Outdoor Schooled


I got back last week from a trek out into the California redwoods to visit my brother. He’s a teacher at an outdoor education school, where students spend a week exploring the forest and Pacific coast as a state-mandated part of fifth grade curriculum.

Aside from seeing my baby bro all grown up and kicking ass in a highly challenging job, it was a cool policy to see in action. Here in 2016, us humans are growing more aware of the damage we’re doing to the natural world. But we’re also regaining our awareness of the benefits of being connected to it. Studies have found, for instance, that tree density is correlated with human health, and that nature walks mitigate ruminative thoughts. In California, I was surprised to see how much ten-year-olds (many of them who lead pretty difficult lives back home, including the kid silhouetted against the sea anemone in this photo) were connecting. They absorbed themselves in plucking edible plants from the forest floor, writing in journals under giant trees, and turning over rocks to find hermit crabs.

I had thought today’s kids would already be too cool for this by fifth grade, but no: my brother joked that he and his fellow teachers measure their performance each week according to the proportion of kids crying at the end of it. So maybe more of school should happen outdoors, no?

Support Education and Medical Care in Bella Vista, Bolivia

I’m raising money to send to missionaries in Bolivia who provide free medical care and house children so that they can go to school. To donate and receive some prints of my awesome Bella Vista photos as a token of thanks, click here.

This year, I spent a month in Bella Vista, Bolivia with the Missionaries of the Holy Sacrament and Virgin Mary, teaching English and chess to children. The missionaries run a medical clinic, preschool and boarding house for about 25 students, aged four to 16, who attend school in Bella Vista. Each of the programs makes a big difference in the lives of people in this rural, agricultural region of Bolivia, and they do so with meager resources. I’m raising funds to send them so they can make some much-needed purchases to improve the quality of life for the people they serve.

The clinic offers its services free of charge, and even houses patients who have come from other towns. The preschool helps low-income families prepare their children for school and allows mothers extra free time to earn an income for their family. And the boarding house, in addition to giving children from rural communities a chance to go to school, has also provided refuge for children at risk of domestic violence or indentured child labor.

Your donation will be used by the missionaries in one of the following ways:

  • Purchasing medical supplies such as medicines or latex gloves, which are currently scarce.
  • Buying children’s literature, English books, clothes, and games for the boarding house, which currently doesn’t have a large supply of these materials.
  • Repairs to the preschool building, which has accumulated mold and structural damage from heavy jungle rains. Also replacing the wood stove kitchen, which is near classrooms and emits a lot of smoke that the children then breathe.
  • Reserves for basic goods. With global climate change, food prices in the fragile Amazonian ecosystem are unstable. For instance, flooding in eastern Bolivia destroyed most of the rice and sugar harvest this year, raising the cost of food at the boarding house.

Unfortunately, there is no registered 501c3 in the US supporting the missionaries’ work. I will gather the funds and then wire them to Bella Vista. The missionaries will compile a report of how the money is spent, which will then be sent to donors. Thank you so much for your support!

More photos of Bella Vista here.
Photos from my South America series here.

Noam Chomsky On “Corporatization Of The University”

Last month, leading leftist intellectual and pioneering linguist Noam Chomsky gave a lecture at the University of Michigan on “the corporatization of the university.”

Chomsky called the advent of public education in the 19th century a “great achievement,” but also argued that the creators of the modern school system were far from benevolent and viewed education as a means of social control. Read More

College Is Not Just Job Training

“The idea of becoming a better person—that, I think, is what education is ultimately about,” William Astore, a professor at the Pennsylvania College of Technology, told Campus Progress.

Astore has written on the trouble of viewing education as a commodity, a means to an economic end. He argues that education is also valuable because it improves critical thinking, ethical living, and personal self-actualization.

There’s a great illustration of this in a 2006 report from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It describes Marie Rose, a Burundian refugee who had been granted asylum in Cuba, where higher education is free.

Marie Rose showed off a litany of diplomas to the UNHCR reporter—she had completed courses in “Spanish, Italian, computer studies, massage, negotiation and secretarial skills amongst others,” according to the report.

