Monthly Archives: July 2013

Read This Poem and You’ll Never Laugh At Rape Jokes Again

read, this, poem, and, youll, never, laugh, at, rape, jokes, again,

 

“In case you missed it late last week, Patricia Lockwood’s poem in The Awl entitled “Rape Joke” became one of those brilliant pieces of art we get to read, digest, and pass around for free thanks to the wonders of the modern age. It’s not very often that something so emotionally naked, devastatingly honest and skillfully crafted gets our attention, and it is not just by virtue of its title, which of course recalls an issue we on the internet have discussed and struggled with over and over again. If you’re the sort of person who believes great art like this can be wielded as an instrument to change minds, the question becomes: what does this poem bring to the conversation that we have otherwise been struggling to say when discussing controversies like rape jokes and rape culture? The intention of the poem, of course, isn’t just to get us to feel bad all over again about rape jokes. It is, after all, heartbreaking and edgy and even darkly funny. Instead, what is compelling about this poem is its honesty and, within that brutal honesty, a call to redefine what we as a society understand rape to actually be.

Whenever rape is discussed on a website, the comments section quickly swells to an incredible size (the comments section of “Rape Joke” is currently no exception), often thanks to a vocal minority who take the opportunity to point how a particular story just doesn’t “cut it.” Look at the context, they say, do we really understand the context? The hard truth is that we men need to stop looking for ways to weasel out of the word “rape” and acknowledge that all rapes have contexts, and that rapes happen between men and women who know each other and, in certain circumstances, may even care for each other or love each other.

Rape culture is our collective refusal as a society to admit that while we in the abstract believe strongly that women should be free from the fear of sexual violence, we have not done enough to actually make the spaces we inhabit together (college campuses, for example) safer. It’s about being trapped in an old mode of defining rape and other forms of sexual violence and thus denying its existence in other forms. For most people rape is something that happens on Law and Order: SVU, CSI, an accuser and an accused (often strangers). This definition empowers a culture of rape apology on the internet and feeds the websites of Men’s Rights advocates. They want, by suggesting that rape is not rape unless you’ve gone to court, or that rape is not rape if it occurs within a relationship or a marriage, to delegitimize the very idea of rape culture. According to them, men like the one in Lockwood’s poem do not really exist, or at the very least, are not really rapists; rape is simply not something that can happen between a 19-year-old girl and her boyfriend. To them the world is divided between accuser and the accused, and that in today’s politically correct society the accusers are running rampant and more often than not are making things up. This is, at its core, the same pernicious meme that circulates among social conservatives as they struggle with the rape exemption when limiting abortion rights. The idea of “legitimate rape” or “forcible rape” is a means of limiting its definition to something is easily classifiable and only real when reported to the police. According to them, if the police haven’t heard about it, it’s “made up.” Yet, we know from study after study that in the vast majority of instances (the National Institute of Health says 80% of incidents) a woman knows her attacker and that reporting a rape is anything but a clear-cut situation.

The simple fact is, rape is always “in context.” As a human rights issue, that’s precisely the problem: rape is statutory rape and date rape and rape while intoxicated and prison rape, and worldwide it is rape as a war tactic and rape as child marriage. Now is the time to take the next big step and broaden our discussion of these issues. Like any civil rights struggle, each new level of progress is an order of magnitude more difficult to achieve than the one before it, like boring into the Earth’s crust. Cultures of sexual violence cannot be shooed away by legislating or litigating alone, they must be preempted. And we can start by having a discussion that is open and honest about how the vast majority of rapes actually happen.”

Leave a comment

July 29, 2013 · 10:36 pm

How To Fight Racial Bias When It’s Silent And Subtle

July 19, 2013 3:26 AM
Researchers say it may be possible to temporarily reduce racial biases.

Researchers say it may be possible to temporarily reduce racial biases.

Images.com/Corbis

 

“In the popular imagination and in conventional discourse — especially in the context of highly charged news events such as the shooting of Trayvon Martin — prejudice is all about hatred and animosity.

Scientists agree there’s little doubt that hate-filled racism is real, but a growing bodyof social science research suggests that racial disparities and other biased outcomes in the criminal justice system, in medicine and in professional settings can be explained by unconscious attitudes and stereotypes.

Subtle biases are linked to police cadets being more likely to shoot unarmed black men than they are unarmed white men. (Some academics have also linked theresearch into unconscious bias to the Trayvon Martin case.)

Calvin Lai and Brian Nosek at the University of Virginia recently challenged scientists to come up with ways to ameliorate such biases. The idea, said Harvard University psychologist Mahzarin Banaji, one of the researchers, was to evaluate whether there were rapid-fire ways to disable stereotypes. Groups of scientists “raced” one another to see if their favorite techniques worked. All the scientists focused on reducing unconscious racial bias against blacks.

“Within five minutes, you have to do something to somebody’s mind so that at the end of those five minutes you will now show a lower association of black with bad. And so this was run really like a competition to see which ones of them might work to reduce race bias and which ones don’t,” Banaji said.

The results were as surprising for what they didn’t find as for what they did. Teaching people about the injustice of discrimination or asking them to be empathetic toward others was ineffective. What worked, at least temporarily, Banaji said, was providing volunteers with “counterstereotypical” messages.

“People were shown images or words or phrases that in some way bucked the trend of what we end up seeing in our culture,” she said. “So if black and bad have been repeatedly associated in our society, then in this intervention, the opposite association was made.”

Banaji, who has been a pioneer in studying unconscious biases, said she has taken such results to heart and tried to find ways to expose herself to counterstereotypical messages, as a way to limit her own unconscious biases.

One image in particular, she said, has had an especially powerful effect: “My favorite example is a picture of a woman who is clearly a construction worker wearing a hard hat, but she is breast-feeding her baby at lunchtime, and that image pulls my expectations in so many different directions that it was my feeling that seeing something like that would also allow me in other contexts to perhaps have an open mind about new ideas that might come from people who are not traditionally the ones I hear from.””

