Monday, April 27, 2009

One of those mornings

On Thursday I had taken my car in for some funny noises and ended up having the belt tightened and a new starter put in. However, the squeaky noises got dramatically worse over the weekend, so I went back out to the dealership this morning.

Instead of sounding like a passel of mice, however, the squeaking had almost disappeared. I counted just five squeaks on the drive out to Antioch and couldn't reproduce the sound at all on a drive with one of the managers.

So I left the dealership, and as I was pulling out onto the street my phone rang. I saw from the area code that I had to call back right away - it was one of the colleges that may participate in my dissertation. I pulled into the hotel parking lot across the street while the caller left a voice message. She said this was her second message and could I please call her back. Immediately I felt horribly guilty, because although I never got the first message, I'm sure that sounds like a very likely story.

I had to pull out my laptop to check my calendar and write down the time we scheduled for, and as I'm finishing up a man comes out of the hotel to ask if I need help. No thanks, I said, I just had to answer a phone call. Well, he tells me, you can't use our internet. I wasn't, I said; I just needed my calendar. I wanted to say, look, do you have a serious problem with internet scavengers hanging out in your parking lot? Unemployed yuppies who can't afford a latte at the coffee shop even to get online? Of course, in this economy there probably are quite a few of those, but they're not hanging out in Antioch.

So now, all over America people probably think I'm a liar with a vivid imagination.

P.S.: As I pulled back into my own neighborhood, the squeaking started again.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Wildflower hike at Beaman Park

Taking pictures
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
Yesterday we did a short, leisurely hike at Beaman Park. Our hike leader was a man who really knows his flora, and he shared his knowledge with us. I remember some of what he taught us.

For National Trails Day, we'll be returning to Beaman Park to begin building a boardwalk. Details to come!

Monday, April 20, 2009

AERA recap

Here's the quick roundup of what I found valuable at AERA:
  • Karri Holley: When you get an submission back from a journal, wait 24 hours (no less, no more) before considering the comments, and always revise and resubmit if possible.
  • Frank Harris: Be politically savvy and cite relevant work by the editorial board in journal submissions. Aim to have one article out each fall, spring and summer.
  • Kim Griffin: In relationship theory, there are three kinds of relationships: Friendship, where two people give and take; generalized exchange, where A gives to B who gives to C who gives back to A; and partnership, where two people both give to a third thing that rewards them.
  • Bill Tierney: 1) Read a lot, and not just academic stuff. 2) Have fun. 3) Take risks. 4) Word hard. 5) Write well. 6) Demand the best of yourself.

It works on all levels

Word of the day.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Unacceptable proposals

I came back from AERA with a cold so I decided not to go backpacking with my friends but to instead stay home and work on ASHE proposals, which are due May 1. The first proposal I was very excited about and had already gotten a start on. Then as I went to work, I realized two things. One, it would take about 90 more hours to finish. Two, my failure to anticipate one minor detail meant my findings would be pretty uninteresting. If I had 90 hours to spend over the next two weeks, it wouldn't be on that. So it was on to proposal two. Data collection issues, foreseeable but even more serious than I anticipated, derailed it.

I feel like I'm a first-year graduate student again, back in the days when Dr. Goldring would box my ears for my research proposals (deservedly and metaphorically). I could have gotten a chunk of my dissertation ready by this point, but I was holding back for reasons that seemed valid but now seem like excuses.

Well, I know who to blame, and mostly, it's me.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Greetings from San Diego

I'm at AERA in sunny San Diego - sunny and rather windy. I haven't been posting because the Marriott charges outrageous rates for internet. Thank goodness I can check my email on my iPhone, so I'm not entirely out of touch.

So this is just to let you all know that I won't be posting much until I get back next week. Enjoy the silence.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Short bits

-A quote from Ernest Boyer: "During our research for College, we studied several view books ... Based on the pictures in these books, I observed that about 60 percent of all classes are held outside, underneath a tree, and by a gently flowing stream. It's an absolutely bucolic setting. In fact, I observed that almost every campus is either by a river, by a stream, or not quite so far from the shore. One recruiter told us that, 'water is very big in higher education this year.'"

-As I mentioned the other day, what is wrong with my ankle is apparently my hip. That is, I'm not using my hip to stabilize myself properly, and the tension is getting down to my ankle, which the therapist called "the weakest link." Since I can't vote my ankle off the island, the alternative is to strengthen the hip. I'm paying a lot more attention to it, and this morning in yoga I noticed that I finally figured out I've been doing something wrong in warrior all these years - using my ankle instead of my hip.

-I'm leaving tomorrow for San Diego and AERA. Updates here and on Twitter (#AERA).

Friday, April 10, 2009

Going to college

This post got me thinking about why high school graduation tests don't align with college admissions. Just to be clear up front, I am talking primarily about open-access institutions such as community colleges.

One obvious reason is that the K-12 education and public higher education are overseen by different bodies (except at times in Florida) and have different groups of policy-makers. And one of the most frightening specters to anyone in higher ed is the idea of being as highly regulated as K-12 (because, you know, it works so well there). So talk of aligning standards elicits an almost knee-jerk reaction.

But the other reason there isn't alignment is a deep-seated belief on the part of plenty of people that just graduating from high school isn't sufficient preparation for college. I found this belief lurking inside of me. It's a little voice that says, "Geez, anyone who barely passed algebra and took the lowest-level of courses offered with mediocre grades, do you expect them to be able to do college-level work?" Leaving aside special education programs for students with serious disabilities, which I think constitute a special case, why shouldn't a high school diploma guarantee college readiness? - in theory.

