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November 30, 2006

Great New Mother

Yesterday’s Star Tribune, November 29, published an article titled, “Charges allege Ohio mother microwave her baby to death?.
The evidence against the woman who brought her dead baby to the hospital includes a medical exam resulting, “He said the evidence included high-heat internal injuries and the absence of external burn marks on the baby…?.

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TV and Autism

The merits of television viewing in young children is no new debate. From the condemning of violent, sexual, and mindless shows to the lauding of educational and development oriented programing, we are very critical of the way television is presented to children. A Cornell University study has shown that there is a statistical relationship between television viewing time in children under the age of three and autism rates. This investigation was spurred by the observation that both the rate of autism is children and household television viewing spiked up sharply in 1980. What the study demonstrated is that there is a 17 percent correlation between homes with cable television in a given county and the incidences of autism there. Similarly, a correlation of just under 40 percent was shown between the hours of television viewed and the rates of autism. This was assumed to vary with weather conditions, as children have been shown to spend more time inside watching television during inclement weather than during pleasant weather. Even when looking at single locations, the incidences of autism varied almost perfectly with weather patterns. It is important to note that these studies do not actually claim that television in young children is the cause of the increase in the rate of autism, but it certainly paves the way for further investigation into the topic.

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Are schools doing enough to prepare us for the real world?

In a video clip in the education section on CNN.com there’s a quick story called “Are they ready to work?? that addresses the skills (or lack of skills) the newest generation entering the work force has. It was interesting because there wasn’t a huge difference between the skills of a high school graduate, a graduate of a two-year college, or someone with a four-year degree. Employers are noticing that there is very little competition in the incoming workers and very few have the necessary skills to be in the workforce. Most are lacking leadership abilities, communication skills, and writing abilities.

This is interesting because if students are not employable after graduation from any institution, something is wrong. Either the school isn’t doing something right or the students are not trying hard enough. Education these days is so expensive and to think that we could be spending money on a four-year degree and then still not have the skills necessary for employment is scary. What will it take? If a four-year degree isn’t enough then where can you go to develop these skills that so many people seem to be lacking? This topic can be related to many of the discussions regarding the educational system in America that we’ve had in class. Something is not working quite right. Perhaps this all starts as young as elementary school when we are taught all the basics, including how to learn.

November 29, 2006

Letter to the President

There was a letter addressed to the president by the Iranian government about how America should act in accordance with the views of particular people in Iran. These people are mostly government officials requesting to open up dialogue yet attack the administration of President Bush and also address the American people in a manner of anti-government. They try to appease to the hearts of people y tlking about katrina and other recent disaters. they also mention policies overseas and discuss how they are not in the best interest of the majority of Americans. I think that this seems to be like a last hope for dialogue with the US because Iran fears what our next move will be. They mention that they want to talk with President Bush in the letter, however it makes no sense to discredit his administration and then ask fo public talks. It also doesn't make sense to have the letter appear to be representing the ideas of the majority of AMerica; to know this would be amzazing because we don't know how America is going to react since the midterm elections. Still, I think it's pretty irresponsible that the Bush administration doesn't want to open up private talks at least because if anything, Iran and the United States can develop conversation to help the Iraq situation and have good, progessive dialogue on Iran's nuclear program. The letter also tries to mention the Christian beliefs influencing our policy. While that might be halfway true, we do have checks and balances for a reason; so, this seems as though it's another jab into the side of the administration's reputation. Iran should have tried to appeal to talks first and then tried to discuss some things about how we are acting. Personally, I belive that they are afraid of the ramifications of leaving Iraq, and turning our attention to other pressing matters, like thier nuclear program.

Simple objectivity

Public schools are the single most profound investment that can be made towards the establishment of freedom in America. There are people whose only shot at a good life is given through school. Public schools are the base attempt that is given to establish an equality of opportunity in this country. It can be legitimately stated that the best way to improve the status of our country is to improve education level of citizens. This is why our schools must be held within the highest objective standards of intellectual understanding of the time. This would also give cause for continually focused improvement of school systems.

