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William Deresiewicz on the Ivy League, Mental Illness, and the Meaning of Life - The Atlantic
"Davis: You’ve observed that Ivy League students have an internal struggle with both “grandiosity and depression.” Can you explain this further?

Deresiewicz: Alice Miller wrote about this 30-plus years ago in the classic The Drama of the Gifted Child, but I had to experience it to see it for myself. The grandiosity is that sense of “you’re the greatest, you’re the best, you’re the brightest.” This kind of praise and reinforcement all the time makes students feel they’re the greatest kid in the world. And I would say that this is even worse than when I was a kid. Now there’s a whole culture of parenting around this positive reinforcement.

These kids were always the best of their class, and their teachers were always praising them, inflating their ego. But it’s a false self-esteem. It’s not real self-possession, where you are measuring yourself against your own internal standards and having a sense that you’re working towards something. It’s totally conditional, and constantly has to be pumped up by the next grade, the next A, or gold star. As Miller says, what you’re really learning is that your parents’ love is conditional on this achievement. So when you fail, even a little bit, even if you just get a B on a test, or an A- on a test, the whole thing collapses. It may only collapse temporarily, but it’s a profound collapse—you feel literally worthless.

These are kids who have no ability to measure their own worth in any realistic way—either you are on top of the world, or you are worthless. And that kind of all-or-nothing mentality really pervades the whole system. It’s also why it’s Harvard or the gutter: If you don’t get into Harvard, Yale, or Princeton, it’s a disgrace. If you go to Wesleyan, you can never show your face in public again.

This is not really the only way to succeed, but this crazy definition not only of success, but of how you achieve success, doesn’t even really reflect how actually successful people achieve success. Steve Jobs is an obvious example, because he was obviously very gifted and ambitious but he took a circuitous path, and people who are very successful doing interesting things also often take circuitous paths.

This notion that you’ve got to do X, Y, and Z or else your life is over makes you end up as a high-functioning sheep. You end up being the kind of leader that I talk about in the last section of the book. You get to the top, or you get near the top, but you don’t actually do anything interesting there—you just sort of fulfill your function in the organization. You don’t initiate or create.

Davis: That ties in with your argument that words like “leadership” and “service” have become hollow in the whole college process.

Deresiewicz: There’s a list of things that everyone knows you’re supposed to do to get into college: scores, extracurriculars, and then these two other things, “leadership” and “service.” They’ve been completely ritualized, and kids have become cynical about them because they know they just need to demonstrate them. In the case of leadership, which is supposed to be about qualities of character, self-sacrifice, initiative, and vision, it just means getting to the top, and that’s all. If you get a position with some authority you are, by definition, a leader. And service, if anything, is even worse. Service is supposed to be about making the world a better place or helping people who are less fortunate, but because it’s done for the resume, it really just becomes about yourself.

Davis: You argue that society transmits its values through education. How would you summarize the values transmitted through the elite-education system?

Deresiewicz: I would summarize the values by quoting Tony Hayward, the famous CEO of BP. In the middle of this giant environmental disaster he said, “I want to get my life back.” He had been promised certain rewards and now had this horrible experience of actually having to take responsibility for something, and feel bad. So those are the values that the system is transmitting: self-aggrandizement, being in service to yourself, a good life defined exclusively in terms of conventional markers of success (wealth and status), no real commitment to education or learning, to thinking, and no real commitment to making the world a better place. And I think we see that in the last 50 years, the meritocracy has created a world that’s getting better and better for the meritocracy and worse and worse for everyone else.

Davis: What kinds of values do you think education should be passing on?

Deresiewicz: Ultimately, colleges have inherited the spiritual mission of churches. As religious beliefs have declined with the rise of science, especially among educated people, people started to turn elsewhere to ask the big questions: What does life mean? What is the world about? People turned to works of art, to literature, music, theater, philosophy, which were in turn brought into college curricula."



"Davis: Gaining self-knowledge isn’t a simple or predictable process. Are there certain things that can only be learned outside the classroom?

Deresiewicz: There are certainly limits to formal institutional education. As you say, gaining self-knowledge is going to happen when it’s going to happen. But it’s certainly not going to happen if kids don’t have the tools to do it. So that’s the first thing that an education can do—help kids develop the means of reflection, and then, maybe it’ll happen the next year, or the next summer. A book you read in 12th grade or as a sophomore in college might suddenly click five years later. So yes, it happens throughout your life. But you’ve got to start, and I think you’ve got to start when you’re young. Developmentally, adolescence and the early 20s are precisely the time to ask these questions because you are engaged in making the transition from childhood certainty to adult conviction.

Aside from the classes themselves, the fact that we’ve created a system where kids are constantly busy, and have no time for solitude or reflection, is going to take its toll. We need to create a situation where kids feel like they don’t have to be “on” all the time. Given the chance, adolescents tend to engage in very intense conversation, and a lot of life learning happens laterally, happens peer to peer. But if they’re constantly busy, there’s literally no time. It’s crazy. We’ve taken adolescence away from adolescents. School must not take away your opportunities to self-reflect on your own.

When I taught humanities classes, I never talked about self-reflection, and I never invited students to talk about their feelings or their backgrounds or their experiences. I would sometimes do it with students one on one, if they wanted to, but it’s an indirect process. The books are designed to make you think about your life. You can just talk about Achilles, or Elizabeth Bennett, it doesn’t matter if you leave the personal stuff out of the conversation. The books do the work of getting the soul in motion.

One good thing that they do at Lawrence University is have a course where freshmen can read great books and at the same time think about what an education is for. You don’t have to talk too personally there, but at least you’re still preparing yourself to understand your college education in an appropriate way."



"I’ve continued to struggle with the psychological stuff—the cycle of grandiosity and depression, the constant comparisons. Once it gets implanted, you will always struggle with it, and you just get better, hopefully, at dealing with it. But the take home message is that everyone has to liberate themselves from this system. Education should be an act of liberation. We need to make a better system but ultimately everybody has to claim their freedom for themselves."
williamderesiewicz  education  culture  psychology  meritocracy  ivyleague  highered  highereducation  schools  selfworth  success  achievement  assessment  society  values  self-aggrandizement  meaning  meaningmaking  purpose  life  living  deschooling  unschooling  grandiosity  depression  laurencassanidavis 
december 2015 by robertogreco
A venture capitalist searches for the purpose of school. Here’s what he found. - The Washington Post
[Alt URL: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2015/11/03/a-venture-capitalist-searches-for-the-purpose-of-school-heres-what-he-found/ ]

"I was now fully consumed with this cause. I stepped up my pace, criss-crossing the country to visit schools and gain perspective. I was in hot pursuit of the right answer to the question: “What is the purpose of school?” Everywhere I looked — mission statements, meetings with school leaders, websites — I’d find sensible, even inspiring, purposes:

• teach students cognitive and social skills
• teach students to think
• build character and soul
• help students in a process of self-discovery
• prepare students to be responsible, contributing citizens
• inspire students through the study of humanity’s great works
• prepare students for productive careers

I probed educators on these alternatives, trying to determine the purpose of school, as though answering an SAT question. But I gradually came to realize that this choice was poorly framed. For starters, each of these goals have merit. If some classrooms prepare students for productive careers, and others prioritize on character development, that’s a good thing. And shouldn’t we celebrate an educator who accomplishes one of these goals — not snipe over whether an alternative purpose is superior?

But what came across loud and clear in my journeys is that schools don’t have the luxury of striving for any meaningful purpose. We’ve somehow imposed a system on our educators that requires them to:

• cover volumes of bureaucratically-prescribed content
• boost scores on increasingly-pervasive standardized tests
• get kids through this year’s vacuous hoops to prepare for next year’s vacuous hoops
• produce acceptable graduation rates and college placements
• deal with parents who are either obsessive micro-managers or missing in action.

How did we get here? A deep dive into the history of education helped me appreciate that our school model was brilliantly designed. Over a century ago. In 1893, Charles Eliot of Harvard and the Committee of Ten anticipated a surge of manufacturing jobs as our country moved beyond agriculture. They re-imagined the U.S. education model, ushering in a factory school model to replace the one-room school house. This path-breaking system of universal public education trained students to perform rote tasks rapidly without errors or creative variation — perfect for assembly-line jobs. The system worked spectacularly, a robust middle class emerged, and America became the world’s most powerful country.

