Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Student Social Mobility or University Ranking - the role of the university in Taiwan

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Fulbright Visiting Scholar, University of Malaya

I was at a great meeting in Taipei Taiwan sponsored by the Higher Education Evaluation and Accreditation Council of Taiwan and got an interesting perspective on university rankings and student social mobility. The presentations at the meeting were drafts of forthcoming book chapters so the material was up to date.  The authors came from several nations, and brought several perspectives to the table.

Most of the material was focused on college rankings; especially in Taiwan and in the People's Republic of China.  The critical metric of ranking was seen by the chapter authors to be research publications in a particular collection of journals with a high citation index.  This is a classic ranking metric for many ranking groups.

And I ask "What about students?"

There are a lot of unquestioned assumptions in using faculty publications as a university ranking metric. The relationship between research and teaching is zero: "A meta-analysis of 58 studies demonstrates that the relationship is zero." (Hattie & March, 1996).  However, the publication metric reflects a particular vision of the university, often promulgated by faculty members who work at highly ranked institutions based on research publications in selected journals.  Faculty at high ranked universities set the ranking criteria.  I trust the reader to see the issue of the reproduction of hierarchies of prestige here.

Is the purpose of the university research for publication?
Is the purpose of the university to student learning?

We are discussing prestige here.  Never forget that prestige is a social construct, a manufactured idea, and there is no reality behind it.  A small group of people at a small number of universities have decided that number of publications in certain journals is central to ranking, thus tipping the idea of prestige university in the direction of a research university. (And no, I am not jealous, my citations, h-index, and i10-index are just fine, and my most cited publication is from this blog, not from a high prestige journal. Also, I am a at the end of my career with good academic credentials and a teaching award.)

And I ask "What about students?"

A few of the authors at the conference discussed social mobility  and access as topics of interest for evaluation and accreditation.  To clarify, social mobility in that context was about economic mobility, about getting a higher paid job after graduation.  Access is gaining admissions to a university.  In hallway discussions these authors noted that you cannot have both high ranking and social mobility as central to the vision of the university.  Access, and success, or a focus on students, is not possible when there is a high focus on research for publication.  Faculty time is a zero-sum game, and the more time spent on research means the less time spent on teaching. 

I can hear the answer from the ranking team members: "Well, we can have two types of universities, Research and Teaching." and I hear in their silence that research universities will be seen as better, as higher prestige, than teaching universities.

And I ask "What about students?"

tl;dr publication based rankings are not compatible with student learning based rankings

Friday, January 11, 2019

The varieties of upper middle class cultures

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Fulbright Visiting Scholar, University of Malaya

Upper Middle Class (UMC) here means those in the top 29% of the US economy based on educational attainment and occupational prestige and not in the top 1%.  That is, anyone with a 4-year college degree or higher but not in the 1% for income.  Educational prestige maxes out with Physician, Attorney and Professor so that doesn't work to identify the top.  I recognize that this is an arbitrary boundary for this group, and that a continuum is a more accurate reflection of reality.  Toward that end I invite the reader to create the boundary for this group as you please.  The upper boundary is also arbitrary and here is a wealth of over 7,000,000 USD or an income in the top 1%.  These individuals also come in quite a variety, and exist in a continuum.  One difficulty here is with educational attainment 1.88% have a Ph.D. another 3.34% have a professional degree like JD, DDS, or MD.  So is this top 5.22 %  educationally part of the UMC or part of the Uber Class?
The typology that I use here is arbitrary and based on personal observation and a synthesis of research on student types.

A gross analysis of UMC groups or categories gives us Mainstream, Alternative, and Invisible.  A moment's reflection tells us that there are a lot of ways to be Mainstream and Alternative.  These three are handy fictional categories, as long as we recognize their fictional nature.  Within each group is a large variety, and the boundaries between groups are unclear at best.

