Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Cool idea: Video game contest for high-school students

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Written by LeisureGuy

16 September 2019 at 11:28 am

What the Free College Movement Can Learn from Kalamazoo

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It’s not all bad news these days. Michelle Miller-Adams has a good report in the Washington Monthly:

The 700 students who graduated from Kalamazoo Public Schools in 2019 are unique. They are the first graduating class in this high-poverty city, located halfway between Chicago and Detroit, to have spent their entire K through 12 years knowing that their college tuition and fees will be largely or entirely free.

For this, they can thank the Kalamazoo Promise, the first of the current wave of place-based scholarship, or “promise,” programs. Launched in November 2005 by a group of anonymous philanthropists, the Kalamazoo Promise has provided scholarships to almost all of the city’s public school graduates since 2006. For students who attend Kalamazoo Public Schools starting in kindergarten, any in-state public college or university, along with a select group of private colleges, is tuition-free. For those who attend for just high school, 65 percent of tuition is covered.

In the fourteen years since it was announced, the Kalamazoo Promise has reached more than 6,000 students. The Kalamazoo school district has grown by 25 percent, academic achievement is up, and the high-school graduation rate is rising. Almost 90 percent of the district’s graduates head to college or another form of post-secondary training—an exceptionally high rate for a low-income urban school district. Of the district’s graduates, 50 percent complete a post-secondary degree or credential within ten years of graduating, up from 40 percent before the program.

Most high school graduates are not so lucky. After marching across commencement stages, many end their education. Those who go on must pay for increasingly expensive college degrees. College costs have been rising for decades, and the growing burden on students and families has moved center stage as student loan debt has reached crisis-level proportions. As a result, “free college” has become an increasingly popular idea, making an appearance in the platform of almost every Democratic presidential candidate, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

Free college is a powerful concept, and it can boost college enrollment and completion. But the experiences of Kalamazoo and other cities with promise programs offer valuable lessons on how free college should work. Few promise programs are as simple and generous as the Kalamazoo Promise. Many provide students with less money and fewer choices, and make what they do offer contingent on student performance. As a result, they do not reach as many students and families.

Policymakers should instead make promise scholarships generous. They should make them available to all students, not just those with the highest grades. And as scholarship programs in places as diverse as Kalamazoo, El Dorado, Arkansas, and the state of Tennessee show, promise programs are especially effective when they provide recipients with community support, not just money.

Since Kalamazoo set course, nearly 150 local communities and almost two-dozen states have created their own free-college programs. But the impact in many places has been less dramatic than in Kalamazoo. That’s because of design decisions made by program stakeholders.

Consider program generosity. In Kalamazoo and a few other communities, scholarships are awarded on a “first-dollar” basis, where promise money is used first and low-income students can add their Pell grants on top of it, allowing them to cover some living expenses. In most places, stakeholders have opted for “last-dollar” structures, where low-income students must use Pell grants first and the promise scholarship closes any remaining gap. This decision may save money, but it has the largely unintended outcome of channeling more promise dollars to non-poor than to poor students. More importantly, it means that low-income students receive little “new” money, making it harder for them to afford all the other costs of college—from books to meals.

Another key question is who receives the scholarship. Many communities have sought to target their promise scholarships on “deserving” students, measured by high-school GPA and attendance rates. On the surface, this may seem like a sensible way to conserve resources. But such targeting tends to disadvantage low-income students who generally have lower academic achievement levels. In a promise experiment in Milwaukee, for example, the average GPA of ninth graders at the time the program was announced was 1.8 on a 4.0 scale, and the average attendance rate was 81 percent. Yet the program required a GPA of 2.5, and 90 percent attendance. These cutoffs mean Milwaukee’s Promise was uniquely ill-suited to help the students it pledged to serve. Ultimately, only 21 percent of students ended up eligible for the scholarship.

Proponents argue that performance cutoffs inspire students to work harder. But researchers have found no evidence that that’s the case. Instead, all they do is direct resources to high-performing students, a group that is typically wealthier, and that needs the scholarship least. In one Michigan community, for instance, students must have a 3.5 high-school GPA to receive a promise scholarship, yet they are only allowed to use it at one of two local, non-selective two-year institutions. This high GPA requirement means that the program benefits white, non-poor students and school districts far more than the area’s low-income students of color. And it does this by channeling them into institutions that are, academically speaking, generally a poor fit. It’s kids with GPAs below 3.5—not A-level students—who would benefit most from free community college. But they are the ones left out.

In Kalamazoo, by contrast, rules are minimal. Academic success has no bearing on scholarship eligibility (although it will naturally determine where students will be admitted). The scholarship is awarded irrespective of financial need. Students have 10 years after high-school graduation in which to access their promise funding. The application form is a single page.

