I am an infojunkie who likes to share the ideas I come across. I believe that the internet allows all of us to put our 2 cents in. Nothing annoys me more than people who constantly complain, but have no suggestions for how to solve the problem. This is a place for me to talk about issues and to suggest remedies. I hope if you happen upon this blog it will provide some enjoyment and allow you to express your thoughts as well.
By JOE NOCERA
Published: December 16, 2013 in the New York Times
Quotes in Red are mine, not Mr. Nocera's
In 2006, an idealistic New York public schoolteacher named Kevin Greer joined the faculty of an idealistic new high school, Brooklyn Community Arts and Media. Greer had previously taught English to 12th grade honors students at Dewitt Clinton, a huge high school in the Bronx. At B.C.A.M., which hoped to inspire students with an arts-driven curriculum, he would be teaching ninth graders. Most of the students had not chosen B.C.A.M., but had simply been assigned to the school. They weren’t nearly as self-motivated as Greer’s former students. Many if not most of them read below grade level.
Greer’s first approach to teaching these students was to refuse to concede to their obvious difficulties. He taught Plato and lectured about such things as “the rhetorical strategy of repetition of a phrase at the beginning of clauses. We call it anaphora.” He seemed distant from the students, and they reacted in kind, yawning or talking among themselves. Greer knew he was not getting through to them. He was frustrated.
Three years later, when members of this first B.C.A.M. class were seniors, Greer decided to teach a poetry class revolving around William Blake’s “Songs of Innocence and of Experience.” This time, however, his demeanor was completely different. He engaged the students by asking them what their own definition of poetry was — and they responded eagerly. He was more relaxed and more confident. “I had to learn how to really break things down,” he told me recently. “I had to learn to work on several levels at a time.” Because, after all, he had students of various abilities in his classes.
I know these details about Kevin Greer’s classroom performance because I recently saw a documentary about B.C.A.M. that has been passed from teachers’ group to teachers’ group, from reformers to union executives, like samizdat. The film, called “The New Public” and produced and directed by a filmmaker named Jyllian Gunther, tracks that first B.C.A.M. class in both the class’s first and last years at the school.
Once she finished the film, Gunther sent it around the various film festivals. None of them bit. “The New Public” was shown once on PBS, but aside from that, it has not been seen widely. Instead, teachers — as well as those who teach teachers — have slowly found out about it and have embraced it.
Partly this is because it is the rare film that sympathetically conveys how hard it is to be a teacher in an inner-city school. “The New Public” not only shows what goes on in the classroom — which can be rough if the teacher can’t manage the classroom — but she also goes into the homes of the students she has focused on. There, the odds that the students are trying to overcome are made abundantly clear.
But it is also because the movie is an unwitting primer on how to teach disadvantaged students. There are teachers in the movie who know how to connect with their students, and teachers who don’t. Teachers College at Columbia University liked the film so much that it is creating a companion curriculum, so the film can be used to help train teachers.
Until Gunther’s movie came along, Teachers College used to show “The Wire” to give prospective teachers a feel for what it’s like to teach in a disadvantaged community.
“What is good teaching?” asked Anand Marri, a professor at Teachers College who has championed the film. “Is teaching different in the Bronx versus the suburbs? How much do you start with where the students are?” For the most part, these elemental questions are ones that schools of education don’t ask nearly enough.
The lack of teacher training in education schools has also been borne out recently by a new report by the National Council on Teacher Quality, entitled “Training Our Future Teachers.” The question the group asked was a simple one: Do education schools teach classroom management? The answer was: not very much.
The group examined 122 teacher-preparation programs and found that while most programs could say they had classroom management as part of their curriculum, classroom management strategies rarely received “the connected and concentrated focus they deserve.” What’s more, “instruction is generally divorced from practice (and vice versa) in most programs, with little evidence that what gets taught gets practiced.”
Education schools, says Kate Walsh, who leads the group, “don’t see their job as training teachers. They see their job as creating professional identity.”
As the country continues to struggle with education reform, it seems obvious that education schools need to change, so that prospective teachers walk into their first classroom knowing how to teach. Maybe “The New Public” can help bring about that change.
Yesterday, the FDA announced that the antibacterial soap makers had one year to prove their products would not have long-term harmful effects on the health of consumers. Hospitals have been using triclosan for years - because it works. But now, the good ol' FDA doesn't want you to have any to protect yourself and your family in your home. I think that it is no coincidence that the antibacterial soap announcement was made to divert attention from the fact that this story about the very, very real dangers of antibiotics in animal production appeared about the same time. On the one hand, it's "Look, look, how hard we're working to protect public health; and on the other hand, it's "But, please, don't look too hard at how we are still, after more than 30 years, ignoring the health threat caused by Big Pharma and Big Food."
