Thousands of teenagers swarmed out of the towering front gate of Maotanchang High School. Many of them wore identical black-and-white Windbreakers emblazoned with the slogan, in English, “I believe it, I can do it.” It was lunchtime at one of China’s most secretive “cram schools” — a memorization factory where 20,000 students, or four times the town’s official population, train round the clock for China’s national college-entrance examination, known as the gaokao. The grueling test, which is administered every June over two or three days (depending on the province), is the lone criterion for admission to Chinese universities. For the students at Maotanchang, most of whom come from rural areas, it offers the promise of a life beyond the fields and the factories, of families’ fortunes transformed by hard work and high scores. ... Nothing consumes the lives of Chinese families more than the ever-looming prospect of the gaokao. The exam — there are two versions, one focused on science, the other on humanities — is the modern incarnation of the imperial keju, generally regarded as the world’s first standardized test. For more than 1,300 years, into the early 20th century, the keju funneled young men into China’s civil service. Today, more than nine million students take the gaokao each year (fewer than 3.5 million, combined, take the SAT and the ACT). But the pressure to start memorizing and regurgitating facts weighs on Chinese students from the moment they enter elementary school. ... Even as cram schools have proliferated across urban areas, Maotanchang is a world apart, a remote one-industry town that produces test-taking machines with the same single-minded commitment that other Chinese towns devote to making socks or Christmas ornaments.
Ma, a former hedge fund analyst, makes bets on student admissions the way a trader plays the commodities markets. Using 12 variables from a student’s profile—from grades and test scores to extracurricular activities and immigration status—Ma’s software crunches the odds of admission to a range of top-shelf colleges. His proprietary algorithm assigns varying weights to different parameters, derived from his analysis of the successes and failures of thousands of students he’s coached over the years. Ma’s algorithm, for example, predicts that a U.S.-born high school senior with a 3.8 GPA, an SAT score of 2,000 (out of 2,400), moderate leadership credentials, and 800 hours of extracurricular activities, has a 20.4 percent chance of admission to New York University and a 28.1 percent shot at the University of Southern California. Those odds determine the fee ThinkTank charges that student for its guaranteed consulting package: $25,931 to apply to NYU and $18,826 for USC. “Of course we set limits on who we’ll guarantee,” says Ma. “We don’t want to make this a casino game.” ... Some 10,000 students—sixth graders to junior-college grads—use ThinkTank’s services now, generating annual revenue of more than $18 million. Nearly all are Asian immigrants like Ma, 36, who moved to Northern California from Taiwan when he was 11. He reels them in at free seminars, held in Holiday Inn ballrooms on Saturday afternoons. The standing-room-only events, advertised in Bay Area Chinese media, include a raffle of free SAT prep classes and a pep talk for the college-obsessed. Ma reassures the bewildered, multigenerational audiences that top-ranked American universities aren’t nearly as capricious as they seem, once you know their formula. ThinkTank boasts that 85 percent of its applicants get into a top-40 college, as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. “Our model knows more about how to get into many colleges than their own admissions officers know,” he says. ... College admissions officers and other educators scoff at Ma’s guarantees; they say no one can predict acceptances to elite colleges because grades and scores are only one part of the highly subjective process.
Inside the strange world of kidnap and ransom survival schools. ... Wilson, a 43-year-old British Army veteran who once served in Northern Ireland, picks me up on a swampy morning at a Motel 6 in Dania Beach, a suburb of Miami. He is the founder of Risks Incorporated, a private security firm that offers a three-day kidnap and ransom course in which I’m enrolled. A skeptical man with a dark sense of humor who has worked in the security industry for two decades, Wilson moved to South Florida 13 years ago with his then-wife and never left. ... Wilson briefs me on the bourgeoning business of international kidnapping. The White House’s recent acknowledgment of the accidental killing of two al-Qaida hostages in Pakistan in January, as well as the dark news from Syria in recent months, both overshadows and underscores the fact that kidnappings are a global scourge. As incidents have increased worldwide, a parallel industry has emerged, one that includes insurance companies, negotiators, lawyers, and security firms like Risks Inc. In a 2010 investigation, London’s Independent newspaper dubbed this the “hostage industry,” and estimated its worth at about $1.6 billion a year. ... Costs range from about $600 to a couple thousand dollars. Some are entirely in a classroom; others include role-playing. ... Wilson’s course is somewhere in between: part tutorial, part field exercise, tailored to the needs of the client. The company’s website promises to “take you into the real world of terrorism and kidnap and ransom!”
