The Washington Post had an article discussing how many college dropouts are in a “Catch-22″ situation, they can’t stay in college and if they leave, they will have large amounts of debt to pay off. My problem is with the reasoning for why students leave college and the proposed policy prescription to remedy it:
The Obama administration said it has made increasing the college graduation rate by 2020 one of its top educational priorities. Some schools have also tried to streamline majors and course offerings to help ensure students stay on track. Education experts say that many students are not prepared for the more rigorous course work in college, and that many schools do not offer enough guidance for young people trying to navigate the first steps of their adult lives. As a result, students may not see the payoff in finishing college.
While this is probably true in some cases, more likely for first semester dropouts, this policy seems to ignore the other reasons for students taking time off or leaving college altogether. Students leave for medical reasons, family reasons, or their rich uncle who paid for school dies and they can’t qualify for more financial aid. Some students leave for a semester or more and it is difficult to return or adjust socially after being gone. Certainly it is important to make sure all students who enter college are academically prepared. But shouldn’t more resources also be placed in support programs for students who leave for other reasons? For instance, in the case of a family problem, adequate counseling could be provided by the college to the student to make sure they are emotionally ready to return or a student who is returning from a medical leave of absence could have a reduced schedule.
Most importantly, addressing the problem of dropouts and debt can be fixed by simply tweaking the terms of the agreement in some fashion to allow a student to enter into public service to pay off debt or enter into an alternative program for job training (like Jobcorps) or technical school in substitution for college. The point is to address this problem from various angles and not just focus on academic preparedness.
On Sunday, Chris Hayes, writer for the Nation and host of the MSNBC weekend morning show “UP,” engaged in a dialog with his panelists about using the term “hero” to describe fallen soldiers and how he feels uncomfortable with that term. The panel had, from my vantage point, a reasonable discussion on the matter. Some people, naturally, found the talk in bad taste for Memorial Day Weekend. An official for the Veterans of Foreign Wars stated:
“Chris Hayes’ recent remarks on MSNBC regarding our fallen service members are reprehensible and disgusting,” Richard DeNoyer, a VFW official, told Fox News in a statement. “His words reflect his obvious disregard for the service and sacrifice of the men and women who have paid the ultimate price while defending our nation. His insipid statement is particularly callous because it comes at a time when our entire nation pauses to reflect and honor the memory of our nations’ fallen heroes.”
“It is especially devastating to the many broken-hearted children, spouses and parents, left behind to grieve for a loved one,” DeNoyer also said. “Such an ignorant and uncaring and blatant disregard for people’s deep feelings are indefensible, and that is why the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States demand that Mr. Hayes and MSNBC provides an immediate and unequivocal apology.”
Essentially, the VFW official is arguing “It’s not Hayes’s place to talk about this subject on this weekend where we honor heroism.” What I think this debate points to is the inability to have natural, academic discussions in the media about public conceptions of “heroism,” “valor,” “sacrifice,” and the general memory of wars in general. It is also the reason that criticizing the military in American public life is hard to do. Certainly, no military family wants to feel their son or daughter died in vain or was not honorable. However, trying to condemn or silence public discourse on the matter is not the best way to go about it. The discourse of language and its fundamental usage is an important topic worth discussion. Having more discussions like this in the media, when it goes on in everyday life and in academic settings all the time, should be promoted more. More importantly, not feeling like a traitor when doing is just as important to that process.
Meghan McCain has received a lot of flack recently for some comments she made on Al Sharpton’s MSNBC Program discussing the lack of moderates staying in the GOP. She claimed that she did not understand the appeal of media attack dogs like Michelle Malkin and the late Andrew Breitbart. Later, she was attacked for some of her comments and replied in a post to the Daily Beast:
Last week, I went on Al Sharpton’s MSNBC show PoliticsNation to talk about extremism in the Republican Party. As a socially liberal Republican, this happens to be a topic I know a lot about. On the show, I told Sharpton that many Republicans treat me like a freak, especially the extreme-right members of my party. I went on to say that I don’t understand the appeal of extreme bloggers such as Michelle Malkin and the late Andrew Breitbart. That’s all I said, but it only took a few hours before my comments were posted out of context on a variety of blogs that suggested I was viciously attacking Breitbart. My Twitter feed exploded with insults, including the suggestion that I should kill myself.
