“Robinson Insisted That Creativity Can Be Taught”

(p. B12) Ken Robinson, a dynamic, influential proponent of stimulating the creativity of students that has too often been squelched by schools in the service of conformity, died on Aug. 21 [2020] at his home in London.

. . .

Mr. Robinson consulted with governments and schools around the world, conducted workshops and wrote books, including “Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative” (2001) and “You, Your Child and School: Navigate Your Way to the Best Education” (2018), with Lou Aronica.

He preached that schools needed not only to broaden their curriculums but also to support teachers as creative professionals and to personalize learning by breaking large classrooms — artificial environments that invite boredom, he said — into small groups.

“Kids will take a chance,” he said in the TED Talk. “If they don’t know, they’ll have a go. Am I right? They’re not frightened of being wrong.” But, he added, “By the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity.”

Mr. Robinson insisted that creativity can be taught — not through direct instruction, but by giving students opportunities, inspiration, encouragement and mentoring.

The educator Salman Khan said that his popular online website Khan Academy draws on Mr. Robinson’s teachings in part by personalizing curriculums to meet individual students’ needs.

“He opened our eyes to an educational system that isn’t fair to a lot of kids and holds back their potential,” Mr. Khan said in a phone interview. “He helped a lot of educators, including myself, say, ‘Hey, look, this is a time to change.’ ”

For the full obituary, see:

Richard Sandomir. “Ken Robinson, Who Encouraged Schools to Nurture Creativity, Is Dead at 70.” The New York Times (Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020): B12.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Sept. 11, 2020, and has the title “Ken Robinson, Who Preached Creativity in Teaching, Dies at 70.”)

The updated third edition of Ken Robinson’s first book mentioned above is:

Robinson, Ken. Out of Our Minds: The Power of Being Creative. New York: Wiley, 2017.

New York Times’s “Inexcusable” Reporting Ignored Sophia Farrar, Whose Actions Belied the Kitty Genovese Narrative

(p. A24) The story of Kitty Genovese, coupled with the number 38, became a parable for urban indifference after Ms. Genovese was stalked, raped and stabbed to death in her tranquil Queens neighborhood.

Two weeks after the murder, The New York Times reported in a front-page article that 37 apathetic neighbors who witnessed the murder failed to call the police, and another called only after she was dead.

It would take decades for a more complicated truth to unravel, including the fact that one neighbor actually raced from her apartment to rescue Ms. Genovese, knowing she was in distress but unaware whether her assailant was still on the scene.

That woman, Sophia Farrar, the unsung heroine who cradled the body of Ms. Genovese and whispered “Help is on the way” as she lay bleeding, died on Friday [Aug. 28, 2020] at her home in Manchester, N.J.

. . .

The murder was reported in a modest four-paragraph article in The Times. Two weeks later, its interest piqued by a tip from the city’s police commissioner, The Times produced a front-page account of the killing that transformed the murder into a global allegory for callous egocentrism in the urban jungle and undermined the innocent-bystander alibi.

. . .

That account — epitomized by one neighbor’s stated excuse that “I didn’t want to get involved” — galvanized outrage, became the accepted narrative for decades and even spawned a subject of study in psychology: how bystanders react to tragedy. Except that with the benefit of hindsight, the number of eyewitnesses turned out to have been exaggerated; none actually saw the attack completely; some who heard it thought it was a drunken brawl or a lovers’ quarrel; and several people said they did call the police.

. . .

In several retrospectives decades after the murder, The Times reassessed the original account, concluding that more neighbors might have heard Ms. Genovese’s screams than actually witnessed the attack. But only one Times article, during Mr. Moseley’s trial, even mentioned Mrs. Farrar’s name, reporting that she and Ms. Zielonko found the victim in the vestibule.

Since Mrs. Farrar was interviewed on camera in “The Witness,” though, among those who criticized The Times’s failure to report her presence in earlier accounts of the crime was Joseph Lelyveld, who was the executive editor of The Times in the 1990s. He has called the omission “inexcusable.”

For the full obituary, see:

Sam Roberts. “Sophia Farrar Dies at 92; Belied Indifference to Kitty Genovese Attack.” The New York Times (Friday, September 4, 2020): A24.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Sept. 2, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

A Forgotten Language Will Be Easier to Re-Learn

(p. 12) What makes sociolinguistics a subject worth engaging with are the surprises, and Kinzler’s book is full of them. She reveals the extent to which language imprints our brains and how we are neurologically programmed to be sensitive to it. Even if we lose a language after early childhood and no longer speak it in adulthood, learning it will be easier because of deep-seated neural settings permanently etched by that first language.

