Sunday, January 16, 2005

Quick Hits 3

Here are some more links that have generated buzz or should have:

Can Government Solve Social Problems?

A recent discussion on the VOR comment board has posed several interesting questions about whether specific government policies can be successful in tackling youth binge drinking and other risky behaviors. In Maryland, Governor Ehrlich (R) is trying to pass new legislation to increase restrictions on teen drivers and stiffen the penalties for teen drinking and driving. This policy and the good politics that support it are case in point for Democrats seeking to gain advantages on "values" issues. Despite some criticism from the comment board, I maintain that people will generally respond to incentives, and increasing the penalties for drinking and driving (and hopefully greater enforcement) will yield positive benefits. The best part is that Democrats could then honestly present a "values" alternative to the American people, instead of just aping the GOP.

Social Promotion or Social Alienation?

If you remember the details of No Child Left Behind, you probably remember the debate over social promotion vs. holding low performing kids back. GOPers in general are more likely to oppose social promotion, but I never understood exactly what proponents of social promotion were really fighting for. This fascinating article from the New York Times education section inspired me to think more deeply about this issue. While it seems to make good sense to hold kids back until they acquire the necessary skills, how long before the child just gives up all together? The girl at the center of this piece has been held back three times in third grade, and was finally enrolled in special education classes, where frequent teacher turnover and heterogeneous grouping of kids with a variety of special needs have hindered her progress further. It doesn't help that her mother isn't very educated herself and did not take an active interest in the girl's development early on. What's the answer? Mindlessly promoting kids who have not mastered the material is not a recipe for self esteem, because rude awakenings await these students when they enter the workforce without any skills. Channeling low performers into special ed is also not a long term solution and probably degrades the educational experience of every student in the classroom. Can the government really afford to provide every special needs child with an Independent Education Plan, as some states have promised? I don't think so. Is more money the answer or do we just need more standards and testing? Yes. We need more money to pay teachers but we also need frequent testing to assess each student and standards to keep administrators accountable.

The Modern Woman

If the New York Times website is any indication, David Brooks and Maureen Dowd's recent op-eds generated tremendous interest, as they were the 2 Most Popular articles emailed during the times I checked the site. Dowd's piece laments the fact that men aren't attracted to smart women and are even further repelled by women who are higher than them on the corporate ladder. 90 percent of the emailing of this piece was probably from mother to daughter, either as an ex-post rationalization of daughter's single life or a not-so-subtle reminder to wear more makeup and read less Kafka. For men, we can either label Dowd as a bitter, old maid as Rush Limbaugh did recently, or actually empathize with women (they like that) and recognize the mixed signals given to them by society. Brooks writes a rare insightful piece looking at the troubles women face having kids and a career, and how restructuring education may help more women lead fulfilling lives. We have entered the stage of post-feminism, where women have won the right to be anything they want, but need to figure out what it is exactly they want. With men demanding intellectually inferior women and the global economy demanding highly skilled workers, women are caught in a bind. Combined with the desire to have children and a successful career, absent the necessary institutions in place to achieve this balance, what choices will modern women make?



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