An elementary explanation for how ed tech widens, rather than narrows, the achievement gap

Are the Lords of MOOC Creation listening?  I doubt it, but let’s review this article at Slate by Annie Murphy Paul anyway:

Why would improved access to the Internet harm the academic performance of poor students in particular? Vigdor and his colleagues speculate that “this may occur because student computer use is more effectively monitored and channeled toward productive ends in more affluent homes.” This is, in fact, exactly the dynamic Susan Neuman and Donna Celano saw playing out in the libraries they monitored. At the [affluent neighborhood] Chestnut Hill library, they found, young visitors to the computer area were almost always accompanied by a parent or grandparent. Adults positioned themselves close to the children and close to the screen, offering a stream of questions and suggestions. Kids were steered away from games and toward educational programs emphasizing letters, numbers, and shapes. When the children became confused or frustrated, the grown-ups guided them to a solution.

The [impoverished neighborhood] Badlands library boasted computers and software identical to Chestnut Hill’s, but here, children manipulated the computers on their own, while accompanying adults watched silently or remained in other areas of the library altogether. Lacking the “scaffolding” provided by the Chestnut Hill parents, the Badlands kids clicked around frenetically, rarely staying with one program for long. Older children figured out how to use the programs as games; younger children became discouraged and banged on the keyboard or wandered away.

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Returning POWs, eighteenth-century style

The recent redemption of captive Bowe Bergdahl has interested me–not the political pissing match, which seems as drearily predictable as the plot of a Harlequin Romance.  The details coming out about his experiences as a prisoner of war are what I want to know more about.  The news that he has trouble speaking English now is especially fascinating to me.  It called to my mind this passage from A Narrative of the Captivity of Mrs. [Susanna] Johnson, Containing an Account of her Four Years of Suffering with the Indians and French.  First published in 1796, it told of her family’s experiences from 1754-58 as prisoners during the Seven Years War after they were captured in a raid on Fort Number Four in what’s now Charlestown, New Hampshire.  Johnson relates this about the return of her son Sylvanus, whom she last saw at age six or seven.  He was eleven before she saw him again:

In the October following [1758], I had the happiness to embrace my son Sylvanus; he had been above three years with the Indians, followed them in all their hunting excursions and learnt too many of their habits; to civilize him, and learn him his native language was a severe task, (136).

Little Sylvanus Johnson has been on my mind recently, because I wrote an essay last summer about child war captives in early America, and I focused on his experiences in one portion of the essay.  In successive editions of her narrative, Susanna Johnson either gives us more details about Sylvanus’s condition, or she embroiders the story.  From the 1814 third edition published after her death in 1810:

In October, 1758, I was informed that my son Sylvanus was at Northampton [Massachusetts], sick of a scald.*  I hastened to the place, and found him in a deplorable situation; he was brought there by Major Putnam, afterwards Gen. Putnam, with Mrs. How and her family, who had returned from captivity.**  The town of Northampton had taken the charge of him; his situation was miserable; when I found him, he had no recollection of me, but, after some conversation, he had some confused ideas of me, but no remembrance of his father.  It was four years since I had seen him; he was then eleven years old.  During his absence, he had entirely forgotten the English language, spoke a little broken French, but was perfect in Indian.  He had been with the savages three years, and one year with the French.  But his habits were somewhat Indian; he had been with them in their hunting excursions, and suffered numerous hardships; he could brandish a tomahawk or bend the bow; but these habits wore off by degrees, (130).

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“Maternal Solicitude,” or, how to avoid both infanticide and suicide!

babydos&dontsFrom the very first paragraph of Mary Watkins’s Maternal Solicitude, or Lady’s Manual (New York, 1809), h/t to my graduate student, Clarissa:

WHEN a mother does not nurse her own infant, she, in many instances, does violence to nature; a custom unknown among the most polished in the purest ages of Greece and Rome.  The sudden check given to this great natural evacuation of milk, at a time when her weakly state renders her unable to sustain so great a shock, is often of the worst consequences to herself; and the loss to the child is much greater than in commonly apprehended.  A woman in this case, runs the imminent risk of her life from a milk-fever; besides the danger of swellings and imposthumes of the breast, and such obstruction in them as lay a foundation of a future cancer, (7).

Yes, a 205-year old breastfeeding manual on the first page threatens the reader with both the loss of her child and CANCER!  But let’s not get too smug today.  Maternal Solicitude is almost as subtle as modern pro-breastfeeding propaganda. Continue reading

Josephine Baker’s postwar/Cold War “rainbow tribe”

The book that kept Matthew Pratt Guterl indoors all last summer was published last month by Harvard University’s Belknap Press.  Rebecca Onion gives it a nice rundown here at Slate:

Baker was born in St. Louis but moved to France in 1925. Her danse sauvage, famously performed in a banana skirt, brought her international fame. During World War II, she worked for the Red Cross and gathered intelligence for the French Resistance. After the war, married to her fourth husband, Jo Bouillon, she struggled to conceive a child. Meanwhile, her career waned. Guterl’s book is about this period of Baker’s life, as she built her large adopted family, became ever more active on behalf of the nascent civil rights movement in the United States, and re-emerged into fame.

Baker purchased her estate, known as Les Milandes, after marrying Bouillon in 1947. In addition to the chateau, the property boasted a motel, a bakery, cafés, a jazz club, a miniature golf course, and a wax museum telling the story of Baker’s life. As Guterl makes clear, the place was over-the-top, but its ostentation was a political statement. Les Milandes, with its fairy-tale setting, announced to the world that African-American girls born poor could transcend nation and race and find wealth and happiness.

Guterl makes it sound like Baker’s family was kind of a multicultural Trapp Family Singers or a Partridge Family, crossed with the Dionne QuintupletsContinue reading

Saturday: Thank Dog.

Lucky dog!

Lucky dog!

My weekends are just too freakin’ short this semester, as I’m teaching two lecture classes on a MWF schedule.  I honestly don’t mind teaching three days a week–I’m just frustrated that I don’t have a discretionary extra day to prep for Monday lectures, finish the neverending piles of grading, etc., let alone think for 20 minutes about how to get back to writing my book and figuring out what needs to happen archival research-wise before I make my base camp at the feet of the San Gabes.  What’s with the MWF; can’t we get a MWR, or a MTR, or a TWF?  Let the people who teach twice a week show up on Mondays and Fridays, as they’ll have three weekdays in-between without classes to TCB.

I know this is an academic blog, but you didn’t come here to see me b!tch about my mostly-imaginary and very temporary frustrations now, did you?  So here are some random tidbits of THC, TBD (The Big Dog), and OMs on TDIS (Thank Dog It’s Saturday).

  • Nepotism alert:  Sometime in the next generation, every single American roots music recording artist will be either a member of the Wainwright-McGarrigle clan or of the Carter-Cash family clan.  Seriously:  are there no other worthy recording artists these days?
  • Recreational reefer madness 2014!  Earlier this week, some dip$hit in Denver ate some marijuana-infused candy and then shot his wife in the head and killed her in front of their three little kids.  Of course, the media conversation in Denver is all about the marijuana edibles instead of the gun in the home.  (Because that’s what all upper-middle class people need in their homes with three children in perfectly safe neighborhoods:  easily accessible handguns!)  You gotta love the politics of Colorado!  Or just shake your head in wonder at the criminal stupidity of it all.
  • Speaking of polidicks:  I’m reading Double Down:  Game Change 2012 by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann (which, BTW, is pure political crackerjack, so delicious and so non-nutritious!), and I get to this paragraph: Continue reading