Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Matter of Life and Death

Happy Holidays, readers!  Let's talk dead bodies...

The above article is a part of the ongoing ProPublica/NPR/PBS Frontline investigation into American coroner and medical examiner offices (very cool information; see here).  In it, journalist Marshall Allen describes the decline of autopsies in the modern healthcare system. 

Whereas autopsies used to be routine procedures in the case of all hospital deaths, the autopsy rate has now plummeted to 5% of all hospital deaths. Among private and community hospitals--which account for 80% of hospitals--that rate hovers around 0%. While autopsy is crucial in determining disease progression, pathogen dissemination, medical mis-diagnosis, and faulty treatment, most hospitals have simply chosen not to perform them.

Monday, November 14, 2011

To Protect and Serve Whom: the Red Herring of Prostitution Convictions

According to a recent Feministe article, the New York City Police Department is engaged in a practice which may be counter-intuitive to public safety. Current law enforcement policy allows for the use of condoms as evidence in the prosecution of prostitutes. This is deeply problematic for several reasons, mainly that it is a major disincentive for sex workers (and a disincentive for folks, in general) to carry prophylactics. As reporter Crystal DeBoise notes:

This practice is an outright slap in the face to the decades of hard work that public health advocates have undertaken to increase safe sex, decrease HIV and create a positive shift in the cultural acceptance of condom use. This policy discourages a stigmatized and marginalized group of sexually active people from carrying the tools they need to be healthy and safe.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Is it ADHD?

Let's do a little thought experiment:  Imagine you are teaching a student with ADHD. They have trouble focusing in class and controlling their actions. They are disorganized, procrastinate on assignments, and have difficulty completing even the simplest of tasks. Assignments are cluttered with careless mistakes and sloppy handwriting. Classroom behavior is unruly, at best.

Now, my big question:

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Go Directly to Jail: Do Not Pass Go, But Do Collect Healthcare

This is kind of one of those “WTF” stories about which I feel compelled to comment:

Before I begin, I should note that this happened several months ago, but, akin to my obsession with Mad Men or love affair with Miley Cyrus, I am a little behind the times on current events and trends. I am, however, TOTALLY up-to-date on aimless internet browsing, which is how I found about about this.

To continue, this past June, in North Carolina, James Richard Verone planned and executed a $1 bank robbery with the intention that he would be incarcerated.  Laid-off from his job of 17 years, suffering from chronic pain, unable to afford healthcare, and denied disability insurance, Verone planned his imprisonment so that he might finally be able to obtain much-needed healthcare that had been denied to him through traditional means.  

In this country, we are loathe to view healthcare as a basic human right.  In fact, we are the only industrialized nation that does not have a universal healthcare system.  This is due, in large part, to  a market culture which views healthcare as a commodity—something which is bought and sold, can accrue profit,  and the cost of which is determined by basic laws of supply and demand, however manipulated those are.   Through Verone’s case, one sees that the only way to access healthcare as a right in this country is to become part of the penal system.   Let me just say, I find it deeply ironic and symptomatic of an unjust society that a citizen gains rights by virtue of being a prisoner. Yet this is the trajectory America has been on for many years, as social welfare, which, by definition, ensures the dignity and well-being of persons, has all-but collapsed (or, as in the case of healthcare, was never properly developed in the first place).  

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Emotional Demand of Teaching

In his recent NY Times op-ed, “In Honor of Teachers,” Charles M. Blow addresses why so few people enter the teaching profession and why, of those that do, half leave within the first five years. In response to his own inquiry, he reveals the many arduous (though often ignored) demands on teachers: poor working conditions, long hours hours, less pay, lack of professional credibility. Importantly, he poses the following question which gets to the heart of the issue: do we expect to entice the best and brightest to become teachers when we keep tearing the profession down? We take the people who so desperately want to make a difference that they enter a field where they know that they’ll be overworked and underpaid, and we scapegoat them as the cause of a societywide failure.

I'm sure by now you all can hear my pseudo-beatnik-agreement-snapping from wherever you are in the country (hopefully you are doing the same but with more style). This article got me thinking, however, about an under-reported difficulty of teaching not addressed here: emotional stress. I think that it is this stress, as much as the issues enumerated above, which contributes to high teacher burnout and turnover.

I present here two problems which most represent the high emotional demands on teachers:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Downsizing of Big Pharma: Brain-Drain or Blessing?

“As Big Pharma downsizes, a major loss of brain power."

The above Philadelphia Inquirer article follows several women in the pharmaceutical industry who have been laid off in the past months. The women are part of a trend that has seen thousands of pharmaceutical researchers, developers, marketers, and other employees losing jobs. The reason for the down-size is that many so-called “blockbuster drugs”-- high-earning drugs that treat common problems-- are now coming off their patents, meaning that any company (not just Merck or Pfizer) can develop generic versions of these drugs for cheaper. This equates to a substantial loss of revenue for the big players in the industry, who had gleaned most of their profit from these drugs. It also means big changes for industry-led research, which will now likely focus on developing so-called “niche” drugs that treat less common conditions.

