Unequal Time

Sometimes I don’t know how to react — which, I know, is a reaction itself but I’d rather not be confused thinking about that. Anyway, I mention this because I had a confused nonreaction/reaction recently to a New York Times piece about bias at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The article is by two law professors who decided to listen to 10 phone oral arguments, time the speakers, and keep score. It turns out that male justices talk longer and interrupt more than female justices. Republican-appointed justices did more interrupting than Democrat-appointed justices.

I can’t say this is surprising. We men are genetically obnoxious and annoying. You can decide for yourself whether Republicans or Democrats are more obnoxious and annoying.

You have to be impressed that someone took a stopwatch (or did some Mississippi counting) to hours and hours of legalese. I’m guessing some hapless law students were forced into this, but it’s still amazing.

Yet, what’s the point? We learned that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (from her hospital bed) got more than 10 seconds less per questioning period than Justice Brett Kavanaugh (who may or may not have been having a beer). The takeaway for the clocking researchers was: “Ten seconds may not sound like much, but is more than enough time to get out an additional question or at least a remark about how an advocate’s claims are unpersuasive.”

If only there had been an extra 10 seconds of questioning, the real murderer would have confessed!

In other words, does this really matter? Would any justices have changed their votes if speaking times and interruptions were exactly even? It’s possible, I guess.

I do get that gender and political bias matter, but do we learn anything from timing talking? I don’t know how to react or not react by claiming not to react.

What I would like to see, though, is a study timing researchers who do timing. We may learn that some of us are way too bored.

Focus. These are tough, trying times and sometimes it’s hard to pay attention and concentrate on what’s important. So The New York Times article recently about the president of the United States perhaps not paying full attention to briefings probably shouldn’t have been surprising.

Said the Times: “Briefing him has been so great a challenge compared with his predecessors that the intelligence agencies have hired outside consultants to study how better to present information to him.”

Fortunately, I can help with this. My wife teaches kindergarten and since she’s stuck at home these days teaching online, I’ve learned some valuable techniques that should be passed on to the White House.

Singing is a great way to get class or presidential attention. There’s a reason why the alphabet is the lyrics to a song. Catchy tunes get stuck in your head. Do any of you not know the phone number for Kars4Kids?

Visual aids help too. A rhino wearing a hat and driving a bus or a Victoria’s Secret model flying over missile bases conveys memorable information and keeps your students or president awake.

If a student or president is eating during class or picking a nose, you need to point this out immediately. Politely let them know they can do these things during lunch or recess. If the bad behavior continues, tell them that recess could be canceled.

(Note: I’m told if you’re teaching in person, options include telling the student or president to stand behind a red line or report to the principal for bad behavior. You can offer treats for completing assignments. This needs to be done carefully, however — you don’t want to set off a tantrum or a nuclear war.)

Demonstrate methods and results. Students can watch you mix ingredients one day and see the bread you made the next day. A president can watch you give a CEO a tax cut and then see the CEO buy a nice new mansion the next day.

Calling on students or the president with questions about what they’ve learned lets you know who’s been keeping up. You may not be able to get through to all of them but at least you know who needs special attention.

And, finally, make certain there’s an adult in the room. Everyone needs emotional support.

Someone please forward this to the appropriate intelligence agencies.

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