Later On

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

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Formal dress and reasoned discussion

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When I was a student at St. John’s College in Annapolis Maryland, 1957-61, students addressed each other formally (Mr., Miss, Mrs., and at the time Ms. had yet to appear) and men were required to wear coat and tie to dinner, to Friday night formal lectures, and to the two evening seminars each week, 8:00-10:00 on Monday and Thursday nights. Women were required to wear dresses, which was the idea of a more formal way of dressing in those days. The seminars were discussion classes, with about 18-20 students and two tutors (as the teachers were known), based on one or another of the “Great Books.”

By the time I was director of admissions at the Annapolis campus (1971-74), students were chafing at the dress requirements. I recall one conversation I had with a freshman student who tried to maintain both that the manner of dress was unimportant (so no need for coat and tie) but also the manner of dress was very important (so he shouldn’t have to wear coat and tie).

At any rate, the requirement was dropped. Now I learn that requiring slightly more formal attire probably did in fact make a difference.

I would be very interested if the college were to institute an experiment in which students could voluntarily sign up for a coat-and-tie seminar (men must wear a coat and tie) or a seminar without that requirement, and then see what happened. Women in the coat-and-tie seminar would dress in a manner appropriate to that level of formality, which isn’t all that formal: the men, for example, often wore jeans with their coat and tie.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 May 2015 at 12:49 pm

Should colleges deal with felony crimes—e.g., rape—internally? or involve the police?

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Most colleges (outside of fictional whodunits) will not consider handling a murder as an internal matter, but for some reason colleges often deem themselves qualified to deal with the felony of rape. They have not, however, done a good job: their feeling is unmatched by the facts.

In the New Yorker Margaret Talbot reviews a book by Jon Krakauer that examines a spate of sexual assaults at the university in Missoula, Montana:

Should sexual assaults that occur on college campuses be handled by the school or by the criminal-justice system? Rape is often treated as a matter for the internal tribunals that weigh issues like plagiarism and cheating, even though the investigation and adjudication of other serious crimes—a dorm-room murder, say—would never be handled by a small group of faculty and students with no particular forensic or legal training. One reason is that the Department of Education has pressured colleges and universities to deal swiftly with rape allegations in order to comply with civil-rights law and to make campuses safe for women students. But the other is that people who have been raped are often reluctant to go to the police. These women (and sometimes men) know that their sojourn through the criminal-justice system is likely to be a further ordeal, and they may have little confidence that it will lead to any punishment for the perpetrator. The statistics support that skepticism: only a tiny fraction of reported rapes are successfully prosecuted.

The stories told in Jon Krakauer’s new book, “Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town,” remind us of what a brave and risky thing it still is for a woman to report a rape. Krakauer, who has written for this Web site, explores a spate of sexual assaults that occurred on and around the campus of the University of Montana between 2008 and 2012. For several of the women involved, the risk of reporting their rapes felt even more acute because the men they were naming were football players in a town that, like a lot of college towns, is football crazy. The team was the Grizzlies; Missoula is also known as Grizzlyville. Two of the cases eventually went to court. One involved a Grizzly linebacker named Beau Donaldson, who pleaded guilty to having raped a young woman who’d been a childhood friend; she was deeply asleep when he climbed on top of her. The other involved Jordan Johnson, a Grizzly quarterback accused of rape by a woman Krakauer calls by the pseudonym Cecilia Washburn. Johnson maintained the sex was consensual.

By nature, criminal trials are public, probing, and adversarial. They attract judgment from the troll chorus on the Internet, from prospective jurors, from cops, from people around town, many of whom may hold antiquated ideas about what constitutes rape—imagining perhaps that most are committed by marauding strangers when in fact most rapists and their victims are acquainted. The woman who had accused Jordan Johnson had the misfortune of coming up against two particularly belligerent defense attorneys. One of them, Kirsten Pabst, was a former prosecutor. She does not come off well in the book—she crops up earlier as the Missoula prosecutor who declined to bring criminal charges in an egregious case where the University of Montana had determined an accused rapist to be guilty. In Johnson’s trial, Pabst portrayed her client’s accuser as . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2015 at 9:53 am

Putting teens in jail to force them to go to school: It doesn’t work because while jailed they miss school

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It would seem evident to an idiot that if you put someone in jail for not going to school, they will not be able to go to school (because they are in jail)—more or less the opposite of making the punishment fit the crime: the punishment exacerbates the crime. But then, what may be evident to an idiot is too difficult for a Texas judge to understand.

