Tag Archives: education

Why The Most Important Educational Instruction Comes Before First Grade (Infographic)

When we talk about educational inequality in our country and the poor conditions of public schools in low income areas, we tend to focus on middle schools and high schools, and their inability to reach “troubled” youth.

This is definitely an important aspect of the problem, but the issues start much, much earlier.

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One of the most important and most ignored aspects of educational inequality is the disparity in resources available for early childhood education.

In middle class or upper class families, a child is often given all kinds of educational toys and games to help the mind grow, develop, and prepare for formal schooling. Parents are also typically active in teaching the child basic lessons and skills through play.

But for low income children, this experience is very different. For one, many of them live with single parents who are working 80+ hours a week just to keep the lights on and put food on the table.

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These parents don’t have money for all of the educational toys, games and camps that more well-off parents provide to their kids. Also, their demanding work schedules tend to leave them with very little time to spend with their child (and it is often only for a short period of time after an exhausting day of labor).

Although it can’t totally make up for the economic differences, pre-school was designed to help bridge that gap a bit. Unfortunately, less than half of pre-school aged children are actually even attending pre-school.

Check out the infographic below to see how this lack of quality early childhood education affects a child’s future:

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The Streets of Chicago Are 4 Times More Deadly Than the Battlefields of the Middle East

This Fourth of July weekend saw joy, laughter, fellowship and fun. It also saw another rash of murders in the streets of Chicago.

The 3-day weekend starting on the 4th saw eight murders in Chicago. Two more have already been reported for today.

While this weekend was slightly more violent than others, it is definitely not an aberration. Easter weekend this year saw 45 separate shootings in Chicago. The weekend before that, there were 35 shootings in 36 hours.

In recent years, Chicago’s violence has the nickname “Chiraq”. Since the start of this year, the city has has seen 196 murders. That’s more than four times as many American fatalities as the 46 so far in Afghanistan and Iraq this year.

The homicides this weekend were a result of multiple shootings at Independence Day celebrations around the city which left another 60 people injured.

Total murders per year in Chicago from 1991 to 2011. Click to enlarge

Murder totals in Chicago actually peaked at 943 in 1992, and steadily declined in the decade that followed. But that number spiked again in 2012, which saw 521 murders. The majority of these murders were related to gang activity and the increasingly lucrative drug trade in Chicago.

To combat the rise in violence, Chicago dispatched hundreds of extra police into particularly dangerous neighborhoods, and reached out to community leaders for support.

“We will keep building on our strategy, putting more officers on the street in summer months, proactively intervening in gang conflicts, partnering with community leaders,”

said Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said in a recent statement.

Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy

It seems to be working. Last year, Chicago tallied 415 murders, the lowest that number has been since 1965. And as of June 30, Chicago had experienced nine fewer homicides than in that same period last year.

But these rates are still much higher than most cities. By comparison, New York City (which has three times more residents than Chicago) only had 350 murders in 2013.

So why is the murder rate so high? Many people would point to high rates of poverty, but Chicago actually has lower poverty rates than other major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Miami.

Poor schools also play a major part in the crime, but Chicago actually has a higher percentage of high school graduates over the age of 25 than New York City, Los Angeles or Houston.

A breakdown of the victims of Chicago’s 2012 murders. Click to enlarge

There is no one reason for the violence in Chicago, but there are a few other major factors that have contributed to it. One of these factors is depopulation and gang fragmentation.

In the 80s and early 90s, the majority of the homicides in Chicago centered around low-income government-subsidized housing projects like Cabrini-Green and the Robert Taylor Homes.

A picture of Cabrini-Green before it was demolished

Starting in the late 90s, the city carried out an aggressive campaign to demolish these high-rises as part of a plan to reduce crime. However, this just displaced tens of thousands of residents, exacerbating the issues of poverty they faced while simply spreading the criminals who had been sharing the buildings with them out to new neighborhoods.

The demolition of these centralized crime hubs has also led to a fragmentation of the gangs in Chicago. During the early 90s, much of the drug trade was controlled by Larry Hoover, who was head of the Gangster’s Disciples street gang.

