Nanny State (University)?

From the headlines of today’s Clarion-Ledger: Ole Miss is being sued for suspending a male student for having sex while under the influence of alcohol. His partner was not suspended. One could argue that universities have a vested interest in making sure that students behave appropriately while on campus. However, if the reported tryst took place off campus, and affirmative (though perhaps alcohol-impaired) consent was established, did the university exceed its authority in suspending the male student? Should the female have been suspended, too?

Perhaps more important, at what point do the intimate relationships between students become the business of universities?

Posted in Education, Gender Issues | 3 Comments

Weather Wimps and the ACT

Some people take to standardized tests like ducks take to water. They view such tests as a high-stakes form of entertainment, or as a validation of years’ worth of academic preparation. I was one of those people.

My oldest son is not.

For the last month-and-a-half, we have gotten up at 5:45 a.m. four days a week to sneak in some confidence-building test prep for today’s ACT. Today’s test was supposed to be the culmination of even more work  than that–two sessions with a fairly expensive tutor, Saturdays spent taking practice tests, extra visits to a math teacher.

Then the tornado sirens wailed, and the test takers had to go into the hallway to wait for the all clear. And wait. And wait. Calls were made, and the word came from on high that the test takers had the option of cancelling scores and getting to take the test again at a later date, or processing the scores but getting zeroes on the incomplete sections.

Sticking around to complete the exam was not an option. Test takers and their parents were expected to shrug benignly and say, “It is what it is.”

So here’s what I have to say to the higher-ups at the ACT. If you don’t trust the people you hired to proctor the test in situations like these without compromising test security, then you ought to re-examine your hiring practices. But you’d be silly to do that here. My MSMS colleagues who administer the test are absolutely above reproach. Hooper Science Building was as secure a location as one could have outside of Fort Knox. There were no cell phones out. There were enough adults there to prevent table talk. Concerns over test security were ludicrous. I can only conclude that we’ve been forced to live by a protocol that applies to other places. Round hole, meet square peg.

As for weather alarmists everywhere: a heavy thunderstorm came through the Golden Triangle of Mississippi. Big. Fat. Hairy. Deal. I’ve watched my kids play soccer in weather as bad as what came through our corner of Columbus. If my kids can do that outside, then it’s surely safe to take the ACT inside.

I’m not talking about ignoring a Category 5 hurricane bearing down on the coast. I’m not talking about mowing the grass with a tornado whirling in plain sight three miles away. I’m talking about taking a test inside while there’s thunder and lightning outside.

I’m also talking about a three-week period in the not-so-distant future where my son and I will be up very early four days a week to prepare once again for a test that he hates.

Posted in Education | 7 Comments

On Gerrymandering

I live in Mississippi House District 37, which stretches from the eastern border of Lowndes County, through a corridor in West Point so narrow that my son could throw a baseball from one side to the next, and on into West Oktibbeha. The representative himself lives in New Hope. He sells insurance there, and works very hard to make sure that the lives of the people who live and work in New Hope get all the advantages from his legislative work that they can.

But I live in Clay County. The work that representative does barely touches me, when it touches me at all. I assume the same is true of those who live in West Oktibbeha. So why is he my representative?

After the most recent census, Mississippi Republicans re-drew districts in such a way that most incumbents were protected, and those who weren’t were Democrats. To be fair, Republicans did this because they had for years been on the other end of that stick–Democrats were just as bad about this process, which is known as gerrymandering, as Republicans are now. Politicians also can draw district lines without fear of judicial consequences. The Supreme Court does not usually get involved in gerrymandering cases. As long as districts have roughly the same number of constituents, the court looks the other way–with one exception: when minorities cannot win a proportionate share of representation. In Mississippi, what that has meant is that legislative districts get drawn by race and then geography.

One could argue that gerrymandering works well for Mississippi. We do, after all, have the highest proportion of African-American representation of any state legislature.

At the risk of sounding perverse, though, let’s consider the possibility that we are better served by legislators when districts have more geographical integrity. With whom do I have more in common: a politician who lives 20 miles away, or a politician who lives in my own county? Regardless of race, gender, or party affiliation, will representatives be more likely to find common ground with me if I actually see them more often?

Posted in Politics, Race in Mississippi | 6 Comments

Moving towards the year-end wrap up

In 54 days, members of the class of 2018 will walk across the stage to receive their diploma covers–they won’t get their diplomas until they return parts of their regalia–and graduation medals. We’re that close! Finish strong!

However, before we look ahead to such a happy time, I’d like to look backwards a few minutes. Please let me know about things that you wish MSMS could do better. I’d also like to know about the things you wish you knew as a first-week junior–or as a first-semester senior, since that time is fairly stressful as well.

Posted in Education | 9 Comments

Does It Matter?

Twenty-two million Americans tuned into 60 Minutes to learn about Pres. Trump’s alleged affair with a pornographic actress. One might be tempted to say that such affairs should have no bearing on a person’s ability to be the commander in chief. John F. Kennedy had plenty of mistresses; Lyndon B. Johnston had more.

Yet Bill Clinton’s affair with an intern got him impeached and almost cost him the presidency; Al Franken lost a seat in the senate for repeated, tasteless invasions of personal space. The philanderings of men who crave power must mean something, right? Especially in the “MeToo” era?

Posted in Gender Issues, National Politics | 9 Comments

Oh boys

Go to a department store–any department store, whether it’s brick and mortar or online–and measure the difference between the clothes that get sold to girls, and the the clothes that get sold to boys. The girls’ section is invariably richer. You’ll see rows and rows of different fabrics and styles, a wide range of price points, interesting possibilities in prints and colors.

