Later On

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Archive for the ‘Memes’ Category

Better Schools Won’t Fix America

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A forceful and cogent article in the Atlantic by Nick Hanauer:

Long ago, i was captivated by a seductively intuitive idea, one many of my wealthy friends still subscribe to: that both poverty and rising inequality are largely consequences of America’s failing education system. Fix that, I believed, and we could cure much of what ails America.

This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy. As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself.

Taken with this story line, I embraced education as both a philanthropic cause and a civic mission. I co-founded the League of Education Voters, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education. I joined Bill Gates, Alice Walton, and Paul Allen in giving more than $1 million each to an effort to pass a ballot measure that established Washington State’s first charter schools. All told, I have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to the simple idea that if we improved our schools—if we modernized our curricula and our teaching methods, substantially increased school funding, rooted out bad teachers, and opened enough charter schools—American children, especially those in low-income and working-class communities, would start learning again. Graduation rates and wages would increase, poverty and inequality would decrease, and public commitment to democracy would be restored.

But after decades of organizing and giving, I have come to the uncomfortable conclusion that I was wrong. And I hate being wrong.

What I’ve realized, decades late, is that educationism is tragically misguided. American workers are struggling in large part because they are underpaid—and they are underpaid because 40 years of trickle-down policies have rigged the economy in favor of wealthy people like me. Americans are more highly educated than ever before, but despite that, and despite nearly record-low unemployment, most American workers—at all levels of educational attainment—have seen little if any wage growth since 2000.

To be clear: We should do everything we can to improve our public schools. But our education system can’t compensate for the ways our economic system is failing Americans. Even the most thoughtful and well-intentioned school-reform program can’t improve educational outcomes if it ignores the single greatest driver of student achievement: household income.

For all the genuine flaws of the American education system, the nation still has many high-achieving public-school districts. Nearly all of them are united by a thriving community of economically secure middle-class families with sufficient political power to demand great schools, the time and resources to participate in those schools, and the tax money to amply fund them. In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow. But allow economic inequality to grow, and educational inequality will inevitably grow with it.

By distracting us from these truths, educationism is part of the problem.

Whenever i talk with my wealthy friends about the dangers of rising economic inequality, those who don’t stare down at their shoes invariably push back with something about the woeful state of our public schools. This belief is so entrenched among the philanthropic elite that of America’s 50 largest family foundations—a clique that manages $144 billion in tax-exempt charitable assets—40 declare education as a key issue. Only one mentions anything about the plight of working people, economic inequality, or wages. And because the richest Americans are so politically powerful, the consequences of their beliefs go far beyond philanthropy.

A major theme in the educationist narrative involves the “skills gap”—the notion that decades of wage stagnation are largely a consequence of workers not having the education and skills to fill new high-wage jobs. If we improve our public schools, the thinking goes, and we increase the percentage of students attaining higher levels of education, particularly in the STEM subjectsscience, technology, engineering, and math—the skills gap will shrink, wages will rise, and income inequality will fall.

The real story is more complicated, and more troubling. Yes, there is a mismatch between the skills of the present and the jobs of the future. In a fast-changing, technologically advanced economy, how could there not be? But this mismatch doesn’t begin to explain the widening inequality of the past 40 years.

In 1970, when the golden age of the American middle class was nearing its peak and inequality was at its nadir, only about half of Americans ages 25 and older had a high-school degree or the equivalent. Today, 90 percent do. Meanwhile, the proportion of Americans attaining a college degree has more than tripled since 1970. But while the American people have never been more highly educated, only the wealthiest have seen large gains in real wages. From 1979 to 2017, as the average real annual wages of the top 1 percent of Americans rose 156 percent (and the top .01 percent’s wages rose by a stunning 343 percent), the purchasing power of the average American’s paycheck did not increase.

Some educationists might argue that the recent gains in educational attainment simply haven’t been enough to keep up with the changing economy—but here, yet again, the truth appears more complicated. While 34 percent of Americans ages 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher, only 26 percent of jobs currently require one. The job categories that are growing fastest, moreover, don’t generally require a college diploma, let alone a STEM degree. According to federal estimates, four of the five occupational categories projected to add the most jobs to the economy over the next five years are among the lowest-paying jobs: “food preparation and serving” ($19,130 in average annual earnings), “personal care and service” ($21,260), “sales and related” ($25,360), and “health-care support” ($26,440). And while the number of jobs that require a postsecondary education is expected to increase slightly faster than the number that don’t, the latter group is expected to dominate the job market for decades to come. In October 2018 there were 1 million more job openings than job seekers in the U.S. Even if all of these unfilled jobs were in STEM professions at the top of the pay scale, they would be little help to most of the 141 million American workers in the bottom nine income deciles.

It’s worth noting that workers with a college degree enjoy a significant wage premium over those without. (Among people over age 25, those with a bachelor’s degree had median annual earnings of $53,882 in 2017, compared with $32,320 for those with only a high-school education.) But even with that advantage, adjusted for inflation, average hourly wages for recent college graduates have barely budged since 2000, while the bottom 60 percent of college graduates earn less than that group did in 2000. A college diploma is no longer a guaranteed passport into the middle class.