Not because those certifications would score her a job, but simply because Cuba’s de-commodified education system had given her the opportunity.

The whole thing at Campus Progress.

Should College Athletes Be Paid?

The idea might make you wince. But the status quo should make you wince even more:

Here is the central paradox of American college sports: It’s a multibillion-dollar entertainment spectacle, but the people who make it all possible—the athletes—don’t get any of the profits.

To resolve the contradiction, the NCAA has for decades relied upon the notion of the student-athlete. The idea is that college athletes aren’t professionals, but rather young people playing a sport as one of the myriad activities available on a college campus designed to cultivate all-around personal growth; “the Athenian concept of a complete education derived from fostering the full growth of both mind and body,” according to a federal judge quoted in Taylor Branch’s must-read investigation “The Shame of College Sports.” For their time and effort, student-athletes are compensated not in cash, but in scholarships that make their education possible.

But critics argue that, in practice, there is hardly a healthy balance between “student” and “athlete.”

“Ask a player what would happen if they didn’t show up to a workout or game, even if they were attending class,” said Ramogi Huma, president of the National College Players Association, a non-profit that advocates for college players. “They would lose their scholarship.”

The rest at Campus Progress.

Affirmative Action Is About More Than Diversity

I don’t fault the Supreme Court for focusing on diversity in their decision, but the conversation about affirmative action needs to be broader in scope:

“The original goal of affirmative action is to ensure that people who have been historically discriminated against—oppressed—have access to education and jobs. We’ve lost track of that,” said Mychal Denzel Smith, a Knobler Fellow at the Nation Institute who has written about the Court’s decision and the emphasis on diversity.

A quick look at the data makes the weight of this history clear. As we wrote last week, African-Americans still face unemployment and poverty rates that far exceed the rates for white Americans.

And it’s not just history, either; we still haven’t achieved equal opportunity based on class or race. Just a few examples: Standardized tests are culturally biased. Smith noted that programs like New York City’s “stop and frisk” disproportionately target youth of color and damage their future career prospects. And being born into a rough environment can make learning nearly impossible—The Atlantic editor Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote that “on an average day in middle school [in inner-city Baltimore], fully a third of my brain was obsessed with personal safety.”

Each example speaks to the value of affirmative action, but none are captured by the diversity paradigm. Why, then, does diversity dominate the conversation?

Continued at Campus Progress.

Are Unions Better Than College?

Stupid question, smart (hopefully) answer. I reported on a new study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research:

The authors found that a 25 percent boost in college graduates (from 34.9 to 43.6 percent) would result in a 2.8 percent bump in the number of Americans with good jobs (from 24.1 to 26.9 percent).

Not bad, right? But also far from ideal.

A comparable increase in unionization would be even better, raising the proportion of good jobs to 30.8 percent.

The other policies also fare better than education. Universal health care would lift 4.8 percent of us into good jobs, and universal retirement plans would boost the figure by 9.6 percent. The two would be even stronger if combined, increasing the good job rate by 20.9 percentage points. Gender pay equity would bring 5.6 percent of female workers over the good job threshold.

The whole thing is at Campus Progress.

Science Majors: Enough, But Not Enough

A recent study by the Economic Policy Institute found that despite conventional wisdom, there is no job market shortage for science and technology graduates.

At Campus Progress, I wrote that despite the lack of excess demand, we would still benefit from more science. It’s a classic market failure:

There’s an important distinction to be made between the market’s demand for science and our society’s interest in investing in it. Just because private companies aren’t hiring STEM grads doesn’t mean we couldn’t use more of them.

“Market failure,” is the term economists use to identify areas “where the free market won’t necessarily produce the optimal outcome,” Daniel Keuhn, one of the authors of the EPI report, said.

Often market failures result in too much of something. Pollution, for instance: If the government didn’t regulate it, the free market would produce way more than we want. For scientific research, though, it’s the reverse.

“If we left the market alone, we’d probably be producing less science than would be optimal,” Keuhn told Campus Progress.

