Quotulatiousness

May 4, 2016

Econ Duel: Is Education Signaling or Skill Building?

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 8 Mar 2016

What’s the point of education?

Do you learn about things, because the learning itself matters, or is education all about the signal you — and your degree — send out to the world? Is education really about building skills, or does it serve only to transmit intangible traits, like your level of talent or your persistence?

These are the questions we’ll be tackling in this new Econ Duel debate from Marginal Revolution University.

And since we believe that nothing beats a good friend-vs-friend duel, we’ve picked two friends, whom you’re probably familiar with. For this debate on education as signaling vs. skill building, we’ve got Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, ready to go head-to-head.

You’ll see them argue about nearly everything—from peacocks, to private markets, to street sweepers, to Scandinavian education laws, and even the real value of Harvard University. In the end, you’ll see them duke things out, in a quest to determine education’s effect on our lives and well-being.

The video also asks:

-Why do students tend to rejoice when their professor cancels class?

-When we’re talking education, what really counts? Is it the soft skills, or the hard facts?

-If evolution still can’t sort out good vs. bad, can we really expect the market to do any better?

-Can the things you learn today still matter 20 years down the line?

-Why do peacocks still sport huge, colorful tails, despite the fact that evolution should’ve come up with a better signaling device by now?

Once you reach the end of the video, we have one specific request. It’s hugely important.

Ask yourself: “Is education only about signaling, or is it really about skill building?”

Think it through and then let us know by voting at the end of the video!

BTW, Alex is right in this debate.

April 28, 2016

QotD: That’s why they call it “Sex Education”

Filed under: Health, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I’m on the road in Thailand, speaking at a U.N. conference on sustainable A development in the Third World. Earlier today I listened to a presentation on the effects of sex education for women. The presentation mentioned some cultural value conflicts about sex education, but it occurred to me that it didn’t touch the biggest one. To wit: worldwide, the teachers want the kids to learn abstinence, but what the kids [want] to learn is technique.

Eric S. Raymond, “That’s Why They Call It ‘Sex Education'”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-05-20.

April 19, 2016

Richard Feynman’s shortcut for detecting pseudo-scientific bullshit

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

At Open Culture, Josh Jones discusses Richard Feynman’s suggestion for non-scientists to evaluate whether a claim is scientific or pseudo-scientific nonsense:

The problem of demarcation, or what is and what is not science, has occupied philosophers for some time, and the most famous answer comes from philosopher of science Karl Popper, who proposed his theory of “falsifiability” in 1963. According to Popper, an idea is scientific if it can conceivably be proven wrong. Although Popper’s strict definition of science has had its uses over the years, it has also come in for its share of criticism, since so much accepted science was falsified in its day (Newton’s gravitational theory, Bohr’s theory of the atom), and so much current theoretical science cannot be falsified (string theory, for example). Whatever the case, the problem for lay people remains. If a scientific theory is beyond our comprehension, it’s unlikely we’ll be able to see how it might be disproven.

Physicist and science communicator Richard Feynman came up with another criterion, one that applies directly to the non-scientist likely to be bamboozled by fancy terminology that sounds scientific. Simon Oxenham at Big Think points to the example of Deepak Chopra, who is “infamous for making profound sounding yet entirely meaningless statements by abusing scientific language.” (What Daniel Dennet calls “deepities.”) As a balm against such statements, Oxenham refers us to a speech Feynman gave in 1966 to a meeting of the National Science Teachers Association. Rather than asking lay people to confront scientific-sounding claims on their own terms, Feynman would have us translate them into ordinary language, thereby assuring that what the claim asserts is a logical concept, rather than just a collection of jargon.

