Hocus Pocus From Potus and Flotus – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Hocus Pocus From Potus and Flotus - The Conversation - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Hocus Pocus From Potus and Flotus

By David J. Leonard

It’s commencement season. Yet amid conservative complaints about liberal dominance of the commencement industry, some speeches have reverberated with conservative ideas. That was no more evident than when Michelle Obama took the opportunity to reiterate more of her husband’s politics of black respectability at Bowie State University.

She told the audience at the historically black college’s graduation last week that the focus on education had been lost by a community with a history in which slaves had risked their lives to learn to read. She spoke of the struggles to integrate America’s schools. But those words were a mere setup to yet again demonizing and pathologizing today’s black youth. “Instead of walking miles every day to school,” she said, “they’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.”

Reducing educational success to choices and blaming dropout rates on false dreams, such claims are a disservice to struggles for justice. Worse, the presumption is that one choice is good and rational, and the other pathological and irrational. The idea that dreaming of a career in hip-hop or athletics doesn’t prepare one to succeed in law or politics is problematic.

The first lady’s shaming message, praising the power of educational bootstraps, echoed her husband’s. At a 2009 speech before the NAACP, President Obama urged the African-American community to take better advantage of education’s equalizing potential. Irrespective of racism, inequality, or segregation, education was the ticket to freedom and prosperity. Urging students to stay in school and keep up their grades, he said, “No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands, and don’t you forget that.” He wanted students “aspiring to be scientists and engineers, doctors and teachers, not just ballers and rappers.”

If only it were that easy.

While the path to colleges is littered with school closures, the hegemony of the testing culture, and divestment from public education—pushing youth of color into the school-to-prison pipeline—the percentage of African-Americans attending colleges and universities is on the rise. That’s no thanks to President Obama, whose administration’s educational policy has done little to rectify persistent inequalities. The rising costs of higher education and the administration’s position on student loans have made it more difficult for African-American families, disproportionately hurt by the recession, to send their kids to college. Still, African-Americans are attending colleges and universities at record levels. Why not celebrate this reality?

Continue reading at Hocus Pocus From Potus and Flotus – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Not just college students saddled by debt: Moving beyond student loan crisis

For several years there has been endless media coverage, political debate, and societal reflection on the rising cost of tuition, student debt, and the state of higher education.  Despite hundreds of articles, numerous references in speeches, and an over saturation that would make Justin Bieber and Kim Kardashian jealous, little has been done to curb rising tuition costs and the burden of student loans in an environment of shrinking job opportunities and declining wages.

These are real issues that don’t need hyperbolic historic comparisons:

The roughly two-thirds of U.S. students who take out loans to finance their college education can end up in a situation most resembling the historical concept of indenture. In medieval times, peasants would sign deeds to work land, which would then get cut in a jagged line (looking like teeth, or “dentures”). Each party would get half, and rejoining them would prove the authenticity of the contract. Colonial indentures would trade years of labor for the opportunity of transportation to the New World. The indentured could not alter the terms of the contract, no matter their circumstances. One way or another, the debt would get paid.

Erasing the racial history of indentured servants, not too mention the post-slavery realities faced by sharecroppers, these sorts of comparisons are not accurate.  Students are saddled by debt constraining options and choices; indentured servants had no options, forced to work for their “master” to pay off “their master.” The differences are immense and they matter given that today’s extensive conversation about student debt, about rising tuition costs, and the future opportunities of millennials erases the very communities  — the poor, people of color – who have historically been related to the class of indentured servants.

This discourse surrounding student debt also treats also students the same, at least within particular classed communities. The narrative that emerges is one of “young people’ or millennials being saddled with debt.  Never mind race and its impact.   According to Sophia Kelley:

Today’s average college graduate holds $26,600 in debt when he or she graduates, and the numbers for borrowers of color are more severe. A 2010 study by the College Board Advocacy & Policy Center found that 27 percent of black bachelor’s degree recipients had student-loan debt of $30,500 or more, compared to just 16 percent of their white counterparts. Additionally, 69 percent of black students who did not finish their college degree cite the high cost of tuition, compared to 43 percent of their white peers.

