Monday, June 27, 2011

Impact of Orthodox Education

One of these days (iy"H), I'm going to do a post about how to measure standards for Orthodox Jewish high schools, and how to judge how well they 'succeed.' I was actually just speaking to a good friend about this over the weekend- did our high school instill with us the correct values? What are the correct values? Schools should attempt to attract faculty that will have a meaningful impact on their students, but we haven't come to a clear consensus on what we want to the impact to be. In a post on Lookjed this morning, Dr. Elly D. Lasson (of Baltimore!) attempts to quantify measurable objectives for success in our schools. How did your [private, Jewish, Orthodox] high school do?

Morality in the Criminal Justice System

Sorry it's been over a month sine I've last posted. I stink; there is no valid explanation. However, I wanted to post this quick piece by William Galston about the government's decision to deny a prisoner's request to visit his dying father and subsequently attend his funeral. As Galston writes, although the prisoner in this story is Jonathan Pollard, the criminal's name is less important than the rights that prisoners, as people, are (or at least should be) owed in our society:
This is, of course, Jonathan Pollard’s story. But I presented it anonymously because it shouldn’t matter whose story it is. Pollard is a prisoner, but he is still a human being. Honoring our parents by burying them appropriately is one of the defining duties of our humanity. Preventing a human being from discharging that duty is an elemental wrong.

Governments typically deal in aggregates and make decisions affecting millions. Sometimes, however, it comes down to an encounter between state power and a single individual. I do not claim that the moral principles that shape relations among individuals transfer neatly to the acts of public authorities. There is a difference, even if we argue about the specifics of the distinction. Still, basic precepts of decency and mercy do not lose all force when one moves from private to public status.

The Secretary of State and the Attorney-General owe us an explanation. In fact, the President of the United States owes us an explanation. My question is simple: What considerations of public safety, or national security, or international relations were so weighty as to override the dictates of simple humanity?

I do not know whether it is standard practice in the U.S. penal system to allow prisoners to attend their parents’ funeral. If it isn’t, it should be. Nor do I know whether the Israeli government prevents some Palestinian prisoners from attending funerals, as Palestinian spokesmen have recently charged. If that is the case, the Israelis should reexamine their policy and ask themselves whether national security truly requires it.
I'm hoping to use the next couple of blog posts to write more about the nature of the criminal justice system. I want to explore the current system as I see it (spoiled alert: NOT GOOD, GUYS); what are its goals? How close are we to achieving those goals? (Another spoiled alert: NOT CLOSE AT ALL.) But more importantly, I want to focus on my ideal vision of what a criminal justice correction system should look like. Obviously, I'm not an expert, but I hope to explore some of these ideals in subsequent posts.

(Speaking of posts I want to write, let this be a checklist of things I won't get to:
1. The Wal-Mart Supreme Court case.
2. This 1939 Atlantic article about a non-Jewish woman's marriage to a Jewish man.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

In antici...pation of the AIPAC conference in DC next week

It's 4 AM, I have a huge headache and my voice is hoarse from the Yankee-Oriole game tonight. (Yanks won a pitchers' duel after 15 long innings!) BUT I have an important Thought. Well, not really. First off, let me say that I've been trying hard not to make this a blog about Israel, a, because there are enough important bloggers who write about Israel in a more clever and eloquent way thn I ever could and b, I'm interested in a lot more than just Israel.

But that having been said, I was looking through the confirmed speakers for the AIPAC conference next week and marveling about how impressive the list is, when I decided to refresh myself on who spoke at the J Street conference earlier this year, in February. Comparing the list of AIPAC's confirmed speakers to J Street's confirmed speakers, I think, make huge statements about which pro-Israel group matters more in Washington DC. The highest American official J Street brought, for example, was Dennis Ross (who sent his resignation letter into Obama only a few weeks later; I would suspect that when he spoke at the conference, he already knew he was leaving), along with five or so other Congressional representatives, while it amazes me that AIPAC is bringing President Obama, Speaker of the House John Boehner, majority leaders of both the House and the Senate, and several more. (Another consideration, by the way, is quality over quantity- if J Street could have brought in a top governmental official, they could have lost the Congresspeople.)