This gang (which controlled a number of Chicago’s subsidized high-rises) was no stranger to violence, but it also had a very strict hierarchy that maintained unity and order amongst its gang members.

The arrest of drug lords like Hoover and the destruction of their headquarters created a power vacuum that broke Chicago’s gangs into countless smaller “sets”, which now battle amongst themselves for turf, power and money.

Larry Hoover is currently serving a life sentence for a murder in August of 1973

But maybe the biggest reason for Chicago’s high crime rates is the lack of jobs. Despite the fact that Chicago has higher levels of education than other large cities like New York, Houston and Los Angeles, it still has a much higher rate of unemployment (13.7%) than these other cities.

The gang violence exacerbates this problem by driving potential employers out of the inner cities, leaving only a handful of low-paying jobs to the residents who remain. This de-population also reduces property values which in turn further limits the public funds (ie. taxes) available to help fight crime and improve conditions.

Whatever the reasons are, the reality is inarguable: Chicago has a serious violence problem, and the fact that it doesn’t get the media airtime that Iraq, Al Qaeda ad ISIS do won’t change the fact that for every soldier we have lost overseas this year, we’ve lost another four youth in Chicago.

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Why Are We Losing Confidence in Our Public Schools? (Infographic)

Only 34% of Americans have faith in our public school system today. That’s less confidence than we have in our police, the medical system, and even the Supreme Court.

Check out this great infographic which shows how we’ve lost faith in public education, and why most people think the system is failing. Click the image to enlarge.

70% of Young Children Can Use A Computer Mouse. Only 11% Can Tie Their Own Shoes (Infographic)

With the rise of modern technology, the look of the classroom has been changing rapidly. Computers are replacing workbooks, iPads are replacing notebook paper, and teachers are increasingly using social media to communicate with their students.

Check out the awesome infographic below to learn more about how modern technology has been changing our education system (click the image to see the full size version):

The Death of Newspapers In Three Key Graphics

Ross Dawson is an entrepreneur, author and futuroligist, and is also the founding chairman of the AHT (Advanced Human Technologies) Group, which consists of three companies: Advanced Human Technologies, future and strategy firm Future Exploration Network, and events company The Insight Exchange.

Back in 2010, Dawson predicted that newspapers would totally disappear from Australia by 2022. After getting significant press from the prediction, he expanded on his theory by predicting this date for a number of developed and developing countries around the world.

Click the map to enlarge it.

Though the years may not be exact, Dawson’s predictions definitely reflect the trends here in America.

For the second half of the 20th century, newspapers thrived, and ad revenue grew steadily from 1950 until around the year 2000, when the internet really began to take hold. In just the last ten years or so since then, newspaper ad revenue has plummeted back to its pre-1950s levels:

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Dawson sees the demise of newspapers as the result of a number of factors, including an increase in the portion of our world that is educated and modernized, an increase in government control and censorship of media at the local level, and the advancement of digital media technology.

Check out this graphic he made highlighting the trends he believes will lead to the end of the printed paper:

Check Out Some of the Anti-FIFA Graffiti Popping Up All Over Brazil’s Streets (Pictures)

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is just around the corner. All across the world, rabid soccer fans are eagerly awaiting the beginning of arguably the world’s biggest sporting spectacle.

However, many people in Brazil are not at all happy about the tournament. Between the stadiums and infrastructure, preparations for the Cup have cost Brazil an estimated $14.5 billion, and many Brazilians feel that this money should be being spent on improving schools and hospitals in Brazil’s infamously decrepit and crime-ridden favelas (Brazilian slums).

Brazilian street artists have been showing their disapproval with some powerful graffiti. Check out some of the street art below.

Deals With the Devil: Should We Negotiate With Groups Like Boko Haram? (Opinion and Poll)

On April 14, the anti-western militant group Boko Haram kidnapped over 270 teenage girls from a boarding school in Nigeria. Since then, reports have come out that the girls are being auctioned off as wives to their captors for as little as $12 a piece.