The example Feynman gives comes from the most rudimentary source, a “first grade science textbook” which “begins in an unfortunate manner to teach science”: it shows its student a picture of a “windable toy dog,” then a picture of a real dog, then a motorbike. In each case the student is asked “What makes it move?” The answer, Feynman tells us “was in the teacher’s edition of the book… ‘energy makes it move.’” Few students would have intuited such an abstract concept, unless they had previously learned the word, which is all the lesson teaches them. The answer, Feynman points out, might as well have been “’God makes it move,’ or ‘Spirit makes it move,’ or, ‘Movability makes it move.’”

Instead, a good science lesson “should think about what an ordinary human being would answer.” Engaging with the concept of energy in ordinary language enables the student to explain it, and this, Feynman says, constitutes a test for “whether you have taught an idea or you have only taught a definition.

February 19, 2016

QotD: Art, taste, and judgment

Filed under: Books, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

All of us, if we are not merely children or possessed of childlike tastes, recall works that we had to work to learn to love, such as obtuse poems which has to be explained before they were beautiful, words of archaic or foreign cant, or novels referring to experiences in life we were too young, on first reading, to recognize or know. Even science fiction and fantasy has some introductory learning that needs be done, a certain grasp of the scientific world view or the conventions of fantastic genre that must be gained, before the work is loveable. The only art I know that has no introductory effort at all is comic books, but even they, in recent years, now require introduction, since no one unaware of the decades of continuity can simply pick up a comic book and read it with pleasure: they are written for adults, these days, not kids, and adults expect and are expected to try harder to get into the work before getting something out of it.

The reason why modern art can pass for art is that the Tailors of the Emperor’s New Clothes can claim, and the claim cannot be dismissed unexamined, that modern art merely is has a steeper learning curve than real art. Once you get all the in-jokes and palindromes and Irish and Classical references in James Joyce (so the Tailors say) you can read ULYSSES with the same pleasure that a student, once he learns Latin, reads Virgil. And as long as you are in sympathy with the effort at destruction and deconstruction, this modern art has the same fascination as watching a wrecking crew tear down a fair and delicate antique fane with fretted colonnades and an architrave of flowing figures recalling forgotten wars between giants and gods. What child will not cheer when he sees a wrecking ball crash through the marble and stained glass of old and unwanted beauty? How he will clap when the dynamite goes off, and squeal, and hold his ears! I am not being sarcastic: there is something impressive in such acts.

Let us add a second observation: great novels and great paintings, symphonies, even great comic books, are ones that reward a second rereading or heeding or viewing. A book is something you read once and enjoy and throw away. A good book is one you read twice, and get something out of it a second time. A great book is one that has the power to make you fall in love, and each time you reread it, it is as new and fresh as Springtime, and you see some new nuance in it, the same way you see more beauty each time you see your wife of many years, and will forever, no matter how many years you see her face. (Those of you who are not in love, or not happily married, or who have never read a truly great book, will not know whereof I speak. Alas, I cannot describe the colors of a sunrise to a man born blind.)

Let us assume that there is no beauty in art, no objective rules. If that were so, how do we explain the two observations noted above, first, that some art must be learned before it is loved, and second, that some art rewards additional scrutiny indefinitely, a fountainhead that never runs dry. The explanation that the learning is not learning but merely acclamation, an Eskimo learning to tolerate the tropics, a Bushman growing to enjoy the snow, would make sense if and only if any art or rubbish would reward equal study with equal pleasure.

If the pleasure I get out of a work of art I had to grow and learn to like was merely due to me and my tastes, and the learning was not learning at all, but merely an adjustment of taste from one arbitrary genre convention to another, then the outcome or result could not differ from artwork to artwork, as long as I were the same.

If I can see more rich detail each time I reread Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and if indeed there are beauties that pierce like swords, and if this were due to me and only to me, and not due to something in the work, I should be able to study a pile of rocks besmirched with stains of oil and offal in a rubble heap, and with the same passage of time and effort, force myself to see equal beauty within.

But I cannot, nor can any man. Therefore the sublime is not just in me the observer; logically, it must be in the thing observed. There must be something really there.

