Tag Archives: Education

Fact or Faction

The Sticky Truth

The election is right around the corner and the world is in a tizzy about the outcome. News sites and Facebook feeds are brimming with analyses of the latest Trump gaffe, the panic surrounding the “new” Clinton emails, and what they mean about the polls. But to what extent does new information actually filter through our consciousness to influence our system of beliefs?

I’ve discussed America’s difficult relationship with the truth before. The media certainly shapes the way that the public interprets information – whether or not viewers believe the news being reported is true. Of course, that’s assuming that they actually care if something is true. In the case of Trump, for example, his supporters view him as a truth-teller even though he continues to spout easily disproven lies. Some have actively claimed that they would support him regardless of whether he is telling the truth. Meanwhile, Hillary “enjoys” a persistent aura of untrustworthiness in spite of having lied significantly less than her competitor.

We are in an age where many Americans proudly proclaim their disbelief in science. How do you get through to people who are so enamored of their own convictions that they will not accept anything that proves them wrong? A study in 2010 showed that “misinformed people rarely change their minds when presented with the facts — and often become even more attached to their beliefs.”

Part of the solution is changing tactics. No one likes to be patronized and hitting someone over the head with dull and dry statistics certainly is not a winning strategy. Scientists and communicators have had to tackle these problems when trying to fight the uphill battle against climate change denial. A great blog called Skeptical Science first introduced me to this interesting approach to debunking myths: fight sticky ideas with stickier ideas. Use humor, snappy soundbites and unexpected metaphors to make the truth circulate. Hey – who doesn’t love a good meme?

Latest Client News: Rally Against the Corporate University

We were thrilled with the immense show of support earlier this month, when 300 people came out to Washington Square Park to protest NYU’s financial practices, as well as those at Cooper Union and the New School. This remarkable event included an unprecedented coalition of students, faculty, staff, and labor unions at all three schools, as well as many neighbors resolute against the Sexton Plan, and other mammoth real estate developments throughout the city.

STOMP performs at the rally, showing their support for the cause. Photo by Tequila Minsky.

Members of STOMP performed for the crowd and were met with roaring approval. The rally’s heartbreaking climax came when an anonymous NYU student, “Mandy,” told her story of having to resort to sex work to fund her exorbitantly priced education.

NYU student, “Mandy,” recounts her desperate turn to sex work to afford tuition. Photo by Tequila Minsky

The rally delved into the soaring price of higher education, and its consequence of student debt that has reached crisis levels coast to coast. The two main causes of that nationwide disaster are clear: mammoth building booms on campus after campus, and vast bureaucracies whose top executives make six- and seven-figure salaries; NYU is legendary for its contributions to both.

If you were unable to attend, you may get some sense of the event from this short video, produced by NYU students.

Some of the press coverage: Buzzfeed, Observer, The Villager, Washington Square News, Metro, Business Insider, Bedford + Bowery, and NYU Local.

Then and Now: Home Ec

So, we’re trying something new on the LCG blog: an occasional piece which takes a subject and looks at it through my eyes (old person) and through the eyes of an LCG associate (young person). When we started looking at some of these subjects, it occurred to us that some of the concepts had changed radically – often, but not always, for the better – over the course of the last 40 years or so. We thought it might be interesting and fun to see what this clash of decades might produce.

 

Then (Linda Cronin-Gross)

 

Today, we’re tackling a subject that always used to make me shudder – Home Economics.

If you were a girl who went to school in the US during the 60’s and early to mid-70’s, you’ll know that those two words often struck fear and loathing in your heart. It meant sewing, and maybe cooking, as part of your high school curriculum.

Of course, Home Ec – short for Home Economics – was pretty much only the domain of girls. If you were a boy, you’d probably get some kind of woodworking or “shop” class. Because, you know, girls can’t understand things like saws and hammers. And manly men don’t need to know how to cook or sew; that’s what a wife is for, no?

I pretty much hated Home Ec, which was required in my all-girls high school. I remember making a Pepto Bismol-pink corduroy shift dress with matching beret. Unfortunately, I can still picture those items – ghastly.

Believe me, I would have much preferred making a birdhouse, but that kind of class simply wasn’t offered. At that time, it wasn’t unusual for this programmatic gender divide to exist.

Of course, it’s a good thing to know how to cook and sew, but no one was preparing us to be Vera Wangs or Julia Childs (or would that be Julia’s children?). Home Ec’s real objective was to prepare us girls for marriage.

