Archive for September, 2010

Daddy Long

Posted by jcmaziquemd on September 30, 2010

Long Odds

By Ta-Nehisi Coates

My old friend Jelani Cobb was last seen here blogging about his time in Moscow. Yesterday he visited Eddie Long’s church. Here’s his spectacular dispatch from the scene. Jelani’s latest book is The Substance of Hope: Barack Obama and The Paradox of Progress. It is, like this post, like everything Jelani writes, spectacular.

The cars began streaming into the parking lot at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church even before the sun had risen. On a normal Sunday church traffic chokes the off-ramps at Interstate 20, down to Bishop Eddie Long Boulevard that leads onto the grounds. This, as the news vans lining Bishop Eddie Long Boulevard attested, was not a normal Sunday.

For those who had no knowledge of Eddie Long before charges of sexual coercion were leveled at him last week it’s difficult to convey Eddie Long’s niche in the Atlanta ecosystem. He presides over a massive institution, with reportedly more than 25,000 members. On I-85, just north of the airport, a titanic billboard featuring Long’s image greets commuters. The caption reads "Live like him, Lead like him, Love like him." The him is presumably a reference to Jesus Christ, but it’s Long’s image drivers see, not the Nazarene carpenter. The church campus sits on 250 acres of land in suburban Lithonia but it is inescapably linked to Atlanta’s religious culture.

Long is arguably the pre-eminent black proponent of the prosperity gospel and his message of financial deliverance dovetailed neatly with Atlanta’s credo of visible black success. More than a handful of his critics have seen New Birth as a counterpoint to Ebenezer Baptist, the church co-pastored by Martin Luther King, Sr. and Jr. Where King led an inner-city congregation and emphasized the biblical mandate to pursue social justice, Long’s sprawling compound is miles outside Atlanta and he is more likely to exalt the possibilities of grand financial success.

Nor are the connections to MLK merely metaphorical. Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin and Coretta Scott King is a minister at New Birth. She and Long stirred controversy in 2004 when they led a march demanding that the legislature amend the state Constitution to forbid gay marriage – which was already illegal in Georgia. (It was particularly incendiary given that Long began the event by lighting his torch in the eternal flame at Martin Luther King’s crypt.) In 2004 Long endorsed George W. Bush in all but name, charging that John Kerry would not protect the nation from the looming menace of same sex unions.

Against that history, the charges that Long coerced teenage boys in his youth foundation (ineptly dubbed the "Long Fellows") into gay sex acts detonated like a concussion grenade. On some level the homophobic pastor who is secretly engaging in gay sex is the most fatigued of clichés. But Long’s allegations differ if for no other reason than the scale. It also has to be mentioned that the black church had perfected its own version of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell long before the military dreamed of such a compact.

James Baldwin elegantly laid out the camouflaged homoeroticism of the church in Go Tell It On the Mountain in 1953. Protocol, Jesus and race pride require those urges remain cloaked, even if the cloak is fashioned from Saran Wrap. It goes without saying that Long could have built his religious empire without ever touching the subject. But he didn’t, or couldn’t and among the many implications of that is the number of cars streaming onto the campus before the sun cracked the horizon Sunday morning.

New Birth’s reach is beyond substantial. (I previously volunteered at a battered women’s shelter that was almost entirely staffed by New Birth members.) Recently they donated a reported $250,000 to feed and house children suffering from AIDS in South Africa. For many, those acts were evidence that the former church members bringing suit against Long were making false allegations. On some level I hoped that they were right. No reasonable person could relish the thought of disillusionment on that scale, or the possibility that there were many more teens who had been pressured into sex with the Bishop.

Inside the sanctuary, a massive knot of men gathered at the front for an altar prayer. Among New Birth’s points of pride is the exceptionally large number of male congregants at a time when black churches are mostly female in their membership, in an area known for both the number of single professional women and the dearth of men. By the time service started somewhere around 8,000 people had filled the massive sanctuary and the atmosphere was given to a kind of spiritual defiance. One woman prayed aloud, thanking God for "allowing this controversy" as surely this was a means of bringing His message to even greater audiences. When Long stepped up to the pulpit and announced he had some things to say to the congregation, the crowd rose to its feet and a tsunami of cheers washed over the place.

Some speculated that Long would announce his resignation. Others suspected that the charges were too damaging for him to survive. But there would be no resignations this Sunday – or, more precisely, no need for any. If the reaction of the faithful was any measure, Long’s survival was already assured. One woman shouted "You don’t have to tell us nothin" before he began to speak and the place erupted again. And she was right. For many there was no need for Long to explain himself, to detail what might drive four young men to lodge separate yet similar claims of abuse or confess how exactly he came to text photos of himself in tight workout clothes to adolescent boys. At that point I recognized that my concerns were misplaced. There would be no disillusionment, no void in the spirit as Long was guilt proof. For years he had offered a theology meant to immunize his ranks from the hurts of the world, to inure them to the wounds of life – even those that might be self inflicted.