As a result, the Kalamazoo Promise (and programs like it) reach a critical mass of students attending the same school district and living in the same community. It is therefore perceived as being for the community rather than for a specific group of students, resulting in broad buy-in. “It changed the debate about . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2019 at 9:02 am

Jeffrey Epstein’s Intellectual Enabler

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Evgeny Morozov writes in the New Republic:

If you are an accomplished science or technology writer, your books are probably handled by the most powerful literary agency in the field: the famous Brockman Inc., started by John Brockman and now run by Max Brockman, his son. As it happens, Max is also my agent—and has been since my first book was sold in 2009. As agencies go, I only have positive things to report: The Brockmans fight for their authors and get us very handsome advances. That’s what agents are for.

But that’s not the whole story. John is also the president, founder, and chief impresario of the Edge Foundation, which has earned a stellar reputation as an eclectic platform for conversations that involve scientists, artists, and technologists. There is more than one Edge Foundation, though: There is the one meant for public consumption, with its “annual question”—e.g. “What are you optimistic about?”—answered by famous intellectuals and thinkers; and one meant for private consumption by members of Brockman’s elite network. The former exists primarily online. The latter has a vibrant real-life component, with sumptuous dinners, exclusive conferences, and quite a bit of travel on private jets—it functions as an elaborate massage of the ego (and, apparently, much else) for the rich, the smart, and the powerful.

Over the course of my research into the history of digital culture, I’ve got to know quite a lot about John’s role in shaping the digital—and especially the intellectual—world that we live in. I’ve examined and scanned many of his letters in the archives of famous men (and they are mostly men), such as Marshall McLuhan, Stewart Brand, and Gregory Bateson. He is no mere literary agent; he is a true “organic intellectual” of the digital revolution, shaping trends rather than responding to them. Would the MIT Media Lab, TED Conferences, and Wired have the clout and the intellectual orientation that they have now without the extensive network cultivated by Brockman over decades? I, for one, very much doubt it.

Lately, John has been in the news for other reasons, namely because of his troubling connections to Jeffrey Epstein, the so-called financier who reportedly hanged himself earlier this month while facing federal charges of sex-trafficking. Epstein participated in the Edge Foundation’s annual questions, and attended its “billionaires’ dinners.” Brockman may also be the reason why so many prominent academics—from Steven Pinker to Daniel Dennett—have found themselves answering awkward questions about their associations with Epstein; they are clients of Brockman’s. Marvin Minsky, the prominent MIT scientist who surfaced as one of Epstein’s island buddies? A client of Brockman’s. Joi Ito, the director of the elite research facility MIT Media Lab, who has recently acknowledged extensive ties to Epstein? Also, a client of Brockman’s.

Should we just write it off as natural collateral damage for someone with a network as extensive as Brockman’s? He is, after all, a networker’s networker. Based on my observations over the last decade, his whole operation runs on two simple but powerful principles. First, the total value of the network (and thus his own value) goes up if the nodes start connecting to each other independently of him. Second, the more diverse the network, the more attractive it is to newcomers as well as to all the existing members. Billionaires are rich, but they might harbor an insecurity complex related to not being very well-read (looking at you, Bill Gates!). Scientists, in contrast, are usually well-read but might aspire to fancier cars and luxuries and funding for their pet projects. And so on: There’s something for everyone—and, in the case of Epstein, someone seems to have done the matchmaking.

In Brockman’s world, billionaires, scientists, artists, novelists, journalists, and musicians all blend together to produce enormous value—for each other and, of course, for Brockman. This mingling of clients doesn’t happen in other literary agencies, at least not to this extent. Nor does this happen at Brockman Inc., as all such interactions that we know of took place under the umbrella of the Edge Foundation, a sibling organization, with Brockman as its president. Would Brockman Inc. exist without the Edge Foundation? Possibly—and it did, at the outset. Would it be as powerful, trading on Brockman’s ability to rub shoulders with academics and billionaires alike? Probably not. Still, I can attest that Brockman’s authors face no pressure to get involved with Edge: I, for example, diligently responded to their annual questions between 2010 and 2013—and then stopped, as I was put off by Brockman’s insistence that people responding to the annual question should keep away from politics.

When the Epstein-Brockman connection first surfaced in the news, I wanted to give Brockman the benefit of the doubt. It’s possible, I thought, that Epstein was just one of the many rich people in Brockman’s orbit. Or maybe the two had been close only before Epstein’s first criminal case in the mid-2000s. Or maybe Brockman was in the dark about Epstein’s tendencies and they only talked about quantum physics and artificial intelligence.

In the last few weeks, such a charitable interpretation has become very hard to sustain, especially as other details—implicating Marvin Minsky and Joi Ito, who has apologized for taking money from Epstein—became public. John Brockman has not said a word publicly about his connection to Epstein since the latest scandal broke, preferring to maintain silence on the matter. That I have found quite infuriating.


