James McPherson's Media & Politics Blog

Observations of a patriotic progressive historian, media critic & former journalist


  • By the author of The Conservative Resurgence and the Press: The Media’s Role in the Rise of the Right and of Journalism at the End of the American Century, 1965-Present. A former journalist with a Ph.D. in journalism, history and political science, McPherson is a past president of the American Journalism Historians Association and a board member for the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media.

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Posts Tagged ‘Education’

How about just a robot to grade papers?

Posted by James McPherson on September 23, 2009

CNN reports that movie-style androids such as those in the movie “Surrogates” may not be far off. And we’ve already seen a teaching robot (and a robotic “supermodel”) in Japan.

Others warn that technology may make my job obsolete, and the amount of education that has gone online in recent years sometimes worries me, a bit. But then I remember how few people actually watch educational television or make use of the wealth of educational opportunities on the web (some of which are linked to your right).

In fact, anyone could get the equivalent of a very good liberal arts education from his or her home, though of course the student would be giving up other valuable parts of the college experience–and the external motivation that some of us require to buckle down and learn, rather than spending the time on video games, YouTube videos or trashy crime novels.

Posted in Education, Science | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »

The 3 E’s: education, economics and ethics

Posted by James McPherson on December 4, 2008

The lead news today continues to be about a possible government bailout of the Big Three auto makers, but frankly this week I’m more concerned about the long-term costs of another impending disaster for the U.S. economy.

Unless we fix some serious problems with our educational system, we won’t have people smart enough to design the cars of the future, or with jobs good enough to be able to afford those cars. And unless we start to pay some attention to how ethics in government, business and elsewhere are being internalized by our children (who, as George W. Bush would say, “is learning,” inside the classroom and out), we won’t be able to trust anything made or sold by an American graduate, anyway.

Though I teach at a highly ranked institution that boasts the smartest and most ethical students I’ve ever worked with, this has been a troubling week for news related to higher education. Tuition costs continue to rise, to the point where a study reported in yesterday’s New York Times predicts that college education may soon be unaffordable for those from the middle class (or what little remains of it) and below. Harvard, the school whose graduates we all most resent while we wish our own kids could get in there, saw its endowment drop by 22 percent in the first four months of the school year.

Maybe they can steal the tuition money. Another survey released this week shows that most high school students cheat–and about a third say they have stolen something from a store within the past year. Less surprising, is that more than 80 percent of public school and private religious schools admit lying to their parents about “something significant,” which prompts me to suspect that at least 10 percent lied about lying.

More troubling is that more than 90 percent of students surveyed reported being satisfied with their personal ethics (they may lie, cheat and steal, but they’re OK with it), with 59 percent agreeing that “In the real world, successful people do what they have to do to win, even if others consider it cheating.”

And then there’s this bit of trash: A supposed journalism student writing for “The Daily Beast” about her “sugar daddy” relationship. which she euphemistically calls “maybe even the distant cousin of—dare I say it?—prostitution.” (Yes, you may call it what it is.) She does offer a bit of good news for the reeling auto industry: “And the company car I drive costs him around $700 a month for the lease and the insurance.” She writes–as if she knows–that when the relationship is over, “I will part with a lifelong friend [Yeah, right; I see him on future guest list for her future wedding], a great career, and a killer wardrobe.”

Part of her justification is that “truth be told, women have used their wiles and charms to get ahead for years.” Perhaps. Students have also cheated for years (and with that in mind, maybe this “journalism student” is just spinning a provocative tale), and Americans in various business and government sectors have been ignoring negative economic indicators for years.

But as Dr. Phil might say, were he treating the nation as a sobbing, overweight, somewhat dim TV “client”: “How’s that working for you?

Posted in Education, Journalism, Politics, Women | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Off to Moscow (Idaho, of course)–come say hello

Posted by James McPherson on November 10, 2008

Tomorrow afternoon I’ll guest lecture at the University of Idaho, from which my wife, daughter, father, brother, sister, sister-in-law and son-in-law all have degrees. Yes, we’re an overeducated family, especially considering our history–though I didn’t attend UI, my brother and I both have doctorates, and my wife, father, sister and sister-in-law each have at least one master’s degree.

