Category Archives: Youth

Kids in religious countries lose in science, math


A new study of the impact of religion on the minds of growing children reveals a disturbing finding: When religion dominates, kids fare poorly in science and mathematics.

The study offers a hint of things to come in the United States, where the government is now controlled by a party eager to hand off education to church schools while simultaneously declaring an allegiance to improving the nation’s economic competitiveness.

With the Department of Education headed by a confirmed Christianist who made her billions off private schools, the outlook is bleak for our children.

From Leeds Beckett University:

The more religious people are, the lower children in that country perform in science and mathematics, according to new research at Leeds Beckett University.

The research [$35.95 to access] , published today in the academic journal Intelligence, reveals that more religious countries had lower educational performance in science and mathematics.  The study also shows that levels of national development and time spent on religious education played a role in students’ attainment.

The research, led by Gijsbert Stoet, Professor of Psychology at Leeds Beckett, alongside David Geary, Curators’ Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri, is relevant for the government’s announcement in the budget that it will be investing £320 million into new free schools, including faith-based schools.

Professor Stoet explained: “Science and mathematics education are key for modern societies. Our research suggests that education might benefit from a stronger secular approach. In that context, the current UK policy of investing more money in faith-based should be reconsidered.

“The success of schools and education in general directly translates in more productive societies and higher standards of living. Given the strong negative link between religiosity and educational performance, governments might be able to raise educational standards and so standards of living by keeping religion out of schools and out of educational policy making.”

The researchers combined data from the Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA), OECD’s Education at a Glance, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), the World Values Survey, the European Social Survey, and the United Nationals Human Development Report.

Analysis of the data sets allowed conclusions to be drawn about international levels of religiosity, schooling and educational performance, and levels of human development (measures in regard to health, education, and income).

Levels of religiosity were determined using representative questionnaires carried out around the world in the World Values Survey and the European Social Survey among the adult population. Levels of school performance in mathematics and science literacy were based on scores from children aged between 14 to 15 years old.

Considering the relationship between religiosity and educational performance, the findings suggest that by engaging with religion, this may lead to a displacement of non-religious activities.  Although relatively few countries have data on the time spent on religious education, it appears that the time spent on religion has a negative correlation with educational performance in mathematics and science.

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And now for something completely different. . .


This times is a stunning performance by students from Lake Howell High School in Winter Park, Florida, captured during the school’s 2011 Talent Show.

From fernandiish via the always delightful Metafilter:

THE OFFICIAL Hot Scots drum line – 2011 – Talent Show at LHHS

Program notes:

Nigel, Dylan, Matt , Elias and Jordan (who are NOT Scottish) WIN the Talent Show at Lake Howell High School with this performance they actually put together this week! You can tell they are having fun! 🙂 (BTW – the kilts are props only and are worn as they chose to wear them for the TALENT show AND they are not Scottish but American)

New studies reveal deep, deadly racial biases


Republicans declaim endlessly their claim that Americans live in a “post-racial” society, where folks are judged solely by their abilities and not by the color of their skin.

Hence, no need for programs designed to teach tolerance, or to attempt to repair the damages wrought by centuries of bigotry, poor schools, and dangerous environments.

Of course anyone who listened to the virulent bigotry aroused by the Trump campaign knows the Republican rap is, in Fareed Zakaria’s notable phrasing, bullshit.

For those with any lingering doubts, considered the results of four new academic surveys, revealing that, among other things:

  • innocent black people are about 12 times more likely to be convicted of drug crimes than innocent white people
  • police view young black criminal suspects as both older and more likely to be guilty of serious offenses than they do white or Latino suspects in identical circumstances
  • people in general judge black men as larger, stronger and more muscular than white men, even when they’re exactly the same size
  • motorists approaching mid-block crosswalks are less likely to yield for black pedestrians than white pedestrians

With liberty and justice for some. . .

The power of the state is no more evident than a confrontation with a person with a badge and a gun, followed by a run through the meat-grinder that is the criminal justice system for those unable to afford expensive lawyers and costly investigators.

And those unfortunates are all too often people of color.

One way to judge the relative impartiality of a system professing to administer itself without bias is in those found guilty and sentenced to prison or death who were subsequently exonerated and freed.

From Michigan State University:

African-American prisoners who were convicted of murder are about 50 percent more likely to be innocent than other convicted murderers and spend longer in prison before exoneration, according to a report recently released that’s co-edited by a Michigan State University College of Law professor.

“The vast majority of wrongful convictions are never discovered,” said MSU Law’s Barbara O’Brien, the author of a companion report, “Exonerations in 2016,” [open access] and editor of the National Registry of Exonerations. “There’s no doubt anymore that innocent people get convicted regularly—that’s beyond dispute. Increasingly, police, prosecutors and judges recognize this problem. But will we do enough to actually address it? That remains to be seen.”

“Exonerations in 2016” found a record number of exonerations for the third straight year and a record number of cases with official misconduct.

The National Registry of Exonerations is a joint project of the University of California Irvine Newkirk Center for Science and Society, University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law. The registry provides detailed information about every known exoneration in the United States since 1989 – cases in which a person was wrongly convicted of a crime and later cleared of all the charges based on new evidence of innocence.

The 2016 data show convictions that led to murder exonerations with black defendants were more likely to involve misconduct by police officers than those with white defendants. On average, black murder exonerees waited three years longer in prison before release than whites.

Judging from exonerations, a black prisoner serving time for sexual assault is three-and-a-half times more likely to be innocent than a white person convicted of sexual assault. On average, innocent African-Americans convicted of sexual assault spent almost four-and-a-half years longer in prison before exoneration than innocent whites.

In addition, the report, officially titled, “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States” [open access], found innocent black people are about 12 times more likely to be convicted of drug crimes than innocent white people.

Since 1989, more than 1,800 defendants have been cleared in “group exonerations” that followed 15 large-scale police scandals in which officers systematically framed innocent defendants. The overwhelming majority were African-American defendants framed for drug crimes that never occurred.

“Of the many costs the war on drugs inflicts on the black community, the practice of deliberately charging innocent defendants with fabricated crimes may be the most shameful,” said University of Michigan Law Professor Samuel Gross, the author of “Race and Wrongful Convictions in the United States” and senior editor of the National Registry of Exonerations.

Last year, there were more exonerations than in any previous year in which government officials committed misconduct; the convictions were based on guilty pleas; no crime actually occurred; and a prosecutorial conviction integrity unit worked on the exoneration.

Police attribute more guilt, age to black youth suspects

One reason for those high exoneration rates for people of color can be found in a new study of how police attribute guilt and age when confronting black youth in suspicious circumstances.

The findings represent yet one more piece of evidence of deep flaws in our criminal justice system.

From the American Psychological Association:

Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers, but are instead more likely to be mistaken as older, be perceived as guilty and face police violence if accused of a crime, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Children in most societies are considered to be in a distinct group with characteristics such as innocence and the need for protection. Our research found that black boys can be seen as responsible for their actions at an age when white boys still benefit from the assumption that children are essentially innocent,” said author Phillip Atiba Goff, PhD, of the University of California, Los Angeles. The study [open access] was published online in APA’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Researchers tested 176 police officers, mostly white males, average age 37, in large urban areas, to determine their levels of two distinct types of bias — prejudice and unconscious dehumanization of black people by comparing them to apes. To test for prejudice, researchers had officers complete a widely used psychological questionnaire with statements such as “It is likely that blacks will bring violence to neighborhoods when they move in.” To determine officers’ dehumanization of blacks, the researchers gave them a psychological task in which they paired blacks and whites with large cats, such as lions, or with apes. Researchers reviewed police officers’ personnel records to determine use of force while on duty and found that those who dehumanized blacks were more likely to have used force against a black child in custody than officers who did not dehumanize blacks. The study described use of force as takedown or wrist lock; kicking or punching; striking with a blunt object; using a police dog, restraints or hobbling; or using tear gas, electric shock or killing. Only dehumanization and not police officers’ prejudice against blacks — conscious or not — was linked to violent encounters with black children in custody, according to the study.

A: Participants’ average age estimation accuracy for child suspects of different race. B: Participants’ average culpability rating for child suspects of different races. Error bars represent standard errors. From the study [open access].
Click on the image to enlarge.

The authors noted that police officers’ unconscious dehumanization of blacks could have been the result of negative interactions with black children, rather than the cause of using force with black children. “We found evidence that overestimating age and culpability based on racial differences was linked to dehumanizing stereotypes, but future research should try to clarify the relationship between dehumanization and racial disparities in police use of force,” Goff said.

The study also involved 264 mostly white, female undergraduate students from large public U.S. universities. In one experiment, students rated the innocence of people ranging from infants to 25-year-olds who were black, white or an unidentified race. The students judged children up to 9 years old as equally innocent regardless of race, but considered black children significantly less innocent than other children in every age group beginning at age 10, the researchers found.

