Archive for the '[Science in Society]' category

"Winning" a Title IX case

The post below was written by a friend who has been through a lot in the past few years. I'm hosting it (was previously on pastebin) here to keep a permanent archive and also to make sure it gets seen. I am always shocked at what some universities will do to keep their "reputation" from being tarnished, while destroying those who build that reputation every day. And yet...
It's time we stop being shocked and start making sure this shit doesn't happen at our own universities.

Did I win yet? The papers I have in my hand tell me I've won. Liars have been revealed. Gossip spread about me was shown to be untrue. Misdeeds, harassment and retaliation that were all showered down on me when I participated in a Title IX investigation at my university were revealed. The committee that wrote the report got the major facts right. They named the folks who did horrible things. Some of these people opportunistically piled on me for betraying the 'reputation' of my university. And others were paranoid and crazy to begin with and thought they could gain something by just adding some colorful lies. But this little gem of a report I’m holding, it really managed to dig out the truth. Of course, there is nothing in this report saying any of the liars, gossips, slanderers or attackers should face consequences. The report just says I should not be punished. I should not face consequences for having been truthful in a sexual harassment and retaliation case.

A giant report that spans years of my life is now sitting in my office. It contains my emails. My social media. Testimony about who hates me, and every problem anyone on campus has ever had with me, because disagreeing with me makes me a less credible witness, I guess. The person who ran the Title IX investigation that allowed me to be pulled apart for two years is still working for my university. He allowed my integrity to be openly questioned amongst my peers. What the Title IX investigator actually needed was a statement about what I witnessed. But he took so much more. He took the word of the accused and made me the focus of an investigation. The Title IX investigator took these false allegations to my peers - people who were use to this faculty's harassment, who had justified it to themselves and collaborated with it - just to see if any of them had anything bad to say about me. My report now says the accused was wrong to try to divert attention to me in this way and the Title IX investigator was wrong to pursue me.

But the committee studying this whole thing says I won. Winning is an odd word to put with having paid a lawyer $10,000 to sit in a room with me while lawyers hired by my university asked about my friendships, my sex life, my funding, my marriage. They were also very keenly interested in knowing why was I such a bitch? I stared straight ahead thinking of the $450 and hour my lawyer was charging and wondered what part of my frontal cortex I could dissect and to not be a bitch under these circumstances. I stared straight ahead answering all their questions. For hours and hours. I wasn’t trying to be friendly. I was trying to be honest to the best of my ability and I was focusing intently on the truth.

It turns out this kind of intent focus made me both unlikable and, oddly, less credible. Which is interesting from a scientist’s perspective. I mean…..I don’t have to like you to look at a fact and see if it’s supported. I see many people who don’t like each other agree on science and facts. But lawyers, they get to write reports and discuss how much they like you.....how 'credible' you are. I wish I got a chance to tell them I didn’t like them much either.

Another fun fact about having the tables turned on you and being investigated by someone covering up bad behavior at your university is that you never get to call a single witness on your own behalf. Not a single person who could talk about the minority and mentoring programs I run. No one who can talk about the culture of horrific harassment, gossip and meanness that swirls around here and particularly around ‘women with opinions’. I would have liked to call a witness who could say that maybe this all started when I was at dinner and a senior faculty who collaborated with the accused and he asked me if I was the on top during sex with my husband. And that when I marched into my chairman’s office the next day and told him this was degrading, that I was, in fact, taking on decades of this kind of behavior at my university. That is was not an ignorant comment. It was a hostile culture. I left my chairman to handle it as he saw fit but in doing so, I opened the door to becoming ‘the bitch’. So much for a measured response.

The 'bad guys (and gals!)', the ones that piled on, have all gotten promoted during this process. The university has their back professionally. Having tenure will do that. But I won. I have a report that says so. What I don’t have is a raise, an apology or even an acknowledgement of what the administrators at this school did in an effort to get me to Stop. Telling. The. Truth.
The funny thing is, I would have gladly saved their reputation. At the outset, I wanted to be the poster child for how this process could go right. I was going to make damn sure it went right. It would be hard, but maybe I could help people see the bigger picture of what we needed to do for our students. Apparently no one thought of that. No one bothered to think I might want to help. Now I'm just some sort of weird academic PTSD poster child.