It didn’t matter that he gave a non-denial denial: "I am not a perfect man, but I am not the man you’ve seen on television." Or that he essentially dragged a portable crucifix into the sanctuary and nailed his own palms "I am under attack… this is the most difficult time in my life." Or that the words innocent, untrue, slander, false, baseless, lie or exonerate appeared nowhere in his comments. I gathered that in building New Birth, Long had essentially wrought an elaborate knot of the kind that any attempt to untie only serves to tighten it.

Perhaps that was why an usher saw me scribbling notes, falsely accused me of lying about being a journalist and had two armed Dekalb Country sheriffs escort me from the premises. The crowd roared their approval as I was taken from the building. They see themselves as besieged by nonbelievers and devilry that seeks to undo God’s work. Exorcising one journalist from the room was cause for celebration.

Yet even as I was hustled out the exit I couldn’t help but think that the ghosts of unresolved questions about harm and hypocrisy would linger and haunt the Bishop for a good while to come.

This article available online at:


Copyright © 2010 by The Atlantic Monthly G


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Journal Of Afro American Males in Education

Posted by jcmaziquemd on September 28, 2010

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This Sounds Familiar…

Posted by jcmaziquemd on September 28, 2010

4,100 Students Prove ‘Small Is Better’ Rule Wrong


BROCKTON, Mass. — A decade ago, Brockton High School was a case study in failure. Teachers and administrators often voiced the unofficial school motto in hallway chitchat: students have a right to fail if they want. And many of them did — only a quarter of the students passed statewide exams. One in three dropped out.

Then Susan Szachowicz and a handful of fellow teachers decided to take action. They persuaded administrators to let them organize a schoolwide campaign that involved reading and writing lessons into every class in all subjects, including gym.

Their efforts paid off quickly. In 2001 testing, more students passed the state tests after failing the year before than at any other school in Massachusetts. The gains continued. This year and last, Brockton outperformed 90 percent of Massachusetts high schools. And its turnaround is getting new attention in a report, “How High Schools Become Exemplary,” published last month by Ronald F. Ferguson, an economist at Harvard who researches the minority achievement gap.

What makes Brockton High’s story surprising is that, with 4,100 students, it is an exception to what has become received wisdom in many educational circles — that small is almost always better.

That is why the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the last decade breaking down big schools into small academies (it has since switched strategies, focusing more on instruction).

The small-is-better orthodoxy remains powerful. A new movie, “Waiting for Superman,” for example, portrays five charter schools in New York, Los Angeles and elsewhere — most with only a few hundred students — as the way forward for American schooling.

Brockton, by contrast, is the largest public school in Massachusetts, and one of the largest in the nation.

At education conferences, Dr. Szachowicz — who became Brockton’s principal in 2004 — still gets approached by small-school advocates who tell her they are skeptical that a 4,100-student school could offer a decent education.

“I tell them we’re a big school that works,“ said Dr. Szachowicz, whose booming voice makes her seem taller than 5-foot-6 as she walks the hallways, greeting students, walkie-talkie in hand.

She and other teachers took action in part because academic catastrophe seemed to be looming, Dr. Szachowicz and several of her colleagues said in interviews here. Massachusetts had instituted a new high school exit exam in 1993, and passing it would be required to graduate a decade later. Unless the school’s culture improved, some 750 seniors would be denied a diploma each year, starting in 2003.

Dr. Szachowicz and Paul Laurino, then the head of the English department — he has since retired — began meeting on Saturdays with any colleagues they could pull together to brainstorm strategies for improving the school.

Shame was an early motivator, especially after the release of the 1999 test scores.

“They were horrible,” Dr. Szachowicz recalled. She painted them in bold letters on poster paper in the group’s Saturday meeting room.

“Is this the best we can be?” she wrote underneath.

The group eventually became known as the school restructuring committee, and the administration did not stand in the way. The principal “just let it happen,” the Harvard report says.

The committee’s first big step was to go back to basics, and deem that reading, writing, speaking and reasoning were the most important skills to teach. They set out to recruit every educator in the building — not just English, but math, science, even guidance counselors — to teach those skills to students.

The committee put together a rubric to help teachers understand what good writing looks like, and began devoting faculty meetings to teaching department heads how to use it. The school’s 300 teachers were then trained in small groups.

Writing exercises took many forms, but encouraged students to think methodically. A science teacher, for example, had her students write out, step by step, how to make a sandwich, starting with opening the cupboard to fetch the peanut butter, through washing the knife once the sandwich was made. Other writing exercises, of course, were much more sophisticated.

Some teachers dragged their feet. Michael Thomas, now the district’s operations director but who led the school’s physical education department at the time, recalled that several of his teachers told him, “This is gym; we shouldn’t have to teach writing.” Mr. Thomas said he replied, “If you want to work at Brockton High, it’s your job.”

Fear held some teachers back — fear of wasting time on what could be just another faddish reform, fear of a heavier workload — and committee members tried to help them surmount it.

“Let me help you,” was a response committee members said they often offered to reluctant colleagues who argued that some requests were too difficult.

The first big boost came with the results of the spring 2001 tests. Although Brockton’s scores were still unacceptably low, they had risen sharply. The state education commissioner, David P. Driscoll, traveled to Brockton to congratulate the school’s cheering students and faculty.

