Wargaming in the Classroom: An Odyssey

Monday, April 25th, 2016

James Lacey designed the perfect course on the Peloponnesian War for his students at the Marine Corps War College — only to realize that no one learned or remembered much of anything. Then he completely redesigned the course to use wargaming in the classroom, and the results were amazing:

I selected Fran Diaz’s Polis: Fight for the Hegemony, because, unlike many games, it has a heavy economic and diplomatic element. After dividing the seminars into teams, I was able to run five simultaneous games.

The results were amazing.

As every team plotted their strategic “ends,” students soon realized that neither side had the resources — “means” — to do everything they wanted. Strategic decisions quickly became a matter of tradeoffs, as the competitors struggled to find the “ways” to secure sufficient “means” to achieve their objectives (“ends”). For the first time, students were able to examine the strategic options of the Peloponnesian War within the strictures that limited the actual participants in that struggle.

Remarkably, four of the five Athenian teams actually attacked Syracuse on Sicily’s east coast! As they were all aware that such a course had led to an Athenian disaster 2,500 years before, I queried them about their decision. Their replies were the same: Each had noted that the Persians were stirring, which meant there was a growing threat to Athens’ supply of wheat from the Black Sea. As there was an abundance of wheat near Syracuse, each Athenian team decided to secure it as a second food source (and simultaneously deny it to Sparta and its allies) in the event the wheat from the Black Sea was lost to them. Along the way, two of the teams secured Pylos so as to raise helot revolts that would damage the Spartan breadbasket. Two of the teams also ended revolts in Corcyra, which secured that island’s fleet for Athenian purposes, and had the practical effect of blockading Corinth. So, it turns out there were a number of good strategic reasons for Athens to attack Syracuse. Who knew? Certainly not any War College graduate over the past few decades.

All of these courses of action were thoroughly discussed by each team, as were Spartan counter moves. For the first time in my six years at the Marine Corps War College, I was convinced that the students actually understood the range of strategies and options Thucydides wrote about. In the following days, I was stopped dozens of times by students who wanted discuss other options they might have employed, and, even better, to compare their decisions to what actually happened. A number of students told me they were still thinking about various options and decisions weeks later. I assure you that no one even spent even a car ride home thinking about my Thucydides lectures.


For six or more hours at a sitting, classes remain focused on the strategic choices before them, as they try to best an enemy as quick-thinking and adaptive as they are. Every turn presents strategic options and dilemmas that have to be rapidly discussed and decided on. As there are never enough resources, time and again hard choices have to be made. Every war college administrator can wax eloquently about their school’s mission to enhance their students’ critical thinking skills. But they then subject those same students to a year of mind-numbing classroom seminars that rarely, if ever, allow them to practice those skills that each college claims as its raison d’etre. Well, wargaming, in addition to helping students comprehend the subject material, also allows them an unparalleled opportunity to repeatedly practice decisive critical thinking. Moreover, it does so in a way where the effects of both good and bad decisions are almost immediately apparent.

At the end of each wargame, students walked away with a new appreciation of the historical circumstances of the period and the events they had read about and discussed in class. And even though all wargames are an abstract of actual events, I am sure that no student exposed to historical gaming will ever again read about the Peloponnesian War without thinking about Sicily’s wheat, the crucial importance of holding the Isthmus of Corinth, or what could have been done with a bit more Persian silver in the coffers of one side or the other’s treasury.

The trouble with books

Sunday, April 24th, 2016

Nick Szabo explains the trouble with books:

Most readers don’t want to spend most of their time reading verbose works by single author, when a greater variety of more relevant and thoughtfully concise works are available from a much larger pool of thinkers. Prior to the Internet they had much less choice: books were just the way educated people learned and taught. (And many people still believe that reading and writing books is the sine quo non of being educated, just as many Europeans in 1500 still lauded the superiority of scribal methods and scholastic thought).

Magazines and newspapers involve smaller form factors, but they still draw from a very small pool of authors. These authors can only write in detail about a wider variety of subjects by pretending to know things that they don’t: they take human institutions far more complicated than a single human can possibly comprehend and boil them down to a series of hypersimplified theories, what in less authoritative contexts we’d call ideologies or conspiracy theories.

Instead of being forced to read a vast number of words each from a small number and variety of authors, already widely read by many other people (making your reading of them often quite intellectually redundant), on the Internet you can read much less per-author text (and thus, potentially at least, far more thought out per word) from a much greater number and variety of authors.