In spite of being a winner, I have to say, I haven’t been very good at my job during these past few years. I have been subject to multiple rounds of investigation. I check the boxes that need to be checked, move up the papers I can, but I use to write 6-8 grants a year. Last year I wrote none. It’s hard to have the energy just to go into work, and with writing a grant I might as well be willing myself to fly. I have no wings.

The university, well, they found in my favor.....mostly. They did want to mention that when they ask me about small details from 10 years ago that weren't even part of any investigation previously but the accused harasser 'just found', one of them found my answers confusing and insincere. Which seems reasonable since I was sincerely confused. And my confusion on this 'thing', it was a topic that had nothing to do with harassment, yet one panelist was so vexed by this 5 minutes of confusion that they repeat over and over under every 'charge' I faced, that my answers to events 10 years ago made me no longer credible. That, as you know, means that person doesn't like me much either. But here I am. It’s 2 am and I've won, dammit. Which is nice when you’re telling the truth and deans and lawyers have told you are lying for so long that the gaslighting has made you think you are a terrible person for pursuing this in the first place.

Early on, I was told by emphatically that not to talk to anyone about this case. I was not to talk to anyone to defend myself against these liars. Friends came to me desperate to help. And I told them to leave it. I also had no advocate to help me. No one to help prepare documents that took weeks to write and rewrite. No one to help me read testimony and put together timelines that would show people were lying.

But, here’s the thing, even in my testimony, I was only telling part of the truth. There’s a whole lot more no one even bothered to ask about. Just between you and me, everyday I walk around feeling like someone is cryosectioning my heart while it beats in my chest. Even worse, I have had people I love walk away from me. Because it’s too much to bear. My tears, my anger and my despair, they are simply too much to bear. They write emails and tell me they support 'my cause' but can't talk to me. I am now a cause. I just wanted my friends back. And there it is...this feeling as though I am having 10 micron sections cut from my heart, day after day, like some freak side show at The Bodies exhibit.

These three years taught me about how anxiety can take a fully capable and confident young scientists and make them sit in their car hoping to get the courage to go into work and cheer my students on, ever fearful they may see thru me. Afraid that my exhaustion, brokenness and sadness will one day over run my desire to see them succeed. I have cried every day since May 9th and many days before that. Sometimes I cry giant ugly fat tears of rage and despair. Other times hot tears of injustice. I have seven main kinds of crying. When you cry enough and you're a scientist, you start to categorize them. My family and friends have seen me turn from exuberant and engaged to shattered and with no clear career path. No one asks me to give their kids tours of the campus anymore because I just sort of mutter things and point at trees. I don’t have anything to say.

Tomorrow I'll talk to the Justice Department. They have assured me that they are the best of the best; that I have followed every step as I should have and now they will take on my university’s Title IX office. They tell me my university loves lawyers and fights hard against any punitive action or being forced to acknowledge wrong doing about sexual assault or harassment. I understood that pretty clearly a long time ago, but I guess it’s nice they confirmed it? The Department of Justice has also told me that the most severe punishment they can impose is to require more training for everyone at my university. Nothing public. Just everyone taking more training. I laughed when they said it. I asked them if they knew training didn't work for sexual harassers. People had studied it and it doesn’t work. Yes, they said…they do know that. I then wonder why I was laughing. Maybe I haven’t found tears for when the Department of Justice says you’re screwed even if you win?

