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Practically Idealistic blog
The title for this blog originated with use of the term “practical idealist” in this 1996 opinion piece, which asked: “To what kind of work should a practical idealist aspire?” A century and a half earlier, Emerson, in his 1841 essay Circles, wrote: “There are degrees in idealism.  We learn first to play with it academically. . . .  Then we see in the heyday of youth and poetry that it may be true, that it is true in gleams and fragments.  Then, its countenance waxes stern and grand, and we see that it must be true.  It now shows itself ethical and practical.”  John Dewey and Mahatma Gandhi embraced practical idealism in the 20th century, as did UN Secretary General U Thant.  Al Gore invoked it in a 1998 speech. In the context of this blog, the term is meant to convey idealism tempered but not overwhelmed by realism: a search for the ideal on a path guided by common sense.
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Saturday, June 26, 2010

Youth Unemployment and Summer Jobs

With some 15 million people officially unemployed – a record share of them, nearly half, for six months or more – the job market is profoundly affecting people of all ages.  Extension of unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed is of concern not only to them but to a precarious economy.  Still, with summer underway, let us focus here on employment prospects for young people.

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics , the proportion of young people who were employed in July 2009 was 51.4 percent, “the lowest July rate on record for the series, which began in 1948.  (July is the traditional summertime peak for youth employment.)”  By last year, it was already apparent to what extent older and younger workers were competing for scarce jobs.

This year, a June 1 New York Times article reports, “Job Outlook for Teenagers Worsens  as “stimulus money that helped cushion some government job programs last summer is running out, and private employers are reluctant to hire.”  Already, the unemployment rate for those ages 16-24 “reached a record 19.6 percent in April, double the national average.”

Youth@Work is a public-private partnership that seeks to address related challenges for young people ages 14-19 in New Haven.  Beyond, Year Up is an example of a one-year program providing an older cohort (ages 18-24) technical and professional skills, college credits, an educational stipend and a corporate internship.  Public Allies works in New Haven among other cities in partnership with AmeriCorps and local organizations.

Already, more than two years ago, Andrew Sum et al. from Northeastern University's Center for Labor Market Studies (which has also examined issues such as the consequences of dropping out of school, including in Connecticut specifically in an October 2009 presentation) decried in this April 2008 report “the continued collapse of the nation’s teen job market,” which peaked in 2000 with the broader economy.

 According to Sum et al., "Teen employment rates have been declining sharply since the fall of 2006, well before the national job market began to deteriorate, and the drop has accelerated in recent months. During the first three months of 2008, the teen employment/population ratio (E/P) averaged only 33.5%, implying that only 1 of every 3 teenagers (16-19 years old) was employed in any type of job during an average month over the January-March period. . . . Near the peak of the national labor market boom in 2000, the E/P ratio of the nation’s teens in the first quarter was 45.2% versus the 33.5% rate of 2008, a difference of 11.7 percentage points or 26% . The teen E/P ratio of 33.5% in the most recent quarter was the lowest ever recorded in the 60 year history of . . . data going back to 1948. If the nation’s teens had been employed at the same rate in 2008 that they had been in the first quarter of calendar year 2000, there would have been another 2 million teenagers working in the past three months. Job losses for teens over the past eight years have been quite severe for nearly all major demographic, socioeconomic, and geographic subgroups of teens, but the nation’s youngest teens (16-17), males, Blacks, Hispanics, and low income youth remain employed at rates below those of their respective peers. Low income, Black and Hispanic teens face the equivalent of a Great Depression."

Sum et al. continue:

"There are many reasons to care about rising youth joblessness. . . . The more teens work this year, the more they work next year. These path dependency relationships hold true for all major educational and demographic subgroups, especially among low income and minority youth. Less work experience today leads to less work experience tomorrow and lower earnings down the road. Disadvantaged teens who work in high school are more likely to remain in high school than their peers who do not work. Teens who work more in high school have an easier time transitioning into the labor market after graduation. National evidence shows that pregnancy rates for teens are lower in metropolitan areas where employment rates for teen girls are higher."

Such bleak accounts led me to reflect on the variety of summer and other vacation jobs I had between the ages of 12 and 21 in the 1980s and early '90s -- from mowing lawns, cleaning engines, stacking wood, throwing hay, and checking a hardware store's inventory, to door-to-door canvassing for environmental causes, working at a group home for adults with severe disabilities, and counseling and tutoring high school students in an Upward Bound program.  Not only the money earned but also the range of experiences (from mistakes and frustrations to inspiring rewards) were important to my own development personally and professionally.  Surely many other adults would cite similar influences and lessons learned from their adolescent years.

Every teen willing to work hard (beyond the classroom as well as in it) should have the opportunity to do so, if possible on a paid basis.  Summer jobs for youth are an investment in their futures and in our common future.

7:46 am edt 

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Engineering in the Elementary and Secondary Grades

A June 13 New York Times article by Winnie Hu, "Studying Engineering Before They Can Spell It," addressed engineering education in the early grades.
The Yale-New Haven Teachers Institute has offered a number of seminars on engineering -- among many others on STEM subjects (in addition to humanities and arts subjects) more broadly -- in response to requests from public school elementary- as well as secondary-grades teachers participating as Fellows.
For example, "Nanotechnology and Human Health" is the subject of one of the ten (New Haven or national) seminars the Institute is offering in 2010, five of them in the sciences or mathematics.
W. Mark Saltzman, Goizueta Foundation Professor of Chemical and Biomedical Engineering at Yale University, is leading the nanotechnology seminar.  This is the fifth straight year Mark Saltzman has led such a seminar in which public school teachers have participated as Fellows, in order to strengthen teaching and learning of the sciences, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  His earlier seminars addressed "Engineering in Modern Medicine"; "Health and the Human Machine"; "Nutrition, Metabolism, and Diabetes"; and "The Brain in Health and Disease" – the last two national seminars, as is this year’s.