This incident seems to have really brought the brutality of the group to the forefront, despite the fact that less than a month earlier, Boko Haram shot and burned 59 male students at another Nigerian boarding school, telling the girls to leave and go find husbands (Boko Haram is extremely conservative, believing women should not be educated and should play a traditional domestic role in the family).

Masked Boko Haram gunmen

Earlier today, the Obama administration announced that it would be increasing its role in the search effort, sending a team of military, intelligence and law enforcement personnel to assist the Nigerian government.

I’m all for doing anything that might increase the chance of returning the kidnapped girls to their families, but please excuse me for being cynical about this latest news. For me, it immediately recalls memories of the botched #Kony2012 campaign.

If you need a refresher, back in 2012, the non-profit group Invisible Children launched a campaign with the goal of raising awareness about Josef Kony, leader of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army), and his practice of kidnapping young boys and turning them into child soldiers.

One of the graphics from the Kony 2012 campaign

Following the explosion of the #Kony2012 campaign, both local forces (like the Ugandan army) and specialized foreign units (like the U.S. Special Forces) stepped up their activity in the region, with hopes of capturing Kony and ending his reign of terror once and for all. Two years later, he is still at large (most likely in a remote area of the Central African Republic), with many of his LRA soldiers still with him.

My point is this- when we hear about horrific crimes like Boko Haram’s recent mass-kidnapping, we respond with our most unrefined emotion: anger.

We get pissed off that such backwards and extreme ideologies like those espoused by Boko Haram even still exist in our modern world. We get pissed off that the local governments are either too corrupt, too scared or simply too apathetic to really do anything about the crimes. We get pissed off that some people aren’t as pissed off about the tragedy as we are.

When we get mad, we get vindictive. We hear about the horrific things being done to the girls in begin to equate justice with vengeance, while completely losing track of the real issues here.

Everybody seems to want to send in all our best guns (figure of speech) and shoot Boko Haram out of the jungles where they’re hiding- this is simply unrealistic. The central region of Africa has millions of square miles of virtually uncharted “bushlands” (African use the term “the bush” to describe uninhabited dense areas of forest).

Trying to track down Boko Haram and the kidnapped girls would be like trying to find a needle in a haystack… if that needle was constantly moving locations and was way more familiar with the layout of the haystack than you.

The American government is famous for saying it won’t negotiate with terrorists (even though we’ve done so on many occasions). If Obama were to announce right now that we were negotiating a ransom for the girls, he would likely be blasted in the media as a spineless terrorist-appeaser.

White House Spokesman Jay Carney announcing the United States’ new increased role in the search for the kidnapped girls at daily White House briefing on Tuesday (Photo: Susan Walsh / AP)

But would that really be so bad? Try to remove your emotions from the decision- nobody likes the thought of rewarding people for committing heinous crimes like this kidnapping, but we’re already three weeks removed from the original crime: what are our chances of recovering even a fraction of the girls (alive) using force? I’d say that chance is almost zero.

Boko Haram promulgates a message that western culture (specifically western education) is evil, and that western powers like the United States are trying to spread evil progressive ideologies and create modern-day forms of colonialism. We cannot give them more ammunition for their propaganda machine.

One thing our foreign policy “experts” haven’t seemed to grasp in recent years is how we constantly create more enemies for ourselves by taking the bait of fringe militant groups. Look at Al-Qaeda for example: how many future insurgents did we create from all of the “collateral damage” (ie. civilian deaths) that resulted from our stubborn obsession with eradicating this group?

Not blaming Bush here, just illustrating a concept. Our foreign/military policy is pretty consistent regardless as to which party is in in office

One of the biggest reasons why we are disliked by many people in other countries is that we are perceived as a schoolyard bully who is constantly trying to police the whole world. Sending in our special forces to fight a guerilla war in the jungle with an army that has no uniform and is full of young kids is just asking for trouble.

Boko Haram’s leadership would use this move as proof that the U.S. cared less about the girls’ well-being than about their own strategic interests in the region. And they would definitely make sure to publicize all of the graphic images, especially the ones of dead children (even if the kids were child soldiers).

Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau appearing in one of many homemade propaganda films (Photo: AFP)

Because of these factors, I think that negotiation is clearly the better option. It has the highest likelihood of recovering the girls safely and the lowest likelihood of becoming another black eye on our foreign policy record. Plus, it would show we cared more about the principles of equality and universal education than we do about maintaining a military presence around the world.

And if it was successful, why couldn’t we just go after Boko Haram afterwards? They would no longer have any leverage in the situation and the fact that we made sure to secure the girls first would probably make it a lot less likely that people would be suspicious of ulterior motives.

Obviously, we can’t ignore the fact that we would be, in effect, helping to fund Boko Haram by paying them a ransom for the girls. But we have to ask ourselves what’s more important to us: the lives of the girls, or revenge against Boko Haram. The latter will always be an available option, but we may be quickly running out of time to accomplish the former.

Woman Leading Protests Over Kidnapped Nigerian Schoolgirls Detained on Orders of President’s Wife

About three weeks ago (on the evening of April 14), the anti-western militant group Boko Haram (whose name literally means Western Education is sinful) stormed an all-girls boarding school in the Chibok region of Nigeria and kidnapped 234 female students.

A few days ago, a video surfaced in which Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau announced that he plans to sell off the girls as wives, saying:

“God instructed me to sell them, they are his properties and I will carry out his instruction.”

There was also a report last week that some of the girls were being sold as brides to their kidnappers for just $12 a piece.

Although Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathon has made speeches assuring that the government will find the girls, it doesn’t seem that much is actually being done, and Nigerians have very little confidence in the government finding the girls.

Last week, Naomi Mutah, a representative of the Chibok community from which the girls were taken, organized a protest outside of the NIgerian capital of Abuja. The protestors criticized the government for not doing enough to find the girls and fight Boko Haram.

Nigerian women protest the government’s lack of action in front of the capital in Abuja (Photo: Reuters)

Earlier today, the BBC reported that Nigeria’s First Lady Patience Jonathon called a meeting for those affected by the tragedy- the Chibok community sent Ms. Mutah to represent them. Following the meeting, Ms. Mutah was taken to a police station and detained.

The first lady is a very powerful political figure in Nigeria and apparently felt slighted that the mothers of the abducted girls had sent Ms. Mutah to the meeting.

President Goodluck Jonathon with his wife First Lady Patience Jonathon (Photo: Vanguard)

Pogo Bitrus, another community leader from Chibok, told the BBC that he had been to the police station where Mutah was reportedly being held, but found no written records of her being there. He said he hoped the first lady would soon, “realize her mistake.”

The AP talked to another community leader, Saratu Angus Ndirpaya, who was at the meetings. She said that the first lady had accused the activists of supporting Boko Haram, and had even accused them of completely fabricating the abductions to give the government a bad name.

Read more from the BBC here.


Love Affirmative Action? You Need to Read This. Hate Affirmative Action? You Need to Read This. (Opinion Piece)

Affirmative action. It’s one of those terms that you only dare to whisper in public. A term that, when spoken too loud, can immediately create such thick tension in a room you could cut it with your plastic fluorescent cocktail sword. It’s a word that triggers strong emotions from people on both sides of the debate, emotions that usually make any constructive conversation about the topic impossible from the beginning of the argument.

These types of extremely emotionally-charged debates are usually a sign that both sides are really missing the boat on the real issue. In this case, both sides are hung up on the fact that the other side just doesn’t get some fundamental part of their argument.

Liberal champions of affirmative action get upset because they don’t understand why its opponents can’t acknowledge the fact that America’s long history of discrimination and institutionalized racism has caused long term inequality.

The United States spent almost 200 years trying to prevent different groups of people from gaining access to equal opportunities of education and employment. Also, for much of this time, those in the dominant group (ie. white men) were creating wealth directly from black slave labor. So it is pretty ridiculous to say that within one or two generations (the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964) a marginalized group like African-Americans should have been able to advance themselves, particularly financially, to the point where they are on equal footing with the dominant group. Affirmative action’s supporters are frustrated that many of its critics don’t acknowledge this.