“It had become dogma that smaller was better, but there was no evidence,” said Mr. Driscoll, who since 2007 has headed the National Assessment Governing Board, which oversees federal testing. “In schools, no matter the size — and Brockton is one of the biggest — what matters is uniting people behind a common purpose, setting high expectations, and sticking with it.”

After that early triumph, remaining resistance among the faculty gave way, Dr. Szachowicz said. Overnight, the restructuring committee gained enormous credibility, and scores of once-reluctant teachers wanted to start attending its Saturday meetings, which continue today.

Brockton never fired large numbers of teachers, in contrast with current federal policy, which encourages failing schools to consider replacing at least half of all teachers to reinvigorate instruction.

But Dr. Szachowicz and her colleagues did make some teachers uncomfortable, and at least one teacher who refused to participate in the turnaround was eventually dismissed after due process hearings.

Teachers unions have resisted turnaround efforts at many schools. But at Brockton, the union never became a serious adversary, in part because most committee members were unionized teachers, and the committee scrupulously honored the union contract.

An example: the contract set aside two hours per month for teacher meetings, previously used to discuss mundane school business. The committee began dedicating those to teacher training, and made sure they never lasted a minute beyond the time allotted.

“Dr. Szachowicz takes the contract seriously, and we’ve worked together within its parameters,” said Tim Sullivan, who was president of the local teachers union through much of the last decade.

The committee changed many rules and policies.

The school had an elaborate tracking system, for instance, that channeled students into one of five academic paths. It was largely eliminated because the “basic” courses set low expectations for poor-performing students.

The committee worked to boost the aspirations of students, 69 percent of whom qualify for free lunches because of their families’ low incomes. Teachers were urged to make sure students heard the phrase, “When you go to college …” in every class, every day.

When the school began receiving academic awards, they were made into banners and displayed prominently.

Athletics had traditionally been valued above academic success, and coaches had routinely pressured teachers to raise the grades of star players to maintain their eligibility. Dr. Szachowicz said she put an end to any exceptions.

But the school retained all varsity sports, as well as its several bands and choruses, extensive drama program and scores of student clubs.

Many students consider the school’s size — as big as many small colleges — and its diverse student body (mostly minority), to be points in its favor, rather than problems.

“You meet a new person every day,” said Johanne Alexandre, a senior whose mother is Haitian. “Somebody with a new story, a new culture. I have Pakistani friends, Brazilians, Haitians, Asians, Cape Verdeans. There are Africans, Guatemalans.”

“There’s a couple of Americans, too!” Tercia Mota, a senior born in Brazil, offered. “But there aren’t cliques. Take a look at the lunch table.”

“You can’t say, those are the jocks, those are the preppy cheerleaders, those are the geeks,” Ms. Mota said. “Everything is blended, everybody’s friends with everyone.”

Over the years, Brockton has refined its literacy curriculum. Bob Perkins, the math department chairman, used a writing lesson last week in his Introduction to Algebra II class. He wrote “3 + 72 – 6 x 3 – 11” on the board, then asked students to solve the problem in their workbooks and to explain their reasoning, step by step, in simple sentences.

“I did the exponents first and squared the 7,” wrote Sharon Peterson, a junior. “I multiplied 6 x 3. I added 3 + 49, and combined 18 and 11, because they were both negatives. I ended up with 52-29. The final answer was 23.”

Some students had more trouble, and the lesson seemed to drag a bit.

“This is taking longer than I expected, but it’s not wasted time,” Mr. Perkins said. “They’re learning math, but they’re also learning to write.”

Brockton’s performance is not as stellar in math as in English language arts, and the committee has hired an outside consultant to help develop strategies for improving math instruction, Mr. Perkins said.

Dr. Ferguson said Brockton High first “jumped out of the data” for him early last year. He was examining Massachusetts’ 2008 test scores in his office in Cambridge, and noticed that Brockton had done a better job than 90 percent of the state’s 350 high schools helping its students to improve their language arts scores.

Since then, he has visited Brockton intermittently and invited some of its faculty to the Harvard campus for interviews. The report he wrote with four other Harvard researchers includes an analysis of exemplary performance not only at Brockton, but also at 14 other schools in five states.

The report noted one characteristic shared by all: “Achievement rose when leadership teams focused thoughtfully and relentlessly on improving the quality of instruction.”

Brockton was by far the largest, but only five of the exemplary schools had fewer than 1,000 students, while six had more than 1,700 and two in Illinois had more than 3,000.

“I never bought into the dogma that a huge school can’t be great,” Dr. Ferguson said.

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The Story of Slavery

Posted by jcmaziquemd on September 25, 2010

The Story of Slavery


Columnist's name

Textbooks can illuminate the economic and political foundations of American slavery, but novelists tell the story I want to know: how slaves were captured and sold, their daily lives (what they ate, where they slept, what they sang), how they endured.

The truest story of all comes from slaves themselves, and you can hear some of their voices on the audio book version of "Remembering Slavery," a collection of interviews with former slaves conducted in the 1930s. These witnesses to an unimaginable life are unsentimental but poignant beyond belief: "During slavery, it seemed like your children belonged to everybody but you."

