Tina K. Russell

May 1, 2009

School of hard knocks

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:41 am

Op-Ed Contributor – End the University as We Know It – NYTimes.com
… Faculty members cultivate those students whose futures they envision as identical to their own pasts, even though their tenures will stand in the way of these students having futures as full professors.

The dirty secret of higher education is that without underpaid graduate students to help in laboratories and with teaching, universities couldn’t conduct research or even instruct their growing undergraduate populations. That’s one of the main reasons we still encourage people to enroll in doctoral programs. It is simply cheaper to provide graduate students with modest stipends and adjuncts with as little as $5,000 a course — with no benefits — than it is to hire full-time professors.

In other words, young people enroll in graduate programs, work hard for subsistence pay and assume huge debt burdens, all because of the illusory promise of faculty appointments. But their economical presence, coupled with the intransigence of tenure, ensures that there will always be too many candidates for too few openings.

It’s not a dirty little secret for me; it’s been a terrifying transition, from community college to a state university, to find how many classes are taught by disinterested grad students racking up chits.

In a community college, professors (and they are all professors) are essentially volunteering, since they’d get more pay and prestige at a “real” college. This means, in my experience (in Portland, land of the free) that the teachers are really good (they volunteer their time, so they care deeply about what they do) or really bad (they couldn’t get a job anywhere else). Community college was a complete crapshoot for me in this way, and any class could be the best experience of my life or two and a half months of hell, with little in between.

At the University of Oregon, this experience has been thrown out completely. Most general classes, like trigonometry or microeconomics, seem to be taught by grad students (Graduate Teaching Fellows, or GTFs). I don’t want to disparage the profession except to say that every single class I’ve taken, led by a GTF, has been one hundred percent abominable. It breaks my heart because I took first-year economics at Portland Community College and it was taught by a man who cared deeply for his work and got the class excited to learn about comparative advantage and bond maturation. When I began second-year economics at UO, taught by a graduate student, it was so horrible that I wrote this lengthy post that has become one of my most popular ever. (In short, the GTF made economics not only painfully boring, but abstract to the point of irrelevance to us, and so I feel a little bit vindicated now that this financial crisis has happened in large part due to the over-abstraction of finance. …Even if I’d rather not be in a financial crisis.) I dashed out a quick drawing to teach in five minutes what he failed to teach in two hours, and I’m heartened to read comments from people saying it helped them grasp key early concepts of microeconomics.

And so, when I look to sign up for classes, I now vet the names given, not at RateMyProfessor or somesuch but in the faculty directory. When I thought I might want to re-enroll in second-year economics (it wouldn’t be that hard for me to get an economics minor, and maybe then I could make millions by giving bad advice with conviction on my own cable TV show), I looked up the teacher and found that he wasn’t even listed in the faculty directory. I could find his official university page using a Google search, and he proudly provided links to his curriculum vitae and his personal website, both of which were broken. (Since then, he is now listed in the directory, but those links are, hilariously, still broken.) Needless to say, he was a GTF, and I didn’t take his class.

I didn’t take his class because those things confirmed my worst fears: that he didn’t care. The hallmark of any bad teacher is thinking of his or her work with students as perfunctory, a second job, something to do before getting back to research and boinking freshmen. I’m always annoyed with the way undergraduates tend to be referred to in a dismissive sort of way, the undergraduates, not, you know, the reason the school exists. We’re the ones paying for the experience, and yet, we seem to be treated as though we have not reached the requisite level of cynicism for the ultimate goal of academia, which is to pass that cynicism (I’m sorry, critical thinking) onto a new generation of students. We’re barely out of high school. What does our opinion matter?

That brings me to the other tragedy of leaving community college, which is no longer being treated as an adult. I always loathed that, in community college, everyone else had someplace else to be (work, kids, etc.), and I was actually going there for my intellectual and personal formation. There is an advantage, however, in dealing with professors used to dealing with students who have work, or kids, or other obligations: they treat you like an adult out of habit. I developed the habit of acting like an adult, since that’s how teachers treated me back in Portland. At UO, that’s welcome to some and an affront to others.

