News and Notes: February 17, 2014

I’ve come across of lot of thought-provoking reads lately. Here’s a roundup:

In the Classroom

  • David Cutler says it time to say goodbye to history textbooks. Yours truly was almost brought to tears reading this wonderful essay.
  • Catherine Gobron asks, “is compulsory schooling necessary?” Gobron says no, arguing that “making people do things they don’t like encourages people to dislike the thing you are making them do, even when that thing is fun or valuable. If a person finds a road worth crossing, they’ll cross it.”
  • Laura Miller writes a thought-provoking essay on the tendency of readers to unjustly blame their own comprehension struggles on the authors and scholars whose works they are reading. Miller suggests that readers blame others for their difficulties because they don’t want to feel ignorant or have a sense of intellectual insecurity.
  • Chris Conrad writes a heart-felt and inspirational essay on the shortcomings of history education in the United States. He points out that non-European history (Asian, African, South American history, etc.) are only taught when they have a connection to white European history, and that history is more than facts. “We have a fetish toward facts, numbers, and statistics and demonstrate a fear of questioning and theorizing,” argues Conrad, and we must work to not view history as a monolithic narrative of progress, but a complex story with many perspectives and a wide range of ups and downs.
  • In an essay that parallels Conrad’s, Abigail Zuger argues that the “single best answer syndrome” has infiltrated the world of medical education.
  • Fellow scholar and Twitter/Facebook buddy Andrew Joseph Pegoda writes about teaching writing intensive courses for undergrads.
  • The Washington Post details the story of an 11-year-old dying boy who was forced to take a standardized test in Florida. Sadly, the boy (Ethan Rediske) passed away on February 7.

History, Science, Technology, and Philosophy

  • Simon Critchley writes a beautiful essay on “the Dangers of Certainty,” arguing that “all knowledge, all information that passes between human beings, can be exchanged only within what we might call ‘a play of tolerance,’ whether in science, literature, politics or religion.”
  • How to train your mind to think critically and form your own opinions.
  • Noam Cohen analyzes the efforts of Wikipedia to create programming that makes it easier for mobile users to make edits to the world’s largest reference website.
  • According to a recent study by the National Science Foundation, one in four Americans thinks the Sun goes around the Earth. Oy vey 😦
  • My friend Joshua Hedlund argues that the recent Bill Nye/Ken Ham debate over Evolutionism and Creationism demonstrated that scientists are not as open-minded or “progressive” as Bill Nye would have them to be, nor is their evidence as strong as it may seem. An interesting and thought-provoking read.
  • Eric Foner reflects on teaching history and the need to question American Exceptionalism. A quote is necessary to give readers a taste of the brilliance of this interview:

I would say the most pernicious idea about history that is widely shared here is the idea of American exceptionalism: That our history is so different from that of every other country that we don’t have to know anything about anybody else. With that comes, “We are better than everybody else. We have a unique mission in the world.” In a way it alerts us to issues of liberty and human rights around the world—but in a globalized, interconnected world, that notion of exceptionalism has little real validity. It leads to parochialism, self-satisfaction, and a lack of interest in the rest of the world. If I had one idea I’d like everyone to abandon, it’s American exceptionalism, that we are exempt from the processes of history that affect everybody else. That we have a superior position in the world that gives us the right to tell other countries what they ought to do without listening to an international dialogue.


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