A Message From Our Executive Director, Michael P. Riccards

Dear Friends:

For over two months the Hall Institute website has been down as we repaired it for use.  It had been hacked into by a person or persons probably from the People’s Republic of China who decided to contaminate it with a computer virus that would have infected our users.  We are pleased to say that the problem has been rectified.

I am not sure why such a step was taken; perhaps it is just for the sake of doing it.  But we are back again, are pleased by your support, and remain committed to the free exercise of ideas at the Hall Institute.

NJSTARS and NJSTARS II – Keeping the Best and Brightest in New Jersey

By E. Michael Angulo, Esq.

New Jersey has a strong commitment to educational excellence.  Few states can compare with New Jersey in terms of the amount of resources devoted to high quality public education.  A highly educated populace is essential if New Jersey is going to sustain a robust workforce ready to compete in the global economy.

To this end, Governor Jon S. Corzine and the Legislature have supported the NJSTARS and NJSTARS II program to ensure that our best and brightest students, regardless of economic circumstances, are able to pursue their higher education in New Jersey.

First established in June 2004, the NJSTARS program covers tuition and approved fees for attendance at a New Jersey community college for students graduating in the top 15 percent of their high school class.   NJSTARS recognizes the importance of acquiring an education beyond the high school level, the need to produce and retain a well-trained and educated workforce, and the ability of the State’s community colleges to strengthen the State’s economy.  Since 2004, nearly $35 million has been awarded under the program.

In an effort to encourage and assist NJSTARS students to obtain their four-year degree in State, in 2006, the NJSTARS II program was created.  The NJSTARS II program allows NJSTARS students graduating with at least a 3.25 grade point average (GPA) from their community college to continue their education at a four-year public college in New Jersey.  To date, over $8.7 million in NJSTARS II scholarships have been awarded.  Under NJSTARS II, awards are based on tuition; however, for students receiving a Tuition Aid Grant, the award is based on tuition and approved fees.  Award amounts are also based on the student’s GPA. Students with a GPA between 3.25 and 3.50 can receive up to $6,000 per year and those who have GPAs greater than a 3.5 can receive up to $7,000 per year.

To address the unprecedented growth of the NJSTARS and NJSTARS II programs, in 2008, the programs were modified to enhance eligibility requirements and to make the program fiscally sustainable particularly in the face of the State’s difficult budget situation.  The changes to the NJSTARS program include:

  • Covering up to 18 credits per semester for those students who choose to accelerate their degree program
  • No longer funding remedial course work
  • Requiring students to pass an academic placement exam
  • Imposing a income cap of $250,000 on families

Changes to NJSTARS II includes:

  • Applying a tiered scholarship amount based on GPA
  • Limiting the obligation of participating State and public colleges to 50% of the NJSTARS II scholarship
  • Imposing a $250,000 family impose cap

Analysis of NJSTARS students shows their performance, as measured by grade point average and the number of degree credits earned, is higher than other full-time students at New Jersey institutions.  NJSTARS scholars also show a higher retention rate than their peers.  Most importantly, the majority of these high achieving students are expected to remain in New Jersey after graduation, sustaining our highly educated workforce, and investing in the State.  Through programs like NJSTARS and NJSTARS II, New Jersey is in a strong position to compete globally in the 21st century.

# # #

E. Michael Angulo, Esq., is Executive Director of the New Jersey Higher Education Student Assistance Authority Since 1959, the Authority, which administers the NJSTARS and NJSTARS II programs, has delivered over $18 billion in state and federal financial aid for more than 1 million students.  Annually, HESAA presents workshops, training programs and other outreach events to thousands of students, parents, guidance counselors and financial aid professionals in an effort to help them understand the benefits of higher education in New Jersey and the resources available to make that education affordable.

Education is Changing

By AJ Kelton
Education is changing. The days filled with students facing front, teachers doing all the talking, and books and pencils the only tools of the educational process are not just now starting to decline, they are well into decline. Find the most talented teacher, K-12 or higher education, and ask if s/he only lectures to students or tries to engage them. Certainly issues of crumbling buildings and poor infrastructure need to be addressed, but we cannot overlook technology, existing and emerging, as an equal player at the table.

Many of us did not have computers when we were in high school, let alone 1st grade. The world is a dramatically different place now and we make note of this all the time. When was the last time you turned to another adult and said, “These kids are so much smarter than we were”? They are. And they want to learn. But they do not want to learn the way you and I did; they want, and need, to learn differently.

Our students today are going to be the ones who have to figure out how to get us all out of the messes we have created. In order to help them we need to invest in technology infrastructure for our educational facilities, libraries, and homes. We need to find and encourage use of the hands-on technology that will let these brilliant minds develop and grow.

New construction must be designed with a technology infrastructure that is given equal and important consideration at the earliest stages of planning. All too often, technology is tossed in at the end, once all the plans are already in motion. Everything, from network traffic to electrical supply and jack availability to standard computer hardware, needs to be planned and budgeted for at the onset and with the same maintenance considerations as other essential infrastructure.

What applications our students will be using on our networks is a completely different animal. The world of technology changes quickly. Who would have thought a few short years ago that we would be looking at mobile technology and virtual worlds as a raising tide that lifts all technology boats?

From the days of Flash Gordon, Dick Tracy, and Star Trek, future inhabitants have been walking around with access to technology at their fingertips. One only need look at Apple’s iPhone to see a modern-day Communicator and Tricorder wrapped up in one. The idea that mobile technology would drive the marketplace so heavily was a distant thought not all that long ago. In the meantime, today we all iPhone and Blackberry our way through our workday, while students begin to do the same through their school workday.

