Where did summer vacation come from?

Monday, August 14th, 2017

Where did summer vacation come from?

In 1869, a charismatic preacher named William H. H. Murray published a guide to the rugged Adirondacks of upstate New York, extolling them as an antidote to the enervating effects of modern life. He wrote of his desire to “encourage manly exercise in the open air, and familiarity with Nature in her wildest and grandest aspects.”  Murray spoke of how city dwellers weighed down by work emerged from the northern woods revived and bursting with health.

The book was an immediate bestseller, going through numerous printings. In 1869, hordes of tourists dubbed “Murray’s Fools” arrived in the Adirondacks via a new railway line, only to find themselves beset by flies, alarmed by deer tracks, and otherwise flummoxed by life in the great outdoors. The press had a field day with Murray, but the good preacher persisted, and each year, more and more Americans arrived in the mountains.

The massive expansion of railroads opened this and many other locales to white-collar workers seeking a place to spend some time away from the stress of modern life, even if they sometimes made leisure a form of work. Many of today’s favorite summer destinations – the Great Lakes, the White Mountains, the Jersey Shore, the coast of Maine – all began as vacation meccas at this time.

But when parents contemplated bringing the kids, they immediately ran into a serious problem. At this time, schools followed one of two calendars, neither of which was compatible with the idea of summer vacation.  In rural areas, schools opened their doors in the winter and the summer, but closed their doors in the spring and fall, when parents needed children to help out on farms with planting and harvesting. Cities, by contrast, remained open all year. Neither system was conducive to bringing the kids on summer vacation.

But it was precisely this same era that school reformers began voicing the same concerns about “brain work” that doctors had raised about adults. Horace Mann, arguably the most influential school reformer of the 19th century, wrote with conviction that “health itself is destroyed by overstimulating the mind.” Likewise, the Pennsylvania School Journal voiced anxiety that because children spent too much time in school, they were “growing up puny, lank, pallid, emaciated, round-shouldered [and] thin-breasted, all because they were kept at study too long.”

In cities, this argument had particular resonance, no doubt because poorly ventilated, sweltering classrooms were miserable for students and teachers alike. In rural areas studied by Kenneth Gold, a historian at the City University of New York, education reformers began pushing to revamp the school calendar, as well, creating the now standard school calendar.

In truth, much of the impetus for the shift likely came from the teachers themselves, who had by this time organized themselves.  They pushed for summer vacation because, well, they wanted a break. As one reformer arguing against year-round schooling noted: “Teachers need a summer vacation more than bad boys need a whipping.”

Environment is both feeble and overwhelmingly potent

Saturday, August 12th, 2017

Psychologists have been plagued by a paradox that suggests that environment is both feeble and overwhelmingly potent:

The paradox emerged from a debate about race. US whites outscore US blacks on IQ tests by 15 points. Does that gap have environmental causes or is it partially due to genes? In 1973, Arthur Jensen constructed a model that applied kinship data to group differences in IQ. Evidence from kinship studies showed identical twins separated at birth and raised in different homes grow up with very similar IQs. The fact that they have identical genes provides an obvious explanation. Jensen argued that fully 75 percent of IQ variance between individuals was due to genetic differences (a value which sits in the middle of the range recently endorsed by a select committee of the American Psychological Association for adult IQ). Jensen’s model showed that a purely environmental explanation of the black/white IQ gap meant that the environment of the average US black must be as unfavorable for the development of IQ as the lowest one percent of white environments measured in terms of their effects on IQ. That simply did not seem possible.

Jensen’s model seemed to preclude a purely environmental explanation for any large IQ gap between groups. Then, in 1987, Flynn showed that in nation after nation, the current generation outscores the last generation by some 9 to 20 IQ points. The gains are greatest on those tests often called the best measures of intelligence. Their size and speed dictate an environmental explanation. Flynn applied Jensen’s model. An environmental explanation meant putting the current generation within the top one-tenth of one percent of the last generation in terms of environmental quality. What was known to be true was shown to be impossible.

How could solid evidence show both that environment was so feeble (kinship studies) and yet so potent (IQ gains over time)?

Dickens has proposed a model that we believe solves the paradox. It assumes that people who have an advantage for a particular trait will become matched with superior environments for that trait; and that genes can derive a great advantage from this because genetic differences are persistent. A genetic advantage remains with you throughout life, while environmental differences tend to come and go, unless sustained by the steady pressure of genes.

Take those born with genes that make them a bit taller and quicker than average. When they start school, they are likely to be a bit better at basketball. The advantage may be modest but then reciprocal causation between the talent advantage and environment kicks in. Because you are better at basketball, you are likely to enjoy it more and play it more than someone who is bit slow or short or overweight. That makes you better still. Your genetic advantage is upgrading your environment, the amount of time you play and practice, and your enhanced environment in turn upgrades your skill. You are more likely to be picked for your school team and to get professional coaching.

Thanks to genes capitalizing on the powerful multiplying effects of the feedback between talent and environment, a modest genetic advantage has turned into a huge performance advantage. Just as small genetic differences match people with very different environments, so identical genes tend to produce very similar environments—even when children are raised in separate homes.

In other words, kinship studies of basketball, no matter whether they involved people with identical genes or different genes, would underestimate the potency of environmental factors. Playing, practicing, being on a team, coaching, all of these would be credited to genes—simply because differences in them tend to accompany genetic differences between individuals. Genes might seem to account for as much as 75 percent of variance across individuals in basketball performance. If someone showed that the present generation was far more skilled at basketball than the last (as indeed they are), Jensen’s math would prove that it was impossible. It would show that those aspects of environment that are not correlated with genes (which is all that environment gets credit for in kinship studies) were very feeble. So feeble that the present generation would have to be within the top one percent of the last in terms of quality of environment for basketball.

The cognitive ability differences measured by IQ tests may have the same dynamics. People whose genes send them into life with a small advantage for these abilities start with a modest performance advantage. Then genes begin to drive the powerful engine of reciprocal causation between ability and environment. You begin by being a bit better at school and are encouraged by this, while others who are a bit ‘slow’ get discouraged. You study more, which upgrades your cognitive performance, earn praise for your grades, start haunting the library, get into a top stream. Another child finds that sport is his or her strong suit, does the minimum, does not read for pleasure, and gets into a lower stream. Both of you may go to the same school but the environments you make for yourselves within that school will be radically different. The modest initial cognitive advantage conferred by genes becomes enormously multiplied.

The split at the heart of Chinese America

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

The split at the heart of Chinese America isn’t surprising:

For years in America, Sean lived the life of a striving and successful Chinese immigrant. He paid attention to politics — partly because of his deepening appreciation of the American system and his concern for his children’s future — but he never got involved. Until 2014.

That year, a California state senator named Edward Hernandez introduced a bill to amend the state constitution and lift the 1996 ban on the use of race in admissions at California’s public universities. State Constitutional Amendment 5, or SCA-5, sailed through the state senate in January 2014 and looked set to pass the assembly soon thereafter.

Sean and hundreds of other Chinese Americans like him saw SCA-5 as a direct attack on the educational prospects of their children. Since California had become the first state to do away with affirmative action in state college admissions in 1996, the prospects for Asian-American applicants at California’s best colleges had brightened. Since 1996, the entering class at California’s best state college, the University of California, Berkeley, has averaged above 40 percent Asian American while more than 35 percent of the UCLA undergraduate student body has been Asian American, too. Both of these are more than double the 15 percent share that Asian Americans comprise of California’s population. And now, Sean worried, an amendment to California’s constitution was going to reinsert race into state college admissions and take that all away.

Sean and his friends began organizing. They had an uphill fight. Practically all of the Asian-American politicians in California, members of a Democratic majority, had come out in favor of the constitutional change.

Sean and hundreds of Chinese immigrants held noisy protests; they surrounded the offices of one Chinese-American assemblyman until he emerged and renounced his support of the bill. Their agitation forced three Chinese-American state senators who had voted for the bill to switch their positions. Many of the protesters made campaign donations for the first time. Sean gave about $1,000 to a variety of candidates. Breaking with decades of Asian-American tradition, they began supporting Republicans.

[...]

The Chinese-American community began to swing toward the Democratic Party in the 1960s as thousands of highly educated Chinese immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong and Taiwan, a trend accelerated by the landmark 1965 Immigration Act, passed by a Democratic Party majority and signed by President Lyndon Baines Johnson, also a Democrat. That law changed the nature of Chinatowns throughout America. In the 1930s, more than 60 percent of the Chinese in America worked as cooks, waiters, domestics, and laundrymen, and fewer than 2 percent had a college degree. By the 1960s, three out of four Chinese had white-collar jobs. In 1966, U.S. News & World Report hailed the Chinese as a “model minority” capable of “winning wealth and respect by dint of its own hard work.”

Chinese Americans started embracing typically liberal causes. One such cause was affirmative action. Activists such as Lily Lee Chen, who left Taiwan to be educated in America in the 1950s, led a campaign to convince Chinese immigrants to avail themselves of government services. “It was difficult in the beginning because so many Chinese Americans didn’t trust governments,” she recalled. But over time, Chen and others like her changed people’s minds. “We were just as needy a group as the Native Americans, Blacks, and Hispanics,” said Chen. “We’re the fourth minority.” Chen became the first Chinese-American mayor in the United States, elected in 1983 as the mayor of Monterey Park in eastern Los Angeles County. Support for affirmative action remained strong throughout the 1990s. In 1996, when voters in California did away with affirmative action in admissions to California’s state colleges, nearly 70 percent of Asian-American voters opposed the measure.

