Tag Archives: Opinion

Does Everyone Want to Attend University?

There was an op-ed in the New York Times the other week that detailed some of the economic inequality in the US. It used academic data to discuss how poorly Americans estimate the level of social mobility. It’s certainly worth reading, but I wanted to highlight one section (and study):

Studies by another author of this article, the University of Illinois psychologist Michael W. Kraus, and his colleague Jacinth J.X. Tan, to be published in next month’s issue of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, found a similar pattern: When asked to estimate how many college students came from families in the bottom 20 percent of income, respondents substantially misjudged, estimating that those from the lowest income bracket attended college at a rate five times greater than the actual one documented by the Current Population Survey.

Now, it’s certainly worth noting how poor Americans are when it comes to estimating social mobility, (they’re certainly just as poor when it comes to estimating wealth inequality), but I’m curious about the desires of those in the bottom quintile. That is, many people espouse the values of higher education (full disclosure: I’m a professor at a higher education institution and I have two master’s degrees!), but what if everyone isn’t meant to go to university? More importantly, what if everyone doesn’t want to go to university?

Higher education is often held up as a mechanism for those in lower income quintiles to move up into a higher quintile (social mobility), but maybe people who come from the bottom quintile don’t want to go to university. I’m not in the bottom quintile nor did I grow up in the bottom quintile, so I have little to no authority to speak about the desires of those who come from the bottom quintile, but I think it’s worth asking what it is that the bottom quintile desires, specifically as it relates to higher education.

In raising this kind of question, it would, of course, be important to raise the issue of culture and how that influences one’s desires. That is, people who come from higher quintiles usually have parents (and friends) who think it natural to make the progression from high school to university. For some, attending post-secondary institutions of learning isn’t a choice — they’re forced to go. For those in the bottom quintile, attending a post-secondary institution of learning isn’t thought about in the same way. For many, it’s not “the thing you do after high school,” but instead, it’s held up as an ideal. It’s held up as a mechanism for transformation from being poor to not being poor.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that people in the bottom quintile shouldn’t attend university or shouldn’t want to attend university, but I think that alongside data discussing that estimates university attendance of different levels of income, there should also be data discussing the desires of those different levels of income.

ResearchBlogging.orgKraus, M., & Tan, J. (2015). Americans overestimate social class mobility Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 58, 101-111 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2015.01.005

How to get your Op-Ed in the New York Times

For as long as I’ve been reading the New York Times, I’ve toyed with the idea of writing an Op-Ed and sending it in. As the Op-Ed’s in the Times that I usually come across are written by people much more well-known than I am, I figured that my chances of getting in were pretty low. As it turns out, this just might not be the case.

A couple of weeks ago, I came across an “Op-Ed” from the Op-Ed and Sunday Review Editor, Trish Hall. In it, she details how to get an Op-Ed in the Times:

We get a flood of submissions, but there’s never too much good writing in the world. There is always room for more. So what makes the cut? That’s what people always ask me, so I’ll try to explain the process. Most pieces we publish are between 400 and 1200 words. They can be longer when they arrive, but not so long that they’re traumatizing. Submissions that are reacting to news of the world are of great value to us, especially if they arrive very quickly. Write in your own voice. If you’re funny, be funny. Don’t write the way you think important people write, or the way you think important pieces should sound. And it’s best to focus very specifically on something; if you write about the general problem of prisons in the United States, the odds are that it will seem too familiar. But if you are a prisoner in California and you have just gone on a hunger strike and you want to tell us about it – now, that we would like to read. We are normal humans (relatively speaking). We like to read conversational English that pulls us along. That means that if an article is written with lots of jargon, we probably won’t like it.

Some of what Trish has said should be comforting to folks who were worried about writing something that was high-brow. She specifically asks that you write in your own voice. So, let’s say that you get something together, submit it to the Times, and it’s accepted. Does your Op-Ed get published just like that? Not exactly:

First, you’ll get a contract giving us the right to publish it and laying out some of your responsibilities. The most important ones have to do with originality and truthfulness. You can’t plagiarize yourself, or someone else, and we won’t run something that has appeared in another publication, either print or digital. We request that you disclose anything that might be seen as a conflict of interest, financial or otherwise: Did you invest in a company that you praise in passing? Did you once work with a public official you mention in flattering or critical terms? Could you or an organization or company you represent benefit from the stance you take in an Op-Ed? We need to know. That doesn’t mean we’ll throw out your article on that basis — in most cases it just means disclosing the relationship to the reader. We also need all of the material that supports the facts in your story. That’s the biggest surprise to some people. Yes, we do fact check. Do we do it perfectly? Of course not. Everyone makes mistakes, and when we do we correct them. But the facts in a piece must be supported and validated. You can have any opinion you would like, but you can’t say that a certain battle began on a certain day if it did not.

It’s really great to see that even the Op-Ed’s are fact-checked. I’ve never worked at a newspaper, so I don’t know if this is standard practice. Either way, it does makes sense that if something’s going to be printed in your publication (The New York Times, no less) that you’d want to make sure it was truthful.

I hope after reading this post, the veil of mystique has been raised on how to get your opinion published in the New York Times. More than that, if you were holding back, I hope you’ll now consider writing an opinion and submitting it.

Listen — Let It Swirl Around Your Head, Then Form Your Opinion

In the past two weeks, I’ve seen a lot of people make a lot of different arguments about why they support/oppose intervening in Syria. Of all the arguments I’ve heard, the ones that irritate me the most: “I’m a Democrat/liberal and Pres. Obama thinks we should go to Syria, so I think we have to intervene.” OR “I’m a Republican/conservative and we can’t give Pres. Obama what he wants, so we shouldn’t intervene.” Both of these arguments (and the many derivatives thereof) are quite frankly, awful. They’re just awful.

Basing your opinion on a label like Democrat or a label like Republican is so near-sighted. A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about labels for political ideologies and parties. In that post, I linked to a video from Chris Rock talking about political ideologies and parties. The video has since been taken down, but I did find a few other versions of it (here, here, and here). My purpose in sharing this clip is not because I want you to change your mind and support intervening or change your mind and not support intervening, no. It’s because I want you to make up your mind for yourself.

As I said a few days ago, it’s difficult to know when being in the minority is the right thing to do. It’s even harder to know if that’s right when you’re blindly following the opinion of someone else. So, take a minute (that’s the length of the clip!) and watch Chris Rock.

Warning: NSFW language!

Note: The title of this post is a line from the video.