Knowing that Brockman likes to brag about all the famous people he has met and befriended—you can easily count the seconds until he name-checks “Marshall” (McLuhan) or “Andy” (Warhol) or “Gregory“ (Bateson) in a casual conversation—I decided to look over our correspondence over the past decade and see if he might have name-dropped Epstein somewhere. And, of course, he did. Browsing through our email correspondence, I stumbled upon a most peculiar email from September 12, 2013.

It was very laconic: “JE, FYI, JB”—followed by my short bio and some media clippings. (You can check the entire PDF of the correspondence here.) Strangely, it was sent to me and had no other contacts in cc. Perhaps he wanted to send it to “JE” but put my email there by mistake. When I commented on the meaning of this cryptic message, he responded with the following message, reproduced here in full:

I missed that one.

Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire science philanthropist showed up at this weekend’s event by helicopter (with his beautiful young assistant from Belarus). He’ll be in Cambridge in a couple of weeks asked me who he should meet. You are one of the people I suggested and I told him I would send some links.

He’s the guy who gave Harvard #30m to set up Martin Nowak. He’s been extremely generous in funding projects of many of our friends and clients. He also got into trouble and spent a year in jail in Florida.

If he contacts you it’s probably worth your time to meet him as he’s extremely bright and interesting.

Last time I visited his house (the largest private residence in NYC), I walked in to find him in a sweatsuit and a British guy in a suit with suspenders, getting foot massages from two young well-dressed Russian women. After grilling me for a while about cyber-security, the Brit, named Andy, was commenting on the Swedish authorities and the charges against Julian Assange.

“We think they’re liberal in Sweden, but its more like Northern England as opposed to Southern Europe,” he said. “In Monaco, Albert works 12 hours a day but at 9pm, when he goes out, he does whatever he wants, and nobody cares. But, if I do it, I’m in big trouble.” At that point I realized that the recipient of Irina’s foot massage was his Royal Highness, Prince Andrew, the Duke of York.

Indeed, a week later, on a slow news day, the cover of the NYpost had a full-page photo of Jeffrey and Andrew walking in Central Park under the headline: “The Prince and the Perv.” (That was the end of Andrew’s role at the UK trade ambassador.)

To which I responded:

thanks for clarifying this. I’m sure he’s an all-around sweet guy but I’ll have to think about it. It could be that I spent far too much time in the Soros bubble but I have zero interest in meeting billionaires – if I did, I’d be going to Davos every year. but I appreciate you taking the time.

Here is Brockman again:

A billionaire who owns Victoria’s Secret plus a modelling agency is a different kind of animal. But I hear you and basically agree. Gregory Bateson once advised me that ‘Of all our human inventions, economic man is by far the dullest.’

JB

And here is my final answer:

“A billionaire who owns Victoria’s Secret plus a modelling agency” –> one more reason to stay away actually.

I didn’t know who Epstein was at the time. Since I’ve never been very keen to hang out with billionaires, mine was a natural response (I similarly declined Brockman’s invitations to hang out on his farm or attend his famous billionaire dinners). So I didn’t think much of that invitation and eventually forgot about it. Needless to say, I never heard from Epstein—or from Brockman about Epstein.

In that old email, it seems clear that Brockman was acting as Epstein’s PR man—his liaison with the world of scientists and intellectuals that Brockman had cultivated. That Brockman has said nothing over this affair is rather bewildering. (He did not return requests for comment left on his email and voicemail.) . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

24 August 2019 at 8:51 am

Why speaking to yourself in the third person makes you wiser

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David Robson, a science journalist specialising in the extremes of the human brain, body and behaviour and a feature writer for the BBC, whose first book is The Intelligence Trap: Why Smart People Do Stupid Things and How to Make Wiser Decisions (2019), writes in Aeon:

We credit Socrates with the insight that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ and that to ‘know thyself’ is the path to true wisdom. But is there a right and a wrong way to go about such self-reflection?

Simple rumination – the process of churning your concerns around in your head – isn’t the answer. It’s likely to cause you to become stuck in the rut of your own thoughts and immersed in the emotions that might be leading you astray. Certainly, research has shown that people who are prone to rumination also often suffer from impaired decision making under pressure, and are at a substantially increased risk of depression.

Instead, the scientific research suggests that you should adopt an ancient rhetorical method favoured by the likes of Julius Caesar and known as ‘illeism’ – or speaking about yourself in the third person (the term was coined in 1809 by the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge from the Latin illemeaning ‘he, that’). If I was considering an argument that I’d had with a friend, for instance, I might start by silently thinking to myself: ‘David felt frustrated that…’ The idea is that this small change in perspective can clear your emotional fog, allowing you to see past your biases.

A bulk of research has already shown that this kind of third-person thinking can temporarily improve decision making. Now a preprint at PsyArxiv finds that it can also bring long-term benefits to thinking and emotional regulation. The researchers said this was ‘the first evidence that wisdom-related cognitive and affective processes can be trained in daily life, and of how to do so’.

