When income between teachers and strippers emerges, the conversation really takes off, and you can't help but laugh. Learn a little economics today, and put a smile on your face. Check it out, and have a good weekend.
The winner for best internet comments section this week goes to Mises.org and their post, "What the Wage Equality Crusaders Don't Understand." The article itself is great, a logical takedown of the foolishness of assuming everyone should make the same amount of money regardless of the myriad life choices that go into selecting a career. It's an article every student should read. But the real gold can be found in the reader replies at the bottom.
When income between teachers and strippers emerges, the conversation really takes off, and you can't help but laugh. Learn a little economics today, and put a smile on your face. Check it out, and have a good weekend.
A recent post on the discussion forum Quora has restored a sliver of my faith in the education system. A student asked the question, "Is it okay for a teacher to use me as an example of what not to do?" And I don't think she received the answer she was looking for.
She claimed that she was a victim of harassment and wanted everyone to stop being so mean. But the people who responded, most of them one would assume are teachers, gave it to her straight and put in her place, and deservedly so.
I'm always amazed at the things students complain about these days, as I know I never would have had the temerity to speak to teachers or expect things of them in the way young people do today. I'm not even that old, yet when my teachers gave grades, there was no discussion. When my teachers told me I did something wrong, that was the law. It seems everything in a classroom today is up for debate. It's just the teacher's opinion what a student's grade should be, always open for adjustment if a complaint is forceful enough. It truly is a different world.
But I'm proud of those who replied to this youngster. They were honest and fair and unmoved by her whining, precisely as teachers should be. There's hope yet.
The longer I teach, the more I grow bothered by the phrase "rough draft." I'm not sure if it has always been this way, but it seems increasingly common that when students work on rough drafts, they take that to mean really rough drafts. As if it's a license for turning in garbage, students believe rough drafts are simply opportunities for getting something on the page, regardless of what it looks like, knowing that it will just be changed later anyway. This is completely the wrong perspective.
Rough drafts should be the student's absolute best attempt at properly completing the written project at this specific moment in time.
In fact, in my classes, I emphasize "first version" in place of rough draft, in hopes of getting students to take that step in the writing process more seriously. Yes, there will be changes. Yes, a student may end up scrapping entire sections of her work. And yes, doing a good job at this early stage is difficult and time-consuming. But that's what should happen. That paper should be as perfect as she can possibly make it, as of now.
I've discovered that students don't just cut corners on their actual essay when we refer to rough drafts, the body paragraphs, argument, and other key components in the main text. They also avoid doing the simplest of tasks--name in the proper place, effective title, source list properly formatted, and more. I'm always baffled at this. These are the easiest parts of the assignment--why not just do these simple elements right the first time, so they won't require attention later?
I tell my students to envision that I'm grading their draft, and their entire semester grade depends on their score on it--even though we will go through several steps of revision. That usually helps a bit, but it's still not ideal. But getting past the term "rough draft" is a step in the right direction for both students and teachers. There should be nothing rough about writing. It should be excellent from the start, and together we will work to make it even better before the final due date. The goal is to make the subsequent stages, from major revisions to minor copy-edits, as small and painless as possible. But that can't happen if we keep doing "rough" work. Use "final version" instead, and get students writing better earlier.
A piece appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education last week that has had me stewing. I wasn't quite sure how to respond until I collected my thoughts and took some deep breaths. But today is the day to add my two cents.
A professor posted an article about being called a racial slur on campus. There are several fuzzy elements to her story: she claims to remember the precise time of the incident, but can't seem to remember any other details; her article states that she couldn't identify who was the culprit (since it happened behind her), but she was sure of what she heard; she knew the person was an athlete wearing team attire, but she didn't know what sport; however, in her notes on her personal website, she suddenly was able to identify the sports team; she didn't do anything about it during the incident, and instead waited to voice a complaint; there were no other witnesses, apparently, despite there being plenty of other people around the scene; and she repeatedly uses the odd case of past perfect verb tense in her article, when standard past tense would be more logical. But I'm not attempting to accuse her of false reporting. I am willing to take her at her word, as all people, and especially a respected teacher, deserve our initial trust.