For the full review, see:

John McWhorter. “Fuggedaboutit!” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, August 2, 2020): 12.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date July 21 [sic], 2020, and has the title “The Biases We Hold Against the Way People Speak.”)

The book under review is:

Kinzler, Katherine D. How You Say It: Why You Talk the Way You Do―and What It Says About You. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020.

Chinese Communists Try to Intimidate U.S. Universities

(p. A1) The effect of the new national-security law that China imposed on Hong Kong is extending far beyond the territory to American college campuses.

Classes at some elite universities will carry a warning label this fall: This course may cover material considered politically sensitive by China. And schools are weighing measures to try to shield students and faculty from prosecution by Chinese authorities.

. . .

(p. A6) “We cannot self-censor,” said Rory Truex, an assistant professor who teaches Chinese politics at Princeton. “If we, as a Chinese teaching community, out of fear stop teaching things like Tiananmen or Xinjiang or whatever sensitive topic the Chinese government doesn’t want us talking about, if we cave, then we’ve lost.”

. . .

Concerns about China’s influence on academics around the world have grown over the past two decades, as some educational institutions set up campuses in China and many increasingly rely on fees paid by Chinese students, who account for more foreign students in the U.S. than any other country.

There are indications that Chinese students in the U.S. could fall afoul of Chinese laws. A University of Minnesota student was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment after returning home to the Chinese city of Wuhan last year. He was convicted of “provocation” for tweets he wrote while studying in the U.S. that allegedly mocked Chinese leaders.

For the full story, see:

Lucy Craymer. “Hong Kong Law Makes Top U.S. Colleges Wary.” The Wall Street Journal (Thursday, August 20, 2020): A1 & A6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Aug. 19, 2020, and has the title “China’s National-Security Law Reaches Into Harvard, Princeton Classrooms.”)

The Case for Canceling “Yale,” and Renaming it “Dummer University”

(p. A5) I see that #CancelYale is trending on Twitter and elsewhere in social media. It’s a development I’d like to encourage—not, to be frank, because I think that canceling things is a good idea. Quite the opposite. But if the Left is going to pursue its dream of destroying every reminder of our past it doesn’t like, and if woke institutions like Yale, bloated with too much money and far too much self-regard, are going to betray their raison d’être and join in the effort to control the present by destroying the past, then I think an example should be made of corrupt institutions like Yale and craven leaders like Peter Salovey, the university’s president.

Besides, if the Left can deface or destroy statues of George Washington, Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, and countless others, shouldn’t we insist that they live up to their own ideals and cancel racially tainted liberal institutions like Yale?

A few years ago, Yale, in a fit of woke panic, decided to change the name of Calhoun College—named for John C. Calhoun, Yale graduate and valedictorian—because his position on slavery was not consonant with the position today advocated by Yale.

. . .

President Salovey’s letter announcing that Calhoun College would be renamed argues that “unlike . . . Elihu Yale, who made a gift that supported the founding of our university, . . . Calhoun has no similarly strong association with our campus.” What can that mean? Calhoun graduated valedictorian from Yale College in 1804. Is that not a “strong association”? . . .

As far as I have been able to determine, Elihu Yale never set foot in New Haven. His benefaction of some books and goods worth £800 helped found Yale College, not Yale University. And whereas the 11th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica praises Calhoun for his “just and kind” treatment of slaves and the “stainless integrity” of his character, Elihu Yale had slaves flogged, hanged a stable boy for stealing a horse, and was eventually removed from his post in India for corruption. In Calhoun’s day, although one could own slaves, participating in the international slave trade was a capital crime. Yale, as an administrator in India, was deeply involved in the slave trade. He always made sure that ships leaving his jurisdiction for Europe carried at least 10 slaves. Is all that not “fundamentally at odds” with the mission of Peter Salovey’s Yale?

. . .

But if the institution currently known as Yale wants to capitalize on its colonial origins, how about naming the university a%er Jeremiah Dummer, the Harvard chap who induced Elihu Yale to make his benefaction in the first place. Shouldn’t he, and not the slaver Yale, have the honor of having a (once) great university named after him? To ask the question is to answer it.

