Quotulatiousness

November 12, 2017

BAHFest East 2017 – Olivia Walch: Symbiotic relationship promotes longer lifespans

Filed under: Health, Humour — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

BAHFest
Published on Oct 22, 2017

Watch Olivia Walch discuss her proposal that older individuals who care for younger individuals experience a reduction in mortality because they are protected from heart attacks by regularly occurring, anger-triggered decreases in cortisol levels.

BAHFest is the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses, a celebration of well-researched, logically explained, and clearly wrong evolutionary theory. Additional information is available at http://bahfest.com/

November 6, 2017

Oregon sets new standard in authoritarian oversight over teens

Filed under: Government, Law, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Amy Alkon reacts to a report about a new Oregon state law that goes a long way to remove agency and personal autonomy from teenagers in the state:

The latest is a story from Oregon, from The Daily Caller, where Eric Owen reports that public school teachers must now inform the government when they find out a teenager has had sex. No, we’re not talking about sex with some adult predator, but sex with another teen — consensual sex with another teen.

    Teachers in the Salem-Keizer school district face fines and can even lose their jobs if they fail to blow the whistle on teen students who are voluntarily having sex with each other, reports the Statesman Journal, the main newspaper in Salem.

    The draconian requirements also require teachers in the district to report teen students who might have had consensual sex.

    …The state law — ORS 163.315 — makes it illegal for anyone who is under 18 years of age to consent to a sex act.

The Statesman Journal story by Natalie Pate does say this:

    Another Oregon law, ORS 163.345, or the “three-year rule,” addresses when the individuals are similar in age and force and coercion are not present. This often is thought of as “consensual” activity.

    While this law can be applied in criminal proceedings, it does not apply to mandatory reporting.

The problem is that when laws are passed, laws can be used.

The government has no business telling people under 18 that they aren’t allowed autonomy over their own bodies.

So high school teachers are now legally required to report to state authorities even the suspicion that a teen in their classes has had sex. Police officers and social workers can then go to that school and investigate the student (one can easily imagine how traumatic that might be…). There’s no indication how long or under what conditions these “sex files” will be kept or accessed. Talk about fearing that something was going to go on your “permanent record”!

October 30, 2017

QotD: Responding to “do my homework for me” requests from students

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There is one certain kind of email interview, however, which I’m going to single out for attention. Just recently, I got an interview request from a high school student which was clearly nothing more than the questions he received as part of a assignment, and he thought he could fool me into answering them for him. Now, this wasn’t the first time I’ve received such a letter, so even though I’m answering him the rest of you smartass students need to listen up as well: Listen, kiddo, I didn’t just fall off of the fucking turnip truck. Don’t let my spectacular bod fool you; I’m old enough to be your grandmother, and I was probably outwitting teachers before your parents were born. I’ve been around the block more times than you’ve masturbated, and if you think you can trick me into doing your homework, you need to be slapped harder than I’m willing to give you for what you can afford. It’s bad enough when adult reporters try to get me to do their work for them, but it reaches a higher level of impudence when the person who thinks he can outwit me isn’t even as old as the last bottle of wine I drank. So cut that shit out; if you want to interview me come up with some proper questions, record it, then write the damned paper yourself. The practice will do you good, and one day you’ll thank me when you become an actual writer rather than a fucking stenographer whose “craft” consists of parroting whatever moronic propaganda the cops are shoveling out at press conferences in the late 2020s.

Maggie McNeill, “Not Last Night”, The Honest Courtesan, 2016-03-17.

September 4, 2017

The mental health crisis on campus

Filed under: Education, Health, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In Spiked, Naomi Firsht shares the concerns of Jonathan Haidt about the rise of mental health issues at US universities:

The heightened vulnerability of college students has had a chilling effect on discussion in the academic world, and Haidt sees this in his day-to-day experience on campus. “There is a rapidly spreading feeling that we are all walking on eggshells, both students and faculty. That we are now accountable, not for what we say, but for how anyone who hears it might take it. And if you have to speak, thinking about the worst reading that anyone could put on your words, that means you cannot be provocative, you cannot take risks, that means you will play it safe when you speak… This is what I’m seeing in my classes when topics related to race or gender come up – which we used to be able to talk about 10 years ago, but now it’s painful and there’s a lot of silence.”

