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Tag Archives: education

Waiting for Superman.

Jeez, got enough infographics in your trailer. Done by Buck.tv. The end bit (“THIS is what it’ll look like”) was confusing to me, though.

My favorites from the New York Times. This last couple weeks have been pretty transitional, so I’ve been slow—you’ll probably need a NYT account (free) to view the archived articles.

Phys Ed: Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter?

Previous studies found that fitter kids generally scored better on such tests. And in this case, too, those children performed better on the tests. But the M.R.I.’s provided a clearer picture of how it might work. They showed that fit children had significantly larger basal ganglia, a key part of the brain that aids in maintaining attention and “executive control,” or the ability to coordinate actions and thoughts crisply. Since both groups of children had similar socioeconomic backgrounds, body mass index and other variables, the researchers concluded that being fit had enlarged that portion of their brains.

Documentary? Better Call It Performance Art

At least one element in the film was genuine, Mr. Affleck said. That was a snippet of a home movie that showed Mr. Phoenix and his very young siblings performing, Jackson Five style, on the streets of Los Angeles.

The rest, Mr. Affleck said, clearly requires a bit more understanding than he has allowed the viewers to date. “It is a hard movie to watch,” he said.

A Dictionary of the Near Future

DENARRATION The process whereby one’s life stops feeling like a story.

CLOUD BLINDNESS The inability of some people to see faces or shapes in clouds.

Take a Look at Him Now: Questions for Phil Collins

But now you’re divorced from her. Did I read somewhere that your divorce settlement was $50 million and, at the time, the largest paid by an entertainer in British history?

I think Paul McCartney’s was the largest.

Ditch Your Laptop, Dump Your Boyfriend

Chances are, if you are taking the time to read this advice, you already have the quality necessary to undertake the intellectual challenges of a college education — a seriousness of purpose.

Carrot Talk

In the study, children from the ages of 3 to 5 tasted five pairs of identical foodstuffs (including, as it happens, carrots). In each pair, one item was offered in plain, unmarked packaging — and the other was in McDonald’s packaging. The kids, on average, said they preferred the stuff they thought came from the fast-food chain, which of course is one of the most recognizable brands in the world. They thought McDonald’s fries tasted better with branded packaging than without it; they preferred milk in a McDonald’s cup to milk in a plain cup. This, the study noted, “was true even for carrots,” a food they are unlikely to have experienced at the fast-food chain.

The Empowerment Mystique

“Free to Be” was foremost about vanquishing gender stereotypes. By choosing girls to liberate from the tyranny of antimaterialism, Target implied that buying its wares was part of thevictory. That’s part of a trend I’ve noticed across a whole range of sectors over the last several months from big-box stores to high-end fashion to wireless-phone services to politics: all have discovered the sales potential in female pride.

Phys Ed: Looking at How Concussions When Young Influence Later Life

But when researchers looked at the electrical activity of the students’ brains, they found that the concussed athletes showed noticeably less activity in portions of the brain associated with attention. ‘‘They had suppressed attentional resources,’’ said Steven Broglio, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois. He and his colleagues speculated that, as a result, the injured athletes most likely were devoting a greater percentage of their total mental reserves to each task than the uninjured athletes in order to achieve similar intellectual results. The effort wasn’t obvious. ‘‘These were high-performing college students,” Dr. Broglio said. ‘‘They were succeeding in school.’’

Time Is Money

Maybe I’m the only one who still sees time-shifting as all upside — working your own hours, reading a news story two weeks late, watching TV and movies only on disk, DVR or download. Time-shifting is the enemy of advertising, after all; it may also be the enemy of communal experience.

The Ethicist: Father Exposure

Here’s the key question: Would your acquaintance want to know about the affair? Some children crave a deep understanding of their late parents; some cling to an idealized version. If your acquaintance is among the former, give him the letter. If not, or if you are simply unsure, consign it to the flames. Or frame it on your bedroom wall as a reminder of the labyrinthine recesses of the human heart.

Kafka’s Last Trial

During his lifetime, Franz Kafka burned an estimated 90 percent of his work. After his death at age 41, in 1924, a letter was discovered in his desk in Prague, addressed to his friend Max Brod. “Dearest Max,” it began. “My last request: Everything I leave behind me … in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others’), sketches and so on, to be burned unread.”

