, a sparsely populated Nordic country where it’s dark for much of the year, become a world capital of popular music? Rarely does such a complex question lead to such a satisfying answer: Three-quarters of a century ago, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 March 2014 at 8:56 am

A Ref Wouldn’t Let This Girl Play in Her Hijab — Here’s How Her Team Responded

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They follow in the footsteps of another use of the tactic, by the Danes in WWII. When the Nazi occupiers instituted the rule that every Jew must wear a yellow Star of David on his/her sleeve, all the Danish people turned out that day wearing the emblem. While required of Jews, it was certainly not forbidden to others, and the Danish nation marched through the loophole, led by the king. And Denmark was to be the model protectorate, showing how benign Nazi rule was. That made the Danish Resistance particularly awkward.

A wonderful response, in any event.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 March 2014 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

It will be very interesting to see what happens on Idaho campuses

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My grandson is beginning the process of college selection. I’m recommending against Idaho colleges for reasons given in Ian Millhiser’s post at ThinkProgress:

On Tuesday, the Idaho house gave its approval to a bill that had already cleared the state senate permitting people with an “enhanced concealed-carry permit” to carry firearms on college campuses. Gov. Butch Otter (R-ID) is expected to sign it.

Although the bill was strongly opposed by university presidents and faculty, as well as the police chief in Boise, Idaho whose jurisdiction includes Boise State University, the bill was supported by the Idaho Sheriffs Association. Indeed, one sheriff defended the bill on the grounds that “I oftentimes fear that if you start restricting one thing at a time, like where you can carry guns, there will be a next step and a next step to the point where you’re not allowed to pack guns anywhere at any time.”

Which, of course, is a perfectly sensible argument. Since the fact that guns are banned in airport terminals has already led to a total, nationwide gun ban.

Although gun rights advocates typically defend permissive concealed carry laws on the theory that a person with a hidden firearm may be able to use it to defend against a killer — “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” in National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre’s words — the reality is that defensive use of guns is rare. In 2010, according to the Violence Policy Center, there were 230 justifiable homicides involving firearms. That compares to 8,275 criminal gun homicides (a number that does not include suicides or accidental deaths) in the same year.

A likely explanation for this disparity is that most gun murders do not occur during mass shootings, break-ins or other circumstances where it is easy to imagine how a concealed firearm could be useful. Rather, as Washington State Sociology Professor Jennifer Schwartz explains, “[n]early half of all homicides, committed by men or women, were preceded by some sort of argument or fight, such as a conflict over money or property, anger over one partner cheating on another, severe punishment of a child or abuse of a partner, retaliation for an earlier dispute, or a drunken fight over an insult or other affront.” In many of these cases, if no one had ready access to a firearm at the time of the argument, no one would have died.

Indeed, guns on university grounds is a particularly dangerous idea because heavy drinking is common on college campuses, and alcohol is a major contributor to gun homicides. According to Schwartz, “40% of male offenders were drinking alcohol at the time” that they committed a homicide crime, and about one third of female offenders were also drinking at the time of their crime.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 March 2014 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Education, Guns

Guidelines needed for shooting students

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Greg Hampikian raises a good point in a NY Times op-ed:

BOISE, Idaho — TO the chief counsel of the Idaho State Legislature:

In light of the bill permitting guns on our state’s college and university campuses, which is likely to be approved by the state House of Representatives in the coming days, I have a matter of practical concern that I hope you can help with: When may I shoot a student?

I am a biology professor, not a lawyer, and I had never considered bringing a gun to work until now. But since many of my students are likely to be armed, I thought it would be a good idea to even the playing field.

I have had encounters with disgruntled students over the years, some of whom seemed quite upset, but I always assumed that when they reached into their backpacks they were going for a pencil. Since I carry a pen to lecture, I did not feel outgunned; and because there are no working sharpeners in the lecture hall, the most they could get off is a single point. But now that we’ll all be packing heat, I would like legal instruction in the rules of classroom engagement.

At present, the harshest penalty available here at Boise State is expulsion, used only for the most heinous crimes, like cheating on Scantron exams. But now that lethal force is an option, I need to know which infractions may be treated as de facto capital crimes.

I assume that if a student shoots first, I am allowed to empty my clip; but given the velocity of firearms, and my aging reflexes, I’d like to be proactive. For example, if I am working out a long equation on the board and several students try to correct me using their laser sights, am I allowed to fire a warning shot?

If two armed students are arguing over who should be served next at the coffee bar and I sense escalating hostility, should I aim for the legs and remind them of the campus Shared-Values Statement (which reads, in part, “Boise State strives to provide a culture of civility and success where all feel safe and free from discrimination, harassment, threats or intimidation”)?