So when you hear that virtual worlds are a growing market in the educational industry and have begun to provide exceptional learning experiences for students from many age ranges and from around the world, don’t wonder where your flying car is. We were all promised flying cars by the 21st-century, right?

Well, in virtual worlds, such as the very popular Second Life, we can have flying cars. But virtual environments are so much more than a frivolous place where “games” are played. Educators from all over the globe are finding amazing ways to engage students using a combination of the virtual and non-virtual worlds. Whether it’s a replica of a working heart one can walk through, a recreation of the Sistine Chapel, or a tour through a psychiatric ward hearing and seeing what a schizophrenic patient experiences, virtual worlds seem to be limited only by one’s imagination.

Although not the only virtual world being used for educational purposes, Second Life is currently the most widely used by a large margin. According to its main web page, http://www.secondlife.com, “Second Life is an online, 3D virtual world imagined and created by its Residents.” After signing up for a free membership (paid memberships with a few benefits are available but not required), and downloading the application to a computer, one creates an “avatar”, or 3D representation of oneself. The ability to customize the avatar in more ways than one can imagine is something that has attracted so many people to this virtual world.

Aside from flying cars, or even flying without cars, avatars can communicate with others, visit virtual places all designed and created by other “residents”, hold meetings, go to musical and artists performances, and even engage in micro transactions between individuals.

Second Life first became available to the public in 2003. On average, ten to fifteen thousand new avatars (accounts) are created each day and fifty thousand unique individuals are signed in to the Second Life grid at any given time, with a peak number recently exceeding seventy thousand. Over one million U.S. dollars are transacted each day in the Second Life economy. Although educational use makes up a small but growing percentage of the Second Life user base, there are well over three hundred self-identified educational institutions internationally with some kind of involvement in Second Life.

Second Life is designed specifically for adults, defined as those eighteen years old and older. This does not mean that those under eighteen are left out in the cold by the folks at Linden Lab, creators of Second Life. A few years back Linden Lab created Teen Second Life, a very carefully controlled and protected environment for those between the ages of thirteen and seventeen. A small number of middle and high schools in the U.S. have invested in creating a secure, school-only location for their students. An example of one assignment comes from the Suffern Middle School in the Ramapo School District. Students were asked to change their avatar’s appearance to reflect first on how they see themselves and then how they think society sees the idealized appearance of the gender they selected. This allowed for a rich and exciting discussion on how advertising and society impact not just what we do but even how we choose to look.

Aside from the educational uses of virtual worlds, there are practical design and architectural uses as well. Virtual environments have become an exceptional place to create, in advance, a planned non-virtual world space and allow users to experience it beyond the single dimension of drawings and blueprints. Imagine being able to build a technology-rich classroom, an innovatively designed library, a planned renovation of a current space or even a new construction, and then letting visitors, via an avatar experience that space. This is not the stuff that wild imaginations are dreaming of. This is happening in real time, right now.

At this point you may be scratching your head and thinking “Is this for real?” or “Where did this come from and how did I miss it?” The fact is that these types of environments have been around for decades. Educators, geeks, and kids have been using multi-user environments for as long as networks have allowed text to flow back and forth. More recently, while some have gotten into the fantasy role-playing environment of World of Warcraft, others have sat with their children and marveled as they engaged with their non-virtual and virtual Webkinz companion. If you are not sure what Webkinz is, ask almost anyone who has a young child or grandchild.

Whether its Webkinz by Ganz, Club Barbie by Mattel, or any of the many Disney virtual worlds our children are playing in these days, those same children are going to eventually bring this expectation for interactive and engaging learning environments to our schools. Trends in virtual worlds, as charted by companies like Virtual Worlds Management, show clear evidence that this is not a passing fad. Some folks at Princeton, Rutgers, Seton Hall, Kean, and Montclair State have also seen the handwriting on the virtual wall and have begun to experiment with learning and teaching in the virtual environment of Second Life. At Montclair State University, for example, a wide variety of subjects have used Second Life as a learning and teaching tool, including: Composition, Counseling, History, Law, Literacy, Literature, Media, and the New Student Experience. Even the Residence Life division has begun to experiment with using Second Life to reach a variety of students.

From a few visits to experience something not possible in the non-virtual world, to using the virtual environment to enhance distance and online learning, we are looking at the beginnings of a whole new world; a virtual one at the very least. The question becomes, who will be left wondering why or how some other college, school, library, or organization got the jump on this?

AJ Kelton is the Director of Emerging Instructional Technology for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, as well as the Second Life Project Coordinator for the College of Education and Human Services, both at Montclair State University. Mr. Kelton is the author of the recent article “Virtual Worlds? ‘Outlook Good’”, published by the EDUCAUSE Review and he is the owner of AFK Consulting, a company dedicated to providing services in support of virtual worlds, social media and networking, and Web 2.0 initiatives.

Financing federally guaranteed student loans: No need for a “man in the middle”

By Linda Stamato

Gail Collins sums up federal student loan finance in “When Sallie Met Barack” on May 28, 2009, in The New York Times, like this:

We the taxpayers pay the banks to make loans to students.

We the taxpayers then guarantee the loans so the banks won’t lose money if the students don’t pay.

We the taxpayers then buy back the loans from the banks so they can make more loans to students, for which we will then pay them more rewards.

Are you with me so far? Wait, I see a hand waving back there. What’s that, sir? You want to know why the government doesn’t just lend the money out itself? Excellent question!”

The Obama Administration has the answer. It wants to alter the way things are being done. It has proposed scrapping the guaranteed loan program entirely, such that all federal loans would be made directly by the government. This step would save billions of dollars in subsidy payments to lenders, making it possible, then, among other things, to redirect money to pay for expanded grant aid to needy students.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, replacing subsidized loans made by private banks with direct government lending would save $94 billion over the next decade.

