Bandit Wars: A Riddle

During the bandit wars of the 1990s, the first bars, restaurants, and coffee-shops started appearing in FSU countries. Obviously, only the bandits and their entourage could afford to visit them. Regular people lacked money for such visits and also had no tradition of eating out.

All of these public eateries used to turn up the volume of the music they played intolerably high. There was a powerful reason why their owners never lowered the volume.

Question: why was it so crucial to have the music play very loud in the first public eateries in FSU countries?

Grade Inflation

My adventures with Yale Alumni Magazine are continuing. The way they work is that I read an article, get upset, and leave the magazine until I feel ready to continue reading. (Did you know, for instance, that Au Bon Pain at the corner of York and Broadway has gone out of business? The only place with tolerable breakfast and lunch food on campus and the place where so many good memories were generated is no more. The place where I discovered that the word croissant means something completely different in the US than what it does in Quebec. The place where I had coffee before my very first class at Yale. ABP’s demise is very sad.)

In any case, the article I read at 4 am today when my heartburn was not letting me sleep informed me that 62% of all grades awarded by Yale College are As and A-minuses. Fifty years ago, the number of A and A- grades was about 10%.

As anybody who has taken teaching methodology classes knows, awarding 10% of As is about right while giving out 60% of As is a sign you need to revise your curriculum and adjust your expectations in the courses you teach. If 62% of people do exceptionally well in your course, then you are misunderstanding the meaning of the word “exceptional.”

The reason why grade inflation is taking over at Yale is, of course, that the majority of courses is taught by people who have no autonomy or authority. Tenured professors are a small minority, and tenure-track does not exist. (If anybody tells you it does, I will be happy to explain to you why that is factually untrue.) Tenured professors don’t like teaching Yale College courses and prefer small graduate seminars (where grades are not on the A, B, C scale).

The graduate students and the instructors who teach most of the undergrad courses don’t ¬†feel like facing the irate “I paid you all this money so that you would teach my kid well enough for him to get an A” parents and the whiny “I was always the best student at my private school and here you are giving me a B” students. So its easier to award an A and avoid the hassle.

The moral of the story is: the best, most responsible and most engaged teaching comes from people who see their school as their own, who feel allegiance to it and are deeply personally invested into the success of the students and the school. Yale’s President Levin failed completely at creating this sort of an environment at Yale. Maybe President Salovey will start realizing that when a university becomes more interested in flattering the vanity of its paying customers than in academic rigor, it loses a lot of its prestige.

Powerless Failures, Unite!

The birth preparation class was very good and useful but it also had its problematic moments. For instance, we spend over 50% of the class talking about the no-epidural no-medication-of-any-kind “natural” birth. We were shown several videos where very young and very athletic women easily delivered babies in this manner. Nobody in the audience was in the same decade of life or had the same degree of athleticism as the women in the videos.

The videos and the lecturers kept using the word “powerful” in connection to the unmedicated deliveries. This method of giving birth is supposed to make one feel powerful (which is the weirdest notion I have encountered in a while), while succumbing to an epidural makes you feel like a failure.

Out of the 10 women in the audience, only 3 had college degrees: yours truly and 2 women who graduated from the local community college. The rest of the women work in menial low-paid jobs.

So imagine this type of crowd hearing figures of authority in an official setting repeat “no epidural = powerful”, “epidural = failure.”

Eventually, the lecturer did mention in a very low-key way that at our hospital over 90% of women ended up requesting an epidural. Now consider how it makes one feel to end up needing an epidural after hearing how one is deficient in wanting one. Wouldn’t it be a lot more productive and honest to begin the birth preparation class by explaining to the audience that the absolute majority of those present will need an epidural and that’s just how things are for most of women these days?

I don’t think the lecturers were so eager to promote the anti-epidural mythology because they are evil-doers or anything of the kind. I believe they want to give a positive, encouraging message to the heavily pregnant audience. The result, however, is that unrealistic expectations are created. Women begin to see delivery as some sort of an exam they have to pass in a way that will demonstrate their worthiness.

30% of all women who give birth suffer from a significant and noticeable post-partum depression. I have a feeling that the conviction that one has failed at giving birth “correctly” might not be conducive to making this number lower.

“Oh, who cares how she comes into this world?” the only woman in the “over 45” category at the class exclaimed. “This is my first child, and I just want to giver birth to a healthy baby, that’s all.”

I think this is an approach that should be adopted by all of the “powerless failures” who cannot accomplish the useless feat of giving birth in the field and continuing picking crops two minutes later.