Seventy years after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by nuclear weapons, David Kaiser investigates the legacy of 'the physicists' war'. ... The Second World War marked an unprecedented mobilization of scientists and engineers, and a turning point in the relationship between research and the state. By the end of the war, the nuclear weapons project, code-named the Manhattan Engineer District, absorbed thousands of researchers and billions of dollars. It sprawled across 30 facilities throughout the United States and Canada, with British teams working alongside Americans and Canadians. Allied efforts on radar swelled to comparable scale. ... the term had been coined long before August 1945, and originally it had nothing to do with bombs or radar. Rather, the physicists' war had referred to an urgent, ambitious training mission: to teach elementary physics to as many enlisted men as possible. ... Both views of how scientists could serve their nations — the quotidian and the cataclysmic — have shaped scientific research and higher education to this day.
Thirty years ago, Bob Ballard discovered the wreck of the Titanic. He could have stopped there. Yet today, at seventy-three, he remains the world's most vigorous ocean explorer. ... Money is a frequent topic of conversation for Ballard, because it takes $10 million annually to keep the Nautilus in the water for four to six months every year. (Similar vessels, he says, cost six times that.) Ballard's unique position as an oceanographer/owner makes him both liberated and beholden. For that money that frees him to explore, Ballard must regularly court private donors, corporate sponsors, and politicians who believe in his mission enough to fight for public dollars. The donors love to hear about the Titanic. The politicians are guided by an interest in everything from Ballard's commitment to education to his exploration of the earth's crust. ... Ballard seems prouder of his discoveries of the prizes for which he was not looking—the prizes you win, he says, by spending "time on the bottom." In 1977 he discovered the very existence of hydrothermal vents, hot springs in the ocean floor near where tectonic plates move apart from one another, releasing a steady flow of superheated water from deep in the earth's crust. The water is a chaotic mess of mineral-rich fluids including sulfide that, when discharged into the frigid, pressurized water on the ocean floor, can create new ecosystems hospitable to a wild mix of creatures. In the worlds of marine biology and geology, it was a monumental discovery. In the actual world, nobody much noticed. ... "I got addicted to it. In my fifty-five years of exploring, how much of the ocean floor have I seen?" He holds his thumb and forefinger close together. "In all my discoveries, just that much." His eyes grow wide. "So how much have I not seen?"
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health. ... Two terms have risen quickly from obscurity into common campus parlance. Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless. For example, by some campus guidelines, it is a microaggression to ask an Asian American or Latino American “Where were you born?,” because this implies that he or she is not a real American. Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response. For example, some students have called for warnings that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart describes racial violence and that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby portrays misogyny and physical abuse, so that students who have been previously victimized by racism or domestic violence can choose to avoid these works, which they believe might “trigger” a recurrence of past trauma. ... The dangers that these trends pose to scholarship and to the quality of American universities are significant; we could write a whole essay detailing them. But in this essay we focus on a different question: What are the effects of this new protectiveness on the students themselves? Does it benefit the people it is supposed to help? What exactly are students learning when they spend four years or more in a community that polices unintentional slights, places warning labels on works of classic literature, and in many other ways conveys the sense that words can be forms of violence that require strict control by campus authorities, who are expected to act as both protectors and prosecutors? ... social media has also fundamentally shifted the balance of power in relationships between students and faculty; the latter increasingly fear what students might do to their reputations and careers by stirring up online mobs against them.
I made a commitment to take ownership of my life. I started to get more connected, and then I just kept going with tangible daily goals. It wasn’t about a destination. Getting back to number one was something I was pretty convinced I’d never achieve. But that journey from rock bottom to the summit a second time was a great accomplishment for me. Without it I don’t know if I would believe in myself as much as I do when I face other challenges now. ... regardless of what the score is, the most important point is that next point. ... A great rival is like a mirror. You have to look at yourself, acknowledge where you fall short, make adjustments, and nurture the areas where you overachieve. There were times my rivals brought out the best in me; there were times they brought out the worst. They probably helped me win things I never would have otherwise; they also cost me titles. I don’t know how you quantify what it would have been like without a rival like Pete Sampras. I would have won more. But I think I would have been worse without him.
