Monday, June 27, 2011


This "Can I Just Tell You?" segment was written and voiced by NPR's Tony Cox.

Some thoughts about school and the struggles black kids face. Lots of folks with lots of experience have lots of opinions about what to do to better educate young African-American males. Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates recently offered yet another glimpse into the issue, suggesting in a piece for the website The Root that the need is dire, which of course it is.

But for many of us in education — and to my mind that includes parents, family and friends — the problem is more than knowing what's needed. It's knowing how to get it done and make it work, how to get young African-American men not only interested but engaged in learning, and enjoying rather than dreading the journey. That requires a lot of commitment from them and from us, and there are no shortcuts.

Besides my work here at NPR, I am a tenured professor in broadcast journalism at California State University, Los Angeles. I primarily teach writing, and it troubles me to no end to see young black men struggle in my classes because they can't or don't see the value of an education and the effort required to obtain one. Records show black male students badly lagging in their graduation rates from colleges and universities. When we see them on campus, they often dress differently, speak differently, have different expectations, and in the classroom can sometimes be difficult to reach.

I get that life for them is tough, sometimes in ways that I don't fully appreciate, even though I grew up in the '60s in South Central Los Angeles. My challenges for survival back then are different in many ways from the hardships these young men face today.

That said — can I just tell you? Education was a very useful weapon in my struggle for survival, and I'm convinced it still is. Maybe more so now.

So how do we convince these young men that the sacrifice is worth it? What do we do? I've scratched my head searching for answers and then asked myself: What have you tried that's worked? A couple of things, actually, which come from my decade of teaching and remembering those who taught me.

The first thing is to not give up on these young men — no easy task when you're fighting with someone you're trying to help. Persistence is required of teachers because learning isn't like a light switch that you flip on and off. Success is more gradual, and it takes time to realize its effect and impact.

Secondly, recognize that each black male is different and deal with each individual accordingly. A hard push works for one, while a pat on the back or a kind word works better for another. You need to have more than one teaching "move" you can go to.

It's important to not forget history, because that history puts in context the ongoing sociological and financial disadvantages that many black boys (and girls) face from the outset in pursuit of an education.

That means teachers must fight for things like accurate and unbiased class materials and textbooks; encourage participation whenever possible; be firm and fair when assessing their skills; promote programs that offer opportunities outside the classroom through internships, scholarships, part-time jobs and community organizations; and be honest when talking to these young men, many of whom have already experienced enough of adult life to know a con when they see or hear one. They read teachers more closely than they read textbooks.

I know it's not that simple, but sometimes it's the small steps that have made the most difference in my relationship with students. Learning how to talk to my black male students — and how to listen to them without prejudgment — is a lesson that I had to learn in order to do my job better. All of which leads me to one last, important point.

Don't try this unless you're fully committed to making a difference. Because like my dad used to always tell me, "Half an effort is worse than no effort at all."

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Picking their next role: Joe College or hot young star?

Young actors face a tough decision: career or upper education. Some, like Emma Watson, think higher education is worth it. Others, like Blake Lively, skip it.

Actors college

Emma Watson, who plays Hermione Granger, of the "Harry Potter" films.

(Matt Sayles / AP / February 14, 2011)

Two years ago, Emma Watson was facing a quandary many young adults encounter: Is college worth it?

For most 18-year-olds, a university degree is an expensive but necessary investment leading to personal growth and a well-paying job. But for Watson, already a multimillionaire as a result of playing Hermione Granger in the "Harry Potter" movies, the calculus was more complex. Should she trade red carpets for Red Bull-fueled nights studying? Would the knowledge gained be as valuable as the roles she'd have to forgo? And was it possible for the actress to fit in with classmates who had watched her grow up on-screen?

Watson opted to attend Brown University — a decision that confounded Hollywood directors and publicists.

"I've had to say no to stuff that people have been gobsmacked about. I've had big directors say to me, 'What do you mean, you can't do this movie? We don't understand,'" the actress, now 21, said recently by phone from her native England. "I always hear, 'What do you mean she can't do this magazine cover?' or 'What do you mean she can't have this meeting for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?' And my agent will say, 'She's at school, sorry.'