The findings are the brainchild of the psychologist Igor Grossmann at the University of Waterloo in Canada, whose work on the psychology of wisdom was one of the inspirations for my recent book on intelligence and how we can make wiser decisions.

Grossmann’s aim is to build a strong experimental footing for the study of wisdom, which had long been considered too nebulous for scientific enquiry. In one of his earlier experiments, he established that it’s possible to measure wise reasoning and that, as with IQ, people’s scores matter. He did this by asking participants to discuss out-loud a personal or political dilemma, which he then scored on various elements of thinking long-considered crucial to wisdom, including: intellectual humility; taking the perspective of others; recognising uncertainty; and having the capacity to search for a compromise. Grossmann found that these wise-reasoning scores were far better than intelligence tests at predicting emotional wellbeing, and relationship satisfaction – supporting the idea that wisdom, as defined by these qualities, constitutes a unique construct that determines how we navigate life challenges.

Working with Ethan Kross at the University of Michigan in the United States, Grossmann has also looked for ways to improve these scores – with some striking experiments demonstrating the power of illeism. In a series of laboratory experiments, they found that people tend to be humbler, and readier to consider other perspectives, when they are asked to describe problems in the third person.

Imagine, for instance, that you are arguing with your partner. Adopting a third-person perspective might help you to recognise their point of view or to accept the limits of your understanding of the problem at hand. Or imagine you are considering moving jobs. Taking the distanced perspective could help you to weigh up the benefits and the risks of the move more dispassionately.

This earlier research involved only short-term interventions, however – meaning it was far from clear whether wiser reasoning would become a long-term habit with regular practice at illeism.

To find out, Grossmann’s latest research team asked nearly 300 participants to describe a challenging social situation, while two independent psychologists scored them on the different aspects of wise reasoning (intellectual humility, etc). The participants then had to keep a diary for four weeks. Each day, they had to describe a situation they’d just experienced, such as a disagreement with a colleague or some bad news. Half were prompted to do so in the first-person, while the others were encouraged to describe their trials from a third-person perspective. At the end of the study, all participants repeated the wise-reasoning test.

Grossmann’s results were . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

7 August 2019 at 12:36 pm

Proof Ole Miss Knew Identities of Two Students Who Posed in Front of Shot-Up Emmett Till Sign, But Did Little

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Jerry MitchellMississippi Center for Investigative Reporting, reports in ProPublica:

When the head of the University of Mississippi condemned fraternity members last week for posing with guns in front of a bullet-riddled memorial to the slain 14-year-old civil rights icon Emmett Till, he defended the campus investigation and the decision not to discipline the students.

He said Ole Miss had been unable to identify “all” the students involved when it received the complaint “or that they were all affiliated with the same fraternity.”

But the statement was misleading.

A bias complaint filed in March, and obtained by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica, clearly identifies two of the men by name and their membership in Kappa Alpha Order.

The photo “shows three boys, at least two of whom are members of KA at Ole Miss,” the complaint reads.

On Monday, following questions from the news organizations about the discrepancy, interim Chancellor Larry Sparks acknowledged that his administration had mishandled the investigation and said that he has launched an internal review into a “breakdown in communications” that prevented a full examination of the incident by university administrators.

“Our ongoing review has updated our understanding of some key facts in this process,” Sparks wrote in response to questions from the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica.

The bias incident investigation “process has not concluded,” he wrote. “We will proceed accordingly to make all appropriate referrals and assessments.”

The complaint filed in March included a copy of a photo that student Ben LeClere posted on March 1 to his private Instagram account. The image showed LeClere and two fraternity brothers in front of a roadside plaque commemorating the site where Till’s body was recovered from the Tallahatchie River. The 14-year-old black youth was tortured and killed in August 1955. An all-white, all-male jury acquitted two white men charged with Till’s murder. His death helped launch the modern civil rights movement.

LeClere was clutching a shotgun in the photo, and fraternity brother John Lowe was squatting beneath the bullet-pocked sign. A third fraternity member stands on the other side of the sign with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. (The complaint misidentified Lowe as holding the rifle when he was in fact squatting.)

It appears that man is Howell Logan, a Kappa Alpha member who was identified on Twitter and Instagram by former high school classmates from the private Deerfield-Windsor School in Albany, Georgia. Logan was a star athlete there.

Late last week, three social media accounts appearing to belong to Logan were deleted, around the same time as social media accounts bearing the names of LeClere and Lowe were deleted. The image in the Instagram photo is strikingly similar to photos shared by Logan’s former classmates. Logan’s height also appears to match the height of the man seen in the photograph.

Logan did not return requests for comment, and neither did LeClere and Lowe. It is not clear whether the students shot the memorial or were merely posing in front of it.

