Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Problems with Public Education and Discipline

[Johnathan Clayborn]
In my pursuit studying educational psychology and I have studied the modern public school system at length. There is a lot of focus right now on grievous problems within the academics of the school system itself.  However, there is one area that is consistently overlooked; the area of discipline. Sure, there are the occasional school shootings that occur. And when these events happen they receive widespread media coverage across the nation. Fortunately, these events are rare. However, there is a whole different side to the discipline problem in our schools that is far more rampant and widespread than you might think.
We’ll talk about how deep the rabbit-hole goes in a minute, however, first let’s touch on some of the reasons why the issues exist. First; students are out of control. They feel entitled by today’s society. They, in many cases, have little or no structure at home, and little to no parental involvement. The parents also fail to properly discipline their children (many of whom could use a good spanking and a serious grounding in my opinion). The teachers aren’t blameless either. They are often so fed up with the child’s antics that they just snap. In some cases the teachers are just irresponsible and what starts out as horseplay gets out of hand…but teachers shouldn’t be engaging in horseplay with their students anyway.
So, how serious is this issue? First, at any point that you’re bored pop over to youtube and do a search for “student attacks teacher” or vice versa. There are a plethora of videos. Some these videos involve teachers who are physically wrestling with their students, apparently in fun. Like this one: or this one: or this substitute teacher who is teaching his class self-defense moves: Now, I’m a big proponent of self-defense and I think it’s a vital skill that everyone should know, but there’s a time and place for everything and in the middle of Algebra is not the appropriate time or place for this kind of discussion. There are much more disturbing videos, like this one, where it’s unclear who started the altercation but the teacher and the student have physically gone to blows:
In many cases the children are clearly in the wrong.  In one case reported on by MSNBC’s Today show from 2008 a Baltimore art teacher was assaulted by a student who invaded her “personal space”. The school administration says that ultimately the blame falls on the teacher for telling the student that she would defend herself after the student threatened to hit her. This same school, Lewis High School, was put on probation by Maryland school authorities due to a high number of violent fights. In 2002 Baltimore school officials completely disbanded Northern High School due to its high violence level and created several smaller schools, including this one. Both of the smaller schools have been labeled as persistently dangerous which ultimately rendered the school district’s decision to break the violent school up as ineffective. This is not surprising to me. Simply moving a problem from one school to another doesn’t actually resolve the problem. So now instead of having one school with a violence issue, this district has two. But that’s exactly the type of thinking that’s plaguing our education system at the moment.
In another incident reported on ABC in 2009 in Colorado a teacher at Hinkley High School was beaten up by a student after the teacher took away the student’s cell phone. Apparently the teacher had already told the student to put away the cell phone once. After the student was caught with it a second time the teacher took it away and the student charged the teacher and physically assaulted her.
There was also another article, allegedly originally reported in the Eureka  Reporter (although this website seems to be defunct now).  This issue was reported in May of 2006. In this case a 15 or 16 year old student assaulted his teacher over a pot-leaf necklace. The student was arrested and charged with felony assault. Apparently the teacher confiscated the necklace after telling the student numerous times not to have it visible in the classroom.
Earlier this year a teacher in Plainville High School in Connecticut was assault by a student, according to NBC news.  There was no comment on why the teacher was assaulted by the student, however the article did state that the student was arrested and charged with assault on an elderly person and 2nd degree breach of peace.
And then another story from just a few days ago as reported in the Huffington Post; a 10 year old girl physically assaulted her teacher after the teacher confiscated her Halloween Candy.  This incident occurred in Zellwood Elementary School in Florida. In this case the student was arrested and charged with felony battery. The local news asked the girl’s mother if she thought her daughter should have been arrested and the mother responded with “no, no, no. I was shocked, devastated.” In this particular case, according to the police report, the teacher had confiscated the candy and put in her desk. The student then retrieved the candy without asking and began throwing pieces at other students. The teacher confiscated the bag again, putting it on a shelf behind her desk. She told the student that the candy would be given to her mother at the end of the day. The student then began throwing items from the teacher’s desk, at which point the teacher called for assistance in having the girl removed. While waiting for the help to arrive the teacher tried to blockade access to the candy bag and was hit repeatedly by the student who threatened to kill the teacher and her family.
In another report from CBS out of Chicago this past February a teacher was attacked by a student after the teacher told the student that he could not go to the bathroom. The teacher told the student that they he would have detention if he stood up again. The student then ripped the detention paper out of the teacher’s hands and a scuffle ensued which result in the student pinning the teacher to the floor and punching and kicking him repeatedly. The 14 year old was released to his parents and the school declined to comment, but the police department stated that they would pressing charges of felony battery against the student at a later time.
There are literally dozens and dozens of similar stories, but for the sake I time I will omit summarizing all of them. But then there are the fights on the other side of the coin as well. Incidents where a teacher marked students down a test for saying “bless you” to a classmate who sneezed because it violated his no-talking rule. To me it seems a little harsh to punish students for extending a common courtesy. It’s not as though a simple “bless you” is going to catastrophically disrupt the concentration of the students, nor is it going to empower the students with the correct answers to the test questions.  
There are also these teachers who, rather than taking the student’s cell phones, destroy them completely: and . This is potential legal issue for the school. Just because a student is in your classroom does not give you the right to destroy their belongings. There’s a word for that; vandalism. Or destruction of private property works too.
But, apparently violence by teachers against students is not just a problem in America as evidenced by this video of this teacher in Japan: and this one in China: and even this one from India: Some of the violence is senseless and is almost something that you would see in a cartoon:  And there are even the attempts at humor by students:
Some students deliberately antagonize the teachers: but other cases the teacher’s actions are inexplicable.  The most disturbing report by far comes out of Fox Houston where a private school teacher assaults and beats a 6th grade elementary school student. Apparently a mentally challenged student in the class was dancing and this student and several others thought it was funny. This touched a nerve with the teacher who beat the kid so hard that he had bruises for more than a week. The teacher was fired and taken into custody by the local sheriff’s office.
This situation, in my mind at least, plays no small role in why it is that teachers are rapidly leaving the education field. When I’ve had these discussions with others in the past some people have callously said that “teachers need to just suck it up and deal with it” or when I tried to argue that they weren’t getting paid enough to deal with these issues they said “if teachers aren’t teaching simply for the love of teaching children they need to find somewhere else to work”. To me this is an incredulous point of view. Sure, every teacher undoubtedly has a strong desire to teach children, but let’s be pragmatic about it for a moment. Teachers have lives and bills just the same as the rest of us. What if customers at your job were walking up and hitting you? Would you want a raise? Would you want to continue working there? I seriously doubt that there are many who would. I, for one, don’t blame the teachers for wanting to leave.
If you look into the epidemic of teachers leaving the field the statistics are alarming. 10% of all new teachers quit within the first year of employment. By the second year this number jumps to 40%. Within the first five years on the job half of all new teachers quit.  No other job that I am aware of has such a high turnover rate; save maybe people who work in a telemarketing call center. But I digress, something is seriously wrong the system if those are the types of turnover rates that we are experiencing. Everyone is resolutely focused on bringing about academic reform, which I agree is a much-needed thing, however, none of the plans that I’ve seen yet have any elements incorporated into them addressing this issue.
In looking at the data here are some of the reasons why teachers quit. According to the National Center for School Statistics new teachers who worked with a mentor or teachers who made a starting salary of $40,000 annually were less likely to quit. This seems logical to me. With a mentor there is someone to guide you and show you the ropes, and with higher pay you’re more inclined to put with more headaches. (As a comparison, the average starting salary for a teacher in the Phoenix Metro area is $32,000).
Another study by the General Teaching Council was part of an effort to bring disillusioned teachers back into the profession. In their study the teachers cited unruly students, bureaucratic red tape, heavy work-loads and lack of family time as their main reasons for leaving.  Almost 20% of these teachers cited both unruly pupils and lack of family time as their primary motivators for leaving the field. At to this a baby-boom in recent times and the education system is facing a crisis. Some education think-tanks estimate that schools need to recruit another 18,000 teachers over the next five years just to stem the tide. In my particular case I make more money with no degree training in the corporate world than I would as a teacher with a four year degree. That seems a little backwards to me.
A different study by the National Education Association cites the same reasons; low salary and poor working conditions. Today’s modern teachers are more educated than at any point in history. Almost 50% of all teachers now hold a Master’s Degree as compared to 23% of teachers in 1960. The teachers are citing that they are not receiving enough pay to pay back student loans and make a living as part of their reasons for leaving.
There are a number of people that feel that these are invalid reasons for people to quit, such as this blog here: . However, I’m with the teachers on this debate. Next time that guy wants to quit his job because his hours suck or his pay sucks or his customers are a jerk I’m tempted to tell him that he’s not allowed to feel that way and that those are not “valid” reasons for quitting. I don’t see where this guy gets off on passing judgment onto teachers in the first place, but I digress.  While I disagree with the sentiment of his particular article, I do have to admit that he may have some valid points, which I’ll cover in a moment.
And there are certainly those who agree with the teachers as evidenced by these very similar political cartoons:

