From Jonah Lehrer's recent blog post...
James Surowiecki has the smartest take I've read on the Woods sex scandal:Woods's appeal was based, ultimately, not on his physical abilities but on his mental toughness, his extraordinary capacity for focus and discipline. He was the man who always made the key putt, who never cracked under pressure. That's why Gatorade, introducing a new drink with his face on the label, called the drink Tiger Focus. And it's why the most powerful Nike ad about him is the one in which his father, in a voice-over, says, "I'd say, 'Tiger, I promise you that you'll never meet another person as mentally tough as you in your entire life. And he hasn't . . . and he never will.'
In other words, Woods has been presented as the embodiment of bourgeois virtues: dedication, hard work, single-mindedness. Indeed, when, in 2008, Woods won the U.S. Open while essentially playing on one leg, the Times' David Brooks devoted a column to his extraordinary ability to block out distraction and focus on the matter at hand, dubbing him "the exemplar of mental discipline" for our time. For millions of people--many of them, to be sure, affluent middle-aged white guys--Woods embodied an approach not just to golf but to life.
I think the shock of the Woods scandal is largely a testament to the power of the fundamental attribution error (FAE). Simply put, the FAE occurs when people overestimate the importance of supposedly "fundamental" personality traits and underestimate the importance of variables like context. For instance, when subjects were given a series of pro-Fidel Castro and anti-Castro essays to read, they naturally assumed that the pro-Fidel authors were more sympathetic to the Communist cause. So far, so obvious: people write what they believe. However, this assumption persisted even when subjects were told that the position of the writers was determined by a random coin toss. Why? Because we naturally overlook the "situational constraints" placed on people.
The same thing happens when you meet someone in a bar and assume they are always talkative and outgoing. What you've failed to consider is the four beers and two shots that preceded your conversation. The drunk extrovert might be shy in a different and more sober situation.
What does the FAE have to do with Tiger Woods? We watched him golf on television and couldn't help but stare in wonder. He seemed supernatural, an exemplar of steely focus and self-control. We assumed, because of the FAE, that these traits were fundamental attributes of Tiger Woods, and not just a by-product of the golf course. In other words, he must always be controlled and focused, because he's so controlled and focused while swinging a golf club.
Needless to say, we were wrong. It was a mistake to generalize from a game. Besides, the assumption that Woods was immaculately disciplined was itself a scientific impossibility. Self-control, after all, is a limited mental resource, a feeble cortical muscle, and I think there's some tangential evidence that being perfectly focused on the golf course (or in the Oval Office) might actually make us more likely to indulge elsewhere. (It's the sex equivalent of dieting all day and then gorging on ice cream at night.) The point is that we can only resist for so long; the defining feature of human willpower is its weakness.*
So I feel no pity for Accenture, or Gatorade, or Nike or all those other corporate behemoths that hitched themselves to the Woods brand. They benefited for years from the FAE, from our willingness to extrapolate core character traits from a few hours of televised golf. And now our error has been revealed, and they're paying the price.
*Or do we just think our willpower is fatally flawed? See my previous post. Very well, then, I contradict myself.
I really enjoyed the cognitive twist Jonah Lehrer put on the Tiger scandal. He refers to two ideas, one from social psychology and another from cognitive psychology.
Social psychology gives us the concept of fundamental attribution error (FAE). You can read more about that here.
The second idea comes from more recent research that suggests that self-control is a limited resource. That is, Tiger had spent so much of his self-control in his golf game that he didn't have any left over for his personal life.
This might be a stretch, as I'm not sure that the limited-resource model really would predict that willpower is limited asynchronously... unless Tiger was getting after these girls while he was on the golf course, I don't think the theory holds up.
Anyways, I added Lehrer's blog to my reader, and I suggest you do the same. His writing is in the vein of Malcolm Gladwell with more up-to-date research. You should also read the Surowiecki article.
Do you think many young people have a similar "erroneous" outlook?