That “good” news you may have read last week about the Food and Drug Administration’s curbing antibiotics in animal feed may not be so good after all. In fact, it appears that the F.D.A. has once again refused to do all it could to protect public health.
For those who missed it, the agency requested (and “requested” is the right word) that the pharmaceutical industry make a labeling change that, the F.D.A. says, will reduce the routine use of antibiotics in animal production. I’d happily be proven wrong, but I don’t think it will. Rather, I think we’re looking at an industry-friendly response to the public health emergency of diseases caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, resistance that is bred in industrially raised animals.
You may know that around 80 percent of antibiotics in the United States are given (fed, mostly) to animals. Why? Because the terrible conditions in which most of our animals are grown foster illness; give them antibiotics and illness is less likely. There is also a belief that “subtherapeutic” doses of antibiotics help animals grow faster. So most “farmers” who raise animals by the tens or hundreds of thousands find it easier to feed them antibiotics than to raise them in ways that allow antibiotics to be reserved for actual illness. (And yes, there are alternatives, even in industrial settings. Denmark raises as many hogs as Iowa and does it with far fewer antibiotics.)
You may also know that this overuse of antibiotics is leading to increasing bacterial resistance, that we’re breeding an army of supergerms. This isn’t theoretical: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 23,000 Americans died of illnesses related to antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year. Another two million were sickened. (Some experts say that these numbers are low.) This makes resistant bacteria a greater health threat than AIDS, and there is talk by the C.D.C. of a post-antibiotic era.
The only solution, say most experts, is to stop the prophylactic use of antibiotics and use the drugs only to treat animals that are actually sick. (This is not news: Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, feared microbial resistance and discussed it in his Nobel Prize speech of 1945.) Preventing this is an ostensible goal of the F.D.A., which itself predicted — in 1977 — the very scenario in which overuse of antibiotics would lead to superbugs and, at that time, proposed to limit their use. But Congress got in the way and in the intervening years the agency appears to have been infiltrated by industry-friendly administrators who publicly write that “Using these drugs judiciously means that unnecessary or inappropriate use should be avoided,” yet manage to avoid enforcing these pronouncements.
The story of the last 36 years is one of inaction. The F.D.A. is already under a federal court order to “ensure the safety and effectiveness of all drugs sold in interstate commerce,” and to withdraw drugs demonstrated to be unsafe — a court order the agency has appealed twice. One could see the new guidelines as little more than an attempt to convince the court to set aside its ruling.
Technically, reducing antibiotic use is simple. The science tells us it is the thing to do, the meat industry has the capability of designing animal-growing facilities that would foster less disease and, perhaps most important, the F.D.A. has the power to rule — not suggest— a complete ban of the use of antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention in livestock.
This last statement is contentious. (If you want to make your own judgment about the F.D.A.'s legal power, have at it.) Michael Taylor, the agency’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine (and — just in case you think the notion that there is a revolving door between the F.D.A. and the food industry is hyperbole — a former vice president for public policy at Monsanto), told me, “The approval of a new animal drug for specific indication is like the granting of a license; it applies to that company. There’s a prescribed process for withdrawing that license … a very formal administrative process. We can’t just issue a rule of general applicability that extinguishes their due process rights.
“We don’t feel we have the legal authority,” he continued, to do “what might be great to do from a public health policy standpoint. You’d have to show product by product that each is contributing” to a resistance problem. “This is a strategy to drive this to closure in the quickest way possible. We expect and hope folks will watch us closely.”
We are talking about 287 different drugs, and Taylor says it might take “three or four years” to go through the process for each one. These guidelines, he says — which were developed with the cooperation of the industry (uh-huh) — will work faster.
But there are other ways of looking at the F.D.A.'s ability to regulate. These drugs fall into seven categories; nothing was preventing the agency, three or four years ago, from picking a drug from each category and beginning what Taylor calls “a very formal” process. Nothing prevents them from doing it now — simultaneously with their new guidelines — except, I would suggest, a desire to maintain a noncontentious relationship with Big Pharma and Big Food. As each drug, or category, was demonstrated to be unsafe, the process would become less cumbersome and something “great” might actually be done for public health.
It’s not just me saying this.
Margaret Mellon, a lawyer and a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said to me, “The agency can legally withdraw the label claims approvals if it can show that uses under the label circumstances are no longer safe in terms of resistance.”
When I asked Representative Louise Slaughter — who happens to be a microbiologist, and is among the few in Congress with both the knowledge and spine to call out the F.D.A. — whether the agency had the authority to ban antibiotics for any use except direct treatment, she barely let me finish my question before exclaiming, “Of course they do.”
