Friday Assorted Links

1. A Teacher’s Struggle With Student Anxiety.

“Anxiety has become the most significant obstacle to learning among my adolescent students. In a teaching career spanning more than 30 years, I have watched as it has usurped attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which itself displaced “dyslexia,” as the diagnosis I encounter most often among struggling students. In contrast to dyslexia or ADHD, for which I have developed effective teaching strategies, anxiety in students leaves me feeling powerless. As a new school year kicks off, I am left wondering how anxiety has become so prevalent so quickly. What can I do about it? Might my teaching actually contribute to it?”

It doesn’t appear as if Doyle is familiar with Twenge’s recent work on how smart phones contribute to adolescents’ anxiety.

2. There’s nothing more addictively soothing than watching someone flipping homes on HGTV.

“HGTV was the third-most-popular network on cable television in 2016, a 24/7 testament to the powers of Target chic, the open-plan kitchen, and social conservatism. It unspools with the same bland cheerfulness as Leave It to Beaver, and its heart is in the same place. Many viewers — in red states and blue cities, in rent-controlled studio apartments and 6,000-square-foot McMansions — confess it’s a bedtime ritual, prelude to a night spent dreaming of ceramic-tile backsplashes and double-sink vanities. Over the past two years, it has become such a ratings and advertising sensation that it is largely responsible for the recent sale, this summer, of its parent company, Scripps Networks Interactive, to Discovery Communications for $11.9 billion.”

I confess, I’m an HGTV-er.

3. A university president held a dinner for black students—and set the table with cotton stalks and collard greens. I propose a term for this. . . macro aggression.

4. Even jellyfish sleep.

5. Evan Osnos’s take-aways from a trip to North Korea. Long time Pressing Pausers will know I’ve been a long time observer of North Korea. Osnos’s report is interesting throughout. He reports that if Kim Jong Un’s picture appears in a newspaper, North Koreans must avoid creasing his face. And being in a wheelchair disqualifies you from living in Pyonyang, the capital. Monitors on the city’s perimeter limit movement in and out of the capital. Most importantly, Osnos’s reporting strongly suggests North Korea wants better relations with the U.S. Which makes Trump’s approach—increasingly provocative threats—the exact wrong one at the wrong time. Heaven help us, and especially, the South Koreans.

 

 

On Anti-Intellectualism

Jordan Weissmann of Slate shares a mind numbing story that calls into question the President’s intelligence. Titled “A Small But Soul-Crushing Illustration of Donald Trump’s Economic Illiteracy,” he concludes:

“At some point, it appears Donald Trump heard somebody say that the United States cannot grow as fast as China or Malaysia because we have a ‘large’ economy. No doubt, what they meant is that the U.S. is a highly developed, rich nation and therefore can’t expand as quickly as developing countries that can still reap large gains from taking basic steps to improve their living standards. But Trump did not understand it that way. He apparently thought that when whoever he was listening to said “large,” they were talking about population. Therefore, in his mind, if China grows at nearly 7 percent per year with its 1.4 billion people, the U.S. should be able to do it too. This is the man who millions of voters are relying on to bring back jobs.”

Many anti-Trumpers will interpret this middle school-like error as disqualifying. A President has to have a modicum of economic literacy, doesn’t she? But there are lots of others whose school experience was so negative that they are suspicious of anyone or anything academic in nature. They trust people who work with their hands way more than they do people, like journalists, who work with words.

It’s easy to write off these people’s anti-intellectualism as simple-minded, but there’s more to it. Listen to their stories and inevitably they’ll talk about classmates’, teachers’, or employers’ negative preconceived notions of them. Their strongest memories of school are of a pervasive arrogance that often takes root early as a result of homogenous ability grouping or “tracking”. In the way they design curriculum and evaluate student work, educators routinely define “intelligence” far too narrowly, agreeing that those especially good at reading and writing have it, and those whose “smarts” take less academic forms, do not.

Formally educated professionals aren’t intentionally arrogant, but often, they convey a sense of superiority in subtle and nuanced ways. Not being in touch with one’s arrogance doesn’t negate its impact.