If this argument satisfies, it tells us, with the clarity of a Deist argument, that there is an objective beauty in the world, but not what it is.

As in theological argument, in aesthetics we can only know more of the beauty of the universe if it comes to us in the artistic equivalent of revelation. We have to look at beauty in nature and see what is there, and what its rules are, before we look at beauty in human handiwork.

John C. Wright, “Supermanity and Dehumanity (Complete)”, John C. Wright’s Journal, 2014-12-13.

February 15, 2016

QotD: Staying in touch with the everyday

Filed under: Humour, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Posted something at the work blog today about these apps that help you do things you previously did with low-tech means, like assembling grocery lists. One of the comments praised a grocery app that gave you turn-by-turn instructions in your store. I never, ever want to hear my phone say “You have arrived at frozen breaded chicken patties.” The idea of people walking through a store, pushing a cart, staring at the screen to see where the coffee is located — as opposed to looking up for the word COFFEE — is the sort of thing from a comedic dystopia. Then: story in the WSJ the other day about someone else starting a service that delivers groceries to your house. The predicate for the business: “no one likes to go grocery shopping.”

I love to go grocery shopping. I went grocery shopping tonight; hit four stores in 90 minutes. Explain to me how it is possible to have an understanding of modern American culture without going to the grocery store. Someone who grocery-shops weekly has a better grasp on our civilization than somoene who spends four years getting a doctorate in Marketing. If they offer such things. I suspect that anyone interested in marketing gets out there and markets as soon as possible, and a doctorate would be useful only for teaching other people about Marketing, which you’ve never done, but studied.

It’s like Journalism school. Saying you understand Journalism because you went to Journalism school is like saying you have a command of the basics of Dentistry because you used a pencil to black out the teeth in a picture of someone’s head.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2015-01-15.

February 13, 2016

QotD: Education

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I put the donkey ears on “teaching” to this purpose. I do own a tweed jacket, though as a priestly colleague has pointed out, it lacks the regulation elbow patches. That is about the extent of my formal credentials as a pedagogue, yet by unlikely fate I have found myself “teaching” sometimes, at the “post-secondary” level, on a variety of topics — from development economics, to science and scientism in Hellenistic times, to the elements of typography, to the prehistory of modern journalism, to proper English Lit — and these days will do almost anything for money.

My father was also reduced to teaching, on several occasions — medicine, for instance — in addition to art, when it was discovered in a certain developing country that he actually knew some anatomy, and had access to a nursing textbook belonging to my mother.

From him, I learned to cite Hippocrates: “First do no harm.” The young, shall we call them, have almost invariably greater capacities for learning than will be revealed in modern schools. This is not only because their wee minds are therein seldom teased nor challenged. It is also because subjects are taught to them in a methodically lethal way, dispensed in cubes from the intellectual freezer, by teachers who, as a general rule, know nothing of the subjects themselves. (They have specialized degrees in “education.”)

I retain vivid memories of a Canadian high school where best efforts were made to kill my budding interests in poetry, theatre, music, art, biology, physics, math, &c.

There are, as George Bernard Shaw once counted, two basic methods of teaching. One is “education through art,” in which the student learns essentially through mimesis, by doing and making, gradually unfolding himself, as a flower to the sun in the moist air, feeding upon the nutrients beneath him — rich soils collecting through time. And the other is through torture. Each has its own standards. (I’m not against torture as a last resort.)

The expression “education through art” could easily mislead the literal-minded, who may not realize that science is an art. One acquires science by doing science, starting at the most rudimentary level, with small children, magically enthralled. Moreover, the various subjects are entwined. To master biology, for instance, one must learn to draw, in order to observe with precision. Physics, which naturally pairs with math, also pairs with music, which turns to pair with dance. The art of writing requires the art of reading, but vice versa equally so. And as throughout this world, while body and soul stay united, form has everything to do with content; meaning everything to do with style. Neither, and nothing, can be “prioritized”: until it comes time for the waterboarding.