"Yes, it's hard for me to turn down amazing opportunities. But I've been working solidly since I've been 9 years old. So for me, to have this space to learn and figure myself out a bit is obviously worth it."

Transitioning from child star to adult actor never has been easy. But the explosion of kid-oriented entertainment on cable TV and in the movies means more teens than ever are competing to make the leap into adult acting jobs. So opting to take time out for a college degree — never a requirement in Hollywood to begin with — seems increasingly difficult.

Blake Lively, star of the hot teen soap "Gossip Girl," faced the same decision as Watson but chose a different route. She said she dreamed throughout her childhood of attending an Ivy League school and worked toward that goal at Burbank High School, maintaining a 4.2 grade point average while cheerleading, joining a nationally competitive show choir, playing sports and being elected class president.

But when she began to find success starting at age 17 in the film "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," those around her pushed her to skip out not only on college but also the rest of high school. (She decided to finish anyway.)

"Everybody said, 'Strike while the iron is hot.' And everybody is so replaceable these days that to maintain your 'heat,' or whatever, you are supposed to put aside school," said Lively, who's now 23 and building a film career, including roles in last year's "The Town" and next weekend's "Green Lantern."

"One of the reasons why I wanted to do 'Gossip Girl' was because we had talked about giving me one day a week to go to Columbia starting the second season, once things slowed down. But things never slowed down. The show took off, and they were never able to carve out the time in my schedule. It still makes me sad every day that I didn't have that college experience."

As Lively discovered, choosing college can mean swimming against a tide of advice from family, friends, agents and managers, many of whom are quick to point out that many onetime teen stars — including Leonardo DiCaprio, Drew Barrymore and Scarlett Johansson — went on to big adult careers without attending a university. (Such members of an actor's inner circle, of course, might themselves lose out on income if a young actor decides to spend years at college rather than on film sets.)

"Nobody cares if you went to school unless you're on the business side of Hollywood," said Cindy Osbrink, head of the youth theatrical department at the Osbrink Talent Agency, whose clients include Dakota Fanning and her sister, Elle.

Complicating the decision further, Osbrink says, is that many young stars find that upon turning 18, their job opportunities suddenly expand because they no longer face restrictions on how many hours they can work as they did when they were minors. "It's a huge advantage to be a high school graduate of legal age" in the acting world, because 18-year-olds can often play younger roles, she said.

Brad Pitt, who attended the University of Missouri's journalism school, acknowledged that many actors develop into well-rounded people without a formal education. But he believes some performers who stop their schooling at an early age may be making a strategic error that could hurt them down the line.

"I worry for the young, young guys, because they haven't experienced enough to know not to get eaten up by the machine," he said. "I worry that they get defined before they really know who they are. … When they blow up too big at too young an age, they don't get the luxury to make the mistakes. They get defined and discarded."

Of course, some of Hollywood's most acclaimed actors who started in the business at a young age are college grads. Jodie Foster, 48, who studied literature at Yale, has won two Academy Awards. Natalie Portman, 30, who majored in psychology at Harvard University, won the lead actress Oscar this year for "Black Swan."

And James Franco, 33, who hosted this year's Oscars and was nominated for lead actor for "127 Hours," has been perhaps the most active actor-scholar of late: He is enrolled in Yale University's English PhD program and North Carolina's Warren Wilson College for poetry. In May, he earned a master's degree from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and Columbia University's MFA writing program, after already graduating from Brooklyn College for fiction writing last year.

Yet as Franco and some other actors have found, it can be awkward to be a celebrity on campus. Students are known to doze off during lectures, but when Franco fell asleep during a class at Columbia, someone snapped an embarrassing picture of him, mouth agape, that ricocheted around the Internet. Foster famously had two stalkers while at Yale, one of whom, John Hinckley Jr., followed her to the New Haven, Conn., campus and later shot President Ronald Reagan in an attempt to impress her.

