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New Film Shows Real-Time, Inside Account of the University of Missouri Student Protests

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Glenn Greenwald has an interesting report in The Intercept:

This article accompanies release of the Field of Vision film Concerned Student 1950, directed by University of Missouri students Adam Dietrich, Varun Bajaj, and Kellan Marvin.

In November 2015, student protests at the University of Missouri (“Mizzou”) became a leading national news story. Led by a group of African-American students calling itself “Concerned Student 1950,” the campus protests were triggered by a series of racist incidents — including the university’s African-American student body president enduring racial epithets — and catalyzed by the hunger strike of graduate student Jonathan Butler.

As so often happens, the national media narrative focused on a highly selective sliver of those events, rendering the coverage misleading, distorted, and utterly lacking in nuance. A new documentary released today by First Look Media’s Laura Poitras-led Field of Vision, titled Concerned Student 1950, is the perfect antidote to those gaps. Filmed in real-time by three Mizzou juniors who had full access to the protest movement, the documentary enables viewers to observe how and why these students were galvanized to action, and to understand on both an intellectual and visceral level the rationale that drove them.

Shortly after forming their group, the students unveiled a list of demands, beginning with the resignation or firing of the university’s president, Timothy Wolfe, who had displayed contemptuous indifference for the rising levels of concern from black students about their own safety. Illustrative of American priorities, their movement became impossible to ignore — both in the national press and at the highest levels of university governance — when the university’s football players announced (with the support of the team’s coach) they would refuse to play their next game in solidarity with the protests, a move that could have cost the university $1 million for each game forfeited.

The protests were stunningly successful. Shortly after their commencement, Wolfe resigned. That a student movement so quickly succeeded in toppling the president of a major state university school system was stunning. The university’s proximity to Ferguson — the site of racial unrest a year earlier after the police killing of an unarmed black teenager — as well as its unique cultural composition as a bridge between North and South, rendered the protests and the racial tensions they highlighted illuminating and profound.

But those issues received relatively little media attention. Instead, the Mizzou protests became a vivid illustration of a bizarre media phenomenon: adult media pundits eager to insinuate themselves into campus controversies, usually on the side of administrators and against the students. Notably, what attracted national media attention was not the serious racial incidents on campus that went ignored, nor the remarkably effective student protest movement that was assembled based on passion, conviction, and courage. Instead, in the hands of media commentators, the protests became little more than the latest symbol of political correctness run amok, of college campuses coddling the excess sensitivities of delicate students who need to grow up and grow a thicker skin, all at the expense of free expression.

Some of those concerns were valid. In one notorious incident, a University of Missouri assistant professor supportive of the protesters, Melissa Click, was captured on video physically blocking a student journalist from filming a gathering of 1950 students as they celebrated Wolfe’s resignation; at one point, she called for “muscle” to help her physically remove the student. Overnight, Click was widely vilified as the poster child for free speech oppression on campus, and was ultimately charged with assault and fired from her position (in Washington Post op-ed this week, she blamed her “mistake” on her “inexperience with public protests” and warned that her plight shows how widespread video surveillance can render a population averse to taking risks lest they become the targets of “public scorn”).

The Click incident grew out of an anti-media climate that emerged within the 1950 group. The protesting students, angered over what they regarded as unfair and inaccurate media coverage of their protests, harbored hostility toward the media, and thus attempted to create “media-free zones” where they would be “safe” from journalists. That they sought to block journalists — including those from student-run campus media — from operating in public spaces rendered critics’ free speech and free press objections legitimate.

But the Mizzou protests were far more complicated, and much more thoughtful, than the narrow caricatures created by national media commentators. This new 30-minute documentary, filmed in the cinéma vérité style that shapes Poitras’s own documentaries, allows viewers to observe the evolution of the protest movement in real time, and to judge for themselves what was at stake. The footage is riveting, powerful, and intense.