Higher tuition costs, dwindling scholarship opportunities, and growing levels of debt do not impact all students equally.  Race matters and we must begin to look at the realities on the ground.  We must push the conversation to make clear that neither the degree nor the debt colorblind.

We surely need to have conversations (and policy interventions) regarding student debt and rising but also those who have been left behind because of zero tolerance policies, school closures, and most children left behind.  The charter school industry and the testing culture have saddled youth of color, pushing them out of scholar rather than toward higher education.  We need to have a conversation about those students, who because of persistent inequality and the impacts of the recession on wealth caps, have been priced out of higher education. How many children, either because of school closures or the eradication of programs as a result of the sequester will never have a chance to take out numerous loans to go to college?  How many young people will be indebted, stuck, and saddled because they will not have a shot to go to college?  Focusing just on tuition and debt erases the many students who are left behind long before college.  What about the myriad of obstacles crisis that proceed graduating college with debt, that not only forms the school to prison pipeline or the fast track to low-wage, no mobility McJobs.

The ubiquity of media and political discourse around tuition and student loan debt yet again privileges the middle-class and white America, seemingly accepting that those who are not in college are not worthy of public outrage.  It is not just college students who are saddled by debt; it is not just college students that are impacted by neoliberalism.  With out outrage surrounding student debt and tuition, lets not leave these students behind yet again.

Doing work plz, laptops and college classroom

Close That Laptop in Class! | Psychology Today


I dont allow computers in class unless under special circumstances.  I find them distracting to the student, their classmates and myself.  I think it detracts from the culture we are trying to create inside the classroom.  Now, I have “evidence” for why my classroom will remain a computer/smart phone/ipad/pda free zone


Close That Laptop in Class! | Psychology Today

“Close That Laptop in Class!”

by Nate Kornell

According to one estimate, about 65% of college students bring a laptop to class (Fried, 2008). Unlike a traditional notebook and pen, computers can be a lot of fun–they have ESPN, Facebook, email, etcetera. Putting a computer in front of a college student is kind of like putting a marshmallow in front of a little kid and telling her not to eat it–the temptation is far too great. (Another example: The Kindle is less tempting than the iPad.)

I’ve sat in the back of classrooms recently because I wanted to observe great teachers. I did not expect to learn so much from observing students. I saw a lot of multitasking, by which I mean Facebook (etc). It’s not just distracting for the multitasker, I was distracted too.

A new study by Sana, Weston, and Cepeda (2013) examined the effect of laptop multitasking in a simulated classroom. Participants were shown a 45 minute lecture on meteorology. The researches summarize their first study nicely:


All participants were asked to attend to a university-style lecture and take notes using their laptops as a primary task. Half the participants, by random assignment, received additional instructions to complete a series of non-lecture-related online tasks at any convenient point during the lecture. These tasks were considered secondary and were meant to mimic typical student web browsing during class in terms of both quality and quantity.

The students who multitasked did 11% worse on a comprehension test covering the lecture. That’s equivalent to a whole grade lower in a class.

But what about the “secondhand smoke” of laptops–their effect on people near the multitasker? The researchers did a second study, which they summarize thusly:

A new group of participants was asked to take notes using paper and pencil while attending to the lecture. Some participants were strategically seated throughout the classroom so that they were in view of multitasking confederates on laptops, while others had a distraction-free view of the lecture. Confederates mimicked multitaskers from Experiment 1 by typing notes on the lecture and performing other concurrent, irrelevant online tasks.

This time, students who has a multitasker in their line of sight did 17% worse than students who did not.

Continue reading at Close That Laptop in Class! | Psychology Today.