We talk about education’s importance all the time without acknowledging the underlying antipathy many have for formally educated know-it-alls who would never conflate the meaning of a “large economy”. One particular friend of mine, who is unconventionally smart and happened to vote for the reading-averse President, would conclude one thing from Weissmann’s story, he’s an arrogant prick.

Is that because my friend is just another irrational right wing nutter or are formally educated people like me to blame? At least in part.

The Age of Self Promotion

When a person’s image and/or reputation is inflated, sometimes people lament, “Big hat, no cattle.” A lot of people today, like the President of the United States, excel at promoting themselves more than anything else. Thanks to the public’s allegiance to valueless media, we’re making a mockery of merit.

A case study. My July morning routine entails working out, eating breakfast, making a green tea latte, and then settling in to the day’s Tour de France stage which I spend about thirty minutes fast forwarding through.

This year there are three cyclists from the U.S. in le Tour, meaning about 1.5% of the total peloton. One of the U.S. riders is barely surviving the mountain climbs, just making the maximum time cuts. But because we’re living in the Age of Self Promotion, that same rider is starring on the U.S. television coverage, dropping daily broh-heavy “behind the scenes” video segments that add nothing to the event. He seems likable enough because of a goofy personality. And maybe the fact that both of his parents were professional cyclists and he’s bounced back from a horrific accident a few years ago contribute to some of his faux-fame as well.

But even accounting for those extenuating circumstances, the fact that he’s in damn near last place would only matter if we were in an Age of Meritocracy, but we’re not. Increasingly, we’re surrounded by people with really, really big hats. Which makes it tough to see the front of the race.

Thank You For Being Late—Buyer Beware

Excellent take down of Thomas Friedman’s newest NY Times best seller by Justin Peters of Slate.

Fav pgraph:

“Thank You for Being Late was put to bed well before the presidential election, and throughout the text Friedman makes occasional dismissive references to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. (Ha ha, remember those clowns? Good thing technocratic rationality prevailed!) Near the end of the book, Friedman presents an earnest 18-point plan for governmental reform in the age of accelerations; a platform for the “Making the Future Work for Everybody” party, as he puts it. Thomas Friedman doesn’t know a damn thing about the future. Despite all of his self-serving rhetoric about necessities and inevitabilities, he still couldn’t recognize that Trumpism is in part a consequence of thought leadership, of rampant globalization with blithe disregard for its domestic casualties, of having your head jammed so far up the future’s ass that you’ve completely lost touch with the present.”

If you’re looking for something better to read, I recommend Hillbilly Elegy: Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by JD Vance. In this day and age, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it has become a political beach ball, batted around by Republicans and Democrats to argue for conservative and liberal social and economic policies. It’s Vance’s story of growing up in a dysfunctional family in Kentucky and Ohio, two states I grew up in. Here’s an idea, you can’t tell a person their story is “wrong”. Yes, if you must, you can tell them the conclusions they draw from it are misguided, but how about waiting awhile.

Alibaba, can I count Hillbilly Elegy as a 2017 book if I started it in the final days of 2016? What do your “book list” rules say about that? I also just finished the sup short collection of essays by Oliver Sacks that you gave me for Christmas. Does the fact that I enjoy reading and thinking about how people approach the end of life mean I’m old? How ’bout waiting awhile to answer that.

I just started a bruiser, Empire of Things by Frank Trentmann. Hoping to finish before UCLA cuts down the nets in Phoenix and/or JSpieth birdies #12 at Augusta National on Sunday. Also hoping everyone forgets I’m reading this so no one asks how it’s coming. #toomuchpressure

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Election 2016—Father-Daughter Dialogue 3

Alibaba: My last post was a theoretical exercise. In responding to your question I was not having an actual conversation with a Trump supporter. That – as I said in my answer – would of course include curiosity and listening and learning and new perspective.