My favorite novels about slavery are James McBride’s "Song Yet Sung," which shows how the voices of slaves who were forbidden to speak to one another could not be silenced; "The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation" by M. T. Anderson, the story of a slave in Revolutionary-era Boston, when slave-owning patriots were noisily and hypocritically extolling freedom; Valerie Martin’s "Property," an illustration of how slavery was often a "negotiated relationship" between master—or mistress—and slave (though not between equals); Barry Unsworth’s "Sacred Hunger"—the triangle of human trafficking among English investors, African traders and American plantation owners; and "The Known World" by Edward P. Jones, whose depiction of a freed slave owning slaves is staggering.

A nonfiction work that gives a vivid picture of life on one plantation—Thomas Jefferson’s—is Annette Gordon-Reed’s "The Hemingses of Monticello." Whatever her relationship to Jefferson, Sally Hemings was clearly an extraordinary woman, who managed to negotiate her children’s freedom. Although I haven’t read it, I’m intrigued by David Bradley’s "The Chaneysville Incident," a historical novel about a group of escaped slaves who supposedly chose to die rather than return to slavery.

William Styron’s "The Confessions of Nat Turner," a fictional memoir of the slave who incited a violent rebellion in Virginia in 1831, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1968 despite a furious controversy over whether Mr. Styron, a white Southerner, could truly imagine what it was like to be a slave who believes he’s divinely inspired to liberate his people. It’s worth reading if only to answer that question for yourself.

My daughter has been studying slavery in her American history class, and I realize I don’t know as much about it as I thought I did. I mainly like to read novels. What are some good ones about this subject?

—J.K., St. Louis

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A Little Known AA Artist

Posted by jcmaziquemd on September 25, 2010

Reflections on the American Landscape


During the Jacksonian era of the 1820s and 1830s, narrative scenes of everyday life were in the ascendancy in the U.S., reflecting the rise of the democratic spirit and the cult of the individual. A continuation of that sensibility remains evident in the three fishing figures in Robert S. Duncanson’s painting "Blue Hole, Little Miami River" (1851). But by midcentury, landscape had moved to the forefront of artistic attention in America, and it dominates this pastoral vista. The silhouetted boys in the foreground serve to give scale to the composition and a sense of nature’s expansive presence around them. They also convey an aura of human harmony with the landscape and the domestication of the wilderness on what was then America’s western frontier. The Little Miami River is a tributary of the Ohio River east of Cincinnati, and Duncanson had settled in the river city a decade earlier. (Appropriately, this picture now resides in the Cincinnati Art Museum.) By this time it had become a thriving center of east-west settlement and north-south commerce.

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Cincinnati Art Museum

With ‘Blue Hole,’ Robert S. Duncanson demonstrated a new level of mastery in composing landscape subjects.


Duncanson (1821-1872) was born in New York state to a free black mother and a Scots-Canadian father and was described as a "freeman of color." Along with Frederick Douglass, who wrote his first autobiography in 1845 and a second in 1855, Duncanson represents the newly emerging voice of the African-American around the mid-19th century. As a young man he moved west, securing employment as a house painter and largely teaching himself the rudiments of artistic practice. In 1848 he gained a commission from Nicholas Longworth, a prominent Cincinnati lawyer and patron, to paint murals for his mansion Belmont (now the Taft Museum), and in the years following learned the conventions of contemporary landscape painting.

It is clear the work of such established artists as Worthington Whittredge and William Louis Sonntag shaped Duncanson’s maturing career. He also could have seen examples by other Hudson River School figures on view at local Art Union exhibitions. In particular, he admired the landscapes of Thomas Cole, recently deceased and celebrated as the most influential artist of the day. With "Blue Hole," Duncanson demonstrated a new level of mastery in absorbing Cole’s framework for composing landscape subjects.

Cole was acknowledged as the founder of America’s first landscape movement, and articulated his views in his 1835 "Essay on American Scenery." Nature was to be seen as educational and inspirational. The principal virtue of the national landscape, distinct from Europe’s, was wilderness. Cole addressed the several components of landscape: mountains, lakes, waterfalls, rivers, forests and sky. But he was most eloquent regarding the visual power of water: "Like the eye in the human countenance, it is the most expressive feature." Reflection in particular served as both mirror and meditation. It was, said Cole, "the voice of the landscape."

Duncanson makes this the central element of his painting. Its horizontal foreground provides a solid base for the composition. In the background he balances the two banks of trees. We view a tranquil turn in the river, which appears to have been dammed up by beavers—the piles of logs visible at the left and in the center distance. The whole coheres in physical and spiritual harmony.

Duncanson’s canvas was his most beautiful work to date and a quintessential example of mid-19th-century American landscape art, capturing something of the country’s self-confidence and optimism at the outset of a decade that would steadily move toward tension and conflict. But in 1851 he created an image not yet darkened by the turbulent interlocking forces of nation, race and territory.

