Friday, March 30, 2007

Abstinence Jack Ass is Gone!

Good News! Here's what I had to say about him several months ago.

Today it was announced that Eric Keroack, the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs has resigned!

The press statement from the Department of Health and Human Services stated that Keroack's resignation comes in response to action taken against him by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Office of Medicaid.

Planned Parenthood strongly opposed Keroack's appointment to oversee Title X, the nation's family planning program because of his stance as anti-birth control and anti-sex education. Prior to his appointment, Keroack served as the medical director for A Woman's Concern (AWC), a network of so-called "crisis pregnancy health centers" in the greater Boston area. In addition to their strict anti-choice policies, under Dr. Keroack's supervision, AWC health centers did not distribute, encourage the use of, or offer referrals for contraceptive drugs and devices.

PPFA wrote letters to Members of Congress and asked more than three million activists and supporters to petition Secretary Leavitt to rescind Keroack's appointment.

We will continue to keep you updated on further developments.

The statement from the Department of Health and Human Services is pasted below and attached:

Assistant Secretary for Health
On the Resignation of Dr. Eric Keroack, Director of the Office of Population Affairs
Yesterday, Dr. Eric Keroack alerted us to an action taken against him by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts' Office of Medicaid. As a result of this action, I accepted his resignation as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Population Affairs. The Department will move forward as expeditiously as possible to fill this position.
Via Planned Parenthood.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

More on the Distinction Between Feminists and Man-Haters

A few days ago I sketched out some of the differences between being a Feminist and Man-Hater to set the record straight. Another salient distinction came to mind after I discussed J.S. Mill's The Subjection of Women. We turned to a discussion of the various customs and institutions that perpetuate gender roles that work against political equality for the sexes. A student brought up the unfair policies toward men and paternity leave. I acknowledged that indeed this was a problem for many men who would like to spend quality time at home with a child. That, of course, led me to a further discussion of how the workplace is structured in such a way that makes it nearly impossible for parents to spend any time with their children. I also pointed out that they needed to consider who had the power over crafting leave policies at workplaces!

Then we talked about how men fare in divorce, particularly custody issues. Here is where I would like to make another important distinction between Man-Hater and Feminist. I pointed out how many if not most men do not get custody (even partial) of their children in a divorce (see Fatherneed). The default reasoning for this is not, contrary to what the Men's Rights folks thinks, the product of the feminist revolution. Rather, the reason courts award children to the mother results from patriarchal thought. The idea here is that women are more naturally predisposed to take care of children: make sure they eat on time, get to bed on time, get to practice and whatnot.

It is Man-Hating to say that men are naturally incapable of taking care of children. A student in my class passionately argued that a court should never award 3 children to a 35 year old man. Her reasoning: men are too irresponsible to take care of children. I asked her if she believed that all women were necessarily better equipped to take care of children. She didn't answer right away, but I am sure she said "no."

But then my student proceeded to argue that women were more naturally predisposed to know how to take care of children, i.e. make sure they eat on time, get their rest, have structured play. I was totally taken aback. I can't think of even one of my friends with children who said, "hey, this is easy; it's like I was born to do this." My point was that the only way that men or women learn how to take care of children is by doing it. If women believe that men cannot take care of children, and then don't give them lots of opportunities to learn how, then they will find themselves doing the bulk of the labor of raising children.

Feminists want to see that the division of labor in childcare is equitable. Man-Haters want to rob fathers from any meaningful opportunity to take care of their children. Man-Haters are far more plagued, furhermore, by sexist gender roles than feminists.

P.S. It should go without saying that I don't think that violent and abusive men should be awarded custody. But the grounds for a man being violent and abusive are not established based on marital spats, which lead to a divorce.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

On Why Men Don't Study Abroad

Sure, many men do take advantage of study abroad opportunities, but not enough. I have been debating with folks this semester why men don't like to study abroad, and what it would take to get more of them overseas.

Here are some of the reasons that I have heard for why men don't study abroad:

(1) Men are not mature enough. [The coordinator of study abroad programs at my school has started targeting junior men and trying to get them abroad by their Senior year].

(2) Men are not independent enough. [True example from a International Education Administrator from Denmark. A young man came over to Copenhagen to study for a semester and got lost on the first day of classes. He called his mother from downtown Copenhagen, who then called the office of the school (while he was on the other line) to ask for directions to his first class for her son. Second example: a colleague of mine led the Lancaster study abroad semester and told of how a young man brought a huge duffel bag full of food that his mother packed, fearing he would not find adequate nutrients in England].

(3) The courses offered by study abroad programs are too liberal artsy--they are "art history" or "literature" courses, not math, science or engineering courses that more likely appeal to men.

If (2) is largely responsible for why men don't study abroad, then we have a very difficult problem on our hands. What I want to know is if men are coddled by their mothers because (1) or because of entrenched gender roles. Why doesn't the mother simply tell her son to get a map, ask directions, or go to the office to ask for directions about where his class is?

Are men really incapable of this kind of problem-solving? If so, then how do they end up in all the "power positions" in culture?

My money is on the ways in which mothers participate in socializing the male gender role, i.e. not encouraging them to ask directions lest they look weak and not in command (although this pose oddly depends up female labor doing this work so as to allow a man to appear in control).

My mother used to confess to me that she never thought she needed to coddle me or help me, but always felt compelled to do so for my brother because of a deep sense that men are more fragile. I find this intuition, coming from a mother, so interesting. It is counter-intuitive. You would think, given the cultural messages that women are incompetent, that mothers were far more guilty of coddling their daughters, but instead they infantilize their sons.

And yet, infantilizing sons teaches them that women are there to take care of all the practical details of their lives: directions, food, home--so that they can do real work. Infantilizing daughters, when it occurs in the media (though oddly not at home) gives the impression that women are untrustworthy, wholly dependent, and not good problem solvers.


P.S. (3) bugs me as an explanation for why men don't study abroad. I am sure you can figure out why.

UPDATE: Most of the commentors thus far have rightly pointed out that I have shown no data that substantiates the core claim here: that there is a gender gap in study abroad programs. To correct that, here is a dissertation on the issue. I wrongly assumed that this trend in higher ed was widely known. Here is an older piece from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Here Comes A Renewed Attack on Working Women

Putting your child in daycare might lead to disruptive behavior well into 6th grade, according to a huge study financed by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

The research, being reported today as part of the federally financed Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, tracked more than 1,300 children in various arrangements, including staying home with a parent; being cared for by a nanny or a relative; or attending a large day care center. Once the subjects reached school, the study used teacher ratings of each child to assess behaviors like interrupting class, teasing and bullying.

The findings are certain to feed a long-running debate over day care, experts say.

“I have accused the study authors of doing everything they could to make this negative finding go away, but they couldn’t do it,” said Sharon Landesman Ramey, director of the Georgetown University Center on Health and Education. “They knew this would be disturbing news for parents, but at some point, if that’s what you’re finding, then you have to report it.”

