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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

It’s difficult for non-lawyer/law student types to appreciate who Erwin Chemerinsky is.  But he basically wrote the text book on constitutional law used by many if not most law students.  He is a giant in the field of constitutional law and would have been a huge get for any brand new law school trying to establish its credentials. 

And apparently UC-Irvine, which is starting its own law school, thought so too.  Until they realized that some conservatives were going to complain.  (See also here).

And why were they going to complain?  Because he had radical views about the constitution?  No.  His views are pretty much the standard. 

But because he’s had the temerity to point out that Bush’s views about the constitution are radical.  For examples of this radical hippie beatnick’s writings and public comments see here and here about wiretapping and here about habeus corpus. 

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The BET is catching a lot of heat with its new, edgy, hip-hop heavy video campaign to promote literacy and black pride.  I think it’s great and smart, to be honest.

And it’s a pretty bold move for a network that has had its fair share of criticism for perpetuating negative stereotypes.  This video campaign takes these stereotypes, makes them larger than life, and then uses them to make its points. 

I especially like the Lil Jon caricature when they start chanting “R-E-A-D-A-B-O-Ohhh-Kaaaay!” 

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DC Public Schools prepared a new 43-page document on standards for teaching health issues in schools. It included guidelines for teaching nutrition, emotional health, sex-ed, and drug awareness, among other topics. This is the Washington Times lede about the new plan:

Proposed guidelines for a sex-education curriculum to be used in D.C. Public Schools recommend that middle-school students learn to define sexual orientation and be taught about homosexuality.

Interesting that this is the scare-mongering tidbit of choice, though, isn’t it? More prominent than the ‘they’re-telling-our-9th-graders-where-and-how-to-get-abortions’ quote later in the article. Do gays trump abortion in all wingnut hysteria? Or just Moonite-sanctioned wingnut hysteria?

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Via Reason , a middle-school principle in Washington state who was convicted of felony rape charges but is still getting paid to serve as principal.

Wright, 36, continues to collect his $8,245-a-month salary, something he’s been doing since February, when he was first charged. So far, the district appears to have paid him at least $45,000 for time he wasn’t working. There are not many other jobs where commission of a felony can earn the perpetrator a sweet paid vacation.

But in Washington’s public schools – all public schools, not just Tacoma’s – even convictions for grave crimes do not permit administrators to simply fire the convicts. State law explicitly gives all educators the right to a potentially lengthy process of responses, hearings and appeals.

The law does specify crimes that, for good reason, are cause for immediate discharge. All of them involve the injury or sexual exploitation of children – promoting the prostitution of a minor, for example. Wright’s crime, however, involved the 2004 rape of a 19-year-old woman – slightly older than a minor. The jury found that, at a minimum, he helped a friend forcibly rape her. In this state, that’s apparently not grounds for automatic dismissal from a position of immense moral authority over schoolchildren.

The woman had been a student at a high school where Wright was working as assistant principle. Commenters at Reason bring up the fact that with the sex offender witch hunts that sometimes take place these days, a little para-judiciary due process by the school board can’t hurt. I don’t know. I know there are plenty of judicial mistakes made, but I figure if we consider the judicial process good enough grounds to put people in prison, and even sometimes take their lives, we should probably consider it good enough grounds to dismiss them from state employment.

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Another thing we discussed yesterday in one of the afternoon sessions of the Internet & Society conference was academic journal articles. There are some people here (including the aforementioned free culture kids) who think that academic journal articles should be made readily and openly available in digitized form, because knowledge should be free and available to all, etc. etc. It sounds good and noble and all that, but what about the business interests of the academic publishers? The publishers need to make money somehow, to pay for the costs of the editing and peer review process and actually publishing the articles, either in print or digital form. They need to make money. And how would they make money if everything was just put online for free?

I was talking to another conference participant later — someone who is a member of the business community, not the university community – about how it’s kind of the universities themselves who perpetuate the problems with academic publishing. Professors could make all their writing and research available for free. They could simply post their articles online, on their own Web sites or blogs or the universities’ Web sites. But they don’t do this. And why? Because it doesn’t carry the prestige of being published in peer-reviewed journals, especially the more important ones. And being published is one of the key components of their future academic/career success, because the universities take this sort of thing into account when hiring and promoting and granting tenure to professors. There is no need per se for the academic publishing press in this day and age, really — all researchers and scholars could easily just put their findings online themselves. But so long as publishing in peer-reviewed journals is still a matter of prestige, the clear path to gaining media attention and career success (and also considered a manner of ensuring research accuracy), then it is necessary for professors to publish in these journals. And as long as these journals exist, it is necessary for them to have some method of making money.

Most larger universities have subscription services to the major academic journal clearinghouses, such as JSTOR and ProQuest and even LexisNexis, anyway, and they make these available to students as part of the cost of their education. So it’s not as if students don’t have access to these journals. Someone pointed out that Harvard is having to drop a lot of subscriptions because they are getting too expensive, and if Harvard is having to do this then a lot of schools are probably having to do the same, If this is the case — if the journals are getting so expensive that nobody can afford them — then the journals are going to have to lower their prices or find some other sort of business model to be relevant. It’s a market, like anything else. It’ll work itself out.

