Friday, February 20, 2015

The education I want everyone to have

A few decades ago, I went to school in social work because I wanted to do research on how to solve social problems.  I noticed that there was a gap between what is implemented and what works. My idea was to find out what works.  Now it seems to me that the problem is not that no one knows what works, but that that knowledge is not put to use. 

It was maybe a month ago that I heard on the radio, on the Canadian show As It Happens, about a deputy sheriff in Florida who said that kids should spank their kids more often, because then kids would learn not to do bad things, and would therefore not grow up to be criminals. 

The research I've read all points the other way -- that spanking would increase rather than decrease criminality.  Now I haven't read a lot about it, and I haven't read about it recently, so I'm not an expert.  I could be wrong.  But if I'm right, then there is a law enforcement leader who is not knowledgeable about the causes of criminal behavior.  He of all people should have been educated in this stuff.

I think that everyone should learn certain things before they graduate high school.  Critical thinking would be a part of it.  When people hear something that leads them to come to a conclusion, I want them to be able to think about whether the evidence is really sound.  Are they generalizing from one anecdote? If a study was done, at face value, that might seem like good evidence.  But people need to know how to evaluate studies.  They need to think about who funded the study, and how was the sample chosen.  I recently read that a study found that wearing bright clothing does not protect bicyclists from being hit by cars.  Now, I don't know how that particular study was done, but what comes to mind is that if you were to do a study that found that 60% of bicyclists who got hit by cars were wearing bright clothing, that alone tells you nothing.  People need to educated enough to realize that they would also need to know what percentage of bicyclists who did not get hit by cars were wearing bright clothing.

People need to be aware of why certain things grab our attention.  You can see in the stories that go viral that they have certain elements which tap into people's emotions.  We need to educate people about what those elements are, so that they can see how they are being affected.

People tend to latch onto stories that validate their beliefs.  People who are upset about police brutality latch onto stories about police brutality.  They say, "See, I told you there's something wrong with the police."  People who feel that Christianity is under attack latch onto stories that fit with that view. 

We need to education people so that they can recognize when they are latching onto a story that way, and then take a moment to step back and look at the larger picture, to consider whether in addition to this evidence that supports their views, there also exists evidence which counters their views. 

It's not only logic and statistics that should be taught.  Students need to hear the stories of a wide range of people.  It's so easy to assume that what we experience is what others experience, and that what's easy for us must be easy for other people.  A person who has always been treated fairly by police thinks that if police are hassling someone, that person must have done something wrong.  Students need stories to help them understand how the world looks from other points of view.

Voters have their ideas about poverty, crime, health care, education, child-rearing, etc.   Elected officials have to do what will make the voters happy.  And so the programs we have to address social problems are the programs that are consistent with the simplistic beliefs of the voters.  That's why we don't have programs that actually solve problems.  That's why we need to educate people.  So that they can come to evaluate research about social problems, and support effective solutions. 

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