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 | 13 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 | 14 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

Public Health v. Ethics

State Rep. Andy Gipson (R-Braxton) has sponsored legislation that would allow parents to object to having their children vaccinated on the basis of religious objections. What might be unethical about vaccinations? According to critics, they’re forced rather than voluntary. (In Mississippi, by the way, parents may choose not to have their kids vaccinated, but those children are not allowed to attend day care or schools until they are.) The religious objection comes from the fact that some vaccines were derived by using the tissue of aborted fetuses.

Mississippi actually leads the nation in the percentage of kids who receive standard vaccinations. HB 1505 will provide an interesting case study of the way our state’s citizens weigh professed religious faith against common sense.

Posted in National Politics, Science | 12 Comments

Making #metoo Connections

It should not have taken me so long to post this.

Silence breakers who are part of the #metoo movement won Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” award. I’ll post later on the significance and the complexity of the movement. For now, though, I’m curious: what characters from literature or film might have joined the movement? Explain why you think they would in your response.

Posted in Uncategorized | 17 Comments

State of the State

Gov. Phil Bryant gave his state of the state address last night. Here’s the full text; here’s the Democratic response from State Rep. Jay Hughes of Oxford.

An addendum: here’s a fact-check from mississippitoday.org.

Posted in Politics | 7 Comments

A New Year’s Surprise

At today’s beginning-of-the-semester convocation at MUW, Pres. Jim Borsig announced his resignation, which will be effective in June. He will be sorely missed–his leadership has been instrumental in moving MUW, however belatedly, into the twenty-first century. He is hard-working and level-headed; he is also (and many overlook this) inspired.

I have no idea who will step into his place. However, because we’re in a transitional period of sorts, I’d like to ask how you envision the relationship between MUW and MSMS. What sorts of things can be done at MUW that would make MSMS a better place? What can MSMS do that would be of benefit to the W? Keep in mind that your suggestions should be beneficial to both institutions. They should probably also be affordable–the IHL anticipates more cuts from the legislature this year.

Posted in Education | 18 Comments

The Brain Drain

Welcome aboard, IHL Commissioner Glenn Boyce! In a talk at the Stennis Institute of Government, Boyce claimed that access to higher education in Mississippi is phenomenal, but that too few students are prepared to complete their undergraduate degrees. The brain drain in Mississippi doesn’t merely result from our best and brightest students leaving the state; it results from the fact that too may students from Mississippi go to college and drop out.

Commissioner Boyce, I can help you with this. Give every MSMS a free ride to a public university in Mississippi. It’ll cost you less than $400,000, and you’ll have a cohort of scholarship recipients far less likely to drop out before completing their degrees.

On a related note, a recent study determined that those planning for a career in nursing are far more likely to stay in Mississippi than those who get degrees in STEM fields. I can understand the former–the sick will always be with us–but why the latter?

Posted in Education | 12 Comments