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Soccer Balls and Wedding Cakes

 

Separate and equal.

At least that’s the idea behind the new emerging trend of dividing boys and girls in public school classrooms. The students would be taught the same curriculum, but in different styles. (another link here)

Obviously the range of this novel (or should I say, archaic?) type of education varies widely. On one extreme end, the boys and girls simply sit in different classrooms, and on one other extreme end, boys and girls are not even allowed to speak to each other on school grounds.

Somewhere in the middle, however, teachers are instructed to use more direct commands and louder voices for boys and a calmer tone for girls.

The trend is emerging because, well, it’s working on tests and discipline issues, or at least those are the claims by some researchers and the schools that employ this method. As of now, there is really no conclusive evidence that favors either method due to a lack of data, and there are also just too many variables that need to be considered. Some variation of the method, however, is being used in some public schools in 39 states plus District of Columbia.

Proponents go as far as saying that this new method bridges the achievement gap between races, class, and of course, gender. In contrast, the opponents treat it as a way to enforce gender stereotypes and believe that the method does not prepare the students well for the co-ed real world.

While I must agree that telling boys to brainstorm sports things and girls wedding cakes is a terrible idea (many schools actually did this). It’s hard to argue against the notion of inherent differences in a boy’s brain and a girl’s brain.

In the U.S. today, more girls like pink than boys and girls tend to do better in reading tests than their gender counterparts. These are facts that are not disputable because they are hard numbers. But are these due to genetic differences? Or are they results of socialization? If it’s more of the former, is it ethical to divide up the boys and girls then? If the same is true for whites and blacks, can we divide them up the same way as well? And what if it’s more of the latter? Is it ethical then to divide up the boys and girls to try to break the expectations?

This attempt at education reform also focuses on less quantifiable characteristics such as the perceived notion that most boys are more impulsive and most girls more compassionate. The teaching style then addresses these differences. The keyword is most. People recognize that this may only work with a proportion of people, and that’s why they allowed optional opt-outs (the Alabama middle school that made it mandatory dropped it immediately after the ACLU came knocking). And if the improved test score numbers are real and it is working for the majority, what do we do? We don’t really know how detrimental it is to the minority that doesn’t fit the model yet as there definitely will be some social pressure against opting out. So should these public schools keep continuing their models?

This reminds me of the post when I talked about whether it is okay to send inmates to churches instead of jails. It’s a different approach to solve the problem, and it’s something that certainly lies in the ethically ambiguous area, but if it works, it certainly warrants more attention. Sure, test scores are not everything, but if this approach really helps the boys catch up on reading, is that really a bad thing? And according to many interviews, this method seems to help girls gain confidence and encourages them to ask more questions in class (this, to me, is less genetics and more society, stupid boys) – and that’s not really a bad thing either is it?

We live in a society where the most politically correct thing is to not enforce stereotypes and gender roles, and this is why a lot of people (me included) find this idea repulsive. But these educators are trying to use inherent differences to help, and what if this approach encourages more boys to pursue poetry and more girls to pursue science? The schools that employ this method argue that will eventually be the results.

Perhaps there is a better solution – test individual kids and determine which child goes to the “reading focus” and which child goes to the “math focus,” but then that will divide up the students even more and inevitably lead to accelerated classes for more talented kids and “remedial classes” for the ones behind. And whether that is ethical or not is a whole other discussion.

The KKK Mile

So here’s the briefing:

The KKK wants to adopt a highway in Georgia; the court said no, and now the KKK is suing.

And many people are upset about many things.

Some are upset that the KKK did not get the right to represent itself (this group includes the KKK and the ACLU–strange alliance), and some are upset that the application was even considered (Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials).

A similar case has happened before– the KKK in Missouri was able to adopt part of the highway after Missouri’s state rejection was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2005. Though the KKK sign was sawed down twice and the highway was later renamed as the Rosa Parks Highway.