Given the huge sums that are profited by private banks and other lenders in the current arrangement, there is significant resistance to the proposal.

In place for decades, the subsidized loan system enables private lenders to collect hefty fees on loans that are risk-free because the government guarantees repayment up to 97 percent. Under the subsidized loan program, the government pays lenders like Citigroup, Bank of America and Sallie Mae, with both the subsidy and the maximum interest rate for borrowers set by Congress. Students are steered to the government’s direct program or to outside lenders, depending on their school’s preference.

Proposing to change things, unsurprisingly, has ignited a contentious policy fight in Congress. Making spending on Pell grants mandatory limits congressional control. As a consequence, powerful appropriators are balking at it, especially those lawmakers from districts where lenders are big employers and big campaign contributors.

At the same time, the private loan industry, which would be nowhere without the government rescue last year, is lobbying aggressively. After all, preserving programs that generate huge profits with little risk are worth defending!

Student loans have become an indispensable tool for families trying to pay the soaring cost of higher education which, at some private colleges and universities, now tops $50,000 a year. The types of loans
available fall into three general categories: federally guaranteed loans made by banks and other lenders; federal direct loans made directly by the government; and private loans, which are essentially
the same as any other consumer loan, from banks and other companies.

The interest rate paid by students on both guaranteed loans and direct loans is fixed and is set by Congress. In the case of guaranteed loans, the government pays a subsidy to lenders that make the loans
and also guarantees the amounts loaned, almost completely protecting lenders from losses. Private loans usually have worse terms than either type of federal loan and the interest rates on private loans can change over time. (To learn more about loan terms, please see the Student Loan Guide.)

More recently, in 2008, student lending has been shaken by the credit crisis, which threatened to cut off the supply of student loans from private lenders by depriving them of a means of raising fresh capital.
Many lenders depended on being able to sell loans they made in order to get money to make new loans, and investors’ interest in buying student loans, along with home loans and all manner of debt, fell dramatically. To bolster the industry, the federal government stepped in as a buyer of federally guaranteed loans.

With the government directly or indirectly financing virtually all federal student loans because of the current financial crisis, is there any reason to continue a program that was intended to inject private capital into the education lending system?

Need more to be persuaded? Try the following:

Sallie Mae, the giant student lender, reported that despite losing $213 million in 2008, it paid its chief executive more than $4.6 million in cash and stock and its vice chairman more than $13.2 million in cash and stock, including the use of a company plane. The company, which did not receive money under the $700 billion financial system bailout and is not subject to pay restrictions, also disbursed cash bonuses of up to $600,000 to other executives. Sallie Mae said that executive compensation was lower in 2008 than 2007 and that the stock awards were worthless in the current market.

I know it’s often tough to change the way things are done, entrenched interests being what they are and all that. But surely we can recognize that we don’t have to pay transaction costs of substantial amounts, like that $94 billion above, in order to get money into the hands of eligible students. We get monies to recipients of Social Security and Medicare without middlemen, don’t we? Further, the United States Department of Education makes a lot of direct loans to students already, so it’s not as though a new and costly infrastructure would have to be created.

The student loan program needs a major overhaul. Let’s get to it.


POST SCRIPT

A selection of comments on Collins’ column follow. For more, visit this site:

Privatization of inherent government functions (ie. student loans) is a big scam. It’s a jobs program for politically connected middlemen who do absolutely nothing but gouge broke students and taxpayers with no risk to themselves. If they charged the same rate as government student loans they might serve a useful function because it would make more money available.
–Johnny E, Texas

Thank you, Gail Collins, for pointing out how outrageous the student loan industry is. There is no reason for the federal government not to lend the money directly–except, of course, for the fact that the middlemen are making a killing and are using their profits to buy Congressmen. Student loans are a boon for private lenders because it is virtually impossible to discharge them in bankruptcy. It’s also appalling that the Stafford interest rate hovers around 6-7% even though the Fed has lowered interest rates essentially to zero.
–Marie, Philadelphia

This is the way that political corruption in America works. The logical solution is to get private lenders out of the business. The political solution is to let them stay.
— marik7, Wailuku, HI.

Can Politics Learn A Lesson from Academia?

By Richard A. Lee

At this time of the year, as we attend graduation ceremonies for family and friends and reflect upon the messages offered by commencement speakers, we may want to think about the world of politics for a moment.  There may be a lesson or two we can learn from the manner in which our colleges and universities operate.

A graduation is a happy event that marks the successful conclusion of an academic experience. Students celebrate their accomplishments and accept congratulations as they bid farewell to school.

Contrast graduations with how our elected officials leave the world of politics. Sometimes the end comes at the conclusion of a bitter election campaign. For others, it is an arrest, an indictment or an embarrassing personal revelation that brings a career to a sudden close.  Although there are some elected officials who leave the public spotlight on their own terms, they are few and far between. And many of those who “retire” and choose not to seek re-election are pushed to their decisions – by the threat of a primary challenge, sinking poll numbers, or a phone call from a powerful county chairman.

More often than not, the end of a political career is not something we celebrate with same enthusiasm as the end of an academic career. Let’s explore why.

For starters, education is something that generally takes place over a set period of time, with a defined starting point, a goal and a scheduled end point: four years to earn a diploma and a degree, and then move on. Political careers have less structure.  They have starting points, but the goals are not always clear, and they may differ substantially, depending on an elected official’s political party. For those in legislative bodies like ours in New Jersey, there is no planned end point — nor is there a specific goal akin to graduating — since there are no term limits. For those in places with term limits, there are aspirations to higher offices that blur or erase the end points.