I am happy to report that I never made another shift (the design world really should thank me), but did learn how to cook from my mother, whose father was a chef by profession.

But the idea of learning how to run a home, to be able to cook, sew and generally take care of daily chores is good one. Managing a home was quite a job back in the day when there were few modern appliances. When Home Ec was introduced, it was seen as a kind of science; in addition, many women were able to access college specifically because of the Home Ec track.

But as things evolved, both politically and scientifically, Home Ec sort of devolved into a training program for potential brides.

 

Now (Sonya Landau)

 

Unlike my counterpart, I never took the dreaded course, but it always seemed to me that the idea had potential. I was lucky enough to grow up with parents that taught me both how to cook and how to build stuff, and was the odd child who balanced tomboy tendencies with a desire to learn sewing and knitting (I treasured my dolls and toy cars equally). Again, I was privileged with the means and the personal drive to pursue learning about my chosen topics.

The part that always interested me about the class was the “Economics” in the title. Looking around at my generation, which graduated college just at the height of the Recession, I know I’m not the only one who would have benefited from financial literacy. As young adults, we are met with a barrage of predatory schemes from banks, credit card companies and others that are well aware we know next to nothing about money.

Our educational system does not place any emphasis on preparing us for adult life when we are released into the real world. That is equally true for those who continue to higher Ed and those who enter the workforce directly. Any tips on money management often come either from personal trial and error or as cautions from family and friends. Not only that, but few of us have even the smallest amount of knowledge about taxes. If we can’t make informed decisions about how to spend and save our budgets, we can’t expect for the decisions we make to be good ones. How can we make choices when we don’t know our options?

It’s no surprise that our country is renowned for its percentages of debt – credit card debt, student loan debt, payday loan debt, the list continues. Granted, most of that blame lies on the enormous corporations that regulate loans and influence tax codes, but a lot of this could be avoided if consumers (and students) had a better understanding of the ins and outs of the system.

Nor is it impossible to get this information across in an engaging and empowering way. Our new favorite show, John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight,” has tackled issues like income inequality, wealth inequality, payday loans, student debt, and the IRS. He has garnered international attention and support for his well-researched, educational and entertaining programs.

Obviously, I don’t envy Linda her Pepto Bismol dress, and I don’t advocate a return of the ubiquitous class in the form of housewife training, but I do think that we could all benefit from a thorough education on actual home economic skills. Oh, and learning how to make something more than ramen and toast couldn’t hurt either.

Shocking Report by Professors at New York University Reveals University Education As Just Another Commodity with Exorbitant Rates, Price Gouging and All

I remember a time when providing a good, reasonably priced education for all was an ideal that everyone believed in; it wasn’t particularly left or right wing. Thus, we got terrific public universities like the CUNY system here in New York, which, when I went was free – yes, free, except for a $65/semester fee to cover some processing costs.

Slowly but surely, however, conservative forces in government began slashing funding for public higher education, making it impossible for those colleges to function without having to impose fees and tuition.

Private universities also began to ratchet up tuition and fees, slowly.

Within the last ten years or so, the price of a college education has skyrocketed. It’s become just another price point in the marketplace, with really scary numbers. The College Board reports that a “moderate” college budget for an in-state public college for the 2014–2015 academic year averaged $23,410. A moderate budget at a private college averaged $46,272.

What this means, for most folks, is that we’re sending our young people into a form of indentured servitude, where they will be paying off their college loans for, quite literally, the rest of their lives. And it means that the bottom line is now more important than the quality of the education itself, since the price you pay for college seems to have no relationship to its cost. As a matter of fact, it seems that a lot of the money that’s paid for tuition goes to bloated college administrative functions and salaries, but not to professors or academic endeavors.

This was really brought home to us here at LCG because we work with a group of NYU professors who are trying to stop the university from spending billions on an unwanted and useless expansion in Greenwich Village (NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan) while NYU students pay one of the highest tuitions in the nation – $71,000 per academic year.

NYUFASP and other faculty recently issued a truly jaw dropping report on how NYU bilks millions from its students to finance real estate and pay for its top executives.

The blistering 14,000 word report on how NYU has been gouging its own students (and their families) to raise billions for gratuitous real estate transactions and lavish compensation packages for NYU’s own top executives.

