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, July 9, 2016

Next book: Academic Freedom in the Age of the University

The next book will be Academic Freedom in the Age of the University by Walter Metzger.  It's the companion to Richard Hofstadter's Academic Freedom in the Age of the College.  Hofstadter's contribution traced US academic history up to 1865, from which point Metzger picks up.  The two works are sometimes published as separate volumes (including a copy in my campus's library, hence I originally only blogged Hofstadter's piece) but they were originally published (in 1955) as one volume titled The Development of Academic Freedom in the United States.

Friday, July 8, 2016

The future of admissions

A recent poll shows that the public strongly opposes affirmative action in college admissions. Of course, most people who work in colleges support some form of affirmative action, and for justifiable reasons.  Therefore, as I have discussed before, if we cannot take disadvantaged status into account  and simply give people an opportunity on the basis of their disadvantaged status, we will have to continue to insist that disadvantage doesn't actually lead to under-preparation or under-performance, and hence we will have to pretend that measures of performance and/or preparation don't really matter.

I wish we could just give a leg up to the disadvantaged instead of pretending that measures of book smarts mean nothing.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Blogging the countervailing currents

I'm going to blog two social science articles from a high-profile journal.  I should state up-front that such articles often contain results that are hard to replicate, so take them with a grain of salt.  However, these two articles deviate from the current zeitgeist, and hence might have faced slightly more scrutiny in peer review than other articles.  That doesn't guarantee that the results will stand up to replication efforts, but it does make them worth examining.

First, this is a nice study showing that placebo effects can be substantial in "cognitive training" activities.  It's not my area of expertise, but they clearly put a lot of effort into constructing good control and placebo groups, more care than I see in a lot of educational studies.

Second, here's a large-scale study from Denmark, in which the number of instructional hours devoted to reading was increased in thousands of elementary school classrooms, but in half of the classrooms the teachers were told to do whatever they wanted while in the other half they were given a very strict reading curriculum to adhere to in those extra hours.  The teachers with flexibility had statistically significant improvements in their classrooms.  The teachers with the prescribed curriculum had gains that were larger than zero but not as large as those of the teachers given flexibility.  The interpretation is slightly tricky because the error bars on the second gain overlap both zero and the teachers with flexibility.  Still, what we can say confidently is that there's no evidence that giving teachers some amount of flexibility is bad in this context.  The authors interpret it as evidence that teachers respond with instruction tailored to the needs of their particular class.  Not a shining moment for technocracy.