Greatest Hits Vol. 2

about this site

I was working on this website beginning around the beginning of my first semester at UBC.  In particular, the quotations on the “about this site” page (linked above) are a good representation of the various voices in EDucational STudies that resonated with my own voice at that time.  Here again, you can see an evolution.

The purpose of this site has always been to be a of part of the public at the margins, less obviously dominated by capital interests.  Naturally, it takes time to maintain a blog.  There are long stretches when I was exclusively posting NYTimes headlines that I thought were important to remember at the time.  Looking back at some of those blog posts, you notice the arc of my political interests.  I’ll link to a representative sample here:

Early

The School Lunch Barometer – NYTimes.com

Alcatraz American Indian Occupation Graffiti Preserved – NYTimes.com

Mid-Range

Good Neighbors, Bad Border – NYTimes.com

http://www.jonathanbfisher.net/2012/05/01/the-imperiled-promise-of-college-nytimes-com/

http://www.jonathanbfisher.net/2014/07/22/its-another-perfect-day-in-tibet-nytimes-com/

Recent Past

Ideology Seen as Factor in Closings in University of North Carolina System – NYTimes.com

 

Argument Task 15: Mason City Waterfront (Making an “ASS” out of “U” and “ME”)

ESSAY PROMPT

In surveys Mason City residents rank water sports (swimming, boating, and fishing) among their favorite recreational activities. The Mason River flowing through the city is rarely used for these pursuits, however, and the city park department devotes little of its budget to maintaining riverside recreational facilities. For years there have been complaints from residents about the quality of the river’s water and the river’s smell. In response, the state has recently announced plans to clean up Mason River. Use of the river for water sports is, therefore, sure to increase. The city government should for that reason devote more money in this year’s budget to riverside recreational facilities.

Write a response in which you examine the stated and/or unstated assumptions of the argument. Be sure to explain how the argument depends on these assumptions and what the implications are for the argument if the assumptions prove unwarranted.

 

ESSAY

Mason City Government needs to proceed with a bit more caution as interest in Mason River recreational activity ramps up. Despite the stated facts—the burgeoning popularity of water sports among Mason residents, the complaints about water quality including odor, and the State’s plans to clean up the river. There is still a lot riding on assumption as opposed to fact, data or indeed the reality of the situation in Mason City. As the city government plans to earmark more funding this fiscal year to riverside recreational facilities the following three points ought to be considered for their potential effects on the outcomes of such expenditures. First and foremost, is the Mason River going to be a viable site for marine recreational activities? Second, given the viability of such facilities, would Mason River recreational infrastructure be economically sustainable and competitive with regional waterfront facilities that are already proven more popular among locals? And finally, is opening the riverfront up to water sports really the best use of this valuable city resource? Only after these underlying assumptions have been thoroughly investigated, should Mason City government proceed with their laudable if perhaps overly-ambitious commitment of funding to this development effort.

Likely the most significant assumption being made ahead of the city’s investment in riverfront recreational infrastructure has to do with the safety of the riverfront in general. What is known is the history of pollution in the river. This history will not soon be forgotten in the community. And so, the city ought to take a long, hard look at the reality of clean-up measures, as well as advertising and public-relations campaigns that might be necessary to convince locals that that stinky eyesore in their backyards is the next vacation hotspot. Only after a more detailed development plan is mapped out can, the nitty-gritty of the budget for such a project be comprehended with clarity. And the last thing the city needs is to get involved in such an ill-begotten project only to have some poor child be poisoned or otherwise put in danger from exposure to a half-baked tourism boosting scheme.

After safety has been fully contemplated, the actual useage of the riverfront ought to be next under the microscope. As popular as water sports are apparently among the denizens of Mason City, there may well be other sectors with interests in this valuable property. Indeed city tourism may be better served by developing the riverfront as an upscale commercial property rather than a beer-soaked weekend waterhole. Or else, the industries which have up to this point been using the river for waste disposal may indeed have some economic stake in keeping marine sports out. The city is assuming that marine recreation is the best choice for riverside development, which just may not be the case.

Finally, can Mason River really be expected to compete with other facilities in the region, which are already so popular among the locals? This needs to be demonstrated before any development project can reasonably be expected to move forward.

Once these three major underlying assumptions have had the proper exposure to the light of day, with community input and appropriate data gathering and analysis, then and only then may the Mason City government be able to move proceed on its commitment of more funds to developing the waterfront for recreational purposes.

REFLECTION

Wanted to cram one more 30 minute one of these in before bedtime, since tomorrow I have the children all day, and I won’t likely have time to commit to it then.  (Parenting humble-brag?  Yuck!)  Obviously needed to devote a bit more time to re-reading/ double-checking.  I caught a few mistakes on my read through after the timer went off.  Booo!  Hiss!  Possibly a function of it being after 1am when I finished this.  Then again, this light exhaustion/ heavy caffeine state is probably a good simulation of test day state of mind.

GRE Argument Topic 10: Real Estate Development in 3 Tree Counties

Argument Topic 10

ESSAY PROMPT

The council of Maple County, concerned about the county’s becoming overdeveloped, is debating a proposed measure that would prevent the development of existing farmland in the county. But the council is also concerned that such a restriction, by limiting the supply of new housing, could lead to significant increases in the price of housing in the county. Proponents of the measure note that Chestnut County established a similar measure ten years ago, and its housing prices have increased only modestly since. However, opponents of the measure note that Pine County adopted restrictions on the development of new residential housing fifteen years ago, and its housing prices have since more than doubled. The council currently predicts that the proposed measure, if passed, will result in a significant increase in housing prices in Maple County.

Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the prediction and the argument on which it is based are reasonable. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the prediction.

 

ESSAY

The underlying argument being made by Maple County government is that its housing development situation is most similar to that of Pine County, where in the span of 15 years since the passage of a new measure limiting development, prices have doubled. This doesn’t preclude some similarities to Chestnut County, where prices have increased only modestly after a similar measure, but it signifies Maple County’s more cautious approach to housing prices. In order to come to evaluate Maple County’s decision effectively, some other factors need to be taken into account, to whit: the rate at Pine County and Chestnut County’s housing prices have increased in the years ensuing since the passage of their respective policy measures, the projected rates of change for housing costs in the future in those communities, and in what ways each communities’ policy measures differed with respect to the amount of development that was allowed. When these factors are taken into account, the Maple County leadership will be able to make a much more clear-eyed decision about the fate of their community.

The most glaring question has to do with the relative similarities of these three Counties. Is Maple more similar to Chestnut or Pine and in what respects? Likewise, how similar are Chestnut and Pine to each other. The time scale on the data presented here is such that Pine and Chestnut Counties’ housing price rates could very well be increasing at identical rates. That is the prices in Pine County may well have increased at only a modest rate in the first 10 years before nearly doubling in the interim between the tenth and fifteenth. In any event, the Maple County real estate mavens have judged that their community is dangerously similar to Pine in the longer term, but more information, on the congruencies of these economies would certainly help fine tune any policy decision.

Another factor that is absolutely begging for further elucidation is the actual rates of development that were allowed for farmland in these three arborial burroughs. The powers that be in Maple would do well in their preliminary studies to tweak the development side of the equation too. In other words, how much farmland was allowed to be developed over time in Chestnut and Pine. Can these development numbers be correlated with the ballooning housing prices there. This more refined speculation might well give the Maple council members a hint about how much farmland development ought to be allowed in an ideal situation.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list of further factors for study. Starting and ending housing prices in each community would be more than pertinent….

REFLECTION

This is the second one of these I wrote this morning.  Not at all confident about it.  But it was a good stamina check.  I happened to pick 2 very similar topics– both dealing with small community economic policies.  Need to make certain I don’t let my ideology get the best of me and start leaking out into my writing in the form of irrelevant off-topic palavering.

Next to Last Issue Topic on the List

Issue Topic 39

ESSAY PROMPT

 

The following appeared as part of an article in a Dillton newspaper.

“In an effort to bring new jobs to Dillton and stimulate the city’s flagging economy, Dillton’s city council voted last year to lower the city’s corporate tax rate by 15 percent; at the same time, the city began offering generous relocation grants to any company that would move to Dillton. Since these changes went into effect, two new factories have opened in Dillton. Although the two factories employ more than 1,000 people, the unemployment rate in Dillton remains unchanged. The only clear explanation for this is that the new factories are staffed with out-of-town workers rather than Dillton residents.”

Write a response in which you discuss one or more alternative explanations that could rival the proposed explanation and explain how your explanation(s) can plausibly account for the facts presented in the argument.