Yes. [Obj 774] They have accepted the philosophical beliefs of their elders. [Obj 774] They are the distilled essence of the Establishment's culture. [Obj 916] The average graduate has no concept of knowledge. He has the cynicism of a decadent adult and the credulity of a child. His mind is in a state of whirling confusion. [Obj 917] He finds himself in the midst of the brilliant complexity of an industrial, technological civilization which he cannot begin to understand.
You refer to "graduates" in particular - you think it's education's fault?
[Donahue #1 41:56] Today, those who didn't go to college are better informed and less easily fooled than those who did. [ARL 52] Of all government undertakings, none has failed so disastrously as public education. [Obj 933] The grade-and-high-school teachers blame it on parental influences. The college professors blame it on the teachers. Few, if any, question the content of the courses.
So, what's wrong with the courses?
[Obj 956] The purpose of education is to teach a student how to live, by developing his mind. The training he needs is theoretical, i.e. conceptual. He has to be taught how to think, to integrate, to prove by his own effort. This is what the colleges renounced long ago. What they are teaching today has no relevance to anything.
Is this necessarily the fault of public education? Wouldn't private schools under no regulation run the risk of being even more limited and trend-driven?
[Margin 35] Oh, no! The exact opposite is true. [ARL 78] A private school has the right to teach any ideas of its owners' choice, and to exclude all opposing ideas; but it has no power to force such exclusion on the rest of the country. The opponents have the right to teach a wider spectrum of viewpoints, if they so choose. The competition of the free marketplace of ideas does the rest, determining every school's success or failure - which, historically, was the course of the development of the great private universities. [Faith 8] If you want to prove to yourself the power of ideas, the intellectual history of the Nineteenth Century would be a good example to study.
So you would support a voucher system?
[ARL 81] It would work not as a motor of freedom, but as a brake on total regimentation, [ARL 77] a temporary measure in a grave national emergency. [ARL 53] We are living in a disastrously mixed economy, which cannot be freed overnight. In today's context, the proposal would be a step in the right direction.
What about government scholarships?
[Obj 92] The recipient of a public scholarship is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism. Those who advocate public scholarships have no right to them; those who oppose them, have. If this sounds like a paradox, the fault lies in the moral contradictions of welfare statism, not in its victims.
Excerpt from a Wired "Interview" that was constructed from the writing and interviews of Ayn Rand. Some interesting stuff here...
Considering my current status as a government-funded graduate student, this was particularly interesting:
"The recipient of a public scholarship is morally justified only so long as he regards it as restitution and opposes all forms of welfare statism."
I have been intending to write this essay for months. Why am I finally doing it? Because I finally found some uncommitted time? Wrong. I have papers to grade, textbook orders to fill out, an NSF proposal to referee, dissertation drafts to read. I am working on this essay as a way of not doing all of those things. This is the essence of what I call structured procrastination, an amazing strategy I have discovered that converts procrastinators into effective human beings, respected and admired for all that they can accomplish and the good use they make of time. All procrastinators put off things they have to do. Structured procrastination is the art of making this bad trait work for you. The key idea is that procrastinating does not mean doing absolutely nothing. Procrastinators seldom do absolutely nothing; they do marginally useful things, like gardening or sharpening pencils or making a diagram of how they will reorganize their files when they get around to it. Why does the procrastinator do these things? Because they are a way of not doing something more important. If all the procrastinator had left to do was to sharpen some pencils, no force on earth could get him do it. However, the procrastinator can be motivated to do difficult, timely and important tasks, as long as these tasks are a way of not doing something more important.
Came across this via lesswrong.com, and it is obviously speaking to me now. Coming off a less-than-productive Thanksgiving, I may need to dig into this more.
I'm not even close to writing my dissertation yet, so this can't be a good sign of things to come... but in more positive news, our IES grant got a 2-year extension, meaning that I am funded until 2012! Now I just need to bust my ass so that I can be done with coursework by then.
In a recent address given at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College (October 22), Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called for “revolutionary change” in teacher preparation programs in colleges and universities. I agree with the Secretary that while good education schools exist, the vast majority are not pulling their weight in preparing teachers for the classrooms in which they will teach.