This isn't a statement about why AIPAC is given more legitimacy by Obama and the American government, or if they're right to do that; that's a different conversation. But in terms of who's part of the legitimate political conversation? It's not even close.

If you're curious about people or papers to read about Israel news, by the way, let me help! Here's a very basic primer:
A. Read all of obvious ones- Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, YNet, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal.
B. Read commentary by almost everyone at the New Republic (they'll all talk about Israel eventually, journalists can't help it, writing about Israel is an addiction), The Atlantic (especially Jeffrey Goldberg), Ben Smith at Politico, The Economist, and Andrew Sullivan.

Though you may disagree with plenty of the analyses, it doesn't seem too bold to acknowledge a clear link between reading/ knowledge expansion and critical thinking.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I obviously have more important things to do with with my time, BUT

So, Nakba Day, that happened. Round-up of news, yadda yadda yadda.

Andrew Sullivan says this:
The logic of the Arab Spring - self-determination and democracy as a fundamental right - cannot but involve Israel's occupation and continued settlement of the West Bank at some point. Israel is, after all, no longer the only democracy in the Middle East. It is just the only democracy forcibly occupying a foreign land and refusing to give the occupants full civil or political rights.
It gets frustrating and tiring to read things like this and to hear Andrew and others preaching over and over that if Israel just gave over the West Bank in its entirety, then everything would be fine. Does he honestly believe that if the two-state solution were already implemented, things like this would end?

Jeffrey Goldberg is pretty annoyed that Ethan Bronner (see the third "yadda" above) is "accepting the Hamas/Assad/Iran line" and ignoring the bottom line. Andrew Exum rocks it:
This will shock all some none of you, but Arab regimes have often cynically used the Palestinian cause to shift the focus away from their own failures and abuses. The clashes today are the best of news for Bashar al-Asad, and only the Lord knows how many brave Syrians will now be gunned down or thrown into prison in Homs, Douma, Hama, Baniyas, etc. while everyone's eyes are on the Lebanese, Syrian and Gazan borders with Israel. Just yesterday, we were all talking about terrified Syrians fleeing into northern Lebanon. Now Syria and its allies have either engineered or have been presented with the mother of all distractions from their own wretched and criminal behavior.
I think he's missing where Bronner does actually get to that (again, third "yadda"), but it's about halfway down in the article, and it's pretty short:
The chief Israeli military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, said on Israel Radio that he saw Iran’s fingerprints in the coordinated confrontations, although he offered no evidence. Syria has a close alliance with Iran, as does Hezbollah, which controls southern Lebanon, and Hamas, which rules in Gaza.

Yoni Ben-Menachem, Israel Radio’s chief Arab affairs analyst, said it seemed likely that President Assad of Syria was seeking to divert attention from his crackdown on the popular uprisings there by allowing confrontations in the Golan Heights for the first time in decades.

“This way Syria makes its contribution to the Nakba Day cause, and Assad wins points by deflecting the media’s attention from what is happening inside Syria,” he added.
But much more importantly, I think, Sullivan and Goldberg both miss one crucial tidbit from the Ynet article covering the Syrian break (second "yadda"), that some Syrian infiltrators were actually attempted to get out of Syria and stay in Israel!:
"I'm tired of living in Syria, we'd rather die than see more bloodshed," one of the Syrian infiltrators into Majdal Shams told Ynet earlier. He called on Israel to grant him asylum, adding: "We've crossed the border in order to stay with our families, away from all the killing in Syria. We ask the powers at be in Israel to help us stay and not send us back."

Other infiltrators told Ynet that "we come in peace," adding that they had decided to cross the border in the aims of living in the Golan Heights – "even if it means risking our lives." Still, others declared "we are here to liberate the Syrian Palestinian land. These people are Palestinian freeman, Allah willing, the Palestinian groups will not give up."