It's 2 am and I’m sitting with my winning report in one hand and knife a friend gave me to protect myself in another. He sent it to me because the person accused of harassment also cyber stalked and intimidated me and my friends. He posted pictures on our account of him with his guns and called us out by name. He told my husband he “didn't have any plans” to hurt me or my children. Others told the committee that yes, he was obsessed with me, but they weren't worried-he couldn't be *that* dangerous. Many a sleepless night I’ve wondered how far I'm going to get with a guard dog and a 3 inch knife and a heart that is barely intact when this man finally goes into his inevitable rage. The knife won't do much. I know this. But I want my friends to know I went down fighting. I wonder when this man's rage will come out fully. Sometimes I’m 100% convinced that will be the day when this all becomes public, and I'll need that knife. On particularly bad nights, when I know he’s been taken to task for his bad behavior that day, I have friends check on me in the morning. To make sure he hadn't killed me in my home. I tell them about what’s happened that day, tell them where my diary is hidden that night and make them remember to tell the police to look him up first. I forbid my children to sleep in my bed. I desperately want to curl up with them, but it seems unsafe for them to be so close to me if he comes. This is what it's like to win your Title IX case.

Friends and the DOJ suggested I call the police. When I did, a very sweet officer came and sat in my living room and told me the kind of gun I should get. And how, when I had to kill the trespasser I was to say, "I was in mortal fear for my life" when the police come. Apparently juries and judges like that. I am, in fact, in mortal fear for my life. This is what it’s like to win a Title IX case.
And if, while I’m talking to the DOJ tomorrow, someone on my campus is be assaulted, the investigator who interviews them may be the same one that helped to turn the tables and make a Title IX investigation about me. He still works here. And he can decide to take a manila folder of information from the victim's assailant and investigate her, because maybe she too will have a credibility problem. Because that's how Title IX works. I should know. I’m a winner.

http://bit.ly/white_flag

19 responses so far

She's crazy!

Folks, there are lots of things that chap my ass, but few so much as the automatic defense of well know dudes when an accusation of inappropriate behavior is leveled by an unknown woman. You can count on it like the reflex of the leg jerking when struck at the knee. It doesn't matter if it's Woody Allen, some Neuroscientist with a long history that Vanderbilt has vowed to "vigorously defend", a major pillar of the science blogging community or a senior dude down the hall. Every time someone gets accused of sexual harassment you can count on a ground swell of excuses.

Every. Damn. Time.

Last week we even had a study published making it overwhelmingly clear that science has a problem. And yet the majority default reaction to accusations is to discredit the source. Maybe she didn't understand him or his culture! She's too tightly wound and he was just kidding! She's doing this to get her name out there or for money. I heard she's just crazy.

What goes seemingly unrecognized is that the penalty for reporting is SO high, that one just might have to be crazy to do so, even after enduring years of harassment. The easier path is to endure and leave as soon as you can with your degree/LoR/Paper/whatever. It's the path many choose, because the deck is stacked so heavily against them they stand to lose everything, regardless of the outcome. The false positive rate is vanishingly small, yet treated as the default.

And herein lies the problem. Sexual harassment is beyond tolerated to the point where it's almost encouraged because there is little to no penalty. Until we make reporting easy and effective - with actual punishment for this behavior - there won't be any improvement. The university will defend its lecherous men, science will revere its big names no matter what they did and society will defend the idea of the crazy accuser.

3 responses so far

Context is larger than an article

I'm often slow to the punch when things hit the internet, and as a consequence regularly avoid re-hashing things that others have covered better. Such was the case yesterday when the cover of Science hit the stands and others were quick to call bullshit, and zoom out a bit at a larger problem. Both of those posts are excellent and thoughtful and I would normally leave it to them.

But the apology by Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt sincerely rubs me the wrong way.

From Science Editor-in-Chief Marcia McNutt:
Science has heard from many readers expressing their opinions and concerns with the recent [11 July 2014] cover choice.

The cover showing transgender sex workers in Jarkarta was selected after much discussion by a large group and was not intended to offend anyone, but rather to highlight the fact that there are solutions for the AIDS crisis for this forgotten but at-risk group. A few have indicated to me that the cover did exactly that, but more have indicated the opposite reaction: that the cover was offensive because they did not have the context of the story prior to viewing it, an important piece of information that was available to those choosing the cover.

I am truly sorry for any discomfort that this cover may have caused anyone, and promise that we will strive to do much better in the future to be sensitive to all groups and not assume that context and intent will speak for themselves.