Whatever their reasons are, and whether we agree with their choices or not, the evidence is clear; teachers are leaving faster than ever before. The result of this behavior is adversely affecting our schools in the worst way. People are always talking about how much more funding the schools need. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education teachers quitting the field were costing the education system $4.9 billion each year in 2005. And the problem has only gotten worse since then. Instead of new money going to improving the system, it’s going to attrition costs.
The problem is clear enough, the question becomes; how do we go about fixing it? Paying teachers more money is one answer that has been proposed. In my opinion this solution will only be somewhat effective. I do think that teachers deserve more money however, providing a higher salary in and of itself is not going to magically resolve these issues.
Another suggested solution is to create alternate methods for teachers to become certified that do not require a bachelor’s degree and the associated cost. Again, this may help in some situations, but I do not think that this in and of itself will solve the issue. For those of you with good memory you may have noticed that my post started with classroom violence, and now we’re discussing teachers quitting. I believe these are interconnected problems and that the only real way to deal with these problems is to provide teachers with training courses. I can tell you first-hand how this will help. Until 2 months ago I was enrolled in the Secondary Education program at my college. There were a lot of requirements and a lot of practicum hours involved in getting the certification, including one full semester as a student teacher. However, there was little to no pragmatic training built into the program. And it’s not just my school it’s every program that I’ve looked at. There are no classes for teachers on how to avoid burnout (whereas in the behavioral health field that I currently work there are seminars each quarter).  There are no classes on how to organize your classroom, manage your workload, or deal with unruly students. It’s very much a sink or swim attitude, and more and more teachers are sinking because they lack the skills and the training to resolve these conflicts.
Remember the blogger whom I disagreed with? This is the only point that he made that I concur with him on. Teachers, he suggests, are using the “too much workload” as simply another way of saying that they don’t have an effective system to handle the workload they’re expected to perform. To a point, I agree with this. However, when you factor in the impending teacher crisis, we’re facing a situation that is auto-catalytic; teachers are leaving because they have too much to do, which means that the remaining teachers have to do more, which causes them to leave, etc. New teachers who enter this cycle are not prepared and are shocked by the system. Even when working as the student intern you usually aren’t doing everything on your own, there is another experienced teacher helping you. But once you have your degree and your certification you’re just expected to magically know the missing pieces of information.
I stoutly believe that one thing that can benefit teachers greatly is a pragmatic conflict resolution training. Explain to teachers what they should and should not do. For example; putting tape over a student’s mouth is not an effective way of curbing the behavior of talking out of turn (which was another article I read about). Any basic psychology student can tell you that. And this proposed training goes for everyone who works in the school setting; nurses, school counselors, and even the police who visit the campus. I read an article about a 5-year old boy who was zip-tied and arrested, charged with felonious assault. The officer put his hands on the boy (a boy who had been diagnosed with mental disorders) and the boy responded by slapping the officer’s hand away. The officer then arrested him for assault. You don’t need to put your hands on the students to get them to cooperate.
My suggestion would be to increase the teacher’s pay, but also to stop giving them the summer off. They should use those summer months when school is out of session for implementing teacher skills development courses. Bring in business consultants who can teach the teachers who to streamline their processes and decrease their work load. Bring in counselors and psychologists who can teach them appropriate conflict resolution skills. Bring in legal professionals who can cover the ins and outs of the law, especially in dealing with harassment and abuse. The most ridiculous case I have heard of regarding this is a 5-year  old kindergarten student who was expelled for “sexual harassment”. Excuse me?  The child in this case pinched a fellow student on the butt, one time. Even in the corporate world a single act such as this hardly meets the definition of sexual harassment. And, in my opinion, you have to have some concept of what sex is in order for it to be considered sexual harassment. Granted, I’m not saying the boy should be allowed to go around pinching butts. However, this seems excessive on the part of the school. After all, isn’t our job as educators to teach students? Imagine if you were immediately arrested anythime you did something wrong, whether you knew it was wrong or not. You’d be scared to leave your house. This knee-jerk reaction in our schools has got to stop. It needs to be replaced with a level-headed system of handling these issues.
Now, keep in mind that I’m not advocating that teachers become fully trained behaviorists either. That would be absurd to expect them to do two full time jobs. And a “behavior manual” is also a ridiculous idea. As anyone who works in the behavioral field will tell you, while the behavior that a person is doing may be identical to that of another person, their reason for initiating that behavior may not be. For example; you have a student who’s talking in class. Great. You can’t use a cookie-cutter approach to dealing with this behavior. Maybe he’s talking because he’s bored and he’s under-stimulated. Maybe he’s talking because he’s overly kind and helping the student beside him. Maybe he’s talking because he doesn’t understand what’s going on but is too afraid to ask. Or, maybe he’s talking because he simply wants attention. There are numerous ways to curb this behavior, but if you took a blanket “one size fits all” approach to this then you would almost certainly make some situations better and other situations far worse. The teachers need to be able to leverage outside resources, such a school counselors or trained behavioral professionals who can observe the class either in person or via web-cam offsite and provide the teachers with specific techniques tailored to each child.
Whatever educational reforms lay ahead for the American Education System it seems clear that without provisions to include teacher training and skill development this problem will continue to get worse.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Choosing a Graduate School