Animal House on Steroids – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Animal House on Steroids

April 16, 2013, 2:17 pm

By David J. Leonard and C. Richard King

Recently, David Warner, a colleague in our department at Washington State University, was severely beaten outside an off-campus bar. While the facts are still unclear, the police have indicated that drinking was most likely involved. The incident was among countless acts of violence and violation perpetrated on and around college campuses in recent weeks, all by-products of a culture of excess that celebrates intoxication. At Washington State, we have seen a semester in which police officers reported that alcohol played a role in three students’ falling from buildings and another student’s death, from alcohol poisoning. Such events are a tragic reminder of the costs of America’s collegiate party culture—which parents and administrators often lament, but which the structure of higher education tacitly endorses.

Of course, collegiate partying is nothing new. It is the stuff of local legend and school tradition, woven into the mythos of American life. For years, higher education has served as a rite of passage for young men and (increasingly) women, a time between childhood and adulthood in which essential skills, secret knowledge, and transformative experience prepare them for new roles and responsibilities in society. Important, this phase of the (upper- and middle-class) life cycle long has coupled the seriousness of education and the practicality of career preparation with the freedoms, experiments, and indulgences of social life. And academic leaders and student-life professionals have sought to counter the abuses and excesses associated with the latter to advance the former.

Increasingly over the past two or three decades, however, that balance has begun to break down, as universities have begun to actively contribute to a new formula that often embraces entitlement and indulgence over learning and hard work.

Along with the media, which celebrate collegiate party culture and regularly issue lists of “the best party schools,” institutions also promote an atmosphere the puts fun and experience ahead of academics and learning. In an era of increasing tuition and shrinking job prospects, universities can no longer promise a certain path to the American Dream. In light of the continuing structural realignments, party culture provides some students with more compelling reasons to fork over thousands of dollars. In their new book, Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality, the sociologists Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T. Hamilton concluded that America’s universities use the “party pathway” to lure upper-middle-class students onto campus. “At the heart of the party pathway was a powerful Greek system, a residence-hall system that fed students into the party scene, and numerous ‘easy, majors,” they write, describing their research in The Chronicle. “As the most visible and well-resourced route through the institution, the party pathway was impossible to avoid—even by those who wished to.”

Continue reading at Animal House on Steroids – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Athletic Programs’ Twitter Jitters – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Athletic Programs’ Twitter Jitters

February 25, 2013, 12:43 pm

By David J. Leonard

A few months into his inaugural season at Washington State University last fall, the football coach Mike Leach faced yet another controversy. Plagued by allegations that he had mistreated a player while coaching at Texas Tech and a reputation as a bit of a loose canon, Leach was about to wade into what some people consider another form of abuse—barring players from using Twitter.

Reporters from a student news service had provided Leach with evidence that several players apparently posted messages on a social-media site that included negative terms for women and African-Americans. Leach imposed an immediate ban for the entire Cougar football team. “If after today you see anything on Twitter from our team—and I don’t care if it says ‘I love life’—I would like to see it because I will suspend them,” he announced.

Leach’s decision is nothing new. In 2010, Chris Petersen (Boise State University) decided that intercollegiate athletics and social media were incompatible. The next year, Steve Spurrier (University of South Carolina) and Turner Gill (University of Kansas) followed suit. Then Mississippi State’s basketball coach, Rick Stansbury, took away his team’s tweeting privileges after a player criticized the team on Twitter. “The reason we decided to not allow our players to have a Twitter account is we feel like it will prevent us from being able to prepare our football program to move forward. Simple as that.” Tell that to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, whose road to NCAA punishment started with a tweet from a player about his lavish lifestyle. UNC would ultimately lose 15 football scholarships—that’s less than 10 characters per scholarship.

Outright bans have not been the only approach. Some institutions have suspended players for tweets. A Lehigh University student-athlete was disciplined for retweeting a racial slur; at Western Kentucky University, officials suspended a player who did the unthinkable—criticizing oh-so-important fans in social media. At Boston College, a women’s soccer player was suspended because of several tweets about Jerry Sandusky.

Other colleges are employing commercial monitoring services like Varsity Monitor, Centrix Social (recently acquired by Varsity Monitor), and UDiligence to flag the use of a growing number of taboo words. According to The Chronicle, the University of Louisville nixes references to drugs, sex, and alcohol; the University of Kentucky, agents’ names.