“First do no harm.” God has set before every teacher this anciently humane instruction. Even if he should fail to do a student any good, at least do no evil. Do not repel him from the book forever; nor clutter his head with falsities. Even the torture should be carefully administered, leaving a prospect of some better way, and the happier alternative of following it.

David Warren, “Sigrid Undset”, DavidWarrenOnline.com, 2014-12-04.

February 7, 2016

QotD: How we solved the drug problem

Filed under: Media, Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Today during an otherwise terrible lecture on ADHD I realized something important we get sort of backwards.

There’s this stereotype that the Left believes that human characteristics are socially determined, and therefore mutable. And social problems are easy to fix, through things like education and social services and public awareness campaigns and “calling people out”, and so we have a responsiblity to fix them, thus radically improving society and making life better for everyone.

But the Right (by now I guess the far right) believes human characteristics are biologically determined, and biology is fixed. Therefore we shouldn’t bother trying to improve things, and any attempt is just utopianism or “immanentizing the eschaton” or a shady justification for tyranny and busybodyness.

And I think I reject this whole premise.

See, my terrible lecture on ADHD suggested several reasons for the increasing prevalence of the disease. Of these I remember two: the spiritual desert of modern adolescence, and insufficient iron in the diet. And I remember thinking “Man, I hope it’s the iron one, because that seems a lot easier to fix.”

Society is really hard to change. We figured drug use was “just” a social problem, and it’s obvious how to solve social problems, so we gave kids nice little lessons in school about how you should Just Say No. There were advertisements in sports and video games about how Winners Don’t Do Drugs. And just in case that didn’t work, the cherry on the social engineering sundae was putting all the drug users in jail, where they would have a lot of time to think about what they’d done and be so moved by the prospect of further punishment that they would come clean.

And that is why, even to this day, nobody uses drugs.

Scott Alexander, “Society Is Fixed, Biology Is Mutable”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-10.

January 21, 2016

QotD: Obesity

Filed under: Health, Quotations, Randomness — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

What about obesity? We put a lot of social effort into fighting obesity: labeling foods, banning soda machines from school, banning large sodas from New York, programs in schools to promote healthy eating, doctors chewing people out when they gain weight, the profusion of gyms and Weight Watchers programs, and let’s not forget a level of stigma against obese people so strong that I am constantly having to deal with their weight-related suicide attempts. As a result, everyone … keeps gaining weight at exactly the same rate they have been for the past couple decades. Wouldn’t it be nice if increasing obesity was driven at least in part by changes in the intestinal microbiota that we could reverse through careful antibiotic use? Or by trans-fats?

What about poor school performance? From the social angle, we try No Child Left Behind, Common Core Curriculum, stronger teachers’ unions, weaker teachers’ unions, more pay for teachers, less pay for teachers, more prayer in school, banning prayer in school, condemning racism, condemning racism even more, et cetera. But the poorest fifth or so of kids show spectacular cognitive gains from multivitamin supplementation, and doctors continue to tell everyone schools should start later so children can get enough sleep and continue to be totally ignored despite strong evidence in favor.

Scott Alexander, “Society Is Fixed, Biology Is Mutable”, Slate Star Codex, 2014-09-10.

January 2, 2016

QotD: Where did all those helicopter parents come from?

Filed under: Economics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

One of the things you might notice about novels from the 1950s and 1960s is how many of the affluent people in them are engaged in trades like selling insurance, manufacturing some dull but necessary article, or running a car lot. These people are rarely the heroes of the novel (even then, writers found it much easier to imagine themselves as doctors or lawyers or, for that matter, as rough-hewn working-class types than as regional office-supplies distributors). But it is telling that those novelists took for granted that the writers and professionals would be intermingled with the makers and sellers, something that comes across as distinctly odd to the residents of the modern coastal corridors. Few of my friends even run a budget outside their own households, much less a profit and loss statement, and very few indeed have ever gone on a sales call.

