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Betsy DeVos Doesn’t Understand How Markets Really Work

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Jack Schneider writes in the Washington Monthly:

The school choice movement has had stunning political success over the past thirty years. Charter schools and voucher programs, mere ideas when Ronald Reagan took office, are now major features of the public education landscape—today, all 50 states offer some mechanism for enrolling children in schools outside their neighborhoods.

Still, the choice movement has unfolded largely at the margins of American public education. That isn’t to say that school choice is a fringe issue. Anyone attuned to education policy debates knows that isn’t the case. But the charter sector comprises only a fraction of total public school enrollments, and voucher programs remain relatively uncommon. In large part, this is because the mainstream school choice movement recognizes that choice, alone, is not enough to ensure better outcomes. As a substantial body of research confirms, the impact of charter schools and voucher programs on student learning is not consistently positive, and often it’s quite negative. Certainly, there are positive stories to tell in particular cities or particular charter networks, but on the whole, it’s hard to argue that the school choice movement has been driven by demonstrably encouraging results. Consequently, most school choice advocates have been content to win small victories—adding charter schools or voucher programs into the existing education system.

Donald Trump’s appointment of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education changed that. For DeVos, choice isn’t a desirable feature, or even a necessary prerequisite for successful school outcomes. Instead, she sees choice as a sufficient condition. Guaranteeing every child a great education, in other words, requires only a robust free market in which parents can make choices and government stays out of the way.

This vision has been most bluntly outlined through a series of analogies that DeVos has drawn in public events. Speaking recently at Harvard, for instance, she advocated for school choice by discussing the challenge of finding lunch near her office in Washington, D.C. “Near the Department of Education, there aren’t many restaurants,” she observed. “But you know what—food trucks started lining the streets to provide options.” In other words, a monopoly became a competitive marketplace and, as hungry staffers flocked to nearby food trucks, the overall food improved for everyone. Even local restaurants, DeVos noted, “have added food trucks to their businesses to better meet customer’s needs.” The moral of the story: everyone wins in a system where people can choose.

This was not an off-the-cuff remark. DeVos was delivering a prepared speech at a high-profile event, and it echoed previous comments of hers. In March, for instance, DeVos said that “the entrenched status quo” in public education “has resisted models that empower individuals.” Government, she argued, should shift its funding from schools to students, allowing families to make choices in a free market.

This is an extreme interpretation of school choice, in which charter schools and voucher programs are mechanisms for tearing apart the public education system and replacing it with a choice-based marketplace. So, previous arguments against expanding school choice—arguments largely focused on what choice will do to the existing system—are largely irrelevant. After all, DeVos has no interest in the public education system. As she put it: “This isn’t about school ‘systems.’ This is about individual students, parents, and families. Schools are at the service of students, not the other way around.”

Perhaps, then, it is time to highlight a different set of critiques, which accept the premise of education as a marketplace and schools as consumer goods. Progressives may feel uncomfortable with the exercise, since it fundamentally conflicts with the idea of education as a public good. But what it reveals is that, for a free market devotee, DeVos maintains a relatively unsophisticated view of how markets actually function. The flaws in her vision aren’t just a matter of politics; they are a matter of fact.

Start with the fact that school quality cannot be evaluated through a single experience—the way a food truck can be. Products that can be evaluated this way are referred to by economists as “experience goods.” How much do I like this grilled cheese? Give me one minute and I’ll tell you. Education, on the other hand, is largely invisible and reveals its efficacy over time, making it a “credence good”—more like a surgical procedure than a sandwich. It can often take several months just to get a sense of a new school. In fact, some of us who are decades out of school are still sorting through our thoughts about how much we learned, how positive the social experience was, and whether we benefited in the ways we might have wished.

Scholars are also quick to point out that education is far more complex than most of the goods we shop for. As David Cohen has argued, education is a socially-supported process for cultivating human improvement—an ambitious and multifaceted enterprise that takes place over many years. This grand scope presents a measurement challenge, because it is impossible to distinguish the changes in a person due to schooling from the changes due to other factors—a problem that economists describe in terms of “attribution.” With simple products like food, attribution is easy: the taste of a sandwich can be attributed to its maker. But in complex goods like education, it can be much more difficult. To whom can we attribute a child’s love of reading? Her parents, who read to her nightly? Her preschool teachers, who emphasized phonemic awareness? Her local library, which stocks interesting new titles? Her book-loving friends? Her school?

A third difficulty facing DeVos’s choice-based model of education is what economists call a “principal-agent problem.” Such a problem occurs when one person (the agent) has the power to decide on behalf of another person (the principal) who will bear the impact of that decision. In a choice-based model, parents are the agents, acting on behalf of the child. Yet it is important to recall that parents do not spend their days inside schools—they rely on children for second-hand information about the value of the education they’re receiving—what economists call a problem of information asymmetry. And, in sharing what they know, young people might be compromised by a conflict of interest. Recall, for instance, . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 October 2017 at 8:50 am

The Uncanny Resurrection of Dungeons & Dragons

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Neima Jahromi writes in the New Yorker:

