Sunday, June 26, 2011

An Elite Education

This article by William Deresiewicz is so thorough and consistent with my own experience that to quote a couple of high points does not do it justice. Nevertheless, here are some blurbs:

"Elite schools pride themselves on their diversity, but that diversity is almost entirely a matter of ethnicity and race. With respect to class, these schools are largely—indeed increasingly—homogeneous."

"I learned to give that little nod of understanding, that slightly sympathetic “Oh,” when people told me they went to a less prestigious college. (If I’d gone to Harvard, I would have learned to say “in Boston” when I was asked where I went to school—the Cambridge version of noblesse oblige.) I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to elite colleges, often precisely for reasons of class. I never learned that there are smart people who don’t go to college at all."

"I began comparing my experience, and even more, my students’ experience, with the experience of a friend of mine who went to Cleveland State. There are due dates and attendance requirements at places like Yale, but no one takes them very seriously."

And now the most perceptive. I've often wondered if I am the only one who noticed this.

"Being an intellectual begins with thinking your way outside of your assumptions and the system that enforces them. But students who get into elite schools are precisely the ones who have best learned to work within the system, so it’s almost impossible for them to see outside it, to see that it’s even there. Long before they got to college, they turned themselves into world-class hoop-jumpers and teacher-pleasers, getting A’s in every class no matter how boring they found the teacher or how pointless the subject, racking up eight or 10 extracurricular activities no matter what else they wanted to do with their time. "

This passage reminds of the opportunistic Tiger Mom (what ever happened to her?), the self-professed non thinker. I also reminds me of not all but so many people I see entering law teaching. Many are poorly educated in any sense that allows them to think or talk about ideas.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Desensitivity Training for Travelers to France

I am a sensitive guy and do my best not to stand out too much in other countries. To this end I am preparing a new training course for all us sensitive people. Like most American men I've been taught that, when it comes to women, "no" means no. In fact even yes can mean no. Never say anything like "Your legs look peachy in that dress." And flirting in the work place is completely off limits. This is a very easy one for me to observe since I am not sure what flirting means exactly.

But for sensitive academics traveling in France this is all wrong and so some desensitivity training is in order. Evidently, in France, it is perfectly acceptable to assume that no means yes. And, if you do not comment on those dreamy, peachy legs, you may be insulting your host and hostess. (I feel certain that in France the use of the ess is acceptable, if not required.) I am not sure I can get all of this down without some lectures by real French people who have lived with the American respect for women. I really need to feel their pain, understand just how they feel and, specifically, I need to know about the every day unconscious things I do that are hurtful to them.

When I am finished with that I will work on advancing the criminal law with the adoption of the affirmative defense to sex crimes -- But I am French.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

New Yorker Book Review

A short excerpt from a recent New Yorker book review:

Few people are fully reliable reporters of time use. But if students are studying less it may be because the demands on them are fewer. Half the students in the study said that they had not taken a single course in the previous semester requiring more than twenty pages of writing. A third said that they had not taken a course requiring more than forty pages of reading a week. Arum and Roksa point out that professors have little incentive to make their courses more rigorous. Professors say that the only aspect of their teaching that matters professionally is student course evaluations, since these can figure in tenure and promotion decisions. It’s in professors’ interest, therefore, for their classes to be entertaining and their assignments not too onerous. They are not deluded: a study carried out back in the nineteen-nineties (by Alexander Astin, as it happens) found that faculty commitment to teaching is negatively correlated with compensation.

Still, Arum and Roksa believe that some things do make a difference. First of all, students who are better prepared academically for college not only do better when they get to college; they improve more markedly while they’re there. And students who take courses requiring them to write more than twenty pages a semester and to read more than forty pages a week show greater improvement.

Read more