The students were also shown photographs alongside descriptions of various crimes and asked to assess the age and innocence of white, black or Latino boys ages 10 to 17. The students overestimated the age of blacks by an average of 4.5 years and found them more culpable than whites or Latinos, particularly when the boys were matched with serious crimes, the study found. Researchers used questionnaires to assess the participants’ prejudice and dehumanization of blacks. They found that participants who implicitly associated blacks with apes thought the black children were older and less innocent.

In another experiment, students first viewed either a photo of an ape or a large cat and then rated black and white youngsters in terms of perceived innocence and need for protection as children. Those who looked at the ape photo gave black children lower ratings and estimated that black children were significantly older than their actual ages, particularly if the child had been accused of a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

“The evidence shows that perceptions of the essential nature of children can be affected by race, and for black children, this can mean they lose the protection afforded by assumed childhood innocence well before they become adults,” said co-author Matthew Jackson, PhD, also of UCLA. “With the average age overestimation for black boys exceeding four-and-a-half years, in some cases, black children may be viewed as adults when they are just 13 years old.”

The mind creates that ‘menacing big black man’

There’s something about the stereotype of the menacing big black man in films and other aspects of popular culture that you could almost make an acronymn of it, just as porn sites have made BBC descriptive another attribution about black males and size.

But it is in intersection of the menacing big black man stereotype and people with guns that makes a myth downright deadly  especially when most of us have an implicit bias to see black men as both larger more menacing than they would a white man in the same situation.

The findings have deep and troubling implications.

Consider, then, this new research from the American Psychological Association:

People have a tendency to perceive black men as larger and more threatening than similarly sized white men, according to research just published by the American Psychological Association.

“Unarmed black men are disproportionately more likely to be shot and killed by police, and often these killings are accompanied by explanations that cite the physical size of the person shot,” said lead author John Paul Wilson, PhD, of Montclair State University. “Our research suggests that these descriptions may reflect stereotypes of black males that do not seem to comport with reality.”

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Map of the day: Europe’s low fertility rates


Europe is undergoing a population implosion.

While some countries have higher birth rates than others, no country produces enough babies to maintain a constant population.

One has to wonder if the phenomenon contributes to Europe’s rising tide of xenophobia.

From Eurostat:

More from Eurostat:

In 2015, 5.103 million babies were born in the European Union (EU), compared with 5.063 million in 2001 (the first year comparable statistics are available). Among Member States, France continued to record the highest number of births (799,700in 2015), ahead of the United Kingdom (776,700), Germany (737,600), Italy (485,800), Spain (418,400) and Poland (369,300).

On average in the EU, women who gave birth to their first child in 2015 were aged nearly 29 (28.9 years). Across Member States, first time mothers were the youngest in Bulgaria and the oldest in Italy.

Overall, the total fertility rate in the EU increased from 1.46 in 2001 to 1.58 in 2015. It varied between Member States from 1.31 in Portugal to 1.96 in France in 2015. A total fertility rate of around 2.1 live births per woman is considered to be the replacement level in developed countries: in other words, the average number of live births per woman required to keep the population size constant without migration.

Total fertility rate below the replacement level of 2.1 in all Member States

In 2015, France (1.96) and Ireland (1.92) were the two Member State with total fertility rates closest to the replacement level of around 2.1. They were followed by Sweden (1.85) and the United Kingdom (1.80). Conversely, the lowest fertility rates were observed in Portugal (1.31), Cyprus and Poland (both 1.32), Greece and Spain (both 1.33) as well as Italy (1.35).

In most Member States, the total fertility rate rose in 2015 compared with 2001. The largest increases were observed in Latvia (from 1.22 in 2001 to 1.70 in 2015, or +0.48), the Czech Republic (+0.42), Lithuania (+0.41), Slovenia (+0.36), Bulgaria (+0.32), Romania (+0.31), Sweden (+0.28) and Estonia (+0.26). In contrast, the highest decreases were registered in Cyprus (-0.25), Luxembourg (-0.19) and Portugal (-0.14). For the EU as a whole, the total fertility rate increased from 1.46 in 2001 to 1.58 in 2015 (+0.12).

How the U.S. military weaponizes video war games


Back in the 1971 a friend took us to the Stanford University campus we were taken to visit a massive mainframe computer that was probably about as powerful as the processor in today’s cell phone.