Meanwhile, nearly all the benefits of economic growth have been captured by large corporations and their shareholders. After-tax corporate profits have doubled from about 5 percent of GDP in 1970 to about 10 percent, even as wages as a share of GDP have fallen by roughly 8 percent. And the wealthiest 1 percent’s share of pre-tax income has more than doubled, from 9 percent in 1973 to 21 percent today. Taken together, these two trends amount to a shift of more than $2 trillion a year from the middle class to corporations and the super-rich.

The state of the labor market provides further evidence that low-wage workers’ declining fortunes aren’t explained by supply and demand. With the unemployment rate near a 50-year floor, low-wage industries such as accommodations, food service, and retail are struggling to cope with a shortage of job applicants—leading The Wall Street Journal to lament that “low-skilled jobs are becoming increasingly difficult for employers to fill.” If wages were actually set the way our Econ 101 textbooks suggested, workers would be profiting from this dynamic. Yet outside the cities and states that have recently imposed a substantially higher local minimum wage, low-wage workers have seen their real incomes barely budge.

All of which suggests that income inequality has exploded not because of our country’s educational failings but despite its educational progress. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. The US is broken, and powerful people are determined to keep it from being fixed. Mitch McConnell won’t even allow the US to take steps to protect the next election from Russian interference. And he is getting away with it.

Later in the article:

. . . However justifiable their focus on curricula and innovation and institutional reform, people who see education as a cure-all have largely ignored the metric most predictive of a child’s educational success: household income.

The scientific literature on this subject is robust, and the consensus overwhelming. The lower your parents’ income, the lower your likely level of educational attainment. Period. But instead of focusing on ways to increase household income, educationists in both political parties talk about extending ladders of opportunity to poor children, most recently in the form of charter schools. For many children, though—especially those raised in the racially segregated poverty endemic to much of the United States—the opportunity to attend a good public school isn’t nearly enough to overcome the effects of limited family income.

As Lawrence Mishel, an economist at the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute, notes, poverty creates obstacles that would trip up even the most naturally gifted student. He points to the plight of “children who frequently change schools due to poor housing; have little help with homework; have few role models of success; have more exposure to lead and asbestos; have untreated vision, ear, dental, or other health problems; … and live in a chaotic and frequently unsafe environment.”

Indeed, multiple studies have found that only about 20 percent of student outcomes can be attributed to schooling, whereas about 60 percent are explained by family circumstances—most significantly, income. Now consider that, nationwide, just over half of today’s public-school students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, up from 38 percent in 2000. Surely if American students are lagging in the literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills our modern economy demands, household income deserves most of the blame—not teachers or their unions.

If we really want to give every American child an honest and equal opportunity to succeed, we must do much more than extend a ladder of opportunity—we must also narrow the distance between the ladder’s rungs. We must invest not only in our children, but in their families and their communities. We must provide high-quality public education, sure, but also high-quality housing, health care, child care, and all the other prerequisites of a secure middle-class life. And most important, if we want to build the sort of prosperous middle-class communities in which great public schools have always thrived, we must pay all our workers, not just software engineers and financiers, a dignified middle-class wage.

Today, after wealthy elites gobble up our outsize share of national income, the median American family is left with $76,000 a year. Had hourly compensation grown with productivity since 1973—as it did over the preceding quarter century, according to the Economic Policy Institute—that family would now be earning more than $105,000 a year. Just imagine, education reforms aside, how much larger and stronger and better educated our middle class would be if the median American family enjoyed a $29,000-a-year raise. . .

Written by LeisureGuy

10 June 2019 at 8:15 pm

How America’s Business Leaders Lost Their Way

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Leo Hindery, Jr., co-chair of the Task Force on Jobs Creation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and formerly the CEO of AT&T Broadband and its predecessor, Tele-Communications, Inc. (TCI), writes in the Washington Monthly:

In 1970, just as I was starting my second year at the Stanford Business School, Milton Friedman authored an opinion piece in the New York Times Sunday Magazine entitled, “The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase Its Profits.” In it, Friedman argued that the only obligation corporations have is to increase profits for their owners, the shareholders. “The use of the cloak of social responsibility,” Friedman wrote, “does clearly harm the foundations of a free society.”

Fortunately when Friedman’s piece was first published, there were prominent business leaders who took immediate exception. Arjay Miller, former President of Ford Motor Company and then the new Dean of Stanford Business School, felt that Friedman’s narrow perspective ignored business schools’ obligation to train leaders who are well versed in policy and in social issues—and who were firmly grounded in ethics. Reginald Jones of GE and Edmund Littlefield of Utah International also objected to Friedman’s claim. They prominently advanced the premise that a responsible CEO actually has equal and concurrent responsibility to his employees, shareholders, customers, communities and the nation. In 1981, the Business Roundtable criticized Friedman’s view, formally adopting the position that shareholder returns need to be balanced against other considerations, specifically including employees and customers.”

