The problem with carrot and stick incentives is that they create cravings for carrots and encourage stick evading ruses rather than the values meant to be incentivized.
The positive and negative reinforcements usurp the role of the end goals they’re meant to lead the subject on to. The professed Christian becomes a whited sepulchre, a facade of purity overlaying an inner darkness that seeks only the appearance of goodness for its extrinsic rewards, not genuine goodness.
The educational equivalent of the whited sepulchre is the GPA-whore.
It’s a perpetual fake-it-til-you-make-it tactic, but lacking the intention ever to make it, so focused it is on milking the rewards of the incentive system.
And the incentive system invariably reflects the organizational needs of the bureaucracy that enforces it. When Soviet Russia needed to meet its quotas, products meeting those quotas were produced, even if no one with a choice would buy them. If Wells Fargo needed to increase the number of its accounts, pressured employees created accounts not voluntarily opened by their customers. If a test percentage outcome needs to be met, teaching will reduce ever more to teaching to the test, and to the test alone.
There is a famous maxim: “What gets measured, improves”. It’s corollary is: “What is not or can not be measured gets left by the wayside”.
Any teaching that goes beyond this occurs under the radar.
After having put in a long day at one’s job or one’s studies, most of us want to spend what time we have left with our family, our friends, our pastimes, doing the things that make life new and exciting (some of the time) and warm and comfortable (the rest of the time).
So no one’s going to kill themselves examining claims of knowledge that might force us to curb our pleasures (e.g., smoking and vaping are bad for you), our livelihoods (e.g., hydrocarbon fuel use contributes to global warming), or our sense of who we are, and what group we belong to.
And the group many of us see ourselves as belonging to is no longer Americans, but the Blue Man Group or the Red Man Group.
Blue Man Group: the strong should care for the weak, anything called green is good; and at its fringes: democratic socialism works, the police are unreliable, America is a global aggressor.
Red Man Group: democratic socialism doesn’t work; and at its fringes: we’re the ones who belong here, we made this country, our family values over everyone else’s, the police serve and protect (us), American is special and can do no wrong.
In polarized political atmospheres, mindsets double-down, and the spectrum of viewpoints is compressed into two opposed ideological mindsets.
In ideological mindsets, partial truths and half-truths become articles of faith, oversimplification becomes reality, and those who disagree are demonized.
Balance and pragmatism are whittled away between extremes hell-bent on forcing everyone else to choose sides.
There are comfortable beliefs matching those two mindsets (or any other). For what is a sense of identity but a claim about what kind of person one should be — and, by inference, is.
People mostly seek out comfortable beliefs, and only secondarily true ones, with a crucial exception. People do seek out true beliefs where the consequences of falsity recoil upon them painfully, quickly, and undeniably.
The biggest difference in this regard between age and youth, is that the older you are, the more likely you are to value lasting long-term consequences above fleeting short-term ones. This explains the gulf between generational mindsets about sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.
We all like to think that whatever group we accept (and that accepts us) is the right group, whether we chose it or were born into it.
And everyone believes in that part of science, i.e., technology, which increases their powers. Yes, you’ll find red zone climate-change deniers and blue zone anti-business activists, but none of them are throwing away their smartphones. If you can use it, it’s gotta be true; that part of science everyone loves! Too bad science isn’t a buffet, where you pick and choose only the dishes you like!
But science is an all-or-nothing proposition. Accept the unpleasant truths along with the pleasant ones or you’re not entitled to any of it.
Like that will stop you! Too many people treat science the way a controlling boyfriend/girlfriend treats their partner — like a project, accepting their positive features, while reserving a limitless right to edit or redact their undesired features!
So, what makes for a comfortable belief?
Comfortable beliefs are those that tell you to go right on doing what you are already doing (in other words, keep doing what pleases, enriches, or otherwise benefits you, because it’s not just to your advantage, it’s true, by Golly!) You’ve hit the trifecta: it pleases you, it pleases the group you want to fit in with, and it’s true! You’ve found the ultimate triple-strength sugar rush: dopamine, peer pressure appeasement, and the Absolute!