Some of those expressing a wish to remain on the Israeli side of the border, said the uprising against Syrian President Assad is proving more and more dangerous and that many Palestinians now fear for their lives.
Add this news to the recent polling that, if given a choice between a newly-created Palestinian state and Israel, many Arab Israeli residents of East Jerusalem would choose to live in Israel (35% choose Israel, 30% choose a Palestinian state, and 35% are unsure), and a pretty important picture emerges.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Der Tzeitung's doctored photo

There's been a lot of press recently about Der Tzeitung's decision to digitally erase secretary of state Hillary Clinton and director for counterterrorism Audrey Tomason from the now-iconic picture of Obama and the inner circle watching the live telecast of the raid inside Osama Bin Laden's compound. (See FailedMessiah, though he hat-tipped Critical Minyan.) And the criticism is all fair and true (Andrew Sullivan and Laura Rozen, among others, linked here) but I had two unrelated thoughts.

1. Why did this, davka, go viral? Sometimes what goes viral seems so arbitrary. Pictures like this run all the time in Charedi and Chasidic newspapers, including plenty where Clinton and other high-ranking officials are cut out. Why did this post suddenly go everywhere? Yes, I also read The Tipping Point, but still.

2. Second, and more important, is the depressing fact that that the doctored picture actually doesn't look that different. This is a room of twelve of the highest ranking government and military officials, watching the most important military operation of the war with terrorism, and only two of them are women? Jezebel jumped on the story, as they should, but why aren't they writing about this much more essential issue?

By the way, it must be said that when Ben Smith is linking to Vos Iz Neias, the world is a funny place.

UPDATE: Ben Smith found an awesome one!

Monday, May 2, 2011

bin Laden Killed

I haven't written in a while, but I just couldn't pass this one up. We can't possibly know what will happen tomorrow, next week, or next year, but for now, we celebrate, because there is a special significance in Osama Bin Laden's death. This man who orchestrated the deaths of thousands of Americans can never cause destruction or death again. A lot of people have been posting quotes on facebook but I think Mark Twain's resonates: "I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure."

I'm glad Obama didn't speak in front a live crowd while making the announcement tonight; there was an important solemnity and he was right to temper his words. That being said, today is a day for celebrating.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

2011 National Magazine Awards Finalists Announced! Yay!

Hey journalism buffs, or just those who like to read- exciting news! The American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) released the finalists for journalistic excellence today. The complete list and a breakdown of how different newspapers and magazines fared can be found on their site, and longform linked to all the individual articles. I'm so excited! I've only read a couple (how embarrassing), but I hope to catch up over the next few weeks. Enjoy!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sarah Kay: If I Should Have a Daughter...

I don't even know what to say for this one. My friend Avi made me watch this tonight to inspire and encourage me as I continue to slave over a personal statement for a post-BA fellowship for next year. Just watch it, seriously. Her TED bio says, "A performing poet since she was 14 years old, Sarah Kay is the founder of Project V.O.I.C.E, teaching poetry and self-expression at schools across the United States." In this talk, she explains why she became a spoken word poet. Finding my voice is one of the reasons I started writing this blog, and Sarah Kay (who is younger than me!) is an inspiration.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Come on, Jay-Z, you already have Beyonce, do you really need this?

Another example of excellent reporting in the Atlantic: Zach O'Malley Greenburg examines how Jay-Z led rap and hip hop's abrupt turn from Cristal to Armand de Brignac as the champagne of choice. The damning evidence that Jay-Z receives millions from featuring Armand de Brignac in his videos and associating himself with the brand is disappointing.