A New Kind of Cineaste

Over the past quarter century or so, Assayas has emerged as a mainstay of what might be called the middle generation of post-New Wave French auteurs — filmmakers who still labor in the shadow of a heroic band of ancient young rebels, many of whom have shown remarkable, even maddening longevity. Erich Rohmer and Claude Chabrol, part of the groups that burst out of Cahiers in the late 1950s and early ’60s, died this year, at 89 and 80. Jacques Rivette, Agnès Varda and Alain Resnais are all still around, in their 80s, as is Jean-Luc Godard, perpetual imp and inscrutable sage of le cinéma français, who may or may not show up to collect an honorary Oscar in November.

They Did What?

“All the self- examination in the world isn’t going to help anyone bent on self-deception,” she writes, “which is no doubt true of any of us at least some of the time.”

When Life Gets in the Way of Art

But beyond issues of personal betrayal, the news raised much more difficult and fundamental questions — ones central to photography and documentary work but to the history of art and popular culture as well — about artistic intent, about the assumptions and expectations of the viewing public and about the relationship between artists and their work.

The Temporary Vegetarian: Roasted Mushrooms With Goat Cheese and Grits

A Teenager Flying Over a Cuckoo’s Nest

WHEN thinking of the directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, light comedy may not be the first thing to come to mind. The team’s first movie, “Half Nelson,” examined the life of a drug-addicted schoolteacher, while the follow-up, “Sugar,” tracked the trials of a Dominican baseball player who joins a minor-league team in Iowa. But the filmmakers have a message for audiences: They do have a sense of humor. And they love John Hughes.

Enter the Void (2009)

More specifically, “Enter the Void” is the latest from the never uninteresting, sometimes exasperating Mr. Noé, whose films, like “Irrevérsible” (2002), skew toward provocations, filled with flashes of genius and irredeemable nonsense. The title of “Enter the Void,” which sounds like both a dare and a fun-house attraction, makes sense in a work about death and other hard times, but it also expresses Mr. Noé’s bad-boy, punk attitude, which can be hard to take seriously. His insistence on representing ugly extremes (incest, rape, murder) can be especially wearisome, coming across as weak bids to shock his audience (épater la bourgeoisie, as the French poets once said), which, already expecting (perhaps eagerly) a Gaspar Noé freakout, is unlikely to have its world genuinely rocked. But bring it on, Gaspar!

Sunday Book Review: Fairer Deal

Reich insists instead that American consumers, and particularly the middle class, have been buying too little. For years, the United States has consumed more than it has produced; the excess demand has sucked in products from abroad, which is why the nation has run a trade deficit. The idea that the economy has suffered from a lack of demand is, shall we say, eccentric. But Reich declares repeatedly that the stagnation of middle-class buying power has been a drag on growth. “If earnings are inadequate,” he asserts, “an economy produces more goods and services than its people are capable of purchasing.” If that sentence described the American condition in the 1990s and the period leading up to the crash, Reich’s predicted excess output would have gone abroad and the United States would have run a trade surplus.

Festivals Grow Up, Even as Screens Grow Small

It may be that the Toronto International Film Festival has emerged as one of the biggest, most influential festivals in the world specifically because it learned how to bridge that art-cinema world and those conglomerate-owned movie studios we nostalgically refer to as Hollywood. (Other factors doubtless have played a role, including support from the Canadian government and the festival’s location: it’s an easy flight for New York journalists.) To judge from the Lightbox, this balancing act has paid off nicely. It remains to be seen whether the Lightbox, like the new film complex at Lincoln Center, can fill its theaters year-round with viewers who are as eager to dig into cinema’s past as they are to take part in its uncertain future.

The best of the New York times. This time mostly from September 2010. I also branched out and included some stuff from sections I normally stray away from. Of most note would probably be the recipe.

Naomi Campbell: Model, Citizen

Now, she added: “I’m a recovering person in progress. Every rehabilitation program I’ve been in says the same thing: Getting past the denial is half the battle. Take responsibility for your actions. No matter who you are, a banker or a model or an aesthetician, if you don’t do that, you’ll find yourself living in an insanity world.”