Leave a comment

July 24, 2013 · 5:53 pm

‘Crack baby’ study ends with unexpected but clear result

By Susan FitzGerald, For The Inquirer

POSTED: July 22, 2013

“Jaimee Drakewood hurried in from the rain, eager to get to her final appointment at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Ever since her birth 23 years ago, a team of researchers has been tracking every aspect of her development – gauging her progress as an infant, measuring her IQ as a preschooler, even peering into her adolescent brain using an MRI machine.

Now, after nearly a quarter century, the federally funded study was ending, and the question the researchers had been asking was answered.

Did cocaine harm the long-term development of children like Jaimee, who were exposed to the drug in their mother’s womb?

The researchers had expected the answer would be a resounding yes. But it wasn’t. Another factor would prove far more critical.

 

A crack epidemic was raging in Philadelphia in 1989 when Hallam Hurt, then chair of neonatology at Albert Einstein Medical Center on North Broad Street, began a study to evaluate the effects of in-utero cocaine exposure on babies. In maternity wards in Philadelphia and elsewhere, caregivers were seeing more mothers hooked on cheap, smokable crack cocaine. A 1989 study in Philadelphia found that nearly one in six newborns at city hospitals had mothers who tested positive for cocaine.

Troubling stories were circulating about the so-called crack babies. They had small heads and were easily agitated and prone to tremors and bad muscle tone, according to reports, many of which were anecdotal. Worse, the babies seemed aloof and avoided eye contact. Some social workers predicted a lost generation – kids with a host of learning and emotional deficits who would overwhelm school systems and not be able to hold a job or form meaningful relationships. The “crack baby” image became symbolic of bad mothering, and some cocaine-using mothers had their babies taken from them or, in a few cases, were arrested.

It was amid that climate that Hurt organized a study of 224 near-term or full-term babies born at Einstein between 1989 and 1992 – half with mothers who used cocaine during pregnancy and half who were not exposed to the drug in utero. All the babies came from low-income families, and nearly all were African Americans.

Hurt hoped the study would inform doctors and nurses caring for cocaine-exposed babies and even guide policies for drug prevention, treatment, and follow-up interventions. But she never anticipated that the study, funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, would become one of the largest and longest-running studies of in-utero cocaine exposure.

One mother who signed up was Jaimee’s mom, Karen Drakewood. She was on an all-night crack binge in a drug house near her home in the city’s West Oak Lane section when she went into labor. Jaimee was born Jan. 13, 1990, weighing an even 7 pounds.

“Jaimee was beautiful when she was born. A head full of hair. She looked like a porcelain doll,” Karen Drakewood, now 51, said recently in her Overbrook kitchen. “She was perfect.”

But Drakewood knew looks could be deceiving.

“My worst fear was that Jaimee would be slow, mentally retarded, or something like that because of me doing drugs,” she said. She agreed to enroll her baby in the cocaine study at Einstein. Drakewood promised herself that she would turn her life around for the sake of Jaimee and her older daughter, but she soon went back to smoking crack.

 

Hurt arrived early at Children’s Hospital one morning in June to give a talk on her team’s findings to coworkers. After nearly 25 years of studying the effects of cocaine and publishing or presenting dozens of findings, it wasn’t easy to summarize it in a PowerPoint presentation. The study received nearly $7.9 million in federal funding over the years, as well as $130,000 from the Einstein Society.

Hurt, who had taken her team from Einstein to Children’s in 2003, began her lecture with quotations from the media around the time the study began. A social worker on TV predicted that a crack baby would grow up to “have an IQ of perhaps 50.” A print article quoted a psychologist as saying “crack was interfering with the central core of what it is to be human,” and yet another article predicted that crack babies were “doomed to a life of uncertain suffering, of probable deviance, of permanent inferiority.”

Hurt, who is also a professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania, is always quick to point out that cocaine can have devastating effects on pregnancy. The drug can cause a problematic rise in a pregnant woman’s blood pressure, trigger premature labor, and may be linked to a dangerous condition in which the placenta tears away from the uterine wall. Babies born prematurely, no matter the cause, are at risk for a host of medical and developmental problems. On top of that, a parent’s drug use can create a chaotic home life for a child.

Hurt’s study enrolled only full-term babies so the possible effects of prematurity did not skew the results. The babies were then evaluated periodically, beginning at six months and then every six or 12 months on through young adulthood. Their mothers agreed to be tested for drug use throughout the study.

The researchers consistently found no significant differences between the cocaine-exposed children and the controls. At age 4, for instance, the average IQ of the cocaine-exposed children was 79.0 and the average IQ for the nonexposed children was 81.9. Both numbers are well below the average of 90 to 109 for U.S. children in the same age group. When it came to school readiness at age 6, about 25 percent of children in each group scored in the abnormal range on tests for math and letter and word recognition.

“We went looking for the effects of cocaine,” Hurt said. But after a time “we began to ask, ‘Was there something else going on?’ “

While the cocaine-exposed children and a group of nonexposed controls performed about the same on tests, both groups lagged on developmental and intellectual measures compared to the norm. Hurt and her team began to think the “something else” was poverty.

As the children grew, the researchers did many evaluations to tease out environmental factors that could be affecting their development. On the upside, they found that children being raised in a nurturing home – measured by such factors as caregiver warmth and affection and language stimulation – were doing better than kids in a less nurturing home. On the downside, they found that 81 percent of the children had seen someone arrested; 74 percent had heard gunshots; 35 percent had seen someone get shot; and 19 percent had seen a dead body outside – and the kids were only 7 years old at the time. Those children who reported a high exposure to violence were likelier to show signs of depression and anxiety and to have lower self-esteem.

More recently, the team did MRI scans on the participants’ brains. Some research has suggested that gestational cocaine exposure can affect brain development, especially the dopamine system, which in turn can harm cognitive function. An area of concern is “executive functioning,” a set of skills involved in planning, problem-solving, and working memory.

The investigators found one brain area linked to attention skills that differed between exposed and nonexposed children, but they could not find any clinically significant effect on behavioral tests of attention skills.

Drug use did not differ between the exposed and nonexposed participants as young adults. About 42 percent used marijuana and three tested positive for cocaine one time each.