While our city police chief has expressed grave concerns about allowing guns on campus, I would point out that he already has one. I’m glad that you were not intimidated by him, and did not allow him to speak at the public hearing on the bill (though I really enjoyed the 40 minutes you gave to the National Rifle Association spokesman).

Knee-jerk reactions from law enforcement officials and university presidents are best set aside. Ignore, for example, the lame argument that some drunken frat boys will fire their weapons in violation of best practices. This view is based on stereotypical depictions of drunken frat boys, a group whose dignity no one seems willing to defend.

The problem, of course, is not that drunken frat boys will be armed; it is that they are drunken frat boys. Arming them is clearly not the issue. They would cause damage with or without guns. I would point out that urinating against a building or firing a few rounds into a sorority house are both violations of the same honor code.

In terms of the campus murder rate — zero at present — I think that we can all agree that guns don’t kill people, people with guns do. Which is why encouraging guns on campus makes so much sense. Bad guys go where there are no guns, so by adding guns to campus more bad guys will spend their year abroad in London. Britain has incredibly restrictive laws — their cops don’t even have guns! — and gun deaths there are a tiny fraction of what they are in America. It’s a perfect place for bad guys.

Some of my colleagues are concerned that you are encouraging . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 February 2014 at 9:46 am

High school casts a long shadow

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An interesting column by Deb Fallows. Note that the findings seem to apply to mid-size cities (e.g., her example of St. Louis). No one asked the question in my home town because it was pointless: we had but one high school.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 February 2014 at 11:22 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

A hopeful and feel-good project: If you build it

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More information in this post at WebUrbanist.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 February 2014 at 11:02 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

One ugly reality of modern American life

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Deborah Jackson Taffa writes in Salon:

A week before Christmas my children’s school called. An automated voice said police were sweeping the Kirkwood High School campus. There had been a report of shots fired. If my children had not left home yet, they were to stay there. If they were en route, they were told to turn back.

My kids were on the brink of departure. Backpack slung over her shoulder, my daughter came into the kitchen. Hearing our conversation, my younger son emerged from the basement. The three of us stood in a circle and blinked.

“What do we do?” he asked.

“We wait,” I said.

We sat in the living room. The lights from the Christmas tree blinked, colorful tips marking the seconds as the wait dragged on. My son worried about a friend who had gone in early for a makeup test. My daughter browsed the Internet, refreshing the feed for our local news station. Putting on a show of calm, I pretended to grade papers.

To react strongly to the morning’s phone call, I reasoned, would only exacerbate their stress. Academic and social pressures in high school are real, especially as a student adjusts to a new city. Our family had relocated to Kirkwood, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis, just before the start of the fall semester. The last thing they needed was more uncertainty.

Not wanting to dismiss their worries, I sat nearby listening to what they said. My daughter talked about the policies at Kirkwood High School. “If there’s even the slightest possibility of danger, administrators call for a lockdown,” she said. “It’s probably a false alarm.”

My son agreed, “The rational response is to assume it’s a precaution.”

Kirkwood High School has seven buildings and nearly 70 doors. A college-style campus with 47 acres, it took police over an hour to clear. Another call arrived: No gunman had been found. Students should leave for school. Parents could expect an explanatory email shortly. I hugged them goodbye and sat at the computer, researching the price of bulletproof backpacks ($250 plus). When the email arrived, it said a shot-like sound had been made by a box of helium bulbs falling from a shelf in the chemistry lab.

When my daughter returned home she said one of her teachers had exited the gym to find herself surrounded by a SWAT team. Guns pointed at her chest, she was treated as a suspect before establishing herself as a teacher. “She’s lucky she didn’t get shot by mistake,” we said.

In 2012, 10 school shootings took place in the United States. The following January, eight more came in quick succession. With gun-control reform stalled in Congress, schools are increasing security. The result is tension. An entire generation of children submitted to warning systems like their great-grandparents during the Cold War. What the boogeyman was for these kids as toddlers, the school lockdown is for them now.

Counting only actual lockdowns, I’ve received three automated messages in two months. The first scare happened a few days before Thanksgiving. An anonymous caller phoned Yale security to report a gunman on campus. Our older son, who attends school there, had just landed at Lambert St. Louis Airport for his holiday visit home. He texted his international friends, who had stayed on campus, to see if they were OK. Barricaded in their dorm rooms, they said they were taking the warning seriously without getting too freaked out.

The second . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 February 2014 at 1:50 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

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