What goes along with Armand de Brignac is Jay-Z. The rap­per put the flashy bottle on the map when he featured it in his 2006 music video for "Show Me What You Got." The video is typical of mainstream hip-hop, with one pos­sible exception: toward the end, a waiter presents Jay-Z with a bottle of Cristal champagne, and Jay-Z declines with a sweep of his hand. In its place, he accepts a gold bottle of then-unknown Armand de Brignac. Coming from some­one who'd been rapping Cristal's praises for years--and once bragged that he was "popping that Cristal when all y'all thought it was beer"--this marked a major departure.
Jay-Z's rolling in it:
The math looks extremely favorable for Jay-Z. The production cost per bottle of Armand de Brignac is about $13; the wholesale price is $225. The maximum output is 60,000 bottles per year. If Jay-Z splits the $212-per-bottle profit evenly with Cattier and Sovereign, a back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests his annual take would be a little over $4 million. One of my sources confirmed that number, and added that Jay-Z may have received equity in Sov­ereign Brands worth about $50 million. All for dropping a few lyrical references and featuring Armand de Brignac in a couple of videos.
Great article, just superb reporting, but man, it's disappointing. I understand that rap and hip hop turned commercial a long time ago (no need for examples), but it still hurts to see how far hip hop has fallen.

UPDATE (March 28, 2011): The link has been dead since a couple of hours after I posted this. According to Politico on the 23rd, the Atlantic promised that they only had to make a few editorial changes and the page would be back up within 24 hours. On the 25th, the Atlantic told Fishbowl that the article hadn't gone through "routine editorial process," and it wouldn't be put back online. Very strange and disappointing. After much searching, I found the full article here.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Blogs blogs blogs

I apologize for not having blogged in several weeks, but it's been pretty crazy. This semester has been one of the busiest since I started school. I've still been reading my blogs (221 and counting!) but I haven't found time to write and give anything the attention it fully deserves.

While I recognize that there are so many crucial things in the world to write about right now- devastating murders in Itamar, Libya (including the UN's vote today), Japan, and the list goes on. Heck, NYTimes finally set a date to begin charging for content (with so many cracks, I almost wonder why they're bothering), the GOP race to the White House (or at least the race to the race to the White House) is finally getting semi-interesting, and more.

But instead of writing about those, because it's 2 AM, I just took an online midterm, I got 2 hours of sleep last night, and I have four meetings tomorrow, I'm going to write something a little more relaxing. I'm a blog and news freak, and I want to go into a little bit about what blogs, newspapers and magazines I read, and why I read the ones I do. Specifically, I'm going to highlight ten of them and explain why I like them. Please feel free to email or comment blogs that you read, love or hate, and why my choices are either amazing or awful. I'm always looking for more blog recommendations!

These aren't my top 10, but I think they're a great start, and a bit of a mix.

1. A Plain Blog About Politics. The description cannot be more clear than the title itself. While you won't (and I most certainly don't) understand every post, reading smart people writing well and simply about interesting topics is fun and important in and of itself.

2. BECAUSE I SAID SO. Yes, the Mommy blog world is unnecessarily huge, and most aren't particularly innovative. But I've always been interested in parenting, especially because I'm neurotic I'll be a bad one, and this blog reassures me that while parents don't always know what they're doing, that's okay. Plus, it's fun to read someone write about her crazy life and feel a little more sane.

3. Camp Yavneh Theory. A boy I went to college with started a project about the camp he's been attending for years. It's a fascinating read for anyone interested in informal Jewish education.

4. Curious Jew. I like a lot of her posts, I dislike a lot of her posts. Olivia is a frum Jewish girl, recently married. She's been blogging for a while, and is one of the most well-known frum bloggers. Considering her age and sex, that's pretty impressive.

5. Escaping the 9-to-5 before 25. My friends Amy and Yair moved out of their apartment in Riverdale, NY, sold most of their belongings, quit their corporate jobs, and bought an RV. They're currently living out West, while Amy dances, Yair hikes, and they generally live a life that I could never, ever enjoy. But they're having a blast, and you've got to appreciate that.

6. Gary Rosenblatt- Jewish Week. I've heard him speak numerous times and had meaningful conversations with the man, and there's no question that he's one of the most mature Jewish journalists out there.

