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But the key idea behind professionalisation, argues Mr. Menand, is that "the knowledge and skills needed for a particular specialization are transmissible but not transferable."

These are disciplines that are going out of style: 22% of American college graduates now major in business compared with only 2% in history and 4% in English.

However, many leading American universities want their undergraduates to have a grounding in the basic canon of ideas that every educated person should possess.

One reason why it is hard to design and teach such courses is that they can cut across the insistence by top American universities that liberal-arts educations and professional education should be kept separate, taught in different schools.

The subtle and intelligent little book The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University should be read by every student thinking of applying to take a doctoral degree.

The key to reforming higher education, concludes Mr. Menand, is to alter the way in which "the producers of knowledge are produced".

Those forced to exercise their smiling muscles reacted more enthusiastically to funny cartoons than did those whose mouths were contracted in a frown, suggesting that expressions may influence emotions rather than just the other way around.

In an experiment published in 1988, social psychologist Fritz Strack of the University of Würzburg in Germany asked volunteers to hold a pen either with their teeth — thereby creating an artificial smile — or with their lips, which would produce a disappointed expression.

It was argued at the end of the 19th century that humans do not cry because they are sad but they become sad when the tears begin to flow.

But because hard laughter is difficult to sustain, a good laugh is unlikely to have measurable benefits the way, say, walking or jogging does.

Studies dating back to the 1930's indicate that laughter relaxes muscles, decreasing muscle tone for up to 45 minutes after the laugh dies down.

But they certainly will reshape it, and all the more so the longer they extend.

More difficult, in the moment, is discerning precisely how these lean times are affecting society's character.

In many respects, the U.S. was more socially tolerant entering this recession than at any time in its history, and a variety of national polls on social conflict since then have shown mixed results.

In the Internet age, it is particularly easy to see the resentment that has always been hidden within American society.

The research of Till Von Wachter, the economist in Columbia University, suggests that not all people graduating into a recession see their life chances dimmed: those with degrees from elite universities catch up fairly quickly to where they otherwise would have been if they had graduated in better times; it is the masses beneath them that are left behind.

In The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth, the economic historian Benjamin Friedman argues that both inside and outside the U.S., lengthy periods of economic stagnation or decline have almost always left society more mean-spirited and less inclusive, and have usually stopped or reversed the advance of rights and freedoms.

At the very least, it has awoken us from our national fever dream of easy riches and bigger houses, and put a necessary end to an era of reckless personal spending.

Their success may be determined by a suit related to this issue, brought by the Mayo Clinic, which the Supreme Court will hear in its next term.

Many said that unemployment, while extremely painful, had improved them in some ways: they had become less materialistic and more financially prudent; they were more aware of the struggles of others.

Firms are now studying how genes interact, looking for correlations that might be used to determine the causes of disease or predict a drug's efficacy.

For example, it is unclear whether the sequencing of a whole genome violates the patents of individual genes within it.

In October the Department of Justice filed a brief in the Myriad case, arguing that an isolated DNA molecule "is no less a product of nature...than are cotton fibers that have been separated from cotton seeds".

Critics make three main arguments against gene patents: a gene is a product of nature, so it may not be patented; gene patents suppress innovation rather than reward it; and patents' monopolies restrict access to genetic tests such as Myriad's.

This rule is meant to address the difficulty that students from impoverished or chaotic homes might have in completing their homework.

Certainly, no homework should be assigned that students cannot complete on their own or that they cannot do without expensive equipment.

Unfortunately, L.A. Unified has produced an inflexible policy which mandates that with the exception of some advanced courses, homework may no longer count for more than 10% of a student's academic grade.

It is not that pink is intrinsically bad, but it is such a tiny slice of the rainbow and, though it may celebrate girlhood in one way, it also repeatedly and firmly fuses girls' identity to appearance.

The homework rules should be put on hold while the school board, which is responsible for setting educational policy, looks into the matter and conducts public hearings.

Meanwhile, this policy does nothing to ensure that the homework students receive is meaningful or appropriate to their age and the subject or that teachers are not assigning more than they are willing to review and correct.