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School fights back No Child left Behind law

“Schools, teachers fight No Child Left Behind in court? talked about Michigan, Texas, and Vermont sued to ban No Child Left Behind law. The law requires students to meet a standard testing score and if they fail the law requires the state to take action against the school. Their case argues that the school should not be force to comply the law because the law is not fund by the federal government. This law cost the states more money to make up the difference when federal government is not funding if the school did not meet standard testing scores. The case was dismissed in 2005 and is being appeal in the 6th US Circuit Appeals. http://www.cnn.com/2006/EDUCATION/11/28/education.lawsuit.ap/index.html
We had a debate in class regarding is No Child Left Behind law is working or not. Their purpose was to encouraging teachers and school official to work harder to improve the education of the students. Instead I think it has the opposite effects. Overall the scores of the students improve at a very high expense. The scores are not improves by a great deal, but in front of us there are problems causing by the law. There are a shortage of teachers and spacing. Since the funds are cut when the school did not meet the standard, they are no money to improve the situation. It is unfair the teachers get the brunt of it, not the parents. Students learn better in the family helps them learn. Government should not punish the school when more of the responsibilities of a child education lay at the hand their parents.

University of Michigan and Affirmative Action

Over the years, it has become more and more evident that affirmative action only fuels the fires of racism by further instilling ideas of racial inferiority. On December 22nd, 2006, The University of Michigan eliminating the consideration of race and gender for undergraduate admissions.
The change came as a result of an initiative on the ballot this past election to remove affirmative action as criteria for both admission of students and hiring faculty and staff. 58% of voters approved the change.
The change will take place in the hopes that the college may feel free to admit the best students for their curriculum rather than worrying about the river of lawsuits for discrimination which result from affirmative action.
I wonder if they will simply not ask for the race and gender on the applications or just not look at them when deciding because, in many cases that information is used to give out minority scholarships and other aids of that nature.

The exploding politics of biotechnology

The article I read talked about the issue of stem cell research. It touched upon the election in Missouri and the ballot measure that was included that would ban all stem cell research. Like all arguments this issue has two sides. One side says that this could have life saving potential and the other side says that this is a threat to human dignity. The main idea is that biotechnology, like stem cell research, is starting to become another hot button issue like gay marriage and abortion.

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October 31, 2006

The scientific theory of evolution Vs. Intelligent Design

When scanning the New York Times this week, I came across an essay by Lawrence M. Krauss, (a professor of physics and astronomy at Case Western Reserve University), on the debate between evolution and intelligent design in the science curriculum in Kansas.

Considering that Krauss is a physics and astronomy professor, it’s not surprising that he takes a stance against intelligent design being taught in the classroom. When criticizing the chairman of the school board Steve Abram who has openly stated that he believes God created the universe 6,500 years ago, Krauss stated:

“It is a matter of overwhelming scientific evidence. To maintain belief in a 6,000-year-old earth requires a denial of essentially all the results of modern physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, and geology. It is to imply that airplanes and automobiles work by divine magic rather than by empirically testable law.?

Krauss has been criticized for discrediting the religious fate of others, but he remains firm on his belief that this battle is not against faith, but against ignorance.
“We must hold our elected school officials to certain basic standards of knowledge about the world,? Lawrence Krauss.

I thought that this essay was interesting and it especially caught my attention because of the question on our class survey pertaining to the scientific theory of evolution and whether or not intelligent design should be taught in public schools. I too agree with Krauss, believing that the scientific theory of evolution is well-supported. I too believe that the argument that intelligent design should not be taught in science classes in public schools is an argument of science, not a bash on religous beliefs. I do feel, however, that Krauss is a little too blunt when expressing his opinions. When it comes to religion, people are easily offended, and I don't feel that he his particularly respectful of that. But, I do feel that it is ok to take a stance on this issue because not only is it an issue of science for me, but more importantly it is an issue of seperating church and state.

This is an interesting debate because I know that there are people who feel that the scientific theory of evolution is not well-supported, (as our survey shows), and that there is no room for debate whether or not intelligent design is the true history of our planet and our existence.


On that note, the argument can go both ways. I thought this blog might leave some food for thought...

October 30, 2006

Are Children in School Being Pushed Too Fast, Too Soon?

