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Posts from June 2010

Investing in Education for the Long Term

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010 10:45a.m.

It is rare when I find myself in agreement with Stanley Fish. But I think in his most recent column, I think that he finds such an unalienable truth among teachers that it is impossible, as someone interested in teaching, to disagree with. In his column, he discusses how disasterous a proposed Texas plan for higher education would be, if enacted, for the education of students.

No, it's not the Texas plan to teach elementary and high school students that Phyllis Schlafly is the second coming of George Washington. No, this plan involves the state's universities, particularly Texas A&M. Essentially, the plan wholeheartedly embraces the idea that students are, first and foremost, consumers and should be treated as such.

Fish goes on at some length about why this is such a bad idea. The value of an education is not the same as that of a new car, a television, or -- as he notes -- a hamburger. These are things meant to be enjoyed in the moment for their immediate value. And, given the extraordinary rise of both consumer credit debt and obesity, we have been thinking of ourselves too much as consumers.

  tags: teaching, This-American-Life category: Academe

Obesity is a Badge of Honor

Thursday, June 10th, 2010 6:56p.m.

Last night on the Daily Show, Jon Stewart interviewed National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Spencer Wells about his new book, Pandora's Seed. About half-way into the interview (3:55, to be exact), Stewart asks a great question:

But isn't our obesity almost a medal, a badge of sorts, congratulating us on our...utter domination of the planet?

I'm not sure how well obesity-as-badge-of-honor will get anyone, but to a large degree it is true and example of what demographers call the demographic transition. Rather than dying of infectious diseases that left the human population with relatively high death rates, we now find that disease in developed nations is largely due to chronic conditions. What is interesting about obesity, and why as a sociologist I find it so fascinating, is that it is not only a chronic condition that, as Stewart points out, is an exclusively modern condition (because having enough to eat is a thoroughly modern phenomenon) that has a large behavioral component to it as well. While ecologically obesity might symbolize our triumph, physiologically it might represent a significant step back. The complete list of reasons for my interests in obesity research is a topic for another day, but understanding how the social and cultural logic of that is linked to the physciological component is, in my opinion, an extremely intersting sociological question.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Spencer Wells

  1. I think that being a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence has to be the coolest job ever. I want to figure out how to become one of those. 

  tags: demography, Jon-Stewart, obesity categories: Media & Public Health

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