Category: Education

Masturbation has health benefits


Joycelyn Elders – Surgeon General forced to resign by Republican backwardness, Democrat cowardice

Conduct an Internet search for “masturbation,” and you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of slang phrases for the act. This proliferation of slang phrases suggests people want to talk about masturbation, but are uncomfortable about doing so directly. Using comedic terms provides a more socially acceptable way to express themselves.

So before we talk any more about it, let’s normalise it a bit. Masturbation, or touching one’s own genitals for pleasure, is something that babies do from the time they are in the womb. It’s a natural and normal part of healthy sexual development.

According to a nationally representative US sample, 94% of men admit to masturbating, as do 85% of women. But societal perspectives of masturbation still vary greatly, and there’s even some stigma around engaging in the act. Related to this stigma are the many myths about masturbation, myths so ridiculous it’s a wonder anyone believes them.

They include: masturbation causes blindness and insanity; masturbation can make sexual organs fall off; and masturbation causes infertility.

In actual fact, masturbation has many health benefits…And there are plenty of additional benefits from orgasms generally, including reduced stress, reduced blood pressure, increased self-esteem, and reduced pain…

Talking about masturbation also has benefits. Promoting sex-positive views in our own homes and in society, including around masturbation, allows us to teach young people healthy behaviours and attitudes without stigma and shame.

Parents and guardians who feel embarrassed or need extra guidance to do this should seek out sex-positive sources of information, like ones from respected universities.

Or you could be truly stupid and talk to a priest or listen to some politician who worries about offending 14th Century sexual mores a heckuva lot more than supporting educated reason.

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Inequality and trending Web searches

credit luke shuman

In the hardest places to live in the United States, people spend a lot of time thinking about diets and religion. In the easiest places to live, people spend a lot of time thinking about cameras.

This summer, The Upshot conducted an analysis of every county in the country to determine which were the toughest places to live, based on an index of six factors including income, education and life expectancy. Afterward, we heard from Hal Varian, the chief economist at Google, who suggested looking at how web searches differ on either end of our index.

The results, based on a decade of search data, offer a portrait of the very different subjects that occupy the thoughts of richer America and poorer America. They’re a glimpse into the id of our national inequality.

In the hardest places to live – which include large areas of Kentucky, Arkansas, Maine, New Mexico and Oregon – health problems, weight-loss diets, guns, video games and religion are all common search topics. The dark side of religion is of special interest: Antichrist has the second-highest correlation with the hardest places, and searches containing “hell” and “rapture” also make the top 10…

In the easiest places to live, the Canon Elph and other digital cameras dominate the top of the correlation list. Apparently, people in places where life seems good, including Nebraska, Iowa, Wyoming and much of the large metropolitan areas of the Northeast and West Coast, want to record their lives in images…

Beyond cameras, subjects popular in the easiest places include Baby Joggers, Baby Bjorns and baby massage; Skype and Apple devices like the iPod Nano; a piece of workout equipment known as a foam roller; and various foreign destinations (Machu Picchu, New Zealand, Switzerland and Pyeongchang, the South Korean host city for the 2018 Winter Olympics). The phrase “pull-out” is also relatively popular in the easiest places. It presumably refers to either a kind of sofa or a kind of birth control.

…You can understand why religious web searches that are relatively more popular in places where life is harder have such a dark cast. “They are not just about religion but about apocalyptic religion,” notes Dan Silver, a cultural sociologist at the University of Toronto.

In the places on the other end of the spectrum, the picture is much brighter. People have disposable income to buy new technology and take faraway vacations. Their time spent prostrate on a foam roller or out running with the baby in a jogging stroller is more than enough to make up the occasional cupcake. And of course they are intent on passing down their way of life to the next generation, via Baby Bjorns and early access to technology.

RTFA for details and some analysis – including structure of the studies.

Most of all – I didn’t find anything surprising. Another one of those occasions when I wish my cynicism turned out to be wrong.

Thanks, Helen

The Pope thinks kids are wasting time online — he should think about why

Pope Francis has taken aim at today’s youth by urging them not to waste their time on “futile things” such as “chatting on the internet or with smartphones, watching TV soap operas”.

