Monday, February 27, 2006

Education Woes

Last weekend I attended the Norman Amaker Public Interest Law Retreat outside Indianapolis. I met lots of great students, teachers, lawyers, and other folks who try to make the world better, and have a renewed and reinforced interest in joining them.

One of the session topics was "Discrimination in Education," and a lot of difficult issues were raised in that session. The first was ESL students. One of the panelists pointed out (I think fairly) that schools often misdiagnose learning or behavior problems and fail to deal appropriately with them. For example, we expect a transient 4th-grader to learn English, but to ask a teacher to learn Spanish is "unrealistic," so the ESL teacher (who often doesn't know Spanish either!) becomes the "expert" any time there is ANY problem with the kid.

Another problem frequently identified is the obvious disparity between "rich schools" and "poor schools" (often labeled "Title I schools"). In New York, one district spends approx. $11,000 per pupil, while another (right across town) spends $3,000 per pupil. Clearly, one of those groups is at a disadvantage. One of the panelists was a former AmeriCorps teacher at a Title I school in NYC who said for the first two weeks she was short about 8 desks and had to have some of her 5th-graders sit on the rug (that she purchased). Her school of over 1,000 elementary students had ONE special needs teacher and TEN (!) child schizophrenics. 100% of the students were on free lunch. Um. Anyone see something wrong with this picture? Not meeting testing standards is the LEAST of this school's problems.

Third issue touched, relating to the second: vouchers. Almost everyone there was OVERWHELMINGLY against them. Their point: if you give people $2,000 to go to any school they want, (1) there may not be a better school available, and (2) if there is, they can guarantee it will cost more than $2,000. Hence, only the parents with means (who care to apply their money there) will be able to get their kids out of the "failing" schools, they will take their tax money with them, and leave all "the rest of them" to sink further. Something about that really bothers me. Call me a silly idealist, but I don't like the thought of there being a "the rest of them" in America.

Issue not touched but probably should have been: We threw the words "success" and "failing" around a lot, but never really defined them. What is a "failing" school? When can a student be said to have "succeeded"? Does it have to do with test scores? College admission? Happy and well-adjusted graduates (I challenge you to put a number on THAT)? My high school in Florida was great--if you were one of the privileged. We were an 'A' school--high rate of test passage, lots of AP students, college admission. But what about the "other" students at my school. Did they just get written off as that other 10% that, no matter what you do, just isn't ever going to look good on paper? I was given everything I could want at that school because I made it money. I passed AP tests, standardized tests, went to college. What about the students who didn't?

Friday, February 17, 2006

If I may...

Inherently Funny Word

This was referenced in class today. Here is a small excerpt from the article. You may want to pace yourself for the whole thing, the references are quite extensive.

Determining whether a word is inherently funny, some say, is subjective and based on context. Therefore, there can never be a consensus on the answer of "What is funny?", or many other questions explaining the nature of such an abstract concept.

It is part of the mythology of actors and writers that the consonant plosives (so called because they start suddenly or "explosively"); that is: p, b, t, d, k, and g are the funniest sounds in the English language - particularly when found in short words since these "create the greatest tension" (tension being a key to comedy). Example: Underpants is funny, underwear is not. Shorter words are held to "create tension" because separating words from the normal flow of speech is very difficult cognitively, and it's more difficult to discern whether a short word has ended or not. Now look again at that list of funniest words. Duck is not only admirably short but both starts and ends in a plosive, and the other plosives are legion.

Additionally, the meaning of the word certainly plays a factor. "Duck" is funny in nearly every language, presumably because ducks are seen as a silly animal. Additionally, when taboos are associated with certain words, that can make a word humorous. The ideal funny word, then, would have the proper linguistic characteristics, a humorous meaning, and be well fitting the context of the situation and the character of the speaker.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


The beginning of our obstetric pathology unit at school just happened to coincide with the Roe v Wade discussion here. Since I find this topic fascinating and somewhat relevant, I thought a spinoff post about the science of conception might be fun. I'll post things I think are interesting for a non-medical audience as I learn them, including carry-overs from our Roe v Wade thread.

Monday, February 13, 2006


Wired News thinks it's found The Secret Cause of Flame Wars. Heh. </bemused>

hat tip: Andrew Gerber

Thursday, February 09, 2006

liter fare

If you haven't the time or taste for the discussion below, try this on for size! Gillette has just introduced a new razor with five (6 if you count the extra one on the back for those "tough to reach" spots) blades. 6 blades?!! I'm a one or two blade man, myself. I have used the tri-blade Mach 3 on occasion but 6? Is this going to far? Or is it a great advance for men everywhere who need to get those "tough to reach" spots? Blog away.

