Catch and Kill

6th December 2019

Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!

Barb’s just back from several days working with Novartis in Basel, Switzerland.  This post, by Chara Balasubramaniam, Head of Global Development University at Novartis, hints at the visionary work Novartis is doing related to learning at a corporate level.

Tell Us About Your Experiences in Our Learning How to Learn Course

Barb’s friend, Dr. Eulho Jung from Boise State University, wants to investigate your experiences on Learning How to Learn, MOOC online course. You are invited to participate in the study—click here to enter the survey. 

Book of the Month

Catch and Kill: Lies, Spies, and a Conspiracy to Protect Predators, by Ronan Farrow.  We’ve long been interested in the “successfully sinister” among us. These individuals can become so powerful that they can get away with virtually anything—that’s how they can destroy so many lives. Ronan Farrow is to be commended for pursuing the story of Harvey Weinstein and others of his ilk, despite the threats and imminent personal danger that put off so many for so long. Catch and Kill might as well be a thriller—we’ve become huge fans of Ronan and his fearless ability to uncover behavior of those who can feign doing good while doing so much harm.

The successfully sinister are the subject of Barb’s book Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed, and My Sister Stole My Mother’s Boyfriend. For six years, while overtly working towards tenure as an assistant professor of engineering, she covertly delved into an analysis of the holes and flaws of the field of psychology. She remembers thinking “Why am I even doing this? Nobody’s going to read a book that’s focused on psychology, but written by an engineer.” Ultimately, Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker called Evil Genes “A fascinating scientific and personal exploration of the roots of evil, filled with human insight and telling detail.” 

As one correspondent recently wrote Barb, “Reading your outstanding book [Evil Genes] today…. I work with organizational behavior, reading a lot recently about narcissism. Everything I just learned is in your book. From my work with others and most recent personal experience of aggression directed at me and accepted by a Board, I asked myself the questions that you did years ago to write your book. Seems like the Me Too movement exposes this everyday behavior…”

Yes, the Me Too movement does expose this type of behavior, which, sadly, is equal opportunity and can be found in women as well as men.  The hypocrisy of news organizations like NBC reporting on sexual abuse in organizations such as the church, while killing stories that might incidentally be related to their own sordid abuses, or the horrific behavior of their favored people or politicians, is a perfect example of Conquest’s third law of politics: “The simplest way to explain the behavior of any bureaucratic organization is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies.” Sadly, we feel Conquest’s insight is relevant to the field of education.

Looking for an Extra Credit Assignment? How about Learning How to Learn?

Math professor Jeffery Parent notes: “I just finished grading a bunch of extra credit assignments from my students this semester.  The assignment was to watch Barb’s Google Talk and find at least 10 things in it that students thought that they could use to benefit their own studying. I have seldom had such a successful extra credit assignment as this one. It was gratifying to see all the nice things my students had to say about the talk. I am sure that it will help them moving forward in their studies.”

Direct Instruction Is Still Necessary in a Problem Based Learning Classroom

This thoughtful article by Professor John Spencer, a “former middle school teacher and current college professor on a quest to transform schools into bastions of creativity and wonder.”  Spencer notes: “Early on in my project-based learning journey, I made a vow to go 100% project-based. My students would learn everything through exploration and discovery. I would remain the guide on the side observing the process and helping out only when necessary. After leading students through a highly-structured documentary project, I decided to pull back entirely. This would be more student-centered and authentic.

“Then it tanked.

“Not a week later or a month later. Two days into the project, I realized my mistake…”

It’s worth pointing once more to cognitive developmental and evolutionary psychologist David Geary, who has concluded, “It is unlikely that teacher-directed, peer-assisted, or self- discovery alone will be the most effective way to learn secondary academic material” (p. 224), and that “only empirical studies will allow us to determine the best mix of methods for different academic domains and for different children”(p. 224). [“Secondary academic material” means material that humans have not done for evolutionarily lengthy periods of time.] 

That’s all for this week. Have a happy week in Learning How to Learn!

Barb, Terry, and the entire Learning How to Learn team

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