Current Reading

This blog is primarily for me to blog my responses to books that I'm reading. Sometimes I blog about other stuff too, though.

I'm currently reading Notes on the Death of Culture: Essays on Spectacle and Society by Mario Vargas Llosa.

Word cloud

Word cloud

Saturday, February 6, 2016

A WrongThink Think Piece is still a Think Piece.

I'm 8 chapters into The State of the American Mind, a collection of essays on anti-intellectualism in the modern era.  It's full of things that would be considered WrongThink in my professional setting, so I ought to be primed to like it.  Alas, it's a book of 240 pages and 17 chapters (counting the intro and afterword), so each chapter is approximately 15 pages.  This is the same format that plenty of breezy and unchallenging books take.

Alas, the introduction and the second chapter both amount to "Most people don't know what they ought to know."  I agree with that, but I already know it, and there's nothing really new added.  The third chapter is a too-short and too-broad critique of writing pedagogy, something that has me walking away saying "OK, something is wrong" but as a person who assigns and grades project reports and lab reports I still feel like I need to know more before this chapter would be useful.  Chapter 4 is a synopsis of Academically Adrift, a book that I like, but I already read it.  Chapter 5 is a critique of psychiatry that elides the fact that plenty of psychiatric illnesses are in fact real illnesses.  Chapter 6 is a short rant about how people don't pay enough attention to the news, and its chief saving grace is that they don't try to blame late-night comedians; indeed, the author recognizes that jokes about current events only work for an informed audience.

Chapter 7 is the most abominable of all.  The basic message is fair enough:  Slowing down and observing closely is often better than quick, superficial glances.  Great.  Unfortunately, the chapter spends a lot of time on This One Intervention, where a single afternoon of activities to promote close observation habits led to great outcomes.  I'm sorry, but I don't believe it.  If This One Intervention worked, it worked because somebody cared enough to send students to the program and follow up, not because that one afternoon was so great.  Alas, I could easily see a colleague showing up at lunch and talking about how they read an article about This One Intervention and going on about how We Should Do This Too because it's so easy.

Saving graces:  The first chapter, by Mark Bauerlein, delves into the Flynn Effect, the trend of rising IQ over time.  He looks at how some skills have improved more than others.  I respect that nuance.  Also, Chapter 8, which claims that Kids These Days are different, does more than just repeat the same old complaint; it also critiques the modern zeitgeist that promotes the alleged differences.

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