Bank Clerks, Cops and Nurses’ Aides Do Not Need a College Degree to Do Their Jobs Well


Source of book image: online version of the WSJ review cited, but not quoted, far below.

Reviewer P. Chrzanowski on Amazon says that Professor X uses the phrase “creeping credentialism.” That sounds like a useful phrase, and an unfortunate phenomenon.

(p. C3) He is a bit wicked, this Professor X. His book-length expansion of the article, “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower,” is rippled with mellow sarcasm. Reading one student’s terrible paper about Sylvia Plath, he says: “I pictured her writing it in a bar, or while driving to class or skydiving. Maybe she composed it as one long text message to herself.”
. . .
The tone of his essay, and of this impertinent book, however, is as plaintive as it is lemony. The author is delivering unhappy news, and he knows it. It’s as if he’s proposing to paste an asterisk on the American dream. “Telling someone that college is not right for him seems harsh and classist, vaguely Dickensian,” Professor X writes, “as though we were sentencing him to a life in the coal mines.”
Yet why is it so important to Barack Obama (a champion of community colleges) and those doing America’s hiring, he asks, that “our bank tellers be college educated, and our medical billing techs, our county tax clerks”? College — even community college — drives many young people into debt. Many others lack rudimentary study skills or any scholarly inclination. They want to get on with their lives, not be forced to analyze the meter in “King Lear” in night school in order to become a cop or a nurse’s aide.
“No one is thinking about the larger implications, or even the morality,” Professor X says, “of admitting so many students to classes they cannot possibly pass.”

For the full review, see:
DWIGHT GARNER. “Books of The Times; An Academic Hit Man Brings More Bad News.” The New York Times (Weds., April 6, 2011): C3.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review is dated April 5, 2011.)

For a somewhat less friendly review, see:
ERIC FELTEN. “BOOKSHELF; A Little Learning; Do you have to read ‘King Lear’ to write a speeding ticket?.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., MARCH 30, 2011): A17.

Book under review:
X, Professor. In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic. New York: Viking, 2011.

Hillary Clinton Blasted “Materialism” in Others and Bought a $1.7 Million House for Herself

(p. 145) . . . , it is standard to denounce materialism in others while lusting for it ourselves. At the end of the 1990s, Hillary Rodham Clinton decried “a consumer-driven culture that promotes values that undermine democracy” and blasted “materialism that undermines our spiritual centers.” Shortly thereafter, she bought a $1.7 million home and signed an $8 million book contract. As the novelist Daniel Akst has noted, Rodham Clinton thus joined the long line of commentators “bent on saving the rest of us from the horrors of consumption” while taking care to make themselves rich and comfy.

Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Nanotechnology Zaps Dangerous Superbug

MRSAcellBeforeNanoZap2011-04-25.jpg “A MRSA cell before treatment with nanoparticles.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A3) Researchers at International Business Machines Corp. said they developed a tiny drug, called a nanoparticle, that in test-tube experiments showed promise as a weapon against dangerous superbugs that have become resistant to antibiotics.

The company’s researchers, in collaboration with scientists at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, Singapore, said their nanoparticle can target and destroy antibiotic-resistant bacteria–such as the potentially lethal Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA–without affecting healthy cells.
. . .
IBM, based in Armonk, N.Y., has been working for decades on nanotechnology, which involves engineering atomic-scale particles and electronics. Recently the company has applied those principles–used to create tiny, fast semiconductors–into new areas such as water purification and recyclable plastics. It’s now applying those principles to medicine.
“It turns out that we’ve discovered a lot of ways to control materials at the molecular level as we went through building microelectronic devices,” Dr. Hedrick said.

For the full story, see:

RON WINSLOW And SHARA TIBKEN. “Big Blue’s Tiny Bug Zapper; IBM Researchers Develop Nanoparticle to Destroy Antibiotic-Resistent Bacteria.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., APRIL 4, 2011): A3.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

MRSAcellAfterNanoZap2011-04-25.jpg“What’s left of the cell after getting zapped.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

Serendipitous Invention of Super Glue

(p. 23) Dr. Coover first happened upon the super-sticky adhesive — more formally known as cyanoacrylates — by accident when he was experimenting with acrylates for use in clear plastic gun-sights during World War II. He gave up because they stuck to everything they touched.