Taking things a little further, there is a progression that takes place from year to year in education. Students enter as freshman and learn the ropes before they are accorded the privileges of upper classmen.  In state legislatures and Congress, freshman lawmakers have the same duties and responsibilities as colleagues who have been in office for a decade or more. Their votes carry the same weight, even though they have far less experience and institutional knowledge.

Schools also have standards for admission. They consider test scores, transcripts and other factors to ensure they have the best and brightest in their institutions. But there are no educational standards required to get one’s name on the ballot. An ample number of signatures on a petition is about all that is needed to do the trick. Lawmakers make critical decisions on issues that directly impact the quality of our lives, such as fiscal policy, education and healthcare. Yet there is no requirement that the men and women making these decisions have demonstrated the intellect to address them.

Lastly, academic institutions are very good at weeding out students who fail to cut the mustard. In fact, students can flunk out after just one semester. But once lawmakers take office — barring an extraordinary event – they are there for the full term, regardless of how they perform.

So should places such as New Jersey incorporate elements of academia into their governments? Should lawmakers’ official duties and responsibilities vary with experience? Should we set educational standards for holding office? Or establish term limits so lawmakers have clearly defined end points and goals?

No, we are not ready for such drastic changes, and the truth is we may never be. Politics and education are different fields that serve different functions in society. But there is a value in examining successful models from other disciplines to learn how others approach challenges and build foundation for success.

A few years ago, political scientist Larry Sabato wrote a book titled A More Perfect Constitution in which he laid out 23 proposals to re-invent federal government. The suggestions were bold and radical. They called for changing the structure of the House and Senate, establishing a new, six-year, one-time presidential term, and overhauling the primary system that political parties use to select their candidates for president.

Odds are Sabato’s proposals are too extreme and too controversial to gain widespread support, but they do provide a starting place for the constructive dialogue and conversation we need to change things for the better. Likewise, we are not about to re-model government after colleges and universities, but if the concept sparks debate and discussion, perhaps it can lead to something good.

# # #

Our Best Novels

By Michael P. Riccards

You know a nation by its literature, and some years ago the Modern Library outlined the 100 best novels along side a reader’s list of the same. On top of the literary masterpieces was of course James Joyce’s Ulysses, the Irish comedy that uses the Homeric skelton and runs through a day in the life of a modern man. Frankly it is barely readable and is full of puns and allusions. But college professors like it as do newspaper critics and it has had a tremendous impact on other authors including Samuel Becket and William Faulkner. Joyce is followed by F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tale of class, woe and wealth, The Great Gatsby with some of the most overblown rhetoric we have in our language is considered the American classic. Joyce follows also with his Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, growing up sensitive in Dublin. That is followed by Lolita and in a very different vein Aldus Huxley, Brave New World –a frightening portrait of what is to come. Number 7 is Joseph Heller’s Catch -22 a comic novel about war and the meaningless of life. Then the list includes the frightening commentary of communism by Arthur Koester’s Darkness at Noon; the sensual Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence, and then the socially aching Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

The Readers’ List is some what different with the works of Ayn Rand, Ron Hubbard, J.R. R. Tolkien, George Orwell, and Frank Herbert. Readers are more into illusion and fantasy than critics. And after the collapse of the market and the wild west of individualism perhaps Ayn Rand will be delegated to the ashcan of history where she so rightful belongs.

The twentieth century was one of elegance followed by catastrophe, of sensuality followed by a frightening cheapening of the human spirit. Novelists let us see that in rough and condescending ways we may never fully understand at first.

See the Modern Library (http://www.randomhouse.com/modernlibrary/100bestnovels.html) list below:

