About a month ago, I blogged about perhaps my favorite book I have read this year, Nurtureshock (which I sadly typo-d in the original post).  Anyway, how exciting for me to discover there’s a Nurtureshock blog now.  Definitely added to my bookmarks.  The first post I came across was one about Disney refunding millions of dollars to the Baby Einstein customers (suckers?) who actually believed watching these videos would make their children smarter.  I believe PT Barnum would have something to say about this.  Anyway, Disney has tacitly (though not explicitly, it turns out) admitted defeat by this refund.

There was a lot of hoopla about Baby Einstein over the weekend. To understand it, you need a brief backstory – and then some deeper backstory, too.

A month and a half ago, Disney announced in a press release that it was going to begin issuing refunds for its Baby Einstein videos: buyers of the DVDs can return them to Disney for $15.99 or exchange them for other products.

However, nobody noticed – not until this past Friday, when the Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood (CCCF) issued its own press release. In that statement, the CCCF claimed that the refund offer was a victory for the organization, borne out of its ongoing campaign against Baby Einstein and the makers of other baby DVDs.

Within hours, the New York Times suggested that CCCF had won a major concession, and Disney’s refund offer “appear[s] to be a tacit admission that they did not increase infant intellect,” an assessment soon repeated by the Wall Street Journal and in other publications.

You can read more about the subject at the blog.  The book, which you really should read, has a nice explanation on how the videos are little more than a cheap babysitter.  There is value in that, but nobody should think it’s making their children smarter.


Quick hits (part I)

Now coming to you at 6:00am sharp, by special request of DJC…

1) I still love my Diet Coke (and so does JP, if he’s reading this), but not so much the rest of America.  And, of course, Diet Dr Pepper is the greatest drink known to humans.

2) Of course Trump has an unqualified 24-year old running the Office of National Drug Control Policy during our opioid crisis.

3) I’m feeling safer already.

4) Fake news!

All those media-trust studies have a tendency toward the rote. Yes, we already knew that the public had little trust in the country’s journalistic organs. Yes, we knew that finding credible sources could be a harrowing pursuit for the public. Yes, we knew that an increasing portion of the U.S. public felt that the news was biased.

Yet this nugget from a new Gallup-Knight Foundation survey just about knocked the Erik Wemple Blog out of a decade-long media-research torpor:

Four in 10 [or 42 percent of] Republicans consider accurate news stories that cast a politician or political group in a negative light to always be “fake news.” [The corresponding figure for Democrats is 17 percent.]

5) Jennifer Rubin on those who demean themselves for Trump:

For the sake of argument, let’s say she doesn’t personally recall the president’s statements. By now, she is aware that both Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) know what was said. She now has to consider — not from a legal sense, but from an ethical one — whether she wants to serve a president who plainly prefers white Europeans to black and brown people, and is prepared to lie to the public about his statements and views. Public service is honorable, but not when you are enabling elected officials to lie and to pursue racist ends.

In a nutshell, this is why you cannot serve a president who is racist, dishonest or personally corrupt. You inevitably wind up enabling racism, dishonesty and corruption. If you thought you could remain untainted, you were wrong. And now, you need to either quit or face the legal and personal consequences.

6) We keep talking about the importance of investing in pre-school, but meanwhile, we don’t seem to be willing to invest in preschool teachers.

7) I learned about the developmental milestone of your kids lying to you way back when I first read Nurtureshock.  So, yes, you should be happy when your kids start lying to you.  And it’s also worth noting that teenagers lie to their parents all the time and it’s perfectly normal (you almost surely did it way more than you would admit to your kids).  That said, I may be related to a certain teenager who could at least limit his lying to parents about non-school-related topics.

8) Amy Davidson Sorkin on Trump’s willing liars:

Among others present, John Kelly, Trump’s chief of staff, has not commented; Kirstjen Nielsen, the Homeland Security Secretary, said on Fox News on Sunday that she didn’t “recall him saying that exact phrase.” (On Tuesday, in sworn testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, she said that she didn’t “hear” the word, but acknowledged that the President had used “tough language.”) They all need to speak more clearly, about shitholes or shithouses, if nothing else so that the public has a good gauge of who is willing to lie, and how blatantly, for the President.

