What Educators and Policy Makers can Learn from “The Big Fat Surprise”

New-Nina-Book-Cover-e1399064213295What can educators learn from a book on nutrition science “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet” (2014), a book that methodically debunks advice North Americans have been following for years, which is to eat a low-fat and high carbohydrate diet for optimal health? A great deal it turns out. I don’t typically feature books in this blog that stray too far from the topic of education, but “The Big Fat Surprise” is a worthy of exception. It’s a meticulously researched book that highlights how poorly designed research studies, bias, influential leaders, and the public’s unfamiliarity with the difference between causation and correlation can impact policy to the detriment of the public good.

The book is a ten-year project by author Nina Teicholz. Through analysis and extensive review of countless nutrition, medical and health studies, interviews with top nutrition scientists, and heads of government agencies responsible for nutrition and health guidelines, Teicholz uncovers the lack of credible scientific evidence that supports the link between high cholesterol associated with diet, and heart disease (p. 172 – 173)

The study that started the low-fat diet movement (accomplished by eliminating meat, butter, eggs, cheese, dairy, etc) to curb cholesterol levels, was The Seven Countries Study (1963) by Ancel Keyes. This now famous study, sought to establish a relationship between diet and coronary heart disease and stroke. However Teicholz describes in detail the deep-rooted problems and flaws of the study. Even though Keyes was careful to state in published papers, “casual relationships are not claimed” (p. 73) he was a champion for the low-fat diet throughout his career, and extremely influential with politicians and decision makers.

Long story short, populations that include children, of numerous countries have been following low-fat diets for years yet with no scientific support that suggests low-fat diets are beneficial.  Food manufacturers are heavily invested in the low-fat movement, up to one-third of product offerings feature low-fat versions. Yet heart disease rates have not declined, and worse obesity rates have risen. Which, not coincidently began to rise (1980) at the same time the United States Department of Agriculture began publishing guidelines for low-fat diets (p. 328).

How it Relates to Education
The book illustrates how flawed research, bias and misunderstanding of results led to misguided dietary recommendations by government agencies and creation of policies that were, and still are detrimental to large groups within our population. The lessons within “The Big Fat Surprise” for decision makers and influencers within any public sector, education being at the top of the list, are instructive, even enlightening. The Wall Street Journal’s review of The Big Fat Surprise written by Trevor Butterworth from George Mason University’s site stats.org puts it this way:

“… Ms. Teicholz’s book is a lacerating indictment of Big Public Health for repeatedly putting action and policy ahead of good evidence“.

Book Highlights 

  •  Misunderstandings are exacerbated when the public, the press, and even decision makers are unfamiliar with scientific studies, specifically the difference between causation and correlation.
  • Dissenters within a scientific community can be silenced, if not shunned when bringing forth contradictory evidence of the popular hypothesis. The book describes in detail the intricacy of relationships between key decision makers, members of the scientific community, funders of the studies (in this case food companies), and how individuals can manipulate outcomes of studies to serve their own agendas.
  • There is little doubt that readers, upon finishing the book will look at claims about proven programs and even raw data with a far more discerning eye.

Further Reading and Resources:

 

Three Bold and Fresh Ideas for Education in ‘Teaching as a Subversive Activity’

“The function of the What’s-Worth-Knowing Questions Curriculum is to put two ideas into clear focus. The first is that the art and science of asking questions is the source of all knowledge…The second idea is that question asking…has to deal with problems that are perceived as useful and realistic to the learner.” Teaching As a Subversive Activity (p 81)

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by Neil Postman & Charles Weingartner, first published in 1969

“Teaching as a Subversive Activity” puts forth ideas about education that are radical, controversial, bold and fresh. It suggests eliminating syllabi, formal curriculum and textbooks from education settings. It introduces ideas of student-centered learning over teacher-centered teaching, and leading students to learn by asking questions, not by teachers giving lectures. The book was first published in 1969—considered radical among educators then, and today.

Hands down it’s on of the most challenging, thoughtful, practical books I’ve read about transforming education. I read it on the heels of “A New Culture of Learning” the book by John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas published in 2009 (my review here). The books complement each other well; Brown and Thomas write about learning in a digital age though don’t provide specific strategies. Postman and Weingartner do. The principles in “Teaching as a Subversive Activity” are applicable and relevant today just as they were forty-five years ago—how to change education where students learn how to think, to detect ‘crap’, and to learn how-to-learn that continues beyond high school and higher education.