-- Marcia McNutt, Editor-in-Chief, the Science family of journals

16 July 2014

Context: Science cover caption -- http://bit.ly/1ytCpYW

So the idea here is that if we had only read the article first we would TOTALLY GET IT and be all "OMG, that's such a great representation of the story!" Whereas it's great that Science is admitting a screw up, they are still confused as to why people were upset. Does it seem like these people would have a different opinion if they saw the picture after reading the article? Yeah, try again Marcia.

2 responses so far

Engaging in creationism vs. evolution debates is anti-science

When I was a weer lad starting down the road of science, I used to think that any opportunity to engage creationists in debate was a Good Thing. We should take the education to them and show them how wrong they are! I was gung-ho and ready to pull back the curtain of ignorance on religion.

But then I watched some of these circus acts and realized very quickly that there is nothing to be gained here and everything to be lost.

I was unaware that there was a televised creationism debate on last night until my Twitter timeline was rapidly filled with scientists pointing out logic flaws in the creationist's arguments. My response: creationism STARTS with the suspension of reality. It does no good to treat it as anything more than a fairy tail.

The problem is that it is not a debate. A debate is an argument of two valid sides. It's the use of facts to make your option sound more appealing than the other person's. But the entire exercise is futile when one side has facts and the other side has only unsubstantiated belief. It's not even that creationists are bringing a knife to a gun fight, it's that they're showing up empty handed imagining they have a nuclear bomb.

These "debates" aren't constructive, helpful or useful to spread facts. Instead, they play right into the hands of creationists by lending false credibility to the very idea that the two sides are on equal footing. Do doctors conduct open public debates with faith healers? Do physicists debate astrologers or magicians? Do geologists debate flat-Earthers? Of course not! We don't give that kind of lunacy the public stage that we do creationism, but the absurdity of such "debates" is no different.

The FACT is that we can observe evolution in real time. Antibiotic, herbicide and insecticide resistance? How about the annual global migration of the flu? The very reason why vaccine development for diseases like AIDS and malaria has not been effective? All of these are examples of evolutionary forces we can observe, record and demonstrate. It's repeatable and crystal clear what is going on. It's not debatable. Either you are willing to look at the data or have decided you refuse to accept reality. There is no middle ground. The very act of engaging in these spectacles legitimizes the lunatic fringe and is anti-science.

So what do we do? Yes, creationism has gained a lot of steam in certain parts of the US and it's not just "the ignorant masses". Doctors, lawyers and politicians count among those who have chosen to ignore observable data for belief. But the thing is, you're not going to argue those people into submission. You're not not going to have a break through with 99.9% of adults who Believe. You can spend all of your professional time trying to shine the light of science into every dark corner and you will never reach every nook and cranny.

Instead we need to concentrate on the schools and youth. Educate the kids. This is the exact tactic creationists have been using for decades now, resulting in the level of acceptance you see today. How was big tobacco crippled? Not by going after the life long smokers, but by making it "uncool" to the youth. You'll never get them all, but educating kids is the best tool we have to less ignorant future.

In addition, I think it's critical to engage religious people who are not literalists. There are millions of religious people who do not take every word of the bible as fact and who are willing to accept science, and specifically, evolution. Thousands of scientists, including the current director of NIH, consider themselves people of faith. Science and religion are NOT incompatible and it will require the engagement of religious and agnostic alike, to ensure we educate the future leaders of our country.

22 responses so far

Guest Post: Five Reasons Why You Liked My Post

Following up on her post "The Worst Part Is Not", guest contributor Hope Jahren has asked me to post the following:

1. It Was Well-Written. Lordy lordy how well-written it was. Let’s all turn toward the East and say it together, loud enough to shake the walls where a certain book proposal is languishing on a certain desk. “HOPE JAHREN SURE CAN WRITE,” we bellow while choking back our collective sob. Someone should give that girl a goddam book deal.

