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.