Category Archives: Diversity

When our education system cares only to final outcome, why should I do my project before the deadline?

One of my friend has posted this TED talk recently on her Facebook page. I enjoyed a lot by watching this talk. The procedure is the same as what I have  been doing during my education from as early as primary school till today! It seems, almost all of us, if we don’t learn anything from education system, we are master and proficient in “procrastination.” There is a joke that says, we have no PhD graduates and  no tenured professors without deadlines! God don’t get deadlines from us!

But the question is, why all of us, are used to procrastinate our tasks up to the last minutes? My question is how much of this behavior results because of the system?

Part of this behavior, I believe, can be explained by our education system. The education system cares only to outcome and not to procedure. The procedure does not matter for the system and the system does not reward people based on the procedure but it only praise them based on their outcome. I understand that there is a problem in most cases to identify the procedure, however, there are various conditions that the process can also be measured and rewarded.  For instance, in primary education, students tend to attend in lecture based classes and they mostly evaluate based on test scores (midterms and finals). Students know this fact that their final grades depend only on their test scores and the learning process does not matter for teachers. In this situation, a rational behavior will be procrastinate your learning process for the tests’ nights. But what if the learning process is also matter? If instead of only tests scores, the students’ grades depend on the learning process, such as class participation, class activities, and projects that they have to do during a semester with weekly reports, then, we may expect students put efforts and times for their course not only at exams’ nights. Using online platforms such as class forum also can help students learn do their jobs on time instead of procrastinating them for last minutes. During higher education (college education and graduate school), instructors have more freedom to give more weights on learning process rather than sticking to test scores. However, I think the exercise should be started from the beginning of someone’s education. Paying attention to learning procedure just when a person enter to college is too late for changing in his/her behavior. I am aware of the fact that most of us, regardless of our education system, tend to procrastinate our duties based on “Parkinson’s Law.” This law simply said that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” however, I think with correct system that rewards the process rather than the outcome, we can alleviate the procrastination behavior. If we have a system that teaches us that life is a marathon not a sprint ( as Professor Duckworth told in her ted talk), then we learn to do our duties in a precise schedule rather than doing it at the 11:45 pm of the due date! I am not expertise in education policy but I believed we need to think about redesigning the current education system. In this current world, procrastination does not work and work has been done in last minutes does not have enough quality to solve our complicated problems. We need to learn to change our views and learn to be motivated and passion for our long term goals. This paradigm shift needs an educational system that teaches kids to be gritty and passion, to look at the whole life as a long procedure rather than district moments, and to do their exercises every day like a marathon runner!

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Inequality and racism: How economic improvement can be helpful?

Today I have watched this video where Professor Chetty, Professor of Economics at Harvard explains how disadvantaged neighborhood amplify racial inequality. In my microaggression post, I asked the following question: why ethnic minority group or other groups who faced discrimination and microaggression do the same acts although they understand the bitterness of discrimination?

After watching that interview, I think maybe inequality and economic situation can explain part of the answer of the above question. Professor Chetty said in his interview, which is based on his recent paper, that kids who grow up in less advantaged neighborhood are less likely to go to college, find a decent job, and live in a better situation compare to their parents. His research is based on the “moving opportunity experiment” where several randomly selected households in less advantaged and poor neighborhood got “housing voucher” to move to better neighborhoods. The outcome of kids who move with their counterparts who do not have such opportunities reveals some shocking facts in about US society: the place you grew up is matter a lot. In economic literature, this fact is called as “inequality of opportunity (IOP).” Professor Chetty continued that this fact exacerbates situation of the African-american kids much than whites since there is a gap between black and white and as a result growing up in bad neighborhood makes this gap even worse. This fact, according to him, will be translated as racial inequality. As we all know, racial inequality can explain part of racism in society.

We all here some comments from even ordinary people, who think that they are not racist, that look, black people are troublesome, the crime rate is higher among black, or there are relatively more black people in jail compared with whites. These comments are all racist even though the teller of them don’t mind. Racial inequality and higher IOP among black is the main cause of those facts and if we want to solve the problem, we have to know and understand the cause of an issue rather than its consequences.

In my view, based on professor Chetty’s research, disadvantaged neighborhood amplifies racial inequality. Those african-american kids grow up in less advantaged and poor neighborhood don’t have any opportunity to learn about discrimination. They don’t have any good role model. They could not imagine to have a good career in future and they never learn about microaggression and this kind of stuff even thought they are the victims of racial inequality and discriminatory behaviors. So although, they are victims of microaggression behaviors, they may reproduce discriminatory behaviors facing with other minority groups and this cycle continues!

In conclusion, I think other than spreading knowledge about these issues (discrimination, racism, microaggression, ….) , we need think deeply about the main problem of the US society: Inequality of Opportunity. I think reduction of racial gap, income inequality, and gender gap can also be even more helpful to alleviate the microaggression problem.

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Iran Nuclear Deal: Physics, Politics and Diplomacy

The Middle East Working Group at Virginia Tech organized a panel discussion on the Iran Nuclear Deal on September 15. Along with Professor Djavad Salehi-Isfahani of the Economics department, Professor Paul Avey of the Political Science Department, Professor Patrick Huber of the Physics Department spoke to an audience of over hundred students and the general public about different aspects of the Iran Nuclear Deal known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) between the Western powers and Iran. Dr Bettina Koch of the Political Science Department was the moderator of the panel.

