Higher Ed Links

College is the hot topic of the moment. I'm in a rush this morning, so I'll just sum up the items of interest du jour. 

In addition to some groundbreaking reporting on this morning's Today Show about a 40 pound cat and the sex life of Simon Cowell, they discussed the miserable job report for recent college graduates. 53% of recent college grads are unemployed or underemployed. Best links: The Atlantic and the AP

Steve Salzberg of Forbes reports on the decision of the University of Florida to eliminate its computer science department, while increasing the athletic budget. This piece was passed around my Twitter circle heavily. Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution wrote a post on it, and his commenters explained that outside of the NE, college sports are hugely important to Americans and bring in big bucks for the university. 

Ezra Klein writes that there is bipartisan support for extending the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, but Congress is dithering. If they don't act soon, the interest rate for college loans is going to jump from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent. 

Somewhat related to higher ed is a column by David Brooks, which is a riff on a Peter Thiel argument that our education system and business world are too caught up with competition. To really succeed, one needs to find a niche, specialize, and create a monopoly. Dan Drezner responds. 

Blogs and video games improve education, according to the Brookings Institute. 

Best Minds Destroyed By Stupidity

Last week, all the best women writers were writing about 50 Shades of Grey, so I played around with the idea of writing something to join in the discussion. I downloaded the first two books in the series and read 2000 pages of extremely badly written erotica. Really badly written. Embarrassing prose. Cut and paste sex scenes with two profoundly boring individuals. I cannot tell you why this trilogy is popular, except that Kindles, the new brown bag for chick porn, make it easy to secretively read this stuff. 

Anyway, everybody was debating what this book means for feminism. (I'm too bored with this topic to even bother hunting down the links.) This book doesn't tell us anything about feminism, anymore than Snooki or Madonna tell us anything about feminism. It is just what it is. Badly written erotica. 

The only message about feminism that I got from this collosal time waste is that women writers are still in a ghetto where we feel compelled to write about certain topics. Naughty, witty, snarky, pop culture bits are fine in small doses. But can't we write about something else? 

I'm pouting right now. And not in a bite-my-lower-lip sort of pout. Just really annoyed. 

Book Review: Chick Porn

Inbed_328Before I went on vacation to Puerto Rico last month, I asked readers for book recommendations. Wendy suggested The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie, a romance novel. Lord Ian has autism, which I think marks a new weirdness in the autism literature genre. I downloaded it and read it by the side of the pool at the resort.

For multiple reasons, I found this book pretty horrifying. In order to purge my mind of this book, I needed to read a different book pronto. Based on recommendations by Amazon readers, I downloaded In Bed with a Highlander by Maya Banks.

I haven't read a romance novel in years. I probably went through my last romance novel spree back when Ian was born, and I was stuck breastfeeding for hours and hours. I was shocked to learn that romance novels are way more porn-y than they used to be. Just to be sure, I read the other two books in the series, Seduction of a Highland Lass and  Never Love a Highlander. Yep, lots of porn. In addition to traditional maiden deflowering, I got some bondage action, lots of oral, and some sex with highland wenches who were still asleep.

There was always good sex in romance novels, but the authors would slowly work their way to it after a hundred pages or so of misunderstandings, tempestuous personalities, and jealous wenches throwing up roadblocks. Now, we zoom into the sex after 20 pages or so. The drama doesn't revolve getting into bed for the first time. 

At one point, I looked up from my iPad and checked out my fellow vacationers around the pool. Like me, the middle aged women in various Lands End one piece bathing suits were all reading romance novels. Wow. You're reading porn. And you're reading porn. And you're reading porn. 

Romance novels always sort of pretended to based in a historical time. The authors used to throw in some wikipedia references to important battles or real historical events. These books didn't bother with history and didn't pretend to be placed in any historical context. The heroes were metrosexuals who cared about grooming. The women were constantly in a bathtub. Their wispy tendrils of hair curled up in the hot water, which servants had happily carted up the stairs to the bedroom. In one of the books, the hero decides not to bed the maiden on her wedding day, because she was going to have to travel on horseback the next day and he didn't want to make her maiden spots too tender to ride. 

 Which brings me to Fifty Shades of Grey: Book One of the Fifty Shades Trilogy. Well, not quite yet. I'm downloading it this weekend. Anybody read it? 

Testing Colleges

In an effort to prove that college students gain knowledge, administrators are creating assessment tests to measure the knowledge gain in their students. David Brooks writes about the findings from those tests in today's New York Times.

Colleges are supposed to produce learning. But, in their landmark study, “Academically Adrift,” Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa found that, on average, students experienced a pathetic seven percentile point gain in skills during their first two years in college and a marginal gain in the two years after that. The exact numbers are disputed, but the study suggests that nearly half the students showed no significant gain in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills during their first two years in college.

