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Category Archives: African American Education News

Here you will find news about African Americans and education

Why We Desperately Need To Bring Back Vocational Training In Schools

 

Nicholas Wyman , CONTRIBUTORI write about job skills in the 21st-century workplace.  Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Instructor helps a student participating in a woodworking manufacturing training program in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. Photographer: Tim Boyle/Bloomberg Charlie Negron

Throughout most of U.S. history, American high school students were routinely taught vocational and job-ready skills along with the three Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic. Indeed readers of a certain age are likely to have fond memories of huddling over wooden workbenches learning a craft such as woodwork or maybe metal work, or any one of the hands-on projects that characterized the once-ubiquitous shop class.

But in the 1950s, a different philosophy emerged: the theory that students should follow separate educational tracks according to ability. The idea was that the college-bound would take traditional academic courses (Latin, creative writing, science, math) and received no vocational training. Those students not headed for college would take basic academic courses, along with vocational training, or “shop.”

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Ability tracking did not sit well with educators or parents, who believed students were assigned to tracks not by aptitude, but by socio-economic status and race. The result being that by the end of the 1950s, what was once a perfectly respectable, even mainstream educational path came to be viewed as a remedial track that restricted minority and working-class students.

The backlash against tracking, however, did not bring vocational education back to the academic core. Instead, the focus shifted to preparing all students for college, and college prep is still the center of the U.S. high school curriculum.

So what’s the harm in prepping kids for college? Won’t all students benefit from a high-level, four-year academic degree program? As it turns out, not really. For one thing, people have a huge and diverse range of different skills and learning styles. Not everyone is good at math, biology, history and other traditional subjects that characterize college-level work. Not everyone is fascinated by Greek mythology, or enamored with Victorian literature, or enraptured by classical music. Some students are mechanical; others are artistic. Some focus best in a lecture hall or classroom; still others learn best by doing, and would thrive in the studio, workshop or shop floor.

And not everyone goes to college. The latest figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) show that about 68% of high school students attend college. That means over 30% graduate with neither academic nor job skills.

But even the 68% aren’t doing so well. Almost 40% of students who begin four-year college programs don’t complete them, which translates into a whole lot of wasted time, wasted money, and burdensome student loan debt. Of those who do finish college, one-third or more will end up in jobs they could have had without a four-year degree. The BLS found that 37% of currently employed college grads are doing work for which only a high school degree is required.

It is true that earnings studies show college graduates earn more over a lifetime than high school graduates. However, these studies have some weaknesses. For example, over 53% of recent college graduates are unemployed or under-employed. And income for college graduates varies widely by major – philosophy graduates don’t nearly earn what business studies graduates do. Finally, earnings studies compare college graduates to all high school graduates. But the subset of high school students who graduate with vocational training – those who go into well-paying, skilled jobs – the picture for non-college graduates looks much rosier.

Yet despite the growing evidence that four-year college programs serve fewer and fewer of our students, states continue to cut vocational programs. In 2013, for example, the Los Angeles Unified School District, with more than 600,000 students, made plans to cut almost all of its CTE programs by the end of the year. The justification, of course, is budgetary; these programs (which include auto body technology, aviation maintenance, audio production, real estate and photography) are expensive to operate. But in a situation where 70% of high school students do not go to college, nearly half of those who do go fail to graduate, and over half of the graduates are unemployed or underemployed, is vocational education really expendable? Or is it the smartest investment we could make in our children, our businesses, and our country’s economic future?

The U.S. economy has changed. The manufacturing sector is growing and modernizing, creating a wealth of challenging, well-paying, highly skilled jobs for those with the skills to do them. The demise of vocational education at the high school level has bred a skills shortage in manufacturing today, and with it a wealth of career opportunities for both under-employed college grads and high school students looking for direct pathways to interesting, lucrative careers. Many of the jobs in manufacturing are attainable through apprenticeships, on-the-job training, and vocational programs offered at community colleges. They don’t require expensive, four-year degrees for which many students are not suited.

 

 

 

 

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Americans don’t read as much as they used to

In 1982, nearly six in 10 American adults — 57 percent — reported having read at least one work of literature, like a novel, short story, play, or poetry collection, in the last 12 months. But as of 2015, only 43 percent can say the same:


(The Washington Post)

That decline marks a 30-year low in Americans’ reading habits, according to new data from the National Endowment for the Arts. For comparison, in 2015, 66 percent of respondents went to a movie or attended a live performance.

Among adults who do read, demographics make a difference. Women are more likely to read literature than men; white people are more likely to read than black or Hispanic Americans; and higher levels of education correspond to higher literature consumption rates. Bonnie Kristian

 

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Job Openings Down in English, Foreign Languages: Faculty positions decline for third year in a row, MLA report finds.

As thousands of English and foreign language Ph.D.s and professors get ready for the 2016 annual meeting of the Modern Language Association (a major stop for those seeking to find or fill jobs), they will find a job market that is tighter than ever.

The MLA’s annual report on its Job Information List has found that in 2014-15, it had 1,015 jobs in English, 3 percent fewer than the previous year. The list had 949 jobs in foreign languages, 7.6 percent fewer than 2013-14.

This is the third straight year of decline in jobs listed with the MLA. And those declines have reversed the gains made in English and foreign language jobs after the severe declines that hit the disciplines after the economic downturn that started in 2008. The low point for jobs in that economic downturn was 2009-10. But the job totals for English this year are 7.7 percent below the English positions of 2009-10. The job totals for foreign languages are 7.3 percent below those of 2009-10.

Not all faculty jobs in English and foreign languages are listed with the MLA, but its job listings (like those of other disciplinary associations) have generally been seen as a good barometer of the job market.

The start of the calendar year is a key time for academic hiring, as many departments conduct initial interviews during annual meetings. At least one large discipline preparing for its annual meeting — economics — is reporting a healthy job market. But that’s not the case for languages.

A historic strength of the MLA list has been tenure-track jobs. Of the 2014-15 English listings, 67.3 percent were tenure track, up by less than a point (0.8) from the year before. In foreign languages, 50.4 percent of the listings were for tenure-track positions, down 2.1 percentage points from the prior year.

While English jobs in the MLA database have historically been more likely than foreign language jobs to be tenure track, the levels for both English and foreign languages are down significantly from where they once were when more jobs were listed. From 2004 through 2009, 75-80 percent of English jobs and 60-65 percent of foreign language jobs listed with the MLA were for tenure-track positions.

Almost all positions listed with the MLA are for full-time positions — the association’s analysis doesn’t provide insight into the job market for part-time positions, on which many colleges rely for introductory writing and foreign language instruction.

The MLA analysis also shows the specializations requested both in English (where there are both writing and literature specializations) and for foreign languages. In the tables that follow, figures do not add up to 100 percent because some search committees don’t separate out by specialization, while others list multiple areas.

Specializations in Writing and English Jobs

Field % of Listings
Writing
— Composition and rhetoric 33.6%
— Technical and business writing 10.1%
— Creative writing and journalism 18.1%
Literature
— British 25.8%
— American (chiefly U.S.) 21.8%
— African-American 5.5%
English other than British or American 6.9%
Other minority 6.6%

Specializations in Foreign Language Jobs

Language % of Listings
Arabic 5.9%
Chinese 7.0%
Classical 0.7%
French and francophone 22.9%
Germanic and Scandinavian 16.7%
Hebrew 1.8%
Italian 5.4%
Japanese 5.0%
Korean 1.1%
Portuguese 4.2%
Russian and Slavic 4.4%
Spanish 37.2%
Other languages 3.1%
 

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The 37 Best Websites to Learn Something New

The 37 Best Websites To Learn Something New

Forget overpriced schools, long days in a crowded classroom, and pitifully poor results. These websites and apps cover myriads of science, art, and technology topics. They will teach you practically anything, from making hummus to building apps in node.js, most of them for free. There is absolutely no excuse for you not to master a new skill, expand your knowledge, or eventually boost your career. You can learn interactively at your own pace and in the comfort of your own home. It’s hard to imagine how much easier it can possibly be. Honestly, what are you waiting for?