Continue reading at Athletic Programs’ Twitter Jitters – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Preventing the Rise of Pothead U. – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Preventing the Rise of Pothead U.

January 2, 2013, 3:29 pm

By David J. Leonard


With the election season thankfully in our rear-view mirror, we can take stock of what the marijuana legalization initiatives (in both Washington and Colorado) mean. It should come as no surprise that college students have been rallying to end the prohibition of marijuana. I, for one, have often seen students pushing their decriminalization agenda on campus. What always struck me as I walked past these primarily white, middle-class crusaders is that marijuana is already effectively decriminalized on college campuses, as well as in suburbs and middle-class communities.

Decriminalization is a daily reality and has always been the applied law of the land in these environments. Sure, colleges and universities may claim to comply with federal drug laws, which, theoretically, should prevent the rise of Pothead U. Still, I can’t imagine the DEA swooping down anytime soon. A student conduct hearing and threat of drug education is not criminal enforcement.

Take a look at the numbers. Studies typically show that close to 50 percent of college students have used marijuana during the course of their young lives. According to a 2007 study, the number of students using marijuana daily more than doubled between 1993 and 2005. Furthermore, research has consistently shown that white students (and Latino students) use illegal drugs more frequently than African-American or Asian college students. Those trends also reflect drug-use patterns among young people not enrolled in college. It is not surprising that most of agitation for legalization of marijuana has been overwhelmingly white.

Of course, even the federal decriminalization of marijuana won’t eradicate all of the criminal misconduct among today’s college students. In recent years, drug use has also worsened with the proliferation of “performance-enhancing drugs” like Adderall. During the early part of the 21st century, sales increased by 3,100 percent; in recent surveys, anywhere from 5 percent to 35 percent of students admitted to popping these “study drugs.” Despite the fact that it violates federal drug laws, students regularly secure Adderall with little fear of punishment.

Continue reading at Preventing the Rise of Pothead U. – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Inked Academic Body – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education

Paraphrased “Henry V” as tattoo; photo by beau-foto


The Inked Academic Body

October 25, 2012, 1:26 pm

By David J. Leonard


Look around: As Mary Kosut, an associate professor at Purchase College, has written, “America has become a tattooed nation.” Indeed, our shared ink transcends race, class, gender, sexuality, political affiliation, ideology, and even our sports loyalties. According to a 2012 Harris Poll, 20 percent of Americans have ink; the visibility in today’s world is startling. In kids’ culture—tattooed Barbie—and popular/sports culture and politics, tattoos are almost as mainstream as the iPhone or apple pie.

The ubiquity of ink has made me wonder about prevalence of tattoos among college faculty. Given the stereotypes of tweed jackets and bookworm glasses, and those of tatted bikers and inked basketball players, how much does the tattooed professor violate social expectations?

There is no question that professors are frequently tatted. Within my own department, at least six of us, out of 14 faculty, have ink. (Before we merged with another department, six out of eight had tattoos.) While at a certain level, tattoos represent novelty for us, there is more. As scholars within the field of ethnic studies, we are always the “others.” That is especially true for my colleagues of color, and those GLBT scholars within ethnic studies and the academy at large.

The inked body, already questioned, suspect, even undesirable, represents an effort to reassert power and control. My work is interdisciplinary and often crosses the border of race, religion, and culture. A couple of years back, while attending a Jewish-studies conference, I was questioned about tattoos, reminded over and over again that ink and Jewishness are incompatible. For many, my tatted body made me an outsider. With each comment, I rolled up my sleeves to reveal more of my tatted arms, trying hard to reassert myself.

Although tattoos operate as ritual, as a method of memorializing significant life moments or articulating group membership, they are at their core about reasserting control over one’s body, which—because of the demands of work, consumer culture, and unattainable beauty standards—is increasingly illusive. As we are adorned with logos, assailed by images of how to look and dress, how to style one’s hair, and subjected to messages about what is proper, control over our bodies is a dream continuously deferred. Tattoos challenge that dehumanizing reality.

Continue reading The Inked Academic Body – The Conversation – The Chronicle of Higher Education.