Politicians' honors theses. Someone at Slate wrote a thoughtful article about why politicians' writings as college students can't be expected to reflect their thinking thirty or forty years later. Seniors only have a few weeks to select a topic, often based on the recommendation of the professor who will supervise the research as well as their own interests at the moment. The research has to generate new results or analysis, which precludes safe choices. Because students want to stand out from the crowd, they often take harsher and more controversial stances than necessary - to their detractors' delight, decades later.
The journalist adds: "You then have a semester to write a 50-page essay—a task that would be
difficult even without the added burden of classes, extracurriculars,
and the intense hepatic demands of senior spring." (Those last few words get my vote as prettiest expression ever about senioritis.) But at least the hunt for incriminating documents has so far been limited to politicians. Now that employers routinely run job candidates' names through Google Search and students themselves leave a lot of their personal information on the web, we are only a few years away from more minor embarrassments when candidates for top management positions realize that their drunken comments with five exclamation marks never left the Internet.
It's never too late to graduate. Boston University recently held Commencement exercises for its Class of 1970. The graduation ceremony forty years ago had been canceled due to social unrest. (Final exams had been canceled too.) The New York Times writes: "President Richard M. Nixon had invaded Cambodia. National Guardsmen had gunned down
students at Kent State, killing four and wounding nine. Young men still
faced the draft. And this campus, like many across the country, was in
turmoil, with strikes, sit-ins, building takeovers and fire-bombings." It seems incredible that no one had the idea to hold a makeup Commencement ceremony for decades. As a member of the Class of 1970 points out, "It was worse for the parents and the grandparents, many of whom are dead
now and were robbed of that opportunity to see their child march across
that stage." But of course nothing can come close to the shock of the Kent State massacre, which remains in the media spotlight to this day.
The little indignities of life. A NPR journalist writes
about trying to hail a cab in Washington, DC, as a person of color.
"The drama of getting a cab... is no better than it
was more than a decade ago when actor Danny Glover made a public stand
against New York City's taxi and limousine commission because he said
five yellow cabs refused to stop for him in a single day because he is
black." A fascinating insight into race issues in ordinary moments.
Hard-working vs smart. A Stanford researcher makes the case that people should not refer to intelligence as a fixed trait, as reported in the Chronicle Review. In particular, they should not praise their children for their intelligence, but rather their effort - this not only leads to happier children, but (more importantly) improved performance. What I found truly fascinating there was that other researchers could not validate her theories when considering children from less privileged backgrounds in their own studies. "One potential factor is that Temple [University in Philadelphia] is a less-selective institution than
the colleges where the best-known previous studies have taken place. So
differences among the Temple students' beliefs about intelligence might
be swamped, for example, by differences in their baseline knowledge
about how to navigate through college life."
Even more interesting: "students whose self-worth was tied to academic performance" were more likely to self-handicap by listening to distracting music during the test if they had been given a difficult sample question before the exam, leading them to believe the exam would be hard. People practice self-consistency (self-validating behaviors). If they believe they are innately smart and struggle with a task, they will avoid doing the task so that their inability to perform it does not conflict with their inner belief. If they want something but are afraid they will not succeed, they prefer to self-sabotage.
How math will save the world. (This is about a months-old New York Times article, but I never got a chance to write about the article until now.) In Chicago, the new chief officer of public schools, a former police officer and transit executive, hopes that statistical analysis will help identify "high school students with the highest risk of becoming involved the
violence as victims, or even perpetrators". An "analysis of more than 500 students who were shot over the last
several years [will be used] to predict the characteristics of potential future
victims, including when and where they might be attacked."
While this seems like a tall order, and maybe a naive faith in statistical analysis, the preliminary conclusions of the mathematical analysis border on the usual, and useless, cliches. At least they match expectations. ("The students at high risk of violence, by statistics, are most likely to be black, male,
without a stable living environment, in special education... and having a record of in-school behavioral flare-ups.") The schools' chief officer makes good points about trying to identify the most likely perpetrators and reaching out to them before they get someone hurt. He says: "We believe that if we can change the behavior of these 10,000 [most at risk]
students, we’ll be able to make a significant
difference in the level of violence in the city."