Monthly Archives: April 2013

But everyone says that homeschooling families are uneducated, science-hating rubes!

Meet the Harding family of Alabama: ten homeschooled children, many of whom are years ahead of their peers.   Hannah obtained her BS in mathematics at the age of 17, then two master’s degrees in engineering and math; she’s now designing aircraft.  Fourteen-year-old Seth is studying finite mathematics in college; he also has the highest averages in one of his classes.  The other college graduate siblings are a doctor, an architect, and a master’s student.

I remember being extraordinarily bored in elementary and middle school – even in advanced classes.  It wasn’t because I’m super-brilliant; it’s merely that any class that goes at the pace of a reasonably bright, diligent student will leave most of the class in the dust.

As far as mathematics: subjects do not fit neatly into a semester or a year, especially if tailored to the pace of the student.  Some kids who struggle with math would be best served by spending more than a year on geometry and more than a year on algebra II, but our school system does not do that for them.  Likewise, students who are good at math do not need to wait until age 13 to take algebra; in fact, it’s almost counterproductive to move at such a plod-like pace throughout the early years, then accelerate in college to the point at which differential equations is covered in a semester.

Likewise, a child who is an advanced reader is just wasting her time with Judy Blume when she is capable of digesting Tolkien.  Speaking of digestion, science isn’t even really introduced until middle school, but there’s hardly any reason that a reasonably bright 10-year-old can’t be studying the basics of cell biology.

The academic year isn’t made to fit students’ needs; it’s made to fit textbooks and to be interchangeable with other schools and curricula.  It’s certainly not meant to push kids to their limits, especially not in elementary school.  As a result, many kids spend years of their early lives being warehoused while learning the basics in twice the time they need for it. Homeschooling done well alleviates all of those problems – it ends up being the equivalent of having a personal tutor in every subject.


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Innovating in higher education

For years, I’ve complained that deans and professors have nothing to lose by encouraging you to enroll in college, remain in school, continue to pay tuition, etc. – “An investment in human capital is always worthwhile!” “The degree will pay off in the end!”  Except, of course, if they are wrong, they get your tuition money and you get a huge, lifelong problem.

That’s why it’s nice to see App Academy put its money where its mouth is, so to speak: if its graduates don’t get jobs, they don’t pay tuition.  In fact, no one pays tuition up front; they pay it out of their paychecks once they graduate. explains it all:

Here’s how the tuition scheme works: Students study free-of-charge during the course’s duration. Upon gaining employment after graduation, alumni forward 15 percent of their annual base salary to App Academy, but not all at once. Instead, that sum — typically around $12,000 for the average graduate — is deducted incrementally from an employed graduate’s bi-weekly pay check for six months.

If a student isn’t hired within one year of completing App Academy, that student won’t be charged tuition. But that hasn’t been a problem for App Academy: Ninety-three percent of its graduates have received offers or are working in tech jobs.

According to Patel, the average App Academy graduate earns $83,000 a year – not bad for someone making a career change or who was previously unemployed. But the course is anything but easy. App Academy’s acceptance rate is less than 10 percent, and once admitted, students put in 80 to 90 hours a week in the lab.

I would love to see law schools do something similar (albeit with a longer repayment period).  The non-financial advantage to this scheme is that the school is implicitly backing up its graduates: employers know that the school thought these people were good enough software programmers for the school to invest in, train, and graduate.  Students aren’t screened for what will make App look good in U.S. News or with fellow deans at schmoozy parties; the students are selected and trained for the value they can add to a company. This gives companies a bit of faith in App graduates: they know that another for-profit company has already done the hard work of evaluating these people, at the expense of said for-profit company.

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Sunday Public Service Announcement

Okay, it’s not quite a PSA; it’s more of a PSA and a discussion about our blood supply and the mis-use of statistics.

One of the things going around Facebook is a picture of one of those bags that donated blood goes into, and a thing about how a gay man was turned away from donating (and saving up to three people’s lives) because his blood is ‘too gay’.