The change in our novels reflects a change in our economy: the decline of manufacturing; the rise in the number and remuneration of professional jobs; the increase in the size of service firms; and the resulting shift toward salaried positions rather than partnerships or sole proprietorships. As a result of these changes, the upper middle class has found itself in a curious bind. In some ways, its economic fortunes are better than ever: They make more money, more reliably, than they used to. But because they are employees rather than business owners, they have a very limited ability to pass their good fortune onto their children.

A parent who had built a good insurance business in 1950 had a valuable asset that he could hand over to his sons. As long as they put a full day in at the office, they too would be able to take home a good living. That calculation applies across a broad range of manufacturing, retail and service businesses that used to form the economic bulwark of the prosperous middle class.

An MBA, however, is not heritable. Neither is a law degree, a medical degree, or any of the other educational credentials that form the barriers to entry into today’s upper middle class. Those have to be earned by the child, from strangers — and with inequality rising, the competition for those credentials just keeps getting fiercer.

Of course, parents have always worried about their kids making it; small family firms were often riven by worries about Uncle Rob’s ability to settle down to the business. But those were worries about adults, at an age when people really do settle down and become less wild. These days, we’re trying to force that kind of responsibility onto teenagers in their freshman year of high school. Of course, we don’t tell them that they need to earn a living; we tell them they need to get into a good college. But the professionalization of the American economy means that these are effectively the same thing for large swathes of the middle class.

Many teenagers — and I include myself at that age — do not quite have the emotional maturity and long-term planning skills for the high-stakes economic competition they find themselves engaged in. So their parents intervene, managing their lives so intensely that their child doesn’t have much opportunity to, well, act like a child instead of a miniature middle-aged accountant. Since the professional class can’t pass down its credentials, it passes down its ability to navigate the educational system that produces the credentials. The more inequality widens, the more obsessively they will manage their kids through school — and the more economic mobility will stagnate, since parents outside the professional class will have grave difficulty replicating this feat.

Megan McArdle, “What Really Scares Helicopter Parents”, Bloomberg View, 2015-11-30.

December 21, 2015

Monty on “the book fetish”

Filed under: Books — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Marking his return from a long absence, Monty posts some thoughts on books and reading at Ace of Spades H.Q.:

What happens when homes have no books? (You’ll have to imagine me saying these words in a rather aghast tone, much as one might use when asking what happens in homes that don’t have flush toilets.)

Well, fear not. The question is misphrased. The problem is not houses without books, as it turns out — the problem is houses without engaged parents.

[…]

It bugs me when people substitute the word “book” for “reading”. I do a lot of reading — a LOT of reading — but I rarely crack an actual book these days unless I absolutely cannot find it for my Kindle. (As happened with Orlando Figes’ A People’s Tragedy, alas.) The problem besetting poor kids is not so much a lack of books as it is a lack of responsible adults in the house who invest the time and effort to engage them in reading — whether the written words are in book or on an LCD screen. What’s lacking here are not bound slabs of paper, but engaged parents.

And for adults? Reading of so-called “serious literature” has declined in recent decades because a lot of so-called “serious literature” is shit. The general cultural debasement started to exhibit first in the turgid academic book field, and since has metastasized out into every field of literary endeavor. Even the sci-fi and mystery ghettos have been infested with the rot of post-modernism and race/class/gender nonsense. And where that has not happened, we get the sub-adolescent rot of stuff like Twilight or its many imitators. This is the modern equivalent of the penny-dreadful, and serves as proof that just because it’s a book, that doesn’t mean the words inside of it are any guarantee of quality or even coherence.