The clinical psychologist Jon Freeman was feeling burnt out. He spent his days at a corporate office in Manhattan, managing dozens of research assistants as they tested pharmaceuticals on people with anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Looking for an escape hatch, he noticed that his daughter often had nothing to do after school. She would pick up her Nintendo Wii controller and drift “into this world of digital isolation,” Freeman recalled. From time to time, he enticed her back into social existence with board games. “Then I had this idea: Couldn’t we do this on a larger scale? Could we expand this to our neighborhood?”
Freeman quit his job, and, shortly thereafter, in 2011, the first customers—initially, his daughter’s friends—arrived at his pop-up board-game club and café, Brooklyn Strategist, a place where children and their parents could sit down and play games, both classic and obscure, over veggie platters and homemade ginger ale. Looking back at his work in the research lab, he paired cognitive-ability tests with the board games that he had on hand, and divided these amusements by brain function—kids worked their way around their frontal lobes a die roll at a time.
One day, a child who had grown tired of a sports-statistics game asked if Freeman had heard of the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, and if they could play it. The game has no board and no cards. Occasionally, players make use of maps. At its best, it’s a story told between the players, who control characters (elves, dwarves, gnomes, humans), and the Dungeon Master, who describes the world and uses dice to determine outcomes in the second person (“You come across a band of orcs, travelling down the road. What do you do?”). Freeman refused for a week or two—the game was too open-ended, and didn’t have a straightforward cognitive benefit—but the customer persisted, so he went up into his parents’ attic, dug out all his old D. & D. manuals, and wrote an adventure. “I tried to give them a little flavor of everything,” he told me, “A little dungeon crawl, a little fighting monsters. They ate it up.” Word got out. A few months later, a parent stopped him on the street with tears in her eyes. “What are you guys doing?” she asked him. Her son was dyslexic and had been role-playing at Brooklyn Strategist for a couple of weeks. Before D. & D., he couldn’t focus on writing for more than a few seconds. Now he was staying up all night to draft stories about his character. “Whatever it is, bottle it and sell it to me,” the mother said.
Freeman got a permanent space in 2012 and added French-press coffee. A few months later, Gygax, a once defunct magazine named for the Dungeons & Dragons co-creator Gary Gygax, chose Brooklyn Strategist to host its relaunch party. A reporter for Wired, covering the event, asked the magazine’s founders why they wanted to waste their energy on such a publication (not to mention such a store) when “it’s video games, not Dungeons and Dragons and other RPGs, that are getting all the attention?” This attention, it seems, has shifted. Two popular role-playing shows, “The Adventure Zone” and “Critical Role,” sent Freeman’s older patrons to their knees, begging for more D. & D. time in the store. Soon, Freeman had to hire half a dozen paid Dungeon Masters for the kids and has now begun training volunteer Dungeon Masters to guide adventures for the adults who drop in on Thursdays to fight goblins, trick castle guards, and drink wine.
Dungeons & Dragons nights have spread into classrooms and game stores across the country. Forty dollars in Portland, Oregon, gets you into Orcs! Orcs! Orcs!, a “Tavern-inspired” pop-up restaurant with D. & D. games and artisanal delicacies. (One night, it boasted “tankards of beer” and “a whole roast pig.”) In Massachusetts, snow or shine, a series of role-playing camps called Guard Up offers children the chance to chase each other through the fields of Burlington with foam swords and Nerf blasters, while somehow also learning. (Each summer, in one camp, novels like “Animal Farm” or “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” are adapted into a mock zombie apocalypse that is then played out by the campers. In another, at a moment of detente, Gandalf might appear on the edge of a running track to give physics lessons.) “I’ve had parents get very upset with me,” said Freeman, who recently opened another store near Columbia University. “Because they sign their kids up for role playing and my staff is trying to expand their horizons beyond D. & D. and into other independent games. But the parents are, like, ‘If they can’t play D. & D., then I don’t know if this is going to work.’ ”
This turn of events might shock a time traveller from the twentieth century. In the seventies and eighties, Dungeons & Dragons, with its supernatural themes, became the fixation of an overheated news media in the midst of a culture war. Role players were seen as closet cases, the least productive kind of geek, retreating to basements to open maps, spill out bags of dice, and light candles by which to see their medieval figurines. They squared with no one. Unlike their hippie peers, they had dropped out without bothering to tune in. On the other side of politics,Christian moralists’ cries of the occult and anxiety about witchcraft followed D. & D. players everywhere. Worse still, parents feared how this enveloping set of lies about druids in dark cloaks and paladins on horseback could tip already vulnerable minds off the cliff of reality. At the end of the 1982 TV movie “Mazes and Monsters,” a troubled gamer, played by a pre-fame Tom Hanks, loses touch and starts to believe that he really does live beside an evil wood in need of heroes. “He saw the monsters. We did not,” his ex-girlfriend says in a voice-over. “We saw nothing but the death of hope, and the loss of our friend.”
Decades passed, D. & D. movies and cartoons came and went, and the game remade itself over and over. But interest fell like an orc beneath a bastard sword. The game’s designers, surrounded by copycats and perplexed about how to bring D. & D. online, made flat-footed attempts at developing new rule books to mimic the video games that D. & D. had inspired. Gygax died, in 2008, occasioning a wealth of tributes but little enthusiasm. Then, a fifth edition of D. & D. rules came out, in 2014, and, somehow, the culture was receptive again to bags of holding and silver-haired drow. People started buying up these volumes in droves. “More people are interested in D&D than we thought,” the game’s lead developer, Mike Mearls, said, as print runs repeatedly sold out. “Who are these people? What do they want?”
In 2017, gathering your friends in a room, setting your devices aside, and taking turns to contrive a story that exists largely in your head gives off a radical whiff for a completely different reason than it did in 1987. And the fear that a role-playing game might wound the psychologically fragile seems to have flipped on its head. Therapists use D. & D. to get troubled kids to talk about experiences that might otherwise embarrass them, and children with autism use the game to improve their social skills. Last year, researchers found that a group of a hundred and twenty-seven role players exhibited above-average levels of empathy, and a Brazilian study from 2013 showed that role-playing classes were an extremely effective way to teach cellular biology to medical undergraduates.
Adult D. & D. acolytes are everywhere now, too. The likes of Drew Barrymore and Vin Diesel regularly take up the twenty-sided die (or at least profess to do so). Tech workers from Silicon Valley to Brooklyn have long-running campaigns, and the showrunners and the novelist behind “Game of Thrones” have all been Dungeon Masters. (It’s also big with comedy improvisers in Los Angeles, but it’s no surprise that theatre kids have nerdy hobbies.) Nevertheless, the image of the recluse persists even among fans. “We’re going to alienate ninety-nine per cent of the people out there right now,” Stephen Colbert told Anderson Cooper last year, on “The Late Show,” as they fondly recalled their respective turns as an elven thief and a witch. “The shut-in at home is really excited,” Cooper replied. “Neckbeards,” Colbert added.
The “neckbeards” may be more numerous now than he and Cooper realize. “The Big Bang Theory” is a sitcom about young scientists at CalTech who spend most of their time shuttling between their laboratories and the comic-book store. The show’s protagonists also play a lot of D. & D. In one episode, a theoretical physicist takes on the guise of the Dungeon Master to relieve a microbiologist of her distress over the restraints of her pregnancy. She pretends, for an evening, to live in a world where only men are with child (“Your husband is home trying not to pee when he laughs”), to drink ale out of the skull of a goblin, and to eat sushi made from the meat of a monster that she has butchered herself. Fourteen million people tuned in.
Dungeons & Dragons seems to have been waiting for us somewhere under the particular psyche of this generation, a psyche that may have been coaxed into fantasy mania by the media that surrounded it. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 October 2017 at 12:56 pm

Maureen Dowd interviews Susan Fowler, author of the Uber memo

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Susan Fowler seems to be a very interesting person. She’s a Stoic in terms of her philosophy, for example. Maureen Dowd’s interview in the NY Times begins:

Susan Fowler was, she recalls, “over the moon” in January 2016. At 24, she had just snagged her dream job as a site reliability engineer at Uber, which had recruited her by telling her the ride-hailing company was a “super-women-friendly” place to work, boasting 25 percent female engineers. And she had her first date with the man who would become her husband, Chad Rigetti, who runs a quantum computing start-up in Berkeley, Calif., and who, she says dreamily, is as “beautiful” as Michael Fassbender.