Starting with President Nixon’s trip to China in 1972, Chinese from mainland China began immigrating to the United States. The Tiananmen Square crackdown of 1989 created a massive intellectual windfall for the United States when President George H. W. Bush issued an executive order allowing all the Chinese students in America to stay. Bush’s order gave more than 70,000 highly educated Chinese the right to work in America. Most of them became citizens. Throughout the 1990s, more than three-quarters of mainland Chinese studying in the U.S. opted to remain after graduation. For several years, almost every physics major from Tsinghua University moved to America. Rich Chinese also decamped to the U.S. by the thousands. In 2012, Chinese nationals earned 1,675 of the 10,000 EB-5 visas issued annually by the U.S. government to foreigners who invest $1 million and employ at least 10 people in the United States. Two years later, Chinese obtained 8,308 of those 10,000 slots.

Today, immigrants from mainland China make up close to half of the 5 million Chinese in America, according to Haipei Shue, the Chinese-American organizer. On the streets of Chinatowns old and new, Mandarin Chinese has pushed out Cantonese, Hokkien, and other southern dialects that older immigrant communities spoke. But the change has not only been linguistic. Chinese Americans began turning away from liberal causes such as affirmative action, bolstered by studies such as a 2009 Princeton report in which social scientist Thomas Espenshade suggested that a hypothetical Asian-American student would require an extra 140 points on the SAT to achieve the same probability of admission as a white peer, and an extra 450 points to achieve the same probability of admission as a black peer. Shue estimates that as many as half of first-generation Chinese immigrants now support Republican candidates. Many new Chinese immigrants approved of U.S. President Donald Trump’s tirades against affirmative action and illegal immigration. “There’s a split at the heart of Chinese America,” Shue said.

[...]

For their part, newer immigrants from China — with their advanced degrees and financial resources — sneer at what many of them call “Chinatown Chinese.” They view attempts by liberal Chinese organizations to support affirmative action and other progressive causes as little more than currying favor with white liberals. “I feel like these organizations took these stances so they could get a seat at the table. They are being progressive simply to be progressive, not to solve anything,” said Linlin Chen, a first-generation immigrant who blogs frequently on the issue. “They have become divorced from the community because the community is changing.”

We never really wanted this

Thursday, August 3rd, 2017

Journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones — who is half-black — tells Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross that when it comes to school segregation, separate is never truly equal:

“There’s never been a moment in the history of this country where black people who have been isolated from white people have gotten the same resources,” Hannah-Jones says. “They often don’t have the same level of instruction. They often don’t have strong principals. They often don’t have the same technology.”

I believe a quick look at the data demonstrates that many majority-black schools get more resources than the average school. And yet they don’t have the same level of instruction. It’s as if the two aren’t strongly linked.

Still, when it was time for Hannah-Jones’ daughter, Najya, to attend kindergarten, the journalist chose the public school near their home in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, even though its students were almost all poor and black or Latino. Hannah-Jones later wrote about that decision in The New York Times Magazine.

For Hannah-Jones, sending Najya to the neighborhood school was a moral issue. “It is important to understand that the inequality we see, school segregation, is both structural, it is systemic, but it’s also upheld by individual choices,” she says. “As long as individual parents continue to make choices that only benefit their own children … we’re not going to see a change.”

If good students lifted up poor students’ performance, this might make sense, but we see far more of the opposite: disruptive students can bring down an otherwise good school.

Hannah-Jones adds that her daughter is thriving at school. “I know she’s learning a lot,” she says. “I think it is making her a good citizen. … It is teaching her that children who have less resources than her are not any less intelligent than her or not any less worthy than her.”

Taking resources away doesn’t make students any less intelligent, and giving them resources doesn’t make them any more intelligent — but poor families aren’t simply rich families without resources. The “children who have less [sic] resources” are generally less intelligent, by any reasonable metric.

On why she chose to send her young daughter to the public school in her neighborhood

One of the things I’ve done in my work is kind of show the hypocrisy of progressive people who say they believe in inequality, but when it comes to their individual choices about where they’re going to live and where they’re going to send their children, they make very different decisions, and I just didn’t want to do that. So for me it was a matter of needing to live my values, and not being someone who contributed to the inequality that I write about.

She’s completely right about the hypocrisy of progressive parents, of course. All of our hip, progressive friends and colleagues moved to the “right” suburbs with the “best” schools — and tend to be remarkably proud of their choice of a public school.

