Almost all these patients had known, for some time, that they had a terminal condition. Yet they-along with their families and doctors-were unprepared for the final stage. “We are having more conversation now about what patients want for the end of their life, by far, than they have had in all their lives to this point,” my friend said. “The problem is that’s way too late.” In 2008, the national Coping with Cancer project published a study showing that terminally ill cancer patients who were put on a mechanical ventilator, given electrical defibrillation or chest compressions, or admitted, near death, to intensive care had a substantially worse quality of life in their last week than those who received no such interventions. And, six months after their death, their caregivers were three times as likely to suffer major depression. Spending one’s final days in an I.C.U. because of terminal illness is for most people a kind of failure. You lie on a ventilator, your every organ shutting down, your mind teetering on delirium and permanently beyond realizing that you will never leave this borrowed, fluorescent place. The end comes with no chance for you to have said goodbye or “It’s O.K.” or “I’m sorry” or “I love you.”
A little creepy, but I’m willing to trust google on this one. I think security takes priority over privacy in this situation, especially since youre going to have all sorts of credit card accounts and other risky information on the phone.
n. the twinge of sadness that there’s no frontier left, that as the last explorer trudged with his armies toward a blank spot on the map, he didn’t suddenly remember his daughter’s upcoming piano recital and turn for home, leaving a new continent unexplored so we could set its mists and mountains aside as a strategic reserve of mystery, if only to answer more of our children’s questions with “Nobody knows! Out there, anything is possible.”
studies show that the majority of women who seek abortion were on contraceptives when they got pregnant and even those that werent often had reasons not to which did not include an intention to get pregnant.
To be honest, I’m not sure calligraphy will survive the modern age. Maybe if tablet computers become super cheap and useful, but even then it will never be as fast as typing on romanized (or other short alphabet) keyboards.
Texting and typing are replacing the elaborate strokes that make up written Chinese. And when it comes time to jot down a few words, more Chinese are realizing they can’t remember exactly how.
For Ma Silang, the long descent into forgetfulness began after he graduated from high school, went off to London for three years to study photography and bought his first computer.
Now the 30-year-old fashion photographer, a native Beijinger, has such difficulty writing in his mother tongue that the other day when he was scribbling a shopping list for himself he suddenly realized that he had forgotten one of two characters that make up the Chinese word for “shampoo.”
“It is inevitable that we forget our Chinese characters unless we make a special effort to practice writing a few hours each week, and who has time for that?” said Ma, looking up from an iPhone on which he was tapping a message while waiting for his MacBook to be repaired at Beijing’s Apple store.
This is a strange new form of illiteracy — or, more exactly, dysgraphia, the inability to write — that is peculiar to China. The epicenterof the contagion is in places like the Apple store, a multilevel, glass-facaded emporium for China’s tech-savvy.
The typical victim is someone like Ma — dressed in a pinstriped, button-down shirt, Bermuda shorts and loafers, he looks as if he stepped out of a Ralph Lauren ad — who is young, well-educated and affluent.
The more gadgets people own — cellphones, smart phones, computers — the less often they go through the elaborate sequence of strokes that make up Chinese characters. Whether on their computers or texting on phones, most Chinese use a system where they type out the sound of the word in Pinyin,the most commonly used Romanization system — and presto, they are given a choice of characters to use.
No muss, no fuss, no pens, no pencils — not to speak of inkwells and calligraphy brushes.
“People don’t write anything by hand anymore except for name and address,” admitted Ma.
Almost any Chinese person you meet will confess to a lapse of memory, almost like a senior moment. The hand clutching the pen or pencil is poised above a sheet of paper about to write a character learned in childhood and memorized in countless repetitions when — suddenly — an embarrassing pause.
In an April poll commissioned by the China Youth Daily, 83% of the 2,072 respondents acknowledged problems with writing characters. The phenomenon is so common that there is even a name for it,tibiwangzi, which translates to “take pen, forget character.”
“The other day I was writing a note by hand and when I came to the word zaijian [goodbye], I did sort of a double-take because I wasn’t sure I’d written the zai correctly,” said 18-year-old Cheng Jing, a college freshman.
To some extent, similar problems arise anywhere that people rely on technology rather than memory — outsourcing of the brain, as they call it in the many treatises that address the question of whether computers and the Internet are stifling our intelligence.