In this post I highlight and share with readers three themes from the book, still relevant in today’s digital culture: 1) facilitating ‘crap detection’, 2) What’s-Worth-Knowing? and 3) bold proposals. There are more than these three within the book’s 218 pages, and I plan to address at least two in future posts. One readers may find interesting is the authors’ perspective on teacher education—the methods associated with teaching content. Postman and Weingartner suggest that content and method, are considered separate processes in teacher education programs, which is according to them, the wrong approach. This idea is compelling. Look for this post in the weeks to come.

Overview
To provide some context for the book, I found it helpful to dig more into the background of Neil Postman, one of the co-authors. He’s an American educator, author, critic of media and culture. Postman is known mostly because of his book, “Amusing Ourselves to Death” (1985), a book about the corrosive effects of television on culture and politics. He’s written several books on education, technology and children’s development.

Postman’s style of writing is blunt. The subtitle of “Teaching as a Subversive Activity”, ‘A no-holds barred assault on outdated teaching methods—with dramatic and practical proposals on how education can be made relevant to today’s world‘ gives the reader a glimpse into not only the content, but the authors’ tone. I adapted to the writing style; I tried to view the remarks about education not as criticisms but as a perspective. Though some readers of the book have dismissed the ideas because of the harsh criticisms of education practices, sometimes teachers (one can read the book reviewers comments on Amazon to get an idea). Saturday Review Magazine captures the implications of the authors’ tone and the books content in its review of the book featured on the back cover:

 “It will take courage to read this book…but those who are asking honest questions—what’s wrong with the worlds in which we live, how do we build communication bridges across the Generation Gap, what do they want from us? These people will squirm in the discovery that the answers are really within themselves”

The Three Themes

1) Cultivate learners to be experts at “Crap Detecting”
Crap detecting may sound harsh. Though what the authors suggest is that “schools serve as the principal medium for developing in youth attitudes and skills of social, political and cultural criticism“, where schools cultivate students that are discerning, can view problems from multiple perspectives, identify what’s valid and not, and most importantly why it is so.

Is this not an essential skill for all youth in a digital age, determining what information is ‘crap’—information that is not valid or worthy of examination, yet determine what is relevant, deserves consideration, sharing and building upon (remixing)? I’d say so. The authors use a quote from an interview with Ernest Hemingway to emphasize their point:

Isn’t there any one essential ingredient that you can identify [to be a great writer]?” Hemingway replied, “Yes, there is. In order to be a great writer a person must have a built-in, shockproof crap detector.”

It seems to us that in his response, Hemingway identified an essential survival strategy and the essential function of the school’s in today’s world.  page 3

I can’t add much more to that—relevant in 1969, and in 2014.

2) The Inquiry Method — What’s Worth Knowing?
In “A New Culture of Learning”, the concept of inquiry based learning is the fulcrum of learning in the digital age. The premise is that only when students are interested in following a path of inquiry, based on something they are passionate about, will they be motivated to learn. It’s up to educators then to harness the passion and leverage the abundance of resources to guide their learning.

This idea of inquiry learning is not new. In fact Postman may have been one of the first educators to fully develop and implement the method in a public school setting. Postman started, along with another educator, a model school dedicated to the inquiry method. The program named the “Program for Inquiry, Involvement, and Independent Study” was located within the New Rochelle High School in New York. The “open school” experiment survived for 15 years. 

Two chapters discuss the inquiry method and go in great detail; chapter three, and an extension the questioning technique in ‘Whats-Worth-Knowing?‘ described in chapter five. The latter chapter stimulates much thought. Authors challenge the reader to imagine a classroom without syllabi, textbooks, and curricula. Then suggests:

 “…suppose that you decide the entire curriculum consists of questions. There questions would have to be worth seeking answers to not only from your point of view but, more importantly , from the point of view of the students.”

The next challenge—on a blank page that exists within the book (it really does in the hard copy), authors instruct readers to take a pencil and list questions that might be starting questions to use with students. Though authors warn, these are starting questions given that:

“…the ecology of the inquiry environment requires that the students play a central, but not necessarily exclusive role in framing questions that they deem important”

It’s a provocative exercise. I came up with six questions, though after reading the rest of the chapter, I cut it down to four.