These leaders were from an era when the privilege and status of being a large public company’s CEO or director was as much of a reward as the cash compensation that came with it. That’s part of why starting in the twentieth century with J. P. Morgan and continuing through the 1970s, the average public company CEO in the U.S. earned about fifteen to twenty times what his average employee made.

But things have changed. According to the Economic Policy Institute’s most recent report, the average CEO pay ratio is now 271 times what his or her average employee earns. Much of it comes in the form of low-taxed capital gains. Increasingly, Americans see business leaders as part of what’s ailing the United States.

Today’s CEOs and directors—and business school students—would therefore do well to learn from the honorable individuals who preceded them. CEOs of the past felt an overriding obligation to responsibly preserve their companies into the long term. And most also felt that a vibrant middle class, growing from the bottom up, was the very best thing for their companies, for the rest of corporate America, and thus for the nation. Without a strong middle class, they knew that the social fabric which allowed their businesses to thrive would start to tear apart.

As a young businessman, I worked for Ed Littlefield and under Reg Jones. Both strongly believed that success for their companies required a prosperous and strong American populace. I will never forget Jones, with his very public sense of obligation to reduce unemployment and protect human rights, saying that, “What will be expected of managers in the future [will be] intellectual breadth, strategic capability, social sensitivitypolitical sophisticationworld-mindedness, and above all, a capacity to keep their poise amid the crosscurrents of change” (italics added).

Unfortunately, beginning in the early days of the Reagan administration, Friedman’s narrow sense of corporate responsibility, centered entirely around shareholders and senior management, began to displace this more expansive view. The advent of “trickledown” economics suggested that greater wealth at the top would make everyone more prosperous. Making money was increasingly seen as a social good in and of itself.

In 1997, the same Business Roundtable that earlier had rebuked Milton Friedman’s work spun on its heels and endorsed it. The “job of business is in fact only to maximize shareholder wealth,” they declared. In 1998, the once lauded Jack Welch, Jones’ successor at GE, haughtily agreed. “Ideally, you’d have every plant you own on a barge to move with currencies and changes in the economy.” In other words, the ideal business would constantly switch jurisdictions in pursuit of cheaper and cheaper labor, fostering a race to the bottom while laying people off.

This view of business, and the role of business leaders, is wrong. As the late Cornell Law professor Lynn Stout showed in “The Shareholder Value Myth,” profits are only one metric of corporate achievement. The law doesn’t define shareholders as the employers of business executives. Instead, it says that they are more akin to contractors or debt holders. Company executives and directors are not required to give them all business profits. Instead, they can allocate money in the way they want. That includes in research and employee salaries.

Friedman’s thesis is massively destructive. Once it became dominant, corporate governance was whittled back and compromised. Scandals at Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco—where thousands of employees lost their jobs, and California experienced power cuts, because of corporate wrongdoings—exemplify its consequences. In all three cases, the boards of directors were overly supportive of the CEO and senior management, looking the other way despite glaring financial red flags. The rest of the corporate ecosystem did little to help. Why would they?  Major public accounting and law firms now frequently compromise their independence for lucrative consulting and advisory work.

Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco are some of the most notorious cases of business malpractice. But plenty of boards have helped executives enrich themselves at the expense of the company’s regular employees, and the country as a whole. Over the last forty years, the bulk of executive compensation has  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 June 2019 at 11:38 am

Posted in Business, Daily life, Memes

Great film to watch on Netflix: “Forks over Knives”

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Watch it. Fascinating. Give it 25 minutes.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 June 2019 at 6:02 pm

In the light of Virginia Beach, an interesting passage in a long read on gun ownership

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Gregory Gibson has a long piece in the NY Times that I think is definitely worth reading. Gibson is the father of one of the students shot dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School and author of Gone Boy: A Father’s Search for the Truth in His Son’s Murder. He has thought at length about guns and gun ownership, and the piece is about his decision to buy a gun and really learn about shooting—and he has a concealed-carry permit.

Read the whole thing, by all means. I quote one passage that struck me. It’s about a remark by Dave Grossman, who is former military who has studied combat and how men react. Long ago, S.L.A. Marshall wrote a book Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command in which he discusses how difficult it is to get soldiers in battle to fire to kill the enemy. As he points, civilization has conditioned people so that most finding killing another person repugnant. That includes soldiers, who will fire over the heads of the enemy forces, or fire blindly, and avoid attempting deliberately to taking a life.

He recounted how during the Korean War, a person, possibly dead, was seen floating down the river from the enemy position. One or two soldiers fired at it, just in case the enemy still was alive. Then someone shouted, “It’s a log!” whereupon all the soldiers trained live fire on it. They apparently liked shooting, just not at people.

So Marshall suggested that the Army must change its training methods. Rather than focusing on marksmanship, the Army must deliberately train soldiers to fire directly at the enemy as a reflex, without thought. Pop-up targets on obstacle courses became popular, so that the stimulus (the image of an enemy person) immediately activated a reflex (shoot him).

