Late March Links: Sexting times two, English as a baffling language, vocabulary, raising the status of U.S. manufactured goods, Lev Grossman's The Magician King, science as a career, and more

* Sexting lawsuits get stupid.

* Why videogames haven’t grown up yet: sex. And, the writer notes, why do so many videogames deal with it in such a juvenile (read: juvenile boy) way?

* An etiquette guide, and one of the unintentional hilarities of self-publishing.

* “To improve its public schools, the United States should raise the status of the teaching profession by recruiting more qualified candidates, training them better and paying them more [. . .] ‘Teaching in the U.S. is unfortunately no longer a high-status occupation [. . . .]’ ” The problem: I don’t see how you can accomplish this without making it harder to fire teachers. One thing most high-status occupations have in common: you have to be good at them to remain in the occupation. If you’re not good, you’ll be forced to the margins of the occupation, suffer financial consequences, and have clients leave you. Until teaching does that, it can’t really improve in status. Until teachers’ unions will accept simpler firing procedures or are eliminated, that can’t happen.

* English, that baffling language.

* AT & T is piping Internet data straight to the NSA. Nasty.

* Microsoft Word Now Includes Squiggly Blue Line To Alert Writer When Word Is Too Advanced For Mainstream Audience.

* Who Is Really a Sex Rebel? Why we are so obsessed with desire among the Victorians.

* A political history of science fiction.

* Neil Gaiman: Why defend freedom of icky speech?

* A Girl’s Nude Photo, and Altered Lives. This is completely insane:

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of students had received her photo and forwarded it.

In short order, students would be handcuffed and humiliated, parents mortified and lessons learned at a harsh cost. Only then would the community try to turn the fiasco into an opportunity to educate.

* Lev Grossman says The Magician King will be out August 9.

* How to manufacture stuff in the U.S.: raise the status of the stuff’s place of origin. This is being written by a guy who has a Tom Bihn (made in Washington State!) messenger bag, so it worked on me.

* Deadbeats and Turnips: understand who can actually pay child support, since sending people who can’t pay to jail is counterproductive.

The basic problem is this: someone (usually the father) can’t pay child support. Virtually all states now send you to jail if you can’t pay court-ordered child support. Sending people to jail has lots of obvious negative effects on the ability to find and keep a job. So you get out of jail, can’t find a job, still have to pay child support and. . . go to jail again.

* How Western Diets Are Making The World Sick. This should be obvious to anyone who’s read Michael Pollan.

* The real science gap, which mirrors Philip Greenspun’s Women in Science. The short version: science is great but science careers are terrible and getting worse. Smart students figure this out and do something other than science PhD programs. Remember this next time someone is bemoaning the lack of American scientists.

2 responses

  1. One thing most high-status occupations have in common: you have to be good at them to remain in the occupation.

    This is true, and it’s also at the heart of the problem. How do you know whether a teacher is good? Student and peer reviews are subjective, with much potential for abuse and axe-grinding. Judging teachers based on grades and standardized test results is just as flawed.

    And filed under “be careful what you wish for”, if you start treating teaching like other professions, you might end up with this kind of “corprate” (and much too facile) evaluation of value.

    By the way, I have no idea what the answer is — I’m just posing more questions.


    • Great comment. There’s actually been a huge amount of research on this topic: “How do you know whether a teacher is good?”, some of which gets discussed in popular form in these articles. Teach for America has basically been trying to answer that question for 20 years in the guise of putting high-achieving teachers in low-income schools and finds tenacity and a willingness to internalize problems (“What can I do to make this lesson on exponents more effective?”) over external them (“I have the dumb kids”). These skills can be taught to some extent.

      Evals aren’t great on their own, but the summary of this research project indicates they are still useful. On the college level, they contribute to grade inflation, on the one hand, but they also at least force college instructors to have some unbiased feedback. Standardized test results aren’t perfect either, but the way they’re used through value-added analysis (vaa) at least gives some data. VAA means that if a kid scores in the 30th percentile one year and then scores in the 35th percentile the next, the teacher who brought them from the 30th to the 35th gets credit for it. This removes one of the big problems people like to associate with testing.

      Anyhow, I don’t think any one factor should determine whether a teacher gets fired, but looking at them together should at least help identify bad teachers, allow them to get training, and if that fails, get them fired.

      I think unions have a place in education—I wouldn’t want to see teachers fired merely for bogus “morals clause” reasons, or for teacher firing to be politically motivated. But right now unions enforce ludicrous pay disparities between disciplines (the same amount for PE teachers and computer scientists?!) and other problems to the point many people think they are a large part of the problem (which they are) when they don’t have to be.

      A lot of urban districts where this kind of experimentation is happening are also so screwed up that they basically can’t get any worse than they already are.


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