Somewhat incredibly, we still utilize this covered-wagon-era education model. Warning signs about its faltering effectiveness go back for decades. In 1983, the blue-ribbon report titled “A Nation At Risk” concluded that if our education system had been imposed on us by a foreign country, we’d declare it an act of war. Yet instead of reinventing the model (as the Committee of Ten did in 1893), we chose to muddle along with short-term, often counter-productive, tweaks. Teachers and students described to me endless additions to content, baffling new standards, and relentless high-stakes standardized tests of low-level cognitive skills. Our nation is hellbent on catching Singapore and South Korea on test scores — a goal those very countries have concluded is nonsensical. We’re betting millions of futures on No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top — our twin orbiting black holes of education — with annual reports on par with the season run-down for the Washington Generals.

And how much are our kids really learning? If there’s one thing I learned, it’s that they’re not learning. Practically anything.

In my travels, I visited the Lawrenceville School, rated as one of the very best high schools in the United States. To its credit, Lawrenceville conducted a fascinating experiment a decade ago. After summer vacation, returning students retook the final exams they had completed in June for their science courses. Actually, they retook simplified versions of these exams, after faculty removed low-level “forgettable” questions The results were stunning. The average grade in June was a B+ (87 percent). When the simplified test was taken in September, the average grade plummeted to an F (58 percent). Not one student retained mastery of all key concepts they appear to have learned in June. The obvious question: if what was “learned” vanishes so quickly, was anything learned in the first place?

The holy grail in our high schools is the Advanced Placement (AP) track. Pioneered 50 years ago by elite private schools to demonstrate the superior student progress, AP courses now pervade mainstream public schools. Over and over, well-intentioned people call for improving U.S. education by getting more of our kids — especially in poor communities — into AP courses. But do our kids learn in AP courses? In an experiment conducted by Dartmouth College, entering students with a 5 on their AP Psychology exam took the final exam from the college’s introductory Psych course. A pitiful 10 percent passed. Worse, when the AP superstars did enroll in intro Psych, they performed no better than classmates with no prior coursework in the subject area. It’s as though the AP students had learned nothing about psychology. And that’s the point.

Along the way, I met Eric Mazur, Area Dean for Applied Physics at Harvard University, and was surprised to discover that many of our country’s most innovative ideas about education come from this one physics professor. Over a decade ago, Eric realized that even his top students (800 on SAT’s, 5 on AP Physics, A in first-year Physics at Harvard) were learning almost no real science. When asked simple questions about how the world works (e.g., what’s the flight path of a pallet of bricks dropped from the cargo hatch of a plane flying overhead?), their responses were little better than guessing. He abandoned his traditional course format (centered on memorizing formulas and definitions), and re-invented his classroom experience. His students debate each other in engaged Socratic discussion, collaborate and critique, and develop real insights into their physical universe. While his results are superb, almost all other U.S. high-school and college science classes, even at top-rated institutions, remain locked into a broken pedagogy whose main purpose is weeding kids out of these career paths..

Systematic studies, such as the findings of Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s groundbreaking book “Academically Adrift,” reach similar conclusions about how little our students are learning, even at the college level. They report that “gains in student performance are disturbingly low; a pattern of limited learning is prevalent on contemporary college campuses.” Richard Keeling and Richard Hersh, in “We’re Losing Our Minds,” conclude that far too many college graduates can’t “think critically and creatively, speak and write cogently and clearly, solve problems, comprehend complex issues, accept responsibility and accountability, take the perspective of others, or meet the expectations of employers.”

The debate about the purpose of education ignores the elephant in the classroom. We have wrapped up our schools in rote memorization, low-level testing, and misguided accountability — preventing them from achieving any real purpose. It’s a fool’s errand to debate whether students are better off memorizing and forgetting Plato’s categorization of the three parts of a human’s soul, the quadratic equation, or the definition of the Cost of Goods Sold. If classroom “learning” is a mirage, it doesn’t matter whether it’s based on “The Odyssey,” a biology textbook, AP History flashcards, or a phone book.

At this point, a part of me felt like declaring education to be our domestic equivalent of Iraq. Maybe I’d be better off going back to my original travel-and-bad-golf plan. But, actually, I was inspired. Why? I was finding the most amazing rays of hope — schools offering powerful learning experiences. I realized moving our schools forward can happen, since we know what to do. Greatness is happening daily across our country, often in schools with scant financial resources. Our challenge is that these innovations are isolated, when they need to be ubiquitous.

The United States now has more than 500 “Deeper Learning” schools, most in our nation’s poorest communities. Clustered into a dozen networks, these schools aren’t “cookie-cutter” replicas of each other. But in their own creative ways, they deliver exceptional learning based on shared principles:

• self-directed learning
• a sense of purpose and authenticity in student experiences
• trust in teachers to teach to their passions and expertise
• a focus on essential skills (collaboration, communication, creativity, critical analysis)
• teachers as coaches, mentors, and advisers, not as lecturers
• lots of project-based challenges and learning
• public display of meaningful student work

Many focus on project-based learning (PBL), a bland phrase for a powerful approach to learning. One PBL leader, High Tech High in San Diego, now includes a dozen schools spanning K through 12, and offers its own graduate school of education. Curiously, out of 1,400 schools of education in our country training our next generation of K12 teachers, only two are integral to a K=12 school. In walking the halls of HTH (and they get more than 3,000 visitors each year), I observed a school experience that doesn’t look anything like what’s taking place today in most U.S. grade 7-16 classrooms. I felt real urgency in helping more people see the power of this pedagogy.

When it comes to PBL, two school networks are scaling rapidly with exceptional results — the New Tech Network and Expeditionary Learning. Both provide training for teachers along with a vetted curriculum, and cost-effectively … [more]
unschooling  deschooling  education  pedagogy  schools  us  2015  projectbasedlearning  learning  howwelearn  internships  apprenticeships  collaboration  communication  creativity  criticalthinking  tcsnmy  thefutureproject  bigpicturelearning  hightechhigh  mostlikelytosucceed  success  teaching  trust  mentoring  mentors  self-directed  self-directedlearning  richardarum  josiparoksa  ericmazur  bureaucracy  teddintersmith  purpose  schooling  schooliness  howweteach  curriculum  anationatrisk  williamderesiewicz 
december 2015 by robertogreco
All Aboard the LeaderShip - Alfie Kohn
"If you’re going to lead a school or other organization, it might be smart to give some thought to what it means to be a good leader. But that fact doesn’t explain why some schools proudly announce that they train their students — every last one of them — in the art of leadership. What’s up with that?

I’d suggest three possible explanations. The first is that leadership, like a lot of other terms that show up in mission statements (transformational, responsible, good citizens, 21st-century as an adjective), is just a rhetorical flourish — something we’re not supposed to think about too carefully. No one is likely to stand up and say, “Hey, wait just a minute! Exactly which characteristics does this school regard as admirable in the 21st century that it didn’t value in, say, 1995?”

Similarly, you’re not expected to ask how it’s possible for everyone to be a leader. You’re just supposed to smile and nod. Leadership good.

Possibility number 2 is that the term does have a specific meaning — a meaning that’s actually rather disturbing in this context. “When colleges promise to make their students leaders, they’re telling them they’re going to be in charge,” William Deresiewicz wrote in the September issue of Harper’s magazine. In fact, that pact with the privileged begins well before college. The message, if made explicit, would sound something like this: “No, of course everyone can’t be a leader. The elite are far more likely to attain that status. So buy your kids an education here and we’ll equip them to be part of that elite.”[1]

It’s a shrewd selling point for a selective school, granted. And it explains why, as someone observed recently, you don’t find many institutions that refer to themselves as “followership academies.”

The relatively benign word leadership may be a way to mute the objectionable implications of grooming certain students to run the world. It’s not unlike how adults try to make themselves feel better about punishing children by referring to what they’re doing as “imposing a consequence.”

*

When I mused about this issue on Twitter a few weeks ago, wondering whether appeals to leadership implicitly endorsed a competitive hierarchy, my post produced a bushel of responses that made me consider possibility number 3: Maybe leadership, like a lot of other words, just means whatever the hell you want it to mean.