It won’t take you so long to sift through the boys’ section. Even during Easter and Christmas, the two dressiest times of the year in the South, it would be hard to find a store that offers more than an extra rack of suits–perhaps just navy blazers, with a seersucker or two sprinkled in–for these special, seasonal occasions. And don’t even talk to me about finding dress shoes for boys older than eight and younger than fifteen. If you can find them, they’re likely to be as ugly as they are uncomfortable.

The differences between these shopping experiences speak volumes about the way we gender boys and girls, and in an anecdotal way, speak to the frustrations that boys feel today. They can see toxic masculinity at work from Washington, D.C., all the way to the most recent school shooting in Florida. They can see the emasculation of boys who aren’t aggressive any time they want to turn on a screen. I’m not sure that they can find a workable middle path in between.

I am proud of the work that has been done to uplift women in education and the workplace for the last quarter of a century. That work is not complete; I would never want to take away advances that women have been able to enjoy since Title IX came into being. However, as a recent columnist for the New York Times noted, it is time for us to have careful conversations about ways to inspire boys to thrive alongside girls, not just against them.

Posted in Gender Issues, Politics | 16 Comments

What Do We Want from Schools

I had hoped, by now, to be able to discuss the new funding formula for public education in Mississippi. Unfortunately, that formula is still under lock and key. What I’ve heard about it is that it’s student-based rather that school based. The idea is that the state will allocate a certain amount of money per student, and that funding will follow the student wherever that child attends school.

Regardless of the funding mechanism, though, our leaders would be wise to ask themselves what they want education in Mississippi to look like. Do they want to do the greatest amount of good for the greatest number of of students? That sounds like enforced mediocrity to me–so much for that Promethean urge. Do we want students in Mississippi to be better critical thinkers and writers? Do we want to track students so they’re prepared for jobs in industries? How can we balance liberal arts with STEM?

In some ways, these are false dichotomies. It would be great if schools could be all things to all students.

But there simply isn’t enough money to behave that way, so the more pressing issue becomes how to prioritize. I welcome your input.

Posted in Education | 15 Comments

Second Amendment Struggles

I have a friend whose farm gets ravaged by wild pigs. Seriously. He can’t plant anything without the fear of losing his profit margin. He owns an AR-15 with a silencer so that he can destroy as many of them in a single night hunt as possible. I fully support his right to do so.

Yet it incenses me that a person like Nikolas Cruz purchased an AR-15 faster than he could have gotten a prescription for Prozac. Things have changed since the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791. Our interpretations of other facets of the Bill of Rights have been fluid. We infer the right to privacy based on readings of the first, third, fourth, and fifth amendments. There was certainly no call to Mirandize suspects in 1791. It stands to reason that the Second Amendment should bend a bit as well. Yet purists cling, as purists will, to the notion that they ought to be able to own and discharge any weapon that the government keeps for itself.

That’s a prescription for one school shooting after another.

We regulate who can drive motor vehicles of all sorts. We monitor closely anyone who has a prescription for pseudo-epinephrine. Nobody can buy a house without getting a loan, or having sources for a cash purchase scrutinized. In the interest of public safety, isn’t it time that we figure out how to make the acquisition and use of firearms safer for all?

Posted in National Politics | 18 Comments

Dark and Time Travel

My wife and I have just finished the first season of Dark on Netflix. I’m not a sci-fi fan–I know, it’s a real, moral shortcoming on my part–but Dark poses questions about time travel that wakened my inner philosopher. I can say this about one of the story arcs without giving away too much: a character walks through a wrinkle in time and comes out in the same place he had been, but 33 years earlier. One of his friends figures out what happened, and goes to 1986 to try to bring him back. However, if the first person is rescued and comes back to the present, he would not become a father. What would happen to people he never created?

Philosophers and physicists have long debated the efficacy of time travel. The conundrum these two characters face is known as the grandfather paradox:

The dead giveaway that true time-travel is flatly impossible arises from the well-known “paradoxes” it entails. The classic example is “What if you go back into the past and kill your grandfather when he was still a little boy?”…So complex and hopeless are the paradoxes…that the easiest way out of the irrational chaos that results is to suppose that true time-travel is, and forever will be, impossible. (Asimov, 2003, 276–7)

Other philosophers have raised valid objections to Asimov. It seems that the Theory of Relativity also opens up the possibility of time travel because of the existence of closed timelike curves.

So. . .to get back to Dark, what’s the easiest way to articulate the possibility that time travel exists AND that traveling backwards in time can result in changes to the present?

Posted in Pop Culture, Science | 11 Comments

Most Painful Super Bowl Ad

Last night’s Super Bowl was just what the NFL needed: an exciting, well-played game, largely devoid of controversy, full of compelling drama.

The ads, however, were duds. The Alexa commercial was clever. The NFL’s house ads with Eli Manning and Odell Beckham brought a chuckle or two. Some, though not many, thought the Tide commercials scored points.

Yet one ad drew criticism before the next snap of the football: Ram’s ad with a Martin Luther King, Jr. voice over. Although I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt to Ram and say that the ad was designed with good intentions, I have a list of reasons why it’s cringeworthy. Your thoughts? I’m also interested in your thoughts about what makes a Super Bowl ad good.

Posted in Politics, Pop Culture, Sports | 15 Comments