By all means, cancel Yale. Remove the horrid name from clothing and other merchandise. But replace it with a more honorable name: Dummer. Dummer University. The Dummer School of Law. The Dummer School of Art. A Dummer degree.

For the full commentary, see:

Kimball, Roger. “Rename Yale Now.” The New York Times (Thursday, July 2, 2020): A5.

(Note: ellipses internal to paragraphs, in original; other ellipses, added.)

(Note: Roger Kimball’s commentary appeared as a full-page ad sponsored by the Center for American Greatness. I have searched for the ad on nytimes.com and did not find it. )

“The Credentialist Prejudice” of the “College-Educated Elites”

Sandel in the passages quoted below is on to an important problem: that success depends too much on credentials. But in later passages than those quoted below, he misinterprets the deeper cause of the problem. He thinks the problem is that we value a person’s “merit.” I think valuing merit is fine, but we too much identify merit with credentials. Merit depends on character and skills. Credentials, at best, are one noisy signal of merit.

(p. 5) It is important to remember that most Americans — nearly two-thirds — do not have a four-year college degree. By telling workers that their inadequate education is the reason for their troubles, meritocrats moralize success and failure and unwittingly promote credentialism — an insidious prejudice against those who do not have college degrees.

The credentialist prejudice is a symptom of meritocratic hubris. By 2016, many working people chafed at the sense that looked down on them with condescension. This complaint was not without warrant. Survey research bears out what many working-class voters intuit: At a time when racism and sexism are out of favor (discredited though not eliminated), credentialism is the last acceptable prejudice.

In the United States and Europe, disdain for the less educated is more pronounced, or at least more readily acknowledged, than prejudice against other disfavored groups. In a series of surveys conducted in the United States, Britain, the Netherlands and Belgium, a team of social psychologists led by Toon Kuppens found that college-educated respondents had more bias against less-educated people than they did against other disfavored groups. The researchers surveyed attitudes toward a range of people who are typically victims of discrimination. In Europe, this list included Muslims and people who are poor, obese, blind and less educated; in the United States, the list also included African-Americans and the working class. Of all these groups, the poorly educated were disliked most of all.

Beyond revealing the disparaging views that college-educated elites have of less-educated people, the study also found that elites are unembarrassed by this prejudice. They may denounce racism and sexism, but they are unapologetic about their negative attitudes toward the less educated.

For the full commentary, see:

Michael J. Sandel. “The Consequences Of the Diploma Divide.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sunday, September 6, 2020): 5.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 2, 2020, and has the title “Disdain for the Less Educated Is the Last Acceptable Prejudice.”)

Sandel’s commentary is related to his book:

Sandel, Michael J. The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020.

The paper co-authored by Kuppens and mentioned above is:

Kuppens, Toon, Russell Spears, Antony S. R. Manstead, Bram Spruyt, and Matthew J. Easterbrook. “Educationism and the Irony of Meritocracy: Negative Attitudes of Higher Educated People Towards the Less Educated.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 76 (May 2018): 429-47.

Universities Are No Longer Bastions of Free Speech

(p. C2) The problem of free speech takes different forms in different settings. Speech controversies on college campuses affect relatively few Americans, but they receive a great deal of attention, since colleges have traditionally been centers of open debate. Students once jealously guarded their speech rights. The Free Speech Movement, the first great student protest of the 1960s, erupted at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1964, when a former student was arrested by a campus police officer for leafleting on behalf of the civil rights organization CORE, the Congress of Racial Equality. At the height of the protest, up to 4,000 students demonstrated in favor of free speech on campus, and 800 went to jail.

To see how much things have changed, look at the case of Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski, which the Supreme Court recently agreed to take up. The case deals with a 2016 incident in which a student at Georgia Gwinnett College, a public college in Lawrenceville, Ga., was disciplined for making a public speech testifying to his Christian faith. Ironically, Chike Uzuegbunam was standing in one of the school’s designated “free speech zones” when a campus police officer told him that the school had received complaints and he had to stop speaking.

In a 2017 brief arguing for dismissal of the case, Georgia’s attorney general argued that the officer was justified because Mr. Uzuegbunam “used contentious religious language that, when directed to a crowd, has a tendency to incite hostility.”

. . .

. . ., when people are told that they can’t say what they think, rather than being presented with an argument for why it’s wrong, they may comply, but they won’t change their minds. As the philosopher Benedict Spinoza wrote in the 17th century, when religious opinions were the ones being censored, people “are most prone to resent the branding as criminal of opinions which they believe to be true…In a democracy, everyone submits to the control of authority over his actions, but not over his judgment and reason.”

For the full commentary, see:

Adam Kirsch. “Land of Free (and Fettered) Speech.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, September 5, 2020): C1-C2.

(Note: ellipses between, and at the start of, paragraphs added; ellipsis internal to the last paragraph in original added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sep. 4, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

Deliberate Practice Is Key to Peak Performance

(p. D7) Anders Ericsson, a cognitive psychologist who demystified how expertise is acquired, suggesting that anyone can become a grand chess master, a concert violinist or an Olympic athlete with the proper training and the will, died on June 17 at his home in Tallahassee, Fla.

. . .

Professor Ericsson discovered that what separated the violinists’ skill levels was not natural-born talent but the hours of practice they had logged since childhood. The future teachers registered around 4,000 hours, the very good violinists 8,000 and the elite performers more than 10,000. The same study was conducted with pianists, with similar results.

Published in 1993 in Psychological Review, the paper later formed the basis for the so-called 10,000-hour rule described in Malcolm Gladwell’s best-selling “Outliers” (2008), which holds that it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a skill or field.

. . .

“Many people think what Anders discovered is that quantity of practice makes you a champion,” said Angela Duckworth, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Grit” (2016), a book about passion and perseverance. “That’s disastrously incomplete. It’s quantity and quality. One of his insights that I hope will have a lasting legacy is people need to work hard, but also smart.”

Professor Ericsson focused on what he called “deliberate practice,” which entails immediate feedback, clear goals and focus on technique. According to his research, the lack of deliberate practice explained why so many people reach only basic proficiency at something, whether it be a sport, pastime or profession, without ever attaining elite status. A Sunday golfer may whack balls around the course for years, but without incorporating such methods that player will never become the next Tiger Woods.

. . .

He had his critics. One of them, Zachary Hambrick, a professor of psychology at Michigan State University, co-wrote a paper in 2014 that concluded that deliberate practice was not the sole reason for peak performance in chess players and musicians. Innate characteristics like talent and intelligence, Mr. Hambrick argued, play a far more significant role than Professor Ericsson allowed for.

“There’s a side of me that resonates with his hopeful message,” said Scott Barry Kaufman, a humanistic psychologist who studies creativity and hosts “The Psychology Podcast.” “However, there’s another side of me that has seen the research, in a wide range of aspects in the field, that suggests that we can have some pretty severe limits on what we can achieve in life.”

Nevertheless, Mr. Kaufman added, “I don’t think any of this invalidates his contributions. He showed that humans have the capacity to go beyond, from one generation to the next, what had been thought of the limits of human potential.”

For the full obituary see:

Steven Kurutz. “Anders Ericsson, 72, Psychologist Who Became ‘Expert on Experts,’ Dies.” The New York Times (Monday, July 6, 2020): D7.

(Note: ellipses added, italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated July 4, 2018, and has the title “Anders Ericsson, Psychologist and ‘Expert on Experts,’ Dies at 72.”)

Anders Ericsson explained his views on peak performance in his co-authored book:

Ericsson, Anders, and Robert Pool. Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016.

Harvard Administrators “Allow Themselves to Be Bullied”

(p. A23) In May [2019], Harvard College announced that it would not renew the appointment of me and my wife, Stephanie Robinson, as faculty deans of Winthrop House, one of Harvard’s undergraduate residential houses, because I am one of the lawyers who represented the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in advance of his coming sexual assault trial.

. . .

. . ., the administration capitulated to protesters. Given that universities are supposed to be places of considered and civil discourse, where people are forced to wrestle with difficult, controversial and unfamiliar ideas, this is disappointing.

Harvard has been silent in other disappointing ways. Not long ago, I was taking my 9-year-old son to school when we saw that “Down with Sullivan” had been spray-painted on the wall abutting our home. I had to explain to my son that representing unpopular clients serves an important constitutional role in our democracy and that I had done nothing wrong. As you might imagine, it was hard to see my son read that piece of graffiti.

. . .

. . . I am profoundly troubled by the reaction of university administrators who are in charge of student growth and development. The job of a teacher is to help students think through what constitutes a reasonable argument. It is a dereliction of duty for administrators to allow themselves to be bullied into unprincipled positions.