For the reasons why, read the rest.

What High Youth Unemployment Means For Our Economy


Probably not what you intended to do with that BA in English. When the economy recovers, will there still be college graduates working low wage jobs?

More than a quarter million American college graduates worked for minimum wage last year—that’s 70 percent more than ten years ago. We can all agree that’s a sign of an unhealthy economy.

But what kind of unhealthy? Is degreed underemployment just a product of the Great Recession, or does it reflect more fundamental economic problems?

In a recent paper, economists Paul Beaudry, David A. Green, and Benjamin M. Sand argue that there has been a “great reversal” in the demand for skilled labor. That is, fewer employers need to hire employees with college degrees. The Daily Beast’s Megan McArdle suggested that the findings mean “A BA is now a ticket to a job in a coffee shop.”

Ominously, the reversal began well before the recession started.

“Many researchers have documented a strong, ongoing increase in the demand for skills in the decades leading up to 2000,” the researchers wrote. “In this paper, we document a decline in that demand in the years since 2000, even as the supply of high education workers continues to grow.”

So does that mean we’re headed for an education surplus? Are those college-educated minimum-wagers here to stay?

It’s too early to tell, according to Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“I do think we will need more college grads,” Baker told Campus Progress. “The question is: do we need them at the same rate we’re producing them? And that’s just much less clear.”

To find out for sure, though, we’ll have to bring the economy back to full employment.

“Let’s assume the economy does recover five, six years out,” Baker said. “I think we’ll see a lot of college grads working at jobs that would not ordinarily require college degrees.”

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be working for minimum wage. Even if it’s not a requirement for the job, employers will likely still be willing to shell out for the skill set and credentials provided by a college degree.

But, once the economy has recovered, if college-educated Americans still find themselves in dead-end jobs, there might be a political gain in their economic pain. As The Roosevelt Institute’s Dorian Warren said recently:

“The Millennials who are more privileged and get to boomerang are finally starting to feel and realize just a sliver…of what these groups of poor black and brown kids are experiencing, and that does open up possibilities for alliance and solidarity.”

Posted at Campus Progress. Photo: Flickr / Judy Baxter

Will UC-Berkeley Occupiers Get Justice?

At Campus Progress, I wrote about protests, police, privatization, a lawsuit, and the future of UC-Berkeley:

Video of the afternoon raid shows police officers thrusting batons into the chest of seemingly nonbelligerent protestors. But participants say the real violence came after dark. Morgan Crawford, one of the protesters, told Campus Progress:

It felt like we were in a war zone—we had these militaristic police officers who were charging at us from the front, yelling at us, pushing us, and beating us with these weighted batons. We had the press moving in and taking flash photos, so there were these random strobes of light, and then you get beaten. And then you get yelled at. And there was this huge, large mass of people just moving and struggling, and the person to your right is getting pulled out of the crowd and just screaming bloody murder because she’s being on the ground and pulled down by her hair. […] A very large officer who was beating my friend then turned to me, took a baton, and started beating the side of my leg repeatedly, which was excruciatingly painful, and caused me to double over in pain.

In an email to Campus Progress, UC–Berkeley Strategic Communications Director Janet Gilmore said that Chancellor Robert Birgeneau “has been very clear in stating that [the police response to] the events of that day, even if legally justifiable, are disturbing and inconsistent with the values and traditions of this institution.”

Crawford said he managed to avoid arrest but spent weeks on crutches. Now, he is one of 29 participants suing police officers for excessive force and suing university administrators for ordering the injurious police response and violating the protestors’ First Amendment rights.

But for the plaintiffs, the case is about more than free speech or police misconduct. To them, their protest—and the university’s response—are manifestations of a broader political and economic battle over the nature of public education at Berkeley.

Read the whole thing

Here’s Your Crisis: Student Loan Debt Isn’t A Myth [Infographic]

The student loan crisis is a myth.

So say Nicole Allan and Derek Thompson, who argue in this month’s issue of The Atlantic that the economic returns of college far outweigh the burden of student loan debt.