I am usually hesitant to pronounce my Teach For America alumni status (NYC ’04), particularly in education circles, due to the polarizing nature of the program – you love it or you hate it. I often temper any praise I have for the program with a comment regarding teacher attrition rates, “crash course” teacher education, or Pollyannaish college graduate applicants. But in light of the Secretary’s recent comments on teacher preparation, I think that traditional teacher education programs looking to make “revolutionary changes” can learn a few things from the TFA model.
Too often, colleges of education have a “take what we can get” policy of recruitment. Teacher education programs should not simply be more selective, but should work hard to draw more and “highly qualified” potential applicants to the field.
TFA spends 20 percent of its nearly $40 million budget on recruiting applicants; TFA applications were up 42% this year to 35,000 applicants for 4,000 spots (arguably due to the current economic climate). Teacher education programs are also seeing increases, but hardly of the same magnitude – Teacher’s College saw a 6% increase in applicants this year.
While TFA’s recruitment and selection process has flaws (bias towards high-achieving, white, middle-class applicants, for one), its strength is in targeting recruitment efforts at people and personalities that they believe are suited to teaching in high-needs schools.
Teacher education programs would do well to allocate more resources to actively pursuing “highly qualified” applicants that they feel fit their models for effective teachers. They might also think about new ways of offering applicants incentives to join their program, either through funding, placement, or prestige.
Most TFA corps members will tell you two things after their summer institute (“crash course”) experience: (1) they are physically and mentally exhausted, and (2) if they have to fill out another feedback survey, they might snap. TFA constantly gathers feedback (both from within and outside the organization) and takes that feedback very seriously.
If you have looked at changes in TFA’s teacher preparation materials over the past 5 years, this point is abundantly clear. Based on feedback data, TFA staff members have dedicated significant time and energy to create materials and training that are useful for new teachers, particularly for teaching in high-needs schools.
Curriculum and instruction at traditional teacher preparation programs tend to be driven by the philosophical ideals or research agendas of faculty members, with little regard to what is practical for their graduates. Gathering and using feedback not only improves the curriculum and training, but also provides a model for “using data to improve instruction,” a shortcoming cited by Secretary Duncan. In addition to teaching teachers how to do this in their classrooms, this practice should be utilized in teacher education programs.
TFA teachers are often cited as products of “trial by fire,” but this is not completely accurate. TFA has an extensive network of Program Directors (PDs) whose sole job is to provide support for teachers in their first and second years of teaching. This support is invaluable to new teachers; education schools should take on the responsibility of providing it to their graduates.
If we take seriously the Race to the Top criteria that will “reward states that publicly report and link student achievement data to the programs where teachers and principals were credentialed,” education schools will have to do more than simply administer coursework. This change might prove to be the most “revolutionary” for teacher education programs because many are not currently structured to provide extensive on-the-job support.
TFA’s Program Director model might provide guidance; recent TFA alumni are typically hired for PD positions. Education schools might consider recruiting recent alumni into paid positions where they provide support (in line with the education school’s curriculum) to the growth and development of new teachers.
While I am certain that the TFA will continue to be scrutinized for its shortcomings by teacher education experts (and rightfully so), I strongly believe that the program’s growth and relative success warrants a closer look at what TFA has to offer traditional teacher education programs.
Ask A College Professor Having Trouble With The Audiovisual Equipment
By Robert Collins, Ph.D.
September 1, 2009 | Issue 45•36
Dear College Professor Having Trouble With The Audiovisual Equipment,
Our son is at sleepaway camp this week, and I think he's more homesick than he is letting on. I want to drive up there and check on him, but my husband insists that we stay at home and let him get through it by himself. I understand my husband's thinking, but my Greg is only 11 years old. Am I just afraid to let go?
—Worried Mom In Montana
Dear Worried Mom In Montana,
Okay class, so today we are going to be talking about geopolitical competition in Armenia during the Middle Ages. As soon as the projector gets going, we'll start. Sometimes it just takes a few minutes to warm up. Um, while we have a little bit of time, does anybody have any questions? Anything about the reading for today or about what we talked about on Monday? No? Well, just a couple more seconds here and we should be on our way. Hmm, I feel like that light should be green. Anyway, I'll just get started, and when it comes on I'll….Okay, something is definitely not right. The screen should not be blinking like that.
