Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

The cult of Mary Beard

leave a comment »

Mary Beard is a good writer and, based on the following article in the Guardian, and interesting person to boot. Charlotte Higgins writes:

The first time I saw Mary Beard, I was 17. It was 1989, and she was speaking at a joint open day for the Oxford and Cambridge classics faculties. She was utterly unlike the other speakers, who, as I recall them, were Oxbridge dons straight from central casting: tweedy, forbidding, male. Instead of standing at a lectern like everyone else, she perched rakishly on the edge of a desk. She was dressed in a vaguely hippyish, embroidered black dress, and a cascade of black hair tumbled around her shoulders. Greg Woolf, now director of the Institute of Classical Studies at the University of London, recalls another one of those open days, in the early 1990s. “I spoke, and then another big hairy bloke like me spoke. And then Mary came on and said: ‘Well, you’ve heard what the boys have got to say.’ And you could see that she’d already won everyone’s hearts.”

Everyone who has met Beard seems to have a story about encountering her for the first time – usually involving her rigorous intellect, her total lack of formality, and her sense of mischief. One of her former students, Emily Kneebone, remembers supervisions – one-to-one or two-to-one teaching sessions – at Newnham, the women-only Cambridge college to which Beard has been attached for most of her adult life, first as a student, then as a don. She would teach from a chaise longue: “At first she’d be in a normal position, but as the hour progressed she would gradually slide further and further down so you could only see her feet.” One junior colleague still remembers Beard introducing herself, at a conference almost 25 years ago, with the overture, “Give us a fag, darlin’.”

In public, in private and in her academic writing she is sceptical, wary of consensus, the kind of person who will turn any question back on itself and examine it from an unexpected angle. She is not afraid to take apart her own work: at that same conference in the early 1990s, she presented a paper that repudiated one of the scholarly articles that had helped make her name a decade earlier, an influential study of Rome’s Vestal Virgins. It was an extremely unusual thing for a scholar to do. “She doesn’t let herself off – she’s not one of those scholars who is building an unassailable monument of work to leave behind her,” Woolf said. “She is quite happy to go back to her earlier self and say, ‘Nah.’”

The learned but approachable figure you see on TV translating Latin inscriptions, carving up a pizza to explain the division of the Roman empire, or arguing about public services on Question Time, is precisely the Beard you encounter in private, except that in real life, she swears magnificently and often. (“She’s always spoken fluent Anglo-Saxon,” said Woolf.) In a Greek restaurant in London one January afternoon, her long grey hair uncharacteristically glossy and fresh from the stylist, Beard talked about everything from Islamic State to academic freedom. At one point, she sketched out an argument for a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. Her case rested on the very nature of democracy, for which the presence of a ballot box was a necessary but not sufficient condition. Democracy cannot properly operate without knowledge, she said – which the entire electorate of summer 2016 lacked. (“Aristophanes knew that!”) The referendum then, should not be treated as the final word, she said, but as a straw vote. “Sure, say we want to leave, but you can only in the end say we are going to leave when we know what it means. Otherwise,” she said, “it’s just wanking in the dark.” Thinking I had misheard, I asked her to repeat. “Wanking in the dark,” repeated Beard, at volume. Later in the conversation, she told me she was planning to get a pink streak in her hair. “I’m fucking well going to have one: it just feels like such fun.”

Beard is a celebrity, a national treasure, and easily the world’s most famous classicist. Her latest book, Women and Power, about the long history of the silencing of female voices, was a Christmas bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic. In the eight years since her debut TV documentary, Pompeii, she has conquered the small screen. She is one of a trio of presenters who will, in March, front Civilisations – a new, big-budget version of Kenneth Clark’s 1969 series Civilisation, the most revered cultural TV series in the BBC’s history.

A mark of her leap into the celebrity stratosphere is the avalanche of daily requests she receives. These have included, aside from several politely declined offers of a makeover from the Daily Mail, invitations (also politely declined) to appear on the diving show Splash!, on the celebrity version of The Great British Bake Off and on Celebrity Mastermind. Of the last she said: “God, just imagine it. Either you’d look like a complete nerd or everyone would be saying, ‘She doesn’t know a thing.’”