“Horror stories of students drowning in $100,000+ in debt might discourage young people from enrolling in college, but they are as rare as they are terrifying,” Allan and Thompson wrote in the article. “The economic value of college, meanwhile, is indisputable.”

Allan and Thompson looked for crisis in the wrong places. Six-figure calamities are indeed rare, but millions of Americans are caught between stubbornly weak labor markets and increasingly costly higher education.

1. The employment prospects for young grads are pretty gloomy. According to an Associated Press analysis, 53 percent of recent college graduates are either unemployed or not putting their degree to use

2. Because of the weak job market, borrowers are struggling more and more to keep up with payments. According to TransUnion, federal student loan delinquencies shot up 27 percent between 2007 and 2012. (Private loan delinquencies dropped 2 percent.) 

3.Ddon’t expect the problem to go away once the economy picks up. As Campus Progress recently reported, the growth in Americans with degrees is far outpacing the growth in jobs that require them, meaning jobs that offer a secure path to debt repayment will become ever more competitive.

4. But repayment is already causig hardship: 13 percent of students whose loans came due in 2009 to default on their debt by 2012. Another 26 percent are delinquent, on the cusp of default.

5. It’s not just a debt crisis—it’s an affordability crisis.

CNN Money found that the cost of attending a public university has more than doubled since 1988, even as Americans’ median income stagnated. If our incomes had kept pace with the cost of higher education, the average American would now make $77,000 yearly. 

Finally, the cost of college prevents many low-income Americans from even seeking a higher education. Forty-eight percent of adults aged 18 to 34 without degrees told the Wall Street Journal that they can’t afford to go to college.

Among high schoolers who score highly on the SAT and ACT, 80 percent of kids from wealthy families go on to get college degrees, compared with just 44 percent of those from low-income families. Student loan debt not only makes life miserable for many graduates, it prevents some Americans from even setting foot on a college campus. That’s what we call a crisis.

Posted at Campus Progress.

Why Can’t College Graduates Find College-Graduate Work?

Recent grads

Good luck on the job hunt, grads. You’re gonna need it.

Kate really wants to work in Washington. This young Ivy League alumna, recently profiled in the Washingtonian, has been interning for a year and a half—at a political outfit, a media company and now a law firm. Until she finds salaried professional work, Kate is waiting tables in the evenings to make ends meet, which means she often works 15-hour days.

About half of recent grads are, like Kate, in jobs that don’t require a four-year degree, and the problem is only going to get worse. In the next decade the number of degree-holders will grow more than twice as fast as the growth in jobs that require them.

Why then, are so many young Americans like Kate dead set on college-level employment? And why are they willing to take on tens of thousands of dollars of potentially crippling student loan debt in order to secure a college education?

Here’s a hypothesis: What if the overstock of American college graduates is not a reflection on the market for educated labor, but rather on the decreasing quality of alternatives?

In the eyes of many Americans, “It’s either ‘I have to go to college or I’m going to work at Wal-mart,’” Janelle Jones, researcher at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, said. Jones co-authored the report “Where Have All the Good Jobs Gone?” which found that since 1979, the economy’s ability to generate what the authors consider “good jobs” has diminished by about a third. This is due to deregulation, privatization, a declining minimum wage and a decrease in union membership.

The Atlantic’s Richard Florida wrote last year that with the decline of American manufacturing, workers in the U.S. now fall mostly into one of two classes. The creative class, about a third of working Americans, averages more than $70,000 in take-home pay. Meanwhile, everyone else—about 60 million people—are in the service class, and make an average of just over $30,000.

So where does college fit in to all this? To oversimplify, young Americans once faced a choice between going to college and working a unionized manufacturing or government job with benefits and a middle-class wage. The choice now is between trying to angle your way into the creative class, or working for tips at a restaurant with no benefits or job security.

“The restaurant offered me something full-time, but that’s not a field I want to go into,” Kate told the Washingtonian. Can you blame her?

Mirrored from Campus Progress. Photo: Flickr / scot2342