On the importance of having students from different races and income levels in the public schools

The original mission of public schools … is this understanding that no matter where you come from, you will go into the doors of a school and every child will receive the same education.

I find it odd that we would want every child to receive the same education, since children aren’t identical and don’t want or need the same things.

On the history of school desegregation since the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education

Brown v. Board happens, and the way that we’re taught it or the myth about it is immediately our nation repented and went into an integrated future together. That’s not what happened. There was massive resistance, and we don’t see real desegregation occurring in this country until 1964, and really most rapidly from 1968 on. …

Then you see pretty rapid desegregation particularly in the South, but then that changes, and in 1988 we start to go backwards. So we reach kind of the peak of schools integrating, of black students attending majority white schools at the highest rates that they ever have in the country, and then we start to see school districts re-segregating, which means black students are starting to go to schools that are more and more segregated. And school districts that had had a degree of integration are losing that integration. …

I can’t imagine why.

On American resistance to desegregating schools and housing

When I started what I kind of call the segregation beat about five years ago … I think we had stopped talking about this as a problem. If you look at No Child Left Behind, which comes out of the Bush administration, that was all about giving up on integration in schools and just saying, “We’re going to make these poor black and Latino schools equal to white schools by testing and accountability.”

If we assume the problem with poor black and Latino schools is the schools, then testing and accountability make sense, right?

So no one was discussing integration anymore. I think it’s because … we never really wanted this. … It’s always had to be forced, and as soon as … our elected officials and our courts lost the will to force it, most white Americans were just fine with that. …

One of the things that I really try to do with my work is show how racial segregation and racial inequality was intentionally created with a ton of resources. From the federal government, to the state, to city governments, to private citizens, we put so much effort into creating this segregation and inequality, and we’re willing to put almost no effort in fixing it, and that’s the problem.

I’m having trouble seeing how it took “a ton of resources” to create the situation that came naturally, once “our elected officials and our courts lost the will to force it.”

Boys are treated like defective girls

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017

We see a continuing pattern in schools, where the simple urges and fascinations of boyhood are considered too dangerous to be allowed:

Boys fantasize of conflict, they love to test their strength against their fathers in mock fights, they’re aggressive, and daydream about battle. Many of the games they prefer involve death and destruction. While this may seem like a horrible thing, this is actually a positive.

Boys need to learn to be dangerous. In fact, they need to be encouraged to be so. It should be understood that being dangerous is not a bad thing. The bad comes when the boy has not properly been taught how to utilize the dangerous aspects of his nature for good. When he has been taught to embrace the dangerous parts of himself, he becomes the man society relies upon to uphold it.

He will go on to become a good protector of his family, a police officer, or a soldier. These dangerous aspects also help him to become more confident in himself. He doesn’t back down from conflict, be it in the office, or in the home. He is the good, dangerous man, and he is a pillar of society.

But it starts with the early years, when the boy is naturally starting to discover this dangerous side of himself. Sadly, we are teaching boys that they are somehow dysfunctional for doing what comes naturally.

As Christina Hoff Sommers goes over in her “War on Boys” video for Prager U, “girl behavior is the gold standard in schools. Boys are treated like defective girls.” We medicate boys when they become too kinetic for schools to tolerate, drugging them into sitting quietly.

[...]

As “Wild at Heart” author John Eldredge so eloquently summarizes the good, dangerous man, “Yes, a man is a dangerous thing. So is a scalpel.”

Our sin tends to be timidity, not rashness

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

Arthur C. Brooks’ advice for young people heading out into the world is to be prudent — because prudence means something more than what we’ve been led to believe:

When I finally read the German philosopher Josef Pieper’s “The Four Cardinal Virtues,” which had sat unread on my shelf for years, I was shocked to learn that I didn’t hate prudence; what I hated was its current — and incorrect — definition. The connotation of prudence as caution, or aversion to risk, is a modern invention. “Prudence” comes from the Latin “prudentia,” meaning sagacity or expertise. The earliest English uses from the 14th century had little to do with fearfulness or habitual reluctance. Rather, it signified righteous decision making that is rooted in acuity and practical wisdom. Mr. Pieper argued that we have bastardized this classical concept. We have refashioned prudence into an excuse for cowardice, hiding behind the language of virtue to avoid what he calls “the embarrassing situation of having to be brave.” The correct definition, Mr. Pieper argued, is the willingness to do the right thing, even if that involves fear and risk. In other words, to be rash is only one breach of true prudence. It is also a breach to be timid. So which offense is more common today? [...] Our sin tends to be timidity, not rashness. On average, we say “no” too much when faced with an opportunity or dilemma.

