Monday, January 31, 2011

Don't know much about...well, anything

A side note before I start: I want to blog a little about Egypt, but I'm going to first re-read Leila Ahmed's A Border Passage, her memoir about immigrating to the US from Cairo. It's got a solid bit about Egyptian history, and I think I need that refresher.

There's this new book out that's causing a stir. It's called Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, written by sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa and published by the University of Chicago press. I haven't read it (it's about $70), so I'm drawing on the many articles that are summarizing and analyzing it.

In their book, Arum and Roksa posit that students don't learn very much in their four years in college. How did they come to this conclusion? They tracked 2,300 students in 24 colleges and universities, using a variety of methods, including surveys, transcript analyses, and the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standardized test that (according to their website) "presents realistic problems that require students to analyze complex materials and determine the relevance to the task and credibility.  Students' written responses to the tasks are evaluated to  assess their abilities to think critically, reason analytically, solve problems and communicate clearly and cogently." Arum and Roksa found that 45 percent of (traditional, full-time) students didn't improve significantly in those areas during their first two years, that 36 percent didn't improve significantly over all four years, and that those who did improve only improved a little.

In other words, we're not learning in college. It's quite a damning conclusion.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.

First off, I woke up yesterday with this in my head:

...which, in retrospect, isn't the worst way to wake up. However, waking up at 8:30 when you have to be at work at 9:00? Not great.

I watched the State of the Union last night (hurray for Emily's projector). I've been not-so-great at following politics lately, and I'll blame the increasingly vicious rhetoric for that (okay, that's just an excuse). As with any political speech, I thought some things were good and some things weren't.

Things I liked:
-Education. Innovation in education. Getting rid of No Child Left Behind. I live in a city that has a low graduation rate, and a lot of the students who come to me from the Phila. school district have a lot of trouble with writing and critical thinking skills. So, yeah, I think revamping our education system is necessary.
-Clean energy. 85% of our energy coming from clean energy? I like it, if Obama meant renewable energy. Also, getting rid of subsidies for oil companies (funny line: "I don't know if you've noticed, but they're doing just fine on their own.")
-Ending tax cuts for the wealthy. Well, they better. That's all I'm saying. Frankly? I don't even need a tax cut (but maybe that's 'cause my living expenses are so low right now).
-Making sure the cuts to spending are not made "on the backs of our most vulnerable citizens." Right there? Really important. Really, really important.

My main quibble with the speech, and this is philosophical, I realize, was the constant references to American exceptionalism. Let me be clear (to borrow one of Obama's phrases): I don't believe in American exceptionalism. What I do believe is this: we are a country that has done extraordinary things. We are also a country that has done extraordinarily bad things. In short, we are both good and bad, and so is every country on earth. And if that makes me unpatriotic or something, well, fine. But I don't think it does: I think I love where I live (although sometimes, I want to go back to England for a little while), but I don't want to whitewash our faults.
There's this great little hymn about this that I love. It's to the tune of "Finlandia:"

This is my song, Oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my sacred shrine.
But other hearts in other lands are beating,
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine.
But other lands have sunlight too and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
Oh hear my song, oh God of all the nations,
A song of peace for their land and for mine.

May truth and freedom come to every nation;
may peace abound where strife has raged so long;
that each may seek to love and build together,
a world united, righting every wrong;
a world united in its love for freedom,
proclaiming peace together in one song.

And here's Joan Baez singing it (I can't embed the video, for some reason)

...Because, when it comes down to it, we are interdependent. Or, as Mother Teresa used to say, "If there is no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."

Monday, January 10, 2011

when I think of the road we're traveling on, I wonder what's gone wrong

So by now, everyone's heard about the shooting in Arizona. Six people were killed, including a 9-year-old, and 14 were injured, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

There's a lot that's been said about the shooting, much more than I can say. A sampling here:

Slacktivist: "Deadly Violence in Arizona"

Paul Krugman on the "Climate of Hate"

Gail Collins on guns

Feministe on rhetoric

Ta-Nehisi Coates's musings on Loughner

Whether or not Loughner was influenced by the increasingly vitriolic rhetoric over the past few years, and whether or not he saw Sarah Palin's map with crosshairs, let me state the obvious: words are powerful things, and we ought to think before we speak. Or write. Because, hello, language shapes the world. And once we start thinking that it's acceptable to use incendiary, violent language in our political rhetoric, we make it a little bit easier for things like this to happen.

It's also rather frustrating that so many people have jumped to the conclusion that the shooter is mentally ill. Slate has an article about this. (Full disclosure here: I've worked with people who were severely mentally ill, including a few with paranoid schizophrenia. And while they work with, I usually didn't fear that they'd be violent.) And really, would it make it better to think that our mental health system has failed someone so, so completely?

In better news, this gives me a little hope.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year!

2011? What?

I usually don't make New Year's resolutions, mainly because I tend to break them very, very quickly. But I was talking to my housemates yesterday about goals for the year, and I do have some of those. Here are a few.

1. Swim twice a week, maybe more. I joined the Y so I could swim, and I've been going about once a week. I feel very sedentary during the winter. My job is a lot of sitting at a computer and sitting down with students, so I feel like I need some form of exercise. I swam competitively for eight years, and I hate running, so it's sort of natural for me to want to get back in a pool.

2. Finish my book. Yes, I'm writing. No, I won't talk about it.

3. Learn more about economics. I don't know much.

4. Go back to physical therapy. I have multi-directional instability in my right shoulder. Basically, the socket's too big for the joint, so it dislocates and relocates without me even realizing it. What I feel is pain and sometimes dead-arm. It's not good for swimming or baseball.

5. Learn to play the piano (or at least start).

6. Start volunteering again. I used to tutor at a charter school in Philly, but they changed the schedule, and I can't do it because of work. I'd like to either tutor or volunteer at a shelter, because I've done those before.

7. Finish the books on my reading list. I finished Wolf Hall and I just started Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler.

So those are my goals. Who knows? I might actually accomplish them.