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Now that I am in the home stretch for my undergraduate degree I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to which graduate school I would like to attend. The school that I am at currently does offer degrees in the field I wish to study, so I’ll consider them as a last resort, but I’m very fed up with the administration and support teams at the school, so it’s time to shop around. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to write about my methodology.
Choosing a graduate school is no simple task, and certainly not one that you should make impulsively. Graduate degrees can be lengthy programs and they can be quite expensive. You could easily buy a house (in some parts of the country) for what you will spend on schooling. And the last thing that you want is to end up with a degree that will be laughed at or disregarded by potential employers. So how does one go about choosing a school?
There are literally dozens and dozens of schools that offer Masters and Doctorate degrees. One of the first questions that I start with is “what is my schedule like?” Can I physically be present in a class on-campus? Or are the constraints of work and family life going to make that scenario an impossibility? Also, are you expecting any significant life-changes in the next few years? If you are moving, starting a new job, getting married or divorced, etc., then you may want to give consideration to your schooling. If you are in the job market it might not be a good idea to commit to a program that requires you to be present during the day, especially if you are trying to make a good impression on your new boss.
In this particular case, like so many millions of other working adults, I find that attending a ground campus is not a pragmatic choice at this point in my life. So, that narrows my search parameters to an online school. But there are still quite a few online schools to pick from. Now, searching and comparing all of those schools would not be a pragmatic way to spend your time, so you will need to narrow your search parameter even further. For me, this was by selecting only schools that offered a degree that specialized in my area of study. For example, there are quite literally dozens of schools that offer doctorate degrees in psychology, but there is only a handful that offers a specialized doctorate in educational psychology specifically. By focusing on my degree specialization this made my particular list of potential schools much more manageable.
So, for me the next step was probably one of the most obvious; Cost analysis. How much is it going to cost me for this degree? Pretty much everyone takes a look at the cost per credit hour, but for many graduate degrees there are other costs as well, especially at the doctoral level. There are often residencies, seminars, colloquia, or in some cases, certification testing that may be required. These costs are often not included in the tuition quote that you receive. Many of these require travel expenses on top of the fee to attend. Find out from the schools that you are interested in; how much they cost, where they are at, how many you are required to attend, and how often they occur. This will give you a much more realistic idea of cost as well preventing any unpleasant surprises.
Next, also consider the length of the program. How many credits do you need? What is the average time to complete the program? Knowing this information will give you a much more realistic sense of what you are in for in terms of length of time before your graduation.
Another thing to consider, start at the end and work backward. What I mean by that is this; plan to where you want to end up academically and work your where back to where you are now. For example; I plan on pursuing a doctorate of educational psychology. So, when deciding which grad school I wanted to attend I started by researching the doctoral programs. From there I knew which master’s level programs would feed into that doctoral program. In my particular case the school that I’m leaning towards also offers a specialized master’s degree in educational psychology as well. This can streamline your length of time in your graduate studies by keeping you from taking any unnecessary classes. Additionally if you can find a school that offers both the masters and the doctoral degree that you want, then it will make transitioning from one degree to another much easier.
By this point you still probably have about a half-dozen schools to consider. The next logical step is to check their accreditation. This is a very important step and will keep you from falling into the “degree mill” trap. Degree mills, for those of you who are not aware, operate much like the so-called “bucket-shops” in the genealogy field. With a degree mill you simply mail them a check, in some cases you’ll do some fictitious coursework and then a very short time later they mail you the degree that you want. The biggest problem with these degree mills are the fact that the degrees are not worth the paper that they are printed on. No employer will take them seriously and you will have wasted a considerable amount of money for the degree. If you find yourself saying “this seems too good to be true!” then it probably is.
So, how do you tell if a graduate school is accredited? First, check their website. See what institutions they list as being accredited by. Trust me, every college will have this. If you can’t find it on their web page, resort to Google. Type the school’s name and then accreditation. This will almost always pull up exactly what you are looking for. The trick here is not to take this information at face value. Some degree mills list accreditations that they do not actually have. Other degree mills are more ambitious and will make up a fake accreditation institution that sounds legitimate in order to trick you. If you want to know for sure if a school is accredited or not, check here:  If the school is not listed then I would strongly encourage you to look at another school, no matter how enticing they sound. After all, that’s kind of the point of a scam.
Okay, so now you have a half-dozen legitimate, accredited schools on your list. Another thing I like to do is take a look at the reviews. I typically start with .  This is a website that people  go to when they believe that they are being scammed by a business or institution. In my particular case, the school that I am currently going to had three dozen entries, all of them recent (which would explain why I’m fed up with them). The two graduate schools that I am considering, one of them had 12 entries, the other one had 4. This gives me an idea of the credibility of the school in the eyes of the public. But don’t stop there. If the school has a page on Facebook (or whatever social networking site you use) hit it up and ask people what they think of the school, good, bad, or otherwise. I also head over to and see what other students have had to say.  On this site students can rate the school in a number of areas. If you go here I strongly encourage you to go into the detailed reviews left by students for your degree level and take notes on some of the comments that people are complaining about. Jot these notes down and hold onto them.
After that, let’s see what the business world thinks of the schools. I like to evaluate where the school stands on certain rankings. There dozens of rankings out there, so pick carefully. One that is widely respected is the US News Ranking. The biggest drawback to this site is that they typically do not rank any of the “for-profit” colleges, so most of your online-based schools will not be listed by default.  Another excellent source of information is the Online Education Database. ( . This site is independently run and provides a fairly accurate portrayal of the overall school based on different areas. The “for-profit” colleges are listed and ranked on this site so it may give you a better idea of where they stack up when compared to each other.  Follow that up with a trip over to the National Center for Education Statistics ( This is a site run by the US Department of Education.  This site does not rank the schools, but it does give you a general idea of some of the cold, hard facts about the school. You can see what the school’s acceptance rate is, what their graduation rate is, etc. You should note however that some of this data may be skewed. For example, if you are trying to see how many people graduate out of a specific program, this is not the place to do it. This just gives your overall information for the school as a whole.