While the content is informative, I find the tone and scope of this piece deeply unsettling.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Reflections on the TFA/Penn Summer Bridge Course aka Notes on Education

Yesterday, I finished up my duties as Teacher Assistant for the Penn Graduate School of Education Summer Bridge Course for incoming 2011 Teach for America corps members.  The course is designed to be a week-long intensive introduction to the academic work corps members will engage in over the following two years at Penn GSE. Focusing on issues of pedagogical theory, it tends to be quite different from TFA's summer institute (teacher boot camp, for those non-familiar), which is more of a practical “how-to” on teaching in the classroom.

Throughout the week, we (the facilitators and TAs) demonstrated creative methods and strategies for teaching, but, more importantly, encouraged a critical discourse around issues of testing, grading, creativity within the classroom, the importance of multiple perspectives, race and racial tensions, privilege, and inquiry-based learning. We asked the tough questions. Who are we as teachers? Who are our students? How will we form the trusting relationships and community that will allow true learning to flourish? The new corps members really pushed themselves to answer these and more. At times the conversation was frustrating, as it must be when discussing the myriad of challenges that face urban teachers and students, but it ultimately forged deeper understanding and renewed commitment to exact social change within our schools.

In my opinion, we created a really positive, productive, and powerful (sorry for the alliteration; I'm an English teacher) learning community in our week together. I am left believing that the 2011 TFA Greater Philadelphia Corps is going to do great things.

With that, here were some of the take-aways from the week that deserve note:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Dead meat? A Government Cover-up Story...

For those who know me, I am hardly the crunchy-granola-vegan-environmentalist-hippie-type. However, this  eye-opening exposé from Tom Philpott, food politics expert, has me thinking very hard about the detrimental effects of the industrial food system on public health. In sum, Philpott reports the cover-up of a USDA-contracted report on the problem of antibiotic resistance and its relation to the gratuitous use of antibiotics on factory animal farms.

Before delving into that subject, Philpott relates some essential background information on the nature of antibiotic use in industrial-scale meat production:

You see, keeping animals alive and growing fast under cramped, unsanitary conditions is tricky business. One of the industry's tried-and-true tactics is low-level, daily doses of antibiotics. The practice helps keep infections down, at least in the short term, and, for reasons no one really understands, it pushes animals to fatten to slaughter weight faster.

Animals raised to slaughter on large-scale farms (the very same that end up on your hamburger buns and in your frying pans) are fed a healthy dose of antibiotics as part of the daily routine. In fact, Philpott reports, over eighty percent of antibiotic use-- some 29 million pounds--- is used by the meat industry.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Why It's Important to Be an Ugly Middle School Kid

"Hundreds of preteen children treated for eating disorders"
I read the article above today, which left me extremely sad, although less shocked than I care to admit. Eating disorders numbers are up among girls, ages five to thirteen, according to a British report by The Telegraph. Data from over 35 hospitals in England reveals that over 2,100 patients under the age of 16 have been treated for eating disorders, although sources acknowledge that this is a gross underestimate of both hospital admittances and the overall extent of the problem.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Why Teachers Cheat

 Many city school districts have come under suspicion lately for cheating on standardized tests, including my own fair city of Philadelphia. After the release of a recent report, over 89 schools in Pennsylvania are being investigated due to (1) “improbable gains” in test scores over the years, and (2) highly suspicious numbers of wrong answers on individual tests being erased and changed to the correct answers. My anecdotal experience talking to teachers, administrators, and students, completely corroborates this finding.

The Philadelphia School Notebook recently published this article, revealing the motivations behind cheating for one district teacher:

Confessions of a Cheating Teacher

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Worst-Paying College Majors

Thanks to Mark Morales for posting this on his facebook:

This slideshow, presented by our dear friends at Huffington Post, documents the “13 Worst-Paying College Majors” in the United States. For those of you who are too tired to click the hyperlink (I understand, I had a long day, too), here's the list:
    1. Children and Family Studies
    2. Elementary Education
    3. Social Work
    4. Culinary Arts
    5. Special Education
    6. Recreation and Leisure Studies
    7. Religious Studies
    8. Athletic Training
    9. Public Health
    10. Theology
    11. Art
    12. Art History
    13. Paralegal

What stands out right away is how many of these majors-- 5 out of 13 (not including theology, although an argument could be made for it)-- lead to the so-called “caring” professions. These are the jobs that directly relate to the growth, development, wellness, aging, and general care of people. Among these professionals are teachers, nurses, social workers, caretakers, and counselors. They are some of the hardest working individuals in the country, and their jobs exact heavy emotional and physical stress. The value of their work is immeasurable. Yet, if we were to measure it--- say, by salary-- we see that they are technically the most devalued professions in this country.

Why is this?