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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Why are faculty members liberal?

Faculty members come in every shape and size, political belief and personality. While there are indications that the majority of faculty have liberal leanings, there is also a pendulum of change that from time to time, or institution to institution, make this the exception and not the rule. However, there is ample research that those who enter education at the college level, do tend to be liberal by nature.

I have often been challenged by conservative students as to why my examples are so "liberal". To begin with I consider myself a moderate, swinging the spectrum depending on the issue. For example, I am pro-life but willing to give the woman the final choice (It is not ours to judge, but the Lord's, and we believe in a compassionate Lord). I am pro-health care and providing for the least of our brothers, which includes our responiblity as a people, meaning a government, to do so ("We the people" and "government of the people" have deeper meaning than elections). I tend to be pro-defense but was against our invasion of Iraq. In other words I am as complex and changing as the next guy. We all change over time, particurally if we read, reason, think and are open to change (part of the definition of liberal).

To begin with liberal ideas and concepts have been aligned with education from the beginning of the profession. When a mind is educated, it changes, and change, by nature, is liberal.

Click on "read more" below to continue.

What does it mean to be 'middle class?'

President Obama and Mitt Romney have different definitions on what it means to be middle class. What does the term really mean?
President Barack Obama greets the crowd after a campaign stop at the historic Fire Station No.1, in downtown Roanoke, Virginia, July 13. Obama traveled to southwest Virginia to discuss choice in this election between two fundamentally different visions on how to grow the economy, create middle-class jobs and pay down the debt.

Politicians know that nine out of ten Americans identify with the middle class, so it is strong and wielded like a sword in political campaign rhetoric. But what does it mean?

70 to 90% of Americans define themselves as "middle class". The truth as low as 10% and as high as 33% fall within the classification, depending on whose numbers you believe. And "middle class" does not mean the standard of living that we equate to being "middle class".

In the fuzzy labels and loose speech of this political season, "middle class" has ballooned to cover just about everyone. So what does the term really mean?

There's no official definition.

If anything, a slew of economic data suggests a middle class that's actually shrinking. Mid-wage manufacturing and other jobs are disappearing due to automation and outsourcing, while lower-income positions and poverty spike higher. The White House's chief economist, Alan Krueger, said in January that the middle class fell from 50 percent of U.S. households in 1970 to 42 percent in 2010, as more families moved to the extreme ends of income distribution.

But it's not just about economic ranges. And politicians are not bound by such gauges anyway.

"Politicians love to use the term, because it's vague and connotes an image of regular American people." said Dennis Gilbert, a sociology professor at Hamilton College and author of "The American Class Structure in an Age of Growing Inequality." He said, the varying uses of "middle class" on the campaign trail are "dishonest, and it's absurd."

In recent months, the phrase has been popping up with increased frequency. Referring to the election as a "make-or-break" moment for the middle class, Obama used the term repeatedly in his July 9 speech calling for an extension of "middle-class" tax breaks for families making less than $250,000, or $200,000 for individuals — basically everyone but the top 2 percent. He mentioned the phrase seven times at a fundraiser Tuesday in San Antonio.

Romney has suggested that the upper bounds of the middle class include families earning $200,000. He's pushing an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for everyone, including the wealthiest 2 percent. Romney's campaign seeks to highlight a weak economy that he says is a "kick in the gut to the middle class," with a new video this week attacking what he calls an Obama record of "political payoffs and middle-class layoffs."

Just Wednesday, Republican House Speaker John Boehner stepped into the fray with a comment that Obama "doesn't give a damn about middle-class Americans who are out there looking for work."
Responded Obama spokesman Jay Carney: The middle class is the "principal preoccupation" of Obama's presidency.

The meaning of "middle class" has grown even harder to parse following a populist Occupy movement that for months protested high unemployment and income inequality with a rallying cry of "We are the 99 percent."

Formal definitions vary, but few academics would say it covers more than 60 percent of Americans.
When it comes to earnings, the Census Bureau divides household income into quintiles, or groups of 20 percent. 

Some economists narrowly define the middle class as those in the middle 20 percent of the distribution, earning between $38,000 and $61,000. 

Others define it more broadly to include the middle 60 percent of the income distribution, between $20,000 and $100,000.

Defining who is poor, by contrast, is officially more absolute. The federal poverty line is based on the minimum income needed to have what the government considers a basic standard of living. Two times the poverty line is often a cutoff for "low-income" families who may be eligible for government aid. The poverty line currently is $22,314 for a family of four, meaning that a family making $44,000 could be both "low income" and "middle class."

Yet another way to gauge class is what income tax bracket you're in. The IRS has six of them. This year, the bottom bracket sets a tax rate of 10 percent for taxable income up to $17,400 for couples. 

The top bracket is 35 percent, applied to taxable income above $388,350. 

The middle class is commonly seen as falling in the 15 and 25 percent brackets, or couples whose taxable income is between $17,400 and $142,700. 

But some define it all the way up to the second-highest bracket, which is 33 percent and includes taxable income up to $388,350.

Sociologists take a broader view and focus not on income, but occupation: an "upper middle class" of white-collar specialists (lawyers, engineers, professors, economists and architects); and a "middle class" of lower-level white-collar workers (teachers, nurses, insurance sales and real estate agents). Together, these groups make up about 45 percent of households and sit near the upper end of the income distribution, just behind the top 1 percent.

The meanings shift more dramatically when measured by self-identification and quality of life.
Few Americans label themselves as upper class or lower class, which are seen as either pretentious or demeaning. Roughly 95 percent of adults say they are middle class (50 percent), upper middle class (13 percent) or working class (32 percent), according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted in May. Just 2 percent describe themselves as "better off" than upper middle class.

A separate ABC News poll found that being "middle class" often meant more to people than specific income levels, which can be affected by family size, expenses and local costs of living. At least two-thirds of adults said being middle class meant owning a home, being able to save for the future and afford things like vacation travel, the occasional new car and various other little luxuries, according to the 2010 poll.

The slippery definitions have created incongruous political moments.

In his January speech describing a shrinking middle class, Krueger, who is chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, offered a precise definition that has yet to be applied on the campaign trail: households with annual incomes within 50 percent of the national median income. 

The current median income is $49,445, putting middle-class earnings in a range from $25,000 to $75,000. Yet to live the traditional middle class lifestyle a household must earn over $125,000 a year, even more in many areas of the country.

Democrats from higher cost-of-living areas, such as Sen. Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, have sought to push the "middle class" definition higher, arguing that some families earning between $250,000 and $1 million in big cities such as New York and San Francisco are more likely to be dual-income worker bees than a wealthy elite. They initially pushed for extending tax cuts for those with incomes under $1 million, but are now backing Obama's proposal, which would yield an additional $366 billion in tax revenue over the next decade.

Romney, who sometimes battles perceptions that his vast wealth makes him out of touch, stirred derisive comments when he told MSNBC in January that he wasn't focusing so much on the needs of the poor. He explained that "somebody who's fallen from the middle class to poverty, in my opinion, is still middle class." Liberal bloggers were quick to ridicule the idea of "middle-class poverty."

"'Middle class' in politics is not a numerical value," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. "When voters hear 'middle class,' they don't hear people who make above or below this amount of money, they hear 'us.' It's a way for politicians to signal to voters that 'I share your values.'"

It's hard to entirely fault politicians who mirror definitions of "middle class" that voters want to hear.
But Jamieson says the fuzzy meanings confuse public debate, whether it's about spending for government safety-net programs for the poor, balancing the federal budget by taxing a wider range of income earners or creating jobs for an American middle class with varying degrees of education and skill levels. "That kind of slipperiness creates a disconnect between campaigning and governance," she said.

So, are you middle class? If so what does middle class mean to you?

The Online Education Revolution Drifts Off Course

Students at the Oakland Military Institute took several courses offered by San Jose State and the online course provider Udacity this year. The university is now scaling back its relationship with Udacity.
Students at the Oakland Military Institute took several courses offered by San Jose State and the online course provider Udacity this year. The university is now scaling back its relationship with Udacity.