After a movie, she pulled out her phone and opened up her Uber app to get them a car home.

“No, no, no,” Mr. Rigetti told her. “I don’t use Uber.”

“What?” Ms. Fowler replied, thinking he was joking. “But I work there.”

“I only use Lyft,” he said. “Did you read that interview with the C.E.O., Travis, where he talked about how Uber helps him get girls? He’s a misogynist. I could never use his product.”

Ms. Fowler smiles ruefully at the memory, during her first interview since she became instantly famous. As we sit in the Clift Hotel’s lobby cafe, decorated with black-and-white animal tiles, it’s startling to think that this is the woman who pierced the self-indulgent, adolescent Pleasure Island mentality of Silicon Valley, causing the stunning downfall of Travis “we call that ‘Boob-er’” Kalanick and starting a bonfire on creepy sexual behavior in Silicon Valley that, fueled by a report in The Times and cascading stories, spread to Hollywood and engulfed Harvey Weinstein and Amazon’s Roy Price.

Dressed in black jeans, brown loafers, a denim jacket — “the only clothes I can fit into” — and wearing a Fitbit with a hot pink band that cost her $1 on Amazon, Ms. Fowler is 26 and seven months pregnant. She looks so young that people give her “weird looks,” she says, worried that she will be a teenage mother.

She is petite, with an angelic smile and an air of innocence that belies a fierce will. Her Instagram account features a picture of Charlie Brown saying, “Be the best you can be”; a coffee mug with the motto from Apollo 13, “Failure is not an option”; and books she is reading on a wide array of subjects including ants. She describes herself as “an amateur myrmecologist.”

As Kara Swisher wrote in Recode, Ms. Fowler did everyone in tech a favor by unmasking the donkeys “worshiped as kings” by the venture capitalists and investors and boards and even the media, felling them with one “epic” 2,900-word blog post “about what happens when a hot company becomes hostage to its increasingly dysfunctional and toxic behaviors.”

No doubt when Mr. Kalanick met the wide-eyed Ms. Fowler at the office Christmas party soon after she started, it never entered his head that she would become the disciplinarian who effectively confiscated his car keys for reckless driving with one blog post.

Yet it was a role that Ms. Fowler had been preparing for her whole life. The Peter Pan libertines met their match in a sweet Stoic.

She had what she calls an “unconventional upbringing,” the second child of seven in a small town in rural Arizona called Yarnell. Her father was an evangelical Assemblies of God preacher who sold pay phones on weekdays and, with his wife, home-schooled Susan and her siblings. She ended up never going to high school.

“So I was kind of on my own,” she says. “I tried to read the classics, would go to the library a lot, tried to teach myself things. But didn’t really have any direction. I really had this dream that someday I could be educated.”

She read Plutarch’s “Lives.” “The Stoics were really what changed me,” she says. “Because their whole thing was about, ‘You don’t have control over a lot of the things that determine your life, so all you can do is focus on becoming the best person that you can be.’ And that really spoke to me because I did feel, especially during my teenage years, that my life was really out of my control. I really wished that I could just learn and do all the fun things and cool extracurriculars that I thought everybody else my age was doing.”

Ms. Fowler worked as a stable hand and a nanny to help support her family. “And I would tell myself, in the times when I would be really, really sad, ‘Once I get out of here, I’m going to do something great.’ And I would just pray at night, like, ‘God, please just let me get out, give me opportunities to get out. I promise I’ll do good with it.’”

At 16, she began “freaking out” about her future. “I had this really intense resolve. I would call universities and community colleges and say, ‘I really want to go to college? How do I get to college. What do I do?’ And they would say, ‘You have to get an application. You have to get letters of recommendation.’ It was terrifying. I had no idea what I was doing.”

She figured out how to take the SAT and ACT. She made a list of all the books she had read and at the top wrote, “Susan Fowler’s Home School” and sent it off to Arizona State University.

“And they actually gave me a full scholarship,” she says, the wonder still in her voice.

The college balked at letting her take math and physics to study astronomy, given her lack of high-school prerequisites. “And I was like, ‘No! I didn’t come this far, now that I’ve found something I really loved, to have my dream smashed,’” Ms. Fowler says.

She applied to the top 10 colleges as a transfer student and was accepted at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was told she could study physics and given help with the steep tuition.

After a rough first semester, advisers tried to steer her away from physics. So she walked into the office of Penn’s president, Amy Gutmann, and left a message with her assistant: In a commencement speech, Ms. Gutmann had said that the school would help students fulfill their dreams.

“I heard back directly from the president herself, and she was like, ‘You are right. This is a place for people to fulfill their dreams.’” She told Ms. Fowler she could get back to her whiteboards, and after that, it was “fantastic.”

The Memo That Roared

The essay that shook Silicon Valley was called “Reflecting on One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber,” and Ms. Fowler began by noting that it was “a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story.” Published on Feb. 19, it rocked the world’s most valuable start-up, challenging the mantra that great disrupters are above the law. The blog post was notable for its dispassionate tone, as the young engineer who had left the company after a year walked the reader through everything that had gone very, very wrong in the brozilla culture of kegs, sexual coarseness and snaky competition.

Ms. Fowler was on her first day with her new engineering team when her manager sent her a string of messages over the company chat system.

“He’s telling me that he’s in an open relationship and that his girlfriend is getting laid all the time, but he just can’t because he’s at work all the time,” she says, reprising her blog post with me. “And he’s trying really hard not to get in trouble at work, but he’s really looking for a woman to have sex with. And I was like, ‘What the hell? This can’t be real. How stupid does he have to be?’ But it turned out he’d been getting away with this for so long, he didn’t care anymore. And I feel like so many of these men, they believe that the only reason women get into these jobs is to get a guy.”

Ms. Fowler took screen shots and reported the manager to human resources, thinking, “They’ll do the right thing.” But they didn’t, explaining that the manager was “a high performer” and it was his first offense, something Ms. Fowler later discovered to be untrue.