Let’s be clear on the policy of which gays are not allowed to donate blood.  Lesbians are allowed to donate blood, as are celibate gay men.  Bisexual men who have not recently had sex with men are not prohibited from donating blood.  The questionnaire doesn’t ask men if they like show tunes, flower arrangements, or Lady GaGa.  Straight men must answer the same questions and are subject to the same standards. Orientation is irrelevant.  The only people who are not allowed to donate (under the relevant provision) are men who have had sex with men within the last year.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, men who have had sex with men (MSM) account for a small percentage of the population (approximately 2-4%), but account for approximately 60% of new HIV cases.  (Source.)   All blood is tested for HIV, or rather, the antibodies that are produced in response to HIV, but ‘false negatives’ are possible, i.e. HIV-positive blood may be incorrectly classified as not having the virus.  The false-negative rate is approximately three in one thousand, i.e. out of any thousand people who have HIV and are given a test for it, three will show a negative test result. (Source.) (The test may also result in false positives, but those aren’t at issue here, because that blood isn’t going into a patient.)  False negatives are most likely in the three weeks immediately after infection.

The government’s rationale for excluding MSM from the blood-donor population is two-fold.  It is expensive, time-consuming, and not without risk to the nurses and lab techs, to take and test blood that cannot be used, so it’s easier sand safer to screen out high-risk people than to take their blood, test it, and then go through the procedures of disposing of it properly.

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Filed under Bioethics, Miscellanea

Thirty happy thoughts for Friday morning

Courtesy of Buzzfeed, with pictures!

Otters holding hands.  Puffins! Knighting a penguin!  Rabbit steeplechases!

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Hard cases make bad law

The “to Miranda or not to Miranda [the Boston bomber], that is the question” debates have been raging across the Internet ever since Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was captured alive in Watertown.  As a legal matter, you don’t ever really need to read a suspect his Miranda rights; you only need to do that if you want to introduce evidence from the questioning at trial.  (The “public safety exception” does permit the introduction of evidence obtained without a Miranda warning, and, of course, you’ll eventually need to provide counsel to the defendant at any “critical stage.”)  Given that the forensics unit spent a week combing Copley Square for debris, that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev allegedly confessed to the bombing to the man whose car was car-jacked, and that bombs and other explosives were found in his apartment, the federal government probably has more than enough evidence to convict this loser, with or without post-capture admissions.  (That the guy threw explosives at the cops and ran over his own brother only adds to the fun evidence to introduce at trial.)

But this gets even more fun.  According to WCVB, the brothers were planning on blowing up Times Square.  Those plans were derailed when the carjacked vehicle ran low on gas.  Adding to the “hard cases make bad law,” the much-debated lockdown in the suburbs, and the shut down of Boston, make more sense when you’re trying to capture losers who blew up a marathon and now want to blow up Times Square.  Suddenly, the desire to get these people now is a lot more justifiable – although concerns about turning America into a police state are no less justifiable.

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The quid pro quo of sexual assault cases

Unlike other crimes, most sexual assault ends up being ‘he said, she said’ – he says that it was consensual, she says that she did not consent.  (That doesn’t work quite as well with robbery: “She said that I could take her platinum ring for free!”)  Instapundit links to an article by Walter Russell Mead on the kangaroo courts on college campuses that are overly quick to punish men who are accused of crimes.  Mead rightly points out that ignoring claims of sexual violence is wrong, but surely, we can prosecute people with some sense of justice.

Back in the dark ages, men who bedded women to whom they were not married could be tried for the crime of seduction: a felony whose criteria was having sexual relations with a chaste woman (either by promising marriage to her, or enticing her into bed).  For all the faults of that system, a man could not escape from prosecution by claiming that she consented.  He knew in advance that such a crime existed and that he could be prosecuted for a very specific act, should he engage in that act.  Women were secure in the knowledge that the legal system would back them up; the one thing it asked of them was to be chaste before bringing such a charge.  (Modern women foolishly think that this was a misogynistic requirement, akin to the belief that easy girls ‘deserve it’; however, it was merely a separate, easily-provable crime that does not rely only on “he said/she said”.)

Certainly, a woman has a moral and legal right to sleep with every guy on campus, except for one, and then have her wishes to not sleep with the one scorned man to be respected.  “Rape shield” rules of evidence rightly underscore the idea that if a woman has slept with half the town and not complained about it, but complains about one particular guy, the defendant cannot use the fact that she’s consensually slept with half the town as evidence to support his cause that she’s lying.