Mainstream members of the upper-middle class cover a wide range of people, from those obsessed with fashion and prestige and displays of status and economic, cultural, and social capital to those who are casually fashionable.  The mall, particularly upscale malls, are the holy temples of consumerism for mainstream UMC individuals.  A walk through a mall will illuminate the ways in which statements of class membership can be made - clothing, shoes, accessories, phones, and jewelry for women and watches for men.  The variety of stores and brands further illuminate the performance of UMC Mainstream social class.  There is a skewed distribution of people shopping in Target and in Coach, between shopping in chain jeweler stores and Tiffany, between Hush Puppy and Prada.  This also reflects the skewed distribution in the population of this group. Neighborhoods reflect which type of mainstream group lives where.

This group is often depicted in terms of consumerism which is one among many distinguishing features.  Another way to explore that is to examine why consumerism is important.  As with intrinsic and extrinsic religiosity (Allport & Ross, 1967) there is the public display of consumer behavior and the private / personal use of consumer goods.  For example I had a lot of kitchen gadgets and appliances - all used to cook for my pleasure, and not on public display.  My house, when I had one, was a wonderful rehabilitated Victorian, and not a showplace - it was my family home.  On the other hand, I had a great house, a great kitchen, and loads of kitchen gadgets.

There is a matter of degree, a range, of behaviors in the Mainstream.  And there are distinct similarities among members of this group.

Little rebellions are often tolerated for Mainstream members. An example would be 'wild' ties and socks for men but this does not demonstrate membership in the Alternative UMC group.

For the moment though think about Alternative ways to be UMC. As in Cross's theory (2009) the rejection of Mainstream majority culture is the core of some people's identity.  Cross was writing about the emergence of African-American ethnic identity in individuals.  Cross's model is a useful analytical tool here.  Hipsters, and other historical Alternative social groups such as hippies, have been mostly members of the middle class who created new ways of being in their class that is not-Mainstream.  Creating identities based on a rejection of specific Mainstream culture behaviors and attitudes is central to Alternative identities.

Typical Alternative class markers are hair, body modification, music, food, and fashion - easy and visible ways to distinguish one self.  Note please that in many ways these are the public performances of social class, behaviors, rather than internalized cultural commonalities.  In this way, Alternative can be seen as not-Mainstream.  This is a matter of style.  Individuals in the Alternative / not-Mainstream group still have college educations and meet the criteria for being upper middle class.  Often the styles, fads, and fashions are a direct result of a rejection of Mainstream styles, fads, and fashions.

Invisibles, of which I am a member, are chameleon like, blending in and not standing out.  Class, or rather the visible demonstration of class or not-class, is irrelevant to members of this group.  Another way to look at this group is social class independent.  While meeting group membership criteria in education and occupation, social class identity is not a critical in the network of personal identities.  Consequently the public performance of class and prestige is unimportant. This can also be seen as the don't care group.  In still another analysis members of this group can be seen as having a mature model of social class that transcends cultural assumptions and involves individual choice, or is Internalization in Cross's model.

The person-environment fit of college choice plays a part here.  Which campus caters to which student?  That is a great question.  As with shopping there are big box stores and boutiques when we look at colleges.  Reflect for a moment on Alternative campuses and the names of a few campuses come to mind.  Campuses populated with students from the Alternative UMC look and feel a certain way.  Campuses with a large population of Mainstream students has a certain look and feel.

Combine the campus look and feel with first generation students and interesting things happen.  To which group will a first generation assimilate?  Will the campus accommodate a student from another social class?

Allport, G. W., & Ross, J. M. (1967). Personal religious orientation and prejudice. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 5, 432-443.

Cross, William E. (2009). "Encountering Nigrescence". In Ponterotto, Joseph G.; Casas, J. Manuel; Suzuki, Lisa A.; Alexander, Charlene M. Handbook of Multicultural Counseling (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE. pp. 30–44. 

tl:dr - Mainstream are consumers, Alternative are hipsters, Invisibles don't dare.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Grab, Taxi or Bus - Self selection by social class.

