Monday, January 20, 2020

South of the Sahel

When reading this essay, I was reminded yet again on how much a typical understanding of sub-Saharan Africa begins only with European colonialism and white supremacy.
For a long time, historians in the West have seen the Atlantic slave trade as shaping the beginnings of West Africa’s engagement with Europe. There is no question that the slave trade exerted a profound influence in many parts of Africa. However, to look at African history as the history of slavery and the slave trade is no more accurate than to study the history of the Nazis as the sum of the German past.
That's how I was taught about Africa in world history more than four decades ago, and it continues even today. I often remind students to scratch the surface and discover the plenty that there is to learn.

At least we know something about Egypt, the Pharaohs, and the pyramids.  But the rest?

Take a look at this map of the part of Africa that is south of the Sahara:

No, I am not going to ask you to name the countries--after all, I too would surely miss more than one.  Take a moment to scan the map. The size. The number of countries.

Now, think about American Presidents making trips to African countries.  Since the LBJ years, which is when most of the countries were finally able to shake their colonial masters off, how many of those countries have been visited by American Presidents?

It is a fair enough question, right?

Let's consider the two-term Presidents first.  Nixon was nearly a two-termer.  Yes?  How many of those countries did he visit?  How about Reagan?  From 1968 through 1988.

Here's what Wiki tells us: Neither Nixon nor Reagan visited even one sub-Saharan country when they were Presidents.  Not one.

I am sure there were geopolitical reasons during the Cold War era.  But, still ... not even one country?

Clinton, W. Bush, and Obama have made a number of trips to Africa.  But, the countries they visited?  It feels like they were all on the same beat. Going to the same countries.

I don't care about what they do when they visit.  But, when the President visits a country, Americans at least hear about it, perhaps for the first time ever.  Imagine a President going to Congo--it does not matter which Congo it is.  Or Gabon. Or Mozambique.  At least for those couple of days, those countries will be "trending" in social media, and Wolf Blitzer will cover those countries nonstop on CNN.

But, it does not happen.

Now, we have a (P)resident in the White House who just knows only as shitholes, where people live in huts. He thinks there is a country called Nambia.  No wonder he has steered clear of the continent when making his international trips as the President, including four to France.  Maybe Macron can take him along to visit the old colonies on an apology tour!

President tRump's 17 international trips to 23 countries

But then, maybe it will #BeBest if he does not go anywhere near Africa!

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Actions and reactions

My first semester in graduate school was also my urban economics professor's first at the university.  I think "urban economics" was the name of the course.  One of the readings that he--a recent transplant from Canada--had for us was about Monterey Park.

Most of the natives were familiar with the place but a couple of us foreigners and out-of-staters had no idea where Monterey Park was.  This essay was all about how the city's population had dramatically changed--seemingly overnight--so much so that even the signage in front of commercial establishments were appearing in Chinese.  And the local whites were upset.

I, as a foreigner, couldn't understand what the big deal was.  Why were the whites so upset?  Yes, there was a time in America's history when the immigrant Chinese were ill-treated.  But, wasn't that history?

Thus, in fall 1987, as a foreign student in Los Angeles, I was introduced to a rapidly changing America, starting with a community that was only a few miles east of the university where I was engaged in intellectual discussions.

What I didn't know then was this: It had been just about two decades since the US had gotten rid of its racist immigration laws.  In 1965, LBJ and the Democrats passed a sweeping immigration reform that followed the Civil Rights Act.  A new immigration regime allowed non-whites to come to the country.  The initial trickles quickly became a stream and then a wave of non-whites.  Monterey Park had become Chinese majority, with a Chinese-American mayor to boot.  And quite a few white folk were angry.

I didn't know then that I was in the relatively early part of the gushing stream of immigrants from India.


I was in an international setting--on campus and in the city. A bubble that normalized my status.  From my first day, I didn't know anything other than believing all these were the norm!

Almost 30 years after the LBJ-led immigration reform, in 1994, the reactionaries struck.  An anti-immigrant hateful rhetoric clinched a second-term for a Republican governor in California!

