One Republic of Learning

ARMAND MARIE LEROI tackles the question of stagnation in the humanities. When universities trim their budgets, it is inevitably the humanities that are hit first and often the worst. This lack of funding leads to a certain type of stagnation in the fields. But he notes a new field that has recently come up to counter this – the digitization of classical texts. Choski then explores the ins and outs of this new technology and what it means for scholars. For one, it means putting mathematical analysis into humanities texts. What that means for literary critics and the like, whose anecdotal evidence is usually accepted at face value, is an unfortunate, and some would argue unnecessary, reality check. This mathematical analysis could even extend to art, Choski explains, using Rothko as an example.

Read an excerpt of the article written by Armand Marie Leroi:

In the Republic of Learning humanities scholars often see themselves as second-class citizens. Their plaintive cries are not without cause. When universities trim budgets it is often their departments that take the hit. In the last 10 years, however, there has been one bright spot: the ‘‘digital humanities,’’ a vast enterprise that aims to digitize our cultural heritage, put it online for all to see, and do so with a scholarly punctilio that Google does not. The digital humanities have captured the imaginations of funders and university administrators. They are being built by a new breed of scholar able to both investigate Cicero’s use of the word ‘‘lascivium’’ and code in Python. If you want to read Cicero’s letter in which lascivium appears, or the lyrics of 140,000 Dutch folk songs, now you can. Texts are living things: Digitization transforms them from caterpillars into butterflies. But the true promise of digitization is not just better websites. Rather, it is the transformation of the humanities into science. By ‘‘science’’ I mean using numbers to test hypotheses. Numbers are the signature of science; they allow us to describe patterns and relationships with a precision that words do not. The quantification of the humanities is driven by an inexorable logic: Digitization breeds numbers; numbers demand statistics. The new breed of digital humanists is mining and visualizing data with the facility that bioinformaticians analyze genomes and cosmologists classify galaxies. All of them could, if they cared to, understand each others’ results perfectly well. Most traditional — analog — humanists, I suspect, delight in the new databases but do not fully grasp their consequences. One great literary critic did so years ago. ‘‘What,’’ asked Harold Bloom in 1973, ‘‘is Poetic Influence anyway? Can the study of it really be anything more than the wearisome industry of source-hunting, of allusion-counting, an industry that will soon touch apocalypse anyway when it passes from scholars to computers?’’ Bloom’s apocalypse arrived in 2012 when a group of mathematicians analyzed the pattern of stylistic influences in more than 7,700 texts. Just the year before, Bloom published ‘‘The Anatomy of Influence,’’ his swan song. Less a work of rational criticism than a testament of personal aesthetic faith, its claims are immune to quantitative tests, or indeed tests of any kind. ‘‘I am an Epicurean literary critic, reliant upon sensations, perceptions, impressions,’’ he wrote. But scientists know that impressions lie; that they tell us what we want to hear, not what is. It’s easy to see how it will go. A traditional, analog, scholar will make some claim about the origin, fate or significance of some word, image, trope or theme in some Great Work. He’ll support it with apt quotations, and fillet the canon for more of the same. His evidence will be the sort that natural scientists call ‘‘anecdotal’’ — but that won’t worry him since he’s not doing science. But then a code-capable graduate student will download the texts — not just the canon, but a thousand more — run the algorithms, produce the graphs, estimate the p values, and show the claim to be false, if false it indeed is. There will be no rejoinder; the analog scholar won’t even know how to read the results. Quantification has triumphed in field after field of the natural and social sciences. It will here, too. Science, however, is not just about measurement. Science offers theories — of a particular kind. The French poet Paul Valéry said that a ‘‘work of art becomes a machine intended to excite and combine the individual formations’’ of our minds. Yes, but how does the machine work? A comparison with biology shows what’s missing. To explain organic diversity, biologists have built a theory of evolution whose major tenets are couched in math and generally agreed. To explain cultural diversity, the humanities have offered only a succession of incommensurable interpretive fashions and uncountable particular studies, many of which, to be sure, enrich our understanding of this writer or that, but which only add texture to the tapestry of culture and do nothing to explain its whole. There is an explanatory vacuum. Some scholars think that it will be filled by something resembling the theory of organic evolution. I think they’re right. But it will also draw elements from epidemiology, cognitive psychology and behavioral economics. Whatever it looks like, we can be sure of one thing: It will be expressed not in words, but equations. If the rudiments of a new cultural science are visible, so are its limits. ...read more


How Elementary School Teachers’ Biases Can Discourage Girls From Math and Science

This article written by Claire Cain Miller on the unconscious biases of elementary level teachers tackles a question almost everyone thinks of and no one asks – why are there no girls in the sciences? The author, Erik Lesser, explains that it because early education affects later development. Since there is already a bias against women in stem fields, the unconscious discouragement most young girls get in elementary school can affect their future career paths. For this reason, change should be made at elementary school level. The author also looks at the shockingly low statistics of girls in math and sciences courses in high schools and colleges, and attempts to explain how teachers tend to overestimate boys in those situations and underestimate girls.