The periodical magazine Newsweek published a report on education at the grade school levels in America recently, and exmamined a disturbing trend of young children being pushed to excel and meet expectations at a very young age. The article, entitled, "The New First Grade", showcases how, across America, parents wanting their children to succeed and compete at a young age are encouraging rigorous testing and heavy loads of homework and instruction for their youth. Intense curriculum is now a mainstay of education beginning in kindergarten, and becoming increasingly difficult as a child progresses. Children are being held back at unprecedented rates to ensure that they will meet the standarized testing criteria of the No Child Left Behind Act. The pressure to succeed is even more pronounced in wealthier and affluent families, where acceptance into prestigous schools is expected in an increasingly competitive society.

The controversy surrounding these new methods of instruction and education concerns the well-being of the children, and the question has been asked if it is not too much. Already many kids who have been subjected to the new form of rigorous education have begun to burn out from being overloaded with information, tests, and homework. Another issue is of the programs that are being overlooked to make room for emphasis on reading and science. Arts, physical education, and social science programs have been reduced in many schools because there is simply not enough time to accomodate them with the new workload. This evidence seems to suggest that we should possibly look at scaling back our expectations and testing of elementary students. School is first and foremost a place for learning, but it is arguably just as importantly a place for youth to learn how to socialize and develop a well-rounded life experience.

NCLB

Lately, the topic of education and funding has been a hot issue. I have a few educational psychology classes that I am taking right now, and we are discussing this issue more than the politicians on TV. Over the past 4 years I have focused my attention on education a funding of schools. I have observed many different schools, many different guidelines for no child left behind, and I have observed and learned enough to say that NCLB is not working and it is just rewarding the already successful teachers. In a school district in the west suburbs, if a teacher shows successful growth, they receive a check for $2,000 at the end of the school year. In Minneapolis, it’s not quite the same. The funding differences between these schools are unacceptable. Federal funding is not the only differences in financial aspects of these schools. Different aspects such as parental support, community support, state support and teacher support all have dramatic influences. For example, the suburban school passed a $2 million dollar referendum just for athletic complexes, parents and teachers spend their time writing several grants for the children. The children that are benefiting from NCLB are only the already successful schools and students. The schools that are not currently successful are being punished and lost in the crowd of panic to excel.

Education Referendum

A referendum will appear on the ballot in St Paul this upcoming election. The referendum will raise property taxes to fund school operating costs. According to an article MPR news (http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2006/10/25/levy/) the proposed property tax increase would amount to $85.00 increase for homeowners. One of the opposers to the referendum was interviewed and his reasons for his opposition is not that he does not support public education but his distrust for the district’s financial accountability.

In a recent class discussion it was debated as to whether or not referendums were good for democracy and I've wrestled the idea in my mind ever since. Referendums definitely down scale the issues so one feels their vote makes a direct impact. Personally I have felt more compelled to vote due to the inclusion of a referendum on election ballots. I think referendums play a vital role in the participatory democracy of local governments. They allow people to give their direct opinion on an issue.

In some regards I think referendums can hamper democracy. This is the third time since 2000 that St Paul has added such an education referendum to the ballot. The opposition is supportive of the public school system but has good reasons to question the financial integrity of the district. I do not know the outcomes of the previous referendums but one may question the continue need of the district to pressure homeowners for additional money. Has the district tapped into other areas for funding?? The supporters of the referendums are certainly pulling on the heart strings of the voters with this referendum. Here’s one of the quotes from the article, “If kids aren't getting through school, aren't graduating from high school, aren't prepared to go to college, we're going to be in trouble". One who may not know of the financial irresponsibility of the district may read the previous quote and feel compelled to vote to simply support education. Referendums may allow people to vote specifically on the issue but it does not necessarily mean voters are more educated on all sides of the issue at hand.