In 1951, a researcher named Fred Joyner, who was working with Dr. Coover at Eastman Kodak’s laboratory in Tennessee, was testing hundreds of compounds looking for a temperature-resistant coating for jet cockpits. When Mr. Joyner spread the 910th compound on the list between two lenses on a refractometer to take a reading on the velocity of light through it, he discovered he could not separate the lenses. His initial reaction was panic at the loss of the expensive lab equipment. “He ruined the machine,” Dr. Paul said of the refractometer. “Back in the ’50s, they cost like $3,000, which was huge.”
But Dr. Coover saw an opportunity. Seven years later, the first incarnation of Super Glue, called Eastman 910, hit the market.
In the name of science, Mr. Joyner was not punished for destroying the equipment, Dr. Paul said.
. . .
“I think he got a kick out of being Mr. Super Glue,” she said. “Who doesn’t love Super Glue?”
One of his proudest accomplishments, Dr. Paul added, was that his invention was used to treat injured soldiers during the Vietnam War. Medics, she said, carried bottles of Super Glue in spray form to stop bleeding.
. . .
Super Glue did not make Dr. Coover rich. It did not become a commercial success until the patents had expired, his son-in-law, Dr. Vincent E. Paul, said. “He did very, very well in his career,” Dr. Paul said, “but he did not glean the royalties from Super Glue that you might think.”

For the full obituary, see:
ELIZABETH A. HARRIS. “Harry Coover, 94; Invented Super Glue.” The New York Times (Mon., MARCH 28, 2011): A23.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary is dated March 27, 2011 and had the title “Harry Coover, Super Glue’s Inventor, Dies at 94.”)

“When We Get ‘Out of Book,’ We Are at Our Most Human”


Source of book image:

To be an innovative entrepreneur is to “get out of book” in the language well-expressed below.

(p. A17) In chess, computers are strongest in the parts of the game in which human players rely most on memory: the opening and closing sequences. (Serious players learn strategies by rote, and the early stages of even grandmaster games contain few surprises for the cognoscenti.) Knowledge of these tried and tested moves is called “the book.” By the middle section of a game, however, the number of permutations of moves is too vast for memorization to help. Here players need to get “out of book” and act unexpectedly, which is why computers–even Deep Blue–can struggle.

Mr. Christian elaborates on this distinction and applies it to human intelligence in general. For isn’t it precisely when people refuse to get “out of book”–just following orders or playing their role–that we find them least human? Likewise, when we get “out of book,” we are at our most human. Think of the difference between the waiter who runs through the usual routine and the one who responds to your order with a witticism. Remaining alive to what is mechanical or original in our own behavior can preserve a sense of human difference.

For the full review, see:
JULIAN BAGGINI. “BOOKSHELF; More Than Machine; No computer has yet to pass the Turing Test, fooling judges into believing its responses come from a person.” Wall Street Journal (Tues., MARCH 8, 2011): A17.

Limits to “Sprawl” Add to House Prices Which Benefits the “Already Entrenched”

(p. 130) If 50 percent more Americans are on the way that means there must be 50 percent more suburban subdivisions, 50 percent more malls, 50 percent more of everything–unless anyone thinks it is fair to deny to newcomers the physical space and comfort that current Americans enjoy.

Sprawl may he managed well or poorly, and “smart growth” is better than dumb growth. But when people object to development per se, what they almost always mean is that they have achieved a nice lifestyle and now wish to pull up the ladders against others–and, not coincidentally, to make their own properties more valuable by artificially limiting supply. California real estate prices in particular have shot up in the last decade because slow-growth ordinances and no-growth judicial rulings have artificially restricted housing supply. Opposing sprawl can be a financial boon to anyone who’s already entrenched.
Anything that runs up housing prices is of particular concern to educational equality, since today, in many parts of the United States, the housing market in effect regulates access to the best public schools. Buyers pay significant premiums for homes in the districts of high-quality public schools; in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, a home in the excellent Fairfax County or Montgomery County school systems may sell for $200,000 more than an identical dwelling from which children would attend the troubled schools of Prince George’s County or Arlington County. In turn, SAT scores rise in tandem with family income–each $10,000 increment of increase in family income adds twenty to thirty points to a child’s total SAT scores, studies show. Why does family income raise SAT scores? Partly because a high income enables parents to give children extra advantages, partly because low income parents or parents in broken families may shirk their responsibility for helping children succeed in school, but mostly (p. 131) because the higher a family’s income the better a school district it can buy into, via the housing market. Since education is closely linked to success in later life, the nation has an interest in preventing exclusionary housing prices. That means there must be more sprawl and more growth to increase the housing supply and thereby reduce prices.

Easterbrook, Gregg. The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse. Paperback ed. New York: Random House, 2004.

