Resentment and Statistics

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In last Sunday’s Oshkosh Northwestern, Andrew Austin, an associate professor and chair of the Democracy and Justice Studies department at UW Green Bay, wrote a spot-on commentary concerning Governor Scott Walker’s misleading use of statistics as he continues to demean the state’s university system-

His office shared with the media that UW-Green Bay full professors (the highest teaching rank attainable in higher education and a small proportion of the faculty) averaged $70,700 in salaries in the 2013-14 academic year, a figure he contrasts with the average annual pay for all workers in Brown County, which was, according to Walker, $44,894 in 2014 (roughly a third of the governor’s salary).

Walker is cherry-picking the highest rank of professor — full professor — and comparing it to the average for all workers, professional and non-professional, regardless of rank, an average that includes workers at McDonald’s, Walmart, and Family Dollar (who, I hasten to add, are underpaid).

Comparing apples to apples, that is professionals to professionals, the median salary for full-time tenured and tenured-track faculty at UW-Green Bay in 2015-16 (most of whom hold a doctorate) was $57,259. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the 2014 median earnings for workers in Brown County who have a graduate or professional degree is $61,092.

Has Walker complained about the salaries of other professionals? Has he railed against physicians (who make a good deal more than professors)? What is it about teachers that riles the governor?

In addition to noting Walker’s cherry-picking of the data, Austin astutely battles averages with medians, since averages are highly unreliable indicators of general trends. Consider 10 people in a bar, each making $50,000 a year. In walks Donald Trump, whose annual income in a good year has been estimated to be around $362,000,000. Now, if you wanted to know in general how most people in the bar were doing, financially speaking, it would be far less misleading to say that they tend to be earning $50,000, the median, than to say that they tend to be earning a whopping $32,954,545, the average. A few highly paid academic “stars” can similarly skew average salary data. But Walker’s office clearly isn’t concerned with misleading the citizenry.

No, Senator Rubio: Welders Do Not Make More Than Philosophers

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An ongoing meme among Republican politicians is that a university education is over-rated, particularly if one is interested in majoring in anything other than a STEM field. I’ve heard Art History dismissed, as well as Anthropology and a number of other social sciences and humanities programs. Florida Senator Marco Rubio was the latest politician to dismiss a non-STEM and non-vocational major, one that is especially dear to my heart: philosophy. Here is what he said, along with the debunking by Politifact:

“For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational training,” Rubio said. “Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.”

It was a big moment in the debate for Rubio, but was he correct? Philosophically and statistically speaking, no.

Both government and private sector research show philosophy majors make more money than welders, and with much more room to significantly increase pay throughout their careers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for welders, cutters, solderers and brazers is $37,420 — about $18 an hour. According to Payscale, a company that collects salary information, philosophy majors make an average first-year salary of $42,200. The average mid-career pay for philosophy majors is even better: $85,000 per year. We rated Rubio’s statement False.

Politifact was not the only outfit that immediately recognized that Rubio’s statement was false. The first debunking I found came only minutes after Rubio said it, at the Associated Press. This was followed shortly thereafter by the Washington Post.

What is sad is not just the increasing tendency of Republican presidential hopefuls to spout falsehoods, pandering to their anti-intellectual base in order to win the primary. It is also the general cultural background that allows such remarks to initially sound plausible to a surprising number of people, with the result that public universities become the lowest priority in state budgets.

UPDATE: Senator Rubio’s penchant for speaking without thinking seems to be continuing: after the ISIS attack on Paris, he described the West’s fight with that terrorist group as “a clash of civilizations”. But,of course, there’s nothing civilized about ISIS. The only current civilization to which they are even distantly related is the Islamic world of over a billion people, and if Rubio wishes to characterize the fight against ISIS and similar groups as a clash between liberal civilization and that civilization, he is doing both civilizations a grave disservice.