Out and about, she is regularly flagged down by fans, often, but not always, young women. (One admirer, Megan Beech, published a poem called When I Grow Up I Want to Be Mary Beard – a phrase that now adorns T-shirts worn by her fans. Characteristically, Beard befriended Beech after they connected on social media, and Beech is now studying for a PhD at Newnham.) Caterina Turroni, a television producer who has worked with Beard since the Pompeii documentary, recalled filming with her in Tiberius’s villa on Capri in 2013, when a party of English schoolgirls spotted the cameras. “You could hear them saying, ‘What if it’s her?’ ‘Do you think it’s really her?’ and then they saw her and they went insane – it was like they’d seen a boyband.”

As recently as a decade ago, it would have seemed unlikely, even outlandish, that a middle-aged classics don, her appearance a million miles away from the groomed perfection expected of women in the public sphere, would end up so famous and, by and large, so loved. That unlikeliness was summed up by notorious reviews of her early programmes in the Sunday Times by the late TV critic AA Gill, who mocked what he called her “corpses’ teeth” and, in 2012, declared that she ought to be “kept away from cameras altogether”. But it was Gill who was out of tune with the times. Beard hit back in the Daily Mail, pointing out that “There have always been men like Gill who are frightened of smart women who speak their minds”, and that “The point is not what I look like, but what I do.” She struck a chord. “I thought that most of the readers’ comments would be negative,” she told me in December, “but many more of them were positive. The Mail’s demographic, after all, is women my age – and who look like me, not like Joanna Lumley.”

Since then, Beard has become a standard-bearer for middle-aged women, and beloved by the young – indeed, by anyone who wants to be seen in terms of their ideas, not their looks; anyone who think it’s cool to be smart; and by those who relentlessly ask questions and never reject a contrary opinion out of hand. Beard’s intellectual style, which suffuses all her scholarship – a commitment to rigorous scepticism that refuses to be cynical – has made her a model for those who worry that the shouting and bullying of the digital world make reasoned political debate impossible.

Beard radiates authority and expertise, but she does not hesitate to get mixed up in messy public arguments, which often puts her on the frontline of the culture wars. Last year, when a far-right conspiracy theorist attacked a BBC cartoon that showed a man of sub-Saharan appearance as a Roman in Britain – political correctness gone mad! – Beard calmly stepped in to explain there was in fact “plenty of firm evidence for ethnic diversity in Roman Britain”. Her expert intervention was met with a what she later described as a “torrent of aggressive insults, on everything from my historical competence and elitist ivory tower viewpoint to my age, shape and gender”.

For most people, this would be a cautionary tale; for Beard, it was evidence that such battles cannot be shirked. Embedded in her refusal to be silenced, in her endless online engagement, is a kind of optimism: the idealistic, perhaps totally unrealistic, notion that if only we listened to each other, if only we argued more cogently, more tolerantly and with better grace, then we could make public discourse something better than it is.

Beard exemplifies something rare, said Jonty Claypole, the BBC’s director of arts and one of the executive producers of the new Civilisations. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2018 at 2:36 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Education

Not an urgent concern for me, but interesting: ‘Class-passing’: how do you learn the rules of being rich?

leave a comment »

Arwa Mahdawi writes in the Guardian:

On an October night in 2003, a flat tire changed Muhammad Faridi’s life forever.

Faridi was 20. An immigrant who’d moved from a small village in Pakistan to Brighton Beach, Brooklyn when he was 12, he split his time studying at City University of New York during the day, and driving his dad’s cab at night to make money.

One of his professors had organized a human rights conference in New Jersey and, knowing about Faridi’s side job, asked him to drive the woman delivering the keynote lecture to the conference and back. And that’s what Faridi was doing until he got a flat and had to pull over in the dark on the side of Route 80. As it turned out, Faridi’s passenger was Mary Robinson: the first female president of Ireland and the United Nations high commissioner for human rights from 1997 to 2002.

It took Faridi a while to change the tire – everything seemed to be going wrong that night – and as he was struggling with the car jack, the two got talking.

It was coming up to the second anniversary of 9/11 and Faridi told Robinson that, as a Muslim, he was no longer sure what his place was in America. A lot of his Pakistani friends had been rounded up in immigration raids and had been deported. “You’ve got to become a lawyer,” Robinson told Faridi firmly. That would be the best way to help his community. Her words stuck with him.

Fast forward 14 years, and Faridi is a partner at a prestigious New York law firm. As a kid, Faridi’s loftiest goal was maybe one day being a limo driver, doing just a little better than his father. He never thought he’d be where he is today: conducting billion-dollar lawsuits and leading pro bono cases, representing Muslim community centers and death row inmates.

