October 27, 2006

Wet Streets Cause Rain

This blurb comes from a Michael Crichton speech given to the International Leadership Forum on April 26, 2002. Crichton was criticising the media for failing to provide any factual support for their endless speculation or "theories," but his citicisms apply equally to educators.
Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved. You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. (I refer to it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. I'd point out it does not operate in other arenas of life. In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say. In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all. But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper. When, in fact, it almost certainly isn't. The only possible explanation for our behavior is amnesia.
The question is why do we still listen to anything educators say. Hasn't a century of failed "reforms" taught us anything? Taught us that they know almost nothing about their own profession -- education?

Professor Plum said it best a few days back:

The truth is, they are imbeciles.
...

You'll be shocked (or maybe not) at how boneheaded, smug, and just plain stupid these persons are.

They can't define knowledge.

"Knowledge is uh uh uh...what you know." [Oh, good.]

They can't give a coherent definition of learning.

"Learning is uh er oh mmm uh what happens when you learn." [Get the ropes.]

They can't list the phases of mastery---acquisition, fluency, generalization, retention.

"Phases of what?

They can't define a concept, rule, or cognitive routine.

"A concept is an idea. A rule is an idea, too, sort of, but uh uh uh er er."

They can't tell you the criteria for logically adequate curriculum design.

"A good curriculum is a seamless web [insane] of holistic experiences experienced in the context of naturalistic and learner-centered activities in a democratic and nurturing community. Howz that?" [Stick your head in the toaster and jump in the bathtub.]

In other words, they don't know anything about their business.

10 comments:

SteveH said...

"Personally, I think we need to start turning away from media, and the data shows that we are, at least from television news. I find that whenever I lack exposure to media I am much happier, and my life feels fresher."

I kicked the TV news habit years ago. I don't know why I didn't do it before that. THEY TALK LIKE THIS AS IF EVERYTHING IS SO GOSH DARN IMPORTANT! But their reporting is superficial. I'm always dumbstruck at all of the questions they do not ask. They don't even find out the basics.

Newspapers are almost as bad. I've had the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect many times. I now read it only for factual information. And I don't even look at the editorial page. It's not the letters to the editor by regular people. It's the third-page commentaries by people who are obviously biased or are really just pushing a book. These people wouldn't last a second on a blog.

Also, the articles on education are just so incredibly bad. I don't just say this because they disagree with my opinion. I've come to the conclusion that the world of journalism is about as fuzzy at the world of education.

Journalists, like educators, think they know way more than that shown by their education and experience. They both think that thier training and knowledge in process transfers to a training and knowledge of content.

SteveH said...

One last comment. Both educators and journalists would like to control the process. The internet is breaking the control of the journalists. I just hope that school choice will do the same in education.

allen said...

Professor Plum wrote:

The truth is, they are imbeciles.

Plum's quite a guy but in this he's wrong and it should be self-evident.

His assertion, "they are imbeciles", is clearly not true. Ed school profs, school administrators, school board members and teachers are not imbeciles at least not in the classic, definitional sense. This is Plum's way of dismissing a point of view with which he disagrees and that results in practices which he can prove don't work. Yet they, the "imbeciles", are unimpressed by his proofs and continue espousing and using bad methods.

What possible explanation could there be for preferring unproductive practices over productive? Plum's response is dismissing the plyers of educational snake oil as imbeciles.

Since they aren't imbeciles - they drive cars, write checks, dress and feed themselves, write dissertations - there must be some other, rational explanation for preferring dull tools over sharp. A reason Plum, and all the other edu-pundits I read, either can't or can't be bothered to try to understand.

That's a lousy attitude to hold if you're trying to diagnose an institutional illness because without understanding these seemingly illogical actions you've reduced your own actions to dart-throwing. Whatever remedies you want to apply, without an understanding of the cause of the situation, they're made random due to that ignorance.

Anyone care to proffer a reason one batch of edu-crats might choose constructivism or whole language and another batch choose direct instruction and phonics? To make the task more difficult, and worthwhile, any answers that are inherently self-inflating, are forbidden. That means no psych evaluations of insanity which imply the sanity of the diagnostician and no intelligence estimates which imply the brilliance of the estimator.

Anonymous said...

Allen, I hear what you are saying. You are arguing that if Prof. Plum can't pinpoint exactly why Constructivists do what they do, then he should not instead resort to a type of name calling, for this is an example of coming to a conclusion without valid premises. Such conclusions, I hear you saying, do not follow the principles of logic and are thus invalid. Is this your basic argument here?

But allow me to present you with the following:

What would you conclude if you were trying to understand why an educated person say, wouldn't agree that 2+2=4. First you tried using manipulatives, showing this person that if you first gave him 2 M&Ms, and then you gave him 2 more M&Ms, that he now had 4 M&Ms. But the person said no, that what was in his hand did not prove that 2+2=4. So, you continued to make you explanation more detailed, going further and further into a discussion of mathematics, and what the concept of numbers represent, etc. Yet, the more you talked to this person, the more you found out that the person did not believe there was a such thing as integers, despite epochs of legitimate mathematical discovery on the subject.

But this individual just keeps insisting that 2+2 does not equal 4, and that no math is real, it is all a theory. No matter what, this person will not admit anything.

Would you proffer a reason this educated person might say such nonsense? Would you defend him by coming up with euphemisms to describe his point of view, or coming up with a term to describe his philosophy? Would coming up with a term to describe his philosophy then validate his philosophy, by virtue of the fact that you either came up with a term for it, or that the philosophy was well known, and already had a term? Or would you still insist that this guy is wrong, that everybody knows 2+2=4, and that no amount of his rationalizing and theorizing was going to change that fact?

Is there any chance you might resort to characterizing him as stubborn, nutty or just plain contrary for the sake of being a pain in the ass? Or would you instead, label him, and refuse to try and characterize him because his belief system has a name?

Would you never conclude this person was imbecile, or stubborn or ignorant?

What if you discovered that this person had fiduciary links to the philosophy via a say, a TV-based religion, or a line of self-improvement books and tapes, and the guy was making a lot of money spreading this philosophy? Would that change your tact on any of the way you'd handle his arguments?

Just curious as to what you think...

rightwingprof said...

Yes, they're imbeciles.

SteveH said...

Allen, you'll lose this one ;)

Actually, you do raise a point that I've always wondered about. If they aren't imbeciles (and they aren't), then what is it about this philosophy that is so pervasive? You would expect that some Ed Schools would be hold-outs or offer less opinion-based training. What caused the total domination of this philosophy?

Is there a single public Core-Knowledge school in the country? (I suppose I could look this up.)

I know there are a lot of intellegent people in the world who believe in all sorts of fuzzy ideas about science - psychic wellness, holistic this and that. I get the feeling that K-8 education attracts these sorts of people. Holistic Education. I suppose that one could argue that if students were more scientifically or mathematically inclined, they would at least get a real degree and be teaching in high school, which seems to care much more about ability, content, and skills.

allen said...

Anon, nope.

Plum's description is wrong because it's a broad generalization without reference to the mechanism that generalizes the phenomenon. If he were to say that the occasional ed school prof is an imbecile I wouldn't utter a peep. I'd think it unlikely since even being a good bullshitter requires a certain low talent and some intelligence.

But that's not what Plum was saying. He's saying "they are imbeciles" which I take to mean they're all, ed school profs, imbeciles and then goes on to demonstrate that a couple of them who perhaps are imbeciles or at least painfully ignorant.

But a couple isn't all and is explainable by the variability of human nature.

For the generalization to be valid there has to be some selection mechanism that preferentially allows imbeciles into the profession or some conversion mechanism that turns the bright, young things, i.e. non-imbeciles, into imbeciles once they've entered the profession.

I think that covers the possibilities that would explain a preponderance of imbecility in ed schools but if anyone can think of others I'd like to hear them. I'll even offer a bounty: a six-pack of Linenkugel's.

Anon, it's that generalization that invalidates your example. One person who stubbornly refuses to admit two plus two equals four can be one of several things, imbecile being among them. But a million people who refuse to admit two plus two equal four is a very different phenomenon and requires a different explanation. The explanation may not be pleasing but if it is a valid explanantion you get used to the smell.

Plum's explanation recommends itself because it's a delight to the ego and blessedly undemanding of the mind. Maybe I'm unusual in this regard but explanations like that leave me feeling uneasy.

What if you discovered that this person had fiduciary links to the philosophy...

Discover it? I'd expect it.

I don't find anything particularly reprehensible about self-interest. It's a feature of any normal human being. That being the case, if I discovered that the purveyor of some educational wonder had a financial interest in it I'd assume them guilty of acting in their self-interest at my expense until proven innocent but I wouldn't simply assume that they had nothing of value to offer. I'd want proof of the value of the edu-fad in question and I'd want proof that satisfied my quality standards.

And that seques neatly into the motivations that I alluded to and have been tediously flogging for the past several months.

The ed schools can turn out teachers who can't teach because the schools those teacher will work in place no weight on learning.

The way I put it on Plum's blog is that edu-crap sells because there's a market for it. The schools districts demand edu-crap and teachers trained to savor its taste and the ed schools oblige. It's an edu-crap economy and everybody wins except the people who place a value on education.

rightwingprof said...

"But a million people who refuse to admit two plus two equal four is a very different phenomenon and requires a different explanation."

Well no, it does not. They're idiots. Period. The fact that they refuse to admit that 2+2=4 makes them idiots; how many of them there are is irrelevant to the question.

SteveH said...

I agree with Allen. But wait! What if they are not doing all of this just for their own self interest? What is the cross-over point between painfully ignorant and imbecile? Imbecile is just a certain level on the ignorant scale.

All I can say is that most of the educators I have run into seem very sincere. That must mean... And these people are the ones who pretend to teach our kids critical thinking! The key is when they can't admit that it's all just their own opinion.

Flippancy aside. The imbecile argument is not a very good technique. Actually, nothing is a good technique. They don't have to do a darn thing.

Catherine Johnson said...

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

THIS IS SO TRUE!

Back in L.A., Ed was involved in the CA history/social science project to bring content - history content, specifically - to the public schools.

He said that every time he read an article in the LA Times on the things he was working on, it was wrong.

My neighbor, an attorney, said the same thing. Every time she read an article in the TIMES on a story in which she was personally involved, it was wrong.

We all know this. But then we turn the page and take the articles on things we know nothing about "straight."

Naturally I bug Ed about this all the time.

Of course I myself never succumb to Gell-Mann.