The Kappa Alpha chapter at Ole Miss suspended the three men in the photo last week after being asked for comment by the Mississippi Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica.

In his initial statement on Friday, Sparks called the photo “offensive.” The university, he said, had turned over the image to the FBI, which concluded no specific crime had occurred.

Susan Glisson, who ran Ole Miss’ William Winter Institute for Racial Reconciliation for two decades before retiring in 2016, called the university’s response so far “unconscionable.”

She questioned why Ole Miss officials deferred their own inquiry while awaiting an FBI decision. “Pursuing the possibility of an investigation did not prevent the university from engaging in long-established protocols for how to respond to incidents like this,” she said.

On Monday, Sparks acknowledged that Ole Miss officials had confirmed the status of the two named students shortly after the complaint was filed. LeClere is currently an enrolled junior and majoring in managerial finance. Lowe is not currently enrolled. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2019 at 4:21 pm

Here’s the direction to US is going: Inside Liberty University’s ‘culture of fear’

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This piece by Will Young in the Washington Post directly relates to the previous post. Notice that the fear discussed seems felt primarily by conservatives, who seem predisposed in that direction, with their fear driving their anger. Young writes:

In my first week as editor in chief of the Champion, Liberty University’s student-run weekly, our faculty adviser, Deborah Huff, ordered me to apologize. I’d noticed that our evangelical school’s police department didn’t publish its daily crime log online, as many other private university forces did, so I searched elsewhere for crime information I might use in an article. I called the Virginia Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators to find out what the law required Liberty to disclose. But the public affairs worker there told the Liberty University Police Department, which complained to Huff. She called to upbraid me: Apparently, I had endangered our newspaper’s relationship with the LUPD. Huff and Chief Richard Hinkley convened a meeting inside a police department conference room, and Huff sat next to me while I proffered the forced apology to Hinkley — for asking questions. Huff, too, was contrite, assuring the police chief that it wouldn’t happen again, because she’d keep a better eye on me.

This wasn’t exactly a rude awakening. I’d spent the previous three years watching the university administration, led by President Jerry Falwell Jr. (who took a very micromanaging interest), meddle in our coverage, revise controversial op-eds and protect its image by stripping damning facts from our stories. Still, I stuck around. I thought that if I wrote with discretion and kept my head down, I could one day win enough trust from the university to protect the integrity of our journalism. I even dreamed we could eventually persuade the administration to let the Champion go independent from its supervision. I was naive.

Instead, when my team took over that fall of 2017, we encountered an “oversight” system — read: a censorship regime — that required us to send every story to Falwell’s assistant for review. Any administrator or professor who appeared in an article had editing authority over any part of the article; they added and deleted whatever they wanted. Falwell called our newsroom on multiple occasions to direct our coverage personally, as he had a year earlier when, weeks before the 2016 election, he read a draft of my column defending mainstream news outlets and ordered me to say whom I planned to vote for. I refused on ethical grounds, so Falwell told me to insert “The author refused to reveal which candidate he is supporting for president” at the bottom of the column. I complied. (Huff and the police department declined to comment on the contents of this essay. Falwell and the university did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

Eventually I quit, and the School of Communication decided not to replace me, turning the paper into a faculty-run, student-written organ and seizing complete control of its content. Student journalists must now sign a nondisclosure agreement that forbids them from talking publicly about “editorial or managerial direction, oversight decisions or information designated as privileged or confidential.” The form also states that the students understand they are “privileged” to receive “thoughts, opinions, and other statements” from university administrators.

What my team and I experienced at the Champion was not an isolated overreaction to embarrassing revelations. It was one example of an infrastructure of thought-control that Falwell and his lieutenants have introduced into every aspect of Liberty University life. Faculty, staff and students on the Lynchburg, Va., campus have learned that it’s a sin to challenge the sacrosanct status of the school or its leader, which mete out punishments for dissenting opinions (from stripping people of their positions to banning them from campus). This “culture of fear,” as it was described by several of the dozen Liberty denizens who talked to me for this story — most of them anonymously to protect their jobs or their standing — worsened during my four years on campus because of the 2016 presidential election.

By 2016, Liberty’s efforts to limit free expression were already well-established. (“The big victory was finding a way to tame the faculty,” Falwell told the New York Times last year for a story about privileging Liberty’s financial growth over its academics.) But the school’s methods became even more aggressive after Falwell endorsed Donald Trump early that year, according to multiple current and former faculty members. “The closer you get to the president’s office,” says former history professor Brian Melton, discussing a chilling effect at the school, “the worse it becomes.” Falwell’s staff now operates masterfully to squash challenges to his views and his rise in national political influence.

The dissent that did exist — like off-message campus speakers, insufficiently sycophantic board members, student activists and our newspaper staff — was ruthlessly neutralized. Liberty, founded on principles of fundamental Christianity, is now a place that has zero tolerance for new questions and ideas. Those who harbor them must remain silent, or leave.