I’ve learned to avoid teachers (and people in general) who see me as being like them when they were young, and so they want to mold me into the chiseled warrior they are today. If somebody acts rough to me, expecting me to cower in response (or to sass back, so they can rough me up more, in a coming-of-age basketball-movie sort of situation), I tend to sidestep the passive-aggressive initiation by saying “please don’t do that. I just don’t respond to it.” I already know what I want. I’m a grown woman. I have no obligation to entertain others’ fantasies of who I am. So, being told of hoops to jump through, initiations to fulfill, rightful destinies to claim usually makes me sick. I want to improve my writing. I want to improve my art. I want to learn about the world. I want to make sound judgments. You can help me do that or you can stuff it. I’m the one paying to be here.

The truth is, though, that life consists of compromises, and all this has made me a profoundly unhappy person. I’m majoring in history—history—because of how incredibly mean the school’s art department was to me, and how much I want to get out of college. I love history and it’s a good subject for me to study, and that’s why I had so many credits in it already, which is why I chose it for my major. Taking either writing or art, my two real loves, would have exposed me to a culture of people who want to break me and mold me in their image, and anything else would have involved GTFs who just don’t care. (History professors, in my experience at UO, are actual professors.) But, in writing or in art, I’d be doing what I love, and as a class and not simply as a side project. And, I wouldn’t want to punch someone in the face whenever they ask me the standard icebreaker of “what’s your major?” (Then they ask, “what sort of history?” and I say “world history” but I want to say “history that happened in the past, you numbskull.”)

When I do what I love on my own, though, it means I can buy whatever books I want and keep whatever hours I want and focus on whatever areas I want. …But, I have no one to mentor me, no one to guide me around the usual pitfalls and express pride in my development.

I did take art classes at the community college. Do I ever have stories from that, obviously, but I should limit it to just one.

When I took a painting class, I was afraid of what I was turning into. I love art, but I want to ensure that I never become the sort of person who does art for the sake of prestige; I want to ensure I’m always making art because I feel it in my gut, because I can’t not make art, not because I want to deconstruct the fundamental didactic of human existence or related nonsense. I want to make art for myself, and through myself, for the world, not for any immediate circle of high-minded friends. I want to make pictures worth a thousand words, not a handful. I want to show, not tell. I want to be my art.

Art class can be fundamentally lonely, given that we’re all on painful personal journeys while surrounded by others. So, when we watched a film on a sculptor whose work seemed more aimed to shock than to reveal (or to provoke responsibly), I tried to start a discussion, asking a man nearby if he had any thoughts on that artist. (If you’re reading this, I’m sorry.)

“I don’t care much for her,” he said, and shrugged. I concurred… “she reminds me of everyone I don’t like,” I responded.

Later he walked up to me and said, “gosh, Tina, when you said that… I hope I wasn’t included in those you don’t like.” I told him not to worry, but I was flabbergasted and went home in existential crisis, pouring my feelings out to my parents later on. You see, he was exactly the sort of person I was thinking of, right down to the fundamental belief (from my perception of him) that art should shock people not by being brutally honest, but for the sake of being shocking. I wailed to my parents, “oh my God! Vapid people don’t know who they are!” And if they don’t know who they are, how do I know I’m not one?

And how will I ever tell if I become one? What if my personal defense mechanisms wear out, and spending too much time around art students will suck me into my own vanity? What if someday I start breaking mirrors or putting chairs on their sides and calling it art, and don’t realize how soulless I’ve become, how little I have to say? I’ve always described my creativity as a sort of lonely island I want to share with others… what if my island becomes a solitary, ragged life-raft that I’ve tricked myself into believing is a beautiful cruise liner? What if my art goes from being that which burns in my soul to that which glistens on my social résumé? Will I ever know?

As a result, there is some element of relief. Perhaps not going into art education has resulted in me not being devoured by the vanity and pointlessness of the modern art world. But perhaps I’ve missed my life’s calling… perhaps I would have learned something I never could on my own, perhaps I would have met people who would have guided me through me life, perhaps I would have been pushed in directions I truly need to go. Perhaps I have become cynical myself in fear of those who are cynical, and wish me to be the same. Perhaps I really am vain, protecting my precious sense of self via the path of least resistance.