In China, the situation rises to the level of a cultural crisis since the characters, more than any other facet of life, epitomize thousands of years of tradition.
Chinese is the oldest continuously used writing system in the world; the characters used today can be traced to pictographs found on bones and turtle shells dating to 1200 BC.
Even though in the 1950s Mao Tse-tung orderedthe simplification of many characters to promote wider literacy, much of childhood in China is still spent memorizing and copying. By the time students are 15, they will have spent about four to five hours per day over nine years learning to write a minimum of 3,000 characters.
Writing, moreover, is not merely about communication — in Chinese culture, it is an art form and spiritual exercise, believed by some to improve concentration, longevity and even martial arts skills.
“These characters are in the soul of every Chinese person,” said Wang Jianxue, a 38-year-old calligraphy teacher from Harbin who was lovingly leafing through the stacks at a bookstore in Liulichang, a street of quiet shops that sell brushes, ink stones, rubbings, scrolls and curios. “The nation has to maintain its personality through its characters. They are our cultural heritage. The computer is just a tool.”
Outside the shop, a man in white silk pajamas traced characters in water on the pavement with a device that looked more like a sponge mop than a brush. “This is my hobby,” 41-year-old Wang Jiazhong said as he wrote out the characters meaning “beautiful spring day” and then watched them disappear as the water evaporated in the beating sun.
“Chinese people these days care only about material life. Even in Japan and Korea more people practice calligraphy than here. How could such a thing happen when the characters began here?” he complained. “The government has to do something. Without government intervention, people won’t pay attention.”
In fact, the Chinese government is beginning to take notice. In 2008, the Education Ministry surveyed 3,000 teachers around the country and found 60% complaining about declining writing ability. As a result, the ministry last year launched a writing competition with 10 million participants and has begun pilot programs to make students do more handwriting.
“It is not about producing beautiful calligraphy,” said Yu Hong, who runs the ministry’s program on writing language. “We want to help students to come back to writing again.”
The decline of handwriting probably has less to do with the computer than the cellphone. The Chinese do more text messaging than anybody else in the world, perhaps because it is an inexpensive way to communicate and because the Chinese language can squeeze a lot of information into a small space. (One example is a single character, pronounced “zha,” which means the red dots that appear on your nose when you are drunk.)
With cellphones that have a stylus and touch screen, you can draw the character you want to text, and many older Chinese prefer that method. But younger Chinese, who are more comfortable with the alphabet, will write out the Romanized version of the word — or an abbreviation, such as “bei” for Beijing.
Last year, educators held the first nationwide conference on the issue. Among the remedial measures discussed is requiring college students to write out papers by hand, which would have the added benefit of making it harder for them to plagiarize by cutting and pasting text from the Internet.
“I tell my students I find reading their handwriting to be a pleasure, but most of my colleagues frankly don’t want to bother,” said Lu Lingxiao, a professor at Guangxi University, who was a participant at the conference in the southern city of Nanning. “If my colleagues and the government don’t start taking it seriously, I worry that our level of literacy will suffer.”
Many young Chinese are sufficiently concerned that they have taken it upon themselves to study calligraphy.
“It will take a lot of effort to preserve our Chinese characters. It is the same way they try to preserve these old hutongs,” said Zhu Linfei, 24, a Beijing graduate student, referring to the traditional Beijing alleys, now rapidly succumbing to the wrecking ball.
Zhu, who was touring the old bookstores of Liulichang with her classmates to buy calligraphy books, estimated that she had already forgotten about 20% of the characters she knew in high school.
“But it’s not such a big problem,” she said. “If I don’t know a character, I take out my cellphone to check.”
They come with polished resumes and perfect SAT scores. Their grades are often impeccable. Some elite universities will deny thousands of high school seniors with 4.0 grade point averages in search of an elusive quality that one provost called “intellectual vitality.” The perception is that today’s over-achieving, college-driven kids have it — whatever it is. They’re not just groomed; they’re ready. There’s just one problem.
Once on campus, the students aren’t studying.
