Maybe If We Had Known That We Didn’t Know. . .

28 10 2011

This is headlined as “The Boomer Parent’s Lament”:

“Maybe if I knew that our children would be coming of age in an economy that would crush even the best and brightest among them, I would have cared a little less about their score on an advanced placement history test, and a little more about helping them find happiness in moments at the margin.”

UNSCHOOLING boomer parents though, knew this all along and we aren’t lamenting any such thing. Finding happiness in the moment and the margin AND smack-dab in the middle of the morning too, while everyone else was sweating yet another test — that was the whole program, the whole point, the whole power of our story.

Didn’t JJ just finish saying something like that? 😉

There was a book excerpt in the NYT Sunday magazine so stunning that I ordered the book online. I was waiting to read it before blogging anything about it but it’s been on my mind in every current conversation, now including this one. The book is “Thinking, Fast and Slow” and its professor author Daniel Kahneman was a 2002 Nobel laureate in economics.

The big point is that we humans tend to hold fast to (often false) confidence that we’re doing the right thing and that we can “know” what that is, even when we’re smart enough to SEE that we aren’t, and don’t, and can’t.

The Hazards of Confidence:

We rarely experienced doubt or conflicting impressions. . . [but] as it turned out, despite our certainty about the potential of individual candidates, our forecasts were largely useless.

The evidence was overwhelming. . . our ability to predict performance at the school was negligible. Our forecasts were better than blind guesses, but not by much.

What do you think about the right way to school kids and prepare them for quantifiable success? How confident are you that you’re right about that? 😉



15 responses

28 10 2011

Nicholas Taleb has written several books on the theme that humans are very bad about seeing patterns where none exist, and then acting based on the assumption of a pattern that isn’t there.

28 10 2011
Team Suzanne

I’ve been thinking a lot about this general topic, lately. Success is the bitch goddess (William James?). Ambition as the PROBLEM rather than the GOAL. And how to balance this with kids. Do your best, try hard–but also, enjoy life, have fun, seek balance.

In my childhood and schooling, I got a double dose of the “succeed, succeed, succeed, EXCEL!” message. And the “balance, happiness, moderation” message was missing.

I don’t know where the right balance is for my own kids, or how to impart it, but I do think about it a lot.

28 10 2011

I think it fits with this, too:

“But after all this obsessive preparation comes the chaos of Sunday. Surprises are bursting from every angle. The coach is helpless on the sideline. His head has split open, and bats are flying out. He is bleeding from the eyes. The game will unfold despite him. . . .

I’ll take the magic over the execution any day.

28 10 2011

Hi Suzanne. 🙂
I think saying you think about it and you don’t really know, means you’re on the right track!

28 10 2011

This author isn’t just an economics Nobel Laureate btw. He’s a (Princeton I think?) professor emeritus in both psychology and public affairs, brilliant combination, we sure could use more that that these days — IOW another great mind I want to learn from (not for the grade or credit, for the actual learning, in this case figuring out more of what I don’t know, so I can KNOW I don’t know . . .)

28 10 2011

I have mixed feelings about this. I posit that often children are forced to study things that serve little practical purpose while being forced to ignore what they truly excel at for the sake of convention.

I observe that we teach children and adults that conspicuous consumption is normal and that an examined life is contemptuous. That learning for the sake of learning is not held in high regard, because it’s all about the money. How much can you make?

How much money you make and the prestige of your *things is important in this world than anything else.

And then we complain as a culture when we are over run with teflon souls and snake oil salesmen.

Long term thinking is lost.
There is a disconnect also between cause and effect.
Love of learning is denigrated.
Love of money exalted
Love of power enshrined as the highest moral quality.
Hatred of self as a result of unethical behavior to achieve success by any means necessary a foregone conclusion.

28 10 2011

Doesn’t sound so mixed to me, Beep. 😉

28 10 2011

Chris, YES! That’s exactly it. We are pattern-making creatures and so our brains write narratives about everything, to explain who we are and what happened, and then we adamantly believe our own stories because they make so much sense explaining things!

(No, that wasn’t me shouting “duh — religion!” It must’ve been Nance.)

28 10 2011

Then to bring us back to the economy, what is our modern, civilized right and responsbility to keep our children safe from those who will manipulate their known natures in this way, from their own ignorance and/or for their own unearned gain? Teach your children well, of course.

AND, how about a society where they can be reasonably free because they’re reasonably safe from that sort of exploitation, from any source?

28 10 2011

For example I just heard Delaware AG Beau Biden say that individual people (homeowners, say) have legal obligations — in this case to pay their mortgage on time — but mortgage holders have legal obligations too, and some have been egregiously deceptive.

He said 60 percent of all the mortgages in this nation are serviced by only 50 individual employees in Reston, VA, working for some private entity known as MERS. Not transparent, no public records. That sure changes my understanding of the “free market” story!

28 10 2011

Btw did you know the Milgram shock experiments are recreated as entertainment for a Discovery channel special this Sunday night? (the night before Halloween, shudder)

It’s billed as “Curiosity: How Evil Are You?”

The producer says it’s not “scientific” nor meant to be, but it does get the same results as almost all the subjects are willing to hurt innocent fellows when Authority insists. It seem to underline how susceptible we are to the Authority Story. Institutions — School and Church and Wall Street — exploit that fact about our nature in some extremely unethical ways. The same people who argue institutions should be free to ruin lives call themselves pro-life. And they tend to be Authoritarians, the ones insisting we must hurt each other because that’s life.

28 10 2011

What is needed is not the will to believe but the will to find out, which is the exact opposite. — Bertrand Russell

To Live the Good Life?”:

“Questions of politics, Professor Sandel suggested, are not simply a matter of governing the system of distribution, but are connected to what it means to live a ‘good life.’ ”

What do you believe that means, and who deserves to live it, or if it’s not a question of earning it, it, who has the power to live it? Do you?

Would you say living the good life flows from good works, good fortune, right-thinking, perhaps all or none of the above?

Talking Trash and Taking Names in Bad Barrels:

The situation defines, inspires and/or degrades the individual by influencing one’s responses, thinking, independence, the quality of one’s relationships and choices, perhaps even our humanity itself.

. . .They just finished discussing in a fair, calm, informative and even oddly respectful way, how her own Turkish language is been ruined by the radicals in power, and how authors and intellectuals are being killed there.

. . . she described her two grandmothers as representing two completely different “interpretations” of Islam, one masculine and fear-based, literal and rule-oriented. Her mother’s mother was full of love and flow, modeled religion as open negotiation.

If force succumbs to power, women like this are definitely power! This charming, well-educated and intellectually gifted woman says she sees her own curiosity as more important than her courage, and her own spirituality as “Sufi-like” or inner essence, connected to every religion (not just Muslim), rather than defined or dictated by rule and law, external, spread by fighting others rather than loving them.

31 10 2011
Nance Confer

(No, that wasn’t me shouting “duh — religion!” It must’ve been Nance.)

Well, yes. 🙂 But the problem spreads beyond that.

Saturday we went to a truly enjoyable open house at a college near us for my DD. Lovely people, smart people, terrific opportunity. All about learning and interdisciplinary this and that.

But, even there, maybe especially there in a crowd of super-achieving young people and their proud parents, there was the joke from the admissions officer about graduates not having to move back home. How sad.

I whispered to DD that she is welcome home any time. Don’t young people have enough to worry about without that hanging over their heads?

Anyway, she liked the dorms. 🙂


31 10 2011
Nance Confer

Is that clear? Probably is to this smart crowd. But even at this college that seemed to get everything right — all about getting a real liberal arts education and how wonderful that is (including a swipe at our Governor who thinks otherwise 🙂 ) — a large part of the pitch was how their students got “good” jobs or went on to “good” graduate-level studies. I pity the poor poetry student, these days.


2 11 2011

I don’t blame the school for that though. They are selling what the parents are buying. If parents started demanding a real liberal arts education for their kids, the schools would respond appropriately. Instead, they couch their pitch in the language of jobs and commerce because the people signing the tuition checks want to hear it.

There is some cruel irony in that small, expensive liberal arts colleges seem to be the schools that see the value in homeschooling. I get the feeling the big state schools sort of begrudgingly tolerate us, but would much happier if everybody followed the standard playbook.

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