The team has kept tabs on 110 of the 224 children originally in the study. Of the 110, two are dead – one shot in a bar and another in a drive-by shooting – three are in prison, six graduated from college, and six more are on track to graduate. There have been 60 children born to the 110 participants.

The years of tracking kids have led Hurt to a conclusion she didn’t see coming.

“Poverty is a more powerful influence on the outcome of inner-city children than gestational exposure to cocaine,” Hurt said at her May lecture.

Other researchers also couldn’t find any devastating effects from cocaine exposure in the womb. Claire Coles, a psychiatry professor at Emory University, has been tracking a group of low-income Atlanta children. Her work has found that cocaine exposure does not seem to affect children’s overall cognition and school performance, but some evidence suggests that these children are less able to regulate their reactions to stressful stimuli, which could affect learning and emotional health.

Coles said her research had found nothing to back up predictions that cocaine-exposed babies were doomed for life. “As a society we say, ‘Cocaine is bad and therefore it must cause damage to babies,’ ” Coles said. “When you have a myth, it tends to linger for a long time.”

Deborah A. Frank, a pediatrics professor at Boston University who has tracked a similar group of children, said the “crack baby” label led to erroneous stereotyping. “You can’t walk into a classroom and tell this kid was exposed and this kid was not,” Frank said. “Unfortunately, there are so many factors that affect poor kids. They have to deal with so much stress and deprivation. We have also found that exposure to violence is a huge factor.”

Frank said that cocaine – along with other illicit drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes – “isn’t good for babies,” but the belief that they would “grow up to be addicts and criminals is not true. Some kids have stunned us with how well they’ve done.”

 

Jaimee Drakewood came to her last visit at Children’s with her 16-month-old son KyMani in tow. It was the 31st time she had met with the researchers.

“We do appreciate everything you’ve done, because it’s not easy to get to all these appointments,” said team member Kathleen Dooley, as she handed Drakewood a framed certificate of appreciation. “We are proud of you and we feel you are family, because you are.”

The team plans to stay in touch with study participants each year. They have started a new study that uses MRI and other tools to explore the neural and cognitive effects of poverty on infant development.

“Given what we learned,” Hurt said, “we are invested in better understanding the effects of poverty. How can early effects be detected? Which developing systems are affected? And most important, how can findings inform interventions for our children?”

The team considers Jaimee and her mother, Karen, among their best success stories. Jaimee is heading into her senior year at Tuskegee University in Alabama and hopes to become a food inspector. She is home for the summer with her son and working as a lifeguard at a city pool.

After a few starts and stops, including a year in jail, Karen Drakewood is off drugs and works as a residential adviser at Gaudenzia House. Her older daughter just received a master’s degree at Drexel University; her son is a student at Florida Atlantic University. Even in the worst moments, Karen Drakewood said she tried to show her kids “what their future could hold.” “If a child sees the light, they will follow it.”

Jaimee Drakewood credits her big sister and mother for keeping her on track. “I’ve seen my mom at her lowest point and I’ve seen her at her highest. That hasn’t stopped me from seeing the superwoman in her regardless of where she was at,” Jaimee said.

Despite her family’s history, Jaimee believes she and her siblings are “destined to have accomplishments, to be greater than our parents.”

 


Susan FitzGerald, a former Inquirer reporter, has written periodically about the cocaine study. Now an independent journalist, she is coathor of a parenting book, Letting Go With Love and Confidence and can be reached at sfitzgerald610@msn.com .”

Leave a comment

July 23, 2013 · 11:12 pm

Oregon Tuition Plan: The Beaver State Breaks the Dam Of Student Debt

oregon, tuition, plan:, the, beaver, state, breaks, the, dam, of, student, debt,

 

“Congress can spend all the time it wants being apathetic and letting student loan rates double but on the other side of the country, one state is thinking of a more creative way to run the financial aspect of public higher education. For Oregon, loans will be a thing of the past and state legislatures are throwing around the “f” word: FREE.

A bill to make tuition at the state’s public universities free passed unanimously and is expected to be officially signed at some point this month by Governor John Kitzhaber. Coincidentally, the bill was passed on the very same Monday that federal student loan interest rates doubled from 3.4 to 6.8% and functioned as a snippet of hope. There is a chance for change, as students to have options outside of the federal loan system to fund their educations, but it is up to individual states to take action. 

The concept of making public institutions of higher education tuition and loan-free is now being called the “Pay-It-Forward” program and it functions just as the name entails. Of course, everyone knows that almost nothing comes without a price and anything that truly is free may ultimately turn out to be more costly, monetarily or otherwise. However, the bill will still hold students responsible for contributing to their education, but collecting these compensations will be done in a manner that is mindful of the student’s financial situation after joining the workforce.

Graduates of a four-year public college or university will be expected to pay 3% of their adjusted growth income over a 24-year span, and graduates of a two-year degree will be required to contribute 1.5%. Those who fail to graduate will still be expected to contribute but fees will be pro-rated. 

“This is going to happen because students demand change; I believe that firmly,” Steve Hughes, state director of the Oregon Working Families Party, said. “The conditions are just absolutely ripe for this. We’ve heard so many stories of student debt that are just beyond belief.”

This plan is not about actually providing free education, as the money evidently would have to come from somewhere, but the goal behind it is to keep students from automatically feeling the dread of student loans and having the fear that their incomes may possibly be inadequate to pay the borrowed funds back. No person should feel discouraged from attending college due to fears that he or she will be unable to come up with the money to pay for it and it seems that this plan, if instated, could help on these fronts.

Above all, Oregon’s move to do something about the hefty cost of higher education especially given the rise in student debt is a reminder that change is not limited to the federal government, and there should be a larger push towards getting state legislatures to implement the changes that its constituents demand. 

Picture Credit: Web Pro News

Leave a comment

July 23, 2013 · 9:47 pm

Millennials Aren’t Millionaires, But We’re Great Philanthropists

millennials, arent, millionaires,, but, were, great, philanthropists,

 

“With no shortage of generation-bashing these days, twentysomethings might be feeling a bit jaded by articles and pundits framing them as “narcissistic,” “materialistic,” and “cheap.” The media and other generations seem to have a lot to say about how millennials spend their time and money, and the intentions behind those actions and purchases.