’m talking to Faridi in his plush office on the 30th floor of a fancy Manhattan skyscraper. Our conversation is part of a number of interviews I’m conducting with people who have dramatically changed their social class. I want to find out what it’s like to be a class “migrant”. What you learn when you journey from one socioeconomic group to another, and whether it takes an emotional toll.

Stories like Faridi’s are becoming increasingly rare. Economic mobility has fallen steeply in America over the last few decades; one study estimates it has almost halved since 1940. Increasingly, your class is your destiny. Nevertheless, the country remains enamored of these rags-to-riches tales which perpetuate the myth that, in the US, anything is possible if you pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

It’s not just hard work that propels you up the social ladder. Success, as Faridi stresses repeatedly, is often large parts luck. But there’s also another, less tangible ingredient involved: “class-passing”.

In the UK, class consciousness is woven into the national identity. In America, however, people often like to pretend that a class system doesn’t really exist. But, of course, it does.

Going from a taxi driver’s son to a partner at a law firm isn’t just about academic qualifications. It’s also a matter of figuring out the right social cues. You have to understand the subtle signifiers that indicate to people that you’re one of them – whether that be the way you hold your fork, where you go on holiday or what brand of shoes you wear.

As a young lawyer, Faridi spent large amounts of time trying to figure out how to crack the unspoken conventions of his new world. How to dress, for example. “I remember wearing a lot of cufflinks, because that was the thing to do,” he says.

Fancy lunches with clients also became a minefield. “I was very nervous about how to pick up the cutlery so I watched a bunch of YouTube videos on proper ways to handle silverwear,” he says. Faridi grew up in a Muslim household, where you get taught to eat with your right hand. According to YouTube, Faridi chuckles, “the proper way of putting food in your mouth is by using your left hand. And I remember having a lot of discomfort with that because it was something I’d never done before.”

In law school, Faridi clerked for a judge. One night, he helped the judge load some heavy documents into a taxi; the driver was his father. Faridi froze, not sure what to do. “I was embarrassed to go over and shake [my father’s] hand, so I waited until the judge had already gotten in the cab. I didn’t want the judge to see me, and I didn’t want my father to think that I was embarrassed to see him.”

It wasn’t until he made partner in 2016 that Faridi lost his sense of embarrassment. After the big announcement, he remembers, he took the elevator down to the bottom of the building, where his dad was waiting in his taxi. “And he came out of the cab and we hugged each other for a good couple of minutes.”

But there’s still a gulf between his new life and his old. His best friends from high school work as cab drivers and busboys or in Pathmark, a major supermarket chain, and he doesn’t get invited to poker nights at their houses. “None of them came to my wedding,” Faridi says sadly.

While he’s proud of everything he’s achieved, there is part of him that mourns the person he used to be.

***

Donnel Baird spent part of his childhood in Brooklyn. In the years since, the borough has rapidly gentrified, and so has Baird. We’re chatting in a WeWork co-working office in the pricey Dumbo neighbourhood, where Baird is the CEO and founder of BlocPower, a clean-energy startup that has raised over $1m in funding from some of Silicon Valley’s biggest names – including Andreessen Horowitz, which has invested in the likes of Twitter and Airbnb.

BlocPower had $4m in revenue in 2017 and has a contract to perform sustainability retrofits of 500 buildings in Brooklyn. It likely won’t be long before the company outgrows its current office space.

There weren’t any trendy office spaces in Baird’s Bed-Stuy neighbourhood when he was a kid. Co-living, on the other hand, was common. He lived with his parents and sister in a in a one-bedroom apartment; two aunts and five of his cousins lived in a studio upstairs. They shared a bathroom in the hall with another family.

Bed-Stuy in the 1980s was rough. Baird saw a teenager shoot another kid in the head when he was just six. It was all a far cry from the Baird family’s life in Guyana. Baird’s dad had had an important job and a big house, but in America they had to start from scratch. It took a toll on the marriage and, when Baird was eight, his parents split up and his mom moved with him down to Atlanta. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 February 2018 at 1:13 pm

Games technical education: Becoming more established

leave a comment »

Game design and development have found a home in academia: a recruiting ad for Assistant Professor or Instructor of Game Design and Development:

The Department of Interactive Media at Bradley at Bradley University seeks a dynamic individual to join our award-winning and nationally ranked game program beginning August 2018.

