rivkat: Dean reading (dean reading)
([personal profile] rivkat Mar. 7th, 2016 12:02 pm)
W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk: I’ve never read the whole thing before, and I can’t say I recommend it to non-historians. A good American history education gives you the key parts—“what is it like to be a problem?” and the talented tenth. Also: Lyrical descriptions of life in the South, punctuated by white racists’ brutality; slurs against Jews; and concessions to white racism that are hard to read (like accepting generalized racial disparagement in the course of defending the need of the talented tenth for better education and other opportunities) but were clearly harder to live.

Indigenous Intellectual Property: A Handbook of Contemporary Research (ed. Matthew Rimmer): Collection of essays, focused on Australia, about the challenges of protecting indigenous cultures, religions, and know-how in the face of modern legal systems + entrenched legacies of discrimination. Telling detail: permits for non-Aboriginal people to visit Aboriginal people on Croker Island, where the inhabitants were under government supervision supposedly for their own good, were granted freely to mining personnel and art dealers (two different versions of exploiters who purchased cheap what they could then sell dear) while scientists and journalists had trouble getting them. There is indeed continuity between physical and cultural exploitation. I also really appreciated the quote from a judge: “legal discourse is probably they least promising field in which to explore concepts of identity,” because individual identity is subjective, complex, and changing, none of which law handles well.

Lisa Damour, Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood: Useful book—at least, I hope so, though I’m not quite there yet with my daughter. “[G]irls’ bodies part with childhood at a moment girls don’t select and may not like” and advances at a speed they can’t control—that did seem familiar. Damour suggests that teens don’t ignore rules; they just think about not getting caught rather than about why the rules might exist. Struggles can be beneficial for building girls’ emotional intelligence, as long as parents handle them correctly, framing consequences as the result of choices made by the teen herself. I’d seen this before, but Damour points out that teen births dropped most where 16 and Pregnant was the most popular show; she concludes that “teenage girls aren’t dumb. Given a relatively objective picture of the consequences of unprotected sex, girls changed their behavior.” A lot of advice about taking a deep breath and thinking through how you approach a volatile teen; I will probably revisit the book.

Charles Duhigg, Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business: Behavioral psych as self-help book! I liked it. Lessons from the military, Google, psychology experiments, etc. on motivating oneself. It’s useful to explicitly articulate why your choices are affirmations of your values and goals: when you say out loud “I’m doing this because I want to …” you are more likely to stick to the choice by linking small tasks to broader aspirations. Duhigg emphasizes that you have to clarify both—small tasks alone leave you stranded or maximizing the wrong things; big goals alone leave you with no path to them. Having the goals and breaking them into manageable parts is the balanced path. I definitely struggle with crossing off items on my to-do list just for the immediate thrill of having done them, without necessarily making progress on my larger aspirations—as one of the experts in the book says, using a to-do list for “mood repair” rather than for productivity.

I also liked the discussion of creativity, which often comes from “taking proven, conventional ideas from other settings and combining them in new ways”—that’s how I’ve always thought of creativity; I don’t believe there’s anything new under the sun, but there are useful and pleasing ways of re-presenting ideas. I learned about one study of top-cited papers that found that 90% of what was in these highly creative and generative manuscripts had been published elsewhere, but the creative authors applied the concepts to questions in ways that others hadn’t. “A lot of the people we think of as exceptionally creative are essentially intellectual middlemen,” according to another expert, which seems just right to me. The creativity chapter also includes a great story about the development of Disney’s Frozen, which started off terrible and became great as the team figured out the story it really wanted to tell.

And I really appreciated the discussion of why students should handwrite class notes—because translating what goes on in class into your own language, and struggling through the effort of condensing material in order to write down only the key points, requires an engagement that leads to better memory and better learning in the long run despite the initial difficulty. I’m a bit of a hypocrite here, because I could always write fast enough to take near verbatim notes of important stuff, but I always also did my own processing and wrote commentary as I went, and I still do (or try to, anyway) when I now take notes on a computer. The takeaway is that real learning requires “some kind of operation,” such as using a new word in a sentence, whether written or spoken.

Georget A. Akerlof & Robert J. Shiller, Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception: Whirlwind tour of many of the ways people can be fooled by other people, such as ready access to credit cards (people spend more than when they have to part with cash) and campaign advertising. Not much new if you are into behavioral economics; ends with a defense of government regulation to disrupt “phishing equilibria,” where a certain amount of exploitation of everyone is just accepted as normal.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Beautiful Struggle: Coates’ first book, about his upbringing—focusing on his black nationalist father whose commitment to the cause trumped many things. Coates seemed to me to have less control over his rhetoric here, writing with lots of flourish but less organization; it’s a very personal book, but I’d recommend his recent writing much more strongly.
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