South Dakota Abortion Referendum

Recently I was chatting with my mother about the upcoming elections in my home state, South Dakota, and a couple of the referendums on the ballot this year. The biggest one in my opinion has got to be South Dakota's abortion law and the controversy that has stemmed from it. I took this opportunity to check out my hometown's online newspaper articles and found one published earlier in the summer on abortion and its scenario. Earlier this year South Dakota approved a bill that was signed by Governor Mike Rounds that would ban abortion in all cases except those with extreme circumstances (the mother's health is at risk) but through the use of petition the bill has not gone into effect. There are many debates to the question but one of the biggest questions is when should a life begins. The bill states that life begins at conception where many others argue that life truly begins after the first trimester and the baby has matured. From what I could gather through talks with various people back in South Dakota is it is pretty evenly split but most feel that there is no way that the law will be passed into action because the state itself is very conservative. However, my mother was informing me that Sioux Falls is very split on the bill as both sides have heavily campaigned in the largest city of the state. The town is littered with propaganda for both sides of the debate and this is one of those topics where everybody has an opinion and everybody believes their opinion to the correct one. Either decision will set a high precendence for many other states and the continuous debate over Roe vs. Wade.

South Dakota has garnered a considerable amount of national attention over the past 12 months because of the abortion ban when it does not particularily gain any attention in the political realm. I think that such debates are great for society and civic participation. Any time you can get a heated topic to the forefront of an election such as this one you will see a greater turnout in voters, volunteers and civic participation. However, this topic is extreme and with the territory comes very extreme actions. As long as people stayed civilized in conversation and do not allow their actions to take hold of themselves, a topic such as this one helps tremendously in bringing out voters to the polls and voicing opinions. At least for a small time I can relish South Dakota somewhat being in the limelight whether or not they make the right choice.

http://www.argusleader.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060620/NEWS/606200302/1001

October 28, 2006

A case for meritocracy

I would like to continue discussing the shortly mentioned difficulty with forms of democracy, and more specifically deal with the problems associated with the standard of universality in the voting process. In class it was brought up the fact that there are some people who strictly should have no say in certain policy. Of course this brings about ideas of a loss of freedom through the loss of one of our societies most valued direct methods of input to government. I hope however, that the people who think this will hear me out and maybe understand the position I argue enough to see some validity in it.

When this country was first established, a universal vote would not be the same thing as in today’s society, because for the most part, a person could understand many fields of knowledge just about as well as the specialists of these fields understood them. So when voting occurred, a person could make an educated vote that would not be to far from what the person educated on the issue would make, thus allowing the country to advance according to what could be generally understood as best (at that time). Today however, understanding specific fields is something that is hard to accomplish, ever for most PhD’s. So the general population will understand little of the cutting edge science behind an issue that they vote on (or vote for someone because of). This creates a very large gap between what is known to be the most effective courses of action, and the policy that is established.

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October 25, 2006

What you want may be what They want…

My senior year of high school I was enrolled in an AP government class. The majority of our time was spent reading a reading the newspaper for representations of the topics covered in our book and then discussing these topics rigorously. In the unit which included political parties and their general platforms, I remember the grand dichotomization of taxes. Republicans hated taxes and democrats loved them. This was to play into the explanation of why the Republicans can be a minority party among the populace and yet come out in full force every election. Deep down I never felt I could believe that the pivotal factor that caused people to vote republican was taxes. I still really don’t want to believe that but can find little else to when all 10 pamphlets I have received from republican candidates have exclusively kept the topic to taxes, and taxes alone. This pales in comparison to the television advertising that I have seen over the past few weeks. It is fairly obvious that there are lots of substantive issues that demand our attention, but we are fed the tax dogma of the Republican Party.

When times get tough, you stick to what you know will get you through, and for the Republicans, that ends up being taxes. However, the Republicans have another trick up their sleeve. Respect must be commended for the party, for only they could turn around the recent rise in violence in Iraq to help them. This new rise in sectarian violence is a move from the extremists to oust the Republican Party from the congress. So when someone votes for a Democrat (or Independent) they are only doing what the terrorists want. I have yet to hear a more brilliant political appeal than the one above.

I wish to direct attention to the dynamic flaws of our system of government. You see, Putnam is on to something, we are lacking actual positive involvement with our nation that goes beyond “I don’t wanna be taxed a lot…? and this fall comes from the side of the people. A significant majority of citizens don’t understand this side, but this is the side where problems originate. However, politics today has begun to take advantage of the average citizens’ lack of invested interest to wield the second side of this failing. This is what allows them to get away with saying things like “…voting for Democrats is what the terrorists want…? People just don’t pay enough attention to filter out the B.S. Hopefully more people start thinking about this lack of critical participation as the major problem behind our representative system. The strength of our democracy lies in the positive resonance of views between politics and society, and when one of these aspects withers, the other follows it down the road of dysfunctional. I just wish more of my uninvolved friends would see this when they complain about government.