Ushered into a large , dark room, we were escorted to a man sitting in what resembled the command module of a high tech [for those days] spaceship featuring a comfortable upholstered chair positioned in front of a large black-and-white monitor

The screen displayed a solar system, and the fellow in the chair was controlling a moving objects we soon realized was a spaceship. The game was amazing, precisely the sort of thing you’d expect from a bunch of nerds with advanced degrees, with planets and sun all functioning as gravity wells that could trap the ship. Then there was that enemy ship. . .

When we got our chance to take the helm we were hooked.

But it took at 1960s mainframe to run it, so Spacewars! Was strictly a plaything for academic and corporate nerds.

It wasn’t for another 20 years that we could find a comparable home game, a Spacewars! version for the now-forgotten Vectrex home gaming system.

But the fascination of the game, which goes back to early fascination boys seem to have with playing solder, didn’t come into full blossom until 1990s, with the arrival of the first almost-realistic war games enabled by advances in hardware and software.

And once the games became realistic, they drew the attention of the Pentagon.

And therein lies the tale.

The Pentagon’s war games fascination at its costs

Two European doctoral students, Scott Nicholas Romaniuk of the University of Trento and Tobias Burgers of the Freie Universität Berlin, looked at this unique intersection of popular culture and the military/industrial complex.

They detail their findings in The Conversation, a plain language, open source, online academic  journal:

Violent video games have become embedded within American culture over the past several decades and especially since 9/11. First-person shooters, in particular, have become increasingly popular.

These games – in which players are positioned behind a gun – have turned a generation of kids into digital warriors who fight terrorists and battle alien invaders. Many play first-person shooters for pure, innocent enjoyment. Some like achieving objectives and being a part of a team. And, for others, it simply feels good to eliminate an enemy – especially someone who’s trying to harm them.

For the U.S. military, the rise of first-person shooters has been a welcome development. In recent years, the military has encouraged many of its soldiers to partake in the thrill of violent video games as a way to continue combat training, even when not on active duty. (In fact, using games to teach military tactics has been a longstanding practice in the U.S. military: Before video games, troops were encouraged to play military-themed board games.)

The games allow soldiers to take their combat roles home with them and blur their on-duty responsibilities with their off-duty, noncombat routines and lives.

But what effect have these video games had on U.S. soldiers? How accurately do they depict military life? And do they actually help recruit, train and retain troops?

From battle screen to battlefield

As part of a study, we interviewed 15 current and former members of the U.S. military who were between 24 and 35 years old to understand the role violent first-person shooter games played in their recruitment and training.

The majority of interviewees told us it was important to stay in the mindset of a soldier even when not on duty. To them, first-person shooters were the perfect vehicle for doing this.

Game preferences varied among the soldiers we interviewed, but popular titles included “Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2” and “ARMA 2,” which a current member of the Army said was “one of the most hardcore assault experiences in gaming.”

Meanwhile, an Iraq War veteran described “Call of Duty: Black Ops 2” and “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” as “the ultimate first-person shooter experiences ever” and “intensive and highly realistic approaches to tactical combat. The choice of attacking with stealth or unleashing an all-out frontal assault full of mayhem is yours. It’s violent, it’s chaotic, it’s beautiful.”

In this, the Iraq War veteran seems to say that video games can reflect real-life combat situations, an attitude that others share.

Altered realities

But it’s tough to make the case that games accurately simulate what a soldier’s life is really like. First, military tours of duty are not solely made up of hard-charging, chaotic battles, like those in first-person shooters. The majority of soldiers won’t participate in any full-frontal combat operations.

Second – and, most importantly – in the digital world there are no legal and ethical considerations. When things go wrong, when innocent people are killed, there are no ramifications. If anything, the games warp these real-world consequences in the minds of players; in 2012, psychologists Brock Bastian, Jolanda Jetten and Helena R.M. Radke were able to use brain scans to show that playing violent video games had the potential to desensitize players to real-life violence and the suffering of others.

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A Muslim girl fights for her individuality


And we mean fight literally.

A wonderful documentary from Jayisha Patel of Australia’s SBS Dateline, a look at Fareeha, a remarkable young Indian women skilled in a very untraditional martial art struggling to make her way to the national championships.

It’s a story about a person from Hyderabad whose dream is to become a police officer so that she can protect young girls in a nation riven by religious and sexual violence.

Her struggle reveals tensions universal in modern life, created when cultural norms created in an era of slow travel and limited technology were evolved at a time when organized religion dominated all aspects of civic and familial life.

