Tuesday, February 26, 2008

FEBRUARY DISCUSSION FORUM: Empowerment and the Failure of Progressive Education

[Note: this summarizes and extends on an argument made in this forthcoming article and in a book I am currently revising. Related discussions can be found at educationaction.org]

Perhaps to most, probably to many, the conclusions which have been stated as to the conditions upon which depends the emergence of the Public from its eclipse will seem close to the denial of realizing the idea of a democratic public.

--John Dewey, The Public and Its Problems

Fights for decent housing, economic security, health programs, and for many of these other social issues for which liberals profess their sympathy and support, are to the liberals simply intellectual affinities. . . . [I]t is not their children who are sick; it is not they who are working with the specter of unemployment hanging over their heads.

--Saul Alinsky, Reveille for Radicals

The field of education is often a decade or more behind intellectual developments in other fields. It is perhaps for this reason that the full impact of revisionist histories of progressivism (e.g., Fink, McGerr, Rauchway, Sinyai, Southern, Stromquist) has yet to emerge in our writings. It is important to understand, however, that the cumulative impact of this new work represents a fundamental challenge to the proponents of progressive democratic education. What these books show is the extent to which the progressives were trapped within the horizon of their own privileged experience. Collectively, with more or less sophistication, they developed a vision of a democratic society that expressed the utopian hopes of middle-class professional work-sites, families, intellectual dialogues, and social gatherings. Few had any significant experience with the less privileged. And even those who did, like Jane Addams, held tight to a vision of a democratic society where everyone would be able to collaborate intelligently and caringly with each other, where stark facts of unequal POWER would cease to rule.

From the perspective of turn-of-the 20th Century progressives, those with less privilege and education appeared much like children, to be taken care of until they grew into full citizenship by internalizing the advanced practices of democratic engagement that grounded the dreams of privileged reformers (so did the upper class, but they had less influence there). On this point, thinkers as divergent as Walter Lippmann and John Dewey were essentially in agreement, even if Dewey had much more hope and respect for the less educated. Everyone had much to learn, but the ignorance and practical limitations of the lower classes in terms of their capacity for true democratic participation was a if not the crucial impediment to true democracy.

The progressives did accomplish much that was significant for the impoverished in America. But the key word is FOR. It is difficult to point to any significant accomplishments in actually empowering people who looked and spoke and acted differently than them.

Progressive educators today are the inheritors of the progressivism of yesterday. The focus of progressive education research is on making our classrooms places for holistic learning and collaborative engagement. And these are quite wonderful goals. But they have little or nothing to do with empowerment. The fact is that skills for collaborating with equals are only useful when one is working with equals.

(The progressive dream of our society as a room full of people from different places and experiences that all learn to work together and benefit from their unique capacities is increasingly proving to be just that: a dream. To his own chagrin, Robert Putnam of “Bowling Alone” fame found that relational “social capital” is built most effectively in places where people are similar, not where they are different—he sat on this data for quite a while to see if he could figure out how to interpret it differently, and he couldn’t. Research on power inequalities in classrooms indicates that one achieves some equality of participation not when you treat the less powerful like unique individuals but instead when you “empower” them as representatives of particular groups.)

The heroes education scholars look to are people who think and act like we do. We have generally failed to be self-critical enough to ask why we find particular approaches to democracy and inequality compelling. We look to Dewey, but almost completely avoid what Gramsci would call the “organic intellectuals” of labor movement and the field of community organizing.

The Civil Rights Movement is a perfect example. The collaborative, non-hierarchical visions of Ella Baker and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), and the similar vision of Myles Horton and the Highlander School are often held up as shining examples of democratic empowerment. Almost always obscured is the fact that the leaders of these groups represented the educated elite, mostly from the North. Further ignored is the fact that SNCC fell apart when indigenous working-class members began to assert themselves and their distinct cultural model of empowerment. It is at least arguable that many of the most effective actions of the Movement in the South emerged more out of these indigenous practices than from Baker and Robert Moses’s SNCC or Horton’s Highlander (see Hill).

Of course SNCC and Highlander were critically important. And Dewey was no ignoramus. Instead the key point is that these progressive visions are most useful as supplements to practices of collective empowerment that have been developed in contexts of inequality. Ironically, there is no real way to understand the real usefulness of these progressive visions until we can honestly bring them together with working-class and other models of empowerment on some level of equality. Each side, I believe (and there are more than two sides, here) has the potential to inform the other. But we can’t do this if we know little or nothing about the alternatives to progressivism that progressivism might inform.

Empowerment for those on the bottom is a collective and not an individual accomplishment. The problem is not a lack of knowledge. Even the most profound critical examination of oppressive social forces is not of much use if you don’t know what to do about what you have learned. (In fact, knowledge of this kind, by itself, is often quite disempowering.)

There is a paradox, here, of course. On the one hand we need to be more respectful to indigenous practices and ways of seeing. We need to seek out and value “organic intellectuals” who reflect the best and most effective practices of these communities. On the other hand, there is much too little happening to contest oppression and inequality in America. There are, in fact, skills that people in oppressed contexts need to learn if they are even going to begin to resist.

The problem with progressives was not that they wanted to teach people who needed to learn. The problem was that they tried to make “others” into mini-versions of themselves.

In the end, I think one useful criteria would be: what is the minimum that people need to learn for them to become empowered? What is the smallest intervention in someone else’s culture that we can make that will actually be effective? I am not under the illusion that these are easy questions to answer.

We know this, at least:

Many of our children grow up in cages; lie in bathtubs at night in fear of stray bullets; curl themselves into fetal balls from the gut-wrenching terror of post traumatic stress disorder; steel themselves from the pain of rotting teeth, wake coughing at night from treatable asthma; and tolerate school as long as they can with the full knowledge that it won’t do much for them just as it didn’t for their parents and neighbors.

These kids are not hopeless victims. They are often quite sophisticated in their analyses of their own conditions. But in most cases they also don’t really know what to do to change the futures they can see so clearly ahead of them.

So, a call to action:

1) Middle-class, professional education scholars should take some time to consider the possibility that we find progressive visions of education compelling because of who we culturally are as much as because of some inherent relevance in these theories and practices themselves. (Note: I include most scholars from working-class backgrounds in this broad call—success in any cultural milieu requires people to take on the characteristics valued there. Counter-intuitively, it may in fact be true that resisting middle-class ways of thinking is easier, in a pragmatic sense, for those of us who are the most thoroughly initiated into this culture in the first place. No one will ever accuse people like myself of not being able to play the academic game.)

2) Every once in a while, all of us should reflect on the fact that, regardless of how pissed off we are that we didn’t get much of a raise this year, we are some of the most privileged people ever to walk on this planet. In what ways does this privilege affect our work on a daily basis?

3) We should acknowledge that schools are usually places where less privileged parents feel unsafe and judged. Schools are not likely places for scholars, teachers, and working-class people to meet on any level of equality.

4) Education scholars whose work is not relevant to student and community empowerment should stop for a moment and justify to themselves why they have chosen the topics and focus they have. (You don’t need to justify this to someone else, just to yourself). Repeat as necessary.

5) Courses on the history and philosophy and sociology of education, at the least, should include works from the world of community and union organizing that reflect visions of education linked directly to collective empowerment from the perspective of impoverished and working-class people.

6) Graduate students should be encouraged to look beyond traditional visions of “learning” and “democratic education” to explore practices of empowerment focused on collective action. Ask them: “Who will this help and how?” “Maybe this will help kids do math better, but will that fact really help them much in their lives?” “Is education about ‘learning’ or about life success? And if it isn’t about life success, then why bother?” (Of course, it is possible to use mathematics education in empowering ways (see Moses). Again, in the end they need to justify it to themselves, not to established scholars, although established scholars may need to choose who they have the time to work with).

7) Scholars at top universities should explore innovative ways to find people who may not have great GRE scores but may have the experience and inner fortitude to produce unique and powerful work that can shift the field.

8) We should ditch the term “social justice.” Social justice is a goal, not a practice. You don’t teach social justice, you teach practices that will help you achieve social justice. Focusing on social justice often allows scholars to spin wonderful utopian visions of a beautiful world without thinking concretely about how it will be achieved.

9) The field of education as a whole should support a range of creative efforts that explore how more effective practices of student empowerment might be initiated in traditional public schools given the severe limitations such efforts will inevitably face. These efforts might include ways of concealing the teaching of practices of leadership and collective action within efforts that at least seem non-threatening to the powerful.

10) Scholars working in alternative education settings that can allow more radical efforts should explore ways for engaging students more directly in social action projects in ways that might educate them about how to resist power and oppression. (The fact is, students should be required in every school to master practices of community empowerment just as they are required to master mathematics).

11) Schools of education should find a way to integrate efforts to foster community empowerment into their offerings. Most important would be the development of new or adapted programs that ensure long-term student enrollment in these areas. Only when there is student enrollment that requires the hiring of professors with expertise in community organizing and engagement can we hope to escape the limitations of “faddism,” especially given the increasing economic pressures faced by most universities. This would require a fundamental rethinking of the “charge” of schools of education. It would involve a willingness to embrace challenges of “education” that emerge in the community and not just in schools. And it would necessarily include the acknowledgement that significant and durable school reform is unlikely to happen in impoverished areas unless these communities are empowered to demand, supervise, evaluate, and maintain these innovations.

12) Scholars interested in these issues in schools of education should join together with scholars in other fields with similar interests to form collaborative teams to share knowledge and develop multidisciplinary projects. (Other key areas would include: social work, public health, sociology, urban studies, communications, etc. I’m currently part of a team developing a Ph.D. in Public Health at my university, and the group has agreed—so far—to focus on knowledge of community empowerment as a key goal.)

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Thoughts on leadership in education colleges

Our college of education at Purdue is seeking a dean. A thoughtful colleague at another institution had these words about such searches:

"I've been through several Dean searches, one recently of course, and it's a tough market for really good people. The job itself can be very tough, especially if you aren't in a resource-rich environment -- and who is?

The different academic cultures within an Ed School seem increasingly incommensurable to me -- theory/practice, qualitative/quantitative, early-childhood to adult ed, psychometric test designers/ radical postmodern critics, touchy-feelies and hard-nosed empiricists, hands-on school personnel trainers and abstract philosophers, etc etc. I can't think of another college or department with anything like that sort of range.

The status issues and mixed messages many Ed Schools get from the central admin seem very difficult to reconcile. And the tradition itself -- for all its talk of progressivism, blah blah, strikes me as institutionally extremely conservative, even reactionary."

I particularly agree with the idea about the different academic cultures within an ed school, and of course they are present in mine. We spend a great deal of time discussing these differences, trying to make bridges, but I am not sure we understand each other.


Public education is in peril

originally posted at Dailykos on February 23

Diane Ravitch is a notable figure in American public education, as a policy maker having served as an Assistant Secretary under the first President Bush, aand as an historian who has been perhaps the most notable among those produced by her mentor the late Lawrence Cremins. She is inevitably the target of criticism, with many on the educational left critical of her role in what they view as a more conservative approach to public education. Recently Ravitch has become increasingly critical of many of the things dear to educational conservatives, from No Child Behind to the tendency of mayors to direct control of urban school districts, especially the effort ongoing in New York under Mayor Bloomberg. It is in that light that I wish to draw your attention to a piece in School Board News, a publication of the National School Board Association, which is entitled Public education is in ‘peril,’ Ravitch warns. It is a writeup of remarks Ravitch, now a professor at NYU's Steinhardt School of Education, made at NSBA's February 1 Leadership Congress.

Please keep reading.

I will offer some selections from the piece and a few remarks of my own. And I disclose right now that I am a friendly acquaintance of Diane Ravitch of half a decade, although we have had our disagreements on educational policy matters in the past.

Ravitch believes the real crisis in education today has to do with a classroom environment, that, due to the influence of No Child Left Behind, emphasizes the subjects tested, while neglecting “creativity, originality, and disciplined thinking.”
That is not the first paragraph of the article, but it is perhaps as important as any, especially at a time when reauthorization of NCLB is still on the table before the Congress, and the Bush Administration is going all out to sustain what it considers its major achievement in domestic policy.

But we need to understand the historical context of the crisis, and as one trained as an historian of education Ravitch provides that context. She notes that in the 1950's there was extensive criticism of public education (does anyone here remember the piece in the Saturday Evening Post entitled Why Johnny Can't Read?) but
reformers “did not challenge the very existence of public education.” That’s no longer the case, Ravitch said at NSBA’s Leadership Conference Feb. 1 in Washington, D.C.

Today, critics say “public education itself is obsolete,” she said. “There is a large and growing movement to dismantle public education.”
It is for this reason that Ravitch warned the school board leaders that
"public education, as we have known it all our lives, is in genuine peril"
While describing the poor performance of US students on international assessments as a long-term problem and not an immediate crisis, Ravitch told the conference that
schools can’t be blamed for a culture that honors athletes and entertainers but not those who choose careers in science, education, or public service.

Ravitch is critical of the mindset that wants
to replace public education with a “completely choice-based system of vouchers, privatization, and charter schools,” under the assumption that “in an open market, good schools would thrive and bad school would die,” she said. But this is a “ludicrous model to apply to public education, which is a public service, not a private good.”
Some argue strongly
want to turn schools into business organizations, with schools managed by people with no experience in education and whose only focus is the “bottom line” -- with the bottom line being test scores.

But when you pay teachers and students for higher test scores, this is the only thing that will matter to them, Ravitch said, and they will spend all their energies on test prep.

I have written before on the problem described in that last brief paragraph, and again call your attention to the book by Sharon Nichols and David Berliner entitled Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America's Schools, which demonstrates the accuracy of what those in social science research know as Campbell's Law:
"The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decisionmaking, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor."
I am delighted to see the emphasis Ravitch places upon this point.

Ravitch was critical of those like Marc Tucker who argue that the management of schools should be turned over to private organizations, noting the lack of evidence that private or charter schools are better managed.
And schools are not a business, she said. “They are not churning out products, but shaping lives and character.”

Ravitch is specifically critical of the approach underway in New York City where she lives, and she has had a number of clashes with Maylor Bllomberg and Chancellor Klein, about which I have also previously written.

The end of the brief article contains much of importance. As might be expected given the audience, she is strongly in favor of the role of school boards (something that mayors like Daley in Chicago, Bloomberg in New York, and Fenty in Washington have sought to bypass with direct mayoral control). Without school boards,
“there is no democratic participation in education,” Ravitch said. “There is no place where parents and other members of the public can stand up and ask questions and get answers. Decisions are made behind closed doors” and “there are no checks or balances on executive authority.”
She warns that of the dangers of the market approach to schooling, which will favor the haves over the have nots - that is where the money is.

The final paragraph reads as follows:
“The purpose of public education is to level the playing field. We cannot let the key fundamental principle of public education -- equality of educational opportunity -- die,” she said. “We cannot kill a system that has flaws and needs improvement and replace it with something that will almost certainly be even more flawed and more inequitable.”
As one who has opposed NCLB since it was first proposed because I understood that it would lead to an inequity of educational opportunity even worse than the system it purported to fix, I am delighted to see the powerful voice of Diane Ravitch making this point.

There is a brief, previous paragraph that provides the framing on which I have based much of my own efforts on the policy of public education:
For Ravitch, “The survival of public education in our nation is intimately tied up with the survival of our democracy.”
That is why I by choice teach in public schools. That is why I write about public schools. That is why I advocate for fixing, not replacing, public schools.

I strongly suggest you take the link for this article and distribute it widely, starting with the members of your local and state school boards. Remember, her remarks were made to an association of school boards. And the ASBA encourages the distribution of the piece. Let me quote:
Reproduced with permission from School Board News. Copyright © 2008, National School Boards Association. Opinions expressed in this newspaper do not necessarily reflect positions of NSBA. This article may be printed out and photocopied for individual or educational use, provided this copyright notice appears on each copy. This article may not be otherwise transmitted or reproduced in print or electronic form without the consent of the Publisher. For more information, call (703) 838-6789.

So go to it. Distribute it. Join me in insuring that our efforts at edcational reform not undermine our commitment to public schooling. And let me repeat that key line from Diane:

“The survival of public education in our nation is intimately tied up with the survival of our democracy.”


Ed Links

Machines 'to match man by 2029'

Machines will achieve human-level artificial intelligence by 2029, a leading US inventor has predicted.

School Popularity Affects Girls’ Weights

Girls who think they aren’t popular are at higher risk for weight gain, according to a new study.

Higher Education Gap May Slow Economic Mobility

Economic mobility, the chance that children of the poor or middle class will climb up the income ladder, has not changed significantly over the last three decades, a study being released on Wednesday says. The authors of the study, by scholars at the Brookings Institution in Washington and sponsored by the Pew Charitable Trusts, warned that widening gaps in higher education between rich and poor, whites and minorities, could soon lead to a downturn in opportunities for the poorest families.

Inside The Head Of An Ape

Do apes have imagination? How do they understand pictures? A years-long study of apes performed by a cognitive scientist shows, among other things, that it doesn't take a human brain to understand pictures as being a representation. When humans compare a picture with reality, it's often necessary to fill in information that is missing in the picture. For instance, how do we know that a person in a picture is running, as opposed to being frozen in a position?

Hang on, parents. After the terrible twos come the goal-oriented threes. Kids seem to grow into the ability to act in pursuit of goals outside of what they can immediately sense sometime around that age. Although adults take goal-directed action for granted, it's not in us from birth but rather emerges in a normal developmental timeline that, according to this and similar studies, appears to emerge roughly between the ages of 2 and 3 years -- hence the "terrible twos."

One cognitive scientist takes issue with the truism, "The more information, the better." In his experiments, innovation was stifled in groups in which information was freely shared because once a good idea was offered about a difficult problem, the human tendency to glom onto it instead of exploring further took over.

Solitary workers may be faster workers, according to research by neuroscientists. Individuals given a specific task are slowed when witnessing someone perform a different task nearby, suggesting that workers may perform better if they are in isolation.

A new way of looking at cities that has emerged during the last 20 years that could revolutionize planning and ultimately benefit city dwellers. 'The Size, Scale and Shape of Cities' advocates an integrated approach to the theory of how cities evolve by linking urban economics and transportation behavior with developments in network science, allometric growth and fractal geometry. Professor Batty argues that planning's reliance on the imposition of idealized geometric plans upon cities is rooted in the nineteenth century attitude which viewed cities as chaotic, sprawling and dirty. Instead, he reports research that suggests beneath the apparent chaos, there is a strong order.

For many years, Tomaso Poggio's lab at MIT ran two parallel lines of research. Some projects were aimed at understanding how the brain works, using complex computational models. Others were aimed at improving the abilities of computers to perform tasks that our brains do with ease. But recently Poggio has found that the two tasks have begun to overlap to such a degree, that it's now time to combine the two lines of research.

Researchers have identified patterns of brain activation linked to the formation of long-term memories. The study also offered an innovative and more comprehensive method for gauging memories. Making sense of and recalling the complex, multi-sensory information encountered in everyday life -- such as reading a newspaper while listening for a boarding announcement at the airport -- is a fundamental task that the brain readily accomplishes. What is less clear is which regions of the brain are employed to encode these experiences.

Do animals have privileged access to lower level sensory information before it is packaged into concepts, as it has been argued for autistic savants? When Temple Grandin argued that animals and autistic savants share cognitive similarities in her best-selling book Animals in Translation (2005), the idea gained steam outside the community of cognitive neuroscientists. Grandin, a professor of animal science whose books have provided an unprecedented look at the autistic mind, says her autism gives her special insight into the inner workings of the animal mind. She based her proposal on the observation that animals, like autistic humans, sense and respond to stimuli that nonautistic humans usually overlook.

Contrary to our previous beliefs, identical twins are not genetically identical. This surprising finding may be of great significance for research on hereditary diseases and for the development of new diagnostic methods. How can it be that one identical twin might develop Parkinson's disease, for instance, but not the other? Until now, the reasons have been sought in environmental factors. The current study complicates the picture.

The same rules of physics that govern molecules as they condense from gas to liquid, or freeze from liquid to solid, also apply to the activity patterns of neurons in the human brain. When liquids undergo phase transitions, they evaporate into gas or freeze into ice. When the brain undergoes a phase transition, it moves from random to patterned activity.

Humans are social animals; we spend much of our time with others in groups. We are also wise. It is not our size, speed, or strength that distinguishes us from other mammals, but our intelligence. How might these two features -- being social and being smart -- go together? Researchers found that people who engaged in social interaction displayed higher levels of cognitive performance than the control group.

Scientists have made a significant step into the understanding of conscious perception, by showing how single neurons in the human brain reacted to certain images. This line of research could lay the foundation for developing a neural prostheses which could read commands directly from the brain and transmit them to bionic devices such as a robotic arm that a patient with limited mobility could control directly from the brain.

Constructal theory of flows governs social phenomena like rankings. A Duke University researcher says that his physics theory, which has been applied to everything from global climate to traffic patterns, can also explain another trend: why university rankings tend not to change very much from year to year. Like branching river channels across the earth's surface, universities are part of a relatively rigid network that is predictable based on "constructal theory," which describes the shapes of flows in nature, argues one professor of mechanical engineering.

The brain's serotonin system differs between men and women. The scientists who conducted the study think that they have found one of the reasons why depression and chronic anxiety are more common in women than in men. Serotonin is a brain neurotransmitter that is critical to the development and treatment of depression and chronic anxiety.

A new analyzing a sample of over 275,000 individuals, has found that when it comes to participation in physical activity, one size does not fit all. The study looked at a wide range of factors, including income, education and ethnicity, that influence whether a person decides to be physically active. It also examined the impact of government spending on parks and recreation on an individual's decision to participate in physical activity and sports.

A Harvard scientist presents a new hypothesis on what defines the cognitive rift between humans and animals. He identifies four key differences in human thought that make it unique. Animals, for example, have "laser beam" intelligence, in which a specific solution is used to solve a specific problem. But these solutions cannot be applied to new situations or to solve different kinds of problem. In contrast, humans have "floodlight" cognition, allowing us to use thought processes in new ways and to apply the solution of one problem to another situation.

The evolution of human speech was far more complex than is implied by some recent attempts to link it to a specific gene a professor of computational linguistics. Some researchers in recent years have speculated that mutations in a gene called Foxp2 might have played a fundamental role in the evolution of human language.

The process of natural selection can act on human culture as well as on genes, a new study finds. Scientists have shown for the first time that cultural traits affecting survival and reproduction evolve at a different rate than other cultural attributes. Speeded or slowed rates of evolution typically indicate the action of natural selection in analyses of the human genome.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Ed Links

In 2020, 1 in 7 People in U.S. May Be Foreign-Born

If present trends continue, within two decades the proportion of immigrants in the United States will surpass the peak reached more than a century ago, a new analysis concludes.

Uncommon Knowledge: Surprising insights from the social sciences

CURRENT EVENTS, IT now appears, shape sex appeal. According to a recent theory in psychology, individuals react defensively when the world around them (the "system") is threatened. This defensiveness generally prompts them to embrace the status quo, along with any of its associated stereotypes. In a new test of the theory, researchers found that men who read one article conveying pessimism about their country became significantly more interested in traditionally feminine women - women who were portrayed in profiles as "vulnerable, pure, and ideal for making men feel complete."

Center for the Study of Social Justice Working Papers

[Some stuff related to education, here, including this from Crooked Timber:] Adam Swift and I have just posted a short critical working paper at the Center for the Study of Social Justice website. It’s a response to papers in Ethics (July 2007) by Elizabeth Anderson and Debra Satz (both, I’m afraid, behind a paywall, though I notice that the free sample issue is the one with Adam’s and my paper on parents rights, so I can’t resist encouraging people to read that), both arguing for a principle of educational adequacy as the correct principle of educational justice. Before reading their papers I had thought of adequacy as a straightforward strategic retreat by educational progressives, a retreat that makes strategic sense in the US because many States have constitutional provisions that are plausibly interpreted as demanding adequacy for all (and litigation, not politics, is the most promising way forward). But both Satz and Anderson argue for adequacy on principled grounds; they think that educational equality is a misguided goal, and also that adequacy is a good goal. . . . Satz is especially good on what adequacy, understood the right way, demands for low-achieving children, whereas Anderson is especially good on what it demands for children bound for elites.

You Remind Me of Me

Imitation is one of the most common and recognizable behaviors in the animal kingdom. Just as baby chimps learn to climb by aping their elders, so infants pick up words and gestures by copying parents. They sense and mimic peers’ behavior from early on, too, looking up at the ceiling if others around them do so or mirroring others’ cringes of fear and anxiety. Such behavioral contagion probably evolved early for survival, some scientists argue. It is what scatters a flock well before most members see a lunging predator. Yet by drawing on apparently similar skills, even in seemingly trivial ways, people can prompt almost instantaneous cooperation from complete strangers.

A review of Democratic Hope: Pragmatism and the Politics of Truth by Robert Westbrook

Robert Westbrook claims that pragmatist political theorists share a common hope for democracy. I argue that there are at least two distinct and opposed pragmatist conceptions of democracy – one Deweyan, the other Peircean – and thus two distinct and opposed hopes for democracy. The author criticizes the Deweyan view and defends the Peircean view.

Learning to Lie

Kids lie early, often, and for all sorts of reasons—to avoid punishment, to bond with friends, to gain a sense of control. But now there’s a singular theory for one way this habit develops: They are just copying their parents.

New book by one of our greatest sociologists: The Craftsman by Richard Sennett

Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman continues an argument begun in the 19th century, when writers such as John Ruskin and William Morris extolled the crafts remembered in our surnames (Smith, Cartwright, Thatcher, Mason, Fletcher) while lamenting the mind-numbing and soul-destroying labour of the industrial process which was replacing them. A long line of thinkers, from Hegel and Marx to Sennett’s teacher Hannah Arendt, have sympathised with the argument. But Sennett does not think that craftsmanship has vanished from our world. On the contrary: it has merely migrated to other regions of human enterprise, so that the delicate form of skilled cooperation that once produced a cathedral now produces the Linux software system.

Weekly Irrelevant but Fascinating: The economics of assassination might surprise you as much as they did Harvard's Ben Olken.

According to Olken’s research, in Indonesia, where TV coverage isn’t yet universal, one finds that “better signal reception, which is associ­ated with more time spent watching television and listening to radio, is associated with sub­stantially lower levels of participation in social activities and with lower self-reported measures of trust.” This, he notes, has had a deleterious effect on political and social par­ticipation: “The main results suggest that each additional channel of television reception is associated with 7 percent fewer social groups existing in the village, and with each adult in the village attending 12 per­cent fewer group meetings.”

Taking Play Seriously

Brown called play part of the ‘‘developmental sequencing of becoming a human primate. If you look at what produces learning and memory and well-being, play is as fundamental as any other aspect of life, including sleep and dreams.’’

Negative Implications Of No Child Left Behind: As Graduation Rates Go Down, School Ratings Go Up

Texas' public school accountability system, the model for the national No Child Left Behind Act, directly contributes to lower graduation rates, according to new research. Each year Texas public high schools lose at least 135,000 youth prior to graduation -- a disproportionate number of whom are African-American, Latino and English-as-a-second-language students.

Over time, consumers develop a set of cues that we then use to make inferences about products, such as "all French restaurants have great service" or "more expensive candles smell better." However, this set of predictable beliefs can make it difficult for us to learn and recognize other real, positive qualities that are indicated by the same cues, reveals a new study.

Preschoolers with poor vision have lower scores in developmental testing indicative of success in school performance, but those scores improve significantly within six weeks when the children are given prescription glasses, according to a new study. Since low visual-motor skill scores correlate with lower academic achievements, the research team speculates that improved skills due to corrected vision might lead to improved cognitive and verbal performance.

Don't bother trying to persuade your boss of a new idea while he's feeling the power of his position -- new research suggests he's not listening to you. Powerful people have confidence in what they are thinking. Whether their thoughts are positive or negative toward an idea, that position is going to be hard to change.

Have you ever arrived somewhere and wondered how you got there? Scientists believe they may have found the answer, with research that shows that humans flock like sheep and birds, subconsciously following a minority of individuals. It takes a minority of just five per cent to influence a crowd's direction -- and that the other 95 per cent follow without realising it.

Kids with active father figures are less likely to suffer psychological and behavioral problems and having a father figure around can reduce crime and enhance cognitive skills like intelligence, reasoning and language, in low-income families. Researchers are calling for father figures to be more involved in health and policy makers to promote more father-friendly policies.

Gazing into your lover's eyes isn't only romantic; it may also mimic early attachments that forever alter your brain and body. Researchers are studying whether the brain hormone released with touches, hugs, or when a mother and her newborn baby bond might help patients with schizophrenia, social anxiety and a variety of other disorders. Oxytocin is a brain chemical associated with pair bonding, including mother-infant and male-female bonds, increased paternal involvement with children, and monogamy in certain rodents, according to a psychiatry professor involved with the study.

If you are reading this, chances are that you live in a city -- one, perhaps, on its way to becoming a megacity with a population that exceeds 10 million or more. What shape could these future cities take and how will their populations meet environmental and resource challenges? Urban challenges face communities worldwide, with solutions lagging behind.

Very young brains process memories of fear differently than more mature ones, new research indicates. The work significantly advances scientific understanding of when and how fear is stored and unlearned, and introduces new thinking on the implications of fear experience early in life.

Contrary to popular notions, people at the high end of the autism spectrum disorder continuum suffer most from an inability to model "self" rather than impaired ability to respond to others, according to a novel research study. This inability to model "self" can disrupt an individual's ability to understand the world as a whole, according to researchers.

Cerebral imaging reveals that human infants are sensitive to numerical quantity at a very early age and that the basic dorsal/ventral functional organization is already in place in the infant brain.

Obesity prevalence has increased significantly among adults and children in the U.S. over the last two decades. A new study reveals that characteristics of neighborhoods, including the area’s income level, the built environment, and access to healthy food, contribute to the continuing obesity epidemic.

New research shows that parents influence their child's likelihood of involvement with drugs, alcohol and risky sexual activity even after their child leaves for college. Specifically, students who said their fathers were in the loop had a lower likelihood of doing drugs or engaging in risky sexual behaviors. When mothers were in the know, students were less likely to drink alcohol. The protective effect of mothers' awareness was more pronounced when the students also felt close to their mom. Under those circumstances, the researchers found that students were less likely to be involved in any of the three risk behavior categories studied: drugs, alcohol and risky sexual activity.