This is disastrous for academic life, as Haidt points out: “A university cannot function if people will not put their ideas forth, will not contest ideas that they think are wrong, will not stand up for ideas that they think are right.”
He is keen to emphasise that this is not a right-left issue. “Several people on the left are noticing that college students are less effective politically as activists, as progressives, when they have this morality and this ethos with such heavy concept creep.”

Haidt believes there is a mental-health crisis on campus: “I have never seen such rapid increase in indicators of anxiety and depression as we have seen in the past few years”, he says. But his suggested approach is unlikely to find favour with student communities fond of Safe Spaces and therapeutic puppy-petting. “If you think about it as a mental-health crisis”, he explains, “then you might be tempted to say: we need more help, more counselling, more protection for those who are suffering from mental illness. But if you look at it that way you will miss the broader pattern, which is that for 20 to 30 years now, Americans have been systematically undermining the development of resilience or toughness of their children.” Referencing the work of Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-range Kids, he concludes: “We have made our children too safe to succeed.”

In his forthcoming book Misguided Minds: How Three Bad Ideas Are Leading Young People, Universities, and Democracies Toward Failure, Haidt claims that certain ideas are impairing students’ chances of success. Those ideas being: your feelings are always right; what doesn’t kill you makes you weaker; and the world is divided into good people and bad people. “If we can teach those three ideas to college students”, he says, “we cannot guarantee they will fail, but we will minimise their odds at success”.

So how can we resolve the problem of vulnerability among young Americans? Haidt says part of the solution must begin in childhood and will require parents to give their children daily periods of “unsupervised time”. “We have to accept the fact that in that unsupervised time there will be name-calling, conflict and exclusion. And while it’s painful for parents to accept this, in the long-run it will give them children that are not suffering from such high rates of anxiety and depression.”

August 5, 2017

“… theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media. I call them iGen”

Filed under: Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In The Atlantic, “Gen Xer” Jean Twenge is worried about the ways the new generation differ from their Millennial predecessors:

Click to see full-size image

I’ve been researching generational differences for 25 years, starting when I was a 22-year-old doctoral student in psychology. Typically, the characteristics that come to define a generation appear gradually, and along a continuum. Beliefs and behaviors that were already rising simply continue to do so. Millennials, for instance, are a highly individualistic generation, but individualism had been increasing since the Baby Boomers turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. I had grown accustomed to line graphs of trends that looked like modest hills and valleys. Then I began studying Athena’s generation.

Around 2012, I noticed abrupt shifts in teen behaviors and emotional states. The gentle slopes of the line graphs became steep mountains and sheer cliffs, and many of the distinctive characteristics of the Millennial generation began to disappear. In all my analyses of generational data — some reaching back to the 1930s — I had never seen anything like it.

At first I presumed these might be blips, but the trends persisted, across several years and a series of national surveys. The changes weren’t just in degree, but in kind. The biggest difference between the Millennials and their predecessors was in how they viewed the world; teens today differ from the Millennials not just in their views but in how they spend their time. The experiences they have every day are radically different from those of the generation that came of age just a few years before them.

What happened in 2012 to cause such dramatic shifts in behavior? It was after the Great Recession, which officially lasted from 2007 to 2009 and had a starker effect on Millennials trying to find a place in a sputtering economy. But it was exactly the moment when the proportion of Americans who owned a smartphone surpassed 50 percent.

The more I pored over yearly surveys of teen attitudes and behaviors, and the more I talked with young people like Athena, the clearer it became that theirs is a generation shaped by the smartphone and by the concomitant rise of social media. I call them iGen. Born between 1995 and 2012, members of this generation are growing up with smartphones, have an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the internet. The Millennials grew up with the web as well, but it wasn’t ever-present in their lives, at hand at all times, day and night. iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced, in 2007, and high-school students when the iPad entered the scene, in 2010. A 2017 survey of more than 5,000 American teens found that three out of four owned an iPhone.