After the lecture from 5:30 to 7 p.m. I’ll read and sign books at BookPeople of Moscow, one of my favorite bookstores (along with Powell’s in Portland, Auntie’s in Spokane, and the Elliot Bay Book Co. in Seattle). Of course I’m also fond of the Borders Books in North Spokane, which invited me to do my first reading and treated me very well.

Posted in Education, Personal | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Vice presidential debate strategies for Biden and Palin

Posted by James McPherson on September 27, 2008

During the past week, Joe Biden managed to demonstrate that, whatever foreign policy credentials he may have, his apparent knowledge about radio, television and the Great Depression would cause him serious problems if he were in the mass media history class that I teach. 

On the other hand, Sarah Palin’s inability to answer even straightforward (and, one would presume, expected) questions, coupled with her apparent and unexpected insecurity, has even conservative columnist Kathleen Parker calling on her to step aside for the good of the Republican Party. The Democratic line from today that she is “a terrific debater” seems to me a clear attempt to counter the ankle-level expectations created by Palin herself.

So here’s my recommended debate strategy for both candidates: Try to let your opponent do most of the talking. On Thursday night the best defense may prove to be a look of stunned amazement while your opponent rambles on. Of course my strategy might be much tougher to follow for the loquacious Biden than for the not-ready-for-prime-time Palin (whom the GOP apparently wouldn’t even trust to speak after the presidential debate, while Biden has appeared seemingly everywhere):

Oh, and parents–You may want to keep your kids away from the TV during Thursday’s debate. Chances are they already lack much knowledge about either history or the electoral process; you don’t want them sliding further.

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments »

Johnny comes lately to change: Let the campaign begin

Posted by James McPherson on September 4, 2008

A week ago I wrote that the Democrats had achieved most of what they hoped for at their convention. After listening to John McCain tonight, I think the Republicans did the same. I now think the GOP might get more of a bounce than I previously predicted, though I disagree with the commentators who tonight predicted that he would at least briefly pull ahead in the race.

As for the McCain’s speech, I thought it was exciting for the last three minutes, and OK but fairly dull before that (though maybe I’m the only one tired of hearing the POW story and yearning for specifics). I wasn’t as impressed with the speech as some of the talking heads, though perhaps that’s a reflection of my own bias (and my conservative buddy Mike is the speech professor). Topping Sarah Palin’s speech of last night would have been tough for McCain. Not surprisingly Fox News commentators seemed to like his speech the best, though PBS folks (except for liiberal Mark Shields) also lauded it.

Some of the most honest parts of the speech came when McCain criticized the current administration (though never by name), following the “change” message of the entire convention. The Republicans ended up benefitting from Hurricane Gustav, which kept President Bush–the implied target of many of the negative comments–off of the convention floor.

McCain failed to say how he will do things differently than the current president or his fellow Republican congressmen, who waged power for six years and then still had enough power to keep Democrats from enacting any meaningful legislation for the past two years. He drew some of his best response with promises to reform education–but conservatives before Bush thought education should be left to the states.

Liberals generally think the feds should be involved in things as important as education, but not in the way that McCain and Bush think they should be involved. Most Americans will agree with McCain that Washington and America need change, but he is literally a “johnny-come-lately” to the idea. He’ll need some real ideas to back up the talk.

The next two months should be interesting. I’ve written repeatedly that not much that happened before now would matter much to voters. But now they’ve started paying attention, and each speech and perceived gaffe will matter more–especially what I call the “blogcessive compulsive” times. McCain appropriately said little or nothing about Republican hot buttons such as abortion and gay marriage in his speech, but he will have to address them in the weeks to come.

Now that people are tuned in, it would be nice if the mainstream news media would focus on the issues Americans will face and how each candidate might realistically affect those issues. Don’t hold your breath.