Liberal Arts: The Seed of Apple

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In this dark age of deep budget cuts to once-great public universities like the University of Wisconsin, and politicians who pander to their anti-intellectual base by demeaning liberal arts majors while hyping technology majors (see previous post), it may be refreshing to remind ourselves that Steve Jobs himself once stated that what made Apple Computer different from other tech companies was that its goal was to bring a “liberal arts perspective” to computing-

I think our major contribution was in bringing a liberal arts point of view to the use of computers. … You know, if you really look at the ease of use of the MacIntosh, the driving motivation behind that was … to bring beautiful fonts and typography to people … it was to bring graphics to people, not for plotting laminar-flow calculations, but so that they could see beautiful photographs or pictures or artwork. Our goal was to bring a liberal arts perspective, and a liberal arts audience to what had traditionally been a very geeky technology and a very geeky audience. That’s the seed of Apple.

Here is the audio of this quote, from a 1996 Terry Gross interview-

Another often-quoted statement from Jobs on the same subject, which he gave after introducing the iPad in 2005-

It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing — and nowhere is that more true than in these post-PC devices.

By the way, since I was acquainted with Jobs when we were both students at Reed College, I’m looking forward – with just a wee bit of trepidation – to the new Sorkin/Boyle movie, “Steve Jobs” (even though it might have more to do with the artists who made it than with Jobs the man – something Steve actually might have approved of…)-

Update: Well, I saw the movie, and I’m sorry to say that I can’t recommend it, at least if you’re interested in learning much about the major events it depicts: the release of the original Mac; the (apparently) intentional failure of NeXT; the release of the iMac following Jobs’ return to Apple, and finally the ambivalent Sculley-Jobs relationship (which, as the film handles it, is simply confusing). Nor can I recommend it if you’re more interested in learning about Jobs’ attitude towards his daughter Lisa: first he disowns her, then [spoiler alert!] he finally tries to make amends – a transformation that might have been worth exploring if Sorkin could attribute it to something deeper than Jobs’ merely growing up. The acting, as you might expect, is all fine (Fassbinder really nails Jobs’ persona in the film’s third and otherwise weakest act), and the dialog is certainly pithy enough (Sorkin’s trademark). But the kid I remember from Reed College was far more complex than the character I saw on the screen, and I can’t believe that he lost so much depth and subtlety over time. He certainly might have become as obsessive and inflexible as the film portrays him, but surely he continued to be more than that, at least when he was away from the high-pressure events the film focuses on. To achieve a more satisfying portrait of Jobs the man, a better film would follow him between those events, during many quieter moments, and track his development at a more leisurely pace.

What’s The Purpose of College?

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There is a very good cover story in Harpers Magazine this month (September issue) by William Deresiewicz entitled “How College Sold Its Soul… and surrendered to the market.” This story is especially relevant here in Wisconsin, where Governor Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature recently slashed the UW system budget by $250,000,000 while freezing tuition, and “the search for truth” came close to being excised from the UW’s mission statement. Although many students are under the misapprehension that eschewing liberal arts programs in favor of business and professional ones is likely to improve their financial position over the long run, pointing that out isn’t Deresiewicz’s main concern; rather, he’s arguing that college should not be viewed in economic terms at all. Here’s a brief excerpt from the article:

It is not the humanities per se that are under attack. It is learning: learning for its own sake, curiosity for its own sake, ideas for their own sake. It is the liberal arts, but understood in their true meaning, as all of those fields in which knowledge is pursued as an end in itself, the sciences and social sciences included. History, sociology, and political-science majors endure the same kind of ritual hazing (“Oh, so you decided to go for the big bucks”) as do people who major in French or philosophy. Governor Rick Scott of Florida has singled out anthropology majors as something that his state does not need more of. Everybody talks about the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and math – but no one’s really interested in science, and no one’s really interested in math: interested in funding them, interested in having their kids or their constituents pursue careers in them. That leaves technology and engineering, which means (since the second is a subset of the first) it leaves technology.

Deresiewicz locates the origin of the problem in the ascendence of “neo-liberalism”, by which he means “an ideology that reduces all values to money values.” Corporate and other business interests would prefer that colleges act as vocational schools, rather than that they train students to reason critically and creatively. He points out that it is not in the interests of economic elites to have students conceiving of alternatives to the status quo, or at least to have them gaining the skills that would allow them to do so. Whether you agree with his diagnosis or not, his critique of current attitudes towards higher education (even on college campuses themselves) is well worth reading.

If you have trouble finding the article, Kathleen Dunn of WPR interviewed Deresiewicz on Monday 8/31, and they covered many issues not discussed in the article, including Wisconsin-related ones. You can listen to or download the segment here. You can also find the podcast on iTunes.

On Governor Walker’s Plan To Slash The UW System’s Budget

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I’ve been pretty quiet over the last couple of years when it comes to commenting on Wisconsin politics. There seems to be very little left to say about the state Republican Party’s war on the public sector, and especially on public education at all levels. But what little there is left to say was well said by a couple of guests on Joy Cardin’s WPR show a few days ago, especially by the self-identifying conservative UW History Professor, John Sharpless. Here’s the first 30 minutes of that conversation-

Oh… and could someone please remind the Governor that Wisconsin Underpays Its Professors?

Wisconsin Underpays Its University Professors

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The Oshkosh Northwestern today published an informative article on the relatively meager wages Wisconsin pays its university professors. Of course, this is not news to those of us who work for the university, but since Gannett (the Oshkosh Northwestern’s owner) recently went to great pains to publish all UW employees’ salaries, it is somewhat gratifying to see them finally putting those figures into context.

The 11 smaller UW universities averaged $71,200 for a full professor. The UW study compared that average to 32 similar out-of-state schools, and the UW universities ranked 31st in that list. The UW average was 31 percent below the $93,100 median, larger than the 27 percent gap in 2011-12.

Data from the Chronicle of Higher Education paints an even bleaker picture. Compared to other master’s institutions nationwide, UW-Oshkosh’s full professors in 2012-13 were in the 15th percentile, UW-Green Bay was in the eighth percentile, and UW-Stevens Point in the seventh percentile. No category of professor ranked above the 40th percentile at the three schools.

It used to be that other forms of compensation (health care, pension benefits) helped to counterbalance the below-average salaries paid at UW campuses, and this could have been a decisive factor for new hires (such as myself) ten years ago. But Act 10, passed in 2010 by Governor Walker and the Republicans, changed that. Now the non-salary compensation, while still competitive, no longer makes up for the sub-standard salaries.

The article in the Northwestern makes many good points beyond these, and I recommend that you read it. It focuses largely on the danger of the system not being able to recruit the best new talent or retain the talent it recruited when the picture was not so bleak. I would emphasize as well a problem that will only get worse as the declines of the last five years continue to sink in: morale and motivation. The fact is, although they get paid on average only 73% of what they deserve (according to the “industry standard” outlined in the article), I know of not a single professor on my campus – UW Oshkosh – who puts in less than 100% effort at teaching their students – and, quite frankly, their students, many of whom are first-generation college students, need all of the dedication they can get from their professors. Does the Wisconsin government really think that, over time, the psychological effect of being undervalued by their employers will not cause a general decline in UW professors’ motivation… a decline that can’t help but diminish the quality of the education they provide to Wisconsin’s students?

Who Vouches For The Vouchers?

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As the Republicans put their finishing touches on Wisconsin’s next budget, including a modest but still significant expansion of the state’s school voucher program, The Oshkosh Northwestern today offers an article in which questions are raised about the credibility of a study purporting to show that schools financed by vouchers feature a higher graduation rate than public schools-

Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators are using research paid for by the same special interest groups that support many GOP candidates to push for a statewide expansion of the school voucher program, campaign finance reports show. The study cited by Republicans has come under fire by researchers who say it doesn’t meet academic standards or provide proof that the school voucher program provides a better learning experience for students. Republican lawmakers pushing the expansion have been citing research that claims students in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program graduate and attend college at higher rates than their public school counterparts. The research conducted by the School Choice Demonstration Project at the University of Arkansas is paid for primarily by special interest groups that also donate to politicians pushing for the voucher expansion.

Now, if the article had only pointed out the funding connection, it would be committing an ad hominem fallacy, since pointing out that the researchers have a partisan funding source does not in itself constitute an objection to the study. But the article goes further, pointing out some of the study’s apparent flaws-

Critics say the study showing voucher students are 4 percent to 7 percent more likely to graduate is essentially useless because:

• More than 56 percent of students it tracked didn’t stay in the voucher program for the length of the four-year study;

• Wolf, the lead researcher for the school choice project, used looser statistical standards in some cases than commonly accepted for academic studies of this type;

• Students were matched on certain demographic data rather than randomly assigned, meaning researchers could have missed a key factor that could have significantly altered the study’s results.

