Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Summer Reading

This summer I got away for four weeks down to Belize and Mexico.  Unfortunately I don't think well in the heat: I go into survival/suffer mode. This trip was no different.  However, I did pick my way through a good biography of Mao.  He was so atrocious I had to digest it in bits (and I normally consider myself a fairly jaded fatalist!).  I'm just no good with sociopathic bullies.

It was interesting to learn a bit about the context of the Korean war (Mao wanted to sucker US into an engagement to get Russian arms, tech and industry into the country).  It was also interesting to see the group dynamics Mao relied on in his road to tyranny.  My main lesson was that in conditions of scarcity (mental or physical) people's response to group dynamics tend to bifurcate: sheeple vs. rebels.  This makes it easy for tyrants to suss out purges.  You also want to desensitize system responses and leverage the power of "big brothers".

I also made it through a number of educational reform history books.  The only one that stands out is Larry Cuban's How Teachers Taught.  He grabbed primary sources to record snapshots of observed teaching practices from 1880 to 1990.  I think I appreciated the primary data in this book more than I do the overarching observations in his Tinkering to Utopia book (based on the insights from the How Teachers Taught data).  Tinkering to Utopia, is however a must read for anyone needing to situate the problems of ed reform.

My big take-away from Cuban's book was to re-elevate the hybridization problem of ed reform.  The basic issue is that most every reform (large or small) gets hybridized.  50 year phase transitions, while  pervasive, are not fully so.