“If I were to remain silent, I'd be guilty of complicity.”
― Albert Einstein
This week I couldn't help but be interested in politics. I mean - duh. I have a degree in political science and an almost Masters in Sociology so everything that is happening in America right now is endlessly fascinating - and infuriating. I don't want to blog in order to push my own political agenda but, I also don't think it helps anyone to stay silent. So, I'm taking the angle of the National Park Service - facts without opinion (kinda sorta). Read on if you'd like :)
As I’m sure everyone is aware of by now, the National Park Service tweeted out some photos comparing Obama and Trump’s inauguration sizes this week – and were subsequently ordered to stop posting. After that, Badlands National Park tweeted out some facts on climate change – which Trump has said “is a hoax” (it’s not) They were quickly deleted and attributed to a rogue staffer, but not before they were retweeted, favorited etc thousands of times.
Since then, other official National Park twitter accounts (Death Valley, Redwoods, and Golden Gate – see a pattern? Haha) have seemed to be staging their own resistance and an Alternative National Parks Twitter account has sprung up – and at last count it has 1.25 million followers! Now, according to CNN there are now over 50 “alternative” twitter accounts – everything from @RogueNASA to @BadHombreNPS – the resistance Badlands Account - and while there is really no way to know if the accounts are being managed by actual park service employees – does it really matter?
Naturalist activism obviously has played an important part of shaping environmental policies and protected land as we know it. Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Rachel Carson, Carl Sagan, Ed Abbey... the list goes on and on. So if Twitter’s not your thing – check out this book, or this, or this. Read this article. Or just support the parks by visiting them, respecting them, and not doing this.
Something I’ve been thinking a lot about (like everyone else on the planet) is fake news. While there is news that is just out and out wrong – as a math teacher I’m more concerned about false interpretation. When I started teaching in Louisiana there was an entire standard based on interpreting misleading graphs as such. I looooove teaching this standard (well, actually, I don’t think it’s an actual standard anymore, but I teach it because, um hello) Anyways, I’m always looking out for misleading statistics.
Take the Chicago murder rate. Trump tweeted that he would “send in the Feds” to get the city under control because the murder rate has spiked 24% this month over last January, but let’s take a closer look.
This article does a great job explaining some of the nuances, but basically – Chicago isn’t the most dangerous city (not even in the top 10), and doesn't have the highest murder rate. In fact, it’s not even in the top 5. It’s murder rate is actually 8th in the nation (Chicago is a big city y'all) Yes there has been a spike in murders, but there are always spikes! You might remember trend lines from your middle school math teacher (at least I hope so) – the trend is long-term, and shows the direction of statistics over time while the spikes are short-term, variable cycles that can be contributed to sooo many other factors.
Take Chicago this month – A) we are not even one full month into the year – extrapolation based on that for the year over last year is not sound statistics B) It’s been unseasonably warm and warmer weather has always been shown to increase violent crime C) The rate of actual shootings has not went up. I could go on, but look at these graphs:
Chicago has always had a more variable pattern of murders, but the trend – like with all violent crime in the last 20 years – is still negative. These also show that monthly data is much more easily misinterpreted.
Think about data as a sawtooth – it goes up, but then it also goes back down. Looking at a small sample might lead someone to believe the data is steadily increasing and totally fails to recognize the pattern over time. There are always spikes in data – it is just noise.
So, are you smarter than an eighth grader? If you are – look at data trends over time, don’t make extrapolations based on small sets of data or data that is over a short period of time. There are definitely too many murders in Chicago and spikes in other cities - but don't take the headlines as evidence of some sort of crime spike - violent crime is still near record low levels across the board and have been on a decreasing trend for over 20 years. Read more here and here.
The concept of a “Facebook Echo Chamber” has been swirling around social media for the past year or so. What it means is – Facebook, Google, (all the internet basically) uses algorithms that pay attention to the things you like, read, interact with, etc. These sorts of things are then showed to you more often. That doesn’t sound so bad on the surface – I get to see things I am interested in more often – but the problem is what you don’t see.