Trump seems to be curious about that question, too. According to the Post, members of his Administration at first thought that the controversy could be settled in the shady realm of “do not recall,” since the President had, again, reportedly talked to others about using derogatory language. They were caught by surprise when he started tweeting about how the accounts of his language were outright false. Indeed, he has said that they were proof that “Dicky Durbin” and other Democrats didn’t care about a deal on Dreamers, and were willing to blow up the negotiations by lying about him. Why the change? It is hard to know what is in the President’s mind. Perhaps he was struck by the vehemence of the backlash. But perhaps he also listened to what the other Republicans were saying, and had an insight that they would, indeed, back him up. It was a bully’s triple play: first, he got to slur whole nations. Then he got his guys to gang up on anyone who called him out for it, which produced the final prize: the acknowledgement that the Republican lawmakers were his guys, subordinate and willing to humiliate themselves on his behalf.

What is notable is that, at first, Cotton and Perdue had tried, in a joint statement, to hedge by saying that they did “not recall the President saying these comments specifically.” But, as his lies escalated, so did theirs, to the point where they were backing up the idea that the media was involved in a fake-news conspiracy. They didn’t need to do so—after their Sunday appearances, Lindsey Graham said, according to the Post and Courier, “My memory hasn’t evolved. I know what was said and I know what I said”—yet they chose that route. But it is, apparently, hard to lie halfway for Trump; he won’t let you. Maybe it’s time for the Republicans to stop lying to themselves about that, too.

9) This is from 2014 (friend recently shared on-line), but this article about the human factor in airline crashes is so good.  Reminds me of one of my favorite podcasts ever (listen, David Greene!), 99% Invisible on the Automation Paradox.

10) Thought this on disappearing hotel “do not disturb” signs and what’s driving it was pretty interesting.

11) Every 1990’s TV commercial ever.  Pretty much.

12) Ezra Klein’s 12 thoughts on the “shithole shutdown.”

2.  Republicans have a natural advantage in a shutdown because they care less how well the federal government works, and the parts of government they care most about — like the military and immigration enforcement — are exempted….

12. Taken in its entirety, the “shithole shutdown” is the perfect encapsulation of governance in the Trump era: dysfunction and chaos driven by anger and fear toward America’s changing demographics, and the congressional GOP’s cowardly acquiescence to Trump’s ever-shifting demands.

13) Naturally, Trump’s appointee to oversee government service programs is an absolutely atrocious human being.

14) Alas, also naturally, prosecutors in New Orleans repeatedly kept on prosecuting people even when it was clear they had the wrong guy.

15) Michael Tomasky on Trump’s shithole enablers.

16) It’s the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive.  Julian Zelizer on how it undermined faith in government. Coincidentally, I r-watched Platoon this week (streaming on HBO Go, for you fellow subscribers) for the first time since 1986 (I think).  Thought it held up pretty well.  David certainly liked it and led to some great discussion about the Vietnam War.

Besides the damage that Tet imposed on Johnson, the surprise attack and the revelation that the administration had vastly oversold the prospects for success were a severe blow to public confidence in American government leaders to tell the truth and to do the right thing.

The right also took its own lessons from Tet and other parts of the increasingly critical wartime coverage, namely that the media could not be trusted. As reporters focused on Tet as evidence of failure, hawkish Democrats and Republicans were quick to note, rightly so, that the U.S. counter-offensive had been successful. Johnson felt this way and tried to hammer away on the point that the media was misrepresenting what happened. For decades, coverage of Tet would remain to conservatives a symbol of why the “liberal establishment” could not be trusted to give the public a realistic assessment of national security issues.

17) Loved this Edutopia piece about how making an extra effort to really get to know students in a Nevada school district is paying dividends.

18) Army National Guard officer analyzes the repeated tactical failures of the Resistance in the Star Wars movies.

19) Sam “I’ll eat a bug” Wang and Brian Remlinger with a great explainer on gerrymanders.

20) How are we not talking at all about the fact that a presidential campaign paid hush money to a porn star during the campaign??!!  This, more than about anything, is a testament to how Trump continuous and shocking bad behavior has inured us to his awfulness.  Michelle Goldberg:

In any other administration, evidence that the president paid hush money to the star of “Good Will Humping” during the election would be a scandal. In this one it has, so far, elicited a collective shrug.