One person pointed me to a website about being a “servant/leader” — a phrase with religious roots, I discovered. The site, which had the feel of a late-night TV commercial, offered materials to promote both “personal development” and an “entrepreneurial mindset.”

Here, reproduced verbatim, are a few of the other replies I received:

* Leadership requires that we lead ourselves first. Part of being a great leader is being a good follower too

* Students can lead in 4 directions- leading up, leading peers, leading down, and leading self

* Everyone can be a leader, everyone can be a servant, and everyone can treat others w/ respect

* Some leadership actually comes from the followers within a group

* Lead from YOUR passion. All can.

* [I] always interpreted “teaching leadership” to mean recognizing/owning our gifts & challenges, and learning what we can do with them

One reasonable reaction to all these declarations would be: “Huh?” The dictionary says a leader is “one who is in charge or command of others.” The leader’s style doesn’t have to be (and ideally wouldn’t be) heavy-handed or authoritarian. But that doesn’t mean the word can be redefined to signify anything we choose, such that the inherent power differential between leaders and followers is magically erased. To deny that feature, or to claim that leadership can refer to being a good follower, stretches the word beyond all usefulness. Likewise for the blithe reassurance that everyone can be a leader, which recalls Debbie Meier’s marvelous analogy: It’s like telling children to line up for lunch, then adding, “And I want all of you to be in the front half of the line!”

In a political context, it makes sense to discuss how to prevent leaders from abusing their power. But if our focus is on education or child rearing, then I’m not sure why we’re promoting a hierarchical arrangement. And teaching kids to “follow as well as lead” doesn’t address this concern any more than the harm caused by having a punitive parent is rectified by having another parent who’s permissive.

It’s fine to hope that those children who do eventually end up in leadership positions will act with kindness and skill. But, again, why frame education in these terms? Why not promote characteristics that apply to everyone (just by virtue of being human) and are relevant to children as well as adults: compassion, skepticism, self-awareness, curiosity, and so on? Why not emphasize the value of being part of a well-functioning team, of treating everyone with respect within a model that’s fundamentally collaborative and democratic? At best, a focus on leadership distracts us from helping people decide things together; at worst, it inures us to a social order that consists of those who tell and those who are told.

*

Alongside my substantive objection to an emphasis on leadership (as the word is actually defined) I will confess to some irritation with the more general tendency to be unconstrained by how words are actually defined. This temptation presents itself with respect to all sorts of terms, and even people with admirable views give in to it. Faced with an objection to a certain idea or practice, the response is likely to be, in effect, “No, no. I use that label to mean only good things.”

Thus: “I reject your criticisms of the flipped classroom [making students watch lecture videos as homework and do what’s more commonly assigned as homework during class] because when I talk about flipped classrooms, I mean those that include wonderful student-designed projects.”

Or: “Why would someone who’s progressive raise concerns about the idea of a growth mindset [attributing outcomes to effort rather than to fixed ability]? The way I use that term, it includes a rejection of grades and other traditional pedagogical practices.”[2]

We’ve disappeared through the looking glass here, finding ourselves in a reality where, as Lewis Carroll had Humpty Dumpty put it, “a word…means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”[3] Like Carroll, I think it’s fine to argue that x is consistent with things you already like (if you can defend that proposition), but it’s not fine to defend x by redefining it however you see fit.

After all, that’s something a good leader would never permit."
alfiekohn  leadership  education  howweteach  schools  williamderesiewicz  skepticism  power  elitism  buzzwords  missionstatements  2015  deborahmeier  compassion  self-awareness  curiosity  democracy  collaboration  society  selfishness  language  lewiscarroll  growthmindset  flippedclassroom  pedagogy  whatweteach  words  kindness  consensus  hierarchy  horizontality  competition 
october 2015 by robertogreco
[Essay] | The Neoliberal Arts, by William Deresiewicz | Harper's Magazine
"I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.

leadership
service
integrity
creativity

Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.

A spatial structure, the sentence also suggests a temporal sequence. Thinking clearly, it wants us to recognize, leads to thinking independently. Thinking independently leads to living confidently. Living confidently leads to living courageously. Living courageously leads to living hopefully. And the entire chain begins with a college that recognizes it has an obligation to its students, an obligation to develop their abilities to think and live.

Finally, the sentence is attributed to an individual. It expresses her convictions and ideals. It announces that she is prepared to hold herself accountable for certain responsibilities.

The second text is not a sentence. It is four words floating in space, unconnected to one another or to any other concept. Four words — four slogans, really — whose meaning and function are left undefined, open to whatever interpretation the reader cares to project on them.

Four words, three of which — “leadership,” “service,” and “creativity” — are the loudest buzzwords in contemporary higher education. (“Integrity” is presumably intended as a synonym for the more familiar “character,” which for colleges at this point means nothing more than not cheating.) The text is not the statement of an individual; it is the emanation of a bureaucracy. In this case, a literally anonymous bureaucracy: no one could tell me when this version of the institution’s mission statement was formulated, or by whom. No one could even tell me who had decided to hang those banners all over campus. The sentence from the founder has also long been mounted on the college walls. The other words had just appeared, as if enunciated by the zeitgeist.

But the most important thing to note about the second text is what it doesn’t talk about: thinking or learning. In what it both does and doesn’t say, it therefore constitutes an apt reflection of the current state of higher education. College is seldom about thinking or learning anymore. Everyone is running around trying to figure out what it is about. So far, they have come up with buzzwords, mainly those three.

This is education in the age of neoliberalism. Call it Reaganism or Thatcherism, economism or market fundamentalism, neoliberalism is an ideology that reduces all values to money values. The worth of a thing is the price of the thing. The worth of a person is the wealth of the person. Neoliberalism tells you that you are valuable exclusively in terms of your activity in the marketplace — in Wordsworth’s phrase, your getting and spending.

The purpose of education in a neoliberal age is to produce producers. I published a book last year that said that, by and large, elite American universities no longer provide their students with a real education, one that addresses them as complete human beings rather than as future specialists — that enables them, as I put it, to build a self or (following Keats) to become a soul. Of all the responses the book aroused, the most dismaying was this: that so many individuals associated with those institutions said not, “Of course we provide our students with a real education,” but rather, “What is this ‘real education’ nonsense, anyway?”"



"So what’s so bad about leadership, service, and creativity? What’s bad about them is that, as they’re understood on campus and beyond, they are all encased in neoliberal assumptions. Neoliberalism, which dovetails perfectly with meritocracy, has generated a caste system: “winners and losers,” “makers and takers,” “the best and the brightest,” the whole gospel of Ayn Rand and her Übermenschen. That’s what “leadership” is finally about. There are leaders, and then there is everyone else: the led, presumably — the followers, the little people. Leaders get things done; leaders take command. When colleges promise to make their students leaders, they’re telling them they’re going to be in charge.

“Service” is what the winners engage in when they find themselves in a benevolent mood. Call it Clintonism, by analogy with Reaganism. Bill Clinton not only ratified the neoliberal consensus as president, he has extended its logic as a former president. Reaganism means the affluent have all the money, as well as all the power. Clintonism means they use their money and power, or a bit of it, to help the less fortunate — because the less fortunate (i.e., the losers) can’t help themselves. Hence the Clinton Foundation, hence every philanthropic or altruistic endeavor on the part of highly privileged, highly credentialed, highly resourced elites, including all those nonprofits or socially conscious for-profits that college students start or dream of starting.

“Creativity,” meanwhile, is basically a business concept, aligned with the other clichés that have come to us from the management schools by way of Silicon Valley: “disruption,” “innovation,” “transformation.” “Creativity” is not about becoming an artist. No one wants you to become an artist. It’s about devising “innovative” products, services, and techniques — “solutions,” which imply that you already know the problem. “Creativity” means design thinking, in the terms articulated by the writer Amy Whitaker, not art thinking: getting from A to a predetermined B, not engaging in an open-ended exploratory process in the course of which you discover the B.

Leadership, service, and creativity do not seek fundamental change (remember, fundamental change is out in neoliberalism); they seek technological or technocratic change within a static social framework, within a market framework. Which is really too bad, because the biggest challenges we face — climate change, resource depletion, the disappearance of work in the face of automation — will require nothing less than fundamental change, a new organization of society. If there was ever a time that we needed young people to imagine a different world, that time is now.

We have always been, in the United States, what Lionel Trilling called a business civilization. But we have also always had a range of counterbalancing institutions, countercultural institutions, to advance a different set of values: the churches, the arts, the democratic tradition itself. When the pendulum has swung too far in one direction (and it’s always the same direction), new institutions or movements have emerged, or old ones have renewed their mission. Education in general, and higher education in particular, has always been one of those institutions. But now the market has become so powerful that it’s swallowing the very things that are supposed to keep it in check. Artists are becoming “creatives.” Journalism has become “the media.” Government is bought and paid for. The prosperity gospel has arisen as one of the most prominent movements in American Christianity. And colleges and universities are acting like businesses, and in the service of businesses.

What is to be done? Those very same WASP aristocrats — enough of them, at least, including several presidents of Harvard and Yale — when facing the failure of their own class in the form of the Great Depression, succeeded in superseding themselves and creating a new system, the meritocracy we live with now. But I’m not sure we possess the moral resources to do the same. The WASPs had been taught that leadership meant putting the collective good ahead of your own. But meritocracy means looking out for number one, and neoliberalism doesn’t believe in the collective. As Margaret Thatcher famously said about society, “There’s no such thing. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” As for elite university presidents, they are little more these days than lackeys of the plutocracy, with all the moral stature of the butler in a country house.

Neoliberalism disarms us in another sense as well. For all its rhetoric of freedom and individual initiative, the culture of the market is exceptionally good at inculcating a sense of helplessness. So much of the language around college today, and so much of the negative response to my suggestion that students ought to worry less about pursuing wealth and more about constructing a sense of purpose for themselves, presumes that young people are the passive objects of economic forces. That they have no agency, no options. That they have to do what the market tells them. A Princeton student literally made this argument to me: If the market is incentivizing me to go to Wall Street, he said, then who am I to argue?

I have also had the pleasure, over the past year, of hearing from a lot of people who are pushing back against the dictates of neoliberal education: starting high schools, starting colleges, creating alternatives to high school and college, making documentaries, launching nonprofits, parenting in different ways, conducting their lives in different ways. I welcome these efforts, but none of them address the fundamental problem, which is that we no longer believe in public solutions. We only … [more]
williamderesiewicz  education  highereducation  neoliberalism  capitalism  learning  purpose  stevenpinker  2015  individualism  economics  leadership  missionstatements  courage  confidence  hope  criticalthinking  independence  autonomy  liberalarts  wealth  inequality  citizenship  civics  society  highered  publicpurpose  business  ronaldreagan  billclinton  margaretthatcher  government  media  lioneltrilling  socialgood  creativity  innovation  amywhitaker  service  servicelearning  change  fundamentalchange  systemsthinking  us  civilization  transformation  money  power  aynrand  meritocracy  plutocracy  college  colleges  universities  schools  markets  wallstreet  helplessness  elitism  berniesanders  communitycolleges  aristocracy  reaganism  clintonism  politics  entrepreneurship  volunteerism  rickscott  corporatization  modernity  joshuarothman  greatbooks  1960s  stem  steam  commercialization  davidbrooks 
october 2015 by robertogreco
Frank Bruni's Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be Review | The New Republic
"In fact, Bruni’s breezy anecdotes tend to reinforce the very assumption they ostensibly question: that prestige, power, and wealth are the major goals of education. He’s not asking his readers to examine a cultural obsession with success, so much as assuring them that they can still impress others without attending highly selective undergraduate institutions. Just look at all the people who run huge companies or work at prestigious consulting or law firms, he says. Not all of them went to Ivy League schools! There are “myriad routes to a corner office,” as he puts it. He never seriously considers the possibility that college might shape students into adults who are not interested in a corner office."



"Is influencing student motives beyond the mandate of education? The historian Jacques Barzun once described the business of education as merely “the liquidation of ignorance.” But an alternate tradition that runs from Aristotle to William Deresiewicz argues that it matters why students want to acquire knowledge in the first place. Using the mind as a means to acquire a corner office is very different from enjoying intellectual activity for its own sake. This is not a distinction irrelevant to the madness of college admissions. One girl described in Bruni’s book was so eager to assert a genuine love of the life of the mind that her college application essay depicted a time she urinated in her pants during a particularly interesting conversation with a teacher. Bruni is right to note the ridiculous desperation of the essay, but he fails to draw a deeper conclusion: that someone with a genuinely pure love of learning would probably not broadcast this love to colleges, and she would also not care about attending a prestigious school in the first place. For someone motivated by a love of learning, prestige is irrelevant at best and an annoying distraction at worst.

Most people think of education as a political issue, but it’s less common to hear talk of human flourishing or happiness as a pressing political concern. This Aristotelian perspective offers something far more valuable than Bruni’s self-serving reassurance that there are many routes to prestige and wealth—education as a vision of a kind of happiness that can be realized even in the absence of wealth and prestige. The only sort of rankings the college admissions process needs is one that recognizes a hierarchy of student motives, in which the love of learning for its own sake is supreme. For anyone with the right motives, the other rankings don’t matter.

If college brochures took their own rhetoric about falling in love with the life of the mind seriously, they would encourage students not to see their studies as purely instrumental. Career services programs love to boast that you can study German literature or philosophy and still get a job in consulting; but whether or not this is true misses the point. A school truly committed to the ideal of intellectual life would not treat philosophy as a means to higher LSAT scores. Students would learn to develop such a strong interest in a subject for its own sake that they no longer cared whether anyone else knew how much they loved the subject, at what institution they were studying it, or whether it would enhance their career prospects. The philosophy department’s slogan might be something like this: “Learn to become the kind of person who will never care about all the money you will not make by choosing this major.”"
via:ayjay  education  highered  highereducation  purpose  success  ivyleague  learning  williamderesiewicz  jacquesbarzun  lifeofthemind 
march 2015 by robertogreco
The Artist Endures - The Atlantic
"What’s more, the idea that 10,000 hours of practice makes someone an expert may not even be psychologically valid. A recent meta-analysis found that while practice correlated with skill, it did not at all explain it. “Deliberate practice left more of the variation in skill unexplained than it explained,” wrote one of that study’s authors in Slate. We know so little about this idea because it’s so relatively recent: The first research suggesting a “10,000 Hour Rule” existed was published in 1993, and the rule itself only became popularized with the 2008 release of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers.

And look what happened: In six years, the idea became such a part of the cultural atmosphere that Deresiewicz can treat it like it’s timeless. But it’s not—it’s new, as much a part of the changing artistic firmament as the compulsion to have a website.

But that doesn’t mean its meaningless. The “10,000 Hour Rule” caught on because it invited readers to a cultural meritocracy. It discredited the un-American idea that in-born talent drives careers, instead suggesting that any discipline, any craft or art, could be accessible to anyone through hours upon hours of practice. Maybe that’s true: We just don’t know. Likewise, I don’t know whether true cultural democracy is coming.

But I do know one thing. The value of any discipline, whether craft or art, is not extracted solely by experts. In his essay, Deresiewicz approves of how Gertrude Stein once scolded Picasso for writing poetry. I have also heard Picasso was a terrible poet, but I really don’t know, and I can’t hazard whether some iambic innovation would have spurred him to paint differently.

I am not Picasso, though, and neither are you. And in the world I’d like to live in, everyone—whether they’re a famous painter or a CPA—would feel as though they can explore the breadth of human expression, whether through writing poetry or learning about Chinese pottery or even researching historical pickling methods. If cultural democracy comes, my guess is it will not look like 100 million specialists. It will appear as a society of curious minds, captivated by human traditions and inspired to improve upon them, interested in the many places in the world where humans have spent their attention—and hungry to invest more."
robinsonmeyer  2014  art  williamderesiewicz  craft  practice  internet  malcolmgladwell  advice  democracy  culture  creativity  attention  specialists  specialization  generalists  meritocracy  joirodreamsofsushi  gertrudestein  pablopicasso  dilettantes  innovation  imagination 
january 2015 by robertogreco
Children Who Never Play | Michael J. Lewis | First Things
"Students in my history of architecture course are amused to discover that the final exam offers a choice of questions. Some are bone dry (“discuss the development of the monumental staircase from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, citing examples”) and others deliberately open-ended (“General Meade overslept at Gettysburg and the South has won the Civil War; you are commissioner for the new national capital and must tell us which architects you will choose and what instructions you will give them.”) In offering this whimsical range of options, I do nothing original; my own professors at Haverford College did much the same in their day.

