Category Archives: Observations

School vs. Society in America’s Failing Schools

We grow accustomed to easy explanations for the difficulties encountered in U.S. Schools.  Educational Researchers offer perspectives that challenge widely held assumptions.  Here is an article that provides an alternative point of view worth considering!    — Ed Prof

School vs. Society

Eduardo Porter
Published online November 3, 2015 in the New York Times —

Permalink for this article:

New York Times Website


The Myth of Welfare’s Corrupting Influence on the Poor

Eduardo Porter
Published October 20, 2015

“The charge that welfare will become a way of life reproducing itself down the generations is also dubious. Before welfare reform in 1996, some four in 10 Americans on welfare were on it for only one or two years. Only about a third were on it for five years or more.”



Formal-Operational vs. Post-Formal Thinking: Brains Grow Up

Here is a reblogged essay from the Classroom as Microcosm Blog written by irrepressible and indomitable college teacher, “Siobhan Curious.”   It explores one aspect of early adult development: the growth of postformal thought.

Formal-Operational vs. Post-Formal Thinking: Brains Grow Up « Classroom as Microcosm.

I have written about emerging adulthood (and academic versus authentic writing) in another post.  If you are looking for additional reading on this topic, scroll down to references at the end of my first “Diary of an Ed Prof” essay.   — Ed Prof

The Psychological Contract

In 1952, Rutgers University Professor Selman Waksman won the Nobel Prize for developing Streptomycin, a powerful antibiotic that cured tuberculosis.  His 23-year old graduate student, Albert Schatz, claimed to have been the first to isolate the bacterium that produced this drug in August, 1943.  Schatz and Waksman applied for a patent, but the royalties all went to Waksman.  Schatz sued and won a share of the royalties, but Waksman never acknowledged the part he played in the discovery.   Waksman had a distinguished career until his death in 1973.  Twenty years later, and fifty years after the discovery of Streptoymycin, Schatz published the second of two articles describing his role in the discovery (Schatz, 1993). This year, Schatz’ claim was confirmed by the discovery of his detailed 1943 lab notes in a box of Waksman’s papers (Pringle, 2012). The notes show that Schatz was the first to isolate the bacterium.

From a professional studies point of view, this story provides rich terrain for analysis.   It is a reminder that professional communities, while said to be self-policing, are not always or perhaps ever what novices imagine them to be. The disparity between students’ idealism and reality constitutes  a violation of the psychological contract implicit in the relationship between student and mentor as it is enacted within the structure of the research university.  When institutions violate the psychological contract, those who work within them experience adverse psychological effects.  This is not by any means limited to universities and science laboratories, but a more general phenomenon experienced by teachers, physicians, nurses, social workers, professors, and others who find themselves grappling with shifting institutional priorities, ominous new power structures, and heartbreaking barriers to best practice.  What this suggests to me is that those who train professionals need to try to understand students’ images of professional life and conceptions about the field as a whole.  They also need to be reflexive — able to model honest self-appraisal, self-criticism, awareness of the field’s potentially problematic effects, weaknesses and shortcomings, as well as its achievements and technical demands.  There is a vital role for the humanities and the social sciences in this enterprise.

To return to the case at hand, the “system” (and the individual scientists working within it) produced a great societal benefit, yet also permitted, and may have promoted, inequity and injustice.  And it is noteworthy that all this contention emerged concurrent with what one journalist described as “the birth of big Pharma.”  Today, scientific discoveries are made by large, complex groups of people, yet when we teach about science, we still employ a curriculum that spotlights the work of “heroic” individual scientists who are the stars of the scientific show — immortal symbols of the quest for understanding.  The media promote public conceptions of the solitary, successful, charismatic scientist (and teacher, and physician…) that no longer align well with professional life as most of us ordinary beings experience it.

Recognition remains the gold standard in the political economy of academic life — publications, citations,  grants, prizes, awards, tweets, followers!  Schatz never gave up his quest for recognition.  And as the “op ed” letter below suggests, Wacksman was a well regarded teacher and scientist who attended to the needs of the next generation (Erikson, 1950).  With respect to human lifespan development, I think this story demonstrates how scholarly priorities can change through the life course. In particular, the interests of senior scholars may move away from concerted efforts to acquire yet more intellectual knowledge toward articulation and reinterpretation of one’s life and its meaning.

Sources and Further Reading

Conway, N. & Briner, R. (2006). Understanding Psychological Contracts at Work: A Critical Evaluation of Theory and Research. Oxford University.

Erikson, E. (1950). Eight Stages of Man (Chapter 7), Childhood and Society, New York: W.W. Norton.

Forbes, P.  (2012).Experiment Eleven: Deceit and Betrayal in the Discovery of the Cure for Tuberculosis by Peter Pringle – review . The Guardian, June 29.

Pringle, P. (2012). Notebooks Shed Light on and Antibiotic’s Contested Discovery. New York Times, June 11.

Rousseau, Denise M. (1996). Psychological Contracts in Organizations: Understanding Written and Unwritten Agreements. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Schatz, A. (1993). The true story of the discovery of Streptomycin.  Actinomycetes, Vol. IV, Part 2: 27-39

The Condition of Education


Protesting Against Education Budget Cuts
Protesting Against Education Budget Cuts (Photo credit: infomatique)

My previous post noted that tuition pays only a small portion of the cost of higher education in public colleges and universities.  According to this year’s Condition of Education report, in 2009 – 2010, tuition accounted for about 16 – 18 percent of the total revenue of  public postsecondary institutions (and 90% of private, for-profit post-secondary institutions).  The Condition of Education is a report mandated by the United States federal government and published each year by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).  The report is available for download at no charge and contains a wealth of information about educational institutions at all levels, including elementary and secondary, postsecondary, public, private non-profit and private, for-profit institutions.  This is a rich, detailed, well-organized and trustworthy analysis of massive amounts of data that can be very useful for academic research and writing projects.

Here are a few direct quotes that reflect current conditions and changing trends in higher education (from the 2012 Condition of Education Overview).  A useful and informative resource:

In 2009–10, more than half of the 1.7 million bachelor’s degrees awarded were in five fields: business, management, marketing, and personal and culinary services (22 percent); social sciences and history (10 percent); health professions and related programs (8 percent); education (6 percent); and psychology (6 percent) (indicator 38).

Approximately 56 percent of male and 61 percent of female first-time, full-time students who sought a bachelor’s degree at a 4-year institution in fall 2004 completed their degree at that institution within 6 years (indicator 45).

In 2011, some 32 percent of 25- to 29-year-olds had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher. From 1980 to 2011, the gap in the attainment of a bachelor’s degree or higher between Whites and Hispanics widened from 17 to 26 percentage points, and the gap between Whites and Blacks widened from 13 to 19 percentage points (indicator 48).

In 2010, young adults ages 25–34 with a bachelor’s degree earned 114 percent more than young adults without a high school diploma or its equivalent, 50 percent more than young adult high school completers, and 22 percent more than young adults with an associate’s degree (indicator 49).


The Condition of Education — Index  —  [The 2012 report and related information can be downloaded from this site.  An ebook of the report is also available.]

The Condition of Education — Overview, Section 3 – Postsecondary Education and Outcomes —

The Condition of Education — Postsecondary Revenues

Diary of an Ed Prof

Academic BookshelfOne of the tasks of educating professionals involves inculcating the ability to concentrate intensely for long periods of time on whatever one’s job requires.  My job requires a good deal of writing, and reading, and learning — and I would not have it any other way.  But I may be happiest when I go into random mind mode (RAMM!) — which I do more often than perhaps I ought. One of the benefits of RAMM, however, involves happening on new ways of thinking about things.  Reading a few of 27 year old Mary’s posts — beginning with Fifteen Things White Girls Love to Do on Facebook — got me thinking again about how much the idea of “authenticity” in academic writing has changed in the past 2 or 3 decades, and how advanced information technologies (especially blogs and online journals and newsletters, but also spelling and grammar checkers) have changed our notions of what it means to write, and to read the work of others.

Academic writing in the professions is put through so many layers of critique and often endures so much editorial meddling that it loses whatever creative energy it might once have possessed.  There is an odd gauntlet through which a writing project must pass if it is, indeed, to “count” for much in the academy.  At least in my fields (education, anthropology and psychology), the goal is not simply to share ideas and research findings, but to do so with the benediction of peer-reviewers who presumably provide an “objective” and informed evaluation of quality of the work. [I have written about this in the “Political Economy of Academic Writing (PDF)” in the Journal of Thought.] Those who write  journal articles on their own must compete with those who work in teams and with others who receive varying amounts of help from amateur (student) or professional editors and ghost writers.  By the time it makes its way through the gauntlet of critique, academic writing  may no longer reflect either the intellect or the communication skills of the author(s).  As a result, it can be difficult to gauge the authenticity of the persona manifested in academic writing projects. Blogs might be another story, or so it seems to me.

Mary lived in New Orleans a few months ago and was working on a nursing degree in a community college.  Her “Fifteen Things” entry garnered a lot of attention when it was spotlighted on the Word Press “Freshly Pressed” page — a great site for anyone looking for RAMM opportunities!  In prior posts, she had bemoaned her inability to study for an important “A and P” (anatomy and physiology) exam. Instead of studying, she  blogged.  Blogging is seductive because it provides a readily available venue for self-expression and exploring alternative possible futures.

I thought Mary’s subsequent post on “The Pros and Cons of Being 27 and Living with your Parents”  provided an imaginative, humorous and insightful glimpse into what developmental scientists call emerging or early adulthood – the period in the lifespan from about 18 years of age to the late twenties  (Arnett, 2000).  Mary has better reason than many to still be relying on parental support, but the truth is that “growing up is harder to do” today than in the past (Furstenberg, et al, 2008; Marantz Henig, 2010).  The situation is a product of the social and economic context rather than individual deficiency (of either young adult children or their parents).  On January 4, Mary wrote a thoughtful commentary about sibling relationships (“Brothers and Sisters“). And early in February, she announced her decision to (re)turn her attention to writing, setting aside her aspiration to become a nurse, at least for now (“Community College Drop Out“).  Given how her readers have responded to her work as a blog author, she wonders whether she might have become a kind of “internet nurse” — helping to relieve human suffering or at least, making some of her readers feel less alone.

As a teacher, I am reminded of how hard we sometimes work to help students overcome barriers in order to stay in school and finish their degree programs.  It sounds as though Mary’s community college professors did what they could to help, but there is only so much one can do.  Things don’t always work out as planned. In any case, I am struck by the way that Mary seems to embody her prose.  Here is how she describes the role writing plays in her life:

I think more than any physical place, my notebooks have been my home. Writing often reveals to me what is true and real before my own mind can recognize it in the world. I know that writing is a way for me to find truth and tell the truth. It might be why I get anxiety just before I sit down to write, but after I finish, I feel better. Lighter. And if I’ve written correctly, I always walk away with more clarity, more light in the room than before. So I won’t concern myself too much with what house I call mine for now. Maybe home is more an internal thing than anything else. For the time being, home is on paper, and deep within. (2/28/12)

 Blogging affords opportunities for writing as an “authentic” form of self-expression to real and imaginary audiences.  Through writing, we create, recreate and comfort ourselves. This is a new and noteworthy phenomenon and I suspect it is worthy of more scholarly attention than it has received.    Ed Prof

References and Further Reading

Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55 (5):469-480.   doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.55.5.469

Furstenberg, jr., F., et. Al. (2004). Growing up is harder to do. Contexts, 3, 33-41.

Marantz Henig, Robin (August 18, 2010). “What Is It About 20-Somethings?”. The New York Times.

Munsey, C. (2006). Emerging adults: The in-between age. APA Monitor, 37 (6):68.

Web Pages

Emerging Adulthood (Wikipedia Entry).

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett’s Home Page:

An Exercise in Gratitude

Adult urgent care entranceGratitude is one of the pillars of happiness — “the parent of all virtues” (Wood, Joseph and Linley, 2007). Here is a way to begin the New Year on a positive note.  I created this task for professionals-in-training and their teachers, but others might want to try it as well.

Take some time to think about how professionals have contributed to your own well being during the course of your life. Imagining who belongs within the abstract category of workers we call “professionals” raises many issues, and you might want to think about this at a later time. For now, just go with your own sense of the matter.  In general, professionals are people who have high levels of technical expertise, practices grounded in a shared, empirically grounded knowledge-base, control over their own certification process, a comparatively high level of autonomy, a code of ethics. There are many points of view on the matter, so just see where your thoughts take you. With no pretense or hope of comprehensiveness, here are a few of my own reflections:

There were the nurses and physicians who helped my mother “deliver” me into the world, and who saw to my health in childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Dr. Wright, the general practitioner, came to the house when someone was sick, examining us, and perhaps writing a prescription for the pharmacist (another professional) to fill.  There were the teachers who taught me to read, write, develop new skills, solve problems and adapt (more or less) to the demands of life in post-industrial society. Mrs. Gephart, the school nurse at Edina Elementary School, took me under her wing.  She let me help in the nurse’s office after lunch, when all the other kids went out for recess.  I much preferred the company of a caring adult to braving the frigid Minnesota cold on the playground after lunch every day! Mr. Jambeck, my 11th grade English teacher, taught me to appreciate how, in order to really understand the literature and the visual arts of each era, one needed to consider the contexts in which they were produced. In many respects, this insight made me who I am: inspired my interests and my life’s work. Architects and contractors designed and built the dwellings that gave my family and me shelter from the elements. When I was 9 or 10 years old, my Dad showed me the blueprint of our suburban home.  What a wonder!  Decades later, a wise and competent lawyer helped set me free of an unfortunate relationship that no amount of time, effort, love or forgiveness could repair…

If all this suggests an embrace of an old-style functionalist and “celebrationist” mindset — well, so be it! The experience and expression of gratitude can have personal and societal benefits (Seligman, Steen, Park and Peterson, 2005). We tend to take professionals and their contributions for granted. So every once in awhile, we ought to drop our critical lances (yes, lances, not lenses) on the ground and recalibrate, taking into consideration the benefits we derive from the professionals whose work contributes in so many ways to our health and well-being. The system as a whole is flawed, but essential to our diverse ways of life and amenable to improvement.  — Ed Prof

Further Reading

Encyclopedia of Gratitude (A free source of things for which to be grateful compiled by Erich Origen.  Print version available in February, 2012)

Gratitude (Wikipedia.Org entry provides a useful overview as well as citations of empirical studies on the nature and consequences of gratitude.)

Leo Babauta (2007). Why Living a Life of Gratitude Can Make You Happy .  Posted on .


Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N.,& Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421

Wood, A., Joseph, S. and Linley, A. (2007).  Gratitude — Parent of all virtuesThe Psychologist, 20, 1:  18 – 20.

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