Concerned about their students’ ever worsening financial plight and wild spending by NYU’s Board of Trustees, the professors spent this past academic year researching NYU’s financial practices. Interviewing scores of students, both undergraduate and graduate, and studying the fine print in NYU’s own documents, the professors “followed the money” to reveal: students going hungry regularly, becoming homeless, and signing up for “dating services” to pay tuition, fees and insurance; out of control real estate acquisition; millions of dollars in compensation and personal loans for top NYU execs, but tiny raises for faculty.

Here’s Part I of the full report. It’s in three parts, and the other parts can be found through that link as well. It’s not short, but well worth the read.

The report is also mentioned in an article in the June 9th edition of Salon. The article, “Massive endowments, massive tuition, massive debt: Our colleges are out of control and crushing students,” gives an even broader and more frightening view about the college crisis in America.

The NYU professors who penned the report are demanding more transparency and accountability from NYU’s administration. That needs to happen at colleges all across the country, and we need to demand it right now.

Warning Signs: Inoculation Against Action

We all do it. Your mom tells you to clean your room, or take out the trash. You say, “Yeah, I’ll get to that,” then promptly forget to do so. She tells you again; you agree again. Eventually you stop actually listening to her. “Yeah, yeah, OK.” The problem is that we apply these same habits when it comes to bigger problems and the stakes are higher than a tongue lashing or grounding.

Climate change, police brutality, student debt, wealth distribution… these are all big issues that are confronting our world today, each of which has disastrous consequences for our present and future. How many times have you heard about them recently? How many articles, pictures and petitions have you seen go by on your Facebook feed? Now be honest: do you actually read or pay attention to each of these? When someone gives the rallying cry of “We are the 99%,” does it still bring your blood to a boil the same way that it did when you first heard that 1% of the world’s population owns almost half of its wealth? Or do you roll your eyes and say, “We already knew that”?

The media does the same thing. As a pr professional, I see it more keenly because I’m constantly trying to get outlets interested in certain stories. When you’re dealing with an ongoing issue – even when it’s important, affects a lot of people and has a heart-rending human element to it – after a while, the reporters get sick of covering it. They want to know what’s new. It’s called news, after all.

Pretty soon, the message that climate change is happening, the ice caps are melting and we need to take immediate action starts to sound an awful lot like the notices you get that your subscription to such and such service is expiring and you must “Act Now.” This is dangerous on a lot of levels. While it’s true that out of sight is out of mind, the converse seems to be the case as well; the over-coverage makes these issues nothing more than background noise. Of course we care, but much in the same way that we are more likely to donate money at the onset of a natural disaster than later on in the recovery process, our impetus to act fades away. And yet, in order to make an actual difference, we need to hold on to our outrage and remind ourselves that we need to do something about these issues and it has to be more than once.

Have an Intern You’re Not Paying? It’s Wage Theft.

When our economy began to tank sometime around 2007, and jobs became more and more scarce, there appeared an incredible spate of “internships.” I use those quotation marks because these “internships” – for all kinds of jobs, in both the corporate and non-profit sectors – were unpaid. I know many people, especially young people in their 20s, who took these internships because there were so few other, paying jobs. Even though our economy is doing better, this practice of non-paying internships continues.

Unless the internship is truly that – a position that is more about education, and that doesn’t take the place of “real” work or a “real” worker – not paying interns is wage theft, pure and simple. It shocks me that companies and organizations – especially ones who deem themselves “progressive” – could engage in such a sickening practice.

As a small business owner myself, I completely understand all of the stresses that come along with a bad economy, and keeping good staff and being able to pay them properly is a big concern. But even when we were in an economic crunch, we never, ever, had unpaid interns. I believe if you can’t afford to pay someone at least minimum wage – which in NY is now $8.75/hr – don’t hire interns. Simple.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s a place for unpaid internships, which provide a true learning experience for the intern.

But that’s not what’s going on here.

What seems to be happening is that we are turning the workplace into some kind of neo-feudalistic society (That’s a phrase coined in our office by Senior Account Executive Sonya Landau.). Or, if you prefer, a form of indentured servitude; not quite slavery, but sure feels close.

It’s gotten so bad, that there have been lawsuits filed by interns and a website, Intern Justice, that’s maintained to keep track of them all.

One notable case was brought by two Fox Searchlight interns, Eric Glatt and Alexander Footman, who worked on the movie “Black Swan.” According to the website ProPubica, the judge in that case, William H. Pauley III ruled in favor of the interns on June 11, 2013, arguing that, “the interns had essentially completed the work of paid employees – organizing filing cabinets, making photocopies, taking lunch orders, answering phones – and derived little educational benefit from the program, one of the criteria for unpaid internships under federal law. Pauley also ruled that the plaintiffs were employees and thus protected by minimum wage laws.” The case was so significant that it was also noted by the WageTheft website, which does, indeed, consider non-payment of interns, in most cases, to be wage theft.

