Friday Favorites

A few longer pieces to share this week. Enjoy! 1. Lara Setrakian and the Reinvention of Digital Journalism

Syria Deeply

Setrakian is an Armenian-American journalist who speaks four languages and has covered the Middle East extensively, including key moments such as the Iranian presidential election, Lebanon's 2008 unrest, Arab Spring and more. Late last year, she created a single-topic news site called Syria Deeply--what she hopes to be the first of many sites to come that will delve into complex topics.

I'll be the first to admit I know the bare minimum about what's been going on in Syria, and what I do know certainly comes from mainstream media; likewise, it's pretty hard for me to avoid tuning out when it does come up in various articles and news pieces... and I consider myself pretty educated with an interest in news and an undergraduate background in political science. I'm sure this is true for many people my age, not that I'm proud of it in the least, and it's likely tied to a combination of factors, but mostly these two: first, it's really confusing, especially if you're not even somewhat versed on Middle East politics, and second, it seems so far away from daily life here in the U.S. Those reasons, however valid, don't excuse me or anyone else from caring or learning about Syria, to continue to use that example.

Now, go take a look at Syria DeeplyThis is helpful to me. This is a place I can go that provides a lot of visual, consolidated information that explains the who, what, when, where and why of today and of the past few years. Setrakian explains that she viewed the site as an opportunity to fill a critical gap in the current news climate: "It only makes sense that people are thirsty for knowledge. We just accept that we live in a not very well-informed society. We don’t have to, you know? If people came to our site and understood who is who in the Syria crisis, what they watch on the evening news is gonna be a lot more interesting. This is more of a plug-in than a disruption.”

2. How to Say No

According to this article, the best way to say no to something involves reframing with one question: Is it that you can't or that you don't? Research shows that the difference between those two words--can't and don't--affects our ability to say yes or no in the face of distraction and temptation. Thinking that you can't do something puts the focus on your limitations, whereas thinking you don't do something feels like an empowering choice.

James Clear writes, "There are situations everyday when you need to say no to something. For example, the waiter who offers you a dessert menu… or the urge to skip a workout and stay home… or the distracting call of texts, tweets, and updates when you should be focusing on something important. Individually, our responses to these little choices seem insignificant, which is why we don’t make a big deal about telling ourselves that we 'can’t' do something. But imagine the cumulative effect of choosing more empowering words on a consistent basis. 'I can’t' and 'I don’t' are words that seem similar and we often interchange them for one another, but psychologically they can provide very different feedback and, ultimately, result in very different actions. They aren’t just words and phrases. They are affirmations of what you believe, reasons for why you do what you do, and reminders of where you want to go."

3. Justin Timberlake Continues to Thrive

Justin Timberlake

Oh, JT. Swoon.  Consider this your fluff piece for the week. I particularly liked Timberlake's position on technology's presence in music culture these days; he says that in the last decade, "All the soul of it [music] was removed. It was made for whatever the trending medium was." Very true, which maybe explains why so many songs on the radio (with a few notable exceptions--I mean, Gaga) sound exactly the same nowadays.

4. Can, and should, emotional intelligence be taught?

Emotional Intelligence NYT

This lengthy NYT Magazine article dives into the pros and cons of social-emotional learning (known as S.E.L.) strategies used at the elementary school level. Marc Brackett, a senior research scientist in psychology at Yale, explains the need for such programs: “It’s like saying that a child doesn’t need to study English because she talks with her parents at home . . . Emotional skills are the same. A teacher might say, ‘Calm down!’ — but how exactly do you calm down when you’re feeling anxious? Where do you learn the skills to manage those feelings?”

The anecdotes of how such strategies worked on young students are powerful, and I do think that children need to be taught how to deal with their emotions in a productive, healthy manner. At the same time, does that merit actual class time? Should it compete with or take away time from traditional teaching objectives, like test scores? Aren't parents supposed to be doing this sort of thing in the first place (which I realize is a privileged thing to say...) I could go on and go, but basically I really don't know if S.E.L. strategy is a good investment or not. Since I have zero teaching background, I'd love to hear the opinions and insights of my teacher friends.

Also, note this issue of NYT Magazine is a comprehensive look on education in general. Well worth perusing!