7. Jeffrey Goldberg. If you haven't read Prisoners, do it. Now.

8. Kefizat Haderech. My friend Sammy is a chayal boded, a lone soldier in the Israeli army. He's gone through some tough emotional experiences, and he's incredibly honest and open about all of it. I miss him.

9. Kol Harav- Rabbinic Voices. Gil Student and Elli Fischer have taken the pains to translate important rabbinic statements into English, to make them more accessible to new audiences.

10. Longform. I don't even know what to say about this one. Longform bloggers scour the web for interesting articles from magazine such as Rolling Stone, Esquire, GQ, NYTimes Magazine, New Yorker, Wired, etc. I think I have loved 99% of the articles. This feed is a little more of a time commitment than the others, but I think it's worth it.

I know I didn't mention any obvious ones- including the best blog in the history of the WORLD, but I just assumed everyone already knew about that one.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Bright Girls

This article touches on themes I wrote about a couple of posts ago, discussing how praise heaped upon smart children affects them. This article takes a different approach than I've read in the past, focusing on the subset of Bright Girls and how they different from their male classmates.

Her major argument:
"She found that Bright Girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up; the higher the girls' IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel. In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses. Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts rather than give up.":

P.S. Hat tip, my mom! And to keep going with the family, my sister Zahava responded, "Nope. I don't have to fight within. I know that I'm smarter than 90% of the women in my classes and 99.9% of the men." Classic.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Sullivan's Departure from the Atlantic

I've been unable to concentrate on a paper due in a couple of hours because I've been focusing on a fundamental question (for nerds and wonks, that is)- what does Andrew Sullivan's move from The Atlantic to The Daily Beast mean?

Well, it's really not clear. It only happened about 5 hours ago, and most bloggers haven't touched it yet, especially not to talk about anything deep. Ben Smith reported it first, and Jeffrey Goldberg gave a personal recollection about his importance as a blogger, but that's all so far. Everyone has reported it on Twitter (Yglasias, Klein, et al.) but none have details, or have been talking about the implications and larger context.

I have some questions, but nothing too thought out. Bear with me, if this is at all interesting to you. (Thanks to my friend Mikey, who helped me think through most of this and added insights, as always.)

First off, the Atlantic is a reputable magazine with a rich history. And with the journalism field suffering as it has been the past few years, it's one of the few magazine that has managed not only to balance impressive blog and articles, but improve and grow as a magazine. (And without having to charge for internet content, which is obviously important for those of us who are students and/or broke.) The Atlantic has really proven itself to be a premiere magazine in a lot of ways. NYTimes wrote a nice piece a couple of months ago about their business model and how they've used web integration in a way that other magazines should emulate- read it here. Why would Sullivan jump ship from the Atlantic, which is clearly moving upwards and has an incredible reputation, to the Daily Beast? DB just doesn't have the same name as the Atlantic; does Sullivan not care about that? Is he confident enough that his reputation will only boost DB's? In his goodbye post, he writes about how excited he is about the Newsweek and DB merge, and that this experiment in online media and journalism is "just too fascinating and exciting a challenge to pass up," but I'm a bit skeptical.

Second, with that having been said, and with Sullivan's admiration for the Atlantic (and he mentioned in his goodbye post and in many posts in the past), why specifically would he want to leave? Forget about the appeal of experimenting with online media (sheesh, speaking of nerds...), what were problems as the Atlantic that encouraged him to find a better deal? Did he not have enough freedom to write what he pleased, to hire whomever he wanted for the Dish, etc.? It doesn't seem like it, and he's never mentioned having a problem there. But who knows? There are always internal politics at play.

Third, it's clear that the Atlantic will take a hit without the traffic from Andrew's millions of visitors. That saddens me. As a follower of multiple Atlantic blogs (Jeffrey Goldberg and Ta-Nehisi Coates are two of my favorites), what will happen to the blogging world of the Atlantic? How much traffic will they lose? Will great bloggers now aspire to go to the Daily Beast? ...Seriously?