With regards to business, also look into any professional organizations in the field that you are studying. Do they recommend any one school over the others? Do they have a list of schools that they endorse? etc. This can be a crucial piece of information for you.
One tip; something to avoid: do not search “top online colleges” or something like that in Google. You will get a plethora of sites that return matches, however these are decidedly less than useful. Some of these sites are false-fronts run by the parent corporations of the schools that they represent.  Others are marketing sites that get paid by the schools each time a student fills out a “request more info” thing. They are not interested in providing you with actual, useful data, instead they just want to sell you the school. The Apollo Group is one large company that owns several online colleges including the University of Phoenix, Western International University and others. The Career Education Corporation is also a huge conglomerate company that operates more than 80 online schools. These companies both make use of sites like these to garner admissions for their schools.
Next, contact the Better Business Bureau of the state that these schools are headquartered in and see how many complaints have been filed against the school. After that, contact the accreditation agencies that the school is registered with and do the same. No school is perfect so expect to find some complaints. But, what you should be looking for is the overall number of claims as well as the time period of those claims. If they are recent it may be a sign that the school has some issues. If they are all older claims it’s possible that the school has resolved whatever issues were generating those claims in the first place.
Now, you’re probably down to two or three schools. Contact an enrollment advisor for each school, but do not give them your social security number! (Some over-zealous enrollment counselors will start signing you up and will being processing your FAFSA for their school. If you decide to go elsewhere it may create extra hoops to jump through in order to get this reversed).  And certainly do not let them pressure you into enrolling right now.  Ask them questions about the program, listen to their spiel. Bear this in mind however, 90% of these online schools are classified by the Department of Education as a “for-profit” school. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the degree is any less valid than a “public school” as the school is accredited, however it means that the school has one goal in mind: to make money. The bottom line for these schools is the bottom dollar, preferably your dollar. Understand that these “enrollment advisors” are also wearing another hat; “sales agent”. Their job is to convince you to enroll in their school. Remember that list of questions you jotted down earlier from Student Review? This is the perfect time to bring those up. Many of these sales reps are trained to go over specific information with you. When you start asking questions that they aren’t expecting it throws them off of their game and you are far more likely to get truthful answers (but still take them with a grain of salt nonetheless). Also be sure to ask about those extra costs, such as the seminars, residencies, etc. Ask about perks, too. One school that I talked to gives students a discount automatically if they are alumni of the school and taking additional classes or pursuing a higher degree.  
Next, more and more colleges are offering a “free online course”. Take advantage of this. It’s usually some bullshit course about how to be good college student, or some other garbage, and they’ll usually apply it to your degree if you go to that school. But, it will give you an idea of how their online portal works, what bugs there may be, etc. Also, be sure to ask questions of the teacher in order to gauge teacher response time. Do this for each school that you are considering attending. It doesn’t cost you anything but time.
Finally, as a last step, go into the ProQuest database. If you are a current undergrad student you should have free access to this through your school library. If not, many public libraries have access to this. Select the Dissertations and Thesis Database. Find dissertations in your field of study (by entering the text into the “keyword search”) and then also filter those results to the specific school that you are interested in. Download some of these (they are .pdf files). Read through them. This will give you a very good idea of what is expected of you in order to complete your thesis or dissertation. And, since you searched for something that was relevant to your area of study, you may even be able to use that data in your own dissertation as well, so in essence you are killing two birds with one stone.
 Is this a lot of work? Yes, of course. But it’s worth it in the end. Your choice of Graduate school will follow you for the rest of your life. If you are going to spend the time and money and energy to go that far with your education at least be sure that you are getting what you pay for and not ending up with a worthless degree. And, be sure that your school administration is competent enough to get you through the program without any academic or financial snafus. If you drop the program or get kicked out because you lose your funding the lenders will not care. You are still obligated to pay that loan pay (unless you can convince a judge to wipe it out in a bankruptcy. Despite popular misconception it is possible in theory it’s just extremely difficult to do). In the end you are the one who is responsible for your education. You will certainly have others to help you along the way, but if you rush into that kind of decision and it doesn’t turn out well, then ultimately the blame falls back on you for not doing your due diligence.
I hope that you have found this particular article useful. I felt compelled to write about this instead of my other topic I had planned because this was so fresh in my mind and I often get questions about this. There are also some other useful sites in the references as well. Enjoy!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Excess Commercialism II