Martin Gehner, Professor Emeritus of Architectural Engineering, has led New Haven and national seminars on bridges, math, and architecture.
Eric Dufresne, who is John J. Lee Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Chemical Engineering, Physics and Cell Biology, led a New Haven seminar on "Science and Engineering in the Kitchen" in 2009.
The curricular resources that teachers developed as Fellows in these and other seminars are available for non-commercial, educational purposes.

6:13 pm edt 

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Indian Railways and Politics

May 23 and 28 posts to this blog addressed aspects of India, such as the success of the new Delhi Metro (subway), and included reference to a March 23 New York Times article by Vikas Bajaj. 

This month, Bajaj wrote about how "Clogged Rail Lines Slow India's Development,"  while “Economists say India must invest heavily in transportation to achieve a long-term annual growth rate of 10 percent — the goal recently set by the prime minister, Manmohan Singh. But whether measured by highways, airways or — particularly — far-reaching railways, India’s transportation is falling short. Critics say the growth and modernization of Indian Railways has been hampered by government leaders more interested in winning elections and appeasing select constituents, rather than investing in the country’s long-term needs. It is one of the many ways that the political realities of India’s clamorous democracy stand in contrast to the forced march that China’s authoritarian system can dictate for economic development. A 40,000-mile, 150-year-old network, Indian Railways is often described as the backbone of this nation’s economy. And in fact it is moving more people and goods than ever: seven billion passengers and 830 million tons of cargo a year. But its expansion and modernization is not keeping pace with India’s needs.”

Another recent Times article covered Rahul Gandhi , potentially the fourth generation of the Nehru/Gandhi (Indira and Rajiv, not Mohandas) family to lead India.  Rahul Gandhi is striving to help the Congress Party oust Mayawati as chief minister of the vast state of Uttar Pradesh, and to gain parliamentary seats there.

Posts to this blog between December 21, 2009 and January 2 of this year included mention of Uttar Pradesh and Mayawati and of train travel between Delhi and Rajasthan.

10:06 am edt 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Intermarriage Increase in U.S. Documented

A recent Pew study reports “14.6% of all new marriages in the United States in 2008 were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from each other, according to . . . analysis of new data from the U.S. Census Bureau. That figure is an estimated six times the intermarriage rate among newlyweds in 1960 and more than double the rate in 1980.This dramatic increase has been driven in part by the weakening of longstanding cultural taboos against intermarriage and in part by a large, multi-decade wave of immigrants from Latin America and Asia. In 1961, the year Barack Obama's parents were married, less than one in 1,000 new marriages in the United States was, like theirs, the pairing of a black person and a white person, according to Pew Research estimates. By 1980, that share had risen to about one in 150 new marriages. By 2008, it had risen to one-in-sixty.”

Such trends have received attention occasionally on this blog, such as in a March 22 post on the Census and demography that made reference to a January 25, 2009 entry noting a January 21 New York Times article by Jodi Kantor:  "A Portrait of Change:  In First Family, a Nation's Many Faces"  -- as well as a May 2006 commentary on the This I Believe website "Cushioning Globalization through Global Families"  and a similar, expanded June 2006 essay.

11:00 pm edt 

Saturday, June 5, 2010

John Wooden, Sport, and Society

Yesterday John Wooden died, some 35 years after retiring from coaching UCLA to 10 NCAA basketball titles.  Wooden, revered by players and coaches for decades (despite a brush with scandal involving a program booster in his final years of coaching), was described in his New York Times obituary as a “dignified, scholarly man who spoke with the precise language of the English teacher he once was.”  Wooden kept sports in context, understanding “love” and “balance” to be primary in life.  An AP article included these Wooden maxims: "Learn as if you were going to live forever. Live as if you were going to die tomorrow"; and "What you are as a person is far more important than what you are as a basketball player." 

A January 24, 2010 post to this blog had cited Wooden (not to be confused with John Woodenlegs, quoted by Sarah Palin in a statement she mistakenly attributed to Wooden) on the theme of “competitive greatness.”  That January 24 post addressed UConn basketball, as had a January 26, 2009 post that referred to former UConn player Ray Allen, known as a “cerebral” player with interests well beyond basketball.  (Reading is among the causes he has promoted.)

Ray Allen and Emeka Okafor – who graduated in three years with a finance major and high GPA while leading UConn to the 2004 NCAA championship – are among the distinguished players  and people the Huskies have had under Coach Jim Calhoun. 

Calhoun’s biggest mistake was Nate Miles, whose recruitment apparently involved NCAA rules violations before he was expelled without ever playing a game.  Now UConn has joined UCLA, USC, Kentucky, Kansas, Indiana, Michigan and other schools whose accomplishments on the court have been marred by infamy.  Let’s hope the violations are an aberration that will not be repeated, that will lead to salutary reforms.

Nate Miles was the subject of an October 2008 piece, "Domestic Violence No Game"— which argued “our state university should win the right way” and, like a May 14 post to this blog last month, connected sports and violence. 

Readers are encouraged to support the "Stay at Home" Fundraiser of Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven.

9:44 pm edt 

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