Ideally you’d have someone reading widely for you and curating a list of good articles — or even presenting just the most insightful excerpts.


Wednesday, April 20th, 2016

If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything, this video from the Family Policy Institute of Washington argues:

Typed Notes

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016

Students type their lecture notes nowadays, but transcribing a lecture isn’t the best way to learn the material:

Generally, people who take class notes on a laptop do take more notes and can more easily keep up with the pace of a lecture than people scribbling with a pen or pencil, researchers have found. College students typically type lecture notes at a rate of about 33 words a minute. People trying to write it down manage about 22 words a minute.

In the short run, it pays off. Researchers at Washington University in St. Louis in 2012 found that laptop note-takers tested immediately after a class could recall more of a lecture and performed slightly better than their pen-pushing classmates when tested on facts presented in class. They reported their experiments with 80 students in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

Any advantage, though, is temporary. After just 24 hours, the computer note takers typically forgot material they’ve transcribed, several studies said. Nor were their copious notes much help in refreshing their memory because they were so superficial.

In contrast, those who took notes by hand could remember the lecture material longer and had a better grip on concepts presented in class, even a week later. The process of taking them down encoded the information more deeply in memory, experts said. Longhand notes also were better for review because they’re more organized.


Those who wrote out their notes longhand took down fewer words, but appeared to think more intensely about the material as they wrote, and digested what they heard more thoroughly, the researchers reported in Psychological Science. “All of that effort helps you learn,” said Dr. Oppenheimer.

Laptop users instead took notes by rote, taking down what they heard almost word for word.

How Asian test-prep companies quickly penetrated the new SAT

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

Asian test-prep companies quickly penetrated the new SAT:

This month, Asian test-prep centers targeted the redesigned SAT.

For the first sitting of the test, on March 5, the College Board barred people who aren’t applying to college from taking the SAT. The step prevented cram school teachers who’d registered for the test from getting a direct look at the exam. Test-prep operators found ways around the measure.

Sanli, the Chinese test-prep chain, says it sent 11 teachers to the United States to collect information on the redesigned exam. They debriefed 40 Sanli students studying at U.S. high schools who took the new SAT as they exited test centers, according to Wu, the general manager. Sanli presented its findings at a seminar at a Shanghai hotel.

Other Asian operators harvested material from the new exam simply by going online. After the test ended, the website College Confidential was full of talk about the exam. The site said last week that it received and complied with one take-down request from the College Board after the new test.

And within hours of the test, a Chinese SAT coach who calls himself “Roy” had pieced together items that were on the reading and optional essay sections. Soon he was sharing his take on the test in a video posted on social media.

“Have you read College Confidential?” Roy said in an interview. “All the detailed material is there.”

Human Terrain

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

As US casualties in Iraq went into four figures, John Dolan (a.k.a. Gary Brecher, The War Nerd) explains, the Army was finally ready to grit its teeth and deal with the eggheads again — including a woman he knew back at Berkeley, who turned out to be something of a con artist, now operating under a new name:

That was the beginning of the Human Terrain System.

In 2005, a very bad year for the Army in Iraq, “Dr. Montgomery McFate” and her shadowy colleague, Andrea V. Jackson (try finding a photo of Andrea) started a pilot project, COR-HTS, designed to put anthropological know-how, assuming there be such a thing, to the US armed force’s use. They could have hired any man or woman from A-town for about one-millionth the price, and they’d have said, “Have you tried learning the lingo, talking to people? Oh, and another thing that helps is keeping track, you know, finding out who lives where. The big thing to remember, though, is to make sure you know which families have been in the struggle down the generations; find the head of the house and see what he’ll take to sit home for a while.”

But that’s not how the Army does things, or the US in general. It’s about the last thing any American would do, in fact. They went with a huge program, HQ’d in Fort Leavenworth —because when you think of a base to prep people for the Sunni Triangle you naturally just think “Kansas! Put it in Kansas!”

Then they provided Mitzy and Andrea, two suspiciously academic women (by Army standards) with a minder, a man who has to be seen to be believed. Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce Col. Steve Fondocaro.

Sometimes I think physical comedy is the essence of America, most of all when it thinks it’s being serious. Fondocaro… well, look at him. You know he was there to calm down the tankers and junior Pattons who didn’t want to know about this softly-softly stuff.

