Archive for June, 2008

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Followup to Humanities and Law

June 30, 2008

In response to a comment left by Jeremy on last week’s “The Humanities and the Future of Law” post, I totally forgot to link my source. Sorry about that. Here’s the complete list 1-29.

A person on another blog, a lawyer who, presumably, was a Philosophy major, is arguing something like what Jeremy is arguing here. He thinks success on the LSAT based on undergraduate major is related to 1) self-selection (smarter people choose harder majors) and 2) intellectual rigor.

I have my problems with the idea of “intellectual rigor.” As I said elsewhere about Leiter’s post, I started off in Biology and I have a hard time thinking about it being less intellectually rigorous than Literature (where I ended up). Biology, for one thing, entails a great deal of advanced math. For another, like most fields, there are a substantial amount of research papers written that must be read, understood, and argued with. But Biology came in 10 to English’s 9, a point that leads me to appreciate Jeremy’s assessment a little more than Leiter’s because it doesn’t use the broader concept of intellectual rigor,but a more specific appeal to critical thinking.

Ultimately though I’m not sure how accurate that is either. Certainly the vocational trades–at the bottom of the list–are prone to eschewing theory in favor of more hands-on training. The bottom eight fields are:

  • Management
  • Sociology/Social Work
  • Business Administration
  • Health Profession
  • Education
  • No Major given
  • Prelaw
  • Criminology

Above that are Marketing/Real Estate, #20 and Communications/Arts, #19. Political Science, at #18 mirrors the weighted mean of all scores, so that pretty much divides the list in half for us. We can probably argue that Sociology is pulled down by being included with Social Work, the latter being more vocational. But it doesn’t quite explain why Liberal Arts is below Marketing/Real Estate, or, for that matter, why Political Science is below Accounting.

It doesn’t explain why Finance is above Psychology or how Foreign Languages lost to Engineering (while neither includes much critical thinking of the type implied here, foreign languages with their emphasis on history, linguistics, and literature, arguably entails more.)

The real problem with using a chart like this to describe things like “success on the LSAT” is that it becomes a prescription which doesn’t actually work. It is natural to assume that certain majors prepare you for the LSAT, and some probably do, a little bit. But unlike Leiter I think self-selection is the more important variable here.

Liberal Arts is a great major. Unfortunately a lot of people who wind up there are the students who–well—wound up there. They didn’t focus their goals and instead took a lot of classes in a variety of Liberal Arts disciplines and suddenly four years had gone by and they needed to go get a job. They looked at their transcripts and asked their advisers what degree they were closest too. Certainly that is not the story of all of them or even most of them.  A lot of schools have very rigorous, planned Liberal Arts coursework that one is not likely to “slip” into. I guess in the case of Liberal Arts, the latter set of majors is getting pulled down by being lumped with their fellows in the former category.

Contrariwise, engineering is a vocational major but a very difficult one. At the end of their undergraduate training not every engineer is equipped to be a lawyer, and, for that matter, a lot of people who go into Engineering want to be engineers–not lawyers. However, with the dramatic rise in salaries for patent lawyers, a certain amount of engineers got their engineering degree purposefully to become lawyers later. That kind of self-selection might explain why Engineering bucks the trend of vocational degrees that do more poorly on the LSAT and why Liberal Arts doesn’t live up to the success of its more specialized colleagues.

It would be interesting to see the follow-up to this article.  The various undergraduate majors that are accepted/enter law school–and then the various undergraduates who graduate law school–and even the various undergraduates who take/pass the bar.

To me the bottom line here is that a list like this is interesting because of what it reveals about the kind of people that go into the various majors, not because it’s a necessarily good predictor of LSAT success. That is, any kid who chooses a major because he thinks it will lead him to a better LSAT score is likely to do better on the LSAT because he’s that type of kid, not because the undergraduate training is particularly suited for it.

None of this is to say that Jeremy’s analysis is wrong. If any kind of training prepares you for the LSAT at all, it’s the sort of argument analysis one finds in most of the liberal arts classes. That of course, doesn’t explain why the math folks came in at #1, but it does explain most of the rest of the list in a general way. The idea of training in critical thinking (or intellectual rigor) seems to provide a broad sorting factor, the particular orders are then determined by self-selection…and chance. If it was just either of the first two, we could assume that this list would retain this order year after year, which it almost certainly does not.

Economics came in third by the way.

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Friday Blincoln Blog

June 27, 2008

My parents divorced when I was 13. Before turning 14 and starting high school, my mom and I moved to her hometown, Evansville, Indiana. My dad was in the Army and so prior to that I was only an occasional Hoosier.

We moved in with my aunt for the summer while mom got her bearings: found a house, a job etc. My aunt encouraged me to spend more time at the house of a friend of hers. They went camping…a lot.

It is no exaggeration to say that I spent the majority of that summer at Lincoln State Park. No joke. We Junior Naturalist Patchwent out there for a weekend, then a week, and then…after that…we came home only two or three times to do laundry and pick up more groceries. I earned my Junior Naturalist and Hoosier Ecologists badges (.pdf) from the Department of Natural Resources and I went to practically every hike, star gazing, flower identifying, or bird watching event that was sponsored by the park rangers.

