Higher education is a hot topic because it’s so familiar and so easy to criticize. Even if you haven’t gone to college, you get what it’s about. And the complaints – about tuition, about culture, about curriculum – happen on campus, too, and louder. Here are six articles that prompted discussions inside the Ivory Tower this week.
Violence, threats and living in fear that things are only going to get worse:
“Something is coming,” says Pavel. What it will be, he’s not sure. He’s worried about “special departments” in local police stations, dedicated to removing children from gay homes. He’s worried about a co-worker discovering him. He is worried about blackmail. He is worried, and he does not know what else to do. He wishes he could fight, but he doesn’t know how. Sign a petition? March in a parade? Pavel would never do that now. “My children,” he murmurs. “This law,” he says, referring to the ban on “propaganda.” “If something happens, it touches only me. And I can protect myself.” But the next law: “This is about my child. My baby.” If the next law passes, they will leave. The two women are doctors and Nik works in higher education, careers that will require new certification. Which means that only Pavel, a manager for the state oil company, will be able to work right away. They will be poor, but they will leave. They might have to separate, Pavel and Irina and Emma to Israel, where Irina can become a citizen, Nik and Zoya and Kristina to any country that will take them. They might have to become the couples they pretend to be. For now, they are staying. “We’re going to teach them,” he says of his two little girls, Emma and Kristina. “How to protect themselves. How to keep silence.”
PUBLISHED: Feb. 4, 2014
LENGTH: 30 minutes (7543 words)
Examining the case and trial of Gilberto Valle, AKA the "cannibal cop," a New York police officer who fantasized about kidnapping, killing, and eating women he knew with strangers, but who never acted on any of his plans:
On August 24, they discussed ways that Valle might kidnap another woman, Kristen Ponticelli, a recent graduate of Valle’s old high school whom he never met personally (Valle’s lawyers assume he just noticed her photo on Facebook). The next day, they moved on to Andria Noble. “If Andria lived near me, she would be gone by now,” Valle wrote. “Even if I get caught, she would be worth it.”
But there was no physical evidence from Valle’s home suggesting he was getting ready to kidnap or cook anyone—no oven large enough for a human, no cleaver, no homemade chloroform. Prosecutors had no proof he had a place in the mountains. They had no proof that Valle knew the identities of the three people he was chatting with. Valle never divulged the last names of any of the people whose photos he passed along (not even his wife’s) and never gave out any of their addresses, even after Moody Blues specifically requested one, and he haphazardly switched up details about their life stories and college educations.
PUBLISHED: Jan. 12, 2014
LENGTH: 19 minutes (4858 words)
Parents in New York are joining a growing movement to opt out of high-stakes testing for their children:
In response to the growing criticism, Arne Duncan, the White House’s Education secretary, this month said it was “fascinating” that some of the Common Core’s detractors are “white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.” There was an uproar among parents and administrators. “Did he really say that?” wrote Long Island superintendent Joseph Rella in an open letter. Duncan later “regretted” his phrasing, but what was most telling about his comment was that it seemed to acknowledge that support for the Common Core is being derailed in part by how it plays into the culture of anxiety often associated with high-stakes testing.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 25, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4377 words)
Udacity founder Sebastian Thrun takes stock of what’s working, and what’s not, with regard to online university courses:
As Thrun was being praised by Friedman, and pretty much everyone else, for having attracted a stunning number of students–1.6 million to date–he was obsessing over a data point that was rarely mentioned in the breathless accounts about the power of new forms of free online education: the shockingly low number of students who actually finish the classes, which is fewer than 10%. Not all of those people received a passing grade, either, meaning that for every 100 pupils who enrolled in a free course, something like five actually learned the topic. If this was an education revolution, it was a disturbingly uneven one.
“We were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don’t educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a lousy product,” Thrun tells me. “It was a painful moment.” Turns out he doesn’t even like the term MOOC.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 16, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5041 words)
A history of the Texas textbook wars, and questions of whether those seeking to influence changes to textbooks can hold onto their power:
But highly placed stakeholders — ranging from those in publishing to sitting board members — believe the culture warriors are losing the ability to run roughshod over state education. After years of alienating the Legislature, the state board has seen its influence weakened. A changing textbook marketplace has eroded Texas’ clout, and technology is sweeping into the classroom, bringing with it the next generation of learning materials. The statewide reach of the culture warriors is ending.
The biggest test will take place when the state board considers a new high-school biology text next week. Another will follow in the ensuing months, as it takes up a new social studies text. How the state board and publishers respond to Bohlin’s critiques, to his evolutionary “gaps,” will determine whether the innuendo of God lingers in classroom discussions about evolution. It will determine whether the political ideology of an elected board shapes, by omission and addition, the history of America Texas students will learn for years hence.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 14, 2013
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5072 words)
On "the long-buried history of Nazi-era anatomy" which used corpses of political dissidents and euthanasia victims, and how the work haunts modern science:
Unlike the research of Nazi scientists who became obsessed with racial typing and Aryan superiority, Stieve’s work didn’t end up in the dustbin of history. The tainted origins of this research—along with other studies and education that capitalized on the Nazi supply of human body parts—continue to haunt German and Austrian science, which is only now fully grappling with the implications. Some of the facts, amazingly, are still coming to light. And some German, Austrian, and Polish universities have yet to face up to the likely presence of the remains of Hitler’s victims—their cell and bone and tissue—in university collections that still exist today.
This history matters for its own sake. It also matters for debates that remain unresolved—about how anatomists get bodies and what to do with research that is scientifically valuable but morally disturbing.
PUBLISHED: Nov. 6, 2013
LENGTH: 33 minutes (8426 words)
The writer, who was a K-12 educator for 10 years, on the decline of science education in the classroom and how it's affecting students and the way they view the world:
Sometimes we planted seeds and bulbs in paper cups and left them to sprout on the windowsill, but mostly I didn’t worry about science. I was teaching them to read; I was working on their cultural literacy.
But science is cultural literacy, a fact that became apparent when a friend teaching in the same school told me about getting her fifth graders ready for their statewide science test. Preparation was hurried, last-minute, cursory: their scores would not be held against our Adequate Yearly Progress, after all. My friend, however, did not want her students to feel blindsided by the test, so she had photocopied some handouts and sample questions. “I was trying to explain photosynthesis,” she said, “and one of my kids asked me, ‘How does a plant make their food? Do they use a microwave?’ What do you say to that?”
PUBLISHED: Nov. 4, 2013
LENGTH: 17 minutes (4498 words)
This week's reading list from Emily Perper includes stories from The Kenyon Review, The Billfold, This Ain't Livin', Forbes, The Washington Blade, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.