Tag: College

“My Vote Doesn’t Matter”: Helping Students Surmount Political Cynicism

Co-authored with Alexander Astin and Parker J, Palmer

You’ve heard it again and again. “My vote doesn’t matter,” students too often say. Others complain that politicians are “all the same and all corrupt.” How do we overcome this cynical resignation and encourage students to register and vote despite their conviction that the game is fundamentally rigged?

My Little Town 20120718: Mathematics Made Hard and Easy

Those of you that read this regular series know that I am from Hackett, Arkansas, just a mile or so from the Oklahoma border, and just about 10 miles south of the Arkansas River.  It was a rural sort of place that did not particularly appreciate education, and just zoom onto my previous posts to understand a bit about it.

When I was in school I had the good fortune to have a great many excellent teachers.  I even keep up with some of my high school teachers, and I was graduated in 1973.  Sr. Cabrini correspond on Facebook, and Sr. Pierre calls me from time to time.  They were both excellent and I glad to call them my friends.

On the other hand, I have had some really horrible ones.  One who has to be near the top of the list was Bill Holder, a mathematics teacher that I had at Westark Community College in Fort Smith.  That is now part of the University of Arkansas system, The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.

Counter-cultural University?

To be alive and conscious is a miracle in itself. Just that is enough. All we really need to do is contemplate THAT. However, “the world” or human culture will not allow us to do that–or more specifically, the world as reconstructed within each of us, will not allow us to do that. It’s of no use blaming external agencies for our plight. Alienation is in our mother’s milk. It is a direct result of, as Marx said, the capitalist system–but that system is not just something that cruel master foisted on to us. It is, instead, even more seduction than oppression. As currently constitutued it is a system designed to fulfill human desires and, if desires are not growing fast enough, it is a system designed to create those desires. This ability to manufacture desire creates a class of oligarchs who organize this process, a class of craftsmen/women who are the creative people who are just a class below, and the rest of us at various stages of the great pyramid that is modern predatory capitalism. I call it predatory because, as I implied, it goes out of its way to find each and every one of us and hook us in to the system using our own feelings of alienation as a hook. The system is profoundly ingenious and is worthy of respect and admiration. We need to stop calling referring to it (the economic/political/cultural system we live in) as somehow diseased or stupid. For example, I found it difficult to tolerate the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as “mistakes” that were based on false assumptions. I maintain that the people who count knew what they were doing and used these wars both for fun (not to be underestimated), profit and power. For those people the wars were not mistakes but boons.

But my subject is not to examine the systems that run our society. I want to establish two things. One, as I indicated above, is that we are each and every one of us, no matter our ideological positions, deeply a part of this system particularly internally. If we pursue courses that are contrary to the general flow of this system we have to recognize that we suffer, that we bleed, that we are more likely to be ill and poor–not so much from external forces of repression but the repression that we’ve internalized into our unconscious from all the unexamined messages hurled at us with deceptive force by the wizards and technicians of mind-control. This is not trivial. You can discount the influence of these forces all you want but inside your psyche these forces are profoundly important. If we reach the point where our intellect, our emotions, our spiritual force objects to these arrangements we pay and pay and pay. I believe there is a way to return to strength by understanding these forces within and without and my goal is to try and start a creative dialogue with as great a variety of people as I can towards finding a structure to pursue a course of strength, vigor and play to benefit all of us that sense so strongly something is terribly, terribly, terribly wrong and don’t feel so fucking powerless.

Paying College Athletes Sounds Simple Enough at First

I thought I’d never find myself even halfway agreeing with Charles Barkley.  Much of what he says is so self-serving and childish that it doesn’t merit a response.  However, after admitting that he took money from agents in college, he then proposed that college athletes be given small stipends to prevent being unduly influenced.  Barkley’s argument confronts the elephant in the room.    

“Education” and an old Chris Hedges column

This is a diary about Chris Hedges’ column of 3/23, America Is in Need of a Moral Bailout.  Hedges’ column is mostly about universities, which are what concerns me here.  Hedges obliges one to ask as to whether universities have been completely swallowed up by capitalist discipline, and us with them.

(crossposted at Big Orange)

DeJa-Vu: Vets Looking To Slash Veterans Program Funding Already {UpDate 2}

Not even waiting for the debacles to end and all the soldiers to come home, where have I seen this All before!

I get a newsletter, many ‘Nam Vets and now OIF and OEF Active and Vets are on his list, from a brother ‘Nam Vet that started in the drum roll of War and has continued these last 7plus years. It’s called the “Military Project” and is based on the Underground GI Newspapers during the Vietnam War, sans online technology, that were started on Military Bases around the World and In-Country Vietnam as the Military troops started organizing against our countries failed policies and devastating Conflict and Occupation.

This was in the recent news letter: Veterans groups want cap on tuition aid under new G.I. bill

Low Class Gains in Higher Education

A new economics study by Joseph Altonji, Prashant Bharadwaj, and Fabian Lange demonstrates that:

The earnings premium for skilled labour has increased dramatically in recent decades. Yet, as this column shows, Americans are not acquiring significantly greater skills in response to this change. The resulting gap will increase US income inequality in the coming decades.

The study goes on to demonstrate that despite the increased premium value of developing labor skills through higher education, the population in general has not sought these skills in relative proportion.  In other words, we aren’t seeing many gains in people improving their financial prospects by investing in their own education.