Dr. Avey kicked off the panel by explaining why countries may seek nuclear weapons – to increase their national power and to secure themselves from invasion by other countries.
He pointed out that with Pakistan and Israel in possession of nuclear weapons Iran has strong incentives to acquire nuclear weapons. In addition, since the 1979 revolution US has threatened Iran with regime change. After 9/11, President Bush put Iran on his axis of evil list, along with Iraq and North Korea. North Korea, which developed nuclear weapons has not been overthrown while, Iraq which did not, have been overthrown. Given these outcomes, developing nuclear weapons seems like an obvious choice to any rational actor.

The next speaker, Dr. Huber first explained the science of nuclear energy, noting that the knowledge required for producing electricity from nuclear energy is the same as that required to build weapons. In fact, the physics of nuclear energy for civilian use is the same as for non-civilian use! He primarily pointed out that the Iran nuclear deal severely reduces the ability of Iran to make a bomb since uranium enrichment is restricted to below 5%.

The last speaker, Dr. Salehi-Isfahani, explained how much of the controversy surrounding the deal is about the nature of Iran’s society and its politics. He argued that Iranians are divided over the economic benefits of the nuclear industry as well as over the value of projecting national power in the region or beyond. He said that the election of the moderate president Rouhani signified the preference of the average Iranian to win in what he called the “Quiet Game” rather than victory in some “Great Game.” [He borrowed this term from the wonderful book written by Peter Hopkirk on the geopolitics of Central Asia).
He said that nearly half of Iranians are now middle class; they want good schools, good health care, economic prosperity, and jobs. Dr. Salehi-Isfahani asserted that most Iranians would prefer to live in a country like Turkey that has a healthy economy but no nuclear weapons, than a country like Pakistan that has nuclear weapons but an ailing economy. Dr. Salehi said also that Rouhani administration needs to do lots of economic reforms to improve economy which is stagnant since 2011. For doing that, he needs money to inject to economy to bring back hope and economic prosperity to voters who will vote next February in Parliament election. This deal is a starting point for Rouhani to bring back economy to growth and prosperity path.

After Dr. Salehi’s talk, the audience asked their questions from the panelists. Audience questions ranged from the politics of the region, to what happened if Iran cheats? Also, Students are very curious about physics of nuclear energy that Dr. Huber addressed them. Another question is about difference of Europe vs. US in relation to the Iran nuclear deal. Dr Salehi pointed out that since Europe bares all the costs of the chaos in the Middle East, such as refugee crisis, its condition is different with US and Europe welcomes to the Iran nuclear deal very quickly.

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Microaggression

According to Wikipedia, Microaggression is a neologism to refer to “unintended discrimination.” I don’t hear about this term before that but I have taught a lot about this kind of discrimination: As a woman, as a Muslim, and as an international student. I have faced to Microaggression both in my own country, Iran, and here in the US. Here I try to write two examples I have experienced:

1) In Iran, Microaggression towards women are happened mostly in forms of sexism. I have studied my undergraduate at Sharif University of Technology. It is one of the most prestigious university in Iran in the field of engineering and mathematics. Since 1995, more and more girls are admitted to Sharif University, but still there is a stigma in the common culture that boys are much better than girls in mathematics and physics. This culture can be heard and seen in the University atmosphere as well. Although there is no “affirmative action” towards women and males and females are considered equally, those boys who are behind their girls counterparts try to demolish women’s success in different statements.

For instance some boys said, that girl is successful in math because she was beautiful and the professor likes her! some other people said, that female student is successful in that exam because she is bookworm! She is not genius at all, she just has a good memory and memorizes all problems and formulas! These kind of opinions are common during the time I was at Sharif and all the time those statements hurt me a lot. All of them are sexist one and I think they can be categorized as Microaggression. I am wondering after I move to the US that this kind of opinion can be seen here as well. It may not be as harsh as Iran but I feel that there is a tendency to describe as “males are better in Math, females are better in Art”. It is hurtful both for males and females. If a man loved cooking, he would be faced with sarcasm.

2) Last year, I lived at Cambridge MA. One day I was at Watertown, a small town close to Cambridge. I want to pass from the street from crosswalk. In front of me a white lady passes from that street too. A car passed by and the driver stopped for her. Since the car is stopped, I followed right behind the lady to pass the street. Once she passed, the driver pushed his foot on gas pedal and moved. I felt he would hit me and I went some steps back to avoid having an accident with the car while I was in the middle of street on crosswalk. The driver brought his head out of the car’s window and said to me: “This was for her, not you!” and he went on his way so fast. I was shocked about that behavior! I don’t know why he did that: Maybe because I wore headscarf and he hates Muslims, maybe because I am international and not the US citizen, or other reasons! I felt hurtful about that behavior but tried to be calm.

It is interesting to think that Microaggression sometimes happen from those people who face with those discrimination too! For instance some women express “sexist statement” while we know women are the main victim of gender discrimination. In my example, that guy, was an African-American and he has been discriminatory experiences due to the fact that he belongs to minority group in the US, but at the same time, he behaved badly with another person who has a common with him: belonging to minority group. This fact is much hurtful for me other than his behavior! This is a question that should be investigated by social scientists that why ethnic minority group or other groups who faced a lot with discrimination and microaggression do the same acts although they understand the bitterness of discrimination.

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