The debate reached a high pitch in the late 1980s, during the so-called day care wars, when social scientists questioned whether it was better for mothers to work or stay home. Day care workers and their clients, mostly working parents, argued that it was the quality of the care that mattered, not the setting. But the new report affirms similar results from several smaller studies in the past decade suggesting that setting does matter.

“This study makes it clear that it is not just quality that matters,” said Jay Belsky, one of the study’s principal authors, who helped set off the debate in 1986 with a paper suggesting that nonparental child care could cause developmental problems. Dr. Belsky was then at Pennsylvania State University and has since moved to the University of London.

It goes without saying that the findings of this study are going to cause a lot unrest on the part of parents and inspire a lot of retrograde vitriol on the part of social conservatives. So, rather than contest the findings of this study--something that I will leave to the social scientists to do--I will assume that the findings are accurate. So the question is now what?

Many, if not most, women have to work. And, many, if not most, workplaces do not accomodate schedules of mothers or fathers, for that matter. It seems to me that the best use we could make of this finding is figuring out how to restructure the institution of work to help parents spend more quality time socializing their children. The lesson to be drawn from this study should not be to further guilt working women. It should be a clear indication that our insane work hours coupled with the prohibitions on having children in our public spaces is anti-family values.

If I come across arguments that link the results of this study to a vindication of the traditional view that women should stay home, I can only respond by asking why on earth the findings of this report don't lead to the conclusion that more and more men should stay home? Or why not conclude that both parents should be paid by the state to socialize their children until they are ready for school?

Brace yourselves mommies! Looks like another reason to feel like shit.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Torture, Justification and the Limit Case [Guest Post]

By Jeff Maynes

Kerry's post at Subversive Christianity and Aspazia's subsequent discussion of it here has generated interesting dialogue on the issue of torture. Both Kerry and Aspazia registered shock at the fact that 18 out 22 students in a seminar on torture argued that torture, in some circumstances, is morally justifiable. Aspazia (as well as several comments) speculated that the students responded in this way out of a callous distance from instances of torture. This post contains two parts. In the first, I will advance a theory that explains the rationale of these students, and argue that it has little to do with personal experience or callousness. In the second, I will lend prima facie defense to the claim that the “ticking bomb” case is nevertheless not morally justified.

The question asked of the students in this seminar was “is torture morally justifiable?” There are two ways to understand this question. The first is “is there any feasible circumstance in which torture would be morally justifiable?” and the second is “is there any conceivable circumstance in which torture would be morally justifiable?” The political issue is bound up in the first of the two questions, where our concern is with law. I suspect, however, that it is the second of these two questions that the students answered.

To answer the second question in the negative, the students have to argue that it is necessarily the case that torture is immoral. A necessity claim can be refuted by counter-example. So it would be unsurprising if the students approached this question by looking for such a counter-example, and to find one, they looked at a limit case. It's a situation that strips all of the other variables out of the equation, and probably something along the lines of a “ticking bomb” scenario. Consider the following scenario; you have two choices, and two choices alone, either (a) torture one person and save a thousand lives or (b) do not torture one person and allow thousands to die. If we are interested in a question of feasible circumstances, then this scenario is easily dispelled. It is a false dilemma, it rests on mistaken assumptions about the effectiveness of torture, etc.

But what if this isn't the question at all? If the students are searching out a limit case for the ethical judgment, then this is a pressing issue, and one that deserves an answer. Further, it is a legitimately difficult philosophical question, because it has been stripped of everything except a classical ethical question – is any evil act ever morally justified? The initial question about torture can be taken in such a way that it isn't really about torture at all! As a result, the personal experiences students have had about torture (whether through education or insulation) are stripped away. These questions only come in to play if we interpret the question such that the students are asked, “would you ever sanction an actual or feasible act of torture?” Instead, the utilitarian calculus is the obvious method for making an ethical decision in this case, and when the crank is turned, it is likely to tell you that torture is justified in this limit case.

I am not a student in Kerry's class, and so I do not have any evidence that these particular students took the question in the way I have proposed. My point, rather, is that we ought to be aware of the ambiguity in the question because a conflation of feasible circumstances with logically possible circumstances makes torture much easier to justify in practice even when the argument only holds for a logically possible situation. These are distinct questions, and need to be kept distinct in debates over torture, because admissible answers in one circumstance do not necessarily apply in the other.

I turn next to Patrick's question, which he posted in reply to my initial comment on Aspazia's post. I speculated that in the limit case, we could claim that both actions were immoral. He rightly pointed out that I waffled about whether one ought to torture, even if it torture is an immoral act. The same disclaimer I offered in my comment applies here, I do not have an argument that can defend my speculation in a satisfactory manner, nor can I answer the deep moral issue about whether an evil act can be morally justified. Nevertheless, I can offer some cursory remarks which might make my solution more palatable and which will highlight the complexity of this issue.

The position clearly hinges on three issues – what one ought to do, what counts as moral, and what counts as morally justified? These are intricate and difficult concepts, and as I said, I am merely gesturing towards a way of addressing the problem. What I wish to suggest is that “moral” applies to types of action, whereas “ought” applies to action tokens (or maxims prescribing action tokenings). In this case, torture, as a general practice (let us assume a general and accepted definition) is a type of action and torturing in the limit case is a tokening of that type. This gives a clear answer to the question, that in the limit case, torture is what one ought to do, though torture nevertheless remains categorically immoral.

The first question that one would rightfully ask is, what good does this do for us? Haven't you just justified torture sans the “moral” label? This is a fair question precisely because this is exactly what the picture does. So what good is it? The value is that moral responsibility is saved. The person in this limit case situation has had poor moral luck, but is nevertheless morally responsible for either decision he or she makes. This notion of moral responsibility, then, can be used to justify laws on torture. The limit case is irrelevant to the universal immorality of torture, meaning that laws proclaiming torture universally illegal are ethically justified. Further, it serves an important purpose in guiding behavior, which is perhaps the most important function of ethical rules.

From whence does the ought derive? The obvious answer is from the utilitarian calculus, but what justifies using utilitarian calculations in a case where both choices are immoral? Simply put, we have to make a decision, and therefore we have to ask which immoral decision is the better one to make. Since the choices are strict and clear in the limit case, and a decision is mandatory, we do have to make a moral decision. The question is not, however, which action is morally right, but rather, which action is morally preferable? The utilitarian calculus then, is the tool used to make this unfair and difficult decision. The ought of individual action tokens tracks morality, but comes apart in cases where no moral outcome exists.