→TAKE AN ONLINE COURSE

edX— Take online courses from the world’s best universities.

Coursera — Take the world’s best courses, online, for free.

Coursmos — Take a micro-course anytime you want, on any device.

Highbrow — Get bite-sized daily courses to your inbox.

Skillshare — Online classes and projects that unlock your creativity.

Curious — Grow your skills with online video lessons.

lynda.com — Learn technology, creative and business skills.

CreativeLive — Take free creative classes from the world’s top experts.

Udemy — Learn real world skills online.

→LEARN HOW TO CODE

Codecademy — Learn to code interactively, for free.

Stuk.io — Learn how to code from scratch.

Udacity — Earn a Nanodegree recognized by industry leaders.

Platzi — Live streaming classes on design, marketing and code.

Learnable — The best way to learn web development.

Code School — Learn to code by doing.

Thinkful — Advance your career with 1-on-1 mentorship.

Code.org — Start learning today with easy tutorials.

BaseRails — Master Ruby on Rails and other web technologies.

Treehouse — Learn HTML, CSS, iPhone apps & more.

One Month — Learn to code and build web applications in one month.

Dash — Learn to make awesome websites.

→LEARN TO WORK WITH DATA

DataCamp — Online R tutorials and data science courses.

DataQuest— Learn data science in your browser.

DataMonkey— Develop your analytical skills in a simple, yet fun way.

→LEARN NEW LANGUAGES

Duolingo — Learn a language for free.

Lingvist — Learn a language in 200 hours.

Busuu — The free language learning community.

Memrise — Use flashcards to learn vocabulary.

Babbel — Discover a new language experience.

→EXPAND YOUR KNOWLEDGE

TED-Ed — Find carefully curated educational videos

Khan Academy— Access an extensive library of interactive content.

Guides.co — Search the largest collection of online guides.

Squareknot — Browse beautiful, step-by-step guides.

Learnist — Learn from expertly curated web, print and video content.

→BONUS

Chesscademy — Learn how to play chess for free.

Pianu — A new way to learn piano online, interactively.

Yousician— Your personal guitar tutor for the digital age.


UPDATE: Full list here

 

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Why You Should Discourage Your Children from Writing in Techspeak

by Tamara N. Jones

Techspeak is the use of common acronyms and abbreviations in lieu of fully spelled out words you wish to communicate. For example: ADN – Any Day Now, CWYL – Chat With You Later and WE – Whatever, you get the point. Are there times when it is helpful to use shortcuts? Yes! For instance, I find myself using it when I am about to go underground and know that the time I take to say “See you in five minutes”, I can say “cu in 5”. Under circumstances such as this, using shortcut works in my favor. But for children, using techspeak as their primary written communication with friends and family every single day, it is not advantageous to their developing mind. As a matter of fact, it endangers their cognitive development. According to professor S. Shyam Sundar and Drew P. Cingel, in their article Texting, techspeak, and tweens The relationship between text messaging and English grammar skills, adolescents, 13-17, are more likely to use “techspeak”. This habitual way of writing not only “rob[s] this age group of a fundamental understanding of standard English grammar”, but also affects their performance on grammar assessments. Though text messaging technologies are useful and convenient, there is “a general relationship between messaging and adolescent grammar skills”. One of Sundar and Cingel interesting findings is relationship between messages received and messages sent. It seems  adolescents adapt their language based on the messages they receive. In other words, if the message they receive reads “lol gr8 4 u” they are likely to respond in techspeak as well.

