Saturday, July 20, 2024

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: Neglected Considerations



Anyone planning to take affirmative action in order to ameliorate injustice should first consider that numerous handicaps, many equaling or exceeding the impact of those presently qualifying, are being ignored.

Consider the following examples, then ask: A. Should affirmative action be extended to these and similar classes of people? B. If not. why not? C. Does the abundance of overlooked and/or hidden handicaps make fair administration of affirmative action impossible to effectuate?

Physical Attractiveness

In a study entitled "What Is Beautiful Is Good," researchers from the American Psychological Association experimentally documented a phenomenon they referred to as the "physical-attractiveness stereotype." Investigators showed photographs of attractive, average, and unattractive people to university undergraduates. The students were asked to rate the people in the photos on various personality traits and behavioral tendencies, based solely on their appearance in the pictures.

The finding were that compared to unattractive people, attractive people were assumed to possess a higher number of positive traits. The students rated them confident, strong, assertive, candid, warm, honest, kind, outgoing, sensitive, poised, sociable, exciting, and nurturing (Dion, Berscheid, and Walster 1972). Startling as these results may be, the physical-attractiveness stereotype is robust. It has been replicated in several different experimental paradigms (Feingold 1992). Aristotle was right when he observed, "Personal beauty is a greater recommendation than any letter of introduction."

Obesity

Weight is another, often overlooked, physical characteristic associated with discrimination and unfair treatment. Research on attitudes toward overweight people has shown they are often perceived as lazy, unintelligent, slovenly, and unattractive (Grover, Keel, and Mitchell 2003). Several studies have demonstrated that such negative attitudes toward obese individuals may contribute to discrimination in the work place. Specifically, obese people are not hired as often as people of normal weight (Roe and Eickwort 1976); are less likely to be promoted (Larkin and Pines 1979); and often report being discriminated against by managers and peers (Rothblum, Brand, Miller, and Oetjen 1990).

Short Stature

Height, particularly in men, is another physical attribute associated with negative stereotypes and discrimination. A 1992 study by researchers from Michigan State University demonstrated that short men are often judged inferior to tall men in several personal attributes. People tend to judge taller men as more socially attractive, higher in professional status, more masculine, more athletically inclined, and more physically attractive than short men (Jackson and Ervin 1992). Similar studies have found that short men often experience discrimination in professional settings. For example, short job applicants are not hired as often as taller applicants (Bonuso 1983); short employees earn less, on average, than taller employees (Loh 1993); and short political candidates lose elections more often than taller candidates (Gillis 1982).

Some Of The Other Factors

Social psychological research also indicates that people with red hair are often stereotyped as "clownish" and "weird" (Heckert and Best 1997). Negative stereotyping based on language and dialect (i.e., Southern accents, ebonics) also is a common occurrence (Anisfield 1972). Additionally, children who wear brand-name clothing and shoes are judged "popular," "wealthy," and able to "fit in with their peers" compared to children who do not wear name brands (Elliot and Leonard 2004).

What does such research have to do with equity in the classroom? The answer is "Everything." If unattractive, obese, or short people, for example, experience discrimination in a broad setting, it is very likely that they experience similar discrimination in an educational setting. So shouldn't fair share educators be prepared to apply compensatory measures for any student victimized by prejudice? Why should some students qualify for fair share treatment just because their particular group has more political muscle?

Conclusion

Instead of focusing on skin color or other group differences, perhaps educators should embrace the character-based vision of Martin Luther King, Jr. If they have the freedom to do so and if they can overcome the natural human tendency to stereotype, perhaps they should focus on each child's individual humanity, rather than his or her race,ethnicity, or what have you. After all, in the end, isn't character, not group membership, the most important quality of all?

--GKC

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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

PREPARING STUDENTS TO MEET REAL WORKPLACE EXPECTATIONS



School "leaders" make a show of concern over whether or not students are prepared to "meet the expectations of the workplace." Truth is, most aren't. But not for the reasons "leadership" officially fusses about.
 
In reality things like a graduate's math skills, or their reading level, are of marginal concern. What really matters is making graduates ready to meet the expectations of the REAL workplace. That means educators must make sure the kids are ready for things like this:

1. Working for ever-smaller portions of the profits while corporate chieftains make ever-more  preposterous amounts of money.

