Later On

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Mindfulness experiment

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In Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving the Double-Edge Way (the latest edition of the Guide), I discuss how shaving supports mindfulness, which I take to be a focused and non-judgmental awareness of what is happening at the the present moment—being clearly aware of what your various senses are experiencing and what you as a result are feeling, with that awareness unmediated by words or thoughts; being alert and aware and in the moment, paying attention to, and absorbed in, your immediate experience, without thoughts of the past or the future.

It’s a state of mind people often get when they are in a completely natural environment, with no mark of human activity. [Edit: It occurs to me that this state of mind has high survival value and thus is reinforced by naturaly selection: if you’re walking through a forest you are more or less evolved to pay attention closely to every sound and every smell while your eyes are constantly watchful and scanning the surroundings. And because that state of mind is rewarding (in terms of survival), it feels good and natural. – LG] And it’s a state of mind that seems to offer emotional and psychological benefits (and thus, indirectly, physical benefits).

In Motherboard Emiko Jozuka describes an experiment soon underway to see what effects mindfulness training will have on early teens:

For the last two years, 14-year-old Enaya Ali has been taking part in “mindfulness” training—a technique designed to improve attention and resilience —at her local school in the UK.

“I suffer a lot from anxieties so I’ll have moments where I’ll find it difficult. But I’ll have a mindfulness moment, and when I come back from it, I’m more in control of myself,” Ali told me over the phone.

A new trial, launched yesterday, aims to scientifically test the effectiveness of mindfulness training as a way of bolstering young people’s resilience to mental health disorders later on in life. With multiple research institutions and nearly 6,000 teenagers taking part over a seven-year period, the study is pretty epic. If successful, mindfulness training could be incorporated into UK schools.

For the uninitiated, “mindfulness” is a mental state that allows us to be able to pay attention to how our emotions and thoughts are developing in the present moment. It’s a skill that can be trained, and researchers believe that the technique helps us better navigate our social relationships, and ward off negative thoughts and feelings.

In the £6.4 million (almost $10 million) three-part study launched yesterday, researchers at the University of Oxford, University College London, University of Exeter, and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, will assess whether introducing this training more widely across schools could prevent teenagers from developing mental health disorders in adulthood. The Wellcome Trust, a global medical and health non-profit, reports that over 75 percent of mental disorders begin before the age of 25 and half by 15.

“Some 50 percent of all mental health problems will emerge by late adolescence, so it’s really a key window where we could potentially do something to change the trajectory of young people’s lives,” Willem Kyuken, the study’s principal investigator and a research clinical psychologist from the University of Oxford, told me. “We could potentially prevent mental health problems, and enhance the possibility for [adolescents] to flourish.”

The trial, involving students from 76 schools, is expected to begin in late 2016. In the first part of the study, thirty-eight schools will train 11-14 year old students in mindfulness over 10 lessons within a school term, as part of the normal curriculum. Thirty-eight other schools will act as a control by teaching regular personal, health, and social education lessons.

In a second, lab-based part of the study, researchers from UCL and the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit will examine whether mindfulness training improves the emotional and self-control of nearly 600 participants between the ages of 11 to 16. The third part of the study sees researchers testing the best ways of training teachers to give mindfulness lessons to their students, and evaluating the potential challenges of implementing the training at schools. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 July 2015 at 11:19 am

Acceptance (or not) of the theory of evolution depends on cognitive style: Intuitive or analytic

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From an interesting article by Tania Lambrozo at NPR:

. . . A new paper by psychologist Will Gervais, just published in the journal Cognition, sheds new light on these questions. In two surveys conducted with hundreds of undergraduates attending a large university in Kentucky, Gervais found an association between cognitive style and beliefs about evolution. Gervais used a common task to measure the extent to which people engage in a more intuitivecognitive style, which involves going with immediate, intuitive judgments, versus a more analytic cognitive style, which involves more explicit deliberation, and which can often override an intuitive response.

In both studies, Gervais found a statistically significant relationship between the extent to which individuals exhibited a more analytic style and their endorsement of evolution. Importantly, the relationship remained significant even when controlling for other variables that predict evolutionary beliefs, including belief in God, religious upbringing and political conservatism.

The study also replicated prior work that has found a relationship between religiosity and evolutionary beliefs, and between cognitive style and religious disbelief: Participants with a more analytic style were not only more likely to accept evolution, but also to indicate lesser belief in God.

These findings are consistent with at least three possibilities. The first — suggested by the clever title of Gervais’ paper, “Override the Controversy” — is that all individuals have a tendency to reject evolution on an intuitive level, but that some individuals engage in a form of analytic or reflective thinking that allows them to “override” this intuitive response.

A second possibility is that some individuals have stronger intuitive responses than others. Such individuals are likely to experience a stronger pull toward purposive thinking, a greater aversion to uncertainty and other cognitive preferences at odds with evolution. If their intuitive responses are generally stronger, they’re also less likely to succeed in overriding them by engaging in analytic or reflective thought.

Yet, a third possibility . . .

Continue reading.

Analytic thought is for most something that must be learned, since it is a skill—that is, thinking analytically does not come naturally but requires training and practice. It seems to be the case with all skills (i.e., with things that must be learned through practice) that self-taught learners will fall into certain common traps, which is why good coaching can result in rapid improvements in performance. Whether the skill is golf, swimming, analytic thinking, decision making, or whatever, self-taught learners almost inevitably will discover certain counter-productive shortcuts that undermine proficiency. Russo and Schoemaker’s wonderful little book, Decision Traps discusses this in detail and points out ten specific common errors to avoid in making important decisions.

UPDATE: I should mention that Edward de Bono has developed a well-regarded curriculum specifically to teach creativity and critical-thinking skills in the early grades. The materials involve one session per week to develop skills in thinking. For more information, see his site. The site also includes an on-line course of 24 lessons to teach thinking skills.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 July 2015 at 5:47 am

Posted in Books, Education, Evolution

Why do people believe myths about the Confederacy?

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James W. Loewen, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Vermont, has an interesting column in the Washington Post:

History is the polemics of the victor, William F. Buckley allegedly said. Not so in the United States, at least not regarding the Civil War. As soon as Confederates laid down their arms, some picked up their pens and began to distort what they had done, and why. Their resulting mythology went national a generation later and persists — which is why a presidential candidate can suggest that slavery was somehow pro-family, and the public believes that the war was mainly fought over states’ rights.

The Confederates won with the pen (and the noose) what they could not win on the battlefield: the cause of white supremacy and the dominant understanding of what the war was all about. We are still digging ourselves out from under the misinformation that they spread, which has manifested in both our history books and our public monuments.

Take Kentucky. Kentucky’s legislature voted not to secede, and early in the war, Confederate Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston ventured through the western part of the state and found “no enthusiasm as we imagined and hoped but hostility … in Kentucky.” Eventually, 90,000 Kentuckians would fight for the United States, while 35,000 fought for the Confederate States. Nevertheless, according to historian Thomas Clark, the state now has 72 Confederate monuments and only two Union ones.

Neo-Confederates also won western Maryland. In 1913, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) put a soldier on a pedestal at the Rockville courthouse. Montgomery County never seceded, of course. While Maryland did send 24,000 men to the Confederate armed forces, it sent 63,000 to the U.S. Army and Navy. Nevertheless, the UDC’s monument tells visitors to take the other side: “To our heroes of Montgomery Co. Maryland / That we through life may not forget to love the Thin Gray Line.”

In fact, the Thin Grey Line came through Montgomery and adjoining Frederick counties at least three times, en route to Antietam, Gettysburg and Washington. Lee’s army expected to find recruits and help with food, clothing and information. They didn’t. Maryland residents greeted Union soldiers as liberators when they came through on the way to Antietam. Recognizing the residents of Frederick as hostile, Confederate cavalry leader Jubal Early demanded and got $300,000 from them lest he burn their town, a sum equal to at least $5,000,000 today. Today, however, Frederick boasts what it calls the “Maryland Confederate Memorial,” and the manager of the Frederick cemetery — filled with Union and Confederate dead — told me in an interview, “Very little is done on the Union side” around Memorial Day. “It’s mostly Confederate.”

In addition to winning the battle for public monuments, neo-Confederates also managed to rename the war, calling it “the War Between the States.” Nevermind that while it was going on, no one called it that. Even Jeopardy!accepts it.

Perhaps most perniciously, neo-Confederates now claim that the South seceded for states’ rights. When each state left the Union, its leaders made clear that they were seceding because they were for slavery and against states’ rights. In its “Declaration Of The Causes Which Impel The State Of Texas To Secede From The Federal Union,” for example, the secession convention of Texas listed the states that had offended them: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa. These states had in fact exercised states’ rights by passing laws that interfered with the federal government’s attempts to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act. Some also no longer let slaveowners “transit” through their states with their slaves. “States’ rights” were what Texas was seceding against. Texas also made clear what it was seceding for: white supremacy:

We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

Despite such statements, during and after the Nadir, neo-Confederates put up monuments that flatly lied about the Confederate cause. For example, . . .

Continue reading.