Liberals, in general, can’t work up much outrage, because the encounter between Trump and Daniels was by all accounts consensual. And few social conservatives are interested in criticizing the president, since they’ve talked themselves into a posture of hardheaded moral realism in order to justify their support for him. In 2016, for example, Bennett himself condemned “Never Trump” conservatives for their “terrible case of moral superiority.”

If there’s a significant scandal, it will lie in the origins of the $130,000, or in other encounters Trump has covered up. There’s a sentence in Michael Wolff’s book “Fire and Fury” that hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves. It comes toward the end, when Steve Bannon is praising Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz: “Kasowitz on the campaign — what did we have, a hundred women? Kasowitz took care of all of them.”

If it turns out there were payoffs to hide non-consensual behavior, there may be an uproar. But sleeping with a porn star while your wife has a new baby, then paying the porn star to be quiet? That’s what everyone expects of this president. [emphasis mine]


The power of humility

Ashley Merryman, co-author of one of my favorite-ever books, Nurtureshock, on the importance of humility in leadership.  I’m not all that much into the study of leadership (though I loved Nathaniel Fick’s take in One Bullet Away), but I find this humility research pretty fascinating:

True humility, scientists have learned, is when someone has an accurate assessment of both his strengths and weaknesses, and he sees all this in the context of the larger whole. He’s a part of something far greater than he. He knows he isn’t the center of the universe. And he’s both grounded and liberated by this knowledge. Recognizing his abilities, he asks how he can contribute. Recognizing his flaws, he asks how he can grow.

Humility’s benefits turn out to be surprisingly concrete.

In July 2016’s Personality and Individual Differences, Duke University researchers reported on a study conducted with 155 participants. At the experiment’s onset, some people conceded their opinions weren’t always right, and–with new evidence–they’d change their views. The researchers considered them as intellectually humble. Still others were intellectually arrogant: they insisted they were rarely wrong, and they never changed their mind.

During the experiment, everyone completed three tasks. First, they read a list of 40 statements on a range of controversial topics–everything from the military’s use of drone strikes, common core curricula in schools, to same-sex marriage. Then they took a survey, measuring how familiar they were with topics such as Susan B. Anthony or Mount Rushmore. Though there was a catch. A third of the topics were bogus–for example, there was a fictitious “Hamrick’s Rebellion.” Finally, participants read another list of 60 statements. They were to determine which statements were on the first list and which were new. And they reported their confidence in each decision.

The intellectually humble took longer to read the first controversial statements–especially if the information ran counter to their beliefs. At the experiment’s end, they were better at identifying new statements, and, when wrong, they had a gut feeling about the mistake.

Meanwhile, the intellectually arrogant skimmed through the reading. They were less accurate at identifying statements as new, and they were sure their wrong responses were correct. And the intellectually arrogant were more susceptible to the fake news items: they didn’t know what they didn’t know.

In previous studies, researchers observed that the intellectually humble have a constant desire to learn and improve. They embrace ambiguity and the unknown. They like getting new information. They even enjoy finding out when they’re wrong. And when in trouble, they’re more willing to accept help. Humble college students have been found to be higher in academic achievement. They improved more over the course of a semester, and they got better grades. [emphasis mine]

Now, I’ll be honest, “humble” is not generally one of the first words people use to describe me (wait, does that acknowledgment of a flaw mean I actually am humble?), but I very much like this description of intellectual/academic humility in the paragraph above.  That feels like me.

Thing is, though, that sounds like most professors.  You simply have to be intellectually humble to succeed in this business.  Your research (unless you are aiming too low in journals) is constantly getting rejected and critiqued by peers.  If you cannot take the feedback and use it to improve your ideas and methods, you will never succeed as a scholar.  If you are not trying to find new and different ways of thinking about and solving problems, you likewise will not succeed.  Finding out we are wrong is how we learn new things.  So, short version, I would argue intellectual humility serves not only leadership, but is essential for being a successful scholar. It probably also doesn’t hurt for being a successful human being.

Quick hits (part II)

Managed to get out a timely Sunday quick hits even while at the beach by working ahead.  Hooray for me.

1) I’m going to start with this Vox list of 31 “bite-sized” TV shows to binge, mostly because I want to find this link later for suggestions.  And because it contains Party Down (easily the best TV show almost nobody’s ever heard of) and Black Mirror, which I’ve really enjoyed of late.