“Somehow I’m supposed to be like, ‘Oh, he’s a high performer? Never mind. How dare I?’” she says, laughing.

She wrote that H.R. told her she could either find another team to work on or stay on that man’s team and expect a poor performance review. Another manager told her that if she reported stuff to H.R., he could fire her. Amid the manic, sexist behavior, the number of female engineers in the division Ms. Fowler was part of dwindled to less than 6 percent — too few, the company said, to merit ordering them the same black leather jackets they were ordering for the men.

When Ms. Fowler earned some money from “Production-Ready Microservices,” a book on engineering she wrote, she went out to Madewell and bought herself a black leather jacket.

“I didn’t really care if they branded me a troublemaker,” she says, “because I hadn’t gotten that far in my life and overcome all these things to get treated inappropriately. I wasn’t going to take it. I’d worked so hard. I deserved so much better. And I was, like, ‘No. That’s not O.K. You don’t get to do that.’”

In her memo, she says, “I knew I had to be super-careful about how I said it if I wanted anybody to take it seriously. A lot of women have been whistle-blowers in the past, and a lot of them have just gotten torn down and treated terribly. One of the things that kept popping up was this idea that if you do whistle-blow about sexual harassment, then that is what will define the rest of your life. And I kind of struggled with this. But then, to me, I realized, you know what? No. Stepping back, just being in my little Stoicism Susan bubble, if what people know you for is bringing light to an issue about bad behavior, about bad stuff going on and laws not being followed and people being treated inappropriately, why wouldn’t I want that? That’s a badge of honor.

“And I wasn’t just standing up for myself. I felt like I was standing up for everyone else that I was seeing at Uber who was mistreated. It was an extremely demoralizing environment. I would see people who would get harassed or made fun of or bullied and they would go report it, and they would just get ground down by upper management and H.R. And so I felt like, if I can take this on despite the consequences, then I should do it.”

Like women in Hollywood I talked to after the Weinstein collapse, Ms. Fowler thought the new outspokenness in Silicon Valley on sexual harassment may have been spurred by the election of President Trump.

“The second Trump won, I felt super-powerless and I thought, ‘Oh my God, no one’s looking out for us,’” she says. “They have the House, they have the Senate, they have the White House. And so we have to take it back ourselves. We have to be the ones doing the work.”

The only woman on the board then, Arianna Huffington, who had vowed that the culture of “brilliant jerks” must end, had been trying to help Mr. Kalanick by advising him to sleep more and meditate. But he caused another kerfuffle when he chose to meditate in the lactation room.

When Ms. Fowler’s memo exploded, Ms. Huffington oversaw the investigation by Eric Holder, reached out and talked to employees, and said she wanted to “hold the leadership team’s feet to the fire.” Uber later fired 20 people, including senior executives.

“So I was disappointed in her because I expected her to be an advocate,” Ms. Fowler says, noting that Ms. Huffington appeared on TV after the blog post to insist that there’s no “systemic problem” at Uber.

“I had two friends who went to her and Liane Hornsey, who’s the head of H.R., and reported various harassment discrimination,” Ms. Fowler says. “And then I was told that many other women were doing the same thing. And then Arianna went on TV that same week and said, there’s no ‘systemic problem.’ Which I was like, ‘No, a whole bunch of people just went to you this week.’” Ms. Fowler adds that the company’s C.T.O., Thuan Pham, who knew about her complaints, is still in the same job.

Ms. Huffington told me that she agreed that the problem was “systemic sexism,” but that she did not believe there was “systemic sexual harassment.” But, she added, “there should be zero tolerance for even one case of sexual harassment.”

“I was totally supportive of having a full investigation of her claims,” Ms. Huffington says. “That’s why we brought in a former attorney general to investigate. I don’t think you can do a lot more than that.”

Ms. Fowler is not so sure. “The one interaction we had was right after I published the blog, when I started getting calls from friends and family and even acquaintances I hadn’t talked to in years and years who were getting calls about private investigators asking about it,” she says “And I was pretty sure that this was coming from Uber or someone close to Uber. So I sent an email to some of the members of the Uber board because I was like, ‘Look, I don’t know if you’re responsible for this, but hey, if you’re doing this, please stop.’

“And Arianna responded and she was like, ‘Travis has assured me that he did not do this.’ And I replied, asking her, ‘O.K., well, then, could you please go and say publicly, “Whoever’s doing this, stop,” if somebody is?’”

Ms. Huffington told me that “the board had a complete assurance from management that nothing was done like that or would be.”

Speaking to The Wall Street Journal earlier this month, Ms. Hornsey, who joined Uber a month after Ms. Fowler left and a month before the famous blog post, was asked if she had ever reached out to Ms. Fowler.

“I have said, very publicly, ‘Thank you’ to her because she raised some stuff that did lead to change,” she said. “I don’t know whether there would be any benefit in meeting her. I’m seriously working for my employees today; she’s an ex-employee.”

Ms. Fowler tweeted a screen shot of that part of the interview, saying: “Oooh burn” and “She really, really doesn’t like me.”

On the advice of a friend, Ms. Fowler got private security for the first few weeks after she published her incendiary essay. . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing, by all means.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2017 at 9:18 am

Aiding Transgender Case, Sessions Defies His Image on Civil Rights

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Wow! Matt Arpuzzo reports in the NY Times:

The Justice Department has dispatched an experienced federal hate crimes lawyer to Iowa to help prosecute a man charged with murdering a transgender high school student last year, a highly unusual move that officials said was personally initiated by Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In taking the step, Mr. Sessions, a staunch conservative, is sending a signal that he has made a priority of fighting violence against transgender people individually, even as he has rolled back legal protections for them collectively.

The Justice Department rarely assigns its lawyers to serve as local prosecutors, and only in cases in which they can provide expertise in areas that the federal government views as significant. By doing so in this instance, Mr. Sessions put the weight of the government behind a small-city murder case with overtones of gender identity and sexuality.

Kedarie Johnson, a 16-year-old student in Burlington, Iowa, was shot to death in March 2016. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 October 2017 at 1:40 pm

American higher education: An unlikely triumph

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David Larrabee has a very interesting article in Aeon, which seems to be an extract from his new book:

David Labaree is Lee L Jacks professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education. He is the former president of the History of Education Society and former vice president of the American Educational Research Association. His most recent book is A Perfect Mess: The Unlikely Ascendancy of American Higher Education (2017).

