The Fire and the Darkness
6th October 2021
Cheery Friday Greetings to our Learning How to Learners!
Book of the Month
The Fire and the Darkness: The Bombing of Dresden 1945, by Sinclair McKay. This riveting book held us spell-bound each evening over the past week—only when sleep called with urgency was Barb able to draw herself away. It is hard to do justice to Dresden’s horrific bombing, which was, on the face of it, a war crime that killed some 25,000 innocent civilians—many of them refugees—in the final weeks of World War II. Yet McKay does a fantastic job of setting out the context of what occurred, describing the horrors experienced by Jews and anyone else who dared cross the Nazi juggernaut, and how, whatever else it might have done, the savage bombing seemed to have been the final straw that broke the Nazi’s morale. Even-handed, riveting works of history such as this book are extraordinarily important as nowadays, hyperinflated versions of the Dresden death toll are used by neo-Nazis to support revisionist history. These revised histories give short shrift to the millions of deaths and untold damages that Hitler caused. The Fire and the Darkness is truly a great book. (Also excellent for audio listening.)
PowerPoint in Polish! Barb’s talk at the University of Zielona Góra
Here is Barb’s talk about learning for the visionaries who came to the University of Zielona Góra (some came all the way from Warsaw!).
The Data Is In — Trigger Warnings Don’t Work
This provocative article in the Chronicle of Higher Education describes the lack of efficacy—and even the harm, that arises from using trigger warnings. Key grafs:
“When debates about trigger warnings first erupted, there was little-to-no research on their effectiveness. Today we have an emerging body of peer-reviewed research to consult.
“The consensus, based on 17 studies using a range of media, including literature passages, photographs, and film clips: Trigger warnings do not alleviate emotional distress. They do not significantly reduce negative affect or minimize intrusive thoughts, two hallmarks of PTSD. Notably, these findings hold for individuals with and without a history of trauma. (For a review of the relevant research, see the 2020 Clinical Psychological Science article “Helping or Harming? The Effect of Trigger Warnings on Individuals With Trauma Histories” by Payton J. Jones, Benjamin W. Bellet, and Richard J. McNally.)
“We are not aware of a single experimental study that has found significant benefits of using trigger warnings. Looking specifically at trauma survivors, including those with a diagnosis of PTSD, the Jones et al. study found that trigger warnings ‘were not helpful even when they warned about content that closely matched survivors’ traumas.’
“What’s more, they found that trigger warnings actually increased the anxiety of individuals with the most severe PTSD, prompting them to ‘view trauma as more central to their life narrative.’ ‘Trigger warnings,’ they concluded, ‘may be most harmful to the very individuals they were designed to protect.’”
The Dangers to Education in the USA
China just appointed Dr. Jinping Huai as its new education minister. He is a top computer science scientist and former president of the Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. China’s educational professionals follow suit their western colleagues—in other words, China has a genuine STEM expert to lead the education ministry.
In the US, some of the biggest dangers of education seem to be coming from within the field of education. This thought-provoking article from Quillette by three US mathematicians points to the dangers of current educational approaches in the US, observing: “…China pursues none of the equity programs that are sweeping the United States. Quite the contrary: It is building on the kind of accelerated, explicitly merit-based programs, centered on gifted students, that are being repudiated by American educators. Having learned its lesson from the Cultural Revolution, when science and merit-based education were all but obliterated in favor of ideological indoctrination, China is pursuing a far-sighted, long-term strategy to create a world-leading corps of elite STEM experts. In some strategically important fields, such as quantum computing, the country is arguably already ahead of the United States.”
Bizarre Policies in Math Education
This nuanced discussion of math learning disabilities by Barry Garelick reflects the strange, Catch-22 like situation of modern reform math education. Students can end up bouncing back and forth between a system (that for those with disabilities) which works well for them, and the routine system that doesn’t. No one seems to have figured out that what works well for those with disabilities in math can work for other kids as well.
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
The LHTL recommended text, A Mind for Numbers