3) Bold Proposals
I won’t cover all of the strategies, proposals and ideas presented by the authors for education transformation, given the detail of each, and for the sake of your time. There are many.  But here is where the practicality comes in where “A New Culture of Learning” left off. As I said in my previous post, “A New Culture of Learning” didn’t provide practical solutions, or ideas for application for the new ways to learn. This book does. Some seem preposterous, some not. But perhaps it is time for preposterous ideas, though one’s perspective will determine just how preposterous the ideas are. In future posts I’ll discuss ideas put forth in the book for educating teachers and about pedagogy. In another I will share a summary of the authors’ ideas for inner city schools, classroom learning and teacher roles.

Conclusion
“Teaching as a Subversive Activity” is on the top of my list of best books for educators. If read in conjunction with “A New Culture of Learning”, one can gain an in-depth view of what education transformation really is, or what it could be, and what’s needed—which is dialogue and action that is bold and fresh.

Further Reading:

A Not-so-New Recipe for “A New Culture of Learning”

book3dA New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change“, by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown has stellar reviews from numerous reviewers including high-profile academics such as Cathy Davidson of Duke (CUNY in the near future), Howard Gardner of Harvard, and Henry Jenkins of USC. Though the content might be considered provocative by educators, few of the themes are startlingly new or groundbreaking. Though there is great potential in this book—as a catalyst for conversation about change in an education culture for instance, or as a window into learning in a digital age. Granted, given it’s publication date many ideas were new in 2011, including the concept of collective learning which describes MOOCs to a tee (pg. 72). Noted, the book was published one year prior the New York Time’s declaration of 2012 as The Year of the MOOC.

Brown and Thomas are well-regarded academics and authors—John Seely Brown is co-chairman for the Deloitte Center for the Edge, a visiting scholar at USC, and former director of Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center. Douglas Thomas, is an associate professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and is considered an expert on the culture of computer gaming.

This is not a how-to book. There are few practical examples describing how education institutions can create a new culture of learning; yet the book is an excellent primer on how and why education and learn is changing. For this reason the book holds great potential as a catalyst for conversation within education institutions. If decision-makers and stakeholders read the book it could serve as a starting point for discussions about existing education methods and approaches. It could stimulate discussion on change and its impact on students, the institution, employees and faculty. The volume lends itself to such use, as the physical book is slim at 118 pages, with wide margins that encourage the writing of notes and ideas. No question, it’s concise. Apparently this was intentional. The authors hired an editor to strip the book down to its essential points and ideas.

What is a New Culture of Learning?
Authors Seely and Brown define throughout the book what a new culture of learning entails:

So what frameworks do we need to make sense of learning in our world of constant change? The new culture of learning actually comprises two elements. The first is massive information network that provides almost unlimited access and resources to learn about anything. The second is bounded and structured environment that allows unlimited agency to build and experiment with things within those boundaries” (p 19).

The authors describe and elaborate on the themes quite well by using real scenarios; in the instance of information abundance, they provide interesting stories that emphasize the new ways of learning where learners access and vet information within a massive network. Yet there is a disconnect. The stories describe highly motivated learners, learners that seek information and learn on their own terms not within a structured or formal environment (except for one story of a group of University students set up their own study group on Facebook).  Intrinsic motivation is also a pattern observed in xMOOCs participants in 2014, where the majority of learners hold, at the very minimum, an undergraduate degree. These xMOOC students are self-motivated learners, and already know how-to-learn. If one of the ingredients to a new culture of learning is intrinsic motivation, how then can educators develop this intrinsic motivation within their students, and at the same time leverage the massive network (the Internet) for learning?

Learning as Inquiry
The authors do suggest a solution—students learn through inquiry, rather than by instruction. This approach, the authors state, will help learners find a passion for a topic, encouraging them to seek out tough problems and work harder to solve them.

“We propose reversing the order of things. What if, for example, questions were more important than answers? What if the key to learning were not the application of techniques but their intention? What if students were asking questions about things that really mattered to them? (pg 81).

The idea of problem based learning is similar to this approach of learning via inquiry. Start with a question. An example outlined in the book describes a physics teacher using an inquiry approach to teach a physics concept with a student that loves basketball. The teacher might write out a questions such as “What is the best way to shoot a basketball?” (p 82). Yet Brown and Seely don’t get to the details of how this approach translates to the classroom. What happens when all students aren’t interested in basketball or any sport for that matter? How does inquiry based learning look in context of existing curriculum?