For more details, read the whole article.

Even if the study’s conclusion turns out to be true, questions would remain about what such a fact might prove. For instance, suppose that children who spend several years in voucher schools do in fact graduate at higher rates. Would this show that the schools themselves are responsible for that fact? Not really. After all, parents who go to the trouble of enrolling their children in voucher schools might generally provide more educational support for their children. In other words, merely establishing that there is a difference in graduation rates does not explain the difference.

There are, of course, other, more ideological concerns with voucher programs. One is that public funding of private schools siphons money away from the public schools, resulting in their further deterioration. Of course, conservatives often push for voucher programs precisely because they want to diminish the public domain more generally; smaller public school systems result in less significant state and local governments. But the other conservative motivation for voucher schools is the fact that they can be directly affiliated with religions in a way that public schools constitutionally cannot be. This raises an important – and surprisingly unsettled – constitutionality question, as this article at the ADL site suggests-

Proponents of vouchers are asking Americans to do something contrary to the very ideals upon which this country was founded. Thomas Jefferson, one of the architects of religious freedom in America, said, “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves… is sinful and tyrannical.” Yet voucher programs would do just that; they would force citizens — Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists — to pay for the religious indoctrination of school children at schools with narrow parochial agendas.

Of course, Wisconsin’s supreme court ruled in 1999 that vouchers are constitutional: “We conclude that the [voucher program] does not violate the Establishment Clause because it has a secular purpose, it will not have the primary effect of advancing religion, and it will not lead to excessive entanglement between the state and participating sectarian private schools,” Judge Donald Steinmetz wrote for the majority. The SCOTUS subsequently refused to review the case, allowing the Wisconsin ruling to stand (without explicitly endorsing it). But, as this helpful article at the Freedom Forum mentions, it’s far from obvious whether present and future voucher expansions in various states will, in the end, hold up to constitutionality challenges-

In 1992, Mary Ann Glendon, a constitutional scholar and professor at Harvard University, wrote that “the Supreme Court’s religion-clause case law has now reached the state where it is described on all sides, and even by the justices themselves, as hopelessly confused, inconsistent, and incoherent.”

Have such matters changed much at the highest levels of jurisprudence in the last 20 years? Given the ambivalence towards religion that founders like Thomas Jefferson quite clearly had, it would be surprising if they had.

Philosophers Versus MOOCs

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Here’s an article from today’s Chronicle of Higher Education on the stand a few stouthearted philosophers at San Jose State University are taking against their administration’s suggestion (eventual requirement?) that they incorporate at least part of an EdX MOOC into their courses. I recently posted on my concern that MOOCs might eventually endanger intellectual diversity, particularly in the Humanities and Social Sciences; this article focuses on pedagogical concerns-

By Steve Kolowich

Professors in the philosophy department at San Jose State University are refusing to teach a philosophy course developed by edX, saying they do not want to enable what they see as a push to “replace professors, dismantle departments, and provide a diminished education for students in public universities.”

The San Jose State professors also called out Michael Sandel, the Harvard government professor who developed the course for edX, suggesting that professors who develop MOOCs are complicit in how public universities might use them.

In an open letter this week addressed to Mr. Sandel, the philosophy professors decried a dean’s request that the department integrate a MOOC version of “Justice,” the Harvard professor’s famous survey course, into the curriculum at San Jose State.

“In spite of our admiration for your ability to lecture in such an engaging way to such a large audience,” the letter’s authors write, “we believe that having a scholar teach and engage with his or her own students is far superior to having those students watch a video of another scholar engaging his or her students.”

The letter is part of a brewing debate about how MOOCs might deepen the divide between wealthy universities, which produce MOOCs, and less wealthy ones, which buy licenses to use those MOOCs from providers like edX.

The authors say they fear “that two classes of universities will be created: one, well-funded colleges and universities in which privileged students get their own real professor; the other, financially stressed private and public universities in which students watch a bunch of videotaped lectures and interact, if indeed any interaction is available on their home campuses, with a professor that this model of education has turned into a glorified teaching assistant.”