One year ago, many were pointing to the growth of massive open online courses, or MOOCs, as the most important trend in higher education. Many saw the rapid expansion of MOOCs as a higher education revolution that would help address two long-vexing problems: access for underserved students and cost.
In theory, students saddled by rising debt and unable to tap into the best schools would be able to take classes for free from rock star professors at elite schools via Udacity, edX, Coursera and other MOOC platforms.
But if 2012 was the "Year of the MOOC," as The New York Times famously called it, 2013 might be dubbed the year that online education fell back to earth. Faculty at several institutions rebelled against the rapid expansion of online learning — and the nation's largest MOOC providers are responding.
Earlier this year, San Jose State University partnered with Udacity to offer several types of for-credit MOOC classes at low cost. The partnership was announced in January with lots of enthusiastic publicity, including a plug from California Gov. Jerry Brown, who said MOOC experiments are central to democratizing education.
"We've got to invest in learning, in teaching, in education," he said. "And we do that not by just the way we did it 100 years ago. We keep changing."
But by all accounts, the San Jose experiment was a bust. Completion rates and grades were worse than for those who took traditional campus-style classes. And the students who did best weren't the underserved students San Jose most wanted to reach.
It wasn't really proving to be cheaper, either, says Peter Hadreas, the chair of San Jose State's philosophy department.
"The people that do well in these kind of courses are people who are already studious. Or ... who are taking courses for their own enrichment after they've graduated," he says.
"A year-and-a-half ago ... people thought this was going to solve the problems of higher education because people would be educated for less money. That's not the way it's worked out."
Now, San Jose State is scaling back its relationship with Udacity, taking more direct control of the courses it offers through the company and rethinking its commitment to MOOCs.
'We Have A Lousy Product'
Other schools are hitting the pause button, as well. A recent University of Pennsylvania studyconfirmed a massive problem: MOOCs have painfully few active users. About half who registered for a class ever viewed a lecture, and completion rates averaged just 4 percentacross all courses.
Sebastian Thrun, Udacity's co-founder and a prime mover in MOOCs, recently told Fast Company magazine, "We were on the front pages of newspapers and magazines, and at the same time, I was realizing, we don't educate people as others wished, or as I wished. We have a lousy product."
Thrun says he doesn't regret that position. "I think that's just honest, and I think we should have an honest discourse about what we do," he says.
"Online education that leaves almost everybody behind except for highly motivated students, to me, can't be a viable path to education. We look back at our early work and realize it wasn't quite as good as it should have been. We had so many moments for improvement."
That the former Stanford professor and inventor — whose online artificial intelligence coursehelped kick off the MOOC frenzy — was fundamentally rethinking its viability shook the higher education world.
What was missing, many students complained, was a human connection beyond the streamed lecture.
That's what Tracy Wheeler found lacking. This year she immersed herself in five MOOCs from two providers and completed three, including a course on global poverty. She had read the professor's book and was excited and upbeat.
"I thought I'd go in deeper and come out wanting to move to India and help her with one of her experiments," she says.
Instead, the 52-year-old education consultant says she hated being chained to the computer screen, and found the entire MOOC experience mechanistic, dreary and ineffectual.
"I'm a very social person. There was nothing to grasp on to," she says. "There were no people, there was no professor. In a sense you're just learning in this void. ... I would come away from my computer just kind of despondent and feeling really reduced somehow."
She says the courses' online forums — the key support structure for many MOOCs — were isolating and largely absent of meaningful back-and-forth — or joy.
"It was like going up and scrawling your name on a graffiti wall. You know, there was no sense of community." In a class, she says, "you can pass a note. You can have fun."
A Bigger Human Element Ahead
Wheeler's experience is just one of hundreds of thousands of MOOC takers', of course. Many others praise the online courses as brilliant, time-saving and cost efficient. But providers are responding to criticisms like Wheeler's.
Enter MOOC 2.0. Udacity and other leading MOOC providers now realize that a more expansive, human-centered support structure is key to helping students retain information, stick with the course — and finish.
"We [added] human mentors," says Thrun. "We have people almost 24/7 that help you when you get stuck. We also added a lot of projects that require human feedback and human grading.
"And that human element, surprise, surprise, makes a huge difference in the student experience and the learning outcomes," he says.
In 2014, the company will put more emphasis on employee job training classes for corporations, including Google, Facebook and others. Classes will include an introduction to big data analysis and mobile app development.
Like Udacity, MOOC pioneer Coursera is also changing. The company is creating "learning hubs" at U.S. consulates around the world that will include a weekly in-person instructor to foster discussion.
Some critics believe the changes underway amount to a full-scale MOOC retreat and lay bare online education's deep flaws. But Thrun says those critics simply don't get the nature of tech innovation: You closely evaluate failures, think forward, adjust — and use the word "iterate." A lot.
"It's certainly an iteration," Thrun says. "And the truth is, look, this is Silicon Valley. We try things out, we look at the data, and we learn from it."

Being bilingual boosts brain power

In an interconnected world, speaking more than one language is becoming increasingly common. Approximately one-fifth of Americans speak a non-English language at home, and globally, as many as two-thirds of children are brought up bilingual.
Research suggests that the growing numbers of bilingual speakers may have an advantage that goes beyond communication: It turns out that being bilingual is also good for your brain.
Judy and Paul Szentkiralyi both grew up bilingual in the U.S., speaking Hungarian with their families and English with their peers. When they first started dating, they spoke English with each other.
But they knew they wanted to raise their children speaking both languages, so when things turned serious they did something unusual — they decided to switch to Hungarian.
Today, Hungarian is the primary language the Szentkiralyis use at home. Their two daughters — Hannah, 14, and Julia, 8 — speak both languages fluently, and without any accent. But they both heard only Hungarian from mom and dad until the age of 3 or 4, when they started school.
"When she did go to preschool that accent was very thick – she counted like Vun, two, tree," said Judy Szentkiralyi, recalling Hanna's early experience with English. "And by the time four or five months went by, it was totally gone."
Dispelling Confusion Around Bilingualism
The Szentkiralyis say that most people were supportive, but not everyone. Paul recounts an uncomfortable confrontation Judy once had in the local grocery store.
"I remember one time you came home and you said this one lady was like, 'When is she going to learn English?' And it was like, 'Well, when she goes to school she'll learn English,'" he said.
For a bilingual who really has two good languages that they use, both of them are always active.
"People would often say, 'Well, won't they get confused?" added Judy. "And I would have to explain, 'Well, no, it wasn't confusing for us.'"
The idea that children exposed to two languages from birth become confused or that they fall behind monolingual children is a common misconception, says Janet Werker, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia who studies language acquisition in bilingual babies.
"Growing up bilingual is just as natural as growing up monolingual," said Werker, whose own research indicates babies of bilingual mothers can distinguish between languages even hours after birth.
"There is absolutely no evidence that bilingual acquisition leads to confusion, and there is no evidence that bilingual acquisition leads to delay," she said.
Werker and other researchers say the evidence to the contrary is actually quite strong. Instead of holding you back, being bilingual, they say, may actually be good for you.
Tuning In To The Right Signal
Ellen Bialystok, a psychologist from York University in Toronto, says the reason lies in the way the bilingual mind uses language.
"We don't really know very much in psychology," said Bialystok. "But the one thing that has been so overwhelmingly proven, that I can say with great certainty, is this: For a bilingual who really has two good languages that they use, both of them are always active."
In other words, no matter what language a person is speaking at the moment, both languages are active in the brain.
"The evidence is very dramatic. Even if you are in a context that is utterly monolingual, where you think there is absolutely no reason to think about Chinese or Spanish or French, it is part of the activated network that's going on in your brain," she said.
This means that bilinguals have to do something that monolinguals don't do — they have to keep the two languages separate. Bialystok likens it to tuning into the right signal on the radio or television: The brain has to keep the two channels separate and pay attention to only one.
"The brain has a perfectly good system whose job it is to do just that — it's the executive control system. It focuses attention on what's important and ignores distraction. Therefore, for a bilingual, the executive control system is used in every sentence you utter. That's what makes it strong," said Bialystok.
Remodeling The Brain?
Constantly engaging this executive control function is a form of mental exercise, explains Bialystok, and some researchers, including herself, believe that this can be beneficial for the brain. Bilingual speakers have been shown to perform better on a variety of cognitive tasks, and one study Bialistok did found that dementia set in four to five years later in people who spent their lives speaking two languages instead of one.
"They can get a little extra mileage from these cognitive networks because they have been enhanced throughout life," said Bialystok.
And the advantages of bilingualism may be due to more than just "mental fitness." Bialystok says there's some preliminary evidence that being bilingual may physically remodel parts of the brain. It's something researchers are only beginning to look into, but she says there is reason to believe that speaking a second language may lead to important changes in brain structure as well.

You should be living in the future already!

We should be living in the future already. I should be controlling my home lights from my phone. My coffee machine should reorder coffee from Amazon automatically and my washing machine should schedule its own maintenance.
This kind of future demands that machines act with human intelligence. I'm asking my coffee machine to think like me, so that I don't have to.
But we aren't living in this world yet because it requires the synchronized deployment of three of the most advanced technologies developed in the past 20 years: wireless communication, smart phones and machine learning.
First, all these devices must be connected to the internet via Wifi or cellular connection. This means the manufacturers of these devices must design, integrate, test and ship internet devices. Many manufacturers have started to believe in the benefits of subscription revenue economics and ongoing data collection from devices in the field. But hardware design cycles are measured in months and years. In addition until recently the market lacked technologies to help manufacturers build great software for their devices, hence the delay.
Second, the broad adoption of smart phones and the vibrant application ecosystems have enabled and trained users to interact with new devices. More than half of Americans own a smart phone meaning the target market for connected devices is about 150M in this country alone and represent an attractive segment for device manufacturers. The market is primed.
Last, with the infrastructure to connect devices to the internet and the applications to monitor and control them in place, the most important challenge remains: machine learning. Deep learning technologies will use the data aggregated from devices to enable human-like intelligence, unlocking the magic of the connected devices vision. [The advances in machine learning in the past few years have shown unprecedented gains as a result of increased processing power and better access to data. Google Now and Siri are just two examples.
When machines anticipate needs and wants and solve problems without consulting their owners, we will be living in the future. I believe the infrastructure, the revenue model, the customer base and the deep learning techniques are finally ready to enable entrepreneurs to seize the opportunity and build the future.


