SL 728

I’ve been waaaayyyy busy the past few weeks. I’ve been retweeting things that I find interesting, but haven’t had a chance to do blog posts on all of them. Let me do a quick round up, and I’ll try to do a better blog post later today.

Of course, there’s parent separation on the border. I’m not sure what else to say about this horrific situation that hasn’t already been said. We live in sad, sad times.

Stanley Fish says that we should stop trying to sell the Humanities. But I was talking to a woman who works on Wall Street last month. She said that they are hiring people with political science majors, not business majors. So, I think Fish is wrong.

Will Asian-Americans undo Affirmative Action?

I have mixed feelings about work-based learning. Theoretically, it’s great. In practice, it might be another dumping grounds for special ed kids.

Schools are getting rid of GPAs, AP tests, SATs, and grades. What will fill their places?

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There is no ‘Word Gap’ (Too bad that we created so many bad policies based on this study)

Back in the 1990s, a team of researchers spent two and a half years visiting the homes of close to four dozen families with young children, starting when the kids were 7 months old. Equipped with tape recorders and notebooks, the researchers—led by two Kansas psychologists named Betty Hart and Todd Risley—spent an hour per week in each home, recording every word a child’s primary caregiver said to the child during the sessions. After transcribing each conversation and then analyzing the exchanges as a whole, the researchers (who have both since passed away) discovered major differences in the number of words spoken in middle-class families and in lower-income ones.

The result of their research was a landmark study published in 1995, which maintained that a typical child whose parents are highly educated and working professionals is exposed to roughly 1,540 more spoken words per hour than a typical child on welfare. Over time, they concluded, this word gap snowballs so much that by age 4, children in rich families have been exposed to 32 million more words than children in poorer ones.

The study was a sensation, with the media and policymakers fixating on the so-called “word gap” as a key source of longer-term academic disparities between poor and rich kids. It was immediately embraced by academic researchers, and was cited in more than 7,000 academic publications. It influenced welfare initiatives, government pilot programs, and grant campaigns. The Obama administration championed efforts to close the “word gap,” organizing a campaign to raise awareness of the issue and to encourage parents to talk more to their children.

Now, a new study has failed to replicate Hart and Risley’s findings, further complicating the legacy of this body of research and renewing a long-standing debate among researchers about just how large disparities of language and vocabulary are among different social classes—and how much those differences matter, if at all.

More here

Grabbing Life by the Balls

Like everyone else, I was crushed by Anthony Bourdain’s death this weekend. Here’s a blog post that I wrote about his book, Kitchen Confidential, back in 2003. (Gee, I’ve been blogging for a long time, haven’t I?)

I think that’s little that we can understand about his death. Everybody’s depression is unique; we can never understand the demons that lurk in someone else’s brain. But what we can take away from his story is the passion that he had for life. That curiosity. That drive to do something new, to meet new people, to go places, to speak out about wrongness in the world. Unbeknownst to his fans like me, he juggled passion and despair    until he couldn’t any longer.

RIP, Tony. He was a local guy who done good.

I’ve been going back and forth within my own brain this week about what my next move should be.

Last week, I did what I love doing. I wrote an article. I talked with really smart people who taught me new things. The fact-checking process was intense – every word, number, comma was questioned by more super smart people, but there is also something thrilling about making it through that clothes wringer and making it out alive. The next person who shouts “FAKE NEWS” should just bite me. Seriously.

So, I’m doing what I like. The article will come out at some point, maybe today or tomorrow. And I’m lucky enough to get published at a place that will make sure that lots of eyeballs will see it. I have two or three other topics in embryo and a book proposal that I’m shopping around. In between articles, I can sit on the sofa and read the pile of books on the coffee table and on the iPad that range in quality from mindless fun to inspiring.

And at the same time, I can do it from home. I can stop working at around 3:30 and take Ian to activities. I can make dinner. I can go for a run in the morning. If the car breaks down or Ian’s bus driver flames out, I am around to handle the crisis.

But all this flexibility comes with a cost. There’s not much money in freelance writing, and there’s a lot of hustling. Maybe it’s time to take a less interesting, but full-time job at a foundation or a think tank in Manhattan. Farming out my household and parenting chores to others would be a necessity. I would have an hour commute on a good day. I have no idea who would make dinner, if I didn’t get home until 7.

I’m going to give myself one more year of writing full time to see where things go. I’m shutting down some of the volunteer work that I do in the community, so I can devote more time towards that goal. I want to squeeze as much awesomeness out of the next year, before I do something simply for a more regular paycheck.

And More Gossip From the Mechanic

Last night, Jonah drove home from an evening of Fortnite at Jimmy’s house and announced that there was a bad smell coming from the car. Bad smells aren’t enough to move us to deal with car problems. But when black smoke started coming out from under the hood this morning, we agreed that prompt action was needed.

I wasn’t in the mood for prompt car action, because I had a full day of work planned out. Instead, I had to drive 30 minutes to the mechanic and pick up a spare car from my parents. Any trip to my parents now requires an additional 30 minutes on simplistic tech problems and lunch and tea. On the way back, I had to pick up groceries.

The day is shot. Ugh. Might as well blog.

When I dropped off the car, I had to do some mandatory chit-chat with Jimmy the mechanic. Jimmy fixes my extended family’s fleet of Toyotas and Subarus. He’s honest and hardworking and worth the 30 minute drive.

Jimmy was in a bad mood this morning, too. His best worker, Dave, quit, after working with him for eight years. Dave went to work for a dealership where he will get paid more money and get health insurance and benefits. As a small business owner, Jimmy can’t offer health insurance. His own health insurance is 20K per year.