We can find exact parallels of thought in the writings of Henry David Thoreau, both in his "Journal" of that same year and in final drafts of "Walden" published in 1854. First, there is the shared love of describing nature’s details, but even more the philosophical expressiveness of water. On Sept. 1, 1851, Thoreau recorded, "What unanimity between water & the sky—one only a little denser element than the other." And in the second chapter of "Walden" he observed, "It is well to have some water in your neighborhood, to give buoyancy to and float the earth." In a different metaphor he referred to his pond as "an amphitheatre for some sylvan spectacle."

But it was the perfect geometry of the circle that Thoreau repeated most of all, in his references to the orbs of sun and moon, the cycle of the seasons and the revolution of the Earth, a circling hawk overhead, and, in his Conclusion, the assertion that "our voyaging is only great-circle sailing." But Walden Pond was also like an iris in its changing colors, and in the chapter titled "The Ponds" he declared, "A lake is the landscape’s most agreeable and expressive feature: it is the earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature."

Duncanson’s circular pool evokes both the visual language of Cole and literary equivalents in Thoreau. Its tranquil surface mirrors the rocks and forest at each side and in the center the great wedge of luminous sky, holding in balance man and nature as well as the worlds of fact and spirit. This and the works that followed led the Daily Cincinnati Gazette of May 30, 1861, to declare Duncanson the "best landscape painter in the west."

The cultural historian David Lubin has observed that Duncanson included passages of water, whether rivers or broad lakes, in almost all his paintings, and argued that for the African-American sensibility these have social and political meaning. With figures often standing at their banks, they were waterways to be crossed, both visually and physically, to metaphorical and literal freedom. Indeed, Duncanson himself left for Canada in 1863, during the Civil War. But we may argue that his first masterpiece a decade earlier was less a coded racial landscape than an inspired American one.

—Mr. Wilmerding is the author of numerous books on 19th-century American art and culture. He teaches in the American Studies Program at Princeton.

Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Compa

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How to Raise Boys Who Read

Posted by jcmaziquemd on September 25, 2010

How to Raise Boys Who Read

Hint: Not with gross-out books and video-game bribes.


When I was a young boy, America’s elite schools and universities were almost entirely reserved for males. That seems incredible now, in an era when headlines suggest that boys are largely unfit for the classroom. In particular, they can’t read.

According to a recent report from the Center on Education Policy, for example, substantially more boys than girls score below the proficiency level on the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test. This disparity goes back to 1992, and in some states the percentage of boys proficient in reading is now more than ten points below that of girls. The male-female reading gap is found in every socio-economic and ethnic category, including the children of white, college-educated parents.

The good news is that influential people have noticed this problem. The bad news is that many of them have perfectly awful ideas for solving it.

Everyone agrees that if boys don’t read well, it’s because they don’t read enough. But why don’t they read? A considerable number of teachers and librarians believe that boys are simply bored by the "stuffy" literature they encounter in school. According to a revealing Associated Press story in July these experts insist that we must "meet them where they are"—that is, pander to boys’ untutored tastes.

For elementary- and middle-school boys, that means "books that exploit [their] love of bodily functions and gross-out humor." AP reported that one school librarian treats her pupils to "grossology" parties. "Just get ’em reading," she counsels cheerily. "Worry about what they’re reading later."

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Not with ‘gross-out’ books and video-game bribes.


There certainly is no shortage of publishers ready to meet boys where they are. Scholastic has profitably catered to the gross-out market for years with its "Goosebumps" and "Captain Underpants" series. Its latest bestsellers are the "Butt Books," a series that began with "The Day My Butt Went Psycho."

The more venerable houses are just as willing to aim low. Penguin, which once used the slogan, "the library of every educated person," has its own "Gross Out" line for boys, including such new classics as "Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger."

Workman Publishing made its name telling women "What to Expect When You’re Expecting." How many of them expected they’d be buying "Oh, Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty" a few years later from the same publisher? Even a self-published author like Raymond Bean—nom de plume of the fourth-grade teacher who wrote "SweetFarts"—can make it big in this genre. His flatulence-themed opus hit no. 3 in children’s humor on Amazon. The sequel debuts this fall.

Education was once understood as training for freedom. Not merely the transmission of information, education entailed the formation of manners and taste. Aristotle thought we should be raised "so as both to delight in and to be pained by the things that we ought; this is the right education."

"Plato before him," writes C. S. Lewis, "had said the same. The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting, and hateful."

This kind of training goes against the grain, and who has time for that? How much easier to meet children where they are.

One obvious problem with the SweetFarts philosophy of education is that it is more suited to producing a generation of barbarians and morons than to raising the sort of men who make good husbands, fathers and professionals. If you keep meeting a boy where he is, he doesn’t go very far.

The other problem is that pandering doesn’t address the real reason boys won’t read. My own experience with six sons is that even the squirmiest boy does not require lurid or vulgar material to sustain his interest in a book.

So why won’t boys read? The AP story drops a clue when it describes the efforts of one frustrated couple with their 13-year-old unlettered son: "They’ve tried bribing him with new video games." Good grief.

The appearance of the boy-girl literacy gap happens to coincide with the proliferation of video games and other electronic forms of entertainment over the last decade or two. Boys spend far more time "plugged in" than girls do. Could the reading gap have more to do with competition for boys’ attention than with their supposed inability to focus on anything other than outhouse humor?