The mix worked, and the US military, in its usual way, ruined it by demanding an instant 400% increase in the slow development the program needed. Just as the services had ruined an earlier CI campaign, the Green Berets, by tossing thousands of shake-and-bake commandos into what was originally a slow, village-based program, the Army decided to hire every unhireable Humanities Ph.D. in the US (which, by this time, was pretty much all of them) to go talk to Pashtun patriarchs and Sunni elders in Anbar about how we might make the occupation more comfortable for them.

Mitzy hit her peak, and it was quite a peak, in 2007, when Petraeus’ Counterinsurgency 101 reforms made the US Iraq effort slightly less spectacularly clueless, and the casualty counts started to go down. Suddenly the woman I knew as Mitzy was everywhere. I got an email from a reporter at SFGate Magazine. He’d written a gushing profile of Mitzy, and wanted to do a followup. She’d mentioned, he said, that I had “taught her the rhetoric of terrorism” at UC Berkeley. I’d never taught any such course, and wasn’t happy about the fact that I’d been airbrushed out of her history now that she was respectable and I was nobody. So I wrote back to say that I doubted we understood “terrorism” in the same way. The reporter’s response began with the exclamation, “Goodness!” and I understood how far I’d wandered from acceptable American discourse. I could hardly read the rest; just kept thinking, “How can you write the word ‘goodness’ with an exclamation point after it?”

How Mitzy, who had a real houseboat tongue on her, managed to talk to these people without offending them every second word, I never understood. But then she’d always been a jargon-sponge, a joiner.

As she rose in the big, bad military/think-tank world, she drew the hatred of the anthro professors guild. Which was annoying, because I had good cause, decades of cause, to hate North American professors, and didn’t want to agree with them about anything. It was especially irksome that Mitzy’s chief accuser was a Canadian leftist anthropologist named Maximilian Forte, a classic of the breed, a privileged white male who makes a tidy sum talking about white male privilege. Worse yet, he taught at Concordia, which was notorious at Berkeley for hiring only the most insufferable, canting, progressive hypocrites among our grad students. A more loathsome group of people it would be difficult to find, and yet I knew they were right. This is a common feeling for Berkeley vets, agreeing with the whole agenda of people whose very names and voices trigger your gag reflex.

What finally brought Human Terrain crashing down onto the, er, human terrain inhabited by us nobodies was opposition from the other side, the hardcore tankers who loathed the idea of doing anything resembling touchy-feely CI warfare. They didn’t want to send their guys to learn Pashtun and learn to wipe their asses with a rock, they wanted to wargame the Fulda Gap, like the good old days. Fuck the wars that actually happen, those bug hunts; they dreamed of the good old Cold War, when nothing real ever eventuated.

And they had their ammunition when Mitzy’s crusading Ph.D.s started dying in ways horrible enough to get publicity. One of them, Michael Bhattia, died from an IED in Khost; Nicole Suveges, “a funny, kind person” according to her HTS death notice, was blown to bits in Sadr City in Baghdad.

But the most cinematic, grotesquely comic, most utterly horrible death was Paula Loyd’s. She—also a nice, funny person who joked “I always wanted plastic surgery” after being burned over 60% of her body, was set on fire by a Pashtun man in southern Afghanistan. Loyd was one of the decent Ph.D.s, you could tell that just reading her nightmare story; a nice person who took the job with HTS because there weren’t any other jobs for our crowd anymore. A nice, blond, middle-class, moderate-feminist American… sent to a Pashtun village in Kandahar Province, Mullah Omar’s home turf. The Children’s Crusade seems like sound military strategy compared to this.

Loyd, her notebook or recorder ready, asked a man named Abdul Salam about the price of kerosene. Salam happened to be carrying a tin of kerosene. The temptation must have been too great; he poured it over Loyd and set her on fire.

After she fell screaming in agony, the grotesque comedy continued. Loyd’s bodyguard, angry that he’d failed to do his job, clotheslined Salam, tied him up. Some soldiers told the bodyguard Loyd was horribly maimed. The bodyguard took out his sidearm and shot Salam in the head. For which, believe it or not, the bodyguard was tried for murder.

Remedying Weaknesses and Handling Errors

Sunday, March 20th, 2016

How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice? Anders Ericsson would say, deliberate practice, deliberate practice, deliberate practice.

Gary Marcus’s Guitar Zero runs with this notion of doing practice right:

“Hundreds of thousands of people took music lessons when they were young and remember little or nothing,” he points out, giving lie to the notion that learning an instrument is easiest when you’re a kid. The important thing is not just practice but deliberate practice, “a constant sense of self-evaluation, of focusing on one’s weaknesses, rather than simply fooling around and playing to one’s strengths. Studies show that practice aimed at remedying weaknesses is a better predictor of expertise than raw number of hours; playing for fun and repeating what you already know is not necessarily the same as efficiently reaching a new level. Most of the practice that most people do, most of the time, be it in the pursuit of learning the guitar or improving their golf game, yields almost no effect.”


