Tuesday, July 19, 2016

More Gladwell stupidity:  Attacking Bowdoin College

It's been said by someone who has studied him that "There is more of reality and wisdom in a Chinese fortune cookie than can be found anywhere in Gladwell’s pages"

That the college has a legitimate interest in attracting the brightest students is overooked. Bright students tend to have lots of options so marginal advantages like better food might attract them to one college versus another.

Bowdoin is a school not a charity agency so there is no in principle reason why it should give anything to anybody.  Nonetheless it does already give free enrolment to many bright but low-income students. Bowdoin claims to be among the most economically diverse liberal arts colleges in America

Author/essayist Malcolm Gladwell has said that his new podcast, “Revisionist History,” is “about things forgotten or misunderstood.” It’s familiar terrain for the frizzy-haired New Yorker writer famous for imparting counter-intuitive wisdom.

In the latest episode, titled “Food Fight,” Gladwell argues that some liberal arts colleges, notably Bowdoin, located in Brunswick, Maine, spend too much money on the food served to students at the expense of financial aid that might enable a greater number of low-income kids to attend the school.

As you might imagine, Bowdoin disagrees and posted an angry response to Gladwell’s podcast on its website Friday.

“Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast ‘Revisionist History’ (aptly named) takes a manipulative and disingenuous shot at Bowdoin College that is filled with false assumptions, anecdotal evidence, and incorrect conclusions,” the statement says.

The podcast episode, which includes interviews with Bowdoin students marveling at the gourmet food served by chef Ken Cardone — Orzo and tofu salad! Smashed chickpea, avocado, and pesto sandwiches! — is a brutal takedown of the college’s alleged priorities.

“The food at Bowdoin is actually a problem, a moral problem,” Gladwell says.  By contrast, he claims, Vassar College, located in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., is an example of a liberal arts school that serves ordinary — and sometimes, according to some Vassar students, crummy — food because the focus is on education.

“There’s only one solution if you’re looking at liberal arts colleges,” Gladwell says. “Don’t go to Bowdoin. Don’t let your kids go to Bowdoin. Don’t let your friends go to Bowdoin. Don’t give money to Bowdoin or any other school that serves amazing food in its dining hall.”

In its online response, Bowdoin says that Gladwell never inquired about budgets or financial aid practices: “Gladwell and his producer focused only on Bowdoin’s food in a manner that was disingenuous, dishonest, and manipulative. Their only questions were about food and were directed at dining service staff and students, not the president, not the chief financial officer, not the dean of admissions, and not anyone else.”

The school posted its response on Facebook and Twitter, and alums immediately flamed Gladwell for the podcast that one person called “asinine drivel.”

Gladwell isn’t backing down. In an e-mail Friday, he told us Bowdoin is deflecting. “Bowdoin College is a school with a rich and privileged alumni group, over a billion dollars in the bank, a tiny student population, and every conceivable material advantage — that nonetheless ranks 51st nationwide in offering opportunities to low income students. If I am ‘disingenuous’ in pointing out that disgraceful fact, then what is Bowdoin in choosing to deny it?”


How a teacher bombed the SATs

I HOLD A PhD in English from the University of California, Berkeley. I’ve taught students to write at Emory, Berkeley, and Harvard and picked up three teaching awards along the way. I have published more than two dozen pieces in national publications, including The Atlantic and Vanity Fair.

In May, I bombed the essay portion of the SAT.

Did I mention that I’ve also been prepping students for the SAT as a teacher and tutor for the Princeton Review for almost 20 years?

This spring, the College Board, which administers the SAT, introduced a new, optional essay section of the test. Almost two-thirds of spring test-takers opted in, even though less than 10 percent of colleges require the essay. The College Board believes the new essay looks “a lot like a typical college writing assignment in which you’re asked to analyze a text.” It is scored from 1 to 4 by two graders in three areas: reading, analysis, and writing. The scores are added together to generate totals between 2 and 8 in each category.

In May, I took the SAT because it is part of my job to be up on the test. We had to analyze an op-ed by Eric Klinenberg decrying the use of air conditioning. The directions explained, “Your essay should not explain whether you agree with Klinenberg’s claims, but rather explain how [he] builds an argument to persuade his audience.”

I followed the directions and wrote what I thought was a decent piece, particularly after having completed a three-hour exam. And I didn’t bomb everything. I received a 7 in reading, which, according to the College Board, measures how well I understood the passage and used textual evidence. I also got a 7 for my writing score, which measures how “focused, organized, and precise” my essay was, as well its use of “an appropriate style and tone that varies sentence structure and follows the conventions of standard written English.” But when it came to analysis, which demonstrates an “understanding of how [an] author builds an argument,” I landed a 4.

