Wednesday, May 27, 2015

SHAMblog appeal-athon and fund drive.

Simply put, the blog and its resident blogger could use your help. If you've enjoyed the content through the yearsif my blog has saved you some money or some portion of your sanity that would've otherwise been lost forever to the SHAMsphereplease consider reciprocating. Although I will gratefully accept reciprocal contributions of sanity (some might argue it's my most pressing need), money is the preferred medium of exchange at this time.

A Paypal tab is provided for your convenience at right. Thank you. 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Dispaches from the SHAMscape... May 16, 2015

Here's another reason why some educators/administrators don't like standardized tests (see yesterday's item): Testing puts a numerical face on the dimensions of America's efforts in the area of social engineering. Given affirmative action's loss of luster in the wake of several damning court decisions and voter referendums, administrators in Higher Edwho were always its most ardent practitionershave tried to fly under the radar in their continuing endeavors to micromanage equality and "social justice" (or their conception of same). If the data quoted in this story are valid, it appears that a given black applicant to Harvard can get in with an SAT score that's fully 450 points lower than a given Asian applicant, and 310 points lower than your everyday white applicant. As the entire exam comprises 2400 points, a 450-point margin is a difference of nearly 20%. That is huge in a society in which major qualitative decisions are made daily on the basis of fractional increments of a single percentage point. As I wrote in an essay back during my senior year at Brooklyn College (1972), which was just then embracing affirmative action, "Even if it's true that the underperformance of minority students is an ongoing vestige of slavery and oppression, it strikes me as fundamentally unfair that a random white [or Asian] student of today, who has never owned a slave and has no personal history of oppressing anyone, should have to suffer for it in recompense. Two wrongs don't make a right." (Apologies for having ended on a cliched note. Hey, I was young.)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Dispatches from the SHAMscape... May 15, 2015

I passed (up) the test!! As background for this news item, I invite you to read or re-read Chapter 10 in this most excellent book someone told me about. I believe it's called SHAM. If you don't have a copy, now might be a good time to order one or check it out at the library. But read it, please. It's like a cheat sheet for everything we do here. The specific chapter I'd like you to look at is titled "I"m OK, You're OK... How Do You Spell OK again?", and it's relevant to our news item. Seems that in today's perpetually helicoptering parental culture we will do almost anything to protect our kids from having to face up to their own failures (or even before that, protect them from being put into a position where they might fail). The latest expression of this is the broad parental rebellion against a new generation of standardized testing (a rebellion that increasingly includes teachers, because the test scores reflect on them). Although our kids' second-rate performance in international tests has been well documented (as you'll know if you've read the chapter in SHAM and/or looked at more recent metrics), many parents tend to shrug that off, since in most cases little Matt and Muffy aren't competing head-to-head with their counterparts from India or least until they begin applying to elite colleges and get rejected. But getting an ugly score in some standardized test right here in the good old USA, where others might even find out about it...Quel embarras! It didn't used to be like that. Once upon a time parents wanted to know what their kids were learning, really learning. But back in the 1960s, when the emphasis in education (and culture-at-large) began to shift from genuine excellence to self-esteem-building, it became more important for Matt and Muffy to feel good about their math skills than to be able to add 2 and 2 and get something like 4. (This is also when schools and even some youth leagues stopped keeping score in games. We can't have winners, for that implies losers.) If you do wider reading about today's anti-testing movement, you'll also see all this hand-wringing about the terrible stress and anxiety we induce in our kids by putting them in situations where, horror of horrors, their performance might actually be measured. I don't know. Perhaps we do at times invest too much meaning in numbers. But isn't that the fairest way to evaluate people in a society where there's also nonstop concern about bias and profiling and rater subjectivity?

Monday, May 04, 2015

SHAMblog(ger) in the news.

My op-ed, today, on religion's role in public/civic life (hint: it has none).

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Dispatches from the SHAMscape... April 30, 2015

The Oprah Effect: a grim retrospective. A very nice piece on how Oprah's weakness for "crackpot" theories (and the purveyors of same) has tarnished her legacy. The author focuses chiefly on Dr. Oz and bogus health advice, dragging Jenny McCarthy in as an aside, but no list of Winfrey's Wackos would be complete without the likes of Marianne "Miracles" Williamson, Eckhart Tolle, The Secret's Rhonda Byrne and, of course, the occasionally fatal James Arthur Ray. Here's a second piece in the same vein, and with a bit more detail.

From April 27:
Courtesy of long-time SHAMblogger Londoner, here's a cautionary tale for our times: about the New Agey 23-year-old wellness blogger who beat the brain cancer she didn't have by eating foods whose therapeutic mechanisms she doesn't understand. This is a story, of course, with relevance that extends well beyond young Belle Gibson, bogus cancer cures and the whole anti-gluten fad. I'm drawn to the way the author describes Jenny McCarthy's "harping on the idea that the medical establishment is not to be trusted–only outsiders like her speak the truth." It's a line that I'm sure will resonate among hipsters and conspiracy nuts...but...why? Whence today's passion for pseudoscience and/or being nakedly anti-science? And here's a great line from a second article on Gibsob: "[She] needed to fake cancer, because the New Age narrative of transcending physical and spiritual sickness is so ingrained into its marketing. New Age philosophy is the clearest example of a utopian movement utterly absorbed by capitalism, which it once (feebly) opposed." The latter line reminds one of Salty Droid's investigation of sleazy online marketing, in particular the loose consortium of New Age interests known (yes, even to themselves) as The Syndicate. Finally, how telling is it that some folks have rallied to Gibson's defense (just as they've rallied to Dr. Oz's defense), hailing her work as symbolically truthful in the same way that (a) some addiction activists united with diehard Oprah-philes to defend James (Million Little Lies) Frey and (b) black activists clung to the narrative of the Michael Brown shooting long after it became clear that Brown was neither a choir boy nor the poster child for ruthless police oppression of blacks. We sort ourselves into teams and then, having done that, there's no going back. We're the ones in the know and we must be right, even if we aren't. We see this with McCarthy's anti-vax crusade, too; doesn't matter how much she and her cause are repudiated, her movement remains intact. This helps explain how long-defeated diseases like measles gain footholds anew in hipster strongholds like the Bay Area.

I barely scratched the surface here and probably did not do justice to Londoner's tip, but I invite you to follow the links above or do some independent research. And as always, report back and/or comment.