Falwell, 57, possesses a certain Orwellian gift for painting Liberty as a bastion of tolerance where alternate viewpoints are not just permitted but encouraged. In March, he attended the signing of Trump’s executive order on college free speech and later claimed on “PBS NewsHour” that Liberty was inclusive of all ideas because it had invited Jimmy Carter to deliver its 2018 commencement address and Bernie Sanders to speak in 2015 at the assembly that students are required to attend twice a week. After Falwell learned last month that I was writing this essay, he posted a column on Liberty’s site disputing “sensational stories . . . that we do not allow opposing views.” He wrote, “If there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that there will be a strong and critical response to this article by a few former students and a handful of national media determined to paint Liberty in a completely different light on these issues.”

His Twitter account is a much better reflection of his approach to dissent. Falwell’s profile announces that “Haters will be blocked,” and several students who have disagreed or argued with him on Twitter have met this fate. Falwell outright lied on the platform to Sojourners Web editor Sandi Villarreal — who is now my colleague — when he said he’d removed a Champion op-ed criticizing Trump’s “locker room talk” defense because there was simply not enough room on the page. (The piece was already laid out on the page when he pulled it.) In fact, much of Falwell’s message control has to do with safeguarding Trump.

Mark DeMoss was something like Liberty royalty. His late father, Arthur S. DeMoss, gave $20 million to build DeMoss Hall, the school’s main academic building. Mark was also an alumnus, a former chief of staff to university founder Jerry Falwell Sr. and eventually a public relations executive who counted Liberty among his clients. He won a seat on the school’s board of trustees in 1991 after serving as Liberty’s spokesman and became the board’s executive committee chairman in 2008.

In January 2016, days before Trump was scheduled to speak at Liberty, Falwell emailed DeMoss asking whether he should endorse Trump for president. DeMoss says he recommended against endorsing anyone, and Falwell thanked him for the “great advice.” Falwell, at the speech, held back his imprimatur. But a week later, he anointed the billionaire with his support. DeMoss was horrified. “The bullying tactics of personal insult have no defense — and certainly not for anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ,” he told The Washington Post at the time. Falwell seemed to take the rebuke in stride, saying he was “disappointed” in DeMoss but understood “that all the administrators and faculty have their own personal political views.”

Within a few months, though, DeMoss would be gone. The night before a Liberty board meeting that April, the executive committee, including Falwell, convened without DeMoss to vote on a motion to oust him from his role as chairman. DeMoss says that his criticism of the endorsement was the cause. (Before the meeting, Falwell called him a pawn of rival campaigns.) DeMoss resigned as a trustee days later, on April 25, 2016, citing “a lack of trust.”

A week after that, Liberty changed the sign on DeMoss Hall to “Arthur S. DeMoss Hall,” making clear that the structure honored the father and not the wayward son. The message to faculty and students was clear: If you challenge Falwell, you will be not only removed but erased.

The culture of Liberty is governed by lists of principles. According to the Faculty Handbook, for instance, professors are expected to “promote . . . free market processes” and “affirm . . . that the Bible is inerrant in the originals and authoritative in all matters.” One cause of perpetual insecurity at Liberty is the school’s militant refusal to award tenure to any faculty member (outside the law school, which must offer it for accreditation). Instructors are instead hired on year-to-year contracts; during the spring semester, they find out whether they will be coming back the next fall.

The result is constant, erratic faculty turnover. One recently fired teacher describes the spring as a cycle of stressed-out, fearful professors wandering into each other’s offices to ask if they had their contracts renewed yet. “If you’re a conservative Christian in the academic world, the chances of you getting a job are nil in many areas,” says Melton, who worked at Liberty as an associate professor for 15 years before resigning because of what he described as the school’s surveillance and fear tactics. “The administration knows that, and . . . they wield that very effectively, keeping people quiet.”

Late-notice faculty removals have also become more commonplace, according to Melton, stemming in part from Falwell’s stated desire to tame the teaching corps. “He considers the faculty to be disposable beasts of burden,” Melton says. Last summer, 14 professors at Liberty’s School of Education were suddenly told that their contracts would not be renewed as part of what former Liberty spokesman Len Stevens called a “reorganization.” This June, a dozen faculty members at Liberty’s School of Divinity were notified that their contracts would not be renewed. By that late in the year, it is too late to find another job in higher education for the fall.