Board’s List
1. ULYSSES by James Joyce
2. THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
3. A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN by James Joyce
4. LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov
5. BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley
6. THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner
7. CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller
8. DARKNESS AT NOON by Arthur Koestler
9. SONS AND LOVERS by D.H. Lawrence
10. THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck
11. UNDER THE VOLCANO by Malcolm Lowry
12. THE WAY OF ALL FLESH by Samuel Butler
13. 1984 by George Orwell
14. I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves
15. TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf
16. AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY by Theodore Dreiser
17. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers
18. SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut
19. INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison
20. NATIVE SON by Richard Wright
21. HENDERSON THE RAIN KING by Saul Bellow
22. APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA by John O’Hara
23. U.S.A. (trilogy) by John Dos Passos
24. WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson
25. A PASSAGE TO INDIA by E.M. Forster
26. THE WINGS OF THE DOVE by Henry James
27. THE AMBASSADORS by Henry James
28. TENDER IS THE NIGHT by F. Scott Fitzgerald
29. THE STUDS LONIGAN TRILOGY by James T. Farrell
30. THE GOOD SOLDIER by Ford Madox Ford
31. ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell
32. THE GOLDEN BOWL by Henry James
33. SISTER CARRIE by Theodore Dreiser
34. A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh
35. AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner
36. ALL THE KING’S MEN by Robert Penn Warren
37. THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY by Thornton Wilder
38. HOWARDS END by E.M. Forster
39. GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN by James Baldwin
40. THE HEART OF THE MATTER by Graham Greene
41. LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding
42. DELIVERANCE by James Dickey
43. A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME (series) by Anthony Powell
44. POINT COUNTER POINT by Aldous Huxley
45. THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway
46. THE SECRET AGENT by Joseph Conrad
47. NOSTROMO by Joseph Conrad
48. THE RAINBOW by D.H. Lawrence
49. WOMEN IN LOVE by D.H. Lawrence
50. TROPIC OF CANCER by Henry Miller
51. THE NAKED AND THE DEAD by Norman Mailer
52. PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT by Philip Roth
53. PALE FIRE by Vladimir Nabokov
54. LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner
55. ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac
56. THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett
57. PARADE’S END by Ford Madox Ford
58. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE by Edith Wharton
59. ZULEIKA DOBSON by Max Beerbohm
60. THE MOVIEGOER by Walker Percy
61. DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP by Willa Cather
62. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY by James Jones
63. THE WAPSHOT CHRONICLES by John Cheever
64. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger
65. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess
66. OF HUMAN BONDAGE by W. Somerset Maugham
67. HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad
68. MAIN STREET by Sinclair Lewis
69. THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Edith Wharton
70. THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET by Lawrence Durell
71. A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA by Richard Hughes
72. A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS by V.S. Naipaul
73. THE DAY OF THE LOCUST by Nathanael West
74. A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway
75. SCOOP by Evelyn Waugh
76. THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE by Muriel Spark
77. FINNEGANS WAKE by James Joyce
78. KIM by Rudyard Kipling
79. A ROOM WITH A VIEW by E.M. Forster
80. BRIDESHEAD REVISITED by Evelyn Waugh
81. THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH by Saul Bellow
82. ANGLE OF REPOSE by Wallace Stegner
83. A BEND IN THE RIVER by V.S. Naipaul
84. THE DEATH OF THE HEART by Elizabeth Bowen
85. LORD JIM by Joseph Conrad
86. RAGTIME by E.L. Doctorow
87. THE OLD WIVES’ TALE by Arnold Bennett
88. THE CALL OF THE WILD by Jack London
89. LOVING by Henry Green
90. MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN by Salman Rushdie
91. TOBACCO ROAD by Erskine Caldwell
92. IRONWEED by William Kennedy
93. THE MAGUS by John Fowles
94. WIDE SARGASSO SEA by Jean Rhys
95. UNDER THE NET by Iris Murdoch
96. SOPHIE’S CHOICE by William Styron
97. THE SHELTERING SKY by Paul Bowles
98. THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE by James M. Cain
99. THE GINGER MAN by J.P. Donleavy
100. THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS by Booth Tarkington
Reader’s List
1. ATLAS SHRUGGED by Ayn Rand
2. THE FOUNTAINHEAD by Ayn Rand
3. BATTLEFIELD EARTH by L. Ron Hubbard
4. THE LORD OF THE RINGS by J.R.R. Tolkien
5. TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee
6. 1984 by George Orwell
7. ANTHEM by Ayn Rand
8. WE THE LIVING by Ayn Rand
9. MISSION EARTH by L. Ron Hubbard
10. FEAR by L. Ron Hubbard
11. ULYSSES by James Joyce
12. CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller
13. THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
14. DUNE by Frank Herbert
15. THE MOON IS A HARSH MISTRESS by Robert Heinlein
16. STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND by Robert Heinlein
17. A TOWN LIKE ALICE by Nevil Shute
18. BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley
19. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger
20. ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell
21. GRAVITY’S RAINBOW by Thomas Pynchon
22. THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck
23. SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut
24. GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell
25. LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding
26. SHANE by Jack Schaefer
27. TRUSTEE FROM THE TOOLROOM by Nevil Shute
28. A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY by John Irving
29. THE STAND by Stephen King
30. THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT’S WOMAN by John Fowles
31. BELOVED by Toni Morrison
32. THE WORM OUROBOROS by E.R. Eddison
33. THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner
34. LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov
35. MOONHEART by Charles de Lint
36. ABSALOM, ABSALOM! by William Faulkner
37. OF HUMAN BONDAGE by W. Somerset Maugham
38. WISE BLOOD by Flannery O’Connor
39. UNDER THE VOLCANO by Malcolm Lowry
40. FIFTH BUSINESS by Robertson Davies
41. SOMEPLACE TO BE FLYING by Charles de Lint
42. ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac
43. HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad
44. YARROW by Charles de Lint
45. AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS by H.P. Lovecraft
46. ONE LONELY NIGHT by Mickey Spillane
47. MEMORY AND DREAM by Charles de Lint
48. TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf
49. THE MOVIEGOER by Walker Percy
50. TRADER by Charles de Lint
51. THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY by Douglas Adams
52. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers
53. THE HANDMAID’S TALE by Margaret Atwood
54. BLOOD MERIDIAN by Cormac McCarthy
55. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess
56. ON THE BEACH by Nevil Shute
57. A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN by James Joyce
58. GREENMANTLE by Charles de Lint
59. ENDER’S GAME by Orson Scott Card
60. THE LITTLE COUNTRY by Charles de Lint
61. THE RECOGNITIONS by William Gaddis
62. STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert Heinlein
63. THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway
64. THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP by John Irving
65. SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES by Ray Bradbury
66. THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson
67. AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner
68. TROPIC OF CANCER by Henry Miller
69. INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison
70. THE WOOD WIFE by Terri Windling
71. THE MAGUS by John Fowles
72. THE DOOR INTO SUMMER by Robert Heinlein
73. ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE by Robert Pirsig
74. I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves
75. THE CALL OF THE WILD by Jack London
76. AT SWIM-TWO-BIRDS by Flann O’Brien
77. FARENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury
78. ARROWSMITH by Sinclair Lewis
79. WATERSHIP DOWN by Richard Adams
80. NAKED LUNCH by William S. Burroughs
81. THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER by Tom Clancy
82. GUILTY PLEASURES by Laurell K. Hamilton
83. THE PUPPET MASTERS by Robert Heinlein
84. IT by Stephen King
85. V. by Thomas Pynchon
86. DOUBLE STAR by Robert Heinlein
87. CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY by Robert Heinlein
88. BRIDESHEAD REVISITED by Evelyn Waugh
89. LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner
90. ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST by Ken Kesey
91. A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway
92. THE SHELTERING SKY by Paul Bowles
93. SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION by Ken Kesey
94. MY ANTONIA by Willa Cather
95. MULENGRO by Charles de Lint
96. SUTTREE by Cormac McCarthy
97. MYTHAGO WOOD by Robert Holdstock
98. ILLUSIONS by Richard Bach
99. THE CUNNING MAN by Robertson Davies
100. THE SATANIC VERSES by Salman Rushdie

