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Kevin Currie-Knight RSS Feed (Springfield, Illinois)

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Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority
Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority
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4.0 out of 5 stars A Challenge!, July 24, 2014
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This book is a real challenge, precisely because it is very hard to peg as a 'conservative' or 'liberal' take. I have to imagine that for that reason, it will not only challenge, but probably anger, a good many people.

On the one hand, Burrell's book is centered around the idea that much lack of progress within the black community has been because American society has swallowed whole a persistent message of black inferiority. Started during the early days of American slavery as a way to rationalize the institution in a country built on liberty, and perpetuated during reconstruction and even the New Deal, blacks are often portrayed (even subtly) as not as smart as others, over-sexualized, aggressive, and a whole host of other negative stereotypes. This, so much that, in Burrell's words, even blacks themselves have become 'brainwashed' by these stereotypes. (For a more thorough discussion of the idea of 'stereotype threat' - the idea that a social stereotype can become internalized by the stereotyped, affecting her view of herself - see Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (Issues of Our Time)).

On the other hand, Burrell is not about waiting for society to undo this stereotype. Burrell seems to suggest (I don't think he ever really says it) that blacks themselves must be largely responsible for combating these stereotypes and overcoming by dint of their own efforts. This, perhaps, is the more 'conservative' side of Burrell, the side that is most like writers such as John McWhorter. Yes, racism and injustice exist. Yes, blacks have persistently gotten a raw deal in American society. But, black men and women cannot and should not wait for others to do something about it; as unfair as it may seem, the only way things will improve is if black men and women lead the charge by refusing to have truck with these stereotypes.

Burrell takes this argument into such areas as the entertainment media (where he argues that blacks need to watch how they are being portrayed in genres like hip-hop), education (where Burrell seems to suggest that blacks might achieve best in Afrocentric or self-segregated schools), beauty (where Burrell wants to reclaim "black is beautiful"), and even black churches (where Burrell believes too many churches preach victimology or contentment with one's lot, rather than fostering ambition and self-sufficiency). Overall, Burrell's message is that once the stereotypes that have been perpetuated to the detriment of black men and women are uncovered, they can be challenged, but only if blacks are willing to bear the burden of tackling them head on.

I am sure this book will be controversial, again, largely because everyone can likely find something to both cheer and take issue with. Conservatives (or libertarians) will probably agree (much to liberal chagrin) that self-sufficiency is the key, rather than engaging in victimology or waiting for injustice to be absent before believing that one can act effectively. Liberals and progressives will admire (and conservatives will dislike) Burrell's 'deconstruction' of how negative black stereotypes are used socially to reinforce themselves. Both sides will take issue with certain points. For my part, I am not at all sure whether Burrell is advocating for a sort of integration among 'races' or a separatism, and suspect there is some tension in his writing. For instance, Burrell sees no reason (I agree) why blacks can't achieve academically the same way other groups do, and is adamant that blacks shoot for being "the best x" rather than "The best black x." But he also advocates (in the chapters on education and beauty) a type of separatism that calls for self-segregated schools for black students and a rejection of 'white' images of beauty. But is it, as Brown v Board taught, ultimately futile to try and gain equality through separateness?

Anyhow, a very thought-provoking book here, and one that will hopefully cause a good deal of discussion and action.

Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want (Vintage)
Mindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want (Vintage)
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4.0 out of 5 stars Seeing Minds When They Aren't There, Not Seeing Them When They Are There, and Other Mistakes We Make!, July 24, 2014
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I think if we were asked whether there is a limit to how well we can understand others, most of us would answer with a non-hesitant "sure." But in Mindwise, psychologist Nicholas Epley's goal is to convince us that the problem is more than that. We not only understand others (or ourselves) less than we think, but that we are chronically over-confident in our ability to understand the minds of others.

There is, of course, at least one obvious reason for this: my mind is the only mind I know, and my quest to understand other minds, mine is the only one I can appeal to as a model. If your mind turns out to differ from mine, I literally cannot understand you. (This was brought home when I watched a documentary on those who sexually classify as asexual. Several were discussing how their lack of sexual attraction doesn't mean a lack of romantic attraction. I cannot disentangle these two from each other, and I thus came face to face with the mind's inability to grasp foreign experience for which it - at least my mind -has no reference.)

Epley is not only concerned with those situations where we can't understand others, but those situations where we either attribute minds to things that don't have minds (yelling at our car that won't start) or don't attribute minds to things that have them (humanity's history of classifying certain races as subhuman).

He also reviews literature on the fuzzy deal of our tendency to stereoetype. On one hand, there exists literature suggesting that stereotypes are often accurate.... in the aggregate. (We can safely say that the average basketball player is taller than the average male, and this will turn out accurate a good amount of the time.) If stereotyping didn't have the benefit of giving us some sort of useful information in a world where useful information is dispersed and hard to come by, we wouldn't have a seemingly evolved tendency to do it. BUT, stereotypes also fool us into a sort of 'essentialism' where we look at average traits and assume that all group members have them, ignoring variation within the group. (The average basketball player is taller than the average male, but there is significant variation in height within both groups.... a fact that the "basketball players are tall" stereotype often blinds us to.)

As for practical advice on how to avoid some of these errors, it seems typical of popular books of this genre: knowing our biases can help us avoid our biases. Stop being so confident that you have successfully read others minds (particularly in their thoughts about you, because that is where you are likely the most biased). Be aware of the tendency toward "essentiallism" is stereotyping, and avoid it (and try not to rely on stereotypes too much). Etc. Pretty common-sensical stuff, even if the research Epley uses to derive it may be anything but.

Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (Issues of Our Time)
Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do (Issues of Our Time)
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4.0 out of 5 stars How Stereotypes Can Affect Us Even When We Are Not Actively Being Stereotyped!, July 16, 2014
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While this is a book of social science, it is somewhat of an autobiography of psychologist Claude Steele and his quest to understand something puzzling. Steele was concerned that black students who had done well in high school went to college and suddenly were not doing well. It wasn't that they weren't smart, probably wasn't that they weren't putting in the effort, so what could it be? He had an idea: what if people who are stereotyped don't do well in part because the stereotype they know (or think) exists about them causes them, affects their performance? What if black students who have heard the stereotype that black students are not as smart as white students end up performing less well than white students solely because the stereotype affects their performance?

And thus began his and others' quest to discover the ins and outs of the, now quite well documented, existence of stereotype threats. In some studies, they had black students take a test, where one group was told that the test was a gauge of intelligence (to induce thought of the stereotype) and the other group was told something more innocuous, like, that the test was to study how people solve problems. The second group - the group not performing under stereotype threat. Another test had white students shooting hoops: one group was told that they were testing people's skill at basketball (to induce stereotype threat) and another, that they were testing people's throwing style. Again, the group not under stereotype threat did better. More persuasively, Steele recounts another study where Asian girls took a math test. One group was reminded that Asians are historically good at math, and another that girls and women are historically not as good at math. Not surprisingly (to Steele), the former group did better than the latter. Same girls, different stereotype.

But Steele's book doesn't just recount studies. He gets into the question of why we stereotype (even when we don't mean to), how identity is constructed and how stereotypes (that others have) makes up part of a person's identity, and even offers some very apolitical suggestions for how we can try and lessen the effects of stereotypes. Some suggestions are just common sense: when you know that you have a stereotype of a group, go out of your way from time to time to act in the way opposite from what the stereotype would tell you to do. Another - probably most relevant for teachers and parents - is to tell students who might be affected by stereotype threat to look at the stereotype as a challenge (show them that you can do the math!) rather than as a limit to what you can do.

All in all, I liked this book quite a bit. Steele takes a topic that could be very charged and sensitive and makes it a bit less so. He suggests that EVERYONE is susceptible both to holding stereotypes and stereotype threat. Steele's organization of the book along the lines of an autobiographical (and chronological) story of how he came to the idea of stereotype threat and how he and others have tested it is also very effective.

Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive
Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gentle Challenge for Feminists and Queer Theorists to Become More Holistic and Inclusive!, July 9, 2014
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I can unhesitatingly say that this is one of the best books I've read in 2014. Julia Serano is a very thoughtful writer who articulates a lot that, frankly, needs to be articulated. The gist of the book is that contemporary feminism polices sexuality and gender expressions within its ranks just as much as the heterosexist, masculinist, or monosexist folks they protest against. For instance, while a great many people treat homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality and other "abnormal" sexuality or gender expressions as inferior, feminists often treat 'conventional' expressions (like females expressing femininity or male-to-female transsexuality) as suspect.

The author is a male-to-female transsexual (whose gender expression is feminine), and her perspective provides her with useful insights that might elude others. The first half of the book is a collection of autobiographical essays documenting the awkwardness of not being accepted in queer and feminist spaces. The common theme here is both that the author is often judged as somewhat inferior because she chose to change sex from male to female and gravitates towards feminine gender expressions. Transsexuality, it seems, is suspect both because to some, the author will never 'really' be a woman, and because in changing sex, the author does not 'challenge the gender binary' to many feminists' liking. And then there is the fact that Serano is feminine, which she recounts is often viewed suspiciously by those who want everyone to challenge existing gender norms.... even at the expense of doing what is natural to them.

The second half of the book is a more theoretical elucidation of what Serano thinks is wrong with current feminism and what she thinks feminists could do to become more inclusive. Several essays here are themselves easily worth the price of the book. Particularly, as a biologist, Serano devotes several chapters that challenge the "social artifactualism" that exists in feminist and queer thought that sees gender solely as a social performance with no biological influence. Serano champions a more holistic view of social construcionism that sees biology as one element that plays into determining what our preferences will be, but noting that culture, environment, and individual choice all interact with biology in a way where these four variables cannot be meaningfully disentangled. As much as I admire Serano's theory, I must say that by my understanding of biology (and behavioral genetics), her view is probably closer to the norm than most people would suspect. (See Evelyn Fox Keller's book The Mirage of a Space between Nature and Nurture for a similar articulation.) Very few behavioral geneticists believe that one can disentangle the genetics that help determine a trait's expression from the environmental and cultural factors that determine a trait's expression.

Then, there are some REALLY good chapters where the author argues that all of us are likely victims of double standards that we face regarding our identities. The important thing, for Serano, is less that we fight patriarchy, heterosexism, and the like. As important as those things are, the important thing is to fight for a world where people can be who they'd like to be without ostracism, coercion, or fear of being judged inferior. We can fight patriarchy, but when that becomes a way to exlude anyone who identifies with 'convetional' gender identities as inferior because they are not challenging the gender binary, then we simply replace one judgmental 'ism' with another.

This is a wonderful book. Serano says many things that probably need to be said. In a world where a fair amount of feminist and queer theory seem to be getting repetitive, Serano provides some very useful critique that, if taken seriously, might change both areas of study for the better.

The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions are Sabotaging Gay Equality (Intersections)
The Tolerance Trap: How God, Genes, and Good Intentions are Sabotaging Gay Equality (Intersections)
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Pointing out the Red-Herrings, With Some Big Flaws Along the Way., July 3, 2014
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This was a very challenging book, largely because I find myself agreeing with several of its points while also shaking my head in angry frustration at other parts of the book. The overall message - if I can paraphrase - is that the "tolerance trap" is a woefully inadequate target for the gay rights movement(s). Instead of asking only to be tolerated (like a fly that you might find annoying but know not to swat at), the GLBTQ community should seek to challenge things like "compulsory heterosexuality" and creating a world where we might even get beyond existing gender binaries and all feel accepted.

Where I really liked the author's case was in those areas where she pointed out several of the red-herring arguments floating around the gay rights movement(s). Whether sexuality is biologically predisposed or chosen, for instance, is simply an issue that has no real relevance to whether those of any sexuality should have rights. To paraphrase the author, arguments about what rights we should have, who should accept whom, and who should be made to feel like an "other" hinge not at all on biology but on ethics. Another red-herring argument: gay marriage. Yes, we can all, I think, agree that there is NO good reason to deny those of any sexuality the right to marry consenting adults. But that is one choice among many that everyone should have, and being able to marry does not mean the struggle for full equality has been won.