Regardless of one’s ultimate judgments about the legitimacy of these protests and the tactics they employed, Concerned Student 1950 will provoke all sorts of interesting debates and will almost certainly cause a re-evaluation of what you believe you know about this protest and similar ones like it on campus. It underscores how partial and misleading national media coverage can be. As one of the filmmakers, Kellan Marvin, put it in aninterview with Field of Vision: “Documentary is very different from journalism, and it’s kind of re-learning everything I’ve come to think about what capturing real life should be.” . . .

Continue reading.

Video at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 March 2016 at 3:55 pm

The Superior Social Skills of Bilinguals

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Bilingual education—teaching foreign languages in pre-school, kindergarten, and elementary school—has never been popular in the US, due in part to the lack of proximity to speakers of the foreign language. Unfortunately, this means that very few American children gain the benefits of bilingualism during early childhood, which, as Katherine Kinzler points out in the NY Times, are substantial:

BEING bilingual has some obvious advantages. Learning more than one language enables new conversations and new experiences. But in recent years, psychology researchers have demonstrated some less obvious advantages of bilingualism, too. For instance, bilingual children may enjoy certain cognitive benefits, such as improved executive function — which is critical for problem solving and other mentally demanding activities.

Now, two new studies demonstrate that multilingual exposure improves not only children’s cognitive skills but also their social abilities.

One study from my developmental psychology lab — conducted in collaboration with the psychologists Boaz Keysar, Zoe Liberman and Samantha Fan at the University of Chicago, and published last year in the journal Psychological Science — shows that multilingual children can be better at communication than monolingual children.

We took a group of children in the United States, ages 4 to 6, from different linguistic backgrounds, and presented them with a situation in which they had to consider someone else’s perspective to understand her meaning. For example, an adult said to the child: “Ooh, a small car! Can you move the small car for me?” Children could see three cars — small, medium and large — but were in position to observe that the adult could not see the smallest car. Since the adult could see only the medium and large cars, when she said “small” car, she must be referring to the child’s “medium.”

We found that bilingual children were better than monolingual children at this task. If you think about it, this makes intuitive sense. Interpreting someone’s utterance often requires attending not just to its content, but also to the surrounding context. What does a speaker know or not know? What did she intend to convey? Children in multilingual environments have social experiences that provide routine practice in considering the perspectives of others: They have to think about who speaks which language to whom, who understands which content, and the times and places in which different languages are spoken.

Interestingly, we also found that children who were effectively monolingual yet regularly exposed to another language — for example, those who had grandparents who spoke another language — were just as talented as the bilingual children at this task. It seems that being raised in an environment in which multiple languages are spoken, rather than being bilingual per se, is the driving factor.

You might wonder whether our findings could be explained as just another instance of the greater cognitive skills that bilingual children have been observed to have. We wondered that, too. So we gave all the children a standard cognitive test of executive function. We found that bilingual children performed better than monolingual children, but that the kids who were effectively monolingual yet regularly exposed to another language did not. These “exposure” children performed like monolinguals on the cognitive task, but like bilinguals on the communication task. Something other than cognitive skills — something more “social” — must explain their facility in adopting another’s perspective.

In a follow-up study, forthcoming in the journal Developmental Science, my colleagues and I examined the effects of multilingual exposure on even younger children: 14- to 16-month-old babies, who are hardly speaking at all. In this study, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 March 2016 at 12:02 pm

The US service academies are not worth what they cost—by a long shot

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Time to get rid of the service academics. Civilian universities now do a better job at a lower cost. Bruce Fleming,a professor in the English Department of the U.S. Naval Academy since 1987, writes in Salon:

The official website of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, where I’ve taught for 29 years, has the phrase “Leaders to Serve the Nation” right under the name of the institution. This phrase is also on the flags that now embellish our campus. But what are “leaders” and what does it mean to “serve the nation”?

USNA graduates fewer than one in five new Navy officers and an even smaller percentage of new Marine officers. These cost taxpayers about half a million dollars each, four to eight times other commissioning pipelines, which have been beefed up in recent decades. Students at all service academies receive what Ben Carson called a “full scholarship” at taxpayer expense, plus room, board and free-to-them medical care (including orthodontia, PRK and repair of athletic injuries). The Boston Globe found that only about half the recent graduates of our sister school USMA/West Point (another four-year institution) stay in longer than their five (!) year payback period. No evidence suggests that USNA is different, despite the institution’s mission to “graduate leaders dedicated to a career of naval service.” Apparently five years is enough to constitute a “career.”