In an article titled “It’s Not How Much; It’s How,” published in the Journal of Research in Music Education in 2009, University of Texas-Austin professor Robert Duke and his colleagues videotaped advanced piano students as they practiced a difficult passage from a Shostakovich concerto, then ranked the participants by the quality of their ultimate performance. The researchers found no relationship between excellence of performance and how many times the students had practiced the piece or how long they spent practicing. Rather, “the most notable differences between the practice sessions of the top-ranked pianists and the remaining participants,” Duke and his coauthors wrote, “are related to their handling of errors.”

The best pianists, they determined, addressed their mistakes immediately. They identified the precise location and source of each error, then rehearsed that part again and again until it was corrected. Only then would the best students proceed to the rest of the piece. “It was not the case that the top-ranked pianists made fewer errors at the beginning of their practice sessions than did the other pianists,” Duke notes. “But, when errors occurred, the top-ranked pianists seemed much better able to correct them in ways that precluded their recurrence.”

Questioning the Socratic Method

Saturday, March 19th, 2016

What happens when researchers question the Socratic method?

In a study published in the December 2011 issue of the journal Mind, Brain, and Education, four cognitive scientists from Argentina describe what happened when they asked contemporary high school and college students a series of questions identical to those posed by Socrates. In one of his most famous lessons, Socrates showed a young slave boy a square, then led him through a series of 50 questions intended to teach the boy how to draw a second square with an area twice as large as the first. Students in the 2011 experiment, led by researcher Andrea Goldin, gave answers astonishingly similar to those offered by Socrates’ pupil, even making the same mistakes he made. “Our results show that the Socratic dialogue is built on a strong intuition of human knowledge and reasoning which persists more than twenty-four centuries after its conception,” the researchers write. Their findings, Goldin and his co-authors add, demonstrate the existence of “human cognitive universals traversing time and cultures.”

But these “universals” come with a significant caveat. By the end of Socrates’ lesson, the Greek boy had figured out how to do the task. More than half of the contemporary subjects, on the other hand, failed to grasp the import of the philosopher’s 50 questions.

The Secret Strategies of Skilled Listeners

Friday, March 18th, 2016

Annie Murphy Paul explains the secret strategies of skilled listeners:

Studies of skilled language learners have identified specific listening strategies that lead to superior comprehension. What’s more, research has shown that learners who deliberately adopt these strategies become better listeners. Last year, for example, University of Ottawa researcher Larry Vandergrift published his study of 106 undergraduates who were learning French as a second language. Half of the students were taught in a conventional fashion, listening to and practicing texts spoken aloud. The other half, possessing the same initial skill level and taught by the same teacher, were given explicit instruction on how to listen. In the journal Language Learning, Vandergrift reported the results: The second group “significantly outperformed” the first one on a test of comprehension. The improvement was especially pronounced among the less-fluent French speakers in the group.

So what are these listening strategies? Skilled learners go into a listening session with a sense of what they want to get out of it. They set a goal for their listening, and they generate predictions about what the speaker will say. Before the talking begins, they mentally review what they already know about the subject, and form an intention to “listen out for” what’s important or relevant. Once they begin listening, these learners maintain their focus; if their attention wanders, they bring it back to the words being spoken. They don’t allow themselves to be thrown off by confusing or unfamiliar details. Instead, they take note of what they don’t understand and make inferences about what those things might mean, based on other clues available to them: their previous knowledge of the subject, the context of the talk, the identity of the speaker, and so on. They’re “listening for gist,” and not getting caught up in fine-grained analysis. All the while, skilled learners are evaluating what they’re hearing and their own understanding of it. They’re checking their inferences to see if they’re correct, and identifying the questions they still have so they can pursue the answers later.

Such strategies are all about metacognition, or thinking about thinking, and they yield a variety of benefits. Research indicates that learners who engage in metacogition are better at processing and storing new information, better at finding the best ways to practice and better at reinforcing what they have learned. In a 2006 study by researchers from Singapore, Chinese speakers who were learning English as a second language reported increased motivation and confidence after they were taught metacognitive strategies.