The math students dropped out because they could not understand anything

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017

June Huh took a path less taken to the peak of the math world:

Huh was born in 1983 in California, where his parents were attending graduate school. They moved back to Seoul, South Korea, when he was two. There, his father taught statistics and his mother became one of the first professors of Russian literature in South Korea since the onset of the Cold War.

After that bad math test in elementary school, Huh says he adopted a defensive attitude toward the subject: He didn’t think he was good at math, so he decided to regard it as a barren pursuit of one logically necessary statement piled atop another. As a teenager he took to poetry instead, viewing it as a realm of true creative expression. “I knew I was smart, but I couldn’t demonstrate that with my grades, so I started to write poetry,” Huh said.

Huh wrote many poems and a couple of novellas, mostly about his own experiences as a teenager. None were ever published. By the time he enrolled at Seoul National University in 2002, he had concluded that he couldn’t make a living as a poet, so he decided to become a science journalist instead. He majored in astronomy and physics, in perhaps an unconscious nod to his latent analytic abilities.

When Huh was 24 and in his last year of college, the famed Japanese mathematician Heisuke Hironaka came to Seoul National as a visiting professor. Hironaka was in his mid-70s at the time and was a full-fledged celebrity in Japan and South Korea. He’d won the Fields Medal in 1970 and later wrote a best-selling memoir called The Joy of Learning, which a generation of Korean and Japanese parents had given their kids in the hope of nurturing the next great mathematician. At Seoul National, he taught a yearlong lecture course in a broad area of mathematics called algebraic geometry. Huh attended, thinking Hironaka might become his first subject as a journalist.

Initially Huh was among more than 100 students, including many math majors, but within a few weeks enrollment had dwindled to a handful. Huh imagines other students quit because they found Hironaka’s lectures incomprehensible. He says he persisted because he had different expectations about what he might get out of the course.

“The math students dropped out because they could not understand anything. Of course, I didn’t understand anything either, but non-math students have a different standard of what it means to understand something,” Huh said. “I did understand some of the simple examples he showed in classes, and that was good enough for me.”

After class Huh would make a point of talking to Hironaka, and the two soon began having lunch together. Hironaka remembers Huh’s initiative. “I didn’t reject students, but I didn’t always look for students, and he was just coming to me,” Hironaka recalled.

Huh tried to use these lunches to ask Hironaka questions about himself, but the conversation kept coming back to math. When it did, Huh tried not to give away how little he knew. “Somehow I was very good at pretending to understand what he was saying,” Huh said. Indeed, Hironaka doesn’t remember ever being aware of his would-be pupil’s lack of formal training. “It’s not anything I have a strong memory of. He was quite impressive to me,” he said.

As the lunchtime conversations continued, their relationship grew. Huh graduated, and Hironaka stayed on at Seoul National for two more years. During that period, Huh began working on a master’s degree in mathematics, mainly under Hironaka’s direction. The two were almost always together. Hironaka would make occasional trips back home to Japan and Huh would go with him, carrying his bag through airports and even staying with Hironaka and his wife in their Kyoto apartment.

[...]

Meanwhile, Hironaka continued to tutor Huh, working from concrete examples that Huh could understand rather than introducing him directly to general theories that might have been more than Huh could grasp. In particular, Hironaka taught Huh the nuances of singularity theory, the field where Hironaka had achieved his most famous results. Hironaka had also been trying for decades to find a proof of a major open problem — what’s called the resolution of singularities in characteristic p. “It was a lifetime project for him, and that was principally what we talked about,” Huh said. “Apparently he wanted me to continue this work.”

In 2009, at Hironaka’s urging, Huh applied to a dozen or so graduate schools in the U.S. His qualifications were slight: He hadn’t majored in math, he’d taken few graduate-level classes, and his performance in those classes had been unspectacular. His case for admission rested largely on a recommendation from Hironaka. Most admissions committees were unimpressed. Huh got rejected at every school but one, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where he enrolled in the fall of 2009.

At Illinois, Huh began the work that would ultimately lead him to a proof of the Rota conjecture.

Experts’ brains transform data into action

Friday, July 21st, 2017

Neuroscientists Jason Sherwin and Jordan Muraskin are studying what happens inside the brain of a baseball player trying to hit a pitch:

Sherwin and Muraskin think they’ve identified a pattern of brain activation in professional hitters. One key area is the fusiform gyrus, a small spot at the bottom of the brain that is crucial for object recognition. For baseball players, this region is much more active during hitting. Recent data also suggests that in experts the fusiform gyrus may be more connected to the motor cortex, which controls movement. Sajda says this has important implications because the increased connection could indicate that experts’ brains are more efficient at transforming data about the pitch into movement.

