Oct 15

America Needs to Become Bilingual

If you look at nearly any industrialized country in the 21st century, you can see that the United States has clearly fallen behind in education. One of the main reasons for this is that we only require (and sometimes only make available) education in one language: English. In this entry I will try to prove that we’d all be better off learning multiple languages, like students do most everywhere else.

First of all, students who are bilingual or multilingual tend to be not only smarter, but healthier. Learning a language and being able to mentally switch back and forth between languages engages the brain in ways most people never consider. You see, in order for a bilingual person to draw on their knowledge of one language, they need to repress their knowledge of the other language. This means that more parts of the brain are active when speaking either language, and this type of executive control improves brain function and plasticity, and has been shown to slow cognitive decline (Bhattacharjee). That means diseases like Alzheimer’s and Dementia will occur slower and later in life for individuals who speak more than one language, and brain function before those diseases set in will be higher.

Bilingualism is also becoming increasingly important to a person’s career, and this is true for almost any line of work. Communication across cultures has become essential in fields like business (where you need to work with people manufacturing, buying, or selling your product in different countries), politics (where you need to use diplomacy with people from different nations) and medicine (where patients–especially in the U.S.–struggle to find proper medical care because they can’t understand their monolingual doctors). People who are bilingual end up making more money than monolingual people on average, and a recent study found that recruiters in Europe, Latin America, and Asia say that being bilingual is critical for success in today’s business environment (Andruss). And even if the job doesn’t necessarily require you to speak two languages, being bilingual shows you’ve worked hard at achieving a mastery of the language, and is one of the first things employers notice on a resume. It makes you stand out as a better and more flexible candidate for the job.

Furthermore, incorporating bilingual education into our current education system will actually make the entire system run smoother and more effectively. Because of No Child Left Behind and now Common Core, schools and teachers are judged on their effectiveness based on the results of standardized testing. If students don’t do well (i.e. they didn’t learn the required curriculum in time), the teacher is punished, but not the student. So not only are students forced to learn a regimented content which they often do not care about, they have no incentive to (Karp). Implementing a system of bilingual education would work towards solving a lot of these flaws in the system. For one, bilingual education requires a “safe” environment for learning. By that I mean one where the student feels at home and not afraid to answer incorrectly, as many students often are in the current system. We’ve been taught in America that a wrong answer equals failure, when really it’s just part of the learning process, and we shouldn’t be afraid of it (Malarz). Secondly, bilingual education encourages spontaneous learning and going off topic in order to keep students engaged with what’s being taught. Students are even allowed to design certain parts of the curriculum. This is because it’s been proven that students will learn better if they are learning about something that interests them, or that they can see themselves using in real life–giving them incentive to learn (Malarz). Much of the things we learn in Common Core are not interesting to students, and much of it we will never use again. Better to let us learn that things we need well than the things we don’t need poorly.

Finally, being bilingual can help bridge the gap between cultures. Just last summer, two public radio stations in Central Washington started a bilingual reporting program, i.e. reporting stories in both English and Spanish. They did this with the hope of increasing civic engagement and community awareness in monolingual Spanish and English speakers, and so far they have been quite successful (Price). I can attest to this idea of reaching out to others through language myself. As someone who speaks three languages and has travelled throughout many countries, I can recall specific times when I caused an expression of distress and confusion to turn into happy amusement when I spoke (or at least made a real effort) to speak in their native tongue. Being able to speak the language of a culture is a kind of proof that you care enough about that culture to learn about it, and makes you seem like much less of an outsider. I have no doubt that if we could all become bilingual, the world would become a healthier, more efficient, and overall a better and happier place to live.

Andruss, Paula. “How Being Bilingual Can Boost Your Career.” iSeek. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, March 2008. Web. 26 Oct., 2015.

Bhattacharjee, Yudhijit. “Why Bilinguals are Smarter.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 17 March, 2012. Web. 26 Oct., 2015.

Karp, Stan. “The Problems With Common Core. Rethinking Schools. Rethinking Schools, 20 Sept., 2013. Web. 26 Oct., 2015.

Malarz, Lynn. “Bilingual Education: Effective Programing for Language Minority Students.” Curriculum Handbook. ASCD, 2015. Web. 5 Oct., 2015.

Price, Jenna. “Two Stations Bridge Culture Gap with Bilingual Reporting.” NPR Extra. NPR, 29 Aug., 2014. Web. 26 Oct., 2015.


Oct 15

The Gender Gap in Political Ambition

As many of you know, I’m double majoring in political science and women’s studies. These fields of study overlap quite often, but one of the most notable intersections which is researched consistently in both spheres is what political analysts call the “gender gap.” This term can be used in several different situations, but generally it refers to the difference between men and women in each context. Some of such contexts include the pay gap, the average level of education in men and women, the number of male vs female CEOs, the number of men vs women in the military and the positions they hold, voting patterns and political participation by sex, and the percent of women vs. men in government positions. What I want to call everyone’s attention to in this blog entry, is the gender gap in political ambition.

Feminists and political scientists alike both want to know the reason women make up 51% of the U.S. population, but only hold 20% of seats in the Senate, 18% of seats in the House, and make up only 10% of State Governors. What is it that is keep American women out of office?

It can’t just be that women aren’t electable–that’s no longer a valid claim in this century. Today, women tend to get elected more often than men… At least when they run. Women who run also receive more press coverage (Meeks) and are able to raise more money from individual donors (Crespin and Dietz).

So why are there so few in our government? New studies show that it may simply be that girls have less interest in running for political office–in other words, they lack the political ambition of men.

But it doesn’t start out this way. Caroline Heldman, associate professor of Political Science at Occidental College, said in in an interview for the 2012 film, Miss Representation, that when children are seven years old, boys and girls report wanting to become president in roughly equal numbers. But by the time they’re fifteen, the number of girls who say they would like to be president decreases dramatically as compared to the boys (Newsom).

A 2013 Study by Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox examines this gender gap in detail on college campuses, and reveals that, when asked how often they had thought about running for office, undergraduate women were about 50% more likely than men to report they’d never thought about it, about 25% less likely than men to say that it had crossed their minds, and only half as likely as men to have thought about it multiple times.

But the question remains: Why? What is happening to women between the ages of seven and fifteen that are causing them to suddenly not be interested in political office. Fox and Lawless offer five reasons:

  1. Young men are more likely to be socialized by their parents to think about politics

as a career path. The same survey that asked undergraduates how many times they’d thought about running for office also found that women were less likely than men to discuss politics with their parents at home. Most importantly, women were less likely to be encouraged by either their father or mother to run for office, and more likely to be discouraged by both parents to run. Parental support is a key factor when it comes to pursuing any field not just politics. It comes as no surprise that this variable would be linked to political ambition.

2) Young men tend to be exposed to more political information than women. This exposure can occur through class or clubs in school, peer associations, and media habits (e.g. men are more likely to watch shows like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. Fox and Lawless found that male undergraduates were significantly more likely to have taken a class in politics or which discussed politics. They were also more likely to have participated in political or student government or in college, and more likely to discuss politics with their friends.

3) Young men more likely to have played organized sports and perhaps for this reason seem to care about winning. I know this can seem like a stretch, but their has been several positive correlations made between playing a competitive sport in high school or college and attaining political office. And guess what? Women were about ⅔ as likely to have played a varsity or junior varsity sport than men.

4) Young women are less likely to receive encouragement to run for office–from anyone. We already talked about how women are less likely to be encouraged by their parents, but that is only the tip of the iceberg. Men are also significantly more likely to be encouraged to run for office by their grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings, teachers, coaches, religious leaders, and their friends. This variable, by the way is extremely significant. If you look at people who currently hold office, you’d be extremely hard pressed to find a single one of them–male or female–that had not be encouraged to run for office. This encouragement plays a huge role in whether or not someone runs for office, and women are only receiving about ⅔ of what men are.

5) Young women are less likely than men to believe that they are qualified to run for office–even if they are just as qualified. This could be for any number of reasons. Of course, some of this stems from the fact that women don’t participate in as many political organizations, or take as many classes in politics. But when they do take those classes, I suspect it’s because of a lack of encouragement, as we suggested above.

So what can we do do close the gender gap? The first thing to consider is perhaps requiring students to take a politics class in high school. This would not just teach students about our political system–which is a good idea all in its own. It would also ensure that men and women enter college on a more even playing field when it comes to political knowledge. We also need to get women politically active early in life, because being involved in these political organizations is strongly linked to political activism later in life (Burns, Schlozman, and Verba). Finally, we have to encourage more girls to run for office. If someone has good idea, and you feel they’d make a strong candidate, tell them–it doesn’t matter what gender they are! Also, if that person had never been encouraged before, imagine the impact you’d be making on them. And who knows! Maybe they’ll be the next great world leader.


Burns, Nancy; Schlozman, Kay Lehman; and Verba, Sidney. “‘What Happened at Work Today?’: A Multistage Model of Gender, Employment, and Political Participation.” The Journal of Politics, vol. 61, no. 1 (29-53). The University of Chicago Press, Feb. 1999. Web. 19 Oct., 2015.

Crespin, Michael H. and Deitz, Janna L. “If You Can’t Join ‘Em, Beat ‘Em: The Gender Gap in Individual Donations to Congressional Candidates.” Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 63, No. 3 (581-593). Sage Publications Inc., Sept. 2010. Web. 19 Oct., 2015.

Fox, Richard L. and Lawless, Jennifer L. “Girls Just Wanna Not Run The Gender Gap in Young Americans’ Political Ambition.” School of Public Affairs. Women and Politics Institute, March 2013. Web. 19 Oct., 2015.

Meeks, Lindsay. “Is She ‘Man Enough’? Women Candidates, Executive Political Offices, and News Coverage.” Journal of Communication, vol. 62 (175-193). International Communication Association, 2012. Web. 19 Oct., 2015.

Newsom, Jennifer Siebel. “Miss Representation.” Girl’s Club Entertainment, 22 Jan., 2012. Film.

O’Brien, Meredith. “Stop Selling Sexism to Our Daughters!” Modern Mom. Mom, Inc., 2015. Web. 19 Oct., 2015.

Oct 15

The Correlation Between Democracy and Happiness

Over the past twenty years, a new trend in political science has emerged. More and more researchers are looking to find correlations between economic, political, or social institutions, and the emotional well being of the citizens living within them. One of the most investigated correlations is that of democracy and happiness. While not every study on this matter comes to the same conclusion, the majority of findings indicate a strong, positive correlation between democratic policy and a population’s level of happiness.

So what is it about democracy that makes it so happiness inducing? Because if we know what it is, we might be able to recreate the phenomenon and expand it so that even more people can be happy. This is the question I’m aiming to answer through a semester-long research project for my political quantifications course this fall. But as any good scientist knows, you have to be familiar with the work of your predecessors before you can begin your own research. So, here’s what those predecessors can tell us so far:

We’ll start with the work of Bruno S. Frey. Frey is one of the most published scientists in this field of study, and one of the first to examine the impact of direct democracy and federalism on happiness. Although Frey’s work is mainly centered around economics, he provides a detailed account of the positive correlation between direct democracy and federalism in an article he wrote with Alois Stutzer (Frey, Stutzer 2000), and later in a passage of his book, Happiness, A Revolution in Economics (2008). Frey and Stutzer examine data from a survey of attitudes taken in Switzerland, the only country aside from Liechtenstein where direct democracy is part of the local and national referenda. Their findings revealed that the quality of a direct democracy within each region of the country exhibited a strong, positive correlation with Swiss citizens’ level of life satisfaction.

Indeed, the functionality of a democracy seems to be a crucial factor when determining how influential it will be on happiness. As J.C. Ott writes, the size of government is less important to happiness than the quality of government (i.e., a well-run democracy is a better indicator of people’s happiness than the extent to which citizens have direct direct influence on their government.). This would explain why so many other democratic nations exhibit the same correlation between democracy and happiness as Switzerland, despite not having a national referendum by popular vote. And the quality of a democracy doesn’t just predict the level of happiness of a population; it also seems to have a direct correlation with lower levels of inequality regarding happiness (Ott 2011). In other words, a well-functioning democracy doesn’t just help make its citizens wholistically happier, it also tends to close the gap between classes, religions, and ethnicities when it comes to mutual levels of happiness.