But there's something much more sinister happening in her account of the incident. First, she is more than willing to stereotype and prejudge others, just as she decries when it happens to her. She describes being afraid upon hearing the slur, strangely noting that she is only 5'2" tall. What exactly is this meant to imply? That anyone somewhat tall is a violent threat to physical safety? Isn't judging someone's propensity toward violence based on their size just as superficial and fallacious as making a judgment based on race, or any other physical characteristic? She then digs deeper by noting that she could have gone to get help at a nearby building, but since it was a construction trailer, likely filled with working men, they "might espouse the same kind of hate." Yes, she seriously put that in print. It takes a special kind of hypocrisy to seek sympathy from the world about being discriminated against while discriminating against other people.
But the bigger problem here extends beyond this singular incident and this singular professor. It is her reaction that is indicative of so many young people today, and we can see where they are learning it: from their teachers. Upon hearing a derogatory comment, she didn't just ignore it. She didn't approach the students, tell them she was bothered by what they said and demand an apology. She didn't immediately call the coach of the athletes and devise a resolution in which an apology could be elicited. This is what reasonable people would do--they would work on solving the problem at the level at which it occurred.
But that is not what she did. Instead, she went home and wrote an essay, which she then shared publicly that very evening. She chose to tell the story before resolving the problem. What if she had misheard? What if it were black students using the word, not white students? What if there was literally nothing going on that warranted her reaction? It's too late--she wrote an essay and told the world about it. The truth is out there, even we don't yet know just how true it all is. She then wrote the school president and every other high ranking administrator with her account of the incident. And, of course, she posted her story on Facebook. This is what we do now--we post, we email, we share with anyone we assume will sympathize. But we don't go to the source. The professor was stunned to learn that the players' coach didn't learn of the accusation until three weeks after the day in question--when she could have called him 30 seconds after the incident!
We have created a generation of passive-aggressive youth who think they "have a voice" just because they have Twitter. This professor chose to go to the highest level of authority to solve a problem that required the minimum amount of confrontation. This is like getting upset with your neighbor for not putting her recycling bin away and deciding to call the state governor's office and demand her arrest.
We constantly hear about groups wanting to start a "dialogue" or a "conversation" about some issue or other. However, these are very often the same groups who avoid actually talking to people. This professor had a great opportunity to address inappropriate behavior head on, and she chose to slink away and have others do the tough work for her. Have someone else make a rule that punishes everyone. Create new training seminars that no one cares about. Devise safe spaces so no one ever says anything you disagree with ever again. This is passive-aggressive authoritarianism at its finest. Make everyone else bend to your will without taking the first step yourself.
This happens in classrooms across the country these days. A student doesn't like a grade? Don't have a conference with the teacher; go the dean of the university and complain until you get your way! You think someone said something vulgar in the dining hall? Don't tell them to shut their mouth and act like a grown-up; run to the Gender Equity office and demand a sexual harassment hearing! Our campuses have become training grounds for avoiding interaction with others, where we promote fear and loathing rather than honesty and resolution. Joining a "story circle" (yes, this is one of the professor's ideas--whatever that is) has replaced a good ol' fashioned, "Hey, knock it off." And bureaucratic paperwork is a more feasible answer than...you know...just walking away from idiots who say stupid things.
If this professor's story is true, it truly is a shame, and I hope the name-callers end up apologizing. But her reaction could have been so much more powerful if she would have actually addressed the problem when it occurred. All she taught them was that if they wait long enough and keep denying the accusation, it will all go away eventually. And every other innocent person will be forced to attend "sensitivity workshops and...in-depth educational programming on microaggressions." You guessed it, more of her ideas. She got what she wanted--her name on a major education website and a lot of taxpayer money likely spent for her social justice causes. Passive-aggressive responses sure do pay.
The brilliantly funny critics at the Wisecrack YouTube channel have done it again, this time with an awesome analysis--just released yesterday--of one of my favorite films of last year, Arrival. Almost no one can combine humor with legitimate film study as well as they can. Take a look...
Tomorrow is Tax Day, and just as I've done the last two years (you can scroll to previous mid-April posts at right), I feel the need to help students everywhere understand what some of their views on taxation really mean.
