The High Holy Week of Pageantry: Miss America 2013, Press and Predictions

The time comes round every year: Miss America week! Tomorrow is the live broadcast and as usual I'm excited (but this year should be especially interesting with a 20/20 feature on the pageant starting at 8 pm). The 2013 Pageant will be a little different for me than last year's-- a time when I thought I might never sleep again-- but now my one-year-old (!) let's me sleep so I'm good to go (I was also reminded of this when I spoke on NECN yesterday about how hard it is for individuals to project themselves into the future). Little Man on his first birthday!

Now I know Miss Universe was only a few weeks ago (both pageants have made date shifts in the past few years, which means we get more concentrated pageantry and less spread-out glitz) so it might be useful to explain the difference between Miss USA/Universe and Miss America. As you might be able to tell from the previous sentence Miss America is an end in itself; you don't win and go on to compete for Miss Milky Way. Also, the three "Ts" separate the two pageant systems (this is my trademark here, so please quote me!): tuition, talent, and Trump. Miss America requires a talent, awards scholarship money, and isn't owned by Donald Trump.

Miss Alabama USA 2012 has been in the press lately thanks to her boyfriend and a zealous sportscaster.  Katherine Webb, the girlfriend of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, has been getting a lot of attention since she was shown during the national championship game earlier this week (proving pageants and football still mix a lot, especially in the South). It's been a bit of a distraction to Miss Alabama America 2012, Anna Laura Bryan, who just won a big prize at Miss America (the Quality of Life Award goes to the contestant who has the "best" platform issue-- hers is related to autism). If you need an even easier way to remember the difference between the America and USA systems, Miss Alabama 2010, Ashley Davis, put it succinctly on Twitter: "Kate Middleton would be Miss Alabama, while Kim Kardashian would make a great Miss Alabama USA."

Other Miss America contestants have garnered their own fair share of press attention in the weeks leading up to the pageant. For instance, if you Google Miss DC Allyn Rose you get over 3 million hits.  Rose has appeared on all the morning talk shows, People, and many more in light of her decision to undergo a double mastectomy after the Pageant. Her mother passed away from breast cancer and while Rose herself has never had cancer she has a genetic predisposition (note that Miss New Hampshire, Megan Lyman, has survived cancer; Miss Alaska has shaved her head for cancer). It's unclear if the hype will help Rose, but I think we can all agree that we'd love to see her talent-- artistic roller skating-- live tomorrow night. Here she is competing in prelims earlier this week:

Allyn Rose doing her artistic roller skating routine in preliminaries at Miss America

Other health-related issues have some contestants in the press. Miss Montana, Alexis Wineman, is the first state winner to compete with autism (STILL love the name of her platform). But Miss Puerto Rico, Kiaraliz Medina, takes the cake. During the opening number of the first night of preliminaries (though some reports say it was from her flamenco talent routine) she fell down the stairs. Later in the week she actually competed in swimsuit using crutches, which I'm pretty sure is a Miss America Atlantic City/Vegas stage first.

Miss Puerto Rico in Swimsuit on crutches!

She later competed in evening gown without her crutches. I wonder if that impressed Miss America judge McKayla Maroney (yes, gymnastics and pageantry: worlds collide)?!

McKayla not impressed as Miss America judge

(That's beloved former Miss America Katie Stam Irk who is also judging this year; another fun fact is that Mary Hart, host of ET, competed the year my mother crowned Phyllis George-- Hart made Top 10 [and sang poorly] but obviously did alright for herself in the end!)

Now that we know the preliminary winners it's a bit easier to make some predictions for tomorrow night. I think SS winner Miss South Carolina will go far, along with talent winner Miss Oklahoma. Not sure about the others, but I like talent winner Miss Maryland. I also personally like Texas and New Hampshire (who I met when I judged the Miss University/Strafford County Pageant) and am interested to see how my home state gal Taylor Kinzler does (she has a bit of the Miss America look; I saw her compete live at the 2011 state pageant where she was a runner-up).  I'll also throw Arizona in the mix since I know a very smart friend and Harvard beauty queen helped her prepare!

On a final note I always love pageant names, which I learned this year by studying the pageant book. Who else wants to see (no joke) Mariah Cary from Iowa do well (just so the announcers have to keep saying her name-- too bad she doesn't sing though, talent is tap dance)?! And she's not the only Mariah (so is Miss Nebraska). And, there are two "Sloanes" competing as well, Miss Arkansas and Miss Kansas, which I find particularly fun.

Check back next week for my final pageant thoughts, and follow my running commentary on Twitter Saturday night (where I'll be careful not too tweet too much and get put in Twitter jail)!

What happens when you are first-time parents who study competition and education? Part II

Almost 9-months ago, right before my son was born, I blogged about how my work and my husband's work would impact our parenting.  Obviously so much in our lives has changed since then-- yet much has remained the same. Various "family business" over the past week captures all of our various interests... and hint at Little Man Carston's future academic and extracurricular pursuits!

1) Economics- With the Chicago teacher's strike my economist husband's research on teacher evaluations has been back in the news.  He spoke on the radio station WGBH about how similar issues might strike Boston over evaluation processes.  His work also appeared in The New York Times again, described in Nicholas Kristof's September 12th column, "Students Over Unions," as "the gold standard study."  Here is how Kristof described the work:

There’s now solid evidence that there are huge differences in the effectiveness of teachers, even within high-poverty schools. The gold standard study, by Harvard and Columbia University scholars and released in December by the National Bureau of Economic Research, took data from a major urban school district and found that even in the context of poverty, teachers consistently had a huge positive or negative impact.

Get a bottom 1 percent teacher, and the effect is the same as if a child misses 40 percent of the school year. Get a teacher from the top 20 percent, and it’s as if a child has gone to school for an extra month or two.

The study found that strong teachers in the fourth through eighth grades raised the game of their students in ways that would last for decades. Just having a strong teacher for one elementary year left pupils a bit less likely to become mothers as teenagers, a bit more likely to go to college and earning more money at age 28.

Removing the bottom 5 percent of teachers would have a huge impact. Students in a single classroom with an average teacher, rather than one from the bottom 5 percent, collectively will earn an additional $1.4 million over their careers, the study found.

2) Sociology- As the sociologist in the family I've also been speaking out, often on NECN's The Morning Show (for all of my recent clips, click here).  Last Tuesday I spoke about the evolving meanings of 9/11 and how we can commemorate the day with a new generation of children.

Today I spoke about the powerful op-ed, written by Bill Lichtenstein and published in last Sunday's The New York Times,and how and why discipline in the schools has evolved over time.

There's been some controversy over "A Terrifying Way to Discipline Children," though the basic facts of what happened to Lichtenstein's daughter remain undisputed.  For a good piece on the topic, see this Time article, along with Lichtenstein's own website, which provides commentary and links to both positive and negative pieces.

3) Sports- As I blogged last Thursday I reviewed a new sociology book on female sports fans on The Rumpus, mentioning my interest and John's interest in sports.  No word yet on Carston's athletic preferences though.

4) Pageants- Last Thursday evening I was thrilled to help select two new Miss America system queens-- Miss University and Miss Strafford County-- who will go on to compete for the title of Miss New Hampshire 2013.  I was impressed with so many of the people I met during the experience and I look forward to following their careers.  The most interesting, and difficult, part of the pageant wasn't the swimsuit competition, it was the interview.  Going through it, it's easy to see why the process of competing for Miss America is one very long job interview.

While we don't yet know which social science will most interest Carston-- or if his primary interests will be around education, sports, or pageantry-- we do know that he is already a media maven.  He especially loves social media, as his onesie reveals.  My Little Man, who is "Famous on Facebook," got this new portrait taken last week in between Mommy and Daddy's media appearances!

Can't wait to see who he will become!