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Emperors with no clothes must fear Google

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The search engines have given us an opportunity—if we but take it—to refute baseless arguments. Take this example, reported on The Daily Beast by Tim Collins:

The Internet has been buzzing about how discrimination against the Irish was a myth. All it took was a high schooler to prove them wrong.
Rebecca Fried had no intention of preserving the record of a persecuted people whose strife was ready to be permanently written off in the eyes of history as exaggerated, imagined, or even invented.

That’s because Rebecca was too busy trying to get through the 8th grade.

In 2002, University of Illinois-Chicago history professor Richard J. Jensen printed “No Irish Need Apply: A Myth of Victimization.” His abstract begins:

“Irish Catholics in America have a vibrant memory of humiliating job discrimination, which featured omnipresent signs proclaiming ‘Help Wanted—No Irish Need Apply!’ No one has ever seen one of these NINA signs because they were extremely rare or nonexistent.”

In short, those famous “No Irish Need Apply” signs—ones that proved Irish Americans faced explicit job discrimination in the 19th and 20th centuries? Professor Jensen came to the blockbuster conclusion that they never existed.

The theory picked up traction over the last decade, but seemed to reach an unexpected fever pitch in the last few months. Explainer websites this year used it to highlight popular myths of persecution complexes that are, as Vox put it, “stand-ins for an entire narrative about how immigrants are treated in America.” That’s from the lede of an article printed in March called “‘No Irish Need Apply’: the fake sign at the heart of a real movement.”

Here, of course, is the problem: After only couple of hours Googling it, Rebecca, a 14-year-old, had found out these signs had, in fact, existed all along. Not only in newspaper listings—in which they appeared in droves—but, after further research, in shop windows, too.

The Irish were persecuted in the American job market—and precisely in the overt, literally written-down way that was always believed.

All of this would have been written off as a myth if it weren’t for Rebecca Fried, a rising high school freshman—who one of the preeminent scholars on the Irish diaspora in the United States now calls a “hero” and “quite extraordinary”—and who simply couldn’t believe it, either.

Rebecca never set out to prove the thesis wrong. She was just interested in an article her dad brought home from work one day.

“Now and then I bring home stuff for the kids to read if I think they will find it interesting or will convey some lesson,” says Michael Fried, Rebecca’s father. “Half the time they don’t read them at all. Sometimes they’ll read something if I suggest it. Nothing has ever come of any of these things other than this one.”

Rebecca wasn’t even trying to disprove her dad—let alone an academic at the University of Illiniois-Chicago. She just figured she’d Google the words and see what came up over 100 years ago.

“Just for the fun of it, I started to run a few quick searches on an online newspaper database that I found on Google,” she says. “I was really surprised when I started finding examples of NINA ads in old 19th-century newspapers pretty quickly.”

So she started collecting a handful of examples, then dozens, then more. She went to as many newspaper databases as she could. Then she thought, somebody had to have done this before, right?

“I didn’t see anything right away. This led me to wonder if it might be worth writing up in some form,” she says. “I showed my dad right away when I started finding these NINA ads. We just didn’t know whether this was already widely known and, if it wasn’t, whether it would be viewed as a topic worth considering for publication.”

Enter Kerby Miller, a newly retired history professor from the University of Missouri. He’s written everything from Guggenheim-funded books about the 18th-century Irish to the PBS documentary Out of Ireland with Paul Wagner. In 1986, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for history.

“It was out of the blue on May 1st, May Day—which is sort of fortuitous, now that I think about it,” says Miller. May Day is International Workers’ Day, which celebrates laborers worldwide.

They wanted to know if they were missing something. They weren’t.

In fact, for years, Miller wanted to know why everyone else was missing the obvious.

From the first, my responses to Jensen’s claims had been strongly negative, as were those of a few other scholars, but, for various reasons, most historians, social scientists, journalists, et cetera accepted or even embraced Jensen’s arguments,” says Miller.

Miller says it all makes sense when you consider the parallels between Jensen’s arguments and the tone of anti-Irish propaganda after the Irish Civil War.

“This was a period dominated in Irish writing by those who collectively came to be known as ‘revisionists.’ What they did was, in some cases, take every traditional Irish Catholic belief concerning British Colonialists—some of which were heroic, even—and turn them upside down,” says Miller. “The British and Britain’s supporters were not to be seen as oppressors. They were now to be considered those taking down Irish Catholic oppression.”