I am under no delusion that this brief sketch will have convinced anyone of the truth of this position. In fact, I'm not convinced of its truth myself. There are a number of open questions (can ought and moral come apart? should they? do we wish to accept that individual actions do not admit of morality?, etc.), which undoubtedly the many intelligent readers of this blog will identify and critique. The reason I have presented it is to shed light on the complexity of this question and to stimulate discussion on possible solutions. The complexity of this problem is central to the aim of this post – that the answers' from the students are not particularly shocking, because they, like many people dealing with ethical theory, are trying to make sense of the question 'is an evil act ever morally justified?' This is a question that does not admit of an easy answer, but it is also a question that can be kept distinct from questions about actual instances of torture-decisions provided we are clear about the parameters of our inquiry.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

No Wonder! Patriotic Correctness Censorship in High Schools

After reading this NYT article on a Wilton, Conn High School principal canceling a drama production about the war in Iraq, my reaction was: "no wonder!" So many of my students hail from CT and similar school districts. I had surmised that many of them came from very affluent and homogeneous neighborhoods, but I was naive enough to think that their high school teachers and administrators were interested in giving them a good education. Not so, at least, not in Wilton, CT.

Principal Timothy H. Canty canceled the production of a play entitled "Voices of Conflict," written by and to be performed by Wilton students. The play was comprised of a series of monologues of soldiers, near in age to these H.S. students, sharing their perspectives on the war. The play would've connected these students to the reality of the world and the war. But, the principal pulled the plug.

He cites all sorts of reasons to the press and a free speech lawyer partially defends him. But, at bottom, if this is what principals do in high schools, then no wonder our students show up at college with deplorable ignorance about the world.

I thought the days of Patriotic Correctness were over. With the Dems taking over congress during the last midterm election, I thought it was clear that the nation no longer supported Bush's war. Not so in Wilton.

One of the most annoying criticisms launched at this production was that the students were not sophisticated or mature enough to be illuminating the rest of the student body about this issue. And yet, teenagers their age are fighting in this war.

Perhaps what this article has done for me is to question the wisdom that the best schools are to be found in affluent neighborhoods.

Friday, March 23, 2007

On the Distinction Between Feminist and Man-Hater

I had to write this post today because I take deep offense at women who call themselves feminists when all they really are are man-haters. It happens. Let's admit it and confront it. I am not sure that this real phenomena is responsible for the pop culture view that feminists=man-haters, but I'll leave that for someone else to figure out.

To make my point, I am going to use anecdotes (look I am a phenomenologist, if you want to hear what the "facts" are then go read a sociologist's blog).

Case #1: A female faculty member with vaguely conservative politics (anti-welfare, anti-African-American studies or Latin American studies, etc.) styles herself a feminist before inhumanely and harshly cutting down the male faculty in her department. Every man in her department is, necessarily, a sexist pig out to ruin her life and must be castrated. She in no way participates in any Women's Studies programming, she does not ally herself with progressive movements that want to fight sexism, racism or classism. She abhors colleagues with children and complains that they are getting "extra" compensation that she isn't because they are "breeders."

Case #2: A woman in a marriage with a man, who is perhaps passive or a bit oblivious. She doesn't respect his choices, ridicules his flaws (without consulting how she herself might be flawed), and proclaims that whenever he disagrees with her that he is a sexist. She conveniently uses "sexist" as a way of gaining power of a rather ineffectual husband. This case is particularly dangerous if such a woman conveys this sort of attitude toward her children. A man is not a sexist if he disagrees with your, or points out when you have been unfair or mean. A man is a sexist iff he is trying to control you out of a sense of his inherent superiority.

Perhaps some of you can think of other cases. My basic point here is that there are indeed women who have gained control over men, unfairly and ruthlessly, by asserting that the men were sexist pigs. When women do this they are no friends of the feminist movement. They also send very harmful and damaging message to younger people about inappropriate ways of treating men.

I have written about this before, but by embracing feminism, I am not embracing a worldview that sees all women as pure victims of maniacal males. Being a feminist does not mean all women are off the hook for what they do. Being a feminist does not prevent me from pointing out (see above) that some women are ruthless.

Feminism should mean that women are no better or worse than men are. In the pre-feminist days women were either the eternal feminine or chattel. Neither option left women with much humanity. Feminism should be about restoring humanity, including all the foibles and weaknesses, in our pictures of women. Women are not ruthless because they are women, from a feminist stance, they are ruthless because they are.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

On Being Indifferent to Torture

Kerry has an excellent and haunting post up on torture, more specifically his experiences of teaching about torture. He writes:

Last semester I taught a seminar for senior philosophy majors on torture. It was a grueling experience for all of us. We combed through personal accounts from torture victims and perpetrators; we looked at UN and Amnesty International documentation on the prevalence of torture throughout the world today; we forced ourselves to explore the details of "favored" torture techniques; we read all the pertinent ethical analyses of torture, focusing especially on the "dirty hands" and "ticking bomb" justifications of it; we spent a great deal of time examining the psychological and spiritual disintegration experienced by torture victims--Elaine Scarry and Ariel Dorfman were especially helpful here; and we investigated "enhanced interrogation" and "extraordinary rendition" practices in the U.S.
There were 22 students in the seminar. They all worked hard, and I know that the material we went over frequently disturbed them immensely. I liked all of them. They're all good, decent, smart, well-informed people.
In our final meeting together, I invited each of them to share, now that the seminar was over, whether they thought torture was morally justifiable. One by one, each of them spoke. And when it was over, 18 of the 22 had said "yes." For them, at least under certain circumstances, torture was justifiable. Yes, yes, torture was a horrible thing. Yes, it was shocking. But for the sake of national security, it might be morally justifiable to do unspeakable things to one person in order to save others. In fact, it might even be morally obligatory.
In nearly 25 years of teaching, I've never been so shocked.
I am with him on this. He concludes with some speculations about why knowing more about torture simply does not make you more outraged that torture exists. But, ultimately, he is at a loss over why so many of us refuse to confront what a horrific damage torture does to persons and why it is one of the most abominable things we can do.

I wonder about this too. I have often wondered about it in a more, perhaps, mundane context of pledging for Sororties or Fraternities. I am amazed by how people who have actually been tortured by these experiences just chalk it up to tom foolery. Why would you ever want your precious child subjected to this horrific treatment. And, more importantly, why do we foolishly believe that we would emerge unscathed from torture, that we could move on and put it behind us?

In general, I wonder if I am just not made for this planet. I seem to lack a thick layer of indifference that might shield me from awful truths. I am too raw. But, I find it hard to believe that our students are so well insulated. Perhaps they are able to "justify" torture, because they truly believe that it will never happen to them. It is a form of magical thinking. And, more depressingly, a profound narcissism. They can care, suffer, and wince for the horror another experiences, but only to a point, because at bottom they are perhaps young enough, lucky enough, or foolish enough to think it will never happen to them.