Economist Brad DeLong says that the study’s authors don’t know why this is happening (which is a fair complaint), but goes on to suggest that

This raises the possibility that the only easy way to reduce market inequality is to greatly increase the supply of the skilled and educated in the long run by making higher education free

This seems unlikely to be effective to me on two levels.  First of all, an economist ought to understand (and DeLong does) that there is no such thing as “free”; someone will have to pay for higher education to be free to its consumers.  Indeed, as he points out, “which is a very dubious policy on the inequality front, because it starts with a honking huge transfer from the average taxpayer today to the relatively rich well-educated of tomorrow.”

But the more important rebuttal to his point (more effective than his own) is that brought up by Tyler Cowen: that the skills required to succeed at even a low level in college are poorly taught to the population at large.

One of my close friends is completing her first year as a public school teacher in New York City (her third year as a professional teacher).  Her class is a fourth grade class at a public school in Grand Concourse in the Bronx.  She has 28 students, only one of which reads at a fourth grade level.  For a wide variety of reasons, despite her significant efforts, it is unlikely that more than a couple of her students will be at a fifth grade level when the school year ends this month.  And no, this is not the most remedial class of fourth graders her school has.

It seems to me that DeLong obscures the real problem, that of students being unprepared and unlikely to succeed in higher education, with that of students being unable to afford higher education.  Many, if not most, college and graduate students debt finance their education; a rational choice considering the economic benefits that education will offer them.  However, rational actors will not pay for a premium education if they consider themselves unlikely to succeed at it and therefore unlikely to reap the future economic benefit.

I read this study as evidence of the continued failure of our primary and secondary education systems, not as a study of the failure of our society to make higher education affordable or making the information about the benefits of higher education widely available.  What say you?

Combat Vets as Students

The News & Observer has a good report on the returning OIF and OEF Veterans as some transition to Students in Colleges and Universities around the country, reporting on some of the problems they face in that transition from combat soldier to student.

This could have been expanded, as many already have found out as others before you went through the same, to the transition from In-Theater Soldiers to Civilian life not just as Students


As tens of thousands of veterans of the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq try to collect on their promised college benefits, McKinnon and others are finding that their combat experience complicates the transition from soldier to student.

Mother, Mother Ocean: A Student’s Musings

I spend a fair amount of my time listening to Jimmy Buffett songs, so it won’t come as a surprise to those who know me that I can somehow tie my high school experience to a boat floating on the ocean.  Ever since I heard “Margaritaville” on the radio as a three-year-old, I have turned to one Buffett song or another for a flash of inspiration, a laugh, or a quote that’s vaguely related to the assignment at hand.  I’ve also spent these last four years trying my absolute hardest to avoid using cliché themes and phrasing in my English compositions; hopefully my streak won’t end in this last hoorah of an essay.

If, in terms of size and difficulty of navigation, elementary school is the pond in my backyard and middle school is the lake down the road, high school is the unpredictable ocean.  You cautiously venture in, hesitant to face the whitecaps in the distance but excited to speed toward that distant horizon.  Freshman year is a strange time to describe – by the time you hit the hallways for the first time, you’ve inevitably been scared to death by massively exaggerated stories of the big bad seniors and their vicious hazing parties.  You might hit a little wave here and there, but it’s mainly smooth sailing through basic classes like Health and Sports for Life.

Most students will tell you that sophomore year is basically like freshman year, just a tiny bit harder and a little less exciting once, considering how long 9th grade dragged on, you grasp just how much time four years really is.  I happened to hit my first storm in the summer before 10th grade, when my family moved to Clarksville and I, for some reason still unbeknownst to me, fell into the stereotype that every adolescent’s parents fear: the constant complainer.  It didn’t stop at school; rather, it covered everything from my neighborhood to having to go to baseball practice.  The calm after the storm eventually came, but sophomore year drifted by in an unmemorable fog.

I’d been dreading 11th grade since I watched my brother labor through six AP classes and a ridiculously long streak of sleepless school nights.  Luckily, my junior year didn’t turn into the “perfect storm” that drives so many students to total loss of motivation.  My four APs were challenging, but two of them were history courses with teachers I loved and subject matter that truly intrigued me.  I hit a wave here and a wave there, but none of them knocked me too far off course.  Like everyone else, I hit the college freak-out phase once the seniors starting getting accepted and rejected from the schools of their dreams.  Luckily, my hysteria was temporary and surprisingly beneficial: I started my essays and applications months before most of my classmates.

Now, quite suddenly, senior year is upon me.  I’ll knock on wood so as not to jinx National Day of Cruelty toward High School Seniors (also known as April 1, or the arrival of most college admissions decisions), but it appears that I’ve made it to calmer waters.  I’ve avoided the biggest icebergs by surprising myself on the SAT and saving my best writing for my college essays.

The ocean has been an obstacle to discovery and fortune since the dawn of history.  The explorers we’ll remember are those who crossed uncharted waters, eventually stumbling upon a helpful shortcut or a new continent.  I’ve discovered new truths and sources of happiness for myself, whether they be political involvement or the study of history, by steering through the treacherous ocean of high school and getting through with my ship intact.

What fun is an ocean without waves, anyhow?  You’ve got to get through the choppy surf to get to the open water.  Now, having caught the winds of inspiration and a bright academic future in my sails, I set a new course for the distant horizon and beyond.  After all, “some of it’s magic and some of it’s tragic,” but I’ve got a sea to cross.

Why are people surprised? NIU and other shootings

Hey all,

Forgive me for being blunt here but I wonder why people get surprised that this happens and say they cannot understand the motivation behind it. These things never shock or surprise me because it is really a logical extension of humans who are put under stress with no support systems. Follow me over the flip..