Grossman continued Marshall’s studies, and Grossman wrote On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Grossman also observed the reluctance to kill, and he pointed out that men were more likely to aim fire to kill the enemy in a crew-operated weapon, where each man is observed by his crewmate (heavy machine gun, for example, or a sniper/spotter team). And I believe it was Grossman who talked about simulations to continue to exercise the kill reflex so that it could be engaged without thought.

Both books are worth reading. Here’s the passage from Gibson’s article:

Eventually, inevitably, I encountered the writings of Dave Grossman, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, pioneer researcher and scholar in the field of Killology (his designation, not mine, and a perfect example of his sometimes-tin ear). He is the author of “On Killing” and “On Combat” and is perhaps best known for an idea he discusses in those books that divides everyone into three distinct groups.

“If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep,” he has written. “If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath — a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path.”

It seemed corny and unscientific to me. But if, as an actual sheepdog might, you see the world in black and white, its humorless piety, self-righteous rectitude and complete absence of subtlety would seem appealing.

In fairness, Colonel Grossman has done groundbreaking work delving into the psychology and physiology of killing. One of the starting points of his study is the observation that although we have little difficulty bombing whole nations into the Stone Age, we are hard-wired against killing one another face to face. Was that the source of my yips? I was, after all, training to shoot people at close range.

There was another aspect, laid out in exquisite detail by Colonel Grossman, to this business of up-close-and-personal killing. When one is under the extreme stress of having to do so, the forebrain stops giving orders and yields to the hypothalamus, the stress control center. Bladder and colon involuntarily empty, and the autonomic nervous system kicks in. The adrenal glands release potentially damaging levels of cortisol, adrenaline and other hormones. Blood pressure and respiration spike. Time seems to slow; nausea, auditory exclusion, tunnel vision and even temporary physical paralysis may ensue. Jerry never told us about any of that!

Post-Grossman I have a very different scenario of what takes place in my fantasy library in 1992. Professional trainers are largely in agreement that there’s really no predicting how a person will react in a combat situation. No matter how diligently Betsy DeVos and I might have prepared, we’d be in the midst of a giant mess.

That was it for me. I airlifted myself out of there.

HAPPILY, I DIDN’T DIE OF PERITONITIS in a hospital in southern Chile. I wound up in a house of worship in northern New England. In the preface to “On Combat,” Colonel Grossman wrote that he spends nearly 300 days a year traveling the country evangelizing the sheepdog mind-set. According to the Sheepdog Seminar website, he was coming soon to a church near Bangor, Me. I decided to go up there and hear what they had to say about the idea of people with guns keeping people safe from people with guns. One foot in front of the other. . .

Colonel Grossman joined us on the second day of the seminar. He was fit and wiry, constantly in motion, delivering his pitch, very much the military man, punctuating his utterances with “Do you understand?” — as much a command as a question. He had a growly way of speaking and a rhythmic vocal tic, a sort of grunt or “umph” that reminded me of a sheepdog’s affirmative “Ruff!” It pleased me to imagine that after decades of researching, formulating and evangelizing the sheepdog mind-set, Dave Grossman had become one.

He gave a brief pitch for his many books that pertained to the matter at hand. “Why Mommy Carries a Gun” is one title that stuck in my mind. Then he told us what he had learned from training soldiers, from desensitizing them to their natural aversion to killing up close. The terrible news he brought us on this day was that our national video game addiction was creating a generation of killers.

Guns had always been present in our society, he said, but there had been no multiple homicides by a juvenile in schools until the 1970s. Guns didn’t change; we changed. He talked the pioneering work of Dr. James McGee, a co-author of the groundbreaking “Classroom Avenger” study on school shooters. According to Dr. McGee, the one thing these young killers had in common was that they were loners, and, in Colonel Grossman’s telling, immersed themselves in “sicko movies and video games.” He described video games as a form of “pathological play” that rewarded the player for causing death. Colonel Grossman’s take on the research got more dire: Violent visual imagery actually changed the brains of players. Video games were digital crack. The media were taking no responsibility for the content they put out there. The mental health of an entire generation was a stake.

It was a chilling performance. I thought of my 7-year-old grandson, hunched over his tablet, keeping the world safe from zombies.

It struck me, in reading this, that the hours and hours children and young adolescents spend in playing first-person shooter games such as “Grand Theft Auto” is, in effect, training them to shoot by reflex, to kill automatically and without thought. It seems similar to the way the military was able to remove from new recruits their reluctance to kill. And it seems to have worked.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 June 2019 at 4:13 pm

Measles for the 1%

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Lisa Miller has an interesting if somewhat depressing article in The Cut:

On an unseasonably chilly morning in May, three dozen or so plaintiff-parents, most of them from the Green Meadow Waldorf School, showed up at the Rockland County Courthouse, looking, in their draped layers and comfortable shoes, like any PTA from Park Slope or Berkeley. They were virtually vibrating with expectation and stress. For four long months, on behalf of their kids, they had been on the phone, sending off bullet-point emails, arranging meetings, coordinating calendars, and taking time off work, in an endless battle that had so far cost them hours of lost income and created child-care hassles — and made them into national pariahs besides. Today’s proceedings, they hoped, would result in a decision that might enable them to move on with their lives.