But, to answer your question. Yeah, that phrase slipped past me and isn’t good. It didn’t capture a few things that I meant it to. 1. A broad, general sense, of “take a lot of action to make the world a better place, focusing on people who are systemically marginalized.” 2. That “vulnerable” doesn’t mean “people who can’t help themselves,” it means those who are structurally disenfranchised, subjugated, silenced, and that I am also talking about myself, as a woman, when I say “vulnerable people.” I feel like my rights are at risk and want to make sure they are protected. 3. That I think when the issue at hand does not relate to an identity I personally possess, it is important to look for and defer to people who do hold those identities. Cop out it may be, I do not think I have words better than these to describe this: “That is to say if you are able-bodied, if you have money, if you have resources, if you are seen as white, hetero, cis, if you have had the opportunity to develop your politics through theory rather than through forced violations against your body and your people, then take that backseat, offer a share of your resources to help organizers and activists travel and stay sheltered, protect and stand with communities you are not from, but do not take up space. Humbleness is what fuels a courageous fight that does not center you as savior.” -by Jenny Zhang in “Against Extinction”

And why do I think this is important? Because there are voices that have historically been ignored and there is a responsibility to do what we can to correct history and make them as loud as possible now. Because it would be arrogant and ignorant to think I know more about the lived experiences of someone else than they do, or what they want or need.

Now a few for you. What do you think the most important takeaways from the election are? In other words, what should we pay the most attention to going forward? 

Ron: Thoughtful reply, thank you. I’m sorry you think I don’t give you enough credit for being more savvy some/a lot of the time. When you communicate that frustration, I almost always think about my relationship with my dad. I get your frustration because I never felt like your grandfather gave me enough credit for being a capable, contributing, independent adult until I was in my mid-to-late 20’s. Too often, it felt like he was stuck viewing me as my dumbass sixteen year old self. I’m not sharing that for sympathy, or as an excuse not to be more caring, just to say I think some of your frustration is baked into the generation gap. Maybe everything will always be perfectly copacetic with your child(ren) and the pattern will be broken.

One take-away. I’ve written about the problems of the Simple Living movement before. It’s illogical for well-to-do people like me to tell the less well-to do about the limits of material wealth. My multi-layered, multi-facted privilege disqualifies me from commenting on anyone’s economic decision-making and lifestyle, but that doesn’t mean I can’t wax philosophic about larger, related questions. Which is to say, I interpret the election result as a culmination of a larger trend in the US where more and more people are slighting their health and spiritual well-being in the pursuit of material gain. Put more simply, it’s the triump of a self-regarding consumerism. Way more people than Dems expected put their trust in the candidate they perceived to be a superior businessman. The aformentioned Frontline documentary shows he’s a terrible businessman, but perception becomes reality. In essence, Trumpers said, “He’s such a great businessman, I’ll give him a pass on the hateful anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-everything bullshit.” At the risk of simplifying things, I think Trumpers were saying, “Compared to HC, Trump will improve my job prospects, I’ll make more money, and be able to afford more stuff at my favorite big box store, so who cares about the environment, Muslim-Americans, traditional foreign alliances, or grabbing pussies.” In the battle between self-regarding personal economics and other-regarding American ideals, self-regarding personal economics has won.

The election may have turned on traditional Dems who succumbed to apathy and didn’t vote. Maybe they thought victory was in the bag, and turned off the game midway through the fourth quarter (you have to allow me one sports metaphor per reply) or the Democratic candidate didn’t rally them around the Common Good. HC was like a tennis player sitting well behind the baseline (okay, now I’m borrowing on the future), hitting desperate lobs, defending herself, criticizing her opponent, not rallying enough traditional Dems around the Common Good.

Pay attention to going forward? Short answer, Trump’s ego is such that he thinks the rules don’t apply to him. Look for him to play fast and lose with Constitutional principles related to the Executive and Supreme Court case law. I anticipate him breaking enough laws that he’ll lose the support of the Republican-controlled Congress. Even money he gets impeached before completing his term. One can hope.