What if you had the opportunity to learn how to improve the quality of your forecasts, measured as the distance between forecasts and outcomes, by 60 percent? Interested? ... Phil Tetlock is a professor of psychology and political science at the University of Pennsylvania who has spent decades studying the predictions of experts. Specifically, he enticed 284 experts to make more than 27,000 predictions on political, social, and economic outcomes over a 21-year span ended in 2004. The period included six presidential elections and three wars. These forecasters had crack credentials, including more than a dozen years of relevant work experience and lots of advanced degrees—nearly all had postgraduate training and half had PhDs. ... Overall, Tetlock’s results provide lethal ammunition for those who debunk the value of experts. ... While famous experts had among the worst records of prediction, they demonstrated “skill at telling a compelling story.” To gain fame it helps to tell “tight, simple, clear stories that grab and hold audiences.” These pundits are often wrong but never in doubt. ... foresight is a real and measurable skill. One test of skill is persistence. High persistence means that you do consistently well over time and are not a one-hit wonder. About 70 percent of superforecasters remain in those elite ranks from one year to the next, vastly more than what chance would dictate. ... second is that foresight “is the product of particular ways of thinking, of gathering information, of updating beliefs.” Importantly, the essential ingredients of being a superforecaster can be learned and cultivated. ... Tetlock and his colleagues found four drivers behind the success of the superforecasters:
- Find the right people. You get a 10-15 percent boost from screening forecasters on fluid intelligence and active open-mindedness.
- Manage interaction. You get a 10-20 percent enhancement by allowing the forecasters to work collaboratively in teams or competitively in prediction markets.
- Train effectively. Cognitive debiasing exercises lift results by 10 percent.
- Overweight elite forecasters or extremize estimates. Results improve by 15-30 percent if you give more weight to better forecasters and make forecasts more extreme to compensate for the conservatism of forecasts.
Is every healthy child a potential prodigy? ... Before Laszlo Polgár conceived his children, before he even met his wife, he knew he was going to raise geniuses. He’d started to write a book about it. He saw it moves ahead. ... By their first meeting, a dinner and walk around Budapest in 1965, Laszlo told Klara, his future bride, how his kids’ education would go. He had studied the lives of geniuses and divined a pattern: an adult singularly focused on the child’s success. He’d raise the kids outside school, with intense devotion to a subject, though he wasn’t sure what. "Every healthy child," as he liked to say, "is a potential genius." Genetics and talent would be no obstacle. And he’d do it with great love. ... Computers have long since outclassed humans in chess; they’re vital in training, but their recommended moves can seem quixotic. "No, it’s very human," Polgár assured them. The students, most of them grandmasters, grew quiet, searching the more than 100,000 positional situations they had ingrained over their lifetimes, exploring possible moves and the future problems they implied — moving down the decision tree. It’s the knot at the heart of chess: Each turn, you must move; when you move, a world of potential vanishes. ... "It’s important to look at top performers to look at the limits of human abilities — the maximum adaptations people can undergo." By looking to the best, we can understand the rest.
As America switches from an industrial economy to a digital one, its bluest collar workers are facing the toughest challenge of their lives. Can miners really learn how to code? ... coal is basically over. The federal government has pumped nearly $23 million into the region in the last two years to diversify the post-coal economy and retrain miners into jobs like installing broadband fiber. But until there’s some serious new high-paying option, most ex-mine workers are getting by on unemployment, taking lower paying jobs, moving away, or, as one put it to me, “going into panic mode.” ... The job, they determined, would start with a 22-week training program to learn how to code. Trainees would be paid $15 an hour, which came from federal funds pumped through a regional economic development agency. That’s less than miner wages, but it was better than working at the McDonald’s double-lane drive-thru downtown. Then, after those 22 weeks, Justice and Parrish would put up three dollars for every one from the government and build a coding team that could take on real, paying work. ... Most had heard the program’s radio ad. “Have you been laid off from a job in the mining industry? If you are a logic-based thinker willing to work and learn new things, we have a career opportunity for you. BitSource is bringing the computer coding revolution to Eastern Kentucky.”