But, as Nietzsche says, “truth has no survival-value”.
You can always find the Easy Way Out — it’s where the crowd is.
Blue Man Groups and Red Man Groups have different Easy Ways Out, but red and blue are equal in their devotion to their own Easy Way Out.
Me? I’m taking refuge behind this George Orwell quote: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
It’s the high school way of doing things. Standardization, box-checking, rubrics.
Teach to the test. And, how could it not also be: learn to the test?
Night-before cramming, word banks coded into acronyms, memorizing a stock phrase for each term to be used on the test once and once only.
HSIALOALN: High School Is A Lot Of Acronym-Loving Nitwits.
Read the text (if at all) only after the teacher has shown in class what they will emphasize on the test.
Study the test by answering the textbook’s numbered questions at the end of each unit. Scan the text until you find the keyword. Copy down the relevant sentence, mildly rearranged, perhaps even remembered for later use on the test.
That’s the way the game is played — in high school. That ends abruptly with college.
Teachers: Did we really think we would be teaching to the test and the team on the other side of the scrimmage line wouldn’t notice?
“It was a dirty game” both sides say. “Who started it?” “The other team!” both sides say.
Teachers: think of that flurry of activity when the new standardized guidelines are released.
“What do our masters up the food chain really mean?” What do they really want?” We have training sessions, workshops, and round-tables in how to grade by the rubric. Prudent teachers often sign up to become AP or IB graders for a little bit of money and a whole lot of insight into what “they” really want.
If you can’t beat’em join’em. It’s a strategy that’s worked for as long as we’ve thought strategically.
Every such system maintains itself by an incentive system of sticks and carrots. “Do things our way or feel our pain directly through your personal interests, as they are fed those tasty carrots or struck with those stinging sticks!
Thus the exalted pedagogical art of divining what the higher ups really want, lurking behind the bright and shiny words of their mission statements. “Look to the rubrics, young men and women!” “Look to the insider insights into what they really want!” During the Cold War, this sort of thing used to be called Kremlinology, divining the will of the always threatening powers that be.
Teachers: did you really think this covert reshaping of our pedagogic goals would go unnoticed?
Did you really think it would have no effect on the character and quality of the education we provide?
I offer no easy answers because there are none.
How does one keep one’s head above these inky waters?
Ask a low-level bureaucrat in an imperial system of governance. Ask a foot-soldier in the vanguard of an invading horde.
…or, try working “under the radar”.
Next: So, What’s a Poor Teacher To Do? Teaching Under the Radar.
In Answer to the Question “So, What’s a Poor Teacher To Do?” posed in the post “Mirror Image: Teaching to the Test & Learning to the Test” (with temporary link in the blog header above (background black), I say “teach under the radar”.
Try to do some good “under the radar”. Spare an innocent, when you can. Be flexible when it’s warranted. We all have our own little tricks. Call it enrichment; call it stubbornly individualistic ways of sneaking captivating content into the standardized units of knowledge hurried along on the great conveyor-belts of pacing guides, all driven by what I call the throughput model: view the student as an empty vessel to be stuffed at a predetermined pace with units of approved knowledge.
I think that’s the wrong model, for a variety of reasons. Just one: it’s the model used by the McDonald’s corporation — provide a thoroughly mediocre, yet predictable, minimally nutritious and maximally health-code compliant product, recognizable anywhere in the world as tolerable, predictable, and safe, while neither a gourmet treat nor the most healthful and nutritious option.
I follow the watershed model: view the student as the possessor of untapped resources. My job is to prospect for and ignite those powers, to challenge the student to look within themselves to their own resources, to recognize which among them need to be developed because they are strengths (often untapped) and which need to be developed because their insufficiency creates vulnerabilities.
Following this model, one doesn’t worry too much about the factoids (the things measured, by and large, in those standardized tests). You watch for the watershed moments, you provide opportunities, occasions, and challenges to trigger them Then, when they occur on their own schedule, not yours, you throw everything you have into fueling that flame.