The expert hitters also tend to use their frontal cortex — a part of the brain that is generally in charge of deliberate decision-making — less than nonexperts do when hitting. (When we decide to order a baked potato rather than french fries, it’s a good bet that our frontal cortex is deeply involved. However, this part of the brain tends to make decisions more slowly and meticulously; it is not adept at split-second choices.)

This diminished frontal participation is crucial, they say. “Players seem to make the decision in their motor cortex rather than their frontal cortex,” Sajda says. “Their brains recognize and act on pitches more efficiently.”

Another key area that appears to be more energized among expert hitters is the supplementary motor area (SMA), a small region at the top of the brain. It is involved in the coordination of sequences of preplanned movements such as hitting. In expert hitters, this area is especially active as the pitcher winds up and as the pitch approaches the plate. In essence, the researchers say, experts are better at preparing to swing.

Muraskin thinks that the SMA plays a key role in helping hitters choose when not to swing. Many good hitters — the Nationals’ Daniel Murphy is known for this — have a preternatural ability to wait for the “right” pitch, the pitch they can hit. In other words, they excel at inhibiting their swing. “When you choose not to swing, that’s a choice,” Muraskin says. “It is a learned expertise.”

The games get increasingly difficult as the player’s heart rate increases

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017

Boston Children’s Hospital researchers have developed videogames for children who need to learn how to control their emotions better:

The videogames track a child’s heart rate, displayed on the screen. The games get increasingly difficult as the player’s heart rate increases. To be able to resume playing without extra obstacles the child has to calm themselves down and reduce their heart rate.

[...]

The impact of the games was tested in two studies.

In a pilot study, they first tested the game in a psychiatric inpatient unit with children with anger management issues, said Joseph Gonzalez-Heydrich, director of the developmental neuropsychiatry clinic at Boston Children’s. They found improvements in just five days and published the results in 2012 in a study in the journal Adolescent Psychiatry.

“A lot of these kids we are seeing are not interested in psychotherapy and talking,” said Dr. Gonzalez-Heydrich, who is head of the scientific advisory board of Mighteor, and said he has a small amount of equity in the company. “But they will work really hard to get good at a videogame.”

In a subsequent outpatient study the researchers randomized 20 youth to 10 cognitive behavior therapy sessions and videogame therapy that required them to control their heart rate, and 20 youth to CBT with the same videogame but not linked to heart rates. All the adolescents had anger or aggression problems, said Dr. Gonzalez-Heydrich, who was senior author of the study.

Therapists interviewed the children’s primary caregiver before and two weeks after their last therapy session. They found the children’s ratings on aggression and opposition were reduced much more in the group that played the game with the built-in biofeedback. The ratings for anger went down about the same in both groups. The findings were presented at the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry conference in 2015. The study is currently under review for publication.

University establishments are the next best thing to a cult

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

The Toronto Star reports that a certain controversial U of T professor is making nearly $50,000 a month through crowdfunding:

Prof. Jordan Peterson, who made headlines last fall when he publicly refused to use gender neutral pronouns, has been using the fundraising platform Patreon since last March to subsidize costs associated with filming and uploading videos of his lectures to YouTube.

He is now harnessing his online clout with eyes on a new goal — to offer an online university degree in the humanities for which students pay only for examinations.

“I’m fighting this as a battle of ideas,” Peterson told the Star. “Hopefully I can bring high-quality education to millions of people — for nothing. Wouldn’t that be cool.”

Peterson said he views university establishments as “the next best thing to a cult” due to their focus on what he calls “postmodern” themes such as equity. He says his independent project will contrast the university model by providing straight humanities education.

For about his first seven months on Patreon, Peterson earned about $1,000 per month. That changed last October, when he saw a dramatic increase in support, which has not slowed. The professor surpassed a fundraising goal of $45,000 on June 10, and is now aiming for $100,000 per month. On Monday, Peterson was making $49,460 every month from 4,432 patrons.

He is currently the 32nd highest-earning Patreon creator, of more than 75,000 people who are using the site to fundraise.

“Obviously people are pretty happy with the approach that I’ve been taking to psychological matters and, I suppose, to some degree, political matters online,” Peterson said.

He does have quite a few YouTube videos now. Here’s his message to Millennials on how to change the world — properly:

Mattis called him back

Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

The Mercer Island High School newspaper, the Islander, snagged an interview with James Mattis :

In a photo published alongside this article by The Washington Post on May 11, Trump’s bodyguard, Keith Schiller, could be seen carrying a stack of papers with a yellow sticky note stuck on the top. Written on it, in black ink, was the name “Jim ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis” and a phone number.