One of the most troublesome findings in their research is that adolescents are not able to successfully code switch. Most adolescents cannot switch from techspeak to correct English in the classroom. This is problem as there is an upward trend in using technology in classroom to teach adolescents and techspeak has now found itself in the classroom and “these adaptations carry over into standard writing practices”. One particular fallout that Sundar and Cingel do not cover, and I suppose it is because it is not within the scope of their research, is this written adaptation can carry over in speech. I often hear adolescents speak in techspeak to each other. With techspeak and slang, it is nearly impossible to understand what is being said. Sadly, just like in writing, these adolescents do not see that there is a time and a place for everything. When speaking to your teacher, saying “omg teach” is not the proper or respectful way of communicating with someone in a position of authority. It muddles the boundaries, if not, erase them.

How can you prevent your child/children from becoming  a victim? Require that they communicate with you in standard English. As the research noted, adolescents are likely to respond in the similar way the message was received. This includes avoiding conjugations. Write “it is” instead of “it’s”. Just as techspeak is a form of habit, standard English can also become their new habit at least when communicating with their parents and other adults.

 

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Strategies for Making the New School Year a Success

newschoolyearAs the carefree days of summer wind to a close, children and parents are starting to think about the return to (or start of) school. While there is typically excitement about the new school year, there is generally some level of anxiety about what lies ahead.  The balance between excitement and anxiety is influenced by a number of factors including:  your family’s schedule, parent-teacher relationships and opportunities for much needed “down-time” from the weekday routine. As you embark on the new school year, try these strategies to help make the year a success.

Establish a realistic schedule for your family.  Most of us work best when we have a routine and that holds true for children.  Start by prioritizing; “What really matters and has to get done and what is less important and does not have to get done?”  In addition:

  • Limit the number of extracurricular activities (the younger your child the fewer scheduled activities he should have).
  • Determine, with your child, when homework will be done (after school or after play) and hold to that decision.
  • Make time for breakfast; the benefits to health/nutrition and starting the day off right are worth 10 fewer minutes of sleep.
  • Have a device-free dinner as a family at least five nights per week. Research clearly supports the long-term benefits of family dinners, which allow for relaxation, problem solving, humor and socialization.
  • Involve your children, even the littlest ones, in household chores so everyone is contributing to the good of your family.

Develop a “partnership” with your child’s teacher. As a career-long teacher educator, I can attest to the fact that individuals become teachers because they want to make a difference in the lives of their students. Believe your child’s teacher has your child’s best interests at heart and will do all she can to ensure your child learns and is confident in his abilities. Basing your relationship on that premise will allow you to have a true partner in your child’s education.

If a concern arises about something the teacher is or isn’t doing, raise the concern with the teacher and work through the issue in a way that is best for your child.  When you are uncertain of how to respond to a situation, rely on the teacher’s expertise in child development and learning for guidance.  For example, ask questions such as:

  • “What should we do at home to reinforce the math concepts you’re teaching in school?”
  • “Nellie seems afraid to try new things. What would you suggest I do to help her feel more confident?”
  • “Juan said he doesn’t have any friends in his class. How can we help him forge new friendships?”

Have positive conversations with your children about their performance. No one has a greater influence on the beliefs, attitudes and accomplishments of your child than you! In fact research strongly suggests children achieve at a higher level when parents (and teachers) have high expectations for performance. Affirm your child’s abilities/accomplishments by:

  • Modeling and actively encouraging a love of learning and joy in discovery.
  • Having high (but realistic) expectations for your child’s school performance.
  • Letting your children know you believe they will be successful because you know they work hard.
  • Celebrating your children’s strengths and supporting areas where they need to grow.
  • Sharing performance concerns with the teacher (versus your child) so you can find a solution together.