The advent of the smartphone and its cousin the tablet was followed quickly by hand-wringing about the deleterious effects of “screen time.” But the impact of these devices has not been fully appreciated, and goes far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans. The arrival of the smartphone has radically changed every aspect of teenagers’ lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their mental health. These changes have affected young people in every corner of the nation and in every type of household. The trends appear among teens poor and rich; of every ethnic background; in cities, suburbs, and small towns. Where there are cell towers, there are teens living their lives on their smartphone.

It could be that the widespread use of available technology to “virtualize” adolescence is at least to a degree a reaction to helicopter parenting.

H/T to Kate at Small Dead Animals for the link.

June 21, 2017

College Students ‘Think Freedom is Not a Big Deal’

Published on 20 Jun 2017

Sociologist Frank Fruedi and Reason’s Nick Gillespie discuss the decline of free speech on campus and his new book, What Happened to the University: a Sociological Exploration of its Infantilisation.
———-
“For the first time, a growing number of young people actually think freedom isn’t a big deal,” says sociologist Frank Furedi, who’s an emeritus professor at the University of Kent and author of the new book, What Happened to the University: a sociological exploration of its infantilisation.

The university was once a place where students valued free speech and risk taking, but today “a very illiberal ethos has become institutionalized,” says Furedi. “In many respects, it’s easier to speak about controversial subjects outside the university…It’s a historic role reversal.”

Furedi sat down with Reason‘s Nick Gillespie to talk about the roots of this intellectual shift on campus — and how to fix it.

Edited by Mark McDaniel. Cameras by Jim Epstein and Kevin Alexander. Music by Bensound.

June 3, 2017

The tedious tropes of modern Young Adult science fiction novels

Filed under: Books, Humour, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Guest-posting at According to Hoyt, Christopher M. Chupik describes the typical YA novel:

… I never read much YA when I was a young adult. Early on, I vaulted past my contemporaries. Most of the books aimed at kids my age were depressing “problem novels”. I didn’t want to spend time with depressingly realistic kids with depressingly realistic problems. I had school for that. Escape was what I wanted.

Working at a library now, I handle a great deal of the new YA books that come our way. The success of The Hunger Games has unleashed a flood of copycat dystopian fiction. I read the jackets and feel a depressing sameness creeping in:

    “In the dystopian near future, climate change has wrecked everything. The EvilCorp/EvilGov has taken power, crushing freedom and reorganizing society into an unfair class system designed to make teens angsty. Actiongirl Unlikelyname is completely ordinary and totally special. She must join the Resistance and make a choice that will change her world forever: which generically hunky guy will she be with at the end of the trilogy?”

This Twitter feed does a great job of mocking the cliches:

Tweets by DystopianYA

There’s a few YA novels set on other planets, but they almost invariably involve evil corporations or “the one-percenters”, who of course have colonized space on the backs of everybody else. What a great way to get the kids interested in space exploration, than to turn it into tedious left-wing class warfare propaganda, right?

And most of these came out back in the Obama years, when left-wingers, and by extension their fiefdoms in the publishing industry were optimistic about the future. But now that they lost the election one can only imagine the outpouring of over-the-top dystrumpias which is about to flood bookshelves in the months and years to come.

Now, let it be known that I’m not entirely against the dystopian trend. I did grow up reading John Christopher’s Tripod and Prince in Waiting trilogies, after all. I certainly see the value in showing the younger generation that leaders should not be blindly trusted, that “progress” is not a guarantee and that freedom is not something that you inherit, but something that must be constantly renewed, lest it be lost forever. All are important points.

But I’m worried that all our kids are seeing of the future is doom and gloom. There was some of that when I was growing up. The media of the ’80s played up the threat of impending nuclear war for what I’m sure were completely non-partisan reasons. And then there was the steady drumbeat of ozone hole/acid rain agitprop. But I had Star Trek to show me something better. And even though I look at Trek‘s worldview with some skepticism now, I still appreciate that it’s a fundamentally optimistic view of humanity’s future. YA science-fiction readers aren’t getting that. What they’re being told, over and over, is that the future sucks and that science-fiction is the genre about how much its its going to suck.