It is a fundamental part of college education: the idea that young people don’t just learn from lectures, but on their own, holed up in the library with books and, perhaps, a trusty yellow highlighter. But new research, conducted by two California economics professors, shows that over the past five decades, the number of hours that the average college student studies each week has been steadily dropping. According to time-use surveys analyzed by professors Philip Babcock, at the University of California Santa Barbara, and Mindy Marks, at the University of California Riverside, the average student at a four-year college in 1961 studied about 24 hours a week. Today’s average student hits the books for just 14 hours.
The decline, Babcock and Marks found, infects students of all demographics. No matter the student’s major, gender, or race, no matter the size of the school or the quality of the
SAT scores of the people enrolled there, the results are the same: Students of all ability levels are studying less.
“It’s not just limited to bad schools,” Babcock said. “We’re seeing it at liberal arts colleges, doctoral research colleges, masters colleges. Every different type, every different size. It’s just across the spectrum. It’s very robust. This is just a huge change in every category.”
The research, accepted to be published in the Review of Economics and Statistics, has already sparked discussions in faculty lounges and classrooms across the country. Some question whether college students ever could have studied 24 hours a week — roughly three and a half hours a night. But even if you dispute the historical decline, there is still plenty of reason for concern over the state of 21st-century study practices. In survey after survey since 2000, college and high school students are alarmingly candid that they are simply not studying very much at all. Some longtime professors have noted the trend, which rarely gets mentioned by college admissions officials when prospective students visit campus.
But when it comes to “why,” the answers are less clear. The easy culprits — the allure of the Internet (Facebook!), the advent of new technologies (dude, what’s a card catalog?), and the changing demographics of college campuses — don’t appear to be driving the change, Babcock and Marks found. What might be causing it, they suggest, is the growing power of students and professors’ unwillingness to challenge them.
Whatever the reason, one thing is clear: The central bargain of a college education — that students have fairly light classloads because they’re independent enough to be learning outside the classroom — can no longer be taken for granted. And some institutions of higher learning have yet to grapple with, or even accept, the possibility that something dramatic has happened.
Studying has long been considered a key part of a college student’s growth, both as a means to an end — a deeper understanding of the subject matter — and as a valuable habit in its own right. A person who can self-motivate to learn, academics argue, is not only more likely to be a productive worker, but more fulfilled citizen. As a result, universities for decades have stated — sometimes officially — that for every hour students spend in class each week they are expected to be studying for two hours on their own.
“So if students are taking a full load of 15 credit hours, they should be studying for 30 hours,” said Jillian Kinzie, the associate director of the National Survey of Student Engagement, a nonprofit at Indiana University. “Clearly, that’s not happening.”
One problem is that they’re arriving in college with increasingly troubled study habits. According to survey data gathered by the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, or CIRP, the largest and longest-running study of higher education in the United States, incoming college freshmen have reported declining study habits for at least two decades. By 2009, nearly two-thirds of them failed to study even six hours a week while seniors in high school — a figure that has risen steadily since 1987.
Once they get to college, the figure improves, but there are many students today who appear to be doing very little whatsoever. In one CIRP survey subset last year, analyzing predominantly private institutions considered to be mid-level or high-achieving colleges, some 32 percent of college freshmen somehow managed to study less than six hours a week — not even an hour a day. Seniors studied only slightly more, with nearly 28 percent studying less than six hours a week. And other surveys of today’s students report similarly alarming results. The National Survey of Student Engagement found in 2009 that 62 percent of college students studied 15 hours a week or less — even as they took home primarily As and Bs on their report cards.
“Are students just that much more efficient that more than 60 percent of students study less than 15 hours a week and still earn As and Bs?” Kinzie asked. “Or are we really preparing students for the world of work if they’re able to get by spending that many hours studying and preparing for class?”
Critics say it’s misleading to measure today’s students by the number of hours they spend studying. Students live very different lives than they once did. They are more likely to hold down jobs while attending classes.
John Bravman, vice provost for undergraduate education at Stanford University, said that what he worries about these days is not that students are lazy, but that they are too busy — busier than previous generations of Stanford students.
“Much busier,” Bravman said, describing the “on-demand” world that students work in today. “I was a student here from ’75 to ’79. I was reasonably engaged in things. But I had so much free time compared to students today. They do so many things — it’s amazing.”
According to the skeptics of the findings, there is one other notable change: Today’s students are working with more efficient tools when they do finally sit down to study. They don’t have to bang out a term paper on a typewriter; nor do they need to wander the stacks at the library for hours, tracking down some dusty tome.