It may be that most people these days eschew books for more engaging audio/visual entertainment, but that’s hardly surprising: that’s been the norm for most of our tenure on earth. Human beings are geared to prefer direct audio/visual stimulus over abstract symbolic input. The ability of common people to buy and consume printed books is a fairly recent one in human history — until the 18th century, most common folk couldn’t afford many books, and probably couldn’t read them either (literacy being nowhere near as universal as today). And in any case most of them wouldn’t have the time to while away reading — it was an age of manual labor and no electric light. You worked the daylight hours away, and when it got dark you went to bed.

I guess what I’m saying is: there are certainly worse things than being a lover of books, but be sure you’re loving the content of the book. (You can love the actual book as well, I guess, as an object of pure art or craft, but that’s a different thing.) And remember that the content of the book can be delivered in any number of ways. Don’t fetishize the delivery vehicle.

November 4, 2015

QotD: Teaching old dogs new tricks

Filed under: Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The older I get, the better I understand the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I used to think this referred to some weakness of the mind or obstinance, which I rejected as foolish and even cruel.

I’ve come to understand That saying differently. The older you get, the less patience, time, and energy you have with new things. You’ve seen decades of new things and are beginning to tire of their novelty. You only have so much time, and most of it is taken up with the rest of your life. And you have less energy to spend on something new.

In addition, the older you get, the more experience you have. Starting to learn a new operating system at 20 seems like just a matter of picking up some new tricks, but at 50 you realize just how long its going to take and how annoying its going to be after the previous 5 times through that process. And sometimes it feels like this old Far Side cartoon, where you’ve filled your mind up with 50+ years of stuff like old phone numbers, how to call information on a rotary phone, and the name of that character on Adam-12.

So its not so much you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Its that the old dog has been through this once too often and has better things to do.

Christopher Taylor, “OLD DOGS”, Word Around the Net, 2014-10-20.

October 26, 2015

QotD: Canadian political journalism

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

It is important to understand that, except a few, the journalists are not ideologues. They are, once again, typical products of our drive-in universities, and journalism schools which have, if possible, even lower intellectual standards. They know no history, nor anything much about the topics on which they write, and can be easily mesmerized by a narrative they have themselves written, by rote. Such is the nature of promotion within what has become a niche of the entertainment industry, that those of independent mind and moral fibre are quickly weeded out.

I’m inclined to use the term “progressive” rather than dwell on Left and Right wings, for there is some contrast between, say, MSNBC and Fox in the USA, between CBC and Sun News up here. There is a growing Right — an opposition within the media to itself — but it is not a significant improvement on the monotony that preceded it. The idea that, as a form of entertainment, news coverage should aspire to “tabloid” conditions, and avoid subjects which require knowledge, governed the rightwing impresarios from the start. The Right is fresher and feistier than the Left, and by its Pavlovian habit of reacting to Left agendas, sometimes traps itself in a principled position; but this is a random, not intended effect. Both sides continue to share the post-Christian worship of abstract “liberty,” “equality,” and material “progress.” They clash on who can deliver these empty buckets quicker. But the battle is fought from both sides with the same weaponry — platitudes and clichés — in a kind of unending spiritual Verdun. “Progress” invariably emerges as the victor.

David Warren, “Ottawa in the news”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-10-23.

October 23, 2015

The Orangutan Theory of Division 1 football

Filed under: Football, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Gregg Easterbrook points out the weirdness that is big-time college football in the United States:

These three coaching changes share in common what T.M.Q. calls the Orangutan Theory of Division 1: that football-factory programs have such incredible built-in advantages in recruiting power and gimmick schedules that an orangutan should be able to lead one to bowl eligibility.

Not only do the top recruits flock to prestige programs like South Carolina and U.S.C., but they also play under gimmick conditions. This year the Gamecocks have seven home games and five road dates; one of South Carolina’s opponents is lower-division Citadel. (Initially South Carolina scheduled eight home games and four road dates; a home game was moved because of Hurricane Joaquin.) U.S.C. enjoys seven home games versus five away; one of the Trojans’ opponents was Arkansas State, which plays in a lesser conference. Such schedules are as if the Denver Broncos played twice as many games at home as away, and one of the home games was against an Arena League team.

