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 The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies by Polish philosopher Ryszard Legutko.

Word cloud

Word cloud

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Haidt, final chapter

I haven't had a lot to say about Haidt's book because most of it hasn't touched on the themes that I want to explore in this blog.  I will just touch on two things from the last chapter:

1) Empirical work has shown that liberals have more misconceptions about conservatives than conservatives have about liberals.  This might sound suspicious, if you only think about the most fire-breathing conservative pundits that you have seen, but the world is mostly made up of normal people, not fire-breathing pundits.  He spends much of the book explaining the differences between the moral intuitions of the left and right, and shows that the left has a small set of eminently rational moral intuitions, while the right has basically the same intuitions but also supplements them with some notions that you either find defensible or don't find defensible.  Consequently, conservatives can (on average) liberals better than liberals can understand conservatives.

I am so, so, SOOOO tempted to extrapolate this to things that I observe in the faculty lounge, but I think that social class and a rather unusual set of professional experiences do more to explain the clueless attitudes of academics than their partisan biases.  That isn't to say that Haidt's findings on political psychology aren't relevant (I'm sure they are) but I doubt they're the only factor.

2) On page 336, Haidt makes a great comment about teaching: When he decided to start doing research on political psychology, he decided that the only way to learn the subject was to teach a class on it.  So true.  So, so true.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The customer is always right

Some chemists have decided that if students are showing up in organic chemistry without good preparation in general chemistry, the problem is NOT that the introductory chemistry course (i.e. the prerequisite) needs to be improved, but that the people teaching organic chemistry need to re-calibrate to make the class accessible to people with weak preparation.  How much do you want to bet that they would offer as a rationale "We need to teach chemistry to more people so we can be internationally competitive"?  Well, I'm sure that if we just start teaching more science classes in a manner that's accessible to the poorly-prepared then we'll become much more competitive internationally.

Gritty sand in the gears of "reform"

Every so often the New York Times Education section publishes something interesting.  Most recently, they published an op-ed by Angela Lee Duckworth, in which she argued that "grit" (a psychological concept that she has been a leader in studying) should not be measured in the classroom with the goal of attaching high stakes.  As soon as something goes from the lab to the world of high stakes, all sorts of other behaviors come into play.  Kudos to her for recognizing this.  She's making the same point that I made in my responses to Lani Guinier's Tyranny of the Meritocracy:  As soon as you go beyond This One Special Situation to a world of competition and financial incentives, people will try to game your lovely research construct.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Haidt, page 153

I like the point made about innate human traits on page 153:  Innate traits are not unchanging or universally expressed in all cultural and environmental situations.  They are simply found in the first draft provided by Nature at birth.  Nurture and other environmental variables will determine the extent to which that first draft is altered or not.