But a peculiar thing has happened. When I began teaching twenty-five years ago, almost all students would answer the imaginative question but year in, year out, their numbers dwindled, until almost all now take the dry and dutiful one. Baffled, I tried varying the questions but still the pattern held: Given the choice, each successive cohort preferred to recite tangible facts rather than to arrange them in a speculative and potentially risky structure. In other respects, today’s students are stronger than their predecessors; they are conspicuously more socialized, more personally obliging, and considerably more self-disciplined. To teach them is a joy, but they will risk nothing, not even for one facetious question on a minor exam.

I am hardly the only one to notice the risk-avoidance. William Deresiewicz gave a harrowing account of the problem in a widely noted New Republic essay with the incendiary title “Don’t Send Your Kids to the Ivy League.”
So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success. The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk. You have no margin for error, so you avoid the possibility that you will ever make an error.
Deresiewicz’s analysis begins with the college admissions process itself but says little about the habits and behavior patterns that these students acquired on the way to college, in early childhood. For some reason, my students were viewing playful questions as inherently risky, as if by collective instinct. Was it possible that they never learned to play in the first place?


Now if one goes by the strict dictionary definition of play as “to occupy oneself in amusement,” these young men and women have played a great deal indeed. But while thirty minutes in front of television or atop the elliptical trainer may be recreation or entertainment, it is not play. Certainly not that special kind of play that is the gleeful anarchy of children left to their own devices. This summer a woman was arrested in South Carolina on the charge of letting her nine-year-old daughter play unsupervised, something incomprehensible to those born in the 1950s or 1960s. For us, unsupervised play constituted the entirety of our childhood. Launched from the house and banished till mealtime, we roamed our allotted territory, from this house to that driveway, and not a step farther (fifty years later the electric charge of those invisible barriers still tingles). Each year the boundaries would expand, but even in the nutshell of six front yards, the child was a king of infinite space, with room aplenty for tag, hide and go seek, or relieveo.

In the last generation this sort of free and unsupervised play lost ground, along with those institutions that sustained it: platoon-sized families, stay-at-home moms, and multiple “eyes on the street.” Its place has been taken by the play date, negotiated in advance with the kind of deliberation required by the marriage of a Hapsburg and a Tudor. No longer the posse of shrieking kids, hurtling around the block, but instead the purposefully organized activities of contemporary childhood: tee-ball and soccer camp, swim class and 5k runs—the interstices filled with the distractions of the DVD and Nintendo 3DS.

For children who know only supervised play, there is no conflict that is not resolved by an adult. One never learns to negotiate and resolve conflicts with one’s peers. This was not always an amiable or tear-free process; playground justice was just as harsh and swift as medieval justice. But it was justice, and even that most brutal aspect of playground life in the 1960s, the afterschool fistfight, was regulated by the standing circle of classmates who yelled out encouragement or insults, and who stopped the proceedings when it went too far. In all of this was a restless testing of the limits of freedom, with little feints and modest rebellions. These often ended unhappily, especially when the offending instrument was a stick, stone, or pack of matches, but here were those first lessons in overstepping the bounds that seem essential for the development of an individual conscience.

More and more, parents feel obliged to steer their children toward those activities that might have a future payoff, already thinking ahead to that harrowing ivy league gauntlet that Deresiewicz describes. Such is the instrumental view, play as a means to an end and not an end in itself. But as any cultivator of plants knows, to promote one trait can cause others inadvertently to atrophy. One thinks of the modern tomato, indestructible yet flavorless, or the modern rose, exquisite and almost completely devoid of scent. And the process of producing the well-socialized, well-tempered contemporary child has inadvertently blunted some of those qualities that can only be acquired, as it were, when no one is looking. Chief of these is initiative—the capacity to size up a situation and take quick decisive action. Only those children who play under minimal supervision—“free range kids” in the happy phrase of Lenore Skenazy—get the chance to develop this sense of dash or pluck. They do this in the process of deciding what to play, establishing the rules, choosing sides, and resolving the inevitable dispute. In short, by acting as miniature citizens with autonomy rather than as passive subjects to be directed.

There is an extraordinary scene in Abel Gance’s 1927 silent classic Napoléon, which shows the future emperor as a ten-year-old schoolboy. Persecuted by older boys, Napoléon organizes an epic snowball fight and leads his small group to victory over a much larger party. In all of cinema there is no more spirited depiction of childhood play, and the moment of joyous discovery of skills and capabilities—in this case independent leadership—that will form the indispensable toolkit of the adult to follow."
2014  via:ayjay  michaeljlewis  williamderesiewicz  autonomy  creativity  play  imagination  conformity  unstructured  lenoreskenazy  risk  risktaking  innovation  behavior  freedom  childhood  parenting  education  schools  schooliness  schooling  highered  highereducation 
september 2014 by robertogreco
Ivy League Schools Are Overrated. Send Your Kids Elsewhere. | New Republic
"Experience itself has been reduced to instrumental function, via the college essay. From learning to commodify your experiences for the application, the next step has been to seek out experiences in order to have them to commodify. The New York Times reports that there is now a thriving sector devoted to producing essay-ready summers, but what strikes one is the superficiality of the activities involved: a month traveling around Italy studying the Renaissance, “a whole day” with a band of renegade artists. A whole day!

I’ve noticed something similar when it comes to service. Why is it that people feel the need to go to places like Guatemala to do their projects of rescue or documentation, instead of Milwaukee or Arkansas? When students do stay in the States, why is it that so many head for New Orleans? Perhaps it’s no surprise, when kids are trained to think of service as something they are ultimately doing for themselves—that is, for their résumés. “Do well by doing good,” goes the slogan. How about just doing good?

If there is one idea, above all, through which the concept of social responsibility is communicated at the most prestigious schools, it is “leadership.” “Harvard is for leaders,” goes the Cambridge cliché. To be a high-achieving student is to constantly be urged to think of yourself as a future leader of society. But what these institutions mean by leadership is nothing more than getting to the top. Making partner at a major law firm or becoming a chief executive, climbing the greasy pole of whatever hierarchy you decide to attach yourself to. I don’t think it occurs to the people in charge of elite colleges that the concept of leadership ought to have a higher meaning, or, really, any meaning.

The irony is that elite students are told that they can be whatever they want, but most of them end up choosing to be one of a few very similar things. As of 2010, about a third of graduates went into financing or consulting at a number of top schools, including Harvard, Princeton, and Cornell. Whole fields have disappeared from view: the clergy, the military, electoral politics, even academia itself, for the most part, including basic science. It’s considered glamorous to drop out of a selective college if you want to become the next Mark Zuckerberg, but ludicrous to stay in to become a social worker. “What Wall Street figured out,” as Ezra Klein has put it, “is that colleges are producing a large number of very smart, completely confused graduates. Kids who have ample mental horsepower, an incredible work ethic and no idea what to do next.”

For the most selective colleges, this system is working very well indeed. Application numbers continue to swell, endowments are robust, tuition hikes bring ritual complaints but no decline in business. Whether it is working for anyone else is a different question."



"Is there anything that I can do, a lot of young people have written to ask me, to avoid becoming an out-of-touch, entitled little shit? I don’t have a satisfying answer, short of telling them to transfer to a public university. You cannot cogitate your way to sympathy with people of different backgrounds, still less to knowledge of them. You need to interact with them directly, and it has to be on an equal footing: not in the context of “service,” and not in the spirit of “making an effort,” either—swooping down on a member of the college support staff and offering to “buy them a coffee,” as a former Yalie once suggested, in order to “ask them about themselves.”

Instead of service, how about service work? That’ll really give you insight into other people. How about waiting tables so that you can see how hard it is, physically and mentally? You really aren’t as smart as everyone has been telling you; you’re only smarter in a certain way. There are smart people who do not go to a prestigious college, or to any college—often precisely for reasons of class. There are smart people who are not “smart.”"