October 22, 2006

Deerwood Elementary cuts off student access to newspapers

While browsing articles on the Startribune website on the topic of education, one in particular was very interesting regarding Deerwood Elementary cutting off its student access to the newspaper. The article states how death, mayhem and especially sex content had made its way into elementary aged children hands provided by Pioneer Press. After receiving numerous complaints from parents, the principal decided to remove the newspapers access from the children, only giving the staff permission to access them. The article states, “Managers at the newspaper weren't aware of such restrictions at any other school. The Pioneer Press said Newspapers in Education delivers thousands of free newspapers to hundreds of area schools, mostly so teachers can use them in their classrooms as a resource.? I often question the common sense of the newspaper. Is it not common sense NOT to hand out copies with such content as this to elementary-aged kids? Why would there be access granted to the kids if the newspaper managers, etc are well aware of the content in which the paper contains? To defend the newspaper, the managers of the newspaper stated, “It's up to each school to decide how the newspapers in the program are used, Johnson said, but added that he sees great value in putting newspapers in classrooms.? I agree with Johnson that it is also the schools responsibility to decide the use of the newspapers, and also read them before giving access to their students. Moreover, its both the school and newspapers responsibility to review all of the content in which the newspaper consists of but by doing this, it may disconnect the social aspect, as we talked about in class, that the newspaper contains. Nevertheless, it is better in this aspect that both school and newspaper decide which is best for the students.http://www.startribune.com/462/story/754916.html for more information.

October 2, 2006

How might school shootings be affecting political and civic involvement?

I’ve been thinking about all of the school shootings we’ve been having around the country in the past two weeks and it made me wonder what kind of affect these shootings have on civic and political involvement. After the first couple of shootings, the country seemed to be rather on edge. I have a friend who is student teaching this semester and I talked to her last week about the school shootings and she said it makes her kind of nervous, as a teacher, when she’s at school. They have lock-down drills to “prepare? for that kind of situation but if it were ever to happen, it’s hard to say what would go on. If school teachers are nervous, it’s no wonder parents are so concerned.

This made me think of Putnam because school shootings likely make parents uneasy about putting their children in schools. Perhaps it’s leading more people to home school their kids. Home-schooling, depending on how and where it’s done, can restrict children’s chances to get to know and socialize with other kids. This leads to decreased civic involvement for both parents and kids. Also, some parents might think that the government should be doing more to prevent school shootings. They may not trust the school or the government to protect their kids. This could lead parents to be less involved politically because they are so frustrated with the system. However, it could also have the opposite effect. It could promote political involvement because people want to get involved and find a way to make schools safer.

September 27, 2006

Do we know enough about our government?

I found an article on MSNBC called “Letting Students Down? http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/15014682/site/newsweek/. It was about a study that was done involving 14,000 students from 50 different colleges around the country. The study tested freshman and senior students on their knowledge about history, American democracy, and civics. Basically, incoming freshmen only scored approximately 50% on the test and seniors barely scored much better. At 16 of the 50 schools (also some of the “best? schools in the country - Berkeley, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, Duke), the seniors actually did worse than the freshmen. The article also talks about “negative learning? and how we learn a lot about history and government in high school, but when we come to college, there are few, if any, required history/government courses so we forget much of what we learned years ago.

This article reminds me of Putnam’s chapter on political involvement. He talked a lot about the lack of political involvement being linked to lack of knowledge about political and public affairs. He also said that people today are much less knowledgeable about these things than past generations. This study shows that college students are learning very little about how to be good, informed citizens. It’s no wonder our political involvement is so low. As students, we pay a lot of money to get a good education. However, what kind of knowledge are we coming out of school with? Is it knowledge that’s going to help us in the long run? Finally, what kind of leaders are we going to have in the future if our college graduates know very little about the American political system?