Read an excerpt of the article written by CLAIRE CAIN MILLER:

We know that women are underrepresented in math and science jobs. What we don’t know is why it happens. There are various theories, and many of them focus on childhood. Parents and toy-makers discourage girls from studying math and science. So do their teachers. Girls lack role models in those fields, and grow up believing they wouldn’t do well in them. All these factors surely play some role. A new study points to the influence of teachers’ unconscious biases, but it also highlights how powerful a little encouragement can be. Early educational experiences have a quantifiable effect on the math  and science courses the students choose later, and eventually the jobs they get and the wages they earn. The effect is larger for children from families in which the father is more educated than the mother and for girls from lower-income families, according to the study, published this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The pipeline for women to enter math and science occupations narrows at many points between kindergarten and a career choice, but elementary school seems to be a critical juncture. Reversing bias among teachers could increase the number of women who enter fields like computer science and engineering, which are some of the fastest growing and highest paying. “It goes a long way to showing it’s not the students or the home, but the classroom teacher’s behavior that explains part of the differences over time between boys and girls,” said Victor Lavy, an economist at University of Warwick in England and a co-author of the paper. Previous studies have found that college professors and employers discriminate against female scientists. But it is not surprising that it begins even earlier. In computer science in the United States, for instance, just 18.5 percent of the high school students who take the Advanced Placement exam are girls. In college, women earn only 12 percent of computer science degrees. That is one reason that tech companies say they have hired so few women. ...read more

Internships Abroad: Unpaid, With a $10,000 Price Tag

This insightful article written be Steven Greenhouse explores the new field of international internships. Internships abroad can be a great experience, but they come at a price, Margaret Reigal writes. Since students often have to pay not only the internship providers, but also their school for the privilege of working at an unpaid internships, as well as the cost of their travel and living, the numbers rack up. The author fears that this exorbitant price tag can give wealthy students an unfair advantage in a system that already privileges them. Yet, most students report that their experiences have been worth the price, and that it was a better experience than a simple study abroad program. Unfortunately, local labour laws almost always forbid companies from paying foreign students, so the situation is unlikely to improve.

Read an excerpt of the article written by STEVEN GREENHOUSE:

Picture this: A summer behind the scenes at the Edinburgh Art Festival, helping set up a show and banquet, managing a guest list and communicating with artists and agents, plus an excursion to London and a tour of a Scotch distillery and 12th-century castle. That was Darius Francis’ internship last summer. He loved it. Who wouldn’t? “Anytime I talk to anyone about this experience, they say, ‘Wow, tell me about that,’ ” said Mr. Francis, a senior majoring in public relations at Eastern Illinois University. The only thing is, his 10 weeks cost more than $16,000, including $7,300 to the program provider, Panrimo, and $6,000 to Eastern Illinois for the nine credit hours earned through the internship. Mr. Francis was able to cobble together some financial help: a $6,000 federal loan and $3,800 in scholarships from the university’s study abroad office, Panrimo and a local nonprofit. His parents paid the rest. Demand for internships abroad has surged as students — and just as important, their parents — grow ever more worried about their job prospects after graduation and seek a foothold in a world that values global experience. “The hottest growth area in the whole international education area” is how Cheryl Matherly, vice provost for global education at the University of Tulsa, describes internships. “It’s a way to really make the international experience more relevant.” There is no good data over time, but according to the Institute of International Education, almost 20,500 Americans participated in for-credit internships in 2012-13, while about 15,000 interned, worked or volunteered abroad for no credit. For students, setting up an internship with an employer thousands of miles away is no easy feat. Seizing an opportunity, hundreds of program providers have jumped into the field, adding numerous bells and whistles and a steep price tag. GoAbroad.com, which offers information on international education, lists some 3,200 internships, usually unpaid, put together by over 700 providers. Most providers are for-profit companies, while some are educational nonprofit organizations. In addition, more and more universities, including Columbia, Georgia Tech, Rice, Yale and the University of Southern California, are arranging internships for their students, in part to keep costs down. UP AND DOWNSIDE Some experts complain that the internships give wealthy students an unfair leg up in the job market. “Expensive overseas internships are yet another way that the internship economy reinforces privilege, making the once unthinkable seem almost normal — people paying thousands of dollars to work,” said Ross Perlin, the author of “Intern Nation: How to Earn Nothing and Learn Little in the Brave New Economy.” But to many students and parents, even to families like the Francises, for whom the expenditure was a stretch, the benefits — the on-the-job learning and exposure to another culture — justify the cost. In a 2012 survey by the Institute for the International Education of Students, known as I.E.S. Abroad, 84 percent of their alumni said the experience had helped them build job skills; 89 percent reported getting a job within six months of graduation. Emily Merson, co-founder and C.E.O. of Global Experiences, a 13-year-old company that arranges internships in Dublin, London, Shanghai and other cities, argues that internships are more of an equalizer than study-abroad programs. “We’ve seen so many people do internships who would otherwise not study abroad because it’s too expensive,” Ms. Merson said. “A lot of students think, ‘An international internship is a really good idea, and I’m going to make sure I can afford it.’ ” She added: “We’re seeing proportionally far more first-generation college students doing internships abroad than doing study abroad, because it’s such a good strategic choice and such a good return on investment.” She explained where the “tuition” goes: internship placement, which involves one-on-one time with each student; housing, which she says is particularly expensive in London and Sydney, Australia; and visa assistance, orientation, social activities and weekend excursions, among other expenses. Airfare and food are not included. REVIEWS ARE IN Many colleges and universities compile lists of preferred providers, though students often turn to online peer comments for advice. Troy Peden, a founder of GoAbroad, cautions that testimonials are often skewed because of voluntary-response bias. Moreover, internships are particularly hard to review. “A lot of times, the satisfaction ratings for internships are all over the place,” he said. Are they reviewing the provider, who may be organizing only an orientation and a placement, or their boss, or the job itself? “You also have the interns themselves,” he added. “Were they a good intern? Did that impact their experience?” Some students rave; some grumble about being underutilized and not learning enough. Elena Friedberg, a junior majoring in history and French at the University of Michigan, had an eight-week internship at a bridal boutique in Paris arranged by Global Experiences. ...read more