While the West dubs the struggle triggered by America’s armed imperialism Islamist, what has happened in the U.S. and Europe might be called a Christianist insurgence. While authoritarianism in the Mideast and North Africa is fueled by an authoritarian interpretation of the Koran and sayings attributed to the Prophet, while the authoritarianism of the West is inspired by an authoritarian interpretation of the Bible, relaying heavily on particularist selection of passages from practices proscribed by Torah and a vision of the imminent future taken from Revelation.

The cultural norms   struggles against are not so different than the gender-based laws many Republicans dream of enacting.

And when you look at how the Christianists really want to control women and their roles, is it really that different from what the Islamists want?

In that context, enjoy a remarkable, true story about a triumphal struggle.

From SBS Dateline:

India’s Wushu Warrior

Program notes:

What happens when cultural tradition clashes with a young person’s dream? Dateline meets a Muslim girl whose passion for martial arts is raising difficult questions for her family.

Chart of the day: EU second language learning


From Eurostat, a look at how many European second school students are studying languages other than their own [click on the image to enlarge]:

blog-lingo

More from the report:

French: second most popular after English

Learning a foreign language at school is very common in the European Union (EU), with more than 17 million lower secondary school pupils (or 98.6% of all pupils at this education level) studying at least one foreign language in 2015. Among them, more than 10 million (58.8%) were studying two foreign languages or more.

English was by far the most popular language at lower secondary level, studied by nearly 17 million pupils (97.3%). French (5 million or 33.8%) came second, followed by German (3 million or 23.1%) and Spanish (2 million or 13.6%).

These data are issued by Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. Currently there are 24 official languages recognised within the EU. In addition there are regional languages, minority languages, and languages spoken by migrant populations. It should also be noted that several EU Member States have more than one official language.

Luxembourg, Finland and Italy on top for learning several foreign languages

In 2015, all or nearly all lower secondary school pupils learnt at least two foreign languages in Luxembourg (100%), Finland (98.4%), Italy (95.8%), Estonia (95.4%) and Romania (95.2%). In contrast, fewer than 10% of pupils were studying two or more languages in Hungary (6.0%) and Austria (8.8%).

English, French and German: top 3 foreign languages studied in the EU

English is by far the main foreign language studied during lower secondary education in the vast majority of Member States. In particular, all pupils attend English classes in Denmark, Malta and Sweden.

French is one of the two main foreign languages studied by all pupils in Luxembourg and is also the top foreign language studied in Ireland (by 60.4% of pupils) and Belgium (52.8%). In addition, French is the second most popular foreign language studied at lower secondary level in nine Member States, with the highest shares of learners recorded in Cyprus (89.2%), Romania (83.6%), Portugal (66.6%), Italy (65.4%) and the Netherlands (55.6%).

Besides being studied by all pupils in Luxembourg, German ranks second in eight Member States, with the highest shares being registered in Denmark (73.6%), Poland (69.2%) and Slovakia (53.6%). Learning Spanish is notably popular in Sweden (43.7%) and France (39.0%), while Russian, the only commonly studied non-EU language, came second in the three Baltic States – Lithuania (66.2%), Estonia (63.6%) and Latvia (59.7%) – as well as in Bulgaria (16.9%).

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic. . .

Things are much more provincial here in the U.S., as the Pew Research Center noted in a 2015 report:

[T]he U.S. does not have a nationwide foreign-language mandate at any level of education. Many states allow individual school districts to set language requirements for high school graduation, and primary schools have very low rates of even offering foreign-language course work. Some foreign-language learning standards can be met by taking non-language classes. For example, California requires one course in either the arts or a foreign language (including American Sign Language) for all high school students. Oklahomans can opt to take two years of the same foreign language or “of computer technology approved for college admission requirements.” Conversely, New Jersey students must earn “at least five credits in world languages” or demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English before they can graduate high school.

Perhaps because of these varying standards, few Americans who claim to speak a non-English language say that they acquired those skills in school. Only 25% of American adults self-report speaking a language other than English, according to the 2006 General Social Survey. Of those who know a second language, 43% said they can speak that language “very well.” Within this subset of multilinguals who are well-versed in a non-English language, 89% acquired these skills in the childhood home, compared with 7% citing school as their main setting for language acquisition.

It reminds us of an old joke we heard back in college some 44 years ago:

Q: What do you call someone who speaks three languages?

A. Trilingual.

Q. What do you call someone who speaks two languages?

A. Bilingual.

Q. What do you call a person who speak one language, and that badly?

A. An American.