Lastly, and I think, most importantly, Sullivan and the Dish had a huge impact on the Atlantic, and really shaped the direction it has taken in the past few years. What happens now, both for the Atlantic and for DB? Mikey asked, "is this a harbinger of making Newsweek more like the Atlantic, or making Sullivan more like Newsweek?" My guess is that Sullivan will be Sullivan, and that DB and Newsweek will either shape himself to be more like him, or just let him be to do his thing. It's hard to attempt a guess about the shifts the Atlantic might take.

As always, looking for feedback!

(Oh, and seeing this is a post about blogging- mazal tov to me! Last week I finally hit 200 blogs on my RSS feed!)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

On Parenting and Praise

I'm using this post to reflect on my upbringing a little bit, through the jumping-off point of the New York Magazine article just published by Po Bronson about the importance of using specific praise. (Instead of the more general "You're so smart!" or "You did a great job!," saying things like "Your effort showed!") This has been gaining more and more traction in the parenting world (and, I guess, in the larger world of psychology). What I'm not going to do here is write about the article itself- it's fascinating, and you should take a look at it, but I'm thinking now about how my childhood fits into the premise of the article.

This is definitely going to be one of my more intimate posts, and it's possible that I'll have a change of heart in a couple of days and take it down. Let me say, to start off, that I hope it is clear that my parents are not to be blamed for any of my faults. I have amazing parents, who both gave me great self-esteem and encouraged me in all areas. I have, by and large, been relatively successful in things that I wanted to do, and all the thanks for that goes to them and G-d. If in any way in this post I seem to disparage them, please email me and I will attempt to change the language to show its true meaning, because the true meaning is never, ever that they have done anything wrong. The second thing to understand before reading this post is that I am not that smart. I'm smart, sure, I'm not dumb, and I can be clever, but I am not that smart. More importantly, especially for the purposes of this article, I am not as smart as I always thought I was.

I think that's the key here- because I constantly heard growing up about how smart I was, I assumed I was really smart. Like, genius. Top 1%, all that. I think a lot of us, especially people I have been surrounded by (private Jewish school in New Jersey, now Hopkins) have been told all their lives that they're smart. In my mind, at least, that's standard. What good parent doesn't tell their kid that he or she is smart? (Well, according to this article, good parents shouldn't.)

For argument's sake, what the heck, let's say that I was top 1%, or at least top 1% potential. But, as any pre-teen obsessed with An Abundance of Katherines and other John Green books knows, genius means nothing without work and motivation. And even if I had potential, I am pretty convinced that I blew it. Having been told I was smart, and seeing that my sister, who was two years also and never did work, always got great grades and constant praise for her genius, I figured doing more than the bare minimum just wasn't necessary. This carried from my earliest years through high school- I don't think I studied for a single AP exam more than a few hours, and I obviously had mixed results. I didn't do anything for the SATs beyond a few practice tests the week before, whereas my best friends in high school (who, I might add, were all much smarter than I was) all studied.[1]

The laziness is, of course, related to a fear of not succeeding in the way you've been raised to believe you should. Bronson writes:
But as Thomas has progressed through school, this self-awareness that he’s smart hasn’t always translated into fearless confidence when attacking his schoolwork. In fact, Thomas’s father noticed just the opposite. “Thomas didn’t want to try things he wouldn’t be successful at,” his father says. “Some things came very quickly to him, but when they didn’t, he gave up almost immediately, concluding, ‘I’m not good at this.’ ” With no more than a glance, Thomas was dividing the world into two—things he was naturally good at and things he wasn’t.

I can relate to that completely. Things that weren't natural to me, that took actual effort, made me shut down. I believed both that I couldn't do it, that it was too hard, and that, if I were so smart, I would be able to succeed anyway! I have distinct memories of thinking that there was something wrong with the teacher (what chutzpah of me, honestly!), because I was so smart, of course I should be able to understand! I'm embarrassed to recall that, and I feel bad for whoever had to attempt to teach me things I refused to learn. Man, was I a dumb kid. (See?)