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Fulbright Visiting Scholar, Universiti Malaya

I am relatively new (10 weeks) to my city and to my commute to my campus office so I am just beginning to see patterns.  Before I moved here to Kuala Lumpur I had never used an internet based ride service like Grab (the only one available here), so I had a steep learning curve. 

Since I like technology I loaded up the Grab app and started to use it to get to work in the morning.  I live in a new tower block apartment complex near campus and went to Gate A for my pickup. While waiting I would pay attention to the young professionals who were also waiting for their Grab car.   I was curious about the people in my building and people coming to work in the office block near me.

Across the street from my apartment building is a taxi stand, a bus station, and a Light Rail Train stop for the university.  The LRT is used by commuters coming from the suburbs into the city.  Campus, and offices, are served by the bus system at the LRT station and the same prepaid card works for LRT and bus.

I have three transportation options.  I can get Grab from my building, waiting with the young professionals.  I can walk 5 minutes to cross the street and jump into a waiting taxi. The taxi riders are typically office workers who have just commuted in from the suburbs.  Or I can stand in line and wait for a bus. The bus riders are frugal campus employees or students.

The economics are relatively simple and involve both time and money.  Grab and taxis cost the same most of the time, taxis cost less during high volume hours because the Grab rate varies by time of day and demand.  The bus is the lowest cost per ride. The wait time for Grab, in my experience, is 5-8 minutes, the wait time for the taxi is typically under 2 minutes, and the wait time for the bus can be as much as 15 minutes, and the bus ride to your destination takes longer than either Grab or taxi.

The cost analysis in time and money, Grab is at least as high as a taxi and has a longer wait.  Taxi is middle price and very low wait time.  The bus is long wait, long ride, and low cost. The best economic choice, for time and money, is a taxi.  And yet, the young professionals take the longer wait higher cost option. Hmmm.

The physical space is remarkably different for Grab, taxi, and bus.  Grab is in someone's clean car, a taxi is typically older than a private car and taxis have questionable suspension.  The bus, well, is a bus.  Our buses are nice, clean, and have padded seats, and they are still a bus. 

The transportation market segmenting is a self selection process, and is not based, as my economist friends would argue, on a rational economic choice.  As with the purses, transportation has become a positional good, a public marker of social status. 

tl;dr - upper class people in my neighborhood spend time and money taking Grab, the expensive option.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Why you should learn and speak 'less prestigious' languages

David Yoong
Linguist at the University of Malaya who spends a lot of time examining how people interact with one another. 

Time and time again, we hear of people in power emphasising the need to use 'standard language' - proper pronunciation, proper spelling, and proper grammar. We are told of the dangers of not being able to use a 'standard language': people won't understand us, we will not be able to engage with others globally, and we will not be able to participate in knowledge acquisition. Additionally, socialisation with our leaders, teachers and even parents puts ideas into our heads that certain languages (e.g. Standard English and Standard Mandarin) are more important than others because these will help maintain the status quo and increase chances of upward social mobility. 

Sometimes children are told that there is no need to learn other 'less important' languages like indigenous languages and vernacular languages (e.g. Telugu, Hakka, Teowchew, Bahasa Temuan, etc.). In schools, we are indoctrinated to believe that the rules of grammar determine if language use is 'right' or 'wrong'. Using language 'wrongly', we are also told, is a sign of being uneducated (or sometimes, stupid). 

At this juncture, I should explain two things: First, I write as a Malaysian linguist. So, don't be surprised if the examples provided are from a Malaysian's point of view. Second, I use 'language' in this blog post to refer to 'a system of communication' that includes conventional concepts of 'dialects' (different language extended families e.g. Chinese - Cantonese, Hokkien) and 'lects' (different levels of hierarchies e.g. Standard English, Malaysian English, 'broken'/'mixed up' English). Trivia: Believe it or not, there are linguists who are challenging the conventional sense of 'language' and argue that even 'dialects' are 'languages'. As interesting as it may be, this will be a topic for another day. 

What our esteemed leaders and role models fail to acknowledge is that such a simplistic prescriptivist approach to language can be dangerous and even very harmful to one's self and to others. Let me explain. 