Trying To Remember What Causes Brain Damage: This is Your Brain on Poverty

By Jarrett Chapin

If we suppose that intellectual aptitude is the result of teaching, we may be partially wrong. Likewise, if we believe that economics and socio-environmental conditions are responsible for quantifiable intellect then we might only be somewhat right. Such are the implications of various bits of research that, over the past decade, has suggested that socioeconomic status (SES) bears considerably on the ability of children growing up in low (LSES) or high (HSES) socioeconomic environments. Although cognitive science and public fiscal policy may seem to have only tentative links at times, in education they dovetail splendidly.

You may prefer, for instance, that former account of aptitude, “aptitude is the result of teaching,” you might understand “reform” to be a function of staffing or certification. It would follow then that the dysfunction in our American schools can be solved by either reforming the process of certification for teachers, devising ways of ferreting out poor educators in our school system with a system of performance-based pay incentives and deprivations, or the reallocation of good teachers who tend to migrate to suburban middleclass schools.

On the other hand, if you, a social critic, prefer the idea “that economics and socio- environmental conditions are responsible for quantifiable intellect” then one favors reforms like after school programs, Head Start, welfare assistance, and environmental improvement i.e., school construction and community rehabilitation.

On both accounts, according to a growing population of researchers in various fields, we may be wrong. Not completely wrong, but wrong nonetheless. And being incorrect in our assumptions, in this case, would mean spending on facets of education reform which bear little effect on the real education problems of LSES children. Correct spending suggests targeting areas in the sphere of education that are usually understood to be outliers or ancillary elements.

Researchers from Cornell University, Gary Evans and Michelle Shamberg, and in another study Mark Kishiyama and associates from the University of California, Berkeley, have suggested that it is not simply poverty but the consequent stress indicative of poverty that diminishes the aptitude of LSES children. They suggest that the education problems of LSES children are neurological as much as they are environmental. Both the Berkeley and Cornell studies build upon the work of Martha J. Farah and associates at the University of Pennsylvania who seem to have been the first to transpose SES onto neurophysiology to make this argument. In 2005, Dr. Farah, joined by Kimberly G. Noble and Hallam Hurt produced a study, one of several authored by Farah, that seeks to change the way we think about the performance of students and the solutions on which we are willing to spend money.

The first stage of the University of Pennsylvania study was an attempt to describe and account for lower neurocognitive performance between 30 LSES and 30 middle SES (MSES) public school kindergarteners. Designed to “assess the functioning of five key neurocognitive systems” such as spatial and visual cognition, cognitive control, language, and memory, the Berkeley researchers found that MSES children scored a standard deviation higher than LSES children in language tests and two-thirds of a standard deviation higher for “executive function” mentioned before as “cognitive control.” In most of the tests, spatial and visual results became irrelevant.

It is interesting that test scores are interpreted neurophysiologically, i.e., a test of “Language” becomes a test of the “left perisylvian cortical region” just as a test of working memory becomes a test of the “prefrontal cortex.”[1] On this note, the original test of memory was a test of the medial temporal cortical region, a region where the hippocampus is located, the hippocampus being responsible for the creation of long term memories.

To support the assumption about the socioenvironmental effect of stress hormones on brain anatomy and function, the researchers cite a laboratory experiment in which rat pups are separated from their rat mothers. The separation, it seems, adds rodent sized emphasis to the theory that stress can cause brain damage. The separation of rat pups from their mothers, according to researchers Meany, Diorno, and Francis, was found to have altered both anatomy and function in their rat brains and had a particular effect on “the medial temporal area needed for memory, although prefrontal systems involved in the regulation of the stress response are also impacted.”[2] Farah, Noble, and Hurt suppose that, similarly, living in low socioeconomic environments produces the kind of stress which, as did the stress of separation experienced by rats in the experiment above mentioned, damages human brains. Such stressful stimuli, according to the researchers, might include: “concern about providing for basic family needs, dangerous neighborhoods, and little control over one’s work life.”[3]

The research leads us to adopt a theory that high stress in LSES environments produces greater amounts of stress hormones like cortisol, a secretion from the adrenal gland that affects blood pressure and insulin levels, and catecholamine, also an adrenal secretion responsible for preparing the body for the “fight-or-flight” response. Stress hormones in large amounts are thought to cause a deregulation of blood pressure and the immune system but also to the prefrontal cortex and the medial cortex which contains hippocampus, the organ responsible for the creation of long term memories. The University of Pennsylvania researchers suppose that the cognitive disparities they found between LSES and MSES children in all three experiments can be accounted for in this way.

Because they preferred this particular interpretive model, one which posits that stress hormones cause brain damage, researchers find evidence of both medial temporal as well as prefrontal damage in their LSES subjects. Having found such evidence, it would have followed—or it would have at least been very suggestive—that something in a LSES subject’s background causes brain damage. However, at the experiment’s conclusion researchers did not find the evidence they anticipated. Instead, they found that LSES subjects differed little from MSES subjects in all but two categories, language (left perisylvian cortical region), and executive function or cognitive control, (prefrontal cortex).

