kitchen table math, the sequel: 1/31/16 - 2/7/16

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Chicago statement

In The Economist:
WHEN Louisiana State University fired a professor in June 2015 for using rude words in a class designed to prepare teachers for careers in inner-city schools, it was an early skirmish in a conflict between students (one of whom had complained) and faculties over free speech that has since spread across the land. The university’s faculty is now considering something that others in the same position have done: copying the University of Chicago.

In response to a number of universities cancelling invitations to controversial speakers and challenges to academic freedom, Geoffrey Stone of Chicago’s law school was appointed chair of a committee that would restate its principles on free speech. The statement was issued a year ago, shortly before the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical publication, for its cartoons of Muhammad.

Since then the debate over permissible speech on college campuses has only become more contentious. A website,, lists speech-curbing demands from students at 72 institutions. Administrators are tying themselves in knots in an effort to balance a commitment to free expression with a desire not to offend.

One consequence of this has been to call attention to the Chicago Statement, which has been adopted by Purdue, Princeton, American University, Johns Hopkins, Chapman, Winston-Salem State and the University of Wisconsin system, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (Fire), a pro free-speech non-profit which is actively promoting it. It is brief (three pages) and emphatic.

“It is not the proper role of the university to attempt to shield individuals from ideas and opinions they find unwelcome, disagreeable, or even deeply offensive,” it states. “Concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable.” The responsibility of a university, it concludes, is not only to promote “fearless freedom of debate”, but also to protect it.

The committee gave much consideration to concerns about “hate speech” and “micro-aggressions”. Whatever harm such expression caused, it concluded, should be redressed by “individual members of the university…openly and vigorously contesting the ideas that they oppose,” rather than by censorship.

The widening adoption of the statement came as a surprise, says Mr Stone, because it was built upon the college’s own history, including a controversial invitation by students in 1932 to William Z. Foster, then the Communist Party candidate for president. The proper response to unpopular ideas, responded then-president Robert Maynard Hutchins, “lies through discussion rather than inhibition”. In 1967, during protests over civil rights and the Vietnam war, and demands that the university itself should take a stand, a faculty committee chaired by Harry Kalven, one of Mr Stone’s professors, concluded that would be wrong: “The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic”.
From what I can see, suppression of speech on campus is as bad as it looks; nothing I've read in news accounts is exaggerated.

So I'm rooting for the Chicago statement.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Wisdom of the crowd

I opened my Wall Street Journal app this morning to see this:
The campaign in Iowa performed its usual task of starting the long process of winnowing out the presidential field, but it failed to fully resolve this year’s underlying mystery: Why are voters toying with radical change at a time when, objectively speaking, the country isn’t in bad shape?

Why Iowans Entertain Radical Messages from Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders Amid Seeming Prosperity By GERALD F. SEIB
I can answer that.

"Objectively speaking," this time is different.

This time, the country didn't recover from the recession. In every other recession of the 20th century, including the Great Depression, economic growth went back to trend.

This time, no.

Yet only the people seem to know it.

They're not happy.

*Perhaps the 19th century as well -- I don't know the history.


Blast from the past!

I'm watching the Iowa caucuses on CNN ... and the announcer is in Coralville.

I lived in Coralville!

I don't recognize the building they're showing .....

Very fun.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Most emailed

I have no doubt Adam Grant's op-ed on raising a creative child, which ran in yesterday's Times, is being emailed to teachers across the land:
Child prodigies rarely become adult geniuses who change the world....

What holds them back is that they don’t learn to be original. They strive to earn the approval of their parents and the admiration of their teachers. But as they perform in Carnegie Hall and become chess champions, something unexpected happens: Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new.


In adulthood, many prodigies become experts in their fields and leaders in their organizations. Yet “only a fraction of gifted children eventually become revolutionary adult creators,” laments the psychologist Ellen Winner. “Those who do must make a painful transition” to an adult who “ultimately remakes a domain.”

Most prodigies never make that leap. They apply their extraordinary abilities by shining in their jobs without making waves. They become doctors who heal their patients without fighting to fix the broken medical system or lawyers who defend clients on unfair charges but do not try to transform the laws themselves.

So what does it take to raise a creative child? One study compared the families of children who were rated among the most creative 5 percent in their school system with those who were not unusually creative. The parents of ordinary children had an average of six rules, like specific schedules for homework and bedtime. Parents of highly creative children had an average of fewer than one rule.


SINCE Malcolm Gladwell popularized the “10,000-hour rule” suggesting that success depends on the time we spend in deliberate practice, debate has raged about how the hours necessary to become an expert vary by field and person. In arguing about that, we’ve overlooked two questions that matter just as much.

First, can’t practice itself blind us to ways to improve our area of study? Research reveals that the more we practice, the more we become entrenched — trapped in familiar ways of thinking. Expert bridge players struggled more than novices to adapt when the rules were changed; expert accountants were worse than novices at applying a new tax law.


Hear that, Tiger Moms and Lombardi Dads? You can’t program a child to become creative. Try to engineer a certain kind of success, and the best you’ll get is an ambitious robot. If you want your children to bring original ideas into the world, you need to let them pursue their passions, not yours.

How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off by Adam Grant | 1/31/2016
Creativity good, practice bad.

Oh, man.

Setting aside the mischief this is going to do, how many "adult geniuses who change the world" do we actually need?

And how often does a lone genius change the world?

Should all expert physicians "fight to fix a broken medical system"?

Should all expert attorneys "try to transform the laws themselves"? (All of the laws?)

As to the rigidity of experts, which is a real phenomenon, the solution isn't to get rid of experts.