April 29, 2017

QotD: Ayn Rand’s recurring “moment”

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Last week, The Guardian reported with predictable snark that Ayn Rand’s work has been added to the U.K.’s politics A-level curriculum. They note that Rand is “achingly on trend” and “having a moment.” Oh, dear. By my amateur estimation, Rand’s “moment-having” has been reoccurring every seven or eight years since the end of the Second World War, yet is always heralded with the same air of surprise and alarm.

Not that I am an unalloyed fan of the woman. Of course, like countless conceited teenagers before and after me, I was relieved to learn of Rand’s very existence, let alone her staggering success — evidence, surely, that more of “us” were not only out there, somewhere, but right.

Especially for a particular variety of female, Rand’s mannish ambition and uncompromising idealism set a rare and welcome example. Unlike Florence King, who broke her braces trying to mimic The Fountainhead’s imperious heroine, I found Rand’s thick fictions impossible to swallow.

However, I eagerly read The Virtue of Selfishness while in high school. (I want to type “of course”; Could a book title better calculated to appeal to the adolescent mind possibly be conceived, other than perhaps 101 Ways to Murder Everyone Around You and Get Away With It?)

Kathy Shaidle, “The Danger of Ayn Rand”, Taki’s Magazine, 2017-04-18.

April 10, 2017

QotD: Noblesse Oblige, pre-teens, and teenagers

Filed under: Europe, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

This – ah – female privilege of course established “the way girls fight” usually underhanded, and without the adult noticing. Pinches, kicks to the ankle (my poor male friends in middle school) and also gossip and character destruction and other, less physical means of retaliation.

Because women are still human and will still fight.

But by middle school, we had it well established. A boy understood he would take whatever the girl dished out physically, if a girl were so uncouth as to hit him, and treat it as a joke. (And by that time they were that much stronger – thanks to testosterone – that they could do that, in most cases.) The girl in turn knew if she’d hit a boy, short of self-defense in a dark classroom, where he ambushed her, thereby putting himself beyond the protection of social rules, she’d committed a social sin and broken a major unspoken rule.

This kept fist fights between the sexes from happening. And most girls, though they might character assassinate one another, had learned to keep the boys out of it, because they weren’t adroit in the art and therefore were as vulnerable to that type of war as women to punches.

Or to put it another way, as the good professor says, “Chivalry imposed obligations upon both sexes.” And it can’t continue when one breaks the compact. The same way that other imbalances of power in society can’t continue unless both parts play by the rules.

When one part forgets the rules, they don’t leave the peasants enough to live on, and the peasants chop their necks off.

Look, I’m a libertarian and in the US. I believe all men and women should be equal under the law. But you can’t eliminate imbalances of power unless you stop being human. Communism fails, in large measure, because it wants to eliminate imbalances of power completely by making humans into something different. They believe they can shape a social ape into something more like ants or bees (don’t argue. Yeah, they do want to have rulers. One ruler over faceless millions. Because someone has to enforce equality. Yes, I know about the myth of the vanishing state.) Hence the myth of the homo Sovieticus, the selfless, perfectly acting man who would emerge once the distortions of capitalism were removed from the “natural” man who was of course a Rousseaunian noble savage. No, I don’t believe it. No one should believe it. The rejects of that culling program have filled a hundred million graves and bid fair to fill more. Because Rousseau was wrong and the mythology of communism is a hot and sticky repulsive mess.

Some people will always be taller, larger, stronger. Some will be smarter. Some will, for whatever reason like “my ancestors got here earlier” have the advantage of a better adaption to the society they live in.

I, for instance, got both sides of the noblesse oblige speech because I was taller than most of my male teachers by 13, and probably stronger too. It took. Sort of. I knew how to subdue a badly acting male without hitting him by the time I was 20, and only psychopaths did not respond. (And for those there was hitting, hence the weaponized umbrella.)

Because I WAS a walking imbalance of power, frankly.

Noblesse oblige is needed to keep things from coming to extremes.

Sarah Hoyt, “Noblesse Oblige and Mare’s Nests”, According to Hoyt, 2015-05-05.