Unchecked emotion has replaced thoughtful reasoning on campus. Feelings are no longer subjected to evidence, analysis or empirical defense. Angry demands, rather than rigorous arguments, now appear to guide university policy.

This must change. Until then, universities are doing a profound disservice to those who place their trust in us to educate them.

For the full commentary, see:

Ronald S. Sullivan Jr. “Harvard Capitulates Instead of Debates.” The New York Times (Tuesday, June 25, 2019): A23.

(Note ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 24, 2019, and has the title “Why Harvard Was Wrong to Make Me Step Down.” The online version says that the New York print version appeared on p. A25. The article appeared on p. A23 of my National print version.)

Blacks Most Hurt by Creeping Credentialism

(p. A15) Nonessential degree requirements aren’t race-neutral. They embed into the labor market the legacy of black exclusion from the U.S. education system—namely, the antiliteracy laws that made it illegal for blacks to learn to read, the separate and unequal schools that kept them from catching up, and the limited progress since then on policies designed to remedy racial discrimination.

This spring, we and six other colleagues wrote a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper that questioned the fundamental assumption undergirding the proliferation of degree requirements: that workers without four-year degrees who earn low wages are low-skilled.

For the 71 million U.S. workers who have a high-school diploma but not a four-year degree, we used the skill profile of their current jobs as a proxy for their employability for higher-wage work. Their job experience suggests they are skilled through alternative routes, so we call them by the acronym STARs. They make up 60% of the active U.S. workforce.

Our research found that 16 million STARs have the skills for high-wage work, defined as earning more than twice the national median. Yet 11 million of them are currently employed in low-wage or middle-wage work. This suggests an extraordinary market failure: U.S. companies are systematically overlooking talent.

. . .

Our research suggests there are changes companies can make to address this problem:

Hire for skills and work experience, not degrees. Rather than using the degree requirement as a default, employers should examine the skills that their jobs require and then use skill requirements for job postings, screenings and assessments. IBM adopted this type of skills-based approach with its New Collar initiative, launched in 2017.

. . .

Black workers face extraordinary barriers to economic mobility. By valuing skills over degrees, companies can improve the way the labor market functions for black STARs—a necessary step to ensure that the economy works for all.

For the full commentary, see:

Peter Q. Blair and Shad Ahmed. “The Disparate Racial Impact of Requiring a College Degree.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 29, 2020): A15.

(Note: ellipses added; bullet point and italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 28, 2020, and has the title “A Coronavirus Vaccine: Faster, Please.”)

The NBER working paper mentioned above is:

Blair, Peter Q., Tomas G. Castagnino, Erica L. Groshen, Papia Debroy, Byron Auguste, Shad Ahmed, Fernando Garcia Diaz, and Cristian Bonavida. “Searching for Stars: Work Experience as a Job Market Signal for Workers without Bachelor’s Degrees.” In NBER Working Papers: National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., March 2020.

Tough Advice from Experienced Advisers Helps Us Acquire Skills

(p. R6) Recent studies suggest that people tend to favor advisers who are positive, cheerleader-types over tough talkers and voices of experience. But such preferences, the researchers also say, often lead to detrimental results, a finding with wide-ranging implications for companies and managers.

A paper published in March [2020] in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General summarized the findings of six connected studies. Subjects of inquiry included: what characteristics people predict they will use when selecting an adviser; those people’s actual adviser selections; and the potential consequences of these decisions.

. . .

And when researchers looked at the outcomes of these decisions, they noted a disturbing pattern. Those who relied primarily on cheerleader-types generally underperformed those who were guided more by expertise.

Catherine Shea, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business who focuses on organizational behavior and theory, says that choosing an experienced mentor who may be rough around the edges can be like taking cough medicine.

“It tastes awful, but it works,” she says. “Sometimes you really do need the skill set, and sometimes the nice person is not going to give it to you.”

For the full story, see:

Cheryl Winokur Munk. “People Want Mentors Who Are Their Cheerleaders. That May Not Be Wise.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, June 15, 2020): R6.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date June 14, 2020, and has the title “People Like Their Mentors to Be Cheerleaders. That May Be a Mistake.”)

The March 2020 paper mentioned above is:

Hur, Julia D., Rachel L. Ruttan, and Catherine T. Shea. “The Unexpected Power of Positivity: Predictions Versus Decisions About Advisor Selection.” Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (published online in advance of print on March 16, 2020).