On the other hand, a large number of affirmative action’s vocal conservative opponents are extremely irritated by what they see as hypocrisy from its liberal supporters. Specifically, they believe that affirmative action itself is intrinsically racist, since by creating admissions or hiring quotas for racial minorities it is also discriminating against those who are part of the majority. So naturally, nothing vexes them more than a liberal who won’t acknowledge that affirmative action is effectively fixing racism with more racism.

In reality, both sides are missing the point. In fact, the original designers of the affirmative action program itself missed the point. The point of true affirmative action is to decrease the wealth disparity between different marginalized groups. And the fact of the matter is that affirmative action in its current form is not succeeding in accomplishing that goal.

A higher proportion of black people pulled themselves out of poverty in the two decades before the Civil Rights movement than have done so in the 40 years since then (source). This graph showing the percentage of people below the poverty line by race shows that there hasn’t really been any significant change to the rates for blacks and Hispanics since affirmative action was adopted in earnest in the early 1970s. The gap between those groups and white people has stayed pretty much constant over that period of time as well.

Also interesting to note: research has shown that the group most benefited by affirmative action has been white women, and by a wide margin too. It doesn’t help all white women, though. Back in 2008, a white girl named Abigail Fisher got denied admission by my school, the University of Texas. So Fisher decided to sue the University, challenging the constitutionality of UT’s diversity-based admissions process. In its defense, UT pointed out that even if they gave Fisher the extra point given to minorities in the admissions process, she still would have fell short of being accepted. The school admitted to accepting 47 students with lower grades and test scores than Fisher that year, but of those 47, only 5 were black or latino- the other 42 were white. While the Supreme Court did not side with Fisher, they did order a strict review of the school’s use of affirmative action in admissions.

Abigail Fisher with Edward Blum, whose organization funded the lawsuit (Photo: Susan Walsh/AP)

I’m inclined to side with the school on this one, not only for the reasons they pointed out, but also because I believe creating a racially and socioeconomically diverse college environment is extremely important not only for the success of individual students but for the long-term health of our society. That being said, I don’t think that universities are willing to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to promoting diversity.

By far the biggest advantage that well off white students have over poor minority students is their access to transformative assets. This term, originally coined by famous sociologist Thomas Shapiro, refers to assets that a child has access to simply because of the financial success of the family he or she was born into. Some examples are parents paying for private tutors or music instructors, buying their kid a car, and/or paying for college tuition and living expenses.

The majority of minority students don’t have access to these assets. Many have to work part time or full time just to pay for rent and books, and then are forced to rack up large sums of student debt to pay for tuition. Trying to compete academically while working 30 or 40 hours a week with richer students who don’t have to work at all is an extremely difficult task. Consequently, many of these minority students are unable to make it all the way through to graduation, and are often left with debt and no degree.

UT (and many other universities) made the argument that they base admissions somewhat off race because this diversity brings value to the school. If they truly believe this, however, they need to be willing to help ensure that this value comes to fruition. To do this, I think universities need to first implement sliding-scale tuition, where a student’s cost is related to their family income. This practice is already used in many schools: when I attended Dartmouth for two years, I was paying only a few thousand dollars a year for a $60,000 education and knew a number of students who paid even less.

The key here is creating access to transformative assets for the students who can’t get these assets from their families. So I believe schools should also be willing to help cover the costs of living expenses and books for underprivileged students who are part of the first generation of their family to go to college. Doing this would greatly increase equity in terms of educational experience since the poorer students could work less and study more, and you would likely see their graduation rates rise. Also, these underprivileged, first-generation college grads would be leaving with significantly less debt, allowing them to start generating real wealth for themselves and their families much sooner than if they were burdened with paying off a bunch of student loans after graduation.