Having found no memory deficiency with regard to the medial temporal region, researchers seem to have decided instead to mine memory from the prefrontal cortex whereon LSES subjects scored one-third lower than MSES subjects—not quite as low as LSES scored in language. Prefrontal or executive function was thus split into 3 different categories, cognitive control, reward processing, and most important, working memory. Not surprising, researchers also tried to induce a memory response in the medial temporal lobe (memory) by placing a delay between the stimulus and the response portion of the experiment with the hope that such a delay would give LSES subjects ample time to forget.

Hoping to replicate their findings in the prefrontal and left perisylvian region, researchers conducted two more experiments, one on 150 first graders “of varying ethnicities” and SES backgrounds, and one on of 60 middle school students divided, as were the subjects of the first study, into equal parts LSES and MSES. In both of the latter studies, LSES subject’s scores were similar to those in the first round. Researchers thus concluded that it is that stress affects working memory and that, perhaps, is the cause of lowered ability in larger numbers of LSES subjects.

In their account of the correlation of LSES and low achievement, Evans and Schamberg lean heavily on a model developed by researcher Bruce S. McEwen who supposes that stress hormones like cortisol, which may help the body respond and adapt to various environmental stimuli, may also build up under prolonged strain causing long term physical damage in conditions of perpetual stress, just like the rats in the study described by the University of Pennsylvania study.[4] McEwen calls the effects of perpetual or “chronic stress,” “allostatic load” which can be described as a weakening of health marked by a prolonged secretion of survival hormones. Hormones or “physiological mediators,” like emergency switches or rocket packs for movie heroes, allow humans to adapt to new conditions and rise to challenges that are taxing to our bodies and minds. Cortisol, for instance, can provide a burst of energy in a dangerous moment or make you intellectually sharper when you are confronted with an emergent problem. In high doses, cortisol can overtax the body and cause effects like cognitive impairment and obesity. Wrote McEwan in 2000, “Both cortisol and catecholamines are mediators of the adaptation of many systems of the body to acute challenges, while, at the same time, these mediators also participate in pathological changes over long periods of time ranging from immunosuppression to obesity, hypertension, and atherosclerosis.”

Based upon McEwan’s account, Evans and Schamberg suppose that the frequency of accumulated stress varies by the duration of childhood poverty which in turn can be correlated positively with lowered working memory capacity in adult life. This thesis, combined with an examination of longitudinal data derived from a study of 195 white young adults, led the researchers to suggest that the working memory of an adult from a LSES background is quantifiably affected by stress. Evans and Schamberg conclude that, “on average, poor adults raised in middle-income families could hold in working memory a sequence of 9.44 items, whereas poor adults who grew up in poverty had a working memory capacity of 8.50 items.”[5]

The researchers do entertain the possibility that their findings might be indicative of a reversed situation wherein decreased memory ability is what causes the prolonged stress or allostatic load “poverty–>working memory–>allostatic load,” rather than poverty–>allostatic load–>working memory. They entertain this idea, but not for long as they insist that the inferential links between allostatic load and working memory are very suggestive of the former causal chain, that the stress of poverty causes lowered working memory. Further, the researchers add, “the relationship between duration of childhood poverty and allostatic load was not attenuated when working memory was partialed from the equation.” Said simply, if lowered working memory, rather than poverty, was indeed the cause of stress observed in the data, then the elimination of working memory, in particular places of the sample, should have removed instances of allostatic load. It did not.

Mark Kishiyama and his research associates from the University of California, Berkeley, have produced a behavioral experiment for which 26 children from LSES and HSES backgrounds were fitted with electrodes and asked to perform various cognitive feats. Taking also the University of Pennsylvania study as a research benchmark, the Berkeley researchers used Electroencephalography (EEG) equipment in an attempt to find behavioral data to support the poverty-neurocognition correlation and to confine the problem, as did the prior pair of researchers, to the prefrontal cortex.[6] Though researchers admit the limitations of a largely behavioral test, the study is an advance over prior studies because it uses brain imaging to show more concretely what other experimenters only supposed by projecting onto human brains, the theories of other researchers derived from the brains of rats. That is, imaging actually showed on video monitors, the degree of prefrontal activity of each subject.

On the 5 tests issued, HSES subjects scored significantly higher than LSES subjects who, for the most part, scored within the predetermined mean. LSES subjects, in other words, performed many of the tasks with average or near average aptitude. For instance, on a test which required subjects to count forward and then in reverse as means of testing their working memory, “digit span,” HSES children scored higher than 1 standard deviation over the predetermined mean. LSES subjects achieved mean scores on the low end. Another test of working memory included a verbal component, “semantic fluency,” a test in which subjects were required produce all the words they could conjure in order to satisfy a cue from proctors, i.e., the names of animals, food, or words that begin with “sh.” HSES subjects excelled in the semantic fluency test, but seem to glow brightest in the area of language overall. In a general “language” test, subjects were asked simply to define words. HSES children scored as high as 2 standard deviations above the mean; LSES children scored 1 standard deviation below.

The tests may have shown HSES children to be semi-savants when it comes to counting backwards and forwards, though in regard to the poverty-neurocognition correlation, the experiment failed to prove that LSES subjects had their prefrontal cortices wounded by their SES. Their scores were average but not indicative of brain damage and the only thing that seems to wound them was the comparison to HSES children.

Of course the researchers insist that their experiment on 26 children drawn only from the Bay Area confirms that SES bears neurophysiologically on the prefrontal function in the brains of children. However, these researchers do not seem to have transcended a theory built upon observations of rat pups. They note themselves that behavioral tests can only prove so much about the neurological operations as “they provide only indirect measures of brain function.” And, as the authors also note, they have not completely isolated the observed effects to “prefrontal dysfunction.” In a sense, they are no closer to proving the poverty-neurocognition correlation than the University of Pennsylvania researchers who preceded them.