Though the idea of learning through inquiry that Seely and Brown present is sound in principle, and there are examples of educators using the inquiry method with students, some at the K-12 level, though fewer at the post-secondary level. Many have suggested this inside out approach to education, which starts with a question not the answer. With inquiry based learning [also known as problem based learning] teachers are learning along with students, students are engaged, and are doing.

“It is crucial to recognize that inquiry-based teaching should not be viewed as a technique or instructional practice or method used to teach a subject. Rather, inquiry starts with teachers as engaged learners and researchers with the foundational belief that the topics they teach are rich, living and generous places for wonder and exploration…Inquiry is not merely ‘having students do projects’ but rather strives to nurture deep, discipline-based way of thinking and doing with students.teachinginquiry.com

Closing Thoughts
“A New Culture of Learning” is about learning in the 21st century, it’s about information abundance, and learning in the collective. It’s also a book about change, a changing culture that influences learning. Perhaps nothing new, nothing we haven’t read or heard before, but the message will be new to some, educators or professionals that haven’t considered how digital culture, the connected network we’ve created influences students, their learning. If you are looking for a conversation starter for educators you interact with, looking to implement and champion change in an education institution, this book is for you.

Further Reading

Nicolas Carr on ‘Social Physics’…The Darker Side of Reality Mining

BigDataImageIt’s this article ‘The Limits of Social Engineering that piqued my interest this week, first because of the image featured in the article which I found appealing, then it was the reference made to Marshall McLuhan, a scholar and author I admire greatly, and finally because it was by Nicolas Carr, author of the book, “The Shallows” which I reviewed this week on my blog. But it’s the article’s unusual topic that grabbed hold of me by the collar and motivated me to share it with readers—something called ‘reality mining’.  Reality mining is an advanced branch of data mining and is central to the book “Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread—The Lessons from a New Science that Carr reviews and draws from in his article. Carr provides a good overview of not just the book, but of the science, and hints at the potential ills of reality mining, or as the book’s author calls it ‘social physics’ (or ‘mislabeled’ it as several reviewers of the book on Amazon claim). With reality mining researchers and scientists create algorithmic models using ‘big data’ generated by human movements and behaviours tracked by mobile phones, GPS, wearable tech or tracking devices to analyze and predict social and civic behaviour. Reality mining, with the expansion of mobile phone penetration globally in the past year and now wearable internet enabled devices, is likely the next big thing in data mining. Already many experts extol the virtues of reality mining and what it can do for institutions, society and the public good. As quoted on the book’s website:

John Seely Brown, Former Chief Scientist, Xerox Corporation and director of Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC):

“Read this book and you will look at tomorrow differently. Reality mining is just the first step on an exciting new journey. Social Physics opens up the imagination to what might now be measurable and modifiable. It also hints at what may lie beyond Adam Smith’s invisible hand in helping groups, organizations and societies reach new levels of meaning creation. This is not just social analytics. It also offers pragmatic ways forward.”  socialphysics.media.mit.edu/book

We can already catch a glimpse of reality mining in businesses and organizations taking shape. The WSJ featured an article this week by Deloitte that describes the target market for wearable devices which is not consumers, but organizations or ‘enterprise’.  It seems there is unlimited potential for fitting employees with these wearable tech devices to gather data to support better decision-making at the workplace.

Reality mining takes Big Data to a new level, and as Carr emphasizes Big Data can and likely will be used to manipulate our behavior. It’s the idea of manipulation in this context that is disturbing.  Several questions come to mind like this one—who makes the decisions on the actions to take to manipulate a society’s behaviour? And, based on what values?

Below researchers describe how behaviour can be manipulated, as excerpted from “Social Physics” within Carr’s article:

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Author of “Social Physics”, Alex Pentland will be teaching “Big Data and Social Physics” via the edX platform. Start date: May 12, 2014

“They go into a business and give each employee an electronic ID card, called a “sociometric badge,” that hangs from the neck and communicates with the badges worn by colleagues. Incorporating microphones, location sensors, and accelerometers, the badges monitor where people go and whom they talk with, taking note of their tone of voice and even their body language. The devices are able to measure not only the chains of communication and influence within an organization but also “personal energy levels” and traits such as “extraversion and empathy.” In one such study of a bank’s call center, the researchers discovered that productivity could be increased simply by tweaking the coffee-break schedule.”