September 17, 2006

Facebooking Alone

Facebook.com has grown substantially since Harvard sophomore Mark Zuckerberg launched the site in February 2004 to only Harvard students. Upon success at Harvard, facebook.com began to spread to universities across the nation, currently housing 7.5 million profiles with approximatly 20,000 new profiles created daily. Additionally, facebook.com ranks as the 7th most visited site in the United States. The concept of a facebook is hardly unique to my generation, it is simply the first time facebook caught up to technology and displayed itself on the internet. For generarions the Freshman Facebook was a cornerstone of introduction to the university community, particularly in exculsive private schools up and down the East Coast. This booklet was designed to help freshman know more about the university community they were entering by compiling a book of pictures, alma mater information, and interests of fellow freshamn. An additional purpose of the Freshman Facebook is to provide information about incoming freshamn to clubs, a key method of networking among universities. For example, Harvard University boasts the exclusive Porcellian Club who used the Fresham Facebook as an initial screening process for new members. You can read more about Harvad and clubs at: http://www.thecrimson.harvard.edu/printerfriendly.aspx?ref=239916
In comparison, the goal of facebook is defined by Zuckerbeg on the facebook blog: "We made the site so that all of our members are a part of smaller networks like schools, companies or regions, so you can only see the profiles of people who are in your networks and your friends." (http://blog.facebook.com/blog.php?post=2208562130). Although facebook.com utilized modern technologies to include a breadth of universities, the basic function of facebook is the same: to help undergraduates break into smaller groups with similar interests and goals to create social networks.

The reason facebook.com is the seventh most popular website in the United States is the same reason every freshman picked up their copy of the Freshman Facebook before a new term started. Undergraduates want to communicate with each other and create social networks, both of these facilitate these interests. Where facebok.com begins to cleave from Freshman Facebook is in the capacity for social capital. Freshman facebooks allowed freshman to know about each other but still put the communication between students as their responsibilities. With the dawn of facebook.com, no personal communication in needed to know nearly anything, or even talk to, other undergraduates. Zuckerberg allows undergraduates to know about and communicate with each other without ever leaving the safety of their dorm room.

This concept aligns with Putnams novel well because it shows how the capacity for communication does not coorelate into communication. For example, the Freshman Facebook was used, in part, as a tool to organize students into groups on campus. These groups then met, networked, and formed immeasurable social capital. Facebook.com allows users to form groups of people have similar intestes. The variety of these groups is widespread, from the Carlson School of Management to We Love Johnny Depp to Jesus is my Homeboy. Rarely do friends on facebook who join the same group met, network, and form even the slightest social capital. The differnece between the Freshman Facebook is a decrease in social networks as opposed to a catalyst for social networks. In comparison to Bowling Alone, people have more friends thanks for facebook.com because they can easily know about people they just met -- but facebook.com also allows these friends to communicate in person far less.

September 13, 2006

Harvard calls it quits...

A recent article on MSNBC stated that Harvard, one of the most well known universities in the world, is going to end it's long standing early acceptance program. An early acceptance program allows seniors in high school to apply almost an entire year early, and some argue that this eases the stress of college hunting. Many argue that the program was a good idea because it allowed students to know far in advance if they were accepted to the school, while others thought it a hindrance. Many times, kids who are wealthy will be the ones accepted in early acceptance programs, because they can afford to go to the top schools in the country. One of the main reasons Harvard decided to end the program was for the benefit of low-income and minority students, whom Harvard University stated to be at a disadvantage through the program. Many low-income students chose to opt out of the early acceptance program because they had to wait for other schools to compare financial aid packages.Through it's 370 year existence, Harvard has managed to rank among America's top 5 school; currently number 2 in the nation. This came as a suprise to many, but Tom Bok, current president of the university stated:

"We hope that doing away with early admission will improve the process and make it simpler and fairer.?

Starting in the fall of 2008, the administration says the school will only have one application for the entire incoming freshman class. Reuters stated that while Harvardd calls it quits, many other top schools in the country will keep their programs intact. When I read this article, I thought of Putnam's reminiscing on social capital. He talks about how the wealthy can sometimes have an advantage over lower income people, and Harvard is trying to deter that gap by only having one application. When one thinks of Harvard usually one could imagine wealth and power. Many top university officials argue that Harvard will lose many top students by ending the program and, in turn, lose funding. The aspect of power is still there, but wealth seems to be fading away. This, in my opinion, is Harvard's way of making a bold statement that they aren't intimidated by the upper class of the US.