I walked “the trails that Lincoln walked;” I visited his churchyard; and I saw where some of his family was buried.

And I watched Young Abe Lincoln probably 1,000 times. That part might be exaggeration. In some box somewhere in my house, is a signed play program from every actor and actress that walked in front of the lime lights of the amphitheater that summer. Apparently Young Abe Lincoln disappeared for awhile after they lost their funding but it is expected to resume next year. And thank goodness. I suppose that none of us likes to see the things we enjoyed as children disappear.

Traveling from Evansville to Lincoln City was also the first time I ever rode on a motorcycle. And that’s pretty cool.

All things considered, it was a pretty great summer, a truly unforgettable experience. Some people commune with nature but I spent a summer in the woods communing with our 16th president.

Because I’m a double nerd.

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Indiana Humanities Council Awards Grant to “Every Woman has a Story”

June 26, 2008

INDIANAPOLIS—The Indiana Humanities Council (IHC) in partnership with the National Endowment for the Humanities announced Wednesday it has awarded a $2000 Humanities Initiative Grant to support “Every Woman has a Story: Journeys of Immigrant Women in Indiana.

Read the rest of this entry ?

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Humanities and the Future of Law

June 26, 2008

In the paper “LSAT Scores of Economic Majors” in the Journal of Economic Education, Michael Nieswiadomy lists the average LSAT scores of the top 29 academic majors. While there’s no cut-and-dry rule for what majors are or are not Humanities disciplines there’s fairly wide acceptance on three: Philosophy, English, and History. And how did those three rank?

  • Philosophy/Religion came in at #2 (below only Physics/Math);
  • History came in at #8 and
  • English just below that in 9th place.

Social sciences (large aspects of which are Humanities-related) were all over the board

  • International Relations, #4;
  • Government/Service #6;
  • Anthropology/Geography, #7,
  • Other Social Science, #11;
  • Psychology, #16,
  • Sociology, #23, and
  • Criminology, #29.

Foreign Languages was #13.

It is most intersting, and telling, that Prelaw and Criminology were #28 and #29 respectively of those ranked and both were well below the sample mean.

Not that I want to encourage Hoosier humanists to pursue careers in law, but I don’t see anything wrong with encouraging those about to pursue a career in law to get an educational foundation in the Humanities.

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Meandering Indiana – 5

June 25, 2008

I have been taking this blog along to meander Indiana through history (the state’s) and memory (mine). So let me not pass up a perfect prompt in the appointment of Norbert Krapf as Indiana’s poet laureate, as noted earlier.

Norbert Krapf is a native of Jasper, Indiana, in Dubois County. Because Jasper was settled in the 1840s by German Catholics, it is very well known to the Hoosier history community as a classic example of nineteenth-century immigration. It retains its ethnic and religious character far beyond most Hoosier counties.

Touring the churches of Dubois County, which seem more like magnificent cathedrals, you have to be impressed. The Sisters of St. Benedict in Ferdinand certainly can be proud of their newly restored chapel, my favorite. The present-day nuns live up to their heritage of energetic, forward-looking women who wanted to build something big. They also continue their tradition of hospitality with a retreat and conference center where I have stayed overnight. It’s another world, and as their website demonstrates, the sisters are far from behind the times.

In southwestern Dubois County, amongst a little pocket of Protestants, a colleague and I recently conducted computer training at a middle school. Again, an influx of immigrants is changing the landscape, as the school has had a sizable population increase of Mexican children.

Taking a break from our session, we headed back to Jasper and stopped at the Schnitzelbank restaurant. Managing to be southern German and down-home southern Hoosier at the same time, this one is worth a trip, maybe even worth a poem.

Schnitzelbank Restaurant

This entry was posted by: Nancy
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Locus Award Winners Announced

June 25, 2008

John Holbo at The Valve runs through the Locus Award winners with some commentary.

I notice that Holbo makes some notes on Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union that nearly exactly mirror comments made by my friend Nancee of his Gentleman of the Road (in a not-yet-published review of her own). Not to put too fine a point on it: Chabon is committing artistic suicide by tethering himself too tightly to the genres he loves.

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The Romance of Summer

June 24, 2008

Do you know how some literary theories seem to stick in your head? They do. No, not the dreaded French literary theorists, whose goofy notions keep leaking out of my mind as fast as I try to cram them in. I was thinking about one of my favorites, now receded into the distant past — Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism. Admittedly, I was never able to get into a lot of the book, but one section resonated and has stayed with me: Frye’s four “mythoi” or generic plots.

Frye identified these four categories of narrative literature as:

  • Comedy – the mythos of spring
  • Romance – the mythos of summer
  • Tragedy – the mythos of autumn
  • Irony and Satire – the mythos of winter

This correlation between the structure of literature and the rhythm of nature is evocative. We read the natural world as a great story, for good or ill. Then, in Frye’s view, the themes of literature echo back the cycle of the seasons.