Some other great chapters were about the act of coming out. Long and short: we are living in an age where the media and its more frequent attention to gay celebrities and gay characters makes it appear that coming out is getting easier and easier to do. And while in some places, this may be right, in others, it just isn't. So, inadvertently, people who struggle to make their sexuality known to those around them struggle with the tension between how it looks on tv and how it feels in their own rural town.

Good points, all, and I feel like I am better off for having read and considered them. But then there is the author's stance on the literature regarding the genetic factors influencing sexuality. Not only is the author quite dismissive of those with whom she disagrees. (She mockingly calls the kin selection theory of why homosexuality has persisted in the gene pool the 'handy gay uncle" theory.) But, her arguments against some of the more biological theories are full of holes. First, she makes much of the fact that finding genetic markets for sexuality always focuses on homosexuality. I understand the concern, but the explanation is likely that evolutionary biology focuses on traits that seem least likely to lead to passing on of genes, and homosexuality fits that bill. Second, she is concerned that many studies categorize sexuality with a binary of 'hetero' and 'homo.' Leaving aside whether there is so much variation outside this binary that most people won't fit into it, NONE of that invalidates the studies that do this. Lastly, the author is concerned that deterministic arguments that sexuality has biological correlates may give ammunition to the conservative enemy, who can now medicalize non-heterosexual 'behaviors.' Okay, but do we really think they won't use ANYTHING they can get as ammo? Surely, they used "it is a choice" as ammo too. So, at very least, it may be that we should go where the facts lead us and not worry about what they will and won't use against people.

Her arguments against people being excited about winning gay marriage rights are also a bit off. They basically run as follows: "I don't want to get married. I'm too radical for that. I am also worried that if gays win marriage rights, they will get married. But that means they will be doing what heterosexuals do. I don't want them to want to do what heterosexuals do. I am too radical for that. I want them to be too radical for that too." There isn't much more elaboration I can give to her argument. That is what it is.

But at root, this book is about the politics of recognition versus the politics of indifference. Seeking tolerance means seeking indifference; just leave us alone. Seeking recognition means seeking not only acceptance but embrace; we want you to love us on our terms, and love everyone on their terms. I have some sympathy with striving for recognition, but my fear is that asking others to "decenter their own sexuality" is asking the impossible. The problem with the politics of recognition - I need you to recognize me as a unique person - is that it places a lot of demands on the other, such that it turns the entire thing into a non-zero sum game (I can only gain in proportion to your loss; I can only be who I am if I knock you down from your pedestal a bit.) I'd rather see us ALL work toward a world where no one is threatened by anyone else, and where one person or group's progress need not make demands on others. (But this is where I show my small 'l' liberalism contra the author's more critical theoretic approach.)

Zeetron Ultra Compact Emergency Keychain Usb Cable - Black Lighting to USB (For Iphone 5, 5c, 5s, Ipad 4, Air, Mini, Ipod Touch 5th Gen)
Zeetron Ultra Compact Emergency Keychain Usb Cable - Black Lighting to USB (For Iphone 5, 5c, 5s, Ipad 4, Air, Mini, Ipod Touch 5th Gen)
Offered by Zeetron
Price: $6.99
2 used & new from $6.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars There is No Need For This Product!, June 24, 2014
I bought this product because I am a fairly frequent traveler who wanted something portable to charge my android devices with. I was actually quite disappointed with this product. its (alleged) strength - the shortness of the cable - turns out to be its weakness in two ways. First, (look at the diagram to understand what I'm saying here), the cord is so short that it is REALLY hard to unsnap the ends from the center of the device. I have to sort of pull at one end until I'm fairly sure that I will damage the port, and only then does it reluctantly unsnap. Second, this cable is short enough where it is almost impossible to plug one side of it into a socket while allowing the device the other side is plugged into to sit flat on any surface. (To imagine, think about where a typical hotel's outlets are. Now imagine plugging one side into that, another side into your device, and allowing your device to actually sit on some surface. With a cable that is about an inch long? I don't think so.)

And, besides, for that hassle, this device isn't that much smaller than a short USB cable coiled with a twist tie. Very unnecessary.

Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People
Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People
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Price: $11.84

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Implicit Associations and Mindbugs..... and You Probably Have Both!, June 14, 2014
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Blind Spots is an interesting romp into the world of unconscious stereotyping, why we do it, and how we can either eradicate (or more likely) work around it. Banaji and Greenwald are two psychologists who have (I think, together) developed tests called Implicit Association Tests (IAT's). These tests cleverly find out whether we make unconscious associations between things (like white people and "nice" words, or men and "leadership" words). I'll leave it to you to read their explanation of how these tests work - and you can take a few of them in the book - but all of this helps us get at what unconscious biases we have. (This, in contrast to a lot of our talk about discrimination and bias, which focuses only on intentional bias. Here, we are talking about unconscious discrimination and bias.)

And what have the authors found in the years of administering IATs and looking at similar literature by others who study unconscious bias? Well, first.... we all have 'em. And second.... we generally have ones we don't want to have, like how Americans and Europeans tend to associate white faces with positive things and black (or non-white) faces with negative things, or how we all (even the elderly) take a dimmer view of the elderly than the young. And the worst part? Most of us show these biases even though our conscious brains are appalled by such associations. (For two good books exploring how our unconscious shapes our thought more than we think, see Why Everyone (Else) Is a Hypocrite: Evolution and the Modular Mind and The Rational Animal: How Evolution Made Us Smarter Than We Think.)

The authors go into why we stereotype (we are pattern-seeking creatures), how stereotypes can lead us astray as well as hurt the sterotyped, evidence of how ingrained the tendency to see the world in "us and them" terms, and suggestions for how to work around these biases (because ridding ourselves of them may not be an option). The authors back their ideas up with moderately thorough reviews of existing data, which is good, considering that the nature of their argument means that we can't exactly argue back ("But, I would never discriminate!"). Their suggestions range from figuring out creative ways to avoid being in the position to discriminate (the symphony who found a way to do "blind" auditions for instrumentalists), to the importance of exposing yourself to those who confound stereotypes (reviewing stories of black heroes can mitigate black = negative associations).

I take off one star only for occasional faulty reasoning by the authors. One such example occurred in their discussion of the general public's equation of pit bulls with violence (which statistically does not quite bear out). Their suggestion was that if the statistics don't bear out, the only reason we might treat the next pit bull we see as likely dangerous is sheer dumb fear. Not so! It may be that we have less to lose in treating the next pit bull we see as violent when it is not than we have to lose in not doing so if it is. Not that it is a big deal, but occasional sloppiness in reasoning does persist throughout the book. Otherwise, I'd recommend this to anyone who wants interesting (albeit painful) highlighting of our unconscious tendency toward irrational bias. Even if we just learn about our own blind spots, we might have a tendency to be on the look out for them and maybe improve our decision making. Worth a read!

Why Not Capitalism?
Why Not Capitalism?
Price: $14.72

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ideal Theory, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, Markets, and All That!, June 8, 2014
If ideal theory is what we are concerned with, socialism might look good. But boy oh boy does market capitalism look better?!

This is roughly Jason Brennan's point in this short book reply to G.A. Cohen's Why Not Socialism?. In Cohen's book, we are presented with some basic arguments for socialism that send a few messages: a world based on greed is bad, a world based on mutual sharing is better, and any good objection to socialism is practical (rather than principled) in nature. Thus, someone might object to Cohen that socialism may be great, but we need a price system in order to best allocate scarce goods and resources, or that human nature being what it is, markets that play to self-interest might work better with how we are. These, say Cohen, are not arguments against his points about socialism's desirability, but questions about whether or how it can be implemented with things as they are. Cohen wins.

Well, maybe not. Brennan's book is divided into four chapters. The first is a basic outline of his argument. The second is a parody of Cohen's method of argument (Cohen illustrates the desirability of socialism by having us imagine a camping trip where we all share and share alike. So, Brennan depicts the desirability of capitalism using an imaginary Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, based on the tv show where all characters own property, trade, and otherwise are free to do as they please.) This chapter is not only the most hilarious thing I've read in any philosophy book, but is quite necessary for Brennan to show how Cohen's argument fails. (The fact that Cohen compares an idealistic utopia of perfect people with a 'realistic' capitalist world full of flawed humans becomes VERY apparent.)

The third chapter is Brennan's analysis of chapter 2 and how it shows that all Cohen does is compare ideal apples to half rotten oranges. The fourth chapter finds Brennan making his positive argument about why, if we are depicting the ideal social system, capitalism wins. His argument here is fairly similar to the argument in John Tomasi's Free Market Fairness but in a world of ideal theory. Capitalism is the only system that allows each person to pursue their own lives in their own way, to trade without having to consult the state for permission, and to engage in truly mutually beneficial exchange (again, without having to ask the state's permission). And to turn Cohen on his head, Brennan suggests that the general objections to markets - that they play on people's greed, that they lead to mass inequality and poverty, that it creates an atomistic individualism at the expense of community - are all practical problems, not principled ones. That is, if we accept Cohen's ideal theory (where practical considerations cease to carry weight)... why not capitalism?

My only criticisms with this book aren't very large. First, I don't like the world of ideal theory (the world where what we are doing is figuring out what the ideal social system is free of 'real world' practical concerns). But that is maybe part of the book's point: ideal theory makes Cohen's argument to facile (especially when he only compares ideal socialism with 'real world' capitalism). Second, there are so many facets of Cohen's short book that I wish this one might have been longer to deal with all of them. (I found Cohen's depiction of the ideal socialistic camping trip to be full of flaws, like how it is not really socialistic as it takes place by wholly voluntary transactions without a redistributing state. I wish Brennan would have spent a bit more time on things like that.)

But these are small criticism, if they are criticisms at all. I highly recommend this book to those who have read Cohen's (and don't recommend it until one has read Cohen's). For those convinced by Cohen's point (or socialism as an ideal), this will challenge you. For those who were not convinced by Cohen, this book might help you articulate some of your objections.

Make It Stick
Make It Stick
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars There's How You Think You Learn, and There's How You Learn!, June 6, 2014
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This review is from: Make It Stick (Kindle Edition)
Okay, well maybe I am overstating that a little. But the main "thesis" of Peter Brown's book - aside from being a summary of what cognitive science data shows about how we learn - is basically that many of the things we often assume about learning are wrong. Here are some of them: we learn best by reading and rereading a passage until we really understand it. WRONG! We learn best when we isolate a skill and practice it over and over again. WRONG! We all have learning styles that are the way we learn best. WRONG! IQ (or something like it) imposes relatively firm limits on how much information we can absorb. WRONG!

In this pretty easy-reading book, Peter Brown summarizes some of the latest findings in cognitive science, and many of these findings contradict what is often assumed about learning. First, many k-12 and college students are taught to (and do) use the 'reread and highlight' method to try and absorb content. Well, while this works to an extent, it leads more to an illusion of mastery than mastery. What works better? Read the content and quiz yourself; information retrieval is the key. Retrieving helps to build stronger connections in the brain that will lock information into memory. What's more - and this is another chapter - the harder the retrieval, the stronger your retention of what is retrieved. (So, writing a short essay recalling the concepts works better than true/false and multiple choice recall.)

Another myth? While we all certainly have learning preferences (I like to receive my information in written form), that doesn't mean we learn best when receiving information in that form (I can do as well when I receive information audibly as when it is written, even though I prefer the latter). Brown reviews literature that shows that, at least as of now, there is no evidence that shows that how one receives information substantially affects how well we learn the material (after all, hearing or reading a phone number is immaterial to what i am remembering: not the sound or sight of the number, but the number itself). But what they do find is that whether one is an "example learner" or a "rule learner" does have an impact in how well one learns. That is, those who see and practice a math problem and are able to see what the rules are behind the example and commit the rule, rather than the example, to memory will tend to learn better. Also, another factor that affects how well we learn is our mindset, whether we learn for mastery or learn for performance. Those who learn for performance - so that they can show how good they are - tend to tackle learning new things (things that might make them look bad) with trepidation, but those who learn for mastery aspire to acquire new skills openly, without regard to whether they will fail before mastering.

These are just some of the lessons from this book. Whether you are a student, teacher, professor, coach, trainer, or any other professional whose job entails teaching others, this is a good book to have. (I'm a professor in a College of Education, and I definitely plan on allowing what I've gleaned from this book to inform my practice.) It is quite informative not only by way of learning theory, but backs up the theory with both empirics and suggestions for practice. Good one.

The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies
The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies
Price: $16.17

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beyond the Feel-Good Slogan!, June 2, 2014
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Early in his career, political scientist and economist Scott Paige was messing around with a mathematical model of different groups trying to solve problems, when he noticed something: groups modeled to have smart members did only just as well - sometimes worse - as groups who had moderately smart but diverse members. What does that mean? Diversity might be equally important to group problem solving ability as the ability level of individual group members. So, Paige decided to go beyond the nice "Yay, diversity!" slogan, do some more math, and put this theory to the test.

This book is the result. Section 1 explains the elements that make up diversity - that each person brings different vantage points, interpretations, heuristics (ways to solve problems), and predictive models to the table. Section 2 explores the mathematical - yes, this book proves a real challenge to people like me - proofs that diversity aids the predictive ability of groups. Section 3 discusses what happens when we switch from problem solving via diverse problem solvers to voting with diverse values and preferences (it doesn't go so well). Section 4 discusses the empirical literature showing that (or to what degree) Paige's mathematical models bear out in real life. Section 5 discusses implications for schools and firms (things like admission and hiring) as well as public policy.

As others have noted, this book is heavy on the math. That's good because it puts some hard science to the intuition about diversity's benefit. But it also means that the book, at times, is a real challenge. Now, in some ways, it is obvious that the idea that diverse groups solve problems better on average than homogeneous groups; when problems are complex and have many facets, it is likely that groups will do better when different folks notice different things and approach aspects of the problem differently. But Paige puts some math formulae to this, like his own Diversity in Prediction Theorem (the squared collective error equals the squared individual error minus the diversity of the group). To put the DPT differently, diverse groups will do no worse in their averaged-together prediction as any individual in the group does on theirs. This is not a slogan, reminds Paige; it is a mathematical certainty.

But not all diverse groups are working to predict something (the size of a heifer, the order of NFL draft picks, next month's computer sales). Some groups deliberate about what public (or company) policy should be, and their diversity is less in how they solve problems but in what they value (less in what next month's computer sales should be and more in how the company should try to expand its market share). In these cases, I"m afraid, Paige not only suggests that diversity of values brings costs that can easily outweigh the benefits, but has not many kind things to say about democracy. (Kenneth Arrow long ago proved that democracy often fails to aggregate preferences in a way that satisfies a majority. Others have shown that when given more than two options, people will often decide their 'votes' strategically rather than based on true preferences). Anyhow...

The long and short is that Paige gives a lot of support to the idea that diversity is good, especially in helping us solve collective problems. But this means diversity of how we think, not NECESSARILY identity diversity. So, those with diverse sexual preferences, or different sexes and genders, or different ethnic backgrounds, will only make a good group to the degree that those differences actually map to differences in cognition (does being gay help this person in some ways think differently than straight people? The answer, says Paige, is "Sometimes.... only when this differences has led to different experiences that might have led different people to develop different cognitive toolboxes.) Also, while diversity is good when it means that people trying to solve the same problem come at it from different angles, it is less good - has costs that outweigh benefits - when people differ in fundamental values, such that they are not trying to solve the same problem, but disagree on what the problem is.

This book is really insightful. It is very short on practical application for Paige's theoretically dense writing (section 5 is short compared to sections 2 and 3). But if you take the time and energy to get through the book attentively, it is guaranteed that you will think about the world and diversity a bit differently. Scott Paige takes a well-worn idea and slogan - diversity - and added some substantive grounding to our intuitions about it.

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