Thursday, March 21, 2013


Friday Fragments

Get a Job or Your Tuition is Free!  The App Academy, in San Francisco, offers a 9 week, 90 hour per week boot camp to train people as programmers.  In return, the students pay 15 percent of the salaries they land for the first year.  

The contrast between the App Academy, which appears to be thriving, and the City College of San Francisco, which is fighting closure, is tempting, if unfair.  The App Academy is narrowly focused and, by virtue of the 90 hour per week requirement, pretty selective.  But the idea of the trainers having a stake in the success of the students has something to be said for it.


If you haven’t seen this graph yet -- it went viral -- check it out.  It tells you quickly why public higher education has been struggling.

Public higher education is built on a bargain.  In return for pricing itself below cost, it will receive steady public funding.  The states are largely shirking their end of the deal, which forces an unhappy combination of price increases and service cuts.  Those of us in the trenches know this intimately, but it’s nice to see it made explicit.


I asked recently why men don’t return to college.  Now a study from MIT suggests that the reason is the rise of single motherhood.


The theory seems to be that girls can do okay with single mothers, but that boys with single mothers really struggle.  If that’s true -- and the mechanism strikes me as pretty opaque -- then the decline in the number of marriageable men could be self-perpetuating.  More single mothers lead to more boys who will struggle, which leads to more single moms, and so on.

I don’t have the research base to say ‘yay’ or ‘nay,’ but my instincts tell me that this is one of those studies that we’ll look back on ten years from now and wonder what the hell we were thinking.  It just doesn’t sound quite right.  

In The Signal and The Noise, Nate Silver gives the example of a real but misleading correlation between ice cream sales and forest fires.  They tend to rise together and fall together, year after year.  But one doesn’t cause the other; they’re both caused by summer weather.  That’s how this study feels to me.  There’s a missing term, but I don’t know what it is.


Last Saturday The Boy’s basketball team won its championship, which was a happy enough occasion in its own right.  

But the real highlight came after the game, during the celebratory pizza party.  TB spontaneously led a line of teammates over to the volunteers’ table, where he and his teammates thanked the volunteers for making their season possible.  

Judging by the reactions of the volunteers, that doesn’t usually happen.  One of them commented to TB “that really shows class.”  Being the sweet eleven-year-old that he is, when he relayed that comment to us later, he added “woo-hoo!  I have class!”  

Yes, he does.

A plausible explanation I've seen for the single mother issues is the message given to poor young men about what is valued.

In the places the majority live, education is not valued as how to be a man.

They seek other ways of identity and status.

Whereas girls have few roads to identity and status and education is one of them.

I've just been reading a book (which is at home and I can't quote author or title alas) which is about the massive rise and fairly sudden fall of fraternal orders in the US.

The author speculates that the rituals that were the main focus of groups like Oddfellows and Masons were all about masculine identity and bonding in a world where middle class boys did not interact with men until adulthood. That the strict gender roles of mid 19thC society and the change from agrarian to urban meant they needed some kind of bonding and masculine identity and focus.

As gender roles became more fluid and society changed in the late 19th and early 20th C, the orders collapsed.

Perhaps there's similar forces at work here.

Not so much education seen as feminine but other things seen as more masculine?

And maybe a nasty feedback loop with the current hysteria about how school is all about girls. They think they can't succeed?

William Raspberry had an article some time ago in the Washington Post about the need for fathers, writing,

"Social scientists across the political spectrum tell us that father absence is a stronger predictor of criminal behavior than family income, education -- or (Bill Bennett, take note) race."

He also included an interesting anecdote on the influence of older elephant bulls on younger ones.
All of that pales in comparison to the knowledge that you and your wife are raising a smart, caring, thoughtful kid, doesn't it? I thought it would. Way to go TB!
The other selective thing about the App Academy is a rigorous entrance exam. From the article,
"The admission rate is “sub-10 percent,” Patel says."
That's less than ten percent of the mostly college graduates that apply.

Not quite a model for CC..

It's in the same bin as the MOOCs - works well for smart self-motivated people who already have tech skills, not so great for the 99%.
You state "the mechanism strikes me as pretty opaque". Do you really believe that TB would have the attitudes and instincts repeatedly mentioned here if the Dean Dad had never been in the home? (I should emphasize never, because that is what we are often talking about today. These are not the children of divorce. They are the children of a Baby Daddy, both white and black.)

Since my view of the study of non-existent fathers is more along the lines of "why didn't anyone notice this a decade ago", your puzzlement puzzles me. Ditto for economists who don't understand the fall of men in the workplace when women achieved college grad equality circa 1980 (look at the graph and subtract 10 from the year) and moved into a solid majority around 1990. The latter cohort is now in their mid-career peak years. Male leaders favoring male underlings over women can only last a generation or two under those circumstances.

BTW, I have learned from my students that the totally absent dad is a myth. The "Baby Daddy" knows who his kid is, so there is still a role model (of sorts) out there on the street if mom is still in the same neighborhood.
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