Closing Thoughts
Like Carr, I too am somewhat wary of reality mining, or ‘social physics’.  Though in examining Marshall McLuhan’s works, who Carr refers to in the opening of his article, I find wisdom in McLuhan’s words that so accurately describe what is happening now—within the realm of big data for instance.  The website managed by McLuhan’s estate includes snippets of interviews, quotes and links to his works that are worthy of perusing and pondering. I found the quote below applicable and insightful when considered in context of reality mining.

In the electric age, when our central nervous system is technologically extended to involve us in the whole of mankind and to incorporate the whole of mankind in us, we necessarily participate, in-depth, in the consequences of our every action. It is no longer possible to adopt the aloof and dissociated role of the literate Westerner.”  Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, (p 4)

Worth pondering, is it not?

Further Reading

What the Internet is Doing to Our Education Culture: Book Review of “The Shallows”

Following is a book review of “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains”, though I suggest it’s more aptly titled, “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains Culture” and I describe why in this post.

“Culture is sustained in our synapses…It’s more than what can be reduced to binary code and uploaded onto the Net. To remain vital, culture must be renewed in the minds of the members of every generation. Outsource memory, and culture withers.” Nicolas Carr, “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” a Pulitzer Prize finalist for general non-fiction in 2011

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by Nicolas Carr, 2010

Overview
Author Nicolas Carr made a name for himself with his article featured in the Atlantic “Is Google making us Stupid” in 2008. Carr is not a proponent of the Internet as one might guess from his article and from the title of his most recent book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brain (2010). Though the book’s title implies that the Internet is not good for our brains, makes us shallow, no longer capable of deep and thoughtful thinking and learning, Carr fails to provide convincing evidence that this is indeed the case. A more appropriate title might be The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Culture. Carr describes his own challenges with disconnecting with Internet-enabled devices and social media, which is more of a reflection of our current culture—the constant and often frenetic connectivity to the Internet via our mobile devices. Our behaviours as a society have deeply changed due to engagement with digital media, and it’s this behaviour research suggests, that is responsible for changing our brains. Granted the Internet is the vehicle, the catalyst to the Information Age, which impacts society, culture and global economies significantly. Though the point is moot, what I found worthy of consideration while reading Carr’s book from an education standpoint is the concept of ‘efficiency’.  Frequently mentioned throughout the book via the studies quoted, is the idea that the Internet increases efficiency—efficiency usually in the context of work, doing more with less, or in terms of finding information quickly and accurately.

The Internet is a machine designed for the efficient, automated collection, transmission, and manipulation of information, and its legions of programmers are Internet on finding the “one best way”— the perfect algorithm—to carry out the mental movements of what we’ve come to describe as knowledge work” (p 150)

The Culture of Efficiency and Education
And is this not what we have been hearing in the last couple of years in education circles, how technological advancements can increase efficiencies in education? Efficiency is often cited in the same context as effectiveness, yet more often in terms of cost savings. I was surprised to unearth a book on this topic, Education and the Cult of Efficiency, by Raymond E. Callahan, published in 1962 no less. The author was responding to the post-industrial business model that sought efficiencies in work processes for greater costs savings and higher profits.

Raymond Callahan’s lively study exposes the alarming lengths to which school administrators went, particularly in the period from 1910 to 1930, in sacrificing educational goals to the demands of business procedures. He suggests that even today the question still asked is: “How can we operate our schools?” Society has not yet learned to ask: “How can we provide an excellent education for our children? GoodReads

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By Raymond Callahan, 1962

And though Carr references efficiency in his book, it is not necessarily in an economic context as Callahan outlines. Yet the theme of efficiency as it relates to the Internet extends to our education culture—institution leaders, politicians and administrators seeking efficiency in practices and methods (automated grading, online courses with great numbers of students, etc.) Efficiency is not a ‘bad’ outcome to strive for, yet the idea of efficiency in education is frequently referenced in terms of increasing or maintaining education outcomes, with fewer resources. A recent situation in California’s public higher education system illustrates this point beautifully. Governor Jerry Brown looked to online education (MOOCs is more accurate), as a solution to the problem of bottle neck courses, where students couldn’t graduate from public universities due to too many students and not enough general education classes. Brown and members of his team referred to efficiencies frequently:

“Gov. Jerry Brown last year said that the state’s public colleges operate on a high-cost delivery model that the state cannot sustain. The price of a college education in California is growing steadily without “adding productivity or value,” the governor said….Online education is one practical way for the state’s public universities to improve efficiency.

But online education can expand college capacity and access to courses in affordable fashion. That approach is sensible for the UC system — and a worthwhile start on the much larger task of creating a more efficient and sustainable higher education system.”  The Press Enterprise

In fact, there are numerous articles and papers describing efficiencies in education published by many prominent organizations involved in education. This article for example, Higher Education: Quality, Equity and Efficiency published by the OECD which has this to say:

All nations face the challenges of mobilising more resources and using them effectively in meeting the strategic goals of society with maximum efficiency. “

Conclusion
I’ve referenced the theme of efficiency as it relates to education here which is really not the thrust of Carr’s “The Shallows“, however his book raises several interesting points about how the Internet has affected our culture which extends to our culture within education. The book is a worthwhile read, specifically for the references to how the Internet affects our ability to educate and learn—though learning not from a scientific perspective but from a behavioural one. However, when it comes to efficiency and education, I rather like Callahan’s question posed in his book “Education and the Cult of Efficiency”, ‘how can we provide an excellent education for our children’, and I would add to this, ‘in a connected world’.  The latter is now on my to-read list.

Further Reading:

‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ and What it Means for Education

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Macmillan Publishers

I recently finished Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize winner in Economics. Kahneman received the distinguished prize for his “Integrated economic analysis with fundamental insights from cognitive psychology, in particular regarding behavior under uncertainty, thereby laying the foundation for a new field of research.”

Kahneman writes extensively in Thinking, Fast and Slow about his research conducted over a period of several years with his late friend and research partner Amos Tversky. Though heavy in theory, the book is an engaging and frequently challenging read. It provides a unique perspective on the decision-making process which Kahneman demonstrates via his thesis—how we think with two systems, fast and slow. His supporting research reveals just how fallible we are. Kahneman describes the fast and slow thinking as two systems→system one which is quick, spontaneous and often inaccurate, and system two, that is slow [even lazy], methodical, yet when engaged, accesses memory for facts. Kahnemen examines how the two systems affect cognitive biases, choices, even our well-being and happiness. Going deeper, Kahneman explores how [flawed] biases and perceptions when applied to larger issues, policy decisions for example, can have significant impact on sectors such as healthcare, education and employment.

→ System 1:  fast, instinctive, is biased to believe and confirm, infers and invents          causes and intentions, exaggerates emotional consistency (halo effect)
→ System 2:  slow, deliberate, rational, logical, relies on facts and knowledge

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The image above displays the different images used in a study carried out in a kitchen in a UK university. The poster was placed above the tea/coffee area where the ‘honesty’ box was set for the payment of cups of tea or coffee consumed by employees. Above the box a different image appeared each week. The study charted the impact the image had on the value of payments into the honesty box each week (p 57).

Book Highlights
Throughout the book Kahneman incorporates numerous details and specifics of his research, describing the scenarios of his studies, even providing illustrations and images within the book. He shares the outcomes of the research in great detail along with his personal insight. The anecdotes are often humorous, providing a balance to the heaviness of the topic.

One of the writing techniques of Kahneman I enjoyed the most, was his use of summary statements at the end of each chapter representative of the concepts discussed. If I didn’t follow the logic of the statements, I had failed to grasp the concepts Kahneman presented in the chapter, which sent me back to reread it to find what I’d missed (which happened more than once). I’ve chosen a selection of statements from a few of the chapters:

Chapter 4 ‘The Associative Machine’: “They were primed to find flaws, and this is exactly what they found

Chapter 14: ‘Tom W’s Speciality’: “The start-up looks as if it could not fail, but the base rate of success in the industry is extremely low. How do we know this case is different?”

Chapter 16 ‘Causes Trump Statistics’: “No need to worry about this statistical information being ignored. On the contrary, it will immediately be used to feed a stereotype.”

Chapter 18 ‘Taming Intuitive Predictions’: Our intuitive prediction is very favorable, but it is probably too high. Let’s take into account the strength of our evidence and regress the prediction toward the mean.”

What ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’ Means to Education
As mentioned, Thinking, Fast and Slow is full of concepts that challenge traditional views on human decision-making, application of choice theory, even probability. What Kahneman’s research reveals is that people, regardless of their education background are prone to cognitive biases, faulty decision-making that fail because system 1 kicks in before the more rational and logical  system 2 is engaged. Viewing the book through an educator’s lens, the results highlight the need for institutions to educate learners to be disciplined thinkers, which is quite opposite from today’s emphasis on teaching creativity and innovation skills. Our minds, according to  Kahneman don’t naturally rely upon logical, rational or critical thinking processes.  Instead system 1 thinking dominates, prompting emotional reactions, reliance on recent events and experiences, and is susceptible to the priming effect, where exposure to one stimulus influences a response to another. Kahneman’s gives examples to support his point.  One example of a study involved doctors, which revealed even medical professionals were susceptible to the priming effect (p 227). Other scholarly research supports Kahnemans’ results, described in this research paper

Notes to Educators
If one subscribes to Kahneman theory, education for high school and undergraduates should focus on teaching disciplined thinking, decision-making skills and principles of probability, choice theory and statistics.  Another skill to emphasize is to approach problems methodically, without jumping to conclusions and settling on easy answers—a challenge given the way culture has shaped expectations for answers at the speed of light.

“The most glaring deficiency of system 2, according to Kahneman, is that it is naturally very poor with probabilities and statistics. Fortunately, system 2 can be trained to improve here, and this is another major concern of the book.” News Books In Brief, 2013

When System 1 runs into difficulty, it calls on System 2 to support more detailed and specific processing that may solve the problem of the moment… You can… feel a surge of conscious attention whenever you are surprised. System 2 is activated when an event is detected that violates the model of the world that System 1 maintains” (2011, Kahneman).

Conclusion
Thinking, Fast and Slow highlights what is missing from education, or at least what is not emphasized across disciplines, which is the concept of disciplined thinking, logic, application of methodical processes that harness factual and theoretical knowledge one learns. As mentioned already, the trend in education today leans towards teaching creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship, even the application of design thinking principles. Kahneman’s books provides solid evidence for education that includes applications of disciplined thinking, logic and methodical decision-making.

If you are interested in this book, but short on time, the resources below provide excellent highlights and descriptions of the key concepts of the book. The short YouTube video illustrates one example outlined in the book, and the link to edge.org includes an interview with Kahnamen where he discusses much of the content outlined in his book.

The video below demonstrates a scenario Kahneman describes in his book (p 186).  Note: the video uses the idea of the US grade point average (GPA).  For those not familiar with it, the top score is this instance is 4.0.

Further Reading:

Seven Must-Read Books About Education for 2014

“In the case of good books, the point is not to see how many of them you can get through, but rather how many can get through to you.”   Mortimer Jerome Adler

Many booksAt the close of every year I draw up a list of books I want to read for the upcoming one. When I was [much] younger the goal was to read as many books as I could—the more books I read the greater the sense of accomplishment I felt. I’m far more selective than I was in my youth; my aim is to read books that are worthy of my time, which is no doubt a sign of aging or crankiness, though likely it’s a bit of both. In this post I share with readers a selection of titles from my to-read list for 2014—the top seven related to education. This year [as in the past two at least] the number of titles to choose from was overwhelming. But I’ve narrowed it down to a mere seven. As the quote from Adler [above] suggests, I’m aiming for quality over quantity.

1. Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman
This book has been on my radar screen for sometime. I’ve read snippets from a variety of sources over the last couple of years, but it never quite made it onto my list.  I formally added it for  2014, placing it right at the top after seeing it made the number two spot on The Top 75 New York Times Best-Selling Education Books for 2013. The book has received numerous awards including Winner of the National Academy of Sciences Best Book Award in 2012,  The Globe and Mail’s Best Books of the Year 2011, The Economist’s 2011 Books of the Year, and The Wall Street Journal’s Best Nonfiction Books of the Year 2011.  Impressive.  Review by The Globe and Mail: The Heart of Reason, and the Reason of the Heart. Update: Read my review, ‘Thinking Fast and Slow and What it Means to Education‘.