2. It Didn’t Name Names. First Ofuck or Ofek or whoever-the-f*ck hate-spoke Danielle Lee and we were all like, String him up! How daaaaaare you! And the guys were all like, Let me at him! Then Borat or Boraz or Borehole sleazed up Monica Byrne and we were all like, Not Mr. Rogers! He’s a flesh-and-blood dude! He gave me peelings for my compost heap! He defragged my harddrive! Why universe, why? And the guys went kinda silent at that point (did you notice?). Then we looked at each other and said, Whoa this is complicated. Eventually we got to this place where we sure as hell don’t want him making decisions about women’s careers but we’d still probably perform CPR on him if we saw him lying in the street. Turns out he’s neither an angel nor a devil, just like all the other men I don’t know. Just like every sorry soul made flesh temporarily wandering this lonely dusty Earth.

3. You Needed to Read It. When we all started wringing our hands about What will happen to Dear Old Borat(^1) and Can the community afford to lose such a prophet as he and Will they repo his flatscreen, I started thinking “Why should we care more about Borat’s(^1) career than he apparently does?” Then it dawned on me that this is really about me. If you knew me better, you’d realize that most things are about me. It’s why I have so many friends and was elected Homecoming Queen for two consecutive terms in high school. I got all morose and guys-are-pigs and cancelled my subscription to Scientific American(^2). I began to dwell on how my whole life has been spent bandaging and rebandaging my sores from this kind of shit. Hell, I was sent out of the room in Kindergarten for already knowing how to read.(^3) Then I looked around and realized that, at that very moment, I was eating a papaya under a freaking rainbow. That changing the world is not supposed to be easy. That my life contains successes that my grandmother couldn’t even have dreamed of. That I am strong, and good inside(^4), and that maybe I can do something about this. Here we’ve got a guy who’s a dickhead who doesn’t even know he’s a dickhead cruising through life leaving a trail of crushed dreams and cold untouched lattés behind him. How many guys would quit doing that shit if they realized that it adds up to something really super hurtful? How many agents would clamor for my manuscript if they read a heartbreaking(^5) post on the subject? Then I took pen in hand.

4. I’m Not Going To Name Names. You probably got that vibe from my post. It’s not that I’m afraid, and it’s not that it’s not true (you got the G-rated version, dear reader). It’s that, well, apparently there’s more than a few people out there who think it’s about them. I get a HUGE KICK out of this.(^6) Send me some email and call me a c*nt. I won’t out you. Or maybe I will. I’ve got this thing next to my computer called a printer. Young folks nowadays tell me I can do this thing called a “shot-screen” or something. Ain’t technology grand?

5. The Real Message of the Piece is Still Working On Your Subconscious. We all read it. We laughed. We cried. We lived. We learned. That’s all good. But please don’t miss the point of the whole thing. Yes there’s sexual harassment in Science, and it’s sustained and it’s pernicious and it’s damaging. It didn’t drive me out of Science because sexual harassment is everywhere(^7). As if there’s some safe place you can flee to and be safe from it. I don’t mean to go all Second Wave on you(^8) but sexual harassment in Academia is symptomatic of the larger-scale dysfunctionalities between the sexes in our culture, and any address of them must be grounded in the fundamental tenets of women’s liberation. BUT (and this is a big, all-caps BUT) you can do something about this today. This “fundamental tenet” I keep gibbering on about is that Women Have Worth. You know that woman you work with or have in class who’s so smart she scares you? Who’s so good at what she does, she must already know it? The odds are that nobody has ever told her this. So why don’t you go do it? The endless stream of harassment and sexism is not what has stayed with me. It is the encouragement I got from people who didn’t have to encourage me, who could have said nothing. This is what I cling to during dark days. This is why I know I am not a c*nt for speaking out. The various monologues of inappropriate comments all ran together long ago like some tacky watercolor landscape. What I remember clearly were the people who stopped what they were doing to tell me I was special, and that they saw something important developing in me. This is what fortifies me. YOU have the power to fortify someone. Today. “You have done well, and you are good inside, and you will change the world.” I wrote you the f*cking script. What more do you want from me?

