The Science of the Obvious

Are your lectures droning on? Change it up every 10 minutes with more active teaching techniques and more students will succeed, researchers say. A new study finds that undergraduate students in classes with traditional stand-and-deliver lectures are 1.5 times more likely to fail than students in classes that use more stimulating, so-called active learning methods.

“Universities were founded in Western Europe in 1050 and lecturing has been the predominant form of teaching ever since,” says biologist Scott Freeman of the University of Washington, Seattle. But many scholars have challenged the “sage on a stage” approach to teaching science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses, arguing that engaging students with questions or group activities is more effective.

Lectures Aren’t Just Boring, They’re Ineffective, Too, Study Finds,” Aleszu Bajak

We know what works and what does not work in education. We know standardized tests don’t work. We know that lectures don’t work well. We know that we need small classes and well paid full-time teachers. Our problem isn’t knowledge, it’s money. It won’t be research that solves these problems.

Run Bernie, Run!


John Nichols: You have always been identified as a democratic socialist. Polling suggests that Americans are not so bothered by the term, but it seems to me that our media has a really hard time with it. Is that a factor in your thinking about a presidential race?

Bernie Sanders: No, that’s not a factor at all. In Vermont, people understand exactly what I mean by the word. They don’t believe that democratic socialism is akin to North Korea communism. They understand that when I talk about democratic socialism, what I’m saying is that I do not want to see the United States significantly dominated by a handful of billionaire families controlling the economic and political life of the country. That I do believe that in a democratic, civilized society, all people are entitled to health care as a right, all people are entitled to quality education as a right, all people are entitled to decent jobs and a decent income, and that we need a government which represents ordinary Americans and not just the wealthy and the powerful.

So much of what [media-coverage of] politics is about today is personality politics. It’s gossip: Chris Christie’s weight or Hillary’s latest hairdo. But the real issue is how do you bring tens of millions of working-class and middle-class people together around an agenda that works for them? How do we make politics relevant to their lives? That’s going to involve some very, very radical thinking. At the end of the day, it’s not just going to be decisions from Washington. It really means empowering, in a variety of ways, ordinary people in the political process. To me, when you talk about the need for a political revolution, it is not just single-payer health care, it’s not just aggressive action on climate change, it’s not just creating the millions of jobs that we need, it is literally empowering people to take control over their lives. That’s clearly a lot harder to do than it is to talk about, but that’s what the political revolution is about.

Bernie Sanders: ‘I Am Prepared to Run for President of the United States’

This interview is well worth reading. Senator Sanders asks an important question: if he ran, or any Democratic Socialist (a better term than the more general “progressive”) runs, should he do it inside the Democratic Party or try to create a new party. I think he should run and in the process transform the Democratic Party. It’s too soon to start a campaign, but it is not too soon to start finding answers.

Louis CK is the John the Baptist of our Revolution

This video has made the rounds and it got me thinking. If this guy, Peter Beinart, is correct, we are on the verge of the next progressive wave in our history. It’s a happy thought for a nice Fall Monday morning. The last one– in the 20’s and 30’s– got us the 40 hour work week, social security, the FDIC, and cheap, accessible higher education, among other things. I am hoping that this time we get a national health care and pension system, cheap or free higher education, student debt relief, and a strong link between productivity and wages, among other things. If it happens, Louis CK will be our John the Baptist.

Good News and Bad

I don’t read enough. I don’t have time; maybe I can sneak in 500 or 1000 words over breakfast. (I haven’t been writing either.) I do listen to good podcasts when I work out and one of the best is from Doug Henwood. I’ve been reading his Left Business Observer for about 15 years or so. Henwood has a radio show too, “Behind the News” or sometimes “Almost Behind the News”, which is sent out as a podcast. That’s what I was listening to this morning– everyone should listen to it– and the interview with Steve Horn pointed me to a piece about the Chicago public schools that I think needs to be more widely read. There is good and bad news coming out of the Windy City.

The bad news is that the Obama administration, Horn shows, has deep ties to the architects of school privatization. The Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, was, of course, an Obama aide; Emanuel has been closing down public schools right and left and firing teachers just as quickly. The goal seems transparent: there is a lot of money to be made in for-profit schools staffed by poorly paid teachers. This is what has happened in the college system more generally. Even in the public universities cheap labor is at the heart of the institutional model. There is some good news though, as this piece in the Nation suggests, Chicagoans are fighting back and in some cases winning. Maybe our long lost progressive movement can be reborn.


In the UC system, lecturers represented by UC-AFT (University Council of the American Federation of Teachers) have a clear pathway to job security with relatively high pay and full benefits (including pensions). These teachers also at times have a strong role in departmental governance and curricular development and have their academic freedom protected. Although, there is still plenty of room for improvement, at one of the largest public university system in the country, activism and organization have led to a model that should and can be replicated throughout the United States.

An Existing Just Model for Non-Tenure-Track Faculty” Bob Samuels

Every once in a while, I like to remind myself that the it is possible to clean up the mess that’s been made of my profession. I think the old system– full-time employment and benefits– made a lot of sense and was by far the most effective model for learning and research. Keep it simple. I think the best solution is to go back to that system; if nothing else, no system worth pursuing is going to be any less expensive. That may be a lost dream.

In a sense, then, we are fighting against a perceived symbolic enemy, the tenured professor, who many (administrators, right-wing economists) believe is by definition complacent if not ineffective and who’s employment security makes it nearly impossible for schools to adjust to changing conditions. In effect, Samuels wants to make an end-run around the boogie-man through a new kind of job, with equivalent but different forms of pay and security.

We accept the final defeat of tenure, in other words, in exchange for getting back much of what we lost: relative employment security, fairly good pay, a pension, protections for academic freedom of speech. It’s an attractive idea, not only as a way forward, but also as a foundation on which to build an entirely new, non-exploitative system. It’s a model that works, after all, only if adjuncts have a union to fight for their interests.