Archive for June, 2013

O’ The Humanities

Posted on June 29th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

The NYT gets some interesting responses to Verlyn Klinkenborg’s essay lamenting the state of the humanities.

Here’s one good example of the humanities’ relevance: Harvard grad Jed Yueh, CEO of software company Delphix, was an English and philosophy major at Harvard.

And finally, I meant to post this WSJ tribute to Harry Parker, Harvard’s late and unquestionably great crew coach.

I’ll be in Mexico for the next couple of days; will try to post.

The Kids Are Not All Write

Posted on June 26th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

BusinessInsider reports on more bad news for the humanities and our children’s ability to read, write and speak clearly.

Parents don’t read to their children as much, K-12 humanities teachers are not as well-trained as STEM ones, federal funding for international education is down 41% over four years, and many college students graduate without being able to write clearly.….

Quotes of the Day

Posted on June 26th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

“There’s someone evil out there that saw what I had—and they wanted it.”

Paula Deen, on the Today show, today.

“I love seeing Bob Newhart around a bunch of Jews—it’s like Sarah Palin in a library.”

Joan Rivers, at the Friars Club tribute to Don Rickles (with Bob Newhart in attendance) on Monday night

“Alex should just shut the fuck up.”

Yankee GM general manager Brian Cashman, referring to $27 million-a-year player Alex Rodriguez.

“It’s hard to sell your economic agenda if they think you’re going to deport their grandmother.”

South Carolina senator Lynsey Graham, speaking on the immigration debate and GOP politics

Quote of the Day

Posted on June 25th, 2013 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

“In between the beginning and end of the work, I went for a motorcycle ride with my dad. He rode his Harley; I took my Triumph. He said he liked my bike, even if the engine did remind him of a sewing machine. That’s a Harley snob for you. It was a happy ride, following him along his back roads with the sun on my shoulders. I guess I have been cruising his back roads my whole life. I don’t regret it.”

—The novelist Joe Hill, writing about his father, the novelist Stephen King, in the acknowledgements to his new book, NOS4A2.

Nicely done, it seemed to me.

The End of English?

Posted on June 24th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

In the Times, Verlyn Klinkenborg writes on “The Decline and Fall of the English Major.”

Most of the students he sees are pretty poor writers, Klinbkenborg says. (Something I find generally true in my line of work; today’s young people can write a helluva snarky comment for Gawker; not so good at writing a lot else.)

They can assemble strings of jargon and generate clots of ventriloquistic syntax. They can meta-metastasize any thematic or ideological notion they happen upon.

Clearly they have been reading the Harvard Gazette.

Part of the problem, Klinkenborg argues, is that fewer and fewer students are majoring in the humanities.

There is a certain literal-mindedness in the recent shift away from the humanities. It suggests a number of things. One, the rush to make education pay off presupposes that only the most immediately applicable skills are worth acquiring (though that doesn’t explain the current popularity of political science). Two, the humanities often do a bad job of explaining why the humanities matter. And three, the humanities often do a bad job of teaching the humanities. You don’t have to choose only one of these explanations. All three apply.

That strikes me as a pretty reasonable explanation of the situation. I also think that the enormous and quick riches offered by Internet success lure young people away from the humanities—just one hit app and you’re a billionaire!—and all the discussion from rich tech guys about why kids should skip college isn’t helping either. Of course, sky-high college tuitions also push kids toward majors that seem more likely to translate into jobs than humanities majors……

Monday Morning Zen

Posted on June 24th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

On the tail of two sharks….Cozumel, 5.18.

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Sometimes Irony Bums Me Out

Posted on June 20th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

Yesterday Barack Obama was in Berlin, and he said:

….the fate of this city came down to a simple question: Will we live free or in chains? Under governments that uphold our universal rights, or regimes that suppress them? In open societies that respect the sanctity of the individual and our free will, or in closed societies that suffocate the soul?

As I listened to the president deliver these words, I couldn’t help but note that today it is the U.S. government, not the East German, that is spying on its citizens with a capacity—as Harry Lewis points out in his blog, the capacity to record every moment of every phone call made in the U.S.—that is far more powerful than was the ability of the East German government to spy on its citizens.

And speaking of walls… Today, the NYT reports that Republican senators are advocating a plan in which, in exchange for supporting immigration reform, the United States government will build another 700 miles of wall along our border with Mexico.

And this from a party which reveres a former president who once urged, to great effect, the tearing down of a wall.

As Tommy Lee Jones said to me when I interviewed him for 02138 magazine a few years back,

It’s a predatory approach to democracy by those who would instill fear and then propose themselves as a solution. It’s very destructive. Very, very destructive. And it’s the perfectly wrong thing to do.

First of all, it won’t work. You can’t build a fence that I cannot get over, through, or under if I want to go to Mexico. In that [border] country, you cannot do it. It’s a complete folly. Ecologically, it’s a complete disaster, and sociologically, it’s a complete disaster. It’s an act of fascist madness.

Yeah. It is. And yet Republicans are latching on to this idea as if it’s the greatest thing since nacho cheese Doritos.

“We’ve had a really good day,” Mr. Corker said Wednesday. “I feel good about where we are.”

This is a very, very dangerous group.

Cut to Black

Posted on June 20th, 2013 in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Tony Soprano’s final scene.

Is Online Education a Bubble?

Posted on June 20th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

You have to wonder when a former NBA dancer is starting an online education company…whose purpose is to help non-profit universities compete with for-profits.

It’s the online race to the bottom…

Some Issues in Higher Education

Posted on June 19th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Another report says that study of the humanities is in decline.

The report comes amid concern about low humanities enrollments and worries that the Obama administration’s emphasis on science education risks diminishing a huge source of the nation’s intellectual strength. Requested by a bipartisan group of legislators and scheduled to be distributed to every member of Congress, it is intended as a rallying cry against the entrenched idea that the humanities and social sciences are luxuries that employment-minded students can ill afford.

Of course, one of the early attacks on the humanities as lacking in utility and therefore unimportant was led by…Harvard, in the form of Larry Summers. Who is again being talked about as a replacement for Ben Bernanke, BTW.

Meanwhile, Matthew O’Brien writes in the Atlantic about how higher education is failing low-income students, despite the best efforts of places like Harvard (and Harvard deserves many plaudits for this) to support those students financially.

Aside from magnate [sic] school kids, [low-income students] mostly don’t have parents or teachers or counselors with much experience applying to selective colleges. Nor do many know, despite the best efforts of the schools to inform them otherwise, that the most selective colleges have very generous financial aid packages that can take tuition all the way down to zero. Indeed, Harvard is pretty much free, including room and board, for students whose parents make $65,000 or less.

Meanwhile down in New York, NYU is giving faculty stars low-to-no interest loans so that they can buy summer homes—like the one owned by NYU president John Sexton, who recently received a vote of no-confidence from his faculty.

And universities like Harvard and MIT are promoting a massive expansion in online education, which seems far more about university profit and professorial ego/profit than it does about conducting high quality teaching or educational philanthropy. Although some professors are apparently fired up about the “trove of data” they’re obtaining from the six-figure enrollments in these courses (number of students who finish them: 7), which starts to raise some interesting privacy issues. How long will it be before professors start turning this data to commercial use—just another way in which MOOCs are commoditizing students?

There are so many interesting and challenging issues packed into just these few items. I wish we’d hear more about them from some of the most august figures in higher education, including Drew Faust.