2) Kevin Drum on new government regulations about overtime.  Of course, the business lobbyists say this will ruin American business.  As Drum points out, they say that every time and they are always wrong.

3) The Upshot on how abortion and gun control are different from gay marriage.

4) The New Yorker’s Lincoln Caplan on John Roberts.

5) Just another piece further emphasizing that you really should not tell your kids they are smart.  Of course, after reading Nurtureshock, I did pretty much stop doing that.  Alas, regardless of what I say, Evan knows he’s damn smart, regardless of how much I praise him for hard work (especially when he doesn’t have to work hard for a good outcome).  Not sure what I’m supposed to do about that.

6) Some good stuff on teenagers and risk-taking.  The key?  Keep them away from other teenagers:

We found that having friends in the same room doubled the number of risks that teenagers took but had no effect on adults. We then repeated this experiment using brain imaging: we scanned people while playing the same games either with or without peers able to see their performance on a monitor in another room. Not only did we once again find that the presence of peers increased risk taking among adolescents but not adults––we also found that when peers were watching, this lit up reward centers in the adolescents’ brains but not in the adults’ brains, and that the more these centers were activated, the more risks teenagers took.

7) Wasn’t sure I was actually going to read this, but got totally sucked into this Marshall Project report on life at Rikers Island from many different perspectives.

8) David Roberts says the Supreme Court’s EPA decision is pointless.  Also liked Drum’s succinct summary.

9) Nice NYT infographic (a little large to insert here) on the interesting splits this term among the Supreme Court’s conservatives.

10) I enjoyed Tim Lee’s suggestion on issues where conservatives and liberals agree and therefore, you’d think, would be able to get something done.  But, Drum gets right to the heart of why nothing has gotten done on these issues:

There’s a common theme to all four of these issues: there are special interests who care a lot about them, but no real benefit for working politicians to reach across the aisle and fight back. In theory, they might have similar attitudes on these four items, but why bother doing anything about it? No one is jamming their phone lines about this stuff and no one is voting for or against them based on their positions. If activists want action on this kind of googoo stuff, they have to figure out a way to make the public care. Once they do that, they’ll have at least a fighting chance of getting politicians to care too. Until then, don’t get your hopes up.

11) Hope you saw some good fireworks.  Here’s videos of the federal government blowing up mannequins to keep you safe.  Great stuff.

12) The math to a lasting relationship.

13) I keep meaning and failing to do a good post on colleges, sexual assault, and the meaning of sexual consent.  And failing.  So just read this.

Your teenager is lying to you

One of the most interesting things that really stuck with me since reading Nurtureshock several years ago was the research on just how much teenagers (even the good ones) lie to their parents.  With my oldest being 15, I definitely see this all the time now.  It is certainly frustrating, but I actually deal with it better (at least on an emotional level for me) knowing that this is totally typical behavior.  That said, it’s still not entirely clear to me what I should be doing when I catch my son lying to me or how to better dissaude it in the future.  Thus, I really enjoyed this Washington Post piece on the matter:

 Does your teen lie? Maybe. Probably. More than likely. Research suggeststhat on at least one important matter last year, you were not told the truth by your teen. (In this small study, 82 percent of teens admitted to lying to their parents in the previous year.) But the bigger question, the one that troubles us in that white-hot moment of anger is: what are we going to do about it? …

Yet, teen behavior is confounding, because while almost all teens said they valued honesty, nearly as many reported lying to their parents about significant matters. And many social scientists believe that respondents under-report their own undesirable behavior…

But teens lie for another important reason. Teens lie for privacy, they lie not just because they will be punished for what they are doing but because they simply do not want us, their parents, to know. Teens lie to preserve or establish their autonomy. It is their way of saying, “My social life is my own.” “What I do with my body is my own.” “How I spend my time is my own.” I remember that delicious feeling of realizing sometime in high school that I had my own life, that I had a whole world that my parents knew nothing about and that I would lie to protect that privacy. I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t realize that my kids must sometimes feel the same.

Yet the question that remains for most parents is how to minimize or eliminate any lying and what to do when you find that your teen has not been honest…

Nancy Darling, a professor at Oberlin College who has studied teens and lying, suggests that one of the ways to raise trustworthy kids is to trust them, she explains, “…feeling trusted seems to inspire kids to behave in ways that will maintain parental trust. Good kids are trusted. The more they’re trusted, the more they try to live up to that trust, and the more trustworthy they become.”