(These posts are kind of on the fly, so pardon the scatter-brained nature. I jotted down some thoughts yesterday evening in between the conference and heading to a friend’s house for beer and peanuts, and didn’t have access to Internet again ’til this morning, so I’m trying to type these up right quick while listening to what’s going on right now too.)

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I don’t know about these free culture kids.

For the afternoon session of the IS27K conference yesterday, we broke off into discussion groups based on professional sectors. I was with the students, obviously. There were 8 of us, all part of the “free culture” movement except for me. We started off discussing a software program called “Audible Magic.” The program automatically detects and filters copyrighted material (music, movies), and can be used on closed networks such as those at universities.

The company’s core copyright-sensing technology, CopySense®, accurately identifies digital or broadcast media content based on the perceptual characteristics of the content itself. Built on a patented electronic fingerprinting process, the technology is robust, efficient, and massively scalable.

The software can be set up on a university’s computer network to filter content sent between student computers (the students in the group said it had already been launched by 80+ universities, but it turns out the number is closer to, like, a handful).

There are legitimate concerns here: should a university be spending its time and resources to, essentially, safeguard some other entities’ “property?” Will the particular files being transmitted by particular ISP addresses be logged, and students identified, because that brings up privacy concerns (not to mention potential serious legal ramifications for identified students). And what incentive do universities have to implement this software in the first place? Are the RIAA or other content owners pressuring them?

But, no, the big concern in this breakout group was the “open flow of information.” A university can’t just step in and regulate what we can and can’t share with one another!

Well, yeah, it can. You’re using its networks to transmit this information; a university is well within its rights to control the use of its networks. If the university thought students were transmitting large quantities of child pornography or materials depicting violent criminal activity or something, I think most people could agree that the university could step in to prevent this illegal material from being shared on its networks. Why should it be any different with “illegal” music and movies? I mean, sure, you can make the case that this kind of sharing shouldn’t necessarily be illegal, or obviously isn’t of the same severity level. But you can still see why a university might want to at least take steps to circumvent it. I’m not saying this kind of hyper-vigilance is necessarily desirable. But it’s not completely incomprehensible either.

Some of the free culture people invoked “fair use,” and brought up the fact that some students might have legitimate reasons to share copyrighted material — maybe someone made a documentary for a class project that uses copyrighted music, and they’re trying to send the video to a friend? Maybe someone is in a pop culture class, and needs to share copyrighted TV content for a class assignment?

Righttttt … I mean, I don’t doubt that these kind of things do take place. But these are the exceptions, not the rule. You hear these kinds of arguments a lot — what about the transformative, mash-up kind of content that might get caught in a content filter? The key then, I think, is to find methods to make sure this kind of content does not get blocked, not prevent any attempts at blocking all together.

For the record, I’m not a champion of filters and other technologies that make it even easier for big companies like the RIAA to go after individual infringers. I think the whole system right now is in need of vast overhauls. But I’m saying that it makes sense why people would want to implement these kind of technologies considering the current legal climate, and making red herring arguments based on unrealistic examples isn’t helping anybody.

This is kind of a meandering post, I know. Anybody have any thoughts on this audible magic business?

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Check out this article about a huge hike in the cost of birth control at colleges. I direct you to it as I almost missed it entirely. It’s in the ‘Student News’ section of the Education section of today’s CNN website. Even though, per the article, 39% of undergraduate women are on oral contraception, so this affects several million people about as directly as something can affect a person. I think it’s news, but maybe that’s because it affects women of a similar age and sensibility to me. Whatever the reason, if I can muster a fair degree of outrage on topics that I’ll likely never have first-hand experience with, this is worth discussing. If you read the article, the price increase is attributed to a change in Medicaid policies, causing big drug companies to abandon the deals they used to give colleges. Since the universities themselves aren’t going to be helping out, it’s going to cost undergraduate women at least double what it used to cost to get the same prescriptions.
Which leads me to… when I was your age. Honestly, when I was an undergraduate on the pill, I didn’t know where the price break was coming from. I just knew that it didn’t cost much to maintain my lifestyle. It was a noticeable dent in one week’s drinking money and that was about it for the quarter. Money worries were confined to tuition, rent, food, books, incidentals…maybe confined isn’t the right word. But no one was panicking over the cost of the pill.
Of course, when I graduated, I bounced around to no less than 6 jobs (it’s been not quite 3 years since I was in college), and at various times I had lousy insurance, no insurance, or was just plain unemployed. I ended up paying a lot for birth control. Probably five times what I was paying on campus. But here’s the one constant, and why I’m not worried about today’s college-bound or college-enrolled women: it still beats the alternative. No one who’s committed to being childless (for however long) is going to let prescriptions lapse because it costs a little more.

A personal tip from me: where I went to school anyway, if you let a balance from the clinic (or their pharmacy) remain unpaid, they would tack it on to your tuition bill as a benign ‘medical center expense’. Maybe your parents pay that bill, or maybe you have loans. Either way, doing this about one quarter a year will ease your current out-of-pocket costs.

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