In a statement to The Chronicle, San Jose State said it intends to leave faculty members in control of their courses, even where it is encouraging experimentation with edX materials like Mr. Sandel’s course.

“In the interest of clarity, our collaboration with edX does indeed locate the responsibility for the course solely with our faculty members, who will determine how much, or how little, of the edX course materials they will incorporate into their blended courses,” wrote Ellen Junn, provost and vice president for academic affairs.

“The administration would never impose or mandate these teaching methods on faculty members,” Ms. Junn continued.

But the authors of the philosophy-department letter are nonetheless worried about what could happen in the future. “Let’s not kid ourselves; administrators at the CSU are beginning a process of replacing faculty with cheap online education.”

MOOCs And The Potential Loss Of Intellectual Diversity

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Lately I’ve been thinking a bit about MOOCs – “massive online open courses” being offered by elite institutions like Harvard and Stanford. I think it’s great that those who can’t afford to enroll in such schools have a chance to learn from watching videos of lectures. However, politicians, business leaders, and some journalists have started making MOOCs sound like the future of higher education, and if they are right, our culture is in for some serious trouble. MOOCs might be fine for teaching basic courses in science, math, and engineering. But for even elementary courses in the humanities and social sciences, in which the vitality of the discipline essentially depends on intellectual and pedagogical diversity, the idea that everyone should learn the same material in the same way from a few elite professors is a recipe for disaster.

Those of us who are actually in the trenches – dealing with students every day in classes that are already too large at 50 or 60 – know that one-way instruction aimed at tens of thousands is no panacea for the ills afflicting higher education. The role of MOOCs in the college ecosystem will take some time to work out, but academics need to be fully engaged in the debate to counter-balance the politicians and corporate executives who view the situation only through a lens of economic efficiency.

Here’s an excerpt from a useful contribution to the debate by Siva Vaidhyanathan at The Chronicle of Higher Education

The strangest thing about this MOOC obsession is the idea that something that very wealthy private institutions offer for free, at a loss, as a service to humanity, must somehow represent the magic numbers in the higher-education lottery. It’s new, it’s “innovative,” and it’s big, the thinking goes. So it must be the answer.

Let me pause to say that I enjoy MOOCs. I watch course videos and online instruction like those from the Khan Academy … well, obsessively. I have learned a lot about a lot of things beyond my expertise from them. My life is richer because of them. MOOCs inform me. But they do not educate me. There is a difference.

For the more pedestrian MOOCs, the simple podium lecture captured and released, the difference between a real college course and a MOOC is like the difference between playing golf and watching golf. Both can be exciting and enjoyable. Both can be boring and frustrating. But they are not the same thing.

… MOOCs cost a lot of money, do not in any way simulate a classroom experience, and constitute—at best—the efficient yet static delivery of course content. The delivery of course content is not the same as education. And training students to perform technical tasks, such as doing basic equations in calculus, is not the same as education. Teachers get this, of course. So do students.

If we would all just take a breath and map out the distance between current MOOCs and real education, we might be able to chart a path toward some outstanding improvements in pedagogical techniques. But we can’t do that as long as the rich people who run university boards conduct their research by reading David Brooks columns and proceeding to lop off the heads of institutions who don’t seem to be following the mania of the moment.

Texas GOP Officially Opposes Critical Thinking!?

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On page 12 of the Texas Republican Party’s 2012 Platform you will find the following rather astounding statement-

Knowledge-Based Education – We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

Since I have no idea what the jargon “values clarification” and “mastery learning” mean, I’m hoping that this plank of the platform does not mean what it seems to. Could they really be opposed to the teaching of critical thinking skills, or do they mean something by that phrase other than what it standardly means (e.g., learning (1) how to logically analyze the structure of an argument and (2) how to evaluate its form and content)?

Would Plato Have Loved The Bossa Nova?