[Johnathan Clayborn]
With Thanksgiving weekend just behind us I couldn’t help but take a moment to reflect on how driven by greed our society has become. Many years ago I used to work for Wal-Mart as an overnight stocker. I had the misfortune of working a Black Friday sale once, and that once was more than enough.
For those of you who are reading this internationally allow me to explain Black Friday; essentially it’s the one day of the year where every store has every item that you’ve ever wanted to buy marked down to ridiculously low prices for sale…the catch is that there is only about 50 or 100 of these items and there are thousands of shoppers who want them…thousands of shoppers who have completely devolved back into their most basic animal instincts.
When I worked that one Black Friday back in the early 2000’s, 2002 I believe it was, it was an experience I’ll never forget. There was pushing, there was shoving, There was a 78 year old woman ramming other shoppers with her cart when they wouldn’t get out of the way fast enough. And let’s not forget the fist fight that erupted in electronics. This was the year that the $50 Apex DVD player first entered the market and our store had 3,000 of them. Plenty to go around. And yet, a fist fight ensued. But, mind you, these customers were not fighting over whether or not they were going to get one, they were fighting over who was going to get them first.
Now, I love Christmas. It’s my favorite holiday (I blame my Irish roots for that). And I like Christmas Music (after Thanksgiving). But I hate, absolutely hate Christmas Shopping. While the Christmas season brings out some of the best traits of humanity; a giving spirit, kindness, charity, etc. , it tends to bring out the absolute worst in people as individuals. At any point during the Christmas season a trip to the local mall will include; people honking at each other and driving like jerks, cars jockeying for that last parking space, people being rude to one another, long lines and short patience, rude sales workers who have dealt with more than enough rude customers, and generally pushy people trying to make sure that they get everything on their list no matter the cost. Black Friday takes all of those things and amplifies it a million fold. It’s the one day of the year where people revert back to the psychology of primates and compassion or kindness toward fellow man is a foreign concept.
But again, don’t take my word for it. Let’s take a look at some of the headlines over the weekend:
The New York Times reported a story that happened in Los Angeles. A woman wanted a new X-Box to put under the Christmas tree. Right on. I like the X-Box console, it’s a very good choice. And at a half-price sale, who wouldn’t? But, when this particular woman felt that the crowd was threatening her grip on her X-Box how did she respond? With pepper spray, of course. In the end she sprayed about 20 people, including small children. And once all of the other customers were writhing in agony she went to the front, paid the clerk and went home. She did turn herself over to Police on Saturday, but they have not decided if they will be pressing charges.  Also, according to one witness who talked to the press, this particular woman used this tactic over and over throughout the store to get “quick access” to her list of items.
But, that’s just one crazed lunatic, right? Sadly, no. In North Carolina another shopper, this one a former police officer himself, also released a puff of pepper spray into the crowd in order to “calm them down”.  And elsewhere in California another shopper pepper sprayed other shoppers who tried to cut her in line. This woman injured 15 people with her pepper spraying and it is unknown if she will be facing charges.
And then, of course, there’s Kinston, North Carolina, where customers were fighting over cell phones that were marked down $165. An off-duty Kinston police officer ended up pepper spraying the fighting shoppers to subdue them.
Okay, so maybe you think that pepper spray is no big deal. I beg to differ. To get a good explanation of how it works and what you would go through, watch this video here:
Now, keep in mind, these boys did this as part of a training exercise and they had professionals there to guide them through the process and to wash the pepper spray off. Now imagine that same thing happening in a closed store with no professionals and no water and little kids. It would be pretty unbearable. Imagine that you’re talking to your spouse and then suddenly you have a face full of pepper spray.  That’s not my idea of a good time.
But, sadly, the pepper spray was just the beginning. In San Leandro, California a group of thieves thought that they would partake on the Black Friday deals by simply robbing the shoppers on their way out of the store with their wares. One man refused to give up his purchases so the thieves shot him for them. Fortunately, this man survived and even held down one of the thieves until police could apprehend him. Police are looking for the other thieves now and the man is recovering in the hospital.
The shootings didn’t end there either. A 55 year old woman, Tonia Robbins, was shot in the foot outside of a Myrtle Beach, South Carolina Wal-Mart as thieves stole her purse. The suspects fled after Tonia’s sister, 58 year old Anne, pulled out a .38 caliber revolver and fired three warning shots into the air.
In Kissimmee, Florida two men had a fist fight over a jewelry sale. The police in this case were planning on just letting the men go with a warning, but one of the men resisted police when they tried to escort him out of the store so he was arrested instead.
And then there’s Rome, New York, where two men got into a fight just moments after the store opened. In this case the police didn’t have to get involved right away. The men beat each other up so badly that they were both hospitalized. And, remarkably, in a different part of the same store another fight erupted in a line of shoppers where the police arrested one man and charged him with disorderly conduct.
It’s not just the big cities that are effected either. Even in small towns like Fruitport Township, Michigan the violence and chaos ensues. Fruitport Township is a sleepy little town of 12,500 people. This is less than half the size of the sleepy little town that I reside in. And yet, this small town is not immune. In the local Wal-Mart a 15 year old girl was overcome by the crowd and pushed to the floor where she was trampled on by several people. She was hospitalized for her injuries. In the same town at the local mall an 86-year old woman was also pushed by the crowds in the Bed, Bath & Beyond. She fell and hit her head and was treated by paramedics at the scene. Authorities in the area say that no less than 8 stores received bomb threats on Friday.
When it comes to electronics customers get crazy. In Milford, Connecticut a shopper got into a fight with another customer. The shopper, Brian Shellnutt, allegedly punched the other shopper in the face over a video game at which point police tazered him and took him into custody.
And it seems that shoppers aren’t the only ones who are affected by the craze either, it also spills over onto those we expect to protect us. One of the more disturbing stories comes out of Buckeye, AZ, a suburb just south of my house. A 54-year old grandpa, Jared Allen Newman was assaulted by police and ended up with a broken face. Here’s what went down, according to eye witnesses on the scene; the crowd in electronics was getting crazy, and they knocked Jared’s grandson to the ground. Jared put a video game in the waist band of his pants so that he had both hands free to pick his grandson off the floor. The police interpreted this as intent to steal the game. He was being cuffed by one officer was cooperative and compliant. Then, out of nowhere, another officer tripped him and body-slammed him into the ground. His face broke his fall. He lost consciousness and began bleeding profusely from the nose.  The particularly disturbing part of this story is one that’s often left out. Mr. Newman wasn’t just there for the game. He also had more than $600 of merchandise in his shopping cart. Why steal a $40 game when you’re about to pay for more than $600? The over-zealous police claim that Mr. Newman was resisting arrest and flailing his arms about screaming “I don’t want to go to jail!”.  Of course not, neither would I, Mr. Newman. I could be wrong, but I’ve worked retail before, and I’ve worked in several different retail chains. It’s typically standard practice not to charge someone with shoplifting until they try to leave the store without paying for the item. This was even the case at the big-name electronics store that my ex-wife used to work for. Just because a customer puts something in their pocket or in their waistband doesn’t mean that they are going to steal it. They have to show intent to steal; by making for the exit. They could have pulled it out of their pocket and paid at the register, or they could have pulled it out of their pocket and set it down anywhere in the store prior to leaving the property. It’s not shoplifting if the item doesn’t leave the property.  In this case, as a result of the police department’s over-zealous protection of the American Economy, not only did Mr. Newman receive a shattered face, but his grandson also got trampled anyway. As the local news reported; both are getting a personalized set of bloody towels for Christmas this year. If you watch the video of the aftermath (which is graphic due to the large amount of blood and can be seen here: ) one bystander asks police “why did you have to throw him down so hard?” The worst part about it, once the police injured him they didn’t even know how to administer first aid for the wounds that they caused and a bystander with some medical training came forward to tend to the man. At least in this one example the crowd seemed to unite against the police and defend Mr. Newman, who was still arrested and charged with shoplifting and resisting arrest. To me, it just sounds like a lame excuse by the police department to cover up their own misconduct.  
One article that makes my point perfectly, is also one of the saddest. 61 year old Walter Vance was shopping at Target in Logan County, West Virginia. He had a history of heart problems. He became ill while shopping for Christmas decorations for his store. He collapsed onto the ground and the rest of the shoppers ignored him and continued on with their shopping. When Walter was in their way they simply walked around him, or just simply stepped over him. Ultimately a nurse happened upon him and called him an ambulance, but he passed away shortly after arriving at the hospital. Walter’s co-workers asked reporters “Where is the good Samaritan side of people? How could you not notice that someone was in trouble? I just don’t understand if people didn’t help what their reason was, other than greed because of a good sale.”
I have to ask myself “is it really worth it?” I don’t think so; the extra stress, tension, the pushing and the shoving and the violence. Not to mention waiting around in line for hours and hours. I have better, more important things to do with my time. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like this crazed mentality will come to an end any time soon either, especially when typically respected sites like MSN Money are urging people to “plan their Black Friday assault”. In light of all of the violence that surrounds that day I can’t help but wonder if that’s really the best choice of headlines.
It may be just my perception of things, but it seems as though Thanksgiving has lost all real meaning anymore. It seems as though it is just there to serve as a reminder for when Black Friday happens. And the Christmas Spirit? Well, that’s just summed up by three little words. Peace on Earth? No. Very Merry Christmas? No. Goodwill to men? No. In these days it’s “Cold Hard Cash”. Christmas is becoming less and less about kindness and charity, peace or goodwill and more and more about how much money you can save and how many people you can trample or maim in the process.
Sources: at-target