Kendell Taggart and Alex Campbell report at BuzzFeed:

The 11th-grader in the courtroom wore braces, loved Harry Potter movies, and posted Katy Perry lyrics on Facebook. She also had a bad habit of cutting school, and now, a judge informed her, she owed $2,700 in truancy-related fines. But Serena Vela, who lived in a trailer with her unemployed mother, couldn’t afford to pay.

Serena was offered “jail credit” at a rate of $300 per day. She was patted down, touched “everywhere,” and dispatched to adult lockup, where she would stay for nine days, missing a week and a half of classes. The first school day after she was released, administrators kicked her out.

She had gone to jail because of a law intended to keep kids on the path to graduation. Instead, her high school career was over.

Serena is one of more than 1,000 Texas teenagers who have been ordered to jail in the last three years on charges stemming from missing school, a BuzzFeed News investigation has found. The students get locked up with adults, sometimes inmates charged with assault, robbery and other violent crimes.

The overwhelming majority of students charged are poor, and most are black or Hispanic. Students are not sentenced to jail for missing school outright but rather for failing to follow court orders associated with their truancy charges. Many students have found themselves in a teen version of debtors’ prison, locked up because their families did not or could not pay steep fines stemming from their original truancy charge. Moreover, there is evidence that some Texas judges are flouting a law intended to prevent young people from being jailed because their families can’t afford the fines.

Though Texas’ truancy system was intended to keep kids in school and headed toward graduation, it often has the opposite effect, driving many teenagers out of school. Days behind bars can count as unexcused absences if students don’t clear them with school officials by providing documentation from the jail. And even when they are not penalized for time in jail, it often means more missed school, rendering already-struggling students that much further behind.

While in jail, students told BuzzFeed News, they witnessed adult inmates beating each other and soliciting sex. Still, some young people said their jail stint startled them into recognizing the value of school — a point echoed by proponents of the system. “It’s important that children learn that there are consequences to their actions,” Judge David Cobos of Midland County, in western Texas, told state legislators at a recent hearing. Without the hammer of a court order, he and others said, officials could not get students to attend needed counseling, tutoring, and other services.

But many other students said that jail scarred them by making them feel like failures or, in some cases, by exacerbating preexisting mental illnesses. One student was housed in solitary confinement for most of his 11-day sentence in 2013, leaving only to spend 48 hours under suicide watch in the infirmary, according to jail officials. He said he is now on anxiety medications to mitigate panic attacks that overwhelm him when he sees a police car. Another, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2015 at 2:01 pm

The rise of labor, the decline of knowledge works

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Interesting post in Paul Krugman’s blog at the NY Times:

Way back in 1996, on the 100th anniversary of the New York Times magazine, the Times had a clever idea: they asked a number of people to write essays pretending to look backward a century from the perspective of 2096. Sadly, most of the writers were too uptight and dignified to comply; they wrote blah-blah-the-decades-to-come stuff. But I threw myself in with a little piece titled White Collars Turn Blue. As the title suggested, one theme of the essay was a pushback against the notion that advancing technology would mean ever-growing demand for highly educated workers; I argued that computers would take over many of the cognitive tasks we find difficult, but that human beings would continue to be wanted for jobs that require common sense, including many forms of manual labor.

Or as one friend described it at the time, my thesis was that we’ll always need maids and gardeners.

And it’s happening. I missed this paper by Beaudry, Green, and Sand when it was first circulated, but it’s right on that issue:

[W]e argue that in about the year 2000, the demand for skill (or, more specifically, for cognitive tasks often associated with high educational skill) underwent a reversal. Many researchers have documented a strong, ongoing increase in the demand for skills in the decades leading up to 2000. In this paper, we document a decline in that demand in the years since 2000, even as the supply of high education workers continues to grow. We go on to show that, in response to this demand reversal, high-skilled workers have moved down the occupational ladder and have begun to perform jobs traditionally performed by lower-skilled workers.

An obvious implication is that belief that income inequality is all about, and can be fixed by, education is even more wrong than you thought.

There is a contrast between education (developing the cognitive skills and cultural background that liberate one: the liberal arts) and training (acquiring specific skills for business/scientific/technical purposes). It’s the latter that computers can replace, not the former. But since the former leads to an inquisitive and questioning attitude, undesired in modern government and business, it is rapidly being defunded.