More personally, getting out of the pool the other day, I asked a friend, older and faster than me, “Got any (Masters) meets coming up?” Normally, he’s competiting all the time, but he said, “No, I’m just too down. I’m going to give my meet money to the Sierra Club and Planned Parenthood who I know will make the most of it.” Admirable sure, but not my approach. I return to the Stoic notion of “trichotomy of control” in which you focus as much of your time/energy on those things we have some or a lot of control over. Swimming competitions gave my friend joy, so it saddens me he’s letting the Celebrity President rob him of that. I will continue to do the things that bring me joy, watch the sun rise, drink my green tea latte, eat healthily, swim across Ward Lake, run in Priest Point Park, cycle with friends, watch my daughter graduate college, dialogue with you, see independent films at the hippy theatre, and try to be a more attentive and caring educator, husband, father, citizen. I confess, over the last three decades, since I was your age, my strong desire to change the world has ebbed. I’m glad you want to and I do have confidence that your friends and you can, especially if fueled by Zhang’s “humbleness”. I want to change myself, be more kind, listen more patiently. The next election won’t turn on that, but my small sliver of the world—my marriage, my family, my community, will be better for it.

Election 2016-Father-Daughter Dialogue 2

Nice going bubs, you struck a chord with peeps. A couple of conservative friends wonder about my parenting, while one close liberal friend from North Carolina wrote, “You raised a wonderful daughter. You should be proud. I especially love that she uses the word ‘Motherfucker’.” I side with two-thirds of what my liberal friend wrote.* 

Instead of the questions I ended our first dialogue with, I wonder if you could respond to this. 

Ron: You said you watched parts of the recent OJ Simpson documentary. I had a similar reaction to Trump’s victory as I did Simpson’s acquittal. It was surprising, but I found the spontaneous celebration among African Americans in Los Angeles and around the country even more perplexing. How could they cheer a cold blooded murderer? Almost instantly, I realized I didn’t understand their thinking and the onus was on me to try to. More specifically, I was clueless about their deeply troubled relationship with the LA Police Department. Overtime I learned they weren’t celebrating Simpson, instead, they were celebrating the LAPD’s defeat. Finally, someone stuck it to their oppressor. Similarly, after the post-election shock abetted a bit, I realized I didn’t understand Trump voters thinking very much at all. How could the contest be so close that the electoral college eventually tipped his way? I went from “that’s completely incomprehensible” to “Man, I’m seriously out of touch.” But I think the onus is on me to try to understand it.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but when I think about your adolescence and young adult life, it seems to me that you’ve been almost completely surrounded by peers very similar to yourself. In high school, most of your friends had similarly liberal parents, were in almost all of the same college prep classes, participated in the same extracurricular activities. Then you guys attended selective liberal arts colleges and continued to be surrounded by smart, mostly well-to-do, liberal peers. I suppose you’ve made some diverse friends at work and in the city, but all of us live segregated lives, not just racially, but politically, economically, socially. How many people do you personally know whose politics are markedly different than your own? How many friends? How many close friends who you interact with on a weekly basis? I feel fortunate to have some close friends who are my political opposites. Sometimes it’s exasperating, but I’ve learned to shift from thinking “How can you be so stupid?” to “Why do you think that way?” Then, the more I learn about how they grew up and their life journey more generally, I start to understand their politics sometimes even to the point where I think their politics are rational given their particular life experiences. Sometimes I even conclude that if my life had somehow paralleled theirs, I’d probably vote the same way as them.

Through specific friendships with a few particular conservatives, I’ve concluded that human decency eclipses partisan politics. I’ve had to acknowledge that many of my political opposites are exceptional parents, friends, people. They’re down to earth, kind, funny, committed to their families, hardworking, a huge net positive in their communities. Dan, who wrote a lengthy heartfelt reply to you is a great example of that. So my questions. Know any Trump voters? Any desire to?