Respond to your child’s concerns.  If your child voices a concern relative to something happening in school, friendships or performance, seek additional information before jumping to conclusions (or your own solution). When your child raises a concern:

  • Ask open-ended questions so you can understand the root cause of your child’s anxiety.
  • Support him in identifying possible solutions or responses to the concern.
  • Stress the importance of perseverance and share stories of struggles you had as a child (preferably those you overcame through hard work).
  • Focus on her accomplishments versus “what others are doing/thinking”.
  • Validate his concerns, but put the concerns in perspective by reminding him of his strengths as a person, student and friend.
  • Contact the teacher and ask for her input (remember, this is a “partnership”). For example, “Sofia cried as we put her to bed last night saying she hates school. Could we talk later today so I can better understand what challenges she is having and how I might help?”

Ask yourself if your children are “happy” and are “enjoying” their childhood.While school success is critically important, it is also important to think about all aspects of our children’s development (social, emotional, physical and cognitive). For the good of your children (and yourself):

  • If your child is struggling with or spending too much time on homework (which should be 10 minutes per grade—1st grade=10 minutes, 2nd grade=20 minutes), work with the teacher to find ways to make homework more manageable.
  • Include informal opportunities for play, discovery and learning in your child’s schedule.
  • Set aside times for your family to relax and have fun (e.g., charades, board games, reading, playing with the dog and getting outdoors).
  • End every day by cuddling up with your children for a bedtime story. Bedtime reading promotes literacy, fosters an emotional connection and reminds us of what matters most in our world.

School affords opportunities for our children to grow and learn in a multitude of ways. Through active engagement in our children’s school experiences, as a role model and a participant, we can help ensure there is joy in their learning and pride in their accomplishments.

Best wishes for a wonderful school year ahead!

 

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Overworking Your Brain Can Spark Ideas

Mental exhaustion can unleash creativity, research shows

college student studying
As we go through our day, juggling multiple tasks and deadlines, our mind works hard to stay focused on a single task. There is the added pressure to keep distractions at bay – meetings, e-mails, news updates, and so on. At the end of it all, we are left feeling exhausted. At such times, instead of shutting down and relaxing, we should perhaps learn to capitalize on the mental fatigue and try to kindle our creative genius.

credit: CollegeDegrees360 via flickr

If you walk down to the office gallery at Pearlfisher Inc., a design agency based in London, you are bound to hear the unmistakable cluck of plastic balls colliding. At first, you might dismiss it as the sound of employees chilling out on a ping pong game. But if you walk further, following signs for “Jump In!,” the sound will turn into a rattle like that of maracas. What you see next might take your breath away – a huge ball pit filled with 81,000 white plastic balls. But frolicking in the pit are not preschoolers or kindergartners. They are in fact corporate managers and associates, dressed in business suits, in an afternoon brainstorming session.

Companies relying on innovation go to astonishing lengths to imbue creativity in their staff. Jump In!, the wacky brainchild of Pearlfisher’s creative strategist, is for instance, built on the premise that interleaving work and play can spark creativity in grown-ups, just like it did back in school days. Many companies including Google, Skype and Facebook similarly emphasize the power of play, while others, such as the news website The Huffington Post, insist on peace and quiet during the break hours. Their offices instead sport nap nooks, where employees can grab some z’s and feel refreshed before returning to write. In theory, both strategies can inspire creativity – one perhaps better than the other depending on whether, for instance, you design products or pen stories for a living. They essentially have the same effect on us: they help us relax and unwind, restoring some of our dulled senses.

But it turns out that mental exhaustion from overwork can itself unleash creativity. When we are tired, our mind can be too weary to control our thoughts, and eccentric ideas that might normally be filtered out as non-relevant can bubble up, suggests a recent study by Rémi Radel at the University of Nice Sophia-Antipolis, France. This means that perhaps creative ideas can be hatched at the workplace, right when we feel drained from a mental overload.