Monday, June 6, 2011


In teachers we trust?
By Alexandra Nikolchev
June 3, 2011

A classroom in Shanghai.

Ezra Klein’s Washington Post blog recently featured a guest post by Columbia University journalism student Dana Goldstein entitled “Is the U.S. doing teacher reform all wrong?” Goldstein focuses on the findings of a recent National Center on Education and the Economy’s study, which compares education policies in five top performing countries — Finland, China, Japan, Singapore and Canada — with the United States. One of the main conclusions is that, basically, the way the U.S. recruits, prepares and evaluates teachers is completely out of step with this group of high-achieving countries.

Public schools in the United States have emulated the Teach for America model: Young, enthusiastic people are thrown into classrooms, often without any experience and little to no required formal coursework. There is no U.S. policy system that pairs new teachers with experienced mentors. Teachers are granted little autonomy in their classrooms and their performance evaluations are largely based on student test scores.

In contrast, teachers in top performing countries must commit to teaching as a serious profession before they enter their classrooms. Each candidate must first go through a system that requires high levels of training and education. As a result, teacher autonomy in the classroom is prioritized and there is less emphasis on student test scores.

The report concludes “that the strategies driving the best performing systems are rarely found in the United States, and conversely, that the education strategies now most popular in the United States are conspicuous by their absence in the countries with the most successful education systems.”

As the report suggests, understanding what systems are being implemented for teachers in academically high-achieving countries should factor into our own policy reform efforts here in the U.S.

To hear more on what might make a positive difference for U.S.teachers and education, watch our “Fixing Education” series of interviews. Need to Know sat down with educators and policymakers from around the world at the “Celebration of Teaching and Learning” organized by WNET in New York City. We wanted to get a global perspective on successful strategies for education reform. A number of those interviewed, including Finland’s Minister of Education and Science and Hong Kong’s Under Secretary for Education, echoed the sentiment that education is more effective when the teachers are well-trained and respected as professionals.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


Why do smart kids grow up to be heavier drinkers?
A pair of new studies suggests a correlation between intelligence and a thirst for alcohol. What's the connection?
posted on October 26, 2010, at 1:11 PM

Don't worry, all that excessive drinking is just a sign of your intelligence. According to two long-term studies — one American, one British — there's a correlation between smarts and a thirst for alcohol. The "more intelligent children in both studies grew up to drink alcohol more frequently and in greater quantities than less intelligent children," says Liz Day at Discover. Why might this be the case?

It's all about evolution: Drinking alcohol was "unintentional, accidental, and haphazard until about 10,000 years ago," says Satoshi Kanazawaat at Psychology Today. Smart people are generally early adopters and, in the context of human history, "the substance [alcohol] and the method of consumption are both evolutionarily novel."
"Why intelligent people drink more alcohol"

Alcohol makes up for boring early years: "I'm surprised" by the findings, says Joanne Hinkel at The Frisky, so "here’s my pop-psychology theory" to explain it: "All that studying in childhood repressed kids so much that they’re still trying to compensate well into adulthood for all that fun they missed." Granted, that's just a theory.
"Brain types booze more — are you surprised?"

Drinking is the only way to deal with morons: Smart people "booze so we can tolerate everyone else," says Greg at Food & Wine Blog. When sober, we tend to "take people’s responses at literal face value." But after a few drinks, "we can relax a bit, stop being so anal with semantics and let comments slide a bit."
"Speculative reasons why smart people drink more"


Why Do Young People Hate Their Jobs?

Most college students I have talked to are excited about the real world after school – excited about the work, the perks, but most of all, the freedom. In the real world, there are no tests or papers looming over their heads, no professors to answer to, no dealing with the stresses and dramas that invariably accompany the college experience. Yeah, college is fun, but there’s almost a mythic quality about life beyond college: it’s substituting the sweats for suits, the kegs for martinis, the hookups for a steady, sickeningly-attractive significant other… While college seniors go through the requisite nostalgia in their last few months as an academic, this nostalgia is still often dampened by lofty expectations for the next stage in their life.