Dear College Professor Having Trouble With The Audiovisual Equipment,
Yesterday I was buying groceries, and I got distracted for a moment at the checkout. I could have sworn I gave the cashier a $20 bill, but she said I never paid. I didn't want to hold up the line or look like a cheapskate so I gave her another twenty, but I am certain I overpaid. Should I go back to the store and say something or just accept this as "one of those things?"
—Twenty Short In Sharpsburg
Dear Twenty Short In Sharpsburg,
There's a checklist on the lectern here. One, make sure your computer power is on. Okay. Two, log on with your UTA Net password. Did that. Three, plug the cables (VGA/audio) provided on the lectern into your laptop. Hmm. If your laptop does not show up, hold down the "fn" key. What does that mean? Does anybody know what that means? Any of you guys know about this stuff? Brian, you don't know anything about this stuff, do you? Now it's saying "No Input in VID 2." VID 2, VID 2, VID 2. Should it be VID 1? Does that make any sense? Isn't VID 1 the DVD player? All right, I'm going to try turning it off and back on again. Class, you can relax for a few minutes while I figure this out, but once we get started we're going to have to zip through some of this. We're still having that exam on Friday.
Dear College Professor Having Trouble With The Audiovisual Equipment,
It's embarrassing to say, but I am 26 years old and I don't own a suit. I know, it's ridiculous. Now a lot of my friends are getting married, and I'm tired of being the guy at the wedding in khaki pants. People say buying a nice suit is a good investment, but I know it's going to be a hassle. Any tips for a first-time suit buyer?
—Suit For A Scottsdale Man
Dear Suit For A Scottsdale Man,
Hello, this is Professor Collins calling. Yes, hi. I'm in Jacob Sleeper Lecture Hall in the CGS building, and I'm having trouble with the projector. Well, the screen started blinking, and then it stopped, and then we could kind of make out the first slide, but the colors were all weird. Right now? Right now I'm looking at a blank screen, but the icons on my computer are really big. Is that normal? Right. Right. I have a quick question though: The fan on the projector is louder than it usually is. Is that something? Okay. The VGA adapter is the one with the prongs, right? The one with those two prong things on the sides that screw in? I put that in Input 2. Yes, I know there was a piece of scotch tape over Input 2 that said, "Never use," but I had to try something. My computer? It's a Mac. I'm using Keynote. I don't know what version of OSX it is. I don't know…I don't know…I don't know that either. Could you just send somebody over here, please? Thanks. Class, it looks like it's going to be another 10 minutes.
Dear College Professor Having Trouble With The Audiovisual Equipment,
I'm an avid golfer, and lately I've been in a real slump. Usually, I fade the ball off the tee, but the last couple rounds I've been hitting these huge pull hooks. On my down swing, it feels like my entire right side is taking over, and I think that's causing me to come dead over the top. Do you think it's just a tempo issue, or is it more mechanical?
—Snap Hooking In Hannastown
Dear Snap Hooking In Hannastown,
So, um, who here is going home for Thanksgiving?
Confidential to Jumper In Youngstown
Hello, it's Professor Collins again. Yes, hi. So we have a picture now, which is great, but there's no sound. Yes, Jeremy came in here and hooked everything up, so I don't know what's wrong. Of course my computer volume isn't all the way—never mind. I think we'll be fine. Thank you.
Robert Collins is a syndicated advice columnist whose weekly column, “Ask A College Professor Having Trouble With The Audiovisual Equipment,” is featured in more than 250 newspapers nationwide.
If you haven't experienced this, you haven't been in school long enough...
The National Science Teachers' Association took an informal survey of members to gather opinions about the status of science education. The results are not really surprising to me, except for 2 things:
(1) Many science teachers want a national curriculum (53%). Is this a function of lack of access to curricular materials at the local level, or do teachers really think that one curriculum would be helpful? I think that national curricula can be a good thing (for example, Advanced Placement), but I would have answered NO to a question suggesting ONE national curriculum, as this one did. But maybe this isn't what the surveyors had in mind.