ProPublica has also provided a run-down of the legalities involved in hiring interns in a piece titled, “When Is It OK to Not Pay an Intern?”

Bottom line: most of what passes for unpaid internships these days are, in fact, illegal wage thefts. If you are doing this, then you are a thief. Stop it.

If It’s Capitalism, Why Not Teach Financial Literacy?

Photo from Google Image Search, courtesy of World Financial Group

Even though I am the president of this pr firm, I will admit that, before opening LCG Communications, I had little practical knowledge about the actual business side of running a business.

And, although I know how to balance a checkbook and have enough money in accounts to keep things “in the black,” no elementary, middle or high school class ever taught me “financial literacy.”

Oh sure, there were courses on things like making a budget or shopping for the best food bargains, but no one actually explained the nuts and bolts of capitalism and how it works.

And I know I am hardly alone.

As a result, the ins and outs of capitalism are left to the “experts,” whose job, in part, is to “tell” us what to do. No one ever explained, for example, that this “credit rating” thing could actually ruin a business or someone’s chances of getting a loan, or a mortgage, or an apartment. People marry and have families, and no one explains that the way you deal with your finances can seriously affect your ability to have the home and the life you want.

We have to deal with capitalism every day, but, for most people, it’s a high concept that’s really fuzzy and seems unrelated to what we do.

Of course, there are some courses in college that can be taken, and sometimes, local government provides courses too.

I’m bringing this up now because, just recently, we worked with the BrooklynSpeaks community groups on the new deal that will bring the promised Atlantic Yards affordable housing online ten years earlier. People will be able to apply for the housing through a lottery system. (The project has now been re-dubbed “Pacific Park.”)

What many people don’t know is that simply showing that you need the housing and can prove it – through providing tax returns, etc. – is not enough. You have to be able to show that your household is financially capable of paying the rent in a timely manner every month. And that requires that your household’s finances are in tip top shape. Of course, ironically, a large percentage of the people who really need this kind of housing won’t qualify because they are unaware of this requirement and, since they are often scrambling just to make ends meet, they simply haven’t focused on their own financial fitness as calculated by the “outside” world.

Some non-profits, like Brown Community Development Corporation, are trying to address this problem by holding free sessions about the lottery, and these sessions include advice on getting finances in shape.

But it shouldn’t have to come to this. Why don’t we include financial literacy education from elementary school through high school? Perhaps it’s because if people really understood capitalism, those in power would have to face an educated voter base who’d be less likely to stand for some of the financial shenanigans we’ve seen.

It still comes down to this: If we have to live in this world of capitalism, we need to understand it. That goes for everyone.

Latest Client News – Week of January 27, 2014

In our latest news, NYUFASP joined local officials, community groups and John Leguizamo to discuss the next steps in the NYU expansion.

On Friday, January 24th – two weeks after Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Donna Mills put a halt to NYU’s needlessly colossal expansion plan by ruling that the City illegally gave parkland to NYU for its development, elected officials, NYU faculty, Village area community organizations and other supporters – including actor John Leguizamo – held a press conference encouraging NYU to step back from its planned appeal and to “do the right thing” by going back to the drawing board and exploring alternatives.

Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) and the Historic Districts Council generously hosted the press conference in its offices. A slew of elected officials, including a representative from Congressmember Jerrold Nadler’s office; Assemblymember Deborah Glick; State Senators Brad Hoylman, and Dan Squadron; Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and Councilmember Corey Johnson, spoke. Each of them expressed the opinion that the judge’s ruling was beneficial to the Village community and provided a perfect opportunity for NYU to restart the planning phase from scratch. The well-know actor and Village resident John Leguizamo added his voice to the cause, emphasizing that NYU could make an expansion that respected the culture of the community while still gaining the educational space it needs.

The community groups that filed the lawsuit, include our own NYU Faculty Against the Sexton Plan (NYUFASP), GVSHP and Lower Manhattan Neighbors Organization (LMNOP), as well as, Historic Districts Council, Washington Square Village Tenants’ Association, East Village Community Coalition, LaGuardia Corner Gardens, Inc., SoHo Alliance, Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, Friends of Petrosino Square, and NoHo Neighborhood Association.

LCG is proud to be working with these groups that are fighting to save the Village.