Thoughts?

.

January 16, 2009

Oppression: Gotta catch ’em all!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 2:23 pm

The Way We Live Now – The Edge of the Mystery – Will Barack Obama’s Aura Fade? – NYTimes.com
Already, in the weeks since the election, Obama has endured the moans of disgruntled constituencies in his own party whose ideal of the outsider is difficult for any breathing politician to fulfill. Progressive activists online and inside the party have complained bitterly about Obama’s turning to so many pragmatic insiders — that is, public servants who ran Washington in the Clinton years — to populate his cabinet, rather than reaching out to more academics or state-level politicians whose political instincts have not yet been corroded by Washington’s penchant for incrementalism. Then, too, have come the inevitable protests from identity-based interest groups: Latinos and African-Americans in Congress who weren’t satisfied with the number of senior appointments, as well as gay activists lamenting the omission of a gay cabinet nominee. That sound you hear is the last wheezing gasp of boomer-age politics, the cataloging of individuals according to their areas of oppression, the endless process of tallying cultural differences rather than aggregating common objectives. It is a political philosophy that probably made sense 30 years ago but that seems sort of baffling at the dawn of the Obama era, when such interest groups are among the most powerful in the Washington establishment — and when the Man himself is black.

At the risk of alienating every single one of my friends, where the hell have you been?! Have you been to a college lately? Sometimes I feel like all I ever hear about are intersecting identities and oppressions and blah, blah, blah. Sometimes I wonder if I’m really a person, or if I’m just a cascade of labels.

I’m a little afraid to talk about this, because I do know oppression exists (I’m not naïve), and I do strongly support affirmative action (as large groups of similar people tend to make bad decisions). Plus, after all, I possess an alienating medical condition (transsexuality) and a learning disability (ADD), and when these are taken into account by those above me I feel marvelous. I’m just a little sick of the culture around me of amassing identity tags like trading cards.

Once, an event at my school was promoted by a Facebook page waxing poetic about the speaker’s “intersecting identities,” and not a word was given to what she actually does (and for all I know, she does it very well). I’ve had dear friends publish articles ending with self-summaries that begin with a list of countercultural credentials (“Jane is a radical, kinky, queerspawn,” etc.) that reduce us to shipping labels. I’ve heard spoken-word performances consisting entirely of espousing irritation at white people for our stupid white mistakes, recorded solely for the benefit of white people to listen to not as entertainment (I do love a good bit of light-hearted debasement), but as an act of righteous self-flagellation.

And, I’m afraid of this because now I’ve just bestowed myself with yet another label that I can use to cry oppression: tokenization, the process of making someone into a novelty barganing chip, or a trophy of liberal achievement. I’m essentially decrying an act of self-obsession, and obsessing over that sounds even worse; it sounds like an easy way to restart the cycle of self-imposed, righteous, perpetual victimhood. We whine and moan about how oppressed we are, or we boast about how radical and different we are, and none of it gets us any closer to what we want. It’s vain, it’s annoying, it’s shallow, and it’s disgusting. I’m proud of being transsexual; I’m proud of being intelligent; I’m proud of being part Norwegian. I can wrap more into myself, though, than any pompous list by using just one label: Tina.

Perhaps I’m grousing because I feel I don’t fit in; I’ve never found a single community that I feel I adhere most closely to, and so to the time of this writing my blog’s header still simply says “Tina K. Russell, writer and artist.” (Edit: whoops, I forgot that my blog’s current theme doesn’t use a subtitle. Never mind…)  There’s a lot more to me than that, but… I don’t believe that because I hang in young liberal circles that I’m somehow “more unique” (not a valid phrase!) than others. We all have our inner beauty and splendor, and more than I want someone I’ve just met to be impressed by a boastful list of Oppression Achievements, I want them to trust me due to my warmth and candor. I don’t want to limit myself to communities where it’s cool to be a victim. I just want to be… me, and I want other people to see me for me.

I once went to a queer-themed summer camp, as a teenager, hoping that this would be my “back to Africa” moment, where maybe I’d feel normal for being surrounded for people like me. Instead, I was the transsexual on display. I even had a camp counselor tell me “I think it’s great what you’re doing!”, referring to my transsexuality and not to any personal achievement. That is the sort of person, the token, that everybody wants to be seen next to but no one wants to get close to. To be a label is to be an unperson, and if my fellow college liberals (I’m one, I should say) think that amassing labels will bring them closer to happiness, they’re in for brutal, crushing disappointment.

November 23, 2008

Our elected officials

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:47 pm

Via Daily Kos:

US officials flunk test of American history, economics, civics – Yahoo! News
WASHINGTON (AFP) – US elected officials scored abysmally on a test measuring their civic knowledge, with an average grade of just 44 percent, the group that organized the exam said Thursday.

Ordinary citizens did not fare much better, scoring just 49 percent correct on the 33 exam questions compiled by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).

“It is disturbing enough that the general public failed ISI’s civic literacy test, but when you consider the even more dismal scores of elected officials, you have to be concerned,” said Josiah Bunting, chairman of the National Civic Literacy Board at ISI.

This is really disturbing. Anyway, you can take the test here, and see aggregate results here. Some of the questions are pretty hard, but most are fairly basic and all represent a good grounding in civic issues. I’m also going to post my results here, but only to show you that I am awesome.

(Actually, it’s a bit scary. I don’t like to think that I’m that much smarter than the people I elect! What do I elect them for, then?)

October 22, 2008

Safety Tips

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:45 pm

Safety Concerns Eclipse Civic Lessons as Schools Cancel Classes on Election Day – NYTimes.com
“School districts across the country now spend millions of dollars each year on controlling access to buildings with locked doors and surveillance cameras to keep strangers out,” said Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services, an advocacy group, in Cleveland. “In a post-Columbine, post-9/11 world, we shouldn’t be opening the doors at our schools on Election Day, and just hoping everything will be O.K.”

That’s right… in a post-9/11, post-Columbine, post-Cuban Missile Crisis, post-Boston Massacre, post-Spanish Inquisition, post-Black Plague, post-Boxer Rebellion, post-fall of Rome, post-extinction of the dinosaurs world, you just can’t be too careful. You never know when there could be another Irish potato famine… or a Mongol invasion.

Learning

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:41 pm

Reaching an Autistic Teenager – NYTimes.com

Mmm, this article gives me the fuzzy lump in mah heart. I may or may not have mentioned this before, but I have Attention Deficit Disorder. (The jokes, by the way, aren’t funny. Okay, except for this one.) It’s not pleasant. I also just never fit in as a kid… or, well, ever.

I don’t like having ADD and being transsexual, but hey, it’s my lot in life. I’m also a middle-class, white American attending college, so I get a lot of privileges in my life that I’m very grateful for.

Anyway, this article (a feature for The New York Times Magazine, which I am a slut for) talks about a new school for teenagers with autism and related disorders, and it makes me a bit misty and wistful. They teach that you should follow the child, not vice versa, and see where they go. Build on what they say and do. Then, along the way, they’ll learn the skills that anyone needs for life. (It’s more complicated than that, but I’m paraphrasing.) Essentially, time wasted trying to get them to act “normal,” however valiant and understandable an effort, could be spent exploring and learning about their worlds, giving you an opening to teach just about anything… at their pace.