If the Berkeley study demonstrated anything convincingly it was that HSES children excel in language, an ability attributed to the left perisylvian cortical region which Farah, Noble, and Hurt in their earlier work found to be predicted by “cognitive stimulation,” otherwise known as conversation. The latter note that their research suggests cognitive stimulation “was the sole factor identified as predicting language ability […] along with the child’s gender and the mother’s I.Q..” Not really so different from the contrasting account of medial temporal, or memory ability which was attributed to “average social/emotional nurturance,” otherwise known as a lack of stress. However, we must doubt that a lack of conversation causes neurophysiological brain damage in the way that researchers assume stress hormones cause a deformation of the prefrontal cortex and the medial temporal lobe. Evidence that HSES children excel in language ability is not surprising. What is surprising is that the Berkeley researchers would use their test of “semantic fluency” which pairs working memory with language in order to demonstrate something about working memory.

Various studies, including the first study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania researchers and that just mentioned, bear out the idea that HSES children have greater language ability than LSES. The second study conducted by Evans and Schamberg did not test subjects for language aptitude but did seem to suggest that, as did the Berkeley researchers, working memory/the prefrontal cortex is somehow morphologically bound up with language/the left perisylvian cortical region: “working memory is essential to language comprehension, reading, and problem solving, and it is a critical prerequisite for long-term storage of information.” In all of the studies beginning with the first conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, an attempt has been made to prove the existence of both prefrontal and medial temporal impairment in a sample of LSES subjects. The existence of both would justify the use of the stress hormone interpretive model discussed in the first study and called allostatic load in the second. Rather than justifying the use of the stress hormone model, however, each study has tried to attach working memory in some way to language aptitude which was found in two of the three studies to be consistently high in HSES and comparatively low in LSES subjects. Contrary to the hopeful conclusions of each study, it would seem that language aptitude is the only thing damaged by poverty.

In the past couple of years, the Educational Testing Service has released a report called “The Family: America’s Smallest School.” In the 2007 report, authors note that by the age of four, “the average child in a professional family hears about 20 million more words than children in working-class families hear, and about 35 million more than the children in welfare families hear.”[7] Also, similar to the findings of the researchers mentioned above, ETS reports that “at the highest SES quartile, 62 percent of parents reported reading to their children every day, compared to only 36 percent of parents at the lowest SES quartile.” ETS reports the findings of Child Trends, an organization that, according to ETS, gathered information from 7 research papers, reports, and books spanning the work of 19 researchers to conclude that “by the age of two, children who are read to regularly display greater language comprehension, larger vocabularies and higher cognitive skills than their peers […] In addition, being read to aids in the socioemotional development of young children.”

The famous 17th century political thinker Thomas Hobbes once supposed, unscientifically, that the function of language was the conversion of our mental discourse into verbal discourse. Having no language, he inferred, we would have no way of indexing our thoughts and therefore no capacity for memory. We can say this in another way: memory is a function of verbal ability. Perhaps there’s something to this 400-year-old conjecture. In order to raise language ability or, in the idiom of the neurophysiologists, to decrease brain damage to the left perisylvian cortical region, ETS suggests that parents equip homes with reading material and a quiet place to study such as a desk. They also recommend reading to children which, as it is said to aid the “socioemotional development” of children, may also reduce some of the damage to the prefrontal cortex that was found to be typical of the LSES subjects in all three studies.

The social critics were right after all. If a LSES environment/family is poor in substance then we must give these children substitute environments and caretakers. In the absence of parents who are not willing or able to read to their own children, Head Start type intervention and after school counselor surrogates may do a lot of good for LSES children. Some other solutions such as diverting pay and benefits from teachers and administrators toward the improvement of urban essential infrastructure such as convenience stores, libraries, police departments, and transportation, raising minimum wage, and creating more jobs for LSES families may also decrease some of the neurophysiological strain of poverty. That, perhaps, is a no brainer.

NOTES


[1] Farah, M. J., Noble, K. G. & Hurt, H. Poverty, privilege and brain development: Empirical findings and

ethical implications. In J. Illes (Ed.),. (2005). Neuroethics in the 21st Century. New York: Oxford University Press.

[2] Meaney, M. J., Diorio, J., Francis, D., & al, e. Early environmental regulation of forebrain glucocoricoid receptor gene expression: implications for adrenocortical responses to stress. Developmental Neuroscience. (1996). 18, 49-72: in Farah, Martha, Poverty, Privilege, And Brain…

[3] iBid of 1

[4] McEwen BS. Allostasis and allostatic load: Implications for neuropsychopharmacology. Neuropsychopharmacology. (2000). 22: 108–124: “altered states of brain chemistry and function make the afflicted individual more susceptible to the physiological impact of life events and, in turn, more vulnerable to the impact of the stress hormones themselves. Furthermore, these considerations of stress and health are becoming useful in understanding gradients of health across the full range of education and income, referred to as “socioeconomic status” or SES” (2).

[5] Gary W. Evans, G. W. & Schamberg, M. A. Childhood poverty, chronic stress, and adult working memory. PNAS (2009) 106: 6545-6549.

[6] Kishiyama, M. M. et al. Socioeconomic disparities affect prefrontal function in children. J. Cogn. Neurosci. ( 2009). 21, 6: 1106-111.

[7] Barton, P., & Coley, R. America’s smallest school: The family. Policy Information Report, Policy Information Center, Educational Testing Services. (2007).