Her research further shows that being willing to battle with your teen, having a climate in your home where teens feel that they can disagree with individual rules, though not with your authority to make those rules, is a parent’s best chance for discovering the truth…

Our teens should never doubt our disappointment in the lying. The best message to convey is that the infraction might have been overlooked or a milder punishment put into place had they not lied. The message they should hear? “Had you just missed curfew, I might have been lenient, understanding or even forgiving. But that time you are going to spend grounded at home? That’s for lying.”

Okay, on the bright side, sounds to me like I’m pretty much doing everything right from my side.  On the downside, I still catch David lying to me.  I guess I can take solace in the belief that he’d be lying to me even more?

The secret of my success

I’m pretty smart and I work hard enough.  Anyway, I think about this stuff all the time with my kids and especially because I have a relative struggling in college who is quite intelligent, but very much lacking the non-cognitive skills or organization, motivation, perseverance, etc., and thereby having a very hard time of it.  This is also what I fear for my older son who manages to get A’s on almost everything he completes, but ends up with far lower grades because of all that he doesn’t end up turning in on time.

I’ve been thinking a lot about non-cognitive skills ever since I read Nurtureshock and recognized in myself someone who was always told I was smart and therefore lacked the perseverance in areas that did not come easily to me.  I’m quite determined that my youngest son, who quite identifies as a smart person, avoids this same fate.  I also often thing back to Paul Tough’s take on cognitive versus non-cognitive skills in How Children Succeed.  Here’s the thing, though, despite lacking in perseverance and grit, I’ve done okay, thanks to strong cognitive skills and, apparently, strong enough non-cognitive skills.

Tough’s books and this whole focus on “grit” largely builds off the work of Carol Dweck.  Turns out Dweck has created a school-based program to help teach a “growth mindset” regarding one’s brain.  The evidence for the impact of this “growth mindset” is pretty solid, so if this translates to a successful school-based program, more power to her.  Anyway, she’s got a nice article in Scientific American summing up her research.

In addition to encouraging a growth mind-set through praise for effort, parents and teachers can help children by providing explicit instruction regarding the mind as a learning machine. Blackwell, Trzesniewski and I designed an eight-session workshop for 91 students whose math grades were declining in their first year of junior high. Forty-eight of the students received instruction in study skills only, whereas the others attended a combination of study skills sessions and classes in which they learned about the growth mind-set and how to apply it to schoolwork…

As the semester progressed, the math grades of the kids who learned only study skills continued to decline, whereas those of the students given the growth-mind-set training stopped falling and began to bounce back to their former levels. Despite being unaware that there were two types of instruction, teachers reported noticing significant motivational changes in 27 percent of the children in the growth mind-set workshop as compared with only 9 percent of students in the control group…

Other researchers have replicated our results…

Teaching children such information is not just a ploy to get them to study. People may well differ in intelligence, talent and ability. And yet research is converging on the conclusion that great accomplishment, and even what we call genius, is typically the result of years of passion and dedication and not something that flows naturally from a gift. Mozart, Edison, Curie, Darwin and Cézanne were not simply born with talent; they cultivated it through tremendous and sustained effort. Similarly, hard work and discipline contribute more to school achievement than IQ does.

Such lessons apply to almost every human endeavor. For instance, many young athletes value talent more than hard work and have consequently become unteachable. Similarly, many people accomplish little in their jobs without constant praise and encouragement to maintain their motivation. If we foster a growth mind-set in our homes and schools, however, we will give our children the tools to succeed in their pursuits and to become productive workers and citizens.

Interesting stuff and definitely worth applying with our kids (and presumably even my college students).  That said, the one thing that really bugged me a bit when reading this was how it was over-simplified into a binary growth mindset versus non growth mindset.  Surely, like pretty much everything in life, there’s somewhat of a continuum.  Sure, I’m only an N of 1, but I strongly suspect I’m not the only person with strong cognitive skills, who has just enough grit (and good fortune in life) to make the most of them, despite not having much of a growth mindset.  I just don’t like over-simplifying concepts in order to sell them.  Anyway, good for you for reading this whole long blog post ;-).

Super Mega Labor Day Quick hits

Sorry to disappoint you with your long weekend reading, but between a PS conference and a family trip to Topsail Island, blogging has dropped in priority.  You might even want to space out your reading– I’ve been too lazy to break these up and blogging will still be slow while I catch back up to speed.  So, there’s a ton.

1) Definitely number for for me: Arsonist hits my hotel.  This was actually scary as hell as I was on the 8th floor and one emergency stair was choked with smoke and another was choked with people.  Fortunately, I did not go down the over-crowded one but found a third.

2) The four-word secret to seeming polite.  I’m so going to use this.

3) Boys interrupt and girls do not from an early age.  Apparently, Sarah has not been socialized into this gender role yet.

4) Loving the NYT coverage of the US Open even though I hardly watch tennis anymore.  On the dearth of quality among US Men’s tennis.  On the death of the one-handed backhand (hey, that’s what I used to use).

5) I never really liked the multiverse theory.

6) Yes, even academics should watch what they tweet.  At least if you plan on taking a job at a new institution.

7) Tennessee has been drug testing those seeking welfare benefits.  They are finding very low rates of drug use.

8) The great Civil War hoax (that I had never heard about).

9) Why college textbooks are so expensive.  I love the prescription drug analogy– I’ve used it many times myself.  I have no doubt faculty have to take price more seriously.

10) The Upshot on the blue state disapora.

11) Classic Onion headline (and so true in my experience): “GOP holds solid hold on youth that already look like old men.”

12) Our current drug czar is a recovering alcoholic and believes in focusing on health and treatment.  Hooray!

13) Vox does their own bit on the absurdity of HS start times.  Most interesting to me, apparently my own school system that educated me, Fairfax County, VA, is looking to change it’s start time.  25 years to late for me, but good for them.   And honestly, if a huge county with a high SES population and excellent school system can make this change, maybe they can be a trendsetter.  I sure hope so.

14) I learned from Nurtureshock years ago never to tell my kids their smart.  Still, liked this Khan Academy post on the matter.

15) Ozy on the invention of toilet paper.  Thank God– sure beats the previous alternatives.

16) The infamous monkey in the selife makes a statement.

17) Emily Bazelon on the rise of medical abortions.

18) Anybody who sexualizes innocent photos a father takes of his naked two year old is just sick.  Certainly not the father taking the photos.  These shots are so cute.  What’s wrong with people?!

19) In case you missed the story of the Hollywood producer being held for a bank robbery.  Oh, yeah, he was Black.

20) The Democrats’ plan for 2020.

21) The Ohio legislature versus science.  Ugh.

22) Nicholas Kristof says everyone is a little bit racist.  He’s right.  Of course, I’ve known that since grad school, but still a nice summary of some important social science.

23) Charter schools aren’t quite what they should be.

24) On the remaining sexism in Congress and the continuing difficulty faced by female politicians (this is going onto the next Gender & Politics syllabus).

25) How John Oliver’s awesome viral clips (many seen here) don’t exactly fit in with HBO’s standard business model.

26) Vox on the institutional racism of the war on drugs and the perverse incentives it provides to police forces.

27) Surely you heard the sad story of the eight-year old who accidentally shot her shooting instructor with a submachine gun on full automatic.  UVA poet Greg Orr reflects on how he accidentally shot and killed his brother as a child and the lasting trauma.  I really enjoyed seeing this because I remember when Orr came to read poetry at my HS and spoke of this incident.  Probably about the only guest speaker I remember from high school.

Quick hits

1) Judicial elections are a horrible idea.  I former (elected) Texas judge shares his thoughts.

2) First person account of just how stupid our immigration enforcement can be.  And sadly totally believable based on other stories I’ve heard (including a good friend who’s brother-in-law was denied entry from Chile because they refused to believe a man was coming here simply to help take care of his infant niece).

3) James Surowiecki on why CEO pay just keeps going up and up and up.

4) Other than the climate, our country sure would be a lot better without the South.

5) Kristof on endocrine disruptors:

These are the kinds of threats that we in journalism are not very good at covering. We did a wretched job covering risks from lead and tobacco in the early years; instead of watchdogs, we were lap dogs.

Exactly, slowly building threats pretty much never capture the attention of the media until it’s well too late.

6) Of course oreos are as addictive as cocaine.  Totally works on the same part of the brain in a similar manner.   Reminds me of one of my favorite non-fiction books in recent years, The End of Overeating.  

7) Always good to be reminded just how much our stupid, stupid fiscal policies in recent years are really damaging the economy.  Drum:

In other words, the combined effect of past budget deals + sequester + fiscal cliff + debt ceiling crisis is probably a reduction of about half in our economic growth rate this year.

Let me repeat that: Republican austerity policies have probably cut economic growth in half this year and raised the unemployment rate by 1.4 percentage points. Heckuva job, guys.

8) Very nice summary of the happiness research on how money can most effectively be used to make you happier (hint: it’s not buying a bigger house or bigger TV).

9) How about that– Politico of all places with a nice story on the myth bad and declining American public schools.

As for the academic flat line: The percentage of kids scoring “below basic” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — widely considered the most reliable measure — has plummeted in both reading and math in both fourth and eighth grade for every racial group except Native Americans. Average reading and math scores for each subgroup in the fourth and eighth grades have also climbed steadily over the past 20 years.

10) Popular anti-GMO documentary is basically anti-science.  I’m not surprised.

Seifert explained his research process in an interview with Nathanael Johnson of Grist: “I didn’t really dig too deep into the scientific aspect.” …

Seifert asserts that the scientific verdict is still out on the safety of G.M. foods—which I guess it is, unless you consult actual scientists.

11) Loved Nurtureshock and Top Dog by Ashley Merryman and Po Bronson.  Merryman took to the NYT with a nice column on how losing is good for you:

It turns out that, once kids have some proficiency in a task, the excitement and uncertainty of real competition may become the activity’s very appeal.

If children know they will automatically get an award, what is the impetus for improvement? Why bother learning problem-solving skills, when there are never obstacles to begin with?

In life, “you’re going to lose more often than you win, even if you’re good at something,” Ms. Twenge told me. “You’ve got to get used to that to keep going.”

When children make mistakes, our job should not be to spin those losses into decorated victories. Instead, our job is to help kids overcome setbacks, to help them see that progress over time is more important than a particular win or loss, and to help them graciously congratulate the child who succeeded when they failed. To do that, we need to refuse all the meaningless plastic and tin destined for landfills. We have to stop letting the Trophy-Industrial Complex run our children’s lives.

Of course, the Blasters are all getting trophies this season.  Then again, they will all say “first place.”



How to teach boys

Interesting piece in the Atlantic on how teachers should deal with the difficulty of teaching boys K-12.  And let’s be clear, no matter where you want to put the ultimate cause, boys are definitely struggling in American schools compared to girls:

Something is rotten in the state of boys’ education, and I can’t help but suspect that the pattern I have seen in my classroom may have something to do with a collective failure to adequately educate boys. The statistics are grim. According to the book Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys: Strategies That Work and Why, boys are kept back in schools at twice the rate of girls. Boys get expelled from preschool nearly five times more often than girls. Boys are diagnosed with learning disorders and attention problems at nearly four times the rate of girls. They do less homework and get a greater proportion of the low grades. Boys are more likely to drop out of school, and make up only 43 percent of college students.

Yowza.  So, what are some strategies that might really help reach boys?

The authors asked teachers and students to “narrate clearly and objectively an instructional activity that is especially, perhaps unusually, effective in heightening boys’ learning.” The responses–2,500 in all–revealed eight categories of instruction that succeeded in teaching boys. The most effective lessons included more than one of these elements:

  • Lessons that result in an end product–a booklet, a catapult, a poem, or a comic strip, for example.
  • Lessons that are structured as competitive games.
  • Lessons requiring motor activity.
  • Lessons requiring boys to assume responsibility for the learning of others.
  • Lessons that require boys to address open questions or unsolved problems.
  • Lessons that require a combination of competition and teamwork.
  • Lessons that focus on independent, personal discovery and realization.
  • Lessons that introduce drama in the form of novelty or surprise.

Other than requiring motor activity (which I totally understand the need for) this simply strikes me as a great list for teaching anybody.  Wouldn’t it be great if in focusing on strategies that were more effective for boys, teaching was more effective for boys and girls.  I’m currently reading Top Dog (follow up to the brilliant Nurtureshockwhich is about the science of competition and there are very important differences between men and women when it comes to competition (though it is far more subtle complex than the idea that men like competition more than women).  Anyway, I was interested to see the competitive element pop up a couple times.

Not sure what difference these ideas would make in my college classroom as the boys I have are the ones who successfully navigated the K-12 gauntlet, but I may have to try some of these.

Kindergarten awards

Ever since I read Nurtureshock, I’ve been a big fan of actually letting kids win things and not telling everybody they are a winner.  The truth is that kids know when you are just feeding them a line.  Not everybody is a winner.  Now, we should  be sensitive to kids feelings and certainly try and recognize and praise the accomplishments of all children, but let’s not pretend everybody is good at everything.  Thus, I was quite pleasantly surprised to learn that this year’s Kingswood Elementary awards were not for everybody.  They even let some kids win multiple awards!  Pure meritocracy– how about that?!  Of course, easy for me to be happy, Evan took home the (expected) math award and the completely unexpected PE award.  Still, I was all prepared with a “learning experience” pep talk if he had not won anything. This, in an era when field day is all fun and games and no ribbons (I was as proud of anything as winning the 100 yard dash in 6th grade as I was one of the slower kids earlier in elementary school).  I do feel bad for the kids who didn’t win an award, but I don’t think kindergarten is too early for life lessons.

Self esteem in schools

So, really interesting to read that the state-of-the-art understanding of kids’ self esteem is finally making it’s way into the classroom.  Short version: you cannot give kids self esteem by always telling them how great they are; they have to earn it.  Here’s the gist from a recent Post article:

A growing body of research over three decades shows that easy, unearned praise does not help students but instead interferes with significant learning opportunities. As schools ratchet up academic standards for all students, new buzzwords are “persistence,” “risk-taking” and “resilience” — each implying more sweat and strain than fuzzy, warm feelings.

“We used to think we could hand children self-esteem on a platter,” Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck said. “That has backfired.”

Dweck’s studies, embraced in Montgomery schools and elsewhere, have found that praising children for intelligence — “You’re so clever!” — also backfires. In study after study, children rewarded for being smart become more likely to shy away from hard assignments that might tarnish their star reputations.

But children praised for trying hard or taking risks tend to enjoy challenges and find greater success. Children also perform better in the long term when they believe that their intellect is not a birthright but something that grows and develops as they learn new things.

This was actually among the most interesting findings from the fabulous book, Nurtureshock— which by now is probably the most-mentioned book on this blog.  Somehow, in all my Nurtureshock mentions, I never discussed the basic findings about self esteem (basically, what you read above).  I’m convinced that my parents always telling me how smart I was did me no favors (not that I blame them or anything, and hey, I do have great self esteem).  But I did decide that if something was hard I probably just was not very good at it and I would focus my efforts elsewhere.  After reading Nurtureshock, I do try and praise the boys for hard work and persistence, rather than innate intelligence.  Anyway, good to see that schools are catching on.  Oh, and really, you should read Nurtureshock.  

Self esteem junkies

Here’s some pretty fascinating results (via Sarah Kliff):

The big finding: young adults like and want moments that boost self esteem more than having sex, eating a favorite food, drinking or pretty much any other pleasurable activity the paper studied. [emphasis mine]

Participants in the study were asked to imagine their favorite food, sexual activity and self-esteem building experience, such as getting a good grade or receiving a compliment.Then, participants asked how much they “liked” and “wanted” each of those things. The 130 University of Michigan undergrads “liked” and “wanted” the self-esteem boosts more than either of the other activities. Here’s how they matched up:

Wow!!  I can definitely tell you that I’ll take the first couple choices (pecan pie; not telling) over hearing what a great teacher or father I am (my favorite self esteem boost).  No contest.  But, maybe I’m just jaded from hearing that all the time, :-).  These are college undergrads and Klilff strongly brings up the issue of whether this is a generational phenomenon.  Would be very worthwhile to see similar data on older cohorts.  If this is generational, it certainly suggests that we’ve created a generation of self-esteem junkies we’ve created.   Not my kids– they’re going to hate themselves, damnit.  Just kidding!  But, self esteem– especially unearned– is definitely not the end all and be all.  If you haven’t read Nurtureshock yet– do it.

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