I've had many similar conversation with my older sister, who's currently raising a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. We believe, and see in ourselves a little bit, that because we've consistently been told how smart we are (and definitely my sister more than me, believe me), we were lazy and assumed everything would come naturally to us. Therefore my sister dislikes when I or other family members tell my elder niece that she's brilliant or beautiful. She'd rather we focus on specific things, like complimenting the shoes she picked out in the morning, or a drawing she made- something specific.

When I think about my experiences growing up, it's definitely true that I was told that I was smart way more often than I was praised for my effort, in school or in anything else. I remember my parents coming home from parent teacher conferences full of my teachers' praises. But let's play some hypotheticals- how would things have been different if, say, my parents had withheld the praise and focused more on the teachers who had offered ways to improve? What if, instead of being praised for getting a good hit in league softball, I would have been praised for working hard in practice? I honestly don't have memories of being praised for things like that- but is that because my parents' parenting methods were not focused on individualized praise, or because I never worked hard, and therefore never had reason to be praised for it? Depressing, but probably true. but if I had been given suggestions, or praise for work that came after I attempted to fulfill those suggestions, would I have tried harder? It's hard to say what would have happened had I been raised for effort.

Alright, post finished. Please let me know your thoughts- on the article, on your own experiences, anything. If you'd like to keep them private, send me an email, but I think there is value in sharing these types of things so others can appreciate divergent experiences from their own. Even if it includes divulging that you thought you were smarter than your teacher- gosh, that's embarrassing.

[1] Weirdly enough, they also did better than me!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Shalom Academy to Open in Bergen County

I've recently been reading in the local papers about Shalom Academy, the new Hebrew language immersion charter school opening in the Englewood-Teaneck area soon. (The exact location of the Bergen County facility has not yet been announced.) Tamar Snyder, from the Jewish Week just published an article about the school's first information session, and I think a lot of the things she highlights are important to review.

First she quotes the school's mission from the founder, Raphael Bachrach: "to graduate students that are proficient in the Hebrew language.” Sounds good to me! Then, she expands:
Students in kindergarten and first grade in the kindergarten to fifth grade school will spend only a quarter of the day learning in English; subjects such as math, science, and history will be taught exclusively in Hebrew. ... Research has shown that “dual-language immersion is proven to enhance cognitive development and increase self-esteem,” he said. ... Students in grades two through five will spend half of their day learning subjects such as math and science in Hebrew. Language arts, health, and history will be taught in English.
Aside from my confusion about the math here, this reminds me of the Montreal system that a lot of my friends went through. It's definitely impressive and slightly daunting. (Just imagine how some of these parents are going to feel when their kids come home speaking Hebrew!) However, when I compare this to my friends' experience in Montreal- six to seven years after high school, their French though obviously better than mine, is not as impressive I would have expected.
It is unclear how much effort the charter school has put into outreach within the black and Latino communities, as the roughly 500 people who filled the packed auditorium did not reflect the true diversity of the district. Most were white and many men wore yarmulkes.
Pretty interesting demographic. I wonder, though, how many of the yarmulke-wearing crowd will actually apply for spots in the school for their children.
The Englewood and Teaneck school districts are about half black, a quarter Hispanic, and 10 percent Asian, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
Wow! That means a maximum of 15% of the Englewood and Teaneck school districts are white? That's actually pretty shocking. In fact, slightly unbelievable. Especially when the 2000 census seems to have completely different statistics.[1] Maybe she means to say that the vast majority of the white kids in the area go to private schools, and don't use the public school system? If so, that's not very clear; also, it's still probably not enough to drive the student body to only 10% white.
When children are ages 3 to 10, “that is the time in which activity of the brain is twice as quick,” [Willaum, acting head of school] told the crowd. “That is the time in which we should be immersing our children in a second language.”
I don't disagree, but Willaum seems to go back and forth on this in the article- is the goal congitive development and a boost in self-esteem, or complete language fluency? We can say it's all three, sure, but I still have my doubts about real mastery of a language when it's only used in a school setting.