For former faculty members, Liberty’s culture of fear can live on. The school often requires terminated professors to sign a nondisclosure agreement if they want their severance packages, several told me — a practice that is extremely uncommon in higher education, according to Robert Bezemek, a California lawyer who represents labor unions at universities. (As Melton puts it, “They force this NDA on you by leveraging the ability to feed your family against you.”) Even former teachers who hadn’t signed NDAs told me they feared that talking to me on the record would somehow get them blacklisted from jobs elsewhere or imperil their friends who still work at Liberty. One thought my request to speak with him was a trap, calling my previous connection with the school “fishy.” When I contacted another for an interview, she warned me, “The university is on to you.” I confess I harbor a certain paranoia, too, from years of being watched at the Champion. Melton and several other current and former members of the faculty told me that they believe the administration surveils everything they do on Liberty’s server, tracking when instructors complete a task late and searching for evidence of “disloyalty” to Liberty or Falwell, as a former professor put it. Another onetime instructor declined to use his university-issued laptop because he thought Liberty had equipped it with spyware.

One cause for alarm came just before Trump’s inauguration, when then-Provost Ronald Hawkins ordered all campus faculty members to fill out an anonymous survey that asked respondents to rate how politically and socially liberal they were on a scale of 1 to 5. “We are interested in how we compare with other institutions on political and social views,” Hawkins’s office said in a follow-up email to faculty members. But, according to a former professor who talked with others in her department, many initially refused to take the survey out of fear that if a department had too many left-leaning professors, the administration might target it for more oversight or even firings. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 July 2019 at 1:56 pm

The Economist Who Would Fix the American Dream

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Gareth Cook writes in the Atlantic:

Raj Chetty got his biggest break before his life began. His mother, Anbu, grew up in Tamil Nadu, a tropical state at the southern tip of the Indian subcontinent. Anbu showed the greatest academic potential of her five siblings, but her future was constrained by custom. Although Anbu’s father encouraged her scholarly inclinations, there were no colleges in the area, and sending his daughter away for an education would have been unseemly.

But as Anbu approached the end of high school, a minor miracle redirected her life. A local tycoon, himself the father of a bright daughter, decided to open a women’s college, housed in his elegant residence. Anbu was admitted to the inaugural class of 30 young women, learning English in the spacious courtyard under a thatched roof and traveling in the early mornings by bus to a nearby college to run chemistry experiments or dissect frogs’ hearts before the men arrived. Anbu excelled, and so began a rapid upward trajectory. She enrolled in medical school. “Why,” her father was asked, “do you send her there?” Among their Chettiar caste, husbands commonly worked abroad for years at a time, sending back money, while wives were left to raise the children. What use would a medical degree be to a stay-at-home mother?

In 1962, Anbu married Veerappa Chetty, a brilliant man from Tamil Nadu whose mother and grandmother had sometimes eaten less food so there would be more for him. Anbu became a doctor and supported her husband while he earned a doctorate in economics. By 1979, when Raj was born in New Delhi, his mother was a pediatrics professor and his father was an economics professor who had served as an adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.

When Chetty was 9, his family moved to the United States, and he began a climb nearly as dramatic as that of his parents. He was the valedictorian of his high-school class, then graduated in just three years from Harvard University, where he went on to earn a doctorate in economics and, at age 28, was among the youngest faculty members in the university’s history to be offered tenure. In 2012, he was awarded the MacArthur genius grant. The following year, he was given the John Bates Clark Medal, awarded to the most promising economist under 40. (He was 33 at the time.) In 2015, Stanford University hired him away. Last summer, Harvard lured him back to launch his own research and policy institute, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

Chetty turns 40 this month, and is widely considered to be one of the most influential social scientists of his generation. “The question with Raj,” says Harvard’s Edward Glaeser, one of the country’s leading urban economists, “is notif he will win a Nobel Prize, but when.”

The work that has brought Chetty such fame is an echo of his family’s history. He has pioneered an approach that uses newly available sources of government data to show how American families fare across generations, revealing striking patterns of upward mobility and stagnation. In one early study, he showed that children born in 1940 had a 90 percent chance of earning more than their parents, but for children born four decades later, that chance had fallen to 50 percent, a toss of a coin.

In 2013, Chetty released a colorful map of the United States, showing the surprising degree to which people’s financial prospects depend on where they happen to grow up. In Salt Lake City, a person born to a family in the bottom fifth of household income had a 10.8 percent chance of reaching the top fifth. In Milwaukee, the odds were less than half that.

Since then, each of his studies has become a front-page media event (“Chetty bombs,” one collaborator calls them) that combines awe—millions of data points, vivid infographics, a countrywide lens—with shock. This may not be the America you’d like to imagine, the statistics testify, but it’s what we’ve allowed America to become. Dozens of the nation’s elite colleges have more children of the 1 percent than from families in the bottom 60 percent of family income. A black boy born to a wealthy family is more than twice as likely to end up poor as a white boy from a wealthy family. Chetty has established Big Data as a moral force in the American debate.Now he wants to do more than change our understanding of America—he wants to change America itself. His new Harvard-based institute, called Opportunity Insights, is explicitly aimed at applying his findings in cities around the country and demonstrating that social scientists, despite a discouraging track record, are able to fix the problems they articulate in journals. His staff includes an eight-person policy team, which is building partnerships with Charlotte, Seattle, Detroit, Minneapolis, and other cities.