^1 Or Boraz or whoever-the-f*ck.
^2 I did indeed.
^3 Not that I’m bitter or anything.
^4 Somebody told me that once, and it stuck with me. More on that later.
^5 Your words, not mine.
^6 Remember the original disclaimer about me not being Mother Theresa?
^7 and because my Calvinist upbringing convinced me that I was predestined to be an important scientist with a beautiful lab full of magnificent beeping machines. Come see it sometime, it’ll knock your socks off.
^8 Or maybe I do.

Hope Jahren is a Full and tenured Professor at the University of Hawaii. She is on Twitter @HopeJahren. Her research page is here: www.jahrenlab.com. Her lab Twitter is @JahrenLab. She told her students she would take them to a fancy dinner on Waikiki if they got 1,000 followers.

One response so far

If you learn nothing else from this

Oct 18 2013 Published by under [Science in Society]

The first post was just dismissed as a misunderstanding. The second one made a pattern of behavior that was mostly harmless. And now the third. Holy fuck, people.

Misunderstanding? No.

Calculated and persistent predation obscured by friendly promotion? Yes.

If you're one of those commenters who claimed this was all blown out of proportion, go read Katleen Raven's post again. If you dismissed the first account as some one off misunderstanding, go read Katleen Raven's post again. If you felt like this was just a socially awkward man dealing with some personal issues, go read Katleen Raven's post again.

If only one thing comes of all this, I hope it is that people investigate claims of harassment thoroughly, no matter who is the accused. Realize that there is almost nothing to be gained by a woman falsely accusing a superior of sexual misconduct and everything to be lost, even when the claim is true.

15 responses so far

Insidious little ripples

Oct 17 2013 Published by under [Science in Society]

I've been quieter than normal this week. Not so much in this space, as my posting rate has declined dramatically in the last few months, but on twitter. Some of that is because of work and life, but mostly I've been watching the Bora story unfold. I'm not going to rehash it, if you need a primer you can find most of what you need over at Isis' place or on Gawker.

I haven't had much to add to the excellent coverage and brave stories of so many. I'm simultaneously horrified and saddened at so many experiences by so many in the online science world, be they as a result of direct interaction with Bora, or not. Every time I want to feel good that I am raising daughters in a world that is more aware of these issues, there's a reality check like this. I also doubt we've heard everything there is to hear in this instance.

Anytime there is a sexual harassment case involving a high profile individual in any community, there's a massive fall out. There's the obvious: the victims and the people close to them, the perpetrator and the people close to him. Perhaps less immediately obvious are the victims we will never hear from, for one reason or another. And then there's the conversation started by this tweet:

I urge you to go take a read through it. It speaks to a much larger issue that we have as a culture, which is simply boiling to the surface in the wake of the initial fallout. Like the rest of this giant mess, I'm still trying to come to grips with the extent of the problem and my role in trying to make the situation better. These are important conversations to be having and issues to be confronting. Unfortunately, it takes so many people getting hurt before we're willing to publicly broach these topics.

One response so far

Minority recruitment in biology

One topic I have been mulling over for a while but have resisted posting on is minority recruitment. Everyone knows that attracting grad school applications to life science programs from minority students is an issue, but the million dollar question is what to do about it. I don't have the answer and it is something I have been banging my head on for a while.

The problem of getting applications, in reality, is an institutional issue. If you look at any success story, such as the UMBC Meyerhoff Scholarship program, two things jump out: A university commitment to attracting and retaining minority faculty, and 2) Putting money towards minority grad student recruitment in the form of scholarships. The good news is that my university is already doing #2 and working aggressively (at least in my college, I can't speak for others) towards improving on #1. However, as it currently stands, we get next to zero (and actually zero last year) minority applicants for the life science graduate programs I am associated with. We have scholarships NOT BEING FILLED because we don't have the applicants. This drives me crazy.

Unfortunately, our college minority recruitment effort is aimed exclusively at undergraduates. When I talked to the individual in charge of this effort, it was clear that they had never considered grad students. The grad school also has someone in charge of minority recruitment, but in after a half hour meeting I was more convinced than ever that the grad school is ineffective in this charge and does not appear to have a strategy beyond "hand out fliers". At all.