Dr. Robert Weis, a psychology professor at Denison University, confirmed this suspicion in a randomized controlled trial of the effect of video games on academic ability. Boys with video games at home, he found, spend more time playing them than reading, and their academic performance suffers substantially. Hard to believe, isn’t it, but Science has spoken.

The secret to raising boys who read, I submit, is pretty simple—keep electronic media, especially video games and recreational Internet, under control (that is to say, almost completely absent). Then fill your shelves with good books.

People who think that a book—even R.L. Stine’s grossest masterpiece—can compete with the powerful stimulation of an electronic screen are kidding themselves. But on the level playing field of a quiet den or bedroom, a good book like "Treasure Island" will hold a boy’s attention quite as well as "Zombie Butts from Uranus." Who knows—a boy deprived of electronic stimulation might even become desperate enough to read Jane Austen.

Most importantly, a boy raised on great literature is more likely to grow up to think, to speak, and to write like a civilized man. Whom would you prefer to have shaped the boyhood imagination of your daughter’s husband—Raymond Bean or Robert Louis Stevenson?

I offer a final piece of evidence that is perhaps unanswerable: There is no literacy gap between home-schooled boys and girls. How many of these families, do you suppose, have thrown grossology parties?

Mr. Spence is president of Spence Publishing Company in Dallas.

Copyright 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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How College Health Plans Are Failing Students

Posted by jcmaziquemd on September 25, 2010

How College Health Plans Are Failing Students

How Colleges Are Failing Students on Health Care— And What You Can Do About It


On Thursday, the first big pieces of the new health-care overhaul took effect. Among other things, the rules mandate that insurance companies offer coverage to adult children until the age of 26 and devote at least 80% of their revenue to health-care costs.

But one major player was notably absent from these new rule changes: colleges. They have managed to sidestep, at least for now, the regulatory clampdown that has sent hospitals, insurers and corporations scrambling.

How’d they pull it off? Since student plans for the 2010-11 school year were negotiated before Sept. 23, they aren’t subject to the regulations this year.

Bad Medicine

How colleges are failing students on health care:

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Eli Meir Kaplan for The Wall Street Journal

Nia Heard-Garris, Howard University Medical School: School plan didn’t cover an emergency-room visit and CT scan for neck pain. Her cost: $1,600


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AJ Mast for the Wall Street Journal

Katie Todd, Franklin University: Suffers from depression, but school plan limits benefits to $50 per visit—up to $250 a year—for mental-health counseling. Her cost: Anything over $250 a year


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Peter McCollough for The Wall Street Journal

Paula Villescaz, University of California at Berkeley: School plan didn’t cover her final round of chemotherapy for treating her bone cancer, among other expenses, leaving her with a huge bill. Her cost: $80,000


And if industry and university groups succeed, the plans will be exempted permanently from many elements of the new law. At a June American College Health Association conference, James Turner, executive director of student health at the University of Virginia and former president of the ACHA, told audience members that Nancy-Ann DeParle, director of the White House Office of Health Reform, had told him during an earlier meeting to "tell me what you want written into the regulations and we’ll make it happen."

"The White House denies that Ms. DeParle ever said that," says White House spokesman Nick Papas. "The administration is still working on this issue and is eager to hear from all parties."

The health-care overhaul has major implications for young adults and their parents. For the first time, parents will have the choice of keeping their graduate-student children on their corporate insurance plans or opting for cheaper college plans.

They should think carefully.

There is broad consensus that, as a group, college health-insurance plans rank among the worst in the nation for consumers. Many college plans come with remarkably low benefit ceilings—in some cases as little as $2,500. Others limit areas of coverage, such as preventative services and chemotherapy.

The upshot: Students are often much less insured than they think they are. In extreme cases high-school seniors with health issues might be advised to consider a college’s health plan before attending.

"These plans have not been thoroughly scrutinized," says Bryan A. Liang, executive director of the Institute of Health Law Studies at California Western School of Law in San Diego. "In some instances they offer very paltry care."

The college health-care system is a hodgepodge of school plans and private insurance. According to the Government Accountability Office, more than half of the nation’s colleges offer school-sponsored plans. All told, about 80% of college students, nearly 7 million people, are covered by private or public health insurance.

Most schools aim to provide the best care for the lowest cost. Students tend to be healthier than the general population, so school plans don’t need the safety nets found in adult plans.

Yet these low-cost plans are a big business for insurance companies. All of the major players are active in the college market, with Aetna Inc. and United Healthcare leading the pack. According to a November 2009 study from the Massachusetts Division of Health Care Finance and Policy, profit margins for student health programs in the state were 10%, compared with 2% for other insurance plans.

When colleges fall short, say health-care experts, it is often because their administrators lack the savvy to negotiate with insurers and arrange the best terms for their students.

"Not every podunk university is going to have a health plan official who will look into these plans," says Elizabeth Ritzman, director of Dominican University’s student health center in River Forest, Ill.