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Duality of Skinner

[Johnathan Clayborn]
In my Personality Psychology class this past week I had to write a book review. For my particular book I chose an early work of the famous psychologist B. F. Skinner, who is a noted behavioral psychologist in particular. In my work in the Behavioral Health field many of my colleagues refer to Skinner with a love-hate attitude and I never understood why…until I read one of his books. In my mind Skinner comes across as equal part genius and madman.
The particular work I read that lead me to this conclusion was originally published in 1971 and is entitled Beyond Freedom & Dignity.  Upon completion of that book I was definitely left with mixed feelings about Skinner. On the one hand I had a new found respect for him, and on the other hand I found him to be completely absurd at times.
The thing that made me respect Skinner and appreciate his keen insight was laid out in the first chapter of the book. He basically points out that all of the major problems that humanity faces in the world today are caused by humans and human behavior. He suggests that biological and/or technological means alone are not enough to correct these issues. If we want to correct the problems of the world we need to alter our behavior. To me, this seems rather brilliant. I mean, if your dog takes a crap on your rug you don’t invent technology to clean it up, you train the dog to crap outside. Problem solved. Why should humanity’s problems be any different? If we can avoid the problems altogether by altering our behavior, then certainly this seems like the wiser, simpler, more cost-efficient option. In the last chapter of the book he also talks about how, despite our in-depth knowledge of everything else in the world around us, the human brain and human behavior is one subject about which we know relatively little by comparison.
But then there’s the entire middle section of the book. I’ll spare you the ludicrous details and summarize for you. Skinner believes in a principal called determinism. In this part of the book he outlines a concept not too dissimilar to the “divine right” notion that medieval monarchs used to solidify their claim to power. He asserts that the actions of people are pre-determined and beyond their control. He states that it is folly to reward people for their actions, since they didn’t have any choice in them anyway. He also says that punishing people for their actions is folly for the same reason.  I cannot believe in this philosophy for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.
One thing that I found particularly interesting was that at points Skinner uses circular reasoning to support his claims. He suggests that ideas are not the cause of behavior, and then in the very next breath blames the “freedom literature” for people believing that they have a choice in their actions and the subsequent behaviors that follow as a result. But if choice and free will are only illusions, then certainly the existence of “freedom literature” would have no bearing on whether people develop behaviors that try to assert free will because we don’t have control over our behavior anyway, right?  Also, as an alternative to punishment Skinner proposes that people should be rewarded for good behavior instead of being penalized for bad behavior as it is a more effective method for behavior modification. Excuse me? In the preceding chapters you just stated that people should not be rewarded for their behaviors because they can’t control them anyway. And it people truly cannot control their behavior, then attempting to modify their behavior is going to be beyond your control anyway.
In some ways I do buy into the determinism thing in some small measures. For example, I truly believe that I was put here on this earth to accomplish something. I have to believe that. Logically, I should not be alive. It’s a statistical impossibility, so it’s the only conclusion that I can draw. (More on that in a later posting). However, I do very much believe in the concept of Free Will.
If Free Will did not exist, then logic would dictate that, all things being equal, people who are put into the same situation would respond in the same fashion. However, history is full of examples where this is certainly not the case. Some slaves just gave up and accepted their fate, while others rose up and rebelled against their masters despite the obvious dangers. Some soldiers in conflict choose to run away from danger only interested in saving their own lives, while other soldiers will sacrifice their lives to protect the lives of their comrades. Some people remain addicted to drugs or alcohol while others make the decision to quit and do so successfully. I would wager that we have all been in situations at some point or another where we have been in conflict about what to decide and we have chosen to do one thing over another. The notion that everything that we do has already been predetermined and that we all are just mindless drones carrying out some set-in-stone-plan is one that the very fiber of my being tells me is wrong. That’s the very essence of humanity. We have the choice to make decisions about our future and our fates. And if we don’t like the future that stands before us we have the power and the ability to change it.  I cannot believe that we are locked into a predetermined path and nothing we do or say will change that. Maybe I’m wrong about this. And no doubt some of you will disagree with me, and I respect that. But based on my personal experiences I cannot logically reconcile how it would be true. If we are predetermined to do something or act in a certain way, then I could theoretically just give up and stop doing everything and it wouldn’t matter because it would all end up the same anyway, so why bother trying? That part just doesn’t make sense to me and it flies in the face of every personal experience I’ve ever had. I have to believe that I have the power to make my own destiny, that we all do.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Opposite Extremes in American Thinking.

[Johnathan Clayborn]
I’m part of several different discussion groups about education and education reform. In one of the groups I saw an image today and it really irked me. It said, "In order to put students first, you have to put teachers last". To me, this is the exactly the sort of backwards thinking that has our education system in such a bad state in the first place.
More 700 people had “liked” this image of the button and thought it was great. In and amongst the comments associated with the button the vast majority of them said that they “love it” or that it’s “so true”, etc. Only a very small number of people actually disagreed with the statement. And even fewer understood my point.
I am just kind of flabbergasted that this kind of extremist thinking permeates our society so much.  Why do teachers have to be last?  Why can’t they be second? Or third? Why can’t they both be first?  Teachers are a crucially important part of our education system.
In order to make good tea you need good water, in order to make a good plant you need a good seed, and in order to have a good education you need to have a good teacher. The fact of the matter is that almost half of new teachers are only staying in the field an average of 5 years before they leave to find other work.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not advocating that we just start pouring more and more money into the education system either, it’s obvious what we’re doing isn’t working and what need a complete change of strategy. However, that doesn’t mean that we need to put the teachers last in order to make the students first.
But, all of this opposition-based thinking seems to create more problems than it solves. Another classic example that comes to mind is the old adage “if you’re not with us, your against us”. It seems as though society in general is more interesting in creating divisions and laying blame than they are collaborating to develop effective solutions.
This is part of the reason that I’ve been registered as an independent voter for so many years. In the American Political System the popular conception is that either you are a Democrat, or you are a Republic. If you’re not either, then you’re a nut-job who’s just crazy. I agree with some of the Republican ideologies, but I also agree with some of the Democratic ideologies. I don’t’ agree with either party enough to align myself with either, but that’s exactly what our opposition-based thinking mandates that I should do. And with all of the recent Occupy protests that are currently on-going that share a similar mindset I can’t help but wonder when this “us vs. them”, black and white mentality will change.


Monday, November 7, 2011

Permanently Drawn Perceptions?

