Monthly Archives: August 2016

Why You need an Internet

Two years ago, Kenneth Goldsmith, the University of Pennsylvania poet and conceptual artist, taught a creative writing course he called “Wasting Time on the Internet.” Students would do just that, probing the tedium of the internet. But thanks to in-class use of social media, the class also became a creative ferment of improvised dance, trust experiments and inquiries into the modern nature of the self and the crowd.

The constant experimentation changed Mr. Goldsmith into a self-described “radical optimist” about the internet, too. While many of his peers worry about the effects that endless tweets and bad videos have on our minds and souls, he sees a positive new culture being built. The first poet laureate of the Museum of Modern Art, appointed in 2013, he believes we are headed into a creative renaissance, one with unprecedented speed and inclusion.

Meanwhile, the class has evolved into a seminar on collective “time wasting” that Mr. Goldsmith has held in several countries, and it returns to Penn this fall. His new book, named after the course, will be available this month.

Why write this book?

I had cognitive dissonance. Theorists say the internet is making us dumber, but something magical happened when my students wasted time together. They became more creative with each other. They say we’re less social; I think people on the web are being social all the time. They say we’re not reading; I think we’re reading all the time, just online.

I’m an artist, and artists feel things, we distrust these studies. As a poet I wanted to observe, I wanted to feel things.

You compare online experiences with 20th-century philosophies and artistic movements.

The DNA of the web is embedded in 20th-century movements like Surrealism, where artists sought to live in a state like dreaming, or Pop Art, where they leveraged popular culture to make bigger points about society. Postmodernism is about sampling things and remixing them, and that is made real in this digital world.

When I teach my students about the historical preconditions for what they are doing when they waste time together — things like Surrealism or Cubism — the theoretical framework helps them know that the web isn’t a break, it’s a continuity with earlier great thinking.

But if we’re just remixing, are we creating?

When a D.J. brings a laptop full of music samples to a club he doesn’t play an instrument, but we don’t argue that he isn’t doing something creative in mixing those sounds to create his own effect. In the online world the only thing you’re the master of is your collection, your archive, and how you use it, how you remix it. We become digital archivists, collecting and cataloging things. I find it exciting.

What will an educated person be in the future?

We still read great books, and there is a place for great universities. But an educated person in the future will be a curious person who collects better artifacts. The ability to call up and use facts is the new education. How to tap them, how to use them.

If we change as a culture, do we change ourselves?

I’ve got a 10-year-old and 17-year-old. They’re thinking differently from me. They stay connected all the time, and they’re smart, they play baseball, they read, they spend time online. They’re not robots. Basic human qualities haven’t changed. I can find Plato in online life. When I read Samuel Pepys’s diary I see Facebook posts. We just find new ways to express things.

Why L.A. Schools Promote Free Tutoring

The Los Angeles Unified School District mailed applications earlier this month to 186,000 students, from 104 schools, who are eligible for the extra assistance.

The federal No Child Left Behind education law requires school districts to pay for supplemental tutoring for low-income students whose schools repeatedly fail to meet testing improvement targets. To qualify, students must attend one of the targeted campuses and receive free or reduced-priced lunches because of low family income. Applications must be postmarked by Friday, Sept. 26.

“We want youngsters who participate in this program to get something that will improve their reading, math or language test scores,” said John Liechty, associate superintendent in charge of extended-day programs for the school district.

L.A. Unified parents can choose from 26 public and private providers of tutoring services, including Sylvan Education Solutions, the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Huntington Learning Centers. The school district also is providing free tutoring, on Saturdays, through its Beyond the Bell Learning Centers.

Students can get as much as 100 hours of free tutoring through next August, depending on the provider, officials said.

The school district has budgeted $47 million of federal Title I money for the initiative, enough to pay for about 47,000 students, at roughly $1,000 apiece, administrators said.

Last year, the first time the free service was offered, just 10,000 of 164,000 eligible students took advantage of it.

Families who miss Friday’s deadline can apply again. Applications for a second round of tutoring are due by Dec. 5. Students in that stage will get free tutoring from February through next August.

Great Information of Living Off-Campus Cost

SUNY College at Old Westbury and Long Island University’s Post campus in Brookville, N.Y., may be in similarly affluent locales just five miles apart, but look at the chasm between their budgets for students living off-campus: The State University of New York computed that its students needed $11,300 last year, while L.I.U.’s needed $27,500.

This is not just a New York state of mind. Estimating expenses is a murky business across the country, made even more so when “miscellaneous expenses” — for anything from health insurance to laundry — are added to the equation.

In Philadelphia, the University of Pennsylvania and neighboring Drexel University calculated off-campus costs that vary by $3,000. And Johnson & Wales gives students at its campuses in North Miami, Denver, Providence, R.I., and Charlotte, N.C., the exact same allowance: $8,609, though these cities have disparate living costs.

Nearly 60 percent of colleges significantly underestimate or overestimate off-campus living costs, according to continuing research by the Wisconsin HOPE Lab (for Harvesting Opportunities for Postsecondary Education), which studies barriers to college access and completion.

Inaccurate statistics matter.

Consumer-friendly shopping tools like the government’s College Scorecard and net price calculators will churn out misleading information, making it difficult for applicants to compare colleges. While a low projection can be a boon for colleges looking to attract more applicants by seeming more affordable, it can spell disaster for students who enroll and then discover that their living costs are higher than they can afford.

Some run out of cash and are forced to drop out, said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a Temple University professor and founder of the Wisconsin HOPE Lab.

Perhaps most critical, the total cost of attending a particular college or university, as estimated by the institution, sets the upper limit on how much a family can take out in both federal and private student loans, leading some students to borrow more than they need and some to borrow less and run out of money.

“This is how you get debt and no degree,” Dr. Goldrick-Rab said. “It’s not tuition that’s driving people out of school.”

Room, board and personal expenses make up about half of college costs. Most students live off-campus — 87 percent — but even prospective students who plan to live in dorms can be affected by shaky statistics. That’s because some college planning websites, including the College Scorecard, average schools’ on- and off-campus living expenses to reach their net price — the cost of attending less the average amount of grants and scholarships awarded.

Miscalculations can be traced to the thicket of regulations that govern college pricing. The Department of Education requires colleges to report the cost of attendance. It tells them what kinds of costs to include — tuition, room and board, books and supplies, and personal expenses — but gives lots of wiggle room in how they come up with the numbers. With no federal rules and few recommendations to guide them, colleges use a hodgepodge of methods to predict costs.

That might explain why room and board estimates for colleges within the same county can vary so much — on average, by $6,448, according to research by the New America foundation published in May.

Some estimates are so low that students could not live on them even with a crowd of roommates, according to the real estate website Trulia, which came out with its own study last September. For example, the University of California, Santa Barbara, posted its 2015-16 housing budget as $6,345, but Trulia calculated that students would need to spend $13,478 each to share a two-bedroom apartment within the university’s ZIP code. Even if five students shared a four-bedroom apartment, they would each have to pay $8,460. (Of course, students often move outside of pricey ZIP codes, trading higher rents for longer commutes from less desirable areas.)

Some colleges keep estimates low, they say, to prevent their students from going into too much debt. If students get more than they need, it’s easy to forget it’s a loan and spend it.

“Goucher College discourages unnecessary borrowing,” said Kathy Michel, a spokeswoman, pointing out that 2014 graduates with student loans left Goucher with lower average debt — $25,580 — than graduates of most area colleges.