Incidentally, this is the same technique for observing those surviving remnants of nature which covertly surround us all. Trees tolerate our presence because we tolerate theirs. But animate nature must be covert because we, human beings, are the great destroyers. Four-legged creatures hide from our sight, many of the surviving species being nocturnal. Legless creatures hide from us; the Bible tells us what to do to them. We’ve eliminated the daytime two-legged creatures in our near environs, except for those who fly.
Many more of our winged cohabitants surround us than we realize. Only a few species dare to be easily seen. The rest take cover in the foliage. Learn to recognize the calls of the common ones. Then you’ll hear the other calls when they’re present, on their schedule, not yours. To learn to see the nature all around us, we must learn to hear their voices, on their schedule, not ours.
It’s the same with our students — and all the more so, the more they are, in their deepest souls, thirsting to learn!
Be less concerned with herding students into the “right” answers, and more concerned with igniting their desire to seek mastery of the procedures that set them on the trail of the truth. In its most comprehensive sense, that means critical thinking, the procedures for understanding and monitoring the ways in which credible claims are made in the various disciplines.
And while each discipline has its own internal rules to follow to produce its kind of credible knowledge, there must also be a higher-level form of critical thinking which adjudicates between the separate disciplines and their different kinds of claims (see Mommy, Where Do Agents Come From? for a theory of knowledge tour). But that is usually only motivated by having achieved a bit of mastery in more than one discipline, raising the question of the powers and limits of each, and of which exerts the stronger draw, or of how to balance the different demands when drawn by more than one.
Be open to questions.
Never be afraid to say “I don’t know”. Every discipline ascends from one level of mastery to another; every discipline descends into levels of technical detail that no one but the specialist need know. Never pretend to know what one does not know, for either reason.
Never place an absolute chasm between your knowledge and theirs; if teaching is a real art, it courses over a continuous pathway from the novice to the expert. Our job as teachers is to illumine that pathway, not to disguise it.
Next: So, What’s a Poor Student To Do? Learning Without Limits, or The Limits To Your Dreams.
By nearsightednessI mean your ability to plan achievable steps today to start you on your path.
If you lack farsightedness, you’ve put a ceiling on your dreams. You’re aiming for the ordinary. You are part of the mass, even if part of an elite, high-income part of the mass. History will shape you rather than you it. Every culture breeds its elites to live, spawn, and die, without leaving a trace, except that of representative, interchangeable units of the host culture. In economics, they call these actors price-takers, as distinct from price-makers; the mass market determines their prices and their choices.
If you lack nearsightedness, you are a dreamer rather than a doer. You will float through life, dreaming away the time and resources with which you could have built that future you dreamed of. You live in the land of the lotus eaters. Time will pass you by, and as your aging dreams fade, the pleasing daydreams upon which your ego feeds must become ever more enchanting and ever farther from your daily reality, until you have lost all touch with reality, a legend in your own mind, but in no one else’s.
You must be an Odysseus, passing between the Scylla of enslavement to the institutions and conventions within which the resources for success must be mined and the Charybdis of righteous isolation, alienation, and ultimate insignificance.
You must work within the institutions which are the gatekeepers to success in any field without becoming the empty canvases upon which those institutions, and their functionaries, paint their institutional needs. You must use them for your ends rather than being used by them for theirs.
Now, it is right that you should be somewhat wary, hearing this from a 64-year old high school teacher. Let’s just say I’m a late bloomer. With your whole careers ahead of you, learn from my mistakes, and take a faster, surer path to your future. If you have a dream, begin now, in however small a way, to lay the foundations of that dream, by planning small achievable steps, each one of which brings you nearer to that distant goal.
Rule #1: Determine for yourself how things really work. Listen attentively to those more experienced than you, but don’t take their generalizations for truths unless you can demonstrate to yourself that their truths hold up to the intensest scrutiny you can bring to bear on them.
Rule #2: Speak your whole mind, with its reservations about their presumed truths, only to those you judge to be truth-seekers without a careerist agenda of their own. Genuine intellectual integrity is rarer and more precious than brilliance. Never presume that it’s there unless you see clear signs that it is.
Rule #3: Never stake your happiness on a distant goal. Distant goals may never be achieved, and may transform in ways beyond your current imagination as they come closer to fruition. To tie your happiness to a goal that may not be achievable, or not achievable in the romanticized vision you have of it from a great distance, is to set yourself up for disappointment, disillusionment, and misery. Find the activity for which the journey is fulfilling whether or not you reach the promised land. Because it is only the journey that you experience at first-hand at every step of the journey; the destination only exists in your imagination, until you have arrived.
Always remember, your “Indies” may turn out to be a whole other continent than the one that sparked your dream.
Remember, too, that Moses never saw the promised land. Your pioneering path may open up horizons for those who come after you, and unless you can take joy in that, what joy can any achievement bring? Live well, set an example, and clear a path for those who follow; that is how humankind makes the world a place worth living in.
Rule #4: Begin early building small platforms for further achievements which you alone control, beyond the say-so of any institution. Do this alongside your work within institutions. You won’t be able to avoid preexisting institutions completely but you never want to depend entirely upon them; every safe haven needs an escape hatch.
Rule #5: Have a small and surely achievable, yet still worthy and satisfying dream, alongside your big dream. Great achievements cannot fill the emptiness of hollow souls. Make sure to have a dream fit for a decent but modest human being, one that is certainly achievable if only you make the effort, alongside your big dream. We all need the nourishment of modest but achievable dreams, even while we chase the big ones. The American Dream is just such a modest and achievable dream; let it be your sufficient dream, while you pursue the big one.
When I most recently stepped into Facebook (something I am very sparing about), I was met by a pop-up asking whether I thought Facebook was good for the world, bad for it, or neutral. I chose neutral and keyed in the following (prompted) explanation.
I have smoothed it out a little for clarity and readability, but it is in essence, what I keyed into Facebook.
Facebook is a technology. A technology is a power. Powers can be used equally readily for good and bad, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
Social media, it has now become apparent, amplify a natural human tendency to look for confirmation of one’s beliefs among people of like beliefs. In a civic republic that translates into partisanship.
Healthy republics must find ways to encourage diversity and the exercise of individual rights of expression without condoning intolerance.
Facebook and other social media are starting to recognize this and act on it, but they were behind the curve on this one.
And there is a built-in tension between social media’s business incentive to maximize customer attention and clicks, on the one hand, and any social responsibility to filter manipulative, distorting and divisive packaging and expressing of opinions, on the other hand.
No one said it would be easy.
I would add the following points.
The social responsibility exists at multiple levels – the individual, the corporate (i.e., business), the organizational (i.e., political organizations and interest groups), and the governmental.
While individuals, corporations, interest groups, and political associations, lobbies, and parties should all be self-policing, if that were enough, government would not be necessary, as James Madison pointed out in Federalist Papers #51.
“But what is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
But saying that government bears the ultimate responsibility does not let off the hook all of those lesser and more overtly self-interested groups.
A free press, that is not continually being undermined, whether with coercion or demagoguery (both of the right and of the left), is the first and best protection.
We need a public space, where standards of credibility are acknowledged and respected, within which a kind of peer review of all the members of society, including interest groups, parties, and the various levels of government itself, can be held accountable.
There are no simple solutions to this latest expansion (via social media) of humanity’s powers to do both good and evil.
Standards of credibility are developed within institutions, especially those subject to some kind of peer review – universities, media adhering to journalistic standards, think tanks adhering to academic standards, NGO’s, etc.
Nor can institutions be insulated from the criticism of outsiders. But there is a difference between a Socrates or a Christ and a demagogue or a seller of clickbait.
China has a simple and toxic solution to this problem. The world’s constitutional democracies, caught in a decade of backsliding and weakness, are just now beginning to recognize and grapple with the problem.
Let’s get on with it.
No one should pretend that the task is simple or the solutions clear. We’re going to have to fumble our way through this one, too. But we’ve done it before. There is cause for confidence and hope, if not for complacency. This problem will not work itself out on its own.
And remember — China is watching, and various clocks are ticking.
Texas, the big red state , and its big blue cities: on the precinct-by-precinct election polls map, go to Texas, enlarge it enough to compare the map’s islands of blue with its big cities: Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth, El Paso.
Largest cities to go for Trump in 2016? Phoenix (#6), Jacksonville (#13), Fort Worth (#17), Oklahoma City (#26); those are the only 4 out of the first 37 (Largest 100 U.S. Cities).
Lists will vary somewhat, depending on whether you go by city limits, metro area, or by the voting units of county or precinct.
Welcome to the labor-intensive world of facts and news, as distinguished from opinions, beliefs, and partisan debates, where stoking outrage (whether red outrage or blue outrage) seems to be the goal.
But the overall point here, is that big cities are overwhelmingly on the blue side of the political divide. And that, of course, impacts news media, especially those that serve large urban centers.
The Newsprism web-site presents a flying wedge of bias (as evaluated by Newsprism) with the peak at the Center of the spectrum of biases, trailing away to the Left and the Right.
Let’s look at the media in terms of the separate business markets, starting with the newsprint business, the post-War broadcast business, then the cable and Internet media revolutions.
Large circulation newspapers are found only in major urban centers. They alone have the resources, in money, talent, location and coverage to become national standards: the New York Times and the Washington Post. Move Left from the Center peak of the flying wedge, and you’ll find them in the Center Left. While they present news (and are subject to public scrutiny), their in-house editorials will reflect the blue bias of their circulation bases.
“It’s nuttin’ poisonal, it’s jus’ bidness”, in the infamous parting words of the mafia hitman just before he whacks you.
Have we then just proven the oft-repeated claim that the news media are biased against conservatives? Not at all. Start again at the Center peak, this time move Right, where you’ll find the business press: The Economist (to which I subscribe), Bloomberg, Forbes, and The Wall Street Journal, all Center Right.
Businessmen want stability and predictability, two conditions of a healthy business climate. That means sound economic policy and geopolitical stability, the bottom-line issues of Republican parties past.
There came a time – I was a teenager then – when television broadcast news upstaged the print media: ABC, CBS, and NBC.
These media played to a nationwide audience, so all converged on the Center, throwing in generically-accented mid-American news anchors to boot. Niche markets just didn’t pay off.
Then the cable revolution began, and niche markets made sense. Initially, CNN captured the Center position from broadcast media in the all-news niche. But Fox News recognized the huge business opportunity in serving an underserved niche market – the flyover red zones of more rural America — and quickly became the most profitable of the cable channels. When Fox changed the game, MSNBC decided to play and migrated leftwards to become the Lefty equivalent of Fox, news for the kumbaya crowd. CNN is trying to tough it out in the Center but is now the least profitable cable channel.
The Internet has worsened the worst features of cable. Social media are now the place where birds of a feather flock together, sharing unsubstantiated claims and poorly thought-through ideas. Social media are Gossip with pictures – thoughtlessness made accessible to those who can’t bother to research claims they want to believe. Social media create belief without method or critical analysis; they are a form of dis-education.
The Internet has pulled the perfect bait-and-switch, presenting itself as an instrument for instant access to the world’s storehouses of information and knowledge, while – in its relentless drive to capture eyeballs – continually leading users astray with eye-catching click-bait: scandals, allegations, outrage (both genuine and feigned), and stories (both real and fabricated).
Congratulations, you citizens of the future! You’ve managed to revert to a futuristic reincarnation of the Medieval rumor mill, where rumors, both naïve and planted, routinely led to political massacres and coups.
The Center is there, but who reads it? There’s USA Today, the first choice of hotels everywhere, because both Democrats and Republicans book rooms.
Next vacation, remember, your hotel floor is the polar opposite of your favorite social media hangout. Stick to gin rummy and snorkeling with your neighbors; don’t talk politics!
Scroll down in Newsprism to see the other straight-up Center media, Politico, The Hill, Roll Call, National Journal, serving the niche market of PoliSci majors and political news and commentary junkies.