It's nearly as common on public university campuses to hear students call for taxing wealthy people at an arbitrarily higher rate as it is to hear professors...well, call for taxing wealthy people at an arbitrarily higher rate. Yes, public universities are not the bastion of diverse thought they claim to be. This economic belief is almost the default position for many college students who want more money diverted to causes they happen to prefer. We want stuff? Get the rich people to pay for it! I remember one student even telling me and the rest of the class that the government should fund more programs by increasing wealthy people's taxes because "they won't notice that their money is gone."
Let's analyze such a position for just a few of its myriad flawed premises.
1) The assumption that wealthy people "don't notice" changes in their income belies how many of them became wealthy in the first place and stay that way over time. The old adage is pretty spot on: "Watch your pennies, and the dollars will follow." Wealthy people aren't stupid--they notice.
2) This assumes people never adjust their behavior when faced with penalty. Trust me, even middle-class folks find ways around paying their maximum tax liability. If even middle-class folks do it, you can be assured that wealthy people do. Incentives matter, especially negative ones. When people see a cost coming, they don't accept it willingly. And when people with important jobs start working less to avoid such penalties, everyone becomes worse off. As someone who has cut his teaching load in certain years to avoid being pushed into higher brackets, students are the ones who get hurt. If Bill Millionaire decides to slow his hiring, production, or innovation, his customers and employees pay the price. Taxes on the wealthy are always passed on to those that they serve.
3) Most importantly, such a view of taxation is contradictory to the ethos of millennials. For a constituency that can't go five minutes without protesting in favor of "equality," to literally hand-pick a group they don't like and punish them is a despicable irony. Here's another way of thinking about it: Asians have the highest household income of any ethnicity, including whites. Progressive taxation is therefore a de facto disproportionate and legally enforced penalty on a particular racial group. How is anyone okay with this? Once more: if you claim that one group can single out another group and, by the use of force, treat them in a way that is not equal to what other groups of people must endure under the law, that is the very definition of discrimination.
Regardless of what we think we want or who should pay for it, we must remember that there are real humans behind those plans. And learning how to treat everyone, even those who have more than we do, is part of a real education. It's important for young people to understand the complete logic of their views, and college is the best place for wrestling with these complicated ideas. We can only hope that such mental exercises are still occurring on campuses today.
I've recently begun reading a great biography on a sports icon, baseball player Ty Cobb. While he earned more Hall of Fame votes than Babe Ruth and still holds Major League records, nearly 90 years after retiring, he is not thought of fondly. His story is filled with legends and lies, which has severely damaged his legacy over the decades.
Name-calling and accusations aren't just hurtful in the here and now--they can ruin a life, even after the person is gone. The old Jewish story of the sack full of feathers is a good reminder of that. We live in an inflammatory era, where seemingly anyone can be called greedy, bigoted, homophobic, misogynistic, racist, evil, and other terrible adjectives, particularly if they are in the public eye. It makes us feel good to put people down and to discredit their accomplishments. And this spiteful rhetoric is even more pernicious when such slurs are completely unfounded. So be careful in assuming what you hear is true. Do the proper research, analyze contexts, and be objective in your assessments, whether you are doing a project for class or just learning about baseball. Here's a good summary of Cobb's story:
I'm not thrilled about infringing on private property, but this dude might be my new hero. There's a vigilante stalking the streets of England in the dark of night, correcting poor language skills. He doesn't seem to be too worried about being charged with defacing property. As he says, the real crime is the incorrect grammar in the first place. Cheeky fellow. Here's a quick clip below, but the fascinating full story on BBC Radio can be found here.
There was a great piece on 60 Minutes last night about the worsening problem of cell phone use, especially among young people. Tech companies are programming their devices to be addictive, tapping into our primitive brain structures to keep us checking those screens countless times a day, like slot machines spitting out a randomized reward. This is an important message for young people, so check it out here.
The most important skill a writer can have, and what I spend most of my time teaching in my college classes, is to be clear. After all, the purpose of writing is to communicate; if there is a barrier in communication, then the action becomes too difficult and, eventually, pointless. It is our job as authors to convey our message to our intended audience, ideally an audience as broad as possible. If our readers don't understand us, it is our fault.