2. Being discarded like 4-day-old leftovers whenever it serves 'corporate' interests.

3. Seeing the corporation's future put at risk by senior staff preoccupied with quarterly reports.

4. Seeing their jobs vanish overseas whenever it benefits the bottom line.

5. Watching their health benefits shrink or disappear.

6. Having their pension funds suddenly evaporate.

7. Being unable to take the time to pee while the CEO can pee all day long in his own bathroom.

8. Being over-supervised, but utterly uncared for.

9. Lacking the resources to do the job, but the boss gets a new helicopter.

When students are prepared for the likes the above they will, in fact, be far better prepared to "meet the expectations of the work place." Okay, not every workplace. But far too many.

Friday, July 5, 2024

RAISING A TEEN: finding that elusive balance

 


Raising a teen is a challenging proposition. And a prime reason is the parental tendency to overestimate how much of their control remains. Parents tend to base their judgements about that on past experience.  A past in which they had a high degree of control. But that control slips away in ways which are not always obvious. And even when they are noticed, parent's tend to underestimate the degree of loss. That can have disastrous results. Here's a tale illustrating this point.

My wife and I watched neighboring parents try to deal with their daughter's adolescence. Both rather rigid, church going conservatives, they foolishly tried to maintain the same control or her that they had when she was younger. But as they did so the girl persisted in doing things they disapproved of. They then tried even harder to enforce the rules. But, impelled by social pressure and hormonal secretions,  the girl rebelled even more. When they urged her to study more, she studied less. When they forbid her to drink she got hammered — and smoked marijuana in the bargain. When they forbade her to ever see a boy friend again. she clandestinely did so anyway. When she repeatedly phoned the same forbidden boyfriend, they confiscated her cell phone. She secretly secured another.  That the young man was African-American, she white, intensified the rebellion.

The struggle climaxed when the girl became pregnant to the very boy her parents had forbidden. Worse, the boy turned out to be abusive, punching her in the stomach upon learning she was pregnant. The girl didn't tell her parents. But she did brake off the relationship, set the cops on her abuser and secretly secure an abortion. (Something her parents also would have forbidden — had they known.)   

This control struggle produced bitterness and estrangement between parents and child. The costs of their over-zealous parenting far exceeded the benefits. Yet the parents remained relatively oblivious of the fact that modern teens have a great deal of control over their own lives. They simply couldn't grasp that the degree of control they sought was inappropriate, counter productive and well-nigh impossible to enforce. Instead they blamed modernity.

Teens from functional homes with realistic teen limits usually avoid doing things that might seriously embarrass or disappoint their parents. But this is something the adolescent, not the parent, must choose to do. Remember too, parental advice can be as unrealistic as Arab advice to rainforest dwellers about surviving sandstorms. Remember too, teens often ignore even the best parental advice. As a German proverb reminds: "Everyone knows good counsel except those that have need of it." 

Parents must keep in mind too that teen brains are incompletely developed. Cognitive development is still ongoing.  This mental immaturity, especially when accompanied by new hormonal surges, can result in risky behavior. That quite properly worries parents. But trying too hard to eliminate teen risk-taking is risky too. The trick is learning when, and how much, to loosen control. Finding that elusive balance. That's the trick. And that is much, much more difficult than properly folding a fitted sheet.

Monday, May 13, 2024

PUBLIC SCHOOLING AND THE TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS: why ed 'leaders' can only follow

 



I came across a flyer a Mulsim group was handing out to public school administrators. It described urgent “problems” facing Muslim public school students; and outlined what school administrators must do about them. Here is an excerpt:

“In view of the teachings of Islam, Muslim students in your school should not be required to:
(1) sit next to the opposite sex in the classroom,
(2) participate in physical education, swimming or dancing classes. (Alternate meaningful educational activities should be arranged.)
(3.)  attend coed physical education and swimming classes. (These should be held separately for boys and girls in a fully covered area — no glass doors or windows without curtains.)
(4.) have opposite sex physical education instructors.
(5.) wear swimming suits that fail to cover all the private parts of the body down to the knee.
(6.) take group showers — they should be provided with separate and covered individual shower facilities
(7.) participate in plays, proms, social parties, picnics, dating, etc. that require free mixing of the two sexes,


It isn’t only conservative Muslims who demand special accommodations. Every group requires one or another special attention. For instance, conservative Christians, including former President George W. Bush, demand that the school curriculum pay special obeisance to creationism and abstinence-only sex education. (The ignorant ostrich approach.) Some black parents urge that schools strip allegedly racist novels, such as Huckleberry Finn — something most apparently have never read — from the curriculum. Dark Age Evangelicals demand the elimination of school Halloween celebrations because they allegedly provide Satan and his minions with access to kid's souls. Italian-Americans insist that youngsters still be taught that Columbus discovered America, even though he clearly didn't. Polish-Americans would have Thadeus Kusiusko immortalized but German-American's prefer Baron von Steuben. So it goes, ad infinitum.

Collectively, there is an astounding range of expectations that public educators are expected to satisfy. Of course, the chances of accomplishing any of this in any comprehensive way are zilch. But when school authorities keep trying, as many of them do, bad things happen. Specifically, the elimination of all critical thinking.

In his classic, “Tragedy of the Commons,” Garrett Hardin argues that free access to common resources brings ruin. The classic example is an open access public commons where everyone in the community is permitted to graze his or her animals. To preserve this commons, all participants must not overgraze it. If even one user insists on adding more animals than the commons can support, this pasture will ultimately be ruined.

In short, restraint by all is absolutely required. Trouble is, it is seldom achieved. Since it is in each individual's short-term interest to put more than their fair share of grazing animals onto the common land; and since the long run is somewhere in the distance, perhaps beyond any one abuser's lifetime, the land is, in fact, ruined.

The nation’s public schools are similar to Hardin’s public commons in that they are an open access resource. School instructional time, time for individual children and space in the curriculum are the collective equivalent of the forage in Hardin’s pasture. So when special interest groups fail to restrain themselves, they are “overgrazing” our public schools by placing excessive particularistic demands on them. 

Even the intellectually limited, many school board members for instance, should recognize that infinite accommodation is impossible given finite resources. Yet too many of them, along with an assortment of politicians and their minions, repeatedly try to accommodate all sorts of special pleaders. The result is a down the rabbit hole with Alice world where even those who recognize that there are limits, act as if there are none. 

For public schooling to be viable, everyone has to limit his or her demands and adopt an ethic of restraint. When all cooperate in this, everyone gains. Unfortunately, any participants who, out of moral obligation or naiveté, moderate their demands while others don't, lose out. So it's logical to keep pressing for one's particularistic demands even though benefits would be greatest if all restrained themselves. In game theory this is called the "prisoner's dilemma."

If, as is likely, mutual restraint fails to materialize, school administrators have two alternatives. They can (1) continue to pretend there are no practical constraints on accommodation and reduce public education to ever-shifting and mutually incompatible priorities; or (2) start saying “NO!” to special pleading. Given elective school boards and superintendents who must pay obeisance to them, odds are it will be the former.

To examine this issues further, see http://www.newfoundations.com/EGR/Conjecture.html

Monday, April 22, 2024

NIXING THE ABORTION PILL: America's top prig wins posthumous victory


A long-comatose 1873 "anti-vice" law, inspired by Anthony Comstock, the nation's most notorious blue nose, is now the basis of a federal court ruling in support of cutting off citizen access to mail-order mifepristone. The pill used in more than half of the nation's abortions. Although the Supreme Court just ruled that the groups that successfully challenged access to the drug in a lower court did not have standing to sue, the Court's reasoning still allows future mifepristone access challenges.

So who is Anthony Comstock? As the founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, which grew to nation-wide scope, he was to become America's top prig. His chief aim was to block access to any and all information and or devices for birth control and/or abortion. Moreover, he and his zealous followers also campaigned to stamp out “obscene” books, “dirty” pictures, sex toys and anything else thought to inflame the nation's genitalia.

Comstock's modus operandi was brazen. He and his anti-vice crusaders conducted patently illegal vigilante raids on retailers. Storming into targeted stores, they brazenly "confiscated" and handed over to police: “bad books” and “articles made of rubber for immoral purposes and used by both sexes.” Then, emboldened by the popularity of this extra-legal campaign, Comstock launched a national movement to criminalize sex education of any kind, as well as sex toys, racy illustrations and “bad books.”

His campaign was highly successful. Sensing electoral opportunity, politicians of every kind quickly gained enthusiasm for banning "smut." In fact in 1873, largely in response to Comstock's crusade, Congress passed, without debate mind you, the "Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use." This "Comstock Act" outlawed all forms of sex education, particularly as it pertained to preventing or interrupting conception, as "obscene." One is reminded of the following: "Everybody likes to see somebody else caught for the vices practiced by themselves." Marya Mannas, More in Anger (1958

Here is an excerpt from this statute: "Whoever … shall sell, or lend, or give away, or in any manner exhibit … or shall otherwise publish … or shall have in his possession, any obscene book, pamphlet, paper, writing, advertisement, circular, print, picture, drawing or other representation, … or instrument … of an immoral nature, or any drug or medicine, or any article whatever, for the prevention of conception, or for causing unlawful abortion, or shall advertise the same for sale, … shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction thereof, he shall be imprisoned at hard labor in the penitentiary for not less than six months nor more than five years for each offense, or fined not less than one hundred dollars nor more than two thousand dollars, with costs of court." (That's not less than $2,200 and not more than $58,000 in today's dollars.)