And what is a “leader”? Nobody ever says. Apparently it doesn’t mean a physicist, or a good architect, or a poet—we graduate very few of those. My best guesstimate as to what USNA thinks a “leader” is, is a charismatic person with no actual skills except the ability to sway people to his/her will. Those, of course, can do evil as well as good: Iran and North Korea have “leaders” too. We let in students for many reasons that have nothing to do with charisma, including recruited athletes—and we don’t test for “leadership” of any students. Do more “leaders” come from USNA than elsewhere? Proof, please.

It’s all smoke and mirrors run for the benefit not of the civilians who pay for it but the military brass, whose vanity projects these institutions are, and who hook each other up once out. Remember that this is the military, not academia or a free market of ideas. Everything you hear about the service academies comes from the CO in the front office, where the weather is always sunny. Administrators at USNA have all made their careers from being graduates (all superintendents have been USNA graduates and most of the higher administrators)—it gave them a free education and employment, after all, and a network afterward. The military students (their rank is “midshipman,” which we hear is about to become gender-neutral) cannot legally talk back, or take exception in public. The fox says the henhouse is doing fine; the hens can’t even cluck. It’s a fabulous system to keep those tax dollars rolling in. Proof, please.

It’s the parents of midshipmen who, I find, really hate professor Fleming. Read the parents’ forum online. I can see why. They have lucked out: zero college costs for them or their children in a country where college debt has surpassed consumer debt. And guaranteed employment at the end. And all that hype-fueled prestige. Pretty sweet. Nor can anyone ask about the blatant nepotism of the admissions process: the children of many sitting and past administrators have been awarded “full scholarships” (20 percent with a remedial 13th year of high school “in the military” thrown in). Those with parents on active duty or siblings at other government military giveaway institutions also get preference: those who have get more; the military is taking care of its own. I tried three times to find out about admissions policies with FOIA requests—blocked three times. The military brass wants to spend your money with no oversight.

The service academies aren’t the military. Our students, after four years, become one-fifth of new officers; officers are only 10 percent of the military. It’s the enlisted 90 percent who actually drive the ships, or go on most SEAL missions, or in harm’s way. (Chris Kyle was an enlisted SEAL, not an Annapolis graduate.) Back when almost all officers went to Annapolis, of course almost all of these came from USNA, and so did almost all of the admirals. That’s no longer true, but because of averages over history, the institution likes to suggest to its students that coming to USNA today gives them a leg up on making admiral—or being an astronaut, because the first generation of astronauts were Navy pilots. Proof please, not more hype.

Taxpayer dollars let the brass live like kings on our campus for a few years in beautiful Victorian-era houses with government-paid staff and groundskeepers. Do civilians get anything in return for their investment in these military-run colleges? (They didn’t start as colleges, but as 19th century training institutions back when college was Greek and theology for gentlemen. Now every school offers engineering, and typically students pay for it.) Sure, about a thousand new Navy and Marine officers a year, a small fraction of the whole. Are they the best officers? The alumni among the Navy brass, who use our campus for its retirement ceremonies (and funerals), say they are: The students are told weekly they are “the best and the brightest.” By what criteria? That’s never specified: because we say so. (Our SAT scores are below those of our state university, and we never test for “leadership.”) Proof please.

USNA is run on a combination of lies and hype. . .

Continue reading. And do keep reading.

My undergraduate college, St. John’s College in Annapolis MD, is literally across the street from the Naval Academy, and I used to enjoy visiting the grounds and the museum displays. St. John’s has a curriculum based on the reading and discussion of the great works of our culture, and when I was director of admissions I would point out that skills are developed through practice, and in your college years you learn best those things that you practice most often. At St. John’s, students learned how to read and discuss difficult books of some depth and how to make good arguments and detect weak arguments. I would point out that at many institutions, the skills that students acquire through constant practice are how to take notes and how to take tests.