The department welcomes applications from candidates working in industry, academia, or both. The successful candidate will be able to teach students the game development process. Candidates with a background in game art, game programming, game design, game production, or game studies are all encouraged to apply. Professional experience and college-level teaching experience is preferred, but not required. Salary is competitive and commensurate with experience and qualifications.

This position may be either a non-tenure-track or tenure-track appointment. . .

Continue reading.

Full disclosure: My son is chairman of that department.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 January 2018 at 10:07 am

Posted in Business, Education, Games

Yale’s Most Popular Class Ever: Happiness

leave a comment »

David Shimer reports in the NY Times:

On Jan. 12, a few days after registration opened at Yale for Psyc 157, Psychology and the Good Life, roughly 300 people had signed up. Within three days, the figure had more than doubled. After three more days, about 1,200 students, or nearly one-fourth of Yale undergraduates, were enrolled.

The course, taught by Laurie Santos, 42, a psychology professor and the head of one of Yale’s residential colleges, tries to teach students how to lead a happier, more satisfying life in twice-weekly lectures.

“Students want to change, to be happier themselves, and to change the culture here on campus,” Dr. Santos said in an interview. “With one in four students at Yale taking it, if we see good habits, things like students showing more gratitude, procrastinating less, increasing social connections, we’re actually seeding change in the school’s culture.”

Dr. Santos speculated that Yale students are interested in the class because, in high school, they had to deprioritize their happiness to gain admission to the school, adopting harmful life habits that have led to what she called “the mental health crises we’re seeing at places like Yale.” A 2013 report by the Yale College Council found that more than half of undergraduates sought mental health care from the university during their time there.

“In reality, a lot of us are anxious, stressed, unhappy, numb,” said Alannah Maynez, 19, a freshman taking the course. “The fact that a class like this has such large interest speaks to how tired students are of numbing their emotions — both positive and negative — so they can focus on their work, the next step, the next accomplishment.”

Students have long requested that Yale offer a course on positive psychology, according to Woo-Kyoung Ahn, director of undergraduate studies in psychology, who said she was “blown away” by Dr. Santos’s proposal for the class.

Administrators like Dr. Ahn expected significant enrollment for the class, but none anticipated it to be quite so large. Psychology and the Good Life, with 1,182 undergraduates currently enrolled, stands as the most popular course in Yale’s 316-year history. The previous record-holder — Psychology and the Law — was offered in 1992 and had about 1,050 students, according to Marvin Chun, the Yale College dean. Most large lectures at Yale don’t exceed 600.

Offering such a large class has  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2018 at 1:06 pm

Michigan State secrets extend far beyond Larry Nassar case

leave a comment »

Paula Lavigne and Nicole Noren write at ESPN:

MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY administrators have long claimed, to the federal government and public, that they have handled sexual assault, violence, and gender discrimination complaints properly.

But an Outside the Lines investigation has found a pattern of widespread denial, inaction and information suppression of such allegations by officials ranging from campus police to the Spartan athletic department, whose top leader, Mark Hollis, announced his retirement on Friday. The actions go well beyond the highly publicized case of former MSU athletic physician Larry Nassar.

Over the past three years, MSU has three times fought in court — unsuccessfully — to withhold names of athletes in campus police records. The school has also deleted so much information from some incident reports that they were nearly unreadable. In circumstances in which administrators have commissioned internal examinations to review how they have handled certain sexual violence complaints, officials have been selective in releasing information publicly. In one case, a university-hired outside investigator claimed to have not even generated a written report at the conclusion of his work. And attorneys who have represented accusers and the accused agree on this: University officials have not always been transparent, and often put the school’s reputation above the need to give fair treatment to those reporting sexual violence and to the alleged perpetrators.

Even MSU’s most-recognizable figures, football coach Mark Dantonio and basketball coach Tom Izzo, have had incidents involving their programs, Outside the Lines has found.

Since Dantonio’s tenure began in 2007, at least 16 MSU football players have been accused of sexual assault or violence against women, according to interviews and public records obtained by Outside the Lines. Even more, Dantonio was said to be involved in handling the discipline in at least one of the cases several years ago. As recently as June, Dantonio faced a crowd of reporters who were asking questions about four of his football players who had been accused of sexual assault. Six questions in, a reporter asked Dantonio how he had handled such allegations previously.

“This is new ground for us,” Dantonio answered. “We’ve been here 11 years — it has not happened previously.”