The piece begins:

From the perspective of 19th-century visitors to the United States, the country’s system of higher education was a joke. It wasn’t even a system, just a random assortment of institutions claiming to be colleges that were scattered around the countryside. Underfunded, academically underwhelming, located in small towns along the frontier, and lacking in compelling social function, the system seemed destined for obscurity. But by the second half of the 20th century, it had assumed a dominant position in the world market in higher education. Compared with peer institutions in other countries, it came to accumulate greater wealth, produce more scholarship, win more Nobel prizes, and attract a larger proportion of talented students and faculty. US universities dominate global rankings.

How did this remarkable transformation come about? The characteristics of the system that seemed to be disadvantages in the 19th century turned out to be advantages in the 20th. Its modest state funding, dependence on students, populist aura, and obsession with football gave it a degree of autonomy that has allowed it to stand astride the academic world.

The system emerged under trying circumstances early in US history, when the state was weak, the market strong, and the church divided. Lacking the strong support of church and state, which had fostered the growth of the first universities in medieval Europe, the first US colleges had to rely largely on support from local elites and tuition-paying student consumers. They came into being with the grant of a corporate charter from state government, but this only authorised these institutions. It didn’t fund them.

The rationale for starting a college in the 19th century usually had less to do with promoting higher learning than with pursuing profit. For most of US history, the primary source of wealth was land, but in a country with a lot more land than buyers, the challenge for speculators was how to convince people to buy their land rather than one of the many other available options. (George Washington, for instance, accumulated some 50,000 acres in the western territories, and spent much of his life unsuccessfully trying to monetise his holdings.) The situation became even more desperate in the mid-19th century, when the federal government started giving away land to homesteaders. One answer to this problem was to show that the land was not just another plot in a dusty agricultural village but prime real estate in an emerging cultural centre. And nothing said culture like a college. Speculators would ‘donate’ land for a college, gain a state charter, and then sell the land around it at a premium, much like developers today who build a golf course and then charge a high price for the houses that front on to it.

Of course, chartering a college is not the same as actually creating a functioning institution. So speculators typically sought to affiliate their emergent college with a religious denomination, which offered several advantages. One was that it segmented the market. A Presbyterian college would be more attractive to Presbyterian consumers than the Methodist college in the next town. Another was staffing. Until the late-19th century, nearly all presidents and most faculty at US colleges were clergymen, who were particularly attractive to college founders for two reasons. They were reasonably well-educated, and they were willing to work cheap. A third advantage was that the church just might be induced to contribute a little money from time to time to support its struggling offspring.

Often the motives of profit and faith converged in the same person, producing a distinctive American character – the clergyman-speculator. J B Grinnell was a Congregational minister who left the church he founded in Washington, DC, to establish a town out west as a speculative investment. In 1854 he settled on a location in Iowa, named the town Grinnell, gained a charter for a college, and started selling land for $1.62 an acre. Instead of organising a college from scratch, he convinced Iowa College to move from Davenport and assume the name Grinnell College.

This process of college development helps to explain a lot of things about the emergent form of the US higher-education system in the 19th century. Less than a quarter of the colleges were in the strip of land along the eastern seaboard where most Americans lived. More than half were in the Midwest and Southwest: the sparsely populated frontier. If your aim is to attract a lot of students, this was not a great business plan, but it was useful in attracting settlers. The frontier location also helps to explain the nominal church support for the colleges. In the competitive US setting where no church was dominant, it was each denomination for itself, so everyone wanted to plant the denominational flag in the new territories for fear of ceding the terrain to the opposition. Together, land speculation and sectarian competitions help to explain why, by 1880, Ohio had 37 colleges – and France just 16.

The sheer number of such college foundings was remarkable. In 1790, at the start of the first decade of the new republic, the US already had 19 institutions called colleges or universities. The numbers grew gradually in the first three decades, rising to 50 by 1830, and then started accelerating. By the 1850s they had reached 250, doubling again in the following decade (563), and in 1880 totalled 811. The growth in colleges vastly exceeded the growth in population, with a total of five colleges per million people in 1790, rising to 16 per million in 1880. In that year, the US had five times as many colleges as the entire continent of Europe. This was the most overbuilt system of higher education the world had ever seen.

Of course, as European visitors liked to point out, it was a stretch to call most of these colleges institutions of higher learning. For starters, they were small. In 1880, the average college boasted 131 students and 10 faculty members, granting only 17 degrees a year. Most were located far from centres of culture and refinement. Faculty were preachers rather than scholars, and students were whoever was willing to pay tuition for a degree whose market value was questionable. Most graduates joined the clergy or other professions that were readily accessible without a college degree.

On the east coast, a small number of colleges – Harvard, Yale, Princeton, William and Mary – drew students from families of wealth and power, and served as training grounds for future leaders. But closer to the frontier, there were no established elites for colleges to bond with, and they offered little in the way of social distinction. The fact that every other town had its own college led to intense competition for students, which meant that tuition charges remained low. This left colleges to operate on a shoestring, making do with poor facilities, low pay, struggles to attract and retain students and faculty, and continual rounds of fundraising. And it meant that students were more middle- than upper-class, there for the experience rather than the learning; the most serious students were those on scholarship.

Another sign of the lowly status of these 19th-century colleges is that they were difficult to distinguish from the variety of high schools and academies that were also in abundance across the US landscape. For students, it was often a choice of going to high school or to college, rather than seeing one as the feeder institution for the other. As a result, the age range of students attending high schools and colleges was substantially the same.

By the middle of the century, a variety of new forms of public colleges arose in addition to the independent institutions that today we call private. States started establishing their own colleges and universities, for much the same reasons as churches and towns did: competition (if the state next door had a college, you needed one too) and land speculation (local boosters pushed legislatures to grant them this plum). In addition, there were the colleges that arose from federal land grants and came to focus on more practical rather than classical education, such as engineering and agriculture. Finally came the normal schools, which focused on preparing teachers for the growing public school system. Unlike the privates, these newer institutions operated under public control, but that did not mean they had a steady flow of public funding. They didn’t start getting annual appropriations until the start of the 20th century. As a result, like the privates, they had to rely on student tuition and donations in order to survive, and they had to compete for students and faculty in the larger market already established by their private predecessors.

By 1880, the US system of higher education was extraordinarily large and spatially dispersed, with decentralised governance and a remarkable degree of institutional complexity. This system had established a distinctive structure early in the century, and then elaborated on it over the succeeding decades. It might seem strange to call the motley collection of some 800 colleges and universities a system at all. ‘System’ implies a plan and a form of governance that keeps things working according to the plan, and that indeed is the formal structure of higher-education systems in most other countries, where a government ministry oversees the system and tinkers with it over time. But not in the US.

