From Other Sources: News for and About Amherst:  This Week – News from Across the Commonwealth, The Teen Social Media Crisis, and Eclipse Tips


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Here are links to some local stories from the last few weeks as well as some germane news from across the commonwealth.  Also, below is this week’s recommended reads – two views on whether Tik Tok and cell phones are ruining our kids’ lives.

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Recommended Reads of the Week: Is Social Media Destroying Our Kids’ Lives? Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues in The Atlantic and elsewhere that too much screen time is responsible for rising levels of teen depression and anxiety. But psychologist Candice L. Odgers, writing in Nature, suggests that Haidt’s evidence is equivocal and that the rising hysteria engendered by arguments such as Haidt’s may distract us from tackling the real causes of modern teen angst. Considerable discussion of their contested views can be found on X (formerly Twitter).

End the Phone-Based Childhood Now by Jonathan Haidt (3/13/24). Something went suddenly and horribly wrong for adolescents in the early 2010s. By now you’ve likely seen the statistics: Rates of depression and anxiety in the United States—fairly stable in the 2000s—rose by more than 50 percent in many studies from 2010 to 2019. The suicide rate rose 48 percent for adolescents ages 10 to 19. For girls ages 10 to 14, it rose 131 percent. The problem was not limited to the U.S.: Similar patterns emerged around the same time in Canada, the U.K., Australia, New Zealandthe Nordic countries, and beyond. By a variety of measures and in a variety of countries, the members of Generation Z (born in and after 1996) are suffering from anxiety, depression, self-harm, and related disorders at levels higher than any other generation for which we have data. The decline in mental health is just one of many signs that something went awry. Loneliness and friendlessness among American teens began to surge around 2012. Academic achievement went down, too. According to “The Nation’s Report Card,” scores in reading and math began to decline for U.S. students after 2012, reversing decades of slow but generally steady increase. PISA, the major international measure of educational trends, shows that declines in math, reading, and science happened globally, also beginning in the early 2010s. (The Atlantic)

The Great Rewiring: Is Social Media Really Behind an Epidemic of Teenage Mental Illness? by Candace L. Odgers (3/29/24).  A review of The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness by Jonathan Haidt, Allen Lane (2024).  Two things need to be said after reading The Anxious Generation. First, this book is going to sell a lot of copies, because Jonathan Haidt is telling a scary story about children’s development that many parents are primed to believe. Second, the book’s repeated suggestion that digital technologies are rewiring our children’s brains and causing an epidemic of mental illness is not supported by science. Worse, the bold proposal that social media is to blame might distract us from effectively responding to the real causes of the current mental-health crisis in young people. Haidt asserts that the great rewiring of children’s brains has taken place by “designing a firehose of addictive content that entered through kids’ eyes and ears”. And that “by displacing physical play and in-person socializing, these companies have rewired childhood and changed human development on an almost unimaginable scale”. Such serious claims require serious evidence. Haidt supplies graphs throughout the book showing that digital-technology use and adolescent mental-health problems are rising together. On the first day of the graduate statistics class I teach, I draw similar lines on a board that seem to connect two disparate phenomena, and ask the students what they think is happening. Within minutes, the students usually begin telling elaborate stories about how the two phenomena are related, even describing how one could cause the other. The plots presented throughout this book will be useful in teaching my students the fundamentals of causal inference, and how to avoid making up stories by simply looking at trend lines. Hundreds of researchers, myself included, have searched for the kind of large effects suggested by Haidt. Our efforts have produced a mix of no, small and mixed associations. Most data are correlative. When associations over time are found, they suggest not that social-media use predicts or causes depression, but that young people who already have mental-health problems use such platforms more often or in different ways from their healthy peers. (Nature)