And Robert Martin, a program director at the Center for a Livable Future at Johns Hopkins and a former director of the widely respected Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, told me, “They have the authority to make these guidelines mandatory; the problem is that it’s regulation by the consent of the regulated.”
I could go on.
This in part explains why millions more are doomed to be sickened by the F.D.A.'s failures. You can blame Congress for inaction, too — shocking, I know. The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act would require the F.D.A. to review its approvals of antibiotics and cancel them for antibiotics that help breed resistant bacteria; in fact it would put the burden of proof back on the companies, alleviating the workload and contentiousness Taylor seems intent on avoiding. (In fact, if the F.D.A. were truly interested in public health it would be out there lobbying for the passage of PAMTA.) Slaughter has introduced this act four times since 2007, and it’s supported by almost everyone, but it hasn’t passed. One wonders, though, since the F.D.A. is already under court order to do pretty much the same thing, whether even PAMTA would spur them on.
Instead, the F.D.A. has created a “road map for animal pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily revise the F.D.A.-approved use conditions on the labels of these products to remove production indications.” No obligation. And no problem labeling those same drugs as disease-prevention vehicles, as long as those uses are “judicious and appropriate,” says Taylor. Whether you call it growth promotion or disease prevention, the effects are likely to be on labels only, not on public health. (It seems to me that if you prevent disease you promote growth, and vice versa. It also seems to me that if you prevent disease by having healthy growing conditions you don’t need to prevent it with antibiotics.)
And drug companies are O.K. with this new “guidance,” because it’s so benign it won’t affect their bottom lines. In a Wall Street Journal piece, Jeff Simmons, the president of Eli Lilly’s “animal-health division,” was quoted as saying, “We do not see this announcement being a material event.”
The F.D.A. says it “is asking animal pharmaceutical companies to notify the agency of their intent to sign on to the strategy within the next three months.” (There are no provisions for noncooperation.) “These companies would then have a three-year transition process.” In other words, drug companies have three months to “comply” with a voluntary plan to marginally change their labeling, and three years to implement that. Again, if they don’t … sorry, there’s no plan.
Strenuous oversight, huh? During which time industry can figure out how to increase the amount of antibiotics they sell, as long as they don’t label them as growth-promoting. Yet Taylor insists that “this will make a difference for resistance.”
In those three years, something like 69,000 Americans will have died from antibiotic-resistant bacterial diseases; many subsequent deaths may be preventable if rampant use of antibiotics is curbed now. But when insiders talk about the expected percentage decline in antibiotic use as a result of the F.D.A. recommendations, the smart money is on “zero.” And when I asked Taylor, “How much do you anticipate routine antibiotic use declining in the next few years?” he answered, “It’s a fair question but I don’t have an answer for you — we need to work on that.”
It’s depressing. I root for the F.D.A. to do its job, but the power of industry and its anti-regulatory lobby adds up to an apparent unwillingness to put public health above all else. And by phasing this in over three years (by which time we’ll have a new and possibly less supportive president), the agency has bought itself and the industry more time before bowing to the inevitable change in our horrific animal production system.
In fact, the worst thing about the new guidelines may be that they’re seen as a first step, and as such rule out a more meaningful one. (Center for a Livable Future’s Martin said to me, “My fear is now we won’t see anything new for a decade.”) It’s bad news masquerading as good news. The F.D.A. is claiming, “We’re controlling the use of antibiotics in animal production!” But it’s more like Congress declaring, “We’re raising the minimum wage!” and then appending “...by 10 cents an hour. And we’ll review the impact of this monumental change in three years!”
I should point out that some of my favorite antibiotic-overuse critics are more optimistic, among them the former F.D.A. head David Kessler, who was quoted in these pages as saying, “This is the first significant step in dealing with this important public health concern in 20 years,” and Laura Rogers, a director at the Pew Charitable Trusts, who told me, “These criteria represent a meaningful shift in the agency’s public policy, and bode well for future action.” (“That said,” Rogers added, “we are concerned that antibiotics will still be used for disease prevention, possibly in place of growth promotion.”)
Rogers is admirably diplomatic, but I agree more closely with Representative Slaughter, who wrote, “Sadly, this guidance is the biggest step the F.D.A. has taken in a generation to combat the overuse of antibiotics in corporate agriculture, and it falls woefully short of what is needed.”
It’s also worth noting that the F.D.A. has drafted (that means it’s not even yet a recommendation) a “directive” that would require that veterinarians supervise antibiotic use. Make that final and make that mandatory — as the agency is threatening to do if these voluntary guidelines don’t work — and we might be getting somewhere. But the best-case scenario is that within three years some or even all growth-promotion claims will have been dropped and the use of antibiotics will be approved by veterinarians — many of whom have jobs that will depend on approving just such uses. I see no reason to be encouraged. It may truly be worse than nothing, or it may simply be a delay we can ill afford.
