Posts Tagged ‘Volkswagen’

In 2015, three teachers in Atlanta were convicted of changing student answers on standardized tests and sentenced to seven three years in prison, Volkswagen admitted to programming engines to run differently during emissions tests than in daily use and set aside billions of dollars to deal with the situation, and countless students across the country cheated on exams. Although the scope and consequences of these actions vary widely, James Lang’s 2013 book Cheating Lessons suggests that they have similar origins. On page 35, Lang lists the “four features of a learning or competing environment that may pressure individuals into cheating,” including:

  1. An emphasis on performance
  2. High stakes riding on the outcome
  3. An extrinsic motivation for success
  4. A low expectation of success

In Volkswagen’s case, their diesel engines since 2009 have emitted between 10 and 40 times the nitrous oxide allowed by law when being used normally. These cheats date back to 2007, when VW’s CEO set the goal of surpassing Toyota as the world’s largest automaker, pressuring employees to produce the larger, more powerful cars that Americans like while also increasing fuel economy to meet more stringent standards. VW has also maintained that executives did not know about the cheating, blaming it on the individual actions (however unlikely) of engineers.

For college students, Lang distinguishes between “mastery” and “performance” orientations. In VW’s case, there was intense pressure to meet the CEO’s goals (compared, perhaps, to improving engine technology for its own sake). This pressure also involved high stakes. Engineers who could not produce the products promised by the CEO may have found their jobs in danger. This was also an extrinsic motivation that must have, in the eyes of the engineers, seemed impossible to achieve (better fuel economy is typically associated with smaller, less powerful cars, which is why European countries with higher gas prices are often offered a wider range of lower-powered engines than Americans can choose from when shopping for a car). The same factors were at play in Atlanta, where an emphasis on performance (increasing test scores) combined with high stakes (job loss and/or school restructuring), extrinsic motivation, and a low expectation of success that led educators to change test answers. (Michelle Rhee’s time as Chancellor of Washington D.C.’s schools is similarly associated with extremely high stakes and accusations of cheating.)

Most college professors cannot do anything about VW or high school cheating scandals (even if we would like to reduce the reliance on standardized tests!) but we can work to prevent these factors from prevailing in our classrooms. James argues that by emphasizing mastery rather than performance, providing a wide range of exams and assignments rather than just a few heavily-weighted course requirements, reducing external pressure on students from parents, and communicating our belief that students can succeed we can create environments that will reduce cheating more than simply offering multiple exam forms or using assigned seating arrangements.

Some of these are easier than others, but I think that the examination of the context in which college learning and assessment takes place is really important in discussions of academic dishonesty.

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As a sort of spiritual foll0w-up to my most-viewed post, Jalopnik has posted their ranking of the top ten most sexist car ads. Two of the entries from the previous list made the cut. Also included were things like this:

Women and Cadillac

The ad states:

One of the special delights which ladies find in Cadillac ownership is the pleasure of being a passenger. First of all, there is the sheer physical luxury of riding in a new Cadillac. The car is wondrously spacious and comfortable – and perfectly proportioned for complete freedom of movement. Then there is the enchanting interior beauty…the marvellous convenience of it’s appointments…the great smoothness of ride…and the marvellous quietness of operation. We invite you to visit your local dealer soon…with the man of the house – and spend an hour in the passenger seat of a 1959 Cadillac. We know you will agree that it is the world’s nicest place to sit.

See also: Previous posts about sexism and cars related to Volkswagen’s Beetle, female mechanics, and sexist Kia ads.

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Masculine vs. Feminine?

As any reader of Sociological Images can tell you, humans can apply gender norms to almost anything.  This includes cars.  Above are pictures of the 2012 Volkswagen Beetle and the previous model (ironically called the “New Beetle” – “New” has been dropped from the name as of the 2012 model).  The car on the right was a sales smash upon release in 1998 but sold just over 16,000 copies in 2010.  Despite the fact that the car has remained basically unchanged for twelve model years (most models have five- or six-year replacement cycles), in developing and revealing its replacement, Volkswagen focused on the car’s image problem.  The New Beetle, with its round body and details like a flower vase on the dash, was seen as feminine or, in the words of one automotive blog, a “chick car.”

In itself, the fact that a feminized product was refreshed to appear more masculine is nothing new (in fact, Sociological Images wrote about the new Beetle over five months ago).  An aspect of the story that I thought was interesting, though, is what sales look like for a feminized car.  This LA Times article from June of 2010 revealed that about 56% of New Beetles sold were registered to women.  Fifty six percent!  Car sales are apparently like presidential elections, in which 56% is a landslide victory.  This number apparently doesn’t reflect how feminized 56% is, though, since women account for only 36% of new car registrations.  It is also possible that some of the cars that are registered by men are driven by women.  Still, it would be nice to live in a place where women accounting for just over half of something’s sales did not make that product feminized.  I suppose that there is a bright side, though, in that up to 44% of men who bought a New Beetle did not let ridiculous gender norms affect their decision.

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