It is crucial to realise that languages are strongly tied with identity. People tend to accept those who speak like them, and they frown upon those who speak using a lower prestige language. As alluded earlier, speaking using 'broken grammar' or 'wrong' pronunciations risks someone viewing and treating you like an uneducated (and/or stupid) person whose points are not to be taken seriously. On the other hand, people may also see those who speak the language of the rich and educated (e.g. Queen's English), as arrogant, detached and out of touch elitists. This happens because people are just naturally tribalistic. 

People may also take cues from someone's use of language to mark them either as being part of the ingroup or outgroup. This social categorisation leads to exclusivity and otherness. In certain contexts, it can lead to racism, discrimination,  xenophobism, and loss of economic and social opportunities. In some instances, people can be singled out and punished if they do not speak the language of the powerful dominant ingroup. 

Political and social pressures that cause languages to lose popularity can also cause the extinction of culture and local knowledge. Children are told to learn English and Mandarin because these are more powerful than the language of their grandparents and ancestors. If a language shift were to occur, where later generations lose their ability to speak the tongue of their ancestors, cultures in stories, songs, idioms, metaphors, and even subtle yet significant local knowledge e.g. plant names, traditional medicines, can be forever lost. 

So, coming back to the title of this post ('why you should learn and speak 'less prestigious' languages')...

Having the ability to accommodate communicatively with different groups of people in different social situations enables one to navigate more easily in complex societies. Those who look down on 'less prestigious' languages fail to see the power of these languages in getting things done. 

Just imagine interacting with a fishmonger in a Chow Kit wet market in downtown Kuala Lumpur. Imagine speaking to them using Standard English. Now compare that with a colloquial English variety.

-"Dear sir/madam, could you kindly sell me a kilogramme of fish?" (Queen's English).  
-"Aunty/Uncle ah, this fish cheaper la, can or not? Aiyah, I always come back one la!"

Which style of interaction do you think will help you form bonds with the fishmonger, and to get you a better deal? 

Here is another scenario. Imagine you are an Indian politician entering a Hokkien community to make your presence known. And you want them to like you, so that they will vote you into office. Unlike your Indian competitor, you can speak Hokkien fluently. Who do you think the community is likely to support? The same principles apply with business pitching and sales. 

Now, do you see why our ideas of 'less prestigious' languages are actually flawed? 

Being fluent in all sorts of language systems also makes one realise that even the ones deemed as Bahasa Rojak or 'spoiled' language, may actually not be 'spoiled'. Rather, they may indicate creative expressions, especially if there is consistent application of language rules. Note that I'm not arguing that we should encourage disfluency. Neither am I saying that schools should embrace these 'less prestigious' languages in the classroom. 

What I'm saying instead is, there are a time and place where these 'less prestigious' languages can outshine the stereotypical notions of 'prestigious languages'. Educators should help students realise when both 'prestigious and non-prestigious languages' are appropriate, and according to what genre of interactions. Educators should not beat down 'less prestigious' languages, but realise their potentials. 

Long story short, learning and being competent in all variations of languages will actually open doors and empower the user in various aspects of life, compared to those who are only able to use the 'prestigous' variety.

tl:dr - learn to talk with people

keywords: prestigious languages, non-pretigious languages, diglossia, dialects, language policies, language education 

Monday, May 21, 2018

Social Class Encounter and Thoughts in Manila

Priscilla Angela Cruz
Ateneo de Manila

(This was a Facebook post from a friend, reposted here with permission.)

After last night's rant, a story to restore my faith in my own people and to remind me that there are many pockets of hope:

While I was biking to work today, I saw a sorbetero, an ice cream vendor, with his cart of what we refer to here as 'dirty ice cream'. We were both waiting at the traffic light and I noticed he was pushing the cart. I decided to strike up a conversation. He told me that he sells his ice cream at Quezon City Circle and that he has walked there with his cart every single day for 30 years. He told me it takes 45 to 50 minutes to push his cart, which was very neat-looking, and that he is proud to say that he sent all his kids to school through ice cream. He was also proud to talk about his grandchildren, who also get a share of his ice cream profits. I would have stayed longer to talk and I did so want to buy some ice cream from him. But the light changed and all the cars behind started angrily honking their horns so all I could manage was a hasty good bye. As I rode away, I briefly looked back to see him pushing the cart as he was crossing the busy intersection we were at. His voice floated to me, "thank you, ma'am!"

