I have a good friend, Karen, who co-teaches a Bible study for children with me. When we first met she was just glowing in her evaluation of my knowledge and insight into the Bible.
"Sharon, you are so wise and smart! I just marvel at your ability to get these teenagers to break down and analyze Scripture. Your lessons just drive to the essence of the message."
Needless to say, my head swelled to the point I could hardly balance it on my shoulders.
After knowing her for a while it finally occurred to me to learn a little more about her.
"Karen, what did you do?"
"Oh, I'm a homeschooling mom. I raised my six kids and now it's just Jeff and me."
"How did you meet your husband?"
"Where was that?"
"Oh. What was your major? Art?"
"Huh. But you homeschooled and never worked?"
"Oh I worked while my husband was in Medical School. That was before we had kids."
"What did you do?"
"I developed software for NASA."
So repeat, "Sharon, you're so smart; you're so insightful" in a childish, whiny voice like your mimicking your mom after she told you to clean your room.
I am rather proud and flattered (with my now fully shrunk head) to have Karen as a teaching partner and friend. We have lately begun to write each other long e mails, even though we see each other every week. I have so enjoyed it. It takes me back to the time when I used to write letters to friends. On paper, sent through the mail. Remember those days?
I am also sorry to say that she might be a better writer than me. But, seeing my weakness in the ego department, God has probably put her in my life to keep me humble.
Speaking of geniuses (not me, my friend) here is Glenn Gould performing the Toccata for Clavier in E minor.
Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything by Steven D. Levitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am always skeptical of explanations based on hard numbers. Statistics do lie as any one in a career that has anything to do with numbers, averages, and odds would know.
Nevertheless, I found this book to be a worthy read. For one, it was quick. I read it in three sittings.
Of course, in order to sell a book you have to go against the grain of popular or conventional attitudes about a subject, otherwise you wouldn't sell your book. But again, you better provide a convincing argument or at least know how to manipulate words so it sounds as though you are supporting your unique slant on subjects that have been taken for granted by the general populace.
This is what the authors, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner attempt to do. By that I mean that sometimes they support their assertions and sometimes they never get around to really backing up their claims.
The most interesting chapters dealt with cheating teachers, the Ku Kux Klan and drug dealers. In chapter one they discussed how the heavier accountability placed on teachers for the students test scores led to some teachers cheating. There were a variety of ways they could do this- give the answers, help the students along- but the best way to avoid detection was to simply go over the tests and change the students' incorrect answers.
Now the smart teacher did not change every answer or all the students' answers. They are educators, after all, and weren't stupid. But it was suspicious that since the teacher accountability some students with a history of failure were suddenly comparing favorably with their peers. At least for one year. The next year many of them sunk back to their previous level.
Now to suspect a teacher of cheating and proving it are two different things. Correlation does not prove causation as the authors demonstrate throughout the book. The solution was rather involved and I won't attempt to show it here, and anyway, it only resulted in the firing of a handful of teachers, however, it did send a warning call to the rest and the cheating stopped.
The Ku Klux Klan history was very interesting because it showed that their reputation was larger than their actual work of terror, which slowly declined with time. In 1890-1899 there were 1,111 lynchings. This number dwindled until by 1930-1929 there were only 119. For the decade of the sixties there were 3.
One man decided he would rid the country of the Ku Klux Klan and he did it in a surprising way. He ridiculed them. Stetson Kennedy joined the Klan, found out all their secrets then broadcasted them on the radio. All the secret handshakes and crypted messages became common knowledge with children playing good guys, bad guys using the same hand shakes and coded words. No longer were the Klans members a secretive powerful group, but an object of fun, even by their own children. Klan membership plummeted.
Ironically, there has been a resurgence in white supremacy groups as a kind of push-back to the "cry bullying" that wants to make every minority a victim and every white male a villain, but that is a topic for another day.
Another chapter discusses the logistics of drug dealing and gang business. It was fascinating how drug lords ran their business not differently from the hierarchy of Amway. Young kids join the gang and sell the drugs on the streets. They make the least money and run the greatest risk of arrest and death. But if they are successful they can work their way up the ladder until they are a part of the board making an incredible amount of money. The book describes the overhead the Drug Lord pays to his subordinates while keeping most of the money for himself and it's a lot of money.
Of course there are risks involved, such as eventually getting arrested and going to jail for many years, which is what eventually happened to the Drug Lord in this story. The information was accumulated by a Sociology PhD student from the University of Chicago who spent several years with a gang from one of the poorest black neighborhoods in Chicago. His experience is as harrowing as it is engrossing.
The final chapters were on what the statistics have to say about effective parenting. They show hard numbers as to what sort of households had successful children and which kind did not (did a child growing up in a house full of books make a difference? Does Head Start make a difference for underprivileged children? Does staying home during the formative years help?) Not surprisingly, it boils down to parents who are involved in their children's education and those who are not.
An interesting conclusion came from names. Do children with "black" names lack success due to racism? It turns out that a certain demographic names their children certain types of names and it's not the names that provide or steal success but, again, the parents. Apparently there are traceable trends as to what kind of people name their children outlandish names and their correlation to success. Uneducated, people from poor neighborhoods tend to name their children "Rashan" and "Bomquisha" and lest you think that's a color-related issue, white people in trailer parks tend to name their girls "Heavenly" and "Dreamer" and call their boys "Bubba" and "Booger".
While I felt some conclusions were based more on speculation (Since 80% of abortion centers are in poor, black neighborhoods, does abortion really lower the crime rate or the kind of person who would abort their children be the kind to abuse their children and produce a criminal element?) it was still interesting to ponder.
Certainly this book should not be the sole source of any kind of information concerning statistics, but it is certainly a thought-provoking read.
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