"More broadly, they need to rethink their conception of merit. If schools are going to train a better class of leaders than the ones we have today, they’re going to have to ask themselves what kinds of qualities they need to promote. Selecting students by GPA or the number of extracurriculars more often benefits the faithful drudge than the original mind.

The changes must go deeper, though, than reforming the admissions process. That might address the problem of mediocrity, but it won’t address the greater one of inequality. The problem is the Ivy League itself. We have contracted the training of our leadership class to a set of private institutions. However much they claim to act for the common good, they will always place their interests first. The arrangement is great for the schools, but is Harvard’s desire for alumni donations a sufficient reason to perpetuate the class system?

I used to think that we needed to create a world where every child had an equal chance to get to the Ivy League. I’ve come to see that what we really need is to create one where you don’t have to go to the Ivy League, or any private college, to get a first-rate education.

High-quality public education, financed with public money, for the benefit of all: the exact commitment that drove the growth of public higher education in the postwar years. Everybody gets an equal chance to go as far as their hard work and talent will take them—you know, the American dream. Everyone who wants it gets to have the kind of mind-expanding, soul-enriching experience that a liberal arts education provides. We recognize that free, quality K–12 education is a right of citizenship. We also need to recognize—as we once did and as many countries still do—that the same is true of higher education. We have tried aristocracy. We have tried meritocracy. Now it’s time to try democracy."
williamderesiewicz  education  class  academia  experience  society  us  socialwork  admissions  colleges  universities  highered  highereducation  clergy  lifeofthemind  ivyleague  2014  leadership  servicelearning  glamor  ineqaulity  incomeinequality 
july 2014 by robertogreco
The Miseducation of America - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education
"While I was watching Ivory Tower, a documentary about the state of college in America that appears in select theaters this month (the movie also airs on CNN this fall), it occurred to me that of the many problems with higher education these days, not the least concerns the way we talk about it. "Efficiency," "art-history majors," "kids who graduate with $100,000 in debt," "the college bubble," the whole rhetoric of crisis and collapse: The public discourse is dominated by sound bites, one-liners, hearsay, horror stories, and a very great deal of misinformation.

Higher ed is not unique in this respect, of course, but it is particularly bad. College, as the movie points out, was always treated as a black box: 18-year-olds were inserted at one end, 22-year-olds came out the other, and as long as the system appeared to be working, no one bothered to inquire what happened in between. Americans, as a result, have very little understanding of what college is about—how it works, what it’s for, what larger social benefits it offers—and those employed in higher education have had very little practice in explaining it to them. The debate has been left to the politicians, the pundits, and increasingly, the hustlers and ideologues. Few who talk about college in public understand it, and few who understand it talk about it.

Ivory Tower, for the most part, is an honorable exception."



"Ivory Tower shows us why it’s so important that we get this right: that we think with facts, with respect to college costs and what they get you, not emotions. When we cherry pick the scariest stories and numbers, we do two things: We open the door to hucksters selling easy answers, and we forget what college is really for. Apocalypticism leads to messianism. Close behind the anxious parents whom we see on college tours at Wesleyan and NYU—variously blithe or glum adolescents in tow—come, like vultures to a kill, a pair of now-familiar figures: Peter Thiel and Sebastian Thrun."



"The truth is, there are powerful forces at work in our society that are actively hostile to the college ideal. That distrust critical thinking and deny the proposition that democracy necessitates an educated citizenry. That have no use for larger social purposes. That decline to recognize the worth of that which can’t be bought or sold. Above all, that reject the view that higher education is a basic human right.

The film recounts the history and recent fate of that idea: its origin among the philanthropists of the industrial age, figures like Peter Cooper, founder of his eponymous Union; its progressive unfolding through the Morrill Land-Grant Act of 1862, the GI Bill of 1944, the postwar expansion of the University of California, and the Higher Education Act of 1965, which created the federal student-loan and grant programs; and its deliberate destruction under Ronald Reagan and his ideological heirs.

Free, high-quality higher education (just like free, high-quality school, which we continue to at least pretend to endorse): that is what we used to believe in; that’s what many other countries still believe in; that is what we must believe in once again. The filmmakers undoubtedly knew what they were doing when they chose to show us the moment, during that seminar at Deep Springs, when the students are debating Hegel’s proposition that, as their professor puts it, "you need to have a common identity as citizens, because it creates the bonds of affection." Or in Delbanco’s words, "What kind of society do we want to be?" Cooper Union’s commencement speaker, that tumultuous spring of 2013, turns out to have been none other than Michael Bloomberg. "The debate you’re having really isn’t about whether education is free," we see him tell the students. "It’s really about who can and who is willing to pay for it."

On this the billionaire and I agree. In terms of the "can" (and it’s hard to believe the word could even pass his lips), the answer is clear. Not just the plutocrats, not just the upper class, but the upper middle class, as well. Everybody knows by now that the share of national income that accrues to the famous one percent has risen to about 23 percent, higher than at almost any time since 1928. But the share that accrues to the top 10 percent as a whole, which stayed around 33 percent from the 1950s through the 1970s, has risen to its highest level ever (or at least, since record-keeping started), more than 50 percent. In a $17-trillion economy, the difference represents a premium of nearly $3-trillion a year, about five times the federal deficit and more than enough for this and many other public purposes.

The problem of costs, to be sure, is not a one-way street. Higher education must indeed increase efficiency, but how? Institutions have been willing to spend on everything in recent years except the thing that matters most: instruction. Dorms, deans, sports, but not professors. Piglike presidential salaries, paid for by hiring adjuncts. Now, with MOOCs and other forms of online instruction, the talk is more of the same. My friends, they are coming for you. The professoriate no longer has the luxury of thinking that all this is someone else’s problem. If you want to save your skins, let alone ensure the future of the enterprise, you need to wake up and organize against the people who are organizing against you. The fact is that by focusing exclusively on monetary issues, the current conversation prevents us not only from remembering the higher objectives of an undergraduate education, but also from recognizing just how bad a job our institutions have been doing at fulfilling them. Colleges and universities have a lot to answer for; if they want to regain the support of the larger society, they need to prove that they are worthy of it.

Ivory Tower ends, in the manner of such films today, by referring us to a website. Under the rubric "Take Action," the site encourages us to sign a petition that calls on Congress to pass legislation, of the kind proposed by Elizabeth Warren (and just blocked by Senate Republicans), allowing individuals to refinance their student loans. That would certainly be a good thing, but we need to set our sights a great deal higher. If service workers can demand a $15 minimum wage, more than double the federal level, then those who care about higher education can insist on the elimination of tuition and fees at state institutions and their replacement by public funding furnished by taxes on the upper 10 percent. As with the minimum wage, the campaign can be conducted state by state, and it can and should involve a large coalition of interested groups: students, parents, and instructors, to start with. Total enrollment at American colleges and universities now stands at 20 million, on top of another million-plus on the faculty. That’s a formidable voting bloc, should it learn to exercise its power. Since the Occupy movement in 2011, it’s clear that the fight to reverse the tide of growing inequality has been joined. It’s time we joined it."
2014  williamderesiewicz  highered  highereducation  education  policy  politics  finance  money  studentloands  ivorytower  reform  faculty  solidarity  ows  occupywallstreet  inequality  purpose  canon  funding  publicfunding  mooc  moocs  unions  labor  deepspringscollege  colleges  universities  liberalarts  society  learning  criticalthinking  uncollege  dalestephens  peterthiel  sebastianthrun  peterschiff  efficiency  cooperunion  communitycolleges  debt  studentdebt  employment 
june 2014 by robertogreco
No, there aren’t “two cultures” | Oscillator, Scientific American Blog Network
"To say that science is objectively focused on external reality and not, to quote the best subtitle of all time “produced by people with bodies, situated in time, space, culture, and society, and struggling for credibility and authority,” is to ignore the external reality of how science and culture shape one another through the life and work of scientists. The problem with the “two cultures” concept then is neither that non-scientists don’t know enough about thermodynamics, nor that science can’t fully capture the ineffable power of art, but that separating science off from culture leads to bad science.