The outright lies are amazing, particularly those included in school textbooks: despite being blatant falsehoods, they are taught to young American children.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2015 at 9:49 am

Posted in Education, GOP

People Are Finally Talking About The Thing Nobody Wants To Talk About

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Nurith Aizenman reports at NPR (and there’s audio at the link):

When Elynn Walter walks into a room of officials from global health organizations and governments, this is how she likes to get their attention:

“I’ll say, ‘OK, everyone stand up and yell the word blood!’ or say, ‘Half of the people in the world have their period!’ ”

It’s her way of getting people talking about a topic that a lot of people, well, aren’t comfortable talking about: menstrual hygiene.

Walter is an activist whose mission is to improve hygiene in low-income countries. She works with the group WASH Advocates (WASH stands for “water, sanitation and hygiene”). Her issue is critical. Across the developing world, tens of millions of girls face major difficulties managing their monthly period. According to UNICEF, more than half the schools in the poorest countries lack private toilets. And unlike teenage girls in well-off countries, many in the developing world can’t afford (or even find) tampons and pads.

But addressing the problem is a challenge, says Walter, because even otherwise level-headed experts on poverty tend to get squeamish when the talk turns to periods. In fact, Walter thinks the squeamishness over menstrual hygiene is a big reason why global health and development advocates ignored the subject for decades.

“It’s not that it wasn’t an issue,” she says. “But it was just one of those things that no one was talking about. It was viewed as more of a feminist issue or just something that women should think about in the privacy of their own home, behind closed doors.”

Now there’s a gathering effort to change that, at least partly due to the work of a growing number of researchers who, starting about a decade ago, began studying the impact of menstrual hygiene challenges on girls’ lives.

Marni Sommer was among the first.

She laughs as she recalls her first foray into the subject in 2004: “Try doing your Ph.D. on menstruation and sitting at a dinner table when people say, ‘So, What’s your dissertation on?'”

Sommer, now a professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, was trying to answer a question that had nagged at her ever since she was a Peace Corps volunteer teaching at a school in Eritrea.

“A lot of girls were disappearing from school around puberty,” she says. In grad school, she recalls, “I started looking at the literature trying to understand why we still have this gap in schooling between girls and boys in lower-income regions.”

There were a range of theories, but no one seemed to be paying attention to what struck Sommer as an obvious one: For girls, puberty means getting your period, and the schools she’d seen in Eritrea weren’t exactly equipped for that. No toilets, no running water.

“I wondered how would I — at age 10, 12, 14, 16 — have sat in a classroom for six hours a day with boys squished under the same desks with me. Would I have come to school? Because I went to an all-girls school and I still worried about standing up in class and having accidents on my skirt.”

The only report Sommer could find that discussed the issue was from 1924. She speculates that the discomfort people feel over the topic was only part of the problem. Another is that, as a cause, improving menstrual hygiene straddles three areas of activism that are often separate — water and sanitation, education and global health. And it wasn’t an obvious priority in any arena.

For years, water and sanitation specialists mostly consisted of male engineers, says Sommer. “I don’t think the engineers didn’t want to help girls. I think it just hadn’t occurred to them that this was a challenge.” Meanwhile, she says, global health advocates were almost exclusively concerned with problems that were actually killing girls. “In public health, you focus on the deaths and the severe illnesses because you have limited funding.”

But education advocates have long been interested in expanding girls’ access to schooling. And by connecting menstrual hygiene to that cause, researchers like Sommer have dramatically raised the issue’s profile.

Studies have now been done across Africa and parts of Asia and Latin America. They’re still limited in scope and number, but so far they all suggest the same thing: This problem is severe enough that girls miss school every month.

The lack of toilets at schools is just one difficulty girls describe. Another is the expense of reliable, leak-proof products. The good news is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 June 2015 at 1:51 pm

Want to learn to read a foreign language? Try Readlang.com

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Fluency in another tongue has four components and each is to a great extent learned separately, as if each were controlled by different mental processes, with each being a separate skill: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Readlang.com can offer good help with reading, but to learn speaking, listening, and writing, those must be practiced on their own. (You can help learn speaking by reading aloud, which engages and educates the processes involved in speaking.)

I found Readlang.com to be quite interesting. And it does include Esperanto. (I knew you would be curious.)

Written by LeisureGuy

19 June 2015 at 2:06 pm

What happens as a society fragments and closes: Bye bye, open society

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Very interesting article in Vox by Edward Schlosser:

I’m a professor at a midsize state school. I have been teaching college classes for nine years now. I have won (minor) teaching awards, studied pedagogy extensively, and almost always score highly on my student evaluations. I am not a world-class teacher by any means, but I am conscientious; I attempt to put teaching ahead of research, and I take a healthy emotional stake in the well-being and growth of my students.

Things have changed since I started teaching. The vibe is different. I wish there were a less blunt way to put this, but my students sometimes scare me — particularly the liberal ones.

Not, like, in a person-by-person sense, but students in general. The student-teacher dynamic has been reenvisioned along a line that’s simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective, giving each and every student the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher’s formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best.

What it was like before

In early 2009, I was an adjunct, teaching a freshman-level writing course at a community college. Discussing infographics and data visualization, we watched a flash animation describing how Wall Street’s recklessness had destroyed the economy.

The video stopped, and I asked whether the students thought it was effective. An older student raised his hand.

“What about Fannie and Freddie?” he asked. “Government kept giving homes to black people, to help out black people, white people didn’t get anything, and then they couldn’t pay for them. What about that?”

I gave a quick response about how most experts would disagree with that assumption, that it was actually an oversimplification, and pretty dishonest, and isn’t it good that someone made the video we just watched to try to clear things up? And, hey, let’s talk about whether that was effective, okay? If you don’t think it was, how could it have been?

The rest of the discussion went on as usual.

The next week, I got called into my director’s office. I was shown an email, sender name redacted, alleging that I “possessed communistical [sic] sympathies and refused to tell more than one side of the story.” The story in question wasn’t described, but I suspect it had do to with whether or not the economic collapse was caused by poor black people.

My director rolled her eyes. She knew the complaint was silly bullshit. I wrote up a short description of the past week’s class work, noting that we had looked at several examples of effective writing in various media and that I always made a good faith effort to include conservative narratives along with the liberal ones.

Along with a carbon-copy form, my description was placed into a file that may or may not have existed. Then … nothing. It disappeared forever; no one cared about it beyond their contractual duties to document student concerns. I never heard another word of it again.

That was the first, and so far only, formal complaint a student has ever filed against me.

Now boat-rocking isn’t just dangerous — it’s suicidal

This isn’t an accident: I have intentionally adjusted my teaching materials as the political winds have shifted. (I also make sure all my remotely offensive or challenging opinions, such as this article, are expressed either anonymously or pseudonymously). Most of my colleagues who still have jobs have done the same. We’ve seen bad things happen to too many good teachers — adjuncts getting axed because their evaluations dipped below a 3.0, grad students being removed from classes after a single student complaint, and so on.

I once saw an adjunct not get his contract renewed after students complained that he exposed them to “offensive” texts written by Edward Said and Mark Twain. His response, that the texts were meant to be a little upsetting, only fueled the students’ ire and sealed his fate.  That was enough to get me to comb through my syllabi and cut out anything I could see upsetting a coddled undergrad, texts ranging from Upton Sinclair to Maureen Tkacik — and I wasn’t the only one who made adjustments, either.

I am frightened sometimes by the thought that a student would complain again like he did in 2009. Only this time it would be a student accusing me not of saying something too ideologically extreme — be it communism or racism or whatever — but of not being sensitive enough toward his feelings, of some simple act of indelicacy that’s considered tantamount to physical assault. As Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis writes, “Emotional discomfort is [now] regarded as equivalent to material injury, and all injuries have to be remediated.” Hurting a student’s feelings, even in the course of instruction that is absolutely appropriate and respectful, can now get a teacher into serious trouble. . .

Continue reading.

Soviet censors really had very little to do except keep the fear level high. People (writers, actors, directors, and so on) censored themselves, as above.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 June 2015 at 4:44 pm

Posted in Education

“Cultural Genocide”: Landmark Report Decries Canada’s Forced Schooling of Indigenous Children

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Democracy Now! has a report on Canada’s sad history of cultural genocide, a vigorous government effort to curtain diversity. The blurb:

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada has concluded the country’s decades-long policy of forcibly removing indigenous children from their families and placing them in state-funded residential Christian schools amounted to “cultural genocide.” After a six-year investigation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report concluded: “The Canadian government pursued this policy of cultural genocide because it wished to divest itself of its legal and financial obligations to aboriginal people and gain control over their lands and resources. If every aboriginal person had been ‘absorbed into the body politic,’ there would be no reserves, no treaties and no aboriginal rights.” The first schools opened in 1883. The last one closed in 1998. During that time over 150,000 indigenous children were sent away to rid them of their native cultures and languages and integrate them into mainstream Canadian society. Many students recall being beaten for speaking their native languages and losing touch with their parents and customs. The report also documents widespread physical, cultural and sexual abuse. We are joined by Pamela Palmater, associate professor and chair of the Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University, an Idle No More activist and author of “Beyond Blood: Rethinking Indigenous Identity and Belonging.”

Written by LeisureGuy

3 June 2015 at 2:31 pm

Posted in Education, Government

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