Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Law Schools: Incubators of Evil and Waste?‏

The New York Times had a disturbing article Sunday about how most law schools are utterly failing to teach their students the basics of how to be a lawyer, despite collecting tens of thousands of dollars in tuition. (I wrote about this previously in The New York Times and legal blogs, discussing how little I learned at Harvard Law School despite paying a fortune in tuition, and how students should no longer be required to attend law school before sitting for the bar exam.)

The Times describes three newly-hired corporate attorneys at a big-name law firm whose law-school educations were so worthless that they don’t know the basics, such as what a merger is, and how to draft the simplest legal forms needed for a merger. So their law firm has to teach these basic skills, even though they’ve already spent up to $150,000 on law school for a legal “education”:

But the three people taking notes are not students. They are associates at a law firm called Drinker Biddle & Reath, hired to handle corporate transactions. And they have each spent three years and as much as $150,000 for a legal degree. What they did not get, for all that time and money, was much practical training. Law schools have long emphasized the theoretical over the useful, with classes that are often overstuffed with antiquated distinctions, like the variety of property law in post-feudal England. Professors are rewarded for chin-stroking scholarship, like law review articles with titles like “A Future Foretold: Neo-Aristotelian Praise of Postmodern Legal Theory.”

As I noted earlier in the Times,

I learned about trendy ideological fads and feminist and Marxist legal theory while at Harvard Law School. But I did not learn many basic legal principles, such as in contract law and real estate law, until I took a commercial bar-exam preparation course after law school. Getting rid of the requirement that students attend law school before taking the bar exam would save many students a fortune in student loan debt. It would also force law schools to improve their courses to attract students who now have no choice but to attend.

All too many law schools care about ideological abstractions, not the real-world practice of law — as is illustrated by Tulane’s recent decision to give a convicted murderer a scholarship to attend its law school, even though he most likely can never be admitted to the Bar given his criminal record. (Another law school admitted a disgraced serial fabricator, who was predictably denied admission by the New York Bar.) Law schools falsely claim their graduates almost always find jobs as lawyers, but they often don’t: indeed, two law schools are being sued for fraudulent placement data in class-action lawsuits.

America’s law schools have increased tuition by nearly 1,000 percent since 1960 in real terms, while collecting ever-increasing government subsidies, and teaching students fewer practical skills than they used to. Law schools are able to get away with bad instruction partly because would-be lawyers are compelled to attend them due to government regulations: bar admission rules in most states require you to attend law school before you are allowed to sit for the bar exam, even though law school courses often fail to prepare students for the subjects tested on the bar exam. Many state-funded law-school clinics effectively sue state taxpayers, both by suing businesses in their home state (thus killing jobs), and by suing their state governments to demand increases in government spending on various programs – something discussed at length in Schools for Misrule, a recent book by the Cato Institute’s Walter Olson. Olson comments on the New York Times article here.


What Drunkorexia is Doing to College Students

At first, "drunkorexia" may sound like kind of a funny word, jokingly made up to describe a situation in which college students and others forgo food in order to be able to afford more alcohol and feel higher effects of alcohol on an empty stomach. But what some may brush off as crazy college-kid behavior is actually a serious problem that can have highly damaging consequences both in long- and short-term health. Of course, that hasn't stopped college students from engaging in this unhealthy trend, and a study at the University of Missouri-Columbia indicated that one in six students had practiced drunkorexia within the last year. Typically, drunkorexia is done by women; the study showed that three out of four drunkorexia respondents were female.

Students may not realize that drunkorexia is incredibly damaging to their health, but the fact remains that the practice puts them at risk for problems like sexually transmitted diseases, malnutrition, and even seizures and comas. Specifically, the University of Missouri study indicates that drunkorexia may lead to:

sexually transmitted diseases
drunk driving
alcohol poisoning
injury risk
perpetrating or being a victim of sexual assault
passing out
heart problems
cognitive disabilities
organ failure

All of the possible effects are disturbing, but perhaps the most worrisome are heart problems and cognitive disabilities that can stem from drunkorexia-induced malnutrition. STDs, injury, or sexual assault are without a doubt difficult to bounce back from, but malnutrition-induced heart problems and cognitive disabilities are something you just can't take back. Cognitive problems are especially disturbing for college students, as they can result in "difficulty concentrating, studying, and making decisions." These are long-term health issues brought on by drunkorexia that can follow a college student for the rest of her life. That is, assuming that the student survives past the possibility of seizures, comas, and organ failure.

So it seems that a practice that may be approached lightheartedly is in fact a very serious problem that doesn't just stop with fun (and possible weight loss) one night. Used as a regular practice, drunkorexia can scar you for life and even end in death. And although the long-term effects are certainly frightening, the short-term possibilities of drunkorexia aren't incredibly easy hurdles to get over, either. Just one night of drunkorexia can have serious consequences, with higher levels of intoxication and starvation putting students at risk for dangerous behavior. At high levels of intoxication, students lose the ability to make good decisions, which can lead to dangerous situations like having unprotected sex, or even being involved in a rape, driving drunk, and becoming injured as a result of stunts, fights, or simply an inability to function properly. In addition to these risks, just one night of intense drinking on an empty stomach can lead to blackouts, hospitalization, and death from alcohol poisoning. Clearly, drunkorexia has serious and lasting consequences, even for students who aren't repeat offenders.