Propitiously this prohibition against mailing such stuff created a government job for Comstock. He was appointed "special agent" of the US Post Office and given exclusive enforcement powers. He held this position — in essence, as America’s sexual morality czar — for the next 42 years! In this capacity Comstock enthusiastically prosecuted anyone caught sending information about birth control, or committing any other of a long list of "sexual offenses” via the mail. ) 

Was the law actually enforced? Upon retirement Comstock boasted that he had victoriously brought charges against more than 3,600 defendants and destroyed 160 tons of "sexual materials" including tons of  information about birth control. Under Comstock the postal service sometimes even forbade the mailing of anatomy books to medical students.    

Comstock's blue-nosing caused all sorts of mischief and provoked at least one notorious suicide. Feminist Ida Craddock killed herself rather than be imprisoned for sending sex education information via the mail. Her suicide note reads, in part, “I am taking my life because a judge, at the instigation of Anthony Comstock, has declared me guilty of a crime I did not commit -- the circulation of obscene literature. Perhaps it may be that in my death, more than in my life, the American people may be shocked into investigating the dreadful state of affairs which permits that unctuous sexual hypocrite Anthony Comstock to wax fat and arrogant and to trample upon the liberties of the people, invading, in my own case, both my right to freedom of religion and to freedom of the press." 

As a consequence of Comstock's puritanism, hundreds of "offenders" found themselves in federal prison. And, somewhat amazingly, this mischief is not yet over. The Taliban style "Comstock Act" has recently risen from the dead to be applied by a Trump appointed Texas federal district court judge. He cited it in banning mail order mifepristone.  This despite the fact that the Food and Drug Administration has approved mail-order dispensation of this highly effective abortion aid.



























.

 To further examine these and similar issues, see dozens of articles at www.newfoundations.com

 

Thursday, March 21, 2024

TEACHING CRITICAL THINKING: key problems




There are more than 16,000 school districts in the United States and nearly all of them claim they teach ‘critical thinking.’ In fact if you Google search “critical thinking” + “school mission statement” you will get 175,000+ matches.  

School mission statements typically make claims such as this: “We believe in the development of critical thinking skills.” (Lordstown School District, Ohio.) Okay; but what does "critical thinking" amount to? Wikipedia says it involves: "the analysis of available facts, evidence, observations, and arguments in order to form a judgement by the application of rational, skeptical and unbiased analyses and evaluation." 

Such a procedure, when applied to things that really matter, unveils deep assumptions that socialization conditions us to take for granted. That's why successfully teaching students to think critically, often runs afoul of that very socialization — one of schooling's primary, though generally unreflective, functions

What is socialization? "Making someone behave in a way that is acceptable to their society." (Oxford Dictionary of English.) For instance, making them conform to gender norms, avoid cultural taboos and engage in 'appropriate' manners. Such things define a society and play a major role in glueing it together. 

Take the common belief of many Americans that the United States is the best country in the world. That conviction is a result of socialization. Generally it is unreflective. Most who firmly believe this lack an adequate basis for comparison. For instance, most have never lived anywhere else. But critical thinking threatens this perception, It requires weighing the assertion and investigating whether or not there are other countries that might be as good or better.  

That investigating also requires deciding what criteria to apply. Suppose, for example, students test this claim by applying the criteria of life expectancy. Here the United States' ranks a dismal 40th. (World Population Review). The U.S. also ranks a discouraging 23rd in citizen happiness. (Oxford's World Happiness Report, 2024) Students might also discover that among developed countries, the U.S. has one of the world's highest income inequalities. (Wikipedia) Or that the Cato Institute ranks their "the land of the free" a dismal 23rd in human rights. (Switzerland is number 1.) In fact the United States has the sixth highest incarceration rate per thousand on the planet. While the United States contains just 4.2% of the world's population, it incarcerates 20% of the world's prisoners. (Wikipedia) 

On the other hand, they might also discover that the U.S. ranks number 1 in disposable income per person. The income an individual has left after subtracting payments for income taxes. [Investopedia]) Similarly, they could learn that while the United States has only 4.2% of the world's population, it accounts for 25% of the global economy and 30% of global wealth. They might also learn that the U.S. is first in Gross Domestic Product, 1st in innovation, 1st in higher education, 2nd in economic competitiveness, and a credible 5th in productivity,. (These rankings are from a variety of authoritative sources, principally Wikipedia.)