In the Georgia case, however, the application was denied because the state court believed that “promoting an organization with a history of inciting civil disturbance and social unrest would present a grave concern” and could “have the potential to negatively impact the quality of life” of people in the county and state. The court further concluded that the sign would be a distraction to motorists.

At his point I am sure you are curious, so here are some interesting adopt-a-highway signs.

Some of these adopt-a-highway signs are very distracting in my opinion. Yes, the KKK has a racist and violent past*, but using this as a basis for the judging seems subjective and there certainly are organizations that fall in the grey area.

Does the state government have the right to determine what sign is “too offensive” to be posted? It definitely has the obligation to protect the minority, and like Christian suggested, driving pass a KKK sign everyday is extremely uncomfortable for African Americans. But to what degree should the government protect the offended? Should the government step in for Confederate signs in a black community? Or crusade signs in a Muslim suburb? Communist signs for veterans from the Vietnam War? Or planned parenthood in a conservative Christian community? Or pro-gay right organizations in say, my home state Alabama?

This also begs the question: What is the ethical implication of denying groups like KKK the right to clean roads for free? We don’t mind jailed criminals cleaning our streets – and the fact that KKK is offensive to the majority of the people should not be a reason why they shouldn’t be able to represent their views. At the same time, we don’t allow offensive license plates either (“KKK” will most certainly be denied as a license plate).

The KKK claims all they want is to clean the roads, though if they really want to do that, they wouldn’t be asking for a sign. The spokesman also maintained that they just wanted to use this as another way to assist the community (the word “another” is quite alarming). But if all we know is that an organization wants to adopt a highway, it’s hard to say no basing solely on the offensive claim.

Because of freedom of speech, Westboro Baptist Church can protest legally outside of veteran funerals and American Nazi Party can stage peaceful marches with police protection. It is extremely difficult to accept some of the resulting actions, but such is the negative consequence of freedom of speech. So why can’t KKK adopt a highway?

 

* KKK has changed their stance to white loving instead of color hating, do I believe that and do I think that is a legitimate thing? No, but that is their official stance.

Grades: a D or an F? I’ll take an F please.

Oh, you’ve heard the old adage that less is more. We all know that it’s wrong. Why would you want quieter speakers, a slower computer, or less money? Everybody knows that more is indeed more. But more doesn’t mean better, as some students in a California school are learning.

Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch, California opened two years ago with a new premise-abolishing Ds from the grading system. And in many ways, it makes sense-nobody wants Ds, and they’re perched right between the permissible C and the dreaded F. But alas, in practice, this system didn’t work—high school students (and their parents) became frustrated with the failing grades some of them received, which lowered their GPAs. As a result, the district finally decided to add Ds back to the mix, and as a small gift, retroactively changed every single F into a D. Great, right? Nope. While it did raise the GPAs of students, it also prevented them from retaking subjects that they had previously failed. Obviously, many of these students actually wanted the F—by having a failing grade, they were allowed to retake classes, something that a barely-passing D didn’t allow them to do.

So in a situation like this, what is a school to do? Bring back the Fs? Change the policy and allow students with Ds to retake classes? This is not an easy question to answer, and there is a cost to each option as well. If the school allowed students with Ds to retake classes, wouldn’t this hurt students who had just barely gotten a C by not allowing them the opportunity to retake a course? And how well do grades truly demonstrate differences in knowledge? Does a 71% take significantly more effort or knowledge to earn than a 69%? From my perspective, it seems like the best way to solve this problem is to allow all students to retake courses, regardless of the grade they received. It isn’t fair to give a group of students a second chance simply because they did poorly the first time they took a class. If a second chance is given, it should be extended to all students.

The ramifications of this extend well beyond a student’s freshman transcript; in today’s increasingly competitive world, we often look to standardized measurements (like grades and test scores) as shortcuts to find optimal candidates for jobs and positions. At a place like Duke, it is easy to see how important these standards are. While these standards are often useful and efficient, we must also consider the shortcomings. For example, grades don’t demonstrate promise or dedication, and they don’t inherently take into account improvement over time.