In the wake of the Spurrier and Sarkisian departures, the sports world — SportsCenter, Sports Illustrated, ESPN’s College GameDay — wondered when glory would return to these programs. Unless I missed it, not a word was said about the educational goals that are the ostensible purpose of the universities in question.

Spurrier’s team had a 51 percent graduation rate, including a 46 percent rate for African-Americans. He should have been given the boot for exploiting players without ensuring their educations: Instead all the boosters and the networks seemed to care about was his won-loss ratio. South Carolina is an SEC school. CBS has the contract for that conference, and benefits when the Gamecocks win. Where is the 60 Minutes segment on SEC football graduation rates?

Sarkisian’s team was graduating 47 percent of players, including 38 percent of African-Americans; Kiffin’s team had a 48 percent graduation rate, including 39 percent for African-American players. ESPN and Fox, which broadcast Pac-12 football, devoted lots of air time to the recruiting and ranking ramifications of the Kiffin and Sarkisian dismissals. Did either so much as mention graduation rates?

Even from programs like U.S.C. and South Carolina that produce many N.F.L. draftees, more than 90 percent never receive a professional paycheck. Because of the risk of injury and brain trauma and because of the effort and time that goes into the sport, colleges should make extra efforts to ensure football players receive educations. And yet many big football programs exploit African-American football players for profit without giving them the level of support to get the bachelor’s degree that is most people’s ticket into the middle class, or even distract them from education by demanding all their time and effort go into football. In many cases the boosters and boards of trustees don’t care, and the sports broadcasting world, which takes a cut of the exploitation, stays silent.

You want to discuss inequality? There are many thousands of NCAA football players, many of whom could not possibly attend university without athletic scholarships. They are subject to arbitrary rules that threaten to yank their funding at the slightest violation, constantly required to put aside any actual education-related activities to concentrate on training for games and in many cases, they are “studying” for degrees that don’t have much post-academic future. Most of them won’t ever be considered for the NFL, so getting that degree is the most important thing about attending university, but coaches and administrators collude to deprive them of that possibility in order to win football games, which attracts donations from alumni and TV coverage.

September 30, 2015

Helicopter parents have raised a generation of needy, emotionally fragile young adults

Filed under: Health, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In Psychology Today, Peter Gray looks at how universities are unequipped to handle the anxieties and emotional neediness of today’s students:

A year ago I received an invitation from the head of Counseling Services to join other faculty and administrators, at the university I’m associated with, for discussions about how to deal with the decline in resilience among students. At the first meeting, we learned that emergency calls to Counseling had more than doubled over the past five years. Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life. Recent examples mentioned included a student who felt traumatized because her roommate had called her a “bitch” and two students who had sought counseling because they had seen a mouse in their off-campus apartment. The latter two also called the police, who kindly arrived and set a mousetrap for them.

Faculty at the meetings noted that students’ emotional fragility has become a serious problem when in comes to grading. Some said they had grown afraid to give low grades for poor performance, because of the subsequent emotional crises they would have to deal with in their offices. Many students, they said, now view a C, or sometimes even a B, as failure, and they interpret such “failure” as the end of the world. Faculty also noted an increased tendency for students to blame them (the faculty) for low grades—they weren’t explicit enough in telling the students just what the test would cover or just what would distinguish a good paper from a bad one. They described an increased tendency to see a poor grade as reason to complain rather than as reason to study more, or more effectively. Much of the discussions had to do with the amount of handholding faculty should do versus the degree to which the response should be something like, “Buck up, this is college.” Does the first response simply play into and perpetuate students’ neediness and unwillingness to take responsibility? Does the second response create the possibility of serious emotional breakdown, or, who knows, maybe even suicide?