But the reality is that this generation is redefining the way we think about business. Conscious consumerism is now its own form of philanthropy, and this generation is leading the charge in supporting for-profit models with a moral compass, and looking for more meaningful opportunities to have impact. This carries particular implications for the nonprofit sector as millennials lead the way in increasing the do-gooder appetite and reinventing how we spend our time and money. 

If you have purchased a pair of TOMS shoes or Warby Parker sunglasses, donated to your friends’Kickstarter campaigns, or even went to a concert that benefited charity, then I believe that you are a philanthropist. Etymologically, “philanthropy” means “love for humanity,” and for many that translates into anyone who gives time, money, skills, networking, or even passion toward a cause. This is something the millennial generation inherently weaves into life through our everyday choices. In effect, we are mainstreaming sustainability and purpose into everything from our concert venues to our dining out for a cause. 

For the third year in a row, the Case Foundation partnered with Achieve, a creative fundraising firm and thought leader on nonprofit millennial engagement, to produce the Millennial Impact Report, which surveyed more than 2,500 millennials ages 20 to 35.

We found that 83 percent of respondents gave a financial gift to a cause in 2012. And one of the most interesting findings from the 2013 report is that millennials are cause-driven, preferring to give toward a specific cause that resonates with their interests over writing a check to a specific organization as a whole. Seventy-three percent volunteered for a cause that they were passionate about or felt created impact, and 70 percent of millennials are hitting the (physical and virtual) “pavement,” raising money for their causes both online and offline. Achieve highlights this “supportive activism” as its own heralding cry against the threatening “slacktivist” legacy that many other generations believe millennials are leaving behind.

The report revealed that 80 percent of millennials read nonprofits’ e-mail newsletters, but we like to do it through our smartphones. We will also only read up to five organizations’ newsletters at a given time. This is tough news for nonprofits that need to adjust to the rising demand for quality and ease of information sharing, both through new technology and effective messaging.

Young donors also expressed dislike for being asked for money upfront via social media, newsletters, or through an organization’s website, feeling as though they can offer more to an organization than just money. And as much as millennials want to give, they also need to receive — always searching for professional development opportunities, networking, and skills that can help propel their own successful battle through a tough job market.

Our generation has lived through 9/11, Hurricane Sandy, and the Arab Spring (to name only a few major historical events). The rise of mobile technologies, increased communication, and lighting speed-tweeting prowess has transformed us from standby witnesses to active participants in the world’s current challenges. As a result, we are a socially minded group, tuned in to the issues of our day and primed to give back.

This week, the Millennial Impact Conference will explore these very topics, including the challenges and opportunities nonprofits face to engage and utilize these new “cause evangelists.” Livestreamed for free, the conference will showcase entrepreneurs, philanthropists, corporate leaders, and social activists like Sophia Bush and Jose Antonio Vargas who will weigh in on how and why to connect with the millennial generation. We hope you’ll join us to learn moreon July 18.  

Picture Credit: CNN

Leave a comment

July 23, 2013 · 9:38 pm

Jay Z, Kanye, Madonna Join Stevie Wonder’s Florida Boycott In Wake Of Zimmerman Verdict (REPORT, UPDATES)

By 

Posted: 07/22/2013 5:37 pm EDT  |  Updated: 07/23/2013 1:19 pm EDT

“A number of top-level celebrities are reportedly following in Stevie Wonder’s footsteps and plan to boycott Florida in protest of the state’s “Stand Your Ground” laws. The list, which was first reported by AURN’s April Ryan and credited a “a source close to Wonder,” includes the likes of Madonna, Usher, Kanye West, Jay Z, Rihanna and Rod Stewart.

The Huffington Post is reaching out to representatives for a number of artists on this list and will update this post should more information be made available.

Wonder announced his intention to boycott any state with “Stand Your Ground” lawsafter a jury acquitted George Zimmerman in the 2012 killing of unarmed Florida teen Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman did not invoke the “Stand Your Ground” defense in the trial, though it did figure into the police’s decision not to not arrest Zimmerman for weeks after the incident. Additionally, the “Stand Your Ground” defense appeared in instructions to jurors, and a juror cited the law in explaining the not-guilty verdict.

“I decided today that until the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law is abolished in Florida, I will never perform there again,” Wonder said at a concert in Quebec City. “As a matter of fact, wherever I find that law exists, I will not perform in that state or in that part of the world. The truth is that — for those of you who’ve lost in the battle for justice, wherever that fits in any part of the world — we can’t bring them back. What we can do is we can let our voices be heard. And we can vote in our various countries throughout the world for change and equality for everybody. That’s what I know we can do.”

Florida is not the only state with “Stand Your Ground” laws on its books — at least 23 other states have similar provisions providing varying degrees of legal protection to those who use force in perceived self-defense.

UPDATE: A local news outlet in Florida cites “an executive affiliated with the ‘Legends of the Summer’ tour” who says the Justin Timberlake and Jay Z concert planned for August 16 at Sun Life stadium will go on. As stated earlier, HuffPost has reached out to Timberlake and Jay Z’s reps for comment on the reported boycott.

UPDATE 2: A source with knowledge of the matter has denied to HuffPost that Rihanna is joining the boycott. We’ll continue to update as more information becomes available.

UPDATE 3: Representatives for the Rolling Stones told Mother Jones that no one affiliated with the band had heard of the boycott or the list.

The original article continues below.

  • Mary Mary
  • Eddie Levert
  • Rod Stewart
  • Madonna
  • Usher
  • Pattie Labelle
  • Kanye West
  • Mary J
  • Trey Songz
  • Jay Z
  • Rolling Stones
  • Justin Timberlake
  • R. Kelly
  • Rihanna
  • Alicia Keys
  • Joe
  • Will I AM
  • Keyshia Cole
  • Young Jeezy
  • Erykah Badu
  • Wale
  • Frankie Beverly
  • Parliament”

Leave a comment

July 23, 2013 · 8:22 pm

The Decline and Fall of the English Major

By VERLYN KLINKENBORG
Published: June 22, 2013

 

“In the past few years, I’ve taught nonfiction writing to undergraduates and graduate students at Harvard, Yale, Bard, Pomona, Sarah Lawrence and Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. Each semester I hope, and fear, that I will have nothing to teach my students because they already know how to write. And each semester I discover, again, that they don’t.