One problem with the Philippines is for many reasons, cultural, political, economic, historical, religious, etc., is that we are a highly stratified society. Social class permeates everything we do and the way we live. I think this problem has made it very difficult for us Filipinos to see other Filipinos as people. I realize that had I been in my car behind this very gentle ice cream vendor, I would have swallowed a bit of annoyance: how could he be pushing a cart in a terribly busy street? He would have slowed down traffic in this already horribly congested street. But on this morning, the cars behind us, I am sure, were thinking the same way about both of us. In that one moment, there was small solidarity, where we were both Filipinos with our own stories. Never mind that I saw all to strongly the fact that he had to push the cart while I was on my big and strong two wheels.

Then I thought, this guy has worked harder than I ever have yet he manages a smile and a thank you. Perhaps what is important is that we see people and not the road, not the vehicles, not the annoyance. If we, as a people, learn to do that to each other, then maybe our streets will get slightly better despite the systemic issues that plague this country.

I don't know, really, the problem with the ability to endure is the all too familiar effect in this country. We endure so much that everything stays bad.  But if maybe, just maybe, if we learn to see each other as Filipinos, we will be an even greater people.

And to visitors to the Philippines, enjoy us! Get some dirty ice cream, which isn't really dirty. I love the cheese and avocado flavors (yes, we have cheese ice cream). Dirty ice cream is sold in scoops of three. You can combine all the flavors you want.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Building Academic Capital - Get Academically Rich Slowly

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

Capital, in social class language, is accumulated wealth. Marx wrote about Economic Capital, Bourdieu's ideas of economic, cultural, and social capital, (capital is accumulated wealth), began a discussion about different and specialized types of capital.

Spiritual Capital
There is a tradition of Gods weighing the soul in the afterlife and judging the accumulated spiritual wealth of the recently deceased.  The idea of karma is part of this tradition.  St. Peter is often depicted at the Christian pearly gates with a book containing the list of accumulated spiritual capital. 

Leadership Capital
In the leadership literature leadership capital is a hot topic. A basic web search for "leadership capital" turns up a surprisingly large number of pages.

Academic Capital
Multiple views of the form and function of Academic Capital are revealed in a web search.  Fundamental to Bourdieu's Forms of Capital is the idea that one form of capital can be turned into another.  Social Capital, who you know and who knows you, can be turned into Economic Capital through access to resources and opportunities.  Academic capital can be seen as a form of Cultural capital, and turned into jobs, money, or friends. 

Wikipedia authors makes a fine distinction between Academic and Educational capital.  However both are seen as primarily transformative - that is, a form of capital that can be transferred into money.  A little imagination lets you turn academic capital (or educational capital) into social capital.

Academic Capital in Your Pocket
Money you can put into your pocket, or bank, or investment portfolio.  Other forms of capital are abstractions.  (Yes, I realize that money is an abstraction, but the physical manifestation of money is a better example than the physical manifestation of Cultural Capital in the form of diplomas.)  Cultural Capital is knowledge and skills of a prestige culture.  Seen similarly, Academic Capital is knowledge and skills in an educational environment.  It is probably the case that Academic Capital is a subset of Cultural Capital in some hierarchical model of Capital, but that is not the point here.

Knowledge and skills are portable wealth.  Knowing the name of the capitol of Kansas is knowledge (declarative knowledge or "what"), knowing how to ride a bicycle is a skill (procedural knowledge or "how").  There is an array of literature on declarative/verbal knowledge and performance or process skill that is worth reading, and will build your Academic Capital.