Jimmy needs to find a replacement and is stuck. He had one guy for two weeks, but he showed up late every day and he only lived a block away. He fired him. He said that all the guys coming out of tech school are terrible. They don’t want to work hard or get dirty. I guess tech schools aren’t attracting the highest quality workers. I also guess that not too many people are willing to work at a job without health insurance.

Anyway, this gossip is interesting mostly because it is almost the exact same story that I heard from my contractor two weeks ago.

I’m interested in these stories not just because I think it’s a sign that there is great unraveling of the economy. I’m paying attention, because it’s personal. I can’t imagine that Ian is going to be able to attend a traditional four-year college. His reading skills aren’t on grade level, and he certainly could never manage the social skills of dorm room.

He does, however, have mad computer and engineering skills, so I’m started to dip my big toe into information about technical schools and community colleges. What’s the best way to get him in a cubicle with a computer? There are lots of stories about how vocational schools are the wave of the future, but I suspect it’s more hype than reality.

Tom Wolfe on Graduate School

Very sorry about Tom Wolfe’s passing. I loved Bonfire of the Vanities.

Here’s what Wolfe said about going to grad school.

I had just spent five years in graduate school, a statement that may mean nothing to people who never served such a stretch; it is the explanation, nonetheless. I’m not sure I can give you the remotest idea of what graduate school is like. Nobody ever has. Millions of Americans now go to graduate schools, but just say the phrase—”graduate school”—and what picture leaps into the brain? No picture, not even a blur. Half the people I knew in graduate school were going to write a novel about it. I thought about it myself. No one ever wrote such a book, as far as I know. Everyone used to sniff the air. How morbid! How poisonous! Nothing else like it in the world! But the subject always defeated them. It defied literary exploitation. Such a novel would be a study of frustration, but a form of frustration so exquisite, so ineffable, nobody could describe it. Try to imagine the worst part of the worst Antonioni movie you ever saw, or reading Mr. Sammler’s Planet at one sitting, or just reading it, or being locked inside a Seaboard Railroad roomette, sixteen miles from Gainesville, Florida, heading north on the Miami-to-New York run, with no water and the radiator turning red in an amok psychotic over boil, and George McGovern sitting beside you telling you his philosophy of government. That will give you the general atmosphere.

Weed and Teenagers

I’m going to express my unpopular opinion. I’m not excited about the legalization of pot, which is likely going to happen soon in New York and New Jersey.

Yes, I know that the enforcement of these laws is especially tough on minority communities. I know that regulations reduce the amount of bad drugs. I know that it brings in a lot of revenue for cash-strapped state legislatures. But it just sucks for the parents of teenagers.

I am extremely grateful that Jonah survived high school, got into a great college, and has a super demanding major that makes him study on Saturday nights. Because I’ve seen how things can go south.

Yeah, I’m in a UMC suburb, but those kids get in trouble, too. Big time. And it’s pot that fueling the trouble, not the Bud Lights that they get from a big brother. Since the kids are all under 18, they aren’t getting jail time, but they are still going on probation, going before judges, getting suspended, selling, and upgrading to more serious drugs. It’s not making the papers, but it’s happening.

The parents sit in the bleachers at football games and whisper about these matters. They share tips for finding the stashes under the beds and spy on the kids on social media. They trade the business cards of lawyers. They warn each other about the instigators who seem to be at the center of the action.

Teenagers are dumb, and their brains are too sensitive to chemicals. Most parents have given up on trying to stop the Juuls, but aren’t ready to deal with the new problem of legal weed. I’m so, so, so happy that Jonah is sweating it out in his bio classes and that Ian is immune to teenage vices, because our suburban town is going to go up in smoke very soon.

Rule Breaking and Reactions

A woman from my spin class leaves the building by a door that has a huge sign, “THIS IS A FIRE EXIT. USE FRONT DOOR.” My friend and I watch her, but we walk to the front of the gym and go out the front door. We wonder if we’re following rules because our kids have autism and are hard-wired to follow all rules. Maybe there is something wrong with us, too.

A neighbor back in our old town has too many people crashing in his house, so he lets the freeloaders park on his front lawn. The cops ticket cars left on the street overnight, and they don’t want that. So, they plop their Nissan on the grass in front of the house. Which is also illegal, but not a traffic matter, so there’s no cops to monitor that law at night.

We go for a walk at the park at the nearby mountain. There are other places to hike, but this is the closest. This location is also popular with dog walkers. There are huge signs at the front of the trail that say “ALL DOGS MUST BE ON LEASHES.” Nine of ten people obey that law, but there’s always one guy. Once, a guy with a huge dog roaming free knocked Ian down and licked his face. Ian, at the time, was terrified of dogs and screamed. I told the guy, “leash your dog.” He said, “leash your kid.”

Back in the early 90s when I first lived in my old neighborhood in Manhattan, traffic laws were strictly advisory. Drivers would go down sidewalks, triple park, roll through red lights, blast music out of the trunk at 2am. It was your job as a pedestrian to watch out for them and jump out of the way if necessary.

Kids monopolize a solemn college graduation by dancing, a student sleeps in a common area of the dorm, a family grills dinner by a lake in an area where they aren’t supposed to grill.

The last three incidents were in the news this week, because the reactions to the rule breaking were extreme and caught up in race.

Let’s take the reactions out of the equation for a minute and just talk about rules and laws. Every one of these incidents involves breaking a meaningful law, rule, or policy. Except for sleeping in the common room, because that is just the god given right of every graduate students. But leashing dogs, grilling in the right area, getting through a long and boring graduation in an orderly way are good things.

It’s super important to make sure that our laws and rules are sensible and just. It’s also super important to make sure that people who break the laws are punished equitably and reasonably. But I just want to make sure that we don’t toss out all rules all together.