Amherst News
The New Yorker Publishes Article on Amherst Schools Controversy by Juliet Schulman-Hall (4/5/24). In an article published on Wednesday, entitled “The Meltdown at a Middle School in a Liberal Town,” The New Yorker chronicles the events that have unfolded in Amherst over the past year. MassLive has been reporting on the Amherst Regional School District after it was rocked by allegations last year, first with the filing of a formal complaint in April related to Title IX, the federal statute banning discrimination on the basis of sex, and then with an extensive article in student publication The Graphic laying out claims of mistreatment of transgender students at the middle school by three guidance councilors. An investigation report released to the public in November determined Amherst-Pelham Regional Public Schools failed to effectively address claims of harassment and misconduct by middle school staff against LGBTQ+ students. Amherst-Pelham Regional Public School Superintendent Michael Morris resigned in August and Douglas Slaughter, the finance director of Amherst’s regional school district, is the acting superintendent. Including Morris, there have been six high profile resignations in Amherst and Pelham, including former school committee members Tom Fanning, Sarah Hall, Ben Herrington, Peter Demling and Allison McDonald. (MassLive)

Amherst Activist Proposes Resettlement Commission to Help Those Seeking Asylum by Scott Merzbach (4/4/24/). A municipal resettlement commission that would help to find housing for up to 90 individuals who are seeking asylum in the United States is being proposed by an Amherst resident. For the first time in writing, after pitching a similar concept orally in 2019, activist Vincent O’Connor of Summer Street is asking the Town Council to establish the Refugee and Asylum Applicant Resettlement Commission, what he sees supporting the town’s history of sheltering immigrants, refugees and asylum applicants dating back to pre-Civil War times, and more recently those escaping Nazi Germany, apartheid in South Africa, war-torn Cambodia and military-ruled Nigeria. O’Connor said his concern is that the existing affordable housing developments have long waiting lists and those who are not yet U.S. citizens, or don’t hold green cards, can’t even get onto those lists.  (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Amherst Police Chief Finalists Stress Anti-racism Cred, Discuss Other Issues in Separate Meetings with Public by Scott Merzbach (4/3/24). Both Chelmsford Police Lt. Todd Ahern and Amherst interim Police Chief Gabriel Ting are citing their lived experiences, as well as their significant service to public safety, as reasons they should become the next police chief of the Amherst Police Department. In separate hourlong meet-and-greets with the public Tuesday at the Bangs Community Center, where they fielded a number of questions, the candidates each pointed to their lives outside of law enforcement. For Ting, growing up in Amherst as the son of Chinese immigrants, it was fortunate that his family came to a place with diversity, but also where he could be assimilated, he said. “I lucked out that this community was so diverse,” Ting said. “This town certainly welcomed me in and my family in.” While Ahern said he understands he is privileged, as a white man who speaks English, born and raised in Chelmford, he is married to an African American and they have two children who are biracial. He appreciates that the three people he cares about most in the world have dealt with obstacles from racism that he doesn’t have to. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Very Hungry Caterpillar Day Celebrated at Eric Carle Musuem by James Paleogopolous (3/25/24). Translated into over 80 languages and selling millions of copies since its release, Eric Carle’s picture book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” is a mainstay in children’s literature and was the center of a celebration Sunday. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art held its annual “Very Hungry Caterpillar Day,” featuring activities for small children, complete with a few chances to “meet” the caterpillar himself.“We adore the Hungry Caterpillar. So, coming to meet him –“started Adrienne Lumpkins, before 2-year-old daughter Eliza added to the conversation.“I got to hug!” the child told WAMC. “She got to give him a hug-“ Adrienne said, before Eliza noted she also gave the mascot a kiss.Both met the nearly-7-foot-tall caterpillar mascot that posed for photos with families, including the Lumpkins, who including dad, Jordan, made their way up from Willimantic, Connecticut. The Lumpkins family, including (from left to right) Jordan, Eliza, and Adrienne, made their way to The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art Sunday, March 24, 2024, for the museum’s “Very Hungry Caterpillar Day” event.The line for a photo stretched nearly the length the museum’s main hall. Also across the museum were an assortment of activities, from art-making stations to a special story time hour, featuring a guest author. It’s a day the museum looks forward to every year, according to Director of Education Courtney Waring, who tells WAMC the occasion not only celebrates the book, but also helps ring in the new season. “The Very Hungry Caterpillar Day’s essentially the first day of spring, and we try to celebrate it either the weekend before or after,” Waring explained. “And it is just a big celebration of all things ‘Very Hungry Caterpillar.’ This book that Eric Carle did back in 1969 is celebrating its 55th anniversary, and it is cherished throughout the world.” (WAMC)