The system of higher education in the US did not arise from a plan, and no agency governs it. It just happened. But it is nonetheless a system, which has a well-defined structure and a clear set of rules that guides the actions of the individuals and institutions within it. In this sense, it is less like a political system guided by a constitution than a market-based economic system arising from an accumulation of individual choices. Think urban sprawl rather than planned community. Its history is not a deliberate construction but an evolutionary process. The market systems just happen, but that doesn’t keep us from understanding how it came about and how it works.

People did try to impose some kind of logical form and function on to the system. All US presidents until Andrew Jackson argued for the need to establish a national university, which would have set a high standard for the system, but this effort failed because of the widespread fear of a strong central government. And a number of actors tried to impose their own vision of what the purpose of the system should be. In 1828, the Yale faculty issued a report strongly supporting the traditional classical curriculum (focused on Latin, Greek and religion); in the 1850s, Francis Wayland at Brown argued for a focus on science; and the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862 called for colleges that would ‘teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts … in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life’. These visions provided support for a wide array of alternative college missions within a diversified system that was wed to none of them.

The weaknesses of the college system were glaringly obvious. Most of the colleges were not created to promote higher learning, and the level of learning they did foster was modest indeed. They had a rudimentary infrastructure and no reliable stream of funding. They were too many in number for any of them to gain distinction, and there was no central mechanism for elevating some of them above others. Unlike Europe, the US had no universities with the imprimatur of the national government or the established church, just a collection of marginal public and private institutions located on the periphery of civilisation. What a mess.

Take Middlebury College, a Congregational institution founded in 1800, which has now become one of the premier liberal arts colleges in the country, considered one of the ‘little Ivies’. But in 1840, when its new president arrived on campus (a Presbyterian minister named Benjamin Labaree, my grandfather’s grandfather), he found an institution that was struggling to survive, and in his 25-year tenure as president this situation did not change much for the better. In letters to the board of trustees, he detailed a list of woes that afflicted the small college president of his era. Hired for a salary of $1,200 a year (roughly $32,000 today), he found that the trustees could not afford to pay it. So he immediately set out to raise money for the college, the first of eight fundraising campaigns that he engaged in, making a $1,000 contribution of his own and soliciting gifts from the small faculty.

Money worries are the biggest theme in Labaree Snr’s letters (struggling to recruit and pay faculty, mortgaging his house to make up for his own unpaid salary, and perpetually seeking donations), but he also complained about the inevitable problems that come from trying to offer a full college curriculum with a small number of underqualified professors:

I accepted the Presidency of Middlebury College, Gentlemen, with a full understanding that your Faculty was small and that in consequence a large amount of instruction would devolve upon the President – that I should be desired to promote the financial interests of the Institution, as convenience and the duties of instruction would permit, was naturally to be expected, but I could not have anticipated that the task of relieving the College from pecuniary embarrassment, and the labor and responsibility of procuring funds for endowment for books, for buildings etc, etc would devolve on me. Could I have foreseen what you would demand of me, I should never have engaged in your service.

At one place in the correspondence, Labaree Snr listed the courses he had to teach as president: ‘Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, Political Economy, International Law, Evidences of Christianity, History of Civilization, and Butler’s Analogy’. US college professors could not afford to have narrow expertise.

In short, the US college system in the mid-19th century was all promise and no product. Nonetheless, it turns out that the promise was extraordinary. One hidden strength was . . .

Continue reading.

Again we see that the Darwinian logic of evolution drives cultural development. Attempts at intelligent design don’t adapt so well or grow so fast. Bottom up, responding to the environment, works better than top down, trying realize a centrally directed plan.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 October 2017 at 8:33 am

Posted in Education

Death at a Penn State Fraternity—and the power of dysfunctional organizations

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Caitlin Flanagan’s article in the Atlantic leaves me feeling that something is deeply wrong with American society and its values. (I am proud to say that I attended an undergraduate college that had no fraternities and no hazing.) She writes:

At about 3 p.m. on friday, February 3, Tim Piazza, a sophomore at Penn State University, arrived at Hershey Medical Center by helicopter. Eighteen hours earlier, he had been in the kind of raging good health that only teenagers enjoy. He was a handsome, redheaded kid with a shy smile, a hometown girlfriend, and a family who loved him very much. Now he had a lacerated spleen, an abdomen full of blood, and multiple traumatic brain injuries. He had fallen down a flight of stairs during a hazing event at his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, but the members had waited nearly 12 hours before calling 911, relenting only when their pledge “looked fucking dead.” Tim underwent surgery shortly after arriving at Hershey, but it was too late. He died early the next morning.

Listen to the audio version of this article hereFor more feature stories, read aloud, download the Audm app for your iPhone.

Every year or so brings another such death, another healthy young college man a victim of hazing at the hands of one of the nation’s storied social fraternities. And with each new death, the various stakeholders perform in ways that are so ritualized, it’s almost as though they are completing the second half of the same hazing rite that killed the boy.

The fraternity enters a “period of reflection”; it may appoint a “blue-ribbon panel.” It will announce reforms that look significant to anyone outside the system, but that are essentially cosmetic. Its most dramatic act will be to shut down the chapter, and the house will stand empty for a time, its legend growing ever more thrilling to students who walk past and talk of a fraternity so off the chain that it killed a guy. In short order it will “recolonize” on the campus, and in a few years the house will be back in business.

The president of the college or university where the tragedy occurred will make bold statements about ensuring there is never another fraternity death at his institution. But he knows—or will soon discover—that fraternity executives do not serve at the pleasure of college presidents. He will be forced into announcing his own set of limp reforms. He may “ban” the fraternity from campus, but since the fraternity will have probably closed the chapter already, he will be revealed as weak.

The media will feast on the story, which provides an excuse to pay an unwarranted amount of attention to something viewers are always interested in: the death of a relatively affluent white suburban kid. Because the culprits are also relatively affluent white suburban kids, there is no need to fear pandering to the racial bias that favors stories about this type of victim. The story is ultimately about the callousness and even cruelty of white men.

The grieving parents will appear on television. In their anger and sorrow, they will hope to press criminal charges. Usually they will also sue the fraternity, at which point they will discover how thoroughly these organizations have indemnified themselves against culpability in such deaths. The parents will try to turn their grief into meaningful purpose, but they will discover how intractable a system they are up against, and how draining the process of chipping away at it is. They will be worn down by the endless civil case that forces them to relive their son’s passing over and over. The ritual will begin to slow down, but then a brand-new pair of parents—filled with the energy and outrage of early grief—will emerge, and the cycle will begin again.