“A student doesn’t need to retype a paper three times before handing it in,” said Heather Rowan-Kenyon, an assistant professor of higher education at Boston College. “And a student today can sit on their bed and go to the library, instead of going to the library and going to the card catalog.”
That’s true, Babcock and Marks agree. But according to their research, the greatest decline in student studying took place before computers swept through colleges: Between 1961 and 1981, study times fell from 24.4 to 16.8 hours per week (and then, ultimately, to 14). Nor do they believe student employment or changing demographics to be the root cause. While they acknowledge that students are working more and campuses attract students who wouldn’t have bothered attending college a generation ago, the researchers point out that study times are dropping for everyone regardless of employment or personal characteristics.
“It’s pretty shocking,” said Marks, who is concerned about the trend.
Hours spent studying is not the end goal of an education, of course, nor the only way to determine if someone is learning or will land a job after college. Marks herself points out that employers don’t generally care about the content of job applicants’ classes; they’re more interested in whether an applicant graduated, was able to meet deadlines, and work within a bureaucracy.
But one sign that studying still has value is that students themselves are concerned about it. In a 2008 survey of more than 160,000 undergraduates enrolled in the University of California system, students were asked to list what interferes most with their academic success. Some blamed family responsibilities, some blamed jobs. The second most common obstacle to success, according to the students, was that they were depressed, stressed, or upset. And then came the number one reason, agreed upon by 33 percent of students, who said they struggled with one particular problem “frequently” or “all the time”: They simply did not know how to sit down and study.
So what now? Given Babcock and Marks’s findings, what should universities be doing to improve study habits? It’s an answer that depends, first, on understanding why students are studying so little these days. And on this point, there is little agreement.
One theory, offered by Babcock and Marks, suggests that the cause, or at least one of them, is a breakdown in the professor-student relationship. Instead of a dynamic where a professor sets standards and students try to meet them, the more common scenario these days, they suggest, is one in which both sides hope to do as little as possible.
“No one really has an incentive to make a demanding class,” Marks said. “To make a tough assignment, you have to write it, grade it. Kids come into office hours and want help on it. If you make it too hard, they complain. Other than the sheer love for knowledge and the desire to pass it on to the next generation, there is no incentive in the system to encourage effort.”
The problem dates back to the 1960s, said Murray Sperber, a visiting professor in the graduate school of education at the University of California Berkeley. Sperber, at the time, was a graduate student at Berkeley and was part of an upstart movement pushing for students to rate their professors. The idea, Sperber said, was to give students a chance to express their opinions about their classes — a noble thought, but one that has backfired, according to many professors. Course evaluations have created a sort of “nonaggression pact,” Sperber said, where professors — especially ones seeking tenure — go easy on the homework and students, in turn, give glowing course evaluations.
In response to these concerns over course evaluations — and the state of collegiate studying in general — some universities are making changes. Some administrators in recent years have been putting less weight on course evaluations when making tenure decisions. Professors are being told to give explicit tasks to students. Just telling them to read these days is often considered “too generic, too general of a request,” said Kinzie. And many professors today are using Internet-based systems, like Blackboard, where students are required to log on and write about the assigned reading for all of their classmates to see.
Dan Bernstein, director of the Center for Teaching Excellence at Kansas University, said such assignments can help ensure that students are reading and will come prepared for class. But as the Babcock/Marks survey shows, universities aren’t coming close to meeting their own expectations for what should be happening on campus. “That,” said Bernstein, “is one of our dirty little secrets.”
It’s possible that college administrators simply don’t know what’s happening — or rather, not happening — in their dormitories, libraries, and classrooms. The decline in study hours, according to the new research, has happened gradually over decades. Perhaps, some professors argue, colleges simply don’t know the extent of the problem — and perhaps a discussion of the new research will lead to positive changes. But there is also a more troubling reason why the study habits of today’s students remain a discussion held in private, or not at all.
“If we let it be known that they’re not doing their part, that they’re not the students of yore, that makes everybody uncomfortable,” said Bernstein, a professor of psychology who’s been teaching for 35 years. “Our constituents — our stakeholders, as they call them — would be unhappy. They like to prefer that we’re doing our jobs well.”