Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Teach for America, Like the Peace Corps, is a Worthwhile Program of Bourgeois Missionary Work

Teach for America is sometimes criticized because the young people who do it are well-meaning amateurs who do not stick with teaching.  They come from good schools, but were not trained in education.  There is a high rate of leaving teaching after a few years.

I have taken comfort from the fact that the same is true of the Peace Corps.  Indeed, we always expected that Peace Corps volunteers would return to the US after their tour and go into some other field.  The idea was that they would learn more about some other place in the world, which would infuse their future work in any field.

Both Teach for America and the Peace Corps are, in other words, missionary programs.  I think this is a good thing.  I am for bourgeois missionaries to impoverished schools and impoverished countries. I am also for religious missionaries spreading the faith, whether they are there for the long term or not.

Another gripe about Teach for America is that amateur short-time teachers are bad for their students, even if the teachers get a great deal out of the experience. There is something to this. I don't think the amateur issue is that big a deal, but the short time is a problem. However, many education majors also leave the profession quickly, too.  Teaching in poor schools is a hard job, and a hard adjustment.

I have rarely heard people complain that the Peace Corps is bad because sending amateur short-timers hurts the people they were meant to help.  I think one of the reasons we rarely hear this gripe is because if the Peace Corps volunteers didn't go, no one would.  Someone helping for a short time is better than no one helping at all.

In America's poor schools, by contrast, someone would get hired to teach each year.

Still, I think that investing in getting liberally educated young people from the best schools - most of whom have no real experience of poverty - to wrestle seriously with the realities of poor life while trying to help, is worth the investment.  What I would add would be a stronger supportive community to help them weather the first hard years of teaching, so more of them stay.  A model for this kind of support is provided by our Teach Kentucky program.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Suffering Turned to Holiness is the Highest Happiness

Another good one from David Brooks, "What Suffering Does."  His main point:

The right response to this sort of pain is not pleasure. It’s holiness. ... It means seeing life as a moral drama, placing the hard experiences in a moral context and trying to redeem something bad by turning it into something sacred.
Amen.  And this is a conclusion that you have to choose for yourself.  It is a hard choice. I don't think those who do not get there are to be blamed.

But there is a further step, which takes us back to happiness. At the end of the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle says that the highest happiness comes from contemplation.  This comes as a bit of a surprise, after the first nine books talk about how to achieve happiness through action. 

I believe, though, that Aristotle is right.  It is only in contemplating the fruits of a life of active virtue that we can have a deeper understanding of what happiness is.  And the deepest understanding comes from contemplating suffering turned into holiness.

Monday, April 07, 2014

The Less You Know, The More You Want to Invade Ukraine

"The further our respondents thought that Ukraine was from its actual location, the more they wanted the U.S. to intervene militarily."

That is the scary conclusion of a study that compared which policy position people favored toward Ukraine with their actual knowledge of where Ukraine is on a map.

This supports my view that knowledge tends to mitigate violence.   

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Cohabitation Practice

I asked the "Family Life" class to talk with their friends about what they thought of cohabitation vs. marriage.  Since many of my students effectively live together on campus, I thought that many had already voted with their feet in favor of cohabitation.  To my surprise, they did not regard living together on campus as real cohabitation, because the couple was not cooking together, or splitting the rent, or responsible for most of the things involved in living in the 'real world' yet.

This is a fair enough distinction.  It did give me an idea, though: encourage the couple who are living together to conduct experiments simulating, as realistically as possible, what real cohabitation would be like.  They could, say, make all their meals together for a week.  They could spend another week really pooling their finances, and facing together what sharing all their costs would look like.  They could start interacting with one another's families in a routine way.

Such an experiment might be eye opening.

An important point that we make in the "Family Life" class is that cohabiting is not really the same as marriage.

We could go back one step earlier in the chain to get students to come to grips with the ways in which sharing a dorm room is not the same as cohabiting.

And all of this is in the interest of 'deciding not sliding' into the biggest decision of your life.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

7.1 Million Newly Insured Under Obamacare

This is a great day for our nation.  We are making progress toward health insurance for everyone, despite massive resistance by political opponents of the president.

And this number does not include the further millions of young people who continue to be covered by their parents' insurance, including some of our own children.

Not to mention ending the injustice of denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions.

In a few years, Obamacare will be part of the fabric of the American safety net.  And those who oppose it now will deny they were ever against it.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spouses Can Calm Each Other's Brains in a Way Cohabitors Can't

Holding your spouse's hand when you are expecting a shock calms your brain.

Holding your cohabitor's hand in the same situation does not.

Trust comes from the permanence of the commitment.

Friday, March 28, 2014

All Parents Can Talk to Their Kids

Kids from professionals' families have heard 30 million more words from adults by the time they get to school than kids from poor families.

This is a gap that families of any class can close.

One of the saddest footnotes I know is early on in Annette Lareau's Unequal Childhoods. She writes that by the age of three, middle class kids have a bigger vocabulary than welfare parents do.  So the poor parents will have to work on their own language skills to help their kids.

They should.  Win-win.