News from Near and Far Across the Commonweatlh
Earthquake Centered Near New York Ripples Through the Valley by James Pentland and Alexander MacDougall (4/5/24). The U.S. Geological Survey reported a quake at 10:23 a.m. with a preliminary magnitude of 4.8, centered near Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, or about 45 miles west of New York City and 50 miles north of Philadelphia. The agency’s figures indicated that the quake might have been felt by more than 42 million people in a region unaccustomed to it. Around the Pioneer Valley, some felt the ground tremble and some didn’t. Greenfield resident Con Trowbridge said she was sitting by the window in her home on Keegan Lane when she felt what she described as a “thump,” which she thought was from someone dropping something off of a truck. Then she looked outside and saw a young maple tree shaking back and forth, despite the lack of any wind. “The whole tree was rocking back and forth, the whole trunk of the tree was moving,” Trowbridge said. “‘That looks like an earthquake,’ I thought to myself.” (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Urged by Vocal Group of Residents, Easthampton Council Becomes Fourth in Region to Call for Cease-fire in Gaza by James Pentland (4/4/24). After hearing dozens of residents advocate passionately over recent weeks for their local government to take a stand, the City Council on Wednesday approved a resolution calling for an “immediate and permanent cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.” The resolution, drafted by a diverse group and sponsored by City Councilors Homar Gomez and Koni Denham, also urges humanitarian aid for Gaza, the release of all hostages, and an end to unconditional U.S. aid to the Israeli government. “This is not a war,” Emily Gamber told the council. “This is killing with American dollars, aimed and shot by the Israeli military.” (Daily Hampshire Gazette).

Enrollment is Plummeting at the State’s Regional Public Colleges. Can They Continue to Compete? By Hilary Burns (4/4/24). Operating in the shadows of some of the biggest brands in higher education, the state’s nine regional public colleges have trained generations of teachers, nurses, social workers, and others for essential jobs, offering a more affordable path to a four-year degree and professional career. But facing a sustained drop in enrollment, and short on funds to maintain campuses and state-of-the-art programs, these academic workhorses are approaching an inflection point: Will they have to consolidate, as has happened in other states? Or will Beacon Hill’s new investments in financial aid revive them to serve a new generation of students? “Let’s not just wait for this to hit us as a crisis,” said Richard Freeland, a former state commissioner of higher education. “Let’s get ahead of it.” Collectively, enrollment at the nine schools fell 21 percent between 2012 and 2022, to 41,000 from roughly 52,000. Enrollment is expected to contract even more rapidly after 2025 due to a dip in US birth rates. (Boston Globe)

Northampton Students Walk out over Proposed School Budget Cuts by Shelby Lee (4/3/24). High school students walked out of classes on Monday to express their concerns and offer creative solutions to layoffs that would result from the school budget proposal currently before the Northampton School Committee. At 2:45 p.m., a group of students wheeled out a podium and set up a microphone and speaker at the entrance of the Northampton High School. The group was soon joined by a stream of students who walked out of their afternoon classes. Second-floor windows opened and others could be seen leaning out to hear their peers. Some NHS staff members and a few City Council members gathered in the outer wings of the crowd. “There is a $2.3 million deficit in the school budget,” NHS student Ethan Trotman told the crowd.  He said that while the proposed budget would fund the school by $4 million over the state minimum, “the minimum requirement is simply too low.” (The Shoestring)

UMass Trustees OK 2.5% Tuition Increase by Colin A. Young (4/3/24). The University of Massachusetts has taken a step toward hiking tuition and room and board charges for next academic year, but some trustees said Wednesday the proposed increases are not high enough and one said the status quo would be equivalent to “running the institution into the ground.” The UMass Board of Trustees Committee on Administration and Finance voted unanimously Wednesday morning to increase tuition for in-state undergraduates by 2.5% for the 2024-2025 academic year to $17,006, adding $415 to the bill of a student at the flagship Amherst campus, and slightly less at the Boston, Dartmouth and Lowell campuses. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Looming Staff Cuts Vex Northampton School Board, Students by Alexander MacDougall (4/2/24).
Just hours after Northampton High School students staged a walkout Monday to protest the dismal outlook for next year’s school budget, the School Committee and Superintendent Portia Bonner grappled with the prospect of losing at least 20 full-time positions — and possibly many more — during one final budget discussion before a final draft is voted on and submitted to the city next week. At Monday’s meeting, Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra addressed some common concerns held by the community over the school budget, emphasizing that the city does not have any extra funds to supply the school like it did last year, when it tapped into emergency funds to stave off budget cuts. “I really cannot be more clear about this: There is no more revenue, and spending more than there is recurring revenue for is precisely what got us into this current situation,” Sciarra said. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Back and Forth Continues Between Smith College and Students as Sit-in Nears a Week by Sam Hudzik (4/1/24). Dozens of Smith College students are continuing a sit-in inside the administration building on the Northampton, Massachusetts, campus — nearly a week after the protest began. The protesting students say they want Smith to get rid of all its investments tied to weapons manufacturers — a demand they connect to the war in Gaza. The college has said the school’s investments in military contractors and weapons manufacturers are “negligible and entirely indirect.” Roz Beile, a student working with the group Students for Justice in Palestine, said the amount is besides the point. “We believe that any money sent to … war is sent to genocide and is sent to white supremacy. And we, as an institution, do not stand for this,” said Beile, a senior. “As a university with a lot of support from students and community, we have a responsibility to set a precedent for other private liberal arts colleges, other state institutions.” That’s especially true, Beile said, because of Smith’s relatively small percentage of investments tied up in the weapons industry. “So we really see Smith as being able to be the pioneer in the divestment movement,” she said. The students began their protest Wednesday, refusing to leave College Hall, at the corner of West and Elm Streets. College President Sarah Willie-LeBreton met with the students on Saturday, and followed up with an email Sunday night — a copy of which the group provided to NEPM. (NEPM)

Eclipse Tips

Where to view Monday’s Solar Eclipse in the Valley by Chris Larabee (4/4/24). Monday’s solar eclipse will begin at approximately 2:15 p.m. and will end at 4:40 p.m. While the eclipse will reach approximately 95% obscurity at 3:28 p.m., even this little remaining bit of sunlight is still extremely dangerous to view with the naked eye. Residents in the Pioneer Valley, which is outside the path of totality, must view the eclipse with proper eye protection, such as eclipse glasses or a projector box. Looking at the sun without proper protection can cause severe eye damage, especially if through a lens. “Partial or annular solar eclipses are different from total solar eclipses — there is no period of totality when the Moon completely blocks the Sun’s bright face,” according to NASA. “Therefore, during partial or annular solar eclipses, it is never safe to look directly at the eclipse without proper eye protection.”  See below for viewing locations. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

‘One of the Great Gifts of Nature’: Expert Shares Science, Viewing Methods Behind April 8 Solar Eclipse by Chris Larabee (4/4/24). For many, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and experts, which is prompting experts to urge people to take a few minutes out of their day and observe this phenomenon. “We’re getting to see the solar system happen; the mechanics of our surrounding space is laid out for us to see,” said James Lowenthal, Smith College’s chair of astronomy and Mary Elizabeth Moses professor during a lecture at UMass last week. “It’s one of the great gifts of nature, that we can just stand outside and experience the cosmos happening like this.” The path of totality covers more populated areas than 2017’s solar eclipse, as it stretches across the U.S. from San Antonio through Indianapolis and Cleveland, across Lake Erie into Buffalo and Rochester, New York, and then into Burlington, Vermont and northern New Hampshire. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Tips to Safely Photograph the Eclipse With Your Cellphone by Scott Neuman (4/3/24). If you plan to check out Monday’s total solar eclipse and the only camera you own is one that doubles as a phone, with a little preparation (and precaution) you might still be able to get some relatively good shots.  “It all depends on how much effort one wants to put into it,” says Sean Walker, an associate editor with Sky & Telescope magazine. For starters, you’ll need to wear eclipse glasses or similar protective eye gear while aiming your camera or even just observing the eclipse. In the U.S., the path of totality for the best views stretches from southern Texas, crossing through the South and Midwest and into the Northeast before hitting Maine. But anyone in the continental U.S. can catch at least a partial eclipse, weather permitting. It will be possible to capture interesting images even if you don’t live in, or travel to, that swath where the moon will appear to nearly perfectly cover the sun. “If you’re within several hundred miles of the path of totality at maximum eclipse time,” Walker says, “the spaces between leaves on trees and basically anything that makes a pinhole will project an image of the crescent sun on the ground or on a wall … depending on how high the sun is at the time.” That’s a photo that’s “all easy peasy with a cellphone,” says John Meader, director of Northern Stars Planetarium and Educational Services in Fairfield, Maine. Another option is to shoot the environment around you as it is darkened as the eclipse reaches totality. “Maybe a before and during shot of the same scene to capture the changing light levels,” he suggests. (NPR)