Two weeks ago, the head of Counseling (who has now moved up to another position in the University) sent us all a follow-up email, announcing a new set of meetings. His email included this sobering paragraph: “I have done a considerable amount of reading and research in recent months on the topic of resilience in college students. Our students are no different from what is being reported across the country on the state of late adolescence/early adulthood. There has been an increase in diagnosable mental health problems, but there has also been a decrease in the ability of many young people to manage the everyday bumps in the road of life. Whether we want it or not, these students are bringing their struggles to their teachers and others on campus who deal with students on a day-to-day basis. The lack of resilience is interfering with the academic mission of the University and is thwarting the emotional and personal development of students.”

[…]

In my next essay in this series I’ll examine the research evidence suggesting that so-called “helicopter parenting” really is at the core of the problem. But I don’t blame parents, or certainly not just parents. Parents are in some ways victims of larger forces in the society — victims of the continuous exhortations from “experts” about the dangers of letting kids be, victims of the increased power of the school system and the schooling mentality that says kids develop best when carefully guided and supervised by adults, and victims of increased legal and social sanctions for allowing kids into public spaces without adult accompaniment. We have become, unfortunately, a “helicopter society.”

If we want to prepare our kids for college — or for anything else in life! — we have to counter all these social forces. We have to give our children the freedom, which children have always enjoyed in the past, to get away from adults so they can practice being adults, that is, practice taking responsibility for themselves.

September 29, 2015

Bad preschool is worse than no preschool

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Megan McArdle on the popular notion that preschool programs are a panacea for all that ails the public school system:

Universal preschool has become the ginseng of American politics, a sort of broad-spectrum nostrum that will cure almost anything that ails you. Inequality, male-female pay gaps, crime, poverty — just apply some early childhood programs, and watch those maladies fade. Expect to hear this a lot from Hillary Clinton in the coming presidential race.

And what kind of a crotchety, sour, greedy old columnist could be opposed to such a wonderful idea? I’m so glad you asked.

In truth, I am not opposed to early childhood education programs. I am opposed to blind boosterism of such programs, the kind that confidently predicts marvelous results from thin empirical evidence, and briskly proceeds to demand huge sums be spent accordingly. There are three big problems with this:

1. The empirical evidence is shakier than many boosters suggest. The possible benefits of these programs can be divided into two baskets: cognitive benefits (improvement in academic skills and performance), and non-cognitive benefits (improvement in such things as social skills, hyperactivity, gratification delay, and so forth). The evidence of cognitive benefits is underwhelming; they appear, and then tend to fade out as the children leave the program and proceed through our nation’s school systems.

A lot of hope has therefore been poured into non-cognitive benefits. Some early programs seem to show long-term improvements in things like graduation rates, employment and criminal activity. However, many of these programs were very small, which raises the possibility that we’re dealing with small samples plus publication bias, rather than something that actually works. In general, in social science, you tend to see that the larger the sample and the better designed the study, the less remarkable the effects. And this is definitely what you see with early childhood programs. Perry, Abecedarian, the Chicago Child-Parent Center: these are inspiring projects. They’re not nearly large enough to base a national program on.

[…]

And indeed, that’s what a new study out of Quebec seems to suggest. In the 1990s, the province instituted an inexpensive universal child-care program. The program doesn’t seem to have produced much in the way of cognitive benefits, and its non-cognitive benefits were actually negative — that is, kids exposed to the program (those who lived in Quebec) were more likely to have various problems than control groups in other provinces.

Now, this is, as I always caution, Just One Study. It’s a pretty convincing study, of a pretty large group. But it’s still a single study, which means that we should not rush to say that universal child care is a bad idea, or even that cheap, badly designed universal child care is a bad idea.

What we should rush to say, however, is that the background assumption about such programs — that at worst they’re a waste of money for zero results — cannot be safely held. We have to assume some possibility that our early childhood program will actually be worse for the kids than the status quo is.

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