[Johnathan Clayborn]
This particular entry is part rant-part philosophical question. I had some other topics planned, but I wanted to write about this one and get it out of the way. At work, on Halloween, my company held their annual potluck and costume contest. Many of the departments decorated their whole area, and a few of them all dressed up in similar themes.
One particular costume struck a discord with me. Our Finance Department decorated their department as the “Trailer Park”. They turned their cubicle into a double-wide mobile home and the whole department dressed up as “trailer trash”. (For those foreign readers, “trailer trash” is the American slang term for people who generally low-income, low-education, and in poor-hygiene.)
The particular costume in question was the department director’s costume. Her “costume” consisted of a t-shirt and fake tattoo sleeves. Otherwise, she was in normal clothes. That kind of upset me. Do people still really think of tattoos as belonging to “trailer trash”? I have a tattoo. I’ll probably get more. Both of my siblings have tattoos. I remember my parents, my father especially, being upset that we got tattoos. Are people still so narrow-minded that they equate tattoos to the uneducated?  A good number of my friends are tattooed; a few of them heavily tattooed. I’d say that I probably personally know about a good 3 dozen people with tattoos. These are people that I talk to or associate with on a regular basis. All of them are good people; smart, compassionate, hard-working, not at all what I would classify as “trailer trash”.
As I work in the HR department of my company I sometimes get to read different HR-related magazines. One in particular, Workforce Management, had an article relating to this very thing. The November, 2010 issue had a cover caption that asked “When your top candidate walks into the interview sporting tattoos or facial piercings, will you be ready?”  Immediately I had to read the article. “Ready for what?” was the question that went through my mind. There’s nothing different to have to prepare for, it’s just a tattoo.
Despite the name of the article, it was actually quite good. The article pointed out that a lot of companies and organizations still have antiquated views on tattoos and piercings. The data presented in the article shows that tattoos and piercings are on the rise. Of people born between 1946-1964, 15% of them are tattooed. When you look at the “Gen X” generation (1965-1979), the number jumps to 32%. Of people born between 1980-2001 the number is 38%. That’s almost 4 out of every 10 people.
For piercings the amount of popularity has skyrocketed. For the “baby boomers” (’46-’64) only 1% are pierced. For the Gen X’ers the number is 9%. But for people born between ’80 –’01 (either called “Millennials” or “Generation Y” by some sources), the number jumps to 23%.
So who’s getting tattoos? Well, as I said, I have one, and I’ll probably have more. I’m professional trainer and an IT professional. I’m also studying educational psychology and pursuing 2 doctoral degrees. The article also cites a few other examples of prominent people; a New York attorney named Marisa Kakoulas, a Public Relations executive named Joe Chernov, and a New York physician named David Ores. All three of these professionals have tattoos that completely cover their arms (called “full sleeves” in the tattoo circles).
Justin Johnson is another tattooed professional. He is a marketing director of a company based out of Phoenix, Arizona. He’s started a national organization called the Alliance of Tattooed or Pierced Professionals (ATOPP) in a direct effort to change company policy and public perception about tattoos. And it’s not a moment too soon if you ask me. There are some employers (like the famous In ’n Out Burgers) that resolutely refuse to hire anyone with a tattoo. And there have been a lot of court cases over the last few years about tattoos and piercings. In one case the Red Robin restaurant chain paid out $150,000 in damages to settle a lawsuit. In the lawsuit a former employee claimed that he was fired because he had religious tattoos on his wrist and that the company was discriminating against him.
I guess the main question that I found myself thinking about was whether or not this one person’s association of tattoos with trailer trash was still a widespread thought process, or just her own personal narrow-mindedness. I really don’t care one way or the other; I’ll still get more ink once I decide what I want. But, the article does raise another interesting point; as most of the baby-boomers start retiring and the younger blood begins entering the workforce en-masse, it’s going to be harder and harder to find qualified candidates that are not sporting tats.
And as a closing note, I think that it’s just one more reason that I love the TV show NCIS. Their forensic specialist, Abby Sciuto has dozens of tattoos, and yet she is a highly trained professional who is more than capable of making important contributions to the team’s investigations.
NY Attorney, Marisa Kakoulas

NY Physician, David Ores

Pyrillis, Rita (Nov, 2010).  Body of Work. Workforce Management, Vol. 89, No. 11.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Excess Commercialization

[Johnathan Clayborn]
Most of my posts thus far have been more of an investigatory nature. This one however is just a pure rant.  I was out and about a week before Halloween and some stores were already putting up Christmas items. It almost seems like the stores themselves are becoming schizophrenic. They had Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas items out for sale all at the same time! 

I completely understand the fact that the end-goal of the store is to make money, but I think that they’re pushing it a little too far nowadays. In the few days since Halloween, the Halloween sections in the store have been completely removed and replaced with Christmas items. 

As if all of that wasn’t bad enough one of the radio stations here in town is already starting to play Christmas music. But they aren’t even playing the full song. Halfway through the song that you’re listening to there’s a burst of static, a 30 second clip of a Christmas song, another burst of static and then you’re back listening to the original song again. And they’re doing this on purpose. 

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas as much as the next person. It’s my favorite holiday, in fact. And I like to start my Christmas shopping in October, but that doesn’t mean that I want to be bombarded with Christmas stuff before Thanksgiving.  At the rate the stores are going they might as well display Christmas decorations all year round and completely rob the holiday of all meaning and sentiment that it has left.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Dispelling Myths: The Pirate Eye Patch

[Johnathan Clayborn]
So, Halloween has ended. On the heels of this holiday I can't help but wonder about some of our social quirks and perceptions. This Halloween, as last year, I dressed up as a pirate, mostly because I was tight on cash and I had the costume handy from before. If I were to ask you to imagine a pirate chances are that most of you would imagine a scraggly, rough-around-the-edges man with eccentric clothes, several belts and bandoleers, large boots, a fancy hat, a sword, a pistol, a good tooth or two and an eye patch. Throughout the day I was asked several times "where's your eye-patch?"  That got me thinking; did pirates really wear eye patches? Or is this just a myth?

I compiled and researched a listing of 281 real life pirates from the ancient Grecian-Roman times until the 21st century. Granted, some of the information is spotty, but what I found interesting was that only one of those pirates had been reported as wearing an eye patch. None of the more prominent ones, including the names that everyone knows; Calico Jack, Black Bart, Blackbeard, Red Beard, Captain Morgan, etc.

The only pirate being recorded as having worn an eye patch is Rahmah ibn Jabir al-Jalahimah, an Arab pirate who sailed in the 1800's. He mostly sailed in the Persian Gulf and was described by an English author as "the most successful and the most generally tolerated pirate, perhaps, that ever infest any sea."

Arguably, he was a very successful and famous pirate, especially in the Arabian lands, however, it seems unlikely that he is the reason that eye patches were associated with pirates. After all, the European countries had many equally notable and successful pirates to choose from. In reality, with 1 of 281 real life pirates wearing an eye patch the frequency of this happening is only 0.36%.