The health-care overhaul deals with individual and group insurance plans. In an Aug. 12 letter to the White House, the ACHA and other groups argued that school plans shouldn’t be considered group or individual plans but rather "short-term limited-duration" insurance policies. Such a designation would likely exempt them from many of the new regulations, experts say.

The letter also warned that certain reforms "could make it impossible for colleges and universities to continue to offer student health plans."

The ACHA "is supporting regulatory clarification that would allow student plans to preserve the grouplike status that is vital to providing lower cost coverage to students," says Jake Baggott, ACHA’s advocacy coalition chair. Dr. Turner, ACHA’s president until June, says the spirit of his conversation with the White House was that "they would be happy to include in the regulations the necessary language to assure preservation of the plans."

Insurers seem to be confident they will get their way. According to three people familiar with the matter, Aetna has told colleges that they have nothing to worry about because their plans will be exempted.

Aetna says it never conveyed that message to its members. "We expect that all student plans that wish to be credible will comply with minimum coverage requirements as soon as possible," says Ethan Slavin, a spokesman for the insurer.

Good insurance plans are marked by a few elements, among them benefit ceilings of at least $250,000, generous prescription drug plans and emergency room coverage. According to the GAO, more than half of all school plans have ceilings of less than $30,000.

Some schools boast excellent health plans, says Dr. Liang. Take Boston University’s program, offered through Aetna. Students pay $1,676 for coverage that includes a $500,000 benefit ceiling and pays 80% of any ambulance expenses.

Another indicator of a good plan is its "medical loss ratio," or the percentage of the premium that the insurance provider pays out in claims. The health-care overhaul limits loss ratios to 80%; a lower ratio means students aren’t getting as much for the cost. Brigham Young University, which offers insurance through Deseret Mutual Benefit Administrators, had a loss ratio of 93% last year, meaning that for every $100 in premiums, students received $93 of care.

Other plans, however, are less generous.

Paula Villescaz, a senior at the University of California at Berkeley, says she never looked closely at the Anthem Blue Cross insurance policy she got through her college. The plan has a $400,000 ceiling, but also has some important limitations, as Ms. Villescaz found out recently.

The political-science major had always been healthy—until March, when doctors discovered she had Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. Berkeley’s plan didn’t cover her first MRI, her PET scan or many blood tests her doctors required, she says.

In between chemotherapy treatments, Ms. Villescaz says she had to battle the insurance company, which refused to cover her last round of chemotherapy, declaring it medically unnecessary. Her chemotherapy has since concluded, but she is now undergoing radiation treatment.

Ms. Villescaz says she owes about $80,000 all told. Before she got sick, she worked two jobs to support herself and help out her single mother. "I’m going to be paying off these bills for the rest of my life," she says.

Both Berkeley and Anthem declined to comment.

Students who don’t study the details of a plan before signing up can end up with nasty surprises, as Nia Heard-Garris, a 24-year-old medical student at Howard University Medical School, learned firsthand.

Ms. Heard-Garris in 2007 signed up for Howard’s standard health plan, administered by Summit America Corp. The plan, which now costs $476 a year and is mandatory for all students, came with a $5,000 limit per injury and sickness, and didn’t cover radiation and chemotherapy—though the plan now offers more coverage. (Howard also offers an enhanced plan that costs $699 a year and has a limit of $200,000 per injury or sickness.)

Last year, Ms. Heard-Garris went to the emergency room complaining of neck pain. She got a CT scan—then found out that her insurance wouldn’t cover the $1,600 bill. "I have absolutely no idea how I can pay this," she says. "I think it’s kind of ironic that here I am learning how to help people, and I can’t even get care covered." She says she is negotiating with Summit to cover her bill.

Howard doesn’t comment on specific cases. A spokeswoman says students receive a booklet detailing medical-care protocols, and "the student health center staff will take the appropriate steps to provide [students] with appropriate care." A Summit spokeswoman says, "We’re always willing to work with any student to provide clarity."

Some school plans limit their coverage of certain categories, such as mental health. Franklin College in Indiana offers a plan through Markel Insurance Corp. that covers $50 for every mental-health counseling visit—up to $250 per year.

"There’s admittedly very little coverage for mental health," says Terri Nigh, coordinator of student health services at Franklin. While negotiating benefits and evaluating the plan each year, school administrators try to meet the needs of the majority of students, she says. "It’s a difficult process."

That’s been a problem for Katie Todd, a sophomore at Franklin. A pre-med major, Ms. Todd says she has battled depression since she was 12. She says most private insurers considered her depression a pre-existing condition, and that the best quote she has gotten would cost a steep $310 a month.

With no alternative, she signed up for the Franklin plan, but is frustrated by its limitations. "It’s really vital for me to get this coverage, and the plan just mostly ignores it," she says.

"The plan’s design is based on the specifications of the college, not the insurer," says Mark Nichols, a managing director at Markel.

Parents and students can get the most for their money by carefully examining school plans before signing up. Health-care planning should come long before enrollment, says James A. Boyle, president of the College Parents of America, a Virginia-based nonprofit.

Anyone considering a school plan should ask a number of questions, say experts:

• What is the maximum benefit for the policy?

• Are prescriptions and mental health services included?