Business Students Study Fewest Hours and Improve Least in Writing and Reasoning

BusinessMajorsStudyLessAndLearnLessGraphs.jpgThe above table shows that business is a popular major, but that students who major in business tend to spend less time studying than other majors, and also tend to learn less than other majors.

(p. 16) PAUL M. MASON does not give his business students the same exams he gave 10 or 15 years ago. “Not many of them would pass,” he says.

Dr. Mason, who teaches economics at the University of North Florida, believes his students are just as intelligent as they’ve always been. But many of them don’t read their textbooks, or do much of anything else that their parents would have called studying. “We used to complain that K-12 schools didn’t hold students to high standards,” he says with a sigh. “And here we are doing the same thing ourselves.”
That might sound like a kids-these-days lament, but all evidence suggests that student disengagement is at its worst in Dr. Mason’s domain: undergraduate business education.
Business majors spend less time preparing for class than do students in any other broad field, according to the most recent National Survey of Student Engagement: nearly half of seniors majoring in business say they spend fewer than 11 hours a week studying outside class. In their new book “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” the sociologists Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa report that business majors had the weakest gains during the first two years of college on a national test of writing and reasoning skills. And when business students take the GMAT, the entry examination for M.B.A. programs, they score lower than students in every other major.
. . .
(p. 17) IN “Academically Adrift,” Dr. Arum and Dr. Roksa looked at the performance of students at 24 colleges and universities. At the beginning of freshman year and end of sophomore year, students in the study took the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a national essay test that assesses students’ writing and reasoning skills. During those first two years of college, business students’ scores improved less than any other group’s. Communication, education and social-work majors had slightly better gains; humanities, social science, and science and engineering students saw much stronger improvement.
What accounts for those gaps? Dr. Arum and Dr. Roksa point to sheer time on task. Gains on the C.L.A. closely parallel the amount of time students reported spending on homework. Another explanation is the heavy prevalence of group assignments in business courses: the more time students spent studying in groups, the weaker their gains in the kinds of skills the C.L.A. measures.
Group assignments are a staple of management and marketing education.

For the full story, see:
DAVID GLENN. “The Default Major: Skating The B-School Blahs; Where’s the Rigor? Undergraduate Business Has an Image Problem.” The New York Times, Educational Life Section (Sun., April 17, 2011): 16-19.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the review is dated April 14, 2011 and has the title “The Default Major: Skating Through B-School.”)

The book mentioned above is:
Arum, Richard, and Josipa Roksa. Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011.

Omaha’s Mayor Suttle Proposes Toilet Paper Tax

(p. 1A) Mayor Jim Suttle went to Washington Tuesday flush with ideas for how federal officials could help cities like Omaha pay for multibillion-dollar sewer projects.

Among the items on his brainstorming list: a proposal for a 10-cent federal tax on every roll of toilet paper you buy.
Based on the four-pack price for Charmin double rolls Tuesday at a midtown Hy-Vee, such a tax would add more than 10 percent to the per-roll price, pushing it over a buck.

For the full story, see:
MAGGIE O’BRIEN. “Mayor unrolls a novel way to wipe out sewer costs ■ His suggestion– a toilet paper tax — strikes some city industries as a gentler approach.” Omaha World-Herald (Weds., March 23, 2011): 1A.
(Note: the online version has the slightly different title “Mayor unrolls a novel way to wipe out sewer costs ■ His idea– a toilet paper tax — strikes some city industries as a gentler approach.”)

Reduce Spending for Stronger Economy

GovernmentSpendingGraph2011-04-25.jpgSource of graph: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A17) To the extent that government spending crowds out job-creating private investment, it can actually worsen unemployment. Indeed, extensive government efforts to stimulate the economy and reduce joblessness by spending more have failed to reduce joblessness.

Above all, the federal government needs a credible and transparent budget strategy. It’s time for a game-changer–a budget action that will stop the recent discretionary spending binge before it gets entrenched in government agencies.
. . .
We can see such a sensible budget strategy starting to emerge. The first step of the strategy is largely being addressed by the House budget plan for 2011, or HR1. Though voted down in its entirety by the Senate, it is now being split up into “continuing” resolutions that add up to the same spending levels.

For the full commentary, see:

GARY S. BECKER, GEORGE P. SHULTZ AND JOHN B. TAYLOR. “OPINION; Time for a Budget Game-Changer; Assurance that current tax levels will remain in place would provide an immediate stimulus. House Republican budget planners are on the right track.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., APRIL 4, 2011): A17.

(Note: ellipsis added.)