Ten years ago, high tech observers complained that the nation didn’t have enough bold innovators. There were, of course, wildly profitable high tech firms, but they rarely took creative risks and mostly just mimicked Silicon Valley: Baidu was a replica of Google, Tencent a copy of Yahoo, JD a version of Amazon. Young Chinese coders had programming chops that were second to none, but they lacked the drive of a Mark Zuckerberg or Steve Jobs. The West Coast mantra—fail fast, fail often, the better to find a hit product—seemed alien, even dangerous, to youths schooled in an educational system that focused on rote memorization and punished mistakes. Graduates craved jobs at big, solid firms. The goal was stability: Urban China had only recently emerged from decades of poverty, and much of the countryside was still waiting its turn to do so. Better to keep your head down and stay safe. ... That attitude is vanishing now. It’s been swept aside by a surge in prosperity, bringing with it a new level of confidence and boldness in the country’s young urban techies. ... higher education soared sevenfold: 7 million graduated college this year. The result is a generation both creative and comfortable with risk-taking. ... Anyone with a promising idea and some experience can find money. Venture capitalists pumped a record $15.5 billion into Chinese startups last year, so entrepreneurs are being showered in funding, as well as crucial advice and mentoring from millionaire angels. ... Even the Chinese government—which has a wary attitude toward online expression and runs a vast digital censorship apparatus—has launched a $6.5 billion fund for startups.
Somewhere between a fifth to a third of the million students graduating out of India's engineering colleges run the risk of being unemployed. Others will take jobs well below their technical qualifications in a market where there are few jobs for India's overflowing technical talent pool. Beset by a flood of institutes (offering a varying degree of education) and a shrinking market for their skills, India's engineers are struggling to subsist in an extremely challenging market. … According to multiple estimates, India trains around 1.5 million engineers, which is more than the US and China combined.
Every generation produces kid geniuses, but in the early 1900s, the public was obsessed with them ... In the first few decades of the 20th century, child prodigies became national celebrities. Much like the movie stars, industrial titans and heavyweight champs of the day, their exploits were glorified and their opinions quoted in newspapers across the United States. ... While every generation produces its share of precocious children, no era, before or since, seems to have been so obsessed with them. The recent advent of intelligence testing, which allowed psychologists to gauge mental ability with seemingly scientific precision, is one likely reason. ... in 1916, Stanford University psychologist Louis Terman published the Stanford-Binet test, which made the term intelligence quotient, or I.Q., part of the popular vocabulary.
You wouldn’t see it in most classrooms, you wouldn’t know it by looking at slumping national test-score averages, but a cadre of American teenagers are reaching world-class heights in math—more of them, more regularly, than ever before. The phenomenon extends well beyond the handful of hopefuls for the Math Olympiad. The students are being produced by a new pedagogical ecosystem—almost entirely extracurricular—that has developed online and in the country’s rich coastal cities and tech meccas. In these places, accelerated students are learning more and learning faster than they were 10 years ago—tackling more-complex material than many people in the advanced-math community had thought possible. ... The change is palpable at the most competitive colleges. At a time when calls for a kind of academic disarmament have begun echoing through affluent communities around the nation, a faction of students are moving in exactly the opposite direction. ... lately, dozens of new math-enrichment camps with names like MathPath, AwesomeMath, MathILy, Idea Math, sparc, Math Zoom, and Epsilon Camp have popped up, opening the gates more widely to kids who have aptitude and enthusiasm for math, but aren’t necessarily prodigies. ... In New York City last fall, it was easier to get a ticket to the hit musical Hamilton than to enroll your child in certain math circles. Some circles in the 350-student New York Math Circle program run out of New York University filled up in about five hours. ... The pedagogical strategy at the heart of the classes is loosely referred to as “problem solving,” a pedestrian term that undersells just how different this approach to math can be. The problem-solving approach has long been a staple of math education in the countries of the former Soviet Union and at elite colleges such as MIT and Cal Tech. It works like this: Instructors present small clusters of students, usually grouped by ability, with a small number of open-ended, multifaceted situations that can be solved by using different approaches.
Her speech was punctuated by European brand names, which functioned as a kind of currency. A maid’s monthly wages, she said, were probably the price of a pair of Roger Vivier satin pumps. A night out can cost half a suède Birkin bag. On Weymi’s last birthday, in March, she’d spent more than two Fendi totes—around four thousand dollars—on drinks in less than an hour. ... The Chinese presence in Vancouver is particularly pronounced, thanks to the city’s position on the Pacific Rim, its pleasant climate, and its easy pace of life. China’s newly minted millionaires see the city as a haven in which to place not only their money but, increasingly, their offspring, who come there to get an education, to start businesses, and to socialize. ... The children of wealthy Chinese are known as fuerdai, which means “rich second generation.” ... President Xi Jinping has spoken of the need to “guide the younger generation of private-enterprise owners to think where their money comes from and live a positive life,” and the government recently held an educational retreat for seventy children of billionaires, who were given a crash course in traditional Chinese values and social responsibility. ... Moneyed people leave China for various reasons. Some are worried about pollution. Others want to secure a good education for their children. ... for affluent Chinese, the most basic reason to move abroad is that fortunes in China are precarious. The concerns go deeper than anxiety about the country’s slowing growth and turbulent stock market; it is very difficult to progress above a certain level in business without cultivating, and sometimes buying, the support of government officials, who are often ousted in anti-corruption sweeps instigated by rivals.