Miller says it applies to all of Irish history, but recent history as well—even events and acts of persecution that the Irish lived through themselves. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 August 2015 at 10:39 am

Posted in Education, Technology

How Reading To Children Transforms Their Brains

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Sam Collins reports in ThinkProgress:

Educators have long encouraged parents to read aloud to their children from the moment they’re born, stressing that every new word and sound strengthens the cognition needed to excel academically. A new study out of Cincinnati’s Children Hospital further supports that conjecture, this time showing changes in the brain activity of youngsters exposed to text.

In the study, children between the ages of 3 and 5 underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans while listening to pre-recorded stories. Parents answered questions about how much they read to their young ones. Researchers also measured the literacy within the home, including the frequency of child-parent reading sessions, variety of books, and access to literature.

The brain scans showed that listening to the pre-recorded stories activated parts of the left side of the child’s brain — a region associated with the understanding of words and concepts and the strengthening of memory. Lead researcher Tzipi Horowitz-Kraus, Ph.D.told CNN that children who had literacy-friendly homes had higher levels of brain activity, a connection that suggests rapid brain development starts in a child’s early years.

“The more you read to your child the more you help the neurons in this region to grow and connect in a way that will benefit the child in the future in reading,” Horowitz-Kraus, program director of the Reading and Literacy Discovery Center at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, said.

Horowitz-Kraus’ findings come amid conversation about America’s academic achievement gap. Despite the United States’ growth as a global leader, a significant number of Americans— particularly those of color and in low-income communities — haven’t been able to compete in the economy because due to an inability to read proficiently. Their illiteracy has, in part, stagnated progress and exasperated academic failure, poverty, juvenile delinquency, and marginalization.

A study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education and National Institute of Literacy in 2013, for example, found that the national literacy rate hadn’t changed since the completion of the last survey a decade earlier. At that time, 14 percent of the population couldn’t read, more than 20 percent of adults read below a 5th grade reading level, and 19 percent of high school graduates had low literacy. Americans who have difficulty reading often struggle to find jobs, maintain health, and support their families, especially in an increasingly technological world. Out of a desperation to do so, some may turn to a life of crime: 85 percent of juveniles who enter the court system are functionally illiterate and 70 percent of the U.S. prison population cannot read above the fourth grade level.

That’s why a growing number of community leaders and lawmakers have turned to early childhood literacy, touting it as a key in increasing a child’s academic success and closing gaps in education and wealth. Recent efforts to increase literacy include a storytelling project for young African American children, trips to national parks, and the donation of books that parents can add to their home library.

National nonprofit organization First Book has done the latter, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 August 2015 at 2:35 pm

Posted in Books, Education

Recasting public libraries for modern needs

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A very interesting article in the Atlantic by Deborah Fallows:

Beyond the traditional marketing of public-service announcements, newspaper inserts, or direct mail, libraries have gotten creative. Library staff in Winters, California, and Columbus, Ohio, took to the streets, shops, and parks looking for moms with new babies to entice them with welcome boxes of books and library cards to the family-friendly library. In Ferguson, Missouri, after the unrest that led to closing schools, the libraries stayed open long hours to offer the children a safe and interesting place to be, as well as their own personal library cards.

Dunkelberg and Deschutes came up with a creative strategy of their own to introduce themselves to the people: They would rename their staff “community librarians” and encourage them to carry the message of the resource- and activity-rich library to civic organizations.

At first, Dunkelberg said, the somewhat puzzled reaction from the groups they went to visit was, “Why are you here?” But a few years later, after listening, learning, and sharing stories, people see the librarians coming and ask them, “How can we work with you?” By now, library staff is represented in more than 60 community groups from the Chamber of Commerce to the City Club, the Homeless Leadership Coalition, and Bend 2030, a planning group, and so many more.

So, what is going on at the Deschutes libraries? You can start with a list that now seems familiar to me from offerings at the busiest, most energized libraries elsewhere: art exhibits, book clubs, author readings, computer classes. Also: service programs on topics like car-seat safety, self-defense, everything about fire; and offerings for teens in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) programs. The downtown branch of the system also has taken the first step into the “Maker Movement,” the term for the current trend across the country describing people making everything from humble hobbyist stuff to tech-sophisticated products enabled by equipment like 3D printers. Every month the Bend library’s downtown branch has Maker Monday meetings. The July meetingfeatured a local maker movement leader introducing digital multimeters (DMM), a common piece of test equipment used in the electronics industry, and the August meeting is about how to make drinking glasses from wine bottles.

Sometimes, libraries are fixing old problems, rather than creating new offerings. They often answer vexing problems with surprisingly simple, yet effective answers. For example, in Columbus, Ohio, school kids were misbehaving on school buses. The library, which worked closely with the schools, offered to put boxes of books at the front of each bus for kids to grab during the ride home. Voila! The kids were hooked and down went the trouble incidents. The Deschutes libraries came up with a number of such answers to their own particular problems.

For the older folks in assisted living, who are often uncomfortable in the presence of lots of squirmy toddlers or fidgety teenagers, the library offers an exclusive hour before the normal opening times, to enjoy the library in peace.

Some older school-age kids who can’t yet drive, and may be too far away to bike or walk, can’t get to the library on their own. Instead, the library comes to them. Kids can request books, which are then delivered to their schools.

For the littlest readers, librarians used to hand out little toys as freebies in their summer-reading programs until they frequently, and sadly, found them discarded on the floor. Then they thought, “We’re a library! Let’s give them a book.” The switch was gratifying, reports Dunkelberg, who sometimes “works the desk” in the children’s section, just to keep in touch. He said that the kids love the books, and that the books are especially meaningful to the kids who don’t have books at home.

For the preschoolers, the main library in Bend recently designed a big play space.“Instead of preaching” about the importance of good play, Dunkelberg said, “we would show how it’s done.” The result is a bright, airy, sprawling space, with areas for different age-groups.

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 August 2015 at 12:21 pm

Why The Obama Administration Wants To Pay For Prisoners To Go To School

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Alan Pyke reports at ThinkProgress:

“My professor, Miss Jamie Mullaney, she cried the last day of class. And it made me cry,” Terrell Johnson said, sitting across from Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch at Maryland Correctional Institute-Jessup on Friday morning.

“I’m in a place where it’s not good to cry,” said Johnson, who’s in the middle of a prison sentence for selling drugs. “But I didn’t care. I felt like this lady genuinely cares if I get this education. That made me wanna try even harder, because I don’t want to let her down.”

Mullaney, the head of Goucher College’s sociology department, wasn’t there to hear Johnson recount how his coursework in the Goucher Prison Education Partnership (GPEP) has changed him. But Duncan, Lynch, a half-dozen members of Congress, and multiple Obama administration representatives were. The unusual assemblage of guards, inmates, and upper-crust officialdom had gathered to mark the announcement of a White House pilot program to restore federal resources for higher education in select prisons.

“I’m starting to become a better person,” said Alphonso Coates, another of the three inmates that prison officials had permitted to speak with reporters who had been invited to the event. “I believe in myself. The Goucher College program, they let me know that they believe in me also.”

When Duncan asked what the government could do better for people like him, Coates had a concise answer: “Try to invest in the people that’s investing in themselves.”

The Goucher program these men participate in is funded entirely through money the school has raised itself. No state or federal education dollars provide GPEP books, teachers, tutors, and work materials. The program’s costs — about $5,000 per student per year, a sliver of what it costs to incarcerate an adult for 12 months at Jessup — have come entirely from private sources who believe in what professors like Mullaney and renowned historian Jean Harvey Baker and their 70 uniformed, caged students are doing here and at a neighboring women’s facility.

But under the pilot program Lynch and Duncan unveiled Friday, partnerships like GPEP will be able to apply for Pell Grant funding. “The cost-benefit of this doesn’t take a math genius to figure out,” Duncan said. “We lock folks up here, $35,000, $40,000 every single year. A Pell Grant is less than $6,000 each year.”

It’s been 20 years since federal Pell Grants were revoked from prisons during the tough-on-crime heyday of the 1990s, amid a bipartisan political fervor that helped transform U.S. prisons from a corrections system to a punishment business. Two decades later, mass incarceration is a runaway train, and America imprisons so many more people than any other country that it’s hard to even compare the thing in one chart.

Holding so many people behind bars means that American society has to grapple with a commensurately huge volume of released inmates — human beings who have ostensibly repaid their societal debt, but often leave prison with even worse economic prospects for supporting their families legally than they had before they went in. There are 700,000 people released from state and federal penitentiaries each year, Lynch said.

“We talk about that number a lot, and it’s easy to talk about numbers,” the first black woman to occupy America’s top law enforcement job said. “But behind every one of those numbers is a person, and connected to every one of those people is a family.”

The 1994 decision to take Pell Grants away from prisoners has made programs like GPEP a rarity. Inmates who aspire to learn during their time are subject to sometimes cruel whims of a system that manages to simultaneously be very expensive for taxpayers overall but underfunded for actual rehabilitation services.

Vivian Nixon knows the vicissitudes of prison education better than most. She now leads College and Community Fellowship, an advocacy organization for incarcerated education. But years ago, she could have been sitting where Coates did Friday.

“I flunked out of college, and that was a real point of pain and shame to myself and my parents. It just sent me down the wrong road, and I did eventually end up in prison,” Nixon told the group. When she was placed in a prison with a higher-ed program for inmates, she was “overjoyed.”

Three days later she was relocated, this time to a prison with no ability to help her finish her abandoned degree. “I spent 3 years at Albion without access to education, with no access to do the thing that I knew really would heal me, because my core wound was flunking out of college,” she said.

The Higher Education Act gives the Department of Education the power to conduct education experiments like this without seeking specific authorization or money from Congress. Restoring Pell Grants throughout the American prison system will require lawmakers to act. The system unveiled Friday is just one initial step toward making stories like Nixon’s a relic, and journeys like Kenard Johnson’s the standard.

Johnson, who will turn 50 this fall, first took a remedial math course through GPEP. Now, he’s juggling “Black History from 1667 to Reconstruction,” a short-fiction writing class, and either Algebra II or Pre-Calculus depending how the schedule shakes out. (“We never change Goucher’s standards,” GPEP head Amy Roza explained, “out of respect for Goucher but also out of respect for the potential of our students.” Everyone who has enrolled in one of GPEP’s college prep courses has gone on to join the full degree program.)

Johnson wanted to be one of the public faces of Friday’s announcement because “it gives us an opportunity to show them who we are, how hard we’re working, the obstacles we face trying to get an education in a prison setting,” he said. “If society as a whole get to see us for who we are, then it would open up the doors for more prisoners to take college courses.”

Popular attitudes toward the imprisoned and the newly released may be a sort of last frontier for advocates of carceral education as a driver of true personal change. . .

Continue reading.

If we want people to emerge from prison having changed in positive ways, we obviously should support initiatives like this.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 August 2015 at 9:15 am

A very nice column on Latin teachers

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Full disclosure: The Younger Daughter (TYD) teaches Latin and Classical Greek. The New Yorker column is by Ian Frazier:

Joshua Katz, professor of classics at Princeton (dark suit, high forehead, merry eyes behind Santa Claus glasses), lectured to a group of eighteen New York City high-school Latin teachers on a recent morning in a room at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, on East Eighty-fourth Street, and revved their brains to almost redline speed. These teachers could easily handle it. They sat and listened and asked pertinent questions like the students whom teachers hope to have. Sam Swope, the white-maned president of the Academy for Teachers, made a welcoming speech telling them how outstanding they were. The academy regularly rewards the best city-area K-12 teachers with high-powered daylong enrichment gatherings like this one.

Subject of lecture: The Proto-Indo-European roots of the Latin language. Professor Katz loves a blackboard, but will settle for a whiteboard in a pinch. As he talked, he tossed a blue felt-tipped marker from hand to hand. On the smooth white, his rapidly sketched blue lines veered, with occasional squeaks, this way and that—from modern English, which we understand, to Shakespearean English, which we pretend to understand but kind of don’t, to Chaucerian English, which we don’t pretend to understand, and then to Old English. The lines then went from German to Middle High German (close relative of Yiddish), to Old High German, connected somehow to East Germanic Gothic, to West Germanic, to Dutch and Frisian, and onward to North Germanic, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, and Icelandic. Languages and facts flew like sparks from a grindstone and skidded bluely onto the board.

A few swipes of a cloth, and many centuries of Northern European language evolution disappeared. Then, “LATIN,” he wrote, near the bottom of the board. The Latin that Latin teachers teach is the classic form that prevailed in Rome for about three hundred years—from 100 B.C. to 200 A.D. Professor Katz sketched lines connecting it to Old Latin, then to Older Latin, then to Very Old Latin, which dates to about the eighth century B.C. Very Old Latin is as far from Cicero and Julius Caesar as Chaucer’s English is from us, said Professor Katz. Passing mention was made of Plautus Livius Andronicus, who created the first Latin literature by translating Homer from the Greek, in 240 B.C.; of the familial connection between Latin and Gujarati and other languages of India but not between Latin and Hebrew; and of the word experts at NASA who have tried to find ways in which humans may communicate with space aliens, should that ever become necessary.

To illustrate the morphological nature of Very Old Latin, Professor Katz handed out photocopies of a drawing of a gold pin called the Fibula Praenestina, which dates from the sixth to the eighth centuries B.C. The pin had been used, possibly, as a fastener for a garment. On the pin’s shaft were marks that were apparently letters but looked like what you might scratch on a lawn tool so that you could reclaim it after lending it to your neighbor. “If those are letters, what do we want them to say?” Professor Katz asked. “It’s unlikely they say something like ‘I’m with Stupid’—right?” By Socratic questioning, he led the teachers to discern Latinate forms in the letters. To do that, the inscription had to be read from right to left, the usual direction for Very Old Latin. “And what, by the way, is the word for writing that goes in one direction, gets to the end, turns, and then goes back in the other direction? Our favorite Greek adverb? Comes from the words meaning ‘as the ox plows’?” asked Professor Katz. All eighteen teachers answered, as one, “Boustrophedon!” He repeated the word, happily, because it is fun to say. Accent on the last syllable: “Bou-stroph-e-DON!”

Another key to translating the Fibula Praenestina’s inscription was making the intuitive leap that it had been written in the voice of the pin itself—that is, like “I’m with Stupid,” it is in the first person. Thus the words on the pin read . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 July 2015 at 4:51 pm

Posted in Education

Radley Balko quotes Lt. Chad Goeden

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In the Washington Post:

Add Lt. Chad Goeden, commander of the Alaska Department of Public Safety Training Academy, to the list of law enforcement leaders who get it.

The academy trains every Alaska State Trooper recruit and many municipal and borough police recruits before they can become certified sworn law enforcement officers.

During Lt. Goeden’s nearly 20-year tenure with the Alaska State Troopers he’s worked all over the state. When he became the academy commander he hung a sign over his office door:

“The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.”  – Sir Robert Peel, founder of modern policing

Lt. Goeden chose that quote because he’d observed some officers had lost a sense of connection to the community. He explained, “I thought it was important to remind myself, my staff and the recruits why it is we do what we do, who we serve, and who it is we are beholden to.”

Lt. Goeden rejects the notion of officers as warriors and has instructed his staff not to use the term. As he said, “If we’re warriors, who are we at war with?” Lt. Goeden prefers the guardian archetype, for which he credits a leadership training called Blue Courage. When I asked him if this was just semantics, he replied without hesitation, “Words matter.” And Lt. Goeden is making words, training and culture matter at the academy — as is his staff.

He takes the sign above his door into every ethics training with every academy class. As commander, he teaches ethics to impress upon the recruits its importance.

Make no mistake — officer safety is a high priority at the academy . . . But officer safety is not the top priority.

In training, Lt. Goeden instructs Alaska’s troopers and officers that they may hear a refrain when they leave the Academy — “The most important thing is you go home to your family at the end of your shift.” But it’s not true. If it was, they would never place themselves in harm’s way — as countless officers do every day. The most important thing — he and his staff train — is that they protect and serve the public, of which they are a part.

As Lt. Goeden explains to Alaska’s future troopers and officers, “We are Guardians — of our communities, our way of life, our democracy, the Constitution.”

Emphasis mine. We need more Chad Goedens, and fewer Jack Joneses.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 July 2015 at 7:35 pm

Interesting example of perverse incentives

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Paul Krugman blogs in the NY Times:

Henry Farrell — who recently said some very interesting things about Very Serious People — writes me about my musings on hipster style, and refers me to a review of a book on codes of the underworld. The book notes that tattoos and such play a role as signals of criminal identity, which work precisely because they make it hard to participate in non-criminal society.

But there’s more: criminals actively cultivate a reputation for incompetence at non-criminal business, designed to reassure both their colleagues and the victims of their extortion that they won’t break their implicit contracts by going legit. And the author, Diego Gambetta, adds a wonderful parallel: according to his account, Italian academics, who do a lot of horse-trading in appointments etc., cultivate a reputation for incompetence at actual research, again designed to reassure those with whom one deals:

“Being incompetent and displaying it,” he writes, “conveys the message I will not run away, for I have no strong legs to run anywhere else. In a corrupt academic market, being good at and interested in one’s own research, by contrast, signal a potential for a career independent of corrupt reciprocity…. In the Italian academic world, the kakistrocrats are those who best assure others by displaying, through lack of competence and lack of interest in research, that they will comply with the pacts.”

And this immediately makes me think of one of the mysteries of economic “debate” in America, namely the preference of the right not just for hacks but for incompetent hacks. Here’s what I wrote:

I suspect that the incompetence is actually desirable at some level — a smart hack might turn honest, or something,

But let me hasten to add that I am not intending to engage in slander here. I would never, never suggest that Brooklyn hipsters are anything like Heritage Foundation economists.

Comments to be found at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 July 2015 at 4:42 pm


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