I’m skeptical in general about fads in alternative education because I’ve been to so many alternative schools in my life. (I often say I’ll write a book about it; any takers?) Often, the theory has been that if you simply surround the child with learning stuff, they will take it all in by osmosis. I find this abhorrent! I’m a gamer. I need goals, I need obstacles, I need positive and negative reinforcement. But yes, I need to learn at my own pace; I’ll forever be glad that in seventh grade, I studied exponents, the Middle Ages, and the Russian Revolution. (The last was an independent project; teachers suggested I’d like the Russian Revolution because I like political upheaval. They suggested either that or the Cuban Revolution, which is funny because my dad is a Russia expert and my mom is a Cuba expert.) I studied censorship and read Huckleberry Finn. I presented the case for and against Kevin Mitnick, whom the government was then trying to ruin publicly for the electronic equivalent of trespassing (and is now, as could have been predicted, a reformed, well-paid computer security consultant). That school was awful—as a gifted middle school, it was an Ivy League version of Lord of the Flies—but I’ll remember well the things I learned, and the lessons reinforced by teachers who were not going to stand by and simply hope I’ll take it all in. (Again, another post.)

So, I read about this school for teens with autism and other learning disabilities and think wistfully about what it would be like to be in a school where you could choose your own direction. I’m not, to any degree, an “unschooler”; left to my own devices, I regrettably waste away due to a lack of motivation (or rather, a strong motivation and lack of drive, a pitiable state that nonetheless one can grow during). But, given a strong and well-designed system of incentives and disincentives, I like to fantasize about what it would be like to have a school I could design around me, rather than have a school attempt the other way around.

I’d probably do art all day. Art, art, art! I’d have naked people of all shapes and sizes trapse into my studio and I’d practice, practice, practice until I have about a million styles down pat. At the end of the day, I’d read things like economics like economics and history, that I’m also interested in, as well as the news, and practice my math on a computer program of my own conception. (I say this often: give me a grant and a year, and I’ll come up with a much better way of teaching mathematics.)

That’s wonderful to think about. It’s too bad it’s all a fantasy.

October 5, 2008

Re: Dress of Grievances

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:53 pm

(Alternate titles: “Skirting the Issue,” “K.K. Lament,” “Backless vs. Tactless,” and “The Prom Before the Storm”)

GayCityNews – Prom Dress a Federal Case
In a September 25 ruling, a federal judge in Gary, Indiana, gave a green light to a lawsuit by a transsexual high school student suing over his principal’s refusal to allow him to attend the prom in a dress.

According to the complaint, [student Kevin “K.K.”] Logan identifies as a gay transsexual youth who prefers to wear feminine attire, and did so throughout his senior year at West Side High School in Gary. It is an interesting sign of the times that Logan claims he encountered no substantial problems at school due to his attire, finding both teachers and fellow students generally supportive. Even the assistant principal stated no objections when Logan inquired about wearing a dress to the prom.

But principal Diana Rouse stated her objection, directing that Logan wear a pants suit rather than a prom dress.

Despite this, Logan arrived at the prom wearing a dress similar to those worn by the girls in attendance, and was denied entry at Rouse’s direction. Several students aware of what was going on left the prom and spent part of the evening in the parking lot with Logan to show their solidarity, before he returned home without having been allowed to enter.

After the prom, Logan demanded to know what school policy restricted his dressing for the event, and was shown “School Board Policy #319,” which deems “inappropriate” clothing that signals “sexual orientation.”

Logan raised a variety of claims in his suit, asserting violation of his First Amendment free speech rights, his Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights, and his right to be free of sex discrimination by an educational institution under Title IX of the Higher Education Amendments Act.

I cannot imagine any substantial reason why, after women fought so hard for the right to wear pants, men should be restricted from wearing dresses. I also cannot imagine how a policy that certain clothes are fine for women but banned for men (under the notion that they “signal” sexual orientation) is anything but discrimination based on sex. (More than that, it’s discrimination based on sex disguised as discrimination against sexual orientation, as though the latter is somehow fine. Weird…) And, I can’t imagine why any of this is sufficient reason to keep a student from attending his own senior prom. It’s cruel, and I’m only glad that his fellow students were supportive enough to hang out with him during the event. It’s a shame when students must fill a void in the absence of responsible adults, but always heartening when they do it well.

(I should note that I’m only following GayCityNews’s use of male pronouns, hoping that they bothered to check what K.K. prefers.)

From now on, I hope it’s clear: your school’s dress code must be gender-neutral. If you want to ban dresses, fine, but it’ll have to be for everyone. Otherwise, you’re discriminating based on sex. It’s that simple.