For a man who has done so much to document the country’s failings, Chetty is curiously optimistic. He has the confidence of a scientist: If a phenomenon like upward mobility can be measured with enough precision, then it can be understood; if it can be understood, then it can be manipulated. “The big-picture goal,” Chetty told me, “is to revive the American dream.”

Last summer, I visited Opportunity Insights on its opening day. The offices are housed on the second floor of a brick building, above a café and across Massachusetts Avenue from Harvard’s columned Widener Library. Chetty arrived in econ-casual: a lilac dress shirt, no jacket, black slacks. He is tall and trim, with an untroubled air; he smiled as he greeted two of his longtime collaborators—the Brown University economist John Friedman and Harvard’s Nathaniel Hendren. They walked him around, showing off the finished space, done in a modern palette of white, wood, and aluminum with accent walls of yellow and sage.

Later, after Chetty and his colleagues had finished giving a day of seminars to their new staff, I caught up with him in his office, which was outfitted with a pristine whiteboard, an adjustable-height desk, and a Herman Miller chair that still had the tags attached. The first time I’d met him, at an economics conference, he had told me he was one of several cousins on his mother’s side who go by Raj, all named after their grandfather, Nadarajan, all with sharp minds and the same long legs and easy gait. Yet of Nadarajan’s children, only Chetty’s mother graduated from college, and he’s certain that this fact shaped his generation’s possibilities. He was able to come to the United States as a child and attend an elite private school, the University School of Milwaukee. New York Raj—the family appends a location to keep them straight—came to the U.S. later in life, at age 28, worked in drugstores, and then took a series of jobs with the City of New York. Singapore Raj found a job in a temple there that allows him to support his family back in India, but means they must live apart. Karaikudi Raj, named for the town where his mother grew up, committed suicide as a teenager.

I asked Boston Raj to consider what might have become of him if that wealthy Indian businessman had not decided, in the precise year his mother was finishing high school, to create a college for the talented women of southeastern Tamil Nadu. “I would likely not be here,” he said, thinking for a moment. “To put it another way: Who are all the people who are not here, who would have been here if they’d had the opportunities? That is a really good question.”

Charlotte is one of America’s great urban success stories. In the 1970s, it was a modest-size city left behind as the textile industry that had defined North Carolina moved overseas. But in the 1980s, the “Queen City” began to lift itself up. US Airways established a hub at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, and the region became a major transportation and distribution center. Bank of America built its headquarters there, and today Charlotte is in a dead heat with San Francisco to be the nation’s second-largest banking center, after New York. New skyscrapers have sprouted downtown, and the city boundary has been expanding, replacing farmland with spacious homes and Whole Foods stores. In the past four decades, Charlotte’s population has nearly tripled.

Charlotte has also stood out in Chetty’s research, though not in a good way. In a 2014 analysis of the country’s 50 largest metropolitan areas, Charlotte ranked last in ability to lift up poor children. Only 4.4 percent of Charlotte’s kids moved from the bottom quintile of household income to the top. Kids born into low-income families earned just $26,000 a year, on average, as adults—perched on the poverty line. “It was shocking,” says Brian Collier, an executive vice president of the Foundation for the Carolinas, which is working with Opportunity Insights. “The Charlotte story is that we are a meritocracy, that if you come here and are smart and motivated, you will have every opportunity to achieve greatness.” The city’s true story, Chetty’s data showed, is of selective opportunity: All the data-scientist and business-development-analyst jobs in the thriving banking sector are a boon for out-of-towners and the progeny of the well-to-do, but to grow up poor in Charlotte is largely to remain poor.

To help cities like Charlotte, Chetty takes inspiration from medicine. For thousands of years, he explained, little progress was made in understanding disease, until technologies like the microscope gave scientists novel ways to understand biology, and thus the pathologies that make people ill. In October, Chetty’s institute released an interactive map of the United States called the Opportunity Atlas, revealing the terrain of opportunity down to the level of individual neighborhoods. This, he says, will be his microscope.

Drawing on anonymized government data over a three-decade span, the researchers linked children to the parents who claimed them as dependents. The atlas then followed poor kids from every census tract in the country, showing how much they went on to earn as adults. The colors on the atlas reveal a generation’s prospects: red for areas where kids fared the worst; shades of orange, yellow, and green for middling locales; and blue for spots like Salt Lake City’s Foothill neighborhood, where upward mobility is strongest. It can also track children born into higher income brackets, compare results by race and gender, and zoom out to show states, regions, or the country as a whole.

The Opportunity Atlas has a fractal quality. Some regions of the United States  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 July 2019 at 11:47 am

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