A Year in MP3s

Like most composers these days, I use a computer to compose music; unlike most composers, my compositions are created with software tools that I write myself.

Stir-fried Succotash With Edamame

In a New Role, Teachers Move to Run Schools

Shortly after landing at Malcolm X Shabazz High School as a Teach for America recruit, Dominique D. Lee grew disgusted with a system that produced ninth graders who could not name the seven continents or the governor of their state. He started wondering: What if I were in charge?

Fending Off the Weeds With Newsprint

That’s the theory, anyway. The last time Rock and I tried this on new ground, for a potato patch, the newspapers had not decomposed by spring planting time. But I think the layers were too thick. I had probably figured that if 4 sheets were good, 12 would be better. I was wrong: less is more, stick to four.

I forgot to sprinkle cottonseed meal over the cut grass, before laying down and wetting the newspapers, to give the young seedlings a boost of nitrogen. But maybe I’ll scratch some in, around the broccoli plants and other seedlings, once they start to grow.

Clive Donner, 1960s-Era Film Director, Dies at 84

Clive Donner, who helped define the British New Wave with films like “The Caretaker” and “Nothing but the Best” and directed the emblematic swinging ’60s film “What’s New Pussycat?,” died on Tuesday in London. He was 84.

Google Unveils Tool to Speed Up Searches

Google, which can already feel like an appendage to our brains, is now predicting what people are thinking before they even type.

[…]

“It’s not quite psychic, but it is very clever,” said Othar Hansson, a senior staff software engineer who helped develop Instant.

To make the predictions, Google relies on search trends, like words that are often searched, were recently popular or were searched nearby, Ms. Mayer said.

Some words, like “nude,” produce no results because Google Instant filters for violence, hate and pornography, the company said.

God and Politics, Together Again

“In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand — that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us,” Mr. Obama said. “Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.”

Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits

Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded.

[…]

Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time. Musicians have known this for years, and their practice sessions often include a mix of scales, musical pieces and rhythmic work. Many athletes, too, routinely mix their workouts with strength, speed and skill drills.

Reviving Ground Zero

[no segment quoted]

Panade

A Post 9/11 Parenting Moment

“No,” he said firmly. A rule was a rule. I had to pay the baggage fee or throw away the maple syrup so that I could bring my bag onto the plane.

It was a dilemma. As the product of Ukrainian immigrants who came to the United States with virtually nothing—working, scraping, and saving to make ends meet—I was raised not to throw the maple syrup in the trash, nor to spend fifteen dollars on its transport. I couldn’t bring myself to do either.

Living to Be a Parent

Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? You learned about it in your intro psych course: a neat and tidy pyramid, with fulfillment of “physiological needs” at its base, then things like “safety,” “love,” “belonging” and “esteem” stacked on top, all capped by “self-actualization.”

A group of academic psychologists have redesigned the nearly 70-year-old triangle. Most notably they have knocked “self-actualization” off the pinnacle and replaced it with “parenting.” Right below, they have added “mate retention” and “mate acquisition.”

War Games

Beyond their settings, what these future-war games have in common with the Modern Warfare series is a refusal to forthrightly acknowledge the inspiration for their subject matter. Video-game designers and players like to brag about how “realistic” the games are, but when gamers talk about verisimilitude, they’re usually talking about graphical fidelity, about how lifelike the characters and environments are in an otherwise fantastical world — and not about how the medium reflects anything else about the actual world in which we live.

Field Report: Will Work for Food

Some of the most sought-after internships this summer weren’t on Capitol Hill or in the Vogue fashion closet. They were on farms. If you hadn’t applied by the end of the spring, you could forget about it. Ag-department graduates, career-changers and cooks looking to deepen their knowledge of ingredients are among those who have been turning to farmers to show them how to plow their trade. For months they live in group housing — even tents — working long hours for little or no pay beyond all-you-can-eat produce. It’s a cross between Michael Pollan summer school and Barbara Kingsolver boot camp.

Are Films Bad, or Is TV Just Better?

FOR as long as anyone in the movie world can remember (which may be only 20 years or so, but never mind), the fall season has been marked by a sober kind of excitement. The commercial entertainments of summer give way to more ambitious fare, and the grown-up segment of the audience goes back to the theaters looking for stirring performances, complex storytelling, important themes and big emotions. That’s the theory, anyway.