Saturday update: Al-jazeera summarizes what’s ahead in the election.

Posted in Education, Journalism, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Six more religious questions for McCain and Obama

Posted by James McPherson on August 18, 2008

In my view, John McCain and Barack Obama both did OK in their Saturday night back-to-back discussions with Rev. Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church. McCain did better than I expected and probably came out a bit ahead.

McCain did so well, in fact, that some critics thought he must have had the questions ahead of time. Despite Warren’s assurrences (and apparent belief), McCain and/or his key staffers may in fact have heard most of Obama’s interview, since McCain was in a car with staffers rather than locked away in a soundproof room during that time.

Still, though I have decreasing regard for McCain’s honesty, I doubt that he needed to cheat. His answers were shorter and more direct, and he came across as more focused, largely because he used most of the questions–as good candidates do during what has come to pass for political “debates“–as opportunities to regurgitate his stump speech. He said almost nothing that regular watchers of politics hadn’t heard repeatedly, but his answers did play to much of the Saddleback audience.

Obama’s longer, more conversational and less focused answers weren’t helped by Warren’s repeated interjections of “uh huh,” but the pastor was clearly nervous at the beginning and got better as the evening went on. Obama gave the worst answer of the night (about when life begins), with McCain’s answer about what qualifies a person as financially rich the second-worst. Neither candidate made a huge gaffe, though it remains to be seen which segments will be most heavily viewed as out-of-context YouTube videos. McCain also benefited from getting to go last (ask Shawn Johnson and Sandra Izbasa if that matters).

In truth, however, I doubt that the discussion will have much of an effect on anything. Given a choice of a religious/political discussion on a Saturday night in August, most of the relatively few people who were home watching television were tuned to the Olympics. McCain was going to get the conservative evangelical vote, anyway, though he may have boosted his credibility with the folks he once termed “agents of intolerance.” Obama may have countered the ongoing fiction that he is a Muslim, though the people stupid enough to believe that may not be able to figure out how to vote, anyway–and if they do, they weren’t going to vote for Obama.

I am a bit troubled that the candidates felt they needed to attend a church-sponsored discussion at all, a further complication of what I see as an often negative relationship between religion and presidential politics. It would bother me less if the candidates felt equally compelled to answer questions from a union leader, a state governor, the mayor of a major American city (New Orleans or New York, perhaps?), a panel of teachers and parents, and a panel of economists.

And though I think Warren did a decent job, he failed to ask a few questions that I would have in a forum such as this one. Though I likely will never see them answered by the candidates, I’ll post a half-dozen of those questions here:

  1. Catholics who practice birth control or have abortions sometimes are criticized for hypocrisy because they act in opposition to what the pope has professed. Since the leadership of every major religious denomination in the United States opposed the Iraq War, does that suggest hypocrisy among those churchgoers who favored the war–including President Bush and those in Congress?
  2. What is or should be the role of a church denomination’s leadership, for you and for Christians in general?
  3. Catholics make up roughly a quarter of the U.S. population,  and Jews only about 2 percent. Since five of nine Supreme Court justices are Catholic and two are Jewish, isn’t the court seriously out of balance?
  4. How do your views of the death penalty correspond with your Christian faith?
  5. As president, you are expected to represent the entire nation. Name one Muslim and one atheist whom you count among your friends and advisors.
  6. Discuss your views of evolution and “intelligent design,” and how you feel they should be taught in public schools.

Posted in Education, Legal issues, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments »

Academics, journalism, politics and getting away

Posted by James McPherson on August 11, 2008

As of 3 a.m. today, I’m back from Chicago, where I attended the national convention for the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication.  I also spent a week away from the Internet, checking my e-mail only once during that time (meaning most of my day until now has been devoted to catching up). I read a newspaper only once during the week (taking a day-old New York Times on the train) and caught only brief hotel lobby snatches of television news. Occasional breaks from the media and technology are among the most precious gifts we can give ourselves, part of why I don’t carry a cell phone.