(2) The 'ability to translate content into learning' is by far (60%) the most important quality of a science teacher, according to science teachers. In academic circles, this is known as Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK), something that I also believe is an incredibly important skill for science teachers. We need ed schools to take this more seriously.
Also of note are some science teacher demographics: 75% female, 86% white, and 29% have been teaching more than 20 years. Hmm. This may be saying more about the survey tool than the actual population of science teachers, but we could probably do a better job of recruiting science teachers...
Try this experiment: Find a friend and tell him you’re going to tap out the rhythm of a famous song that everyone knows. Without telling him what the song is, tap out the notes for “God Bless America,” “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” or “Happy Birthday to You.” No singing or humming along; just taps. Before you begin make a prediction: Do you think he’ll guess the song correctly based on your ability to tap it out?
Nearly 20 years ago, a Stanford graduate student named Elizabeth Newton did her dissertation in psychology on this simple game and discovered something remarkable. Given a list of 25 well-known songs to tap out, the listeners’ success rate was only 2.5 percent—one out of 40 attempts. However the tappers were so sure the listener would know the song, they predicted a 50% success rate.
Great example of how psychology and cognitive science can give us clues to how to improve teaching and learning.
I really believe that teachers need to have more knowledge about psychology and cognitive science, and that this knowledge needs to be made more practical by the scientists doing those studies.
This article is a good example of building that bridge.
Average scores on the SAT college entrance exam dipped slightly for the high school class of 2009, while gender, race and income gaps widened, according to figures released Tuesday by the College Board.
Interesting counter to the ACT scores.
Things to note:
(1) scores dropped 1 point in critical reading and writing, no drop in math (out of 800 in each section)
(2) gender, race, and income gaps are widening
Again, the year-to-year hub-bub over scores is silly to me. One point here or there isn't anything to throw a fit over. But continually widening gaps is a trend that concerns me.
The National Math and Science Initiative, an effort to increase Advanced Placement participation, particularly among disadvantaged students, appears to be showing results, according to testing information compiled by the organization.
The number of students passing AP math, science, and English tests among schools taking part in NMSI rose by 51 percent over the past year, according to information compiled by the initiative from 67 high schools across six states.
The NMSI, which I wrote about a few years ago, seeks to boost AP participation in a number of distinct ways, one of which is to provide financial incentives to participating teachers. The program also provides extensive training for educators on how to lead AP classes. NMSI, which is headquartered in Dallas and has significant corporate backing, grew out of a similiar program to increase participation in the college-prep courses, run in schools in and around that city. The CEO of the initiative is Tom Luce, a former top education official in President George W. Bush's administration.
A major focus of the organization is to increase access to AP courses in schools where those classes previously did not exist or were limited—and to replicate NMSI's approach on a national scale, in many states. (The program's system of rewarding educators with extra pay has in some cases drawn the opposition of teachers' unions.) A second piece of NMSI seeks to replicate the teacher-training strategies used by the UTeach program at the University of Texas at Austin.
NMSI officials say the latest AP results show participating schools increasing the number passing scores by African American and Hispanic students by an average of 71 percent and by women by 55 percent. The rise in the number of passing scores among minority students were even higher in individual states, NMSI officials say.
Those test score results "show that the combination of enhanced teacher training, teacher incentives, student scholarships, more time on task for students, and master teacher mentoring can dramatically increase the number of students succeeding in college-level work," the organization said in a statement.
Alabama state officials were scheduled to discuss the impact of NMSI in their state at an event today. See the initiative's Web site for more information on the AP results among participating schools.
I really like the multidimensional approach of NMSI...
(1) increase minority participation in AP
(2) provide teachers with better training for those courses (including access to master teachers)
(3) provide financial incentives for teachers to participate
(4) provide student scholarships for successful completion (as opposed to cash $$$ like some other programs in NYC and Boston)
Improving education isn't a 'magic bullet' (or 'shamwow' for that matter) kind of situation. We need multi-faceted approaches like NMSI that understand that education is a complex system. I can't speak for the numbers that NMSI is posting, but they look promising...