ESSAY

Apart from the possibility that the factories are employing workers from out of town, there are several other plausible explanations for the unchanging employment rate in Dillton despite the relocation of two new factories there. This issue illustrates that in tackling public policy problems communities must necessarily take the broadest possible view of possible effects and outcomes both positive and negative. For instance, lowering the corporate tax rate by a sweeping 15% is a broad-brush measure that likely has many unintended effects on the economy of the region. This paired with new expenditures on relocation grants while for companies, ignores the important role that labor plays in this delicate public policy equation. Clearly Dillton has not done enough to ensure that their community is a desirable place for workers to live. And future economic policy initiatives would serve the community well to do so.

It is common for a community’s most successful entrepreneurs to become involved in local government. These individuals are the most well-connected, most powerful members of that community and they arguably have the greatest stake in the long-term health of the community. However, these individuals are by no means the perfect geniuses of economics that their biographers would make them out to be. When such individuals are empowered to steer the governance of a community, they bring their particular biases and political connections and prior commitments with them. It would seem that the leaders of Dillton are no exception to this all-too-common common scenario. Their decision to offer companies a tax boost likely reflect their professional experience as executives and the prior ideological and social commitments therein. Dillton’s City Council in seeking to solve the unemployment problem in their town have ironically failed to take into account the perspectives of the common workers.

A more thorough explanation of the failure of Dillton’s new policy to provide work for the people, would need take into account the living conditions in that community. If reasonably priced housing, schools, access to healthcare and recreational facilities are absent, or the people the community are otherwise disincentivised from staying or moving there for work, then the overall employment situation will suffer. Indeed, any gains made from the tax and grants policies may even be offset by the flight of workers who, despite new employment opportunities, have only meager desire to stay in town.

The quality of jobs available to workers as a result of these policies is also another potential roadblock to the improvement of the unemployment situation there. In other words, if the workers skill sets don’t match the jobs available, then the town’s economy is back to square-one in terms of the unemployment puzzle. The Dillton city council owes its citizens and resident workers to be more attentive to their living conditions, their educations and training levels, and to the factors which will satisfy their needs.

REFLECTION

Started going off the rails a bit in the second paragraph.  Is it necessary for me to be making a sort of overarching argument about the failings of the bourgeois city council in general?  Is it worth trying to organize my essay in this way, or am I just creating a pitfall for myself…  I dunno.  In this case, since I was able to kind of pull things back together in the final paragraph, I think it works.  My second essay this morning was not so successful that way.

 

GRE Practice Argument Topic 5: Balmer Island Mopeds

ESSAY PROMPT

The following appeared in a letter to the editor of the Balmer Island Gazette.

“On Balmer Island, where mopeds serve as a popular form of transportation, the population increases to 100,000 during the summer months. To reduce the number of accidents involving mopeds and pedestrians, the town council of Balmer Island should limit the number of mopeds rented by the island’s moped rental companies from 50 per day to 25 per day during the summer season. By limiting the number of rentals, the town council will attain the 50 percent annual reduction in moped accidents that was achieved last year on the neighboring island of Seaville, when Seaville’s town council enforced similar limits on moped rentals.”

Write a response in which you discuss what questions would need to be answered in order to decide whether the recommendation is likely to have the predicted result. Be sure to explain how the answers to these questions would help to evaluate the recommendation.

ESSAY

The introduction of a strict daily limit on moped rentals from 50 to just 25 per day on Balmer Island in order to achieve a 50% reduction in moped accidents is a policy that raises a number of important questions from both the point of view of economic viability and feasibility given the specific features of the Balmer Island community and its potential differences from its model neighbor, Seaville. There are also a number of specific concerns with regard to the efficacy of such a policy implementation across both communities.

First of all, there is the question of population. Balmer Island’s population during the summer months balloons to 100,000. But what percentage increase does this represent with respect to that community’s population during the off-season? And how does that compare with Seaville’s population? On the topic of demographics, the average age of moped users would be another useful factor to come to take into account since it is common knowledge that younger drivers are more predisposed to traffic accidents.

In addition to these demographic concerns, such infrastructure issues as the quality of each community’s roads and multi-modal transportation infrastructure might also come into play. For instance, a high rate of bus or taxi usage in Seaville may have tacitly contributed to or helped catalyze the effects of that town’s moped policy. Plus, the sheer quality of roads and bridges may have accounted for some of the accidents on Balmer Island. That is, it might be pertinent to know the relative age of these two communities’ roadways and their relative levels of maintenance.

Beyond these concerns, it would certainly be helpful to know precisely what sort of policy Seaville implemented that saw such a drastic decrease in the number of accidents from one year to the next. We are told that it was similar to the one under consideration on Balmer Island, but in what respects is it different? And how was it enforced? Were any fines issued to rental companies? Were there any costs associated with increased levels of vigilance or policing? What was the reaction to the policy by all the relevant stakeholders? In the prompt, Seaville’s moped policy measure seems to be viewed as a positive or strived-for model by the denizens of Balmer Island, but policy makers would do well to investigate the longer-term effects of the policy both on public safety as well as the local tourist economy. How was it successful apart from the reduction of accidents? Limiting transportation options for visitors may indeed decrease noise levels and add to the overall beauty of the island, but what unintended negative consequences might there have been?

Most obviously, I can’t imagine that the moped rental sector of the town’s industry was very enthusiastic about the mandated cuts. Then again, this may have allowed for price cuts. So, one final, crucial line of questioning would go to the core of the matter itself—what were the effects on the rental companies? Were Seaville moped rental services able to charge more for their newly scarce commodity? Or on the contrary, were their businesses undercut by new public awareness of the environmental nuisance of the bikes?

These are some of the centrally important questions that Balmer town council would need to address in their deliberations over this policy.

REFLECTION

I wrote this essay after watching 2 episodes of Breaking Bad.  It’s not clear how this timing affected my writing.  But I feel more confident about this ESSAY than about yesterday’s “ISSUE TOPIC.”  I just asked myself, “What would Gus Fring do in this situation?”  And the answer came tapping from the tips of my fingers: poison Don Eladio, take your revenge on the Cartel, and score a 6 on the open-ended section of the test.  So, that’s probably what I did.

But don’t take my word for it!

GRE Practice Log Issue Topic 2

The following is my log of practice essays written in advance of my GRE test next month in Osaka.  The Issue Topics and Argument Topics are all taken from the ETS website.  Every possible topic is apparently listed there comprehensively.  I want to get as high a score as possible and give the educational testing industry as little of my money as possible.  But the tricky part about these open-ended questions is that they require human judgement on both the creation of the problems and the evaluation of the answers…  So, I need to find some good graded model answers (on the cheap).  Naturally, any comments are welcome.

ESSAY PROMPT

To understand the most important characteristics of a society, one must study its major cities.

Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.

MY ESSAY (written in 30 minutes)

I agree that to understand the most important characteristics of a society, one must study its major cities, but I agree with some reservations. Indeed, the opposite extreme of this statement seems obviously false—that is, a full understanding of a society would be impossible without studying its major cities. So, that is one caveat. But also, the history of humankind extends into times and places prior to the existence of cities. So, limiting one’s study to cities would certainly be a misstep. Finally, it has been my experience, having grown up on the edge of a small city, that life in cities is inextricably linked to the rural areas around them, making a meaningful separation of urban and rural society impossible. All that being said, cities are, after all, the most concentrated population centers of a given society. And society is defined by the relationships between people. So, it is natural that the study of a society would necessitate an investigation of its cities.

First to go in to more detail about some of my reservations about studying society only through the lens of its cities, I believe the strongest evidence to support this reservation is historical. Humans have not always lived in cities. Cities are a rather new development in the evolution of society. So, for a more historically contiguous view of society writ large, ignoring the countryside in favor of the metropolis would be folly. However, the bulk of humanity in a given society reside in its cities today.

Second, my personal connection to both city and country life neither bias me for or against cities. However, I have grown up understanding the value of both. Institutions like museums and public infrastructure like trains and libraries and schools are present in much greater concentration in cities. And these institutions are certainly rich in value for the study of any society. On the other hand, the natural beauty and the ways in which humans have found to live either in harmony or at odds with their natural environment is most easily accessible through prolonged exposure to rural society.

Finally, on purely economic grounds, often cities depend very dearly on the enterprise of the surrounding countryside. The wealth of mines, pastures, dairies, and farms supply the bulk of humanity that populate cities. And these economic linkages are reflected in culture as well. But a study of a society that neglects these linkages between urban and rural would be incomplete at best.

 

Therefore…[unfinished]

Micro Review: Reading Japanese Education by Diane M. Hoffman

The opening Chapter, in DeCoker and Bjork’s Japanese Education in an Era of Globalization is a very helpful starting point for this collection of essays.  Hoffman begins with criticism of any “holistic” view of Japanese education which seeks to explain the entirety of a complex system by offering some “grand model.”  One such “grand model,” is the “Centrality of the Ministry of Education.”  Hoffman, doesn’t deny that their is some utility in for example a critical understanding of Japanese education in terms of a powerful centralized bureaucracy, but she is rightfully wary of any such account that mythologizes or adds excessive moral significance to such artifacts as political organization.  In this regard, Hoffman is somewhat skeptical of the genre of ethnographic research in general.  But she allows that research that seeks to understand Japanese education in comparison with other contexts is most useful when it neither erases diversity nor seeks to hold up Japan as a model.

The reminder of Hoffman’s essay describes four guiding themes or “tensions” in Japanese educational research.  She is observing patterns in existing research rather than suggesting areas for future study.  Likewise, her identification of themes or tensions don’t foreclose on alternatives.  Those four themes are as follows:

cultural versus structural effects

individual versus collective selves

education for belonging versus education for transformation

and homogeneity versus diversity.

In my experience as a teacher in Japan, and in my limited exposure to the literature on Japanese comparative education, I can see why these themes would present themselves as most evident or available means of analysis of the education system here.  First, as Hoffman echos in her essay, the Japanese nation and the Japanese cultural identity are conflated at every turn, both in and outside of academia.  But it is undeniable that “Japaneseness” is a cultural category that has had far-reaching effects even spilling over into political structures like citizenship and discourses in education like globalization.  I suppose this is the thematic substrate that I am most interested in accessing in my own writing about Japanese education, particularly in light of Hoffman’s closing salvo on “culture, power and difference in reading Japanese education,” but more on that in a moment.

The individual versus collective selves theme, is another one that I see becoming more prominent particularly in light of the neoliberal dominance of educational policy.  That is, the urge in neoliberal discourses of education to treat all aspects of educational systems as flows of capital has often bumped up against a deeper historical imperative for cooperation and a native democratic humanism that predates the arrival of liberalism in Japan from Europe.  Here again, though, the key is how best to use these categories of analysis without essentializing them or mythologizing unnecessarily.

Hoffman’s theme of education for belonging versus transformation is the one which I am least familiar with.  She mentions it specifically with regard to discourses of situated learning– from shellfish divers to violin teacher training.  This is an area of the literature which I will hopefully get a bit more exposure to as I read through Bjork and DeCoker’s collection.  It is also an axis along which it seems like it would be helpful to analyze teacher education in general.

Finally, comes Hoffman’s category of homogeneity versus diversity.  This one seems much more familiar and easily accessible to me, especially given my experiences as a foreign national working as a foreign language teacher in Japan.  But it also strikes me as a useful access point for criticism of ability tracking that is so prevalent here.

To return to Hoffman’s closing nod to “Japan and its Others” for a moment– here was another area where I thought the literature around linguistic imperialism might be usefully expanded.  Hoffman helpfully points out that power has long been undertheorized in the field of Japanese education.  I think this is particularly true when it comes to my particular professional corner of it: foreign language education, which in Japan typically means, EFL/ ESL.  It would be interested to trace the changing tides of EFL/ ESL education in Japan compared with the changing tides of the clout of Japanese Education in general in the world.  I wonder what patterns such a historical analysis might uncover.

Hopefully more to come in that vein next entry.  Now it’s time to pick up my son from Kindergarten.

 

The Mythical Whiteness of Trump Country | Boston Review

Source: The Mythical Whiteness of Trump Country | Boston Review

This is a fantastic critique from the Boston Review of J.D. Vance’s bestselling HIllbilly Elegy.  I ordered copy of this book about a year ago after Trump’s victory, but it ended up being out of stock, and I never re-ordered it.  Now I’m kind of glad I didn’t bother.  It would appear that Vance is a little light on progressive populism, and his ethnography is weighed down by a racist mythology of the Scotch-Irish settlers of Appalachia.  Elizabeth Catte rightly points to the diversity of this region, which Vance apparently erases in puffing up his “‘hillbillies’ as a unique specimen of white woe.”