March 27, 2017

UBI as “trust-fundism” writ large

Filed under: Government, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

In City Journal, Oren Cass discusses the suggested Universal Basic Income:

The UBI’s implications are clear from a family perspective. Imagine promising your child a basic income beginning at age 18. This is not just providing support — most parents already do that. Within the constraints of their own resources, they may give their young-adult children assistance with educational costs and even the down-payment on a first home; other government programs already seek to offer such support to those with lower incomes. But the UBI goes well beyond that, to an unconditional, irrevocable right to receive the cash for meeting basic needs: basically, the ultimate handout, not a hand up. A child would not receive payments himself, but he would grow up expecting them in a culture that endorsed them.

So if a parent wants the UBI experience for his children, he should not only promise the payments but also envision having “the UBI talk” with each one at least once a year, beginning no later than age 10. It could go something like this:

    Son, it is important to me that you not feel obligated to support yourself. That’s my job. Nor should you feel a duty to be a productive member of society. It is a central principle of this family, rather, that you feel entitled to everything you need.

    I hope you will get a job, because I think you will find it fulfilling, and it will allow you to buy nicer things. I also hope my support will encourage you to take some extra risks and pursue a challenging career, or become an entrepreneur, or dedicate yourself to helping those less fortunate. But none of that is a condition of my support. You can also backpack through Europe indefinitely or just sit in the basement smoking pot. In fact, as soon as we are done with this talk, let’s go watch one of the many movies Hollywood has produced recently in which they show the enormous benefits of those choices and viciously mock anyone who frowns on them.

    If you find a girlfriend, I’ll be happy to double your payment. If you have kids, the payment will increase further. But lest you feel tied down, rest assured that you can break up, abandon the kids, and I’ll continue making payments anyway. And we’ll start those payments as soon as you turn 18, at a critical inflection point in your future.

Of course, some parents do provide their children with a system of automatic support. We call the result a “trust-fund baby.” The term is not usually synonymous with “kind, well-adjusted, productive member of society.” The day when parents embrace trust-fundism as a child-rearing ideal is the day when the UBI will gain mainstream traction as a public policy.

If the UBI’s advocates really believe in the policy, they should start with their own children. Granted, the “what about your own kids?” argument is usually a cheap rhetorical ploy. Advocates of foreign intervention don’t eagerly send their children into battle, nor do advocates of higher taxes voluntarily pay higher taxes themselves; they don’t claim that fighting wars or paying taxes benefits the individual, but rather that society as a whole would benefit. A policymaker might rationally enroll his children in private school while pursuing a public school model of education reform, or sign up his family for better health insurance than he believes the government should guarantee to all, without necessarily being hypocritical. What’s best for one’s own child need not align with the public policy one believes most appropriate for the government to adopt.

March 21, 2017

The “happiest” country in the world?

Filed under: Asia — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Julie Burchill on the topic of happiness:

When we are stroppy teens, we often declare mulishly that we’d rather have an interesting life than a happy one, seeing cheeriness as something suspiciously shallow. Each time we hear the vulgar street exhortation “Cheer up, it might never happen!” we dig our dismayed heels in further. But before we know it, we’ve gone from exquisitely doomed youth to grumbling old git. Look at poor Morrissey! Like Maoism and love bites, miserabilism only looks good on the young.

The country with the best “happiness equality” in the world is Bhutan, the United Nations tells us. I’m not sure how happy I’d be in a country where homosexuality is illegal, where abortions are so hard to get that many women have to cross into India to find even a backstreet termination and where citizens married to foreigners are not permitted to hold civil service positions. Is it just because Bhutan is so cut off that no one knows any better?

The position of those on the left when it comes to immigration is strangely inconsistent. On the one hand, they like to present England as a joyless hellhole (which I always think says far more about them and their joyless mates than the country I’ve had such a smashing time in during my long, lush life): on the other hand, they want everyone to come here. Is this what the young people call “humblebrag”, perchance?

October 28, 2016

Farewell to adolescence … we probably won’t miss it

Filed under: History, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In Aeon, Paula Fass discusses an odd social invention of the 20th century that appears to have gone well past its best before date:

Adolescence as an idea and as an experience grew out of the more general elevation of childhood as an ideal throughout the Western world. By the closing decades of the 19th century, nations defined the quality of their cultures by the treatment of their children. As Julia Lathrop, the first director of the United States Children’s Bureau, the first and only agency exclusively devoted to the wellbeing of children, observed in its second annual report, children’s welfare ‘tests the public spirit and democracy of a community’.