Before the election I had so many conversations with friends where I noted that they were totally underestimating the support for Trump. The idea that Hillary was going to win by a landslide seemed so obvious to many of my friends. The problem is that they were caught in their echo chamber. They weren’t surrounded by people who thought differently than them – face-to-face or online – and therefore had this idea that those people were fringe or much less in number than they really were.
I pride myself on having a fairly diverse set of friends and I’m from a small rural area so I knew in my heart the so-called “caps of support” weren’t real. Confirmation bias is powerful – the idea that we seek out things that support our own beliefs and ignore the things that don’t. We are motivated to be selective about the media that we consume and the people we interact with which gives us this feeling that everyone is like us. When I write this blog I assume most of the people who read it already know everything I’m writing because I feel like everyone is probably like me. I know this isn’t true but that’s where my head immediately goes.
But back to my point – echo chambers. I have seen a lot of people this week take a Facebook or social media hiatus, and I totally get it – there are a lot of hateful things being posted all over and that’s not healthy. But I also don’t think it’s healthy – for me anyways – to shield myself from it. If I don’t know how others are thinking about things then I can’t fully form my own beliefs or back them up in a way that is relevant. People generally only change their beliefs through emotional appeals that begin with understanding and common ground. If I don’t even know what is concerning someone who disagrees with me then I obviously can never connect with them intelligently over that concern.
So, I’m not going to take a social media hiatus. I’m going to try to continue to understand the people who disagree with me. I’m going to remember that not everyone thinks, feels, or knows the same information about issues as I do - and that’s okay. If you don’t want to be surprised by an outcome (ahem or an election) then don’t spend all your time in an echo chamber. Read more here and here.
Praising the Process
I read this article in The Atlantic yesterday that I want to recommend – to teachers, parents, everyone. It talks about a study that showed girls begin to show evidence of gendered beliefs about their intelligence at just 6 years old! Boys and girls were asked to pick the person who was “really special” or “really, really smart” out of pictures of four people – two male, two female – and at age 6, girls started to choose the men over the women.
This is something I am so passionate about. Girls do just as well or better than boys in school, but their confidence is so much lower. Parents and teachers play a big role in this. Studies have shown that children pick up math anxiety from their parents, but even more important, they develop their mindsets from their parents. If a parent has a positive view of failure their child is shown to do better in school and life. Attitude about failure is even more predictive than attitudes about intelligence.
So why do more girls have a problem with failure? Through socialization girls are generally praised for being smart while boys are praised more for their perseverance and hard work. This “process praise” leads to higher confidence --> which leads to a stronger growth mindset --> which leads to more success. Boys are more likely to stick with fields where ability seems to be prized over hard work because they’ve been conditioned not to get sidelined as easily by failure.
This is a huge topic with so many layers, but this is what I would advise as a teacher: praise the process, normalize failure, model what learning from mistakes looks like for your kids, encourage them to persevere, and never praise them for some sort of innate ability or brilliance – even “geniuses” work hard to achieve – there is no such thing as a “math person” or a “science person”- just a person who works hard.
I marched in downtown Denver last Saturday as part of the massive Women’s March. A lot of people have asked me questions about it, and have made (false) assumptions. I feel like if I started to get in to the specifics, my reasons for marching, or counterpointing those who have criticized it (but weren’t actually there, didn’t read the unity principles, and have no idea what they’re talking about – but I digress) I would be here all day. So I will leave you (if you actually read this far) with this sociological poem explaining the value of protest that I recently re-stumbled upon:
The Low Road
By Marge Piercy
What can they do
to you? Whatever they want.
They can set you up, they can
bust you, they can break
your fingers, they can
burn your brain with electricity,
blur you with drugs till you
can't walk, can’t remember, they can
take your child, wall up
your lover. They can do anything
you can’t blame them
from doing. How can you stop
them? Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.
But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.
Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organisation. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.
It goes on one at a time,
it starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.
happy Friday :)