They can assemble strings of jargon and generate clots of ventriloquistic syntax. They can meta-metastasize any thematic or ideological notion they happen upon. And they get good grades for doing just that. But as for writing clearly, simply, with attention and openness to their own thoughts and emotions and the world around them — no.

That kind of writing — clear, direct, humane — and the reading on which it is based are the very root of the humanities, a set of disciplines that is ultimately an attempt to examine and comprehend the cultural, social and historical activity of our species through the medium of language.

The teaching of the humanities has fallen on hard times. So says a new report on the state of the humanities by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and so says the experience of nearly everyone who teaches at a college or university. Undergraduates will tell you that they’re under pressure — from their parents, from the burden of debt they incur, from society at large — to choose majors they believe will lead as directly as possible to good jobs. Too often, that means skipping the humanities.

In other words, there is a new and narrowing vocational emphasis in the way students and their parents think about what to study in college. As the American Academy report notes, this is the consequence of a number of things, including an overall decline in the experience of literacy, the kind of thing you absorbed, for instance, if your parents read aloud to you as a child. The result is that the number of students graduating in the humanities has fallen sharply. At Pomona College (my alma mater) this spring, 16 students graduated with an English major out of a student body of 1,560, a terribly small number.

In 1991, 165 students graduated from Yale with a B.A. in English literature. By 2012, that number was 62. In 1991, the top two majors at Yale were history and English. In 2013, they were economics and political science. At Pomona this year, they were economics and mathematics.

Parents have always worried when their children become English majors. What is an English major good for? In a way, the best answer has always been, wait and see — an answer that satisfies no one. And yet it is a real answer, one that reflects the versatility of thought and language that comes from studying literature. Former English majors turn up almost anywhere, in almost any career, and they nearly always bring with them a rich sense of the possibilities of language, literary and otherwise.

The canon — the books and writers we agree are worth studying — used to seem like a given, an unspoken consensus of sorts. But the canon has always been shifting, and it is now vastly more inclusive than it was 40 years ago. That’s a good thing. What’s less clear now is what we study the canon for and why we choose the tools we employ in doing so.

A technical narrowness, the kind of specialization and theoretical emphasis you might find in a graduate course, has crept into the undergraduate curriculum. That narrowness sometimes reflects the tight focus of a professor’s research, but it can also reflect a persistent doubt about the humanistic enterprise. It often leaves undergraduates wondering, as I know from my conversations with them, just what they’ve been studying and why.

STUDYING the humanities should be like standing among colleagues and students on the open deck of a ship moving along the endless coastline of human experience. Instead, now it feels as though people have retreated to tiny cabins in the bowels of the ship, from which they peep out on a small fragment of what may be a coastline or a fog bank or the back of a spouting whale.

There is a certain literal-mindedness in the recent shift away from the humanities. It suggests a number of things. One, the rush to make education pay off presupposes that only the most immediately applicable skills are worth acquiring (though that doesn’t explain the current popularity of political science). Two, the humanities often do a bad job of explaining why the humanities matter. And three, the humanities often do a bad job of teaching the humanities. You don’t have to choose only one of these explanations. All three apply.

What many undergraduates do not know — and what so many of their professors have been unable to tell them — is how valuable the most fundamental gift of the humanities will turn out to be. That gift is clear thinking, clear writing and a lifelong engagement with literature.

Maybe it takes some living to find out this truth. Whenever I teach older students, whether they’re undergraduates, graduate students or junior faculty, I find a vivid, pressing sense of how much they need the skill they didn’t acquire earlier in life. They don’t call that skill the humanities. They don’t call it literature. They call it writing — the ability to distribute their thinking in the kinds of sentences that have a merit, even a literary merit, of their own.

Writing well used to be a fundamental principle of the humanities, as essential as the knowledge of mathematics and statistics in the sciences. But writing well isn’t merely a utilitarian skill. It is about developing a rational grace and energy in your conversation with the world around you.

No one has found a way to put a dollar sign on this kind of literacy, and I doubt anyone ever will. But everyone who possesses it — no matter how or when it was acquired — knows that it is a rare and precious inheritance.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Spotlights

Yes, summer job paid tuition back in ’81, but then we got cheap

By Danny Westneat

Seattle Times staff columnist

Originally published June 22, 2013 at 7:28 PM | Page modified June 24, 2013 at 11:15 AM

“People tell me you used to be able to work one job, the entire summer, and cover your entire education. I’m not sure how long ago that was — I have a hard time believing it. — Stephan Yhann, 21, current UW student

Put down your smartphones, kids, and gather around Uncle Danny. I’m here to tell you a little something about these yarns from the days of yore, these tales so tall and preposterous.

What’s most amazing about them is: They’re true! You really could work a summer job and pay for your education.

I saw it myself. And I’m only 48 years old!

OK, I say “only,” as if 48 isn’t all that old. Which, let’s be blunt, it is. But it’s not like I’m reaching back to the 1930s here. Just the ’80s. Depressing, maybe, but hardly the Depression.

Yet in the early 1980s, when I was about to head off to college, I worked jobs at Kentucky Fried Chicken and later at a rubber-parts factory, where I got paid $3 and $6 an hour. With no skills whatever, I made $120 to $240 a week.

Sounds like beer money only. But here’s the part that will really freak out you kids today: a year of tuition and fees at the University of Washington in, say, 1981, was $687. It was similar for other public colleges around the nation.

That’s not a misprint. There’s no missing digit. Even a crappy job like slinging chicken at KFC could pay for that year’s UW tuition, and most of next year’s, too.