Recently, though, that eager, earnest sense of anticipation — which this section of The New York Times, along with similar preview issues of other publications, both reflects and encourages — has been accompanied, at least among insiders and journalists, by annual paroxysms of anxiety. A few years ago the dominant worry was that a glut of serious movies would overwhelm the marketplace, the films crowding one another out, a concern that was followed almost seamlessly by the fear that such films might disappear altogether.

The Search: Job Satisfaction vs. a Big Paycheck

“Many people want to make a lot of money, but the benefits of having a high income are ambiguous,” said Professor Kahneman, who is also a Nobel laureate in economics. When you are wealthy you are able to buy more pleasures, he said, but a recent study suggests that wealthier people “seem to be less able to savor the small things in life.”

The (Extremely) Creative Ferment of James Franco

As the filmmakers raised money, Mr. Franco was able to prepare with his usual gusto: watching interviews, reading biographies, talking to experts, wearing the nerdy Ginsberg glasses (still available at Moscot in New York). His take — that the young poet was an eager communicator even as he was just discovering what he wanted to say — applies to his own path. And it’s clear on screen, where Mr. Franco vibrates with intellectual energy while recognizably laconic in his delivery. “I have joked that he’s a 21st-century beatnik,” Mr. Epstein said of Mr. Franco, “but he really does have that sensibility. He’s really interested and excited about experimentation and exploring the possibilities of how one can be an artist.”

To Win Over Users, Gadgets Have to Be Touchable

Whoever said technology was dehumanizing was wrong. On screens everywhere — cellphones, e-readers, A.T.M.’s — as Diana Ross sang, we just want to reach out and touch.

The End of Tenure?

The labor system, for one thing, is clearly unjust. Tenured and tenure-track professors earn most of the money and benefits, but they’re a minority at the top of a pyramid. Nearly two-thirds of all college teachers are non-tenure-track adjuncts like Matt Williams, who told Hacker and Dreifus he had taught a dozen courses at two colleges in the Akron area the previous year, earning the equivalent of about $8.50 an hour by his reckoning. It is foolish that graduate programs are pumping new Ph.D.’s into a world without decent jobs for them. If some programs were phased out, teaching loads might be raised for some on the tenure track, to the benefit of undergraduate education.

Computers as Invisible as the Air

“The thing that is happening right now is that we’re drowning in data,” said Stan Williams, director of H.P.’s Information and Quantum Systems Lab. “The amount of data is increasing at an absolutely ferocious pace, and unless we can catch up it will remain useless.”

If he is right, and the memristor makes possible superdense computing memories — one computer chip will hold as much data as an entire disk drive holds today.

A Taste of Home in Foil Packets and Powder

Each year, among the countries with troops in Afghanistan — the current number is 47 — tens of millions of dollars are spent researching how to fit the most calories, nutrition and either comfort or fun into a small, light package. The menus and accompaniments are intended not just to nourish but also to remind the soldier of home. Some include branded comfort foods — Australians get a dark-brown spreadable yeast-paste treat called Vegemite, for example — while others get national staples like liverwurst (Germany), or lamb curry (Britain’s current culinary obsession).

Some of the contents are practical. Italians get three disposable toothbrushes per day of combat. Americans get pound cake, which military folklore says reduces the need for toilet breaks.

People and Places That Innovate

Good ideas and their successful execution are a result of connections and existing knowledge embedded in a particular context. The individual, of course, plays an important role, but it is defined more by collaboration than by solitary brilliance.

Words Cannot Express

Is language first and foremost an artifact of culture? Or is it largely determined by human biology? This issue has been argued back and forth for a couple of centuries with no clear resolution in sight. Guy Deutscher’s 2005 book “The Unfolding of Language” placed him firmly in the pro-culture camp. Now, in his new book, “Through the Language Glass,” he examines some idiosyncratic aspects of particular languages that, in his opinion, cast further doubt on biologically based theories of language.

America’s History of Fear

Americans have called on moderates in Muslim countries to speak out against extremists, to stand up for the tolerance they say they believe in. We should all have the guts do the same at home.