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The Boston Review has an interesting article on a recent law passed in Brazil that mandates the teaching of philosophy to high school students-

Getting out of the cave and seeing things as they really are: that’s what philosophy is about, according to Almira Ribeiro. Ribeiro teaches the subject in a high school in Itapuã, a beautiful, poor, violent neighborhood on the periphery of Salvador, capital of the state of Bahia in Brazil’s northeast. She is the most philosophically passionate person I’ve ever met.

Most of the four million slaves shipped from Africa to Brazil were sold in Salvador, the first residence of Portugal’s colonial rulers. It’s still Brazil’s blackest city. In Ribeiro’s neighborhood, children play football or do capoeira, pray in Pentecostal Churches or worship African gods. Many are involved with drugs; “every year we lose students to crack,” she tells me. And they study philosophy two hours each week because of a 2008 law that mandates philosophy instruction in all Brazilian high schools. Nine million teenagers now take philosophy classes for three years.

“But seeing things as they really are isn’t enough,” Ribeiro insists. As in Plato’s parable in The Republic, the students must go back to the cave and apply what they’ve learned. Their lives give them rich opportunities for such application. The contrast between the new luxury hotels along the beach and Itapuã’s overcrowded streets gives rise to questions about equality and justice. Children kicking around a can introduce a discussion about democracy: football is one of the few truly democratic practices here; success depends on merit, not class privilege. Moving between philosophy and practice, the students can revise their views in light of what Plato, Hobbes, or Locke had to say about equality, justice, and democracy and discuss their own roles as political agents. To foster that discussion, Ribeiro must take on a deeply rooted political defeatism. …

…the 2008 law is above all a political project. In 1971 the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964 to 1985 eliminated philosophy from high schools. Teachers, professors in departments of education, and political activists championed its return, while most academic philosophers were either indifferent or suspicious. The dictatorship seems to have understood philosophy’s potential to create engaged citizens; it replaced philosophy with a course on Moral and Civic Education and one on Brazil’s Social and Political Organization (“to inculcate good manners and patriotic values and to justify the political order of the generals,” one UFBA colleague recalls from his high school days).

The official rationale for the 2008 law is that philosophy “is necessary for the exercise of citizenship.” The law—the world’s largest-scale attempt to bring philosophy into the public sphere—thus represents an experiment in democracy. Among teachers at least, many share Ribeiro’s hope that philosophy will provide a path to greater civic participation and equality. Can it do even more? Can it teach students to question and challenge the foundations of society itself?

(Thanks Marshall)

Most of the philosophy professors I know would be overjoyed if philosophy – at least the history of ideas, critical reasoning, and introductory ethics – were taught in U.S. high schools. Could this be done in a country as anti-intellectual as the United States?

By the way, contrary to Brazilian creativity, Plato was no fan of musical innovation, as this excerpt from The Republic suggests:

Then to sum up: This is the point to which, above all, the attention of our rulers should be directed,–that music and gymnastic be preserved in their original form, and no innovation made. They must do their utmost to maintain them intact. And when any one says that mankind most regard

‘The newest song which the singers have,’

they will be afraid that he may be praising, not new songs, but a new kind of song; and this ought not to be praised, or conceived to be the meaning of the poet; for any musical innovation is full of danger to the whole State, and ought to be prohibited.

The Value Of Liberal Arts Skills

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An interesting article in USA Today reports on a study confirming the intuition that the sorts of skills honed by – or at least needed to do well in – a liberal arts education gives people a leg up in life:

Recent college graduates who as seniors scored highest on a standardized test to measure how well they think, reason and write — skills most associated with a liberal arts education — were far more likely to be better off financially than those who scored lowest, says the survey, released Wednesday by the Social Science Research Council, an independent organization.

It found that students who had mastered the ability to think critically, reason analytically and write effectively by their senior year were:

•Three times less likely to be unemployed than those who hadn’t (3.1% vs. 9.6%).

•Half as likely to be living with their parents (18% vs. 35%).

•Far less likely to have amassed credit card debt (37% vs. 51%).

Grades and other factors influence a student’s chances of success, too. Graduates of colleges with tougher admissions standards tended to have fewer debts and were less likely to live with their parents, the study found.

A report this month by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, which studies the labor-market value of college degrees, found that recent graduates with a bachelor’s degree in architecture had the highest average jobless rate (13.9%, vs. 8.9% for all recent college graduates). Education and health care majors had some of the lowest jobless rates.