Let's imagine a high schooler critically considering such facts, going home and announcing that they don't think the U.S. is the greatest country on earth. Might that raise parental concerns? Especially if their youngster came to this conclusion based on what they learned in their tax-supported public school. Do you think the local school board might hear complaints about this sort of learning? Should the teacher expect kudos? Should the superintendent and principal batten down the hatches for a blow? 

Critical thinking would also involve seriously examining documents that most in the U.S. consider to be authoritative. The Constitution and the Bible come to mind. And remember, that examination requires the thinker to also take a close look at the authorities that interpret these complicated documents for us. How seriously should students take famed evangelist Joel Osteen' s interpretation of the Bible, for instance? Why him? Because Osteen offers Biblical interpretations that a whole lot of folks take seriously? He has written ten books, some of which were NY Times Best Sellers. His church claims 40,000 members and hundreds of thousands more follow him on mass media. Yet he's had no formal training in religion. He dropped out of college and never earned ordination. He inherited his pulpit from his father. Nevertheless, challenges to Osteen's authority will not be welcomed by those who admire him. Especially if they were spawned in the very schools they help pay for and now "infect" their child. 

The same applies to the Constitution and the interpretations of it by legal authorities such as the Supreme Court. Let's just consider Justice Clarence Thomas' interpretations. He's supposed to apply only his legal knowledge to help define the Constitution for the rest of us. Yet students engaged in thinking critically about it would quickly learn that he reluctantly admits accepting lavish trips, luxury vacations, cruises on opulent yachts and junkets on private jets from a conservative billionaire. Might the kids conclude that these gifts influence his opinions and undermine the quality of his decisions? Critical thinking certainly requires them to ponder that. But what about "right to life" parents who regard Clarence Thomas as uncommonly authoritative? Will they be happy when they learn their son or daughter are questioning his judgement,  indeed  questioning his very integrity, and that they learned to do that in public school?

Some argue it isn't necessary in teaching critical thinking to tackle controversial things like this head on. That by being taught generic methods of 'thinking critically,' learners will eventually bring these tools to bear on those deep assumptions and interpretive authorities that direct their lives. But many variables interfere with such transfer of learning. If we want young people to actually learn to think critically, teachers must provide them with direct and well-focused opportunities to examine issues that really matter. But if teachers do that, they better be prepared to look for another job. 

The stark fact is that it's impossible to foster critical thinking about anything of consequence without upsetting a whole lot of people. Critical thought is disturbing by its very nature. 

Worse still, encouraging student's to think critically about anything significant can, and asuredly will, be significantly misinterpreted. Moreover. misinterpretation will often be used for personal advantage by unprincipled opportunists. For instance, demagogic politicians who seek reelection at all costs or greedy televangelists who scare their followers in to buying them a personal jet. 

In the final analysis the emotional discomfort provoked by critical inquiry is the price of growing up. So if educators avoid fostering critical thinking, they are encouraging students to remain childlike intellectually and emotionally. This is particularly harmful in a democracy. Yet, ironically, it is precisely this sort of childishness that reinforces the socialization that is vital to societal survival.

Perhaps educators should encourage just enough critical thinking to allow societal adaptation to a changing world, but not enough to inadvertently provoke social disintegration. But where is this middle ground? And should we expect educators, school board members, politicians, and the public to stick their neck out searching for it? Besides, most of the above couldn't do it if they wanted too. Critical thinking is a rare commodity and well beyond most of them. Worse still, this middle ground is especially elusive in a society lacking consensus and riven with controversy. 

Then there is this. If teachers did succeed in surpassing their own limitations and actually get students to employ critical thinking, what would happen when these empowered youngsters focus on their own schooling? 

Imagine them critically examining how, what and why they are being compelled to learn — or at least pretend to. Picture them using all the available facts, evidence, observations, and arguments, then forming a judgement about their schooling based on the application of rational, skeptical and unbiased analyses and evaluation? What decisions might they reach? What actions might they take? What are the chances schooling would remain unchanged? Would any teacher. principal, superintendent or school board member feel more secure? Would parents be happy with the results? You decide.




-- GKC