Often, particularly with younger writers, the problem with clarity may manifest itself in mechanics--poor grammar, awkward sentence structure, clumsy paragraphs. But at higher levels of scholarship, jargon--arcane concepts and technical language--tends to be the main culprit. In an article on Inside Higher Ed yesterday, new research is showing that science publications are becoming increasingly difficult to read. There are several possible, and understandable, reasons for this, but the main problem with a disconnect between author and reader is that the valuable information that can inspire, inform, and advance humanity may be ignored by the general public--those who may benefit most from such writing.
And it's not just the sciences that have this problem. As a literary theorist, I can assure you that Derrida, Foucault, Spivak, and a host of others are just as guilty of obfuscatory writing. By the way, obfuscatory means purposefully complicated or confusing.
I'm a firm believer in a quote from Albert Einstein: "If you can't explain it to six-year-old, you don't understand it yourself." This may be a slight exaggeration when it comes to scholarly writing, but the point remains. Clarifying our language does not mean that we should talk down to our audience or pretend they are too dumb to grasp complicated ideas. But when only an elite few can understand written material, it demonstrates not an impressive authorial intelligence, but rather a condescension toward others and an ignorance of what writing is actually for. When we write, we should want as many people as possible to participate in that exchange. So whether you are a young student or an experienced scholar, when you are writing, be thorough but brief, informative but simple, detailed but clean. Clarity is the key.
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt and New York Times author Frank Bruni recently discussed the lack of intellectual diversity on college campuses and the "stunning fragility" of today's students. They say this is reducing wisdom, which is exactly what colleges should try to impart, and further increasing the divide between people, which is exactly not what colleges should inspire. This is a valuable discussion on the state of the modern university and is worth a listen.
We've been hosting the Final Four here in Phoenix, with the National Championship culminating this evening. And this hopefully ends the tourist season here in the desert, because if I have to drive behind another white-haired woman from Minnesota going 15 miles under the speed limit with her blinker on for 12 blocks, I'm going to lose my flippin' mind. Until it happens all over again next winter. But I digress.
With the influx of visitors in town for the tournament, hotel prices have jumped up substantially. Rooms across the city are priced about double their normal rates for this time of year, and those near the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale are going for more than four times the standard rate. When I was reading about these increases, many internet commenters were furious over perceived "price gouging." We usually only hear that term when prices increase during natural disasters, but it has also come up in recent months with disputes over Uber's price increases on New Year's Eve or during the violence in New York City last fall.
But businesses taking advantage of increased demand are not "gouging" customers; they are, yes, trying to maximize profit, but more importantly, they are signaling the potential for decreasing supply. And this signal is important for other potential suppliers. When prices increase, it's a flashing sign that there is money to be made, which, in turn, entices other providers to join in and seek financial gain. But more importantly, when others emerge to snag some of those dollars, they provide rooms that would have long been sold out had the prices from the existing hotels never increased. After all, four buddies on a basketball-watching road trip might have bought four individual rooms at the cheaper rater. But the higher price helps them change their mind to sharing just one room, which opens up more rooms for other guests. Lower prices would have meant thousands of people coming to town with nowhere to stay. Raising prices forces people who truly want/need a place to stay to buy, while others need to make other arrangements that may be fulfilled by alternative lodging. This leads to more Airbnb and other private vacation rental offerings that wouldn't exist without the increasing prices, which then stabilize the pricing signal.
High prices induce competition, which then eases the prices back down--sometimes not as much as we would like, but that's always going to be the case no matter the price. So don't get upset when prices go up; that's just the market telling you that supplies are running low and you'll need to decide whether the product or service you want is really worth the higher price. And it's also telling everyone else that others may want to get in on the money-making opportunity to satisfy your desires. You may feel "gouged," but paying for a comfortable hotel room sure beats sleeping in your car. And next time you want to attend a major event, don't blame those who are trying to serve you. Without their goal to make money, they wouldn't exist to help you in the first place.
Dr. Spivey is a college English professor and lives in Scottsdale, Arizona.