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civil rights and open borders

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We no longer live in a society where the government bans African Americans from living in certain neighborhoods or taking certain jobs. The abolition of legalized segregation is one of the enduring achievements of the civil rights movement. It deserves to be praised and commemorated.

But a real commitment to civil rights doesn’t end with ending one type of discrimination. We need to think about other forms of discrimination. Women, for example, face many barriers and we should keep thinking about ways to make everyone an equal participant in our society.

When we think of civil rights, we often overlook immigration and we are even more likely to overlook the idea of open borders. Basically, open borders is the idea that people should be free to cross national boundaries as needed. It should be as easy to move from Tijuana to San Diego as moving from Detroit to Chicago.

But when we impose migration restrictions, we are no different than the segregationist of old who wanted to ban African Americans from their neighborhoods and schools. When he erect walls and send police to raid private homes, we say “you can’t be here!” Why? “They weren’t born in my country!” The nation of one’s birth is not a criteria of merit or justice. It’s merely an accident of birth.

My hope is that you will consider the injustice of detaining or deporting people based on where they were born. I hope that on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day you will come to realize that telling people to get out off the bus because they are Black is no different then telling the Mexican or Chinese migrant that have to leave your country. I want you to imagine a world without deportations and workplace raids and I hope that world will make you smile

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

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Written by fabiorojas

January 15, 2018 at 3:36 am

a ceremony of carols

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50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

Written by fabiorojas

January 14, 2018 at 5:21 am

teaching archival methods for graduate students

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In an interesting twist, I am teaching a graduate course in qualitative methods. Because many of our ethnographers are on sabbatical, someone needed to offer qualitative methods. So I am offering a course on archival methods.

It’s very, very rare that a sociology program will offer a course on this topic. It is also fairly rare that library science programs will offer one because most librarians and archivists are trained in records management, not research applications. So I basically just had to develop the course from scratch.

  1. Textbook: I decided to treat this as a research method course. So I chose one book that was a nice overview of conceptual issues in social research  methods. I chose Thinking Through Methods, by John Levi-Martin. Informal, fun and packed with good thinking.
  2. Other readings: Each week we’ll read a chapter or two from Martin’s book but I also added other topics. For example, the newsletter of the ASA section on historical comparative research had a great symposium circa 2005 where people discussed access issues. Another week, we’ll do some basic readings about IRB and human subjects issues.
  3. Course topics: Aside from general discussions of research method, we’ll cover the following,
    • Traditional archival work – how to identify, access, search, and analyze paper documents.
    • Content analysis – a few lectures on taking qualitative materials and reliably coding them.
    • Computational methods – a lecture or two on the basic of how to upload textual materials in large quantities and analyze them.
  4. Assignments: As usual, there is class participation and weekly summaries of the readings. But we have three major assignments:
    • The instructor will assign you a book based on archival materials. Read it, summarize and discuss how well the archival materials were used.
    • The instructor will pick an online archive (The Martin Luther King, Jr. Archive) and you will develop and answer a sociological question using the archive.
    • The student will develop their own social science question and topic for a term paper. But they must answer it with archival research from a collection housed at the Indiana University archives.

We have ten students, most from sociology & education, a few from library science and two miscellaneous students. I think it will be very interesting.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

Written by fabiorojas

January 11, 2018 at 5:01 am

three cheers for california!

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Marijuana is now legal in the state of California and a few other states. I applaud this move. I am glad that the arrests and criminalization are coming to an end. The ingestion of narcotics should be treated the way we treat alcohol. It should be legal and you should only be prosecuted if your behavior endangers others. And if you harm yourself, go see the doctor. You shouldn’t go to prison. Let’s hope this is part of a bigger trend.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

Written by fabiorojas

January 8, 2018 at 8:10 am

Ibarra + kulintang

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50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

Written by fabiorojas

January 7, 2018 at 8:14 am

students evaluations are garbage and so are letters of recommendation – but NOT gre scores, haters!

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For a long time, I believed that student evaluations were valid measures of teaching effectiveness. My belief was based on the following issues.

  • First, there are a fair number of studies that claim a correlation between student evaluations and learning. The critics conveniently overlook this literature.
  • Second, I believed that students can spot a miserable teacher. You don’t need to be steeped in pedagogy theory to see if an instructor is disorganized, or is simply a horrid lecturer.
  • Third, most complaints about student evaluations seemed pretty self-interested. Who complains about evals the most? The professors!* Doesn’t mean they are wrong, but one should examine self-interested claims with some caution.
  • Fourth, critiques of student evaluations of faculty are often couched in bad logic. For example, if an instrument is biased against group X, it doesn’t mean automatically that the instrument is not consistent or valid. It might be the case that the instrument is less valid and consistent for group X, but still points in the right direction. You can only say that student evaluations are “worthless” if the correlation between evals and learning is zero and that is a stubbornly empirical point. Yet, critics in the popular media jump from bias to a lack of validity.

But over time, there have been a parade of better studies that explore the link between outcomes and evaluations and the answer is often null. So what should any seriously interested person do? Wrong answer: Cherry pick studies that confirm one’s belief. Better answer: look for a meta-study that combines data from new and old studies. This fall, Studies in Educational Evaluation published on such meta-study of student evaluations of teacher. Bob Uttl, Carmela White, and Daniela Wong Gonzalez performed such a meta-analysis can come to the following conclusions:

• Students do not learn more from professors with higher student evaluation of teaching (SET) ratings.

• Previus meta-analyses of SET/learning correlations in multisection studies are not interprettable.

• Re-analyses of previous meta-analyses of multisection studies indicate that SET ratings explain at most 1% of variability in measures of student learning.

• New meta-analyses of multisection studies show that SET ratings are unrelated to student learning.

There article is not perfect, but it is enough to make me seriously reconsider my long standing belief in student evaluations. I am very willing to consider that student evaluations are garbage.

However, I want to the reader to be consistent in their intellectual practice. If you believe that student evaluations are bunk, then similar evidence suggests that letters of recommendation are garbage as well. Here is what I wrote two years ago:

I slowly realized that there are researchers in psychology, education and management dedicated to studying employment practices. Surely, if we demanded all these letters and we tolerated all these poor LoR practices, then surely there must be research showing the system works.

Wrong. With a few exceptions, LoRs are poor instruments for measuring future performance. Details are here, but here’s the summary: As early as 1962, researchers realized LoRs don’t predict performance. Then, in 1993, Aamondt, Bryan and Whitcomb show that LoRs work – but only if they are written in specific ways. The more recent literature refines this – medical school letters don’t predict performance unless the writer mentions very specific things; letter writers aren’t even reliable – their evaluations are all over the place; and even in educational settings, letters seem to have a very small correlation with a *few* outcomes. Also, recent research suggests that LoRs seem to biased against women in that writers are less likely to use “standout language” for women.

The summary from one researcher in the field: “Put another way, if letters were a new psychological test they would not come close to meeting minimum professional criteria (i.e., Standards) for use in decision making (AERA, APA, & NCME, 1999).”

 

If you are the type of person who thinks student evaluations are lousy, then you should also think letters of recommendation are garbage as well. To believe otherwise is simply inconsistency, as the evidence is similar in both cases.

While I am at it, I also want to remind readers that similar analysis shows that standardized tests are actually not bad. When you read the literature on standardized tests, like the GRE, you find that standardized tests and grades are actually correlated – the intended purpose. And I haven’t seen many other meta-analyses that over turn the point.

To summarize: student evaluations and letters of recommendation are bunk, but standardized tests are not.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

*For the record, my evals range from slightly below average to very good. And I’ve actually won multiple teaching awards. So this is not a “sour grapes” issue for me.

 

Written by fabiorojas

January 5, 2018 at 4:53 am

social position and the flatness of autobiography: the case of hancock’s possibilities

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I recently read Herbie Hancock’s Possibilities, his autobiography. Co-authored by Lisa Dickey, the book is a fun and engaging recounting of an amazing musical career. After reading it, I consulted the reviews. Casual readers, musicians and jazz fans I presume, pretty much give it a standing ovation. More literary audiences – book reviewers – find it well written but not gripping.

What explains the divergence? The fans want a fairly straightforward text. They want stories of a great man doing great things. Given Hancock’s insanely successful career, that is pretty easy to do. He played with almost every major jazz giant of his era, from Miles Davis to Eric Dolphy, but invented the jazz-funk band and even won a Grammy for Rockit, which brought scratching to a wide audience. This book fits the book.

The critics want something different. They want a text that’s interesting, and innovative. That’s very hard to do, especially for Hancock. On one level, it’s a matter of personality. To write something interesting, you have to take a subject and look at it from an interesting perspective. You have to step out of yourself and reflect on things. Hancock has a very “matter of fact” personality. He admits at multiple points that he doesn’t dwell on things and doesn’t let things drag him down. He’s also a technical guy, even studying engineering. That’s a personality type that doesn’t lend itself to highly emotive writing.

There is a deeper reason for the flatness of the book. It has to do with being a successful person, especially a hyper-successful one like Hancock. After a certain point, things happen at you. Once you become prominent, things just start falling in your lap. It doesn’t mean that you work less. You still must struggle and you still have to put in the time. But you are doing a different kind of work – analyzing and assessing the opportunities that present themselves.

In modern social theory, we might say that Hancock has occupied a central position in his social field – music. And when this happens, there is an emotional transformation from struggling person who must create their world to the person who exploits their world.  Once Herbie becomes established, he just asks for things – and they show up. Funk musicians? Check. Hip hop DJ? Check. Oscar award? Check. Being at the center of music is what Hancock is about. Explaining what is interesting about the successful Herbie, in comparison to the struggling Herbie is hard.

The real challenge of the successful person writing an autobiography is to get away from just listing off all your gigs. This is why political autobiographies are usually horrible. It is easy for a politician to mechanically go through what happened to them without taking the times to reflect or offer up any real insights. Hancock’s book is not really that bad and it does have a few surprises, such as a chapter about his drug addiction, but still, it still falls into a rut.

50+ chapters of grad skool advice goodness: Grad Skool Rulz ($4.44 – cheap!!!!)/Theory for the Working Sociologist (discount code: ROJAS – 30% off!!)/From Black Power/Party in the Street / Read Contexts Magazine– It’s Awesome!

Written by fabiorojas

January 2, 2018 at 8:00 am