It is downright distrubing to think that compassion or exasperation only flows from those who have already been injured (especially because being injured does not necessarily lead to those outcomes, it can make one more callous). I hope I am wrong about this.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

On the "National Security Begins at Home" Bill: Sadistic PA Immigration Reform

I just caught the local news and the big story of "Immigration Reform." Apparently 4 Republican lawmakers unveiled an immigrant reform package entitled "National Security Begins at Home." These bills aim to prevent illegal immigrants from coming to PA by restricting them from almost all social services or privileges. One of the lawmakers in favor of this bill, Rep. Jim Cox, argued that there was noting harsh about this bill, it was quite simply a "strict enforcement of the law." Another Representative, Daryl Metcalfe, argued that illegal immigrants were harming P.A. citizens. The idea is that by allowing illegal immigrants to get health care at our hospitals we are costing PA taxpayers millions of dollars.

I hear these sort of anti-immigration arguments all the time and I generally shake my head and turn the channel. But this new proposed bill really bothers me. The idea that we would simply deny people working and living in our country access to healthcare is unconscionable. And, Rep. Cox's cavalier attitude is downright frightening to me. Who elects these people? What you have here is a distortion of the facts, aimed at startling PA taxpayers enough to support utterly inhumane legislation that further harms immigrants--whether legal or illegal in this country--and fuels racist sentiment.

Every time lawmakers go after illegal immigrants, and especially when they title their attacks "National Security Begins at Home," they are painting a bullseye on any immigrant that lives in PA or elsewhere in the United States. While the lawmakers stated purpose is to prevent illegal immigrants from crossing the borders, the unstated purpose (or to be more charitable, unintended consequence) is to fuel public intolerance to brown people with accents. Whenever you see news stories run about illegal immigration, you never see a handsome Swede or a young German woman working as an au pair. You get either images of "dirty mexicans" or jihadist Arabs. This fearmongering legislation effectively creates racism. When you hear repeated, over and over again, that illegal immigrants are costing tax payers and getting something that they don't deserve or that these same illegal immigrants are being incarcerated for other crimes, then you are teaching your average resident to resent if not hate these people. Consider what Rep. Metcalfe said:

"The taxpayers are picking up the tab, whether it's incarcerating illegals who have committed crimes or it's paying for health care benefits for illegal immigrants that are tapping into our system -- or if it's paying for the education of the illegal aliens' children that are here."

The ACLU of PA have helpful "talking points" to combat this kind of hateful distortion of how immigrants affect PA citizens. What is worth noting, in particular, is that illegal immigrants commit fewer crimes that native citizens and are going to prison "in smaller proportions than their share of the population at large." But, hey, as Rep. Cox says
"I personally don't think it's harsh. I think it's strictly an enforcement of the law. And if we stick to the law, we're not going to be caught up in the emotional argument."
I love it when people who use fear tactics and emotionally charged "arguments" turn around and say things like, "hey, stop being emotional about this, its a simple legal issue." You have politicians misrepresenting the immigrant population, teaching citizens to see these people as a threat to national security, wanting to deny them the few services they do have, and then you have the balls to say it's not harsh. Of course these same politicians fail to mention that these same immigrants pay Social Security, Income Tax and Sales Tax. To do so would be too level-headed, to evenhanded, and thereby less effective in persuading ill informed, down on their luck, PA citizens to support their sadistic legislation.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

On Being a Silent Witness

I promised new content and I haven't been able to make good on that promise until now. I was harried all day with work and barely had time to breathe. I am supposed to be grading right now, but I am seeing today's entry as much needed therapy before I plunge back into work.

What has been preoccupying me today is how often we are our own worst enemies. I don't necessarily mean that we sabotage ourselves or we sell ourselves short, though we do that too, but rather we harm ourselves when we believe that we have all the skills and answers we need to get through difficult times.

I was writing a letter of recommendation today for a student and the letter required that I describe how she handles difficult situations. When I thought about this particular student, it occurred to me that she handled stress and uncertainty well, precisely because she knew how to ask for help. She didn't try to weather the storm all by herself or wall herself off from others, wanting to figure out the answers on her own. Her ability to seek for outside help strikes me as fundamental to well being.

So many of us resist seeking help or advice from others because we believe it makes us vulnerable. Well, it does. But, what is wrong with being vulnerable? Why do we inherit this horrible view that to ask for help is to be weak, to let down one's guard and expose what we are not presently capable of resolving? I would say that this sort of behavior is gendered, i.e., that men exhibit it far more than women, but I think deep down it is fairly equally distributed. Perhaps men are less likely to seek help or advice for those things that define masculinity, i.e. career, finances, home improvement. But, it seems to me that women are as guilty of refusing help on matters that define femininity. Maybe I am wrong, but . . .

Nonetheless, I can't help being baffled by this. Mind you, I am not exactly excellent at seeking help. But, I see how damaging it is in others. You watch someone struggling with a problem, with grief, or with uncertainty, and then refuse comfort, help, or just plain witnessing. And yet, without that support the problem magnifies. The magnification mostly takes place in one's own mind. Without any outside perspective, without context, and without the wisdom of others, we let our anxiety create monsters that then try to slay us.

How do you tell someone that whatever it is they think they are accomplishing by going it alone, they aren't? You can't. When I first read the work of Martin Heidegger, particularly Being and Time, I was helped by his distinction between "leaping in" and "leaping ahead." The former is the tendency we have to try and rescue others from themselves, from their anxiety. By leaping in, we take over the struggle, we try to solve the problem for the other, and consequently we don't truly respect her. Whereas the leap ahead is a way of empowering another to withstand the anxiety and to work through it to find new possibilities of existence. Perhaps leaping ahead is like being a silent witness to someone too bound up with what is immediately preoccupying them to see the vast horizon in front of them: the wealth of possibilties and paths she can explore.

But how do you leap ahead?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

From Ladette to Lady: A New Moral Therapy [Guest Post]

By Metapsychologist

I watched Season Two of the British ITV show From Ladette to Lady (rebroadcast in the USA on the Sundance Channel) with rapt attention. The Eliza Doolittle basic premise is simple: take eight working-class badly-behaved young women and send them to Eggleston Hall finishing school so they can become more feminine and classy. Each week one of the girls is ejected from the Hall, until the climax of the series when the remaining ones go to a debutantes' ball, and we see whether they can pass for real ladies.

The show itself is remarkably uncritical about its own assumptions. 18-year-old tomboy Clara Mayer lives with her father and works as an engineer, and the etiquette teachers hope that she can lose her masculine manner. Becky Squire, 21, is sexually promiscuous at home, and hopes to change her behavior. Vicky Jenkins is a tanning salon manager, and at 21, spends a large portion of her income on drink. In fact, nearly all the girls seem to be serious drinkers. We see the beautiful Louise Porter, 19, getting drunk and then shouting and fighting. Francis Rowe, a 19-year-old hairdresser, has recently had breast implants, and she flashes her boobs in public at just about every opportunity after she has had a few drinks. Ladies are not meant to act that way. The women are portrayed as out-of-control, the despair of their families, and lacking in civilized qualities. By becoming more feminine and less working class, they will become better people. This entails learning highly coded skills: how to lose their accents and take on more refined speech; flower arranging; cooking; walking in a ladylike fashion; keeping up a polite conversation with men they might hope to impress; and of course dressing more demurely and prettily. While the women's former behavior does seem excessive to the point of dangerousness, the remedy of a finishing school is a return to the values of an earlier era--maybe the 1950s.