We’ve all been in that instance where we are on the border of a better (or worse) grade. We know how much of a difference these small indicators make. And as a result, it is our responsibility to look (and live) beyond these standards. We should accept them, but we should also look at them as just a small part of who an individual is.

Stop “Stop Kony 2012”?

I can’t resist.  I’m going to add my two cents to USA Today, Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, etc. about Kony 2012.

For those of you who haven’t seen the viral (or infamous?) video yet, it’s worth half an hour of your time:

Continue reading “Stop “Stop Kony 2012”?”

Eagle Dad and Tiger Mom

A video showing a Chinese dad forcing his son to run essentially naked in the snow has gone viral recently. The boy cried for his dad to hug him and instead his father told him to do pushups in the snow. It is a “training regimen,” the self-proclaimed “Eagle Dad” told the media, for his pre-maturely born son and that he has cleared this Navy SEAL-like routine with the doctors beforehand.

Quite a regimen for a crying four-year-old.

I’m sure this immediately reminded many of the Tiger Mom, the Yale professor who published a memoir of her controversial Chinese parenting style,* she used to teach at Duke, too. I would be terrified to have her as a professor. In fact, though it is a small sample size and certainly biased (remember, only angry people go online and post), here is her rateyourprofessor profile, with a five being the highest score.

It seems clear that both the Eagle Dad and Tiger Mom want the best for their kids and are implementing measures they consider most effective. It’s just that their measures are…extreme (Chua admitted that she has called her daughters garbage at times).

This certainly draws parallels with the “Botox mom” I wrote about last year, though the botox mom turned out to be a liar and just wanted attention and money, a similar question persists: what do we do in these kinds of situations? What makes Tiger Mom’s and Eagle Dad’s cases different, however, is that the children demonstrated clear forms of resistance.

So how do we determine the “mother-knows-best child abuse?” (Tangled, anyone?)

The Eagle Dad was not teaching his son how to make snow angels, but he has cleared it with the doctors beforehand to make sure his son’s health will be okay. So how do we say “that is bad” and at the same time saying that forcing our kids to take bitter medicine when they are sick is “good?” Or when we force young children to go through the difficult gymnastics training knowing that it is better for them in the long run?

I am certain that the value judgments on these parenting styles differ in cultures as well. Though Eagle Dad has created an uproar in both China and the U.S., Tiger Mom’s book has created varying opinions in the two different countries.

Perhaps the hardest thing to swallow is the fact that these harsh parenting techniques may be working. The Eagle Boy is, as far as we know, currently physically healthy despite pre-mature birth, and the Tiger Girls turned out to be phenomenal according to multiple sources. When I really think about it, it is really hard for me to rationally tell the dad that he is wrong when every part of me wants to put him in jail.

P.S. Some other things to think about: Asians and Asian American students have incredibly high cheating and suicide rates.

 

*Here’s an excerpt from an essay Chua wrote:

“Get back to the piano now,” I ordered.

“You can’t make me.”

“Oh yes, I can.”

Back at the piano, Lulu made me pay. She punched, thrashed and kicked. She grabbed the music score and tore it to shreds. I taped the score back together and encased it in a plastic shield so that it could never be destroyed again. Then I hauled Lulu’s dollhouse to the car and told her I’d donate it to the Salvation Army piece by piece if she didn’t have “The Little White Donkey” perfect by the next day. When Lulu said, “I thought you were going to the Salvation Army, why are you still here?” I threatened her with no lunch, no dinner, no Christmas or Hanukkah presents, no birthday parties for two, three, four years. When she still kept playing it wrong, I told her she was purposely working herself into a frenzy because she was secretly afraid she couldn’t do it. I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic.

 

 

 

Fight “Fat” with Fear

“It’s no fun being a kid when you’re fat.”

“It’s hard being a little girl when you’re not.”

This is the rhetoric used by the Strong4Life Obesity Campaign recently launched in Georgia.  According an  ABC news article, the campaign uses negative portrayals of obese children to “scare” parents into awareness about the issue.

Continue reading “Fight “Fat” with Fear”