Public safety is the F.D.A.'s job, and they’re doing it badly. What’s needed here is a drastic reduction in the use of antibiotics, now, and few people think these recommendations are going to do that. As the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Mellon said to me, “This recommendation involves voluntarily giving up making money in the interest of public safety. Who does that in the United States? No one.”
What can we do? Push for labeling, for one thing: “Raised without antibiotics” (period) is a label we could pay more attention to. And push our markets to carry more truly antibiotic-free meat, and buy it. Organic meat is another obvious solution. I’ll get to strategies like these in another column. But as Slaughter said, “I’m persuaded now that the only thing we can do is get an outcry from the public.” Make some noise, people.
By ROSS DOUTHAT Published: December 14, 2013 FOR our age of wonks and white papers and warring experts, there ought to be a word — something just short of, though not shorter than, schadenfreude — for the gentle thrill inspired by a social-science finding that mildly unsettles one’s ideological opponents. I’m thinking of the satisfied tingle a liberal might get from a study that suggests high taxes are good for economic growth. Or the spring added to a libertarian’s step by a report that environmental regulations hurt the poor. Or the pleasure that I took recently from the headline: “Study: Having daughters makes parents more likely to be Republican.” Why pleasure? Well, because previous research on this question had suggested the reverse, with parents of daughters leaning left and parents of sons rightward. And those earlier findings dovetailed neatly with liberal talking points about politics and gender: Republicans make war on women, Democrats protect them, so it’s only natural that raising girls would make parents see the wisdom of liberalism ... But the new study undercuts those talking points. Things are more complicated than you thought, liberals! You can love your daughters, want the best for them, and find yourself drawn to ... conservative ideas! Especially if you’re highly educated, which is where the effect was strongest! Better dust off a different set of talking points — maybe something about the family as the source of all oppression and how deeply internalized patriarchal norms make parents subconsciously inclined to tyrannize their female offspring and then we can argue about that! Yes, I’m afraid this is actually the kind of internal monologue that comes with arguing about politics for a living. But let me make a more limited, more personal argument on the subject. The next round of research may “prove” something completely different about daughters and voting behavior. But as a father of girls and a parent whose adult social set still overlaps with the unmarried, I do have a sense of where a daughter-inspired conservatism might come from, whatever political form it takes. It comes from thinking about their future happiness, and about a young man named Nathaniel P. This character, Nate to his friends, doesn’t technically exist: He’s the protagonist in Adelle Waldman’s recent novel of young-Brooklynite manners, “The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.” But his type does exist, in multitudinous forms, wherever successful young people congregate, socialize, pair off. He’s not the worst sort of guy by any means — not a toxic bachelor or an obnoxious pick-up artist. He’s well intentioned, sensitive, mildly idealistic. Yet he’s also a source of immense misery — both short-term and potentially lifelong — for the young women in his circle. “Contrary to what these women seemed to think,” Waldman writes of Nathaniel P.’s flings and semi-steady girlfriends, “he was not indifferent to their unhappiness. And yet he seemed, in spite of himself, to provoke it.” He provokes it by taking advantage of a social landscape in which sex has been decoupled from marriage but biology hasn’t been abolished, which means women still operate on a shorter time horizon for crucial life choices — marriage, kids — than do men. In this landscape, what Nate wants — sex, and the validation that comes with being wanted — he reliably gets. But what his lovers want, increasingly, as their cohort grows older — a more permanent commitment — he can afford to persistently withhold, feeling guilty but not that guilty about doing so. Waldman’s portrait of Nate’s romantic life is sympathetic enough to have earned her fan mail from young men. But it’s precisely because Nate is sympathetic rather than toxic that the “Nathaniel P.” phenomenon — or what Rebecca Traister has dubbed “the scourge of indecisive men” — is a hard problem to escape. Indeed, it seems like one of the hidden taproots of well-educated women’s work-life-balance angst, and one of the plausible explanations for declining female happiness in a world of expanded female opportunity. And lurking in Waldman’s novel, as in many portraits of the dating scene (ahem, Lena Dunham, ahem), is a kind of moral traditionalism that dare not speak its name — or that can be spoken of only in half-jest, as when the novelist Benjamin Kunkel told Traister that the solution was “some sort of a sexual strike against just such men.” Because Kunkel is right: One obvious solution to the Nathaniel P. problem is a romantic culture in which more is required of young men before the women in their lives will sleep with them.
To the extent that parents tend to see the next generation’s world through their children’s eyes, that’s an insight that’s more immediately available through daughters than through sons. And no matter what the next study says about your likelihood of actually turning into a Republican, once you’ve flirted with that insight, you’ve tiptoed a little closer to something that might be described as social conservatism. Even if you live in Brooklyn.