Written by LeisureGuy

11 April 2015 at 3:19 pm

Important for those who are not dysgraphic: Ditch the Keyboard, Take Notes By Hand

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Kevin Drum has an interesting post on a recent study of note-taking methods (by hand vs. on computer) and learning. The students who took notes by hand did significantly better. Read the post for details. Note that some suffer from dysgraphia—the writing equivalent of dyslexia—and trying to write by hand doesn’t work at all well. Those may wish to use something like the Livescribe pen: it records audio and allows you to make notes in a notebook. Later, you can place the pen on a note and hear the recording of what was being said at that point.

One well-known template for taking notes in lecture classes (which wouldn’t help much in the St. John’s College discussion-based classes, but almost all colleges depend on the lecture as the teaching format) is the Cornell note-taking system:


From the “Useful Posts” page:

The Cornell note-taking system — excellent way to take lecture notes
Notalon — a program for Cornell note-taking (Mac, Windows, Linux)

It’s not clear that Notalon would deliver the benefits of taking notes by hand, though it does use the Cornell notes format.

Written by LeisureGuy

31 March 2015 at 9:30 am

Posted in Education, Science

Translation of terminology on academic research

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Via The Eldest:

Academic paper translator

Written by LeisureGuy

27 March 2015 at 12:40 pm

Posted in Education, Science

Teaching evolution at closed minds

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Fascinating article by James Krupa in Orion magazine:

i’m often asked what I do for a living. My answer, that I am a professor at the University of Kentucky, inevitably prompts a second question: “What do you teach?” Responding to such a question should be easy and invite polite conversation, but I usually brace for a negative reaction. At least half the time the person flinches with disapproval when I answer “evolution,” and often the conversation simply terminates once the “e-word” has been spoken. Occasionally, someone will retort: “But there is no evidence for evolution.” Or insist: “It’s just a theory, so why teach it?”

At this point I should walk away, but the educator in me can’t. I generally take the bait, explaining that evolution is an established fact and the foundation of all biology. If in a feisty mood, I’ll leave them with this caution: the fewer who understand evolution, the more who will die. Sometimes, when a person is still keen to prove me wrong, I’m more than happy to share with him an avalanche of evidence demonstrating I’m not.

Some colleagues ask why I bother, as if I’m the one who’s the provocateur. I remind them that evolution is the foundation of our science, and we simply can’t shy away from explaining it. We don’t avoid using the “g-word” when talking about gravitational theory, nor do we avoid the “c-word” when talking about cell theory. So why avoid talking about evolution, let alone defending it? After all, as a biologist, the mission of advancing evolution education is the most important aspect of my job.

TO TEACH EVOLUTION at the University of Kentucky is to teach at an institution steeped in the history of defending evolution education. The first effort to pass an anti-evolution law (led by William Jennings Bryan) happened in Kentucky in 1921. It proposed making the teaching of evolution illegal. The university’s president at that time, Frank McVey, saw this bill as a threat to academic freedom. Three faculty members—William Funkhouser, a zoologist; Arthur Miller, a geologist who taught evolution; and Glanville Terrell, a philosopher—joined McVey in the battle to prevent the bill from becoming law. They put their jobs on the line. Through their efforts, the anti-evolution bill was defeated by a forty-two to forty-one vote in the state legislature. Consequently, the movement turned its attention toward Tennessee.

John Thomas Scopes was a student at the University of Kentucky then and watched the efforts of his three favorite teachers and President McVey. The reason the “Scopes Monkey Trial” occurred several years later in Dayton, Tennessee—where Scopes was a substitute teacher and volunteered to be prosecuted—was in good part due to the influence of his mentors, particularly Funkhouser. As Scopes writes in his memoir, Center of the Storm: “Teachers rather than subject matter rekindled my interest in science. Dr. Funkhouser . . . was a man without airs [who] taught zoology so flawlessly that there was no need to cram for the final examination; at the end of the term there was a thorough, fundamental grasp of the subject in bold relief in the student’s mind, where Funkhouser had left it.”

I was originally reluctant to take my job at the university when offered it twenty years ago. It required teaching three sections of non-majors biology classes, with three hundred students per section, and as many as eighteen hundred students each year. I wasn’t particularly keen on lecturing to an auditorium of students whose interest in biology was questionable given that the class was a freshman requirement.

Then I heard an interview with the renowned evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson in which he addressed why, as a senior professor—and one of the most famous biologists in the world—he continued to teach non-majors biology at Harvard. Wilson explained that non-majors biology is the most important science class that one could teach. He felt many of the future leaders of this nation would take the class, and that this was the last chance to convey to them an appreciation for biology and science. Moved by Wilson’s words, and with the knowledge that William Funkhouser once held the job I was now contemplating, I accepted the position. The need to do well was unnerving, however, considering that if I failed as a teacher, a future Scopes might leave my class uninspired.