When legal arguments began, small smiles appeared on the parents’ faces. The opposition’s lawyer came off as clumsy, like an oversize actor fumbling his lines. Their lawyer, on the other hand, exuded a smooth confidence bordering on arrogance, an attitude that seemed to swell as he approached the lectern. Michael Sussman, 65 years old and educated at Harvard Law, is the most prominent civil-rights crusader in the Hudson Valley, having made his mark at 30, while working for the NAACP, when he helped to desegregate the Yonkers public schools. Now Sussman, who happened to have sent his own seven children and stepchildren to Waldorf schools, was defending his clients against the intrusion of local politicians into their personal decisions and private lives.

As he stood before the judge, Sussman’s voice rose in a slow crescendo. Recent actions by Rockland County against his clients were “infuriating,” he said; they pandered to biased constituencies and were rooted in “fundamental hysteria.” And then he roared. “Executive authority has its limits!” The parents were as still as forest animals, riveted. Their lawyer was articulating what they fervently believed: that even amid the biggest outbreak of measles in the United States since 1994 — with 200 cases in Rockland County, their own backyard — it was their right as citizens not to vaccinate their kids. This conviction had become for them a matter of conscience and principle. Most had kept their kids out of school for almost half the year rather than take them to the pediatrician for a shot.

If you live among or near certain quarters of the progressive left, among the art and fashion and tech elites who shop at farmers’ markets and worry about toxins in the air and water and believe that hiring a doula may gentle today’s medical-industrial approach to giving birth, then you have probably heard of Waldorf schools. Perhaps you have friends whose children go to one, or perhaps you’ve yearned for such a community for your own, knowing that Waldorf signals a countercultural wholesomeness, a respite from the onslaught of modern forces you’re pretty sure aren’t good for kids: the wide-open access to violence, snark, and pornography available with every Wi-Fi connection; the birthday-party goody bags stuffed with plastic crap; the stress and anxiety you see on very young children already worried about how they’ll do on the test. If you are the kind of person who sees self-interested, app-driven American capitalism as a threat to the preciousness of childhood and to a durable, intimate family life, then you are, at least conceptually, in Waldorf’s prospective audience. Waldorf parents, many of whom are themselves deluged by busyness and stress, agree that they will expose their children to no technology — none, including television, movies, and recorded music, even on long car rides — until middle school. The parents who work at Apple, Google, and Hewlett-Packard and send their kids to the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, in Menlo Park, California, endorse these limits with psychic relief — they know too well what their kids need protection from.

Waldorf pioneered this off-piste approach to raising kids, but it does not have a monopoly on the many ways liberal parents try to circumvent the institutionalized options that dominate the public-school system: “free” schools; home-school collectives; schools boasting “child-centered learning”; mountain, backcountry, or farming schools. There are about 300 Waldorf and Waldorf-inspired institutions in the U.S. (and more than 3,000 worldwide). Each offers an arts-based curriculum in which children are encouraged to play outdoors, use their imaginations, and think for themselves. In Waldorf schools, children become proficient at knitting and sewing, gardening and painting. Waldorf kids know how to juggle at young ages and to bind books by hand as teenagers. No one wastes a precious minute prepping for or taking a standardized test, because everyone on a Waldorf campus agrees that children are far more than brains to be filled, unreflectively, with meaningless facts and that real learning happens when the body — and the soul — are engaged as well.

Overwhelmingly white, affluent, and well educated, Waldorf parents identify as cultural creatives and nonconformists. Satisfied families describe their Waldorf kids as puppyish, freewheeling Pippi Longstocking types who grow up into intellectually curious, competent, self-confident people who thrive, as Sussman boasts his own children have done, at Wesleyan and Swarthmore and Oxford, working as videographers, nature illustrators, and the builders of nonprofits. Eric Utne, founder of The Utne Reader, that alternative digest for the left, sent his four sons to Waldorf schools; when he stopped running his magazine in 2000, he became a Waldorf teacher himself. Utne loves Waldorf for its “unhurried” approach to childhood. The schools represent the progressive counterargument to the vaunted “early reading” programs of public schools, which start drilling kids on vowel sounds in pre-K. According to Waldorf’s pedagogy, kids don’t read until they’re 7 or 8 years old, and because they’re not forced or rushed into it, they embrace literature with natural interest and hunger, Utne told me. He has seen third-graders devouring Plato and the fantasy series Dune.

Across the country, in every state, great numbers of these specially nurtured children remain unvaccinated. Apart from certain religious or ethnic groups particular to certain geographic regions — pockets of the ultra-Orthodox in Brooklyn and Rockland, say, or pockets of the survivalist right — Waldorf kids have some of the lowest vaccination rates in America. In California, Waldorf schools, along with home schools, have some of the lowest vaccination rates — many as low as 20 or 30 percent, and some as low as 7 percent. The Brooklyn Waldorf school has the ninth-lowest vaccination rate in Kings County, and in Manhattan, the Rudolf Steiner Waldorf school is No. 7. At the start of the school year in 2018, Green Meadow had the third-lowest vaccination rate in Rockland County after two yeshivas in Monsey. “All the Waldorf schools are horrible,” says Peter Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development. “There are several in Texas I would not consider safe for children.”