Since its release seven years ago, Minecraft has become a global sensation, captivating a generation of children. There are over 100 million registered players, and it’s now the third-best-selling video game in history, after Tetris and Wii Sports. In 2014, Microsoft bought Minecraft — and Mojang, the Swedish game studio behind it — for $2.5 billion. ... There have been blockbuster games before, of course. But as Jordan’s experience suggests — and as parents peering over their children’s shoulders sense — Minecraft is a different sort of phenomenon. ... For one thing, it doesn’t really feel like a game. It’s more like a destination, a technical tool, a cultural scene, or all three put together: a place where kids engineer complex machines, shoot videos of their escapades that they post on YouTube, make art and set up servers, online versions of the game where they can hang out with friends. It’s a world of trial and error and constant discovery, stuffed with byzantine secrets, obscure text commands and hidden recipes. And it runs completely counter to most modern computing trends. ... Minecraft culture is a throwback to the heady early days of the digital age. In the late ’70s and ’80s, the arrival of personal computers like the Commodore 64 gave rise to the first generation of kids fluent in computation. They learned to program in Basic, to write software that they swapped excitedly with their peers. It was a playful renaissance that eerily parallels the embrace of Minecraft by today’s youth. ... Today it costs $27 and sells 10,000 copies a day. (It’s still popular across all age groups; according to Microsoft, the average player is between 28 and 29, and women make up nearly 40 percent of all players.)
The rise of the internet and the widespread availability of digital technology has surrounded us with endless sources of distraction: texts, emails and Instagrams from friends, streaming music and videos, ever-changing stock quotes, news and more news. To get our work done, we could try to turn off the digital stream, but that’s difficult to do when we’re plagued by FOMO, the modern fear of missing out. Some people think that our willpower is so weak because our brains have been damaged by digital noise. But blaming technology for the rise in inattention is misplaced. History shows that the disquiet is fuelled not by the next new thing but by the threat this thing – whatever it might be – poses to the moral authority of the day. ... The first time inattention emerged as a social threat was in 18th-century Europe, during the Enlightenment, just as logic and science were pushing against religion and myth. The Oxford English Dictionary cites a 1710 entry from Tatler as its first reference to this word, coupling inattention with indolence; both are represented as moral vices of serious public concern. ... the culture of the Enlightenment celebrated attention as the most important mental faculty for the exercise of reason. ... Countering the habit of inattention among children and young people became the central concern of pedagogy in the 18th century. ... Unlike in the 18th century when it was perceived as abnormal, today inattention is often presented as the normal state. The current era is frequently characterised as the Age of Distraction, and inattention is no longer depicted as a condition that afflicts a few. Nowadays, the erosion of humanity’s capacity for attention is portrayed as an existential problem, linked with the allegedly corrosive effects of digitally driven streams of information relentlessly flowing our way. ... Throughout its history, inattention has served as a sublimated focus for apprehensions about moral authority.
Steinway, one of the world’s most prestigious musical instrument brands, is looking to China to breathe new life into lackluster sales. To succeed, the company will need more than smart marketing. It will need to fine-tune a cultural mind-set in a country that once dismissed pianos as bourgeois luxuries. ... Steinway dealers have to convince their wealthier clientele that the instruments make good investments, avoiding the overly aggressive sales tactics that tripped up some early efforts. They have to educate parents about the potential payoff of buying a piano that can cost as much as an apartment. And they need to woo music students who are increasingly turning to lower-cost keyboards and so-called smart pianos, which use lights, iPads and other technical tools to teach basic skills. ... The company, known for its painstaking craftsmanship, has grudgingly entered the digital game. ... Founded in 1853 in a Manhattan loft by a German immigrant, Steinway flourished for generations by selling high-end pianos, each crafted by hand from materials like Sitka spruce and cast iron, in the United States and Europe. But the company has suffered as piano playing wanes in the West. Music schools and concert halls have cut back on orders. Piano stores have closed. ... By some estimates, the country has as many as 40 million piano students, compared with six million in the United States. ... As it pushes to remake the country into a cultural superpower, the Chinese government has encouraged students to take up the piano by building concert halls and investing in music education. Among the country’s wealthiest families, the arts have become a source of spiritual fulfillment and a status symbol. In rich coastal cities, real estate scions and technology executives are buying Steinway pianos — some outfitted with diamonds and wood from Africa and India — to complement collections of Porsches and Picassos.