A 4. Despite my half-dozen peer-reviewed articles published in academic journals, I scored in the bottom half of the range. According to the score, I will need to do some serious work before I go to college or maybe I should just major in math (I hit 99th percentile on the math section, as well as on the evidence-based reading and writing section).

After absorbing the blow to my ego, I was left wondering how I could have done so badly on the essay, particularly after publishing an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal that argued that students who prepped for the exam would simply use a new formula for writing their essays.

It’s my own fault that I did not employ the template we teach students to use at Princeton Review, a fact painfully brought home when one of our students let me know he scored an 8 in reading, 7 in analysis, and 7 in writing.

Was my essay really as bad as my graders thought it was? I needed to know, so I contacted two experienced teachers of college writing to get second and third opinions.

My first grader, Kevin Birmingham, not only taught for several years in the Harvard College Writing Program, he also won the Truman Capote Award for Literary Criticism this year for “The Most Dangerous Book,” a gripping examination of the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses. The second grader, Les Perelman, spent 25 years at MIT directing undergraduate writing programs; he was a strident critic of the old SAT essay but thinks the new assignment represents an improvement.

I gave Perelman and Birmingham three essays, marked simply A, B, and C. Essay A was mine. Essay B was written by a colleague in the test prep industry and received a 7 in reading, an 8 in analysis, and an 8 in writing. Essay C was the aforementioned student’s essay (8-7-7). Neither of the graders knew I had written one of the examples. They were provided the prompt and the official scoring rubric and asked not just to score the essays using the rubric but to rank them for their overall quality.

I did not sleep well as I waited to see the results.

Both Birmingham and Perelman ranked mine first out of the group, and my re-score came out to 7-7-7. Birmingham scored and ranked the student essay (C) the lowest of the bunch. Perelman, who graded the essay according to how he expected it to be graded by official scorers, gave it the highest score in the group and ranked it second. Without prompting, he explained in an e-mail, “I scored C, a classic, mechanically produced five-paragraph essay higher than I normally would because standardized testing loves this form because it is easy to get consistent scoring.”

Neither of the graders knew I had written one of the examples.

My personal failure matters very little in comparison, however, with the failure of the new SAT essay to distinguish actual writing skills from the ability to employ a template that lends itself to quick grading by ETS employees making $15 an hour to start.

The SAT essay assignment and the five-paragraph format it encourages will likely do students little good after graduation. In a recent survey of K-12 and college teachers, ACT found that college teachers considered the ability to generate ideas the most important skill for their students to possess, twice as important as the ability to analyze texts. The problem with the College Board’s new SAT essay, as Perelman said to me, is that it “rewards nonthought and mechanistic writing.” Bombing it might not be so bad after all.

It is perhaps too apt that at the top of each page provided to write the SAT essay it reads, “DO NOT WRITE OUTSIDE OF THE BOX.” I only hope students do not take this warning too much to heart.


White working-class boys are being put off university by success stories of celebrities who never went such as Richard Branson

They're known as some of the most inspirational businessmen in history.

But the success of industry giants such as Sir Richard Branson and Lord Sugar is actually putting working-class boys off of further education.

A new report, that is released today, has analysed why so few young white working-class men now choose to go on to higher education.

According to The Times, the report, commissioned by King’s College London, suggested that one method of increasing the number could be to target parents.

It also said that efforts to encourage white working-class boys to attend further education should begin at primary school.

The report quoted one head teacher who discussed the influence of celebrities.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who dropped out of university, is also cited as an inspiration to many.

‘He said that white working-class boys at his school are exposed to two messages, via the media and peer networks, that have a particularly strong influence on their perceptions of university,’ the report said.

‘Firstly, they are aware of highprofile cases of entrepreneurs who have not gone to university, or who have not completed their courses, and have still gone on to achieve success.

‘Secondly, they have friends who have gone away to university and returned to the same low-paid jobs they were doing before they left for their studies, only now saddled with debt.’

The issue of so few choosing further study has been made worse by the fact that there is no agreed definition of the term ‘white working class,’ making it difficult to monitor the group.

According to The Times, a manager at another school explained that the positive financial benefits of further education were not always known: ‘One of the really important things for white working-class students . . . is to be able to see what the earning potential of their next step is.

'They simply cannot see how it’s a worthwhile trajectory to pick A levels.’

Another report by the University of Bristol also found a gap between boys and girls aged five in literacy and language.


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