Tim Piazza’s case, however, has something we’ve never seen before. This time the dead student left a final testimony, a vivid, horrifying, and inescapable account of what happened to him and why. The house where he was so savagely treated had been outfitted with security cameras, which recorded his long ordeal. Put together with the texts and group chats of the fraternity brothers as they delayed seeking medical treatment and then cleaned up any traces of a wild party—and with the 65-page report released by a Centre County grand jury, which recommended 1,098 criminal charges against 18 former members and against the fraternity itself—the footage reveals a more complete picture of certain dark realities than we have previously had.

Once again, a student is dead and a family is shattered. And all of us are co-authors of these grim facts, as we grant both the fraternities and their host institutions tax-exempt status and allow them to carry on year after year with little change. Is it time we reconsidered what we’re doing?

In 2004, a penn state alumnus from the class of 1970 named Donald Abbey visited his old fraternity house, Beta Theta Pi. He had been a star fullback in the early years of the Joe Paterno era, and gone on to become a billionaire real-estate investor and builder in California who remembered the Beta house as a central part of his college experience. But when he visited, he was shocked—it was, he recalled, “repulsive,” and he felt compelled to bring his experience in “repositioning properties” to bear on 220 North Burrowes Road. He would spend a total of $8.5 million on what would be the most extensive renovation of an American fraternity house in history.

Abbey’s taste does not run to the economic or the practical. One of the mansions he built for himself in California, in the San Gabriel Valley, has an underground firing range; a million-gallon, temperature-controlled trout pond; an oak-paneled elevator; and “Venetian plaster masterpieces throughout.” Similarly, his vision for the refurbished Beta house was like something out of a movie about college. (Exterior: the frat where the rich bastards live.) The bathrooms had heated floors, the two kitchens had copper ceilings, the tables were hand-carved mahogany imported from Colombia. At the entrances were biometric fingerprint scanners.

Abbey seems not to have considered why the house might have become so “repulsive” in the first place. A simple trip through the archives of The Daily Collegian might have revealed to him that the Alpha Upsilon chapter of Beta Theta Pi was hardly the Garrick Club. This was an outfit in which a warm day might bring the sight of a brother sitting, with his pants pulled down, on the edge of a balcony, while a pledge stood on the ground below, his hands raised as though to catch the other man’s feces. At the very least, this might not have been the crowd for anything requiring a fingerprint.

The renovations were largely complete by the winter of 2007, and almost immediately the members began to trash the house. Abbey was justly furious, and at some point he had at least 14 security cameras installed throughout the public rooms, an astonishing and perhaps unprecedented step. The cameras were in no way secret, and yet the brothers continued to engage in a variety of forbidden acts, including hazing, in clear view of them. In late January 2009, the national fraternity put the chapter on probation. But the young men continued to break the rules. A few weeks later, the chapter’s probation was converted to the more serious “interim suspension.” Incredibly, with the pressure on and the cameras still recording, the behavior continued. By the end of February, the chapter had been disbanded.

The public often interprets the “closing” of a fraternity as a decisive action. In fact, it is really more of a “reopening under new management” kind of process. The national organization grooms a new set of brothers—a “colony”—and trains them carefully so that the bad behavior of the previous group will not be replicated. The first few years typically go very well. Indeed, not two years after the Penn State chapter of Beta Theta Pi reopened in the fall of 2010, it won a Sisson Award, one of the highest honors the national fraternity can confer. But just as typically, the chapter reverts to its previous behavior. Alumni visit their old house and explain how things ought to be done; private Facebook groups and GroupMe chats are initiated among brothers of different chapters, and information about secret hazing rituals is exchanged. This time, when the brothers of the newly reconstituted Beta chapter reverted to type and started hazing, the national organization did not intervene.

I wanted to learn more about the cameras, and also about something called the “Shep Test,” so in June I called the North-American Interfraternity Conference, the trade association for social fraternities, which is located in Carmel, Indiana. I asked to schedule an interview with the CEO, Jud Horras, who was also a Beta, a former assistant secretary of the fraternity’s national organization, and someone who had been intimately involved in the disbanding and recolonization of the Penn State chapter.

In 1998, a year after Tim Piazza was born, Beta Theta Pi launched something it called Men of Principle, intended to be a “culture-reversing initiative.” What culture was it seeking to reverse? This was best answered in the four planks of the campaign. The first was administrative: create “a five-person trained and active advisory team.” The other three were the crux of the matter: commit “to a 100% hazing-free pledge program,” institute “alcohol-free recruitment,” and eliminate the “Shep Test,” which it described as “the rogue National Test.”

The last one caught my attention, so I Googled around to find out what it was. Most fraternity secrets—their handshakes and members’ manuals and rituals—have gone the way of everything else in the time of the internet, and even those customs that members want to hide aren’t too hard to track down. But there really wasn’t anything at all about the Shep Test—except for this, from the national Beta organization:

Some chapters conduct the “Shep Test.” If Francis W. Shepardson, Denison 1882, one of the greatest leaders in our great and good fraternity knew that this practice was named after him he would be disgraced. This act is in direct violation of our third principle and second and third obligations. It contradicts everything Beta Theta Pi stands for.

It seemed to me—based on the fact that I could find nothing else about it—that the Shep Test had truly been eliminated. Or so I thought, until I read the grand jury’s presentment of the Piazza case. Text messages from members’ cellphones had been entered into evidence, and included this exchange between two brothers at the time of the fall 2016 initiation:

Casey: We were setting up
Torrye: Setting what up?
Casey: Like the shep test and the fake branding
Torrye: Ohh
Casey: I in charge of administering the shep test
Torrye: What happens first
Casey: Fake branding

And from the next night:

Casey: It starting … We have them wait in the boiler room after the shep test until we set up paddling

As people have since explained it to me, the Shep Test itself is little more than a quiz about Beta Theta Pi history, but it’s one part of a night of mind games and physical punishments. A former Beta told me that pledges were held down on a table as a red-hot poker was brought close to their bare feet and they were told they were going to be branded. With pillowcases over their heads, they were paddled, leaving bruises and, on at least one occasion, breaking the skin. They were forced to eat and drink disgusting things, denied sleep, and terrorized in a variety of other ways.