Paul Redmond of Orange County, California, contacted The Post the next day, informing them that they’d accidentally published what seemed to be Mattis’ private number.

The photo was quickly removed, but not before many, including MIHS Islander sophomore staff writer Teddy Fischer, saved it.

Calling the number, he left a message asking if Mattis would be interested in conducting a phone interview with The Islander. A few days later, when Teddy said Mattis had agreed, I didn’t believe him.

But, after receiving three more calls from the defense secretary to set up a date and time for the interview, Teddy and I got to work preparing questions.

[...]

When asked why, out of thousands of calls, Mattis chose to respond to us, he returned to his love of teaching.

“I’ve always tried to help students because I think we owe it to you young folks to pass on what we learned going down the road so that you can make your own mistakes,” he said, “not the same ones we made.”

Mattis is a history buff enshrining himself in history. Through teaching and reaching out to students like Teddy, he’s sharing history, and the wisdom he’s gained in creating it, as it’s being made.

Known simply as “the Program”

Sunday, July 2nd, 2017

I don’t think I’d even heard of St. John’s College, America’s third-oldest institution of higher education, founded in 1696, until a few years ago. The school is known for its not-exctly-innovative methods and materials:

So what makes St. John’s unique? First, as David Brooks of the New York Times recently wrote, the college has the “courage to be distinct” amid a marketplace of more than 5,000 colleges and universities in the US. A big part of that distinction is due to a strict adherence to its own curated curriculum and teaching methods, known simply as “the Program,” implemented back in 1937.

In contrast to some liberal arts stalwarts like Brown or Wesleyan that allow students to choose from a vast array of classes with few restrictions, St. John’s offers only the Program; it’s prix fixe is a higher education world of a la carte. Four years of literature, language, philosophy, political science and economy, and math. Three years of laboratory science, and two of music. That’s it. No contemporary social studies. No accounting. No computer classes. No distinct majors or minors.

The Great Books, or “texts” as they are referred to at St. John’s, flow largely in chronological order. Starting with the Greeks and working through the 20th century, including some “recent” science readings from the 1950s and 1960s, the curriculum is rarely altered. The college adds only what it believes are seminal works, and often it takes decades to reach consensus on what may be worthy of inclusion. Juniors and seniors have “electives” and can suggest texts for a class or two. The sequencing of classes is very important to the St. John’s method, with knowledge building over the semesters and years.

[...]

You will not find 100-person lectures, teaching assistants or multiple-choice tests at St. John’s. Instead classes are led by “Tutors” who guide students through Socratic inquiry (and yes, students do read about the Socratic practice during freshman year in Plato’s Theaetetus). Despite its reputation as a sadistic exercise in student humiliation, the Socratic method is actually an interactive form of intellectual sandpapering that smooths out hypotheses and eliminates weak ideas through group discourse. Tutors lead St. John’s discussions but rarely dominate; they are more like conversation facilitators, believing that everyone in class is a teacher, everyone a learner. And you won’t find Johnnies texting or surfing social media while in class; there is no place to hide in classrooms that range from small (seminars, 20 students led by two tutors) to smaller (tutorials, 10 to 15 students, one tutor) to smallest (preceptorials, 3 to 8 students, one tutor).

There is a formality in a St. John’s classroom—an un-ironic seriousness—that feels out of another era. Students and Tutors address each other by “Mr.” or “Ms.” (or the gender-inclusive honorific of choice). Classrooms have a retro feel, with rectangular seminar tables and blackboards on surrounding walls, and science labs filled with analog instruments, wood and glass cabinets, old school beakers and test tubes.

The Statement of the St. John’s Program lists the works (starting on page 19).

One should pack the lunchbox with quinoa crackers and organic fruit

Thursday, June 29th, 2017

Thorstein Veblen’s conspicuous consumption has evolved into conspicuously inconspicuous consumption:

Eschewing an overt materialism, the rich are investing significantly more in education, retirement and health – all of which are immaterial, yet cost many times more than any handbag a middle-income consumer might buy. The top 1% now devote the greatest share of their expenditures to inconspicuous consumption, with education forming a significant portion of this spend (accounting for almost 6% of top 1% household expenditures, compared with just over 1% of middle-income spending). In fact, top 1% spending on education has increased 3.5 times since 1996, while middle-income spending on education has remained flat over the same time period.

[...]

While much inconspicuous consumption is extremely expensive, it shows itself through less expensive but equally pronounced signalling – from reading The Economist to buying pasture-raised eggs. Inconspicuous consumption in other words, has become a shorthand through which the new elite signal their cultural capital to one another. In lockstep with the invoice for private preschool comes the knowledge that one should pack the lunchbox with quinoa crackers and organic fruit.