For a political junkie, I picked a good week to be disconnected. Neither Barack Obama nor John McCain picked a VP nominee and I’m back in time to hear George Bush bluster about Russia engaging in criminally insane American-style foreign policy.

Most of the news coverage seems to have been devoted to the Olympics, about which I care very little. I haven’t yet seen a single event on television, and have no idea of the medal count. I have great respect for the athletes–more so for those who compete from nations with limited resources–but am turned off by the hype, the money, the cheating, and the reliance on technology that surround the Olympics. It’s enough for me to deal with all of those things in the political races.

Like most such events, the AEJMC convention was a mix of good and bad:

  • Getting to hear from and talk to some of the smartest, funniest and nicest people in my field, including chats with old friends, enthusiastic young grad students, and Chicago Tribune columnist Clarence Page, who was given AEJMC’s First Amendment Award.
  • Hearing from people who were seriously underprepared or who think they’re much smarter than they are, and spending too much time chatting with people who were looking over my shoulder to see if someone more important (in terms of their personal career enhancement) came into view.
  • Being reminded that few of the hundreds of presentations at this convention–or almost any academic convention–matter to more than a half-dozen people, or will influence anything beyond possibly the presenters’ tenure or promotion possibilities. Even bloggers’ audiences are bigger and may care more about what they read, though I can’t decide if that’s good or bad.
  • Seeing copies of my latest book being sold, and being asked to sign it.
  • An afternoon visit to Navy Pier and its stained glass museum, and a sightseeing tour of the waterfront.
  • An amazing view from our 38th-floor hotel room window, and incredibly high prices for everything else associated with the hotel.
  • Nice people on buses and on the street but crabby people in the hotel, in restaurants and driving cabs (exactly the opposite of what I expected).
  • Amtrak, which we took to and from Chicago from Spokane. Admittedly no one should spend 73 hours on trains in a one-week period. Still, I’m a supporter of the idea of Amtrak, and have always thought we should subsidize train travel more heavily (as we already do with air and especially car travel, though those subsidies are better hidden). But Amtrak doesn’t do much for its own case. The first train was filthy and hours late, and far too many Amtrak employees come across as embittered small-town cops or bad junior high teachers. Amtrak could learn a lot from Southwest Airlines.
  • The reminder that even though I generally prefer the West over the East and small towns over large cities, Chicago keeps getting better in my eyes while the seeming hellhole of Shelby, Mont., gets worse. Admittedly both reactions are based on limited experience (in Shelby I never got farther than 50 feet from the train, nor had any desire to do so considering the locals I encountered there), the same kind of experience that leads me to think kindly of such wide-ranging locales as Seattle; Cleveland; Pittsburgh; Tucson, Ariz.; Raleigh, N.C.; St. Petersburg, Fla., Madison, Wisc.; Brookings, Ore.; and Moscow, Idaho; while having generally negative impressions of Los Angeles; Phoenix; Cincinnati; Richmond, Va.; Wilson, N.C.; Wickenburg, Ariz.; Ogden, Utah; Forks, Wash.; and Twin Falls, Idaho. Like most Americans, I have mixed feelings or am indifferent about many other places, including the hugely popular “san” cities of San Francisco, San Diego and San Antonio. My views about any of these places shouldn’t matter to anyone else, though unfortunately my reasoning is based on the same kind of experience that will prompt most people who are clueless enough not to have already made up their minds about how to vote in the November presidential election.

Posted in Education, Journalism, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

The last word on vice presidential choices–for now

Posted by James McPherson on August 4, 2008

Blogger Bil Browning predicts Barack Obama will name Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh as his running mate on Wednesday, while John McCain’s staffers apparently are saying that McCain will wait to name his own pick until after hearing Obama’s choice (and no doubt until the GOP smear machine gets fired up against whomever the Democratic choice may be).