• What happens to coverage if you leave school, go abroad or graduate?

• What is the loss ratio?

• Do any on-campus services, such as checkups or flu shots, overlap with existing coverage?

Parents who are considering keeping their child on their personal insurance should ask their benefits representative or insurer about how coverage will be carried over on campus and off—especially at schools far from home. (This also applies to graduate students and to adult children under age 26.) They should also be ready to sign a waiver with the school so they’re not charged for automatic enrollment in a campus policy.

If, after getting all these answers, both the employer and school insurance options seem unappealing, parents should consider using a site like eHealthInsurance.com, which allows for comparison browsing among 10,000 plans from 180 carriers. The prices and coverage can vary widely depending on the state, but the site offers free access to licensed agents who don’t work on a commission basis and can answer specific questions about plans, says Carrie McLean, a consumer specialist at the company.

The key is to do the legwork now to avoid surprises later. Otherwise, says Aaron Smith, a founder of Young Invincibles, a nonprofit student group that seeks better care for college students, you could wind up "in a dangerous place, with insurance plans that don’t cover any real health-care costs."

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Legacy of bias

Posted by jcmaziquemd on September 24, 2010

Legacy of Bias

September 22, 2010



When college officials talk about the extra help they provide to applicants who are alumni children (and it’s rare to get them to talk about the topic outside of alumni circles), they tend to say a few things: that the preferences are modest, just an extra “tip” for some well-qualified applicants; that alumni children likely would have had a much greater chance than others of being admitted even without the preference; and that such modest boosts are a small price to pay for the spirit of community and philanthropy created by multigenerational ties to a college.

What if none of that is true?

What if the alumni preferences are significant? What if significant numbers of these alumni children wouldn’t have gotten in anyway? And what if — contrary to conventional wisdom — alumni preferences have no impact on alumni giving? Those what-ifs are all true, according to a book being published and released today by the Century Foundation (and distributed by the Brookings Institution Press). The book is a collection of research articles by scholars, journalists and lawyers arguing that much of what colleges have said over the years about alumni admissions preferences isn’t true — and that they amount to the book’s title: Affirmative Action for the Rich.

Richard D. Kahlenberg, editor of the volume and an advocate for class-based as opposed to race-based affirmative action, believes that the time is ripe for American society to re-examine and eliminate alumni preferences. Why now? He noted, and chapters of the book document, that the highly competitive nature of elite college admissions has focused scrutiny on why applicants are or are not admitted. Further, the elimination of affirmative action in several states (a shift Kahlenberg expects to spread), he says, makes it “hard to justify alumni preferences when you have gotten rid of help for minorities.” Finally, he noted, “we are going through a populist moment in this country, where there is anger at illegitimate preferences or unfair advantages for wealthy people, and it seems to me that this issue is one that’s plainly unfair and Americans get that.”

The book offers legal reasons — such as those argued in two law review articles in 2008

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Should You Let Your Child Play Football?

Posted by jcmaziquemd on September 23, 2010

New England Journal Article


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Cellphones are Not the Enemy

Posted by jcmaziquemd on September 22, 2010



For the past few years, Andreas Haralambou has performed the same ritual. “Can I have a cellphone?” he asks his dad. “When you’re older,” his dad says.

“Every year I ask him, because I get older every year,” Andreas, now 11 and still cellphoneless, said the other day.

If Andreas had one, he could keep a virtual pet alien with the Furdiburb app, play the video game Doodle Jump and not get bored when his friends ignore him to watch videos on YouTube.

None of this persuades his father, George. “It’s distracting; it’s a diversion,” Haralambou, a physician, said by land line, summing up the universal parent perspective. “He needs to be concentrating on his schoolwork.”

But for one week this summer, at a free camp held at the New York Hall of Science in Queens, Andreas added an extra argument to his arsenal: maybe cellphones can be schoolwork. At the camp, Andreas and other children used Nexus One smartphones, and with the help of probes that zipped bluetooth signals to the phones, the children tested the air for carbon monoxide, particulate matter and noise pollution. Andreas’s job was to use his phone to measure contaminants from idling buses and vans. (New York City requires drivers to turn off their engines when they stop for any significant period near a school.) Andreas and his team found buses idling for as long as 14 minutes.

The project was part of an experiment by the New Youth City Learning Network, which takes as a premise that most children already exist in a digital world. The network is strongly interested in mobile devices: “Anytime-anywhere-anyhow learning” is how its co-founder, Diana Rhoten, describes it. “You can’t do that stuck to your desktop.”

Other new mobile applications include a tool called NOAH that lets you take cellphone pictures of bugs and trees and then sends back an identification of the exact type in as little as 24 hours and one that provides a similar service for historical landmarks, a result of a partnership between the History Channel and Foursquare.

In a group of villages in rural India, meanwhile, the Digital Study Hall uses mobile phones to create a community among isolated schoolteachers. About three times a week, a group of 80 teachers checks in to a phone network to discuss everything from what to do with children who never speak to the challenge of young girls’ dropping out when they are married off. The students sometimes use the network, too. They recently held a singing competition, a debate and an elocution contest. All on their cellphones.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

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