AlisonI wonder if my first response prompted this question or if it came to you outside of that first post. I hope that my anger and frustration would not suggest, somehow, a reflexive lack of empathy for those on the other side of my political views. My entire frustration boils down to a lack of rigorous empathy for people living outside of one’s own experience and it would be the height of hypocrisy for me to deny that to anyone else. I’m not always successful in doing so, but it is a process I try to stay continuously and actively engaged in.

The long and the short of it is that no, not many of the people I am close to are Trump supporters. Yes, I would like to know more people who voted for him. Most realistically, I do and plan to continue to take time to read and listen and learn about people who are my political and cultural opposites. I understand that communities I am not a part of, who vote differently than me, are suffering, economically and culturally. 

But, I can understand and empathize with an experience or point of view and still disagree with it, sometimes vehemently, sometimes morally. Empathy is not the same thing as forgiveness. The former does not predispose the latter. I want to understand more about what led those who voted for Trump to do so, with my mind open and prepped for the changes that should occur when new information is received. But I also cannot accept that anyone deserves less in life than anyone else and I do believe that voting for Trump imperiled that human truth. He is openly racist, openly misogynistic, openly hateful. I understand that most people do not intend to cause harm with their actions, but the reality of our present situation means that people who have been the subjects of his disparagement are going to fall into harm. Legislatively, culturally, and personally. I don’t disparage the humanity of anyone who voted for him but I do disagree with the decision to vote for him, vehemently and morally.

For a moment, I’d like to step away from your specific question, and address the larger context that it lives in. The question of “How can we better empathize and understand Trump voters?” is an important question, but one that I see taking over the post-election narrative, and I want to push back against that. We need more understanding, full stop. From the left of the right, and from the right of the left. Over half of the country voted for the candidate that did not win. That is a somewhat damning state of affairs for the Republican party and the right should be asking themselves to better understand the lives and struggles of the minorities that overwhelmingly voted against their agenda. In addition, to switch back to the left side of the isle, the fact that the main question being asked is about understanding Trump supporters, and not, “What do we need to do now to help protect the vulnerable?” further serves to erase the marginalized from the national narrative. I am not saying that individual instances of asking this question do this – of course this question needs to asked, and between two white, privileged people like you and I it is especially appropriate – but that as a trend, it does.

Ron: Seems like you jump pretty quickly from “understand and empathize with an experience or point of view” and “still disagree with it, sometimes vehemently, sometimes morally.” Maybe it’s too much to ask the most disappointed Clintonistas to take the time to truly inquire into their political opponents’ worldviews. I get that you want to step away from the question in order to “help protect the vulnerable”. And I get that for the sake of my graduate student from Jordan, I need to do whatever I can to make sure DACA is implemented, but I can’t help but wonder whether, at some point, “protecting the vulnerable” becomes paternalistic. I write that, knowing full well in this Day and Age of Hyper-Partisanship, it may cost me the liberal base of the Democratic Party if I decide to run in 2020. More seriously, let me try to pose this gut feeling as a question designed to extend the discussion.

Granted, children living in poverty and victims of sexual abuse, and we could go on and on, need adult advocates like you and me to fight for enlightened public policies that protect them. But what about the Detroit autoworker who lost her job as a result of economic globalization or her autoworker son who makes one-third of what she did ten years ago? Is there a difference between “empowering the vulnerable” and “protecting them”? Where should the agency for more enlightened policy come from? Within historically marginalized communities themselves or sympathetic allies like yourself? Why?

Have Liberals Lost Their Mind?

Maybe we have. A homeowner in Northern Virginia took to a popular DC area parent forum:

We live in a fairly liberal part of town. Are putting house on market next week. Our next door neighbors, who we don’t know well, just put up a Trump sign-only one in the neighborhood. We are afraid this will scare off potential buyers. Do we ask neighbors to take sign down?

So pathetic a question. Imagine the horror of having to live next to a Trump supporter, the uncontrollable groping, the giant Wall to keep out ethnic looking neighbors, the constant coming and going of Newt Gingrich, Chris Christie, and Rudy Giuliani. Probably best to get the Homeowners’ Association to write an Anti-Trump covenant. Nip this madness in the bud.

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