But, immigrants continued to move to California.  Silicon technology was altering the economic landscape at warped speeds, and the population from India kept up with this pace.  The stream from India became a huge wave.

All thanks to the reform that was passed by Congress and signed into law by LBJ on October 3, 1965.

But, LBJ had no idea that his immigration reform would lead to the browning of America.

Fifty years later, in June 2015, the reaction to LBJ opening the immigration gates to non-whites came in the form of tRump.

The hateful rhetoric that helped a Republican win the governor's office in 1994 was also the reason why the party lost California.  It is now a state where Republicans are an endangered species, who mostly yell and scream from its inland valleys.  I cannot imagine the hateful rhetoric that has made a success out of tRump and the Republicans having a lasting effect beyond another election cycle.

Better days are ahead.

Selling graduate degrees

History/news repeating itself means that I can easily copy/paste from my old posts. It is as simple as that.

Consider this Washington Monthly piece, for instance, which argues that "Teachers across the country earn grad degrees to get raises. Turns out those degrees don’t improve student learning—they just fatten universities’ bottom lines."

Ah, yes, an old issue here at this blog!

Back in September 2011, I warned readers: "Two words to keep in mind: graduate degrees."  I wrote there:
Look at yourself at the mirror and ask this question: "Does one really need a master's degree to teach at the elementary school level?
And then, follow it up with this: "Do instructors at community colleges need doctorates to teach the classes?"
There is a good possibility that your instinct says that a master's degree is not needed for elementary school teachers, and that community college faculty don't need to have the "PhD" tag either.
It is also highly probable that you think it might be a good idea if teachers have those respective advanced degrees.
Now, ask yourself, this: will student learning be increased just because it is an elementary school teacher with a master's degree, or a community college instructor with a PhD?
That was in 2011.

Here is the Washington Monthly in its January/February 2020 issue:
“Most of the research is that there’s either no statistically significant difference, or small significant differences, in teachers with master’s degrees,” said Thomas Kane, an economist and professor of education at Harvard. Matthew Chingos, an education-policy expert at the Urban Institute, has described it as “one of the most consistent findings in education research.” Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, put it more bluntly: “It’s as conclusive as research that finds smoking causes lung cancer. It’s as conclusive as the research on climate change.”
Compare with what I wrote here in 2011:
There is nothing in the literature that shows that student learning is enhanced merely because the teachers have those higher credentials.  In fact, the higher credentials by themselves do not make good teachers.  The advanced degrees are neither necessary, nor sufficient, conditions for improved student learning.  These are simply distractions!
So, why then the push for graduate degrees?  I will quote from my own post first:
The problem comes up because teachers, their unions, and the schools have set up a system in which teachers get a salary bump if they have advanced degrees. ...
Now, think about higher education as an industry.  If you are a higher education professional, you realize that there is an economic incentive for second grade teachers also to get master's degrees.  You then expand into offering those programs
And what does the Washington Monthly say?
Nixing the automatic master’s pay bump, which many experts advocate, would likely face intense resistance from teachers’ unions. It would also draw quiet resistance from a less obvious source: the universities awarding degrees. Data from the Department of Education shows that education master’s degrees are the second most commonly awarded master’s degrees in the country, after MBAs. That makes them an important and reliable source of tuition revenue—as long as teachers feel the need to get them.
Seriously, what the hell is wrong with us?!

My bottom-line was:
Taxpayers subsidize the public universities that offer those graduate degree programs.  That is right: we pay for the generation of most of those advanced degrees.  These graduates then earn more because of the very degrees, when those degrees are not even required!
That is no different from this argument that teachers ought to be paid more:
 This money should still go to teachers—it just shouldn’t be tied to an expensive, time-consuming degree with no tangible benefit. Simply giving all teachers higher salaries, says Roza, would be better than having teachers go into debt to get degrees.
Make teaching great again, dammit, instead of wasting money on unnecessary diplomas!