Cognitive Apprenticeship

Thursday, March 17th, 2016

It used to be that everyone learned on the job, through formal or informal apprenticeships, but modern knowledge work goes on inside the the master’s head, where it’s invisible to the apprentice. A cognitive apprenticeship requires some special effort:

“Applying apprenticeship methods to largely cognitive skills requires the externalization of processes that are usually carried out internally.” That means that the modern-day master and apprentice must be continuously communicating as they work side by side.

Collins prescribes two specific types of talk: in the first, the master and the neophyte take turns explaining what they’re doing as they do it. This alternation allows apprentices “to use the details of expert performance as the basis for incremental adjustments to their own performance,” Collins writes.

The second approach Collins calls “abstracted replay”: that is, after a task has been performed, the master offers a detailed commentary on what just happened (sometimes augmented by the actual replay of video taken during the task). During the recap, the more experienced member of the pair recounts what would have been his or her internal dialogue so that the less-experienced participant can hear it — and, in time, draw that dialogue inward as well.

Selective Public Schools

Monday, March 14th, 2016

New York City’s selective public schools — where students take a test to get in — have an appalling diversity problem — as do selective public schools everywhere else:

Of the schools that “test in,” black and Latino students will likely make up no more than 4 and 6 percent, respectively, of the student populations next year. Yet across the city, those two groups make up 70 percent of the public school population.


At Thomas Jefferson, a magnet school in Alexandria, Virginia, for instance, there’s a notable gulf when it comes to Asian students. Nearly 60 percent of the school’s population was Asian during the 2014–15 school year, compared to 20 percent of the wider public school system.


The Rhetoric and Reality of Gap Closing

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Shockingly, measures aimed at narrowing the gap between “advantaged” and “disadvantaged” students only narrow the gap when they’re denied to the “advantaged” students.

OK, maybe you’re not so shocked, but Cornell researchers Stephen J. Ceci and Paul B. Papierno were:

It turns out, however, that when these gap-narrowing interventions are universalized —  given not only to the group of children who most need assistance but also to the more advantaged group (regardless of whether the latter is identified as White, rich, high ability, etc.), a surprising and unanticipated consequence sometimes occurs: The preintervention gap between the disadvantaged group and the advantaged group is actually widened as a consequence of making the intervention universally available. This is because, as we will show, although the disadvantaged children who most need the intervention do usually gain significantly from it, the higher functioning or more advantaged children occasionally benefit even more from the intervention. The result is increased disparity and a widening of the gap that existed prior to universalizing the intervention. This has led a prominent intervention researcher to bemoan the major drawback of universalization that “makes nice children even nicer but has a negligible effect on those children at greatest risk” (Offord, 1996, p. 338).

The Rickover of Algebra

Monday, February 22nd, 2016

Back in 1982, William F. Buckley Jr. called John Saxon the Rickover of Algebra:

Permit me to introduce you to John Saxon, a 58-year-old mathematics teacher who practices in Oscar Rose Junior College, in a suburb of Oklahoma City. He will probably figure as prominently in the history of mathematical pedagogy as Hyman Rickover in the history of nuclear submarines — and for much the same reason.

The two gentlemen are temperamental clones. If it ever occurred to Hyman Rickover that he was wrong about anything, one must assume he lay down until he got over it. It is so with John Saxon, a graduate of West Point, a decorated veteran, a former test pilot, who when he retired from the military, took up the teaching of algebra.

What he discovered shocked him. And anyone who shocks John Saxon should be prepared to take the consequences. He found himself surrounded by a generation of algebraic illiterates. The math scores were going down, down, down; and there was no obvious reason why.

Americans had not lost their basic mechanical intelligence, which we like to think of as congenital. So John Saxon set out to find the cause of this creeping illiteracy. And as one would expect, he did find it.

The fault lay in the textbooks being used universally in the United States.

These, his researchers revealed, were the result of the panic of 1957, when the Russians got up there with their Sputnik, and President Eisenhower instituted a crash program designed to hype American interest and skill in engineering.

The difficulty arose with the preeminence then given to the theoretical mathematicians. These are gentry who do not relate their work to any particular problem — that is for the physicist to worry about. They were the dominating influence in the creation of a set of textbooks blighted by jargon (John Saxon’s English is a model of precision), indifferent to practice, and rather snobbish about utility.

The result has been that Johnny would be introduced to a difficult concept today that tomorrow he could be counted on to forget.

In a demonstration that is bringing the textbook establishment to Armageddon, Saxon has revealed that students who use his own textbook outscored others who used the conventional textbooks by 159 percent in 20 Oklahoma schools tested. Moreover, second-year algebra students were bested by Saxon’s first year algebra students when tested in those fields they had both studied, by an astonishing 200 percent.