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One Week Later

It’s hard to believe that this was only a week ago, or already a week ago, or both.  Some assorted thoughts:

Boston Strong: I appreciate the sentiment – the idea that the city will not cower before a spineless act – but am irked at the notion that we’re all supposed to be strong, or that there’s something wrong with not being ready to get involved next year.  The marathon always has a surplus of qualified runners; the B.A.A. has  a surplus of volunteers.  The 2013 participants can sit out in 2014 and have less traumatised people take their places.  The city will recover; the marathon will go on; many individuals will not.  And that’s fine, and we ought to stop telling people how to feel and when to feel it.

Medal ceremony: One marathon team held a medal ceremony for the non-finishers; I was invited and went.  It was a lovely event, and it was a wonderful reminder that the terrorists were able to stop thousands of people from finishing that race, but weren’t able to stop many of them from being cheered on as they received their medals. It also echoed what Monday was right up until 2:50 pm, and has been for the 117 years prior.

Watertown: too surreal to even blog about.  I think that a massive police force shut down a half-dozen towns, ordered the entire town of Watertown on lockdown, and hunted down a 19-year-old kid who shot at my friend’s dad, killed a 26-year-old MIT cop, and hid out in a boat.  Either that, or it was the most bizarre dream ever.

It’s hard to explain how Boston is not one of those cities with a big target attached to it.  NYC is a target.  The summer that I lived in DC, you were more likely to get shot and killed there than you would have been as a soldier in Iraq.  Detroit? Get a flat tire, and you have a life expectancy of about fifteen minutes.  Don’t make me go all Robert Downey Jr. in “Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” on Los Angeles.

Boston has always been different – quieter, much like a suburb; a small city that can be walked end-to-end in under an hour. The kooks and the crazies largely ignore it.  This situation – the bombing, the marathon was attacked, and the Watertown manhunt – were horrible anyway, but especially unexpected here.

Lovely Spring Days: this is a personal one. I used to hate the things: they reminded me of standing by a river bank, waiting for rescue crews to find the body of a teenager, a warm and talented young man nine years my junior.  It was a horrific seventeen hours, most of which were sunny, warm, without humidity, a few clouds in the sky and the lush greenery covering the mountains – all so wrong when your student is dead.  Now I hate those lovely days for similar reasons.

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It feels a bit mean to beat up on girls half my age

But when those young ladies get all catty towards my girl Suzy Lee Weiss, then it’s game on.  YingYing Shang, self-appointed Czarina of Appropriate College Admissions Erudition, brought out the claws in “An Open Letter to Suzy Lee Weiss”.  Suzy had the grace to refer to herself as having “sour grapes” and wanting to watch Real Housewives.  Finding herself skewered by Suzy’s self-effacing wit, YingYing writes condescending paragraphs like this:

I’m a little worried about you, Suzy. I’m a little worried about your lack of real passion or interest for any real problems in the world. I’m also worried about your sense of entitlement and lack of sympathy for those of different racial groups and in different circumstances. Lastly, I’m worried about all of the high school students who are reading your letter and throwing their hands up along with you, cursing the college admissions process instead of their own narrow-mindedness and apathy.

YingYing, let’s see what you are really doing for GirlUp, and what GirlUp actually accomplishes.  The short answer is that you have a fancy title, the charity equivalent of Chairwoman of Coffee Logistics. I’ve looked all over the GirlUp website and can’t figure out what on earth you actually do, where the money goes, and what the group intends to accomplish and how it intends to accomplish it.  (Update: GirlUp provides scholarships and school supplies to girls in poor countries, but it is unclear what the group does regarding child marriage or other human rights issues.) Suzy Lee Weiss may be the slowest runner on her cross-country team, but at the end of the race, she has accomplished a definite goal with a definite, provable result.  GirlUp is apparently a big, online community, the sole purpose of which is to enable privileged young women to pat each other on the back.

YingYing, you’ve started a Tumblr to get girls to be aware of body issues. (I should note that said blog, like your other activist blog, has not been updated since your college applications were sent off – but surely that’s just an oversight.)  YingYing, girls have been aware of body issues since before you were born; that awareness stuff was passe even when I was in high school in the ’90s.  The blog might look really nice on your resume, but you haven’t helped a single girl to not develop an eating disorder.