Drunkorexia is a scary situation for any college student, but for women, the problem is compounded. Female students are not only more prone to engage in drunkorexia, but they are also at a higher risk of problems from its effects. Dr. Valerie Taylor, chief of psychiatry at Women's College Hospital in Toronto indicates that female college students are more likely to engage in drunkorexia due to social pressure to stay slim. Even worse, female students are more likely to experience higher effects (meaning: reach alcohol poisoning and organ damage faster) because women metabolize alcohol faster than men. These facts combined with a higher risk of sexual assault mean that girls in college are hit with an even scarier drunkorexia situation.

How did things get so bad? It's one thing to have an eating disorder, and another to have a substance abuse problem, but combined, they're an incredible problem to overcome. Dr. Bunnell, former president of the National Eating Disorders Association, says that college students often suffer from an obsession with being skinny, while at the same time noticing the social acceptance of alcohol and drug abuse. In a world where celebrities checking into rehab is a regular practice and can even be "downright chic," it's not hard to understand why college students, especially female students, might think that drunkorexia is OK. But on top of social pressures, psychologists share that eating disorders may also be rooted in deep emotional pain. Alcohol, binging, and purging can provide an outlet for mental anguish, including childhood traumas like sexual abuse and neglect.

Such deep problems don't often come with an easy cure, and in some cases, require hospitalization and rehab. Judy Van De Veen suffered from eating disorders for years, and also took up drinking in later years. Things got so bad, she had to join a 12-step program and spent two years in and out of rehab, which cost her $25,000 out of her own pocket. None of them helped, but after becoming pregnant and joining support groups to address her daughter's caloric needs, she found an "excuse to eat" and be happy about it. Although Van De Veen's case is an extreme one, it offers a cautionary tale for students who are engaging in drunkorexia. Without help, things can go too far, resulting in a problem that can haunt you for decades, cost thousands of dollars, and even put your future family at risk.

We hope it's clear by now that drunkorexia is not harmless and is actually quite dangerous to the lives and long-term health of college students. So what can you do to avoid it and stop the practice on campus? FastWeb points out that college is a great place to simply ask for help. There are resources on every college campus to deal with not only alcohol abuse, but also eating disorders. College counselors are there to help, and your student fees have already paid for the visits. If you or a friend are suffering from drunkorexia, don't hesitate to speak up and get help while you still can. Be supportive with friends who may have a drunkorexia problem, offering positive reinforcement as well as fun alternatives to drinking, like movies and going out to dinner. It's also a good idea to set a good example by making responsible decisions with alcohol or avoiding it completely.


Only 3% of British secondary teachers are rated outstanding as inspectorate blasts classroom performance

Only 3 per cent of secondary school teachers are deemed to be ‘outstanding’, Ofsted’s annual report has revealed. The figure for primaries is a mere 4 per cent, while teaching is substandard in close to half of all schools, according to inspectors.

They found that tens of thousands of teachers lacked knowledge of their subject, or did not know how to communicate with pupils.

Many did not plan lessons well, or at all, wasting time getting pupils to complete pointless tasks, such as copying text.

And their failure to control the classroom has allowed bad behaviour to become endemic.

The report coincided with results showing one in seven schools is stagnating – ‘stubbornly’ refusing to improve despite warnings.

Yet a week today, hundreds of thousands of teachers are to strike, closing almost every school in England. And those in the NASUWT union have voted to work-to-rule, rigidly sticking to 6.5-hour days and 32.5-hour weeks, for 194 days a year.

In a scathing attack, Miriam Rosen, Ofsted’s acting chief inspector, said there is ‘no excuse’ for incompetence. She pointed to the example set by a number of outstanding schools operating in the most deprived parts of London, but said she was ‘disappointed’ in the quality of teaching nationwide, which is still ‘too variable’.

She said a ‘relentless focus on the quality of teaching and learning’ was needed. Ofsted’s report, published yesterday, showed that teaching was substandard in 41 per cent of schools.

When additional measures, such as quality of curriculum, are taken into account 30 per cent of all schools are failing pupils. This means they are either ranked ‘inadequate’ or ‘satisfactory’ – Ofsted parlance for ‘not good enough’. And one in seven schools judged satisfactory last year – nearly 800 – have failed to improve.

The report also highlighted the growth of an education underclass. A fifth of schools serving the poorest pupils are four times more likely to be rated ‘inadequate’ than those in the richest areas, it revealed.

Nansi Ellis, of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, called the report irresponsible. She said: ‘Constantly telling schools and teachers that they’re bad doesn’t help anyone to improve.’


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