As Jim recently noted, we are now past the solstice and into the summer. Romance, in the literary sense — which Frye defines as “a sequence of marvellous adventures” — is waiting. It might mean a movie (just saw Iron Man, liked it). It might be a festival, a journey, or even a voyage. It might be an exciting tale still in the making. You never know, and that is the romance of it.

This entry was posted by: Nancy
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Online Writing

June 24, 2008

Reading a short Slate piece this morning directed me to this essay on online writing/reading by Caleb Crain. Much of this essay addresses my own concerns and mirrors some of my own reflections on the topic (and I too have a personal blog that is rarely read, but serves as the inspiration for much of these reflections).

The observation here is particularly astute (or at least accurate to my own situation):

This willingness in readers to overlook form raises a question as to whether online writing entertains, in the traditional sense of the word. I am not sure that it does. Reading online does not seem to me to be a pleasure in itself but a response to irritation. That is, it is not like eating an ice cream cone; it is like scratching an itch. I am only reporting on my own feelings here, of course, but while I am doing so, let me report a further kink in them. Between us, my boyfriend and I subscribe to more than a dozen magazines, and if I pick one up, I know instantly that I am goofing off. Online reading, however, fails to set off my leisure detection system. Part of the failure may be perceptual—online reading takes place while I’m sitting in front of my laptop, immobilized, as I am when working. But I think, too, that online writing may, even in its supposedly silly moments, be covertly work-like: there is a fair amount of tedium in its unedited prose. Many of the jokes and references are only comprehensible to regular visitors. No one, my hit counter tells me, reads blogs on the weekend. And reading online prose is not refreshing. An action movie leaves the viewer juiced; a novel may leave the reader wistful. But reading blogs, in my experience, leaves me more addled and nervous than when I began. This work-like character makes the internet particularly corrosive , by the way, to the productivity of those who work at home, such as writers. Through web browsing, the freelancer communes with the procrastinating office drone—at his peril, because the freelancer receives no weekly paycheck.

This workiness is exaggerated in those who, like me, maintain personal blogs and work blogs. It confuses the line between work-related reading/writing and funtime-related reading/writing. Work becomes more enjoyable but leisure becomes more work-like blending together into seamless tedium. This is probably a situation not too far different than lifetime readers who pursue graduate literature degrees, but perhaps more detrimental in the way Crain describes above, the PhD student, afterall, can use leisurely reading in future research.

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Summer Nights at the IMA

June 23, 2008

I’ve already missed Grease, Gilda, and This is Spinal Tap but I fully expect to see the following shows if I am in town: The Goonies (this Friday), Strangers on a Train and Ghostbusters. I may even hit up some of the others.

Summer Nights is one of Indianapolis’s all-time great times and everyone should get out to at least one of these a year if not more (or all).

Of course, that’s for people who live within a comfortable driving range from Indianapolis. Really, the thing is to see great movies, outside, with friends–in a terraced amphitheater or in a gravelly drive-in.

I hope that outdoor movies and summer are with us forever and ever. I really do.

Photo by flickr user Jim Rees under Creative Commons license.

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Friday Blincoln Blog

June 20, 2008

When Lincoln was running for president he was routinely called “the western candidate” or “the candidate from the West” and other variations. In that time the western states truly were backwaters and the people from the area were often demeaned as hayseeds, rubes, and the like. Casting Lincoln in that role was purposeful baiting. Stephen Douglas, during his historic debates with the future Emancipator, referred explicitly and implicitly to Lincoln’s less-than-cosmopolitan upbringing as a way of turning the crowds against him.

Of course such political liabilities have been turned on their heads in recent years. Contemporary presidents have all made every effort to downplay their elite childhoods or Ivy League educations. Bill Clinton, although a Rhodes Scholar, famously ate at McDonalds during his morning jogs and wore boxers. His nickname was “Bubba.”

George Bush and Ronald Reagan were sure to get photographed on their ranches. Et cetera.

Although we now look back on Lincoln’s childhood in rural Kentucky and Indiana as a kind of moral play–an inspiration for poor children across the country–Lincoln was never proud of it. He refused to romanticize the life of subsistence farming as many of his political contemporaries did, and he was ashamed of his lack of formal education.

But Lincoln was a powerful intellect by any measure. Although he lacked the advantage of a schoolroom, he was sure to provide himself the education he needed. As this Lincoln Bicentennial blog reminds us, Lincoln was a book devourer, famously reading borrowed books by candle and fire lights. He taught himself to write by scratching the alphabet onto the dirt on a shovel, and so on and so on.

But my favorite image of Lincoln’s dogged pursuit of self-edification is one remembered by a colleague of Lincoln’s while they were sharing a room while running the court circuit–of having come home from some event or other that Lincoln was curiously absent from. Returning to their room he opened the door to find Lincoln surrounded by crumpled pieces of paper, his fingers stained with ink. After having worked his way through much of Euclid’s geometry on his own, Lincoln had spent the evening trying to square the circle.

It is hard to think of any modern politicians being so distracted.

Photo from flickr user Angie C used under Creative Commons License.