Why then, do so many young professionals hate their jobs?

(I must preface this by limiting my observations to those in the field of business. Most would-be doctors I know are happily trucking away in med school, most would-be lawyers are busily debating each other in law school, and for the rest of my graduating class—those who are doing research in Bolivia or writing articles for Mother Jones—they seem, on the most part, relatively satisfied. Then that begs the question: are jobs in the business fields overly cruel, or are those people that go into business just overly hateful? Note: This observation also excludes investment bankers, who should expect to hate their jobs even before they start.)

Some theories:

* The College Hangover: For many young people, you’re thrown into the fire right out of school. You’re not used to waking up before noon and having to look somewhat presentable. You’re not used to being “on” all the time, every single day, at least five days a week. If only you could skip work without anyone noticing (like college lectures), and still get your big performance bonus…that would be the life. Of course, that would never happen, and thus the nostalgia for college never really goes away. However, the College Hangover only serves as a legitimate excuse for your first few months out of school… After that, if you’re still falling asleep at work in reminiscence of those college glory days, well, you should lay off the drinking.

* The Bottom of the Totem Pole: You were a pretty big deal in college… president of some organization, captain of some sports team, leader of the beer pong circuit. Now, you’re the entry-level analyst who is seen as the little know-it-all who wants to shoot straight to the top, but in actuality is only making a contribution as a master formatter or lunch bitch. You’re relegated to modeling (thankfully we’re talking only about Excel), and making sure that someone less smart than you looks more smart than everyone else. Of course, no one is as smart as us, so it’s a tough reality to stomach.

* Those Lofty Expectations: You thought it was going to be first-class, up in the sky, sipping champagne, living the life… Your job was supposed to be glamorous, impressive, and telling of your smarts, skills, and talents. You thought that you’d be challenged every second of the day; you would have interesting coworkers, exciting projects, and intellectual discussions. You’d be an integral part of the company, just short of the glue that holds everything together. Unfortunately, most of us don’t have interesting projects all of the time, and we certainly know a couple of coworkers who have a few screws loose. We don’t foresee the hours of administrative tasks and unrewarded legwork that is part of the daily grind. You start asking yourself why you are here, what you are doing with your life, and how you can get into a new role/company/industry that is way more glamorous than what you are in now…or so you’d like to think.

* Too Much Freedom: When you’re young, there’s an ordered sequence of how things happen. After pre-school you go to kindergarten. After kindergarten, you’re in first grade. After first grade… etc, etc. The proverbial “life train” goes through a predictable sequence: elementary school, middle school, high school, college—from A to B. But after graduating from college, you’re alone at the train station, and only YOU have to figure out where to next. Get on the banking train, or the consulting one? Marketing, or sales? It always seems like the other train is moving faster, with nicer seats and greener grass on their side of the scenic route to your future. Anxiety strikes. Uneasiness festers. Resentment grows. You end up curled up in the corner of the caboose, hugging your knees, thinking you should have become a doctor instead… at least that would’ve delayed the decision-making for a few more years.

* Your Job Actually Sucks: If you liked the train analogy above, then your standards for quality have obviously been lowered from your time spent on the job. Maybe all that modeling/formatting/Excel-ing is getting to your head. Or maybe your job actually sucks. Hey, it happens. Perhaps it’s time to go to business school then.

Regardless of all the reasons why many people hate their jobs, most of them are still in these jobs…so perhaps “hate” is a strong word. Only a few recent graduates I know have been so fed up that they decided to quit well-paying, respectable jobs and brave unemployment. Then, despite all the negatives, there must be some reason why we are still in the grind. Maybe it’s the money, or the benefits and perks, or the hope that things will get better. Or perhaps we are just paralyzed by fear that the next job will be worse. The main challenge is to balance the expectations of our jobs with a tempered ambition. There will always be days where unemployment looks preferable, but unless that starts to happen day-after-day, week-upon-week (meaning, Your Job Actually Sucks and you should start updating that resume), I’d say to just put your head down, put the hate aside, file it all under “Learning Experience”, and get to work.

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