Progressive societies cared for their children by emphasising play and schooling; parents were expected to shelter and protect their children’s innocence by keeping them from paid work and the wrong kinds of knowledge; while health, protection and education became the governing principles of child life. These institutional developments were accompanied by a new children’s literature that elevated children’s fantasy and dwelled on its special qualities. The stories of Beatrix Potter, L Frank Baum and Lewis Carroll celebrated the wonderland of childhood through pastoral imagining and lands of oz.

The United States went further. In addition to the conventional scope of childhood from birth through to age 12 – a period when children’s dependency was widely taken for granted – Americans moved the goalposts of childhood as a democratic ideal by extending protections to cover the teen years. The reasons for this embrace of ‘adolescence’ are numerous. As the US economy grew, it relied on a complex immigrant population whose young people were potentially problematic as workers and citizens. To protect them from degrading work, and society from the problems that they could create by idling on the streets, the sheltering umbrella of adolescence became a means to extend their socialisation as children into later years. The concept of adolescence also stimulated Americans to create institutions that could guide adolescents during this later period of childhood; and, as they did so, adolescence became a potent category.

With the concept of adolescence, American parents, especially those in the middle class, could predict the staging of their children’s maturation. But adolescence soon became a vision of normal development that was applicable to all youth – its bridging character (connecting childhood and adulthood) giving young Americans a structured way to prepare for mating and work. In the 21st century, the bridge is sagging at both ends as the innocence of childhood has become more difficult to protect, and adulthood is long delayed. While adolescence once helped frame many matters regarding the teen years, it is no longer an adequate way to understand what is happening to the youth population. And it no longer offers a roadmap for how they can be expected to mature.

September 30, 2016

QotD: Why is high school so deadly dull?

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Education, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

All teaching takes a toll on what’s taught, but high school is wondrously efficient at making interesting things dull. So why are kids forced to go? Well, one reason has to do with child-­labor laws. In the middle of the 19th century, kids in most states could stop going to school after eighth grade, once they had learned to read and do a little arithmetic, and they got jobs. They worked on farms or in dark satanic mills, and one by one the states made laws (or began to enforce existing laws) that said that young people had to stay in school so their morals wouldn’t be corrupted and they wouldn’t languish in ignorance and be roped into a life of labor from dawn to dusk and die of consumption before they reached 30. So the government built high schools, lots of them, and the number of kids in high school burgeoned, and blossomed, and ballooned. By 1940, there were five times as many high-school graduates as there were before the labor-­law reforms. It was a huge change all over the country, and it required discipline. Squads of truant officers would go sniffing around finding kids who were evading high school, and they threatened parents with fines or even jail time and got them to comply.

What happens if you suddenly have millions of kids in high school who would have been working under the old laws? You have to hire more teachers, and you have to figure out what they’re going to teach. You then get endless debates about cultural literacy — about what subjects should be required. Should everyone in high school learn Greek? What about Latin? What about sewing? Or needlepoint? Cursive? And the schools became bigger. The local schoolhouse went away, and the gigantic brick edifice on the edge of town took its place. James Conant, a president of Harvard, decided in the 1960s that the ideal high school should have at least 750 students. That’s a lot of students — it’s a battalion of students, in fact — and that’s perhaps where it all began to go wrong. The regional schools became meatpacking plants, or Play-Doh fun factories, squeezing out supposedly educated human beings, marching them around from class to class — bells bonging, punishments escalating, homework being loaded on. And yet the human beings who were marching from class to class weren’t being paid. “Review the elements of transcendentalism listed on Page 369.” Oh, and do it for free.

Every day something like 16 million high-school students get up at the crack of dawn, slurp some oat clusters while barely conscious, hop on a bus, bounce around the county, show up and sit in a chair, zoned out, waiting for the first bell. If they’re late, they are written up. Even if they don’t do much academic work, they are physically present. Their attendance is a valuable commodity, because if students don’t attend, teachers and guidance counselors and principals and textbook makers and designers of educational software have no jobs. A huge lucrative industry is built around them, and the students get nothing out of it but a G.P.A. They deserve not to have their time wasted.