September 14, 2008

Government jobs, the IRS, Washington, DC, and… XML

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:08 pm

Op-Ed Contributor – To Change Washington, Move Some of the Government Out – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
Three years ago, I suggested the idea of moving the headquarters of the Internal Revenue Service to New Orleans, thinking that a federal campus there, providing some 7,000 stable, well-paying jobs, could anchor redevelopment after Hurricane Katrina. Such a move could still be a boon to recovery in New Orleans. And the same could be done for regions like the Midwest, where car makers and other industrial employers are contracting.

The best candidates for relocation would be departments like Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs, which are more involved in operating government than in making policy.

Good ideas are supposed to come from Presidential candidates, but sometimes, they just seem to bubble up out of nowhere. I was impressed upon reading this idea. It’s just… good.

The writer also mentions how the prohibitive costs of living in DC deter bright, young professionals from working there. I mean, come on. No offense to the city—all I remember of which from my childhood visit were vendors selling hot dogs for obscene prices outside the Smithsonian, though to be fair, bilking tourists is an international hobby—but would you, given the choice, move to DC? I mean, maybe you would if you wanted a job near the center of power, which is not the IRS. I mean, if I worked for the IRS, I’d want it to be in a city I love. Does anybody love DC?

(People who live in DC are hereby advised to tell me why I shouldn’t be so cynical. A good response will get its own blog post!)

Besides, I can imagine that DC is full of pencil-pushing day jobs. Why not move them away from where there’s an excess, and move them to places where they’re needed? Then again, DC isn’t exactly economically fluorishing. Perhaps these government jobs should move where they’re needed… uh… to DC.

Come to think of it, this has all just fallen apart in my head. If this idea would be a good jobs initiative, why isn’t DC awash in more jobs than it can handle? I looked on Wikipedia and found—in a well-cited article and a section within that uses the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the DC Department of Employment Services as its sources for these facts—that “As of May 2008, the Washington Metropolitan Area had an unemployment rate of 3.5%; the lowest rate among the 40 largest metro areas in the nation. It is also lower than the national average unemployment rate during the same period of 5.2%.” (source here, PDF) And yet, the rates within the city vary wildly: “in May 2008, unemployment ranged from 1.7% in affluent Ward 3 in upper Northwest D.C. to 17.2% in poorer Ward 8 in Southeast.” (source here, PDF) So, DC has a lot of jobs, but they aren’t spread out very evenly. Of course, I need to know (sadly) if that’s unusual for a US city, and where the problems are.

So, maybe DC should be sending some of its jobs into different areas. Obviously, though, they wouldn’t want to hire unqualified people simply to improve a neighborhood’s beleaguered economy; on the other hand, what if the people in the poor areas are caught in a cycle of poverty and poor education? What if they’ve worked hard and played by the rules and still come up short? I don’t know any of that. I like to boast about my first-year economics education (mainly, it serves to make me sad that so many world leaders and at least one candidate for President—hint: the old guy, who favors drilling and does not understand that introducing slightly more oil into the international market after a ten-year wait will have no effect now and a negligible one then), but I can’t tell you jack-squat about how to measure the availability of jobs across communities and how discrepancies typically come about (other than the usual scientific advice of “take everything in context”).

This is (wow, I’m on a tangent) all part of why I feel it would be excellent for all government data to be available in easily-interoperable data markup formats, like XML, that would encode the results and methodology of all government surveys in a uniform way. Then, armchair sociologists like me could have a go at the data and detect trends that even the most hard-working member of the Beltway fishbowl might miss. And, economic policies of politicians would have to stand up to serious scrutiny from citizens, able to see every direct and indirect effect in its full context. So, we’d get to see how the effects of bold plans—like, say, moving the IRS to New Orleans—would play out in cold, hard, interoperable data.

(That’s a suggestion to government web designers everywhere: just give us the data! We’ll get to work right away on doing cool things with it. Right-o!)