And, my favorite...
Bachrach was asked whether the school would administer the placement exam for yeshiva high schools that is administered by The Jewish Education Project. The test is known as the BJE, for the organization’s former name, the Board of Jewish Education. Bachrach said he was unfamiliar with the exam. After being informed by an audience member, he responded “absolutely not.”
Love it.

[1] The zip codes of Englewood and Teaneck are 07631 and 07666, respectively.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Mixed-Race Pride

Very interesting article by Susan Saulny of the NYTimes about a student group in UMD called the Multiracial and Biracial Student Association. Very, very cool.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Becky Blanton

There's been a lot going on lately, but nothing that I especially cared to blog about, but then tonight, I read When My Car Was the Safest Place to Live, a Salon article by Becky Blanton about her personal relationship with homelessness. Then I watched her TED Talk, "The Year I Was Homeless."

Both made me slightly teary. I'm so impressed to see someone break out of that painful cycle and move on to educate people about homelessness. (Also, check out her blog!)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Quick Thoughts About the Shooting in Arizona

I've been in Florida for the past week without real internet access (checking my email and facebook a couple times a day doesn't count), so I haven't really been up to date on anything beyond basic cable news. I'm slowly catching up, but I'll probably have to be content with missing about three days worth of blogs, especially because I want to head to the pool in a couple of minutes to catch the last hour of today's sunshine. (I'm going home tomorrow night- I have to enjoy every minute I have in the only state in America that currently has no snow!)

So I'll just post some quick thoughts about the awful shooting this week and even though my quick skimming this afternoon has shown that many people have written smarter and more articulate thoughts than my own, here's what I have from the shooting in Arizona this week:

1. Inflammatory rhetoric is bad; blaming shooting sprees on inflammatory rhetoric is also pretty bad.

2. I keep imagining the situation of these parents, who have been holed up in their home, basically crying for days straight. Most parents don't know what they're doing when they raise kids, and especially ones with severe mental illnesses. Parents, cops, friends and the university didn't see this coming, but everyone besides the parents can move on.

3. Sarah Palin is just...I don't even have words. Josh Marshall from TPM put it best- "Today has been set aside to honor the victims of the Tucson massacre. And Sarah Palin has apparently decided she's one of them." (Ezra Klein had very good response, check it out.)

4. Pretty impressed with Boehner through all this. Make fun of his constant weeping all you want, but there's something to be said for emotional politicians when tragedies hit. It's good for America to remember that the most important part of this horrible event is the murder of innocent people.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Study Takes on the Shidduch "Crisis"

Disclaimer: some of the language in this post may be new for readers not used to Modern Orthodox vocabulary. Comment anything you don't understand, or for you brave souls, feel free to google away.

There's a recently published YNet article about single, young religious women titled Study: What (Religious) Women Want.

Nothing in this article (or study) seems to be a fascinating chiddush, and I especially love the photo they chose (I'm telling you, it's like John Legend look-alikes haunt me) but I found some parts interesting. I found this quotation particularly good:

"An additional paradox is the conflict between the traditional views on marriage and relationships and the sector's modern views. Today most religious women have an equalitarian view yet at the same time, still have the traditional view with regards to a man's role – from the religious domain and through to the internal management of the household.

"Most religious women still hold with the traditional views that the man must be more than them – taller, more educated, earns more. The problem is that they themselves have advanced and hold key positions. Earn well, have masters and doctorate degrees. These two conflicting views must live together under one roof, and they don't have a clear message."

Definitely truth to that. Obviously, I'm neither saying that this correlates at all to the shidduch "crisis,"[1] nor that this is only true to the Orthodox community. But there is truth in this. [2]

[1] The fact that I use the term doesn't mean I actually think there is a crisis, in case the quotation marks don't make it clear.

[2] Although I hate the xtranormal videos, some parts of this video shows this problem in the young, successful black community. (Feel free to stop watching at around 2:00 in; they use language some may find inappropriate.)