What do students learn at the US Naval Academy. Professor Fleming writes:

Midshipmen learn:

* That you should always do the bare minimum because make-work is never-ending

* That getting ahead is about feathering your own nest and hooking up your buddies

* That the military is morally above the civilians who control it (“held to a higher standard”)

* That academics are largely boring and something you do to get a higher rank in class and to avoid having your weekends taken away

* That military discipline is the result of personal whim of the authorities—so be careful, not moral

* That dissent or new ideas are unwelcome and cause nothing but problems for those who express them—so let the CO do the thinking

* That it’s all about our (currently winning) football team. Attendance at home games is a military obligation, and if the team wins, you get liberty. (By the way, West Point’s football team isn’t currently on a winning streak: does that mean USMA graduates are worse officers?)

Written by LeisureGuy

7 March 2016 at 9:39 am

Posted in Education, Military

Why women don’t stay in science: So many of their male colleagues are pigs

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Having male colleagues who a pigs would be less of a problem if the culture and policies were in place to sanction such behavior, but in science the culture is to protect men who practice unwanted advances and sexual aggression. That must change.

Hope Jahren writes in the NY Times:

OVER the past two decades as a professor, I’ve grown thousands of plants, studying how their biology shifts in response to our changing environment. Soon I’ll begin to design and build my fourth laboratory; I’ll teach classes and take on more staff members, as I do every year. Like all professors, I also do a lot of extra jobs for which I was never trained, such as advising former students as they navigate the wider world. Last year, after one of my most talented students left to start her next adventure, she would text me now and then: “This is such a great place,” “I am learning so much here” and “I know this is where I am supposed to be.”

Then, a month ago, she wrote and asked me what to do. She forwarded an email she had received from a senior colleague that opened, “Can I share something deeply personal with you?” Within the email, he detonates what he described as a “truth bomb”: “All I know is that from the first day I talked to you, there hadn’t been a single day or hour when you weren’t on my mind.” He tells her she is “incredibly attractive” and “adorably dorky.” He reminds her, in detail, of how he has helped her professionally: “I couldn’t believe the things I was compelled to do for you.” He describes being near her as “exhilarating and frustrating at the same time” and himself as “utterly unable to get a grip” as a result. He closes by assuring her, “That’s just the way things are and you’re gonna have to deal with me until one of us leaves.”

Women are no longer a minority within higher education. According to the most recent statistics released by Unesco, women’s enrollment in graduate education in the United States has been greater than men’s for each of the last 30 years; as of 2012, there were 13 women enrolled for every 10 men. Yet, every school year, science, technology, engineering and math programs — known as the STEM fields — shed women the way the trees on campus lose their leaves in the fall.

Within my own field, physical sciences, the results of this shedding were clear. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, seven B.S. degrees are granted to women for every 10 granted to men; three M.S. degrees granted to women for every five granted to men; one Ph.D. degree granted to a woman for every two granted to men. The absence of women within STEM programs is not only progressive, it is persistent — despite more than 20 years of programs intended to encourage the participation of girls and women.

Plenty of explanations have been offered as to why women leave science, but the reason doesn’t appear to be performance. The University of Washington found no difference in G.P.A. between the women who remained and those who transferred out of its STEM programs from 1991 to 1996. Within the same study, women reported both isolation and intimidation as barriers blocking their scholarly path; and while 23 percent of freshmen reported not having experienced these barriers, only 3 percent of seniors did.

In the rare case when a female scientist becomes a faculty member, she finds herself invested in the very system that is doing the weeding, and soon recognizes that sexual harassment is one of the sharpest tools in the shed. My own experiences as a student, scientist and mentor lead me to believe that such harassment is widespread. . .

Continue reading.

The issue must be surfaced and faced, and those guilty of sexual harassment should be sanctioned—and after the first incident, not after the twentieth.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 March 2016 at 8:19 am

Why Is Going to School Early Still a Thing?