One might think these culinary practices are a commonplace example of modern-day motherhood, but one only needs to step outside the upper-middle-class bubbles of the coastal cities of the US to observe very different lunch-bag norms, consisting of processed snacks and practically no fruit. Similarly, while time in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York City might make one think that every American mother breastfeeds her child for a year, national statistics report that only 27% of mothers fulfil this American Academy of Pediatrics goal (in Alabama, that figure hovers at 11%).

[...]

Perhaps most importantly, the new investment in inconspicuous consumption reproduces privilege in a way that previous conspicuous consumption could not. Knowing which New Yorker articles to reference or what small talk to engage in at the local farmers’ market enables and displays the acquisition of cultural capital, thereby providing entry into social networks that, in turn, help to pave the way to elite jobs, key social and professional contacts, and private schools. In short, inconspicuous consumption confers social mobility.

Many education interventions are either harmful or costly

Monday, June 26th, 2017

Education Realist notes some harmful interventions and costly interventions in education:

Harmful interventions:

  1. Ending tracking
  2. De-emphasizing demonstrated test scores on difficult tests in favor of grades.
  3. Increased legal protections for discipline disasters.

Of the first two, neither have done anything to improve achievement or access. Both have done tremendous damage to high achievers. Caveat: most people think of helping high achievers via coverage (learning faster) but in fact, this has been the most damaging aspect of the changes. Kids are only able to demonstrate ability by the age at which they take a particular math course, and so you have sophomores taking 1st year calculus classes and memorizing enough to pass an AP test without particularly understanding the underlying math.

No, the cost to high achievers is that we aren’t pushing them hard because we can’t, because GPA means so much that teachers can’t create a proper leveling schema. I taught trig. Five kids never showed up regularly, so they got Fs. Other kids worked hard despite having no understanding of the concept in a class they had no choice but to take, so they got Ds. Others had some limited understanding and could successfully do about half the work, so there’s your C. And so on.

And that’s in math. Things are far worse in literature and history, so that even top students are often terrible writers and teachers can’t even begin to address it in classes where the bottom students can’t even read and everyone’s using Schmoop or Sparcnotes to get the short version. We can’t have classes just for bright kids and give hard workers of merely adequate performance in a tough class a C for trying, because that C will do tremendous damage to those kids without the context of a test score.

The third is causing tremendous damage in low income schools, as well as creating more segregation as parents who can leave do. (I get annoyed at people who blame teachers for reduced discipline. It’s a specific policy demand forced on us by the state.)

Costly interventions:

Special education now gives additional money to 1 out of 8 kids and we see nothing for it. Special ed means different things. (1) The severely retarded, who cost hundreds of thousands to educate and should not be part of public school. It’s free childcare service for 16 years, at which point we then dump the kid over to a different state budget. (2)Then there’s the low IQ kids, what we always meant by special ed, who get relatively little in services. (3) Then there’s the emotionally damaged kids who can’t function in regular classes despite no IQ problems. (4) Then there’s the kids with a real disability (blind, wheelchair bound) who get access and aids. (5) Then there’s everyone with a “learning disability” — the fastest growing group. Only 2 and 4 were originally intended by the special ed category. We should dump 5 entirely, create centralized institutions for 1 and 3. 2 and 4 would still cost a lot, but at least they were intended to be addressed by K-12 ed.

We spend billions on “English language instruction,” which hasn’t one meaning. In schools like mine, it means free English lessons for immigrant kids who just got here — mandatory lessons that are often frustrating to bright kids whose English is adequate to work in academic courses (and far better than the bottom third in each course) but aren’t allowed because the “get me out of ELL” score is ridiculously high. In more homogenous schools, it means running half the classes in (usually) Spanish, because ELL from the 60s on was designed on the expectation that ELL kids would be illegal immigrants from across the border.

So the things that do actual harm aren’t extremely expensive, and the things that are a waste of time don’t so much do harm as create hugely expensive systems to support kids that aren’t improving their education and often given tremendous support to kids who just got here while not offering that service (enrichment) to citizens who might benefit from it.

A couple years ago he put forward five education policy proposals for 2016 presidential politics.

The null hypothesis is not an iron law

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

Statistically, educational interventions tend to affect resource allocation much more than outcomes, Arnold Kling reminds us, so, for educational interventions within roughly the current institutional setting, the null hypothesis is not an iron law, but it is an empirical regularity. This led me to add:

What stands out to me is just how little variation we see between schooling options. Public schools are all run on the same basic plan. Catholic schools are too, but with stricter discipline. Private schools aren’t much different, but with a wealthier clientele.

Only a few niche alternatives, such as Montessori and Waldorf, offer something truly different, and they obviously attract unusual families.