In 1980, Saxon mortgaged his house to produce his textbook (the publishers had refused him). It will sweep the country. By the end of this year, he will have finished his second-year textbook. It will predictably do the same.

I can see why people seem to either love or hate Saxon math — for reasons that may or may not relate to pedagogy.

Marcusian Rhetorical Tricks

Saturday, February 20th, 2016

Kids are learning Marcusian rhetorical tricks before they even get to college, Jonathan Haidt notes:

Jonathan Haidt: Yes, that’s right. Even much of the gender gap in STEM fields appears to result from differences of enjoyment – boys and girls are not very different on ability, but they’re hugely different in what they enjoy doing. Anyone who has a son and a daughter knows that. But if you even just try to say this, it will be regarded as so hurtful, so offensive. You can get in big trouble for it. And that’s what actually showed up in the article I have online where I gave a talk at a school on the West Coast, and a student was insisting that there’s such massive institutional sexism, and she pointed to the STEM fields as evidence of sexism….

John Leo:: Is this the talk you gave at a high school you called “Centerville”?

Jonathan Haidt: Yes, “Centerville High.” That’s right. That’s exactly what this was about.

John Leo:: Where the girl stood up after your talk and said, “So you think rape is OK?”

Jonathan Haidt: Yes, that’s right. It’s this Marcusian rhetorical trick. You don’t engage the person’s arguments. You say things that discredit them as a racist or a sexist.

John Leo:: How do they learn that? The young don’t read Herbert Marcuse.

Jonathan Haidt: I don’t know whether they get it from one another in junior high school or whether they’re learning it in diversity training classes. I don’t know whether they’re modeling it from their professors. I do believe it’s in place by the time they arrive in college. And colleges are teaching this. Now, some colleges are much, much worse than others. We know from various things we’ve read and posted on our site, that liberal arts colleges — especially the women’s schools — are by far the worst.

John Leo:: Women’s schools are worse?

Jonathan Haidt: Nobody should send their child to a women’s school any more. And that’s especially true if you’re progressive. The last thing you want is for your progressive daughter to be raised in this bullying monoculture, and to become a self-righteous bully herself.

John Leo:: Well, that’s one of the things I learned from your site. I kept debating with friends whether the closed mind, all the PC and the yen for censorship were there before they arrive at freshman orientation. But I hadn’t see it written about until Heterodox Academy came along.

Jonathan Haidt: I wouldn’t say the game is over by the time they reach college. I would just say, they’re, they’re already enculturated. But that doesn’t mean they can’t change. Kids are very malleable. Kids are anti-fragile. I would say there’s some research suggesting that by the time you’re thirty, your frontal cortex is set. So after thirty, I don’t think you can change. But at eighteen, I think you still can. So my hope is that universities will be forced to declare their sacred value. I hope we can split them off into different kinds of institutions–you know, Brown and Amherst can devote themselves to social justice. Chicago is my main hope. The University of Chicago might be able to devote itself to truth. They already have this fantastic statement on free speech, making very clear that it is not the job of the university to take sides in any of these matters. The university simply provides a platform.

John Leo:: Yes, that’s just one university though.

Jonathan Haidt: But that’s fine. As long as you have an alternate model, then other universities can copy it. But more importantly is this — here’s the one reason for hope — almost all Americans are disgusted by what’s happened to the universities.

Protective, Fearful Parenting

Friday, February 19th, 2016

Jonathan Haidt describes what really worries him about college kids today:

The big thing that really worries me — the reason why I think things are going to get much, much worse — is that one of the causal factors here is the change in child-rearing that happened in America in the 1980s. With the rise in crime, amplified by the rise of cable TV, we saw much more protective, fearful parenting. Children since the 1980s have been raised very differently — protected as fragile. The key psychological idea, which should be mentioned in everything written about this, is Nassim Taleb’s concept of anti-fragility.


Bone is anti-fragile. If you treat it gently, it will get brittle and break. Bone actually needs to get banged around to toughen up. And so do children. I’m not saying they need to be spanked or beaten, but they need to have a lot of unsupervised time, to get in over their heads and get themselves out. And that greatly decreased in the 1980s. Anxiety, fragility and psychological weakness have skyrocketed in the last 15–20 years. So, I think millennials come to college with much thinner skins. And therefore, until that changes, I think we’re going to keep seeing these demands to never hear anything offensive.