Education, health, women's issues and politics.
Embattled US Senate candidate Todd Akin claimed yesterday that “legitimate rape” somehow turns off the female body’s reproductive capabilities. As I demonstrate below, that is absurd. But it is important to note that Akin’s ideology is part of a broader set of misconceptions about how the body reacts to sexual assault.
There’s nothing new about the idea that vaginal lubrication, orgasm and pregnancy can occur only after a wanted sexual encounter. None of this is true. A 2004 paper from the Journal of Clinical Forensic Medicine addresses some of these misconceptions. The authors, Roy Levin and Willy van Berlo, considered reports from doctors, nurses and therapists who work with rape survivors. Many of the clinicians had experienced distraught victims’ asking why they felt lubrication or even orgasm during rape.
One British nurse-therapist reported the following:
“Approximately 1 in 20 women who come to the clinic for treatment because of sexual abuse report that they have had an orgasm from previous unsolicited sexual arousal. It is not detailed in the [professional] literature because the victims usually do not want to tell/talk about it because they feel guilty, as people will think that if it happened they must have enjoyed it. The victims often say, ‘My body let me down.’ Some, however, cannot summon the courage to say even that.”
Heartbreaking. Levin and van Berlo found that victims report evidence of physical arousal in as many as 21 percent of rape cases, even when they also report violence and high levels of fear and mental distress. Why? The researchers note that many rapes are comitted by acquaintances or romantic partners of the victims; initial familiarity or even attraction might be supplanted by terror as an encounter becomes coercive. This is relevant, I think, to the charges against Julian Assange, who is accused of sexual assault for refusing to wear a condom with female partners who had earlier consented to sex. If that occured, it is still rape: physical force was used to violate the initial, consensual terms of the encounter.
Then there is the simple fact, obvious to most women, that the vagina can become lubricated during sex as a defense mechanism against tearing and pain, regardless of one’s level of enthusiasm or emotional buy-in.
And it isn’t just women who can experience these confusing sensations. In men, Levin and van Berlo actually found some links between “anxiety-inducing threats” and increased blood flood flow to the penis.
All of this is really hard to write and talk about it, because it exists in the murky area between what we desire and what we fear. Yes, force can provoke arousal, but that doesn’t condone the non-consensualuse of force. The authors conclude:
“A perpertrator’s defence against the alleged assault built solely on the evidence that genital arousal or orgasm in the victim proves consent has no intrinsic validity and should be disregarded.”
One of the many problems with Romney/Ryan-like rape exceptions to broad abortion bans is that they encourage anti-choicers to draw a thousand false distinctions between worthy and less worthy rape victims, which is what Akin was really attempting to do. What he cares about is saving as many fetuses as possible, regardless of what calamity befell the women forced to bear them. For example, if you were raped by an ex-husband or ex-boyfriend, is your fetus as unwanted as that of a woman raped by a stranger? If you were raped by a man with whom you were drinking, do you deserve that free pass abortion? Non-consensual sex is non-consensual sex. It exerts unwanted control over a woman’s body—as does forced pregnancy.
This was first posted on DanaGoldstein.net.
For more from The Nation on Todd Akin's remarks, read Ilyse Hogue's The Danger of Laughing at Todd Akin.
A New York Times front-page story today by Motoko Rich asks whether No Child Left Behind has been “essentially nullified” by the Obama administration in the face of inaction from a divided Congress.
While it’s true the administration has offered more than half the states waivers freeing them from a central provision of the law—that schools that do not achieve universal academic “proficiency” by 2014 be labeled as “failing” and subject to state intervention—it would be too simple to conclude NCLB is no longer a potent force in American public education. For starters, the law’s best innovation remains in place, requiring schools and states to break out achievement numbers by race, socioeconomic status, English-language learner status and special-education status, so we can all grasp exactly how big achievement gaps actually are. And the law’s most controversial feature—its reliance on standardized test scores as the most powerful marker of school success—has actually been doubled down on by the Obama administration, which has used the NCLB waiver process and its Race to the Top grant program to push states to tie teacher evaluation and tenure to student test scores. (As Rich notes, under the original NCLB test scores were used to shame schools, but not individual teachers.)
What’s more, the NCLB waivers don’t fundamentally change schools’ and states’ relationship to the federal Department of Education, because the under-funded law never provided a way for districts, states, or Washington to sanction supposedly “failing” schools. About half of all American schools are “failing” according to the terms of the law, yet there was no chance budget-crunched states could have effectively intervened in that many schools, or provided all those tens of millions of students with education alternatives. In fact, only about 1 percent of eligible families were able to take advantage of NCLB’s dictate that children in underperforming schools be allowed to transfer to better schools within their districts. There were no consequences whatsoever for the districts and states unable to deliver on this promise, or many of the others contained in the Pollyannish law.
For more analysis of the weakening of the bipartisan consensus in favor of the original NCLB, read my Nation essay here.
On Tuesday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan invited a group of education reporters to breakfast. Student debt is a campaign issue, and Duncan’s goal was to promote the administration’s record on higher-ed accountability, such as its attempt to limit federal student loan subsidies to low-performing, for-profit vocational colleges; its simplification of the FAFSA form; and its launch of College Navigator, which allows families to compare the costs and graduation rates of thousands of schools across the country. (The DOE plans to eventually include in this database “gainful employment” statistics, which measures the ratio between students’ debt and their earnings. But the move to hold for-profit colleges accountable on employment outcomes has attracted political opposition and a lawsuit, and on Tuesday department officials would not commit to a timeline for putting this data online.)
A common misinterpretation of President Obama’s higher-education agenda has been that he expects all students to attend a four-year college. This isn’t true. The president’s stated goal is, by 2020, to increase by 50 percent the number of young adults who hold a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree, in order to put the United States back on top in international rankings of college completion.
When I asked Duncan what high schools can do to better educate students about the risks and rewards of various post-secondary opportunities, he said teachers and counselors should mention community college, the military and vocational training as potential options, in addition to four-year colleges. As I’ve written many times, I’d like to see high schools take a more active role not just in counseling students toward higher education and career training, but also in providing structured exposure to the world of work. Although there are some excellent local programs that do so, career education at the secondary level is unlikely to become a national priority any time soon, due to budget constraints and the political toxicity of anything that smacks of “voc-ed” or “tracking.” But I was encouraged to hear Duncan speaking openly about the need to help struggling students enroll in the type of post-high school experiences that will best prepare them to get an actual job.
I also liked what Duncan had to say about higher education budget cuts across the country, which he compared to budget increases for penal systems:
“We quite happily lock people up at $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a pop.… Budgets reflect our values. What’s more important? Are we going to lock people up or educate them on the front end? It’s eight times more expensive to lock people up than to send them to community college.”
Duncan went on to note that in traveling the country and talking about the need to invest in and improve schools, “The biggest challenge for me is complacency.” He also said that he believes unemployment is caused more by a “skills crisis” than a “jobs crisis,” and that we aren’t educating students to fill the most in-demand jobs.
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
The Times’s Catharine Rampell has reported an important story about the bleak economic prospects for young people with just a high school degree. Only about a third of this group is employed full-time.
Ms. McClour and her husband, Andy, have two daughters under 3 and another due next month. She said she tried enrolling in college classes, but the workload became too stressful with such young children. Mr. McClour works at a gas station. He hates his work and wants to study phlebotomy, but the nearest school is an hour and a half away.
“My mother is my day care,” Ms. McClour said. “We can’t move that far away.”
Others surveyed said college was out of reach because of the cost or family responsibilities.
Many of these young people had been expecting to go to college since they started high school, perhaps anticipating that employers would demand skills high schools do not teach. Just one in 10 high school graduates without college degrees said they were “extremely well prepared by their high school to succeed in their job after graduation.”
There’s a lot to grapple with in the story of the McClours, including lack of access to affordable, professional childcare, as well as the wisdom of having three children before the age of 22. But I also think it’s crucial to ask why our public high schools are pumping so many young people out into the economy who feel totally stuck in dead-end jobs. Part of it is that the high school curriculum isn’t rigorous enough in the academic subjects that prepare one to succeed in college, and part of it is that students are given no exposure whatsoever to the world of work. The result is that when non-college-going teenagers leave high school, they find themselves rudderless in a harshly unforgiving economy.
The United States has a 22 percent youth unemployment rate, compared to rates below 10 percent in Western Europe. One reason why is because many Western European education systems include highly structured workplace apprenticeships that connect teenagers to employment options, and then direct them to higher education. To learn more about how these programs work, check out my interview with Nancy Hoffman, author of the book Schooling in the Workplace.
As Ben Adler reports, there are few surprises in Mitt Romney’s education platform, which the candidate finally unveiled yesterday in a forty-page white paper and a speech to Latino business owners. Guided by Bush administration veterans, Romney is pushing teacher accountability policies tied to student achievement data, an expansion of the charter school sector, and more freedom for parents to spend their children’s federal education dollars on private tutors and online learning—but without guaranteeing the federal funding or regulatory support necessary to ensure quality in any of these areas. All in all, Romney has skirted some of the most important and controversial issues in school reform, both within his own party and nationally. Here are my remaining questions for his campaign:
Does Romney support the implementation of the Common Core curriculum standards? Partly in response to federal funding incentives put in place by the Obama administration, forty-six states have agreed to adopt these shared English and math standards, which will be far more challenging than many current state curriculum guidelines, and will include more writing, more non-fiction reading, and greater conceptual depth in math. Meanwhile, conservative legislators in South Carolina and several other states are pushing to prevent the Core’s implementation, complaining it robs parents and local districts of influence. Romney’s education white paper never even mentions the Common Core, and makes no statement at all on matters of curriculum. A campaign staffer told Education Week that while Romney supports the Core, he believes the Obama administration has gone too far in pushing states to adopt the standards. That’s a pretty theoretical definition of “support,” since implementation of the standarnds will be the program’s key challenge.
Will Romney protect funds for poor and disabled kids? Romney’s white paper lays out a teacher quality proposal similar to the one advanced by House Republicans earlier this year. But he has been silent on another priority of the Congressional GOP: allowing local schools and districts to redirect Title I and IDEA funds—now targeted exclusively toward poor and disabled children—toward other types of programs that serve larger populations. This is a direct attack on the federal government’s traditional, civil rights-oriented role in education funding. Would Romney sign such legislation?
What about preventing draconian local budget cuts? The House GOP wants to give states and districts access to federal dollars regardless of how drastically they cut local school budgets. Current law helps tamp down on local budget cuts by tying federal aid to “maintenance of effort” on programs for disadvantaged children. Does Romney agree with the House Republicans, or with the law as it is written, and has been supported by both parties in the past?
How about the youngest learners? High-quality preschool is one of the most effective interventions to build children’s cognitive, social, and emotional development, yet only about half of American 3- to -5-year-olds are enrolled in any kind of organized program. As my colleague Maggie Severns writes at Early Ed Watch, Romney hasn’t uttered a word on the trail about pre-K, childcare or full-day kindergarten, all priorities the Obama administration has attempted to address (with mixed success) through its Race to the Top program. As governor of Massachusetts, Romney actually presided over an increase in pre-K enrollment, yet he isn’t bragging about this now, probably because pre-K is expensive.
I’d love to see a vibrant education debate between the candidates, though I’m not holding my breath. Both Romney and Obama broadly identify as standards-and-accountability reformers, with the main difference between them being their willingness to actually fund the programs they propose. What’s more, I don’t expect education issues, beyond the already hot college debt debate, to really break through in this election cycle.
Note: To read a "replay" of the chat, click the CoveritLive box above. You can also access an edited transcript here.
With the the rise of the standards-and-accountability education reform movement, schools and teachers have found their fate increasingly tied to students’ scores on standardized tests. The practice has sparked debate on issues from the effects of “teaching to the test” on students' education to the fairness of judging teachers by their students' test scores.
On May 17th at 5 PM, Nation readers are invited to participate in a live chat with our education reporter Dana Goldstein on the role of testing in education reform. Dana will be joined by Mark Anderson, a New York City public school special-education teacher and contributor to the blog Schools as Ecosystems, and by Tara Brancato, a member of Educators 4 Excellence and a New York City public school International Baccaluareate teacher at X374—Knowledge and Power Preparatory Academy (KAPPA) International.
Readers are welcome to post questions prior to the chat using the comment section below. Educators, parents and students are warmly invited to participate.
Richard Kim is right: it has been farcical to watch President Obama—a politician who once wrote, “I favor legalizing same-sex marriage, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages”—shift to the right on marriage equality, and then tentatively swing back now that the public is more favorable to his original position. This tango between Obama and opinion polling has always been about crafting a narrative that can supposedly account for the president’s evolution, in which a struggling, family-values Christian eventually learns to love thy gay neighbor as thyself.
Male Democrats have been writing these gay-marriage “evolution” stories for a long time. During a series of presidential primary debates in 2007, both Obama and John Edwards were asked repeatedly about marriage equality. In July of that year, Edwards told Anderson Cooper he opposed gay marriage but his wife supported it; in September, Edwards added that his then-25-year-old daughter, Cate, also supported marriage equality, and that he expected his two younger children to someday support it, too. That same evening, Obama said his own daughters, then 6 and 9, were already aware of gay couples, and while he hadn’t spoken to them directly about gay marriage, “my wife has.”
These deflections were clever. They allowed the candidates to technically oppose gay marriage while signaling deep sympathy—even love—for those who supported it. For Obama, the purpose of crafting this years-long narrative has clearly been to pave the way for the kind of come-to-Jesus moment Richard so deftly imagines, in which the president delivers an emotional speech crediting his friends and loved ones with helping him see the light on full LGBT equality.
In Iowa today, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan unveiled the Obama administration’s new vocational education plan. The president proposes to revise the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act by investing an additional $1 billion to increase partnerships between high schools, colleges and employers, with the goal of directing students toward high-need industries such as engineering and healthcare.
But the choice of venue for the announcement—the Des Moines Area Community College—underscores a critique of the president’s education and jobs agenda aired on both the right and left: that it focuses too much on post–high school occupational training, and not enough on introducing younger adolescents to the world of work outside the classroom. Indeed, the administration's policy blueprint states that high school students enrolled in career and technical education programs must still achieve "mastery of the core academic content required of all students." In many Western European nations, on the other hand, the high school curriculum is significantly differentiated for teenagers depending on whether they are headed to a liberal arts university, a technical college, or into the workforce.
In a new book, Schooling in the Workplace, Nancy Hoffman of Jobs for the Future argues the United States should adopt a Swiss-style vocational education system, in which students in their last two years of high school have the option of participating in highly structured workplace apprenticeships, working for pay several days per week and spending the rest of the time in the classroom. “We have a 22 percent youth unemployment rate right now, compared to 5 percent in the Netherlands or Switzerland,” Hoffman told The Nation. “Among that 22 percent are young people who are going to be permanently scarred, and that’s damaging to the human psyche. We don’t think about what we can do to help the young people in our charge discover the role of work in our lives.”
In the following interview, I talk with Hoffman about why vocational education is so controversial in the United States, what role the liberal arts should play and how emphasizing career training might change the teaching profession. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
I was fascinated by your idea of providing older teens—especially “the forgotten half” that will not attend a four-year college—with an easier “transition to adulthood.” You describe upper secondary school students in Switzerland working behind the counter in a cell phone shop for school credit, which will certainly horrify a lot of advocates of a college-prep curriculum. Can you talk about why you think this type of “transitional” work is so important?
In Switzerland there are whole stores run by kids, so there are multiple jobs including management, repair, all the technical jobs, plus customer service. If we have a situation in the United States where only about 20 percent of 26-year-olds have any credential, we need something for people to do to get them from 16 to 20 without landing in jail, on welfare or on the street; something that gives them a structure and lets them figure out their potential and interests.
This guy working in customer service at the cell phone shop was going to get a retail certificate in meeting the national standard. And whether he is going to make the leap forward to become a cell phone designer, who knows? But being in a setting where adults have goals, having a structure from age 16 to 19, seems like a much more positive option than what many young adults experience in our country. This Swiss person has an income. He gets paid anywhere from 800 to 1,000 euros per month. He has to demonstrate his competencies in sales. He will have the equivalent of really a year or two of community college, because he was also going to school two days per week.
What about students learning how to debate the big ideas in literature and in politics? What about gaining exposure to great art and writing about it?
In the United States, we need a much stronger set of academic demands up to age 16. But for the large mass of young people who are muddling along between 16 and 22, trying not to land in jail, or be unemployed or on the street—or even just going from job to job—you might have to ask: What would be a good enough system? And we know people who pay taxes and have jobs and have healthcare are much more likely to vote, to use social services and to participate in democracy. As for the debate of the big ideas, the number of students who actually get to do that is relatively small. I don’t like the idea of giving it up, but it’s probably unfortunately very much class-based in this country anyhow.
You really like the Swiss system. What one or two aspects of it do you think are most realistic for American states to implement?
Volkswagon is starting a European-style apprenticeship program in Tennessee, but for high school graduates. The first thing that has to happen is employers have to be able to see there is some self-interest in engaging with young people in the workplace. That’s a very tough sell. You probably have to start with more internships and apprenticeships at the community college level than in high school, because most people in this country just don’t believe that 16-year-olds can be productive workers—though there is plenty of evidence they certainly can be.
The second thing, which is maybe boring but most important, is the combination of employer and government infrastructure to support employers in taking in young people. I was just in North Carolina talking about this stuff with business leaders, and they really sort of got it. The Swiss government particularly invests a great deal in analysis of jobs to figure out what competencies should exist. They invest in initial workplace training [for apprenticeship hosts], because small businesses can’t do this on their own. It’s a whole intermediary infrastructure, plus a research and support structure shared between employers and the government, which makes this possible. There are just a few institutions or non-profits, like workforce investment boards, that do this in the United States.
You are a fan of “dual systems” in which students learn theoretical subjects in school, say two days per week, and more practical ones in the workplace three days per week. But does emphasizing practical learning, as the German and Swiss systems do, make academic high school teaching a less prestigious or desirable profession? Making teaching more elite is a major goal of American education reform, and it seems like de-emphasizing the traditional classroom might have certain adverse effects on teaching that your book doesn’t acknowledge.
I get where you’re coming from, because you’re coming from a US context. But this is not even a question in the European countries. In Finland, as you know, there are ten applicants for every place in teachers’ college, and that’s whether you teach in a vocational or an academic program.
It’s actually harder to recruit teachers for vocational systems than for academic ones. Except in a few countries with really highly regarded systems, “vocational” still carries a stigma. And despite all the good things I say about the vocational system, I only know a couple of families in Europe [among my social and professional peers] who sent their kids to the vocational system. Their kids become economists, say, like they are.
Isn't that somewhat disturbing, because it suggests the vocational track really is the track for working-class kids?
It’s not disturbing at all. Income inequality is much greater in the United States than in European countries. There is much greater mobility in the European countries than here. Secondly, my view is that I would much rather have a 3 percent youth unemployment rate and most young people having a job, than have the bifurcated system we have in the United States, [in which some kids go to four-year college, and the rest face a 22 percent unemployment rate].
The really strong countries have pathways from vocational education straight through to technical colleges. An interesting data point from Switzerland is that 42 percent of the students who get fours or fives on PISA exams [the highest scores] enter the vocational system. That’s because they know that if you want to be an engineer, work in IT or any of these high-tech jobs, you’re going to be much more likely to get a job after real work experience. In Norway, one young woman I met did a university degree in graphic design and then discovered she wanted to go back and do a vocational program, because she needed work experience.
We behave as though nobody needs to learn to work. We behave as if somehow education alone will launch you into a career, although we know almost everyone is going to two or four-year colleges because they want to get a job. So why one would think that between 16 and 19 years old it isn’t good to get some work experience, I don’t know.
Katie Roiphe has written a link bait-y Newsweek cover story making an interesting claim: that the pop culture appearance of submissive female sexual fantasies, in shows like Lena Dunham’s “Girls” and pulp fiction like Fifty Shades of Grey, is somehow a backlash against women’s increasing economic power.
I think this is generally wrong. It’s true the advances of feminism mean women today are freer than ever to explore their sexuality in art and in their personal lives, without worrying too much about negating their power at work, in relationships or in the political sphere. In fact, it is a basic contention of sex-positive feminism that asking for what you want in bed is a feminist political act—whether you want to tie your partner up, be spanked by him/her or be tenderly made love to with lots of kissing.
Taboo-breaking sex is culturally prevalent right now not because of macroeconomic trends like the decimation of the male manufacturing sector but because we live in an age in which all sorts of sexual practices are incredibly visible and talked about. In particular, easy access to online pornography allows people, at a younger age than ever before and with more privacy, to explore non-vanilla sex, whether low-key spanking and restraints or much kinkier stuff. Female-authored erotica and sexualized fan-fiction are burgeoning genres online, as well, and e-readers have made it possible for consumers to purchase and read this material with perfect privacy. This is the world from which Fifty Shades of Grey emerged.
But these desires are as old as the human race; in every century and decade, sadomasochistic erotica has broken into the mainstream, from de Sade to Swinburne to Anais Nin to Anne Desclos to Anne Rice. Why assume, as Roiphe seems to, that some authoritative brand of feminism was ever supposed to lead to human beings losing their curiosity about power play during sex, which is, after all, a physical act? And while more women than men may tend toward submission—in part because Western culture fetishizes male strength and female fragility—one certainly can’t generalize. People of all genders harbor the fantasy of, as one sex researcher put it, “the wish to be beyond will, beyond thought”—thus surrendering power to a trusted partner. And there is anecdotal evidence that publicly powerful people of both sexes are especially prone to these fantasies, as a release from the stresses of their day-to-day work lives. Here’s how one professional dominatrix describes it:
I like to find out what a man does for a living. I see a lot of Wall Street types who go for bondage and humiliation. Lawyers, actors and entertainment executives never shut up. I have to gag them right away if I’m to have any peace. True masochists are rare—they’re usually police and ex-military. These men are such show-offs about how much pain they can take. I end up acting the role of a sadistic drill instructor, breaking canes and riding crops on their backs, which gives me a certain confidence in our armed forces.
I will admit that feminism’s forward march contributes to some people’s interest in S&M. Gender roles are more fluid than ever, and there are no longer strict rules about how men and women should act in the realms of dating and romance. There is certainly an appeal to retreating to a sexual space in which roles are much clearer.
Sadomasochism is problematic if one partner is doing it just to please the other and feels hurt by it. But I don’t think truly consensual S&M complicates women’s demands for full equality, or provides evidence of some anti-feminist backlash among the urban educated class that is consuming work like “Girls,” “Secretary” and Fifty Shades of Grey. Because many women now assume a certain level of egalitarianism at work and at home, they feel more comfortable experimenting sexually. Lena Dunham’s poignant feature-length film, “Tiny Furniture,” is articulate on this point. After a particularly degrading sexual encounter, Dunham’s character returns to her mother’s apartment and announces her ambition not to be a restaurant hostess or a masseuse or a makeup artist, but a successful filmmaker. Indeed.
On Wednesday I went to D.C. to appear on The Stream, a smart Al-Jazeera English show that combines traditional, in-studio interviews with feedback from online social networks. The topic was American Jews' changing views on Israel, the subject of Peter Beinart's new book The Crisis of Zionism, which I wrote about for The Nation last week.
I was especially interested in the Skype interview with Saar Szekaly, an artist who appeared on the Israeli version of "Big Brother" as a sort of political, performance art project, in order to raise awareness about what he considers an unjust occupation. On The Stream, Szekaly made the point that the average young Israeli, especially outside of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem, has almost no contact with Arabs, Palestinians or Muslims, and that this makes it difficult for many Israelis to understand the depth of Palestinian suffering. This is a remarkable contrast with the experience of young American Jews. Many of us attended racially and culturally diverse colleges, where we encountered the Palestinian narrative and grappled with it. In the post-9/11, Arab Spring era, we have far more interest in and contact with the Arab world than our parents and grandparents did in their formative years.
Meanwhile, in Israel, the Jewish population becomes more insular as the conflict continues.
I do wish this segment had included a perspective further to the left, from someone who supports the broader BDS movement, for example, like the writers at Mondoweiss.
Chag sameach for those celebrating Passover tonight.