Parents are demanding that their investment in a college education leads to more than an over priced t-shirt from the campus bookstore. They want to see results. However, these assessment tests are incredibly difficult to create. How do you make one test that will accurately measure the knowledge that a philosophy major gains versus the gain in knowledge from a kid who majors in chemistry?  I'm not that confident that a perfect test can be created. 

However, we are entering a new era where colleges are going to have to prove their worth. Parents aren't going to write blank checks any longer. If colleges can't create a perfect assessment test, then other forms of assessment are going to happen.

I like the idea of a college ranking system that measures a university's commitment to their undergraduate population using quantifiable variables like percentage of tenured or tenure track faculty, number of students who graduate in four years, percentage of faculty teaching a full course load, class size, and average student loan debt. Other useful information, though trickier to fit  into a ranking system, would be support for pedagogy, the existence of graduate programs, the availability of faculty, and the availability of required, lower level classes. 

Higher education is a hot topic right now. I'm glad to be part of the discussion. 

Chores Lists

This week, I'm beating back the chores to a managable level of chaos. Phone numbers and reminders on little scraps of papers and sticky notes that had lost their stick wafted off my desk every time I opened a window. The wifi access sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. Ian has a birthday party for a pile of kids and siblings this Friday. Steve decided last night that he wanted to make his own pinata for the party. An oak tree with an omnious branch that hangs over the family room needs tending. 

The tree dude and I bonded over the evils of leaf blowers. He chuckled that all the top soil in Bergen County is sitting in some landfill. My poor plants and trees need lots of TLC. 

Right now, two cable dudes are snaking new wires around the house, because… I don't know why exactly. Somebody said something about grounding and routers and incorrect flow. Whatever. They're doing something, which means I can't leave the house yet to buy supplies for Ian's party. 

So, I made some lists and more color coded calendars and tackled much of it. Having a real life interferes with my blogging life, so that's why I haven't been around much this week. 

Question of the Day: What's on your Chore List? 

Spreadin’ Love 582

I'm furiously packing up for a photo session in a graveyard with my class this morning. Apparently, there are beautiful flowering trees at the Hackensack cemetary. I plan on taking pictures of the graves. So, no time for real blogging this morning. I'm just going to throw out some links of articles and items of interest that caught my eye yesterday. More blogging this afternoon. 

 Jeremy S. sent me two links to the latest in the mommy debates. From Slate, a nanny says that she prefers working for rich moms, rather than working moms. Rich moms have less hang ups about hiring help. (I read The Help over the weekend. Should write about a post about that.) Also, an article about working mothers who travel gathered some perfect snarky comments. 

Xeni Jardin, a blogger for Boing Boing, started a great conversation about the lack of health care coverage for cancer patients. Check out her twitter feed

An autistic child is distruptive in a cafe. How do people react? Extremely well. My Jersey friends on Facebook are passing this link around. We're very proud of the fact that if you mess with an autistic kid, we'll tell you to STFU. 

Childcare Isn’t Work According to TANF and Mitt Romney

Pundits are tearing into Romney for saying that poor mothers should put their kids in daycare, so they could understand the understand "the dignity of work." Under TANF, childcare is not considered work, unless you are watching someone else's kid. 

And then government cut back on subsidizing low income childcare. 

More from Ezra, Matt, New York Magazine, and about 4,000 other sources. 

OK, this is now officially awesome.  


How To Get Your Academic Research In the Press

In the past six months, I have had countless conversations with academics about getting the press to pick up their research. They've spent years and years studying and writing about a particular topic and then only five people end up reading their papers. There are a lot of reasons for this gap between academic writing and journalism. The articles are hidden behind a paywall. The academic writing style can be daunting to read. Academics don't know how to reach out to the press. 

I fielded so many questions from professor-friends about this topic that I tried to convince an editor-friend to become a consultant for academics looking to publicize their work. She thought about it for a fraction of a second and then said no. She said that she hated to hurt people's feelings and she thought that most academics have unrealistic expectations about their research. "If I will write it, they will come." Uh, no. 

Let me just share some advice that I've handed out lately. 

1. If you've written a book, then turn the first chapter into an article. Take out the jargon, the methodology section, the literature review, pomposity, all of the charts, and make it fun. Then send an e-mail to the editors of the mainstream magazines that publish articles aimed at the educated audience. The e-mail should include a snappy subject line, two or three paragraphs that sum up the article, and a short bio. If you don't hear back from the editor in a day, then he/she isn't interested. Send it somewhere else. 

2. Get the names of the reporters and writers who write about your particular topic. Send them the paper. In the e-mail, tell them why your research is important and how it fits into a hot topic. Nobody is going to write an article based entirely on your research. They want your research to boost an article about a hot topic. 

3. Let me repeat myself. Find out the names of writers and bloggers who write about your topic. Follow them on Twitter. Send them your research, because the paywall won't let them find it otherwise. For example, I love writing about political-sociology, parenting, autism, education, and public policy. If you have reseach in those areas, I will write about it. I don't write about all areas of political science. I won't do voting data or foreign policy, but there are plenty of journalists who do. Find them. 

4. You have to work as your own publicity agent. Well, everyone does these days. My twitterfeed is full of people pushing their writing. That's cool. I read a good chunk of those articles and RT many of them. All this networking takes time. You can't just set up a twitter account and make your first tweet be about your research. You have to build your network first. Show good will by RT-ing other people's work. You have play nicely in the sandbox. 

5. If your research is very, very narrow, then you have to tell the journalist how it fits into the bigger picture. You might have to include references to other papers and books. You want to make it as easy for them as possible. 

More thoughts from John Sides

Me, Myself, and I

I'm terrible at being alone. Terrible. I like being around big crowds of people all the time. My high social needs are actually a family joke. More than a day or two by myself in this house writing and I'm calling up random people whining for a lunch date.  

Jonah, who is my genetic twin, complained that he didn't have any playdates last week. His friends went away on vacation, so the three of us were by ourselves for too long. A friend called him yesterday to find out how he liked his break. He said that he felt like he was in the middle of the ocean and his only friends were the whales. I guess Ian and I were the whales. 

Two recent articles consider loneliness and single life. 

The Atlantic has just published an in-depth report on the subject that starts with explaining how loneliness has become an epidemic, with more Americans than ever living alone (27 percent) and a staggering 25 percent of Americans in 2010 saying they have no one to confide in — an increase from 10 percent in 1985. The author, Stephen Marche, wonders whether Facebook is contributing our lonliness. 

In the New Yorker, Nathan Heller wonders why so many Americans live by themselves. 

Klinenberg’s data suggested that single living was not a social aberration but an inevitable outgrowth of mainstream liberal values. Women’s liberation, widespread urbanization, communications technology, and increased longevity—these four trends lend our era its cultural contours, and each gives rise to solo living. Women facing less pressure to stick to child care and housework can pursue careers, marry and conceive when they please, and divorce if they’re unhappy. The “communications revolution” that began with the telephone and continues with Facebook helps dissolve the boundary between social life and isolation. Urban culture caters heavily to autonomous singles, both in its social diversity and in its amenities: gyms, coffee shops, food deliveries, laundromats, and the like ease solo subsistence. Age, thanks to the uneven advances of modern medicine, makes loners of people who have not previously lived by themselves. By 2000, sixty-two per cent of the widowed elderly were living by themselves, a figure that’s unlikely to fall anytime soon.

I'm not sure that the growing single-ness of America is really a problem. I mean, for me, it would be a problem, but I recognize that I'm a freak. 

Spreadin’ Love 581

Lewis Hine: The child labour photos that shamed America. Great video from the BBC

I, too, have been known to be over generous with the "comma shaker." 

Sheryl Sandberg leaves the office every day at 5:30, so she can be home in time for family dinner at 6:00. So, does Steve, but it takes him a lot longer to get home. Blasted NYC commute times! One snarky thought – I wonder who cooks the meals. 

Twitter is joking it about Cory Booker this morning, but he is really pretty awesome. 

An Opening in Art

My cheeks are still rosy from the wine from tonight's art show. I started taking art classes at a local art school a few months ago, because I wanted to learn how to take better photographs. I've learned a bit about photography, but mostly, these classes have helped me remember how much I love being around art. 

I signed up for art classes in college, whenever I had spare spots in the schedule. Sometimes it was an art history class. Other times, I took life painting classes. The art studio was always open, so you could work on your paintings on weekends with the majors.  Later, I took life painting classes at the Art Students League of New York, where I hung out in the smoking room with the nude models. I worked in a museum in Chicago for a year during one of my off-years from grad school. Friends with connections in the underground art world in Chicago took me to performance art shows. At one memorable show, a heavily tattooed man in a speedo hoisted into the air another man dressed up as a giant penis. 

When I got pregnant with Jonah, I stopped painting, because the chemicals are bad for fetuses. After that, life got crazier. I took the kids to museums here and there, but I didn't have grown up time there. I didn't paint at all. I drifted away from the galleries and the museums. 

Now, I'm back. I love the wall of paint smell that hits you when you walk in the doors. I love the crazy creative people. There's a room of pottery wheels in the basement that I can't wait to play with. Wet clay awaits! 

I'm in love with my fellow students. Here in suburban New Jersey, they're a slightly different breed than city arty types. There are the older retired people who mother me. And the misfit moms, who are bored with the PTA. They hugged and kissed me, as we left this evening. 

Some people go to church to find a community. I go to art school.