Outside the Lines also has obtained never-before-publicized reports of sexual or violent incidents involving members of Izzo’s storied basketball program, including one report made against a former undergraduate student-assistant coach who was allowed to continue coaching after he had been criminally charged for punching a female MSU student in the face at a bar in 2010. A few months later, after the Spartans qualified for the 2010 Final Four, the same assistant coach was accused of sexually assaulting a different female student.

Michigan State officials, including former president Lou Anna Simon — who resigned Wednesday — have been criticized for a lack of transparency and for not properly handling the Nassar sexual abuse allegations. As far back as 1997, athletes began telling multiple MSU officials, including the university’s longtime gymnastics coach, that Nassar was assaulting them under the guise of medical treatment. Several survivors of Nassar’s abuse excoriated Simon and Michigan State during Nassar’s sentencing hearing in recent days, repeatedly saying that MSU’s inaction allowed Nassar to continue abusing scores of young girls and women.

On Thursday, Outside the Lines reported that MSU officials in 2014 did not notify federal officials that the university had dual Title IX and campus police investigations of Nassar under way even though federal investigators were on campus that year scrutinizing how MSU dealt with sexual assault allegations. The Outside the Lines report also found that MSU administrators still have not provided to federal officials all documents related to the Nassar allegations.

In her resignation statement, Simon was defiant, saying that as “tragedies are politicized,” someone had to take the blame. Further, she praised her campus police department’s handling of Nassar-related matters and stated unequivocally that “there is no cover-up.”

Yet former Michigan State sexual assault counselor Lauren Allswede, who left the university in 2015 over frustrations about how administrators handled sexual assault cases, told Outside the Lines that MSU administrators’ entire approach to such cases has been misguided for years. The biggest issue? Complaints involving athletes were routinely investigated and handled by athletic director Hollis’ department, and sometimes even coaches, she says.

“Whatever protocol or policy was in place, whatever frontline staff might normally be involved in response or investigation, it all got kind of swept away and it was handled more by administration [and] athletic department officials,” says Allswede, who worked at MSU for seven years. “It was all happening behind closed doors. … None of it was transparent or included people who would normally be involved in certain decisions.”

In the Nassar case, campus police and Michigan State’s Title IX office did not formally begin investigating him until 2014 — 17 years after the first complaint was made to a Michigan State coach. Nassar remained employed at MSU until September 2016, a few weeks after a gymnast had filed a criminal complaint against him with campus police. Nassar, 54, pleaded guilty in November to 10 counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct with victims as young as 6 years old and was sentenced Wednesday to 40 to 175 years in prison, which will begin after he completes a 60-year sentence he is serving after pleading guilty to possessing child pornography. More than 150 women are now suing Nassar, Michigan State and other entities, claiming they were sexually assaulted by him.

Allswede told Outside the Lines that about seven years ago, an attorney from the university’s general counsel’s department came to her office to try to reassure her that coaches were taking allegations of sexual violence seriously. Allswede says the attorney told her how Dantonio, the football coach, had dealt with a sexual assault accusation against one of his players: He had the player talk to his mother about what he had done.

“That did not reassure me at all,” Allswede says. “There’s no guarantee that that had any effect, any help, whatever.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 January 2018 at 2:21 pm

But it’s worth it to have guns freely available

leave a comment »

From the NY Times:

Tuesday’s deadly shooting in Kentucky was the 11th on a school property this year in the U.S. And we’re not even through January.<

Researchers and gun control advocates say that since 2013, they have logged school shootings at a rate of about one a week.

I have to say that it seems evident to me that thoughts and prayers aren’t working. Maybe something else should be tried. Try things until we get it right.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 January 2018 at 4:31 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education, Guns

“Shithole Countries” Is All About Political Correctness

leave a comment »

Kevin Drum has an interesting comment that rings true. Do read it.

His argument regarding vocabulary resonated with me: it is indeed difficult to delineate nuance if you lack the tools (i.e., the words) to do so. And some people do lack the words—look, for example, how often “nice” is used because other words are too difficult to recall or are unknown:

“How was your day?” “Nice.”

“What did you think of that dinner/party/movie/person/etc.?” “Nice.”

And so on.

Trying to describe an entire country and paint a true and balanced picture using just words and numbers is very difficult. Picking a single-word descriptor for the country—”Nice” or “Spectacular” or “Grim” or “Shithole”—is obviously easier and requires less knowledge of vocabulary and less knowledge of the country: one just names his or her impression of the country.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 January 2018 at 11:35 am

%d bloggers like this: