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

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    I really don't think it's necessary to have a debate over whether being smart might make you unpopular. I will agree that being "nerdy" is a social-minus, but that's what nerdy (in this context anyway) *means* - it means being not socially competent; it doesn't mean being smart, which is a separate characteristic. All I am arguing that is that being smart doesn't make you socially inept, though certainly there are smart people who are socially inept.

    Here are just a few very quick but nice counter-examples:


    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    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?
    I am sorry if I missed it within all the very many links, but was a companion link to my "apples study" that you provided on oranges? I just saw anecdotes. We all know some smart nerdy people. We all also know some very "popular" smart people, too.


    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    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.

    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.
    I am not entirely sure whether you could create groupings of people who didn't coalesce around common interests and around dynamic leaders, or whether you would even want to if you could. Best is to encourage kids to value positive characteristics so that these come through in "popularity contests", and to work with kids from a young age so they understand what is worthwhile and what isn't about "popularity". Ask yourself do we want "nerdy" people entirely focused on academics to be our next generation of leaders and innovators? I am not at all convinced that we do. I am much more interested that our kids learn to be comfortable with who they are and that they learn to choose friends based on the characteristics they value, and I don't particularly care about "popularity".

    But I may be an odd outlier - weirder still: I have always been a morning person, even in high school.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    I really don't think it's necessary to have a debate over whether being smart might make you unpopular. I will agree that being "nerdy" is a social-minus, but that's what nerdy (in this context anyway) *means* - it means being not socially competent; it doesn't mean being smart, which is a separate characteristic. All I am arguing that is that being smart doesn't make you socially inept, though certainly there are smart people who are socially inept.

    Here are just a few very quick but nice counter-examples:

    Graham's essay doesn't say "all intelligent students are nerds" or "all intelligent students are unpopular", so I don't see the relevance of your comments and citations above.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    I am sorry if I missed it within all the very many links, but was a companion link to my "apples study" that you provided on oranges?
    You attempted to refute Graham's essay about American middle and high schools (apples) with the conclusions from a study of European college prep and vocational schools (oranges) by claiming that the oranges sounded like apples to you. Entertaining, but ineffective.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    I am not entirely sure whether you could create groupings of people who didn't coalesce around common interests and around dynamic leaders, or whether you would even want to if you could. Best is to encourage kids to value positive characteristics so that these come through in "popularity contests", and to work with kids from a young age so they understand what is worthwhile and what isn't about "popularity". Ask yourself do we want "nerdy" people entirely focused on academics to be our next generation of leaders and innovators? I am not at all convinced that we do. I am much more interested that our kids learn to be comfortable with who they are and that they learn to choose friends based on the characteristics they value, and I don't particularly care about "popularity".
    If the goal of our educational system is truly education, then it should establish a society among its students that understands and values education -- both improving one's own knowledge and abilities, and helping other students to do the same. The business term for this is "alignment".

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Graham's essay established significant resonance; here's the tip of the Google iceberg:

    (SNIP!)

    Most (but not all) of the the responses and follow-up comments express agreement with Graham's characterization.
    I'm not 100% sure (having not read every one of them), but I have a strong hunch that the people who are apt to respond to Graham’s essay are a self-selecting group. That is, people who were labelled “nerds” in middle and high school are more likely to read and respond to essays about nerds versus jocks than are people who were labelled “jocks”. The sample of responses, in other words, is far from objective.

    One of my problems with Graham is that he makes assumptions that just aren't true. For example:

    If you leave a bunch of eleven-year-olds to their own devices, what you get is Lord of the Flies. Like a lot of American kids, I read this book in school. Presumably it was not a coincidence. Presumably someone wanted to point out to us that we were savages, and that we had made ourselves a cruel and stupid world.
    Umm, no they won’t. LoTF is a work of fiction, not a sociological study. People can be savages in certain situations (cf. Zimbardo’s prison experiment), but 11-year-olds don’t revert to unabashed primatehood when left to their own devices. To claim that Golding’s novel has any bearing on the actual education of actual children is akin to using the example of the tooth fairy to form economic policy. (Not to mention that Graham's model for the typical American middle- or high-schooler is an English schoolboy...)

    More generally, I think the assumption that there is a distinct social hierarchy in schools (which Graham lays out in a nice linear way with the A table, the B table, and so forth) is flawed. My instinct is that true human hierarchies are rare outside churches and corporations. Standing naked and vulnerable on the savannah, our best hope is to form laterally tight-knit, cooperative groups, rather than systems of alpha- and beta-apes. We form these groups around shared interests. For example, we have camera clubs built around the common interest of taking photos, math teams built around the common interest of solving equations, baseball teams built around the common interest of scoring home runs, and families built around the common interest of raising children. Within each of these groups there may be individuals who stand out a leaders, but in the long run they work because they are cooperative rather than hierarchical. The nerds and the jocks and the emos and the punks and the theater kids (and yes, at least at the WASP nest of a school I attended, the Black kids, too) all band together and sit at the same table because they need one another to get through the day, not because they are assigned to some rung on a social ladder.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    I'm not 100% sure (having not read every one of them), but I have a strong hunch that the people who are apt to respond to Graham’s essay are a self-selecting group. That is, people who were labelled “nerds” in middle and high school are more likely to read and respond to essays about nerds versus jocks than are people who were labelled “jocks”. The sample of responses, in other words, is far from objective.
    Several of the reactions I've received since posting Graham's essay in various places were from teachers who reported observing what Graham describes.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    One of my problems with Graham is that he makes assumptions that just aren't true. For example:

    Umm, no they won’t. LoTF is a work of fiction, not a sociological study. People can be savages in certain situations (cf. Zimbardo’s prison experiment), but 11-year-olds don’t revert to unabashed primatehood when left to their own devices. To claim that Golding’s novel has any bearing on the actual education of actual children is akin to using the example of the tooth fairy to form economic policy. (Not to mention that Graham's model for the typical American middle- or high-schooler is an English schoolboy...)
    Your bold claim that Graham's assumptions "just aren't true" left me expecting facts and logic, not pure opinion. We're beginning to understand the biological reasons why some teens are so driven by emotion or act with no regard for consequences. The experiment should never be conducted, but I suspect that Golding's story is not nearly as implausible as we would hope.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    More generally, I think the assumption that there is a distinct social hierarchy in schools (which Graham lays out in a nice linear way with the A table, the B table, and so forth) is flawed. My instinct is that true human hierarchies are rare outside churches and corporations. Standing naked and vulnerable on the savannah, our best hope is to form laterally tight-knit, cooperative groups, rather than systems of alpha- and beta-apes. We form these groups around shared interests. For example, we have camera clubs built around the common interest of taking photos, math teams built around the common interest of solving equations, baseball teams built around the common interest of scoring home runs, and families built around the common interest of raising children. Within each of these groups there may be individuals who stand out a leaders, but in the long run they work because they are cooperative rather than hierarchical. The nerds and the jocks and the emos and the punks and the theater kids (and yes, at least at the WASP nest of a school I attended, the Black kids, too) all band together and sit at the same table because they need one another to get through the day, not because they are assigned to some rung on a social ladder.
    That's the reasoning of a mature, self-confident neocortex. Try Googling "teenage cliques"; some excerpts:



    Need I go on?
    Last edited by DHBernstein; 08-09-2011 at 12:18 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Your bold claim that Graham's assumptions "just aren't true" left me expecting facts and logic, not pure opinion. We're beginning to understand the biological reasons why some teens are so driven by emotion or act with no regard for consequences. The experiment should never be conducted, but I suspect that Golding's story is not nearly as implausible as we would hope.
    This paper (PDF) expands on that link (and I think may be its primary source, though the link you gave provides no citations). The authors explain that the prefrontal cortex undergoes significant reshaping during adolescence, and that three faculties are affected: impulse control, planning, and decision making. There are two things worth noting though. First, though “impulse control” may evoke images of students savagely hacking one another to pieces in the cafeteria, the example given by the paper’s authors is difficulty maintaining attention for long periods of time, where the “impulse” is to divert one’s attention to some distraction. We are not exactly talking LoTF here. Second, the adolescent brain is on a continuum of development that starts in childhood and normally ends in adulthood. In other words, teenagers are better at impulse control, planning and decision making than their younger siblings, and will become even more adept at those things as they mature into adulthood. It’s the island populated by unsupervised three- and four-year-olds that you really need to look out for.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    That's the reasoning of a mature, self-confident neocortex. Try Googling "teenage cliques"...
    I spent an hour or so searching Google Scholar for research on teen social hierarchies. There is a huge body of work on teen social networks and peer interactions, and I've seen the distinction made in several places between “cliques” (close-knit, typically exclusive groups of friends) and “crowds” (broad stereotypes that class students as nerds, jocks, and so forth) -- i.e., what Graham is talking about. What I have read also suggests that the groups are not fixed, nor are they clearly delineated, and that they can change over time. In any case, the images promoted by Heathers and Mean Girls (and I would suggest, Graham) of school populations divided nicely into social strata are overly simplistic.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    This paper (PDF) expands on that link (and I think may be its primary source, though the link you gave provides no citations). The authors explain that the prefrontal cortex undergoes significant reshaping during adolescence, and that three faculties are affected: impulse control, planning, and decision making. There are two things worth noting though. First, though “impulse control” may evoke images of students savagely hacking one another to pieces in the cafeteria, the example given by the paper’s authors is difficulty maintaining attention for long periods of time, where the “impulse” is to divert one’s attention to some distraction. We are not exactly talking LoTF here.
    You're being rather selective; here's the full quote (emphasis added):

    "If neural networks responsible for the complex cognitive processing demands of inhibitory and impulse control are not yet physiologically mature, the teen brain may struggle when it is necessary to control impulsive behavior or inhibit inappropriate behavior and stay focused on a current task or situation."

    Furthermore (emphasis again added),

    "The ability for the brain to plan, adapt to the social environment, and to imagine possible future consequences of action or to appropriately gauge their emotional significance, is still developing throughout adolescence".

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    Second, the adolescent brain is on a continuum of development that starts in childhood and normally ends in adulthood. In other words, teenagers are better at impulse control, planning and decision making than their younger siblings, and will become even more adept at those things as they mature into adulthood. It’s the island populated by unsupervised three- and four-year-olds that you really need to look out for.
    This study implies that a long-term unsupervised combination of teenagers and younger children could be downright explosive. Golding's story grows ever more plausible.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    I spent an hour or so searching Google Scholar for research on teen social hierarchies. There is a huge body of work on teen social networks and peer interactions, and I've seen the distinction made in several places between “cliques” (close-knit, typically exclusive groups of friends) and “crowds” (broad stereotypes that class students as nerds, jocks, and so forth) -- i.e., what Graham is talking about.
    What I have read also suggests that the groups are not fixed, nor are they clearly delineated, and that they can change over time. In any case, the images promoted by Heathers and Mean Girls (and I would suggest, Graham) of school populations divided nicely into social strata are overly simplistic.
    Graham describes groups that are clearly delineated and change little over time, consistent with the behavior of cliques as described in the three articles I cited in an earlier post.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    You're being rather selective; here's the full quote (emphasis added):

    "If neural networks responsible for the complex cognitive processing demands of inhibitory and impulse control are not yet physiologically mature, the teen brain may struggle when it is necessary to control impulsive behavior or inhibit inappropriate behavior and stay focused on a current task or situation."

    Furthermore (emphasis again added),

    "The ability for the brain to plan, adapt to the social environment, and to imagine possible future consequences of action or to appropriately gauge their emotional significance, is still developing throughout adolescence".
    The “full quote” fails to bolster your argument. You are arguing that an immature brain is in effect a savage brain, and that teenagers cannot help but be cruel to one another. The study cited does not conclude that at all; in fact it makes no mention of a propensity for violence and cruelty being a result of the adolescent brain. The vast majority of teenagers are loving and caring and want to mature into productive, happy adults. In fact, most examples of historically significant cruelty that I can think of were the products of mature, adult brains.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    This study implies that a long-term unsupervised combination of teenagers and younger children could be downright explosive. Golding's story grows ever more plausible.
    That is reading between the lines, and then taking the lines in between the lines and reading between them. Implies because it uses phrases like “impulsive behavior” and “consequences of action”? The article describes specific psychological phenomena, not sociological phenomena, and it does not infer that one causes the other.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Graham describes groups that are clearly delineated and change little over time, consistent with the behavior of cliques as described in the three articles I cited in an earlier post.
    Are we talking about cliques, or are we talking about crowds? Graham assumes that the delineations of crowds in middle and high schools is fixed and well-defined, and you are trying to support his assumption with evidence saying that cliques can be destructive. Cliques, however, are not crowds. Cliques are built around interpersonal friendships and social alliances, while crowds are essentially post hoc labels. My argument that Graham’s description of clearly delineated social strata in middle and high schools is overly simplistic remains.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    The “full quote” fails to bolster your argument. You are arguing that an immature brain is in effect a savage brain, and that teenagers cannot help but be cruel to one another.
    No. In an attempt to substantiate your claim that Graham's assumptions are untrue, you cited the Adolescent Brain as stating that the teenage deficit in impulse control manifests as reduced ability to remain on task in the face of distraction. I pointed out that the paper explicitly cites failure to control impulsive behavior.

    I did not say "teenagers cannot help but be cruel to one another", as readers of this thread can easily verify. However, examples of physical and mental cruelty among children and teenagers are all too plentiful. Since this behavior generally disappears by adulthood, attributing it to the neural development sequence is not an unreasonable hypothesis.


    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    Are we talking about cliques, or are we talking about crowds? Graham assumes that the delineations of crowds in middle and high schools is fixed and well-defined, and you are trying to support his assumption with evidence saying that cliques can be destructive.
    Where, exactly, does Graham refer to crowds, or distinguish them from cliques?

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    In an attempt to substantiate your claim that Graham's assumptions are untrue, you cited the Adolescent Brain as stating that the teenage deficit in impulse control manifests as reduced ability to remain on task in the face of distraction. I pointed out that the paper explicitly cites failure to control impulsive behavior.
    I’m not claiming that it doesn’t explicitly cite failure to control impulsive behavior. I am claiming that the impulsive behavior discussed is much more mundane than impulsive behavior that would lead to a Lord of the Flies scenario. Developing brains are not sociopathic brains.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    I did not say "teenagers cannot help but be cruel to one another", as readers of this thread can easily verify.
    Your insistence that Golding’s story is closer to reality than we would like to believe, and your support of Graham’s school-as-minimally-supervised-prison argument, both seem to point to that conclusion.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    However, examples of physical and mental cruelty among children and teenagers are all too plentiful. Since this behavior generally disappears by adulthood, attributing it to the neural development sequence is not an unreasonable hypothesis.
    Do you really believe that children and teenagers have a monopoly on cruelty? For any example of cruelty perpetrated by children that you can come up with, I can come up with a more heinous example perpetrated by adults, with fully-developed central nervous systems. I would also be able to come up with a counter-example of a child or teenager who doesn’t exhibit the cruel behavior.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Where, exactly, does Graham refer to crowds, or distinguish them from cliques?
    He doesn’t, but the literature does. The social strata that Graham talks about (relegated to the A table, the B table, etc.) are crowds, and have little to do with cliques. You brought up cliques earlier in the thread, and I was pointing out that the two are different.

    I am not arguing that Graham’s notion of schools as prisons is far off base, or with the fact that kids can be utterly brutal to each other, or that brain development isn’t a factor in adolescent behavior and education. I am arguing that the claim that schools are simply holding pens in which children are allowed to devolve into their natural state of unabated savagery, and that this is all attributable to their undeveloped brains, is unfounded.

    Examples of children being left to their own devices (at least to an extent), and surviving if not thriving, are easy to find. Montessori and Sudbury systems come immediately to mind. In my own recollection of being in grammar school, for example, I never saw a classmate smack another over the head with a cuisenaire rod...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    I’m not claiming that it doesn’t explicitly cite failure to control impulsive behavior. I am claiming that the impulsive behavior discussed is much more mundane than impulsive behavior that would lead to a Lord of the Flies scenario. Developing brains are not sociopathic brains.
    Your initial response painted Adolescent Brain's characterization of the impulse control deficit as benign. Now you've reverted to refuting Graham's assumptions with your opinion.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    Your insistence that Golding’s story is closer to reality than we would like to believe, and your support of Graham’s school-as-minimally-supervised-prison argument, both seem to point to that conclusion.
    I'll reach and state my own conclusions, if you don't mind.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    Do you really believe that children and teenagers have a monopoly on cruelty? For any example of cruelty perpetrated by children that you can come up with, I can come up with a more heinous example perpetrated by adults, with fully-developed central nervous systems. I would also be able to come up with a counter-example of a child or teenager who doesn’t exhibit the cruel behavior.
    I did not state that children and teenagers have a monopoly on cruelty, not did I say that every child or teenager exhibits cruel behavior. I said that cruelty among children and teenagers is all-too-common, but largely disappears by adulthood. I do strongly suspect that the fraction of Americans between the ages of 10 and 24 who commit acts of mental or physical cruelty is significantly larger than the fraction of Americans older than age 24 who commit acts of mental or physical cruelty, but have not sought data to substantiate this suspicion.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    The social strata that Graham talks about (relegated to the A table, the B table, etc.) are crowds, and have little to do with cliques. You brought up cliques earlier in the thread, and I was pointing out that the two are different.
    I disagree. Graham describes cliques; you've provided no evidence to the contrary -- just your opinion.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    I am not arguing that Graham’s notion of schools as prisons is far off base, or with the fact that kids can be utterly brutal to each other, or that brain development isn’t a factor in adolescent behavior and education.
    Then we largely agree. What I learned from Graham's essay is that a successful education system must proactively establish a society among its students that understands and values education -- both improving one's own knowledge and abilities, and helping other students to do the same. Do you disagree?

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Your initial response painted Adolescent Brain's characterization of the impulse control deficit as benign. Now you've reverted to refuting Graham's assumptions with your opinion.
    I haven’t reverted to anything. Graham’s essay seems to be based on 1) his recollections of his own experiences in school, 2) his seemingly out-of-the blue conjectures about adolescent social dynamics, and 3) the supposition that a work of fiction illustrates an actual phenomenon. That’s about as opinion-not-fact-based as you can get.

    As for The Adolescent Brain, I did not see anything in there tying malevolent social behavior to (lack of) brain growth. If I missed it, or if there is a reputable source somewhere that does make the link, then I would be interested in hearing about it.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    I said that cruelty among children and teenagers is all-too-common, but largely disappears by adulthood. I do strongly suspect that the fraction of Americans between the ages of 10 and 24 who commit acts of mental or physical cruelty is significantly larger than the fraction of Americans older than age 24 who commit acts of mental or physical cruelty, but have not sought data to substantiate this suspicion.
    Then let’s seek some data. For instance, if propensity for violence and other socially-unacceptable behavior decreases with age, then we should expect to see rates of prison incarceration decrease as the age of incarcerants (is that a word?) increases. An Analysis of Recent Trends in Court Commitments to the Massachusetts Department of Correction (1980 - PDF), which looked at incarceration trends during the 70s, doesn’t support the hypothesis. For one, they observed that the proportion of offenders under the age of 18 decreased significantly during that period, while at the same time there was an increase in commitments for individuals aged 25 to 29. This was the first citable document I came across with a Google search; I’m willing to bet that other sources will tell a similar story.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    I disagree. Graham describes cliques; you've provided no evidence to the contrary -- just your opinion.
    Searching Google Scholar for “cliques crowds” brings up many articles and abstracts that differentiate cliques and crowds. The Handbook of Adolescent Psychology provides a nice overview. Generally, large groups, such as the popular ones that spanned several A tables at Graham’s school, or that have socially-designated labels, such as ”nerds” or ”burnouts”, are crowds, while cliques are much smaller groups in which the members are all friends.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Then we largely agree. What I learned from Graham's essay is that a successful education system must proactively establish a society among its students that understands and values education -- both improving one's own knowledge and abilities, and helping other students to do the same. Do you disagree?
    It’s nice to get our hands off each other’s throats at last. Yes, I definitely agree with you. My opinion, though, is that establishing and promoting such an atmosphere in schools is probably a lot easier than Graham’s dour portrait of middle and high school life would lead us to believe. I’m also willing to pin that at least partially on my (perhaps naïve) opinion that outside of extreme circumstances, people, at whatever age, are generally good.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    I haven’t reverted to anything. Graham’s essay seems to be based on 1) his recollections of his own experiences in school, 2) his seemingly out-of-the blue conjectures about adolescent social dynamics, and 3) the supposition that a work of fiction illustrates an actual phenomenon. That’s about as opinion-not-fact-based as you can get.
    None of that makes your attempted rebuttal fact-based; it’s his opinion vs. yours.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    As for The Adolescent Brain, I did not see anything in there tying malevolent social behavior to (lack of) brain growth. If I missed it, or if there is a reputable source somewhere that does make the link, then I would be interested in hearing about it.
    You invoked The Adolescent Brain in your attempt to refute Graham’s assumptions by claiming it said that the deficit in impulse control meant only that teens had difficulty staying on task in the face of distractions. I responded by pointing out that The Adolescent Brain also states that teens can have difficulty controlling their behavior, and that teens can have difficulty anticipating the consequences of their actions. Does this mean that every teen will spend time as a malevolent sociopath? Of course not. Does what we’ve learned about the sequence of neural development provide an explanation for the physical and mental cruelty reported by Graham and the many others with similar experiences? Not completely, but it’s a likely contributor.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    Then let’s seek some data. For instance, if propensity for violence and other socially-unacceptable behavior decreases with age, then we should expect to see rates of prison incarceration decrease as the age of incarcerants (is that a word?) increases. An Analysis of Recent Trends in Court Commitments to the Massachusetts Department of Correction (1980 - PDF), which looked at incarceration trends during the 70s, doesn’t support the hypothesis. For one, they observed that the proportion of offenders under the age of 18 decreased significantly during that period, while at the same time there was an increase in commitments for individuals aged 25 to 29. This was the first citable document I came across with a Google search; I’m willing to bet that other sources will tell a similar story.
    One could drive trucks through the holes in that conclusion. For example, the document says “Over the last ten years there was a significant increase in the proportion of sex offenders, from 7 percent in 1970 to 11 percent in 1979, and a decrease in the proportion of drug offenders, from 13 percent in 1970 to 6 percent in 1979”. How can you possibly draw conclusions about “unacceptable behavior vs. age” from incarceration trends during the 70’s that were dramatically impacted by changes in the law and changes in enforcement as a function of budget or priorities? Many people were jailed for actions having nothing to do with violence or cruelty -- like protesting against the war in Vietnam. Incarceration rates are not a reasonable proxy for the propensity to commit mental or physical cruelty.

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris Hoffman View Post
    It’s nice to get our hands off each other’s throats at last. Yes, I definitely agree with you. My opinion, though, is that establishing and promoting such an atmosphere in schools is probably a lot easier than Graham’s dour portrait of middle and high school life would lead us to believe. I’m also willing to pin that at least partially on my (perhaps naïve) opinion that outside of extreme circumstances, people, at whatever age, are generally good.
    I am also optimistic, particularly if the process starts in each student's first year of school and continues every year thereafter.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein
    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:

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Graham
    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.
    As I see it, Dave, in your Post 16 of this thread, you are invoking Graham to make the school-prison analogy. I don't see evidence from either Graham or you to support this analogy. And as the one(s) initiating the argument, the burden's on you to do so, not on others to rebut.

    By comparison, you ended your Post 32 with the following "Apple Pie" statement with which there's no disagreement that I know of, but it's a far cry from prisons to this vision.

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein
    If the goal of our educational system is truly education, then it should establish a society among its students that understands and values education -- both improving one's own knowledge and abilities, and helping other students to do the same.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    As I see it, Dave, in your Post 16 of this thread, you are invoking Graham to make the school-prison analogy. I don't see evidence from either Graham or you to support this analogy.
    My “evidence” is the significant number of ex-students (including me) and teachers whose reaction to Graham’s essay has been along the lines of “yes, that was my experience”. While these observations are individually subjective, they collectively form a fact: “many people report from direct experience that Graham’s characterization is accurate”.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    And as the one(s) initiating the argument, the burden's on you to do so, not on others to rebut.
    When someone posts “One of my problems with Graham is that he makes assumptions that just aren't true.”, it is not unreasonable to expect a fact-based rebuttal. In the end, the substance of Mr. Hoffman’s argument boiled down to “I disagree”.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    By comparison, you ended your Post 32 with the following "Apple Pie" statement with which there's no disagreement that I know of, but it's a far cry from prisons to this vision.
    It is indeed sad that a problem that has been plaguing our educational system for decades could be resolved by the “Apple Pie” action of aligning student society around education. Duh.

  15. #45
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    Aug 2011
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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    My “evidence” is the significant number of ex-students (including me) and teachers whose reaction to Graham’s essay has been along the lines of “yes, that was my experience”. While these observations are individually subjective, they collectively form a fact: “many people report from direct experience that Graham’s characterization is accurate”.
    That is a tautology. You are saying that the fact many people agree with Graham proves that many people agree with Graham. No?

    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    When someone posts “One of my problems with Graham is that he makes assumptions that just aren't true.”, it is not unreasonable to expect a fact-based rebuttal. In the end, the substance of Mr. Hoffman’s argument boiled down to “I disagree”.
    Perhaps Mr. Hoffman should simple have pointed out that Graham is pulling his arguments out of thin air, and left it at that...

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