Roe v Wade

I beg your indulgences now, before I begin, for I have not the expertise to discuss the finer legal points of this ruling but must instead resort to its medical implications and mammoth symbolic significance. I have stated that although I consider myself to be pro-life, I do not wish for Roe v Wade to be overturned. My reasons for this relate to the relative safety of legal vs illegal abortion and the fact that legal abortion lends itself to tight regulation. Medically, a legal induced abortion in the first trimester is a relatively safe procedure. Many studies have attempted to estimate the relative risk of abortion-related mortality vs pregnancy-related mortality. All of these studies are limited by a tendency to undereport abortion-related deaths and the universally poorer overall health statistics of abortion recipients. Still most of the data indicate the risk of death related to normal pregnancy is at least an order of magnitude higher than the risk of death from legal induced abortion. Other defenses for the safety of legal abortion point to the high mortality rates for abortion prior to Roe v Wade and the persistently high mortality rates for abortion in countries where the procedure is illegal. Of course there are many confounding variables in this type of data which I can list for you, but I merely wanted to present an argument. I will not belabor the gorry details of procedures involved in performing an abortion unless specifically queried. I will submit, however, that Roe v Wade has tremendous psychological importance for a number of women who probably will never have an abortion. There are issues related to women's power and control over their bodies and their lives that make this ruling an important landmark apart from the specific procedure it addresses. Overturning Roe v Wade may send a damaging signal symbolically about how we have come to view women. I will be the first to say that everything within the power of the law should be done to limit the number of abortions that take place and the ease with which they can be obtained. I also firmly believe in the rights of the fetus, but I think pro-lifers may have more effective tools for fighting the battle against abortion than seeking for the upheaval of a ruling that, in the minds of many, is part of the cultural and legal history of this nation.

Soweto Gospel Choir

Soweto Gospel Choir at Notre Dame February 18 at 8pm. Tickets $30, $15 students. Order them today.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Erwin Chemerinsky

Last week the American Constitution Society of Notre Dame brought in Erwin Chemerinsky, Constitutional Law professor at Duke, to talk about the prospects of the Supreme Court with new additions Roberts and Alito.

His stated subject was, of course, predictive. He did throw in some very value-based comments regarding, among other things, abortion and affirmative action, but I suppose he and his sponsors were abundantly clear about his liberal identity, so we should perhaps expect as much and allow it. At any rate, I'll leave that and question instead his predictions.

Chemerinsky is obviously very intelligent. He was a good speaker, and relatively persuasive. That said, I don't buy all he had to say. Upon reflection, his views seem rather apocalyptic. Basically, now the court will overturn Roe v. Wade, return to segregation, allow rampant religious establishment, and let the President claim imperial power (are ALL those bad things?). Apparently Alito is a super-extremist and Bush should have chosen an O'Conner clone to save America from upheaval and right-wing tyrrany. I'm not so sure the sky is falling.

One: Overturning Roe v. Wade. That's pretty big, and I think the Court is aware of that. Overturning it would cause some serious political (not to mention cultural) fallout, and the Court won't do it lightly. If they do, is that so bad? If you are pro-life (*ahem* like me), you'll see it as a positive thing. If you're pro-choice, well, it just means now you get to lobby your state legislature instead of Congress (actually, that's true for pro-choicers, too).

As for the others, I don't think, even if Chemerinsky IS right about the balance of the court, we are not going to see as large-scale fallout as he seems to predict. Give the justices some credit, man. And the public. Life will go on. The battles may move to different grounds, but they will always be there. Have some coffee and relax.

Comments, you law nerds and law nerd wannabes?

Friday, February 03, 2006

Restore International

Tuesday Notre Dame's Christian Legal Society sponsored Restore International's founder Bob Goff to come in and speak. Wow. I'd breathlessly tell you about what he does, but maybe you should just read about it at their website. Apparently he's not opposed to hiring interns... To me the neatest thing about meeting him was seeing his drive. He totally loves what he does, even though it's absolutely crazy. "Crazy" doesn't have to mean "impossible," just "unconventional." A lot of people probably thought he was throwing his legal education away when he started doing this, but I submit that he just started really using it.

Update: My mother just alerted me that the link in this post didn't work. It should be fixed now. Thanks.

Speaking of the link, a little "directed exploring" might be in order. The site includes job descriptions, including one for advocate (their term for lawyer).