The sexism and classism of the show are not so surprising: this is after all prime-time British Reality TV (Thursdays at 9pm), which has brought us such gems as Pop Idol, Big Brother, Survivor, Wife Swap, Strictly Come Dancing, and Who Wants to be a Millionaire. It's not known for its subtlety. What's more interesting about the show is its silence about the reasons why these young women behaved so badly. One of the upper class men who spends an evening with them says it is in their blood--presumably referring more to their class than their gender, as if class and degenerate behavior is a genetic trait. Others will prefer a sociological explanation, and undoubtedly the phenomenon of ladettes is linked to the rise of "lad culture" in the UK.

Whatever the causes, the extreme drinking, promiscuity and anti-social behavior of the girls will seem pathological to outsiders. Despite the retrograde nature of the finishing school, it is also a form of moral therapy for a lifestyle that would generally seen as a medical problem in contemporary USA. By moral therapy, I mean the sort of treatment for mental illness that was used at the York Retreat by William Tuke at the end of the Eighteenth Century. People with severe mental illnesses were given occupational therapy, education about Quaker principles, and were, reputedly, treated with kindness. The activities assigned to the girls in From Ladette to Lady -- the flower arranging and cooking -- were close to occupational therapy, and the girls also received plenty of moral education. The ladettes are chastised by their teachers in firmly moral terms when they mess up, as the TV show's producers make sure they do, and at least once for every show.

I have mixed feelings about this. One the one hand, it's appalling that a TV is using people who seem to have some pretty major emotional problems -- substance abuse, lack of emotional control, poor self-esteem, rage -- for entertainment purposes. It makes viewers into visitors to the asylum, gawking at the inmates, and a clear example of Reality TV moving one step closer to an old-fashioned freak show. On the other hand, it is a now a radical idea that we could treat these emotional problems with ethical training and kindness, rather than sending the girls to mental health professionals, and it's a welcome change to see such non-medical solutions being offered. Despite my ambivalence, I do know that I'm already looking forward to Season 3, which is being made this spring.

Ranking Philosophy Programs

Sorry folks, I have been doing the Spring Break thing and therefore not much blogging. But, today my friend Noelle, over at Gone Public alerted me to her post comparing the different ranking systems for the top Philosophy Graduate Programs. Some of my students might find this interesting and informative.

In general, the Leiter Report, which seems to have become the source for choosing graduate schools has been under great suspicion from its inception. Noelle raises this question again.

I should return to some new content tomorrow!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Houdini Oneself Out of That Straight Jacket: Do it For Your Daughters

You really ought to go read SteveG's post today on Clinton's total failure to reject General Pace's warped worldview. (Pam at Pandagon makes clear the Obama dropped the ball too and only John Edwards got it right).

I am going to blog about something else: the straight-jacket of gender roles on career women who also happen to be mothers. I happened upon this article in the Boston Globe via Amanda. Kris Frieswick, the author of this piece, deserves applause for a no nonsense look at why women, who outearn their husbands, still do the majority of housework and child duties in marriages. Rather than toe the "opt-out" revolution line or other sexist arguments that women "choose" to earn less than men to devote more time with their children, Frieswick makes plain that what is at work is gender roles. That's right. It's not mother nature (the classic explanation of the patriarchy) that draws women out of the workforce and back into the home. Nope. It's deeply entrenched gender roles, passed down by one's parents and social institutions, that lead to an internalization of patriarchy.

This article is not about women who opt out. This article is about women who work long hours, earn more than their husbands, and still let their husbands crash on the couch watching ESPN after work, while they run the vacuum cleaner. My Dad was just telling me that he witnesses this in his new partner, who is the breadwinner and still has to pick up the children, make dinner, and handle all domestic duties, while her husband heads out to the movies.

Frieswick argues:

Some experts attribute this phenomenon to what they call "gender deviation neutralization." By "deviating" from established gender roles by outearning the husband, the wife believes she is emasculating him. Men largely define their maleness by rejecting femaleness, so he refuses to be further de-maled by doing housework. The wife, meanwhile, feels so guilty for emasculating her husband that she overcompensates by taking on even more of the traditional female roles to act more "feminine" so her husband will feel more "masculine." Et voila! We've got a female CEO cleaning her toilets at 2 a.m. because she feels too guilty to hire a housekeeper or demand that her husband do it.

Witness gender deviation neutralization theory in action. Marney (who asked that her last name not be used) is a sales operation manager in New Hampshire. She is the primary breadwinner in her family. Her husband, who earns half of what she does, handles the after-work child care for their young daughter because he gets home hours earlier than his wife. But when it comes to housework, she still does it all. She says she'd like him to contribute more, but "that's a conversation that hasn't happened because it's just understood because of how tired he is after a day at work and time with our daughter that he's just too tired to do the housework, so I do it." Isn't she tired, too, after a 12-hour day at work? "Yeah, but I still manage to get things done around the house."

But there's more to the story, and it explains why Marney's voice is taut, controlled, and flat, yet on the verge of tears as we speak. "My husband is from a family of stay-at-home moms with husband breadwinners," she says. "They don't understand what my life is like." She says her mother-in-law has "called me selfish to my face" for working so many hours, and the entire family is highly critical of the amount of child care her husband does, especially when she travels for work. I ask why they don't respect the fact she's the primary breadwinner. Turns out her husband's family has no idea she's the breadwinner because neither she nor her husband has told them. "I promised my husband we would never have that conversation with his family," she says. (Hence her request not to use her last name.) "I don't want to embarrass him. He doesn't want that information to get out."

Here's a woman willing to put her sanity in jeopardy to protect her husband's ego. She is convinced she is setting a good example for her daughter by working so hard and because her husband feeds her dinner every night. It doesn't occur to her that she's also teaching her daughter that protecting a man's ego is more important than defending her own right to pursue a satisfying career and, oh yeah, support the family. This is how gender roles get perpetuated.
I read and reread this passage. Brilliant! I want all my female and male students to pay attention to this phenomena. More importantly, I don't want my female students perpetuating these roles by modeling them for their daughters and sons. I am not saying this is easy stuff. An internalized gender role, perpetuated at all levels of society, is not easy to shrug off. I have always been somewhat taken by Peter Kramer's wacky (perhaps disturbing) argument that Prozac, taken as an enhancement drug, might be one way to help women rebel against this role. Therapy could work too. Whatever it takes.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"That's So Gay": Hate Speech?

Vanessa, over at feministing, has a post up on what schools should do to curb the behavior of teens who use the phrase "that's so gay." This phrase has been around a long time and it lives not just on high school, middle school, and elementary school campuses, but is regularly uttered by my undergraduates.