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We know that it’s bad for kids and for their education. Why do we persist? Clinton Nguyen reports in Motherboard:

It’s the early 2000s and I’m feeling like garbage. It’s 11 PM. SAT prep book in one hand, Adderall in the other, I’m about to dive into the worst few nights of my life.

Or maybe it was 1995. Or 2012. Point is, the times have not changed. Literally. And former high school students may count those few bleary-eyed years as the most sleepless ones in their lives outside of college.

Despite recent waves of research concluding the obvious—teens are often sleep deprived and perform much better when not—why do most school districts in the US insist on bussing all their students to class at the crack of dawn?

Many American students still crawl into bed past midnight only to get up a few hours later to head to classes. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, the average start time for a high school is 7:59 AM, which means students need to mold their sleep schedules to a bedtime as early as 10 PM to get their recommended 8 hours.

And while these hours might be fine for younger students and a subset of working adults who get to bed earlier, there’s a body of research that shows that sleep cyclesactually shift out much later once you’re an adolescent, meaning they’d largely benefit from a later start. Given this fact, asking everyone to get up early and at the same time makes no sense.

And later school start times have already been tested and proven successful in the past. In 1996, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 February 2016 at 10:49 am

Who’s Regulating For-Profit Schools? Execs From For-Profit Colleges

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Using the honor system for regulating industries does save a lot of money, but unfortunately it has the significant drawback of being indistinguishable from not regulating industries. The for-profit college business is a good example. Annie Waldman reports ProPublica:

College accreditors have come under scrutiny recently for allowing for-profit schools to collect billions in federal aid despite low graduation and high default rates.

Accreditors are supposed to be watchdogs for college quality. They are not government agencies but colleges need an accreditor’s seal of approval so students can qualify for federal loans.

The agency that has received the most heat is the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools. ACICS allowed Corinthian Colleges Inc. to keep on operating right up until the for-profit college chain collapsed after evidence emerged that the schools hadlured thousands of poor students into predatory loans. The accreditor placed a Corinthian campus on its “honor roll” just months before the Education Department forced the school to shut down.

ACICS, which oversees hundreds of for-profit colleges, is now the target of twogovernment investigations. A ProPublica analysis also found that schools overseen by ACICS had the lowest graduation rates compared with other accreditors.

So who are the people behind the beleaguered accreditor? They include executives from some of the most scandal-plagued schools in the country.

We looked at all ACICS commissioners since 2010 and found that two-thirds of them have worked as executives at for-profit schools while sitting on the council. A third of the commissioners came from schools that have been facing consumer-protection lawsuits, investigations by state attorneys general, or federal financial monitoring.

Consider Beth Wilson. Wilson, the executive vice president of Corinthian Colleges, joinedACICS in 2014, less than three months after the California attorney general had filed a lawsuit against Corinthian for deceptive advertising and falsifying placement numbers. Wilson was no stranger to accreditation, as she had previously been the chair of another accreditor of primarily for-profit schools. And she was also no stranger to Corinthian’s problems. According to the attorney general’s ongoing suit, Wilson ordered employees to alter Corinthian’s job-placement statistics.

Wilson did not respond to requests for comment.

Having the majority of commissioners be industry executives violates no federal rules. The Department of Education only requires a small fraction of commissioners to be from outside the industry, and accrediting agencies of both nonprofit and for-profit schools are largely composed of industry players.

However, some education experts argue that potential conflicts of interest in for-profit accreditation are especially troubling because of the heightened scrutiny within the industry.

Robert Shireman, a former deputy undersecretary with the Department of Education and currently a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, calls the accreditation process . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 February 2016 at 9:58 am

The African roots of Southern cooking

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Michaele Weissman reports in the Washington Post:

On Friday, Jan. 22, as Snowzilla bore down on the nation’s capital, peripatetic culinary scholar Michael Twitty was in South Carolina to tape a video, and he found himself in a jam: On Monday he was to begin an important assignment at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. He’d planned to return home to Maryland and then travel to Virginia, but the threat of two feet of snow made that unfeasible.

What to do?