Today? At $10 an hour you’d have to work 1,250 hours to cover the UW’s $12,500 tuition (more, once you take out taxes). In a 12-week summer, that’s more than 100 hours a week.

What really made me feel ancient is that the 1981 UW student guide shows the Med school charged only $1,029 a year back then. Today: $28,040!

Now, I didn’t go to the UW. But I’m going down Husky memory lane because last week The Seattle Times featured a crop of harried UW students looking rueful and broke. The story said skeptical state legislators often say how “they worked their way through college. And then they ask: Why don’t students do that today?”

Of all our delusions, we old farts cling to this bootstrap one the most. We worked our way up on sweat and chicken grease, we say. Can’t this generation? What’s wrong with them?

What’s wrong is that after we got ours, we cut it off for them.

The reason a summer at KFC could pay for a year of UW med school in 1981 isn’t that we were so hardworking and industrious. It’s that taxpayers back then picked up 90 percent of the tab. We weren’t Horatio Algers. We were socialists.

Today, the public picks up only 30 percent of UW tuition, and dropping.

How we milked the public university system in this state and then starved it will go down as the great badge of shame of my generation and the one before mine, the baby boomers. Affordable college made us. Once made, we wouldn’t pay even a two-cent per can soda-pop tax to give that same gift to anybody else.

So, kids, the unbelievable tales of yore are true. Except the part about rugged individualism — that is baloney. Due to the allure of this myth, however, you’ll get no help from us. You’re on your own.

You can have a lecture on the virtues of hard work, though. No charge.

Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or dwestneat@seattletimes.com”

Leave a comment

July 11, 2013 · 3:30 pm

How to Answer the Top 35 Interview Questions [INFOGRAPHIC]

“This infographic (from Sample Questionaire) lists the top 35 most asked interview questions, and how to answer them! How many of these have you been asked? Let us know in the comments below!

Highlights:

  • Are you a team player? This needs a firm YES!
  • What irritates you about co-workers? Say you deal with things softly, and you can get along with anyone once problems are solved.
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Speak as if you have vision, and follow what you placed in your resume.

Most Asked Job InterviewSource: samplequestionnaire.com

Leave a comment

July 11, 2013 · 3:22 pm

American Way of Birth, Costliest in the World

Josh Haner/The New York Times

“I feel like I’m in a used-car lot.” Renée Martin, who, with her husband, is paying for her maternity care out of pocket.

By  | Published: June 30, 2013

“Throughout this article, readers have shared their experiences by responding to questions about their perspective on pregnancy care. Comments are now closed, but you may explore the responses received.

Elisabeth Rosenthal, reporter

LACONIA, N.H. — Seven months pregnant, at a time when most expectant couples are stockpiling diapers and choosing car seats, Renée Martin was struggling with bigger purchases.

At a prenatal class in March, she was told about epiduralanesthesia and was given the option of using a birthing tub during labor. To each offer, she had one gnawing question: “How much is that going to cost?”

Though Ms. Martin, 31, and her husband, Mark Willett, are both professionals with health insurance, her current policy does not cover maternity care. So the couple had to approach the nine months that led to the birth of their daughter in May like an extended shopping trip though the American health care bazaar, sorting through an array of maternity services that most often have no clear price and — with no insurer to haggle on their behalf — trying to negotiate discounts from hospitals and doctors.

When she became pregnant, Ms. Martin called her local hospital inquiring about the price of maternity care; the finance office at first said it did not know, and then gave her a range of $4,000 to $45,000. “It was unreal,” Ms. Martin said. “I was like, How could you not know this? You’re a hospital.”

Midway through her pregnancy, she fought for a deep discount on a $935 bill for anultrasound, arguing that she had already paid a radiologist $256 to read the scan, which took only 20 minutes of a technician’s time using a machine that had been bought years ago. She ended up paying $655. “I feel like I’m in a used-car lot,” said Ms. Martin, a former art gallery manager who is starting graduate school in the fall.

Like Ms. Martin, plenty of other pregnant women are getting sticker shock in the United States, where charges for delivery have about tripled since 1996, according to an analysis done for The New York Times by Truven Health Analytics. Childbirth in the United States is uniquely expensive, and maternity and newborn care constitute thesingle biggest category of hospital payouts for most commercial insurers and state Medicaid programs. The cumulative costs of approximately four million annual births is well over $50 billion.

And though maternity care costs far less in other developed countries than it does in the United States, studies show that their citizens do not have less access to care or to high-tech care during pregnancy than Americans.

“It’s not primarily that we get a different bundle of services when we have a baby,” said Gerard Anderson, an economist at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health who studies international health costs. “It’s that we pay individually for each service and pay more for the services we receive.”

Those payment incentives for providers also mean that American women with normal pregnancies tend to get more of everything, necessary or not, from blood tests to ultrasound scans, said Katy Kozhimannil, a professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health who studies the cost of women’s health care.

Financially, they suffer the consequences. In 2011, 62 percent of women in the United States covered by private plans that were not obtained through an employer lacked maternity coverage, like Ms. Martin. But even many women with coverage are feeling the pinch as insurers demand higher co-payments and deductibles and exclude many pregnancy-related services.

From 2004 to 2010, the prices that insurers paid for childbirth — one of the most universal medical encounters — rose 49 percent for vaginal births and 41 percent for Caesarean sections in the United States, with average out-of-pocket costs rising fourfold, according to a recent report by Truven that was commissioned by three health care groups. The average total price charged for pregnancy and newborn care was about $30,000 for a vaginal delivery and $50,000 for a C-section, with commercial insurers paying out an average of $18,329 and $27,866, the report found.

Women with insurance pay out of pocket an average of $3,400, according to a survey by Childbirth Connection, one of the groups behind the maternity costs report. Two decades ago, women typically paid nothing other than a small fee if they opted for a private hospital room or television.

Only in America

In most other developed countries, comprehensive maternity care is free or cheap for all, considered vital to ensuring the health of future generations.

Ireland, for example, guarantees free maternity care at public hospitals, though women can opt for private deliveries for a fee. The average price spent on a normal vaginal delivery tops out at about $4,000 in Switzerland, France and the Netherlands, where charges are limited through a combination of regulation and price setting; mothers pay little of that cost.