In their study, Radel and colleagues overtaxed the minds of a group of undergrads by having them perform a computerized task that demanded attention: finding the direction of a center arrow by ignoring the directions of surrounding arrows. The task was iterated across 2000 trials. In conflict trials, the center and surrounding arrows pointed in opposite directions whereas in non-conflict trials, all arrows pointed in the same direction. The controls and test subjects faced conflict in 10% and 50% of the trials, respectively. After the students finished the attention task, the scientists measured their creativity in verbal tests. First, they asked the students to enlist multiple, innovative uses for common objects, such as paperclip, newspaper, shoe. Next, they tested the students’ ability to connect unrelated words. They presented the students with a “priming word” followed by “target word” – for example, they flashed the word tiger followed by the word loni, jumbled from lion – and asked the students to vote whether the target word was a real or a non-existent word.

Radel found that students who took the rigorous attention task turned out to be more creative than others who had taken milder versions of the task. They came up with more numerous and quirkier ideas than the latter – one student, for instance, proposed to use a paperclip as a plectrum for guitar, and another saw its use as a compass when inserted into a piece of cork. These students were also more likely to connect unrelated words in the word association test. They identified more non-existent words as real words especially when the prime-target pairs were seemingly related, such as tiger and loni. They perceived loni as lion when it appeared after tigerand hence, called it a real word. Their ability to associate unrelated words, Radel suggests, came from a reduced filtering of irrelevant information – here, for instance, the priming word tiger – from the mind.

Radel’s attention task induced creativity in the students by exhausting their inhibition, which is the brain’s ability to sift out unwanted information from the conscious mind. Although inhibition is essential for day-to-day activities such as problem-solving and focusing on tasks, it stifles creative thinking by gating out eccentric thoughts and ideas. Uninhibited minds, on the other hand, can unleash our creative genius.

Low inhibition is in fact the basis of the paradoxical creativity seen in psychosis and the reason behind enviable accounts of sudden artistic output. For example, in a certain type of psychiatric disorder called fronto-temporal dementia, patients acquire artistic skills anew as their disease progresses. Bruce Miller, a neurologist at the University of California, San Francisco, is an expert in the field. He proposes that in these patients, the damage to parts of the prefrontal cortex – the brain’s seat of execution, in the area of the forehead – particularly in the analytical left hemisphere, releases the inhibition on the right side. As a result, their right prefrontal cortex – the region that fosters visual expression and metaphorical thinking – is liberated from control, and allows a flowering of creativity. The patients develop a sudden compulsive interest in painting. Of course, the sustained loss of inhibition has devastating problems on behavior including changes in social conduct and poor impulse control.

Creative, healthy minds on the other hand can control their inhibition more effectively. In an elegant experiment, back in 2008, neuroscientist Charles Limb at Johns Hopkins University captured brain activity in jazz pianists as they played a specially designed keyboard inside a functional MRI scanner. He saw that the pianists switched to an uninhibited state when they spontaneously improvised a musical piece but not when they played the C-major scale from memory. In the former case, which requires more creativity, Limb could observe a waning of activity in regions of the prefrontal cortex associated with planning, execution and self-assessment, unveiling newer activity in areas for self-expression and individuality. Of course, the inhibition was intact when the pianists played a learned order of notes from memory, a task requiring greater attention.

Being creative is not just about achieving a state of low inhibition, which is probably what we get from alcohol or drugs, but about tweaking inhibition for brief stints without losing control. Harvard psychologist Shelly Carson, author of Your Creative Brain, calls this process “flexing the brain.” She says that creative people can turn down the volume of inhibition to let novel ideas inspire them, and then, turn the volume back up to put their ideas to meaningful use.

Any strategy aimed at upping our creativity should do exactly this – help “manipulate” our inhibition. For beginners, Radel’s technique of overtaxing the brain, to find a sweet window for a creative spell, may be a good place to start. As we go through our day, juggling multiple tasks and deadlines, our mind works hard to stay focused on a single task. There is the added pressure to keep distractions at bay – meetings, e-mails, news updates, and so on. At the end of it all, we are left feeling exhausted. At such times, instead of shutting down and relaxing, we should perhaps learn to capitalize on the mental fatigue and try to kindle our creative genius.

 

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