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04 November 2015

Wednesday Links -- 4 November 2015

It's a special "schools and sex edition" of Wednesday Links! Schools are hard on introverts, except that students are generally becoming fragile bundles of nerves. The Ivy League schools suck because everyone there is a tool, while kindergarten in Finland doesn't suck because the kids play instead of read. On the sexual side of things, it's all about sex negativity and why that won't help prevent abortions or prostitution. Then again, it might help you stay a kiss-virgin until your wedding day.

Michael Godsey at The Atlantic writes about when schools overlook introverts. I'm not sure how I feel about one strategy over another, inasmuch as I'm fairly middling between introversion and extroversion. That said, this seems like a thing that "free market" schools would respond very slowly too, simply because (as you can infer from the university anecdotes Godsey provides) extroverted students "do" more, and are therefore more amenable to extracurricular amenities. Introverts, presumably, wouldn't have that many more "hooks" for college marketing, other than that "classes are good, library has quiet spaces." At least to the mind of college marketing departments, because marketers are not known for their introversion.

According to Psychology Today, universities are facing a big problem: Declining student resilience. The increased demand for "trigger warnings" (but caveat: that's mostly a private-school phenomenon) is just one facet of the changing collective student psychology. Sometimes it's just an amplification of a perennial student attitude:
Faculty also noted an increased tendency for students to blame them (the faculty) for low grades—they weren’t explicit enough in telling the students just what the test would cover or just what would distinguish a good paper from a bad one. They described an increased tendency to see a poor grade as reason to complain rather than as reason to study more, or more effectively.
See also this post (and many others) at Gin & Tacos. In particular, this G&T post ("Can this 900-lb gorilla pay tuition?") sort of unites the Psychology Today and Atlantic pieces:
The second part is the one people only whisper about. More and more students are going to college over the past two decades, partly driven by the availability of loans and the inability to enter most fields without a degree. The end result is that moreso than any time in the past, today there are huge numbers of students flocking to college who have zero ability to succeed there. Universities of course want to retain these students, and in order to do so they have to create a massive bureaucracy of support services. Any skill tangentially related to completing college level work now has a lavishly staffed support center devoted to it on campus. A writing center, a study skills program, tutoring services, a math helpdesk, a massive bureaucracy devoted to the shockingly large share of students diagnosed with various disabilities, and anything else you can imagine.

If you want to stay open, you have to admit a certain number of students. In an ideal world you accept only students who can succeed given the nature of the school. In reality you end up taking a lot who probably can't. And if you accept students who do not know how to write sentences in English, you better have someone ready to hold their hand if you expect them to last longer than a semester. That costs money – a lot of money.

When you add up the cost of huge salaries for presidents, provosts, deans, and deanlets, recreational facilities that resemble theme parks, athletic programs (a competitive D-I football program costs a small fortune), shiny new buildings, and an army of functionaries tasked with guiding students who sometimes lack even high school level academic skills through college coursework, it makes sense why costs are exploding. Those of you who went to college in the ancient past can attest to how austere the accommodations were, how barebones the support services were, and how little "fun" universities paid to provide.
With a bleakness that is vintage Gin & Tacos, the hypothesis becomes clear. Cash-thirsty universities are prone to great expenses on "fun," because they have to keep the students entertained or else the students will leave—from exhaustion or the reality of their own unreadiness, to say nothing of graduating early—and there goes the money train.