I'm not entirely comfortable with this reaction, and I'm trying to decide how much of it is a simple recognition of the status quo and how much of it is an argument that college entrance ought to have a higher bar than a high school diploma. Bringing this sentiment out into the cold light of day where I can look at it makes it squirm a little and say, "Um, I'm just talking the status quo. Never mind me."

But at the end of the day, while I do believe in greatly expanded college access and deplore the connection between socio-economic status and educational achievement, I really don't believe that everyone ought to go to college. Some people aren't smart enough, some people don't enjoy it, and some jobs don't require it.

And if graduating from high school equals the ability to do college-level work, than some people just won't be able to graduate high school. Yet we've decided as a society that a high school diploma is a personal and societal necessity; anything less than a 100% graduation rate is failure. But if I believe all this, it leads to the inevitable conclusion that a high school diploma should not be considered sufficient preparation for college.

Practically speaking, maybe we need a system like the Brits where diplomas are given by levels. At the moment, however, I'm less interested in thinking of a solution to the corner I've boxed myself into than in the discomfort I feel with my own assumptions. I often believe entirely incompatible things, but usually I'm OK with that.

P.S. Here's a totally different response.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Possum Creek

Crossing the stream
Originally uploaded by TheTurducken
"April showers bring May flowers" doesn't quite work in Middle Tennessee. We get both showers and flowers all at once. The poor flowers are rather brave to come out this early, given the manic depression of the spring weather. One day it will be in the 70s; the next it will be low 40s. With the cold inevitably comes rain and the threat of tornados. Today there are even rumors of snow.

All this makes it a dicey time of year for hikes. When it is nice out, it's perfect. The sun is out. It's warm but not hot. Wildflowers are in bloom. Waterfalls and streams are bursting. When it's not so nice, you'll get drenched, then frozen, then picked up and carried to Oz. So far I've been lucky with hikes, and none of our big weekend plans have been called on account of weather. Saturday's hike to Possum Creek was no exception.

Possum Creek is a ten-mile stretch of the Cumberland Trail near Soddy-Daisy. I've hiked a short bit of it before, but doing the whole thing really requires a shuttle. Unfortunately, it takes a good hour to get cars from one end to the other and back, and the drive to the trailhead is 2 1/2 hours, so it makes for a really long day.

The hike is worth it, however. Highlights include Big and Little Possum Creeks, which run through gorges, and Imodium Falls. There are numerous small cascades and rock formations. But this is one hike where even the "boring" woods are very pretty. You aren't just trudging to the next attraction - at least until the end, when the next attraction is the car, and Niagara Falls would barely get your attention.

At that point you're tired, because this hike has its challenges. There are 3500 feet of elevation change thanks to the gorges. (Tip: Start at the Big Possum Creek end and do the worst while you're still fresh.) Little Possum Creek does not yet have a bridge and has to be forded. It is deep in spots, fast, and cold. To our surprise, there was a second stream, much more placid, that also needed to be forded (pictured). Normally, we were told, it is only half an inch deep; it had risen up to our knees.

All in all it was a beautiful but challenging hike.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Returns to education

"Go to college, earn more money." This is conventional wisdom and backed up by research. On average, college graduates make more money than non-graduates. Presumptively, this rising tide leads to a higher standard of living and more robust economy. This second point is less certain. Nations with a larger percentage of graduates have stronger economies, but how precise is the link? If 5% more citizens are college grads, is the economy exactly 5% wealthier? That's doubtful.

Why more education leads to higher salaries is arguable. The traditional argument is that college teaches skills that enable graduates to do more complex or difficult jobs. Some sociologists argue it's more about certification - "This person is smart and has people skills" - than about learning. The literature on professionalization suggests that by insisting on hiring college grads for prestigious jobs, other grads can monopolize a profession, keeping salaries up.

No matter the theory, I'm wondering about the mechanism at work and where its bounds are. Any of those theories are compatible with the following. Right now, for example, the U.S. has a shortage of nurses due to structural issues in universities (a whole 'nother post, that). If we doubled the number of RN slots in colleges without taking away students from any other programs, presumably these new nurses would have higher incomes than they would otherwise.

But let's imagine for a moment I'm a big baseball fan and think that there just aren't enough pro baseball players. After all, Nashville doesn't have a major league team. Therefore, we need more college ball players. There's a pretty obvious flaw in this argument, which is that there is already a large supply of potential major leaguers and that the demand for them is restricted because of how baseball is run (that is, MLB is a monopoly).

So we can say some occupations are like nursing and some are like baseball, but let's take the nursing example to a logical extreme. If we train every single person in the country without a college diploma to be a nurse, we would have an oversupply and nursing wages would fall. And a lot of those trainees would not be working as nurses, either. Clearly, the market demand for degrees matters.

Now, one might argue that a college education teaches skills such as critical thinking that would enable this oversupply of nurses to still come out ahead by starting their own businesses or some such thing. That's reasonable. But in my extreme example, every single person now has a degree, and we still have positions to fill that are very low-paid - day laborers, for example. As our economy is currently structured, the demand for college degrees is not perfectly elastic.

So, then, what is the point of diminishing returns to society (not to the individual) for higher education? I'm talking strictly monetary here - there may be excellent arguments for higher education producing better citizens or what have you, but I'm trying to focus on the strictly economic. Is that point still so unachievable that this is only a mental exercise? Let's say that only once 99.99% of adults have college degrees do wages no longer rise. I think more than one in a thousand people has serious issues of some sort that prevent degree completion, so worrying about it would be futile. If that point is a lot lower, at some point does college become compulsory (as some have argued is happening), or is the smart thing to do to skip college? If you're going to work as a barista anyway, the opportunity cost for college is too high.

There are a lot of different ways to take this, and it's stretching my brain, so I wanted to ask what your take on it was.