Possibly the strongest evidence in support of this correlation comes from a study published in 2007, which found a strong link between democracy and happiness, even when all other confounding variables were controlled (Dorn, Fisher, et. al 2007). These findings appeared in contrast to previous studies, which had suggested that income was what had the real significant effect on individuals’ happiness. This would indeed make sense in the context of research involving democracies, as democratic countries tend to be wealthier and have a better distribution of wealth throughout the population. However, these researchers found that, over the twenty-eight countries they examined with data from the 1998 International Social Survey Programme, happiness levels in democracies stayed robust, even when variables like religion, language, and of course, income, were controlled (Dorn, Fischer, et. al 2007). Incidentally, these particular findings are also supported by Frey and Stutzer’s research, in which they observed household income to have a minimal effect on happiness, in contrast to the effect of direct democracy (Frey and Stutzer 2000).

One of the most interesting articles I came across in my research was written by Eric Weiner, in which he compiles studies suggesting that happiness may in fact be a prerequisite for a successful democracy. This implies that, in contrast to popular assumption, it is happiness which causes democracy to happen, rather than the other way around, (Weiner 2008). In any case, Weiner’s findings still result in a positive correlation between democracy and happiness, ultimately supporting the original theory.

As you can see, there’s a lot of research pointing to several different sources of happiness, and in some cases democracy. What I ultimately decided to do with my own research, was find out what specific traits of a government are good or bad for happiness. So as I collect data, I’ll be looking at more than just whether a country’s a democracy, and I’ll be controlling for more than just religion, language, and income. First of all, I’m going to make a note of how democratic each country I study is, based on the Freedom House scale (Freedom House). Is there a certain level of democracy where happiness plateaus, or does it just keep getting higher as democracy increases? Next, I’m going to be making a note of the type of democratic or autocratic regime of each country. Democracies can be Parliamentary, Presidential, and Semi-Presidential, while dictatorships can be Civilian, Military, or Royal. This will make is easier to see what specific features in each regime type contribute to happiness. I’ll also be looking at the time since a country’s last regime change, and seeing if that has an effect on happiness. And finally I’ll be looking at the gender of the participants. For some reason, this variable has never been studied before, though one would expect the happiness of women to actually have a higher correlation with democracy than men’s. This is seeing as women’s rights and overall equality tend to increase the more democratic a country becomes, whereas men typically start out with the large majority of rights to begin with.

I know political science is kind of an odd topic for a PLA blog, but I feel this research is important to improving society. After all, if we can pinpoint what it is about a government that makes most people happy, we may be able to model our own government off of those features, thereby making citizens happier around the world. As my research evolves, I’ll keep you guys posted about my findings!

Dorn,  Fischer, Kirchgässner, and Sousa-Poza. “Is it Culture or Democracy? The Impact of Democracy and Culture on Happiness.” Social Indicators Research, Vol. 82, No. 3 (July 2007): 505-526. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

Freedom House. n.v. Freedom House, 2015. Web. 8 Oct. 2015.

Frey, Bruno S. “Happiness: A Revolution in Economics.” The MIT Press 2008: 177-198. JSTOR. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

Frey, Bruno S. and Alois Stutzer. “Happiness, Economy, and Institutions.” The Economic Journal, Vol. 110, No. 466 (Oct. 2000): 918-938. JSTOR. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

Ott, J. C. “Government and Happiness in 130 Countries: Good Governance Fosters Higher Level and More Equality of Happiness.” Social Indicators Research, Vol. 102, No. 1 (May 2011): 3-22. JSTOR. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

Weiner, Eric. “Will Democracy Make You Happy?” Foreign Policy, No. 165 (Mar.-Apr. 2008): 57-59. JSTOR. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

Oct 15

Strategies Behind the Success of Bilingual Education

In the United States, if a child enters the education system without being able to speak English well as their first language, there’s two types of programs they could be placed into. One is known as “English-Only,” in which students are pushed to focus solely on learning English as fast as possible, with no regard as to whether they keep their skills in their original language (and at they often do not). The second type of program is called “Bilingual Education.” In this teaching style, students are encouraged to learn and develop both their native tongue and English, thereby making them bilingual by the time they finish their education.