Instead of ignoring the hate projected at me, I elected to retweet some of the most vile responses. I wanted to show people what happens to me when I go on TV and voice my opinion. The Internet trolls weren’t interested in having a discussion about my opinion; they just wanted to eviscerate me. Here’s a watered-down version of some of the most hateful comments:
I am fat pig. I am ugly. I am disgusting. I am an embarrassment to my family, and they should be ashamed of me. I am an anti-American extremist. I am a clueless whore. I should drink a bottle of alcohol and pills and kill myself.
I stand with Meghan McCain against such disgusting comments. There is no room in proper political discourse for such crude insults. No one should ever be treated like this! With that being said, I think McCain is missed a big opportunity to not just go after the flamethrowers, but to attack the structural impetus in which these types of debates fester, namely the partisan media and the internet.
The media likes sensationalism and controversy. That is no secret. More importantly, it needs a villain in its Manichean worldview. It also needs entertainment. The best way to achieve that is through partisan politics to gain an audience of devoted viewers. In this universe, everything becomes a heated political debate and controversies get blown up to achieve higher ratings. Sean Hannity, Ed Schultz, and Bill O’Reilly have legions of followers willing to tune in, not to receive an education about a particular issue, but to see who going to get thrashed by the awesome might of these political titans. Feeding the frenzy are more internet blogs started by anyone with computer and an internet connection (including myself). From this aparatus contain many internet commenters and radio call in guests willing to take part in this political theater. The point is McCain missed an opportunity to have a larger conversation about this problematic mixing of entertainment and politics that is driving all this “internet bullying” and “partisanship.” Of course, she is part of this media saturated culture and was making comments on Reverend Al Sharpton’s own echo chamber show, so the point was probably moot. Sigh.
I recently read this article by a Christian doctor who continues to perform abortions. I was struck by this line:
I wrestled with the morality of it. I grew up in the South and in fundamentalist Protestantism, I was taught that abortion is wrong.
Yet as I pursued my career as an OB/GYN, I saw the dilemmas that women found themselves in. And I could no longer weigh the life of a pre-viable or lethally flawed fetus equally with the life of the woman sitting before me.
In listening to a sermon by Dr. Martin Luther King, I came to a deeper understanding of my spirituality, which places a higher value on compassion. King said what made the good Samaritan “good” is that instead of focusing on would happen to him by stopping to help the traveler, he was more concerned about what would happen to the traveler if he didn’t stop to help.
I became more concerned about what would happen to these women if I, as an obstetrician, did not help them.
I just blogged about how the Pro-Choice movement needs to rethink its strategy about how it presents itself to a new generation. This is one example of moving the debate into a moral playing field instead of a policy one, albeit a consequentialist perspective. This type of debate occurs on economic policy for instance. President Obama and Rep. Paul Ryan offer different perspectives on how to balance the budget and when to raise taxes. On gay marriage, people quote lines in Bible about the sinfulness of homosexuality who oppose gay marriage and people quote the inclusiveness of Jesus and his followers to support gay marriage. Moralizing is not hard to do and quoting Jesus is not hard to do either, it just requires various frameworks to discuss specific topics.
Both Matthew Yglesias and Reihan Salam discuss why smaller class sizes are not always better and produce some alternatives to that narrative. I don’t have any research to counter those points, but I will argue against premise in which this debate exists. For policy wonks and economists, students are commodities. Each student sits in school to learn a set of skills that then transfer to the working world. In this same vein, how efficiently teachers teach a certain subject or in what way that subject is taught increases or decreases the productivity of a student. Class size is one of those methods to increase or decrease the means of production. My problem is that students are not commodities. Education should be about teaching students to think critically. Education policy should not be based on an equation that says: if students learn “X” at “Y” pace and with “Z” efficiency they will achieve the end result. The worry should be about whether students pick up basic skills and how they utilize those skills later in their educational careers.