According to Vanessa, an elementary school in Fresno suspended a student for uttering this phrase at a soccer game and then sent a letter home to parents, directing them to have conversations with their kids about appropriate use of language. The ACLU responded to this case by insisting that context matters. I am with the ACLU on this one.

While I no longer hear a harmless phrase being uttered when young kids or teens say "that's so gay," I am fairly confident that most of those who say it are not overtly homophobic (Vanessa considers this homophobic speech). One of the commenter's on feministing's post equated the phrase "that's so gay" with "that's so black" or "that's so jew," but I don't see it. I think the proper analogy would be phrases like "you gypped me." When a child or adult uses that phrase, it is certainly not present to their mind that they are disparaging Romani (gypsies). Sure, the phrase has a history rooted in the racist attitudes toward the Romani, but as Nietzsche ("On Truth and Lie in an Extra-moral Sense") or Derrida ("White Mythology") show us, metaphors tend to become "dead" in language and thereby hide, for users, their origins.

What is also interesting about the phrase "that's so gay," is that 50 years ago, the phrase would've meant "that's so wonderful." Language is essentially metaphorical and dynamic. I think that one reason why so many of us lefties abandoned the "political correctness" movement was due to our realization that if you dig deep enough you will find that almost all speech is tainted with the racist, sexist, classist, imperialist, ad nauseaum attitudes of our cultures. Sure, WS folks still try to avoid using the word "disseminate" to refer to the influence of ideas and most of us, out of respect, but there is no punishment for using that phrase in your scholarship, lectures, or conversation. (God help us if there was!)

While we want to encourage young children to grow up tolerant, I think this battle against the phrase "that's so gay," is a waste of energy. Hell, I have heard my gay students use that phrase. I am hard pressed to see it as an example of hate speech, although the more mature one gets, the less likely one is to use such a phrase at all. Can you imagine a Board Meeting in which a member rejects a proposal by saying "that's so gay"?

My approach would be to educate the users about the connotation of that phrase and how it might be unintentionally offensive to gay people. Help students make the connection. But, to try to quash this sort of speech with suspensions is, to my mind, to make this phrase all the more powerful. What kid doesn't love to trangress boundaries in this way?

New Blog on the Block

I ran into an old friend at the SAAP conference in South Carolina, and she told me about her blog: Gone Public: Philosophy, Politics and Public Life. This will be of especial interest to those readers who spend a lot of time thinking about what Democracy is, should be, and why it is important.

Check it out!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Stop Cowing to Bullies and Define the Debate: On Enhancement Drugs

I am visiting my Dad right now, which is not a bad way to spend my Spring Break. After getting off the plane, eating some yummy fish, we sat in his backyard talking about school and studying. I was recounting to him the post I put up on how to stop whining and do something to help our students, and we turned to what the college culture was when he was in school. What blew me away was how incredibly similar his college experience was to what I see among my undergraduates. The study-aid drug of choice, however, was Dexedrine, rather than Ritalin and Adderall. He told me of some Mormom students he knew who would stay up all night playing cards on Dexedrine, since that was not prohibited by their religion.

When my dad got to Medical School, he said there were literally barrels of speed pills to help docs stay awake. He also made it clear that those who used speed to get ahead in their classes usually prevailed and their grades went up.

I meditated on this story last night as I was going to sleep. For whatever reason I have been obsessed with psychopharmacology and enhancement for the past 5 years. I just wrote a short comment for an organization I am member on about this issue, and the psychiatrists either ignored or rejected the reality of people seeking out drugs for enhancement purposes. In fact, some of the psychiatrists suggested I focus on something more productive like clinical ethics.

But, I am not interested in that. I am interested in a culture that has been seeking psychopharmacological tools to get ahead for 45+ years. Perhaps what the psychiatrists were rejecting in particular is the idea that people would seek out antidepressants for enhancement. Yet, they are generally arguing against a strawman. They think that to seek antidepressants for enhancement purposes is to seek "happy pills." I have never argued, nor believed, that people seeking antidepressants think they will be permanently happy all the time. I think they seek them out to blunt their more raw moods and thereby get more productive or at least be more socially tolerable. And, they are able to do so now because the cultural message is that socially intolerable traits can be medically excised.

The evidence of the "enhancement" lies in the goal for seeking antidepressants: to get along better with others and be more productive. I guess the hestiation to call this behavior enhancement comes from the anticipation that the psychopharmacological Calvinist critic will automatically call this "bad." But since when do such critics get to own the moral discourse? Why is it necessarily "bad" to seek technological solutions to personal problems?

What I am left wondering is why the pervasive denial that many people now seek out medication, where before they could buy it at the drug store OTC, because they simply want to get an edge? Let's admit this happens and then have a real discussion about whether or not it should happen. Denying the reality of enhancement drugs is simply a bad cover-up job. Eventually the truth will come out and we will have to do a lot apologizing to the psychopharmacological Calvinists. Why not start owning the debate and showing how ridiciulous and unsubtle it is to simply call enhancement "bad"?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Women Soldiers Facing Two Battlefields

Via Feministe, I found this article, "The Private War of Women Soldiers," at Salon. Helen Benedict shares some of her research for an upcoming book on pervasiveness of sexual harassment, sexual assualt and rape in the U.S. military. Female soldiers find themselves facing unbearable catcalls in the mess halls, are afraid to go to the latrine at night for fear of being jumped by fellow soldiers or they are pressured/coerced into sex by commanding officers.

What is even more disturbing is how few avenues exist for women to seek redress for these injuries. In fact, in at least one case a rape survivor served time in a military prison for refusing to sign a statement that she wasn't raped.

Benedict ends this piece with following meditation:

It is for their comrades that soldiers enlist and reenlist. It is for their "battle buddies" that they risk their lives and put up with all the miseries of sandstorms, polluted water, lack of sanitation, and danger. Soldiers go back to Iraq, even if they've turned against the war, so as not to let their buddies down. Comradeship is what gets men through war, and is what has always got men through war. You protect your battle buddy, and your battle buddy protects you.

As an Iraq veteran put it to me, "There's nobody you love like you love a person who's willing to take a bullet for you."

So how does this work for women? A few find buddies among the other women in their squads, but for most there are no other women, so their battle buddies are men. Some of these men are trustworthy. Many are not.

How can a man who pressures you for sex every day, who treats you like a prostitute, who threatens or punishes you if you refuse him, or who actually attacks you, be counted on to watch your back in battle?

"Battle buddy bullshit," said GarcĂ­a from the Military Police. "I didn't trust anybody in my company after a few months. I saw so many girls get screwed over, the sexual harassment. I didn't trust anybody and I still don't."

If this is a result of the way women are treated in the military, where does it leave them when it comes to battle camaraderie? I asked soldier after soldier this, and they all gave me the same answer:


When I read articles like these, I immediately envision how the right wingnuts will spin a story like this. Most likely the line of argument they will take is that women don't belong in combat situtations (women are default fighting on the front lines since the lines of battle are far from clear in Iraq). Women do not belong in the military, so the flawed reasoning goes, because they are vulnerable to rape.