I realized early on that many instructors teach introductory biology classes incorrectly. Too often evolution is the last section to be taught, an autonomous unit at the end of the semester. I quickly came to the conclusion that, since evolution is the foundation upon which all biology rests, it should be taught at the beginning of a course, and as a recurring theme throughout the semester. As the renowned geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky said: “Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” In other words, how else can we explain why the DNA of chimps and humans is nearly 99 percent identical, and that the blood and muscle proteins of chimps and humans are nearly identical as well? Why are these same proteins slightly less similar to gorillas and orangu­tans, while much less similar to goldfish? Only evolution can shed light on these questions: we humans are great apes; we and the other great apes (gibbons, chimps, gorillas, bonobos, and orangutans) all evolved from a common ancestor.

Soon, every topic and lecture in my class was built on an evolutionary foundation and explained from an evolutionary perspective. My basic biology for non-majors became evolution for non-majors. It didn’t take long before I started to hear from a vocal minority of students who strongly objected: “I am very offended by your lectures on evolution! Those who believe in creation are not ignorant of science! You had no right to try and force evolution on us. Your job was to teach it as a theory and not as a fact that all smart people believe in!!” And: “Evolution is not a proven fact. It should not be taught as if it is. It cannot be observed in any quantitative form and, therefore, isn’t really science.”

We live in a nation where public acceptance of evolution is the second lowest of thirty-four developed countries, just ahead of Turkey. Roughly half of Americans reject some aspect of evolution, believe the earth is less than ten thousand years old, and that humans coexisted with dinosaurs. Where I live, many believe evolution to be synonymous with atheism, and there are those who strongly feel I am teaching heresy to thousands of students. A local pastor, whom I’ve never met, wrote an article in The University Christian complaining that, not only was I teaching evolution and ignoring creationism, I was teaching it as a non-Christian, alternative religion.

There are students who enroll in my courses and already accept evolution. Although not yet particularly knowledgeable on the subject, they are eager to learn more. Then there are the students whose minds are already sealed shut to the possibility that evolution exists, but need to take my class to fulfill a college requirement. And then there are the students who have no opinion one way or the other but are open-minded. These are the students I most hope to reach by presenting them with convincing and overwhelming evidence without offending or alienating them.

Some students take offense very easily. . .

Continue reading.

And Phil Plait in Slate offers some answers to questions asked by creationists:

After writing yesterday about the now-famous/infamous debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, I don’t want to make this blog all creationism all the time, but indulge me this one more time, if you will. On BuzzFeed, there is a clever listicle that is a collection of 22 photos showing creationists holding up questions they have for people who “believe” in evolution.

These questions are fairly typically asked when evolution is questioned by creationists. Some are philosophical, and fun to think about, while others show a profound misunderstanding of how science works, and specifically what evolution is. I have found that most creationists who attack evolution have been taught about it by other creationists, so they really don’t understand what it is or how it works, instead they have a straw-man idea of it.

Because of this, it’s worth exploring and answering the questions presented. Some could be simply answered yes or no, but I’m all about going a bit deeper. With 22 questions I won’t go too deep, but if you have these questions yourself, or have been asked them, I hope this helps.

I’ll repeat the question below, and give my answers.

1) “Bill Nye, are you influencing the minds of children in a positive way?”

I’m not Bill, but I’d say yes, he is. More than just giving them facts to memorize, he is showing them how science works. Not only that, his clear love and enthusiasm for science is infectious, and that to me is his greatest gift.

2) “Are you scared of a Divine Creator?”

No. In fact, if there is a Judeo-Christian god, that would have fascinating implications for much of what we scientists study, and would be a rich vein to mine. Perhaps a more pertinent question is, “Are you scared there might not be a Divine Creator?” There is more room for a god in science than there is for no god in religious faith.

3) “Is it completely illogical that the Earth was created mature? i.e. trees created with rings … Adam created as an adult ….”

It might be internally consistent, even logical, but a bit of a stretch. After all, we can posit that God created the Universe last Thursday, looking exactly as it is, with all evidence pointing to it being old and your memories implanted such that you think you’re older than a mere few days. Consistent, sure, but plausible? Not really.

4) “Does not the second law of thermodynamics disprove evolution?” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 March 2015 at 3:26 pm


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