Thursday, September 18, 2014

Steven Pinker and the Ivy League School

I nearly didn't read this article, because i haven't read Deresiewicz’s article. And, Deresiewicz’s article doesn't sound like a good use of time. I also haven't seen the movie Love Story, probably for the same reason that i haven't watched Titanic, despite owning a copy (not entirely my fault). But i may have to watch Love Story, since the wiki plot synopsis doesn't seem to have enlightened me enough. I'm likely missing details of the plot.

But, it's a good article. I'm glad i read it. And, it matches my experience working for four Universities, which includes Harvard, two state schools, and a selective university (i have additional experience at another selective university and a state school, and they match prior experience, more or less). Yes, i admit, i don't really want to spend time reading an article that doesn't support my biases.

I could have applied to go to Harvard. I considered MIT enough to order a course catalog. But they didn't look like a good deal, in fact, they seemed to offer less than the state school, and in ways consistent with this article. It seemed obvious, but in retrospect i spent great gobs of time on it. At the time, MIT was considered a great graduate school.

The "teach you how to think" line was in vogue where i went to school. No one seemed to have any idea how to do it, or measure the effectiveness of any ideas that might come up. That seems to be changing. But in any case, they did, for the most part, make an attempt to teach stuff one might need. And above all, they came up with a way to get the students to demonstrate competence. This last bit is important. Most schools don't do this (I'm not aware of another that does). And yet, it's why i went to school.

I love this: "Perhaps I am emblematic of everything that is wrong with elite American education, but I have no idea how to get my students to build a self or become a soul." Not many would have the courage to say something like that. But the emperor doesn't have any clothes. And it turns out that courage is something that is important for both student and teacher to have. Perhaps it should be taught. In any case, it should be easier than teaching "building a self".

His list of stuff students should learn is very good. Perhaps it should start in middle school, dumbing down nothing, and including the bits under "a liberal education". And the goals should be introduced even earlier. The idea that i'd ever "appreciate that people who disagree with me are not stupid or evil" is going to be hard to swallow. I've seen people who are obviously evil who act like they're stupid. While i try not to go off the deep end on conspiracy theories, Watergate really did happen. And, i think, the goal is in conflict with knowing how to distinguish vetted fact from superstition, etc.

At the end of the article there is a conclusion. Should Harvard adopt merit based admissions? Perhaps they could do it as a pilot project. Perhaps they've already got pilot project statistics, and they could go with the results. Perhaps they could look to see if someone else has already done this experiment, and go with the results. In summary, these ideas are Run an experiment, look at data you already have, and learn from others. As these are skills that Harvard should be teaching their students, perhaps they could simply turn these ideas into student projects, then evaluate the projects and use the results.

No comments: