Category: Education

Who’s complacent? Penn State is complacent

The student “Outing Club,” which has gone backpacking, kayaking, and hiking in state parks over the course of its 98-year-existence, will no longer be allowed to host outdoor events after administrators conducted a risk assessment, according to The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“The types of activities in which [Penn State Outing Club] engages are above the university’s threshold of acceptable risk for recognized student organizations,” according to an official announcement.

A key issue for administrators was that the Outing Club frequently visit locations with poor cell phone coverage. This wasn’t an issue during the Coolidge administration, but now that cell phones exist, students are apparently expected to remain glued to them at all times.

“Student safety in any activity is our primary focus,” Lisa Powers, a Penn State spokeswoman, told The Post-Gazette.

And yet the treasurer of the Outing Club said that he hadn’t heard of any injuries sustained on club outings in recent years.

Here is the full story at Reason, via Maximilian Roos.

What should I ask Elisa New?

I will be doing a Conversation with her, here is part of her Wikipedia entry:

Elisa New…is a Professor of English at Harvard University. She holds a B.A. from Brandeis University (1980), as well as a M.A. and a Ph.D from Columbia University (1982 and 1988, respectively). Her interests include American poetry, American Literature-1900, Religion and Literature, and Jewish literature. Before moving to Harvard, she taught at the University of Pennsylvania.

Here is her Harvard page.  She also hosts the new PBS show Poetry in America.

So what should I ask her?

Parag Pathak wins the John Bates Clark Award

Parag Pathak, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor whose research suggests that school choice can lead to improved student performance, won the John Bates Clark award for contributions from a young economist.

Pathak, 37, was honored for his work on market design and education policy, the Nashville, Tennessee-based American Economic Association said Friday in a statement on its website. It said his work “blends institutional knowledge, theoretical sophistication, and careful empirical analysis to provide insights that are of immediate value to important public-policy issues.”

That is from Bloomberg.  Here is scholar.google.com.  There is lots on his home page.  Only 808 Twitter followers!  His Wikipedia page is good.  He is a protege of Al Roth, and overall this prize is a victory for the notion of market design.

Subliminal education?

The idea of inserting “social-psychological interventions” into learning software is gaining steam, raising both hopes and fears about the ways the ed-tech industry might seek to capitalize on recent research into the impact of students’ mindsets on their learning.

…Publishing giant Pearson recently conducted an experiment involving more than 9,000 unwitting students at 165 different U.S. colleges and universities. Without seeking prior consent from participating institutions or individuals, the company embedded “growth-mindset” and other psychological messaging into some versions of one of its commercial learning software programs. The company then randomly assigned different colleges to use different versions of that software, tracking whether students who received the messages attempted and completed more problems than their counterparts at other institutions.

The results included some modest signs that some such messaging can increase students’ persistence when they start a problem, then run into difficulty. That’s likely to bolster growth-mindset proponents, who say it’s important to encourage students to view intelligence as something that can change with practice and hard work.

But the bigger takeaway, according to Pearson’s AERA paper, is the possibility of leveraging commercial educational software for new research into the emerging science around students’ attitudes, beliefs, and ways of thinking about themselves.

Here is more, via Phil Hill.  Is all education subliminal education?

Models as indexing, and the value of Google

There are many arguments for the use of models in economics, including notions of rigor and transparency, or that models can help you to see relationships you otherwise might not have expected.  I don’t wish to gainsay those, but I thought of another argument yesterday.  Models are a way of indexing your thoughts.  A model can tell you which are the core features of your argument and force you to give them names.  You then can use those names to find what others have written about your topic and your mechanisms.  In essence, you are expanding the division of labor in science more effectively by using models.

This mechanism of course requires that models are a more efficient means of indexing thoughts than pure words or propositions alone.  In this view, it is often topic names or book indexes or card catalogs that models are competing with, not verbal economics per se.

The existence of Google therefore may have lowered the relative return to models.  First, Google searches by words best of all.  Second and relatedly, if you have written only words Google will help you find the related work you need, scholar.google.com kicks in too.  In essence, there is a new and very powerful way of finding related ideas, and you need not rely on the communities that get built around particular models (though those communities largely will continue).

It is notable that open access, on-line economics writing doesn’t use models very much and is mostly content to rely on words and propositions.  There are several reasons for this, but this productivity shock to differing methods of indexing may be one factor.

Still, it is not always easy to search by words.  Many phrases — consider say “free will” — do not through search engines discriminate very well on the basis of IQ or rigor.

Which is the most ideologically diverse American city?

When I requested requests, Jimmy wrote back:

(1) Conversations with Tyler featuring an actual Straussian.

(2) What is the most ideologically / politically diverse city? Which most moderate in that regard? Where in America am I least likely to be in a bubble and why?

I have several nominations for #2:

1. Houston. It still has plenty of Texas conservatives, but enough non-conservatives to elect a lesbian mayor.  Mexicans fit along a political spectrum of their own.

2. Washington, D.C. and environs. The intellectual class in this city is about half conservative/Republican/libertarian and always will be — just don’t think too hard about who actually lives here!  Most of all, everyone is used to the fact that there are oodles and oodles of forces on the other side of the debate.  No one flips out over this.  Even the media types have a reasonable amount of non-left representation.

3. Chicago. Its presence in the Midwest moderates its left flank, there is a diverse mix of ethnic groups, and the city has lots of Midwestern civic virtue.  Real estate prices have stayed relatively low, so not all blue collar and working class types have been driven out.  “Old Chicago” is still up and running to some extent.

That’s the national capital, plus two of the five largest cities.  And I’ve already argued that, in a Straussian sense, Los Angeles is the most right wing city in the United States.  Orange County is ideologically diverse as well.  In other words, urban American is doing pretty well on intellectual diversity once you get out of (parts of) Manhattan and San Francisco and Seattle.

San Antonio measures as quite moderate, but is neither typical nor extremely diverse.  Here are some basic data, Nashville, Wichita, and Las Vegas also measure in the middle, and of those Las Vegas seems most diverse to me rather than simply dull.

Which place in the country is the least likely to leave you trapped in an intellectual bubble?  Somewhere in Ohio?  Columbus or Cincinnati?  Knoxville, Tennessee?  Louisville?  Kansas City, MO?  In those locales you truly are confronted with the everyday problems of regular American life and you are not obsessing over either crypto or what just passed through the subcommittee.

The proper conclusion may be that intellectual bubbles are a useful means of moving forward.

Might he have been a decent teacher?

Why did I go into teaching? Looking back it was crazy that I would do that. But I’d been through high school and college without getting caught – so being a teacher seemed a good place to hide. Nobody suspects a teacher of not knowing how to read.

I taught a lot of different things. I was an athletics coach. I taught social studies. I taught typing – I could copy-type at 65 words a minute but I didn’t know what I was typing. I never wrote on a blackboard and there was no printed word in my classroom. We watched a lot of films and had a lot of discussions.

I remember how fearful I was. I couldn’t even take the roll – I had to ask the students to pronounce their names so I could hear their names. And I always had two or three students who I identified early – the ones who could read and write best in the classroom – to help me. They were my teaching aids. They didn’t suspect at all – you don’t suspect the teacher.

Here is the full story, with other interesting 2/3 throughout, via the excellent Samir Varma.

Thwarted markets in everything

Stephen A. Schwarzman, the Wall Street billionaire, was prepared to cut a $25 million check to the high school he attended here in the 1960s, to help it pay for a huge renovation project.

He wanted only a few things in return.

For starters, the public school should be renamed in his honor. A portrait of him should be displayed prominently in the building. Spaces at the school should be named for his twin brothers. He should have the right to review the project’s contractors and to sign off on a new school logo.

The school district’s officials accepted the deal.

So it was that this Philadelphia bedroom community of 55,000, not normally a hotbed of civic unrest, exploded into a populist fury.

That is from Kate Kelly at the NYT.

The importance of local milieus

Using data on the entire population in combination with data on almost all individuals in Sweden listed as inventors, we study how the probability of being listed on a patent as inventor is influenced by the density of other future inventors residing in the same region. In this process, we control for demographic and sector effects along with the educational characteristics of parents. This approach allows us to trace how location history influences individuals’ inventive capacity. We focus on three types of influences: (a) future inventors in the municipality around the time of birth, (b) future inventors around the time of graduation from high school and (c) future inventors at graduation from higher education. We find suggestive evidence that co-locating with future inventors may impact the probability of becoming an inventor. The most consistent effect is found for place of higher education; some positive effects are also evident from birthplace, whereas no consistent positive effect can be derived from individuals’ high school location. Therefore, the formative influences mainly deriving from family upbringing, birth region and from local milieu effects arising from a conscious choice to attend a higher education affect the choice of becoming an inventor.

Here is the article, “How important are local inventive milieus: The role of birthplace, high school and university education,” by Olof Ejermo and Høgni Kalsø Hansen, via Ben Southwood.

Why are so many graduate students depressed?

PhD and master’s students worldwide report rates of depression and anxiety that are six times higher than those in the general public (T. M. Evans et al. Nature Biotech. 36, 282–284; 2018). The report, based on the responses of 2,279 students in 26 nations, found that more than 40% of respondents had anxiety scores in the moderate to severe range, and that nearly 40% showed signs of moderate to severe depression.

That is from this summary statement.  Here is the original piece.  So what might be going on here?

1. The ordeal of studying and possibly finishing is extreme, and extreme ordeals depress people.  This seems inconsistent with other evidence, however, namely rising (reported) rates of depression in prosperous, comfortable societies.

2. The task of studying and possibly finishing is correlated with a kind of extreme lassitude, and that in turn is correlated with depression.

3. Graduate students become depressed as they realize they have chosen poor life paths.

4. Graduate students become depressed as they realize, a’la Caplan, that it is mostly about signaling.

5. Graduate students are undergoing a transformation of their personalities, and being turned into intellectual elites, but this process is traumatic in several regards, thus leading to frequent depression.  The chance of depression is part of the price of admission to a select club.

6. Our graduate institutions serve women poorly (women in graduate school experience depression at higher rates — 41% vs 35% for the men).

7. It’s all just sample bias, as depressed graduate students have nothing better to do than respond to this survey.

What else?  And how much should we regard these results are symptoms of a deeper malaise?  Or is the problem confined mainly to academic life?

U.S.A. (Holocaust) fact of the day

But a survey released Thursday, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, found that many adults lack basic knowledge of what happened — and this lack of knowledge is more pronounced among millennials, whom the survey defined as people ages 18 to 34.

Thirty-one percent of Americans, and 41 percent of millennials, believe that two million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust; the actual number is around six million. Forty-one percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, cannot say what Auschwitz was. Only 39 percent of Americans know that Hitler was democratically elected.

Here is the full Maggie Astor NYT story.  The last error is a little tricky, since Hitler was elected into a coalition government, but he wasn’t really elected to be “Hitler as head honcho.”  His later ascent resulted from political machinations of a not entirely democratic nature.  Still, I doubt if that confusion is what is steering most Americans wrong.

My Conversation with Agnes Callard

She is a philosopher at the University of Chicago, here is the transcript and audio.  We covered Plato and Socrates, what Plato is on about at all, the virtues of dialog and refutation, whether immortality would be boring, Elena Ferrante, parents vs. gangsters and Beethoven vs. Mozart, my two Straussian readings of her book, Jordan Peterson, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the best defense of reading the classics, and the Agnes Callard production function (physics to classics to philosophy), all in suitably informationally dense fashion.

Here is one excerpt:

COWEN: I have a friend who’s interested in longevity research…and he tells me there’s maybe a 10 percent chance that I actually will live forever due to possible scientific advances. I’m skeptical, but let’s just say I were to live forever. How bored would I end up, and how do you think about this question?

CALLARD: [laughs] I think it depends on how good of a person you are.

COWEN: And the good people are more or less bored?

CALLARD: Oh, they’re less bored. One thing is that you’re kind of having to live with yourself for a very long time if you’re immortal, or even just live for a couple thousand years, and a bad self, I think, is hard to live with. By bad, I don’t just mean sort of, let’s say, cruel to people or unjust. I also mean not attuned to things of eternal significance.

I think you can get by in a 100-year life not being too much attuned to things of eternal significance because there’s so much fascinating stuff out there, and one can go from one thing to the next and not get bored. But if we’re talking about eternity, or even thousands of years, you’d better find something to occupy you that is really riveting in the way that I think only eternal things are.

I think that what you’re really asking is something like, “Could I be a god?” And I think, “Well, if you became godlike, you could, and then it would be OK.”

COWEN: Let me give you a hypothesis. You can react to it. That which is cultural, say, listening to music, I would get bored with, even though wonderful music maybe continually will be created. But those activities which are more primeval, more biological — parenting, sex, food, sleep, maybe taking a wonderful shower — that are quite brute, in a way, maybe I would substitute more into those as an immortal? Yes?

CALLARD: I don’t see why you wouldn’t get just as bored of bodily pleasures.

COWEN: You’re programmed for those to be so immediate and riveting, right? You evolve to be maybe an 80-year-old being, or perhaps even a 33-year-old being, so you are riveted on things like reproduction and getting enough sleep. And that stays riveting, even when you’re on this program to live 80,000 years.

CALLARD: I think that at least some of those activities stay riveting for us over the course of our lives because their meaning changes…

And:

COWEN: Let’s turn now to your new book, Aspiration: The Agency of Becoming. There’s a sentence from the book. Let me read it, and maybe you can explain it. “Proleptic reasons allow you to be rational even when you know that your reasons aren’t exactly the right ones.” What’s a proleptic reason?

This was my favorite part, though perhaps few of you will get the joke:

COWEN: On aspiration, what do you think of Jordan Peterson?

CALLARD: I had this odd feeling. He only became known to me quite recently, in the past couple of weeks. I was listening to him talk, and I was thinking he sounds a little bit like Socrates, but not Socrates. I was like, “Who is that? Who is he reminding me of?” And it’s Xenophon’s Socrates.

Here you can buy her just-published book Aspiration: The Agency of Becoming.  You cannot follow her on Twitter.

What should I ask Juan Villarino?

I’ll be doing a Conversation with him in early May.  He is often known as “the world’s greatest hitchhiker,” here is a NYT profile of him.  Excerpt:

Villarino has cataloged every ride he has ever caught: 2,350, totaling about 100,000 miles in 90 countries, or enough to circumnavigate the globe four times.

He is from Argentina, and worked for a while in a Belfast cheese factory.  He is described as from a “downwardly mobile middle-class family” and:

In Buenos Aires, three men tried to mug him, but when they realized who he was, the thieves gave him money.

And:

They [Villarino and his wife] continue to live on about $7 a day each and travel as they always have, leading a life almost entirely on the highway, without a fixed address or jobs or bills.

Here is his blog and also a link to his self-published book.  Here is his blog in Spanish.  So what should I ask him?