Parenting Advice From ‘America’s Worst Mom’

Helicopter parenting? Lenore Skenazy, America’s worst mom for sending her 9-year-old by the subway alone? Overprotective parents tend to shield their children. Yet, according to Peter Gray, a research psychologist at Boston College, ‘‘the actual rate of strangers’ abducting or molesting children is very small.’’ ‘‘It’s more likely to happen at the hands of a relative or family friend. ‘‘Students are prepared academically, but they’re not prepared to deal with day-to-day life, which comes from a lack of opportunity to deal with ordinary problems,’’ Dr. Gray said. Ms. Skenazy, screened by Discovery Life Channel, tries to give parents the confidence to loosen the reins on their kids, and give the kids the wings they need. 

Read an excerpt of the article written by JANE E. BRODY:

Lenore Skenazy, a New York City mother of two, earned the sobriquet ‘‘America’s Worst Mom’’ after reporting in a newspaper column that she’d allowed her younger son, then 9, to ride the subway alone. The damning criticism she endured, including a threat of arrest for child endangerment, intensified her desire to encourage anxious parents to give their children the freedom they need to develop the self-confidence and resilience to cope effectively with life’s challenges. One result was the publication in 2009 of her book ‘‘Free Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry).’’ A second result is the Free Range Kids Project and a 13-part series, starting on Thursday on the Discovery Life Channel, ‘‘World’s Worst Mom’’ In it, Ms. Skenazy, to whom the title applies, intervenes to rescue bubble-wrapped kids from their overprotective parents by guiding the children safely through a sequence of once-forbidden activities and showing their anxious parents how well the children perform and how proud they are of what they accomplished. The term ‘‘helicopter parents’’ applies to far more than those who hover relentlessly over their children’s academic and musical development. As depicted in the series’ first episode, it applies to 10-year-old Sam’s very loving mother who wouldn’t let him ride a bike (‘‘she’s afraid I’ll fall and get hurt’’), cut up his own meat (‘‘Mom thinks I’ll cut my fingers off’’), or play ‘‘rough sports’’ like skating. The plea from a stressed-out, thwarted Sam: ‘‘I just want to do things by myself.’’ In an interview, Ms. Skenazy said, ‘‘Having been brainwashed by all the stories we hear, there’s a prevailing fear that any time you’re not directly supervising your child, you’re putting the child in danger.’’ The widespread publicity now given to crimes has created an exaggerated fear of the dangers children face if left to navigate and play on their own. Yet, according to Peter Gray, a research psychologist at Boston College, ‘‘the actual rate of strangers’ abducting or molesting children is very small.’’ ‘‘It’s more likely to happen at the hands of a relative or family friend,’’ Dr. Gray said. ‘‘The statistics show no increase in childhood dangers. If anything, there’s been a decrease.’’ Experts say there is no more crime against children by strangers today — and probably significantly less — than when I was growing up in the 1940s and ’50s, a time when I walked to school alone and played outdoors with friends unsupervised by adults. In 1979 when my own sons were offered the opportunity to attend private school to escape their crime-ridden public middle school, they said, ‘‘What would we learn about life in private school?’’ So they stuck out those three years and emerged street smart and confident in their ability to cope, lessons far more valuable than any they might have acquired in a safer school. ‘‘The world is not perfect — it never was — but we used to trust our children in it, and they learned to be resourceful,’’ Ms. Skenazy said. ‘‘The message these anxious parents are giving to their children is ‘I love you, but I don’t believe in you. I don’t believe you’re as competent as I am.’’’ ...Read more