The findings released Wednesday “show something new and different,” says lead author Richard Arum, a New York University professor. “Students would do well to appreciate the extent to which their development of general skills, not just majors and institution attended, is related to successful adult transitions.”

This is likely be a morale-boost for many university professors, who tend to feel under-appreciated and certainly underpaid. Unfortunately, there is no data on whether those high-scoring students picked up their liberal arts skills in college, or whether they’d already entered college with them-

Arum also cautions that the study doesn’t speak to whether high-scoring graduates picked up their skills while in college. It follows up on research last year showing that 36% of college graduates showed few or no gains in learning between their freshman and senior years.

It would be nice to know what proportion of that 36% showing few or no gains in learning over their college years were in the high-scoring group, and whether the sort of learning tested in that previous study focused on skills or discipline-specific knowledge; without this further information, little can be inferred from the juxtaposition of the two studies.

Phallic Geology 101

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In their recent article “10 Crazy College Classes That Cost Big Bucks“, The Fiscal Times argues that even expensive colleges are dumbing down many of their courses in order attract and retain more students. Here are a few of the courses they list as evidence-

  • Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame, University of South Carolina, Columbia; 3 credits; $1,200 in-state; $3,150 out-of-state
  • The Phallus, Occidental College; $5,370 (based on eight-course-per-year load. Enrollment: 15
  • Geology and Cinema, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities; 4 Credits; $1,506.80 in-state, $2,168.32 out of state.  Enrollment: 347

The Lady Gaga class actually sounds kinda interesting, and might even be worth the money. Normally I’d enroll in any course that allowed me to watch movies, but the idea of having to suffer through films like Tremors and Journey to the Center of the Earth would force me to think twice before enrolling in Geology and Cinema. Finally, I’m not particularly interested in The Phallus myself, but then appreciating such a topic might be an acquired taste. Perhaps the Gender Studies and Geology departments should get together and offer a 1-credit course called “Phallic Geology”, which would consist entirely of discussing the extraordinary phenomena captured in photos such as these-

Vertical stone at Arches National Park, Utah

Upstanding on the beach, Olympic Peninsula, WA

Caught in the act, Bryce National Park, UT

What Teachers Make

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Teachers, are you tired of being the door mat for political conservatives and other folks who know what’s truly valuable? Well, here’s your knight in shining armor-

The Republican Attack On Public Education (Continued)

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I suppose it should come as no surprise, but two of the most anti-public education governors – Walker of Wisconsin and Corbett of Pennsylvania – are scheduled to address the American Federation for Children’s second annual policy summit Monday. As I previously posted about this organization after receiving a robo-call from it supporting State Senator Randy Hopper (one of the Republicans – currently facing a recall election – who voted for Governor Walker’s union-stripping agenda), the American Federation for Children actively supports political candidates that will further their goal of diverting public education funds to for-profit private schools (a practice otherwise known as corporate welfare). As WFMJ reports

Both [Walker and Corbett] are expected to talk about school choice. Walker has proposed expanding a school voucher program in Milwaukee. Corbett is proposing cutting $1.6 billion from public education while also pushing for vouchers, which would allow students in poor-performing public schools to transfer to private schools.

There is no doubt that public schools can be improved, and that part of that improvement probably requires changing some of the provisions of contracts negotiated by teachers unions (including, perhaps, seniority provisions). But none of those changes require giving corporate welfare to private educational companies. If there were any empirical evidence that charter schools or publicly subsidized private schools do a better job of educating children than public schools (when such factors as student selection are controlled for, as Diane Ravitch emphasized in this post), I’d support it. But I’ve seen no evidence of that.

The “free market” is a wonderful thing, especially when it comes to supplying people with all sorts of non-essential goods. I want to be able to freely choose between multiple types of computers, cars, and guitars, and if that requires that they be made by for-profit companies, fine. But when it comes to essential goods that every citizen must have to survive (let alone to flourish) in a society such as ours, education and health insurance, it seems to me that, absent any good argument to the contrary, a government such as ours should supply them in a non-profit way, and as efficiently as ethically possible.