Saturday, March 19, 2016

What do Ragnar, King Alfred, and Sam Harris have in common

One point Sam Harris has made many times is to discredit the notion that religious adherents don’t really believe what they say they believe.  I’m definitely guilty of that misconception, I’ve always felt that nobody actually believes their religious doctrines, not really.  There may be elements and features of the belief system that are believed, and they might enjoy wishing some of it were real. But in their heart of hearts, everyone doubts.

Sam has repeatedly hammered home that that is simply wrong.  There are true believers and they can be dangerous.  A true belief in paradise is what allows for suicide bombers.

While watching Vikings and the Last Kingdom, I have noticed how much the clash of civilizations in those shows is about the clash of religions.  The characters are constantly tormented trying to discern the desire of their particular gods and how to conduct themselves so as not to upset them, or win their favor.  Each character interprets experiences in the context of their own religion, and their beliefs direct their actions.  I do realize that these are just TV shows, and the intent of the writers may or may not be to comment on the nature of religious belief.  Nevertheless, for me it did illustrate another example of peoples who actually believe, and how agonizing and all encompassing their belief systems can be.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Race to nowhere

I finally watched Race to nowhere now that its available on Netflix. I had been interested in it since it came out but for some reason it was hard to locate.  I’m always interested in criticisms of the American education system which I think puts the wrong emphasis on obedience and busy work. So I was sympathetic to the documentaries main thrust, homework is excessive and of limited educational value.  However, the movie was essentially anecdotal.  It tells the stories of few families, and blames school work on suicide and mental breakdowns of children. It also seems mostly localized to fairly uniform California communities. 

There was one reference to scientific evidence that suggests that after approximately an hour homework efficacy drops.  Other than that, there was virtually no scientific or statistical evidence to support their claims.  No evidence correlating homework and overscheduling and suicide or mental health issues.  No scientific studies comparing different educational approaches and their comparative results.

So yes, anecdotally, it seems like overscheduling children and burdening them with excessive homework is bad, especially for the kids in the movie.  And standardized testing and no child left behind seem to have played a role in a shift towards worse educational practices.  But if you’re looking for hard facts, or to be convinced, this ain’t gonna do it.