Next I examined a list of 194 fictional pirates from TV shows, movies, novels and cartoons. In this listing there are 8 such pirates who were eye patches or have one eye. while this is an increase of more than 11 times the number of actual pirates with eye patches, it's still only a low 4.12%. But, this has not included a close examination of the most successful pirate franchises yet; Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean.

In the first movie, The Curse of the Black Pearl, there was no major character who sported an eye patch. In fact, a cursory glance at the extras and supporting actors did not reveal any pirates sporting eye patches, although one pirate does have a wooden eye. The second film, Dead Man's Chest, also does not reveal any pirates with an eye patch (although one of Davy Jones' crews does have an eye covered by a seaweed patch over his left eye. It seems as though this may have been intentional, but it's difficult to tell.) In fact, I did not notice any notable characters sporting an eye-patch in any of the four films. (although, admittedly there may have been the one crewman aboard the Dutchman, I haven't re-watched his transformation scene.)

So, why do we have this notion that pirates should wear eye patches? And with such a low percentage of pirates both real and fictional actually wearing eye patches, where did this association stem from? One common myth is that pirates frequently sustained "battle damage" that necessitated the wearing of an eye patch. Most versions of this theory cite flying splinters as the main cause of ocular trauma.

There is reported evidence of eye injuries occurring while at sea, however, this seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Most seafaring injuries were broken bones & fractures from falling, crushing injuries from loose cargo, and lacerations and amputations from broken sail lines. Disease and sickness was also a very common ailment.

Thinking about this pragmatically, if ocular injuries did exist they would likely be a hazard of the job. The life of pirates in the so-called Golden Age of Sail is not very well documented. However, they were not the only professional sailors who frequently engaged in battle aboard wooden ships. As such, any injuries sustained by pirates "in the line of looting" should also closely parallel the injuries sustained by the professional military sailors of the Old World whose accounts are more well documented. In examining the lives of over 400 notable naval officers of America, England, France & Spain I could not find any evidence that supports the notion that injuries to the eye were commonplace. And yes, there is a mountain of evidence to suggest that splinters were indeed very lethal aboard ships during combat, but usually the most common splinter injuries were to the torso, legs and arms. Most people use their hands and arms to shield their face in the case of flying debris, so injuries to the eye would have been somewhat mitigated by that action. (And for the record, those splinter injuries that weren't immediately fatal had a tendency to become gangrenous and infected resulting in fever, delirium and eventually death some days or weeks later).

Another common theory about the eye patches is that it is actually a tool utilized by sailors. The theory goes that some crewmen had to go above and below decks quite often. The ambient light levels of the decks was different. The story goes that sailors who went from the brightly-lit above decks down into the dimly-lit below decks would need a few moments for their eyes to adjust. The story goes that pirates could switch the eye-patch from one eye to the other and instantly have better vision. There are a couple of flaws with this story however.

First, consider this photograph: ( What you are looking at is the gun deck of the American Sloop-of-War, USS Richmond. This photo was taken about the year 1900, before widespread electricity was used in the ships and things were still very much as they did then "in the old days". This particular ship was already forty years old when the photo was taken. Notice that even without electricity the below deck compartments were still lit with an acceptable level of light.

Second, consider the paradox that whatever weapons you attempt to employ in battle to give you an upper hand, your enemy will also try to use against you. It stands to reason that if this were the real reason that pirates wore eye patches, then certainly the enemies of pirates would wear them for the same reason. However, widespread accounts of their use in the Royal Navies of the world at the time are all but absent, suggesting that no tactical advantage was gained from their employment. If anything it would have been more of hindrance. Our brains interpret the signals from both eyes simultaneously as humans are hard-wired with stereoscopic vision. As such, the loss of eyesight in one eye will reduce your ability to accurately judge distance and location (depth perception) making extremely delicate tasks (like shooting or fighting) much more difficult.

Third, the concept of switching eye patches like that is a physiological impossibility. Nerves in your body either transmit or they do not. There is no "step" progression in intensity. If you touch something hot your nerves will fire. If you touch something hotter, the nerves will fire faster (but not more intensely). When one is covered by an eye patch the eye receives no stimuli and as such does not fire at all, this allows the brain to digest the information from the "active" eye. If you immediately transition from intense light to very dim and you try changing eyes your eyes will not function as you think they will. If you don't believe me, try this experiment: go into a dimly lit room. Cover up one eye. Shine a bright light in the uncovered eye. Then, quickly turn off the light and uncover your eye. You will still see a residual "imprint" of the light in the eye that was exposed to the light (even if you cover it up) and the other eye will be momentarily blurry. Why does this happen? As we just discussed more intense sensations have nerves that fire extremely rapidly (as in the case with the eye that had the light in it). When you uncover the other eye the nerves do not fire very rapidly due to the low-light situation. As such the brain becomes confused about which nervous system signal to process and the "weaker eye" won't take over until the brain can sort it out.

So, the association with pirates and eye patches did not come from actual pirates, common battle injuries or a tactical tool, where did this association come from? The answer must be in the fictional pirates. Examining the 8 fictional pirates we find a plausible answer. In 1997 Captain Ishmael Squint appeared in the Jumanji cartoon series. The debut of the Star Fox video game in 1993 featured two different one-eyed pirates. 1991 also featured a one-eyed pirate in the James Bond, Jr. cartoon series. One fictional pirate that I'm readily familiar with is the infamous "One-Eyed Willie" from the 1985 cult classic movie, the Goonies. There was an Italian comic book called Zagor that featured a one-eyed pirate in 1961. Two of the pirates I was not able to find a year for; the "Buccaneer Beer" trademark of the Van Steenberge Brewery in Belgium, and "One-Eyed Jane" from a story called "the Wicked Travels of One-Eyed Jane." I've personally never heard of either of these two. However, there is still one pirate who remains...

1883 was the first year that the book Treasure Island was published. (before that it was a series of mini-stories published in a magazine between 1881-1882). It's been cited as one of the most frequently dramatized novels. Not only was it an extremely popular book in it's own right, it's also been made into movies or TV movies more than 50 times. As if that wasn't enough it's been adapted into a play or a radio play more than 24 times as well.

Based on all of this information it seems obvious that the all of the modern pirate stereotypes come not from actual pirates, but rather from one specific fictional story that managed to capture the hearts and minds of the people. It kind of makes me wonder what else I think I know...

Ellis, N., Bloor, M., & Sampson, H. (2010). Patterns of seafarer injuries. Maritime Policy & Management, 37(2), 121-128. doi:10.1080/03088830903533742 
Gleitman, H., Fridlund, A., Reisburg, D. (2004) Psychology (6th ed.). New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Co. ISBN-13: 0-393-97767-6
Israels II, J. (1944). They Couldn't Call the Doctor. Saturday Evening Post, 216(50), 72.