He argued that the “products of technological progress” are distracting attention away from what is important in life rather than improving us. But even as he made his comments, UK communications regulator Ofcom released its latest figures, giving the opposite message. It celebrated the rise of a “tech-savvy” generation born at the turn of the millennium and now able to navigate the digital world with ease.

So what’s it to be for youth and the internet? Time-wasting and futile? Or the first to benefit from the wonders of the digital age?

This debate has been raging since children first picked up comic books and went to Saturday morning cinema. The media, it has long been said, makes kids stupid, inattentive, violent, passive, disrespectful, grow up too early or stay irresponsible too long. Whatever it is that society worries about in relation to children and young people, it seems that we love to blame it on the latest and most visible technology. Anything rather than looking more closely at the society we have created for them to grow up in.

Fifteen years ago, when children were being criticised for watching too much television (remember those days?), I asked children to describe what happened on a good day when they got home from school and what happened on a boring day. From six year olds to seventeen year olds, the answers were the same: on a good day, they could go out and see their friends; on a boring day they were stuck at home watching television.

And why couldn’t they go out and see their friends every day? Far from reflecting the appeal of television, the answer lies in parental anxieties about children going out. As a 2013 report noted, children are far less able to move around independently than in the past. This is particularly true of primary school children, who are often no longer allowed to walk to school or play unsupervised as they once were. Their developing independence, their time to play, their opportunities to socialise are all vastly curtailed compared with the childhoods of previous generations.

And yet the number of children who have accidents on the road has fallen over the years and there has been little change to the rate of child abductions, which remain very rare.

There is little evidence that children are choosing to stay home with digital technology instead of going out. Indeed, it seems more likely that an increasingly anxious world – fuelled by moral panics about childhood – is making parents keep their kids at home and online. And then, to pile on the irony, the same society that produces, promotes and provides technologies for kids also blames them for spending time with them…

Sonia Livingstone asks useful questions. Questions – in my own experience – not asked often enough. Certainly not asked or answered in conversations with folks in charge of funds for education, funds for recreation, even those in charge of whether or not there will be funds for education or recreation.

Much less what comprises useful education and what roles recreation, sport, fitness and challenge should play in the lives of young people. What to do with communication and a view of the whole world?

Tea Party candidate gets Constitution wrong — what a surprise!

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Calling a mass shooting an “unfortunate accident” — gets you NRA buck$ for sure

Iowa Senate candidate Joni Ernst may wish to brush up on her high school civics.

Ernst, a Republican, was caught espousing wishful thinking as policy in a September 2013 forum held by the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition, saying Congress should not pass laws “that the states would consider nullifying…”

Unfortunately for Ernst, Supreme Court case law has determined the Constitution actually forbids nullification, and interprets the Tenth Amendment as a basic statement, not a prohibition against the federal government from passing additional laws not already enumerated…

“Tentherism” was one of the primary justifications used by pro-slavery advocate John Calhoun in the years leading up to the Civil War, and a hundred years later, by segregationists opposing civil rights. More recently, conservatives have resurrected the theory to argue for nullification of federal gun laws, the Affordable Care Act and other federal regulations.

Take a look at the issues raised by these ignoranuses. Time after time they center on bigotry, a false libertarianism that turns its back on responsibility to your fellow citizens.

Be true to your school

Barrowford

A letter sent to pupils at a Lancashire primary school along with their key stage two test results has gone viral on social media sites.

The letter to pupils at Barrowford Primary School in Nelson told them the tests do not always assess what makes them “special and unique”…

Head teacher Rachel Tomlinson said she had been “absolutely astounded” by the reaction in social media and elsewhere.

Mrs Tomlinson said she found the letter on a blog from the US posted on the internet…

Letter to pupils:

Please find enclosed your end of KS2 test results. We are very proud of you as you demonstrated huge amounts of commitment and tried your very best during this tricky week.

However, we are concerned that these tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you… the way your teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do.

They do not know that many of you speak two languages. They do not know that you can play a musical instrument or that you can dance or paint a picture.

They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day.