The belief that science and scientists are somehow above the influence of cultural forces has made it easier to pass off harmful stereotypes and cultural biases as scientific facts. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the “science” of human difference and the generations of scientists who studied the “natural” inferiority of women and basically any minority group ever. These “scientific” beliefs about human nature change over time not because of the progressive power of science to correct previous errors with new evidence, but because of the changes that happen in culture when disenfranchised people fight hard to be heard — in politics, in art, and in science.

The idea that “true science” is strictly rational, with a clear path leading from questions to answers, organized around the infallible scientific method, is especially damaging for young scientists. When experiments fail or produce inconsistent, confusing data, students get lost in what systems biologist Uri Alon calls “the cloud” — where imagination and intellectual curiosity are necessary to break free. This process only looks plainly rational through 20/20 hindsight, when, following the rubric of the two cultures, scientists painstakingly remove the evidence of their intuitions, leaving a picture of science that is impossible to reproduce.

This is why as a teacher and biologist, I work with artists and social scientists: not to better communicate science through creative packaging, but to understand how cultures, science, and technology intersect. Too often, scientists think of artistic, humanistic, and social scientific methods as ways to make the rational medicine of science go down easier. If science were truly concerned with open inquiry and experimentation, we might look harder for ways to disprove the two cultures hypothesis."

[References William Deresiewicz's book review: "No, Jane Austen Was Not a Game Theorist: Using science to explain art is a good way to butcher both" http://www.newrepublic.com/article/116170/jane-austen-game-theorist-michael-suk-young-chwe-joke ]
twocultures  thirdculture  christinaagapakis  science  humanities  2014  via:anne  culture  dualism  art  transdisciplinary  crossdisciplinary  interdisciplinary  multidisciplinary  williamderesiewicz  culturewars  michaelsuk-youngchwe  inquiry  experimentation  openinquiry  criticalthinking  scientism  stereotypes 
january 2014 by robertogreco
The American Scholar: Start a Blog - William Deresiewicz
"As Jack Miles puts it in a stellar essay on the question, “It takes years of disciplined preparation to become an academic. It takes years of undisciplined preparation to become an intellectual.”"

"But celebrity, like the institutionalization that comes with being an academic, is inimical to the intellectual’s mission: questioning the mental status quo. The more a part of things you are—the more embedded in the machinery of status and position—the harder that is to do. As Kazin said, “values are our only home in the universe.” Allegiances, to any group, are fatal. The intellectual’s job is to think past the culture: to question the myths, metaphors, and assumptions that limit our collective imagination. The founder of the breed was Socrates. As Kazin also said, an intellectual is someone for whom ideas are “instruments of salvation.” Becoming one requires a little more than setting up a blog."
disruption  status  celebrity  russelljacoby  academics  academia  intellectuals  socrates  deschooling  unschooling  outsiders  thesystem  jackmiles  writing  alfredkazin  haroldrosenberg  clementgreenberg  dwightmacdonald  lioneltrilling  edmundwilson  blogging  publicintellectuals  williamderesiewicz  2012  change  allegiances  outsider 
december 2012 by robertogreco
The American Scholar: My Atheism—An Interim Report - William Deresiewicz
"But gradually, at first unwillingly, over the last 10 years or so, something began to change. Not my atheism—that isn’t going to change. To paraphrase Marilynne Robinson (leave it to a believer to find the perfect way of putting it), I’m a categorical atheist. Says a character in Gilead, “I don’t even believe God doesn’t exist.” God, in other words, is a meaningless concept. But my feelings about religion—those have begun to change."

"I no longer divide the world between believers and nonbelievers. I divide it between fundamentalists of both kinds and (for lack of a better word) liberals of both kinds. Liberal Catholics, Reconstructionist Jews, various kinds of mainline Protestants: people who understand religion the way that I understand art, as a source of spiritual wisdom and moral guidance, not literal truths about the physical world. The content of my atheism hasn’t changed. What’s changed—what continues to change—is the way that I live it."
2012  moralguidance  morality  wisdom  spirituality  liberalism  fundamentalism  belief  religion  atheism  williamderesiewicz 
july 2012 by robertogreco
Portland/CreativeMornings - William Deresiewicz on Vimeo
"Entrepreneurialsm isn't necessarily bad, but I'm just struck by the fact that it seems to be *the* ideal. … the exclusive ideal. … This is far from only true of only young people… the small business ["that also includes nonprofits"] has become the idealized social form or life expression of our time, in general."

"If you think back a century ago to the heyday of high modernism and aestheticism, art for art's sake, the artist as… the culture hero… All of the attributes that were attached to being an artist or to making art then are … attached to entrepreneurialism now… like autonomy, freedom, heroism, imagination, creativity, adventure."

"The affect that we all have now is the salesman's personality. It's the smile and shoeshine. It's "the customer is always right." It's "I'm not going to offend anybody beacuse I don't know whether I'm going to want to sell them something or do business with them. I don't know when I'm going to run into them down the road." And even if we're not literally sellling something, although more and more of us are because of social media, because we are on social media, we are — all of us — at least selling one thing, which is ourselves. The contemporary self is an entrepreneurial self, a self that is packaged to be sold."

"Young people today think in terms of fixing the world by making things and selling them."

"I'm going to suggest to you that selling is inherently corrupting… Selling corrupts the product it sells… Selling as counter culture, as dissent, as revolution… is a contradiction in terms."

"What we have is a loss of the avant-garde. And I'm defining avant-garde not in terms of experimentation, for example, but specifically art that offers resistence to its audience, art that is not easily consumable. And not just art… we don't really have an avant-garde of thought either. Because if you make people uncomfortable, which is what avant-garde art and thought has to do, than they're not going to buy — in either sense — what you're selling them, so we tone it down, we sort of tart it up, we put in a dance beat, we stay within acceptable moral and aesthetic limits. Maybe we try to surprise a little bit, but we surpise in a way that we know is not going to be disturbing."

"We are always presenting something that is in some way familiar to the audience because we know it has already sold, it has a track record."

"Let us not confuse imagination with innovation and even progress." —P.J. O'Rourke

"We have disgarded creativity in exchange for a steady supply of marketable products." —Gary Kasparov

"Everything is being created for the consumer market."

"The avant-garde has been coopted by commerce. The notion of creativity has become indentified with the idea of technology and technology has been identified with products. Instead of being mobilized as citizens the way the avant-garde wanted to, we are being marketed to as consumers."

"We are not doing what the avant-garde is supposed to do, which is to challenge the basic social, political, and economic stucture of our world, reimagine and reinvent our social relationships."

[From the @FranzKafka article, but similar to the talk.] "[W]hat about creators who don’t want to have to sell themselves, who don’t like it, who aren’t good at it, who feel it saps their energy? (Beethoven’s website? Van Gogh’s Facebook page? Kafka’s Twitter feed?) There’s something to be said for agents and managers and publishers and record labels, despite their drain upon the artist’s purse and the artist’s patience—people who are good at things that creators usually aren’t and don’t want to have to be. And then, what about creators who are good at them—but not at, you know, creating? The more that selling becomes central to the process, the more the process will reward people who are good at selling."

"Our ideal [the small business] is just a thing, it's not really an ideal."

"The Generation Y style really doesn't embody anything. What does hipster style say? It just says that I'm hip."

"The ethos of DIY social engagement goes along also with a withdrawal from politics, which is inherently a sphere of two things that Millenials say they hate (and not just Millenials) conflict and large institutions."

"The idea of creative social change is that what starts at the edges will go to the center. But unless we engage politics directly, what starts at the edges will stay at the edges."

"Against the immense power of coordinated wealth, … the small business model does not amount to very much. I don't think you can change the system either by just working within it or, another response, dropping out of it. I think you can only change it by confronting it directly."
morality  ideals  ideology  art  thought  thinking  cv  millennials  entrepreneurship  smallbusiness  commerce  sellingout  selling  2012  avant-garde  society  change  gamchanging  scale  salesmanship  williamderesiewicz 
july 2012 by robertogreco
The Entrepreneurial Generation - NYTimes.com
"Today’s ideal social form is not the commune or the movement or even the individual creator as such; it’s the small business. Every artistic or moral aspiration — music, food, good works, what have you — is expressed in those terms."