What is the knowledge base and skill set that builds Academic Capital?  Here is my list of the needed skill set in Academic Capital, and yours may be different.  My list is largely skills because I believe more academic skills result in more knowledge.  On campus academic capital, knowledge and skills necessary for a academic success, is an interesting form of capital that many people don't seem to understand.  Knowing how to learn is a skill set with great value.
  • Reading
  • Listening
  • Writing
  • Speaking
  • Presenting
  • Studying
  • Critical Thinking
  • Surface learning and deep learning
  • Making associations between what you already know and the new material in a class
I am amazed that students fail to connect material, knowledge and skills, learned in one class to content and process in another class. Building academic capital, knowledge and skills, requires connecting and reconnecting knowledge and skills learned in multiple places.  Academic knowledge is interrelated in complex networks of knowledge and skill.  For example, population growth is connected to animal habitat, access to birth control is connected to crime rates, and so on.  A basic investment strategy is that money builds more money.  Knowledge and skill, through associations and interconnections, builds more knowledge and skill.

Every campus has professionals who will help you build all of these skills.  Serious students, those who seek to build more academic (cultural) capital, work on building these skills so that this can all be transformed into economic (money) capital. 

Data source - being a teacher for a lot of years.

tl;dr learn to study, read, write well, and make connections, then do it a lot.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Social Class and the Experience Economy - Campus Edition

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

Seeing social class is complicated.
Performing and displaying social class is complicated.

Some of class is visible, like positional goods, brand name objects, and obviously labeled fashion.
Some of social class is auditory, like having a prestige accent.
Some of social class is scent based, like having having the upscale perfume.
Some of social class is invisible, intangible, ephemeral, like experiences.

The material economy, the world of stuff, tangibles, things you can see or touch or smell, plays a big part in social class.  The experience economy, the world of experience, intangibles, ephemeral passing experiences, plays an equally big, and different, role in the performance and demonstration of social class.  The nature of experience is ephemeral, while the nature of material is, well, material.

I am going to assume here that people who wear obviously, or even subtly, labeled fashion wish to demonstrate their social status through the display of those fashion labels.  Fashion labels are part of the performance of social class.  Please keep in mind that there are many ways to perform social class, and I am only using labeled fashion here as a way to make sense of class performance in the experience economy. How do we translate the experience into the material so that others can see what we have done?  Merchandise.

Like material things, experiences are ranked by social class.  For example, theme parks are social class ranked. Vacation destinations are social class ranked.  Movies are social class ranked.  Live theater is social class ranked. Travel destinations are social class ranked.  Camping and glamping are social class ranked.

Fraternities and sororities, and student organizations in general, are social class ranked.  Transforming the experience of Greek Life membership into the visible world means wearing your letters and public displays of membership.  Experiences in student life are marked with shirts, or other things commemorating the event.  Like the concert goer who buys the concert shirt, the student on campus gets the participation trophy of a shirt, or a mug, or a whatever is being used to commemorate the event.  A material reminder of the experience, or a trophy for display.  Think for a moment about post-season college sports and the display of fanatic loyalty through branded wearables.

Any sensible college provides prospective students with branded gear.  A material link to the experience.  But this is not true for all colleges - taking the college tour for free stuff is discouraged at highly selective campuses, you need to buy your own Harvard hoodie.  On the third hand, the concept of "commitment and consistency" (Cialdini, The Psychology of Influence and Persuasion, 1984) plays into the college manipulating the student into wearing branded gear in order to foster commitment.   On the fourth hand, perhaps the purpose of any experience memento is to show off participation in the experience and to reinforce membership in the social class reflected in that experience.

Alternative forms of prestige experiences include suitable material evidence for public display.  Alternative Spring Break, volunteerism, Habitat for Humanity, the Student Investment Club, Campus Green groups, and a myriad other campus activities of all types provide wearable evidence of experiences.

Class rings anyone?  Campus branded bumper stickers for Mom and Dad?  Campus branded credit cards for alumni?

tl;dr  wear stuff to show off your prestige experiences