They do not know that you write poetry or songs, play or participate in sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister after school.

They do not know that you have travelled to a really neat place or that you know how to tell a great story or that you really love spending time with special family members and friends.

They do not know that you can be trustworthy, kind or thoughtful, and that you try, every day, to be your very best… the scores you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything.

So enjoy your results and be very proud of these but remember there are many ways of being smart.

The head denied the letter was telling pupils that test scores did not matter.

“We never give pupils the message that academic attainment isn’t important – what we do is celebrate that we send really independent, confident, articulate learners on to the next stage of their school career.”

Right on, right on, right on!

American students are the problem with America’s colleges

Calvin & Hobbes on learning

President Obama, among others, likes to say that the US has the “world’s best universities.” That claim, though, refers the tip-top of prestigious universities: The US has 11 of the top 15, according to one international ranking.

So how good are US colleges overall, really? Kevin Carey, the director of the New America Foundation’s education policy program, recently argued in the New York Times that they aren’t that great, given that American adults — even college graduates — don’t perform well on an international test of adult skills. And Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday night that he generally agrees.

But this isn’t entirely fair to America’s colleges. The problem, really, is America’s college students.

…there’s a simple explanation for this, which makes it hard to tell how good American colleges actually are: American students are starting college farther behind than students in better-educated countries.

American students get about average scores on the Programme for International Student Assessment, the international test used to measure the skills of 15-year-olds globally. And while policymakers are concerned that the US is falling behind in college attainment rates, an above-average portion of Americans still end up earning a college degree.

So America has average students heading to college in above-average numbers. The result, in studies, is that the mediocrity is magnified.

Meanwhile, Korean and Finnish students end high school ahead of American students, as measured by the OECD’s tests, and also graduate from college in high numbers. So it’s no surprise that their college graduates rank higher than ours do. Asking American colleges to make up the difference isn’t entirely fair

This is a well-understood, if controversial, concept in [American] K-12 education. Teachers are increasingly judged based not just on students’ standardized test scores, but on how students are performing relative to expectations. So a teacher with a classroom full of fifth-graders who do math at a third-grade level might be rewarded, not punished, if those students had started the year at a first-grade level. They haven’t caught up yet, but teaching two full years of math in one academic year is a pretty amazing achievement.

But an international value-added comparison for higher education is a long way off. Some American colleges already measure learning gains, but the results are neither public nor national…

I noticed this was already happening – in 1964. I wondered why teachers and professors, the folks who taught teachers and professors were allowing it to happen.

It was fashionable. Students needed to find their own way. It was part of their freedom, individualism. Uh-huh.

Can Americans pass the US citizenship test?

In a video posted earlier this week, members of the Immigrant Archive Project — an oral history project that collects the stories of American immigrants — did a series of “man-on-the-street” interviews with passersby in Miami.

The twist: they asked questions from the US citizenship test that every immigrant is required to take in order to naturalize. Not to spoil anything, but the people they interviewed — all of whom are native-born American citizens — didn’t fare too well:

To put this in context, as of December 2013, 91 percent of immigrants who took the full citizenship test passed it by getting six of ten questions correct…

The 10 questions are chosen by examiners from a list of 100 that applicants are given to study.

By contrast, of the 15 people whom the Immigrant Archive Project people interviewed, only one got six out of ten questions correct: that’s a pass rate of less than 7 percent.

Now, it’s possible that the US citizens in the video weren’t representative of the country as a whole. But polls of the American public show that native-born citizens aren’t exactly A students in civics. When USA Today asked ten questions from the citizenship test in a poll in 2012, only 65 percent of Americans got a passing score. The year before that, Newsweek found just 62 percent of Americans could pass their own citizenship test.

Even more embarrassingly, in the video above, the interviewer himself gets one fact wrong. He says that George Washington signed the Declaration of Independence. Washington was busy fighting the Revolutionary War at the time, and wasn’t a signer.

The citizenship test is also one of the easiest parts of naturalization.

RTFA for details about classification of immigrants, more testing. The article doesn’t include the history of racism and economic discrimination limiting those who may apply to legally immigrate and become American citizens.