All states require kids to prove they’ve received a full schedule of vaccinations before they enter school. But a large majority of them, 47, also offer exemptions to parents who say their religious or spiritual beliefs prohibit vaccination, granting them a kind of “conscientious objector” status. And 16 states offer a broader “philosophical” exemption to those who wish to refuse vaccines on secular but moral grounds. Objectors have typically been members of very conservative or fringe sects who believe, for example, in the healing power of prayer or, as in the case of Christian Science, the ability of the mind to resist disease. The Amish have often opposed vaccination, and certain Muslim groups, especially those originating in Nigeria, Pakistan, and Afghanistan but also the Nation of Islam, have regarded vaccination as a malevolent government conspiracy. Segments of the Dutch Reformed Church see vaccines as impeding a person’s divine destiny.

In recent years, the number of parents seeking religious and philosophical vaccine exemptions has grown, and it is increasing little by little every year. Jews, including ultra-Orthodox groups, have traditionally accepted vaccination, but as this year’s outbreak in and around New York City shows, that is changing. Fears of vaccines causing autism persist, but that is only one thread of the story. A second thread, Hotez believes, is predatory peddlers of disinformation targeting especially vulnerable communities in order to market alternative therapies. But the phenomenon is much more expansive than even that. In the 2017–18 school year, 7,044 kindergartners in Texas had nonmedical exemptions. There were 3,344 in Washington State; 3,427 in Oregon; 4,753 in Michigan; and approximately 2,000 each in New Jersey and New York. But the number of unvaccinated children in the U.S., though small, has risen significantly in the past year. According to the CDC, the percentage of unvaccinated children increased from 0.8 percent in 2016 to 1.1 percent in 2017. These three tiny decimal points represent a huge increase to about 63,555 unvaccinated kids a year. And vaccination refusal is a contagion, like the measles. People who don’t vaccinate their children tend to live among people who also don’t vaccinate their children.

How and when did liberal parents travel so far from Dr. Spock? The measles vaccine was approved in 1963, six years before Americans landed on the Moon, at a moment when technological progress was a joyride Americans took en masse. But in one generation, the kids of those Spock-raised kids have seemingly lost faith in progress and in the wisdom of the conventional wisdom, regarding every figure along that formerly congenial hierarchy — the scientists, the pharmaceutical companies, the government approvers, the politicians, even the wise and gentle pediatricians — as an object of suspicion and a plausible agent of the systemic harm that is being done, unconscionably, to kids. And in place of faith in experts, they have developed an alternative parenting culture built on anxiety about all the ills that might befall children (sickness, damage, death) and a sense that they, and only they, know how to protect the specialness, and purity, of their kids. To preserve that sanctity, parents have to begin to regard the material world — everything from movies to memes to vaccines — as contaminating. In some circles, at least, liberal American parents have evolved from emulating the Jetsons to emulating the Amish in one generation, always with the insistence that they’re doing it for the kids.

n almost every Waldorf kindergarten, the walls are pink. Not just a flat hardware-store pink but a dappled, translucent, rosy pink. Rudolf Steiner, the Austrian intellectual who started the first Waldorf school in Stuttgart in 1919, called the method of application Lasur, German for “glaze.” According to Steiner’s color theory (derived from Goethe, whom he admired), kindergarten walls ought to be comforting but not confining, so a child can feel that the boundary between indoors and outdoors is in some sense permeable. The décor in a Waldorf kindergarten is prescribed as well. It looks domestic but intentional, like Little House on the Prairie went to Stockholm on vacation. There are usually curtains, also pink or red, and a table where items from the natural world are displayed: a vase of flowers, a handful of seashells, leaves, rocks. There may be a kitchen. Housework — including sweeping, gardening, baking, and darning — is a regular part of every day.

Every toy in a Waldorf kindergarten is constructed from natural materials. The tea set, including the cups and saucers, is carved of wood, and the stuffed kitties are knitted wool. Waldorf cloth dolls, famously, wear no facial expression, so children can feel free to impose their own ideas of mood and character on their make-believe games instead of receiving cues from a mass manufacturer. A Waldorf kindergarten is also stocked with ordinary objects — blocks, scarves, bits of yarn — that children can use to build their imaginary worlds. “Anything can be anything” is what Waldorf teachers say.

“My son can knit, he can sew, he can light fires, he can forage,” says Susanne Madden, a small-business owner with a first-grader at Green Meadow. “If the zombie apocalypse were tomorrow, he will be fine, but the kid next door, who’s on his iPad all the time, he won’t. My child is not in the grind, he has no anxiety, he’s not being dragged from place to place. He’ll happily play with two sticks, two stones, and a hedge.”

Madden picked up a pamphlet advertising Green Meadow at a farmers’ market. She went to school in Ireland, and her husband is Irish, and when their child was born, they realized they wanted something more nurturing than a conventional public school. They visited Green Meadow and felt right at home. Although Waldorf schools have tried to adapt to the modern world, they retain an antiquated, mystical, European feel: With its low buildings and wooden bridges set in a grassy dell, Green Meadow looks as if its architects had been hobbits. In the early grades, kids are taught fables, myths, and fairy tales — often from the Brothers Grimm and other children’s stories popular in Steiner’s day — which they are expected to memorize. As soon as they are able, they copy the stories they’ve memorized into blank books in their best cursive writing, eventually using fountain pens, and illustrate them, so by the end of the year each child has made what amounts to an illuminated manuscript. Math is taught through games with little faceless gnome toys — like Smurfs or trolls, if they were made by hand and sold at craft fairs. Every Waldorf child learns to play a special wooden recorder, called a pentatonic flute, and, even in high school, to dance, in broad, careful motions, sometimes waving silk scarves or toy swords, according to a choreography Steiner invented called “eurythmy.” Each fall, most Waldorf communities gather to celebrate Michaelmas with a pageant that enacts the story of St. George slaying the dragon. In Waldorf performances, he merely “tames” it.

Steiner developed his belief system (which Waldorf people call “a spiritual philosophy”), known as “anthroposophy,” after having personal experiences in which he spoke with the dead and had visions in which he saw the plans of the gods. Although Waldorf schools say they’re secular and no teacher ever explicitly instructs children in the tenets of Steiner’s philosophy, this system does form the basis of Waldorf education, as the schools acknowledge: According to an FAQ on the website of the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America, “Waldorf education … has its foundations in anthroposophy.”

Of course, very few Green Meadow parents officially identify as anthroposophists. Indeed, most admit, laughing, that they can’t even pronounce the word, and while some dabble in the study groups offered by expert faculty after school, more of them say they’ve attempted to read Steiner and found him incomprehensible. But through osmosis or proximity almost all have come into contact with anthroposophy’s core belief, which they regard with varying degrees of skepticism: Reincarnation and karma are real, and each child is born to particular parents to fulfill a particular destiny.

When Steiner started his Waldorf school, vaccines for tetanus, diphtheria, and whooping cough were less than a decade away, and the mystic — watching scientific progress and the rise of industrial-era materialism with a wary eye — warned that vaccination could impede proper spiritual development and “make people lose any urge for a spiritual life.” Without the right interventions, Steiner thought, a person receiving a vaccine could sustain damage that would carry into a subsequent life.

The job of the teacher, then, is a sacred one: to guide children through the stages of childhood with wisdom and gentleness so that each child may attain the freedom, competence, and curiosity to fulfill his or her destiny. Steiner followers say children younger than 7 especially need a low-stress environment, marked by gentle, comforting domestic routines, because they are still partially connected to the spirit world. At age 7 (after they lose, in Waldorf parlance, their “milk teeth”), children come “awake,” which is why the third-grade classrooms are painted orange-yellow and why it’s the right time to teach the kids to read. Fourteen to 21 is a time of  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 June 2019 at 9:57 am

The nation’s first majority-female legislature is currently meeting in Nevada.

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It actually sounds like they’re doing well. Emily Wax-Thibodeaux reports in the Washington Post:

She didn’t plan to say it. Yvanna Cancela, a newly elected Democrat in the Nevada Senate, didn’t want to “sound crass.” But when a Republican colleague defended a century-old law requiring doctors to ask women seeking abortions whether they’re married, Cancela couldn’t help firing back.

“A man is not asked his marital status before he gets a vasectomy,” she countered — and the packed hearing room fell silent.

Since Nevada seated the nation’s first majority-female state legislature in January, the male old guard has been shaken up by the perspectives of female lawmakers. Bills prioritizing women’s health and safety have soared to the top of the agenda. Mounting reports of sexual harassment have led one male lawmaker to resign. And policy debates long dominated by men, including prison reform and gun safety, are yielding to female voices.

Cancela, 32, is part of the wave of women elected by both parties in November, many of them younger than 40. Today, women hold the majority with 23 seats in the Assembly and 10 in the Senate, or a combined 52 percent.

No other legislature has achieved that milestone in U.S. history. Only Colorado comes close, with women constituting 47 percent of its legislators. In Congress, just one in four lawmakers is a woman. And in Alabama, which just enacted an almost complete ban on abortion, women make up just 15 percent of lawmakers.

The female majority is having a huge effect: More than 17 pending bills deal with sexual assault, sex trafficking and sexual misconduct, with some measures aimed at making it easier to prosecute offenders. Bills to ban child marriage and examine the causes of maternal mortality are also on the docket.

“I can say with 100 percent certainty that we wouldn’t have had these conversations” a few years ago, said Assembly Majority Leader Teresa Benitez-Thompson (D). “None of these bills would have seen the light of day.”

Nevada didn’t reach this landmark by accident. A loosely coordinated campaign of political action groups and women’s rights organizations recruited and trained women such as Cancela, who became political director of the 57,000-member Culinary Workers Union before she turned 30. One of those organizations, Emerge Nevada, said it trained twice as many female candidates ahead of the 2018 midterm election as it had in the preceding 12 years.