I am an activist and have spent many years around activists.  The most effective people do not have lofty goals like eradicating poverty or eliminating gender inequality; they have goals like “Start a girls’ math club at the junior high school” or “Buy birth certificates for twenty girls in one village in Africa.”  Those movements may grow over time to encompass more schools or villages, but they always have results.  Showing a film and writing a blog about issues that people have been talking about for twenty years is not groundbreaking or even productive. (It’s also laughable when it comes to a grinding halt immediately after your Ivy applications are sent in.)  In fact, it’s worse than useless, since an impoverished child-bride, half a world away, will be even more distressed if she learns that efforts to help her are limited to film screenings in ritzy American cities.

Suzy Lee Weiss worked at a pizza place.  At the end of any given workday, she could find out how many pizzas she served, how many customers she rang up, and how long it took her to clean up pizza dough. At the end of a race, she could tell you how far she ran and what her splits were. At the end of the day, YingYing, what have you done? “Raised awareness?”  My money is on Suzy Lee doing more to change the world than you ever will.

Update: The entire world cannot be reduced to neat metrics, but if you state that you are helping to “make a difference,” you should be able to articulate what difference has been made.  If that difference is “awareness”, then you should probably be able to explain how people were unaware before your intervention. If you say that you are helping to eliminate poverty, then explain who is less poor for your efforts (or less potentially-poor, if you’ve done things like help someone gain a marketable skill).  The kids who convince five of their friends to clean out their closets and donate their clothes and coats to charity are making their world a better place.  Lofty goals should not be confused with results.


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Who knew that Auntie Seraphic had so much feminist snark in her?

Of course, she might not call herself a feminist, but she skewers the cruel demands of men who believe that women ought to be covered from head to toe lest we lead them into temptation:

 Again I realize my male readers will feel indignant and want to say something about custody of the eyes. After all they have eyes, too, and they manage to keep them off our bodies, so why can’t we keep our eyes off theirs? Ah, boys. Boys, boys, boys. My little flowers. My little flowers of the forest. My little flowers of the forest in your kilts and woolly socks stretched over swelling calves that meet muscular knees and visible over those manly knees is perhaps an inch of bare, muscled…Where was I?
Oh yes. Custody of the eyes. It is all very well talking about custody of the eyes, but we are your sisters. We need your help. We need you to stop wearing what you like, or what is fashionable, or what looks nice, or what is available in stores. After all, what is taste, fashion, beauty and availability to our own, personal, ever-shifting comfort zones?

Yes, men and women are different, blah blah blah.  But gentlemen, if you purport to be the stronger sex and the spiritual leader of your household, act like a freakin’ grown-up and don’t throw a temper tantrum if you see a woman’s thigh.

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I am not a business analyst

but I am a cupcake addict, so allow me to opine on the demise of Crumbs Bakery.

In the last six months, or year (I can’t keep track anymore), several Crumbs stores have opened in the suburban malls near me, and one mall also has a kiosk.  Mall space is not cheap, so the business model that works in suburban downtown streets may not translate over into a profitable mall store. Crumbs also tends to not have many (or any) seats in its stores, so if you are looking to sit down, you would probably hit the food court or one of the coffee stands with big comfy chairs nearby.   I’m also a little perplexed by the fast expansion – there’s little time to build up the brand name in the area before trying to support multiple stores.

Georgetown Cupcake has opened a very successful store on Newbury Street, but it’s also in a perfect spot to stop in for a quick snack amidst shopping.  “Quick snack” is perhaps the operative term: Georgetown has amazing, small cupcakes, perfect for one person to eat and not go into diabetic coma.  (It’s also socially acceptable to plop oneself down on the benches on Newbury with one’s nibbles.) Crumbs cupcakes are American non-decadence: gigantic monster things that appear to make up for in size what they lack in quality.

I wouldn’t know a diet if it walked up to me in a bar and bought me a Perrier, but Crumbs cupcakes are just off-putting.  If I wanted that much dessert, I would go to the Cheesecake Factory (and at least not feel like a dork as I walked home with leftovers).  They aren’t an impulse buy; those things are a serious commitment to a meal.  There are a lot of suburban-mall impulse-buy desserts, such as a marzipan heart at Godiva, a cupcake or macaroon at Au Bon Pain, chocolate-chip cookies at Starbucks or Bex, or ice cream at Haagen-Daz.  “Massive cupcakes at a store with no seating” doesn’t make that list.

The cupcake craze happened (IMHO) because healthy, food-snob Americans who like their sweets found their Eden. Crumbs cupcakes would be at home on the dessert menu at Applebee’s.

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