In countries with more successful education systems, there is only one of these options available to students. The better one: Bilingual Education.

After several surveys across schools in Canada, Mexico, China, Australia and New Zealand, and Western and Central Europe, students who have participated in bilingual language immersion programs have done just as well–if not better–than those in their country who only ever learned the dominant language (Krashen), and certainly fared much better than the students who went through the U.S.’ English-Only program. Here are just a few examples of this success:

In Norway, immigrant children in the bilingual ed program in grades four and five

performed better than controls in math, social sciences, and natural sciences, and their ability to use Norwegian had nearly become equal with that of a native speaker (Ozerk, 1994).

In the Netherlands, immigrant bilingual students outperformed controls in Dutch language, had fewer behavioral problems, and were interacting far more with native Dutch students (Appel, 1988).

In China, there is a full bilingual program for native Korean speakers who wish to learn Mandarin. After completing this program, more of these new Korean/Mandarin speakers were able to obtain higher education degrees than those who only spoke Mandarin (Lin, 1997).

In Sweden, native Finnish speakers in the bilingual program were able to outperform their classmates who only spoke Swedish by the third grade (Lofgren and Ouvinen-Bierstam, 1982).

So what are the strategies these countries are using? The

Association for Supervision and Curriculum Develop published an article for teachers outlying some of the most important components for the successful teaching of bilingual education. One of these components involves creating an “ideal” environment for language acquisition: a place that is non-threatening, and in which certain things throughout the room might prompt random conversation (spontaneous talking, as long as it’s in the language that the students are trying to learn, is highly encouraged) (Malarz). Both of these environmental factors are somewhat lacking in American classrooms, where children often report being afraid of giving the wrong answer, and are discouraged to talk about anything other than the topic at hand.

One of the most important things to remember when approaching bilingual teaching, the article reports, is the motivation of students. Students learn best when they want to learn–when they feel what they’re learning is useful to them and peaks their interest (Malarz). In these successful countries, students are often encouraged to choose topics to study for themselves (as long as it relates to the class, of course), so that they will have greater motivation and attention span when they go about their studies. Despite motivation being key, American students are often deprived of choice within a classroom. Most of the time we’re taught whatever is written in the school’s curriculum, which may or may not have anything to do with our own aspirations. As we all have experienced, this can lead a class being extremely boring, or even annoying when we can’t think of any way it will help us in life after taking it. In other words, it’s not an environment that’s very conducive to learning.

America still has a long way to go before we can rid ourselves of the

English-Only system and these old, ineffective methods of teaching. But other countries have done it, which means it is possible. We’ve done a lot with education reform here, but we can’t stop now. Not until we’re giving our public school students the best education we can. My PLA small group, which will spend the next two months drafting a policy to the Pennsylvania Congress in support of statewide bilingual education in elementary schools, aims to do just that.

Appel, R. 1988. The language education of immigrant workers’ children in The Netherlands. In T. Skutnabb-Kangas and J. Cummins (Eds.) Minority Education: From Shame to Struggle. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters. pp. 57-78.

Krashen, Stephen. “Do Other Countries Do Bilingual Education?” UnzWatch. n.p., n.d. Web. 5 Oct., 2015.

Lin, J. 1997. Policies and practices of bilingual education for the minorities of China. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 18 (3): 193-205.

Lofgren, H. and Ouvinen-Birgerstam, P. 1982. A bilingual model for the teaching of immigrant children. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development 3: 323-331.

Malarz, Lynn. “Bilingual Education: Effective Programing for Language Minority Students.” Curriculum Handbook. ASCD, 2015. Web. 5 Oct., 2015.

Ozerk, K. 1994. Subject matter acquisition and language development. In S. Ozerk (Ed.), University of Olso Pedagogiskforskningsinstitutt, report number 3, pp. 74-128.

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