I don’t think Bayh is a terrible choice, though I’d favor someone else. I also thought Obama should have named his pick a few weeks ago, as I wrote some time back. McCain also seems unlikely to pick the woman I thought would be his best choice, though I did suggest that he should wait to name her until Aug. 24, the day before the Democratic Convention begins. I now think McCain will name his running mate within about a week of whenever Obama makes his choice.

If neither candidate names his choice within the next couple of days, I predict they’ll wait a couple more weeks until the Olympics are over–though I disagree with many pundits and think it wouldn’t be a bad idea to name a running mate during the Olympics. After all, the VP choice isn’t supposed to overshadow the nominee, anyway, though I suspect that will be more of a potential problem for the apparently stuck-in-the-mud McCain campaign than for Obama.

My kind of town, Chicago is–this week, anyway

I’m spending much of this week in Chicago for the annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication–the largest organization to which I belong, and the one with the bulkiest title. After the convention and a bit of vacation, I’ll be back in about a week. In the meantime, especially if you’re new to the site, you might want to check out some of my previous posts. Here in no particular order are a “top 20” of my favorites:

Burn a flag for the Fourth

Begging to differ

The Democrats’ best VP choice–and when Obama should name him

McCain’s best VP choice–and when he should name her

Have you ever heard of the “world’s most famous journalist”?

 PUMAs stalk political relevance–and irony

Ignorance and the electorate

The New Yorker’s Obama cover

“Act now”: a new way for candidates to reach the electorate

WOW! Young people access news differently than grandparents

Family values

Speaking for the poor

Rush Limbaugh and Operation Chaos

Curiosity and journalism

Pogo’s enemy, revisited

Democratic self-mutilation

Howard Dean and convention bloggers

Barack Obama, Muhammad Ali, Mos Def, Zalmay Khalilzad & Keith Ellison: Which doesn’t belong?

Utah Phillips and other dead patriots

Why Obama’s success is no surprise, and why McCain may be in trouble

Have a great week!

Posted in Education, History, Journalism, Media literacy, Personal, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Signs, despite our bickering, of our optimistic nature

Posted by James McPherson on July 11, 2008

Old people plant trees.

Teachers and parents keep trying to inspire children.

People who follow politics vote anyway.

Protestors keep showing up.

Journalists find good news among the evil.

Some still work to report the evil.

Almost everyone has faith in something or someone.

People from all walks of life read poetry.

Some write it.

Some get past themselves enough to write it well.

Posted in Education, Journalism, Poetry, Politics, Religion | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

The science of cross burning for Christ

Posted by James McPherson on June 28, 2008

An Ohio “science teacher” has been fired for promoting his Christian faith by, among other things, telling students that the theory of evolution is wrong because the Bible does not support it (something I suspect the science teachers at the Christian university where I teach would dispute), and by using an electronic device to burn crosses into the arms of students. The teacher claimed that the mark was an “X”: I’ve included a photo below so you can judge for yourself.

In my favorite quote from the original story, a friend (who brings to mind the phrase, “With friends like these…”) apparently told the Columbus Dispatch: “With the exception of the cross-burning episode. … I believe John Freshwater is teaching the values of the parents in the Mount Vernon school district.” Might that be termed the Ku Klux Klan defense?

After the firing, the Dispatch noted that Freshwater “had declared himself a free-speech martyr.” Funny, I thought the Christian martyr was the man who died on the cross, not the guy who physically abused kids that he was supposed to be teaching about how God’s world really works.

Now I’m taking off to camp, fish and commune with nature–three of the best reasons to live in the Pacific Northwest in the summer. Assuming I can find and afford gas to get back home, I’ll pick up the blogging again in a few days. If you’re new to the site, perhaps you’d like to catch up with what I’ve written previously. Regardless, there are some great resources linked at your right for news, opinion and education about media and politics.  And if I’m not back before then, Happy Fourth!

Posted in Education, Journalism, Legal issues, Personal, Politics, Religion, Science | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »