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Thread: In America, Nerds are Unpopular Because Schools are Prisons

  1. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I
    So, which is it? Do smarts equate to nerdiness (as Graham initially asserts)? Or don't they, as he pivots in practically the same breath?
    Your dichotomy is false: "All other things being equal, they would have preferred to be on the smart side of average rather than the dumb side" is not the same as "All other things being equal, they would have preferred to be unpopular nerds at the bottom of school society".

    From my perspective, the "nerd unpopularity" issue is Graham's setup for a more fundamental point. The two key paragraphs in his essay are these:

    Public school teachers are in much the same position as prison wardens. Wardens' main concern is to keep the prisoners on the premises. They also need to keep them fed, and as far as possible prevent them from killing one another. Beyond that, they want to have as little to do with the prisoners as possible, so they leave them to create whatever social organization they want. From what I've read, the society that the prisoners create is warped, savage, and pervasive, and it is no fun to be at the bottom of it.

    In outline, it was the same at the schools I went to. The most important thing was to stay on the premises. While there, the authorities fed you, prevented overt violence, and made some effort to teach you something. But beyond that they didn't want to have too much to do with the kids. Like prison wardens, the teachers mostly left us to ourselves. And, like prisoners, the culture we created was barbaric.
    You should read Graham's follow-up.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Dave, do you have a link to the research you're referencing with respect to sleep and start times? I'd be interested to know what it says about the benefits/"optimality" of different times: 7a, 8a, 9a, 10a, 11a, ...
    The study you posted is consistent with what I've seen reported. I extracted the key findings from that study here.

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    No stranger to hyperbole, that Mr. Graham. And if you're agreeing with his strained prison metaphor, it would appear that you don't think all that highly of educators (or at minimum the job they're able to do with the resources they're given).

    You articulately outlined an educational model when you wrote:

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein
    Neurological research shows that optimal learning for teenagers would start much later in the day, would never involve lectures exceeding 10 minutes in duration, and would be conducted while students were in motion. Learning is optimized by linking instruction to each student's active interests, and by continuously challenging each student in a range centered on his or her current skill levels - triggering the dopamine reward system. Retention is maximized by continuous testing, as opposed to lecture-lecture-lecture-lecture-lecture-cram-cram-cram-test.
    If you don't see this happening in a custodial framework, what framework *would* house it? And would such a framework be practical? Without a navigable path from here to there, the best ideas won't make any dent at all (see: US politics and the vast, perhaps unbridgeable, chasm between where we are and what's needed for a sustainable economy supporting as large a fraction of the population as possible).

    As for false dichotomies, I certainly didn't offer one. Graham says on the one hand that smarts and nerdiness (which as far as I can gather from what he's written equates to unpopularity) correlate. He goes on to say that smarts don't factor into popularity. So in the end, he's really only saying that unpopularity has an inverse correlation to popularity. No eureka there.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Without an "effectiveness curve" for wake time, there's no evidence that 8:30am is an optimization of custody over education. If 8:30am represents a 60% educational improvement over 7:30am, for instance (and that's purely a made-up number), then it might be fairer to call it a gain with a partial compromise for custody (which has a real big-picture value). And, it may be that 8:30am allows for valuable co-curricular benefits. If that's not late enough, maybe 9:00 (which "sacrifices" only 30 minutes of sleep mode--perhaps that's not too significant a compromise) or 9:30am is the best balance of the various factors. In such a case, education and custody may not be badly conflicting, but rather, only slightly at odds with one another.
    You have here taken the position that day care has a value that justifies compromising education. I believe that's backwards: we should start with what we know to be optimal for educating our nation's children - in all dimensions, not just "start time" - and strive to get as close to that as possible given the limits of physics and current technology.

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    I still don't see anything in any of the references that either of us has provided that shows how effectiveness improves with wake time. Does every additional 10 minutes between 6a and 8a have the same benefit? Is there almost no benefit until 8am? Or is there some other shape?

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    You have here taken the position that day care has a value that justifies compromising education. I believe that's backwards: we should start with what we know to be optimal for educating our nation's children - in all dimensions, not just "start time" - and strive to get as close to that as possible given the limits of physics and current technology.
    Are you being literal when you say "limits of physics?" Or are you using that as a euphemism for practicality. As much as I'd like to implement an approach that's educationally optimal, I'm appreciative of the fact that the approach must also be practical. We don't have the funds necessary to do otherwise.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    No stranger to hyperbole, that Mr. Graham.
    You've provided no evidence of Graham's hyperbole. His characterization is consistent with my personal experience in southeastern Pennsylvania, and is consistent with anecdotes I've heard from parents and teachers in both Silicon Valley and eastern Massachusetts over the years. "At 13, aliens inhabited my daughter's body" is a particularly memorable quote.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    And if you're agreeing with his strained prison metaphor, it would appear that you don't think all that highly of educators (or at minimum the job they're able to do with the resources they're given).
    As you know from my previous posts on the topic, I'm sure that most are doing the best they can given the circumstances. One of my favorite Sagan quotes applies here: "It's like trying to reach the stars by climbing a tree; you'll make progress for awhile, but you'll never get there". What dedicated starfarer diligently practices tree-climbing?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    You articulately outlined an educational model when you wrote:

    Neurological research shows that optimal learning for teenagers would start much later in the day, would never involve lectures exceeding 10 minutes in duration, and would be conducted while students were in motion. Learning is optimized by linking instruction to each student's active interests, and by continuously challenging each student in a range centered on his or her current skill levels - triggering the dopamine reward system. Retention is maximized by continuous testing, as opposed to lecture-lecture-lecture-lecture-lecture-cram-cram-cram-test.
    If you don't see this happening in a custodial framework, what framework *would* house it? And would such a framework be practical? Without a navigable path from here to there, the best ideas won't make any dent at all (see: US politics and the vast, perhaps unbridgeable, chasm between where we are and what's needed for a sustainable economy supporting as large a fraction of the population as possible).
    I can't yet answer that question, Jeff. While I am educated, I am not an educator - so the answer will unlikely come from me. However, I will continue to push hard on these issues, if for no other reason than to inform and possibly inspire those who might produce a practical solution. The stakes are very high.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post

    Paul Graham's assessment is far more grim, and likely more accurate:

    I didn't want to leave this piece of the thread undiscussed. My gut reaction was the stereotype of the smart, unpopular nerd was just a silly Hollywood theme. Turns out the research supports my view. See, for example: http://www.mendeley.com/research/soc...nt-popularity/

    Now, it may be that in the wrong environment, aggression and not caring about school are "cool" and rewarded socially (see: http://www.mendeley.com/research/pop...ol-attendance/) but that's really a separate issue, and not about "nerdiness" (more like an explanation of why Barbarino was the pack leader on Welcome Back, Kotter).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I still don't see anything in any of the references that either of us has provided that shows how effectiveness improves with wake time. Does every additional 10 minutes between 6a and 8a have the same benefit? Is there almost no benefit until 8am? Or is there some other shape?
    If you're sleepy, you acquire and retain little or nothing, and resent the fact that you were forced to be in school - reducing the acquisition of whatever education you receive after waking up. See the "Sleep Well, Think Well" chapter in Medina's "Brain Rules" for study results.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    You've provided no evidence of Graham's hyperbole.
    I haven't needed to--Graham does that himself with the references you provided. Are there problems with our educational system? To be sure. Are they a cross between Leavenworth and Lord of the Flies? By and large, uh, no.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Are you being literal when you say "limits of physics?" Or are you using that as a euphemism for practicality.
    The latter.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    As much as I'd like to implement an approach that's educationally optimal, I'm appreciative of the fact that the approach must also be practical. We don't have the funds necessary to do otherwise.
    Experience in improving large, complex, long-lived systems has led me (and many others) to a 2-step change paradigm:

    1. Identify and characterize the optimal outcome
    2. Develop a roadmap that traverses a path from the current situation to the optimal outcome in incremental steps; as each step is completed, update both the optimal outcome and the roadmap based on experience gained.


    I'm fairly certain that the solution must be viral, meaning that its adoption must be self-propagating rather than imposed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    I didn't want to leave this piece of the thread undiscussed. My gut reaction was the stereotype of the smart, unpopular nerd was just a silly Hollywood theme. Turns out the research supports my view. See, for example: http://www.mendeley.com/research/soc...nt-popularity/
    That study was conducted in vocational and college preparatory schools in Northwestern Europe. Graham's essay is specific to American middle and high schools. And one paper is not "the research".

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    The latter.



    Experience in improving large, complex, long-lived systems has led me (and many others) to a 2-step change paradigm:

    1. Identify and characterize the optimal outcome
    2. Develop a roadmap that traverses a path from the current situation to the optimal outcome in incremental steps; as each step is completed, update both the optimal outcome and the roadmap based on experience gained.


    I'm fairly certain that the solution must be viral, meaning that its adoption must be self-propagating rather than imposed.
    Here, we're in agreement. There have been countless attempts--many arguably successful as far as that goes--at #1. Where we're in vanishingly short supply--despite heroic attempts by many massively better informed and funded than any of us--is on #2. We need a better cartographer.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    That study was conducted in vocational and college preparatory schools in Northwestern Europe. Graham's essay is specific to American middle and high schools. And one paper is not "the research".
    Graham's essay is specific to a few schools that he went to and is based entirely on personal anecdotes. My reading of it was that the study's descriptions of social dynamics sounded a lot more like "American middle and high schools" than Graham's stereotypes. There are other articles as well (talking generally about the lack of correlation between social and academic intelligence), which is why I said "for example" before the link I provided.

    There are many drivers of "popularity". Being a "nerd" certainly does not help you become popular. Being smart, however, just might.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    Graham's essay is specific to a few schools that he went to and is based entirely on personal anecdotes.
    Graham's essay established significant resonance; here's the tip of the Google iceberg:



    Most (but not all) of the the responses and follow-up comments express agreement with Graham's characterization.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    My reading of it was that the study's descriptions of social dynamics sounded a lot more like "American middle and high schools" than Graham's stereotypes.
    So the conclusions of a study on apples can be used to refute the conclusions of a study on oranges if you think the apple study sounded more like an orange study?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    There are other articles as well (talking generally about the lack of correlation between social and academic intelligence), which is why I said "for example" before the link I provided.
    The essay's core point is that American middle and high schools leave a cultural vacuum that gets filled by a highly counterproductive popularity contest - counterproductive on the assumption that education is an objective.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    There are many drivers of "popularity". Being a "nerd" certainly does not help you become popular. Being smart, however, just might.
    If you believe that a popularity contest is in fact the optimal culture for K-12 education, then of course you'll disagree violently with Graham.

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