As the founder of the Cooking Gene, a project exploring his own African roots and the African roots of Southern cooking, and the blogger behind, Twitty has a significant online presence. So he turned to Facebook. Were there “friends” in Virginia who could put him up for the weekend?

The ether answered yes.

A few hours later, Twitty was at the Richmond home of his actual friend and colleague Jennifer Hurst Wender, a historic preservationist, baking challah and making vegetable soup with collards for Shabbat dinner. A Jewish convert with the Twitter handle @koshersoul, Twitty is deeply engrossed in both the African American and Jewish food traditions. “Blacks and Jews are the only peoples I know who use food to talk about their past while they eat it,” says Twitty, 38.

From Richmond it was a short jaunt to Colonial Williamsburg, where Twitty spent the week lecturing, conducting training sessions and cooking in period costume at three of the living history museum’s venues. In all his talks, Twitty emphasized the impact of chefs and cooks of African descent on shaping American and Southern cuisines in colonial times and after.

At Great Hopes Plantation, Twitty prepared an elaborate meal featuring a large pork shoulder that he’d boiled for an hour and half, then cut in half and roasted with sweet potatoes and onions on the edge of a hearth in an iron vessel. He shoveled hot coals over and under the pot, hastening cooking while the vessel held in the moisture. Collard greens — similar to the greens that grow year-round in Africa — and a spicy stew of pattypan squash flavored with onions, fatback and hot African peppers rounded out the meal.

Twitty wanted the members of the Williamsburg historic foodways department to taste “real” African cuisine. On his last day, he and a dozen staff members cooked half a dozen dishes from pre-colonial Africa. Among them: African yams sliced and fried in palm oil; a spicy Ghanaian fish stew served with yams boiled and pounded into fufu; and black-eyed pea fritters.

He told stories showing how cooking from different parts of Africa merged and evolved in the New World into a hybrid cuisine. After delivering a lecture open to the public in Williamsburg, Twitty went home to Rockville. Two days later, he hit the road again.

And so it goes in the nomadic life of Michael Twitty.

Since launching the Cooking Gene Project and its concomitant Southern Discomfort Tour in 2011, Twitty has crisscrossed the South from Maryland to Texas and back again, visiting dozens of restored plantations where he has cooked and lectured, immersed himself in old records and met with other culinary professionals, black, white and Native American. In the interest of comprehending his ancestors’ experience, he has also picked cotton (for 16 hours) and cultivated sugar cane and Carolina rice (an African variety that turned white South Carolina planters into millionaires).

In Asheville, N.C., in September 2014, Twitty joined chefs Mike Moore and Elliot Moss (chef-owner of Buxton Hall Barbecue) in cooking a “concept dinner” at Moore’s Blind Pig Supper Club. The meal highlighted the Afrocentric origins of Southern cooking, including barbecue, and it aimed for authenticity: To that end, the three cooks dug their barbecue pit by hand and felled saplings that Twitty used to build a wooden grill.

“It was the most impactful dinner we have ever had,” Moore recalls. “The guests loved his cooking, and they loved the talk he delivered. As far as I am concerned, Michael is the most unique character in Southern cooking today.”

Twitty has taught and lectured at scores of universities, from Yale to Elon to Eastern Michigan. In all, he has appeared at more than 200 historical and academic venues, written articles for a dozen publications and shared the results of his scholarship in long, cogent posts on In 2013, the website First We Feast named him one of the 20 greatest food bloggers of all time.

Twitty’s reputation has grown slowly. In 2013, René Redzepi, the celebrated chef-owner of Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant, invited him to address one of his MAD food conferences. Redzepi called him “the voice of our generation” who is leading the world “to a much more serious scholarship around African American foodways.”

Last year, praising the Cooking Gene Project for combining history, genealogy, politics and economics, the TED organization chose Twitty as one of its Class of 2016 international fellows. This week, Twitty and the other TED fellows are in Vancouver, conferring and delivering lectures describing their work. Twitty is the only fellow whose work relates to food. . .

Continue reading. There’s lots more, including the Paula Deen story.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 February 2016 at 10:41 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Food


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