Meanwhile, the election of President Trump in 2016 mobilized Democratic women nationwide, including in Nevada, where women already held 40 percent of statehouse seats.

Along with the gender shift has come a steady increase in racial diversity: Of 63 lawmakers in Nevada, 11 are African American, nine are Hispanic, one is Native American and one, Rochelle Thuy Nguyen (D), 41, is the legislature’s first Democratic female Asian American Pacific Islander.

The result may seem surprising in a state more often defined by the hypersexuality and neon-lit debauchery of the Las Vegas Strip. Until 2017, the legislature included an assemblyman who had briefly appeared as an extra in a film about women being kidnapped and forced to live naked in kennels, according to PolitiFact.

But that lawmaker, Stephen Silberkraus (R), 38, was defeated by a woman, Lesley Cohen (D), 48, who highlighted the film during her campaign. (Silberkraus told reporters that he had been unaware of the film’s sexual nature.) As a member of the Assembly, Cohen is leading a study on conditions for female sex workers in Nevada’s rural brothels, the nation’s only legal bordellos.

“Outsiders ask why and how Nevada — of all places — became first,” Cohen said. “But I say, why not Nevada? Why not everywhere?”

Carson City is a tiny frontier town, cradled among the snow-capped Sierra Nevada. For decades in the statehouse, charges of sexual harassment often were shrugged off or belittled, and bills sponsored by women were sometimes mocked.

In 2015, Sen. Patricia Ann Spearman (D), now 64, said legislative leaders refused to schedule a hearing on her bill to promote pay equity for women. “The boys club was like, ‘Why do we need that?’ ” she said. “It was a very misogynistic session.”

As recently as 2017, when the legislature approved a public referendum to repeal the “pink tax” on necessities such as tampons and diapers, one assemblyman argued against it, saying it would create a slippery slope.

“Can I add my jockstrap purchases to your list? You might argue it’s not a necessity, but I might beg to differ,” Jim Marchant (R) said at the time. Last November, voters agreed to repeal the tax — and replaced Marchant with a woman, Shea Backus (D).

Even now, female lawmakers in both parties say they receive anonymous phone calls from men commenting on their looks or threatening sexual violence. GOP women “share a lot of common ground and lived experiences with Democratic women,” said Assemblywoman Jill Tolles (R), 45.

80 nations set quotas for female leaders. Should the U.S. be next? ]

Still, Nevada also has long history of female leadership. The first woman was elected to the legislature in 1918, before the U.S. Constitution guaranteed women the right to vote. And although the state has never elected a female governor, it has had at least four female lieutenant governors, the first appointed in 1962.

These days, a giant banner strung across Main Street advertises a hotline for victims of sexual harassment and assault. Set up two years ago, after state Sen. Mark Manendo (D), now 52, resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment, witness tampering and other misconduct, the hotline has been buzzing during the current legislative session.

Many women called with allegations of harassment against Assemblyman Michael Sprinkle (D), 51, who stepped down in March. In a statement announcing his resignation, Sprinkle said that he was “taking full responsibility for my actions,” would “continue to seek therapy,” and asked his accusers and family for forgiveness.

“There’s change in this building that is just this amazing story of transformation,” said Assemblywoman Heidi Swank (D), 51, who helped bring the allegations against Sprinkle to light. “And it really highlights the importance of the female majority being not just here, but finally being heard.” . . .

Continue reading.

It seems they are doing great.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 May 2019 at 12:31 pm

Facebook and agnotology

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From Azeem Azhar’s Exponential View newsletter this morning:

Facebook co-founder, Chris Hughes, says with great clarity what so many now believe: Facebook should be broken up.

Facebook’s dominance is not an accident of history. The company’s strategy was to beat every competitor in plain view, and regulators and the government tacitly — and at times explicitly — approved.

I don’t blame Mark for his quest for domination. He has demonstrated nothing more nefarious than the virtuous hustle of a talented entrepreneur. Yet he has created a leviathan that crowds out entrepreneurship and restricts consumer choice. It’s on our government to ensure that we never lose the magic of the invisible hand. How did we allow this to happen?

This is more than simply restricting consumer choice. Facebook’s quest for growth has also spread Zuckerberg’s dorm room cultural values across the globe. It has become an interface between people as citizens (not merely as “consumers”) and the resources they need to access. Facebook has also been instrumental in the growth of agnotology as a business and societal disease.

🕳️ danah boyd on how social media fosters agnotology, the ‘strategic and purposeful production of ignorance’ and is a ‘tool of oppression by the powerful.

What’s at stake right now is not simply about hate speech vs. free speech or the role of state-sponsored bots in political activity. It’s much more basic. It’s about purposefully and intentionally seeding doubt to fragment society. To fragment epistemologies. This is a tactic that was well-honed by propagandists.

One nuance I would add is that while actors within these platforms may act to purposefully spread ignorance, I think the platforms themselves have apathetic positions on epistemologies. Rather this emerges as a result of chasing engagement and the ad-supported business model. (We first covered agnotology in EV#24.)

Written by LeisureGuy

12 May 2019 at 6:14 am

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