Governments around the world have sought to incorporate elements of the “Singapore model” into their own approach to teaching maths and science. The latest is the UK, which earlier this month announced that half of England’s primary schools would adopt the style of maths teaching that is used in Singapore, with up to £41m in funding over four years to train teachers and provide new textbooks. But what is it about Singapore’s system that enables its children to outperform their international peers? And how easy will it be for other countries to import its success? ... A sense of being dwarfed by vast neighbours runs deep in the national psyche, inspiring both fear and pride. In a speech to trade union activists on May Day last year, prime minister Lee Hsien Loong told citizens: “To survive, you have to be exceptional.” ... Aiming to move away from simple rote-learning and to focus instead on teaching children how to problem solve, the textbooks the group produced were influenced by educational psychologists such as the American Jerome Bruner, who posited that people learn in three stages: by using real objects, then pictures, and then through symbols. That theory contributed to Singapore’s strong emphasis on modelling mathematical problems with visual aids; using coloured blocks to represent fractions or ratios, for example. ... The Singapore curriculum is more stripped down at primary level than in many western countries, covering fewer topics but doing so in far greater depth — a crucial factor in its effectiveness
Even before all of Fuhu's money disappeared, Mitchell was having a doozy of a month. Three weeks before, he and his co-founder, Robb Fujioka--Fuhu's mastermind and headstrong president--had been contacted by attorneys representing the company's primary manufacturer, Foxconn. The Chinese giant was more than just a vendor. It was an investor and patron that had been instrumental in launching Fuhu on its meteoric rise. With gross revenue of $196 million and a three-year growth rate of 158,957 percent ... But behind the scenes, the company was falling apart. In recent months, it had racked up unpaid bills from just about everyone it did business with. And Foxconn--to which Fuhu owed between $60 million and $110 million, depending on who was counting--had finally reached its breaking point. The lawyers told Fujioka and Mitchell that until they paid their tab, their company would be cut off. ... The consequences of losing their supplier were laid out in a thick stack of a Tennenbaum loan agreement that the Fuhu bosses had never bothered to read. ... The rise and fall of Fuhu is a cautionary tale about the seductions of early success and the overconfidence it can breed. But most of all, it's the story of two entrepreneurs who pushed too hard to go big--one whose personal drive led him to take oversize risks against the advice of those around him, and one who failed to stop him.
Learning math and then science as an adult gave me passage into the empowering world of engineering. But these hard-won, adult-age changes in my brain have also given me an insider’s perspective on the neuroplasticity that underlies adult learning. ... In the current educational climate, memorization and repetition in the STEM disciplines (as opposed to in the study of language or music), are often seen as demeaning and a waste of time for students and teachers alike. Many teachers have long been taught that conceptual understanding in STEM trumps everything else. And indeed, it’s easier for teachers to induce students to discuss a mathematical subject (which, if done properly, can do much to help promote understanding) than it is for that teacher to tediously grade math homework. What this all means is that, despite the fact that procedural skills and fluency, along with application, are supposed to be given equal emphasis with conceptual understanding, all too often it doesn’t happen. Imparting a conceptual understanding reigns supreme—especially during precious class time. ... The problem with focusing relentlessly on understanding is that math and science students can often grasp essentials of an important idea, but this understanding can quickly slip away without consolidation through practice and repetition. Worse, students often believe they understand something when, in fact, they don’t. ... Chunking was originally conceptualized in the groundbreaking work of Herbert Simon in his analysis of chess—chunks were envisioned as the varying neural counterparts of different chess patterns. Gradually, neuroscientists came to realize that experts such as chess grand masters are experts because they have stored thousands of chunks of knowledge about their area of expertise in their long-term memory. ... As studies of chess masters, emergency room physicians, and fighter pilots have shown, in times of critical stress, conscious analysis of a situation is replaced by quick, subconscious processing as these experts rapidly draw on their deeply ingrained repertoire of neural subroutines—chunks. ... Understanding doesn’t build fluency; instead, fluency builds understanding.