The chasm in price is true even though new mothers in France and elsewhere often remain in the hospital for nearly a week to heal and learn to breast-feed, while American women tend to be discharged a day or two after birth, since insurers do not pay costs for anything that is not considered medically necessary.

Only in the United States is pregnancy generally billed item by item, a practice that has spiraled in the past decade, doctors say. No item is too small. Charges that 20 years ago were lumped together and covered under the general hospital fee are now broken out, leading to more bills and inflated costs. There are separate fees for the delivery room, the birthing tub and each night in a semiprivate hospital room, typically thousands of dollars. Even removing the placenta can be coded as a separate charge.

Each new test is a new source of revenue, from the hundreds of dollars billed for the simple blood typing required before each delivery to the $20 or so for the splash of gentian violet used as a disinfectant on the umbilical cord (Walgreens’ price per bottle: $2.59). Obstetricians, who used to do routine tests like ultrasounds in their office as part of their flat fee, now charge for the service or farm out such testing to radiologists, whose rates are far higher.

Add up the bills, and the total is startling. “We’ve created incentives that encourage more expensive care, rather than care that is good for the mother,” said Maureen Corry, the executive director of Childbirth Connection.

In almost all other developed countries, hospitals and doctors receive a flat fee for the care of an expectant mother, and while there are guidelines, women have a broad array of choices. “There are no bills, and a hospital doesn’t get paid for doing specific things,” said Charlotte Overgaard, an assistant professor of public health at Aalborg University in Denmark. “If a woman wants acupuncture, an epidural or birth in water, that’s what she’ll get.”

Despite its lavish spending, the United States has one of the highest rates of both infant and maternal death among industrialized nations, although the fact that poor and uninsured women and those whose insurance does not cover childbirth have trouble getting or paying for prenatal care contributes to those figures.

Some social factors drive up the expenses. Mothers are now older than ever before, and therefore more likely to require or request more expensive prenatal testing. And obstetricians face the highest malpractice risks among physicians and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for insurance, fostering a “more is safer” attitude.

But less than 25 percent of America’s high payments for pregnancy typically go to obstetricians, and they often charge a flat fee for their nine months of care, no matter how many visits are needed, said Dr. Robert Palmer, the chairman of the committee for health economics and coding at the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. That fee can range from a high of more than $8,000 for a vaginal delivery in Manhattan to under $4,000 in Denver, according to Fair Health, which collects health care data.

Rather it is the piecemeal way Americans pay for this life event that encourages overtreatment and overspending, said Dr. Kozhimannil, the Minnesota professor. Recent studies have found that more than 30 percent of American women have Caesarean sections or have labor induced with drugs — far higher numbers than those of other developed countries and far above rates that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists considers necessary.

During the course of her relatively uneventful pregnancy, Ms. Martin was charged one by one for lab tests, scans and emergency room visits that were not included in the doctor’s or the hospital’s fee. During her seventh month, she described one week’s experience: “I have high glucose, and I tried to take a three-hour test yesterday and threw up all over the lab. So I’m probably going to get charged for that. And my platelets are low, so I’m going to have to see a hematologist. So I’m going to get charged for that.”

She sighed and put her head in her hands. “Welcome to my world,” she said.

Extras Add Up

Though Ms. Martin has yet to receive her final bills, other couples describe being blindsided by enormous expenses. After discovering that their insurance did not cover pregnancy when the first ultrasound bill was denied last year, Chris Sullivan and his wife, both freelance translators in Pennsylvania, bought a $4,000 pregnancy package from Delaware County Memorial Hospital; a few hospitals around the country are starting to offer such packages to those patients paying themselves.

The couple knew that price did not cover extras like amniocentesis, a test for genetic defects, or an epidural during labor. So when the obstetrician suggested an additional fetal heart scan to check for abnormalities, they were careful to ask about price and got an estimate of $265. Performed by a specialist from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, it took 30 minutes and showed no problems — but generated a bill of $2,775.

“All of a sudden I have a bill that’s as much as I make in a month, and is more than 10 times what I’d been quoted,” Mr. Sullivan said. “I don’t know how I could have been a better consumer, I asked for a quote. Then I get this six-part bill.” After months of disputing the large discrepancy between the estimate and the bill, the hospital honored the estimate.

Christopher Gregory/The New York Times

“Most insurance companies wouldn’t blink at my bill, but it was absurd.” Dr. Marguerite Duane, who questioned line items on her hospital bill.

Mr. Sullivan noted that the couple ended up paying $750 for an epidural, a procedure that has a list price of about $100 in his wife’s native Germany.

Even women with the best insurance can still encounter high prices. After her daughter was born five years ago, Dr. Marguerite Duane, 42, was flabbergasted by the line items on the bills, many for blood tests she said were unnecessary and medicines she never received. She and her husband, Dr. Kenneth Lin, both associate professors of family medicine at Georgetown Medical School, had delivered babies in their early years of practice.

So when she became pregnant again in 2011, she decided to be more assertive about holding down costs. After a routine ultrasound scan at 20 weeks showed a healthy baby, she refused to go back for weekly follow-up scans that the radiologist suggested during the last months of her pregnancy even though medical guidelines do not recommend them. When in the hospital for the delivery of her son Ellis in February, she kept a list of every medicine and every item she received.

Though she delivered Ellis with a midwife 12 minutes after arriving at the hospital and was home the next day, the hospital bill alone was more than $6,000, and her insurance co-payment was about $1,500. Her first two pregnancies, both more than five years ago, were fully covered by federal government insurance because her husband worked for the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality.

“Most insurance companies wouldn’t blink at my bill, but it was absurd — it was the least medical delivery in history,” said Dr. Duane, who is taking a break from practice to stay home with her children. “There were no meds. I had no anesthesia. He was never in the nursery. I even brought my own heating pad. I tried to get an explanation, but there were items like ‘maternity supplies.’ What was that? A diaper?”