During a Total Solar Eclipse, Some Colors Pop. Here’s Why. by Tina Hesman Saey (4/1/24).  First, there’s what is going on in the atmosphere. Sunlight is made up of light waves with a broad spectrum of colors. On a normal sunny day, particles and water droplets in the air scatter sunlight as it passes through the atmosphere. Sunlight’s blue light waves scatter more than its red waves do, because blue waves have shorter wavelengths. Scattered blue waves paint the sky blue. Meanwhile, sunlight’s red waves are more likely to reach the ground. An object’s color depends on the light it reflects. Because more red light tends to reach the ground in direct sunlight, sunbathed objects reflect more red light than blue. That makes reds appear brighter, Yoshimatsu says. During a total solar eclipse, the moon blocks the sun, so most of the light hitting and reflecting off objects on the ground is indirect light. More of that indirect light is easily scattered blue waves, so objects reflect more blue light. That causes an apparent shift in the color spectrum toward blue, Yoshimatsu says. Something similar happens in other dim-light conditions, like sunset. Then there’s what is happening in our eyes. In bright light, light-gathering cells in the retina called cones provide color vision. The majority of cones are tuned to detect red or green, with a small percentage devoted to blue. The three together produce red-green-blue color vision. With fully active cones, reds usually appear brighter than blues during daylight. In the dark, very sensitive light-gathering rod cells responsible for night vision take over. But there’s only one type of rod, so people don’t see colors in dark or very low-light conditions. An eclipse, dusk, dawn or other low-light conditions are somewhere in between,” Yoshimatsu says, “not quite bright, but not quite dark. That’s where the Purkinje effect comes in.” The effect — also called the Purkinje shift or Purkinje phenomenon — is the tendency for the eye’s sensitivity to luminance to shift from red to blue in low light. (Science)

View the Solar Eclipse with UMass Astronomy by UMass College of Natural Sciences (3/29/24). Please join UMass Amherst Astronomy on April 8, to observe the solar eclipse which will reach 94.6% totality on campus. The eclipse will begin at approximately 2:15 p.m. and last until approximately 4:40 p.m. The peak of the eclipse in Amherst will be at 3:28 p.m. UMass astronomers will be on hand to discuss the science behind the eclipse, and UMass staff will hand out protective solar shades.  Total solar eclipses are among nature’s rarest spectacles. Any single spot on Earth will see a full eclipse only once every 360 years, on average. From Amherst, almost 95% of the sun will go dark on April 8, and this is the last time that a total solar eclipse will be visible from anywhere in North America until 2044. The next total solar eclipse visible from Amherst won’t occur until 2079. The College of Natural Sciences and the Astronomy department will distribute solar shades at two locations on campus while supplies last—UMass Amherst Sunwheel and Metawampe Lawn.  UMass astronomers will speak about the phenomenon at both campus viewing locations. Note: Solar eclipse shades are required to safely observe the eclipse. It is not safe to look directly at the sun without specialized eye protection for solar viewing. (Amherst Indy)

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