Take it from this VICE correspondent: Going to an Ivy League school sucks. Not to knock my awesome lead instructor at Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth or the CTY summer program in general, but I kinda got a sense of that there. There's just so much more snobbishness and stupid social traps and nakedly obvious social climbing on the East Coast: middle schoolers with any glimmer of prospect have to think about which high school to apply for, on their way to (because it's just the default) which Ivy they attend. Personally I think social segregation should be kept to an absolute minimum before kids turn 18, and I'm a fan of broad-base liberal education, so I'm already not a fan of "magnet" schools. But jeez:
On average, the Ivies accept about 8 percent of applicants. I still remember the shock I felt when I got into Columbia. In my freshman orientation program, we had a discussion about what it meant to attend an Ivy. The greatest artists, politicians, scientists, and entrepreneurs had walked through these halls. "We're the elite," one girl said. "We're not like other people." She pointed to the passersby outside, visible through the barred windows. "We're going to change the world."
I don't even come from an underprivileged background like the author does, and I would probably have had a mental breakdown by week 3 just from holding back a series of "GO FUCK YOURSELVES" at people like this. Sure, these schools have the best academic programs, but if the cost is tens of thousands of dollars and imbedding with a bunch of trust-fund no-sense-of-noblesse-oblige pricks?

State Supreme Court: Charter schools are unconstitutional. Apparently the Washington State Constitution, in addition to guaranteeing public funding of education, forbids public money from going to schools that aren't under the auspices of elected school boards. On the one hand, this probably protects us from bait-and-switch school voucher schemes that funnel taxpayer money to nonsense-based religious schools (the Loch Ness monster proves that dinosaurs didn't go extinct and evolution is a lie). On the other hand, the requirement does sort of pre-empt the best argument for charter schools: that the school can experiment with different practices and strategies without needing approval or homogenization from a school board. But charter schools are such a mixed bag that some refinement is needed; perhaps the State SC decision will jump-start that.

The Joyful, Illiterate Kindergarteners of Finland. Putting aside the intentionally-provocative headline—Web title: "Why Kindergarten in Finland Is All About Playtime (and Why That Could Be More Stimulating Than the Common Core)," because clickbait—and the usual fawning, mystical exuberance for the Finnish educational system, it's a pretty interesting piece. Okay but fill in your own caveats. Mine are a bit general: usually American heavy-sigh reporting on Finnish education takes a tone of uncuriousity, like "isn't it amazing that the Finns can do that and we can't, for some reason?" The reasons seem pretty straightforward: (1) treat teaching like a true profession, and (2) give teachers more control over classes while simultaneously demanding more rigor and selectivity in the credentialing process. (Oh, and (3) if you give students standardized tests, damn well make the tests matter.) One might expect that double-Masters-holding, years-of-practicum-experienced teachers would understand how to give young students an education without being rigidly didactic—as I'm sure district administrators demand but Common Core probably doesn't require as stringently, i.e. the typical case for badmouthing a set of guidelines.

If "pro-lifers" wanted to end abortion — rather than control sex — their tactics would be radically different. Dr. Valerie Tarico was one of the "con" panelists at the God Debate that I co-hosted at WWU last year, and is a persuasive speaker as well as an accomplished research psychologist. This isn't the first "anti-abortion activists are doing it all wrong" piece to float around the Internet, but Dr. Tarico makes a pretty humanistic case for her policy suggestions that others may not. That said, it's not clear to what extent this will change anyone's mind: if anti-abortionists really are coming from a place of sex-negativity, no amount of "but this thing, even though it's agnostic about sexual promiscuity, pretty definitely reduces abortion rates!" will persuade them that it's really promoting harlotry and strumpetude. (Because "strumpet" is criminally under-utilized.)

On my to-watch list: "Give Me Sex Jesus" reviewed: A documentary about Christian purity culture

Chris Hallquist notes similarities between anti-gay and anti-sex-work arguments:
Parallel problems exist in studies on sex work. As sociologist Ronald Weitzer explains, claims about all sex workers will be made based on studies of street-based sex workers, or sex workers in jail, or sex workers who reached out to service organizations for help.

In both cases (anti-gay and anti-sex work), writers pushing an ideological agenda will ignore explicit warnings in the studies themselves.
Which makes sense if both standpoints come from an ideology of sex-negativity. Now, I don't think one has some sort of moral obligation to be "sex positive" in the "celebrate literally every sexual choice anyone makes as long as it's consensual" sense, just that people probably shouldn't put sexual activity in the negative-infinity pit of their moral landscape. (This is in terms of, like, moral worldview; one can be 100% sex-averse personally, that's fine.)

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