September 4, 2008

The Popular Kids

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:01 am

Dilbert.com

Mind – Spot on Popularity Scale Speaks to the Future; Middle Has Its Rewards – NYTimes.com
Social scientists map the social topology of a school by having students rate their peers on various measures, including likeability. For instance, the question “Who would you most like to hang around with on a Saturday?” quickly reveals a list of those who are considered the best company (potential dates excluded). This is a different measure of popularity from prominence — the quarterback and the cutest cheerleader may or may not qualify — and identifies a gifted class of a different kind.

Some 15 to 20 percent of high school students fall into this category, according to Mitchell Prinstein, a professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, and it’s not hard to find them. They tend to have closer friendships, to excel academically and to get on well with most others, including parents — their own and their friends’.

Surveys suggest that about 50 percent of students are average — that is, they have good friends but are neither especially liked nor disliked by classmates. The remaining 30 to 35 percent are split between low-status or “rejected” students, who are on the bottom of the heap, and neglected ones, who don’t show up on the radar at all.

Yet most youngsters in any school know who their popular, likable peers are, and can learn by observation in a dynamic social situation that, after all, lasts four years. “We have evidence that the neglected kids are the ones most likely to move up, or to move between groups,” Dr. Prinstein said. “These are the ones with no established reputation, they kind of blend into the woodwork, and this can give them a kind of freedom.”

The same cannot be said of the rejected group, on the lowest rung on the ladder. In several remarkable studies, researchers have brought together students from different schools, representing different levels of the social hierarchy. Within hours, sometimes less, the children assume their accustomed places — the popular ones on top, the socially awkward on the bottom. Climbing out of the geek ghetto is hard, even if a child knows what likeability looks like.

I always suspected high school was just a massive, sick social experiment. The article, of course, mentions how these groups don’t last, and how the personalities that are popular in high school can run into trouble later on.

I think that some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten was when I was moving to a new school, long ago. A friend told me to hold my head high and be confident, because people will be able to tell if you’re the kind of kid who gets picked on, or thinks of herself that way. It was easier for people to like me if I liked myself; and if I acted the part of the tormented, other people would just act their parts as tormentors.

That doesn’t make the social hierarchy any less bad, though. I wish it were easier to be yourself.

August 13, 2008

College sports excess

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 3:00 pm

Editorial – Football Fantasy at Rutgers – Editorial – NYTimes.com
Ever since Rutgers, New Jersey’s largest state university, began its campaign several years ago to become a big-time football power, bad things have happened. Less-glamorous sports teams — tennis, swimming and fencing among them — were downgraded to intramural status to save on the budget, and more and more money has gone to football rather than academics.

This single-minded, ask-no-questions push for football stardom has now reached a crisis, brought to a head by a report in The Star-Ledger of Newark that a campaign to raise $30 million in private contributions for a $102 million, 14,000-seat expansion of the university’s football stadium is on the rocks. Only $2 million has been pledged so far, and Rutgers already has committed itself to borrowing $72 million, leaving it millions short.

Replace Rutgers with the University of Oregon, football with basketball, and rich donors with taxpayers and the editorial still works.

July 19, 2008

Nitpick

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 11:29 am

Often Unsure How to Handle Behavior Disorders, Schools Turn to Forcible Restraint – NYTimes.com
The line between skillful conflict resolution and abuse is slipperier than many assume.

Yeah, the line is so slippery, you just don’t know where to draw the slope.

(Actually, it’s a good article. I had a friend with Tourette’s syndrome in middle school, and sometimes he would lash out, and coping with the issue was a mix of him learning not to respond to teasing–not giving the tormentor the benefit of a reaction–and the rest of us having to learn not to push his buttons, because it hurt him deeply and often ended badly. I guess, sometimes kids who act out are responding quite reasonably, in a way, to things that other kids learned to swallow long ago. It’s still an important skill to be able to let it go when you’re angry, it’s just… it takes effort on both sides to settle a conflict, you know?)

(That’s not to say it’s an easy question when or when not to use restraint, as the article described. I’d say it would be an absolute last resort… if a teacher is using it regularly, either the teacher or the student should not be at the school, and my suspcion leans toward the teacher.)

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