(Bioshock Infinite)
See the picture that leads this article? It's pretty intense, right? Techdirt shared a story this morning from a couple weeks ago about an anti-immigrant conservative Florida political group that posted this image on its Facebook. The only problem is that the image was lifted from the video game Bioshock Infinite, and was specifically intended to parody uncritical nationalism.

This isn't a new concept, necessarily. This story reminded me about how Ronald Reagan's 1984 re-election campaign championed Springsteen's "Born In the USA" as a "message of hope."
In context, the image is an obvious parody. Bioshock Infinite is not subtle in its portrayal of the game's antagonists as an extreme American secessionist group. I mean, mid-way through the game you have to fight a mechanized George Washington with American flags sticking out of its back. But the internet is awash in images totally divorced from their original contexts, and as such, people reconfigure and reinterpret them as they see fit in ways that can be smart, hilarious, or  even cruel.
If you are trying to make some kind of political statement, it seems like a good idea to make at least a cursory attempt to find out where it comes from. Otherwise you might end up using an image from ABC's Modern Family as the cover of your book about traditional family values. 
By Alex Goldman

Career centered education: A waste of time and money?

Are Career-Oriented Majors 

a Waste of a 4-Year Higher Education?

Time to rethink higher education

Even as President Obama, a handful of governors, and several private foundations continue to push American higher education to graduate more students so that the United States has the world’s highest portion of people with college credentials, a sobering report in this week’s New York Times detailed the real-world impact of producing more degrees simply to reach a goal. The article looked at degree inflation in Atlanta and the proliferation in that city of college-educated workers who hold low-paying jobs that, just a few years ago, didn’t require degrees.
The piece, which generated more than a thousand comments from readers, quoted mostly graduates of regional public universities in Georgia and for-profit colleges. It illustrated that, despite the rhetoric from those advocating more “high-quality postsecondary credentials,” we have come to think of this national goal as just about four-year degrees and have clearly not defined what we mean by quality credentials.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in the camp of the “Don’t Go to College” crowd that is popular in some circles these days. But without high-quality training and apprenticeship programs as real alternatives to those ill-suited for college—at least, college immediately after high school—many higher-education institutions have become de facto job-training centers, and high-priced ones at that.
Indeed, training students seems to keep some traditional colleges in business, as they turn the latest hot career fields into the newest college majors. Colleges, particularly four-year institutions, have marketed their practical academic programs in a way to raise demand for more of them. Since 2000, the overall number of academic programs at colleges and universities has grown by 21 percent, according to figures the U.S. Education Department tracks for various surveys.
One-third of those new programs in the last decade were added in just two broad fields: health professions (where credential inflation is rampant) and military technologies/applied sciences (probably a reaction to the September 11th attacks). The 1990s saw similar growth in the number of majors. Indeed, nearly four in 10 majors in the Education Department data didn’t exist in 1990.
Any of us would recognize those new majors by just glancing at the list of undergraduate programs at almost any college these days: sustainability, athletic training, sports management, new media, gaming, homeland security, and so on. This trend, which has persisted for five decades, has been bemoaned by some as a flight from the arts and sciences to the practical arts.
The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded in traditional arts-and-sciences fields (English, mathematics, and biology, for example) has tumbled from almost half of the undergraduate credentials awarded in 1968 to 26 percent in 2010. A majority of credentials today are conferred in occupational or vocational areas, such as business, education, and communications. The most popular undergraduate major is business.
Since 2006, first-year students have told researchers that the No. 1 reason to attend college is to “get a better job.” That’s largely the reason many four-year colleges are adding narrowly tailored majors as fast as they can.
But despite having majored in the latest career fields, it seems that some graduates of those programs are finding it difficult to land a job (a few of the people quoted in theTimes story had narrow majors). Maybe that’s why colleges don’t want to be measured by how well they place students in jobs.
Meanwhile, top business executives in various surveys and interviews say they like workers who are creative, are adaptable, and have the ability to communicate and think critically—all telltale signs of a classic liberal education.
We know the future economy needs more Americans with a high-quality education after high school. But that training comes in many forms. Several four-year colleges operate co-op programs coupled with a liberal education, for example, preparing their graduates to launch their careers. A handful of professional majors at four-year institutions, engineering and nursing, for instance, are packed with intensive courses.
There is certainly a place for purely practical training programs within our broader goal to be first in the world in an educated work force, but the question increasingly should be whether all of those programs need to be housed at expensive four-year colleges.
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