So, how does a white male PI recruit minority students to his lab? IME, the only time I have been able to cultivate any interest has been after individual discussions at conferences. Even then, I can't compete with some of the programs that can swoop in and offer more money and a bigger name. The student needs to make the best choice for them and I need to continue to attempt to make my lab an attractive place to minority students. But the catch22 remains - it's hard to foster a diverse lab culture when applicants are so non-diverse. I'm going to see what I can do to help the recruiting effort this fall, so ideas and suggestions would be welcomed.

31 responses so far

How would you fix the debate format?

Oct 04 2012 Published by under [Science in Society]

If you suffered through the US presidential candidate debate last night, you got treated to a surprisingly timid President and a slick liar being "moderated" by a senior citizen who seemed like he actually thought he was in a bus station trying to ask for directions. It was a waste of time much of the country could have been getting some sleep. Jim Lehrer was, so why weren't we?

Last night's format was not only flawed, it was virtually unwatchable. So how would you fix it? I would implement the following:

1) Fact check ticker at the bottom of the screen for the TV audience. It would be too distracting to have it involved in the debate in some way, but since virtually everyone watching was doing so on TV, it would have been very informative.

2) Limit responses in length and enforce those limits. Lehrer's moderating was so toothless last night I thought I had tuned in to ABC's new reality show "Senior Citizens Gum Food". Either have the mics turn off at the end of time, or subtract time over from the next response. But in order to do that, you need....

3) A moderator who moderates. Self explanatory.

4) Better questions. Jim's "questions from the internet* and other sources" were not only predictable, but often left unanswered. An actual moderator might have helped, but let's get some real questions. How about giving each candidate the ability to ask two questions of their opponent and hold the candidates to answering them? We still don't have any idea where Romney actually stands on ANY issue, which might be a nice outcome of these debates.

What are some of the ways (excluding Thunderdome format) that you might improve these debates?

*As I tweeted this morning, Jim Lehrer was shocked to find out today that "the internet" is not the pet name for PBS's intercom system.

16 responses so far

What I learned from 7th-12th grade teachers this week

Once again this summer, I am teaching science teachers science. It's my second year helping with this program and it's something I enjoy (despite the crappy timing this year). There's no question that it is an eye-opening experience for me and I'm as interested in hearing what they are seeing as they are in what I can tell them.

If you've been following along on twitter (#teachingteachers) you will note that there is reason to be concerned with the state of our schools. Although this program is limited to my state, I doubt the situation is hugely different elsewhere. A few things that surprised me the most, included:

- An urban area high school biology teacher remarked that he didn't think his students had read 6 pages in a row. Ever. In their lives. Perhaps there was some hyperbole there, but the fact that he could make that statement without any of the other teachers (from diverse districts) looking surprised, made me concerned. He reported that the majority of his students voluntarily take a 0 on an assignment to avoid reading a few pages. Not because they couldn't do it, but because they didn't want to.

- School districts are constantly adjusting how they teach different groups of students. The definition of terms like "honors" and "low performing" vary from one year to the next, leaving teachers constantly trying to teach the same concepts to a different mix of abilities. As one 7th grade teacher put it, her students range in ability from 2nd to 10th grade.

- Perhaps part of the reading problem can be traced back to the fact that many school districts in the state have gone text book free. On the surface one could argue that text books may not be the most dynamic reference text, but they have replaced them with... nothing. Teachers are now supposed to be finding their own materials, but following from the above point, that often means two or three readings on the same material, geared for different abilities. Add the fact that copy paper budgets were not adjusted to compensate, and school districts are running out of paper in February. I guess the assumption was that kids all have computer access at home? I don't know.

Beyond the computer access issue, however, the move from text book to "the internet" makes me uncomfortable for many reasons. We want kids to develop critical reading skills and the ability to discern what are dependable sources. ESPECIALLY at the middle school level, I don't see how taking away a text book achieves this in any way. Rather, my assumption is that it will confound the problem. Is wikipedia supposed to be their source for all "dependable" material. I sure hope not.

Perhaps I'm just not grasping the benefits of this idea, but it sure seems short-sighted to me.

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