And it is wasted, as everyone knows. Teachers spend half their time shouting themselves hoarse, and young adults are infantilized. Their lives are absurdly regimented. Every minute is accounted for. They sit in one hot room after another and wait for each class to end. Time thickens. It becomes like saltwater taffy — it becomes viscous and sticky, and it stretches out and it folds back on itself through endless repetition. Tuesday is just like Wednesday, except the schedule is shuffled. Day after day of work sheets. By the time they graduate, they’ve done 13 years of work sheets. When they need to go to the bathroom, they have to write their name on a piece of paper by the door. If they hide in the bathroom, they’re in trouble. Whole hierarchies of punishment for scofflaws arise — school-­supplied iPads are restricted, parents are called on the phone, in-school suspensions are meted out.

What makes all this almost tolerable is the kids themselves. They find ways to make it entertaining. They discover friends and co-­conspirators. They rebel. They interrupt one another constantly in search of some tiny juicy Jolly Rancher of surprise. They subvert the system. They learn to lie convincingly to avoid work. The teacher’s aide (sometimes it was me) says, “Are you all caught up?” Kid: “Yep.” Aide: “Did you do that BrainPOP about the flipflap of the doodlesquat?” Kid: “Yep, handed that in yesterday.” One young man I ­talked to seemed unusually intelligent but downcast. I asked him how he survived his days. He pulled out his earbud, and he said one word: “music.”

Nicholson Baker, “Fortress of Tedium: What I Learned as a Substitute Teacher”, New York Times Magazine, 2016-09-07.

May 27, 2016

QotD: Teenage sex

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

A wise and cynical friend of mine once described the motivation behind puritanism as “the fear that someone might be fucking and getting away with it”. I think the subtext of the periodic public panics about teen sex has always been resentment that sexy young things just might be getting away with it — enjoying each others’ bodies thoughtlessly, without consequences, without pregnancy, without marriage, without “meaningful relationships”, without guilt, without sin.

The traditional rationalizations for adult panic about teen sex are teen pregnancy and STDs. But if teen pregnancy really had much to do with adult panic, anti-sex rhetoric would have changed significantly after reliable contraception became available. It hasn’t. Similarly, we don’t hear a lot of adult demand for STD testing in high schools. No; something else is going on here, something more emotional and deeper than pragmatic fears.

Conservatives and liberals alike are attached to the idea that sex ought to be controlled, be heavy, have consequences. The Judeo-Christian tradition of repression, which yokes sex to marriage and reproduction, is still powerful among conservatives. Liberals have replaced it with an ethic in which sex is OK when it is harnessed to building relationships or personal growth or therapy, but must always be undertaken with adult mindfulness.

Both camps are terrified of mindless sex, of hedonism, of the pure friction fuck. Lurking beneath both Judeo-Christian and secularized taboos is a fear that too much pleasure will damn us — or reduce us to the status of animals, so fixated on the drug of orgasm that we will become unfit for marriage and society and adult responsibility. What has not changed beneath contingent worries about pregnancy and STDs is the more fundamental fear that pleasure corrupts.

And beneath that fear lurks something uglier — the envy that dares not speak its name. The unpalatable truth is that a teenager’s “immature” hormone-pumped capacity to have lots of mindless sex makes adults jealous. The conscious line is that the kids have got to be stopped before they have more sex than is good for them — the unconscious line is that they’ve got to be stopped before they have more fun than we can stand.

Eric S. Raymond, “Teen Sex vs. Adult Resentment”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-05-29.

April 28, 2016

QotD: That’s why they call it “Sex Education”

Filed under: Education, Health, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I’m on the road in Thailand, speaking at a U.N. conference on sustainable A development in the Third World. Earlier today I listened to a presentation on the effects of sex education for women. The presentation mentioned some cultural value conflicts about sex education, but it occurred to me that it didn’t touch the biggest one. To wit: worldwide, the teachers want the kids to learn abstinence, but what the kids [want] to learn is technique.

Eric S. Raymond, “That’s Why They Call It ‘Sex Education'”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-05-20.

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