It’s the year 2120. You feel no hunger, no cold, no heat, no pain. There’s no need to eat or to take medicine, though you can if you like. You are beautiful, intelligent, and charismatic, as are your friends, co-workers, lovers. Though the economy is fiercely competitive, retirement is not far off. You do not fear death. Look out your office window and you see sunlit spires towering over tree-lined boulevards. ... At least this is what you think you see. In fact, you live and work in virtual reality. Your city amounts to racks of computer hardware and the pipes that cool them. And you are not "you" in the traditional sense: You are an "em," a robotic brain emulation created by scanning a particular human brain and uploading it to a computer. On the upside, you process information 1,000 times faster than a human. On the downside, you inhabit a robotic body, and you stand roughly two millimeters tall. ... This is the world Robin Hanson is sketching out to a room of baffled undergraduates at George Mason University on a bright April morning. To illustrate his point, he projects an image of an enormous futuristic city alongside clip art of a human castaway cowering on a tiny desert island. His message is clear: The future belongs to "ems." ... This may sound more like science fiction than scholarship, but that’s part of the point. Hanson is an economist with a background in physics and engineering; a Silicon Valley veteran determined to promote his theories in an academy he finds deeply flawed; a doggedly rational thinker prone to intentionally provocative ideas that test the limits of what typically passes as scholarship. Those ideas have been mocked, memed, and marveled at — often all at once. ... Hanson, deeply skeptical of conventional intellectual discourse, argues that academics have abdicated their societal responsibilities by ignoring more speculative work.
A dual education system that incorporates vocational training and classroom learning could provide young people with more options in their transition into the working world. We think that engaging employers in the design and delivery of apprenticeship frameworks is the key to preventing skill mismatches. ... Changing employers’ perceptions of youth and encouraging early engagement in schools could increase youth employability and information around career options. This could include work experience, career advice, mentoring, and youth-led social action. ... Reducing informal recruitment methods and use of qualifications as filters could reduce work barriers to engage with youth from low socio-economic backgrounds who may be at risk of anti-social behavior.
While the United States may be outperforming other advanced economies, it is underperforming relative to its own potential. Slower growth has been feeding on itself in a vicious cycle of weak demand, low investment, and slowing productivity growth. In real terms, the median US household income is back at its level of two decades ago. Meanwhile, the vast majority of income gains have gone to households in the top quintile, which do not have the same propensity to spend. This in turn hobbles aggregate demand in the short term—and when businesses do not see the need to invest, it reinforces the cycle. US productivity growth recently turned negative for the first time in 30 years. ... A new briefing paper from the McKinsey Global Institute, The US economy: An agenda for inclusive growth, suggests that the United States can regain its dynamism and restore the sense that everyone is advancing together. This effort can take many forms: reengaging more workers in the labor force, enabling them to move to more productive jobs and locations, creating an environment that fosters new business formation and healthy competition, and helping declining cities reinvent themselves. When the economy is firing on all cylinders, income gains tend to be more broad-based and less easily concentrated.
- Globalization and trade
- America’s cities
- A resource revolution
In the industries where there’s rapid productivity growth, everybody is freaked out, because what are people going to do after everything gets automated? In the other part of the economy, that second part, health care and education, people are freaked out about, "Oh my God, it’s going to eat the entire budget! It’s going to eat my personal budget. Health care and education is going to be every dollar I make as income, and it’s going to eat the national budget and drive the United States bankrupt!" And everybody in the economy is going to become either a nurse or teacher. It’s really funny, both sides of the economy get polar opposite emotional reactions. ... We are very much not present, in what we would consider to be a healthy way, in education, health care, construction, childcare, senior care. The great twist on that is that second category — that’s most of the GDP. Most of the spending is most of the GDP, and these are the areas where we have not yet been able to crack the code. ... How audacious or insane is it to think that you could bring tech to health care or education? It’s probably 50/50. ... What’s interesting is there are probably more new computer companies in the valley today than there were probably since 1982 — it’s just that the products are all these different shapes, sizes, and descriptions. ... Basically, the entire way we live today is a consequence of the invention of the automobile. Because, before that, people just never went anywhere. Therefore, everything that you travel to is a consequence of the automobile.