I know some people might be asking where schools will get the money to provide students with transformative assets. My answer is that the money is already there, the schools just have to re-prioritize how it’s spent. In 2013, UT’s athletics programs generated over $163 million in revenues. Even after paying off all its expenses (coaches, scholarships, travel, recruiting, etc.), the athletic department was still left with almost $50 million. They spent about half of that ($24 million) on new athletic facilities and renovations, and were left with $25 million in profit. If UT took this profit and reduced the amount they spent on renovating stadiums and athletic facilities every year, they would be well on their way to being able to provide transformative assets to their underprivileged students. In addition, the federal government could use the money that they would save from the decline in student loan requests to help schools cover the cost of providing underprivileged students with transformative assets.

UT’s new Moncrief Athletic Complex

The best part about this is it wouldn’t have to be race-based. In my opinion, racial inequality in modern times manifests itself socioeconomically. What I mean is that openly racist institutions and laws are no longer necessary to hold back minority groups (specifically blacks and Latinos) because these minority groups now live in predominantly poor communities where the lack of opportunity and quality education does the job of holding them back even better than the racism of the past. As a result, a much larger percentage of blacks and Latinos are from poor families where neither parent went to college. So if you based access to school-related transformative assets simply on these two factors, you would get predominantly black and Latino students qualifying for the program without having to exclude poor white students from eligibility.

I think this needs to extend to businesses as well. As I said earlier, the main source of inequality in society today is unequal access to transformative capital. Many young entrepreneurs who come from financially successful families start their own businesses using seed money or super cheap, long-term loans from parents or other family members. Because of this, I’ve always thought that true affirmative action should look more like a subsidy, with the government providing individuals who are the first members of their family to graduate college and/or start their own business with access to business loans that have super low interest rates (comparable to the rate the individual would get had he or she borrowed that money from a family member). The key is not to hold spots for minorities, but to enthusiastically help those who are actively trying to help themselves. And again, these subsidies wouldn’t be intrinsically racist like the current system. Access to the subsidies would be based on your parents’ socioeconomic status and education level, so while black and Latino minorities would benefit the most from the program, white people would also be able to take advantage of it.

There is one final point that I must make when discussing the issue of long term inequality: a majority of the kids who “make it” are successful in large part because of their determination to get out of their impoverished communities. So the best, brightest and most motivated minds, the ones that can really make a difference, often leave their rundown neighborhoods behind them once they begin to accumulate wealth. Yes, they may visit from time to time, but how many of them are actually going to go live back in that community if they have the money to live somewhere nicer? Very few. And those who don’t return are totally justified in doing so: wanting to live in a safe community with access to good education for yourself and your family is totally reasonable.

So we have to figure out a way to highly incentivize the development and improvement of these poor communities by convincing its most successful sons and daughters to return. This means providing additional subsidies, like a reduction in payroll tax for example, to small businesses that open up in underprivileged communities. It also means adding extra financial incentives for teachers and administrators who are willing to return to improve the historically underperforming schools in their old neighborhoods (right now teachers in poor neighborhoods get paid the least since schools are primarily funded by property taxes).

Again, the key is to provide help to those that are actively trying to do better for themselves, and even more help to those who are trying to do better for their communities as well. In terms of decreasing long-term inequality, it is much better for a minority from a poor neighborhood to become a small business owner or educator in his or her old community than to take a desk job at some massive company in a middle-class suburb somewhere. If you truly want to improve poor communities and reduce inequality, you have to create sources of wealth within the communities, rather than simply providing a small fraction of the community with a way out.

Illustrating the Epic Battle Between Cells and Viruses Using a Sweet Cartoon (Video)

If you’re not familiar with the TED organization, you really ought to be. TED, which stands for technology, education and design, is a series of conferences where great minds give presentations (known as TED talks) on the topics I just mentioned.

While browsing videos of these presentations on their website, TED.com, I stumbled upon this awesome illustrated video which shows what happens inside your body when it is attacked by a virus. It’s a great way to understand a pretty complex scientific process, plus, the illustrations are awesome! Enjoy!

Lesson by Shannon Stiles, animation by Igor Coric.