Jud Horras called me back and proposed something surprising: He would fly to Los Angeles for a day to meet with me in the lobby of an airport hotel. I said it was a pity to come all that way and not see the beach, so I would pick him up and take him to breakfast at Hermosa Beach, where he couldn’t shake me if my questions got too difficult. He was coming out to show that he had nothing to hide, but I knew he was not prepared for the hardest question I had for him, which I would return to over and over again: Why hadn’t Beta Theta Pi taken the simple, obvious steps that would have saved Tim Piazza’s life?

Jud Horras is a young man with a wife and a small son and daughter, and if Tim Piazza were alive and well—if he’d gone home to his apartment that night plastered but with a story to tell—I would have fully enjoyed my time with him. He grew up in Ames, Iowa, and spent summers working on a farm—rare for fraternity members, who are more often suburban kids of relative affluence. His parents divorced, and he lived with his father and brother; by his own estimation, he “made mistakes” in high school. When he began at Iowa State, he was a lost young man, arrogant and insecure. But Beta Theta Pi turned his life around. He learned—via, of all things, a college fraternity—how to exert self-control. Mentors—among them Senator Richard Lugar, a fellow Beta, who brought him to Washington as an intern the summer before his senior year—took him under their wing, and Horras’s gratitude to these men is immense. He loves his fraternity the way some men love their church or their country.

Horras was eager to walk me through a list of talking points that he had written on a yellow legal pad during his flight. He wanted me to understand that changes were coming to the fraternity industry, that the wild drinking could not go on indefinitely. In many regards, our conversation was like other such conversations I’ve had with fraternity executives over the years. He was willing to acknowledge problems in the fraternity, but not to connect certain of its customs to any particular death. At the national level, all fraternities vehemently prohibit hazing, and spend tremendous energy and money trying to combat it. But according to the most comprehensive study of college hazing, published in 2008 by a University of Maine professor named Elizabeth Allan, a full 80 percent of fraternity members report being hazed. It’s not an aberration; it’s the norm.

I asked Horras why no one at Beta Theta Pi had done anything about all the bad behavior those cameras must have recorded over the years since the reopening of the chapter. He said that no one could be expected to watch every single minute of film. He said that at some point, you have to trust young men to make the right decisions. What Beta Theta Pi had done for him as a young man, he suggested, was allow him to make some poor decisions until he started to turn around and become the man he wanted to be. Giving members the freedom to do that was part of what the fraternity was about. If they screwed up and got caught—well, that was on them. As for the death of Tim Piazza, while it constituted “a tragedy for him and his family,” it would provide the industry with the impetus needed to make some necessary reforms. In fact, his death was a “golden opportunity.”Then I asked Horras about the Shep Test, and why it endured, despite the effort that had gone into eradicating it. He interrupted me: “Wait a minute. That test doesn’t happen anymore. We have testimonials instead, where pledges can—”

“But it’s in the presentment,” I said, and he looked at me, baffled. “One kid asks where the pledges were, and the other one says they’re waiting in the boiler room after the Shep Test.”

It was clear in that moment—and as he affirmed in a later email—that Horras hadn’t read the presentment very closely.

In my notebook, I wrote:

Long pause
Long pause—
Long pause

Finally he said, with consummate feeling, “I’m fucking mad that that stuff is going on.”

And then I realized why Horras was able to see the torture and death of a 19-year-old kid as a golden opportunity: He didn’t really know that much about it. I started to ask him another question, but for a few moments he seemed lost.

“Am I just fighting for a bunch of idiots?” he asked.

Ivisited Jim and Evelyn Piazza on a lush New Jersey evening in July, when a summer rain was falling on the wide lawns and large houses of their neighborhood in Hunterdon County, one of the wealthiest areas in the United States.

Jim and Evelyn, who are both accountants, had been at work. . .

Continue reading. It’s difficult to read, but I think it shows something of what’s gone wrong: the lack of accountability, the lack of responsibility, the way organizations seek only to protect themselves (much as businesses seek only to grow profits). Interest in honesty, integrity, and doing what is right seems to be but a vague memory.

Another indicator.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 October 2017 at 2:55 pm

5 takeaways about gigging in a blues band (when you’re an academician)

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Julia Simon (pictured above) writes at Oxford University Press blog:

For the last 16 years, I have been “supplementing” my day job as a professor by gigging in blues bands. There are advantages–that are also disadvantages–to the double life.

1. The Hours: Gigs are usually booked on weekends and evenings and don’t interfere with classes or meetings, but sometimes they run late into the night. In many college towns, the most popular drinking night is Thursday. In fact, I never saw as many students out and about in town as when I was packing up for a regular 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. gig in State College, PA. Students were everywhere, drinking, partying, falling down, and reveling, even in the snow. The down side to late night gigs is obvious: waking up early on Friday mornings when you get to bed at 2:30 or 3:00 can be tough, but there are unusual advantages to staying up late. First, you understand why your students have hacking coughs or fall asleep in class on Fridays and, therefore, are far less gullible about excuses. But oddly enough, Friday morning becomes the ideal time to schedule contentious meetings. Bleary and tired from playing until 1 and getting to bed late, Friday mornings I was often calm and patient, if slow to respond. I even deliberately scheduled a regular meeting of a senate committee I chaired on a sensitive, hot button issue at 8 a.m. Fridays because I knew that I would react slowly and keep my cool. As counterintuitive as it may seem, late night hours gigging can help productivity.

2. The People: Academics travel in restricted circles and don’t always have a chance to meet people outside of their regular orbits. Gigging forces you into unfamiliar circumstances that can be both beneficial and downright terrifying. On the positive side, you become aware of businesses (bars, restaurants, tap rooms) and how they function and connect with social networks in your community that you would otherwise never know about. You play county fairs, sleazy bars, fundraisers for bikers, as well as restaurants, tasting rooms, and popular drinking establishments. How else would I have ever learned that Alcoholics-Anonymous-style biker groups raise money for childhood burn victims (“send the burnt kids to camp”) or that winemaking is often a sideline for folks, like gigging is for me? The human connections include bandmates found on Craig’s List. Band members (and departmental colleagues) are like family members — you love them and you hate them. Problems with alcohol, pornography, anger, or a belief that you were abducted and probed by extraterrestrials all eventually surface. Meeting and interacting with a wider circle of people grounds me and, I believe, makes me a better teacher and colleague. At the very least, a little hardened by the road, certain looks of surprise and astonishment definitely cross my face less frequently in faculty meetings.

3. The Places:  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 October 2017 at 10:28 am

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