Think United States has the world’s best colleges — Wrong!

Americans have a split vision of education. Conventional wisdom has long held that our K-12 schools are mediocre or worse, while our colleges and universities are world class. While policy wonks hotly debate K-12 reform ideas like vouchers and the Common Core state standards, higher education is largely left to its own devices. Many families are worried about how to get into and pay for increasingly expensive colleges. But the stellar quality of those institutions is assumed.

Yet a recent multinational study of adult literacy and numeracy skills suggests that this view is wrong. America’s schools and colleges are actually far more alike than people believe — and not in a good way. The nation’s deep education problems, the data suggest, don’t magically disappear once students disappear behind ivy-covered walls.

The standard negative view of American K-12 schools has been highly influenced by international comparisons. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, for example, periodically administers an exam called PISA to 15-year-olds in 69 countries. While results vary somewhat depending on the subject and grade level, America never looks very good. The same is true of other international tests. In PISA’s math test, the United States battles it out for last place among developed countries, along with Hungary and Lithuania.

America’s perceived international dominance of higher education, by contrast, rests largely on global rankings of top universities. According to a recent ranking by the London-based Times Higher Education, 18 of the world’s top 25 universities are American. Similarly, the Academic Ranking of World Universities, published annually by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, gives us 19 of 25.

But there is a problem with this way of thinking. When President Obama has said, “We have the best universities,” he has not meant: “Our universities are, on average, the best” — even though that’s what many people hear. He means, “Of the best universities, most are ours.” The distinction is important…

The fair way to compare the two systems, to each other and to systems in other countries, would be to conduct something like a PISA for higher education. That had never been done until late 2013, when the OECD published exactly such a study…Piaac…

Like PISA, Piaac tests people’s literacy and math skills. Because the test takers were adults, they were asked to use those skills in real-world contexts. They might, for example, be asked to read a news article and an email, each describing a different innovative method of improving drinking water quality in Africa, and identify the sentence in each document that describes a criticism common to both inventions. The test also included a measure of “problem-solving in technology-rich environments,” reflecting the nature of modern work.

As with the measures of K-12 education, the United States battles it out for last place, this time with Italy and Spain. Countries that traditionally trounce America on the PISA test of 15-year-olds, such as Japan and Finland, also have much higher levels of proficiency and skill among adults…

This reality should worry anyone who believes — as many economists do — that America’s long-term prosperity rests in substantial part on its store of human capital. The relatively high pay of American workers will start to erode as more jobs are exposed to harsh competition in global labor markets. It will be increasingly dangerous to believe that only our K-12 schools have serious problems.

The demand for H1B visas for degreed foreign nationals is not based solely on a lower cost of employment. You’re kidding yourself if you believe that. There were 4.5 million job openings in the United States at the beginning of June. It ain’t because all the skilled, well-educated professionals are driving tractors in Kansas and don’t want to move to Silicon Valley. Mostly, it’s because we haven’t folks trained and educationally equipped for those jobs.

You can’t make this crap up!

An Illinois mother has filed a lawsuit in order to prevent a school from expelling her 15-year-old son for trading his attention deficit disorder medication to another student in exchange for bags of Cheez-Its and cash.

The suit contends that the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy illegally expelled the boy because the conduct he displayed during the transaction was “likely a manifestation of his disability.”

The school nurse was well aware of the boy’s condition because that individual was responsible for dispensing the boy’s medication.

Although the boy “admitted that he received several bags of chips/Cheez-its and/or $3.00 payments” for the ADD medication, he said the reason he made the sale was to “to help his fellow student do better in school.”

The lawsuit is seeking a restraining order and injunction preventing the school from expelling the boy due to his disability.

Saying why you did something, truthful or otherwise, is not how you judge the behavior of someone. Doesn’t matter whether they are drunk or stoned or sober, doesn’t matter if they are unbalanced, disturbed or strange. How you behave determines society’s response. As far as orderly society is concerned.

If you challenge the rules, understand the consequences. Saying you are exempt from responsibility – doesn’t exempt you from a damned thing.

What’s left is deciding upon a just response.