Ms. Martin is similarly well positioned to be an expert consumer of health care. She administered the health plan for a large art gallery she managed in Los Angeles before marrying and moving to Vermont in 2011 to enroll in a year of pre-med classes at the University of Vermont. She has a scholarship this fall for a master’s degree program at Vanderbilt University’s Center for Medicine, Health and Society, and then she plans to go on to medical school. Her father-in-law is a pediatrician.

RENÉE MARTIN’S PREGNANCY COSTS

prenatal

She and her husband, who works for a small music licensing company that does not provide insurance, hoped to start their family during the year they were covered by university insurance in Vermont, she said, but “nature didn’t cooperate.”

Then they moved to the New Hampshire summer resort of Laconia, her husband’s hometown, for a year before she started the grind of medical training. But in New Hampshire, they discovered, health insurance they could buy on the individual market did not cover maternity care without the purchase of an additional “pregnancy rider” for $800 a month. With their limited finances and unsuccessful efforts at conceiving, it seemed an unwise, if not impossible, investment.

Soon after buying insurance coverage without the rider for $450 a month, Ms. Martin discovered she was pregnant. Her elation was quickly undercut by worry.

“We’re not poor. We pay our bills. We have medical insurance. We’re not looking for a handout,” Ms. Martin said, noting that her husband makes too much money for her to qualify for Medicaid or other subsidized programs for low-income women. “The hospital is doing what it can. Our doctors are taking wonderful care of us. But the economics of this system are a mess.”

Not knowing whether the pregnancy would fall at the $4,000 or $45,000 end of the range the hospital cited, the couple had a hard time budgeting their finances or imagining their future. The hospital promised a 30 percent discount on its final bill. “I’m trying not to be stressed, but it’s really stressful,” Ms. Martin said as her due date approached.

Package Deals

With costs spiraling, some hospitals are starting to offer all-inclusive rates for pregnancy. Maricopa Medical Center, a public hospital in Phoenix, began offering uninsured patients a comprehensive package two years ago. “Making women choose during labor whether you want to pay $1,000 for an epidural, that didn’t seem right,” said Dr. Dean Coonrod, the hospital’s chief of obstetrics and gynecology.

The hospital charges $3,850 for a vaginal delivery, with or without an epidural, and $5,600 for a planned C-section — prices that include standard hospital, doctors’ and testing fees. To set the price, the hospital — which breaks even on maternity care and whose doctors are on salaries — calculated the average payment it gets from all insurers. While Dr. Coonrod said the hospital might lose a bit of money, he saw other benefits in a market where everyone will have insurance in just a few years: mothers tend to feel allegiance to the place they give birth to their babies and might seek other care at Maricopa in the future.

Laura Segall for The New York Times

“Making women choose during labor whether you want to pay $1,000 for an epidural, that didn’t seem right.” Dr. Dean Coonrod, chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix

The Catalyst for Payment Reform, a California policy group, has proposed that all hospitals should offer such bundled prices and that rates should be the same, no matter the type of delivery. It suggests that $8,000 might be a reasonable starting point. But that may be hard to imagine in markets like New York City, where $8,000 is less than many private doctors charge for their fees alone.

One factor that has helped keep costs down in other developed countries is the extensive use of midwives, who perform the bulk of prenatal examinations and even simple deliveries; obstetricians are regarded as specialists who step in only when there is risk or need. Sixty-eight percent of births are attended by a midwife in Britain and 45 percent in the Netherlands, compared with 8 percent in the United States. In Germany, midwives were paid less than $325 for an 11-hour delivery and about $30 for an office visit in 2011.

Dr. Palmer of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists acknowledged the preference for what he called “medicalized” deliveries in the United States, with IVs, anesthesia and a proliferation of costly ultrasounds. He said the organization was working to define standards for the scans.

To control costs in the United States, patients may also have to alter their expectations, including the presence of an obstetrician at every prenatal visit and delivery. “It’s amazing how much patients buy into our tendency to do a lot of tests,” said Eugene Declercq, a professor at Boston University who studies international variations in pregnancy. “We’ve met the problem, and it’s us.”

Starting next year, insurance policies will be required under the Affordable Care Act to include maternity coverage, so no woman should be left paying entirely on her own, like Ms. Martin. But the law is not explicit about what services must be included in that coverage. “Exactly what that means is the crux of the issue,” Dr. Kozhimannil said.

If the high costs of maternity care are not reined in, it could break the bank for many states, which bear the brunt of Medicaid payouts. Medicaid, the federal-state government health insurance program for the poor, pays for more than 40 percent of all births nationally, including more than half of those in Louisiana and Texas. But even Medicaid, whose payments are regarded as so low that many doctors refuse to take patients covered under the program, paid an average of $9,131 for vaginal births and $13,590 for Caesarean deliveries in 2011.

Insured women are still getting the recommended prenatal care, despite rising out-of-pocket costs, according to a recent study. But that does not mean they are not feeling the strain, said Dr. Kozhimannil, the study’s lead author. The average amount of savings among pregnant women in the study was $3,000 to $5,000. “People will find ways to scrape by for medical care for their new baby, but are young mothers taking care of themselves? And what happens when they need to start buying diapers?” she asked. “Something’s got to give.”

Ms. Martin, who busied herself making toys as her due date neared, could not stop fretting about the potential cost of a complicated delivery. “I know that a C-section could ruin us financially,” she said.

On May 25, she had a healthy daughter, Isla Daisy, born by vaginal delivery. Mother and daughter went home two days later.

She and her husband are both overjoyed and tired. And, she said, they are “dreading” the bills, which she estimates will be over $32,000 before negotiations begin. Her labor was induced, which required intense monitoring, and she also had an epidural.

“We’re bracing for it,” she said.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: July 2, 2013

An article on Monday about the high cost of maternity and newborn care in the United States misstated the number of years ago that Dr. Marguerite Duane’s daughter was born. It was five years ago, not seven. The article also misidentified which of Dr. Duane’s sons was born in February. He is Ellis — not Isaac, who is her older son.

A version of this article appeared in print on July 1, 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: American Way of Birth, Costliest in the World.”

Leave a comment

July 11, 2013 · 3:20 pm