"Our culture hero is not the artist or reformer, not the saint or scientist, but the entrepreneur. (Think of Steve Jobs, our new deity.) Autonomy, adventure, imagination: entrepreneurship comprehends all this and more for us. The characteristic art form of our age may be the business plan."

"Today’s polite, pleasant personality is, above all, a commercial personality."

"All this is why, unlike those of previous youth cultures, the hipster ethos contains no element of rebellion, rejection or dissent — remarkably so, given that countercultural opposition would seem to be essential to the very idea of youth culture. That may in turn be why the hipster has proved to be so durable."

[Updated in this talk: https://vimeo.com/46254409 ]
entrepreneurship  slackers  punks  hippies  millennials  youth  ideology  smallbusiness  business  advertising  hipsterism  hipsters  culture  2011  williamderesiewicz 
july 2012 by robertogreco
Fables of Wealth - NYTimes.com
"ethics in capitalism is purely optional, purely extrinsic. To expect morality in the market is to commit a category error. Capitalist values are antithetical to Christian ones… Capitalist values are also antithetical to democratic ones…

…neither entrepreneurs nor the rich have a monopoly on brains, sweat or risk. There are scientists — and artists and scholars — who are just as smart as any entrepreneur, only they are interested in different rewards.

…“Poor Americans are urged to hate themselves,” Kurt Vonnegut wrote in “Slaughterhouse-Five.” And so, “they mock themselves and glorify their betters.” Our most destructive lie, he added, “is that it is very easy for any American to make money.” The lie goes on. The poor are lazy, stupid and evil. The rich are brilliant, courageous and good. They shower their beneficence upon the rest of us."

[See also: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/421662-america-is-the-wealthiest-nation-on-earth-but-its-people

"America is the wealthiest nation on Earth, but its people are mainly poor, and poor Americans are urged to hate themselves…. It is in fact a crime for an American to be poor, even though America is a nation of poor. Every other nation has folk traditions of men who were poor but extremely wise and virtuous, and therefore more estimable than anyone with power and gold. No such tales are told by American poor. They mock themselves and glorify their betters."]
politics  classwarfare  poverty  lies  incompatibility  democracy  kurtvonnegut  finance  wallstreet  1%  policy  government  jobcreation  wealth  psychopathy  morality  ethics  motivation  science  art  corporations  corporatism  corporateculture  businessschool  business  entrepreneurship  christianity  capitalism  2012  williamderesiewicz  vonnegut  slaughterhouse-five 
may 2012 by robertogreco
Generation Make | TechCrunch
"We have a distrust of large organizations…don’t look down on people creating small businesses. But we’re not emotionless…We have anger…flares up to become Arab Spring & OccupyWallStreet…We have ego…every entrepreneur who thinks their tech startup is the best…We have passion, & an intense drive to follow…through, immediately. Our generation is autonomous…impatient. We refuse to pay our dues…want to be running the department. We hop from job to job…average tenure…is just 3 years. We think we can do anything we can imagine…hate the idea that we should ever be beholden to someone else. We do this because we have been abandoned by the institutions that should have embraced us…We are a generation of makers…of creators. Maybe we don’t have the global idealism of the hippies. Our idealism is more individual: that every person should be able to live their own life, working on what they choose, creating what they choose…"
socialmedia  makers  making  generations  millennials  2011  justinkan  williamderesiewicz  entrepreneurship  ows  arabspring  occupywallstreet  idealism  attitude  trends  passion  unschooling  deschooling  hierarchy  revolution  via:preoccupations  davidfincer  markzuckerberg  individualism  self-actualization  independence  work  labor  behavior  startups  startup  workplace  motivation  geny  generationy 
november 2011 by robertogreco
The American Scholar: The Disadvantages of an Elite Education - William Deresiewicz
"Being an intellectual begins with thinking your way outside of your assumptions and the system that enforces them. But students who get into elite schools are precisely the ones who have best learned to work within the system, so it’s almost impossible for them to see outside it, to see that it’s even there."

"What happens when busyness & sociability leave no room for solitude? The ability to engage in introspection…is the essential precondition for living an intellectual life, and the essential precondition for introspection is solitude…one of them said, with a dawning sense of self-awareness, “So are you saying that we’re all just, like, really excellent sheep?” Well, I don’t know. But I do know that the life of the mind is lived one mind at a time: one solitary, skeptical, resistant mind at a time. The best place to cultivate it is not within an educational system whose real purpose is to reproduce the class system."

Also here http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/voices-in-time/william-deresiewicz-trims-the-ivy.php?page=all in this issue: http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/magazine/ways-of-learning.php ]
williamderesiewicz  2008  via:jeeves  highered  highereducation  learning  unschooling  deschooling  liberalarts  class  perpetuation  criticalthinking  skepticism  resistance  institutions  intellectualism  introspection  solitude  cv  self-awareness  conformism  elites  power  control  racetonowhere  purpose  vision  education  colleges  universities  lapham'squarterly 
november 2011 by robertogreco
Faulty Towers: The Crisis in Higher Education | The Nation
"…leadership will have to come from somewhere else, as well. Just as in society as a whole, the academic upper middle class needs to rethink its alliances. Its dignity will not survive forever if it doesn’t fight for that of everyone below it in the academic hierarchy. For all its pretensions to public importance…the professoriate is awfully quiet, essentially nonexistent as a collective voice. If academia is going to once again become a decent place to work, if our best young minds are going to be attracted back to the profession, if higher education is going to be reclaimed as part of the American promise, if teaching and research are going to make the country strong again, then professors need to get off their backsides and organize: department by department, institution to institution, state by state and across the nation as a whole. Tenured professors enjoy the strongest speech protections in society. It’s time they started using them."
education  culture  teaching  politics  economics  highereducation  highered  hierarchy  society  voice  speakingout  2011  williamderesiewicz  colleges  universities  labor  gradschool  money  efficiency  markets  fairness  inequality  inequity  disparity  academia  liberalarts 
may 2011 by robertogreco
What Are You Going to Do With That? - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education
"It's easy, the way the system works, to simply go w/ flow. I don't mean the work is easy, but the choices are. Or rather, the choices sort of make themselves…

Moral imagination means the capacity to envision new ways to live your life. It means not just going w/ flow. It means not just "getting into" whatever school or program comes next. It means figuring out what you want for yourself, not what your parents want, or your peers want, or your school wants, or your society wants. Originating your own values. Thinking your way toward your own definition of success…

Morally courageous individuals tend to make the people around them very uncomfortable. They don't fit in w/ everybody else's ideas about the way the world is supposed to work, & still worse, they make them feel insecure about the choices that they themselves have made—or failed to make. People don't mind being in prison as long as no one else is free. But stage a jailbreak, and everybody else freaks out."

[via: http://tumble77.com/post/1389655615/people-dont-mind-being-in-prison-as-long-as-no ]
humanities  education  creativity  writing  college  colleges  universities  cv  schooling  schooliness  unschooling  deschooling  ratrace  treadmill  racetonowhere  choice  grades  grading  self-esteem  success  happiness  ideas  identity  courage  tcsnmy  lcproject  curiosity  self  williamderesiewicz  risk  risktaking  iconoclasm  safety  convenience  predictablity  control  mistakes  glvo  generalists  specialists  specialization 
october 2010 by robertogreco
Solitude and Leadership: an article by William Deresiewicz | The American Scholar
"Excellence isn’t usually what gets you up the greasy pole. What gets you up is a talent for maneuvering. Kissing up to the people above you, kicking down to the people below you. Pleasing your teachers, pleasing your superiors, picking a powerful mentor and riding his coattails until it’s time to stab him in the back. Jumping through hoops. Getting along by going along. Being whatever other people want you to be, so that it finally comes to seem that, like the manager of the Central Station, you have nothing inside you at all. Not taking stupid risks like trying to change how things are done or question why they’re done. Just keeping the routine going. I tell you this to forewarn you, because I promise you that you will meet these people and you will find yourself in environments where what is rewarded above all is conformity. I tell you so you can decide to be a different kind of leader..."
via:anne  leadership  education  conformity  tcsnmy  risk  risktaking  williamderesiewicz  learning  culture  life  philosophy  bureaucracy  business  careers  change  military  management  administration  solitude  concentration  thinking  independence 
august 2010 by robertogreco

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