And yet, what is so unsatisfactory about this sort of tack is that there is nothing natural or inevitable about this situation. If you believe that men are incapable of becoming anything but vile rapists of their fellow soldiers in combat situations, then I fear your portrait of men is worse than any caricature that wingnut pundits make of femi-nazis. There is simply no excuse for this behavior and should never be tolerated.

The fact that it is tolerated may be rationalized as the inevitability of male sexuality under duress, but that narrative is clearly wrought by patriarchal privilege. That the military allows this kind of treatment of female soldiers is a clear sign that profound misogyny is at work in the military: the military simply does not value the humanity of its female soliders; they are makeshift prostitutes at best, and walking pornography a worst.

Lastly, let me point out how disturbing it is to think that these assualts and rapes have anything to do with pent up male horniness. This is about control, power, dehumanization . . .and this is what being in war does to soldiers. It robs them of their humanity.

I couldn't help be feel sick this morning as I turned on CNN, which was running a tribute to 4 dead soldiers. The parents, friends, and wives of these dead soldiers will never recover from their losses. And, it hit me deeply (more so than most days) how utterly depraved the President is to keep sending young people to their death, not caring for them properly when they return, and creating a generation of war wrecked men and women. Nothing about this war is good.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Oh, the Hypocrisy

Diomed: This is for you!

From NYTimes:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Newt Gingrich, who led the U.S. House of Representatives as it prepared to impeach Bill Clinton in a sex-and-perjury scandal, acknowledged in an interview released on Friday that he was having an affair at the time.

This is my favorite part:

Referring to his efforts as House speaker to oust Clinton, a Democrat, Gingrich said he was not judging the president personally.

Professional Philosophy: A Seething Cauldron of Ressentiment

Ressentiment. That was the theme of the last panel I saw last night that got me thinking. To summarize: those who hate others because, down deep, they don't feel "equal" to them are resentful. And, in Nietzsche's account, those who become resentful act out their resentment passive aggresively. They start to value traits such as "meakness" or "impotence," denigrating those who are forceful, vital, aggressive, and direct. Schopenhauer discusses something similar when he describes why we think those who are stupid are morally virtuous: we like to feel better about ourselves by surrounding ourselves with inferiors. To cover up this devious motive, we valorize those who are intellectually inferior and we, likewise, characterize those who are our intellectual superioirs as morally depraved/evil.

The paper in particular that I was stimulated by touched on ressentiment in the profession of philosophy. The presenter (Prof. S) proposed a hypothesis that many, if not most, philosophers (particularly in SAAP) are resentful of their perceived unimportance in Academia. Prof. S analyzed some data from a questionnaire that he sent out to SAAP members, and the results made me feel a whole lot better about my situation in academia. The majority of members queried felt they had been slighted by a colleague in the past two years, but did not own up to slighting a colleague. The members believed they were teaching at colleges/universities that were "beneath" their Ph.D. granting institution. The members believed that they had little to no power to effect the direction of their home institution as a philosopher, etc.

The upshot of this analysis was to consider how we can prevent those who are resentful from destroying the community. His aim was not to figure out how to "help" those who are resentful, but rather to neutralize them. He made the point that there are not a whole lot of disincentives to bad behavior in the academy. [How can you prevent the damage of ressentiment if it is indeed this widespread?]

I passed a note to "I," that I certainly didn't feel any of these things. "I" responded: "this must be what happens if you go work at a large research university."

Upon further reflection of this paper, I am struck by how depressing a picture this paints of my profession. I have been feeling rather restless since I got tenure. The fear is that I will be teaching for the rest of my life and doing nothing else to contribute to my field. I sometimes wonder if I should try another profession or move to administration. But, I think these desires come from feeling impotent in my field. And yet, I hear from this paper that most of the "big names" in Philosophy feel slighted, resentful, angry, and bitter. What's up?

I think a lot of this comes back to ambitiousness. Those who are ambitious in my field seem to injure a lot of of folks on their way up. They snub them, steal their work, poison their self-esteem, etc. Maybe they don't do it consciously; they are just convinced of their own right to be and to thrive and so believe that they way they are treating others is perfectly normal. If one succeeds in their quest to earn a named professorship and a large salary (by academic standards), then they have amassed quite a few enemies along the way.

My question is: are all of those enemies simply resentful? Are the bruised egos that the ambitious one trampled on to blame for their resentful nature? Are all those who succeed (by the standards I described above) Nietzsche's ubermenchen? Aren't some of them just more clever and devious bearers of ressentiment?

I guess what is really gnawing at me this morning is the question: why is ambition a pre-requisite for being influential in the field of Philosophy?

My other, perhaps more important, question is: if Prof. S's portrait of professional philosophy is true, then how on earth does anyone get a job? Do you have to demonstrate that you are not a threat to your colleagues? Do you play down your energy, enthusiasm and vitality? Do you play to the egos of those hiring you? And, where are the students in all of these considerations?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Philosophical Labs

I have been attending, for the very first time, the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy conference in South Carolina. So far I am impressed. In fact, why haven't I found this group sooner? What seems fundamental to the philosophers here is a commitment to improving the lot of fellow human beings. Interwoven into traditional panels on a major figures of the American tradition are "invited" panels dealing with such issues as the status of Civil Rights in South Carolina, the "Relative Universality of Human Rights," and a panel on incorporating service-learning into your courses. Part of what I am taking away from this group is a lived commitment to interdisciplinary work and action in the service of liberation. Now, that is my kind of philosophy people.

I attended a panel today on Jane Addams and boy, oh boy was I invigorated by the discussions of Hull House. What particularly caught my interest was the sense in which Hull House was a "laboratory." Philosophers don't usually have "labs," and yet we should. I think Service-Learning courses are good first starts, but what many of us need to do is connect our thought to praxis in substantive ways. More importantly, we need to provide these opportunities for students.

Now, I realize that not all who do Philosophy are interested in fighting racism/sexism/classism and strengthening democracy (not even all Pragmatists are), but those who do dedicate themselves to this work need to find ways to test out theories and amend them based on the trial and error that naturally occurs when one implements ideals in practice.

I look forward to reading more about Hull House.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

On Becoming a Male Feminist

I teach Intro WS to men as well as women, and frankly, I wonder far more (than I should) about how the material is affecting the male students than the female. Specifically, I want to know if they are become allies to feminism or are they sitting there, holding their breaths, waiting for class to end so they can get back to the real world? I don't know. Very few of them make big pronouncements that they are in some way transformed by this material.

However, I ran across this fantastic essay written by George Mason, who 'converted' to feminism, entitled Suffering in Silence at the f-word. I worry about using the word 'converted' for it gives the impression that feminism is a religious experience. But, it is true that political commitment to feminism sometimes require a change in consciousness. That is, it requires that you begin to look at what is in front of you everyday and challenge why, rather than rationalize it away.

How many other men, who read this blog, have had similar experiences as George Mason?

UPDATE: Here's one fine ally of feminism posting an homage and call to action in recognition of International Women's Day

Monday, March 05, 2007

Let's Stop Whining and Do Something about Our Students

Yesterday's post had the odd effect of getting me brainstorming about what might improve the intellectual atmosphere on my campus. The conversation on my campus, for the last few years, has centered on how to raise our profile, how to foster a more intellectual atmosphere, how to make clear to the world what a truly fine place this is for study.

Unfortunately, as a faculty, we don't do a whole lot more than complain about the low motivation and poor study skills of our students. Don't get me wrong. We have lots to celebrate about many of our students, especially in the last year. But, there is still a socialization process that seems to happen to the bulk of our students once they arrive on campus. I have always called this the "tyranny of the cool," a phrase which I stole from a Harper's magazine article (whose title I forgot). While many students might show up eager and hungry for intellectual opportunities, they quickly learn that such desires are not cool. Despite that, many of our students pose as social butterflies, but secretly work their tails off.

Lately, the faculty has believed that the way to turn around our students is to find administrators who "kick us up a notch." I have never seen this as a viable route to improving the intellectual atmosphere on campus. Maybe that will purge the "dead wood" among faculty (gosh! I hope I am not included), but it does little to invigorate and inspire our students. We, the faculty, are the ones closest to these students and we know their strengths and weaknesses.

What we don't seem to ever talk about, publicly, is how poorly prepared many of these students are for the rigors of our classes. Sometimes faculty just plain fail to grasp where students are coming from. After all, the majority of us are total nerds who decided to stay in school forever. We either already knew what sort of work was required of us, or some of us are just plain gifted. A good friend of mine has always said that the best way to empathize with what your students are going through in your courses is to study something you are not good at at the same time you are teaching. Those of us who are naturally gifted at the material often fail to comprehend why our students are struggling.

What we need to do, as a faculty, is start having real conversations about what our expectations are of our students, what we think it takes to succeed and excel in our courses and then communicate this message often and everywhere. This should be part of their FYS experience, it should be folded into FYS programs, and there should be on-going lectures and seminars aimed at students. We need to give them concrete, practical advice on how to succeed in our courses.

Who's with me?

UPDATE: I agree with virtually everything that Lesboprof says here and it is precisely these sorts of techniques that we all need to incorporate into our class time/lectures that can begin to make a difference. Rather than scratching our heads over why students keep failing our quizzes, despite the fact they "read the book," we need to figure out how they are "reading the book," i.e. do they know how to tease out important information/concepts/arguments etc?

Saturday, March 03, 2007

To Beat the Grading Blues

A colleague from the Bio department sent me this audio file of a real student calling the Bio department's office to complain about her grade. She never left her name.
powered by ODEO

What many of my colleagues will find amusing in this message is the phrase: "I studied all night long." Many students will find themselves bewildered by this. Why? There's the rub. I think what students count as "studying hard" is completely mismatched with faculty expectations of "studying hard."

Of course, the most disturbing aspect of this disgruntled student's complaint is her sense that paying a lot of money should entitle her to a good grade.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

It's Not About Race: Where Have I Heard that One Before?

In response to a debate in the comments section of my post entitled "Sorority Evicts its Fat Chicks to Recruit," Lauren, a DePauw Student wrote the following:

Wow, never have I seen so many "liberal-minded" people revert so quickly to mindless stereotyping. As a current DePauw student - and yes, member of a sorority - I can easily say that no one who has yet posted a comment on this issue at this site has a clue what they're talking about.

"What DZ nationals did was horrible. I have a number of friends who were among those asked or one of the 6 (not 2) who left the house despite being invited to remain. These women have faced not only the horrible stress of being told they cannot be active members of the sorority to which they gave their hearts, but also now media attention that is turning inaccurate. This was not motivated by race - it was motivated by image (which is, of course, bad enough, but not sensational enough for major news outlets.) And Greek life at DePauw is such that sisterhood exists even among those who are overweight, nerdy, and ethnic. If you wanted to see a chapter that overturned any idea of the sorority girl as a designer-clothes weariny vacuous skinny blonde chick, there are several on this campus, even after DZ closing, that fit the bill. Please don't blame Greek life for the horrendous acts of one organization's nationals. If any of you had experienced sister (or brother)hood the way myself and thousands of other students have, you wouldn't be so quick to leap to the stereotypes or so gleeful at jumping on this story."

However, many news sources (here and here) report that not only overweight women were kicked out, but also women of color were evicted.

Lauren's false dichotomy that it's not about race but about image strikes me as disengenous. Perhaps she doesn't want to admit that "image" is inherently about race? Or, she doesn't want to admit that racism exists in Greek life as much as any of our other institutions. In any case, in order to clarify for Lauren, and others, that "image" and "race" are not mutally exclusive categories, I direct you to watch this short film, "A Girl Like Me."

False Anti-Planned Parenthood Propaganda on Campus

Yesterday in my WS class a student informed me (and the class) that Consumer Reports has just published a study that claimed PPFA handed out the worst condoms, likely to fail 85% of the time. I was unprepared for this claim and immediately went back to my office to research it. I am writing a post about it here if, for no other reason, I want any students reading this blog to get the straight story on this and thereby not fear PPFA as a reliable contraceptive provider.

The student said it was this month's CR. But, my research indicates that the report was issued in February 2005. The reaction to this particular issue of CR was explosive. Anti-choice groups accused PPFA of using CR for issuing its propaganda (i.e. here, here, here, here, etc.) The argument manufactured by the anti-choice groups was the PPFA purposely handed out "bad" condoms to increase demand for their abortion services. The claim is ludicrous on the face of it, if anyone knows anything about PPFA's mission. However, the propaganda machines of the wingnuts have created the automatic association, in the minds of their blind followers, that PPFA=Abortion provider.

In addition to accusing PPFA of artificially manufacturing demand for abortion services, some groups attacked CR for doing the issue to begin with, particularly because the CEO used to work at a PPFA (I have no facts on this, anyone?). What I think really pissed of the wingnuts was that CR actually called out the misinformation published at the CDC website on condom effectiveness, especially in the preventing the spread of HIV and STDs (see here).

Now to the question of whether or not PPFA hands out faulty condoms, here is the response. Perhaps others who know more about this can weigh in and correct the record here. But, as I see it, worse case scenario, one of PPFA's condoms didn't fare well by the standards of the CR test. PPFA heeded this report, re-tested and reaffirmed that they offer the best condoms possible. Best case scenario: there was never a real problem here.

UPDATE: After running this post by the student who alerted me to this CR report, she pointed out to me that I had misrepresented what she said. So, to set the record straight: (a) she said that the CR article claimed that condoms were 30-40% ineffective and (b) that the CR issue was not recent.