2. The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicolas Carr
The title alone is intriguing enough, but it secured a spot on my list given it was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction. Author Nicolas Carr, technology writer is best known for his sensational article Is Google Making Us Stupid? which was featured as the cover story in the Atlantic Monthly in 2008. He’s written numerous books about technology, mostly about the negative effects of information overload and 24/7 connectivity. Carr appears to be a major cynic when it comes to technology; he describes the Internet as a medium based on interruptions, and how it’s changing the way we work and think for the worse. I look forward to reading it nonetheless. Review by the New York Times: Our Cluttered Minds. Update read my review ‘What the Internet is Doing to Our Education Culture: Book Review of The Shallows

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Hardcover, 327 pages, Little Brown & Co

3. I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education And Was Shot By The Taliban, by Christian Lamb and Malala Yousafzai
The young woman Malala Yousafzai, both the subject and title of this book, made headlines in 2012 when shot in the head by a Taliban gunman for her activism in education rights for women. Malala began sharing her views at the age of eleven—in 2009 when she began writing a blog for the BBC under a pseudonym. Her blog documented life under Taliban rule and her perspective on women’s suppression and lack of access to education. For women living in the West it is hard to imagine being barred from pursuing educational opportunities, it is something we take for granted. Ironically, I am Malala raises awareness of women’s right to education in the Middle East, yet is banned in Pakistan by an organization representing 40,000 private schools.  Review by NPR: I am Malala.

4. Burning the Page: The e-book Revolution of the Future of Reading, by Jason Merkoski
I discovered Burning the Page when reading Jonathan’s Rees’ [blogger, professor, author] post, Reading is Fundamental.  In his post, Rees suggests that reading, specifically skilled reading is on the decline, and e-books are not helping.  My interest piqued, after a bit of research discovered the book is part history, part memoir of the author’s experience as a member of Amazon’s development team for the Kindle e-reader. It’s available in e-book format AND paperback.

“Jason Merkoski was involved on the development team for the Kindle e-book reader and, for a time became a “technology evangelist” for Amazon. This book is a combination memoir and thoughtful exploration of the future of reading in as we make the shift from “analog” to digital in books.” Bob’s Review

5. Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, by Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford and Joshua Green
A speaker at a conference I attended recently mentioned that Harold Jenkins, co-author of Spreadable Media is a modern-day Marshall McLuhan. I am a big fan of McLuhan— author, philosopher, professor, and he is responsible for coining the phrase ‘the medium is the message‘.  Spreadable Media also happens to be part of the PostMilliential Pop Series; a series that “strives to publish work that re-imagines scholarship on popular culture in the age of transnationalism, convergence and globalization.

6. The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don’t, by Nate Silver
Though this work is not specific to education it’s geared more to business-minded readers, yet it is so very applicable the realm of education, more so with the advancement of our digital applications and devices. Also a timely read as the end of the year closes and we read more of the predictions for yet another.  Review: Nate Silver on Predicting the Unpredictable, interview [Podcast]

7. A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change, by Douglas Thomas and John Seely Brown
A New Culture of Learning is another one that made the New York Times 2013 list. Yet it’s not only the book topic that’s of interest, but the process the authors followed to write and publish their work. Brown and Thomas describe the publishing approach as self-styled”, essentially mirroring the learning experiences outlined in A New Culture of Learning. The book’s editor cut the book in half from the original manuscript, eliminating any and all “academic jargon“.  In the spirit of a new culture of learning, the authors solicited ten times the reviews that an academic publisher would normally seek by “including a selection of eighteen short reviews of their final manuscript from an eclectic roster of academic and digital-culture all-stars, among them James J. Duderstadt, president emeritus of the University of Michigan; Joichi Ito, chief executive of Crea­tive Commons; and Beth Simone Noveck, a professor at New York Law School” (Blumenstyk, 2011).  Update: Read my review, ‘A Not-so-new Approach to A New Culture of Learning‘.

“The book is designed to help teachers “cultivate the imagination of students,” says Brown. But equally, or more important, he says, it is also meant to inspire and challenge the teachers. Faculty might ask themselves, “how much do they manifest these cultures themselves?” Manifesto for a New Culture of Learning (Blumenstyk, 2011)

Conclusion
I look forward to another year and the good company of the books I’ll be reading.  I track my book list and reviews on the Goodreads platform, which you can find here.  If interested in viewing the previous books I’ve read and recommend on education, please click here for my education virtual bookshelf on Goodreads.

Happy New Year to you!