The Scores Do Matter

David Brooks (whose columns I usually dislike intensely) writes in today’s New York Times that high school seniors should be less stressed about getting into college. He describes, pretty accurately, the personality-crushing “achievement machine” that high school has become for college bound kids, who struggle to balance intense extracurricular activities with the need for high grades in all classes. But, he adds, one’s SAT scores and grades matter less and less, and these things really have no bearing on adulthood.

I wish this were true. Among my high achieving college juniors and seniors, there’s still a lot of anxiety about these things, because potential employers set such store by them. One junior who applied for a summer internship on Wall Street told me he was required to provide his high school transcript, his SAT scores, and his recommenders were supposed to account for any grades he had received that were below a 90. Another anxious junior explained to me that in order to retain a summer internship he had to keep a 3.75, and if he got a B+ in my class he couldn’t do that. Both of these students were good kids, were doing B+/A- work, weren’t sleeping, and spent hours in my office over the course of the semester begging for my assistance in doing even better so they would remain competitive.

This is truly sad. My students’ adult lives are being reduced to a set of numbers and letters, which any teacher is going to tell you are usually not the best indicators for telling how well a person will do in the world. It also makes one wonder what came first, the chicken or the egg: grade inflation, or the soul-crushing reliance on numbers that makes everyone vie for an A and that makes a B+ a punitive grade.

The Founding Fathers were…(drumroll please)…Deists!

Kenneth Davis has a fun column in todays NYT about the religion of the Founding Fathers. For most reputable historians, this is a moot issue. No one can find any sources that show Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, Adams, et al were in any way akin to today’s Christian fundamentalists. But this column outlines that nicely.

Mars had salt water

Recent discoveries on Mars, including today’s revelation that Mars almost certainly once had salt-water oceans (and therefore potentially it had life as well) is one of the many reasons that funding to NASA should be increased. If you click at right on the Astronomy Picture of the Day link, you can see a picture and an analysis of salt water on Mars.

The US needs to follow up on these two Mars rovers by mounting a manned expedition to Mars. Yes, it’s great that Bush has supposedly made this a priority, but Congress needs to put our tax dollars where Bush’s mouth is. An paltry $218 million more per year will not maintain NASA’s current programs and solve the many problems involved in a Mars mission (including the certainty of radiation poisoning).

This reminds me: saving the Hubble is a GOOD idea. All of the most important telescope-based discoveries of the past five years have been made by the Hubble. We know far more about the composition and age of the universe because of this billion-dollar investment. Is it really scientifically and financially effective to let it burn up over the Pacific?

Of course, fixing/updating the Hubble will require at least one shuttle mission. I know we’re all queasy about shuttle missions after what happened to the Columbia (and the Challenger, for that matter) but NASA should be given the funding to revamp the shuttle program and get us a shuttle that can do what it was originally hoped do to: provide cheap, safe access to space. (The original goal of the shuttle program was to be able to make frequent launches at about $10 million a pop. Shuttle launches prior to Columbia were all but frequent and cost about $500 million apiece.)

Wow. This was a lot of grandstanding for one arm-chair astronomer. But the US should take its leadership role in space exploration more seriously.

More Bush anti-woman foreign policy

Bush’s claims to have a pro-woman foreign policy are very, very fragile and I would like to see John Kerry take more advantage of this. Nicholas Kristof reports again on the personal tragedies caused by the administration’s refusal to provide $34 million in family planning aid to third world countries in today’s New York Times.

When will this administration realize that safe childbirth is a human right encompassed by the catch-all phrase “family planning?”

Bush’s anti-woman foreign policy

The Boston Globe reports in its Editorial section today that the Bush administration has been touting US occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq as evidence of his pro-woman foreign policy.

Eh?

Last week’s issue of the New Yorker (I don’t have a citation for this in front of me but I’ll add it in later) reported on a casualty of the Iraq conflict, who related having seen Iraqi men throw a suspected adulteress off a bridge. American soldiers who witnessed the event were under orders not to interfere. Is this how we’re liberating Iraqi women? Is this Bush’s supposed pro-woman foreign policy? Let Iraqi men kill Iraqi women? I wish someone would call Bush on this.