The Meaning of ‘Man Up’

But man up isn’t just being used to package machismo as a commodity. Its spectrum of meanings runs from “Don’t be a sissy; toughen up” all the way to “Do the right thing; be a mensch,” to use the Yiddishism for an honorable or upright person. The Man Up Campaign, for instance, is a new global initiative that engages youth to stop gender-based violence: “Our call to action challenges each of us to ‘man up’ and declare that violence against women and girls must end,” its mission statement reads.

The Many Iterations of William Shatner

Outside Starbucks, Shatner said to me: “If someone criticizes my acting, they may be right. Sometimes you shouldn’t work so hard” to entertain. Then, softly, he said: “I never thought of myself as a great actor, like Olivier. I was a working actor. I entertained people and always tried to be terrific at whatever it was.” His problem and his salvation. He played so many different roles that “people couldn’t define me like they could De Niro. I took whatever work came my way to pay the bills, even if it wasn’t a decent role.”

The Map of Modern Science

The best articles from the New York Times.

The Born Identity

Designer diapers are a useful tool for sending that message. And perhaps more to the point, they are also an extension of the well-established tendency among contemporary parents to treat their children as identity props. And it’s plausible that this version of that behavior says something about this specific cultural moment.

A Tank’s-Eye View of an Unpopular War

“There is a metamorphosis, first physical, when you lose your sense of taste, you don’t need to eat, you suddenly hear and see everything sharp and clear,” Mr. Maoz said in a telephone interview from his home in Tel Aviv, where he was born and now lives with his longtime partner and their daughter. “When you fall into such an extreme situation, when the basic rules of life are not there, you can’t continue thinking with the logic of normal life. If you do, you’ll probably end up dead.

“At the end you don’t fight for your country or your kids, you’re fighting for your life,” he continued. “And if you survive — and most who died, died in the first day — after the second day you become a soldier of the war. That’s why the focus is very narrow. It’s not good for the war if you can see the whole picture.”

Catch of the Day

I was newly installed as the restaurant critic of The New York Times and had spent the previous few months on a surreptitious tour of some of the city’s best restaurants. I had been eating stupendously well. But nothing I had eaten that summer and fall prepared me for the taste of this tuna that late afternoon, for the intense blast of flavor and rich, creamy fattiness delivered by a cut of truly fresh otoro — supreme tuna belly, in the parlance of the sushi bar — not yet four hours old.

Nothing I had ever eaten could have. The bluefin tuna you get at restaurants, even the best ones, has been flash-frozen and thawed, is days — or weeks — old, has traveled thousands and thousands of miles. In a bite of that absolutely fresh tuna from New Jersey, I experienced a taste of truly wild food, a majestic flavor, something incredibly rare.

Not a Day Over Infinity

As de Grey sees it, there are seven types of cellular junk, the gerontological equivalent of the seven deadly sins. They include “cross links” that gum up the machinery and glue cells to one another and mitochondria that fail with age. Then there is junk within cells and junk in the spaces between cells, along with cells that no longer work but hang around and cells that die and poison cells around them. And then there are old cells that acquire dangerous mutations and give rise to cancer. Weiner’s strength as a writer is his ability to flesh out these complex theories without losing the reader. De Grey’s dream of conquering death may seem far-fetched and unreal, but Big Pharma is already at work on some of these ideas — the first cream that overcomes cross-links, which cause our skin to stiffen and wrinkle, will be a blockbuster.

Drink What You Know

When you think about it, rules for drinking are not so different from rules for writing. Many of these are so familiar they’ve become truisms: Write what you know. Write every day. Never use a strange, fancy word when a simple one will do. Always finish the day’s writing when you could still do more. With a little adaptation these rules apply just as well for drinking. Drink what you know, drink regularly rather than in binges, avoid needlessly exotic booze, and leave the table while you can still stand.

You could also substitute “drink” for “write” in these well-known examples of writerly wisdom. “An author ought to write for the youth of his generation” (Fitzgerald). “Write, damn you! What else are you good for?” (Joyce). “Writing is finally a series of permissions you give yourself to be expressive in certain ways. To leap. To fly. To fail” (Sontag).

$200 Textbook vs. Free. You Do the Math.

Publishers have started de-emphasizing the textbook in favor of selling a package of supporting materials like teaching aids and training. And companies like Houghton Mifflin have created internal start-ups to embrace technology and capture for themselves some of the emerging online business.

They are responding in much the same way traditional software makers did when open-source arrived, by trying to bundle subscription services around a core product that has been undercut.

Beyond Indie

The band is well aware of the possibilities opened up by the Internet. “Hope that something pure can last,” Mr. Butler sings on the band’s new album, “The Suburbs” (Merge). “A lot of things like that end up being memos to myself,” Mr. Butler said. “I keep trying to remember the good things that get lost along the way and trying to apply those lessons to the way the world actually is.”

The Arcade Fire’s songs, credited to the whole band but largely written by Mr. Butler and his wife, Régine Chassagne, mingle the punky and the symphonic, the cryptic and the heart-on-sleeve, the self-doubting and the anthemic, often with surging crescendos that make the tunes optimistic despite themselves. It’s both a stomping rock band and a mini-orchestra, complete with string section, accordion or medieval hurdy-gurdy as needed.

Strange Cargo at Kennedy Airport

These images are from a set of 1,075 photographs — shot over five days last year for the book and exhibition, ‘‘Contraband’’ — of items detained or seized from passengers or express mail entering the United States from abroad at the New York airport. The miscellany of prohibited objects — from the everyday to the illegal to the just plain odd — attests to a growing worldwide traffic in counterfeit goods and natural exotica and offers a snapshot of the United States as seen through its illicit material needs and desires.

Unnatural Science

Clearly I’ve been out of some loop for too long, but does everyone take for granted now that science sites are where graduate students, researchers, doctors and the “skeptical community” go not to interpret data or review experiments but to chip off one-liners, promote their books and jeer at smokers, fat people and churchgoers? And can anyone who still enjoys this class-inflected bloodsport tell me why it has to happen under the banner of science?

I Tweet, Therefore I Am

Each Twitter post seemed a tacit referendum on who I am, or at least who I believe myself to be. The grocery-store episode telegraphed that I was tuned in to the Seinfeldian absurdities of life; my concern about women’s victimization, however sincere, signaled that I also have a soul. Together they suggest someone who is at once cynical and compassionate, petty yet deep. Which, in the end, I’d say, is pretty accurate.

Distilling my personality provided surprising focus, making me feel stripped to my essence. It forced me, for instance, to pinpoint the dominant feeling as I sat outside with my daughter listening to E.B. White. Was it my joy at being a mother? Nostalgia for my own childhood summers? The pleasures of listening to the author’s quirky, underinflected voice? Each put a different spin on the occasion, of who I was within it. Yet the final decision (“Listening to E.B. White’s ‘Trumpet of the Swan’ with Daisy. Slow and sweet.”) was not really about my own impressions: it was about how I imagined — and wanted — others to react to them. That gave me pause. How much, I began to wonder, was I shaping my Twitter feed, and how much was Twitter shaping me?

The Age of Laura Linney

But the magnitude of her delight was informed by something else too. These days her thoughts turn frequently to how lucky she is — how lucky anyone is — simply to experience the pleasure of being alive. It’s a cliché, yes, but isn’t it true? And isn’t it often forgotten? Linney’s next big role, in a project as risky as any she has done, asks questions no less essential than these.

Link: What Happened to Studying?

tobia:

via youmightfindyourself:

They come with polished resumes and perfect SAT scores. Their grades are often impeccable. Some elite universities will deny thousands of high school seniors with 4.0 grade point averages in search of an elusive quality that one provost called “intellectual vitality.” The perception is that today’s over-achieving, college-driven kids have it — whatever it is. They’re not just groomed; they’re ready. There’s just one problem.

Once on campus, the students aren’t studying.

It is a fundamental part of college education: the idea that young people don’t just learn from lectures, but on their own, holed up in the library with books and, perhaps, a trusty yellow highlighter. But new research, conducted by two California economics professors, shows that over the past five decades, the number of hours that the average college student studies each week has been steadily dropping. According to time-use surveys analyzed by professors Philip Babcock, at the University of California Santa Barbara, and Mindy Marks, at the University of California Riverside, the average student at a four-year college in 1961 studied about 24 hours a week. Today’s average student hits the books for just 14 hours.

The decline, Babcock and Marks found, infects students of all demographics. No matter the student’s major, gender, or race, no matter the size of the school or the quality of the

SAT scores of the people enrolled there, the results are the same: Students of all ability levels are studying less.

“It’s not just limited to bad schools,” Babcock said. “We’re seeing it at liberal arts colleges, doctoral research colleges, masters colleges. Every different type, every different size. It’s just across the spectrum. It’s very robust. This is just a huge change in every category.”

The research, accepted to be published in the Review of Economics and Statistics, has already sparked discussions in faculty lounges and classrooms across the country. Some question whether college students ever could have studied 24 hours a week — roughly three and a half hours a night. But even if you dispute the historical decline, there is still plenty of reason for concern over the state of 21st-century study practices. In survey after survey since 2000, college and high school students are alarmingly candid that they are simply not studying very much at all. Some longtime professors have noted the trend, which rarely gets mentioned by college admissions officials when prospective students visit campus.

But when it comes to “why,” the answers are less clear. The easy culprits — the allure of the Internet (Facebook!), the advent of new technologies (dude, what’s a card catalog?), and the changing demographics of college campuses — don’t appear to be driving the change, Babcock and Marks found. What might be causing it, they suggest, is the growing power of students and professors’ unwillingness to challenge them.

Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: The central bargain of a college education — that students have fairly light classloads because they’re independent enough to be learning outside the classroom — can no longer be taken for granted. And some institutions of higher learning have yet to grapple with, or even accept, the possibility that something dramatic has happened.

Studying has long been considered a key part of a college student’s growth, both as a means to an end — a deeper understanding of the subject matter — and as a valuable habit in its own right. A person who can self-motivate to learn, academics argue, is not only more likely to be a productive worker, but more fulfilled citizen. As a result, universities for decades have stated — sometimes officially — that for every hour students spend in class each week they are expected to be studying for two hours on their own.

“So if students are taking a full load of 15 credit hours, they should be studying for 30 hours,” said Jillian Kinzie, the associate director of the National Survey of Student Engagement, a nonprofit at Indiana University. “Clearly, that’s not happening.”

One problem is that they’re arriving in college with increasingly troubled study habits. According to survey data gathered by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, or CIRP, the largest and longest-running study of higher education in the United States, incoming college freshmen have reported declining study habits for at least two decades. By 2009, nearly two-thirds of them failed to study even six hours a week while seniors in high school — a figure that has risen steadily since 1987.

Once they get to college, the figure improves, but there are many students today who appear to be doing very little whatsoever. In one CIRP survey subset last year, analyzing predominantly private institutions considered to be mid-level or high-achieving colleges, some 32 percent of college freshmen somehow managed to study less than six hours a week — not even an hour a day. Seniors studied only slightly more, with nearly 28 percent studying less than six hours a week. And other surveys of today’s students report similarly alarming results. The National Survey of Student Engagement found in 2009 that 62 percent of college students studied 15 hours a week or less — even as they took home primarily As and Bs on their report cards.

“Are students just that much more efficient that more than 60 percent of students study less than 15 hours a week and still earn As and Bs?” Kinzie asked. “Or are we really preparing students for the world of work if they’re able to get by spending that many hours studying and preparing for class?”

Critics say it’s misleading to measure today’s students by the number of hours they spend studying. Students live very different lives than they once did. They are more likely to hold down jobs while attending classes.

John Bravman, vice provost for undergraduate education at Stanford University, said that what he worries about these days is not that students are lazy, but that they are too busy — busier than previous generations of Stanford students.

“Much busier,” Bravman said, describing the “on-demand” world that students work in today. “I was a student here from ’75 to ’79. I was reasonably engaged in things. But I had so much free time compared to students today. They do so many things — it’s amazing.”

According to the skeptics of the findings, there is one other notable change: Today’s students are working with more efficient tools when they do finally sit down to study. They don’t have to bang out a term paper on a typewriter; nor do they need to wander the stacks at the library for hours, tracking down some dusty tome.

“A student doesn’t need to retype a paper three times before handing it in,” said Heather Rowan-Kenyon, an assistant professor of higher education at Boston College. “And a student today can sit on their bed and go to the library, instead of going to the library and going to the card catalog.”

That’s true, Babcock and Marks agree. But according to their research, the greatest decline in student studying took place before computers swept through colleges: Between 1961 and 1981, study times fell from 24.4 to 16.8 hours per week (and then, ultimately, to 14). Nor do they believe student employment or changing demographics to be the root cause. While they acknowledge that students are working more and campuses attract students who wouldn’t have bothered attending college a generation ago, the researchers point out that study times are dropping for everyone regardless of employment or personal characteristics.

“It’s pretty shocking,” said Marks, who is concerned about the trend.

Hours spent studying is not the end goal of an education, of course, nor the only way to determine if someone is learning or will land a job after college. Marks herself points out that employers don’t generally care about the content of job applicants’ classes; they’re more interested in whether an applicant graduated, was able to meet deadlines, and work within a bureaucracy.

But one sign that studying still has value is that students themselves are concerned about it. In a 2008 survey of more than 160,000 undergraduates enrolled in the University of California system, students were asked to list what interferes most with their academic success. Some blamed family responsibilities, some blamed jobs. The second most common obstacle to success, according to the students, was that they were depressed, stressed, or upset. And then came the number one reason, agreed upon by 33 percent of students, who said they struggled with one particular problem “frequently” or “all the time”: They simply did not know how to sit down and study.

So what now? Given Babcock and Marks’s findings, what should universities be doing to improve study habits? It’s an answer that depends, first, on understanding why students are studying so little these days. And on this point, there is little agreement.

One theory, offered by Babcock and Marks, suggests that the cause, or at least one of them, is a breakdown in the professor-student relationship. Instead of a dynamic where a professor sets standards and students try to meet them, the more common scenario these days, they suggest, is one in which both sides hope to do as little as possible.

“No one really has an incentive to make a demanding class,” Marks said. “To make a tough assignment, you have to write it, grade it. Kids come into office hours and want help on it. If you make it too hard, they complain. Other than the sheer love for knowledge and the desire to pass it on to the next generation, there is no incentive in the system to encourage effort.”

The problem dates back to the 1960s, said Murray Sperber, a visiting professor in the graduate school of education at the University of California Berkeley. Sperber, at the time, was a graduate student at Berkeley and was part of an upstart movement pushing for students to rate their professors. The idea, Sperber said, was to give students a chance to express their opinions about their classes — a noble thought, but one that has backfired, according to many professors. Course evaluations have created a sort of “nonaggression pact,” Sperber said, where professors — especially ones seeking tenure — go easy on the homework and students, in turn, give glowing course evaluations.

In response to these concerns over course evaluations — and the state of collegiate studying in general — some universities are making changes. Some administrators in recent years have been putting less weight on course evaluations when making tenure decisions. Professors are being told to give explicit tasks to students. Just telling them to read these days is often considered “too generic, too general of a request,” said Kinzie. And many professors today are using Internet-based systems, like Blackboard, where students are required to log on and write about the assigned reading for all of their classmates to see.

Dan Bernstein, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Kansas University, said such assignments can help ensure that students are reading and will come prepared for class. But as the Babcock/Marks survey shows, universities aren’t coming close to meeting their own expectations for what should be happening on campus. “That,” said Bernstein, “is one of our dirty little secrets.”

It’s possible that college administrators simply don’t know what’s happening — or rather, not happening — in their dormitories, libraries, and classrooms. The decline in study hours, according to the new research, has happened gradually over decades. Perhaps, some professors argue, colleges simply don’t know the extent of the problem — and perhaps a discussion of the new research will lead to positive changes. But there is also a more troubling reason why the study habits of today’s students remain a discussion held in private, or not at all.

“If we let it be known that they’re not doing their part, that they’re not the students of yore, that makes everybody uncomfortable,” said Bernstein, a professor of psychology who’s been teaching for 35 years. “Our constituents — our stakeholders, as they call them — would be unhappy. They like to prefer that we’re doing our jobs well.”

Hayabusa spacecraft entering Earth’s atmosphere
(
  over an unpopulated area of central Australia on June 12, 2010)

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